by Frater ISPE
The Odyssey famously described the deciphering of dreams, and of two gates through which dreams passed through: gates of horn and gates of ivory, or those of truth and of deception. Dreams that passed through the gates of horn were dreams of fulfillment, and were true in that sense, whereas dreams that passed through the gates of ivory were those of deception. When something unknown to us presents itself, how can we be certain of its verity?
What methods would we use to discover the unknown? Imagine you find yourself as a judge presiding over a case in a courtroom, and you require an expert to comment on the case. The entire case may hinge on the expert’s testimony, but what if both the prosecution and the defense hired an expert to testify, with one being paid to lie and the other telling the truth for its own sake. If you weren’t an expert in the same field, how would you be able to know which one is telling the truth and which one isn’t? Sometimes we have the benefit of peer-reviewed science, and other times we may find ourselves at the edge of human knowledge with only speculation, opinion and conviction.
For a seeker on the outside looking in on a debate between esoteric Orders who function primarily on secrecy, this may be even more bewildering because there isn’t a lot to stand on unless you’re already an experienced initiate. This is where many seekers find themselves: between the proverbial Gates of Horn and Ivory. What is true? What is false? Which Order is trustworthy, and which one is not? It gets a lot more complicated when entirely different philosophies – each with their own different standards of assessing truth – happen to inform the positions of the Orders in question. It is against this aporia that the many heated debates and controversies surrounding the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn have flared.
Controversies, Past and Present
The Golden Thread of esoteric knowledge – transmitted from days long forgotten through history and into to the present day – has always been deeply controversial. A fundamental claim of esoteric knowledge is its disposition to being only understood by the very few, and many actions have had to be undertaken to ensure such knowledge can be preserved through both placid times and times of strife. What is certainly no secret about esoteric orders is that they often operate as secret societies, whether in obscurity or out in the open as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn had chosen.
It's quite easy to see how secrecy and claims to special knowledge may be seen in a negative light, but there are also beneficial reasons for this, as well as oft-overlooked insights regarding the transmission of initiatory knowledge. A secret society committed to the preservation and development of initiatory knowledge has to take into account the aspirant's readiness, and carefully guide them through the Minotaur's Labyrinth of initiation. There are many pitfalls, and only the best initiates make it to adepthood and mastery of the mysteries. In addition to readiness, there exists a vast oral tradition that accompanies the written knowledge – the oral tradition exists precisely because there are many places where words fall short, and it takes not only guidance but great effort on the part of the initiate to bridge these gaps. However, this emphasis on secrecy means that anybody with an axe to grind can say anything about us, and there isn't much we can do to counteract such claims, except to outline our position and motivations. This is one reason why we emphasize philosophy: to encourage people to think carefully and think critically.
The Order of the Alpha Omega has had to deal with additional controversies on the part of other orders belonging to the greater Golden Dawn tradition. The AO has pioneered a transformation of the old Golden Dawn curriculum, and updated it for the twenty first century. We've made bold knowledge claims that have been backed up by our reformed curriculum, and have openly challenged dogmatism and superstition in the esoteric community. Our stance, then, doesn't do well to engender allies, but rather has had quite the incendiary effect. A visionary must always push forward, regardless of what others say. Time and again the great geniuses of our past have commented on how change is a painful and difficult process for everybody involved, whether it was David Hume's remarking about his works "falling stillborn from the press," or Schopenhauer's commentary on truths first being ridiculed, then being violently opposed and finally accepted as self-evident.
We believe it's our duty – to every seeker and initiate – to dispel this controversy, and help people learn critical thinking in order to find their way out of this aporia. Nothing could be worse for someone who might benefit from initiation if they turn away from a precious opportunity simply because of heated verbal exchanges between different esoteric Orders.
The Flame Wars
Ask anybody versed in the esoteric today about the Golden Dawn, and they'll likely mention the flame wars in some context or another. The flame wars are a series of controversies between differing views on the nature of the Golden Dawn tradition; on the validity of initiatory lineages; and on the nature and purpose of the Golden Dawn system. Thrown into this incendiary mix are the additional issues surrounding the esoteric tradition, such as secrecy, initiation and trust. In this light, the flame wars have been a long verbal battle between factions of the Golden Dawn, and they center on core ideological differences that haven't been settled for the better part of twenty years.
