Dr. Robert William Felkin (1853-1926) was a medical missionary and explorer, a ceremonial magician and member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a prolific author on Uganda and Central Africa, and an early anthropologist, with an interest in ethno-medicine and tropical diseases. Felkin is best known as the founder of the Stella Matutina, a schismatic offshoot of the Golden Dawn.
Felkin undertook a retreat with the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield in 1903, and seriously considered becoming a member of the community before going on to found the Stella Matutina in that same year. In 1912, he also founded the Whare Ra Temple in Havelock North, New Zealand.
Felkin was born in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, in 1853, the son of Robert Felkin, a Nonconformist lace manufacturer. Robert Jr was educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School, where he met the explorer David Livingstone, who inspired him to become a medical missionary. In 1878, as yet unlicensed, Felkin joined a mission led by the Church Missionary Society to Central Africa. In 1881, he returned to Edinburgh and completed his medical studies.
In 1882 Felkin married his first wife, Mary. Robert and Mary joined the Theosophical Society in Edinburgh in 1886, but found it lacking in terms of ritual, and in 1894 joined Brodie-Innes' Amen-Ra Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Felkin continued to write and publish. In 1903 Mary died and Robert reinforced his commitment to both Anglican Christianity and occultism. He made a retreat at the monastery of the Mirfield fathers, the Community of the Resurrection, and considered joining the order. Several of the Mirfield fathers had an interest in Rosicrucian and Golden Dawn Christian mysticism, and regarded Felkin as an eminent figure in that tradition.
Also in 1903, a schism occurred within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, when Felkin abandoned S.L. MacGregor Mathers and formed the schismatic Order of the Stella Matutina. The poet W.B. Yeats joined the Stella Matutina and remained a member for 20 years. Felkin’s main temple in London was called Amoun.
From the time that Felkin assumed leadership of the Stella Matutina, he felt the absence of legitimate contact with the “Secret Chiefs” through S.L. MacGregor Mathers whom he had foolishly abandoned. Felkin would search in vain for years to reestablish contact with the Hermetic roots of the Golden Dawn. He had, however, fundamentally misunderstood the true nature of MacGregor Mathers’ teachers.
Felkin’s imagined Magregor Mathers’ quite physical “Secret Chiefs” to be supposed adepts on the astral plane that Felkin called “Sun Masters.” Felkin’s delusionary contact with these astral “Sun Masters” nonetheless went far to reinforce Felkin’s position among the misguided followers of his schismatic, Stella Matutina. Around 1908, Felkin announced that he had astrally contacted an "Arab Teacher" called Ara Ben Shemesh, from a Near Eastern "Temple in the Desert" inhabited by "Sons of Fire", who had been given special permission to contact and teach Western students.
Despite the “Astral Master” nonsense that Felki sold his student’s, he knew that MacGregor Mathers “Secret Chiefs” were physical representatives of a quite ancient Continental European alchemical society. While MacGregor Mathers spend the ensuing years learning more and more from the “Secret Chiefs” in Paris, the schismatic Felkin was to search in vain all across Europe to establish contact with them on his own.
Felkin combed Germany with his wife Harriet from 1906 to 1914, searching for Wescott’s Anna Sprengel or any trace of MacKenzie’s German Rosicrucian adepts. One must, of course, why Felkin sought so desperately across Europe for MacGregor Mathers’ “Secret Chiefs,” if he truly believed the “Astral Master” nonsense that he had been using to keep his students in line.
Despite numerous trips to Germany over an eight year period, Felkin came up empty handed. This is only natural. Why should anyone have ever trusted Felkin with anything truly esoteric after his betrayal of MacGregor Mathers? Thus is the fate of all traitors and schism-makers.
To console himself on his dismal failure to establish any legitimate contact, Felkin made much ado about having met Rudolph Steiner, the father of Anthroposophy. Ever unable to fill the void in his soul left by MacGregor Mathers’ absence, Felkin glorified Steiner, and incorporated elements of Anthroposophy into his practice, including homeopathy.
In 1912 Felkin and his family paid a prolonged visit to New Zealand. On returning to Britain in 1916, Felkin with tireless zeal founded three more daughter-Lodges of the Stella Matutina, together with a side-order and claimed to found the Guild of St. Raphael. He published on the theme of 'Rosicrucian medicine' and, at the height of the German U-boat activity, emigrated permanently with his family to New Zealand as his health broke down with recurrent malaria and other tropical diseases.
Dr. Felkin had established the Smaragdum Thalasses Temple of the Stella Matutina in Havelock North, New Zealand in 1912. The New Zealand Order became known by the Maori name of Whare Ra or "the House of the Sun". Foundations of the house at Whare Ra were laid down by the architect, Chapman Taylor, who later became a member of both the Golden Dawn and the Order of the Table Round (Ordo Tabulae Rotundae), a neo-Arthurian mystical and chivalric order also brought to New Zealand by Felkin.
Felkin spent the rest of his life in New Zealand, where he continued to practice as a consulting physician as well as a magician between bouts of ill health. On 28 December 1926, he died at Havelock North, and was buried in the Havelock North cemetery facing the Whare Ra, wearing the cloak, mantle and purple cross of a Knight of the Ordo Tabulae Rotundae.