Today’s scotsman.com includes a remarkable and significant article about John William Brodie-Innes by renowned Golden Dawn scholar, Robert A Gilbert.

The Golden Dawn was the most well known of the occult groups to emerge at the end of the 19th century. The Order combined a hotchpotch of Masonic ritual with eastern esoteric thought. Under the leadership of Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mather it also moved into the realm of practical magic. Members were instructed in the art of alchemy, the tarot, astrology and astral travel. Eventually Mather was to lose control after a bout of “psychic duelling” with the black magician Aleister Crowley.

The Golden Dawn’s Scottish scion
ROBERT A GILBERT

In the spring of 1903 the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn – a magical society beloved of WB Yeats – broke into pieces, fragmented by its quarrelsome members.

In the power vacuum created after the schism a well-respected Edinburgh lawyer fully expected to become overall chief. John William Brodie-Innes, founder of the Order’s Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh failed utterly in his desire to rule the Order. The writer AE Waite witnessed his humiliation and noted that “it was almost pitiful to notice the change which came over the poor small Pope of Edinburgh”.

The Golden Dawn was the most well known of the occult groups to emerge at the end of the 19th century. The Order combined a hotchpotch of Masonic ritual with eastern esoteric thought. Under the leadership of Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mather it also moved into the realm of practical magic. Members were instructed in the art of alchemy, the tarot, astrology and astral travel. Eventually Mather was to lose control after a bout of “psychic duelling” with the black magician Aleister Crowley.

In this world of spiritual flight and incantation the Scottish lawyer makes an improbable figure. Brodie-Innes was of Scots ancestry but was born in England, on 10 March 1848, at Downe in Kent where his father was vicar. He was educated in England and Germany, obtained a BA degree in Mathematics from Cambridge in 1872, then studied law and was called to the English Bar in 1876. And while the son was studying, the father was moving. In 1861 the Reverend John Innes inherited the family estate of Milton Brodie, near Forres, took on the name of Brodie, and settled into the life of a country landowner. When he died, in 1894, the estate passed to John William, whose career had blossomed in the years between.

In addition to his legal practice at Lincoln’s Inn, Brodie-Innes began to write. First came occasional newspaper articles, then poetry, short stories. In short, he seemed destined for a life as upright and respectable as that of his peers. Yet it was his forays into occultism, which was to become his abiding passion.

How Brodie-Innes – who was, like his father, a High Churchman – came by his curious interests is unknown; perhaps from his wife, who shared them. Frances Annesley Voysey, whom he married in 1879, was a daughter of the Reverend Charles Voysey, who was notorious for having been ejected from his living for heresy. Also, the young couple settled in the Bohemian community of Bedford Park, at Chiswick, which was fertile ground for both theosophy (esoteric philosophy) and magic.

But active involvement did not come until after a move to Edinburgh in 1887, when Brodie-Innes took up Scottish law and was admitted, early in 1888, to the Faculty of Advocates. He yet maintained his English practice and his shuttling between north and south enabled him to join both the Scottish Lodge of the Theosophical Society and in London, the Isis-Urania Temple of the Golden Dawn.

The theory of occultism was widely taught within the Theosophical Society and Brodie-Innes played his part in teaching it. He led the Scottish Lodge, wrote constantly for theosophical journals, and published The True Church of Christ (1892), a book that ran counter to the doctrines of the Episcopal Church, for which he acted as Chancellor of the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles from 1892 until his death. The authorities of his Church would, however, have been more alarmed by how Brodie Innes spent his leisure time.

In London he rose rapidly through the ranks of the Order. He entered the Isis-Urania Temple in August 1890 taking the motto Sub spe (“Under hope”), and rapidly advanced until April 1893, when he received the grade of Adeptus Minor in the magical Inner Order, the Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis. Here he was joined in 1894 by his wife, who had also traversed the path from Neophyte to Adept. By this time they had founded a new Temple, Amen-Ra, at Edinburgh, with Brodie-Innes at its head as Imperator.

Although the Temple was secretive, a small glimpse of what went on is offered to us by the author Arthur Conan Doyle. He was asked to join in 1898 but found it all “queer and disagreeable” hating in particular the “astral examination” carried out on him. He declined to join. There is a suspicion that Bram Stoker, a friend of Brodie-Innes may have been less fastidious than Doyle and accepted an invitation to join.

But the glory-days of the Amen-Ra were short-lived. Brodie-Innes was an autocratic leader and his over-bearing attitude led to faction fighting and schism. Eventually, in 1901, Amen-Ra was closed down and Brodie-Innes sailed on to his final wreck in 1903, after which he turned to the more mundane pursuits of writing and managing his estate.

He left an impressive body of written work, including an immense law book, Comparative Principles of the Law of England and Scotland, and novels. Six were published between 1908 and 1919, all on strange topics and one – The Devil’s Mistress (1915) – an outstanding success. Brodie-Innes also wrote learnedly on occultism and on various aspects of Scottish life and history, but he sometimes expressed odd and reactionary views. The Highland clearances were, he felt, a good thing, for the human population had been too large and the people suffered from the “natural indolence of the Celtic temperament”. He was yet considered, by his fellow lairds at least, to be an excellent landlord.

His final years were beset by tragedy – both his son and his son-in-law were killed during the Great War – and for solace he returned to the Golden Dawn. He was welcomed back into the much-altered Order and up to his death, in December 1923, he played his favourite role: that of Magus before an adoring audience of Neophytes.