Those who like to believe that the Golden Dawn rituals are perfect and cannot be adapted might be shocked to discover that I disagree and that there are parts of the elemental grade rituals which are just meaningless filler, mistakes or ideas that do not actually work.
What is alarming is that some of these bugs have been in the rituals since 1888 and no one has dared to touch them because the order leaders have told them that they are perfect. As a result, they scan the rituals carefully to find a hidden truth that was probably not there in the first place.
The GD rituals were written in a very short space of time to a particular template provided by in the Cipher Manuscripts with Mathers literally making it up as he went along. He did a brilliant job considering, however there are points where some things were not developed properly when he started, but were fully fleshed out by the time he finished. For example in the 1=10 grade the Hierophant does not use a supreme pentagram (with active and passive spirit pentagrams to open the earth tablet.) What Mathers wrote mirrors the lesser ritual of the pentagram (which also does not have these or an elemental attribution). What would seem obvious is that when Mathers wrote the 1=10 he had not thought of a structure which would flow through the other grades. However once he had sent it to Westcott he did not bother to change it back. Once it was issued the error was not corrected, and was probably explained away with some half-arsed excuse like “oh that is not required because the candidate has already experienced the energies of spirit during the 0=0.”
Working the rituals
After working with a ritual over years a structure of how a ritual was developed slowly emerges. Cracks start to appear along with pencil notes explaining what you really have to do rather than what the instructions say.
Despite what people will tell you there are points within the GD which are clumsy, where things are difficult to say, and if you follow the instructions you end up in the wrong part of the temple. Rules of GD rituals get broken by the wrong placement of a diagram.
However, mostly the problem is one of padding – these are extra-long speeches which do not seem to have a necessary function. This is especially true of the 3=8 and 4=7 grades.
Both these rituals follow the same format. The candidate is lead to a path taken onto it and lead through a series of experiences (featuring multiple godforms). This is great but each one ends with a long speech (usually from the Heirophant) which, as it lies, is just filler.
In the 3=8 this filler speech is randomly selected sentences from the Chaldean Oracles. The translation is out of date by modern standards (which is forgivable) but there one section where it is clear that Mathers was going for the effect rather than the knowledge.
“Labour thou around the Strophaios of Hecate, when thou shalt see a terrestrial demon approaching cry aloud, and sacrifice the Stone MNIZOURIN.”
This is actually a fragment which is part of a ritual theurgy formula the rest of which has been lost. You can see similar fragments in the Egyptian Magical Papyrii in which offering sacred stones was par for the course.
A better translation is:
“When you see the lunar daemon approaching offer the stone called Mnizouris while you pray.”
(see Sarah Iles Johnston’s Hekate Stoeira.)
It can be seen from this that Mathers was just hurling nice sounding phrases from the Chaldean Oracles without much thought to their actual meaning. In this case, he got it completely cocked up. There is a big difference between a lunar Daemon and a Terrestrial Demon, much between praying and “crying aloud” and offering a stone called Mnizouris is different from sacrificing it. There is a similar sort of speech in the Mithras Ritual (on this blog) which explains this sort of speech.
What if it was all supposed to be meaningless?
This got me thinking – what about Mathers other use of the Chaldean oracles; where they in the wrong place and there because they sounded good rather have a magical meaning? In the 3=8 and 4=7 Mathers follows a formula on the path where the candidate meets a force (or forces) and then is given a long speech. As you can see it is this speech where the “padding” appears.
The first quote appears in the 3=8 and is a speech from the Heirophant who tells the candidate that he is Solar Fire. The speech begins:
“The Mind of the Father whirled forth in re-echoing roar, comprehending by invincible Will Ideas omniform, which flying forth from that one fountain issued; for the Father alike was the Will and the End; by which yet are they connected with the Father, according to alternating Life, through varying vehicles.”
All good stuff, but you have to ask yourself what does this have to do with the path of Shin or Solar Fire? Even without looking at the context of the Original Oracle it feels out of place. It talks about intellectual fire, but anyone who studies the Oracles knows that the fire being discussed is NOT Solar. In fact when the Oracle is speaking about fire or fires it is talking about Gods or spiritual intelligences.
In fact this Oracle is talking about the decent of Platonic ideas into the womb of Hekate, something which, if placed on the tree of life would not happen between Malkuth and Hod but on the path of Gimmel. Solar Fire, if it is anything in this description, is the womb of Hekate, which is unlike Fire, but a mediation point between the worlds of matter and spirit. True you can argue that it is a similar function, but it is unlikely that an expert on the Neo-platonics of the Oracles would let you get away with that.
The second speech is from the Heirus and he says that he is Terrestrial fire and volcanic. He then also delivers an oracle which is all about supernal ideas.
“For not in matter did the fire which is the beyond first enclose his power in acts, but in Mind; for the Former of the Fiery World is the Mind of Mind, who first sprang from Mind, clothing the one fire with the other Fire, binding them together so that he might mingle the Fountainous Craters while preserving unsullied the Brilliance of his own Fire.”
So here we have “volcanic fire” actually saying he is nothing to do with matter, but is everything to do with mind. The statement of the Heirus then has nothing to do with his function, but is there to sound good.
Finally on the path of Shin we have the Hegemon with her “Fire Astral and Fluid” but again there is nothing revealed by her speech about the thing she appears to represent.
“The Father hath hastily withdrawn Himself, but hath not shut up his own Fire in His intellectual Power. All things are sprung from that one Fire. For all things did the Father of all things perfect, and delivered them over unto the Second Mind, whom all races of men call First.”
