Astral Initiation

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.

8 comments

  1. Samuel · January 4, 2011

    This is one of the best posts on Astral Initiation that I have ever seen on the subject. I wholeheartedly concur that you need physical initiation in order to work on all the subtle spheres at once. Certainly these things called astral initiations do not do this at all.

    There are certain criteria for an initiation to be considered effective and proper. You clearly outline those criteria of Physical, Astral, Etheric, Mental, Spiritual. I normally only use three levels (Physical, Astral, and Etheric). An initiation should have elements where there is some action on these levels at the same time for the Candidate. Of the three forms of initiation, Physical Initiation, Astral Initiation, and Self-Initiation, only Physical and Self-Initiation really meet these criteria (yes, I am aware that there are those that have issues with Self-Initiation and will argue that that it is not a valid means of initiation, etc.). My comment is based on observation concerning the criteria of a successful initiation.

    I also wholeheartedly agree with you that those whom have had to fill in as “administratively made adepts” should when the time is right and they have the appropriate skills undergo the initiations within their respective Orders. Not only is this the proper thing to do, but it also links these adepti so much more to the Order egregore (this is particularly true for those whom founded the Order), and only strengthens the Order egregore by these particular initiations.

    Again, thanks for such a wonderful post on this topic.

    In LVX,
    Samuel

  2. David Griffin · January 6, 2011

    Care et VH Frater Peregrin,

    I am happily surprised to see that once in a while there is something that we actually agree on, namely certain objections regarding astral-only initiation.

    Considering all fo the buzz generated by GH Frater Zink’s latest article in astral-only initiation, it would be nice if Robert Zink would actually answer in sincere dialogue the myriad of objections that have been raised by scholars all across the magickal community.

    It doesn’t really matter who Frater Zink chooses to dialogue with: Nick Farrell, Sam Scarborough, you, me – or even someone from outside of the Golden Dawn community like Frater Barrabbas – about this. What matters is that the matter be directly discussed in an honest and forthright manner.

    As long as Frater Zink continues to use his blog as though it were a Blogosphere billboard, then nothing will ever be resolved in regard to this thorny and divisive issue, and the Golden Dawn community will not be able to move forward towards greater harmony.

    David Griffin

  3. Peregrin · January 6, 2011

    @Samuel – thanks for your positive response and ideas here. I have written a little on self initiation on MOTO, but may expand it into a post soon. Would love your feedback on that 🙂

    Not taking issue here at all, but am curious about your comment “My comment is based on observation concerning the criteria of a successful initiation.”

    I am of course reminded of Margot Adler recounting an initiation she attended at Maxine Sander’s coven in London. In view of the initiate there were big arguments and shouting, no one had roles pre-assigned, Margot herself (as first time visitor) was expected to perform a role etc. Basically, it was a complete balls-up. But, afterwards Margot records how the initiate was as radiant, happy, spiritually uplifted as from any other initiation 🙂 Curious, eh? I am sure your criteria are based on more long term results 🙂

    thanks 🙂

  4. Peregrin · January 6, 2011

    @David,

    thanks for the comment. I have long said that whatever differences there are between Golden Dawn folk, they all pale into insignificance compared to the fact that we practice magic to unfold and serve. This is the crucial point.

    However, I do honestly feel that astral initiation is a modern innovation, which is fine if it is presented as such. No probs with innovation. Whether the broader GD community in time embraces or rejects this innovation is another matter, and one which is out of any of our hands.

    And I must say, David, that even though you disagree with some of my comments on your blog, you always allow them through to be posted. Despite a number of attempts now, my comment (the basis for this post) has still not appeared on GH Fr PDR’s blog. I do hope this is for technical reasons alone.

    Thanks 🙂

  5. Samuel · January 6, 2011

    @Peregrin,

    My statement, “My comment is based on observation concerning the criteria of a successful initiation.” referred to my observation that only Physical and Self-Initiation met the criteria for a successful initiation in that all the three (my criteria) or five (your criteria) were satisfied via these methods of initiation.

    To go one further, I have had the “pleasure” of being “astrally initiated” in the method that is used within the EOGD, though I was not initiated by that group. To say that I got little from those initiations as opposed to my Physical or even the Self-Initiations I have participated in would be something of an understatement. So I have experience with all three forms of initiation – I much prefer Physical personally.

    To go along with the Margot Adler story, I have seen where there were scrambles at the last minute with officers for an initiation, things did not run as smoothly as could or should have, but still, the Candidate got the necessary charge out of the experience and thoroughly had the appropriate symbols implanted into their sphere of sensation. I think it goes to show how connected to a particular current and egregore a group is when things like that fall into place even though there are difficulties in the initiation ceremony.

