Deeper Mysteries of the Great Work: Golden Dawn, Buddhism, and Advaita Vedanta

By Frater S.C.F.V.

GoldenDawnlogoQ: I would like to ask you a question. I have been studying some great Golden Dawn based books and I have noticed there seems to be a lot of attention on the will. Personally, having studied the teachings of Buddhism and Advaita Vedants, I tend not to believe in “free will.”

To me, the world does not make much sense when I would accept the existence of a free will. The belief in free will also has a lot of troublesome consequences, concerning morality, a soul/mind seperate from the brain of the body which can result in many what I would call “ego based illusions” which hinder my spiritual life more then they do any good. What are your views on this subject?

A: This is a fantastic question. Your concerns resonate with some of the same ones I had when I began studying the Golden Dawn since, somewhat like you, I had trained in Zen Buddhism and was initiated into Advaita Vedanta.

The Buddhist approach and the Advaita approach both negate the personal I and deconstruct the sense of personal self that in the Qabalah, corresponds to the Ruach.


Advaita mainly proceeds by negating all aspects of our being and simply abiding as the so-called “Higher” Self, Atman-Brahman, or the Awareness of the Yechidah. When the Advaita sage Nisargadatta Maharaj talks about holding on to the pure and simple sense of being, which he calls the “sense I Am,” that is ultimately consonant with the G.D. system since the Divine Name of Keter (כתר) is Eheieh (אהיה – I Am).

Beyond Keter (כתר) is the limitless light of pure Awareness (אין סוף אור – Ain Soph Aur), beyond which is the Ain Soph (אֵין סוֹף – Limitlessness) and Ain (אֵין – No-thingness), which is beyond all concepts altogether — that is Nisargadatta’s Absolute.


It is also related to the Sunyata or emptiness of Buddhism, which is beyond even Oneness. When Zen masters say “all things return to the One, but to where does this One return?” They are pointing to the Absolute or Ground of Dzogchen or Christian mystical Godhead that is prior to both duality and nonduality, beyond phenomenological twoness and even Oneness itself.

The Qabalah’s approach as used in the G.D. is different from Advaita in the sense that it doesn’t proceed by fixating on the Yechidah or constantly negating the Ruach, although part of the 5=6 teachings concern the humbling of the personal I in surrender to the Divine.

That is, instead of fixating on constantly denying and deconstructing the personal I and clinging to the Higher Self, the Golden Dawn system simply places both in balanced context. In the Outer Order Grades, the aspirant works on building up the confidence, balance, and balance of elements within their being to train them for the magical and inner work to come.

In the Adeptus Minor, as the system is meant to be worked, one integrates what one has learned and yet humbles oneself in surrender to our Divine Nature, the Inner and the Outer, about which the Qur’an writes, “wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of God!”


“The Angel of the Birds” by Franz Dvorak, 1910.

In the following passage from his What You Should Know About the Golden Dawn/My Rosicrucian Adventure, Golden Dawn Adept Israel Regardie speaks to the Hermetic approach to seeing through the ego’s illusions and our more fundamental craving impulses and how magic works to bring them into balance rather than ignoring/negating them to fixate on the higher Self, which sets them up to unconsciously wreak havoc on our lives.

This tendency towards imbalance is unfortunately what I often sadly observed in the Advaita community — that many in the community talked all day about awareness and non-self, but their lives were a mess of narcissism, anxiety, depression, nihilism, solipsism, often abusing other people and rationalizing it and so on. This was not true for the majority of students, but certainly the case for many. I observed it among some of my Zen brothers and sisters as well. These are the pitfalls of a mystical Way without Balance, as Regardie points out:

“Let me quote a few especially appropriate lines from Jung in connection with this Fall, when the fundamental basis of the Ruach has been attracted to the kingdom of shells, and when Malkuth has been completely cut off from the other Sephirot:

“Consciousness thus torn from its roots and no longer able to appeal to the authority of the primordial images, [the archetypes], possesses a Promethean freedom, it is true, but it also partakes of the nature of a godless hubris or arrogance. It soars above the earth, even above mankind, but the danger of capsizing is there, not for every individual to be sure, but collectively for the weak members of such a society, who again Promethean-like, are bound by the unconscious to the Caucasus.”

It will not do, then, for the Adept to be cut off from his roots, but he must unite and integrate his entire Tree, and train and develop the titanic forces of the unconscious so that they become as a powerful but docile beast whereon he may ride



Israel Regardie and Chic Cicero.