There then follows a long speech from the Hierophant which is made up of a cut and paste of different Oracles, which again reveal nothing about the path of Shin.
This includes this quote “Such a Fire existeth extending through the rushings of Air or even a Fire Formless whence comes the Image of a Voice or even a flashing Light abounding, revolving, whirling forth, crying aloud” which, if seen in the context of the oracles, has nothing of the meaning that the Golden Dawn gives it and the delightfully over translated “Change not the barbarous names of Evocation for they are Names Divine having in the Sacred Rites a Power ineffable,” which was a practical instruction for Theurical practice (ie if you are using Greek or Egyptian names of power don’t change them because they are important.)
Another long speech about the sun and moon going out, in the Oracles is describing what happens when you have a mystical experience of Hekate. The implication of Mathers’ interpretation is that when the world loses its shine.
So basically these long speeches can be seen as mystical padding that have nothing to do with the source material.
The 3=8 faces similar problems, only fortunately not with the Oracles. Mathers starts promisingly with on the path of Qoph by having a formula of two forces connected to the Cabbalistic interpretations and ending with a long speech about the creation of the universe. However it only “sort of” works in that what he is describing is closer to the Egyptian creation story (from the waters of Nun). Given the Egyptian nature of the rest of the ritual this would make better sense.
However then he comes unstuck in the next path where the Egyptian formula is again stuck to (and works) and then suddenly Mathers fills a space with some neo-platonic cabblistic theory.
“For thou must know that all things bow before the Three Supernals. The first Course is Sacred, but in the midst thereof another, the Third Aerial which cherisheth Earth in Fire and the Fountain of Fountain, and of all the Fountains. The Matrix containing all, thence abundantly springing forth the generation of multifarious Matter.”
Why? No reason can be seen. The Path has so far described the watery nature of Tsaddi and the Star rather well. This bit simply does not fit and does not provide you with information about either. There is no speech which attempts to integrate them either. It is as if in the middle of a soliloquy about the futility of life, Macbeth sudden started talking about getting a pound of flesh from Antonio.
The next path explains the Kabbalistic concept of the Kings of Edom, and how the wars between Israel and Edom were the about the establishment of Order over Chaos. However, what we have is actually a pastiche of Bible verses about God kicking the arse of whoever stood up to him. Some of this has comic effect “And the sky dropped down water” is my favourite…. if the fact it rained is a holy miracle then Ireland is one of the most holy places in the world.
On one level this sort of speech is fair enough, but the Mars energy is not that great and the path takes on the air of an Old Testament revival meeting.
I heard one person tell me that the random nature of the bible verses is important because they can be interpreted cabblistically and that they have a magical effect on that basis. Personally, I can’t see it. If it were not for the fact that the Path of Peh had a tremendous effect on candidates (out of all the paths) I would write the whole lot off as bollocks. There would have been better ways for Mathers to do this path and I am surprised that the person who dreamt of a being a soldier could not come up with something better for Mars and made it more coherent (the wars between Horus and Set for example). If he wanted to come up with a cabbalistic approach there were better texts from the establishment of Israel to use.
Now there are those who believe that the rituals are perfect and have written long papers within their groups justifying each cock-up magically. But there is a problem with this approach. If something is strange in a ritual you have to examine it objectively. Most work from the basis that they have been told it is perfect so therefore if you have not found a meaning there is something wrong with you. So they labour to justify the use of the ritual in that way, rather than question its need to be there.
Another argument is that after 120 years if something was broken, then someone would have fixed it — since they did not, it must have been perfect, or had an important meaning. However in 1888 George Eastman invented the Kodak Camera. It looked like this:
and weighed a ton. Would you insist on using that or would you prefer to use a later development perhaps attached to a phone. Speaking of phones here is an EyePhone of 1888 — showing more of the genius of Steve Jobs.
However analysis of the ritual, and breaking them down in anyway appears to be a modern thing. In fact, I cannot find a paper written before the 1940s where the rituals were actually analysed. They were, like many before them, taken on trust and rarely examined to find out what was going on. One ritual which was knocked about was the Portal rite. The original Mathers one was dropped by the rebels (because it was bad on so many levels) and a new one written. Mathers, however saw his portal as perfect and his group continued to use it.
Why did no one fix it?
The GD, and its successors, did not have a culture of changing, developing, or really thinking about what was happening in the rituals. They were done and forgotten about and this is why the padding was never spotted or abandoned.
Modern GD people have a similar problem. If you point out mistakes, there is a fundamentalist assumption from other GD members that you must have something wrong (they usually say that you know nothing about the Golden Dawn ritual – insults are always the last defence of the ignorant, naïve or stupid). However, this is not the approach of a real magician or scientist who is always seeking to improve their understanding, but the way of a religious person who wants a text to confirm their faith. When you study GD rituals, you are not, like a fundamentalist Christian, supposed to work from the basis that it is perfect and there must be a reason for it. You are supposed to analyse it by looking at the material, in its historical and ritual context and see if it really does contain a mystery. Slapping your own mystery into the mix just confuses you and those who read your material.
Above all, think like magicians. Question everything and do not take another person’s faith as your own.
Remember Mathers might have been good at writing rituals, particularly when under direction, but there is no indication that he or his rituals were perfect. Once we see that, we start to understand how the system really works, and freed from any fantasy of perfection, help it to evolve.
I am in a process of going through the Golden Dawn rituals and cataloguing mistakes. This obviously takes some time… I will post it here in the future.