Yesterday at work I wrote a complaint letter to a leading computer company which had repeatably failed its warranty obligations. Since I believe in going straight to the top I rang the Sydney office to get the name of the head honcho. The receptionist refused to give me the name. Incredulously I replied, “oh come on it’s got to be a matter of public record”. He still refused to give me the name. As we argued I typed into my trusty Google Toolbar and five seconds later told him who it was. Yet he still maintained he could not tell me! I half expected the proverbial, “I can neither confirm nor deny that information”. It was a classic case of the SNAFU principle as described by St Bob, where organisational culture prevents those at the top knowing what is really going on, thus leading them to make the wrong decisions.
I was also reminded of magical oaths and obligations where Neophytes and others are often pledged to keep secret information already published and freely available. I first encountered this as an eager pagan teenager going through the first degree Wiccan initiation. There I was, bound and naked with a sword pressed against my throat looking into the beady little eyes of our High Priest and pledging to keep secret material I had in several books at home. By then, being very eager, I had found copies of all the Wiccan rituals. I had also analysed them and quickly realised they were not in any way historical but based on extant western magical rituals. So being bound to keep them secret felt very strange, but I did it nonetheless.
Next however, I was asked to “keep the Coven Law”, something I had never heard of before this evening and knew nothing about. For all I knew obeying the Coven Law could mean oathing myself to service the High Priest’s car once a month. Or him. Now what I should have done was take a deep breath and say, “Hang on a minute, what’s this Coven Law bit, do you have a copy?”. But I meekly submitted. After all everyone was taking the whole thing seriously and the High Priest looked very annoyed at my pausing to consider the matter. Really, it should have been a Priestess binding me (as a man), but our High Priest did enjoy his simple and primal power games. At least he was looking into my eyes not oggling my tits like he did with a couple of my friends.
It was not long after this that I again found myself taking another oath of secrecy long after the traditional secret material had bolted out of the stable. This time it was in the Neophyte Hall of the first Order I was initiated into. Being descended from an Order started by Stella Matutina members it was the long and sonorous version, complete with warnings about about being struck down by beings who “journey on the winds”. At least this time I had some clothes on. And the sword was behind me. However, I suddenly found myself repeating an oath of allegiance to the directives of a particular Frater – not a GD office, but the individual member who was the leader of our Order. Again, I meekly submitted as it would have spoilt the whole proceedings to exclaim, “you want me to what?”. Fortunately, my future oaths (in a different Order) were less worrisome.
Suddenly springing an oath, particularly of allegiance, on an unsuspecting open and vulnerable initiate seems grossly unfair to me. When we came to form our own Order I was able to modify the oaths to keep secret only Order specific symbols, workings, rituals and material. The oath, in a general way, is reproduced on the Pledge Form so people know what they are going to be asked when swimming in a sea of astral impressions and magic.
The Golden Dawn, being a western lodge tradition uses secrecy as a form of transformation. So it is understandable why some Orders maintain the traditional oath even if it is redundant. Other Orders get around it in various ways. Pat Zalewski recounts how the oaths of his wife and himself were modified to permit them latitude in sharing the Order’s teachings. The Rosicrucian Order of the Alpha et Omega moved all the published material of the GD and the RR et AC into the Outer Order. Very neat. Their Inner Order is therefore, once more a repository of REAL magical SECRETS!!! Maybe even lashings and lashings of ginger beer. Of course, just because something is secret does not make it useful or worthwhile. I have found this out the hard way over the last 25 years.
As a community I think it is important to have an intelligent approach to our Oaths and Obligations. It is ridiculous to simply reproduce traditional oaths these days; it just makes us look daft. And since we get up in coloured robes, call ourselves all sorts of lovely names and wave painted sticks around, we don’t need any more tendencies in that direction. If an Order is practicing the GD tradition straight from the texts and does not have any or many secrets, so what? We can make the oath more operational, like the Adeptus Minor oath, where the initiate swears to transform themselves. As I have said many times previously, even the most public rituals can be effective and transformational. The twice daily LRP and Christian Communion being but two examples. Thanks 🙂