Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn

A Case for Traditional, Physical Initiation

by G.H. Frater S.R.


For the last couple of weeks there has been an ongoing and heated polemized debate between representatives of the Order that I represent in Scandinavia and one other Order who calls itself “Guardians of the true Golden Dawn Mysteries”. I believe that the crucial point in this polemic revolves around what constitutes a valid initiation and initiatory process of the Golden Dawn.

The Order I represent, which has initiated me through all the Grades, has always represented the classical and traditional stance that initiation always must be performed physically and by a present Hierophant (i.e. initiator). Other organizations within the Golden Dawn community doesn’t at all regard physical initiation as mandatory or even necessary. Instead they recommend either “Self-Initiation” or “Astral Initiation”, so called, as equally valid as its physical counterpart.

I have been inspired by this latest debate as there has been an attempt to draw a line between “slander” and “difference of opinion”. This essay definitely consider itself to be of the latter category. I will try to define and compare the three different initiatory systems which are worked and practiced today within the Golden Dawn community.

Let me start off with the so called “Astral” category of initiations. The foremost representative of this method is Rober Zink’s Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn (E.O.G.D.). While I’m no fan of this organization, nor particularly found of its current Chief, for several reasons, today I will only confine my criticism to the practice of Astral Initiation. While the E.O.G.D. actually does perform physical initiations as well, and even recommends it as superior to the astral category, it still regards Astral Initiation as a valid and recognized way to receive Grades in its Order. It also professes that Astral Initiation actually creates magical current which involves the astral counterpart of the initiate in the initiatory process.

Obviously I dispute this as a fact. But before I will venture into explaining why I will shortly describe this process of Astral Initiation. The ritual is actually performed physically in open Temple with all Temple assembled and with full staff of Officers. But the physical presence of the candidate is not required. Instead the ritual makes use of a exemplar, i.e. of a body double. Someone else – a Temple Member – will take the place of the candidate in his or hers stead. A sympathetic magical link is established between the exemplar and the actual candidate. At synchronicity with the ritual the candidate sits in meditation, dressed in robes and regalia, in a receptive state and tries to observe what is happening inside of him or her.

First of all, I want to make clear that I don’t dispute that this technique actually has some merit or effect. There are several eyewitnesses who will testify that they have felt something, experienced some kind of sensation, or have experienced something of a initiatory process, despite the fact that they are not present in the Temple and never has set their foot inside one. In my Temple we have also worked with rituals of distant healing, using the frame of the initiatory rituals, according to illness and Element. I know for a fact that the subject has experienced a change, a difference. So I find it plausible that one can manipulate the astral body of a subject through this kind of sympathetic magic. All this is just a proof that magic actually works, on the astral plane.

But on the other hand, I’m convinced that the subject of our healing ritual would have experienced even greater healing qualities had he or she been inside the circle or physical sphere of the Temple. I’m also fully convinced that Astral Initiation is lacking in effect to the point that it cannot be regarded as a valid method of either conferring Grades or manipulating the energy body and subtle bodies into the required initiatory state. The main reasons of contest are the following:

