There’s been a lot of good chat on Facebook recently about the various versions of the Golden Dawn rituals and the importance, or lack thereof, of making sure one sticks with the traditional way of doing things and wot-not. This was largely started by magician and author Nick Farrell on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn Facebook group. It tied in nicely with some discussions I am having at the moment with Wiccans, Neo-Wiccans and others over the traditional methods of female to male polarity and initiation. This post, naturally, is my take on things :)
A lot of the discussion surrounds the parts of the GD and Wiccan ceremonies that are seemingly easily identified as being either:
(1) Imported from the prevailing cultural milieux of the founders;
(2) Reflecting the personal bias of the founders;
(3) Examples of obvious ‘filling’ or ‘padding’ of rituals, using text cut and pasted from public sources but often with quite different meanings and uses than the original; or
(4) Simply wrong – either by publisher/editor errors or due to internal inconsistency.
Wicca is a classic example of this. Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft has liturgy that reflect contemporary social mores, his own personal take on things and which uses a wide range of sources, published and unpublished but rarely in a manner faithful to the original meaning of the texts. It’s the same in the Golden Dawn with swathes of quotes from the recently translated ‘Chaldean Oracles’ and the Bible.
With these points in mind, some folk seem quite happy to take to both GD and Wiccan liturgy with creative enthusiasm, changing and improving bits here and there, and generally having a good old redaction. However, there are a few odd ducks like me who pause and say ‘Ere hang on a minute!’
Personally I am very reluctant to change much in the Golden Dawn or Wiccan systems without careful thought and understanding. Of course, as I discuss in this post Traditional Reconstruction and the Golden Dawn, authentic traditions are never static and are always in a process of renewing themselves. However, it is the tradition itself which has agency in this process, not the individual practitioners of the tradition. The tradition is never changed, altered or reconstructed for personal reasons. This means we have to be very careful when we are considering any changes. There are four main reasons for this:
(2) Inner work
(3) Evidence of Results
(4) Linking of currents
MASTERY. Using the classic, and hopefully not too worn example: you have to know and master the rules before you can break them or create new rules. This applies to both art and craft and also I believe spiritual and magical practice. This means we really need to know the ceremonies and practices, and the orthometapraxic principles behind them before we consider any change. So with reference to the Golden Dawn and Wicca, this means both a certain degree of initiation and a bodacious load of experience and magic too. Within the online Golden Dawn community elders such as Pat Zalewski are clear: the more they study the GD ceremonies the more they find and uncover. Now, if that is the case, can any of us really say we have mastered the understanding of any ceremony enough for wholesale changes? Just a question :)
INNER WORK. One of the hallmarks of Golden Dawn/RR et AC magic is the presence of inner work on many levels. As I detail in this post, the Inner Work of a Magical Lodge, besides the speeches and floor work, there is a whole lot of action going on during a GD ceremony. This is articulated in a few historical GD documents and has been the subject of research and exposition by several contemporary GD folk. Similar inner work occurs within the Wiccan ceremonies, despite a noticeable absence of discussion.
The presence of this inner work means if we cut or change any outer action, the chances are we will be altering the inner work of the ceremony. Some folk may not believe this, or think they may have identified the inner work and can easily replace the outer form, but I am not so sanguine. Again, this ties into the notion of mastery discussed above but also brings in the concept of the egregore of the group and the tradition in question. These magical inner actions are, within the egregore, linked to the traditional outer forms – even if they are pages from the Old Testament or atrocious poetry that sets one on edge. Replacing outer forms then requires not only a full understanding of the corresponding inner work, but also the ability to move counter to the egregore and link them to new outer forms. I’m not sure how many folk are up to this? ;)
There is a counterargument of course that much of the above is speculation, that the outer forms are just ritual garbage and fluff and it is a modern affectation to imbue them with meaning and magic: that is, Mathers and co really just liked to waffle on. :) Now that may be the case or may not. There certainly is little literary evidence of inner workings within the historical GD corpus, but it does exist in oral tradition. Where and when these oral traditions originated is difficult to say, but they do work to empower the rituals, even the ‘boring’ and out-of-place bits. So changing elements is, again in my view, a task that requires mastery and surety beyond the ken of most of us.
