In the early 20th Century when the Golden Dawn flourished in different avenues, such as the Stella Matutina, the Alpha et Omega and Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, the concept of Temple initiation in the Outer Order was part and parcel of the hallmarks of the Golden Dawn tradition. In this respect the Golden Dawn was quite freemasonic in its outlook on initiation and lineage.
This attitude was soon to be changed however since most of these Temples closed their activities in the 1940’s (Alpha et Omega) and 1970’s (Stella Matutina). Israel Regardie, himself an initiate of the Stella Matutina in the 1930’s, introduced the concept of self-initiation in the Golden Dawn tradition already in his scholarly introduction to The Golden Dawn: The Original Account of the Teachings, Rites & Ceremonies of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, written in 1937. But it was first heard of being practiced through the confessions of the two founders of the Order of the Cubic Stone, a Crowleyan Golden Dawn hybrid organization which saw its heyday in the 1960’s. Both of the founders, David Edwards and Robert Turner, published journals containing their self-initiatory workings through the Outer Order and into the 5°=6° Grade of Adeptus Minor.
Israel Regardie was the single individual who not only introduced the idea but also popularized the concept of self-initiation in the Golden Dawn community. This idea is expressed in both his editions of the Golden Dawn curriculum, the aforementioned The Golden Dawn, originally published in four volumes during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, and the latter The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic, published in 1984. Especially the latter title is a clear proponent of this idea and expounds upon it further.
It seems as if Regardie proposed the idea that his own development of the so-called “Opening by Watch-Tower” ritual was to be substituted for the Outer Order Elemental Grades of the Golden Dawn. It has been suggested that in his opinion this highly potent ritual resumed the entire Outer Order process and therefore could be used as a self-initiation ritual into the Golden Dawn. He also used this formula on his closest student, Cris Monnastre, who would perform this ritual hundreds of times until he found her eligible for advancement into the Adeptus Minor or 5°=6°.
However, it has also been suggested that Regardie didn’t believe it was possible to self-initiate into the 5°=6°. Thus in time for her initiation in 1982 into the Adeptus Minor level Regardie himself initiated her into the 5°=6°, in a fully consecrated Vault of the Adepti. This event also sparked the resurrection of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in America in the early 1980’s.
Since then this idea has been thoroughly ingrained into the modern mind of the Golden Dawn student, that it is possible to self-initiate through the Outer Order grade system, but not into the Adeptus Minor. But I ask if this is a fact or simply a token of wishful thinking, or simply has become necessary only because of the fact that there weren’t any known initiating Temples to be found anywhere in the world at the turn of the late 1970’s?
Personally I have a firm belief when it comes to the concept of self-initiation and I have written elsewhere on this blog regarding the pros and cons of SI (as well as of astral initiation). But I believe it’s time for me to develop this thinking a little bit further. As it seems, the truth is seldom in black and white.
First of all, I don’t believe it’s possible to become a Golden Dawn initiate simply by the aid of self-initiation. The Golden Dawn tradition sets its own criteria of who is considered to be an initiate and who is not. It plainly says that you need an initiator to become fully initiated. Compare with Freemasonry. You will never become a Freemason just by performing the Blue Lodge grades solo, by yourself. Why anyone would even consider calling himself a Golden Dawn initiate if not being initiated by a Golden Dawn Order is beyond my comprehension.
However, you may become a Golden Dawn Magician, i.e. a Ceremonial Magician who works within the Golden Dawn tradition. And there are lots of these magicians around who has never seen the insides of a Golden Dawn Temple, but still deserves my deepest respect as a fellow magician.
But one has to make a clear distinction between an initiate and a non-initiate nevertheless. The former is part of a greater egregore and current, besides having access to centuries old oral traditions and unpublished documentation, which aids him in his spiritual unfoldment, the latter has only himself to resort to and published literature. Even though it is possible to tap into the Golden Dawn current by the simple use of its ceremonies of Theurgy and symbolism, this cannot be compared to becoming a part of that current through ritual group initiation. And the current of the Golden Dawn is mighty indeed! So it’s no surprise that it spills over to non-initiate practitioners of the Golden Dawn system of Magic.
Thus in my opinion self-initiation may never become a legitimate substitution for Real Temple Initiation. But it is the second best option if you want to spiritually emulate states of consciousness which approximate that of Temple Initiation. It definitely is a much better option compared to so-called “astral initiation”, in the case of a student of the Golden Dawn lacking the ability or possibility to receive classical Temple initiation.
