Golden Dawn Beginners Reading List

Aaron Leitch has just published a list of books which are useful for Golden Dawn and general magical studies here

His list, which is for beginners includes :

The Essential Golden Dawn : An Introduction to High Magic – Chic and Tabatha Cicero

Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts – Donald Michael Kraig

Self-Initiation Into the Golden Dawn Tradition: A Complete Curriculum of Study for Both the Solitary Magician and the Working Magical Group – Chic and Tabatha Cicero

Secrets of a Golden Dawn Temple – Chic and Tabatha Cicero

The Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot – Tabatha Cicero and Chic Cicero

The Golden Dawn: The Original Account of the Teachings, Rites & Ceremonies of the Hermetic Order – edited by Israel Regardie

The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic – edited by Israel Regardie

A Garden of Pomegranates: Skrying on the Tree of Life – Israel Regardie, Chic and Tabatha Cicero

The Middle Pillar: The Balance Between Mind and Magic – Israel Regardie, Chic and Tabatha Cicero

Prometheus Rising – Robert Anton Wilson, Introduced by Israel Regardie.

Ishtar Rising: Or, Why the Goddess Went to Hell and What to Expect Now That She’s Returning – Robert Anton Wilson

Experiencing the Kabbalah: A Simple Guide to Spiritual Wholeness – Chic and Tabatha Cicero

Making Talismans: Living Entities of Power – Nick Farrell

King Over the Water: Samuel Mathers and the Golden Dawn – Nick Farrell

Mathers’ Last Secret REVISED – The Rituals and Teachings of the Alpha et Omega – Nick Farrell

By Names and Images: Bringing the Golden Dawn to Life – Peregrin Wildoak

I have not read anything by  Robert Anton Wilson and have only glanced through Modern Magick.  But to this list I would add:

Mystical Cabbalah, by Dion Fortune
(Still the best intro to Golden Dawn Cabbalah)

Training and Work of an Initiate by Dion Fortune

Esoteric Orders and Their Work  by Dion Fortune

Magician his Training and Work by Ernest Butler

Magical Imagination by Nick Farrell
I am biased but I still think this is one of the first books to help understand inner states of magic – Perigrin’s is another.

The Magical Tarot of the Golden Dawn by Pat and Chris Zalewski

For the History I would add
Magicians of the Golden Dawn Ellic Howe

The “next level” of books is very long and includes everything that has been written by Pat and Chris Zalewski and Darcy Kuntz

Thoth, Neo-platonism and the Golden Dawn

The Order of the Golden Dawn makes a lot of use of the Egyptian God Thoth as one of the primal forces behind the Order. There are a number of good reasons for this, most of which are buried in secrecy. Not the secrecy in that they are protected by oaths but he secrecy that means they cannot be expressed and need to be found out. Words that are written down are not the real secrets of magic but shadows of an unexpressed truth. Once you know even a hint of them them, you are given a cosmology and a theory of magic which applies to the entire system, particularly the Golden Dawn’s Z documents.

Thoth by Paola Farrell

There are many myths in connection with the birth of Thoth, but the one which is most interesting links him to Neo-Platonic thought which found expression within the Golden Dawn.

The Egyptians believed that before the Universe existed there was a watery mass of dark, directionless chaos. In this chaos lived four frog gods and four snake goddesses of chaos who interacted an created an explosion which formed a mound of earth to rise from the waters. This was the Milky Way which became identified with Hathor. On this mound Thoth, in the form of an Ibis, laid an egg and from this egg came Ra and the other Gods and thus the Earth was created.
The Neo-platonic idea of creation is that the First Mind is unknowable. In fact it can only be defined by what it is not. It is similar to the cabbalistic idea of the Ain. It is No-Thing and everything. But for some reason, unknown to us, this First Mind decided to create. A focus of itself created the Second Mind which formed ideas and from these ideas creation was built. This Second Mind was the Logos, or Word. This is what John’s gospel means when it says:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with [more properly stood before] God, and the Word was God.”

