1905 Aleister Crowley

I imagine that no one who has taken the time to read the works of Aleister Crowley with an open mind has not, at some point, felt inspired by his vision of human freedom, open inquiry and spiritual attainment. I also cannot imagine how any stable and emotionally mature adult, spending any time in or around the organizations that claim to carry on his work today, could come away with a favourable impression.  From the high promise of the source material, we fall to the present manifest reality of mismanagement and dysfunction. What are we to make of this vast discrepancy?

Aristotle tells us that causation is four-fold: material, formal, efficient and final.   In the case of an object, say a vase, the material cause is the porcelain out of which it was cast.  The form is the shape of a vase into which the porcelain was thrown.  The efficient cause was the craftsman who shaped, fired, and lacquered it into being.  The final cause was the purpose for which it was created.  In this case, as an attractive holder for flowers.  It should be noted that the thing we are examining here is not an object but something more abstract: the current state of a culture, or to put a finer point on it a small collection of overlapping organizations.  Nevertheless, I believe we can use this model to good effect if we phrase the question as “What is the primary cause, of the failure of Thelema, to establish itself as a mature and viable movement in the world today?”

The material state of the community could be viewed as the collected assets controlled by the organizations that make it up, both people and property.  A failure on this level would be a simple lack of resources.   The solution here would be membership drives and fund-raising.   It would also mean that one of the other three causal factors: formal, efficient or final, were not at fault.  This makes a failure at the material cause level an attractive “solution”, since it requires no deeper criticism:  “Thelema just needs more time and effort.  That is all.  Show up and help out and all will be well.”   Part what makes this diagnosis attractive is that it is obviously true to some extent. Anyone from even a moderately stable background knows that the community lacks material status.  The organizations are poor, and the members are few, disorganized, and generally lacking in high achievement.  Going to a deeper cause requires investigation and argument, skills most people lack.  Everyone prefers to use the tools with which they are familiar.  This is, I believe, the primary reason for movements like “AC2012”, haphazard attempts to independently publish public domain source materials, conversion missions (aka: “outreach”), bake-sales and other funding drives, and like endeavours.  People remember these mechanisms from similar non-profits they were involved with in the past and attempt to import them without examination.  They are ways to try and address the lack of a sufficient “material cause”, while avoiding the three deeper possible factors.

The question is not if this form of causation is lacking (which is an obvious yes), but rather if it is the primary cause?  Over the last several decades many people, some highly invested, some even formally trained in non-profit strategy and group management, have tried to improve the community on this level, yet we are no better off, and in many cases worse off – materially, than we were twenty years ago.  Moreover, Thelema as a movement has existed for over a hundred years!  One would think that by now some organization would have managed to purchase a building.  This sad state of affairs argues strongly against locating the source of dysfunction at the material level.   We must go deeper.

The formal cause would be the structures of the organizations which make up the community.  While there are dozens of small groups that could be called “Thelemic” to some extent, in the main the Thelemic community is dominated by two organizations: the OTO, and the AA.   Most of the smaller groups are modelled on one of these two.  For example, even Wicca began as an adaptation of the OTO lodge structure, and the TOS titles evolved directly from the AA.  To locate our primary cause here would be to argue that the structure of these organizations runs counter to Thelemic principles, and therefore the subsequent failure of these organizations to establish themselves materially, as we described above, is derivative of their inherently inappropriate structures.  This argument has been put forward by others before – typically arguing against the strict hierarchies that make up these organizations, and suggesting that they should become “more inclusive” or “more open”.   Since “openness” and “inclusion” are popular buzzwords, this diagnosis seems satisfying to many who leave the major organizations, but wish to remain affiliated with the movement itself, as a personal ideology or identity.

The problems here are two-fold.  Firstly, this criticism implies a knowledge of what constitutes fundamental Thelemic principles.  Adherents of this critique often bring up quotes from the source material that seem to support their view, but this is insufficient.  Isolated quotes may be suggestive, but they are by no means authoritative.  A comprehensive analysis is needed and therefore to make this argument is to push the problem back further to the question of final causes, or at the very least efficient causes.   It is glib and superficial to assume we grasp the fundamental principles of Thelema merely because we are able to register our dissatisfaction.   Second, while there are certainly fewer people inclined to locate the primary cause of Thelema’s failure on this level, there have been many experiments in creating small groups organized in different ways.  None of these have risen even to the level of the OTO, let alone an organization the size of a moderate church or synagogue, or even a more mainstream offshoot movement, like Scientology.  Furthermore, today’s OTO and AA are not exact reproductions frozen in amber.  Rather, they are evolving interpretations of the source material.  The leaders of these groups have considerable leeway in how they interpret the original design.  They also have a great deal of sympathy with modern liberal secular values – indeed more sympathy towards those than the values of the founders: Crowley, and his immediate successors.   The point here is that if it were a simply a matter of a more open and inclusive structure, or even merely a simplified structure, one would expect to see one of the newer and more “enlightened” groups rising to a position of pre-eminence.  This has not occurred.