For the Order of Alpha Omega, these issues have been pivotal because for us they have to do with responding to conservatism, dogmatism, numerous philosophical misunderstandings and the issue of protecting the work of our initiates from illicit publication. As a secret society that operates in the open, and regularly engages with the public, we are also open to accusations questioning our lineage; and to accusations about our motivations. Unfortunately, we aren't able to always respond as effectively as we'd like to, given that questions on lineage and the like all have to do with the transmissions we've been entrusted to keep secret. In order to engage with the public, this was a sacrifice we had to make, and living with these controversies makes it just another fact of life for initiates of the Order of Alpha Omega. There's simply no way for an esoteric order that operates and depends upon secrecy to operate in the open without having to be the center of wild and speculative accusations.
In addition to this, we've made our own mistakes and have no fear of admitting them. For everybody involved, the advent of the internet has been a learning process, and for others it's been twenty years of alienation and verbal abuse. It's a well known fact that the best method of interrogating prisoners has always been to wash over them with relentless accusations and abuse in order to make them crack. A forced confession – even when one really is innocent – is the entire point of such exercises. Now, even though participants of the flame wars aren't prisoners and don't really have anything to confess, they are indeed subject to those same dynamics. Imagine yourself, the reader, undergoing twenty long years of verbal abuse and threats because of your position as a leader of an already long-controversial tradition – this has been the daily reality of the AO. No matter how thick of a skin you may have, or how tall your walls may be, you would still feel the need to react and lash back against this type of abuse. As participants in the flame war, nobody is innocent or free of fault, and that includes us. We accept our responsibility for our part in the matter, and we're quite ready to move on, should our agitators accept this as well.
The esoteric world attracts a very eclectic – and often eccentric – mix of people, from the community leaders to everyday readers and initiates. Heterodoxy and diversity are a natural feature of our community, and it's these very features that have contributed to the historical persecution of esotericists as well as also having ensured their success. In the midst of this diversity, small groups of people have made sure that threads of knowledge endure via initiation, and so the paradox of orthodoxy meets head-on with the heterodoxy of the community. It's something that we've all learned to live with, and often embraced with open arms. Wherever we disagree, we don't stop short of agreeing to disagree, but rather we've recognized our differences and learned to integrate them. In no way has the Order of the Alpha Omega set the flame war into motion except, of course, by improving the system and emphasizing our role in the initiatic tradition. It could very well have been a peaceful and easy transition were it not for instigators who wanted a conflict, and who continued to pursue a conflict time and time again.
Additionally, a frequent pattern observed in the belligerence and in the slander thrown at the Alpha Omega has to do with our an aversion to engaging our arguments directly on the part of these instigators, and in resorting to simple ad hominems or remarks about the way we choose to present ourselves. As an Order firmly rooted in philosophy and intellectual engagement, we obviously can't take such arguments seriously, but to people who haven't had the experience that we've had in this, it may not always be easy to tell the difference between a serious engagement with the premises presented, and a deliberate change of topic or a series of ad hominems. We've observed, over the years, that rather than make any engagement with our premises many of these flame war instigators have preferred to ignore any of the issues we've raised and they have consistently engaged in slander instead. If people do critique us, then we'll definitely take into consideration something that respects the rules of discourse and makes honest headway in an intellectual discourse.
These instigators depend on certain social dynamics for both their livelihood and for their popularity, and for good or for ill the Order of the Alpha Omega has indirectly helped to propel these social dynamics. We've become a lightning rod for speculation and for people to project their mental contents upon, and, indeed this has proven to be a business opportunity for some. The advent of the internet has heralded an era of populism, and of supposed convenience. Where people once worked hard for esoteric knowledge, many contemporary seekers think it's as easy as a Google search, and there will always be salesmen and demagogues who offer to fulfil this expectation, so long as it makes a profit.
David Riesman, one of the early pioneers of sociology, typologized a demographic of people as "inside dopesters," or people who make claims to having inside knowledge. Inside dopesters are obsessed with being "in the know" but without working for their knowledge – they're merchants in rumours attempting to compensate for some psychological deficiency. In esoteric matters, this means that anybody can claim to have inside knowledge without ever being initiated, and these very same people can them set themselves up as experts on the very people they know least about. This dynamic is seen in politics, in conspiracy theories and in any place where there exists obscurity and the possibility of having some competitive "edge" over others via special knowledge. Although secrecy and initiation don't sell books on their own, they certainly pique the interest of a readership. Some opportunists have set themselves up as authors claiming to be "in the know" just so that they can make a living. Many instigators of the flame war have been of this type, and have aggressively defended their claims to authenticity so that they can continue to make a living off of their claims.
