Contra Materialism

alchemy

Materialism is now the de rigueur assumption underlying any public discussion of the sciences, especially the life sciences thanks to the neo-Darwinist domination of that field.  This is despite the fact that “material monism”, as my old philosophy professor liked to call it – the belief that only matter exists and is real, is falling increasingly out of favor among the “hardest” of the “hard sciences”, like physics.   This popularity has become so widespread that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the reasonably educated layman to imagine a world outside of materialism.

For many raised in oppressive religious environments, generally monotheist (more on this later), materialism appears as a great liberation from the perverse and abusive conception of the “spiritual realm” with which they were raised.   The West, collectively, has been laboring under this burden for the last several hundred years, and the “modern liberation” has meant, for many, nothing more than throwing off the shroud of any kind of ideology contradictory to the simplest possible materialist reduction. Sadly, along with this “progress” to a world denuded of any spiritual or transcendent influence has come an ever increasing nihilism.  This is not to say that nihilism is a phenomenon limited to materialism.  Nihilism, as a genuine crisis facing the West, is not dependent on materialism as we know it, but rather it is the reverse.  Modern materialism merely sets the stage for nihilism, of which it is but one emergent phenomenon.

It should first be noted that concern with the desire to possess “things”, while colloquially referred to as “materialism”, is not what is meant by the term in this essay, nor the belief in an objective reality of some-sort, more or less correctly perceived by our physical senses.  Neither vitalism, nor substance dualism (to name but two alternatives to materialism) deny the existence of physical objects.  Rather materialism, strictly speaking, is the belief that all phenomenon may be ultimately reduced to the interactions of a spatially extended, highly differentiated, substance, which is itself un-perceiving and exists independent of any observer.   All higher order functions, such as life itself or mental activity, are explained as merely complex “epiphenomenon” of material interactions.

Generally the arguments in favor of materialism fall into three categories.  First, the argument for technical efficacy.   Second, the argument for philosophical sufficiency.  Third, the argument for experimental validity.  I will attempt, as much as is possible in this short essay, to address each of these in turn.  While an in-depth deconstruction and the subsequent construction of an alternative baseline conception of the universe lies outside the scope of this blog, I hope to be able to point the reader in the direction of the “cracks in the armor” of the modern materialist world view.  It will be up to you to apply “hammer and tongs” to the gap indicated.

The argument for technical efficiency rests on the assumption that all modern technical production depends on a materialist ontology; either directly, in the sense of it being impossible to conceive of or construct a highly complex object – such as a cellular phone and its attendant network, or perform a highly delicate task, such a brain surgery, without assuming a materialist philosophical starting point; or indirectly, in the sense of materialism being a required historical pre-requisite for the highly specialized technical knowledge which makes the modern world possible.  The first version of this assumption is easy enough to dismiss.  It is simply untrue as a brute fact.  Many highly skilled technical workers, and scientific professionals, have beliefs that lie outside the scope of material monism, and this group includes some of the most prestigious scientists in the history of Western culture.  Much is often made of the fact that modern scientists are, as a group, less “religious” than the general public (as the term is commonly understood, meaning belief in the Abrahamic monotheistic god).  It is, however, not necessary for all scientists to reject material monism, only for some to reject it and still be able to produce as scientists in order to disprove this version of the argument for technical efficiency.

