WHY JOIN A GOLDEN DAWN ORDER?
By Frater YShY
Now some students may claim that working alone is their learning style, and perhaps they are right. But, not seeking advice when starting a journey of this magnitude just smacks of a tender ego on the part of the student. Good Orders provide the best generalized education and experience for a new student to learn from. Any Neophyte who spends a few years applying themselves in an Order will gain the occult version of a liberal arts degree. Many of us won't learn just through reading books, but by doing. But joining an Order is more than just servicing the beginner's educational preference. Magic is a practice, and it is only learned by practicing it. A teacher can cut away confusion in a short time, sometimes saving years of frustration for the student. Having like-minded people to work with can also produce magical results that we might not have been able to accomplish by working alone. There is also a social side to occultism, and many occultists feel disconnected from regular society due to their interests. Having an occult or magical community around us can make a huge difference when we have questions, are looking for magical support, or seeking fellowship and fraternity.
Now there is a benefit to working alone. Sometimes an Adept needs to cloister themselves for various magical workings, especially the solitary theurgic practices. All of this is way above the grade level of an actual beginner. For some reason people confuse what we do later in our career with what we need to do as a beginner. For example, the requisite knowledge in the Outer Order includes basic practices such as the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, how to make Holy Water, how to speak with intention, how to conduct yourself in a ceremony, and in some temples the preliminary instructions on how to chant or vibrate the holy names of G-d. Meanwhile the Adept has a number of private practices they may wish to do, for example, the Lesser Key of Solomon, aspects of the Heptameron, the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage and other solitary theurgic practices. However, even an Adept will call upon other magicians for assistance, whether in Grimoire practice, such as the Greater Key of Solomon, or in the regular workings of a temple of the mysteries. But, new students can easily be romanced away from focussing on basic learning by tales of how everything important that a magician does should be done alone, and that being part of a group is somehow less spiritual than doing solo work, that they are already advanced without needing to try, etc, etc. I don't know if it is an inflated ego that makes beginners think that they don't need anyone else to learn from, or if it is bad advice they are receiving from other magicians, but there is a real disconnect here. The reality of most beginners is that they jump in head first without knowing much about the practice. They should be spending years learning, practicing and enjoying magic before they decide to tackle Adept apotheosis-level magic. A beginner needs to realize that a real Adept is really just someone who has mastered the basics. After they reach this higher level, the Adept continues practicing the same basics each day anyways. When they mature into a mature Adept, they may decide to go back to the beginning of it all and start to teach others.
There are prominent voices in the magical community that warn new students against joining Orders. They recommend doing everything as a solitary. Perhaps they had a bad experience in an Order, and are genuinely trying to help new students by warning them away from repeating their own mistakes. This is perfectly understandable, as that was their experience. However, not all groups are going to be bad, there are good and not-so-good Orders. It is important to do your research on a group before joining it. Check their reputation from more than one source before leaping into membership. In my experience, the strongest opponents of Orders seem to have forgotten that they first learned the basics from a teacher or an Order. They don't recognize the real value their teacher or Order provided them with when they needed some guidance.
SOME MAGICAL ORDERS DON'T TEACH MAGIC?
There are also so-called Orders that do not offer any classes or education in magic. In this regard the nay-sayers against Orders are right to warn people away from them. These fringe Orders try to copy the model of Freemasonry, which is a good Order, but they fail to get it right.
Now Freemasonry isn't an occult organization, but it is regularly used by other occult groups as a filter to find good candidates. An example of a reputable occult Order that uses Freemasonry like this is the SRIA, which requires you to already be a Master Mason before you may join it. SRIA is very clear what it is, and is not. It is primarily a research body, everyone does papers to go up grades. There are grade ceremonies, and the practical work is on your own time.
