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Sunday, 25 July 2010

On Secrecy

There has been a fairly interesting debate which has been going on on this blog and elsewhere about secrecy within modern Golden Dawn groups. Please note that I am not saying what oath we take in the Magical Order of the Aurora Aurea. It is similar but not the original. It does have a clause on revealing teachings but it is not the same as the Golden Dawn or SM. The oath of all these groups was different anyway. I think that oaths should reflect the times and not simply parrot phrases that have no meaning. However since all the oaths are similar lets have a look at it and the secrecy thing.

The Oath

The traditional oath was a surprisingly dull thing if you read it out loud and includes many clauses that are almost legalistic in their phraseology.

Firstly the candidate swears to keep secret the Order, its name, the names of its members and the proceedings that take place at its meetings from non-initiates and those who don’t have the current password.
At this point we come to something which belongs to a bygone age.

Why keep secret the name of the Order?

Most Orders have a website with their name all over it. During the recent Golden Dawn wars people were fighting over the name of the Order in court. The name has become a trademark in other words something which is used to make money through marketing. The Name of almost every order is now public domain. It might not have been when the Order was founded, but now keeping the name of your order secret is largely meaningless and indeed for outfits that see themselves as commercial schools, undesirable.

This is not something that is a problem in a consumer culture like our own, however the idea that the name would be made public terrified Mathers. After the name was used in the Horos court case he tried to his order's name secret by renaming it the AO. Even today modern orders have no problem calling themselves the AO on their websites. It is just a sign of the times. BOTA which is a lineal descendant of the AO is very public about its name and Golden Dawn lineage.

Why keep the names of members secret?

The names of the members need to be secret because it is still and always will be a matter of privacy.

People think you are nuts if you belong to an occult order and sometimes this still can be a matter of blackmail, particularly if a member is working in the teaching profession. In court case I heard of, a masonic group was at odds with former members over some land. The former members threatened that if the case against the continued they would go to the local papers with a list of members (some of whom were pillars of the local community).

Some members of my order have been members of other Golden Dawn groups. For a variety of political reasons it is best that these groups do not know that they have ended up in MOAA. Then we come to another silly promise oath....

The retrospective oath

The candidate swears to keep quiet about information they may have gained concerning the order before they took the oath. There is only one situation where I think this is important. If you know the names of members before you join you should continue to keep secret about it. Otherwise it is a clause that is out of date.

Copyright clauses

The oath features copyright clauses… all material has to have the GD label on it. This is to keep the teaching regular throughout the order. Second you are not allowed to copy the material. However some of this material is copyrighted and others are not. The older stuff has long passed out of copyright and is legally public domain.

In MOAA though more than three quarters of the material is copyrighted. It was written in the last decade. This stuff is secret because it defines our group as different from others. While it is still not possible to really work magic with this material, it is still important to be kept secret.

Swearing not to be passive

This is one of my favourites. You should not allow yourself to be placed in such a state of passivity that any initiated person or power may cause you to lose control of my words and actions.

At the time I thought this meant that I would not allow myself to be hypnotised or take part in pathworkings. Indeed some people think this clause of the oath was designed to prevent a hypnotist getting the passwords out of a GD adept while under their control. But they were wrong and that is not what the oath is saying.

Hypnosis does not cause you to lose control of yourself, however passivity does. Passivity is when you turn your will over to that of another. You do it in co-dependant or other abusive relationships, you can also make yourself totally passive to a bully at work. Whenever you surrender what you want to another’s will you lose that vital connection with your higher self and in serious cases the damage can be permanent. Your personality is the chariot you are seeking to perfect in this work you must never hand over the reigns to another in any form.

In this we answer the question... should I obey demands that I conform to the will of another chief who interprets the his tradition in a different way from me? Should I write what they want me to write, in a style they wants to. Should I censor my views to appease that particular Chief or declare that black is white because that chief is uncomfortable with the way I put things? The answer is that to do so is that I am being passive, I am allowing an “uninitiated person” (at least in my tradition) take control of my thoughts and worlds. I must follow way that is set down for me by my traditions and believes. I can be sympathetic, but I must act my self and do things the way I do them.

Keep on studying

The next clause is that you promise to keep on studying. You don’t stop just because you are busy. This is important because in the outer order you are trying to build up the habits that will carry you on the path of return for the rest of this incarnation (and who knows beyond). This oath with me always appears as a sort of feeling guilty that I am not doing enough work! It dogs me like a pack of wolves at times. Finally there is the clause against evil magic which is self explanatory.

