by Frater Praemonstro
Thelema casts itself as the antithesis and remedy to the restrictive and self-debasing doctrines of Christianity. But modern mainstream Thelema, while yet in its infancy, finds itself repeating this same pattern of repression, clericalism, and self-loathing. This may seem a controversial statement, but as I will lay out below, the preponderance of evidence points in this direction. First, however a little background.
The Universality of Christos
The Rosicrusianism of the second order of Crowley’s A.A. has its roots in Crowley’s magical training ground: the inner order of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the R.R. et A.C.. The central arcanum of this form of Rosicrucianism was expressed in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (HOGD) by placing the initiate on the cross and by placing the Hebrew letter Shin in the midst of the four-letter Judaic god-name YHVH making YHShVH (Jeheshuah/Jesus).
The idea put forth by these moves is that the experience of the Christos was not a one-off event, but an attainment that could be had by aspirants who came into contact with what the HOGD called the higher-self. Crowley would replace that language with Abramelin’s Holy Guardian Angel (HGA), and make its Knowledge and Conversation the central ordeal of the second order of the A.A. This auto-theistic idea is embodied in the phrase from Liber AL: Every man and every woman is a star.
Further, this may not have been a mere modern innovation; consider the words attributed to Christ in John 10:34 “…ye are gods.” In addition to similar ideas in various heretical and gnostic gospels. The contention of some Rosicrucian movements is that this was, from the beginning, the central inner doctrine of Christianity, which was concealed and usurped by the church.
This perspective portrays the Christian church (or in Crowley’s language, the black lodge) as an organized conspiracy to suppress this doctrine as a secret for their own advantage, and lift itself up as the one true authority that speaks for Christ and the Christian god.
This authoritarian approach would be impossible if everyone knew they had within themselves the potential to have the experience of Emmanuel (god-with-us/Knowledge and Conversation of the HGA). Besides the obvious crimes of the church (authoritarianism, inquisitions, crusades, general cruelty, etc.), this is the central accusation and arcanum of the Golden Dawn-based Rosicrucian movement. But, right away we see parallels in the development and culture of modern Thelema.
The Return of Clericalism
Although billing itself as a diametrically-opposed set of ideas, in practice, Thelema seems to have fallen lock-step into the same pattern after the death of Crowley, and even probably prior to that. There has been a strong culture of clericalism and repression. Hold on, I hear some protest, the literature, orders, and authors of the 93 Current have been very clear about the law of Thelema: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.
However, I ask the careful reader to take a closer look at a number of uncomfortable facts. I think they will show that modern Thelema suffers from nearly the exact same problems as those of Christianity, which it was meant to supplant and remedy.
I will set aside for this essay the obvious superficial parallels such as the very existence of a church and mass (gnostic or not), or the ubiquity of “old aeon” ideas like the corpse of Osiris etc. I will focus on what Thelemic culture is actually doing in real time. To do this, I should no doubt begin with the most well-known Thelemic orders. These appear fraught with the same problems that afflict the Christian church.
If Christianity is to be criticized for its clericalism: the creation of a caste of individuals who are elevated to the position of defining terms and even (as the pope) speaking for god on earth, we should take a long hard look at the OTO and even the A.A..
Like Christian clericalism, mainline Thelemic orders have set up an exclusive hierarchy of position, which unlike say, Scottish Rite Masonry where one can get through all 32 degrees in a day, means a lifetime of dues-paying and agreeing with the in-crowd to have any hope of ever accessing higher degrees and having a voice. The A.A. with its ordeals and tests (some of which one wonders if Crowley himself could pass) is little different in this regard.
In both cases, we have a handful of gate keepers asserting their spiritual superiority, which must be coddled if one wishes to have any chance of getting there oneself. Like Christian clericalism, we see a spiritual aristocracy, an old boy’s system that elevates the loyal chosen few and excludes the rank and file. Every man and every woman is a star indeed!
But the similarities to the sins of Christianity go far deeper. Whether in person or online, the culture of Thelema includes a great deal of the dogmatism of Christianity. Purity tests, no true Thelemite fallacies, and actual inquisitions into whether someone is a real Thelemite are common enough that everyone can list several examples. Yet, what is likely the issue most similar to Christianity, is how the Thelemic community tends to view and handle its prophet.
If Christianity subverted the true message of Christ by pretending his was a one-off experience none of us mere mortals could have (as some Rosicrucians contend), then modern Thelema has so carefully mimicked this error that one wonders if the same folks wrote the script.
If you doubt this for a second, just go into any online Thelemic forum and mention in passing that you might have attained K&C of your HGA, and see what happens. You will be dismissed as either a charlatan, a would-be cult leader, or a delusional psychopath in short order. We will ignore the rebuttal that such attainments are to be kept secret in light of the fact that our founder ran about calling himself a Magister, then a Magus and probably more.
No Thelemites Allowed Except Crowley?
The idea that Jesus was the only Christ is directly mirrored in the unshakable resistance among Thelemites to anyone who discusses having experienced any similar attainment. Those who would add to, push forward, innovate, or deviate ever-so-slightly from the canonical texts and dogmatic doctrines of Crowleyanity, is publicly shunned, dismissed, or repudiated. Examples are too many to number, but the short list includes: Soror Nema, “Typhonian” ideas, Parsons, etc. It’s as if Crowley was the only adept ever, and anyone claiming to have contact with praterhuman intelligences like he did, is a fraud or a lunatic.
This raises the question of why Crowley would spend countless hours developing a system like the A.A. whose sole purpose was to produce adepts of precisely this sort if he didn’t think that this was something imminently doable. Why have an A.A. for making adepts if we don’t actually think it can do that? My contention is that the A.A. (and other systems) readily does this, but no one wants to hear about it. For many Thelemites, as was Jesus for Christians, Crowley is the one-and-only. He didn’t have an experience that is accessible to mere mortals like you and I; he was special: a prophet, a messiah.
The practice of outright rejecting most any suggestion that someone other than Crowley has attained anything similar leads to a self-debasing and self-loathing that looks disturbingly like the depraved-sinner bullshit of Christianity. If no one can actually attain, or at least if no one dare speak of it, then the message is clear: you and I aren’t worthy. Only the Crowley-Christ and his neo-clerics can even consider such things, and we little people are left to grovel for the scraps. This leaves the average Thelemite in no better a place then the meek and mild Christian on their knees begging for forgiveness for existing.
Taken together, the neo-clericalism of the high degrees of OTO and A.A., the new inquisitions enacted toward anyone who dares innovate, the Crowley-messiah whose experiences are unrepeatable, and his humble servants, have brought modern Thelema into self-same quagmire as Christianity. The central Arcanum has been once again all but removed from the primary expressions of the movement, and exists now only as superficial lip-service to the true power at the core of every person. In practice, no true growth, innovation, or creativity is really allowed. That is not to say there are no rogue Thelemic innovators, no artists, no creative thinkers, no new visions and voices in Thelemic circles. They are just being given no quarter.
In light of its infiltration by alt-right and alt-right-enabling factions, I am inclined to echo the assertion that we are likely in the midst of a post-OTO epoch in Thelema. However, upon consideration of the observations outlined above, I feel compelled to ask if we are not entering a time that would be better characterized as Post-Thelema.
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