The Genius of Pamela Colman Smith: the four of Cups and the Kingdom

Pamela_Colman_Smith_circa_1912It is often said that when creating (for ‘very little cash’) the rudely misnamed ‘Rider-Waite” deck, Pixie Colman Smith bought her wonderful mix of theatrical and artistic creation mostly into the Minor Arcana, particularly the Pip Cards.

“The actual processes by which the Waite-Smith collaboration took place are not certain, but it seems likely that Mr. Waite’s input was largely restricted to the twenty-two Major Arcana. Of the fifty-six pip cards – the Minor Arcana – it is likely that Miss Smith had a very free hand. They, therefore, are her creation, and it is there that we see her genius.” (

It seems likely that she drew on some images of the Sola Busca Tarot for this, recently acquired and exhibited by the British Museum. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 🙂 Naturally, however Pixie changed things and added a considerable amount of ‘stuff’ herself. As Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin point out in ‘Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot’ much of this stems, at least via a surface view, from Pixie’s theatrical background and the landscapes where she lives, moves and has her being. Some ‘stuff’ however is deep and profound and so subtle it flies in the face of the current dominant view that Pixie never really groked the esoteric Christian and Qabalistic milieu of her collaborator, Arthur Waite.

For example, let’s take the Four of Cups, first Sola Busca and then Pixie’s.



Pixie is clearly innovating here. The only other major deck in circulation back when she was creating this card was the Marseille which bears no relation at all to this image. This innovation has been seen by some to refer to Gautama under the Bodhi tree. However, it is clearly drawing on western imagery, not eastern. The use of the hand from the cloud motif draws from Hermetic emblems popular in the early modern period. There are no actual Buddhist symbols, and it is doubtful Pixie was exposed to much Buddhist iconography at all.

The card, according to the Golden Dawn system, refers to Chesed of Briah, the Creative World. This is pretty much the deepest level of consciousness a human can experience while incarnate and still plodding around the world. We can touch upon other ‘higher’ states in meditation, but regular folk can’t really live in a state deeper than what this card represents. Thus the card exists as a resting point between our current state of consciousness and a dramatic next step.

The next step is Binah of Briah – bridging the gap between phenomenal and noumenal world. Achieving such a goal, in Christian esoteric terms, cannot be done individually but is a corporate action. In shorthand, it is the coming of the Kingdom.

The key point here is there are three cups already on the ground and the fourth only being offered to or shown to the seated figure. This immediately brings to mind the Tetragrammaton, the holy four lettered name of the One. So we have YHV presented as the three cups on the ground and the final H in the cup coming from the clouds. The four lettered name, in this card, exists only in potential. It has not yet been remembered, the final Heh has not joined YHV since the figure seats inert and unmoved by what is being offered to them. Kinda like humanity, eh?

This is straight forward Hermetic Cabalism, sneakily placed here for our inner selves to be exposed to. However, Pixie goes further.

Say the phrase ‘four cups’ to any observant Jew around this time of year and they will automatically think of the Seder Passover meal. During this sacred meal, four cups of wine are drunk to honour and remember four great deliverances of the Jewish people as promised in Exodus. These are often summarised as God saying ‘I bring you out’ of captivity in Egypt, “I will deliver you from slavery’, ‘I will redeem you’ and ‘I will take you to be my people’. Again, like the final Heh, the final cup is the culmination of the other three, the creation of the People of God.

The meaning of the four cups can also be added to by exegesis and commentary. They can refer to the four Matriarchs, Sarah, Rebeccah, Rachel, and Leah or the four ages, the final one being the World to Come, and also to the four letters of the Holy Name of God, the most honoured guest at the Seder. (

It all coheres wonderfully 🙂

Pixie would have known about these Seder customs. Not only would she have studied these matters but she had several Jewish friends, including her exhibitor Alfred Stieglitz. She began work on the Smith Tarot around Passover 1909.

But wait, there’s more!

There is not a complete consensus that the Last Supper as described in the Gospels was in fact a Seder Passover meal. It may have been a supper on a day in the week of Passover. But viewing it as a Seder is hardly heterodox. Now, as a Seder meal there should have been four offerings of the cup during the meal. We know of two definitely only from the Canonical Gospels. But the most significant point is Matthew 26:29. Here Christ interrupts the Seder, the sacred narrative and says:

But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

And does not drink.

In the Tarot the cup remains in the hands of the one from the cloud. The Tetragrammton is not established on the earth. The Kingdom is not established. It will not, and cannot be established until we are all, in corporate action, established within the Kingdom of the One. The figure in the card is ourselves, humanity, waiting to drink finally from the cup of remembrance, to grasp the final (and feminine) Heh and so to speak the word of Mystery upon the earth.

So much in such a simple card! Pixie is so clever 🙂


How Rosicrucian is the Golden Dawn? A review of a review


I have to confess I get nervous, a kind of ‘contact embarrassment’ whenever someone says they are a Rosicrucian. I was brought up by kind and decent folk, unassuming and unpretentious and this seems to have influenced by spiritual life somewhat: when the Fama says to ‘profess nothing’ save to heal the sick gratis, I think it means just that. Tradition tells us one simply does not declare oneself a Rosicrucian. It’s like Maggie Thatcher’s wisdom: ‘if you have to tell someone you’re a lady, you’re not’.

I guess a good response for those who wander up to us at parties declaring they are ‘a Rosicrucian’ would be to imitate novelist Maya Angelou’s retort when confronted with folk who proudly declared they were Christians: ‘what, already?’ 🙂

So when a blog, for all the right reasons I am sure, seeks to review modern Rosicrucian Orders and give them a score for various ‘Rosicrucian’ qualities, it does make me wonder a little. However, Sam Robinson has done just this and today produced his latest review, this time on ‘the Golden Dawn’. Knowing a bit about this myself, I thought I’d give the review its own little review 🙂

Firstly, Sam needs congratulations – or perhaps pity – for attempting this task at all. The modern set of groups, practices, communities, websites and ideas that are ‘the Golden Dawn’ in 2016 is extremely diverse. I wouldn’t touch a review of ANY aspect of the GD across such an assorted (and often at odds) set of misfits with a barge pole. So here’s to Sam! And to his many caveats he requires to discuss such a diverse cluster of spiritual odds and sods.

Sam, after much placating of expected dummy spitting by some people, starts by an assertion that the GD is Rosicrucian, despite what other Rosicrucians may say. By this he means the inner order of the GD, the Rosae Rubeae et Aurae Crucis, (RR et AC). So far so good, though of course the published text of one redaction of the initiation into this inner order specifically forbids initiates from telling folk they are in fact, Rosicrucians. Hmmm.

