Tag Archives: Macgregor Mathers

Qabalistic Qigong

You are able to discover new and hidden depths to the whole Golden Dawn system by periodically re-reading the classic texts, written by Mathers et al., and by paying close attention to the parts you might have skipped over the first time around. Even I manage to surprise myself from time to time, such that if ever I start to feel jaded, I find myself re-invigorated by going back to the books and putting into practice what the creators of the system originally intended.

Recently, for example, I was revising the section of Z-3 “The Enterer of the Threshold,” viz. “The Symbolism of the Admission of the Candidate,” and I became convinced that Macgregor Mathers had done something far cleverer than I first appreciated: he had come up with a system of Qabalistic Qigong, long before the concept of Qigong (or “Chi Kung” to use the old spelling) had become widely known in the West (which arguably was only as recent as 1972). In particular I mean the three formulae of magical vibration derived from the opening of the Neophyte ceremony, namely: the Formula of Aspiration; the Vibratory Formula of the Middle Pillar; and the Formula of the Four-fold Revolution of the Breath.

The Microcosmic Tree of Life. © Alex Sumner 2017

The Microcosmic Tree of Life.
© Alex Sumner 2017

The Formula of Aspiration

In the Neophyte Adeptus Minor document “The Enterer of the Threshold,” in the part entitled “The Symbolism of the Opening of the 0=0 Grade of Neophyte,” Macgregor Mathers describes the magical currents at work at the very beginning of the ceremony, when the Hierophant addresses the Temple for the first time. He then goes on to comment:

The whole is a rehearsal of the properties of the reflection of the Element Air down through the Middle Pillar of the Sephiroth, representing the reflection of the Air from Kether, through Tiphareth to Yesod, and even to the Citrine part of Malkuth. For the subtle Aether is, in Kether, inspired from the Divine Light beyond; thence reflected into Tiphareth, wherein it is combined with the Reflexes from the Alchemical Principles in that great Receptacle of the Forces of the Tree. In Yesod, it affirms the foundation of a formula and from Malkuth it is breathed forth or reflected back.

And this formula the Adept can use. Standing in his Sphere of Sensation he can, by his knowledge of the Sacred Rites, raise himself unto the contemplation of Yechidah and from thence aspire (in the sense of Adspire, i.e. to attract towards you in breathing) downwards into himself the Lower Genius as though temporarily to inhabit himself as its Temple.

Regardie, I, 1989, The Golden Dawn, 6th edition, Llewellyn, St Pauls Minnesota, p345.

In practice, this is really what I would consider regular vibration, although the point that Mathers is making is that one should take a moment to contemplate that one is invoking the divine name in question as a manifestation of genius from the Yechidah (i.e. the microcosmic Kether).

The Vibratory Formula of the Middle Pillar

Straight after the preceding passage which I quoted above, Mathers goes on to say:

Another formula of Vibration is here hidden. Let the Adept, standing upright, his arms stretched out in the form of a Calvary Cross, vibrate a Divine Name, bringing with the formulation thereof a deep inspiration into his lungs. Let him retain the breath, mentally pronouncing the Name in his Heart, so as to combine it with the forces he desires to awake thereby; thence sending it downwards through his body past Yesod, but not resting there, but taking his physical life for a material basis, send it on into his feet. There he shall again momentarily formulate the Name – then, bringing it rushing upwards into the lungs, thence shall he breathe it forth strongly, while vibrating that Divine Name. He will send his breath steadily forward into the Universe so as to awake the corresponding forces of the Name in the Outer World. Standing with arms out in the form of a Cross, when the breath has been imaginatively sent to the feet and back, bring the arms forward in “The Sign of the Enterer” while vibrating the Name out into the Universe. On completing this, make the “Sign of Silence” and remain still, contemplating the Force you have invoked.

This is the secret traditional mode of pronouncing the Divine Names by vibration, but let the Adept beware that he applies it only to the Divine Names of the Gods. If he does this thing ignorantly in working with Elemental or Demonic Names, he may bring into himself terrible forces of Evil and Obsession. The Method described is called “The Vibratory Formula of the Middle Pillar.”

