How to read the Golden Dawn material

One of the more unusual trends within the Modern Golden Dawn is to ignore the papers that the Order actually produced in favour of those who have interpreted it.
Many will be surprised that I would say this. After all there is not a single Golden Dawn student who does not have at least a copy of Israel Regardie’s Golden Dawn book on their shelves. But the creation of course material by many of the Golden Dawn Orders has meant that students get information which has been processed by modern people. While there is nothing wrong with that, some information has been corrupted over the last hundred years, because people have not referred back to the original source material. Often they have assumed that what another modern author has written about a subject was correct.
One example was the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, which has become the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. A closer reading of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram paper, which was has been given out to all members of the Golden Dawn, Stella Matutina, the AO and the Modern Golden Dawn unchanged for more than a century, makes the Banishing Ritual a footnote. Students have been madly banishing when they should have been invoking for years. It is dangerous to suggest a time when this mistake happened but it might have started to begin in the 1930s when Dion Fortune put it in her Psychic Self-Defence book. To be fair to Dion, she may have known better, but she was describing a short ritual to deal with a direct psychic attack, which is the main function of a Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.
There are some other significant things to be uncovered by reading the original materials which give an insight into magic and the running of Golden Dawn orders.
When I was writing  King over Water, which is my second book about Samuel Mathers. I was working with the AO version of the Minutum Mundum which most people will be familiar with as a chart which shows the colours of all the paths and spheres on the Tree of Life in the King, Queen, Prince and Princess Scale. The AO version was unchanged from the Golden Dawn, but was considerably shorter than the version Regardie printed.
Although it tells the reader that the Tree of Life was coloured with the Sephiroth  in the colours of the Queen, and the Paths in the colours of the King, it only provided the Sephirothic colours. There was no chart for the paths of the King, nor any reference to the Prince and Princess scales. I checked up with the owners of other early Golden Dawn material and they did not have the handy chart either. We know that such a chart existed, as the Prince and Princess colours were referenced in Book T, and we know some individuals must have had it. But the handy chart attached to the Minutum Mundum was apparently a Stella Matutina development.
Yeats Collection Minutum Mundum
What this means is that the early Golden Dawn only gave out a chart containing all the colours to very senior people. This must have included Dr Felkin, because he incorporated it within his own Stella Matutina group. We know Crowley had a copy, but he would have had that from Bennett. Florence Farr must have had a copy because she was working out an alternative to it. So what this is suggesting is that the complete Minutum Mundum was at least given out at the Tham level, and only then to a select bunch, or more copies would have turned up. While modern students will slap a coat in the princess scale on their talismans, this was not available to their ancestors in the original Second Order.
These sorts of things become important when you are dealing with more historical documents, but there is something to be said for looking at the older material in detail for magical reasons.
Throughout the Golden Dawn’s history students were not given copies of the material. Instead, each student was given a “master copy” and told to duplicate it faithfully. This would be checked by a senior person in the order and approved. We do not have many master copies around for the original order so we have had to rely on these students copies to create complete material. In some Orders, at different times in history, we find some of this checking was fairly lose. Some information had a tendency to fall off of a diagram.
The purpose of making the student copy out the papers was to make sure that the information got into their head. It was a bit like the rote learning for the tests. It was not that you would ever remember the information, but you would be forced to look at it sentence by sentence, at least once. Writing it out would help the student forge the information into their sphere of sensation where it would be unconsciously available.
Modern students don’t have to do that. After they have been initiated they are given a bunch of photocopies that many will simply glance through. Then, they will cram all the information from the knowledge paper in the week before their test and that is it. What fills the gap is knowledge that is picked up from the many books written about Golden Dawn subjects by modern authors.
The argument is that these modern writers present the material much better than the original Golden Dawn knowledge papers and lecture material. This is in many ways valid, but as a result, students often miss important Golden Dawn teachings because they “think that the information is there” or was penned by Mathers and Westcott. Some information actually comes to us from the likes of Crowley, Dion Fortune or Paul Foster-Case.
