Once again the issue of astral initiations has become something of a heated discussion theme in the occult and magical blogosphere. I have already discussed this issue quite thoroughly in an article that I posted back in January of 2011. This is not a new discussion and for some reason it seems to gain new life in a cyclic manner, sort of like the plague. I have made my point that astral only initiations performed at long distance are pretty much ridiculous. My friend Scott had a funny story about using a “sock puppet” with the photograph of someone’s face pasted on it, and then putting that construct through a Golden Dawn initiation. Would the person whose photographed face was stuck to the sock be truly initiated?
There is also the problem of some disreputable person scheduling a long distance initiation (to be affected via the astral) for someone, having them pay money for this operation, and then doing nothing at the appointed time. Then, pretending that it had actually happened. You can find my previous article on this topic here, although it was in response to Robert Zink proclaiming his “astral only” methodology for Golden Dawn initiations.
Another issue that I discussed is self-initiation, to which I stated that it was not as effective as being taught and initiated by an individual or group. Self initiation brings to my mind some important questions. If someone is performing an initiation solely by their own hand then where does any kind of objective measurement occur? How is such a person challenged, and if they are not challenged, then is their initiation even valid? These are important questions. At some point even the most isolated or secluded student has to have some kind of outside and objective peer review, not to mention the importance of having his or her experiences and knowledge fully challenged.
In my opinion, there is nothing more sad, ludicrous or pathetic than discovering someone who has been exclusively self-taught and self-initiated for their entire magical and occult career. If you want a clear example of this kind of phenomenon, you need only google the name “Venus Satanas,” to find a perfect example of someone who has been called by her peers the “Forest Gump” of Theistic Satanists. Yes, it would seem that mixing alluring sexuality with simple-mindedness does help individuals to sell their ideas, however badly formed or ignorant they might be. I think that FOX news and Goetia Girls has shown this to be true. Also, it is quite novel, in my opinion, for a priestess to have her very own dancing pole mounted in the middle of her temple. I hadn’t equated pole dancing with sacred ritual dance, but then again, what do I know?
Still, an initiation is not the mechanism by which someone is conferred a specific level of spiritual and magical development. I have made this statement often enough that it should be considered one of the trade marks of my magical tradition. Often, initiations are just in-house accolades and peer group lintel rites that allow someone to have access to the specific ritual lore of that degree. Yet initiations by themselves do little to actually help someone to spiritually evolve or ascend. In order to truly grow and expand, one must do the work on a regular basis, and it is the work alone that causes transformation and spiritual ascension. The work might be aided by intercession of a teacher or mentor, but only if the initiate strives through consistent effort will anything dramatic actually occur. In this manner, initiates are responsible for their own magickal progress and the enrichment of their own spiritual process.
In the Order of the Gnostic Star, only the first two initiations are rites performed by more than just the candidate and the initiator. Yet even these two rites have an alternate form that is reduced down to just the initiator and the candidate undergoing the initiation. All grades of the Order are associated with extensive ordeals or batteries of workings that must be completed and validated before the initiation rite is to be performed. In a sense, the transformative initiation is often achieved by the work and then just objectively validated by the initiation rite. In the ESSG, there is an important emphasis placed on the student and mentor relationship, and this relationship represents the entire cycle of degrees, from first through ninth. Although the identity of the mentor might change during the life cycle of the student, the relationship is still integral to the structure of the Order.
So, one could say that the Order of the Gnostic Star has both a form of self-initiation as the initiatory ordeals, and a mentor to candidate initiation at each degree threshold. What this does is establish a kind of ladder that runs up the Tree of Life, where each degree has its set of ordeals and workings to be performed (however long it takes), and at the completion and realization of each set, there is an initiation rite and mystery that acts as the threshold to the next level of expertise and magical knowledge.
In order to really and fully document and define the nature of the lower four degrees of the Order of the Gnostic Star, I have decided to pull some associated text from some Order documents that have never been published. I felt that if my readers understand the nature of the first four Elemental Degrees, a greater understanding would be established for realizing the degrees associated with adepthood.