Thus, to summarise: if one were to vibrate, e.g. “Eheieh,” one would

  • Stand in the form of a cross;
  • Contemplate link to Kether (Yechidah);
  • (Mentally) vibrate “Eheieh.” In effect one has started off with the “Formula of Aspiration,” but one is now adding to it.
  • Draw the invoked force into one’s heart and mentally formulate there “Eheieh” whilst contemplating what it represents and what you are trying to invoke (i.e. in this instance, the spiritual properties of Kether);
  • Send the current down, via Yesod, to Malkuth (i.e. the feet). Formulate “Eheieh” in Malkuth, imagining that you are using your whole physical being to manifest those spiritual forces.
  • Now imagine the current springing back up, rising up to your head.
  • Forcefully project it out with the Sign of the Enterer, vibrating it loudly, so that it manifests in the Universe.
  • Finally, make the Sign of Silence, to seal off your aura.

Thus there are three distinct points at which one contemplates the force in question: the head (Kether), the heart (Tiphereth) and the feet (Malkuth), with Yesod here figuring as a stage in the downward and upward journey. It is here that we begin to see the similarity with Qigong, in that it is a combination of breathwork, visualisation and movement. Obviously it is not literally identical to any Chinese method, being based on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. I find it helpful here to pause a brief moment – though not too long – at each point, head, heart, and feet, to really feel the energies involved.

Crowley in Liber O describes vibrating the divine names in the LBRP with the Signs of the Enterer and of Silence. It seems clear to me that he probably had the Vibratory Formula of the Middle Pillar in mind, although in describing it cursorily he misses out on the full subtleties contained in Mathers’ original description.

The Four-fold revolution of the Breath

The third magical formula derived from the opening of Neophyte ceremony relates to the currents of energy which are formed during the Mystic Circumambulation. Mathers writes:

The Mystic Circumambulation is called symbolic of the Rise of Light and from it drawn another formula for the circulation of the breath. It is the formula of the Four Revolutions of the Breath (not, of course, of the actual air inspired, but of the subtle Aethers which may be drawn thence and of which it is the Vehicle – the aethers which awaken centres in the subtle body through the formula). This formula should be preceded by that of the Middle Pillar, described previously. By this method, having invoked the Power you wish to awaken in yourself, and contemplated it, begin its circumambulation thus: Fill the lungs and imagine the Name vibrating in the contained Air. Imagine this vibration going down the left leg to the sole of the left foot – thence passing over to the sole of the right foot – up the right leg to the lungs again, where it is out-breathed. Do this four times to the rhythm of the Four-fold breath.

By saying that “this formula should be preceded by that of the Middle Pillar” it is evident that the three formulae of vibration are cumulative – the Four Revolutions of the Breath incorporates both of the preceding methods.


Speaking personally, I find that invoking a divine name by all three methods together is very powerful – the least one can expect is to feel incredibly energised by doing so. I remember once doing the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram, using all three formulae to vibrate the appropriate Name in each quarter. Because I was necessarily observing more care over each one, the LBRP ended up taking around ten minutes longer than it had done previously, but by the end of it I was fairly floating in space! The three formulae, combined, are a powerful means for invoking Divine names generally – each time leaving one buzzing with energy, and hence filling one with confidence that one is psychically contacting the forces invoked, and working good ritual.

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Making A Goetia Floorcloth

New video: in which I record my efforts at making a full-size Goetia floor cloth, a la Lesser Key of Solomon the King.

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August 7, 2015 · 9:19 pm

Misadventures of a Golden Dawn Imperator 1: Oriental Adventures

Who said AD&D lead people into the occult?

Just to be clear about this: the proper role of an Imperator in the Golden Dawn is to supervise the Ritual that takes place in the temple. The Z documents issued to Adepti describe the Imperator as akin to a “Director of Ceremonies,” although in practice the role is nothing like that of the DC in e.g. Masonic orders, where the DC is jumping up and about all round the temple. Instead, the Imperator just sits there looking stern (except for the adorations to the Lord of the Universe), and only gets a speaking role during the ceremony of the Equinox.

