My Right Foot, or the Potentially Awkward Issue of Inappropriately Adoring Body Parts

There has been a bunch of activity around the notion of a Queer Gnostic Mass lately. The notion seems to be that the Gnostic Mass is not currently LGBT friendly because of particular policies, but that it should be. There is a book, Priest/ess: In Advocacy of Queer Gnostic Mass by Michael Effertz, that has been privately published and distributed. There was a review of the book by Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus. And, there was at least one widely mentioned post attempting a rebuttal to T Polyphilus’ review.

As an aside, I have to point out there’s always something. There seems to be some kind of law of conservation of energy at work around Ordo Templi Orientis. What I mean is that I’ve observed that there seems to be a constant background noise of complaint that remains constant no matter what actual rational issues may exist. There are for every issue that comes up, and every side of those issues, a mob of people who seem determined to get attention and validation from taking particular sides in any conflict they find, and seem to have little actual interest in the issues. Around any authentic issue there seems to be a busy buzz of annoying flies that actually ends up drowning out that issue with other agendas. So, as much as possible, I explicitly refuse to entertain or validate the meaningless constant background distraction from this issue with any more notice than this notice that I take no notice of the noise. (One diabolical beauty, of many, I’ve observed of the law of complaint conservation in action is that those buzzing will take refusal to entertain them as rejection of the core issue, because, of course, it’s all about them and their agenda, and not the actual issue; pro and con doesn’t matter for or to them either. The actual issue is just the delivery mechanism for the steamy, stinky payload of their pathological need for validation around which they can happily buzz angrily biting one and all.) And with that, hopefully, I’ve sent those people off on a spiraling tizzy so the rest of us can talk like adults.

Instead, I hope to focus on considering, in solidarity, what I do hear as actual and authentic dissent on this particular issue from LGBT members of the Order and body of the EGC, and try to be an ally to them. The thing about dissent is that it is difficult to hear, but that difficulty is often in direct proportion to the need to hear it. The thing about oppression is that it so often falls to the oppressed to educate the oppressors. The place of an ally and friend is to help create understanding and raise attention for those directly affected. I think I hear something authentic from my LGBT brothers and sisters, and have heard it enough that I think there must be something important there, though it may be hard and may require some more effort to hear. That the LGBT brothers and sisters are speaking out suggests that those of us who are not should redouble our effort to listen to their story.

What I hear is that LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling they are being treated unfairly and unequally within the Order generally because they specifically do not feel they have equal opportunity to take part in roles within the celebration of the Gnostic Mass that relate to their own lives. I hear that they want to take active part in the ritual, in a way that speaks to them, but feel that they cannot and moreover that they are not being heard.

With that said, I’m really only an ally here, or at least attempting to be one. I am particularly unqualified to make any definitive statements one way or the other, and am not a direct voice on this specific issue. On the one hand, I do not identify as queer or gay, and so I am not a member of the group who might legitimately claim to be affected by the issue, except that, in solidarity and community, to harm one is to harm us all. I am also not clergy in Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, though I have been active in other roles in celebration of the Gnostic Mass. Nor am I part of the government or any governing body (than my own self, of course) of Ordo Templi Orientis. I am also not privy to the Supreme Secret of the Sovereign Sanctuary (though, let’s be honest, like everyone on born on this planet, and their dog, I do have some suspicions about which I’ll hold my tongue).

But, hey, I’ve got a blog, and some thoughts … and my aunt has a barn, so maybe I’ll put on a show! But, seriously, that’s all this post is: just some thoughts, that people can take or leave, consider or not. I’m just another student of the Mysteries recording my own current thoughts at this place and time.

Basically, this is an ideal opportunity to make a misstep by which I can alienate absolutely everyone involved by sticking my foot in my mouth about the issue, or, you know, something even more entertainingly anatomically awkward. Well … yay, and tally ho, I say! Once more into the breach! YMMV. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

 

The Complaint

The issue is that, for public celebrations of the Gnostic Mass, the officers enacting the role of Priest and Priestess must be gender appropriate. The Priest must be of male gender and the Priestess must be of the female gender. For the purpose of this, a public celebration is any where non-initiates are present. For any celebration using the script of the Gnostic Mass which is gender-bent, or otherwise changed, it must not be public and moreover cannot be called a Gnostic Mass in public announcements.

The current policy prohibits certain kinds of participation. A person whose gender is male, whether queer or not, cannot enact the role of Priestess in a public celebration of the Gnostic Mass and a person whose gender is female, whether queer or not, cannot enact the role of Priest. Someone who is sexually male or female, but is gender identified as something else, however, can enact the role appropriate to their gender. The policy is about gender appropriate officers in the role of Priest and Priestess.

I think it is important to now introduce a distinction between what I’d call a “gender bent mass” and what I would understand to be an actual “Queer Gnostic Mass” but I think these two are getting as conflated as are gender and sexuality. To be clear, I will try to keep the term “gender bent mass” for a celebration of the rubric of the Gnostic Mass by officers in these roles which do not match their gender. I will also try to keep the term “Queer Gnostic Mass” for something which intends to be publicly celebrated with queer officers in roles and celebrates some, as yet unknown, mystery and symbolism of queer sexuality.

Thus, I suspect that there is already a serious confusion in the complaint as I’ve heard it because it conflates gender and sexuality, and conflates “gender bent mass” and “Queer Gnostic Mass”. But, I think there is something being talked about that reveals important things about the nature of the Gnostic Mass relevant to the discussion.

But, this specificity about gender for the roles of the Priest and Priestess means that for a public celebration of the Gnostic Mass, a queer male cannot act as Priestess and a queer Female cannot act as Priest. And, if one were not able to identify with one or the other in the gender binary, then one would not be able to be either.

The Gnostic Mass

The Gnostic Mass, which is the the central ceremony for public and private celebration of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, which E.G.C. is in turn the ecclesiastical aspect of Ordo Templi Orientis, is a eucharistic ritual written by Aleister Crowley in 1913 while in Moscow, Russia (interestingly this was on “The Ragged Ragtime Girls” music and dance theatrical tour). The ritual includes a great number of symbolic and structural influences, but it serves a bold and ambitious purpose:

“In composing Liber XV, Crowley attempted to uncover the hidden Gnostic tradition concealed within the ceremony of the Mass, to liberate it from bondage to the Scholastic theories and dogmas of Christian theology, and to demonstrate the fundamental continuity between this ancient tradition of Wisdom and the modern revelations and liberating philosophy of Thelema.” — T Apiryon [via]

Additionally, the ritual, while being esoteric in nature was also to be precisely specific to Nature:

“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.” — Aleister Crowley [via]

The Secret

There is a great deal of writing about the Gnostic Mass and various aspects of the rite, which is understandable since it has such a central place for EGC and OTO, and one can research much of that at the Hermetic Library. But, what should be clear is that the Gnostic Mass has a purpose in existing in a particular way, and in presenting certain symbols intended to reveal particular ideas. One of these ideas is the IX° secret contained in the system of the OTO:

“Liber XV, the Gnostic Mass, is the central public and private ritual of the OTO and EGC, being itself a IX° operation. All of the secrets of the Order are contained within it, in symbol and ceremony.” — Fr V.I.T.R.O.L. [via]

While the secrets of the Order are contained in this ritual, they are at least veiled to some extent in the rite. The secret is enacted symbolically within the ritual, when it is celebrated properly. Theories about this IX° secret are like assholes, but that’s actually a different degree and, at any rate, the secret is above my pay grade. I’ve been privately assured by at least one person I believe to be in a position to know that, in fact, not all the material is out there in spite of how much is that has been revealed. However, I also noted the curiousity that, in his extensive biography about Aleister Crowley, Perdurabo, Richard Kaczynski points out that Crowley’s own understanding of the secret held by OTO continued to evolve as he experimented with it, even after the time when his scholarly and instructional libri about the secret were written, to the point that those libri “were obsolete even as they appeared” (Kaczynski, 275). So, anyway, who knows? Who knows and when did they know it? “And who with And how many times.

Anyhow, the point is that there is something there which is being demonstrated by the celebration of the ritual which is of central importance to the EGC and OTO, and the secret that is revealed by the initiatory system.

The EGC Manual

The EGC Manual in use by OTO makes clear in many ways the attention to detail that is given to the proper presentation of the rites so they are “rightly performed with joy & beauty” [Liber AL II 35], especially the Gnostic Mass. Specifically related to this discussion, from the EGC Manual (rev jan 20 ’97):

Section III A 2 a: “A public celebration of the Gnostic Mass is one which is open to members of the pubic; or which is noticed in any official OTO publication under the name “Gnostic Mass”, “Gnostic Catholic Mass” or “Liber XV” or equivalent names. A private celebration of the Gnostic Mass is one at which the individual participants are all initiate members of OTO of at least 0º. Private celebrations of the Gnostic Mass may be held for initiates of higher degrees as well.”

