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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