Some GD orders give the Imperator a more substantial astral-role to play: however the precise details of this are confidential, as it is one of the few unpublished teachings.

Nevertheless: when asked to act as Imperator in a temple recently, I decided to try and take the “Director of Ceremonies” side of the role seriously by doing things like arranging rehearsals, and finding solutions to common difficulties which arise in rituals, one of which I describe below:

I was born on the east side of town, but the East faced South.

What do you do when the room in which you conduct your rituals does not face true East? If one goes by Regardie’s Black Book and nothing else, one invariably ends up fudging the issue if one does not want engage in all sorts of callisthenics when trying to perform ritual in an oddly-shaped temple. HOWEVER: the original GD thought up a solution to this way back in 1888! It’s just that this one of a large number of original teachings which did not make it into Regardie’s opus.

Quite simply: the Temple is set up according to the natural layout of the room. Then, immediately before the formal opening of the ritual, the Hierophant goes round to Compass-East, stretches forth his sceptre, and prays:

Creator of the Universe, Lord of the Visible World, who hast by Thy Supreme Power set limits to its magnitude and conferred special attributes on its boundaries, we invoke Thee to grant that whatever Hidden and Mystic Virtue doth reside in the radiant East – the Dayspring of Light – the origin of Life – may in answer to this our prayer be this day conferred upon the Throne of the Hierophant of this Temple, who is the emblem of the Dawning of that Golden Light which shall illuminate the Path of the Unknown and shall guide us at length to the attainment of the Quintessence, the Stone of the Wise, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness.

and returns to his throne, which from this point on is taken as the Magical East for the rest of the ceremony.

Incidentally, this prayer is useful not just for a full temple meeting, but also for practising rituals at home.

After the break-up of the original GD, the Stella Matutina continued the use of this same prayer in their own rituals. Mathers, however, wrote a new version for use in the Alpha Et Omega (which Nick Farrell has now published in his book Mathers’ Last Secret):

Hidden forces of the Universe acting through Matter unto whom have been assigned according to your nature the Cardinal Divisions of Space. Invoke ye by the All Powerful Name of your Creation to seal in just orientation the Inner Limits of this Temple. Let the Throne of the Hierophant mark the radiant East, though its direction accord not therewith, and let the South, West and North send their secret currents towards the points established in their correspondence by our Rites.



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LGBTQ Tolerance in the Golden Dawn

Eddie Izzard

Got Wand, will do Magick! 🙂

Say what you like about MacGregor Mathers, but on one point he was resolute: he would not brook gossip about Fratres’ and Sorores’ lives – this being a matter purely between themselves and their God.

Mathers may well have had an ulterior motive: i.e. the members who had “questionable” private lives were also the ones who were supporting him during the various schisms. However, Mathers’ firm stand has led to a progressive consequence: the Golden Dawn was the first magical order to adopt a modern approach to tolerance.

However, the Western Mystery Tradition was almost derailed by the efforts of Dion Fortune. Her insistence that magick was based on strict male/female or god/goddess polarity has led in some quarters to a rather dogmatic insistence on heterosexuality which borders on the homophobic. I have read some neo-pagans saying that gays were allowed to join covens, on the grounds that embodying the God did not obligate them to have physical sex with the Goddess. IMHO, this is unsatisfactory, as it means that they would have no option but to channel an aspect of the Divine which is at variance with their natural sexuality.

Nevertheless: it is not possible to become overly attached to gender when it comes to one’s god-forms. I have assumed the forms of both Gods and Goddesses in my time: such is the nature of Golden Dawn magick. I have also come to suspect that one or more of my past-lives were as a different gender to the one I am now. This does not bother me one iota, as I am perfectly comfortable in the gender and sexuality I have at the moment.

By the twin strategies of (a) not interfering with a member’s private life; and (b) not actually practising sexual magick – whether right hand or left hand path, the Golden Dawn is able to accommodate everyone. It is within my knowledge that there have been and probably still are homosexual and transsexual fratres and sorores in the GD. Indeed, at least one individual joined as a “frater” and became a “soror” during her progression and is now a successful adept.