  1. Initiation is supposed to affect simultaneously the spirit, soul and body of the candidate. It is also supposed to work parallel and from each of these three planes. Most of all, the etheric energy body (or aura; Sphere of Sensation) is affected during initiation. This subtle body resides on a plane somewhere between the physical and the astral. Hence it will not take the full impact from Astral Initiation as it also requires the impact of the physical, or properly physical forces akin to the etheric plane. Also each of the three planes of existence affects the other two planes, i.e. the physical (sensational) also affects the astral (emotional or soul) and the causal (Self or Spirit), as well as the two latter affects the physical and etheric. This can also be explained further in alchemical terms. All genuine alchemical processes involves all these levels, i.e. also the physical. I’m not only referring to outer laboratory processes but Inner Alchemy as well; the Prima Materia is always some physical object. Alchemy is about raising the vibratory pitch of matter. Hermeticism always involves the physical matter. All spiritual evolution has as an object to evolve the body – matter. This also involves letting magical current flow through the body. This is most readily done in physical proximity. The prime matter of the initiation is the physical body of the candidate. Contrary to this, the rationale of Astral Initiation reveals a Gnostic worldview of distaste or at least disregard for the body which is foreign to Hermeticsim. The Emerald Tablet teaches us “as above, so below”, which means “in spirit as well as in body”.
  2. The invocation of magical forces and current is the main purpuse of hermetic ritual initiation. This invocation is done by the initiating team collectively lead by the Hierophant. The Hierophant is the main invoker and controller of magical current, but he is significantly assisted by this team of officers and also by the Chiefs of the Temple. This magical current directly manipulates the energetic and astral subtle bodies of the candidate, who is - as it were - trapped within a sphere, created by the Temple, where energetic manipulation, growth and transmutation occurs, as in a womb. Not being inside of this magical sphere of the Temple the long distant candidate cannot benefit entirely of its potential ability to adjust the energy levels and alignment between the subtle bodies, or constituent parts (i.e. body, soul and spirit). The only way of doing this manipulation in Astral Initiation is to create a magical link, with the astral cord, and issuing current through it. It's obvious that the effect cannot be the same as in traditional physical initiation, even if there can be some limited effect to this method.
  3. The main conductor or conduit of energies during the initiation ritual is the Hierophant - the initiator. It is imperative that he is physically present with the candidate as he projects current through his energy body towards or into the energy body of the candidate. This projection requires eye contact and even physical contact in transmission of current. Hence, there is the important aspect of laying hands. Compare this to Reiki, who teaches long distant healing while it also administers physical initiation with initiator present laying hands and projecting current. Something equivalent happens during traditional hermetic initiation. This requires that the Hierophant has himself gone through the initiations in physical, and awakened the forces in his aura, to be able to confer the same to the candidate.
  4. The sensational aspect, which is a psychological aspect as well. When the candidate is physically present during the initiation his or her senses observe everything which is possible to discern (being partially blindfolded and all). This creates a psychological overwhelming sensation. This also opens up his or her psyche to the magical influences of the ritual. But it also creates an altered level of consciousness, as it affects him or her psychologically, both in mind and emotionally. It gives him or her a true experience which is a learning experience and which can give great incitement of psychological development. I have seen this abundantly and it is a beautiful thing to observe in candidates. The ritual is a drama, a play, which also has as a function to impart a though form or cognitive structure into the candidate, a theme so to speak, which gives a tone or atmosphere for the Grade. This has to be experienced live and in person, not read through or imagined in the inner eye. Compare this to reading a novel and watching a stage play; two legitimate artistic expressions but quite different in nature and quality. Full and physical initiation is a stage play of old Greek dramatic proportions.
  5. The intellectual and pedagogical aspect, i.e. the actual instructions which are imparted during ritual. This can of course be learned by reading to a certain extent, but as Pat Zalewski has pointed out in his Ritual Commentaries, looking at diagrams isn’t just a ocular sensation. The Tablets are also conductors of magical current. I have watched this happen during ritual, even to the point of candidates fainting when exposed to diagrams of particular strong current. The diagrams of the Elemental Grades are not haphazardly placed in the ritual; they serve a certain purpose, both magically and intellectually. But in Astral Initiation the magical current aspect of the diagrams are lost; you have to be physically exposed to them as they act as magical mirrors and infuse the energy body of the candidate.
  6. The transferential aspect, which of course is a psychological one. This is a process which was discovered by Sigmund Freud during his therapeutic sessions, where he observed that his analysands were prone to projecting the parental images or phantasies on the analyst. This has always been a fact in initiations in the past, but now we are able, thanks to Freud and his school of psychology, to recognize and understand this phenomenon during the initiatory process. It often starts off with a kind of idealization of the Hierophant, turns into a demonization and hopefully ends with a “object constance”, i.e. the integration of the dark and light in the inner and introjected image of the initiator. There can of course be different variations of the transferential phenomenon, similar to psychoanalysis, but it has always to do with the inner images or “objects” of the parents of the candidate. It has to be resolved in the final phase for the initiatory process to work out in a positive way. This is part of the growing experience, and important at that. This psychological aspect of inner and dynamic drama is totally lacking in Astral Initiation, as the candidate never meets the Hierophant in person; you have to meet the initiator to be able to project on him.
  7. And lastly the conferrance of formal Grade. It is according to the hallmarks of the hermetic traditon to confer Grades formally in person, whith the candidate peresent. Compare this with collage graduation. The ceremony is also a formal ritual of conference of stature or social (hierarchical) standing in an organization.
These last six points can also be held against the method of Self-Initiation, but on some points not as severe as in the case of Astral Initiation. Regarding the fist point, Self-Initiation does in fact involve the physical plane, which makes it a superior practice compared to Astral Initiation. The self-initiator also invokes magical current into his own Temple or Oratory, creating a magical sphere of his own in the chamber. But the case I hold against Self-Initiation in this respect is that the current raised individually seldom can surpass the current collectively invoked by the Temple. Self-Initiation also sadly lacks in the third point as much as Astral Initiation; there is nobody to transfer current which goes back in succession to the ancient Adepti. This apostolic succession is sadly lacking in both Self and Astral Initiation, as genuine initiation requires the laying of hands, i.e. the actual physical contact to be both initiatory (i.e. formally) and energetically effective.

