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The Nature, Structure, and Role of the Soul In the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

Chapter 6 The Sphere of Sensation

The conception of the soul in the Golden Dawn was more complex than the inherited tradition from Cabala. In addition to this structure and hierarchy of the soul focusing on the triplicity of Neschamah, Ruach, and Nephesch, there is an additional structure contained within the Golden Dawn teachings on the soul. This structure is the “Sphere of Sensation.” This area of thought is unique to the Golden Dawn and was not inherited from the earlier Cabalistic tradition or from the tradition of western esotericism coming out of the Renaissance magicians and philosophers. It extends the inherited tradition with its parts mapped onto the Tree of Life into a mechanism used as the basis of the ritual work of the Golden Dawn adepts in the Second Order.

The newly initiated adepts of the Second Order were given a paper to study called, “The Secret Wisdom of the Lesser World or Microcosm Which is Man.” It is this paper in which the bulk of the unique attributes of the soul in the Golden Dawn are listed. It is a discussion of the “Sphere of Sensation” of the individual. It begins with the following:

Thou shalt know that the Sphere of Sensation which surroundeth the whole Physical Body of a Man is called the “Magical Mirror of the Universe;” for therein are represented all the Occult Forces of the Universe projected on a Sphere…. This Sphere surroundeth the Physical Body of a Man as the Celestial Heavens do the Body of a Star or Planet, having their Forces mirrored in its atmosphere. Therefore its allotment and organization is the copy of the Greater World or Macrocosm. In this “Magical Mirror of the Universe,” therefore, are the Ten Sephiroth projected in the form of the Tree of Life, as in a solid Sphere… A man’s physical body is written the Ten Sephiroth projected in a Sphere. (Fuller, Vol. III 142)

This paper teaches that the ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life map into a sphere surrounding the individual, the Sphere of Sensation. This sphere is called the “magical mirror of the universe” because it was seen as a membrane or layer that separated the individual human being, the microcosm, from the greater universe, the macrocosm, while actively reflecting the forces of one to the other in both directions. The influences of energies or intelligences in the universe, such as those of the planets in astrology, were reflected into the individual person through the medium of this sphere. This belief provided the basis for much of the ritual work of the members of the Golden Dawn. By interacting ritually with the symbols representing these influences within the Sphere of Sensation, Golden Dawn members believed they could influence the universe around them or gain direct knowledge of the true nature of the world through non-physical means.

In the Microcosm paper, first the Tree of Life is mapped onto the physical structure of the person. Kether is a crown above the head in which the Neschamah is placed. Chokmah and Binah form the brain and the head while Chesed and Geburah form the arms of the individual. Netzach and Hod form the thighs and the legs, which support the torso. Tiphereth forms this torso and the four Aristotelian elements of the world reside in the organs of the torso under the rule of the Ruach, which is centered near the heart (Fuller, Vol. III 143-149). Of the torso with the Ruach, the Microcosm papers says:

This part is the Central Citadel of the Body, and is the particular abode of the lower and more Physical Will; as the Higher Will is in the Kether of the Body, but for the Higher Will to manifest, it must be reflected into the Lower Will by the Neshamah. This Lower Will is immediately potent in the members, and thus in the region about the Heart is the Lower Will seated, like the King of the Body upon his Throne. (Fuller, Vol. III 145-146).

This makes the center of the awakened adept the heart with the Higher Will from Kether above the head reflected into it. Yesod is mapped to “the Generative and Excretive Organs, and therein is the seat of the Lower Desire…” (Fuller, Vol. III 149). The Nephesch and its passions are mapped to the lower end of the torso with the sexual organs and where the waste of the body is eliminated. Malkuth at the feet also forms the physical body as a whole, under the direction of the Nephesch.

This maps the parts of the soul previously discussed into locations on the physical body. The paper then expands this to the Sphere of Sensation as its own non-physical body surrounding this physical, human form. This is perceived not by the external senses but through the Ruach, which is also identified with the reasoning mind (Fuller, Vol. III 147). In explanation of this, the paper states, “This is as regards the action of the more physical man. Unto this Ruach also are presented the reflections of the Microcosmic Universe in the Sphere of Sensation. They surround the Ruach which in the natural man feeleth them but vaguely, and comprehendeth them not…” (Fuller, Vol. III 147). This Sphere of Sensation is “an imitation or copy of the Sphere of the Universe” and is created by the higher parts of the soul shining their rays of light through the physical body, which then radiates this light to create the Sphere around it (Fuller, Vol. III 151).