Thus, as we work towards bringing the dimensions of our being into alignment and Qabalistic balance, we aim for harmonization between our body (G’uph), its basic sensory and impression-receptive functions (Nephesh), a human personality and astral energetic body (Ruach), but also a deeper Self, an Awareness-I, and a sense of Willing (Yechidah, Chiah, Neshamah).

None of these dimensions absolutely or separately exists, as Buddhism points out; they, and everything else in the Universe, inter-are. The sense of Will also interdependently arises like all other manifest phenomena in the universe.

However, while Absolutely, no Will exists, relatively, it does, and is a force of Mind with which we can work. This is how I understand the work we do in Magic and the Golden Dawn path of the Great Work; we’re operating, not as an isolated separate entity, but as the Whole working on and with itself as reflected through the prism of our human consciousness and unique body-mind conditions.

This is particularly true in the selfless magic in the 6=5 Grade and the work of mystical service as the All serving the All in the 7=4 Grade, which is akin to the Path of the Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism.


Relief image of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara from Mount Jiuhua, Anhui, China

The practical key to the work at all of these levels and layers is to bring all of the Qabalistic aspects of our being into alignment and work towards the Greater Good or Summum Bonum of the individual, family, community, society, and commonwealth of all beings.

In this way, we aim to avoid falling into either the imperious self-centeredness of a Ruach fallen into self-centered egotism or the trap of dissociated total disconnection from our humble humanness into which many Buddhists and Advaitins fall into by clinging to the Yechidah/Buddha Nature/Self.

In the Path of the Adept, we similarly aim to train ourselves to avoid living slavishly at the mercy of our basic desires and G’uph and Nephesh-based cravings, which as the Buddha points out, can serve us in the short term, but also give rise to suffering. As I see it, the Way of the Adept is in the final assessment, much like the Way of a Buddha, Arhant, Maharaj, or Bodhisattva, in that it is a Way of Balance.


The Pillars on the Qabalistic Tree of Life.

This teaching is evident in the Golden Dawn system from the role of the Hegemon in the Neophyte Grade Ceremony up through the Mysteries of Tipharet in the Adeptus Minor Grade and the Middle Pillar of Balanced Power between the Pillar of Severity/Strength and the Pillar of Mercy/Lovingkindness on the Qabalistic Tree of Life.

To quote the wise words of the Hiereus to this effect in the 0=0 Grade Initiation Ceremony, the task of the Initiate is to

“Study well that Great Arcanum, the proper equilibrium of mercy and severity, for either unbalanced is not good; unbalanced severity is cruelty and oppression; unbalanced mercy is but weakness and would permit evil to exist unchecked, thus making itself as it were the accomplice of that evil.”

Or, in short, the task of the Adept is to aim for balance, even in studying and working with the dynamics of polarity and the yin-yang of duality, the Mystery of nonduality, and the Absolute beyond both…


Light in Extension,
Frater S.C.F.V.,
Day of the Sun, February 25, 2018

Slicing the Airy Intellect and Directing the Fiery Will: On the Symbolic Associations Between Fire and Wands and Air and Daggers

By Philosophadam or Frater S.C.F.V.

Recently, an Occult Corpus member named dgcleveland posted a wonderful question about the traditional associations between the Elements of Fire and Air with Wands and Daggers respectively. Here is the context of his question, in his words:

I am always a little shaken when I read a book that starts talking about Elemental Weapons because the attributions given them is always so counter intuitive to me that I have trouble getting past that point. If any of them bothered to give a reason for the associations I’d be fine, but they simply give them as if no other alternative should be considered and no explanation should be necessary.
So I’ll pose them here and see if anyone has any thoughts or can point me in the right direction.

Water is obvious. Whether Tarot suit or elemental tool, a Cup/Chalice is the only logical option being the vessel to hold liquid in. Earth is fair enough. Penticles, Disks, and Coins are all sysmbols of earth, being made of stone, metal, or the like.

Fire and Air are where I get turned around. Golden Dawn/OTO seem to attribute these as Fire=Wand and Air=Blade/Dagger/Sword and I am having trouble finding any documentation on the reason here. Let me explain my reasoning for thinking that the associations should be switched, and I welcome discourse and critique on the matter.

Associating Blades with Fire makes so much sense I can hardly understand any other attribution. Fire is destructive as a blade cuts and destroys but it is also a tool for building as a blade is. Fire represents power and fury and danger, just as a blade represents power and fury and danger. Fire causes death, just as a blade causes death. Fire protected early man’s camps and homes just as blades protected early man. Even its very construction demands the joining of blades with fire, being forged in the fires during their creation.

