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Os Manuscritos Cifrados são uma coleção de 60 fólios contendo o esboço estrutural de uma série de rituais de iniciação mágica correspondendo aos elementos espirituais de Terra, Ar, Água e Fogo. Os materiais "ocultos" nos Manuscritos são um compêndio da teoria mágica clássica e o simbolismo conhecido no mundo Ocidental por volta do século XIX, combinados para criar um modelo abrangente da Tradição do Mistério Ocidental, e arranjado em um plano de estudos de um curso dividido em graus de instrução em simbolismo mágico. Era usado como a estrutura da Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Os fólios estão escritos em tinta preta sobre papel de algodão com marca d'água de 1809. O texto é escrito em inglês plano escrito da direita para a esquerda em uma simples substituição por criptograma conhecido como a cifra de Trithemius. Numerais estão substituídos por letras hebraicas, onde Aleph = 1, Beth = 2, etc. Os desenhos toscos de diagramas, implementos mágicos e cartas do tarô estão intercalados com o texto. Uma página final traduz para o francês e latim.
As cifras contem o esboço de uma série de rituais graduados e o plano de estudos de um curso de instrução em Qabalah e magia hermética, incluindo Astrologia, Tarô, Geomancia e Alquimia. Ele também contém uma série de diagramas e desenhos toscos de vários implementos ritualísticos. Os Manuscritos Cifrados são a fonte original sobre a qual os rituais e as leituras da Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn estão baseados.
O material atual descrito no Manuscrito é de origens conhecidas. Hermetismo, Alquimia, Qabalah, Astrologia e Tarô era, certamente não eram desconhecidos para estudantes das artes mágicas no século XIX; a Cifra é um compêndio das previosamente conhecidas tradições mágicas. A estrutura básica dos rituais e os nomes de Graus são similares àqueles da Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia e a 'Gold und Rosekreuzes'.
William Wynn Westcott, a London Deputy Coroner, member of the S.R.I.A. and one of the founders of the Golden Dawn, claimed to have received the manuscripts through Rev. A. F. A. Woodford, who was a colleague of noted Masonic scholar Kenneth Mackenzie. The papers were to have been secured by Westcott after Mackenzie’s death in 1886, among the belongings of Mackenzie’s mentor, the late Frederick Hockley, and by September 1887, they were decoded by Westcott.
The Manuscripts also contained an address of an aged adept named Fräulein Anna Sprengel in Germany, to whom Westcott wrote inquiring about the contents of the papers. Fräulein Sprengel responded, and after accepting the requests of Westcott and his partner and fellow Mason Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, whom had helped translate the texts, issued them a Charter to operate a Lodge of the Order in England. Westcott's first Golden Dawn temple was the Isis-Urania Temple, styled "No. 3." Temple No. 1 would have been Fräulein Sprengel's lodge, and No. 2 was supposedly an abortive attempt at a lodge by some unnamed persons in London (possibly a reference to Mackenzie and other S.R.I.A. members some years earlier).
Considerable controversy surrounds the origins of the Cipher Manuscripts. Westcott claimed Sprengel was a German Adept of the 'Gold und Rosekreuzes' Order, who wrote letters to Westcott and Mathers granting them permission to establish the Order in England. Mathers later claimed that only the letters were forgeries, but it seems unlikely that Westcott or Mathers wrote the Manuscripts themselves, as some believe.
There is considerable doubt among scholars that Westcott's story is accurate. In particular, the age and contents of the documents has been the subject of much controversy.
- The manuscripts are written on paper watermarked 1809, yet contain reference to Egyptian imagery that was unknown to scholars before the deciphering of the Rosetta stone in 1822.
- References are made to the connection between the Kaballistic Tree of Life and the Tarot trumps. This idea was first put forth by French author Eliphas Levi in 1855.
Possible sources of the Cipher Manuscripts
A variety of theories exist as to the real source of the Cipher Manuscript. Some of the more common ones include:
- Westcott and Mathers created all the Manuscripts and letters themselves, and created the origin myth of "Rosicrucian Adepts" to give credibility to their new Order.
- Mason and clergyman A.F.A. Woodford found the Cipher Manuscript in a secondhand bookstall on Wellington Road in London, and gave it to his friend Westcott to be decoded.
- The Sprengel letters were a forgery by Westcott, but the Manuscripts were written by Kenneth Mackenzie and/or other scholars of the S.R.I.A. (to which Westcott, Mathers and Woodman belonged as early as 1881). Fräulein Sprengel was a legend invented by Westcott to give lineage to the newly formed order. Westcott created the mythology of the Cipher Manuscripts' origins, knowing that a more esoteric source would carry weight with occultists of the era.
- There was no German order; the first Golden Dawn temple was a project of a secret group within the S.R.I.A. called the "Society of Eight". (By the time Westcott "discovered" the Manuscripts, all the members of the Society were deceased.) Fräulein Sprengel didn't really exist, but the Manuscript itself has true antiquarian origins, traceable to Johann Falk and passed through the hands of Francis Barrett, Eliphas Levi, and eventually to Mackenzie, Woodford and the S.R.I.A. (and the Society of Eight).
- There really was a German Rosicrucian order, sometimes referred to as the "Gold und Rosenkreutz", and it already had a branch in London, founded around 1810. Mackinzie was a member of this German order, into which he had been initiated by Count Apponyi of Hungary, and obtained the rituals described in the Cipher from them.
- The rituals in the Manuscripts were written Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton, honorary patron of the SRIA and author of an occult novel called Zanoni - A Strange Story, or by Frederick Hockley, the famous Rosicrucian seer and transcriber of occult manuscripts, and thence passed to Mackenzie.
- The Cipher Manuscript was legitimate, and the Golden Dawn is a valid offspring of an older Jewish order in Bavaria called Loge zur aufgehenden Morgenröthe, or "Lodge of the Approaching Morning Light." This Order was founded to allow German Jews to conduct Masonic-style lodges, since at the time Jews were banned from participation in Freemasonry.
In any case, no evidence has ever proven the existence of Fräulein Sprengel or her Lodge. (By Westcott's account, the other members of the German order supposedly objected to Sprengel's chartering of the Isis-Urania Lodge, and all further communications were cut off after she died.) The Isis-Urania Charter was written and signed only by Westcott, Mathers and William Robert Woodman. There are letters by Mackenzie that indicate the Society of Eight existed, but nothing that describes what they actually taught or practiced. The symbolism and philosophy contained in the Manuscripts are not very different from that of high-degree Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism, and Mackenzie and the members of the S.R.I.A. were capable enough esoteric scholars, with access to works on the Qabalah, Heremticism and Egyptology in Masonic libraries, and to have combined it all into the form followed by the Golden Dawn.
However, there is no conclusive evidence to prove any of the proposed origins of the Cipher Manuscripts. Questions about the authenticity of the Manuscripts and the authority of the Isis-Urania Charter contributed to the first great schism of the Golden Dawn Order in 1900. The true origins of the Cipher Manuscripts remain a mystery to this day.
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