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The Bonfire of the Thelemites: A Perspective on Duplexity

The Bonfire of the Thelemites: A Perspective on Duplexity

By Shin Melitodes


[For the sake of full disclosure I would like to explain that I did my MA with Keith at the University of Amsterdam. I had some limited friendly interaction with him, and although we were not particular friends, I have no personal grudge against him, nor could I dispute his academic credentials without dismissing my own. I am not a historian of the OTO, and I am a relative newcomer to this milieu, and feel no need to build upon the excellent reviews of Readdy’s new book found here and here. It may also be worth nothing that my evidence for some of the statements I make in this piece come from my own PhD research, which focuses on early 20th century occult textual production, and in particular the categories of initiatory, gnostic and channeled texts.]


There has been some recent controversy online about certain statements made in a recent publication by Keith Ready, One Truth and One Spirit (2019) which claims that only the O.T.O. and one strand of the A∴A∴ are ‘official’ thelemic organisations, and that all other thelemic groups are somehow apocryphal.

My focus is on one specific quote within this book:

“The reader should note that by “other Thelemic organizations” I am referring to any group that does not operate under the auspices of the O.T.O. or the A∴A∴ but which claims to represent Thelema. These include actual organizations that have been formed, as well as visible online Thelemic communities. At the time of this writing, several examples of physical Thelemic organizations can be named, whether they exist presently or have in the past. They include the Typhonian Order, the Fraternitas Saturni, the Gnostic Body of God, the Temple of Thelema, the Temple of the Silver Star, Society Ordo Templi Orientis, the Order of Thelemic Knights, the Holy Order of Ra-Hoor-Khuit (H.O.O.R.), the Thelemic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Temple of Babalon, the Ordo Astri, Ordo Sunyata Vajra, the Invisible House Society, The Gnostic Church of L.V.X., Horus-Maat Lodge, Cor Lucis, Thelemic Union, and Technicians of the Sacred. These are just a few.”

This quote may seem harmless enough, but the reaction of many of the organisations mentioned in this roll-call prove that it is not. In fact it is symptomatic of a larger trend within the O.T.O. and the strand of the A.A. headed by one so-called ‘World Teacher’ to claim that only these two organisations can represent Thelema, and that only those within these organizations can call themselves ‘true’ thelemites.

There is, I think, rather a lot of irony contained in the phrase “claims to represent Thelema” which is used in the text above. None of these organisations claim to represent the whole of Thelema, only their specific strands, currents and transmissions. And, indeed, I struggle to see how anyone can do ought but ‘claim’ when it comes to this new religious movement. We have no thousand year history, no ancient texts. Only a hundred years of in-fighting, and a series of world-changing, world-building mystical experiences.

Now, some of the various groups mentioned in this rambling list have taken this as a direct attack on their legitimacy, and somewhat as a call to arms. This is hardly surprising, for this straw man dismissal reeks of propaganda and deliberate misinformation.

The idea that there can be any one group or order that is somehow official to Thelema, or represents Thelema as a whole, is a mindbendingly weird concept. Thelema existed before Crowley; try Rabelais, or the work of the Hell-fire Club. The practical aspects of Thelema were adapted from the Golden Dawn and its offshoots, combined with the methods of Physical Culture and attempts to act practically on the social and philosophical concept of regeneration (which replaced the decadent degeneration, and the development of which is one of the key interstices of occult and popular culture in this period). Thelema was not wholly new; but undoubtedly Crowley made the most  important contribution to it, Liber AL (though once again this text has precursors and influences, and there is some major question, which I have never seen sufficiently considered, as to whether it was Crowley’s channeled experience, or the voice of Rose Crowley, whom was also known as Ouarda the Seer).

 Whether this text came from Mr Crowley or Mrs Crowley, it belongs to a category of literature which we might call ‘chanelled’ – though it is worth noting that this category of literature is a relatively modern one, really only taking off with the rise of spiritualism, and that it is connected both through tradition and in the features of the texts themselves with gnostic literature – that which is often alternatively called wisdom literature. These are the productions of direct experience with the divine. Although Crowley thought it terribly important, Liber AL was not unique during its period of creation. Austin Osman Spare, Carl Jung and Dion Fortune are only three of the most well known contemporaries of Crowley who also wrote channelled texts, and whose channelled texts are analogous to that of our infamous uncle.

The concept of gnosis is crucial to understanding thelemic text and doctrine and practice, for it is the backbone and underpinning of magic within the western traditions known as hermeticism or esotericism – these things are hidden knowledge not because we wish them to be, but because of something structural, something inherent in the texts (and experiences) themselves – and this is their gnostic quality, their being the result of direct experience of the divine – and the way that such experience refutes and escapes words and rational conceptualising. What is hidden is only hidden because gnosis must be experienced by each individually (or collectively) – it cannot be taught or learnt; only, the methods and approaches to it can be. Occasionally a text is written as the result of gnostic experience which is powerful enough to transmit gnosis, to open up others to the experience of gnosis. Liber AL is one such text, but it is by no means unique. Consider, for example, Eckhart’s Cloud Upon the Sanctuary, which both A.E. Waite and Crowley credit with revealing to them the magical vocation.

All this is to say that to me it seems the very concept of thelemic orthodoxy is in and of itself absurd. It is antithetical to everything that Thelema has ever stood for, which is the revolution and innovation of Will at the Equinox of the Aeons. We who call ourselves thelemites are tied by the confluence of Will within a current. Often this looks like brotherhood and pax templi. At other times, as is becoming ever more clear, it does not.