Section III A 2 k: “For public celebrations of the Gnostic Mass, the role of Priest shall be filled by a man, and the role of Priestess shall be filled by a woman.”

So, from these two, if an event is called a Gnostic Mass, even if open to 0°+ only, it would still be public. So, simply calling it a “Mass” or “Gender Mass” or something similar even if publicly announced on a calendar or newsletter would be okay. Also, if not actually announced on an official OTO publication, calling a gender switched Gnostic Mass a “Gnostic Mass” appears to be fine as well. Also, that III A 2 k specifically details gender for public mass celebrations clearly does not prohibit gender bent private celebrations.

My recollection is that there is also a comment somewhere, perhaps in a newer revision, which further clarifies the definition of “man” and “woman” to be something like “living as …” but that may have been something from my Bishop, since I don’t see it in the copy of the manual I have at hand.

The manual specifically states (at III B 1) that modification to the rubric must be approved by the Patriarch, whether for private or public celebration. But, I think, on the topic of a gender bent mass, as a potential change, the permission is implicit without further being sought.

My current reading is that for serious changes to the rubric of Liber XV, one is better off simply writing one’s own eucharistic ritual, and not using more than the structural outline of Liber XV or the text as inspiration and not source material. However, my reading is still that a gender bent private celebration does not reach the level of a “modification” of the rubric, and so, as long as the other issues around performance and how one publicly talks in official publications are followed, gender bent is not just well-contemplated by the manual but completely kosher under the circumstance mentioned.

Also, I suppose, that the Bishop(s) supervising the various participants would have some say as well, in regard to the participation of each individual they supervise. So, that might be a thing.

The Note in the Rubric

There is a note that exists in the rubric, from even the very initial publication of the Gnostic Mass when it appeared in the International, about the officers other than the Priest not taking communion during the ritual:

“The PRIESTESS and other officers never partake of the Sacrament, they being as it were part of the PRIEST himself.” [via]

I find myself coming back to this note often in my thinking about the mass. For me this note makes it absolutely clear that the ritual is a symbolic representation of the work being done within the ceremonial magician, and seems to be a dramatic demonstration of an internal process. If all the roles are part of the Priest then the person enacting the ritual is doing so from the perspective of Priest, and that the role of Priest is in fact an internal aspect of the ritualist. Each role can be seen as an aspect of a single person.

Thus the Priest represents male gender of the ritualist. The Priestess represents the female gender of the ritualist. During the rite, there is an interaction between these two internal genders that takes place. It seems self-evident that these two genders are particular and specific, exist within each person, and are necessary for the ritual to have effect; and that this necessity seems to me to be the reason for the policy around gender bent public presentations of the ceremony. In order to not confuse those attending a public celebration of the Gnostic Mass about the drama being presented, E.G.C. requires the role symbolically representing the male within the Priest is enacted by someone whose gender is male, and the role symbolic of the female within the Priest is enacted by someone whose gender is female. This necessity may also suggest some particularly specific nature to the “sublimity of the operation of universal forces without introducing disputable metaphysical theories.” It seems to me that one element of the symbolism reflects certain natural and scientific facts about the requirements for human reproduction, facts which are necessarily true no matter whether those humans are of any particular gender or sexual orientation. Without the operation of these two gender roles within the ritual and the ritualist, the ritual is not the same, and may, in fact, no longer represent the operation of the secret.

Sexual Polarity from a Male Perspective

In a note about The Saints collect of Liber XV, Helena and Tau Apiryon offer a quote from Hymenaeus Beta, current OHO of OTO:

In his address to the Women’s Conference in 1996 (see The Magical Link, Fall 1997 e.v.), the Patriarch Hymenaeus Beta described the Gnostic Mass as a ‘celebration of the sexual polarities and their cosmic and natural interplay’ from a male perspective, having been written by a man. With regard to the list of Saints, he said, ‘It is a list of the small handful of men and man-gods who, in the opinion of the author of the Mass, understood the divinity of woman. […] Someday, perhaps not soon, but who knows, a woman adept of the Sovereign Sanctuary will manifest the genius to compose a Mass in which the female takes the more active role, and the male the more passive (as with siva and sakti in Hinduism) — in which the Deacon, speaking for the Priestess, can claim communion with the women in history that have perceived the divinity of man.'”

The point here is that the Gnostic Mass is a particular ritual demonstrating particular things from a particular perspective. Other rituals are not only possible but, perhaps, even anticipated, that might offer a different perspective on that ‘cosmic and natural’ sexual polarity.

 

The Metaphor

I’m going to introduce a metaphor. It’s not perfect, but for my purpose it seems useful even so. If all the roles in the Gnostic Mass are “parts of the priest” then one might talk metaphorically about the roles as specific parts. One might talk about the Gnostic Mass as the Left Hand adoring the Right Hand. If one were left handed, one might want to use the Right Hand to adore the Left Hand, or the Right Hand to adore another Right Hand. But, the actual story of the Gnostic Mass is that the Left Hand is adoring the Right Hand. It is certainly possible to write and celebrate a ritual in which the Right Hand adores the Left, or the Right adores the Right, or even the Left adores the Left; but, that isn’t the same story. These changes change the narrative into something else, to varying degrees into a different story.

Now, it may be that in casting the roles in the story of Left Hand adores Right Hand, that the person cast does not for some reason have use of their Left Hand. For example, in the case of Christy Brown, dramatized in the movie My Left Foot, whose only controllable limb was his left foot, it might not be possible. (Gadzooks, but I can already hear the peanut gallery shouting “Are you saying gay people are disabled?!”) In less extreme cases, one might find it interesting to use one’s Right Hand in place of the Left Hand as an experiment in casting against character, or any number of other reasons one might make various modifications to the presentation of the story Left Hand adores Right Hand.

But, the important thing in telling the story Left Hand adores Right Hand is that the narrative not be modified so much that the message is lost. One might put on a performance where a Right Hand is used in the role of Left Hand, but the audience might get confused if the poster didn’t make clear that the performance was intended to be experimental, or they may assume that the story is actually Right Hand adores Right Hand instead, and misunderstand completely.

Moreover, one could write rituals where the Left Foot adores the Right Hand, and so forth, where one specifically means that the Left Foot adores Right Hand, but how does one tell the difference between the ritual Left Foot adores Right Hand from the ritual of Left Hand adores Right Hand where Left Foot is used in the place of Left Hand for some practical reason? The audience is likely to be confused, especially if they are not savvy to the original story, and, really, since the original story is a secret, that’s most people; but also for the person who wanders off the street, and has heard nothing about the ritual at all, there must be a lot of potential of confusion and then consternation at the obfuscation of the intended narrative.

Another Gnostic Mass

It seems like there should be a story about the ‘cosmic and natural’ sexual polarity from other perspectives, and I’m not sure why no one is writing it. Maybe there is, as yet, no one within the Sovereign Sanctuary able or inspired to do so. But that is, again, different than a Queer Gnostic Mass.

For a Female Gnostic Mass, one “in which the female takes the more active role, and the male the more passive […] in which the Deacon, speaking for the Priestess, can claim communion with the women in history that have perceived the divinity of man,” I have found myself idly wondering if such a thing might needs must be written by a queer female writing about the perceived divinity of man from a female perspective, just as Aleister Crowley wrote the ceremony about perceived divinity of woman from a male perspective. For a truly Queer Gnostic Mass, maybe such as thing could be written by a straight member of the Sovereign Sanctuary … or maybe I’m taking my perception of the creative formula a bit too far and strictly, but it amuses me to consider it natheless.

Perhaps there needs to be more LGBT membership in the Sovereign Sanctuary, because from my almost completely limited perspective that body, about which I know very little except for hearsay, seems to be sorely lacking in diversity beyond white hetero-normative committed couples. Does that body match the formula of the Gnostic Mass by chance or design? Is that demographic the chicken or the egg for the issue of LGBT feelings of being treated unfairly? I don’t know about this beyond idle speculation. “Shove me in the shallow waters Before I get too deep.”

I’m not sure what the magical and natural formulae are that would be represented in Queer rituals because there is a specific formula involved in the existing Gnostic Mass, which, while veiled, seems pretty clearly demonstrated. After all, perhaps quite specifically, “I confess one Baptism of Wisdom whereby we accomplish the Miracle of incarnation” in the Creed. If not told well or if the ritual were modified that formula might be obscured beyond recognition. If the Gnostic Mass is a ritual that has a particular narrative built around a central secret, then changing the narrative might start with a different central secret. It seems the narrative should be informed by the source, not the other way around. So, the first thing that might happen is the central secret needs to be interrogated by someone (that knows it, who is a cunning linguist, and is also a prodigious prestidigitator) to figure out if another narrative can be told. And, if there are other related but different Queer formulae, whether different narratives can be told about those different central secrets well enough within the structure of the Order. Or, maybe some of this has been worked by those in a particular degree outside the general plan of the order, but I could only speculate on that.

