Thelemic marriage

There’s been lots of talk about whether vulgar events should be celebrated, whether holy days or holidays, at the lodge. But, should events that people are going to do anyway remain unmolested by Thelemites? For Thelemites to ignore them is to say it is better to have these events occur without explicit and overt Thelemic themes and relationship, than to have them but inject them with Thelemic philosophy so that they are infected with something more than an unexamined and old way of being in the world. A perennial example is the hand wringing over whether to have some event at the lodge for Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve, which I feel is an example of the dangerous slide toward alienation from engaging in and living in the world while at the same time to not celebrate them with the contagious virus of a Thelemic message is to leave these things unexamined from an intentional, experimental, and hopefully radical social perspective.

Recently at the lodge we’ve had several weddings. These events were beautiful ceremonies were two people celebrated their desire to be joined together. However, the ceremonies themselves, while appearing to be Thelemic, being part of a Gnostic Mass, and being based on the unofficial wedding ceremony by Helena and T. Apiryon, even after all that, really did not seem to me to fully realize an explicit expression that the result of the event was different than any of the other many marriages past or present.

One can apologize for the ceremony, for example by saying that it merely celebrates publicly an existing natural union, but even that need for apology just further demonstrates an essential disconnect that isn’t fully or sufficiently expressed or resolved. And, even the apology for form doesn’t itself realize a distinction between natural union and the lineage of marriage in intent. If a ritual design doesn’t clearly and conclusively enact the intent, then it’s not the right rite.

There’s also been a recent series of interesting exploration from a Thelemic perspective over at AC2012 of same-sex marriage, which then also necessarily reflects more generally on the idea of marriage itself.

I remember reading A History of the Wife and hoping for a happy ending which never came. Traditional weddings are events which already and obviously reflect many outmoded ideas not commonly held as well as many lingering vestigial notions still cherished. Marriages tend to include a lot of cultural baggage, including the ownership and oppression of women. They are commercial enterprises wrapped around commercial transactions. They are life-long commitments. They are monogamous.

As transactions, marriage is human trafficking. Although there are actually few cases, perhaps notably marriages of convenience, where any of the primary focus of the union is on a financial exchange or economic arrangement; the human transaction is mostly historical in the West, but continues in many cultures as a transition of ownership. (Mind, this is wholly different than the massive industry of marriage, which is focused entirely on the financial to the exclusion of the human, but that’s a fortiori!) The historic bride-as-property is still, however, some of the baggage of marriage; and, the protected, gated community of legal marriage is a de facto function of privilege and prejudice which offers social and economic bribes to the happy couple for playing along in the pantomime of putting others down.

As life-long, marriage is dead. Divorce and cuckolding rates alone disprove that marriage is actually what it pretends to be as a life-long commitment and that’s enough to move on, though more could be said. But, at least, divorce and cuckolding offer some kind of discharge from, to name a few fates, misery or suttee. And, for the most part we’ve laudably managed as a culture to give people a more reasonable chance to grow up before locking them in the first place into a myth without rational escape from emotional damage when things don’t work out, by jettisoning underage and arranged marriages. But, these escapes and modifications merely represent the frayed edges of the moth-eaten tapestry which still hides the truth that marriage as life-long is essentially escapist fiction.

As monogamous, marriage is impossible. (Or, at least impossibly rare!) Most people misuse the term ‘monogamy’. Its literal meaning is one marriage or union, but has come in common use to describe the habit of ‘one partner at a time’. And yet, people find it necessary to create sub-classifications such as ‘serial monogamy’ to clarify; but even that is technically an oxymoron. If either participant has ever had another partner in their life, then they cannot be called monogamous. If they ever take another partner in the future, then they are not ultimately monogamous. Again, the rates of divorce and cuckolding put the lie to this notion. The occasional diminishing exceptions, where not suspect, are remarkable, which remarkableness is merely more proof of this point.

Marriage itself as a term and a sacrament is not rationally based. The cultural understanding of what marriage is, is false on the face of it. It’s a lie of convenience. My tendency is to blame the whole thing on advertising and consumerist culture, but it could just be that people want to believe the romantic notions in spite of reality. But, that’s a form of insanity.

Marriage has always been about restriction. It’s a restriction of person as property, a restriction to bind people to unnatural behaviour, and it is an economic and social restriction. How much more un-Thelemic can it get than that?

Frankly, I think no government should have any say in who can or cannot consensually marry. (Mind, this is wholly and completely separate from legal protections from and punishments for abuse or rape, which should still stand severe.) All legal definitions and delineation of marriage should be abolished. The legal construct of marriage is used as a way of creating second class citizens, previously and still the wife and now moreover those excluded, and is a form which should be dissolved.

However, if abolition of marriage is not possible in general, then it should for Thelemites be specifically and consciously injected with more overt and explicit Thelemic meaning. It should be rationally based on the essential impossibility of exclusivity and the myth of monogamy. The institution needs to undergo a radical analysis and the ritual written to read aloud a radical message, or the event simply weakly represents the participants’ resignation to, and ratifies, a status quo of restriction. Unless it’s radically redrawn, it’s ritualized recidivism.

So if ‘monogamy’ is a lie and the term is misused, how does one talk about ‘one partner at a time’?

In the poly community, one way of talking about partners is to say, for example, “my primary partner, and I’m not seeking others now.” There’s language in the Gnostic Mass [see, also] which may be useful, as the language of the Collects. One can say a partner is “chosen and preferred”.

So if marriage is not of the things that it pretends, what could it be?

It is my view that marriage is a magical oath. It is an activity taken on for a particular period of time for a particular purpose. It is an inter-, intra-, extra- and supra-personal act of magick.

That is not to say that in the new aeon people cannot chose to be exclusive partners. After all, the collect offers “chosen and preferred”. However, a rationally based notion of marriage would contemplate explictly that the nature of relationships change, that people change, and that oaths are worthy experiments which are not always successful in accord with their worth as opportunities to learn.

The purpose of a magical oath is to learn, to grow, to experiment. It is a method of self-discovery. And, it’s one that can be made with any other regardless of any category, or even alone. And, moreover, a magical oath requires no artificial legal or religious structures to keep people in or to keep people out.

When celebrated in this way, marriage can be rational and ritual, and can be renewed, in a year and a day or at some other periodicity, but is no longer a form of social, economic, mental or spiritual slavery of self or others.

At the same time, I recognize that I have still my own romantic notions to dispel, and my tears at witnessing these recent wedding ceremonies were full of yearning for myself, for another, for together; but it seems, within the current context of marriage, these are the remnants of cultural conditioning. Contrary to that conditioning, I still believe there’s a profound place for such ritual and magick union, and yearning for union, but not marriage at the price of being unconscious or silent about the implications.

(Hat-tip to Fr. Khabs Kaos for the conversation which led to writing.)