SACRAMENTAL THEORY AND PRACTICE
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
This page provides an overview of my ideas about sacramental functions in the work of the Gnostic Catholic Church. After a preliminary essay explaining the background for my classification of the sacraments, individual sacraments are listed within their respective categories, with links to rituals and further theoretical materials wherever possible.
CLASSIFICATION OF SACRAMENTS
The medieval theologian Peter Lombard provided a definition of sacramentum that is still often cited by Catholics today: “an outward sign of inward grace.” Since Thelemites accept neither grace nor guilt as the basis for interaction with the divine, it is evident that at a minimum this definition would need to be altered for our purposes to reflect a signification of “will” rather than “grace.” But even then, the relationship between “outward” and “inward” is suspect on such grounds as CCXX I:8. Thomas Aquinas’ definition of sacrament as “the sign of a sacred thing in so far as it sanctifies men,” may perhaps be of use, as long as it is understood that the condition of sanctification in Thelemic Gnosis differs considerably from that found in the slave-religion Christianity.
Certainly, we do not make the sacramental status of a practice dependent on its institution by Aleister Crowley, any more than we do by Jesus of Nazareth. While Crowley’s precedent may lead us to consider certain practices as sacraments (and to define the regular form of those practices); it is in no way a necessary ingredient for those sacraments which are demanded by the vital circumstances of the Church or its members.
I have been resistant to the wholesale adoption of the Orthodox and Catholic Christian system of seven sacraments for use in Thelemic Gnosticism. in former times, my proposed alternative was to reduce the system of sacraments to five, in keeping with the precedent of Bricaud’s Gnostic church and my own set of correspondences. On further reflection, however, I am dissatisfied with any reduction of the number of sacraments, largely because it seems to me counter to a basic sensibility of magick: “every act must be a ritual, an act of worship, a Sacrament.” (Liber DCCCXXXVII) To simplify the sacramental system is to follow the course set by Protestantism (i.e. “the excrement of human thought,” per our Past Patriarch Aleister Crowley). At the same time, I am mindful of the use and importance of those ecclesiastical traditions which assign importance to certain formal rituals as “sacraments of the Church.” The enumeration of such sacraments serves to define and to concentrate the powers and purposes of the ecclesiastical body.
Before the development of the sevenfold system–which began near the end of the first Christian millenium and was not complete until the twelfth century–sacramentum was a term of much wider application, comprehending such diverse functions as benedictions of all sorts, public prayer services, foot washing, alms giving, reading of scripture, speaking in tongues, exorcisms, etc. etc. Many of these practices were later reclassified as “sacramental” but not “sacraments proper,” when rubrics were consolidated and subjected to regulation by the hierarchy.
My current disposition is to open up the term “sacrament” to a more diverse significance within our Gnostic Catholic Church, so that any ritual, any act of worship, any practice that draws on the Church’s system of sacred signification, can be accorded the status of sacrament. Rather than the simple seven sacraments of the Christian system, I now employ a system of seven classifications, which can among them accommodate countless particular sacraments. These classifications are the natural, cardinal, punctual, instrumental, remedial, occasional, and practical sacraments, each detailed in its own section below.
These categories are not reliably exclusive. For example, the administration of the virtues to the sick in their homes might be understood to combine features of cardinal (Eucharist of the Gnostic Mass), remedial (addressing the illness and/or isolation of the communicant), and practical genres–and all genuine sacraments necessarily include the natural sacraments within their effective operation. But the seven sorts do cover what I view as a comprehensive array of Thelemic sacraments within the rite of the Gnostic Catholic Church.
It is also noteworthy that the degree rituals of the Church's sister rite Mysteria Mystica Maxima (which are, among other things, prerequisites for clerical ordination in E.G.C.) are sacramental in character. They are not, however part of the Church’s repertoire of ritual per se. They may, if desired, be considered to constitute an eighth category: the gradual sacraments, from gradus, meaning “degree.”
Online background regarding E.G.C. sacraments:
- The Sacramental System of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica by Sabazius (offsite)
- The Sacramental Pentad by Dionysos Thriambos–my former argument towards a system of five sacraments
A brief bibliography of useful writings regarding estoeric sacramental systems:
- The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius
- The Science of the Sacraments by C.W. Leadbeater
- The Cromlech Temple papers published as Part Eight of Astral Projection, Ritual Magic, and Alchemy by “S.L. Mathers and others” (Despite the byline on the book, Mathers did not write any of the Cromlech Temple material. The book was edited by Francis King and R.A. Gilbert.)
