This rather long post stems from my thoughts on tradition and reconstruction as part of the ongoing discussions on the blogs of GH Fr SR and GH Fr LES as they draw on the work of Frater Barrabbas. The length of my pondering precluded a simple comment and warranted a full post. Naturally my thoughts here are in response to the ideas presented by these Fraters and not directed at them personally. Besides, as is the way of things, my musings soon broadened into other areas 🙂
For some people tradition refers to a particular set of ritual actions and words that must never be altered – lest tradition is broken. For example, JRR Tolkien rejected some of the reforms of Vatican II and refused to use the newer words of the liturgy, steadfastly and loudly declaiming the older form on Sunday mornings. For others though, tradition is a sense, a feeling, a continuation of meaning and form, if not exact words and actions. From this perspective a low church Mass, which shares the same spiritual meaning of the older Tridentine form, is continuing the same tradition.
Esoterically, however tradition can have other more complex meanings. Recently I have been concerned how the concept of tradition has become part of the language of ongoing disputes between different Golden Dawn groups and Internet presences. From my perspective, which I hope to elucidate here, all the parties in these disputes are practicing the same tradition and this should be unitive not divisive. Tradition when fully embraced can never cause division, since the essential aim of all esoteric tradition, to quote the GD Equinox Ceremony, is “love expressed towards God, humanity and the whole universe”.
A Diversion into Traditionalism
In a broader esoteric context tradition is associated with the Traditionalism of Guenon, Schuon and Coomaraswamy. Tradition in this school is ultimately transcendent and atemporal, being sourced in the divine. This integral or perennial tradition interacts with humanity and temporal existence via each genuine religion or spirituality. Following this then, each religion, each of the many valid spiritual traditions, are actually based on the same ever living source and the same metaphysical principles.
Readers of MOTO will see I am much influenced by this concept of tradition being a road both back to the One, and potentially towards a more tolerant and compassionate dialogue between different spiritual traditions. If we are all drawing from the same universal source, and all working with the same building blocks (our humanity and the universe), we are simply producing different songs by the same composer, no matter how different they may seem to us at first. This is a key truth of Traditionalism and a credo for our troubled world.
I am not a pure Traditionalist in the Guenon sense, no matter how much the school’s elucidation of the eternal verities appeals to me. Traditionalist thought often attacks modernity with too much passion for my liking, for example parts of Mark Sedgwick’s Against the Modern World. It also has a tendency to invalidate non scriptural based spiritual forms, which is probably why it has failed to influence the pagan and magical communities to the degree it could have. And, like it’s distorted image, Fundamentalism, Traditionalism falls down when it rejects modern scientific thought, such as evolution, on the basis of traditional religious understandings of the world. The simple fact of the matter is that traditional religious and esoteric thought was never intended to discern the workings of the material universe whereas science was and is. Genesis describes the meaning and relationship of humanity to the world and the One. The various earth sciences describe how this works on a material level.
Traditionalism however is very useful in allowing us to enter the paradigms of pre-modern thought from where the roots of our tradition arise. The way we view reality and process the world is very different to those cultures and societies that existed before the modern world. Whilst modern esoteric and magical thought is not pre-modern magical thought, it does rest upon it and having a understanding of this subject is essential for every magician. Perhaps though, the single most valuable tool in this endeavour is C.S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image:An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. The writings of Gareth Knight first alerted me to this amazing book which takes the reader deep into the reality of medieval thought..