This can also be looked at in terms of expert culture and pop culture: an expert culture is one centred around expertise and limited access to knowledge, whereas a pop culture is centred around what's popular and what's appealing. The expert culture – in the case of esotericism, it's being based on initiatic traditions – has access to the heart of the matter, and makes truth claims based upon the expert culture. The pop culture often doesn't have such access, but opportunistic inside dopesters will strategically place themselves between the expert culture and pop culture, and then dictate to the pop culture in order to make a living. Our instigators and aggressors will attack the truth claims of the expert culture, and attempt to sow mistrust of the expert culture so that the pop culture won't listen to the experts anymore. Such people have put forward claims that appeal to populist rhetoric, but they never quite deliver. How do you know you're getting the right product? They'll shy away from a criterion for truth, and they'll relentlessly attack anybody making truth claims, and for no better reason than keeping their own turf protected and making sure the profits keep rolling in. They'll even say that it's for the best, and they'll say they're ensuring the expert culture toes a line that the inside dopesters themselves conveniently defined. Once again the pop culture and the seekers find themselves at the Gates of Horn and Ivory, unable to tell the difference between the real thing and the illusion.
We've decided to address the issues of contention underlying the flame wars, ultimately for the benefit of the seekers, and in order to help alleviate the confusion that has arisen in the midst of controversy. It's realistic to assume that perhaps such an ideal is naïve, and that more confusion might result, but we will have done our part if we can help people make a more informed decision about the future of their spiritual aspirations. The controversies are contentions centred on questions about initiatic lineage, secrecy, worldview pluralism and ethics. Ultimately, it's not an issue of whether or not you agree or disagree with us, or whether or not you take our claims seriously, but about how you approach the unknown and how you think about a problem. Odysseus was famous for using his mind, and was praised for it by Athena because it was what set him apart from everyone else.
In the not-too-distant past, joining any esoteric organization was an incredibly political act – in fact, it was nothing short of incendiary. It implicitly meant that you found the prevailing paradigm to be inadequate, and such a statement could have tremendous ramifications for the worldly powers of the time. The Catholic Church and the Inquisition were hell-bent on stamping out heresy because it was a threat to their power, and the monarchies of the time were complicit in cooperating as long as there were kickbacks. Countless people were burned at the stake or tortured simply on the suspicion of being a heretic, let alone being caught red-handed with outlawed documents or with alchemical tools. In the case of Giordano Bruno, he brought upon him the heavy hand of the inquisition just by publishing his opinions. Against this backdrop, secrecy was essential to the continuity of the tradition, and to keeping people safe. It's a mark of progress that we don't have to endure such an oppressive climate anymore, but there's still a lot of progress that needs to be made.
Secrecy is also a tool used not only in protecting an Order from harm, but it's also useful in protecting the aspirant from self-harm. The Hermetic curriculum contains numerous methods, that if administered incorrectly or maliciously, are capable of inducing insanity or mental breakdown in a person, and could lead to life-threatening harm. This is a fact that is often downplayed by leaders as well, so as not to induce panic in people or inspire the all-too-human tendency to hyperbolize. These are real dangers, but they're also something that should be approached calmly and rationally, and not with scare-tactics. With the right methodology, any experiences that would threaten a person's mental stability could be averted. This is why any functional Order provides an initiate with the close guidance of a mentor, allowing for preparation – both intellectual and psychological – on the part of the seeker. Remember that many Orders are a part of a continuing tradition that has endured long enough for people to know what to expect, as well as knowing how to structure the curriculum around the initiate so that it helps them to learn and that it doesn't overwhelm them. Secrecy, in this light, is a means of making sure that the initiate doesn't do damage to themselves by going into depths far out of their league.
