First off, in my book initiation through a Grade system, such as the Golden Dawn, may only occur in Assiah, the plane of humanity, at least if we limit ourselves to a pure Golden Dawn style initiation. I believe both the Ritual “Z” and Ritual “U” points to this direction. I have written at length regarding the initiatic system of the Golden Dawn before on this blog, although I have modified some of my conclusions there as will be seen below.
Some consider the Outer Order to be associated with Assiah, while the Second Order is believed to be at the level of Yetzriah. Proving this model they use the often-quoted passage found in Israel Regardie’s books, referring to “the Four Grades of the First Order, which in one sense, quitteth not Malkuth, being the Grades of the Four Lowest Sephiroth of Malkuth in Assiah.” This quote is taken from the Ritual of the Portal of the Vault of the Adepti as presented by Regardie.
But it soon becomes obvious that this is a later development made by the Stella Matutina (S∴M∴), and the major reason for the S∴M∴ to revise their Portal Ritual in the first place. Looking at the version of the Portal Ritual of the Rosicrucian Order of the Alpha et Omega, or the A∴O∴ of S.L. MacGregor Mathers (which follows that of the original G∴D∴), you won’t find any references to “Outer Order not quitting Malkuth” and therefore being a “First Degree”, Portal being Yesod and a “Second Degree” and Adeptus Minor (as Tiphareth) being a “Third Degree”. This arrangement was made to better align the original G∴D∴ structure of Grades to that of Rudolf Steiner’s “Misraim Service”. I of course don’t agree with this development and consider it as foreign to the original intent of the G∴D∴. For a more in depth analysis in this matter, may I please refer the reader to my essay on Ruldolf Steiner.
So in my book the “Elemental Grades” are assigned to the Sephiroth Netzach to Malkuth inclusive, on the Three of Life in Assiah, the “Portal Grade” being attributed to the Veil of Paroketh and the Path of Samekh. Also, I don’t agree with the notion that the “Elemental Grades” are purely Elemental by nature, as they also are of a Sephirotic and Planetary nature. The full glory of the Planets are of course awakened in the Adeptus Minor Grade, but these forces are clearly also at work in the Outer Order. But I do agree that the main focus is upon the Four Elements. What I don’t agree with is that the Elemental Grades are but the sub-elements of Earth. They are not, as sub-elements doesn’t come into the work of the initiate until one reaches the Adeptus Minor Grade.
But one could of course problematize this statement from the Stella Matutina Portal Ritual, as it is somewhat ambiguous. If one looks upon the 1 x Tree of Life Model, where Malkuth corresponds to Assiah, I actually agree with it. But then again I also agree that no Grade of the Golden Dawn system of initiation, not even Ipsissimus, “quitteth Malkuth” in this respect. But if we look upon the 4 x Tree of Life Model where Assiah constitutes one entire Tree (and what Felkin-Meakin probably were referring to), I emphatically disagree with this statement.
As I already have stated, the entire “Elemental Grades not quitting Malkuth” idea stems from the fact that Robert Felkin and Neville Meakin needed to transform or translate the G∴D∴ initiatory system into the Freemasonic Three Degrees model (Apprentice to Master Mason), to fit it with Steiner’s system of 10 Degrees in his reformed Misraim Rite. I.e. Zelator to Philosopus being the “First Degree”, Portal the “Second” and Adeptus Minor the “Third Degree”, and thus Adeptus Major the “Fourth”, Exemptus the “Fifth”, and so forth.
If one accepts the Elemental Grades being only Malkuth, one must also accept the Portal being Yesod. I don’t agree with either designation. The Portal isn’t associated with any particular Sephirah. It is properly speaking associated with the 5 Paths (that is the original name designated this ceremony) associated with Paroketh, and in particular the Path of Samekh, the archer rendering the Veil asunder. Thus the Ceremony of the 5 Paths more represent a dynamic force compared to the static Sephirothic Elemental Grades.
But one could choose to focus on the part of the quoted sentence ”...in a sense...quitted not, etc.” One could then of course see this as referring to the One Tree Model of the Universe. But with this the Portal and Adeptus Minor would find itself in Yetzirah. I disagree with this proposition, as I believe that all initiation (regardless of model, system or rite) only may occur in Assiah (the world of action and of differentiation) and thus in the 10 Sephirothic Grades corresponding to the Tree of Life in Assiah.
