A couple of years back I gave a lecture on this theme. I never got around to tidying up the text and plonking on the website and so when I stumbled across it today, i thought ‘…MOTO? Why not?’. So i have roughly chopped out some parts to reduce the size, and here it is. This is a topic dear to my heart and one which I think needs to be talked about and understood in the western traditions far more. Please excuse the roughness of the writing in parts and enjoy 🙂
Sometime ago just before a Western Australian State election I was on the train, using the time to memorise an initiation ceremony for the Golden Dawn. Near me were two young women, obviously green activists, consciously and loudly making political statements to try and promote a discussion. At one point one of the women in a friendly fashion asked me what I was reading. I replied that it was an initiation ceremony. She was obviously quite taken with this information and replied with excitement, “Oh, wow – from what culture?”
This little episode brought home to me even more how little most people in our society know their own culture. Because of course the ceremony, the tradition was from our own culture. The west does have a rich tradition of initiation, unknown to most modern people. This tradition is part and parcel of the Western Lodge system. In a time where many social and spiritual commentators are bemoaning the lack of genuine spiritual community in the west, the neglected western fraternal traditions have much to offer. Similarly the lodge tradition offers solutions to the lack of meaningful ritual in our world. Also a conscious study of these traditions can provide many practical tools for modern magical and pagan groups.
Fraternal lodges are a particularly Western phenomenon, designed and crafted to meet the social, moral, vocational and spiritual needs of Western men (and to a much lesser extent women) within the modern age. Nowhere else in the world have these needs been met by a structure of organization resembling that of the lodge. Orders and lodges were the first non-religious intentional communities in the West – a group of (often diverse) men, mostly unknown to each other, coming together to form a community and engage in a common purpose, bound by a common myth and common values. Most fraternal orders and lodges specifically forbade the discussion of religion and espoused a spirituality and morality that embraced a wide range of symbols and descriptions which avoided sectarianism and allowed for a broad membership.
One of the most interesting things about the lodge tradition is that there have been lodges created for just about every purpose imaginable. Some lodges functioned largely as charitable organisations; some as personal insurance companies in a time when state welfare did exist. Other groups were based on personal needs of fraternity and companionship. Still others met to develop their member’s ethical and moral principles. A few were involved in radical politics. Nearly all of the early Trade Unions were organised as Lodges, complete with initiation ceremonies, robes, passwords and ritual. And of course some lodges met to pursue magical and mystical purposes.
The range of lodges that have existed over the last few hundred years is staggering. Lodges and orders have been founded on religious and cultural myths, historical events, magical and occult systems, idealized notions of ‘native societies, and even fictional works – a late nineteenth century lodge called ‘the Tribe of Ben Hur’ was based on the bestselling novel and included a mock chariot race as part of one its initiation ceremonies. There have been Elks, Oddfellows, Buffaloes, Masons, Eagles, Knights, Shriners, Woodmen, Bagmen and others too numerous to even list.
What is so interesting is that despite this incredible diversity in lodges, having no common purpose, rationale or beliefs all share the same basic structure and tradition. And since the 1590s this structure has been revised and developed into a system that has tremendous utility and practical application. Whether initiating members of a friendly society, a professional body, an antiquarian society or an alchemical tradition, at root the same tradition is in play. All the various western lodges share several key elements that make them lodges rather than groups. We can list these as:
- A common structure of organisation.
- The use of symbolism – often in common ways.
- The use of ritual.
- The use of secrecy.
- The use of initiation.
The first common element of lodge structure is a defined lodge space. This is somewhere where the meetings, rituals and initiations of the lodge may take place. A few of the more popular and affluent lodges, such as the Masons use purposely built buildings. Others often rent Masonic halls or other halls. Common elements of space include include:
- A good deal of open space – for practical requirements of ritual. Seating is normally around the edge of the lodge space, so all members may observe what is occurring.
- An outer area where candidates for initiation can wait without observing or hearing what is occurring during the ritual.
- A well defined significant space, often central to the lodge, where the key elements of ritual and symbolic action take place. Often containing an altar or symbol.
- A number of different ‘officers’ who perform different functions in the lodge, both practical and symbolic.
Governance. Another common element of lodge structure is how the lodge and Order is governed. While there are variants from one lodge to another, these the crucial common elements.
- Entry to the lodge is by way of ceremonial initiation.
- Most decisions in most lodges are made by some form of majority voting procedure.