One very important point is that a transformative initiation should not be a single event, never to be repeated. While there are some pagan and witchcraft traditions that espouse only one initiation, an occurrence of internal, cyclic transformations, expressed or realized through some kind of exterior ritual should be a natural part of anyone’s spiritual and magickal process. The exterior rite should not, in most cases, be one that is performed alone, but shared with others, who act as witnesses and perhaps even facilitators. They assist the candidate in objectifying the internal transformation.
This continuous and periodic transformation and it’s outer expression as an initiation rite characterizes an incremental expansion of consciousness and the evolution of spiritual awareness. For the progressive pagan, witch or occultist, spiritual evolution in this life is a very important virtue, denoting that one is on the “path” to ultimately achieving union with the Godhead. Not every pagan, witch or magickal practitioner has this as their goal, but for the progressive practitioner, growth and personal development is a critical part of one’s spiritual and magickal practice. It is also a natural by-product produced through the search for meaning, greater insight, and the exalted conscious realization of Spirit within the material world.
This is why many magickal lodges and other occult organizations have multiple degrees or grades, but the transformative process doesn’t adhere to fixed degree structures or orchestrated, time-in-grade measurements. Transformative initiations are, if anything, guided by the internal mechanism and the mysteries of the individual initiate, based as they are on his or her soul revelations. Some transformations are greater and far more profound than others, and they may occur at greater or lesser frequencies during the lifetime of the initiate. They can also happen during different time frames, some taking much longer to complete than others. What we can say about transformative initiations is that they are cyclic oscillations of an initiate’s internal spiritual process. That cycle can be compared to the mythic Cycle of the Hero or the twenty-two Trumps of the Tarot. An examination of the symbolic images of the Tarot Trumps, or the occurrence of one in a strategic Tarot reading, can indicate to the initiate their specific point in the ongoing and ever continuous initiation process.
As I have already indicated, cyclic transformations occur at various intervals, and have greater or lesser impact on the one experiencing them. The greater cycles can be symbolically compared to the ten Sephiroth on the Tree of Life (that is, if the Qabalah is an important tool), but other meta-patterns or symbolic structures can be used. Because, for me, the Tree of Life is a very useful tool, I also find it useful to determine the larger transformative patterns.
In the Order of the Gnostic Star, the Qabalah is used to build the required ordeals that an initiate must perform in order to attain to a specific degree, since by performing them, he or she triggers the associated transformation. Using the Tree of Life can also help us to define the differences between an initiate, an adept, and a high adept; a structure that is represented by the three triadic groupings of the nine Sephiroth. It’s assumed that Malkuth, the lowest of the ten Sephiroth, would represent the state of the non-initiate or the one who stands at the threshold of the process of spiritual transformation, but it is also the very first initiation ordeal that one undergoes.
What I am presenting here is something that is very simplified. One would have to incorporate the twenty-two paths as well as the ten sephiroth to produce a comprehensive examination. I will just use the sephiroth to aid this discussion, leaving the more complex analysis for one of my future books.
Initiates who are following a magickal path that uses the Tree of Life as a guide would begin their process at the point of the element of Earth. This is the place where the initiate crosses the first threshold, revealing the truth that the material world is imbued and suffused with Spirit. This often causes the initiate to see the world as a sacralized phenomenon of nature, where there is no division between matter and spirit because all is one and unified. One can take this experience as indicative of the veritable truth of pagan spiritual perspectives (such as Neoplatonism), but it can also cause one to realize that the product of creation is just as sacred and holy as that which created it (such as the writings of Emerson would indicate).
Once the initiate has passed this threshold of Earth as the manifestation of Spirit, then he or she begins a process of transformation that has many incremental steps, both great and small. Yet the first progression can be compared to a series of ordeals that emulate the internal qualities of the four Elements. These transformations are therefore referred to as the initiation of the Four Elements, and represent a larger and more complex cycle for the initiate who is seeking to master Spirit. Of course, the quest for mastering Spirit is the long sought after achievement that bestows adepthood upon the seeker.
