Mishkan ha-Echad

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

A Response to Jordan Stratford

Gnostic priest Jordan Stratford made an interesting post on the Golden Dawn lately, to which I'd like to make a few responses to (unfortunately commenting is disabled there).

"Known as the Order of the Golden Dawn, the group attracted some of the greatest artistic and philosophical minds of turn-of-the-century London, including fantasists Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Dracula creator Bram Stoker, Fu Manchu creator Sax Rhomer, occultists Arthur Edward Waite (creator of the popular tarot deck), Samuel Liddel Macgregor Mathers, ├╝berweirdo Aleister Crowley, and famed Irish poet WB Yeats."

Firstly, I love the description of Crowley as "├╝berweirdo". However, the mention of Bram Stoker is perhaps misleading, as I discovered when I inquired about his potential membership on my blog last year. While not all of the membership lists have been published, it seems that Stoker is among none of them, although he was perhaps known to some of the Golden Dawn's members (in real or astral form). See the comments to my inquiry for more details.

"The Golden Dawn taught prophecy,the secret meanings behind Greek, Roman and biblical myths; astrology, tarot, and – ultimately – the promise of enlightenment."

I'd prefer to use the conventional term of "divination" here, as "prophecy" can be misleading, and I recall no use of this word in the GD documents, but plenty of uses of "divination". Also, I'm not sure the GD ever gave "the promise of enlightenment". The aim of enlightenment, perhaps, but I think if any group promises you enlightenment then you need to think twice about them; becoming a member of any spiritual organisation guarantees nothing in terms of wisdom or enlightenment - that you must attain on your own time (although hopefully such membership can aid towards it).

"So busted. Although you've learned more in the chunk above than every GD site on the 'net put together. I deliver. So bear with me."

While Stratford's article is quite good (and humourous), this is a rather arrogant and dismissive comment. There are plenty of Golden Dawn sites that give way more information than the short time-line proposed by Stratford (which is, I garner, based on similar time-lines already published in various books and websites). One example is the history essay written by the Ciceros and published in Essential Golden Dawn. It can be found online here. While there are many unreputable sources out there, there are plenty of excellent ones too. See my blogroll for an example of these.

"1) It takes about a year and change to go through the elemental grades of the "Outer Order". This is a challenging, rewarding, insightful pursuit. Spend a few months learning about your air nature, your fire nature, your earth and water nature. And reconcile them in an intentional way. This really has nothing to do with learning a table of correspondence: it's a metaphor for how all the bits of you relate to all the other bits of you. 5 years of therapy in 18 months, not a bad deal for wearing a polyester robe and mangling Greek and Hebrew beyond recognition. Oh, most of the people next to you are crazy (at least the first time you go through it, you'll learn discernment the hard way) or of the non-bathing variety. Personally I'd take the crazy. Regardless: Persevere. Hey, that's a decent motto right there."

I'll ignore the comments about "the people next to you are crazy [...] or of the non-bathing variety" (?), but it seems to me that's it a long time since anyone went through all the elemental grades in a single year. This used to be the way in the original order, but nowadays it seems that there's an awful lot more to do in each grade, and that 6 months is usual a minimum of sorts. The advice to persevere, however, is good, and has been a motto of sorts for the Order and its members for a long time.

2) Hierus or no, the Adeptship of the Inner Order is a priesthood. It's more about logistics than anything else, and yet there's no room for blinking when a Neophyte shows up and places their journey in your hands. You're a janitor, but a kind of ridiculously important janitor. So step up, or step aside.

Hmm. Could Stratford not have found any other comparison to the Officers of the GD than "janitor"? I wonder if he considers a priest of the AJC to be "a kind of rediculously important janitor". That said, "step up, or step aside" is important. If someone isn't fulfilling their role as an Officer, they should, in my opinion, step down. If a leader is no longer leading, they need to hand the role over to another. Easier said than done, of course, and we all have our egoes to contend with, but there should always be a system in place to ensure that a Temple is being run as efficiently as possible.

