Early History

Dr. William Robert Woodman (b. 1828, d. December 20, 1891): Dr. Woodman is least known among the three founders of the Golden Dawn, due to the fact that he died before the creation of the Golden Dawn’s Second Order, the R.R. et A.C., and before the more turbulent years of the Order’s history.

Woodman was born in in England in1828. He studied medicine and was licensed in 1851. That same year he volunteered as a surgeon during Napoleon III’s coup d’etat . He then set up his own general practice at Stoke Newington where he also served as police surgeon.

In addition to his interests in medicine and Hermeticism, Woodman had a love for gardening. He was a prominent horticulturalist and flower exhibitor. After inheriting some property in Exeter, he retired there in 1871 to pursue his gardening aspirations, but moved back to London in 1887. So admired was he in that field of expertise that after his death, the Royal Horticultural Society erected a memorial for his grave in Willesden. 

Masonic History

Dr. Woodman was a well-known and admired Freemason. He was appointed Grand Sword Bearer of the United Grand Lodge of England, and he held high rank in many Orders, including the Order of the Red Cross of Constantine.

The S.R.I.A. and the G.D.

The Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia or Rosicrucian Society in England was founded in London by Robert Wentworth Little and six other Masons on June 1, 1867. Dr. Woodman was admitted into the Soc. Ros. on October 31, 1867 and appointed to the office of Secretary General in February 1868. He served as co-editor for the society’s journal, The Rosicrucian, which was first published in July 1868. In 1876, Woodman was appointed Junior Substitute Magus, and in 1877 he was appointed Senior Substitute Magus. When Robert Little died in April 1878, Woodman, whom Little had previously chosen to be his successor, became Supreme Magus of the society and took over The Rosicrucian as well. Under Woodman’s rule, the Soc. Ros. expanded from London to the rest of England and was exporting its influence to Australia and America, gaining rapid acceptance as the world’s premier Rosicrucian Society. Woodman was also credited with adding a Qabalistic emphasis to the studies of the S.R.I.A.

The History of the S.R.I.A. states that: “It was only after Frater Little’s death that Frater Woodman’s great interest in the ancient philosophies became apparent, but no doubt this was well-known to his contemporaries. His main interests included a deep understanding of old Hebrew philosophy, of Egyptology, of Platonist and Neo-Platonist writers, together with a study of Alchemy and the Tarot.” [1] In an obituary, Westcott later described Woodman as “an excellent Hebrew scholar, and one of the few English masters of the Hebrew Kabalah.” [2]

Dr. Woodman’s Qabalistic interests were shared by two individuals who were to join the S.R.I.A.: Dr.William Wynn Westcott , who became a member in 1880, and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers , who joined in 1882. Woodman, twenty years Westcott’s senior, was undoubtedly looked upon with respect by his two junior Fratres. Because of Woodman’s position as Supreme Magus of the Soc. Ros., as well as his keen grasp of the Qabalah and Hermeticism, Westcott approached the elder Mason to become a founding member in a triumvirate of ruling Chiefs in his new Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn. He held the office of Imperator of Isis-Urania Temple #3 in deference to his high status in the Soc. Ros. His mottos in the Order were Magna est Veritas et Praelavebit (5=6, “Great is the Truth and it shall Prevail”) and Vincit Omnia Veritas (7=4, “Truth Rules All”).

Unfortunately, none of the addresses Woodman may have given to the members of Westcott’s fledgling Order have survived, but his influence was certainly felt in such areas as the Qabalistic Knowledge Lectures of the Golden Dawn.

Dr. Woodman died suddenly on December 20, 1891 after a brief illness. He left behind a letter naming William Wynn Westcott as his successor to the S.R.I.A. and donating a portion of his library to the society. In the Golden Dawn, no one was appointed to take his place in the Triad of Chiefs: Westcott became Praemonstrator and Mathers, Imperator. 


Gilbert, R.A., The Golden Dawn Scrapbook . York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1997

History of the S,R.I.A.: A History of Rosicrucian Thought and of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia . Privately printed for the S.R.I.A. in 1987.

Küntz, Darcy. The Golden Dawn Source Book , Edmonds, WA: Holmes Publishing Group, 1996.


[1] History of the S,R.I.A.: page 220 

[2] Gilbert, The Golden Dawn Scrapbook, page 73. 

Biography copyright © 2000- 2021 by Sandra Tabatha Cicero