Samuel Liddell (or Liddel) "MacGregor" Mathers, born as Samuel Liddell (January 8 or 11, 1854 – November 5 or 20, 1918), was one of the most influential figures in modern Occultism. He is primarily known as one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a ceremonial magic order whose offshoots still exist today.
Samuel Liddell was born on January 8 or January 11, 1854 in Hackney,London, England. His father, William M. Mathers, died while Samuel Liddell was still a boy. His mother, whose maiden name was Collins, died in 1885. He attended Bedford Grammar School, subsequently working in Bournemouth, Sussex, as a clerk, before moving to London following the death of his mother.
Mathers was an eccentric whose chosen lifestyle was unusual in its time. He added the "MacGregor" surname as a claim to Highland Scottish heritage, although there is little evidence of such in his family background. He was a practicing vegetarian, an outspoken anti-vivisectionist, and a non-smoker. It is known that his main interests were magic and the theory of war, his first book being a translation of a French military manual.
Mathers was introduced to Freemasonry by a neighbour, alchemist Frederick Holland, and was initiated into Hengist Lodge No 195 on October 4, 1877. He was raised as a Master Mason on January 30, 1878 and in 1882, the same year he demitted from Masonry, he was admitted to the Metropolitan College of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia as well as a number of fringe Masonic degrees. Working hard both for and in the SRIA he was awarded an honorary 8th Degree in 1886. He became Celebrant of Metropolitan College in 1891 and was appointed as Junior Substitute Magus of the SRIA in 1892, in which capacity he served until 1900. He left the order in 1903, having failed to repay money which he had borrowed.
Upon the death of William Robert Woodman in 1891, Mathers assumed leadership of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. After a schism in 1900, Mathers formed a group called Alpha et Omega.
His wife was Moina Mathers (née Mina Bergson), the sister of the philosopher Henri Bergson.
Mathers apparently knew how to read and translate a number of languages, including English, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Gaelic and Coptic. His translations of such books as The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, The Kabbalah Unveiled, The Key of Solomon The King and The Lesser Key of Solomon, while probably justly criticized with respect to quality, were responsible for making what had been obscure and inaccessible material widely available to the non-academic English speaking world. They have had considerable influence on the development of occult and esoteric thought since their publication.
In addition to many supporters, he had many enemies and critics. One of his most notable enemies was one time friend and pupil Aleister Crowley, who portrayed Mathers as a villain named SRMD in his 1929 novel Moonchild. According to Crowley's memoirs The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Mathers was in the habit of playing ostensible chess matches against various pagan gods. Mathers would set up the chessboard and seat himself behind the white pieces, with an empty chair opposite him. After making a move for himself, Mathers would then shade his eyes and peer towards the empty chair, waiting for his opponent to signal a move. Mathers would then move a black piece accordingly, then make his next move as white, and so forth. Crowley did not record who won.
Mathers died on November 5 or November 20, 1918. The manner of his death is unknown; his death certificate lists no cause of death. Violet Firth (Dion Fortune) claimed his death was the result of the Spanish influenza of 1918. As few facts are known about Mathers's private life, verification of such claims is very difficult.
Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers
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