“… recent researches into the mysteries of the IX° have compelled me to add an XI°, to illustrate a scientific idea which has been evolved by the results of recent experiments.” — Aleister Crowley [via]

A matrix of ritual might be possible which would offer an array of rites to satisfy anyone’s curiousity or general proclivities. But, even a drama queen like Aleister Crowley only wrote the one ritual from the male perspective on the perception of female divinity, and kept it as the single core ritual of OTO. So, it may simply be that there is only that one narrative possible within the structure of OTO and from the secret at the core of the Sovereign Sanctuary; because to change these too much would change the story into something else, or would be to make up a story that is completely fictional and not based on a real secret held by the Order.

Honestly, after so much time no one’s come up with anything, I’m not holding out a lot of hope. If Aleister Crowley didn’t, and no one that’s raised the issue has since, come up with something … but, like so many things, raising an issue and hoping that someone else will solve it is the exact opposite of the fact that raising an issue is really an opportunity to self-volunteer to write original eucharistic Queer ritual rubrics and organize public celebrations of them, and eventually why not a Queer ritual-a-thon? Even if an official Queer Gnostic Mass isn’t available, there’s plenty that could be done. It may not be possible until there is enough LGBT presence in the Sovereign Sanctuary, assuming that there isn’t already, for there to be someone able to make an actual Queer Gnostic Mass, as opposed to just a Gnostic Mass told differently, possible, so perhaps that just means that those who identify as LGBT should redouble effort to advance in the Order so they can seduce the project to fruition by building a firm foundation first.

In other words, there may be ways to celebrate the ritual of Left Hand adores Right Hand using one’s right hand in the role of the left, for practical reasons, though it may appear awkward; but maybe it just ruins the narrative to use one’s left foot and that’s not even to mention using one’s right foot in the role. Further, when the My Left Hand poster advertising the event says the ritual is one thing, to tell an entirely different story of My Right Foot seems definitely not correct, and would be right out of order.

Secret societies, societies with secrets, and societies with spoilers

When thinking about secrets and mysteries in practice, I’ve long tossed about the idea of a difference between secret societies, societies with secrets and a society without spoilers. Especially in this day when so much is being made available online, but that really is just a matter of scale when there are plenty of historical examples of similar things, such as Aleister Crowley revealing the initiatory rituals of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as serialized in the pages of the Equinox, the varied publication and exposé of so much Freemasonic ritual, and so forth.

There are still some pretty legitimately secret societies, which while well-known to exist are not revealed, such as the Skull and Bones society, and recently breaking the Copiale cipher seemed to tantalizingly promise that there might be still some complex and completely unknown societies, at least until it was revealed the material was pretty clearly Freemasonic in nature. But for the most part, I object that when people talk about secret societies they are engaged in flights of fancy about group about which not only their existence but much of their particulars are known. Quite often, of course, such wild imaginings are part and parcel with an agenda of fear mongering, but even still there are otherwise sane and rational people talking about certain societies as if they were actually not completely or almost completely public. Certainly Freemasonic tradition and ritual cannot rationally be called secret anymore, and the membership is in the habit of parading around, not to mention things like having decals on their cars and fobs on their keychains, and thus it cannot be called a secret society. Even traditional boogeymen like Aleister Crowley and Ordo Templi Orientis can only by the slimmest margin come anywhere near being called a secret society, with websites, public spaces, public event calendars, and so forth. There may indeed be legitimately unavailable secrets still, for example within A∴A∴, but that’s not enough to call these fraternal orders by the name of a secret society. In these cases there’s perhaps some legitimate secrets, but there must also be a practical recognition that most material related to these groups is available, outside the structured system of the society itself, somewhere, if one wants to find it.

Of course, just as much as one can avoid spoilers for movies and books and other things sequentially revealed, it is possible to avoid, for the most part, much of that material. It is not that there are no spoilers. Rather that spoilers do very much exist. Which is to say, the existence of spoilers requires one to decide to avoid the spoilers in order to fully enjoy the reveal. This is quite different from a society that pretends it doesn’t exist to outsiders, or a known society with things that it keeps secret.

 

There are modern examples of working with secrets within esoteric systems, and there’s clearly something interesting going on around secrets. There is smoke pointing to something important and useful at the source. There’s a tension, perhaps much as it ever was, between the urge to make information available and the various efficacies of secrets. T Thorn Coyle wrote a bit about the division in Feri between what had been called the “Mystery tradition” and the “public religion” factions, at “The Sundering of Feri“. Thorn, of course, also runs an online Mystery School. I was trying to find a quote where I recall her saying something about how paganism needed to have a Mystery tradition as part of it, but can’t find that right now.

Generally, when I talk about such things to people who ask, I suggest that initiation ritual, especially, is like a good book or movie with a savoury plot twist or two. You will only ever get a single chance to experience the participatory drama without knowing how it develops; that’s if one goes through it the first time not having read the materials. One and only one chance. Ever. So why throw that away by reading ahead? One can always read the materials afterward, as many times as one likes; but to read the spoilers is to waste a wonderful opportunity that cannot ever, barring soap opera amnesia tropes, be experienced once the reveal has been spoiled.

Whether one “gets” it or not (either initially or on subsequent viewings of a ritual or readings, of material) is another question entirely. And, it seems to me, in my experience, what constitutes “getting it” will likely evolve and change over time no matter what else is a consideration. When given the opportunity, I like to point out that one can go to many stagings of a play by Shakespeare and get new things, new depth of understanding and new enjoyment, as well as savour slightly different interpretations, so to me the re-play value depth of meaning of a work or body of work is something that is a different question to the idea of seeing something for the first time without spoilers.

But, still, people freak about things unknown, and try to minimize and control things by figuring things out ahead instead of being comfortable with being uncomfortable as a thing itself. Seems to me the still prevalent modern desire to conquer Nature and the pervaisive post-modern existential nausea about information overload and slavish ‘inbox zero’ mania are examples, perhaps symptoms, of where the ability to just relax about not knowing, not being in control, would be useful for people to practice in specific so they can have skill in applying it in general.

 

Another aspect that always comes up around secrets is the idea that somehow no matter what is revealed, the real secrets are impervious to such petty concerns. Seems to me blather about mystery being unspoilable is semantically empty jazz hands (or worse self deception (or worse-worse deception of others) about “spiritual” exceptionalism), and misses the point of initiation as orchestrated stressful situation intended to create a kind of imprint vulnerability, an altered state, in the initiate, and attempts to diffuse that stress and that experience before experiencing it is an attempt mitigate and in some form to not have the experience at all. The efficacy of secrets in a system are not just about the information, true, but the information is interwoven into an experience, and the experience is changed by the quality and obscurity of the information on which the experience is built. If one knows the rollercoaster has a blind drop at the end, one still experiences the drop in and of itself, but the surprise in and of itself is changed into anticipation, and that’s a different thing entirely which not only changes the experience of the drop but distracts from the experience of what occurs before.

For me, when I talk about “reading ahead” (spoiling) I mean that as a placeholder for activity the diffuses the effectiveness of initiation and mystery, whether written down and read or spoken and heard or whatever and whatevered. For me, being a candidate in initiation and mystery is to be an improv actor stumbling into a rehearsed stage play, and both savoury and exciting. One tends to think all kinds of things about structure and likely scenarios, if nothing else than a rite of passage (exit normal, experience liminal, re-enter normal changed) but it is the actuality, specifics and plot twists, the things that can be spoiled, which I think should be avoided and, yes, allowed as a personal experience.

 

To bring it around, my point of wondering about classification of societies is that there is a kind of society which is not itself attempting to pretend it doesn’t exist, and which has essentially much of its material revealed or potentially could be in future somewhere, but that points out there is a reason not to “read” ahead as a practice of discipline in and of itself; that there is a place for not knowing as a thing, and experience, to be embodied through ritual, especially dramatic ritual like initiation.

The trick of improv is to have characters and bits of business prepared and figure out ways to fit those into any circumstances, so perhaps the corollary is to become good at mystery and a good initiate prepared by building the foundation of skills, whatever those are in one’s tradition, that make the personal experience of the unknown richer.

If an initiatory working is in some form or another purely ecstatic, then perhaps more than one person will have no prior exposure. That seems quite different than a mystery tradition where something is being revealed. But, whether there is an actual script or not, a mystery tradition will have participants who have experienced or developed a relationship with the mystery who are inducting others. If those others have exposed themselves or been exposed prior to some element meant to be revealed, then they have failed to avoid spoilers, they have whatevered the whatever.

