Mishkan ha-Echad

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

What is the Golden Dawn?

There are many misconceptions out there about what the Golden Dawn is. Instead of disputing or debunking them, let us look at what the Golden Dawn really is. These points are in no particular order, nor are they a complete representation, but they will hopefully shed more light on this more than a century old tradition.

The Golden Dawn is a syncretic tradition that combines and unifies a multitude of magical systems employed in the Western Mystery Tradition, including, but not limited to: Qabalah, Astrology, Tarot, Hermeticism, Alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Enochian, Geomancy, and various other esoteric subjects.

The Golden Dawn is a school that teaches a structured approach to magic, being primarily theoretical in the Outer Order (the Golden Dawn proper) and practical in the Inner Order (the RR et AC or Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis). Some have likened the requirements of Golden Dawn study to that of a college degree, with several grade exams and, in the Stella Matutina tradition, a thesis of several thousand words required in the Portal grade.

The Golden Dawn is a magical order dedicated to the aim of creating magicians and adepts, who are "more than human" and dedicated to the Great Work. Magical techniques are taught and employed for multiple ends. Depending on the group in question this might be entirely spiritually focused or a mix of spiritual and practical. Members usually practice magic on their own and as part of their temple.

The Golden Dawn is a system of alchemical change that, if properly adhered to, highlights the imbalances within us and forces us to address them. It works as a form of active therapy, where we work out our problems so that we can become better people, both in a mundane and spiritual sense. We are torn apart that we may be renewed. Our old self, created by societal imprints and pressures, is replaced with a new self that we alone create, one that is no longer bound by illusion and limitations, where we actively engage with our life and where we want to lead it, and take responsibility for all that we think, say, and do.

The Golden Dawn is a fraternal group that is open to a wide mix of people from all backgrounds. It was one of the first magical groups to accept women, despite its Masonic background, and it has included members of multiple religions, teaching that there is value in all of them. This fraternity has expanded in modern days, with most groups being open to members of any gender, religion, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or political persuasion. Most modern Golden Dawn groups extend their fraternal relations beyond just their own group, encouraging a growing and thriving exchange between members of various Orders and those who belong to independent temples or work on their own.

The Golden Dawn is a "Society of Kabbalists," according to the original publicity of its existence (see this post by Olen Rush). This emphasises the important place of the Qabalah in the Golden Dawn, and many people see it as the underlying tradition that interweaves the entire system of magic.

The Golden Dawn is a 19th Century creation based on earlier teachings and traditions. The Cipher Manuscripts upon which the Outer Order rituals and Knowledge Lectures are based are widely believed to be the work of Kenneth Mackenzie (1833-1866). The Order itself opened in 1888. Westcott's official "History Lecture" proposes a fanciful history that links the Order back to ancient times, but historical evidence and common sense contradicts this. This in no way invalidates the Order or its teachings, however, which are certainly rooted in older tradition.

The Golden Dawn is one of many equally valid magical traditions. The Order popularised many occult topics and contributed a significant amount of material to the modern approach to magic, but it is only one of a large consortium of groups that has influenced the wider Western Mystery Tradition. While many present-day magicians owe some of their knowledge to the Golden Dawn, the Golden Dawn owes much of its knowledge to older traditions and magicians who came before it. 

The Golden Dawn is a living, breathing and growing tradition. Over the years the Order has been maligned by some from without and within, but it is as strong as it has ever been, with more members today than at any time in its history. Some have suggested it is obsolete, but it still provides the tools for change that many magicians find are powerful and valuable. Many Order papers remain unpublished, some are only recently being shared with the wider world, and modern adepts are contributing new material, just as the adepts of the original order did. There has never been a better time to be a member, whether it is within an order or as a solitary magician.


Aaron said...

Absolutely wonderful, Dean! I'll be sharing this post.

Magus said...

Wow. That is a pretty fantastic synopsis. This sums up my view of the GD but better than I could have said it ;-)

Edward Reib said...

Very nice :)

Gilberto Strapazon
(Sw. Prabuddha)

Great article Dean.
The order is a live work.

Gerard Dempsey said...

Very true Dean. Thanks for sharing this.

A_Pagan_Crossroads said...

Which order of the GD are you a member of?

Adam Smith said...

