Methodology and my Thesis

Much of my current thinking around my academic work is thinking about methodology. This is something about which not a lot was said before I entered graduate school. I was vaguely aware that methodology was often the source of contentious issues but not  aware of, it seems.

The issue that I struggle with the most is how to approach, categorize, and discuss the morass of details around my research work. Most of my thesis topic (even as it actually dances between a few different ideas) concerns the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, its Masonic and Esoteric contexts, and the content of its own work. The methods for approaching this subject matter need to be modeled on earlier academic work, both in Western Esotericism but also possibly in the context of studying religious ritual or even performance art (such as Victor Turner’s work). I am not as well versed in any of this as I need to be but then I often wonder if I am really doing overkill for my MA and this is more PhD preparation. My largest interests right now are two-fold:

  1. Theological or Spiritual Content: There are a number of texts, which were given as lectures and additional papers following the initiations, which have both an explicit and implicit theological context. Diagrams used during the ceremonies as well, such as that of the Fall of Man, use Biblical symbolism but they are combined with Kabbalistic and other sources as well. Throw in the Golden Dawn's mania for late Victorian Egyptology and you have quite a theological mix that it is probably worth commenting on.
  2. Praxis for the Initiate: In the Golden Dawn and especially in derived groups from the early twentieth century through today, there is a heavy emphasis on a curriculum associated with its degrees rituals and associated degree of membership. At the beginning, these are simply lists of attributions and symbols to be memorized (such as the meaning of the Hebrew letters in an esoteric sense) but later there are specific ritual pieces to be studied and, ultimately, practiced. This emphasis on practice, especially as a daily spiritual practice, is of great interest to me and seems to be largely unstudied. There is a large amount of primary and secondary source material as twentieth century occultists often published these curriculums, starting with Aleister Crowley and others.

A few people are writing about Golden Dawn ritual work, mostly its Neophyte or Adeptus Minor initiation ceremonies (which were done in a loosely Masonic fashion). Since I have an extant copy of an original manuscript for the Neophyte ceremony from a Golden Dawn successor organization (Whare Ra in New Zealand), this would seem to be a good area to study but I don’t want to base my thesis around this ceremony unless I can something new.

These are things that I need to ponder over this Summer. I plan on beginning my thesis work around August with it officially beginning with the Fall semester if I line up my mentor to work with me on the official thesis prep at that time.