Therefore, let everyone take note: if you know of a man who insists on turning up to temple in women’s clothes and insists on being referred to as “Soror” ceremonies, don’t laugh or mock! Such a person is welcome within the GD, and more – assuming they apply themselves diligently to the Great Work, they would even be eligible for promotion – even to being head of the order!



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25 Most Influential People in the Birth of Modern Paganism (European Wing)

Reblogged from Patheos.com – nice to see Macgregor Mathers, Dion Fortune, Eliphas Levi mentioned!

25 Most Influential People in the Birth of Modern Paganism (European Wing).

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Abramelin Investment Opportunity: Please Share This With Everyone You Know

You now have the opportunity to make a whole load of cash and participate in one of the greatest magical experiments ever attempted in the history of the occult! This is an investment scheme in which I predict the yield over two years will be a massive 20% above the initial lump sum: which you have to admit far surpasses anything offered by banks or anything like that. (NB What with the current financial crisis just about any investment is probably better than anything offered by the banks, but that is by the by). All you have to do is to keep your money invested for the full two years to reap your rewards. The more you invest, the more you will get out! It’s win win win!!!

Wads of dollar bills

This is what you will be getting back in return for investing in my scheme!

So how, I hallucinate that I hear you ask, do I take advantage of this great opportunity? The details of the scheme are as follows:

I, Alex Sumner, the world’s greatest expert on the occult, intend to undertake the full Abramelin operation: by which I mean not just the 6-month version in the original Mathers edition, but the 18-month version outlined in the more recent Book of Abramelin. I will then use such magical powers as I have gained after attaining Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel to conjure up enough cash to pay off all my backers.

However to do this, I need quite a bit of cash up-front! Hence why I am appealing for investors. I estimate my costs will be as follows.

“Initiation Fee” (see below) £16,000
Living expenses for eighteen months:
Including rent of premises in which to live and turn into an oratory, purchase / construction of magical equipment, and all other living costs (food, bills, etc).
TOTAL £61,000

Gold bullionThe “Initiation Fee” is to reflect a detail from the story of Abramelin which a lot of so-called modern practitioners tend to ignore because they don’t understand it. Before Abraham the Jew received the Sacred Magick from Abramelin, he gave the latter Ten Golden Guilders, which Abramelin then used to distribute to the poor. Now a Guilder was a coin representing a tenth of a pound in weight. In other words, Abraham the Jew gave Abramelin a pound of gold: which by my calculations is worth approximately £16,000 at today’s prices.

Now I personally believe that there are several blinds deliberately written into the Book of Abramelin, to trap the unwary. One of them is the part where Abraham says that your Holy Guardian Angel will reveal even more than is written in the book. At first the context makes it look as if he means that the Angel will reveal more magick squares than are set forth in the book: but I believe the real meaning is that there is an esoteric interpretation of the Book of Abramelin which is not revealed in the plain text of the story. A fuller interpretation is something like this:

  • The meeting between Abraham the Jew and Abramelin where the former received the Sacred Magick was in fact an Initiation ceremony;
  • The surrendering of the pound of gold – nb not for payment, but for distribution to charity! – was in fact a vital part of the Initiation ceremony. After all, if you sacrifice that which is most precious to you, as opposed to giving away just something you can afford, it tends to leave you spiritually motivated.
  • The gold was not simple gold coins, but gold that had been created as part of an Alchemical transmutation. In other words, only someone who has mastered Alchemy has the right to undertake the Sacred Magick.

This may look at first sight to be a radical notion, but consider the work of the Gold Und Rosenkreutzer Order. The initiate concentrated on progressively mastering alchemy up until the Magister Templi grade, when they completed a transmutation. In the Magus grade, they actually turned to a magickal regime not dissimilar to that of Abramelin. As anyone who has studied Alchemy will know, the Alchemist is transmuted along with the metals, so that by the time he has got to that stage he will have gone through the most intense spiritual and physical purification possible.

