Mishkan ha-Echad

Monday, 26 March 2012

Material Gain and the Golden Dawn


I have been reading Peregrin Wildoak's recently released (and long-awaited) By Names & Images: Bringing the Golden Dawn to Life, which I will review on this blog once I'm finished. So far it has been enjoyable and insightful, addressing a wide variety of subjects.

One subject in particular that was raised is the idea of using magic for material gain, a hotly debated topic in occult circles. It is such a huge area that it deserves a post of its own. Please note that while this post was inspired by the relevant section of Peregrin's book, I am also making some broader comments on the topic in general.

Sufficed to say, I do not agree with Peregrin's suggestion that there is no place within the Golden Dawn for magic to better our everyday lives. I used to think this for a long time, and then I realised that if I do not accommodate my material existence then I will have difficulty focusing on spiritual growth. 

For example, if I cannot afford enough food, I will likely suffer physical ailments that make it impossible for me to pursue the magical path. If I am constantly worrying about when the next pay cheque comes in, for fear of being thrown out of where I live, or for fear of providing enough for my children, I will spend my time working extra jobs or being consumed by stress, with no time or energy to focus on spiritual things.

Also, the idea that if someone can afford a book on magic then they are "rich beyond measure" is something I cannot agree with it, as some people scrape by in life and make sacrifices in order to afford books and other things that are employed within our tradition.

This is obviously a controversial area of magic, and understandably so, as our primary aim in Golden Dawn work should be our spiritual growth. Balance is key to everything within this system, however, and ignoring the physical world is an act of imbalance. I see absolutely no reason why a person who would use all the tricks in the book to get a job, such as presenting themselves in as best a light as possible in their CV, should not, if they feel it appropriate, use magic also.

In the old Golden Dawn documents there are not many examples of magic used for material ends, but there are some dotted throughout. For example, the Jupiter Talisman consecration ceremony in Regardie's book has as one of its primary purposes the invocation of "abundance" (a word repeated frequently throughout the ritual). While obviously this word is open to interpretation, it can mean a material abundance just as much as a spiritual one, and was likely something that attracted many original members like Yeats to create a Jupiter talisman.

Another example can be found in the Z-documents published in Nick Farrell's King Over the Water, where we see that under the Water heading for the Z2 formulae is the "production of meteorological phenomena such as sunshine, storms, drought, increase of water, floods, earthquakes, etc." These are very mundane, non-spiritual aims, and "spiritual development" is set in its own section under Spirit, thus showing that it is not the only thing permissible within the scope of Golden Dawn magic.

Clearly these are very small aspects of the GD corpus, which is predominantly focused on spiritual growth, which must always be our primary aim, but I see nothing in the material that is contradictory to the idea of material gain, nor anything that overtly forbids it.

Indeed, it is often easy for us to forget that Mathers was being financially provided for by Annie Horniman, which allowed him to produce a lot of the good material that he did. We would have to question if this would still be the case if he had to work for that money. He certainly would not have been able to spend so much time in museums and libraries studying old texts and would have had less time for his astral contact with entities, etc.

In fact, when we think of the original members they were usually fairly comfortable, if not abundantly so, when it comes to their finances. It is easy to focus on spiritual things when you do not have the worry of needing to make money, a worry that an increasing number of people face with the lower availability of jobs in most countries.

The issue of material well-being also affects our gradework. We often hear horror stories about the Zelator grade, in particular, where people's mundane lives fall apart. This is often the grade that most people leave, unable to cope with their world crumbling. Some people report that they lose their job, their house burns down, they get incredibly sick, or some other unfortunate example of the physical gone wrong. And it does not need to be like that. Often these wake-up calls arise from people ignoring their problems, such as an inability to manage their finances or not eating healthy or taking enough exercise. They need to address them on the physical plane, but just as we would employ a Raphael rite to help in the healing process of someone (which can actually be a very physical thing), there is no real reason why we should not use magic to help with the other problematic aspects of our lives.

Peregrin does make a good point that we should help our fellow human beings, particularly those who are less fortunate than us, but I do not think it is the place for Golden Dawn leaders to criticise and judge the motivations of magicians who employ magic for personal gain. Indeed, just as Mathers thought that the temple members and chiefs should not interfere with the personal lives of members, I think we should be careful about imposing our own moral values on others, no matter how important they are to us. The Golden Dawn is, after all, not a religion.

Compassion is one of the principles of Chesed, and it is an act we should extend to the sick and the poor, as any good Rosicrucian, or, indeed, human being, would do. However, judgement is an aspect of Geburah, and while it has its place in the grand scheme of things, where we must balance all that we think, say and do, if we wish to be truly compassionate we must also avoid judging the choices and motivations of our fellow magicians who decide that using magic for material ends is appropriate for them.

I must qualify my remarks by stating that Peregrin does acknowledge that some people within the Golden Dawn community did or do use magic for material gain, including Regardie, and that "each of us must decide for ourselves on the validity or otherwise of attempts to magically address material concerns." It is thus a personal choice, and neither approach is necessarily right or wrong.

In the end the 0=0 oath forbids the use of "evil magic," which is a very ambiguous term and does not, in my opinion, include magic aimed at making our stay in this world that bit more pleasant. We are told to "Quit the Material and Seek the Spiritual," but extreme asceticism is not the Golden Dawn approach, and we cannot ignore our physical lives if we want to be truly successful as human beings and being more than human.

This section of Peregrin's book takes up a very small amount of space, roughly one page, but it raises important questions and shows just how much is packed into the text. While I cannot yet make my final verdict until I've read the entire book, I am impressed with the content so far, which covers things that have not been published before, or have not been written about in such a clear way.
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