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.
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.
Therefore 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:
- Samuel Liddell MacGregor-Mathers and Isis, chapter 3, Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon.
- Florence and the Mummy in Women’s Voices in Magic edited by Brandy Williams.
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.
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.
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.