- The responsibilities for running and maintaining the lodge and the people responsible are
(1) well defined – who does what, when and how,
(2) visible to all members
(3) shared among members – with some roles only being available to long standing members or those of a certain degree
(4) rotated among members periodically, so no one remains in one role for too long, and
(5) based on election among candidates.
- Good etiquette is an essential part of lodge behaviour.
- Membership is not automatic to anyone asking for it.
The Use of and a Common Approach to Symbolism.
Each order or lodge has at its core a mythic pattern or story that underpins all of its activities and informs its rituals, structures and members’ transformation. The extent to which an order serves its members is the extent to which it provides opportunities for its members to engage and move through this foundational myth. The extent to which a member serves the Order is the extent to which they actively embrace these opportunities, make it possible for others to do so and participate in other Order activities such as community work or donation.
Lodges traditionally use a rich range of symbolism – much of it derived from Hermetic, alchemical, mythical or religious sources. Whatever symbols are used in any particular lodge they are used in a few characteristic ways:
- The symbols used in the lodge are linked to deep levels of inner meaning that are independent on the conscious linear intelligence meaning ascribed to them;
- The inner level of meaning is accessible through ritual engagement with the symbols;
- The meaning of a symbol can only be found by this type of engagement and is not shareable with another since it is at a deeper level of meaning than communicative intelligence between humans;
- Different description of meanings (words) may be ascribed to the same symbol or set of symbols in different rituals or initiations.
Symbols and symbol patterns are normally experienced in lodge through common means including:
- Emblems – visual images and diagrams revealed as part of ritual or initiation. Often different officers will have their own emblem associated with that office.
- Words – sacred words, phrases, scriptural quotations, passwords – often revealed at certain initiations.
- Colours – on various robe, tools, insignia and also as a symbolic marker of different degrees.
- Floor work – the tracing of particular symbols through ritualistic walking around the lodge space.
- Knocks – on doors, altars or other temple furniture – numbers and patterns.
- Grips, Handshakes and other physical gestures – again mostly revealed at initiation.
- Tools and implements – symbols of office and carrying particular symbolic meaning.
The symbolism used within a lodge requires at least three characteristics if it is to be effective:
- ‘An overarching structure of meaning in which all symbols of the lodge have their place…chosen with the purpose of the lodge in mind’
- The use of balanced polarities in both the symbolism employed and subtle forces and energies invoked.
- Systemic integrity in the choice of symbols utilised where all the symbols fit together and belong together, rather than, for example, a mix of Gods from a variety of pantheons in the same ritual.
The use of ritual
Western lodges use ritual extensively. In once sense every single action in a lodge is a ritual action, and in some lodges even practical activities such as taking minutes and collecting donations are done ritualistically. This increases members’ conscious participation in these activities and also allows further engagement in the symbolism and myth attached to the activities by the lodge.
At each lodge meeting the lodge space is opened, creating what may be called sacred space and sacred time. For this period of time and in this space, the lodge exists between the worlds – as a boundary between the mundane world or regular existence and the sacred, spiritual word of meaning and blessing. The lodge as a group then draws one into the other by conscious action; the discussion of finances, for example, is done in an open lodge – in sacred space.
This sacralises the activity, making it meaning full and allows the consciousness of those making decisions to be more open, more informed by the higher than if they were sitting around a boardroom table. The open lodge then is where the two worlds – that of common everyday experience, and that of meaning and spirit – meet.
To create this sacred space and time, all lodges follow the same basic procedure:
- Announcing the Lodge – this occurs at the start of the ritual. Typically the chief officer or one of her associates calls everyone to readiness and then announces the purpose of the ritual. This allows all members to focus in concert on the action about to be undertaken.
- Guarding the Lodge – here the lodge boundaries are secured. This is done physically and on the inner level in the realm of meaning. The real significance of the guarding of the lodge the members’ inner ‘guarding’. At they focus on the work at hand and bring themselves present in body, mind and spirit.
- Defining the Lodge – The defining of the temple is one of the hallmarks of Western lodge practice. Outwardly it is simply a recitation of the functions of the temple and the officers, mostly by the officers themselves. Inwardly it re-awakens the purpose and power of the officers and the lodge itself in the realm of meaning.
- Empowering the Lodge – here the various spiritual and moral powers that guide the lodge and the particular ceremony are in some fashion invoked. This may be through prayer, meditation, silent reflection, recitation of sacred scripture, magic or other techniques.
- Opening the Lodge – finally the lodge is declared open by the chief officer. Sacred space and time has now been created.
