I received a message from someone today asking me a question that really got me to thinking: This would be a hell of an article!
I’m going to assume the last point is for real because my querent is just that bad ass. But then again…
I recently posted this, which drew some interest from people all around me. The Esoteric Order of Dagon has operated in quasi-silence for the last decade. I was initiated during this period so they couldn’t have been that quiet since initiation and a big mouth are two things I’m well known for. You can check out the full announcement here. They’re taking on new students now, there’s a magical literary journal in the works and one of these days we’ll get the new site launched.
I’ll have links at the bottom of the article to some groups that I think are well-worth looking into if you’re into this sort of thing but don’t know where to look.
One of the first articles that drew any attention to me was my criticism of the initiatory system as a broad concept. It was very much a product of a magician entering into the more advanced phases of study and feeling pretty good about himself, but it was also written many years ago and I feel a little silly about the whole thing now, to be honest. It did, however, introduce me to some fascinating folks, I experienced the full-tilt weirdness of synchronicity, and met someone that I consider a friend and a mentor. My opinion on the matter has evolved a great deal since then.
Back then I scoffed at the idea of joining a formal order and initiating into a lodge. The internet made the entire concept moot. At the time, I was a member of Poke Runyon’s OTA associate members program. If you ever listen to his show, The Hermetic Hour, he punctuates just about every episode with an ad for it. It’s been some time since I listened to that show, though. Back then the membership fee was a modest $35, which got you all sorts of wild stuff. You got the core manual, some DVDs, access to the member site, discounts for other OTA and OTA-adjacent materials (I own a copy of Poke’s bonkers Mount Shasta conspiracy thriller, Beyond Lemuria, for instance). Plus, Poke makes himself available by all channels. If you want to call him up and ask him questions you could do this. It’s a serious bargain and my dude is the real deal. Plus I love listening to his voice. When he’s not yelling into his phone to record his podcast like David Lynch, he has a great “mysterious wizard” voice.
The problems did not immediately present themselves but for all the value of the membership fee much of the degree work was committed to Poke’s memory and what was provided on hard copy and PDF form was disjointed and hard to put together in a coherent format. The members site was quieter than a graveyard. Doing the coursework was a bit of a grind, like I said, but once approved you were handed the next grade’s materials to work. You could conceivably do this all the way to the inner order but it was always in the back of my mind that someone would eventually insist on me being initiated, which meant traveling to one of two temples in the country, both quite far away. There was also a matter of some petty disagreements I had with Poke and Soror Zandria regarding the choosing of a magical name. It’s where I first started using the name Pera. I was told that I could only do this once initiated. And this came hot on the heels of me turning in the second degree course work. They also fought me over my use of 3D printed materials on my altar. The criticisms seemed so arbitrary. I was about to receive third degree materials but couldn’t use a magical name because I wasn’t initiated yet? Plastic pieces on my altar weren’t allowed but the documentation in Poke’s own book recommends a spectrum of glues and paints that are mostly chemicals? It put a lot of things into perspective for me and as shocking as it may seem, I took to this blog to talk some shit.
But my mind has changed quite a bit since then. Nowadays I have a reputation for compulsively initiating into new orders. I joined up with the Congregational Illuminists where we do Points Chauds and other Michael Bertiaux weirdness. I took novitiate vows recently for a chivalric order associated with the Apostolic Johannite Church. I initiated into the bonkers-weird Esoteric Order of Dagon. And I love them all. The EOD takes initiation pretty seriously but has their own very modern riff on it. The AJC’s Order of the Temple and Saint John features extended periods of postulancy to make sure that participants are serious about their participation. And finally, the Illuminists get real loose with it and pursue initiation however each working group or lodge feels is appropriate, if they feel it’s appropriate at all. So, I feel pretty confident in taking another pass at thoughts on initiation now that I’ve got a real good taste of functional magical orders with a variety of different approaches to growth.
The obvious benefits of initiatory orders are self-evident: In the three modes that I specify above, each one put me in a sort of mentor/student relationship that really worked out for me and it may just be that I was lucky to bat a thousand on this point. There’s always someone ahead of me who has done the work that I’m doing and they’re there to hold my hand and help me dig up the lessons that I’m supposed to learn. The lodges/parish represent a diverse group of people with a variety of experience and it offers me a very robust menu of lessons to learn. Magic is highly subjective and some things aren’t going to speak to me in the same way that others will. Having this many people to teach and learn from offers me the broadest possible array of opportunities to grow and since embracing the initiatory model I’ve gone from a theoretical book obsessive to a practicing magician. The growth of knowledge and skill are observable changes in me and I’ve come to be quite proud of it.
I’m also a social butterfly and love meeting and talking to people. Entering into lodges puts me in contact with people where the curriculum demands discussion. If you like hanging out with other weirdos, look no further than a magical order. I’ve met other punk rock wizards, were-spiders (it’s a Bertiaux thing, don’t worry about it), Temple ov Psychic Youth members, UFO mystics and so on. And while I greatly enjoy working out with them magically, I consider many of them friends as well, and greatly enjoy shooting the shit with them.
Joining an order also subjects you to what I would term benevolent gatekeeping. There was a time when I considered gatekeeping of any kind to be a bad thing but in light of recent events, it seems like consulting a committee to grant admission to aspirants might not be such a bad thing. I mention the Freemasons a lot and for good reason. If you go into a lodge and petition to join, you’re likely going to be admitted unless you’re an absolute maniac, but the process of vetting is every bit for you as it is for them. They don’t want to admit someone who’s going to bring bad news to their lodge and the craft but you also don’t want to initiate into a lodge where the chemistry doesn’t work. This is important stuff and it’s going to positively suck if you can’t stand the people in your lodge. Gatekeeping has a natural tendency for abuse but I’d wager that this is a risk worth taking if it manages to keep the abusive shitheads out and the people on the inside safe more than it produces cults of personality. The same goes for the aspirant. There’s a thin line between initiatory order and cult and the initiation process should be as much an audition of the lodge as it is an audition of you. But if I got so lucky finding such a fine group of people to work and socialize with in three lodges, then it can’t be that much of a rarity that the bulk of lodges in operation are stocked with cool people.
