The Golden Dawn Grade System on the Tree of Life
The grade structure of the Golden Dawn (the Outer Order) corresponds to the lower Sephiroth on the Tree of Life. They are also subsequently, attributed to the elements. The alchemical work carried out by the initiate in the Golden Dawn, is the strengthening and refinement of the microcosm- that is the immediate world surrounding the individual, perceived through the senses- often called the “Sphere of Sensation”. Through each of the grades, the initiate is able to focus on a different aspect of their microcosm, refining it, making it a fitting vessel to receive that greater influx of Light known as “Knowledge and Conversation of the Higher Genius”. This is how we discover and enact our “True Will”- our destiny or reason for being. There are many people today who believe that this kind of structured approach to magic is at best, out of date. While at worst- no more than a means of control and manipulation. Such people believe that the magical path should be a free for all and that “wanting” is the only prerequisite for “obtaining.” In defense of the tradition, Israel Regardie summed-up the reasoning behind this approach quite well with these words:
“The personality must be harmonized. Every element therein demands equilibration in order that illumination ensuing from the magical work may not produce fanaticism and pathology instead of Adeptship and integrity. Balance is required for the accomplishment of the Great Work. Equilibrium is the basis of the soul. Therefor the four grades of Earth, Air, Water and Fire plant the seeds of the microcosmic pentagram, and above them, is placed in the Portal ceremony, the Crown of the Spirit."
Let us take a brief look at the grade structure. All members start from Neophyte Grade (Level 0) and advances into each new grade level at their own pace with the guidance of their assigned grade mentors designated to assist the student with their studies.
In the Golden Dawn system, there are five grades that each initiate must traverse. They are Neophyte, Zelator, Theoricus, Practicus, and Philosophus. All of the grades within the Golden Dawn system are associated with one element, the only exception being Neophyte and Portal. The grades of Zelator to Philosophus are additionally attributed to particular sephiroth on the Tree of Life.
There is an Invisible grade that is not of the Outer Order and yet not fully of the Inner Order that is called the grade of Portal. This grade relates to Spirit, by which the four elements must be ruled. It is the completion and perfection of the pentagram with the top point of Spirit ruling the lower four points of the elements. The Portal grade also relates to the veil being torn asunder, the Veil of Paroketh, that was split in two in the sanctuary when Christ expired upon the Cross of Suffering.
An initiate of the Golden Dawn does not become fully initiated into the Order until he or she enters the grade of Zelator, 1=10. This grade, relating to Malkuth and the element of Earth, is also the first grade depicted on the Cabalistic Tree of Life. It is the first sephira- our starting point- going up the Tree and the last sephira coming down from Kether, thus, we have the 1=10. Theoricus 2=9, relates to Yesod. Practicus, 3=8, relates to Hod. Philosophus, 4=7, relates to Netzach. It is only the grade of Neophyte that does not relate to a sephiroth on the Qabalistic Tree of Life so thus we have the numbers 0=0. It is in the grade of Neophyte that all the forces of inner alchemical transformation begin.
The Neophyte initiation, when conducted properly with the appropriate officers in the correct colors and with the correct symbolism, is an extremely potent and powerful force. The whole process of Western Mystery work far outreaches the information given to the new Neophyte as part of his or her grade material. The real transformation takes place first, in the initiation of 0=0, then on a daily basis in the experience we call “living.”
Each grade of the Order provides potent forces filled with rewards and challenges. It is not enough to be undaunted by the difficulty of occult study as is exclamed in the Neophyte Ceremony. We must learn to be undaunted by the challenge of occult/spiritual living. The candidate (maybe for the first time) is communicating with the Divine, to the principles of Light and to the “Great Work.” In a few words, the candidate is telling the Divine essence within, the “Higher Genuis,” that he or she wants to begin the journey of the “True Self” not the self governed by modern advertising or ego, but the “True and Secret Self.” The Higher Genius begins causing changes to manifest in the life of the aspirant. From a mundane point of view these changes may seem good or bad. From the mountain top, to the birds eye view of the Higher Genius, it is much like a chess strategy. When understood, it will allow the candidate, to place the negative aspects of the ego in check.
Volumes can be written on the qualities that are acquired in each grade and through each initiation. Each grade carries within it the seed of reward and the challenges necessary to strengthen the spiritual self on the road of “Self-Mastery and the magical way of life.” The Golden Dawn is unlike the many new age groups who do not provide any safeguards for the student. Each grade, requires testing. Even after successful testing, the advancement into the next grade often requires permission from the local Temple Chiefs and the invisible Chiefs of the Order. These people keep an eagles eye on the candidate to make certain he or she will be capable of handling the force and energy of the next grade. Traditionally, there is a minimum time that must be spent in each grade before one can apply for advancement to the next grade. Determining when one should advance is by discussion with one’s mentors and must be recommended and approved by the Chiefs of the Second Order.
It is the grades of 0=0 Neophyte through 4=7 Philosophus that comprise the “Outer Order” or the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn does not (as many uninformed authors have declared), go beyond 4=7. Beyond 4=7 is the “Second Order” or the “Inner Order.” This is the governing Order of the Golden Dawn, but it is NOT the Golden Dawn!
There is a grade beyond 4=7 that is not of the Golden Dawn and is not really part of the Inner Order. It is called the grade of “Portal”. This grade is the crowning point of the Golden Dawn grades in that it is related to “spirit,” whereas the Outer grades are all related to a specific element.
Thus, when the student goes through the grades of the Order, he/she has balanced the internal elements within his/her Sphere of Sensation. And, if Portal is achieved, the student has formulated the complete pentagram in balance and harmony within one’s own Sphere of Sensation.
This is necessary and vital before one can approach the fountain of power awaiting beyond the veil of Paroketh in the Second Order. These energies are both rewarding and challenging, and they certainly cannot be obtained out of published books on the subject.
The grade of 5=6 is part of another Order referred to as the Second Order, it is also referred to as the Rosicrucian Order is also known with our Inner Order as the Collegium Spiritu Sancti (College of the Holy Spirit). The Second Order or Inner Order is not a part of the Golden Dawn Current. It is responsible for the governance of the Outer School. Portals may only be initiated into 5=6 of the Second Order by invitation after formal recommendations and accompanied evidences of one’s desire and dedication to the Great Work.