Self-Initiation also lacks in the fourth aspect as the self-initiatic candidate must know everything before hand; there is no element of surprice which is imperative for the psychological aspect. But a self-initiatory ritual can still create an atmosphere and a sense of awe and mystery which again makes it superior to Astral Initiation. Regarding the fifth point I believe that the self-initiator can recreate most of that aspect, that is to say, if he is proficient enough to create current and activate the diagrams properly. There is no way of telling this for sure. But still, the chances are higher to success compared to Astral Initiation. As I already have mentioned above, the purely intellectual aspect of the teachings of the Grade can of course be learnt through reading a book or paper.

Regarding the sixth point, both Self- and Astral Initiation is lacking in the transferential aspect as there is no screen to project the inner “objects” of the candidate. The only substitute for this is of course psychotherapy. As for the last point, there is no way a Grade formally can be conferred either by Self or long distance Astral rituals, at least not according to the hallmarks of the Golden Dawn Tradition.

So, in my final analysis, I prefer the Self-Initiatory path to the Astral Initiatory. Mainly for the reasons that the self-initiator actually invokes forces by his or her own hand and into his or her energy body. Piece by piece he or she can manifest and place the different forces and their images in his or her energy body. But the outcome of this process of course relies on the ability of the individual magician, or rather talent, as a self-initiator per definition is a rookie of ceremonial magic. At least in Self-Initiation the physical aspect is recognized. But of course, neither of these two paths under discussion can give the full benefits of physical initiation in Temple, for obvious reasons.

Regarding the physical body it is more important than ever and the object of focus in the early stages of the initiatory path, as the first steps makes dramatic readjustments to the physical body and its energetic counterpart. Compare this to the Zelator Grade and the Earth Element, as well as Malkuth (i.e. matter). In my opinion, physical initiation is less important in the higher Grades compared to the lower, even though it never fully looses in importance, even in the highest mysteries, i.e. that of Inner Alchemy which very much involves the physical body as the Prima Materia.

Self-Initiation also uses different and complimentary methods, often in combination. A Self-Initiatory ritual can involve both a physical movement and invocation in combination with a later astral “path working”, i.e. guided visualization. Contrary to some Adepts in my Order, I actually embrace “path working” as a legitimate working in both magic and self-development. I have for example always held in high esteem Dolores Achcroft-Nowicki’s book The Shining Paths, which presents guided meditations or pathworkings for the Tree of Life. I even created some pathworkings myself while in the Outer Order, inspired by the ritual drama of the Outer Order rituals and Tarot Trumphs, to use as my own “self-initiatory” rituals which I practiced in my personal Grade Work.

