Purging masonry from the Golden Dawn
Purging masonry from the Golden Dawn

Purging masonry from the Golden Dawn

Jake Stratton-Kent

Today the Goetic magician Jake Stratton-Kent posted an interesting statement on his Yahoo group where he derided ritual magicians tendency to form masonic style groups.
Like many of us he find the ‘Masonic’ model a dead loss in the many, areas of modern magic where it applies.
He said that the masonry was only any good when non-attendance at Anglican church was an imprisonable offense in England and there needed to be somewhere to go for freethinkers.
Stratton-Kent thinks that the Secret Society model is not only unhelpful, but actively counter-productive. It is the principle reason why so much energy is expended fighting tiny little wars between factions (between witch groups, between rival Golden Dawns, between thelemic groups etc etc),” he said.
I have shedloads of sympathy with that, but I can only take it so far.  The only use for a masonic style approach is in the concept of an initiation.
However I do not believe that an initiation should be done in a masonic way. 
A masonic approach is to have a ritual which is performed without scripts and designed to have an effect just by performing it.
This does work to a limited extent.  You have a psychological effect and sometimes you get energy or an atmosphere off it. But there is nothing new about this. You can have a similar feeling seeing the performance of a life play.
But a real initiation is more than just that.  Firstly it is a form of psychic surgery on the candidate’s sphere of sensation which enables them to have different esoteric experiences.  This is done, not just by the performance of the ritual, but also through the complex interactions between godforms and the divine entities which are called to participate in the rite.
This is where the ritual meets something akin to Stratton-Kent’s methods of working.  The reason that it never sees the light of day is that it is not talked about much.  Many modern ritual groups do not know about it, and the only written details can be found in hints in Crowley and the Z documents of the Golden Dawn.  What has been written down is only hints.  Each group has to find its own way through those magical processes in an initiation.  Pat Zalewski has printed some of his in his Golden Dawn Rituals and Commentaries book.
Looking at the Magical Papyrus you find these different techniques used for initiations but they are very often self-initiations.  However what the masons taught was that the use of drama by a group could add a powerful spin on these techniques.
What the outer order of the GD does is open the way for a person to become a magician.  Once they reach that point,  the second order should be a group of magicians meeting together to conduct the same sorts of experiments that Jake is talking about.  The fact that they did not, is really not the fault of the system, so much as the people in charge of it.
In the second order of MOAA for example you are given your tools and told to charge them.  After some training you go on to experiment and develop the material.  The only onus is you share the results of your experiments with other people in the order and try to train people in them.   The reason that approach has not made much impact on the wider world is that we are still working on  getting people to the point.  It is coming close though.
In this framework a group can provide support and prevent a person going completely barking if one of their experiments gets out of hand.  A solo magician has no one who can perform an intervention for them if they start thinking that they are talking to secret chiefs who claim that they are important.  Of course semi-masonic orders are full of chiefs who are trying to do the same thing, in that case there a lot of group members who might engineer a coup they think their chief is talking bollocks.


  1. I believe the topic of “initiation” is closely related to the topic of “secret chiefs.” Much glamour, misunderstanding, and confusion surround both. Approaching our practice as magical scientists, we can live our life with the hypothesis that external “initiation” and “secret chiefs” exist. Let’s call this hypothesis A. We live our life, conduct our experiment, do our practices, and observe the results. We collect evidence for this belief through personal experience. We can also conduct the experiment in living by assuming there are no external secret chiefs and there is no external initiation. Further, we can conduct our experiment with the working assumption that each of us is our own secret chief and initiator. Let’s call this hypothesis B. Again, we live our life. We observe the results. We amass evidence of this belief from personal experience. I am 61. I have been experimenting daily for 40 years with both of the above beliefs. So far, the results of my experiments have generated much more evidence for hypothesis B. That’s my experience. What’s yours? Would you consider living your life based on the results of my experiences? I don’t think so. That’s the point. I was taught that the adept decides what to believe based on his or her own experience not someone else’s.

