Essays in the Tim Maroney Web Collection
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The Book of Dzyan
Definition of the Sacred
Descent: A Meditation
Even If I Did Believe
Facts and Phallacies
The Freedom of Doubt
Healing The Spiritual Community
Hekate and the Satanic School
Introduction to Crowley
The Included Middle
A Letter to Close
The Problems of Syncretism
Theory of Divination
Why Crowley Doesn't Suck
Why I Study Magic
(Originally published in the newsletter of Hodos Chameleonis Oasis in Sacramento, California.)
One of the many curious inheritances of the O.T.O. is Liber CI: An Open Letter to Those Who May Wish to Join the Order Enumerating the Duties and Privileges. It is a wide-ranging and ambitious scheme describing what the Order might some day become, but it presents itself as a description of the actual state of the O.T.O. In fact, it never was that, and because our understanding of the goals of the Order has matured, it never will be. Though the document says that it is meant to be read by prospective members to help them understand what they would be joining, it is misleading at best, and may even discourage some of the better potential initiates without some clarification.
The leadership's reverence for tradition has led it into a full endorsement of this document, although a more cautious appraisal is called for. For instance, in Equinox III:10 and on the official web site otohq.org, the Open Letter is introduced as follows:
These regulations first appeared in The Equinox III(1) (Detroit: Universal, 1919) and constitute our best and most comprehensive guidelines for Thelemic social intercourse. Certain provisions will need to be modified to take advantage of the U.S.A.'s comparatively enlightened tax-exemption statutes as applied to religious organizations -- a few are of dubious legality at this writing. Most of the principles outlined herein have long been observed in the U.S. O.T.O.
In addition, Equinox III:10 says that:
This Intimation should be closely studied in conjunction with the Constitution, the Open Letter and other relevant papers published in this volume by those who are concerned with the future direction of the O.T.O., in the United States and abroad.
It is normal for the religious to conflate their ideal for themselves with the reality of their groups, and intelligent people know that they should take accounts of a religion by its members with a grain of salt. In this case, though, traditionalism has won out over idealism. The dream of Liber CI is one that few today would share without reservations.
To be sure, there is much in the letter that is pleasant and desirable; for instance, traditional Freemasonic obligations of charity to destitute members are reiterated, and members are promised hospitality while visiting distant locations. At its worst, though, the letter presents the O.T.O. as the one true way above all others, denies human rights to non-members, condemns marriage outside the group, demands that members proselytize, and presents strange and disturbing ideas on child-raising and financial matters. It never described the O.T.O. as it actually existed, and today does not describe where it is going. It is a document of mostly historical interest and should no longer be recommended to potential members as an accurate description of the system of the Order.
I am not a spokesperson for the Order, but I have long been associated with it (about nineteen years at this writing) and I have some knowledge of how it functions. Statements in this essay should not be considered authoritative statements of policy, but my personal observations.
Let us look at how the letter describes itself. Crowley states his intent clearly enough up front, beginning with an address to his treasurer, George Macnie Cowie:
[S]ome persons who are worthy to join the O.T.O. consider the fees and subscriptions rather high. This is due to your failure to explain properly the great advantages offered by the Order.
This is a peculiar opening. If the letter were to be presented as an actual promise to prospective members, it would be a fraudulent promise. Even more strangely, the treasurer is blamed for not misleading people about the actual nature of the Order, and this accusation of failure is inscribed for all time at the head of an official document. Crowley's relationship with Cowie can be traced in his Confessions and in archival materials. He was prone to fits of temper and to blaming others for his own lack of fiscal savvy. Cowie bore the brunt of his attacks.
This mean-spirited opening by itself is probably enough to put off some potential members. It sets an unpleasant tone that continues throughout. It reminds us that what makes Crowley so interesting is that he was in many ways an obnoxious and immature man, and yet his mystical achievements were remarkable. It reminds us that he was a poor leader, that he did not understand groups very well, and that we study him rather than following or emulating him.
The letter presents the O.T.O. as not only one beneficial organization, but as the one true way. Its most notorious passage is this:
Members of the Order are to regard those without its pale as possessing no rights of any kind, since they have not accepted the Law, and are therefore, as it were, troglodytes, survivals of a past civilisation, and to be treated accordingly. Kindness should be shown towards them, as towards any other animal, and every effort should be made to bring them into Freedom.