So when does being secret become poo?

Most people when they talk about people breaking their oath refer to the publication of materials. They rarely look at the other aspects of the oath and assume that it is all about secrecy. The Oath is about that, but it is much more. It is saying how you will live your life. If you were to sum it up, you would say “I am going to keep my magical life a secret. I will protect other people from being exposed and will help other magical people who I will work with. I will work hard and not allow someone else to take control of me.”

The debate about keeping stuff secret seems to fall into two camps. One one hand you have those who feel that everything should be kept secret even if it is well known or been published, or is only “secret” because someone has not published it yet yet, any anyone could do so at any moment. On the other hand you have those who thing that everything must be kept totally open and there is no point keeping any secrets and any oaths you make should be as general as possible.

That is a jolly nice cigar you have there Mr Freud.
In 1919, in his article "The Uncanny" , Freud thought a lot about secrets. Generally he thought they were unhealthy obsessions in the neuro-psychoses of defence mechanisms of a person. As you would expect with Freud it mostly came down to poo and sex. Parents lied to a child about where they came from and the child had to think about it for themselves. The child became aware that there was a secret and determined to find it out. This starts the child's thinking processes. So in otherwords the positive side of a secret is that it HAS to be found out. The other thing that Freud suggests is that you have to look at OTHER things that are secret. These include sex and poo. Now it is really easy to laugh at Freud, particularly if you are magician who likes to waive their wand around too much in public, but he has a point.

Secrecy is about power.

If you have a secret you have power over those who don't know it. Ultimately people should find out the secret because it is part of their evolution to gain knowledge. But hanging on to the wrong knowledge is eventually emotionally and physically constipating.

I have experienced extreme secrecy in three Magical Groups and I can safely say that all those groups were stunted. The secrecy was used by the chiefs to cover up for the fact that they were fundamentally insecure about what they did know. In the case of Whare Ra for example the chiefs took parts of the teaching which had been in one grade and moved it to a higher one. The reason was that it made that information less accessible to students who might ask them questions about it/ If you shove the difficult, or more interesting teaching in the second or third order, the chance that you will ever get asked about it is that much more remote. If you took outer order teaching which would be seen by 99 per cent of students and shove it in the second order it will only been seen by two percent. If there is NAM teaching and you shift it to the 6=5 it is very unlikely that anyone will see it.

My teacher David Goddard referred to this as drawbridge syndrome and said it happened when a group was dying. The knowledge which should be moving freely in a good group is constipated in a far off grade where the chiefs usually sit on their cushions.

Too much Secrecy can be self defeating

The next problem about a secret is that it can be lost if the person who knows it dies without telling anyone. The only reason we know what was done in the Golden Dawn at all is because people broke their oaths. If you read Dion Fortune and this is confirmed by my meetings with Whare Ra people you can't help but admire their defence of the oath and the teaching they have. But they were also filled with the knowledge that if they didn’t pass on their information it would die with them. So they “got around their oath” by answering what you asked. This meant that you had to frame the question really specifically or you didn’t get what you wanted.

Once I pointed out to one of them who was giving me the run around that the 5=6 oath said that if you meet someone who professes to be a Rosicrucian you must test them and that they are honour bound to find a successor. The idea of a “successor”, even if not treated literally implies that you pass the information on.” They laughed and told me what I wanted.

To avoid this happening within MOAA I am making the copyrighted material public if the order collapses.

A secret made for its own sake is toxic.

It gives a false power to those who should not have it. For example one person who worked in the same tradition as I did spent a lot of time collecting documents, mostly photocopies. If you approached him about them he would say that he would not give them to you because that would break his oath. However used the photocopies to get recognition from other orders about how high level he was. In a debate on something important he could trump it because he had a document that covered the subject. It was not knowledge or experience just a good filing system. He ended up suckering one group into being made a chief without having to to a stroke of meditation in his life. Last I heard he died without actually ever even turning up at a meeting.

Written knowledge is not magic

In the Golden Dawn there is two types of knowledge. The first is the written knowledge which appears in papers. Most of these have been published. If you were to take the published material and try to use it to become a magician you would fail. In fact I doubt there is a single magical order anywhere that can rely on written material to produce adepts.

Secondly there was oral instruction and experience. Like the words say this explains the teaching and places it into a context. If you were to record this teaching it would fill many tapes and pages and pages of transcripts. Even then you would miss important points.

