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Initiation Grades of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

Written by Ruby Starr

Founded by three Master Masons in 1877, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a late 19th century magical and secret society. The order taught magic and occultism through a grade system based on alchemy and the Kabbalistic tree of life. This grade system was divided into three groups; the Outer, preparatory Order, the Inner, Rosicrucian order and the Third Order, the name of which was unknown. Living initiates could make it no further than through the Inner Order as the Third Order was said to be presided over by non-living adepts called Secret Chiefs.

  1. Neophyte (0=0)

The Neophyte grade marked the beginning of the seeker's journey within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. This grade marked the commencement of the blackening stage of inner alchemy. Initiates were introduced to the foundational principles of the Order and underwent purification to prepare for deeper esoteric studies. During this grade, aspirants learnt the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, a rite that is now popular throughout the Western Esoteric Tradition more broadly. 

  1. Zelator (1=10)

Zelator marked the beginning of the aspirant’s journey up the Kabbalistic tree of life as well as the start of the order’s Elemental initiations. As a Zelator, the initiate began to master their earthly life in the physical world. Zelators worked with the occult Element of Earth in this way as well as by learning the divinatory art of geomancy.

  1. Theoricus (2=9)

Theoricus initiates worked with the occult Element of Air. This grade corresponded to Yesod on the Kabbalistic tree of life, which rules over the astral realm. Practicus initiates may have experienced various psychic phenomena at this stage.

  1. Practicus (3=8)

The Practicus grade was related to the occult Element of Water which corresponds to emotions and artistic creativity. This grade related to Hod on the Kabbalistic tree of life and taught the initiate the importance of persistence, among other things.

  1. Philosophus (4=7)

Philosophus initiates were thrown into the occult Element of Fire. This was a precarious grade in which the initiate had to be on their guard against the monster of pride.

Portal. As the name suggests, the Portal was an interim grade corresponding to the veil of Paroketh on the tree of life as well as the occult Element of Spirit, which rules over the other four elements. This 9 month period was an opportunity for the initiate to seek solitude and self-reflection.

  1. Adeptus Minor (5=6)

The magician’s goal during the Adeptus Minor grade was to invoke the Higher Divine Genius, nowadays often known in occult circles as the Holy Guardian Angel. The title of Adeptus Minor was given after completion of all the elemental subgrades, commencing with Zelator Adeptus Minor. Initiates of this grade were also introduced to the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram which is a rite symbolical of spiritual rebirth.

  1. Adeptus Major (6=5)

The Adeptus Major grade corresponded to the sephira of Gevurah (Severity) on the Kabbalistic tree of life. By the time the initiation ceremony for this grade was written the order had splintered into different groups. The aspiring Major Adept had the difficult and dangerous task of overcoming their own demons, so to speak, through a symbolic ritual evocation of all 72 spirits of the goetia. In order to avoid interference from benevolent forces, all 72 angels of the Shemhamphorasch had to be banished, making this a very dangerous (as well as a very lengthy) magical operation. Due to the Hermetic idea of “as within, so without”, it was believed that the overcoming of personal vices was also of spiritual aid to humanity in general.

  1. Adeptus Exemptus (7=4)

Largely purified of their own unconscious vices, the Adeptus Exemptus initiates focused their magical abilities on selfless service and the welfare of humanity. They used their wisdom and power to aid others without thought of reward, working for the betterment of the collective consciousness.

The Third Order

At this point, the Golden Dawn adept could not progress any further whilst living. Therefore, it is impossible to discuss the three grades of the mysterious Third Order.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the grades of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn constituted a journey of personal development and spiritual emancipation. As initiates progressed through each grade, they unlocked the secrets of the universe and aligned with their Divine Soul, ultimately attaining oneness with the Divine.