The word Logos means a lot more than just “word” it also means logic, reason and mind. These were all things that were directly attributed to Thoth. To the Egyptians words created the universe but also bought Order to chaos. This is why Thoth’s wife was Maat, who represents cosmic order, and his mistress (lesser wife) was Seshat the goddess of writing.
Thoth is the prism that reveals the primal gods of the spectrum

By looking at these two different systems we see similarities. The first mind decides to create and instantly Thoth is present to create the world out words, ideas and stories. From these ideas come the gods.

These are not literal Gods but seven primal ideas (eight if you count Thoth himself). Metaphorically these primal ideas are better seen as colours of the visible spectrum rather than actual beings, or superficially their planetary attributions.
What humanity did was to place masks of myth and attributions onto these primal gods. Each of these seven is two faced having both active and passive sides, which symbolically became male and female, husbands and wives.
This process happened through-out each culture with each society picking a different colour to lead them. Roman culture for example choose Jupiter and Juno to lead them until replacing it with a very Jupiter and Juno form of Christianity.
Sometimes these Gods were made into monotheistic cults, but their inherent separateness from “Thoth” or the No-Thing. Is your god or goddess loving, mighty, just, truth etc? These are ideas. A real One Thing is not these things and is paradoxically all of them. Christianity has reflected Venus (or green ray) love cults, a solar cult and saturnian rays. Judaism shows signs of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. Muslims are a mixture of Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter rays. Even the different flavours of Buddhism emphasis different rays with some liking Saturn with others are more Mercurial. While it is possible to argue that such “ray influences” are contaminations to the idea of Monotheism it would be hard, for example, to imagine any of the Judio-christian religions without an emphasis on death and the law (Saturn) which are ideas and not the way the No Thing works. Buddhism requires its followers to follow a path and rules just as much as the Moslem faith, and these too are Saturnian.
No magician should look to create a universe from a single fragment, or sign up to a single expression of a God or Goddess. They should know that the universe is created within the One Thing and not look to Gods and Goddesses to provide them with personal salvation.  Instead they should be working to try and unite those forces and get beyond them.
Thoth is interesting because he is both a creator and appears in the Egyptian Myths as an arbiter and a balancer. As a god he is bringing all seven of the primal forces into balance (normally associated with his wife Maat). What this implies is that all the seven rays are illusions, reflections of Thoth-Maat’s Truth. All actions and reactions are observed by Thoth who acts to restore the balance when things get out of hand. He does this not by the standards of law (which would be Saturn) but by the standards of the One Thing’s plan.
This places Thoth in an interesting position, one which would normally be attributed to a Solar force – that of Redeemer. I do not mean that “Thoth died for your sins” that is a solar cult thing, but rather that Thoth is the abstract force that restores the balance and makes sure that Creation does not stop.
If you think of it in human terms, if the Universe was a person it would always make the same mistakes and never learn. Thoth makes sure that every experience results in evolution. So while it appear that history repeats itself a lot, it never repeats itself in exactly the same way ever again. Thoth is the One Thing’s way of forgiving itself and restoring balance.
As the writer of John’s gospel worked out, this makes Thoth Christ. Thoth is the word, and the logos and he is the great force of redemption in the universe. He does not, as a solar ray deity does, need to be sacrificed. Thoth knows that deep redemption happens in the universal mind, which has nothing to sacrifice anything to.
So where does Thoth sit within the Golden Dawn? In the outer order he has two places within the temple. The first is that of the Cancellerious which is a superficial understanding of his role as a god of letters. But also he stands behind the four chiefs as the sum total of all of them. He is the divine mercury which is created from the salt of matter.
In the Second Order it is through Thoth that all Z document happens. It is he who sets the template for the idea of magic working. This places the Golden Dawn magician in an interesting position. The idea of magic is seen as above the seven primal gods, but at the same time uses them.
The Particular Exordium of Z1 describes Thoth standing at “the ending of the light and the limits of Night” In otherwords he is the Alpha and Omega who stands at the dawn and sunset before the unborn ones of Time. This is a reference to the Gods who are sitting in their egg waiting to be born.
Before Ra leaves the cosmic egg, there is no time, no day or night.
Then the universe is created and the “AEONS of the Bornless Beyond” are born. In other words these are the seven primal gods or rays.
“Then was the Voice (ie the Logos, Thoth) vibrated: Then was the Name declared.”
Thoth stands at the threshold of the Entrance, Between the Universe and the Infinite, in the Sign of the Enterer while the Gods energy. Mathers’ blurs this by claiming that the threshold of the entrance was the 0=0 grade, however the implication is clearly macro-cosmic too.