So these fringe organizations are partly designed as filter Orders for something else. Some of these modern Gnostic groups and churches set-up themselves up somewhat like Freemasonry, and are used to attract members for their internal organizations. Becoming a congregant in these types of churches are usually a good place to make friends. However, their plan is for the congregants to continue with lay membership, get them to apply for a basic Order, start paying dues or higher dues, apply to go up in degrees, get them to apply to become part of the priesthood, etc. However, they still haven't learned any magic. Sooner or later they find out that they might have to join yet another organization inside the first one that will finally teach them some magic. To be fair, many years can be spent going down the rabbit hole of occult societies' degrees and grades without making much spiritual progress, and without learning the very first thing one came for - which is to learn magic. Before joining anything, it is important to ask if there is any education and training offered, at which point in the system are certain things taught, how long the average initiate spends in each grade, and how long the courses will take them to get to an intermediate or advanced level. I have often seen people looking for Golden Dawn, but accidentally or haphazardly join something else be cause it has a Lodge or temple closer by. Unfortunately some of these "options" aren't really options at all, because they are antithetical to the student's original goals. We can't rely on these organizations to be honest with their applicants. An ethical organization would redirect their applicants to the right tradition that fits their needs. But, some of these groups are scrounging around for new members, and they will take whoever they can get. Again, beginner's don't know what to do with themselves, what to read it what to ask about, so joining the wrong tradition or Order actually happens quite frequently. Asking the questions above will help the student to figure out on their own if the group really is what they are looking for.
SOME PEOPLE WILL ALWAYS HAVE DIFFICULTIES WORKING WITH OTHERS
I did want to add a few more points in regards to those of us who have joined an Order, but had a difficult time with the people in it, or were disappointed with the education or even the lack of education they received.
It's natural that there will be personality clashes, there's not much one can do about that, other than try to be diplomatic. Some people are good at diplomacy, and some are not. It helps to remember that diplomacy is not just how we present ourselves, it can also be the patience we show when others are not being diplomatic! Luckily for most people, diplomacy can be learned over time.
Occultists are by nature eccentric, and at times we can be difficult to work with. One factor that adds to disagreements is the sheer amount of time we spend together. After a while each other's little quirks can grow to become annoying. Compare this to the time we spend with our own families. Some people see their extended family often, but most of us don't see those other family members that often, unfortunately by choice. Compare this to a fraternity that meets once or twice a month. Sometimes a temple will offer classes, so if we include those nights, some temples get together as much as once or twice a week. This amounts to a lot of time spent with each other. Some see their temple members more often than "date night" with their significant other, which can cause trouble at home too. With so much time being spent together in the temple, it's no wonder that there can be disagreements between people. It's quite easy to get emotional and mix up the difference between the fraternity we belong to and our own family dynamics from childhood. This psychological projection not something that we are usually aware of, and like many of life's lessons, it first comes up subconsciously. For those of us who grew up in a nice family, projection can be a good thing, but for many of us with poor or difficult upbringings, it isn't necessarily such a good thing. How our behaviour affects others is something we all need to watch for, and when we are acting from a difficult place within ourselves, it might be us and not the other person that is causing the trouble in the group!
Another factor that can cause difficulties in a temple is how important the work can become to each of us. At first this might seem like a good thing, and it is, but it can also cause issues between people. Having strong feelings about how the temple should function, whether that is financially or in regards to how the ceremonies should be presented can bring up all sorts of issues between people. Just remember, if people are speaking up about their concerns, it means they care. The problem arises when others don't listen to each other, or don't have good boundaries around what is appropriate. All we can really do is try to control ourselves, and avoid the behavior we find so abhorrent in others. In a group we soon learn that when we take office, we each have a different style of presenting our parts. Trying to control how another person does the ritual or delivers their lines is not appropriate. Just focus on your own work and leave the stage direction to the Director of Ceremonies or Past Hierophant, it is their job! Hopefully they can work with each officer, and balance the group to help bring out the best performance that each officer has to offer.
YES, THERE ARE BAD ORDERS OUT THERE
Finally, there are bad teachers and groups out there. The world is full of people who are waiting to cause trouble. There are narcissists, sociopaths, etc. This isn't different in a magical Order. But for some reason there are just a few more folks with personality disorders in spiritual or religious groups, and Orders aren't really different from regular religions in this regard. People with personality disorders seem to gravitate to leadership positions where students or seekers are more vulnerable. Students just need to keep their radar on and defenses up. If it seems like someone might be a bad person, trust your instinct and stay away from them and their group.