Of this Sam writes: “The RR et AC does not belong to the Golden Dawn. It belongs to the greater Rosicrucian current.” It is hard to argue with that, since the GD was specifically created to be the Outer Order of the Inner and is dependent upon the Inner for its existence. Nothing can, by definition ‘belong’ to the GD at all, at all 🙂

I assume what Sam is getting at here is that the RR et AC is a manifestation of the Rosicrucian tradition(s). This may not be obvious now with all sorts of modern GD (outer) manifestations, but the inner retains links to that tradition that cannot be discarded (and still practice the GD effectively in the Outer). No matter how Thelemic one is or how problematic one many find exoteric Christianity.

Sam’s review succeeds or fails on his separation of the GD into the “… ‘public Golden Dawn’ vs. the esoteric and still hidden Golden Dawn Orders.” This will piss many folk off, but I think is one of the greatest aspects of his review and something I respect. Why will it annoy some folk? Sam answers beautifully:

The very idea of still hidden Golden Dawn Orders is considered blaspheme [sic] in some Public G.D circles, so certain as they are that their branches are the only ones with any lineage to claim. So much so that now a militant behavior towards other lineages has become a norm, as is shooting down any ‘challengers’ to a monopoly they imagine they have.

copy-of-pastoslid1Naturally of course, since these ‘still hidden’ GD Orders cannot be scrutinized no verifiable evidence can be forthcoming. The quotations and ideas attributed to these esoteric GD groups could have been written by Sam himself over his morning waffles. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

However, a keen observer and practitioner of the GD/RR et AC will have noticed certain themes and ideas present in the original manifestations (via documented evidence) that are now missing or downplayed in many modern Orders. Extrapolating from these facts can give us an understanding of what a more traditional ‘hidden’ Order’s views may be. That these fit perfectly with the ideas Sam presents as being from two traditional Rosicrucian GD folk is interesting to say the least.

Sam summarizes the themes often missing in the modern GD nicely: “They [the modern Orders] tend to down-play the original Rosicrucian-Christian elements.”  And “At times they offer an approach which is often at odds with the actual G.D documents.” Ouch.

He continues: “The Esoteric G.D as a hidden stream remains more active in its Rosicrucian approaches”. Something I have found also. He explores this Rosicrucian approach as one of the distinguishing factors that separate the public GD and the esoteric, with the public being more focused on the magical and the esoteric on the Rosicrucian.


Sam does a quick review of the historical origins of the GD: “The story of the ‘discovery of the [Cipher] manuscripts’ led to their alleged contact with Anna Sprengel”. Me rusty brain tells me it was only later when Dr Felkin started his own search that the mythic Fraulein Sprengel acquired the first name ‘Anna’.

Sam now gives us a juicy carrot:

Recent information has surfaced detailing events leading up to the founding of the SRIA. Essentially English masons did a tour of German and Belgian lodges and encountered spectacular rites (amongst the rites drawn from, shock horror to English masons, was the Egyptian Rite of Misraim). The excursion left them with a sense of purpose; that the English should also have such a Rosicrucian branch.

Well, roger me rigid and call me Toby! Obviously we have to ask WHAT ‘Recent information’ and surfacing from WHERE via WHO? This is all rather occult Boys Own Adventure stuff, but I for one would like some proper sources here 🙂

The lack of understanding of, or willingness to accept, the Christocentric aspects of the inner order of the modern GD manifestations is mentioned by Sam. He says it ‘does influence their Christosophia score’. This lack is something that we have long argued here on MOTO. Such an approach does not require an Inner Order GD member to become a confessional Christian, but they do need a rich and deep engagement with the Christian method of the Rosicrucian tradition. Authorities like R.A. Gilbert maintain Rosicrucianism needs to be approached from a Christian Trinitarian framework else it ceases to be Rosicrucianism.

In this regard Sam briefly mentions the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, but while initially describing it as a ‘Christian branch’ of the GD, he quickly makes an important distinction: the FRC searches for Grace not magical power which kinda puts it outside the orbit of the GD, at least the modern GD. He also talks about the order and movement often known as Whare Ra in New Zealand:

Whare Ra in New Zealand was one of the longest going G.D currents and certainly it was Christian and had a more faith based approach. In fact most of its members saw attending the G.D as a way to enhance their Catholic beliefs. Still it was not the Christianity of the manifestos.

whareravault100001I think is pretty much on the ball, though from memory the members were largely Anglican not Catholic. Tony Fuller in his excellent doctoral thesis refers to Stella Matutina documents that clearly position the Order as a manifestation and continuation of the Christian revelation through the historical Incarnation. There is no equivocation there.

Christian or wot?

Sam refers to the function and power of Christian symbols within the Inner Order initiation ceremonies and papers. These certainly are clearly drawn from the Christian myths and texts. However, he says that “after initiation into the RR et AC all the Christ symbolism stops dead in its tracks.”

I am really not clear if this is the case at all. Certainly it is in many, if not most modern (public) GD Orders, but not within the Rosicrucianism based Orders he describes as esoteric. The difference is quite stark: I have corresponded with modern adepts who cheerfully confess they have NEVER read the Manifestos and with adepts who know the Manifestos intimately and in parts verbatim. It is the same with the supporting scripture and Christian traditions that underpin the Manifestos.

I agree fully with Sam when he writes of the modern/public GD: “… most G.D leaders mention the [Rosicrucian] current as being ‘just a layer of symbolism to the ritual’ and worse I’ve heard a major G.D authority say ‘there is nothing to the Rosicrucian symbolism.’ Instead the focus is on the magical approach rather than the Rosicrucian one … This is one of the examples of the public G.D being guilty of ignoring its own teachings and papers.”

The same applies to the modern interpretation of the Christian emphasis within the Manifestos and the Inner Order. For example, Pat Zalewski gives a good example of the modern utilitarian approach to the mystical Christianity within the Inner Order when he writes:  “[Christ’s] Name evokes a powerful current or force that fills us with the receptive principle, something akin to the Yin of Chinese metaphysics.” This is a very different approach to his antecedents in Whare Ra.

Sam proceeds to speculate that the ‘Christosophic’ score of the GD would be increased by changing the ritual (presumably the published Adeptus Minor ceremony) by including “… the 11 Apostles, a spear and crown of thorns could be added to the ritual, and the candidate would circulate the temple one time carrying a cross over their shoulders. Furthermore the forty days of the desert of Christ should actually be something the candidate has to undergo, following a period of mystical work before the Rosicrucian degree.”

