Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A new dawn for the Golden Dawn

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, based in Britain, was one of the most important Western esoteric orders of the late 19th and early 20th century. Luminaries such as W B Yeats, Charles Williams and Dion Fortune were members of the order or one of its offshoots, and so was notorious non-luminary Aleister Crowley. During the 1930's, the Golden Dawn was long past its prime. This prompted another member, Israel Regardie, to publish the order's secret knowledge papers and rituals in the hope that this unprecedented act would save the lore from oblivion. The resultant work, “The Golden Dawn”, was published in four volumes between 1937 and 1940. The publication history of Regardie's magnum opus need not concern us here. Suffice to say is that a “seventh edition” in a single mastodon volume was recently published under the editorship of John Michael Greer, who heads a small Golden Dawn-inspired group of his own, known as the DOGD. Greer claims to have studied all the material in this book, and I for one believe him!

I haven't studied it, and probably never will. But yes, skimming “The Golden Dawn” was fascinating. I always wondered what on earth these guys were *actually doing* in their secret chambers, apart from appearing strangely clad in front of a coffin containing a likeness of Christian Rosenkreuz á la Madam Tussauds. And, of course, trying to stay clear of Crowley! It turns out that more was involved. Much more…

The rituals and techniques described in this book are quite detailed and serve very definite purposes. Conjuring angels, “gods” and other spirit-beings is an important activity. Another is creating a special body of light which will make it possible for the magician to traverse the astral spheres. Alchemy was practiced, but the chapter on it is surprisingly short. The path is one of spiritual evolution towards enlightenment and the ultimate goal to become one with the uncreated light, thereby escaping the consequences of the fall of spiritual man into matter. The purpose of other rituals is less clear. One ritual is said to make the magician invisible, another gives his astral body the power to shape-shift into different forms. The last chapter, on Enochian chess, is very obscure. Not even Regardie understood its significance, and never met any other living GD member who did. Editor Greer implies that he has understood its intricacies, but refuses to say more… That being said, it's obvious that initiates of the Golden Dawn were supposed to learn and practice advanced occult techniques. Sometimes, the goal seems lofty and is couched in Christian terminology. At other times, the magician is supposed to simply travel across and observe the astral world, including the demonic regions (mentioned only in passing, though).

“Theologically” speaking, the Golden Dawn material sounds eclectic or syncretistic. There is a lot of Biblical terminology and imagery, including crosses of many shapes and sizes. This is combined with Egyptian deities, Enochian magic (derived from, but apparently more advanced than, the 16th century system of John Dee and Edward Kelly), astrology, Tarot and the Hermetic Kabbala. The Golden Dawn itself is said to be a direct continuation of the medieval Rosicrucians. Apart from a few Sanskrit terms, there is no connection to Theosophy, so many New Age people will probably be just as bewildered as I was when looking through this material. It comes from an entirely different mental universe (or astral plane?). Thankfully, there is no sex magic either! Regardie believes that the Christian-sounding language and invocations of a personal god are to be taken symbolically, and that “God” in Golden Dawn's system is really an impersonal cosmic force from which the astral and material planes have emanated.

A curious feature of this material is that its public dissemination hasn't made it less “esoteric”. Quite the contrary, the documents in “The Golden Dawn” are almost as inaccessible as if they were still secret, which gives them a more authentic feel than they would have otherwise. While self-initiation into the GD tradition is said to be possible, I strongly suspect that finding and joining a legitimate neo-GD lodge might be a good idea if this really is your cup of blessed wine…

Not sure how to rate “The Golden Dawn: The Original Account of the Teachings, Rights and Ceremonies of the Hermetic Order”, but since Archdruid Emeritus J.M.G probably did a really good job giving Malkuth this seventh corrected edition, I give it five stars!

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