As for Air and Wands, I admit that is sort of a “well they’re what’s left” scenario. But I back it up with a few logical connections. Wands, batons, scepters, and staves have always represented authority and intelligence, being held by kings, conjurers, shamans, and priests, just as Air is the element attached to intelligence, logic, and authority. Likewise, wands are made of wooden branches, something that is destroyed by fire, yet withstands the rigors of wind all the time.I admit, I am at a loss for either historical attributions for these weapons or modern interpretation, so any help, links, or information presented for or against my thoughts here would be appreciated.”

Here was my response to his inquiry:

Dear Dgcleveland,

I applaud how you are critically analyzing the received traditions. All too often, occultists simply take the received traditions as points of faith because they are said to be grounded in ‘ancient sources’ and the words of ‘past masters.’ I, however, am a member of the camp of occultists who believe that occultism progresses only through dialogue, reevaluation, and critical examination. So, I am always happy to see people questioning the ‘authorities.’

Now, to respond to your question, I can only provide a form of a Golden Dawn interpretation, since this is the main occult tradition within which I have worked. As others have pointed out, for the Golden Dawn, in the microscopic sphere, Air is the element of Intellect while Fire is the element of Directing Will. Earth is the realm of the physical Body and water is the realm of Emotions and the Unconscious.

The Intellect, and hence, the element of Air, is seen as an instrument for making distinctions. Distinctions are conceptual slicings; they cut two concepts apart to distinguish them. They slice up the nondual reality into dual categories. Because the Intellect is so intimately associated with making ‘slices’ of this kind, the Dagger is the element tied to Air. The Dagger slices through the Air when swung just as the Intellect slices through the Mind when used. The expressions a ‘sharp wit,’ a ‘keen intellect’ and an ‘honed reason’ are idiomatic reflections of the intuitive insight embodied in the dagger-Air association.

The fire-want correspondence is less intuitive. To fully understand it, we need to understand both the microcosmic interpretation of the Fire element and the traditional shape of the wand that the Golden Dawn had in mind. Within the Golden Dawn tradition, Fire is associated with the directing power of Will, and it is this aspect of direction that connects it to the wand, which is essentially a ‘pointing’ and ‘directing’ tool. Moreover, the Four Elemental weapons are connected to the Four Suits of the Tarot and the Fire element connects to the Suit of Wands. This Suit was also historically called ‘Staves,’ however, and the staff is both a traditional implement of the magus and what one carries when one is moving in a particular direction or traveling. In the first case, it was an instrument of direction used to direct magical currents and spirits to do the Will of the magician, another connection to the Fire element. In the second case, the association with moving in a direction connects with the directing power of Will embodied by the microcosmic fire.

There are still more profound nuances in the symbolism, however. The traditional Staff had a bulb at the end and the Golden Dawn fire wand has such a bulb as well. This is an intentional reference to the shape of the phallus. The phallus here is seen as tool for directing the active power of creation which drives reproduction and the coming into being of new life. In this way, the phallus is seen as a symbolic expression of the Will to create. The sexual power associated with the phallus is also often linked to fire in traditional tropes and symbolism; we speak of ‘fiery lust,’ ‘being fired up,’ driven by ‘flaming passion’ and other such expressions. In the Golden Dawn, it is the creative association with the directing power of Will that has importance here and the phallic shape of the Fire Wand channels these symbolic associations to deepen the symbolism. I hope this proves helpful.

12 Key Skills and Traits for the Beginning Magician

A poster named Neptune on Occult Corpus asked the very good question of what skills and qualities the beginner in magic–and magicians in general–should strive to develop. Here is a list of 12 such abilities and characteristics that I have found incredibly important in my own practice:

1. Meditation – the specifically the ability to concentrate, silencing all unrelated thoughts, on a single thing for an extended period of time (starting with a few minutes and working up to a few hours–the required time for long ceremonial magical operations, if you intend to pursue that path). One can sit comfortably on a chair with hands on one’s thighs and the spine straight, or on a cushion in a meditative pose (asana). One can either meditate on a single object or image for an extended period of time, or simply observe the breath coming in and going out and allow the mind to settle down. This latter approach, called Zazen in the Zen Buddhist tradition, is my preferred meditation technique.

2. Visualization – the ability to call up images in your mind and hold them there, beginning with simple things (e.g. a yellow X) and leading up to full-color figures (e.g. a godform).