The original efficient cause of Thelema would be Crowley (or more accurately Crowley’s interpretation of Liber AL vel Legis).  Blaming Crowley is certainly convenient, but he died in 1947.  At the date of my writing this it is 2015, over sixty years later.   What is the efficient cause of Thelema today?  It is true that we must deal with Crowley’s influence, but how does this “dealing” occur?  To put it another way, if the original efficient cause was Crowley, how is this cause being carried forward through time, and made manifest in the world today?  Excluding appeals to unknown supernatural agents, the efficient cause of the community today are the leaders that drive it forward, through their various interpretations of Crowley and the source material – both explicit and implicit.

While differences between leaders, and their respective interpretations, certainly exist, organizations by their nature develop according to the consensus of key players.  That consensus today is an amalgam of Judeo-Christian style religious authority and left-leaning “secular” humanist ethics.  Outliers certainly exist, but they are almost always driven outside the existing power structure.  Since these organizations are so small, the OTO is by far the largest at around 3,000 members worldwide, their leadership groups are also small and fairly homogeneous.  It is tempting to think therefore that if they were replaced with better candidates many of the problems facing the community would be resolved; but over time many individuals have cycled in and out of leadership.  Also, many independent Thelemic and quasi-Thelemic groups exist, with their own independent leadership cadres.  Yet what is their interpretation of the source material, and how do they put it into practice?  They seem almost uniformly to adopt a religious authority structure, and secular humanist ethics – perhaps surpassing the OTO in privileging one or the other to a greater extent, but not differing substantially from the dominant consensus.  An astute reader may note here that this spectrum of authority mirrors that of mainstream American society, with a “religious” authority source on the “right” and an “ethical” authority source on the “left”.   I do not believe this is accidental, for absent intellectual engagement with the question of final and ultimate causes, all we can do is mirror the values we have inherited from mainstream society.  The question raised by a failure at this level is:  what is the nature of legitimate authority and who is fit for leadership?  These questions can only be answered in the light of primary metaphysical values.  To investigate these requires we press on to the question of final causes.

The final cause is the thing for the sake of which an object or event comes into existence.  Any ideology making metaphysical claims, that is to say claims about the fundamental nature of human existence, must rest its ultimate purpose in truth.  For an ideology to claim ontological authority on anything other than truth is to destroy the very authority it wishes to posses.  No sane person would willingly adhere to a religion or political movement that itself claimed to be false.  It may in fact be false, or based on falsehoods, but it will at least present itself as true.  To attack the truth claims of such an ideology is to attack its very reason for existing, and to interpret those truth claims, or argue for them where they are not stated explicitly, is to make a claim on the knowledge of what the ideology fundamentally is, and what it is about.  Here our primary tool is logical consistency.  Is the ideology internally consistent, and does it match what we know to be true in the observable world?   Our first task will be identifying the key components of the ideology itself, and for that we must investigate the primary documentary source – Liber AL vel Legis.   Without such an investigation our entire inquiry falls apart.  For by what other standard can we resolve apparent discrepancies in subsequent documents?  How can we judge the opinions of authorities?  How can we build organizations according to Thelemic principles?  We can, to be sure, limit ourselves to adherence to previous orthodox interpretations, but those interpretations themselves must be understood as derivative of fundamentals; and this also assumes that a body of well-established orthodoxy exists, and that this orthodoxy possess epistemic sanction by the metaphysical system of which it speaks.  Is this the case in Thelema?  How can we tell without, again, an investigation of the primary source?  We are forced therefore to confront Liber AL and the commentary directly, if we are to hope to resolve the problem of Thelema in the world today.  This will be the focus of my next post in this series.





What is aristocracy? How can a modern person defend aristocracy as a viable system of government, let alone pretend that an aristocratic regime could be fair and just to all under its control? Do we not all know that, as Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”?

