| up a level
from the here-to-fraternity dept.
The works of Aleister Crowley expounding the Law of Thelema are now more widely published than even he could have foreseen. Books originally designed to be printed in limited editions on beautiful paper and sumptuously bound by hand can now be bought in well edited, mass-produced paperback versions in bookstores throughout the world, while whole documents can be downloaded from the internet for the price of a phone call. When Crowley was active, his writings only reached the very few who could afford them, or those who were already part of his (small) circle, but in the 21st century there is a wealth of information available to those with an attraction to the 93 Current. As a result of this explosion of interest in the works of Crowley, many options exist nowadays for those who choose to further their explorations into Thelema, from lone experimentation to joining an initiating body such as the O.T.O. or even forming independent working magical groups.
By its very nature, Thelema manifests differently for every individual. There is no right or wrong way to conduct one's experiments with the Thelemic paradigm. The personal relationship to Thelema can take any number of forms. Not all of these even incorporate Ceremonial work, whether individual or group based. In the wake of developments such as the rise of Chaos Magick and the information revolution, many modern magicians see little point in affiliating with orders like the O.T.O., while others more predisposed to graded initiation and structured study still reap many rewards from working within such groups.
In Crowley's day, one joined either the O.T.O. or the A.'.A.'. as the only real options for gaining the teachings expounded by the Thelemic system. The mutated Masonry employed by those orders tended to appeal to the sensibilities of the majority who sought the gnosis during that particular period of history, but today the information is out there for all who wish to see. Now you are as likely to find a thirteen year old net-surfer in possession of The Book of The Law as you are the learned occultist of thirty years' standing. In the view of the present writer this can only be a good thing. Although the O.T.O., for example, is still active in many forms, it is no longer imperative for the budding Thelemite to become an initiate of such orders. For some, it is simply an undesirable option. With a philosophy based as it is on individual evolution, many modern day adherents of Thelema are deeply mistrustful of established orders or groups, even the one re-structured by Crowley himself to embody the message of the New Aeon.
But what if you find yourself as a person with Thelemic leanings, more inclined to exploration of the ceremonial path, but for what ever reason unable or unwilling to commit to initiation into a strictly Thelemic order? The answer for some will undoubtedly lie in exploration of the roots of the Western Tradition through an involvement in regular Freemasonry.
The movement that gave birth to every important occult order of the late 19th and early 20th century is still the largest and most influential initiatory organization in existence. Its membership is said to be in the region of 6 million worldwide, a number that appears to be growing to this day. The origins of the Masonic movement -- which teaches veiled Qabalistic wisdom as well as the virtues of brotherly love, relief and truth through the use of allegory, symbolism and dramatized ceremony -- are unknown. It is not the intention of this article to speculate on the shadowy beginnings of the Craft, but rather to examine its status today and whether it has any relevance for the practising occultist at the start of the 21st century.
Traditionally the Masonic movement has been something of a haven for the mystic, occultist, freethinker, or scientist, a hotbed of radical thought and a breeding ground for revolution. At present, though, it is widely regarded as little more than a slightly sinister, secretive gentlemen's club that excuses its continued existence by donating large amounts of money to charity every year. Fundamentalist Christians deride Masonry as Satanic ("Former Mason reveals all about Baphomet!"), yet occultists on the whole see it as little more than an 'Old Aeon' order, patriarchal, conservative and monolithic, while its alliance to the Templar tradition makes it far too close to Christianity for comfort.
Although far from being an internationally unified Order, Masonry the world over is loosely based on the structure of graded initiation employed by the early Mystery Schools such as the ancient Egyptian priesthood. Initiates are drawn from many walks of life and are taken by degree through rituals pertaining to the fundamental mysteries of existence. The use of symbols that can be understood by any person of average intelligence regardless of their religious persuasion can be seen as one of the great strengths of the Masonic system. Craft (or entry-level) Freemasonry employs a three stage initiation process which takes its members through the grades of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason. The methods and tools employed by stonemasons (to prepare rough blocks of stone in order that they may be used in the building of a Temple) are used as symbolic devices to illustrate the initiate's process of development through the Craft degrees. Allegorical stories alluding to the 'fact' that the original Freemasons were the architects and builders of the Temple of Solomon are also recounted to the candidate for his contemplation. Although the rituals contain mystical and religious overtones, the terms of secular religion are supplanted by description of god as being the 'Great Architect (or Geometrician) of the Universe,' implying that the divine force seeks to impose a grand design or order upon Creation.
Throughout its history, Freemasonry has managed to gain and maintain international popularity by paying lip service to the religions and leaderships common to the countries in which it appears, but this deliberate 'playing to the gallery' must not be confused with the real meaning behind the facade. For instance, as part of the ritual furniture in English Craft Lodges, a King James Bible lays open as the symbolic representation of the written word of god, but is never referred to as 'The Bible,' nor is any Christian emphasis placed on it or any of the workings in the Craft. Freemasonry is full of this kind of non-committal allusion to popular religion. This strategy enables it to bring in members who are still able to find some link to their own beliefs, while actually becoming involved in a 'modern' representation of the gnostic heresy. Veiled though it is, Freemasonry is actually a system teaching personal relationship with the divine, in contrast to conventional religion wherein one requires the mediation of an ordained priest. The culminating initiation in Craft Masonry is that of Master Mason, the third degree, where the candidate is lowered into a symbolic grave before being 'raised' as a new being. To all intents and purposes now his own priest, the new Master Mason can eventually look forward to not only becoming Master of his own Lodge, but also, if desired, gaining membership to any number of 'side degrees' open only to those of this rank.
