Moina Mathers, the Rites of Isis and the birth of the Western Esoteric Tradition

Moina Mathers

Moina Mathers

On this International Women’s Day, we celebrate the achievements of women and recognise the contributions that the fair sex have made to our society. Recognition of the work and contribution of women is often underrated and sometimes just plain lacking. Mina Bergson, later Moina Mathers, was one woman whose impact upon our society is often overlooked.

She was born in 1865, daughter of a Polish/Jewish father and an Irish mother. Bright and irrepressible, this wild-eyed child was the sister of the famous French philosopher, Henri Bergson (“I think therefore I am”). She was a talented artist and when her family moved to Paris she could earn a sou or two painting portraits for the Parisians. By the time she was fifteen she was granted a scholarship to the renowned Slade School of Art in London.

Young Mina moved to London to take up her studies and could often be found hard at work in the British Museum. It was there in 1887, amongst the ancient statues and steles of Old Egypt, that she met and fell in love with a bright and inspirational man, Samuel Mathers. He was a striking figure, standing tall and proud, with a love of all things martial and magical. He fell in love with this Parisian enchantress with her paintings of the Egyptian Gods and soon she fell in love with him.

MacGregor Mathers

S. L. MacGregor Mathers

Mina’s relationship with Samuel was a meeting of two like souls; it is said that neither had any desire for a physical relationship but they both revelled in sharing the workings of their minds and souls. Her beloved, S.L. Mathers later ‘MacGregor’ Mathers, and two other associates founded the Hermetic Order of the Golden in 1888. Much has already been written about this outstanding and historical Order whose influences on the development of Western esoteric thought and practice are vast. Its place in history is assured and its value uncountable.

Coming from Masonic origins, the Order did not really come alive as a fully-functional magical environment until Mina became its first initiate in March of 1888. She married her soul-mate in 1890 and took the name Moina along with the Mathers family name.

Moina's illustration for 'Sacred Magic of Abramelin'

Moina’s illustration for ‘Sacred Magic of Abramelin’

Over the next few years, she brought her artistic talent to the first Temple, Isis-Urania in London, painting its inner sanctum as well as being the possible source of the fantastic magical use of colour that the Order pioneered. Her wild, tousled brown hair and darkly glowing skin made her impossible to forget and her voice rang with the authority of the Inner Planes. It was she who devised the four scales of colour associated with the Tree of Life. When Mathers worked his magic rites, it was her clear, blue eyes that saw the spirits that he had summoned. With his drive and intellect, and her perception and talent the two brought into being a system of magic that is still practised today.

With the death of one of the other founders in 1891, Dr. W. R. Woodman, Mathers assumed the leadership of the Order with Moina at his side. In 1892, they moved to Paris and after a disastrous encounter with the machinations of a certain Mr. Crowley in 1900 they were ejected from the Order. They formed the Alpha et Omega Order with a Temple in Paris they named Ahathoor. In addition to the G.D. work at Ahathoor, they also worked their magic for select audiences – rituals known as the ‘Rites of Isis’.

Moina as Anari

Moina as Anari

In 1899, they performed the Rites of Isis on stage at the Théâtre La Bodinière. Moina would channel an Egyptian High Priestess, known as Anari and Mathers took the role of ‘Archon Basileus’ and channeled Ramses. They worked in a room completely draped in white. All members of their group wore Grecian style robes, surrounded by perfumed exotic flowers. A huge figure of Isis stood in the centre, surrounded by the other Gods. The altar stood centre-stage; the eternal flame burning brightly in a green glass container. Once all were assembled the Rites were performed, the participants dancing in intricate patterns about the stage, invoking the elements, the Gods and Isis, the great Egyptian Mother of Horus.

Moina and Samuel at the Rites of Isis

Moina and Samuel at the Rites of Isis

Only a few, short years after their fame enchanted Paris, the idyll was broken and MacGregor Mathers died in 1918. Moina was devastated but did her best to keep the Ahathoor Temple of Alpha et Omega going. She even initiated Dion Fortune in 1919; only to fall out with her several years later.

Her story ends in sadness though. Amidst claims of black magic she found herself in dire financial straits and slowly withdrew from the world. Eventually, she refused to eat at all and in 1928, she hearkened to the Call of her Spirit and parted the Veil for one last time. Once the Veil of the Temple was open, she stepped through it – perhaps to be reunited with her husband in the Great Beyond.

The tremendous impact that the Order of the Golden Dawn has had on the evolution of the Western Esoteric Tradition will never be forgotten and neither will Moina and Samuel. After the Order had fractured and Moina and her husband formed the Alpha et Omega, the Rites of Isis seemed to be the culmination of their lives’ work. Even though Moina held the Ahathoor Temple together for nearly another decade, it is as if the energies that had ensouled the great vision were slowly retreating back into the Inner Planes and had left Moina to slowly fade away. However, the memory of this enchanting lady will not fade away into the sands of time. It will not fade as long as there are those who question and those who seek. On this International Day of Woman, let us remember little Mina Bergson who became the Seer who, in some ways, gave birth to the Western Esoteric Tradition.


Gary Colcombe, 8th March 2018

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4 – Sword of Wisdom, Ithell Colquhoun. New York, 1975. ISBN 399-11534-8


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