Last week I wandered down to Burrati Fine Arts to see ‘The Nightmare Paintings‘, a small exhibition of Aleister Crowley’s art. It was well worth the visit. Perth doesn’t always get such events, so it’s something you just have to do. Now Uncle Alick’s writings and life have never inspired me to even consider Thelema as a path, philosophy or wot not. And I still think he misunderstood heaps about the Golden Dawn (the so called ‘elemental’ grades for a start).
Misgivings aside however, Crowley is certainly a prominent Beast. It seems like you can’t wander across the esoteric net these days without coming across pronouncements of new-new Aeon currents and magical formulae expressed by arcane numbers. And above all else, be amazed at how often these numbers refer to Crowley’s most influential contribution to Western esotericism – sex magic.
Crowley of course did not start western sex magic, but he definitely put a certain spin on it, tarted the whole process up and inspired hundreds of lesser imitators and wannabes for the last century. So much so that these days many people think the classical Golden Dawn secretly taught sex magic also. Ho hum. Now, despite risking a thunderous, roaring volley of accusations of being anti-sex and infected by Victorian morality, the simple fact is there is no evidence the Golden Dawn taught sex magic, even at its highest levels.
And just to be clear; I am saying there is no evidence. If new evidence is discovered, I’ll happily change my tune.
Bishop Allen Greenfield is no stranger to the part sexual magic played and plays in the western gnosis. In fact, he’s studied and written an awful lot on the subject. In his The Authentic Magical Tradition in the 18th & 19th Centuries he clearly describes the authentic tradition as holding a “traditionally secret approach to sexuality as a means of transcendence”. He also categorically states that this tradition “did not make it into” the Golden Dawn because of Victorian morality and therefore the GD style of ”strictly above the waist magick” misses the point.
Naturally, I heartily disagree with the good Bish that the GD tradition misses the point; many and varied forms of non-sexual contact magic have served and continue to serve magicians across the world, leading them to service, transformation and fulfilment. I do however agree with his opinion that sexual magic was not part of the classical (pre 1903) Golden Dawn. And the other day I saw comments from Pat Zalewski and Nick Farrell echoing this view. So, that’s a neat little argument from authority, isn’t it?
In fact, the whole notion of sexuality and sexual expression was a bit of a powder-keg and a persistent difficultly for the Order – just like it was in society as a whole back then.
The Golden Dawn, being a progressive institution, we might expect to have been sexually liberated. The accounts of the Order that we have tell a different story. With a few notable exceptions, the Golden Dawn was as much subject to late-Victorian morals as the rest of society.” – Gordon Strong, forthcoming, The Golden Dawn: Priest and Priestess – the Key to Ritual Magic, published by Silent Eye Press 2013.
This does not mean the Golden Dawn rituals and teachings are devoid of the symbolism, connections, motifs and structures for sexual magic. Greenfield is also clear that early antecedents to the Golden Dawn, such as The Society of Eight, held the ‘authentic’ tradition. It is therefore reasonable to assume some influence from the ‘authentic’ tradition entered the Golden Dawn. This influence, like so much of the accumulated western magical tradition, is often ‘buried’ within the GD corpus. Just as modern magicians are daily finding new treasures in the vast richness that is the Z Document (now 120 years old) so too are there many other depths waiting to be brought out. As I have said before, this exegetical form of magic is a hallmark of the RR et AC, and each adept personally creates her own gnosis by interacting with the tradition. It is never revealed from outside, much less a part of some secret and codified ‘higher’ teaching of an Order.
It is possible certain elements of the ‘authentic tradition’ concerning sexuality entered or were revived in Orders associated with the post-classical Golden Dawn, most notably the Cromlech Temple. The CT may have, in some ways, functioned as a higher or third Order of the Golden Dawn, and many of its mysteries remain hidden even today. Its chief officer and originator of most of its original material was J.W. Brodie-Innes, a man to whom there is more to meet the eye of even the most dedicated occult historian.
