It seems to me that the many "Ceremonial" magicians of the last century have done a very poor job representing their path. All Hermeticists are compared to the published version of the Golden Dawn and the various public manifestations of Thelema including the OTO. The stereotype is that of a stuffy, Judeo-Christian who works solely with angels and demons using ceremonial magic in order to gain specific results. Essentially, there is percived to be a huge gap between the Worship and the Work.
Yet all ritual is done for a purpose. A Wiccan worship ceremony—often thought of as NON-Ceremonial Magic—is done in order to strengthen one's relationship with the Gods. That is its purpose. Everything has a purpose so to say "their Work is always done for a purpose/outcome, and ours is just worship" is to misunderstand your own purpose in worship.
The Golden Dawn papers published by Israel Regardie and about 90% of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn reconstructionists have no inner teachings. They have the rituals, one or two knowledge lectures, but none of the oral teaching, none of the inner work which really defines this path.
Obviously I'm limited in what I can say in a public forum when it comes to the inner traditions, but I'll try to address the specific misconceptions that I've run into, especially over the last week.
Now, those who know me know that I am a long time initiate of a tradition with roots in the Golden Dawn. The tradition I speak of is connected to the same tree as the Cicero GD, the Servants of the Light, the Society of the Inner Light, the Builders of the Adytum and the Fraternity of the Inner Light. And it is to this tradition that I speak.
First of all, we are seen as Judeo-Christian because much of our work is based on the Qabalah. Yet this is not the "Kosher Qabalah" as Dion Fortune makes clear in her Magnum Opus The Mystical Qabalah but a living tradition which has a greater range than the original. Even the Kosher Kabbalah is seen as heretical by many Jewish traditions because it branches out past the simple "Old man in a throne" image of G-d.
If anything we are more Pantheist or Deist. Our system is based on the idea that the universe is God made manifest. That each human being is a manifestation of that same Divine Life-Force which we also know as the Divine ONE. In general, it has been easier to explain our tradition to the outside world by using the word God, but in Paul Case's work on Tarot he tends to eschew that word for phrases like "The Divine," "The Life Power," "The One-Force" and others. This is to avoid confusion with the image of God which is taught in our Judeo-Christian society. One of my greatest challenges with students is getting them to see a greater Life-Force universe wherein each "God" is a manifestation of something even greater which takes on the form of a God in order to make it easier for finite beings to understand and commune with.
We see all Gods and Goddesses as manifestations of the same Divine Power which is the One Light. Even the name Jehovah (Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh) is only one name for the specific power associated with the Supernal Father. It is a powerful formula that evokes that power in its highest and purest form. It is not so much a name as a formula composed of sacred pictograms with associated sounds and tones. Yet to evoke the Divine Supernal Father we could also call Odin, Zeus, or the Archangel Ratziel. Archetypes exist across cultures who gave the manifestations different names and different personalities just as we, human beings, are manifested with different names and different personalities. The personality is like the body in that it allows the individuality to communicate with the manifest world.
Second we are often defined as "Ceremonialists." It is true that we perform ceremonies, that we engage in Ritual Magic, but it is not the singular manifestation of our work. Ours is a threefold path which includes ritual, meditation and study (Power, Love and Wisdom). Within this system we also use Alchemy, Visualisation, Tarot, Gematria, Divination, Meditation, Colour and Sound, and many others. Ritual Magic is but one tool in our box, a very powerful tool, but one of many. Are we also to be defined as Alchemists? Or Tarologists? Or Meditators? Our path includes all of these, but they do not define us, and none of them are unique to our system. We use the word Hermetic because of the threefold path and our understanding of the universe which is based on the Prima Materia or One Thing discussed in the Emerald Tablet. This is the One Light, the Life-Force, the First Matter, of which all things, spiritual and physical are created. And for this reason, all things are holy no matter how vile they may appear to be to our sensibilities. (i.e. Excrement becomes food for plants which we in turn eat or feed to other animals which we, in turn, eat.)