    1. Hi Michael… I would not “base my life” round someone else’s experiences but I would experiment with some of those experiences to see if they worked for me. If I have experiences that work for me then I will incorporate them within my views. The GD initiation system as I work it appears to work, it has also been tweaked over the years as I have better understandings. It will probably have others before I am dead and then others will carry on tweaking and adapting.
      I am saying here that it is worthwhile. I also tried the masonic approach and it did little for me, which is why I am not a member of masonic groups.

  2. Anonymous

    Hi Nick,

    I think your observations concerning Masonry are valid, insofar as Masonic Lodges being mostly tenanted by men of exoteric religious leanings who’ve been told in no uncertain terms that magic is satanic. So, why put it in their rituals? It’s not that someone couldn’t be (divinely) inspired to come up with a Z Document for Masonic ritual; but, given the above reasoning and demographic in that Fraternity, I don’t think it would or could be practiced openly. So, anyone coming to Masonry for magic should be gently steered elsewhere.

    I also don’t agree with various esoteric groups fighting because of Masonic influences. A Masonic Lodge is one place I’ve seen where Jews, Christians, and Muslims aren’t trying to rip each other’s heads off. Granted, it’s a human organization and, therefore, imperfect. However, I’m more inclined to chalk up what you and our Goetic friend are seeing to 110% ego on the part of a few individuals who are quite obviously out of balance.


  3. Hi Nick,
    I know you have pointed out a difference between the magical and masonic approach, and I get that point. It seems to me that the main difference here is that in the magical there is Ceremony + visualization and the masonic there is simply Ceremony. Fact remains though that the GD still uses what might be called a masonic structure as far as the initiation/advancement rituals go. If we were going to purge all the masonic elements out the GD, we would have to remove the grip/token, step and sign parts of the rituals, the 2 pillars, the sashes, etc.

    Now I don’t know anything about this Jake guy, or what his background is, (his name sounds familiar but that’s about it), but he sounds to me like he is one of these occultists that doesn’t like any kind of group ceremonial work or working in the structured environment of a lodge. Which is fair enough I suppose, if it’s not your cup of tea, but his critique then would be not just applicable to masonry but also to the Golden Dawn. Also, I am wondering why he is using the symbolism of skulls so much ? – especially the skull and cross bones, – as, to me, that is masonic symbolism.

    1. yo ho ho me hearties

      what possible connection could skulls and crossbones have with Necromancy? 😛

      No Living Tradition stands still, and cross fertilisation has always been good for magic until now – but that doesn’t apply to modern occultists, they have their own safe niches and their own unique snowflake nobody else has a hint of. None of the paths converge!

      Hail Janus and Cardea, let me out!

    2. no worries, I’ve been using a pirate flag at talks for a long time, as well as in rituals – its a kind of ‘goetic heraldry’ along with use of red & black. Both are also used in the modern Brazilian cult of Kimbanda.

      Take a bit more to clarify who the Jake guy is, or why GD types or anyone else might consider him worth listening to. ‘England’s most notorious necromancer’ will just have to do. 😉

  4. Hi Nick,

    I cannot reply to the original post by Jake Stratton-Kent but only your post here; I have no wish to join yet another Yahoo group 🙂

    You make excellent points regarding both the inner work of the GD ceremonies, the vast majority of which remains unpublished (and probably unpublishable) and the function of an RR et AC college. This is EXACTLY how I was taught, and the fact that this is from an old chap with no paper lineage, just a life load of work, shows how this approach and mystery lies at the heart of our tradition and will be discovered by folk who do the work.

    That said, I think we should (in a lodge) be working in the Masonic mould and FAR MORE. That is, the Masonic methods of lodge organisation, ceremonial procedure, officer training and rotation are an ideal to live up to, a solid basis – and then we add magic 🙂 So I would not say we need to remove Masonry from the GD, only we need to add to the model. Magical lodges within the Masonic model are like actual Christianity – by and large they have not been tried.

    I not an expert in the Goetic traditions, but from what I know these traditions involves solo work or work with few adepts. In which case, as you say it will resemble more the RR et AC College work between adepti. The two beasts, GD and RR et AC require different methods of organisation, and I feel for the former, the Masonic model works well. I am unsure of what the Goetic equivalent would be. Thanks 🙂

    1. spare me the lineage hogwash – I just formally renounced my Magical Obligation after 31 years

      It is blazingly apparent from what the published GD material includes, as well as various statements by Mathers, Waite and Crowley, that they had *no clue* about goetia’;s historical importance, or indeed much else about it. Waite unfortunately was looking for the proof of an ancient tradition behind magic, and absolutely decided Goetia could not be it, which is ironic.

