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.


Tabatha said...


Excellent, excellent post!

Regardie used to say that if a magician could not make it in Malkuth, he had no business delving into the Astral Realms.

Some have misinterpreted this to mean that he was OK with the idea of magic purely for profit. Not true. What he was really saying was that a healthy, balanced approach between the spiritual and the material was needed.

Dean Wilson said...

Thanks Tabatha.

Exactly, spiritual progress also requires fully immersing ourselves in our physical life, exploring Malkuth rather than shunning or ignoring it.

Since balance underlines all aspects of GD work, it needs to underline our approach to spiritual practice and magic as well.

Therefore I see no reason why we should not use magic to better our physical lives, providing we are also using it for spiritual progress.

Of course, this does not mean that we should not try to find physical ways of addressing these issues as well. Relying on magic to sort out our finances while ignoring possible "everyday" ways to address income, debt, etc. is just as imbalanced an approach.


Peregrin said...

Hello Dean,

Thank you for this post and for reviewing the book :)

I do like the argument you present here, but would like a chance to expand my own :)

The main thrust of my argument is not fully presented in your post when you write,

"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."

The full quotation is: "In a world where twenty thousand people will die from poverty and starvation each day, any Westerner who can afford to buy a book on magic is to be counted as rich beyond measure."

It is this comparison I am trying to foster. I believe people are better, more compassionate magicians with this awareness. And I do think scraping to get by is very different to watching your child starve to death. So I do maintain that in comparison we are rich.

I also think immersing ourselves in Malkuth and making it in the physical realm is helped by being aware of what it is real, and these things such as hunger related deaths are real, in the real physical world. Most of us, myself included simply ignore this real, Malkuth reality most of the time.

I do know the effects of poverty in the developed world is nothing to be sneezed at. It is awful, grindingly depressing and can render our spirituality less effective. I am not suggesting we simply ignore this. I just also honestly think, from my years of experience that magic is not the best way to address material concerns. I have written about this on MOTO and rather than repeat myself give the link here: http://magicoftheordinary.wordpress.com/2009/05/05/practical-or-low-magic/

As you say, there are a few examples of practical magic the GD corpus, though Regardie's personal rituals are not necessarily canon :) And also, as you reproduce from the book, each of us must make our own minds up on this issue. I am not making any judgements of other magicians, but from the comments on this topic I have received, I am presenting an alternate viewpoint, albeit a minority one. Perhaps it is an opinion most have not considered?

Thanks :)

Dean Wilson said...

Hey Peregrin,

Thanks for the expanding upon your argument.

I do agree that it is important to consider those who are less well-off than us, in any way, shape, or form, and there are a lot, in all parts of the world.

However, I don't really think it's the place of the GD to guilt people into not using magic for personal gain just because there are starving people in the world. That, to me, is imposing moral values, which, while important, is not what I believe the GD is about.

The same kind of reasoning could be used to suggest that people should not pursue higher qualities of life, be it a promotion at work, buying a house, making investments, and so forth. A person on social welfare in Ireland is comparatively better off than someone who is dying from starvation in another part of the world, but should we be using that argument to discourage this person from improving their life?

When we think about it, if a magician decides not to use magic to get a job, for example, how are they in any way helping the world become a better place? For one, they will not have the money to contribute to charity, which another person with that may or may not give. They might be taking the poor into consideration in their thoughts, but it amounts to little if there is no action.

Of course, this brings up the other consideration of magic used to help the world, which I think many GD magicians employ, directly and indirectly.


Dean Wilson said...

As an aside, Jupiter Talismans were created by the original GD members too. I'm not sure how close the ritual was to Regardie's, but Yeats, at least made one.

The weather magic thing isn't Regardie though... it's been axed from a lot of copies of the Z-documents since, but it does show that there were considerations for the more practical side of magic.


Peregrin said...

Hi Dean, thanks again for your viewpoints, which again I can see a lot of merit in. Also, if my passages in the book provoke guilt alone, I have failed. They were there to provide a mild wake up, reality call, not to guilt anyone :)

Finally, as I we think we agree to disagree, I do agree with you on the original GD having hints along practical magic lines. In fact in King Over the Water when Nick places doubt on Crowley's account of papers left in a taxi bearing Westcott's name because they included instructions for raising devils, invisibility, creating gold, making rain etc, I thought of the Z Docs :)

Thanks for the discussion :)

Dean Wilson said...

I never thought about Crowley's account of Westcott's papers. That's an interesting one to ponder!

Likewise, thanks for sparking this debate :)


Rebsie Fairholm said...

You're right that it's a personal moral choice - and either way you have to live with the consequences of whichever stance you take.

I wouldn't feel comfortable using magic for personal gain, but maybe I'm just lucky that I've never had to. However I have asked my inner contacts nicely for favours, and I have done things like make a talisman to help sell my house - so it's really all a matter of where you draw the line. In the past when I was hard up and unhappy, magical work gave me something positive to focus on which brought its own blessings. As you rightly say, using magic to sort out finances as an alternative to using mundane solutions is not a good move (and would probably lead to unintended consequences!)

My approach (which may not be any better than anyone else's) is to place a bit of trust in the universe. If you commit yourself to doing magic for the greater good, as opposed to just personal spiritual unfoldment, then you tend to find the right opportunities opening up and the right people coming into your life at the right time. The difficulty though is that it's hard to recognise that this is happening, because it often only becomes clear in hindsight. Sometimes the best gifts come in very mundane ways, and may even disguise themselves as disasters!

Tabatha's comment is spot on - the fundamental thing is to be able to function in the mundane of everyday life and not be using magic as a means to escape from it.