At the end of the evening the lodge is closed, and the sacred space and sacred time is surrendered, all returning to normal. Again, this is done in a similar manner from lodge to lodge.
The Use of Secrecy
The use of secrecy by lodges often provokes suspicion and scorn, especially since with some traditions, like Craft Masonry the secrets have long been published. However, despite all this the lodges still use secrecy for very good reasons. The use of secrecy within a lodge setting is one of the most effective magical tools for changing consciousness – not for keeping information hidden. What is generally kept secret within a lodge is a lodge is its main symbols, passwords and signs. These are only important in the context of the lodge itself. But by consciously choosing not to speak about them outside the lodge context they became special, and in fact become keys to changing consciousness, allowing the lodge members more easily to enter sacred space and time. It is for this reason that some Masons even today refuse to speak about their Craft – despite many publications revealing the rituals. By treating the rituals as something special, something not to be talked about like other matters of life, they become special.
The use of Initiation. All lodges initiate. Drawing from Freemasonry most have three degrees of initiation, but some have a single initiation, some seven, some even more. Some of purposes of initiation varies from lodge to lodge, but in all it is by way of initiation that a someone becomes a member. In this then the ceremony of initiation initiates a new stage of life for the member, as they begin their life as a member of the lodge, trade, guild or society. At this basic level initiation confers belonging.
The person being initiated is normally referred to as the candidate. Those members of the lodge performing the initiation are normally referred to as officers. During the initiation the candidate, who is often blindfolded, is directed and moved around the temple space, often as part of symbolic journey. Each initiation takes place in a specially prepared temple space that contains both physical props symbolic meanings resonant to the purpose of the initiation. During the initiation the candidate may be shown symbolic images or diagrams, addressed by various officers and have specific spiritual blessings conferred upon them. This may be achieved via contact with consecrated items such as holy water and incense, invocation or other magical means. The whole sequence of actions within the ceremony is well orchestrated and works in concert to produce the required changes in consciousness of the candidate.
Magical Lodges and Magical Groups
Up until relatively recently ceremonial magic was seldom practiced by people who were not members of magical lodge. These days it is practiced by solo magicians and people involved in groups of varying degrees of formality and experience. Some differences between groups and lodges are:
In contrast to most spiritual groups a lodge has a clear and visible structure outlined in a constitution. It runs under the auspices of its foundational myth – everything is geared around this motif and purpose. Commercial and non-commercial groups seldom have a long standing core to their activities. A lodge is structured so that all members can, and should, take on all offices, including that of leadership. Groups are mostly led by one or a few people with no rotation of leadership. A lodge is geared to exist beyond its founders, whereas most groups are not. An Lodge charges fees only to cover costs and all finances are visible due to the constitution. A commercial group makes money for its leaders and most other groups do not have a structured financial record. Most traditional lodges regularly and constitutionally focus outside themselves through donations and/or community work – this seldom happens in modern magical groups.
The main difference between groups and Lodges however is that of commonality of purpose and service. The essence of nearly all of the foundational myths used in Western lodges is that of a moral, personal, communal and spiritual development through giving. Members of a Lodge come together to share a common goal and to give to each other and the world. They value what the Lodge has given them, can offer them in the future and they wish to share this with others. In doing so a community is formed.
The Magical Order and Group Mind
A magical Lodge exists in two realms, the outer and the inner. The outer is comprised of the members, the rituals, the symbols, the group structures and magic performed as a group and as individuals. The inner is comprised of the spiritual sponsorship the lodge receives from real non-incarnate Beings, the currents of magic generated by the magical work of the members and the group mind or egregor of the members. This group mind is a key factor in the success of all lodges, magical and non-magical. The group mind is created and fed by the interaction of the members of the group and their own individual ‘energy’ input.
The outer and the inner cannot exist without the other. Of more importance however, is the link that allows the inner and the outer to affect and inform each other. In a lodge this is the province of and one of the main purposes of the group mind. In other groups, such as charismatic healing circles, this may be the role of the leader of the group. The group mind functions as a conduit between the inner presence of the lodge and the outer form. When a candidate is initiated into a lodge, they are linked into and form part of the group mind. Their inner self, their astral body overlaps that of the lodge to some degree. This relationship remains as long as the person is a member of the lodge. The relationship is not automatically strengthened or affected by further initiations. Like all relationships the order is a living entity which requires to be related to and engaged with by all members.
