Thursday, April 6, 2017


I was just remarking to a friend about the comparison of The Golden Dawn to Freemasonry. For many of us, there seem to be a lot of pagan influences in GD, which is an interesting turn of events considering paganism was revived from prominent GD members such as Fortune, Crowley, Yeats and Mathers. However, if you look to Masonic sources, orders like OTO and The Golden Dawn are referred to as "fringe-masonry". While this is often intended to be a pejorative, because these orders do not "make masons", their point that the modern lodge or magical temple structure comes from Freemasonry is well taken. But then again, a number of institutions and legal structures also derive from Freemasonry, such as Robert's Rules of Order, the proceedings of the House of Commons in my native country of Canada and in various other governments around the world. My understanding is that masonic by laws (bye-laws) were what the Canadian Provinces used as the model for non-profit societies, a bit of influential law still very much in use today. I can only assume a similar process may have occurred in the formation of not-for-profit laws in other countries, but as an occultist, this is going beyond my area of expertise.

Historical reviews of the proto-elements that came together in The Golden Dawn and movements which came after the GD make an interesting study. Whether we are talking about masonic lodges as the basis for the GD temple (lodge) structure, or Windsor paints influencing GD colour magic, there are a number of constituting elements that come together to make The Golden Dawn, we can not accurately attribute it to only one source. I like seeing what Crowley wrote for the ceremonies in his later orders, which were written in the early 1900's after his involvement in The Golden Dawn and exposure to other fringe-masonic orders. A lot of insight can be gleamed examining what is similar and different in these various traditions. For example, in my opinion we can see that Crowley was likely using Ancient Freemasonry or the first three degrees of Scottish Rite to put together the OTO scripts. One example is because the prayers are always given at the Altar or coming toward the Altar in the early degrees of OTO, which is a feature uncommon in masonry - other than in the Ancient work, where the prayer is also at the Altar (and not the door to the lodge).

I also find that looking at what Emulation Freemasonry contributed to the GD is a good starting point. Internal hallmarks in the ceremonies include the verbiage, blocking and stage directions. In some places we find even the later changes between The Golden Dawn and Stella Matutina ceremonies are influenced by elements of Freemasonry again. Meanwhile, we can see that it was Emulation Freemasonry that informed the writer or writers of the Golden Dawn. One example is that unlike the stout Altar in the Ancient Work, the Emulation and GD Altars are both in the form of a double-cube. Another example is the aforementioned prayers in OTO and Ancient Freemasonry instead become redacted versicles offered at the door to the GD Hall, while in Emulation Freemasonry, the prayers are also given between the pillars when the Candidate is at or near the door. (However, this is not a perfect comparison, because the ever-innovative GD then provides a later Altar prayer in the Neophyte Ceremony which uses some of the verbiage of the aforementioned masonic prayers.)

While being familiar with other systems can make one a well rounded occultist, that doesn't mean that I recommend chucking a square and compass on the altar besides the cross and triangle in a GD temple. They are very different orders with different purposes. GD is a magical college, while masonry is exclusively fraternal and charitable. The same thing goes for mixing Thelema or any other magical traditions in with the GD work, such as folk magic or voodoo. It is just a bad blend, for just as the cosmetic similarities with freemasonry do not suddenly make GD masonic, what makes the various magical systems and religions different are actually key incompatibilities. These are serious distinctions, regardless if they both use psalms or there are similar verbiage or timing of where to give a prayer in a ceremony. 

For example, Crowley seemed to make an modus operandi of inverting every symbol to its "evil" position, and then making these symbols now become good in his new system of Thelema. My favorite examples of this are taking the supernal triangle from the Neophyte sash, and using it in a way that GD adepts would interpret it as the inverted triangle of evil, but then it suddenly becomes the holy child Ra Hoor Khuit on the robe of the AA Neophyte. He selects negative numerology, such as the GD qlippotic 11, which suddenly becomes "11 is the number of magick' in Thelema. It is like Thelema is a tantric or Hindu left hand path version of The Golden Dawn. In my meditations on it, I wonder if Crowley was actually attempting to terrorize the older occultists of his day by exclusively making use of this symbolism. The Golden Dawn seems to be working a redemptive formula through self-sacrifice, divine petitioning and prayer, while Thelema tends towards self-transformation through action. While I have learned much from investigating both systems, this is not really a good blend of philosophies or energies to be placed in one temple.

In the 20th century, it seemed that the common approach to magic was inherently synthetic. What eventually was labelled as post-modernism, seems to have hit the innovators of the occult early, creating these massive hybrid systems of magic, like GD and Thelema. But nothing can stay static forever, and looking to the future we have to ask ourselves, what can possibly come after post-modernism that can qualify as a movement powerful enough to take its place? In the modern "post post-modern age", my opinion as to how these ceremonies will be enacted in the 21st century has changed. What I am jokingly describing as "post post-modernism" seems to be an approach to authentically recreate a time and a place. This is true in new clothing styles as well as local cuisine, the cutting edge today seems to be an attempt to recreate a time period as genuinely and properly as possible. 

