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.

MK Enochian TEX 2011sept21

This was the first actual working my magical partner and I have done since deciding to work together. We had planned on starting our long distance Enochian scrying last week, but scheduling conflicted with our intentions.

We did some pre-planning two weeks ago, and corresponded via Internet over the intervening time. M created an outline based on our decisions (PDF, 40 KB) and our source materials.

For this working, we incorporated ideas from personal conversations with other practitioners, a workshop by Scott Wilde and Onyieh Jewel, and Lon Milo DuQuette’s Enochian Vision Magick: An Introduction and Practical Guide to the Magick of Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley as well as several of Lon’s in-person workshops.

I created an MP3 to help time our scrying (MP3, 73 MB) with gongs at 10 minute intervals.

 

Magdalene’s journal entry

9/21/11 10pm

weather-humid/rainy. high 60’s

Moon-  Cancer, waning crescent
Sun- Virgo

First Enochian working with JGB.  LBPR individually then did the calls/chants together.

30th Aethyr- TEX, calling Dozinal.

Didn’t see a damn thing!  Was very distracted and kept looking into the skype camera and seeing JGB’s candle and the shapes it was making.  Then couldn’t concentrate in the blacked out mirror.  Felt like it was a black hole pulling me into it.  Then when I closed my eyes, felt an immense weight on my shoulders and chest.  Crushing my heart.  The black shadow around JGB’s candle kept growing and wanted to expand and take over everything.  Breathing even felt harder to do, more shallow breaths.  The feeling was much more intense when I closed my eyes than when I was gazing into the mirror or JGB’s candle.

Felt really lightheaded and high when JGB was reading the call.  When I looked at him or tried to follow along, the feeling lessened but when i closed my eyes and just listened, felt very heady and like I was going into a trance.

The only visualization I saw was one I purposely put into my mind, trying to get things started and relax so I imaged a beach/ocean scene.  It didn’t stick and the heavy feeling took over again.

 

Kalokagathon’s journal entry

2011sep21 7pm
Sol in Virgo : Luna in Cancer : Anno IVxix era novis
69º clear and quiet

Prior to our meeting time: meal, pranayama, eucharist with mingled ingredient X from both of M & K, and prepared my working space.

Connected via video chat, and did a brief run-through of our outline. We resolved a few uncertainties and proceeded with the work.

Banishing. We had decided to each banish our spaces. I did Star Ruby (Liber XXV/Book 25) while M did LBRP. This was an interesting choice. M had LBRP recommended to her. I decided to try Star Ruby anyway. It was a bit distracting, as I plugged my headphones into the wrong jack, so could hear both of us. But, I loved hearing M’s voice as she vibrated the names for her LBRP. Beautiful!

Ceremony. We had decided that we would go through the prayers and letters together. There were some technical issues here as I think one or both of us were half-duplex so I didn’t get to hear M’s voice as clearly as I had hoped. Not sure what to do about that. When we got to the 19th Call, I read the Enochian and M followed by reading an English translation. We called the 30th Aethyr, TEX.

Scrying. We decided this time to both scry our own visions. We used an audio track to time our scrying, 30 minutes long with 3 gongs at 0, 10, 20 and 30. We had agreed to recite the governor Dozinal 3 times at each but the final set of gongs. During the scrying from 0-10 I had extremely vivid, visual and interesting imagery while gazing into the mirror, with candle and incense smoke against the reflection. From 10-20, my visuals ceased and instead I had simply a period of dizzy trancing with my eyes closed. At the 20 minute mark both M and I were done and journaling.

Journal of 0-10 minutes. An open air temple with Masonic black & white tiles, no roof. The four sons of Horus at the corners, in the shape of giant canopic jars in the position of the four rooks, were pillars for the temple.
To one side of the temple was a mountain, another an golden beach with azure ocean, then a deep cenote, and on the final side an expanse of sky with complex clouds.

M & K appeared in the temple, standing near and facing each other, smiling and we were met by a giant shrouded figure. This figure was male, but without any distinct features showing from beneath a muted turquoise coloured shroud. The figure placed a metal star flat on an altar that appeared at the center of the temple. M & K each produced flat metal Mem and Kappa glyphs which fit to the star. I took this to be an indication that the figure was an appropriate angel for this scrying.The shrouded figure then gave us a metal bee and a metal key but we didn’t place these on the altar with the rest. I had the impression that there really is something missing on the sigil on the right of the star, but also something else missing which was less clear where it might go. We were to leave the sigil pieces on the altar, but take the bee and key with us during the rest of the vision.

We were then alone with each other. Bright sun and warm but very pleasant. We walk hand in hand toward the mountain along a path which leads us to a golden pyramid with somewhat meso-american design.

We climbed to the top of the pyramid and perform Liber XV, the Gnostic Mass together, but at the end of that ritual we fling the goblet and paten from the top of the pyramid down the stairs against which they shatter. This felt like a joyful and appropriate thing to do.

From this point on the visuals become fragmented, but we spent time together along the beach relaxing and enjoying the environment.

Closing. After journaling, we closed and then discussed our experiences with each other.

Additional thoughts. M had a strong craving for chocolate, which she had the foresight to get at the store. I ended up having some raspberry coconut water sorbet.

