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Breaking the Binary in the New Aeon

Breaking the Binary in the New Aeon

by Sib. Ayin / R.A.D.

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Was Aleister Crowley (Baphomet) non-binary in terms of gender identity? A few sources seem to suggest he did not identify exclusively as “male” (in this life, or previous ones) despite his biological sex. If so, this potentially challenges theories that the Gnostic Mass is written as a “male-centric” ritual from a “man’s perspective” and that people who are not “men” like Crowley should create their own rituals to express their own mysteries.

Crowley’s writings also seem to envision a future, free of arbitrary restrictions, that would not be defined by rigid gender binary or exclusively heteronormative standards, as they were in the past. Gender is built into Thelemic magick, but not necessarily in a “binary” way, so it is important that we grasp the New Aeon formula on gender, compared to how it was understood in the past.

Let’s start with how A.C. describes their gendered characteristics in “Confessions,” and compare them to a description of a past life Crowley described as a female temple prostitute named “Asteris” given in Liber 415 (The Paris Working):

“It is probable that these peculiarities are connected with certain curious anatomical facts. While his masculinity is above the normal, both physiologically and as witnessed by his powerful growth of beard, he has certain well-marked feminine characteristics. Not only are his limbs as slight and graceful as a girl’s but his breasts are developed to quite abnormal degree.

There is thus a sort of hermaphroditism in his physical structure; and this is naturally expressed in his mind. But whereas, in most similar cases, the feminine qualities appear at the expense of manhood, in him they are added to a perfectly normal masculine type.

The principal effect has been to enable him to understand the psychology of women, to look at any theory with comprehensive and impartial eyes, and to endow him with maternal instincts on spiritual planes.

He has been able to philosophize about nature from the standpoint of a complete human being; certain phenomena will always be unintelligible to men as such, others, to women as such. 

He, by being both at once, has been able to formulate a view of existence which combines the positive and the negative, the active and the passive, in a single identical equation.

Finally, intensely as the savage male passion to create has inflamed him, it has been modified by the gentleness and conservatism of womanhood. Again and again, in the course of this history, we shall find his actions determined by this dual structure. 

Similar types have no doubt existed previously, but none such has been studied. The present investigation should be of extraordinary ethical value, for it must be a rare circumstance that a subject with such abnormal qualities so clearly marked should have trained himself to intimate self-analysis and kept an almost daily record of his life and work extending over nearly a quarter of a century.”

Confessions, Ch. 2, p.45

It is important that Crowley wanted the readers of his Autohagiography to know, upfront, who he was, and described himself in this way. Now let’s take a look at that “intimate self-analysis” and “almost daily record” in Liber CDXV (415) – Opus Lutetianum – The Paris Working, “the record of a series of sex magical workings conducted in 1914, designed to restore the worship of several of the gods of pagan antiquity.”

In Liber 415, Crowley writes of a vision he had of a past life as a “consecrated” (Holy) temple prostitute:

The Esoteric Record [Opus XI]

[Wednesday, Jan. 21 (1914 e.v)]

“With regard to the ceremony of Wednesday, I have to add to the esoteric record that Fra. O.S.V. (Crowley’s 6°=5□ motto) was at one time a consecrated prostitute in the Temple of the sun at Agrigentum. 

This Temple had a ‘long square’ (2 X 1) outer court. In the upper square was a square Temple – with facade and pillars. 

O.S.V., whose name was at that time Asteris (or something similar), used to sit on the steps and receive sacrifices. I think the name was Astarte, but am afraid of having been rational. «Asteria is the exact name of the Great Mother Goddess in Tyre. I did not know this. I regard this as a story proof of the accuracy of the vision. O.M.»

She was a slim, lean, nervous girl with a long face, a Roman nose, rather full lips, very strong from constant exercise, a habit of wriggling as if consumed by an inward itch, abundant and very wiry black hair which she sometimes dyed, very strong and very sharp and white regular teeth, deep violet eyes, very wide apart, and set obliquely. Her cheek-bones were high, and her expressions fierce.

Her breasts were quite undeveloped, and her body like a man’s, or rather, like a boy’s. Her vulva was lean and muscular, the nymphae hardly developed at all. Astarte was her Temple name; her own was Felicia.” 

p.381-383 in Equinox IV:2, The Vision & the Voice w/Commentary and Other Papers

It is interesting to compare the gender-fluid descriptions Crowley used to describe his traits, both in his most recent life (1875-1947), and in his vision of the one before.