This has been true in GD for some time now. The newer ceremonial temples are authentically working ceremonies that are dated from a certain time, with period handmade pieces of art, old scripts and an attempt to understand the attitudes that may have been the context of the time they hale from. Like their predecessors, these occultists know that magic is a living and growing culture, and must change to survive. But unlike the previous generation of post-modern magicians, the solution is not to let every idea or additional similar but alien approaches into the temple in some kind of universal stew of magic. Believe it or not, the "post post-modern" preference is to work within a certain limited framework, and rigorously exclude various ideas and influences that are not present in the original context. Gone are the days where the trickster coyote is solemnly proclaimed to be similar to the mercantile Hermes, or new age magicians stick quartz crystals on top of their GD lotus wands. It is ironic, because it is often argued that the New Age, Astrology, Thelema and Wicca owe their new popularity or revival to The Golden Dawn. Nonetheless, the current trend of the last ten years or more has been to try and understand magic in its original context first, without being influenced or even damaged by alien ideas being re-inserted back into The Golden Dawn from New Age teachings, Thelema or Wicca. This is not just in The Golden Dawn, for Solomonic practitioners are also experiencing some fulfillment with this approach as well.

While I find myself very much in sympathy with this more nuanced modern approach, it does bring in a new set of unexpected problems that we must face. A perusal of the original documents will show that while the Outer Order ceremonies were always scripted, there appears to have been a high degree of flexibility to the early Inner Order rituals of the Golden Dawn. Therefore, if the modern temples are to do this authentically, we have to be careful not to rigidly apply one possible script when we could appropriately write our own, or trying to make an impossible copy of details or features shown in the older ink drawings of the wooden tools. Certain invocations and traditions that seem set in stone by the SM time period (as revealed print by Regardie) had actually started off as an instruction to compose one's own invocation using a set of sephirotic or planetary names. At some point during the process of journal copying leading up to the publication of the first SM ceremonies by Aries Press in the 1930's we lost this flexibility and the inner order system became entrenched in one set of consecration scripts. Overly rigid searching for source materials when the originals instruct us to compose our own, or literalism in constructing what is essentially a painted magic dowel can eventually skew our impression of what the old late 1800's GD order really was - a tradition in the midst of an intellectual and creative growth spurt.

Looking at kabbalah in the 1600's, we find a similar creative phenomenon.  It was an intense period of growth for Jewish Mysticism, and in his Kabbalah, Scholem points out that it was a very innovative time for the subject. He cites a number of ideas and influences from Neoplatonic and other sources. Meanwhile, in the later, post-messianic time-period, eventually we find the Hassidic movement beginning by hearkening back to the 1600's as the most authentic for the subject of Kabbalah. No problem there, but in practice, the 15 and 1600's were treated as a fixed orthodoxy. As much as I like the Hassidus, this is not what the history books teach, the 1600's were far more creative and flexible.

While I am not an anthropologist, but rather a practitioner or occultist, I have heard similar remarks made about the oral tradition of some indigenous peoples. As I understand it, these traditions (in some cases spanning thousands of years) have been treated as a fixed source, but only after their publication. With Native American traditions, it is a really strange turn of events when those whose task and vocation was to promote the oral tradition now seem to prefer to fall back on the books of academics to tell them what their tradition really was. This, I feel, could be the chief danger in our new, though laudable,  "post post-modernist" approach. We simply have too many books, and not all of them are correct. A study of our original materials show that there was apparently a vitality and flexibility in the Inner Order of the GD that had itself halted somewhere along the way. When we mix in other traditions, it can provide some innovation, but with the previous thirty years of people introducing crystals and too many other elements into the GD Hall, we are promoting a lack of certainty of what exactly the tradition is. Yes, there are common elements in different traditions. However, there are also differences, and I am not always certain our newest initiates really understand the distinction. We need to get back to the original approach, and this was limited to study of the right information, and continued practice. Now, I give some examples of similarities with Freemasonry, but then distinctions are drawn where the similarities end. This might be par for the course in an academic setting, but this is not always the methodology of the practitioner, who tends to prize utility of the moment over correct procedure and historiography. The Golden Dawn, while innovative in its day, never included wholesale adoption of these alien traditions into the order based on overly simplified but cursory similarities to the GD work. There is a limit to how far we can compare various traditions before we begin to lose resolution entirely.

However, the order did include a wider education in proto-source material, including but not limited to Freemasonry, Theosophy, Astrology, the Lurianic Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, and the Corpus Hermeticum. This is what the order I am from is involved in, promoting education of the traditional forms of magic, without allowing adulteration by a "stew-pot" mentality towards comparative religion, which tends to obscure the unique differences between them. For more information, feel free to investigate further at

So, even though I see a potential for over-rigidity as a concern, I also am excited for what the future may hold. For me the solution is to try and stay loose in areas that won't damage the original paradigm. We should feel free to write our own inner order invocations, but continue using traditional names and attributes. We should make and thoroughly work with a set of traditional tools, but after a time, go ahead and make another new set for personal use using different colours, shapes, or even other sephiroth. Try using different sets of the traditional divine names. Do not initiate others with personal tools or unique ideas, always fall back on the traditional system as we have a responsibility to pass on the tradition as authentically as possible. However, do be confident to go ahead and innovate in your own personal work, for that is how we will grow and learn as a tradition for the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment