by Sister Georgia
In response to the various OTO members’ statement on International Women’s Day, and the attempt to unite Sisters under the hashtag, #respectthenoinoto, I recently posted on a Facebook Thelema group the following statement:
“I saw the hashtag #respectthenoinoto and my heart broke. And I thought for a long while about whether I should write anything at all, because I truly am so glad that this issue is gaining attention, that women’s voices are being heard, and there is always the fear of overcomplicating things, of clouding the message – a united voice is always stronger.
However, what has been enshrined in this hashtag is, from where I’m standing, a hugely problematic thing. How we as a culture understand consent is fundamentally flawed, and this idea of ‘informed consent’ has a massive part to play in the stories now unfolding. Think about the whole Weinstein affair – these women, these movie stars whose faces we admire – they all said yes to him. They didn’t feel they had a choice.
We like hard lines, even us Thelemites. “Respect the No!” is such an easy slogan to get behind, something we can all agree on. But to me, it is meaningless – disrespectful, even. Because in the post which started this rolling stone of #metoo stories within the OTO – my post – the ENTIRE POINT of what I was saying was that I had said “yes” to each of the men who had abused or assaulted me.
Because for me, the problem we have within the OTO is not a respect for “no”, but the belief that individual freedom means one always has the right to ask the question, and that the other must be responsible for their self. There is an assumption that we have a right to proposition a prospective mate, and that it is not up to us to check if they are drunk or depressed or suffering from PTSD or scared or feeling under obligation. They say yes, and we’re good.
Consent is not as easy and clear cut as we like to think it is. I’m sorry, I know that makes things even more difficult. But it is the way it is.
With this hashtag you have separated those who are able to say no, from those who are not. What of the victim who does not have a voice, not yet? What about those who are manipulated, lied to, pursued, preyed upon until they don’t know what is truth and are unable to give our holy grail ‘informed consent?’
You say “Respect the No!” – But the tales that have come to me from Sisters across the globe these past few months are not, most often, of outright rape, but of abuse – slow abuse, subtle abuse, abuse over years, abuse of power, abuse of trust. Abuse of “yes”.
So yes, we must absolutely respect it when anyone says “no”. But, as Thelemites, we must do better than this. Question. Listen to our instincts. Learn to read people. Take a step back – ask whether anything about the situation is putting pressure on the other. Ask. Then ask again. “Yes” alone is not enough – seek enthusiastic, continued consent. Have good sex, for fuck sake – we’re Thelemites. We’re supposed to fuck like gods.”
“This is going too far,” someone commented on the post. “Male privilege is the new original sin.” My response? Exactly. Women have been forced for centuries to accept our inherent weakness – our fallenness, our sinfulness. We were taught – are still taught, as confused pubescent girls – to see one of our most basic biological processes, the same process that underpins the reproduction of the entire race, as shameful. Sinful. Dirty. Wrong. That we are wrong. We are not quite men. We miss that vital organ, and we have flesh in the wrong places. And now the tables have begun to turn, and yes – there is an original sin for men, too. You were born in a position of privilege that is so subtle, so all-pervasive, that the vast majority will never be able to fully understand the ramifications of it. And yes, of course, privilege is not a one way street. We all carry our own knapsack of privilege, every single one of us. But nothing, I repeat nothing, is quite like the situation between men and women.
Another commenter stated that the implication of my post is that women have an inherent, historical weakness; and indeed, I am increasingly coming to see that this is the case. The majority of the women I have known in my life have undergone serious sexual trauma. They are still responsible for their actions, and the way their actions affect others. However, in turn, so too are men; and I believe men must take this new knowledge – of the universality of sexual trauma, of the enduring plight of woman, however pase that may seem – and integrate this into their understanding of consent and relationality.
