First of all, one has to remember that in the very word “Adept” there is contained a vide range of levels of spiritual attainment. In the Inner Order of the Golden Dawn, or Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis (R.R. et A.C.), we have three distinct levels of attainment; minor, major and exempt adeptship. The preceding Grades, the so called “Elemental” Grades and the preliminary Grade of Neophyte, all serve to prepare the initiate for the minor level of adeptship. Thus “adeptship” often only follows after the entering of the Inner Order.
Thus the first step or level of attainment of adeptship is of a lesser nature, properly attributed to the 5°=6° Grade of Adeptus Minor. This grade is associated with Tiphareth and involves the “Vision of the Mystery of Crucifixion”. Spiritually this means a species of sacrificial death to facilitate a later spiritual rebirth or regeneration.
Another important criterion for being an Adept is that it designates a person who fully has committed himself or herself to the Great Work, which has its goal of “purification and exaltation of the Spiritual Nature so that with the Divine Aid the Adept may at length attain to be more than human, and thus gradually raise and unite himself to his higher and Divine Genius”.
Furthermore there has since the publications of Aleister Crowley and Israel Regardie been understood that this minor level of attainment of adeptship also involves the so-called “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel”, a term which lately has been heavily questioned by certain Adepts of the Golden Dawn community.
Personally I do agree that a good criterion for the full attainment of the level of Adeptus Minor means a conscious rapport with the Holy Guardian Angel and I also, contrary to some contemporary Golden Dawn Adepts, agree with Israel Regardie that it is the equivalent of the Higher Self or Divine Genius of the Magician.
I do believe that there are ample evidence contained in the Ritual “U” (The Microcosm – Man) that substantiate the notion that MacGregor Mathers & Co. actually did believe in the possibility of a conscious union with a Guardian Angel as being part of spiritual attainment, and the Angel in turn being associated with the Higher and Divine Genius.
Thus the specific term “Knowledge and Conversation...” may have been coined by Crowley (if this actually is true), but nevertheless he got the philosophy behind it from his teachers in the Golden Dawn. One must understand that Crowley in many of his works and attitudes were heavily influenced by his experiences of the brief encounter with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and its Adepts. Regardie viewed his old teacher as being above all a Golden Dawn Adept.
But to return to our subject matter of adeptship we have to remember that we also have several levels even of this Grade of Adeptus Minor, called “sub-grades”, ranging from Neophyte Adeptus Minor (N.A.M.) to Adept Adeptus Minor. These sub-grades serve to repeat the Outer Order process anew but on a higher spiritual level, as a part of a continuous alchemical process of Solve et Coagula.
Thus even a N.A.M. is an Adept – as every level has its beginning phase and ending phase; there are beginners of adeptship and there are fully fledged Adepts. Still both kinds belong to the same Collage of the Adepti, and they all meet together in the Sancti Spiritus as one Rosicrucian brotherhood.
So one properly cannot use the spiritual attainment equivalent of the “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” as an absolute criteria for designating or recognizing an Adept per se. But a minimal requirement is the mastering of the Outer Order level teachings, both in theory and practice, and a basic level of Elemental equilibrium in the Sphere of Sensation (aura or energy body), and finally the commitment and devotion to the Great Work as stated in the clause above.
My own personal contribution to all of this, based on my own and other’s experiences, is that a fully fledged Adept also is someone who has gone through and successfully come out of a Dark Night of the Soul. With “successfully” I mean meeting and dealing with the unconscious contents which arises during the Dark Night, and finally experiencing the Golden Dawn of spiritual awareness which arises from that.
This Dark Night of the Soul syndrome may be experienced any time during the Outer Order process, but often occurs at the level of Lord or Lady of the Portal of the Vault of the Adepti, or in the early phases or sub-grades of the Adeptus Minor Grade. As in all alchemical processing, it is also a recurring phenomenon and will recur as many times as it takes to relieve the Soul from its dark unconscious contents and finally lead it to the level of Exempt Adeptship.
Now, some have objected to this notion of having this criteria and how it should be gauged by the Order in question. Some even assert that there is a danger in associating any interior states with an outwardly conferred grade. But my experience says to me that it is quite easy to detect if one experiences the a Dark Night of the Soul, and thus also if one has come out of it and spiritually matured in the process.
The “Dark Night of the Soul syndrome” is the easiest detectable, at least by persons whom themselves has experienced it, and one of the earliest encountered in the initiatory process. It is not the equivalent of such lofty spiritual states as “illumination” or “knowledge and conversation..”, but it surely is a prerequisite to it.
Of course there have to be some kind of basic relationship between the tutor and student (initiator and initiate) to be able to spot it. There also has to be some sort of structure in a Temple where “spiritual (or initiatory) counseling” is provided with. Thus, just getting together in Temple meetings won’t be enough to spot this, besides being absent from participation if it has come to that.
In my Temple I have regular meetings with my students to keep track of their initiatory progress. In this I use my understanding of and experience of counseling and psychotherapy.
Thus I don’t agree with the notion that there shouldn’t be any relationship between spiritual advancement and grade advancement. As an example, there is a huge difference between the initiatory process in the Outer Order and that of the in the Inner, from a purely spiritual perspective. The themes are completely different. This for me is evidence enough that there is a real spiritual initiatory process going on in initiation and theurgical work.