To begin with it is essential that we frame the question adequately. This can be difficult to do, as every modern Western regime has presented itself as “a Democracy”, even the most autocratic and totalitarian; and we have been raised and educated by the state to regard democracy as the only possible just system of government – regardless of outcomes.

The following four short texts, each around 100 pages and three of the four available via Kindle, move from an examination of the origin of the democratic ideal, to the nature of politics itself, to the moral hazards inherent in democracy, and finally to the metaphysical underpinnings of the modern world.

All of this is just scratching the surface. This list is meant as a starting point, not as a full study course. Depending on what kind of feedback I get – if any, I will be happy to recommend more to interested parties.

The Problem of Democracy

by Alain De Benoist

The Concept of the Political

by Carl Schmitt

From Aristocracy to Monarchy to Democracy

by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

The Crisis of the Modern World

by Rene Guenon

hammer & tongs 1

We require history for life and action, not for the smug avoiding of life and action, or even to whitewash a selfish life and cowardly, bad acts. Only so far as history serves life will we serve it.

Whoever cannot settle on the threshold of the moment forgetful of the whole past, whoever is incapable of standing on a point like a goddess of victory without vertigo or fear, will never know what happiness is, and worse yet, will never do anything to make others happy.

All acting requires forgetting, as not only light but also darkness is required for life by all organisms.

The stronger the roots of the inmost nature of a man are, the more of the past will he appropriate or master; and were one to conceive the most powerful and colossal nature, it would be known by this, that for it there would be no limit at which the historical sense could overgrow and harm it; such a nature would draw its own as well as every alien past wholly into itself and transform it into blood, as it were.

And this is a general law; every living thing can become healthy, strong and fruitful only within a horizon;

Everyone will have made the following observation: a man’s historical knowledge and perception may be very limited, his horizon as restricted as that of a resident of an alpine valley, into every judgement he may introduce an injustice, into every experience the error of being the first to have that experience – and despite all injustice and error he stands firmly in indefatigable health and vigour, a pleasure to behold; while right beside him the man of greater justice and learning deteriorates and crumbles because the lines of his horizon restlesly shift again and again, because he cannot extricate himself from the much more delicate network of his justice and truths in order to engage in rude willing and desiring.

Only through the power to use the past for life and to refashion what has happened into history, does man become man.

Think of a man tossed and torn by a powerful passion for a woman or great thought… it is the most unjust condition in the world, narrow, ungrateful to the past, blind to dangers, deaf to warnings, a little living whirlpool in a dead sea of night and forgetting: and yet this condition – unhistorical, contra-historical through and through – is the cradle not only of an unjust, but rather of every just deed; and no artist will paint his picture, no general acheive victory nor any people its freedom without first having desired and striven for it in such an unhistorical condition.

Superhistorical men have never agreed whether the significance of the teaching is happiness or resignation, virtue or penance; but, opposed to all historical ways of viewing the past, they are quite unanimous in accepting the following proposition: the past and the present is one and the same, that is, typical alike in all manifold variety and, as omnipresence of imperishable types, a static structure of unchanged value and eternally the same meaning.

History belongs above all to the active and powerful man, to him who fights a great fight, who requires models, teachers and comforters and can not find them among his associates and contemporaries.

For his commandment reads: “What once was capable of magnifying the concept ‘man’ and of giving it a more beautiful content must be present eternally in order eternally to have this capacity.” That the great moments in the struggle of individuals form a chain, that in the high points of humanity are linked throughout the millennia, that what is highest in such a moment of the distant past be for me still alive, strong and great – this is the fundamental thought of the faith in humanity which is expressed in the demand for monumental historty. Precisely this demand however, that the great be eternal, occasions the most terrible conflict.

What is the advantage to the present individual, then, of the monumental view of the past, the concern with the classical and the rare of earlier times? It is the knowledge that the great which once existed was at least possible once and may well again be possible sometime; he goes his way more courageously, for now the doubt which assails him in moments of weakness, that he may perhaps want the impossible, has been conquered.

The creator has always been at a disadvantage to him who only looked on without even trying his hand; as at all times the armchair politician has been wiser, more just and judicious than the governing statesman.

This is how the connoisseurs are because they wish to eliminate art altogether; they give the appearance of physicians while their real intention is to dispense poisons; so they cultivate their tongue and their taste in order to explain fastidiously why they so insistently decline whatever nourishing artistic fare is offered them. For they do not want something great to be produced: their expedient is to say “see, the great already exists!” In truth they care as little about existing greatness as about greatness in the making: to which their life bears witness.

