Ok, I think that I am done with the numerous disclosure statements that I have had to issue to make everyone happy---which all basically say that you should not be reading this blog (or any of my writing for that matter) because I am not an expert in their eyes (and I am referring to several parties here---I don't think that I can throw a rock without hitting someone who believes this).
So now, let's turn our attention back to the Cipher Manuscript (there is a post from a few days ago on this subject).
There are a few problems with studying the Cipher Manuscript---some of which have plagued Golden Dawn from its very beginning; others are problems affecting anyone who wants to study the manuscript and its content.
Let's start with the latter type of problem. The biggest problem that affects scholars studying the Cipher Manuscript is that we are forced to study it through "trace copies" and "photocopies." This may or may not be a problem depending upon what you are interested in. If you are only interested in the contexts, then trace copies and photocopies are sufficient for one's purposes. But trace copies and photocopies require one to take a leap of faith about certain things, such as the age of the paper and ink. For instance, the science of determining the age of a manuscript has moved on since the last time that the age of the manuscript was determined.
Now, today we are better off than we were forty years ago. We do have the photocopies and trace copies of the Cipher Manuscript. Previous to the 1970s, no one (or maybe only a few people) in the esoteric community had access to the Cipher Manuscript. The document entered a private collection in 1923, and for all practical purposes disappeared.
The circulation of the Cipher Manuscript, awareness of the actual document and not just the myth of it, seems to have been limited to a small number of people in the original Order. Interestingly enourgh, A. E. Waite seems to had access to its contents through a copy of the document made by W, A. Ayton. Likewise, Frank William Coleman knew of the Cipher Manuscript. I have reason to believe that Aleister Crowley may have had knowledge of its contents, but I have no hard proof to prove my theory. The exact circulation of the contents of the Cipher Manuscript among the membership of the original Golden Dawn is hard to determine based on the currently available information. I feel that is safe to say that study of the Cipher Manuscript by members of the original Order was optional, and probably involved a favor or two in order to be allowed to make a copy of it.
In modern times, the Cipher Manuscript resurfaced. The first person to see it in modern times was Ellic Howe, who gained access to the private collection that used the document since 1923. Howe's conclusions about the Cipher Manuscript was unfavorable to say the least. Interestingly enourgh, Howe seems to ignored some of the pages of the document, or perhaps did not see the whole document. During the 1970s, there were some small press publications of the Cipher Manuscript. It was not until the 1990s that a decent publication of the Cipher Manuscript happened.
Today, the best sources are "The Complete Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscript" (Darcy Kuntz) and "Secrets of the Golden Dawn Cypher Manuscript" (Carroll "Poke" Runyon). There are a couple of websites that host images of the Cipher Manuscript; my preferred favorite is the Golden Dawn Library Project.
A couple of the modern Golden Dawn groups have changed their lesson plans to include the Cipher Manuscript. Hathoor Temple (IIOGD) included it in a limited lesson at the Inner Order level---based on the less-than-stellar 70s publications. BIOGD/BIORC includes a brief lesson about the Cipher Manuscript in Outer Order at the Zelator (1=10) Grade level (limited to the Neophyte and Zelator sections), and a longer lesson at the Inner Order level of Adept Minor Theoricus (5=6 THAM).
Another problem facing the scholar is the fact that various publications of the Cipher Manuscript order the pages of the Cipher Manuscript differently. I am working on a spreadsheet to address this problem (in fact, considering that this is a "prescheduled post," it may actually be done by this point in time). There is the additional problem that there were later additions to the Cipher Manuscript, including pages by Coleman and Westcott. Complicating matters is the fact that the lines of the documents are garbled---in fact, the Cipher Manuscript may be a copy itself of an earlier version.
Unless you have worked at "translating" some of the pages yourself (actually the proper term is "decipher"), one is unaware of the difficulties involved at decoding the mess that the Cipher Manuscript is...in fact, Runyon points out that he understands why several people did not finish the task.
The final problem facing the scholar who is merely studying the content of the document is that the Cipher Manuscript is an outline that refers to information from sources---and one is left trying to figure out the sources without a list in hand. In a future post, I will be discussing this problem in more detail; I am merely mentioning it at this point to remind people that I am aware of the problem.
Now the preceeding list of problems was merely based on the content of the Cipher Manuscript itself. There are also a couple of problems that plague the person trying to put the Cipher Manuscript into its proper context (again, the subject of an upcoming blog post). Briefly, they are "Who wrote the document and why?" and "How did Westcott obtain the document?" Both of these questions have plagued Golden Dawn from the beginning. (And in my case, they have spurred me to issue a set of disclosure statements prior to issuing this series of blog posts...because people hate my conclusions.)
So there you have it, a list of problems that will cause no end of problems when it comes to studying the Cipher Manuscript. You will be seeing these problems rear their ugly heads over and over again as we progress through the Cipher Manuscript.