In both classical Temple initiation and self-initiation you basically involve three levels or planes of existance, commonly referred to as the physical, etheric and astral. These three levels are involved in all forms of Ceremonial Magic and Theurgy (or at least should be) to be successful. There is the physical movement and direct manipulation of nerve current, and then there is the energetic manipulation of the etheric double or Sphere of Sensation (aura) using the subtle energy called “prana” or “qi” in the eastern traditions, or “pneuma”, “ruach”, and “L.V.X.” in the western, and then lastly there is the emotional and spiritual (i.e. astral) impact.
In ritual magic, of which initiation plays an important part, the focus lies in the physical and energetic bodies (the Sphere of Sensation) through the transmission of magical current, but it has also a profound spiritual and emotion effect because of this current (which passes through the astral from the causal-spiritual) and especially the ritual drama which forms emotionally charged concepts or thought forms in the mind. The ritual also creates a portal into the astral realm, the particular plane or dwelling place of the force invoked. This astral realm may be reached and researched through the use of certain symbols contained in the ritual. Thus in self-initiation one has to combine ritual magic and energy manipulation with inner visionary work.
But I believe the modern approach, which has been suggested in the wake of Regardie’s publications, to solitary perform the actual initiation ceremonies directly or from his books is a bad way to approach this subject, even if Regardie himself initially suggested that the self-initiating student should visualize the entire rituals in his imagination. Even though Golden Dawn initiation rituals may be performed by fewer officers than the required per the ritual instructions, and thus become modified to suit the number of present Officers, it always must at least have the initiator present for it to be a real Temple Initiation. Thus in classical G∴D∴ (and R+C) initiation, the initiate needs the initiator (the significant “other”).
But this aside, there is a lot a solitary magician can do to approach the Golden Dawn current. The initiation rituals may be emulated without taking resort to performance to the letter as they are presented in Regardie’s books. Thus with self-initiation I would recommend a simpler approach:
- Invocation of the forces attributed to the Sephiroth in succession. At the level of Malkuth (attributed to the Zelator 1°=10° Grade) the self-initiate should regularly invoke Earth and the Earth Triplicity of the Zodiac, through the use of the Pentagram Ritual. At the level of Yesod (attributed to the Theoricus 2°=9° Grade) he should instead invoke Air and the Airy Triplicity of the Zodiac, as well as the Planet of Luna (and also the transcendent twin of Saturn). At the level of Hod (attributed to the Practicus 3°=8° Grade) he should now invoke Water and the Watery Triplicity of the Zodiac, as well as the Planet of Mercury (and also the transcendent twin of Jupiter). Lastly to finish off the self-initiation cycle through the Elemental Grades he should at the level of Netzach (attributed to the Philosophus 4°=7° Grade) invoke the Element of Fire and the Fiery Triplicity of the Zodiac, as well as the Planets of Venus and Mars. David John Griffin’s little gem The Ritual Magic Manual: A Complete Course in Practical Magic is a perfect primer for this kind of SI work.
- This is then to be combined with path-workings in a similar style to the ones presented in Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki’s The Shining Paths, but re-written to better incorporate the symbolical journey made by the candidate through each Path of the Golden Dawn initiatory system (in where each Tarot Trump plays an essential part). Vital ritual components from the actual initiation ceremonies may (and should) be integrated with this, for example a solitary version of the openings and closings of the Grades, and some important (but simplified) movements done to emulate the ritual drama of the advancement ceremony. But the emphasis should be made on the astral vision and inner journey when it comes to the traversal through the Paths upon the Tree of Life.
- Furthermore, to ingrain and activate (in the Sphere of Sensation or aura) the different diagrams used throughout the rituals, the self-initiate should regularly meditate upon them. Here also the self-initiate could open and close the session as per the description of the Elemental Grade to further advance the level of working.
This combined use of ritual invocation, and meditation, as well as the type of path-working rituals as has been suggested, can create a spiritual environment which may elevate the soul to a level approximating that which is supposed to happen in a Real Temple Initiation. In rare instances it may even make someone a “Practicus” or “Adeptus Minor”, but perhaps not valid in an Order context. If you want peer recognition, traditional Temple initiation is the only way to go. But there is more to Temple initiation than mere peer recognition. But that is another story worth of its own essay.
