Israel Regardie, Initiation, and Psychotherapy

by Cris Monnastre and David Griffin

Copyright © 1995

(A version of this article first appeared in the Tenth Anniversary Edition of Gnosis Magazine)

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis (R.R. et A.C.) are two divisions of an initiatic and magical Order founded by high-ranking Freemasons in England, respectively in 1888 and 1892. Although the exact origins of the Order remain obscure as well as controversial, its primary historical importance lies in its brilliant synthesis of mythical and magical material, from such varied sources as the Fama Fraternitatis (the first published Rosicrucian document), The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Cornelius Agrippa, Tycho Brahe, and John Dee. Salient aspects of the vast corpus of the Order's initiatic and magical material were first revealed in 1937 by the late Dr. Israel Regardie. This material has subsequently impacted most areas of modern magic, as well as many other arenas of spirituality.

Israel Regardie (1907-1985) stands as an important generational link to the magical rebirth of the late nineteenth century, as well as a pioneer in an early attempt to integrate psychology and magic. Born in 1907, Regardie as a young man knew both Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and Dion Fortune (1890-1946), two early adepts of the Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis, each of whom went on to found their own esoteric fraternities. Regardie was also initiated into the Stella Matutina, an early offshoot of the Golden Dawn. Finally, Regardie's work was groundbreaking as an early attempt to integrate psychology and magic.

When Regardie was a young man, he fervently wished to become a magician. He considered Aleister Crowley to be the foremost magician of the period and, having introduced himself to Crowley by means of an admiring letter, began to work as his personal secretary in Paris in 1928. After several years with Crowley, Regardie was forced to leave as the result of a painful rupture with his mentor. The trauma caused by this breach wounded Regardie deeply; he later said it took him nearly seven years to recover from it.

Impoverished and confused, Regardie was taken in as a house guest of Dion Fortune, who was living near Glastonbury in southwest England. Fortune was not only a talented magician but a natural clairvoyant as well. Until he died he never forgot her hospitality and generosity during this difficult period.

Dion Fortune influenced Regardie in a completely unexpected direction. She had been instrumental in bringing Sigmund Freud's ideas to England and had written a collection of short stories called The Secrets of Dr. Taverner. Although she characterized these stories as fiction, she said that Dr. Taverner actually existed and that the stories reflected factual case studies in which psychological and magical processes were linked.

It was at Dion Fortune's dinner table that Regardie was first exposed to the ideas of Freud and C. G. Jung. Shortly thereafter, still struggling with the onslaught of emotions stemming from his breach with Crowley, Regardie entered first into Freudian psychoanalysis and later into Jungian analysis. During this phase Regardie became aware of how great a role his own unresolved emotional conflicts from early childhood had played in his rupture with Crowley. Regardie eventually concluded that it was such unresolved infantility that accounted for most of the chaotic group dynamics of earlier esoteric fraternities. This would lead him to insist on the necessity of psychotherapy for anyone seriously practicing any spiritual discipline.

Regardie later moved to the U.S., where he became familiar with the ideas of Wilhelm Reich and entered into Reichian therapy. He also began to correspond with Reich's daughter Eva, which stimulated him to take a serious interest in the mind-body connection and at length to train as a chiropractor.

Even toward the end of his life, Regardie continued to respect both Freudian psychoanalysis and the ideas of Jung. He eventually came to believe, however, that Jungian analysis as he had experienced it was lacking in effective technique. He ultimately concluded that verbal therapy of any orientation paled in the light of Reich's bodywork, and that the techniques of ceremonial magic would one day become a powerful adjunct to psychotherapy.

As a therapist and a bodyworker, Regardie combined Reich's approach with minor chiropractic adjustments, basic magical techniques, and hatha yoga. In a typical session, Regardie would begin by initiating deep, rhythmic breathing in the client for a considerable period of time. This hyperventilation would create a slightly altered state of consciousness. During this process Regardie would survey various areas of tension on the body and would reduce their tightness with a type of deep and at times painful massage.

Both Regardie and Reich felt that unresolved emotional conflicts were stored in the body as tension. Using a physical approach would release blockages so that life energy, which Reich called "orgone," could pass freely through the entire body. During the course of a session, a great deal of emotion would frequently emerge, which the client was encouraged to express.

