This topic has come around again in the Golden Dawn blogosphere, and since I am occasionally asked about it I thought I’d reproduce an expanded version of a comment I posted on the Golden Dawn Blog. My comment is taking rather a long time to appear, so I have just reposted it. Now it should, but does not necessarily, go without saying that my views here do not align me with any Order or group holding the same views. For example, the Greens and the Australian Liberal Party (they’re conservatives really) both share similar views on murder, but are diametrically opposed on other issues.
The Founders of the Golden Dawn and their Initiations
There are no records of Mathers, Westcott or Woodman travelling to receive physical initiation from the supposed German source of the Golden Dawn. This lack of evidence however, does not support the view they were astrally initiated by continental adepts while safely back home in England. If we dismiss the possibility of physical initiation because of lack of records, we must do the same with the possibility of astral initiation.
Actually, it seems very likely Mathers, like Westcott and Woodman were simply not initiated into the Order(s) they founded. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The process of declaring ‘accolades’, appointing members to act as officers in grades they have not received, has a long history and is very useful for bootstrapping a new Order or temple into existence. It’s a neat solution to the chicken and egg problem – you need three Adepts to initiate people to become Adepts, but you can’t become an Adept without initiation, which needs three Adepts. So, people are in effect administratively ‘made’ an Adept to begin the initiation process.
What, I personally feel, is that once a temple is established all ‘accolade’ officers should then be actually physically initiated into the grades they previously held administratively. When I helped found a particular GD Order in Perth, I obviously had not been initiated into it, its egregore and the various grades. Once established, I took a leave of absence for about nine months and when I returned entered as Neophyte, which was one of the most rewarding experiences of my magical life. 🙂
Physical Initiations as Restrictive
If Golden Dawn initiation is only available via physical presence in a physical temple, then it is only available to certain people, as attending is costly or impossible for people outside that locale. Astral initiation is sometimes proposed as a solution to this dilemma on the grounds that ‘The Lord of the Universe’ would not make initiation available to only those with the means to attend a physical temple.
This is all very logical and I do concur that the ‘The Lord of the Universe’ (if we enter the perilous territory of assigning intentions to ‘Him’), certainly does not exclude folk on the basis of wealth. However, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “Without God, we cannot; without us, God won’t”. The sad reality is that we wonderful humans have created a world where many things, spiritual and temporal, are only accessible to the affluent. Some examples are the excellent psychic surgeons operating out of South America, the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, Stonehenge and Disneyland.
However, focusing on the western world and ignoring the starving who presumably have more pressing issues, most of us can access the equivalent to these examples. Most of us can access some form of medicine. We can attend a yoga class or practice at home. We can learn to connect and honour our own sacred land rather than focus on the land elsewhere. And we can find fun at the local park.
It is the same with Golden Dawn initiation; we may not be able to receive it physically, but we can unfold as if we had by carefully practicing the broader tradition. I have written more about this and given practical means in the much delayed By Names and Images.
There is another consideration here though; the value we place on our magical and esoteric instruction. Now, when I was lad, we didn’t have this internet thing. In fact we didn’t really have much here in Perth; a few books and certainly no courses, workshops or power weeks. As RJ Stewart and Nick Farrell have pointed out, back in the day, the absence of easy magical tuition and membership helped us place a value on what we received. Bob Stewart would scrimp and save his student money and train up for monthly tuition from the curmudgeonly W.G. Gray (whose biography by Alan Richardson is out soon on Skylight Press). Nick emigrated to another continent to continue his study. I am not saying scarcity of magical material, initiation and teaching is a good thing, but it does make us choose wisely.
Distant Healing and Distant Initiation
There is an argument that if absent healing works, so should astral initiation.
However, absent healing works by the healer changing the higher subtle selves of the patient. These changes then hopefully manifest down into the physical. Sort of a trickle-down approach to healing, and we all know how well that has worked in the economic sphere, eh? 🙂
Anyway, even if absent healing works better than trickle-down economics and actually does cause physical health benefits, we simply cannot apply the same logic to the traditional Golden Dawn initiations, which were designed to be conducted simultaneously on all planes: physical, etheric, astral, mental and (hopefully) spiritual. We can look at this from two angles. Firstly, the Golden Dawn initiations stem from the broader lodge tradition which has always required physical initiations. The structure of the initiations themselves work with the physical in many ways, from blindfolding, binding, moving, touching, placing etc the candidate. Secondly, the initiative process takes into account the divinity of the initiate on all planes, recognising the body as sacred, whole and inviolable.
A clear example of the western lodge approach requiring physical initiation is the exchange of grips in the so called ‘elemental grades’ of the Golden Dawn. This occurs with specific action on all planes. The oral RR et AC teachings on initiation clearly show the physical levels of pressure, placement of hands etc. I have written a little about this before on MOTO discussing the role of touch in the Golden Dawn. There is also more in the aforementioned and delayed By Names and Images.
Simply put, we cannot remove the actions on the physical and etheric planes and assume the astral changes (if done correctly) will trickle down perfectly into the lower planes and change the physical and etheric planes in the same way a physical initiation does. Even if they could, it is still not the same as having the actions occur simultaneously on all planes.
Another point to consider is the interaction between the various subtle selves. The full physical disorientation and etheric changes during the preparation, the blindfolding, binding and leading of the candidate helps produce vulnerability and openness within the astral self. This allows the astral impressions to be applied with greater ease. The lack of physical preparation and low level body-fear, reduces the chances of opening the astral self. This can be produced in other ways, but I think they are beyond the pale of the Golden Dawn and the broader lodge tradition generally.
Finally, an argument by authority. In the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition I am slowly learning there are forms of initiation and empowerments, as well as distant healing. In fact one of my gurus, Lama Zopa Rinpoche spends many hours a day absent healing people (and animals). However, all empowerments and initiations are physically based.
Practical Magic and Initiation
Another supporting argument for astral initiation is that the Golden Dawn (really the RR et AC) teaches magic designed to effect the material world and therefore logically the Order must have the same approach to initiation – that a candidate can be initiated in absentia, just as magic works from a distance and causes physical changes.
Well, firstly it is arguable that the RR et AC focuses on practical magic at all. Being a Rosicrucian Order, its main sphere of activity outside spiritual unfoldment is to heal the sick for free. This of course can be viewed in many ways, not just physical healing, but all methods are subject to the limitations previously described. Secondly, practical magic is not initiatory magic per se. Influencing the lower astral and then attempting to ground that influence into the physical, which is the provenance practical magic, is not the same as initiating the entire human being, who extends from the heavenly to the physical.
This latter point is crucial: the sanctity and special place of Malkuth, the material universe. We live at and are, while incarnate, the outer edge of the continually expanding circle of the One. We are the summation of God’s creation, made in His image. When awakened, our body is the Body of Christ and it is this sacramental quality that a physical initiator brings via her physical body to an initiate. This simply cannot be replaced on the astral.