Esoteric Orders: A Survival Guide
          Section I: How To Find An Esoteric Order

Last Chapter:  Claims to Fame, or the Question of Esoteric Grades

Of all the outlandish claims made by self-proclaimed esoteric leaders, there are none so prolific as those made to exalted, even celestial, levels of mystical knowledge and attainment.  False claims of Adepthood are fairly commonplace, so in order to make an impact and separate oneself from the commons, the fraudulent declaration of Magehood often rises up.  Although each of these assertions is markedly different and should be addressed as such, they both have one important quality in common.  Both smack of spiritual pride, which is a dangerous quality for any human being to possess, spiritual leader or not.

Although grade structures in various esoteric traditions run the full spectrum of possibilities, one of the most common is the architecture of the Qabalistic Tree of Life.  It is a framework deeply rooted in the Western Esoteric Tradition, the most common version of the glyph used having been taken from Athanasius Kircher’s Oedipus Aegyptiacus published in 1652.  Furthermore, the idea of “climbing” the Tree from the Earth in order to return to the Divine Source fits the concept of esoteric grading hand-in-glove.

The basic framework behind the Tree of Life is the concept that the Divine One manifests itself in ten distinct and discrete stages, from the most ineffable Light all the way down to the material Universe.  Mapped to these stages are numerous qualities and attributes, including Names of God, Archangels, Angelic Orders, Classical Elements, geometric figures and many other things.  As seekers of the Light, this symbolic structure is a veritable Jacob’s Ladder for us to climb our way back to the Source.

It is common practice for an esoteric student to undertake the regimen of the Four Classical Elements, then equilibrate and consolidate them under the presidency of the Spirit or Quintessence.  When this process has been completed, the student is then elevated to a more sublime degree, where he is risen in the Light of the Sun as an Adept.  Typically, out of a pool of a hundred initiates, only a scant few ever make it to the Adept grade, though, you wouldn’t think this to be the case with so many people claiming to be Adepti out there.  However, there are ways to separate the legitimate Adepti from the impostors, if you know the characteristics of the grade to which they claim.

After making his way through the Elements, which correspond to the lower four levels of the Tree of Life, a new Adept (or Adeptus Minor) enters into the fifth level, which is known as Tiphareth, or “Beauty”.  Tiphareth has a planetary association with the Sun, and many Solar deities have certain qualities in common.  When contemplating gods such as Osiris, Christ, Mithras, Apollo, Lugh, and Baldur, you find the traits of self-sacrifice, rebirth, light, prophecy, healing, life, love and compassion.  The virtue of Tiphareth is said to be devotion to the Great Work, and a quality Adept will have that dedication, along with a healthy helping of the aforementioned attributions.  On the flip side, the vice of Tiphareth is pride and self-centeredness.  To this extent, if you interact with someone who’s selfish, insensitive, derisive, short-sighted, resentful, or even a bit narcissistic, you’re either dealing with an Adeptus Minor whose struggling with his grade, or, more likely, he’s not an Adept at all.

The next step up the Tree is the sixth level, known as Geburah, or “Strength”.  This is the realm of the advanced Adept, or Adeptus Major.  Geburah is associated with the planet Mars, and gods of war and combat, such as Ares, Horus, Sekhmet and Tyr, figure predominantly here.  Their qualities include such things as power, vitality, fortitude, might, combat and vengeance, sometimes even to the point of bloodlust.  That is part of the reason why Geburah has alternate titles, such as “Judgment” and “Fear”.  Along the same lines, it stands to reason that the virtues of Geburah are energy and courage, while its vices are destruction and cruelty.  

Peculiarly, it seems to be the nature of this grade that next to nobody ever claims it.  For some, the mere mystique of attaining the lesser grade of Adeptus Minor leaves them crowing about it.  For those whose shine on that golden dubloon has worn off, claims of Adeptus Exemptus, or even Magister levels, fill that void of vanity.  Those who actually are of the Adeptus Major grade typically are wise enough to keep their mouths hermetically sealed about it.  Despite the traditionally listed virtues, this grade seems to be strongly attuned to discipline, which most noticeably manifests itself in the form of Tacere, “To Keep Silent”, which is one of the Four Powers of the Sphinx.  This is one of many reasons why they have little to no desire to take on students. They are at a stage in their development in which they do not suffer fools gladly, not to mention that their bestowal of tough love would leave most students with thinner skins running for the door.

