by Sister Georgia
A wise Thelemite said to me that we, as Thelemites, should not succumb to shame and guilt. How do I explain that, as a woman, feelings of shame and guilt towards my own experiences – particularly those involving sex and men and power – has been bred into me since the cradle? Because it’s not just about the bravery to stand up and say “I have been wronged.” It is not even about the fact that one is then expected to stand before the leaders of the group, who are almost always inevitably men – older men – for whom I must recount my most painful and intimate secrets. But the difficulty extends still further: for so often when one tries to explain the hurt that an other has caused, one must fight against the failed anti-christian understanding of Do what thou wilt.
I have been a member of the Order since May 2017. Seven months. In this time I have had what I am going to call, for want of a better word, ‘negative experiences’ with five male members of the Order: two online, though with people I knew personally, and three involving a sexual encounter (or, in lay terms, men that I fucked). I have also had two positive relationships with men in the Order. This is important, because a meta-concept that has been dawning on me recently is that of the spectrum of experience. Not a spectrum of consent or wrongness on the part of the male, but the spectrum of my experiences, and the extent to which any given encounter has long term negative effects. And as I began to view my experiences through this lens – of the effect on me, not of the blame that could be attached to an other – I realised that some of the most painful experiences I had had were those I was least able to articulate as being a ‘wrongdoing’.
And, of course this is the case; for relationships are complex, and it is well-known that those we love the most have the greatest potential to hurt us. And thus I found myself sitting in front of a SGIG a week ago, being asked to describe these experiences I had had, and finding it impossible to articulate them. The only words that came from my mouth were emotional outbursts, and I hated myself for that. And I was congratulated, and told I had to have the strength to express this, to do these things – and I do have that strength. But it has been important for me to realise that no matter what my Will, these things are always going to be difficult to describe, and they’re going to be embarrassing, and I’m going to feel ashamed, and I’m going to feel guilty – and that this is okay. I don’t need to overcome this, or ignore this, or fight this. Because it is precisely in the way these things make me feel guilty and ashamed that they have their power, their most horrific and insidious power, and it precisely for this reason that I must express them; and it is by not by skirting shame, but by diving headfirst into it, that these things will be expressed.
So I’m going to sit here and list some of the negative experiences I have had with men of the Order. And I want you, my reader, to understand, if you can, that what I am describing is not a catalogue of wrongdoing and of perpetrators but of my experiences. And some of these experiences have involved serious wrongdoing, and perhaps punishment should be meted out. But that is a different conversation. Because I don’t think we have a problem with punishment or authority in the Order. I think we have a problem with men not understanding the full effect of their actions.
A lot of the people who join our Order have had difficult experiences before getting here. Because of the nature of society, this means that many of the women who join have had serious negative sexual experiences. This links to our eschatology and cosmology and the Holy Whore and I can explicate this until the cows come home – and no woman has to agree with me either, I speak only for myself and my small circle. But I myself – I joined this Order because I had never been respected as a woman. I had never had my needs or feelings taken into account. And once more, this is not to lay the blame – my circumstances were such that no man needed to propagate this. I had been indoctrinated with the idea that respect didn’t matter, that my feelings didn’t matter. That my importance in this world was wholly tied up with what lay between my legs. And I didnt want to put this aside and pretend to be a man. I wanted to find a way of living with my experiences and my sexual identity that made these something sacred. And I fell in love with the Holy Whore and all that she symbolises (although my vision of the Holy Whore is hardly that of Parsons, and bears far more in common with the conflations of Innana and Persephone).
I’m an academic – I study Dion Fortune, an incredible, strong, powerful occult female leader who was not shy about her sexuality. And I had this vision of a place where I could become something like this, where I could find the support, the relationship with men that I needed, in order to flower. In that thrilling interview with the SGIG he said “the Order is but a reflection of society.” But I will tell you something. The level of hatred towards and conscious manipulation of women that takes place in this Order far exceeds anything I have seen outside of it. On days when I’m feeling particularly pessimistic I tell myself that the only women who survive in the order either find a sympathetic partner very quickly, or else imaginatively become men. Just like in the outside world, I suppose – so perhaps the SGIG was right after all.
