Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Matter of Oath Breaking

Recently, Nick Ferrell wrote a blog article where he criticized the necessity for the oath of secrecy for Golden Dawn initiates. While I am not a Golden Dawn initiate, I do have some opinions about oaths of secrecy and confidentiality. I have also incorporated a kind of oath for members of my own order, but that oath is more engaged with confidentiality and ethics than actual secrecy. Still I can understand the need for such an oath as well as its limitations. You can find Nick’s article here.

The Golden Dawn has been rife over the last century or more with various kinds of individual oath breakers. Certainly, Crowley could be considered one of the first, who published the Golden Dawn lore in his periodical “Equinox.” Then we have Israel Regardie, Dion Fortune, and a host of others. I have to admit that if these individuals had not circumvented their oaths, none of their writings about the Golden Dawn would have been produced. We would have known next to nothing about this secret organization and its precious lore, and there would have been a dearth of popular occultism, paganism, wicca and magick today. Some might have been quite happy if the occult explosion of the last hundred years had not occurred, but I can tell you that I would have been quite unhappy. In fact, the thought of not being an occultist and having my mono-mania of magick to pursue is quite daunting indeed. (Ha! Maybe I need to get a life and stop being such an occult nerd.)

So I can’t either blame or condemn any of these occultists for breaking their solemn oath to the egregore of the Order of the Golden Dawn, because I and many others profited from it. However, I can look at what motivated each of these individuals and determine what the driving force was that caused them to take this step. For all of the occultists except Crowley, the reason was selfless. They were driven by the desire to enlighten and inform the public. It doesn’t matter too much that the material was given out of context, since it did indeed inform and enlighten many individuals. In fact, it is probably what saved the Order from complete extinction, so perhaps the egregore of the Order was behind these illicit transmissions.

Crowley’s reason for publishing the Golden Dawn material was undoubtedly for pure spite. He despised Mathers and the other members of the Order. He also sought to abrogate the lore for his own personal magickal order, and he published some of Mather’s manuscripts and passed them off for his own work. However, Crowley also produced his own stellar work and had many great contributions to the study and practice of magick. However, his intentions were not selfless or positive, even though the final outcome did end up being good. I suspect that Crowley got to taste the full bitterness of his betrayal of a powerful order and its egregore, if we attribute his final days to that consequence. We can also just as well believe that Crowley was just being himself to the very end, brilliant, pathological, addicted, profoundly creative, notorious and controversial.  Despite his final pitiful days, I think that Crowley would be pleased with the number of occultists today who read and study his works.

Other occultists have published Golden Dawn material - much of it has been in the public domain for quite some time, so I would assume that such material couldn’t be part of an oath of secrecy and confidentiality. So for this reason I couldn’t condemn someone like David Griffin for being an oath breaker. In fact, I am quite happy that many Golden Dawn initiates have written books for me to read and study. However, where I draw the line is the consideration of the author’s motive. Why are they writing about this material when it properly belongs to the Order of the Golden Dawn. Answering that question is very important, as I have already shown in the examples above. If the motive is a selfless desire to inform and enlighten the public, then it must be a positive development, perhaps one that the egregore has sanctioned itself in some manner. If not, then what is revealed is probably not only illicit but against the spirit of the organization.

Nick Ferrell has written a lengthy article that outlines what he thinks is invalid and wrong about the oath of secrecy in the Golden Dawn. There are things that he finds agreeable and things that he doesn’t agree with and feels should be changed. That is all well and good, and probably it would be better stated by someone who has never taken that oath than someone who has.

Say you take an oath. Later on you pick it apart to determine which sections are agreeable to you. Those you agree with, you follow, the rest you ignore. Does that make any sense at all? It seems kind of fast and loose to me. It’s almost like getting your driver’s license and then deciding which traffic laws are relevant and which ones can be broken. A lot of drivers get away with ignoring some traffic laws, like coming to complete stop at a stop sign, but sooner or later either a traffic cop or an accident will force them to change their mind.

I believe that if you make an oath, it doesn’t matter how ridiculous it is, or whether you can obey some parts of it and ignore others. If you don’t respect the oath as a whole, then picking it apart will only completely undo it. In other words, if you can’t respect any part of an oath, then you have no business taking it in the first place.

