The Essential Golden Dawn: An Introduction to High Magic

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9780738703107: The Essential Golden Dawn: An Introduction to High Magic

The Golden Dawn is one of the most influential and respected systems of magic in the world. Over a century old, the teachings of this once-secret society are considered the capstone of the Western Esoteric Tradition. Yet many of the available books on the subject are too complex or overwhelming for readers just beginning to explore alternative spiritual paths.

The Essential Golden Dawn is for those who simply want to find out what the Golden Dawn is and what it has to offer. Written by recognized experts on the topic, this introduction to High Magic is both straightforward and succinct. It explores the origins of Hermeticism and the Western Esoteric Tradition, as well as the rich history of the Golden Dawn and its founders. This guide explains the "laws" of magic and magical philosophy, describes different areas of magical knowledge that a Golden Dawn magician can expect to learn, and presents basic rituals for the novice.

If you have been curious about the Golden Dawn, but intimidated by its scope, this concise guide will shed light on this powerful system of practical magic and spiritual growth.

COVR Award 2nd Runner-Up

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About the Author:

Both Chic and Tabatha are Chief Adepts of the Golden Dawn as re-established by Israel Regardie. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, of which Chic is the G.H. Imperator, and Tabatha is the G.H. Cancellaria, is an international Order with Temples in several countries. The Ciceros have written numerous books on the Golden Dawn, Tarot, and Magic, including Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition, The Essential Golden Dawn, Tarot Talismans, and updates, annotations and introductions to classic Israel Regardie texts such as The Philosopher's Stone, The Middle Pillar and A Garden of Pomegranates.

Both Chic and Tabatha are Chief Adepts of the Golden Dawn as re-established by Israel Regardie. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, of which Chic is the G.H. Imperator, and Tabatha is the G.H. Cancellaria, is an international Order with Temples in several countries. The Ciceros have written numerous books on the Golden Dawn, Tarot, and Magic, including Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition, The Essential Golden Dawn, Tarot Talismans, and updates, annotations and introductions to classic Israel Regardie texts such as The Philosopher's Stone, The Middle Pillar and A Garden of Pomegranates.

~

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

chapter one

Hermeticism and the
Western Esoteric Tradition

It has been our experience that many individuals who seek admission into a Hermetic Order have no idea what Hermeticism is. In order for any person to determine whether or not they are suited to following a Hermetic path, they need to have a clear understanding of the basic origins and principles of Hermeticism. Gaining such an understanding is not always a cut-and-dried matter for, in ancient as well as modern times, the Hermetic path has always been a syncretic tradition that borrows from other traditions that are in harmony with it. Nevertheless, it is possible to define certain basic characteristics of the Hermetic path by examining aspects of the tradition that are shared with other traditions. We can determine what they have in common and areas where they part ways.

Hermetism: The Origin of Hermeticism

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn takes its name in part from the Hermetic Tradition or Hermeticism, which is in turn named after a living incarnation of the Greek divinity Hermes, the god of communication. Hermes became identified with Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom and magic, and thus Hermes-Thoth became known as the patron god of all intellectual activity and all sciences, including astrology, astronomy, architecture, alchemy, mathematics, medicine, writing, biology, agriculture, commerce, divination, and especially practical magic (see figure 1, page 4). Hermes was also said to be the greatest of all philosophers. He understood the secret nature of the universe and the spiritual physics that run it. Above all, Hermes was thought of as the great teacher of humanity—instructing men and women throughout the ages about technologies and spiritual knowledge that would improve their lives.

In the second century c.e., the figure of Hermes, complete with serpent-entwined caduceus wand, became immersed into the personage of Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, or Hermes the Thrice-Great, a kind of avatar or living embodiment of the god Hermes-Thoth. Hermes Trismegistus was said to be an ancient Egyptian priest and magician who was credited with writing forty-two books on esoteric wisdom collectively known as the Hermetic literature or Hermetica.

The roots of the Hermetic Tradition can be traced back to late antiquity—the Hellenistic period at the beginning of the Common Era. This was a time when the great cultures of Greece and Egypt (anciently called Khem) came together in the melting pot of civilization that was created when Alexander the Great conquered the Mediterranean world and culminated in the cultural capitol of Alexandria. Spiritual wisdom from a plethora of different religions, philosophies, traditions, and cultures streamed into this most cosmopolitan city, where they blended into a new synthesis of philosophy, spiritual belief, and magical practice that would later become known as Hermetism (the ancient source of modern Hermeticism). Although this new fusion of beliefs was attributed to the Egyptian god of wisdom in human incarnation, and was ostensibly Egyptian, this new tradition embraced not only the timeless, lush reserves of Khemetic religion, magic, and philosophy, but also many facets of classical Greek philosophy and Greek paganism, especially the teachings of Platonism, Neoplatonism, Stoicism, Neopythagorism, and Iamblichan theurgy or high magic. To this mixture was also added the magical teachings and angelic hierarchy of Judaism, the cosmic dualism of Persian Zoroastrianism, and the many forms of Christianity and Gnosticism. These were the basic ingredients of ancient Hermetism.