The implied version is slightly more sophisticated.  It recognizes that scientists are not always material monists, either in the modern world or historically, but argues for an “evolutionary” progression of thought which exists as a “substratum” to technical progress. The fact that almost every single pivotal scientific discovery or theory has been made previous to the modern age, and that the majority of scientists – like the majority of people – in ages past were not materialists, does not generally dissuade adherents of this view .  In order for thought to be “evolutionary”, in this sense of progressing independent of any individual human mind, ideas themselves must be imbued with “intentionality” and purposeful behavior.  This is the concept of the “meme”, or “mental gene” invented by neo-Darwinian Richard Dawkins.  It rests upon the assumption that genes have intentionality – itself an unproven and problematic hypothesis, and that ideas likewise posses similar properties.  How, exactly, a non-physical, non-material epiphenomenon could self-direct is entirely unexplained.  This is because rather than being a legitimate theory derived from observation, hypothesis and the accumulation of supporting evidence (as materialists tell us is the only legitimate way of knowing) this “theory” is an attempt to get around or dodge the limitations of materialism by appealing to metaphorical description, in the hope that the metaphor itself will not be analyzed by the person hearing it.  Upon analysis, without an implied appeal to some kind of transcendent reality beyond purely random material interactions the theory falls apart.  This argument rests on many a-priori assumptions which are not, themselves, arrived at scientifically.  This hypocrisy is itself enough to cast serious doubts on this claim.

The second argument in favor of materialism is philosophical sufficiency.  This is the claim that not only does materialism adequately explain existence, it does so in the simplest, most comprehensible way, with the fewest number of entities.  The first major problem here is the experience of consciousness itself, which in no way resembles the “robot like” function that materialist reduction would suggest.  While we can interfere with the physical structure of the brain and produce effects, we are no where near a complete understanding of consciousness.  Many modern neuro-scientists, like  Dr. Mario Beauregard, are beginning to doubt the materialist explanation for consciousness.  If consciousness itself cannot be explained by materialism it fails as a philosophically sufficient ideology, although it may still be adopted provisionally for certain purely technical and mechanical applications.   The second major problem is the question of just what matter actually consist of in-and-of itself.  The originator of materialism, Democritus, conceived of the “atom” as the smallest possible unit of reality.  The atom has since been broken open and even the various sub-atomic particles are now in the process of being dissected and examined.  What lies beneath the sub-atomic level is an open question at present but the most popular theory is “super-string” theory, which at this point is entirely a mathematical abstraction and requires the existence of several unknown “dimensions” not presently knowable by any human mind.  So much for the fewest number of entities.  The Bishop Berkeley first laid out the problem of matter’s ultimate nature in his “Three Essays”.  While the reader might not find his solution convincing, it is certainly much simpler than string theory, and his laying out of the problems inherent in the materialist reduction are, in this author’s humble opinion, difficult to refute.   Regardless of whether or not materialism is valid it must be admitted that it is certainly not, at the present time, philosophically sufficient by itself.  There are simply too many open questions.  One could certainly hold the opinion that one day these fundamental questions will be answered by materialism, but what is this confidence based on except faith and a hope or belief held to without evidence?

Finally we come to the question of experimental validity.  This argument is somewhat unusual in that it is based on a supposed lack of evidence.  It claims that, regardless of one’s personal beliefs, or the demands of philosophical consistency, there is no evidence in favor of the validity of any other interpretation of reality.  Generally speaking those making this argument have not gone out of their way to examine experimental evidence which argues against materialism.  A recounting of this evidence lies outside the scope of this blog, but interested parties should read the work of Mr. Rupert Sheldrake, especially his recent “Science Set Free”, which investigates ten materialist claims from a scientific, experimental, evidence based perspective.  Whether or not one accepts Mr. Sheldrakes conclusions, or even likes him as a person, one must admit that the claim of “no evidence” is shocking.  Counter-indicative evidence is a regular feature of scientific research.  What that evidence signifies is a matter of interpretation, and here we come to the primary problem with materialism, which is that it is not primarily a matter of the natural sciences but of philosophy.  Most of the natural sciences function perfectly well without appeal to the ultimate questions of existence, and this is doubly so for the knowledge workers which we depend on to make modern life possible.  Doctors don’t work on an atomic level, but on the level of living systems.  Computer programmers don’t directly affect quarks but rather the logical and aesthetic arrangement of information.   The fossil record exists whether or not it is purely a construct of minds, or living spirits, or material substances.

