Karma Yoga and Three Ways of Initiation

There are three ways of initiation corresponding to Jnana Yoga (knowledge), Bhakti Yoga (devotion) and Karma Yoga (action). These are also called the sacerdotal way of the priesthood, the royal way of kings, and the way of the warrior.

Karma Yoga and Three Ways: Artus Scheiner RomanceIn our time, the warrior path presents the greatest difficulties. The warrior path generally involves the Ideal expressed through exoteric religious (or other) dogma. Dogma literally means ‘what seems to be good or true’, ‘what one should think’. The shortcoming is obvious. However, religious dogma has now been replaced by universal belief in scientism. Scientism is far worse than religious dogma, for that at least had a basis in true principles, even if the basis was often lost in practice—a condition made worse in the confusion of modern times. The dogma of conventional science has no basis in any truth whatsoever. It could be said, and not without some justification, that all ways of initiation are closed in the present times—for we have reached the greatest darkness of the Kali Yuga that comes immediately before the final dissolution and regeneration of the world. However, even in times such as ours the way of initiation is open right until the last minute for the few that still have the innate possibilities.

This article is abridged from Nu Hermetica—Initiation and Metaphysical Reality [Ordo Astri books].

The practices are not separate, as though having nothing to do with each other. They overlap and in some ways run concurrently. One path can also support another. The way of Bhakti, ‘devotion’, is akin to Raja Yoga, which is the way of the king or noble, yet it is also the way of the warrior or man of Earth. Karma Yoga is ‘action’, which implies immersion in time and place, names, numbers and principalities—yet that impinges on the way of the Lover, who, unless he is wholly devoted to union with God or divinity, must always be tested by the ordeals configured by the very nature of the outer world.

The three paths, as with the practices, are comparable to the three Gunas in the same tradition: Sattwas, Rajas and Tamas. This is why they are never truly separate in nature, for each one flows seamlessly into the other, and they must all partake of each other’s nature in some way. For this reason the Gunas are sometimes used in alchemical analogies. They also correspond to the Wheel of Force, the 10th Atu of the Tarot, for like the wheel they are never fixed but are a mobile force. While each manifests according to its nature they all partake of the one essence or essential Esoteric Principle.

Thus no person or being consists wholly of one or the other of these three qualities, but one or the other will be the dominant force in them. Even that is not necessarily a permanent or fixed state of affairs, for initiation can change this, and as we have said, one path can act as a support for another. It can be readily seen then that the way of Jnana Yoga suits the Sattwic disposition, while the ways of Bhakti and Karma Yoga suit the Raja disposition. The Tamas disposition, ignorant by its very nature, naturally precludes any possibility of initiation and only allows for exoteric affiliation. René Guénon has said that Tamas nonetheless has a closer relation with Rajas than with Sattwas.[1]

Those who follow the ways of Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga are those who must develop individual qualities. These two paths pertain to the Lesser Mysteries and the psychic sphere of the individuality. Jnana Yoga, which is the path of pure knowledge, exists for those who will leave the corporeal order permanently, and is the way of the Greater Mysteries. Yet Karma and Bhakti can provide a support to the further and full realisation that only Jnana Yoga affords. Indeed, there is no way to the pinnacle without first entering the centre of all, the omphalos at the heart of Tiphereth in our tradition.

It should be noted in respect of the three ways that the Karma Yoga path in its fullest and original sense means that each must accomplish that which accords to its proper nature, called a ‘True Will’. Unfortunately, the conditions now prevailing in the world have made that rare, almost impossible. This owes to the confusion that is now considered to be the normal state of affairs, so that every kind of deviancy is also considered to be normal. In that, it does well to bear in mind that this is so because the whole of our civilisation is deviant, not merely some parts of it or particular kinds of behaviour.

In the West, Bhakti once had its counterpart in the Graal tradition, the chivalry typified by Arthur and his knights, or in some of the ancient orders such as the Knights Templar—though we must exclude from that all modern claimants to that tradition. Karma Yoga has its counterpart with crafts, and in that we would include poetry, music and all the arts, provided these express true principles and are not merely about ‘personal expression’. In the true and also the most technical sense, Karma Yoga is ‘ritual action’, which again, owing to the general conditions of our times, is nowhere to be found in our governmental, social or domestic conventions, unless in the most degraded and meaningless forms imaginable.