Typically, the illustrious grade to which most Chiefs or Order heads lay claim is the pinnacle of Adept degrees, known as Adeptus Exemptus.  This corresponds to the seventh level on the Tree, commonly referred to as Chesed, or “Mercy”.  That level is associated with the planet Jupiter, and a wide variety of deities such as Zeus, Jove, Odin, Thor, Marduk and Ma’at.  Common qualities among them include authority, majesty, electricity, ministry, beneficence, magnanimity, righteousness, justice, cosmic order, patriarchy and fatherly love.  Subsequently, the virtues of Chesed are humility and obedience, while its vices are qualities such as tyranny and hypocrisy.

Whether the person is of such a grade or not, if you find a mentor who acts as a nurturing father figure who gently guides with one hand and metes out justice with kindness and without favor, it would be hard to go wrong.  Furthermore, such a person, in the act of potentially harsh scrutiny, would always err on the side of mercy.  If you meet a so-called Adeptus Exemptus who has knee-jerk reactions and makes rash, irrevocable decisions, like expulsions, out of anger or frustration or just to save face, chances are he doesn’t meet the measure of the degree.  I once knew of an alleged Adeptus Exemptus who, when faced with a lawsuit, planned to retaliate by doing everything in his power to make the other party destitute and homeless.  Such a person should be ashamed to even don a white robe, much less claim the mantle of Chesed.

Yet, the debate as to the higher degrees of Adept really should be a rather moot point.  Israel Regardie, an Adept in his own right, once wrote:

“…it is impossible for the ordinary individual to understand those [grades] above the grade of Adeptus Minor, and individuals who lay claim openly to such exalted grades, by that very act place a gigantic question mark against the validity of their attainment.  He that is exalted is humble.”

Here, Regardie gives a picture perfect rule of thumb for any aspiring esotericist seeking mentorship.  Every potential mentor should be subjected to a significant amount of scrutiny.  For every grade above Adeptus Minor those mentors claim, that scrutiny should be, as very least, ratcheted up another order of magnitude.

This then brings us to the threshold of the most exorbitant esoteric claim to fame out there, that of having “crossed the Abyss”.  In the most rudimentary terms, the Abyss is an unfathomable gap in the Tree of Life, separating the top three tiers from the lower seven.  Those who claim to have made this insurmountable leap get to declare even higher grades, such as Magister and Magus!  They might say that their mindsets exist in a totally different reality, and I would agree, but absolutely not in a good way.  The top three levels of the Tree are so transcendent as to be indiscrete, and only the most arrogant and delusional egos would dare claim to go there and back again and survive in an individuated state.  (Yes, I’m looking at you, too, Mr. Crowley.)  Frederich Nietzche once said “if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”  How would anyone be able to objectively describe such an event?  Would the words even exist?  These are the things you need to think about whenever someone makes such declarations about themselves and their achievements.

Lastly, regardless of how high up the Tree these people say they’ve climbed, it is of paramount importance to find out how these people got there.  Ideally, every mentor out there has studied under a viable master and received their initiations over a period of decades.  In reality, one does not always find such a systematic approach taken by the heads of esoteric Orders.  There are some Chiefs, “Grandmasters” even, who claim Magister level grades, but have never been initiated into anything in their lives.  In fact, there is an Order out there run by a person who claims he’s an Ipsissimus (the highest rung on the Tree!), because he completed something called the “Enochian Apocalypse Working Ritual”.  I can barely keep a straight face after writing that sentence.  By the way, don’t let anyone tell you that the method in which they received their grades is secret or none of your business.   The moment they started bragging about their grade, they made it your business!

When all is said and done, the claims to fame and the names of the grades are barely worth the words which annotate them.  Remember, by their fruits, ye shall know them.  If the esoteric community at large would spend more time focusing on the qualities of its leaders rather than their titles, it would be a much, much better place.

Next Chapter:  Un-FAQ's, or Questions Not Frequently Asked

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