By Frater Parrhesia
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
In the article “An Order for Families,” Frater Beto Cuervo reminds members of the OTO that Aleister Crowley intended the Order to prioritize the accommodation of families and their children:
“Crowley wanted children to be born and raised free and glorious, as is our father the sun,” to this end, “Crowley… says that children are to be a priority, each equally, and that the general membership should take pains to rear and revere them. He goes so far to say that children born without the order should be extended the same charity, that they should be taught pride and strength in accordance with the law of Thelema.”Agape, Volume XIX No. 1
In this light, I believe that the members of the OTO would do well to meditate awhile upon the place of children within the Order. What are our current attitudes towards children, and how do these compare and contrast with those that Crowley set forth a century ago? Might we develop better strategies to fulfill the objectives, regarding the children of our Order, delineated at the inception of the OTO?
Aleister Crowley clearly believed that the education of children, in the spirit of Thelema, was a crucial step in the fulfillment of the New Aeon, as is evident in his essays and letters devoted to the subject. Further, Crowley made it clear that he expected the OTO to play a role in this. The article by Frater Beto Cuervo contains the following selection from “An Open Letter to Those Who May Wish to Join the Order,” where Crowley says this of Children in the OTO:
“All children of Brethren are to be considered as children of the whole Order, and to be protected and aided in every way by its members severally, as by its organization collectively. No distinction is to be made with regard to the conditions surrounding the birth of any child. There is an especially sacred duty, which every Brother should fulfill, with regard to all children, those born without the Order included. This duty is to instruct them in the Law of Thelema, to teach them independence and freedom of thought and character, and to warn them that servility and cowardice are the most deadly diseases of the human soul.”Liber 101, sections 14-15
These are strong words, worthy of careful consideration by every member of the Order. Thus, I urge my Brothers and Sisters to carefully evaluate the implications of Crowley’s declaration. What do these words mean in terms of O.TO. policy, and in regards to practical application at the local level?
Obligation of Brethren to Thelemic Children
Now, I think most Thelemites would agree that it is the will of each Star “to be born and raised free and glorious, as is our father the sun,” and “taught pride and strength in accordance with the law of Thelema,” (Cuervo) but I know that many members feel an aversion to dealing with children, nor would most parents feel comfortable entrusting the “general membership” with the care of their child. Personally, I do not think that most adults are fit to care for children, whether they be Thelemite or not. By all means, if one does not like, or have a profound respect for children, one certainly should have nothing to do with them. Honestly, I would not leave my child alone with many of the Thelemites I know, nor am I really comfortable with my child mingling all that much at OTO events. This is not because I think most Thelemites are ill willed or mean spirited, as these are some of my favorite people; it is just that many of them seem to have a tendency to say the craziest things, and can not seem to hold their tongues, or behave in a developmentally appropriate manner. This trend is complicated by fact that many Thelemites flaunt their entitlement to do and say what they Will without interference, oblivious to the development of children. But, if we hope to encourage families to involve their children in events, we had better raise the expectations of the behavior of our members, at least when children are present. No doubt, I have a morbid sense of humor as well, but I recognize the necessity of refraining from describing atrocities in graphic detail where a child may be listening, lest they needlessly be traumatized by my carelessness. Alas, some people seem to lack this degree of awareness or self control, and the less interaction they have with children, the better.
Thus, I raise the question: what might we expect of our Brethren regarding the care of children? This begs a further question: to what degree might the members of an Order of liberty and hospitality, such as the OTO be expected to respect differences, accommodate or cooperate with other members? Whatever our answer may be for the second question, will supply the basis for the first, for fundamentally the issue is that of respect for the Will of parents to foster the Will of their children to the best of their ability, however they see fit. Personally, I see no reason why every member of the Order should be expected to deal with children, when such may not be the Will of any given individual. Rather, I think it is the responsibility of the Order in general, specifically in Local Bodies where there is a need, to take appropriate measures to accommodate the Will of families. Now, Crowley in Liber 101, using the phase “by its members severally, as by its organization collectively” does seem to imply a certain obligation for everyone to meddle in the upbringing of children. If that is in fact what he meant, I would have to say this is utter absurdity. I tend to think he is using lofty language to say something rather simple, such as insisting that the Sisters and Brothers of this Order are not only to respect the Will of one another, but also that of our children. In some cases, no doubt, this would lead to direct involvement, but more often than not, it would merely mean supporting, or at least not thwarting, the measures that Bodies might enact in order to better accommodate children.
