THE GNOSTIC MASS: An Appreciation
by A.T. Dennis
My first direct experience of the Gnostic Mass took place in Berkeley, California one night in February 1978. I was 24 years old, and impatient for actual gnosis. Anything that smacked of orthodoxy or dogma immediately aroused my resistance. Quite frankly, I was not at all impressed by the ritual's text, setting, or general performance, but the priest himself was another matter entirely. He made a big impression on me. He was still pretty vigorous for a man almost sixty, fairly tall, with a hint of military bearing, wearing old combat boots. He had a loud voice, often gruff and commanding, and yet he spoke the hallucinogenic language of the gray-bearded old hippie that he was. I found him a little frightening, but his charisma appealed to me. At the time I didn't have any idea what was happening, but I knew that I had to investigate further. When he started holding meetings and masses in San Francisco I became a regular attendant. In late August I had an unusual experience of altered perception while watching a performance of Liber XV, but though it took place at a mass it didn't seem at all directly related to it, and shortly thereafter the mass temple was moved back over to Berkeley. I continued to attend, but increasingly sporadically. Some time later a woman began performing quite regularly as Deacon, playing keyboards and singing her parts, not badly at all, but in a musical style my late-70's funk/punk/industrial/newwave tastes quickly became tired of. I stopped going to masses, and for a number of years my only connection to this group was a semi-regular attendance at various classes.
Still, the local Gnostic church was managing quite well without me. It had been able to establish a living tradition of Gnostic Masses, continuing to hold weekly celebrations of it under various auspices for what in 1999 is now almost 22 years. This community has gone through many changes in its two decades of life. The cast of characters has been many and varied, some stars flashed briefly, others are or have been mainstays for years at a time, a few supporting actors like myself were around in varying degrees of involvement throughout most or all of these past twenty years. I haven't done the research necessary to back up this claim, but I strongly surmise that this community is at least one of the oldest continually active groups of its kind in the entire world, if not in fact the oldest. Now this is not to say that the continually evolving practice of this community is in any way authoritative, but when it comes to understanding the dynamics of organization and performance (and perhaps even magick) a bit of experience is not without its value. I hope this essay can contribute in some way to the crystallization of this experience.
How I came to be an officer of the mass, and ultimately of the Church, is a typically convoluted story. My friend O. was much more interested in the Gnostic Mass than I was. He adopted the goal of performing as priest, and secured the promise of his lover to perform as his priestess (though I don't recall her ever evincing the slightest interest in, or even attending, the mass, and in the end neither she nor O. ever performed it publicly). Among his many talents O. is an excellent actor, so he intended to completely memorize the part before doing it publicly. To that end he spent some months rehearsing it, and I helped him by reading the people/deacon/priestess lines and prompting or correcting him when he had any trouble.
In this way I gained some familiarity with the mass, and starting in 1983 I became more involved in the local church; I was becoming a more regular attendant at masses, and making friends with the folks who were then most responsible for putting them on. I wanted to perform as deacon, but I didn't feel ready yet. In spring of 1984 I volunteered to assist the church in some way, especially if it involved work on a publication. Apparently they had been wanting an official publication for some time, and I was given the assignment of editing a modest quarterly. It was also around this time that I showed up at a mass where the deacon had flaked. I was the only one there in the audience with any knowledge of the role, so I was anointed. That broke the ice for me, and then I began signing up to do deacon on occasion.
The system at that particular time was nothing like the current practice. A public sign-up sheet was posted, listing the dates with blanks for Priestess, Priest, and Deacon. People could write in their names as much as two months in advance, and though a team would often sign themselves up all together, individuals could also put their name in one of the blanks and see who, if anyone, would complete the rest. This was especially the case with deacons who were in essence offering to assist any priest & priestess, and it became my habit. I happened to sign up well in advance for one mass in early 1985 and when it came time it chanced that a prominent occult writer and friend of the group had died shortly before and the turnout was huge. This occasion turned out to be an excellent preparation because later that year I again signed up over a month ahead to act as deacon (on Sunday July 14). This time the leader of the group (the man who had so impressed as the priest at my first mass) had died the Friday before, and well over 100 people showed up for the mass. I believe I may have been the first person asked to include his name on the saints' list of an “official” mass (which caused me a bit of ironic entertainment as I recalled how he used to refer to adulation of the dead as necromancy, and explicitly ask people not to call on him after he'd died).