There is another similarity to the Magus grade, to wit: the Magus is symbolically an initiate of Chokmah, or someone who has risen above the spheres of the planets. In the Book of Abramelin the magician is told not not to observe astrological conditions, but to invoke any planet when it is at the zenith: which means that an Abramelin-Magician can invoke any planet on any day of the week. From which vantage point can one truly free to work independent of astrological conditions – if not from above the spheres of the planets?

Viewed this way, this would imply that far from being part of the grade of Adeptus Minor, an assumption made by Crowley, the Sacred Magick was always meant to be reserved to the 9=2 grade or its equivalent, and the initiation ceremony through which Abraham the Jew went was in fact the real Magus ritual.

So anyway that is my modest proposal. I suggest that to keep the arithmetic simple you invest in multiples of £1000. Please click on the link marked ALEX SUMNER APPRECIATION FUND in order to make your investment. 🙂


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Adeptus Major

Today I am going to do a survey of the grade of 6=5 Adeptus Major, by examining how the various different offshoots of the Golden Dawn –  the Alpha et Omega, the Stella Matutina, the Holy Order of the Golden Dawn, and the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross – decided to deal with the subject. The one thing they all have in common is that they agree the grade has to do with Geburah – in the same way that 5=6 Adeptus Minor is to do with Tiphereth – but there the similarities end. Each different faction went off in their own direction, having different ideas about what the Adeptus Major was actually meant to do.

As far as I am aware, none of the published Adeptus Major rituals are used by modern day Golden Dawn orders – they have gone on to use different or modified versions.

Alpha Et Omega

The cover for "Book of the Concourse of the Watchtowers" by Tabatha Cicero, featuring a reconstructed version of the Tablet Of Union.

The Book of the Concourse of the Watchtowers, by Sandra Tabatha Cicero

The Alpha et Omega 6=5 so-called Ritual has now been published: as an appendix to Tabatha Cicero’s new publication, “Book of the Concourse of the Watchtowers.” I say so-called because the version published is not a real ritual. It does not have an opening or closing, nor does it have any drama in it. It consists of one chief officer, the “Conferring Adept,” teaching the signs and words of the grade to the Aspirant, who is prompted throughout the ceremony by a conductor. The explanation of the Tarot cards is brief. If anything, it is more of a fragment of a ritual – perhaps part of something that remains unpublished, or a work-in-progress.

The only interesting thing, IMHO, is that the brief explanation of the nature of the signs gives a tantalising glimpse into what Mathers might have imagined the work of an Adeptus Major to be – i.e. the use of Geburah-force to subdue evil entities – although no detail is given about the Adeptus Major curriculum itself. It is also interesting in that the symbolism anticipated the ideas the Crowley expressed about the nature of the Adeptus Major grade in the latter’s John St John.

Stella Matutina

Now the Adeptus Major ritual of the Stella Matutina is a far more interesting affair. An incomplete version of the ritual was published by Pat Zalewski in his book Secret Inner Order Rituals of the Golden Dawn: fortunately though, I have seen a copy dating from a Stella Matutina temple circa 1916, so I have been able to compare. Now this is a proper ritual. It has drama, it has beautiful ritualistic speeches, but most importantly it introduces in the course of the ritual several key qabalistic concepts which provide much food for thought. The ritual should be read in conjunction with the account of W B Yeats’ own experience of this ceremony, which is printed in George Mills Harper’s Yeats’ Golden Dawn, which gives details of the astral work that went on invisibly as the ceremony took place.

This ritual lays much emphasis on the Shekinah – the divine presence of God – who is here portrayed by a female officer. Why the Shekinah? I believe the answer must lie in the fact that in Gematria, “Geburah” is equivalent to “Debir,” which is the Holy of Holies, where the Shekinah was said to reside upon the Ark of the Covenant between the wings of the two kerubs. The aspirant is therefore the High Priest, who goes into the Holy of Holies (actually the Vault of the Adepti which has been re-dressed for the occasion) and after a period of meditation discovers the Shekinah, who first comes to him (or her) like a light-bearer in darkness.