To this end, I might ask some further questions of any who may be hesitant to adapt to the inclusion of children at an event: If a bother or sister of the Order politely requested that you not swear or smoke in front of their child, at a prearranged “family event,” would you find this to be a reasonable accommodation and adapt willingly? If not, would you be offended if a Body Master excluded you from family events, or would you have enough sense to remove yourself, and stick to regular events, which I imagine will always be the norm? Honestly, I am hesitant to make these sort of requests, as I am wary of imposing restrictions on others, but I believe these issues to be pivotal concerns for many Thelemite parents who may be on the fence about involving their children in the OTO Were it not for my Local Body’s invitations to bring my child to events, and general statements from the OTO about the accommodation of families, I would not be inclined to ask for anything. Anyways, I certainly would not be offended, if my child were not welcome at OTO events, or if the accommodations I requested were refused. In general, my partner and I have been far more inclined to segregate our family life from our involvement in the Order, quite frankly, because of a handful of people who seem to be incapable of a moderate degree of self restraint. Still, I see no reason why a Body could not choose to accommodate children occasionally, nor why Bothers and Sisters would not respect each others wishes on these matters. Further, I do not understand why those who might not wish to cooperate, would be offended if they were excluded from these events, still I imagine some will.
Children in Ordo Templi Orientis
As parents in the Order, my partner and I have occasionally been asked by our local Body Master how they might better accommodate our family, so I have been thinking about this for some time. In answer to this question, I have compiled the following list of recommendations for OTO Bodies interested in accommodating families:
- Host periodic family events, at least annually if not quarterly, more or less often depending upon the interest of local families and the cooperation of the general membership.
- Occasionally perform short rituals designed for children to observe or participate in, such as a basic pentagram or hexagram ritual, brief invocations, or simple Sabbat, Solstice and Equinox celebrations. Maybe a “modest mass” or perhaps the Short Eucharist ritual of Tau Polyphilus might be held for children who wish to partake of communion.
- All expectations must be made clear to everyone (officers, congregation, parents and children) prior to an event, to avoid awkward exchanges during the ritual.
- Maintain ongoing communication with parents to ensure that accommodations actually meet the needs and interests of individual families at a given stage of a child’s development, and to be sure that family events work with the schedules of the families we wish to include.
- At social events, provide activities that meet the developmental abilities and interests of each child present at the event. Here are some general ideas: various crafts, free form art, coloring book pages, costume materials for dramatic play, musical instruments, dancing, singing or chanting, yoga and pranayama, short asana with guided meditation or visualization. If possible it is ideal to provide an outdoor environment, backyard or open field, a safe place to run about. Always collaborate with parents when preparing activities for children.
- Do not preach or proselytize to children, certainly not without explicit parental consent. Rather, promulgate the Law by example, by respecting the individuality of oneself and others, and radiating the joy and love of an unfettered Will.
- Be sure children are supervised at all times, ideally by two adults approved by parents, if not the child’s parent or guardian, to ensure the safety of children and limit liability for prosecution relating to accidents or questionable incidents.
- Regulate smoking/vaping to secluded locations removed from areas occupied by children.
- For the very young, any dangerous objects or substances, including alcoholic beverages, should by placed out of reach, if not directly monitored.
- Make the expectation of developmentally appropriate behavior/speech explicit to all who wish to attend family events, with the understanding that those who refuse to comply will no longer be welcome at such events.
