Initiation means to initiate, or begin something. Initiation is a ritualized entry into the spiritual awareness of the divine Inature of reality. It is therefore the first concern of the magician. Initiation can be either internal or external, inner or outer, spontaneously occurring or formally conferred. The former is real initiation proper, while the latter is a symbolized reenactment of this true inner attainment. Though inner attainment and outer initiation are not the same, there is nevertheless a relationship between the two. Outer initiation is a powerful tool to realize inner initiation, and acts as a magical working to accomplish this goal.
In a certain sense every ritual is an initiation. In an even deeper sense, so is every moment of life: an unveiling of some aspect of Nuit by herself. All ceremonial Magick and formal initiation is a recapitulation of this process within the ritual chamber as an act of remembrance of this process.
There are a number of systems of initiation that relate directly to Thelema and its esoteric mysteries. The present discussion will limit itself to the three most well known: the systems of the Golden Dawn, A∴A∴ and OTO. This should not be taken to imply that other systems are not as valid or effective. Most traditions of Thelemic initiation involve simultaneous membership in some group, order or lineage, which attempts to embody the principles of Thelemic community. This mirrors the process of incarnation itself, of which initiation is a symbol representing as it does "second birth". Birth into the world is always a birth into a world of others. This includes other human beings, as well as other types of existences with which one must come into community with. It is this greater fraternity with the whole of the universal hierarchy that the lesser fraternity of an order mirrors. Thereby, with its lesser fraternity it trains towards understanding of the greater fraternity. As an example, the OTO constitution begins:
"1. The OTO declares that Brotherhood of All Things Created is a fact in Nature.
2. The principal purpose of the OTO is to teach True Brotherhood, and to make it a living power in the life of humanity."
Which means what it says.
Membership in a group that works Magick together can be among the most powerful aids to practice available, but not every group is for everyone.
There is an ideal archetype for a religious community. No group ever fully achieves this or ever will. But through hard work together, a collective can more and more grow to conform to its ideal. There are moments, feeting though they may at times be, when the archetype immanentizes itself through the structure of the group. At those times a divine energy becomes present and accessible, far beyond what a single magician, lacking experience, is capable of invoking by themselves. To achieve this potential is an ongoing but always rewarding Great Work.
Nevertheless, it may be the case that a particular magician, by choice or circumstances, wishes to experiment with Thelemic Magick on a solitary basis, and to perform an appropriate ritual to initiate themselves into the current of the tradition. Therefore the following is a suggestion of a general Thelemic self-initiation ritual that is also suitable for periodic general use as well as personal modification.
Thelemic Self-Initiation Ritual
In a private room, clear of clutter, set up an altar in the center of the space with a candle, incense and a copy of The Book of the Law. Perform the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram or, if one hasn't learned this spell yet, say in a loud voice of command: "Hekas, Hekas, estai Bebeloi." (This means, "Away, away, all uninitiated.")
Light the candle and incense and knock once on the altar top to open the temple. Take a moment to pause, take a few deep breaths, relax and focus the mind. Take The Book of the Law from the altar and read aloud one chapter of your choice with intention. Hold the expectation that new insights will be given to you during this reading, but do not actively try to generate them during the recitation. Remain receptive and open to whatever spontaneous intuitions arise. When finished, replace The Book of the Law on the altar, knock once and say the oath: "I, [insert name or personal magical motto], do hereby swear to discover my True Will; and to do my True Will and do nothing else."
Formulate a strong personal commitment to carry out this oath. If the ritual began with the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram perform it again. Knock once on the altar to close the temple and extinguish the candle.
* * * *
When Crowley originally embarked on the spiritual path he became an initiate of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, joining in November of 1897. The system of that Order, among the greatest works of practical synthesis of the Western Esoteric Tradition, forms the foundation of the Thelemic approach to Magick. Its basic sequence of initiation is still worked today by many lodges and less formal groups. Completion of that sequence, which takes at least a year and usually several if done properly, is perhaps still among the best introductions possible to the practice of Thelemic spirituality.