The fundamental problem here is that we, as human beings, hunger for an understanding of our condition.  At one time this answer was provided by religion.  Earlier I mentioned that many modern materialists are particularly concerned with the abuses of religion, and by religion commonly mean monotheism.  The dominant religion in the West for the last thousand odd years has been Christianity, which makes exclusive truth claims.  The Catholic Church was, at one time, particularly concerned with establishing itself as sole authority over Christianity, and was very concerned with conceptions of the world which questioned the omnipotence and perfection of God.  This lead to the church lending its support to early pioneers of science which conceived of the universe as a giant mechanism which logically and rationally proceeded from the omnipotent will of the deity.   Many competing conceptions were left aside, not because they failed to reflect the observable facts of the universe, but because they argued for a living universe full of entities which were self-directed, or for multiple independent centers of value and meaning.  In time confidence in the Church eroded, and now confidence in Christianity has gone the same route.  While this, of itself, is not to be mourned material monism has been put forward as the best possible replacement for the Christian metaphysic.  Structurally, however, it has done little more than decapitate the Christian ideology, and remove God, but keep the vast organized mechanism of the universe intact.  It remains nothing more than a “holding position”, designed to keep Western culture rolling along for a few more decades.  In this light it is probably worth noting that the rate of scientific innovation has slowed drastically.  Almost all modern “discoveries” are a kind of “tinkering at the margins” and the cost of further innovation has increased.  It seems that we are reaching the point of diminishing returns.    It seems obvious to this writer that we need a new paradigm.  What that shall be remains to be seen, but we cannot pursue a new paradigm without admitting that the old one no longer servers our needs.

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LJ Redux #1

plight

I recently finished reading Georges Dumezil’s Plight of the Sorcerer. I was peripherally familiar with Dumezil’s work when I ordered this volume, having read half of his landmark Archaic Roman Religion. While even half of a Dumezil analysis was enough to convince me of his value, both to the historian and the magician, I was mostly attracted to Plight of the Sorcerer by its title. Naturally, as something of a would-be sorcerer, I was interested in what insights or warnings I could gain from the text. It certainly sounded ominous. “Plight” is not a word that fills one with confidence.

A preliminary Google search revealed nothing about the nature of the book beyond the Amazon review. Precious little Dumezil has been translated into English, and most of it is out of print. If anything, this made the volume appear mysterious and alluring. Even though I couldn’t find any samples or reviews, I wanted a copy. Alas, I could find no copies for less than ninety dollars. With a shelf full of unread books, I couldn’t justify that. Luckily, the Abebooks spirits smiled upon me, and one turned up for less than 40 bucks. I pounced on it. When it arrived, the slightly worn black dust-cover wrapped in clear plastic reminded me of library books from my youth. A lithe little volume, I wondered what secrets it held as I dove into the first chapter.

The book is essentially a long essay comparing two mythical figures, or if you prefer, one mythical figure in two forms: the Indian Kavi Kayva Usanus, and his Iranian counterpart Kavi Kay Us. The Kavi is an archetypal magician figure: rebellious, headstrong, slightly sinister, but also wise, honorable in his own way, filthy rich and powerful. The Kavi is engaged in a rebellion against the Gods. As the chief Brahman of the army of demons, he is their religious minister, strategist and secret leader. The Indian myth, where Dumezil focuses most of his attention, is an older and purer source than the Iranian, which has been significantly colored by monotheism. There isn’t much stigma attached to the Kavi’s alliance in India. The demons and gods are simply viewed as opposite teams. Dumezil takes pains to point out that, according to some myths, the demons may have a legitimate grievance against the divine order. He also clearly explains that Kavi Usanus is held in high regard in the celestial courts. He is considered a full member of the Brahman caste. In the Iranian myth, he is seen as more of a hybrid magician-warlord, and there is an ethical stigma placed on his actions, yet he remains a respected and influential figure. What these two myths have in common is that of the magician as man qua man, or perhaps super-man qua super-man. He is an individual challenging the status quo. Change is by definition a disruption, and a sorcerer is nothing if not a source of change. It makes a great deal of sense that, in traditional societies, this magician would be seen as a wielder of demonic forces. When the society is marked with an intrinsic metaphysical value and character, any serious challenge for control must take on a metaphysical character itself. What isn’t so clear is the reason for the Kavi’s metaphysical rebellion. Clearly he wants power, but the particular details surrounding this are passed over in favor of telling the story of the power-grab itself, and its repercussions.