One of the editorial projects I had settled on for the quarterly was the production of a “regularized” text of Liber XV incorporating all three different versions published by Crowley, and a special issue (May 1985) was devoted primarily to this text. The somewhat intensive study of the mass which this project entailed, as well as the reaction to it after its publication, eventually led to me acting as priest. My introduction to performing as priest was somewhat similar to the introduction I'd had to performing as deacon. Though practicing the role of priest at home, I still didn't feel at all ready to perform publicly when I showed up at a mass only to find myself drafted to play the part. Since that time I have performed as priest in at least 93 public masses (and deacon from time to time as well). In a recent five week period I was priest six times and deacon once; the fact that I was able to do this with very little stress and multitudes of joy has its roots, I believe, in the soil of practice. Little faith should be placed in any other foundation. The titles, the official statuses, the lineages, are worthless without the holy spirit, and the holy spirit is in no need of authorizations in order to manifest itself. People who treat these sacred matters as either a joke or an ego game may soon find themselves discomfited.
I myself am rather Low Church and eclectic (if any Gnostic Catholic could be said to be so) in my approach to the sacraments. For instance, I see the sacrament of baptism quite differently from the Pope. Baptism derives its name from the ancient Greek word for immersion, but the practice of ritual purification by dipping a person into water is found in a great many different eras and cultures. The ultimate origin of the Christian rite of “washing away sin” is traditionally ascribed to John the Baptist, though Josephus says that John made use of it not for the remission of sins but for the purification of the body “supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness”. Whatever the purported efficacy of Christian baptism in regard to sin, for Thelemites “The Word of sin is Restriction”, and therefore baptism is meant rather to purify the congregants by removing any unnatural bonds or limitations upon them, in order to aid them in doing their wills. The ceremony itself may be simple, does not necessarily require full immersion, and can easily be performed free of charge.
L. turned me on to the early Christian “heretic” Pelagius. He was a contemporary of Augustine of Hippo, and an upholder of the doctrine of freely-willed salvation in direct opposition to the famous so-called saint's philosophy of predestined grace. One of the many arenas in which these two teachers debated was the discussion going on at that time over infant baptism. Augustine, of course, was instrumental in the eventual adoption by the Roman Catholic Church of universal infant baptism. One of his great obsessions was original sin, that everyone is guilty from birth of crimes deserving of damnation, and that the only way out is by the grace of Christ. If Christ's Church dispenses this grace through a magical rite by which the stain of original sin is washed away, then why should this benediction be denied to babies, who are after all likely to die, and thus in rather immediate need of the Church's grace. Apparently Pelagius saw the issue much differently. For him the sacrament of baptism was not an act of magick performed by Christ's representatives, but it was a chance for a mystic to receive Christ's grace. He saw no point in baptizing anyone who couldn't freely ask for it; neither do I. Not that I object to the practice by those who look to their churches for magical protection. Though I may hope that they at least show better taste than the many Christian churches which have held that only their own approved ritual is of any magical efficacy at all.
My own custom in performing adult baptisms has in the past been to wait until everyone has communicated, and then to have the candidates come before me at the water altar where I would make six crosses upon them with the consecrated saltwater (over each chakra from Svadhisthana up to Sahasrara) saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Mother, and of the Son, and of the Daughter, and of the Holy Spirit that surrounds you, and of the Holy Spirit that's within you, I baptize you as a child of the one Gnostic and Catholic Church of Light, Life, Love, and Liberty”. For confirmations I have had the candidates join me at the fire altar where they were asked to recite the Creed unprompted, and then I would anoint their chakras from navel to crown with Abramelin's oil, saying, “In the name of the Mother, and of the Father, and of the Daughter, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit that's within you, and of the Holy Spirit that surrounds you, I confirm you as a lay member of the one Gnostic and Catholic Church of Light, Life, Love, and Liberty”. When all the baptisms and/or confirmations were done the mass would conclude with the closing of the veil, the triple blessing, and the retreat to the tomb.
Back in 1988, after a decade of increasing involvement with the mass, I began to write down some of my thoughts about how it might, and even perhaps should, be performed. The result is something almost archetypal of my longer literary efforts, an oft-revised and slowly growing fragment of a much longer, and often highly ambitious, project. It's never been published, though at various times I have given a copy of the current draft to a very few individuals who expressed interest. The section of the commentary dealing with the Gnostic Creed was spun off and expanded into a separate article for a church's official publication. I've interpolated that text back into this present highly unofficial version at the appropriate place. The hyperbolic disclaimer was necessitated by the proprietary attitude which some groups display toward Liber XV.
PRELIMINARY NOTES ON PERFORMANCE OF THE GNOSTIC MASS (work in progress)
[NOTE: Nothing in this essay should be mistaken for an official policy statement of any group or organization; some of it may in fact be at odds with the policies of any or all such groups and organizations. Proceed at your own risk and peril; these are most dire.]
