Christmas after the Apocalypse

On Cultural Continuity in Thelemic Communities

by Frater Enatheleme

“… the religion which makes England to-day a hell for any man who cares at all for freedom. That religion they call Christianity; the devil they honour they call God. I accept these definitions, as a poet must do, if he is to be at all intelligible to his age, and it is their God and their religion that I hate and will destroy.” —Aleister Crowley, The World’s Tragedy

christmas solstice phallus tree

It’s that time of year when we decorate the Solstice Phallus and wait eagerly for the coming of Satan Claus!

The question of whether it is appropriate for Thelemites to celebrate traditions associated with “Christmas,” and other holidays of Old Aeon religions, is a recurring topic in discussions. Whether on the Internet, or in the context of planning activities in a local O.T.O. group, it seems that the subject is always accompanied by some controversy. The outward traditions of abrogated worldviews, like decorating a tree, do not in themselves contradict Thelema, and they can be adapted toward the promulgation and establishment of Thelema.

Maintaining some familiar customs helps the success of a religious movement. Such practices are appealing, because the customs are similar to traditions that people have experienced previously. Many people prefer not to give up cherished cultural conventions, like exchanging gifts or feasting. The memories of such activities go back to childhood. For some, these memories are positive despite the fact that they were developed by people with different (some might even say opposite) beliefs. For those who have negative memories of these occasions, it can be a healing experience to “reclaim” the tradition by adapting it to one’s own beliefs. In the growth of new religions, it is often the case that the more successful ones will adopt such practices, which sociologists call “cultural continuity” [1].

Cultural continuity makes it possible to enjoy the traditions that have been in our families for centuries or more, while changing the mythology, philosophy, and symbolism associated with the occasions. In fact, this kind of effort is ubiquitous in Crowley’s writings and rituals. The Gnostic Mass, Liber Resh, saying Will, the Star Ruby and Sapphire, etc. all have Old Aeon antecedents. Moreover, cultural continuity is even embedded in the language and symbolism of our holy books, where the meaning and import of ancient symbols is changed, or evolved, to accommodate the Law of this Aeon.

The appeal of cultural continuity is not one of sentimentality, but of spiritual practicality. For within these traditions are techniques by which we are transformed and conditioned over the course of our lives toward the religious experience of uniting subject and object, i.e., the Great Work. If a person is spiritually moved, and experiences the bliss of union with their community by the cumulative effect of such traditions, then who can say this should not be done? Why not utilize that inspiration to celebrate the sovereign, stellar divinity of every man and woman?

As Aleister Crowley discusses in his New Comment on Liber AL, ancient pagan traditions can be adapted to Thelemic holy days (and after all, many of the customs we find in major world religions have precursors in antiquity) [2]. In Aleister Crowley’s Confessions, he writes about how he adapted ceremonial Eucharist to fulfill the human longing for peak experiences of union:

“Human nature demands (in the case of most people) the satisfaction of the religious instinct, and, to very many, this may best be done by ceremonial means. I wished therefore to construct a ritual through which people might enter into ecstasy as they have always done under the influence of appropriate ritual. … I resolved that my Ritual should celebrate the sublimity of the operation of universal forces without introducing disputable metaphysical theories. I would neither make nor imply any statement about nature which would not be endorsed by the most materialistic man of science. On the surface this may sound difficult; but in practice I found it perfectly simple to combine the most rigidly rational conceptions of phenomena with the most exalted and enthusiastic celebration of their sublimity.” [3]

It is easy enough to transform ancient traditions so that we may enjoy them while celebrating our own beliefs. On the Solstice in Capricorn, for example, which is close to Christmas on the calendar, a “Secret Satan” gift exchange can be (and has been) used to maintain gift-giving as a tradition, but with our own symbolism to change the meaning and import of the tradition. Thelemites might choose to decorate a “Wonder Tree,” symbolic of the Solar-Phallus, the All-Father, in Life born of the Love between the Light of the Sun and the Liberty of Earth. Eggs are rich in symbolic meaning; they could be painted with Thelemic symbolism at Spring Equinox. For a secular example, Independence Day in the U.S. can be transformed into a celebration of Liberty in connection with Thelema.

Cultural continuity is about familiarity of tradition, not replacing our values with those of the surrounding culture. It serves the cause of promulgation by including Thelemic symbols and doctrines. By establishing cultural continuity, Thelema is made both more appealing and more effective in the cause of promoting human liberty and divine sovereignty within our culture.