So, Self-Initiation has its natural place, or so I claim, as a complement - not isolated to - physical and legitimate initiation. I even daresay that self-initiatory work is required for traditional and classical initiation to be optimally and continually at work within the initiate. The very word “initiation”, which translates to “beginning”, indicate that the ritual initiation in Temple just marks the beginning of the initiatory work. In the Order that I represent in Scandinavia we actually use “self-initiation” as Grade work, as we require from our initiates to work with invocations of Elemental, Zodiacal and Planetary forces corresponding with each of the Elemental Grades. For example in the Grade of Theoricus, as a member of our local Temple, one is supposed to invoke and work with the forces of Air, Libra, Aquarius, Gemini, Luna och Saturn as a part of the required practical curriculum of that Grade.

Hence a book like David Griffin's The Ritual Magic Manual: A complete course in Practical Magic, may be used as a manual for Self-Initiation, systematically working with all forces of the 5 Elements, 7 Planets, 10 Sephiroth and 12 Zodiacal Signs in succession. This was also one of the purposes of this book, to present the solitary magicians with a ritual framework for Self-Initiation, besides being the main text book for initiates of the Order that I belong to. The book actually encourages solitary students to work first with basic rituals, then perform Elemental Theurgical workings, then Planetary, Zodiacal and Sephirotic, before venturing into Practical or Talismanic (Taumaturgic Magic) and finally working with the averse forces or Demonic Evocation (not invocation as some biased critics continue to falsely state about this book).

The Ritual Magic Manual

Not being bound to the traditional Rosicrucian Grade System of the Tree of Life, this may be one way to deal with the hiearchical forces of nature. But initiates likewise use this book but in so doing extrapolate the forces corresponding to each of the Elemental Grades, as I have mentioned above, which of course also may be the most optimal solution for solitary students trying to emulate the initiatory system of the Golden Dawn. Note the word “emulate” or “simulate”, which is all that the self-initiatory path are able to do compared to legitime and full physical initiation in Temple.

But the main point I am trying to sell here is that “self-initiation” not only is an important complement to regular initiation, but also is required for the current of the Temple initiation to be alive and working during the entire time at Grade; to be fully integrated into the energy body the member must work with further infusing the forces and images activated in the aura during inititation. Astral Initiaton is however redundant either way; it doesn’t do its job as it is suppose to in and by itself, and absolutely has no function at all if Grades has been taken prior traditionally and present in Temple.

Now, up to this point I have only discussed what is happening at the moment of initiation. But there is also the equal important aspect of the initiatory process, i.e. the blending of existential and psychological phenomena which can be defined as “synchronicity”. This mystical side of life has been quite elaborately researched by the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalysist Carl Gustav Jung, and I recommend reading his works regarding this subject. To summarize this briefly synchronization deals with outer events or material phenomena which has a psychological significance and a direct bearing to inner processes, without there being any actual causual relation between these two.

My own experience of Golden Dawn initiation, as compared for example to Freemasonic initiation, is that synchronicity is very much active in the initiatory process. This manifest as events in everyday life, of minor and major importance, which is in correspondence with the actual Grade the initiate has been advanced into. In this respect the famous axiom from the Emerald Tablet, which I quoted above, once again comes into mind; it’s the correspondence between the microcosm and macrocosm. In initiation the border or wall between these two principles are weakened; the process of projection of inner and introjection of outer becomes entangled. Suddenly life’s themes express the inner condition of the initiate.

The principle at work here is that life’s experiences, together with inner transmutation of vibration and energy, will create the necessary conditions for evolution of soul. While the forces at work a the time of the initiation actually makes changes in body (both physical and etheric/energetic), soul and spirit directly, which transmutes these principles alchemically, the outward experiences of life makes a profound change in the initiate’s psychological make-up, which in turn enhances the transmutation process of body, soul and spirit. All this blended together constitutes the initiatory process.

This of course has an equivalent in personal magical work, in invocation of forces, Elementary, Astrological and Sephirotic. When the magician invokes one of these forces he has to observe the events of everyday life to see the magical workings in progression. I myself call this “the oracle of life”. This fact of course makes Self-Initiation valid in this respect, but again it relies on the individual proficiency of actually setting these forces in motion, both within the magician (microcosm) and in the corresponding outer world (macrocosm). The chances are much higher that a initiatory team, especially if it is much experienced and lead by an Adept (which is required by the old codex of the Golden Dawn), will do this work more efficiently than the individual and inexperienced would-be magician.

