At the beginning of the 21st century Magic became divided between two flavours. The first is what I would call the Inner Tradition and the other is the Ritual Tradition. Ironically both traditions all can be sourced to the Golden Dawn which started at the beginning of the previous century.
The Inner Tradition was best described to me by Marion Green who said it involved building a nice temple and then shutting your eyes and going elsewhere. Its practitioners tend to spend a lot of time on the astral plane chatting to inner plane beings and talking about “inner structures”. Any ritual techniques are based on helping the magician reach a state of mind where they can experience such things.
In the United Kingdom, the system was developed and promoted by Dion Fortune, Gareth Knight, Ernest Butler, Bill Grey and Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, David Goddard and Marian Green. It has become the dominant system of “ritual” magic in Great Britain and has an influence on other traditions such as Wicca.
The Ritual Tradition, on the surface at least, is the opposite. There you would have a dramatic ritual, often based on a much older one. The ritual is designed to inflame the magician so that they experience a particular state. Magical force is designed to manifest and be experienced on the Earth. You are too frightened to shut your eyes because you will drop a script, a wand or set the curtains alight.
The process is much more structured with the magician being required to learn a system of symbols and then apply them in their personal work. There is often a more elaborate process of awakening using elaborate initiation rituals. This system is popular in Europe and the United States, it is the approach of most of the modern Golden Dawn Groups, masonic based groups and some of the more Alexandrian-based Wiccan groups. Its approach can be seen in the works of writers like Chic and Tabatha Cicero, Bob Gilbert, Pat Zalewski, and Aaron Leitch. Historical techniques play a big part in their approach.
Both approaches have weaknesses and strengths. The Inner Tradition, with its dependence on imagination techniques, fails to provide an intellectual framework for its practitioners to understand what is happening to them. They often cannot tell the difference between the voice of the being they are trying to communicate with and their own lower self. The Inner Kingdoms they visit are sometimes just built from their own fantasy, which would not be so bad if they did not insist upon their literal reality. They also generally lack structure to their approach and do not know much magical information.
The Ritualist tends to be more disconnected from spiritual reality and their imagination. While they might believe in contacts, or Secret Chiefs, they will make the mistake of looking for them on the material rather than seeing them as abstract. They will spend too much time within intellectual systems trying to make them satisfying rather than actually practising them. Their dream is to find that missing old book or paper which will somehow explain everything. Often they will become obsessed with form rather than substance of their work. They will start to believe that because they hold a grade, they are equal to its reality. Instead of progressing spiritually, they will attempt to simply get another grade. They will sometimes even believe that they have a right to a grade because they hold the correct intellectual knowledge. While a Ritual Traditionalist will argue about the correct colour of Malkuth on the Tree of Life, an Inner traditionalist will get upset if you tell them that the wall colour of their inner Egyptian Temple was not possible until the 20th century.
Running a Golden Dawn Order, I would be expected to support the Ritual approach. With two planets and an ascendant in Leo I have to admit I really love ritual. However I trained in the Inner Tradition for many years and know its value. However accurate information from those who work the system is rare and most of it which is out there is lightweight.
Part of this is the problem of the practitioners. The system tends to attract those who lack intelligence to piece together serious magic and are too keen to promote fantasy lives where they were priestesses in Atlantis and similar rubbish. Words are put in a blender until gods and angels are seen as fluffy creatures which exist in a crystal flavoured milkshake. Thus anyone with any intelligence would be sucked into the ritual approach and miss out on something extremely important.
It is into this vacuum that Josephine McCarthy's Magical Knowledge series has appeared. It is fair to say that McCarthy's books do not so much open the door on these inner techniques, so much as kick it open with hobnail boots.
Not only does she know what she is talking about, she is one of those rare magicians who actually live what they do. As a result you get a system unvarnished by rubbish.
In her books you have the correct impression that the path of magic is dangerous, unpleasant and could result in you going mad. Gods and angels are not something you invite around to tea to talk to about how wonderful you were in a past life, temples and sacred sites are not places to bury your crystals and just feel the power, they are places where you go to work with the possibility that work might just screw you up for a few years.
Unlike the standard Neo-Pagan approach Gods are not worshipped by the magician, that is the job of followers. A magician is supposed to work with these buggers and assist their focus.
But this Magic at the bleeding edge is where the Golden Dawn should be. The Golden Dawn magic system is supposed to hurt in the same way. If it is a nice weekly meeting where you have tea and biscuits while talking about the nature of the universe, you are doing it wrong.
McCarthy's latest book is about that old chestnut "contacts". In the Golden Dawn these were called "Secret Chiefs." At the time they were so secret that common members did not know about them. They were made more public thanks to the efforts of Dion Fortune who learnt the Inner Plane method from her teacher Maiya Tranchell-Hayes who was the head of the Alpha et Omega Temple of the Golden Dawn. To this she added her Theosophical Training, which meant that her students were taught an Inner Plane bureaucracy and with an insistence that humans should be slaves to Masters.
The Golden Dawn tradition died off and when it was resurrected it was by people who only had the writings that were left behind which they had to piece together into a complete system again. They lost a lot of the Inner Traditional aspects of the later Golden Dawn, which were never written down.
Dion Fortune, who is arguably the creator of the modern Inner tradition, only re-joined the Golden Dawn after the structure of her Inner Light school had been established. She was more interested in the Inner Dynamics and what these days is called channelling. If she had been less successful and if the modern Golden Dawn ritual methods not have taken off, then chances are magic would have evolved in a bit more of a balanced way. The Ritualists would have found an inner depth to their workings, and the Inner tradition would have an intellectual thread, and a more pragmatic approach.
It is time that both these systems came back together. They both need each other. This is why it is vital for people practicing the Ritual Tradition to read and understand Jospehine's books and bring back to their systems the techniques that are contained within it.
Meanwhile those who use the Inner Tradition need to be aware of the words of one of the Angels in this book:
Recite! Recite what God commands you. Recite the words that the Angels brought to the world and uttered before the throne of God. Recite so that thy soul shall never forget. Recite from the depths of thy heart where the words of God are written upon the souls of all beings. Recite so that all worlds and all times shall hear what we have given to those who would listen. Recite the song of paradise so that all shall behold its beauty.
This is the state where the Inner Traditionalist becomes the Ritualist and the Ritualist sees the power behind the words. Magical acts become like riding on top of a speeding train of words, and gestures towards your spiritual destination. Worlds of vision take on the nature of reality, while worlds of reality become enlightened with vision. Ritual is designed to assist visualisation and make it easier to interact with the forces you are using.
As the title says Contacts of the Adepts looks at how to deal with inner plane beings and creating portals which connect you to them. It is a real mine field, or perhaps it is better to say mind field. Because it is a region where deluded people are drawn like moths.
Such types however will be easily offended by McCathy's blunt prose, as her other books in this series, she tells it like it is. The deluded do not like reality to enter into their fantasy worlds and will insist she gloss over important stuff.
But this book is not for the inexperienced either, unless they want to see what they are letting themselves in for in the long term. Contacts of the Adepts is a book which provides working magicians with inner techniques which not only explain how their magic works, but also ideas for new areas of research.
This should be on the shelves of all serious magicians, particularly those who have made ritual magic their focus. That way, they will start to understand what they are doing ritual for. Recommended.