In the Indian tale, his troubles are primarily social in nature. He has a daughter whom he loves very much. She is well aware of her father’s special powers and is something of a spoiled princess. To further complicate matters, one of the young god-brahmans petitions Kavi Usanus to take him on as student. His real goal is to steal away the secret of raising the dead, which the Kavi possesses, and bring it over to the gods. The gods, apparently, are vulnerable to violent death. The Kavi and his allies know what this young demi-god wishes, but, as a Brahman, the Kavi honors his request and accepts him as his student. The demons are naturally less understanding, and contrive to have the younger Brahman murdered. Of course the Kavi’s daughter falls in love with the beautiful god and… well… you get the idea. In the end, the Kavi’s alliance with the demons is pulled into jeopardy and the whole enterprise falls apart. Thus we have the first of the sorcerer’s “plights”: other people. The sorcerer, despite his great power and wisdom, is still a man. He has social connections and obligations, and these obligations he executes with no less attention than he gives to his other pursuits. As a result, he is never able to fully extricate himself from the machinations of the gods and destiny. He could, perhaps, retreat into isolation, but part of what makes him a sorcerer, and not a simple monk, is that he demands spiritual power on his own terms, which includes the right to exercise his sexual and social drives.

In the Iranian saga, the Kavi’s particular nemesis lies in another field. There are some strong connections between the Iranian Kavi and the more familiar biblical sorcerer Solomon. Most striking is the large palace that the Kavi constructs by harnessing his demonic allies and “yoking” them to his will. However, while Solomon is seen as an agent of God, Kay Us is seen as nothing but an agent of his own desire. In fact, his unwillingness to curb his appetite causes no end of friction with his lieutenants and followers. He is willing to discard any norms that don’t suit his fancy. He breaks alliances and even, on one occasion, kills the children of his most loyal ally. In a final act of hubris, he straps four great eagles to a magical platform and assaults the heavens. His goal is to join the sun, moon and stars and become truly divine: an immortal god. Of course, the eagles tire and return to earth, bringing the Kavi with them. Finally, he realizes that there are some barriers he can not overcome, and repents. While the redemption aspect of the myth is probably a later Zoroastrian addition, this story does adequately illustrate the second major “plight” of the sorcerer, his own mortality. While the great magician may comfort himself with wealth, knowledge, political clout, women, followers, holy visions or any number of other things, the slow decay of his body is inevitable. In some myths he takes on an immortal nature after death but, while alive, the Kavi clearly prefers to retain his bodily existence, an understandable, if impossible, sentiment.

This brings us, finally, to the legacy of the sorcerer. Interestingly, the two myths are in complete agreement here. In both cases, the Kavi is recounted as the founder of kingdoms and dynasties. Not only is his *ahem* “blood” used to justify royal status, his instruments or weapons are viewed as talismans not unlike Excalibur, conferring the divine right to rule on those who posses them. It is hard to say if this legacy is an example of the success of the Kavi, or his failure. Have the gods co-opted his power and tamed him, or has he broken their monopoly on reality and become immortal? Personally, I vote for the latter, but I’m probably biased. Either way, there is some ambiguity about the fate of the magician. Like the good philologists we are, let’s return to the title of this book, The Plight of the Sorcerer for more information. We modern Americans, with our middle class sensibilities, tend to see “plight” as an intrinsically negative term. But, according to Webster’s, the word comes from the Old English “pliht”, which simply means “danger”, or “to expose one to danger”. It has close connections to “peril”, but is not necessarily negative, in a final sense. This is a fairly apt description of the sorcerer. By stepping outside of the stream of humanity, he exposes himself to risk. Unlike the warrior, he is not called to do this by the social order. It is not a discharge of duty. He chooses to place himself in danger, ambiguity and risk. This is not an unwelcome side effect, but an integral component of his nature. Plight is a perfectly accurate description of the sorcerer’s life and legacy. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