In the second place, then, history belongs to the preserving and revering soul – to him who with loyalty and love looks back on his own origins; through this reverence he, as it were, gives thanks for his existence. By tending with loving hands what has long survived he intends to preserve the conditions in which he grew up for those who will come after him – and so he serves life.

The small and limited, the decayed and obsolete receives its dignity and involability in that the preserving and revering soul of the antiquarian moves into these things and makes itself at home in the nest it builds there.

Here one could live, he says to himself, for here one can live and will be able to live, for we are tough and not to be uprooted over night. And so with this ‘We’, he looks beyond the ephemeral, curious, indivdiual life and feels like the spirit of the house, the generation, and the city.

But this antiquarian historical sense of reverence is of the highest value where it imbues modest, coarse, even wretched conditions in which a man or a people live with a simple touching feeling of pleasure and contentment;

How could history serve life bettern than by tying even less favoured generations and populations to their homeland and its customs, by making them sedentary and preventing their searching and contentiously fighting for something better in foreign lands?

The happiness of knowing oneself not to be wholly arbitrary and accidental, but rather as growing out of the past as its heir, flower and fruit and so to be exculpated, even justified, in one’s existence – this is what one now especially likes to call the proper historical sense.

Here there is always one danger very near: the time will finally come when everything old and past which has not totally been lost sight of will simply be taken as equally venerable, while whatever does not approach the old with veneration, that is new and growing, will be rejected and treated with hostility.

When the sense of a people hardens in this way, when history serves past life so as to undermine further and especially higher life, when the historical sense no longer preserves life but mummifies it: then the tree dies unnaturally, beginning at the top and slowly dying towards the roots – and in the end the root itself grenerally decays.

Now piety withers away, scholorly habit endures without it and, egoistically complacent, revolves around its own centre. Then you may well witness the repugnant spectacle of blind lust for collecting, of a restless raking together of all that once has been.

The fact that something old now gives rise to the demand that it must be immortal.

Here it becomes clear how badly man needs, often enough, in addition to the monumental and antiquarian ways of seeing the past, a third kind, the critical: and this again in service of life as well. He must have the strength, and use it from time to time, to shatter and dissolve something to enable him to live: this he achieves by dragging it to the bar of judgement, interrogating it meticulously and finally condemning it;

It is an attempt, as it were a posteriori to give oneself a past from which one would like to be descended: – always a dangerous attempt because second natures are mostly feebler than first.

Yet here and there a victory is acheived nevertheless, and for the fighters who use critical history for life there is even a remarkable consolation: namely, to know that this first nature also was, at some time or other, a second nature and that every victorious second nature becomes a first.

Each man and each people requires according to their goals, strengths and needs, a certain knowledge of the past, sometimes as monumental, sometimes as antiquarian, sometimes as critical history… but always only for the purpose of life and therefore also always under the rule and highest direction of that purpose.

Knowledge of the past is at all times desired only in the service of the future and the present.

Knowledge, taken in excess withough hunger, even contrary to need, no longer acts as a transforming motive impelling to action and remains hidden in a certain chaotic inner world which that modern man, with curious pride, calls his unique “inwardness”. He may then say that he has the content and that only the form is lacking; but in all living things this is quite an unseemly opposition. Our modern culture is nothing living just because it cannot be understood at all without that opposition, that is: it is no real culture at all but only a kind of knowledge about culture.

In the inner being sentiment may well sleep like a snake which, having swallowed whole rabbits, calmly lies in the sun and avoids all movement except the most necessary.

Everyone who passes by wishes only one thing, that such a culture not perish of indigestibility.

For from ourselves we moderns have nothing at all; only by filling and overfilling ourselve with alien ages, customs, arts, philosophies, religions and knowledge do we become something worthy of notice, namely walking encyclopedias.

The people that can be called cultured must in reality be a living unity and not fall apart so miserably into an inside and an outside, a content and form. If you want to strive for and promote the culture of a people, then strive for and promote this higher unity and work to annihilate modern pseudo-culture in favor of a true culture; dare to devote some thought to the problem of restoring the health of a people which has been impaired by history, to how it may recover its instincts and therewith its integrity.

What means shall he use? What is now left him but his deep knowledge: in expressing it, disseminating it, distributing it generously he hopes to plant a need: and from this strong need a strong deed will one day arise.

In this truth-in-need, however, our first generation must be raised; certainly it will suffer the most from this truth, for through it it must raise itself, and even itself against itself, into a new habit and nature out of an old and first nature and habit:

First give me life and I will make you a culture from it!