"3) You are the Secret Chiefs of the Order. Deal with it. Okay, you're probably not ready to deal with it but you do this enough times you will be."

This may be confusing to some readers, but I can kind of see what Stratford is getting at here. After all, becoming an Adept is all about taking responsibility for one's life and spiritual progress. To hand over that responsibility to a "Secret Chief" would be a bit of a cop-out of sorts. However, the jury still isn't out on what exactly the Secret Chiefs are (if anything). Check out what Mathers thought they were, and then my own views on the subject.

"4) I said there were 3, but I'm all about the giving. You can sell someone something, or you can initiate them. You can't do both. An 800 number or a credit-card-processing form means the former, and never the latter. But you knew that."

Unfortunately there will always be those who treat spirituality as a business, or, worse, try to con people out of their need for something "more", while offering little or nothing for their money. That said, all organisations need money to survive (including Gnostic churches), so do not be put off by membership or initiation fees, which tend to be the norm in esoteric orders. If in doubt, do some research and ask around. There are usually people and places that report the scams out there.


Monsignor Scott Rassbach said...

Re money: It's always about the use the money is put to. If it's to buy the initiator new and better toys, then no. If it's to buy the TEMPLE (church, organization, etc) new and better toys, toys which YOU, the initiate, can use, then yes.

Frater Yechidah said...

Ave Scott+,

Very true. However, my experience has been that membership fees predominantly go towards renting the temple space, and initiation fees go towards the material provided (i.e. papers, etc.). The fees should thus reflect this and not be excessive. To expect that there should be no fees, however, means that potential candidates are asking that the people running the temple fork out the money necessary to keep it active, which is unfair. However, under no circumstances should a leader of such an organisation be able to live off the fees charged of its members; they should always go towards the benefit of the group as a whole.

Thanks for the comment :)


Soror FSO said...


How do you feel about a person "living off the money" if running thier perspective Order is thier full time job?

Also, if you have time...tell me what you think...

Frater Yechidah said...

Ave Soror,

That's a thorny issue, and one that depends on each individual case. It would be great if someone could devote the majority of their time and energy into an Order, and being paid to do so would be somewhat necessary to survive. This was the way it was Mathers, and he achieved quite a lot as leader, much of which, it could be argued, he would not have achieved with a "day job". However, it's clear that he also abused this privaledge, considering he expelled Annie Horniman as soon as she stopped paying his wages. Also, he was living off a wage from her, not the temple funds, per se, so people weren't being charged extra to fund his lifestyle.

An example of a priest might be given, where that is their job and they are paid to do such. However, it's often clear that a priest has a lot of duties, many things to do throughout each week, whereas such requirements aren't necessarily there for an Order chief. How can we guarantee we get "our money's worth", as it were? Who decides these things?

I'm not saying it can't be done, but it's a bit of a fine line to thread, and definitely open to abuse.

Nice blog - I've added it to my blogroll :)


golden-dawn-hermetic said...

Soror FSO

Many modern occultists are allergic to money or connecting money with spirituality. It is a sort of dualism where spirit and matter is kept apart.

This is why few of them would charge money for hundreds (thousands) of hours invested in teaching, building a magical group, writing lessons, etc. However, if the topic was something like biology or chemistry, etc. then they would expect a bill. What they don't understand is that biology and chemistry is no different than alchemy and magic. They are also scholastic disciplines.

Of course, Dean has a point about the chance of abuse. However, Mathers response to Annie was also because she was using his salary as a point of control. This could happen in the case of trainer-trainee situation. However, you don't pay your dues to your teacher at college. You pay it to the university. The university pays the salary. It is all professionally done with rules in place to protect teachers and students.

Magic groups can be run like a non-profit organization. You pay the organization money. This money is then handled by a volunteer board who pay full-time administrators (Chiefs) to run the order as their full time job.

Monsignor says it is ok to spend money on temple space, physical objects, and so on. He is considering those 'assets' for the organization that will benefit YOU. The truth is the most important assets of an organization are its teachers, writers, initiators, and so on. They are called organic assets and they are the ones that gives YOU the best benefit. Should they decide due to their 'day-job' that they can't be there for you then the organization will loose more than it would if it has to hold classes in a living room.