But what about Astral Initiation as regards the initiatory process? As I already have stated above, I don’t doubt that something of this kind of phenomena of synchronization between inner and outer may come into effect. The question still remains if this at all is comparable with traditional physical initiation in Temple? For us to tentatively answer this question we must analyze how this initiatory process of synchronization actually occurs and works. To be honest, we cannot know for sure as the correspondence between the microcosm and macrocosm probably is one of the greatest mysteries of life. But if one is permitted to speculate I suspect that all first six points of ingredients in ritual initiation, which I already have discusses above, are at work here.

The actual manipulation of body and energy body, both by the forces invoked in the ritual, and the projection of energy between the energy bodies of Hierophant and candidate, are most important for this process to occur; create a change in the microcosm and you will create an equal change in the candidate's magical universe (macrocosm). Also, the ritual – under the guidance of the initiator – seals a covenant between the macrocosmic forces invoked during the ritual and the energetic and astral bodies of the candidate.

As an energetic body may be manipulated by the astral double this gives some credence for Astral Initiation, but as I already has said, the physical manipulation is as much important, not to say the direct proximity between the energetic bodies between the Hierophant and candidate. This makes Astral Initiation very doubtful as an optimal solution compared to its physical counterpart. As the self-initiated candidate also lacks the initiator and the raising of energy by the Hierophant’s manipulation, Self-Initiation also lacks some in effect, but not as much compared to Astral Initiation in general. But on the other hand I don't doubt that a very proficiant Hierophant and his highly trained initiatory team under best of conditions may create a strong magical link and project astral current through it wich will create a potentially greater change in the energy body of the candidate compared to a rookie in Self-Initiation and under worst of conditions.

But neither of these two unorthodox methods of initiation has as great potentiality as traditional physical initiation in an authorized (i.e. “quality certified”) Temple. And also, how can a candidate who sits at the other corner of the world be certain that there actually occurs a ritual in his or hers name or by a experienced initiating team, if he is left to nothing more than his own inner sensations and fantasies? I'm not saying that the E.O.G.D. doesn't perform the rituals – all I am saying is that the surest way to know this is to see it for yourself. Being physically present also can give a certain immediate sense of the experience and efficiency of the initiating team. Personally, if I hadn't the ability or the means of travel to a Temple, I would resort to Self-Initiation. At least I would know if the ritual was performed properly or not.

Furthermore, the dramatic aspect of ritual, in combination with diagrams and symbols, also programs the psyche of the candidate and creates, as I mentioned above, a cognitive and emotional tone within him or her. Considering the old hermetic principle of “mentalism”, i.e. that the world is a though form of God and that man’s imaginatory faculties can create change in the fabric of mind or consciousness – which transcends individual consciousness – in correspondence with the intention of the individual, one can easily understand how this impact of ritual is very much important. This old hermetic principle has become the new age hype called “the law of attraction”. One can call it whatever one wants, but it is this principle which is the raison d’être of magic. This aspect is of course totally lacking in Astral Initiation but obviously may be recreated in Self-Initiation.

Then there is the transferential aspect of initiation which, I believe, also gives an important incitement to synchronicity. It is not at all uncommon during psychotherapy and psychoanalysis that the analysand projects the therapeutic process, and transferential relation to his therapist, on the outside word. There is plenty of case histories to substantiate this fact. I also know for a fact, both as an analysand and analyst, that the therapeutic process is very much alive between the sessions in everyday life. As I have mentioned earlier, Carl Gustav Jung acknowledged this phenomena of synchronicity as an outcome of therapy. So the relation between the candidate and the Hierophant is of great importance, both in an inner psychological and outer existential sense. In this respect, both Self- and Astral Initiation lacks in effect.

