About the Thelemic Order
Below you'll find a lot of words about The Thelemic Order. Here are a few starting points. If you don't know anything about Thelema, it's a sort of keystone for organizing your magical and spiritual world. It doesn't, replace your existing traditions. If you do know something about Thelema, we're socially progressive, and rules negative. We look to provide structure not stricture.
For starters and most importantly, becoming a Thelemite isn’t about giving up your practice of Wicca, Paganism, Shamanism, or any other deep and meaningful part of your life. Thelema is a way of tying things together, not a replacement.
Thelema is a movement originated largely by Aleister Crowley in the early 20th century. Its inspiration is a set of revelations he received while travelling in Cairo, Egypt. Despite what some people may tell you, Thelema is not all about Crowley.
No philosophical or religious movement is an entirely new idea, though they are often framed as new. Thelema occupies a central place at the pinnacle of the era of 19th century new thought movements which included a vast wave of spiritualist groups and produced the Theosophical Society, the Golden Dawn, and numerous other magical orders. That said, Crowley himself acknowledged a heavy debt to Rabelais, the medieval humanist in developing his doctrine.
You’re probably more familiar with Thelema than you might realize. A lot of its core tenets found their way into Wicca through the work of Gerald Gardner, who corresponded with, and held a charter from Crowley. That doesn’t mean Gardner was a copycat or invalid. He built on the same foundations as Crowley and others. “Do what thou will” is neither Gardner nor Crowley, but Rabelais, from about 1532. What is important is that Thelema is a living part of a long tradition of magical and esoteric thought.
What is unique about Thelema is that it and the body of writing and work around it embodied the ideals of nearly all the extant movements, and opened a pathway for the integration of any set of magical practices, spirituality, or worship of deities in a fashion more complete than the organizations which came before.
We see Thelema as a natural keystone tying together the study and practice of many traditions of magic and spirituality. We see Thelemites as a natural leadership community who should be at the forefront of magical discovery and awakening. Far from “competing” with other organizations we want to see members of TTO as leaders and trend-setters throughout the wider worlds of magic and spirituality.
That hasn’t always been the case…to understand why, we discuss “The Battle for Thelema” below.
The Order General – the principal membership branch, focusing on social networking and interaction and providing a rich atmosphere for instruction and learning in magic
Ecclesia Gnostica Heterodoxa – or Heterodox Gnostic Church. “Heterodox” means not conforming with or catering to conventions or standards. Thelema itself is a heterodox movement. The EGH takes a “do what thou wilt” approach with minimal doctrine and dogma.
The Initiatory Branch – The Initiatory will present new and traditional Thelemic initiations beginning in April 2020.
Many denominations have “Articles of Faith,” which state shared beliefs. TTO has its “Understandings,” which are, to quote a famous pirate “more like guidelines.” The understandings allow us to share general beliefs without forcing adherence to a strict or rigid set of absolutes. Members are expected to be “principally in sympathy with” the understandings, which is to say they mostly agree with them. No one will ever agree on every detail, and as long as we have a common direction, we don’t need to.
The understandings present a socially progressive model of Thelema which sees:
- Gender as personal, with a strong acceptance of queer individuals and acknowledgement of the Queer roots of Thelema.
- Fascism and other forms of rule by the ignorant, or rule through bullying, as intolerable, without closing the door on meritocracy.
- Poverty and other social problems as things Thelemites must tackle. We are not political and do not present political solutions, but we do not need to have a solution to all the world’s ills to categorically reject the vision of Thelema as empowering a Libertarian dystopia in which the privileged and classist dispossess subjugate, or maintain oppression of others for their own benefit in the name of “freedom.”
TTO recognizes that Thelema has come to face the issue which confronts most millenarian movements. Sometime before 1948 Aleister Crowley wrote about his vision of where the body of Thelema, epitomized by him by the O.T.O. organization which he had created, was going:
And in what time seemeth Him good shall the O.H.O. (Outer Head of the Order, -ed.), gathering his forces, declare this Truth privily unto the Kings and Princes of the Earth, that they may take counsel together and rule all men in peace and love by virtue of this Secret under the Shadow of the Wings of the One ineffable Lord.
Much like early Christians who believed that Christ would come within their lifetime, there was, for a long time, a feeling within Thelema that a new Aeon was nearly upon us, in which all things would be changed. With the consciousness revolution of the 1960s, Grady McMurtry and other former supporters of Crowley believed that the cusp of a massive change was just around the corner.
In reality as all other Aquarians would learn as the hope and promise of the 1960s became the disappointment and greed of the 1970s the Aeon of Horus looks very much like the Aeon of Osiris. The events above, if they are not entirely metaphorical, are not going to happen anytime soon, and certainly not to any of the current representatives of now organized Thelemic bodies.
The reaction to this has been a sort of quiescence. Current Thelemic organizations rigidly maintain rituals that were never meant to be unchanged. A fixated study of Crowley and only Crowley led to an echelon of Thelemites who resent and fear anything outside their narrow field of focus.
