Ordo Templi Orientis
Sacred River explores spirituality grounded in religious naturalism & progressive ethics that is both non-theistic and non-supernatural.
A common question that is asked by newer members of OTO is—what is it, exactly, that the Order does? True, we all know that we perform initiations and celebrate the Gnostic Mass...but is that it? Or is there a bigger picture?
Based on our foundational documents—such as An Intimation with Reference to the Constitution of the Order and An Open Letter to Those Who May Wish to Join the Order—it is possible to define several core aspects of OTO above and beyond our Rites. As the chart outlines below, we see a top-level goal of promoting and facilitating the accomplishment of Will, with three functional components designed to fulfill it:
- A system of initiation that provides the fraternal, philosophical, and mystical path for individual members
- Creation of a spiritual society based on OTO/Thelemic principles
- Promulgation of the Law of Thelema
|Central Goal of OTO
||Three core Functions of OTO
||Primary expression of the Three Functions
||Philosophical and Practical Foundation
|Promote and facilitate the Accomplishment of the Great Work for individuals and within Order communities and the greater culture at large.
||Individual Path of Initiation
|The principles of the Order as expressed in our initation ceremonies and foundational documents, which are informed by the Law of Thelema, the Art of Magick, and the Philosophy of Aleister Crowley.
|Creation of a Spiritual Society
||Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica
||MoE Local Bodies
|Profess Houses (future)
|Promulgation of the Law of Thelema
|Politics and Public Policy (future)
The Central Goal of OTO
- Promote and facilitate the Accomplishment of the Great Work for individuals and within Order communities and the greater culture at large.
The Great Work is the process of discovering and expressing one's True Will. This is the core interest of OTO and all Thelemic efforts. However, please note that the accomplishment of the Great Work itself is not the goal of OTO...that is ultimately the responsibility of the individual. Rather, OTO strives to promote and facilitate its accomplishment.
Promotion refers to the action of education in the frame of a public service. OTO wants to let all people know that they have a Will of their own, and that the New Aeon has given a mandate that they discover and express it. True, everyone has the right to deny their own Will, but OTO wants to do what it can to give people a chance to accept it.
Facilitation refers to an ongoing effort to make the discovery and expression of Will more likely. OTO does this in several ways. The first and foremost method is the provision of an initiatory path that provides certain experiences and tools for the mystical process of the Great Work. These initiations also set up the foundation of a spiritual society, wherein the Great Work is the primary concern, and members can expect cooperation and assistance in their journey of self discovery. In the future, the Order will also labor to influence the secular world with the intent of removing obstacles that get in the way of the discovery and expression of Will, which fall under three categories: oppression, superstition, and tyranny.
The Vision of OTO, as with many great spiritual societies, is Universal Brotherhood. We believe that this Brotherhood is to be founded upon the principles of Thelema, which demand the right to be true to oneself, while also recognizing that we are, at the same time, all one with God.
Three Core Functions of OTO
OTO has three functions designed to accomplish the core goal. It is vital to understand that these three work in conjunction with each other, and are only separated out for the sake of convenience. For example, there is a direct correlation between a member's degree and her level of authority within the Church or governmental structure.
Individual Path of Initiation
One of the pillars of OTO activity, and the "spine" upon which Order principles and member authority hangs, is our system of initiations. The eleven core initiations provide the fraternal, philosophical, and mystical path for individual members. They are fraternal in that they outline the relationship between members and detail how initiates should and should not interact. They also provide the philosophy of the Order, explaining how we view the essential workings of the Universe. Finally, they are mystic in that they provide an opportunity for spiritual change, a kind of magical alchemy designed to align the individual with her own inner self.
The OTO system of initiation is comprised of a total of 21 ceremonies, which can be divided in a few different ways. The most common is in terms of Grades or Triads:
- Man of Earth Grade: Minerval (0○) thru IV○/P.I.