This is the stuff of cult-hunters' nightmares made flesh. The letter says that anyone who is not a member of the Order has no rights, and members are instructed that their duty is to treat non-members as having no rights. The leadership today should make clear to prospective members that they are not expected to become bigots. Indeed, we should be doing our best to discourage bigots from joining. I am glad to say that there are few places in the Order today where such intolerance would find itself welcome.
Even if we were Thelemic bigots, the passage is not well thought out. Suppose we were to grant that people who have not accepted Crowley's religious doctrine ("the Law of Thelema") are somehow defective. Should we think that anyone who is not a member of one particular group, the O.T.O., has not accepted that Law? There are many independent Thelemites, as well as members of other Thelemic groups who find the O.T.O. not to their liking. Are they troglodytes as well?
The idea that the Order is uniquely superior to other groups is repeated later on:
The Order teaches the only perfect and satisfactory system of philosophy, religion, and science, leading its members step by step to knowledge and power hardly even dreamed of by the profane. [Emphasis added.]
These passages underscore another contradiction of Crowley: he was a prophet of "Freedom" who had no respect for the rights of others. In his mind he was the divinely appointed benevolent despot of the new world-age. The only liberty worth having was the liberty of obeying him. Our ideas of freedom have advanced in the twentieth century, and people today who are attracted to the freedom promised by the Thelemic system may encounter some cognitive dissonance in engaging Crowley's authoritarian and intolerant ideals. In the minds of the current membership, more advanced ideas of freedom have won out, but respect for tradition has introduced unfortunate compromises and rationalizations. Instead we should have the courage to admit that in this case, tradition is simply wrong.
Given Crowley's belief in the unique superiority of the O.T.O., we should not be surprised to find the usual cultic concomitant -- an instruction to go forth, spread the word, and bring back converts. Members of the O.T.O. are ordered to proselytize, not only by opening all conversations with Thelemic slogans, but by passing out pamphlets and going on missionary journeys.
The Brethren shall be diligent in preaching the Law of Thelema. In all writings they shall be careful to use the prescribed greetings; likewise in speech, even with strangers.
They shall be diligent in circulating all tracts, manifestos, and all other communications which the Order may from time to time give out for the instruction or emancipation of the profane.
He should also do all in his power to spread the Law, especially taking long journeys, when possible, to remote places, there to sow the seed of the Law.
Again, these instructions do not reflect modern consensus. They seem more appropriate to the Moonies than to us. In today's occult and pagan communities, we usually define ourselves by saying that we do not proselytize. We say that we are happy to let those whose interests coincide with ours join us of their own free will. Again the letter does not express a useful guideline for today, but an historical relic from an overzealous founder, and we could expect some of the better potential members to be repelled rather than attracted by it.
Every Brother is expected to use all his influence with persons in a superior station of life (so called) to induce them to join the Order. Royal personages, ministers of State, high officials in the Diplomatic, Naval, Military, and Civil Services are particularly to be sought after, for it is intended ultimately that the temporal power of the State be brought into the Law, and led into freedom and prosperity by the application of its principles.
It's hard to know where to start with this one. It is a plain call for theocracy. When Crowley referred to the group as a vessel for "certain social plans" he meant that it was supposed to take over the governments of the world. This is not its intent today and it never had any realistic hope of attaining this regrettable goal. At most it may be a sort of alternative government or "temporary autonomous zone" for its members, who prefer to rely on its own internal processes for interacting with other members. Even those members who wish to see the establishment of a Thelemic theocracy (and there are some) mostly resist the suggestion that the O.T.O. illustrates what such a state would be like.
Beyond this, there is again a sort of social cluelessness here. Any who made themselves such pests with persons of status would soon find themselves disinvited from their company. This "inducement" is not today a duty of membership. The happy result is that those of us with friends of prominence are able to keep those friends, treating them as equals and exerting whatever influence we have on them through the ordinary processes of friendship, rather than by nagging them to join a particular group which may or may not be to their taste.
Every Brother is expected to do all in his power to induce his personal friends to accept the Law and join the Order. He should therefore endeavor to make new friends outside the Order, for the purpose of widening its scope.
Not only the powerful, it seems, but every friend whatsoever, is to be regarded largely as potential conversion fodder. Potential members should know that they are not in fact expected to behave in this dehumanizing way.