For those who advocate an absolute freedom of speech, a word might be said in defense of the exercise of restraint, at least when speaking to children. The point of moderating speech, in my opinion, should never be to conceal the truth, but to reveal reality gradually, to the degree a child is ready at the given moment. Although it is generally inappropriate to lie to children, it is unnecessary and ultimately counterproductive to bombard their intellect with information that far exceeds their current level of comprehension. Although it is important not to demonize natural phenomena, such as sex and death or the consumption of psychoactive plants/chemicals, I believe it best to avoid prematurely exposing children to situations they are not prepared to understand. This is not to say that I think discussion of sensitive topics should be dismissed categorically, nor even postponed indefinitely. As a general rule, if a child is old enough to ask a question, they are old enough to receive an honest answer, but we must be attentive, for it is easy to mistake a childish questions for adult inquiry. Children often desire simple answers that address basic curiosity about a topic, and it would be folly to respond with a detailed dissertation, which would merely bore the child, if not result in complete confusion. There is nothing wrong with informing children that the answer to a given question is too complex to explain at the moment, and reassuring them that one will revisit the subject at a later date. Also, it is better to honestly admit one does not know something, than to perpetuate falsehood and misunderstanding. Further, when dealing with the children of other members, do not hesitate to redirect a child’s question back to the parent if you are uncertain what the appropriate answer may be.
As a Thelemite, I generally believe that every child, as every man and every woman, every Star, should be respected and treated equally, as Stars among the Stars. All the same, anyone with sufficient experience working with children will recognize that they are substantially different from adults in many ways, and we had better take these differences into consideration. One does not need a degree in Developmental Psychology to understand that children undergo a continuous series of progressive metamorphoses, and require different sorts of interactions at various stages in their development. Thus, it should be remembered that children learn about themselves and the world progressively, through a series of developmental stages, and that skipping primary steps may be confusing, or even traumatic. Further, as the procession of development is unique to every child, and it is difficult to know just what any child needs at a given moment, it is best to let crucial conversations be handled by the child’s parents or qualified teachers, those who better understand the development, temperament and sensitivities of that child. Regardless of how strongly one might feel about a controversial subject, it is not the responsibility of members of the Order to educate the children of other members without express permission, as this is a sure way to alienate parents from affiliation with the OTO. Needless to say, the alienation of members from the Order is certainly an ineffective method of promulgating the Law, either for children or for parents.
Like it or not, certain words and topics are still taboo in our society, and it can be difficult for young children to regulate their speech, let alone understand that it may be inappropriate to say some things in certain contexts, like at school or in front of Grandma. Therefore, many Thelemite parents would prefer to avoid premature exposure to certain words and topics, choosing to restrain their own vocabulary rather than restricting the child’s language, to avoid instituting confusing double standards. So, as colorful as anyone’s language might be personally, it is prudent to take a more conservative approach when speaking with other peoples children. I hesitate to advocate a “conservative” approach, but years of working with other peoples children has taught me to respect cultural differences, as well as variation in parenting style. Of course, I am not referring to political conservatism, much less religious conservatism, so a better word might be “conscientious.” I am encouraging members of the Order to approach the children of their Brethren conscientiously, perhaps considerately, implying a respect and understanding of the different ways parents might wish to raise their children. Now, I would not insist that anyone be obligated to actively engage in the perpetuation of outdated values or belief systems, but I would recommend the thoughtful consideration of the taboos prevalent within the culture within which child will be raised, for it is unlikely (and undesirable) that one will remain isolated to a Thelemic community. For unless one wishes to instill a cultish antagonism between Thelema and the rest of the world, it would be wise to maintain a certain semblance of cohesion with the broader culture of the child. Ultimately, in my opinion, the issue is not whether one agrees with a particular parenting style, but our responsibility to respect the choice of Sisters and Brothers within the Order to raise their children a certain way, without undue interference.
