Is Initiation Even Necessary?
“The true genesis of this line of thinking came from the cross section of my own initiation frustrations and being a part of the growing “weird Left” movement characterized in writers like Doctor Bones, blogs like Gods and Radicals, and podcasts like Black Banner Magic. There’s a growing occult movement in leftist circles that is giving Marxist/Leninists a god damn aneurysm but it’s taking on a decidedly folk magic tilt.”
From Frater Pera
It’s been a while and I’ve been dragging my feet to the finish line for second degree initiation. The boards for my elemental magic circle have been sitting at 75% completion in my basement for months, partially painted. Like my last project, the altar, the beginning phase was exciting and fun. Cutting and joining the wood, filling the gaps to make a smooth, beautiful surface, these qualities were a real joy to work on. But then came the time to paint and the entire process ground to a screeching halt. I don’t mention it much these days because it represents a real impulsive low point in my life where I was mostly avoiding my family while being a sneaky drug addict in the garage, going completely insane in the meantime. I built a cosplay-grade small suit of Iron Man armor for my son out of foam mats. The process, though tedious at times, was a lot of fun. Fun, that is, until it came time to paint the suit and I lost all interest in the project. Turns out, I just hate painting. Painting requires an eye for detail and a steady hand. Both qualities which I lack. I’m a large person who bores easily and has a really hard time finding a comfortable position to work in. I’m also left-handed, which means I get paint all over my hand and then I smudge it on everything that I’m trying not to paint. Now, I suppose I could try self-hypnotizing and dropping into a trance state in order to pass the time but I think right now I’m just looking for excuses to be lazy.
And all of the above is a means to an end for me. I’m angling toward second degree initiation with the Ordo Templi Astartes. But here’s the rub, I haven’t even been initiated into the first degree.
Ah! But Frater Pera, you shout, I thought you said you were working toward second degree!
Oh, but I am, and that’s more or less the point I want to make with this article. I’ve done all the work, shown Poke Runyon and received acknowledgement in return that I could be initiated if I wanted to be but I live in New England and the temples which could initiate me are at the far ends of the country. I have to board a plane, secure accommodations and a car, get to the temple and participate in a ritual that symbolically entitles me to move to the next step. It’s a whole thing and to be quite honest, costs a tremendous amount of money that I don’t have. The upside to being a member of the OTA is that if I wanted to be initiated in the Silverado temple, I can stay in the hermitage there either for free or for a small, very affordable fee. But I still have to get there. This almost brings me to my point. Bear with me. The twist in all of this is that I am only technically a first degree initiate and just being technically first degree is enough to receive the course work for second degree and once I’ve done that, I can receive the third degree materials and so on. So by the rules of the order, I’m a 0 degree student, not even a neophyte, but I’m doing all the work that first degree initiation entitles me to. Which makes me ask: Why even bother with initiation, in the first place?
It makes sense from a certain point of view.
Parceling out the information makes learning very manageable. There’s so much to learn and do in the occult that it can be very challenging to stick to learning the fundamentals if the entire curriculum is made available to you.
You also might not want to make your entire order’s traditions and rituals available to just any old jabroni.
High magic is potent as all get out. It’s incredibly focused and often deals with incredibly holy sources of power. I’m not saying that it’s qualitatively better than thaumaturgy, of course. The Western Esoteric path deals with “The Great Work”, which is all about personal growth and development. There’s an endgame and it’s a fundamentally different beast from witchcraft. There’s even a significant difference of magical expression between putting together a bag of Hot Foot Powder versus an evocation of Murmur to have conversation with and bind the spirit of someone out of reach of the living. It requires a tremendous amount of discipline. Discipline which flaky folks like me can greatly benefit from. Plus, without a bit of occult gatekeeping, you end up with clowns like David Griffin, putting the official Capitalist stamp of approval on ceremonial magic and using it to protect Donald “America’s Special Boy” Trump. Spoiler alert: Griffin’s wife took their dog out for a hike along a perilous trail where it became injured and she left it to die alone in the desert. The magic slinging couple blamed it on communist magicians hexxing Trump and their own magic redirecting the poor fortune upon themselves; such heroes!
Before I go tearing down the concept of arbitrary hierarchy in the occult world, I feel that a certain distinction has to be made when it comes to initiation. A good friend of mine cautioned me not to be too broad when discussing this because many folksy traditions have initiation rites but there’s a key difference between a shamanic ordeal versus the sort of rites you’ll find in the OTO or the Golden Dawn.
