Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Bishops Lon and Constance DuQuette believe that Liber XV: Ecclesiæ Gnostiæ Catholicæ Canon Missæ (the Gnostic Mass) is best understood as the ritualized enactment of Ordo Templi Orientis’s (O.T.O.’s) supreme secret of magick. They have popularized this interpretation in their lecture, The Miracle of the Mass, a recording of which from 2011-12 is available online. (All quotations in this article come from that recording.) In that lecture they go so far as to assert that the Gnostic Mass should be understood exclusively as the ritualized enactment of O.T.O.’s supreme magical secret. (Emphasis in this and in all quotations is mine.)
The Gnostic Mass is not the ritualized enactment of the supreme secret of the Rosicrucian order and work. It is not the ritualized enactment of the supreme secret of the Knights of Columbus. It is not the ritualized enactment of the supreme secret of Scientology. It is not even the ritualized enactment of the secrets of the Minerval, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, P.I., 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th degrees of the O.T.O.. The Gnostic Mass as presented in Liber XV is exclusively the ritualized enactment of the O.T.O. supreme magical secret, and as such it is patently unsuitable as a vehicle for communicating the essence and formulae of any other magical technique, religious doctrine, or social or political agendas.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
They further assert that the IX° secret is the interpretive key to the Gnostic Mass.
“One understands the Mass in light of the secret, not the secret in light of the Mass.”
“Without violating our oaths, we will try to explain the Mass in light of the secret instead of trying to make you guess the secret in light of the Mass.”“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
From the premise that the Gnostic Mass is the ritualized enactment of O.T.O.’s supreme secret, the DuQuettes derive several implications. One of them is that the Gnostic Mass is the central public and private ritual of O.T.O.
Liber XV, the Mass of the Gnostic Catholic Church, commonly known as the Gnostic Mass, is the central ceremony, both public and private, of the O.T.O.. The reason that it is the central ceremony of the O.T.O. is simply because it is the ritualized enactment of the Order’s supreme secret of magic.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
Whether this is the only way to explain why the Gnostic Mass is the central ceremony of O.T.O. is not addressed.
Another implication they draw is that members of the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis must have privileged access to the meaning of the Gnostic Mass, and the DuQuettes use this to justify the authority members of the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis have over clergy of lower degrees.
He or she [i.e., clergy celebrating the Gnostic Mass], no matter what he or she may believe to the contrary, is not possessed with an initiative foundation or appreciation of the Supreme Secret, and must rely upon and respect the directions of the Sovereign Sanctuary concerning the public and semi public celebration of their supreme secret.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
Again, whether this is the only way to justify such authority is left open.
One of the most popular conclusions they draw from this framing is that Gnostic Mass congregants may use the ritual to manifest magical results during communion.
“[…] because of the nature of the ninth degree […] Mass is the perfect opportunity to achieve conversation and communion with your Holy Guardian Angel or any other object of your heart’s desire.”
“The Mass of the Gnostic Catholic Church is an enactment of a great and wonderful magical secret. The goal of this secret is the creation of a child, whether that child is the material or emotional object of your heart’s desire or Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.”
“[The Cakes of Light] are the eggs and when properly fertilized will provide part of the material basis for the object of the operation to incarnate, whether that child be a physical baby or the object of your heart’s desire or the Holy Guardian Angel.”“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
They even imply that this is the only reason congregants are or should be in attendance.
Each [congregant] will be called upon to step to the altar and attempt to project their own heart’s desire onto the host and wine then consume it. That’s what they came to do.
Finally this framing implies that the Gnostic Mass will not work on a magical level unless it is carried out by a male Priest and a female Priestess.
“Variations on the theme of the central secret make it also partially applicable for solitary and homosexual workings. Crowley’s diaries are full of such experiments. But Liber XV the Gnostic Mass is a very specific magical operation and follows a very specific formula that involves by necessity the physical participation and contributions of both a man and a woman.”
“It doesn’t matter how effeminate the Priest is or how butch the Priestess is. It’s not a matter of bigotry or homophobia or style or philosophy or political correctness or social evolution that dictates the gender of our officers. It is simply a matter of equipment.”“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
This rules out the possibility of “queer” celebrations of the Gnostic Mass (e.g., two men or two women publicly performing the roles of Priest and Priestess) or gender fluidity in clergy (e.g., a person who identifies as non-binary publicly serving as Priest one weekend, Priestess the next).
There are other conclusions they draw, but these are important enough to motivate an inquiry into their supporting premise, namely, that the Gnostic Mass is indeed a ritual enactment of the supreme magical secret of O.T.O.
The authority of the DuQuettes to interpret the Gnostic Mass
Adjudicating the DuQuettes’ central claim that the Gnostic Mass is the ritualized enactment of the IX° secret is difficult, as they provide no support for that claim. This is not an oversight on their part but appears to have been done on purpose.
Please don’t think that Constance and I are claiming to know everything there is to know about the supreme secret or the Gnostic Mass. We don’t; nobody does. It’s not what we know but what we are that qualifies us to presume to speak with some small measure of authority on [the Gnostic Mass]. And when I say what we are, I’m not referring to our list of titles or our positions in a fraternal organization. For us the agency of this mutation has been and continues to be the sum total of our O.T.O. degree experiences, including the supreme secret and our nearly 30-year intimate relationship with the sublime perfection of the Gnostic Mass.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
I take the DuQuettes to be making at least three claims here.
First, in claiming not to know everything about the IX° secret or about the Gnostic Mass, they are tacitly admitting they could be leaving some things out of their interpretation. But in light of the quotations above, this does not apply to the assertion that the Mass is the ritualized enactment of the Supreme Secret or that the Gnostic Mass must be understood exclusively in light of it. They’re hedging on whether they fully understand that secret or all of the implications that follow from using that secret as the interpretive framework for the Gnostic Mass, not whether that secret is the best interpretive framework to apply to the Gnostic Mass.
Second, they are speaking with authority about the Mass, even if that measure of authority is “small”. How small and as compared with what?
In normal parlance, we tend to contrast speaking with authority with speaking to persuade, although the two do not necessarily exclude one another. A parent might attempt to persuade a child to clean their room by offering them good reasons to do it (e.g., the intrinsic benefits of a clean room or the promise of a cookie as an extrinsic reward), but should their attempts at persuasion fail, they can fall back upon their authority and even punish the child. It’s this latter ability to sanction or punish that differentiates authority from a mere expert on a subject. An authority may choose to give a reason for their command, but faced with a counterargument, they always have the option of saying, “I’m not arguing; I’m telling you.”
There is no reason to believe the DuQuettes (or anyone in any position of authority in O.T.O.) intend to punish anyone for not sharing their beliefs about the Gnostic Mass. O.T.O. rejects orthodoxy and dogmatic theology. However, O.T.O. does enforce orthopraxy in the performance of its rituals, including the Gnostic Mass, and as we saw in the quotations above, the DuQuettes are, among other things, attempting to offer a justification on magical grounds for why the Gnostic Mass ought to be performed a certain way and not another.
That the DuQuettes are speaking from this type of authority helps explain the style of their presentation. The Miracle of the Mass is light on argumentation and heavy on assertion. Here are just a few examples.
“In my opinion most if not all critics of the mass suffer from one primary and fundamental misunderstanding. They wildly overestimate the Mass’s ability to work its magic successfully even after they alter or modify the fundamental operating procedures of the secret as outlined in the ceremony. They forget that in the context of a sex magic technique, the mass is the ceremonial expression of only one magical secret, only one magical technique.”
“Innovate and experiment to your heart’s desire, but if you don’t follow the essentials of the recipe, it won’t be an apple pie, and if you don’t follow the essentials of Liber XV, it won’t be a Gnostic Mass, and you won’t be dealing with the supreme secret of the O.T.O.. Now we can carry our analogy to the extreme and our whole point will be ruined. There is of course plenty of room for diversity within the recipe which will not result in the loss of the final product, but there are certain very fundamental changes that will most definitely change the outcome. In my opinion the Mass’s severest critics are well-meaning individuals who are as yet not equipped with an understanding of the finished product to differentiate between seasoning for taste and the unintentional creation of another kind. We have written and organized today’s talk as a presentation, an exposition, not as a roundtable forum. Much as we respect the contributions from our brothers and sisters, today’s gathering has been designed to enable us to offer you our input. This is an enormous subject and we have only a few hours. We know what we can say and how we must say it. It’s a delicate tightrope for us to walk, and we hope you appreciate our position. We believe the chances are very good that if you can stay awake through the entire lecture, you’ll have most if not all of your pertinent questions answered.”
“The round paten and host are symbolic of the Sun. They are not already upon the altar. The priestess must deliver them herself. She must carry them with her. They are the eggs and when properly fertilized will provide part of the material basis for the object of the operation to incarnate, whether that child be a physical baby or the object of your heart’s desire or the Holy Guardian Angel.”
“The Deacon, he is clothed in white and yellow. Pure white again. With red and blue [they] make up the primary colors. Also yellow is the color of Mercury, the messenger of the gods or the Logos who announces the Word. If the Priestess will become Nuit and the Priest Hadit, the Deacon is Aiwass.”
“The people say ‘I believe in one secret and ineffable Lord’. The secret Lord who is not very secret in a group like this is the phallus.”
“She [the Priestess] then creates the world by implementing the four elements—fire and air salt of earth and water—thereby making the bed for the work to begin. Then she goes to wake up the dead Priest.”“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
There are many examples like this throughout the talk where, without providing any evidence for their claims, the DuQuettes merely assert (a) people who interpret the Gnostic Mass differently from them are “misunderstanding” or “forgetting”, (b) people who do the Gnostic Mass in a way differently from what they view as “essential” are rendering it magically ineffective, (c) they’re not here today to entertain opinions different from their own, and (d) without further qualification or evidence, the Cakes of Light are eggs, the Deacon is Aiwass, the Secret Lord is the Phallus, the Priestess is creating the world, symbol A means X, etc.
