When thinking about Theurgy and the Golden Dawn

Iamblichus_ChalcidensisFor the past several years I have been working on a doctorate in history about the Golden Dawn and theurgy. This early, lighthearted essay shows some of the connections I found and have been writing about. For your enjoyment…

Our criteria in place, we may now essay a developmental history of the systems of operative theurgic practice from Iamblichus to the Golden Dawn. A brief and playful outline of our subjects follows below.

Observing the time scale over which this study operates shows certain clusters of activity and paragons of their eras. Iamblichus clearly formulates the operative theurgy we will be examining. He draws from Plotinus, Porphyry, and the Julianii, and builds upon the foundation of the Platonic tradition, to form his paradigm. Proclus and others will inherit and adapt it, but this lets us focus on the Soter Hellenes and develop our archetype of operative theurgy.

Renaissance theurgy is the product of several hands but Ficino towers above them all as the translator of Plato, Plotinus, Proclus, the Hermetica, the Orphica, and especially Iamblichus, giving us the name of his largest surviving text, “On the Mysteries”. But Pico will change the character of western theurgy and esotericism in general by introducing the Jewish Kabbalah. Trithemius will teach us to conjure spirits, while advancing cryptography. Agrippa will fuse his predecessors’ work into a encyclopedic system, to which the doctor Paracelsus will wed alchemy while founding modern medicine. Bruno will burn for dreaming of a bigger world and a restored Pagan one.

As the modern age dawns with Luther’s hammer blow, Dee, Maier, and Fludd will enrich, develop and promulgate operative theurgy. The myth of the Rosicrucians will fire the imagination of Europe, while the (pre-Blavatski)Theosophists chart heaven and hell. Elias Ashmole will participate in saving the esoteric dimension of the stonecutters’ guild and be present at the birth of Freemasonry. The Masonic Lodges will be the crucible from which will emerge the occult orders: the Gold and Rosy Cross, the Illuminates of Avignon, the Martinists, the SRIA, while Mesmer and the Royal Society look on in mutual dismay and wonderment. The Spiritualists will remember how to speak for the non-physicals.

Finally, we will end with the secret love child of Eliphas Levi and Madam Blavatski, the daughter of all those who had gone before, discovered as a foundling in the Library of the British Museum by MacGregor Mathers, swaddled in Rosicrucian patents by Winn Westcott, and delivered her legacy by Dr. Woodman: the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. She will in her turn give birth to the Modern Pagan Movement, witches and wizards by the dozens if not millions, when thinking she was dead, a young scribe showed her unveiled to the world.

From the Poimandres

HERMES TRISMEGISTUS.1as translated by John Everard, 1650

My Thoughts being once seriously busied about the things that are, and my Understanding lifted up, all my bodily Senses being exceedingly holden back, as it is with them that are very heavy of sleep, by reason either of fulness of meat, or of bodily labour.

Me thought I saw one of an exceeding great stature, and an infinite greatness call me by my name, and say unto me, “What wouldest thou Hear and See? or what wouldest thou Understand, to Learn, and Know!”

Then said I, ” Who art Thou?”

“I am,” quoth he, “Poemander, the mind of the Great Lord, the most Mighty and absolute Emperor: I know what thou wouldest have, and I am always present with thee.”

Then said I, “I would Learn the Things that art, and Understand the Nature of them and know God.” “How?” said he. I answered, “That I would gladly hear.”

Then he, “Have me again in thy mind, and whatsoever thou wouldst learn, I will teach thee.”

Epiphanies in Iamblichus

(from my doctoral thesis on the history of theurgy)

When we successfully invoke, the Being who we call comes. Sometimes it is very internal, sometimes we go the distance and work for an very dual and/or external manifestation. The result, whether mental, ‘astral’, or (near-)physical, is traditionally called an epiphany, a ‘showing up’. We are taught to be be cautious and test what arrives. When we are properly skillful we can take advantage of the test-tools the Golden Dawn system supplies to determine if we have called the correct Being.

Besides testing to determine if we have called the right class of Being, we also need to determine which level of the Being has answered our call. In the Second Book of his De Mysteriis, much dedicated to epiphanies and distinguishing the benefits of different classes of Divine Beings, Iamblichus outlines what happens to those experiencing epiphanies as a result of invocation (DM 2.9, p. 105-107).

