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. 🙂


Aten’t Dead: public occultism and wot not

Well, Nick Farrell has done it again: produced a blog that pissed several people off and started much discussion. Not that there is anything wrong with that 🙂

Nick’s topic this time is the failure of public occultism, and his thesis is nicely summed up in the title, ‘Ten Reasons Why Public Occultism Is Dying’. Technically this is a little bit of an oxymoron, but you know what he means, so best not to nit-pick, wot? Some of the responses to Nick’s blogs have been great, but a few have attacked him personally. Not so great. No soup for you! I had my own ideas when reading his blog and these are a few of my thoughts. I am going to start by quoting the sainted Dion:

The pseudo-occultism of the present day, with its dubious psychism, wild theorizing, and evidence that cannot stand up to the most cursory examination, is but the detritus which accumulates around the base of the Mount of Vision. All such worthless rubbish is not worth the power and shot of argument; in order to form a just estimate of the Sacred Science we must study originals, and try to penetrate the minds of the great mystics… whose works bear evidence of first-hand knowledge of the supersensible worlds.

This is from ‘Sane Occultism’, back in 1938 CE when, interestingly, Dion was about the same age as Nick and with about the same many decades of experience in these matters. In a Facebook post regarding a reply to Nick, a wise occult historian made notice of an important fact: the ‘golden age’ of public occultism was actually between about 1870 and 1930 CE. Dion was writing at the tail end of this era, a time when several occult schools were closing or getting ready to close. She had directly experienced both the stellar peaks of British occultism and the less salubrious forms – and by Jove there were plenty of them.

dfmmI imagine Nick has had similar experiences. His and Dion’s views are certainly similar in parts. Nick expects that in a short time ‘public information on real occultism will slowly disappear’ and ‘the whole thing will fade, with occultism being part of the shadows again’. He writes:

The idea that if we put information out there humanity will work at it and watch it develop is a fallacy. It turns out, that the magic which is so freely available, is not the real thing at all. All a book, or a webpage can present is a fact, or opinion – a shadow on the wall. It does not make us the singers of the woven words than owning a cookbook makes us a great chef.

Dion said the same thing repeatedly in many books and articles, as have many other folk. Because in actuality the mysteries behind occultism have always been ‘in the shadows’, have always been ‘underground’ and hidden. There could be a hundred Orders in small city but the actual heart of it all is always behind the veil, large scale public occultism or not. This is the ‘first-hand knowledge of the supersensible worlds’ Dion refers to. It is the ‘True and Invisible Rosicrucian Order’ referred to by Paul Foster Case. It has been said that the secrets of Masonry (and other systems) could be shouted from the rooftops, but they would not be known as such and seem meaningless to those unprepared to receive them. My own experience is that this is spot on.

With reference to any ‘fear’ that public occultism will die, that the mysteries may be lost and wot not, I am reminded a of a chat I had with a couple of aboriginal elders a number of years back. I asked about the changes, the decimation of their culture, the challenges they faced with addiction and ingrained prejudice. Did they worry about their traditions getting lost? They replied that what they and their people knew came from the Land, and even if they were all removed from the Land, or killed, it would still be within the Land. And could be taught again to any who lived with the Land.

So, I am not all worried about authentic western traditions surviving; where they came ‘from’ is beyond all stain, damage and division and this source will always be ‘there’. Individual schools and Orders, traditions of practice may, and will, come and go. The song will remain.

ctAnd it seems to be these individual orders and schools that Nick has concern for. Most of his post addresses problems of approach, either the schools approach to the occult systems he obviously has so much respect for, or modern students approach to the schools and systems which are not respectful at all, at all. One of these schools is, of course, my love, the Golden Dawn 🙂 Nick writes:

‘The “real stuff” might continue but it is going to be even more exclusive than it has been. The great experiment in semi-public occultism which the Order of the Golden Dawn started has been a failure.’

Certainly, this appears to be the view of the Secret Chiefs of the AO who instructed members of the Order to cease active work and let the temples close post WWII (as described in these posts). Of course, the ripples from the GD are still actually moving outward. Nick himself was trained through one of these, the Inner Light tradition. Each day new folk are reading the published material and though ‘the Golden Dawn’ itself may be dead, the spirit behind it may easily be moving and using new vessels that have sprung into existence based on the literary and mythic presence the order still has. It all depends what we see as the limits of the ‘experiment’.