Liber 415 – The Paris Working led to the creation of “The Holy Hymns to the Great Gods of Heaven … for the use of the Knights of the Sacrosanct Order of קדש (QDSh)” which include homoerotic hymns to 8 pagan gods: Juppiter, Mercury, Venus, Iuppiter Ammon, Vesta, Iacchus, Priapus and Mars, including such lines as:

“Come thou, Venus, born of the sea, daughter of the Father.
Hear the seductive songs of the penis, I pray.
May our manly buggery not be a sin,
But let the cunt always flame with my love.”

Liber 415 also includes “Grimorium Sanctissmum,” described as “The Most Holy Grimoire which contains the Secret of Secrets not yet revealed to the Supreme Kings of the O.T.O. – The Grimoire which Baphomet X° … Himself Made.” 

This Grimoire includes several excerpts from the Anthem used in Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass, where “the maiden” (not the Priest) invokes with the words: “Thou who art I, beyond all I am…” 

After the Priest performs the “Supreme Sacrifice” and “enters the Holy of Holies” and “the two who have become one sing in a high voice without intermission the words of the holy versicle,” the “Blessing of the Blessed” follows:

“With the dew from the mass, let the wife say these words: 

“For of the Father and the Son
The Holy Spirit is the norm;
Male-female, quintessential, one,
Man-being veiled in woman-form.

Glory and worship be to Thee,
Sap of the world-ash, wonder-tree!”

I wonder what that “dew” or “sap” could be? Also, Crowley apparently did all of these sex magick workings in 1914 (the year after Liber XV was written in 1913) with Victor Neuburg, a man, so I wonder how all those “maiden” and “wife” parts worked out if they both had the same plumbing… (not really, I’m gay; and the rest of Liber 415 is so explicit, any queer knows exactly what “entering the Holy of Holies” means).

The number 415 in Sepher Sephiroth includes הקדוש HQDOSh (5+100+4+6+300 = 415), which is translated as both “The Holy One” (a name of God, Qadosh) and “Sodomite” (specifically, sacred male temple prostitutes, Qadesh). 

The term “Kadosh” is derived from the Hebrew word “קדוש”, which means “holy” or “consecrated.”

The symbolism of the root of the word, Q-D-Sh קדש is also the name of Qetesh (“Holy One”), the Canaanite Fertility Goddess of sacred ecstasy and sexual pleasure, associated with Anat, Astarte, Asherah, Kassite goddesses, the goddesses of Mycenae, and the Minoan Snake goddesses of Crete.

Q-D-Sh is also related to Qedesha קדשה, sacred female temple prostitutes (also translated as ‘harlots’ or ‘whores’ in the Bible)… and there may be some additional symbolism in the title of the 30° of Scottish Rite Freemasonry “Knight Kadosh, or Knight of the White and Black Eagle,” and the O.T.O. VI° Degree, “Illustrious Knight (Templar) of the Order of Kadosch, and Companion of the Holy Graal.”

Given the vision of his past life as a genderfluid Temple prostitute, and all the homoerotic hymns and sex magick, it’s no wonder he numbered “The Paris Working” Liber CDXV (415), and even devoted “The Holy Hymns to the Great Gods of Heaven” to be “for the use of the Knights of the Sacrosanct Order of קדש (QDSh)”

So what? What does any of that queer stuff have to do with Thelema?

The fact that many genderqueer and non-binary people don’t typically sense themselves as being represented in the apparent “binary” of our mysteries is potentially a flaw that results from Old Aeon assumptions on gender, and I think Baphomet would agree. With all this in mind, there are a few other final points on “Gender in the New Aeon” worth revisiting that were points made by Crowley in his writings:

1) Introduction to The Book of the Law, IV. The New Aeon:

“[Horus] rules the present period of 2,000 years, beginning in 1904. Everywhere his government is taking root. Observe for yourselves the decay of the sense of sin, the growth of innocence and irresponsibility, the strange modifications of the reproductive instinct with a tendency to become bisexual or epicene.”

2) Manifesto of Ecclessia Gnostica Catholica (approved by A.C. in 1944 e.v.):

“The world has entered the New Æon, the Age of the Crowned and Conquering Child. The predominance of the Mother (Æon of Isis) and of the Father (Æon of Osiris) are of the past. Many people have not completely fulfilled these formulæ, and they are still valid in their limited spheres; but the Masters have decided that the time has come for the administration of the Sacraments of the Æon of Horus to those capable of comprehension. 