This is presented in tabulated form to make the benefits clear for the epiphanies of each class of Being:

Gods: a perfection freed from and superior to passions,
an activity entirely better (those invoking),
participate in a love divine
and [have] an enormous gladness of mind;
Archangels: a pure settled state, intellectual contemplation and stable power;
Angels: rational wisdom, truth, pure virtue, a firm knowledge,
and a proportional order;
Daemons: receive a desire for the realm of generation,
longing for nature and for the fulfillment of the works of necessity,
and a power for completing such activities;
Heroes: [Very similar to those with Daemons], and
participate in zealous pursuits relating to the commitments of souls;
Archons: moved in soul, either in line with the cosmos
or with the material realm;
Souls: arrive at generative desires and congenital solicitude
for the care of bodies and such other matters as depend on these.

As we move down the scale from Divinities to Souls we see a spectrum of benefit (or perhaps by the end we should say ‘impact’) caused by the presence of the Divine Being during and resulting from an epiphany. At the top is pure liberation, success, love, and happiness. This diminishes steadily as the rank decreases, until with Souls, there is a desire to procreate and have care for the body, and generally fulfill necessity, rather than be liberated from it. Clearly, per this scheme, the theurgist has little reason to invoke anyone other than the Gods. The schema presented by Iamblichus will also tell the theurgist what rank of being came in response to invocation, as measured against the benefit. But, for the purposes of this brief post, it is the simple list of benefits and impacts that concerns us.

Iamblichus tells us: Great are the gifts of the Gods.

The Place of the Mage in Cosmos

microcosm_macrocosmGiven that the main tap-root of the Golden Dawn is in Neoplatonic theurgy, we can start there to ask questions about the place and nature of the individual soul, and especially that of the mage, in the architecture of the Cosmos. A recent contemplation lead me to an interesting proposition…

In Neoplatonic cosmology, which in the Golden Dawn is delivered to us in the form the Qabalistic Tree of Life, all derives from the One. The One is the grand unity of being (actually in NeoP, the ultimate, ineffable One, lies even beyond being [on], but for today let’s set that aside), that first Being from which the rest come. In the Timaeus, the lowest extension of the One called the Demiurge, referenced the Paradigm in order to create the Gods and all lesser Beings. Each of the Gods are made from a portion of the Paradigm, each becoming a principle of existence over which They can be said to ‘rule’. Being made from the same grand design gives the Gods Their unity while being made from a part of the Paradigm, gives Them their particularity. The rest of the hierarchy of continuity from the One to Matter then descends from the One through the Gods, then through the Archangels, Angels, Deamons, Heroes and Souls (to simplify a bit) then arguably including animals and plants until Matter is reached. Matter in Neoplatonism is the lowest or furthest emanation of the Divine, as contrasted to Gnosticism where matter is evil.

We, as incarnate entities, are Souls in this hierarchy and our Mighty Dead are Heroes. The fully successful and realized Mage can attain the rank of Angel and help administer the Cosmos (this is what gives us our powers), but we never become Angels even in death because that would leave a gap in the hierarchy. Our roles as Souls are as important to the whole of creation as the Gods and other Spirits their roles, if the Cosmos is to whole and complete, ‘perfect’ in the terms of the Ancients.

It was while contemplating this structure, which you can find nicely explained in Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis, and more thoroughly in Proclus’ Elements of Theology and Platonic Theology, I realized that those of us who do the work of theurgy and become proper microcosms of the Macrocosm, the Cosmos itself, may have a power, strength, or capacity, that even the Gods do not have. The Gods, while they may at some level be microcosms, and this is perhaps especially true of the Gods who have attained to enlightenment, nonetheless may be too fixed in their particularity, be too specifically what They are, namely being one of the very Structures of Existence, to ever truly be able to mirror and instantiate the Whole. We magi, not being anything in particular, they may attain to the Whole in a way the very Gods may not. We, in a more complete and balanced way become instances of the One that is All in a manner that even the Gods may not attain to. An exhilarating and daunting notion.

Perhaps it is from the intuition of this idea that leads to images in the Timaeus and the Hermetica in which the Demiurge says that if the Souls do not do their part in creation, Creation will be incomplete and imperfect, and where the Gods gaze upon [human] Souls and are moved to shower gifts upon them. Perhaps it is from here that the image of the Divine Anthropos, Adam Cadmon for the Jews, Parusha for the Indians, comes, displaying the human form as the manifest Divine.

This all makes me mindful of the need to make ourselves whole, becoming microcosms, and the gratitude that arises in knowing we have in the Golden Dawn to tools for accomplishing this great, even Divine, end.

praemonstrator general

Origins Matter

Where does the Golden Dawn come from? We know about the Cypher Manuscripts, and we know the Founders developed them, in several stages, into the rituals we know today. We also know there has to be more of a backstory.