Being Part of An Order
The active participation in the group mind, at least in most fraternal and magical Lodges, does not require the member to become a channel or a vehicle for the spiritual guardians of the lodge or to engage in arduous work or spiritual activities. In most lodges, the main work of organization and facilitation is left to one or a small number of officers. The teaching duties may be shared or again left in the hands of a small number of officers. One of the hallmarks of the lodge structure however is the rotation of these duties, at set intervals between all members. For example, it is expected in Masonic traditions that all members will receive all degrees and move through all roles, including that of Master of the Lodge. This means that all members are expected and encouraged to perform the ritual and spiritual work that will one day equip them for all duties within the lodge. They are required to immerse themselves in the mythic patterns and spiritual impetus of the lodge fully so they are of service to the Lodge and other members.
There has been so much mystification and hype concerning ceremonial initiation within the Western traditions that it is almost an impossible task to write about it from a down to Earth perspective. Despite the publication of most of the Golden Dawn papers and access to some of the most transformational spiritual techniques ever developed, people will still wait years for initiation rather than deepening their spiritual unfoldment and service now. And despite many sensible and accurate descriptions of the initiation and its purpose, it is still seen as an event that somehow makes one different from other people – more advanced, one of the elite – an attitude that is in complete contrast to the actual purpose of initiation. These and other misconceptions hinder our understanding of this core aspect of the magical tradition and must be let go of if we are to go deeper than occult stereotypes.
Initiation means simply ‘to begin’. The late W.E. Butler, an adept in a Western Magical tradition stemming from the Golden Dawn, believed we should not say we are ‘initiates’ (noun), but rather ‘initiate’ (verb), to indicate that we are all, no matter our experience, continually beginning our spiritual unfoldment. This is the beginning of a new mode of awareness, where we no longer walk in the sleep of every day life but are alive to our own inner divinity and the call of God. Much has been written on the magical and general theories of initiation which cannot be described here due to space, and which can be found within many books available from the public library system.
There are various opinions within the Western magical traditions concerning ceremonial initiation and the spiritual and psychological effects it may or may not have. We may summarise these opinions in several broad statements, each of which looks at initiation from a differing perspective.
- Ceremonial initiations, when correctly performed will, without a doubt, promote a change of consciousness within the initiate. That is, a new state of consciousness, a new level of spiritual awakening will be delivered unto the initiate. With each new or subsequent initiation they will become more spiritually advanced than those who do not have those initiations.
- Initiation is a process not a series of ceremonies and the actual initiation is through our own personal work and life circumstances. Life itself is the initiator. The ceremonies are simply a recognition of the state of consciousness already achieved as well as a booster or ‘leg-up’ towards further unfoldment within the process.
- Ceremonial initiation, when correctly performed, offers a series of energetic keys to the initiate. If these are taken up and used by the initiate within their own personal work, they will then promote a distinct change in consciousness and spiritual advancement. Often this may involve unexpected or dramatic changes in life circumstances. When these new life circumstances are entered into fully they may provide a vehicle through which the new state of consciousness may be developed.
- Ceremonial initiations are mostly designed to recognise work within a particular occult or magical discipline or Order. They have little or nothing to do with spiritual or moral development and are simply markers of ‘where one is at’ within a tradition.
- Ceremonial initiations within the magical traditions are predominantly designed to promote greater magical powers or mastery of the various forces of the universe, both internally and externally. They have little to do with spiritual advancement or the mystical awareness of God and the transformation of consciousness.
Often of course the same lodge or magical group will hold one or more of these views simultaneously. For example, the way the members of the original Golden Dawn viewed its initiatory schema appears to have elements of all five perspectives.
The ceremonies were designed to change the initiate’s consciousness (1).
It is also clear from the commentaries upon the initiations that the initiate had to work her own process (2) and activate the keys of the ceremony within her daily life through will and surrender (3).
However, it is also clear that the initiations themselves, regardless of the spiritual unfoldment or magical attainment of the individual, were used as pre-requisites to hold certain offices within an Order (4).
And there is certainly plenty of evidence that while the initiations increase an individual’s capacity for magic, they may not promote an expansion of consciousness towards a mystical awareness of God (5).
There are many initiatory structures throughout the western lodge traditions. Some relate to the seven planets, some to the 12 Zodiacal signs, some to symbol systems individual to the lodge in question. Most however in some fashion draw upon the threefold framework stemming from the craft guilds we have previously mentioned. The three levels of the beginner, those more advanced and the few who had more or less mastered the trade completely took new meaning with the influx of esoteric ideas and thought that resulted in Speculative Masonry. For example, in the older craft guilds one of the requirements of a master was his production of a master-piece; a publicly displayed piece of his craft that showed his mastery of whatever trade he was engaged in. In esoteric Masonry the Master himself is the Masterpiece – that is he shows he has mastered the spiritual discipline of his tradition by its results upon himself, producing wisdom, love, compassion and spiritual presence.