Citing my own example as a cautionary tale and an initiation by ordeal, I went quite insane a few years ago. I was slipping away for a couple of years prior but everything fell away from me at a certain point and culminated in the purchase of a gun and disappearing into the night with the intention of carrying out an elaborate suicide plan that I’d been thinking of for the last couple of years. I was addicted to opiates and benzos having been self-medicating psychotic symptoms for a little over a year following the particularly grizzly suicide of one of my oldest friends. I pulled my car over, put the loaded gun to my head, and pressed the trigger. The next thing I knew I was driving in the opposite direction and couldn’t account for the previous twenty minutes. Then the cops caught up to me and I spent a week in a psychiatric hospital kicking dope and getting right in my head and with my family. It’s a real document of how fragile relationships are and how important it is to reach out when your mental health is slipping away. But it was this ordeal that proved to me that there was a guiding force in my life and that I couldn’t ignore it any longer. It had been reaching out to me in the ways that it was able, putting signs out on the road for me to follow, but I was so insufferably materialist at the time, and way too fucked up to notice. In the moment of clarity in that split second between life and death, I went right up to the edge of the abyss and looked over and rather than seeing an endless darkness I caught a glimpse of the machinery that runs the universe and saw my place in it. As soon as I got out of the hospital, I started looking into the occult with the goal in mind to get back to that place in the machinery, and when the time comes, take a flying leap into it.
That’s just my example, a moment when the ineffable Source pulled aside the veil. It was my Philip K. Dick pink laser moment when everything became terrifyingly clear to me and my true path was revealed. People go through this all the time and come out the other side with a drastically different philosophy. Operation Intruder is actively attempting to facilitate alien abductions because of the way abduction encounters change people in a way that see as positive. Using DMT or drinking Ayahuasca induce powerful initiations that come with a great deal of pain and suffering in exchange for ascension. These are examples of initiation by a higher power, the true initiation which I feel is a distinctly different experience from secret society initiation. Christian and Jewish baptism, Catholic Sacraments and Confirmation, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, these are all valid initiation rites as well. Though, performed by a human emissary of God, the Priest or Rabbi are merely conduits for the divine. They are an entirely different experience, distinct from some aristocrat OTO member watching you beat off for your eighth degree.
The true genesis of this line of thinking came from the cross section of my own initiation frustrations and being a part of the growing “weird Left” movement characterized in writers like Doctor Bones, blogs like Gods and Radicals, and podcasts like Black Banner Magic. There’s a growing occult movement in leftist circles that is giving Marxist/Leninists a god damn aneurysm but it’s taking on a decidedly folk magic tilt. This makes sense. Folk magic is available to everyone. It’s very much “of the people”. Literally anyone with an ounce of belief and a recipe for oiling a money candle can tilt a few bucks their way when they’re in need or they can draw up sigils to ward off bad people and energy with the bonus orgasm that comes with firing the sigil. The information is just out there and everyone is willing to share their technique. It’s quite beautiful and perfectly in line with the philosophy of mutual aid. And seeing young women flee christianity and adopt witchcraft as their primary spiritual expression is a real thumb in the eye to the American conservative movement. The former, in the American Christian narrative, has been nothing but hostile to women while the latter empowers them and makes Pat Robertson mad.
Of course, I use Witchcraft in the broadest sense. Many people of color are coming around to embrace the pagan practices of their own ancestors such as African Traditional Religions and the diaspora religions that evolved out of oppression.
What all of these paradigms have in common is an innately leftist-friendly, horizontal structure (insomuch as solo practice makes you the shaman). Many of them do, in fact, have a variety of initiation rituals, but these are more like the divine ordeals mentioned above. There’s ultimately no one but God/Source standing between you and your ascension.
But what if you’re like me and you’re a leftist on a Western Esoteric path? The vast bulk of your practice is performed in a precarious philosophical environment. Leninists and Marxist Materialists are quick to pounce and label me a fascist for the mere association of the occult with fascist movements both here and abroad. It’s no secret that the Nazi party was propelled from behind the scenes by the aristocratic Thule Society, which gave way and evolved into Esoteric Nazism or Hitlerism, which are both on the rise again as a natural reaction to the growing Left. Say you’re primarily interested in theurgy and returning to the Godhead? Your options are pretty limited. The world’s gnostic knowledge has been lost to the winds of time, suppressed by the Holy Roman Empire, burned in ancient libraries of antiquities. You have to join an order. Chaos Magic is an option, of course, I’m not discounting the power of the individual, but my own personal experiences with Chaos are what led me to formal initiation in the first place since my dabbling had disastrous consequences. You’re left with a smattering of small time orders, such as the OTA, or you can find something with a broader presence in the world like The Golden Dawn and The Ordo Templi Orientis. The problem with these options, of course, is that no matter how you slice it, initiatory orders hinge on an arbitrary hierarchy and the taint of capitalism.
