[In the first part of this series, some of the difficulties understanding the Grades of the Golden Dawn system were examined. In this part, the symbolism of the Golden Dawn Grades is briefly examined.]
The Golden Dawn Grade structure is a marriage of occult symbolism and one’s rank in that particular esoteric tradition. The student of Golden Dawn and its Second (Inner) Order, RR et AC (Ordo Roseae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis: Order of the Rose of Ruby and the Cross of Gold), is concerned with understanding the Grade structure not only to understand their position in the system, but also because the Grade structure is a symbol, a map and blueprint of the overall system of spiritual and magical attainment that Golden Dawn embodies.
The founders of Golden Dawn inherited the Grade titles of the system. The names of the first five Grades (Neophyte though Philosophus) were contained in the Cipher Manuscript. These Grade names ultimately seem to trace back to Der Rosenkreutzer in Seiner Blosse (The Rosicrucian in His Nakedness), an expose of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood published in 1781, and were listed in Kenneth MacKenzie’s Royal Cyclopedia of Freemasonry; the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (an organization that MacKenzie and the three co-founders of the Golden Dawn belonged to) used them; their original source seems to be Gold und Rosenkreuz Order.
MacKenzie’s List of Grade Names:
3,7 Adepti Exempti
To this tabulation, the founders of Golden Dawn added a couple of Grades and renamed others. These additional Grades performed special functions (such as the Portal Grade serving as a probationary Grade for the Inner Order), as well as bringing the Grade structure into alignment with the Tree of Life which is probably the most used symbol in the Golden Dawn system.
The Tree of Life, which is taken from the Kabbalah, consists of ten sephiroth, and only a few of the Grades are not directly related to one of them.
The Grade list that is typical of most Golden Dawn based Orders is as follows:
Outer (First) Order:
Inner (Second) Order:
5=6 Adeptus Minor
6=5 Adeptus Major
7=4 Adeptus Extempt
8=3 Magister Templi
The most common way of quickly writing the Grades of Golden Dawn is to use their numerical equation. For instance, the Grade of Zelator is the first Grade associated to a sephirah of the Tree of Life, being assigned to the sephirah of Malkuth, hence its numerical equation is 1=10.
The first number of the equation is typically described as stages of the initiatory system completed (or at least started); the second number is the number that the Grade is associated with. Often in the older handwritten documents of the tradition, the first number is enclosed or accompanied by a circle while the second is associated with a square.
There are two ways of approaching the Tree of Life: from the bottom climbing up, and from the top descending from pure spirit (energy) condensing into the material (depths of matter). The numerical equations of the Grade structure combines both ways of looking at the Tree of Life.
The overall Grade structure of Golden Dawn and RR et AC is divided into two types of parts: Orders and Degrees.
Some confusion arises because of the use of these terms, along with the term Grade. Some of this confusion can be attributed to other esoteric traditions using the same terms in different ways. For instance, Aleister Crowley used the names of the Golden Dawn Grades for his own magical Order, the AA, but had a different set of requirements for them. And the Thelemic Golden Dawn uses the terms Grade and Degree in the exact opposite manner that a member of a Hermetic based Golden Dawn group will. Furthermore, the Thelemic Golden Dawn associates each Grade with a charka, something that few Hermetic groups do.
In this article, we are looking at the Hermetic based version of Golden Dawn.
[In those groups using the Ciceros’ Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition as their primary text, the first step into the system is the Grade of Probationer, a stage where the student of the system builds a set of Outer Order Temple tools and establishes a connection to the current of energy that empowers the Golden Dawn system. This stage is unnecessary for Temple initiates, though the term is occasionally used for members who have been accepted into an Order, but have not yet undergone their Neophyte initiation.]
The First Grade of Golden Dawn is the Grade of Neophyte. It is the first Grade of the Outer (First) Order. It is also the first Grade of the First Degree. Its numerical equation is 0=0; the student has not completed any stage of the tradition’s work, and furthermore the Neophyte Grade is not associated with any sephirah, element or planet.
Neophyte Grade is the Probationary Grade of Outer Order. Some say that the Neophyte Grade is the equivalent of the Entered Apprentice degree of Freemasonry.
The ritual initiation for the Neophyte Grade symbolically takes place in the Hall of Dual Truth, the Hall of the Maat goddesses, the Hall of Judgment from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The officers on one level represent the gods of Ancient Egypt (Osiris, Horus, Isis, Anubis, etc.), yet the member of Golden Dawn might not study this layer of meaning until they become a full member of the Inner Order. On another layer, the officers are just variations of the standard set of officers from the lodge-kit that the lodge system has produced.
