Essays - The Shrine of the Golden Hawk – The Revival of Florence Farr’s
Ritual Drama by Caroline Wise
The Shrine of the Golden Hawk is a short one scene play written in 1900 and
attributed to Florence Farr, a leading member of The Hermetic Order of the
Golden Dawn, and Olivia Shakespear, but it is very much Florence’s play.

“Whoso is made one with the gods makes their holy places desolate, and himself
becomes the sanctuary.” Nectoris, Farr’s Priestess of Isis

It is 17 years since I first produced this play, which was performed by ‘The
Company of Hathor’, all but one of whom were FOI members. Olivia Robertson
came over from Ireland for the performance, and many FOI members

We presented it, along with Florence Farr’s other Egyptian play ‘The Beloved of
Hathor’ at the Rudolf Steiner Theatre, London, on August 21st 1993. Florence
Farr and her colleague Olivia Shakespear wrote their two plays in 1901.  There
have been two ‘ritualised readings’ at Treadwells Bookshop, Covent Garden, one
of which Laura Janesdaughter flew over from California to see. It is with great
pleasure and some pride that we will be taking Florence’s play to the United
States, for the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle, in September, where their
own cast are rehearsing it as I write! This performance will be the sixth time to
our knowledge that the play has been given voice to an audience.  

The genesis of the 1993 production.

Florence Farr put in an appearance during an impromptu séance at the home of
some friends some years earlier. A spirit contact identified herself as Florence
Farr, and requested that I “Put on my Egyptian plays.”

Further communication added that any monies raised were to go to ‘breast
cancer charity.” She stated quite clearly that no one was to make “personal
money” from her plays, and that she did not approve of people “Making money
from the mysteries.”

After that, several polished semi-precious stones appeared. The possible
significance of those apports was lost on me until October 2007, when during of
a rehearsal reading for another production, I realised they could relate to the
gemstones stones that the script says built the Shrine.  

Included in the guests at the séance were my psychic questing friends Boyd
Lees and John Merron. We were used to séances and apports. Three of us
present had heard of Florence Farr. I knew she had been in The Hermetic
Order of the Golden Dawn, and I knew she had written a book called ‘Egyptian
Magic’. I vaguely assumed that the message was referring to this book.
Florence had cropped up, psychically, some years before, at the home of  the
late Marion Sunderland. She and her colleagues were working psychically with
what has become known as ‘The Green Stone’ or ‘The Meonia Saga’. She
manifested to Marion’s daughter and apparently mentioned Isis. I was not
present when this took place, and the people who were did not know whom
Florence was or understand the message. Lots of other activity occurred and
Florence’s significance there was lost. So I was intrigued by her re-appearance
at our gathering.  

I had no doubt, that day, that I would do as she had requested and put on her
plays. My faith was as big as my naivety!  I had no idea that copies of the plays
were extremely rare. If an actual copy of the plays had apported into the
séance room, it would have helped! Back in London, in those pre-internet days
(remember them?) my quest for the scripts began. One Golden Dawn collector
told me his copy had been destroyed by water in a cargo hold enroute to the
USA from Ireland. Another specialist got quite shirty and wouldn’t let me have
photocopies of the plays, as he “wasn’t a charity, he had a business to run”. (I
only asked!)  The British Library couldn’t help. (I didn’t realise there was a copy
in the York Collection just up the road from Atlantis Bookshop, the shop I used
to own!). It dawned on me that getting copies of these plays was not going to be
easy. I was drawing blanks at every turn. Yet I had absolutely no doubt that
they would come into my hands.

I set about getting to know Florence, and was captivated. Here was such a
refreshing, modern, shinning person, a brilliant magician, a woman who, in 1886,
with Allan Bennett in attendance, brought the mercurial spirit Taphtharthareth
into visible manifestation. I discovered Florence had made dynamic Enochian
experiments, was a serious Egyptologist, studying with Budge. She studied  
alchemy with Ayton, and that she worked on scrying and spirit contact, on
Eastern Mysticism and on the magical aspects of London. She was an
accomplished actress, a musician, composer, novelist, journalist, and just
delightfully ahead of her time. She had a healthy attitude towards sex, and
believed in the liberation and education of  Women. Here was a rebel-without-a-
chip on her shoulder. Florence, Bernard Shaw’s New Woman, was actually very
much Her Own Woman.

‘The Beloved of Hathor’, with its theme “Love must serve and Wisdom rule” has
more action, angst and drama than the Shrine of the Golden Hawk, yet is more
Olivia Shakespear’s play than Florence’s. It has the feel of the 1920s despite
being written two decades earlier, and it takes a lot of effort to keep it above
the appearance of farce.

The Shrine is Florence’s own. It has a deeper resonance, and is a more a
dramatic ritual than ritual drama. Wrapped around alchemy, talismans, and
stunning invocations are Florence’s observations of some of the male magicians
in the Golden Dawn. It expresses her views on the equality of women and their
capability as Adepts priestesses, leaders and wisdom holders. It reveals
Florence’s understanding of the magic and the magician and the importance of
self-knowledge and mysticism, on which so many magicians and the priesthood
can fall short.