Consider the publication of The Equinox. It was Crowley and Jones’ attempt to make the Golden Dawn teachings accessible. It missed the mark in some ways (it was both expensive and ungainly, for one), but the aim remained. And while I have no wish to debate the various lineages of the A.A., it seems clear that transforming any of those groups into a nouveau Golden Dawn (in the worst possible sense) is absurd. When I hear the charges levelled at some of my fellow magicians who have trodden on the wrong toe, I’m reminded of Dion Fortune’s infamous anecdote, that having pissed Moina Mathers off revealing the so-called Inner Order secrets in The Secret Philosophy of Love and Marriage (in fact, it appears it was the teaching of the Holy Order of the Sun that Fortune had revealed), Moina halted her progression through the Alpha and Omega, claiming that she did not have the correct symbols present in her aura.

During the O.T.O’s degrees new initiates are shown that freedom cannot exist without restriction. And this is true, when it comes to practice and it is true when it comes to politics. However this statement is not true full stop across the board, and it is not the key thelemic truth, however much some individuals might wish it to be.

Which is preferable? An army of perfected robots, or a single crazed chaote resting on a  cartwheel in the air? This is a trick question, of course – for the ‘no freedom without restriction’ idea is one of Crowley’s many jokes and double blinds (he was a great old joker was our uncle, which makes the humourlessness of these neo-christian sectarians even more absurd). There may be no freedom without restriction – but restriction cannot be borne without some semblance of freedom. An army of robots is only ever one step removed from becoming a mound of writhing dogs, each biting their own tail.

So, then; if we accept that the concept of thelemic orthodoxy makes no sense in a religious or practical context, but only in a historic one; and if we recognise mindless obedience to a master is antithetical to magical development, (on an organisational level – naturally this has value for learning certain lessons on a practical level, and perhaps this new status quo has been extrapolated from there); what then must we make of this most absurd of power grabs?

For it is absurd. For we are a tiny movement, relatively speaking. The only thing that makes us matter at all is our potential for development, and our innovations. Our capacity for gnosis. Yet, since the death of our great uncle AL all these have come from outliers. The O.T.O is a stagnant pool, or perhaps a whirlpool. A leaking egregore, a vampire.

Thus, I profess myself ignorant. I do not understand what is to be gained from such a move, other than the ability for a handful of old white men to feel a little better about the utter lack of innovation or Work that has taken place within their lives.

If there is another possible answer, other than vanity and desire for power (eg that somehow some of the so-called highest-up thelemites in the world didn’t even manage to make it past their 1st degree lessons) I would truly love to hear it. Perhaps I am being naive, and this thing really is a neo-nazi militia-building- world-conquering conspiracy. Yet the whole thing continually strikes me as so utterly bizarre.

Then again, perhaps this controversy is a blessing from Our Lady in disguise. Maybe the dying screams of the Old Aeon are also the birth-cries of Babalon rising. Perhaps this absurdity will act as a rallying cry to the so-called heretical groups and constellations. Perhaps this will be the kick up the arse we need.


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7 thoughts on “The Bonfire of the Thelemites: A Perspective on Duplexity

  1. So what you’re saying is that these so-called heretical groups and their members are being lumped together under an unwarranted umbrella of political marginalization by a self-righteous/self-appointed cabal of individuals who have never once actually demonstrated one iota of the level of mastery supposedly needed to justify telling others what they can or can’t do, should or shouldn’t say, or claim for themselves by virtue of their own hard work and experience.

    Wow…that must really suck.

    1. 93
      Crowley in ‘The book of the law’ writes of the importance of interpreting the law for oneself; that it is essentially different for everyone. This seems the essence of finding ones own true will and being the best version of oneself. A personal interpretation as opposed to flowing a self-important group (cult?!) thus seems wise to me. (Obviously this is merely my own personal and largely irrelevant opinion. Others will disagree; as – of course – is their right.)
      I loved this essay; thank you so much for sharing it.
      Best wishes to everyone.
      93 93/93

  2. “…there is some major question, which I have never seen sufficiently considered, as to whether it was Crowley’s channeled experience, or the voice of Rose Crowley, whom was also known as Ouarda the Seer…”

    Thank you for remembering Rose! I have discussed her participation here: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/starandsnake/2014/05/thelema-and-spiritualism/

    Some of us of a certain age remember that a biographer said Rose had heard the transmission of the book with Aleister scribing. We’ve lost the reference. Does anyone have it? Richard Kaczynski’s excellent biography cites Aleister himself as hearing the book.

  3. I feel like certainty is the enemy of gnosis. On uncertain paths, you have to trust and be guided. People always want to find an easier way, like an arrow pointing to the correct answer. But if you let yourself be persuaded by such arrows, you will have a lot of work to do continually defending their legitimacy to yourself and others as you try to justify the time and effort spent wandering farther and farther afield in search of the easy answer oasis you’ve spied flickering on the horizon.
    Not that you can’t have a valuable feeling about something based on criterion of “legitimacy”, or that defending your choices is the sure mark of delusion. Just that when lineage and legitimacy comes up, I tend often to get the feeling like who are these people really trying to convince. (Not in regards to this article. Mostly I feel like this when people want to point out that A.A or OTO are not based on an unbroken line of succession, which seems to be the other side of this coin.)

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