More Christian than you can poke a stick at

In response to some recent silly and strange claims on the net regarding the history of the Golden Dawn, I recently reposted to Facebook an old post, A Pagan Golden Dawn? People’s responses this time round have prompted this quick clarification.

jesus-smallWhat me, Christian?

Firstly, as I try to make clear in the original post, I am not proselytizing for Christianity. Nor am I saying GD folk need to be Christian. Or even that Christianity is ‘better’ than other religions. Those few who have accused me of these views should really read better.

Yes, I am confirmed in the Anglican church. However, I have also been initiated into the GD and other western traditions (long before my confirmation), and taken Refuge with the amazing Lama Zopa Rinpoche. I identify with none of these paths exclusively. I am not a Christian. I am not a Buddhist. I am not an Isian. In the end there is only the One, and where all is One there can be no separate names. And besides, I have written (passionately) far more on the Golden Dawn than Christianity, but no one accuses me of proselytizing for the GD 🙂

Christian but not Christian

But back to it… my points in the original post are, in my view, more than justified by a little comment in the original pledge form (application for initiation) of the historical Golden Dawn:

Belief in a Supreme Being, or Beings, is indispensable.  In addition, the Candidate, if not a Christian, should at least be prepared to take an interest in Christian Symbolism. (Gilbert, R.A. (1986)  The Golden Dawn Companion : a guide to the history, structure and workings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. p. 45.  Aquarian, Wellingborough.)

Modern Orders may have omitted this but I am talking of the traditional approach and the form I signed as a young lad. The reason why Christianity is singled out is because the Orders (GD and RR et AC) contain more symbols with a Christian basis or interpretation than any other religion. Mathers and Westcott (and perhaps Woodman) were clear that one needs to be ‘interested’ in these symbols to gain the most from the Golden Dawn experience.

Mystical and religious symbols are a path to the mysteries they represent. When we engage with symbols we enter the mystery and the mystery enters us, grounding through our individual unique lives, and thereby it becomes more established in the world. As with any mystery path, those in the GD and RR et AC, need to engage deeply with ALL the symbols of the tradition. We need to do this personally, not relying on second hand information and insights of others.

ctTherefore each GD initiate has to engage with and embody the mysteries behind a whole raft of Christian symbols, from the neophyte Red Cross (an ‘Image of Him Who was unfolded in the Light’) to the Cross of Suffering in the Vault (see this good essay by GH Fr SR on Cross symbolism in the Golden Dawn which more than adequately  explains the predominance of the Christian symbolism in the GD and RR et AC). This engagement means the initiate, and collectively the tradition, is working the mysteries through a Christian based lens more than any other lens. This is why I can describe the RR et AC as a ‘Christian’ tradition – yet having nothing whatever to do with personal faith or church membership.

Now, people may not like this because they do not like Christianity – though more often than not they actually do not like Churchianity – but this is the case. Empirically. Look it up – count the symbols within the GD Corpus that are Christian or Christian interpretations. Compare with those from other traditions.

People’s dislike or lack of fit with Christian symbolism often prompts them to want to modify and change the symbols and rituals (which are a way of embodying the mystery of the symbols). However, I think it very unwise to change any symbol until we know and are intimate with the mystery it represents. Otherwise we cannot know what exactly to ‘replace’ it with. And we cannot know the mystery represented by a symbol until we fully engage with it spiritually and magically. Therefore even if we want to change things, we still are required, if we are sensible, to engage deeply with Christian based symbols within a tradition that stems from a very Christian based tradition indeed -Rosicrucianism.

Rosicrucians – the tradition with no (identifiable) members

I am always amazed at the number of RR et AC adepts I correspond with who have only read, (or not even read!), the Rosicrucian manifestos  It is clearly stated within the Adeptus Minor initiation that the initiate becomes a Rosicrucian (and not to tell anyone about it :)) Therefore the manifestos are, literally, the essence of our tradition. The power and transformation inherent in the RR et AC is Rosicrucian. Now there are any number of hermetic, alchemical and occult influences within the manifestos  but the overarching theme, current and religiosity is undeniably Christian. Every RR et AC adept will benefit from a deep engagement with these texts, as they are initiatory powers in their own right.

