Fin de siecle London at night.

“Follow the custom of the country…”: Reflections of a Nightwalking Occultist

The first time I left my Golden Dawn temple to take the train back to New York City, I had just been initiated into the Neophyte Grade of the Order. It was a powerful spiritual experience. Though the details of the ceremony are easily available in this day and age, only a few Google searches away, the thought of writing openly about what happened still fills me with trepidation. I think this speaks highly of the physical effect of the ceremony – not to mention what occurred on planes much more subtle than the physical.

So it was a rude awakening to take the Long Island Railroad back to the city, right after what was supposed to be a milestone in my magico-spiritual evolution. After all, it was a Saturday night. For those who are unfamiliar with the LIRR on a Saturday night, it’s kind of like a moving frat house. I grew up among these sorts of folks on Long Island, in a commuter town on the border of Queens and Nassau County – but regardless of my experience with bros shouting and slamming back Bud Lites to pre-game for a bar in midtown, nothing can quite prepare you for witnessing it in person.

I felt particularly vulnerable and unequipped to deal with it on this night. Shouldn’t I be in a more enlightened place after such an enlightening experience? A spiritual place? Shouldn’t I be able to study and reflect in peace? I had dreams of monastic serenity, maybe a gothic chapel or scriptorium, where I could spend all my time delving into old magical texts and books of prayer. It was a beautiful image, much more in line with the highly symbolic, dynamic, and almost liturgical Victorian ceremony in which I had just taken part.

Of course, this is completely the wrong approach to the Golden Dawn tradition, and to the Western Mystery Tradition more generally. In the Rosicrucian Manifestos, the adepts are said to dress in the clothing of the countries they live in, and to live among the people, professing nothing but to heal the sick, “and that gratis.” Such ideas are reiterated in several documents of the Golden Dawn tradition. Much like the Jesuit Order, the Rosicrucians were to live in the world as active contemplatives–mystics and magicians in action.

Fin de siecle London at night.

Historically speaking, anyway, weren’t most members of the first generation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn city-dwellers – Londoners who themselves must have experienced the shock of going out from their temples into the foggy, gaslit London nights, in the fin de siècle cityscape they shared with the other eccentrics, streetwalkers, and poets of the Yellow Nineties?

The second time I went home on the train from my temple, I still felt the sting of going back out into the world after spending hours in such a a powerful spiritual space, in the company of others engaged in a shared mystical quest. The LIRR on a Saturday night was still obnoxious, and the darkened streets of lower Manhattan were teeming with bar-crawlers, late night workers, the homeless, and the questionably stable (always a few demoniacs out and about in the city on a Saturday night).

New York City Night - Street in the Financial District

But I did have a stronger sense of my purpose in that kind of environment, and the connection between secret knowledge and the admonition to heal the sick. The original Golden Dawn developed in a bourgeois culture, newly industrialized, impoverished, and questioning the inherited pieties of Victorian Christianity. We live in a similarly unsettled age – and it is our responsibility, as holders of rejected knowledge now reemerging into the light of day, to bring the fruits of our work to those who are out on the streets. To be a Rosicrucian means more than seeking personal spiritual attainment. It means to be in the world, but not of it; to participate in its healing. Following in the footsteps of the Great Healer, Yeheshuah, we must be repairers. Only then can the prophecy of Isaiah 58 be as true for a city like New York as it was for ancient Jerusalem:

And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

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