Ordo Templi Orientis
Sacred River explores spirituality grounded in religious naturalism & progressive ethics that is both non-theistic and non-supernatural.
- Every man and woman of full age (18 or more years old), free, and of good report, has an indefeasible right to the first three degrees of O.T.O. (but not according to any particular time schedule). These "first three degrees" actually include all the degrees in the Man of Earth Triad (the Minerval is considered a prologue to the First Degree, and the Fourth and P∴I∴ Degrees are considered pendants to the Third Degree).
Although the Order describes who has a right to join O.T.O. and to go through the Man of Earth degrees, what is lacking is a discussion, even an informal one, regarding what a person needs to “succeed” within that program. I put that word in quotes because success will often be defined differently for each initiate. That being said, I believe it is fair to say that some people thrive traveling through the Man of Earth degrees, and others stagnate or even decline during their time in the Order. Also, being a member of O.T.O. is (ideally) more than simply taking the initiations—it is also being a member of a community, both in the fraternal spirit of the Order as a whole and in the everyday sense of interacting with other members via a local body. Clearly there are initiates who add to their local O.T.O. community in either a positive, neutral, or negative fashion. The question becomes: what does one need to bring with them and to nurture in order to succeed within O.T.O., both as an individual initiate and as a member of a community?
I have come to believe that the answer lies in specific character traits. One’s character can be defined as a grouping of beliefs, values, and attitudes that lead to characteristic actions, either manifested through internal motivation or in reaction to various situations. Of the traits I have chosen, everyone has them to one degree or another, of course, and they are not static. It is certainly possible to strengthen (or weaken) them over time. I also do not claim that they are the only useful traits to bring to the Man of Earth degrees (or really all three Grades), for surely there are many. However, I think that these are the core traits necessary to derive full benefit (however one defines that) from our system, beginning with the Minerval Degree.
Courage is not necessarily fearlessness and, in this context, does not include its vice of excess, recklessness. Rather, it is the ability to face one’s fear, to acknowledge it, and then to do what needs to be done despite it, or to otherwise overcome it. For some, Courage can mean the lack of fear. Either way, it is a willingness and ability to perform a necessary act, even in the face of possible negative repercussions.
Activity in O.T.O. rarely provides opportunity to test people’s physical Courage—we do not walk over hot coals or fight hungry lions (to my knowledge). Rather, the most common fears are abstract or even beyond conscious understanding. I believe the most primal fear that the average initiate must face is the fear of the Unknown. From day one, the Minerval candidate must show up for her initiation, ideally having no clue what challenges await her. It is natural (and I believe desirable) that this situation will incite some fear, normally expressed as nervousness or mild anxiety (I have never observed raw terror in a candidate, thankfully). Part of the process of initiation can often be the overcoming of fear to complete a potentially dangerous challenge. In this, Courage is not only needed, but often augmented in a fully present initiate.
On a more personal level, as any practicing adept knows, part of the process of spiritual discovery is delving into parts of reality (both internal and external, if there is even such a difference) that are dark, sticky, and often unpleasant. We all have parts of ourselves that we would rather not own or face up to, and it takes a great deal of Courage to look at those things with a fully accepting mind. However, this is a required part of the process of attaining self-knowledge.
Similarly, personal growth—whether it be spiritual, psychological, social, professional, or otherwise—almost always involves some degree of pain. I think that one of the central components of the O.T.O. system is the process of personal growth—or said another way, the process of becoming more of who one really is, and less of acquired beliefs, habits, and traits that hinder one’s True Will. Beliefs, habits, and traits are, at a fundamental level, things that give us a sense of control over our lives and provide sense to the world, and therefore, even in cases where we know they are somehow harmful, are sources of great comfort. To be in such a place, and then to willingly plunge into a state that requires relinquishing control, being challenged, and feeling unfamiliar so that change can take place certainly takes a very special kind of Courage.