3. Creativity – the ability to come up with original and creative solutions, ideas for rituals, etc. One way to develop creativity is to take a given object and try to come up with as many possible uses for that object as you can. For instance, a paperclip. At first, you may only be able to come up with 10, but gradually this will increase to 50 and higher. Then you’ll learn to think outside the box — why not make the paperclip 50 feet tall? Why not give it neon lights? etc.

4. Willpower – the ability to direct your will towards something and intensify it. Cultivate this by doing exercises that heighten your will, e.g. willing not to use a certain word for a whole week, willing to give up something you frequently do or enjoy for a week, willing yourself to take up a practice for a week, etc.

5. Critical reason – the occult is replete with great wisdom, but also with a great deal of utter nonsense and crap. Learn to discriminate. Study some basic logic and logical fallacies. Learn to be skeptical and to think carefully.

6. Energy manipulation – by whatever means you wish: psionics, visualization and willpower (e.g. in the Qabalistic Cross), Qi Gong or Tai Chi, Wiccan-style ‘raising energy,’ etc. Any way to raise energy within your sphere of sensation and direct it as you will.

7. Ritual practice – the ability to carry out a ritual with a formal beginning, middle, and end. Learn a Wiccan ritual or a Golden Dawn ritual or a Thelemic ritual and practice it until you master it. Learn to enter an altered state of consciousness while in the ritual state.

8. Breath control – or pranayama – the ability to deepen the breath and thereby calm the whole body and mind. Start with the fourfold breath, 4 second breathe in, 4 second hold, 4 second breathe out, 4 second leave lungs empty. Gradually work up to 4 movements of 8 seconds instead of 4. Then you can try bringing it up to 10 or so seconds so you are breathing 1 or 2 times per minute. This is a very deep state of consciousness. I use this kind of breathing especially for the Middle Pillar Exercise.

9. Self-hypnotism – I only recently began to study this area of occult practice after a suggestion from Poke Runyon. However, I believe it can be helpful for any form of magic, to hypnotize oneself and then enter ritual thereafter, coming out of the hypnotic state with the competion of the ritual. In the hypnotic state, the conscious mind and unconscious are working together. This is a fertile and potent state of mind.

10. Basic artistic skills – in magic, especially in chaos and ceremonial magic, we often make and use tools. It can be helpful to learn how to draw sigils, how to paint wands, etc. Learn how to use acrylic paint, acrylic varnish (overlay it over the dried acrylic to give it a shiny sheen and brighten the colors), as well as paint pens and markers. You can also cut complicated shapes out of foamboard with an exact knife, cover them with electrical tape so they don’t flake apart, and paint over them. This was how I constructed the Keryx’s Wand within the Golden Dawn system.

11. Mindfulness – this is the ability to be very aware of your body, the flow of your thoughts, the movements of your feelings, and the content of your senses. Learn to witness the movements of your mind without getting involved with them – learn to see when your mind is clinging to something (attachment), pushing something away (aversion), to pretending it knows something it doesn’t (ignorance). Your mindfulness will weaken the pull of these things over time and needless suffering will subside. You will get more peaceful as well. Mindfulness is essential for magic both because it cultivates a calm, fulfilling life and because it allows you to be aware when the results of your magic manifest in your own body-mind and in the world around you. Without mindfulness, your ritual may yield its effect while you do not even notice that it has done so!

12. Compassion and awareness of interdependence – compassion is the ability to care for others and feel for them on a level of equality, realizing that their concerns matter as much as your own and that they suffer just like you do. Developing compassion will make you a deeper human being and positively enhance all of your relationships and interactions with others. Try to meet people on a level of care and respect. Awareness of interdependence is the ability to recognize the connections between yourself, others, and the world around you. See how the apple you eat depends on the whole water cycle, on oxygen and carbon dioxide in the whole atmosphere, and on the sun thousands of miles away. See how you depend on the apple for food and hence on all of these things as well. Trace the lines that connect all things. Cultivating compassion and awareness of interdependence will save you from the trap of egotism into which far too many magicians fall.

Developing these skills and qualities will be of great benefit to the Neophyte and Adept alike, regardless of one’s magical path.

