Any discussion of the Golden Dawn tradition must include a description of the various grades or levels of initiation. The Order is entirely based upon a hierarchical system in which certain information and knowledge is retained for students who have reached specific levels of achievement in their esoteric training. This is in keeping with the paradigm of a school. The Hermetic Art is a true science, therefore would-be magicians must commit the rudimentary knowledge of the system to memory, just as if they were students of medicine or engineering. In addition, training in the magical arts implies an examination of various regions and levels of the student’s own consciousness-a process which is not always easy, and sometimes, not always pleasant. Certain portions of the psyche should be left alone until the student has been thoroughly grounded and balanced by the step-by-step process of magical development established by the grade system of the Golden Dawn.
The grades of the Golden Dawn correspond to the Sephiroth on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. (They also have secondary elemental and planetary attributions.) These grades are further divided into three separate groups known as the First or Outer Order, the Second or Inner Order, and the Third or Invisible Order. The First Order is the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which is a separate and distinct entity from that of the Second or Inner Order, known as the R.R. et A.C. or the Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis. The following list of the grades (from lowest to highest) includes the Order, the Corresponding Sephirah, the Element and the associated Planet. For Magus and Ipsissimus there is no element or planet.
First Order Grade
Neophyte 0o=0© --
Zelator 1o=10© Malkuth Earth (no associated planet)
Theoricus 2o=9© Yesod Air Moon
Practicus 3o=8© Hod Water Mercury
Philosophus 4o=7© Netzach Fire Venus
Second Order Grade (This group has no associated elements)
Adeptus Minor 5o=6© Tiphareth -- Sun
Adeptus Major 6o=5© Geburah -- Mars
Adeptus Exemptus 7o=4© Chesed -- Jupiter
Third Order Grade (This group has no associated elements)
Magister Templi 8o=3© Binah -- Saturn
Magus 9o=2© Chokmah -- --
Ipsissimus 10o=1© Kether -- --
This structure of the Golden Dawn is based upon that of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia - the Rosicrucian Society in England-a group composed of Master Masons. Some of the leading members of SRIA were key founders of the Golden Dawn. The names of the grades listed above are Rosicrucian in origin. The initiation ceremonies of the Golden Dawn are basically structured according to a Masonic model.
The First Order consists of the grades from Neophyte through Philosophus. The grade of Neophyte is a probationary period that is not assigned to a Sephirah on the Tree of Life. The grades from Zelator through Philosophus are known as the elemental grades and are each attributed to one of the four elements (Fire, Water, Air, Earth). Advancement through the grades of the First or Outer Order is designed to convey to the student an understanding of the four elemental principles of nature. More importantly, the student must learn to realize and balance these four elements as indispensable ingredients of his or her own psychological and spiritual make-up. We once read a criticism of the Golden Dawn by an author who claimed that the G.D. taught its members to try to control the elements in the outer world rather than controlling the elements within. He couldn\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'t have been more wrong. Equilibrating the elemental components within is the primary goal of the Outer grades. The key objective of the First Order could be summed up in the phrase "learn to balance."
In the Outer Order, the student learns magical theory, including the basics of Qabalah, astrology, alchemy, and divination. The teachings also focus on the unification of soul, mind, and body. This involves the correcting of unbalanced energies and the attainment of perfect harmony between opposing forces. (Male balanced with female, light balanced with dark, intellect balanced with emotion, spirit balanced with matter, etc.)
The Portal grade is another probationary period between the First and Second Orders. During this initiation, the candidate is introduced to the fifth and final element of Spirit, thus completing the component parts of his or her elemental constitution.
The Second Order is comprised of the Adept grades-Adeptus Minor, Adeptus Major and Adeptus Exemptus. This is the Order where the real work of ceremonial magic begins. Whereas the First Order is a school that teaches students the fundamentals of magic, the Second Order is where the student puts what he or she has learned to practical use. These higher grades are usually open only to individuals who pass difficult tests and are selected on other qualifying factors.
In the R.R. et A.C. students perform ceremonial magic. They build and consecrate their own magical tools, write and perform their own new rituals based on traditional Golden Dawn formulas and principles, practice techniques of skrying and astral traveling, create and assume the images of godforms, and perform advanced magical techniques, such as Enochian Magic. Many difficult procedures of magic have to be carefully learned.
The Three Chiefs of the Second Order run the First Order and are also responsible for handing down the esoteric teachings to the Outer Order students. The titles of Chiefs are the Praemonstrator or teacher, the Imperator or governor, and the Cancellarius or record keeper.
The Third Order is a purely theoretical one. It consists of the grades from Magister Templi to Ipsissimus. These grades are not attained by living initiates.