Of course, some parents may care less about regulation or censorship, and indiscriminately expose their children to a wide array of explicit or suggestive experiences. Certainly among Thelemites, one might expect to hear a broader vocabulary demonstrated than average, and I imagine many will find no fault in swearing profusely in the presence of their children. Still, as a rule, the more liberal tongued parent will not be offended if others refrain from swearing in front of their children, but verbal indiscretion can be incredibly disconcerting for parents who would prefer not to model abrasive language for their children. Alas, the occasional expletive may slip out the mouth of even the most self aware, no harm done. In my opinion, in such cases it is better not to draw attention by apologizing, thereby instituting the idea of “bad words.” Ideally, it would be best to continue speaking unaffected without notice, and simply be more careful from then on. Obviously, if the child calls you out, just own it and move on; still no need to apologize or make a big deal out of nothing, and risk turning it into a taboo. The real concern in moderation is not so much cursing, as it is exposing children to disturbing imagery, whether visual or verbal, or prematurely introducing ideas which might provoke an obsessive fixation in the mind of the child. Ultimately, I do not think there is anything wrong with swearing, for adults or for children, as swear words merely serve as expletives which function like exclamation marks for the spoken word. Swearing is only problematic in certain social contexts, as a result of current cultural expectations, and not intrinsically harmful. Most adults are capable of swearing while casually chatting with friends, yet speaking professionally when working. For young children these lines are unclear and confusing, and often come with excessive negative social feedback, which only reinforces the taboo against the use of certain words, along with the corresponding desire to use them to provoke reactions from others. This does not present as much of a challenge for older children, who are more adept at adapting to the customs of various groups, and tend to be more immune to the disapproval of their elders, and better at judging when they can get away with pushing the boundaries.
My issue with smoking around children is more strait forward: it is addictive and toxic. It is now common knowledge that research has indicated a variety health concerns related to regular exposure to second hand smoke, to the extent that it is illegal in many places to smoke within a certain proximity of schools, parks and facilities frequented by children. Still, I believe there is a subtler and more insidious reason to regulate smoking, that of influence. Of course, I believe that “Man has the right” to smoke what “he will,” and die how “he will,” but I still would prefer that my child not be overtly influenced to make foolish life choices by regularly interacting with OTO members that habitually smoke in front of him. I think it unwise to carelessly normalize destructive habits, at least while children are still in the very impressionable stages of early imprinting. This is all the more of a concern when the behavior is being modeled by individuals whom the parents clearly show great respect for. Granted, I think smoking may be even more of an issue around teenagers who have a strong desire to feel like an adult, without the maturity to act like one, and often fixate upon the outward appearance of adulthood, fetishized as the act of smoking, only latter to become an addict, and realize that their free will has been impaired, often after it is too late to quit without great struggle. Here, I have tobacco in mind, but I would not want my friends smoking cannabis in front my child either, although I admit I would rather catch him smoking weed than cigarettes as a teenager. No doubt, this is a personal bias. I imagine I will have an open discussion about the pros and cons of various drugs, and the impact that premature experimentation may have on brain development, before this becomes a real concern, as would any open minded and contentious parent these days. Yet until then, I think it prudent to limit his exposure to any such substances, either by proximity or in conversation. Of course, he will occasionally see people smoke on the street and at concerts, but these tend to be superficial experiences, not prolonged and repeated encounters with people he knows and respects. The difference in influence is dramatic, and one worthy of consideration by anyone who respect the needs of childhood, certainly by by an Order which claims to protect and aid the children of its members.
There is yet another topic which must be addressed, specifically regarding nudity in the Gnostic Mass.
I am sure many parents in the OTO would love an opportunity to share our central ceremony with their children, but refrain for one simple, and easily avoidable, reason. Personally, I do not believe there is anything inherently inappropriate about this part of the ritual, as it is clearly meant to represent a profound mystery, such as the naked purity of human divinity as mirrored in the “naked splendor of Nuit.” (Liber AL) Still, we would do well to remember that we now live in a barbaric age that fears the body. Thus I would recommend that parents, officers and Masters be fully aware of any legal restrictions that might apply to their locality. If there is any concern that this part of the ritual might arouse the hostility of local authorities, or if parents may be uncomfortable for any other reason, it will be best for the Priestess to exercise modesty when performing this portion of the Mass. Nonetheless, I always thought that a breastfeeding baby might intuitively understand the significance of the Priestess unveiled best, before having been conditioned by society to fear and fetishize “private parts,” and sexually objectify the female body. Of course, by the onset of puberty, at least for most boys, this experience runs the a risk of being interpreted pornographically, which is only natural. Anyways, it strikes me as backwards that it is common place to expose children to all sorts of depictions of violence, brutality and death, but that the appearance the female breast, giver and sustainer of life, remains taboo. So it is that children are taught to demonize love and deify hatred, as society restricts life, but glorifies death. Alas, such is the perversion of our age, which we might work to overcome in the rearing of our own children, but it would be wise to be wary of exciting the suspicions of the ignorant, none the less. At this point, I should also add that it is imperative that we be careful when distributing communion and toasting, to maintain compliance with the laws of the land regarding the distribution of alcohol. These concerns must be understood principally from the standpoint of safeguarding our Order from prosecution and persecution by the State. As it stands, the OTO. is already a controversial organization, we should be careful not to attract needless negative publicity due to the foolish carelessness a few members.