Take care,

On the Ciceros’ Neophyte Grade Ritual

January 12, 2011

GoldenDawnlogoA Frater recently shared some concerns about the length of the Neophyte ritual and its ‘unwieldiness’ within a small physical space for a solitary practitioner.  He asked if he might shorten the ritual or condense it.  My position on the issue was perhaps not what he wanted to hear, namely, that he should make all of the requisite implements and perform the ritual in its entirety.  However, I have strong reasons for holding the viewpoint that I do.  Here was my response:

First of all, I’d like to say that I can sympathize with your concerns.  Space was an issue in my personal temple as well.  However, I have performed the Neophyte ritual as written by the Ciceros in its entirety several times, both for myself and as a group ritual for other Neophytes, and can attest to its power.  Its performance does not really require much space at all.  If you can fit a small altar in the center of your room and have some small stations for the elemental candles in the quarters, etc. you can perform it without difficulty.  If you have enough space to perform the LBRP, you have enough space to perform the Neophyte ritual.

I would also like to emphasize the value and importance of making the required ceremonial implements for the ritual.  These include the officer lamens, Hierophant’s wand, Hegemon’s wand, Keryx’s wand, pillars (at least spray-painted all white and all black if you do not wish to paint on all of the hieroglyphics), a sword or knife for the Hiereus, a cross and triangle for the altar, and a lantern for the Keryx.  These visual symbols make all of the difference and really enhance the power of the ritual on the psychological level, as well as, arguably, on the astral level.  These items do not take up all of that space.  My room is quite tiny and I can fit all of them, including the pillars and wands, within less than a square foot of space.

Now onto the ritual and the issue of trimming it down.  The ritual follows the original G.’.D.’. Neophyte initiation quite closely, only differing in the addition of personal astral work (via the godform visualizations) and in collapsing all of the information that was previously revealed in a fast-paced interrogation of one officer by another into shorter speeches.  Once you get more deeply into the Z documents and the commentaries on the Neophyte ritual by  G.’.D.’. adepts such as Regardie, Zalewski, and others, you’ll see that every little detail in the ritual has significance on multiple levels from the microcosmic to the macrocosmic; Qabalistically and astrally, every movement and every word has a specific function within the larger scheme of the ritual.

If you opt to chop up the ritual, you not only deviate from the initiatory formulae of the Golden Dawn, but lose a great deal in the overall impact of the ceremony and in the subtler effects thereof.  Moreover, one might argue that one who has not properly undergone the Neophyte Initiation in its original or adapted Ciceronian form cannot justifiably claim the Grade of Neophyte within the G.’.D.’. system precisely because they have not gone through the requisite Initiatory experience as defined by the G.’.D.’. system.  I have performed the ceremony with another Initiate in a truly tiny space and we had no difficulty performing the ritual in its entirety.  I would highly recommend that you do so.

The Neophyte Grade Ritual is a majestic, beautiful, and if performed correctly, very powerful ritual.  It is deeply moving and along with the Adeptus Minor Initiation considered to be one of the most powerful and important rituals in the whole Golden Dawn system.  All of the formulae of the entire G.’.D.’. system are prefigured within the Neophyte ceremony and it is the ceremony that connects one to the currents of archetypal force embodied by the Godforms of which the officer forms of the outer Order are representatives.

As for holding off initiation, I say, as soon as you feel your visualization abilities are sufficiently adequate to allow you to manage the complex godform visualizations, as soon as you have some experience with bringing down the Light and directing energy, and as soon as you have constructed all of the necessary implements (we have a thread in the CM forum about ceremonial implements that features pictures of all of the required tools as I interpreted them–feel free to ask me if you would like any tips for making any of them), then feel free to perform the ceremony.  It is not the size of the space that matters, but the readiness of the magician to receive Initiation.  I’ll say it again: if you have enough space to do the LBRP, you have enough space to perform the Neophyte ritual.

In closing, it is a beautiful ritual of purification, consecration, being brought into the Light, and the wisdom of balance.  Beautiful poetic verses are contained within it as well as profound philosophical and mystic truths.  It is also also a true test, for it requires extraordinary, sustained focus and energy over a period of nearly 3 hours to perform properly.  It is a test as every initiation should be, an opening onto a new way of living, a true investiture of the 0=0 grade, and a beautiful ritual of dramatized transformation. Far from not being ‘worthwhile on any level,’ as some have dubbed it, for the student of the Golden Dawn system of magic, I’ve found it to be is worthwhile on every level.