- K.E.W. rests outside of all Grades
- Lover Grade: V○ thru VII○
- Hermit Grade: VIII○ thru XII○
A second way to divide them is in terms of MMM/FLH schools:
- Mysteria Mystica Maxima (MMM) : O○ thru VII○
- Fraternitas Lucis Hermeticae (FLH) : VII○ thru IX○
The FLH was the original three degree system of the Order, and is considered to be the OTO proper. The MMM was the "masonic program" that was tacked on to the front, and eventually rewritten by Crowley to reflect Thelemic principles.
The model above divides the Path of Initiation into two main stages. This is done to reflect the two essential milestones within the system, which rests in the Fifth and Ninth Degrees. The Fifth Degree is the entry degree into the Lover Grade and the Rose Croix Chapters, which are the respective initiatory bodies. This degree is, in several ways, the crown of the Man of Earth cycle, whose ceremonies can be said to act as a training program for the development of Excellent and Perfect Princes and Princesses of the Rose Croix. Moreover, Crowley explains in Liber CXCIV that the Fifth Degree is the "natural stopping-place of the majority of men and women," and as such represents the first—and for most members, the final—milestone along the OTO initiatory journey.
For those who continue on, the crowning milestone is the Ninth Degree. Quite simply, this degree represents the Jewel of the Order, for in it lives the Supreme Secret and its members reside in the Sanctuary of the Gnosis. In all but governmental terms, this degree is the culmination of the entire initiatory path and synthesizes all its lessons. Its Secret is said to be a powerful tool, to be used in the Great Work of discovering and expressing the True Will of the Initiate.
Creation of a Spiritual Society
- "[My] main idea had been to found a community on the principles of The Book of the Law, to form an archetype of a new society. The main ethical principle is that each human being has his own definite object in life. He has every right to fulfill this purpose, and none to do anything else. It is the business of the community to help each of its members to achieve this aim; in consequence all rules should be made, and all questions of policy decided, by the application of this principle to the circumstances." —Crowley, "Confessions", Ch. 87
OTO is structured to be much more than a vehicle for initiations. As the model above shows, there are many components within the Order that have a much more complex purpose—the creation of a robust society founded upon the principles of Thelema as expressed in our initiation ceremonies. Ideally, this society will create an environment conducive to the spiritual pursuit of the Great Work as well as being beneficial for the worldly life of its members, addressing such common issues as education, property, work, family, and community.
In the OTO foundational document, Liber CI, "An Open Letter to Those Who May Wish to Join the Order," many of these social benefits are described in detail. These include (but are not limited to):
- Lodging and transportation
- Housing for expecting mothers, initiates of the Ninth, and geriatric members
- Health care
- Legal counsel and representation
- Primary, secondary, trade, and professional education
- Arbitration of member conflicts
- Limited financial assistance
- Adoption of orphaned children of siblings
- Social, romantic, and professional networking
As the chart above shows, there are several components of the Order designed to fulfill this role.
Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica
The EGC, or Gnostic Catholic Church, provides an ecclesiastical environment for Order members. Its central ritual is Liber XV, the Gnostic Mass, which forms the magical backbone of the church, and is certainly the Rite most often celebrated in the Order. The church also allows for a type of parallel path, providing membership and ordination ceremonies (which are public rituals, in contrast to the secrecy of the initiation rituals). Ordained membership in EGC is tied directly into the initiatory structure, with deacons required to be at least II○, priests and priestesses to be K.E.W., and Bishops to be VII○.
The EGC also provides for other several other sacraments, including: 1
- Feast for Life (infant benediction)
- Feasts for Water and Fire (passage to maturity for females and males, respectively)
- Marriage (nuptial benediction)
- Feasts of the Calendar (such as the Equinoxes and Solstices)
- Blessings (domicile, animals, temples, etc)
- Administration of the Virtues to the Sick
- Last Rites
- Greater Feast for Death (funeral ceremony)
Not only is the Mass one of the most common causes for the gathering of the local community, it also plays a vital role in interfacing with the public. Since most Masses are open to guests, it is quite often the "front face" of the Order to the larger community. Not only this, but it is also the most common "gateway" into the Order, with most members joining thanks to their initial participation in Liber XV.