Many organizations have decided to keep their secret society structure for one reason or another, and we've been accused of obscurantism or swindling as a result of this. Below, we outline some of our positions on the issue of secrecy:
- When you join an organization where you will develop your own work and views, you probably want to make sure that you get credit for them. In every Order, big or small, views are shared freely but it is implicitly understood that the contribution had to have come from somewhere and someone has to get credit for it. It's not about a free-for-all of stealing ideas, but of recognizing merit where it's due.
- In such a structure, a contributor has say in how their ideas or contributions will be shared in the broader organization, and we are obliged to respect that. Our structure makes sure that you get that kind of protection. You can say that we're hobbyists with mutual interests, and we respect and understand each other’s wants and needs.
- If somebody decides to pass on to an Order their life's work and insights into attaining the philosopher's stone, and they explicitly outlined that such insights only be shared with people who have met that person's criteria or standards, then we will respect their will.
- • A member might also want to protect their identity for some reason or another, and we respect their wishes.
- • In this structure, we also offer the opportunity for people to discuss and share ideas in a comfortable and safe environment.
- There was a time when people were burned at the stake for what they said or did, and today there is no shortage of witch-hunts against esotericists thanks to the ridiculous conspiracy theories out there.
- Finally, we have our own traditions and methods of attaining the philosopher's stone – traditions that are unique to our Order. We have a very rich oral tradition that fills in the gaps to the steps that no words on paper could ever do justice to. As a result, we have to offer people a safe and private means of progression through those steps, along with offering them the guidance in doing so. As stated above, this is done for reasons of safety that are above just protecting our own Order from harm – want to make sure that people make it through safely.
- • Just like any company or nation-state, an Order also has operational secrets – these operational secrets are closely related to the methodologies used for attaining the philosopher's stone. We also keep a meritocratic hierarchy when it comes to any changes in our Order. The people who maintain the entirety of the tradition – who have progressed through all the mysteries – are those who have ultimate say in the matter because they're the ones who know it better than anybody else, and it's their choice to keep specific methods private while offering people the opportunity to put in the work and to progress.
Some critics have zeroed in on this issue and focused solely on how secrecy opens up an avenue for the abuse of power, but they have never addressed the fact that any good, functioning Order operates by a meritocracy and on principles. It's absurd to accuse your opponents of something they haven't done simply because the potential exists for it, all the while glossing over any of the benefits of secrecy – just because someone is secret, doesn't make them bad by default, but it certainly makes them really easy targets for just about any accusation. The inquisition operated the premises of guilty until proven innocent, and it's mind boggling how people of an oft-persecuted tradition would adopt their former torturers' methods.
We do offer a word of caution regarding secrecy and the abuse of power, however. It's been a common tactic used by shady people or groups – sometimes in high places like priests, and others such as the marketplace scammer – to try to abuse trust through appeals to authority. If you do find yourself forced to do something explicitly illegal or against your will, then you aren't obliged to trust or to obey the person telling you to do it! Any matters of abuse should be reported to the authorities as soon as they happen, and any oaths can be considered void so that you can not only ensure your own safety, but also the safety of others. Don't just trust people because they are secret or make claims to authority! Know yourself and know your leaders. When searching for an initiatory organization, seek out merit and justice. In the AO, nobody's asking you to do anything you don't want to. Nobody is forced to progress through the degrees – it's entirely up to you. Beyond that, you're not required to do anything outside the purview of your initiatory progress unless you want to, and indeed there are many people who like to volunteer extra time for the AO to help run a temple, or to tutor others, or to write. For us, it's a matter of trust and enthusiasm, not of force or coercion.
Other instigators merely spout off by saying that no leader should be trusted if they are secret, but that just isn't the case as we've shown above – to make such statements is something more of the likes of paranoid gun nuts – there are plenty of times when secrecy fits the bill and can be entirely constructive. These types of people are also the same ones who will knock expert culture because it challenges them on their knowledge. Take for example a subject like quantum mechanics: it's a very obscure subject and one that requires both a mathematical understanding and a fluency in philosophy in order to know what's really going on. It doesn't do the subject justice to simply listen to what others say on it – it's quite common for people to be fleeced by quantum woo. Magic is the same in that it requires a broad understanding of many subjects, and that it requires you to master some of them in order to know what really goes on.
