The Death of the Golden Dawn II : another update

My friend and correspondent (see last couple of posts) also has this to say:

“The question of whether it was the GD as a whole that was to “die” or individual Temples is a good one, and I should have clarified this. It was the Tradition as a whole that was to cease to exist in the world. The few existing Temples were allowed to “run down”. Perhaps a physical analogy might apply: a device (like a cell ‘phone) runs on batteries but they require regular charging. If the electricity supply is cut off, it becomes impossible to charge the batteries, but the already charged batteries will continue to operate for a time. Once they have completely discharged, however, the cell ‘phone is inoperative. The “current” has been “switched off”.

Those I spoke to did not want the GD rituals or other materials published, but not because they might be “misused”: the “electricity” had been cut off and the rituals could therefore be of no effect. Their concern was that such public documents might allow for the pretence that the Tradition was continuing. Their fears were obviously well-founded.

I asked one “elder”, a devout Anglo-Catholic Priest, what would happen if someone now used published GD rituals. His response: “What would happen if someone who was not a Priest ordained within the Apostolic Succession used a published text to purport to celebrate the Mass? Absolutely nothing.” He did not like the idea of people “playing” with rituals he regarded as sacred, but such “playing” was just that.

This was exactly the case with the Catholic Apostolic Church: its authorities sought to recall and destroy all its ritual texts not because of a fear that they might be misused – the authority for their use having been withdrawn, they could now have no effect – but to avoid any appearance that the tradition was continuing.

Why was the “current” then “switched off”? And when? I have heard a number of different answers. The common theme is that those to whom the Tradition was entrusted allowed it to be “perverted” and corrupted from being a process for the positive transmutation and transformation of the “ego” to being a process that allowed or even encouraged the over-inflation and negative distortion of the “ego”. The Tradition was allowed to become the antithesis of what it was intended to be. Individuals were sometimes named as examples of this corruption, but not seen as the cause of it.”

7 comments

  1. Chris W · January 3, 2015

    The issue that I struggle with then is to what end is the work and study of the order worth while if it’s truly past the theurgic “last call” as it were? There are volumes of work out there and the quality and repute of the work seems high. I’d like to think that the legacy of the order is not to be some sort of ultimate “blind” which keeps sincere aspirants waylaid on their path.

  2. alexsumner · January 3, 2015

    Is your friend a member of the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, by any chance? That sounds like the standard line of bullshit which they would put out.

  3. dirkt · January 3, 2015

    Well, as you know, I don’t buy into metaphysics. So “current” for me has only a metaphorical meaning, i.e. signifying “tradition”. And as long as someone still holds up a given tradition, doing active work along its lines, a tradition is alive and (maybe) well. Where I have my doubts though, is the “wellbeing” part. Even tradition have to change and adjust to the times and all the new knowledge that comes with it to remain significant. If a tradition gets stuck, slavishly clinging to outdated views and ignoring new developments, it becomes a relic. Something that it enshrined and adored, but has no real significance for everyday life any longer. That’s what I see happening with the GD today (at least from my POV).

    When we look at classic Buddhism for instance, we see three pillars that serve as a foundation for the whole system. We got wisdom, based on insight, we got mental training (meditation) and finally ethics, which when combined become more than just the sum of their parts in allowing the individual to transcend its egocentric attitude and so opening up a real chance for the development of a whole new way of life.

    Let’s take the lens of the three pillars to look at the GD system:

    The “wisdom” of the GD is reduced to an overblown metaphysics, that is mostly taken quite literally and results in endless discussions of- and elaborations on cabalistic, hermetic & neoplatonist philosophy and spooky “energies”, that when employed this or that way, will somehow “magically” transform the individual (i.e. the initiation rituals), without any evidence, that this is actually so. The other thing is, all that intricate philosophy focusses mostly on a world “beyond”, which servers as a kind of blueprint of our everyday world of experience. But what if this world beyond actually doesn’t even exist? What does all the metaphysics tell us about real life and the human condition then? Looking back to early Buddhism again, their insight/wisdom is quite down to earth and pragmatical: We’re no islands, everything is interdependent. Everything is subject to change. And because this is so, life can be quite dissatisfactory at times, especially when we believe ourselves to be independent and cling to the notion, that everything must always stay the same, which we naturally tend to do all the time. Can the same practicality be seen in the cabalistic, hermetic and neoplatonist ideas? I think in a way, it can. But only if we stop to take them quite literally. For instance, whatever is in my mind, can serve as blueprint for what’s to become a reality. No doubt about that. In a way, our “reality” (at least our cultural one) is just a story, that has taken on a life of its own, because everyone is willing to believe in it and make it so. But to go from the ideal to the actual, it must still follow the rules of feasibility and physics. To expect on the other hand, that there is an actual astral dimension and that I can somehow manipulate its structure to influence physical reality by waving my magic stick and holler incantations, that’s a bit far fetched taking in account all we know about physics today.