I learnt magic sitting and listening to my teacher. I have read his writings but I learnt a lot more from listening to him than I did from the countless books I read. It was from these talks I got the Golden thread which enables me to connect teachings and understand what they tried to do. To me that is magic. If you wrote notes about the same thing it would be knowledge. The differences is between Hod and the conjunction of Chokmah and Binah. What is interesting is that this teacher was not a member of the Golden Dawn, if he had been the very act of the way he was teaching would have been considered “against the oath” certainly of Whare Ra. I know this because when I last went to New Zealand I ran a workshop in Hawkes Bay and several of the old group of Whare Ra members turned up. At that point I was not in the GD and just talked about what I called the British Western Mystery tradition. I was told later they had not heard that stuff since Whare Ra closed and realised how much they had missed being taught it. But the secrecy even worked against that and athough they were all high level Whare Ra people, they had to find their own source of teaching because of their interpretation of the oath of secrecy.

Can the old written material be covered by the oath of secrecy?

There is no point considering the Regardie material part of the oath because everyone can pick up a book and read it. Material which is sitting in a library or collection is equally considered in the public domain. Any one visiting Dublin can sit down and read all Yeat's Golden Dawn material effectively having access to the same collection as a 7=4 in the SM. Equally the Slater collection gives someone the same status as a 7=4 in AO.

It is my belief that none of the original Golden Dawn, AO, Whare Ra, SM documents can be considered part of the oath of secrecy. They are owned by the tradition and are the bear minimum standard that all orders who choice to follow that tradition need. If I had my way ALL this material would be published on a single website and orders could use the material in their own way.

What is the point of swearing to protect such material from others
when you have no power to do so?

You can argue that it is symbolic, but it is a poor symbol if it is. You could symbolically swear to protect Martin Luther King from assassination. It might be symbolic but it does.... um.... sod all really.

Martin Luther King demonstrates the 1=10 salute in public
Then there is the suggestion that there is power which can be gained from knowing if a group is using some Golden Dawn documents and not others. However the value of this knowledge is small.

Just because you you are chief of a modern order does not mean that you are the chief of an original group. You have no power to moderate other groups who might believe they are following the same tradition.

Oaths to protect material which do not help people master magic, 
or help in the daily running of the group are pointless.

You can say that unpublished original GD material can help people master magic. The short answer is that they can't.

A while back I published the most complete version of the Book of the Tomb as an ebook . I did this because two modern orders were engaged in a pissing contest about which had the “real vault”. By publication of the document the real formula for the construction of the vault was revealed. A potential Golden Dawn flame war was abandoned as both groups could consider their vaults in the light of the real core documents.

Since the several smaller groups have built their vaults using the Book of the Tomb. Some of them look very nice. However then came the crucial point of the story.

One of the people who built his vault asked me how to use it. I told him I could not help and he would have to work it out for himself. As it turned out his group DID sit down and work out a system which I am sure is working for them. The point is that the moment they stepped off the core document then they entered into the bounds of what I consider “secret” .

Oaths to protect core information censor every Golden Dawn magician from writing any books that further the tradition .

What Golden Dawn books did Westcott, Felkin, Mathers or Brodie-Innes write? Even Dion Fortune admitted she could only publish her Mystical Cabbalah book because Crowley had already published the crucial material in 777. The following Golden Dawn members have written specifically Golden Dawn books which by the standards of the secrecy oath should never have seen the light of day. If you consider these books of value, you have to admire the fact that such books fly in the face of secrecy tradition.

Alistair Crowley, R Waite Israel Regardie, Dion Fortune, Nick Farrell, Pat and Krys Zalweski, Chic and Tabatha Cicero, David Griffin, Robert Wang, Francis King, Paul Foster Case, Aaron Lietch, Darcy Kuntz, Donald Tyson, Perigrin Wildoak, Donald Kraig, Gerald Suster,

This list is not exhaustive but gives you an idea. The point is that all these books have furthered the tradition but would not have been possible of publication of the core traditional documents was impossible and could not be discussed.  No one from Whare Ra dared to write anything.

Other things which need to be kept secret

Some things are unique to each order and have to be kept secret at all costs. These are the images of inner plane temples, god-forms and images which are used in the subtle forms of magic. Some groups do not bother with these and personally I don't see how. However that which is built by thought must not be talked about because it can be destroyed by thought too.