The principles hold true in all traditional actions. For example, there was a time not so long ago when at the Beltane cross-quarter of the year, on or around the 1st May, a pole was firmly erected in a field and coloured ribbons were tied to its mast. Young girls, dressed in white and decorated with flowers, would then each hold on to the end of a ribbon and all would go dancing merrily about the pole. One of these would be designated ‘Queen of the May’. The Queen of the May is the ‘one chosen’ to play the part of the Daughter or Bride of the Kingdom, called Malkah or Persephone, and known by many other names in equivalent traditions around the world.

The pole is the vertical axis of the universe and of the Great Yantra. This links heaven with earth, and the spiritual order with the corporeal world. In the axis is the possibility of initiatic transmission, like lightning to the ground. The circle is the circumference of the sphere, of which the interpenetrating axis is the extended point or Esoteric Principle. It is the visible appearance of things or Nature. The maidens are the whole range of possible expressions, as the multitudinous variety of flowers, yet each retaining the purity (white colour) of the Principle itself. The coloured ribbons that connect the maidens with the axis form the rainbow of Setian manifestation, the ‘coat of many colours’ of Joseph.[2] They are the seven rays, of which the seventh is that which is beyond the reach of the sky, or otherwise at the head of the axial column.

It remains to be said  that as ‘ritual action’, various kinds of magical practice such as the making and consecration of talismans are related to Karma Yoga, though these may also, if properly done, act as a support for spiritual realisation. When talismans are made for wholly negative purposes, such as worldly ambition, material gain, persuasion of the will of others, and so forth, then the ‘karma’ of wrath and retribution is automatically evoked. This is something that many now find difficult even to believe, since our world encourages such empty ambitions as a matter of course, and even heaps honours upon those with truly abhorrent or base motives. However, this action of retribution is inevitable. It does not arise from any moral consideration, since morals, by definition, are merely completely arbitrary human conventions. The retribution arises from natural action, which is another meaning of the Sanskrit karma. If the person has invoked either deity or devil, it matters not which, in complete ignorance of the principle or true knowledge underlying the symbol, then that principle will nonetheless be present at the ritual and in the operator, but only in wholly negative form.

Karma Yoga and Three Ways Notes

1. René Guénon, Chapter 18, Initiation and Spiritual Realisation [Sophia Perennis].
2. Genesis 37: 3: “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.”

From the book, Nu Hermetica—Initiation and Metaphysical Reality.

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Aspiration or Materialism

Aspiration was effectively abolished many centuries ago. Those who seek initiation must relearn what aspiration means. That will not be easy for them to do. All the modern conventions that most of us have regarded as ‘positive’, such as individualism, personal expression, democracy, rights, even liberty, were based on rational and humanistic ideals that were also founded on an anti-traditional and (as a consequence) anti-initiatic prejudice. It is only now, perhaps, that we can see where all this has led us—which is to the very opposite, in fact, of what those ideals were supposed to be about. According to the (Egyptian) Book of the Law, III: 43,

Let the Scarlet Woman beware! If pity and compassion and tenderness visit her heart; if she leave my work to toy with old sweetnesses; then shall my vengeance be known.

Aspiration or Materialism: Sebek Egyptian Crocodile GodThe elimination of “old sweetnesses” is not done overnight. Tradition has it that we have to be careful what we ask the Gods for because we might get it. When Zeus appeared to Olympia, she was burnt to a cinder. Zeus had to appear; it was her wish. We may, for example, confuse aspiration through unknowing acceptance of materialism, which is the dominant force in the world today. Materialism prefers to substitute ‘personal development’ for spiritual aspiration, because that places the focus on the satisfaction of base needs and desires. Personal development is a subversive notion, especially when it is thought to be cognate with spiritual aspiration. If we think we can find a True Will through personal development, we are making that will-force subject to layers of subversive reasoning that fragment the truth until it becomes a mere collection of unrelated figures formed from the latent wish-desire.

This article is abridged from Nu Hermetica—Initiation and Metaphysical Reality [Ordo Astri books].

Let us suppose how the ancient Egyptians might have dealt with someone in search of ‘personal development’ in relation to seeking admission to a mystery temple. First of all, the person is stripped naked, splashed with holy water and fumigated with perfumes. Then they are directed to a small door that opens into a courtyard surrounded by high walls. In the centre of the courtyard is a shrine in an enclosure built of stone, with an open doorway. They are told that in the shrine they will learn how to realise all their goals and fulfil their every wish and desire. The shrine is surrounded by a circular lake. On the other side is a large, hungry crocodile. According to the Book of the Law, II: 32,

Also reason is a lie; for there is a factor infinite and unknown; and all their words are skew-wise.

