I was in our local bookstore on Monday — I think it was Monday — and browsing around looking for a present for a friend of mine with a birthday coming up. I just turned a corner away from the science section, to go between the two stacks where all the magic books are and something fell on me. It whacked me on the head, and before I could put it away, it almost shouted out, Hey! Down Here! Pick Me Up!
It turned out to be John Michael Greer‘s Inside a Magical Lodge: Group Ritual in the Western Tradition. I put it down, went and did some other things around the store, undid the other things I had done around the store, put back what I’d planned on buying, and eventually wound up back at the book. I bought it. Once home, it sat on my desk for all of Monday and Tuesday, before I could pick the thing up again. In the meantime, I learned that I’ve already read some of Greer’s work over at the Archdruid’s Report, because of my recent interest in Peak Oil theories and responses.
OK. The guy may be a nutter, or he may be onto something when it comes to peak oil, but that’s not why I bought this book. I bought this book because I know that my grandfather Duncan was a Mason, and something about that appealed to me when I first understood that he belonged to a secret society of men. It affected me more at his funeral, when his Masonic brothers gave him a Masonic burial rite at the funeral home that none of us outsiders of the family really understood.
What I do know is that I ploughed through this book between 9:30 last night at 2:45 this morning. I felt blown open by what I learned about the methods and processes which fraternal lodges use. Greer is an initiate of at least four fraternal and magical lodges, and so he revealed none of the working traditions of his lodge. Even so, he spelled out the processes and frameworks for opening and closing a lodge, raising or lowering a lodge from one degree to another, and managing the processes of lodge business through officers and etiquette.
The book also explained how fraternal lodges (like the Masons) wound up borrowing elements of the Western/European magical traditions as a result of the interest of alchemists and kabbalists in the 18th and 19th centuries, and how magical lodges (like the Golden Dawn and the O.T.O) co-opted the forms of the fraternal initiatory lodges and used their ritual frameworks as looms on which to build new mentalities.
The book also includes a description of the process by which a group of magical students could form a lodge, initiate themselves and their colleagues, and form a working partnership for group magical work. There’s clear advice on creating by-laws and constitutions that prevent abuse, and encourage unity and partnership and friendship in the lodge. Greer emphasizes the importance of developing a strong and also well-focused egregor or ‘Spirit of the Lodge’ which is akin to the Force of the Jedi — an energetic form that obeys the lodge members’ wills, but also helps shape their actions.
There are a number of chapters that I found deeply enlightening. The one on the formalities of voting, of admitting and sending out members into the world, guarding the doors, warding the space with both external words and internal visualizations, the process of accepting new members to the lodge, the system of knocks and grips and tokens, and the role of the officers of the lodge… well. Part of me wants to go out and write up a whole set of rituals and start practicing.
My friend Marc tried starting a co-housing community many years ago, and lots of people wanted to be part of the planning and development stages. When it came to putting down real money, though, and hiring a G.C. and an architect to do the actual designs of the buildings and the construction — lots of people started missing meetings, ‘forgetting’ it was co-housing planning night, or spending their money on other stuff besides babysitters. So the thing came apart. Starting a magical lodge is like that, I think. It’s not easy, and you need a group of people who are prepared and committed to the practice of the rituals and rites, so that it becomes second nature to all involved. Greer emphasizes that a lodge doesn’t need to have an ancient tradition, though it helps; it doesn’t need a higher power investing it, though it helps; and it doesn’t need a high magus creating, moving and sustaining the work, though it helps. What it does need is a group of people focused on some common purposes and goals, who are prepared to use the basic ‘lodge tool set’ to do that work.
And it does seem that it works. Even reading through the fictionalized lodge process with its made-up rituals and constitutions and such, there’s this thrill that goes through me of seeing this process in action, and being able to imagine it occurring, witnessing it. I went digging in the Interwebs this morning, and read through the lodge process for the Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft rituals, and it seems to me that Greer has done a great job of summarizing what the rituals are, and how they work at the level of the framework (which can be adapted to any set of myths or symbols that the lodge might care to work with).
It’s also clear that ‘lodge’ in the Western magical tradition has the potential to be as effective and real as other magical system, whether from the high Andes or the plateau of Tibet or the sand divinations of west Africa. The principal requirement of any magical system is that it be able to help you think and imagine in at least one other mentality besides your own culture’s mind-set. Reading this book, I was reminded of Wade Davis’s addled but highly interesting talk on the webs of myth and belief that encircle the Earth. The function of secrecy for events in the lodge is to create a highly-selective web of myth and belief with one circle of people, and separate that web of myth and belief from the rest of the world, so that it is possible to swing back and forth between two different mindsets. Or so Greer believes.
The other part of the book that I found extremely helpful and interesting is that if you can create a set of rituals to work with as a lodge, those individual ceremonies can then be translated to function as a solitary ceremony for substantially different purposes. The group rituals become the basis for spellwork and magical actions of other kinds, and Greer gives several examples. Moreover, there is a section on how the verbal (speeches and songs), the somatic (the gestures, the signs and the handshakes) and the material (the physical tableaux and symbols of the lodge) help cue and key the lodge members into different states of consciousness to enter the heightened awareness necessary to do various kinds of work.
(I’m realizing that this Book Review is wandering all over the place; it’s sort of a signal to my state of mind, and to the fact that I was up until way too late in the night last night.)
Greer is much more organized than I am right now. He’s got carefully arranged chapters on the processes to follow in a lodge, the process of admitting new initiates, the process of electing officers and starting new lodges, and more. You could use this book to build a credible magical system, I’m pretty certain.
That said, Greer is also up-front with the recognition that if you want to work in a magical lodge process or program, and be a member of such an organization, you had better spend some time in a fraternal lodge, too, or work the two systems in parallel. For one, joining a fraternal lodge will give you the ability to rent space in a building designed as a lodge, and it will give you practice in someone else’s system to help focus and design your own. He doesn’t say you have to join an organization, only that it’s valuable to work in a lodge that already works so that you understand the procedures to make your own lodge work.
I’m intrigued on a number of levels. I feel like my interest in Freemasonry is re-awakened, and I’d like to follow my grandfather into this fraternal organization. But I also feel like I’d like to round up some folks and create a magical lodge process to parallel the work in the fraternal program, and learn to work with this as a magical system. Some of the work that I’ve done at the Boy Scouts actually falls within this framework quite nicely, and it could be expanded very well. Some of it could be done at an even deeper level or higher level, depending on how you think about it.
Rating: 5 of 5 stars. I’ve not stayed up all night to read a work of non-fiction (especially not a how-to manual) in a long time, and this one had me hooked almost as much as the second Harry Potter novel.