Regardie often related Reichian ideas to the magic of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He was particularly fond of one magical exercise called the Middle Pillar Ritual. In this technique the magician visualizes successive spheres of light at various points above, below, and along the spinal column while vibrating certain words. This generates a certain kind of energy, which, according to Regardie, is identical to Reich's orgone. This energy is then circulated around and through the entire body by means of further visualization.

Legitimate esoteric orders have always been primarily intended to provide a context within which initiation may safely and effectively occur. As will be shown here, there are many parallels between initiation and forms of psychotherapy that take into account the spiritual dimensions of growth. Regardie even advised that the two should be considered as complementary processes, and that initiation should always be accompanied by some form of psychotherapy.

Regardie of course considered Reichian therapy to be the most useful adjunct to magical work. In view of the current lack of trained Reichian therapists, however, other schools of psychology suitable for work alongside magical training are those that include spiritual growth as a part of their paradigm, such as the Jungian and Transpersonal orientations, Psychosynthesis, and the emerging school of Esoteric Psychology.

Why does a candidate for initiation need psychotherapy? Any form of spiritual training, when practiced with enough sincerity and discipline, will eventually activate what Jung calls the complexes of the personal unconscious. These may be defined as infantile emotional patterns left over from very early childhood that revolve around unresolved parental conflicts. These complexes are symbolized in the digrams in this appendix by the seven-headed dragon. Frequently they are energized by spiritual practices.

Unless the complexes are allowed to emerge into consciousness in a safe and controlled fashion, they can be acted out in dangerous ways. This helps explain why many "spiritual" groups have become dysfunctional and at times even destructive.

Admittedly, combining initiation and psychotherapy does involve some difficulties. Whereas psychotherapy is unlikely to harm the effectiveness of an initiation or of any other genuinely spiritual process, not everyone seeking initiation can afford the substantial expense of psychotherapy. Furthermore the average lay person may find it difficult to distinguish an effective therapist from an incompetent one. Unfortunately, inept and destructive psychotherapists are frequently easier to find than capable ones, and the same holds true for initiators and initiating orders. Far too many esoteric groups are primarily motivated by their leaders' needs for money or manipulative control over people's lives.

True initiation is a process not unlike that of psychotherapy in that the skill and personal ethics of the initiator are crucial to a successful outcome. Moreover a relationship with an unethical initiator can be as damaging as one with an unethical psychotherapist. Anyone seeking initiation thus needs to be extremely discriminating in the choice of an initiator or order.

The seeker also needs to distinguish between initiating orders and personality cults, since far too many spiritual groups have been built around the personalities of charismatic but manipulative leaders. This phenomenon, combined with a disregard for the psychological issues that may arise, accounts for many of the abuses that have plagued the esoteric community.

An analysis of the psychological dynamics underlying initiation will help to clarify why such abuses occur. The initiatic process of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn clearly illustrates the dangers as well as the potential of initiation. But let us first consider the primary differences between initiation and psychotherapy.

Initiation, as its name suggests, may be defined as a new beginning. In the Golden Dawn system, the initiatic process has a magical as well as a psychological component. The magical component may be described as the systematic awakening or ignition of certain forces or energies in the "Sphere of Sensation" of the initiate. (The Sphere of Sensation is the term used by the Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis to describe what is commonly called the energy body or the aura.)

This process requires an initiator in whom these forces are already awakened and active, since initiation occurs through an actual transmission of energies. Thus from a magical perspective, the relationship between the initiator and the candidate is crucial. In this sense genuine self-initiation, if not altogether impossible, is at least extremely difficult to achieve. It is nonetheless possible, although difficult, to accomplish much of this magical aim of initiation through systematically and repeatedly invoking the correct magical energies using ceremonial magic

Although much has been written about the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. almost nothing has been said about the overall initiatic process in which the Golden Dawn is but the first step. From the beginning, this system was conceived as being composed ten grades, each one corresponding to a Sephirah on the Qabalistic Tree of Life, and of three degrees, each one corresponding to an entire order. Each successive order is veiled from the previous one by the veils of Isis and Nephthys (called Paroketh).

