Ritual Initiation, Gnostic Masters and Esoteric Dependence
Seals in my hands, I will descend;From the Naaseene Psalm (Fragment) in the translation of G.R.S. Mead
Through Æons universal will I make a Path;
Through Mysteries all I’ll open up a Way!
And Forms of Gods will I display;
The secrets of the Holy Path I will hand on,
And call them Gnosis.
With the occult and esoteric scenes seemingly also becoming more of a mix-and-match-culture focused on the random demands and whims of the profane individual, while suspiciously eyeing initiatory groups and orders, I have been contemplating why I never really had the desire to follow a ‘solitary path’. Even when I had not yet heard of ‘Gnosis’ and was briefly flirting with witchcraft and wicca (in my teenage years), it never occurred to me that other than some basic spells or rites, I could do this completely on my own or just in exchange with like-minded people like in discussion clubs or online forums. Although I did not search for one back then, a coven seemed natural and indispensable for this environment – I guess it had always been clear to me that my Path, when found, can only lie within an initiatory tradition. Today I would probably phrase my understanding as being certain that only with an esoterically valid, non-virtual initiation can you receive and actualize a ‘soul-knowledge’ of the sacred. A knowledge that does not stem from your own mind and which is complementary to but not the same as the conceptual esoteric knowledge you can receive from books, instructional teachings and the like. Even without being able to formulate this idea I was – and am – convinced that a successful spiritual and magical work aims at (gnostic) transformation and requires a theory and practice firmly rooted in Gnosis – which (in its full potency) has to be “handed on” to you like a sacred seed which is then your obligation to nourish and bring to full bloom.
‘Gnosis’ has too often become a keyword for everything one wants to claim authority for without having to justify or explain it – “this is my personal Gnosis after all”. Such a perspective is based on the one hand in an understanding of Gnosis as solely individual, which is very much in line with the modern rise of the (false) individual Self as the paramount source for knowledge and authority,1where any external authority is denied if it is not comfortably conform with ‘my Gnosis’ and on the other hand it is based on an equation of Gnosis with conceptual knowledge and opinion. Both are wrong. While I certainly agree that there is an individual aspect to Gnosis, in particular in experience and expression, Gnosis is not a knowledge or recognition of whatever ‘I’ want it to be. Instead, Gnosis is first and foremost the experienced knowledge of the Sacred Real, in my case the pandamonic All as the Kosmic Gnostics call it, which exists independently from me but also encompasses me. It is also the recognition of the flaw in our status quo. You may have had glimpses of this triggering your motivation to even set foot on the path. But the link to and the full actualization of such a Gnosis and the transformation it requires cannot be achieved on your own – as the Gnostics of old very well knew. As exemplified by the famous Naassene Psalm fragment partly quoted above, “the secrets of the Holy Path” are always transmitted by the external ‘savior’, the revealer of Gnosis, the one who forged the Path for those who heard the call.
A tradition or community that aims at creating lasting, metaphysical change in its initiates, offering access to particular esoteric states of consciousness as well as linking the initiates to the current and source of their Gnosis and magic must necessarily be centered around a Master or Hierophant who is a living embodiment of the Gnosis and the keeper of its well, the doorkeeper to the Sacred Real if you so will (while also being a teacher of spiritual/magical techniques of this tradition of course). He or she does not see this position as the final state to reach, in order to then sit back and bathe in his/her glory. The path is not a career nor is the Hierophant a Master by title only. Instead of establishing merely a cult of his/her personality as those with self-centered, power-lusting minds project upon him/her (because that is exactly what they would do if they were ever in such a position), the Master always endeavors to spark and stir the flame of Gnosis in his students. He lives the Gnosis, inspires and instructs his students in accordance with their status, draws them into his sacred space and if they use the potential received, finally turns them into Masters themselves. The true Master does not merely collect followers. Instead, she devotes time and energy to ‘unleash’ other Masters of the Gnosis, who will also lead and teach by example, quite autonomously, and who will always respect and take pride in this chain of transmission and initiation, their link to the mysteries. For an initiatory path like this is also not like a school or university, where you just graduate and become an alumni, who now and then shares a nostalgic memory. The school image that many Western occultists project onto groups these days under the self-entitled ‘right to knowledge’, and the demand for ‘teachers’ whom they can dismiss as soon as they feel in any way uncomfortably challenged or ‘offended’ is a mirror of developments in mainstream culture that (in my opinion) shows how ‘occulture’ is less of an occult current than an alternative subculture. Likely in the interest of increasing or keeping membership numbers, some groups appear to conform to these projections and the demands of the ‘enlightened individuals’, which I would worry to mean that there is less actual Gnosis, magic or successful spiritual technology to be found/kept by their ‘masters’. Do not get me wrong, conceptual esoteric knowledge is without question indispensable for whichever path you choose and learning from available sources is always time spent wisely. To me, making certain conceptual knowledge available is an important motivation to publicly engage in the wider spiritual environment at all. I will also not deny, and honestly hope, that occult orders are still keeping the one or other ‘secret’, i.e. spiritual or magical technique specific to them. But what does conceptual knowledge help if you are not able to, other than temporarily, more or less at chance, connect to the pandaemonic kosmos, the Sacred Real? As I said above, theory and practice both have to be rooted in Gnosis. Eventually it is Gnosis which enables the utilization of conceptual knowledge and learned methods, however secretive, and (again) it can only be transmitted by a true Master and their representatives via transformative initiation.