Tradition and Reconstruction
It seems the writings of Frater Barrabbas on reconstruction and tradition are being used to promote a dichotomy where traditionalism is seen as ‘good’ and reconstructionism as ‘bad’. This is shown graphically by identifying those GD leaders (Nick Farrell and Pat Zalewski) seen by GH Frs LES and SR as ‘reconstructionist’ with the Borg, the most implacable of enemies within the fictional Star Trek universe. Whilst the use of the Star Trek motifs within the blogs of GH Frs LES and SR may be intended as humorous, it is easy to see why the positioning of respected GD leaders as ‘enemies of the Federation’, complete with Photoshopped images, may cause offence. It is hard to see the motivation behind these actions since they, along with ad hominem comments, seem designed to attack the person and not simply critique the ideas people promote. Such a distinction is basic fraternal and academic courtesy, and frankly I am at a loss to understand why it is not shown by Adepts as advanced as Magister Templi. As I mentioned in my previous post, even if we ourselves feel personally attacked, we need to consciously choose not to attack in return. Otherwise the wheel just goes round and round…
Naturally, since I myself have already been labelled a reconstructionist and had my personal motivations explained to me, I may expect some of the treatment recently given to Mr Farrell and Mr Zalewski. Such is life. In the meantime, I will simply continue to critique ideas in the public domain I find interesting and/or incomplete. As I said at the start of the post, I am not ‘attacking’ people. I’ve never even met any of the Fraters concerned, so how can I possibly ‘attack’ them?
I am however very worried that the supposed distinction between reconstructionist (bad) and traditionalist (good) is too easy and too divisive. As many of the most profound spiritual teachers insist, one of the aims of depth spirituality is to move beyond the natural dualist tendencies of the untransformed mind. Now, from my understanding Frater Barrabbas’ original posts on this subject were less dualistic than how the issue now appears to be framed by GH Fr LES. Again, the use of a fictional dualistic mythos such as Star Trek does not help this matter. GH Fr SR goes some way to addressing this dualistic tendencies by his self identification with Locutus, the name given to Captain Picard whilst assimilated into the Borg.
However, dualism like this will always produce an ‘us and them’ mentality. As I said previously, even if we fully accept the paradigm that some GD folk are practicing traditionally and some using a reconstruction, the most important thing is that we are all practicing the GD. We are all from the same larger tradition. GH Fr SR says much the same thing by referring analogously to the Christian tradition:
If I may use another (not so proper) metaphor, the difference and rivalty (sic) between the Alpha et Omega and the Stella Matutina / Whare Ra is more comparable to that between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism in the greater Christian community. Both these Christian currents claim apostolic succession but one of them no longer acknowledges the head of the Tradition (the Pope). Guess which of the two Golden Dawn rival traditions (A∴O∴or S.M.) corresponds to either of the two big Christian communities? Be there as it may, I actually advocate a spirit of Ecumenism in our community between these two essential currents. Any differences in between them are unnecessary and uncalled for.
Obviously I fully support the final sentiment. However, it is interesting that GH Fr SR chose this analogy, as following it a little further may shed more light on our esoteric discussion. GH Fr SR must be using the word ‘Protestant’ in a none normative way since the fact is the vast majority of Protestant denominations do not claim any Apostolic Succession, seeing the handing on of the faith by consecration through Bishops as irrelevant and non-Biblical. Instead they see their spiritual connection as being directed through five fundamental principles, of which two are primary, sole fide and sola scriptura – it is by faith and scripture alone that one connects with Christ.
Is the Chief Adept Catholic?
Transposing this situation on the GD community, the ‘protestant’ arm would be those who reject Chartered (and possibly Teacher) lineage in favour of Inspirational lineage (the magical equivalent of faith, sole fide) or text based self learning (the magical equivalent of scripture, sole scriptura). All well and good, a nice neat little package with the traditionalist, chartered lineage folk being the Roman Catholics, as GH Fr SR implies. However, associating oneself, even in analogy, with Roman Catholicism may not be a good thing. It should be remembered that one of the first acts of the current western Pope was an attempt to invalidate all the Protestant churches, insisting they were not representative of the true church and labelling them as ‘congregations’ not churches.
Naturally, the Pontiff’s action produced hurt, dismay, confusion and acrimony both within and universally without the Catholic fold. I doubt any of my readers would support such wholesale attempted invalidation of millions of Christians who just happen to be in the wrong church. All of you would be very happy, I am sure, to accept as truly Christian those who the Pope insists are not really part of the Church and thus do not have have the full franchise. But heck, he has tradition behind him, so he knows what he’s about, even though he would never have met even the tiniest percentage of those who at a stroke of pen he invalidated as being authentically connected with Christ.
