Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. - AL I:40
Dear students, it has come to my attention regarding some misunderstood issues regarding our beliefs as Gnostics. I shall address the first question which was recently asked, or "If we're Gnostics why don't we perform Aleister Crowley's Gnostic Mass?" Besides the obvious, that we don't advocate the performance of the Mass because it's not an AA ritual, there is another lesser known reason. First of all it must be understood that Liber XV Ecclesiae Gnosticae Catholicae Canon Missae was written by Aleister Crowley specifically for the Ordo Templi Orientis while he was in Russia in 1913. It allows individuals to unconsciously appreciate the subtleties of what Crowley believed are Thelemic concepts as understood within the context of this fraternity's teachings and its alone.
To further explain our beliefs regarding this ritual I'd like to begin with a thought provoking, if not controversial, problem with Liber AL vel Legis. This deals with an interpretational error which is acted upon within Thelemic Communities as if it were gospel. Hopefully by pointing out this particular problem you can see why I tell all my students to carefully study the book rather than simply taking the opinion of others as to what is a correct interpretation of certain verses. The verse in question states, "At all my meeting with you shall the priestess say - and her eyes shall burn with desire as she stands bare and rejoicing in my secret temple." (AL I:62) In Crowley's own Commentaries to this verse he states, "The Gnostic Mass is intended to supply this need." Of course, he also wrote that the same Commentaries are "over a quarter of a million words of the most turgid and incomprehensible hogwash ever penned." In fact, he gave the manuscript to Louis Wilkinson to edit out the 'turgid and incomprehensible hogwash' and although Wilkinson produced his first draft before Crowley died, there is no record to show that Crowley ever saw such or approved of what was left in or taken out. Within the year Crowley was dead and Wilkinson stopped his editing project. Sadly, to Wilkinson's thinking, Crowley's commentary to I:62 should be left in. The question we now need to ask is whether or not this is a classic example of what Crowley implied as hogwash. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that in this verse Nuit mentions a SECRET TEMPLE. Therefore any public performance, regardless of what Aleister Crowley or any fraternity may claim, can hardly fulfill the obligation of being called secret. My dictionary defines the word secret as being something kept from the public, or from a specified person, or group of people in particular. The Gnostic Mass is not only openly performed before outsiders but it's published worldwide. So my question is this, who is it being kept secret from?
Furthermore, if as Crowley claims, the Gnostic Mass fulfills Liber AL vel Legis I:62 then he's informing everyone that according to his views the Ordo Templi Orientis is the true vehicle of Thelema. Should I point out the obvious flaws in this statement, especially since I've been a member of OTO for well over twenty years and can speak from personal experience - I think not. Perhaps I'll keep quiet, after all my father taught me never to hit a blind man when he's down. Anyway, I might also add that this ritual was written fairly early in Crowley's understanding of Thelemic philosophy. It definitely portrays Thelemic flaws and extremely bad ones. The ultimate question is whether or not the Gnostic Mass is a valid Thelemic vehicle or merely a recruitment tool for OTO. Regardless of which, contrary to what some may want to believe, verse I:62 does not justify why every Thelemite worldwide must attend and especially take communion, nor perform the Gnostic Mass. Any such claim, besides being Thelemically narrow-minded, is purely from an OTO standpoint only.
Now I'd like to address the second distressful question, "Can the OTO take away Bishophood?" This is quite simple. The answer is of course not. However, Bishophood within the OTO has always been a very amusing contradiction. One should ask if it's a Spiritual (attained) Blessing or simply another fraternal handout or gratuity. We know that all Seventh Degree Initiates of the OTO are automatically ordained as Bishops within the Gnostic Church. This implies, hopefully, that their initiations from Minerval through Seventh have prepared them to receive the ordination. Of course we know this is highly suspect, if not laughable. It also means that they should understand the complete mysteries behind the first & last word of the OTO which is ON (Devil-Ayin/Death-Nun) as taught in Seventh Degree. Otherwise, when acting as a Priest, telling the congregation "Let this offering (i.e. Host) be borne upon the waves of Aethyr to our Lord and Father the Sun that travelleth over the Heavens in his name ON" would have little or no meaning except in its lowest mundane sense in regards to the Minerval Degree. Furthermore, a real Bishop should fully understand the stages of the Mass in relationship to each OTO Degree. However, it is no secret the present EGC is far more interested in its history in order to justify the faith while distancing itself from Crowley rather than spiritually understanding its own mysteries & rites. This should say it all, or as to which direction it functions, mundane or spiritual.