The sexes are equal and complementary. “Every man and every woman is a star.”–AL 1:3. 

The priestess must now function as well as the priest.

The expression of the above thesis in public ritual has begun with the establishment of the Gnostic Mass which, while adhering to the vital elements of the most ancient and true tradition, fixes its attention on, and aims most firmly in, the Future.”

3) Liber ABA Book 4, Part III, Ch. V: The Formula of I.A.O.

Aeon of Isis – Matriarchal Age. One sex.
Aeon of Osiris – Patriarchal Age. Two sexes.
Aeon of Horus – Two sexes in one person.

“FIAOF: 93, the full formula, recognizing the Sun as the Son (Star), as the pre-existent manifested Unit from which all springs and to which all returns.

Note that there are now two sexes in one person throughout, so that each individual is self-procreative sexually, whereas Isis knew only one sex, and Osiris thought the two sexes opposed. Also the formula is now Love in all cases; and the end is the beginning, on a higher plane.”

4) Liber ABA Book 4, Part III, Ch. XXI: “Of Pacts with the Devil,” Crowley gives this very useful insight into his understanding of his own “Holy Guardian Angel,” who he also describes as “Androgyne”:

“‘The Devil’ is, historically, the God of any people that one personally dislikes. This has led to so much confusion that The Beast 666 has preferred to let names stand as they are, and to proclaim simply that AIWAZ – the solar-phallic-hermetic ‘Lucifer’ – is His own Holy Guardian Angel, and ‘The Devil’ Satan or Hadit, the Supreme Soul behind Ra-Hoor-Khuit the Sun, the Lord of our particular unit of the Starry Universe. This serpent, Satan, is not the enemy of Man, but he who made Gods of our race, knowing Good and Evil; He bade ‘Know Thyself!’ and taught Initiation.

He is “The Devil” of the Book of Thoth, and His emblem is Baphomet, the Androgyne who is the hieroglyph of arcane perfection. The number of his Atu is XV, which is yod he (10+5), the Monogram of the Eternal, the Father one with the Mother, the Virgin Seed one with the all-containing Space. He is therefore Life, and Love.

But moreover, his letter is ayin, the Eye, so that he is Light; and his Zodiacal image is Capricornus, that leaping goat, whose attribute is Liberty.”

This thereby encompasses Liber XV, also numbered 15, the number of the Androgyne Baphomet, and all aspects of the “Gnostic and Catholic Church of Light, Life, Love and Liberty, the word of whose Law is Thelema.”

It is also no coincidence that in Eliphas Levi’s Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic, Chapter XV of the Ritual, is titled “The Sabbath of the Sorcerers,” and includes a description of ‘The Devil’ as:

“The phantom of all terrors, the dragon of all the theogonies, the Ahriman of the Persians, the Typhon of the Egyptians, the Python of the Greeks, the ancient serpent of the Hebrews, the wyvern, the graouly, the tarasque, the gargoyle, the great beast of the Middle Ages, and worse yet than all of those, the Baphomet of the Templars, the bearded idol of the alchemists, the obscene god of Mendes, the goat of the Sabbath.”

5) In the Equinox IV:1, Commentaries on the Holy Books, Liber Cordis Cinti Serpente vel LXV (65, the number of Adonai), described as “an account of the relations of the Aspirant with his Holy Guardian Angel,” for Ch. V, verse 44, the commentary states:

“Verse 44. This constitutes a profound Riddle of Holiness. Those only understand it who combine in themselves the extremes of Moral idea, identifying them through transcendental overcoming of the antinomy. They must have gone further yet, beyond the fundamental opposition of the sexes. The male must have completed himself and become androgyne; the female, and become gyander. This incompleteness imprisons the soul. To think “I am not woman, but man,” or vice versa, is to limit one’s self, to set a bar to one’s motion. It is the root of the “shutting-up” which culminates in becoming “Mary inviolate” or a “Black Brother.”

6) Liber ABA, Book 4, Part III, Chapter I, “The Principles of Ritual” also states:

“There is a single main definition of the object of all magical ritual. It is the uniting of the Microcosm with the Macrocosm. The Supreme and Complete Ritual is therefore to the Invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel; or in the language of Mysticism, Union with God.