Of Rosicrucianism, noted occult and Masonic historian R.A. Gilbert has the view that:

…once one moves away from the Trinitarian Christian approach to this ascent up the Tree of Life, it ceases to be Rosicrucian. (http://www.rosecircle.org/cms/node/36).

Now as much as argument by authority is a little lazy, I do think the views of Mr Gilbert are important – he really does know an awful lot 🙂 In any case, the religious background of the Rosicrucian tradition speaks for itself.

Pagan Deities and Suchlike Things

During my recent discussions on this topic folk have pointed out that GD folk like the Mathers and others worked with a range of non-Christian, and therefore Pagan, deities and forms. This is undeniably true. However, I think it fair to say they were worked (in a GD context at least) within the overarching framework of Christianity. That is to say, pre-Christian myths and symbols were often (unconsciously) interpreted in the light and by the tenants of Christianity. That is to say, Pagan and Jewish religious concepts were seen through a Christian based lens. The beginnings of the Hermetic Qabalah show this approach clearly – look at folk like Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino.

The Victorian era occultism that produced the Golden Dawn was heavily interested in non-Christian traditions but rarely was able to interpret or approach these traditions on their own terms or without western, Christian and/or personal intellectual filters. Australian Pagan academic Caroline Tully has shown a little how this occurred in the case of Samuel Mathers and Florence Farr:

J.G Frazer, a fine looking chap

Ironically the Victorian penchant for ethnological studies also contributed to this confusion and Christian filtering. Some ethnologists of this era were motivated by a quest to discredit Christianity. They attempted this by showing the similarities between Christianity and other non-Christian religions. If Christianity was just like all other religions, then it could claim no superior status. Nice. However, looking for Christian-like elements of a religion means we ignore the real, completely different ideas, world-views, and religious motifs inherent in these other religions.

A classic example of this ethnological tendency was James George Frazer, whose work influenced GD and other magicy folk hugely. Having no direct experience of ‘Pagan’ religions, occultists would often base their approach to them via these ethnological studies and thus get a Christian view of the religion, albeit unknowingly. When this method of obtaining knowledge was not used, altogether different approaches and rituals were created. Alex Sumner gives an example of this when discussing Florence Farr’s The Order of Great Osiris The Saviour.

Farr’s rituals bear little resemblance to those of the Golden Dawn. There is no “Egyptian magic as seen through a Victorian prism” of the GD, instead the symbolism is practically all ancient Egyptian (though unlike any discovered by archaeological means). (http://solascendans.com/2012/07/05/the-order-of-great-osiris-the-saviour/)

Farr of course though was not presenting ancient Egyptian magic or religion with any degree of accuracy, and most of the material can be assumed to be from inner sources. Again, see the wonderful article, Florence and the Mummy in Women’s Voices in Magic by Caroline Tully. Only recently have modern Neo-Pagans been able to approach ancient religions and mysteries on their own terms and re-construct something without Christian and modern western filters getting too much in the way.

Lashings and Lashings of Christianity

One of the commentators on my Facebook post mentioned above asked for more information concerning my statement that: “The GD and RR et AC are built layer upon layer of Christian based practice and symbolism and it is through our personal engagement with this practice and symbolism that we arrive at universal wisdom.” Specifically they wanted to know what these layers are and why it is essential they need to be Christian. Great questions.

To address the second question first: there is no reason they need to be Christian (based) – only that in the RR et AC they are. In other traditions they would not be, and those traditions are as worthy and as wonderful as the RR et AC. However, the RR et AC being Rosicrucian, has a Christian symbolism basis and bias. That simple. It’s how it was created. One can change it, sure, but I would be careful, as I discuss above, about changes without full entry into the mystery represented by the Christian symbolism.

Also, as I’ve mentioned in this post, there is a big difference between eclecticism and synthesis and to change the symbols of the RR et AC because some folk have a personal discomfort with Christianity may not be such a top idea. In short changes to traditions are best directed by a third higher power for transpersonal reasons.

As for the layers: again, the fact that the RR et AC is Rosicrucian is a crucial point. But further, the RR et AC is a tradition. It did not emerge fully formed out of Mathers’ creative brow. It draws on many layers, centuries old. And each of those layers carry with them the currents and egregore of the people and groups who created them. For example, the entire Enochian system came about via the work of a devout Christian, John Dee. It therefore was filtered by Dee’s Christianity and carries within it Christian concepts, currents and egregore. One layer.

