Welcome back, Aspirants!
In my last post, I shared with you an “anti-secret society” manifesto posted by Jake Stratton Kent to my Solomonic group, along with rebuttals made by myself, Nick Farrell, Peregrin Wildoak and others. In case you are just joining us, I want to make it clear that Jake and I are friends who each have a deep respect for the work and scholarship of the other. So this isn’t any kind of in-fighting or conflict – it’s just a healthy fraternal debate that has brought up all sorts of interesting points. If you haven’t read my last post and followed all the links I provided, I urge you to do that now before reading on…
You all caught up now? Good, let’s continue:
In this post, I’m going to share Jake’s Open Message to the Golden Dawn Community, which he wrote in response to the rebuttals he received to his manifesto. But before I do that, I want to offer a few more introductory paragraphs about the work Jake and I have been doing over the last several years.
Jake and I have never actually collaborated on any joint projects. We are simply two guys with similar interests/goals who know one another via several internet forums. Some of our work appears together in an anthology or two from Scarlet Imprint, And Jake has told me that he received some amount of inspiration for his Geosophia from my publications about the grimoires’ relation to shamanic vocation. (I wonder if he was mostly being nice when he said that. lol)
The goal that Jake and I share goes somewhat beyond merely redefining the Solomonic grimoires and the concept of goetia for occultists. Our true secret conspiracy is to plant seeds in what we believe to be the modern age’s fertile soil for a new kind of occult revival.
When you look at indigenous cultures around the world – native America, Africa, South America, the Caribbean islands, etc – you will quickly discover they all possess occult traditions and folk magick that dates back hundreds and thousands of years. We can point to examples in the ATRs (Santeria, Palo-Mayombe, Voodoo, etc), Mexican Brujería, Native American Shamanism, and even syncratic folk traditions like Hoodoo and Hexcraft – just to name a few. While all of these traditions have been influenced by outside sources (such as Christianity), all of them have persisted in their cultures without a historical break. Their brands of occultism are true living traditions, with relevance to the entire host culture – not just a few isolated scholars and religious sub-cultures.
Western culture, on the other hand, does not enjoy this reality. Our occultism and folk magick developed naturally for thousands of years, and then hit the massive brick walls of the Roman Catholic Church and (later) the Age of Enlightenment. During these periods magick was first outlawed, and then ridiculed, so that it finally became a relic of the past. Western culture moved on without its shamans and lost its connection to its native spirits – leading us ultimately to the world of corporate rule and rampant consumerism we all suffer from today.
Of course, this is not to say that Western occultism was successfully stamped out. Throughout the centuries, the Light has been kept alive by a few obscure individuals and several mystical groups – but the common “man on the street” either doesn’t know any of this exists, or is vaguely aware that “some wackos” engage in strange religious practices. For most Westerners, occultism has zero impact on their daily lives.
By the time we got to the late 1800s and early 1900s, Western occultism was literally starting from scratch. As Jake has pointed out, the modern occult revival launched primarily from a masonic model. And it pieced together what it could from dusty old books found in nearly forgotten archives, a few early archeological digs in Egypt, a largely watered-down understanding of Buddhism and heaping doses of psychology and Jungianism. They did the best they could with limited information (and an overwhelming Christian bias) – and they really did achieve a lot under the circumstances. It was the birth of the modern lodge-style systems of magick.
But what the Golden Dawn, Thelema and even Wicca have never achieved is the re-establishment of an occultism that is relevant to the day-to-day life of greater Western culture. We remain obscure sub-cultures. How rare is it, for example, for a layperson to seek out their neighborhood Golden Dawn wizard or Wiccan when they are facing hardships in their lives? For healing or exorcism? For rituals related to birth, marriage or death? For that matter, how often does a Western layperson even consider the Gods and spirits who share and govern their world, or think even once about how to strike a balance and harmony with such entities?
What Jake and I – and a good many others – see in the grimoires are manuals to accomplish all of the above. They contain catalogs of the native spirits of the West, and the shamanic methods of interacting with them. True shamans don’t learn their art in university or lodge-style settings – they learn directly from the spirits. And the Solomonic system is designed for the very purpose of showing us how to contact them and re-establish the Western Goen.
The magickal lodges aren’t designed for this purpose. I’ll return to that thought shortly – but for now I want you to keep all of the above in mind as you read Jake’s Open Message to the Golden Dawn Community:
An Open Message to the Golden Dawn Community
Various sources inform me that some of the Golden Dawn groups recognise their past failings and are ‘moving on’ now or soonish – that’s fine, even credible.