Personally, I am unsure on all this, as the inner symbolism and mystery of all these elements, apart from the 11 not 12 Apostles, is already within parts of the ceremony or lead-up to the ceremony. At least they are in those Orders that work the inner workings fully within a Christocentric approach. Likewise I personally have a very different appreciation of a section of the Third Point in the Adeptus Minor ceremony quoted by Sam, where the Chief Adept speaks from inside the Pastos:

For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.  I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.  I am the purified.  I have passed through the Gates of Darkness into Light.  I have fought upon earth for Good.  I have finished my Work.  I have entered into the Invisible.  I am the Sun in his rising.  I have passed through the hour of cloud and of night.  I am Amoun, the Concealed One, the Opener of the Day.  I am Osiris Onophris, the Justified One.  I am the Lord of Life triumphant over Death.  There is no part of me which is not of the Gods.  I am the Preparer of the Pathway, the Rescuer unto the Light; Out of the Darkness, let that Light arise.

Sam describes this as “Hermetic Christianity, but it is also quite dry and distances the initiate from Christ.” I am not sure I know anyone personally who experienced this as ‘dry’. Certainly it could be said to be ‘distant’ from a mystical appreciation of Christ as a sole deity, but this is not the point of this part of the ceremony. The Chief Adept speaks as our father in Christ, AND as Amoun AND as the Justified Osiris, producing a fusion which allows connection to the Mystery behind all forms and thence a gateway to the eternal verities. He correctly explores these different approaches by writing:

A contrast arises here, in that one objectifies Christ as an ideal we may become, while the other does the same, but also worships Christ adoringly through the same process.

I am sure that Sam would agree though that more than a few historical and contemporary GD folk do worship and adore Christ, even if this is not the case for those most visible in the public square. However Sam is correct in his critique of the GD/RR et AC’s approach to both Christian theology and scripture as functional and subservient to technical processes of adept manipulation of the various aspects of the self to produce transformation. This is opposed to the traditional Christian understanding of Redemption through the action of Christ not by our own effort. This dual aspect, using traditional Christian-Rosicrucian imagery within a magical context that is counter to traditional Christian theology is the nub of the problem the GD faced and still faces. It is succinctly put by Professor Ronald Hutton:

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.

As Hutton goes on to say, the ambiguity made the GD attractive to people with a range of beliefs and approaches. However, it has also produced the state of play, ably noted by Sam, where the GD can become a tabula rasa for any modern magician to foist their own spiritual views upon.

Sam’s review of the GD approach to traditional ‘Gnosticism’ seems pretty spot on, as far as I can tell, so I won’t comment on that. Instead I will finish with a quote from the review that makes total sense to me. Thank you Sam for this review and your comments, it was informative and delightful.

I would have to say the majority of ‘traditional’ Public G.D Orders are not very Christian. They too tend to play down the role Christ has within their R.C Inner Order.

In many ways Public Golden Dawn has taken a step downhill in this regard. Not only do they ignore the Christ mysticism already outlined in the documents but Christ has become a total stranger. It is almost as if modern Golden Dawn has attracted a bunch of youths who grew up hating their parent’s religion.

Had Golden Dawn remained secret I imagine things would be very different today.

Amen to that. 🙂


Book Review – Christ & Qabalah by Gareth Knight with Anthony Duncan

I was lucky enough to read the main subject of this book, the late Rev. Anthony Duncan, way back in the day, when I first started out on this esoteric caper – in fact before I read any Gareth Knight. This was due to the local Theosophical Society Library holding a copy of his The Christ, Psychotherapy and Magic. Even though I was immersed in and espousing my newly adopted Pagan ‘faith’, the book touched me deeply and I daresay held me fast during many years of theological speculation and confusion.

Far from being an ordinary village or city Anglican vicar, the Rev. Duncan was also a mystic of great depth, a lover of faeries, a part-time ghost-buster, a natural psychic and a wonderful exponent of the esoteric truths behind Christianity. The Church of England occasionally throws up such a soul, but rarely do they flourish within and outside the bounds of the Church as Rev. Duncan did.

On the outer reaches of the Church one only has to look at his classic The Elements of Celtic Christianity which had wide appeal back in the 90s, even to a Perth Pagan audience 🙂 Within the church one can look at his long career as a parish priest, the respect he garnered and one or two more ‘out there’ moments. Take for example, his authorship of the clergy-only document The Psychic Disturbance of Places describing a rationale for psychic disruptions of places, ghosts and place memories and how a priest may assist in their resolution (which somehow made it past the church’s Doctrine Commission).

Christ & Qabalah, by the respected elder of English Magic, Gareth Knight, traces the meeting and esoteric interaction of ideas and works between himself and Rev Duncan. One can imagine that two innovators within their respective spiritual fields would have much to say to one another, much to spark off each other and much to gain from each other’s depth. Without being unduly intimate, Gareth Knight’s sharing of correspondence, diary entries and poems allows the reader to enter a wonderful and intensely personal relationship. As he describes, even though the two lived in the same town for only a short time as young men, afterwards they were ‘seldom out of each other’s heads’.

Knight recounts their relationship in a largely chronological manner, allowing the development of ideas and works, the refinement of beliefs and practices of each other to be clearly shown. This book is far more than a simple sketch of the life of Rev. Duncan; Knight draws out, places in context and shows how each influenced the other and the ramifications of their work for the greater esoteric and ‘post-Church’ worlds. His writing, as always, is clear, engaging and attractive, here with the addition of personal elements and anecdotes, as the author is quite happy to present the differences between himself and Rev. Duncan when they arose.

The great strength of the book is the snapshot into the diversity and depth of the work of Rev. Duncan, and also (when he elaborates on it) the work of Gareth Knight. Duncan is revealed as a man of great depth and mystic awareness, a (literally) inspired writer and proficient poet.

Myself (of which I make so great

a fuss) is a mere, brittle spike

of consciousness on the circumference of being;

a tiny terminal of unplumbed depth. (‘ME’, p.7)


Our being falls towards this point

Where all the lines converge” (‘NIRVANA POINT’, p.35)

Or in a more elemental mood:

Sprits of wood and water, stone and field,

whom my sophistication disallows, yet abide

and creep beneath my carapace. I know you well; (‘DEVELOPMENT’, p152)

There are many aspects to Duncan’s work and ideas that could easily be labelled ‘Pagan’, his deep faerie and land connection for instance. And the influence of Gareth Knight, steering him towards the Qabalah, produced material which may easily be called ‘magical’ by some people. However, the book shows that throughout it all Duncan was clear and insistent on the need for a Christocentric view of the occult and the hidden dimensions. He was devout in only the way those who have gone to the very depth of their traditions, seeing the Mystery clearly, eye to eye, can be. For Duncan, nature revealed the ‘grandeur of God’ (as Knight aptly summed it up in the words of the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins) but was not God in toto. And as for magic and esoteric theories:

