The Golden Dawn and the Gods

ctBeing fairly open about my magical and esoteric beliefs I occasionally attract criticism and disapproval. These come from two main sources; religious fundamentalists and secular atheists. The former believe I am practicing something evil and the latter something stupid, often characterizing the magical as a pre -modern medieval belief system. Now, I find this particular accusation very cute as contemporary magic with its emphasis on individualism, plurality and diversity is the epitome of modernity. This very evident in its view of the divine and the Gods, as seen in the following quotations:

Both Osiris and Christ are used in Golden Dawn ritual, but in different places and in different ways. Neither one is an object of worship…rather, Christ and Osiris both represent a pattern of forces – in the Order’s terminology, a formula – which is used to structure consciousness in various ritual contexts.’ ~ John Michael Greer,  ‘Osiris and Christ’, The Golden Dawn Journal Book IV.

Whatever one has to say about Christ, all will agree that His Name evokes a powerful current or force that fills us with the receptive principle, something akin to the Yin of Chinese metaphysics. This principle of receptivity is one that is needed, for when we invoke it, we pave the way for other forces, fused together, to enter our sphere of sensation. The Christ-like energy will then pacify and control it, so that it conforms to our will and can be directed for many different uses. ~ Pat Zalewski, The Secret Inner Order Rituals of the Golden Dawn.

And then there’s this reply to a post by Golden Dawn magician Nick Farrell who was “looking for an angel with which to do some material wealth magic”:

What happens is that archetypal angels are taken for living beings instead of the mechanical structures they actually are… ~ Kate.

These ideas – and they are not simply theories as we are talking about magicians performing rituals based on these principles – would not be possible in a pre-modern mind. And if uttered in medieval Europe could well have seen the authors becoming intimate with various ingenious tortures dreamt up by pious Dominicans and others. While in no way extolling pre-modernism, I find myself uncomfortable with the cavalier attitude towards angels, Gods and the divine taken by many modern magicians. This is not to disparage the authors above who are lovely people who have done a lot for the broader GD community. It is just that I think certain attitudes stem more from individualism and the modern vanity of encompassing knowledge than is helpful or healthy. Of course my training was by very traditional Christian magicians and so I see things a little differently.

angelThere is a core belief, shared by most Golden Dawn folk, in an underlying divinity within the universe which is given expression and manifestation through the world’s various religious and spiritual systems. All religions are seen as valid and as methods to connect with this divinity, however it may be expressed: as Jesus, Buddha, the Great Goddess or simply the divine within. This belief stems from its popularisation by the Theosophical Society and was incorporated into the Golden Dawn, where repeated mentions of ‘God’ and ‘The Lord of the Universe’ in the texts were clearly viewed as poetic expressions, not as an indication of Christian monotheism. Throughout the GD ceremonies and rituals a great many non-Christian deities were invoked, but not worshipped. Similarly Christ, or His essence, was often invoked but not worshipped per se. This view was summed up in the order’s ‘Fourth Knowledge Lecture’:

In true religion there is no sect. Therefore take heed that thou blaspheme not the name by which another knoweth his God. For if thou doest this thing in Jupiter thou will blaspheme YHVH (Jehovah): and in Osiris, YEHESUAH (Jesus).

Modern magicians, including those outside of the GD tradition, do not see this is not an attitude of simple religious tolerance and ecumenicalism, but rather a profound realisation of the mystic truth behind various religious forms.