      Since only a fraction of the Greek Magical Papyri had been published at that time – and for decades after – this deficiency isn’t entirely their fault. Even if they had possessed unpublished documents the level of insight would be very little different from the known. Problem is, the more recent GDs haven’t been paying much attention to this clause of the M.O.

      Furthermore, I undertake to prosecute with zeal the study of Occult
      >Sciences, seeing that this Order is not established for the benefit of
      >those who desire only a superficial knowledge thereof.

      When Secret Societies become wholly inward looking – as they’re naturally prone to do – they start to miss a lot, like the publication of the papyri, the Greek Shamans debate in modern academia, etc etc. Things have changed, and the Secret Elite weren’t even looking. Here’s a GD man’s review of an old sorcerer’s informed ramblings which might be helpful:


    2. What an arse of an oath you had swear…. I think someone sold you a pup there….
      Anyway I agree that they didn’t know enough about Goetia, in Whare Ra they left this until 6-5 grade and used Mathers lesser Key. To be fair to them though they closed in the 1970s I am sure they would be a little more open minded now.
      A lot of modern GD groups would cheerfully experiment these days, even if your one wouldn’t. There have been a lot of crap GD groups in history, it does not mean that the system is itself is fucked just that you picked the wrong group. Your problem not that of the system 🙂
      Btw renouncing he oath is pointless… The oath was to your higher self and not an Order. As far as bringing any curse upon yourself…. since the order you swore it to has not done any work for at least a two decades (my guess is that any group stupid enough to make you swear to what they did did not know its arse from its elbow) I am prepared to lay money that the chief adept has not linked the oath to anything anyway. BTW that particular “curse” only said that your shadow had to remind you that you are being an arse.
      Anyway there are very few in the GD who have any lineage to anything either.
      As far as the oath… modern groups might agree to something like “I promise to persevere with courage and determination in the great work and the labours of the divine science. I promise that I shall work daily to search for true magic rather than feasting the lower mind with shadows of intellect.”

    3. As many will know, the Neophyte Oath went through various permutations, what I posted publicly was a cut and paste, I just made sure two important clauses were included in one form or other. I’m not complaining about that group, although some of the behaviour is typical of some of the vices *Secret Society Imitating* produces, my motives aren’t revenge on that group. I certainly don’t fear theirs on me! Renouncing the Oath was Warlock magic, as an astute commentator elsewhere observed; its consistent with other things too, but that’s by the by.

      The two clauses I made sure where there were firstly *the anti-spiritualist* clause. Crowley only inherited this ‘anti-psychic’ attitude from the GD, its not something we can accuse him of starting. Learning from the New World magical traditions as modern occultism needs to *demands* this clause be scrapped, the fault acknowledged, and the fall out cleared up.

      The other was the already quoted expectation that the initiate persevere in the ‘labours of the divine science’ and that the Order eschewed superficiality in that department. As said elsewhere recently, closing the door to stop knowledge getting out tends to lead to not letting it in, and academic or other non-secretive approaches outperform the Secret Society model. I don’t think the GD/AC groups have even begun to realise how far that has happened. So there’s the matter of catching up, as well as helping clear up some of the errors the Golden Dawn and its progeny planted in the occult revival and thus in the wider occult community, in many of its aspects. But that is another post.

    4. Although in a Golden Dawn-based Order myself, I agree with your point about secrecy. My own Order does not have any oaths of secrecy, only oaths of commitment to the Great Work, Fraternity, etc.

  5. Hi Jake,

    i may HAVE to see if i can join your Yahoo group to get more on this, as it is getting very interesting. 🙂

    I think we agree re lineage; as I said no paper lineage was needed in the case of my teacher. Most lineage talk is hogwash and worse. I agree.