It is also declared in AL, I: 57,

Love is the law, love under will.

There is no love in self-isolating fragmentation, which is the end result of skewed reason. Without love there can be no truth—for the metaphysical Monad is easily misconstrued or otherwise deliberately inverted until it becomes the Self-Alone-God, a mere projection of ego. Monadism, to coin a term, is such a persuasive notion that it undoubtedly paved the way for the invasion of the East by Western materialism. By that time, the Western world was conditioned by centuries of humanism. Humanism, essentially atheist, places the self before all else, automatically excluding the possibility of anything beyond it. Aspiration is then strictly limited to personal goals.

Aspiration and Will

This matter of aspiration raises the question of the will. Psychologists have assumed that there must be an ‘unconscious’ will. If the person thinks and acts against that will, then neurosis comes about. That is the theory. The problem is we then assume that we (or other people) are unconscious of the will. Apart from its dependence on psychological theories, this is a presumptuous and very broad generalisation. We can take neurosis as particular to the human species, but does it arise from unconsciousness of the will? Is it not more the case that from birth we learn to work out reasonable but lying strategies about everything, because that is the way of the (human) world? Through the double-thinking power of the reason we learn that truth is adaptable according to circumstances, that it is ‘all relative’.[1] This notion has long existed but Descartes is known for putting it forward as a ‘truth’ in itself. This is a convenient truth for anyone whose primary wish is to dominate the will of others through power of reasoning. Reason does not require intellect or even thought, in any real sense. ‘Facts’ are selected and arranged to support the argument, however ignorant. Those who wish to control the minds and bodies of others do not want them to think, they want them to believe and obey.

Aleister Crowley accepted the notion of the relativity of truth (when it suited him to do so), and maintained that the True Will is ultimately a force of Chaos, which he called the ‘Beast’—and with which he self-identified. As a force of Chaos, it is unknowing of any truth.[2] It is all about impulse, action, doing. This is modified, in Crowley’s scheme of things, by Babalon, Understanding (or Binah), but in his way and in spite of what he said to the contrary, he made Babalon (as woman) subservient to his idea of Will-Chaos. This notion is false; it comes from a condition of mind that owes to the threshold of the Abyss, where no truth is known, only relativity. No one is ‘unconscious’ of the will-force, but atheism and other humanistic tendencies have increased vastly the level of common ignorance, which is masked by a sense that things are ‘too complex’ to really understand or to know for certain. The complexity, which owes to relativism, ultimately tends towards chaos and madness. We see this in the present world picture, where totalitarianism has been brought about in the name of ‘democracy’, which is by now a purely theatrical, staged proceeding. Corporate and governmental systems that implement totalitarian strategies owe to completely chaotic and thoughtless economics and science, based on machines and data.

Candidates for initiation are called ‘aspirants’. It is necessary, and always has been, for spiritual aspirants to seek truth above all else and to seek that truth as wholly outside of and beyond the person, the self. We must define our terms. What is aspiration? A modern dictionary is no use here as the first definition will be something like ‘ambition of achieving something’, which is the purely materialist explanation of the word. Typically it removes all sense of any spiritual meaning that could be applied. Ambition throws the whole matter straight back on to the self, the perceived needs and desires of the person—the person who, in the present context, is not initiated. The Latin root, aspirare, suits our purpose much better, for it means ‘to breathe’. This may refer to both inhalation and exhalation, so we first must examine what kind of air we breathe.

Aspiration: Ra the Sun God (Egyptian Tarot Thelema)The ‘breath of Ra’ is not only the air that sustains life but is also ‘light’ that forms and sustains the intellect. The intellect, understood in the real sense, is far more than the reason that is common to all or most persons. The air we breathe can therefore include language. Language shapes thought, and thought shapes the world we live in.[3] The language used by materialists is corrupt, for it rests on the ignorant assumption that nothing exists beyond the material. Such information, which is no more than hypnosis through repetition of a single idea, carries an insidious message—a message wholly opposed to the work of initiation and what might be termed as ‘initiated thought’. That is to say, thought that might lead to initiation, or in other ways assist it.