The letter condemns marriage outside the Order:
It is desirable that the marriage partner of any Brother should also be a member of the Order. Neglect to insist upon this leads frequently to serious trouble for both parties, especially the uninitiate.
This is a relatively temperate form of intolerance by the standards of the letter. We are not forbidden to marry the "troglodytes" and "animals" outside the Order, only discouraged from doing so.
At the same time, there may be something more than intolerance here. Those who have belonged to magical lodges, pagan covens, and such are aware that for only one partner to be involved can put stress on a relationship. It is easy for suspicions to form when one partner frequently returns home late at night, perhaps smelling of incense and a bit tipsy from the ritual. If the group has something to do with nudism or sex magick, that can make the ground even more fertile for suspicion. Nonetheless, there can be and are many healthy relationships of this type. It helps if both partners are friends with the members, even though only one is a member. There is something to this paragraph, but it could stand to be expressed in a more open and humane way.
Members of the Order may expect to find suitable marriage partners in the extremely select body to which they belong. Community of interest and hope being already established, it is natural to suppose that where mutual attraction also exists, a marriage will result in perfect happiness.
This passage reaffirms a preference for marriage within the group. Its idealistic expectation of perfect happiness in such a union may be forgiven as an excess of optimism. However, it does not reflect the actual course of all marriages between members of the group, which are no more stable or happy than marriages in society as a whole. It promises too much.
The letter's statements on childbirth and child-rearing are among its strangest, and among the least applicable to either past or current practice.
All pregnant women are especially sacred to members of the Order, and no effort should be spared to bring them to acceptance of the Law of Freedom, so that the unborn may benefit by that impression. They should be induced to become members of the Order, so that the child may be born under its aegis.
There is definitely no such outreach program to convert pregnant women in practice, and the prospective member need have no concern that it will be his or her duty to proselytize any pregnant friends. The particular mythic cycle that is celebrated in the Order does revere pregnancy and childbirth as important symbols on both literal and symbolic planes, but we do not today translate that into a program to convert them.
If the mother that is to be have asserted her will to be so in contempt and defiance of the Tabus of the slave-gods, she is to be regarded as especially suitable to our Order, and the Master of the Lodge in her district shall offer to become, as it were, godfather to the child, who shall be trained specially, if the mother so wishes, as a servant of the Order, in one of its Profess-Houses.
The Order does not raise anyone as its special servant. The Master of a Lodge need not be male, which is assumed in the above passage, and I have not heard of any cases of adoption along the lines described.
As for women who have children "in contempt and defiance of the Tabus of the slave-gods," that is a euphemistic way of referring to children born out of wedlock. While the O.T.O. is a radically sex-positive organization and stands against sexual repression as a point of primary doctrine, we simply make ourselves known as such in trust that those of like mind will be attracted or not as they will. We do not establish programs of the sort described above, as if a common act such as having a child out of wedlock could somehow indicate like-mindedness by itself.
(The thought of "Uncle Aleister's Home for Wayward Girls" is not a pleasant one by any means!)
Women of the Order who are about to become mothers receive all care, attention, and honour from all Brethren.
Special Profess-Houses will be established for their convenience, should they wish to take advantage of them.
Special Profess-Houses for the care of women of the Order, or those whose husbands or lovers are members of the Order, will be instituted, so that the frontal duty of womankind may be carried out in all comfort and honour.
"The frontal duty of womankind" is said to be childbirth. Crowley's view of woman as primarily intended for childbirth has been dealt with elsewhere, by Content Love Knowles and others. It is an archaic attitude which does not reflect current consensus.
In addition, there are no houses established for caretaking during pregnancy -- though it is not necessarily a bad idea -- and it would be misleading to let prospective female members think otherwise.
Children of all Brethren are entitled to the care of the Order, and arrangements will be made to educate them in certain of the Profess-Houses of the Order.
Children of Brethren who are left orphans will be officially adopted by the Master of his Lodge, or if the latter decline, by the Supreme Holy King himself, and treated in all ways as if they were his own.
Brethren who have a right to some especial interest in any child whose mother is not a member of the Order may recommend it especially to the care of their lodges or of Grand Lodge.