…magic, the art of making consciousness in accordance with the will, is a ‘lower pyramid’ exercise only. Its fulfilment is in Christ – but then it is no longer magic! (p.93)


Christians believe, not in avatars or incarnations, but in The Incarnation. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” as a Person of that One Creature, Mankind. The integrity of the one and the many – and the One – are all bound up inextricably. Mankind is a Love Affair…We have hardly begun to think about the implications of The Incarnation for Mankind. It is easier to waffle on about theology, or “incarnations” or vague “cosmics” of one sort or another, while Godhead lies, like a time-bomb in our midst. (p.139)

Gareth Knight, still going strong

The book reveals however that Rev Duncan fully and firmly accepted the reality of the inner worlds, the faeries, reincarnation, psychic power and other mainstays of the occult. He also simply accepted the core Christian doctrine that despite our best efforts we sin (move away from the One) and only with the grace of the One (through Christ) can we hope to begin to ‘want to want God’. Our own efforts, such as his definition of magic, described in quotation above, are bound to fail. These and other aspects of the Christian tradition, which remained core to his understanding of the world, are described and explored well in the book (and in some of Gareth Knight’s other works). They remain both a challenge and an opportunity for all modern students of western magic, and as such this book is ideally suited for anyone interested in magic, the occult or the deeper sides of Christianity. It is as unique as the two men, the two soul friends, who produced it. Highly recommended.

Christ & Qabalah: Or, the Mind in the Heart. Gareth Knight with Anthony Duncan. Skylight Press, 2013.

Amazon | Amazon UK | Book Depository | Skylight Press

Why Christians Make Better Magicians

Now, this is an obviously… sensitive title. But hey, if it gets folk thinking and talking about these things, then woot woot! The post reflects a few things I have been pondering for quite some time – as you would know if you have read my other posts on magic and Christian traditions. Here I am just being a bit blatant about it all 🙂

Of course, given the right motivation, I imagine I could easily pen another post, “Why Pagans Make Better Magicians”. So let me be clear on a few points before we start:

  • I am talking about the Christian traditions here, not defending or ignoring the actions of any churches or individuals.
  • I am not saying ANY Christian makes a better magician than ANY non-Christian.
  • I am saying that certain elements of the Christian traditions, when worked esoterically, can help a magician in her practice of magic. A lot.
  • These elements are generally those hidden from view and rarely understood, even by most Christians themselves.
  • I do not mean Christians make better magicians in all traditions – obviously Christians would make lousy Muslim magicians, Buddhist Magicians and even Thelemic magicians. (Though apparently there ARE some Christian Thelemites around – talk about collapsing the binary!)
  • I am saying that for the rest of the bunch – you know generic, western magical folk… well… here’s a light-hearted look at why Christians MAY do it better 🙂
  • Please feel free to respond but without too much rancour. And I may or may not reply, depending on time and tone of the response. Ta 🙂


jesus-smallWhen you’re a Christian and a magician you really need to think. Well, actually think, feel, know and realise a lot about where you stand on things. The general exoteric Christian doctrines are so limiting and many of its spokespersons so stupid, to be able to accept Christianity AND be a magician is no small feat. You are flying against the wind in both contemporary egregores and you have to be pretty clear and be able to examine, refine and explain your point of view, beliefs and practices really, really well (A humble example of this is my post on the Nicene Creed). This means the magician develops a great skill in and a conscious awareness compared to a universalist tradition where ‘all is divine’ without much thought or theology.

There can be no simple acceptance of Church doctrine as a Christian magician. You have to be conscious about where you place your will, and why. At the same time, as a Christian you have to be pretty clear about why you are doing all this magic stuff in the first place. What’s the point? There’s no easy way out and you can’t just go with the flow and feel all the nice astral energy and stuff.


Christian magicians work with the BIG THREE. Now, of course it is only in the Christian world view that these three are supposed to be worth anything at all. However, consider a couple of examples. Firstly, the number of people I (and many others) have helped with ‘psychic’ disturbances who ‘got through’ by praying to Christ, or simply calling His name – even though they had no faith at all! This is very common. Secondly, the number of Wiccans and others who successfully use the Rose Cross ritual, a ritual which is empowered by Christ’s name.

Now Christ’s name is the name before all other names. It is supposed to make gremlins and gribblies sit up, pack up and shove off – and to consecrate ‘space’. And it does exactly that – even for folk who actively despise the outer Christian religions. I’ve seen it dozens of times. I am not saying here that Christianity is BETTER than other religions – that would be silly. But I am saying that in the West, when the chips are down, the Big Three are a cool crew to have in town 🙂

This may of course be solely because of the cultural egregore most of us grew up in – a Christian (based) one. This means we can all access the Christian based concepts of spiritual love, power and wisdom more easily than, say that of the ancient Norse cultures. For the general person, there is more ‘out there’ connected to Christ than Odin. It takes years of dedicated Odinist work to change this at the deepest level of our psyche – and even then I’d wager telling the average Jo to pray to Odin (who probably just knows him from the ‘Thor’ movies) when she’s in trouble will not help much. Sad, but true.


Now activist, Reclaiming, feminist witchy-poos and Pagans just love this quote from I Samuel. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. However, even Thomas Jefferson knew that only a LITTLE rebellion is needed now and then. Not a lot. And sometimes modern Paganism, and modern esoteric universalism gets all caught up in the personal need to be contra something. I explore this in my essay on Crowley, here.

This point is well summed up by Lama Ngakpa Chogyam in ‘Psychology and the Spiritual Traditions’ (p.33) where he describes the fact that in Tibet being a lama is held in deep respect, like a doctor. It is one of the most respected and revered positions in society. There is nothing rebellious or anti-society or anti-establishment about the choice to be a lama or a monk or a nun. Compare this to the motivation of many modern magicians, a fair few of who quickly reveal ‘contra’ tendencies or conspiracy-theory minds fairly easily at the end of the lodge night. And of course, there are always those witch and Pagan magicians who are really all about shocking mummy.

As a Christian there is less of that, as Christianity is the established religion and spiritual path in the west. Announcing my adult Confirmation in the Anglican church produced more boredom than shock. And from certain esoteric points of view if one is born within a Christian country one should be practicing that spiritual path – as all exoteric forms are simply paths to the same inner esoteric truth. It does not matter if we are Christian or Pagan – as really, THERE IS NONE BUT THE ONE.

Every time I attend a teaching with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he essentially says the same thing. In fact he LAUGHS that there are people in the west who want to practice Buddhism. His first advice is to be a Christian, as being raised in a Christian (based) culture means one is more suited to Christian traditions than Buddhist. He only teaches westerners out of compassion, hoping to make some difference to people who want to learn from him.