Magical Experiences Predating Involvement with the Occult

A poster on Occult Corpus asked me if I had ever had any occult or magical experiences that preceded the beginning of my occult studies.  I can only remember three such experiences occurring, all of which seemed very eerie to me at the time…

The first happened when I was in my first relationship. I was laying on my bed, and thinking of the girl I loved, who was then at home with her family, as I often did at that time. I became very relaxed and delighted in the pleasure of thinking of her. I felt my body relaxing and had a feeling of growing lighter. I then saw, in my mind’s eye, my house growing smaller, and the buildings between her house and mine passing by. I first saw her house and then the interior of her kitchen. I saw her eating with her family, wearing a red sweater and blue jeans. I saw her putting her plate away and walking upstairs. Shortly thereafter, the phone rang, and I snapped back into my body, waking up to answer it. It was her. We talked a little and I casually asked what she was wearing. She answered that she was wearing a red sweater and blue jeans. I asked what she had been doing before calling me. She said that she had been eating supper with her family. I felt goosebumps rising up all over my body. However, when I later tried to replicate the experience intentionally, I was unable to do so…

Second, when I was 15 or so, and falling asleep, one night, I found my body relaxing as it usually did. However, I noticed a strange thing happening; my mind remained alert while my body began to paralyze itself in anticipation of sleep. That’s when I physically felt a heavy weight–feeling like two hands–pressing down on my chest. I then saw, appearing on my closed eyelids, two black eyes and an open mouth and heard within my head a steady shrieking sound… I was a devout Christian at the time, so I began to pray inwardly as fervently as I could, my body still unable to move due to sleep paralysis. After some terrifying moments, I felt the pressure on my chest easing up and the shrieking faded. I fell immediately into deep sleep and woke up the next day wondering what had happened…

The third experience occurred when I was very young. I was told that if you went and stared into a mirror while repeating a name five times, then something would happen. I don’t remember the name–it was a male name, not Bloody Mary–but I decided to try it. I stared and stared and repeated and repeated. My face slowly faded out and another one appeared. It was a bald male face with bright red eyes… no whites, only red. It stared into my eyes. I screamed and ran out of the bathroom and never tried the practice again. Interestingly, my occult studies have been taking me more and more in the direction of the black mirror…

A Brief Defense of the Golden Dawn System of Magic

On the Occult Corpus website, a poster by the name of alwayson posted a thread entitled ‘How to Become Better than a Golden Dawn Magician,’ in which he claimed that one could easily do just what he claimed in his title by practicing a modernized form of the Lesser Key of Solomon.

My first question was how many authentic “Golden Dawn magicians” he had met. Did you really mean people who knew the LRP and the Middle Pillar ritual and claimed to be Adepts? Or people who have done Kraig’s five exercises for each element and claim the Grades of Zelator to Philosophus? While I own and appreciate Kraig’s Modern Magick, I found his claim that the magician who had done these short exercises, constructed the Elemental Weapons, and done the other ritual and Tarot work leading up to that point could claim the grade of Adeptus Minor without even knowing the basic astrological and zodiacal knowledge given in the First Knowledge Lecture of the Neophyte suspect.

There are few authentic Golden Dawn magicians today who actually work through the grades as they were intended to be worked and take the time to deeply engage with and reflect on the knowledge and rituals given in each grade. Thus, it is difficult to make broad statements about ‘Golden Dawn Magicians’ and their efficacy and inefficacy. Certainly, someone who works the Key of Solomon as it was intended to be worked, using the correct invocations and physical implements would probably be a more attuned, experienced, and knowledgeable magician that one who simply knows the LBRP and the Middle Pillar Ritual. However, this says nothing of those who have worked through the whole Golden Dawn curriculum.

To position myself in this debate, by the way, I still have a great deal to learn and have only just scratched the surface of this incredible system. I am also not a G.’.D.’. fundamentalist; I plan to devote deep study to the Grimoires and the Enochian systems after I have complete my grade work in the Golden Dawn.  In fact, McGregor Mathers himself regularly practiced the Grimoiric systems– there is a precedent for departing outside the flexible boundaries of the G.’.D.’. within the tradition itself.

In addition, Chic and Tabatha Cicero may have their detractors, but take a look at their Knowledge Lectures for the grades from Neophyte to Portal. They are incrediblyextensive. After only completing the Neophyte grade of 0=-0–and I mean here, thoroughly completing it, not rushing through it in a month–the Neophyte will be well-versed in the Hebrew letters and their numerical values, meanings, and symbolic appearances, in the Ancient Planets and their sigils, rulerships, exaltations, detriments, falls, symbolic values, governed qualities, and keywords, in the Zodiacal signs and their sigils, images, triplicities, quadruplicities, key phrases, key words, prominent positive and negative traits and calendrical intervals, in the Four Elements and their sigils, English, Egyptian, Greek, and Latin names, temperature/moisture qualities, energetic properties, and symbolic valences, in the types of Qabalah, in the Tree of Life and the Sephiroth in terms of their numbers, symbols, intelligences, astrological spheres, philosophical meanings, as well as practical meditations, the LRP, the Rite of Elemental Equilibration, Adoration of the Lord of the Universe, Daily Adorations, Berakah, Body Awareness Exercise, and Extra Sensory Awareness Exercise. And this is only in the first, Probationer grade!

