JUST EDITED – lost a couple of paragraphs in the ol’ cut and paste. 11/11/10, 12:04pm.
Recently there has been another one of these very interesting ‘separate forum’ debates characteristic of the online Golden Dawn community. For various reasons some leaders of the GD community can’t get on well enough to debate on the same forum. So one person will say something and someone else will reply elsewhere. It fairly reminds me of the fractured conversations parents have while attending to a baby.
But there you go; we work with what we have.
The topic this time was the GD Grades and the levels of consciousness they refer to. Now I may annoy a few folk here, maybe even both ‘sides’ of the issue. Apologies in advance but this is how I see it.
On the one hand Pat Zalewski, who has done as much for the Golden Dawn as any contemporary person could, wrote on ‘his’ forum that the exalted spiritual/moral states ascribed by some people to the higher grades, such as 7=4, are rarely achieved, so why ascribe them in the first place? On the other hand, the erudite GH Fr SR maintains the 7=4 (and other grades) does help produce certain distinct changes in consciousness and spiritual development, even if those who attain the grade slip sometimes and react from the lower self.
Pat also makes the accurate observation that Mathers and Westcott and people he personally knew who were 7=4 and beyond gave in to “petty jealousy and had certainly not emancipated from the passions of the body”.
He then writes, “GD people are not a breed apart and study and ritual will not transform the basic personality” something I will come back to later. If I understand him correctly, Pat’s take on the transformative power of the GD is allows us at “varying levels … to understand our connection to things about us through analogy and symbols and to try and attain Apotheosis”. He concludes with a characteristic comment, “Whatever you may want to attain you still live in the here and now.”
Commentators to the Pat’s post point out the “system” of the GD can still be valid, that is able to transform the person, even if individuals fail to do so. The person fails, not the system.
GH Fr SR takes this a step further and points out the original GD system was rudimentary and offered limited advanced theurgic work and structures. This has all been solved now with the ‘1999 reformation of the Order curriculum’ – by this he means the particular Rosicrucian Order of the Alpha et Omega and attached Inner Orders. One of the things that always bugs me is the language most members of the Ros AO use implies that their Order is THE Order. Of course, by their lights it may be the only valid Order…kinda like Pope Benedict insisting that all non-Roman churches are really congregations or fellowships, not Churches.
These are weighty and serious questions and cut to the very raison d’être of the Golden Dawn. One of the difficulties in discussing these things is there is often limited congruence between GD folk on the meanings of all these strange esoteric words, initiation, Ruach, Apotheosis etc. One person’s astral is not necessarily another person’s astral. Of course this situation is made worse when people can’t even debate and learn from each other in the same forum.
Another major problem is the different underlying theologies, cosmologies and ontologies a person brings with them into the Order. Since we are an orthopraxic tradition we seldom insist upon, or even teach and discuss a common paradigm to the universe, seen and unseen. Our internally held views on these things make us view the GD, its purpose, capacity and function differently. I have addressed in this post, ‘Spiritual Transformation: or a whole hunk of questions’. The questions there, such as what is this ‘self’ we are trying to transform and why the hell are we doing this, really need answering before we can address the issues raised by Pat and GH Fr SR.
Now, I have a working and unfolding tension in relation to these questions – ‘cos they’ve been bouncing around my head since a teenager, so I am going to go right ahead and have a go… 🙂
To try and move this issue away from the persons of Pat and GH Fr SR, I want to examine the 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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 Temple (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 and indeed, initiates could still be utter bastards, personally (5).
Pat seems to focus on (2), (3) and (4) – not saying he does not hold any other views, only that his comments, as I read seem to focus on these areas. GH Fr SR seems, in his recent post, to focus on (1) and (3) – again, not saying he does not hold any other views.
Personally, I do think correctly performed initiations affect us on the subtle levels. The changes induced there, can, if we will, help us to change ourselves. So here I agree with GH Fr SR. However, those changes only ever come about through our interaction with, as Pat puts it, “things about us” – through our interaction and unfoldment in this wonderful world of summer rain and tainted babies’ milk. The mystery, for example, of standing between the Pillars of the Opposites is placed within us at Neophyte. It will never come to fruition though if we, in our messy and glorious lives, do not move ourselves to a place of balance between, for example work and family commitments. The initiation does however help when we choose to do that. So I think Pat is right, “study and ritual will not transform the basic personality” alone. But it will help us along the way when we choose and act to change ourselves. So will good food and exercise and good friends though 🙂
So without, I hope being too much of a fence sitter, both Pat’s and GH Fr SR’s views are in my view correct– when they are taken together.