At this point, it needs to be mentioned that it is not just the adults which need to behave appropriately at family events. Children may be expected to behave in a manner appropriate to their stage of development, and it is the responsibility of parents to ensure that their children respect any people and property that might be present. Mutual respect must be reciprocated between all members and their children, to be sure that the hospitality of our Order is not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, there may be occasion when a parent or guardian of a particularly aggressive or destructive child, might rightfully be expected to leave an event, and not return to future events with that child until one has developed more self control. In any case, it is not up to an outside observer to intervene in the education or discipline of a child; unless, of course, a child directly violates your person or property, when it is necessary to clearly, but respectfully, state your boundaries to both child and parent. Ideally, parents would swiftly handle any situations before another member had to intervene, but alas, such behaviors often (but not always) coincide with a neglect for proper supervision, or a dismissive attitude on the part of the parents. At any rate, so far as they remain within the legal parameters set forth by the State, it is the prerogative of parents to decide what what they think best for their own children, for better or worse. All the same, the Body Master clearly has a right and duty to set the parameters for attendance on behalf of the congregation, and negligent parents certainly may be held accountable for the actions of their children.
No doubt, the destruction of property or violence against others, should not be tolerated, but a distinction needs to be made in regards to disruptive behavior. Disruption should not be confused with destructive or aggressive behavior. Children are naturally disruptive, and should be free to play and move about, to speak and make noise, as they Will. If an officer is not prepared to ignore childish outbursts, if not laugh or comment reassuringly, then carry on unphased, they should not perform ritual for a family event. Further, it is incredibly disrespectful for members of the congregation to glare disapprovingly at children and parents for disrupting a ritual. If one is incapable of ignoring, if not smiling or laughing about interruptions, one should not attend family events. After all, what is the point of hosting family events, if not to encourage parents to feel comfortable bringing their children to these events. Conversely, as a common courtesy, I would say that parents should refrain from bringing particularly disruptive children to regular events, without express approval of officers and the Body Master. Now, if it so happens that a given body chooses to make all events family oriented, I imagine it might be refreshing to offer the occasional “adult event,” where there will be no children present. The presence of children certainly alters the atmosphere of the experience, and some may find it challenging to concentrate on the ritual with extra distractions.
Now, I should specify that in referring to children throughout this article, I have primarily been thinking of young children. As a preschool teacher and father of a 5 year old, most of my expertise is with the first 6 years of life, but I also have substantial experience working with elementary and middle school age children, as well as limited interaction with high school. Of course, older children may be reasonably encouraged to refrain from excessive unwarranted disruption. Also, I certainly recognize that by the time a child enters puberty, depending upon maturity levels, parents and teachers should be able to speak frankly about all subjects, as long as the child has been duly prepared in advance. Still, it is important for outsiders, who are not personally involved in a child’s development, to defer to the wishes of the parents when dealing with questionable subject matter, and refrain from engaging in disciplinary measures if possible. Generally speaking, parents and guardians will best understand the development of their own children, know why the child is behaving a certain way, and have strategies in place to deal with recurring issues. Unwelcome intervention rarely helps, as outside observers simply do not have enough information to base their judgments on. This is further complicated by the fact that many Thelemite parents will choose to utilize alternative methods of child rearing, such as those advanced by Steiner or Montessori, that have unique approaches to discipline, which adults untrained in the methods often find counter intuitive. Of course, many parents will encourage their brethren to be more directly involved in a child’s education, and ask that some might help provoke the intellectual and psychological unfolding of the child. If such an honor is bestowed upon one, the responsibility must never be taken lightly, for such an influence might have the greatest impact upon the development of a young mind. In any case, the key is to have an awareness of oneself and the environment, and the impact these have upon the developing minds of any children that may be present, at all times.