- “Liberating Mysteries: Gnostic Initiatory Sacraments,” Chapter Seven of Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing by Stephen Hoeller
- The Mystery-Religions by S. Angus, particularly chapters II & III: “What is a Mystery-Religion?” and “The Three Stages of a Mystery”
- Sacrifice and Sacrament by E.O. James (Nothing esoteric here, but still a helpful overview.)
The natural sacraments are Love and Will. They are the fundamental principles upon which all possible manifestations and hidings of divinity are founded. E.G.C. holds no authority over the natural sacraments, these being the magical preconditions of the Church, and of life and existence generally. The maximal fulfillment of these sacraments in the life of the individual is indicated by the final clause of the Oath of a Master of the Temple: “That I will interpret every phenomenon as a particular dealing of God with my Soul.”
It is love which is the centripetal power of the universe; it is by Love that all creation returns to the bosom of God. The force which projected all things is Will, and Will is the centrifugal power of the universe. Will alone could not overcome the evil which results from the limitations of Matter; but it shall be overcome in the end by Sympathy, which is the knowledge of God in others — the recognition of the omnipresent Self. This is Love. And it is with the children of the Spirit, the servants of Love, that the dragon of Matter makes war.
–Dame Anna Kingsford
- Philosophers are accustomed to speak of the will...–Section 19 of Beyond Good and Evil by Saint Friedrich Nietzsche
- The Will Accomplishes Everything which It Does Not Desire by Saint Alphonse Louis Constant
- Love is the Realization of the Impossible by Saint Alphonse Louis Constant
- Love from Little Essays Toward Truth by Saint Sir Aleister Crowley (offsite)
Cardinal sacraments are those by which the Church distinguishes its members from the profane, and distinguishes among its members. There are only five of these: Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, Last Rites, and the Eucharist of the Gnostic Mass. They correspond to water, fire, air, earth and spirit, respectively. Cardinal sacraments are also the ones that might be viewed by the Church as requiring episcopal and/or sacerdotal participation to be valid. This stipulation makes obvious sense in the cases of both the Eucharist of the Gnostic Mass, and the sacraments that affect affiliation and status in the Church. Last Rites is a trickier instance. Since we don’t hold any doctrine that penalizes those who die without Last Rites, the responsibility and concern for their cardinality lies not with the adherent, but with the Church. While non-clergy might effectively administer to the spiritual needs of the dying, they could not absolve the Church of the responsibility for action from its clergy, if needed or desired by a dying member.
The Natural and Cardinal sacraments together form a set of seven parallel and analogous to the seven sacraments of Orthodox Christianity, where Love and Will can be read as Marriage and Penance, respectively.
- Confirmation Ceremony (offsite)
- Diaconal Ordination Ceremony (offsite)
- The Role and Function of Thelemic Clergy in Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica by Tau Apiryon (offiste)
- The Powers of the Priests by Eliphas Levi
- An Elective Method of Astral Training–for E.G.C. Clergy
- "Section 2" Reading List for Aspiring Clergy–books, principally fiction, of a generally suggestive and helpful kind
The Eucharist of the Gnostic Mass
- A First Look at the Gnostic Mass–a primer on participating as a congregant in the church's ritual
- Annotated Ritual of the Eucharist–An unauthorized edition of the ritual of our central sacrament, with practical commentary by T Polyphilus
- Music Program for the Gnostic Mass–Arranging for the use of recorded music to accompany the ceremonies
- A Verb for the Gnostic Mass–lexical reflection
- An Alternate Anthem for the Gnostic Mass–Approved by the Patriarch for use with Liber XV
- Conditions for Eucharistic Magick–a homily on chastity, fasting, and aspiration
- Discourse on the Sixth Article of the Creed–regarding the miracle of the Mass
- Waves of Aethyr, Houses of the Sun–the horary consideration in the thaumaturgy of the Gnostic Mass
- Sacred Weapons of the Mass–an overview of the principal ritual implements involved in the Gnostic Mass
- The Gnostic Mass as Biological Allegory–a speculative reading, with caveats
- One Mass, Four Worlds–qabalistic readings of Gnostic Mass arrangements
- An Astral Account of the Gnostic Mass–idiosyncratic notes on subtle phenomena
- Apocalyptic Symbolism in the Gnostic Mass–some correlations and correspondences
- Magick of the //Urpflanze//–study of a formula extrapolated from an incantation of the Priest in the Gnostic Mass
- Reflections on "Thou Who art"–regarding the Office of the Anthem in the Gnostic Mass
- The Thelemic Tersanctus of the Gnostic Mass–AGIOS AGIOS AGIOS IAW as a ritual and magical formula
- A Masonic Glossary of the the Gnostic Mass–technical terms from Liber XV, as understood in late 19th and early 20th century Freemasonry
- Advice for Deacons–an entire manual of diaconal technique, written when I was the Deacon from Hell, Dionysus Soter. The text includes a foreword by Sabazius X°, and was formatted by Fr. Sharash. The file is in Adobe Acrobat format. The following topics are addressed:
- Dimensions of the Diaconate
- Temple Stewardship
- Direction of the People
- Direction of the Children
- The Calendar
- The Collects
- Miscellaneous Innovations and Controversies
- ADDENDA to Advice for Deacons (2009 e.v.)