This same youth also guesses with the curative instinct of that same nature how that paradise is to be regained; it knows the ointments and medicines for the historical malady, for the excess of the historical: and what are they called?

Do not be surprised, they bear the names of poisons: the antidotes to the historical are called – the unhistorical and the superhistorical. With these names we return to the beginnings of our essay and to their calm.

By the word “unhistorical” I denote the art and the strength of being able to forget and to enclose oneself in a limited horizon: “superhistorical” I call the powers which guide the eye away from becoming and towards that which gives existence an eternal and stable character, towards art and religion.

It is possible that we, the historically sick, will also have to suffer from the antidotes. But that we suffer from them is no proof that the treatment is incorrect.

But at that final point in their cure they have become human again, and have ceased to be humanoid aggregates – that is something!

And how do we arrive at that goal? you will ask. Already at the beginning of a journey to that goal the Delphic god calls his motto to you: KNOW THYSELF. It is a hard motto: for the god “does not conceal and does not reveal, but only indicates” as Heraclitus has said. What does he point out to you?

The Greeks learned gradually to organize chaos by reflecting on themselves in accordance with the Delphic teaching, that is, by reflecting on their genuine needs, and letting their sham needs die out. Thus they took possession of themselves again; they did not long remain the overloaded heirs and epigoni of the whole orient; after a difficult struggle with themselves and through the practical interpretation of that motto they even became the happiest enrichers and increasers of the inherited treasure and the firstcomers and models of all coming cultured peoples.

This is the parable for each one of us: he must organize the chaos within himself by reflecting on his genuine needs.

Thus the Greek concept of culture – will be unveiled to him, the concept of culture as a new and improved nature, without inside and outside, without dissimulation and convention, of culture as the accord of life, thought, appearing and willing.

– All selections above by Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by Peter Preuss, and published by Hacket Publishing as “On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life” in 1980. All selections and edits by yours truly, for my personal use and not meant for commercial distribution in any way.


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.

An experiment in logical reduction.


I am opposed, as a matter of principle, to the “dumbing down” instinct.  This impulse, found throughout modern life, seeks to reduce every concept and experience to a commodity that can be pleasantly consumed by the lowest common denominator.  No-where do I find this trend more noxious than in the realm of occultism.  My recommendation is always to go to the source as soon as possible.  Liber AL vel Legis, The Magical and Philosophical Commentaries on Liber AL vel Legis, Magick without Tears and Book 4 should clear up 75% of the problems a new student of Thelema encounters.   However, I realize that three of these books are out of print, and all of them assume the reader possesses a fairly high degree of cultural capital.  Many of the people approaching Thelema today will simply not have immediate access to these books, or be able to understanding them.

The need for good introductory material is genuine.  I have made a point of surveying the books that presently fill this void and they are, by and large, awful.   Recently, three separate conversations, with individuals new to Thelema, have made this lack distinctly felt.  Since I cannot point people at good, affordable, introductory texts, I have decided to write this short orientation.  I would like to note before I begin that my understanding of Thelema has evolved considerably over my life, and I fully expect it will continue to evolve.  What I therefore offer here is by no means the “final word”, or even my own, personal, fixed definition.  It only represents my thoughts at the time of writing, expressed as best my meager skills will allow.  I hope my readers find it useful.

What Kind of Thing is Thelema?

 I believe Thelema is best described as an ideology, or a paradigm.  Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines ideology as:

  1. visionary theorizing
  2.  a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture
    1. a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture
    2. the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program

The word literally means “the study of ideas or thoughts”.  Paradigm literally means “to exhibit a pattern” and is used here in the sense of a complete model or “world-view”.  Other words we could use to describe Thelema are “philosophy” and “religion”, although the last one is problematic.  Why?  Well, in the old sense of the term, religion is a pretty good fit, but for most people today, religion is something you trot out on Sundays, Holidays, for Weddings and Funerals and otherwise pertains only to your private, internal, beliefs about things that are fundamentally unknowable (ie: the afterlife).  Religion, even among those who are deeply involved in religious life is typically synonymous with what you believe in without evidence or proof – or even in spite of contradictory evidence or proof.   Thelema is not a religion in this sense.  Crowley himself was aware of this difficulty.  In perhaps the best introductory text to Thelema, Magick without Tears (available for free online) he wrote:

Would you describe your system as a new religion?”  A pertinent question, you doubtless suppose; whether it may happen to mean anything is—is—is—well, is what we must try to make clear.

