Debaptism, Initiation and the Golden Dawn

I have just read some more reports on the increasingly popular debaptism movement. It seems there are more and more folk out there who not only reject the religion they were baptised and/or raised in, but want to make a statement about it. Hence ‘debaptism’, where one attempts to get their name removed from the roll of baptised infants. It seems that most folk seeking this option are secular, self-declared atheists.

Now, of course I immediately headed (religion lover as I am) towards the obvious thought: Presumably if someone wants to get his or herself removed from the baptismal role it is because they no longer believe in Christianity and the mystical power of the sacraments (if they ever did). In fact they would no doubt see the process as nothing other than a slightly traumatic event in their infant life involving a large weirdly decorated room, a stranger in drag and some lukewarm water.

So why, if they do not believe Baptism means anything is importance being placed on reversing it? I can understand why Satanists and possibly some left-brain challenged pagans would want to ‘undo’ the effects of a church ritual – because at some level they believe it means something, or that it has an effect. But a true, secularised atheist – no matter how much I scratch me noggin I can’t see the logic. Unless there are hidden motivations, as I suspect is true of a lot of the ‘new atheism‘, to rebel against our childhood upbringing or what the religion represents to us.

The process of debaptism however is not straightforward. The Roman Catholic Church obligingly can issue a notice of formal defection from the Catholic Faith – the Actus Formalis Defectionis ab Ecclesia Catholica – but is clear the process does not in anyway affect the status of the baptised person. This is because once baptised, always baptised. The act of baptism creates an indelible, eternal mark upon the soul. It can never be undone.

The same theological position is held, more or less, by the Anglican Communion (such as it is these days) and presumably by the Eastern Orthodox churches. In fact the Anglican Church does not have such a defection process as the Catholic Actus Formalis. In the latter a note is appended to the Baptismal role stating when and why the person left the faith. The Anglicans refuse to do even that, much to the ire of some secularists.

Now Baptism is a sacrament, which in Christian tradition are a class of rituals all on their own and largely viewed to have been instituted by Christ Himself. There are some interesting parallels as well as dissonances between sacraments and magical ritual. There is a body of thought that defines the difference between magical and religious ritual by the identity of the instigating agent. In magic this is the magician and/or her “higher self” and in religion it is the deity working through the priest/ess.  Often though the boundaries are blurred.

I am fond of quoting a western mystery saying that ‘a true initiation never ends’. Just like the sacrament of baptism. But how does all this work? How can the acts of baptism and initiation which are temporal and phenomenal actions create an eternal effect? In the case of baptism it is because as a sacrament there is an act of “inward and invisible Grace” occurring behind the scenes of the “outward and visible sign” of the ritual. In the case of magical ritual it is because of the inner workings which I harp on about all the time and which are the subject of (plug plug) my forthcoming book, “By Names and Images“.

I am far too timid to plumb the theological depths concerning sacramental theory and action but I can say a few things about the inner workings of Golden Dawn initiations. Of course, this is not the right venue to examine in depth the inner plane dynamics of the GD Neophyte ceremony but I wish to highlight certain principles often missing in its discussion.

Outwardly these initiations consist of a small group of women and men dressed in coloured sheets waving painted sticks around and solemnly intoning prose and poetry in the style of the King James Bible. Inwardly they are attempting to work enough transformation on the inner levels to change something – the initiate – forever. Well, at least that is what the initiating team are supposed to be doing, mostly however they are trying to get it all done correctly so to avoid the Hierophant’s displeasure and have never deeply thought about these issues. But, heck they are good rituals.

ctIn the ideal case though the Magic of the Light, a Golden Dawn group of formulae that finds its most visible expression in the Neophyte ceremony and it’s ‘Z Formula’ is correctly enacted to create life. Through initiation something that is dead is made alive once more, something that had non-existence is brought into existence, the darkness is made light. However, despite the publication of the bare bones of the formulae it really is not quite that simple.

Resorting to a modern subtle plane model let us examine a few things. Firstly, how is it possible to affect the initiate forever? To do so we must act upon the areas of the self of the initiate that last forever. There is no point in initiating the physical (Malkuth) body which starts to decay at the moment of death. Nor the Etheric  (Malkuth-Yesod) self which rarely lasts much longer. And shortly following death the astral (Yesod-Hod-Netzach) and mental (Tiphareth-Geburah-Chesed) aspects of the self transform and ultimately ‘die’. Anything below the Abyss is temporal, contingent and subject to change, transformation and ultimately death.

The Sephiroth of the supernal triad, functioning above the Abyss as a unity or singularly through connection to Kether are already beyond stain, disease and dysfunction. This aspect of the self, the Higher Genius does not need initiation, does not need bringing to eternal life. It already is.