The initiation system of the Golden Dawn is structured such that the initiate is first admitted to a First or Outer Order, also (somewhat confusingly) called the Golden Dawn. There is a general initiation called the Neophyte grade. Following this are a series of additional grades of initiation corresponding to the four elements and the four lowest Sephira of Malkuth, Yesod, Hod, and Netzach. Finally comes the grade of Dominus Liminus which is assigned to Spirit, though not to a Sephira, except as a kind of prelude and probation for the Tiphareth initiation. This works out as follows:
|Adeptus Minor 5°=6||Tiphareth||—|
The order of the elements is in the order of the four worlds from most manifest to most spiritual — i.e. from Assiah (Earth) to Atziluth (Fire). The First Order G.D. initiations therefore form a complete sequence, following which there is an initiation to the Second, or Inner Order, the Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis, Order of the Red Rose and Gold Cross, or R.R. et A.C., to which passage through the 5°=6 grade constitutes admission. In this Second Order, the full Theurgic system of the Order is formally given to the magician, who has been prepared and trained for its practice through the initiations of the First Order.
The Golden Dawn, and A∴A∴ system as well, bases its understanding of spiritual progression on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, which posits 10 progressively more inward levels of being existing both macrocosmically and microcosmically. The idea of levels of spiritual development is found in many traditions — the 10 level system of Shingon developed by Kukai, for example, or the 7 levels of St. Theresa's Interior Castle, as well as the Sufi stations of the soul. The progression through the ten levels is also parallel to the ascension through the 4 worlds described in chapter 2, which is a more general model of the same process.
All of these levels are always active in a human being, but due to internal interaction amongst the levels themselves the full nature and form of the Tree is often hidden by itself from itself. Through successive attunement by spiritual exercises to the type of consciousness represented by the various levels of the Self, the Self reminds itself of itSelf. This is initiation. The exact nature of this attunement will take a different form for different people, for the Tree reveals a slightly different internal dynamic in each of its instantiations, that is to say, in each person.
In 1907 Crowley had begun to initiate into a new order that he had developed with George Cecil Jones, a fellow Golden Dawn Adept. The most important of all the systems associated with Crowley, its name was concealed by the initials A∴A∴. There are several ways that A∴A∴ is different than the Golden Dawn. The entire G.D. system is folded into the A∴A∴ system, but constitutes much of the work of only one of its grades — Neophyte. Almost everything beyond that involves work of a more intensive nature. There is the addition of the full curriculum of traditional yogic mysticism. There is also a de-emphasis on the social and political lodge based aspects of the original system in favor of emphasis on a direct, private, one on one relationship to a spiritual director. Finally, there is a total focus on the personal work of each individual initiate.
A∴A∴ is designed around a system of 10 grades. These outwardly appear to be the same as the Golden Dawn grades, but there is a crucial difference. To use the distinction made at the beginning of this chapter, the Golden Dawn is a system of outer initiation, to lay the foundation for inner initiation, which is largely the responsibility of members of the Second Order. A∴A∴, in contrast, concerns itself directly and immediately with inner initiation. As a result, it does not use outer initiation as much as other systems, confining outer initiation only to its first few grades. The G.D. initiations are intended to symbolically and magically introduce a magician to each of the lower Sephiroth. There is, however, no requirement or expectation that the magician will have fully attained the level of consciousness associated with that Sephirah to advance to the next grade. A∴A∴, however, assigns a regimen of spiritual exercises and inner work to each grade which equilibrates the magician to that level of consciousness.
A∴A∴ grades serve no political or social function whatsoever in and of themselves. Rather, they constitute a level of purely personal progress through a sequence of increasingly sophisticated and intensive stages of spiritual work. Individual engagement with this progression is a private matter between the initiate, their superiors, and their Holy Guardian Angel. Those who participate in the system also have a responsibility to pass on their knowledge at each stage to their own students. Their attainment is not for their own beneft alone. This procedure creates a lineage, traditionally overseen by a triad of Adepts who are themselves answerable to the so-called "Secret Chiefs", perhaps best understood as a symbol for the A∴A∴ itself, of which any order or lineage is but an outer vehicle or emanation. All true religious movements, societies, orders and lineages partake, in the manner appropriate to their contexts, of the essence of this innermost assembly.
The work of each of the A∴A∴ grades is simultaneously general and specific. A very good description of the system is James Eshelman's The Mystical and Magical System of the A∴A∴, which is published by the Jane Wolfe lineage of A∴A∴, but which provides a general description of the system applicable to any lineage or personal practice of the system outside of a lineage context. The following brief synopsis of the system is not exhaustive.