By the mid 17th century these three levels were used as a general framework to map out spiritual unfoldment. These Freemasonic terms for these levels, together with the general magic titles corresponding to them, are:
(1) Entered Apprentice Novice
(2) Fellow Craft Adept
(3) Master Mason Master
Let us be clear though. Any three degree system of apprentice, adept and master is referential only to itself. The master of one tradition of lodge work or magic is a master only in that tradition. Being a third degree does not necessarily mean we are at the generic level of Spiritual Mastership.
The magical Rosicrucian traditions from the Seventeenth century onwards also used this basic model and divided their traditions into three Orders corresponding to the three stages just outlined. This approach was developed further into the grade system adopted by many Orders including the Golden Dawn and corresponded to the Qabalistic Tree of Life.
NOVICES: FIRST ORDER – ‘THE GOLDEN DAWN’
Neophyte 0=0 (as link)
ADEPTI: SECOND ORDER – ROSAE RUBEAE ET AUREAE CRUCIS
Portal (as link)
Adeptus Minor 5=6
Adeptus Major 6=5
Adeptus Exemptus 7=4
MASTERS: INVISIBLE THIRD ORDER
Crossing the Abyss (as link)
Magister Templi 8=3
If initiation into the various grades is effective we will learn more about ourselves, the One Being and the world. As a result we should find ourselves more connected to humanity, more compassionate and more consciously involved in the round of daily life. Any notions of us as ‘initiates’ (the ‘twice born’) being in any way better or more advanced than regular humanity (the ‘once born’) should, as we unfold, lessen and eventually give way to the awareness of the deep connection throughout whole of humanity. Similarly, as we move through the grades our genuine desire for service to the world and humanity should increase and grow. If these changes do not take place we can say that the initiations have not ‘taken’, their full transformational potential has not yet been realised.
With reference to Western magical initiations remembering four key points will help us gain the most from our initiations and also, perhaps more importantly, help place their purpose and importance into perspective.
- Firstly, progress through any particular path of initiation does not translate as progress in ‘spiritual advancement’ within other spiritual paths, or even in becoming a better human being. A high degree initiate in one system of initiation is only high in that system – their advancement is not transferable to other systems. Also, despite their higher initiatory status they may still be fundamentally flawed as human beings, as the evidence furnished by the history of modern and contemporary magic aptly points out. In Golden Dawn terms, an Adeptus Minor initiate cannot readily assume the same status in other ceremonial or spiritual paths as she does in a Golden Dawn lodge. She may also be as mad, vicious, or deluded, as most of the original public Golden Dawn magicians.
- Secondly, any graded system of ‘advancement’ through ceremonial initiation does not imply that someone of a higher degree is ‘better’ or more ‘advanced’ than a first degree. It simply shows that a fourth degree initiate, for example is working in a different spiritual area than a first degree. For example, in the Golden Dawn she would be working with the element of Fire rather than the element of Earth. While it is true that the deeper initiations require successful completion of earlier initiations, they are not better or more powerful. All parts and aspects of our being are equally holy.
- Thirdly, initiation is a gift from a Lodge to an initiate, one that should inspire the initiate to give equally in turn. Sadly however, it is a gift most of us involved in the Western esoteric traditions may never receive and will have to learn to live without. This is simply because of the lack of sensible, accessible and properly functioning magical lodges within the West today. However, it is quite possible to create your own lodge rather than waiting for one to appear or bemoaning the lack. To this end I sincerely recommend John Michael Greer’s Inside a Magical Lodge. Seriously, forming a magical lodge is not out of the question and may not only be spiritually fulfilling, but may also provide a much needed service. Think about it. Do it.
- Finally, the whole aim of any authentic Western tradition’s initiatory process, is to help prepare the initiate for service through love. This is expressly stated in the Golden Dawn through words repeated by thousands of magicians the world over at each Equinox:
‘the Soul by true direction must be brought to the study of Divine things, that it may offer only clean oblation and acceptable sacrifice, which is love expressed towards God, humanity and the Universe’.
Like all forms of true love, the love created generated and created by initiation has no bounds and its effects will continue long after we have gone. As a famous western esoteric saying puts it –