For these reasons we should take seriously the DuQuettes’ claim that they are speaking with authority. They’re doing it in a way which is friendly. They’re making jokes and being entertaining while they do it. But they are speaking with authority. Given their style of speech, their popularity, and their positions of actual authority in the Order (both are IX°s, and Lon DuQuette is National Deputy Grand Master in the United States), I would describe them as speaking with more than a “small measure” of authority.
Another common meaning of authority is implied in the term authorial intent. For example, if Crowley told us that he wrote the Gnostic Mass to accomplish X, then that tends to count as a good reason for us to believe that the purpose of the Gnostic Mass is to accomplish X. Yet literary criticism of the 20th century has cast doubt on the exclusive authority of the author to determine the meaning of a text. For example it’s now commonly accepted that cultural, moral, and political attitudes prevailing at the time of authorship can influence the meaning of a text through the author’s unconscious biases. While authorial intent can serve as one lens through which to understand a text, it would be a mistake to simply reduce the meaning of a text to that intent.
Still, the possibility that the DuQuettes have privileged access to the meaning of the Gnostic Mass by virtue of their degrees is one that should be taken seriously. I can make all the arguments I want, but if it’s possible IX°s are simply handed the meaning of the Gnostic Mass on a piece of paper at their initiations, that fact alone could invalidate at least some of what I have to say. But remarks National Grand Master Sabazius X° has made lead me to believe members of the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis do not necessarily agree on the proper way to interpret the Gnostic Mass. Writing in Agape I(4) he says:
Many (probably most) of us, when we first experience a Gnostic Mass which is very different from the Gnostic Masses we are used to, will react rather negatively. Because it was influenced by a different set of inferences than ours, and these inferences were based on a different abstracted data set and different assumptions, It will not convey the same “meaning” we are accustomed to, and it will, thus, seems strange or even “wrong.” If we are accustomed to interpreting the Gnostic Mass as an allegory of the sexual process, we may be uneasy with its interpretation as an allegory of the individual’s path of initiation, or as an exposition of Qabalistic cosmology. If we are accustomed to experiencing the Gnostic Mass as a beautiful, solemn, and stately service, we may be uncomfortable with its presentation as a joyful, boisterous celebration. If we are accustomed to encountering the Priestess as a warm and accessible Venus, we may be troubled by her unveiling as a distant, icily alluring Artemis; or as a terrible, radiant Athena.
This difficulty can be largely overcome by simply being aware of the structuralization process described above. When we travel to new locations as individuals, we should keep our minds open, and use the opportunity to broaden our perspective and learn something new. And as we stage our local masses, we should continually question our own assumptions, inferences and “local traditions” pertaining to the Mass. We should try to supplement our abstracted data set, actually rereading Liber XV occasionally; by listening, with an open mind, to the ideas of others; and by trying to approach the Mass with the eyes of a child, with the expectation that we will be showing something new every time.
The Gnostic Mass is a Well which will never run dry, unless we stop it up with the debris of our own ideas and habits. (emphasis mine)Sabazius, Agape I(4)
In this quote Sabazius is urging that we remain tolerant, not just of how local bodies other than our own perform the Gnostic Mass, but also of how individuals other than ourselves interpret the Gnostic Mass. The bolded passage in particular seems to imply that the interpretation of the Gnostic Mass as “an allegory of the sexual process” is not exclusively the correct one, and that other interpretative frameworks—for example an initiatory or Qabalistic interpretation—may be equally valid.
The IX° secret as the DuQuettes describe it would certainly qualify as related to the sexual process.
What is not secret is a well published fact that [the IX° secret] concerns a technique of sexual magic that is accomplished by one man and one woman.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
As we shall see, my own interpretation of the Gnostic Mass relies on relating it to sexual reproduction; but I don’t reduce it to that or make any claims for its exclusivity as an interpretive framework.
Sabazius wrote the above from the privileged position of the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis. This implies it is possible to be in possession of the IX° secret and yet still reject the claim that the Gnostic Mass ought exclusively to be understood in terms of that secret, as the DuQuettes claim it must.
It is entirely possible that Sabazius—and along with him any IX° who thinks similarly—is wrong. Perhaps they understand the IX° secret and have strong familiarity with the Gnostic Mass (as the author of Mystery of Mystery assuredly does); they just have not yet discovered the connection between the two. Or perhaps they are aware of the possibility of a connection but simply reject it as the exclusive interpretation. Or perhaps they see a connection but simply deny that the IX° secret is enacted in the ritual. I have spoken to at least one IX° who falls into this latter category.
The lesson we should take away from this quote is that, even among IX°s, the idea that the Gnostic Mass ought to be understood exclusively or even primarily as an enactment of the IX° secret is a controversial one. We should not infer the veracity of what the DuQuettes are saying just by virtue of what they are.
The third claim the DuQuettes make in this passage, seemingly contradicting the two previous claims, is that their authority does not derive from their titles or positions in O.T.O. But what does it derive from? This is where it’s murky. I don’t know what an “agency of mutation” is. It sounds like they’re saying they are authorized to make assertions of the meaning of the Gnostic Mass because of their long years of experience in O.T.O. and performing the Gnostic Mass.
But the essence of their interpretation of the Gnostic Mass is that it is the ritualized enactment of the IX° magical formula. Their interpretation is explicitly tied to their rank in O.T.O. If I base my entire interpretation of the Gnostic Mass on the IX° secret, I had better know that secret.
Of course someone of a lower degree or someone not even in O.T.O. could guess the secret. But their voice would not carry the same weight, especially not in front of a roomful of O.T.O. initiates, were they not also recognized by O.T.O. as knowing that secret.
Even if I had the same years of experience celebrating the Gnostic Mass as the DuQuettes, my voice would still not carry the same weight without institutional recognition of the fact that I was in possession of the secret. The DuQuettes’ claim that their authority comes from years of experience celebrating the Gnostic Mass mystifies this more basic social reality.
Given the extent to which they rely upon their knowledge of the IX° secret to frame their interpretation of the Gnostic Mass, and their insistence it can only be adequately understood through the lens of that secret, it seems to me the easiest explanation is that they have authority because they are IX°s. But again, we should keep in mind that even among IX°s there are differences of opinion as to how the supreme secret relates to the Gnostic Mass.
Who I am and what I’m here to do
Having examined the DuQuettes’ claims to authority to interpret the Gnostic Mass, what about my own?
I have none.
I have been a member of O.T.O. for 8 years. I am an ordained Deacon and Priest, which gives me authority to celebrate the Gnostic Mass in those roles and perform Baptisms, Confirmations, and Marriages under the direction of a supervising Bishop. But that ordination confers upon me no authority to interpret the doctrine of the Gnostic Mass.
I have not served in anywhere near as many celebrations of the Gnostic Mass as the DuQuettes, but it’s still more than I can count.
At neither of my ordinations was I presented with anything like a comprehensive education in the meaning of the Gnostic Mass or its symbolism. While Crowley says, “Certain secret formulæ of this Mass are taught to the PRIEST in his Ordination,” no one ever handed me a document authored by Crowley (or anyone else) explaining the Gnostic Mass in toto to me, and I have never met anyone in or out of O.T.O. who claims to be in possession of such information.
In addition to being ordained clergy, I am also an initiate of the V° of O.T.O. I was never presented with anything like instruction on the Gnostic Mass in any of these degree ceremonies, either. The only relevance my degree in O.T.O. has to this discussion comes from a remark Crowley makes on the V° initiation in chapter 72 of his Confessions.
The first of these degrees [in which the IX° secret is conveyed] is the V°, in which the secret is presented in a pageant…
I am not certain what part of that degree ceremony he is referring to as a “pageant,” although based on a comparison of his V° to the Masonic ceremony it is based upon, I have a strong suspicion. That suspicion leads me to believe there is a part of the Gnostic Mass—namely the Anthem—where the secret of the IX° is similarly “presented in a pageant”. But to present something is by no means the same thing as to enact it. I’ll return to this contrast throughout this essay.
For now let it suffice that I have no authority to speak on the subject of the Gnostic Mass or the relation of the IX° secret to it. So nothing that I say here should be accepted on the basis of my rank or position in O.T.O. Nor should it be accepted on the basis of my own personal experiences practicing magick, meditating, celebrating the Gnostic Mass, or anything else particular to me as an individual.
What I will try to offer you instead are good reasons to reject the assertions of the DuQuettes and to accept an alternative conclusion. My intention is to make the case to you gradually, based on what Crowley had to say about the Gnostic Mass, eucharistic magick, and the universe more generally.
Rather than assert conclusions to you, I’m going to show you my work.
You don’t have to trust me or my rank or take anything I say on faith. You don’t have to like me or find my style of presentation amusing. You’re free to critically assess the evidence and the arguments. I invite you to judge what I say, not on the basis of who I am, but on the soundness of my claims.
In sum, “I am not telling you; I am arguing with you.”
While argument may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think it is preferable to assertion, especially in the context of a hierarchical religious organization.
The above quote from Sabazius opens the door to a plurality of valid interpretations of the Gnostic Mass. Yet it is not my intention, in rejecting the DuQuettes’ IX° framing, to claim that all interpretations are of equal worth. Instead I suggest an interpretation should be preferred if it meets the following critera:
- An interpretation should be well-supported.
- The best kind of support would come from what Crowley himself said about the Gnostic Mass in particular. While authorial intent is not the end-all-be-all of textual criticism, it is still reasonable to accept it as good support for an interpretation relative to other kinds of evidence.
