This is a long post, so groan or smile, dependent on your point of view:)
The Golden Dawn and the RR et AC are wonderful traditions and many thousands of people owe them a great deal for their spiritual and magical fulfilment, including thousands (like many Pagans) who may not even know it. However, they are dangerous and I think it is important to be honest about this, especially as the traditions shows no signs of decreasing in ‘popularity’. While many of the dangers outlined below also apply to other magical paths, some are particularly germane to the Golden Dawn (by which I include, as per common usage, the RR et AC also). Most of these stem from the transition of the GD from a fraternal tradition to largely a solo based tradition. More on that in a later post:)
Danger One, the self changing the self: In magic, like Tantra, the tool we use to change our self is our self. We form a new being out of the old being via changes within the being itself. While we, our regular lower self, may be directed by ‘the Higher’, this occurs to large degree only in the advanced magician, and in any case requires lower self actions and choices. We alone are the artist (directed by a Master hopefully), the canvas and the paints by which a new painting is created.
Any mistakes we make in this venture can have catastrophic results – after all it is not like we can simply go out and buy a new canvas, like we can with physical paintings. We have to live, forever with the successes and failures of self transformation. Now if that doesn’t scare you, it should as we all make mistakes. It is part of being human and imperfect, even if directed by the trans-human perfection of the HDG.
Two approaches minimise these dangers: one is to practice a tradition where the process of transformation is laid out, clear and guided by elders and perfected beings (Masters), and the other is to surrender to God, being obedient to His wishes for the world. I am using traditional language here as New Age equivalency can often lead to wishy-washy thinking, where ‘surrender to God’ means doing what the “inner” or even “the child” self wants.
Danger Two, ego inflation: Magic, particularly the Golden Dawn tradition can easily promote the inflation of the ego, the small ‘I’ that believes it is the centre and author of the universe. Evidence of this can be found in any Golden Dawn community across the planet, and I imagine it would not take us long to think about someone we know. I am thinking of ‘Baron von Elmann’, the gentlemen whose letter I reproduced a few posts back. Now it is easy to say such people are rare, but they are within our midst. And by and large they are not easily healed away from their ego mania and will damage and distort a number of sincere students before they collapse under their own weight like a neutron star.
The Golden Dawn community, not being centralised, is largely impotent when it comes to countering these people. The Good ‘Baron’ went on to claim the 7=4 status before succumbing to a nervous breakdown – following death threats from an irate street kid who was annoyed at the Baron’s attempts to penetrate his (underage) girlfriend in a magical ritual. Fortunately (for us) after his recovery he left high magic alone and now only infects the Wiccan community.
Ego distortions in the Golden Dawn occur not only because of outward things, like the titles and grades, but also inner difficulties. These mainly centre on the incredible potency and strength of the magic of the Golden Dawn being used at incorrect times. Though this is often said, I sometimes think most people somehow do not think it applies to them personally:
The Golden Dawn is NOT a magical tradition.
Magic was only practiced in the Inner Order, the RR et AC, after the student had completed seven initiations, much preparation and been linked to currents of transformation, the Rosicrucian tradition and their own Genius. If we practice magic too early in our spiritual development, distortion can easily occur.
Danger Three, the temptation of practical magic: While the Golden Dawn is not specifically an operational tradition of magic, designed to transform the world around us to what we need or desire, it does have elements of operational magic within it. This is evident in the Z Documents and elsewhere. The dangers or merits of using magic for practical, operational ends have been discussed by smarter people than me over the years, so I would like to focus on just one point. We are all human, all the Perfected One living as unperfected beings with normal human frailties and emotions. If we are accustomed to using magic to gain jobs, sell our houses etc, when we are hurt, abused or attacked (as we will be, in life) our natural feelings for revenge and anger can easily be channelled, without us knowing it, down inner pathways created by our magic.
If I used practical magic constantly and then my son was molested or damaged, my natural feelings for revenge now have – even if only in my subconscious which, after years of practice, knows magic works – a channel. If I never used magic, there is much less chance the feelings would be channelled. And even on a conscious level, we are all tempted…
Danger Four, missing pieces: The magic of the RR et AC has really only been partly revealed, despite the intense efforts of Israel Regardie, Pat Zalewski and a few others. The inner workings and much which make it work are still not “out there”. Therefore many people are “filling in the gaps”, for themselves, which is laudable in motive, though not necessarily in application. Without a strong connection to the RR et AC currents and Masters, much of what people use to fill in the gaps, is coming from their own inner beings. Some of this may be useful, but much – and again, the evidence is all around you – is like using play-dough between the bricks of the new self instead of cement: at the first strong winter storm of change and trouble, the walls start tumbling down.
Danger Five, astral corruption: This is related to the gap filling and practicing magic too early. The RR et AC relies, for most of us, on contacts to inner plane beings, whether they are perceived as discreet entities or not. Forced contact with these currents and beings however, is not wise as we may easily have an impure or incorrect connection. There is more than one GD magician and more than one Order Egregore that is infected with demonic powers and currents. This is a reality. Rather than attempted conscious connection, as a group or an individual, it is far better to do all the preparatory work slowly and completely, and allow the contacts to emerge when they wish in your meditations and practices.
Danger Six, those around us: This is easily avoided if we’re careful, but it is a danger nevertheless. Basically the Golden Dawn community is full of nutters and people who you’d cross the road to avoid. Some are simply ‘weird’ and not our cups of tea. Others though will drag you, if you let them, into dark and dangerous places spiritually. A few are obsessed with demonic forces, and the occasional one engaged in negative magic or criminal practices.