This problem, of women and sex and abuse; it needs to take precedence over everything else. Because how can we have any hope that our Oder might be a catalyst of change, a place of justice – a vanguard of social evolution – if we have enshrined in our mythology and in our structure a fundamental inequality – if we have propagated a systematic abuse and turned a blind eye with the mantra ‘human nature!” There is no ‘human nature’ existing in some a priori state. Human nature = culture. And, good news! Culture changes. Entropy is the only eternal law. So change we must.
Contemplating the kind of feedback received on posts such as mine, I have begun to wonder whether the question of consent is only a difficult one if you are someone who regularly hears the answer no – or, too regularly for one’s self-esteem to stand. It cannot be that I am unpalatable, they think – it must be that this idea of consent is false! Perhaps I am being unfair, constructing a straw man argument. But I struggle to understand the level of kick-back to this new progression. The man, for instance, who responded “how can I be responsible for my partner? I’m not a mindreader!” And here I was thinking we were in the business of training magicians. We work with the subtle qualities of the mind. If you find other people impenetrable, work to find them less so. Understanding one’s own position in the present structures of power and hierarchy are essential for doing one’s own Will. Why do we not extend this awareness into our dealings with the other? And of course there are also cases of people who are lost in their own ego trip, or are completely malicious: we must not be afraid to call these out, as difficult and unpleasant it is. However, we also must not fetishise the issue as only belonging to problematic individuals. We need to change as an Order, as a society. The problem is not in individuals – the are but the outliers of a common trend.
And here we must be aware of the copious misreading of our holy books. For the reason such men as I’ve described are attracted to Thelema and to the OTO is the fiery, war-like message found in Chapter 3 of Liber Legis, and in the imagery of the conquering Templar. However, in emphasising this aspect at the expense of all else they fail to realise that Thelema and the OTO are far more complex and multifaceted systems, ones that do not pander to simplistic and toxic notions of masculinity – any more than they do not pander to simplistic and toxic notions of femininity.
We recognise regimen, work and structure are necessary for magical development – why do we struggle so to understand that the same goes for erotic development, with which it is wholly interlinked? Understanding – really understanding – what is at stake with #metoo, what has changed as a result of this – and this takes intelligence, sensitivity, empathy and self-reflection; it requires every single one of us to reflect on our own privilege, and how this affects the dynamics of our relationships, sexual and otherwise. What is at stake here is not whether or not you are at fault, to what extent you as an individual are to blame: this is about holding yourself to a higher standard than the normal human being. It is only by taking up this mantle that we will be at the vanguard of society, and not scrambling to catch up with the rear.
But enough raging and raving and ranting, for it is of no use to tear down walls if one does not have an alternative. So how do we fix it? How do we change? How do we move forward? We need to go back to our concepts, our concepts of freedom and choice and responsibility and consent and power, and we need to examine them, thoroughly. For they are not all that they seem, and liberalism has been a most insidious daemon. We – the Order as a whole and the individuals who make it up – must discover that we have misconstrued one of our fundamental narratives. We must stop this; we must stop this divine and holy narrative being used in this flawed and all-too-human way.
I noted that many of those women who come to the OTO have had difficult experiences, experiences that make them vulnerable. I wrote that such women need to learn to find strength. In order to do this, they need narratives that offer power, and space in order to integrate these new narratives. All the same things apply to men, too. I would say the biggest difference – and this is coming from my personal experience only – is that the ‘weak’ women have had rather attention from men than they would have ideally liked – and the ‘weak’ men have had rather less attention from women than they would have liked.
Our messages have been polluted by the bastard son of the enlightenment, neoliberalism. I have written at length in the past about the fetishisation of the Holy Whore and the problems this presents for a woman struggling to find a new path to relationality. Again, the same thing applies to men. We are the proud possessors of a wonderful, enlightening narrative – the path of the Holy Knight. This story, or set of stories, which is advice on how to act within this mundane world by following spiritual principles, lies behind the myth of the search for the Grail – it is the Outer Court to the Grail Mysteries themselves. It is the Italian Fedeli d’Amore, the message of Sir Mallory and of Dante; it is the message of the original Templars, and of the original Rosicrucians.