I am concerned that the same thing may occur with self labelled ‘traditionalist’ GD magicians writing off ‘reconstructionist’ groups. This may not be the intention of GH Frs SR and LES but from private conversations it sure feels that way to some people. Such is the power of divisive and dualistic thinking; traditionalists (Federation) vs reconstructionists (Borg).
Now of course, I doubt any of us would actually follow El Papa and consciously invalidate another Order in that way. Would we? But, and here’s the clincher, if we insist our approach is the true approach, the only real approach, the best approach or whatever, we automatically invalidate others.
So, I think the analogy of GH Fr SR could be a very useful tool; if we find ourselves beginning to even move towards a consciousness where we can write off an Order or a teacher, then stop and imagine if we were Christians and our Orders were Churches. Would the members of the other Church still be Christians? Would they be authentic Christians? Of course they would. None of us would ‘do a Pope’ in this circumstance, and so should we act in the magical arena and focus on the fact that we are all GD magicians. After all, not being a member of the ‘other Order’, we cannot know what experiences and transformation that group produces for its initiates, what service it offers, what inner plane relationships it helps foster.
The Myth of Tradition
One of the difficulties in defining tradition in the western and esoteric fraternal spheres is that all the traditions we know of have been and are constantly in a state of flux. This includes Freemasonry, the Golden Dawn, visible Rosicrucian orders, modern Neo-pagan traditions and wot all. Even a cursory examination of the history of these groups will show this to be true. The discussions on the various forums regarding the different redactions of the GD ceremonies also show this clearly. In one sense, all traditions are constantly being reconstructed all the time. Look at the introduction of Egyptian funerary texts and the Tattwas into the historical Golden Dawn for example.
The myth of an unchanging tradition with rituals and practices handed down from century to century unchanging, is just that a myth. A wonderful and powerful myth to empower and infuse our magic and our service, but not one that is literally true. All things change. Even if a ritual was performed exactly how it was in 611 ce, the meaning we would draw from it would be different to that of our seventh century brethren. Ancient folk saw the world very differently to how we do. Even a static ritual would change its meaning and effects from generation to generation. This is why most churches needed to change their rituals in the years following WWII – contemporary interaction with them no longer produced the meaning and religious experience it once did. People change, so tradition changes to meet them.
In fact, as is the case with exoteric traditions, language and crafts, the only time an esoteric tradition becomes static is when it reaches a place of self-reflexivity of itself as ‘a tradition’, and then seeks to consciously preserve itself. There can be a certain power and beauty in this. I once had the privilege to be part of some workings by a traditional Gardnerian Wiccan coven which used rituals unaltered from the time of its founding, rituals that were later revised by Gardner. The self conscious concern of the founders of this Coven to preserve their ‘Witch lore’ was such that the rituals and the Shadows received tremendous respect and awe, even though their (co)creator, Gardner, was later unsatisfied with them. The way these Wiccans worked their ‘traditional’ rituals was beautiful, potent and inspiring. It mattered not one wit that the rituals were actually composed in the 1940s and there was no actual ancient ‘witch lore’.
The majority of western traditions however have been, and are, constantly adapting and changing themselves. What then is the ‘tradition’ which is passed on from generation to generation. Much of this is answered in my post on lineage which outlines the various types of non-physical transmissions in the west. For the rest, we can say what is transferred is something beyond the temporal and changeable rituals, actions, lectures, explanations and even symbols. Something atemporal, and real which empowers and gives meaning to these outer forms, something obviously very akin to the Guenon Traditionalist concept of Primordial Tradition.
Alan Richardson discovered this very early on in his literary and magical career when he introduced the elderly and venerable Christine Hartley (nee Campbell-Thomson) to the younger Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki. In one of his early books, I forget which (and for a blog I am not looking it up), Richardson describes how he listened in on a conversation between these two formidable women magicians. They immediately warmed to each other, gelled and agreed upon what ceremonial magic could and could not do. This was despite being initiates of different Orders, each with its own different history, Inner Contacts, symbols and initiation rites and the initiations occurring forty years apart from each other. Put simply they share the same tradition. Even more so then must all the Fraters in discussion here, who share the same GD framework and initiatory structure, basic texts and common history. To focus on differences between the ‘traditionalist’ and the ‘reconstructionist’ seems to me to as useful as looking for differences between different orchestras’ production of Mozart’s Great Mass rather than simply being transported and lifted into the eternal by the genius of the composition.