Maps certainly won’t always apply, especial when applied outside their intended scope. Just add as given to any structural approach “except where this doesn’t apply”. But, to be clear, there are other structures, but I’m primarily talking about a mystery tradition where something is being revealed. But, whether there is an actual script or not, a mystery tradition will have participants who have experienced or developed a relationship with the mystery who are inducting others. Here the word ‘mystery’ in a religious sense comes from Greek mysterion “secret rite or doctrine,” as in a thing to be revealed to initiates, whether, additionally as previously stated, those are “written down and read or spoken and heard or whatever and whatevered”, a secret doctrine passed on or a secret rite enacted.

Which begs the question: without a mystery (neither secret rite or secret doctrine) to be revealed, whither the mystery cult? Further, without a mystery, one might even be tempted to ask how can there actually be an initiation at all?

 

Perhaps, one might say of a modern non-mystery that an “impromptu ecstatic divinatory rite” took place which offered UPG, such that a previously unknown rite is enacted or previously unknown doctrine is developed. But without the secret rite or secret doctrine, which would have to have previously existed to those initiated few inducting others, there’s nothing to pass on that was previously held sacred, no previously held in secret doctrine or rite, tautologically.

“Nothing to pass on that was previously held sacred” may offer another name, perhaps more tripping, instead of “society without spoilers”: a “sacred society”, a society with things held sacred as in separate, something bound, enclosed and protected.

Unfortunately, one can follow the etymology of ‘secret’ to essentially the same place, the difference being one implies holiness and the other does not, I suppose, which “holiness” seems, to my mind, just a special case of any of the others three terms I suggested.

 

I suspect the apparent failure of the modality of a “mystery cult” in the modern world has to do with modernity, modernism and existentialism, and the lack of acceptance of shared concrete and coherent gnosis, thus the ground on which a modern mystery cult would be built is unsuitable for lavish neo-romantic structures, except for those already conditioned to such things, such as lapsed Catholics and such. Which is to say, perhaps any mystery cult would seem too superficial to a modern person to have the same religious and social impacts, simply because the assumed rich foundation is missing.

So, the feeling one might have that a mystery cult or tradition in the modern age has lost its luster is due not to the mystery cult but rather due to the overall modern age. There is still a lingering notion that something may be missing for rootless moderns which a mystery cult can offer by way of a more structured ritual, initiations, and a focused mythic basis for ritual; more robust spiritual meaning which then, in turn, offers deeper experience of life in general. But, I find myself wondering if the project of modern mystery traditions is undermined by a general lack of cultural foundation, those foundations of community and cohesion being so efficiently eroded in our public, political and even private lives. Not to mention the lack of what is still called a “classical education” with the broad base of and relationship of familiarity with languages, myths, archetypes and so on. This, then becomes a chicken and egg, which can only be resolved by realizing the false dichotomy that one must be completed before the other, and that the development in general is aided by development in specific, and visa versa, synergistically.

One possible route out of the morass, for moderns and post-moderns, I sometimes come to is the suggestion that situational certainty is a tool for meta-cognition. By this I mean, that the ground on which a mystery cult could be built, the solid ground of structured ritual, initiations, and a focused mythic basis for ritual is sufficient when internally consistent for its purpose and held to be true for the time that it is necessary. But, that threatens what is perhaps an entirely different discussion.

 

But, to bring it back around again, a ‘mystery cult’ is a cult with a mystery. A ‘cult’ is the external activity enacting a religious metaphor, a ritual behaviour. A ‘mystery’ is a secret rite or secret doctrine (to be revealed). Therefore, a ‘mystery cult’ is specifically ritual behaviour that involves a secret rite or secret doctrine. ‘Tradition’ is shared belief or behaviour through time. Therefore, ‘mystery tradition’ is belief and ritual behaviour that involves a secret rite or secret doctrine shared through time.

I’m so strongly reminded by this of something. I believe it was something by Karl Kereny (but it might be form Van Gennep or Turner, I can’t recall right now) which I paraphrase: “Ritual enacts Myth and Myth explains Ritual.”

 

It seems possible to conflate a general meaning of “mystery” as more of a kind of ‘gnosis’ or noetic experience with how I understand it is used in the specific sense within the term “mystery cult” which is more what I am talking about here. When speaking of the idea of whether a ‘mystery cult’ within modern systems would be useful in order to ground the work in structured behaviour, I’m assuming that we’re actually talking about ‘mystery cult’ not general unspecific noetic experience or so forth. This of course somewhat ironically points out a possible initial critique of paganism as a generalized, syncretic, eclectic system which lacks the benefit of what a mystery cult offers and hence the possible utility of that structured influence, offering specific external ritual behaviour around a secret rite or secret doctrine.

If you want mystery without mystery cult, that already exists in various forms of wild and wishy-washy moments of gnosis within the ecstatic traditions of modern life; but, why not try adding an actual ‘mystery cult’ back into the cultural mix? In fact, I could easily argue that there already is ‘mystery cult’ in various places within neopaganism, with a facile example being initiatory orders like OTO and others, which are perfect examples of mysteries for which spoilers exist and which spoilers therefore can be intentionally avoided.

A very salient point for this modern information age is the value an experience of not knowing, so that one can and must do less thinking prior to events, not more. Perhaps the suggestion contained within the experience of not knowing is that one should do one’s thinking after: praxis before theory, so that theory is informed by praxis without prejudice. If this is the case, why not work toward maximizing the possible experience instead of minimizing the probable damage of knowing by seeking after spoilers of any kind, even the mundane accidents surrounding specific quanta and quality?

Indeed, I would suggest that one approach an initiatory experience within an mystery tradition not as a result of successful prior thinking or a seal on attainment, like we are so often familiar with from diplomas, certificates and honors; but an invitation to view the world through a particular lens for a particular period of time, determined by the particulars of the ritual and tradition in which the initiation takes place. In other words, the initiation is really the beginning, suggested by the word itself, of an pervasive life experience.

The full experience of a mystery event intended to involve surprises, plot twists or situations unknown can be self-evidently spoiled by prior knowledge of those circumstances. Especially if part of the trigger for the full experience is the stress of not knowing. Certainly, I don’t mean that these things are binary (and it may be possible to salvage some part of the experience even if spoiled, but why not go for the whole thing instead of the tatters?), but that avoiding spoilers is a discipline that seems worthy if one is serious about that experience, and looking to have it be as rich as possible.

And, that this, in specific, will inform one’s general life as well.

 

And yes, one can point out that for completely ecstatic visceral events and such that are not within a mystery tradition, there’s mostly nothing to spoil by prior knowledge, per se. Except that maybe even still, for example, having that ecstatic visceral experience is based on a not knowing, in some fashion; for example, there’s only one time for the first such experience. All subsequent such experiences are informed by prior such similar events; but also, there may be circumstances around how the experience is induced that involve some fashion of not-knowing the mechanisms being used, which after the initial experience become less effective in themselves and experienced practitioners then rely on other means more, such as anchoring past experience to ease induction subsequently.

Also, for purely personal experience based on involvement in a mystery cultic practice, the former requires the latter, so saying the former can’t be spoiled is only true on the former level but it’s a logical typing fallacy to presume that spoiling the more primary function of mystery cultic practice can’t spoil the dependent personal experience of it. Mystery rituals are built around some kind of surprise, a revealing of the secret practice or doctrine at least. One could try to criticize the practices of mystery traditions by bringing up features of non-surprise ritual is not a feature of surprise ritual merely because they participate in the prior category of ritual. But, still the one is not the other. Noetic mystery is not mystery cult merely because the English word mystery is in both. But these are mostly different topics than suggesting the efficacy a mystery cult with structured ritual behaviour involving a secret doctrine or secret rite to a previous practice of generalized, syncretic, eclectic practice.

 

So, for my own part, I have come to prefer the discipline of having structured ritual events with their reveals unspoiled so that I can experience them with as little prior knowledge as possible, because it’s the only time I will ever get that experience in that way, ever. Of course, you go about your experiences however you like, but I suspect if the initial spoiler free experience is not preserved you’re not actually experiencing ‘mystery cult’ anymore, but rather just, one might say, an extended re-enactment of a transcript of someone else’s dramatized experience. And, if you want that, just watch reruns of some reality television program, or another, instead.

Richard Kaczynski’s Perdurabo at Sekhet-Maat on Sept 16th at 7:30pm

I’m helping to organize this event, and it’s going to be great. Richard Kaczynski, author of the newly revised and expanded Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley, is coming to Sekhet-Maat Lodge 1409 SE Stark in Portland for a lecture and book signing on Thursday, Sept 16th at 7:30pm (Doors open at 6:30pm).