Pentagram Diagram (colour)In some RR et AC rituals elements of the Enochian are used alongside a mystical Christian name for Jesus, YHShVH. This, and the deep formula within the name was created by Christian renaissance occultists (it is not the Hebrew or Aramaic spelling at all). Another layer, and one which underpins the entire GD system: grades, rituals, meditations, the lot. Even when an adept assumes an Egyptian based godform, she will consecrate the space beforehand with the Pentagram ritual, which holds at its core the YHShVH formula, and thus the adept is empowered by it. She is therefore linked to this Christian based current.

Or take a look at image of the Higher and Divine Genius. This is taken from the work of another devout Christian, Albrecht Dürer, St John Beholding the Seven Golden Candlesticks. The image therefore carries with it the Christian egregore and currents. Another layer.

This is what I mean by layers of practice. A slow build, over the centuries, of a tradition, drawing on many themes, ideas and innovations, but the vast majority of them created by Christians within a Christian context. The egregore of the RR et AC is soaked through and through with these. Or take the Vault – the Adepti of a College literally draw their magic and links to the inner realms through this Vault and their initiation within it. And the Vault is the epitome of the Christian based Rosicrucian tradition.

Rounding Off

Of course, every adept knows what I am saying here at some (hopefully deep) level, when during their Adept initiation they declare:

I, (MOTTO), a member of the Body of Christ, do this day spiritually bind myself, even as I am now bound physically upon the Cross of Suffering.

These are not idle words, and being spoken at the Kether point of the Obligation they become the central hub around which the initiation, and life thereafter as Rosicrucian adept, revolves.

Now of course, people can do what they like – and they do 🙂 Again, I am not suggesting anyone is ‘wrong’ or any religious tradition is ‘better’ than another. I am just pointing out how I was taught and what seems real and obvious to me. I am approaching 30 years within this wonderful tradition of ours, and over that time I have seen far too many folk go astray because there were precious few discussions and examination of things that seem obvious but are not. I hope at least these words give some folk a pause for thought. Responses naturally welcome – but don’t flame me, roast me or toast me 🙂 Thanks.

17 comments

  1. Jim Yahazim · May 15, 2013

    Toast… Dink!

  2. Arcad · May 15, 2013

    Thanks for this wonderful post

  3. Morgan Eckstein · May 15, 2013

    The pledge form that you quote is actually the second version of the pledge form; the first version did not actually have that clause in it. But considering how early in GD history, it was changed, outside of the original Co-Chiefs, few seem to have signed the original version. The second version is also the one that introduced the anti-medium clause.

  4. Leonard Stevens · May 15, 2013

    Very well put Peregrin.

    I think that there is a common misunderstanding about Christianity. It is kind of paganised Judaism. Well i guess that is not really correct, but what I am trying to express is that Jesus was raised as a Jew in Galilee. Galilee was not really a Jewish settlement, it was also very Pagan with Jewish families and Pagan families. Jesus would of had a fantastic upbringing learning the mysteries both Judasim and also the Pagan sects at that time. This is one of the reasons that it was an insult to in strict Jewish circles to say ‘He Jesus is Galileen. Paul the real master mind behind Christianity grew the religion not in Jewish areas, but in Turkey and other Greek influenced countries. Without Paul, Christianity would of eventually disappeared as one of the many sects around at that time.

    I like Christianity but not Churchanity if you see the difference. I am getting distracted, but that point I am trying to make is that Christianity is a Pagan Jewish religion which symbols work well the Golden Dawn.

    Cheers

  5. Peregrin · May 15, 2013

    Hi Morgan, yes that’s quite correct from my reading – the same as yours no doubt, Gilbert himself 🙂 As he says there seemed to be no mad rush of Pagans or mediums wanting to join the GD, so both clauses cannot be seen as reactive. THANKS 🙂

  6. Apuleius Platonicus · May 16, 2013

    I don’t think it is very useful (and in fact highly misleading) to crudely slap a “Christian” label on the GD and leave it at that, and for much the same reasons why you yourself do not wish to be defined by that label (despite having decided, as a grown adult, to formally and very publicly join one particular branch of that religion).