Within O.T.O., of course, the majority of interactions with most members are not in the rarefied context of initiations or personal ritual, but in the everyday actions of friendship, project involvement, informal communications, and local body operations. In this arena, Courage also plays a very important role. There are too many instances to relate them all here, but suffice it to say, active, meaningful participation in any vibrant O.T.O. community is rarely simple and often fraught with social “dangers”. Toe-stepping, authority-overreaching, and boundary-breaking are all common events, especially with newer folks who are not yet familiar with all the “rules of the game.” It takes a lot of Courage to step on a social landmine and then come back to try again. However, this is part of what it takes to become truly accepted into most O.T.O. communities, no matter how many initiations one has undertaken.
Integrity is a difficult trait to define, since in many ways, it seems to be a combination of several different traits and social behaviors (for example, it is possible to say that someone is a person of Integrity, and also to say someone acts with Integrity). At it’s core, for the purpose of this article, I will define Integrity as having a strong sense of self deriving from reasonable self-knowledge and a consistent set of beliefs and ethics, which then leads to certain social meta-actions, namely: honesty, responsibility-taking, sincerity, respect for others and social norms (not necessarily compliance with them), and, perhaps at its core, being dedicated to the principle of truth. In other ways, Integrity also means the lack of certain traits, such as arrogance, fanaticism, monomania, sanctimoniousness, capriciousness, triviality, self deception, self-ignorance, mendacity, hypocrisy, indifference, and rigidity. These traits tend to undermine Integrity by suppressing the ability to critically assess and balance one’s desires, commitments, changing goals, and of course, True Will.
On a practical level, some social features of Integrity include the following:
- following through with commitments
- accepting accountability for one’s actions
- being one’s word (i.e. walking one’s talk)
- being consistent with one’s internal beliefs
- doing what needs to be done, even in the face of greater desires
- respecting the internal reality of others, even when in disagreement
- Putting trust and regard in one’s own sense of judgment
It is reasonable to suggest that these actions are generally useful in almost any social situation. However, within O.T.O., having a sense of Integrity is especially important, mostly because the Order lacks certain social controls that other contexts provide. For example, if a member acts without Integrity within an O.T.O. context, most likely her livelihood will not be at stake (unlike in the workplace), nor her educational advancement (as at school), nor her bodily freedom (as in our society of criminal law). In fact, O.T.O. is incredibly forgiving of people in this regard, for unless a member acts poorly enough to get put on bad report, she can advance through the MoE degrees without penalty. Since O.T.O. largely lacks these formal penalties for poor behavior, it is incumbent on all members to assume the mantle of Integrity willingly (which is, arguably, the superior way, since true Integrity cannot be enforced from the outside).
Of course, the ultimate goal of the initiate (ideally) is not merely to advance through the degrees, but to use them as an opportunity to grow as a Thelemite, as well as to find greater ways to positively contribute to her local body and the Order as a whole. Such growth and contribution become greatly hampered without a sense of Integrity. On an immediate level, it takes a certain amount of Integrity to maintain the secrecy of our initiatory ceremonies, and further, to accept and manifest the oaths taken therein. The Order does not have “Oath Police,” and keeping to one’s oaths is almost completely a matter for the individual. In such a context, it becomes obvious how necessary and useful several items on the above list are to the initiate.
As with the example of Courage, Integrity also has its place in the purely social context of O.T.O. Naturally, a Lodge full of people who are honest, fulfill their obligations, and respect each other goes a long way towards creating a vibrant, open, and tightly cohered group. In such a group, appropriate information is shared more freely, work is distributed more evenly, and operational tasks are effectively completed. Ultimately, Integrity allows for the creation of a community that regards their oaths as more than a mystical curiosity or strictly personal affair, but rather as a set of social ideals put into actual practice, designed to produce a just and noble Thelemic society.
Originally referring to issues of the heart (deriving from the Latin, cor or cord-, “heart”), Cordiality has largely come to refer to sincere good-will or warm and friendly feelings towards others. However, it is more than just surface friendliness—it requires a certain sincerity and genuineness as well (see “Integrity” above). Finally, it has a quality of heartiness and earnestness (which is possibly why a cordial is also a stimulating drink, often a liqueur).
First, let us make clear what Cordiality is not. It is not the same as “love thy neighbor (as yourself).” Being a cordial brother or sister does not mean to turn a blind eye to misconduct or wrongdoing, nor does it necessarily mean to place the well-being of other members above your own. It does not mean having to “be friends” with all members, nor to endure poor treatment without comment. It certainly does not mean to feel pity for others.
