Israel Regardie, Initiation, and Psychotherapy
by Cris Monnastre and David Griffin
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."