One has to make a distinction, I believe, between lineage and esoteric transmission. The optimal way is of course to have them both, i.e. with authentic lineage should follow a genuine esoteric transmission, and vice versa. But that is not always the case of course. In theory there can be a genuine 7°=4° with the right to initiate anyone into the tradition and found Temples, etc. but as an accident has lost all of his documents or donated it to a library years ago, etc. In this case we have a lineage without the esoteric transmission, with the exception of the oral instructions held within the 7°=4°. On the other hand we have the document collector who can buy a substantial esoteric transmission at an auction, or copy it from some microfilm archive at one of the libraries holding these documents.
Which one is the better? Lineage or esoteric transmission? To be honest, I don't know for sure. But I wouldn't like to have been without any of them. But perhaps lineage starts with esoteric transmissions in the first place? I will return to this question soon.
Today both lineage and esoteric transmissions within the Golden Dawn community generally are on shaky ground, perhaps with some few exceptions. It is at least obscured and cannot be officially confirmed to the public eye. Often the lineage is carried at the level of 5°=6° as in the case of the students of Regardie, Crowley, Case and Fortune. Some are carried on the level of 6°=5°, but not even that is formally sufficient as it is – in fact – at the level of 7°=4° that authentic lineage is given and received. But most of the Adepti Exempti came from the Stella Matutina and A.E. Waite currents. Strictly speaking, these currents are at the level of 5°=6° as the London adepti who rebelled against S.L. MacGregor Mathers (one of the original founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) were only 5°=6°.
So the 7°=4° grades of both Robert Felkin (the founder of one of the schismatic G.D. offshoots) and A.E. Waite (the founder of the other schismatic offshoot called “The Holy Order of the Golden Dawn”) was "irregular", i.e. acquired without any prior conference from a genuine Adeptus Exemptus (7°=4°). William Wynn Westcott (the other original founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) was a true 7°=4° so perhaps he regularized the current of the S.M. or Waite? I don't know beyond speculation. But it seems unlikely as he mostly was interested with the S.R.I.A. after the schism of 1900.
So, to look upon the matter very strictly, lineage was only carried through the Rosicrucian Order of the A+O, the organization created by MacGregor Mathers after the schim in 1900, as he was the only acting Chief with that controlling Grade (i.e. that of 7°=4°), and also claimed and received recognition for the connection with the 3rd Order. And in the A+O the Adepti Exempti were very few indeed.
When the original A+O were closed down in the 1940's, some of the few high ranking senior Adepts of both 6°=5° and 7°=4° were conferred with the right to grant lineage to posterity. But the whereabouts of the post A+O era is very obscured and polemized by scholars. There are modern initiates that claim that orders like Tamara Bourkoun’s Order of the Pyramid and the Sphinx (O.P+S.) received such permission to carry on the A+O lineage, but there’s no consensus in the Golden Dawn community about this claim. Others, like the renown scholar Tony Fuller, claims that some of these senior A+O Adepts began to collaborate with the existing Stella Matutina Temple in England during the early 1950's, i.e. with the Hermes Temple in Bristol, and also to a lesser degree with the Whare Ra in New Zeeland some decade later.
So perhaps the Stella Matutina current finally became regularized after the death of Robert Felkin, including its 7°=4°? It's hard to say as the matters are obscure regarding this possibility to the say the very least. But if we are to trust the words of Tony Fuller (which I personally would like to) the Hermes Temple started to use the A+O rituals up to and including the 7°=4°, and also that the rituals eventually found their way to New Zeeland, albeit not used within the Whare Ra. So the conclusion that I can draw from Fuller's statements is that at least the S.M. in Bristol, England, received the esoteric transmission of the A+O if not the initiatic lineage.