For your consideration: Another personal OTA story to drive the point home.
I’d been using a magic name on the member forums and was informed by Frater Thabion and Soror Zandria that this was not permitted. You choose your magic name when you’re initiated. I switched my name back to my real name and spent a few minutes being butthurt about the whole thing. And I get it. It’s a ceremonial outfit. There’s ceremony to be had and part of that ceremony is choosing a name. But I’d been doing all this work in spite of initiation with the head of the order’s blessing. So what gives? If initiation is only symbolic as far as doing the work is concerned, why is it so important that I play by the rules when choosing a name? It’s this sort of arbitrary nonsense that lies at the center of anarchist philosophy regarding the tearing down of hierarchical social structures. Charles Stanfield Jones, aka Frater Achad of the OTO is famous for having just claimed the grade of Master Templi while still a neophyte and nobody said shit. Samuel Mathers of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was well known to have sold initiation grades to members. Unsurprisingly, Anton LaVey did the same in the Church of Satan. Unsurprisingly again, both of those dudes had made up names. They’re charlatans! They all hoarded information and held it over the heads of their most affluent members. To add insult to injury, the lofty, high-falutin’ knowledge of the divine that they claimed to have was really only a rather large collection of esoteric loose ends, haphazardly stitched together and poorly understood by its own practitioners. The only people who had a clue wouldn’t figure it out until the affordable availability of computers helped break the cyphers found hidden in Crowley’s Book of the Law. Poke Runyon’s Crata Repoa system would end up filling a lot of the gaps in the Golden Dawn’s system by going even further back in time than Antiquity but this wouldn’t happen until the 1970’s. It was the 90’s when the internet came along and allowed people to put their heads together and start connecting the dots between all the disparate elements that Victorian occultists touted as evidence of their own personal mastery of the universe.
Granted, back when the Golden Dawn was a new thing, emerging from Freemason lodges and Rosicrucian study groups, information about the occult, particularly ceremonial magic wasn’t even remotely as available as it is today and the only people in the world who had access were people with the cash to buy rare books and then the cash to have them translated or the personal free time to learn a language and do the translations, themselves. But we live in an age now of hyper-available information in a broad variety of languages. If you’re interested in the Western Esoteric Tradition you can buy Israel Regardie’s Complete Golden Dawn, books about Hermeticism by Poke Runyon and Franz Bardon. You can buy excellent expanded editions of The Lesser Key of Solomon by Stephen Skinner and have the foundations for a comprehensive occult education stored on your phone. The only barrier to mastery is putting in the time and doing the work. Is initiation even necessary when the secrets aren’t so secretive any longer?
Can a theurgic ceremonial tradition of magic be made available to the same leftists leaving rum out for The Crossroads Man or burning poppets meant to represent Brett Kavanaugh? I say yes. Ceremonial initiation grades are really nothing more than a filter created by a class of people meant to keep out the underclasses and hoard the information, making it available only to the people that they deem worthy. We already have a small number of people in this world holding on to the world’s capital and playing political games to corner even more money and power. But this information escaped their grasp long ago and is available to anyone who knows where to look. There is value in a network of leftist sorcerers setting all 72 demons of the Goetia loose on Gavin McInnes.
I hereby plant my flag. Starting today: The Mutual Aid Order of the Holy Guardian Angel. Let’s share our knowledge and grow spiritually together as comrades. Let’s wrest the paradigm of high magic from the forces of fascism that are absolutely working in this space as you read this. No initiation grades. No secret grips. Instead, a loose collection of individual Western Esoteric magicians all over the world ready to assemble local IRL working groups, affinity groups, and operational groups at a moment’s notice. We each facilitate each others’ growth, teaching Qabalah, Tarot, Astrology, Goetic Evocation, Mirror Scrying and organize initiations as ordeal when a comrade feels the time is right. If the Source passes down the information they seek, so be it. If not, the time will come when the time comes.
We can’t go on ignoring the value of ceremonial magic.
Frater Pera is a leftist magician from the eldritch and sea-battered coast of New Hampshire. He currently quests to bring comrades to The Great Work via his IRL temple, The Elysium Lodge of Ancient Wonders and fosters an online community of leftist ceremonial magicians with The Mutual Aid Order of the Holy Guardian Angel as part of his Weird Left Discord Server. He is sometimes known to document his magical operation at his blog, Codex Astarte.