Many of the other problems Nick describes are not confined solely to occultism but are a cultural phenomenon; the quick fix mentality, the impact of internet and social media in the devaluing of expertise, the conflation of systems, the creeping presence of pop-psychology, the lack of respect for elders, etc. As the sheriff in ‘No Country for Old Men’ laments, ‘It’s the tide. It’s the dismal tide. It’s not the one thing.’ How do we change the tide? That’s a whole cultural task, not possible for little MOTO to work through 🙂


The question for me is not so much about occultism having a public or hidden face, but how we help folk to move beyond the sensible, beyond the veil into the heart of it all. Nick suggests he knows how: “I have had a few breakthroughs that have provided me with all the answers I needed to make magic work and why it doesn’t.” Nice.

This is assuming he is here talking of spiritual, transformative magic, not operative magic that will win us the lottery. So, that’s great, then. Nick suggests he won’t be sharing this publicly, like he has generously shared much in the past: ‘unlike the other revelations which I have tended to share with the wider occult community, I don’t have much impulse to share any of this outside my own magical order.’

Without any disrespect for Nick, I can’t quite work out the point of sharing that you’re not gonna share something really important. From my perspective, and I would say from the traditional esoteric perspective, these ‘keys’, as mentioned before simply cannot be shared, they have to be experienced. Good teachers and schools can point the way to that experience, but that is all. I imagine this is what Nick is writing about here.

Moving folk towards this inner experience, which must be undertaken by themselves, is one of the holiest and sacred tasks anyone can have. It is an awesome task and an intense privilege. I rate it as only slightly less awesome as helping someone die well. Sadly, most of the western occult systems are, to quote the Rev Dr Cynthia Bourgeault ‘merely fine-tuning the ego’. For me, as always, a way forward is service. We remove ourselves from the equation as much as we can, and we become more who were really are. To quote meself:

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


Death of the Golden Dawn III – the final chapter :)

My friend and correspondent has sent me this as a final comment. After this post I think we will move onto something less contentious, like Roller Derby as a feminist-spiritual activity. 🙂 THANKS.

“This should be my final comment on this matter, since my earlier statements sought to report (not defend, argue for or even explain) what I had been told. I cannot now, all my informants being long departed from this life, seek to obtain any further information.

They believed that the GD had originally been established under “Higher Authority” (there were different views as to Who/What that was). That same “Higher Authority” (they said) subsequently withdrew its (Its?) power and authority. As an Anglican clergyman commented: “God giveth, and God taketh away.” [For those interested: Job 1:21, and part of the Anglican funeral service].

As to whether the Tradition would re-appear, or a new version of the Tradition would appear, they would not speculate. Had it been buried like a seed that seemed to be dead but which would grow again? One person, at least, believed that the “seed” had been safely passed on and might, when the time was appropriate, be “planted” and grow again.

Do any “genuine GD lineages from the original Order” remain? In the Masonic tradition in the context of which the GD emerged (as most contemporary claimants to GD status seem not to understand) there has always been a practice of “preserving the succession” of defunct or closed-down Rites, Orders and Degrees, even though these are not now “worked” (the Masonic term) and may not have been “worked” for a hundred years or more. The authority is held, nominally, by and within another Rite or Order. The most notable example is the (Masonic) College of Rites in the USA which holds not only the rituals of but the lineages of and charters to “work” dozens if not hundreds of now defunct Masonic bodies.

I am told that “genuine GD lineages from the original Order” were passed for “preservation” to several (non-Masonic) organizations equivalent to the College of Rites which do not currently work the GD system, and certainly do not make public their GD “holdings” (or even, generally, their own existence). I know of two such organizations – CSM and OSS – to which I was told “genuine GD lineages from the original Order” were passed.

This may be thought to be the equivalent of preserving specimens in a museum; perhaps a better analogy might be a gene bank (a biorepository which preserves genetic material).

The Roman Catholic-Protestant example is completely appropriate. The Masonic tradition might also have been used – again the failure of most modern would-be GD groups and individuals to understand the Masonic context allows them to maintain a fundamentally flawed understanding of the GD.