The play is set in a cave shrine in Sinai. Gebuel, the Magician of Fire and Metals,
makes a talisman to Heru (Horus) in the form of a golden hawk. The god will
dwell in his statue.  His intention is to use the talisman to overwhelm the power
of Zozer. (Djoser) King of Egypt. Heru, (Horus) represents the reborn
pharaoh, so such a talisman, capturing the essence of the metaphysical
manifestation of the Divine King, would be an effective weapon to wield. Zoser,
has initiated the building of the step-pyramid built at Saqqara, which becomes
one of the wonders of the ancient world.  This centre of power can also be
attacked by the magical weapon, as Sokar, the hawk headed Funerary god has a
presence there, probably lending his name to “Saqqara’.  Zozer gets wind of
Gebuel’s  magical conjurations and their aims, and sends his daughter, Nectoris,
who a priestess of Isis, to win the golden hawk for Egypt.

During the dialogue, Nectoris converses with her Ka, her sister-soul. The Ka is
represented on Ancient Egyptian frescoes as a smaller figure walking behind
the king or queen. It represents the subtle body, and supports and strengthens
the material body. The Ka is our ‘higher self’, or  Guardian Angel. Nectoris is,
like the Isian High Priestess of the tarot, listening to her inner voice. She tells
her that the gods dwell in our selves. We are the talisman and the shrine.

Florence’s words  dazzle, as Nectoris declares:

“Let my feet move now in Triumph to the music of the worlds beyond space,
where thy mighty heart beats out a rhythm, making the world to fall and rise in
their order, and the star to follow in their courses!  I am drunk with conquest,
and I shake the sistrum and dance with my naked feet unscathed on thy golden
floor! And the measures I dance are to me as the movement of a great army
which has scaled the awful walls of thy majesty, and taken the fortress of thy

W.B. Yeats describes being “caught up with one final dramatic moment when a
priestess, who has just been shaking in terror before her god, dances in
ecstasy.”  Watching The Shrine of the Golden Hawk was a mystical experience
for him.

The Production

One day in 1993, I was at work in Atlantis Bookshop. The postman dropped a
package on my desk. Inside was a strange old booklet, I laughed out loud when
I saw what it was. An original copy of the plays had been secured and provided
by an old friend and one of the earliest FOI members, and good sport with
enormous generosity. He said it was a ‘permanent loan.’

I went into action straight away. I needed actors, and rehearsal space, and
absolute commitment. I needed not only people who could carry it off and act
well, I needed people who were looked the part and understood invocation and
magic. This was no mere play! I drew up my list and made my calls, and to every
single one agreed with no hesitation.  

The then vicar’s secretary of the local Church, St Georges Church Bloomsbury,
made the crypt available for twice weekly rehearsals. The vicar was not
informed. This church, designed by Nicolas Hawksmoor’s has the sacred
architecture of the ancient temples, so when we were doing our invocations in
rehearsal, they were helped by this sacred geometry. There are many ‘tales of
the crypt’ we can tell you, but those are for another time!  Let us just say there
were others quietly present that we were unaware of at the time, and they
were probably unaware of us! We rehearsed two days a week for six months, no
one missed a day, one of the players even came all the way back during a holiday
in Devon. The commitment and devotion was amazing, and the Divaesque
tantrums few.

I needed to secure a venue for our charity performance. My first thought was
the Shaw Theatre for obvious reasons, but their charity rate, although fair, was
far too much for us.  My friend and colleague Karl Duncan, FOI Priest of
Sekhmet and Bride, then of Psychic News, contacted a friend at the Rudolf
Steiner Theatre and it was offered to us for £450 for the night. This felt
right. Florence Farr, along with her Golden Dawn colleague Annie Horniman had a
huge impact on the development of  modern theatre. So to did Rudolf Steiner, in
terms of the use and development of colour in stage lighting. The theatre was
intimate, friendly, with the beautifully organic Steiner architecture and colour
wrapped around us. It was totally connected to, and for, mystical practice.
Florence worked with sound and voice, and the Steiner movement explored
movement and colour, the ‘Living Speech’ and ‘moving language’ of  Eurhythmy.
Steiner was a brilliant esotericist and educationer, with a lot in common with
Farr. Shaw, however was exasperated by Farr’s esoteric endeavors. And I was
growing tired of only reading about the glittering Florence in association with
Shaw. The Steiner Theatre was the right choice.

Next, we had to sell tickets. I remember nights spent posting flyers, magazines
in the shop being stuffed with leaflets. For all the pagan opportunists that
appeared out of the woodwork trying to sell us Egyptian props for hundreds of
pounds and going off in strops when they were refused, there were many more
genuine offers of help. Costumes were provided, props made and lent, and free
adverts offered. FOI Arch Priestess and Golden Dawn expert Mary Greer
wrote for the programme, as did other members. We priced the tickets at £5
each, and on the night we were turning people away. The theatre seated 250.

After all the costs had been deducted, including the theatre, the lighting guy,
the back drop, fire proofing, and printing, with ticket sales and donations we
raised just £750.

It seemed a pathetic amount, as I trundled off to deliver the cheque I felt
quite depressed.  I took a copy of the original programme with me to show them
what we had done. I was actually a bit worried that they may not want to be
associated with the occultism. In those days, ludicrous stories were appearing in
the press, and people were only too willing to believe them. We were waiting to
have our shop windows broken, or be exposed in the Sunday Newspapers as
Satanists, such was the backdrop of the time.  

I found my charity, Breast Care and Mastectomy Association of Great Britain
(now Breast Cancer Care) in the basement of a larger Macmillan building. I told
them what we had done, and showed them the programme. I apologized for
what seemed such a small donation. Then I realised that the woman I had given
it to, and to whom I was rambling on about Florence Farr, was crying. They were
overwhelmed that we had done this, and thrilled to keep the programme for
their archives.

A donation from all future productions will go to Breast Cancer Care.