The Golden Dawn is changing

This is where running a re-enactment group ends up.
While there are those who want the Golden Dawn to be a re-enactment society. My experience with re-enactment groups leads me to believe that they are not appropriate model for a magical group. The older material should be seen as foundation stones upon which the new order is built. Since all GD orders have the same foundation stones then that stuff should be held in common. If you obsess too much about the foundations then you never get the roof built.


  1. Thanks Nick for this post on secrecy. I refer to the authors mentioned here on a regular basis. Although I have not made it in a group yet, I will keep these things in mind when doing the work and posting to my blog

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  3. Nick, in the words of the immortal Meatloaf, "you took the words right out of my mouth". Everything I was thinking of putting in a projected post and far more. THANK YOU. No need for me to write the post now as this is really comprehensive :)

    Just a quick addition. Some contemporary Orders and Temples do keep their name secret, whereby it becomes one of the unique magical symbols of the Order. They then have an Outer name by which they are known. Our Order did this with the inspid "Golden Dawn Society of Western Australia" :)

    Personally, I think the initial oath of an Order should be presented in a rough form to the prospective Neophyte. This avoids the candidate when in a vulnerable and open position being asked to swear to something they later regret. As mentioned over at MOTO my initial GD obligation suddenly diverged from the traditional to include an oath of allegiance to the directives of a particular Frater – not a GD office, but the individual member who was the leader of our Order.

    Thanks again for a great post :)

  4. Hi SR
    If they both had it they both turned out completely different vaults :-) In fact the book of the Tomb I published was the most complete I found anywhere. It was more of a GD document than an AO one.
    When you end up looking at psychotherapy you have to look at things symbolically. Freud did consider complete secrecy a pathology and extended throughout a person's life (not just in therapy). Reich followed a similar pattern with his idea of body armour.
    What we are looking at here is a balance... I am saying there are somethings you need to be secretive about, and others which it is better for the entire GD community that you are not. David must have gone through a similar process when he wrote his book and no doubt you do when you write your stuff. The moment you publish anything you are going to be labelled an oath breaker what ever you do.

  5. Hi Perigrin
    Two names seems like a bit of an effort... We have an NDA which outlines what they are going to have to swear too without being too specific. Our oath is a little different, but not THAT much. Some of the more silly stuff went west. The labels of the order was one.... we dont have labels on our course material

  6. Hi Nick,

    Interesting thread as always.

    Having roots in an extremely secretive tradition that is a couple hundred years or more older than the GD, and still in existence. I am appreciative of the varied points of view.

    However, in my tradition, the concept of "Secrecy" is really about "Concealment" vs "Revelation". In fact the Rites of Circumcision are really a comment on these concepts. Basically, the "Secrets" of the Primordial Tradition are as much concealed "in their being written, and distributed". Only by "Revelation" is the Hidden Mystery explained.

    In Kabbalah, the Zohar conceals the Primordial Mystery. It can ONLY be accessed by its "Revelation" which requires "Divine Inspiration" which moves beyond the written word. So, the concealment of the "Secret" is hidden within plain sight. This is the basis of the "Violation of the Law is its true fulfillment" a Talmudic maxim.

    In Light,

  7. Hi Olen
    Exactly.... the real truth behind magic is not secret because it is part of an oath. The point is that even the best teacher can only explain part of the equation because the mysteries are personal. It is like many things in the occult game, people take things literally and ignore the symbolic blind.
    The Oath is not made to a person... if you look at the language of the GD oath it describes the setting as being in the Temple... but you are not making an oath before a representative of the chief adept... you are making an oath between your lower self and the higher self (God).
    God has placed the mystery of man in plain view. It can be talked about seen... but no one can understand it. The mysteries are a bit like the Hitchhikers Guide's Somebody else's problem field. If you put it over a mountain people would walk over the mountain and not see it because it is "somebody else's problem". People have these GD documents and never really understand them. There ignorance of what is being said stands out.
    Take for example the first knowledge lecture. How many people have really studied it? How many people KNOW how to do the lesser ritual of the pentagram? Even the way people do it is not the way that it is written.... they might think they know it, but they don't. And when they start to pull it apart they find a complete magical system. All the in the knowledge papers... with a few hints and clues. The point is that the truth is concealed in the knowledge paper, but most people have never read it. They think they KNOW the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram and that is it.
    It is not pieces of paper that are secret... they are not even keys.

