Friday, February 25, 2011

Interview With Sandra Tabatha Cicero

BIO: Sandra “Tabatha” Cicero is an American esoteric author and lecturer, best known for her work in the field of Western Hermeticism. Born in rural Wisconsin in 1959, Cicero graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee with a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts in 1982. She has worked as an entertainer, typesetter, editor, commercial artist, a computer graphics illustrator, and a paralegal. She met her husband, Chic Cicero, in the early 1980s when she was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Ciceros are two of the G.H. Chiefs of the contemporary Order of the same name, which claims initiatory lineage to the original Golden Dawn through their mentor, Israel Regardie. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is an international Order with Temples in several countries ( Tabatha is also the Supreme Magus (Imperatrix) of the Societas Rosicruciana in America, a Rosicrucian Order that was founded in 1907 (

Tabatha and Chic have co-authored several successful books on the Golden Dawn, Tarot, Qabalah, and the Western Mystery Tradition including The Essential Golden Dawn, which won a COVR award in 2004 as one of the year's best titles in the field of magic. Together, the Ciceros have edited, annotated and added new material to recent editions of classic magical texts by Israel Regardie including The Middle Pillar, A Garden of Pomegranates, and The Tree of Life. At the encouragement of Israel Regardie she painted The Golden Dawn Magical Tarot.

They are also regular contributors to Hermetic Virtues Magazine ( and on-line store, specializing in hand-crafted Golden Dawn implements.

1. What is it that first got you interested in the Golden Dawn and what was it that made you want to dedicate your life to studying and practicing it?

I have always had a very strong sense of the Divine Presence and a keen interest in comparative religion, the occult, and esoteric subjects of all stripes. In the early 1980s I came across Regardie’s book, The Golden Dawn in a Walden's book store in San Angelo, Texas. It was the blue hard-cover Llewellyn edition. I browsed through the pages and thought to myself, “This is the only book on magic that I will ever need.“ I had $38 in my pocket, and the price was around $37.50. I considered this a good sign. When I looked at the ritual of the Pentagram, I was immediately attracted to the organization of the workings. The invocation of the archangels had me hooked immediately. The very first time I performed the LBRP and visualized the four archangels around me, there was no turning away from the system. I had to know more.

2. Is there one thing you can pick out from your experience with the Golden Dawn that has really impacted your personal growth such as a mystical experience, lesson, magical working etc.?

I'd have to say that, over the course of my esoteric journey, there have been several mystical experiences that have had a profound impact on me. I can honestly say that one of those graceful synchronicities we call "magic" was present at every major event in my life where I came into contact with one of my teachers (being in the right place at the right time, usually through highly convoluted circumstances), so that I could meet some person of great importance to my spiritual quest.

I have never considered myself a particularly psychic person. When I first joined the Golden Dawn in 1983, I was asked what magical motto I wanted to use in the Outer Order. Being a Double Taurus with a rural background, I said " how about Child of Earth?" (This was translated as Felia Telluris.) At the time of my initiation into the Neophyte Grade, I heard the Officers keep referring to me as "Child of Earth." It wasn't until later that I realized they were not referring to my newly adopted magical motto, but rather the generic title of the Neophyte who has started up the path of Initiation. This is exactly what I mean by a "graceful synchronicity" so typical of magic. It was the kind of numinous event that lets a person know when he or she is on the right path.

The most memorable events in my life revolve around the teachers and friends I have had the pleasure of knowing along the way: Israel Regardie, my soul mate Chic Cicero, my Hierophant, and the many wonderful Fratres and Sorores who have shared the journey with me for almost 30 years. It's rare these days that a core group of people in a magical Order can actually remain close friends and magical companions for three decades of ritual work. It is a true honor and privilege.

3. You are well known for your scholarly contributions to the Golden Dawn community. After the years that you have spent studying, writing, and teaching can you tell us what aspects of the Golden Dawn system you feel are most important for a person to learn and study?

