The conception of the soul, its parts, and the framework of the Sphere of Sensation were used within the Golden Dawn to give focus to the mystical activities of the organization and its members. More than being merely descriptive elements of an esoteric psychology of the inner component of a person, they contain both an imperative for the individual to act and provide a means by which he or she may do so. The structure of this soul offers the path by which members of the Golden Dawn believed that they could pass from the fallen or lost state in which humanity currently exists and return to a communion or union with divinity and divine potential latent unawares in all of humanity. This was a key goal of the adept member of the Golden Dawn and of the work of the Second Order with its visionary techniques.
The role of the individual soul in the universe is displayed by the speeches of officers in the various initiation rituals of the Golden Dawn. As members passed through these rituals in their progress towards adepthood and the Second Order, they were exposed to these speeches in a ritual context. Looking to these rituals, the first mention of the soul is in the Neophyte Ritual, where the newly initiated member hears the chief officer, the Hierophant, state, “The Voice of the Higher Soul said unto me: let me enter the path of Darkness; peradventure thus shall I attain the Light; I am the only Being in an abyss of Darkness; from the Darkness came I forth at my birth, from the silence of a primal sleep” (Fuller, Vol. I 14).
In the Practicus ritual, the initiate is told, “Stoop not down to the darkly splendid world, wherein continually lieth a faithless depth; and Hades wrapped in wrapped in clouds delighting in unintelligible images, precipitous winding a black ever-rolling abyss, ever espousing a body unluminous, formless and void” (Fuller, Vol. I 97-98). In this ritual, the soul is described as being dragged down and led from sacred things into the physical world, away from the sacred fire that fills the universe (Fuller, Vol. I 99). The initiate is admonished, “Change not the barbarous names of Evocation for they are names divine, having in the sacred rites power ineffable. And when, after all the phantoms are vanished, thou shalt see that Holy and Formless Fire; that Fire which Darts and Dashes through all the hidden depths of the Universe, then hear thou the Voice of the Flame” (Fuller, Vol. I 99). Both of these speeches in the Practicus ritual are drawn from the fragments of the Neoplatonic Chaldean Oracles, which Westcott published in his Collectanea Hermetica. The philosophical debt to Plato and the Platonic philosophical tradition is clear in the Golden Dawn thought concerning the relationship of the soul to the material world and the juxtaposition of this against the world of divinity or truth.
In the Phaedo, Plato had Socrates espouse the principle that the philosopher should turn towards the soul and away from the body, because the body leads the soul astray from wisdom (119). Socrates explicitly states in this text that a man’s intellect should be set free from the body “because intercourse with the body troubles the soul, and hinders her from gaining truth and wisdom” (120). He also asks if it should be believed that the soul goes “to Hades, which is rightly called the unseen world, to dwell with the good and wise God…” and then answers that this is indeed so (131). Continuing this line of thought, Socrates states, “whoever comes to Hades uninitiated and profane will lie in the mire, while he that has been purified and initiated shall dwell with the gods” (122). This is clearly also the tradition of belief within the Golden Dawn with the adept magician fulfilling the same role for the order as the philosopher did in Plato’s teachings. The “mire” here is the world of darkness of the uninitiated while the act of initiation purifies the soul of the individual and allows him or her to turn towards the realm of the gods.
The vision of the universe laid out in the speeches within the initiation rituals to the members of the Golden Dawn is a dualistic one in which there is a physical world, which is identified with darkness and deception, and a spiritual world in which the higher realities or truths exist separate from the material world. The initiate is instructed to turn away from the outer world of materiality to that spiritual world of truth. The means by which this is done within the Golden Dawn is through the “sacred rites” and the use of the divine names, in other words, through ritual activity. This ritual activity makes use of the beliefs concerning the Sphere of Sensation to both explain the symbolism of the initiation ceremonies and to provide the organizing principles for the individual visionary work of the adept. These rites provide the means to seek the light of truth, which is characterized by the Voice of the Flame in the Practicus initiation ritual. The initiate is also told that there is a hierarchy of spirit, a higher to a lower. This higher is identified with light and flame and contrasted with the void which lacks clarity and is filled with obscuring darkness. This darkness is characteristic of the material world lacking in the light of spirit within the beliefs of the Golden Dawn.
This view is explained clearly in the “Lecture on the General Guidance and Purification of the Soul”, where the member who has received the Practicus grade is told, “Know that man is born into this world amidst the Darkness of Matter, and the strife of contending forces; so must his first endeavor be to seek the Light through their reconciliation” (Fuller, Vol. III 64). This reconciliation is created in the First Order of the Golden Dawn by passage through each of the four grades that follow the Neophyte grade. The Neophyte grade is a baptism, which prepares the initiate of the Golden Dawn for the work that follows and welcomes him or her into the order. This ritual cleanses the Sphere of Sensation and gives the initiate access to the symbols of the order as well as the ability to work with the Sphere of Sensation, according to the Golden Dawn teachings. The four grades that follow are each associated with one of the four Aristotelian elements, which symbolize the physical world. By passing through each of these grades and, symbolically, through both the four elements and the lower four sephiroth of the Tree, the initiate of the Golden Dawn purifies and balances these elements of the physical world within themselves and their Ruach. This is necessary for the spiritual development of the individual as he or she becomes an adept within the Golden Dawn. In the twenty-first flying roll, “Know Thyself,” it is stated “therefore must one of the works of a student for Adeptship be to learn to bring perfect order into the Six Sephiroth of his Ruach…” (King 154).
