Friday, July 30, 2010

Some Further Thoughts - Oaths, Secrecy & Secret Chiefs

Well, now, the discussion over Nick Farrell’s blog article about the Golden Dawn oath of secrecy has gotten some interesting traction as of late. As an outsider, it mostly doesn’t concern me, since I have not taken any of the Golden Dawn oaths. I am not a party to that discussion, just an outsider who is puzzling over it because it seems so simple to me.

I have already responded to this argument that pagans and witches take their oaths pretty seriously in a previous article, even if it is to protect confidences and materials (like the Book of Shadows) that everyone pretty much knows anyway.

Some like Fr. Peregrin have opined that secrecy and oaths are archaic and could even be considered idolatrous, since they mistake the symbols and tools for the real mysteries. You can find his blog here. I am sorry, but I find that argument kind of confusing and a bit off topic. The real issue here is whether or not oaths and secrecy have any relevance. Of course, I can talk about this from a theoretical perspective, but I can’t freely violate the oaths that I took when I was initiated as a witch - it just isn’t done. Why is that so? Well, for one thing it would undo my initiatory process, invalidating what I received and what I appear to continue to receive. Who wants to screw around with progress? Peregrin makes a really good point that the mysteries are inexplicable and can’t be written down or shared with others, and I wholly agree.

This is one of the reasons why witches and many pagan are not “people of the book.” We have no sacred scriptures because the mysteries themselves provide those experiential mysteries in great abundance. What is secret is what I do in my personal magick (at least the more subjective and personal stuff, in case I feel the need to share or teach others), the personal names of the various Gods and Goddesses that I have experienced or received, the ritual lore that I use, and most importantly, the name of my Holy Guardian Angel. Does this mean that I am some kind of idolater? Well no, it really doesn’t. I am an idolater because I’m a pagan and use statues of the gods in my magickal work, and I give them offerings and worship them, but that’s another issue altogether.

Then there is the sticky issue of the secret chiefs, also known as those “remarkable men and women” who have achieved the highest level of being possible for a human. Do I believe that they are mythic and they don’t really exist? Of course not. I don’t believe in omniscient and immortal humans who live for centuries without aging and who have superhuman powers, but I do believe that a single human being can achieve complete and total enlightenment in a single life time. That’s different than believing in “ascended masters,” but I won’t argue or try to prove that such individuals don’t exist to those who believe in them. I just don’t share their beliefs, that’s all.

Could it be possible that there is a Third Order of higher adepts in the Western Mystery tradition who reside in some location of the world, most likely Europe? Why not? Some have said that there couldn’t possibly be such a group or even individuals. They even say that those who claim to have made contact with such a group and have materials for the Third Order are lying and being totally deceitful. How could that be? If someone claims that no such group or organization exists, then they should be required to prove that statement, just as those who claim that it is true.

However, due to oaths of secrecy and confidentially, providing proof that such a group exists might actually be impossible, if one actually obeys those oaths. This is definitely a Catch-22 situation. It’s like the argument about the existence of God - some will propose proof that God exists, but that proof can be just as easily turned around and shown to be negative. In the end, the only proof is a person’s good works and faith in God. The existence of God is determined by the fact that many believe in God, and they are powerfully and positively transformed by it. It can’t be proven, but then again, it can’t be disproved, either. The same paradox exists for the secret chiefs. If you have met them and know they exist, then you have been made to take oaths not to reveal their identities, which is part of the issue of keeping confidences (and a real conundrum).

What this means is that if one faction of the GD claims to have contact with the secret chiefs and has constituted the Third Order, then the only way to prove that claim one way or the other must require a person to undergo those initiations and teachings and find out for themselves. Otherwise, the arguments are all pointless. The proof of the pudding is in the eating - if you don’t eat the pudding, then you can’t know. It’s very simple logic, even for an outsider.

Finally, to claim that there are no secret chiefs or any kind of advanced adepts in the world, or at least in the Western Mystery tradition, is to say that the only valid knowledge in the world is what is in books in a library or available on the internet. If it isn’t in those various sources, then it doesn’t exist.

Think about that for a moment. It sets up a terrible boundary or limitation on spiritual, magickal and esoteric knowledge. It says, in effect, that there is nothing greater out there than what we have already achieved. Everyone, no matter their personal gifts and abilities or how long they have studied, not to mention the breakthroughs that they might have made, are at the same level. Initiations, transformations, secret oaths - it’s all just window dressing! Well, I for one would find that quite discouraging. It means that we are totally alone and there are no brothers or sisters out there who know more than we do, at least in any significant way.

Gee, if I were to believe that, then I may as well quit all of this mumble jumble occultism now while I am ahead and do something really constructive with my life, like making lots of money or discovering my happiness in the sandy beaches of Tahiti. Good thing for me that I still have hope that I will someday meet some remarkable men and women who might teach me something that I don’t already know. I eagerly look forward to that day.

If someone claims to have contacts with the secret chiefs or remarkable men and women and that they have established a Third Order of higher adepts, who am I to deny them? If I want to prove them wrong, then I would need to be initiated into that organization. Otherwise, I can just nod my head and give them the benefit of the doubt, because who knows, what if that claim is legitimate? Who wants to spoil any future opportunities to achieve total enlightenment? I, for one, don’t, so I will play by the rules and see what happens. That’s the most that any of us can really do. To do otherwise is to spoil the game for ourselves and for others as well.

Frater Barrabbas


  1. Care Fr Barrabbas,

    thank you for linking to MOTO. I think there is a little misunderstanding which I would like to clear up. I never said "secrecy and oaths are archaic". And I never said there are to be considered idolatrous in and by themselves. To quote from the post:

    "Secrecy in magic is a tool for spiritual unfoldment, nothing more and nothing less (John Michael Greer explores this well). Without tools we cannot approach the mysteries, but as soon as we valorize any tool for its own sake we enter idolatry and we can kiss goodbye to deeper spiritual unfoldment since we have created a barrier in our own minds."

    Secrecy serves valid magical and spiritual functions such as the examples you give. When it becomes valued for itself, not its function, our focus then becomes idolatry. Just as when we value a ritual for its own sake not what spiritual/magical gifts it brings.

    Like you, I think once an oath is taken it has to be kept, even if it was silly. I do however maintain the right to know what oaths I have taken, what they pertain to and do not accept third party interpretations of my obligations towards material never covered by my oaths.

    As for any possible third order, again I agree with you. Since it is unprovable it serves no function other than myth. We then have to ask is it a healthy myth? You describe the healthy, inspirational side of the myth. In MOTO I point out some negative aspects of the myth.

    Thanks :)

  2. Care Fr. Peregrin -

    Thanks for your post. Having had some email exchanges and discussions with one of the senior members of the HOGD group, I have come to the conclusion that it's very likely that the Third Order and the secret chiefs do indeed exist. However, being a lowly witch, I would be unable to request admission to such a lofty organization at this time.

    However, I would assume that you are of sufficient wisdom and rank within the GD, so perhaps you might judge them by requesting admission to the Third Order and see what happens. The only way to prove that someone who is oath bound is telling the truth is to seek initiation within that sublime group that they are claiming to have a connection. The dialogue between you and them would then at least prove to you perhaps once and for all whether that claim was valid or not.

    Let me know what happens if you decide to take such undertaking, or at least as much as you can tell me while being under oath. ;-)

    Regards -

    Fr. Barrabbas

  3. :) ah, thanks for the amusement Frater; but of course even if the protocol was to ask for admission to any said third Order, rather than wait for an invite which is the case, I doubt if THIS particular third Order would have me. Still it is an amusing thought, almost enough to make me pen the request. Ta :)