If I could name only one aspect of the GD curriculum that I feel is essential, it would have to be the Qabalah. The Qabalah is the single most important area of study for any magician—offering a wealth of information to anyone who examines it in depth. It is the dominant segment of Western occult philosophy, and portions of it permeate Jewish, Christian, Hermetic and Pagan esoteric practice. Regardie said that “the Qabalah is a trustworthy guide, leading to a comprehension of the Universe and one’s own self.” The Qabalistic Tree of Life can be described as a double-helix DNA blueprint of God in the Divine Universe; its pattern exists everywhere. As Magicians we must not only explore the various aspects of the Qabalah, we must also integrate its teachings in our very souls.

4. Is there anything about the Golden Dawn system that you haven't been able to delve into as deeply as you like but are really looking forward to exploring further?

There are always more aspects to the system that could stand further development and examination. At the moment I am busy finishing up a book on Dr. Wynn Westcott's Enochian Tablets. My study of these unique Tablets has lead me into new avenues of exploration into the Golden Dawn Enochian system. It's been an exciting project.

But every aspect of the GD system needs to be explored and meditated upon. It is an endless source of inspiration, knowledge, and ritual work. I don't think it is possible for anyone to say, "I know everything there is to know about the Golden Dawn system of magic." There is always more to be known.

5. Is there still Golden Dawn material that remains unpublished or has not ever been made public? If so, do you think it will be important for those who may have their hands on it to eventually get this information out to the public?

There is still unpublished archival material out there, and I believe Chic and I have seen most of it. Eventually all such materials will be made available to the general public through the proper channels.

But just because something is unpublished doesn't make it somehow better than material that has been published. Some unpublished material just seems stale and dated. It might be useful from a historical perspective to have access to this material, but I believe that some people have placed far too much importance on the acquisition of old papers and far too little focus on what is ultimately important to the Great Work—personal evolution and spiritual growth. If I only had a dime for every time I heard about someone hording old papers or lording their possession of such papers over others, like a child bragging about having the best toys in front of other children. Even worse, there is at least one recent instance of an individual duping people into giving him copies of unpublished documents, allegedly for his own private use, which he then publishes, breaking the trust of people in the esoteric community under totally false pretenses. In any event, I can't think of one instance where owning a bunch of papers makes anyone a better person or a "superior" magician. It's just ridiculous and arrogant.

At the other end of the "paper hoarding" spectrum, you have people who actually destroy rare magical documents so that nobody else can learn from them. That's just so sad.

A living magical tradition takes its guidance from the past, but it must evolve to be relevant to lives of modern-day Initiates. For example, archeologists are always uncovering new information about the ancient world—things that were just not known in the Victorian era. Therefore, our knowledge of ancient Egyptian beliefs and practices may change, and this can influence our modern praxis. We must learn from the past, not become slaves to it. The words of a ritual on a old piece of paper do not come alive—they do not become magic—until we perform and internalize them. If we don't, they remain just "words, words, words."

6. As someone who is involved with publishing books on the Golden Dawn tradition, do you feel there are certain responsibilities to the public that must be remembered by those who would seek to do to the same?

I think it is very important for modern authors to remember that it is absolutely fine to build upon and adapt the traditional teachings of the Golden Dawn to a more modern approach, and even a mixture of different spiritual traditions, so long as the various sources are made perfectly clear to readers. Some people prefer a traditional approach, while others add teachings from various spiritual paths: Theosophy, Thelema, Wicca, etc. So long as these different approaches work within the framework of their respective Orders, and spiritual growth is achieved by the Initiates, who is to say that one way is right and the others wrong?
Do magicians from various groups always have to argue about how many angels will fit on the head of pin?

However, authors have a responsibility to make sure that whatever materials they advocate are clearly identified as to their origins: original GD manuscripts, an spin-off Order, a specific temple within the greater Golden Dawn Tradition, a specific teacher's oral tradition, or the author's own thoughts and adaptations of GD material.

