I’ve set up this blog in order to share with the internet a wide range of reflections on ritual magic, coming from a tradition sadly underrepresented online – the ‘Ogdoadic’ tradition. But there will be plenty of material of interest to an outside practitioner or those simply interested in occulture as well, as I plan some forays into history, translation, and the odd bit of creativity as well. That is to say: because magic is the shadow-twin of western culture, far from respectable, with more than its fair share of hucksters, narcissists and madmen, magicians can sometimes lose the sense of being full participants in a rich cultural tradition which extends beyond the few dusty shelves marked ‘occult’. (And this sometimes leads to some truly heinous aesthetic choices.) Hopefully I can do a little to change that here.
What’s an ‘Ogdoadic’ when it’s at home, anyway?
‘Ogdoadic’ – admittedly a bit of a mouthful – means ‘pertaining to the number eight’. It can be thought of as defining a philosophical and magical tradition running like a golden thread through Western culture, with its keyword being regeneration. It finds its roots in the ancient Hermetica, especially the ‘Secret Sermon on the Mount’ (CH XIII) in which Tat asks of Hermes how to achieve regeneration, and resonates in alchemical symbolism, Jewish and Christian Kabbalah, and Florentine Hermetism. Why the number eight? Eight is the octave, the base note transformed but resonant; it is the traditional number-symbol of the baptismal font, the sign of new life; for Gnostics and astrologers alike the symbolism multiplies.
It’s important for me to point out that in calling this a ‘tradition’, I don’t allude to an unbroken mouth-to-ear secret line, but rather a clinamen, an inward turning which leads one generation to discover the work of a previous generation and build on it, either together in person, or, more often, out of books and texts. Ours is a literate and literary tradition as much as a practical magical one. Thinking of it this way avoids much foolishness.
In the contemporary world, the term mostly refers to the work of husband-and-wife team who published under the names Melita Denning and Osborne Phillips, who published a major series of books called ‘The Magical Philosophy’ with Llewellyn in the 1970s (initially as five hardbacks, then reorganised into three paperback volumes). These books are major achievements in magical synthesis – including Kabbalah, magical symbolism, the relation between magic and psychology, and a presentation of the magical system of their order, the Aurum Solis. The system has been called a ‘Greek Golden Dawn’, although that conceals as much as it clarifies. It uses Greek divine names and formulæ, and is avowedly pagan and Hermetic in orientation, rather than Christian and Rosicrucian; its central divine powers are the White Goddess, the Black God and the sun-serpent, Agathodaimon. Its style of working is simpler than, and quite different in feel to the GD’s heavily Masonic style of work; for personal work, much emphasis is laid on the creativity of the individual magician.
Denning and Phillips claimed descent of the AS from a 19th century antiquarian society, though evidence for that has long been a matter of allusion to private archive. There is little public evidence of it, or its predecessor organisations, before the mid-20th century, and a ‘genetic’ reading of the organisation’s magical techniques suggest influence by the post-Golden Dawn organisations, including the Stella Matutina. I don’t find it hard to believe that the two came into a relatively moribund order and revitalised it significantly, and used everything around them to do so. Melita Denning’s breadth of occult knowledge, and her special dedication to the Divine Female, is visible throughout the published work.
The order’s post-publication history is full of sudden changes and turns, and leaves us today with two distinct groups, one (the Astrum Sophiæ) with succession from the old order, working the system close to that practiced by the Aurum Solis until recently. The latter, under new leadership, has changed its curriculum to focus on a blend of Platonism and third-hand Iamblichean theurgy, and seems quite far from what it once was. Denning died in 1997. Phillips moved to focus on Christian mysticism and hesychasm in 2003, and is today part of a mystical, heterodox ‘Catholic’ church. He has recently become involved in a new revival of the Christian form of the Ogdoadic mysteries. But we will have more to say about the tradition’s history in time – especially the post-war magical ferment in the UK, which is now beginning to pass out of living memory.
So is this all going to be dry magical theory and history, then?
No. One thing that comes across from just reading about the tradition is its insistence that all of life is the prima materia for magical work, including art, dance, music and full participation in the world around us. For instance, the first full ritual a student learns is the ‘Setting of the Wards’, similar to the GD’s pentagram ritual. In order to really call on the great powers guarding each of the elements, the student should be out walking and feeling the sun on his face, the sharp cold of the sea lapping between every crack or blown in tempest, or the wind on a mountain peak – and that is brought back to his temple. If we hold the world is bound in secret knots, then the magician’s attention should be directed as much to the world around him teeming with life and boundless mystery as to his inner self. A starved soul feeds only on itself.
That means as much as there will be history and theory and personal magical or spiritual reflection here, there will be forays into art, nature, literature – whatever in the broad array of wonders I think is useful. I am writing here, lastly, because I think in dark times to write about regeneration is a deep human need. I hope to meet just a little of that need here.
And who the hell are you, anyway?
I am a magician living in London in the UK, with a broad magical background – including in GD, Thelemic and witchcraft traditions. I am lightly sceptical and a little sardonic by nature, rarely given to believe people who add preposterous titles after their names or humour those who want to swap charters and lineages. I speak several languages well and read others reasonably. I prefer to remain mostly anonymous, the world being what it is, although I very much welcome serious correspondence.