Lineage (or time to run and hide)

I have only recently returned from another stay in the country, atop a wonderful hill working the Graal. As I was there my mind was turning over the question of lineage, something which seems to divide magical folk a fair bit and causes all sorts of verbal nastiness, something I hope to avoid. Upon my return, getting ready to write this post, I discovered GH Fr SR had beaten me to it on his excellent blog – go have a look. As insightful as his post is however, I still think we can unpack the lineage question from a different perspective.

I think we need to be be clear what we mean when we use the word lineage, as it is used in different ways by different people. One ‘person’s astral plane’ is not another person’s ‘astral plane’. And so it is with lineage. Being specific then, we can describe several types of lineage within the western magical and fraternal communities. This initial analysis is mostly descriptive, not evaluative as I think in certain contexts all forms of lineage can be valuable. Also to be borne in mind is that often several types of lineage merge or exist together within a person or a magical group.

Chartered Lineage

This is a formal bestowal and authorisation from a parental magical or spiritual body upon a person or persons to engage in specific magical and spiritual actions. Typified by the Masonic charter system, the tradition has two main influences and roots. Firstly, the charters or authorising documents from medieval Britain that record a grant of land or privilege, mostly to the Church from a sovereign. Secondly, the tradition of apostolic succession whereby a Bishop is seen as heir to the historical Apostles through consecration and laying on of hands, passing on from Bishop to Bishop the commission and authority from Christ. In a magical and fraternal context these influences translate to a superior body, the Grand Lodge (or equivalent) holding the authority and a spiritual current and passing these onto one or more people in order to form a new group, the lodge (or equivalent), as set out and constituted in the physical paper Charter.

We may further analyse Chartered Lineage as either

a) Work based lineage passed onto a person or persons on the basis of real, shared space-time magical or fraternal work. This is the classic situation where someone works within an order for many years and then is empowered by her superiors to form their own lodge or temple. The chartered lineage is bestowed upon the new leader based upon real, physical activity seen, shared and recognised by her superiors. Whether the order is fraternal, magical or a mix of the two, from a magical perspective the charter itself may be seen as the material basis of the mental plane inner granting of authority and privilege from the superior body to the new leader. Despite being the dominant myth of chartering, this method seldom occurs in the nice and neat package described here.

b) Paper lineage, a situation where lineage may be granted from an authorising body,or more typically a single person, to someone without care for shared fraternal or spiritual work. The holder of the lineage may not even personally know the new leader, and simply wishes to share the lineage (best case scenario) or even sell the lineage (worse case). What is transferred here is simply a piece of paper, a mental level linkage to the egregore and and authorisation to work the lineage. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – a good group can come out of paper lineage if the leader does the work, connects with the egregore and works the symbols. However, the sharing of paper lineage can descend into a situation whereby some people collect lineages like other folk collect stamps. I know a couple in Sydney who do this, in fact one of them has also collected the authorisation to be the official executioner on a private estate in the UK. Nice party conversation, but little spiritual meaning, just like most (not all) of the lineages he holds.

Teacher to Student Lineage

This form of lineage is less defined outwardly than chartered lineage but just as, or even more, real inwardly. Whenever we are taught closely by a spiritual teacher we receive from them some form of lineage. We may never be outwardly told, “now you have lineage”, but it is passed on non-the-less, automatically. This is why the presence of our teachers always remain with us, even years after their deaths. This includes the ‘bad’ teachers as well as the good by the way, and there are one or two teacher lineages I would rather not have, but really cannot deny.

In some traditions this passing on is more explicit than others. One of the Craft traditions I received (which claims pre Gardnerian roots) has the initiator put the initiate to the Oath while recalling which Magister put themselves to the oath, and the Magister who put the them to the oath and so on, back seven ‘generations’. This is very clearly a passing on of lineage, even without a charter.

Other traditions are less explicit but still use a ritual action, such as the Gardnerian second degree when the initiator declares to the initiate, “I will all my power into thee”. However, in many traditions and schools the lineage is passed almost by osmosis over a period of time as teacher embraces and interacts with student on the inner levels. This is described well in the recently republished biography of W.G. Gray, The Old Sod, (go on over to Skylight Press for more).

A printed or written page does not have any energy of its own to transmit. Therefore there is intellectual appreciation, but little else. Even in oral instruction it is not the actual heard words which put over the ‘teaching’, but the unspoken Inner Intentions directed or ‘mediated’ towards the pupil by the teacher. It is the Inner contact which constituted the real ‘teaching’ purely by its presence and persistence.” (Alan Richardson and Marcus Claridge quoting Jacobus Swart, p.57).