Personally I hope the S.M. also received the lineage and had its 7°=4° regularized as both the Bristol and Whare Ra Temples has left an important imprint on the Golden Dawn community of today, because of the reletively late closure of them both (the latter in 1978 and the former during the 1960's) and because of the publications of authors like Israel Regardie and Pat Zalewski. But in doing this assumption one is prone to strech the imagination quite beyond what is reasonably safe to assume. Therefore, in using occhams razor, one must assume that the lineage formally broke with the schism of 1900, even though there were esoteric transmissions passed back and forth between the Orders of S.M. and A+O.
But then again, were did Mathers and Westcott receive their 7°=4°? We don't know, can only speculate. What we know is that Westcott (through the Cipher Mss) and later Mathers (through his supposed continental R+C connections) both claimed that they carried with them esoteric transmission. Perhaps Mathers was initiated, i.e. received lineage (i.e. regularized his 7°=4°) from his Secret Chief Lux e Tenebris? We don't know. But we know it all started with the Cipher Mss. i.e. through some papers which was handed to Westcott coming from Kenneth MacKenzie and Fredrick Hockey. So here we can se a possible example of how an esoteric transmission became the basis of a lineage. So to answer my question above, I believe that esoteric transmission is the most important part; it is with documents and instruction that everything starts.
Regarding the esoteric transmissions of today they are scattered, to say the very least. I don't think that any Order of today holds all documents that were once produced in the G.D. and the later A+O, especially considering the senior Adepti Grades (at least a page is missing here and there). Not even documents coming from the S.M. and the Whare Ra, even considering the relatively late closure of the latter. Some in the know of what transpired in New Zeeland during the late 1970's claim that most of the documentation of the Whare Ra went up in smoke, so to speak, when it closed down.
So there we have it, a lineage that in most cases probably don't reach any higher level than 5°=6° and with fragments of esoteric transmissions, most often not reaching beyond the Zelator Adeptus Minor level. This is the general state that the Golden Dawn community suffers from today.
There are perhaps one or two Orders that (a) have a considerable collection of original Golden Dawn documentation and a solid enough lineage to make the operation considered as tentatively "regular" and "authentic", considering the conditions that we are living under today. But the majority of the so called Golden Dawn based orders have (b) neither initatic lineage nor esoteric transmissions beyond the published litterature. On the other hand there are also orders who either (c) have some sort of initiatic lineage but non or very little original documentation, i.e. esoteric transmission beyond the published litterature, or (d) no confirmed initiatic lineage but who have managed to gather a more or less substantial library of original handwritten documentation, i.e. a esoteric transmission which somehow transcends published information in both variety and in depth.
Of these four categories of Orders I would place them in the following order of priority:
- a. Both lineage and esoteric transmission
- d. Esoteric transmission but no lineage
- c. Lineage but no esoteric transmission
- b. No lineage nor esoteric transmission
Of course both (c) and (d) may switch places, considering the level of lineage (i.e. 5°=6°, 6°=5° or 7°=4°) and the actual amount of unpublished documentation gained and from which of the branches it was received (original pre-schism G.D., or post-schism S.M., A+O or Holy Order of the G.D./Fellowship of R+C), as they both approximate each other in general importance.
Regarding the source of esoteric transmission I would say that old documents from the original pre 1900 G.D. must be considered as much desired, as is the documents stemming from the later A+O because of the later expansions that Mathers did to the system (i.e. of the levels beyond Th.A.M. of the 5°=6°, and the levels of 6°=5° and 7°=4°), well aware of the fact that the pre-schismatic G.D. didn't reach any higher level than that of Th.A.M. The later S.M. stayed rather traditional to the pre 1900 G.D. up to and including Th.A.M., with the exception of minor expansions, but in New Zeeland (i.e. with the Whare Ra H.O. 49) it carried the traditon in its own direction for the levels beyond that, and here it becomes a matter of taste of which tradition or current one preferes, the S.M. or A+O. Personally I prefer the A+O, mostly for the fact that the original lineage continued with MacGregor Mathers and that he was the originator (or rather the receiver) of most of the 5°=6° material prior to the schism in 1900.