The Holy Knight. He does not look for agreeability or obedience in her; he does not seek to make her a vassal of his will. He sees in her the divine spark, and so serves her as a vassal of divinity. Her own divinity. He will not coddle her, as he will not his sparring partner; he will challenge her, in order that she may be better – as she will challenge him. But he will never use his strength to oppress her, as she will never use hers. Both will hold themselves and their other to the code of chivalry. True strength means not feeling like you need to exert it – it means not using your superior power to get your own way.
Now what I express, this idea of the Holy Knight, it must not be confused with ‘white knighting’, which allows frail egos to hide behind a false ideal of chivalry, shoring up their ego with these women they try to save. The Holy Knight must be free from ego – an Adept. For we speak of Adepthood – this is how the Adept relates. The Holy Knight describes the relationality of the Adept, the Love of the Adept. The Adept has proven himself, and no longer feels as though he has something to prove. He is free for devotion, for honour.
And I feel the need here to stop and say of course this is a ridiculous old-fashioned, essentialist, gendered narrative. But I believe social change is impossible without a change of narrative – for narratives are what we base our lives around, and we humans must have something to strive for. And all of our narratives our heavily gendered. We need not make of this a procrustean bed: the narratives of which I speak necessitate neither an essentialist interpretation, nor a wholly symbolic one. Take them with a grain of salt. These are metaphors: do not be so obstinate so as to refuse to understand what I am trying to say. Know that I, as a woman, incorporate both the understanding of myself as Lady of Shalott and myself as Gawain the Green within my own personal and spiritual narratives. I do not see how it could be any other way.
We need to begin to question the most fundamental aspects of the play between the sexes. Why do we speak, still, of ‘pursuing’? The intention was never one of pursuit, but of defence. And this is much more sensible, if you think about it. Because if men are expected to pursue, then of course they will be met with ‘no’. And of course they will sometimes overstep – because they have been taught that the ideal of masculinity is to pursue ever one’s goal. And of course women are going to feel got at, and consent is going to become a ridiculous game – because we did not start at a sensible place.
Knights pledged allegiance to a principle; to a figure. To divinity, and the divine manifested upon the earth. They did not seek to own and mount upon their fireplace, but to defend and honour. The true Knight defends their prize; the prize they won not because they fought the fiercest, but because theirs was the purest heart. They defend their prize because it is so valuable, because it is so wonderful and so secret and so sacred that it inspires in them adoration and devotion.
Earlier, I said we should fuck like gods. For me this is absolutely and wholly essential to the question at hand. Ours is a religion, a practice, with sex at its centre. And, of course, it is possible within our system to see sexuality as symbolic only – but this would be false. It belies everything I know of the entangled histories of sexual magic and sexual revolution and gnosis and female emancipation and the development of occultism. Sexual magic is there, right at the centre.
Our Goddess yearns for us; we must fly to Her. Unlike Christianity, where we all become female in relation to Christ, in Thelema we are Hadit – we become (imaginatively, symbolically, magically) masculine in our search for the eternal divine. And thus it is absurd that we have adopted wholesale the slave religions’ understanding of gender, of sexuality and of the relationship between the sexes. It is absurd we have failed to learn the lessons of thousands of years of Western mysticism. Keeping Old Aeon conceptions about sex means that somewhere there is lurking some serious cognitive dissonance.
We need to go back to the magical relationship. We need to work with it, expand on it – to consider the idea of magical relationality. Everyone you enter into a relationship with – not the busdriver and the waiter, but everyone you engage emotionally, willfully, with. You should consider this a magical relationship. Is this mutually beneficial? Is it mutually willed? Is this person helping you to be the god that you are, or making you feel deeply, sadly human? Does your sex feel like an act of worship? If you have never glimpsed the face of God in your partner’s ecstatic face then, my friend, I feel for you deeply.