Personal development is often now applied by corporations in the workplace, for the so-called ‘wellbeing’ of employees. That should be enough in itself to arouse a suspicion that there might be something wrong with such notions of personal development and wellbeing—and yet these terms are also used now in relation to spiritual matters such as yoga. Yoga means ‘union’; placed in the traditional context, the word means ‘union with God’. If yoga is about the ambitions of the person, then what is there to unite with? Since it is placed in the individual domain, there can be no spiritual aim whatsoever. It can even be harmful to the being to persist in such practices, for they will naturally carry a residue of what they carried when they were part of a genuine initiated tradition, yet the person will have no means of protecting themselves against the negative inversion of such forces that will come about as a consequence.

The present generations were born into the darkest of dark ages. They have been hypnotised from the day they were born. Materialism is the air they breathe, food they eat, and water they drink. They indoctrinate others without even knowing it. The very thoughts they have, which they imagine to be their own, are the product of social engineering—which means that generations are now born that have no logos, no possibility of intellect in the real sense of what that means.[4] So-called education systems suppress all independence of thought and expression yet they pretend to develop the individual. These systems are perpetuated because they are a reliable form of brainwashing that is rigorously applied to every young person and continued through to so-called higher education. The sole aim is to produce obedient and efficient units of productivity. None of these systems encourage thought in any real sense.

Humanities, which were once called liberal sciences, are taught with a rational humanistic bias, hence the name given. Nothing is considered to be of value unless it is seen to be of benefit to man. Everything of value is thus seen to be that which is the product of man. Man is therefore isolated from everything that could teach him to reach beyond himself, to aspire.

The consequence of individualism is that everyone must conform to a lowest common denominator, formed by the base needs and desires of the majority. All true individuality is suppressed. The suppression of individuality is the general and persistent trend of the modern world. At the present time we now see an unprecedented movement to bring about the desocialisation and dehumanisation of the race across the entire globe.

It is a tragedy that the world we live in today discourages contemplation, even ruthlessly suppresses it. The machine-world of humans does not require that people think, only that they do as they are told, as obedient slaves. The most frequent complaint from our students is that they simply do not have enough time. And yet time is not a commodity, it is not even a thing in itself! What they really mean is that they are the slaves of a machine that controls every aspect of what they vainly think of as their ‘life’, from the moment they are born to the moment they die. Much that is commonly termed ‘occultism’ is no more than ordinary hypnotism. Such hypnotism is now the work of advertising agencies, media barons, governments and corporations. That kind of ‘black magic’ is by now a perfectly ordinary thing.

If aspiration is to satisfy the needs and wishes of the person, then it is a force of anti-initiation dressed up as something spiritual or holy. It is the worst kind of fraud. The Great Work alone provides the basis by which meaning is conveyed to ordinary life.[5] When ordinary life is separated from spiritual principles it falls into meaningless confusion. There is now, then, a pressing and urgent need for a Great Work, for there is no meaning in anything without it.


1. ‘Double-think’ was a term coined by George Orwell in his novel, 1984, based on the world situation of 1948. The novel has been misunderstood and misrepresented ever since. It was not a dystopian fantasy but a disguised factual narrative based on Orwell’s experience of working for the BBC propaganda department. In the novel, he called this the Ministry of Truth; the department’s sole purpose was to disseminate misinformation. ‘Truth’ changed on a daily basis. That situation has not changed, in fact it has got worse, for it is greatly facilitated by new technologies.
2. Chaos is derived from the Greek for ‘vast chasm, void’ (καος). We use the word here in the conventional sense that Crowley intended. The conventional useage, and that used in physics, is a modern corruption, however. Originally, chaos did not mean ‘random or disorganised force’ and was the name of a god (Egyptian neter, ‘principle’).
3. Schopenhauer proposed that thought shapes reality (The World as Will and Representation, 1818). It does not, but it cannot be argued that thought shapes our world. See ‘Lapis Philosophorum’, Babalon Unveiled.
4. The relentless social engineering agenda that has been in operation for many years has resulted in the spiritual vacuum of the modern age.
5. The Great Work is, put in general terms, to assist in the restoration of the earth to the governance of the original life-wave, that she might find her true place among the stars.

Related articles: Crisis of the Modern World Revisited

© Oliver St. John 2020, 2021

This article is abridged from the book, Nu Hermetica—Initiation and Metaphysical Reality.

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