True, it’s a slogan of A∴ A∴  “The method of science—the aim of religion.  Here the word “aim” and the context help the definition; it must mean the attainment of Knowledge and Power in spiritual matters—or words to that effect: as soon as one selects a phrase, one starts to kick holes in it!  Yet we both know perfectly well all the time what we do mean.

But this is certainly not the sense of the word in your question.  It may clear our minds, as has so often happened, if we examine it through the lens of dear old Skeat.

Religion, he says, Latin: Religion: religio, piety.  Collection or paying attention to: religens as opposed to negligens, neglecting; the attitude of Gallio.  But it also implies a binding together i.e. of ideas; in fact, a “body of doctrine.”  Not a bad expression.  A religion then, is a more or less coherent and consistent set of beliefs, with precepts and prohibitions therefrom deducible.  But then there is the sense in which Frazer (and I) often use the word: as in opposition to “Science” or “Magic.”  Here the point is that religious people attribute phenomena to the will of some postulated Being or Beings, placable and moveable by virtue of sacrifice, devotion, or appeal.  Against such, the scientific or magical mind believes in the Laws of Nature, asserts “If A, then B”—if you do so-and-so, the result will be so-and-so, aloof from arbitrary interference…

For true Magick means “to employ one set of natural forces at a mechanical advantage as against another set”—I quote, as closely as memory serves, Thomas Henry Huxley, when he explains that when he lifts his water-jug—or his elbow—he does not “defy the Law of Gravitation.”  On the contrary, he uses that Law; its equations form part of the system by which he lifts the jug without spilling the water.

To sum up, our system is a religion just so far as a religion means an enthusiastic putting-together of a series of doctrines, no one of which must in any way clash with Science or Magick.

Call it a new religion, then, if it so please your Gracious Majesty; but I confess that I fail to see what you will have gained by so doing, and I feel bound to add that you might easily cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief.

The word does not occur in The Book of the Law.   (Crowley, MWT, Ch. 31)

Philosophy is also, in my opinion, a bad term to use in describing Thelema.  It avoids some of the problems that we encounter with the word religion, but implies a purely mental phenomenon.  Thelema puts certain demands on its adherents that go beyond simply thinking about things in a certain way, but we will touch on that later.  Thelema contains a philosophy and a religion, but is itself a larger concept.

Why Do We Need a New Ideology?

Much of this is a matter of taste.  If you genuinely feel like the world around you meets your needs, and the story you have been told about the purpose of your life, where you came from, and where you are going is just fine as is, then Thelema has nothing to offer you.  I have no interest in converting others.   If, however, you feel like the story you’ve been told all your life just isn’t cutting it, or leaves something to be desired, then Thelema MAY be what you’re looking for, and I am happy to help point people in the right direction.

The world we inhabit is the product of our ideology.   We are not always aware of it, but we experience what it is like to live under the rule of our ideology every day.   For the last two-thousand odd years the controlling ideology of European and Middle-Eastern civilization has been monotheism.  Even so called “atheists” and “agnostics” are still forced to borrow their moral and ethical categories from the religions of their birth culture.  Many philosophers have shown how modern secular ideas are derived from religious ones.  (This lies somewhat outside the scope of my essay, but I can give reading recommendations to interested parties. )  The far East, while under the sway of Buddhism until about a hundred years ago, is not terribly different from the West.  Buddhism shares many fundamental properties with Christianity, and the East today is grappling with the same political problems that the West is, just from a few years behind.  Taking both East and West together, Thelema posits the existence of a “ruling force” that oversees the destiny of the planet for a period of time.  This is similar to the German word “Zeitgeist” or “spirit of the age”.   Thelema calls this old period of the last two-thousand years “The Aeon of Osiris: The Dying and Resurrected God”, and holds that it is passing away in favor of a new period, called “The Aeon of Horus: The Crowned and Conquering Child”.  While to the practicing magician these are living forces, it may be helpful, for now, to think of them as metaphors.   Long before the Aeon of Osiris the world was tribal and pagan, and that zeitgeist is referred to as the “Aeon of Isis”.    That was the world that monotheism replaced and it had a good run, from about 3000 BC to 500 BC.  All good things must end, just as we’re experiencing today.

