Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Age of Authenticity - Magical and Mystical Orders

Lately there has been some controversial discussions (led by Peregrin Wildoak) about whether or not the Golden Dawn is dead. That it actually died out in the late 40's and that current variations of this tradition are mere pretenders to the traditional heritage, which was established by the adepts who started and built up the order in the late 19th century. As I examined these articles and the associated comments I realized that what was really being discussed was the issue of legitimacy vs. authenticity.

Clearly, if one takes the position of legitimacy in regards to the Golden Dawn, none of the current adepts can claim to have a living charter dispensed to them from any of the previous legitimate GD orders. Peregrin is correct and accurate in his discussion about the present state of the Golden Dawn. Unless, of course, one of the chiefs can claim to have re-established a connection with the source adepts who apparently started this lineage, and I do believe that one of them can. However, that is besides the point, since such proof can’t be delivered to the public at large without profoundly violating one’s initiatory oaths of secrecy. We can at least recognize that Peregrin is correct in his assumptions overall. That is, if legitimacy is the only measure of an organization’s true value.

If someone or some group were to acquire all of the accouterments and lore of a specific religious, mystical, masonic or magical organization and then proclaim themselves to be a legitimate representative of that organization, the greater community would rightfully judge and declare them to be fraudulent. Taking this perspective to the absolute degree of validating legitimacy, the current and modern Golden Dawn can’t be confused with the Golden Dawn of the previous age. In fact it could be argued that the modern Golden Dawn has no real legitimacy and is therefore completely spurious. While they might share some lore and even objectives, they are not the same organization. It’s really that simple. It’s very much black and white! Or is it?

In the late 19th century, and into the middle of the 20th century, issues of spiritual and magical legitimacy were quite important. If you made claims about your magical or spiritual pedigrees then you better have something to back it up. Deceptive advertising and lying about legitimacy was grounds for a huge scandal and probably the complete dissolution of the said spurious organization. However, something started happening in the 20th century and it became a powerful force in the 1960's that changed the whole equation of spiritual and magical organizations. We entered a new age where legitimacy was trumped by authenticity. People wanted authentic spiritual and magical experiences. They weren’t concerned with valid pedigrees or vaunted legitimacy, they just wanted to experience the “real thing.”

There were some organizations still around by that time, but as Peregrin reported, many had gone dormant or were soon to do so. This didn’t stop people from forming new groups and organizations based on older and dormant institutions or even from crafting something entirely new. Despite being completely illegitimate and unable to claim any kind of historically valid lineage, these groups and organizations were and are successfully producing authentic experiences. If Peregrin was so correct that knock-offs and spurious groups couldn’t produce anything of any worth because they were illegitimate then these new organizations shouldn’t be able to do produce anything of value, but in fact they do. There must be something wrong with Peregrin’s logic and indeed, there is something wrong with it. We don’t live in an age where legitimacy is important any more. We live in an age of authenticity, and the rule of thumb is that if a group functions as it should and manages to produce authentic experiences then it is valid regardless of whether or not it is legitimate. Most if not nearly all Wiccan lineages are not legitimate because the tradition only goes back to the founder, and all founders were inveterate self-made eclectic seekers. Even so, there are many fine and excellent witches and exponents of witchcraft within these organizations. In fact, some of the best witches I know don’t come from any initiatory lineage whatsoever - they are fully self-made.

Perhaps one of the biggest self-made magicians of the 20th century was William Grey who didn’t belong to any organization, but still founded his own tradition of magic and occult spirituality. No one can dispute his contribution to Western Occultism, but he doesn’t belong to any specific tradition. He was not an initiate in the classic definition of the term, but he was clearly an adept at the end of his journey. How can we reconcile such a discrepancy? William Grey was authentic - he worked steadily at his craft for most of his lifetime. The end result was actually quite predictable. If anything else, this example is a simple matter of demonstrating how important authenticity has become over the last 50 years. Legitimacy is quaint and nice if you have it, but it is also highly irrelevant and unneeded in the present age. What is needed is more authenticity. Do you talk about magick (or seek to eliminate it by erroneously calling it “mysticism”) or do you practice it? Is it part of your heritage or is it part of your life as a living tradition? These are the relevant questions that we should focus on.

In the end it doesn’t really matter which group in the Golden Dawn represents a legitimate unbroken lineage or not. What matters is whether the lore, practices and operations actually succeed in generating real and lasting transformations in the adherents and practitioners. What matters most is what produces results - everything else is just superficial gloss.         

