short word on the subject of the degrees or grades of
accomplishment within the western mystery tradition.
is much dispute, today, amongst the various factions of the
western tradition esoteric
as to what, exactly, one considers to be an adept or master. It
is interesting that it seems that one of the conditions that
supports the confusion that surrounds this subject is the lack
of written material available describing what exactly such
degrees of accomplishment are or should be. Of the written
material available to us much is inconclusive or based on
misunderstanding or pure fantasy. I thought, therefore, that it
might be helpful to, if not clear up this matter entirely, to
lay a foundation upon which some same consideration might build
a more reasonable understanding.
there exist a few variations on the theme of graded advancement
in the western tradition it might be argued that they all are
founded upon and evolved from a Masonic-Rosicrucian system that
in turn had its basis in the ancient mysteries.
in the ancient mystery schools, from which the western tradition
developed, there were (generally) recognized three grades or
'orders' of accomplishment. These grades were used to provide a
method of decompartmentalising teachings about spiritual
progress, or providing a rough estimate of the amount of soul
development an initiate had succeeded in attaining. The craft
guilds of the middle ages used a system of grading that was
similar to the mystery tradition graded system, and is today
recognized as being a relatively universally recognized system.
These three grades are commonly referred to as:
(2) Journeyman (or adept)
which some consider the mother-system which gave birth to the
greater portion of modern esoteric school structures, uses a
slight variation upon these titles:
(2) Fellow craft
(3) Master Mason
next primary development made a considerable elaboration upon
this system, and was developed by the Rosicrucian fraternity.
Firstly these three grades or degrees of attainment became
referred to as 'Orders', after the monastic model, thus:
Novice (outer Order)
(2) Adept (inner or second Order)
(3) Master (third Order)
each Order had within it several degrees of accomplishment, the
original modern model, used by the Society of Rosicrucians In
England, looked something like this:
of the Temple
last development of this system was designed to be used within
the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which grew out of the
Golden Dawn (Outer Order)
Red Rose and the Cross of Gold (Inner Order)
Silver Star (Third Order)
of the Temple
system has become the fundamental model for many modern esoteric
this last system is so well known amongst contemporary western
schools, I will refer to it as the basis of my considerations,
as to just what, exactly, an individual at each level of
attainment, should have accomplished as far as spiritual
progress is concerned. I have decided to use the G:.D:.
here for two reasons. Firstly, because the G:.D:.
clearly is a school designed to aid the aspirant to gain serious
spiritual development, and secondly, because this system,
possibly more than any other, is today the basis for much abuse
as far as claims of attainment are concerned.
G:.D:. grade system is based on the qabalistic
tree of life. That is, the mystic tree of life diagram is used
as a measuring stick of progress made upon the path of spiritual
consideration, here, before we start, might be given to the
twofold aspect of the grades systems in modern esoteric schools.
One aspect of this measuring system says that each grade is a
rung on a ladder that stretches from the spiritual ignorance of
the average man or woman up to the exalted heights of unity with
the Lord of the Universe. The final grade or rung of the ladder
representing the individual’s total mastery of being. The
intervening rungs measure each necessary step on the journey
from ignorance to total mastery.
second aspect of these
grades is that they are honorary. That is, that they do not
describe actual spiritual progress of the individual, but are,
rather, administrative in purpose, the acquisition of any
particular title describing the aspirants right to fill a
certain office or rank in the school’s hierarchy of
point here, to remember, is that these two aspects often become
confused, and certain individuals play on novitiates ignorance
by encouraging them to believe that administrative titles also
represent spiritual accomplishment.
The degree of neophyte is ideally one of probation, or
novitiate. It is an introduction to the occult system the new
initiate is entering into. Nevertheless the G:.D:.
neophyte degree is not really a probationary degree as it should
have probably been designed to be. There is no gentle
introduction giving the aspirant time to get used to the
concepts used by the school. There is no time of test to ensure
the worthiness of the applicant. Instead the initiate is thrown
head long, 'right off the street' (as it has been said) into a
serious grade ceremony and the standard study program.
next four degrees, zelator, theoricus, practicus, philosophus,
are referred to as elemental degrees. That is, the magick work
in those degrees should have the effect of introducing the
student to elementary magickal concepts and practices, and of
purifying and harmonizing the elemental aspects of the initiates
being. In layman's terms the elemental portion of any
individual’s being represents their temporal psycho-physical
self. What we might call their incarnate lower self/personality.
and every person we know in life is a sentient being made up of
four psycho-physical functions which are dysfunctional (in
relation to spiritual life) to a greater degree. The tension
that exists between these four (elemental) functions makes up
our personality, our identity, and ... our 'normality'. The
first task in occult training, that is geared towards attaining
enlightenment (or mastery over self), is to accurately define,
purify and re-harmonize these four elemental aspects of being.