It is obvious that I disagree with the current view that spiritual organizations' biological assets are expected to work 40 hours for someone else to support themselves as a requirement for their ability to provide another 10-40 hours to help others in their spiritual pursuits.

Imagine if the Red Cross asked their full time medical employees to get a -day- or -night- job at a bank to pay their bills so they can work at the Red Cross for free lest they be accused of good living from saving lives :P

The proof is in the pudding. Esoteric Golden Dawn many officers have made their order their full time job. Look at the video of their temple and its quality compared to what you often seen. This is what happens when people live off the dues of a magical organization. They have every motivation to make sure YOU get the best experience possible lest you stop paying their salaries.

In the end, I believe it is about balance. People have gone too far in the other direction in response to swindling spiritual gurus who ripped people off by selling them hope.

It will take a long time for things to switch back to the center. Many people have a sense of Catholic-like guilt associated with this.

Soror FSO said...

Its obvious that the issue isn't should or shouldnt' this be done. Of course it should, the results are superior to the alternative. The real issue lies in the temptation of an organization to become corrupt. This doesn't just happen in the Golden Dawn, but in almost all organizations, especially spiritual one, where the trust of the people is given even more freely than in a business environment. The question is, how can we safe guard our traditions from this? Is it that we give them too much power? or is it that we expect so much from them, we forget they're human and don't give them the proper safe guard that other in the organization recieve? An example of this, is the Chief who has to work so hard at building the Order, mentoring the Order, safe-guarding the Order, that he/she gets no personal time to rest, do magic, and grow. I think that eventually the Chief being so warn down, naturally gives in to his nephesh, and unfortunatly for them, there is a plethora of tempations at hand (money, women, willing initiates to do his bidding). What I am trying to say is that I believe each Chief starts out with good intentions and due to politics, personal alchemy, being over-worked, etc...eventually can end up in the wrong place. Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to take away fault for inappropriate behavior, I'm just wondering if you could say any of the responsibilty should be shared...

golden-dawn-hermetic said...

Agreed. That is why the Chief needs to be compensated for his/her effort in the organization. Job salary becomes tool that can be used to ensure quality performance and ethical conduct.

However, there are inherent structural problems that makes this difficult. They often result in the challenges you are hinting to in your comment:

a) Too much power is invested in the Chief. There are THREE Chiefs in the Golden Dawn system.

b) The Chief Adept often is the OWNER of the Organization by default of beings its founder. This means no one else has true power even if they have management roles.

c) The structure of the order is more military like than a civilian business or non-profit organization. Too much emphasis is placed on loyalty to the army (order) and the Commander in Chief (Chief Adept). In such a situation, the spoils goes to the victor. Often there is a civilian leadership that keeps the military in check, but this is absent from most Golden Dawn organizations.

Therefore, what needs to happen first is as follows:

a) Board of adepts (5=6) from RR et AC annually vote for all management offices (Chiefs & Chief Adepts).

b) Criteria of performance is drawn up so every one knows what is expected of them in the job.

c) Dues handled by the cancellarius are accounted for to all adepts in the board. This includes salaries paid to the Chiefs and / or all other management offices.

d) Ownership of the organization is passed to all board members. Shares amount can be based on grades. Nevertheless, every one should own their own share and thus have a voice.

e) Removal of the Chief Adept as Supreme Authority and establishing an actual by-law that governs the order with Chief Adept being like a CEO who has final say in decisions, but still can be removed by the board.

This will not happen of course because of the earlier b). I am sorry to say that regardless of how much 'good' they are doing, most organizations are run like the mob. This is why I was shocked with David Griffin's videos actually giving equal space to a VH Frater. I had expected the same old same old. Maybe there is hope after all for this old chariot. However, I really believe it when:

a) Orders encourage their members to join other GD orders too or at least tolerate it as accepted behavior

b) I check up the whois of a GD order's domain and see it owned by someone who isn't also the Chief Adept or highest authority of that order.