All other magical rituals are particular cases of this general principle, and the only excuse for doing them is that it sometimes occurs that one particular portion of the Microcosm is so weak that its imperfection or impurity would vitiate the Macrocosm of which of which it is the image, eidolon, or reflection.

For example, God is above sex; and therefore neither man nor woman as such can be said fully to understand, much less represent, God. It is therefore incumbent on the male Magician to cultivate those female virtues in which he is deficient, and this task he must of course accomplish without in any way impairing his virility. It will then be lawful for a Magician to invoke Isis, and identify himself with her; if he fail to do this, his apprehension of the Universe when he attains samadhi will lack the conception of maternity. The result will be a metaphysical and – by corollary – ethical limitation in the Religion he founds.”

The implications of this (being the first thing mentioned in Chapter 1 of “Magick in Theory and Practice”) with relation to the function of the officer roles in Liber XV are quite profound, but I’ll save that for a future discussion.

7) Lastly, Be true toward Thyself. The Law is for All, Commentary on The Book of the Law, I:51 states:

“Equally it is better for the androgyne, the urning (gay male), or their feminine counterparts to endure blackmailers private and public, the terrors of police persecution, the disgust, contempt and loathing of the vulgar, and the self-torture of suspecting the peculiarity to be a symptom of a degenerate nature, than to wrong the soul by damning it to the hell of abstinence, or by defiling it with the abhorred embraces of antipathetic arms.

Every star must calculate its own orbit. All is Will, and yet all is Necessity. To swerve is ultimately impossible; to seek to swerve is to suffer.

The Beast 666 ordains by His authority that every man, and every woman, and every intermediately-sexed individual, shall be absolutely free to interpret and communicate Self by means of any sexual practices soever, whether direct or indirect, rational or symbolic, physiologically, legally, ethically, or religiously approved or no, provided only that all parties to any act are fully aware of all the implications and responsibilities thereof, and heartily agree thereto.”

Thanks to Baphomet for the prophetic validation of identities outside the “binary,” and the final note foreseeing the necessity of consent.

There are several other things I could mention on Crowley “breaking the binary” of the Old Aeon, not the least of which being Alys Cusack, Crowley’s pseudonym for a female persona, whose fun poetry “The Wild Ass” can be found in the Equinox I:2.

I also recently learned from a lecture by Br. Richard Kaczynski (author of Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley) that all O.T.O. First Degree initiations during Crowley’s lifetime (from the time he rewrote them and up to the 1980s) were called “Man and Brother,” meaning that even those who took mottos with “Soror” were still initiated into the ‘Fraternal Order’ as ‘Men and Brothers,’ inclusive of all ‘mankind,’ or as the Gnostic Mass suggests: ‘man-being (Hadit) veiled in woman-form (Nuit).’

Hopefully some of my notes and thoughts on these topics will be of interest and insightful for further study.

My initial motivation for writing this essay has been the many friends I’ve met over the years who have left the O.T.O., not because they weren’t Thelemites, but because they didn’t feel it was in genuine resonance with their True Will; they did not see themselves truthfully in the central mystery’s apparent binary, and were told it was from a “male-centric” point of view, and to make their own Mass if they didn’t like it. That never resonated with me, as “the Law is for all,” and I have therefore taken Crowley’s advice in the Tunis comment and “appealed to his writings” for myself, to better understand and answer my own questions on these matters.

Hopefully this writing may help new Minervals who, like me, initially had many questions, and very few answers… yet still felt an attraction to the Light of our Order and its Mysteries.

That said, I hope to someday see a time when people like myself, and so many others I know, feel genuinely included in our community for who we are, and can celebrate that as we truly are, and not have to continually restrict ourselves to fit into the binary of the past. With that, I’d like to end this essay with one of my favorite quotes from Liber CXCIV (194):

“Thus we balance the Triads, uniting the Three in One; thus we gather up all the threads of human passion and interest, and weave them into an harmonious tapestry, subtly and diligently with great art, that our Order may seem an ornament even to the Stars that are in the Heavens at Night. In our rainbow-coloured texture we set forth the glory of the whole Universe— See thou to it, brother Magician, that thine own thread be strong, and pure, and of a colour brilliant in itself, yet ready to mingle in all beauty with those of thy brethren!”

Love is the law, love under will.

Sib. Ayin / R.A.D.

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