Ideally, this is the task of the training provided in the Outer
Order of schools like the G:.D:. .
means that a person who claims to have spiritually attained to
the grade of philosophus, the last grade in the Outer Order,
should have complete (or near complete) control over their physical
organism (fitness and health), over their emotions, over
their ability to think clearly and accurately, over their
abstract mind - that is over their ability to conceive of
deep symbolic and abstract concepts. Generally, such a person
would seem to be relatively intelligent (knowledgeable),
emotionally balanced, physically healthy and an altogether well
is not a person who bitches and gripes about life. He has the
ability to solve problems relatively easily, partly because he
focuses on solutions rather than complaining. Therefore he
possesses a positive outlook on life and generally most things
he sets his mind to he accomplishes, gaining far more headway in
life than mistakes.
the Outer Order (or apprenticeship) focuses primarily in
teaching the fundamentals of occultism, an accomplished member
of such a body should have a relatively good working knowledge
of many esoteric subjects such as astrology, divination, ritual,
basic use of imagination, tarot, etc, etc.
There generally is not much argument about what constitutes an
'apprentice' or accomplished member of an Outer Order. But there
is a good deal of confusion, discussion and argument about what
constitutes an actual adept.
think in order to get to the root of the meaning of adept we
have to go back to the exoteric craft guilds and consider what a
journeyman really was. An apprentice craftsman was someone who
had little say in things and was under the heavy yoke of
discipline which issued from his tutor, who was usually a
journeyman or adept.
the other hand a journeyman had become skilled enough at his
craft that he was capable, without the need for guidance, to
carry out his duties with relative skill. A journeyman
stonemason, then, was someone who was capable of working at a
building site where he could carry out his daily duties as a
mason without question. He could cut stone skilfully and
probably had a degree of artistic expertise with carving
patterns or images in stone.
then, we would expect that an Adept in a school like the G:.D:.
was capable of actually performing magickal feats with skill. He
would easily compose ritual, manufacture talismata, demonstrate
expert knowledge of qabala and astrology, have the ability to
work some system of divination with accuracy and display skill
with knowledge and ability in the astral (skrying and
traveling). An adept is a person whose familiarity with
occultism is such that he can do these things without to much
minor adept (the first degree of adeptship in the G:.D:.
) is not necessarily an expert in all of these things, but maybe
in one or two areas, with a good working knowledge of the other
aspects of his vocation.
important factor in defining an accomplished minor adept,
though, is found in his internal degree of accomplishment ... of
spiritual growth. As the elemental degrees are attributed to the
four aspects of the lower nature the degree of minor adept is
attributed to the fifth state of human accomplishment. The
accomplished minor adept is an individual who has harmonized his
four lower attributes to such a degree that they begin to merge
into one super-function, which the alchemists call the
new state of consciousness is technically not human. It does not
belong to Malkuth (normality) on the Tree of Life, as do the
elemental aspects of self. The Quintessence belongs to Yesod,
the lowest Sephiroth of the World of Yetzirah, or formation, the
Angelic kingdom. Angelic consciousness is that which has the
function or task of governing all the four lower aspects that
compose our humanness in its completeness.
an individual who has accomplished the work of the grade of
adeptus minor is one who has attained what is commonly called
'knowledge and conversation with the holy guardian angel'.
Technically this refers to the establishment of an open
communication with a rapidly quickening state of consciousness
that controls (and is above) our physical (organic) mechanisms,
our emotions and our thoughts. Access to this Quintessential
consciousness, then, gives us almost total control over
ourselves, the ability to alter anything unproductive about
ourselves and to turn everything towards productive
we have a person that is not only well adjusted, but who also
seems to have an uncanny knack of making everything work for
him. He is not perfect, or totally 'together'. But he his life
has reached a point where it is constantly more productive
(spiritually/holistically) than unproductive. He has gained a
small degree of momentum that is pushing him onwards and
condition moves him into the next level of attainment, adeptus
major. An increasing degree of skill in his chosen spiritual
vocation, takes him from being a simple stonemason that can
skilfully carry out the basic requirements of his trade. Now he
has got to the point where his degree of skill has allowed him
to develop a certain knack, a certain artistic flare, in some
particular chosen area. He is not just good at what he does, he
is becoming an expert in his field. We might call this mastery
of some specific aspect of occultism. This state of
affairs might be said to be possible because he has obtained an
uncanny degree of skill in making accurate judgments and
of executing them in a productive way.
final degree of attainment for an adept is referred to as an
adeptus exemptus. There is a serious and deep change which the
student shifting from the elemental work towards the
quintessential consciousness experiences. A similar state of
affairs is the primary concern for the exempt adept. As the
apprentice becomes an adept he moves away from humanity towards
angelic(type) consciousness. As the exempt adept succeeds in the
shift he must make he moves away from temporal being to
a person reaches adeptus minor he no longer questions the
validity of his spiritual quest. He has seen enough and
understood enough to realize the path must be walked.
