In a recent blogpost on the Golden Dawn and religion (link unavailable) I noted something interesting about the way in which the dialogue was established. Interestingly while many participants hailed from a variety of religious and spiritual paths these “caveats” seemed to be issued by way of expectation. I’ve always assumed that many of these were neologisms, therefore lacking some common definition beyond the personal. What I mean by this is when someone says, “I’m a Golden Dawn magician and my [insert relevant adjective i.e. spiritual/religious/magical] path is…”, it is rare to find someone stalling the conversation to identify what the person means by such words as “spiritual”, “religious”, “magical”, etc. or what value the person is placing on such words in the moment. I think most of us will agree that many misnomers in public dialogues stem from one part having one fixed definition and another having another definition, mostly this is harmless since in the case of “spiritual”, “religious”, or “magical” we can surmise that what any of us will be relating to is the practical approaches employed by the magician.
Defining the Three Terms:
We all know what religion is. It’s usually expressed as a structure or system by which a person worships and venerates G-d or the Gods. In truth this is but one aspect to religion since it also encompasses cultures and histories. Personally I don’t identify as being on a religious path because my approach is removed from established structures but I’d be naive to assume I haven’t been influenced by them along my journey in Life.
In terms of the discussion today I would propose that we consider the increased sense of spirituality in religion as a testament to how people feel enabled to start to explore their world and become active participants in creation of it. If turning one’s back on religion were possible (I have my doubts!) then something has to be said for those who turn their backs on the dominant power structures of religion but seek truth in religion.
In terms of the Golden Dawn this is probably best represented by the Office of the Hegemon. The Hegemon leads the Candidate through her/his initiation and it is explained that the Hegemon is represented as a force of balance and reconciliation. Though in the G.D. the Hegemon is not merely religion but other institutions which have guided the Candidate this far. In a sense, while one is journeying in the G.D. to become a magician or an Adept the presence of the Hegemon, particularly in the Outer Order grades serves to remind us that however far we journey to become magicians we also came from some community or culture. It reminds me of words of counsel that various lecturers have offered over the years in which they reminded us that our writing and college work wasn’t based on our Parents or Grandparents or our families at all but on the community and culture we grew up in. This was explained to us not to undermine or to find a new target but to put our thoughts and ideas into context. It made us better writers for it when the message finally sunk in.
When one hears someone describing their Spiritual Path they are in essence describing a subjective, and therefore, immeasurable inner space or mind-scape. Traditionally many religions have regarded spirituality as an integral part of religious experience, however, in contemporary society we have seen the growth of secularism and so the term also has taken on less religious connotations and more philosophic or paradigmatic connotations. This can be further evinced in the growth of the spiritual market particularly with New Ageism. The roots of spirituality stem not just in contemporary society but in the history of various hegemonic religious institutions such as the Catholic Church system.
So where does magic and the Golden Dawn come into this? Well the short answer is the same place it has always come into it. Magic and mysticism, on a cultural level, provide a shared communitas for practitioners to engaged with various approaches and techniques from magical traditions such as the Golden Dawn. Spiritual Paths often already incorporate meditation, prayer, and the contemplation of sacred texts (in the New Age movement the axioms and maxims of older texts remain even if their study is often orally and lacking in a cultural foundation), making spirituality as viable a descriptor as any. Like many I do hold some prejudices when comes to contemporary spirituality as being overly commercialized and heavily steeped in consumerism. Truth be told when Neopaganism is used to reflect New-Age or Lightworker paradigms I find myself getting rather defensive since my own path isn’t so fluid and thats often how it tends to be measured.
The Golden Dawn, itself, is a magical path or system. It is not a religion nor is it a spiritual path but it’s approaches to magic are such that an individual can learn techniques and develop magically and ritualistically.
The issue arises when one’s magical path is dually magical and religious. This is particularly evident in Traditional Wicca with it being a religio-magical practice. Once again this isn’t inherently an issue for the modern G.D. Tradition since they are both magical systems with independent magical correspondences, structures and operations making for a distinct formula. While Wicca, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t organise itself around a current of energy akin to other forms of Western Mysteries it has all the symptoms of having one in my view. Group minds and egregores play a part in both Traditions and honestly once one is not conflating the two they can be quite harmonious. In Ireland there are many Traditional Wiccans who are also Thelemites and members of various O.T.O. (and derived) groups.
Why the Caveat?
So having defined the three terms we’re left with the predicament which brought up the subject: “Why the caveat?” in modern discussions? Truth is with the sprawl of the information society and the resurgence in interest in magic and various magical approaches its unsurprising that many modern G.D. practitioners have already come from other practices and Paths. Considering many of these may even be part of contemporary paradigms do they not fall under the remit of the Office of the Hegemon? As students of the occult sciences we’d be foolish to assume our lens is so unbiased that we can dispense with knowledge of our forebearers but we do need to find our voices so that we, as Adepts, can add to the ever growing corpus of esoteric teachings and experiences.
In effect by stating such caveats (if you’ll continue to pardon the expression) enable the listener or reader to understand the context of the piece; refute, accept or reject where necessary. This, in an ideal setting, would mean that as an Existentialist Pagan I can express my understandings of G.D. material more eloquently and if I am on to a misnomer my assertions can, respectfully, be refuted and challenged by my siblings in the wider G.D. and WMT community.
I realise that this is in many ways an obvious diatribe but I thought it might reflect how wide and extensive the modern WMT is with various Orders and Traditions and even more numerous religious, spiritual and magical explorers within these structures are.