Another lucid description of teacher to student lineage is given here by R.J. Stewart describing his meetings with the Glastonbury adept, Ronald Heaver.

Again, we can divide this form of lineage into two broad forms.

a) An anointed heir. This is where a teacher clearly and outwardly declares and prepares one or more students as a spiritual successor. There may not be any accompanying charter or paperwork but essentially the torch is passed from one generation to another, and all members of the original group are clear to whom the torch has been passed.

b) The un-anointed. These are the students of the original teacher who were not chosen as heirs but who still carry the teacher’s lineage by their own personal interaction with her and the spiritual work they do. Any group or teaching in the same broad tradition they themselves form or carry out will in some way be passing on the lineage, even if informally. And of course it is not unknown for the chosen heir of a teacher to fall down on the job, or simply give up active teaching. To avoid the lineage being lost, another student, one of the un-anointed, may step up and shoulder the responsibility the heir let slip and quite often they do wonderful jobs. 🙂

Now it can of course happen that a teacher may die before she clearly indicates a chosen successor. The main thrust of the group’s lineage and egregore can then settle on and connect with a particular student, who is often collectively acclaimed and recognised as well. Sometimes however, the egregore can settle upon someone not generally accepted by the collective group. This seems to have happened with the youthful Dion Fortune who felt herself heir of the work of her deceased teacher, Theodore Moriarty. The rest of Moriarty’s group however thought the young Dion was a presumptuous upstart and in a polite English sort of way told her to go and boil her head. In the end she left and formed her own group which went from strength to strength as Moriarty’s withered and died.

Inspirational Lineage

The lineage here is non-physical in nature and comes about through the magician’s interaction with inner plane spiritual beings, currents or egregores. Obviously this is a highly contentious issue as we magical folk are not always the sanest when it comes to the inner worlds. However, there is a tradition here, a solid and real tradition and this form of lineage does actually exist, though turning around and claiming an inner experience gives outer lineage is a pretty silly thing to do – don’t confuse the planes people 🙂 The best we can do, in good Servants of the Light style, is describe our groups as ‘fully contacted’ 🙂

W.G. Gray, R.J. Stewart and few others describe this form of lineage well and how it forms a core part of the native western traditions. The Masonically inspired magical orders are a different kettle of fish and it is important to keep a clear distinction between the two forms of lineage. Another important point is that inner lineage is virtually never given to a raw, unprepared neophyte on the physical plane. Lineage is mostly passed on the inner levels to people who are or have been members of some physical school or group. Sometimes though other forms of physicality are involved, such as the Grail dish buried at Glastonbury by John Goodchild acting on inner inspiration and later and recovered independently by two friends, also acting on inner inspiration.

As part of the passing on this lineage, there is often an interior consecration where the person receiving the lineage has an experience on the inner levels whereby they are in effect handed the lineage from inner beings or an egregore. Now let’s be clear, as daft as this sounds it is in effect how a number of the traditions we practice originally started. It does not have to be loony-tunes, especially if attested to by other real flesh and blood people who have their heads on straight. Philip Carr-Gomm, Chosen Chief of the very wonderful Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids was in effect given an interior consecration to form the Order via the unlooked for visitations of his deceased teacher. This interior consecration was outwardly ratified by John and Caitlin Matthews, and there is no way any of these three inspirational teachers and writers can be placed in the loony category.

Which lineage is best? – The one that WORKS

As mentioned previously, I consider all forms of lineage as potentially valid within certain contexts if we do the spiritual and magical work the lineage empowers us to do. Without doing the work whether interior or inscribed on a golden lillypad, our lineage is worthless. Kinda like my friend the official executioner; unless he is preparing himself daily for sanctioned murder and practicing with axe, rope and musket, him being an official executioner means bugger all.

There is no doubt without some form of lineage, even inspirational lineage whereby we are connected to the traditions we read about, our groups and practice will be less than they could be. Please be clear however, I am not saying we need to be part of a chartered lineage tradition (if we can find one that is authentic). I am simply saying we need to connect with something broader and deeper than ourselves and our own limited spiritual understanding. The results of those who do not are all around us – self styled high priestesses or adepts who know little about the tradition they purport to practice, dragging others down in the wake of their folly and dysfunction.