  8. Hi Nick,

    I've been studying Izbeka Radzin Hasidism and their take on this is very pertinent to this topic. They consider a primordial tradition that predates the revelation on Sinai.

    This primordial Abrahamic tradition moved from the “Transcendant” Melchezedekian worship of the “most high G_d”, i.e. the Transcendant Deity to its “Revelation” in Corporeality via Abraham. Who walked with G_d, despite the lack of Rabbinic Laws and Mitzvot.

    This was also “revealed” to Moses in engravings from the very “Hand” (i.e. “Yod”) of Deity, but was again concealed due to the sin of the “Golden Calf”. At this point it was “enclothed” or hidden beneath certain “Laws” or obligations.

    Later, this was again revealed by the “Prophets” who could move past these Laws (David ate food from the Temple, etc.) and “reveal” the “Hidden Primordial Tradition” that the “Written Laws” concealed.

    When the First Temple was destroyed (think symbolically First Temple = Prophecy), this “Primordial Abrahamic” and Kabbalistic Tradition was again concealed.

    When the Second Temple was built, despite the Loss of Prophecy, one could receive the “Ruach HaKodesh” and the Prophet Eliahu could through “Inspiration” once again reveal what lay completely Occulted away within the Scriptures and now Rabbinic Law, called Halakhah.

    So, we then see Rabbi Schimeon and his Son, who receive the Primordial Abrahamic Transmission via Ruach HaKodesh and Eliahu in the Cave.

    However, if you study Rabbi Schimeon’s death in the Sefer HaZohar... upon his death the “Gates of Wisdom were shut!”. Meaning once again the Primordial Tradition was concealed. But!... we are also told that from that point “All Wisdom comes through Rabbi Schimeon”... so the words of the Zohar are not the “Revelation” of Rabbi Schimeon but the “Concealment” of this teaching...

    The reason that the Lurianic writings over-ruled the past Kabbalah, is that through the Holy ARIZAL, OBM, the “Concealed Teachings” of Rabbi Schimeon were “Revealed”...

    Now, the Holy ARIZAL, OBM “Revealed” these teachings only to his Students, and they copiously wrote down his every word (He only taught for 1 ½ years). So, upon his death these teachings were concealed within the technical “green language” of Kabbalah.

    The Ba’al Shem Tov, OBM (or other similar Tzaddikim in other Heretical traditions) stripped the words bare of their technical terminology and revealed the Primordial Tradition to the common person.

    So, in Kabbalah, (and I do consider the GD of this tradition, equal to or even more so than the influence of the RC tradition) transmission is not linear, not from me to you per se, or you to me... it may in fact skip entire generations...

    Only when one receives the appropriate and “guided” inspiration are the words stripped of their “Shell”, of their ”garment”, their “Qliphah” is the Primordial Tradition allowed to shine through.

    The Frankist Zoharites (the source of the GD Kabbalah, and Kabbalah of the Asiatic Brethren) believed that any devout Believer had the potential to house the Ruach HaKodesh and even a portion of the Soul of Messiah. And that one so elevated was beyond all laws, all obligations...

    From Shaarei Kedushah: The Seventh Gate: Ruach HaKodesh in our Times by Hakham Rabbi Chaim Vital Calabrese of most precious memory:

    "In the previous gate, we have warned the Initiate in regards to the pitfalls that lie in the pathway leading to enlightenment. Still, he should not give up. Commenting on the verse, 'Deborah was a prophetess' (Judges IV: 4), the prophet Elijah instructed his disciples (Tanna De Bei Eliahu IX), "I call heaven and earth to bear witness, that any individual, Man or Woman, Jew or Gentile, Freeman or Slave, can have Ruach HaKodesh come upon them. It all depends on One's deeds."


  9. Olen, I think this is the first time I've seen anyone explicitly delineate the Succession from the First Temple to the Hru of the GD, accompanied by the mechanisms of the Transmission. Especially important is the Cave of Eliahu, for here is the archetype of Elias Artist... who is symbolised by the Saltire Cross of St. Andrew. The "pathway leading to enlightenment" is the Winding Stair of the Compagnonnic tradition, and the descent of the Ruach HaKodesh is often symbolised by what we referred to recently elsewhere, the Caducaeus of Cagliostro...

    Thanks again for these epiphanies.


  10. From a solitary perspective Ive never considered some of the things here. Incredible insight. I agree with every bit of it.

    Very nice.