TODAY – at last – there seems to be a somewhat general agreement in the Golden Dawn community that Alchemy should serve as the capstone to the initiatic system, or at least take on a more substantial role in the senior Grades. This has not always been the case, however. With the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn / Alpha et Omega® this process was initiated following the general reformation anno 1999. As the Alchemical corpus is vast and contains many different aspects (“ways” and “paths”), this implementation and integration of Alchemy with the Golden Dawn has since then been a work in progress, and continues to be so.
I have already written about how I regard these issues in a previous essay; my ideal projected Order. This present essay may bee seen as a companion or follow up to this initial contribution. Or rather it is a comment on recent discussions regarding this would-be marriage of the Golden Dawn with Alchemy. In this respect the “Bride” is the Temple or Order of the Golden Dawn Dawn in the Outer and the Vault of the Adepti of the R.R. et A.C., the bridegroom being the Hermetic Alchemical Tradition since antiquity preserved through the Third Order.
I have, since the very start of my studies of the Golden Dawn Tradition, often asked myself: “Why is the Order actually called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn? Why not the Qabalistic Order of the Golden Dawn instead? Most of its teachings are Qabalistic anyway? Where is the Hermetica? Where is the Alchemy?” Well, it’s time for the Golden Dawn to properly deserve its designation “Hermetic”, don’t you think?
Now, quite recently, this has become a general discussion and debate – finally! But other than this superficial likeness, that most of us agree with the premise that alchemy should become integrated somehow with the Golden Dawn tradition, the different factions within the community are dealing with this deficiency or lack of Alchemy in the Second Order or R.R. et A.C. in completely different ways. What we see today is rather a polemic how Alchemy should correctly be interpreted. This major difference may be properly analyzed using the already suggested model of “traditionalism” vs. “reconstructionism”.
Reconstructionist reformers are quite stubborn on their self reliance in creating their own system / interpretation of Alchemy – from a non-operational perspective – and forcing it into the Golden Dawn system. There is also a general skepticism, amongst reconstructionists embracing modern natural sciences as dogma, regarding the true value of operational Alchemy, either of the “external” and laboratory type, or of the “internal” kind, the latter often associated with Eastern Tantra and Yoga or Daoism, and thus “foreign” to the Golden Dawn. Few reconstructionists belive in a true material Philosopher’s Stone. Thus they are only interested in developing the speculative or “spiritual” side of alchemical interpretation, which is beyond the scrutiny of natural science, the Stone serving as the metaphor for the illuminated Soul, or similar such notions. Thus is created a dualism between spirit and matter, which is the very antithesis of true Alchemy.
Traditionalists on the other hand are instead doing research into older alchemical and Rosicrucian Mss. and oral traditions to develop their Second and Third Orders in an alchemical (and operative) direction. They also agree upon that there exists an intrinsically Occidental form of Internal Alchemy which is akin to Oriental Tantra but at the same time unique and distinct from the latter, seeing the physical body and matter as an expression of spiritual forces. Traditionalists believe in a actual Philosopher’s Stone and in the reality of transmutation, both of the body and of base metals. Some of these researching Adepti have also struck gold in their digging, finding a dusty copy of the legendary Arcana Arcanorum, and some even fewer receiving internal processings which goes way beyond that.
One well known and respected authority of the post-modern reconstructionist faction of the Golden Dawn, who also disputes the veracity of physical transmutation using the agent of the Stone, has even stated that the Alchemical tradition needs to be adapted to the Golden Dawn paradigm for it to work with the latter in harmony, to prevent any changes to the overall Golden Dawn sub-systems, etc., which is quite baroque for a traditionalist as myself. This type of militant reconstructionism not only tries to reconstruct the Golden Dawn, but the entire Hermetic tradition behind it as well. For a traditionalist it is the other way around in the process of integrating Alchemy with the Golden Dawn tradition; the alchemical tradition has millennia behind it compared to the single Century with the Golden Dawn and should properly mould the latter.
That said, the more I study and practice the Royal Art and do comparative study of esoteric traditions, the more I am convinced of the fact that Alchemy truly is an archetypal language (in a non-Jungian sense) which forms the foundation for most spiritual and religious systems. May I please refer the reader to my latest blog effort. As an example, just by chance while attending a wedding ceremony, I noticed the symbol of the Ouroboros (the serpent biting its own tail) in the Church, flanking the statue of the Crucified Christ. Students of alchemy are well aware of its significance as a symbol of the Royal Art. Its interconnection with Christ and his resurrection is intriguing and proves my case; a wedding ceremony in itself is of course charged with an alchemical significance.
