A Pagan Golden Dawn?

OK. Some or much of this post will not agree with many folk. But there you go.

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.

22 comments

  1. Arcad · July 10, 2010

    Care Fra Peregrin,

    very well said. I find the view on “Re”creating original paganism very interesting. I do respect my pagan friends but I also know these Druids who just seem to be in possession of the long lost tapes of the last anual Druid meeting just before teh Romans invaded… I mean the first or even second hand source material is rather non existing – as far as I know. Also I agree with what you say about the Christian symbolism. But I have to say that most Christians have no clue about that either. Just think about the baptising ceremonies in the various branches. I am actually preparing a post on that…;)
    But in a way that also counts for the Egyptian symbolism, right? We do not know how things were done. And it is however not enough to know that they had some variety of gods which used different names. However, I do not have to become a worshiper of Osiris in order to use teh symbolism in ritual. But I would go further that saying an interest in these mysteries and the symbolism is essential. I would say a deeper study and understanding is essential. Which leads again to teh point that magic is nothing for someone with no time and patience…

    In L.V.X.
    Arcad

  2. V.V.F. · July 10, 2010

    With any tradition, one should engage with it meaningfully if one is going to engage with it at all. There’s no arguing with that.

    I’m interested, however, in the fact that you appear to be attempting here to discredit the Pagan Revival as a whole. I won’t argue with what we know of history, but it seems irrelevant to your main point. Would you care to elaborate?

  3. Peregrin · July 10, 2010

    Thanks Fr.

    You make some very excellent points here. I agree, having little lived Church experience I do tend to see the Christian tradition through a limted vision. What seems obvious to me, the intense and beautiful mysteries it holds, are probably seldom acknowledged or experienced or even desired by the bulk of the Sunday faithful. Thanks for reminding me of this tendency of mine. Look forward to you post…:)

  4. Peregrin · July 10, 2010

    Care Sr VVF,

    Thanks for the reply. No, I am not in this post trying to discredit the Pagan Revival (as you call it) as a whole. And elsewhere I do not attempt this either. I do acknowledge the wonder, the beauty and the power the Pagan revival has within it – as a religion. Or as a social force also when we look at folk and traditions like the glorious Starhawk and Reclaiming. What I do question is the assumption and positioning of paganism as providing deep and transformative esoteric mystery traditions. The western esoteric tradition was and is Christian / Jewish based. The revival or recreation or creation or invention (depending on your view) of the pagan religious tradition in the west is very new and I doubt it yet has the interior traditions of mystery the older esoteric streams have. This is very obvious when we examine the public examples of the pagan/wiccan rituals and magic. They are still based on older western esoteric traditions. However, being disconnected from those traditions, being non-Christian (and thus devoid of the Christian motifs behind which are the mysteries), being created by folk like Gardner (who had scant knoweldge of the deeper levels of the numerous Orders he was an outer member of), they, for me, appear lacking. That said, there may be secret pagan mystery streams (re)created today that are deep and wonderful. Being secret though, they cannot come into any assessment of the situation. I hope this clarifies my position. 🙂

  5. Soror PAI · July 13, 2010

    Hmmm….I’m not so sure that Christianity was ever anything other than a “pagan” religion. It amuses me when members of the GD (I am one too!) attempt to claim that, if not for the awesome wellsprings of Christianity and Judaism, the western esoteric tradition and/or western civilization would not exist. Moreover, one could also persuasively argue that the “monotheism” of historical Judaism is more myth than fact.

  6. Peregrin · July 13, 2010

    Thanks for the comment, Soror.

    I am a little unclear what you are actually saying. The reliance on the Christian and Judaic traditions by the Golden Dawn and the western esoteric tradition is hardly a view espoused solely by GD folk. It is affirmed by pretty much every academic study of the subject. You are free to present a counter view and I would love to hear it rather than a simple statement. As for Christianity being a pagan religion, the difference between paganism and revealed religions is also very well argued and articulated by many, many folk, academics, pagans and Christians. Again, I would like to hear some detailed arguments to support your view. Thank you 🙂

  7. Sincerus Renatus · July 19, 2010

    Care Frater Peregrin,

    Basically I do believe that all religions and spiritual paths (well almost all) do express a fundamental an common spiritual truth.

    But I agree with you that a particular tradition takes form according to its chosen spiritual philosophy and mythology applied. Thus I agree with you that the Rosicrucian tradition from being a Christian based tradition cannot be suddenly transformed into a Buddhist, or strictly Osirian, or Thelemic, etc., without losing its very soul. It becomes something else.

    But I do also believe that Christianity didn’t fall out of the sky and one may argue if it is only (or even primarily) based on the Hebrew religion. There are lots of Hellenistic undertones in that religion which makes me conclude that it was lots more syncretic than one wants to give it credit.