And as I’m sitting here writing this I realise that even now I’m procrastinating getting down to the nitty-gritty. Because it’s always going to sound petty, because when we try and put inexpressible things into words thats how they come out – hence the entire bloody structure of the Mysteries. But also because I’m bracing myself for the “this is not my fault” and the “how is one to know;” and I even agree, to an extent. I struggle to hold any individual accountable for what is an ongoing, all encompassing cultural structure.
But, let me take as my starting point this: in the UK, or my part at least, Brothers outweigh Sisters 75-25. We have a poor rate of retention. Specifically, not enough young women stay. I am telling you, that if it were not for the positive experiences that I had happened to also have, I would have left the Order. As it stands, I have friends, other young women, who would be perfect for our Order, and I would like to recommend them to it, and to help on their journey. Instead, I feel the need to express caution, to warn away; and the saddest thing is that the women I know who could benefit the most, those who have experienced trauma and abuse and for whom the Order could be a truly amazing thing – it is precisely those women who I could never in good consciousness recommend, knowing that there are individuals within our Order who, whether consciously or not (though I fail to see how it could be unconscious) select, hunt, conquer and abuse vulnerable women. Because we’re all whores really, right? And the point about the whore is you don’t have to care if she cries as you leave.
“O lover, if thou wilt, depart!” : this sentence is the most dangerous in our canon. Rightly understood, it is the key to the magical relationship, which is the most sublime of all earthly interactions. Misunderstood, as it almost always is, it leaves a trail of gaslighted women struggling to understand how this most empowering law for all has become yet another mechanic of women’s oppression.
And once again, I’ve gone off on a tangent, and I’ve got this far into my rant without actually telling you any of the things that have happened to me. So let’s get to it: let me unveil all the gory details of my emotional and sexual lives for your viewing pleasure; let me offer my most intimate pains up for your judgement – are these enough? Are these sufficient for this to be considered a real problem? Let us start with the easy ones – the public ones, which everyone agrees were Bad.
I had never thought of myself as much of a whistleblower. But then all of this #metoo stuff came up. And I remember reflecting, and realising that I didn’t know a single woman who hadn’t been sexually assaulted, or experienced sexual violence or harassment. Actually, when I really got down to thinking about it, I realised that I only knew a handful of women who hadn’t been raped. Because rape is normal, still.
And I was thinking how lucky I was, that this had never happened to me. And then I began to question why, if that was the case, I felt so uncomfortable with my sexual history, with the experiences I’d had. And so, right now, on this public forum, I’m going to tell you my greatest secret. I passed through puberty knowing beyond doubt that the only thing I had of value was my attractiveness to the opposite sex. I spent six years having sex with every single man who propositioned me because I genuinely did not think I had the right to say no. I have this voice speak to me even now, and this is why it is so difficult to explain how traumatic my experiences within the Order have been. This little voice, it says “he really wants to fuck you. Why would you say no? You are wanted. How dare you say no!” And these days I put a lot of effort into resisting this, and confounding it and refusing to act on it. But that habit of thought is still there, and if my guard is down and I feel vulnerable – or I’m very drunk – it takes over.
And right here lies the difficulty in my position. I am not saying men need to be punished for picking up a woman who does not resist his advances. However, as magicians – never mind as human beings – we must all learn to understand each others cues, to learn the difference between resignation and enthusiasm – to genuinely prioritise the other and the other’s experience before our own. To me this is precisely what “Love under Will” means. We are all vulnerable. We are all stars, and the edges of stars bleed into one another. Without loving the other you cannot love yourself.
So, to return to the #metoo: because of this convenient mode of thought that had been bred inside me, I had never been raped or assaulted; because whenever such things were on the horizon, I would respond with an enthusiastic yes. This was an important point for me, a source of strength and pride. I could not be raped, because I had always already said yes. And then I reflected some more, and I realised there had been some times when even this attitude had failed to save me from harm. So I wrote long Facebook post, and I described one of the most awful experiences of my life; of waking up in an unknown bed, and of having a middle-aged man tell me with pride that he had found me black-out drunk sitting on a bench outside a bar, waiting for my friend, and that he had dragged me home with him, chasing after me when I tried to run away, carrying me when I fell and hit my head, taking me 40 minutes across the city to fuck my unconscious body in every hole. He held me hostage that morning, and refused to unlock the door of the flat until I had allowed him to cook me breakfast.