- The second best kind of support would come from what Crowley wrote indirectly about the Gnostic Mass. For example, the Gnostic Mass is a eucharistic ritual, and so what Crowley wrote about eucharistic magick should apply, even if he doesn’t mention Liber XV by name.
- The third best kind of support would come from other writers on religion and the occult, but I’m mostly going to stick to support of the types (a) and (b), as I believe what Crowley said about his own ritual is enough to make my case.
- An interpretation should be cognitively fluent. Cognitive fluency is a concept from cognitive psychology. “Cognitive fluency refers to the subjective experience of the ease or difficulty of completing a mental task. It refers not to the mental process itself, but rather the feeling people associate with the process.” (Source) If an interpretive framework is well-supported but not easily grasped (e.g., there’s no clear thesis and it is just a rat’s nest of “correspondences”), then it will be difficult to apply, and it will not provide consistent insight.
- An interpretation should have implications. It should help us understand the meaning of many symbols, actions, and words in the Gnostic Mass. It should help clergy better understand what they are doing and why when they celebrate the ritual. It should better help congregants understand what they are witnessing and participating in. It should bring us to a deeper understanding of Thelema itself. It should open new worlds. It should allow us to go on to do and to be things we couldn’t do or be otherwise. A good interpretation should be empowering.
When an idea is well-supported and fluent but lacks implications, it is trivial. This is part of the problem with a purely sexual interpretation of the Gnostic Mass. Sexual innuendos are ubiquitous enough in the Gnostic Mass and in Crowley’s writings in general to support the idea that the ritual has something to do with sexuality, but what does it matter? Why do we need to see sublimated sex every Sunday? Sex is obviously incredibly powerful, but what makes it spiritually important?
To their credit, the DuQuettes avoid this kind of reductionistic account.
Sex is the not the essence of the IX° magical operation. The sex act is merely a symbolic expression of the secret.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
Another example of a trivial interpretation of the Gnostic Mass would be that it is about doing one’s true will. Obviously almost everything in Thelema has to do with accomplishing one’s will. But why is this particular, elaborate ritual necessary or even helpful for accomplishing that task?
When an interpretation has many implications but very little support, it grants the subjective feeling of insight into the world while not being grounded in reality. Such a theory is far-fetched. The DuQuettes’ interpretation of the Gnostic Mass is far-fetched in this technical sense. They position themselves as authorities in possession of a secret which none of us can deny or confirm but which purports to explain much of the ritual.
But when an idea is well-supported, fluent, and has implications, then it is plausible. When it is very well-supported, easily grasped, and highly empowering, it is experienced as profound.
My proposal is that we should make our interpretations of everything in Thelema as profound as possible. But at the very least we should make them plausible.
Here is the main claim I want to make about the Gnostic Mass:
The Gnostic Mass is best understood, not as an enactment of the supreme magical secret of O.T.O., but rather as a dramatic religious ceremony. As such, the purpose of the ritual is to elicit awe in the participants by theatrically portraying profound spiritual truths both of nature and of ourselves. As the depths of nature are opened to us through the ritual, the depths of ourselves respond by opening to it.
The DuQuettes provide us with a beautiful description of the initiation rituals of O.T.O.
The O.T.O.’s graded degree system was ingeniously designed by Crowley not so much as a program to gradually unfold the secret to the candidate but as a process that gradually unfolds the candidate to the secret.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
This is an appropriate way to understand the Gnostic Mass. Through its pageantry and drama, it unfolds us to the sublime without and within.
My plan is:
- Using what Crowley said in public and private about the Gnostic Mass, explain what the purpose of the Gnostic Mass is.
- Argue that the method by which it accomplishes that task is dramatic religious ceremony, not enactment of the IX° sexual magical formula specifically.
- Further support my claim that it is not a IX° magical operation through an analysis of the Gnostic Mass eucharist formula.
I cannot cover all the implications of this way of framing the Gnostic Mass. Instead I will address some of the implications the DuQuettes have made, particularly those about O.T.O. ecclesiastical hierarchy, queer Gnostic Masses, whether the purpose of communion is to realize one’s “heart’s desire”, and the role of the Holy Guardian Angel in the Gnostic Mass.
The Purpose of the Gnostic Mass
Let’s begin by considering Crowley’s public statement about the genesis of the Gnostic Mass and its purpose. Writing in chapter 73 of his autobiography, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, he says:
During this period  the full interpretation of the central mystery of freemasonry became clear in consciousness, and I expressed it in dramatic form in The Ship. The lyrical climax is in some respects my supreme achievement in invocation; in fact, the chorus beginning:
Thou who art I beyond all I am …
seemed to me worthy to be introduced as the anthem into the Ritual of the Gnostic Catholic Church which, later in the year, I prepared for the use of the O.T.O., the central ceremony of its public and private celebration, corresponding to the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church.
Human nature demands (in the case of most people) the satisfaction of the religious instinct, and, to very many, this may best be done by ceremonial means. I wished therefore to construct a ritual through which people might enter into ecstasy as they have always done under the influence of appropriate ritual. In recent years, there has been an increasing failure to attain this object, because the established cults shock their intellectual convictions and outrage their common sense. Thus their minds criticize their enthusiasm; they are unable to consummate the union of their individual souls with the universal soul as a bridegroom would be to consummate his marriage if his love were constantly reminded that its assumptions were intellectually absurd.
I resolved that my ritual should celebrate the sublimity of the operation of universal forces without introducing disputable metaphysical theories. I would neither make nor imply any statement about nature which would not be endorsed by the most materialistic man of science. On the surface this may sound difficult; but in practice I found it perfectly simple to combine the most rigidly rational conceptions of phenomena with the most exalted and enthusiastic celebration of their sublimity.
There is no direct mention here of the magical secret of O.T.O., although there are two things he says which indirectly suggest it. The first is the reference to the “central mystery of freemasonry,” and the other is the reference in the last paragraph to scientific materialism. Crowley describes the nature of O.T.O.’s supreme magical secret in the previous chapter of the Confessions as a “scientific secret”.
Nowhere in this passage does Crowley suggest that the Gnostic Mass is the ritualized enactment of that secret, this despite having just spoken at some length about the utilization of that secret in the previous chapter. Instead he describes The Ship—whose Anthem is the omphalos around which the Gnostic Mass was constructed—as expressing that secret in dramatic form. One of the claims I want to make is that, even if the IX° secret is presented in the Gnostic Mass, it is portrayed dramatically, not enacted.
A further clue to the dramatic intent of Liber XV can be inferred from his remark that it corresponds to the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church. Describing different types of ritual in chapter I of Magick in Theory and Practice Crowley says:
[Dramatic ritual’s] disadvantage lies principally in the difficulty of its performance by a single person. But it has the sanction of the highest antiquity, and is probably the most useful for the foundation of a religion. It is the method of Catholic Christianity, and consists in the dramatization of the legend of the God. The Bacchae of Euripides is a magnificent example of such a Ritual; so also, though in a less degree, is the Mass. We may also mention many of the degrees in Freemasonry, particularly the third.Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory & Practice, ch.1
If Liber XV is based on the Roman Rite, then it is based on a ritual Crowley explicitly says is dramatic. This reference here to the III° of Freemasonry, while having allusions to the “central mystery of freemasonry,” is evocative of another passage from the same chapter in Confessions, where Crowley, approvingly quoting a Past Master writing in English Review, says:
There is, therefore, no reason for refraining from the plain statement that, to anyone who understands the rudiments of symbolism, the Master’s degree is identical with the Mass. This is in fact the real reason for papal anathema; for freemasonry asserts that every man is himself the living, slain and re-arisen Christ in his own person.Quoted in Aleister Crowley, Confessions, ch.72
So already, even in this general statement of intention, we find Crowley drawing explicit parallels between the Roman Rite, Masonry’s III°, and the Gnostic Mass on account of all three of them being dramatic rituals.
From this passage we may also gather:
- The Gnostic Mass is a ritual (which should be obvious enough).
- It is intended to satisfy the religious instinct of human beings as such.
- It does this by celebrating the sublimity of the operation of universal forces.
- The fulfillment of this purpose should allow people to enter into ecstasy or “to consummate the union of their individual souls with the universal soul”.
- Shocking our intellectual convictions or common sense would frustrate that purpose.
- Therefore in order for the ritual to fulfill its purpose, it should avoid introducing disputable metaphysical theories and remain committed to a rational conception of phenomena.
Implications follow from the fact that the Gnostic Mass is intended as a public religious rite. The term religion has a negative connotation in modern Thelema. It has a negative connotation among many people in modern society. Rather than reading all the connotations of dogma, superstition, and abuse of power into this term, it makes more sense in this context to understand a religious rite as one that presents a common object of worship or adoration. The individuals who hold this sacred object of adoration in common thereby form a religious community, church, or cultus.
Even this minimalist reading of the term religion carries with it implications that problematize the DuQuettes’ thesis and some of its implications. A common object of adoration is by definition not a secret. The DuQuettes’ ideal congregants are coming together, not to experience fellowship through awe generated by a common sacred experience, but rather each to realize their own “heart’s desires”.
Generally speaking religious rites administer to a common good. Indeed, the Priest is risen from the tomb so that he may “administer the virtues to the Brethren,” i.e., the congregation. These virtues are those of the “rod,” which is used to prepare a sacrament of a Cake of Light and wine. This sacrament is administered so that blessings may be bestowed upon the congregants: “health and wealth and strength and joy and peace, and that fulfilment of will and of love under will that is perpetual happiness.” This purpose of administering to a general good is reinforced by the Priest’s parting benediction:
☩ The LORD bless you.
☩ The LORD enlighten your minds and comfort your hearts and sustain your bodies.