The themes of balance and moderation are key principles in the development of the individual within the Golden Dawn as exemplified to the initiated in the speech of the Hierophant in the Theoricus ritual. There, he states “Be laborious and patient like the gnomes but avoid grossness and avarice, so that there gradually develop the Powers of the soul, and fit thyself to command the spirits of the Elements” (Fuller, Vol. I 72). The “Lecture on the General Guidance and Purification of the Soul” further admonishes the initiate with:
Those therefore who desires Magical Gift, be sure that thy soul is firm and steadfast; for it is by flattering thy weaknesses that Evil Ones will gain power over thee… Neither worship nor neglect the physical body which is the temporary connection with the outer and material world. Therefore let thy mental equilibrium be above disturbance by material wants, repress the animal passions, nourish the Higher Aspirations; the workings are purified by suffering…
Therefore as hath already been said, establish thyself firmly in the equilibrium of forces, in the center of the cross of the elements, that cross from whose centre the creative word issues in the birth of the Dawning Universe. (Fuller, Vol. III 65-68)
The balance of these forces within the initiate as they progress in the order allows them to exit the First Order, which is focused on the study of the knowledge necessary for the “sacred rites” above, and enter the Second Order, which is focused on their practice. This balance and the bringing into order the sephiroth of the Ruach allows the initiate to symbolically pass through the veil between the lower portions of the Tree of Life, represented by the Portal grade, to be initiated into the sephira of Tiphereth in the Adeptus Minor grade. It is from this point that the adept is able to engage in the ritual activities that allow him or her to continue to advance their consciousness up the Tree of Life towards the unity represented by Kether and the Divinity that is above its highest point.
With the initiation into the Adeptus Minor grade, the Golden Dawn taught that the consciousness of the individual, identified with the Ruach part of the soul, could begin to reflect the Higher Will of the Neschamah. Previously to this, the Ruach as the Human Will is focused on the “Automatic Consciousness” associated with the human body, as discussed previously in the tenth Flying Roll (King 147). The Yechidah associated with Kether is a reflection of the Divine Will and the portion of the soul closest to divinity. With the consciousness of the individual moved upwards in the Tree of Life, the Ruach focuses on the Neshamah, which can reflect the Chiah in Chokmah. This, in turn, can reflect the Yechidah. As the adept continues their spiritual development following the turning away from the material body by the Ruach, the Golden Dawn believed that they could begin to apprehend this Divine Will. Confirming this viewpoint, the twenty-first Flying Roll begins with: “Perfect knowledge of Self is required to attain Knowledge of Divinity, for when you can know the God of yourself it will be possible to obtain a dim vision of the God of All, for the God of the Macrocosm only reflects Himself to Man through the God of Man’s Microcosm” (King 151). This “God of Man’s Microcosm” is the Yechidah, dwelling in the Kether of the individual as a part of their own soul.
Before, it was said that the Human Will had abdicated the throne in Tiphereth of the Ruach in normal life. The achievement of adepthood symbolically marks the resumption of this throne for the Golden Dawn member. This is discussed in the tenth Flying Roll, “Concerning the Symbolism of Self-Sacrifice and Crucifixion contained in the 5=6 Grade” with:
Now the forgoing partly represent the mode in which the initiate becomes the Adept: — the Ruach directed in accordance with the promptings of the Neschamah keeps the Nephesch from being the ground of the Evil forces, and the Neschamah brings it, the Ruach, into contact with the Chiah i.e. the genius which stands in the presence of the Holy One — the Yechidah — the Divine Self, which stands… before the Synthetical God of all things. That is the only real way to become the Greatest Adept, and is directly dependent on your life and your actions in life. (King 135)
The goal of standing in the presence of the Yechidah, the God of the Microcosm, and seeing in it the reflection of the God of the cosmos was the ultimate goal of the work of an initiate of the Golden Dawn. The vision of the soul, its role, and its component parts within the Golden Dawn are all ultimately devoted to this overall end.
This end is quite different than what would be expected of the Golden Dawn from a cursory view of it from the outside or from a look through its papers full of esoteric symbolism. From that point of view, it was simply a Victorian secret society engaged in a variety of occult activities, such as skrying in crystal balls or the practice of group initiation ceremonies for status or rank within the order. From the viewpoint of a member of the Golden Dawn, especially the adept member who had passed through the order’s full range of initiation ceremonies and integrated its teachings at each point along the way, the goal of the organization was none other than the true knowledge of the self, the universe, and, ultimately, of divinity. For them, the ritual practices and the initiations are simply a means to this knowledge and the realization that occurs with it. These activities are not an end unto themselves.
In the end, it is the Golden Dawn’s conception of the individual soul as a fragmented and hierarchical entity that provides the vision of the necessary tasks to achieve a realization of divinity for its members. This fragmentary nature is refocused and unified through both the order’s initiation rituals and through the adept practices framed by its vision of the Sphere of Sensation in combination with this fragmented soul. The means that the Golden Dawn used to engage in these practices were those inherited from the larger tradition of western esotericism but unified by this vision of the soul. This allows the Golden Dawn to rise from a seeming mixing of disparate and possibly conflicting traditions into a whole dedicated towards the knowledge and realization of divinity for its members. Whether successful or not in any subjective sense is a spiritual question for its members, but it places the Golden Dawn and its goals in the same realm as other spiritual traditions of the world. It also produces a tradition of practice and belief quite different than other traditions available to individuals at the end of the 19th century.