Lately I have been prompted to problematize a subject further. The initial question is: What constitutes a good initiate? But to be able to address this question one also has to problematize: What is initiation? And to chrystalize the subject matter further: Can any religious and honest spiritual seeker be regarded as a initiate? Does going to church each Sunday and partaking in the Sacraments, and simply being pious, count as initiation? Is the classical mystic necessarily a initiate? Let’s peal the onion!
Christianity originally was a initiatory mystery tradition drawing on different currents, such as the Greek and Egyptian mysteries, as well as Gnostic and possible Hermetic, and definitly the Jewish Merkabah tradition. But soon it developed into a universal religion. However, their sacraments (some of which are shared with the Gnostic Tradition) is a vestige of and reflect (in a somwhat diluted form) a initiatory system. Let’s say that the Christian sacraments represent a species of exoteric “lay-man initiation”. In particular the Baptism and Eucharist are powerful spiritual transmissions with a potential of quickening the human being. But remember that the common denominator is that both the initiations in a Esoteric Fraternity (such as the Golden Dawn) and that of the Sacraments of the Church, require a human conductor – somewhone who transmits the spiritual and energetic current. Also remember the Christian and Gnostic tradition behind Jesus’ baptism, that he received the Holy Ghost during it. But it did require John’s active participation and laying of hands upon the Christ. The anointed has to be anointed by someone.
This is a crucial component to authentic initiation; I do not believe in “self-initiation”, especially not of the kind which is popularized in modern books on the Golden Dawn Tradition; the vary fabric of Golden Dawn Initiation (as well as other Hermetic and Rosicrucian initiation) is that it is supposed to be conducted within a collective context. Or to use a vulgar metaphor; to survive in modern combat, it doesn’t suffice to know how to fire a rifle. The best way to learn how to win in combat is to enlist in a regular Army or professional military force, which have their own drill instructors (often with some form of combat experience), and to go through basic training, and speciality training, etc. It’s quite hard to do that by watching movies, reading books and going to the shooting range, etc.
But another problematizing question immediately arises: Who was the first initiate? (Initiate Zero.) Who initiated him (or her)? Or did the Initiatory Tradition arise from a initial self-initiation? No, Tradition holds that the first human initiate was not self taught. I concur with Tradition and do believe that originally he or she was intitiated by someone as well, but obviously not by any human. Who then? Clearly, it required a “extraterrestrial being” (i.e. someone not from our terrestrial world) to do that. Some believe in flying saucers, space ships, “Chariots of Gods,” etc. I do not adhere to this vulgar understanding to solve the problem of the original transmission of the Tradition. How I understand it, we rather have to talk about Solar Beings. I.e. living entities who exist on the Solar Dimension and feed on Solar Power for their subsistance. The goal of Hermetic Initiation and the Great Work is to become Solar Beings ourselves, to return to the original state of being “before the fall.” That is one original meaning of “The Path of Return.”
There are of course exceptional individuals who may arrive at more or less the same result and complete the Great Work (and become more than human) by divine intervention alone. However, that is not the normal case. The greater majority (of the extreme minority of mankind who are even suited for initiation) has to rely on an external initiator, who has activeted, in his Sphere of Sensation and subtler bodies, the energetic forces which are necessary for transmutation of body and soul. This initiator becomes the necessary “yeast” which serves to be the catalyst of the “fermentation” of the bodies of the initiate. The initiator has in turn received this yeast himself, which has quickened his Sphere of Sensation and started the process of the development of his bodies, etc. This is the true meaning of Lineage.
To use another vulgar metaphor, this may be compared with when humans train chimpanzees who through human intervention exceed their natural limitations of intelligence and behaviour. In a similar way, (the unexceptional) man has to rely on an external and more evolved being to be able to evolve and exceed his normal limitations given to him by birth, culture and society. However, that said, when this quickening has been started and the fermentation is underway, each initiate has to manage what has been provided to him through his own Great Work (i.e. his own personal theurgy and alchemy), or else the process must die out; he must become “the zealous student whose first duty was to blow the Athanor of Fire which heated the Crucible of the Alchemist.” Thus, true self-initiation is only possible within the context of the collective initiation; both constitute the different sides of the same coin, so to speak.
This naturally answers the main question, what constitutes a good initiate. My answer: To have the humility to realize that one needs the help and aid of others to be able to cross one’s own barriers and limitations; to admit that one is (inter)dependent on others for one’s own existance and subsistence (also from an existential and spiritual point of view). This is the first lesson of the Neophyte, as taught concerning the Grip of the Grade, which “...alludes to the seeking for guidance in darkness.” The group context is needed to check the profane defences of the self (or ego) such as arrogance, narcissism, egotism, complacency, “autoeroticism” (of the psychological and spiritual kind), pettiness, etc. This especially is crucial in our post-modern (hyper-individualistic and nihilist) age which is driven by these negative and destructive traits.
It is true, however, that as a initiate one has to distance oneself from one’s profane contemporaries in society, in one’s world view. But that doesn’t mean that one has to isolate oneself completely; the cure is to seek out the company of brothers and sisters in the Work. Thus the problem of repression lies not in egregores themselves, but the dilemma is to choose the right egregore which is beneficial for one’s spirutal development and energetic evolution. The natural outcome of this is that the good initiate becomes a shining example of the Fraternity, in his devotion to the Great Work, to the Fraternity, and to Mankind. For the good initiate, his sacred vows becomes his “Catechism,” a guide and measuring stick on how to conduct himself, both to his brothers and sisters in the Order, and to his fellow brothers and sisters in the Outer World.