    The mental training is apart from basic meditations for the most part not even seen as such in the modern versions of the GD. There is this whole fascinating apparatus of ritual magic (divination, scrying, consecration of talismans, evocation, invocation etc.), that when understood more metaphorical could indeed be used to explore and train the individual’s psyche, but instead magic ritual in the GD is again still taken quite literally today and even mentioning the word “psychology” makes you more or less a shunned outsider. From where I sit, if you don’t really make the connection between the psychological significance of the symbols and ritual actions, you can practice ritual till hell freezes over, without changing a thing. Least of all, yourself.
    And though there are even opportunities for working “practical magic” (i.e. using magic ritual to help others) in our time, this “low magic” is frowned upon by the “high magician”, who likes to focus more on his personal “magical development” and drowning himself in questionable metaphysics. And even where it is employed, it’s again taken to be literal magic, not as “skillful means” to alleviate the troubles of the recipient. Do you really think, all the medicine men, shamans and cunning folks of old were not intelligent enough to realize over the course of the centuries, that their skills were not so much founded in the reality of magical powers, but rather in making others believe that this was so and thereby influencing their minds and wellbeing!? Crowley once summarized, that magic was essentially the way of fighting illusionary snakes with an illusionary mongoose. I believe, he hit the nail right on the head here!

    Now what’s with the ethics? Well, I wish I could say more about that, but the discussion of the theme seems tellingly absent from the GD nowadays. Sure, we get a lot of opinions and judgements if and when someone did something that goes against personal believes and conventional morality, but do we see a discussion of an ethical system within the GD? Rarely. I can remember just one single instance in the last two years or so, where the virtues and vices of the sephiroth were touched upon in a fb GD group discussion. And what’s with the “going out into the world and healing of the sick for free”thingy of the Rosicrucian credo? Sure, we can’t all become medical doctors, but what’s with employing “magic” for other peoples sake as far, as it is in our capabilities? In short, where is the community service!?

    So, taking all this into account let me ask the question: is the GD system as outlined above really capable of becoming more than the sum of its parts and open up a way for really transcending the ego? For establishing a new way of life, that enables us to interact in a more meaningful & compassionate way and become more mature as a society?
    Or do we have an escapist fantasy here, that merely serves to bolster the ego while enshrining outdated ideas, elevating them to the status of unchangeable doctrines? Me thinks sometimes, the GD magician of today is more an adherent to the GD seen as just another belief system, glorifying himself as the all knowing adept sitting in his ivory tower, instead of the religious specialist a magician is meant to be, capable of taking the skeptical meta position now and then in regard to the systems doctrines and beliefs and using the system not for the sake of self-glorification and self-deception, but primarily to engage in a quest of self-knowledge and self-development to enable himself to better cater to the needs of others.

    To take this thing full circle, let us come back to the question of WHY (at least some of) the old GD folks here thought the “current” withdrawn and closed their temples accordingly. Could it be, that they realized somewhere deep inside, that “the old ways” didn’t work out any longer? That after a lifetime of “doing the work” it amounted to nothing in the end and realizing that they had failed to adapt themselves and the system to new developments and insights and so rendering it useless? Leaving an empty shell of tradition, that if revived without care and the acknowledgment of the need for change would most likely become a historical reenactment group instead of a modern, living magical order, that has to contribute something meaningful to society?

    I personally think that the GD system has still potential and value. From where I sit, it was a first step in the 19th century, to bridge the ever growing gap between classical, medieval and renaissance ideas of mysticism & magic on the one hand, and the scientific worldview and modernity on the other. A development, that will finally lead to a an internalization of magic, in that the circle of the magician is no longer the material world, but rather the circumference of his own mind, which he is acting upon to finally become not “more than human”, but rather “more humane”, realizing all the other circles that are intersecting with his own, and which he is able to influence by his own example and catering to the needs of others (represented by the intersecting circles), using “skillful means”. However, to achieve this vision, the GD has to change.

  4. Peregrin · January 4, 2015

    Hi Alex, I have no idea how to really answer that question, not knowing all the facts. I think the comments are offered as an honest reporting of events, and I am not sure if my friend has added or subtracted anything or even shares these views. It is simply reporting, for what it is worth 🙂 ta.