Meanwhile we have all sorts of attitudes and misconceptions in the occult community, originating precisely from the Golden Dawn, plus some help from Crowley and Grant. It doesn’t matter whether Crowley is/was popular with this or that faction of the current Golden Dawn community. If it is a community, it has a lot of work to do helping folks unlearn a lot of bullshit, and make space for better information. Sure, some Masonic tendencies in the occult community are not entirely Golden Dawn related, but some very unhelpful and generic problems DO originate in that area.
Particularly as regards traditional Goetia – to which the ‘standard bearers of the Occult Revival’ have done an immense collective disservice. This in several ways, and I need not emphasise Mathers’ editing and attitude flaws in his Key of Solomon or the still near universal semantic problems stemming from the Mathers/Crowley publication of the Goetia of Solomon. Waite’s ironic dismissal of the grimoires is also a comparatively minor matter. Aaron and others are quite capable of clarifying these details if need be. There is a more serious philosophical matter, which should alarm Western occultists across much of the traditional spectrum. It requires measured, reasonable but effective action, and cannot be avoided.
Mathers introduction of the Qliphoth into modern occultism has resulted, against considerable precedent, in an ‘anti-cosmic philosophy’ as one of the main features of modern Western Occultism. This is a disaster for Hermeticism and Neoplatonism, to which the Golden Dawn current among many Western schools essentially belong. These are positive philosophies, even with the inheritance of the ‘spirit/matter dichotomy’ inherent in Plato – which to a large degree Iamblichus resolved. The involvement of the premier occult ‘Secret Societies’ in Gnosticism – with its own pessimistic undercurrents – is also something Magical Orders need to clarify very firmly indeed.
The role of the Qliphoth in neo-occultism is also a greater disaster to understanding and reclaiming Goetia as a major formative ancestral current within Western Magic. Spirit work as a central part of western magic, long ‘demonised’ and driven underground, involves a spirit pantheon, traceable as early as the second century AD, and with older elements. These ‘Aerial spirits (demons or ‘third order angels’) have no real relation with the qlipoth whatever. The ‘fall out’ from the early revival as now represented in some quarters represents essentially a whole new layer of demonisation, for which the legacy of the Golden Dawn bears much of the responsibility. This has social and philosophical ramifications which have to be considered, by would be Hierophants and Orders alike. Again, Grant’s contribution to this fiasco does not absolve the Golden Dawn legacy of responsibility for the ‘clear up’. I stress also that an ‘anti-Satanic’ crusade would not be constructive, what is required is due acknowledgment of the authentic goetic tradition. The ‘anti-spiritualist’ clause in the Magical Obligation is an additional obstacle to true progress in the ‘spirit work’ aspect of traditional magic. Methods involving states of passivity and loss of control should not be subject to an ideological taboo at the very base of the Pyramid.
Additionally, the Secret Society model has had a major impact on witchcraft, another aspect of my original statement. The ‘bogus history’ and resistance to change inherent in this model has not been useful there. Other strands of the modern ceremonial community have also inherited problems (such as antipathy to spiritualism) from the GD/AC legacy. One influential secret society has only added one book to their curriculum since 1947 – that’s not a good precedent for an occult vanguard. This all results from the self referential tendencies in the Secret Society model. A closed door to stop knowledge getting out eventually stops it getting in. To repeat, its all very well you guys moving on – but you have a hell of a job catching up and clearing up, not only your own act, but the semi generic mess your past mistakes have encouraged.
Don’t just set up shop with some shiny ‘new improved’ labels. Occultism doesn’t need a new flavour in an old package. It needs to encourage self education regarding its traditions, from authentic primary sources and up to date research. It needs to understand the Western Tradition as a continuum, not a series of consumer niches and disjointed re-enactment styles with no inter-relationships or mutual influences. Rather than letting occultism get dumbed down and commercialised through their neglect, the Mystery Schools must exemplify Magic as an important formative aspect of Western Culture and be worthy of their Calling.
Otherwise what’s the point of them?
First in my response, I’d like to address Jake’s comments about the Qliphoth. I don’t want to spend much time on that here – since a really awesome discussion about the Qliphoth in Western occultism was already held on the Solomonic Group, and I highly recommend you check that out.
Moving on from that, I want to focus upon what I see as Jake’s misunderstanding of the proper role of secret societies in Western occultism. (Derived, I suspect, from his negative experiences with some lodges from his past.) While he makes several worthwhile points in his manifesto and open message, I still believe he is “conflating apples and oranges” in his feelings toward secret societies vs. folk magick.