I have found most esoteric and new age folk do not think much about this. We prattle on about ‘spiritual development’ and at the same time the ‘divine within’ that is perfect and God. So what are we ‘developing’ spiritually? We cannot develop the ‘divine’ within us since that, by definition is perfect, omniscient and eternal. And why would be want to try? So, are we developing our temporal selves which perish during the death process? If so, are we ‘reset’ in the next incarnation, all our ‘development’ having been wasted? (I’m assuming a belief in reincarnation here).

copy-of-pastoslid1Or do we have an interior aspect of self which is non-physical, that survives bodily death and which while not eternal, perfect and unchanging is in contact with our eternal ‘god within’? This aspect of self would then be a vehicle and a bridge between the eternal and the temporal, and its development would allow this eternal-temporal contact to be clear, strong and unhindered. If so, in the Qabalistic schema this aspect must relate to the mysterious sphere of Daath, Knowledge.

The Golden Dawn and the RR et AC, like much of western esotericism is divided in opinion: some factions think such an aspect of self exists naturally, others that it does not exist but needs to be first created by temporal actions of the ‘lower self’. Once created it can then serve function as the link between the temporal and the eternal. Again, in modern esoteric speak, we are here talking about the creation of the higher subtle bodies. Personally, I am in the latter camp – we need to create our own vehicle between higher and lower.

This state of existence is the awakening human, symbolized in the Golden Dawn as the Risen Osiris, Lord of Life Conqueror over death. Here the Golden Dawn draws on esoteric Gnosticism and its message is clear – the resurrection of the self needs to happen before not after death. From the Gospel of Phillip:

Those who say they will die first and then rise are in error. If they do not first receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing.

lisasimpsonangelOr more prosaically from Lisa Simpson:

But you know, Bart, some philosophers believe that nobody is born with a soul – that you have to earn one through suffering and thought and prayer, like you did last night.

The Magic of the Light within the GD Neophyte ceremony is the first stage of this process of building a method of connection with the Higher. It creates on the Daath level, and all true initiations function at that level, a ‘structure’ which is later added to and developed further. This ‘structure’ is connected to our eternal, undying aspects. It survives bodily and subtle body death not being of those levels. In any subsequent incarnation (if we believe in such things) it waits in the shadows as it were, in potential ready to be reactivated and function once more as a bridge between higher and lower. As non-initiates (and I use that word loosely as we do not need physical initiation to unfold and serve the One) we may get impulses and glimpses stemming from this ‘structure’. However, until we from our own ego based self open and surrender to the One with altruistic motivations we cannot access the structure as vehicle to the Higher.

We see here then a crucial requirement for the Magic of the Light to work – we need to be open to receive them from the higher motivations of the self. If we are not open then the initiation will not work. It is only our desire for Gnosis in order to serve that will create this opening. This is because true altruism and service is non-personal in nature; it enlarges our sense of self, opening us to the other. Of course within the various GD papers this is pointed out, but still many people miss it and wonder why they do not unfold as ‘promised’.

From the other angle, those initiating on the outer levels, the women and men must be open to these higher levels also. This is why initiates are required to initiate. Also – and this such a crucial factor I feel like making it stand out – for a Daath level structure to be created there needs to be true and pure action on the Chokmah-Binah level. Each ‘plane’ is ruled by the plane above and nothing can be created on an inferior plane without action stemming from the superior.

anubis3How is this accomplished in the Golden Dawn? The Magic of the Light is again clear on this, though once more it is often missed – it is through the action of the Gods and the One. The clothing in Godforms within the GD is more than an astral tool for directing energy. Rightly done, Godforms are vehicles whereby the blessings and grace of the Gods can move into the ceremony and at the higher levels interact to create the Daath structure we are discussing. In the Neophyte initiation the creation is given outer poetic expression in the journey of the candidate through the darkness and his restoration to the light and particularly through the words, “there are always two contending forces and a third eternally uniting them”.

Therefore for the Golden Dawn initiations, and indeed all forms of the Magic of the Light, to be successful, the Gods must be related to and opened to in the correct manner. There is a contemporary approach which views Godforms, and indeed Gods themselves, to quote John Michael Greer as “a formula”. This is not the customary approach and is another degeneration of tradition stemming from modernity and exacerbated by psychology.

So, I am back on my old theme – the need for a more reverent, religious and traditional approach to the Golden Dawn. Without it I am afraid we, as a community will be doomed to more manifestations of the flame wars, lineage stealers and dysfunction so prevalent at present. For reports of the latter go here. For a more traditional approach…well a sacramental church may be good place to start, even if you’ve already been debaptised. 🙂



  1. David · March 24, 2009

    Brilliant post and an enjoyable read as always. However after being sufficiently bored I read that link about the GD flame wars.

    I feel quite ashamed after reading that, and im not even an initiate. Why is it so prevalent in “spiritual” traditions to constantly see people who truly do not fit the category of “spiritual” claiming to be amazing, and instead just harming the world? Its embarrassing, confusing, shameful, appalling, disrespectful, pathetic and totally and utterly pointless. What is there to gain from being pathetic? I don’t get it.

  2. Robert Halvarsson · March 30, 2009

    Interesting read and written in a clear and concise manner. Thanks.

  3. Pingback: Father, Son and Holy Spirit ~~~ Part II ~~~ The Temple, The Eucharist and BAPTISM* :

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