Yeah I also put out milk and cookies for Santa...

Lauren said...

If an order is big enough to need someone working as a steady job to administrate it, it's too big. Temples should be lean mean initiating machines. If you have an order that big, you have stopped selective. You'll need advertising so the chiefs are sure to get enough initiation fees to make their salary. Want to turn someone away? Get a pay cut. Sounds like a diploma mill.

All that time spent processing payroll? All that "redistribution" of funds? Remember the person pushing paper is getting paid too. In addition, when there is salary involved you have to have a legal corporation (more cost to members) so that means the Order is open to tax audits-- the last thing a "secret" organization needs!

Things that need to be done in a lodge should be work-study. You get special officer training, which benefits you in your own personal work, in exchange for giving your time and energy in an initiation. Everybody pitches in for rent and temple supplies.

If a magician wants to make money off being a magician, there are a number of other ways to do it. Write books. Make regalia and sell it online. Travel and give workshops, if you're that good. Hell, do film consulting. But if you try to market the experience as a product, that's all it will be. "Thou Shalt Not Sell the Gift of God" as the Fama Fraternitatis puts it.


Frater Yechidah said...

Excellent comment, Lauren :)


Samuel Scarborough said...

I thought I would comment on some of the points brought up by golden-dawn-hermetic.

On the concept of being allergic to money or linking it with spirituality is something of red herring argument, especially within the Hermetic/Rosicrucian Tradition. I'm sorry, but I simply do not think that a person should be paid to run an Order. The Order should charge membership fees and dues, but these should go to the expenses of the Order, not to an income for someone's livelihood. There are those organizations that the Chief Adept does live off of the dues, but frankly those organizations do not produce anything of value for their membership - at least from what I have experienced.

As to formulating by-laws and a certain amount of transparency in regards to the monies brought in and spent within an Order, traditionally, these were handled once per year, some time between the Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox. All Order members could ask for an accounting (and this still takes place in many of the more traditional GD Orders).

You mention that too much power rests in the hands of the Chief Adept, and that there are Three Chiefs. This is correct that there are Three Chiefs, all of which have a say in how an Order is run. The Chief Adept does not have more power than the Second or Third Adept (at least in a traditionally run Order). The Three Chiefs make decisions together.

You mention Ownership of the Organization, and this should be passed on to the board of adepts. You logic seems a bit off to me, both as a magickal organization and as a business model. Maybe you can elaborate a bit more on this point?

You bring up the point of By-Laws a couple of times. Most organizations that I am familiar with have by-laws which layout the exact nature of how that Order is governed, the rights of members, financial responsibility, etc., etc. If you belong to an Order that does not have these things, then I suggest that you run as fast and far as you can away from the particular Order.

Regardie, and I presume Westcott, would have laughed at the idea of a Chief Adept living on the Order. That to me seems more like a way to bilk money from people simply looking for information and grades. It also makes the Chief Adept into a one-dimensional person, who has no life outside of doing GD administration work.


golden-dawn-hermetic said...


I am the first to agree with you if I believed that professionalism and salaries were damaging to the spiritual integrity of a Golden Dawn group. That is the crux of the difference in opinion. I don't believe it is the case.

Let me explain...

I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. You can be large in size and still a lean mean initiation machine. Let's take the Esoteric Golden Dawn. It has thousands of members (big). Is it a more commercial organization than your local get-together study groups? Absofrikkinlutely!

4,000 members x $120 year annual dues = $480,000 a year.

Did that matter to the tens of thousands of people who have joined it over the years? Not one cinch of a philosophus' hair! Why? They wanted the best initiation experience, most dedicated team of teachers, and the highest quality study manuals. They were willing to open their wallets and pay for it. Is its operation sloppy compared to your local private group of only 25? The EOGD can be accused of many things, being sloppy is not one of them.

All established orders advertise whether focused locally or operate internationally. Chic, David, Pat and Robert all advertise and each does it in their own unique way. They have to because they tried setting up their tent in a forest and attracting neophytes by Frankincense smell and it didn't work.

