An Analysis of the Golden Dawn System of Magick
by Frater Barrabbas
As I have stated previously, the Golden Dawn system of magic was basically incomplete, although it had a complete set of rituals and guidelines where one could essentially assemble a system of ritual magic that would allow one to perform ritual workings consisting of Element, Planetary Aspect, Zodiacal Sign, Sephirah and even a method for Goetic magic (using the demons of the Planetary Kamea). This was not accomplished in the traditional Golden Dawn literature, such as the books published by Israel Regardie, nor was it actually discussed in any book in print until recently.
All of the lore was there, and all that was required was to have some brilliant practitioner assemble all of the rituals together and build ritual patterns for the various workings. Such a practitioner does exist, and he wrote a book in which this entire system is arrayed for all to see. This book has the basic seal of approval by the various leaders of the Golden Dawn factions (springing from Israel Regardie), so we must also consider it representational of the Golden Dawn lore. That book was written by David Griffin, entitled “The Ritual Magic Manual: A Complete Course in Practical Magic,” (1999 Golden Dawn Publishing), and it does indeed have a complete system of practical magic using the Golden Dawn lore. The author has expressed his opinion that this lore represents the culmination of the work of the inner Order of the Golden Dawn (R.R. et A.C.), or the Rosicrucian Order of the G.D., and I find no reason to question his statement. In fact, I believe that we could label this lore the official extended lore of the Golden Dawn. This system, packaged into a fascinating and detailed methodology, represents the ideal of the Golden Dawn system of magic.
An essential and simplistic definition of Golden Dawn magic is that it uses the precise Qabbalistic spiritual hierarchy, as well as the assumption of Egyptian godforms, and the ritual devices of the pentagram and the hexagram as well as sigils, signatures and barbarous words of evocation (Enochian Keys) to manifest the powers of the elements, planets, zodiacal signs and the sephiroth of the Tree of Life. All accessible spirits and forces are incorporated into this multi tiered hierarchy, and so by the summoning of principals and the use of the pentagram and/or hexagram, the magician may perform practical as well as spiritual magic, effecting the material, emotional, mental and spiritual planes. The pentagrams and hexagrams used in these rituals are divided into the lesser and greater forms, but used in combination they are able to define the hierarchy in a precise and powerfully symbolic manner. No other system of ritual or ceremonial magic had before been packaged in such a meticulous and precise manner. The manipulation of these layered occult symbols and actions would, under the correct altered state of consciousness, produce potent magical effects. This is a model of how magic is organized and practiced in the post modern world - most other systems of magic have used it as a basis to define their methodology, whether tightly (as in Thelemic magic) or loosely (chaos magic, pagan and wiccan magic). This is also true of the magic that I practice, since my instruction and work was a synthesis of the Golden Dawn and Alexandrian Witchcraft magical systems.
The different kinds of practical magic available to the Golden Dawn magician were associated with the four different kinds of aspects of the spiritual and occult hierarchy. These are:
Elemental Magic - material matters and considerations - Greater Invoking Pentagram ritual using the pentagram of the Element and associated pentagram of the aspect of Spirit (passive or active)
Planetary magic - psychological drives, motives and insights - Greater Invoking Hexagram rite - incorporating both the lesser and greater hexagram forms.
Zodiacal magic - qualities of being, attitudes towards life - Greater Invoking Pentagram (could also include the Greater Hexagram as well for the ruling planet)
Sephirotic magic - spiritual development, personal transformation, higher level attainment and high mystical states of consciousness - Greater Invoking Hexagram
Golden Dawn magic is modern, even though the rituals were devised by Mathers in the late 19th century. This can be easily shown because the Golden Dawn system of magic addresses the situation of the modern middle class individual living in the post modern world. We, as a people, are without the credulous ability to see what we want to believe, since to easily do so is a sign of either fatuousness or madness. We are cynical, desensitized, sophisticated, incredulous, and we operate through the perceptual psychological mechanism of objectivity, rationality, which is basically what Piaget called the “formal operational level of development.”
We have the ability to engage in critical thought, and this becomes something of an obstacle to experiencing paranormal phenomena. One either has to develop greater sophistication and sensitivity or become regressive and psychotic in order to experience spiritual phenomena. Of course, those who are psychotic are not really experiencing spiritual phenomena, they just assume that they are doing so. And the rest of us can readily determine if someone is legitimate or if they are just indulging in regressive or psychotic behavior simply by whether or not their spiritual perceptions are validated by others. Techniques of mind control and the assumption of altered states of consciousness are the key to acquiring and maintaining higher states of consciousness.