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[Originally posted June 17th, 2008]

Crowley Paintings

Having seen some Crowley paintings in person, I must say that digital reproductions don’t do them justice.  While Crowley was not primarily a visual artist, they have a presence that many more technically sophisticated works lack.  These photos, however, are high enough resolution to allow you to see the texture of his brushwork and paint application in some of his works.

http://www.aleistercrowley.com.au/#!1gallery/galleryPage

Crowley’s art is something of an acquired taste.  At first, I found his use of color jarring.  Now I find it evocative and magical.

For me, The Moon (1918) is an old favorite (http://www.lashtal.com/images/metz.jpg), which I was fortunate enough to see when some of his paintings toured Los Angeles, so I’m excited to see that he painted another one in 1921.  Honestly, I can’t decide which I prefer.  I like them both too much.    Idiots on a Mountain, Landscape with Coral and Jade Pagodas, and Sunset on the Sicilian Coast (1920), are entirely new delights.

The painting of four robed figures carrying a black goat up a snowy mountain is still one of my all time favorites. Sadly, this photo is really poor, but you get the idea.  (http://www.lashtal.com/portal/resources/thegalleries/aleister-crowley/art/dscf1830-74.html)

It’s a real shame that many of these wonderful and magical artifacts might disappear into a private collection, never to see the light of day again.   I hope whomever purchases these important pieces of Thelemic and occult history will allow them to circulate through galleries and museums at some point in the future.

A Defense of Priest/ess

effertz-priest-ess

Some members of the Thelemic and occult community are fast becoming aware of a small privately issued book called Priest/ess, written by my dear friend Michael Effertz, which advocates that the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica  or “EGC” –  the religious branch of the OTO, allow public “queer” performances of the Gnostic Mass.   For those not in the know, the EGC presently does not allow ordained same sex couples the same rights and privileges as opposite sex couples.  While they may perform the central religious ceremony of the OTO without official censure, they are prohibited from doing so publically.  This prohibition also applies to “reverse” masses, where a woman serves as the “Priest” and a man serves as the “Priestess”.   This might seem shocking for a group which is supposedly dedicated to the promotion of individual freedom from superstition and tyranny, explicitly including sexual freedom.  The group also includes many gay members, and the vast majority of members, both straight and gay, support legal recognition of gay marriage.  It is doubly bizarre when one discovers that the prophet of Thelema, Aleister Crowley, was not only queer himself, but experimented with cross dressing and the adoption of a female identity under the assumed name of “Alys Cusack”.

Michael’s book was privately issued to friends, OTO officials, and OTO lodges with the intention of starting a productive dialogue on this topic.  After weeks and weeks of relative silence, the OTO bishop Tau Polyphilus has published a short response to the book on the Hermetic Library Blog, located here:  http://library.hrmtc.com/2013/02/20/priest-ess/.

Sadly, Bishop Polyphilus’ review is shallow, dismissive, lacks real engagement with the text, and frequently misstates Michael Effertz’s arguments.  Whether these misunderstandings are intentional or accidental I cannot say, but they are pervasive throughout the review.   I have no doubts that T Polyphilus believes in sexual freedom.  He probably supports gay marriage and most likely sees this as an issue of defending himself and his superiors from criticism, not as an issue of repression and apartheid.  Maintaining this position, however, demands a level of cognitive dissonance that I suspect is to blame for the frequent “misunderstandings” that plague the review.   Immediately after his introductory paragraph T Polyfilus opens with the following.

