|Protesters marching on November 15, 2015 after the shooting of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis Police. Image credit: Fibonacci Blue on Flickr.
I live in the Minneapolis 4th Precinct, where for the last two weeks protesters have been marching in the streets and camping out to protest the fatal shooting of yet another unarmed black man by police. Only two days prior to the death of Jamar Clark, bombs went off in Paris, killing 130 people. Government officials are raising hysteria about Syrian refugees and fostering xenophobia by warning of terrorists in disguise–never mind that the vetting process for Syrian refugees is intensely rigorous
. These events are only the latest in a long list of such occurrences, many of which don’t even make the news because they do not directly affect white Americans. Racial, ethnic, religious, and economic tension are running high across the world. And especially here in Minneapolis, I’ve seen the same sentiments echoed multiple times on my Facebook wall: “My city is broken, and I don’t know how to fix it.” Many of my other friends have expressed similar dismay with regard to the state of the country, or of the world as a whole.
Let me say this up front: I don’t know how to fix it either. I tend to be distrustful of anyone who tries to convince others that they have easy answers to complex problems, and the problems don’t get any more complex than this. But all of these recent events have caused me to reflect more on a theme I’ve been thinking about frequently of late: the role of healing and social justice within Hermeticism, particularly in the Golden Dawn tradition.
To Cure the Sick, and that Gratis
The Inner Order of the Golden Dawn, the R.R. et A.C., is organized around the mythos of Rosicrucianism. As an historical movement, the 17th century “Rosicrucian Enlightenment” was founded on the vision of sociopolitical revolution, tied to the Protestant Reformation in Europe. On a doctrinal level, the Fama Fraternitatis, one of the two Rosicrucian manifestos, teaches that the original Rosicrucian brothers agreed “that none of them should profess any other thing than to cure the sick, and that gratis.” This healing mission should not be underestimated, particularly given its centrality to the core doctrines around which the Golden Dawn has oriented itself.
If the number one pitfall of occultism is hubris and ego inflation, the second place award probably goes to self-absorbed isolationism. And that’s understandable. Most of us probably began pursuing esoteric spirituality because we were searching for something we weren’t getting in mainstream religious circles. And while various forms of alternative spirituality are far more commonplace and accepted today than they were 20 years ago, they still aren’t exactly in the mainstream. Those who aren’t solitary practitioners tend to cluster around small insular groups of like-minded people. The net result of all this is that people turn their focus inward, on themselves and on their particular in-group, and suddenly everyone is playing the part of The Hermit in the tarot deck. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and a place for hermiting in one’s spiritual development. And given the cyclical, iterative nature of the alchemical path of self-transformation, we all need to hermit from time to time. But if we never reach beyond that, if we never emerge from the transformation with something more to offer the world, I’m not sure that we’ve done ourselves much good in the process.
Physician, Heal Thyself
When it comes to the nature of humanity and of the world we live in, the Golden Dawn and the earlier Rosicrucian movement whose spirit it strives to perpetuate both touch on a much larger principle–one which is shared by many faiths and philosophies, and which people pursue through many different means. It is the idea that the world and the people in it are imperfect and broken in some way, and that it is our ethical and spiritual responsibility as human beings to be custodians of and caregivers to this broken world. In our own small ways, in our everyday lives, we pick up the shattered pieces and help put them back together. But we too are broken, and we must patch ourselves together in order to carry out that work effectively. As my friend Eric V. Sisco
is fond of saying, we need to put on our own oxygen masks first before assisting others.
In the Outer Order of the Golden Dawn, putting on that psychospiritual oxygen mask is the primary goal. The initiate is symbolically separated into his or her component parts, and one by one these elemental portions of the self are purified and perfected. The Inner Order is about recombining those separate elements into a perfected self
, and about offering up that self in service and sacrifice to others. Yes, the path is about self-transformation. As broken creatures, our spiritual journey is one of a return to wholeness, which is also a reunion with the divine source from whence we come. But as above, so below: the individual and the divine are inextricably intertwined, and they meet and mingle in the world we inhabit every day. We journey toward perfection, of ourselves and of the world around us. Just as we aspire to transcend the limitations of our humanity, so too do we aspire to transform the world in which we live to make it greater. The inner and outer aspects of this transformation are necessarily connected, and I do not see how one can authentically pursue one goal without pursuing the other.
Let Your Light Shine
The Great Work that lies at the heart of Hermeticism (and which arguably forms the crux of western esotericism as a whole) is the relentless quest for spiritual growth, for the perfection of the self. It is the pursuit of self-discovery, of divine knowledge, of the everyday alchemy by which we become better, kinder, more compassionate, and more well-adapted human beings. For those of us who follow that path, we bear the responsibility of doing our best to act out of empathy and loving-kindness, and to let these traits be a light to others–that they too may perhaps take up their lamp and shine it into the darkness, repairing the broken world one person and one act at a time.