Great article Dean. Especially timely. For those currently in Orders that have been disillusioned by the recent internet wackiness, it gives hope. For those outside of Orders, thinking it is irrelevant, or a dead system, it makes a strong Apologetic.

Tabatha said...

Well done!

Alex Sumner said...

Hi Dean, great post. :-)

May I suggest you could add "Theosophy" to your list of things which the Golden Dawn sycretizes? I say this for two reasons. Firstly, just about everyone in the 1880s was influenced by Theosophy - Westcott himself mentions it in the historic lecture - and I believe that Westcott & Mathers would have assumed that everyone coming into the GD would interpret the teachings in that particular light.

Secondly, from personal research I believe that just as Westcott & Mathers intended the outer order to be a westernised-version of the basic teachings of Theosophy, so they intended the higher grades to be westernised-versions of the more advanced teachings.

Unfortunately the proof I have for this statement is in a private archive, and I would get Seriously Really In A lot of trouble if I gave any clue as to its whereabouts. ;-)

All the best,

Alex Sumner.

Soror FSO said...

A concise explanation that I think will help strengthen the living tradition for many students of The Great Work.


Anonymous said...

Great article Sir. I agree with most of it, except the part where you state: "It works as a form of active therapy, where we work out our problems so that we can become better people, both in a mundane and spiritual sense." I wish this part were true, but looking at the meltdowns suffered by some of its practitioners and leaders, I don't think its any form of workable therapy. No wonder Israel Regardie recommended to every GD initiate to get therapy from a real practicing Psychologist.

-Aghor Pir

Dean Wilson said...

@Aghor Pir:

True, but we're taking about what is supposed to happen when the system is properly employed. Obviously those who take shortcuts and ignore the real magical work and transformations won't reflect these changes. There are many people out there who do not deserve the title "adept."

The idea of the system being a form of therapy is that it works that way almost as a side-effect of its other purposes, as we are often forced to address the problems in our lives in order to become true adepts. It does not necessarily replace proper counselling, which can be used instead of or in conjunction with magical work, but the alchemical processes we go through should still (ideally) help us become better people.

A magician who never gets to know themselves better and take greater charge of their life probably should not call themselves a magician.


Anonymous said...

As a past member of the Theosophical Society and present member of the Golden Dawn, I must disagree with the idea that the Golden Dawn is a "westernized Theosophy" or that it can be usefully understood in a Theosophical context. The TS began as a psychic research organization and its motto remains, "There is no religion higher than Truth." In its early days, the TS was an effort to revive Western and Rosicrucian streams of mysticism, and HP Blavatsky's 'spirit guides' were Ascended Masters from ancient Egypt. But early in its history, the TS attracted a well heeled following among British students of metaphysics who were enthralled by the spiritual culture of India, and Blavatsky's inner sources somehow or other became Tibetan. From that time to the present, Theosophy's primary focus is on Vedic and Buddhist sources, as viewed through a Victorian English lens.

When the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society adopted a policy that its members could not belong to any other esoteric organizations, the TS discovered that a large number of Esoteric Theosophists were also members of the Golden Dawn. This was previously unsuspected because at the time, the GD was still a "secret society" in the full meaning of the term. Worse, the Esoteric Section discovered that, of forced to choose, most of those affected would remain in the Golden Dawn. The Esoteric Section revoked its new policy in order to survive. This was the root of a bitter conflict; GD documents from the period indicate that some of the dual members eventually became openly contemptuous of the Golden Dawn even while still attending its meeting and participating in its ceremonial work. Personally, I attribute the "Horos Scandal" to them: Someone gave the Horos people grade signs, current passwords and the like, which they used to persuade Mathers, then in France, that they were entitled to "secret" Golden Dawn documents. The rest is a history that Google can illuminate.

The Theosophical Society is no longer a research organization. Their motto remains the same, but in practice it is read as, "There is no religion higher than Truth, and all of it is contained in our books and doctrines." Modern Theosophy is a do-nothing organization that formally denies the possibility that "ordinary people" can directly contact Divine and Angelic powers, and teaches that no one will attain spiritual Liberation until we all do as part of a species-wide evolutionary process. Their definition of 'mediation' is, to think about what we just read. The only spiritual discipline available within the TS is strict adherence to a Victorian moral code that will improve one's karma and accelerate the process of personal evolution through many, many reincarnations.