Thus, I do believe there is some merit to “spiritual alchemy” after all, although it is quite a recent invention compared to operative alchemy. As an example, the interplay between the King (God / Sol) and Queen (Goddess / Luna) – “the dual contending forces” or sexual polarity – permeates all levels of manifestation, both in the large and the small. Spiritual or analogical alchemy actually saw its first beginnings with the works of Jacob Boehme of the 17th Century, and was also to some extent developed in the original Golden Dawn as well, more than two Centuries later. Alchemy lends itself very well in better understanding the underlying mechanics of the initiatory system of the Golden Dawn, in particular with respect to the phases of the Great Work and the colours, etc.
Being a typical Virgo I cannot help doing that myself on occasion; it really helps me grasping the greater context of the Golden Dawn system. However I would never dream of changing one letter of the old alchemical tradition. On the contrary, if something should be changed it is the Golden Dawn tradition itself, although that fortunately enough seldom must be done as it was based upon the Hermetic Alchemical Tradition in the first place. As I said, its initiatory system lends itself splendidly for alchemical interpretation.
In his recent book Rosicrucian Tradition of the Golden Dawn Samuel Robinson seems to have done something to this effect, and as it looks in the first analysis, from a traditionalist point of view. I am eagerly anticipating its arrival in my mail box in a week or so, and after a careful reading I will return with a full review. I sense it’s a good piece of work, having been following the written words of the author on yahoo for the last years, although his alchemical analysis seems to be limited to the somewhat flawed Stella Matutina 5 degrees system (along the Middle Pillar); Malkuth (Outer Order and first degree), Yesod (second degree) and Adeptus Minor (third degree). No doubt he has corresponded these degrees to the three stages of nigredo, albedo and rubedo, as I myself once did years ago, that is before I discovered the actual reason behind why the Stella Matutina reformed its 11 grade system into a 5 degrees system; today I do it quite differently that for me makes more sense.
However, it must be stated clearly that any “sprititual alchemy” can only constitute a minor part of the alchemical corpus of the Second Order or R.R. et A.C., which primarily must be an operative alchemical order. Anything less than this constitutes a mere “mental masturbation”, if you excuse my rather vulgar use of language. But alchemy is not about intellectual mind games and fanciful speculation, actually, but rather about the energetic transmutation of the body of the initiate, for him or her to “become more than human”, that is, one of the divine immortals or demi-gods – the divinization of humanity. Its techniques are designed with this aim in mind.
What I like with Mr. Robinson’s take on the work of developing the alchemical tradition is that he seems to have a mainly operational emphasis, focusing on the laboratory aspect of alchemy or “external alchemy”, something that I myself agree upon. However I believe we have to work with all of the kingdoms of nature, not only the vegetable, that is, the mineral as well as animal. Our Rosicrucian ancestors in the 18th Century mainly worked on the mineral and animal kingdoms. This is the heritage that we have to administer to our initiates.
To summarize this present discussion, I must emphasize that if you look upon the Golden Dawn tradition from the perspective of the alchemical tradition the former will reveal itself, but if you do the reverse – that is interpreting the alchemical tradition from the limited perspective of the Golden Dawn – your understanding of Alchemy will be clogged. Or to use the above metaphor of the bride and the bridegroom: In most traditional cultures the bride moves to the household of the bridegroom and also takes upon her the latter’s surname. In the case of the Order of the Golden Dawn, this surname is “Hermetic”.
Please don’t misinterpret my latest metaphor (which happens all the time it seems). If you would know me personally you also would know that I am a strong defender of women’s rights, as also MacGregor Mathers was one Century earlier and any initiate would. In truth, the dual contending forces are equal in standing, as shown by the two Pillars in the Hall of the Neophytes. However, in this particular case, the metaphor of a traditional marriage is quite apt as it is the younger tradition (the Golden Dawn) which should adapt itself to the older Tradition (Hermeticism); it is also a question of the merging of generations. However, from this union also something new and fresh emerges; a future offspring. One such “offspring” is the allowance for alchemical speculation, in the vain of so-called “spiritual alchemy”, if done in moderation and without loosing track of the true aims of operational Alchemy. The other is the merging of Magical Ritual with Alchemical Operation, of which I spoke in my earlier essay. Ora et Labora!
Since writing this blog yours truly is no longer affiliated with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Outer Order of the Rosicrucian Order of Alpha Omega® (H.O.G.D./A+O®). However, my general view on this subject stays firmly unchanged, as expressed in the above written text, and what I have authored previously on the Gyllene Gryningen blog still represents my overall opinion. Any practices referred to in reference to the H.O.G.D./A+O® also apply to the Order that I am currently affiliated with, namely the Hermetiska Orden av Den Gryende Morgonrodnaden (“Hermetic Order of the Nascent Aurora”) or H∴O∴G∴M+R.