    I look forward to seeing a blog post on SI sometime in the future, and will be happy to present my ideas.

    In LVX,
    Samuel

  6. David Griffin · January 6, 2011

    @ Peregrin

    Over the years, I have at times made myself rather unpopular due to my intransigent defense of traditional, physical Golden Dawn initiation. The entire concepts of both “astral-only” and “self” initiation are anti-traditional when considered from the perspective of the long history of initiatic mystery schools and traditions. In fact, the entire notions fly in the face of traditional understanding of initiation. In fact, both ‘astral-only’ and ‘self’ initiation depend entirely on modern, newly invented definitions of what “initiation” actually means.

    I fully agree with you that innovation in our community is a welcome addition to our practice. With nearly two decades in the Golden Dawn community under my belt, I have come to see the wisdom of diversity in the Golden Dawn community, as it gives people additional choices. Why should there not be a Golden Dawn order that is Thelemically oriented like the OSOGD or New Age oriented like the EOGD?

    Our own order, the HOGD/AO, in fact has been on the forefront of innovation at times, for example, in further developing the Golden Dawn curriculum in a way that we feel better meets the needs of candidates in the 21st Century. We remain, to my knowledge, the only Golden Dawn order that teaches Ritual Magic from the very beginning instead of beginning in only the Second Order.

    I also agree with you that there are essential aspects of traditional Golden Dawn initiation that simply can not be replicated by any mechanism save actual physical touch. This is a fact like the sky is blue and the grass is green. Any rational person, after giving it but a second thought, will reach the same conclusion.

    This does not mean that innovations like “self” initiation or “astral-only” initiation are COMPLETELY without merit or utility. It is not to the innovations themselves that I object. It is rather to the misleading, if not downright dishonest, misrepresentations that have sometimes been made regarding these innovations, to which I do most strenuously object.

    To the credit of proponents of self-initiation, I have never heard these folks attempt to misrepresent SI as a “traditional Golden Dawn” practice nor even as a fully satisfactory substitute for physical initiation.

    GH Frater PDR, on the other hand, claims that his newly invented “Astral-only” initiation is actually a traditional Golden Dawn practice instituted by S.L. MacGregor Mathers. Numerous Golden Dawn scholars, including Nick Farrell, Sam Scarborough, and myself, have at one time or another publicly contested this assertion, and challenged GH Frater Zink to produce any historical evidence he might have to substantiate such an odd and unusual claim.

    I might add that I have discussed this matter with other Golden Dawn scholars as well, including Tony Fuller and Dr. Robert Word. I have never encountered any Golden Dawn scholar anywhere who has ever seen or uncovered any solid evidence that might support such an assertion either.

    Nonetheless, Frater Zink, continues to routinely include such clearly deceptive statements in his marketing. Moreover, GH Frater Zink asserts in his marketing that his “astral-only” initiation is as effective as traditional, physical Golden Dawn initiation. To add insult to deception, he even further asserts that the “only his Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn is AUTHORIZED to perform “traditional Astral initiations”!

    That’s right. Robert Zink actually claims in his marketing that the aforementioned deception in fact proves that his EOGD is somehow more legitimate than other Golden Dawn orders.

    Sadly, Robert Zink’s refusal even to allow contradictory opinions to appear on his blog conclusively demonstrate several things:

    1. That GH Frater Zink is not at all interested in honesty in marketing, and that

    2. GH Frater Zink is not even really interested any sort of genuine, fraternal dialogue either about these thorny issues that continue to cause such divisiveness in the Golden Dawn community.

    All things considered, I therefore do not see how any reasonable individual can escape the conclusion that, by all appearances:

    3. GH Frater Robert Zink is not even really interested at all in any sort of true harmony in our Golden Dawn community.

    David Griffin

  7. Peregrin · January 6, 2011

    Hi again, David.

    Thanks for the comments here. As you say, and from my perspective, some things are very clear.

    In some ways I am a bit more of a traditionalist; for example Thelemic Golden Dawn traditions sound like an oxymoron to me. Crowley’s Thelemic material, if I remember correctly, was clear that the new current 93 would replace and even be inimical to the old current of the GD. I can’t see how Thelemic GD folk reconcile this, though to be fair I have not done much research to find out. Maybe someone here can explain this to me.

    Thanks 🙂

  8. Pingback: Golden Dawn: first London, tomorrow – the world? | Magic of the Ordinary

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