But if we look upon the 4 x Tree of Life model, corresponding to the four Qabalistic worlds, do we really need “initiation” at the level of Yetzirah at all? On the level of Assiah, yes of course, but of Yetzirah? I mean, Qabalistically speaking (primarily looking from the angle of Isaac Luria and the prophet Nathan of Gaza, and that of the Golden Dawn) the world of Assiah is intimately related to the Qlippoth. It is in a fallen state, only the Supernals of Assiah (i.e. Neshemah) being protected from the Red Dragon with 8 heads by the aid of the Flaming Sword.
In my book hermetic initiation concerns the “alchemy” of separating the fine from the gross, i.e. the divine sparks from the shells. If we speak of the prime world of Yetzirah, the world of the Angels (and of our Holy Guardian Angel), access to this exalted plane is hindered only because of the imbalances and impurities within our Assiatic bodies, i.e. the Guph, Nephesh, and Ruah (physical, etheric, and astral). Thus initiation is all about equilibration and aligning of our physical and subtle bodies, at the level of Assiah.
But again I must emphasise that it is hard to neglect the fact that this entire concept and quoted sentence actually occurred in a revised version of the Portal Grade Ceremony after Neville Meakin had met Rudolf Steiner in Germany and Robert Felkin accepting the latter as the true “Secret Chief”. Thus do I see it as a different (if not foreign) model forced upon the G∴D∴ structure. Thus do I reject the proposition that the Adeptus Minor Grade is corresponding to the Master Mason Degree, however “esoteric” form it may have taken in Steiner’s mind. I am convinced that the Blue Lodge system of Freemasonry (also referred to as “Craft Degrees”) is the equivalent of the Neophyte Grade of the G∴D∴. For a somewhat deeper analysis on this relationship between Grades and Degrees, may I refer the reader to my essay on the Golden Dawn and Freemasonry.
So these later Qabalistic interpretations of this Felkin-Meakin invention, construed in the minds of modern Adepts, looks to me more as being rationalizations to Golden Dawn-ize this forced upon model. I also believe that we all have a hard time of letting go of this concept because of it being the only version of the Portal Grade that have been known to us for so many years.
But then there is of course the reference in the Ritual Z-1 (from which the image above is taken):
The Temple, as arranged in the Neophyte Grade of the Order of the Golden Dawn in the Outer, is placed looking towards the YH of YHVH in Malkuth in Assiah. [...] Like the other Sephiroth, Malkuth hath also its subsidiary Sephiroth and Paths. Of these Ten Sephiroth, the Temple as arranged in the Neophyte Grade, includeth only the four lower Sephiroth in the Tree of Life, viz: Malkuth, Yesod, Hod, and Netzach, and the Outer side of Paroketh, the Veil.One may perhaps see this as a confirmation of the Felkin-Meakin deviation. But notice that is says “as arranged in the Neophyte Grade”. Now in the original G∴D∴ (and later A∴O∴) version of the Portal Ceremony the diagram of the Paths and Grades are shown, contrary to the later S∴M∴ version. Here it is said:
You will further note that the First Order includes: Malkuth, answering to Neophyte and Zelator, and the element of earth. Yesod to Theoricus and air. Hod to Practicus and water. And Netzach to Philosophus and fire.Note that it actually does say: “Malkuth, answering to Neophyte and Zelator”.
So it’s easy to see why the Neophyte Hall only concerns the Malkuth of Assiah as it clearly is linked to the Grade of Zelator (and of Earth) where the initiate yet again meets this Sephira anew, but now in its entire (including the 6 subsequent Sephiroth beyond the Veil). Seen in this light it is understandably why this reference was removed from the S∴M∴ version of the Portal Ritual, as Felkin and Meakin gave a totally new interpretation of the Elemental Grades as instead representing each Sephirah present before the Veil in the Hall of Neophytes. This latter concept is a deviation.
Furthermore, the Portal Ceremony and 5°=6° should be regarded as two parts of a greater advancement ceremony into the Inner Order, the Portal Ceremony being the equivalent of the “Path Ceremonies” of the Elemental Grades of the Outer Order.