Going back to when I was a teenager and spooky occult stuff caught my eye, I was less interested in the solitary witchcraft thing and way more into Victorian lodges and the like. The problem is that these lodges are a gigantic pain in the ass to keep running. Members come and go, the responsibility of running the lodge typically falls to one person, clashes between big personalities result in schisms in almost all cases of initiatory orders. The old model often required an actual lodge which is just a preposterous notion these days. Even the mid-century model of congregating around places like Magical Childe and Crow Haven Corner are a rarity nowadays. Sometimes they orbit a single person and as that person gets on in age, no matter how enthusiastic they remain, they’re going to one day die without having named or even prepared a successor and the whole order dies with them.
But still, we’re living in a new age and if I may be so bold, Aleister Crowley’s Aeon of Horus is running at full-steam right now as massive segments of the population use the internet to find one another in a way that was never before possible and we face a new challenge. How do we galvanize the groups of people who actually want to work in groups? The pandemic taught us a bunch of very valuable lessons on this topic. We don’t have to be in the same physical space to operate as initiated magicians in an order. It certainly helps, and the Points Chauds work I’ve done in person with Sothis Lodge represents some of the most significant magical work I’ve ever done I can say similar things about the work I do with the Esoteric Order of Dagon here on my own in New England while GM Tornasuk reads my notes and journals in Sweden. The occasional Zoom meeting makes chatting a breeze. Invite-only Discord servers or Slack make remote collaboration a breeze. Sharing, collaborating and socializing for magicians is the same set of tools used by massive companies that remain in operation without a centralized, in-office workforce. With the sheer volume of knowledge available in print and online, there’s really no reason that initiatory orders are still such a rarity. Israel Regardie’s Golden Dawn tome doesn’t have to be such a daunting document to work through now. Myself and several other people in the Sothis Lodge are turning Michael Bertiaux’s notoriously opaque Voudon Gnostic Workbook into a workable manual. The obvious thing to watch out for as new lodges come together is that you unify around the material and not around a personality.
That said, I have experience with the following outfits ranging from either a little bit to quite a lot, actually, and think they’re great. It’s important that we, the current generation of practitioners, get our messages out there and share our knowledge with the neophytes. We learned a hard lesson recently that it’s very easy for many young people to confuse a significant number of social media followers with authority in a magical tradition.
Marco Visconti’s Patreon: I’m a member at the Malkuth level which is pretty low, if not the lowest you can go. I’d buy in deeper if I could afford it but even at this level the work that he makes available is practical magic based on his experience in both the OTO and the A:.A:. and the Discord server is a lot of fun and packed with really fun people.
The Temple of Witchcraft: Earthy old withcraft isn’t really my scene but I’ve read a couple of Christopher Penczak’s books and keep up with him on Twitter. On top of being a really nice dude, he’s carrying on a tradition of paganism that’s inclusive and well-worth your time if you want to see what a well-rounded pagan practice looks like. They have a really nice IRL house in Salem, New Hampshire conveniently located adjacent to an amusement park. They also do a tremendous amount of work online and still may be observing lockdown and are not doing in-person work but that was an option at one time.
Esoteric Order of Dagon: Fully explained above in GM Tornasuk’s document and elsewhere on this site. I was initially skeptical of it due to Lovecraftian magic feeling a bit like a novelty but it’s a sort of skin for common gnostic searching found in other ceremonial outfits that makes the path an awful lot of fun and very easy to connect with if you’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft or looking for a current that’s darker than the rest. They have a really awesome oracle deck that I’ve written about a bit and a very cool cipher that ought to feel familiar to people who’ve used the ALW/UFOnaut Cipher. Tornasuk is also a really pleasant fella and parcels out the grade work in very manageable ways that you can work on either on your or with a group.
The Apostolic Johannite Church: It’s Gnostic Christianity, plain and simple and if you’re anything like me and a recovering Catholic on the path to enlightenment, it represents a very familiar format for worship and attainment without the nasty-ass baggage of the Catholic Church. It’s inclusive as fuck and has a really bananas history where the whole thing may be based on a lie and the guy that brought it to the broader American public may have enjoyed trolling conspiracy theorists a bit too much about have the actual god damn head of John The Baptist in his possession. It’s not an initiatory order in itself but if you feel called to the clergy it does offer two paths, the Oblates and the Knights.
Congregational Illuminism: I consider it open-source gnosticism. It’s highly experimental and full of complete weirdos in the best way. If you’re lucky, you might get to do a little magical work with Allen Greenfield. Some of us do Points Chauds, others do The Ancient and Primitive Rite of Memphis and Misraim, it’s a whole thing depending on what the lodge agrees upon. They don’t do online work but the upside to this is that they’re international and there’s lodges all over the place. You’ll love it if you’re into anarchy. These are the tenets:
Spiritual growth is incompatible with authoritarian structure.
Scientific Illuminism requires a non-dogmatic, experimental
A free society linked in free communion should be actualized.
We facilitate, we do not lead. We do the Work, we do not extract
oaths or dues, or require dogmatic beliefs.
The AJC may be "based on a life"? LOL? What?