Mishkan ha-Echad

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The Imperfect Adept

One of the most common misconceptions about the Golden Dawn is that everyone who has attained the grade of Adeptus Minor or above is somehow perfect or automatically enlightened. Many people have an inflated (and very erroneous) conception of what adepthood actually means, assuming that it results in the people in question having no ego (as if they could physically live within one), oozing love, kindness, and compassion, never getting angry or showing weakness, frailty, or fallibility, and always giving good, solid advice.

And they're wrong.

Firstly, receiving a grade or initiation doesn't automatically confer anything. It can begin a process where certain desirable changes occur and traits are gained, but it doesn't always do this (it depends on the ability of the initiating team and the openness and willingness of the candidate to engage fully with the path and the teachings it offers). Initiation is part of a process, and there's plenty more to do before the initiate can even begin to consider that process complete (for example, the gradework, the study, the daily ritual practice). An initiate doesn't take their Adeptus Minor initiation on Saturday and then express all the attributes of Tiphareth from Sunday on. Indeed, it is often said that you aren't technically of the grade you currently hold until all that gradework is complete. Thus, a true Adeptus Minor will have to be an Adeptus Major (having completed all the sub-grades of Adeptus Minor satisfactorily, and to the best of their ability) before the grade can truly be taken to heart (and by that stage they should see the grade and title itself as little more than a signpost of their own internal growth, which is a much more personal thing than an Order structure can ever intimate). Let's look at a passage from the Neophyte ceremony (Stella Matutina) that explores this point, showing clearly that not all who receive the grades and teachings are necessarily worthy of them, and that the outward sign does not express the inward process:

"Although the Magical virtues can indeed awaken into momentary life in the wicked and foolish hearts, they cannot reign in any heart that has not the natural virtues to be their throne."

Everyone, the knowledgeable and ignorant alike, can receive the magical teachings and initiations (although a screening process, etc. should flush out the majority of the latter, but such is not always the case), but that does not mean they truly understand the material. Many are called, but few are chosen. Likwise, later in the Neophyte ceremony (Stella Matutina) it says:

"Remember that God alone is our Light and the Bestower of Perfect Wisdom, and that no mortal power can do more than bring you to the Pathway of that Wisdom, which he could, if it so pleased him, put into the heart of a child."

Apart from its obvious application as a rebuttal to those who would claim that their form of initiation is more authentic than another's, or that the "true" initiation must be taken in "this" form and not "that", this passage clearly states that the initiations themselves, where mortals lead the candidate around a physical room, is but the bringing of the candidate to the Pathway of Wisdom. It does not confer or bestow Wisdom, for only God can do that, and we can harp all we like about us being one with God - it doesn't give us the right to be so arrogant to claim that we can confer and bestow Wisdom. The mortals, the physical initiating team, bring the candidate to the Pathway, and thus begin the journey (in line with the meaning of "initiate"). It is ultimately up the candidate him or herself to do the Work, to walk the Path, and to, if it is hard-won, get some semblance of Wisdom and Gnosis. No one else can do that for them.

Secondly, why do we assume that adepthood means you suddenly have no ego, and why would we even want to physically know people who had no ego? Maybe it's my own ego talking, but I consider the thought a little frightening. They're not just "more than human", then (as is the aim), but not human at all. But this is all conjecture, for the ego is never abolished in this manner, and, indeed, I don't see any way for it to occur apart from physical death. But the ego is the personal "I am", which is but a reflection of the Divine Ehyeh (AHYH), where we, in our arrogance, assume we are God, the Lord of our own World, which revolves around us, even as the ancients believed the planets revolved around the Earth. It is, in a sense, a comfort mechanism. But it doesn't have to be. It can be purified and cleansed, dissolved and putrefied, and ultimately transmuted into that Ehyeh, as an expression of God, where then the Lower Self is the subject of the rule and authority of the Higher Self, and not a rebellious Demiurge figure, stating "There is no God beyond me". An interesting quote to share here comes from Pandit Rajmani Tigunait:
"...if you kill your ego, you might kill what motivates you to embark on the spiritual path and stay on it. Therefore, do not attempt to kill your ego or even to weaken it. What your ego needs is purification, transformation, and guidance."

We use symbolic language, such as "crucify the ego", not because we mean it literally, but because it expresses a very stark and striking idea to us, and helps us initiate a process whereby we are not a slave to the ego, driven by compulsions and desires, but, as true adepthood should involve, we are in control of our lives, forging a path just as an ironsmith forges a new sword. Where that sword leads is up to the adept, but it can lead right into the heights of Kether, where the pommel lies.

