Tonight I will be initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and with that I will take on a magical motto, a name to be known by a chosen few. I am sitting in the basement of a Masonic Lodge on a hill in Vermont with my boyfriend, Rob, who is also receiving his initiation. Our teacher David came with us, and we are waiting for the group to set up the temple upstairs. Rob and I are sitting at a rectangular table on fold-up chairs while David’s wiry frame paces, striving to gain control of an event that is out of his hands. The Leader of the group appears periodically and whispers into David’s ear. David is in his early fifties, bald, and wears his nervousness overtly. He is humble in his adeptness, in his vast knowledge of the mysteries and years of initiations. He shares his knowledge with us with the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morning. A man from another group receiving his initiation sits at another table, looking up at the ceiling and side-glancing me with a nervous smile. There is an un-lit industrial kitchen at the far end of the room, hinting at more casual gatherings like church socials on Sunday mornings.
The people setting up upstairs are strangers to Rob and me, yet a majority of their weekend is in preparation for us, a sign of the devotion in helping others in The Great work towards self-transcendence. Our young group of seven is not advanced enough to hold initiations in our temple back home. Rob and I drove to Vermont on this blustery January night, solidifying our commitment to the group.
For over a year, Rob and I have prepared for this night, meeting with our group once a week. We delved into the Qabalistic Tree of life, the classical elements, and the tedious Hebrew alphabet. Group meditations and rituals served as conduits for navigating the astral plane.
Choosing my name involved much contemplation. My name will be a motto, a mantra, an idea I associate with, while simultaneously aspire to. A name I will declare prior to all personal rituals, separating myself from my mundane identity. What would I like to assimilate myself with? Wisdom, compassion, maintaining the light? These aspirations can change throughout a lifetime, so one must choose wisely. My birth name, Jennifer, is a Cornish variant of Guinevere, meaning white wave– a label always there, and one I have lived up to by flowing with the tides of my life.
I could choose any language for my name, but I chose Latin. British occultist, Dion Fortune, took her name in Latin, Deo non fortuna— by God, not by chance— a name that proved her faith in the Almighty. The Irish poet and former Golden Dawn member, William Butler Yeats’ motto was Demon est Deus Inversus—the Devil is God inverted. Perhaps a choice he had made to look at the balancing forces in nature and the shadow by which we recognize light.
I wanted my name to roll off my tongue, like how my daughter’s name Hannah, emanates from my palate. A strong yet soft name to open my heart and strengthen my resolve.
The Leader bobs down the stairs wearing a black robe flooding a pair of red Chuck Taylor sneakers. He is tall with a lengthy salt and pepper ponytail resting in the pointy hood of his garb. He asks us three initiates to confirm our mottos and sign a document agreeing to our discretion. Nobody besides Rob knows of my involvement with this group—a path I felt serendipitously attracted to, like a migrating bird trusting her instinct. I felt no need in declaring my choice or seeking acceptance where there will be none.
I am the first to go. I am beckoned by an echo from the top of the stairs. Leaving Rob to his curious thoughts, my black robe drags behind as my red socks patter up the dim staircase to the rhythm of the soft snow falling outside. A bearded, behemoth of a man in a black robe hoodwinks me outside of the double doors. I am reminded of a passage from the Gospel of Saint John, “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehend it not.” He wraps a rope around my waist three times. I am nervous. My only solace is Rob will be called into the cryptic space soon after me.
I don’t have to knock; the bearded man knocks on behalf of me, seeking entrance. He knocks once. A knock is returned from the other side. He leads me through the door, handing me over to another stranger. I cannot see, the darkness is the ignorance which has blinded mankind—this I represent, and this night is my call to the light.
One step in and I am stopped by a presence before me, and my hood is lifted. A man with encouraging brown eyes, speaks in an Australian accent, “child of earth, I purify thee with water.” His head is covered with a black and white striped nemyss. Taking in a quick glance of the room, I notice others, standing like illuminated stone pillars erected in a field. The Leader sits in a large wooden chair fit for a king at the far end of the room, grasping a scepter in his right hand. Consecrated water drips from the Aussie’s finger, forming the sign of the cross on my forehead. Then he replaces my hood.
Another muffled presence shifts in front of me as incense permeates through the cloth of the hood that covers my nose. I am guided into the still space and asked to kneel by a nameless voice, my knee banging on a presumed altar. I surrender, putting faith in my teacher and the strangers to guide me through the unknown. I declare my new name in my head like a lioness gaining the courage to pass a foreign land.
Jennifer Grant is a massage therapist in the Boston area who writes in between sessions about her experiences in shamanism and the esoteric world. She is an MFA student at Solstice Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.