Hermetic Library Fellow John Michael Greer reviews Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition: A Complete Curriculum of Study for Both the Solitary Magician and the Working Magical Group by Chic Cicero and Sandra Tabatha Cicero in the archive of Caduceus: The Hermetic Quarterly.
For more than half a century, the system of magic presented in Israel Regardie’s epochal collection of Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn documents, The Golden Dawn, has been essentially the standard method of magical work in the English-speaking world. Most other books on magical subjects borrow from it liberally, to the extent that it’s possible to find works purporting to be about Norse neopaganism (to give only one of many possible examples) which use slightly rewritten versions of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, the Middle Pillar exercise, and similar Golden Dawn technical methods. Some of this borrowing is simple plagiarism, and more is a somewhat less discreditable effort to rework Golden Dawn technique to fit different symbolic, religious and political stances.
Some, on the other hand, derives from the extreme unwieldiness and the sometimes fragmentary nature of the Golden Dawn material as Regardie presented it. The Golden Dawn is more of an archive than a textbook; it’s possible to extract the meat of the Order’s system of training from the husk of knowledge lectures, ritual texts and often rambling documents in the collection, but there’s a good deal of work involved. As a result, there have been a number of attempts to produce an introduction to the Golden Dawn system designed specifically for the beginning student.
Self-Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition is the most substantial of these to appear so far. Intended as a complete curriculum of study for the Outer Order work of the Golden Dawn system, it contains solo versions of the grade rituals from Neophyte through Portal, greatly expanded versions of the Order’s knowledge lectures, and additional instruction on topics such as alchemy and astrology. The material for each grade also includes practical exercises and meditations, a reading list, and an examination on the grade teachings.
To describe this book as comprehensive may be an understatement. The Ciceros earned a reputation for thoroughness with their last book, Secrets of a Golden Dawn Temple, which explored the working tools and equipment of the Golden Dawn system in exhaustive detail, and this new release will do nothing to detract from it. Despite the sheer volume, however, the lessons are well paced and well organized, and should be well within the power of beginners to assimilate; the authors’ experience as chiefs of a working temple shows here.
It should be noted, however, that this book is indeed intended for beginners, and readers who have already worked their way through Regardie’s Golden Dawn and other works on the Order’s system are unlikely to find much new in it. A work of instruction rather than, say, history, it smooths over some of the discontinuities between the original Golden Dawn system and its current form; for example, although a great deal of basic astrological information is given, the fact that the Order had its own distinct system of astrology — a system differing sharply in some respects from the common form which the Ciceros give here — is nowhere mentioned.
Still, these are ultimately issues of genre, not of the work itself. Within the limits of what this book attempts to do, it succeeds well.