Over the last few months I have been thinking more and more about religion and the Golden Dawn. Some of my thought have been prompted by discussions in various blogs, some wonderful and some woeful. Other thoughts have arisen from my own deepening connection with the Christian mysteries, via my RR et AC work and explorations with my teacher. To summarise my thoughts:
Traditional Golden Dawn requires its initiates, if not Christian, to take an interest in Christian symbolism. This is because the Christian mysteries (not organised religion) are considered differently in the Golden Dawn than other mysteries. For example, there is no requirement to take an interest in pagan or Jewish mysteries. This is hardly surprising, because:
The western esoteric tradition itself was created by and for Christians, all be they heterodox Christians. This is simply a matter of history. Look it up.
The Inner Order of the GD, the RR et AC, is a Christian order. Its primary motif and underlying myth is Rosicrucian, a tradition where the mysteries are embraced in and through Christian based imagery and symbols. Again we are talking about the Christian mysteries, not religion – even though the original Rosicrucian Orders were clear about religious preference, preferring the Reformed churches to the Roman.
The Christian mysteries infuse and are interwoven within the RR et AC to such a degree they are inseparable. This does not mean we need to be ‘a Christian’ to be a member of the RR et AC. But it does mean we need to approach, enter and commune with the Christian mysteries FAR MORE deeply than the special occasion and Sunday Christians themselves. Otherwise the deeper blessings of the RR et AC and the One will elude us entirely. It is just the way the tradition has been created
Any Pagan mysteries or religions in Europe did not survive beyond the late Medieval period at best. As I have said elsewhere, “The Romans won and they destroyed most European pagan religions as they expanded their Empire(s). Exoteric Christianity came a little later, moved in and made Europe its home. Goodbye Paganism. There were virtually no Pagan survivals of substance. There were no hidden Witch meetings or Pagans giving each other the nod in Church before scooting home to an evening of hidden celebrations and rustic sex under the hedgerow.”
The modern pagan movement is itself more beholden on the Christian mysteries and religion than most of its adherents realise. Dr Jo Pearson, (author of the memorably titled, Inappropriate Sexuality? Sex Magic, S/M and Wicca or ‘Whipping Harry Potter’s Arse!’ ) explores this in her book “Wicca and the Christian Heritage”.
Modern pagan reconstructions that seek to return to pre-Christian inspirations and sources of wisdom do so only within the context of a culture, language, education and individual mind influenced and nurtured by Christian based sources. For example, my son who has never been near a church knows on an interior level the basics of Christian belief, morality and theology. He gets it from Family Guy, the Simpsons and other avenues of popular culture.
It is therefore really, really difficult for someone to reconstruct religious or magical practice from, for example the 7th Dynasty of ancient Egypt. The world around us, the way we think, our reality is so different we can at best stab in the dark and hope to hit a flying gnat. It is kinda like those folk who declare themselves a Shaman while living in a city, purchasing herbs from China, drums from Peru and who have no community to serve or even a desire to serve one.
Therefore, with all the preceding in mind we really need to examine how modern Pagans engage with the Golden Dawn even to the extent of becoming members of Inner Orders. While there is no essential barrier to this, the Inner Order magician does need to engage deeply with the mysteries of the RR et AC which are Christian based. To the extent this is possible depends on both the individual magician and the Order in question, how far they stray from tradition. I know some Wicca members of GD lodges who seem to be very good at having a pagan religion and a Christian based mystery system. However, many pagans and many pagan traditions carry with them hidden or not so hidden resentment and abusive attitudes towards Christianity. I am not sure how they these folk manage to engage deeply in the Christian based mysteries of the RR et AC.
Now before anyone cries, “Wicca is not anti-Christian, just not Christian”, please I know this and reproduced it and all the associated arguments faithfully for the Pagan Alliance for many years. The simple fact of the matter is that many pagans and Wiccans are anti-Christian to some degree, often hidden. A good example is the practice of using ‘Aum’ in place of ‘Amen’ when performing the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram. And besides, it is not enough for a Pagan member of the GD to ‘be OK’ with Christianity; they have to have an interest in Christian symbolism and embrace the Christian mysteries of the RR et AC. This is clearly not the case for the average Witch who is disinterested in Christianity and who has very few Christian books and resources in their home.
There have been and continue to be modern developments of the Golden Dawn that seek to replace the Christian elements with Pagan. This assumes the GD tradition is akin to an Ikea sofa which one can simply take apart, replace the cover with a more pleasing shade, plonk back together and carry on. The simple fact is the tradition is not like this. It does not have a central core of universal wisdom overlaid by a veneer of Christian mystical symbolism which can be replaced piecemeal with other symbols that 777 blithely assert ‘correspond’. The GD and RR et AC are built layer upon layer of Christian based practice and symbolism and it is through our personal engagement with this practice and symbolism that we arrive at universal wisdom.
The habit of cut and pasting Pagan symbols, Gods and images over the Christian symbolism of the GD is also fraught with much difficulty. Firstly, since the motivation for most of this redaction comes from personal concerns and often personal distaste of Christianity, it will necessarily be tinged with those personal concerns not universal and transpersonal aspirations. Secondly, as we have said we cannot look upon pagan symbolism and motifs in the same way the original Pagans practiced them. So it is very difficult for us to know exactly what is ‘authentic’ and what is not. The result is often a mishmash of forced symbolism based on intellectual justifications for a ‘feeling’ of what fits where rather than on spiritually driven exegesis. Prime examples of this approach can be found in the depressingly large number of ‘Pagan’ LRPs available on the Internet which have as much ritual integrity as a marginal seat politician before election day.
Pagans of course can and do practice the Golden Dawn, or more often RR et AC, rituals and magic. Or to be clear, they use them without a deep appreciation and realisation of their immense blessings and beauty. I once read a paper on the Rose Cross ritual by a senior Wiccan which was delivered at a Wiccan conference. Not once did it mention that the beauty, power, grace and blessings of the ritual derive from the name of Christ, Yehesuah. Indeed it ignored the meaning of the name all together and many Witches I know who use the ritual do not know the meaning of the name.
To fully understand and to gain a deeper understanding of the Golden Dawn we all, pagans and others, need to stop seeing what we can get from the tradition. Rather, we must ask how we may give to the tradition to further its ends, which are the same as all authentic traditions – love expressed towards God, humanity and the universe.