The greater problem with the OTO is its policy which states that the Clerical status of a Bishop within its Gnostic Church can be revoked at any time "and is automatically lost upon resignation, suspension or expulsion from O.T.O., or lapse of active membership status in O.T.O.." (US Grand Lodge OTO, EGC Manual, August 1996, Section 9, Withdrawal or Recognition of Authority, p.4) This practice not only degrades the attainment of all Bishops who remain but it cheapens the position to being little more than another 'token' degree handed out by OTO. It also gives evidence that the leadership of the Gnostic Church hasn't a clue to feminine mysteries regarding Babalon and the Right-Hand Pillar. Like all faiths, once you've reached a certain spiritual stage or initiation, especially Bishop, then you're always a Bishop. If you decide to leave the order, especially something so mundane in nature as the OTO, then the Gnostic Church itself must officially excommunicate you. Merely waving an OTO pen to create a Bylaw saying it's automatic simply will not do and implies insipid behavior of immature spirituality. This is another example of confusing apples with oranges. One Order deals with an earthly domain (OTO) and fraternal behavior, the other spiritual (EGC). Just because both are run by the same group of individuals does not give them the right to 'cross the planes.' This is bad magick, plain and simple.
Besides, you can not hold this 'automatic dismissal' policy before your initiates because it implies religious blackmail of the lowest kind spawned by nothing short of the Black Brotherhood who wants to hold the spiritual in bondage within the illusions of its own reality, namely OTO. This in itself is purely a negative quality of the male dominant 'descending forces' found on Left Hand Pillar going astray. Obviously its another attempt to 'corner the market' on Thelema, or the 'remain with us, or we'll strip you of all that we've given you' attitude ... as if they can. The bottom line is that each case is different depending upon an individual's actions and the question is, should the OTO have the right to dictate a person's religious attainment with his or her God? And, can they honestly say, "You're no longer a spiritual person!" Of course not. Again, it's confusing apples with oranges. They can, if a Bishop quits the OTO, acknowledge by official excommunication in writing from the EGC to sever the Magickal Link so that the person has no right to represent 'their' Church and has no right to perform 'their' Mass, if that be their pettiness. But they can not take away your spiritual attainment, or Bishophood.
Then again, logic dictates that if the Gnostic Mass, as designed by Aleister Crowley, represents the mysteries behind the grade structure of the OTO from Minerval to Eighth, why on earth would anyone who is no longer affiliated with the OTO want to perform it? An individual can however, once they've been ordained as a Bishop, walk out on the OTO and begin their own faith as an ordained Bishop. Leadership within the OTO may disagree with this fact but if their system of initiation from Minerval to Seventh Degree really works then they've given a Bishop the foundation to go off and build his or her own spiritual church. This is primarily because we're a Gnostic faith. The Gnosis, once obtained, comes from within and no one can take away this gift with a flick of pen. This is how religions grow and mutate. If the OTO insists on saying no, that they can 'strip' a Bishop of both title and attainment then they're acknowledging their own Thelemic or spiritual teachings are a 'total failure' and are nothing more than 'token' fraternal gesture. So, where does that leave their church?