The first degree and order consist of the curriculum and cycle of initiations of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The grades of the first degree begin with the Neophyte initiation and correspond to the Sephiroth of Malkuth, Yesod, Hod, and Netsach. The second degree and order are those of the Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis. The Grades of the second degree begin with the probationary initiation of the Portal of the Vault of the Adepti and correspond to the Sephiroth of Tiphareth, Gevurah, and Chesed. The third degree and order are those of the Third Order, whose true name remains concealed. The grades of the third order correspond to the Sephiroth of Binah, Chokmah, and Kether, and begin with the probationary initiation of the Portal of the Abyss (which corresponds to Non-Sephirah of Daath).

In the first order, the magical forces are awakened, activated, and balanced in the candidate by the initiator in the rituals themselves. These forces are those of the traditional elements; Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and Spirit, which are symbolized by a pentagram. Beginning in the second order, however, the individual practice of ceremonial magic greatly enhances this process. The Second Order work primarily activates the forces of the seven traditional planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon, which are symbolized by a hexagram. Furthermore, in the second order, the adept learns to independently work with the elements through a series of sub-grades, which further differentiates these forces in the adept's aura. The third order primarily activates the forces of the signs of the zodiac, as well as alchemical Salt, Sulfur, and Mercury, which are symbolized by a triangle. Thus the work of the third order includes alchemy as a psycho-spiritual process as well as ceremonial magic.

Having thus examined the magical aspect of initiation, we may now understand the significance of the symbol of the Rose Cross (shown below) used by the Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis. Though its imagery is too intricate to be fully discussed here, we might point out that this Rose Cross symbolically depicts the forces awakened in the energy body of a fully initiated adept. It also illustrates the harmony and equilibrium of their operation, as represented by the four elements, the seven traditional planets, and the twenty-two petals of the rose.

The three concentric rings of Hebrew letters in the center of the figure are divided into groups of three, seven, and twelve letters each. This distribution is taken from the Sefer Yetzirah or "Book of Formation" of the ancient Qabalists. The innermost ring corresponds to the first order and the forces of the elements. The second ring corresponds to the second order as well as to the seven traditional planets, while the third correlates to the third order and the signs of the Zodiac.

Let us go on to examine some of the dynamics of psychotherapy in order to better understand initiation from a psychological perspective. According to certain schools of psychology, a phenomenon called "transference" figures prominently in effective psychotherapy. Transference may be defined as the process of becoming conscious of our unresolved parental conflicts. During the course of psychotherapy, the client begins to see the therapist as embodying these unresolved conflicts. This occurs as the client projects the contents of his or her own unconscious onto the therapist in much the same fashion as a film is projected onto a blank screen.

Transference also plays a crucial role in the process of initiation, except that here it is the initiator who becomes the screen for the projections. This is one reason why initiation may be such an extremely effective tool in facilitating personal as well as spiritual development. But it also explains why initiation in the hands of inept or unscrupulous leaders can lead to heartbreak, disappointment, or even death and destruction. Moreover, because the transferential relationship with another human being is a central factor in initiation as well, genuine self-initiation is as impossible as self-administered psychotherapy.

As we have already mentioned, psychotherapy concurrent with initiation is a good idea, even if it is not always possible. But certain special circumstances do need to be considered. Certainly the therapist should be able to regard spirituality as a healthy phenomenon; ideally he or she should have experience working with spiritual issues.

Although the therapist and the initiator do not need to consult each other, they must maintain healthy boundaries in their relationship with the initiate. It is never a good idea for a therapist to discuss case material outside the therapeutic relationship. Unfortunately some therapists tend to discuss this material with colleagues, supervisors, even sometimes at cocktail parties, all the while believing that they are behaving ethically because they only use the client's first name.

Both the therapist and the initiator need to understand from the outset that such discussions must not occur. Initiation may be likened to an alchemical process: in order to be most effective, the vessel - the relationships with therapist and initiator - needs to be hermetically sealed. This is the primary reason that such great importance is given to secrecy and silence in esoteric matters. Silence creates power and pressure, which ultimately produce profound spiritual and psychological transformation.