- 1 Thanks to T. Polyphilus for some of the wording of the sacraments.
The Man of Earth bodies include camps, oases, and lodges. These are, far and away, where most events, both public and private, occur. Moreover, although members of higher grades can join other bodies, all initiates are encouraged to join and be active in a local MoE body. This is because local bodies are, for the foreseeable future, the life blood of the Order. They are hosts to Gnostic Masses, initiations (from O○ thru KEW), classes and workshops, feasts, and public events such as plays and festivals. Although Crowley originally envisioned profess-houses (see below) as being the communal center of the Order, that function has manifested primarily within our MoE local bodies.
Other initiatory bodies include R+C Chapters, which are home to those of at least the Fifth Degree, and the Sanctuary of the Gnosis, which is populated by the Ninth Degrees. The Chapters are especially relevant to the society aspect of OTO, since these bodies are filled with members who are charged with the following (from CXCIV):
- The members of the Fifth Degree are responsible for all that concerns the Social welfare of the Order. [...] In this degree the Most Wise Sovereign of each chapter will appoint a committee of four persons, two men and two women, to arrange for all social gatherings, banquets, dances, the performance of plays, and similar pleasures. They will also endeavour to promote harmony among the Brethren in all possible ways, and to compose any disputes by tact and friendliness without formal appeal being made to any more authoritative tribunal.
These are the formal elements of the Order than handle government, justice, policy enforcement, and service delivery. International Headquarters (IHQ) is the top of the structure, which contains the Outer Head of the Order (OHO) and the Supreme Council (i.e. the Grand Secretary General and Grand Treasurer General). IHQ also includes the Areopagus of the Eighth Degree, and is charged with resolving disputes between all governing bodies.
Below this are the individual Grand Lodges for the various Kingdoms (of which there are currently three: USA, UK, and Australia). Each GL contains the X○ or Supreme and Holy King for that country, who heads up the Supreme Grand Council (again, with the Secretary and Treasurer). It also contains the Grand Tribunal, which handles member disputes, and the Electoral College, which manages the Man of Earth Grade.
Guilds are created by members of any Grade for the purpose of promoting specific crafts, trades, sciences, and professions. At the moment, there are several active Guilds, including the Psychology Guild, the Translators Guild, and the Information Technology Guild.
In terms of Crowley's original intents for the Order, profess-houses were to be the center of social activity and community. Most of his descriptions paint them as a kind of commune along the lines of the "Abbey of Theleme" of Rabelais, although Crowley wanted a serious version of the satirical monastery, which Rabelais described with the following (from Gargantua and Pantagruel, 1532):
- All their life was spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose out of their beds when they thought good; they did eat, drink, labour, sleep, when they had a mind to it and were disposed for it. None did awake them, none did offer to constrain them to eat, drink, nor to do any other thing; for so had Gargantua established it. In all their rule and strictest tie of their order there was but this one clause to be observed,
- Do What Thou Wilt;
- because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition by which they formerly were inclined to virtue, to shake off and break that bond of servitude wherein they are so tyrannously enslaved; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden and to desire what is denied us.
This was to be the philosophical principle behind profess-houses. In practice, however, Crowley did not want them to all be Abbey-style monasteries. He saw them more as retreats for higher level members to stay for limited periods of time. Moreover, profess-houses were to be used for general lodging for all members, although length of stay depended on one's degree and the conditions of travel.
Crowley insisted that profess-houses develop their own character and purpose. He discussed them in terms of schooling, housing, care for pregnant women, boarding houses for children, libraries, hospitals, and even as brothels. He also discusses other benefits, such as opportunities to network with other members—including those of the Lover and Hermit Grades—where personal instruction in the principles and working of O.T.O. can be obtained. Such instruction, along with other activities, can assist a member in preparing for advancement in the higher degrees. In other words, profess-houses were intended to be places for magical, philosophical, and leadership mentoring.