An interesting feature is that the Aspirant remains completely silent throughout the ceremony, until formally released at its climax. It is worth noting that quite separately Wynn Westcott did indeed describe the Adeptus Major grade as:

“…a degree of death and solemnity—referring to the precedent stage of obscuration, during which silent study and meditation may be considered as the typical condition…”

Flying Roll XVI, the History of the Rosicrucian Order.

One is tempted to speculate that in this respect the Stella Matutina ceremony is probably more to what Westcott intended than that of the AO! Unlike the AO ceremony, which is nothing but signs and an explanation thereof, the Stella Matutina 6=5 mentions two signs (“thou shalt avert thy eyes from evil as did Isis on the right … thou shalt withdraw from evil as did Nephthys on the left,”) but does not really demonstrate what they are: obviously part of the esotery that was only transmitted from person to person.

The lacuna in Zalewski’s ritual amounts to three-fifths of the oath being omitted (the oath of an Adeptus Major is in five parts), as well as an instruction that the Aspirant is censed in the form of a Pentagram, before being led out temporarily before the next point in the ceremony. When read in full, the oath of the Adeptus Major reveals that the duty of the new initiate is to apply the severity of Geburah to his or her own moral nature, whilst emphatically being merciful to the faults of others.

I found one mistake when I first read Zalewski’s version, however: when I checked, I found that the mistake had been in the original ritual! Namely: the wrong passages of the Sepher Yetzirah are quoted when the aspirant is given the teachings of the Paths of Mem and Lamed.

A sort of curriculum has emerged as to what the Stella Matutina envisioned for the Adeptus Major grade. Although on first reading it does not seem much, from my own personal researches I believe that additional papers were also issued to the adepts which suggested ways in which the Adeptus Major practices could be extended to achieve extremely sophisticated results. In any event, the lines “try to find your own Path for the Inner Life,” and “now is the time to fill in gaps of the 5=6 syllabus and to choose your special subject in which to qualify,”  conceal more than they reveal: I get the impression that Felkin, the author of the Stella Matutina 6=5 ritual, believed that if the Adeptus Minor grade was equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree in Magic, then the Adeptus Major was equivalent to a Master’s.

Holy Order of the Golden Dawn / Fellowship of the Rosy Cross

Aleister Crowley in A.'.A.'. regalia making the sign "Vir."

Whaddaya mean, I’m not the prophet of a new aeon?

The Holy Order of the Golden Dawn Adeptus Major Ritual has now been published in Regardie’s Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic. It catches Waite as he was beginning to embrace mysticism, yet had not completely thrown off all of the trappings of the original GD. Now here is a curious thing: despite superficial differences, much of the underlying structure of the first Waite ritual is identical to that of the Stella Matutina version. E.g. the aspirant remains in silence until released in the final part of the ceremony, he or she goes into the Vault for a period of meditation, before encountering the Shekinah, who leads the aspirant out. Intriguingly, Waite identifies the Shekinah as Nuit, and the newly advanced aspirant as Horus. Could this in fact mean that Waite was a secret Thelemite (extremely ironic given the caning he received from Crowley in the Equinox)? Or perhaps when Crowley received the Book of the Law, the Gods were telling him not to become the prophet of a new aeon, but that he was now ready to become an Adeptus Major?

After the Holy Order of the Golden Dawn closed, Waite founded the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. The grades are named after those of the Golden Dawn – but Waite finally took the opportunity to abandon the last vestiges GD dogma of which he disapproved and finally do his own thing. Nevertheless, the FRC Adeptus Major ritual still displays certain similarities to the version he wrote for the Holy Order of the Golden Dawn. There is a sojourn within the sanctuary, the Shekinah makes an appearance – but the insistence of silence is strictly removed. Needless to say, any references to Horus and Nuit have been removed.

As far as I know, there was no curriculum per se for the FRC grades – I believe that Waite intended the ceremony itself to be both the initiation into and the teaching of a given grade. In this sense the FRC is rather like a masonic version of Rosicrucianism. I did hear one senior esotericist say that this being the case, an initiate could theoretically be advanced through each grade at successive meetings, or slightly less than a year if they met every month, although I doubt very much that this would happen in practice.