CROWDSOURCING YOUR INITIATION
I want to return again to the question of why joining a Golden Dawn Order is helpful. New people sometimes believe that everything can be found online, and that any questions they have can be picked up by asking around online forums. Magic is not something that can be taught from an online video like changing a car tire or making a special dinner recepie. The internet is a great resource for information. But, no reasonable person believes they can completely crowd-source their own post-secondary education online. So why is it that some of us believe that they can crowd-source their initiations online? We do need experienced teachers who can take us through the curriculum in an organized way. Now there are excellent forums online where a massive amount of information is available. However, groups on theurgy or Golden Dawn are generally more helpful to people who are already familiar with the tradition. They are not usually helpful to beginners, so unless you are dutifully following the same agreed-upon curriculum as everyone else, these groups may not be as helpful as a beginner might think.
The real problem with autodidactic learning is that when we are beginners we don't usually know what the pitfalls are until we fall into them, nor do we know how to formulate the right questions, much less find the answers. Sure, we can ask others who are present in various online groups for help, but after 30 years of magical practice I can say without hesitation that there are very few posts and replies online that contain the right information. At best you can only cull tidbits of knowledge here and there, but most replies to questions are usually fruitless speculation.
Let's say that we do find a knowledgeable occultist online who will answer a few questions, and there are a few of them out there. They usually won't take a personal interest in you. In public they tend to discuss only magical history rather than practice. Usually experienced magicians are just presenting a helpful public persona to introduce themselves to would-be students. They aren't going to discuss personal magical or spiritual experiences in a public forum. Very rarely are these personalities interested in training people for free or sharing the most important information on practice over public groups. Most often these types of teachers are only online as an intake strategy so they can offer their own classes or to try and get you to join their Order. There is nothing wrong with this! They have their own offerings, and either you can join signup with them, or join something else's thing. But, and it's a big but, you won't get a proper education by picking up the tiny drizzle of information they strategically left out as advertising for their course or group. Just because they don't state in public that they offer classes or membership in an Order, doesn't mean they don't. You just need to send them an instant message, and I'm pretty sure they will sign you up for their "secret Order". We should never think that "cherry-picking" some random questions from these experienced types publically online will be a substitute for a properly administered curriculum. All you are doing is pestering them, and misleading yourself. To obtain a comprehensive level of teaching, again, you usually have to join an Order or find a dedicated teacher. It's better if you join an Order that has a local group, or a teacher who can meet with you in person, otherwise you have to travel, which is a pretty regular requirement when there is no temple near you.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Just be careful what teacher or Order you affiliate yourself with. Magic or theurgy is a very spiritual endeavor, and when we do it we open ourselves up and are vulnerable, especially at first. There are lots of people out there who pretend to be knowledgeable, but are really just posturing. Like I already mentioned, many people in the regular world have personality disorders, so it is easily possible to have a teacher or join an Order that is run by one of them. When these types of hurtful people are in positions of power, they can cause their students even more damage than an uninitiated person would because of how vulnerable their magical students are. Finding good teachers who are willing to establish a long-term relationship with a student is rare, and anyone who seems wise should be checked out thoroughly before you begin taking their classes or joining their Order.
THE BEST APPROACH IS TO JOIN AN ORDER
The best approach for the beginner has always been to join a reputable magical Order. I recommend the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn, but I am biased! You may or may not be a good fit with us, but that's just how life is sometimes. Most people seeking the Golden Dawn are quite satisfied with our Order. We have a solid curriculum, and groups all around the world, which means the travel isn't usually too far to go. It's designed so that you can work through our material in an organized fashion, and connect with a more experienced initiate in the Order who is willing to take you under their wing and train you properly. There is just no substitute for quality, no matter how remarkable we may think we are! 😉