Contentious issues of gender and sexuality aside, it neither is the case nor should it be the case that “it is the sovereign right of every man and every woman and every intermediately sexed individual” to serve as ritual officers of the church according to their own lights and initiative… There is no generic “right” to serve as a priest or priestess any more than there is to serve as a lodgemaster or to preside at the conferral of degrees.”

This gives the impression that Priest/ess is essentially an argument for egalitarianism within the degree structure of the OTO and EGC, and that Michael is arguing that anyone has the “sovereign right” to officiate public OTO masses.  This is simply not the case.   The sentence is question is preceded by no fewer than seven premises, six of which explicitly address OTO and EGC policy.   It is quite clear to this reader, and I believe to any reader of moderate intelligence not already burdened with the task of finding reasons to dismiss the book, that Michael is speaking within the context of already vetted and approved EGC clergy.   He is addressing the issue of gender and gender preference only.  This is further proven by the fact that the book was, as explicitly stated in the foreword, written for and disseminated to a specific audience, O.T.O./E.G.C. members, for a specific reason: motivating change to E.G.C. policy as it pertains to ordained clergy. It is not, therefore, merely the context of the introduction which denies the validity of T Polyphilus’ interpretation, it is the context of the entire text.

After framing the fundamental argument of Priest/ess incorrectly, he moves on to discuss the question of authority.

Priests and priestesses do not have the authority to impose their own interpretations on the Mass.

Again we find T Polyfilus making counter-arguments against positions that his opponent has not put forward.  Nowhere, that I can detect, does Michael make the argument that he, or any member below the rank of EGC Bishop, is authorized to “impose” on EGC policy.  I do not believe that T Polyfilus is so simple as to mistake what is clearly intended as an offering for discourse with an attempt at self-publishing official doctrine; therefore I am forced to conclude that what T Polyfilus is really saying is that no one but credentialed parties (i.e.: himself and his friends) have the right to hold any opinion on the topic of the Mass.   The sentiment is heavily implied through the review, including the conclusion where the reviewer states

And since those who know don’t talk…

The suggestion here is quite clearly that Michael, and by extension the rest of us, are not privy to an “initiated understanding” of the Mass, which would somehow explain why ordained same-sex couples must be treated as second class citizens in a magical order founded by a gay man.  Naturally T Polyfilus cannot explain this “initiated understanding” to us since “those who know, don’t talk.”

I’d like to note that the Primate of the EGC and head of OTO US Grand Lodge, Sabazius, published an extensive commentary upon the Gnostic Mass called Mystery of Mystery: A Primer of Thelemic Ecclesiastical Gnosticism.  This text is still listed as official EGC “Commentary on Liber XV [The Gnostic Mass]” on his website (http://hermetic.com/sabazius/books_pps.htm) , along with other written works, almost all of which either are, or were at one time, publicly available.   It was published for the first time in 1995, and Sabazius was not ordained to high office in either the OTO or the EGC until 1996.  Furthermore, many of the sections of the book were written before 1995. Even ignoring the fallacious nature of T Polyfilus’ implied argument, that a position can be safely dismissed if the person offering it lacks the right credentials, he still must account for why the text written by his own Primate escapes this same censure.*

The policy of the church on the matter of officer gender hinges on the distinction between private and public Gnostic Masses.

This is the main counterargument offered by the EGC leadership on the question of “queer” Gnostic Masses.  The rational given is that since the OTO allows private celebrations of the Gnostic Mass, with any possible gender arrangement of officers, members like Michael have no grounds to complain.  T Polyphilus also informs us that Michael “at first obscures, and then misrepresents” EGC doctrine on this point, although the only evidence he seems to offer in support of this accusation is that Priest/ess doesn’t address this topic “in the first third”.  Since Priest/ess is only eighty-three pages long, including a rather lengthy insert by another author, and an extensive appendix of supporting quotes, I can’t imagine any perceptive reader will find it too difficult to find the appropriate section.  I will not restate Michael Effertz’s arguments against the present EGC position, since doing so would amount to retyping much of the book on my blog.  I will, however, urge interested parties to go down to their local OTO body, open the text to page twenty-four, and start reading.  They should also attend to pages fifty-one through fifty-three, where the arguments against public queer masses are compared to arguments against gay marriage.   Under no circumstances can Michael be legitimately accused of obscuring this, or any other issue on the topic of queer Gnostic Mass, as Priest/ess is the most thorough intellectual exploration of the subject that anyone in the OTO has produced to date.  That is, itself, part of the problem.