On the separate symbolic level of the Sphere of Sensation, the mapping of the Tree of Life to the body is altered. The body of the individual as a whole is mapped to the central column of the Tree of Life, which runs from Kether to Tiphereth to Yesod, and finally to Malkuth. Kether is the crown above the head, Tiphereth is near the heart, Yesod at the groin, and Malkuth, the physical world, is placed at the feet. The person stands with their feet on the Earth and their head near the heavens. In the normal Tree of Life as shown in Figure 2, this is the “Pillar of Mildness.” There are two additional pillars as shown in this diagram, the “Pillar of Mercy” and the “Pillar of Severity.” These are the left and right pillars; each is topped by either Chokmah or Binah and rooted with Netzach and Hod. When these are mapped to the individual’s Sphere of Sensation, this pair of pillars is doubled to make two pairs. This creates a total construct of one central or middle pillar, topped by Kether, and four alternating subsidiary pillars, each topped by either Chokmah or Binah. In the Microcosm paper, it states:

In the “Magical Mirror of the Universe” or Sphere of Sensation, Man is placed within the Four Pillars of the Tree of life as projected in a Sphere. These keep their places and move not. But the Man himself faces the point of the Zodiac in the Sphere of Sensation which ascended at the moment of birth and of conception … That is to say, that at those times the same degree of the Zodiac is ascending in the East of the Heavens of the Star whereon he incarnated. Thus doth he remain during incarnation facing that particular point in his Sphere of Sensation, that is to say, that the Sphere does not revolve about the Physical Body. (Fuller, Vol. III 143-144)

The image that all of this depicts is of a spherical body that surrounds a human being. This sphere has a central axis, the middle column of the Tree of Life, and four equidistant columns at the circumference of the sphere. At various points on each column are specific centers, the sephiroth, identified with the symbols and energies of the Tree of Life. The inner surface of this sphere mirrors the energies of the universe and acts as the mediator to these energies. The “East” of the sphere, the direction in which the person faces at all times, points towards the astrological point that was present at the person’s moment of birth. This direction is unique to each individual and makes the orientation of each Sphere of Sensation slightly different though the overall organization is the same for all individuals.

Since the Sphere of Sensation and the symbols within it are perceived through the Ruach, if they are perceived at all, the sphere can be considered on one level to be largely a reflection of the individual’s Ruach or of their individual consciousness, at least in how the individual adept interacts with the Sphere of Sensation and, through it, the universe. It is through the Ruach of the individual that the Sphere of Sensation functions. This is expressed in the Microcosm paper with: “Shining through infinite world, and darting its rays through the confines of Space within the Sphere of Sensation is a faculty placed, even as light is placed within a lantern” (Fuller, Vol. III 152). The Sphere of Sensation is this lantern and the Ruach of the individual is the light that shines within it.

As it is through the Sphere of Sensation and no other means that the individual can interact with the macrocosm, it becomes the medium for the conscious interaction of the individual with the larger universe within the Golden Dawn’s beliefs. This is shown in a number of papers circulated within the order with instructions for individuals on how to practice various visionary or ritual activities and also in the explanation of the symbolism of the initiation ceremonies.

In the Z3 paper, there is an explanation of the symbolism the Neophyte initiation ceremony. The knowledge of this symbolism was restricted to the members of the Second Order and was explained at this point because the presiding officer of this initiation, the Hierophant, was required to be an adept member (Fuller, Vol. II 87). The reader is shown that the ritual activities in the Neophyte ceremony are related directly to the Sphere of Sensation of the candidate for initiation and entry into the order. When the Neophyte initiate is consecrated and purified with incense and water, the Kerux officer is directed “to formulate in the candidate’s Sphere of Sensation a vibration, whose purpose is to bring about the operation of the mystic pillars in his Sphere of Sensation” (Fuller, Vol. II 90). The officers are directed to see the Sphere of Sensation as wrapped in darkness with only two of the four outward pillars visible. With each consecration, this darkness clears and the pillars become more fully visible or established (Fuller, Vol. II 90-91). Near the end of the ritual, when the new initiate is given the badge of a Neophyte member, the four pillars in the sphere are visualized as being complete established in the Sphere of Sensation (Fuller, Vol. II 92). The symbols associated with this ritual are impressed onto the Sphere of Sensation of the initiate through visualization and symbolic actions during the course of the initiation (Fuller, Vol. II 93-94). It is by these changes that the Golden Dawn believed a baptism of sorts occurred and the Neophyte was then prepared to begin to advance up the Tree of Life through progression through the First Order grades towards the Adeptus Minor grade and the Second Order. The initiate is given access to the symbols of the Golden Dawn for their later ritual work by the actions that take place during this initiation ceremony and the ones that follow it. As was mentioned previously, the Golden Dawn believed that the average person is not capable of perceiving the Sphere of Sensation, the symbols or influences in it, or its component parts. It is through these initiation ceremonies that the Golden Dawn believed that ability to perceive and actively work with the Sphere of Sensation was activated.

