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Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness: Women and the O.T.O.

Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness: Women and the O.T.O.

by Sister Georgia

Above the antique mantel was displayed
As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene
The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king
So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale
Filled all the desert with inviolable voice
And still she cried, and still the world pursues,
“Jug Jug” to dirty ears.
—T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land

We have a problem with women in Thelema. We don’t quite know what to make of them.

“[W]e honour activity and energy, despise passivity and inertia; in other word we praise man and dispraise woman[…] We only respect the ‘fast’ woman when she is bold about it, claims, as it were, to share our manhood[…] We think that a man ought to be a man, but that a woman ought not to be a woman; at least so sings the god-passion in our hearts, all careless of convenience.”
—The Magical Record of the Beast 666 (1972), p. 202.

As long as women are performing male subjectivity, and fitting into male expectations of how a ‘strong woman’ should behave, then we all get along just fine. But when women demand to be taken on their own terms, to talk about menstruation (not symbolic, or magick, but blood dripping down the candidate’s leg in the middle of their I°) and childcare and sexual assault, we don’t know what to make of it. We mythologise it, hide in legends—demand women come back in a few years, when the baby is grown, and the worst of the PTSD is over.

Because we have a goddess, a strong and powerful one; but in the divinity of the Holy Whore and Mother of Abominations we’ve conveniently included mundane womanhood, too; thus freeing ourselves from an responsibilities to attend to her needs as a woman within a patriarchal society. Babalon is outcast, shameless, broken, strong; but in this contradiction we see the truth: strength does not look the same in a man as in a woman. Meditate on the riddle of Samson, wherein from the strong came forth sweetness.

Because She appeared to Dee, and to Crowley—these men who had stripped so much dross—but still, their glasses were tinged, and they saw everything in a bloody shade of red. She appeared to these men: She came, and She was filtered and refracted, as they all are; filtered and refracted, these small gods. Yes She came, and proclaimed the Seven Streams; that which She had tried to tell mankind 2,000 years ago—but these small men needed time. And now She came, and told them—and these fools in their red glasses and their filters and their word games, they confounded Her with existing iconography, and didn’t listen to a thing She had to say. And I believe that these theological fallacies are to blame for the mundane issues our milieu currently faces.

I hear it, again and again, when I object to the systematic sexism I see everywhere that I turn. “Its Thelema, what did you expect?!” But I will not give my goddess up to the dogs. The O.T.O. claims to offer equal space for men and for women; it strives to be a vanguard of temporal society. Instead, it is an old-boys club of wannabe V gentlemen. Everywhere I get this sense of sexism being the ingrained and expected norm—that I’m being chastised for pointing out the great, starry elephant in the corner of the room. But I know that this sexism and this avoidance of acknowledging it can be traced to the gender essentialism which is the hidden heart of our system, and the resulting constant confusion in thelemic texts and practices between symbolic, magic, metaphorical, assumed, performed, etheric, comparative and biological gendering.

In Minerval, woman and man are acknowledged as being such, and separate; in III° every candidate becomes imaginatively a man; in IX°, man and women are irrevocably divided—for love’s sake, for the chance of union. Sometimes, in thelemic texts, man means mankind—but sometimes it does not. And indeed there is a problem with there being no ungendered signifier in English. But we must be careful of being more kind with Crowley than the misogynistic old thing deserves. If you find these ideas interesting, seek out the Cornelius papers—here, the fact of the biological essentialism of the formula ON, the central formula of the O.T.O., is presented indisputably (the material, however, contains some degree-specific information).

We must always remember that the O.T.O. is built around the original hermetic principle: as above, so below. Consider the four signs of our order; our centre is two cognate sets of symbols, describing the micro and macrocosm. And what do these symbols describe if not the mysteries of gender, mundane and divine? For the masculine and feminine are eternally entwined above the abyss, a constant whirring circuitry; but according to thelemic doctrine, the masculine and the feminine are separate below it. This is the underpinning of thelemic sex magic. Ultimately, the O.T.O. enshrines the mysteries of ON—and this is a gender essentialist, sexual magic formula. Without understanding this, we simply cannot understand the situation of women in Thelema. Without acknowledging this, Thelema cannot move beyond it. It is both the locus of female oppression, and the potential lens through which female power grows from spark to roaring flame.