A good initiate is also the Apprentice who makes optimal use of the “yeast” transmitted to him from his initiator (and the initiating team), one who uses the “bellows” provided to him in the form of the Tradition of Theurgy, Alchemy and Astrology (the Trivium hermeticum), to keep up the steady and gradually raised heat of the “Athanor” (the Sphere of Sensation), as well as being the Student who assimilates all of the necessary information and traditional knowledge needed to facilitate this initiatory process and graded transmutation; with energetic and spiritual attainment should also come a deepened understanding of the system or Tradition. Thus, a good initiate is one who is perservering, patient, devoted, disciplined, analytical and intuitive.
When it comes to morals and ethics, there is not much that can be taught by the Fraternity which hasn’t been developed beforehand, prior to Initiation. What the Order can do is to foment and crystallize that which is already present within the initiate, either manifest or latent. As is stated in Neophyte Grade, that the “obligation contains nothing incompatible with your civil, moral or religious duties.” This implies that these have to exist a priori in the Candidate. Here, the screening process is crucial. The rationale behind this is that morals and ethics transcend the mere intellectual and cognitive level; it is emotionally based and develops in early childhood and through healty attachments and relationships. Theurgy (i.e. communication with the divine) and Alchemy (transmutation of the bodies) may of course facilitate this process, but that is the outcome of a quite long initiatory process. The Order provides quite little in moral and ethical teachings, beyond what is contained in its ceremonies. Thus these basic qualities and virtues have to be inherent in the “prima materia” chosen for the initiatory process.
Now, a series of natural questions arise needed to problematize this question of morals and checking of the ego further: Has the Golden Dawn (in its various manifestations) been particularly successful, as a egregore, to accomplish this? Or, rather than keeping the ego in check is it possible that a egregore sometimes may actually feed the ego? Also, what if the Initiator or “yeast” is or have become egotistical or corrupted himself? Can lineage protect the initiate from this possibility? Does lineage trump the initiate’s Higher Soul in such cases?
Necessarily, my answer to these questions has to be rather long to be able to address them properly, and unfortunately with an air of pessimism. What I can talk about with certainty is the current manifestation(s) of the Golden Dawn, as I have had first hand experiences of it. When it comes to the different historical branches, i.e. the Golden Dawn (pre 1900), the Alpha Omega and Stella Matutina, it becomes more difficult and we can only speculate (there are to many pet theories published since the early 1970’s of what happened between 1898 and 1903, and I do not want to contribute with another one); with the benefit of the doubt, I do belive that the Golden Dawn served it purpose in those days good enough.
Talking about the revived Golden Dawn (post 1980), can we say the same? No we cannot. Why? I would say that the Golden Dawn has become infested by the Counter-Tradition. People has often ventured into it as self-initiates, and believe that they know it all through published books. Many founders of the postmodern Golden Dawn Orders and Temples, have no lineage other than what can be read from Israel Regardie’s and Aleister Crowley’s books, and even Pat Zalewski’s. Even those few that do have some sort of initiatic lineage are affected by the current times; by New Age, commersialism, competition, hyper-individualism, nihilism, [enter any postmodern notion into this list], etc. To cut it short, we are living in the Age of the Ego.
These so-called “esoteric” Lodges and Temples are not being that overly esoteric anymore, in the true sense of the word (rather exoteric I would say), as they sell themselves out to a prospecting spiritual market, reaching out to new spiritual consumers, publishing books and selling other types of marchandise, trying to gain monopoly over the market, growing into corporate bodies, etc. When the boundary between the sacred and the profane is blurred in the best case scenario, and non-existant in the worst, can the Temple protect itself from egotistic and craving individuals?
Also, I believe that the question should be rephrased: Has the esoterc Lodges / Temples in their various manifestations been successful in checking the ego? The Golden Dawn is not the only visable tradition which has been hijacked by the Counter-Tradition. All of them have, to a greater and lesser extent. In that kind of environment, yes a Temple or Lodge may feed the ego; that is what a Conter-Traditional initiation does. We see esoteric leaders today which are not only egoistical and narcissistic, but in some cases also mentally disturbed and predatory; psychic vampires. The danger with all types of initiation (regardless of colour) is that it brings our personal deficiencies to the surface (they are supposed to do that). But if the initiatior or the Temple / Lodge cannot help the initiate to work them out, they will become unbalanced. (Israel Regardie knew about this and he tried to seek out psychoanalysis as a solution.)
Lineage itself cannot protect a group or the individual of that group from becoming corrupted and falling from the Tradition into the Counter-Traditional mire in this manner as described. There are no guarantees, especially not in our post-modern age. Some of the esoteric leaders are trying to uphold the hallmarks of the Tradition though, despite all of the above. But it isn’t easier to fine a genuinely Traditional Temple or Lodge today than it was 100 years ago; the difference is that the prospecting initiate has to wade through all of these rogue groups before they strike true gold. I would guess, it is even harder to find anything genuine today than it was one Century ago. In the last analysis, we shouldn’t point out fingers against any particular individual or group; it is a larger phenomena that has infested almost the entire esoteric community. So choose wisely! You have no use for fool’s gold.