A journey of initiation is by and large a journey of knowledge. Orders are meritocratic and offer more knowledge – along with the experience of previous generations, and in order to develop the person it's not just all given away at once. Imagine an Order as a type of college or university of magic, and you need to go through the years to actually get your doctorate in it. You can't just skip the line, and very few people are intelligent and intuitive enough to make it on their own. Many of the best have needed guides because there will always be something that you miss or overlook, no matter how clever you may be. Some of our critics want to say that they HAVE skipped the line, that Orders are entirely useless and that you can understand all of this without being an expert. Unfortunately for them, it doesn't apply for physics, psychology or for technology, and it certainly doesn't apply to magic, either. This type of "cutting the line" thinking is an example of a pop culture trying to think it can overcome the expert culture just because there happen to be a few books on the market.
There are people who have demanded evidence of the existence of our Secret Chiefs, or of evidence that we are 'doing the right thing.' Sorry, but that's simply not how a secret society functions. It's no different than asking a hospital or university for access to confidential information just because you haven't figured out how it rationally works out for your benefit in the long run. Our Secret Chiefs are adepts who have a deep knowledge of magic, and their secrecy is maintained for personal and operational reasons. If you're meritorious, responsible and enthusiastic enough, then you may also find yourself in their shoes one day. Many people who reach high levels of adepthood often turn down the job, and others take it out of necessity. Demanding evidence in the absence of proven guilt is merely a trick: it's making a pre-emptive judgment of the entire Order's functions solely on the basis of secrecy, without actually seeing whether or not an Order functions for the initiate's benefit for every pragmatic and prudential reason that a thinking person could muster.
Other critics of our Order have wanted to publish our private methods and rituals because they have Promethean delusions that their acts would better the discourse of a community. If we preside over certain materials, then it's up to us as to whether or not we want to share them. Stealing such materials and publishing them just because you want them in the open is tantamount to saying that you don't respect somebody else's privacy or traditions. What about all of the private works that people have devoted to their Orders, and given over with the intention of keeping it within those ranks? Are the thieves saying the wishes of such people are irrelevant and that all of it should be published "just because?" We are open with many things, even with our teachings and in acknowledging what's in the open – indeed, we have to be realists. But we're also committed to respecting the privacy of our members and the private community that they implicitly trust and confide in.
Music is rich with genres, and diverse in interpretations and in the way people choose to approach it. Magical orders are a lot like musical genres, and musical diversity is just a fact of life for every musician, just as it should be for magicians. Magic is – just like many musicians and genres – a very controversial field. Magic is highly unorthodox, and it's been like this for a very long time. We're not interested in homogeneity and keeping a single-minded interpretation of the entire field – we're interested in communicating its symbolism and methods. Even in the Order of the Alpha Omega, we don't interpret things in a fundamentalist manner, but enjoy many varieties and idiosyncrasies, and embrace eclectic ideas.
In the same vein, there is no "one true Golden Dawn" – we are a diverse community of temples and Orders, and each with its own unique character, mission and curriculum. The mission of the Alpha Omega is to make magicians, and it's the only Golden Dawn Order that will teach any substantial magick in its outer order. Other Orders – especially ones who have been quick to attack our stance – largely avoid giving the public any information about what makes them unique, which renders making any sort of informed decision quite difficult. Once again, we're at the Gates of Horn and Ivory, but only this time we have one side that is presenting their position and views, and another that isn't.
In addition to this, these very same Orders want to gain a monopoly over the Golden Dawn tradition and assert a far stricter Christian interpretation over the rites and symbols. This is the equivalent of somebody saying that one musical genre is better than another purely on the matter of preference, and demanding that we all toe the lines of their preferences. To be blunt: that's just not how it works, and we're not going to let people corner one of the pillars of the esoteric tradition just because they're hell-bent on one interpretation. Some of these groups have even tried to sanitize the subject of the occult because they find some parts of it controversial. Well, this is an unorthodox subject by its very nature – it's about personal transformation made through exploring the unknowns and taking many paths – we're not here to sanitize it. What seekers don’t always consider is that there’s always the possibility of a group interpreting the Golden Dawn system from their own schema, and attempting to make that system fit their schema instead of finding out if that’s really the case. When you’ve already established a set of preconceptions about the Golden Dawn, then you can’t help but make sure the world fits those preconceptions. The Alpha Omega has openly presented itself as an ecumenical organization, and is open to people from every corner of society. We're here to teach ceremonial magic, and we believe that it's also our duty to stand up to intolerance and persecution in our community.
