Back at the turn of the 19th century, if you wanted to get involved in an esoteric Order, you needed to know somebody. Secret societies were, well, still secret back then, for the most part. On rare occasion, one might see an editorial, or even rarer, an advertisement in a fringe magazine, with contact information through postal mail, if one was lucky.
How much things have changed in a century and a quarter.
When I was initially looking for the Golden Dawn in 1997, I stumbled upon AvatarSearch one night, which billed itself as the search engine for the occult Internet. Although it’s already been gone for a few years, it did a pretty good job in its day. I remember typing in “Golden Dawn” and immediately getting half a dozen solid hits. Before I knew it, it was 3 AM, my eyes were glazed over, and so was my mind from all the information that had been thrown at it. I started out excited, and ended up inundated. Nearly two decades later, in a World Wide Web where “Google” has become a verb, a newcomer would only get more overwhelmed.
Solid, principled esoteric Orders have to walk an interesting tightrope in the 21st century. Tradition holds that they operate under a veil of secrecy. They have their oaths to preserve and their heritage to protect. Contemporary society, however, almost demands that they present some sort of public presence. This typically rubs raw against Orders’ oaths of secrecy, but it also provides them a powerful benefit, as they also have the responsibility of their egregore to perpetuate. Finding that balance is a difficult exercise, but one that they should not shrink away from, as good Orders are all about proper equilibrium, for their members and themselves.
Because of this, websites of responsible esoteric Orders are going to be predominantly for educational and informational purposes. If their tradition already has a rich and protracted history, plenty of space will be devoted to it. If the Order is a variation on a tradition, or an entirely new incarnation, expect there to be some sort of founding statement or manifesto, defining itself and its raison d'être.
Every half-decent website is going to have a fairly sizeable section devoted to resources, including such things as references, articles, images, historical letters, art, news, and event announcements. Information pertaining to the Order's teachings, even if it has been published for decades, should be significantly excised, simply out of respect to the tradition and its oaths. However, you can get an idea of the group's mindset and center of attention from the resources they provide. If their materials adhere closely to their own tradition, you can expect the Order to be focused and devoted to that tradition. However, if their information spans widely across a number of different doctrines and practices, it could be evidence of a hazy concentration on, or worse, a fundamental lack of understanding of, their own tradition.
Since these sites are primarily about information, and because these Orders are still semi-secret, don’t be surprised if they make it a little difficult to find out anything about how to become a member. In fact, you should count on it. You might find a reference on a remote page to a post office box or an email address. At most, there may be an online form to fill out for serious inquiries only. Many Orders, including ones with groups, circles or temples world-wide, shy away from publishing their locations. After all, a good Order is going to, first and foremost, be discreet.
The more dubious Orders out there do not suffer this conundrum. In this day and age, anyone with a little pocket change and time on their hands can register a domain name and set up a slick website, replete with fluffy bunny affirmations, surrounded by lots of eye candy. In this sense, the Internet is the “Wild Wild Web” when it comes to trying to make heads or tails of legitimate esoteric Orders.
Those types of groups, more especially the smaller ones, are more than ready to let you know how widespread they are. The thing is, finding out that an Order has multitudinous temples across the globe really doesn’t tell you much. When newcomers see the word “temple”, they think of a free-standing building with dozens of people participating. Truth be told, many of the “temples” out there are a couple people running things out of their spare bedroom, if you’re lucky.
The same goes for any references to membership brought up by the website. Simply put, the earlier there is mention of the ease, and especially the cost, of joining their Order, the sooner you know what their focus is truly on. If the information on the main page of the website reads like the script of a bad infomercial, then it is highly likely that they are trying to sell you something. That’s fine if you’re looking to buy a pentacle necklace, a cool talisman or some other pretty bauble, but we’re talking about the first step on a new spiritual life here. Think about it. If a website claims to be the elite Order of its tradition, would it be so indiscriminate of its applicants as to allow anyone with a credit card and a button click to become a member?
Along the same vein, if an Order claims that they have all the tools and tricks to make your newly-founded spiritual life instantly powerful and easy, then they are trying to take you to the cleaners. There are many reasons why the endeavor is called “The Great Work”. It’s because it takes a Great deal of Work to achieve it. Any good writer can give easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions for rituals and ceremonies. Knowledge, however, falls considerably short of gnosis, and won’t get you even near the threshold of understanding or wisdom. Spiritual growth requires a great deal of personal introspection, admission of hard truths about yourself, and significant psychological change. There are no short cuts. You will not hold dominion over your own personal world until you first know thyself. As above, so below. As within, so without.
Remember that this is but your very first step in finding the spiritual path that is right for you at this very moment. Surfing the web is a good opportunity to get a glimpse of what’s available out there. However, just because certain statements and claims are out there on the Internet, that doesn’t make them true.
If you want to find the right esoteric Order, you are going to need to do more than scratch the surface. You are going to need to crack the veneer. There are plenty of people out there, also accessible through the Internet, who have been underneath the candy-coated shell. You can glean a great deal of valuable information from them, if you next choose to seek them out and engage them properly.
Next Chapter: Engaging the Community