  5. Peregrin · January 4, 2015

    HI Dirk – once again a wonderful and insightful analysis – much appreciated 🙂

  6. Chris W · January 4, 2015

    I’ve been mulling this over and it sounds like Dirk said in detail a lot of what had been sloshing around. In addition two things come to mind. One, my favorite Koan, “If you find the Buddha by the side of the road, kill him” which can mean “If the object of your study diverts you from achieving your goal, get rid of it”. The second, and more difficult is the “Dunning/Kruger” effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect) which in short, demonstrates how amateurs, beginners, and incompetents lack the skills to assess whether or not they are even any good at what they’re doing. The Buddhacide may never come because of, especially in the sense of an initiatory structure, skills that need to be developed to even understand the path. I would like for the idea that the structure and progression of the outer order work lead to results and, like Dirk, I have concerns about the (mis)conception of the egregore drying up. For someone who is genuinely pursuing enlightenment, who works the work with sincerity either in a modern GD reincarnation or through self-initiatory means, how would one discern between wish fulfillment when they sense “results” and true progress? Dunning/Kruger strikes again. In short, how is a bonehead like me to know the difference 🙂

    I have my own notions and theories about how that would be achieved, including regular work involving meditation, journalling, ritual, introspection, and finding peer feedback through trusted channels and mentors inside and outside of the context of any one particular order. However, at that point, is the system really being worked or is the initiate being forced into the kind of groping multitasking that an initiatory path was supposed to eliminate or at least accelerate them past?

  7. dirkt · January 4, 2015

    Chris!

    Your point about the Dunning/Kruger effect is a good one. But how do we even apply any kind of reasonable evaluation to magical skills, when magic is understood as a paranormal phenomena and how do we evaluate if one has made progress in achieving enlightenment, when we are presented with an only vaguely defined concept of enlightenment to begin with?

    What does it actually mean, when someone states he’s seeing this and that symbol in your aura, or that he can sense the “energies” in a ritual flowing this or that way, and thereby evaluating if you’re doing it “right” or “wrong”? As all of this is a highly subjective experience, how are we to objectively measure and even confirm it? From unfalsifability to confirmation bias and communal reinforcement, I wouldn’t even know where to begin pointing out the difficulties in proving magic as a genuine paranormal phenomenon.
    It all boils down to phrases like “thousands of magicians can’t all be wrong”, which is indicative of the common tendency to accept a communally reinforced idea without question, which often aids in the widespread acceptance of factoids.
    So, what skills should we objectively evaluate here?! The skills in self deception? 😦

    From my POV, the Golden Dawn is on the fast track of becoming just another belief system and from the inside perspective of the GD adherent, “magical powers” are nowadays often regarded as a paranormal phenomenon. Viewed from the outside however, magic as a paranormal phenomenon remains a myth.
    Paradoxically, to become an effective magician (using magic the way the medicine men, shamans and cunning folks of old did), you have to transcend the inside view of the quasi religious adherent and realize, that magic is actually the science & art of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness and behavior. In short, the magician uses rituals, symbols, actions, gestures and language as skillful means to effect those changes. It’s essentially applied psychology with a bag of tricks. But acknowledging that, seems the greatest horror of the aspiring GD magician of today, who so desperately clings to the paranormal idea of magic.

    From where I sit, you can still work magic effectively for your own and others sake, even if (or rather because) it’s not a paranormal phenomenon. You can even have the mystery, that religion and certain philosophies are pointing at added to your magic, as a source of inspiration, insight and ethical guidance. But don’t make magic itself your religion. Magic is a tool, even an art-form, but not a mystery in itself.

    So, once we have defined magic as a rather secular phenomenon, we actually have the chance of applying the Dunning/Kruger concept here, as the skills in practicing this kind of magic can now at least be measured by the effects it has on ourselves and others. Did it actually help to understand yourself better and aided you in becoming a more compassionate and wiser human being? Did whatever magic your did on behalf of others benefitted them in any way? And we don’t have to rely solely on our own assessment here, but can simply ask others what they think about it, so that we get a more objective evaluation of our own development and skills.

    As to “Enlightenment”, same problem here. How do we even define enlightenment in the GD tradition? Ok, we’re meant to make contact- or getting more in tune with our “Higher Self”. We’re meant to experience “gnosis”. But again, what does that actually mean? How is one to measure that? What are its effects? Is there any evidence, that such a higher self even exists? What is it, what we are to learn in that “gnosis? When I compare that again to classic Buddhism, the premise there is quite clear cut. The awakening of the Buddha was essentially his insight into dependent arising. “When this is, that is. When this ceases, that ceases.” In extent, Nibbana is defined as the ceasing of greed, aversion and delusion, which in turn are seen as the origin of suffering. Quite clear and spot on, in regard to what results are expected here and no problem, in evaluating them and have them evaluated by others. The GD model on the other hand stays quite vague here in experiential terms, despite giving us a ton of technical “explanations” of how this all is assumed to work from a metaphysical POV.

    So if we can’t define in experiential and more secular terms, what “enlightenment” actually means within a given tradition, it’s impossible to evaluate if anyone has made any progress in the first place 😉

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