Danger Seven, established magic: I’ve posted on this before – the Golden Dawn, as the Elder Brother of magical traditions can be chosen and adhered to in a most unthinking way by novices. If that happens, if our spiritual development is part of a trend or is constrained by the easy choice or by dogma, we might as well use our wand to stir paint and give our robes to the dog in winter. We will not transform at all. The Golden Dawn must only become “our” spiritual tradition through a marriage, where we love it and are transformed by it and serve its ends and purposes as much as it serves our own, just we do with our flesh and blood spouses.
Danger Eight, damage from incorrect magic: Some specific GD and RR et AC practices, particularly the initiations bring immense benefit and growth to those on the receiving end. If they are conducted properly. If they are performed incompletely or improperly, immense harm can occur. Again this is a reality, as solid and as real as the screen you are now looking at. It is not subjective, but objective. Initiation is like a medical operation – if part of the procedure goes wrong, the patient can be seriously damaged.
Sadly, with the increase of non-fraternal initiations and groups without lineage or proper training, these incidents are happening more and more. Pat Zalewski, somewhere in some book (it’s too early to look) gives an example where an incorrectly performed Eucharist in the Neophyte initiation caused a serious kidney problem in the initiate. Much of the damage however, is not physical and may not be picked up straightway – especially since the initiator, despite good intentions, obviously is not fully conversant with all the intricacies of initiation. Some damage can distort the initiate’s spiritual progress for many years to come.
An example from my own experience will help make this clear. A few years back I was asked to train a Gnostic based (well…no, that discredit the Gnostics, they just used that term) group in the Golden Dawn initiations, which they had used for many years previously. The members were all Masons and several belonged to the SRIA and had previously belonged to a GD Order in the 80s.
As part of my training I ran through the tremendously significant part of the Neophyte initiation where, before the Oath, the Hierophant leaves her throne and treads down the Evil Triad/Persona of the candidate. During my description I mentioned the use of the Elder Horus Godform and it became clear that the Hierophant had, for many years, never used the Godform – he simply “forgot” and never relooked at the Z Documents. He had, from his own will, attempted to tread down the Evil Persona of the candidates. Naturally, this would have been a hit-or-miss affair, as it is the Gods that achieve this work, not we. So every initiate under him had been incorrectly initiated. Their Evil Personas would have been “initiated” as well, and would be strengthened by the ceremony. As I realised this, I looked around at his initiates and understood why they all were complaining about not making “progress” after many years (one of the reasons I was invited in to teach).
Now this is a simple example from the published Z Documents for the Neophyte initiation. There are more complex and more intricate inner workings within the other Outer Order ceremonies (not to mention those of the RR et AC), where the initiate is directly operated upon. If these are omitted or stuffed up in some way, the initiate is going to be damaged. There is no doubt about it. It is for this reason every initiator and every initiating team has to receive the highest, most stringent level of training. And it is beholden on the initiator to be sure they are up to the job, on all levels of their being, even if it means candidates have to wait. Of course, it also means we have to be very careful choosing our initiator – there is a lot at stake here.
Danger Nine, it feels likes it’s working: I’ve blogged on this before, but will cut and paste it here, as it is the most dangerous aspect of the Golden Dawn, and of all magical systems. I hope I get the idea across OK.
All esoteric paths and systems are worthless in themselves, the GD included. They can only point us to the One, and at worse they lock us, often unconsciously into a system of practice that feels good but ultimately produces no transformation. Most esoteric paths, the GD included, are predicated on a two value premise and a ‘promise’ to move between the two: ourselves now, ourselves later (enlightened, transformed, healed, more in tune etc.) and the practices/initiations that move us between the two.
The danger in such a view is that it can become a closed loop. The person I ‘am’ now can never be the person I foresee at the ‘end’ of the process, since my definitions have already separated the ‘I’ now and ‘I’ desired. The gap between the two, while impossible for ‘me’ to bridge, is the spiritual practice and while I engage in that I have the sense of moving forward. Of course ‘I’ can never actually reach the goal, but simply having this mental structure and doing some practice I will experience the sense of moving ahead.
Any tradition that has a well developed ‘path’ between the two ‘I’s will naturally draw people, as we all like to see how we get from ‘here’ to ‘there’. The Golden Dawn thus is very attractive with its clearly mapped out path of transformation and rituals/practices at each stage of the way. Ultimately of course, most GD people (like most esoteric students) don’t really transform in any deep way at all – as amply demonstrated by the lives of both historical and contemporary GD magicians.
It is this comprehensive curriculum approach of the Golden Dawn that seems to lure esoteric students today: ‘by doing this, then this, with these initiations, I will develop the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel’. I’ve met people like this, both within and outside the Golden Dawn, and generally they are either very nice but ineffectual with their shadows oozing out in almost visible appearance, or very arrogant and lacking the basic compassion and humility that are signposts of spiritual presence.
What makes an esoteric path effective, what makes it actually able to lead us to the One is death. The ‘I’ now cannot become the ‘I’ we desire, so we must die. Effective esoteric paths shake us all the time; they invite us to die continually and completely. It is up us to choose death or not. The worry I have is that even the ‘death and rebirth’ instigated by the highly developed Golden Dawn initiations, like the Adeptus Minor, is becoming part and parcel of the intellectual and lower self framework of magicians. If this happens, then death becomes just another magical experience and therefore we block to death as it truly is.