Dangers of the Golden Dawn (well all magic, really)

This is sort of a follow up to my post from several years back, Nine Dangers of the Golden Dawn. So you just have to go and have a look there too  🙂

I have been having a spot of conversation with a new friend who knows a lot about all sorts of things, including the Golden Dawn. Getting on a bit, he has studied these things for a mere five decades and contacted several surviving Orders and members in the UK back in the day. He recounts something I have heard before: post WWII, the Order was left to die by its members. That is, they stopped magical working, stopped trying to induct new memberships and let the dust pile up on once glorious temple rooms.

R.A. Gilbert in his ‘Golden Dawn Scrapbook’ writes about the aged adepts who could bring about a renaissance of the Order if they choose – but they choose not. And Nick Farrell recounts how the Inner Plane contacts of the AO ordered the shutting down of the Order around and post WWII (of course, Whare Ra only suffered this fate as late as 1978).

If we are practicing the Golden Dawn (and really any magic coming from it or inspired by it), we have to take a good hard look at these facts. We cannot ignore them – they are pretty telling. If the GD offers a superlative magical system for spiritual development for the modern era, why was it rejected by its own adepts and Inner Plane contacts?

Now, the Inner Plane contacts directive we can, if we like to do these things, more easily write off by invoking ‘corruption of the contact’ or ‘subconscious influence from the medium’. And I am sure folk did just that. However, the real, physical actions and choices of senior adepts is another matter.

When we look at these things two main answers to the question, ‘why?’ come to mind:

  • The Golden Dawn was fine – even brilliant – in its day, but the day has passed. It was and is time to let go and let other things arise.
  • The Golden Dawn was a great experiment – but ultimately it did not work; the Inner Contacts and the Adepts recognised this and let it die.

We can also assume we in 2014 know more about all of this than those Adepts between the 1940s and 1970s and say, ‘they were wrong (or only partly right) … the purpose of the closure of the AO and other temples was actually to let the egregore and magic be open to the thousands of others who could now access it via published works (and now, the Net)’.

All well and good. We ‘makes our choices’, as they say.

Personally, I wonder if the reason for the critiquing and closing of the various Orders and temples had resonance with the concerns I raised in my previous post, Nine Dangers of the Golden Dawn? If I were reframing those dangers, I would today highlight one above all – the self.

Whereas in the original post I cautioned about ‘ego inflation’, I think such a bold term is likely to make folk reject that it has anything to do with them. Today I’d rather caution that the Golden Dawn, and all magic, can lead us to a situation where we place ourselves, our will, at the centre rather than the One. To quote myself 🙂

So modern 21st century magic should be about moving the mage from the centre of the circle, controlling all the forces he invokes (which is like, so medieval) to an awareness that at the centre we are interdependent on the entire circle of life, on the One and the universe that forms around us.

The magic circle should really be a place where we stand knowing ourselves as the centre of God’s love and attention (like all beings), the will of the One moving through us.

Instead magic can easily fool us into believing, that when we stand at the centre of the circle, we are actually the centre of the universe and can control the forces and beings we invoke – which is of course classic magic and, IMHO, a sure path to nowhere. Equally however, we may argue along with Canon Anthony Duncan (in Gareth Knight’s brilliant, ‘Christ and Qabalah’), that as soon as the One is at the centre, magic ceases to be magic at all.

Now this is a subtle thing, really a matter of approach rather than outward actions or choices of magic and rituals. The same ritual can be used and approached in different ways, as Professor Ronald Hutton writes of the Qabalistic Cross:

‘It was far from obvious, in the performance of the Qabbalistic Cross, whether the kingdom, the power, and the glory belonged to God or were being promised to the human carrying out the ritual.

It then becomes crucial that, to use Buddhist terminology, the ‘right view’, the right understanding of the universe is inculcated or already within the student from the very start, as I describe in this post, Magic – what is it good for?

This however requires theory and theology rather than praxis, something most magical students want to avoid like a marginal-seat politician before an election. It is for this reason – to ensure and promote the ‘right view’ – I think the GD insisted on a belief in a Supreme Being and interest in the Christian traditions – as the right view comes from both. It is for this reason I always try and foster a religious attitude, if not practice, in any students I have. These things are crucial.

More distinct ego distortions in the Golden Dawn occur not only because of outward things, like the titles and grades, but also inner difficulties. These mainly centre on the incredible potency and strength of the magic of the Golden Dawn being used at incorrect times. Though this is often said, I sometimes think most people somehow do not think it applies to them personally:

THE GOLDEN DAWN IS NOT A MAGICAL TRADITION.

Magic was only practiced in the Inner Order, the RR et AC, after the student had completed seven initiations, much preparation and been linked to currents of transformation, the Rosicrucian tradition and their own Genius. If we practice magic too early in our spiritual development, distortion can EASILY occur.

Finally, I will lift from a previous ‘dangers’ post, as it is still very apposite.

IT FEELS LIKES IT’S WORKING!