With the passing of the highest ideal of an older age, the world is thrown into chaos.  People don’t know what to believe in anymore.  What’s worth working towards?  What is good?  What is bad?   How should men and women organize themselves in society?  What does it even mean to be a human being?  Is there any point to life at all?   I think all my readers can relate to the pressing nature of these questions.  It doesn’t take much to see the lack of answers play out in the world around us.  Things are falling apart.   Either you can see and feel this happening, or you can’t.  If you can, it is liable to make you feel depressed, scared and confused. This only means you are more sensitive.  As time goes on, the problem will be become more acute, as it has so far in our lifetime.  In the preface to Liber AL, in 1904, Crowley wrote:

Above us today hangs a danger never yet paralleled in history. We suppress the individual in more and more ways. We think in terms of the herd. War no longer kills soldiers; it kills all indiscriminately. Every new measure of the most democratic and autocratic governments is Communistic in essence. It is always restriction. We are all treated as imbecile children. Dora, the Shops Act, the Motoring Laws, Sunday suffocation, the Censorship— they won’t trust us to cross the roads at will.

Fascism is like Communism, and dishonest into the bargain. The dictators suppress all art, literature, theatre, music, news, that does not meet their requirements; yet the world only moves by the light of genius. The herd will be destroyed in mass.

The establishment of the Law of Thelema is the only way to preserve individual liberty and to assure the future of the race.

Writing further on the topic, he added in The Equinox of the Gods:

The book announces a New Law for mankind. It replaces the moral and religious sanctions of the past, which have everywhere broken down, by a principle valid for each man and woman in the world, and self-evidently indefeasible.  The spiritual Revolution announced by the book has already taken place: hardly a country where it is not openly manifest.

Ignorance of the true meaning of this new Law has led to gross anarchy. Its conscious adoption in its proper sense is the sole cure for the political, social and racial unrest which have brought about the World War, the catastrophe of Europe and America, and the threatening attitude of China, India and Islam. Its solution of the fundamental problems of mathematics and philosophy will establish a new epoch in history. But it must not be supposed that so potent an instrument of energy can be used without danger.

I summon, therefore, by the power and authority entrusted to me, every great spirit and mind now on this planed incarnate to take effective hold of this transcendent force, and apply it to the advancement of the welfare of the human race.

Fixing things isn’t just a matter of changing this particular policy, or that particular policy.  It isn’t about electing the right party.  It isn’t about trying to roll back the clock to the 1950s, or 1800s, or 1600s – even if we could do such a thing.  It isn’t going to be solved by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, nor by putting our heads in the sand and hoping it will all go away.  We need to change our way of looking at the world.  Cats grow from kittens.  Dogs grow from puppies.  The modern world grew from the controlling ideology that we set up over 2000 years ago, and we need a new one.

How Can We Change?

In the next part I will explain, as best I can, the essential features of the Thelemic model.  Before I do, I’d like to spend a few minute talking about the act of changing itself.  This is, perhaps, one of the hardest and most significant things one can do in any given lifetime.  Ideology is in many ways nearer and dearer to us than our own lives.  Consider how many people are willing to sacrifice themselves for what they believe to be good, true and beautiful, like a child, or a friend, or one’s country.  That is ideology at work.  The German philosophy Heidegger said that men and women must “take a stand on their being”.  We are the only creatures on the Earth who must choose how to live.  We are not born with this knowledge.  We must discover it ourselves.  In doing so, we make a statement about what life is “all about”.  Even if we never write down the reasons for our choices, or even spend much time thinking about them, our actions speak louder than our words.  The ancient Greeks who gave us Philosophy called this our “Ethos”, which is where we get the word “ethics”.  It refers to our way of going about life.   When you seek to change ideologies it follows as a matter of course that you must change your ethics.  Since ethics, or morality, is about all we have left of the old ideology derived from monotheism, this change can be quite frightening.  We fear that we will fall into the worst possible excesses, or will be forced by our new model to turn a blind eye towards evil, or that we are simply wrong and will be somehow punished for our transgression.  I wish I could make this process of transition easier on people, but I cannot.  You simply must persevere.

Sometimes we prefer to sit still, in an uncomfortable place, rather than expend the energy, and take on the risk, of change.  Perhaps we’ve made mistakes in the past and are scared to make more of them.  Perhaps we’ve been convinced that, even though we don’t like where we are, we aren’t really capable of change.  Perhaps we think if only we could buy the right bauble, or have sex with the right person, or have the perfect body, then we’d be truly happy.  I don’t mean to imply that being able to buy things isn’t great, or sex isn’t pleasurable, or health and beauty aren’t to be desired.  Thelema does not deny any of these things, but they are all derivative.  Remember, our lives are a product of our ideology.  If we don’t change our thinking, nothing else will really change for us.  We might get more stuff, but our life will have the same, fundamental “flavor” that it does now.  Despite the difficultly involved in creating change through our own will, we really have nothing to lose.