If you want to look at my previous articles on this issue, you can find them here, and here. I announced a few years back that we live in the Age of Authenticity and I still stand by that proclamation.

Frater Barrabbas


  1. True! Authenticity is the virtue that we should "learn by doing" everyday!

    William G. Gray for solitary practitioners and experienced magician alike!

  2. I do not think that either Peri or I considered the modern Golden Dawn pretenders. I am saying that in many respects the modern Golden Dawn groups are much better than trying to recreate a historical re-enactment of a GD.

    Such a re-enactment is a bit like the Renaissance fair I saw in the US superficially looks right but lacks the grit and substance of the real thing when seen in this age.

    One thing I have noticed about the Dark Age re-enactors I was with is that they spend a long time quibbling over the details of the costumes, but create a battle which is about as realistic a narrative as Twilight.

    As you pointed out Bill Gray managed to become a significant magical teacher thanks to his contact. What I am saying is that the original GD material is out there but it does not have the original contact any longer (the one Mathers called Raphael). Because the original people died and the groups they set up became calcified.

    What happens now is people pick up the material and create their own system based on it. If they are lucky they become contacted and then their work will take off on a tangent which is interesting and appropriate for this century.

    We are like Pygmalion who having received a statue of Galatea from the 19th century must complete it in a form that we can fall in love with and that Venus can bring to life. If you are operating a fully contacted Golden Dawn group then arguing that you are connected to the orginal Golden Dawn, or do everything in the same way as they did is as silly as Pygmalion claiming he is working with marble from a particular mountain.

  3. Thanks Nick for your comments.

    I think that we are all in agreement that the current Golden Dawn organizations are indeed authentic. While one could argue that they are not actually legitimate (which is what I thought Peregrin was saying), they are authentic because they allow practitioners real transformative experiences.

    However, if one or more of the old adepts were alive today they would likely decry the illegitimate status of modern groups and would also deem them as false and therefore, mere pretenders to the Golden Dawn heritage.

    Back in the days legitimacy was very important because it was a measurement of authenticity, but that is no longer the case. This doesn't stop modern day folks from bickering about who is true to the original organization, though. But such arguments about pedigrees and verifiable lineages really miss the point altogether. We are what we are because of our work - everything else is just eye-candy.

    I have found that especially to be the case in regards to Alexandrian and Gardnerian witches. Back in the 1970's when I was initiated we didn't call ourselves Alexandrians. We called ourselves witches. I wish we could go back to that kind of perspective, and I am told that it is a bigger deal here in the US than in Europe.

    I also completely agree with you about attempting to reconstruct the old orders and groups exactly as they were, since the cultural context in which they resided no longer exists. We have to face the fact that we are modern practitioners living in a modern world, and I do believe that is good thing.

    Regards -


  4. It should be noted that whilst William G. Gray acquired his basic knowledge of Kabbalah from a Russian Jewess whom he met in Cairo, where he was stationed as a British soldier prior to the outbreak of the second World War, he was later initiated into Dion Fortune's Society of the Inner Light. He was indeed a solitary practitioner, and ran a small group in a private temple located in his residence in Bennington Street, Cheltenham. That being said, he eventually expanded his magical practices into working more broadly with groups after the founding of the Sangreal Sodality in 1980 in Johannesburg, South Africa. That being said, there is unfortunately a lot of misinformation regarding William Gray's "contact" with Dion Fortune, some claiming that he had a "psychic" link with her which resulted in works like "Ladder of Lights." In terms of his own admissions in his unpublished autobiography, of which we are holding a copy in the Johannesburg Temple of the Sangreal Sodality, these claims are erroneous and without foundation.

  5. I completely agree, too many groups claim a long lineage as if that makes it the cream of the crop. , In my opinion, it doesn’t! If your system dates back to 1735 and no changes have been made, it is a stagnant and dead system. As magicians, we must constantly reinvent ourselves and our magick! I often tweak and modify my magick as I learn new stuff. I am a trial and error guy, a solitary! I read and take what I need to create my own stuff. Having recently abandoned Hermeticism, I now practice Celtic Magick, using a lot of Corrigan (ADF) material, but I also read stuff from other systems (Greer, Knight,,Kondratiev etc…). I much prefer being a dabbling (searching my own path) magician, rather than a member of an ancient Order that leads me nowhere, but that’s just me!