In the A∴O∴ (and G∴D∴) version the Portal Ceremony is clearly a part of the Second Order, the culmination of the Elemental Grades into a synthesis only hinted at. But in the S∴M∴ a first part were added (i.e. the ceremony became splintered into two) where more emphasis were laid on the union of the Four Elements and culmination of the Outer Order, while the second part concerned the actual entering into the Second Order or rendering of the Veil. So in the S∴M∴ the Portal is a “Grade” standing somewhere in the middle between the First and Second Orders, being neither or both. This is even more emphasised with the use of the “Three Degrees” model, attributing the Portal Grade to Yesod, in between Tiphareth (Second Order) and Malkuth (First Order).
This “in the middle position” between the First and Second Orders is also hinted at in the G∴D∴ and A∴O∴, as the advancement ritual introduces the initiate into the Second Order while at the same time retaining the Grade title of Philosophus for the initiate. Thus the Portal cannot be regarded as being a Grade in its own right in its original intent, but more properly being a “Senior Philosophus” level. This is contrary to the S∴M∴ where the Portal is given its own degree status, referred to as the “Second Degree”.
My personal position in this respect is somewhere in between the G∴D∴/A∴O∴ and S∴M∴ interpretations. I regard the Portal Ritual as raising the Philosophus into a Senior Philosophus level, completing the Outer Order process with the balancing out of the Four Elements with the introduction of the Fifth, and making him or her formally a Second Order member; both versions of the Ritual grants the Philosophus the right of being a Hierophant of the Temple, a Office properly belonging to a Second Order member. Thus I do regard it as a preliminary “path” ceremony of the advancement into Adeptus Minor, attributed to the Path of Ayin, Samekh, and Nun. But I also regard it as the ceremony which facilitates the union or synthesis of the Four Outer Order Elements activated in the Sphere of Sensation of the initiate. As I said, this is already hinted at in the original G∴D∴ and A∴O∴ version.
But this emphasis on the Four Elements by the Fifth, or Tablet of Union, also attributes it to the Adeptus Minor formula, in my opinion, Tiphareth being attributed to the Fifth Element. Furthermore the consecration ceremony of the Vault of the Adepti also concerns the invocation of the Four Elements by the guiding Fifth Element, the Tablet of Union having a prominent place upon the Door of the Vault. So in this respect even the invocation of the Elements echoes the Adeptus Minor Grade, even though the Philosophus rehearses his or her Elemental process in the Outer Order.
But I must admit that I like the emphasis on the Outer Order Grades in the S∴M∴ Ritual. This means that I don’t discard or disregard the S∴M∴ (Felkin-Meakin) version of the Portal Ceremony in its entire. There are some good innovations, some really good even. Besides the already mentioned rehearsal of the Outer Order Elemental Grades in the initial part of the admission, we also have the use of a curtain and the Rending of the Veil, as well as the alchemical emphasis on the Officers, etc. Some of the diagrams introduced by Meakin and Felkin also have their value. What I am opposing is the Three Degrees Model inherent in this version.
I believe it is more constructive to use a composite Tree of Life model in Assiah, i.e. Malkuth representing Assiah of Assiah, Chesed to Yesod being Yetzirah of Assiah, etc., involving the different souls of the Qabalah. But as this may be confusing when we talk about man I personally prefer to use only the names and designations of the Qabalistic Souls when it comes to attributing the Three Orders of the Golden Dawn and discussion regarding the microcosm of Assiah. As the Souls in my book also correspond with the “sub-worlds” I have been referring to, this may be somewhat of a uniting principle between the seeming paradox of initiation taking place in Assiah as well as representing an ascent along the Planes and Worlds.
Thus, in the Outer Order the Grade of Zelator (Malkuth) mainly concerns (a) the physical body, or the “Guph”, of the initiate, while the Grade of Theoricus (Yesod) reaches (b) the etheric body, or the “Nephesh”, while the Grades of Practicus (Hod) and Philosophus (Netzach), as well as Lord or Lady of the Portals or Senior Philosophus (Paroketh), concerns (c) the lower astral, or the lower “Ruach”. The Adepti Grades of the Second Order concerns (d) the higher aspect of the astral body, or the higher “Ruach”; Adeptus Minor to Tiphareth, Adeptus Major to Geburah and Adeptus Exemptus to Chesed. This makes the Third Order concerned with the exalted levels of the mental and causal planes of the microcosm, as represented by the Supernals, or the “Neshamah”. Here (e) the “Neshemah” proper (Binah) and “Chiah” (Chokmah) represents the Briatic or mental body, at the level of Magister Templi and Magus respectively, while (f) the “Yechidah” (Kether) involves the Atziluthic level of Assiah or causal body, the end result of Inner Alchemy being that of Divine or Cosmic Consciousness at the level of Ipsissimus.