This brings us to another point where a brother asked if "I have a problem with doing experimental Masses." I replied that I was taught that the basic purpose of any Mass is to unconsciously prepare the general viewing public for the mysteries taught within a given faith. In the case of Crowley's Mass it prepares people for those mysteries taught within the Degree structure of the OTO and its relationship to the Mysteries of Thelema. In other words, even if an individual is incapable of perceiving the Truth (i.e. Light), by merely attending a Mass they will 'unconsciously' be drawn into the Thelemic current as was Grady McMurtry and many others, myself included. It's no secret that within the OTO the Gnostic Mass is the greatest recruitment tool it has. After attending a well performed Mass an individual should feel compelled to join the Order. This is why the Mass must be performed to the letter. Any deviation from the ritual should never be tolerated because it has become a Black Mass, the spawn of what Crowley refers to as the Black Brotherhood. Such rituals are totally incapable of unfolding divine Thelemic mysteries and do not prepare people for perceiving the Gnosis behind the faith or the initiations. It usually draws people only into the proclivities of the local community over the Order as a whole.
In fact, most of the experimental or deviate Masses within the OTO were usually performed by what the Order terms Auxiliary Bishops. This is a term hated by those individuals who hold the title because it implies that they are not full OTO Bishops, a fact they constantly try to hide. To be a full Bishop within the OTO you must be an initiate of the Seventh Degree. The majority of the Auxiliary Bishops were and are only Fifth Degrees. In fact, many 'bought' their Bishophood for $3.33 from a renegade Bishop who was simply trying to defy the then newly appointed Frater Hymenaeus Beta, which should say it all. The symbolism behind the number 333 and its relationship to Choronzon has infested some groups with its 'Community' over OTO attitude. Anyone who has ever attended one of these distorted Masses will fully attest that the demon of Chaos has unconsciously infected many a good soul. The bottom line is that none of these Aux Bishops were ever taught the full implications of their office and have obtained their knowledge, if any, from either books or other Auxiliary Bishops. Full OTO Bishops, holding the appropriate OTO degree, should fully understand what is happening within the Mass because they have undergone the initiated experience which the Mass portrays. They would also understand the symbolism between the OTO Initiations and the different stages of the Mass. It is argued that an Auxiliary Bishop who is only a Fifth Degree can not adequately portray anything beyond the fifth stage of the Mass but I personally disagree. If the Mass is performed to the letter by a Fifth Degree, then they too, like the audience, will reap the rewards of the ritual. The bottom line is that any deviation from the original ritual proves a lack of understanding of the intent behind the rite itself and any arguments by individuals to defend their antics only further proves why they are called Auxiliary Bishops.
The other question I'd like to address came from a sister asking, "If Crowley's Liber XV, the Ecclesiae Gnosticae Catholicae Canon Missae allows participants to unconsciously appreciate the subtleties of Thelema in context to OTO teachings, is there a correlation with the initiation rites?" To this I can only reply, Yes. However, most individuals rarely examine the symbology of both in relationship to other Crowley manuscripts and therefore miss a wealth of information which is at their finger tips. Back in 1979 Grady McMurtry explained to me that the first section of the Gnostic Mass entitled 'Of the Furnishings of the Temple' is a representation of the First Degree OTO. Claiming further that the second section is Second Degree and so forth, all the way up to the eighth stage 'Of the Mystic Marriage and Consummation of the Elements.' Ninth Degree is not portrayed for obvious reasons. I still have a vivid memory of Grady pulling Francis King's book The Secret Rituals of the OTO from the shelf and pointing out that the Eighth Degree Grade Paper entitled Of The Secret Marriages of Gods with Men explains the mysteries behind the 'marriages' as portrayed in the Mass symbolism in the VIIIth stage. Some of this symbolism is not so obvious to the profane but as another example, the fifth stage entitled Of the Office of the Collects which are Eleven in Number (Sun) is very apparent in relationship to its OTO counterpart. The Fifth Degree OTO is the Rose Croix and, like the fifth stage of the Gnostic Mass, it is said to represent the 'heart chakra' or central Sun. Regarding the 'Eleven in Number' this should be like a beacon in the minds of OTO members. When the connection is pointed out it becomes very obvious. Within the OTO, eleven members of the Fifth Degree sit on the Electoral College which runs the affairs of The Man of Earth Triad, the triad responsible for performing the Gnostic Mass. They act as the central Sun. Individuals would be richly rewarded were they to look deeper into Crowley's Liber LI, Atlantis, The Lost Continent and comparing the stages of each to the others already mentioned.
