The Early Dawn Society have been, in one form or another, around for just over 100 years. Their ‘patron’ and ‘founding member’ was, so they say, Oscar Wilde, whose wife was known to be a member of the Golden Dawn. Oscar Wilde’s own society was an attempt to parody the officious gentlemen of the Golden Dawn, though a brush with the King in Yellow, which was published during the early days of the society, led to it taking on a more responsible role.
Originally known as the Order of the Early Dawn (to mimic the Order of the Golden Dawn), the name comes from some Oscar Wilde quote about dreamers being the only people who can find their way by moonlight, and that their punishment and reward is that they see the dawning of a new day before the rest of the world.
Originally the Early Dawn was little more than a gentleman’s club for avant garde free-thinking men (and women) of an artistic bend, who took on the mannerisms of the Golden Dawn in an attempt to ridicule them. They then discovered, beyond the pretensions and posturings of that there were ‘genuine’ rituals and formula that allowed the members the ability to achieve altered states of experience, and others that hinted at a genuine ability to conjure magic. Originally these were limited to hypnotic suggestion, altered perceptions (without the use of drugs), meditations and trances, the sorts of things we have more understanding of in these ‘enlightened’ times. Later on the Early Dawn discovered that there was more to the world than they knew within their comfortable social clubs and homes.
The story goes that Oscar Wilde was one of the first in London to acquire a copy of the play The King in Yellow. He himself had released a Yellow Book [actually, he was not directly involved with it] at about the same time, though it’s vices paled with the sense of dread brought about by the play. Through him (and his wife), the Golden Dawn was introduced to the King in Yellow. Some of the members were intrigued by it and began to delve into the more esoteric meanings, the archetypical characters and symbolism of masks and symbols. The majority of the Golden Dawn members, however, were educated and important members of society who wanted nothing to do with the book, but those few that began to show interest sowed seeds of dissent and chaos.
Wilde became aware of how seriously some members of the Golden Dawn had taken things, and his own order, still much more a joke than a real society at this time, began to investigate the story and were disturbed by what they found. From this point on, they withdrew from the public eye as a society, conducting their investigations with greater care.
Historically Wilde’s wife left the Golden Dawn soon after. Not long after her departure from the Golden Dawn it was discovered that a leaflet had been published and circulated within the society, penned by an anonymous author, advocating the use of sex within magic rituals. To this day no-one knows for sure who wrote the leaflet. Some members of the Early Dawn suspect it may have been either Wilde or his wife, drawing attention to the great dangers of the book.
The Early Dawn sought to put a stop to the corrupting influence of the King in Yellow, though bizarrely, in those early days they used the Yellow Sign as a symbol to identify fellow members. Back then they could sense some of the inherent power of the Sign, but had no idea of quite what it was. It was Wilde’s attempt to contain the spread of the play that lead him to encounter Robert W. Chambers, before he’d written his own book about the play. Chambers, misunderstanding the motivations of Wilde and his use of symbolism from the play to counter it’s effects, went on to caricature Wilde in his story ‘The Repairer of Reputations’. Set in a then-futuristic 1920s, the story had a deformed Wilde with a list of a thousand men that had received the Sign and would do his bidding.
Apparently when author H. P. Lovecraft picked up on ‘a whole secret cult of evil men’ linked to Hastur and the Yellow Sign, referred to by other authors as ‘The Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign’, this was based on Chambers earlier speculations. This may be a direct result of the secretive nature of the Early Dawn. The society has no ties to the play other than using the play’s symbols against it.
They have long since given up the use of the Sign, as it courts too much danger. However, the mask is a symbol they still use, though only in regards to specific rituals and tasks. Wilde once wrote “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” In essence, the idea is that in wearing the masks, people are less worried about how they appear. The mask is used by members of the EDS to inhibit their egos, and forces them to work towards a similar goal.
Much of their work is to understand the enemy more - primarily their research is dream based. If the play depicts a reality rather than an idea, they believe that dreams are the way that it manifests. That the subconscious is the way it finds its way into the minds of men. This, in particular, is why LUCID dreaming is an important ideal, to give some small measure of control over the vibrations or spirits. The Society practices lucid dreaming and astral projection, in an attempt to fight these unseen influences.
Since the early days they’ve discovered there are more dangers in the world than the influence of the King in Yellow, though they have had a tougher time getting up to speed on these additional ‘situations’. Various members have different beliefs about what they are actually fighting. No one claims to fight demons and monsters as such, though they believe there are negative vibrations, restless spirits, a universal subconscious and the like.
They’ve also demonstrated an ability to get into my dreams, though whether this is actually visitation through astral projection or just the ability to plant suggestions during a persons waking life in order to affect their dreams is a secret only they know.