In my opinion A.E. Waites "Holy Order of the Golden Dawn", because of the many changes he did to the system (i.e. the removal of Ceremonial Magic and substantial changes to the initiation rituals), and because of the further reformations implemented with the creation of the later Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, isn't at all as much interesting or rewarding as the G.D., S.M. or A+O for someone practically oriented student as me. This is so, even considering the fact that the original Isis-Urania "mother" Temple No. 3 survied and was closed at the hands of A.E. Waite as late as 1914, when he decided to create his new Fellowship.
So today fragmentation and obscurity is the curse that besets the Golden Dawn community. At least, that's how it looks from my limited perspective. But it seems like the flow or traffic and exchange of G.D. documentation between Adepts and Temples has increased during the last 5 years or so, which could mean that the scattered esoteric transmissions, both individually hand copied documents and remnents of circulation documents, of the G.D., S.M. and A+O are in the process of slowly being gathered up and perhaps some day the collected works of the G.D. will be assembled into a harmonious whole. Or perhaps I'm just being unrealistically naive in my assumption. Probably so. Be there as it may but is my strong conviction that documents of this dignity don't just fall into the hands of someone by accident, especially not into hands of those who are able to implement them.
Let me give you one faschinating and inspiring story of one such acquirement of esoteric documentation, which I have extracted from a French article by Jean-Pascal Ruggiue and Nicolas Tereshchenko (the former being the current Imperator and the latter the past Praemonstrator of the Ahathôôr Temple No. 7 of l'Ordre Rosicrucien de l'Alpha & Omega® - the French branch of the Rosicrucian Order of the Alpha et Omega®), called An historical introduction to the Ahathoor Temple No. 7 of Paris. It is an interesting account as it is fairly illustrative of the intricacies of that path that documents of great spiritual significance sometimes can take (which also can be said of other manuscripts of high significance such as the Nag Hammadi or Qumran collections) before they eventually find their hands into those who are fit and able to use them properly:
The second Book of Minutes of the Ahathoor Temple covers the period from 1909 to 1923. These records were preserved by George Slater (Frater Vincit Qui Patitur), an American living in Paris between 1920 and 1930 and whose father was a member of Isis-Urania Temple in London. George Slater was initiated on 25 October 1919 to the rank of Neophyte at Temple Ahathoor Paris, and he became Sub-Cancellarius in 1921. After the death of Moina Mathers in 1921, George Slater remained in France until at least 1931. At an unknown date, he returned to live in New York where several Temples of the Alpha et Omega had been founded under the auspices of the Rosicrucian Order of the Alpha et Omega. Upon the death of George Slater in 1962, his widow bequeathed all his archives to a private institute in New York. The librarian of the Institute, rather embarrassed by the nature of these documents, store them in a trunk that was locked in a cellar. In a move in 1990, these forgotten papers were rediscovered by the new librarian of the institute who tried to visit the Ahathoor Temple and came into contact with Mary Greer and Robert Word, head of a branch of the American Order, the AOMR (August Order of the Mystic Rose) and official representative of the Ahathoor Temple present in the USA. Robert Word decided to forward a copy of these valuable archives to the current leaders of the Ahathoor Temple at Paris, and, because of historical affiliations united the original American Temples of the Alpha et Omega with the Ahathoor Temple in Paris, Mother Loge of the Order.
So on one hand you have some kind of divine intervention or guidance from angelic wardens who sees to it that documents find their way into the right hands. But on the other (and this is more important) you have Adepts who won't just infuse their egos with owning these documents but more so, and instead, implement what they contain. For historians like Ellic Howe and R.A. Gilbert, they (i.e. the words in these documents) are just senseless dribble or a interesting curiosity, but for Adepts like Jean-Pascal Ruggiue and Nicolas Tereshchenko they are the living entities of a spiritual tradition which are animated even further by their implementation of these instructions. In short, esoteric transmission.
People possessing this kind of original documentation have to sense the awe and importance of having been entrusted with the grace of receiving these esoteric transmissions, and take their responsibility to implement them to the highest possible level. With having this documentation follows a great responsibility.