The Holding and Changing of Tradition
If tradition is constantly “reformed over time”, to use a phrase from the excellent blogs of Frater Barrabbas, then we must ask what or whom is doing the reforming, what power or group is holding the tradition as it changes and grows. As mentioned previously, I accept the Traditionalist view that the root of tradition is in the eternal, not the temporal. Thus, in one sense tradition can never be lost, can never die and is constantly being held by the eternal, even when there are no temporal manifestations. Mr Farrell gives the same message in a recent book review of Tohunga: Hohepa Keropa which is collection of interviews with a New Zealand Maori elder. He quotes from the book,
Each person who takes a leaf of Knowledge opens themselves to receive more knowledge, and so the thing that keeps the [magicians] going in the end is the knowledge that survives, even if it is not past in the way it used to be. I don’t have any fears that there will not be a single person to carry on what I have learnt, because everyone who is interested will discover all they need to discover.
In response to this, and Mr Farrell’s linkage of this statement with the GD topic under discussion, Frater Barrabbas quite rightly points out that “a shaman or medicine man is completely unlike a modern occultist or practitioner of magick.” He further goes on to opine that:
The reason why Kereopa is not worried about exactly transmitting everything, is that the knowledge is transmitted during initiation, into the subconscious of the initiate. As long as one teacher can transmit to one student who becomes a teacher, the chain remains unbroken. At such time that the necessary teachings are needed, they percolate to the surface, in the predetermined ways that tradition teaches.
Personally, I would not like to give any opinion on Kereopa’s thoughts, not having read the book or met the gentleman. What I can say is from conversations with several local Noongar elders, their thoughts seem to echo more Mr Farrell’s interpretation than Frater Barrabbas’. When I would express my concern that much of their tradition is already lost, and the rest in danger of being lost, all replies pointed to one central truth: the land holds the tradition, not the Elders. If ‘lost’ the land will speak again one day to those open to it, and the essential tradition will return. This was in a context where initiations, lineage, teachings, songs etc were openly discussed and shared. The land itself was seen as the repository and source of all tradition, wisdom and life and it would share its secrets with those who walked it and opened themselves to it.
With respect to the western traditions, some people assert they are held by hidden, invisible secret groups of physical masters and high adepts. In the GD context, the Third Order. Any proof for the existence of such a group or third Order is naturally ‘initiatic proof; available only to high initiates. It thus falls outside the scope of this discussion, and really any discussion except among those high initiates who actually know it to be true. It cannot enter the discussion between those who have not met this group and those who have, except as an article of faith, which is alien to the western magical tradition. So really, there is no point in talking publicly about this concept, except in terms of inspirational myth, where it has a valuable function. Naturally I expect the leadership of those Orders that insist they are validated by connection to such a Third Order to disagree with me here. However, since they cannot validate their claims without breaking their oaths we are back to square one: no point in discussing the issue.
Personally, my experience has shown that some western traditions are, like the Noongar, held by the land. Others, including the GD, are held by…something…something beyond temporal understanding or description, and I am not talking about ‘astral masters’ here, though such a concept may be useful for some groups to commune with this something. This ‘something’ can never be lost and is in fact part of the primordial tradition of the Traditionalists. It exists, ‘once upon a time’ and returns anew in each subsequent generation with different outer forms. This is expressed well in the works of WG Gray, RJ Stewart and Gareth Knight.
The GD, like all magical traditions, is but one outer and temporal form or vehicle for this perennial western tradition.When empowered by this larger atemporal tradition, the GD is vital and serves its purpose. When it is not empowered, it becomes nothing but amateur dramatics. In the terms of the current discussion, the question now is are there any differences between GD ‘traditionalist’ connection to the other, the source of all transformation and light, and that of the ‘reconstructionist’?