Regardless of the legitimacy of the distinction between “public” and “private” mass, T Polyfilus seems totally oblivious to the fact that he, and his compatriots, have created an apartheid system where ordained straight couples are able to perform the Mass with their preferred partners in situations where their gay counterparts may not, including weddings.  This means that while the EGC will support the right of an ordained gay couple to receive the sacrament of marriage within the EGC, they cannot do so through the celebration of the Gnostic Mass, as is customary, before their friends and family; unless, of course, they are willing to have a straight couple officiate.  The argument that this is somehow okay because of “private masses” does not change the fact that this is an inherently apartheid system.  How does T Polyfilus account for this?  He does offer a very brief and cryptic explanation… of sorts.

I have called the doctrinal purpose of the Mass, is that public Masses have priests who are socially masculine in their life outside the temple, and priestesses who are similarly feminine.

This explanation is deeply problematic. Firstly, the EGC presently allows transgendered Priests and Priestesses to perform the Mass publically, so long as they fill the role of their self-appointed gender identity, not their biological sex. This policy, as Michael explains in length throughout his book, thoroughly undermines any claim to biological essentialism within the formula of the mass.   This is a problem for supporters of the current policy like T Polyfilus, as it throws them back upon an entirely social understanding of gender.   This is why he must use terms like masculine and feminine, rather than male or female.   I suspect he thinks this gives him the necessary wiggle room to pretend that the present policy is based on some valid interpretation of magical formula, but masculinity and femininity are subjective, not objective terms.  Would an effeminate cross dressing male be allowed to perform the Mass in the role of the Priest under present EGC policy?  Yes.  Would a “butch” lesbian be allowed to perform the role of Priestess publically?  Yes, without incident or censure of any kind, provided, of course, that she performed it opposite a “man”.  Even if that “man” were a pre-op female to male transvestite, “he” would still be able to perform a public Gnostic Mass in the role of the Priest.   How pre-op is too pre-op?  This is another question that the present policy raises, but T Polyfilus is unable to address.

Secondly, in order to determine whether or not a given initiate is “feminine” or “masculine in their life outside the temple”, the EGC would have to investigate, track, and weigh in upon the private social and sexual lives of its members.  I’m certain such an abhorrent invasion of privacy, on par with the worst abuses of Scientology, was the furthest thing from T Polyfilus’ mind when he wrote the sentence I’ve quoted above.  Nevertheless, his interpretation of the “doctrinal purpose” of public masses demands such a policy if it is to be taken seriously.   This shows how, yet again, the leaders of the EGC have not thought through the implications of their own positions.  This is essentially the core thesis that Michael presents in Priest/ess, and T Polyfilus insists on misunderstanding.  They have created policies that sound reasonable, but fall apart on close scrutiny, and rather than admit they were wrong, they fall back on appeals to authority and willful ignorance.