This will be a free event!

For more information: Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley.

About the Lecture

This fascinating and informative lecture will begin with an overview of the life of Aleister Crowley and then the audience will have the unique opportunity to select which parts of Crowley’s interesting life they are most curious to discuss in depth (poet, painter, mountaineer, occultist, etc). Richard Kaczynski will be able to cover as many of these special topics as time allows. This will then be followed by a book signing where attendees can have their copies of Richard Kaczynski’s newly revised and updated Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley and other books signed by the author.

About Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley

“Richard Kaczynski’s Perdurabo: the Life of Aleister Crowley is the one biography that is absolutely necessary for anyone who wishes to know more about one of the most creative, seminal, and misunderstood figures of the last hundred years.” —David Tibet, founder of Current 93

“This is not only the most carefully-researched, detailed, and informative biography of Crowley yet written but also a remarkable insight into the nature of magic itself.” —Ronald Hutton, author of The Triumph of the Moon

The name “Aleister Crowley” instantly conjures visions of diabolic ceremonies and orgiastic indulgences—and while the sardonic Crowley would perhaps be the last to challenge such a view, he was also much more than “the Beast,” as this authoritative biography shows. Perdurabo (the magical name Crowley chose when inducted into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn) traces Crowley’s remarkable journey from his birth as the only son of a wealthy lay preacher to his death in a boarding house as the world’s foremost authority on magick. Along the way, he rebels against his conservative religious upbringing; befriends famous artists, writers, and philosophers (and becomes a poet himself ); is attacked for his practice of “the black arts”; and teaches that science and magick can work together. While seeking to spread his infamous philosophy of “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” Crowley becomes one of the most notorious figures of his day. Based on Richard Kaczynski’s twenty years of research, and including previously unpublished biographical details, Perdurabo paints a memorable portrait of the man who inspired the counterculture and influenced generations of artists, punks, wiccans, and other denizens of the demimonde.

Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley - lecture & book signing with Richard Kaczynski - Thu Sep 16, 2010 e.v. - Sekhet-Maat Lodge

Tyranny of choice and illusion of choice

Both the tyranny of choice and the illusion of choice are example extremes of strategic conclusions to an enclosure initiated by someone tactically claiming to offer a framework of freedom while actually implementing a rigid proscription designed to interfere with the actual function of that freedom.

This enclosure is enacted by deliberately obfuscating the difference between levels of framework and of action. Allowing this confusion is dangerous and those doing it to another are doubly so.

The defense is not, as it might seem, to simply play Rage Against The Machine on repeat and do whatever one wants, fuck ’em. Rather the defense is to develop one’s own considered code of behavior and stick to that and that alone. Further defense is had by simply not participating in the manipulation game being played on others and being attempted against oneself. The defense against the manipulation of an extrinsic code is to have a solid and sure foundation in an intrinsic one.

These fanatics, these fanboys, are looking not to develop other fanboys, nor are they looking the help people make rational choices for themselves. Rather, these radical enclosure strategies are aimed at creating hostages, unable to make any choice but the one predetermined on their behalf.

These fanboys do not want other fanboys because that would be a potential status threat. Nor do they want rational actors to make their own ways, because then they might chose otherwise, again a threat the the desperate need for self-gratification through vicarious control and validation.

The radical fanboy is in fact a control-freak looking for victims, but using the rhetoric of advertising to negotiate a sale through manipulation. The radical fanboy seeks sycophants to the character flaws of the fanatic themselves as both a way to prop up their position and to marginalize potential threats to that position. The foundation of the radical fanboy is in fact not the ostensible object of their fandom, but rather is the desperate need for ego gratification.

Another form of this that is not deception but is either conscious or unconscious conceit is the way that all Libertarians advocate for individualism but always seem to assume that others will make the same choices as they. People suffering from this form of conceit seem to always be confused when people who have freedom of choice chose something different. I marvel at the similarity to the paternalism of parents that cannot fathom their children’s choices.

And here’s a clue to the nature of this dysfunction: it is at base a form of paternalism. And, when one person assumes this kind of hierarchical position of judgement over the choices of another, they are exhibiting a level of control freakishness that is dangerous to themselves and others. They are in fact insinuating they have the right and ability to know better and more than the other. This is a textbook example of one form of interference in the rights of another, and certainly seems to me to be internally inconsistent with the ideal of Liber OZ and the framework of the Law of Liberty.

At it’s core, campaigns of doctrinal purity are antithetical to actual individual freedom, but the trap of assuming that others would make the same choices is one that many Libertarian thinkers seem to make over and over so that’s a recurring endemic pattern.

No one may tell me what Thelema is or what Thelema is for me. Of course, they can express what Thelema is for themselves, but they no authority to speak. The only authority is to the Class A materials and comments each person for themselves. That does not contemplate in any way someone’s right to determine my will for me, quite the contrary.

But even Thelema within OTO. But, the authority of Baphomet, Hymenaeus Beta and the grand master is the authority on OTO. But the the former is larger than the latter, and the latter is neither sufficient nor necessary for the former. However, the former is necessary for the latter, but not sufficient. Therefore, promulgating Thelema is necessary for promoting OTO, but promulgating Thelema does not require OTO. The corollary Is quite obviously, that anyone trying to tell another that their Thelema is not Thelema is doing so without any authority whatsoever. However, there are authoritative voices which can speak to what forms of Thelemic activity is appropriate for OTO or not, and those are the voices of Baphomet, and the leadership of OTO where that leadership is acting on behalf of and based on the authority of the appropriate office.

Therioi

I’m not sure but it’s most certainly earlier that I started being interested in etymology, but I definitely recall the effect of my meager semester of Latin from freshman year of high school. I know without a doubt that I got a couple extra answers correct on my S.A.T. because of that class.

I find myself periodically lamenting not having been able to take more Latin, but it wasn’t offered again and (really, who am I fooling?) I totally slacked off in that class anyway. I also find myself lamenting the lack of a better grounding in the classics, that I know I would have resisted had it been required, but would have no doubt utilized that often in my life had I had it.

As it is, my Latin joins my French, Spanish, Japanese, Irish, American Sign Language classes and my dabbling informally with another dozen or so (not the least of which are Klingon, Esperanto, Mohawk, and so on and on). All things at quite less than any functional basis let alone fluency, and really more closely resembling trivial acquaintances.

Anyhow, it should be no surprise that when I read years ago a poem about Star Goddess in Victor Anderson’s Thorns of the Blood Rose, I immediately parsed the name in that work, Quakoralina, into the speculative macaronic parts “quak-oral-ina” which to me immediately suggested “quake”, derived from OE cwacian meaning to “shake or tremble”, “oral”, from L os-, or- meaning “mouth”, and “-ina”, from L -ina which is a diminutive feminine ending that my dictionary safari at the time suggested could even mean “Our Lady”. So, ever since then, I’ve connected Star Goddess in Feri to a title “Our Lady Orgasm” in my own mind.

At some point in the last couple of years (apparently this was Dec 2007), I was on another dictionary safari for something or other (was I maybe looking again at the debate between the using “fora” vs. “forums”?) and tangentially ran into the Latin root fera, meaning “wild animal”, and thought of the word Feri. Previously, I’ve made sense of the name Feri through a colocation of Fae and iron and, using the Irish , for “king”, “royal Fae/iron” (Did I come up with that one or did I actually see it somewhere? Not to be confused with Iron Chef at all!) or “workers of the Fey” or as an anagram for Fire, being perhaps a hidden blue flame. But, Feri could be ferī, a masculine plural nominative of L fera, which, since the masculine is used to denote mixed genders, could now equate to “wild animals of mixed genders”. How interesting and fitting given the wild lascivious freedom said to be regained from recovering the Black Heart of Innocence.

Well, I don’t know why it took so long, but in the last couple weeks it suddenly flashed to mind that the Latin word fera is related to the Greek root thēri- which, of course, is in the word thēria, “wild beasts”, and thērion, “wild beast”, which last along with ΤΟ ΜΕΓΑ ΘΗΡΙΟΝ, “The Great Beast”, are names used by Aleister Crowley.

And, of course, now that’s present in my mind, it’s like a wild beast in its obviousness tromping through my china shop. For example, it’s plainly staring me in the face on the Wiktionary page about the Latin ferus, so how did I not see it before now?

I know it’s a speculative thing really, but this flashed to me as another possible way of creating connection and reflection for myself, at the very least through the process of hermetic drift, between the ideas and traditions of Feri and Thelema. And, you know, could conceivably, though this is not attested anywhere I’ve seen and may be controversial, be more possible evidence of some measure of influence between the two.