Influences on Hermetism

Hermetism borrowed and adapted ideas from many spiritual paths and cultures that rubbed shoulders in the sophisticated city of Alexandria. Some of these have been mentioned in the preceding pages, but others are simply too numerous for the purpose of this book. Of the major influences on the development of Hermetism, a brief description is necessary:

Egyptian Religion and Magic

To the ancient Egyptians (3100–1000 b.c.e.), there was little distinction between religion and magic. If there was any difference at all, it was perhaps in the immediacy of magical as opposed to religious practices. In religion, a worshiper petitioned a deity through an intermediary or priest, while a magician invoked the deity directly. But, frequently, priests and magicians were one and the same.

According to the ancient historian Herodotus, the Egyptians were “religious to excess, beyond any other nation in the world.”1 Egyptian religion was a complex, beautiful, and often misunderstood mixture of abstract monotheism and concrete polytheism. According to some Egyptologists, the inhabitants of the land of Khem believed in the concept of a creator deity who was eternal, omnipotent, self-existent, and incomprehensible to its human worshipers.

The [Egyptian] texts are full of explanatory asides and added notes, the accretions of speculating or inquiring scribes. . . . The difficult and perhaps insoluble questions that have bedeviled Christian theology are to be encountered in the literature of Ancient Egypt; the rival claims of the immanent and transcendent concepts of God, for example; the paradox about the uncreated Creator; the origin of evil; the male and female sides of the divine; or whether God exists in time. Such questions were already worrying the minds of men two thousand years before Christ.2

This unknowable divinity was sometimes referred to by the word neter, the suggested meaning of which includes ideas of “god,” “divine,” “strength,” and “renewal.” The polytheism of Egypt manifested itself in the vast number of divine, celestial, terrestrial, local, and lesser deities. These deities were considered as the various aspects, attributes, or extensions of the neter, manifesting in forms that could be visualized and comprehended by the human mind, loved by the human heart, and worshiped by a deeply religious people.

The Egyptians lived before the birth of philosophy as an independent way of thinking. They used their myths to convey their insights into the workings of nature and the ultimately indescribable realities of the soul. . . . Egyptian gods are nearer the stark archetypes of the unconscious mind than the Greek ones and, in a sense, they are more intellectual too, for they are expressing ideas.3

The Egyptians recognized the validity of several diverse explanations of natural phenomena and a cornucopia of deities, myths, and legends, which to modern thinking often seems confusing and contradictory. These were not thought of as opposing theologies but rather as alternative expressions of reality, each emphasizing a particular aspect of a force of nature.4

Three principles can be identified in Egyptian religion: (1) the common belief in a solar monotheism in the form of a Creator or “High God” whose power was especially symbolized by the life-giving rays of the sun; (2) a belief in the regenerative power of nature, which was symbolized in the life-giving waters of the river Nile and expressed in the polytheistic worship of numerous fertile gods and goddesses as well as sacred animals; and (3) the recognition of a deity who is human yet also divine, whose life in both the physical world and the spiritual world beyond death mirrors that of the perfected human life.

The belief in Osiris as a god/man was well established early in Egyptian history. He was a deity unlike all others in that he was an accessible god whom people could strongly empathize with—they could identify with him as one of them, although he was part divine. They believed that Osiris had walked the Earth, and ate and drank as they did. And, like humans, Osiris suffered and died—but was brought back to life with the aid of the other gods. Thus did he become the beloved god of resurrection and eternal life, for he set an example that the rest of humanity could follow. What the gods did for Osiris, the Egyptians reasoned, they might be persuaded to do for ordinary mortals. Many religious and magical ceremonies were designed to insure that after death the deceased would, like Osiris, rise again and inherit life everlasting.

The Egyptians were also among the first to develop the concept of the human soul, and much of their religion was dedicated to the welfare of the deceased in the afterlife. A human being was seen to have several component parts, including the khat (physical body), the ka (astral body), the ba (soul), the khu (spirit), the sekhem (vital life force), the khaibit (shadow), and the ren (name). The ba or soul was considered the seat of life in a human being. The word ba implies noble, sublime, or mighty. After death the soul was free to leave the tomb and ascend to heaven. However, it was thought that the spirit and the astral body could be imprisoned in the tomb, so magical formulae were used to keep this from occurring.

There were two kinds of magicians in Egypt. These included the trained priest-magicians of the temples and the “lay” magicians who were independent of any institution. The majority of them, however, were of the priest class. There were hundreds of temples dedicated to various deities, and their attendant priests had several different functions. Some were in charge of caring for the statue of the god (by providing food, clothing, etc.). Purification was also an essential practice—the priests bathed four times daily, shaved their heads, and only wore certain types of clothing.