“A feast every day in your hearts in the joy of my rapture! A feast every night unto Nu, and the pleasure of uttermost delight!” [4]

Works Cited

  1. Rodney Stark and Laurence Iannaccone, “Why the Jehovah’s Witnesses Grow so Rapidly: A Theoretical Application.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 12, no. 2 (May, 1997).
  2. Aleister Crowley, The Law is for All (1991).
  3. Aleister Crowley, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography (1989).
  4. Liber AL II:42-43
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Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Welcome to my Thelemic blog. Here is an in-depth introduction and a description of my work in Ordo Templi Orientis to date. I’ll talk a bit about what led me to the Order and then offer a listing of my activity and progress since that time, in the hope that my aspirations and interests will be reflected in such a presentation. It is a bit lengthy so I don’t blame anyone for skimming.

I grew up in Montana, in an intellectual, liberal Roman Catholic household, as a single child. My parents were in grad school for most of my early childhood and I was exposed to philosophy, art, and religious questions at an early age. It is with some ironic fondness that I recall my devoutly faithful mother asking me how we know that God exists, at age 6, and her delight at my response that we don’t know, we just believe. Little did she know that this memorable interaction was like the proverbial mustard seed, and would later take root in agnosticism and ultimately blossom in my renunciation of Christianity and its false doctrines of original sin and vicarious atonement, and its dishonest attachment to self-sacrifice.

I first learned about Aleister Crowley when reading Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati at age 14. I had also been reading Carl Jung, William Blake, and Joseph Campbell, and generally studying mythology. Exposure to the ideas of Aleister Crowley changed my life. Although I had a hard time understanding Crowley’s writing directly, I got a solid introduction through continuing to read Robert Anton Wilson and later Timothy Leary.

I longed to undergo some kind of “rite of passage” and was fascinated with ceremony and drama. To this end I undertook initiation at 14 through the Order of DeMolay, a junior Freemasonic Order. I was already interested in O.T.O. then, but didn’t really understand what it was, nor did I know if it really existed. We didn’t have “the Google tubes” back then. I felt, though, that DeMolay would do, and it would prepare me for my eventual initiation in Freemasonry. I worked hard and became the Master Councilor (and initiator) of my Chapter of DeMolay, and eventually held state office. At the same time, not coincidentally, I pursued the dramatic arts and became a Thespian while in high school, and got my “letter” in drama twice. I even had a letterman’s jacket. The jocks hated that.

When I was finally of age to take initiation in Freemasonry, I took the first three degrees, and was disappointed to find that although the rituals were profound, the members seemed to regard initiation as a mere rigmarole that one had to undergo in order to trade business cards. To my mind, this was backwards. I was also increasingly unhappy about what I would later label “old aeon” doctrines, such as the required superstitious belief and trust in a “supreme being” as well as the lack of female members. I quickly became inactive and resorted to pursuing my esoteric interests independently with friends, holding seasonal ceremonies and studying the magick of the G∴D∴

In 1998, I was 25 and moved to Portland, Oregon for a job. After moving here, I became aware after a few months that I lacked any friends who were into esotericism of any sort, leaving me a bit lonesome. I was also in an abusive relationship at the time, and feeling overall quite lost in the dark wood. I thought to myself, there must be some way to meet people who have similar interests and values. Then I remembered my long-ago interest in O.T.O., and it occurred to me that the Order might exist in Portland, and Google had come into existence so I could find out relatively easily. I immediately made contact and met with two members on Feb 14, 1999, at a little cafe at SE 17th & Hawthorne Blvd. After asking them a few questions which I thought at the time were quite critical (in retrospect they were rather perfunctory), I signed an application for initiation to the Minerval degree.

About a week later I attended my first performance of the Gnostic Mass, and it was then that the Law of Thelema began to come into sharp focus. Somehow seeing it in action clarified much of Crowley’s writing that had previously been enigmatic to me. I remember thinking, “This is IT!” I knew that I was in the right place, and was ready to dive in head first. On this occasion, someone was getting baptized, so I signed up for that as well. I also volunteered to perform as Hermanubis in the Rite of Jupiter. I was initiated Minerval on April 23. By July, I was a First Degree, working regularly as an officer in Minerval and First Degree initiations, and creating all the printed material for NOTOCON II. Later that year, I played the title role in the Rite of Mars and was confirmed in Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (E.G.C.) I started my activity in the E.G.C. on the first team in Portland to perform the Mass with the Child roles filled. In 1999 I also quit my day job, which was turning into an all-day-all-night job with increasing demands on my social life, and settled on employment which allowed me to pursue my true vocation.

