One of the periodic accusations that one hears about the secret societies is that the whole system is a money making system for a few people at the top of the system. The earliest example of this accusation that I have encountered involves Freemasonry (an example of such was given in a previous Quote of the Day post); but I do understand that there is an earlier one about the Rosicrucians (but I am not sure that it is about the RC, as much as alchemists in general). And I have heard this about all existing esoteric Orders--OTO, Golden Dawn, BOTA, AO, AMORC, etc.
If one believes even a fraction of the accusations, one must conclude that all the secret and esoteric societies are nothing more than a scam to make money for their leadership.
And even when there is no one at top to recieve the riches of excess dues and fees, an Order can still be accused of being nothing more than a business opportunity for its membership. For instance, nowadays, you do not hear of the leaders of Freemasonry living off of excess dues, but you hear a lot of people accuse the entire system of being a network of favored contacts which give work and opportunites only to those who are fellow members of the fraternity.
Now, we must admit it happens. I am quite sure that most of my readers can point to an esoteric Order...or two...or six...that can reasonably be accused of such behavior. Part of the problem is the fact that in an esoteric Order that has a single person at top, the chore of running the organization is overwhelming and the person tends to end up neglecting their day job...with the Order often having to pick up the loss of income for the leader's missed opportunities. But unfortunately, this is only part of the problem.
A larger part of the problem is the fact that secrecy can be a key method of turning an esoteric society into a money making system.
For instance, lets look at my favorite tradition---the Golden Dawn. In past posts, I have speculated that the number of people in the Golden Dawn market is about a thousand people (and even if it is not, it is a nice round number to use for this example). If you can convince a thousand people to shell out a $120 a year in dues and fees, you have a pie of $120,000. Now the trick for such a market is to get it all--if you can corner the market, then you can squeeze it for a big paycheck. For instance, with a monopoly, one could keep their operating expenses down to $20 a person. This may seem small, but if you have the entire market cornered, then it is an operating budget of twenty thousand a year. This would leave a hundred thousand annually for the person at the top--it is a nice profit margin.
Of course, in mainstream Golden Dawn, this is impossible. In order to make it work, you would have to prevent anyone else from serving the same community. The more competition there is, the lower the profit margin. In fact, given the amount of information that has been published about Golden Dawn and its offshoots over the years, it is next to impossible to accomplish. Not that it has not stopped people from trying to do so.
(Before anyone thinks that I am talking about them, just remember that everyone points fingers at their enemies with this accusation. You point at me; I point at you--it is all rather childish. And I do know for fact that some Orders which are operating in the red, with the leader picking up the slack, has been accused of this crime. So let's not point fingers unless you have proof in the form of a ledger or two. And if you believe that I am describing your behavior, well, just remember that certain forms of behavior just worries me.)
So let's say you wanted to run an esoteric system as a money making system, how would you go about it? Well, first you need to make sure that you have an absolute monopoly, that you are the sole source of information. Then you want to make sure that no one ever advances far enourgh to threaten that monopoly, and that no one can use your lessons and names and labels without a major court case. At the same time, you want a series of endless lessons to cater for anyone that keeps mailing you their annual dues...without any real tests to prevent them from recieving more lessons.
And then...and here where it becomes about secrecy...you want to go as far towards the absolute secrecy side of the spectrum as you can, giving out only commonly known stuff to whet people's appetites, leaving just hints that the next level is where all the really important stuff is hidden. And the first thing that you make secret? The very fact that you have set up an esoteric Order to be your own personal piggy bank.
The thing that prevents Golden Dawn from being a good esoteric cash cow is simply the fact that way too much of the information is publically available. For a couple of hundred dollars, you can own the backbone of lore and rituals that is the Golden Dawn tradition. To make money off an esoteric system, you need to make sure that you are the only source for the information; and Golden Dawn is definitely not ideal for that goal...not that this fact has not stopped people from trying to do so.