Where Earth is the revelation of the material world imbued and made sacred with Spirit, the sequence of the next three elements represent a similar progression. Let me briefly note them here for you to examine and ponder. Keep in mind that an actual transformative initiation process might not undergo the next three elements in the order that I am presenting here. Some systems use the progression of Earth, Air, Water and Fire, others might use Earth, Water, Air and Fire, and still others might use Earth, Fire, Water and Air. The order is not important, what is important is that the initiate goes through all four Elements in some manner. In fact, it is usually the case that an initiate will track through all four of them multiple times until they are completely mastered.
Water (Yesod): This transformative degree is characterized by the imagination, the power of dreams, symbols and psychic occurrences. This is where magick seems to become a fully realized phenomenon, where spirits and powers are encountered and realized. Initiates who walk this path also acquire a spiritual sense of themselves, and they discover that they have helpers, guides and spiritual allies who seek to aid them in their spiritual and magickal quest. As you can imagine, divination is important in this sphere, as is the foundation of archetypal symbols that lie at the core of the spiritual domain.
Air (Hod): The next transformative degree is characterized by the occult intellect and the individual will, the ability to organize diverse spiritual and magickal phenomena using various occult systems, such as the Tarot, Qabbalah, Astrology, Alchemy, Psychology and occult metaphysics, and the desire to use them to will things into manifestation. Science is also used to understand the subtle occult processes that the initiate has personally experienced, and all disciplines and areas of knowledge are culled to assist the initiate in being able to intellectually apprehend the fullness of the spiritual and magickal world and then, to subjugate it.
Fire (Netzach): The final transformative degree of the four elements is characterized by spiritual love, selfless devotion, spiritual service, and the practices of spiritual alignment. This degree is where the initiate begins the transition of becoming a priest or priestess of Spirit, and it is also where the other three elements begin to blend into a seamless discipline of spiritual and magickal practices and insightful experiences. In some traditions this would be the first element degree experienced beyond Earth, particularly if spiritual love was the pre-eminent foundation that one had to establish before doing anything else (this would be true of the Abramelin ordeal as well as certain monastic Christian traditions and Sufiism).
This degree would also represent the beginning of the manifestation of the higher self, which becomes more materially apparent to the initiate through spiritual love. Initiates walking this path dedicate their lives to building a core of spiritual practices that erect powerful bridges between themselves and their chosen personal Godhead.
The first four degrees have associated magical lore and techniques that must be mastered (and proven to one’s peer group) before one is able to advance to the next degree. The first four degrees have the following magical ritual workings that are a part of the lore of the Order:
1. First Degree - Elemental Magic (using the Enochian Godname Pair and Calls)
2. Second Degree - Talismanic Elemental Magic (using the Enochian Seniors/Kings)
3. Third Degree - Theurgy - Magical Evocation (Archangel Angel/ Demigod Invocations)
4. Fourth Degree - Lesser Archeomancy. (Full Angelic Theurgy & Goetic Evocation)
As you can see, the stipulated ordeals more or less fit the mysteries of the Four Elemental degrees. The progression is to first master Elemental magick, then Planetary magick (in combination for the Talismantic Elementals), then Magical Evocation, and finally Lesser Archeomancy (archeomancy of the 40 Qabalistic domains) and the assumption of the practices of the magician-priest as sacral technician.
I have previously written some articles about the Qabalistic degree cycles as they pertain to the Order of the Gnostic Star, and you can find them here, here and here. Combining what I have written in this article with these other three articles should completely fill out how transformative initiations via degree-based ordeals are established in the Order. For now, I believe that I have exhausted all of arguments that I can make in regards to astral-only initiations and self-initiation. I am sure that you, my readers, get my point and know what I think of these matters.