This approach to the traditional deities of the various living and ancient religions is undoubtedly seen as blasphemous by some. However, modern magicians in their quest for the underlying spiritual unity beyond all form, would argue they are engaged in an act every bit as sacred and valuable as Christian communion or Islamic pilgrimage. Thus many modern magicians have a tendency to utilise, and often conflate, different religious and spiritual iconography. Now while this irks me like fingers down a blackboard it is not a situation unique to the Golden Dawn and is a core characteristic of the loose ‘new age’ movement.

gendergoddessWhat is often not discussed however are the problems inherent in such a world view and outlook. At its worst the divine and the Gods are psychologized, becoming complexes, forces or archetypes. Once this occurs the transcendent aspect of the divine is lost or marginalised. And once we have reduced the Gods to interior psychological states or aspects of the collective unconscious, the individual human being becomes the highest authority.We then end up with such monstrosities of misinformation and disrespect as the once popular “Goddesses in Every Woman” and weekend workshops to discover our various Inner Goddesses of pleasure and sex.  If the Gods are within me, then by definition ‘I’ am greater than them.

For this reason transcendence is essential within the Golden Dawn and all magic, though it seems many people and many Orders are throwing it out the window. If we cannot see something larger and more divine than our selves, even our interior selves, then we risk ending up with subtle ego inflation and distortion. This may seem alarmist but it is the traditional point of view which we can accept or ignore as we choose.

As I type I hear people around me at work, some whom I know reasonably well, others only partially so. Could I reduce or express any of these people as a formula? Could I express the courier who came this morning and I saw for 30 seconds as a formula? Of course not. The best I could do would be reproduce a stereotype which expresses nothing new, nothing alive and vital, nothing real. Could I reduce or express you as a formula? I think not. So, if we cannot express humans with our rich tapestry of love and pain, longing and subtleties as a formula, how can we ever express a God like this?. Can Osiris, a god with countless aspects, titles and epithets be expressed in such a way? Can Christ? At best we can reduce their transcendence and immanence to a narrow beam from the limitless light they give to us. Within magical practice this is useful in certain limited contexts, allowing us to fully immerse ourselves in a single aspect of their blessings. As a theory or worldview it robs us of the ineffable majesty and glory the Gods freely offer us.

The utilitarian approach to Gods, where we Golden Dawn folk ‘use’ them as formulas by which we do magic is therefore a risky sport. It encourages us to see the gods in very flat, one dimensional terms, barely getting to know them at all. Most of us know our work colleagues better than, for example, Axiokersa from the Practicus Grade, yet we call upon his blessings and power to help initiate someone, to change and transform their lives. Would we invite a human acquaintance we hardly know to enter our temple and do that? What would our initiates think if they discovered someone we hardly knew was invited to help initiate them?

jesus-smallPat’s assertion that all of us agree that Christ’s name fills us with the passive, receptive force is unfortunately not true. Try telling this to my Quaker friends who literally put their body on the line in political activism through the inspiration of Christ. My point is not that Pat is ‘wrong’ but only that the modern magical viewpoint tends to limit our views and relationships with the Gods and the divine. Christ of course inspires both passivity, action and much more besides. Note how Pat goes on to describe how useful the Christ energy is in helping us to get the synthesis of invoked energies to conform to our will. This of course is the Holy Grail of modern magic; conformity to our will. A religious approach would be seeking our conformity to Christ’s will. Using Christ in this manner within esoteric traditions stemming from and using Christian esotericism is fraught with difficulty that most Golden Dawn people and Orders seldom examine. We cannot easily cut of from the egregore of traditional rituals, symbols and practices that were created by and for Christians.

My traditional training specifically included the injunction to form a relationship with every God, symbol, Name, letter we used in ritual or magic. This requires, like any relationship, time, effort, openness, intimacy and work. We were instructed never to simply use any being or any symbol without first forming this relationship. So we did not pick up books and find an Angel or being corresponding to our willed intention and construct a ritual to avail ourselves of its blessing. We first approached, related with and finally worked in alliance with the being under the presidency of the One to bring about the required intention. The difference is quite marked and stems from the view of the Gods and other beings mentioned and the start of this post. If we view, as Kate does, Angels as mechanical structures then we can use them for our ends. We can simply discover them one day and use them in a ritual that evening, just like any mechanism. If however we view these beings as alive, independent of humanity with minds and purposes beyond what we know, then we cannot. We need to relate with them, work with them, share and grow with them. My experiences and the presence of these beings in my life leads me to the latter view.