Confidentiality is, preeminently, the most important part of an oath. Yet confidentiality extends beyond just the names, addresses and personal characteristics of the members of the organization. It is also includes the daily business and personal interactions of the group, the magick they are jointly working, the rituals and lore that they use, group politics and interactions - all of this is strictly confidential. If materials are not already in the common domain, then they shouldn’t be published except without proper authorization from the organizational heads.

 I wouldn’t like it if some clown in my local magickal temple decided to publish the group’s rituals and activities without telling the whole group about it and getting our consent. Maybe someone might have good reasons to publish confidential or unpublished information, but if their reasons are good and if they took an oath to retain all such information as confidential, then they need to ask permission and get approval. In our order, such approval is strictly limited to the local temple, and then it is by full consensus. These are matters of ethics, and anyone who is in a formal group should take them quite seriously.

Here is an example of the oath of ethics taken by an initiate of the first degree (Neophyte) in the Order of the Gnostic Star. I can share this information with you because it has been available on the internet for the past several years.

“I ______________, in the presence of the Lords of the Universe, who work in silence and whom none but silence can express, in this temple of the most high and holy Graal (Isis-Sophia). By the order E. S. S. G. do of my own free will solemnly promise to keep secret this order, its members, its rituals and proceedings. To undertake a benevolent revelation with all the fratres and sorores of this Order. To reveal to no one except the initiates of this order the rituals, ceremonies and documents of this order. That I shall never debase my mystical knowledge in the labor and service of negative magick at anytime nor under any temptation. If I should break this sacred vow, my soul stands before those powers conjured in this sacred place to judge my actions.”

Does taking this oath mean that the rituals and documents of the Order must remain inviolable secrets?  No, actually, it doesn’t. It means that a member of a temple of the Order must keep in confidence all that occurs within it, to protect the members and the workings that they are undergoing. The rituals are not what is kept confidential - only the ritual lore of the temple. There is an important distinction here that should be understood. I usually make certain that prospective members understand the nuances of this oath, but often, I find such an explanation to be superfluous, since it’s so obvious what is being kept confidential.

Thus I would never take an oath that I didn’t wholly believe in and follow to the end, and I would obey an oath that I took to the fullest possible definition. This is what is expected of occultists, and there is an important reason for behaving in this manner. That reason is rather mysterious at first glance, but if you think about it, it becomes more evident. If you break your oath with a spiritual or magickal organization, then you set up a powerful wave of negativity, distrust and dissonance that has a subtle but powerful over-all impact. If it is egregious and based purely upon one’s own lust for power and self aggrandizement, then it will cause a permanent disconnect from the egregore of that organization.

Once such a breakage occurs, as a kind of willful sundering, then it becomes more difficult for any other doors or future possibilities to open for that person. If they have left a bad group, then there is no blame. If not, then they are culpable. If we consider that there are possible higher levels of spiritual and magickal development that are neither in print or held by any known organization, then its possible that such lore would be in the hands of individuals who have achieved the highest level of spiritual and magickal attainment in this world. These individuals would very likely judge an oath breaker as not trustworthy for the greater lore, thus he would be overlooked even if his achievements were monumental.

As far as the Golden Dawn is concerned, a branch or a temple may be bad or corrupt, however, the egregore is still a powerful and positive vehicle in the spiritual and magick world. An oath made in that temple is to the egregore, not to the temple hierarchy. Violations of that oath will be measured against the good and the harm that such an action has caused. The intent of the violation must also be weighed, and that should indicate whether someone meant to do it for the greater good, or did it for ego or spite.

Nick has bragged that when he published an ebook version of the Book of the Tombs, a document that hadn’t ever been published before, he managed to single handedly silence a dispute between two warring factions of the Order that were fighting over the disposition of the Vault of Adepti. The vault is a chamber device that is used in the inner order to conduct intensive forms of magick and initiation, which the document outlined in detail. Supposedly, the two groups then ceased their bickering when they managed to review the original dimensions and qualifications of the vault. Of course, that’s his opinion, we can just as easily assume that they were silenced by his audacity and outraged at his illicit actions.  