These statements reflect a communal attitude toward child-raising which I have not seen practiced. Children of Order members are raised according to the usual societal norms in most cases, which means by the parent(s). The Order does not provide children with schooling; there are no provisions even for the "Sunday school" type of religious education of mainstream Christianity. The Order may in some cases practice charity towards orphans left by deceased members, but there is no guarantee of it, and when it does happen it is handled informally. There is no guarantee of adoption, though in a close-knit community of moderate size it would seem a reasonable expectation. Any adopting parent would not necessarily be the Lodge Master.
Crowley was accused by his predecessor, Theodor Reuss, of "communistic" ideas, which Crowley angrily denied. However, when we look at his ideas on property, it does seem that he favored the holding of property in common trust. In some ways this is more radical than conventional communism, which only holds that property which is used as "means of production" -- for instance, factory equipment -- should be publicly owned. He also believed that professionals should be obliged to give their services for free to the Order.
None of his ideas about property or profession are currently practiced. Potential members need not be concerned that they will incur obligations of money or services beyond those of dues and voluntary charity.
Every Brother who may possess mines, land, or houses more than he can himself constantly occupy, should donate part of such mines or land, or one or more of such houses to the Order.
Not only is this not practiced, but the Order currently declines all offers of real property, due to administrative overhead and property taxes. While it may eventually become possible for such gifts to be accepted, they are not required, and it would be very surprising if this changed in the future.
All Brethren are bound by their fealty to offer their service in their particular trade, business, or profession, to the Grand Lodge. For example, a stationer will supply Grand Lodge with paper, vellum, and the like; a bookseller offer any books to the Library of Grand Lodge which the Librarian may desire to possess; a lawyer will execute any legal business for Grand Lodge, and a railway or steamship owner or director see to it that the Great Officers travel in comfort wherever they may wish to go.
In a word, no. Crowley was not a professional, unless prophecy is a profession, and did not realize the very serious problems that such requirements would cause. While gifts of professional service are often appreciated, they are not required, and certainly extensive and compromising gifts of the type specified above would be frowned upon. One can only imagine the airline executive's explanations to the Board of Directors!
In sickness all Brethren have the right to medical or surgical care and attendance from any Brethren of the Lodge who may be physicians, surgeons, or nurses.
As for services which are expensive and which everyone needs, such as medical care and legal advice, it is hard to imagine a better way to discourage aspirants of the affected professions than telling them they are to become permanent pro bono caregivers for the entire group. I think it is no accident that we have few members today who are doctors or lawyers. This is unfortunate, because despite what the letter may say, they would not be expected to sacrifice their careers in this manner.
If the Brother so desire, the entire amount of the fees and subscriptions which he has paid during his life will be handed over by the Order to his heirs and legatees. The Order thus affords an absolute system of insurance in addition to its other benefits.
This is not practiced. In my opinion the leadership should take special care, for reasons of liability, to make sure that it does not make false promises of future remuneration of dues.
All Brethren who may fall into indigence have a right to the direct assistance of the Order up to the full amount of fees and subscriptions paid by them up to the time of application. This will be regarded as a loan, but no interest will be charged upon it. That this privilege may not be abused, the Grand Tribunal will decide whether or no such application is made in good faith.
Again, this is not the practice of the Order. It is traditional for fraternal groups to be organized as "benevolent societies," which act as a form of insurance for its members, especially life and burial insurance. The above statements are traditional in that regard and can be traced back to our Freemasonic origins. The O.T.O., however, is not currently organized as a beneficial society or an insurance company, which in my view is just as well. A common complaint about many of the smaller surviving fraternal orders is that they have become nothing but life insurance schemes. Prospective and current members should be aware that their dues and fees are not payments into any kind of insurance fund.
Members of the IX°, who share among themselves the whole property of the Order according to the rules of that degree, may, of course, reside there permanently. Indeed, the house of every Brother of this grade is, ipso facto, a Profess-House of the Order.
So, ladies, should you become pregnant, be sure to drop in on the local IX°'s house for a few months of free room and board!
In all seriousness, this is somewhat true and somewhat false. The property of the Order is held by its corporate entity, not by its inner circle. There are no Profess Houses per se in the Order, though there have always been discussions of establishing them. If they were established they would not exist exactly as described in the letter. On the other hand, members of the IX° do administer the Order's property, and do practice some form of personal hospitality which could perhaps be considered a partial implementation of a Profess House. The passage is ambiguously true but largely misleading.