You can still be large and selective. That is why you have a system. The largest number of members in a particular grade in any Golden Dawn organization will always be neophytes.

You can also be expensive and selective. Some of the lowest-entry fee universities ARE diploma-mills. Harvard is bloody expensive and it is VERY selective.

Yes, there will be a paid salaried paper pusher. That is the job of the Cancellarius and there is nothing wrong with that. I have met people in the Golden Dawn who worked for sensitive jobs in the government. They much prefer to know part of their dues is being paid to ensure their info is handled professionally versus some kid in his mom's basement.

As far as a magician making money from his craft, let me be the first to tell you there is no money in magick. Want to know why? Simple: most people don't take us seriously - heck - we often don't take what we do seriously enough. We don't treat it like we treat a life-saving profession such as medicine. Most people in magick don't want to even spend $15 for a book. They expect freepie PDF downloads of all the latest magick books. That is why publishers are rightfully dropping magick books like hot coals.

Honestly, I was not even talking about making money in the real sense.I am talking about professionalism and equal exchange of energies. If an officer is willing to accept all the administrator's responsibility in exchange of information (that is what training is), so be it. However, you will find quickly that you will be replacing your talent often as once they have what they came for 'real life' intrudes.

Having your feet firmly situated in Malkuth does not detract from either the spiritual focus of the organization or your focus on the higher. There is a reason the first grade past neophyte is Zelator and is associated with Malkuth. Sadly, I think many people rush through it too fast and don't spend time grounding themselves.

golden-dawn-hermetic said...


A red herring as you well know is a deliberate attempt to change a subject or divert an argument. I am presenting a different philosophical approach.

It is true in my experience that many magicians are allergic to money. They have an entrenched belief that spirituality <> money, which is what I stated initially. I once had a guy call me on the phone asking if I would teach him Tarot. He got my number from somewhere. I said sure, but I charge $25 per class. He went on a rant right then and there that my teaching time should be free and I must not know my s*t because no *authentic spiritual* tarot teacher would charge for his time.

Truth is I never really expected to make money from teaching Tarot. $25 for a 2hour class is pittance to what I could be doing elsewhere. I have also taught classes for free. The key here is that he *expected* my time, and I ain't getting this time back EVER, for free because to combine *spiritual education* with *money* equals BAD.

"There are those organizations that the Chief Adept does live off of the dues, but frankly those organizations do not produce anything of value for their membership - at least from what I have experienced."

That is an interesting argument considering Mathers lived OFF the order's money and donations from its members. What would you have if he had no time to do what he did or write what he wrote?

As I said earlier, I have known very well managed and established orders whose officers get paid. Are you going to tell me, for example, that Amorc had no value to offer? It may not to you, but it does to its members and I bet many GDer's salivated at the chance of having a structure just like Amorc. I know because I witnessed the envy first hand. In a nutshell, my experience has been the exact reverse of yours.

"All Order members could ask for an accounting (and this still takes place in many of the more traditional GD Orders)."

That is good. Asking for an accounting and GETTING an accounting is two different things. I was referring to an automatic transparency and I am glad some organizations are doing that.

"The Chief Adept does not have more power than the Second or Third Adept (at least in a traditionally run Order). The Three Chiefs make decisions together."

This is not true in every GD organization. This power is also measured by amount of ownership. In the ideal reality, what you describe is the way it is. However, even in the original GD, power became too concentrated in one person aka Mathers. I have seen cases, where even so the form of shared power existed, one person possessed too much influence due to ownership.

"You mention Ownership of the Organization, and this should be passed on to the board of adepts. You logic seems a bit off to me, both as a magickal organization and as a business model. Maybe you can elaborate a bit more on this point?"

The idea of shareholder or stakeholders is a common business principle. Magickal organizations are not publicly traded companies, but non-profit organization. The stakeholder model is thus adapted to the public sector. Legally each organization has ownership of some form. It doesn't matter who is chief and who is hierophant, because in the end there is a legal owner(s) who by law can trump the internal process. In other words, if a vote was made to replace the Chief Adept and he didn't like that idea, the members can walk. However, who will gain possession of temple property, tools, implements, and so on? The legal owner(s) of course as they are organizational assets. Often what happens in those cases is that disgruntled shareholders (adepts) decide to walk and form a different order because that is the only option. Providing shared ownership cut down on schisms and ensures more balance of real power.