I suspect T Polyfilus feels that the main problem with Priest/ess is that it threatens his authority.  It is to this threat, therefore, that he is mainly addressing his critique.  While I’m certain Michael did not intent Priest/ess as such a threat, it has in fact become one.  This is not because of anything Michael or his supporters have done, but because of the reaction of his detractors, like T Polyfilus.   The leaders of the OTO and EGC have declared themselves to be the official Thelemic authorities.  With the recent attempt by James Wasserman and others to establish themselves as the only legitimate AA lineage, they are seeking a total hegemony on Thelema.  If they want to pretend they are qualified to hold such an office, they must be able to answer challenges and criticisms openly, honestly, and satisfactorily; without resorting to name calling, hand waiving, or appeals to authority.  Until now much of the criticism in the Thelemic community has been limited to electronic media, easily consumed and easily forgotten.  I suspect many of the EGC / OTO leaders have grown complacent because of this, and expect that if they only ignore a criticism for a few weeks it will go away.  Priest/ess, as recent events have shown, isn’t going anywhere.

He should heed the words of the Primate that he likes to quote, and continue to question his own assumptions about what is represented in the drama of our central ceremony.

Tau Polyphilus should do the same.

*Addendum:  A friend just informed me that while Sabazius was not yet elevated to head of US Grand Lodge until 96, according to the time-line he gave on his old LiveJournal he was at least the equivalent in OTO degrees of an EGC bishop 1991, which would have been four years before the publication of Mystery of Mystery.  However, the OTO degrees were not explicitly linked to the EGC ordinations until 1997.  Mystery of Mystery was also, I’m given to understand, written piecemeal over a significant period of time.  Therefore, without a full accounting by Sabazius, it is somewhat uncertain whether or not he was a Bishop when all his commentary on the Mass was written or not.   If he wasn’t then my original point stands.  If he was then T Polyfilus is at least consistent in his demand that only appropriately credentialed individuals comment on the Gnostic Mass.

Is this demand correct, or even reasonable?  No, it is not.   First, it is simply fallacious.  The truth or falsehood of an argument depends on its own merit.  Michael’s research and reasoning in Priest/ess is either correct or incorrect.  Second, it is counter to Thelemic tradition.  Crowley would never have supported taking this kind of position, hostile as he was to all forms of mystery mongering.  Third, many of the other books Sabazius recommends on his EGC reading list (http://hermetic.com/sabazius/books_pps.htm), specifically in reference to the Mass, are by non-OTO members.  This means that, regardless of official Bishop recognition in the EGC’s lineage, intelligent, perceptive individuals can offer insight into the nature of the Mass, and the proper performance of Thelemic liturgy.   One cannot, on the one hand, recommend non-EGC authors on the subject of the Mass and then, on the other hand, claim that only EGC bishops have the right to proffer an opinion.   To do so is intellectually dishonest.

Solvitur Ambulando

“I was often reduced to such expedients when wandering in strange lands, camping on glaciers, and so on.  I fixed it workably well.  In Mexico, D.F. for instance, I took my bedroom itself for the Circle, my night-table for the Altar, my candle for the Lamp; and I made the Weapons compact.  I had a Wand eight inches long, all precious stones and enamel, to represent the Tree of Life; within, an iron tube containing quicksilver—very correct, lordly, and damsilly.  What a club!  Also, bought, a silver-gilt Cup; for Air and Earth I made one sachet of rose-petals in yellow silk, and another in green silk packed with salt.  In the wilds it was easy, agreeable and most efficacious to make a Circle, and build an altar, of stones; my Alpine Lantern served admirably for the Lamp.  It did double duty when required: e.g. in partaking of the Sacrament of the Four Elements, it served for Fire.  But your conditions are not so restricted as this.”
–  http://hermetic.com/crowley/magick-without-tears/mwt_23.html

“Now, as many are fully occupied with their affairs, let it be known that this method is adaptable to the necessities of all. And We bear witness that this which followeth is the Crux and Quintessence of the whole Method.  First, if he have no Image, let him take anything soever, and consecrate it as an Image of his God. Likewise with his robes and instruments, his suffumigations and libations: for his Robe hath he not a nightdress; for his instrument a walking stick; for his suffumigation a burning match; for his libation a glass of water? But let him consecrate each thing that he useth to the service of that particular Deity, and not profane the same to any other use.”
–  http://www.sacred-texts.com/oto/lib175.htm