Whether the primary transference occurs with the initiator or the therapist is relatively unimportant. One never consciously decides to create a transferential relationship. It happens completely unconsciously, taking place with the person one is most able to fall in both love and hate with. What matters most is that it occur and that the negative projections and feelings be allowed to emerge and be safely worked through.

The earliest phase of the initiatic process of the first degree is symbolically depicted in a diagram called "The Garden of Eden before the Fall" (shown above). This diagram, which is presented to the initiate in the 3=8 grade of Practicus, represents a stage of primordial innocence. At this stage the candidate typically sees the initiator in an unrealistically positive light as a sort of ideal or perfect parent. In this diagram, Eve, the female figure shown at the bottom of the Tree of Life, represents the ideal mother (and the Qabalistic nephesh or instinctual nature); she is depicted supporting the pillars of Jachin and Boaz. Adam, representing the ideal father (and the Qabalistic ruach or the rational aspect) stands above her with his chest at the station of Tiphareth, arms outstretched towards Chesed and Gevurah.

This diagram represents the bliss of innocence: the candidate is living in a state of bliss because of his or her contact with the "ideal parents" as projected onto the initiator. This process is not unlike Jung's portrayal of falling in love. According to Jung, when men fall in love, they project their own feminine side or anima onto the beloved, while women project the inner masculine, which Jung calls the animus.

This is the stage that is most susceptible to abuse by inept or unscrupulous initiators. Allegations of sexual harassment, manipulation, and other forms of abuse have surfaced, not merely surrounding leaders of occult orders, but in the mainstream religious community as well. As Jim Jones, David Koresh, and the Order of the Solar Temple have proven, this abuse of trust may even have fatal consequences.

Certain safeguards, such as laws enforcing ethical guidelines, have been set up for psychotherapy. But as yet there are no such laws protecting initiates in esoteric fraternities, though emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in these areas can be just as damaging. The decision to enter initiation may therefore be likened to the decision to enter psychotherapy, and the choice of a suitable initiator is at least as important as that of a good psychotherapist. In both choices individuals should be extremely judicious.

A further examination of the diagram of "The Garden of Eden before the Fall" reveals the illusory nature of the relationship with the ideal parents. One notices first of all the absence of the Supernal Sephiroth (Kether, Binah, and Chokmah) on this Qabalistic Tree of Life: they are symbolized only in potential by the winged female figure at the top of the Tree. This figure symbolizes the neshamah, or Divine Feminine, of the Qabalists. Furthermore Eve (the female figure at the foot of the Tree) stands upon a coiled seven-headed dragon.

This dragon has a long history. It is to be found as early as the Paleolithic period in the form of the serpent associated with the consort of the Great Mother Goddesses as well as with her Tree of Life. This same serpent appears later in the Egyptian myths of Ra's struggles with the serpent-fiend Apep. In this same negative light it is encountered yet again in the New Testament book of Revelation.

Nonetheless the serpent remains an important symbol of resurrection and the renewal of life, since it sheds its skin on a regular basis. When interpreted psychologically, this serpentine dragon represents what Jung calls the complexes of the personal unconscious.

The unfolding initiatic process inevitably leads to the situation represented by the diagram entitled "The Garden of Eden after the Fall" (depicted below). This diagram is shown to the candidate during initiation into the 4=7 grade of Philosophus. Here the heads of the dragon arise into consciousness; as shown in the diagram, they attach themselves to the seven lower Sephiroth on the Tree of Life. At this phase the initiate's ego is assaulted by his or her personal complexes. This is a necessary process for the awakening psyche, but it tends to be an unpleasant one.

How many love affairs have ended in disappointment or tragedy? Both the psychotherapeutic and initiatic processes further expose the unresolved conflicts of early childhood. The beloved, who once was seen in an imaginarily positive light, now becomes invested in the opposite fashion. The Queen of Heaven becomes the Hag, and the Fairy Prince becomes the Ogre. The same person who once "could do no wrong" suddenly "can do no right." These negative projections are, of course, as unrealistic as the positive projections of the previous phase.

