The Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt have a special place in Golden Dawn. And in return, Golden Dawn has a special place in modern paganism revival, especially when it comes to those of us who have embraced the Egyptian deities.
To understand why, one must remember that the world lost all direct knowledge of the mythology and religion of Ancient Egypt around 450 CE (or 450 AD if you prefer that notation style). With the closing of the last Temple of Isis, and the loss of the ability to read the hieroglyphs (and other Ancient Egyptian scripts), all that remained of the ancient beliefs of the Egyptians were those parts that had already made their way into Greek and Roman systems.
These bits of myth and lore filtered down though the ages. Golden Dawn inherited part of their Egyptian lore from this stream, call it the "Greek---Roman---Hermetic---Alchemical---Rosicrucian---Freemasonry---Theosophical" stream if you feel like it. This stream was definitely not pure. For instance, attempts to decipher the hieroglyphs were based on the idea that each symbol was a whole idea upon itself. A simple name could become an entire paragraph. The stream also ignored the fact that the Ancients were as interested in counting the number of oxen as modern man is interested in counting small bits of green paper (or red or blue or whatever color your country has developed a fetish for).
It is the other half of the Egyptian stream that is given more value by many. While certain ideas were lifted whole from the GRHARFT stream (I am so not writing that out again), Golden Dawn was in an unique position. In 1799, the key to deciphering the hieroglyphs, the Rosetta Stone was discovered. While it took fifty years to bring the first translations to fruitation, by the time Golden Dawn was formed in 1888, the newly created Order was able to use actual quotes from the mythology of the Ancient Egyptians.
In fact, Isis-Urania, the first Temple (lodge) of the newly formed Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn, was the first group to use actual ideas, sayings and words from the Ancient Egyptians since the closure of the last Isisian Temple.
(Now, there are some who will feel the urge to correct me at this point, claiming that the Order is much older, and is the child of a tradition from the GRHARFT stream that managed to preserve actual ideas and rituals from Ancient Egypt intact...to them, I say, "I am telling this story, not you." We will talk about my astonishing lack of respect for the official history of the Order another day.)
Being first to revive the actual Egyptian religion does have its costs. Much of the Egyptian lore of the Golden Dawn is firmly stuck in the era of E. A. Wallis Budge. This annoys many people. And personally, I will admit that I wonder how the founding members of the Hermetic Golden Dawn and RR et AC would have dealt with some of the more interesting modern findings.
But despite the base lore being outdated today, what Golden Dawn developed is still state of the art today.
(By state of the art, I mean how the modern Adepts use the system, not the original membership. In many ways, the way that the techniques were originally used were the equivalent of using a refrigerator to store sand.)
The most famous use of the Egyptian Gods and Goddesses by the Golden Dawn was though the use of "godforms." The idea behind godforms is simple; godforms are a container built up though Willed Imagination to serve as a conduit for magical forces (or energies if you prefer).
Now, not everyone likes the idea of the Egyptian godforms. One of the most vocal Golden Dawn critics believes that it is an attempt to enslave the Egyptian deities under the power of IHVH. Given the fact that this critic seems to belong to the religion of the month club, I feel safe in ignoring their opinion. Especially given the fact that my own personal experiences indicate that the Egyptian deities are a force onto themselves, a force that seems not to be impeded by the use or lack of the Hebrew names of power in ritual.
Think of the godforms as a shell/program used to access magical energies, as well as a circuit breaker (fuse) and means to prevent possession by the magical energies.
Now the majority of information about the use of godforms from the original Order is contained in the Z documents. The godforms are used to empower the Neophyte initiation ritual (the entry Grade of the Golden Dawn system), as well as aspects of an Adept's private work. By logical extension, all the initiation rituals and work of the working magician should be done with the help of godforms.
(Not everyone agrees with the logical extension. Each to their own---I know my own personal preference for magical work.)
There are some problems with the use of godforms to empower rituals in the Golden Dawn system. If one goes purely by the Z documents, only Adepts are allowed to know about the godforms, therefore all officers of the system should be Adepts. This idea if it was completely true would have prevented the revival of the Golden Dawn system. Based on personal experience, the godforms are a lot easier to build than the Z documents state---in fact, the Egyptian deities seem to be attracted to Golden Dawn ritual, no matter what the Grade level of the people doing the rituals.
Furthermore (again personal experience), talented members below the Grade of Adept can often sense the godforms, therefore occasionally someone below the level of Adept must learn enourgh about the godforms and Egyptian deities to avoid thinking that they have gone utterly insane. In fact, I suspect (but cannot prove) that the Z document placement of the godforms, and well as their use, came about though the perceptions of talented members from the original Order. I do not believe that the use of godforms was a secret handed down from the GRHARFT stream, but a breakthough in magical technology discovered by the first initiates of the Golden Dawn.
(Pagans and Wiccans reading this will understand this thought if they have ever been surprised by the arrival of deities called in ritual by non-initiates. The old gods were merely sleeping, awaiting a new generation to remember them.)
Those who feel like arguing with my personal experiences should keep in mind that I have worked in less-than-ideal conditions, much like the conditions that the first initiates of Isis-Urania would have experienced. Either I am super-talented or the Z documents are slightly misleading (take your pick).
One final thought about the godforms, the Z documents and related Order papers are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the godforms. Each godform has seven layers which are merely the building plans. Each Adept will develop their knowledge of the godforms in their own unique manner.
The end result of Golden Dawn bringing in Egyptian mythology into the system, besides some of us hearing the deities speak with a slight English accent, is that when the Wiccan and paganism movement started to develop, Wiccans and pagans were able to borrow some of their initial magical and spiritual working techniques from a system that had sixty years of experience working with the Egyptian deities already.
[The views and opinions presented in this blog post are merely those of Morgan Drake Eckstein. They do not represent the official opinions of any major Golden Dawn Order. All protests about MDE's disregard for secrecy will be read, but might not be approved for publication.]