I probably should have said this at the outset, but better late than never: I’m not speaking from any authority about Feri; in any case, I’m only speaking from any authority to, for and from myself; my mind is my own, in several senses of meaning. I suppose at this point at most I’m an interested outsider anymore. But, at the very least this can’t be shocking to anyone else from Reclaiming or Feri that’s participated in a Gnostic Mass and therefore has surely also seen reflection of Star Goddess on the altar there, right? And, anyway, I’d already suggested this when I noted the quote in ABA of a connection between Aiwass and “the God of the Yezidis” that in turn suggests, and is further explored in the footnote in that source, Crowley had connected Aiwass with Melek Taus, including that both are “messengers”. Although not really “explicit” in the direct quote from Crowley as I wrote then, this connection is pretty damned apparently being made. In spite of an almost psychotic flurry of messages to me via every possible method of contacting me once I’d pointed it out, I was excited and surprised to have that other flash of connection then too. (Though I was quite a bit less so once I returned from being out and about and I found the hounds had started hounding and bounding around; especially after all that to then finally agree and even get enthusiastic about finding peacock feathers. Yeah, not that I’ve anything against hounds per se, but I’m really more of a cat person, my own self.)

(I’d sure like to get my eyes on a list of books that were in Victor Anderson’s library out of curiosity! It seemed like there was some idea of a list in something I read about pentacles and trees by Valerie Walker)

And, through backpropagation, as a Greek equivalent to the Latin, I can also personally see using Therioi as an equivalent to Feri.

Update 30mar10 @ 8:07am:

I keep meaning to note somewhere and never seem to find a place, and here is at least as good as anywhere, if not topical: every time I see Liber AL II.28, I am struck by the homonym/synonym there:

“None, breathed the light, faint & færy, of the stars, and two.”

So not to be all, you know, interpretive of Liber AL, but, one could say the light of the stars is faint and færy; the light is star goddess. Nuit is a færy light. And, elsewhere one could find that her colour is black, but really blue and gold.

You know, just sayin’.

Andromeda Klein is unrepentantly and uniquely kickass.

Andromeda Klein

I ran into mention of Frank Portman‘s Andromeda Klein in one of my various frequent search safaris. Here was a “young adult” novel that showed up on my radar because of a surfeit of esoteric references. It seemed unlikely that the story would live up to the seriousness of the references that brought it to my attention. But, even the first few pages seemed thick with terms that most readers might not manage to get past.

For just a minor example, in the first few pages one runs into references to Hermes Trismegistus, Thoth, Mrs. John King van Rensselaer, the ancient Egyptian city Hermopolis, mention and description of several specific tarot cards including Two of Swords, the term ‘soror’, the Warburg Institute, A. E. Waite, Aleister Crowley, Francis Yates, Pamela Coleman Smith, Celtic Cross spread, the Qabalah, some Hebrew letters, the world of Yetzirah, the Sephera Chokmah, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Giordano Bruno, Madame Blavatsky, witches, Lemurians, gnomes … and, not last or least, bone disease. This is all within the first ten pages … of a young adult novel.

I mean, I’m into this stuff and so I can hardly imagine what it would be like to read this story if I were coming to it fresh without background. Picking up this book for a newbie must be a bit like going into an initiation of sorts. One might have some sense of the general idea that’s going to be explored, but the specifics are going to be a surprise unless you’re the kind that ruins that sense of adventure by reading ahead. But even still, there’s this sense that things just won’t necessarily make sense right away, and maybe only make sense after doing research over time.

King Dork

And, the story is definitely thick with references and only some of them are explained at all. My initial thought was that for the generation that’s never been without google or wikipedia, that’d be a good thing … reason to look stuff up and find things on their own. It definitely doesn’t apologize for the data, and after finishing the novel (in spite of the glossary unceremoniously placed at the end) there are many references that aren’t explained. Seems like the author’s first novel, King Dork might be a bit like that too, actually; including having a glossary at the end, but with different kinds of references. Frank Portman seems to not make much by way of concession in talking down to the reader. That’s actually kinda refreshing. I’m not sure it’s the best strategy for a nominally “young adult” novel, but it’s definitely different. And, really, why not have a difference from the bazillion bland books being bandied about by bookshops as hopefully half a fraction as attractive as Harry Potter, books heavy on the fantasy but light on the quality. Here’s a book that takes the laudable chance that standing out, and being different, is worth it in the end. But, this doesn’t seem to be a book for kids. Definitely this seems like something for an older target audience than kids, and, indeed, the suggested age is 14 and up. But then again, kids nowadays …

Okay, except, here’s one thing that struck me. The cover of this book seems to have a gratuitous lightning bolt.

Andromeda Klein detail

My first reaction was that It seems an annoying thing if the only reason that’s there is to resonate with Harry Potter fans. There’s no reason for it that I recall from the story, so it seems simply to be deceptive visual marketing. I’m not saying the cover isn’t nice. I like it.

Andromeda Klein EP

Frankly, I like the cover of the two song EP [also,et], which music was composed and sung the author, better as visual art, but the book does have a nice cover design, though not spectacular. Again, it’s different than the many copycat covers trying to simply knock off the Harry Potter cover styles, but in a way that kind of makes the superfluous lightning bolt even more cheap as a design choice. Then again, it occurs to me that I can rationalize the cover as a graffiti riff off the Harry Potter cover font and design, with a self-consciously mutilated printed page; that is to say, this could represent a DIY-culture statement of self-conscious identity both claiming and disclaiming connection. Other than that, the cover is brilliant in the same way that the GranPré covers for the US Harry Potter books tie into some main part of the plot without giving anything away in a spoiler.

On the other hand, if you’re looking at the hardcover, be sure to check out the inside of the dustcover. There’s a great, and even more great because unnecessary, touch there. (If you want to check it out, there’s a picture of that here.) At first sighting, I thought it was an alternate cover meant to look like one of Andromeda’s school textbook or notebook covers, the kind I was always doodling on back in the day my own self. But, it’s mainly just a bonus bit of design, which is as entirely appropriate to the story as the primary side of the dust cover. (Some day one of these series of books is going to make the spines create an interesting image on the bookshelf when they’re next to each other, and it’d be neato if this idea of using an alternate cover design were how that’s done.)

As I read Andromeda Klein, I felt the pacing and delivery to be appropriately punkishly quick and even a little syncopated (especially given the author’s background). For me it’s fast-paced with information, but it’s also fun. Could I even say a hint of Tom Robbins in feel to me? Sure, I can say it. There are lots of things that are revealed in the story, and not just plot points. There are a lot of terms, concepts and ideas that are explained a paragraph or more past where they first appear. But, there are also some that take a lot longer or aren’t explained at all. In at least one case, I found myself wondering if the choice to not explain a reference was strategic: Anton LaVey is mentioned but the abbreviation “CoS” is never explained to “Church of Satan”. That choice seems a bit ironic since there’s a bit of appropriately absurd satanic panic included in the plot, but it might just be one example of something that is simply never explained. Seems to me this would either be something a reader would love or not love, and that’s another refreshing thing; instead of being denatured in order to be more accessible.

Look, this is to Harry Potter or Harry Dresden as The Invisibles series is to The Illuminatus! books. It’s punk, damnit. Andromeda Klein is grounded in the gritty reality of a world where kids do things like have sex, drink, cut, die, fight, and, of course, are attracted to the occult. This is also a world where both kids and adults can be troubled, irrational, suspicious, narrow-minded and cruel. But, there’s also striving to find meaning and connection. And, for a rare few, there’s the drive to develop and change the world, even if that’s just one person at a time starting, like a well-known conversation between Krsna and Arjuna, with the self.

This story has a style, which seems to be the overall style of the author, which isn’t compromised. That’s a delightful thing. The story might have been told without this style, but why? Why make the telling of a story just another bland porridge of words lulling the reader along easily toward a final “meh”? The style of this story makes the reading of it an experiential example of the way the main character thinks and sees the world. Some of this distinctiveness is mediated by the realization that it isn’t completely unique since it appears at first blush to be the author’s overall style as well in King Dork; but, it really works for this character and this story natheless. (This, of course, must needs be tested by reading King Dork, ASAP!)

The references are a bit thick, and it’s also got its own idiom. There’s a lot to decypher in this story, just like in much of the source materials contained in the esoteric books mentioned within. Won’t say or imply it’s Clockwork Orange level of idiom, but to me it’s got a kind of Whedonesque flavour in its willingness to develop its own language and quick (oc)cultural references. At first it seems to be doing self-conscious name and concept dropping, but I came to like it. It’s part of the fun. Won’t say or imply it’s a got a lot of hidden meaning that requires one to actually treat the text to analysis through esoteric techniques, but the story demonstrates and models the main character going through a lot of esoteric thinking, pattern seeking and connection exploring.

