Notes on the Sacerdotal Function in Thelemic Gnosticism
T Polyphilus, Ep. Gn.
Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica has a sacerdotal, or “priestly,” clerical class that act as official representatives of the Church in organizing and administering sacramental rites. However, we do not have a sacerdotalist doctrine which would require any of the Church sacraments (under priestly auspices) for the spiritual fulfillment or “redemption” of an individual, whether or not the individual is a member of the Church or adherent to its doctrines.
Although each individual is inherently (and exclusively) qualified to seek and obtain her own access to divinity, and to exhibit attainment as an individual, only the priesthood is authorized and empowered to demonstrate that divine access through the rites of the Church. Such demonstrations are intended to fortify and encourage the individual members who partake of our ecclesiastical sacraments.
One of the curious allusions qualifying the sacerdotal power in E.G.C. is the statement in Liber XV that “The PRIESTESS and other officers never partake of the Sacrament, they being as it were part of the PRIEST himself.”
The five Mass officers together illustrate the the theophanic mechanism of a single individual, and thus no one of them is complete without the others. In qabalistic terms, the priest is the chiah, the priestess is the neschemah, the deacon is the ruach, and the children are the nephesch. (The duality of the nephesch relates to its dynamic of attraction/repulsion.) During the Ceremony of the Consecration of the Elements, the eucharistic elements are transformed from the g'uph into the yechidah (Kether in Malkuth and Malkuth in Kether), and thus, when the priest communicates, all of the officers do so together: when the priest says “no part of me,” the mezla spills down the lightning flash from eucharist to priest to priestess to deacon to children.
The Mass also prepares the people to communicate in their own persons, so that each popular communicant is an entire chiah-neschemah-ruach-nephesch composite who proclaims the continuity of yechidah (“the gods”) and g'uph (the densest “part of me”) within him or herself.
When “There is no part of me that is not of the gods,” me does not stop at at my skin, it extends into my sensorium that includes everyone in the temple; it extends into my reason that includes everyone with whom I have interacted; it extends into my intuition that includes humanity; it extends into my vital essence that includes the cosmos; all are parts of me in the exact reverse of the path by which we are parts of that Mystery of Mystery which is the One Father of Life.
The “part of the PRIEST himself” remark should not be read as a suggestion that the priestess (or any of the other officers) somehow belongs to the particular priest as distinct from the larger body of the Church. In some places, the verbiage of “Mass teams” has led aspiring clergy to believe that a priest or priestess should have an particular, ongoing partner as a regular co-celebrant in the Gnostic Mass. I think that making hardened dyads out of priest-priestess couples is not very helpful. If some ritualists want to work under such a restriction, so be it, but its general application poses serious problems for creating real communities of sacerdotal practice, in which officers have an opportunity to learn by working with a variety of other ritualists under orders.
As a bishop involved with training and supervision of clergy, I encourage novices to form and participate in such communities. In fact, I would go so far as to assert that a novice priestess who has only worked with one priest (or a novice priest, mutatis mutandis) is not optimally prepared for ordination.
Also, the convention of a Mass “couple” has a tendency to radically subordinate the priestess to the priest in a way that is unsuited to the indications regarding her qualifications for office. Since the priestess is to be “Virgo Intacta or specially dedicated to the service of the Great Order” (this latter being glossed as “a sworn whore” in the Crowley marginalia preserved by Kenneth Grant), she should be a free agent with respect to the choice of priest, neither married to nor pimped by a particular priest, when it comes to her service to the Church.
When Crowley remarked in Liber XV, “Certain secret formulae of this Mass are taught to the PRIEST in his Ordination,” he was patently engaging in purposeful mystification. Nevertheless, the statement has since caused enough anxiety that a certain amount of clarification may now be excused.
Eligible ordinands should be in possession of “the sublime and terrible knowledge that all real secrets are incommunicable.” The most important formulae of the Mass can be grasped only through practice, and a proper ordination should include a celebration of the Mass by the ordinand, with the ordaining bishop serving as one of the other principal officers.
In addition, important formulae are communicated in the Mysteria Mystica Maxima degrees, when those are viewed as gradual sacraments preparing novices for ordination. This process is not even complete at the first invitational degree of Knight of the East and West, which is the current prerequisite degree for sacerdotal orders in E.G.C. Indeed, in one of the few instances where Crowley related an O.T.O. degree to a sacerdotal function, he indicates in the preamble to Liber CVI that a priestess administering last rites will do so in her capacity as a VI° initiate.
Finally, it should be noted that many important formulae, “secret” in the sense that they are implicit rather than explicit in the text of Liber XV itself, have been discussed in the published writings of living bishops of the Church, including (but not limited to) those of the the Patriarch, the US Primate, and my own. Certain of these may indeed be emphasized in private instruction from a bishop to an ordinand. Even with the benefit of such instruction however, it remains vital to be open to other readings and alternate formulae. Only thus can we further the establishment of Scientific Religion through our Gnostic and Catholic Church of light, life, love and liberty, the word of whose Law is Thelema.
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