So what I am advocating is a 4 x 4 model, i.e. to divide each of the Four Qabalistic Worlds into four sub-worlds each, making a total of 16 levels. What we commonly refer to as ”physical”, “etheric”, “astral”, “mental” and “causal” are parts of the lowest primary worlds, i.e. Assiah, and may be attributed to the four sub-worlds (“ether” composing the lowest aspect of Yetzirah of Assiah). I believe the Ritual “U” (Microcosm) points into this direction, as it clearly assigns the Qabalistic Souls to Assiah, the Souls of Qabalah being the microcosmic equivalent of the macrocosmic sub-worlds.
So for all practical purposes I’m trying to limit the amount of the total Sephiroth to 40. However, it has been suggested to me that each sub-grade of the Adepti-grades should be assigned to individual Sephiroth. Although I don’t see any real practical worth in this kind of arrangement, from a purely theoretical consideration I do agree that one could see the Zelator Adeptus Minor Grade (Z.A.M.) as being “Malkuth of Tipharet”, etc.
Here it is wise to ask oneself the question why MacGregor Mathers created the sub-grades of the Adeptus Minor Grade in the first place. My answer to this is that I believe he did this so that the Adept him- or herself could thoroughly investigate the Elements (and Elemental Grades) he or she had been introduced to while in the Outer Order. The cycle of initiations as represented by the Outer Order is consummated in the Neophyte Adeptus Minor (N.A.M.) and restarted yet again at the level of Zelator Adeptus Minor (Z.A.M.), to make a further in depth personal study without the aid of the Hierophant.
It’s like with the philosophy of alchemy. You perform the operation again and again, and yet again and...., etc., until you have successfully purified the matter. Thus I believe this process likewise is yet again repeated on the level of Adeptus Major, which thus also should have its set of subsidiary Grades, and yet again repeated on the level of Adeptus Exemptus. But each cycle of operations takes the initiate into a yet higher arc or purer form of sublimation, like in a spiral movement, until the Adept traverses the Abyss.
Thus in my opinion initiation (regardless of level or Order) primarily works upon the Elemental nature of man (Assiah), the Materia Prima. Though the Planetary and Zodiacal nature is also involved by the nature of correspondence to the Elements.
We already know that Mathers made the Adeptus Minor study the Neophyte Grade at the level of Zelator Adeptus Minor (Z.A.M.), the Zelator Grade at the level of Theoricus Adeptus Minor (Th.A.M.), and the Theoricus at Practicus Adeptus Minor (P.A.M.). Why he didn’t synch the study of the Outer Order Grades with the corresponding sub-grades of Adeptus Minor I cannot surmise. Still he did have the Adept study the Elemental Grades in detail through the sub-grades. Personally I believe that the Elemental Grades should be rearranged to be studied in synch with the corresponding sub-grades, i.e. Neophyte at the level of N.A.M., Zelator at the level of Z.A.M., Theoricus at Th.A.M., etc.
Finally, there is also the composite (or extended) Tree scheme to consider, such as described in Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi’s Kabbalah: Tradition of hidden knowledge, also referred to as ”The Jacob’s Ladder” of the Spanish Toledano School, where Tiphareth of Assiah interlocks with Malkuth of Yetzirah, and the Tiphareth of Yetzirah interlocks with Malkuth of Briah, etc. In this model the Kether of Assiah interlocks with the Tiphareth of Yetzirah and Malkuth of Briah (see diagram at far right).
I must concede that this is a very neat system. And looking at it I can see how it opens up to interesting interpretations. But does this have any longer history in the Hermetic Qabalah of the Golden Dawn? If we limit ourselves to a strict Golden Dawn paradigm we will find that it explains a system which goes against this “Jacobs Ladder” system, as documents such as the Ritual “P” clearly demonstrates, i.e. that Malkuth of Yetzirah transforms (through a time glass cone model) into the Kether of Assiah, etc. This may be due to the fact that the Qabalah of the Golden Dawn has its firm roots in the Eastern European School, in particular with the Polish Sabbatian School of Jacob Frank.