All esoteric paths and systems are worthless in themselves, the GD included. They can only point us to the One, and at worse they lock us, often unconsciously, into a system of practice that feels good but ultimately produces no transformation. Most esoteric paths, the GD included, are predicated on a two value premise and a ‘promise’ to move between the two: ourselves now, ourselves later (enlightened, transformed, healed, more in tune etc.) and the practices/initiations that move us between the two.

The danger in such a view is that it can become a closed loop. The person I ‘am’ now can never be the person I foresee at the ‘end’ of the process, since my definitions have already separated the ‘I’ now and ‘I’ desired. The gap between the two, while impossible for ‘me’ to bridge, is the spiritual practice and while I engage in that I have the sense of moving forward. Of course ‘I’ can never actually reach the goal, but simply having this mental structure and doing some practice I will experience the sense of moving ahead.

Any tradition that has a well developed ‘path’ between the two ‘I’s will naturally draw people, as we all like to see how we get from ‘here’ to ‘there’. The Golden Dawn thus is very attractive with its clearly mapped out path of transformation and rituals/practices at each stage of the way. Ultimately of course, most GD people (like most esoteric students) don’t really transform in any deep way at all – as amply demonstrated by the lives of both historical and contemporary GD magicians. As Rev Dr Cynthia Bourgeault says:

…it is depressingly clear that ninety-nine percent of what is being promulgated as contemporary Western spirituality is merely fine-tuning the ego.

What makes an esoteric path effective, what makes it actually able to lead us to the One is death and resurrection. The ‘I’ now cannot become the ‘I’ we desire, so we must die. Effective esoteric paths shake us all the time; they invite us to die continually and completely. It is up us to choose death or not. However, even the ‘death and rebirth’ instigated by the highly developed Golden Dawn initiations, like the Adeptus Minor, is becoming part and parcel of the intellectual and lower self framework of magicians. If this happens, then death becomes just another magical experience and therefore we block to death as it truly is.

This is a danger of having esoteric paths made exoteric and then taught by people who have not died, who are still in the two value mindset I mentioned above and do not know it. The Golden Dawn suffers from this considerably, and Vajrayāna Buddhism is beginning to suffer the same fate in the west.

Repeating the bleedin’ obvious: our modern western society and therefore all of us are afraid of death. We hate it, we fear it, we deny it, and we handle it incredibly badly. Death though is the key to the esoteric, and as anyone who has experienced esoteric death will tell you, it is no metaphor. To quote that greatest of Priestesses, Dion Fortune: “There are two deaths; the death of the body and the death of initiation. And of the two, the death of the body is the lesser”.

We need to die. And to be reborn. And now I’m sounding all Christian again. Oh, well 🙂 THANKS.

11 comments

  1. Karma Dorje · December 31, 2014

    Why do you say that this problem is afflicting Vajrayana in the West? It is almost always taught by accomplished practitioners.

  2. Peregrin · December 31, 2014

    That’s cool if that is always the case where you are. Here I’ve seen it be mixed when westerners lead. Ta 🙂

  3. MvdV · December 31, 2014

    Don’t forget peoples desire to be ‘advanced’ when they aren’t competent. I’ve seen way to many 20 something “Masters of the Golden Ne Plus Ultra Pontificate Maximus Theta East and West” who can’t even tie their shoes esoterically. Our instant gratification culture (another symptom of the centre of the universe syndrome) means people are not happy to develop and explore one level. The need to advance steadily, despite personal skill is a travesty. Cheers P!
    Pax

  4. The Red Warlock · December 31, 2014

    Excellent timing. Just the sort of post i needed to read on New Years Eve! Happy new years Peregrin 🙂

  5. dirkt · December 31, 2014

    Ahja… in the end, when all is said and done and all our elaborate metaphysical philosophies and faniciful esoteric systems are discarded onto the rubbish heap of outgrown ideas, then finally dawns the realization, that we simply don’t know. That we don’t have all the answers to the beautiful and terrifying mystery, that is life & death, and that we finally have to admit, that we (I) are NOT in control. That we have to “let go and let G-d” so to speak. That we’ve to try to help each other as good as we can, as we’re all in this together and compassion is the only thing that stands between us and the abyss sometimes, and that we never cease to ask the one simple question: “What is this?”, without ever expecting an answer 🙂

    Happy new year to you, Peregrin.

  6. asariah · January 1, 2015

    I agree with every point you have made in this most excellent synopsis.

  7. Nick Farrell · January 1, 2015

    Die and be reborn is pagan 🙂

  8. Peregrin · January 1, 2015

    Great comment, Dirk – thanks 🙂

  9. Pingback: Update to last post – on the Death of the Golden Dawn | Magic of the Ordinary
  10. Allen · January 2, 2015

    GD is just another link in the chain. No big deal at the end of the day, it is what it is…at this juncture in history we should all be developing our own systems and our own correspondences anyhow, hence I do my nightly sefirot workings with modified gd stuff here and there, and go to Mass on Sundays. It’s up to God, you either receive the grace and work with the Stuff (and its plainly obvious massive changes are occuring that actually make your more sensitive and hence more humble) or you do empty rituals, argue on the internet and join the circle jerk.

  11. Peregrin · January 3, 2015

    Great comment, Allen. Thanks. 🙂

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