To date, OTO has never opened a profess-house. There are many theories for why this is. My own opinion is that the Order has yet to obtain a large enough membership to warrant mustering the kind of resources necessary to create and maintain one. Moreover, when Crowley was planning all this, he envisioned OTO being a bastion of the rich and powerful, where obtaining the necessary money and property would not be a hurdle. With the economic realities of today, it will be a few years yet before the Order is ready to manifest this vital social aspect of OTO.
- For more on profess-houses, see Concerning the Law of Thelema, Manifesto of the O.T.O., and Of Eden and the Sacred Oak, as well as my own An Examination of Liber CI and On Profess-Houses.
Promulgation of the Law of Thelema
There is a very thin line that OTO members are asked to walk—on the one hand, we are mandated to spread the Law of Liberty among both associates and the general public, and on the other, we are prohibited from active attempts to convert others. It seems like there is little difference between promulgation and evangelizing. Nevertheless, OTO has the duty to work out these issues and to act. The object of spreading the Law is deeply embedded within the Order, and cannot be denied without betraying our charter and the vision of Crowley.
Traditionally, there are two ways we have done this—literature and public events. OTO has worked hard to publish most of Crowley's original works, and we continue to release new texts. Many members are also published writers, ranging from printed books, to local journals, to blogs. As for public events, many OTO local bodies offer public Gnostic Masses (probably the most common entryway into the Order), as well as things like ritual theatre, coffee nights, and camping festivals. Both literature and public events are passive techniques that require the willed participation of readers or guests, and for this reason they have been the most popular techniques to date.
However, being passive, they are also not as effective as other techniques. The OTO is even now working out ways to establish outreach efforts so that they do not violate our vital principle of non-conversion. The conjunction of active outreach efforts with passive but robust techniques (i.e. literature and public events) will be a powerful combination.
Over time, as the Order grows, both in membership and resources, we are intended to enter into the realm of public policy. Crowley was clear that a primary goal of OTO was to be of import in the "councils of the world," so that we may employ Thelemic principles into the civil arena. We are nowhere near ready for this stage, but we should certainly begin preparing, so that OTO can be as influential as possible when the time comes.
Philosophical and Practical Foundation
- The principles of the Order as expressed in our initiation ceremonies and foundational documents, informed by the Law of Thelema, the Art of Magick, and the Philosophy of Aleister Crowley.
There are two levels of understanding that underlie our system. The first is the set of principles that are expressed within our initiation ceremonies. Naturally, this public essay cannot go into details on this. However, the general concept is important to grasp. When it comes to determining proper fraternal behavior, how to develop our spiritual society, and even figuring out our promulgation strategy, we need look no further than our ceremonies of initiation and the obligations and principles therein. Crowley sums it up nicely when he writes in What is Freemasonry?,
- The main objects of the [MoE initiations] were two. It was firstly necessary to explain the universe and the relations of human life therewith. Secondly, to instruct every man how best to adapt his life to the cosmos and to develop his faculties to the utmost advantage.
The second layer of our system is trifold. In the center is the Law of Thelema, which is Do what thou wilt. This concept is the core philosophical principle behind the Order and everything we do.
Magick is the general set of techniques used to accomplish our goals, and traditionally includes practices such as yoga, invocational ritual, and astral body work. It also includes an understanding of the Tree of Life, as well as various "occult" systems, such as astrology and the tarot. While the Order does not formally teach Magick to members, most local bodies do offer classes and workshops to learn this vital set of practices.
The general Philosophy of Aleister Crowley is also a guiding principle of the Order. Although members are not mandated to take everything he wrote at face value, initiates are encouraged to read his works, and then to draw their own conclusions. On a larger level, his philosophy is what empowers the foundational documents that define OTO.