Book Review | Part 2: 'The First Years of the Fraternitas Saturni'
In Eugen Grosche (1888-1964, aka Gregor A Gregorius), the founder of the Fraternitas Saturni, we come across one of the most chatoyant characters in the more recent tradition of Western Magic. Throughout his life he had a strongly polarising effect on people. While avoiding much of the public excesses and scandals of his magical contemporaries (e.g. Austin Osman Spare, Aleister Crowley or the slightly younger Rosaleen Norton), his impact on the German speaking tradition of magic cannot be over-estimated. The ’Saturnian influence’ is both exceptionally strong and a unique characteristic of the magical tradition in these countries, and it is in Eugen Grosche that we encounter one of its most prominent figures - and to a large extent the person who consciously formed it.
If we want to identify the polarising aspects of Grosche's character we quickly find just as many fascinating as problematic ones. Brushing him off as just another male narcissist leveraging the subculture of Western occultism to create his own cult certainly would not do him justice. Instead - and in light of the breadth and depth of the new material published for the first time in Mr.Lechler’s new book - I suggest we take a closer look at the personality of this fascinating, multi-facetted occult leader.
What we might find, is that we will be able to learn as much about him as a person as about the mark he left on our Western tradition. In fact, I’d like to believe such layman’s psychogram of Mr.Grosche will guide us into the heart of the matter of what is still wrong with our current tradition today? If our tradition was a single body, I believe learning from Mr.Grosche allows us to call out a few key components of the poison that is affecting this body so badly still today. Far too many modern occult teachers are still wandering in the tracks of Mr.Grosche, repeating the same mistakes, crippling their own strengths, tearing down the temples they hope to revive, drinking from the same chalice of poison - hoping it might be the wine of communion.
The trick in escaping this vicious circle is not to judge. But just to observe and acknowledge. Mr.Lechler’s books are prime examples in leveraging this objective research-skill. Just like its predecessor, ’The First Years of the Fraternitas Saturni’ continues to present a wealth of never before seen material to the public eye - without ever clouding this view through the author’s subjective perspective or personal opinion. So much so, that simply reviewing this book wouldn’t do it justice. Rather Mr.Lechler’s book challenges us to actively work with its material. It’s a call to action - to draw out our own conclusions, to connect the dots and begin to see the patterns where Mr.Lechler confines himself to simply presenting facts.
In the following that’s what I am attempting to do through the particular lens of looking at Mr.Grosche’s personality. For all German readers this certainly doesn’t replace the joy and adventure of reading this wonderful book themselves. For all English-speakers it will at least give them some insights into the new discoveries made in our part of the Western Tradition.
* Note: except otherwise indicated all quotes and photos are taken from Mr.Lechler's new publication with kind permission by the author; translations into English by Frater Acher.
The balanced Machiavellian.
Well, let’s face it: whether in business, history or magic, most people who left a significant mark were flawed by a deep-seated drive to accumulate personal power one way or another. Some needed it as a re-affirmation of their crippled inner self-esteem (i.e. the narcissist), some simply understood it as the pre-requisite to achieve a broader scale of work (i.e. the machiavellist) and many of them loved to combine both purposes.
For Grosche we can find quotes all the way from the 1920s to the 1950s where he is consistently stressing the importance of the fact for the FS to become the sole dominant occult lodge in the German speaking world. Despite the fact that he needed to accept blow after blow in the pursuit of this mission, lost all of his original companions along the way, needed to close down the lodge during WWII and start from scratch afterwards, he never compromised on the aspiration to emerge as the unified and central force of organised occultism. In retrospect on a scale from 0-10 that would gain Grosche a 10 on persistence and a 0 on agility to learn from his mistakes. Maybe his own obsessed aspirations were his worst enemy?