    On my blog you said that James G. Frazer was driven by a hatred towards Christianity in his comparisation between Christian myths and that of paganism. But also E. Wallis Budge made many such comparisons between the myths of Osiris-Isis-Horus and that of God-Christ-Mary. I believe its hard not to see the many similarities between the Christian Mysteries and that of other ancient and contemporary mystery religions.

    That being said I still believe that there is much to gain in keeping the Christian focus as we have it, in the Golden Dawn as well as in Rosicrucianism (of which the G.D. is part) because of the fact, as you have pointed out, that we have it in our “occidental genes”. It is very hard to “wash out” the christian component in ourselves, if not impossible; we would throw out the babe with the bathwater. Even the neo-pagan movement often finds its identity as being an alternative to Christianity, if not an antithesis.

    In Licht, Leben und Liebe
    S:.R:.

  8. Peregrin · July 19, 2010

    Care GH Fr SR,

    thank you for your comments.

    I agree fully Christianity did not spring from nowhere. And that others beside Frazer found connections between Christian and pagan myths. Many deep connections.

    What I have been trying to say can be summarised, I hope:

    (1) Orthodox (small ‘o’) Christianity does not see equivalencies between Christ and other deities. Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity made flesh, not a god, not an incarnation of a god, not a teacher-master etc.

    The very fact that Christians see there is a difference means that orthodox Christianity is different to the rest of the religions from the Mediterranean basin and middle east. I am not saying I agree with this point of view. What I am saying is that the theology that allows Christians to view their religion as different to the rest, in and by itself makes the religion different to the rest. We can take that or leave that (and I leave it), but it is there.

    (2) There have been and are orthodox Christians who accept this theology within western esotericism (indeed post 1875 they were the majority) and the Golden Dawn.

    OK – thanks 🙂

  9. Soror PAI · July 22, 2010

    Care Peregrin,

    There are many outstanding academic books that clearly delineate the pagan roots of both Christianity and Judaism. For instance, the research of Jan Assman, Dennis MacDonald, Jan Bremmer, Gregory Riley, et. al., are more than enough to get one started. Considering that the ‘revealed’ texts are either wholecloth appropriations from ‘pagan’ texts or are attempting to place a monotheistic veneer on ‘pagan’ texts/religion is pretty self-evident. This is not news to anyone in the field of religious studies (except, perhaps, those with ideological/religious blinders on). I cannot speak to how those with a vested interest in upholding their theology spin or interpret the ‘pagan’ influence on the Abrahamic texts. The facts are what they are; from ancient Near Eastern texts to Greco-Roman mystery cults, Judaism and Christianity did not arise from a cultural or textual vacuum. Moreover, the archaeology appears to validate the textual criticisms, but that is another argument for another day. 🙂

    PAI

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  11. mp · January 5, 2011

    Someone else said: “With any tradition, one should engage with it meaningfully if one is going to engage with it at all.”

    And yet, for all the (probably correct) posturing about the RR et AC being Christian, and needing to deal fully with that, the outer order has one treat Kemetic deities as merely masks.

    This is the hubris I see in some forms of Christian esoterica – if you want to be part of the inner order, you have to our God seriously … but someone else’s “gods” pish and tosh, they don’t count.

  12. Peregrin · January 5, 2011

    Hi mp,

    thank you for your comments. I agree fully about needing to connect deeply with and view all deities and beings within both Orders as real, divine and beyond our understanding. I have written elsewhere about this on MOTO and other places. The question of the use of ‘Kemetic’ deities is a good point, Kemetic of course being a recent way of reclaiming the Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egyptian origin. I am pretty sure the creators of the outer rituals did view some of the Egyptian deities as mere ‘masks’ or Godforms while holding a different view of Christ. I do not think this is at all balanced and acceptable. As I mention frequently on MOTO, relationship is crucial with any interior being we connect with, including ‘Godforms’. I do not see them as merely coloured images to change the vibrations of the sphere of sensation, but keys to living and real mystery beings.

    Thanks 🙂

  13. mist42nz · May 13, 2013

    Your view on paganism is too narrow.
    The world does not stop at the borders of Europe.