The high priest was known as the sem-priest or “first prophet of the god.” Under him was an entire staff of priests known as horologers, whose duty was to accurately determine the hours of the day and night. This was a crucial function, because various rites had to begin at specific times. The priests took note of the positions of the sun and the stars in order to pinpoint when the rituals should commence. There were also astrologer-priests who were the caretakers of a horoscope calendar that explained how human beings should behave on given days.

However, the priest-magicians were not from any of the above groups. They were to be found in a part of the temple known as the House of Life, which contained the temple library. The average layman would go to the House of Life if he had a problem and needed a magical spell or amulet. The priests would dispense magical charms for protection, interpret dreams, provide an incantation to cure illness, etc. The priest-magicians guarded their secret books carefully, and they were looked upon as very powerful and important individuals.

One aspect of Egyptian magic that would remain essential to the Hermetic Tradition was the importance given to divine names and words of power. As shown in the story of Isis gaining mastery over Ra, the Egyptians believed that knowing the secret name of a deity conferred great power to the magician who knew it. (This would later manifest in the Greco-Egyptian “barbarous names” of magic.)

Classical Greek Philosophy

If the inhabitants of Khem can be described as the most religious people of the ancient world, the Hellenes (Greeks) were certainly the most philosophical. From 600 to 200 b.c.e., new ideas were circulating in Greece and in the Greek cities along the coast of Asia Minor. It was here that Hellenic philosophers began a trend of questioning the reality of the traditional gods, while at the same time espousing theories of materialism and rationalism. One idea that began to take root in scholarly circles was that “all things come from One Thing.” Although there were varying theories as to what the essence of this “One Thing” was, many philosophers agreed that everything in the cosmos was created out of the same material, a basic substance that permeated the universe and out of which the elements emerged. The philosopher Anaximander called this substance apeiron or “the boundless.”5

Pythagoras, a mystic and magician as well as a philosopher, claimed that the essence of everything is number and that, at its core, reality is mathematical in nature—“All is number.”6 Because he is credited with pointing out the significance of numbers in music and in the objective world, Pythagoras is often thought of in the nonmagical world as an ancient mathematician. To his followers, however, Pythagoras was a magus and a spiritual leader, and his students included women as well as men.

Unlike other philosophers of his time, Pythagoras believed in the existence of the human soul. He also taught reincarnation and a form of past-life regression. The organization founded by Pythagoras was more of a religious fellowship for the moral improvement of society rather than a true school of philosophy. Members of the group were to observe strict secrecy and loyalty. Pythagoras taught his followers that philosophical principles could be employed for spiritual purification, and that the human soul could ascend the heavens to unite with the divine. He also taught that certain mathematically derived symbols had a mystical importance.

Enamored with the sacred qualities of numbers, Pythagoras used numerically derived figures as holy symbols for his followers—including the pentagram and the tetraktys (see figure 2), a diagram in which the number four is exalted, but which also shows the importance of the first ten numbers through the unfolding of the Monad, Duad, Triad, and finally the Tetrad (numbers one, two, three, and four, respectively). These ten numbers were given specific attributions and were regarded as the progressive evolution of unity, which included the concepts of duality, multiplication, and synthesis. It is difficult to tell whether this philosophy influenced early Qabalistic teachings, or if Pythagoras was himself influenced by an earlier oral Hebrew tradition.

Other philosophers of the same era taught a form of monotheism that suggested God existed everywhere at all times, in matter and in nature. While some held that the reality of nature was static, others adopted the view that it was constantly changing.

Empedocles was the first to espouse the idea of the four elements in nature—fire, water, air, and earth. He also supported the notion that the universe was composed of two worlds, one spiritual and good, the other material and evil. Empedocles believed that human beings had two souls—the psyche or Lower Soul, which is finite, and the daimon or Higher Soul, which is immortal.

The philosopher Anaxgoras held that a divine mind or nous was the substance and power behind the physical universe. This mind created the universe through a whirling motion at the center of the cosmos.

Some of the later Greek intellectuals turned away from the extreme materialism and rationalism that dominated the teachings of earlier philosophers. They developed their own form of rational mysticism, possibly to reverse the moral deterioration that resulted when people stopped believing in the traditional gods. The main doctrine of Socrates was that the individual should be guided by an inner voice. But of all the classical Greek philosophers, it was Socrates’ student, Plato, who had the most significant effect on the Hermetic Tradition.

Plato taught that a world of ideas or archetypes existed before the physical world was created. In other words, all ideas of everything in the universe exist in an unseen supernatural world—and all created things in the physical world are merely flawed and inferior copies of the divine originals. Thus Plato’s philosophy developed a sharp dualism between the tainted physical world and the perfect world of ideas. He believed that these two worlds were linked by an indescribable chaotic substance he called the materia, whi...

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