What is does imply is that a cordial initiate would, as a default, be warm and sincerely friendly with other members. As Aleister Crowley wrote in Liber CI: “Every Brother shall seek constantly to give pleasure to all Brethren with whom he is acquainted, whether by entertainment or conversation, or in any other manner that may suggest itself,” and “All Brethren may expect the warmest co-operation in their pleasures and amusements from other members of the Order. The perfect freedom and security afforded by the Law allows the characters of all Brethren to expand to the very limits of their nature, and the great joy and gladness with which they are constantly overflowing make them the best of companions” [emphasis mine]. Clearly it was his wish that members of O.T.O. treat each other with cordial good-will, and considered it both a duty and a privilege of all initiates.
Cordiality also comes into play in times of strife. When moments of disagreement arise, the cordial initiate will assume the best of intentions on the part of others (even if she doesn’t actually believe it), and to continue treating them with respect and honor in the face of unavoidable conflict. Naturally there are times when hurt feelings and anger happen between siblings—but Cordiality demands that subsequent actions avoid pettiness, rumor-mongering, revenge, or especially any action that breaks an oath (both Courage and Integrity play a strong role here as well). For most of us, there will be times when we disagree, argue, and even fight with other membersâ€¦Cordiality keeps our battles on high ground, so that when the dust settles, a clean slate may remain for the rebuilding of mutual companionship.
A somewhat more rare definition of Cordiality is appropriate here—it is the trait of being warm and hearty in a course of action or in behalf of a cause. A cordial initiate is one who goes about their Order business, whether it be social, educational, ceremonial, or operational, with sincerity and ebullience. Perhaps this idea seems a little too “Pollyanna” for some folks. However, having a positive outlook and a fair bit of drive is often necessary to get through some of the more challenging obstacles in our Order, especially as one starts taking on responsibilities. A volunteer (and unpaid) organization should ideally have a high morale, and a good amount of Cordiality goes a long way.
One of the sweetest fruits of Cordiality has to be the fine art of hospitality, surely a cultural cornerstone of our Holy Order. Of course, an entire article, or even a book, could be written on this subject. It can be said here that true hospitality begins within the heart, and is not just a matter of mechanical rules of society. It requires a receptivity, trust, and openness to other members, even if they be otherwise strangers (which is yet another province of Courage). Within a local body, it can mean creating an inviting atmosphere that lets newcomers—say to a Gnostic Mass or public workshop—feel welcome without any undue pressure. On the other side, for those partaking of hospitality, being cordial means not taking advantage of the gesture, and treating one’s host(s) with respect and consideration. It is upon the foundation of this wonderful tradition that we can create communities wherein initiates are able not only to co-exist, but to share in a deep sense of belonging.
It is not common to suggest that Foolishness is a positive character trait. Yet, I maintain that it is crucial to a successful O.T.O. experience. Of course, when I use the word here, I am not referring to the normative concept of an idiot, dupe, or someone deficient in good sense. I refer to the more mystical aspects of the Fool that gives the initiate a frame of mind that allows for change and an ability to experience the Order at its best.
There are three aspects of the Fool that I recommend all initiates to promote within themselves. The first is that of the beginner mind. This Zen-like concept is simple to understand and yet difficult to master. The Fool knows nothing, and yet is filled with curiosity. The Fool does not pre-judge experience, and accepts all new phenomena on its own terms. The Fool is eminently present in the now, ready to ride the flow of life.
The second aspect is that of the Jester. First and foremost, the Jester does not take life (or himself) too terribly seriously. The Jester recognizes the importance of play. The Jester knows how to take a joke and laugh, even when he makes a mistake or things go wrong. The Jester is the only one in the court who wonders why everyone is arguing over rules and regulations when the sun is shining and there is music to play.
The third aspect is the Inspired Innocent. This Fool is filled with wonder and awe at the smallest of things, and is driven by inspiration and love. He has neither cynicism nor hatred, for to him, everything is divine. He is the embodiment of procreation, for nothing in him is stagnant, and he longs for the perpetual bloom of potential.