Punctual sacraments are the ceremonies celebrated within the community of the Church to mark critical events in the lives of individual members. The punctual sacraments of “of will” are the Feasts for Water and Fire (passage to maturity). The punctual sacraments “of love” are the Feast for Life (infant benediction), Marriage (nuptial benediction), and Greater Feast for Death (funeral ceremony). All of these sacraments have the highest sanction. They are referenced in the Collects of the Gnostic Mass, and except for Marriage, they are listed in CCXX II:41. (Marriage is mentioned in the text of Liber XV.)
Unlike the cardinal sacraments however, these only provide festivity, solemnity and benediction to events that happen with or without the participation of the Church. No one is any less “married” for not having an E.G.C. wedding, than they are less dead for not having a Greater Feast ceremony.
- Ceremony for a Feast for Life by Helena and T. Apiryon (offsite)
- A Marriage Ceremony by Dionysos Thriambos
- A Wedding Ceremony by Helena and T. Apiryon (offsite)
- The Sovereignty of Marriage–an essay by Dionysos Thriambos
- Ceremony for a Feast for Death by T. Apiryon (offsite)
Instrumental sacraments address the sanctification of environments and implements, and they fall into two classes. Instrumental sacraments “of the sanctuary” are those that address the materials used by officers and congregations of the Church as such. Instrumental sacraments “of the home” are those directed to personal and routine objects and spaces.
- Consecration of the Oil by T. Apiryon (offsite)
- Consecration of the Hallows–Stele, Lance, Cup, Paten, Sword
- Ante-Mass Ritual–a preparation of temple and officers
- Sacristy Prayers–fortifying the priest for the Mass
Remedial sacraments are those intended to relieve distress or resolve disharmony in a household or congregation.
- Ceremony for Visitation and Administration of the Virtues to the Sick by T. Apiryon, Helena, and T. Sir Hasrim (offsite)
Occasional sacraments are communal observances oriented to annual or other periodic dates. The ceremonies in the following list marked with an asterisk (*) are suitable as sacraments for the occasions named, but may be celebrated on other dates and for other reasons.
- Office of Readings for the High Holy Days by the Companions of Monsalvat (offsite)
- Alchemical Wedding of Ra-Hoor-Khuit (Third Day of the Writing of the Book of the Law)
- Service Celebrating the Feast for the Supreme Ritual (Vernal Equinox)
- Daimonic Vespers (Winter Solstice)*
- Feasts of the Cross-Quarters, i.e. Feast of the Stars, Feast of Cattle, Feast of the Lion-Serpent, Feast of the Dragon
- Ass Festival (Feast of Saint Friedrich Nietzsche)*
- Blessing of Domestic Animals (Feast of Dame Anna Kingsford)
- Feast of Babalon (Feast of the Apparition of the Daughter of Fortitude)
Practical sacraments are rituals and disciplines used by individual Thelemic Gnostics for personal realization. The most succinct piece of “prophetic” instruction that we have on this score is De Cultu, the sixteenth chapter of Liber Aleph vel CXI:
Now, o my Son, that thou mayst be well guarded against thy ghostly Enemies, do thou work constantly by the Means prescribed in our Holy Books.
Neglect never the fourfold Adorations of the Sun in his four Stations, for thereby thou doest affirm thy Place in Nature and her Harmonies.
Neglect not the Performance of the Ritual of the Pentagram, and of the Assumption of the Form of Hoor-pa-Kraat.
Neglect not the daily Miracle of the Mass, either by the Rite of the Gnostic Catholic Church, or that of the Phoenix.
Neglect not the Performance of the Mass of the Holy Ghost, as Nature herself prompteth thee.
Travel also much in the Empyrean in the Body of Light, seeking ever Abodes more fiery and lucid.
Finally, exercise constantly the Eight Limbs of Yoga. And so shalt thou come to the End.
Each individual must establish his or her own practical sacraments along these lines. But the following items are drawn from my personal practice. Many of them are drawn from my private ritual canon: the Latrant Deity Project.
- Liber Resh vel Helios (YouTube playlist)
Love is the law, love under will.