Biography of W. Wynn Westcott
Dr. William Wynn Westcott (1848-1925) was born in December 1848 at Leamington, Warwickshire, England. He lost both parents before the age of ten and was adopted by Richard West-cott Martyn, an uncle who was a surgeon by profession. Westcott was educated at the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School at Kingston-upon-Thames, London, and studied medicine at University College, London.
He qualified as a physician in 1871 and became a partner in his uncle's practice in Somerset. He also joined a Masonic lodge in Crewkerne. After 1879, he moved to Hendon, where he pursued studies in occultism for two years. About 1880, he became a leading member of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (Rosicrucian Society of England), an occult society open only to master masons. A year later he was appointed deputy coroner and later coroner for northeast London, and he wrote a number of articles for the Medical Directory. During this period, his occultism remained a closely guarded secret.
In 1887, he acquired an old manuscript written in code, which Wescott reported to have been bought from a bookstall in Farringdon Road, London. These “Cypher Manuscripts” contained the teachings and initiation rituals with which to found the Golden Dawn, coded using Trithemius “Stenographia.” In the pages of the manuscript was reportedly a sheet of paper with the name and address of a Fraulein Sprengel, a Rosicrucian adept living in Germany.
Westcott allegedly deciphered the manuscript. The rituals were expanded by Westcott's occultist friend S. L. MacGregor Mathers, also a member of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. Westcott thereupon allegedly corresponded with Sprengel, who reportedly authorized him to found an English branch of the German occult society Die Goldene Dämmerung. Westcott, Mathers, and W. R. Woodman thereupon founded the Isis-Urania Temple number 3 of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1888. Westcott's occult motto in the order was Sapere Aude (Dare to Be Wise).
Thus goes is the “official” story of the foundation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The truth, however, is somewhat different. Wescott actually obtained the Cypher Manuscripts from the widow of famous Rosicrucian and Freemasonic researcher, Kenneth Mackenzie, and deliberately attempted to obscure this true source. Why would William Wynn Wescott lie about the true origins of the cipher manuscripts?
To understand this apparent mystery one must bear in mind that W.Wynn Wescott was not merely a Chief of the Golden Dawn, but beginning in 1890 also became the Supreme Magus of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA). In his “History of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia,” Wynn Wescott writes not only of Keneth “MacKenzie’s Rosicrucian initiation in Austria while living with Count Apponyi as an English tutor,” but also writes that “MacKenzie had been in communication with German Adepts who claimed a descent from previous generations of Rosicrucians that had admitted him to some grades of their system and had permitted him to attempt the foundation of a group of Rosicrucian students in England, who under the Rosicrucian name of the information that might form a partly esoteric society.”
SRIA had been founded in 1866 by Robert Wentworth Litte and had no legitimate Rosicrucian lineage. Under Wescott’s tenure as Supreme Magus, the SRIA began circulated a story that MacKenzie has communicated his Rosicrucian lineage to Little for the SRIA. MacKenzie was listed as a Past Magus of the SRIA on a leaflet stating the aims of the society in 1892, signed by then Secretary General W.J. Ferguson. The attempt to posthumously frame MacKenzie as a founder of the society, and thus claim MacKenzie’s Rosicrucian lineage for the SRIA reached new depths of depravity when uder Wescott’s leadership even the original Society register was altered. MacKenzie's name originally stood as number 114. This was altered to 0.
Kenneth MacKenzie had indeed been given teaching materials and a Rosicrucian lineage with which to form a branch of an esoteric order in England. This order was not, however, the SRIA, but rather the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn! Upon his return to England after being initiated by Count Apponyi in Austria, Kenneth MacKenzie founded an esoteric originally called as the “Fratres Lucis.” MacKenzie’s temple was Number one, followed by the Bristol temple of F.G. Irwin as Number two. Isis-Urania therefore became Temple Number three when the Golden Dawn was officially "founded" in 1888.
Wescott attempted to deliberately obscure the source of the Cypher Manuscripts with which the Golden Dawn was founded in an attempt to steal the Golden Dawn’s Rosicrucian affiliation of Kenneth MacKenzie for the SRIA. Westcott retired from the Golden Dawn by around 1897, possibly because of pressure relating to his official status as a coroner. In his later years, he moved to Durban, South Africa, where he became vice president of two Theosophical Society lodges. He died June 30, 1925.