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Music In Theory & Practice 3: The Hexagram and Middle Pillar Rituals

More rituals scored according to Macgregor Mathers’ system of attributions.

The Lesser Hexagram Ritual

The Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram, composed by Alex Sumner © 2011.

The Middle Pillar Ritual

The Middle Pillar Ritual, composed by Alex Sumner © 2011.

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Music In Theory and Practice – Part 2

S L Macgregor Mathers

Mathers’ corollary to “The Chromatic Method”

Following on from yesterday’s post, I would like to review a similar method which Macgregor Mathers gave to the Alpha et Omega – it is set out in full detail in Pat Zalewski’s book Inner Order Teachings of the Golden Dawn.

Like Case and Bennett, Mathers made an association with colours and musical notes – however he differs in several important aspects. Firstly, Mathers starts with the assumption that Red = F, not C as in the Case / Bennett system. Secondly: there are no sharps or flats in Mathers’ system. Thirdly, the Seven planets follow a scale starting with the F above middle C, and ascending in the same order as the walls of the Vault of the Adepti. Hence:

Hebrew Letter Colour Note
Heh Pe Shin Red F
Vau Red-Orange F or G
Zayin Resh Orange G
Cheth Amber G or A
Teth Beth Aleph Yellow A
Yod Yellow-Green A or B
Lamed Daleth Green B
Nun Green-Blue B or C
Samekh Gimel Mem Blue C
Aayin Tau Indigo D
Tzaddi Kaph Violet E
Qoph Vermilion E or F

This system has its advantages – and disadvantages. From a musicological (read: “snobbish”) point of view, some of the reasons that Mathers gives for adopting the particular peculiarities of this system are suspect and inconsistent, and smack of “dumbing down.” The only reason I can see for starting with Red = F and treating the planets as he does is to make use of the spaces and lines of the Treble Clef. Perhaps if he was confident with leger lines we might have had a whole different secret teaching! It could, of course have been to allow Adepti to play the piano one-handed, the left-hand being left free to hold a ritual implement or something.

However, Mathers’ aversion to sharps and flats is something else. The reason Mathers gives for avoiding it touches upon a problem that musicians have had to deal with for thousands of years, namely Temperament. It is impossible to tune the twelve-note chromatic scale so that all intervals are “perfect” – therefore, historically, several different methods have been proposed including the Pythagorean, “Just Intonation” (like Pythagorean but with easier arithmetic), “Well Tempered” (made famous by Bach’s Das Wohltempierte Klavier), and “Equal Temperament,” amongst others. The upshot of this is that depending on which system of Temperament you are using, the actual tuning of some chromatic intervals might vary by as much as 10Hz – enough to create an out-of-tune “beating” sound, assuming two different instruments had been tempered differently.

How did the Secret Chiefs, from whom Mathers claimed to derive this teaching, resolve the problem of Temperament? Um, well, the unfortunate fact is that although they were willing to lay down minutiae on a whole host of other topics, they conveniently passed on this one: the simplest way for Mathers to resolve the situation was to avoid using sharps and flats.

Of course, on the other hand, Mathers might have interpreted “Quite the night and seek the day,” as meaning “avoid the black keys and play only the white keys.”

What we thus have from Mathers is therefore a reduction of the chromatic scale to the F-Lydian mode – ironic, as Mathers complained about using modes as well.

HOWEVER: the very fact that Mathers’ system is completely unsophisticated compared to the Case/Bennett system is in fact its greatest advantage – because it allows Hebrew words to be chanted in simple melodies. This in turn makes it highly conducive to teaching a temple full of initiates whose musical talent may well range from hardened rock-musicians reared on Frank Zappa and Led Zeppelin to, well, drummers. By way of example, I shall now attempt to re-score the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram according to the note-values suggested by Mathers.

The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, composed by Alex Sumner © 2011.

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The View From Halfway Up Mount Abiegnus

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. 😉

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