A major thing about Christianity that some non-Christian magicians and esoteric folk don’t get is this: Christians in relationship with Christ have in some ways completed their spiritual journey. In Christian terms, we are already saved. The One, through Christ (who was fully human like us) is CONSTANTLY, no matter what we do, drawing us, wooing us, calling us into relationship and communion. Once we have opened ourselves to this truth, this awesome, powerful realization of the nature of the universe, we do not have to DO anything anymore. This is what Christians mean by the term sola fide – by faith alone.

Of course, the opening to Christ is like peeling back layers of onion – we are constantly needing, wanting, yearning to open more of ourselves. And this is not always easy, as we are born with both Original Blessing (as imago dei, an image of God) and with Original Sin (our human tendency to enthrone the personal ego). But once we have opened at all and realised that we (like everyone) are at the very centre of the infinite circle of God’s attention and love, things are forever different.

So Christian magicians are not practicing magic due to ANY sense of incompleteness, or from a need to heal, or any need to transform, to become God, to get the next grade – or whatever. We practice magic to be closer to the One, to imitate Christ, to become a more effective servant and healing agent in the worlds (inner and outer). To do the will of the One, not our own.

Now this – just look around you – is often in stark contrast to the NEEDS, so often dog-balls obvious, in the practice of non-Christian magicians. Some of these needs are healthy, many not so much. And this can become quite a problem 🙂


Christians are taught to be compassionate. Now, I know many are not. And I’ve read the various surveys with hidden cameras that show the hypocrisy of some – perhaps most – Christians. But I am interested here only in how by placing compassion and love at the core of the tradition, Christian traditions can help magicians unfold and serve the worlds easier.

The centrality of love within the Christian esoteric tradition is staggering. And as a Christian magician moves through her tradition she hopefully embodies this more and more. The central core motif of non-Christian magical traditions may be anything, sometimes compassion, sometimes not. The magician in these circumstances is not re-made as the love which turns the stars, which is the aim of the Christian magician. Obviously Christians do not have a monopoly on compassion – but having it stated out there as the aim from day one helps. That’s why many Buddhist traditions do the same thing 🙂


Christian magicians often, not always, attend church. Sometimes for their sins they may get quite involved, sitting on Parish Councils and wot not. Now in all of these situations they are likely to be mixing with a really heterogeneous bunch – people VERY different to themselves. A young socially liberal Christian magician can easily find themselves on a Sunday morning between a middle aged woman who was brought up to believe gay folk are diseased and an elderly veteran of wars he never questioned. Ouch!

This heterogeneity is one of the most wonderful gifts I gain from attending church. My coven and lodge folk were more similar to one another than the folk in the church. So Christian magicians can learn a lot from other people – in fact, since we are taught to see the One in all, we HAVE to learn a lot from these folk. It is a most broadening experience and really helps with the magic too 🙂


imageNot to put too fine a point on it, but Christianity has oodles and oodles of tradition and rituals and prayers and metaphysics. Enough to make your mind pop! Really. And its esoteric aspects are far older, far more extensive, far deeper than any other western magical tradition (bar authentic Kabbalah). There is SO MUCH in the broader esoteric Christian traditions it is impossible to start on it all. Other traditions are newcomers. What else can they be since Christianity, through various means, some fair and many foul, overcame and absorbed or wiped out all other religions along the way?

This of course meant, as I have said before, that by and large, the western esoteric traditions grew up within a Christian religious milieu and only make sense within one. Western magic, until the turn of the 20th century was largely created by Christians for Christians. So really – and no offence here – unless we delve into the Christian mindset and way of viewing the universe, we are very, very likely to miss out on the more subtle meaning, mysteries and blessings of the texts and practices of any western tradition before, well, Crowley.

This view is 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.

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. It’s the same with any tradition of the same vintage or earlier. And even many modern traditions, often implicitly anti-Christian, draw on texts created within a Christian esoteric milieu.


This is more a personal one – I have yet to come across any Pagan or magical tradition with a theology of the divinity of humanity that comes close to the Incarnation. Pagan and universalist theology is often very scant or cursory on this theme, whereas the mystery of the Incarnation is about as deep as you can get. Even approaching its import makes me tremble.

Here I’m simply going link to this post – which you should read to understand my point of view – and quote the poem at the end from the sainted Symeon the New Theologian.

Thanks a bunch 🙂


We awaken in Christ’s body

as Christ awakens our bodies,

and my poor hand is Christ, He enters

my foot, and is infinitely me.


I move my hand, and wonderfully

my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him

 (for God is indivisibly

whole, seamless in His Godhood).


I move my foot, and at once

He appears like a flash of lightning.

Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then

open your heart to Him


and let yourself receive the one

who is opening to you so deeply.

For if we genuinely love Him,

we wake up inside Christ’s body


where all our body, all over,

every most hidden part of it,

is realized in joy as Him,

and He makes us, utterly, real,


and everything that is hurt, everything

that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,

maimed, ugly, irreparably

damaged, is in Him transformed


and recognized as whole, as lovely,

and radiant in His light

he awakens as the Beloved

in every last part of our body.

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. (

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). (

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.

The Real Meaning of Christmas (there I done wrote it!)

Meister Eckhart – Seems a little glum for a mystic 🙂

Every year I wonder if some lazy Archbishop or church leader gave last year’s “Christmas Message” would anyone actually notice? They are all the same vague, inspirational notes cautioning against materialism and calling for the real ‘meaning’ of Christmas to be remembered. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that this ‘real meaning’ is only ever described in milk-water platitudes or by reference to a composite ‘Christmas story’ that actually means nothing to most people today.

So what if Christmas is ‘actually about the birth of Christ’? What does this mean? And, how, if it has meaning, can it be personally and mystically experienced? These questions are never even asked, let alone answered, in the bland Christmas chattering delivered by the Right Reverends each year. Now, I think I have experienced a little of the answers to these questions, which I will share in a bit. It’s pretty short, so stay with me 🙂

At this point of course, we just have to digress and quote the incredibly apposite Meister Eckhart, a German heretic theologian most Bishops know not of, but whose presence remains strong within certain heterodox and esoteric Christian movements:

We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: when the Son of God is begotten in us.

Even those cool ‘progressive’ Christians who love this sort of stuff seldom follow these questions to their ultimate end: meaning is found if we personally birth the ‘son’, the incarnation of God, of the One, within our own time and culture. This of course has nothing do to with Churchianity, or even Christianity. The majority of times, the majority of cultures have never known the Incarnation of the One as part of the Christian religions. And today, in a distinctly post-Christian culture, we are still called to be the Mother of the One, to incarnate and birth the One within us. Whether we are Christian, Pagan, magician or wot-not.