Yes, Thelema contains within it so much potential for pandrogyny and gender swapping and all of that delicious spectrum—but not until we recognize the principles on which this formula was built, and these are the principles of biological essentialism. Our symbols are those of the womb and the phallus, and our doctrine that of the child, and no amount of wishful thinking will make that otherwise. We need magical growth, not denial. According to this formula, men and women have different roles within magic. And, from this perspective, the O.T.O. has been written for men—for men to approach divine femininity. It does not offer an equal channel for women to approach the divine masculine, at all. It is not even recognised that that is the aim and need. Once one realises this inner secret, then the lack of women in the order, and the order’s inherent and universal sexism, makes much more sense—and so too, the anti-feminism and anti-victim rhetoric of so many thelemic women.

For understanding this formula partially, recognising it as a woman within this system created from the point of view of the man, can causes great problems. One of the things that has most surprised me, of the reactions I have received to my writing and work, is the anger and insult and personal attack I’ve been subjected to by female thelemites who do not see the problems as I do. It is a well-known fact that women are amongst the harshest of anti-feminists. We see it in debates on abortion and FGM and rape, and we see it in Thelema too, when women demand that those who have been abused simply need to be stronger, and learn to fight. Such approaches signal an internalisation of patriarchy and unadmitted shame at being a woman. A sense of, I endured this, and found a way to survive, and now you must too; of an identity built in this context. Such women see their version of femininity, carefully constructed within the boundaries set by patriarchy, as being under threat by my work—which, of course, it is.

Men are growing used to having their behaviour called out, and being forced to self-reflect; the paradigm has changed, and there is epistemological space for such work, now. But the same does not apply for women. If anything, the innate righteousness of a woman’s experience has been enshrined as a side-effect of the digitised sexual assault narratives’ authenticity dialogues. And this is one of the reasons it is so important to bring this conversation into the context of the wider world and other feminisms—because we are an incredibly insular community in many ways, and we gain power from our liminal space; but we need to recognize our own ‘others’, and the power they gain from being displaced. Women, too, need to understand that they can be wrong. That womanhood isn’t a single, cohesive mass any more than man is.

And I realise, one of the reasons I receive so much vitriol from women is precisely because there is a partial recognition of the different roles men and women have in this system. But instead of allowing this to flourish, we’ve repressed the women’s portion—women’s half, women’s co-extensiveness—under that most powerful of Old Aeon structures, Patriarchy. And now, when I try to speak of women’s roles, it looks as though I attack their magic—but I attack only to see it crawl back out the woodwork, pull itself back out of the caves. Our roles are different—but to reduce the infinite complexity of divine femininity to a cup and a kholed eye is as grotesque a blasphemy as to reduce the divine masculine to a ball-sack and a beard.

And I’m aware, uppity young me, that there is an issue with age, and disparate experience—an older woman, a woman from another context, may not see something as sexist, because to them it is normal, because they have seen it every day. They may think that I am unable to pick my battles, that I throw tantrums over things that do not matter, or else cannot be changed. Christ, even my devoutly feminist mother will say that some fights just aren’t worth it. My goddess and I disagree. Many will not notice these issues. When pointed out, they will rage against them. It takes time, energy and willingness to understand these problems—willingness to understand how one’s own thoughts and actions have been wrong. This is one of the hardest things in the world to do, gut it is also the very foundation of magic.

I understand that sexism is contextual, and this is precisely how we get away with that whole “well, it’s magick—what did you expect?!” dialogue that so often recurs. And this takes me back to one of my earlier articles, about the problems with consent narratives in a magical context. If someone propositions you for sex, not all contexts are equal. In some situations you may be wholly free to say yes or no; in other contexts, there may be economic, social, psychological, physical or indeed spiritual or pseudo-magical reasons consent cannot be freely given. Now, in the context of the O.T.O., we have three simultaneous issues problematizing the issue of consent. First, the problems of people abusing hierarchy and positions of power; the second, a lack of understand about the nature of the gender essentialism and phallic subjectivity of the system in its current state; third, the unspoken grail of magical abuse—the fact that being a successful magician means being an element of mastery of psycho-magical manipulation.