The Golden Dawn is an incredible syncretic system that couples 19th century magical theoretical ideas with ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance occult theories from throughout the history of occultism. It was not the only valid magical system; there are many, and the Grimoiric systems are incredibly powerful in their own right. However, it is an incredibly influential and enduring system from which many people, like myself, derive a great deal of meaning, spiritual sustenance and value. There are more or less accomplished magicians in every tradition, whether Grimoiric or Golden Dawn, and we must be open to and ready to acknowledge this. Being mindful of this diversity should make us wary of blanket statements about how to be ‘better than a Golden Dawn magician’ just as it should make us wary about general statements of ‘Grimoiric magicians.’

As a final point, in the course of the thread, a debate developed about whether or not physical tools were important in ceremonial magic operations.  My own position on this issue is clear; I am a firm advocate of the importance and value of ceremonial tools to enhance ritual practice (those who know me know that I practice what I preach in this regard and spend hours constructing my ceremonial implements). I believe many modern magicians are incredibly lazy; ‘can I use a stick for the Hierophant’s wand?’ we sometimes hear. Our instant-gratification culture tends to forget how the ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance magicians spent hours constructing their physical tools and stressed their importance and value in ritual work. As Frater Yechidah pointed out, rituals can work without the properly-fashioned tools, but they are much enhanced with them; just as we might ask ‘why use a hand when a hammer will do?,’ we might ask why use a stick when a proper Hierophant’s wand will embody the symbolism of the Middle Pillar and the lightning rod which brings down the Light from Kether to Malkuth? The most effective ceremonial practice encompasses both the physical and the astral levels, the Above and the Below. The magician works simultaneously on both levels and embodies the truth of the ancient Hermetic principle of “As Above, so Below, and as Below, so Above.”

On Not Ending Your Adventure Prematurely

As I reflected on my experience with the Golden Dawn system of Magic today, a proverb occurred to me.  I recalled how, when I had started, I had dark moments of doubt, of thinking nothing was happening in my rituals, of feeling I was wasting my time, and other such feelings.   Many times I was tempted to give the whole thing up; I have seen many people who would have been excellent magicians never make it past this stage, unfortunately.  However, I persevered, feeling that there might be more around the corner, that there was much I had to learn, that the wisdom I sought would come with time.  I am happy that I held on; the journey thereafter has become a great deal more fulfilling and deeply moving.

So the proverb I would like to share with you regardless of where you find yourself on the path of life, whether you are a magician or not, whether you work within the Golden Dawn tradition or not is as follows:

It is wise not to end an adventure before it has fully begun.

Every great story ends with a period of equilibrium before a great event happens to push it onward into new realms, new events, new transformations, and new explorations.  Perhaps your own exciting check points are just around the bend.  Hold on and persevere.  Dare to press forward and the Universe will repay you for your tenacity.

To Whom Do I Pray?

I was asked to whom I pray and whom  I address in prayer and in ritual.  I decided to present my answer, not as a prose reply, but as a series of verses that aim to impart a sense of that That Vast One who works in silence and whom naught but silence can express, the Lord to Whom I pray.  Here was my answer:

I pray to the Lord of the Universe,
“Who works in silence and whom not but silence can express,”
The immanent and transcendent Divinity that flows through all things,
The innermost being of all beings that is unborn and undying,
Not limited by unity or duality,
Ever-present, ever-unchanging and yet present in every form from the greatest galaxy to the smallest flower,
Taking every from to pour its boundlessness into the universe,
That which is “more me, than me,”
That which represents the Highest Perfection of all Ideals,
That which is impersonal energy (Light), transcendent being (nirguna),
And which can assume all Personal Forms (saguna) to enter into deeper relationship with us,
Who are its infinite Images,
That which alone Is,
That which is present within us as the clear, unconditioned, and unchanging Awareness in which all experience unfolds, and yet Beyond,
The Vast and the Mighty One,
Whom Nature Hath not Formed,
Lord of the Light and of the Darkness,
The Ineffable One,
Lord of the Powers of Earth,
Lord of the Lustral Waters,
Lord of the Blazing Flames,
Lord of the Gusting Airs,
Lord of the Shining Spirit,
Lord of the Celestial Signs,
Lord of the Planetary Powers,
That which is in me and in which I am,
That which “will be what it will be,”
That which evokes breathless reverence,
Deepest peace,
Fathomless love,
Resplendent wisdom,
Unshaking courage,
And dynamic Will,
That from which we are never apart,
The Great Work of which is not
Attaining Unity with It,
But becoming aware of the innermost point of Meeting
That has always been present–
The One before whom
“Even the Banner of the East falls in adoration.”
To this One I pray,
And as I aspire towards It through prayer and the sacred magic,
It aspires to me and we meet
In the seamless experience of relationship,
A relationship which provides an experiential matrix
For touching deeply
A nonduality expressed in the diversity of the universe,
The outpouring of the One into the All,
Who is the innermost secret of the Mysteries,
Who stops the tongue,
Opens the heart,
And clears and liberates the mind
With the spreading Wings of Eagles–
To this One,
I pray.