"If you belong to an Order that does not have these things, then I suggest that you run as fast and far as you can away from the particular Order."

Actually, I tend to prefer magical orders who are too busy doing the work to waste on by-laws. However, I also have no illusions as to whom that order belong to. I make sure that everyone who invests in me is compensated. If a teacher gives me an extra class, I offer him/her money for it. They are free to refuse, but I make the offer.

"If you belong to an Order that does not have these things, then I suggest that you run as fast and far as you can away from the particular Order."

I wasn't referring to by-laws. I was referring to job descriptions with accountability measures. In other words, what is expected of the Chief Adept in the next year. If those expectations don't come to pass then the Chief Adept is replaced. Most GD organizations I am familiar with have thick by-laws, but no actual performance measures. I am not referring to how well you recite your lines in the temple - either.

"Regardie, and I presume Westcott, would have laughed at the idea of a Chief Adept living on the Order."

The Golden Dawn wasn't established by Regardie and why in particular Westcott?

"That to me seems more like a way to bilk money from people simply looking for information and grades."

Sorry to disappoint you but people for the most part ARE looking for information and grades and ARE willing to pay for them. What we are talking about here is importing professional methodologies that are the norm in non-profit organizations to PROTECT people from abuse.

I have seen multiple cases of abuse as things stand now. In my mind, those people would not dare to do what they did in a professional setting because there would be consequences - primarily to their own lively hood.

"It also makes the Chief Adept into a one-dimensional person, who has no life outside of doing GD administration work."

If that is his choice, but that can be a part-time job. Here is the key philosophical difference. I see it as a job as well as a spiritual calling. People who take this job do so because it is a spiritual calling and not because there is lots of money to be made. However, having their time minimally covered, ensure and presents a certain standard of professionalism.

Seriously folks, this becoming a merry-go-round argument. If you don't believe philosophically that orders should pay salaries for its administrators, I can never convince you otherwise when it is a tenant of your faith. Let us just continue to agree to disagree on these point.

Samuel Scarborough said...


I will agree with your last statement. I think that we are fundamentally opposed here. There is no point in trying to convince the other.

I do agree with you that an Order should non-profit, but that has other issues rather than the governance of the Order.

I do have some points to address though:

You ask why I mention Westcott in particular... well, for one the GD was Westcott's not Mathers' baby. Mathers does take over, but only after nudging Westcott out. He then invites Westcott back to the AO, but since Westcott no longer produces any papers which Mathers can attempt to elaborate on, the overall quality of those AO papers is lacking from those of the earlier GD.

As for Mathers' living off the GD. He never did. He lived on a personal stipend from Annie Horniman. When she withdrew this stipend, she was promptly expelled from the Order. It is true that Mathers did receive a stipend from the AO, but most of this appears to have been compensated from a personal account of one member rather than fully from the Order funds itself.

Again, I'll point to the quality of the work produced by Mathers during the period of 1900 - 1918. It is not that good overall. His Godforms Paper, The Heptagram Paper and the Seven-Branched Candlestick Paper, as well as several others all bear this out. Also his changes in the initiation rituals and teachings (this will be brought out in a forthcoming book on the AO material).

You are right that people want Grades and Titles... it shows all over the internet. Personally, I think it would be better for a person to work, TRULY WORK, for any grade or title, not simply pay for one. There are Orders out there that do this, producing people with VH titles that do not understand the basics of the material in the first place. This is my opinion based on my experience over several years in the GD.

IF you have issues with the way that your particular Order is run and operated then leave it for another, or if you have a better idea, then leave and create your own Order.


Lauren said...

I just don't think the officers should be paid. Charging for a class or workshop is different.

After all, if salary meant good performance and quality work, then we wouldn't have this economic meltdown all over the world right now.

How did we get on this topic again?

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