Another cut and paste from
Crowley which was nicked from
The GD
Take for example the 32 magical weapons which are attributed to the paths and spheres on the tree. That appears to have been an innovation from Crowley who put it in his 777 which was copied by Fortune who believed it was authentic Golden Dawn material.
The only real way that anyone is going to get the same depth in their Golden Dawn studies as an original Golden Dawn student is to look at the original material.
To do this effectively, a student has to look at each test as if it were a cabbalistic document. The Zohar said that each document has to be read in four ways. Firstly there is the simple way. You read what is there and make direct interpretation of the text. Then you look for hints or allegorical meanings. Finally you read the text to try and find new meanings. This involves making imaginative comparisons with other writings. Finally you have to look for the secret or mystery meaning which is often totally abstract. The four-levels to a text are the same as the four worlds of the Cabbalists. So the “simple way” is looking at the Assiah of the text. You are just looking at the words and what they mean. This is the guph. The hints or allegorical meaning is connected to Yetziriah and are Neshemah of the teaching. The attempting to find new meanings is the Ruach or soul of the teaching while the secret meaning is Chiah.
Before you start reading a Golden Dawn document it is important that you clear your mind of any preconceptions about what the text may say, or what others claim it has said. You must read it and make your impressions based on what you read.
Let us see what we can make of one of the duller GD flying rolls. This is Flying Roll No. I which was called WARNINGS and it was written by Wynn W Westcott.
The text is this:
Anyone who being a 4=7 and passes five Examinations, becomes a nominal 5=6, and is competent to preside at First Order Assemblies, wears a White Sash across a Black Sash, and has reached the top of the G.D.
This may be quite properly common knowledge to the First Order Members, but it is absolutely necessary that these First Order or G.D. members should remain in entire ignorance of the Order RR. Et A.C., the so-called Second Order, and should not be told who has, or has not actually entered the Second Order.
Adepts must not tell First Order Members:
That they have passed any further ceremony;
Nor that they perform Practical Magic;
Nor, when they meet;
Nor where;
Nor who is head of the Second Order.
The safest answer to all forms of question seems to be:
‘If you belonged to the Second Order, you would know what you ask me; if you do not know, you do not belong, and if I did know, I could no more tell you, than a 1=10 can tell anything about it to a 0=0.’
There are some very worthy nominal 5=6 members who have never gone farther; they wear White Sashes; and members of 5=6 might accidentally tell them what should not be told.
There are some Philosophi who pass all the Examinations and are nominal 5=6, of whom it is possible that the Chiefs would not approve, and so have no chance of full Second Order membership.
The List of full Members of 5=6 is in the Library, and so every Adept should know if a person be a full Adept or not. Complete silence is the only safe course, with anyone you have not actually met in the Vault.
The simple meaning is obvious. It provides those who have passed the Portal and were a Nominal 5=6 with instructions about what they could tell those in the outer order. The short answer is absolutely nothing. Indeed, it seems that Westcott wanted to keep the outer order guessing that there was even a Second Order, even if they were wearing a nice white sash. From the study perspective there appears to be not to be much here.
On the next level we have to look for hints. This is usually done by asking questions and conducting an internal dialogue with your self. Why was the heading for the flying roll “Warnings”? Normally you have a warning is if there is some sort of threat, yet in no part of the text is there any indication that breaking these rules will get anyone into hot water. This papertalks about a 4=7 and passed five Examinations being a nominal 5=6, and wearing a White Sash across a Black Sash. These days this would mean Portal and it says that worthy people could stay in this grade without even realising that there was anything higher. Notice that the White Sash is supposed to be on top of the Black One.
But this next line mentions the RR. Et A.C and being the Second Order which means that he person who is reading it has got into the RR. Et A.C otherwise Westcott would not be allowed to mention it.
There are five points that the adept is not allowed to tell which seems to indicate something important. There are five tests in the outer order and five things you can’t tell the First Order members about the Second Order.
Then there is this strange rubic about what they can be told. “If you belonged to the Second Order, you would know what you ask me; if you do not know, you do not belong, and if I did know, I could no more tell you, than a 1=10 can tell anything about it to a 0=0.” Surely there would be an easier way of giving this person an answer. For a start it confirms that there is a Second Order and that its members know everything, which they clearly did not. At this level (Yetzirah) it is difficult to see anything more than what it says.