    As for the importance of the Goetia and Greek Magical papyri, I agree there are many modern advances. Again, as Nick says, this is generally explored at 6=5 and thus not talked about much publicly. However, the importance is relative to the work of an individual adept. There is, I can assure you by far enough Rosicrucian magic to keep one adept going for life. We can argue the merits of the various forms of magic, but in a Rosicrucian order, we can expect the basis to be Rosicrucian. I only limited interest in Goetic magic as my time is taken up elsewhere,

    I agree completely many modern GD, and other, magical groups, are too closed off and this stems from a misunderstanding of secrecy and other reasons. I think John Michael Greer has explored magical secrecy well in his Inside a Magical Lodge book. Once we adopt these principles, there can be a two way flow, in and out of the lodge, only not revealing the Order’s symbols which mean fuck all to anyone else anyway. Again, not many groups get this.

    The whole question of renouncing magical obligations is interesting and reminds me of a Wiccan couple who handfasted for “eternity and week” only to need to renounce it seven years later when the divorce came through. 🙂 If an oath is operative at the higher levels it can only be changed at those levels. I am sure your ‘formal’ renunciation would have been worked at those levels and you would be keen not to give the impression that one can change these things through formality alone.

    As I have said elsewhere, the ‘spiritualist’ clause of the Neophyte oath is very interesting, and he key word is ‘uninitiated’. GD folk are free to work with, even give over their will, to initiated forces, and always have been. And indeed no spiritualist worth their salt would work with a control who was not initiated in the broader sense of the word. Thanks 🙂

  6. the label ‘anti-spiritualist’ reflects the historical antipathy of Theosophy and occult Masonry in that era to the spiritualist movement. ‘Insider’ readings notwithstanding, this is the subtext behind its inclusion, not prevention of Order secrets being leaked via a Svengali! There is also a strong element of the ethos that a magician must always be in control – when a realistic view of the universe makes it clear *nobody is*. Deciding which spirit is ‘initiated’ and which isn’t is also moot at best; given that many of these spirits have been ‘co-workers’ in traditional magic longer than the Occult Revival has been around (1875-2013), and who are we revivalists to decide which of them has something to teach us newcomers?

    Returning to magic vs spiritualism on the simplest of levels. The subtext and the clause itself make no sense in an era when – for example – magicians are examining and inter-acting with Living Traditions in the New World. We are a revival, and have much to learn from places such as Santeria, Palo and Kimbanda, where ‘Espiritismo’ of the Kardecian variety is a major aspect of practice and background. I stress, we must beware parochialism, and deciding far reaching issues only via terms and truisms used within a closed group.

  7. Overall I’m very pleased with the impact my diatribe has had, which reached new heights with appearances of references to it on the Llewellyn page:


    A lot of folks still don’t get some of the points. One important one is that internal reforms are good, but meantime the old model has been highly influential across Occulture. The ‘reformed’ groups do need to address a fair few issues in future to counter-balance earlier errors and omissions. Starting with backing off from the introducing of the Qliphoth into modern occultism, which from the GD via Crowley to Grant has been highly influential and unhelpful. Simply put, it is not connected with the the goetic strand through the grimoires into antiquity; with which they are now conflated.

    Also required is a greater interaction with academia, which on several matters of interest has frequently been ahead of ‘modern occultism at large’ throughout my life. Way back in the 1970s you were lucky to get a paragraph on the lunar mansions in an astrology book, none in a magical manual, and only very generic stuff on their near relatives the decans. Frances Yates put me onto this very interesting trail, which strongly connects with spirit magic etc – and from there I long pursued the matter via academic sources as there was no where else to go for decades. This is by no means an isolated area of interest – and more research led leadership is certainly required.

    We can’t let the programme be decided by pop-occultism and the marketplace. If the Mystery schools have a role to play it is to represent magic and push for recovery of neglected but vital areas of interest. Following on behind the lowest common denominators in the field is not a worthy approach. That there is far less disunity among the true GDers than among the followers of the outworn approaches they are discarding is a good start. To help Occulture discard the mistaken or obsolete ideas, models and attitudes *imitated* or *inherited* from the older Golden Dawn example would be mutually beneficial, and worthy behaviour for a true Mystery School.

    I won’t pretend it isn’t a massive task compared to internal reform and a tweak here and there. However, for magic as a major cultural force in the past – and ideally in the future – the impetus should be attainable, and the truest path to take.

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