Belief within the Golden Dawn

When I was a young and naive Pagan teenager one of the selling points the Wiccan community kept repeating was that in Wicca “everyone was a priest”, unlike Christianity. I had already read a little about the Protestant concept of the Priesthood of all Believers which directly contradicts this, but kept my heretical notions to myself, less the Elders forbid me the longed for Initiation. 🙂 And it was all a little confusing anyway.

After a few months, I realised that what my fellow Wiccan propagandists were actually meaning was that Wicca was a religious and magical practice, rather than a confessional faith. We practiced something that changed us and our relationship with the Gods, rather than simply believing in something. I had already come across the worst aspects of confessional Christianity via such lurid works as ‘the Cosmic Conspiracy‘ and ‘Man 666’, which had nice neat confessional forms printed in the back, complete with a space ready for the reader’s signature. All I needed to do was sign and I too would be saved! Back then I was appalled by such nonsense; these days I find it both appalling and amusing.

The movement from religious practice to religious belief in the west is relatively recent, dating back to the late Renaissance at the earliest (see Karen Armstrong, ‘The Case for God for a good introduction to this). Not that there is, or was, always a sharp distinction between the two, but more an emphasis. We can understand this by seeing how the following two phrases sound:

“A practicing Catholic”or “a practicing Protestant “. (I picked this up somewhere on my travels – if anyone knows where, please let me know.)

Even our everyday language points to a disjunction in the idea that Protestants practice rather than believe. Not that this is a universal truism, just a trend.

Karen Armstrong

And so it is that the magical and esoteric traditions in the west, drawing on the older traditions, kept alive spiritual practice, meditation, ritual, symbolic enactment etc in an era when belief became a hallmark not only of western Christianity but of how different denominations defined themselves apart from their religious neighbours. This method and tradition of spiritual practice was inherited by the nascent Neo-Pagan traditions in the early and mid 20th centuries, and became a hallmark of their approach to mystery. This is all very lovely and indeed a hallmark of my root tradition, The Golden Dawn.

It is therefore with much distress that I have witnessed of late an almost confessional form of the Golden Dawn. I alluded to this with, I hope, good humour in my last post on the GD creed. The GD Order, the various pagan and esoteric traditions I have been initiated into all are very clear: one does not need to believe ANYTHING to be a member. It is practice that changes us and personal beliefs to make sense of that change and our relationship with the universe, are just that – personal and in many ways irrelevant, as they tend to be temporal and fluid. And indeed over the years my way of understanding and making sense of the Lesser Pentagram ritual has changed markedly but the ritual and its blessings remain constant. To quote the Beast himself:

In this book it is spoken of the Sephiroth, and the Paths, of Spirits and Conjurations; of Gods, Spheres, Planes, and many other things which may or may not exist. It is immaterial whether they exist or not.  By doing certain things certain results follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them.

So for any group to expect a form of confessional acceptance that physically Mathers did X, or the Secret Chiefs really exist, unseen and unknown, or that an invisible and unprovable Third Order has existed since Atlantis, Alexandria or even Acton flies in the face of magical tradition. As myth these concepts have power, validity and truth; as shared space-time reality they fall into the same trap literalist Christians do went insisting Christ did this or that, having no evidence only belief to back it up.

Sure, some people may have actually met the Secret Chiefs, as opposed to the thousands of liars and delusional folk who claim this. Some people may have even got their autographs over a cup of tea. Some people may have added them on Facebook. But unless they can freely share that experience, there is no point in talking about it. And to expect new and younger students to accept these kinds of statements as fact at the start of their journey is essentially religious in nature. Not, I guess, that there’s anything wrong with that. If we want the Golden Dawn to become a heterodox religious cult, which I for one do not. Thanks 🙂

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14 comments

  1. Nick Farrell · November 24, 2011

    Actually I think it is important to believe in a concept of God. It does not have to be specific, but it has to be there. Someone who does not believe in God has nothing that is above him to work towards. As a result when they reach the 5=6 they have nothing to reach up towards and enthrone their own ego as their Higher Self. If they take control of a group, they then proceed to initiate people into the “divine mystery” of their own ego. As a result candidates suffer…

  2. Peregrin · November 24, 2011

    Yes, excellent point Nick. Though that class of belief, the acceptance and awareness of divinity beyond all, is different in many ways to what new students are being asked to accept. Also, awareness that there is a ‘God’ or the One does not require a belief about how the One interacts with the Universe.

    Thanks for the additional point of view 🙂

  3. Mike Howard · November 24, 2011

    When I was initiated into Gardnerian Wicca back in 1969 many of the ‘old school’ members regarded it as an initiate-only ‘mystery religion’ Of course now it has gone public worldwide that probably does not apply. I’m sure however that Gardner himself wanted to create a neo-pagan religion with mass appeal and get parental approval for it from the Establishment. However that did get him in hot water with the elders of his parent coven in the New Forest. In 1957 several people left his coven because of his lust for sensationalist and indiscriminate publicity Some modern Wiccans still adhere to Uncle Gerald’s personal vision.

  4. Arcad · November 24, 2011

    I agree that you need to accept the concept of a god (in whatever personal sense you may see it) or maybe better some sort of a divine concept. The ways and views for that may be manyfold. But it should not be the order providing you with this (fix) concept. In this the order has to take you as you are with your beliefs I assume.

    I believe that the term “practicing ____(add faith/religion) is pretty common these days, also here. It refers rather to someone who is active in what way ever, mainly going to church/temple, praying on a regular basis, following the festivities and maybe, if all goes well, does some voluntary work for teh community involved. It less refers to any specific practice as such (apart from going to church and praying now and then). As you say, the real practice has been gone for a long time. Usually there is no reflection of the mysteries at all. Maybe these days, at least in Christianity.