It is crucial to the outcome of the initiation that the complexes of the personal unconscious be allowed to manifest in a safe and controlled way within the container of the relationship with the initiator. The emergence of these complexes can cause outbursts of irrational behavior in the candidate. This can be quite traumatic for the initiator as well as the candidate, as both frequently find themselves embroiled in the unresolved infantile drama of the candidate's early childhood. At this stage the skill of the initiator becomes crucial. He or she needs to be extremely conscious of what is happening, and sometimes must have almost superhuman patience to endure the candidate's outbursts.

This situation is complicated by what psychologists call "countertransference," in which the initiator's own personal complexes are projected onto the candidate. Initiators and therapists should never assume that they have become completely conscious of their own inner processes; no matter how much one has grown, one is always vulnerable to the further emergence of one's own unconscious material. The initiator may even erupt into outbursts of irrational behavior, which may further escalate the situation.

This phase of initiation is also fertile ground for abuse by inept or unethical initiators, who may either be blinded by their own complexes or tempted to maintain the positive transference of the first stage. The adoration of students can easily seduce an initiator into attempting to maintain the illusory role of the charismatic, idealized patriarch or matriarch. But this would be poison to successful initiation and spiritual growth as well as to the health of any legitimate spiritual organization.

Initiators must therefore resist this tendency at all costs; otherwise the initiation cannot progress beyond the phase symbolized by "The Garden of Eden before the Fall." Furthermore, the negative transference inevitably arrives! If a leader is unable or unwilling to become a focal point for these unpleasant projections, he or she will find some other object for them to be projected onto.

This leads to extremely unhealthy situations. Unscrupulous leaders are frequently obliged to find or create one or more scapegoats to serve as objects of the negative projections. This can lead to a pattern of abuse within, and expulsion from, the group. In the worst cases it leads to growing paranoia, as the scapegoat is projected onto an imaginary enemy or even society at large. Waco, Texas and Cheiry, Switzerland have become monuments to the danger of this dynamic.

At this point the esoteric community has placed far too little emphasis on personal growth and group dynamics. Yet it must be remembered that any time one comes into contact with spiritual energies, the contents of the personal unconscious will become activated as well. Hence esoteric orders need to facilitate personal growth alongside spiritual growth. The dynamics of personal interactions within these groups needs to be examined as well.

Throughout the first degree, the candidate was gradually entering into an entirely new relationship with his or her own Higher Self. In the early stages of the initiation, this relationship manifested chiefly through the unconscious projections onto the initiator. In the Portal Ritual of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the seeds were planted to enable the relationship of the candidate with the Higher Self to become fully conscious. This birth into consciousness then occurs with the entry into the Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis during the initiation into the 5=6 grade of Adeptus Minor.

In the early part of this ritual, the candidate is symbolically bound to a cross (which symbolizes the elements). This voluntary subordination of the ego to the Higher Self at length liberates the ego from the onslaught of the unconscious complexes. This is symbolized by the dropping away of the heads of the dragon from the Sephiroth (shown below).

After this stage of the ritual, the candidate is brought inside the Vault of the Adepti for the first time. This vault, a highly charged magical chamber, is the symbolic burial place of Christian Rosenkreutz (Frater CRC). As a place where the initiate is reborn, the vault thus partakes not only of the symbolism of tomb but that of the womb as well.

Once inside the vault the candidate is led to the head of the Pastos, the symbolic sarcophagus of Christian Rosenkreutz. When the lid of the Pastos is eventually removed to reveal the hidden figure of the Chief Adept (the initiator) inside, the candidate symbolically becomes illuminated by an influx of consciousness coming from the Higher Self. The new adept thus begins to enter into an entirely new and fully conscious relationship with this Higher Self (as symbolized in the following diagram).

During this investigation we have gained an understanding of the psychological as well as the magical processes underlying legitimate initiation. This, however, is not the end. Many years ago Regardie called for further exploration of the integration of psychology and magic. In fact, one might call the area of overlap between these two fields "Esoteric Psychology." This inquiry has been an attempt to make a small contribution to this emerging new field. The work, however, is just beginning. Standing at the vantage point of the end of the millennium, ten years after Regardie's death, we feel obliged to repeat his appeal for further research: "Whoever does succeed in welding these two [psychology and magic] indissolubly together, to him mankind will ever be grateful."