One paper related to the Sphere of Sensation circulated within the Golden Dawn was the twenty-fifth Flying Roll. It had the title, “Essay on Clairvoyance and Traveling in the Spirit Vision” (King 85). In this paper, it is said that since the entire universe is reflected in the Sphere of Sensation of the individual, therefore “the full and complete knowledge of all that is reflected in our Sphere of Sensation includes all knowledge of past, present, and future” (King 85). The paper goes on to say that such knowledge is available through intuition and the adept is advised, “Know thyself and thou wilt know everything” (King 85). The individual is advised that symbols can be used within ritual to affect one’s self and the Sphere of Sensation. The paper states that “the effect of the symbol is to render one portion of the physical brain more sensitive, or it may be more translucent, so that images lying within the corresponding region of the Sphere of Sensation may be dimly perceived” (King 86). According to the paper, the symbols used for such work should be familiar to the adept and are normally those studied while going through the grades of the First Order, such as those of the Hebrew Alphabet, the sephiroth of the Tree of Life, the Tarot, and so forth. This is part of the point of the memorization of these symbols by the members of the order as they progress through the First Order and also the display of various symbols or diagrams during the initiation ceremonies for the grades. These allow a unifying set of symbols from the Tree of Life, used for the rituals of initiation into the grades of membership of the order and then studied, to be used for the personal ritual workings of the members. This unifies the order’s overall symbolism with that used by the individual members into one whole.

In the Flying Roll titled “Clairvoyance,” the adept is given instructions on the symbols to be used for clairvoyant activities, which is also called “skrying” here (King 75). The adept is told to use a symbol, “such as a drawing or colored diagram related in design, form and color to the subject chosen for study” (King 76). The adept is then told to place the symbol before him or herself and to gaze upon it until the object stays in their interior vision. The adept is then to keep this symbol in their “akashic aura” (which is another term for the Sphere of Sensation) until it produces “the reality of the dream vision, by positive will into the waking state” (King 78). The adept is then directed to maintain concentration on the symbol and what is symbolizes and “to see a perception of a scene, panorama, or view of a place. This may be brought on by a sense of tearing open, as a curtain is drawn aside and seeing the ‘within’ of the symbol…” (King 78). Once this vision is attained, the adept is then able to interact with scenes seen within the vision, including direct interaction with the spiritual entities that populate these visionary places.

This visionary work with symbols had an amorphous boundary with the visiting of these visionary locations through a similar means. The latter is the “Traveling in the Spirit Vision” of the paper of the same name. This was also called “Astral Projection” in other places within the Golden Dawn papers (King 76). The adept is told, “… when this sensitiveness of brain and power of perception is once established there seems to grow out of it a power of actually going to the scenes so visionary and seeing them as solid, indeed, of actually doing things and producing effects there” (King 88). One way that this was used in practice was that adept members of the order would practice this traveling to visit other planets of the solar system as astrological locations or to visit the sephiroth and paths of the Tree of Life as imagined locations in their interior vision. Quite a few reports from these ritual activities are preserved in the Golden Dawn papers that survive (see the fourth Flying Roll, “An Example of Mode of Attaining to Spirit Vision and What was seen by Two Adepti” in King, page 71).

The instructions given to individuals were to create an external or visionary body in their vision and to use it as a vehicle to carry their self to these places. The paper, “Essay on Clairvoyance and Traveling in the Spirit Vision,” elaborates on this point and the relationship of the Sphere of Sensation to this traveling:

It seems, however, almost more probable that as the Sphere of Sensation reflects everything that is in the material Universe so it must needs contain a reflection also of the material body of the percipient and if this be so it is not hard to suppose that such a reflection can be made to travel about within the Sphere of Sensation and visit all things therein reflected with as much ease (or more) as the will of the man can make his physical body travel to the material places on the earth. (King 89)

In other words, rather than traveling to these places in any actual sense as a disembodied visitor, this activity could be seen to occur entirely within the Sphere of Sensation of the individual as purely local activity to their personal microcosm. These examples show the adepts within the order used the beliefs concerning the Sphere of Sensation to develop visualization, concentration, and contemplative skills. These beliefs and skills were used to generate visionary experiences and to develop a means of interacting with a portion of the individual’s spiritual self, of which the rest of humanity had no knowledge according to the beliefs the Golden Dawn. These skills and visions were a means to an end but not an end unto themselves for the adepts of the Golden Dawn.

The overall vision of the soul, its purposes, and the work to be done with it was larger than the development of specific skills or the achieving of specific personal visions. The structure of the soul and the interrelationship of its parts gave the Golden Dawn a specific view of the goal of the spiritual work of individuals. This structure of the soul was built on the inherited beliefs from Cabala, which was part of the common heritage of western esotericism, Additionally, the founders of the Golden Dawn developed their own additions to this base. These additions focusing on the Sphere of Sensation gave the members of the Golden Dawn a conceptual framework in which they could engage in visionary spiritual activities. These activities allowed the adepts of the order to investigate spiritual realities that allowed for the development of an individual spirituality within the larger, more unified, framework of the order’s beliefs concerning the Tree of Life and the role of the individual within it.


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Index | Introduction | What is Western Esotericism? | What was the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn? | The Structure of the Golden Dawn and its Rituals | The Nature and Core Structure of the Soul in the Golden Dawn | The Sphere of Sensation | Conclusion: The Soul and the Adept | Works Cited

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