Is Magic more Efficacious than Prayer?

In traditional ceremonial magic, what we might call magic-proper (the use of invocations, evocations, the direction of Planetary/Elemental/Zodiacal forces according to Will, etc.) and prayer are extremely interwoven.  This was additionally true within the Golden Dawn tradition of the 19th century and later.

In more recent times, I have never carried out a practical ceremonial magical operation that did not also involve prayer of some kind. Indeed, I see the magician as a coordinating agent or cooperator with the Divine who aims to align his will with the Divine Will in order to accomplish specific ends.

Most of the operations of ceremonial magic rely on the use of Divine Names and on invocations and prayers for protection and aid in the operation.  Both magic and prayer have been known to correlate with intended effects, as has a combination of the two, and therefore, for all of these reasons, I would suggest that magic and prayer can be equally efficacious.

Certainly, there is reverence, prayer, and great thanks to the Divine and its Powers in the sacred magic trends within ceremonial magical tradition, and there are magical aspects of prayer itself as well.  Every prayer with a teleological end might even be seen as a kind of mini-magical ceremony involving the invocation of a Power and the supplication of that Power to bring about the desired end.

Amulets and Talismans

According to many contemporary occultists, an amulet is defined as a term used to ward off certain influences while a talisman is defined as a term used to attract certain influences of powers.  However, in the history of magic and occultism more generally, these terms have been used in a great variety of ways.

As far as I know, etymologically speaking, the word ‘amulet’ was an earlier word that emerged  in the mid 15th century with Pliny, who defined an amulet as a “thing worn as a charm against spells, disease, etc.”  The word ‘talisman’ emerged later, in the 1630s or so, and some writers began to draw distinctions between amulets as ‘warding’ forces and talismans as ‘attracting’ force, while others came to use the terms interchangeably (Source: The Online Etymology Dictionary).

Other writers drew distinctions on still other grounds.  According to the scholarly study, Witchcraft and magic in Europe: the Middle Ages, for instance, you’ll find that in the Middle Ages, most amulets were believed to be “protective, for warding off disease or harm” (41).  However, the authors of that work point out that according to some usages of these terms, “amulets are constructed from herbs, animal parts, or stones, while talismans utilize written words” (42-43).

In fact, in some Medieval and Renaissance sources, the terms ‘talisman’ and ‘amulet’ are not used at all to refer to these ideas; instead, the term ‘pentacle’ is used, as in the Greater Key of Solomon the King.

Within the Golden Dawn tradition, I have not yet been able to track down an early Order paper that uses the word ‘amulet’; it does not appear in Regardie’s Golden Dawn as far as I know, though there are extensive sections on ‘talismans’ in the Z documents and in the ‘Ceremonial Magic’ section of Regardie’s book.  Still, there are many modern magicians who use the warding/attracting distinction between talismans and amulets; Donald Michael Kraig, in his book Modern Magick, is a case in point.

The issue is further compounded by the fact that practicing magicians often make talismans that function simultaneously as wards and attractors! A set of Saturn talismans I recently consecrated, for instance, was created with the intent both to attract Saturn’s benefic influences over organization, negotiations with institutions, time-management, etc. and to ward its malefic influences over delays and limitations.  In this case, we have something that is both a ‘talisman’ and an ‘amulet.’  I still tend to use the term ‘talisman’ in cases like these, though I also use the Greater Key of Solomon term ‘pentacle’ or ‘pantacle’ to cover these cases.

In short, many magicians have used the terms interchangeably throughout occult tradition, many others have distinguished them on other grounds, and many have found the talisman = attracting power, amulet = warding power distinction useful.  There is no single, definitive answer on this matter; you must come to your own conclusion.