0°=0 Probationer — Is given full access to the practices of the Order and undertakes whatever exercises they deem fit for at least one year. The intention is for them to develop an awareness of their own pattern of work and initiatory needs. They must keep a diary of all work as well as memorize one chapter of their choice of Liber 65: The Book of the Heart Girt with the Serpent, one of the Holy Books of Thelema.
1°=10 Neophyte — Practices astral projection and other methods of attunement to the Imaginal reality. They attain full practical familiarity with the basic Golden Dawn system of magic, including the Inner Order R.R. et A.C. material. The diary record continues, as it does for all levels of A∴A∴ work, as does memorization from the Holy Books.
2°=9 Zelator — Begins intensive meditation practice, focusing on Hatha Yoga. Full proficiency in posture and basic Pranayama is achieved.
3°=8 Practicus — Works with awareness and control of the bodies internal energy. They also practice Jnana Yoga and refine their Kabbalistic study.
4°=7 Philosophus — Cultivates devotion and Bhakti Yoga. Also practices with evocation of spirits and talismanic magic.
Dominus Liminus — Focuses on advanced meditative practice.
5°=6 Adeptus Minor — Achieves the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.
Higher grades involve deeper work with the gnosis achieved by the Adeptus Minor, some of which is sketched in chapter 2.
Work above 5°=6 is generally a matter between the adept and their Angel, and there is much less of a fixed, set structure.
Since Crowley's death in 1947, A∴A∴ has gradually expanded and evolved to encompass a number of independently operating lineages. While many A∴A∴ lineages are composed of dedicated individuals sincerely engaged in spiritual practice, there has been an unfortunate tendency for some A∴A∴ groups to engage in reprehensible cult behavior. There are also any number of perhaps well meaning but incompetent individuals who have given themselves some grade without having done any of the requisite work, and set themselves up as representing A∴A∴. Individuals approaching interaction with A∴A∴ should make themselves aware and educated with regard to the operating procedures and background history of whatever lineage they may choose to associate with and use their own best judgment in evaluating them. Not all individuals and groups claiming to be Crowley's A∴A∴ are what they present themselves as being. Ask questions. Who gave them their grade and the authority to initiate? If themselves, there is no a priori reason why this is spiritually invalid, but it is incumbent upon them to be honest and not lie about or conceal their background. That secrecy is the enemy of Truth. Also, succesorship or lineage, no matter how exoterically valid (or invalid) does not in and of itself constitute the spiritual maturity and years of practical experience with the Order's system necessary to act effectively to guide others through it. As Thelemites, we are all ultimately responsible for our own actions. Any behavior that is detrimental to one's True Will in the name of A∴A∴ is a debasement of the august and noble principles of this most sacred order.
The third major initiatory system to be discussed here is that of a mystical order known as the Order of the Eastern Temple, Ordo Templi Orientis or simply the OTO. Originally an irregular German Masonic group, probably founded in 1904, OTO was a conglomeration of traditional Masonic rites which were seen as preparatory to initiation into the organization's inner circle, the so-called Hermetic Triad of three degrees. In these degrees information and instruction was provided into certain techniques of Western sexual magic and mysticism. These teachings derived, in part, from an earlier organization called the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, or H.B. of L., which had been led by a mysterious magician named Max Theon, about which very little is known. There was also an additional source in the form of training the OTO's conceptual founder Karl Kellner allegedly received from Sufi groups in North Africa.
Crowley was initiated into the OTO's inner circle by its then leader Theodor Reuss in 1912, who delegated him authority to administer activity for the Order in the English speaking world. Crowley recognized in the then rather haphazard and chaotic structure of OTO a potential vehicle for his own work. In particular, he saw that the mysteries of the Hermetic Triad were also a central mystery of the Thelemic dispensation as well. He therefore set about reorganizing the Order. By 1918, he had finished revising new initiation rituals for OTO. Loosely based on the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Crowley condensed the 33 degrees of that system into 7 primary degrees and a number of sub-degrees. The Hermetic Triad was then worked directly beyond that. Though maintaining some of the general intent and background structure of the original Masonic rituals, Crowley's new degree structure is otherwise only slightly similar to the old OTO system. In other substantive ways it was a radical shift, as well as a dramatic and magical improvement over the older texts. In particular, the new system was now explicitly Thelemic. This further distanced OTO from its Masonic roots, as Masonry is a universal and non-sectarian movement which does not instantiate a particular religion. By making OTO a Thelemic order with a eucharistic public rite, Crowley was turning it into a church with an integral mystery school component, held together by the structure of a fraternal organization. Upon Reuss' death in 1922, Crowley took control of the OTO as a whole, thereby completing his reformation of the old Order along Thelemic lines, his initiatory system becoming normative Order wide.