Regarding Israel Regardie’s recommendation to use the Watchtower Ritual as a substitute for the Elemental Grades, I agree with many modern Adepts of the Golden Dawn that it is a bad recommendation. But in my opinion it is not because of the actual Elemental forces being invoked together per se but primarily because of the innate 5°=6° nature of that ritual. So properly speaking the Watchtower Ritual may be used as a self initiation ritual into the Adeptus Minor 5°=6°, in a last phase of self-initiation, more than to the Elemental Grades. Another reason for leaving that ritual for last is because of its sole emphasis on the Enochian aspect of Golden Dawn Theurgy. For the similar reasons I would also leave out any Enochian Calls through the self-initiatory process of the Outer Order, as these workings properly are introduced at the level of the Second or Inner Order.
For the Elemental Grade self-initiations I would recommend the use of the Greater Pentagram Rituals (meaning the use of the individual Pentagrams from the Supreme Ritual of the Pentagram) in the manner as these are used by the Hierophant in each opening of the Grades of Zelator 1°=10°, Theoricus 2°=9°, Practicus 3°=8°, and Philosopus 4°=7°. Even if the actual use of these Pentagrams used to be reserved for the Adepti Minori, the self-initiate must take the role as the Hierophant himself, hence he must himself perform them even if it is “beyond” his level or Grade.
For the initial Neophyte level of self-initiation I would recommend a thorough study of the Neophyte formulae of the Magic of Light, as suggested in “Ritual Z-2”, and especially under the heading of “Shin – Spiritual development”. This ritual emulates the admission ceremony of Neophyte 0°=0° and serves to be a species of “self-initiation” ritual of the Adeptus Minor to reach his Augoeides or Higher Self. Therefore it is likewise a very good ritual to perform for the purely self-initiating student. This should be combined with the regular peformance of the Lesser Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram which is especially attuned to the 0°=0° formula.
In the instance of the “Ritual Z-2” the Higher Self or Divine Genius takes the role as the initiator. This is also the attitude which must be held by the self-initiate in general. He mustn’t allow himself to relegate or debase his workings with the notion that he himself is the one doing the initiation. Therefore the very word “self-initiation” is misattributive of the goal of initiation; to facilitate the union between the ego or mundane self and the Higher Self or Divine Genius.
For the Portal of the Vault of the Adepti, the lowest level of Inner Order work, I would recommend a regular performance of the Supreme Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram, as it invokes the Element of Spirit crowning the work of the Outer Order. The self-initiate may also incorporate essential portions from the opening of the Portal of the Vault of the Adepti, such as the manifestation of the Word (Paroketh) and the use of the abbreviated “Enochian Call” used in the Stella Matutina version of the Portal Grade Ceremony. A corresponding path-working may be worked out through the Path of Samekh, the Archer, in a similar manner as with the Elemental Grades. There are also lots of highly illuminating alchemical and other diagrams contained in that ritual well worth meditating on.
I also want to stress the importance of the reintegrating process contained in the Portal of the Vault of the Adepti through the dominion of the Spirit or Akasha. Working through the Elemental Grades, the self-initiate subjects his psyche and sphere of sensation to a phase or process of disintegration, likened to the Solve stage of alchemy. In this phase each of the Elements and elementary parts of one’s make-up is isolated, analysed and purified separately. This disintegration may also be likened to a putrefaction, “blackening” or alchemical nigredo.
On the other hand, the process initiated by the influence of Elemental Spirit starts the succeeding phase which in alchemy is called Coagula, reintegration and union. This may also be likened to the stage of albedo, or “whitening”.
So it is imperative not to end the self-initiatory process at the level of Philosophus or Fire. Even if all of the Elements have become activated in the Sphere of Sensation, at the level of Philosophus, they are still being held apart there. There is also the need of infusion of Spirit or Akasha in the Sphere of Sensation to complete the alchemical process. In the original Golden Dawn Order from 1888, prior to the manifestation of the Second Order (the Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis or R.R. et A.C.) in 1892, or as we know it today, equipped with the Vault of the Adepti et al, the level of Portal or Spirit was all that could be transmitted to the initiate. Initiation into the Element of Spirit was the end station of the journey. This is also the end station in the journey of the self-initiate.
Still I wish to make it perfectly clear that the mere performance of these Pentagram Rituals, path-workings and meditations on diagrams doesn’t make anyone a Golden Dawn initiate regardless of level of spiritual attainment. It may however make you an initiate of the Sephirah according to the Rosicrucian system of initiation, according to the Tree of Life, which would make the self-initiate the equivalent of that Grade held by a Golden Dawn initiate. And according to the general view held by Adepts in the Golden Dawn community, including Israel Regardie and with which I concur, the highest level a self-initiate may reach in the context of the Golden Dawn tradition is at the Veil of Paroketh.