After writing the above answer I was beseeched with another very good question. The student fired back asking if all Seventh Degrees are Ordained as Bishops then how can they fully know and perform the Mass if it represents the First Degree through Eighth Degree which the latter has yet to be obtained? Good question! It is a contradiction in modern OTO logic and structure. Those who set up these policies may not have been aware of the problems which they were creating but we can only speculate, we don't really know. However, in theory, a Bishop can only be a full Bishop when they've reached an understanding of VIIIth Degree in regards to sex magick. This implies, of course, if a Minerval understood VIIIth Degree, they'd be a Bishop but that opens up a whole other can of worms, so let's not go there. Anyway, the bottom line is that Bishops should be Ordained when assuming VIIIth Degree not Seventh. However this is an error which can never be fixed within the Ordo Templi Orientis because of the politics involved. Besides, does it really matter whether a Bishop is made in Seventh or Eighth Degree? The question to be asked is whether a Eighth Degree is any more knowledgeable of its mysteries of ON than a Seventh or am I being too viscous in regards to the modern 'teaching practices' within OTO?
Anyway, I hope this answers some of the questions which you have been asking.
Love is the law, love under will. - AL I:57
Note: This article was written around 1990 and parts of it are no longer pertinent to today's Ordo Templi Orientis or Gnostic Catholic Church. We have left it on our website simply because of it's historical importance and some tidbits of information which it offers.
On a recent elist [dated Jan 10th 2001] Bill Heidrick commented upon this article where it stated, "The greater problem with the OTO is its policy which states that the Clerical status of a Bishop within its Gnostic Church can be revoked at any time 'and is automatically lost upon Resignation, suspension or expulsion from O.T.O., or lapse of active membership status in O.T.O..' (US Grand Lodge OTO, EGC Manual, August 1996, Section 9, Withdrawal or Recognition of Authority, p.4) This practice not only degrades the attainment of all Bishops who remain but it cheapens the position to being little more than another 'token' degree handed out by OTO."
Heidrick's comment was, "That's actually a bit of a mis-perception. Loss of clerical status within OTO does not mean one isn't a bishop, just not a bishop of OTO/EGC. If they quit, it would not be proper to claim 'em. Likewise, it would not be proper for them to claim authority inside OTO/EGC. Clerical status is not the same thing as possession of consecration. It's application of that, in a particular place or venue."
Typical of Bill, he's actually agreeing with my article and doing what we have long called, 'The Heidrick Two-Step.' In other words, besides wearing his shoes out, he's guilty of the very charges which he accusing others of, or fostering "misconceptions." However, he actually misses the over-all point in the article. I'm not disputing the status as much as the 'attitude' in regards to that status. At the time when I wrote this Epistle (I think almost three and half years ago) I didn't want to quote Dave Scriven to my students. Perhaps I should do such now to clarify my attitude which prompted me to write the Epistle in the first place.
Back in 1996 Dave Scriven and I discussed, which I carefully recorded in my diaries, that the Order needs to "strip people of any Rights once they're outside the OTO." This way there could never be "any renegade Gnostic Churches." Because the OTO has "taken away their right to be a Bishop." This was the gist of the conversation because at the time there were rumors of 'other' Churches forming by legitimate dissatisfied and disgruntled OTO Bishops who were going to practice Crowley's Gnostic Mass against the direct wishes of the Order. The OTO wanted to eliminate this problem before it arose by basically saying, you can keep the rights which we gave you as long as you're in the Order but, "see what the bylaws say." And then, if they practiced an "OTO ritual like the Gnostic Mass" then we [meaning the OTO] can "take appropriate action against them", which of course means, sue them. That is what Scriven told me in a nut shell and I was against the basic concept back then and I'm still against it today. So what if a renegade Bishop wants to practice Crowley's Gnostic Mass outside the OTO? But Scriven's reply or analogy was, "what if other people wanted to do OTO Initiations?" In other words, where is the line drawn with allowing 'outsiders' to do OTO practices? Basically he's 100% completely right but I argued, "You're crossing the planes and it's basic bad magick" ... it's a control freak mentality of the mundane over the spiritual. That is my only argument.