    At the very least one must stipulate that there have always (or at least going back to the 15th century) been two very different trends within Hermeticism with respect to Christianity. Christopher McIntosh, in his wonderful little book “The Roscicrucians” describes these trends as (1) Hermeticists who are “Christian only in that they include some Christianity but do not stress it”, versus (2) Rosicrucians who “are primarily Christian but draw on other non-Christian sources”. McIntosh, in turn, is here quoting from Kathleen Raines’ book on “Yeats, the Tarot and the Golden Dawn”.

    In the specific case of the GD we are dealing very much with a group in which both of these trends were well represented. The GD was also quite short-lived, and during its brief life was a constantly moving target with respect to its relationship with Christianity. In fact, it is probably the case that the GD was so unstable precisely because of the widely varying attitudes of its Adepts to the cult of Jesus.

  7. Peregrin · May 16, 2013

    Hi Apuleius,

    I am sorry if you think I am crudely slapping a label on the GD and leaving it at that. I have explained my reasons carefully in two posts. I clearly state why the RR et AC (not the GD) can be considered a ‘Christian’ based order. In a section titled “Christian but not Christian” I explain it is because of the overwhelming use of Christian symbols and interpretations, clearly also saying it has “nothing whatever to do with personal faith or church membership”. I do not think this is slapping a label on at all.

    I am happy to be a little more General Semantics about it: “from my current perception and with my current state of knowledge, the RR et AC uses Christian symbolism and motifs more than any other tradition” 🙂

    And yes, you are correct, McIntosh’s book is wonderful. I think your quote reinforces my view: “primarily Christian but draw on other non-Christian sources” I think this describes the immediate Rosicrucian antecedent to the GD very well: the SIRA, who to this day require a confession of Trinitarian Christian faith for membership.

    Thanks 🙂

  8. Pat Zalewski · May 24, 2013

    The blog that was claimed to be written under David Griffin’s byline, brought up the old pagan vs christian debate but took things away from a belief structure and placed it more on pre Christian symbolism which is another matter entirely for it rests on factors that are tangible. There are numeorus symbols in their pre Christian element that are in the GD because symbols such as the cross are inherit in our nature – no matter what cultural elements claim them as their own. The Church certainly claimed many prominent symbols that came before it. A study of symbols is a very complex construct for most of it comes down to time and place. The problem we have here is that DG is claiming that the pre christian symbols hold sway over later developments of Christianity since they then are altered from point of origin.

    The problem you have with this argument is to establish a point of origin and that goes well back into the prerecorded history to some obscure tribe that has gone undetected. For even in this prerecorded time there is little doubt that the same symbol by tribes had different meanings. You can try to get around the problem by placing it in a pre christian time frame by polarizing the symbols in a belief area which takes them away from their point or origin into an obscurity of pre AD. So an argument on symbols becomes an argument on religions since the point of origin and original meaning cannot be identified. Jung did a great deal of work on this and tried to place their origins in the unconscious rather than a place so did John Lilly.

    Symbolism in the GD can be anything you want it to be. Brodie Innes of the AO wrote two papers on the 0=0 and 1=10 that placed them in a new testament category – that is undeniable. This was his version of the GD symbols. It certainly is not mine. Trying to polarize symbols to an obscure point or origin does not really help explain how they are used in the middle of the 19th century to today or will be used in the future.or what element of their original meaning works in juxtaposition with other GD symbols because you are dealing with a polyvalent concept and an indeterminacy factor. Basic symbols will generally mimic nature with the birth, death and rebirth principles from Osiris, Tammuz, the Greek Christeos and later Chris, .are some few examples.

    So I would not get too hung up on this belief divide where you are for us or against us in the GD as that is for the individual to work out and really has no place in the GD at all when you get down to it.

    Pat

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  10. Leonard Stevens · May 25, 2013

    @Pat

    Hi Pat. I think this was also the point that the Imperator (GH Fr L.e.S) was making – is that Christian symbolism is itself much older than Christianity and much is from various Pagan sources. That is also a point you yourself are making. I myself made a similar point, that Christanity itself is a construction from a mixture of Jewish and Pagan sources.

