Samuel Liddell Mathers was one of the seminal figures in the annals of modern esoteric tarot, having co-founded and eventually dominated the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, single-handedly penning a large portion of the tarot curriculum that was compiled in Liber T. (Hmm, why does spellcheck keep trying to substitute “single-underhandedly” and “single-highhandedly?” Maybe it’s smarter than I thought.) Somewhere along the line, Mathers adopted the moniker “MacGregor” as part of his extended surname. From what I can find out, he had no Scottish ancestry whatsoever, and could have done this primarily to associate himself with the Rosicrucianism of Kenneth MacKenzie in the minds of the British occult cognoscenti. (MacKenzie may have been the author of the Order’s charter documents, the Cypher Manuscripts.) I sometimes wonder whether this curious extravagance had a more profound occult rationale behind it.
It seems more likely that he simply wanted to project a romantic persona as a reputed descendant of the ancient Scottish clan (who were called “Children of the Mist” and apparently persecuted), since he exhibited a rather inflated self-image in later dealings with his mutinous followers. This is something that Aleister Crowley (no slouch himself in that department) ran head-on into during the fracturing of the Order. I always found his claimed credentials to be intriguing but more than a little suspect, suggesting an egotistical Victorian “Moses” who was the only one privileged to communicate with the discarnate “Secret Chiefs.” Yeah, right.
It appears to be indisputable that he was an accomplished scholar of Latin esoterica (judging from his translation of Knorr von Rosenrath’s Kabbala Denudata), but that alone does not a grand master make. I have no doubt that the uninitiated masses needed a credible bellwether to lead them, but I don’t understand why it had to be couched in such high-flown puffery. But as is often said, “that was then and this is now.” These days we have “charismatic” leaders who don’t need credentials, as is amply demonstrated by modern politics and religion.
I have a fondness for deconstructing names by turning the letters of each component (given name, middle name and surname) into numbers, compounding the values of each sub-set into a single number from 1 to 22, transliterating those numbers into three Hebrew letters and using the qabalistic symbolism attached to those letters to create graphic “sigils” – vivid, hand-colored, public-domain clip-art collages – that I call Hermetic (more properly “gematrial”) heraldry. I believe I posted my results previously, but it’s been a while. Here is the rendering of my own name. Every image and every color except the background has a meaning, and I wrote a detailed set of “developer’s notes” to substantiate it. This was quite labor-intensive, what with all of the attendant mental gymnastics, image selection, downloading, printing, cutting, gluing, copying and coloring, so I only did three more for my wife, brother and sister-in-law.