Whare Ra is the name of the building which housed the New Zealand branch of the magical order the Stella Matutina. It was designed and the construction overseen by one of New Zealand’s most famous architects, and a senior member of the Order, James Walter Chapman-Taylor.
"Whare Ra" was one of the last surviving Temples that could trace its lineage back to the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It was the only Temple to operate in a permanent, purpose-built building.
The foundations for the Order in New Zealand were laid by Reginald Gardiner (1872-1959). Born in New South Wales, Australia, he was the son of an Anglican vicar and brother of the Anglican vicar of St Luke's Church, Havelock North, New Zealand, where he finally settled in 1907. He formed about him an artistic, cultural and spiritual group whose activities became known as the "Havelock Work", and produced a publication called “The Forerunner”. The Havelock Work grew and in time the group became known as the Society of the Southern Cross.
In 1910, Revd. Father J. Fitzgerald travelled to New Zealand on Church business, and was introduced to the group. He was suitably impressed, and prior to his return to Britain, promised to stay in touch and to do what he could to help. In due course he wrote that if further progress were to be made, that certain people of his acquaintance would need to come out from England.
In 1912 Dr. Robert Felkin, Chief of the Order of the Stella Matutina arrived, assisted by his appointment as Inspector of the Australasian Colleges of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia by William Wynn Westcott, one of the original Chiefs of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Supreme Magus of the S.R.I.A.
Founding of the Smaragdum Thallasses Temple No 49
Travelling with his wife and daughter, he initiated a group of twenty-four members into the Order, twelve of whom were advanced to the "Second Order". A sizeable piece of land was donated, and a home for the Order constructed, which they named “Whare Ra”, or House of the Sun. It was in the basement of this house, that the large Temple was built.
- "Whare Ra is a large 3,000 sq. ft. building with the upper floor having the same footprint as the Temple below. The reinforced concrete construction was an innovative choice at the time when there was still strong resistance to any building material other than timber. But 'Whare Ra' was to be a very different building from a domestic home and the advantages of fire resistance, low maintenance, permanence and durability appealed. Also, the monolithic quality could not be ignored and it was desirable that the Temple should be of one continuous form. The reinforced walls were six inches thick and were poured by sections at a time into boxing of around a metre in height."
During their three-month stay, sufficient members had been initiated to make a beginning, and the building commissioned and sufficiently advanced to enable its Consecration. Before leaving New Zealand to return to England, a Warrant was issued establishing the Smaragdum Thallasses Temple No. 49 of the Order of the Stella Matutina. The three Chiefs that appeared on the Warrant were Reginald Gardiner, Mason Chambers, and probably Harold Large (or possibly Thomas Chambers).
A trust had been set up to manage the monetary affairs of the Order, with the trustees being Mason Chambers, his wife Margaret Chambers, the younger John Chambers, and Reginald Gardiner. The trust deed stated that the group were formed:
- "For the purpose of instituting carrying on or developing such scientific, religious charitable and similar work as the trustees shall in this discretion deem expedient and also for the purpose of aiding and assisting the carrying out or developing of literary work in all its branches and crafts work and similar or analogous work of which the trustees may in their absolute discretion approve or for such one or more or all of the above purposes as the trustees may from time to time determine."
John von Dadelszen, who spent most of his adult life in the Order, and who had been a Temple Warden and one of its last Chiefs, stated that the Order:
- "...used a threefold system of training, i.e. ceremonial, meditation and personal study. The ceremonial involved a series of grades, with an appropriate ritual for each grade; rather on the lines of Masonic degrees, but based on the symbolism of the Tree of Life, which is the Hebrew Qabalah. There was also a special ceremony, of a more cosmic nature, to mark the vernal and autumnal equinoxes."
The temple prospers
In 1916, at the invitation of the members of the New Zealand branch, and with the offer of life tenancy of “Whare Ra”, Dr Felkin and his family returned to New Zealand for good. He issued a new constitution for the Order of the Stella Matutina in the same year, informing members that the Mother Temple of the Order was now in New Zealand. The Order, governed by three ruling Chiefs, prospered under their leadership. By the time of the death of Dr Felkin in 1926, it had a very active membership and was well established – its membership included two Anglican Bishops, General Sir Arthur Russell, Lord Jellicoe, Governor General of New Zealand, members of Parliament, and local dignitaries and officials.