I feel quite differently about this experience now; but when I wrote the status, it was very apologetic, questioning whether this even counted as an assault. “I refuse to be a victim,” I wrote. And, before the shit-storm happened, a friend made a really good point, one that has stuck with me ever since. Refusing to acknowledge the ways in which I was a victim was in itself a symptom of my trauma and victimisation. And since then I have been working through this idea that, actually, I am a victim. That I can be strong and powerful and filled with the goddess and I can still be a victim. My victimhood does not define me; but I will not spend my life turning a blind eye to the ways in which I have been wronged, both by society at large, the Order I have joined, and the individuals therein.
So I have posted this long, confessional status, and I’m feeling pretty vulnerable. And one of the first comments I get is from a Brother in what had previously been my local Camp. In fact, I had recently left, because this same Brother had sent me a string of abusive messages demanding the immediate payment of my monthly dues (despite these messages being the first I’d heard about the existence of monthly dues at all) and threatening to remove me from the Order. This Brother takes to the comment section to accuse me of being attention seeking, trying to be “witchy and cool” and jumping on a bandwagon in order to get sympathy. Cue a long shit-storm of comments which ended in his plaintive cries that one of his children had been assaulted, and that I had to understand that his pain was as bad as mine, and that this was justification for his comments. Shortly after, another Brother, from the Oasis I had newly joined, decided to join in, stating that this #metoo business was overblown, that he didn’t know any women who had experienced sexual assault, and that if I was that drunk then what had happened was my own damn fault, and I could hardly blame the man.
The first Brother quickly apologised in a private message for his behaviour, and the matter was dealt with internally in a way that I was happy with. The second Brother did not apologise until many months after the incident. He was given a ‘talking to’ and was allowed to continue his attendance at Oasis events as normal. I found it difficult to be in temple space with a man who had told me I deserved to be raped, and I ended up feeling that I could no longer be a part of the Oasis.
This happened many months ago – when, more recently, I was discussing my experiences with a SGIG, I made the point that a recent issue, in which a different Brother had threatened another, was treated with the utmost seriousness, and quickly and officially resolved. And I complained, that it felt as though a threat of violence in the context of an argument was seen as that much worse than a wholly unprovoked comment that I deserved to be raped. And I realised that perhaps the problem is that takes a woman brave enough to stand up and articulate it in plain terms, to not be afraid of crying wolf (because the Gods forbid I am accused of falsely accusing a man, and then all my credibility goes out of the window) in order for anyone to even realise there is a problem.
So these are my online experiences. And these are easier to police, because they are there in writing, in screenshots – there is evidence, it can be easily shared. And these experiences had a really negative effect on me, to the extent that I went several months without attending any Order events, until I was able to find a new body to be a part of.
But what about the others? What about the ones where I actually fucked the fuckers, and suddenly the stakes have changed. How do I say, we had sex that I did not want, and I felt preyed upon, without you crying “what, so you were raped? No? Then what is the problem, this is your regret.” And in a sense you would be right, and this is what I have been trying to say from the start of this piece. I am not accusing anyone of a crime. But I am also refusing to accept that my vulnerability means I deserve to be preyed upon.
I have had three experiences that I need to talk about, but two of these I am not sure I am yet at the stage where I can talk about them as I would like to. One involved subtle, premeditated and cruel manipulation specifically designed to hurt me. This was done by a man who had been a close and trusted friend, who is a Body Master; a man who is widely liked, recognised to be a good man, and considered an asset to the Order. I also know that I am not the only woman he has treated thus, and that I was, in fact, very lucky to have escaped so lightly. This issue is difficult to discuss for political reasons, and because it still really fucking hurts. But now I have to take into consideration whether this Brother will be attending any given Order event I would like to go to, knowing that I will have to interact with him, and see the high esteem in which he is held by so many of my Brethren. Knowing that he will act as though nothing even happened, that all is well between us, and that I will feel like a hysteric, and a fool, and like I have no right to my pain.