☩ The LORD bring you to the accomplishment of your true Wills, the Great Work, the Summum Bonum, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness.
There’s nothing here to suggest the congregants or the clergy are supposed to be achieving personal mystical experiences or working toward their own magical ends. The aims of the Gnostic Mass are explicitly public and general, directed more toward the achievement of common fellowship and beneficence than personal gain.
In writing the Gnostic Mass, Crowley was faced with a problem facing any religious seeker in modernity: picking an object of adoration and devotion that does not offend our modern instinct to simply reduce all phenomena to rational explanation. The choice of object has both epistemological and affective implications. The epistemological implication is that we can’t simply force ourselves to believe something we know isn’t true. As Crowley says, our minds would criticize our enthusiasm. The affective implication is that we require something “sublime,” something that fills us with wonder and awe, something which has the power to rock us back on our heels.
It’s clear from the drama of the Gnostic Mass that Crowley intended fecundity to be that sublime object of adoration. Anyone half-awake for the ritual knows they are witnessing a sublimated sex act. A reading of part VI of Crowley’s essay “Energized Enthusiasm” tells us sex is not being celebrated in this ritual because it is pleasurable or induces subjective ecstasy. Rather, it is being celebrated insofar as it produces offspring or affects union with God.
We also know from the New Comment on AL III.22 that Crowley thought the Sun as Father and the Phallus as Son constituted objects of common religious devotion in the New Aeon, and thus Thelema “for the People” was to take the form of a solar-phallic cult.
There are to be no regular temples of Nuith and Hadit, for They are incommensurables and absolutes. Our religion therefore, for the People, is the Cult of the Sun, who is our particular star of the Body of Nuit, from whom, in the strictest scientific sense, come this earth, a chilled spark of Him, and all our Light and Life. His vice-regent and representative in the animal kingdom is His cognate symbol the Phallus, representing Love and Liberty. Ra-Hoor-Khuit, like all true Gods, is therefore a Solar-Phallic deity.Aleister Crowley, New Comment to Liber AL III:22
But this raises more questions than it answers:
- Why does fecundity deserve to be the object of religious adoration? How does it fulfill the requirements of a common sacred object in modernity? In other words, how does this object fulfill the epistemological requirement?
- How does a ritual which places that object at its center celebrate the sublimity of the operation of universal forces? In what sense does such a celebration consummate the union of individual souls with the universal soul? How does this ritual fulfill the affective requirement of inducing awe and wonder?
Answering the first question will require us to consider nothing less than the nature of the universe itself as described in the Book of the Law and Crowley’s commentaries on it. I’ve considered this in detail in a series of articles on my blog, so I’m not going to repeat the full argument here, but these are the main strokes:
- Nuit and Hadit are the “elements” of the cosmos.
- They combine in innumerable ways to create innumerable “stars” or gods.
- In order to express their wills—in order to act or acquire knowledge of themselves, their universe, or other stars—they must incarnate.
- Therefore without bodies, stars would not be able to accomplish their wills.
- Therefore those of us who recognize ourselves as stars should venerate our bodies and all those biological processes that make bodies possible, in particular the process of sexual reproduction without which we would never have come to be.
At the heart of Thelemic theology is the dependence of the infinite upon the finite, of gods upon vulnerable flesh and blood bodies. The body is the site—perhaps even the exclusive site—of the self-recognition and self-realization of deity. This is why magick is an essential component of Thelemic praxis. Unlike a purely mystical, non-dual attainment like Nirodha Samapatti, magick requires a body oriented in space. It utilizes correspondences between scents, colors, and other sense modalities, which themselves are gates through which higher realities are accessed. The Gnostic Mass itself is a rite at the culmination of which the Priest and the congregants paraphrase The Proclamation of the Perfected One in which the aspirant exclaims, “There is no member of the body of Asar which is not a member of God!”
Labor and endeavor (basic human activity) are motifs in the Gnostic Mass. All the natural phenomena that make it possible are celebrated. The Sun, the Moon, the Earth, bread, wine, etc., are referred back to it. The miracle of the mass itself is described in direct relation to it. More magical or mystical interpretations of Liber XV have to start from this more basic fact, that the will is not accomplished in a vacuum but is dependent upon a bounty of natural gifts.
One of the focal points of the Gnostic Mass is this process whereby a star takes a body so that it may realize the divinity of itself and the rest of the universe. This is what Crowley refers to in the Gnostic Mass as the miracle of incarnation. It is referred to as the mystery of incarnation in Liber B vel Magi. The Creed of the Gnostic Mass declares that it is carried out by means of the Baptism of Wisdom: the action of Baphomet.
Baphomet functions as mediator between God the Father (infinite macrocosmic deity) and God the Son (finite microcosmic manifestation). Eliphas Levi and Crowley (at least for a time) both attributed Atu XV, the Devil, to Baphomet. In the context of the Gnostic Mass, XV represents the union of the Father (Yod = 10) and the Mother (Heh = 5). In other words the union of the Father and the Mother in the procreative act creates the mediating gateway by means of which the infinite may become manifested in the finite.
A feminine version of the same idea is represented on the O.T.O. lamen, where the Holy Spirit is represented as a dove mediating between the macrocosm (the eye in the triangle) and the microcosm (the cup). This is evocative of God the Father impregnating the Virgin Mary by means of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.
But in the Gnostic Mass, all the power of sexual procreation is condensed into the symbol of Baphomet. At the climax of the ritual, the Priest proclaims three times:
O Lion and O Serpent that destroy the destroyer, be mighty among us.
As the Creed tells us, the Serpent and the Lion is Baphomet. The DuQuettes summarize it nicely:
The serpent is the sperm; the destroyer is death. This part of the Mass [the Epiklesis] could be seen as a simple fertility ritual where life destroys death.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
This is one important reason the Gnostic Mass is called Liber XV. XV is Baphomet or the procreative union of Mother and Father which incarnates a new god. Due to the dependence of the infinite on the finite, without this miracle of incarnation, the divine would in a very real sense cease to be.
But what about the affective side? Let’s imagine we’re a new congregation. While the congregants have some words to say and some gestures to make, they spend most of the ritual watching. They know nothing of the infinite and care nothing at all for theology. What are they supposed to understand about sexuality by watching this ritual that they wouldn’t already know? Clearly having an orgasm feels good, and there are joys that come from raising children. But beyond the ordinary, what are they supposed to learn about the world that would have some positive implications for their lives?
The spiritual import of sexual union derives from the fact that it is a symbol of the Great Work. As we read in chapter 2 of Magick:
The Tau and the circle together make one form of the Rosy Cross, the uniting of subject and object which is the Great Work, and which is symbolized sometimes as this cross and circle, sometimes as the Lingam-Yoni, sometimes as the Ankh or Crux Ansata, sometimes by the Spire and Nave of a church or temple, and sometimes as a marriage feast, mystic marriage, spiritual marriage, “chymical nuptials,” and in a hundred other ways. Whatever the form chosen, it is the symbol of the Great Work.Aleister Crowley, Magick
To accomplish the Great Work is, among other things, to become two-in-one, a paradoxical figure of individuality represented in various ways in Thelema but in the Gnostic Mass as female (cup) and male (lance) conjoined. This is why Baphomet—a sexually dividual figure—is the presentation of divine individuality. The union of Mother and Father that opens the way for the infinite to partake of the finite in the case of incarnation is also the same symbol through which we as finite, dual beings enjoy participation in the infinite.
The congregants at a celebration of the Gnostic Mass are not meant to experience orgasm. Neither are the clergy, for that matter. But the sublimated coitus they are observing is meant to serve as an object of contemplation through which they can perceive the way to the divine. The Gnostic Mass is a celebration of our normal powers of sexual procreation, but it is more than that, as sexual union itself is the instantiation of the more general principle by which we enter into union with God by means of the union of opposites. That process is love under will. This is how the Gnostic Mass consummates the union of individual souls with the universal soul.
As our contemplation of the symbolism of the Gnostic Mass deepens, we do not just look at what is happening in the ritual; we also begin to look through or by means of it into that illimitable vastness that is beyond all symbol or representation. We begin to see that all manifest existence is more than it appears to be on the surface. It is the vehicle of a higher, more inscrutable source.
As we grow in awareness of the infinite without, the infinite within reaches out for union with it. This is not something we have to force. It unfolds as an organic process: by seed and root and stem and bud and leaf and flower and fruit, it unfolds like a miracle through the darkness and out into the light. These are the two orders of truth—interior and exterior—which Crowley tells us in Equinox III are the hallmarks of true religion.
THE world needs religion.
Religion must represent Truth, and celebrate it.
This truth is of two orders: one, concerning Nature external to Man; two, concerning Nature internal to Man.Aleister Crowley, The Equinox III:1
The reciprocal opening of the interior and exterior depths—depths which the Book of the Law names Hadit and Nuit—generates a dynamic, self-perpetuating spiritual ascent the Greeks called anagoge and which the Book of the Law calls love under will.
We realize that, “There is no part of me that is not of the gods.”
We constitute a community or a church of individuals sharing this self-realization. This interpretation is reinforced if you believe the congregants should face the congregation when saying these words. In any event, our congregation is formed, not only by sharing this self-realization, but through the recognition that our divinity and the divinity of the world derives from a common object worthy of adoration: Baphomet as mediator between the infinite and the finite.
The problem with framing the Gnostic Mass exclusively as an enactment of any magical secret is that most of these implications drop out of the picture. All of the sublimity and mutuality Crowley intended for us to celebrate vanish and with them the raison d’être for attending the Gnostic Mass in the first place.
Congregants are left without anything to understand, because they’re not of the appropriate degree.