When we look at the actual legacy he achieved to leave behind, we certainly do not find this in an established, healthy and sustainable magical organisation (an ideal I still have to encounter in real life). Instead his legacy has lived on in two distinct forms:
- For sure we find an aspect of Grosche’s legacy in the publications brought to life under the banner of the FS. The ‘Magical Letters’, the now rare editions of the ’Saturn-Gnosis’ just as well as the longstanding post-WWII series ‘Blätter für angewandte okkulte Lebenskunst’ became foundational education for generations of German-speaking magicians. Different to many modern publications in the genre, they did not only rehash existing knowledge, rituals and stereotypes, but often expressed the unique and genuine insights gained from the actual practice of its diverse authors. In their somewhat inconsistent and distorted body, they truly represent expressions a living gnostic tradition.
- The second element of Grosche’s legacy is even less tangible. It is the mark he left on his contemporaries, the people he touched or hurt and often both along his way. It’s no exaggeration to say that the works of Franz Bardon, Karl Spiesberger or Herbert Dören (aka H.E. Douval) would not have come to life in their current form without the person of Eugen Grosche. The irony is that Grosche’s private correspondence creates the impression that all the actual work with his students and contemporaries, was but a necessary evil to him to fulfil his vision of establishing a cathedral-like, long-living magical lodge tradition. While unsuccessfully pursuing the latter throughout his life, he actually managed to leave a legacy much more impactful - but probably invisible to himself. The people he touched were but a mean to an end for him, and yet they became the true legacy he left behind. To me this presents an essential learning for any practicing magician: becoming fixated on a certain vision, might make you fail to see the actual work right in front of you?
Now, the second dichotomy in Grosche's character might shed further light on the above. Or why he ultimately got stuck in what he himself would have considered his life’s work?
The egalitarian Narcissist.
In his own written advice to students Grosche often speaks with a lot of wisdom. We find his written voice filled with balance - well rounded by life’s hard lessons, experience and maturity. In fact, his skill in applying strictness and gentleness to equal degrees and as each situation seems to require is quite impressive. Overall, Grosche succeeds to create the image of a teacher’s voice that is filled with positive intent for his students and void of personal needs or motives. Unfortunately this image stands in stark contrast to the voice we find echoed through others' or recorded in many of his own letters that never were meant for publication.
Volker Lechler shares the impression that often times Grosche can sound almost paranoid (p.119) about how other people in his eyes held huge interest in his struggling undertakings and would do anything to compromise or block off his ventures. Today we know this actually wasn’t the case. So we might want to look at what this says about Grosche himself rather than the people around him? Luckily modern psychology has a term for such an attitude towards life. It’s called being a narcissist: a person that cannot accept his own natural, human flaws and therefore constantly is on the lookout to prove his own success through the shortcomings of others. The world is a terrible place if you are caught in such a mind - full of constant threats and ambushes and eternally withholding the fulfilment the little prince deserves.
Now, funny enough, whether or not Grosche was a plotting narcissist behind the scenes would not have mattered to his students - for as long as his advise as part of the FS’ correspondence course was great. Even if the voice he had created for himself as a magical teacher wasn’t genuine, it would have still done the job to foster his students’ growth for as long as they didn’t get into closer contact with him. As with all narcissists: they can be wonderful, hugely skilled people to learn from - for as long as they don’t feel threatened in their role as dominant leaders.
See, here we come across another fascinating fact about our own magical journeys: The teachers we meet don’t need to be flawless to be great teachers to us. In fact, most of the times it is the student who first and foremost feels the urge to project ‘flawlessness’ upon their teacher. And that is one of the first filters to break through in helping students to grow. Franz Bardon was a heavy smoker and yet required all his students not to smoke. My own teacher was terrible unskilled in many things in life outside of magic. But boy, was he skilled in the foundations of magic. See, magic is a craft like any other. To learn it well, you don’t need a guru, but someone who has learned this craft before you. The biggest misperception for many students can be to look for teachers after whose personality they can then model themselves. Yet magical training is not psychotherapy where projection and counter-projection are essential tools as part of the process. Magical training requires adults - who are prepared to learn from other adults about the one or two things the latter perfected before them. It is a recipe for disaster if magic becomes a crutch for failed pedagogy. To begin this craft, you have to grow up first. Or simply accept the blood-toll you will pay on your path.
The third dichotomy we want to explore sheds further light on the above. Because there is only so far you can get with a borrowed voice. At some point the deficits of not being completely genuine will begin to show. For Grosche this was in the gap between his aspiration to innovate and his ability to integrate.