A group of people can purchase all the necessary Masonic rituals, regalia and equipment, set up a Lodge and “initiate” one another – into all 33 degrees of the Scottish Rite, all 90 degrees of the Rite of Misraim and all the degrees of the SRIA, if they so wish. They might be more knowledgeable and more sincere in their Masonic working than the members of the average Masonic Lodge (not difficult these days!), but no reputable Freemason and no Masonic authority would recognise them as holding a single Masonic degree.

The outer forms are necessary (to use an argument from logic) but not sufficient: inner authority is required.”

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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Dawn: first London, tomorrow – the world?

ctAlex Sumner over on his Sol Ascendans blog makes a little quip about there being “no innovation in Golden Dawn magick!” * The reason he gives is the constant recycling of three or four topics, in this case, the Secret Chiefs (see this post for my latest recycle). With respect to Alex however, the reason why these topics keep coming around is because they are important.

Let’s take the latest discussion I contributed to on a closed Facebook group: astral initiation. Now I’ve already had go at this topic here, but it does keep coming back. Why? Because it is one of several attempts by the modern Golden Dawn community to deal with the recent expansion of the GD across the world. As any tradition or system, spiritual or secular, expands and solidifies there will arise common concerns. These centre around authority, legitimacy, inclusion, representation and dissemination. The various GD online communal and fraternal discussions and lists are an attempt to work through these issues in a constructive and fruitful manner.

It is in relation to the dissemination of the GD tradition across the world that the discussion on astral initiation is important. Of course,  is only since the modern expansion of the GD, stemming from the work of Regardie, the Ciceros and other folk, that the problem of how to incorporate someone wanting to be a GD magician, but living away from the major centres, arose. Back in the day in London and Bradford, Edinburgh and Weston Super-Mare etc, there was no need to even consider these things. You either attended the temple or you did not. Tough luck sunshine, if you lived in Child Okeford and the trains weren’t running.

Fellowship of Isis Founders

When the Fellowship of Isis started up in 1976, they were determined to avoid these problems and opted for equal recognition of various forms of initiation, ceremonial and self. The lovely and very 80s documentary The Occult Experience shows a distant FOI initiation conducted by telephone, with the receiver placed in a large mixing bowl at the edge of  the circle. Very nice – and scarcely an astral in sight 🙂

How modern GD orders and individuals deal with this issue will be a defining point for the tradition as it grows in the 21st century. We, good Fraters and Sorores, are living in interesting and defining times. What we decide, what we accept and reject as a community, will change and mould our tradition.  The need for dissemination of the Golden Dawn throughout the world and – with the advent of the internet – into less populated areas has produced several modern innovations (or modern honing of older methods).  These include:

Conferences and lectures open to all members of the community. Here folk can come from all around and learn from our elders. An excellent example was the recent Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn Conference in Toronto, Canada.

Order specific conferences, gatherings and events where folk who have completed a course of study fly in, meet their initiators one day and are initiated into one or more grades over a course of a weekend. This is really little different in function to what many Buddhist and other spiritual leaders do. And really, it makes my eyes roll less than Wynn Wescott writing a letter to a temple he is proposing to visit and offering to initiate anyone – and any number of folk – to Neophyte on the Sunday afternoon.

Self- initiation as a legitimate entry into and deepening in the tradition. The classic work on this is of course Self-Initiation Into the Golden Dawn Tradition by the Ciceros. Other approaches are less ceremonially based and rely on a self initiatory process, including my own effort in By Names and Images.

Encouragement of self-started Golden Dawn groups and orders. The work of Pat Zalewski is important here, giving details of GD magical ceremonial procedures (as well as countless efforts in mentoring and advice). Nick Farrell, Darcy Kunz and others give a good representation of how these things were done historically – so we can learn from the past. And of course the Cicero’s Magical Tools books cater for the practical aspects of this, as well as several excellent online stores like Azoth Art.

and of course…

Astral initiation. There has been one major Golden Dawn Order that has practiced this method, though it cannot be unique.

Though it’s hard to get a handle on it all, I suspect the last three concepts – self initiation, self-started Orders and astral initiation – would have been viewed with equally raised eyebrows by most historical GD folk. All three are innovations to a tradition several centuries old, and all three require a radical re-thinking of the concepts of authority and legitimacy.