Unlike Orders that want to gain a monopoly over the Golden Dawn tradition and assert a strict Christian interpretation over its rites and symbols, the Order of the Alpha Omega takes an ecumenical and non-sectarian stance. The Alpha Omega holds that the Golden Dawn is not a religion, nor is it limited to one interpretation of its rites and symbols. Golden Dawn Magick is a spiritual technology, a system of spiritual development that can be practiced universally, regardless of one’s religious beliefs.
In the Alpha Omega, we have people of various religions ranging from Catholic and Mormon, to Muslim, Pagan and Jewish. An open approach to ritualistic magic allows each of them to reconcile ritual magic with their own religious views in the same way as they do with ethical philosophy (as discussed). The beauty is sticking to pure ritualistic magick based on critical thinking means nothing is imposed. If someone believes in Allah, Buddha, Jesus, Adonai, Shiva, Isis, or even no sentient higher power, magic still works and they can resolve it in their own way.
If and when you publish books aimed at some community, you become seen as an authority figure by some people, and it happens whether you like it or not. Even if you may be totally wrong, it's important to note that people listen to you. They'll invest their hard-earned money into buying books and when they give a nod in the public sphere towards some of their readers, those readers then take it as a strong acknowledgement of their own self-esteem. In the field of interpersonal psychology, this dynamic is a self-evident fact, regardless of any external value judgments on the matter. Now, imagine yourself as a reader of books published by authors in the Golden Dawn community, and then imagine that author insulting you or your beliefs over the public sphere for no other reason than personal quibbles or moral disagreements. It hurts, doesn't it? Well, this is exactly what has happened during the flame wars. Rather than acknowledging themselves as leaders with responsibilities, these bullies have instead decided to rub salt into their victims' wounds by demanding they have more fortitude if they really believed in their own position. That's exactly the kind of thing a bully would say, and we just don't think that's acceptable in our community.
It's an embarrassment to the entire esoteric community that this has happened, because so many people expect better. In that same vein, an overlooked fact is that a number of our own responses have been to push back against the bullies and to stand up for the people they're pushing around. Why? Because we are in a position where we can make a difference, and we believe it's just not right to stand by and watch these things happen. Ultimately, there's nothing wrong with retaliating against bullies. There's no rational reason to let them walk all over you, and it would be folly to try to appease your abusers, because that's exactly what they want of their victims. We've witnessed the teasing of people over a public channel, and the levelling of accusations of black magic in lieu of a religious moral crusade – the latter of which is about as medieval as it gets. Rather than hunting down "black magicians," we'd rather save that for the history books and the antiquarian collectibles – our priorities are to ensure a safe community that's free of bullies and partisan verbal abuse. Now, that doesn't mean we're against strong language, free speech, or anything of the sort – there's nothing wrong with that on its own, but it should just be directed for more constructive purposes rather than being unleashed on a community solely for petty personal reasons.
Whose Standards Are They Anyway?
It's important to raise the fact that there are interpersonal guidelines that are implicitly understood in a social group, and they serve a fundamentally ethical purpose for a community. Keeping conflict to a minimum and not making unprovoked attacks are some of these implicit guidelines. We can compare these implicit guidelines to matters of preferences for subgroups in a community, and these matters of preference can include differing philosophies and methodologies, as is the case in the broader esoteric community.
In response to our stated goal of wanting to become more than human, some instigators seem to want to hold us to ridiculous and superhuman standards that they believe are the image of perfection. You should ask yourself if those standards are even the ones that reflect our philosophy in the first place, because they aren't what our philosophy is about. To us, becoming more than human involves embracing your humanity – mistakes and all – and learning from them. We're not about worshipping some superhuman standard without anything to bridge the abyss between what's real and what's ideal. We simply don't subscribe to the same views as our critics and belligerents, and so there's not much left to say except that they have to compare our position to theirs in a sober manner, rather than engaging in partisan discourses, as has been the case. In philosophy, an effective criticism is internal, and not external, and in order to make such a criticism you first have to understand the position and its nuances before making claims. Rejecting a position and attacking it just because you disagree with it and that you find it contradicts your position just isn't a solid enough criticism. Doing so is trying to force matters of preference into matters of fact, which has often been done in a highly inflammatory and belligerent manner on the part of our instigators.
