December 2005

The word ‘Hermetic’ appears a lot in the writings of modern ceremonial magicians. In fact over the years it has increasingly been linked with the two things. It has become an identifier – there are wiccans and there hermetics. When you ask what is a hermetic someone will probably rattle off something about it being ceremonial and intellectual rather than emotional and spontaneous magic.
This is because modern magic has largely lost its roots. Historical is to cast back to the 19th century and no further. I am prepared to lay money on the fact that only a handful of modern ‘hermetic’ magicians have ever read the Corpus Hermetica, which was the bible of Hermetic magicians until the 20th century.

The Corpus was a collection of writings with a Greco-Egyptian Gnostic flavour which was assembled in the second century AD. The actual material which made it up was fairly flexible and may reflect the ideas of different neo-platonic communities. Some of them are magical and others suggest the Gnostic idea of salvation. Some of them have turned up in the dead sea scrolls.

Where they become important to us is that they were translated during that great codification of esoteric knowledge – the European Renaissance. They influenced the great magical thinkers of that period overwhelmingly and this can be seen in the teaching they wrote down.

The Hermetica was a huge influence on alchemy and had a knock on effect on more conventional types of magic that were influenced by this tradition.

So why have we stopped reading the Hermetica? The other day I was in a news group and someone spouted some twaddle about the elements. The idea was that the element of earth was made by mixing the other three elements of air, fire and water. It was twaddle which I had heard before, so it was not the writer’s fault. In fact he quoted the great 20th century magician Franz Bardon as saying it. Whether Bardon said it or not, it was still the sort of twaddle that would not be spouted a hundred years ago when reading the Hermetica was compulsory for all magicians.

“In the deep there was boundless darkness and water and fine intelligent spirit, all things existing by divine power in chaos. Then a holy light was sent forth and the elements solidified out of liquid essence…. All was unlimited and unformed, light elements (fire and air) were set apart to the heights and the heavy (earth and water) were grounded like moist sand, the whole of them delimited by fire and raised aloft, to be carried by spirit. The gods became visable in the shape of the stars and all their constellations and the arrangement of the lighter elements (ie fire and air) corresponded to the gods contained in it.?

How is it possible to understand the magic systems of the ancients unless you have read this fundamental work? Yeah, it is hard going, although a lot easier than the other important work – the Culdean Oracles and is even more contradictory than the Bible. But there are good translations about. ‘Hermetica’ by Brian Copenhaver is one of the best , although you can find older translations online here

There is so much here that is yet to be explored by Modern Magicians in a practical way. It also needs to be looked out with modern minds who need to understand what these medieval and ancient magicians really believed they were up to. This is particularly the case in dealing with the ideas of angels, elementals, demons and archons.

One of the biggest debates in GD land is whether or not someone can be astrally initiated by a group. Currently the Esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn and its off-shoots is one of the main proponents of this technique. Basically it involves the temple performing a rite for a person who is unable to attend the main temple.The justification for this action is that

  1. It does everything that a normal initiation does.
  2. It was used in the original Golden Dawn.
  3. It helps those who would not be able, to contact the spirit of the order.

Firstly let us look at point two. If astral initiation was used within the GD there would be some evidence of it, unfortunately such evidence requires a leap of faith, not in the GD but in Astral initiation itself.

Going through the membership roles we find that there is only one actual member who was ever admitted by anything other than a standard 0=0. This was Emile Andrianyi who was admitted into the Ahathor Temple by post on 3 July 1895 0=0. There is no mention of this being an astral initiation.  Another argument by the Astral Initiation people is that Sprengle gave Woodman, Westcott and Mathers a 5=6 grade astrally to enable them to set up the GD.  However none of the paperwork seems to suggest this, the term was not mentioned in any of the Sprengle letters.  Likewise neither did Westcott mention it in his diaries.  Of course, you could argue that was because Sprengle was an invention of Westcott.  Either way an Astral initiation at this point was not required or used.
So, if an astral initiation was taking place then where and when and why did it not leave a trace of paperwork? There are no records of astral initiations being performed, nor any members who are identified as being part of the GD who had their initiations astrally recorded. Nor is there any mention of the procedure being used in the various editions of by-laws, nor any diary notes from anyone saying that they had taken part in an astral initiation. While we have access to many different GD rituals, there are no recorded instructions for how to perform on.

Occam’s razor tells us that if all the evidence suggests that we have to assume that it is logical that the Golden Dawn did not perform astral initiations.

However there is some proof that towards the end of the the Ahathor Temple’s life, the Mathers were selling ‘ initiations’ to wealthy Americans. These people were not recorded Ahathor minute book. It is clear that people at the time considered this a scam and not really part of the tradition which had lasted many years without the concept.

Returning to the first point that astral initiation does everything that an ordinary initiation does. A physical initiation is an intensely emotional experience with physical and emotional reactions that have a deep impact on the person. Even the least psychically aware person reports being able to feel or see something thing. No in the case of an astral initiation, a person is supposed to be in a meditative state at the time of the initiation. For an initiation to have any impact, such a person should be able to feel something, if not at the immediate time, but in their dreams immediately afterwards. This would be the minimum for any 0=0 initiation. However the reports of people who have undergone astral initiations are unable to provide these sorts of experiences. Reports that I have received have been extremely nebulous or non-existent. The technical requirements for an astral initiation is that it should work on the astral, therefore I would expect to see a person pick-up symbolism of the astral temple (anything Egyptian or angelic) or feelings of loss of control or darkness. Maybe even the odd rising sun our two. However what reports I have seen have included comments which were so nebulous that they are more likely to be psychosomatic or wish-self-fulfilment.

“I felt a lot of power… (could you be more specific?) no just power.?

“I felt my consciousness shift. (In what way? Where to?) I don’t know really.?

Where people have said that they have seen definite symbols these have been general and probably not connected to the initiation rite.

One person said he saw a pyramid. This would have been of interest as the pillars do have pyramids on them. However he clarified this as saying it was a four sided ‘great pyramid’ which was huge.

Another said he saw a dove flew above him. This was interesting as the falling of the holy spirit could be indicative of the Heirophant moving between the pillars. However since this person didn’t think that the dove meant anything more than being a symbol of peace this is unlikely to be anything specifically GD.

The other issue is that people who have been initiated should have some connection with the order and work within it. I am inclined to believe that the drop out rate of astral initiates would be considerably higher than those who are initiated in a group.

So finally we come to point three, that it provides a person with a connection to a working group that they would not otherwise had. This is clearly true, but in my opinion any link would appear to be administrative rather than spiritual. A real initiation takes place when the person is ready. Sometimes that will involve being in the right place and the right time. One thing that I have found interesting is that people have moaned like crazy online that there is no temple around them when most people are aware of at least one. My assumption is that many people have not really looked hard enough, too lazy to travel a bit, or are not ready for a real temple to open its doors to them.