Laborare est Orare

An ethos of self-sufficiency in the New Dark Age

There are many perspectives and opinions about the methods that local bodies should use to raise money—nearly as many opinions as there are individuals who care to think about it. Among the most prevalent areas of disagreement is whether local bodies should be principally funded by dues, or by other means of fund-raising instead. In examining other Orders that have established an ethos of self-sufficiency, the benefits and fitness of an approach of self-sufficiency in the O.T.O. seem clear.

Let us not, with folded arms, float with the tide of indolence, but ever strive after increase of that true knowledge which is wisdom and remember that “to labour is to pray,” or as the Latin motto has it, “Laborare est Orare,” for the day.
The Rosicrucians: Past and Present, at Home and Abroad by Wm. Wynn Westcott

“Laborare est Orare” is a motto that derives from the Rule of Benedict and which was later adopted by Freemasons. By adopting this ethos, the Benedictine Order attained a high degree of self-sufficiency which arguably helped them to survive the fall of Rome.

[Benedict] formulated a Rule by which the monks of his monastery would live. It laid stress on the equal value of prayer, study and work, and in this way Benedict laid the foundations for self-sufficiency in a period when a community would either survive on its own, or not survive at all. At the core of the Rule was the edict, laborare est orare (to work is to pray). Benedict’s monks were to be no mere ritualistic bookworms – he wanted them to get dirt under their nails. As the movement spread across Europe the Benedictines set up abbeys that prospered, safe behind their massive walls; even when the depredations of the barbarian invaders were taking their greatest toll of the country around.
Connections by James Burke

In the many discussions of self-sufficiency, it is clear that this ethos is not difficult for Thelemites to find relevant and applicable in local bodies. Today, however, practitioners (and especially Thelemites) must have different strategies for attaining a level of self-sufficiency than the Benedictine monks had. In a post-industrial service economy, in an organization which (unlike monasteries) does not seek to separate itself from worldly interaction, self-sufficiency might better be rendered as:

Independence supported by cooperative labor and financial contribution, resting on a foundation of shared commitment.

This crest symbolizes the ethos and aspiration of self-sufficient bodies of O.T.O.

This crest symbolizes the ethos and aspiration of self-sufficient bodies of O.T.O. Click to read more.

When a body of initiates is supported fully by those same initiates, outside forces can only hurt the group if conditions are extreme, e.g., if there is a major economic depression or everyone moves. Even then, with sufficient savings and/or contingency income, a body may survive the storm.

Aside from practical and strategic considerations, the phrase is, “labor is prayer,” and the simple meaning of this statement must not be overlooked. It needn’t be accepted on faith. Quite materialistically, by attaining self-sufficiency through labor (and those tokens of labor we call “dollars”), a community preserves its teachings and practices. It is therefore one method of ensuring transmission of the gnosis. Thereby, labor invokes. This is karma yoga, through and through.

If we extend this kind of thinking to our daily life, considering all our efforts and skills to be of potential benefit to our local bodies, the body’s strength will grow immeasurably. This strength will also be of benefit to individuals. Consider how this has benefited the Benedictines:

The great church was the central symbol of faith about which all the manifold activities of a self-supporting community revolved. The Cistercian lay-brother was neither a slave nor an anchorite, but a skilled craftsman who wrought in metal, wood and stone, who built roads, wove cloth, bred stock and planted trees, and who tilled the soil of field and garden to make barren wastes fruitful. Yet all these manifold and highly individualistic activities were undertaken, not for personal enrichment, but for the benefit of the community and as an article of faith which was summed up in the precept of Stephen Harding: ‘Laborare est Orare’
High Horse Riderless by L. T. C. Rolt

In the O.T.O., many of our practices could be considered “monastic,” but we do not withdraw entirely from the world into monasteries. Our founding documents do not recommend monastic isolation except for temporary periods. As Magi, standing “upright; their head above the heavens, their feet below the hells,” we do not cut off the lower to exalt the higher. In these respects, the following passage comparing a development in Zen to the Benedictine ethos is relevant:

One of the main attractions of Zen during the classical period of the shogunates was its double virtue in reforming monasticism and in its appeal to the ordinary person engaged in lay life. It did the former by simplifying monastic life and insisting on both hard labor and the practice of meditation … The movement appealed to the laity because it took seriously and in a practical way the Mahayana dictum of the identity between the empirical world or samsara and the transcendental world or nirvana. It took the idea expressed in the Latin tag laborare est orare, “to work is to pray,” important for Western monasticism, in new directions, for it integrated the meditative task and the skills of ordinary life.
The World’s Religions by Ninian Smart

The Freemasons, of course, are very near us on the initiatory family tree, and their words on this subject may ring true for Thelemites who are working to build temples of gold and ivory and marble.

Now, this doctrine, that labor is worship, is the very doctrine that has been advanced and maintained, from time immemorial, as a leading dogma of the Order of Freemasonry. There is no other human institution under the sun which has set forth this great principle in such bold relief. We hear constantly of Freemasonry as an institution that inculcates morality, that fosters the social feeling, that teaches brotherly love; and all this is well, because it is true; but we must never forget that from its foundation-stone to its pinnacle, all over its vast temple, is inscribed, in symbols of living light, the great truth that labor is worship.
Symbolism of Freemasonry by Albert Mackey

Other organizations which use fund-raising events, or get grants, or which rely too heavily on the contributions of a few generous members to support the majority of their operations are at the mercy of those unstable sources of income. If local bodies wish to survive and thrive, they must find a way to fund their activities primarily through broad-based shared financial as well as laborious commitment. This motto, Laborare est Orare, captures an ethos which can give focus to that effort. When members consider all the work that they do as a potential means to contribute to their local body, we will see local bodies easily supporting, sustaining, and improving their dedicated spaces. When those same people are also contributing their labor and genius to the production of classes, rituals, amateur theater, even creating products for the local body to sell, the body becomes a vibrant fraternal community. As Aleister Crowley wrote in Liber 194:

. . . thus we gather up all the threads of human passion and interest, and weave them into an harmonious tapestry, subtly and diligently with great art, that our Order may seem an ornament even to the Stars that are in the Heavens at Night. In our rainbow-coloured texture we set forth the glory of the whole Universe–See thou to it, brother Magician, that thine own thread be strong, and pure, and of a colour brilliant in itself, yet ready to mingle in all beauty with those of thy brethren!

First published in Lion & Serpent 12, No. 1. © Joseph Thiebes, Anno Legis IV:xv.

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