For now, perhaps the best way to fulfill Crowley’s ambition for the OTO. to care for the children of its members, would be for parents to request that specific Sisters and Brothers who excel in certain disciplines, might mentor their child in areas of interest, so far as all parties are willing to participate. Perhaps in time, the Philosophy of Thelema will bare fruit in the field of Education, and the OTO. might acquire more resources to aid in teaching the children of our members. Eventually, we might develop an educational system better suited to the ideals of Thelema, and one day offer classes to instruct parents and teachers in Thelemic methods of education, maybe even design online courses and resources as a hybrid/home schooling option, if not open physical schools. To this end, Crowley says the following in his Open Letter:
“Colleges of the Order will presently be established where the children of its members may be trained in all trades, businesses, and professions, and there they may study the liberal arts and humane letters, as well as our holy and arcane science. Brethren are expected to do all in their power to make possible the establishment of such Universities.”Liber 101, section 41
Of course, it should be noted that Crowley intended that, “These Regulations Come into Force in Any District Where the Membership of the Order Exceeds One Thousand Souls.” Still, there is no reason why we might not begin to make efforts in this direction wherever there might be the interest and inspiration. In fact, Crowley’s essays and letters on education provide the basis for a solid pedagogy of Thelema (the topic of another essay) which is in many respects consistent with progressive educators of his time, and has been echoed by those that have followed, maintaining relevance even in the current research of Developmental Psychology. I believe it to be just a matter of time before Thelemic educators begin consolidating their understanding into an accessible resource, available for the use the general population of Thelemites, be they parents or teachers, Body Masters or merely members who wish to better accommodate the children of our Order.
In conclusion, I should emphasize that I merely intend to express my personal opinions, only representing the perspective of one individual, just one parent and member of the Order. I would expect that other members of the OTO will have wildly differing opinions on these matters, as they should. In the end, my objective is not so much to prove that some preconceived notion is true or false, as it is to provoke reflection upon a subject which I believe to be of the utmost importance, and thereby instigate discussions relating to the inclusion of children within the Order. I do not believe there is just one right way to include children at events, any more than there could be one right way for parents to raise their own children. The methods and strategies must be as diverse as the individuals involved, if they are to be ultimately effective and mutually beneficial. In my opinion, what matters most is that Body Masters, officers and other members, engage parents in an open dialog about how best to accommodate their families, and work together to strengthen our community, including our children. Further, I believe it essential that we foster a culture of respect for children, within the sanctuary of our holy Order, and throughout the rest of the world, if we hope to fulfill the promise of the New Aeon of Horus, the crowned and conquering child. In my opinion, the failure of adults to adapt their lifestyles to provide a more supportive environment for the children in their family and community, is itself very much a product of the Old Aeon, a tradition we would do well to rid ourselves of. Therefore I say, if we hope to fulfill our “sacred duty” to children, “to instruct them in the Law of Thelema, to teach them independence and freedom of thought and character, and to warn them that servility and cowardice are the most deadly diseases of the human soul,” (Liber 101, 15) we had better begin by carefully considering the ways we might, severally and collectively, better understand the interests of the families in the Order, and best accommodate the children in our midst. Thus, I hope that in writing this article, I might provoke such reflection and discussion as is essential to developing the understanding and wisdom necessary to know how to elevate the status of children within our Order, as without, so that we might secure a bright future for them in this Aeon of the Child.
Oh yes, and remember that the little child in your presence may well be a great Master, wiser
and more powerful than oneself, so approach that one with due reverence.
Love is the law, love under will.
Frater Beto Cuervo. An Order for Families. Agape, Volume XIX No. 1 2019
Aleister Crowley. Liber 101, An Open Letter to Those Who May Wish to Join the Order
Aleister Crowley. Liber AL vel Legis, the Book of the Law
- The Accommodation of Families and Inclusion of Children in the Broader Context of Thelema
- A Body for Children is a Body for All: Further Thoughts on Children in Thelema
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