For example: the modern tri-colored Caduceus Wand that many Golden Dawn groups use today differs from the traditional staff used by the original Order and its offshoots. The modern version did not come from Israel Regardie. It was a product of Chic's work in the Isis-Urania Temple in Georgia in the late 1970s. This wand IS the Caduceus of Hermes. To many of us, it is an obvious and logical improvement over a simple colored staff supposed to "represent" the Caduceus of Hermes. The Caduceus of Hermes, with its entwined serpents, is explained in the 2=9 Ritual in the speech describing the Keryx's Lamen. It certainly would have been easier to use the caduceus symbolism in the Lamen rather than to make a full Caduceus staff. However, the word Caduceus is derived from the Greek Kerykeion which means "herald's staff." The word Kerykeion is the origin of the word keryx or "messenger, herald," and the oldest form of the Kerykeion was a rod with two twining serpents at the top in such a way that they resembled horns—this later morphed into what we know as the Mercury symbol. Either the Kerykeion or the full Caduceus form would make a proper "Staff of the Herald" or "Rod of Hermes." In my opinion, a simple tri-colored staff with no serpents attached would be half of the "Herald's Staff," or a portion of the actual "Rod of Hermes," minus the two primary conduits of energy. You could easily hold the Caduceus by the bottom (blue) section of the wand by creating a Caduceus with a longer shaft and smaller serpents. I've seen plenty of perfectly fine adaptations, including a 6" metal caduceus affixed to the top of tri-colored staff.

Is the modern Caduceus Wand of the Golden Dawn as described in Secrets of a Golden Dawn Temple traditional? No. Is it better than a traditional painted staff said to "symbolize" a Caduceus Wand? We certainly think so.

In books such as Tarot Talismans, Chic and I try to indicate where we have used traditional Golden Dawn teachings and where we have adapted those teachings for a new approach. It's just a good rule of thumb.

7. The Golden Dawn is obviously a very male dominated tradition...but over the past five to ten years more and more women have been joining. Is there any advice you can give to other women out there about traveling this path?

I'm not so sure that it is fair to say that the Golden Dawn is a "very male dominated tradition." During the heyday of the original Golden Dawn, about one-third of the members were women, and many of them came from the Theosophical Society. The original GD added Eastern Theosophic elements to the GD curriculum in order to attract more women Initiates. There were a number of strong women in positions of power in the original Order: Florence Farr, Annie Horniman, Moina Mathers... These were hardly "shrinking violets." They were excellent role models for today's female Initiates.

Of course there are many more women who choose Wiccan-type groups over ceremonial magic. Why is this? I believe it has to do with both perception and opportunity. People mistakenly assume the Golden Dawn is male-dominated—I've never thought of it that way. As for opportunity, men who are interested in esoteric subjects have traditionally had more opportunity to connect with each-other through Masonic organizations. In contrast, magically-inclined women have had much more opportunity to connect with each other through the neo-pagan community.

In our Order, women make up close to half of the membership. We have been very blessed to have a number of strong women in charge of several temples over the years. From the very beginning of our Order, at least one of the G.H. Chiefs has always been female.

I guess I would tell women who are thinking of exploring the Golden Dawn Tradition to remember that the Neophyte Hall, also called the "Hall of Two Truths" is dedicated to the goddess Maat, goddess of Justice and Truth, and two highest officers in the Hall, Praemonstrator and Imperator, are associated with the sister goddesses Isis and Nephthys.

8. How would you like to see the Golden Dawn tradition grow over the next 100 years? Are there personal goals you have that you would like to see manifest before it gets passed onto the next generation?

I am happy to see the various ways that our Order, as well as other Golden Dawn Orders, are taking the tradition out of the dusty archives and keeping the GD a vibrant, living tradition for seekers of diverse paths. This is vitally important, and it doesn't matter whether the group is considered traditional GD or mixed tradition GD—it must be a living system that is capable of growth and evolution within the context of its own core principles.