I had another experience, with different Brother, who I met and hooked up with at an Order event, and who pursued me and invited himself into my home and manipulated me and trampled on my self esteem, and mid-fuck told me he was going to get me pregnant so he could keep me forever. If that latter bit doesn’t sound like assault, go talk to a woman with child. It is one of the most abusive things it is possible to do during consensual sex. This was followed up with an enthusiastic account of the time he almost cut his ex-girlfriend’s nose off – and this, ladies and gentlemen, is another Brother who is considered an asset, and is on his way ‘up’ in the Order. And I’ve paused, writing this section, because I know that the Brother in question is likely to read this, and to send me messages demanding to know why I would defame him thus, and rage that I would dare to see our affair in such a negative light.
But let us now turn to talk about Brother number five. And I feel bad, because it is upon Brother number five that the least blame can be laid. But it is for precisely this reason that I think this story is such an important one. I met Brother five, and got on very well with him. We had many interests in common, and I was looking forward to a productive friendship. I’m quite small, and can’t hold my drink terribly well. Brother five bought me double after double until I blacked out, and woke up with him in my bed (actually this isn’t quite true, I’m just trying to spare myself some humiliation. My only memory of that night is sitting on the bed, and chattering away as I am wont to do, and him deciding it was time to fuck, and me realising that at this point I didn’t have much choice in the matter). I speak to Brother five the next day – he is quite horrified that I don’t remember anything. I reassure him that I remember the sex itself (I don’t) so he doesn’t feel too rapey. He tells me we were drinking for hours and hours – that he had to carry me part of the way home, because I was too drunk to walk. And the thing is, I think this Brother genuinely rather liked me. It’s just, he saw this as an acceptable way to get me into bed. And I could retell this story as a funny story about another one of my one night stands and it would seem fine. But when I place it alongside my #metoo tale, and I think about all the things I was looking for when I joined the Order, it starts to really sting.
And there is an epitaph to the story with this Brother five. We were both to be at an event a couple of months later, and he brought me a gift – a truly exceptional and thoughtful and unique gift, one I continue to prize very highly. And as I was literally crying my thanks at this beautiful thing I had received I had a really unpleasant realisation. Did he expect me to fuck him again? Short answer, yes: he got drunk and kept trying to kiss me even though I kept saying no, and had a childish tantrum when I refused to come up to his room. I’ve never been so glad to have had a friend close by to call on to take me home. Why? Once more, this is the tricky bit. I do not think Brother five would have been violent, would have grabbed me, or would have thrown me down. But what he did was he cajoled and he made me feel guilty and he made me feel gross for having taken this gift which was such a beautiful and amazing thing, and for which he so obviously expected payment.
And, as suspected, when pinned down on paper this story seems empty, petty and pointless. Because what I can’t express is precisely that pain and shame and guilt which is the driving force of this whole fucking mechanic – and it is able to remain this way because it is so fucking difficult to express. Because it is never just a thing in itself. My experience with Brother five was so heartbreaking because it was so ordinary. Because I had had variations on that story happen so many fucking times. Because at that point I still believed a Brother would not treat me like that. Because how is he possibly to know the effects of his behaviour if I will not tell him? Yet how can I tell him, when we do not even have the vocabulary to describe women’s trauma. We talk about ‘fault’ and rape because black and white are easy.
But all that my experiences have made me realise is that all of this exists on a spectrum. There are not neat boxes for things that are rape and things that are assault and things that are abuse and things that are healthy. These are overflowing categories, they are relative and they are changeable. When I sit and take stock of my experiences with men I see they exist on a spectrum. And at one end are the scumbags who raped me on my sixteenth birthday and on the other is the man I am in love with now and the unifying thing is not their badness or their implication in the cultural programme of abuse or anything other than my experience. And my experience tells me that the mechanics and play of power and superiority and subordination and repression, that these are not a separate set of things when you are being raped than when you are indulging in BDSM. I have a spectrum of experience with men and power and what it tells me is not that we need witch hunts, or more efficient punishments; it tells me that we need to take a step back and look at our metaphysics and look at our structures and our symbols and look at our understanding of Will and Love and Holy Whores and freedom from vs freedom to and how we understand victimhood and what value we place on vulnerability and until we have these difficult conversations – until we make this the very center and focus of what we want our Order to be, of where we wish to place our energy, of what we want to work towards – then nothing will ever change.