One of the consistently fun dimensions of this story for me was the use and playfulness of language, terms, concepts, idiom, malapropism … it’s word play without being superfluous. Unlike, say, a Xanth novel where the story simply seems to end up being a delivery method for word play which came before or independently from plot development, instead the word play is integrated and an essential character to the development of this story and character, where language and the fractured nature of that is a reflection of the nature of the main character. Not a few times, I thought to myself as I was reading a passage with a fun malapropism: I wish I could more spontaneously talk like that. The only other time I recall right now I’ve felt that was reading some Heinlein dialog, the parts where there are several conversations going on at once, syncopated. I feel this is a unique experience of the written word when compared to others nominally intended for the young adult audience, although I somewhat gather that there will be a similar sense to the author’s other work. The point is that this story definitely has a voice, and one that was compelling to me.

Andromeda Klein has got a lot in there to offend uptight parents and squares, with magick, sex, drugs, death, language and more attitude. Even those uptight about esotericism will likely get tweaked. It’s kind of refreshing, actually. There’s way, way too many stories with weakly developed “magic” in them. I mean, she does an LBRP in the library and is actively practicing Liber Jugorum, for just an example among many. And the frankness about which a wide number of topics are discussed is interesting and similarly refreshing. It’s spiffy.

The author’s approach to a wide variety of topics is refreshing and unique. Probably nothing exemplifies this more clearly as a single example to give the character of the rest than the simple fact that Aleister Crowley is not a boogeyman in this story even though he and his work are included both implicitly and explicitly throughout the story. But, these references are matters not treated with sensationalism or as an ersatz archetype of evil, both of which are so very often the case when authors seem to take the easy, lazy way out. Rather, the life of Andromeda Klein is suffused with fictionally drawn and developed, to be sure, but also essentially normal and natural magical practice and rite and thinking in both action during the story and exposition of events outside the timeline in the book.

All this, you know, talking about interesting things, can’t come without cost, of course. I read that one of the author’s appearances at a school was cancelled because of parent complaints. And, I think this actually is the book that all the reactionaries thought Harry Potter was, as far as even only the esoteric references go. But, you know, even if you took all that out there’d be plenty left to cheese off the same kind of people that couldn’t even handle Judy Bloom, maybe enough even on just about any single page. However, I’m really heartened by the statement on the copyright page that “Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.” That statement doesn’t appear on the copyright page of the edition of King Dork that I picked up that includes a preview of Andromeda Klein, so that statement appears to be uniquely in this book. Good on them, anyhow, to stand up with and for a work like this. And, I suppose one of the best things for getting the word out would be for more people to freak out and thus only advertise wider that it exists but also essentially prove that the book is something worth reading.

I once lamented the treatment of magick in stories like Harry Potter and others, essentially convenient literary mechanisms with no real meaning or necessity. What would a story look like if it were written with real magick in it, I wondered. Well, this story may be the closest thing to what I imagined yet. The Universe moves or not for Andromeda because she’s making progress working on herself and her environment in accordance with her inner drive to find and then fulfill her own individual purpose.

This story shows a kind of magical thinking that isn’t offered in other stories. It’s explicitly ceremonial and symbolic. It’s not just a MacGuffin or Deus Ex Machina to drive the story, it is the story. Rather, magick literally has personality. Moreover, magick has several characters. There is a demonstrated Intelligence, and that makes the story surprisingly intelligent.

I find myself feeling that Andromeda Klein will have a place next to The Various and Below the Root for me. While reading I held up that hope it would hold up. At times, I even crossed my fingers. In fact, for me the comparison to Below the Root is apt, especially because of the way that Snyder’s novel was frank about sex and drug use as well as also being similar in that it faced complaints from parents and adults for that treatment.

And, know what else is cool? She’s not an orphan. it’s a little thing, but that’s refreshing too. Of course, there’s Harry Potter and quite a few current literary protagonists like Lyra and Lirael and Sabriel and Dorothy and Superman and Batman and even Dahl’s Matilda was essentially, if not technically, an orphan until the end of her story. Further, there’s Moses and Vulcan/Hephaestus to name only a few more historical examples. The archetype of orphan is an almost obligatory line item in the pedigree of literary children with special powers, and it is extremely overused even if I also recognize that it has very strong resonance. [see,et,et] As I read the story, I actually had a creeping dread that Andromeda would turn out, somehow, to be an orphan just because of how overused that trope is in such stories.

However, while not an orphan Andromeda is very much a rough ashlar, of course, but the formula is different. She still fulfills an archetypal function which represents a flawed origin. Andromeda is Batman to Harry Potter’s Superman. She is not miraculously the chosen one, but rather has gotten to be who she is through hard work and lots of research. Andromeda is maybe a post-modern Everyman or Chauncey or Zelig, on a kind of Fool’s journey toward attainment, even so far as to starting out, not as the blank protagonist, but rather as a physically, socially and emotionally flawed former sidekick to her late best friend. So, actually, in some ways, Andromeda is, perhaps, like a young Robin in a universe where Batman died too soon and his parents didn’t (See, because even Robin was also an orphan!), learning to become Nightwing on his own, without actual super powers but still a hero with amazing skills and a story worth telling.

As I read this story, it was in my mind’s eye like a mashup as if Welcome to the Dollhouse [also] would have been directed by Alfonso Cuarón [see].

The library angle is definitely a nice touch. The excitement I thought I’d feel while reading is what I thought I’d feel reading Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat after such heartfelt recommendations from the librarians I once worked with, though for me Weetzie Bat didn’t quite live up to my built up expectation. There’s not nearly as many library science references as there are esoteric ones, but there’s mention of interlibrary loans, reference desks; and, the politics of the public library as part of a library system and in the community is definitely part of the story.

So, honestly, after finishing the book, I’m actually not entirely sure that the ending was quote-unquote satisfying. But, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. This was a story that was also unique in that it wasn’t a perfect Hollywood ending wrapped in a perfectly explained and ordered bow. Like many European or non-Hollywood films, I’m left with the experience of a compelling story, regardless of some notion of being satisfied, that I could hardly put down and read the whole way hoping for it not to end all the while looking forward to each new revelation. There’s ambiguity left over at the end, even if there were, to be honest, also a couple bits of dénouement that had me rolling my eyes or feeling an opportunity was missed, and not just sequel-ready ambiguity. Sublimely, some of that ambiguity is around the ultimate nature of magick, and that such a central element to the story is left as an exercise for the reader to decide about for themselves seems to me to be a beautiful thing because first and foremost it rejects a fantasy of magic for a truth of magick. In fact, I can imagine how hard it might be to develop a sequel to this story, as there’s so much character and world development in the esoteric references and thinking that to re-hash that, as sequels often are forced to do to bring new readers up to speed in case they’ve not read the first installment, would require re-telling so much of the same story as to be ponderous and overwhelming. This could easily be forever a standalone novel, even with the left over ambiguity. Maybe even better because of that left over ambiguity after all.

Even though I find the ambiguity and uniqueness praiseworthy, I find myself drawn to wonder idly where does Andromeda fit in the Wold Newton family and how long until there’s an appearance of Andromeda in Wizard Rock. Perhaps these are just whimsical questions, but I did find myself wondering about them.

However, in spite of, but moreover maybe because of the apparent flaws; I, for one, would happily read the other, as yet unwritten, 21 volumes of Liber K. And, I recommend this book to both you and your precocious, precious little snowflakes.

Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman [kindle, paperback]
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
August, 2009
ISBN: 0385735251 (isbn13: 9780385735254)
Hardcover, 432 pages

Hermetic.com

And now the method to my madness … probably still makes no sense. However, the reason I was thinking about the meaning of the term “hermetic” a while ago should be clear.

But, the thing I’ve been madly working on for at least a hundred hours this week? What have I been hammering and sawing on? Sanding and painting?

Well, the cat’s out of the bag now! Al Billings has transfered The Hermetic Library and the Hermetic.com domain to me. I’ve become the custodian and caretaker of one of the most important esoteric sites on the Internet, and one that’s been online pretty much since the beginning.

The Hermetic Library

The Hermetic Library was created in 1996, in the early days of the commercial Internet, and is one of the most comprehensive and popular resources on the Internet for the kind of information in its collection. Hermetic.com is justifiably famous, and perhaps a little infamous, as the source for an amazing collection of information useful to every researcher and student of esoteric studies and the modern Western tradition. Many students over the last decade found their start and much information useful to them by perusing the materials of The Hermetic Library and started their own electronic libraries by downloading pages and pages of content for their use and research.

Over a decade after being founded, Al was looking for someone to take over The Hermetic Library and Hermetic.com, and my name came up in a couple conversations. Introductions were made, memories remembered and the library was transitioned to a new caretaker. The rest, so to speak, is history yet to be written.