The class assumptions of the O.T.O. are derived from Crowley's Victorian background and have little applicability to most of us today.
Personal or domestic attendants should be chosen from among the members of the Order when possible, and great tact and courtesy are to be employed in dealing with them.
They, on their part, will render willing and intelligent service.
While in Lodge, and on special occasions, they are to be treated as Brothers, with perfect equality; such behaviour is undesirable during the hours of service, and familiarity, subversive as it is of all discipline and order, is to be avoided by adopting a complete and marked change of manner and address.
Reading this merry and unthinking endorsement of traditional English social class discrimination, the modern American is likely to shudder a bit. It is interesting to note how much our ideas of freedom are different from Crowley's, and amusing to observe that he probably thought he was being progressive at the time.
As explained above, Brethren are entirely free of most legal burdens, since lawsuits are not permitted within the Order, and since they may call upon the legal advisers of the Order to defend them against their enemies in case of need.
Again, no one should join thinking they are likely to obtain any free legal advice. The Order does not have crack teams of attorneys ready to spring to its members' defense, and what attorneys it may have among its membership are not required to give pro bono service to other members.
The Order offers great social advantages to its members, bringing them as it does into constant association with men and women of high rank.
I don't know quite how to say this, but in fact the membership of the Order today is not made up of people who are "of high rank," whatever that might mean in this day and age. Just as the phrase "pagan poverty level" has become a commonplace among our relatives in the modern witchcraft movement and its offshoots, we find ourselves largely made up of those who do not share the overarching social values that require money and title as measures of success. Many of us are successful in conventional careers, but I have yet to meet a corporate CEO, a military general, a major celebrity, or the like in the O.T.O. I do not think we are any the worse for this but it seems important to correct the mistaken promise of the letter.
The Order offers extraordinary opportunities to its members in their trades, businesses, or professions, aiding them by co-operation, and securing them clients or customers.
There are some career opportunities to be pursued in some bodies of the Order, but not all. The membership has never been large enough to fulfill the promise given here. A business that relied on the O.T.O. to provide customers would soon be forced into bankruptcy. Help in a professional career path, as opposed to the occasional service job, would be a hit or miss proposition given the small size of the membership. One would generally have better chances dealing with other members of one's chosen profession than relying on one's scattered colleagues within the Order.
It is perhaps worth noting here that Crowley never held a regular job, starting adult life as an heir and later living off donations, and it would be unrealistic to expect him to have understood the career potential within a group.
There are a few other miscellaneous provisions of the letter which are not practiced.
They shall respond heartily to every summons of the Lodge or Chapter to which they may belong, not lightly making excuse.
In fact, in current practice there is no such thing as a mandatory meeting of a Camp, Oasis or Lodge. Attendance is on a voluntary basis. At least one body has had to be corrected in this regard in recent years.
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.
This is not necessarily a bad idea. Many good universities and colleges have been founded by religious groups. However, it is entirely beyond the resources of the Order at this stage of its development, and I know of no serious plans to put it into effect at any point in the forseeable future.
The crime of slander, which causes so great a proportion of human misery, is rendered extremely dangerous, if not impossible, within the Order by a clause in the Obligation of the Third Degree.
One could only hope. Sadly, the truth is that this clause has not been effective in banishing slander within the Order. It is impossible to discuss the issue in detail within this forum, but anyone who thinks that by joining they will be effectively protected against the slander of other members is likely to have a rude awakening. That is not to say that slander is commonly practiced, but in any group of religious people, there are some who love to moralize and excoriate, and the O.T.O. is not, unfortunately, the single religious group in human history that has managed to rid itself of this failing. It is a worthwhile goal but if we are ever to achieve it we will have to find a better way than the aforementioned clause.
The Open Letter is a historical artifact which should be preserved just as it is, as part of the inheritance of the Order. However, it desperately needs to be placed in its proper context, as representative of Crowley's ideals for what the Order might some day become. If it is presented as an actual set of requirements and promises on the current membership, it is misleading, even fraudulent at places. Its more unrealistic and intolerant passages may have already cost us worthy members, who have read the letter and decided that they would not care to be associated with the imaginary organization described therein. We should set about creating a better description, and relegate this one to the archives where it belongs.
(Authors note: An earlier draft of this essay inspired Sabazius X° to issue a clarification on the current interpretation of Liber CI. His clarification now resides on the O.T.O. web site.)