Analysis of the the Order’s material, namely the rites, practices, and teachings, when compared with the rest of the western magical tradition, discloses its more immediate sources with confidence. Clearly, the Order is founded on Agrippa. A careful read of the Three Books of Occult Philosophy (TBOP) shows the source material that the Golden Dawn implemented to build the Order. Agrippa is especially important in that it is he who produces in the Three Books a synthesis of the truly ancient practices and understandings with Hebrew esotericism, producing the Qabalah as we magicians use it today. It is amazing how much of the Qabalah we use today is exactly the same set of usages and attributions as Agrippa gives, and interesting where it varies as well.

In a more practical vein, the Knowledge lectures as we have them are quite thin, having no explanatory text. But Agrippa supplies this. Compare the initial chapters of TBOP with the Knowledge Lectures and you will see that they substantially parallel each other, Agrippa providing a detailed, if dated, explanation. It is even better and easier to see in Purdue’s new rendering of the Agrippa’s Latin. (I can’t wait for him to finish the other two Books!) The OSOGD is doing some analysis of the text vs our curriculum and plans to publish our findings here to that the Three Books can be more effectively integrated into our teaching process.

The story of our origins does not end with Agrippa. He is the great synthesizer of the Renaissance, drawing together the best work of his day, quoting liberally from Ficino, Pico, and many another thinker of his day and the generation or so before him. From his synthesis, his Three Books, most of the western magical system depends. However, these worthies did not create the material Agrippa put in his Philosophy. What drove the revolution that was the Renaissance was the recovery of ancient, mostly Greek writings, religion, philosophy, and practice. Cosimo de Medici collected and had Ficino translate most of Plato, which was lost to the west, the Hermetic Corpus, the Orphic Hymns, the Chaldean Oracles, Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus, and other ancient writers. This flood of vibrant culture burst the seams of the Medieval world and laid the groundwork for the Modern age. It is in these sources that our origins come.

From this list of texts I’m sure you can appreciate the importance of them begin translated and made available to eventually form the Golden Dawn. What is somewhat less understood is that the primary explanations of our magical technology is embedded in them as well. Two specific texts are vital and necessary to transmit what we call magic today, and without which we would merely have a collection of spell craft much like the Greek Magical Papyri. The longer and more important was called De Mysteriis by Ficino, even though it has nothing to do with the Mysteries. This is Iamblichus’ defense and explanation of theurgy, the last great florescence of religiosity in the pre-Christain world. In it he explains the importance of invocation, and the stages of maturation in divine relations, how to distinguish the grades of entities from lesser spirits to the Great Gods, how to interpret symbolism, how to find your Personal Deamon (Holy Guardian Angel), how to “guide the light” (think middle pillar), how to advance on the path, and what results you would get if you do the work. The shorter and better known work is Proclus, “On the hieratic art” or “On Sacrifice” as it is variously called. This is a summary of a longer Proclus work, probably made by the Byzantine Michael Psellus. This gives the shortest single justification for our practices, the theory of correspondences and a variety of other aspects of our work, all of which find themselves into Ficino’s Three Books of Life, which itself is the first reacquisition of the ancient ways of theurgy in the Christian world. (Not to totally ignore pseudo-Dionysis, who was Proclus’ student, and his influence on interpreting the Mass as a theurgic rite.)

As a Pagan, finally scraping away the layers of Christianity and seeing the bright and lovely basis for our practices as they were understood in the ancient world is so inspiring. Undistorted by monotheism, imperial politics, or the bizarre doctrines of Christianity, theurgy takes its place as a profound deepening of ancient religious practice. It justifies and explains the worship of the ancient Gods, shows how we can unite ourselves with Them, and advance ourselves spiritually. The OSOGD will be reviewing our curriculum and adjusting it to take advantage of this deep running stream of spirituality.

Greetings to all members, colleagues and friends of the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn!

In the fall of 2002, the OSOGD first launched its website. Originally housed on a server residing in a member’s living room, the site was immediately located by many individuals from around the globe and received a flood of inquiries and emails. The site has changed little since those early hectic days but it remains our face to the world and our primary means of communication.

We are therefore very pleased to launch this, our new website, which utilizes an upgraded platform and new web technologies. In the weeks and months to come, we will be building out functionality and adding new sections and features. Please take a look around, and check back often – the site will showcase posts from OSOGD members to keep you updated on our activities and projects.

The OSOGD website is currently managed entirely by our talented members who do this work gratis. I would like to especially thank Frater Quisito Ergo Sum, Frater Heru Zeshen and Frater Maa-na Seru Setau for their dedication and hard work to bring this new site into being.

From our hearts, minds, and hands, we invite you to use and share our resources, for the benefit of all beings. So mote it be!


Soror Heru Khu na’Ab
Cancellarius General, OSOGD