So what the hell has all this got to do with being a Thelemite? Well, for many, absolutely nothing, but if you do harbor a desire to engage in ceremony, you may find that being able to do so in an environment devoid of Thelemic emphasis can actually be very much more instructive than it would appear at first glance. Crowley's writings are littered with exhortations to examine comparative religions or deliberately place oneself in uncomfortable or difficult situations as a method of pushing one's limits to encompass a greater amount of experience. If you choose to join Freemasonry as a Thelemite you will be doing just that. It is the opinion of the present writer that total adherence to the Thelemic philosophy without keeping an open mind with regard to other systems is oxymoronic and leads to becoming trapped in a restrictive reality tunnel much like any other. Rigid labelling of the self in such a fashion tends to draw one away from the formlessness that the magician seeks. Only by adopting different masks or identities can we hope to remain free from enslavement by the ego. Ultimately, the most powerful weapon at the disposal of the magician is the imagination. This can be put to good use by individuals who already have knowledge of the Thelemic use of symbol when participating in the rituals of Freemasonry.
Whatever your particular viewpoint on this, it can not be denied that Masonry was largely responsible for the occult renaissance in the West, giving rise as it did to the two orders with most import for the Thelemite, namely the Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn and the O.T.O. Regardless of how you perceive these two systems, if you are a student of the works of Crowley it is important to bear in mind that his works regarding both Ceremonial and Sex Magick draw heavily on the teachings of the Masonic lineage of which Crowley was himself a part.
So if you decide that Freemasonry is worth a look and you happen to have a friend or associate willing to propose you, what are you likely to find once inside a Masonic Temple? Well, due to limitations of space/time this is not the place for a treatise on Masonic Symbolism -- if you are interested there are many books and websites on such matters, and it would be far better for you to draw your own conclusions on what you might find. Suffice it to say that Masonry is actually teaching what Mystery Schools, Old Aeon or New, have always taught, i.e. that the divine must first be sought within, and that by a process of initiation the candidate can become aligned with his or her own inner nature. Although there are no guarantees that by participating in Masonic ritual one will actually come to greater understanding of the mysteries of life, the structure of Masonry does build a conducive atmosphere in which the earnest seeker can make significant personal progress -- regardless of their religious or mystical preferences.
After his initiation into the Golden Dawn, Crowley was said to have been disappointed by the general qualities displayed by the order's membership. You may well find yourself echoing his sentiments if you join a Lodge of Freemasons. In this age of rampant capitalism, Masonry seems to have been somewhat hijacked by individuals motivated either by the prospect of fast-track promotion or political manipulation, or at the very least the desire to join an exclusive club where one is likely to procure business from the members, who supposedly favour their 'brethren' over others in such matters. Although a membership of this kind serves to swell the coffers of the order and ensures the upkeep of Temples and Lodges, Freemasonry today seems to be suffering from the near total lack of interest in its true aims by a significant proportion of it's members.
Of course, there are Masons who are excellent ritualists and they are to be commended in their work. But in the experience of the present writer, many modern day Masons view the ritual content of their meetings as perfunctory, a chore to be shuffled and mumbled through before the real business of eating, drinking, networking and socializing can commence. It seems that there are many Masons who although proud of their perceived status are unable to fully engage in the rituals of their Craft and give stuttering, lackluster performances which would have them kicked out of most serious occult orders for sleeping on the job! Nevertheless, the ritual structure is so effective in achieving success in terms of perpetuating the order, it leaves one to wonder how much more potent it would be if performed with proper intent by all participants.
What is needed to stop any further rot eating away at the essence of Freemasonry is an influx of members who are aware of the power of ritual and are able to lead by example by showing the proper levels of focus and intent. If you are a Thelemite experienced in ritual practice, but see no reason to investigate Freemasonry, I would suggest you reconsider. Examine your motives for ignoring Freemasonry -- are you simply uninterested or 'art thou afraid?' If Freemasonry really is as influential as we are lead to believe, surely a Thelemic presence within the system is desirable -- even if seen from the perspective of being behind enemy lines.
By participating in ritual which can be interpreted in Thelemic terms, yet devoid of any sectarian religious jargon, one finds that strong bonds are built with individuals that would not normally come into one's social or philosophical spheres. You will find that you have to project an appearance or persona other than that which you would normally adopt in purely Thelemic company. In so doing, the participant can remain relatively free from the danger of falling foul of the most hideous daemon Dogma, which so many self-proclaimed Thelemites are unfortunately prone to doing. This is not a criticism so much as an observation based on personal experience. It appears to the current writer that those who spend an inordinate amount of time and energy on the internet, picking over the fine points of Thelema whilst at the same time never getting involved in actual ritual practice would do well to look at the matter of developing a certain level of discipline in their lives in order to aid the deeper understanding of the system which they claim to expound.
Of course, Freemasonry is not the only way to build discipline in one's life (one may for example look into studying a martial art in order to do this), but the fact remains that to totally ignore Freemasonry is akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water. After all, Thelema as we know it today would never have come into existence were it not for the Freemasonry studied by Crowley and his one-time mentors in both the Golden Dawn and the original O.T.O.
< | >
|"As St. Paul says, 'Without shedding of blood there is no remission,' and who are we to argue with St. Paul?" -- Aleister Crowley|
|All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments are owned by the Poster.|
This is an official and authorized archive of The Beast Bay
Hosted by Hermetic.com