Woof-dog gets ready to gnash his teeth

How the community deals with these tensions and challenges to traditional models of authority and legitimacy in the next decade or so will be crucially important. Of course, I have my own ideas already given here on MOTO and elsewhere. What is extremely encouraging is the fact that in all the discussions I have seen there is always respect. People with divergent opinions are being accepted. No one has been cast to the outer darkness to weep and gnash their teeth. This is a very good sign of a healthy and inclusive community – evidenced also by the recent wonderful Commentaries on the Golden Dawn Flying Rolls project. 🙂

Finally, a little word of advice: since we are in a pivotal era for the GD, someone, somewhere, sometime will write about this. Be careful – your 3am off-the-cuff flippant remarks may enter a PhD someday 🙂 Thanks.


* I was very tempted to (sic) this spelling of magic, since it originated (in modern times) with Uncle Al – hardly a good representative of the GD. But, hey, Alex knows what’s he’s about… 🙂

The Golden Dawn, the Inner Light and Leadbeater

Seal of the Theosophical Society

I recently read a very interesting article by the Rev Dr Gregory Tillett, ‘Modern Western Magic and Theosophy’ from the journal Theosophy and History (Vol XV, No. 3). Dr Tillett is an expert in a number of fields, including the history of the Theosophical Society (TS), so the article proved to be very interesting. It looks at how, despite Blavatsky’s misgivings and warnings about magic and theurgy, Theosophy went on to influence the course of western magic through the Golden Dawn and later traditions. Much of this is unknown to more recent magical students, which is a bit of a pity.

Now, Dr Tillett has probably forgotten more about the occult and theosophy than I know, and while there is nothing I would disagree with in his article, his analysis incidentally raised a few issues I wish to explore.  He begins rightly with the following statement:

The influence of the Theosophical Society on the development of modern western esotericism can hardly be over-estimated. Directly and indirectly Theosophy served as both a catalyst and a fountain-source for almost all in Western esotericism that followed the publication of the teachings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891) and the establishment of the Theosophical Society in 1875. (17)

No one can argue with this fact. Mathers, Westcott and other movers and shakers in the Golden Dawn tradition were members of the TS or TS influenced groups. This is not the case for the majority of contemporary GD folk, but the influence our GD spiritual ancestors have on us is huge, and they were pretty much all imbued with Theosophy.


With the ascendency within the TS of the main subject of Tillett’s paper (as well as his doctoral thesis), C.W. Leadbeater, this influence of Theosophy on modern magic increased. Many of the ideas we in the magical and pagan community take for granted had their western genesis or modern modification in the Theosophical or Leadbeater-Theosophical milieux: spiritual evolution through a series of incarnations, karma, astral plane beings and Masters, devas, Atlantis and more.

In fact, from reading and anecdotal evidence, I would say that the vast majority of magical practitioners in the west today – Wiccans, pagans, ritual magicians and others – practice within a mind set and worldview that is heavily Theosophical. We do not notice it, because it seems a natural and easy way to see the world, and more particularly the inner world, but it is there. I mean, we certainly are not practicing within a traditional esoteric Christian framework, which rejects the monism so easily assumed by most modern esoteric folk. We are not practicing within a classic or traditional pagan worldview, which had very little personal deity relationship at all and was responsible for a mindset which happily bred and sacrificed 8 million puppies for Anubis. And we are not thinking and viewing the world like the majority of cunning folk, who held a craft, not a philosophy and whom happily used a mix of pagan remnants and Christian motifs to get the job done, including combating those evil witchy poos.

There are a few dedicated souls and groups reconstructing  genuine Hermetic, Celtic and other non-Christian and pre-Theosophical based worldviews, but they are in the minority. Most of us hold unconscious assumptions about the interior world that, if we follow them closely, lead back to Theosophy. Not that’s there anything wrong with that. (If you want to argue this point, please go ahead, but do me a favour and read Dr Tillett’s thesis on Leadbeater first. It’s all on line and free and all.)  🙂

Theosophical Ritual

So much for the worldview and in some sense the theory of modern magic, but what about the praxis? Did Theosophy and Leadbeater have a great influence on the practice of magic in our traditions? Initially, they certainly drew on the same raw materials – modernity, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, newly translated manuscripts and the western lodge tradition itself. Dr Tillett’s works are very good in tracing and exposing the early Theosophical use of ritual and traditional lodge practices, such as Masonic styled ritual, secrecy and signs, often unknown to modern Theosophists and others. These practices mostly died out early in the history of the TS, and today exist only in vestigial forms, with most non-Masonic Theosophical folk eschewing ritual entirely. But the ceremonial side was there from the beginning.