The random Innovator.
From many of his official letters it’s easy to assume Grosche wanted to be remembered as a radical innovator. Yet, he seemingly lacked the time or skill or maybe dedication to consistently integrate all of his new ideas into one coherent whole system. The few existing rituals of the FS were written by other people than him and even for the liminal publications of the lodge, Grosche knew how to leverage other people’s creative output without necessarily calling out neither their real nor magical names. Rather than ensuring a certain level of coherence in the body of work created, Grosche was focussed on constantly expanding this body as well as its public audience. Unity was created by the lodge name the publications appeared under, not necessarily by the world-view, ethics or even techniques they expressed.
It seems fair to assume Grosche’s main intent was to (1) maintain his own positional power as the unquestioned head of the lodge and (2) to broaden his power base by feeding the public reputation of the lodge through a series of long-standing publications. Individuality could easily get into the way of these goals and therefore was best absorbed under the banner of the FS lodge.
This eagerness for personal power is both confirmed and contradicted by another fascinating character trait of Grosche. We find this in his life-long commitment not to differentiate between people of any political color when it came to magical matters. During the rise of the Nazi party Grosche advocated for the continued acceptance of Jews and people of all ways of living into the FS. So much so, that when his bookshop had gone bankrupt and the new regime locked down on all groups and activities with occult background, he refused an offer to live, work and write for free under the patronage of a wealthy ex-lodge member - as long as he confined himself to the ethics, morals and world-view of the emerging nationalistic regime. Conversely, however, Grosche accepted several known Nazi party members and ex-military officials into the FS in the 1950s. Just as he would not actively exclude Jews upon public pressure in the early 1930s, so in the 1950s he would not refuse ex-Nazi officials, whose minds still very much were caught in the spirit of their previous party.
Either way Grosche never bent or compromised due to public or lodge-internal pressure. Even reading through his private correspondences, as published for the first time in Mr. Lechler’s book, the motive behind this behaviour remains ambiguous. One could as easily argue Grosche’s egalitarian commitment stemmed from his personal spiritual conviction; alternatively one could make the point that a broader pool to recruit new lodge-members simply benefitted his personal agenda. Of course it might have been a mixture of both? Either way, his conviction not to side with the radically emerging regime in the 1930s saved the FS from becoming an empty shell for degenerated Nazi philosophy - and allowed for an untarnished re-institution in the early post-war era.
With this let’s turn to the final dichotomy in this spiritual leader’s public persona we want to examine - and probably the most infamous one.
The feminist Misogynist.
Let me say that much: Some of Grosche’s written statements on women will make even the most conservative readers blush. His Magical Letter on ‘Sexmagic’ presents many examples of this: Women basically are turned into the magician’s living toolbox. They become a constantly replenishing resource of secret fluids, lunar powers and demonic affiliations - all to be carefully harvested and controlled by the male magician. To be fair, Grosche’s Saturnian worldview held a similarly mechanistic perspective on the male body - yet, it clearly reserved all decision making, control and action for the ‘solar side’ of the equation. If the male magician was perceived to be the ‘operator’ so the female counterpart was turned into the laboratory as well as most of the equipment found in it.
In daily life this bias presented itself as a constant fear of becoming dominated by the ‘lunar aspect’. Grosche’s and his early companions’ advise against marriage and falling under the spell of a single woman are countless. Again, this might be as much an expression of the dormant homosexuality amongst many of the early lodge members as it could be read as an expression of the significant social restrictions that came for both men and women with leading a married life in the early 1930s.
Part of the problem, though, was the significant amount of female members amongst the early FS. Grosche and his fellow founders had assumed to always be able to maintain a strong majority of male members. However, the social evenings of the Esoteric Study-Society and the nature of its salon-magic events began to attract a mainly female audience.
Now, let’s step back for a moment and consider why this actually might have presented a relevant problem for the early FS - despite the chauvinistic tendencies of its founders?