Prior systems of magic were much less sophisticated and disciplined, and either used the systems of hierarchy and their symbols loosely or omitted them altogether. What was important was the magician’s faith and his intense engagement in its pious practice through a mainstream and orthodox religion. Altered states of consciousness and layered occult symbols were not important to determine or define the nature of the powers or intellegences that the magician summoned and manipulated. What was important was an individual’s faith and belief in the religious tenets and practices of his religion. He incorporated those tenets and practices for personal gain and he also assumed the powers and prerogatives of his God without the sanction and permission of orthodox authorities. He was, in a word, an apostate! However, he believed that by merit of intense piety, atonement and purification, he was worthy of such profound spiritual presumptuousness.
So the key to the magic of the earlier epoch was this intense degree of faith based belief and piety and it alone opened the door to the spirit world. Such a key no longer exists today, and we are required to enter into powerful altered states of consciousness and wield symbols that transform consciousness itself in order to open us up to the spirit world.
In addition, the Golden Dawn system of magic promoted the energy model of magic quite heavily, teaching that even charged tools and talismans had to be protected and put away when performing the banishing pentagram and hexagram rites. The tools used in these rites also had to be charged by the opposite device so as to nullify the effect of the banishment on the tool used to banish. The energy model of magic wasn’t new, but promoting the “energy” apart from the magic rituals and ceremonies that produced it, and also perceiving a kind of energy architecture in regards to the layered symbology was new. Previously, magicians had assumed the metaphor of magical power without having to define it as a quality analogous to electricity, and that “power” was synonymous to magical effect. Magicians of the previous epoch used the spirit model of magic, and it was through spirits, such as nature spirits, angels, demons, and demigods (pagan deities) that magic was accomplished. These spirits were ruled, of course, by God himself.
Golden Dawn magic also used the assumption of godforms and practiced methodologies analogous to Yoga, to build up the initiate’s ability to visualize, absorb and project magical powers. Magical tools were standardized, and the four elemental weapons were developed in this system of magic (wand, cup, dagger and pentacle). The specific use of godform assumption allowed the magician to summon and call up the powers and intelligences associated with the spiritual hierarchy as a godhead. This is a very profound change from the way magic had been practiced previously, and it was quite new in the arena of ceremonial magic. It was a way to make up for the loss of belief and extreme piety in the mental makeup of the modern middle class individual. Also, within these empowered states of consciousness, the magician wielded an array of spiritual authorities in a descending hierarchy, to represent that from the highest and most abstract level of being came emanations of more precise and material phenomena - the symbolic metaphor for modern magic itself.
The basic Golden Dawn ritual working begins and ends with banishing rituals, commences with either the Superior Pentagram or Hexagram ritual to invoke the hierarchy associated with the targeted aspect (element, planet, zodiacal sign or sephirah) to empower a specific set of appropriate intentions or to engage the magician in a skrying session for visionary inspiration. Working this kind of magic is like opening and closing a door, so that the temple area is cleansed, built up to a climax and then cleansed at the end. The rituals that are used in these workings are:
• Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram
• Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram
• Qabbalistic Cross and Middle Pillar Exercise
• Rose Cross Ritual and the Analysis of the Key Word
• Assumption and Divestment of Egyptian Godforms
• Invocation of the Highest Divine Force
• Rite of Purification with Water and Consecration with Fire
• Rite of Adoration of the Lord of the Universe
• Rite of the Magical Eucharist
• Greater Invoking and Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram
• Greater Invoking and Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram
The rituals are combined to form workings (except for the Rose Cross rite), with some of them used for preparation, others are liturgical or related to invoking aspects of deity, and others produce a specific magical effect. The core rite is either the Greater Invoking Pentagram or Hexagram rituals, where devices and symbolic signatures are used together with visualized colored lines and geometric forms to express in a definitive manner one of the aspects of the spiritual hierarchy. Through the lens of the invoked aspect of the spiritual hierarchy is the specific and practical magic performed.