“In Breath did he vibrate them:
In Symbols did he record them:
For between the Light and the Darkness did he stand.
Thus are the Formulas of wisdom.”

Put basically this is the Neo-platonic view of the creation of the Gods by Thoth and the formula of magic which can be used.
When a Golden Dawn magician vibrates they are calling into creation the seven primal gods who work the rite of magic, whether it be an initiation or something minor. In essence they are working with the magician to create a new universe using the same method as Thoth.
This is the reason why the candidate stands between the pillars in the 0=0 ritual. They are standing between the ultimate light and the ultimate darkness, just like Thoth, and are creating a universe in their own sphere of sensation. Throughout their occult career they will initiate themselves in into the seven Aeons or rays and return to Thoth and look to the greater mysteries of the One Thing.

Initiator and Initiations

An initiation is a ritual beginning into a particular tradition. Within the Golden Dawn it becomes particularly important because it requires you to experience the equivalent of psychic surgery. An initiator has to link the candidate to their Higher Self, to what is called “the tradition” and also the egregore of the group and the spiritual force behind the Order.
This is tough magic and unfortunately appears to be the most glamorous, which is why everyone wants to do it. It is the sort of thing that a person standing on the sidelines thinks they can do but rarely can and there is a reason for this.

Not a DIY manual for a tradition
For the initiator to be able to initiate within a tradition, they have to be members of that tradition. This sounds obvious, but most of the time is one of the rules that is quickly ignored for the sake of expediancy. There are a lot of groups which are formed by someone with a cursory reading of Regardie’s Golden Dawn. Actually this attitude is one of the things I am responsible for encouraging. I think that if people want to run a group then the only way they will find out how it operates is to set one up and see.
However I need to qualify that now. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that only works when you are starting a new tradition yourself. I do not believe it works where you are taking an existing tradition, such as the Golden Dawn and trying to start your own group.
There are lots of Golden Dawn groups out there which you can join and train to the right level that you are allowed to initiate, you do not need to self start and indeed it is not desirable.
Using Untrained Hierophants results in some
fairly strange 0=0  initiations 
Within the Golden Dawn system the minimum level that a candidate can even think of initiating is the ZAM grade 5=6. It is specialist work and requires extra training. The Golden Dawn provided a series of instructions called the Z documents which were a basic outline for the 5=6 grade and covered the 0=0 initiation ritual. However these were instructions for ordinary members so that they could work out what was really going on in these initiations and apply them to their own magic. Heirophant work was specialised and was often carried out under the training of the Chief Adept. The role was considered so important in Whare Ra that Hierophants were rarely changed and picked up additional magical experience that they passed on to their students. All this added up to a considerable corpus of material which often differed from the Zdocs or even other Hierophants.
If a person has not been through the tradition to the 5=6 level then they have not had the various aspects of their sphere of sensation opened to the various powers. There are more to the grade initiations, for example, than initiation into the elements. They open the person to different powers and levels and give them access to forces that they might not have had before. The outer order is about integrating the person so these forces do not overwhelm them.