    Thanks for this post,
    in LVX,
    Arcad

  5. Greenconsciousness · November 26, 2011

    There does not need to be a god outside of one’s self – there is nature and natural law – there are the elements and their correspondence to the emotional force and energy force and intellectual force and force of the flesh.

    There is the super consciousness and the subconscious and the collective consciousness. And there is the whole.

    Reject slavery and accept responsibility.

    The difficulty and the reason for the initiate practice is that there is power in combining and merging but without loss of dignity and personal creativity. This is a skill and difficult. The lodges have degraded this truth into the usual fascism and exploitation.

  6. Pallas Renatus · November 27, 2011

    “…personal and in many ways irrelevant, as they tend to be temporal and fluid.”

    And indeed, this is often the entire point of the process; certain insights only come with the shattering of beliefs, so to expect a fully-formed, unchanging set of beliefs at the outset is folly…

  7. MP · December 1, 2011

    When I was initiated into Gardnerian Wicca back in 1969 many of the ‘old school’ members regarded it as an initiate-only ‘mystery religion’ Of course now it has gone public worldwide that probably does not apply.

    Gardnerian Wicca, and the rest of British Traditional Wicca, has never “gone public” and it still IS an initiate only mystery religion.

  8. Mike Howard · December 1, 2011

    I agree that Gardnerian Wicca is an initiate only tradition. However in the UK it has definately “gone public” because information on Wiccan beliefs and rituals can be bought for a few pounds at the nearest esoteric bookshop or found in any public library. It hardly corresponds to what is historically understood to be a ‘mysetry religion’ or ‘mystery cultus’ i.e. one having ‘secret rites’ only known to initiates.

    I am not quite sure what the term ‘British Traditional Wicca’ means if it is not Gardnerian? The term ‘British traditional witchcraft’ means something different in the UK then it does in the USA and refers to nom-Wiccan or pre-Wiccan forms of the Craft.

  9. Peregrin · December 1, 2011

    Nicely said, Mike, better than I could have said. 🙂

  10. MP · December 3, 2011

    Mike, British Traditional Wicca means, on the western side of the pond) that which the UK simply calls Wicca, as, because of a few publishing houses, people in the USA seem to think that Wicca = whatever you want it to be generic paganism. I am familiar with the term British Traditional Witchcraft being used to denote such groups as 1734 and other Cochranite groups, as well as others.

    As for Gardnerian rituals being freely available for purchase in the UK, I have no doubt there are things called such.

    As for whether they really are, or not, well, one would have to be an initiate to know, wouldn’t they?

    It’s like “Duncan’s Ritual of Freemasonry”: I couldn’t tell you whether it’s an accurate text of Freemasonry, because that would then reveal things which I have sworn to keep secret.

    That people have published said documents makes me question the document’s provenance from the beginning – if they are publishing things they sworn not to publish, how can i trust the, when they are claiming to be breaking their word? How can i trust anything they say?

    So, no, frankly, were I to read anything that claims to be Gardnerian ritual (I don’t worry about beliefs when I’m dealing with an orthopraxis based religion), I wouldn’t believe it to be the real thing at all.

  11. Suecae · December 15, 2011

    I believe the idea of practise is essential, although I would say that the rituals intent, history or meaning is not irrelevant. I do not either totally go into the territory to say that belief is nothing, although perhaps that there exist a hierarchical relationship where practise is the greater where belief is the lesser. You also form a belief after you practise, which perhaps can be summed up under the idea that you ‘learn by walking’. Overall a very thought provoking post. The overall problem is that belief is put on a piedestal, and practise is degraded into worthlessness. For instance it means nothing to me if you accept Jesus as your personal saviour if you do not want to live by the christian creed and do _something_ about injustice for the poor and powerless.

    Thank you for your post.

  12. Pingback: Quick thought on the Golden Dawn… « Magic of the Ordinary
  13. dirkt · January 9, 2012

    If you acknowledge the concept of “God” as a metaphore for the unknown, then this should be enough for anyone, to keep his ego in check. As for reaching “up towards”… what exactly should this “up” be, if not your own (or other peoples) fabulations about the unknown? Is that healthy?

    Concerning the “higher self”, I’m not really comfortable with this idea at all.

  14. Jay · February 5, 2012

    Your blog addressed something that is, for me, a very painful observation. Modern-day Christianity seems to have turned it’s back on most of what makes it more than a confessional faith. As a follower of Christ it’s disheartening. Most denominational teachings conflict with what the Bible teaches. Even the “non-denominational” believers have an undeniably religious bent on their beliefs. Magic of any sort is decried as evil, while the Bible gives very clear examples throughout of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. I have experienced prophesying about events in people’s lives I didn’t even know, healing of physical ailments and restoration of people’s souls from inner torment, and oh so much more…and yet 55% of Christians don’t believe in a Holy Spirit. So, does that mean that the majority don’t even believe that God is capable of displaying feats like these?

    To me, the Christian faith is totally useless unless it is a faith put into practice. There is such truth and beauty to these teachings, but I can honestly say I understand why others criticize it so much. Out of all the major religions, Christians seem to be the most divided, and the majority of Christians don’t practice what they claim to believe. It seems that the church, as a whole, is so caught up in telling everyone else how wrong they are that they can’t see that our own house needs some serious, serious cleaning. I think it says something that I am fine with posting this comment on a fellow G.D. practitioner’s blog, but would not DARE to post this on ANY fellow believer’s blog!

    Hopefully these comments don’t come across as overly critical about people’s faith. We are all equal despite (or maybe because of) any imperfections we have. You’ve piqued my interest in “The Case for God.” Will have to check it out 🙂

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