While I sometimes feel like overusing the term ‘transformative’ in my writings here, it is simply obligatory in this context as it distinguishes the kind of ritual I am referring to from other ‘initiations’. If you do a quick search for a definition of the term ‘initiation’ you might come across the following: “ The action of admitting someone into a secret or obscure society or group, typically with a ritual.” While I would certainly like to make “obscure group” a prerequisite, and aren’t we all, an initiation ritual that is only focused on the admission, even when done by a magical group, is about a change in exoteric status only. A truly transformative initiation, however, needs to be a gnostic, magical rite of passage which does not only change the exoteric but initializes, performs or completes a change of the esoteric status, and wherein ‘secret’ knowledge is transferred and/or confirmed. Initiation involves an experience! It is a ritual that in the context of an exoteric status change, e.g. transference of title, office etc. transmits Gnosis, enables the candidate to access a special state of consciousness and/or apply a particular spiritual technique, possibly reconnects them to the soul daemonium, changes a particular aspect in their metaphysical structure and so on. Therefore, it is self-evident in my opinion that such a rite cannot be done on one’s own (aka self-initiation). It can also not be successfully carried out by someone who merely fills a position, holds a title and/or in particular has the conceptual knowledge of how to perform this rite only but cannot generate the necessary experience of the sacred. It does matter who initiates! If the initiator is not (in possession of) a living link to the afflatus, a Master or fully enabled representative of the Master in this tradition, and can thus neither access the magical reality nor administer any spiritual technique other than in actions only, then the initiation ritual is nothing more than an enactment. At best it becomes an external dramatization of the supposed internal change of the candidate.
Of course, there are practitioners and groups who consider any form of ritual as nothing else but exactly this – an enacted psychodrama. Or who propose that the external is rather a projection of the inner anyways, and whether we talk spirits, gods or archetypes is not really a difference. Many modern Gnostics follow (often amateurish) psychological interpretations, not the least thanks to Jung’s works, to whom respect is certainly due for individual achievements. Admittedly, many classic Gnostic texts easily lend themselves to such readings. However, I think that it is a mistake to mainly or completely ‘psychologize’ the Gnosis as well as magic and rituals per se. Whether cause or result, I consider this approach to be another landmark of our contemporary fixation on false individualism, which means essentially to escape responsibility towards others and any possible threat to Self-established ‘truths’ by rejecting external spiritual authority (if it is not in conformity with that ‘personal Gnosis’). Frantically clings the ‘self-enlightened psyche’ to its alleged independence! It is quite logical that groups which emphasize Master-disciple-relationships, external phenomena, transformative initiation and difference in spiritual/gnostic status, i.e. experience and knowledge, become dispensable to those individuals: the latter’s need for community is only one of like-minded affiliation, mutual approval and exchange of (personal) conceptual knowledge in lectures, rituals and workshops, where everything and everyone is basically ‘true’ as long as it conforms to one’s own standards (sounds suspiciously like social media? there you go). In such a setting, initiation becomes a mere ritual play, instead of initializing metaphysical change; the initiator is an instructor in esoteric technology at best, without any link to the Sacred Real, which in turn becomes exclusively relocated to the inner mind – and what should result in gnostic transformation then turns into a form of psychotherapy. That is, if an initiation is even pursued. Psychologization and radical individualism both turn the occultist/gnostic into a solitary practitioner even when operating within a group or a community-setting. The fear of any form of esoteric dependence throws him back onto his Self. The “Holy Path” of Gnosis becomes the Path NOT taken by the atomized individual.
By now I have several times actively chosen or confirmed the choice of my Path of Kosmic Gnosis but I could not say whether I have initially taken that Path or whether it had not rather ‘taken’ me. Be that as it may, as a modern Western woman it sometimes felt challenging to submit to the dependence that an initiatory Path like that requires. There are many obstacles, especially in one’s own mind, to overcome. This is a part of the transformation and an element of initiation, however, and has to be recognized as the necessity it is. As long as we are fixated on the false independence of our ego-construct we will remain caught in mental abstractions and imagined ‘worlds’ of our own making. With recognition, acknowledgment and intentional submission to esoteric dependence comes liberation. Dependence on our esoteric companions, our Masters, and the Gnosis does neither make us weak nor does it mean that we cannot and should not act autonomously and with sovereignty in our gnostic studies and our magical practice. On the contrary, it is part of our responsibility towards our fellow initiates to actualize our potential and what has been given to us individually. I admit that there are many ‘false prophets’ of Gnosis out there and you’d have to choose wisely and be a bit lucky (or destined) to take your “Holy Path”. I am grateful to have found the Hierophant and Master of ‘my’ Gnosis as well as my fellow companions, the ones strong and steadfast in the Kosmic Gnosis, you know who you are. “The mysterious path goes inwards” (Novalis) but it comes from outwards and it circles back.
PS: I deliberately used the word ‘Master’ throughout this writing as it has stronger connotations of experience and knowledge, i.e. mastery, and at the same time of authority than the word ‘teacher’ does, although both are related. There seems to be a much stronger dislike of the word ‘Master’ today in all matters esoteric, occult, spiritual, which illustrates perfectly the developments and tendencies I am trying to describe in some parts.