Women in Germany had only gained the right to vote in 1918. Even in the 1920s it still required their husband’s consent to apply for a lodge membership. For a short period of time during the years after WWI women were allowed into a broad array of professions - as too many men had been killed to maintain all lines of works without them. However, this liberal approach was on the decline again with the rise of the Nazi party in the early 1930s and the stereotype of the maternal, caring German housewife was quickly taking the upper-hand again. As a result almost no women in the 1920s had attended university or achieved any sort of higher education. Few of them had mastered a craft or trade - working as secretaries or home helpers. Once married, working was impossible for them and the average four children per women kept most of them locked to house and hearth for the rest of their lives. Essentially - and as hard as it may sound for us today - building a lodge on mainly female members in the 1920s meant building a lodge from an uneducated audience. In the harsh light of history, Grosche’s judgemental attitude towards women might make much less of a statement about gender differences, then differences in education?
As we saw from previous quotes, Grosche was hoping to establish a new, long-lasting epicentre of organised occultism in Germany. His desire was to unite the best of the Gnostic, Rosicrucian and occult tradition of the West and merge it into a single lodge, his lodge. An organisation to conquer new spiritual grounds - and yet to stay closely connected to their historic heritage. Achieving such a high vision of success was literally impossible if most of the lodge’s members had never heard of the Gnostics or never read any Rosicrucian documents before. In fact it was impossible if they even lacked the most foundational educational skills (e.g. self-discipline, perseverance, a classically trained mind and the ability to assimilate large amount of new information quickly). What Grosche was hunting for were scholars, academics, politicians and businessmen: All people with as much trained mental capacities as social influence. Because only they would bring (a) the intellectual abilities to foster and push forward his ambitious project as well as (b) the necessary monetary funds to keep it alive and flourishing. What Grosche and his companions weren’t really interested in - at least as far as we can judge from the published material - were actual magical skills.
Funnily, though, on this particular topic Grosche’s interest would transcend purely opportunistic motives. Wherever his official writings touch upon gender differences, he actually gives voice to many thoughts that would turn into mainstream feminist ideas only decades later. Grosche very well realised the imbalance of power women suffered from - and advocated for themselves to become rebels against the status quo, rather than to wait for the ones who benefitted from this imbalance to fix it for them. Despite his demonising view of the ‘lunar aspect’ as such, he advocated gender equality and a new power-balance between women and men. Nothing seemed to irritate him more, than many women’s passive acceptance of their status as gender-underdogs and their lack of rebellious action and resistance.
So what would we answer if someone asked us about our opinion on Grosche? Was he one of the ’good guys’? Was he a well versed occult leader? Did he actually grow a line of well versed occult leaders himself? What do we think about the mark he left on our Western tradition? — I challenge all of us to think deeply about our answers. Not only in light of all the paradox shared about Grosche himself - but in light of how we want to be remembered ourselves. In light of our own contradictions and paradoxes.
Personally one observation stands out to me. Grosche seemed an incredibly lonely man? Surrounded only by enemies and followers I couldn’t find any words of friendship in his letters. At the time he was founding the FS there were other occult adepts actively working close by - and never did he seem to try to engage with them. No words about Gustav Meyrink, Bo-Yin-Ra or even the infamous Julius Evola. Where were the true ‘brothers’ (Latin: fratres) on Grosche’s path? People not behind him, not ahead of him, but at his side? People he would respect on eye level, from whom he would take as much as he would give to them, and in whose presence the terms ‘student’ or ‘teacher’ would simply be of no relevance.
If our tradition so univocally embraces the idea of ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ as part of any occult organisation - why do we become so easily fixated with leaders? Why do we need grades and teachers at all, if we can have brothers and sisters instead? What stands out to me in the life of Eugen Grosche is the complete absence of a community - contrasted by an awful level of isolation that his self-proclaimed role of a leader turned upon him…
See, I might put up a picture of Eugen Grosche in my house. Not to adore him and not to reject him. But to remind me of the vision he held and the loneliness he created in pursuit of it. No journey is worth every sacrifice. At least for me, checking if I am still part of a community of equals is a wonderful mark to understand if my journey is still worthwhile. Should I ever find myself in a place where the only people left are either ‘ahead’ or ‘behind’ me, my vision just might have led me into the dead end of a tradition?