Entrance to the Temple, by the candidate for initiation, was via a secret staircase behind a wardrobe, located in Dr Felkin's surgery.
- “Halfway down the stairs, where the candidate was required to await further instructions, was a landing, known as “the Cave”, lined with hessian curtains on which Egyptian figures were worked in light blue. After an interval of time the candidate was met by two Temple officers dressed in robes and Egyptian headdresses, blind-folded by one of them, and then led into the Temple where the ceremony of initiation began.”
In 1931 a devastating earthquake hit the area, and many buildings were levelled or damaged. With its fortress like construction, Whare Ra was unscathed.
- "The big earthquake of 1931 did no damage whatsoever. Except that the Black Pillar, being top-heavy fell on the paw of the black sphinx on the north side of the steps to the dais in the Temple below the house."
In its heyday during the 1930s, it has been estimated that its membership numbered some 300 men and woman, and during its 60-plus-year history that approximately 400–500 people had been initiated. It was during this time that the Temple distanced itself from the affairs of the Stella Matutina in Britain, and renamed itself simply the Order of Smaragdum Thallasses.
In 1949, in the last issue of The Lantern, Mrs. Felkin stated:
- "Perhaps, before very long. someone else will take up the torch that I lay down and endeavour to carry the light a little further. Put as briefly as I can express it, I think it is the conviction of the reality of a spiritual world, not beyond or above our ordinary, everyday world, but interwoven with it here and now."
In 1959 Mr Gardiner and Mrs Felkin died, followed by Miss Felkin three years later.
During the late 1960s, Frater Albertus of the Paracelsus Research Society visited Whare Ra. He reported this visit to members of the society in one of their bulletins.
- "In the heart of the north island--New Zealand has two main islands-- is an interesting spot where much activity centers about the ancient wisdom. Not only are the Maories custodians of this ancient wisdom, but the later settlers brought much with them from Europe that they know how to perpetuate. Dr. Felkin was one of them. Under the Maori name "Whare Ra" (house of the sun) the Order of the Golden Dawn has its present quarters and underground temple in a beautiful, secluded and heavily landscaped place.
- "The "chiefs" as they are called, heading Whare Ra, Messrs. von Dadelszen and Salt and Mrs. Jones, whom we met proved to be very fine people with a fervent interest in perpetuating the work of the Golden Dawn, brought to New Zealand by Dr. Felkin before the first World War."
However, by 1978 it was clear that Whare Ra was a spent force. On 24 August 1978 a letter was circulated to members announcing the closure:
- "Dear Fratres and Sorores,
- This letter is addressed to all members of the Order of S.T., including members of the Second Order.
- It is with great great regret that we write to inform you that the Temple is closing and there will be no Vernal Equinox Ceremony.
- Those of you who have been present at recent Equinox Ceremonies will surely have been aware, not only of the lack of numbers, but also the lack of power, in the Temple. Those who have read their annual reports can scarcely have failed to notice that no new members have been admitted since 1975. Indeed there have been no grade ceremonies at all for the last two years or more. ..."
Much to the regret of many esoteric historians they burnt most of the group's regalia, Temple furnishings and records. Fortunately some things survived, including the Temple's pillars, the two sphinxes which flanked either side of the dais steps, and many copies of the rituals and lectures were passed on and preserved.
Whare Ra is now in private hands, and has been registered as a category "I" protected building by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
- Anon (2012). The Lantern Volume I (A Wayfaring Man Part I). Sub Rosa Press New Zealand. ISBN 978-0-473-23184-2.
- Ellwood, Robert S. (1993). Islands of the Dawn. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1487-8.
- Zalewski, Patrick J. (1988). Secret Inner Order Rituals of the Golden Dawn. Falcon Press. ISBN 0-941404-65-X.
- von Dadelszen, John (September 9, 1983). The Havelock Work 1909-39. Te Mata Times.
- Siers, Judy (2007). The Life and Times of James Walter Chapman-Taylor. Millwood Heritage Productions. ISBN 978-0-473-11340-7.
- Wright, Matthew (1996). Havelock North, The History of a Village. Hastings District Council. ISBN 0-473-03962-1.
- Gilbert, R. A. (1986). The Golden Dawn Companion. Aquarian Press. ISBN 0-85030-436-9.
- Paracelsus Research Society (1968). Alchemical Laboratory Bulletin, Paracelsus Research Society 3rd Quarter, 1968, No. 36.