Later, Leadbeater would create or adapt a whole host of ritual and Masonic based ventures associated with Theosophy and fringe Christianity. Many of these, like the Egyptian Rite – created to be the most powerful occult order in the world – remain unexplored and secret to modern Theosophists and others alike. Again, most modern Theosophists and magicians know little or nothing about these ventures.

Theosophical Magic

Energy connection on Christian Altar

It is clear that Leadbeater believed passionately in the effectiveness of ritual magic, though he mostly avoided that term. Anyone who has taken the time to study his Science of the Sacraments will see what is essentially a ritual magic rationale being used to empower and explain both traditional Christian liturgy and Leadbeater’s own version of Christian ceremonial. A similar approach was used in Leadbeater’s revision of the Co-Masonic ceremonies, much of which remains unpublished.

Leadbeater’s rationale for and ideas about magical ritual are very similar in some ways to those of the Golden Dawn and later traditions. To quote from the article.

Leadbeater, however, went further: he claimed that the rituals themselves brought about (or at least had the potential to bring about) psychic changes in those who underwent them. The rituals stimulated forces on the inner planes and within the participants and invoked the participation of non-human entities.

Ultimately, Leadbeater taught that ritual magic could hasten the process of spiritual evolution in those who participated in it, and through the forces invoked in it positively affect those beyond, even if they had no knowledge or believe in the efficacy of the ritual, and indeed positively benefited the whole world. (31-32)

The same ideas are stated in several core texts of the Golden Dawn, the Inner Light and other modern groups. However, the similarity appears to be confined to the realm of ideas and principles, not the nuts and bolts of magical practice. Both Leadbeater-Theosophy and the Golden Dawn tradition seem to draw from the same source stock of lodge and esoteric ideas, but crucially there seems to something ‘extra’ within the early Golden Dawn, added before Leadbeater was any significant factor in the TS at all.

A classic example of the something extra are the Z Documents. To quote Nick Farrell, who recently published the earliest version of these crucial documents:

Z1, Z2 and Z3 are what made the Golden Dawn magical. Next to the Cypher Manuscript there is not a single bit of writing which is more crucial to an understanding of the Golden Dawn system of magic. (King Over the Water, 206).

These documents are still being explored by contemporary magicians and they are still yielding many treasures. The magical keys explored and outlined in these documents include:

  • Internal transformation by the virtue of magical practice. Though Leadbeater would later re-state this, the GD was one of the very first groups to practice this principle in a coherent and systemised manner.
  • The linking of the magical formulae that underlie group ritual initiations with personal magical and spiritual practice. This is a hallmark of the Golden Dawn and was an amazing innovation.
  • The creation and utilization of Godforms in which the astral or interior presence of temple officers are cloaked. While the general mental level principles of an officer representing a spiritual force or being had been part of the lodge tradition for centuries, the Golden Dawn took the process much further.
  • The use of colour in magic. Before the Golden Dawn colour was already a part of ritual magic, but without the depth and level of sophistication the GD would bring to it, with its Four Colour Scales. This was partly a result of the times: the range of paints and pigments needed for such an elaboration were not easily available before the Victorian era.

Leadbeater’s published works on  ritual magic show none of these keys to any degree. Nor does it seem they were included as part of any secret teachings he may have passed on to selected students. As Tillett first showed in his work, The Elder Brother, Leadbeater’s secret teachings, given to selected young male pupils only, were of a sexual nature. To quote from Tillett’s thesis:

In simple terms, Leadbeater taught that the energy aroused in masturbation can be used as a form of occult power, a great release of energy which can, firstly, elevate the consciousness of the individual to a state of ecstasy, and, secondly, direct a great rush of psychic force towards the Logos for his use in the spiritual development of the world. (p.888)

 Tillett traces Leadbeater’s sexual magic to tantric influences from his time in India and indirect or direct connection with the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) via Vyvyan Deacon. Since Leadbeater passed on these teachings to his pupils without the formality of OTO authorisation, it seems to suggest that that he would have done the same with Golden Dawn secrets, the ‘something extra’, if he was in possession of them. It is therefore probably safe to say that the GD did not unduly influence Leadbeater’s ritual magic, and that the two streams developed side by side.