I believe the real issue is Nick's cavalier attitude to the very organization that taught him magick and revealed to him the inner mysteries. What is Nick’s intention but his own self aggrandizement, which is in a word, “ego.” Nick seeks to make himself a great man at the expense of the egregore of the Order that took him into its bosom. That makes him not only an oath breaker, but a real blackguard as well. Nick seems to be ruled by his piratical rapaciousness for secret occult lore, which he turns around and publishes, all for the greater glory of himself. He seeks not to inform the general public, but instead to promote himself as an authority and a master of secrets. In declaring himself to be an oath breaker, he has shown the world that he can't be trusted, and has unwittingly slammed the door on any future transmission of even greater occult lore. Potential higher adepts would never consider him as a colleague, and who in their right mind would want to have that option negated?

I don’t feel impressed by what Nick has done, instead I feel sorry for him. Who could ever trust this man with their lore or their mysteries? However you attempt to spin this dilemma, an oath breaker is just that, an oath breaker. It’s someone who betrayed the trust that other individuals placed in them, all for the greater glory of themselves.

Frater Barrabbas


  1. Care Frater Barrabbas,

    That was no sweet talk ;-)

    It's good to see a fresh and sober view upon these issues at last. No dobut you will be flamed because of it.

    You are correct that the dicussion or debate silenced regarding the correct construction of the Vault after Nick Farrell profaned 'The Book of the Tomb'. I was shocked! One of the true jewels of the Traditon was suddenly profaned. Scholarly discussion went out through the window. I felt sad....and very hurt by his actions. I also felt (and still feel) guilt. Nick of course knows all this and even trows a pinch of salt into my wound. Everyone may read at his blog now that the actual fault was all mine from the very beginning.

    The profanation aside, what also makes me irritated is that people has to attribute Nick when then distribute 'The Book of the Tomb' (as there are no other copies available beside some incomplete excerps in Regardie's 'The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic'). There's a number of people who could have done the same a long time ago, but haven't. Nick did, and I'm sure that you are correct in your assessment that he did it for his own self-aggrandisement. Personally I believe it is a self-embarrassment. Unforunately not only for him but for the entire Golden Dawn community. Little does Nick know that the Golden Dawn community is silently watched by the key holders to the highest alchemical mysteries. The solidity of the Golden Dawn Traditon is effectively compromised by his and other profaners actions. Like you say, how can the guardians of the true mysteries trust a Golden Dawn initiate now?

    I suppose you are aware that Nick Farrell plans to publish the entire corpus of the Rosicrucian Order of Alpha et Omega, including its initiation rituals? Then he will suddenly also have the copyright to that material, although there is a Order today who has performed it regularily for almost two decades now. How is that for a grand scheme? I call it a hijack of an entire egregore.

    Now Nick justifies that anyone can access that material (which he claims is from 1910) in a library. So what? How many individuals has actually seen these papers outside of the Order (or Adept) who wrote them? Nick is probably the first occultist who has. He calls this "public domain". Really? O.k. I call it "rationalization" (a Freudian concept btw Nick).

    Thank's again Fra. Barrabbas for your valuabe input.

    In Licht, Leben und Liebe

  2. "I suspect that Crowley got to taste the full bitterness of his betrayal of a powerful order and its egregore, if we attribute his final days to that consequence."

    Well, maybe... But it certainly came when Mathers took him to court. He was lucky the fully details of his bisexuality didn't get presented to the court, or he'd have been far, far worse off than Oscar Wilde.

  3. Care Fr,

    this is certainly an interesting take on the situation. In all my discussions on this issue with GH Frs SR and LES, I have never heard Nick's motives questioned in quite this way. I do not know Nick personally at all, but I have seen no evidence that he is trying to "promote himself as an authority and a master of secrets". And really how can someone be a “master of secrets” when they make the “secret” not secret and publish the unpublished? The only masters of secrets out there must be those folk sitting on ‘secret’ material for personal gain, not plonking it on the net for all to see.

    Nor am I sure he has broken any oath. If he found the material in a library, if it was never covered by his oaths ,then I do not think there is any oath breaking here. GH Frs LES and SR disagree with me on this, which is fine. In any case, the actual situation is known to Nick, between him and his initiators, the eregore(s) and the One, and really none of my concern.

    Like GH Fr SR, like Pat Zalewski and several others, Nick has always shown me in private emails and shown (to me) in his writing, a spirit of service and kindness. He, like other ‘public’ GD folk agrees with me and disagrees with me. Like (most of) them he is unfailingly kind and humble. I really think his motivations are as selfless as the rest of us benighted souls.