    – the kiwi kid…

  14. Peregrin · May 13, 2013

    Hi mist42nz,

    thanks for your comments. Most historical and academic definitions of Paganism do define it to within European borders. Modern usage that tends to lump indigenous and ‘shamanic’ traditions under the Pagan name are too broad for me. 🙂

  15. SrSD · May 14, 2013

    Hi Peregrin
    The GD has always been about syncreticism (as you yourself have said elsewhere). Looking at the 5=6 Grade it might seem to suddenly be all centered around Christ and the Christian Mysteries, as that is the nature of that Grade, but even there there is mention of Osiris – and other Egyptian symbolism is employed, such as the ankh etc. I am happy for you that you have found a deeper connection to the Christian Mysteries/ Christ in that grade, but GD, First or Second Order is syncretic and multi-layered. You seem to be saying that for you now that you have reached the AC et RC, that the Egyptian Gods, etc are not really important and that really the GD is all about Christ. Of course, the traditional 5=6 can have that affect, but you have to remember that this is only one Grade among many. As far as I can see in the Whare Ra 6=5 and 7=4 Grades, Felkin doesn’t even mention Christ directly, by name, although Osiris is mentioned directly. Even in Tiphareth, Christ symbolism is only one possible paradigm. I think the GD recognised this, and Mathers was smart in employing Christian symbolism as he did in such a central ritual, as he knew that he was talking to those who were raised in an almost entirely Christian-believing society, but he was also aware that he was initiating people into something much bigger than anyone religious tradition, and that, by that definition, it *had* to incorporate the symbolism of the more ancient religions of Israel, Egypt, Greece, etc.

    Also, I think we might all do well to steer away from this word “pagan” as many here are using it – i.e. “Pagan = everything not Jewish or Christian.” Essentially what we are saying is: anything not mainstream religion is “pagan”. By that definition Christianity and Judaism would have been considered “pagan” to the ancient Greeks, Romans or Egyptians, when it first appeared. Pagan simply means “country dweller”, i.e. – anyone outside of “civilization” (city state) was considered un-civilized and “pagan”. Food for thought. So when civilization becomes Christian, everything outside of that becomes pagan. I think it is a narrow view. I think it is better to see all religions as rays of one ineffable Light (as the GD itself tells its Neophytes). And, anyway, above and beyond all that, it is all about Universal Symbolism. LVX

  16. Peregrin · May 14, 2013

    Care Sr SD,

    thanks for your thought out comments and taking the time to respond. 🙂

    I am sorry if I have been unclear. I do not for a second think that once in the Inner Order the ‘GD is all about Christ’. The first Order, as you mention is multilayered with many synthetic Gods. And any Adept who thinks they can neglect first order work once in the second has rocks in his or her head. All levels are worked all the time.

    The higher grades of the 6=5 and 7=4, as you know, varied a bit between Orders, the original order splitting before they were fully implemented. Whare Ra’s take on these grades was not the same as some other Orders which are more Rosicrucian focused.

    I agree fully, “in Tiphareth, Christ symbolism is only one possible paradigm.” However, the grades, as I am sure you will agree, work more than the Sephrioth. They also bring in traditional currents and motifs, in the case of the 5=6, much Rosicrucian work. Now we can be reductive and say that’s all about ‘Tipharetic consciousness’ as some (not you) have said, but I think far more is going on. The injunction to heal for free being a case in point.

    My point in the blog is that this “much bigger” mystery you refer to is not accessed directly, but via a tradition. In the RR et AC the primary tradition, I feel is Christian based. I am at a loss to see any other primary, not secondary, tradition… plenty of secondary… in older times the Vault was the Tomb of Osiris, yes. Secondary. But primarily, Christian based. That is all I am saying. Other Orders and paths may use a different tradition, and that is wonderful. But simply replacing names and symbols within the Rosicrucian based RR et AC with more “Pagan” ones, will I feel, be as effective as creating a whole new tradition to work the Pagan mysteries. This can and has been done, and I myself am an initiate of one such tradition.

    Yes, I agree Mathers was “initiating people into something much bigger than anyone religious tradition.” The Analysis of the Keyword shows this wonderfully, and several of the other points you mention 🙂 The analysis shows the way to bring through the mystery via a conscious synthesis of traditions. Great 🙂 However, I still feel the primary tradition within the RR et AC is Rosicrucian, hence Christian based.

    I agree “pagan” is a problematic term. I am simply responding to those who choose to use it to identify their religious and mystery path. If they want to call themselves ‘pagan’, I respect 🙂

    Thanks again for making me think 🙂

  17. Sue Bussell · May 14, 2013

    Hello Peregrin

    I read with interest all the above comments. I would like to point out that one aspect of evolution is the spiritual progression of humanity, on a global basis. This, of course, incorporates all the different forms of religion. However, to try to re-enter the thinking of past ages is counter-evolutionary and thus a waste of effort. The great truths remain in the present. They are still happening. Seek out these truths and all will fall into place. Consider Jacob’s Ladder and become one with the stone upon which he rested his head.

    May the wisdom of Gaia remain with you always.

    VH Sr LP aka Lady Bridget

  18. Richard Jones · May 14, 2013

    Why not?

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  21. Peregrin · May 15, 2013

    Thank you, VH Sr L.P, for you kind words and deep thoughts 🙂

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