Personally, I think the Christian mysteries, even as expressed outwardly in exoteric liturgy, express this meaning, this inward call to birth the One, much better than the Pagan solstice circles, or even most magical circles. It’s just that most people, especially the gold-robed Bishops, just don’t get what’s right before their eyes. Still, I suppose their business is religion – which people just kinda do, to get through the day – rather than the Mysteries upon which their religion is based. I find the whole thing as sad as I am uplifted and transformed by working the services and liturgies they offer. The operative word here is working, co-creating on the inner levels as the outer church performance goes on.

Leonard…glum or not?

On Christmas Eve I started the inner work as we drove through the country dark to Midnight Mass. As we drove we were accompanied by the gorgeous voice of my beloved’s 11 year old daughter in the back, singing the Leonard Cohen song ‘Hallelujah’. She was imitating the Jeff Buckley version. I much prefer the original. Connecting deeply through previously constructed inner temples, and moved by the emotion of the lines “And remember when I moved in you / The holy dove was moving too / And every breath we drew was Hallelujah”, I was in a deep and primed state before entering church.

And so, to the Meaning…

Midnight Mass proper begins with the procession of the infant Jesus up through the congregation by the head Priest before being placed in the nativity scene. And really, this simple action carries the entirety of mystical import of the night – the rest of the service being elaboration and analysis (in the magical sense) of the mystery through our lives, bodies, community and the world. Properly understood, we could all go home once this action had been performed.

The priest, as a representative of our own inner priesthood, our own dedicated vocation to serve and commune with the One Being, carries Christ. This means we, ourselves, our lives, are being called to carry the One, to be the vehicle for the Incarnation of the One, just as Meister Eckhart described above. Just as the Golden Dawn teaches that our ‘lower’ personality self must become the lens, the vehicle for the deeper, authentic self, to allow the One Thing to experience itself through creation.

As this procession took place, we in our little church sang the classic ‘O Come All ye Faithful’. The ‘Bethlehem’ in the carol is not a literal, geographical location on earth. It is literally, “the House of Meat” or “the House of Bread” – our physical, earthy lives, our Guph, our bodies able to incarnate the One. We, our lower consciousness, our ‘lower’ spheres of activity are moved by the song and we are called to fully appreciate and know the divinity of the body, of our own selves as a vehicle for the One. And we adore, worship, recognise the worth (the meaning of worship) of the One within flesh, the possibility of our own and others’ conscious co-participation with the One.

Christ, as a child is at once perfect and imperfect, human and divine – Malkuth and Kether, manifest yet drawing on the unmanifest, one of the Many, yet completely the One. This is us, in our full and wonderful potential, as we are meant to be, to fulfil the purpose of the One Being. And this potential, this incredible gift, drawn aloft by arms representing our own dedication is paraded straight through the middle of the congregation. The congregation represents and is the world which is now blessed by the introduction of Christ into its midst, the seed to awaken the potential birth of the One within all of us. This is why it is important to have ‘special occasion’ attendees on these Holy Days – they represent the non-Church goers, the rest of the world and their presence both serves to share the blessings into the community and as reminder that all are interiorly divine.

This procession, the movement of Christ to the altar is the reverse of the normal state of affairs, where Christ comes into the host via the Priest standing in persona Christi at the altar. Here the Christ comes to the congregation via the Host at the front of the Church, where the altar is – the congregation coming to the altar. At Christmas, Christ explicitly comes through the community from the back of the Church. This action, at the moment of Incarnation within the liturgical year, sets the template and base mystery point for the whole Church – Christ within and through the people. The procession is of course retraced every Sunday with the Priests coming up through the congregation, but in most churches, I doubt there is much remembrance of the Incarnation as and through the people being conducted on the inner levels by the Priests. At Christmas though it is explicit and it is wonderful.

Later, when the congregation moves to the altar they trace the journey of their priest, representing their interior vocation, carrying Christ. As we walk we take on this journey, affirm and realise within our bodies the mystery of dedication to the Incarnation of the One within us. We then are met by the Incarnated One in the form of the transubstantiated host, which we consume, sealing the aspiration to Incarnation (via the Christmas walk), with the realised Incarnation in the Host. Qabalistcially we are of course in Tiphareth, where the movement towards the One is met with the One’s movement towards and through us. We are at once fully and beyond body, reaction, thought and emotion – beyond even our self – we simply are and the One is.

And this is the meaning of Christmas. 🙂

The Nicene Creed and I

This is a personal exploration post on Christianity and may not interest some folk. Thanks for your patience until next post. Oh, by the way – if you read just a little and think you have me pegged as ‘converting to Christianity’, you’re wrong. Read on. 🙂 

I have never particularly settled into any single religious or spiritual designation. There might be a Golden Dawn ritual on Friday, Tibetan Buddhist teaching on Saturday and Anglican Mass on Sunday.  Really, my practice is either very catholic or very promiscuous – depending on your point of view 🙂

However, I maintain that I am not partaking of some new age homogenization of traditions into a bland milk-water me focused ‘spirituality’. Rather, I am practically applying the verity taught in the esoteric traditions that at root there is only truth, though applied many ways. Some folk have found my esoteric approach too slippery by far and think I am up to no good practicing all these things at once. I have been called ‘Christian’ by Pagans and ‘pagan’ by Christians. Ho hum.

This does not of course mean ‘all religions are one’, which they patently are not, but it does mean we share a common origin, internal makeup and are motivated by the same deeper forces, both temporal and spiritual. I think taken as a whole MOTO describes my esoteric approach well. Specifically of course, I practice the Three Fold Way of the west (described in this post) which gives me ample room for esoteric practice of many sorts.

Soon I will be undertaking Confirmation in the Anglican Church. Now, from my esoteric perspective – which over the last 25+ years has been planted very deep – this should cause no more emotional distress than my taking Refuge with Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Membership of the Church will allow me to unfold and serve the One with more truth, harmony and beauty. I know that, which is why I am being confirmed. However, I cannot deny that there are Christian voices that assert Christianity is not as other religions and which reject the view that all authentic traditions stem from and lead to the same eternal truth. In the words of Fr Gregory Tillett:

Christianity makes a number of exclusive claims: it does not represent itself as one religion among many, as simply a better alternative, let alone an equal option. Jesus declared: No man comes to the Father except by me. One can accept or reject that claim, but the claim is clear and unambiguous.

