An Update on My Ill Spent Youth – When Masters Walk Away
I recently had a wonderful conversation with an old associate, someone I met nearly two decades ago when we ran in the same circles of esoteric initiation. This was of course the late 1990s into the early 2000s – before the “Financial Crisis of 2008,” when we were flush with money, enthusiasm, and idealism in our chase for that one initiatic connection that would provide us with the secret to the Great Work. Orders and independent churches claiming connections to European Rosicrucian, Martinist, Templar, quasi-Masonic, or (some form of) “old Catholic church” lineage were popping up like mushrooms while exhibiting the lifespans of mayflies.
Yet, in the midst of all the frantic activity of initiation, cross-initiation, mutual recognition, glad-handing, and collection of fees and annual per capita, there were a few real luminaries. That is, there were a few people who were able to rise above a great deal of the noise and be seen as a presence on the stage of initiation. They commanded some genuine respect and authority and were trying to create something useful for others on their journey.
During the discussion with my old colleague the name of his initiator came up, Frater ZAS. ZAS was a professional with advanced scientific degrees, spoke several languages, and was well known across the community. When I last saw him it was to discuss some programming for the Wyoming Valley Society for Esoteric Studies, the forerunner to the Institute for Hermetic Studies. While this particular programming never came to fruition (and now I know for certain why), a great deal of esoteric information was passed on to me in the process – all without any initiatic obligations. It was simply given to me.
So I asked, “Whatever became of ZAS?”
“As you know he and I were very close. I owed nearly all of my initiations and contact to him. He was really an epicenter of activity. But closest I can tell it had something to do with his role in a Rosicrucian group; it may have been AMORC. He reached the pinnacle of achievement, the Twelfth Degree, only to discover that there were no secrets. Nothing additional was to be had,” came the reply.
“Ah, you mean the so-called ‘Pronunzimento to All the World’ where Harvey Spencer Lewis comes clean on his initiations in France and the visionary experiences which provoked him to visit when the opportunity arose to travel with his father?” I asked.
“I believe that is it, although I have not seen it myself. Regardless, it provoked a crisis of some kind. Like so many of us in those movements ZAS really loved his titles, charters, and the rubber stamps that made everything look official. Despite his intelligence and achievements he was chasing a dream, and many of us were chasing it with him. It was not a bad dream – simply an illusion. Promises that could not be fulfilled because they had to come from within.”
“It sounds like the egregore ate him up, sucked out his life energy, and spit him out.”
“Yes, that is what happened.”
“It seems to me that getting consumed in ‘the quest’ and sucked into an egregore to feel special about your journey – to feel protected, a part of something bigger than daily life – is all too common. It is really abusive too, as most of the people in occultism do not have a real life.”
He laughed at this and agreed. “Yes, it takes everything you have, and if you are lucky, it takes your illusions too! But that last part is rare. Maybe ZAS was lucky. He walked away from it all, even going so far as to scrub as many references as he could from the internet. But of course that did not really work on anything except the official sites where he was mentioned. For me it was difficult. After all those years, all that time and money, suddenly the initiatic world for me disappeared overnight – and it was not just me, it was dozens of groups and hundreds of people who were abandoned as well. Their connection was severed. It was gone. Phone calls and emails were not returned. For him, it was over. Last I heard he was doing very well, dedicating himself to his family and profession.”
My associate had not fallen into that trap. He had managed to carve out a very important and successful place for himself in government. He also walked away from the initiatic path and dedicated himself to his spiritual life in a different manner – to his parish and assisting others as best he could. It was a humble position, far from the masquerading as “unknown superiors” and “adepti insiders” of earlier years, when a wardrobe filled with robes, sashes, collars, various insignia, impedimenta, and carpets was the norm. Maybe it should be no surprise that while magicians use the word “impedimenta” in its often-given first meaning – “supplies carried by an army” – as a reference to the tools of the trade, they often forget the second meaning: “that which slows one down, or impedes ones progress.”
In some ways the story reminded me of that of a past Grand Master whom I had the pleasure of working with a great deal over the years. After they had stepped down and out of the limelight of public esotericism, they ended up working for the world’s largest private military contracting firm – a far cry from leading meditations for world peace. When I heard that, I was a bit surprised, never expecting such news…but we all need to eat, and it is not as if St. Germain is not credited with directing a military battle or two in his day.
All of this leads me to the point: contemporary spirituality is generally dreamlike and void of connection to the world except in terms of moralizing about it. I have brought this up often because it is critical to understanding what esotericism really means to each of us individually.
If the ideals are not turning into reality, then they need to be reevaluated – or discarded. The dream is itself an egregore that we all-too-often feed, and that food is our time, talent, and treasure – our lives. This is vitally important if the dream is not our own, one we deeply seek to realize, but instead is a substitute handed to us because we came to occultism out of desperation, and the idea of being an “initiate” or “Unknown Superior” seemed more appealing than going to a therapist or somewhere for career advisement. Just as we hear W. B. Yeats saying “the second order [of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn] is not a reform school,” neither is it a job for those who fail at everything else or an excuse to ignore our family and professional obligations. We hear a great deal about “asset stripping,” when the valuable resources of one industry or region are removed in total and relocated elsewhere. While many in the modern counter-culture spiritual movements decry such activities in the “mundane world,” they fully support and engage in them in the “esoteric worlds” – with their very lives as the thing being stripped.
In the end, it all ends – and that is all right. So learn when to walk away on your own terms, and not when the façade of spiritual exceptionalism comes crashing down. “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”