And in the final analysis this is not so bad in my opinion. The goal is the transmutation of the base matter of the student, and both Temple initiation and self-initiation is effective tools to reach this goal of transmutation, although the latter solitary path is more arduous and hazardous, and doesn’t reach as far as compared to the former.
This doesn’t mean that it is impossible to reach Tiphareth and the Sephiroth beyond solely by self-initiation. But it is extremely difficult to pass beyond the Veil as it requires a combination of dedication, very hard work and exceptional talent, but beyond anything else the direct intervention of the Divine Grace (i.e. good “luck”). It may be compared to casting dice; you have to be a good gambler to be able to rend the Veil of Paroketh. It may be compared with the alchemists searching for the Philosopher’s Stone without access to initiation into Hermetic Alchemy; they can only receive the wisdom necessary to reach the Summum Bonum by the Grace of God (Ora et Labora). Initiation however by-passes this as the sacred knowledge has already been received and is contained within the uncorrupted traditions and the power of spiritual lineage.
A final observation, which I already hinted at in my discussion on the “Ritual Z-2”, and the last paragraph when I wrote “solely by self-initiation”. Who in the Golden Dawn cannot (or mustn’t) be a self-initiate to properly activate the current? I mean, even if you have the privilege of being a member of a Golden Dawn Temple (and there are lots of these today), going through all initiations in the traditional fashion, this won’t necessarily make you a part of a Grade spiritually speaking just like that. It takes hard work on your own to reach a supposed Grade.
Initiation literarily means “to start”, i.e. to initiate a process of unfoldment. To properly unfold the initiate he has to work with spiritual exercises and rituals by himself, under the guidance of the initiated current within the context of the egregore. I hold that, in the optimal situation, to belong to a Grade means that a process is alive and dynamic which has been initiated by the advancement ceremony and which finally ends with the initiate becoming attained of that Grade (by individual hard work), just prior to taking his next advancement.
So it boils down to the fact that there shouldn’t be any significant outer difference when one scrutinizes the actual individual work being done by the self-initiate and the regular Temple initiate; the only difference being the lack of traditional full and physical Temple initiation. Classical Temple initiation is not a jolly free ride which makes individual work reduntant. On the contrary it necessitates personal hard work to cultivate the seeds sown by the initial admission or advancement ceremony.
The self-initiate should however try to stick to the symbology pertaining to the Grade he wishes to emulate. I.e. he shouldn’t use the Watchtower Ritual already in the Outer Order process as it incorporates specific 5°=6° Grade formulae pertaining to the Vault of the Adepti. He should wait with that until the last stage of his work. If the self-initiate wants to use the Elements in unison, may I suggest instead using the Supreme Pentagram Ritual. However, I would recommend the self-initiate saving that for the Portal of the Vault of the Adepti SI ritual.
For the 0°=0° SI ritual, I would recommend using the “Z-2”. For the Elemental Grades I would recommend using solo versions of the openings and closings, and to use important portions from each Elemental Grade (breaking them up in a similar fashion like the “Z-2”), combining this with path-workings and meditations on the diagrams contained in each ritual. I would also admonish the aspiring Golden Dawn self-initiate not to incorporate foreign (non G∴D∴) elements (such as from Crowley-Thelema) if he wants to attune to the Golden Dawn current.
I would like to close this essay with some thoughts I have had recently regarding a modern classic penned by John Michael Greer entitled Circles of Power: Ritual Magic in the Western Tradition. It has been suggested that this book and its instructions may be used for Golden Dawn self-initiation. In the pages 58-62 of this book the author covers the use of the different Openings and Closings which may be utilized for SI work, using the pentagram ritual. Greer distinguishes between three different openings and closings which he refers to as the “first”, “second” and “third” degrees.
I quite recently acquired a copy of this book by Greer so I haven’t had the chance of reading it yet in full. But reading the first two chapters of this book it really looks promising and could at last replace the old time favourite self-initiation book Modern Magick: Eleven Lessons in the High Magickal Arts by Donald Michael Kraig. Also skimming through the said pages 58-62, and some preceding them, it becomes clear that Greer adheres to the Stella Matutina model of First, Second and Third Degrees:
First Degree: Neophyte 0°=0° up to Philosophus 4°=7°, i.e. Malkuth.
Second Degree: Portal of the Vault of the Adepti, i.e. Yesod.
Third Degree: Adeptus Minor 5°=6°, i.e. Tiphareth.