Thirdly, while compassion and kindness are desirable traits, you need not be an adept to have them, and adepthood does not confer them. The ideal aim is that all the positive traits that an adept needs will be gained along the path, as part of his or her journey, but such is not always the case, and it may take the adept longer to gain one trait than another, depending on a great number of things different to each individual. Some may find it easy to be compassionte, for this comes naturally to them; is it then a challenge, and do they have the right to judge themselves better than those who struggle with compassion, just because they themselves express the quality more easily? What if this naturally compassionate person is lacking in severity, in discrimination, in the ability to be stern when sternness is called for? Are they truly a better and more evolved person because they appear to be "nicer"? Is "niceness" a sign of an adept? The answer is no, and it might not be something we want to hear, but we need both attributes of mercy and severity or we are imbalanced, for is it not so that Tiphareth is formed on the Middle Pillar as the balancing Sephirah between Chesed (Mercy) and Geburah (Severity)? All Golden Dawn students should be familiar with the frequent admonitions regarding the imbalance of either, such as the following (again from the Stella Matutina Neophyte ceremony):

"Unbalanced Power is the ebbing away of Life.
Unbalanced Mercy is weakness and the fading out of the Will.
Unbalanced Severity is cruelty and the bareness of Mind."

And once more:

"Study well the Great Arcanum of the proper equilibrium of Severity and Mercy, for either unbalanced is not good. Unbalanced Severity is cruelty and oppression; unbalanced Mercy is but weakness and would permit Evil to exist unchecked, thus making itself, as it were, the accomplice of that Evil."

Fourthly, and this is really the proof of the pudding, all adepts are still capable of being wrong. They are, at the end of the day, men and woman, and are, therefore, fallible beings. Even the Catholic Pope, with all the talk of papal infallibility, can be wrong (amending the supposedly "infallible" decisions of previous Popes, for example). Adepts can make mistakes and do bad things. It is desirable and, indeed, the aim, that the amount of mistakes and bad things be lessened as much as possible, but we cannot prevent them completely.

So let's look at some Adepts from the Golden Dawn tradition:

S.L. "Macgregor" Mathers

Truly an adept in the sense of his intellectual and magickal achievements, but quite an unfair and autocratic leader, with definite issues of ego and insecurity. Indeed, his gullibility in believing that Madame Horos was Anna Sprengel, even after he uncovered that the correspondence between Westcott and Sprengel was falsified, is enough to show how imperfect and fallible he was. His adepthood did not protect him from that basic human trait of gullibility. This barely even scratches the surface of his character faults, of which the interested reader can find plenty in any history of the Order (see here, for one account).

W.B. Yeats

A remarkable poet, one of the best ever to grace the world, and a strong leader in times of trouble in the Golden Dawn. And yet many hold strong to the opinion that he wasn't a very nice man. Despite being Irish myself, I don't know Yeats' biography in any depth, but sufficed to say, you can find plenty of flaws and proof that he was, while an adept, still imperfect.

Aleister Crowley

The most notorious magician to grace the world, full to the brim with ego, theatrics, supposed death threats to Yeats (and his well-known dressing up in Celtic ensemble when trying to reclaim material from the rebellious Isis-Urania lodge, an obvious attempt to annoy Yeats, who described him as a "madman"), misogyny, bigotry, and, of course, sexual deviancy. Certainly not what many people like to think of as an adept, and yet it's hard to deny that he was, not just as one having received his Adeptus Minor initiation, but as one who did the work, forged his own path, and contributed greatly to the magical community.

Israel Regardie

Some people might wonder why I've put Regardie in here, but I want to show them how deep the rabbit hole goes. Many people see Regardie as the ideal Adept, a nice, gentle soul, not concened with grades and titles, nor with having students. But even a cursory reading of his My Rosicrucian Adventure (reprinted as What You Should Know About The Golden Dawn) will be enough to show that he could be stern and full of venom when he wanted to be. His letter to Crowley after Crowley insulted him over his adoption of "Francis" as a new name is another example. And there are plenty more, including some supposedly unpublished works to the Whare Ra temple, etc.

The point of all this is to show that these people were not perfect, but they were adepts. One can be an adept and still get angry or upset, and can still make the mistake of lashing out at someone who perhaps does not deserve it (or perhaps does). The ego can still get in the way. Desires for power can cloud judgement. Adepthood doesn't make one a good leader, for example, anymore than becoming a master chef makes one good at playing football. The sooner we dispense with this ridiculous and far-fetched expectation of what an adept should be, the sooner we appreciate each individual adept for what they are, and the closer we are, therefore, to our own adepthood.
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