In 2000, I directed Aleister Crowley’s Rite of Sol, started doing the layout & typesetting for Lion & Serpent, the official journal (at the time) of Sekhet-Maat Lodge; and became the Class Coordinator for the Lodge as well. I also took Second Degree that year. My activity in initiations and the Gnostic Mass became a regular part of my day-to-day life.

In 2001 I took Third Degree. That year I attended U.S. Grand Lodge Initiator Training three times: in Berkeley, in Portland, and at at NOTOCON III in Long Beach, CA. I also began training initiation side-officers that year through the Lodge. The Rite of Mercury and the Rite of Luna were produced in 2001, and for these I offered administrative and artistic support as well as playing a Probationer in Mercury. I also underwent ecclesiastical training, and became ordained a Deacon in E.G.C. The old Sekhet-Maat black t-shirts were made by myself that year, and I took on the responsibility of producing and promoting Lodge merchandise as well as taking the role of Treasurer. Lion & Serpent also became my responsibility as I became its Editor in 2001.

In 2002 I was chartered an Initiator, became Deputy Master of Sekhet-Maat, founded Thelemic Symposium, and was director and producer of The Ship: A Mystery Play. I took Fourth Degree and P∴I∴, and later in the year was honored to be made a K∴E∴W∴

In 2003 I became the Webmaster for Sekhet-Maat and created an initiation database which was used for at least 10 years to keep record of initiations. I also created all of the printed materials, including custom goblets, lanyards, and information packets for NOTOCON IV. I served as Production Manager for Adonis: An Allegory as well as playing the roles of Hermes and the King of Babylon. My term as Treasurer ended that year.

In 2004 my term as Class Coordinator ended and I became Editor of Agapé and remained in that position until May of 2008.

In 2005 I was ordained Priest in E.G.C., and was honored to be initiated to the Fifth Degree. My term as Editor of Lion & Serpent ended. That year I helped to facilitate bringing Eleusyve Productions to Portland for a rock opera performance of the Rite of Luna.

In 2006 I built a new wiki-based website for Sekhet-Maat, which remained in use for several years and continues to serve as a repository of archived information on the current website. I was also appointed Master of Sekhet-Maat by the Electoral College, ending my term as Deputy.

As Master of the Lodge from January, 2006 to May, 2009, I established mandatory dues, doubling our reliable income. I also put a moratorium on “rent-raising” events, such that any funds raised at events were not allowed to be spent on rent or monthly bills, but instead were spent on improvements and publishing. This continues to be an unwritten policy of the Lodge. During my term we were able to spend thousands of dollars on badly needed improvements, furniture, and ritual gear; painting the interior and exterior; replacing boards in the windows with blue insulated drapes; opening a pass-through from the kitchen to the temple; and establishing a “rainy day” fund which still exists. I also ensured that the Rituals of the Elements and the Feasts of the Times were performed without fail; and in addition to these, we celebrated occasional other days including birthdays and Greater Feasts of the Prophet, Walpurgisnacht, and the Gregorian dates 6/6/6, 7/7/7, and 8/8/8. I established the practice of installing officers ceremonially, and offering toasts to celebrate the achievements of outgoing officers. We also began exemplifying initiations (with an initiate standing in for the candidate) as a means of training and continuing education for officers, initiators, and attendees. During this time I also envisioned and established “Sisters of Babalon”, a public, women-only meet-up designed to facilitate a comfortable way for newly interested women to approach the Order. We brought Eleusyve Productions to Portland for a performance of the Rite of Venus, and we helped Horizon Oasis to facilitate the Regional O.T.O. Campout (ROTOCAMP) near Seattle. During my term as Master, while visiting another body of initiates in Arkansas, I met the love of my life, Julia, with whom I spent a wonderful six weeks traveling in Europe in 2008.

Since ending my term as Master, I have been continuing my work as an Initiator and Priest. I have been appointed to the U.S.G.L. Strategic Planning Committee, and continue to pursue an active campaign of promulgation through teaching classes around the US and the world, and promoting Aleister Crowley and Thelema on social networks. I also created the AC2012 parody political art campaign, co-edited Unity Uttermost Showed! and Manifest Thy Glory. My work with Frater IAO131 has included co-founding and co-producing the Speech in the Silence podcast about Thelema, Aleister Crowley, and Magick; and the Thelema group on Facebook.

In addition, I have been serving as a mentor for masters of O.T.O. groups and camp-in-formation organizers, and helping Thelemites in unserved areas to begin organizing study groups which may one day evolve into camps-in-formation.

During my time in the Order, I have participated in about 300 performances of the Gnostic Mass and about 70 Man of Earth initiations. I look forward to many more.

Love is the law, love under will.

In the Bonds of the Order,
✠ Parsifal

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