Prior to the late 1800s virtually all western esoteric and occult groups were created by and for Christians who accepted orthodox theology where Christ and the Incarnation are seen as something different than myths of other deities. Since the spread of Theosophical monism from 1875 onwards most occultists now use and embrace Christian symbolism but not the Christian religion. There is a big difference.

It would be easy for me to do the same, simply say ‘all is One’ and utilize the wonderful and compassionate strength of the Christian tradition. But I simply cannot do this. The core Christian message is not one of utility but one of love and obedience. I need to approach my esoteric Christian unfolding from a traditional perspective, not a mish-mashed modernized monist slop with a dash of Leadbeater on the side. I know internally at the deepest level all is reconciled, but I need to hold that knowledge within my mind and emotions too.

Mercifully, the Anglican Church has few doctrinal accretions to ‘believe’ – it would be far harder being a Catholic magician. But as part of my upcoming Confirmation I will be affirming the Nicene Creed, something I do each Sunday already (when not engaged in pagan sex magic :)). The creed of course provides the essential elements of orthodox Christian belief and is therefore a great yardstick for me to ensure I am not wandering off on my own esoteric Christian trip.

When I affirm the creed on Sundays I am already in an altered state and engage at a several deeper levels. It then becomes a spiritual vehicle by which I touch upon the eternal verities the words refer to, hopefully aligning me to that sacred truth and beauty. However, as preparation for my Confirmation I feel the need not only to engage with the Creed inwardly but to explain outwardly how I reconcile its tenants with esoteric understanding and practice.

I am hoping what follows will not be a typical modern ‘esoteric Christian’ interpretation which is really a tabula rasa upon which to foist all sorts of unrelated theologies and speculations. Rather, I am honestly trying some form of literary reconciliation between the creed and esoteric thought (see this post), and I seek feedback on how I do. Thanks a bunch 🙂

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen

We believe …

As Karen Armstrong and many others have pointed out the modern understanding of belief has atrophied into a surface level intellectual assertion of doctrines or theological statements. However, the word ‘belief’, stemming from the Latin credo shows where we commit our heart, our beings, our energy, our selves. Our own personal credo and our engaged and deep assent to other creeds define us, inspire us and move us towards what we hold sacred. So when I say ‘We believe’ I am collecting myself and committing myself to the truths within the creed and how they can hold, change and bless me into service.

Of supreme importance here is the type of truth the creed holds. I do not believe it is plain simple, ‘literal truth’. We are not being asked to assert a series of postulations, which of course we cannot know, but must instead trust  imperfect and heavily redacted scripture open to many interpretations. What would be the point in that? Mature followers of any religion know better. Rather, I think the creed refers not to literal truth but mythic and religious truth. It invites us to give our hearts and souls to the mystic truths and relationships to which it points. So, I am not concerned with whether I ‘believe in’ what the creed says, but rather how the mysteries it points to cohere with esoteric thought, or not.

In one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

The unity expressed here inspires me deeply – ‘there is none but the One!’. There is no conflict with esoteric understanding at all. However, the rest of this line, the positioning of the One as Creator forming a Creation appears in direct contrast to much modern esoteric thought which is essentially monist and emanationist. This has problems, not the least of which is pointed out by Gareth Knight:

To believe that all things unfold of their own accord from nothing is to assume that man is capable of expanding his consciousness until he eventually becomes as God, comprehending all…  Experience of the Inner Worlds, p15.

We all now where such thoughts can lead…

However, one can reject monism and not be bound by the theistic-Creator paradigm the creed seems to imply to so many people. The wording here implies a theistic God to theistic minds but is not insistent upon it. Obviously words such as ‘father’, ‘almighty’ and ‘heaven’ are not denotative but rather connotative. God does not ‘father’ the universe like a man fathers a child. While the creed is clear that ‘God’ creates all, it does not reject the possibility that God could also be all. This is the difference between theism, pantheism (a form of monism) and panentheism. Whilst pantheism and a demiurge are specifically not included in the creed, panentheism is not excluded.

Panentheism means God is in all things, all creation, but is not identical to or exhausted by creation. ‘He’ remains transcendent to ‘his’ creation as well as immanent within it.  The ‘making’ the creed refers to is for me an emanation of the One into material form rather than the ex nihilo creation of the universe as separate to God (but overseen by His omniscience) as most people seem to take it to mean.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.

If any passage in the creed shows its struggle to express the inexpressible, this is the passage 🙂 Anyway… The crux here is Christ. My credo, my commitment of my heart, mind and soul to Him is of course an ongoing unfoldment. Without getting all exclusive and righteously Christian, I do accept something brilliant and unprecedented happened in the Incarnation. We can speculate and theologise about this but all our words, theories and theologies do really is to help us approach, not define, this mystery. The fact that the Christ event produced hundreds of different early Jesus Movements, all trying in different ways to make sense of what happened means something impossible to grasp did happen.

From an outside and exoteric perspective the creedal assertion of Christ as the only Son of God seems to be a theological straitjacket.  We either accept this claim or not. However, lifting from an earlier MOTO post:

My own way out of this impasse was found years back when reading about a guy visiting William Blake (don’t ask me for a reference, this was when I was 17 or so, and I remember only this). This guy, a committed Christian, tried to ‘trap’ William by asking straight out if he accepted Jesus Christ as the only Son of God. To which William replied, “Oh, definitely He is. But, then so are you, and so am I”.

This reality, this eternal truth, can only be experienced not discussed. The best and most direct way I know of is extensive meditation on this phrase from St Bonaventure, used in Christian based Golden Dawn Orders the world over:
“God is the circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere”.

This meditation also holds the key, along with the Holy Qabalah for the reconciliation of Theistic esotericism such as esoteric Christianity, monist esoteric schools and non-theistic esoteric Buddhism like the Vajrayana.

The phrase “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God” expresses the eternal mystery of the infinite One emanating infinity from itself and still remaining infinite. ‘Eternally’ in this phrase clearly means beyond the temporal reality we know, not simply “going on forever”. Beyond space-time, as it was, is and ever shall be, the Trinity existed; the relationship between God the Father and God the Son has ‘always’ been. There is no conflict here with any esoteric principle I work with 🙂

Begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. An essential understanding of that relationship is there is a single God with three persons (not modes), hence the assertion that Christ is the ‘true God’, that He is the same (one Being) as God the father. Christ, unlike us created or emanated beings is therefore begotten, having the full ‘characteristics’ of God the Father. The creation of the universe, seen and unseen, takes place through the agency of the second person of the Trinity, Christ as the Word of God. Again, there is no conflict here with esoteric principles and thought as I partake in them.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.