The Content

The collection is, by and large, of a spiritual focus but not the areas of spirituality that you will generally see within the mainstream of Western culture. The collection at the library houses materials related to Hermeticism and magic that would not otherwise be available, especially online.

The content currently exists in two main groups. The first group is content that is archived and presented which otherwise might not be available because there’s no one to maintain it or for some other reason. The other group of content is the sub-sites for particular luminaries.

It would have been unfortunate to lose this amazing archive or any of the sub-sites to the Wayback Machine. If The Hermetic Library didn’t exist people would probably go to Wayback or a torrent to get it … or worse and more likely to a site unfriendly to O.T.O. But, keeping Hermetic.com alive on the web means that it can be leveraged to increase traffic to local body sites, Grand Lodge and International. It can also lead to book sales, through linking to the published books with related content. In fact, I’m already seeing this begin to happen as I’ve added such links. And, it can lead people to becoming interested in membership and initiation in the Order, or at least in Thelema.

The loss of Hermetic.com wouldn’t stop people from getting the content. It would stop people from getting that content from a quality independent site. It would stop people from getting the content in a manner that supports O.T.O. and can be leveraged to bring O.T.O. more eyeballs and book sales and members. The loss of Hermetic.com would silence a supportive voice for the Order and Thelema.

I will, no doubt, stand up and be counted as believing that having this content online on a site which is fully part of the thelemic and O.T.O. community and, moreover and a fortiori, that is friendly to the Order; will do more to help both the Order and members than any alternative. Well, that’s just pure physical and spiritual gold. Hermetic.com is a voice speaking to the good against any other site which might not.

Hermetic.com is an existing powerhouse for promulgation and I only see that increasing if it can continue building. The more content there is in The Hermetic Library the more valuable it is to the people that use it, to our esoteric community, and to O.T.O. specifically.

The content on Hermetic.com has been an important part of the esoteric community for so long. The relationship has obvious reciprocal benefits as people can find what they are searching for and more people are attracted to the site, but the loss of interactive history when there is no such archive is something I work to avoid. I’m looking forward to working with luminaries new and existing who want to be on the site, not because they’re a luminary, to which I’m mostly immune anyway; but, because it’s about shared history as well as the future. The past is what helps the future become and become more through feedback.

I see sponsoring sub-sites on a high-traffic site like Hermetic.com (it’s really phenomenal looking at how fast the traffic adds up as I add tracking to pages) as being either a service to luminaries that do not have sites (for whatever reason) in order to get them exposure, or as a way to feature a luminary with a primary site in order to get people to see both their content and to find their primary. I plan on developing more such relationships in the future as well as work with those that have been on the site to increase the value to everyone of being part of The Hermetic Library. Either way, being on a sponsored sub-site is free advertising.

I have so many plans that involve the site as a part of the community, fully engaged as a partner in the online presence of the Order, and as a service to the world in promulgating the message along with the Order. But, also as a service in general to the world, which I feel is sorely in need of more Hermeticism and all that entails.

The Future

This opportunity to take on Hermetic.com is huge, and exactly the kind of thing that I love to do. I’ve got years and years of plans already in the works. I’m actually really freakin’ happy to get to do this stuff. It’s the kind of thing I’m meant to do, I think.

I look forward to working with the people with content already on the site as I continue to update and improve the site. And, I’m going to be looking for new content and building new relationships.

If you are familiar with the site you may already notice a few changes, but I will be rolling out some more as time goes by. I have in mind to keep to the spirit and excellence of the site, while adding content and improving the old pages. I’ll also be working to introduce the site to a wider audience, including adding a presence on social networking sites and other ways to engage the audience of people coming to the site.

There’s also the idea of using excerpts and samples to draw people to full articles or the additional article on an author’s primary site. Even a fully developed article on Hermetic.com that duplicates content from an author’s main site can be beneficial if it draws traffic to their primary or gets that article exposed to more people. There’s a lot of synergy in cross-posting content, and creating relationships with other sites.

As an example of a totally new project, one of the things that I have in the back of my mind is to create an oral history project page for The Hermetic Library with materials to help people create oral histories with the people they feel have been important in their lives, in their work and Work – this is to say, preservation of history is something I whole-heartedly support.

Also, I’m going to be working to get in the loop with any changes or updates that people with content on the site have going on. I have all kinds of ways I can feature the news about a new book or event through the site, and that’s just the kind of updates I hope to offer the site’s audience about those people with sponsored sites.

The Social

I’m pretty focused on exploring how to leverage the site, and the content to drive interest in the published books, O.T.O. as an organization; and, to create a lot of synergy with other sites, local bodies, individuals and so on. I think one of the biggest advantages to having me take on the domain is that I’m really interested in the synergy the site can generate to increase awareness and traffic to O.T.O. sites, and for individuals who have sponsored sub-sites.

As I’m beginning to see just how many people come to the site, it’s obvious that there’s a lot of traffic. I’m only tracking a small set of pages, and already the trend on that set will be millions of eyeballs every year. Who knows how many there are total? I’m going to be watching this as I make changes too, to see if the numbers trend up.

But, really, a supply of millions of fresh esoteric eyeballs? I mean, what would you do with millions of eyeballs? I know! Right? Build a freakin’ monster, of course!

For example, in the coming months, not only will I be doing basic updates and improvements, but I will also be introducing new ways to increase interest in the material and O.T.O. both. These include social networking, which I’ve already begun, and other projects.

I know there are things I can do to maximize the benefit of having content on Hermetic.com especially now that it’s likely going to see even more content and more traffic as I add and improve the site. I’m looking at ways to becoming more synergistic with other resources and social networking, and so on, including cross-referencing with Thelemapedia, and other ideas I have.

Another thing that’s new is connecting with social networking. I can make announcements featuring incremental or monthly updates to the site, to keep awareness about the site fresh by posting those to The Hermetic Library accounts on Facebook, Twitter and even Delicious links … and from there inform the world!

I can make the site more friendly and easier to navigate. I can also make it easier for users of the site to let others know about the content by adding social bookmarking links to each of the pages. I can add links to purchase books through Amazon for not only content that’s on the site but also for content that can only be found in print, so people can easily find the material to build their their personal library even as they might also use the site to search for a quote or material.

As I move the site into more interactive space, with social networking, any interactive tools I implement might attract the crazy. This is a good heads up to me about creating interactive services which might be abused. I will need to include this in my thinking, as something to be on guard about. But, as long as there’s some way to deal with that, the benefit for the site, and thus also to the users of the site only increases.

This increasing benefit from interaction means not just the context of the text, but of the audience to the text, the authors to the audience, and the audience to the audience. That means also relationships with partner websites, and organizations, such as various local bodies, sites like Thelemepedia and O.T.O. [also] itself.

I’m trying to create the ideal conditions for the emergence of an integral esoteric bio-mechanical social web of interdependent physical, intertextual and hypertext forms … or, to coin a term, the Interintegregor!

I think I’ll come to Halloween dressed as this new superhero. It’s a superhero. It’s a freakin’ monster. It’s a desert topping!

The Feedback

Well, this is where you come in. Yes, you. You’ve been to the site, maybe even been a devoted user. But, even if you’re new to the site and have just started to explore what’s there, you’re part of this. Thank you very much for being a part of the history of what has made Hermetic.com a great site on the Internet, and I look forward to working with you in the future.

J. Daniel Gunther at Sekhet-Maat on May 2nd at 7:30pm

Initiation in the Aeon of the Child

This is a lecture and book signing for the new publication Initiation in to the Aeon of the Child about which some pretty great things are being said. My understanding is that not only is this not simply a whistle-stop on a book signing tour, but this is the only planned event for the book, with books available for purchase at the event; but, I suspect they will go quickly so reserving a copy when registering for the event will be a good idea. The signing will also be a reception with food and drink and even some vending such as other valuable and rare books from Seattle’s Night of Pan Books.

Time to buy that new red dress for your Scholar’s Mistress and take her out for a night on the town …

J. Daniel Gunther is a life-long student of esotericism, mythology, and religion. A longtime member of A∴ A∴, the teaching Order established by Aleister Crowley, he is considered one of the foremost authorities in the field. He serves on the editorial board of The Equinox and acts as a consultant and advisor for numerous occult publications.

In this ground-breaking book, author J. Daniel Gunther provides a penetrating and cohesive analysis of the spiritual doctrine underlying and informing the Aeon of the Child, and the sublime formulas of Initiation encountered by those who would probe its mysteries. Drawing on more than 30 years of experiences as a student and teacher within the Order of the A∴ A∴, the author examines the doctrinal thread of Thelema in its historical, religious, and practical context.

Initiation in the Aeon of the Child - lecture & book signing - May 2, 2009 e.v. - Sekhet-Maat Lodge
Initiation in the Aeon of the Child – Sekhet-Maat Lodge – May 2, 2009 ev