    I don’t think that David’s divide is really about Christianity vs Paganism but rather that the Golden Dawn is not a Christian construct and nor should it be practiced as an extension to a Christian practice. David made many good points about the most obvious contridictions regarding this. Also when there are hundreds of AO members whom are primarily pagan / hermetic, the Imperator must ensure that he is serving the needs of the largely non-Christian membership. It is not helpful to confuse younger or beginners in the Golden Dawn with Christianity, trying to make the Golden Dawn itself Christian, It is not. Even those seemingly Christian things such as the Cross of Suffering are symbols, much older and hermetic. So David is quite right not to try and fit the Golden Dawn into a Christian context. It does not work.

    Having experienced first hand these sorts of problems from my meetings with Frank Salt who did try to fit the Golden Dawn into his Christianity. Frank who was an excellent mystic, who I owe much too. However I feel that Frank lost sight of some the magical aspects of the Golden Dawn from trying to fit the Golden Dawn into his particular brand of Christianity. This obviously caused some problems as his approach to magick and the Golden Dawn was vastly different to mine. Even though a GD novice at that time I could see something was inheritantly wrong in some of the things that Frank was saying. This opinion of mine is based upon Frank’s sometimes Christianised version of the Golden Dawn, in contrary being compared to Mathers’ and other published writers who were closer to the source i.e Mathers than Frank was!

    That is not to undermine neither Christianity nor Frank Salt, but it is too say it is a mistake to try and make the Golden Dawn fit into your personal religious beliefs. For example: I personally have some strong gnostic Christianity beliefs, but these are personal. A very different thing from trying to make the Golden Dawn fit into a personal Christian model. So David is quite right to point this out.

    I do agree with David that there is a mystical magical divide. The approach of a mystic towards the Mysteries is very different from the approach of a magician. Though I accept that their is some overlap. IMO true esoteric Christianity is mystical, a gnosis. I doubt very much that that journey into gnosis has anything to gain from the Golden Dawn.

    Whereas the Golden Dawn (like all hermetic systems) is best approached as a magician. Perhaps it is more immature, perhaps we are naughter. But IMO to try and practice the Golden Dawn as some kind of extension to Christianity in my no only devoids one of magick, but is a kind of falsehood. A kind of falsehood to both Christianity in its purest sense in seeking after truth and light’; but also to one oneself and ones own spirit.

    Obviously these are my personal opinion, having said that, I agree with much of what David is saying.

  11. Pat Zalewski · May 25, 2013

    Hi Lenny

    My argument still stands, and to decide the GD between Pagan and Christianity when the symbolism goes back into antiquity is ridiculous. It is what the symbolism means to us today and that is a polygot of learning over numerous aeons. If you get into labeling it then you starts to see it come apart when you start think of what brand of paganism or what brand of Christianity then what level of what brand.

    The GD for me is a holographic construct that has the best of numerous Aeons of dramatic ritual, that is expressed through a commonality of purpose through structured framework of hermetic teachings .

    Making it either wholly Pagan or Christian devalues its structural integrity with a change in value systems which would differ considerably between Pagan and Christian with either label on it. Trying to explain the GD is like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there. Its akin to postmodernism in history. Historians can tell what it is not – but not what it is.

    Pat

  12. Pat Zalewski · May 26, 2013

    Just to add another point to the GD mix. Paganism was more for the rural folk and the Egyptian mysteries in todays reconstructions that derive their philosophical lineage from Hermes. So the two are quite distinct. So its not just Pagan and Christian plus the Jewish slant as well. Its quite a mix of various philosophies.

    Pat

  13. Apuleius Platonicus · May 27, 2013

    I tend to agree with Garth Fowden who argues that there was definitely a “popular” character to late antique Hermetism. Also it is now widely recognized that the dichotomy between learned and popular magic throughout the last 2000 years of European history is largely artificial. Many of the greatest Mages, such as Ficino and Bruno, were themselves solidly middle class, and were only “elites” because of their innate abilities, not because of their “class”.

  14. Pat Zalewski · May 28, 2013

    Interestingly enough, western magical tradition in any sort of continuity is difficult to trace back to the pre printing press era and were subject to pockets of copies of Mss which was usually by monks in cloisters or certain religious groups. For me, many of the so called are holographic constructs. It does not lessen their value in terms of their functionality- just their tradition which .appears to be a lot shorter than some have anticipated. Hermeticism is a good example of a reconstruction .that works well, but does to have a pedigree of continuity.

    Pat

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