It may not be a coincidence that the Master of the Temple in Eric Ericson’s rip roaring occult novel of the same name is also a Scot named ‘Innes’. This fictional Innes is described as handsome, sturdy, young for his age and with the look of someone who spent much time outdoors, something that could have been said of the real Mr Innes. The novel is wonderfully researched and happily conflates Golden Dawn lodge work with OTO styled sex magic along with some nifty creations by the author himself. Whoever ‘Eric Ericson’ was/is, he certainly knew his stuff.
Anyway, I digress. Brodie-Innes was also likely a magical mentor and teacher of Dion Fortune during her early years of magical training. It seems then a possibility that some of her ideas on sacred sexuality and the feminine may have stemmed from this venerable Scottish leader of the Golden Dawn. Certainly there are magical sexual themes and explorations within the unpublished Aura Papers of the CT. I’ve been able to publish a few of these here, but most at this stage remain unpublished. Look at Aura Paper 23, Concerning Sex on the Aura to get a sense of what I mean.
Any practical magical exploration of these themes however is best conducted well outside the gaze of the Neophyte and indeed the Outer Order. In this light we can again read the much quoted letter from Moina Mathers to Paul Foster Case, a letter used by those who believe the GD taught sex magic to ‘prove’ their argument:
I regret that anything on the Sex question should have entered into the Temple at this stage for we only begin to touch on sex matters directly, in quite the higher Grades. In fact, we only give a rather complete explanation of this subject in that Grade where the Adept has proved to be so equilibrated and spiritualized that he is complete lord of his passionate self. Believe me, this is not mere theory.
There is nothing here that indicates methods and processes for physical sexual magic were taught at all, only information on “sex matters” at a very high grade. The “not mere theory” clause is obviously used to emphasise the implicit warning that “sex matters” not be approached before the adept is completely in control of his “passionate self”.
Annie Hornimann, as Theoricus-Adeptus Minor, was also given the brush off by Moina back in 1895, a few short years after the Inner Order had begun. Either the Mathers had nothing much to teach on the subject and were temporizing or the matter was indeed far above the Adeptus Minor grades. The ‘high level’ nature of this subject is I think a crucial point, whether or not the Mathers at some point developed some theories about it all.
Personally, it is only now after 25 years of intense esoteric practice and a bucket load of grace that I think I understand what sacred sexuality actually entails. What this ‘is’ is not easily explained. From a Qabalistic perspective I would say we can’t even begin to understand sacred sexuality without the Tipharetic level of consciousness, a point of view affirmed by the few authentic esoteric traditions that ‘teach’ the subject.
So really, as a magical community we should say very little about the practice of sex magic and a lot about how we move towards valuing sex as sacred. The way to do this is through our own personal spiritual unfoldment, not through any magical sexual practice at all. During the unfoldment process we need to approach sex from a moral perspective which guides us to make choices as if we were already at the deeper level of consciousness that fully understands sex as sacred. This is the function of ethical choices and disciplined behaviour. All the authentic esoteric traditions would agree with this.
The dangers of prematurely acting within the sexual-magic realm are real, as are the results which are sadly visible in any modern Neo-Pagan and magical community. The Golden Dawn arrangement of the Outer and Inner Orders limits these dangers – if adhered to. Any form of magic, traditional or sexual, within the Golden Dawn is only ever conducted as part of Inner Order work. The integrity of the Order’s method of transformation is predicated on this structure which follows the traditional esoteric approach to spiritual unfoldment of: renunciation of the false self (Outer Order), followed by re-creation of a functional-magical self (Inner Order) to eventually embody the revelation of the eternal verities (symbolised by the Third Order).
Modern magical groups that flaunt or revise this system and bring magic into the early grades damage the coherence and the integrity of a sophisticated approach to magical development. Simply put, we cannot use magic to re-create a self that is still in a process of renunciation. Any non-traditional redactions of the methods of the RR et AC to include physical sexual magic should be limited to the Inner Order, if undertaken at all. This is just plain sense. In fact, I would say a rough rule of thumb would assign the practices to the Chesedic Adeptus Exemptus grade. Tiphareth would integrate the concept of sacred and magical sexuality within the newly developing self. Geburah would limit and transform personal and transpersonal hindrances to this reality, leaving Chesed as the sphere of any operations. Indeed, “quite the higher Grades” as Moina would put it. Maybe the ol’ girl knew a thing or two after all?