Golden Dawn magicians practice ritual magic to accomplish specific material and spiritual goals, and he or she also undergoes an intense period of psychological or psychiatric counseling as well - to ensure that objectivity and rational perspectives on life and spirituality are strictly maintained. These workings are performed with a greater goal in mind, and that goal is conversation with one’s Holy Guardian Angel, which was established as a common intention in all of the magical workings.
The basic ritual pattern of any of the four workings (element, planet, sign, sephirah) consisted of the following rituals performed in the exact order. (These steps are a synopsis of what is done, and are more fully developed in the book.)
1. Temple opening rites - banishing and purification - lesser banishing rituals of the pentagram and hexagram, and performing the rite of purification with water and consecration of fire - unwrap specific tool (element or specific invoking wand).
2. Qabbalistic cross, invocation of the Highest Divine Force
3. Core rite to invoke aspect of spiritual hierarchy - using the greater invoking ritual of the pentagram or the hexagram to each quarter beginning in the east and ending at the altar. Assume Egyptian godform, draw devices (invoking pentagram/hexagram with color and associated symbolic character), give secret name and grade signs. Trace appropriate sigils and Hebrew Godnames over altar, vibrating spirit names of the hierarchy in a descending order, and ending with the incantation of one of the Enochian calls.
4. Circumambulation of the circle specific number of times and perform the Rite of the Adoration of the Lord of the Universe. State magical intentions and then perform the middle pillar exercise. Skry into the corresponding plane of the spiritual hierarchy - one can also perform specific practical magical workings. (Circumambulation is 3 times for elements, 9 times for planets, 3 times for zodiacal signs, and 7 times for sephiroth.)
5. Rewrap tool(s) and any other charged devices. Reverse circumambulation of the circle the same number of times and then perform the godform divestment.
6. Perform Greater Banishing rite of the Pentagram or Hexagram. Perform lesser banishing rituals of the pentagram and hexagram. Declare temple to be closed.
There also was a pattern for a demonic evocation working, and this rite was patterned somewhat on the old five part structure of magical evocation in the old grimoires - consecration, invocation, binding, constraining and giving license to depart. It included a rite of magical confession and atonement, a special consecrated magic circle, and the magician performed the evocation through one of the invoked positive spiritual hierarchical aspects, such as a planetary sphere or one of the sephirah, and the demon of the kamea would be commanded through this aspect. This structure could also have been used to perhaps invoke the Goetic demons, but that would have been done through a zodiacal working, invoking first the zodiacal archangel, then the angelic ruler of the decan, and then the ha-Shem angel of the quinarian zodiacal division. However, there is nothing mentioned of this kind of magic in the book, so one can only assume that this is how it would have been done.
Although this system of magic is rigorous and apparently complete, it also does not address other hierarchies of spirits, such as the Enochian Elementals (element qualifying an element base), the Enochian Seniors and the 28 Lunar Mansions (element qualifying a planetary base) and the 49 Bonarum or Good Spirits (planet qualifying a planetary base). These three sets of spiritual hierarchies represent what is called a matrix, and in order to invoke spirits associated with a matrix one needs a more complex ritual structure. The specific invocation of an archangel or a specific angel, as well Goetic demons are also omitted. However, any of these different spiritual hierarchies could be accessed if the ritual structures were expanded and included other more sophisticated structures and methodologies. As a working system, the expanded Golden Dawn system of ritual magic is a useful starting point to build a more advanced magical system, and this what I and others have done.
Another problem with the Golden Dawn system of magic is the use of the double triangle for the greater invoking hexagram. In order to invoke the Sun, the magician has to invoke all six of the other planets. The unicursal hexagram is much more efficient because it can invoke the sun with one single movement, but since it came from Aleister Crowley and his following, it is not considered traditional in regards to Golden Dawn magic. One was also expected to draw the Hebrew names associated with a hierarchy aspect in the air with a wand, as well as the sigils that these letters created, which seems redundant to me. There is also the problem of the flexibility of these rituals, and the fact that Golden Dawn magic is always a single event kind of working - it’s begun with banishing rites and ends with banishing rites, to ensure that the magical operation is never contaminated with another previous operation. Of course, if one wanted to deliberately merge workings together for some purpose, this system would not easily allow it. It also works with a strict deosil circle architecture and there is no development of a vortex energy field (this is only done with the Rose Cross ritual).
So this system has some very large gaping holes in it and some extreme limitations - but it was the first modern system of ritual magic to be developed, and it therefore became the model for all other systems of ritual and ceremonial magic in our current age.