The good news is that you are not alone.  There are others out there who have made this transition and are usually willing to help sincere aspirants. I can tell you from personal experience that the rewards of even minor success on this road are beautiful and glorious beyond description.  If you do start to feel overwhelmed, this is actually a good sign.  Many people identify with Thelema as a kind of fashion statement.  They think it makes them look cool, or edgy, but they remain internally just as dominated by the ethics of the old Aeon as they were before they encountered Thelema.  These people never get anywhere.  Many of them drift in and out of occult groups their whole lives, or spend their time trying to convince others of their authority.  Whatever difficulty you may be struggling with, if you are sincere and avoid hubris you will be better off than these people.  Finally, while difficult, the transition from the Old Aeon to the New is not impossible.  The steps along the journey are already laid out.  The reading lists are there and the exercises are publically available.  So long as you stay true to yourself, study the core material, and refuse to give up, you will have success.

With courage conquering fear shall ye approach me: ye shall lay down your heads upon mine altar, expecting the sweep of the sword.

But the first kiss of love shall be radiant on your lips; and all my darkness and terror shall turn to light and joy.    (Crowley, Liber Tzaddi, 16-17)

Why practice magick today?  Isn’t this method of coming to know, and interact with the world, outdated?  Isn’t it really just applied psychology?  Can’t we accomplish the same things that magick promises through less transgressive, weird, and socially awkward methods?

 Every intentional act is a Magical Act.

– A. Crowley, Magick without Tears (MWT), Chapter 1

The implications of this seemingly simple statement are vast.   How are all our intentional acts “magical”?  Don’t we know how our intentions are translated into the result sought?  Isn’t this the opposite of magick?

Two generations ago it was supposed theoretically impossible that man should ever know the chemical composition of the fixed stars.  It is known that our senses are adapted to receive only an infinitesimal fraction of the possible rates of vibration.  Modern instruments have enabled us to detect some of these suprasensibles by indirect methods, and even to use their peculiar qualities in the service of man, as in the case of the rays of Hertz and Röntgen.  As Tyndall said, man might at any moment learn to perceive and utilize vibrations of all conceivable and inconceivable kinds.  The question of Magick is a question of discovering and employing hitherto unknown forces in nature.  We know that they exist, and we cannot doubt the possibility of mental or physical instruments capable of bringing us in relation with them.

– MWT (cont)

How do we move something from the unknown into the known?  By what mechanism is this transition accomplished?

When we first encounter some thing, or force, how does it appear to us?  Solid and already clearly defined?  A complete object?  A concept or idea?  An image?  A shimmering form or whisper?  Or simply as a vague longing?  A pull, or drive, that lies unknown and undiscovered?  Do we not first encounter new things through their absence, through the space that they should appear in?

We’re generally comfortable with the idea of “science” as an entirely adequate explanation of phenomenon, but when we move past the evening news version presented by the worshipers of the modern status quo, we discover that there is no such thing as “science” per se .  There are assumptions, methods and investigators.  There are theories and experiments.  There is an ever evolving collection of information… but there is nothing settled.  Many of the great pioneers of science would have disagreed vehemently with modern material reductionists.    Today’s complete explanation may be tomorrow’s laughingstock, and yesterday’s laughingstock may become tomorrow’s rediscovered wisdom; but all of these practices, in order to bear fruit, require a tireless curiosity and almost super-human insight that cannot be codified, measured or imparted by reading books.

The awakening of a new basic attitude towards existence is not the first thing that we must do, but the first thing that must happen in us… Only when this completely irrational, above – moral, and above – personal transformation has taken place inside of us will all instructions given here gain a sense. There is no directive and no rule which could replace this unique act or could be compared with it.

-Ernst Schertel, Magick: History, Theory, Practice

Science, as such, is a rather late stage development, both in human history and in the individual.  What is it based on?  What ability lets us peer into the unknown, the uncertain, the infinite and call things forth, into the world?  Isn’t this the fundamental human ability that distinguishes us from animals: not rational thought per-se, but the ability to create, as individuals?   How would you improve this ability?  What sort of actions would it require?  If these actions were successful, what would the practice look like, to others?

 Why should you study and practice Magick?  Because you can’t help doing it, and you had better do it well than badly.

-MWT, Chapter II