The other night we were chatting with a friend – a fellow therapist – and the talk inevitably (as it tends to) got round to Magick. Then she said to me “I hope it’s not all secret, like Freemasonry; that sort of thing really annoys me”. It turned out that her ex-husband had been a Freemason and she had found the secrecy about what went on very difficult. “So I hope you don’t have all that sort of thing!” she exclaimed. (She was also very peeved by being invited only to Ladies’ Night, as she could not join in and find out what her husband was doing.) To be honest, I fudged the answer a bit, and this post is in part an answer to her, as well as an opportunity to clarify our thinking about the role of secrecy in Magick.
We live in an age where transparency is seen as a good thing. We have a ‘right to know’, and we have the Freedom of Information Act. We have seen how abuse of all sorts operates within organisations which are hidden from public scrutiny. Secrets, we now tend to think, are not good things, and at times may be very bad things. So is there a role for secrecy in Magick?
I will own to a bias: on my initiation into the Order in my twenties I took an oath not to reveal its secrets to outsiders. I did likewise on my initiation into Freemasonry (yes, I had to admit, I was a Freemason, but I excused myself by making it clear that it was within an Order which admitted men and women equally). I have, to a large extent, kept those oaths; but I am very aware that the whole of the Golden Dawn, as well as the complete rituals of Freemasonry, are freely available for everyone to see on the internet. Perhaps there are no secrets of Magick anymore. And if so, what is this stuff about secrecy all for – what does it mean and what role does it play in Magick?
Most Magickians and occultists know about the Magickal cycle: to know, to will, to dare and to keep silent. When I am explaining to students these four points of the Magickal cycle, they often find the fourth – to keep silent – very difficult to understand. There is often an assumption that it is about keeping secrets. But what, they ask, is there to keep silent about? We are no longer persecuted, everything is out there, and we now live in a different and more open age. Perhaps this obsession with ‘secrets’ is just a ploy to feed the ego with a feeling of self-importance? Perhaps it is a self-serving excuse for a power trip and potential abuse?
In fact I agree with them completely about the problems of that sort of secrecy, and that sort of secrecy led to the collapse of many famous Orders – and in a variety of embarrassing ways. But at the same time I believe that secrecy has a vital role in Magick – although not in the way that it is traditionally understood. Let me explain why.
Secrecy is not about the contents of magick but about the process. Think of the twin pillars of the Temple, Jachin and Boaz. Everything has an inner and an outer, a form and a force, a structure and a content. The secrets of magick are not about the structure, the physical arrangements, the rituals, the robes and the weapons, and all the stuff. The true secrets of magick are about what all the stuff exists to do: to create an inner experience.
In the same way that a church exists to promote worship, a school to promote learning, and a car to promote travelling, so too the magickal temple exists to promote the inner experience of the Magickian. We are told that ‘the true Tao cannot be spoken about, and what can be spoken about is not the true Tao’. Ultimately, all the stuff – the altars, the lamens, the wands, cups, gestures, hierarchies, rituals and all that – all that only exists to make it possible for the Magickian to break free of the material world and enter into inner world, or the underworld, or the divine world: call it what you will. And that experience cannot be spoken about; well, it can, but it won’t work, because no-one who has not seen the Golden Dawn, or felt the Pistis Sophia, the mystery of faith, or experienced the Tao, can understand that experience. We can shout it in the streets, or even put our rituals on You-Tube, it doesn’t matter: only the initiate will understand what we mean. Magick hides in plain sight: it is self-concealing and also self-revealing, when the time and the person is right.
In fact, in the Most Noble Order of the Masters of the Temple, there is no oath of secrecy. There is an obligation of confidentiality towards the private information of fellow members, but that is all. I do encourage members not to give out in advance too many details of what we do, but this is really to prevent ‘spoilers’ – some things work best if they are allowed to unfold in their own time (as those who have tried to tell me in advance what will happen in Game of Thrones have found out, to their cost). If you want to take the rituals you have learned with us home and perform them with your family and friends, you are very welcome. We do have a structured progression through grades of the Order, but this is not about secrecy but about allowing learning to be paced and built upon.
But although we have moved past the traditional idea of secrecy, there is still a big role for the fourth point of the Magickal cycle: to be silent. For any process to work there needs to be containment. If you bake a cake and put it into the oven, don’t take it out every few minutes to look at it – it won’t work. As a child I was told not to dig up the seeds we’d planted the day before to see how they are getting on – just leave them there and let them grow. Magick is a process that, if it is to work, needs certain conditions. It takes concentration, commitment and a pouring of personal energy into it. Unless you are really good at it, that concentration doesn’t just happen; it takes a while to build up, and that’s what all the stuff – the rituals, robes and magick circles – are there to help you do. That is what is happening in the ‘silence’ phase.
Actually, I happen to think that the Magickal community, and in my mind that includes all initiates of the mysteries, Wiccans, Druids, shamans and, yes, even Freemasons, would be much better served if we could get together and share our experiences and insights. We are all fellow explorers in the higher worlds, who have benefitted from the journals and signposts of those who went before us, and we should share those experiences, tips, clues and maps with our fellow travellers. Anyone who is willing to respect what we do is welcome to join in and see what we do. That does have some provisos. Many Magick rituals are private ones that are specifically about my journey, and they are only for me and those I choose to involve. It can be the same for a group. If we are on a personal journey, we don’t want strangers popping in and out. It’s like a therapy group: you wouldn’t want strangers to wander in and gawk at you whilst you are baring your soul. But if anyone wants to know how a therapy group works and what goes on, I can run a one-off group for you to experience yourself. So too with Magick: we are very happy to allow people to join us for a more general but nonetheless powerful ritual.
We don’t do Magick rituals as a performance for an audience, but anyone who, for the duration of the ritual, commits to being part of it and participates, either by taking a role or by focussing their energy in tune with us, is welcome to join and experience Magick for themselves. They are also welcome to use whatever they find useful and incorporate it into their own work.
I would welcome (if someone else has more time, energy and organisational ability than I do) a conference, some sort of weekend retreat, open to all who respect us and what we do, and we share our ‘secrets’ with each other. Who knows, at the same time we might even share the true Tao.