The Hidden Path Behind Initiation: The Crata Repoa Decoded (2014) by Nick Farrell is the latest offering in a limited edition print run from Lulu.com. Over recent months Farrell has been busy producing a variety of texts on magical techniques and disciplines including; a review of the Vault of the Adepti over the years in his book, Magic Machine, along with the long awaited Shem Grimoire, a magical text offering advice and guidance for working with the angels of the Shem ha-Memphoresh.
Setting out to place The Hidden Path Behind Initiation in a certain category can prove difficult because it doesn’t quite fit into the genre of historical work, yet the historical value from a cultural perspective surely cannot be denied. Farrell comments that he set out to prove that the Crata Repoa was “an example of an esoteric allegory” written to illustrate the path of initiation to other esoteric experts. The Crata Repoa is squarely placed within the Western Mystery Tradition being ascribed to the work of two 18th Century magicians, Karl Friedrich von Koppen and Johann Wilhelm Bernhard von Hymmen. As such, Farrell approaches this dichotomy by viewing the allegory as a syncretic fantasy or history, i.e. not to be taken literally but rather figuratively.
Undoubtedly, Nick Farrell’s strengths as an author lie in his approach to writing materials on magical techniques and why wouldn’t this be the case? Farrell, is a magician of years of experience after all and brings a strong sense of direction and understanding about when writing from this perspective. In more recent years Farrell has ventured into the historical works with books such as Beyond the Sun (2013), King Over the Water (2012), Mathers’ Last Secret (2011), et al. I’ll be the first to admit I have mixed feelings when Farrell diverges from looking magical work to historical work, mainly because it can be tough work reviewing from a practical and experiential level historical aspects and it usually means an author is going to either let down the historians or the magicians (and they don’t always know which is which themselves to start with!), yet with The Hidden Path Behind Initiation I feel that Farrell has found a comfort zone and his voice adds to the various readings that can be offered up nicely.
Farrell opens the book my quoting the Circeros on initiation and the process of opening to the Divine which sets out the preamble of the book nicely. Fundamentally, this book explores the nature of initiation and how it effects, or affects, the initiate. Interestingly, and without giving too much away Farrell immediately sets out to destroy any delusions we might have concerning the historical origins of the Crata Repoa in Ancient Egypt with a nod to the fashion of the time having a keen interest in all things Ancient Egyptian. As Farrell notes we have a dialogue established which never really gets a satisfactory answer; when the two authors, Karl Friedrich von Koeppen and Johann Wilheim Bernhard von Hymmen, who were not prone to flights of fantasy authored this text. Farrell posits that this is because Crata Repoa was never intentioned to be a historicalisation but rather an allegory. Fundamentally it is up to the reader to grant validity to Farrell’s idea, but I will state this, many modern occultists and magicians do tend to become overly focused on historicalisation ignoring the cultural and personal impact that the magical process of initiation can have.
Much like the process of initiation itself, Farrell brings the reader through the nostos of the ceremonies first, neither informing nor ignoring the reader as the reader comes to grips with the themes and motifs of the Crata Repoa ceremonies. I call this nostos because while there is no promise of a return home per se the Crata Repoa (as does Farrell) makes it clear that the Candidate is being confronted with the realities of life. Nick Farrell remarks throughout the book that the path of initiation is not a nice path but one of shadows and hardship, yet the promise of skills to help them become more effective belies this process.
The second part of The Hidden Path Behind Initiation goes into more depth concerning the impact of Crata Repoa on modern magical orders with a particular focus on the Golden Dawn system of magic. However, I can’t help but ignore the impact for other systems and traditions. While many readers might prefer more detail on the dress and temple layouts for the ceremonies I think that at this juncture Nick Farrell has presented a deep yet approachable level for many readers to begin a deeper discussion concerning the Crata Repoa and the process of initiation with it’s common landmarks familiar to all. Unfortunately, aside from the intellectual stimulus I struggle to find what a reader might gain who is not and does not have any intention of pursuing initiation.
I started this review before I’d finished reading Morgan Drake Eckstein’s review over on Gleamings from the Golden Dawn blog, and find it interesting that both he and I struggled to make recommendations. The Hidden Path Behind Initiation is the ideal companion to any practitioner on an initiatory path as it begins to offer, what I firmly believe to be a vital question of allegory and meaning behind many systems of esoteric thought. It also has some serious ramifications for modern teachers to ask themselves “what if this is all fantasy?”, indeed one of the scarier questions for any practitioner of any system is what if this isn’t as old as I believe and I also found myself asking if the hypothetical Canidate in the text had to wait so long between advancements do I really have a right to demand certain things from my teachers? Its a matter of perspective, no one wants to constantly have a carrot dangled before them and never reach it and we can be all consumed with making the most from life that we forget the motivations of such practices.
This is certainly a book to inspire questions, some deeply rooted questions. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be getting a cheat-sheet for your own magical path though because Farrell and the authors of Crata Repoa are very clear, you will face hardships on your magical path. Though if you listen and learn well you will stand firm by the end of it all.