Openness to experience. A sense of humor. Allowing one’s self to be inspired. All three are vital characteristics for the O.T.O. initiate. These ideas should not be seen as platitudes or abstract principles, but as traits to be fully realized in one’s outlook and behavior. Every Thelemite should ask herself daily, “What am I holding on to that I should let pass? What is going on now that I need to pay attention to? Am I taking anything too seriously? What new thing shall I add to the world today?” Inspiration should not be limited to new endeavors: it can be found in repetitive tasks that have been done for years, for every moment is new and offers new possibilities. The Fool knows this, and that is why he dances.
It should go without saying that these four traits are not the only useful traits for an O.T.O. initiate to have. Moreover, I am not suggesting that members don’t already have these traits to some degree. I am offering the idea that the development of these four traits allows for (1) an initiate to experience what O.T.O. has to offer in the most fulfilling way, and (2) the Order to develop healthy and dynamic communities on both the local and macro scale.
To date, when it comes to judgments regarding quality initiates—both informally and formally—we have largely looked at a set of standards that focuses on performance, knowledge, and personality. Examples are: proficiency in ceremonial magick; familiarity with Crowley’s works, Cabala, and esoteric theories; and skill in ritual performance. Personality (as opposed to character) standards include things like physical attractiveness (you know it’s true), having a forceful or seductive communication style, and an ability to penetrate the morass of the O.T.O. politico-organizational structure via social contacts.
I am not denying the relative importance of these things to the O.T.O. initiate. The problem is that these standards rarely predict with accuracy how one adds to the well-being of the community. Take two local initiates, Dick and Jane. Everyone knows Dick to be an experienced magician, a dedicated scholar of Crowley and various schools of mysticism, and does a letter-perfect Gnostic Mass. Jane has shown herself to be utterly trustworthy, is willing to brave new and uncertain situations, treats others with sincere warmth and generosity, laughs easily, and inspires others through her own spirit and sense of adventure. While Dick’s skills and knowledge are of great value within O.T.O., we don’t know from his brief description if he himself is a deficit or benefit to his community. Jane might not know as much about Crowley as Jack, might do shakier ritual, and doesn’t get much out of yoga or 19th century ceremonial magick. However, it is a fair bet that her character traits make Jane a great benefit to her local body—she helps make sure things get done, she shows up to initiations regularly, she hosts parties, she invites guests to stay with her, she helps provide vision to the body, and she’s an enthusiastic supporter of people’s projects. Jane, I imagine, would help make her local community thrive. (Now imagine a local body where most members had these character traits, especially combined with Jack’s skills!)
Some might argue that community is besides the point—Thelema is all about the individual and others be damned. For such people, O.T.O. exists either to serve their personal needs or as a place where they can attempt to manifest their desire to “rule” over others (usually both). However, like it or not, community is built into the very fabric of our Order. It is neither a by-product nor an inconvenience—it is, arguably, the entire point of the Order’s existence! What good is an Order filled with proficient ceremonialists and scholars if our local and initiate bodies are unhealthy or falling apart?
This essay is a call to make character a priority within Ordo Templi Orientis. I have suggested a model based on four traits—Courage, which allows one to face the unknown and the frightening; Integrity, which promotes honesty and responsibility towards the self and others; Cordiality, which allows for warm, hearty and generous interactions; and Foolishness, which inspires us to play, create, explore, and live life to the fullest. This does not require a formal policy change or a set of rules, and indeed should not, since character cannot be enforced from without. It will instead take a critical mass of initiates who decide to develop these traits further within themselves and to promote them within their communities. It can also inform the decisions of our governing bodies when they make choices about advancing members or filling positions of authority.
Ultimately, it is character that determines what our Order looks like—what it does and how it does it. The manifestation of our Charter occurs through behavior, and it is character that guides our acts. Yes, knowledge informs what we do, while experience provides proficiency. But knowledge and proficiency are much weakened without the character to see things through in a constructive and healthy way. The Path of the Initiate is not an easy one, which is in large reason why orders like OTO exist—and a well-traveled journey together is dependent upon the character of the travelers. Let us take up that mantle and ride forth with success!