The DuQuettes make up for this shortcoming by suggesting their own reasons someone might attend: “the perfect opportunity to achieve conversation and communion with your Holy Guardian Angel or any other object of your heart’s desire.” As compared with the direct, mutually reinforcing realization of truth within and without, the DuQuettes’ reward for attendance cannot help but feel like a consolation prize.
How the Gnostic Mass Achieves Its Aim
Having discovered Crowley’s purpose in writing the Gnostic Mass, let’s consider the methods the ritual employs to realize those ends.
Contrary to the DuQuettes’ claim that the Gnostic Mass is best understood as a ritualized enactment of the IX° formula, there is evidence that it is better understood as a dramatic ritual.
In the passage we already looked at from chapter 72 of the Confessions where Crowley describes the genesis of Liber XV, we already find a clear indication that he intended the Gnostic Mass as a dramatic ritual.
I prepared [Liber XV] for the use of the O.T.O., the central ceremony of its public and private celebration, corresponding to the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church.As quoted in Aleister Crowley, Confessions, ch.72
Describing different types of ritual in chapter I of Magick in Theory and Practice Crowley says:
[Dramatic ritual’s] disadvantage lies principally in the difficulty of its performance by a single person. But it has the sanction of the highest antiquity, and is probably the most useful for the foundation of a religion. It is the method of Catholic Christianity, and consists in the dramatization of the legend of the God. The Bacchae of Euripides is a magnificent example of such a Ritual; so also, though in a less degree, is the Mass. We may also mention many of the degrees in Freemasonry, particularly the third.Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory & Practice, ch.1
If Liber XV is based on the Roman Rite, then it is based on a ritual Crowley explicitly says is dramatic. That the Gnostic Mass requires more than one person to perform it further supports this idea.
The reference here to the III° of Freemasonry, while having allusions to the “central mystery of freemasonry,” is evocative of another passage from the same chapter in Confessions, where Crowley, approvingly quoting a Past Master writing in English Review, says:
There is, therefore, no reason for refraining from the plain statement that, to anyone who understands the rudiments of symbolism, the Master’s degree is identical with the Mass. This is in fact the real reason for papal anathema; for freemasonry asserts that every man is himself the living, slain and re-arisen Christ in his own person.
Between chapter 72 of the Confessions and chapter I of Magick in Theory and Practice, we find Crowley drawing explicit parallels between the Roman Rite, Masonry’s III°, and the Gnostic Mass on account of all three of them being dramatic rituals.
Describing the method of dramatic ritual in chapter XIX of Magick in Theory and Practice, Crowley writes:
The Wheel turns to those effectual methods of invocation employed in the ancient Mysteries and by certain secret bodies of initiates to-day. The object of them is almost invariably the invocation of a God, that God conceived in a more or less material and personal fashion. These Rituals are therefore well suited for such persons as are capable of understanding the spirit of Magick as opposed to the letter […] Such a company being prepared, the story of the God should be dramatised by a well-skilled poet accustomed to this form of composition. Lengthy speeches and invocations should be avoided, but action should be very full. Such ceremonies should be carefully rehearsed…Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory & Practice, chapter XIX
Unlike other types of magical ritual—especially ceremonial invocations or evocations carried out without an audience—Crowley emphasizes that the proper execution of a dramatic ritual requires attention to aesthetic form. The text should be composed by a well-skilled poet, the actors need to rehearse, and the speeches should be composed in such a way as to be exciting and not boring. For these reasons, I suggest artists—particularly poets and actors—are good candidates for those Crowley mentions being “capable of understanding the spirit of Magick as opposed to the letter”.
Writing to W.B. Crow on June 11, 1944, Aleister Crowley said of the Gnostic Mass:
Keep one eye fixed firmly on Hollywood. You mustn’t have a Priest with a squeak or a drone or a drawling, and you mustn’t cast some frightful hag as the Virgin Harlot.Aleister Crowley to WB Crow, 6/11/1944
There’s no mention here whatsoever of the ability of the participants to execute any complex magical techniques, let alone the sexual application of the IX° secret. Crowley’s preoccupations are aesthetic. Compare with what Crowley said about the religious use of sex in part VI of “Energized Enthusiasm”:
Physical strength and beauty are necessary and desirable for aesthetic reasons, the attention of the worshippers being liable to distraction if the celebrants are ugly, deformed, or incompetent.Aleister Crowley, “Energized Enthusiasm”
To say that the Gnostic Mass is primarily a dramatic ritual is not in any way to deny that it has magical power. It’s just not the magical power the DuQuettes think it has. As we saw, dramatic ritual is consistent with invocations of deities. But unlike private magical rituals, a dramatic ritual must also generate interest in an audience. Writing to W.T. Smith on July 11, 1932, Crowley said:
Trust to the beauty and the magical power of the [Gnostic Mass] itself to interest people.Aleister Crowley to WT Smith, 07/11/1932
Presumably one “interests people” with good dramatic ritual based around common objects of adoration. Crowley expressed similar sentiments to C.S. Jones in 1914 regarding the latter’s Rite of Isis performed at the O.T.O. lodge in Vancouver, British Columbia.
I hope you will arrange to repeat this all the time, say every new moon or every full moon, so as to build up a regular force. You should also have a solar ritual to balance it, to be done at each time the Sun enters a new sign, with special festivity at the Equinoxes and solstices.
In this way you can establish a regular cult; and if you do them in a truly magical manner, you create a vortex of force which will suck in all the people you want. The time is just ripe for a natural religion. People like rites and ceremonies, and they are tired of hypothetical gods. Insist on the real benefits of the Sun, the Mother-force, the Father-force, and so on, and show that by celebrating these benefits worthily the worshippers unite themselves more fully with the current of life. Let the religion be Joy, but with a worthy and dignified sorrow in death itself, and treat death as an ordeal, an initiation… In short, be the founder of a new and greater Pagan cult.Aleister Crowley to CS Jones, 1914
We see here again Crowley’s interest in establishing a public cult based on adoration of natural forces, a cult whose rites will interest people through the magick of public ceremony, the magick of poets and actors. Roles in such ceremonies could be “cast” (as Crowley says) with relatively low initiates—probably people who aren’t initiates at all.
As Sabazius says in his Commentary on the Manifesto of the Gnostic Catholic Church:
Crow’s original text read, “The time has come for High Initiates to administer the Sacraments of the Æon of Horus to those capable of comprehension.” On Crowley’s proof copy, he struck out the words “for High Initiates” and wrote in the margin, “I always dislike dragging in these claims. Besides, quite low initiates can do this work.”Sabazius, “Commentary on the Manifesto of the Gnostic Catholic Church”
By contrast, the DuQuettes believe they have reverse-engineered from O.T.O.’s secret of magick why initiates of only certain degrees can serve as Priests and Priestesses in the Gnostic Mass.
Now we have the opportunity and the responsibility to fine-tune the magic. It is clear from the nature of the seventh, eighth, and ninth degrees that they form the magical generator of the Order. If Bishops are the custodians and transmitters of this energy, it is clear that they must first possess it. It is obvious that this resides in its earliest stages in […] the seventh degree. If a Priest or Priestess wants to feel that they are truly connected to the central energy of the order, they should seek consecration at the hands of the seventh degree or above. Because the Man of Earth has nothing to do with the government of the order, and this I believe applies especially to the public transmission of its most sacred sacrament, then the Priest or Priestess should be out of the Man of Earth triad and at least a Knight of the East and West. It is as simple as that.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
What the DuQuettes are attempting to explain in this passage is an invention of the modern O.T.O., and it does not even hold in all Grand Lodges or in IHQ today. Consider the following facts:
- The term “Bishop” does not occur in Liber CXCIV, which describes the structure of the Order.
- In Australia Grand Lodge, you must be III° to be ordained a Deacon, V° to be ordained a Priest or Priestess.
- The Deacon ordination (which they don’t attempt to explain) can currently take place at II° in USGL but used to take place at I° (as it still does in IHQ).
- Since 2011-12 when the DuQuettes recorded this talk, USGL has invented another ordination, Deacon-Sacerdote, which cannot take place until KEW.
- The KEW initiation did not exist in the 1930s or 40s. I believe it was written in the 1980s.
- The rubric of Liber XV reads, “Certain secret formulæ of this Mass are taught to the PRIEST in his Ordination.” So much for the Priest, but what about the Priestess? The text reads, “Should be actually Virgo Intacta or specially dedicated to the service of the Great Order.” There is no ordination mentioned for her at all. Instead she is described as “dedicated”. Some have inferred from “Virgo Intacta” a link to the VI° of O.T.O., but we do not require our Priestesses to be VI°.
The DuQuettes are taking a contingent fact (how E.G.C. ordinations were related to the O.T.O. degree structure in 2011-12) and giving that contingent fact a justification it neither requires nor deserves in order to make it seem more necessary and immutable than it is. While it may have applied to USGL in 2011-12, it didn’t apply in Crowley’s time, and it doesn’t even apply to all O.T.O. today.
They provide a similar ad hoc rationalization to justify why modern O.T.O. prohibits queer Gnostic Mass. Referring to the Priestess stroking the lance 11 times, followed by the Priest raising the lance, they say:
The Lord now becomes the Lord, and here we have one of the key elements in our recipe that is critical to the eventual creation of an apple pie. It doesn’t matter how effeminate the Priest is or how butch the Priestess is. It’s not a matter of bigotry or homophobia or style or philosophy or political correctness or social evolution that dictates the gender of our officers. It is simply a matter of equipment. This is not to say that there are not magical acts where the vagina or the tongue or the anus or the nipples or the armpits or earlobes or the pituitary or pineal glands are the Lord, but not this ceremony. At this moment in the overtly sexual context of the magical operation represented by Liber XV, the Lord is present in the erected phallus. But before we get too carried away with our worship of the Lord, let’s remember that the Lord is just one member of the team, a tool that will help create a child, and it is the child that will be the true object of our worship.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
Let me be clear: I take the DuQuettes at their word when they say they do not intend homophobia or bigotry.
