Thursday, August 30, 2018
John Michael Greer's school of witchcraft and wizardry
“Inside a Magical Lodge” is a book by John Michael Greer, who is currently the head of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA). When he published this book (1998), he practiced ritual magic in the Golden Dawn tradition, and had also joined a number of fraternal lodges, including (I suppose) the Freemasons. Greer's book does *not* include sensational revelations about secret rituals, nor does it contain detailed instructions in magic. Instead, Greer discusses the theoretical underpinnings of lodge rituals and the magic worldview, and also the history of both fraternal and magical lodges. This takes up about half of the book. The other half explains (more or less) how to actually create a magical lodge or “secret society”. Since Greer doesn't want to divulge any secrets from really existing lodges, he describes a fictitious lodge (the Order of Athanor), the rituals of which are invented by the author himself. Or so he says. Since Greer is secretive, how can we really know?
A few things stand out. One is Greer's conservative attitude. He rejects most of the New Age, and other attempts to create what he believes are artificial or fake forms of spirituality. Secret societies modelled on popular fantasy tales á la LOTR or Harry Potter? Forget it. Neo-shamanism? Syncretism? Also out. His argument is a magical one: the traditions are guarded by an “egregore”, a kind of potent energy field with a life of its own, and unless you are initiated through the proper channels, you can't tap the energy, no matter how hard you try. Thus, the egregore of the Golden Dawn became accessible only after the last remaining legitimate Golden Dawn lodge had dissolved itself around 1970. It seems Greer later revised his ideas, since he joined a Druid Revival group working a “Celtic” version of the Hermetic Qabalah! Not very traditional. Still, Greer has a point that Neo-Shamanism and similar currents could degenerate into a kind of pseudo-spirituality, unless the practitioner takes the more demanding step to actually become apprenticed to a real shaman. It's also true that new religions based on contemporary pop culture will simply mirror the prejudices (for good or for bad) of their own time.
Another thing that struck me was Greer's opposition to authoritarian leadership, sectarianism and cultishness. He prefers a democratic leadership structure with checks and balances (sometimes literally – two people should sign each cheque made out in the name of the lodge, thereby more carefully monitoring the balance…). Nor does Greer believe that only one path is the true one. Indeed, his fictive Order of Athanor is a “broad tent” magical lodge, open to people from several different traditions. Greer's perspective on God and the Divine sounds perennialist, impersonalist and “pluralist”, and is presumably influenced by the Hermetic Qabalah. The Divine, which is unfathomable in itself, uses different egregores as masks.
As for the idea of “Secret Chiefs”, Greer rejects the notion completely, pointing out that it might actually be dangerous – a personified “energy” contacted by the magicians might wreak havoc by claiming to be a secret chief or ascended master. (A very magical way of dispensing with the secret masters!) Greer also rejects most lodge history as invented, or “mythological” to use a less pejorative term. Thus, Freemasons don't really have their roots in the Knights Templar, the Temple of Solomon, or whatever.
I read about half of the book, and merely skimmed the other half, since I have no particular plans to actually form or join a magical lodge (or non-magical lodge, for that matter). However, “Inside a Magical Lodge” could be good reading for those so inclined, especially since it might make them more “down to earth”! Greer has also published a volume titled “The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies”, where he details the gritty history of fraternal and magical orders, often in rather entertaining fashion. Could perhaps be read as a complement to this book, so that you *really* know what you're getting yourself into (or what mistakes to avoid…).