For example, in the 1=10 a person will find that they will be initiated into the forces connected to their 12,1st and second houses. If they cannot control their finances or ignore there physical health or personal hygiene then these issued will become exacerbated until they do.
While this is not a popular view of the grade system, as many people seem to think that the adoption of outer order grades should be automatic, it is also possible to fail a grade completely. This happens when the personality cannot take the load of that grade and starts to fragment. Normally it simply shuts down, reverts to the behaviour patterns and goes no further. Other times it explodes in a form of self-destructive mental breakdown. In the old days the person would be held at that grade until they had resolved their problems, or, as was more likely, they would leave in a personality storm. These days orders are more inclined to let the person carry on up the ladder of the Order in the hope the problems will go away.
The problem usually flares up in the Portal Grade where the person has another go at balancing it. If they fail again they rarely get another chance and usually exit from the Order.
At the 5=6 something else happens to the student. It is here they are opened up to the traditions deeper spiritual levels, they also have a personal experience of their higher self. The lower self, which they have been working on for years, is pushed downwards and greater control is given to their Higher Self.
It is from this position, and only from this position, that a person can initiate into the First Order.
If any of the grades are missed, or a person failed their initiation and they attempt to initiate, they will be using the symbolism of the rite to initiate into their own ego because that will remain the dominant force.
The universe might step in and assist their victims and help them have a spiritual experience from the exercise, but it will only go so far. It will for example assume that the student needs to learn discretion. Instead of treating a magical order like a game, or a club, they will learn the hard way that opening up to ego-driven and disconnected people ultimately leads to doom.
The Grand Order of the Envelop and Post Box had a
tough initiation
It is not over egging the pudding to note that initiation not only can stuff you up it can make you very well. One initiation I know of resulted in the candidate being put in hospital. The initiator did not believe that the problem was their fault, they simply blamed the student. The problem was an initiator who failed their Portal grade and was doing their utmost to avoid Godforms within a ritual because he/she was an atheist.
So when you join a group it is vitally important to ask your initiator “who trained you?” If they say that they have a signed lineage back to the Priests of the Sun of Atlantis, or that they are the head of a tradition which trained all the great magicians, stop them there. Ask them “where did you personally get the training that takes you to states which are at least 5=6 and a point that you can initiate me?” After all you cannot initiate someone into a spiritual place if you have never been there. If they have had no training to that level, it is safer to give them a wide berth. It is a bit like saying I can fly you to London if you trust me… but I dont know where it is and I don’t have a pilot’s licence.
I would be equally concerned if someone is not sure what they are doing, but they have to start somewhere. This attitude is common in groups which are formed by reading Regardie. This is a bit like going to a brain surgeon and him admitting that he has no experience, but he will learn a lot while he is in your skull.
The specialist initiation training is preferable, but if a person has been working on their spiritual self then often they can wing it, particularly if they are getting the sort of contacts they need to build a real magical order. But if that is the case they must have a lot of experience to get the depth of contacts required.