If you are not sure you are supposed to go to the Library and check if the name is there. But this is fairly impractical, particularly if a person was initiated into the Second Order in another temple. While “complete silence is the only safe course” is not exactly polite. If I asked someone a question and they refused to answer me they I would assume that there really was a Second Order, Mathers was the head of it and it must do something interesting. OK I don’t have an address, or know when it meets, but I would assume that it met in the same place as the other temple. In the case of most groups that would be true.
You can see the Yetzirah level has created many questions which can only be answered by getting a little more abstract. Notice that this is the level of Briah so we have to look at the text and see what symbols it gives us. I would prefer to knock it into a symbolic summery to make it easier.
Someone who has passed through the fire and encountered five tests is only a nominal adept. They have touched spirit and this takes them to the top of the G.D, but that is not enough to take them into Second Order.
Once a person is an Adept, it marks them and makes them obvious to others but it is important to keep secret about their experiences. There are five things that define an adept which must not be known by the outside world. Five is the number of the pentagram and therefore anyone who is below that number is “ordinary”. They cannot understand if someone has attained adepthood, is not an armchair occultists and is walking their talk. Adepts move out of time and to ordinary people. Their leader is nameless for the head of the second order is appointed by the Third Order.
If you are an adept you can find out the answer to your questions. If you don’t know the answer, then chances are it is part of you which is not able to articulate it. Becoming more than human is difficult.  As far as the world is concerned, an adept is no different from a superior normal person. But the only way that a person can become an adept is with the approval of the spiritual beings behind the order. The names of all adepts are recorded within the unconscious mind of God and they can be identified by other adepts. It is always better to work in silence.
The secret meaning of the document is even more abstract, and a bit difficult to write here. It would be something like:
There are five tests for a human which must be undergone. Touching spirit they are transformed into a good person whose life destiny is to focus on the outer. But from these people a small number are chosen by the spiritual forces behind creation to continue onwards. These people are given a link to the Higher Forces which act as guides. They are linked at a deep level and find truth which can only be expressed in silence.
The above example was cobbled together for the purposes of this article. I chose Flying Roll One because it was short, dull and likely to be overlooked by many students.
There is another matter which needs to be looked at when it comes to reading Golden Dawn documents and that is reliance on Regardie’s Golden Dawn. When I published Mathers’ Last Secret there were those who wondered why I had published some of the rituals that I admitted were unchanged Golden Dawn ones. After all the Golden Dawn material “had already been published by Regardie.” The reason I printed all the rituals is that there has never been a complete set of Golden Dawn rituals published. Regardie’s published rituals were all much later Stella Matutina ones which had been cut by about a third. Mathers’ Last Secret published the AO 0=0 which was different from anything that had gone before, the Golden Dawn Elemental Grade rituals, which had not been published before, the Golden Dawn Portal ritual which had never been seen by anyone before. The only thing I duplicated was the 5=6 ritual which had to be there for completeness. But critics of Mathers’ Last Secret should have been aware of the differences. The fact they were not, indicated that they had never studied any of the Golden Dawn material to be familiar enough either with Regardie or the Early Golden Dawn.
What is starting to happen now is that the original material is starting to become available for those who are serious about studying the original material and making their own conclusions. My King over the Water will provide some of the manuscripts and there are others who are working out ways of getting accurate Golden Dawn manuscripts out there. I am cynical enough, given the reception in some quarters to my books, to think that there will be very few who choose to study the material, but those who do, will find the real magic within the Golden Dawn system.
This article first appeared in the Hermetic Virtues Magazine which is the best source for writing from members of the Golden Dawn community.  It is highly recommended.

One comment

  1. Interesring post Nick!

    Its funny that there appear to have always been “back channels” in which later students of the Tradition can obtain copies of such texts with no review of copying errors or glosses placed in the sides. Many chroniclers and Golden Dawn historians have yet to acknowledge these notes in their reviews. This is one reason I liked your presentation of the rituals and commentaries in “King over the Water”.

    I think slowing down with materials and yes even copying materials works wonders. I’ve done this as an extra learning process. It also cuts down on printing costs significantly! 😉

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