For all practical purposes Gerald Gardner’s legacy, Wicca, has become the dominant paradigm, with Thelema only known to the curious few. Many who respected Crowley’s work, but did not intend to immerse their lives in that and nothing else, were well warned away from Thelema.
That’s changed somewhat in recent years. Crowley’s queerness, which those who came after him desperately tried to erase in the late 20th century, colors him as a cultural icon as significant as Alan Turing or Oscar Wilde. Jack Parsons has risen to rival Nikola Tesla as a favorite figure of cult science.
It is our understanding that Aleister Crowley never intended Thelema to become an introverted study of his work but rather conceived of his work as a perfected descendant of the flawed Golden Dawn, a gateway to all esoteric tradition, laying a groundwork and foundation for further comprehension and individual achievement.
Crowley never recommended anyone study only his work, instead providing many different reading lists to encourage broad study.
The Modern Thelemic community is faced with a choice. The unfortunate direction would be to remain a hidebound remnant of the Old Aeon, choking the last dying breaths out of Thelema.
While there are good and dynamic leaders within most Thelemic groups, not all leaders have been either.
We have seen focus on Crowley’s initiations as a form of “leveling up,” to form an layered aristocracy that is jealous of its prerogatives, and as prone to driving out, as welcoming, dynamic new leadership, particularly authors and people who have achieved any prominence in the wider magical community.
The real “dark side”
There are darker edges. A few well known Thelemic leaders, emboldened by the election of Donald Trump as US President, have lent their name and voice to recidivist politics of the most unsavory sort, expressing approval of white supremacists in the wake of the protests in Charlottesville and the murder of Heather Heyer, and continuing to support populist ignorance, racial hatred, and trans and homophobic policies. This is not the stuff of a Thelemic awakening, but of 1930s reactionary Catholicism. What is worse, more tolerant and reasonable leaders are bound by legal structure and tradition, not to speak against them. Crowley spoke well when he said “We are infinitely tolerant, save of intolerance.”
The fortunate choice we embrace for the Thelemic community would be to move ahead by the same means through which other communities do. By networking socially, by being open to the wider world rather than closed. By leveraging its strengths rather than hiding in mediocrity.
We can embrace and explore magic. Crowley did not intend Thelemites to merely study magic, but to practice it.
We can explore the way in which numerous powerful modern esoteric currents: Hekate worship, the PGM, Ordeal rituals, a renewed interest in Luciferianism, and ADR interact with and inform Thelema, exchanging opinions and ideas in an environment where there are no “arbiters” to determine right and wrong, where success is our proof.
We can accept that Crowley was unambiguously queer, and fully embrace that element of his identity, recognizing how it is hardwired into Thelema and Thelemic ideas, regardless of our own sexuality.
In short, we can be out, and proud, and in touch.
We presume that members of the TTO are, in their own right, powerful and formidable magicians or aspiring magicians. To seek, understand, and affiliate with, the TTO shows a considerable quality of comprehension.
TTO is a network of individuals, sharing a similar if not identical vision, who wish to work together to share resources and identity.
TTO members are not children and should not be treated as if they are. TTO willl not call members “siblings” while supervising them as five year olds. Likewise, as adults we are all expected to be responsible for their own actions, and prepared to answer for our acts.
TTO members will not chafe at restrictions while other magicians around them do things that they would like to, if only it were not against the rules. Ephemeral threats of lawsuit are not sufficient to hobble innovation. Many groups, across the US and around the world, do exciting and innovative work without being sued. The corporate entity is a shield against suit. Whenever possible our group response to “can I do that?” should be “let’s figure out how,” rather than “no you can’t.”
Our leadership will be chosen based on merit and experience, or by the will of the people.
If it seems remarkable that we allow our General Assembly the highest voice within the Order, consider this. Our Lord and Master may be the Sun, but the sun is, itself, only one Star in the Company of Stars. Those stars, when they come together, are more powerful than any single sun. There is no part of us which is not of the Gods, and our Assembly, together, is the convocation of the Gods, more powerful than any Heirarch.
In terms pragmatic, rather than poetic, those denominations which have prospered in the last five hundred years are organized along modern, generally democratic, lines. Certainly the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions remain large, but worldwide growth is stalemated and in developed nations it is shrinking. For denominations which do not enjoy the advantage of two thousand years of history, top-down organization schemes have worked poorly if at all.
The number of redundant groups providing management and oversight is minimal.
We will move between the present and 2023 to a system of representation by the membership. While democracy has its weaknesses, the lack of it has produced fairly dismal results.
That said, newly formed groups can be vulnerable to manipulation in the form of “swarming,” where individuals may join under a false flag in order to wreck or derail the object of the group. TTO has rules to protect against this sort of manipulation, while still ensuring that over the long haul the group is answerable to its membership.
