The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as it existed from 1887 into the early 20th century was a preparatory school and an intense training ground into Hermetics, qabalah, alchemy, and the Western Mysteries. This training began with the process of initiation which sets in motion the necessary alchemical fire to transform the inner lead to gold. This alchemy cannot be accomplished through the use of a trademark or a mountain of books with "Golden Dawn" printed on the cover. It can happen only through tradition and transmission of the light.
The Golden Dawn tradition is a very comprehensive set of ideas, lectures, initiatory ceremonies and magical techniques, which are still kept alive by a large number of active practitioners throughout the world. Most of these active groups and orders share the same traditional structure. This page presents elements from the Golden Dawn tradition that applies to most active orders today.
The grade system of the Golden Dawn tradition provides the student with five grades. They are Neophyte, 0=0; Zelator, 1=10; Theoricus, 2=9; Practicus, 3=8; and Philosophus, 4=7. With the exception of Neophyte, all the grades pertain to one element.Zelator to Earth
Theoricus to Air
Practicus to Water
Philosophus to Fire
There is an Invisible grade that is not of the Outer Order and yet not fully of the Inner Order that is called the grade of Portal. This grade relates to Spirit, by which the four elements must be ruled. It is the completion and perfection of the pentagram with the top point of Spirit ruling the lower four points of the elements. The Portal grade also relates to the veil being torn assunder, the Veil of Paroketh, that was split in two in the sanctuary when Christ expired upon the Cross of Suffering.
An initiate of the Golden Dawn Tradition does not become a full initiated into the Order until he or she enters the grade of Zelator, 1=10. This grade, relating to Malkuth and the element of Earth, is also the first grade depicted on the Cabalistic Tree of Life. It is the first sephira going back up to our origin in Kether. It is the first sephira going up and the last sephira coming down from Kether, thus, we have the 1=10. Theoricus 2=9, relates to Yesod (Yesod of Malkuth). Practicus, 3=8, relates to Hod (Hod of Malkuth). Philosophus, 4=7, relates to Netzach (Netzach of Malkuth). It is only the grade of Neophyte that does not relate to a sephiroth on the Qabalistic Tree of Life so thus we have the numbers 0=0. It is in Neophyte that all the forces of the inner alchemical transformation begin. The Neophyte initiation, when conducted properly with the appropriate officers in the correct colors and with the correct symbolism, is an extremely potent and powerful force. The whole process of Western Mystery work far outreaches the information given to the new Neophyte as part of his or her grade material. The real transformation takes place first, in the initiation of 0=0, then on a daily basis in the experience we call "living."
Each grade of the Order provides potent forces filled with rewards and challenges. It is not enough to not undaunted be the difficulty of occult study as the Hiereus exclaims. We must learn to be undaunted by the challenge of occult/spiritual living.
There are many cases where lives have changed dramatically after 0=0. In some instances, people received new opportunities in business, home life, love, health, etc.. In other situations, people have had long and determined plans ripped away from their life like a flower being plucked from a bush. In addition, to the tremendous influx of Light that happens in the 0=0 initiation, something else takes place. The candidate (maybe for the first time) is communicating with the Divine, to the principles of Light and to the "Great Work." In a few words, the candidate is telling the Divine essence within, "Higher Genuis," that he or she wants to begin the journey of the "True Self" not the self governed by modern advertising or ego, but the "True and Secret Self." The Higher Genius begins causing changes to manifest in the life of the aspirant. From a mundane point of view these changes may seem good or bad. From a mountain top, birds eye view of the Higher Genius, it is much like a chess strategy. When understood, it will allow the candidate, later in the future to place negative aspects of the ego in checkmate.
Volumes can be written on the positive qualities that a practising student can aqcuire in each grade and through each initiation from Zelator to Philosophus. Each grade carries within it the seed of reward and the challenges necessary to strengthen the spiritual self onto the road of "Self-Mastery and the magical way of life."
The Golden Dawn tradition is unlike many of the new age groups who provide no safeguards for the student. Each grade, after 0=0, requires testing. Even after successful testing, the advancement into the next grade often requires permission from the local Temple Chiefs and the invisible Chiefs of the Order. These people keep an eagles eye on the candidate to make certain he or she will be capable of handling the force and energy of the next grade. Traditionally, there is a minimum time that must be spent in each grade before one can apply for advancement to the next grade.
The grade of 5=6 is part of an entirely different Order usually referred to as the Second Order. Contrary to what many think, the Second Order or Inner Order is not Golden Dawn Current. It is responsible for the governance of the Outer School.
Today in the modern world of electronics and computers, there is much confusion as to what the Golden Dawn is. There are those who have even sought to convince the unaware that Thelema is part and parcel of the Golden Dawn currents of energy. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Thelema and Golden Dawn system have about as much in common as a hound dog and a raccoon. There is even a group claiming to be Thelemic-Golden Dawn. Much of their appeal is to the masses who found it as easy to switch from "the real thing" to the "choice of a new generation" as they have from the "classical Western Mysteries tradition" to the "New Aeon" of Aleister Crowley
The historic Golden Dawn (not to be confused with any current group borrowing the name) was formulated as an official school and extension of the German Rosicrucians in 1887 in London, England. It was based in part on an elusive set of cipher documents. Although Ellic Howe in his book on the Golden Dawn makes a strong argument that the ciphers were forged, new information has risen to the surface that may illuminate a more clear and scintillating truth than Howe concluded. A document is currently being prepared that may open the doorway to their origins. The bottom line of the Golden Dawn system is that initiations from 0=0 to 4=7 are highly effective in the area of providing inner alchemical transformations from coarse to fine, from lead to the fullest potential of gold. In plain English, the Golden Dawn system works! Much of our occult wisdom today, from Wicca to Tarot, from astrology to psychology can be directly traced to the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
In 1888, the Order began the process of initiation. With more than just the initiation of the individual, the Order initiated a re-awakening of the Western Mystery tradition. The Golden Dawn began the process of molding, teaching and building future Adepts in the art of Self-Mastery and practical Qabalah.
In essence, the Golden Dawn System was and is a curriculum of study and preparation of the Great Work! The Great Work is defined as: The purification of the spiritual nature, so that with the aid of the Divine, the Adept may overcome his/her human limitations and thus gradually raise and unite with the Divine Self. This is the True Self which is beyond birth and death. Thus, the Adept will learn his/her True Will and may persue the accomplishment of it, the Great Work. More than just a curriculum of study, the Golden Dawn System is an alchemical process that can only be accomplished through initiation. Although today some Golden Dawn orders encompass worldwide fraternities of like minded men and women who "seek Inner Truth," it is still, in many ways, a solitary path. Personal attention and work is a "must" in the process of spiritual development.
I have avoided a history lecture as much as possible in this paper. I have also tried to avoid a "here's what the Golden Dawn System teaches" lecture. On a personal basis, the Golden Dawn System is a priceless treasure. I have not always felt that way. As a Neophyte, it was a cloud of confusion. Like a fine wine that must age, time and patience give one a clearer understanding and a deeper appreciation of perfection. I think that is exactly what happens to most of us who become involved in serious Golden Dawn System studies. We grow with the rising sun, and it blooms into a beautiful love and appreciation for the perfection of the system
If you are considering joining one of the Golden Dawn Orders, don't make the fantasy of believing your life will change overnight and that all will be in perfect harmony within your world! Given time, patience and persistence, the night of blindness will pass, the Sun will rise and the shadows will flee away.