In order to better understand where we're coming from, it's important to know our philosophy and our approach towards magic. Many of the most heated disagreements within the Golden Dawn community, at the bottom of things have to do with a conflict of philosophies, and we thought it would be important to outline some of the issues, in order to dispel confusion.
Although there are a broad variety of philosophical positions within the Order of the Alpha Omega – be it rationalism, empiricism, materialism and idealism – we still hold a broad approach that prizes reason, logic and critical thinking. We're not interested in dogmatism except where we can deconstruct it in a way that yields new and interesting insights. We're open to a variety of views and personal preferences within our greater approach.
Accusations of Black Magic
It's been observed that some people have accused the Order of the Alpha Omega of allowing "black magicians" to roam free in the community, but no one has actually provided an effective explanation as to what so-called "black magic" is or how it's different from "white magic." Group think and dogmatism aren't enough to justify any such claims. Accusing somebody of "black magic" is a very easy accusation to make, but is impossibly hard to prove or justify! This is why such accusations were so effective in the middle ages. People should know better than pulling lines out of the Malleus Maleficarum just to suit their own ends. It's incredible that individuals who belong to a community once persecuted by the Inquisition have adopted the very same methods and modes of accusation as their former tormentors.
Some will cite the use of the Goetia as evidence of black magic, or the use of Enochian, or so-called "demonic" evocation. It's a known fact that many medieval and renaissance esotericists chose to hide some of their doctrines by giving them frightening or mysterious names, or writing in code to avoid persecution. In addition to this, if people knew their history and their Magick, they would know that many so-called "demons" share the same names as old Pagan deities. It's a common tactic for victors to rewrite history and to demonize their opponents, and that's exactly what happened when the Roman Empire officially converted to Christianity under Constantine.
In order to know what good and evil are, they must first be defined accurately. Renaissance esotericists were once leaders of the humanist movements of their time, and they were exemplary free thinkers. Resorting simply to religious books for definitions of good and evil, and not questioning them any further is absolutely inadequate. It's also an insult to our forebears who died trying to free us from the influence of dogmatists.
Yet in today’s esoteric community, we see some people adopting the tactics and views of their former tormentors- And for what? What constructive purpose does it serve to enforce dogmatism in this community? What we need in the occult is a clearing up of superstition, not more of the same stifling atmosphere that has fogged up clear thinking on this difficult subject already for centuries.
Nietzsche, in his Genealogy of Morals, argued that morality isn't static, but evolves with the times. His main claim was that there really isn't some absolute standard of good and evil, but rather there are some things that are good and bad for us depending on the circumstances we find ourselves in. By demonstrating that morality has the capacity to evolve and change – especially morality that claims to be absolute – he revealed a self-referential inconsistency in so-called absolute morals: it turned out they weren't absolute after all, but changed with the times. The great Renaissance thinkers and Enlightenment philosophers knew that it's inadequate to rely solely on justifying an idea just because it's in an old book and just because everybody thinks it's right – people once thought the Earth was flat, but that didn't make them right. By saying that we need to rationally prove there is or there isn't a god; or that we need to rationally prove that there is or there isn't a mind-independent reality; or that morals really do exist, the old philosophers gestured to the rest of the world that it isn't enough to rely on books anymore, but that we needed to use our minds. The Alpha Omega agrees with these philosophers, and we've enthusiastically taken up such a philosophical approach. This is why we teach our students Critical Thinking for Magicians from day one. We are not trying to create slavish followers, but rather we are making Magicians, and Magicians are independent, critical thinkers.
So, come on, then! Choose from natural law, cultural relativism, ethical egoism, divine commandment theory, utilitarianism, social contract theory, the Categorical Imperative, virtue ethics, moral pragmatism, subjectivism, and so on. How would you determine which one is right? How would you determine the definitions of good and evil within each view? Next, what evidential standards must be applied to determine which magical theory is "black" and which one is "white?" Do intentions make the difference? The effects? What if bad intentions produce good effects? Would it still be black? Or what if good intentions produced bad effects? Is that white or black, then? Does it matter what system you use? Is that system relative to some social context and does it have a history that implies it was not real evil, but was just demonized? What if a system used the word 'demon' as a code in times of persecution just to scare people away? What if demons are more like Socrates' daemon? (A benevolent spirit; one's higher self) If you had a numinous experience through evocation, how would you be able to determine its nature? How could you tell that it's not just a figment of your imagination, and how would it pass the famous Chapel Perilous test mentioned by R.A. Wilson? Is an experience valid just because it's vivid?