At the same time, I have been told that the particular prohibitions they are referring to against queer Gnostic Masses did not exist prior to the late-1990s, or at the very least were not codified. I have also been told there were plenty of queer Gnostic Masses in the 1980s and 1990s before they were officially deemed illicit for public performances.
The DuQuettes say, “It doesn’t matter how effeminate the Priest is or how butch the Priestess is.” This creates space for Priests or Priestesses who do not neatly fit into prescribed gender roles, including (I assume) transgender Priests and Priestesses. I say I assume, because this was recorded in 2011-12, and E.G.C. has permitted transgender men and women clergy to serve in the roles they identify with since the early 2000s.
But then they go on to say, “It is simply a matter of equipment.”
What equipment do they mean? They immediately go on to mention vaginas, tongues, and other body parts, which I think would lead most listeners to assume they’re talking about the sexual equipment of the Priest, under his robe. But even in 2011-12, E.G.C. was agnostic about what clergy had under their robes. For example a transgender woman could serve as Priestess even if she had not had or did not intend to have bottom surgery. Whether the DuQuettes approve of this allowance is difficult to infer from what they said.
This is a problem attendant upon an interpretation of the Gnostic Mass as an enactment of the IX° formula—or really any explanation of the ritual that relies unduly upon invisible magical and mystical factors. Conversations go like this:
Is it whether they have a penis? No no, it’s not that.
Is it whether they are perceived by the congregants as traditionally male? No no, it’s not that, either. The Priest can have a high voice.
So then what is it? It’s their gender identity.
Okay, so then I guess we better all bone up on the last 40 years of gender theory? No, it has to be based on the IX° secret.
Okay so maybe the IX° secret should be understood as gender identity magick rather than sex magick? Well, no…
This is where understanding the Gnostic Mass as a dramatic ritual shows its power.
As I showed earlier, one of Crowley’s main intentions with the Gnostic Mass was to open us to the sacred depths of nature and of ourselves by means of a dramatic portrayal of sexual reproduction. If we understand the Gnostic Mass as a dramatic or theatrical portrayal of this and other ideas, it’s not necessary for the Priest and the Priestess to literally have sexual intercourse on the altar to convey that idea—any more than it’s necessary for two actors to literally have sex with one another to convey on screen that sexual intercourse is taking place.
Not only that, the two individuals portraying Priest and Priestess do not even have to be lovers. They could have met that morning, just like two actors meeting one another for the first time on a film set.
They don’t have to be fertile. The Priest could be shooting blanks. The Priestess could be post-menopausal. The Priest doesn’t have to have a penis. He could have a vagina, or he could be as smooth as a Ken doll down there.
That’s because the penis is not an implement in this ritual. It appears nowhere in the rubric. The lance does, though.
The DuQuettes are perfectly correct when they say, “It is simply a matter of equipment.” But by juxtaposing this statement with a list of body parts, they’re engaged in sleight-of-hand, leading the audience to believe there is something essential about the Priest himself that is required for the ritual to work. The equipment that makes the ritual work isn’t under the Priest’s robe; it’s in his hand. It’s the lance.
As mentioned, invocation is necessary to properly execute a dramatic ritual. This is one important respect in which dramatic ritual differs from merely putting on a play. But there is no in principle reason a male magician cannot invoke Venus or a female magician invoke Mars. Crowley explicitly instructs us to do this in chapter I of Magick in Theory in Practice.
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.Aleister Crowley, Magic in Theory & Practice, chapter I
One of the problems with the IX° framing of the Gnostic Mass is that it requires one to go deeper and deeper into the ritual participants: first under their robes, then under their skins, then down into their identities—which from a Thelemic perspective we’re told are illusory anyway, mere magical garb for the real essence of the person, which is the star.
We’re trying to get these ineffable, subjective identities of people to carry weight and significance which they cannot carry on their own.
But if we’re dealing instead with a dramatic ritual, the identities of the participants do not have to carry that weight on their own. Their performances—or magically, their abilities to convincingly invoke the necessary gods—also carry that weight. As do the cup, the lance, the costuming, the incense, the other ritual implements, the furniture in the room, etc.
The Mystic Marriage is not carried out between the ritualists or even the Priest and Priestess; it’s a marriage of the elements. The objects are bearing the weight of conveying the meaning—along with the acting abilities of the people using them.
If it’s a dramatic ritual—a performance meant to theatrically convey a meaning—then how the audience is bound to receive that meaning also has to be taken into account. Times change, people’s attitudes change, and therefore congregations change.
In Elizabethan England, it was illegal for a woman to perform on stage until 1661, and so all acting troupes were composed of men. Presumably this didn’t stop an audience from appreciating Romeo and Juliet.
What goes around comes around.
In keeping with viewing it as a dramatic ritual rather than a magical enactment, Crowley’s concerns about the Gnostic Mass were aesthetic. He didn’t want a “frightful hag” on the altar. He would probably have been mortified at the idea of a transgender Priestess serving in a public ritual of his O.T.O. He would also be horrified by Priests who were too short or who had small frames, or women who were too old, whose breasts sagged, or were too fat, or ritualists for any number of other reasons he thought made him or O.T.O. look bad.
We’ve progressed as a society. We’ve also progressed as an Order. Viewing the ritual through a dramatic frame allows us to rationally accommodate those changes in a way viewing it as a “recipe” whose “ingredients” cannot be altered does not.
Magick and Liber XV
While the Gnostic Mass is a ritual of the dramatic variety, it is also indubitably a ritual of the eucharistic variety. The latter half of the ritual requires the Priest to consecrate (part VI) and consummate (part VIII) a eucharist of a Cake of Light and wine. This consummated eucharist, the DuQuettes claim, is the enactment of O.T.O.’s supreme secret of magick, the IX° formula, and its product, the “child” of the Priest and Priestess, is the talisman the congregants can use to fulfill their “heart’s desire” or commune with their Holy Guardian Angels.
In order to adjudicate these claims, we need to answer these questions:
- What is the relationship between the IX° secret and eucharistic magick?
- Can the eucharist of the Gnostic Mass fulfill the requirement of the IX° formula?
- Can the Gnostic Mass eucharist be used to fulfill one’s personal magical ambitions, i.e., realize one’s “heart’s desire”?
- Is there a relationship between the eucharist of the Gnostic Mass and the Holy Guardian Angel?
Eucharistic Magick and the IX° Secret
There would appear to be a relationship between the IX° secret and eucharistic magick. In chapter XX of Magick in Theory and Practice, we read:
The highest form of the Eucharist is that in which the Element consecrated is One.Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory & Practice, chapter XX
It is one substance and not two, not living and not dead, neither liquid nor solid, neither hot nor cold, neither male nor female.
This mention of “neither male nor female” seems as though it could have a connection with Baphomet, who does have a clear relationship with the Gnostic Mass, as well as the mention in the Anthem of “male-female quintessential one”.
This sacrament is secret in every respect. For those who may be worthy, although not officially recognized as such, this Eucharist has been described in detail and without concealment, “somewhere” in the published writings of the MASTER THERION. But He has told no one where. It is reserved for the highest initiates, and is synonymous with the Accomplished Work on the material plane. It is the Medicine of Metals, the Stone of the Wise, the Potable Gold, the Elixir of Life that is consumed therein. The altar is the bosom of Isis, the eternal mother; the chalice is in effect the Cup of our Lady Babalon Herself; the Wand is that which Was and Is and Is To Come.
The highest sacrament, that of One element, is universal in its operation; according to the declared purpose of the work so will the result be. It is a universal Key of all Magick. These secrets are of supreme practical importance, and are guarded in the Sanctuary with a two-edged sword flaming every way ; for this sacrament is the Tree of Life itself, and whoso partaketh of the fruit thereof shall never dieAleister Crowley, Magick in Theory & Practice, chapter XX
In particular, these references to the Elixir of Life, the Stone of the Wise, and the Key of all Magick make plausible some connection with the supreme secret of magick in the Sanctuary of the Gnosis. As we read in The Manifesto of the O.T.O.:
[O.T.O.] possesses the secret of the Stone of the Wise, of the Elixir of Immortality, and of the Universal Medicine.Aleister Crowley, Liber LII: The Manifesto of the OTO
The DuQuettes allude to a connection between the Gnostic Mass eucharist and this eucharist of one element:
Something bigger than either [Priest or Priestess] has been created: neither male nor female, neither solid nor liquid.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
On the other hand, the eucharist of six elements is also a good candidate. Again from Magick in Theory and Practice, chapter XX:
The Eucharist of six elements has Father, Son, and Holy Spirit above; breath, water, and blood beneath. It is a sacrament reserved for high initiates.Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory & Practice, chapter XX
The footnote to this passage reads:
The Lance and the Graal are firstly dedicated to the Holy Spirit of Life, in Silence. The Bread and Wine are then fermented and manifested by vibration, and received by the Virgin Mother. The elements are then intermingled and consumed after the Epiphany of Iacchus, when “Countenance beholdeth Countenance”.
The reason I suggest a connection between the eucharist of six elements and the IX° secret is that we know Crowley accidentally published the IX° secret of O.T.O. in chapter 36 of The Book of Lies, which is the ritual of the Star Sapphire. This ritual describes a hexagram composed of Tetragrammaton plus the Holy Spirit Within and the Holy Spirit Without. A hexagram with a Hebrew Yod in the center flanked by the letters I and X appears in Crowley’s handwritten draft of Liber Agape vel AZOTH. (A rendition may be found on the cover of Amrita: Essays in magical rejuvenation and its frontispiece.) Some connection between the IX° secret and the eucharist of six elements therefore also seems likely. The fact that Crowley describes this six-part eucharist in language reminiscent of the Gnostic Mass (“The Lance and the Graal”) lends some weight to the DuQuettes’ claim that the Gnostic Mass is an enactment of the supreme magical secret.