This creates, as I have said, a degree of momentum that carries
him forward. This momentum is given direction at adeptus major
and pressed hard till it becomes a habit. The adeptus major
realizes he has moved towards the final adept grade when he
knows, internally, with great surety, that the vocation he
discovered at adeptus minor, and which he played out at adeptus
major, has in fact 'undone' him. He knows that he has aligned
himself with the Will of the Divine so well and for so long that
almost everything that he recognized as being himself has been
left behind somewhere upon the path.
he recognizes a force inside of him that moves him towards what
is commonly called 'the abyss' ... a division that exists
between the temporal universe and the eternal. This awareness
causes him to need to drop everything he is doing in order to
focus on the rapidly approaching task at hand, that is, in
stripping away the last vestiges of his personality, his human
I-dentity, so that when the momentum of his journey throws him
across that abyss he does not pollute the transmutation of his
soul through not being pure enough.
the human personality, our identity of our limited human
individuality, is maintained through a tension that exists
within our Soul. This tension is brought about through our past
actions. The measure of the degree of tension we encompass is
commonly called 'karma'. The task of the adeptus exemptus, then,
is to balance as much of his negative karma as he is capable of.
Already, at adeptus exemptus level he does not have enough
negative karma left to keep him fully incarnate, he knows that
because he feels himself, with increasing rapidity, moving
towards the abyss. But there still may be enough to 'spoil' a
complete transmutation from temporal existence to eternality. If
he has too much of a taint left on his soul he will not succeed
in crossing over 'cleanly' in full consciousness, instead he
will become distorted to some degree and eventually die a
natural death, re-entering the cycle of reincarnation to make
the huge responsibility the adeptus exemptus is facing, an
attempt to move, fully, aware, into the afterlife (in a manner)
would naturally cause a huge impact on his life. It is hard to
imagine, for example, that a person who actually held this
degree of spiritual attainment would be able to live a normal
human life. It is very likely that the things such a person
considered the major focus of his life would to a 'normal' human
make him look like a freak. The kind of knowledge such a person
would have reaped from his experiences, the quality of his
consciousness and the personal philosophy he lived would cause
him to be seen as nothing less than a serious oddity by lesser
beings. A good example of what it might be like to hold a
conversation with such a person is the condition we experience
in a person who is living into their last days of life, and
knows they are about to die. It would be hard to share a house
with such a person and not notice that something unusual is
happening to them. An exempt adept might exist in such a
condition for many weeks or even months or years.
importance of his personal task, in my opinion. would unlikely
find him publishing books and sending months on the road doing
the lecture circuit.
Now we come to the grade of mastery. The last condition that I
feel it is worth commenting upon.
does crossing the abyss actually involve then? First we must
remember that the force that keeps us incarnating (in general)
and in an incarnation (specifically) is negative karma - which
is a conflict or tension existing between the various components
of our being. This tension causes our Soul to be attracted back
to the physical realm from the afterlife to reincarnate time
after time. Once in incarnation this tension creates the events
and conditions of our lives.
if we discover the source of this tension, and ease it off, the
forces that hold us in incarnation also ease off. Our soul
thereafter is no longer attracted to the temporal universe, but
re-orientates itself towards eternity. Since the transition is
an organic process it is unlikely to happen in the snap of a
switch. It may take up weeks or months or even years to complete
fully. Some time during that transition the exempt adept is
going to find himself more on the other side of the abyss than
here. At this point he is, then, technically, a master of the
temple, as the grade is called.
grade is referred to as ‘master’ because it donates that the
accomplishment of the grade requires the individual to have
mastered the forces of the temporal universe. Such a mastery is
necessary in order to escape the attraction of incarnation. This
means that to the master of the temple there is nothing in the
physical universe that he cannot control. He has access to all
human knowledge without learning. He has full control over the
organic mechanisms of his body. He can do amazing things by
controlling his mental functions. He can even rise above the
common laws of physics thereby performing what seem like
miracles with matter itself.
the extreme end of his mastery over physical matter it should be
considered that a master of the temple, logically, would have a
hard time staying in physical manifestation, as not only his
mind, but also the forces holding the atoms of his physical
body, shift from the temporal universe to the eternal. To put it
simply, he would probably find himself increasingly shifting in
and out of physical existence either spontaneously or at will,
until the full transition is complete.
such conditions are often found as part of legends concerning
spiritual masters, and are rarely, if ever, recognised or even
suspected as being in possession of individuals claiming in the
public eye today to have claimed these degrees of