Imagine that you are in a room in a building, looking at an (opaque) ceiling. You are asked: “What does the roof look like?” What do you do? The obvious (at least to me) answer is that you find some way to get up to the roof, or otherwise take steps to see it from outside. What you do not do is reason like this: the room I am in is such-and-such, therefore the roof of the building must look like a logical continuation hereof.
It is a logical fallacy, of course, something like the gambler’s fallacy – thinking that something unknown will be like what you have experienced already, when in fact there is no reason at all why this should be so. The reason I bring this up now is that I look around the Golden Dawn community and this fallacious thinking when people try to speculate what the contents of the higher grades might be, or ought to be.
Consider this: the structure of the grades of the Outer Order of the Golden Dawn tend to follow a certain pattern: opening; being initiated into the paths leading to a sephirah; being initiated into the Sephirah; closing. (This is of course a generalisation, only three grades of the Outer Order are based on this model). If one were to believe that this represented a trend, a Philosophus, assuming he hadn’t read ahead, might be tempted to think that the next grade he was to experience would be structured like the Philosophus ceremony, but with the associations updated to Tiphereth as opposed to Netzach.
In fact, the Portal and the Adeptus Minor ceremony are nothing like that at all. If one did not know what the Adeptus Minor ceremony was, it would be impossible to guess at its nature purely based on what one has experienced up to that point. More to the point – it would also be impossible to guess (without being informed in advance) that the Adeptus Minor grade of the Golden Dawn has anything to do with practical magic. It could – for all that someone in the outer order knows – just be about more knowledge.
However, once one has experienced the new grade, and learnt its contents, one can convince oneself (rightly or wrongly) that it all makes perfect sense – using the benefit of hindsight. Speaking personally I can well appreciate the value of deliberately confounding someone’s expectations with each successive grade, because one can argue that a new level of consciousness deserves a new set of symbols.
For this reason it is useless to speculate what the contents of the higher grades ought to be, based on what one knows now (another logical fallacy: arguing from is to ought). For example, one could say that the higher grades are meant to examine the lower grades of the order, because that is what has been happening so far … or one could argue that they are meant to achieve something entirely different. After all there has already been at least one example of confounding expectations, so it might happen again, or then again it might not, it might instead be more of the same mutatis mutandur. There is no way, philosophically speaking, of telling.
For example, I have heard one example of arguing from the known to the unknown, that the grade of Adeptus Major is all about examining the Portal ceremony; the Adeptus Exemptus the 5=6; Magister Templi the 6=5; and Magus the 7=4.
HOWEVER, I could argue that the ultimate secret of the Golden Dawn is the existence of extraterrestrial life-forms, and hence the higher grades progressively introduce the initiate into contact and working with alien beings. Why not? There has already been one instance of one’s expectations being confounded so there is no logical reason to say it is or it isn’t likely.
Or again: I could argue that the founders of the Golden Dawn intended to introduce completely new material in the higher grades, e.g. stuff based on the more abstruse teachings of Theosophy – stuff which is not covered anywhere in the preceding grades. It might be possible, or it might not: we have no way of knowing. The problem lies in the fact that Mathers, Westcott etc went about founding the Golden Dawn in the wrong way. What they should have done was “invoked the highest first” and started with the Third Order, thus establishing the overall egregore, before finishing with the lower grades.
So my advice is: if anyone offers any speculation on the higher grades of the Golden Dawn whatsoever, be alert to whether they are trying to work out the appearance of the roof from looking at the underside of the ceiling – which is a polite way of saying to assume they are all talking bollocks.
PS: I have physically seen Westcott’s notebooks in which he was working out the higher teachings of Theosophy. 😉