The Eucharist of the Gnostic Mass
But the eucharist of the Gnostic Mass is neither of one nor six elements; it is of two elements.
The Eucharist of two elements has its matter of the passives. The wafer (pantacle) is of corn, typical of earth; the wine (cup) represents water. (There are certain other attributions. The Wafer is the Sun, for instance: and the wine is appropriate to Bacchus).
The wafer may, however, be more complex, the “Cake of Light” described in Liber Legis.
This is used in the exoteric Mass of the Phoenix (Liber 333, Cap: 44) mixed with the blood of the Magus. This mass should be performed daily at sunset by every magician.
Corn and wine are equivalent to flesh and blood; but it is easier to convert live substances into the body and blood of God, than to perform this miracle upon dead matter.Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory & Practice, chapter XX
While the mention of “live substances” is suggestive of a version utilizing sexual fluids, there does not seem to be any necessary connection between the eucharist of two elements and the supreme magical secret of O.T.O. This is because, as the DuQuettes themselves have stated, there is no necessary connection between sex and the IX° secret.
This should make anyone call into question the assertion that the Gnostic Mass is an enactment of the IX° formula. However, this would not prevent it from dramatizing that secret or aspects of it, the sexual act, or Thelemic theological truths more generally.
Clearly the Gnostic Mass eucharist is meant to adumbrate both sexual reproduction and more esoteric teachings. In part VI, both the Cake of Light and the wine are magically linked with the Priest in his role as the representative of God on earth, the one to his body, the other to his blood. Both of these elements—one representative of his Life, the other of his Joy—are offered up in sacrifice to ON, the Sun, to fulfill the covenant of resurrection.
The Priest magically links the Grail itself to the Priestess by means of the five crosses, symbolic of Heh. In part VIII, he as Vau (=6) of Tetragrammaton breaks his “body” (the Cake of Light) and produces from it his “seed” (the particle of bread). Together the Priest and Priestess depress the lance point with the particle on it into the cup of wine. This symbolically unites the 6 (the Priest) with the 5 (the Priestess) to fulfill the Great Work (union of the microcosm 5 with the macrocosm 6).
At the moment of “coitus,” the Priest becomes the Father (Yod = 10), and the Priestess becomes the Mother (Heh = 5). In his role as Father, the Priest turns and declares the Law to the congregation.
The “blood” (wine) in the Grail can then be understood as dissolving the outer husk of the “seed” (the particle) to release the “germ” (the Holy Spirit) which then “crystallizes” in the blood as “light” in fulfillment of the covenant of resurrection.
When the Priest consumes the Cake of Light, he describes it as the Life of the Sun. The cup of wine is the Joy of the Earth. He relinquished control over his own Life and Joy. He gave them up to the macrocosm, symbolic of the Saints who relinquished their life essence into the Cup of Babalon (Gate of the God ON). But in return for his sacrifice, he receives back the bounty of the universe above and below.
The Priest reunited with the previously alienated and now divinized elements of his body and blood could be viewed as restored to the status of the Son (similar to the restoration of John in The Ship). Thus, the Father is the Son through the Holy Spirit.
This is just some of the potential symbolism one can read from the latter part of the Gnostic Mass. I provide justification for this reading in my article, “A Crack in Everything: Finitude and the Ceremony of the Introit” in volume 3 of Ora et Labora: An O.T.O. Research Journal.
But it’s important to keep in mind that these are representations of spiritual attainments, not spiritual attainments themselves.
At the beginning of part IV of the Gnostic Mass, the Priest dramatically raises the lance. We know from Magick that Crowley thought this symbolized “occult puberty” or the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. It symbolically transforms the Priest from a mere Man of Earth into an Adept or Vau of Tetragrammaton. But does anyone think the ritualist portraying the Priest literally experiences Knowledge and Conversation at that moment?
Likewise for when the Priest raises the Priestess and seats her on the altar, an obvious allusion to the Son raising the Daughter (Malkuth) and setting her on the throne of the Mother (Binah). That doesn’t represent a spiritual attainment for the woman filling the Priestess role that day. It’s a dramatization.
Arguably actual magick is taking place with the consecration and consummation of the eucharist. But there is nothing about it to suggest a IX° working in particular. Magical links are established between the elements and the ritualists, and the elements are put through their paces. The original substance (the bread) is destroyed (broken and dissolved in wine) to release a spiritual potential latent within it.
None of that requires us to think the Priest literally becomes a Saint at that moment. This could be viewed as an act of sympathetic magick carried out in accordance with the IAO formula. But even that only applies to the Priest’s eucharist. The eucharist the congregants consume is simply a Cake of Light and a goblet of wine, so it hasn’t even undergone the same IAO process.
The Eucharist and “Your Heart’s Desire”
The DuQuettes recognize the Gnostic Mass is on some level a dramatic portrayal rather than an actual enactment, at least in the case of mystical realization.
Even if the Priest and Priestess over the course of the Mass do not actually experience the transcendent level of consciousness required for the actual execution of the Supreme Secret, they are nevertheless officially authorized by the Church to be the dramatic representations of magicians who do. The actors in an Easter passion play do not actually pound nails into the hands and feet of the actor who plays Jesus, but they sure as hell go through all the dramatic motions of doing it, and they do it at the proper moment of the play.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
But for some reason, they don’t confront all of the implications that follow from this. Instead they continue to draw conclusions that would apply in a magical working where the participants really did “experience the transcendent level of consciousness”. The most extreme example of this is their description of how the Priest must remain focused on the “object” of the “operation” between the HRILIU moment and the consumption of the eucharist.
We’re now approaching the moment that will require supreme effort. In order to stay concentrated upon the object of the operation, the priest invokes the force itself into himself to strengthen him […] In order to maintain this control from the moment of the HRILIU until the sacrament is consumed requires the internal skills of a disciplined yogi. This is why the magician is counseled early in his or her career to master the meditative trances of Dharana and Dhyana, the ability to focus the mind for a period of time on one thing to the exclusion of all other things. If the operator cannot hold the object of the operation firmly in mind in the time between the HRILIU and the Eucharist, then the totality of the force already released will be directed to whatever goofy goddamn image did wander across his or her mind at that critical instant.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
It’s tempting to think they’ve switched from talking about the Gnostic Mass to talking about an actual private IX° working, but it’s clear they also expect the congregants to be performing similar mental operations throughout the whole ritual.
If you’re going to Mass, and the object of your operation is a Cadillac, and you sit there for an hour, dutifully getting your mind all concentrated on your Cadillac, and you’re thinking, “Cadillac, Cadillac, Cadillac, Cadillac,” and you walk up when it’s time to take communion, and you’ve got your Cadillac right in mind, and oh boy you can’t wait, can’t wait, and then you get your host and you look at it and go “Cadillac! Yes, it’s great! But oh no, it’s going to kill me!” you know theoretically on a magical plane you could poison yourself with something that isn’t even poisonous […] your intent got screwed up at that point.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
Considering they view the ritual as a “recipe” that cannot be altered in its essentials without ruining the “pie,” they’re rather liberal in their alterations of the rubric. This isn’t even added symbolism; it’s added action. Nothing in Liber XV suggests the Priest or the congregants should be doing any of this, and nothing Crowley wrote about Liber XV suggests it should be used in the way the DuQuettes describe.
It might be argued that “DE FORMULA TOTA” in Liber Aleph provides justification for viewing the Gnostic Mass this way. There Crowley says:
…make an especial and direct Invocation at thy Mass, before the Introit, formulating a visible Image of this Child, and offering the Right of Incarnation.Aleister Crowley, Liber Aleph, “De Formula Tota”
But it’s clear from the title of the previous section—DE MISSA SPIRITUS SANCTI—that he’s referring to the Mass of the Holy Ghost, not Liber XV. “Introit” doesn’t refer to the Ceremony of the Introit. He’s referring to an entry of a different kind. (I doubt I need to draw a picture.) In any event, there’s nothing here or in Liber XV to suggest that the clergy or congregants need to do anything like this in order for the ritual to accomplish its purpose.
The DuQuettes say:
The ability to concentrate at a very difficult moment is the key to successfully executing the supreme secret.“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
If this is true—if the magick of the supreme secret is impossible without the mental exercises the DuQuettes describe—then the Gnostic Mass is only a IX° magical operation to the extent that one adds to the rubric until it becomes one.
But then that’s true of any type of magick you can fit in. The Deacon can focus on one of the great candles until it becomes candle magick. While standing around, the Children can practice their astral LBRPs. For that matter the congregants could quietly pray to the Virgin Mary.
If you are a congregant at Gnostic Mass or clergy celebrating it, my suggestion is that you focus on what is happening right in front of you. Clergy in particular should perform every action exactly as it’s described in the rubric, slowly with focus and intention, because this is how meaning is normally conveyed. In my opinion the best Gnostic Mass celebrations are those in which the clergy are focused on the present, in their bodies, mindful of their actions and words, executing each as though their lives depended on them.
If I were serving as Priest and someone told me afterward they had spent the entire ritual thinking about a Cadillac Eldorado, a promotion, a set of steak knives, or anything other than what was happening right there in that room, I would conclude I had not captured their interest and thus had failed to do the ritual properly.
Some will aver that “it works”. I don’t know what to say to that. Success or failure in such operations is usually very subjective. All I can suggest is that maybe there are truths adumbrated in the ritual that can transform you on a deeper level if you let go of your preconceptions and pay attention.