See, Magick isn't as black and white as people would like you to think. There are a lot of colors, and many shades of grey. It's insanity to think that a complex topic such as this could be simplified to black and white. Only Aristotelian logic – which has a limited range of application – holds the standard for black and white, and it has nothing to do with morality.
Non-Dogmatic and Critical Analysis of Ceremonial Magic
The Order of the Alpha Omega promotes the study of critical thinking, of questioning dogmas, and unearthing any presuppositions or suppressed premises. We encourage people to learn formal and informal logic, and to learn how to apply their philosophical insights into their work. We encourage people to study psychology and sociology, and to learn history and gain a strong familiarity with science. Why? Because all of these subjects fit into the work of unearthing what we are really made of, and of answering the great questions of life. Learning ceremonial magic is not just about the motions or the states of mind, and it's not just about learning solely the ritual, but cross referencing our knowledge across many fields and linking things together to uncover new and hidden patterns. The journey of transformation that every initiate undertakes has to do with transforming their entire self – it's not solely about gaining access to rarefied subjects. The mysteries demand sharp and inquisitive minds capable of independent thought.
Accusations of Inconsistency
It's not a secret that our statements have evolved during the course of the flame wars. As we have said, it's a learning process, and these flame wars have also been a fluid situation rather than a static battle of thesis and antithesis. While the statements that we've made over the years may be contingent, our fundamental philosophical position has remained the same from the outset.
Some of our critics and agitators have accused us of inconsistencies, or of certain statements contradicting others, but from the outset we've adopted a nuanced position rather than a simplistic one. To understand our nuanced position, it's imperative that the history of Hermeticism, of the Golden Dawn, and of all esotericism be taken into context. In addition to that, we have our mission and our goals – to make magicians – along with secondary objectives such as fostering a pluralistic and ecumenical approach to esotericism. Against the backdrop of such positions, it becomes apparent that our statements do follow a common theme and only contradict on the surface, if taken squarely on their own and out of a greater context. They do not contradict what we're about, and ultimately those statements do not contradict the philosophical foundation from which they flow. Just as you can't apply the same standards of knowledge and justification for two widely disparate subjects, you also can't apply the same standards of justification and consistency for different statements about different things. They have to be viewed in the context of our underlying philosophical positions, rather than merely as isolated statements.
"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is to please everybody." – Bill Cosby
Other criticisms and attacks have concerned our approach, or the character of our leaders. Well, so what? Our mission is about making magicians, so comment on our methodology and not on our style or approach. It's a very common tactic to use selective quotations or to engage in character defamation. Ultimately it's not about what someone claims to say about somebody else's character, but rather it's about their position and about what they stand for or what they do. The instigators of the flame wars haven't taken the time to outline their position, and they have retreated at every opportunity to do so. They make accusations of inconsistency without ever clearly outlining their own position, so from the perspective of an inquisitive seeker it may only add to the confusion. We hope that we've clarified some of it.
What It's Ultimately About
The raison d'être of the Order of the Alpha Omega is to make magicians and to teach magic – we're all about guiding seekers towards finding spiritual gold, and the philosopher's stone. We want to offer people a safe environment to learn and to share ideas, and we offer initiates one-on-one guidance in order to make sure they learn the methods properly. We believe it's important that people actually learn about the heart of the magical tradition from an initiatory Order, and not just have to scrape together scattered insights from books. Here, it's all in one place, and we offer it all to those who join and who put in the required effort. We're not trying to sell you books, and we're not trying to corner a business: the most we require are dues to keep the organization running, and your hard work to ensure your progress. We're about offering the broader community the opportunity to engage in important philosophical questions, and we're about putting logic and reason dead center in the esoteric discourse. Our approach is ecumenical and non-sectarian, and we will stand up to fundamentalism, intimidation and bullying. Despite all the conflict and disagreement, our mission still continues, and now especially so because we want to consider the flame wars a closed chapter in our history.
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