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6 comments

  1. Robert 'Suecae' · April 28, 2009

    A very well put together article. I imagine too that this is thought-provoking for those who share the sentiments of post-modern magic.

    I don’t have anything really of importance that I want to comment other then forwarding a simple ‘thank you’ for writing this.

  2. Peregrin · April 28, 2009

    Dear Robert,

    thank you for this comment, I too hope the post provokes some thought 🙂

  3. wandering mystic · April 28, 2009

    “Throughout the GD ceremonies and rituals a great many non-Christian deities were invoked, but not worshipped. Similarly Christ, or His essence, was often invoked but not worshipped per se.”

    If you start with that perspective then why would you be surprised that future development would include:

    “Once this occurs the transcendent aspect of the divine is lost or marginalised. And once we have reduced the Gods to interior psychological states or aspects of the collective unconscious, the individual human being becomes the highest authority.”

    To be followed by:

    “What happens is that archetypal angels are taken for living beings instead of the mechanical structures they actually are… ~ Kate.”

    It only makes perfect sense to me *shrug*.

    Let’s be honest, people who come to the GD and magick often do so after rejecting or being disappointed with their own religion. They want a replacement to faith and in many cases spiritual power that belongs to ‘them’ and not some God. Many of the people who espouse those views do so because they are unbelievers theologically speaking.

    I would bet even further that most of them would reject an idea of magic that isn’t tied in directly to the same strain that evolved out of theosophy. I am referring of course to psychological explanation of magic. Supernatural magic and supernatural beings are scoffed at as nonsense. They and Randi would agree on so many things here.

    You are right, however, that if we were to spin the clock back a few thousand or even hundred years we would see a totally different approach to magic and its relationship with divinity. It is the one that people like you and me are comfortable with. Sadly, the world is a different place and unless you know something that I don’t then we are a minority.

  4. Qabalier · April 29, 2009

    “The best I could do would be reproduce a stereotype which expresses nothing new, nothing alive and vital, nothing real. Could I reduce or express you as a formula? I think not. So, if we cannot express humans with our rich tapestry of love and pain, longing and subtleties as a formula, how can we ever express a God like this?”

    “`Do you know, I always thought Unicorns were fabulous monsters, too! I never saw one alive before!’
    `Well, now that we HAVE seen each other,’ said the Unicorn, `if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?'”

    I thought that your point was that “we don’t actually exist”. So if we aren’t real, why should the Gods be?
    (why, of course the Gods are greater and more divine that us) “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”.
    Or would the ‘ego’ be that lifeless ‘formula’? Don’t get me wrong – I’d rather believe in the reality of *both* of us.
    (please don’t dismiss this as a mere exchange of witticisms. This issue is, understably, deeply important to me)

  5. Peregrin · April 29, 2009

    Hi Wandering Mystic,

    thanks for the comments. Yes, i suppose it does make perfect sense in a way. However, I do believe the recognition of Gods and other beings as being as real as we are is possible within modern magic. And that it will enhance it considerably. But yes, we are in a minority 🙂

  6. Peregrin · April 29, 2009

    Hi Qabalier,

    thanks for the comment. Loved the unicorn quote 🙂

    I also think the issue is deeply important. My western esoteric and Vajrayana Buddhist training does point out that we do not, intrinsically exist as independent entities. The same for the Gods, Angels, and other Beings. However, they are as real as we are – they have conventional existence. I can meet them and be effected by them, just as I can meet you and be effected by you. I have posted on this issue a couple of times before 🙂

    Ego as the lifeless formula? Hmmm….interesting thought. I would say that some magicians, particularly those more psychologically inclined, could be happier with a formula rather than a real God as it would not threaten their ego. To be even in the radiating light of an angel, let alone a God, moves us to our knees and makes us tremble and humbles us deeply.

    Thanks again 🙂

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