In order to answer this question, we have to ask what could make a difference? It is surely not techniques or processes, as enough has been published to enable text-based connection to the GD egregore for transformation and service – if one is open to it. And as I have said before, even the most exoteric practices, such as loving our neighbour as our self, are enough to transform us as deeply as any initiation. I know various groups hold, and some claim to hold, bug fucking amazing techniques. These are all fine and dandy and I am blessed to have received many myself, but ultimately there is enough out there already for the sensible magician to use. Most Orders have gone way beyond claiming they alone hold the essential techniques for transformation and even the equivalent cannot be found elsewhere. Though some still claim to have ‘the fastest’ processes…
It may be lineage, though as we have seen in this post, all forms of lineage have pros and cons, and the best form of lineage, chartered, teacher or inspiration is the one where the magician and the Order actively work. All can connect us to a tradition and the sources of blessing behind that tradition.
Maybe the sources behind the traditionalist Orders are different to those of the reconstructionist Orders. This would indeed be a major difference. However, as we have shown, all orders are constantly in a process of reconstruction. The still central point around which a temporal order revolves, which allows it to reform and change, is the same for all Orders. The hidden perennial tradition of the west is open to all, and if we approach it using a GD lens we will have an empowered GD practice. If we approach it using a mystical Christian lens, we will have a mystical Christian practice. There is enough material available for anyone to use a GD lens if they wish, and have the right motivation.
Thus I cannot see the difference myself, and any claims that ‘reconstructionist’ Orders do not connect us as fully as ‘traditionalist’ Orders frankly would be very strange and more like pronouncements from the Pope than any magical leader.
One of the recurring themes in recent posts by GH Fr LES and SR is that of ‘reconstructionist’ attacks on traditionalist Orders and leaders. If this was indeed a concerted and organised effort on behalf of ‘reconstructionist’ leaders it would seriously undermine my contention that distinctions between the two ‘camps’ are more conceptual than actual. However, my personal reading of the situation is simply that a few people have reacted angrily after being pissed off. I mean, given the energy, intelligence and resources of the two “Militant Reconstructionists”, Mr Farrell and Mr Zalewski (as styled by GH Fr SR), if they wanted to mount an attack they could have done a lot better than a few verbal insults.
Really, the comments of Mr Farrell and Mr Zalewski do not, to me, amount to an ‘attack’ on any Order. Then again, I was a member of an Order that was really attacked and had the door broken down during a meeting and temple props stolen by a mob of angry Witches. When my former Imperator worried about being ‘attacked by the Wiccans’ he was talking literally. So, I may have a somewhat unique perspective. 🙂
GH Fr SR writes about a “militant (or ultra-) reconstructionism”, who immediately upon finding a living tradition kills it and reconstructs it according to its own desires and personal needs”
Personally, I find the idea of someone killing a living tradition very strange. How does someone even go about trying to do that? I have not seen any living tradition harmed by anyone, and not too far from my home an expensive refurbishment of a Masonic Hall shows how publication of teachings and rituals (many times over) cannot damage a genuine living tradition.
Even if there are genuine attacks, as I keep saying, I think a Christian inspired Rosicrucian ethos and practice equips us to meet hate with love, compassion and forbearance.
Throughout this post I have shown that when critically examined the conceptual division between ‘traditionalist’ and ‘reconstructionist’ GD magicians begins to break down. Such a division is a result of dualist, ‘us and them’ thinking, the transformation of which is the aim of most depth spiritual traditions. All western traditions are in a constant state of renewal and reformation; none remain static. Each GD Order and manifestation draws from and is held by the eternal perennial tradition, which is the still centre around which the outer changes occur. The publicly available GD material ensures any person with right motivation can enter the tradition to connect with the eternal behind all forms. Finally, authentic traditions are impervious to attacks by individual parties and perceived attacks are often simply personal emotional reactions, which should be countered with the Christian ethic of nonviolence.
As we break down these conceptual barriers that do more to separate us than unite us, we are in a position to enter what may be called deep ecumenicism. From a Christian viewpoint, this is when members of the various Churches see themselves as Christians first and as members of their denomination last. They are thus able to meet with all other Christians as simply Christians. Similarly, we are called to see ourselves as Golden Dawn magicians first and members of any particular Order last. Thus we can meet, dialogue and befriend all others on the same ground, each a member of one another, and each working to transform ourselves and repair the world. Thanks a bunch 🙂