Lineage is a tradition that occurs world wide, but what is it worth?
In the west we have the tradition of apostolic succession based on the notion that Jesus ordained the apostles who ordained their successors. This line is passed down through clergy, especially the Roman, Greek and Anglican, clergy through a laying on of hands that is assumed to be unbroken back to Jesus. From this succession these churches derive their authority, even making claims that this lineage and the power it bestows ‘from God’ is more important than the actual capacity of the lineage holder to perform sacramental acts (vide Ex Opere Operato).
In Freemasonry, a charter to form a lodge must be granted by a Grand Lodge, which itself was derived from a similarly charted lodge. This lineage goes back to 1717 when the various bodies of speculative masonry formed the Grand Lodge of England by cooperative fiat.
In the east, the notion of lineage is far more pervasive. All knowledge, teaching and tradition are based on lineage and its corollary ‘transmission’. Even something as common as the letters of the alphabet must first be transmitted to the student (through oral recitation) before being ‘taught’. Traditionally even such a prosaic lineage is said to stretch back in time from student to teacher back to the first teacher who is often a God. (For the alphabet I believe the root is considered Sariswati, the matron of learning.)
With spiritual teachings the importance of lineage is proportionately greater. Every Hindu and Buddhist teaching I have ever heard of was said to derive from a specific lineage rooted in some individual or God. When the teaching was being presented within that lineage it was often prefaced with a recitation of the exact lineage, a chain of names of teacher and student, down to the person giving the lesson. Further, it is taught that even if one possesses the text of a specific practice it is impossible to get the proper effect from the practice without having first received the transmission from one who had been given the transmission from the lineage that originated the practice. Generally it is assumed and at times explicitly claimed that the transmitter is not only a holder of the lineage but also a master of the practice, having attained its benefit.
One more corollary to the notion of lineage figures prominently here. It is often (read almost always and quite explicitly) taught that one must learn from a teacher who is an established master of the practice or tradition or else all effort is in vain. If one follows the logic of lineage this is a simple deduction.
During the Renascence, and as a key feature in the western Enlightenment, the doctrine of lineage was challenged and eventually discarded. Worthies such as Francis Bacon spoke against the obscurantist presentation of knowledge requiring secret keys to reveal their hidden meaning, taught ‘from mouth to ear’, as it was put. In its place repeatable experimentation was enshrined and with it modern empirical science was born.
Nonetheless, today magickal orders set great store in the doctrine of lineage and make strong claims as to the validity of their work, and the work of others, on this basis.
Given the above history a postulant to the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn has a right to ask where we stand in terms of lineage. In what do we root our current? Who chartered us? By what right do we initiate?
As the founder of this order it is only right and proper that I personally answer these questions and their corollaries so that the aspirant may be clear on where we stand. Therefore I will draw on my personal experience with lineage so that the position that this Order takes may be made as immediate to the reader as possible and not remain abstract or limited to the domain of reason, but be rooted in lived experience.
A personal example of the necessity of lineage comes in the form of one of my academic studies. In seminary (I have a Master of Divinity degree), I studied Alfred North Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism, also called “Process Thought.” I was taught by Schroeder who was taught by Hartshorne who was taught by Whitehead. Schroeder warned his class—and which I have since confirmed to my dismay—that no one would really understand and be able to discuss the depths of this philosophy who had not been taught by some branch of this lineage.
From this I conclude that there are fields of knowledge that if not taught by one skilled in them they are nigh impenetrable. The reader should be able to call to mind great artists, crafts folk and technicians who are grateful to their teachers for bequeathing them true knowledge of their skill.
However, there is nothing in this that speaks of some ineffable essence passed from teacher to student wherewith the student is made able to possess that knowledge or skill, and without it, unable. Rather it is the hard work of both teacher and student towards mastering the matter that results in a new and capable practitioner.
Naturally one might ask if magick is one such area of study. From personal experience again, I must say no. It is an art more akin to cooking than some esoteric philosophy. The folk I work with and teach would, I think, accord me the honor of being a skilled magickian. Yet, I have never had a teacher. There have been many I have learned from, human and non, but none of them has ever taken on the responsibility of being “my teacher,” one to correct and guide, not merely share some data or technique.
Instead of following a teacher I experimented. I imposed upon myself discipline and practice. I also educated myself, informally through voluminous reading and conversation with other practitioners, and formally through university and seminary. After some thirty years of this I have a measure of skill. This is clear demonstration that one can teach oneself without recourse to lineage.
During this time I have made contact with various lineages of both west and east. I received transmission in Buddhist and Hindu practices and in a few cases where I had the opportunity to use a practice before and after receiving transmission I have noticed some difference. However, most of the difference I would accord to the explanation and demonstration given by the teacher and my subsequent practice than to the transmission of any vaunted ineffable essence. Perhaps there was some, but if so it was so overwhelmed by the simple act of learning from a master that I find it nearly impossible to account for.
From the above we can see there is some distinct value in learning from one who is skilled. Yet, there is a darker side to lineage that we must explore if we are to accept its presence in our lives. When it is said that you must receive a practice from a holder of a lineage, or that a sacrament is only valid if given by one within a line of apostolic succession, or that initiation must come from a properly chartered body, such a structure inevitably sets up a monopoly of access to that desired property. In traditional societies, and in some cases even today, this had the effect of providing a livelihood or income for the holders of those lineages. While in many cases this keeps the teachings alive and provides for those who have dedicated their lives to propagating them, this monopolistic power has also been used to command obedience, loyalty, conformity and even servitude on the part of aspirants to that knowledge.
We of the Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn affirm thus: that all true spiritual knowledge is inherent in existence itself awaiting to be discovered and rediscovered by those with the will and capacity to seek it. We affirm that there are no arbitrary secrets revealed only to certain conservators to be shared at their discretion, but rather that the true mysteries are continually revealed and expressed throughout the entirety of the world hidden only until we learn how to look.
Therefore we root our current of initiation in the Universe itself and our ability to wield that current by means of the skill we have labored to develop. Success alone is our proof and sole right and we are chartered to initiate only by that capacity.
We acknowledge that the techniques of magick were repressed in times past and as such secrecy was a necessity and progressive revelation a practicality. The virtues of confidentiality and the technical power of silence are still valid and useful. However, the immediate and present threat to liberty and the sustainability of human and possibly all life on this planet caused by the adolescence of our species requires us to break the seals on the knowledge of individual evolution. We can do this through the practice of magick and teach that knowledge widely, openly and without obscuration but with the same critical and cooperative eye that brought success to the hard sciences.
Therefore I say, we must teach and continually improve our Art of Awakening that oppression and tyranny may at last be defeated by rendering all individuals sovereign, in possession of their own will and the desire and capacity to accomplish it. Then only will we be ready to conquer our true enemy, suffering, and dance upon its grave in the light of a Golden Day.