The OTO initiations as practiced today are therefore three fold in purpose. First, they create a bond of solidarity, mutual support and fraternity between initiates. Secondly, they provide a magical initiation into the mysteries of the Thelemic religion. Finally, they seek, through symbolism and instruction, to create a Gnosis of the central mystery of the Order and its concomitant practical techniques.
The basic OTO degree system, including most of the main sub-grades, is as follows:
0° — Minerval
I° — Man and Brother or Woman and Sister
II° — Magician
III° — Master Magician
IV° — Companion of the Royal Arch of Enoch
P.I. — Prince of Jerusalem or Perfect Initiate
K.E.W. — Knight of the East and West
V° — Sovereign Prince of Rose Croix
K.R.E. — Knight of the Red Eagle (Senate of Knight Hermetic Philosophers)
VI° — Knight Templar of the Order of Kadosh or Dame Companion of the Holy Grail
G.I.C. — Grand Inquisitor Commander
P.R.S. — Prince of the Royal Secret
VII° — Sovereign Grand Inspector General
VIII° — Perfect Pontiff of the Illuminati
IX° — Initiate of the Sanctuary of the Gnosis
X° — Supreme and Most Holy King
O.H.O. (XII°) — Outer Head of the Order and Frater Superior
The I°-VII° correspond to Crowley's rewrite of the old Scottish Rite System. The VII°, VIII° and IX° are the Hermetic Triad. The X° is given to the administrative head of the Order in each country or major geographical area. The XI° is a specifically magical degree. The O.H.O. is the international head of the Order.
The OTO is furthermore divided into three triads. The system, very roughly, derives from Plato's The Republic.
|Triad||Plato's Republic||OTO Grade|
|Hermits||Philosopher Kings||VIII° - XII°|
|Lovers||Guardians||V° - VII°|
|Men of Earth||General citizens||0° - P.I.|
The Men of Earth are the general membership of the Order, including many initiates of great attainment who do not feel called to a deeper level of service within the context provided by the Order. Their duty is to discover and do their True Will.
Lovers provide for the hands on leadership and administration of the Order, particularly on a local level, and are bound by special responsibility and discipline towards it.
Hermits are the custodians of the full initiatory Gnosis of the Order. They attempt to embody and transmit its light to the Order and to the whole world. They are collectively charged with international oversight and responsibility for OTO.
That the degrees of OTO have an administrative, social function does not mean that they do not also have a magical aspect. However, OTO degrees are different from A∴A∴ degrees. As one OTO officer once put it:
"OTO degrees are not a recognition of attainment, they are an opportunity for attainment."
It is unnecessary to be in OTO to be a Thelemite. Nevertheless, for those whose will it is to engage with its initiatory structure it can be a powerful series of empowerments designed to make an individual a potent magician, oriented towards their True Will and ready either to assist others to do the same or to get out of their way.
OTO today is one of the world's largest, most notorious and infamous Western occult magical orders, with thousands of members in dozens of countries. Much attention has been paid to its outer history, succession of leadership, etc. However, this is not the most important part of understanding what the OTO is about, any more than the meaning of Christianity can be discerned by a study of the political history of the Vatican, fascinating though this may be. The true importance of OTO has always been the community and fraternity created amongst its members, friends and guests, and the spiritual discovery occurring at its public and private rites, rituals and initiations. It is in these that the truths of the Order and of the Thelemic way are found.
Crowley, Aleister, The Equinox Vol. III #10, Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1990, pg. 186.
Kukai, Kukai: Major Works, Columbia University Press, New York, New York, 1972, pp. 162-224.
Theresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, Paulist Press, New York, New York, 1979.
Eshelman, James, The Mystical and Magical System of the A∴A∴, College of Thelema, Los Angeles, California, 2000.
What little is known is included in Chanel, Christian; Deveney, John Patrick; and Godwin, Joscelyn, The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1995.
Address of the Grand Master Sabazius X° to the 3rd OTO National Convention, Long Beach, California, August 2001.