Our own Order is very traditional, and yet we are fully willing to make what we consider to be enhancements of the GD system or corrections of errors in the old documents. Take for example the colors of the Hebrew letters on the Minutum Mundum diagram and the Rose from the Golden Dawn’s Rose Cross Lamen. All the old documents from the Golden Dawn, Stella Matutina, and the Alpha et Omega state that the King Scale color of the Path of Yod (or Virgo) is Yellow-green. That’s fine, but they also state that the color of the letter Teth (or Leo) is greenish-yellow. That is just wrong. They can’t both be the same color, neither of which is a primary color. Take a look at the Rose—it is a true artist’s color wheel. If you look at the outer petals of the Rose, you can see quite easily that the color of Teth (Leo) has to be pure, primary yellow, otherwise the color wheel doesn’t work.

In another example, we feel that the correct name of the angel of elemental Fire is Ariel ("Lion of God") not Aral. The original GD documents preserved a mistake in Agrippa wherein the names of Ariel and Aral were switched. This age-old confusion is due to the fact that the four rulers of the elements were not recognized as the names of orders of angels: Seraph, Tharsis, Kerub, and Aral (Arel or Erel) are actually the singular forms of Seraphim, Tarshishim, Kerubim, and Erelim.

So even traditional Golden Dawn groups like ours change things when we feel that certain points can be improved upon, while remaining true to the spirit and ethos of the original teachings. As magicians, we shouldn't be so tied to the past that we take "tradition" for gospel, leaving no room for the creative innovation and inspiration that is the very hallmark of magical practice.

8. What do you think is the biggest challenge for a student of the Golden Dawn and what advice do you have for over-coming it?

The biggest challenge by far is to avoid the trap of Ego inflation: Regardie was adamant about this, which was why he suggested that magical students undergo some form of psychotherapy to guard against this phenomenon. We experience something called infantile megalomania in early childhood, when we all believe that we are the very center of the universe—our own wants and needs are paramount to everything else. As we mature, we grow out of this stage of extreme-self-centeredness. However, the practice of magic can sometimes result in the reemergence this mechanism, especially in those who may have an inflated ego to begin with. The practice of magic works to expand the mind’s latent psychic abilities.

Unfortunately some magicians begin to experience delusions of grandeur and messianic tendencies as the infantile megalomania is reactivated. In magic, infantile megalomania (the "I am the New Prophet" syndrome) is very easy to spot—they are the ones always bragging and tooting their own horn, claiming to have all the best magical toys, disparaging other magicians continuously, proclaiming to be the world's single greatest magician, boasting lineage that goes all the way back to Atlantis, etc.—you get the idea.

One of the best ways to overcome ego-inflation is to listen to the advice of your Fratres and Sorores as well as others in the greater GD community: whenever you start to get a swelled head and visions of grandeur, you can be sure that other magicians will step up to the plate and take you down a few notches, as well they should. (It is a bit more difficult when the offending egotist is the head of a temple or Order—in that case the membership may be too blinkered or fearful to let the leader know that he or she is swimming off-course.)

Luckily, most magicians within the GD tradition strive to maintain psychic balance and spiritual equilibrium, which are among the specific goals of the Outer Order work.

9. At some point, if a person studies long enough they may be blessed with serving as a teacher of this tradition. Can you give us some words of wisdom about the nature of teaching this path? Is there anything that we should always keep at the forefront of our minds?

There is an old Zen saying that covers it nicely: "Before enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water." Always remember that your students are your companions on the path of Light. You have something of value to teach them. Be open for those times when they have something to teach you. Never, ever feel that you are superior to anyone else. And be damn certain that you don't begin to treat anyone else as if you were.

10. Do you have any current projects in the works that you would like to share with us? Anything exciting that we can look forward to?

We currently have several irons in the fire: Basics of Magic—The Best of the Golden Dawn Journal: Book II: Qabalah, and Westcott's Enochian Tablets, both published through HOGD Books, will be available sometime next year. Also, look for a new annotated edition of Regardie's The Philosopher's Stone coming from Llewellyn. In addition, we are working on a book/oracle deck on the Qabalah tentatively called The Tree of Wisdom: Experiencing the Magic of the Qabalah, and another book on the Mystery Religions with the working title of Hiera Mysteria: The Sacred Mysteries. A Survey of the Western Mystery Traditions, both Ancient and Modern.

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