EVIDENCE OF RESULTS. The purpose of the Golden Dawn – and in some views, Wicca, is to change, unfold and transform the initiate. If we wish to alter the ceremonies and practices we really should be sure we are making things better. The evidence of improvement would be in the lives of our initiates. But magic is not like making a cake where we may add or substitute allspice for cinnamon (which of course we should do) and see the results the same evening. The unfolding of an initiate is a lifetime task. If we alter something in the Zelator grade ceremony, we may not see the result for a decade, as practices and certain ceremonial elements within the Inner Order ‘sit on top of’ the energetic and inner changes created at Zelator. So, by necessity any changes cannot be lauded and validated for many years. And what if we get it wrong …
The counter argument to this is that the GD and Wicca don’t have a good track record to begin with; that the historical evidence suggests the asylum was well and truly run by the loonies from the get-go. I can only offer my personal experience in response to this. The Golden Dawn community, and in some respects the Wiccan, though I have less experience there, is comprised of a diverse range of people.
A small percentage make you want to shower after meeting them. Icky. A goodly amount are plainly idiots or simply ‘fine tuning the ego’ by magic and Paganism without any real desire for authentic spiritual growth. A large contingent are lovely, decent, honest folk with good hearts and clear brains, as evidenced by the large scale support shown for charitable causes such as the eye operation of GD adept and author Aaron Leitch. And one or two produce awe and amazement, being such refined and compassionate examples of what it means to be ‘more than human’, they take you breath away. I have been blessed to meet a couple of these souls and they ascribe any unfoldment they have undergone directly to the traditions of the GD and RR et AC as traditionally practiced. So this has meaning for me :)
LINKING OF CURRENTS. This final reason for a conservative approach to change is, I think, largely my own. I’ve not seen it discussed much and draws, frankly, on a more Inner Light tradition approach than GD – or at least it its features are articulated better in the Inner Light tradition than the GD or Wicca. It revolves around the concept of the evolution of inner plane spiritual currents and their manifestation in new outer forms. We can see this in both the Golden Dawn and Wicca.
The contemporary consensus is that the founders of the GD, especially Mathers and his wife, were inspired by other forces or beings to create the GD. We may choose to believe this inspiration came from a putative physical ‘third Order’, or an inner plane, non-incarnate, being sometimes identified with the angel Raphael, or simply label it as ‘spiritual inspiration’. However we describe it, it is clear it was in some ways ‘beyond’ the personal lives and egos of the founders.
The Golden Dawn, much like Wicca 60 years later, became the embodiment of a new mode of spiritual expression. And this seeped into and through the founders’ teachings, rituals and methods of magic. Just as much of what we take from granted as being Pagan was embodied in and given enduring form by Wicca, so too much of what we think of as ‘magic’ was created and given expression by the Golden Dawn. Whenever we use the word ‘magic’ in a spiritual context, the chances are we are thinking within a paradigm and worldview created or modified by the Golden Dawn.
The inner currents or blessings of the newly developing tradition of western spiritual magic, for some reason, earthed or manifested through the Golden Dawn and its founders and initial innovators, a distinctly odd combination of people. There were several other contemporary magical groups, but none, I believe, were empowered in the same way by these interior blessings and currents. This is why the Golden Dawn, despite its many problems, prospered, expanded, survived and seeded many other expressions of magical practice.
The same process, I believe, occurred with Wicca. There were several, possibly many, other avenues and streams of attempted realisation of the bourgeoning new ‘spiritual Paganism’ current extant in the first half of the 20th century, such as the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, and the work being done in the Fraternity of the Inner Light. However, Gardner’s Wicca – clearly created originally as a personal exploration – was chosen by the Gods as their vehicle, and despite again, the quirks and foibles of the initial bunch of folk, it, prospered, expanded, survived and seeded many other expressions of Pagan practice.
This embodiment of interior currents and blessings, I believe, explains not only why the GD and Wicca remain potent and strong today, but why certain – and let’s face it, naff – elements within these traditions, are experienced as pretty cool. We can feel and experience the currents, even within terrible poetry and screeds of the Old Testament. I believe that the process of embodying these currents linked and fused them to both the inner work and outer form of the Golden Dawn and Wiccan ceremonies. They are present within the structure of the Order and religion themselves. This is very wonderful, if you think about it. This is why – and is the main reason – I am reluctant to change much within the GD and Wicca: I am not confident my meddling would retain these currents.
Of course, all things change and I am not advocating things stay the same, time immemorial. Traditions change and indeed they should, as I describe in this post, on the inevitability of diversity (but not schism). However, both Wicca and the Golden Dawn embody deep spiritual presences through their ceremonies. The ceremonies are both wonderful and flawed (as we humans are) – but they are the doorway to these currents and are inextricably linked to them. And just as the divine can be found in our imperfection as humans, so too it can, and is, found in the imperfect traditions we have been blessed to receive. Thanks :)