I’m probably in a somewhat unique position among Golden Dawn practitioners in that I’ve experienced the initiatory journey in three different ways. I’ve been treading this Path for the past 20 years, starting as a self-initiate using the then-newly-published Self Initiation into the Golden Dawn Tradition, by Chic and Tabatha Cicero. A few years later, I joined with a magical working group (in other words, a group doing the initiations without an Adept as Hierophant) and started again at Neophyte. Finally, I joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (the Ciceros’ Order) and went through the grades again, ultimately becoming an Adept. The experiences were different in many ways, but in some respects the similarities are even more intriguing.

The self-initiatory path in the Golden Dawn tradition is inherently a weird one, in that it adapts ceremonies with up to seven officers to be performed by the initiatory candidate alone. Doing it by oneself, it can feel awkward and unwieldy and generally less than graceful. But my first real visionary encounter took place during my self-initiation into Neophyte, and I’ve been sold on it as the system for me ever since. Having experienced that Path, you can’t tell me it doesn’t work. And based on the number of self-initiatory practitioners I know, I can surmise that my experience of the efficacy of self-initiation is not unique.

My second experience was with the magical working group. This was a small group of practitioners who were doing the Work and putting each other through the grades, and was affiliated with a community of self-initiatory practitioners of which I was a member. An interstate move brought me right into their backyard, which is still one of the greatest synchronicities of my life. My experience of initiation in a temple setting was profound. The ability to act only as the candidate, to be led and have the energies worked on me rather than having to work them on myself, enabled me to reach a deep trance state during the ceremony and fully absorb the etheric changes that take place within the initiation rituals. And absorb them I did. The grade energies hit me hard, until well after another move saw me land in another state.

Finally, I joined the HOGD and experienced the grades in a fully warranted Temple of the Order, headed by a trained Adept. Again, the initiatory experience was profound, and the way the energies of the grades unfolded in my life has provided me with ample evidence of its efficacy. But this experience wasn’t starkly different from that of my initiation with the working group; nor was it ultimately more effective at changing the course of my life than my self-initiation before that, even though the energy was more deeply impactful in the moment. But ultimately initiation does with a firehose what self-initiation does with a faucet, and my experience from the receiving end is that it doesn’t seem to matter all that much who’s wielding the firehose as long as they know what they’re doing with it.