Message of the Old Sod

I have just finished reading Alan Richardson and Marcus Claridge’s biography of Bill Gray “TheOld Sod” Gray has to be one of the most influential magicians in UK magic, but the biggest problem that Richardson and Claridge had is the fact that the subject was an erratic racist and the fact that he managed to anger almost everyone at some point and the fact he cursed some of his best students cannot be glossed over.
Their’s was a worse than the problem I had when writing a biography of Samuel Mathers King over the Water in that you have to admire what your subject does, while at the same time can’t escape their human weaknesses, which at times hijack their greatness.
Bill Grey — photo from Wikipedia 
Fans of Gray and Mathers who want them to be seen as gods will claim you are doing a hatchet job on them for not praising their greatness while those who know about your subject box you into a corner for being a naive apologist. Richardson and Claridge do a good job and I really love Richardson’s writing style. After reading “The Old Sod” you can understand his genius but know that he marred a lot of his good work by being an intractable arsehole who only later in life modified his racist views, very slightly.
I just missed meeting Gray as he died around the same time I came to the UK. His reputation was handed to me by his students, who had all gone on to become “names” themselves. Marian Green, Bob Stewart, Gareth Knight, Alan Richardson, Jacobus Swart all had stories to tell about Gray and usually ended in some row which resulted in them being cursed into outer darkness by the man.
One of my other friends got on quite well with him when he discovered that him and his wife were a “foxhunting couple who had their honeymoon in South Africa.”  At the time Grey felt that the South Africans had the best way of dealing with “natives.” 
 Yet, one thing none of his students never denied was that Grey was on to something and they were all influenced in some way by him. This is unusual. When leaving any teacher under bad circumstances the student generally project all sorts of rubbish on them (often based on the relationship they have with their parents) and in Bill’s case his students would have been fully justified. He usually ended the relationship with a particularly nasty magical curse to remind the student that they had pissed him off for years afterwards. It would be enough to earn many people’s hate. Few ever really did hate him.
The biography paints Bill as a real magician, not as a fantasy fluffy new age type which most students expect. Real magicians always have a problem in relating to Muggles or fellow magicians who do not take the path seriously. Bill’s life was hard but he always was focused on magic. This is what a magician should be. You get some know it all kid telling you that the 15th Aeyther could not be like you describe it because Crowley saw a demon there covered in bacon fat, or claiming your ritual was “full of mistakes” because you typed “their” instead of “there” once, is likely to piss off a real magician. But Bill had the ability to take this frustration with his fellows to an extreme.
However his philosophy is one which is in many ways an antidote to much of the magical fundamentalism which exists. A belief that because something was written down once it must be perfect. He always said that a magical lives their life as a question mark. A student should be constantly asking questions, and a teacher should always be answering them usually (in Bill’s case) with another question. Magic to Bill was not something that just existed in the past. The symbols and ideas that it was based on must be constantly reviewed and worked on in every generation. There never can be a real fundamentalist magician as they are a contradiction in terms.
Bill’s other big contribution was to force students to be practical in their approach to symbolism and teaching. It is not enough to know what a wand does intellectually, you have to be able to use it to unlock more symbols associated with it. One of his greatest books MagicalRitual Methods , is all about this and is one book that all magicians should read.
Bill’s other contribution was his Ladder of Lights book, which he wrote under the influence of his Dion Fortune contact. There is a lot of good material in this book even if it moves away from traditional Golden Dawn style Cabbalah. Israel Regardie loved this book and the two corresponded for years.
The Old Sod” does allow Bill some movement in his personality, which was not apparent to those who I have spoken to. The racism which caused him to leave the Inner Light (after his first initiation) was the inspiration to concentrate on a British Tradition. In this he was the antidote to the tendency amongst Western Occultists who were lookingto Indian and Chinese systems of magic at the time.
Later in life he started to admit that other nations had their own traditions which were equally as important. His Sangreal Solidarity movement came close to talking about racial harmony, even if Bill could not see that was where it had to take him. As Gareth Knight put it “he could like foreigners so long as they stayed where they were”. But his movement was suggesting that If people were all part of one god they were all united by the same blood. But ironically Bills racism did actually create and develop the idea that a British tradition not only existed, but it needed to be cultivated. In that life’s purpose he actually succeeded.
I have made it clear that I do not think that a racist can ever really be an adept or link to the One Thing. Bill provesme wrong in that he was certainly an adept. But many of the people he worked with tend to say that while he could do his stuff, his darker side nullified a lot of the good. Over time it looks that Bill would have had to have modified his views even more, but unfortunately life is short. Bill could have been a great adept with a line of stable students but his disconnection from humanity was too great and he was too erratic.
Reading this life, you can’t help feel that Bill is a lesson for everyone. Firstly people need to work on their personality so that the darkness does not overwhelm them and contaminate their work. Secondly that if you work hard, ultimately the universe will give you experiences that will prove that your personality had a purpose — Bill’s function was to allowed for the development of the British Mystery Tradition. That desire was correct, the hatred for another race was wrong. But equally the universe will also give you experiences to show where you are going wrong. The challenge is that you have to change and Bill did not quite make it. 
The Old Sod is a really important book and one which I highly recommend.