Public Decision Making – There are only a few matters in the Order in which secrecy is appropriate. In particular the mechanisms for decision making must be public. The records of meetings, including their final votes and decisions are final. All rules within the organization are public.
Public Finances – The finances of TTO are public and open to inspection, published annually. There are no hidden beneficiaries or questions about “where the money goes.” TTO is also not a moneymaking organization and sets out only to make what it needs to cover its work.
Public Mechanisms and Accountability in Disciplinary Proceedings – In terms of discipline, particularly involving consent violations, we weigh openness in terms of how decisions are made…when and by whom…with respect for the privacy of individuals, especially and primarily victims. Accountability is paramount, and the process for decisions and appeal of those decisions should be crystal clear.
Consent in Initiations – In terms of initiations we value suspense and secrecy, however those cannot come at the cost of asking individuals to enter into an initiation without informed consent. Initiators are trained on how to obtain meaningful consent, while still preserving elements of surprise.
Old Aeon organizations tend to prevent counterproductive behavior and actions largely through prescription, that is to say making rules against undesirable behaviors. So, for example, concern about drunken behavior might lead to banning alcohol, while concern about the quality of services is addressed through increasingly strict rules on precisely how they can be performed.
This problem is compounded in old aeon esoteric and occult organizations. Many have systems of rules carried forward from the early 20th century, when rapid communication at a distance was not an expectation of every day life.
An additional layer of obfuscation exists when volunteers, usually non-professionals with no formal legal or investigatory training, are used to “inform” or “spy” on other members within a group. TTO is not about policing its members. While it responds to member complaints, it does not employ its members to observe, report on, or supervise each other’s behaviors.
TTO believes that less regulation is better regulation.
Increasingly dense rules seldom solve behavioral issues, becoming instead a nuisance for those who are not doing any harm. As they become more ponderous and labyrinthine they are only sporadically enforced, leading to the appearance of favoritism, while they cease to do their job of protecting.
The same is doubly true when rules are passed off as “safety rules” or “to protect you,” but exist primarily to protect an organization against lawsuits, or to protect the positions and prerogatives of leaders, but are couched as safety rules. They breed resentment, fall into disregard, and fail to do any minimal protecting they were set in place to. There are things TTO must do in order to protect the group from lawsuits and we don’t like all of them. We try not to lie about them.
While it is impossible to operate an organization without any rules, whenever possible we focus away from rulesmaking (prescription) and more on these Intent and Consent.
Those who choose to associate themselves with TTO are expected to be at principal harmony with the understandings and with the general disposition and direction of the order, and to conduct themselves as responsible, decent, individuals, regarding their siblings within TTO as family.
While it is impossible to prove anyone’s real intentions, it is not necessary to be blind to their manifest intent, especially behavior or declarations harmonious or inharmonious with the basic Constitutions of the Order. In any issue of judgment or discipline, manifest intent should be a principal guide as to disposition.
We hope disciplinary cases don’t arise. But we know from experience they do in any organization which grows to a certain size. When they do, we have a system in place that is human, compassionate, but does not blind itself to intent.
Informed Consent should be a guide for all of our actions. Consent is not a prescription against doing things, rather it makes possible things which would have been unethical in a prior era.
When there was no way to negotiate consent, ethics dictated that magical, spiritual, and initiatory practices should cater to a lowest common denominator, as there was no practical means to communicate levels of comfort, or adjust activities on an individual basis. Provided consent is present nearly any course of action becomes acceptable. Consent enables us to incorporate reasonable risk.
Informed Consent means not only that activities and actions are agreed, but that the person agreeing understands as fully as is possible what they are consenting to. Appropriate ways to obtain consent without spoiling in advance the secrets of initiations are discussed in Initiator Training.
In ritual and activities of the Order General, a high level of consensuality is expected, however this also does not preclude surprise in ritual space. We take as a model communities which deal with profound issues of consent daily, including those which focus on sacred sexuality or ordeal initiation which may involve pain or emotional duress, all while still maintaining practical and robust consent.
Consent is not a matter of political correctness. We do not seek to embrace extremes of behavior which have been suggested in some rare but much advertised circumstances such as a few bad exemplars among colleges and universities in which consent practices may become a bizarre ritual divorced from normal human social behavior.
TTO is not about policing its members. It does not employ its members to observe, report on, or supervise each other’s behaviors.
TTO will not discriminate and will take affirmative measures to ensure against discrimination and allow equal and complete participation in all aspects of the Order on the bases of ethnicity, ancestry, appearance, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexuality, sexual identity, sexual expression, International origin, age or disability.
“We are infinitely tolerant, save of intolerance.”—Aleister Crowley, New Comment on II 57, Liber AL
In the Understandings of the Thelemic Order we put forward our core values.
We do not claim that those who do not generally agree with them are not Thelemites, however they are not Thelemites that it is gainful or healthy for us to maintain a close and unlimited association with, or to admit into our midst. We do not need to, and will not, accord endless tolerance to intolerance