Now all forms of lineage have their abusers. There are plenty of mad people who will have you believe they are in touch with Altantean priests or are some form of chosen one. Or who have met a secret chief who made them a leader of some sorts. Additionally, there are plenty of power and ego focused adepts who parade little pieces of paper around as if they somehow, in and by themselves, mean something. And of course the paper trail of correctly and officially chartered lineage in most groups does not go back very far, certainly not to the original GD or earlier. And in any case, it is the work that enacts the lineage referred to by the physical charter itself. In addition chartered lineage holders can be as mad, vicious or simply stupid as the worst of them. Especially if they purchased or were granted a charter without doing the spiritual work it refers to.

Referring back to GH Fr SR’s blog post mentioned at the start of our discussion, I notice he refers mainly to what I would call teacher-student lineage, where spiritual techniques and wisdom are passed from one to the other.

These techniques, which mimics the way of Mother Nature but at the same time enhances it, constitutes a tradition and thus a lineage. Lineage, passed from a true initiator to the initiate, also confers direct changes of consciousness…

Here we see another interesting aspect of lineage – how one form can hold and contain another. In this case, I am assuming the Greatly Honoured Frater is saying the chartered lineage of his HOGD (AO) holds and contains the various alchemical and magical lineages which are passed from teacher to student. Similarly, a teacher-student lineage may contain within it and hold the various inspirational lineages passed onto the student. Even the oft despised paper lineage, when the work is done, can help to hold and contain the lineage holders interior and inspirational lineage, giving it grounding, a name and an egregore in which to work. Cool, hey? 🙂

However, in all of these cases, as I keep emphasising, the most important part of the whole equation is the spiritual work not the form of lineage. Nuff said? 🙂

Addendum: another form of lineage was pointed out to me on Facebook by Leonard Stevens ( He writes, “Another form of lineage which I think you forgot to mention, is the transfer of an entity or daemon from teacher to student. Of course such a transfer can occur at the soul transmission, life to life, as it does in some traditions. It can also occur from objects, sacred places or an excellent ritual to summon a spirit to possess an initiate, such as in Voudou for example. Plenty of spirits there! The magical transference of a power or spirit entity is a lineage in its own right. And one I particularly like, as power ability automatically comes with this sort of primitive magick.”

I had forgotten about this form of lineage which comes from my bias towards the Hermetic path and from not having personal experience of spirit or daemon transfer. In a similar context, ‘Cunning people’ may gift or transfer their familiars or ‘darlings’ to another person before they die. Thanks Leonard! 🙂





  1. Samuel · April 5, 2011

    Thanks for the well-reasoned blog post presented here. The issue of “Lineage” is often a rather sticky one, as you point out, but in my opinion, you have touched upon the various types of Lineage available to most people.

    Your “common thread” of the Work must be done in each form of lineage is absolutely correct, in my experience. While a Charter may hold some power and link to the Egregore which it represents, without the actual holders of the Charter doing the Work, thus strengthening and maintaining that link to the Egregore, the group which holds such a Charter merely fades away or degrades to the point of falling apart as a whole as the link to the Egregore diminishes over time and disuse.

    This is why you often see groups with no Chartered lineage, who as a whole are doing the Work of the Tradition be far more successful in teaching, training, producing adepti, etc. that those groups with a Charter that mere is for show.

    Thanks again for such an insightful post.

    In LVX,

  2. Peregrin · April 6, 2011

    @Samuel – thanks for the kind words; you’ve summarised it well 🙂

  3. Matt · April 7, 2011

    Hi Peregrin,

    This is an excellent post which also pointed towards an important aspect of Initiation itself.

    Just because someone has undertaken an initiation and progressed through a specific order, it does not mean that they are engaging in the initiation/progression succesfully. This is comparible to the linage types you discussed above which can; if used incorrectly; be hollow, but if committed to and engaged in at a correct level result in powerful and transformative orders and groups. If an order ignores the core values and source of its Mysteries, grief will ensue.

    As a member of a few traditional initatic Orders I can describe several accounts of initiates leaving their obligations at the door when they leave and picking them up when they return to the next meeting. Part of the reason was their lack of engagement in the order as a true initiate (and demonstrating the power of the lineage) and a disregard for the strength and honour found in the lineage we were/are connected to as an Order.

    The initiation/lineage which is most successfull is that which creates a change in the individual and is owned, understood and practiced within by the members.

  4. Frater AM · April 20, 2011

    Excellent job Frater! Franz Joseph Molitor felt that the flow of History through Time was part of the process that creates the “Tradition”. As long as the Roots of the Tradition persist one can connect to the current of its flow.

    My Best!

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