Dion Fortune

Tillett’s article also briefly recounts the Thesophical influence on Dion Fortune:

…her writings on the inner effects of magical ritual can hardly be said to have developed without significant influences from Leadbeater’s work, any more than her attempt at the establishment of something very much resembling a church – the Guild of the Master Jesus and the Church of the Graal –  is unrelated to Leadbeater’s Liberal Catholic Church.  Fortune had been a tentatively enthusiastic Theosophist but the real reasons for her break from Theosophy, other than her desire to establish her own organization and give her own teachings, remain unclear. (44)

Dion Fortune

While this seems opaque and indisputable, I think a couple of points need to be made. Firstly, the motivations behind the creation of the Liberal Catholic Church (LCC) and Fortune and Loveday’s Guild of the Master Jesus seem quite different. In a nutshell, the LCC was created to allow Theosophists to continue to practice their childhood and historical religion without comprising their Theosophical beliefs. Basically, it was a case of having their cake and eating it too. The impetus and support for the Guild of the Master Jesus however, like all things Dion did, stemmed from her allegiance to her inner plane contacts. Further, the work of the Guild (later the Church) was but one part of the integrated threefold way, advocated and practiced by Dion throughout her Occult career. It was not an add-on to bring in a more religious approach and satisfy the emotional need of members for traditions remembered from childhood. (See this post for more on the threefold way).

Even though Dion first came to the mysteries via a Theosophical cafeteria, experienced her initial contacts with Theosophical imagery and obviously was imbued with the ideas of Leadbeater, her actual magic and that of the Inner Light show little influence. As an initiate of the Golden Dawn tradition and a member of two Orders, Dion would presumably have been exposed to the ‘something extra’ that provided the magic. From her own account though, this something extra would have been confined to the documents not the magicians, for she felt the spark had gone out of the GD branch she was initiated into. Her account matches up nicely with the research done by Nick Farrell and presented in his King Over the Water, showing indeed that for a decade or more prior to Dion’s membership, the Mathers were watering down the rituals and selling high degrees for higher fees. Dion was certainly not given oral instructions on practical magic to any depth, leading to her famous criticism of the consecration method for the Lotus Wand, as I recount and explore in this post.

Instead Dion developed her own methods of magic, being instructed and trained by her Masters year after year. While many of these drew on and belonged to the lodge and ritual magic traditions of the past, many were also innovations. She tended to present these innovations through her fiction. Her novels the Winged Bull, Sea Priestess and Moon Magic contain a number of these potent magical formulae and methods that owe little to the Golden Dawn and less to Theosophy. Her later projects, such as ‘the Arthurian Formula’, shows she continued this innovative approach until her premature death in 1946.


Wiccan Initiation

So the Leadbeater-Theosophical influence on two major streams of modern magical practice seem very little. What about the source of most of modern magic, Neo-Pagan Witchcraft or Wicca? Here the influence is clear, though I would argue only partial. Though most Wiccans and pagans reproduce and accept much ingrained Theosophical concepts, their magic I feel is quite different. Aside from the practical magic techniques, originally encapsulated by Gerald Gardner in his Eight Ways of Making Magic, Wiccan transformative magic centres on the initiations, the religious-spiritual transformation brought about via Drawing Down the Moon and psychic linking to the inherent transformation of the Eight Sabbats.

Regarding the ceremonial initiations, Tillett correctly points out that the Gardernian rites were influenced by his exposure to Theosophical Co-Masonry and Rosicrucianism:

The Wiccan rituals contain elements that seem to be influenced by traditional craft Freema- sonry, but also elements that are not found in that form but are unique to the rituals of Co- Masonry as revised by Leadbeater. (36)

Gardner’s use of sex and sexuality within these initiations however is quite different to the approach of Leadbeater, being one of sacramental worship not the generation of power to accomplish spiritual aims and development. Moreover, the initiations are only one aspect of the transformative path in Wicca; the Drawing Down of the Moon and the Eight Sabbat system show little or no sign of Leadbeater’s influence. Thus we have a definite, though by no means major influence.

