Now and then questions has been raised against the use of sashes or grade badges in the Golden Dawn, as these, according to some critics, are only supposed to reflect and gratify the needs of the ego. Others object against the use of sashes as these have an unnecessary freemasonic feel to them. They say that it suffices with wearing the black T-robe and the nemyss (or Egyptian head dress). Some people hold the opinion that Grade badges have no magical purpose at all.
These propositions seems to be yet another examples of all these modern inventions and opinions infesting the contemporary Golden Dawn community, created and maintained by individuals with absolutely no sense of context in history and tradition. Yes, certainly the use of sashes and badges has a freemasonic tradition behind it. But as a traditionalist I simply cannot see any problem with this freemasonic connection. Freemasonry is an integral part of the Western Mystery Tradition, and rightly so. The Golden Dawn can trace some of its roots in freemasonry, as can most authentic Rosicrucian currents. Rosicrucianism and freemasonry has been merged together since at least the 18th Century.
Years ago I received an oral tradition which plainly stated that in the original Order (i.e. the pre 1940’s) one could put on the robe in ritual and regular meetings but was always required to wear the sash of the Grade. In plain text, you could be at a Temple meeting without your robe but always had to wear the sash in a freemasonic fashion. This is born out when reading unpublished versions of the Ritual “Z-1”, as in extant Whare Ra copies of that document.
So in my opinion it’s obvious that the originators and early members of the Golden Dawn regarded the sashes of the Grade as having a higher importance than either the robe or the nemyss. In original Golden Dawn documentation the use of robe and head wear is optional while the use of grade insignia is mandatory. Reading the famous Cypher Mss. you won’t find any references to either robes being worn by other than the officers, nor of any use of nemysses. But you will find many references there to Grade sashes. Thus simply by following documented evidence the Golden Dawn tradition obviously lays great emphasis on the sash, more so than on any other regalia or clothing worn by members.
The reason for this emphasis is not simply about proudly “flashing” with your Grade, or sashes wouldn’t have been put into use in the Golden Dawn in the first place. The Golden Dawn tradition has always been a highly pragmatic tradition, and you can be sure of that if anything is used there is has a magical purpose. Although I can recognize the danger of inflating the ego with Grade badges or insignia I believe the reason behind it is about something completely different. I thus hold that there is much more psychology and magic behind the use of insignia in the Golden Dawn than meets the eye in the first analysis.
In the Occident there has developed initiatic systems of different kinds. They confer Grades and believe in gradual or progressive development. Compare this with going through school. If you dispute the need or significance of Grade insignia, you must also dispute the need for the initiatic system itself in my opinion. Contrary to this notion I hold that we should take our initiatic system very seriously. Try to imagine freemasons not wearing aprons; it should be equally natural to wear Grade badges in the Golden Dawn. Wearing insignia only becomes a problem when you allow yourself to make a problem out of it. In my own experience of freemasonry most members don’t apply any “egoic” value in wearing grade insignia. On the contrary, I would feel quite “naked” or out of place if I didn't wear my sash, collar and apron in Lodge. This feeling should equally apply to being in Temple without your Grade sash.
Receiving and having the right to wear Grade insignia is the mark of progress and the symbolical “pay-off” for the hard toil which comes with Grade work. In my opinion, in a magical and alchemical initiatic mystery school the members deserve this recognition. It is not about “ego” per se, it’s about being recognized and acknowledged for the hard work being done. It gives a natural status or standing within the group; peer recognition. As all humans members of an initiatic society, such as the Golden Dawn, need encouragement and it comes naturally with wearing the ensign of your current achievements. This is especially important for the members of lower Grade. This recognition and acknowledgment eases the pain somewhat of the heavy workload being done, and gives incitement for further progress. But over time and with spiritual progress, the need for this recognition lessens considerably. But as with all magical and theurgical practice, outer symbols and tools are used to help the will and heighten the senses. Even in this respect. Over time the need for these external tools becomes less important.