Pat’s comment that “study and ritual will not transform the basic personality” I feel needs a little unpacking. From my experience and within most esoteric systems the personality is not separate from the subtle selves. There is no doubt ritual affects the subtle self, even if only temporarily. Repeated instances of ritual can then help to affect the personality – if we are working towards that goal within our lives.
In the case of initiation however, the ritual is done for us, for our benefit and we receive many blessings. Using a public example, Dion Fortune recounts how her 0=0 initiation helped resolve damage to her subtle etheric self, healing her and stopping ‘energy’ leaking from her system. Now this is not a direct action upon the personality, but it would have helped her personality by reducing stress, tiredness and increasing focus etc. So here, at a very simple level we see that a ritual can affect us.
Another case: while healing ritual processes, for example, may not be able remove underlying mental pattering causing psychological dysfunction unless married with other inner work and life changes, they can temporarily help lessen the circular effects of dysfunction. They do this by affecting the subtle bodies – in the way correct breathing during a panic attack will reduce the attack but not address the source. The temporary relief of dysfunctional symptoms can then provide the space needed for deeper psychological change. I have experienced this personally and have helped facilitate the process for others, including people heavily traumatised.
With regards to the actual level of psychological and spiritual functioning an Adept has, I focus squarely on point (4). The grades within an esoteric order hopefully helps us transform. However, they are not guaranteed to. The levels of consciousness and functioning ascribed to each grade should, I think, be viewed as metaphorical not literal. Just as Biblical and religious narratives are true but not literal, so too with the grade system. The various exalted levels are to be taken metaphorically not literally, as something that is true, but not within shared space-time.
The main reason for this ‘metaphorical’ interpretation is obvious – as soon as we ascribe noble morality, compassion, higher consciousness and wot all to a particular grade our paradigm is vulnerable to members of that grade acting like pompous, constipated two year olds. And of course Adepti Exempti do act this way. Just look on the blogs. GH Fr SR may say these things are slips, and I am sure some of the less dysfunctional actions are, but I am sure we all know the odd Adepti Exempti who we would not only not take home to mother, but actively steer away from mother.
The view that the Reformed Ros. AO GD/RR et AC now offers better opportunities for fuller unfoldment is interesting. The proof of the pudding is in the eating of course, and I yet to meet an Adept from this Order, so cannot fully comment. However the publically available information on the theurgic and evocatory expansion within the Reformed system is very logical and is along the lines many Orders have taken, and the Adepti from those Orders I have met are just as dysfunctional as non-initiates, and sometimes worse. The Ros. AO may be doing it better, I cannot know.
All this of course, is one of the reasons why I feel it essential not to discuss our Grades. It is also, as I was taught, one of the reasons for the traditional Rosicrucian injunction to wear the garb of the country we find ourselves within – to blend in, not focus on our attainments or fictional difference between us and ‘non-initiates’. The latter view finds its disgusting apotheosis in both the traditional Gnostic separation of humanity into three distinct categories and the modern myth of the ‘once born’ non-initiates and the diogens, or twice born initiates.
There remains the question of whether an esoteric tradition can actually help to change us to an exalted state that is generally understood to be ‘more than human’. For me there is no question that it can. I never really understood the difference between regular human consciousness and, for want of a better word, an illumined consciousness until, as I describe in this post, I attended a talk by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since then I have met and been blessedly initiated by other enlightened Vajrayana Masters. I have no doubt of their enlightened state while being perfectly human also.
Personally, I think such transformations in the western tradition are very rare, particularly in the largely dysfunctional western magical traditions, but I am sure they can happen.
Finally, I am very aware I have not mentioned the actual truth of the matter; individual transformation itself is a chimera. Since I bang on about it so much, I gave it a rest this time and will only re-quote the great Martin Luther King:
We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.