Sources of Magic

We can see then that Golden Dawn, Inner Light and Wiccan magical practices have little influence from Theosophy and Leadbeater. They contain crucial elements which are not readily found in the historical forms of ritual and lodge magic Leadbeater had access to and which he developed according to his own peculiar wishes. This is why they stand out from Leadbeater and other forms of magic. Where then do they arise, what is their source?

Doreen Valiente

Some of these are clear. There is no doubt that the majority of the Inner Light tradition stems from Dion Fortune’s relationship with her interior Masters. Much of Wiccan magic can be traced, but some aspects simply cannot. While there is little indication that Gerald Gardner was in touch with inner plane contacts, the other creator of Wicca, Doreen Valiente certainly was for a time, as she recounts in The Rebirth of Witchcraft.

As for the Golden Dawn, the need to create a charter based legitimacy back to a prior physical Rosicrucian Order seems to have muddied the waters a bit. Mathers and Westcott’s descriptions of the sources of the GD are ambiguous enough for modern folk to believe whatever they want to foist onto them, from physical Secret Chiefs to schizophrenic delusion. Sources of the tradition aside however, it is clear where the all important Z Documents came from – the inner realms. As Nick Farrell puts it, “Mathers got the Z Documents from [the Angel] Raphael”.

So we are left with the realisation that in some ways, the main progenitors of modern magic and the Theosophical patriarch C.W. Leadbeater have something in common: all relied upon and gained much from discourse with invisible forces and beings. A major difference though, I feel can be found in their approach. Leadbeater’s vision and interaction with the inner world was obviously corrupted by his own unconscious. This was examined by another Theosophist, E.L. Gardner and summarised in Tillett’s thesis:

Gardner’s basic thesis is this:  Leadbeater unconsciously created an entire, artificial system, based upon his own strongly held views, and, again unconsciously, used his occult power to visualize this system into a state where it had the appearance of reality, and appeared as an objective reality to him when he viewed it clairvoyantly. (p.890)

I would argue Dion’s interaction, though far from perfect, was not so corrupted, for the simple reason that even after 20 or more years of interaction with the inner planes she was known to at least once consult an outside medium to ensure she was not deluding herself. She questioned her material constantly, whereas Leadbeater was 100 per cent sure of himself and his visions. He even cheerfully declared he had got Christ’s own personal imprimatur for the liturgy of the Liberal Catholic Church without so much as batting an Episcopal eye-lid. From such surety delusion ensues.

So when it comes right down to it, Theosophy, particularly C.W. Leadbeater’s version of Theosophy, still has a major influence over the general tenor and worldview of modern magic, but much less so on its practical methods. This may be seen as exposing a discrepancy and mismatch between the theory and praxis of magic, a criticism often directed at modern magical groups, one which I must say most magicians happily ignore. It is after all an orthopraxy based tradition, which emphasis goes some way to explain the continued and hidden Theosophical influence.

Leadbeater Today

Church of St John the Divine, Perth

Leadbeater himself continues to be treated by some as a saint and others as a pederastic child abuser full of self delusion. Either way, his memory continues on. I live in Perth, Western Australia, where he died in 1934 and where a portion of his ashes remain, behind a wall plaque in the Liberal Catholic Church of St John the Divine. Many in the  local Theosophical community continue to revere him. At my first Co-Masonic meeting I was ushered in to meet a charming elderly woman based on the sole qualification that she remembered Leadbeater from her childhood.

Many Theosophical folk in Perth simply refuse to accept the evidence presented by Tillett and others of Leadbeater’s sexual activities with young boys at all. Years back when required to complete an assignment for library school I choose the Perth Theosophical Library. Nearing completion of my interview with the Lodge President she seemed to insist I switch topics from the Dewey Decimal Classification to something more esoteric. So I mentioned I had just finished Tillett’s biography, whereupon I was subjected to a tirade of venom and abuse about Dr Tillett, most of which was certainly un-Theosophical and definitely unladylike. So ol’ Bishop Leadbeater still arouses strong feelings and his presence remains very real for some. However, despite worshipping many times seated next to his ashes, I cannot say I have personally felt it.