Thursday, 20 March 2014

Service to Humanity

“If magic isn’t for the common weal, what good is it?”

- Alan Richardson, The Logos of the Aeon and the Shakti of the Age

Service is a fascinating term which is often overused and misunderstood within the Western Esoteric Tradition. Gareth Knight explored the subject in his blog a year or so ago with a post entitled, In Order To Serve:-

Having pondered what he wrote, I thought I’d pull together some additional thoughts and provocations on the concept.

Interestingly, if my memory of school Latin is correct, I don’t think the Romans ever had a word that quite captured our modern concept of service, at least not one that really captured it adequately. From what I can see, the Latin “servus” (which our modern day “service” comes from) meant “slave” – and just that. For the Romans there appeared to be an absence of the concept whereby service could mean a voluntary offering by free will of one’s self to a higher ideal or lofty goal.

The Oxford Dictionary gives a range of definitions of service. These include:

“the action of helping or doing work for someone” and
“an act of assistance.”

While these are helpful to a degree, they only go so far in assisting our understanding of service within the context of the Western Esoteric Tradition.

For many, the first time they formally come across the concept of service is during an early initiation. However, I’ve often wondered how many candidates for initiation have truly taken time to understand the oft made claim, perhaps more an aspiration - “I desire to Know in order to Serve.” I suspect if they did, some would run a mile or two. Wisely so, for an esoteric approach to life remains something that is most squarely for the few.

There is then a question as to what exactly the new initiate thinks it is that they are going to “Know”. The line of questioning continues onwards, asking what it is that this “Service” thing is all about. Service to what end? To God or Goddess – however one sees deity? Intellectual curiosity? To the Mysteries generally, or just good old-fashioned “Castle in the Clouds” escapism? I’ve even heard that it might be about service towards getting better tea and cake.

In certain quarters of the Western Mysteries the end being worked towards is often somewhat glibly described as “Light” without much of a definition other than perhaps a nod to Qabalah. Why not serve “Dusk”, or for that matter “Darkness”? After all, darkness always precedes the dawn, and, to misquote the poet, "only when it’s dark can you truly see the stars!" Irrespective of what the initiate reads or is told, they must sweat and toil to work out their own experiential position on this.

Whether we are talking about service offered up by an individual or through a collective of initiates in a contacted group of the Mysteries, I'd like to propose that's its ultimate purpose should be for the “betterment” of Humankind.  Arguably that is an easier concept to grasp than "Light".

The word “betterment” is of course loaded but perhaps no more so than “service” itself. Now I’m clearly not using the term in its Victorian or Edwardian sense either, for example, “We always have bible readings on Sunday mornings for the betterment of the servants.” I am afraid that the glamour of Downton Abbey doesn't come into it. I’m using the term to describe a conscious act or willed process aimed at improving a situation, person or thing. An improving measure that adds value, purpose or meaning on a personal or transpersonal level. For example, an end goal of “betterment” could be achieved through a magical approach on a variety of levels, from purposeful and ordered household or mundane work duties, to meditation, contemplation and full blown ceremonial for a desired lofty evolutionary end.

It has been suggested in the past that there is probably only one legitimate reason for membership of a contacted group of the Western Mysteries, and, that is a desire to serve that which enables the unfolding of evolution and the “betterment” of Humankind.  A reasonable proposition, but one which of course then begs the question, “whom or what determines what betterment is and what it isn’t”? One person’s chosen drink is another’s poison! 

Intrepid blogger and antipodean writer Peregrin Wildoak quotes his teacher’s words about service in a comment about a recent Magic of the Ordinary blog posted about Gareth Knight’s thoughts on the subject of service:

"An accurate understanding of 'the self' is an integral part in this understanding of service.”

This hits the spot nicely and picks up one of the prime purposes of the Lesser Mysteries of the Western Esoteric Tradition. In the Lesser Mysteries service is essentially offered and experienced through processes which enable personal regeneration, a renewal of the Self. These processes can be aided by a general flexibility and willingness to change, to let go of rigid or stuck mental attitudes or beliefs. A long hard look at oneself, warts and all, is required. The processes undergone in the Lesser Mysteries essentially entail the removal of blockages, and, if needed, the acceptance of a firm steer from those that know! This naturally suggests a faith in those companions being worked with on the journey, both on the inner and the outer.

One of my own first teachers said something about service which both struck me and stuck with me. We were camping in the grounds of Castle Ashby in the 1980s, and someone asked him, “What’s the most important thing I can do to serve?” In the blink of an eye he swooped like a hawk, “Tidy your room.”   The usual laughter ensued and almost lost an important point. If you can’t tidy your room, how do you think you are going to be able to take on a wider responsibility for serving humankind? If we can’t tidy our room, at best we’re going to struggle to run a home. If we can’t run a relatively orderly home, how on earth do we think we’re going to fulfil the destiny of the Aquarian Grail? 


“The desire to serve by itself is not enough – the road to Hell is proverbially paved with good intentions – because work in connection with an Esoteric Order involves co-operation with others both on the physical plane and on the Inner Planes, and unless people are prepared to preserve some sort of simple rule, such cooperation is impossible.”

- War Letter No.6, Vernal Equinox 1943 - Dion Fortune 

NB. The photograph at the top of this article is from a recent visit to Plymouth Museum in the South West of England. It is a beautiful stained glass representation of the Prince of Wales's feather crest. A ribbon beneath the coronet bears the well known motto Ich dien a variant of the German for "I serve", ich diene.

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