The Holy Guardian Angel and the Gnostic Mass
Is there a relationship between the Holy Guardian Angel and the Gnostic Mass?
Writing of eucharistic magick in general, Crowley said, again in chapter XX of Magick in Theory and Practice:
To a Magician thus renewed [by the eucharist] the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel becomes an inevitable task; every force of his nature, unhindered, tends to that aim and goal of whose nature neither man nor god may speak, for that it is infinitely beyond speech or thought or ecstasy or silence.Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory & Practice, chapter XX
This seems to imply there must be a connection between the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel and the Gnostic Mass, since the latter is a eucharistic ritual. But what exactly is that relationship?
The DuQuettes seem to base their view off Crowley’s remark that “Nu being 56 and Had 9, their conjunction results in 65, Adonai, the Holy Guardian Angel.” Assuming the Priestess and the Priest fulfill the roles of Nu and Had respectively, their mystical union in the HRILIU moment would produce a eucharist either identical with the Holy Guardian Angel or a talismanic link to it.
I’m sympathetic to this view. Insofar as there is genuine transubstantiation in the ritual at all, something like this must be happening. We should also hold it in our minds that in the Creed, Crowley understands transmutation in terms reminiscent of normal digestion and metabolism. This more basic level of intercourse and interdependence with nature could also be indicated.
Insofar as there is a deeper spiritual reality to the eucharist, it makes sense to view it in somewhat more general terms than the phrase “Holy Guardian Angel” might allow. The principle which the Holy Guardian Angel represents is represented in the Gnostic Mass instead as the Holy Spirit, “Thou who art I beyond all I am / who hast no nature and no name,” the “Lord Secret and Most Holy,” the nameless Lord, and the “One Secret and Ineffable Lord”.
For reasons I don’t comprehend, the DuQuettes think the Secret Lord is the phallus.
“The secret Lord who is not very secret in a group like this is the phallus.”
“The Lord! And let’s not forget who the Lord is! Not so visible, not so sensible!”“The Miracle of the Mass” by Lon & Constance DuQuette from Speech in the Silence Podcast
I disagree; the phallus is visible and sensible. It is represented in the ritual by the lance, particularly when it is raised. It is addressed in the ritual as the “Lord Adored” of the 5th collect. It is described as the “sole viceregent of the sun upon the Earth,” i.e., the microcosmic deity or Son of God. It is also called Chaos.
The Sun, the Secret Lord, and the phallus/Chaos form the masculine trinity, IAO, the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son.
One of the implications of the Gnostic Mass is that manifest existence—particularly we human beings—are “vehicles” of manifestation for the Holy Spirit. In the Anthem, this is expressed as the Holy Spirit being the “norm” between Father and Son. As Crowley puts it The Book of Lies:
[W]e come to an important statement, an adumbration of the most daring thesis in this book—Father and Son are not really two, but one; their unity being the Holy Ghost, the semen; the human form is a non-essential accretion of this quintessence.Aleister Crowley, The Book of Lies
We need to be careful lest we read this statement to imply that the Holy Ghost is semen, tout court. A better reading is that semen can serve as a manifestation or vehicle of it, or perhaps that it is the closest physical correlate to it in Assiah. That the Gnostic Mass in general is meant to convey such an idea is reinforced by the colors worn by its officers—white, red, yellow, blue, and black—the Empress Scale of Shin or Spirit. This would suggest Liber XV is meant to convey [the Holy] Spirit in Assiah.
The relevant part of this quote for us is that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate reality—and thus is ultimately ineffable—and we are mere appendages to it. One of the reasons sexual reproduction is sacred is because that is the means by which the Holy Spirit passes down “generation unto generation”. If we don’t continue to procreate, then in a very real sense, God dies. (I hasten to add that if we don’t procreate mindfully with an eye on the carrying capacity of the Earth, we will all die.)
The ultimate spiritual reality from the perspective of Thelemic theology “has no name” and is “beyond speech and beyond sight”. To experience union with this unknown god who is beyond being is to become unknown to ourselves. It is the Night of Pan in which I am no longer I. To assign a name to it—even one as exalted as “Holy Guardian Angel”—is not so much to profane it, since profaning it is impossible. It is just another conceptual circumambulation around a center that is everywhere and nowhere at once.
Another name Crowley assigns to this unnamable god is Hoor-paar-kraat, the Egyptian god of silence. In the Book of the Law, Aiwass introduces himself as the minister of Hoor-paar-kraat, making the Book of the Law the speech of the (absent) god of silence. True to its title, this book proclaims the Law, which in Liber CL is described as emitting four rays: Light, Life, Love, and Liberty. The Lord Secret and Most Holy of the Gnostic Mass is also described as emitting these four rays in the second collect.
In the context of a public religious rite such as the Gnostic Mass, it makes as much sense that this formless but in-forming principle could take the shape of the Law itself, a Law which the Priest declares to the congregation at a crucial moment in its drama. The consumption of the eucharist could then be viewed as the Book of the Law serving as one’s sustenance and comfort after yet another manner.
I think these deeper implications drop out when we look at it just as a magical working to acquire some material object or even a personal spiritual attainment like Knowledge and Conversation. Knowledge and Conversation is far more likely to be attained through an intensive private working like the Abramelin Ritual or Liber VIII. If that succeeds, that is bound to be a deeply personal, incommunicable experience.
By contrast the Gnostic Mass is a public religious rite in which we literally “communicate”. It has an ineluctable social dimension, because we’re coming together for the purpose of waking up to the depth and potential of the reality we all share. The celebration of that mutual recognition forms the groundwork for a Thelemic community in a way purely personal mystical experiences cannot.
The DuQuettes have generated real interest in the Gnostic Mass, helping many members of O.T.O. experience it as something with real magical and mystical import rather than a boring religious service. Their framing of it as an enactment of O.T.O.’s supreme magical secret generates intrigue, and some of the implications of that interpretation are likely to be of interest to those with either a more mystical or ceremonial magical intention, as they offer congregants something personal to experience or to do with the ritual.
However, not all the implications of this interpretation are positive. Because they frame the Gnostic Mass as being the enactment of a secret very few have any access to, this discourages people not possessed of that secret from developing alternative interpretations. Even if it doesn’t discourage personal interpretation, it certainly seems to make discussion and debate about them futile. While there are essays here and there, the literature on the Gnostic Mass is relatively anemic. Sabazius’s Mystery of Mystery, IAO131’s HRILIU, and the writings of Tau Polyphilus are notable exceptions, but given the centrality of this ritual to O.T.O., it’s surprising that there have been so few comprehensive treatments of it. I think the mystification of what this ritual is really for has contributed to that.
Furthermore I think the real spiritual potential of this ritual is obscured when attention is focused on “using” it to attain private magical ends, be they material objects or outcomes or even communion with one’s Angel. If a person has communion with their Angel, they don’t need the Gnostic Mass to continue the conversation; if they don’t have that communion, the idea that a public religious service is going to provide it is far-fetched. Certainly whatever lessons the ritual has to teach are going to be obscured if one spends the entire time visualizing some other object rather than listening and paying attention to what is happening in front of them.
My advice for those wanting a deeper experience of the Gnostic Mass is to practice the three prerequisites of eucharistic magick described in chapter XX of Magick in Theory and Practice: fasting, chastity, and continual aspiration. (Tau Polyphilus has written a good essay on this subject.)
I would also advise them to pay attention to the actions of the Priest and Priestess during the Ceremony of the Introit. Notice the discipline she imposes upon him and the humility with which he receives it.
The Holy Spirit can speak to you through the ritual, but only if you adopt the mindset that will allow you to receive it. It’s less important that you learn to “use” the ritual for your own purposes than that you allow it to work through you. Quiet your mind, listen, and pay careful attention.
As for the implications the DuQuettes draw for current E.G.C. policy, they seem dubious. Our policies are historical in nature. They change over time in response to changing conditions within the Order, and since this is a dramatic religious ritual presented to the public, they change in response to conditions without the Order as well. Our policies must be grounded in our spirituality without being dragged down by them. Dialogue must continue, but dialogue cannot happen when historical facts are dressed up like unequivocal metaphysical truths—especially when we know that reasonable people can still disagree over metaphysical truths.
Fortunately the DuQuettes’ central claim—that the Gnostic Mass ought exclusively to be understood as the ritual enactment of O.T.O.’s supreme magical secret—is implausible. The support for it in what Crowley said about the Gnostic Mass is lacking, and there is ample evidence for an alternative view, namely that it is better understood as a dramatic religious ritual.
My hope is that this essay helps spark a conversation about the Gnostic Mass. I especially hope it generates interest in asking and answering basic questions about the ritual, such as what it is, what it is for, and how it achieves its aims. For those looking for more depth in a ritual they have probably attended and celebrated many times already, my hope is that this essay has helped them see the ritual in a new light. For those who are relatively new, I hope this teaches you the value of skepticism, curiosity, and giving and accepting good reasons in a hierarchical religious context.
As I hope is obvious, I mean no disrespect toward the DuQuettes. I may disagree with their views on the Gnostic Mass insofar as I understand them, but I value them as members of our fraternity and the broader community. I have made every attempt to represent their views accurately and in context.
Any insight I have brought in my treatment of these subjects is partly the result of the many stimulating conversations I have had about the Gnostic Mass over the years. Special thanks to IAO131 and Tau Οµφαλος—as well as my siblings at Horizon Lodge in Seattle with whom I have celebrated Liber XV “rightly … with joy and beauty” all these years. Any error or lack of insight is entirely my own fault.
May your minds be open unto the Light,
May your hearts be centers of Love,
May your bodies be temples of Life.
Love is the law, love under will.
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