The Early Dawn Society has invested in a couple of research centres in London, plus a further centre in Brichester. In particular, there seems to be something going on around Brichester that causes negative sleep patterns and bad dreams. I myself experienced strange dreams when I went visiting the town with friends some time back, dreams about hooded monks and skeletal figures, and a lake that imitated, in my mind, the Lake of Hali that appears in the King in Yellow. Although apparently large areas of water symbolize the deep wide ‘unknown’ that lurks just beneath the surface. Which almost explains away my bad feelings about there being a genuine presence lurking there in my dream. But not quite.
Rumour has it that the Society also have two copies locked away in a vault, somewhere, first editions from the time the play’s infamy began to spread across Europe. One of these is an English translation, another one is apparently a French original. They also have an early copy of the Chambers book.
Lastly, a matter of membership. I’ve been invited to join their Society, so I suspect they look to recruit people who’ve encounter the King in Yellow in some form (so far I haven’t accepted). Still, from what I’ve heard, membership is extended to those descended from the original members, so that a generation can be brought up with the knowledge to defend themselves and strengthen their willpower when still young. The one member I’ve met in the flesh came from such a family history, and was a little younger than me, in his mid-twenties. There again, I’ve no guarantee he was a genuine member and not just someone in their employ.
I’m not quite sure whether the members of the EDS have seen the Yellow Sign, and have always avoided asking them for fear of appearing to mock the whole premise. I have, however, asked my one contact within the Society whether he has, and he says that he has seen interpretations of it, but never the genuine article. My own opinion is that the earliest members may have been exposed to it, but when the full extent of it’s effects became apparent (or became notorious, at least), this part of the initiation ritual was dropped. To be honest, I’m not sure what the genuine article would look like, having only seen (admittedly similar) interpretations. A contact wrote to say they'd dreamt of the Sign. Not recognising it by appearance but he just ‘knew’. Is this typical dream ‘logic’ or have had he actually seen the real Yellow Sign?
Strangely enough, completely independently of my research, in fact whilst I was looking at some poetry by a friend of mine at poetry.com, I stumbled across ‘Symphony in Yellow’ by Oscar Wilde. I’m not sure why fate pointed me in that direction, but it did startle me. Of course, there’s no reason why Oscar Wilde shouldn’t write a poem invoking the colour yellow (after all I don’t scrutinise Coldplay after writing a song called ‘Yellow’) but there do seem to be certain coincidences. I do believe that, around Wilde’s time, the colour yellow was regarded as being something to do with hedony and vice, but I can’t place where I’ve heard or read that - in this case it would be unfair to point fingers at him. The poem is as follows:
An omnibus across the bridge Crawls like a yellow butterfly, And, here and there, a passer-by Shows like a little restless midge. Big barges full of yellow hay Are moored against the shadowy wharf, And, like a yellow silken scarf, The thick fog hangs along the quay. The yellow leaves begin to fade And flutter from the Temple elms, And at my feet the pale green Thames Lies like a rod of rippled jade.
Golden Dawn member W.B. Yeats - my research lead me to scan through of his poetry, thinking there might be some mention of related material. The closest I found, which I’ve printed elsewhere, was a poem called ‘The Black Tower’, which makes mention of a tower, the moon, the sound of waves on a shore, and the return of a (dead) king. Which might mean nothing - I imagine these are quite archetypical images - but it seems an odd premonition of things to come. However, the few brief biographies I read of him make me think of my own interests and curiosities. I think I’ll probably do further research on this guy.
Further suspicions fall on A.E. Waite, the last person to take control of the Order of the Golden Dawn, which he renamed The Holy Order of the Golden Dawn. It’s interesting to note that his personal motto (and practically all members of the Golden Dawn had one) was ‘Sacramentum Regis’, Latin for ‘The Sacrament of the King’. Again, research so far has yielded little, so I have to delve deeper into his history.
The London Underground system has been around since the late 1800s, but in particular the Circle Line, one of the earliest lines, was constructed in the 1890s. Anyone familiar with the Underground knows this is the yellow line. Of course, the coincidence between the similarity of ‘yellow line’ and ‘yellow sign’ was not lost on me, any more than the fact that one of the major stations on it is King’s Cross. All very tenuous coincidences, I’ll think you’ll agree, but it strikes me odd, doing research, that the line was being built during the same time as the hype about the play was supposed to have occurred. And it is basically a vaguely oval shape from which, at the time, about three lines snake outwards into suburban London. The idea that there is a giant occult symbol built into the schematics of possibly the most famous underground network is a bit ...extreme? ...unlikely? ...scary? I’m quite sure it’s easy to see connections where there aren’t any - A Feng Shui expert would have a field day looking at the angles and alignments of the various lines - but is this what the Early Daen have hinted at? Do the EDS really belief that the architecture of the London Underground received undue attention from occultists? It seems a little weird, doesn’t it? But unsettling...
[Note: On early Underground Maps, the Piccadilly Tube was coloured yellow. It, too, ran through King's Cross...]