An adept is a person who has advanced through levels of learning to become a master. In Magic, an adept commands considerable secret magical knowledge and is proficient in Rituals, Divination, psychic powers, communication with spirits, and perhaps the casting of Spells. In addition to skill and knowledge, an adept also has achieved an enlightened consciousness. Without enlightenment one cannot be considered an adept. A magus is an enlightened adept especially skilled in the magical arts.
In alchemy, an adept describes a person who has learned the secret of making the philosopher’s stone, but more from the perspective of spiritual, rather than physical and literal, transmutation. For the true adept, the transmutation of metals is a secondary pursuit—even a by-product of the spiritual pursuit. The Hermetic ideal man, or divine man, is raised up from the material, sensual man. The adept acquires True Knowledge, the perfect knowledge of Self, which is required to attain knowledge of God. This spiritual path is reflected in the Hermetic concept of the universe, that the microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm. Thus, by gaining perfect knowledge of the Self—the microcosm—one attains knowledge of God—the macrocosm. A male adept is called an artifex, and his female partner a soror mystica (mystical sister).
The adept also aspires to a greater and higher good. In the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, one of the aims of the adept is “regeneration of the Race of the Planet.” The term magus describes initiates in the higher orders of the the Golden Dawn.
The spiritual qualities of the adept are emphasized repeatedly in alchemical and magical literature. For example, the alchemical adept is urged to fully trust in God, lead a righteous life, subdue falsehood, be patient and not ambitious, and not engage in sinful activities—the same qualities of sainthood. The adept must especially avoid the pitfalls of egotism, and even spiritual egotism, which leads to self-righteousness.
According to Franz Bardon, an adept knows and appreciates the truth in all religions of all eras. He does not believe in a personified God but adheres to universal laws, upon which all religions are based. He may belong to a religion if it aids his work with others. An adept does not believe anything he cannot convince himself of, and he is able to competently answer questions put to him about esoteric matters.
The Islamic alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan wrote that alchemists who are preoccupied only with making gold out of base metals will be denied the secrets of alchemy by God himself:
Our art is reserved in the Divine Will of God, and is given to, or withheld from, who he will; who is glorious, sublime, and full of all Justice and Goodness. And perhaps, for the punishment of your sophistical work [that which is intended just for material transmutation and gain], he denies you the Art, and lamentably thrusts you into the by-path of error, and from your error into perpetual felicity and misery: because he is most miserable and unhappy, to whom (after the end of his work and labor) God denies the sight of Truth. For such a man is constituted in perpetual labor, beset with all misfortune and infelicity, loseth the consolation, joy, and delight of his whole time, and consumeth his life in grief without profit.
In the literature of the Golden Dawn, the path of adeptness is related to alchemical allegory:
The Heart of man is as the Sun, the reception organ for the Divine Ray of spiritual initiation descending unto Man. The Brain of Man is as the Moon,—the source of human intellect. The Body of Man is the Earthly vehicle.
Let the sun impregnate the Moon, or let Spiritual Fire prompt the human intellect—and let the rest fructify in the womb of a purified Body, and you will develop the Son of the Sun, the Quintessence, the Stone of the Wise, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness.
In The Magus (1801), Francis Barrett stated:
An adept . . . is one who not only studies to do God’s will upon earth, in respect of his moral and religious duties; but who studies, and ardently prays to his benevolent Creator to bestow on him wisdom and knowledge from the fullness of his treasury; and he meditates, day and night, how he may attain the true aqua vita—how he may be filled with the grace of God; which, when he is made so happy, his spiritual and internal eye is open to a glorious prospect of mortal and immortal riches . . . he is filled with the celestial spiritual manna. . . . Therefore, to be an adept . . . is to know thyself, fear God, and love thy neighbor as thyself; and by this thou shalt come to the fulfilment of thy desires, O, man; but by no other means under the scope of Heaven.
The apprenticeship and levels of training may require many years of study and initiation, depending upon the order, fraternity, lodge, or system to which the magician belongs.
- Bardon, Franz. Frabato the Magician. Salt Lake City: Merkur Publishing, 1979.
- Barrett, Francis. The Magus. 1881. Reprint, Secaucus, N.J.: The Citadel Press, 1967.
- Holmyard, E. J. Alchemy. New York: Penguin Books, 1957.
- King, Francis (ed.). Ritual Magic of the Golden Dawn. Rochester, Vt.: Destiny Books, 1997.