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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Samuel Mathers and Wargaming in the Golden Dawn

Samuel Mathers 

One little known aspect of Samuel Mathers’ life was his love of what these days is called wargaming.   Wargaming is like chess, only it involves the accurate depiction of a battle using toy soldiers on a realistic looking miniature battlefield.
For those who are not familiar with it, it is nuts.  It looks like grown men playing with toy soldiers.  It is like when you were a kid where you had plastic Airfix models that you rolled marbles at.  It is the sort of thing that you grow out of.  In fact it is a lot more complex than that and having played wargaming for a large chunk of my life it is somewhat addictive. Most wargamers know they are a little nuts but they really enjoy the hobby so adopt a “sod you all” approach.   They tend to specialise in historical periods.  I was only interested in the Ancient to Medieval Period and at one point of my life was quite good at it.
Firstly you have to research your military history extremely well.  Not only do your toy soldiers have to be painted realistically, they have to be arranged and fight as historically as possible.  This research not only takes ages, but painting a single figure can take a long time too.  Then there are the rules.  For a wargame to work it requires a set of rules which accurately re-create how a battle is fought.  Mostly this involves scaled down movement, but it also requires a random element that decides if a unit becomes a casualty or runs away.  This enables the table top general to concentrate on the tactical picture.
A modern Ancients wargame
The Prussian Army had seen the merits of wargaming, or Kriegsspiel,  since 1812  and used it for training officers in the Prussian army. It was originally produced and developed further by Lieutenant Georg Leopold von Reiswitz and his son Georg Heinrich Rudolf von Reiswitz of the Prussian Army.  But the rules were somewhat primitive and very structured.  It was a bit more freeform than chess, but not by much,
In fact it was not really until the 1960s when modern wargaming started to look a lot closer at the rules that they became more realistic, or so a lot of modern wargamers thought.  Mathers was ahead of his time.  He had developed a set of elaborate rules which if they were known about could probably have assisted  the war effort during WW1.  In fact Golden Dawn people reported back to Westcott that Mathers was recreating many of the battlefields in his living room.  With his more freeform rules he might have been able to predict the outcomes of some of the more stupid WW1 battles.
According to Achtung Schweinehund! : A Boy's own story of Imaginary combat. By Harry Pearson, published by Little Brown, 2007.
Mathers was one of the greatest collectors of toy soldiers in Paris.    According to the French author and figure collector Marcel Baldet,  Samuel MacGregor Mathers had more than 25,000 figures and fought battles with them to rules of his own devising.
The soldiers he collected were 30mm tin flats, rather than the more popular 3d 15mm or 25 mm figures used today. 25,000 of those sorts of figures, during that period of time would be hugely expensive, but collecting is somewhat addictive too.
30mm Flats as Mathers would have known them
Most of the time his battles were with a Parisian Doctor named Camille Laumonnier and one of the things they were famous for was an accurate depiction of the battle of Austerlitz on the Drawing room floor.
The Noble Prize winner Anatole France, who was an anti-occult journalist and writer, wrote about Mathers battles with Laumonnier.  It would be of great interest to get my paws on Mathers rules, but sadly they, along with his extensive toy soldier collection have all disappeared.  Ironically if the Mathers had been able to convince the British High Command of his rule set, he might have been able to achieve one of his greatest goals, which was to have been some use to the military.    Sadly he was ahead of his time.

Hastii la Viste (wargames Joke) 

Please note,  there are few pictures of me playing wargames and my toy soldiers have mostly been sold so I had to nick the pictures from other wargamers on the internet
http://handgrenadealiensgreatlament.blogspot.it/2010_10_01_archive.html, http://ilkleyoldschool.blogspot.it/2010/06/30mm-flats-old-school-alternative.html  and http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_4fLTqsuQox8/TLIzIQNIwOI/AAAAAAAADgs/cg0eoCiMwgU/s1600/Hastati+01.jpg   I got out of it because wargames rules trends changed so that there was a greater emphasis on dice luck and my dice luck was appalling.  Well that is my excuse.

6 comments:

  1. This was something that I did not know--thanks for sharing the information.

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  2. One of the most fascinating articles on Mathers I have ever read. Thank you.

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  3. You know, since Mathers thought of himself as a "military man", his wargaming enthusiasm would certainly fit. I have to admit to having been a wargamer myself in the past. I too would have loved to have seen Mathers' collection of flats and read (and play) his gaming rules.

    In LVX,
    Samuel

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  4. Kool, i enjoy military history and weapons technology. War gaming sounds like an excellent and fun alternative to chess. cheers

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  5. Knowing that SL MacGregor Mathers was a gamer gives me an almost unseemly amount of joy. Where ever did you dig up this amazing bit of trivia?

    I'm going to have to dig up those sources you mentioned!

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  6. Very interesting post I hadn't noticed before. Could you please write a piece about Enochian Chess?
    Or have you?

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