As I said in my last post, I agree with Jake on several issues. The old magickal lodges did get several concepts wrong, and many of those concepts ended up permeating the whole of Western occultism. Work needs to be done to correct this: hence books like Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires, Geosophia and others. Western occultism does not begin and end with the Golden Dawn.
Where I disagree with Jake is in his overall dismissal of the lodges themselves, and his suggestion that their continued existence is holding back the current Western occult revival. Sure, as I stated previously, the lodges are not going to revive the Goen or make his services accessible to the standard Western layperson the way the Santo is available to his people. But this doesn’t mean the lodges don’t have an important role to play.
In Secrets…, I devoted chapter three entirely to the subject of shamanism and the role it plays in society. I then devoted chapter four entirely to the subject of the “temple faiths” and the social role played by the priest. From there I argued that the Solomonic tradition was a melding of these two roles – an inherently priestly art that also requires one to fulfill the role of shaman to the community. In other words, it involves all of the spiritual rectification and purification required to elevate oneself closer to God, but then asks one to turn back toward the world and use his new-found wisdom and power to help others with the most mundane issues.
As an illustration of this, I point to the Key of Solomon the King, which suggests one should “acquire the rank or degree of Exorcist” before attempting its spells. That meant ordination in the Church and appointment to the Order of Exorcists. And the Order of Exorcists wee doubtlessly the most “shamanic” of the priestly cast, being in charge of healing and dealing directly with the everyday problems of the people.
Acquiring the ordination is simply a method of gaining the spiritual authority necessary to be taken seriously by the spirits and angels. (This is a subject I cover in some depth in Secrets…) In this light, here is the response I posted to Jake concerning my involvement in both the Golden Dawn and Solomonic magick:
You are correct that the orders are not going in the direction that you are pulling. Even my own Solomonic work (which you know is pulling in pretty much the same direction as yours) is done outside the confines of my order. But I just can’t see my work in the order as some sort of detriment to my Solomonic work.
In fact, my work in the order plays a rather important role in my Solomonic practice. No, I don’t blend the systems – I don’t use Golden Dawn rituals and techniques as a basis for the grimoire magick. However, the grimoires *do* happen to mention in places that some sort of ordination is helpful in performing the magick. In other words – it helps if one undertakes some form of initiatory process.
I’m not a Catholic, so becoming a priest in the Church isn’t going to happen. However, I am a Gnostic and a Hermeticist – and as such I became “ordained” by working my way through the Golden Dawn’s Outer Grades and into the RR et AC. I have sat as Hierophant – which you could translate as “High Priest” – in my Temple and initiated others into the Tradition. (Currently I am a past-Hierophant, but I will sit as Hierophant again when my turn comes back around.)
In fact, I joined the Golden Dawn entirely on the orders of my Guardian Angel. For me, this is how I gained the spiritual authority necessary to hang out with the angels and spirits of the grimoires. When they say, “John Dee we know, Agrippa we know, but who are you?”, I reply, “I am Aaron Leitch, Frater Odo Caosg of the Isis-Urania Mother Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” – and it does indeed carry weight.
I’m certainly not saying that is the *only* way to gain the necessary spiritual authority. But it was the way for me, and it works. And I see just as much relevance in the order as I see in what you and I are doing with the Solomonic material outside the orders. The fact that they are different does not make them mutually exclusive.
In essence, I believe what we are seeing in the current expansion of Solomonic and other systems of folk magick (including hoodoo, hexcraft, fam-trad witchcraft, etc) is the revival of Western shamanism. What we are seeing in the growth of the Golden Dawn and other secret societies is the establishment of the priestly side of the occultism coin.
Sure, we’ve got plenty of priests in the Church, but they are largely divorced from and hostile to occultism, and thus cannot play a relevant role in the return of a shamanic culture. (Crowley may have been correct when he suggested their day had passed.) Today, a new kind of priestly caste is required for that to happen – and such a priesthood, in the form of secret societies like the Golden Dawn , is currently in its infancy.
If you look at ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Sumeria, Babylonia, Greece, early Rome, etc. you find examples of Temple priesthoods and common folk magick co-existing in harmony. Each had its role to play in the daily lives of the greater community. The two were not mutually exclusive and in fact supported one another in many ways. I don’t believe either side of the coin – priestly or shamanic – must be abandoned in order for the other to prosper.