The Neophyte experiences a bewildering set of symbols coupled with cryptic speeches after swearing an oath to keep everything a secret. It is only much later that they learn that they learn that the ritual has many layers, and can be explained on at least seven different levels using various sets of occult symbolism.
The course material of the Neophyte Grade is disappointing to some, especially those experienced (or at least well-read) occultists who end up joining a lodge sticking strictly to the original system: it is just the Hebrew alphabet and some basic astrology, kabbalistic and alchemical lore. The only ritual learned is the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram if one adheres to the course outline of the original Order.
Some groups have changed their lessons to reflect the increased knowledge of the modern seeker. More than one Golden Dawn based group has decided to treat the published material as an open secret, though only one group has declared that all the published material is Outer Order work.
After successfully fulfilling a span of time in Neophyte (the time period varies by group) and passing an examination on the rudimentary lore covered in the Neophyte lectures, the student of Golden Dawn enters the Grade of Zelator (1=10).
The Zelator initiation ritual takes place symbolically at the Tabernacle in the Wilderness. The Zelator Grade is associated with the tenth sephirah Malkuth, the element of Earth, and the planet Earth.
In the groups that allow Outer Order members to have Outer Order voting rights, this is typically the Grade that a member receives this privilege and obligation (though it should be noted that all business and Outer Order votes occur in the Neophyte setting).
It is a controversial idea of allowing members, especially Outer Order members, have any control over the business of their respective lodge. But many modern seekers are wary of those who insist on running an esoteric group as the original founders of Golden Dawn did, especially with rumors existing that the leaders of the Big Name Orders are using the membership for their own personal gain. Every time, another rumor surfaces, it just becomes more likely that newer members of the tradition are going to demand the right to have some say in the future course of the tradition.
The next step on the initiatory ladder of Golden Dawn is the 2=9 Grade of Theoricus. The Theoricus Grade is associated with the sephirah Yesod, the element of Air and the Moon.
The Theoricus ritual takes place in the wheel of the zodiac, and the initiates symbolically meets the Four Kerubim, the four heavenly watchers.
While the effects of the Zelator Grade tend to be material, dealing with one’s wealth and physical well-being, the effects of the Theoricus Grade tends to manifest on the astral plane and in the initiate’s subconscious.
The Theoricus ritual is the first time that the initiate is introduced to one of the Major Arcana of the Golden Dawn Tarot; in this case, it is the Universe card. From this point on, the initiate will be exposed to additional Tarot cards during every initiation (except for the Adept Minor ritual).
In some Golden Dawn based groups, this is the Grade that one is introduced to the symbolism of geomancy (divination by sand, or by points); this is how the original Hermetic Golden Dawn did it. Other modern groups introduce geomancy in the Zelator Grade; some of these groups have even modified their rituals to reflect this change in the lesson plan (Grade-work).
The 3=8 Practicus Grade is associated with the sephirah Hod, the element of Water, and the planet of Mercury. The ritual symbolically happens on the island of Samos. The effects of the ritual equally impacts the initiate’s emotions and intellect.
The ritual setting of the 4=7 Philosophus Grade is the scene of a great battle. The Grade is associated with the sephirah Netzach, the element of Fire, and the planet Venus. The effects of the ritual show up often in the social environment of the initiate.
The Philosophus Grade is the final Grade of the Outer Order; the name Golden Dawn technically only refers to the Outer Order. Philosophus is also the final Grade of the First Degree.
Portal, the next Grade of the tradition belongs neither to the Outer (First) Order nor to the Inner (Second) Order. Portal has no numerical equation associated with it, for the Grade is associated with the Veil of Paroketh and none of the sephiroth. The element of the Grade is Spirit, the Quintessence, which binds and empowers the other four elements.
As the bridge between the two Orders, its ritual is a combination of symbols and officers drawn from both Orders. The Portal ritual is the first ritual where the initiate is exposed to the imagery of Rosicrucianism, though in a veiled fashion. The Portal Grade is the entirety of the Second Degree. The primary work of the Portal Grade is the writing of a thesis that represents the initiate’s understanding of the rituals of the Outer Order, the last chance that a student of the system has to explore their understanding of the Outer Order before being exposed to the advanced Inner Order interpretations of the Outer Order rituals. The Portal member also works on building up the paths of the Tree of Life in their aura.
The Grades of the Inner (Second) Order, RR et AC, will be examined in part three.