My workspace had become quite warm since I had several candles and closed the window and door, so by the end I realized I was quite sweaty and hot.

During the preparation and opening our respective animals were quite noisy and fidgety, but during the scrying they both calmed down considerably.

I woke up the next morning having slept in for several more hours than usual with a feeling similar to a hangover though I’d had nothing but water the previous evening.

Superstition

For me, superstition is not characterized by choosing one metaphor over another labeled wrong, but rather in mistaking perception and metaphor for an objective reality; and to banish superstition is to realize this: that truth is never without subjectivity because any truth understood by a mind is conditioned by the limitations of mind, that metaphors and perceptions are tools of mind to understand facets of greater things beyond and bigger than the simple and flimsy container of comprehension. While I do really like my hammer, and it has served me well on many an occasion; it is merely one tool in my toolbox. While I treat my tools with respect, I do not worship my hammer or mistake it for the things I can build while using it, nor do I mistake my hammer as universally useful for all tasks no matter how handy and at hand it seems. Further, although I have a hammer, I try not to seek out only nails, rejecting all other methods of construction, but, and because, I rather enjoy the opportunity to use a screwdriver once in a while too. I recognize that I am enamoured with the possibility that what I think of as my tools have agency, and that I’m actually in relationship with them, but recognize this is also another metaphor. Finally, sometimes I like to try the ecstatic experience of working without tools, and instead rely on my own hands to shape and mould, though I recognize that even still my body is a kind of tool, perhaps even metaphor, perhaps with its own agency, of mind, but that there is a kind of noesis available through the personal and close acts of crafting and creating which is to be enjoyed for its own sake without hammers at all.

wholly unbalanced

I find you wholly unbalanced.
You favor the dagger
like a crutch,
and that addiction proves
your need further banishing.
Your crude supplication
to what you take as
objective truth is
transparent to the wise
as weakness of mind.

The Thelema of these “thelemites”

For the Thelemite to say that the Wiccan, or Christian or whatever, is wrong in their path is not only to deny that it is possible for someone’s true will to be on their particular path, but is moreover to claim authority over another’s self determination of their will. If interference with another’s rights is to give up those rights, then for a Thelemite to engage in this kind of usurpation of another’s course, especially of an actual Thelemite, and presume to tell another what their Will is to renounce their own right to determine their course and their will. Therefore, the Thelemite who cannot mind their own business is not actually a Thelemite at all but is a kind of criminal against the law of liberty. This kind of Thelemite is canonically a heretic against the creeds they claim to profess. The Thelemite promulgating against another’s self determination is not promulgating the law of liberty, but rather merely another recidivistic and intolerant kind of slavery more appropriate to and reminiscent of an old aeon.

Moreover, it seems the blasphemous “thelemite” willing to interfere with another’s Will is merely a shift of whim away from thwarting any other. Blasphemy against any one Will is to blaspheme against all authentic expressions of Thelema, including, since these such are clearly aligned against the Universe, railing due to their own weakness of character against their own weakness of character via the proxy of nosing around another’s Will by claiming difference from their preference is weakness in another’s character, their own Will. This is a textbook case of a hypocrite, “endothermic” and “divided against himself”, exporting and deflecting his own failure onto likely immaculate and innocent others in order to attack what he is too lame and immature to fix in himself. In other words, the religion of this “thelemite” seems to be not much more than a complete failure to embrace the philosophy of Thelema.

The Thelema of these “thelemites” then appears to be an obstacle to the real spread of real Thelema and an attack on the course of every real Thelemite, and deserves nothing more than contempt and resistance from true Thelemites everywhere. This is the kind of righteous internal purity which should preclude the misguided crusades of these pretending inquisitors who aim to crush those that deviate from their deluded conception of things. It is the intolerance of these thelemites which no true Thelemite should tolerate.

If these “thelemites” were to focus where they should, on themselves, they would not be be thwartsome to others, and thus would be of no concern to anyone (ah, there’s the rub for these “thelemites” are so desperate for attention), seeing as they would only be harming themselves, and that merely a form of stupidity instead of a form of criminality. These are traitors in the camp betraying the hospitality they’ve been given. It is in fact the betrayal of this hospitality which is the true failure on their parts, because it is a violation against the ghosti-relationship they voluntarily entered and therefore agreed to uphold. Morevoer, a pack of these traitors claiming to be friends is one flying a false-flag attempting to trick and deceive with the goal of inducing the unweary to mistake a den of thieves for a camp of true friends. These such are cowans missing the true mortar of meaning and message that would prevent their falsely constructed wall from crumbling into the mere pile of rough stones that is, its true nature revealed to be rubble. These creatures lack the craft to fashion truly beautiful architecture.

When these false Thelemites come in constant conflict with others they merely prove themselves false. Especially when they provoke conflict, moreover when intentional, a fortiori when duplicitously claiming not to intend such, they are merely showing one and all that they are willfully set against every true Will, including their own.

The true Thelemite must respond to these false friends by saying simply, “I refuse to be moved from my course by you, I stand in defiance of your continued villainy, and I bear witness that your interference deserves to be resisted by one and all.”

Whatever it is which is the tree from which these false thelemites fall deserves to be chopped down and burned to ashes.