Here, if we view the creed as referring to literal space-time events we can come into problems. Really, I do not know if the mother of Jesus Christ was called ‘Mary’ or an Aramaic equivalent. I do not know if she was a physical virgin with hymen intact. However, the meaning behind this part of the story of the Incarnation is full and splendid, and it is that which I assent to, that to which I give my energy. Of course, there is always a danger we can as individuals impart whatever ‘meaning’ we want onto words and scripture and therefore create our own little hetereodox cult of one one that simply serves our illusions and ego. We therefore need guidance from tradition and common sense and honest companions on the way.

The point of course is that we always project our own meaning and interpretations onto all words, creed, newspapers and scripture alike. The phrase he came down from heaven is of course not literal; no one thinks Jesus was existing in space somewhere and then descended and somehow popped into Mary’s womb. We make sense of this phrase knowing heaven is not a physical place in the sky but some form of spiritual reality. Even the most literalistic of Christians would agree to this. Metaphor and meaning follow us wherever we go and it is with this awareness I approach the creed.

The Incarnation points to perfection (God) becoming truly human (imperfection) whilst still God (Christ) so that we can find a way (Salvation) to return to our origins in perfection (Heaven). As an esotericist I see this occurring through a life long process of theosis or divinization rather than repentance and personal acceptance of a relationship with Christ. I step outside the Canon a little;

“Those who say they will die first and then rise are in error. If they do not first receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing.” Gospel of Phillip.

Fnially, there are all sorts of esoteric interpretations of virginity, the Holy Spirit etc. For me though, none of these are necessary – I am happy to give my energy and faith to the mystery of perfection becoming human and imperfect via the presence of the One in action (Holy Spirit).

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.

Again, the literal time-space events referred to here, if they happened as described, are only useful with meaning. The meaning is Christ as perfection (God) and imperfection (human) being willingly tortured and suffering death to show a way of redemption and salvation through brokenness and suffering, which is the natural state of fallen (i.e not perfected) humanity. A universal Way is therefore shown and made available to all humanity. There is no conflict with my esoteric principles here also.

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Once more I am moved by the meaning here, not the possibility of someone ‘coming back to life’. The ‘defeat of death’ is really far, far more than Jesus popping back to physical life. The mystery that from death comes life and from brokenness comes wholeness is what moves me during this part of the creed. To be honest, I am not fussed if the Jewish scriptures align with this mystery or not. The ascension  to heaven and seating at the right hand is again full of meaning, being the return to unity/Oneness of the Word of God having fully Incarnated into perfection. The Ascension of Christ completes the Incarnation process and seals the Way, creating a spiritual cycle and template for us to emulate on a different arc.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

This phrase has always generated a bit of a confusion in me. Some Biblical scholars give plenty of evidence to suggest that the pre-Easter Jesus, the man (before the birth of the Jesus Movements and Churches) was more an apocalypticist than anything else. I am in no position to make a judgement call here, but I will admit I can find nothing directly relevant to my esoteric practice from an orthodox Christian understanding of this phrase. There are plenty of esoteric interpretations, but I really am only interested in reconciling broad esoteric principles with orthodox understanding of the creed. I therefore live with the question on this phrase, and will admit to mumbling it in church 🙂

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

Here we complete the Trinity by giving our hearts, energy and trust to the Holy Spirit. As will be obvious to anyone who has tried, understanding the Trinity conceptually is impossible. It is really a meditation, a way of approaching the eternal relatedness of the One. We cannot know a single person of the Trinity alone, and we cannot know the Trinity as a static event or phenomena since it is eternally relating and becoming. This of course ties in fully with esoteric principles, even with simplistic attributions of God the Father to Kether on the Tree of Life, God the Son Incarnated in Malkuth and God the Holy Spirit as that which moves between all spheres in action and inspiration. The noted esoteric historian R.A. Gilbert also affirms that Rosicrucianism is necessarily Trinitarian, which makes sense to me.

I am also happy to affirm that the Spirit moved and moved through the prophets. And no where does the creed state the Spirit cannot move and move through us.

…who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Here we enter the world of religious politics as this famous Filioque clause was an addition to the original creed by the (Roman) Catholic church and was a contributory factor to the great schism between eastern and western Christendom in 1054 ce.  There are lashings and lashings of pages written about it but essentially the addition of the words ‘and the Son’ seem to give a very different theological bent than saying the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. I do not have time to go into all this, but my own interaction with the Trinity concept suggests to me the addition of the clause jars with the overall mystery. I am therefore very happy that, in a spirit of ecumenicalism the Anglican Lambeth Conference and other big bodies want to remove the clause in subsequent revisions of liturgy. I simply drop it in my own practice.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

Here we enter the final section of the creed where various concepts are assented to. The one holy church here is more a concept than a temporal reality. The Jesus Movements were never unified and as soon as the church was born schism and multiplication began. Many of St Paul’s letters are concerned with correcting errant doctrine and practice in the early church. However, the conceptual idea of one church is in some ways similar to the true and invisible Rosicrucian brotherhood Paul Foster Case writes about. It is an ideal, an overarching archetype presenting the truth that behind temporal difference there is internal agreement as all churches are instituted by Christ through the Great Commission. Honouring and affirming this vision and ‘belief’ we are  moved to let go of theological and temporal difference and find deeper wells of unity. This is exactly what the esoteric traditions affirm also.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

‘Remission of sins’ is the more traditional and better English translation as forgiveness really can only be given by those offended, which often include a human party as well as God. However phrased, this line of the creed is a direct rebuttal to some early Christian practices of two or more baptisms. However, it also has a deeper meaning. When our sins are remitted we symbolically are the Body of Christ, each members of one another. Thus the practice of baptism, in its broadest context, as no directions or description is given, is affirmed as method of unifying Christians. It is for this reason the Anglican Church welcomes those baptised in other traditions to receive Communion, though the Catholic Church is yet to follow suit. I am happy to affirm and give my heart to such inward move to unity as really it is quite similar to esoteric principles in general. Of course we need to constantly through various religious means ‘renew’ our baptism and re-enter the remitted state, as it is part of our nature to separate ourselves from God.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Again, resurrection is not described or defined and different Christians (and Anglicans) take this phrase to mean quite different things.Since a primary esoteric principle is that of transformation, I do look for the resurrection of the dead in some form or other. At root we are unborn, undying and unchanging. At some point we will manifest again. Despite many direct experiences over the years of dying, death and apparent rebirth, I cannot know exactly what will occur when I die until I die. But I do know I will, in some form, continue in a ‘world to come’. Therefore this is very easy for me to affirm and connect with my underlying esoteric principles. To this clause, and the entire creed then, I affirm on the bones of my ancestors, gone to the land of the dead (Amenti) – Amen, Amen, Amen.