Now regarding the hallmarks of the Golden Dawn tradition the E.O.G.D. often claims that the practice of Astral Initiation in fact was institutionalised by the old Rosicrucian Order of Alpha et Omega, and non other than Moina Mathers herself - the wife of the founding member of the Golden Dawn, S.L. MacGregor Mathers. This has yet to be proven, but it seems to me that this premise has been deduced from a letter by Paul Foster Case to Francis Israel Regardie where it says that:
V.N.R. [Moina Mathers], supposedly 7=4 in fact, then began to display extraordinary misunderstanding of the American situation. She encouraged a Frater in Chicago to initiate anybody possessed of $ 10 (by mail), and soon the country was flooded with Neophytes who had never seen the inside of a Temple.
But as several people has already pointed out, this letter by Case cannot be taken for granted as a historical account of the situation of Alpha et Omega. Case had an axe to grind towards Moina Mathers, who previously had expelled him for several reasons as a disciplinary measure (of which I won’t venture into here, as it is irrelevant to the current discussion at hand). Besides Case’s words doesn’t substantiate any Astral Initiation, just that some members were conferred with the power to grant Grades by mail.

What it all amounts to we cannot actually tell; as the renowned Golden Dawn scholar Tony Fuller has pointed out before there is no evidence at all that substantiates Cases claims, besides a similar statement by A.E. Waite (who had an even bigger axe to grind toward S.L. MacGregor Mathers) which even is more ambiguous and open to interpretation and speculation. Be there as it may, but there is no proof to the claims of E.O.G.D. that they are continuing a long standing A.O. tradition in this respect. And even if Case was describing an actual Astral Initiation scheme during the 1920’s, it obviously wasn’t popular amongst the Adepti as many voted with their feet when Case left the Order. There is no reason to perpetuate a practice which was ill advised in the first place, if it ever was practiced in the Alpha et Omega, which I highly doubt.

Regarding Self-Initiation, there is of course no evidence at all that it has ever been used in the Golden Dawn prior to Israel Regardie suggesting its use in his The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic. But one has to remember that there almost were no active Temples when he made that suggestion. Regardie was the originator, but out of pragmatic reasons, not idealistic. At least this is my understanding of it.

Regardie was however the right man for this invention as it is a well known fact that he didn’t think highly of the Elemental Outer Order Rituals, something he inherited from Aleister Crowley who disposed of them all when he created his A.A. Hence Regardie used Self-Initiation as a method of training for his students, disposing the Elemental Grades and personally only conferred the Neophyte and Adeptus Minor initiations. The E.O.G.D. and their Astral Initiation scheme is also motivated by this deep lack of understanding of the importance of the Elemental Grades. For admission into their Inner Order, the candidate must have passed through the Neophyte, Portal and Adeptus Minor rituals in physical form – but no Elemental Grades.

While I concur that the Neophyte, Portal and Adeptus Minor formulas take precedence in importance over the Elemental Grades, this doesn’t mean that the latter are unimportant. On the contrary. The Alchemical process of separation must involve these four Grades of Zelator to Philosophus to be able to occur. Without them, the Portal Grade Ritual loses a great deal of its significance, and the candidate is extremely ill prepared for the Higher Initiation of the Adeptus Minor. So, basically, you cannot take away some little piece of the overall initiatory scheme without changing the whole traditional initiatory system.

It makes me sad to know that so many people and serious students of the Golden Dawn are lacking in these important steps on the way to progression and Adepthood, something that many of us initiates are taking for granted. It is also of significant importance that many of the dignitaries of today’s Golden Dawn, as for example Pat Zalewski, Cris Monnastre, as well as Robert Zink, hasn’t gone through full rituals, i.e. that they are good examples of self-initiated Adepts.

Unfortunately, many Golden Dawn students of the 1970’s and 80’s was force to resolve to Self-Initiation as there were no other option. But today the situation has changed dramatically. There are many different Temples within the Golden Dawn community, under several different denominations, both independed or belonging to a greater fraternity; the chances are much higher today that there is an initiating Temple in your vicinity. Luckily, both Zalewski and Monnastre reinstituted the phsysical intitiatory scheme. I wish that Robert Zink would follow suit, for the sake of his students who deserve the benefits of full form of the classical Golden Dawn initiatory process.