    Thanks :)

  4. Care Fra. Peregrin,

    There are many authors who attach "Secrets" and "Golden Dawn" to their books. It is a paradox. The temptation of the ego is two-fold in this. Firstly, in this you show that you have had access to documentation or knowledge with nobody else had prior to the publication, and secondly that you have been benevolent enough to share it with others. Then everyone will be so grateful to you for the rest of your life. And just to prove this for everyone you also copyright the material that others has written. And there is of course also a buck to earn to that you perhaps can make a living on your "hobby". People buy "Golden Dawn secrets"; it is a guareteed success. Please convince me that this isn't tempting for the ego at all.

    Regardie didn't write much of 'The Golden Dawn', still the Golden Dawn tradition is intimately attached to his name in the majority of readers. He became revered for it by countless occultists and hailed as one of the greatest Adepts of all time.

    BTW, people are not "sitting on secrets for their own personal gain". They don't profane the material because they believe in the sanctity of upholding their sacred oaths, both in the apparent sense of the words spoken and also through their deeper ramifications.

    In Licht, Leben und Liebe

  5. Thank you all for your comments -

    I will respond specifically to the comments posted by Peregrin.

    If someone publishes supposed secrets, it sets them up as an inside person who will have potentially more secrets to dispense or publish in the future. The purveyor of secrets then gets to burnish his credentials as "someone in the know," whom others wish to engage with so that they may gain from that connection.

    Such an act has repercussions, though, regardless of the intent. My judgment of Nick Ferrell is due to what I perceive is his cavalier attitude to the oath that he has taken. I don't exactly know what that oath was, and I don't personally know Nick Ferrell either. But I do believe that he knows very well what he is doing goes against the "spirit" of the oath that he took, perhaps not necessarily the essential text that he recited.

    The fact that he bragged about breaking up a conflict between GD factions doesn't support the argument that he is doing all of this in a selfless manner. I may be wrong, but I detected some arrogance and hubris in his own words.

    Also, context is so very important in the transmission of the mysteries. Publishing this material pulls it out of that context, so that outsiders will have to guess and experiment with it in order to figure it out. That experimentation may work successfully, then again, it may not. Unsuccessful experimentation with highly dense occult material could be quite hazardous or even dangerous.

    The fact that Nick was unwilling to explain the context of the Vault and its uses to an inquiring party shows that such material is indeed taken out of context and needs both a demonstration and oral explanation to make full use of it.

    If you are going to publish confidential material, then why not also explain it and thoroughly vet it with other interested parties. Not doing so could cause more harm than good. This is what I call a partial revealing, which of course, sets up the author as a purveyor of secrets - as I have said.

    As for others who are sitting on secrets for their own personal gain - I haven't seen that as a character trait of higher adepts. The motive for a higher adept is to carefully and selectively educate and initiate others - it is, in a word, true spiritual and magickal service. But such a service has a very powerful and even terrible responsibility to uphold. Having such dense and potent lore as would be associated with the Third Order would require a high adept dispensing such lore to be guarded, cautious, careful and deeply conscientious to those who are receiving it. Such responsibility has a tremendous and onerous weight to it - I don't envy those who have it. Failure at that level is catastrophic, but then I am just speculating here.

    Also, no matter how ridiculous the oath, an oath is still an oath, and must be kept. This is very much true amongst the witches initiated in the BTW groups. Oath breaking will get one ostracized from the community and shunned by its individual members. It's a pity that a similar discipline is not enforced in the GD community.

    The Book of Shadows, which represents part of the core of a witchcraft linage is a case in point, even though it is available on the internet in its many different forms. Members of a given line may not make that material available to outsiders, doing so is a clear case of oath breaking.

    These, of course, are my opinions - others may disagree. I am also not a member of the Golden Dawn, so I can only state my opinion based on what I know, which is the BTW.

    Respectfully - Fr. Barabbas

  6. I often have questioned this subject on oaths and one's motivations of breaking them or keeping them guarded. This has been very enlightening to read. Thank you all.

  7. The Book of Shadows, which represents part of the core of a witchcraft linage is a case in point, even though it is available on the internet in its many different forms.

    It's great to see this commented on, when David Griffin's own order maintains copies of two purported BoS's in their free online library.

  8. No sooner did I bring this to their attention, and they removed them.

    Kudos to them for prompt response.