Biography of W.A. Ayton

William Alexander Ayton (1816-1909) was born April 28, 1816, in London, England, and was educated at Charter-house School (then in London) and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England in 1841 and became a clergyman two years later. After serving in various country parishes, he was appointed vicar of Chacombe, Northamptonshire, in 1873.

Ayton was a Freemason and Theosophist as well as a member of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia before becoming one of the early members of the Golden Dawn in July 1888 at the age of 72, together with his wife. He took the magical motto Virtute Orta Occident Rarius (Those that rise by virtue rarely fall), his wife, Anne, took Soror Quam Potero Adjutabo (I will help as much as I can).

Ayton was a good Latin scholar, a firm believer in the Mahatmas of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, as well as gnomes and elementals. With his wife, he had been a secret practitioner of alchemy for many years and claimed to have rediscovered the elixir of life. The poet W. B. Yeats, also a Golden Dawn member, described Ayton as "the most panic-stricken person" he had known. Presumably as an elderly clergyman, pursuing secret researches in occultism and alchemy, Ayton was fearful of being discovered by his Church superiors. He also had obsessive fears about being under threat of occult attack from Jesuits, whom he designated the "Black Brethren." Yeats apparently regarded Ayton with friendly but amused skepticism.

Between 1886 and 1905 Ayton conducted an extensive correspondence with fellow Golden Dawn member F. L. Gardner. These letters, which contain valuable sidelights on occultism and Golden Dawn personalities, were published by Ellic Howe as The Alchemist of the Golden Dawn; The Letters of the Revd W. A. Ayton to F. L. Gardner and Others, 1886-1905.

In 1890 Ayton officiated at the marriage of Moina Bergson to S. L. MacGregor Mathers, both of whom played a key part in the history of the Golden Dawn. When A. E. Waite reorganized the GD in 1903, Ayton was a senior adept of the Second Order and was coopted as a co-chief. In 1908 Ayton translated Dr. Thomas Smith's Life of John Dee (1707) from Latin into English. He also transcribed a number of alchemical texts and Golden Dawn papers. In his later years, Ayton retired to East Grinstead, Sussex, on a small pension, then to Saffron Walden, Hertfordshire, where he died January 1, 1909, at the age of 92.


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