Not only the Golden Dawn but also most modern mystery schools in the West have a partial origin in freemasonry. Although the system of initiation has older origins, the tradition of wearing insignia mainly comes from freemasonry. I am a freemason myself, an initiate of the Swedish Rite, but have never experienced any ego attached to a particular badge. The feeling of fraternity is there regardless of degree. An X° Mason can sit beside a I° and the feeling of genuine mutual recognition and genuine fraternity is still there, or even more so because of difference in degree. Often elder members give good counsel to the “younger” members, which is greatly appreciated and creates stronger bonds between junior and senior members.
This is also my experience of the particular branch of the Golden Dawn that I belong to. There is a sense of equality and informality amongst initiates, although Grades are recognized and due respect is given to higher initiates. But with respect and attainment comes also a great responsibility. It is the work of the more advanced members to help and serve the “lesser fortunate” members. Wearing your badge reminds you of your obligation as an initiate, to work for your spiritual advancement and to guide others in their advancement. Wearing a Grade badge is as much recognition of your current “status” or position on the map of spiritual progress, as it is a reminder of you having to keep working on that further advancement and remaining in a continual progress.
In my opinion, and from my own and other individuals experience as newly recepiated or initiated members, one has as a Neophyte or Apprentice a great need (conscious or unconscious) to know what Grades one’s brothers and sisters are having; one naturally seeks the companion of “more advanced” members to receive counsel and advice as well as the opposite, seeking the company of lower Grade members to find a common ground for friendship.
Through the custom of wearing Grade badges one avoids unnecessary questions of which Grade one belongs to. In my experience, seeing the Grade of each member makes Grades considerably less hyped. I would say that under the most optimal conditions (i.e. a context which does inspire spiritual progress), and in an Order with a genuine fraternal and loving culture, wearing Grade badges lessens the risk of inflating the ego.
So in my opinion, based on my own experience, Grade badges are more “charged” with importance amongst newly initiated and of lesser Grade, compared to Adepts, in normal human social exchange. In my experience senior members are often more laid back when it comes to titles and insignia. At least this should be the case in a well functioning initiatic society that does manage to advance its members spiritually through the Grades.
On the other hand I would say that on the inner planes Grade and spiritual rank do matter and is more important amongst spiritual beings of lower hierarchies, such as the Elemental kingdoms and Planetary Spirits, the Qlippoth, etc. I would recommend a read of Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defence in this instance. To rule the Elemental Kingdoms and the Shells you have to have a good spiritual standing to exert dominion. And Grade badges do flash considerably on the inner planes, especially the insignia of an Adept. So as a King or Queen clothes him- or herself in the royal garbs, so does the Adept clothe him- or herself with the badges and jewels of an Adept – i.e. as the King and Queen of the Elements.
I am therefore against the notion or proposition recently made that officers shouldn’t wear their Grade badges in ritual and Temple. Some people hold the opinion that mixing personal and official insignia somehow would confuse the candidate, or even the magical currents. This is a strange view in my opinion. To be honest I really cannot follow the logic that there should be a conflict between being a person and holding a office. On the contrary, the office requires a person or subject to animate it. In Swedish freemasonry officers do wear the aprons of the office, but always in combination with their personal sash. Basically it boils down to that you are your Grade but assume or wear the office as a additional responsibility. This can be compared to assuming a Godform (which basically what holding a office is all about in the Golden Dawn); on one hand the Godform uses your particular sphere of sensation as a vehicle for its manifestation, and on the other your personal willpower is the principle which keeps the Godform in place and under control. Thus, there is no conflict at all, neither in symbology nor magically current wise. On the contrarary, I hold that wearing a Grade sash magically enchances the office being worn.
So in conclusion all symbols worn have a magical and theurgical, i.e. spiritual purpose. On the other hand there is much in spiritual progress that can create hyperbole and narcissism. Not just Grades and badges, but the magical terminology and mechanism itself. In the very nature of progress lies also the potential seed for downfall. But this is a risk one has to take with all progress, spiritual or non-spiritual. Being conscious of this is required and one should always ask oneself why one has the need of wearing Grade badges and receiving recognition for it. But with this awareness comes also a great potential for self-knowledge.