And this last point is the most important of the three, because we never seem to discuss it. Black magic: the asserting of one’s Will over the other. A good magician, who has mastered their own mind, will also have a level of understanding and mastery of the minds of others. They will have the ability to assist others in their path—such a person is an adept. But they will also be able to sway others from their path, to contravene the other’s Will—and further, to ensure that their allies do not see it that way. I believe this is the secret truth at the centre of the majority of the magical abuse stories that I have been privy to.

At some point we need to realise that the O.T.O. system was not created by women, but by men enmeshed within the patriarchal system; and that women continue to inhabit a problematic space in the thelemic socius, and that by being forced to consider themselves neoliberal, masculine subjects, people only to the extent to which they fit the monumental, individualistic, bounded neoliberal definition of personhood, the systematic punishment and abuse of women is allowed to continue unchecked—even encouraged, as a form of initiation appropriate for women. Because male ordeals are psychological, but rape is the easiest way into a fleshy woman’s psyche. There’s historical, mythological precedent—so its all natural, right?

If we want rights, to be equal, then we must be as men and reject our feminine pain. We must enshrine our individuality, the false strength of the phallus. We’re forced to take the infinite spreading of pentacles which is woman’s center, and shove it into a phallic-shaped mould, and that which doesn’t fit is labelled ‘women’s mysteries’ and scorned and degraded as inessential, in the bigger plan of things. But I take secret joy in knowing that all this came about when man discovered the pathetic nature of his little phallic point in the face of the eternity of her circles. But in shoving us into their phallic-shaped boxes, where every droplet in or out is measured or codified in an attempt to shore up the boundaries of the self, women in their constant overflowing, their rejection of individuality in the potential of the child, they are always less-than-people, not-quite-people—because our neoliberal definition of person has no room for the mysteries of the mother.

Trying to write an overview of gender and sexism in occultism—which was what, in its first conception, this article was supposed to be—is an herculean, impossible task, because the subject is coextensive with the field. Enchantment enshrines the sex difference. It resisted the prime point phallicism of enlightenment, clung to the goddess. And this, of course, is the problem with scientific illuminism—it never knew quite what to do with earthly women. We’re all dancing around this great, groaning abyss, and we’ve got this cultural word-game going on wherein we’ve all implicitly agreed not to speak of the very center of all our work and formulae. This is why Babalonian narratives are simultaneously so powerful, and yet, at the same time, perpetuate over and over these castrated images of sexual slavery. Boobs and blood, and a shiny grail to represent her waxed barbie cunt. What the fuck is empowered about that? It offers the same thing as page 3 of The Sun. “Everyone can be a whore, girls! This is what freedom looks like.” I spit on your blasphemy. I raise you Innana; let my goddess do battle with your vain image.

Duality is right there, the centre of our mysteries—and yet we have no idea what to do about human duality. Thus the abuse of women is inevitable—because there’s a whole unexplored side of our magic we laugh at in order to keep repressed. An entire side and mirror of Thelema, equally as complex and powerful, coextensive, and equally as available for men, as the phallic is for women. And people keep saying to me “why keep flogging a dead horse?” and I answer—because that rotting corpse still claims to speak for my Lady, and I will not allow this blasphemy to continue while there is still breath in me.

We thelemites, we don’t know how to conceive of the woman properly. We try to put woman into premade patriarchal categories, but the Whore defies that. She is chaste, yet a whore. She loves you, and only you—but she also loves him, and only him. She loves all, for She is the conduit of the goddess—the incarnation of theoreticism.

And here we have a final secret, that which Dion Fortune and Crowley both knew; this is where the new magic, the women’s magic, will be done. For, the truth is that magic can only be done in circuit. This is why the O.T.O. is so abusive and abortive; unable to make a circuit with the snivelling wreck of woman it has created, it operates through vampirism. But I tell you, as Vivien le Fey and the Great Beast declared, the most powerful magician in the world cannot work without a partner.

“Whom does the grail serve?”

Other articles by Sister Georgia:

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