Thirdly we are defined as not having religion, and in many cases, not having morality. It is true that the Life-Force is a force and can be directed in any way, good or evil, but we do have very specific and often strict morality as to how that should be done. Some of us cannot even do healing work unless directly asked by the person (or their guardian in the case of a child) that we not harm them by accident. Morality is very important to our work, for we see ourselves as actively evolving and working towards the greater good of all mankind. We should live as examples of goodness and worthyness and spirituality, true Priests of the Universe, and emmisaries of the One Light. We may be seen to worship the Sun, the Solar Logos, for it is the source of all life and force on Earth. Nothing lives, nothing acts, nothing happens save for the light of the sun. At the same time it is a symbol of the Life Force and it is a point though which that force manifests in the universe, just as each person is a "small light" manifestation of the Divine.
And we do adore the source of all life in the world. We adore the Lord of the Universe and the Lady as well. In Judaism they are God and Shekinah, in Christianity they are Jesus and Mary, in Wicca they are the God and Goddess, but they are all, ALL, the same force in different guises.
It was told to me many years ago by a true Adepti of our tradition "The inner school never intended there to be a separation between the Worship and the Work." Wicca or Craft and the system called "Ceremonial" were never meant to be separate. They were intended to compliment one another, not be at odds. I know at least 2 heads of contacted orders who are also 3rd degrees in Wiccan traditions. There has been greater movement to join the two together, but there has been resistance by people who see "Ceremonialists" as stuffy, snobbish, self-absorbed assholes and those who see Pagans/Wiccans as undisciplined, uneducated wannabes. Yes, both traditions do have those people in them... I will not deny that. That they should be representing our traditions, that they should be the stereotype, that I argue, for how many of them are initiates of a true tradition, how many of them have been doing the work of their system for more that a few years?
I think that, too often, people get into one of these traditions and it goes to their head. They become "initiate" and suddenly they're complete jerks, or maybe the complete jerk comes out because they don't have to play nice anymore. I've known "Second Order" people who were not the least bit spiritual or advanced and known people who'd never HEARD of initiation who were true beacons of Light. Grade often does not matter, for grade only means that one is doing specific work at a specific time. It does not impart wisdom or spirituality. It is hard to know who truly speaks for a tradition and who does not. "Lord MoonBladder is high Mucky Muck 10-1, 3rd Degree, Grand Hierophant of the Cosmos and he says... BLAH" and he's probably wrong.
Actually, that's a great example. As far as I'm concerned, when someone starts listing their degrees and their magical names anything they have to say afterwards is thrown in the "may be bullshit" container. OK, It's one thing to say "I've worked with this system for 20 years" because it means you've had experience with the system, you've more than a cursory knowledge of the tradition. Some groups can get you to Second Order or 3rd Degree in 6 months. Does that really make you an expert in their tradition? No. Time teaches, and time shapes us. I don't want to know your grades or your names. I want to know how long you've been with the system/tradition, maybe whether or not you've taught, for we learn much when seeing the problem from a different perspective. If I have ANY reason to know your magical name, I should be in a position to look it up! In our tradition it is the name of the aspiration of our soul, it is not to be used lightly.
Anyway, I'm getting away from the point of this post. In general, the people who claim the most authority (the loudest and most obnoxious) tend to have no real experience of a tradition and the tradition is then judged by them and their behaviour. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of "Orders" that have been formed throughout North America and the world have no contact to the Inner School and no real experience in the tradition. Many are formed because someone spends a few years and decides to create something new because of personality conflicts (often because the head of the order cannot see how special and important that person is) and they form a new "order" without really grokking the inner teachings. I'd like to address the misconceptions that those people have created about us, and to help define our tradition within the community as a whole.
If you want to add or discuss points I've brought up, please post. I'll edit this post and use the material in future lecutres on our tradition.