Eidolons of Ash

The Social System of OTO

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Sacred River explores spirituality grounded in religious naturalism & progressive ethics that is both non-theistic and non-supernatural.

Something I've been thinking about the last few days is the multi-dimensional web of social spheres and interactions within Ordo Templi Orientis. Although not unique to O.T.O., I have been looking at our three meta-dimensions, which are the individual sphere, the inter-communal sphere, and the extra-cultural sphere. While each one is distinct, they are all interconnected in fascinating ways.


The Individual

Thelema is largely concerned with the state of the individual. There is a strong emphasis on an individual's True Will and the notion that a person is responsible for himself alone, especially in regards to manifesting that Will. Within the Order, the path one takes is completely left in the hands of the initiate. From one point of view, it can be said that OTO largely exists to provide an initiatory structure catered to the individual, while providing resources for that person to use along his or her own path of spiritual growth. Ultimately, the process of advancing through the degrees, studying their lessons, and applying them within one's life is strictly a matter of an individual's choices, capabilities, and Will.

General Order Goal: to promote advanced students of magick (in the largest sense of that term) that are capable of manifesting their unique Will as individual adepts, as fraternal initiates, and in the world at large.

The Community

Although the Order is made up of individuals all on their own unique paths, the fact remains that OTO could not function without the cooperation found only in groups. Of course, there are many different types of groups, both formal and informal, within the Order, including local bodies, governmental bodies, guilds, chapters, Grand Lodge, clergy, and even LJ users. It is even possible to see the various grades and degrees as groups. Each of these groups have their own unique form of community, all of which have both an instrumental and socio-emotional aspect.

General Order Goal: to promote healthy and effective Thelemic communities, all of which have a good balance of mutual support and personal challenge that inspires members to excel.

The External Culture

O.T.O. does not exist within a vacuum, and our foundational documents make it clear that OTO is expected to make an impact on the larger culture. At the same time, that culture has an inescapable impact on us, especially in terms of civil laws and social mores. The other important aspect of this dimension is that it is the repository from which potential new initiates arrive, while also being a force that can draw away existing members.

General Order Goal: to promulgate the Law of Thelema within the larger society, while also increasing the influence and empowerment of the Order so as to provide greater freedom for our works, both internal and external, and to attract quality membership.


As the graphic illustrates, these three spheres, while discrete, are not isolated and have a high degree of interactivity. This is really where things get interesting, because within the Order as a dynamic organization, this is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.

Individual interacts with O.T.O. Communities

This is certainly the most dynamic area of interaction within O.T.O., since there are thousands of individuals and lots of different groups. However, the most common would have to be the interaction between the individual and her local body community. Of course, there are many other groups, most of which are instrumental in nature, such as guilds and governing bodies. In almost all cases, I argue the general theme should be one of Stewardship. In this sense, the individual member chooses to join a group, and in so doing, voluntarily accepts the duty of sharing in the responsibility (and the rewards) of its well-being. This is a form of service (which is so central to OTO), and can take the form of the Three Pillars (Material Sustenance, Service to Community, and Fraternal Support), while also aspiring to be the best brother or sister one can (as perhaps embodied in the four fraternal character traits, courage, integrity, cordiality, and foolishness).

The flip side to this, of course, is the responsibility of the community to the individual initiate. I believe that, at the local level, there are several important duties in this regard, including (but not limited to) the ability to perform quality ceremonies (i.e. initiations and the Mass), to provide opportunities for leadership paths, problem solving services (such as mediation and pastoral counseling), communication of important or useful information, competent administration (e.g. accurate financial work, prompt execution of paperwork, etc), and general guidance, fellowship, and assistance as appropriate. A close reading of Liber CI will give a clear picture of what Crowley intended for the Order to provide to individual members.

On a different level, it should be noted that this zone of interaction includes other groups, such as Grand Lodge and other governing bodies towards individual members. To a large degree, most of these interactions are administrative, involving the day to day operations of the organization. However, there is another aspect that is not as concrete, but is a vital aspect of a voluntary member/group relationship, and that is the matrix of vision, leadership, and loyalty.

This is a concept that I've only begun to flesh out, so it is not in its final form. However, the essential idea is that this matrix is a two-way interaction that involves all players putting energy into the overall forward motion of the Order. This requires vision (which is the idea of where we are going), leadership (providing the tools and energy into getting there), and loyalty (which acknowledges that we can only get where we are going if we work together). While vision and leadership are traditionally the responsibility of those at the highest level of authority, the situation is not that simple. Vision can be affected, even if but a little, by individual members at any level, depending on the strength of the idea. Leadership is also something that all members should embody, which is not necessarily tied to authority. Traditionally, loyalty travels from the bottom up, but I suggest that in O.T.O., those at the highest level must also remain loyal to all others, since the higher grades serve the lower. Again, this model isn't robust yet, and I'll continue to develop it.

Individual interacts with External Culture

When an individual comes to O.T.O. she brings with her a large store of values, beliefs, skills, and behaviors that are derived from the culture she grew up and exists in. In this way, mores from the larger society unavoidably find their way into the Order, one person at a time. Of course, as the initiate spends time in the Order and advances through the degrees, the essential principles and beliefs of Thelema become integrated into the individual's worldview. Also, hopefully the member will continually learn to hear her Will and improve her ability to manifest it. As she does, she will be taking these Thelemic principles, beliefs, and behaviors out into the world, thereby promulgating the Law through her own efforts and as a model for others.

It is important to note that within this interaction zone, there is a constant push and pull of social forces. In this torrent of influences, the individual will fluctuate in her motivation and ability to participate in the Order. Family, jobs, money, school, and non-OTO activities are, to some degree, always affecting the initiate...it is the rare member that can balance all of them together.

O.T.O. Communities interact with External Culture

For the most part, there are comparatively few interactions between an Order community and the surrounding culture. On one level, this interaction occurs in a passive way, in terms of social mores and laws that affect how the community behaves. For example, a local body might be more open or more secretive depending on the surrounding attitudes and levels of tolerance regarding our beliefs and activities. In this sense, the external culture has a profound impact on the Order, even at the Grand Lodge level, where by-laws and policy are sometimes designed in order to be in alignment with civil law so as to avoid litigation.

Unfortunately, the level of influence is not equitable. The Order and its communities, in general, have little impact on the surrounding culture. One reason for this is because few Order groups regularly interact with the environment explicitly as representatives of O.T.O. There are exceptions of course, such as Crowley's books published in the Order's name, or on the local level, a Lodge presenting the Rites of Eleusis that are open to the public. However, the fact that O.T.O. is such a small organization (fewer than 4000 members worldwide) with few to no connections to bastions of civic power, makes the Order relatively weak in terms of cultural influence.

The Inner Matrix

As we can see, there are many potential areas of interaction. In the very center, of course, is the richest area of all, where the individual, the group, and the external culture connect. To be accurate, this is the "zone of reality" in the sense that all three are, to some degree, in constant play. Said another way, there really is no circumstance where one of the three is not in some way present.

Nothing about this model is particularly original—it is really a rudimentary example of systems theory applied to an organization. However, I wanted to put it together to show how it can be useful to think about not only each of the major spheres, but how they influence each other. In this way, we can see that the Order is, in fact, a complex series of social forces in a constant state of interaction.