Numerous considerations go into the successful performance of Liber XV. In this short essay I will present a number of both general and specific suggestions for the effective working of this ritual. However, it must be understood from the outset that the exact mix of factors required to succeed varies widely with each unique combination of officers and, indeed, with each individual performance. It is hoped that the suggestions offered here will assist both officers and people in celebrating, understanding, and appreciating the Mass. It is not my intention to lay down any canon law. If any of these ideas strike you as wrong, meaningless, or superfluous, just ignore them and do your own will. I am greatly indebted for any small understanding that I may have of the Gnostic Mass to virtually everyone I know, but especially to the following comrades: B. and O. of Alberta, Canada; P., E.A., I., S., M., and H.A. of No. California. And I must thank all of you readers for what I hope is infinite patience with my obsessive speculations, and also for allowing me this opportunity to wax so very verbose.
Before proceeding to specific suggestions it may be useful to consider which general guidelines should govern our attitudes to the particular details. There are at least four different factors that strongly influence the effectiveness of a Mass performance: the Environmental conditions, the Theatrical preparations, the Conceptual understanding, and the Ritual energization. If we strive for excellence in these four areas our sanctuaries (or temples, pantheons, churches, or whatever you choose to call a place where a Gnostic Mass is performed) can become real centers of fruitful worship and love. However, we must not let the Perfect become the enemy of the Good; a Mass performed poorly, but sincerely, is more likely to inspire its celebrants to further efforts than is an immaculately-conceived Mass which is never actually celebrated at all. Most of the successful officers I have known first performed their roles long before they were “ready”; if you wait until everything is perfect you may well wait forever! But if you do your best despite any constraints then success of some kind must result.
By environmental conditions I mean among other things the space in which the ritual is to be performed. The appropriate size varies depending on how many communicants are expected to attend, but any area smaller than, say, 156 square feet is suitable only for the subtler forms of the ceremony. Many small groups can only afford to rent a small space, or use the residence of a member. Regularly scheduled and well-performed Masses tend to eventually create crowd problems, especially in these smaller venues. Removing all but the ceremonial furniture and providing pillows for the parishioners can somewhat alleviate these space problems. The exact shape of the temple is often dictated by circumstances, but in any event try to avoid a narrow or l-shaped room unless it is the only alternative. A square or widely-rectangular space works best because the audience can be placed on the North and South sides of the ceremonial “corridor”, and thus be able to view the action before both the tomb in the West and the altar in the East. Try to avoid having seats that prevent their occupants from viewing certain parts of the ritual; people in such seats often tend to get bored or frustrated, which feelings if expressed, even quite unconsciously, can easily detract from the enjoyment of everyone else. This battle for the attention and involvement of the communicants is important to success, and forms the rationale for many of the suggestions in this essay. The people themselves are, in a certain sense, one of the environmental conditions of the Mass. Putting them in a receptive frame of mind is in fact the goal of most of the theatrical preparations described below.
Yet another environmental consideration derives from the necessity for the officers and people to kneel at various points in the ceremony. The use of carpets and/or small cushions is advisable to prevent both actual damage and the distraction which often accompanies physical discomfort. Finally, the environment of a Mass performance often includes telephones, doorbells, restless children, and many completely unexpected disturbances. You may prepare for these things by disconnecting the phone, bolting the doors, and setting age limits for 0attendance, or, you may prefer to have one or more “door-keepers” (often called Blackguards) standing by to answer any “alarums”, burp borborygmic babies, and catch clumsy candles. In some sanctuaries the Deacon is customarily the officer who, with the approval of the Priest and Priestess, appoints and directs these Blackguards, employing them to stand watch, usher communicants, or run errands as the odd occasion requires.
The Mass is, on one level, a play. The things which make for an entertaining evening at the theater - strong acting, good staging & costuming, dramatic effects with sound & light - all these are immensely helpful to create a sacramental atmosphere. Acting is more decisive in creating this atmosphere than all the other theatrical devices put together. To act implies an attitude, a characterization, a part that is played. Officers who read their lines in muffled & monotonous, or tense & halting voices, who miss their cues, who talk to themselves, who grin with embarrassment, such officers may find their faults easily overcome by the application of a few simple acting techniques. For most North Americans, appearing before an audience, even of close friends, is a nervous and uncomfortable experience. Two things will serve to overcome this handicap: repetition, and memorization. Take every opportunity to perform before an audience. “On-stage” experience is essential to gain enough familiarity to relax with the situation. Try to rehearse with other people as much as possible. Full dress rehearsals in the actual sanctuary are of course most useful, but in any event it is good to always practice the movements as well as the lines. Even solitary rehearsals are best done aloud along with all the physical movements of the officer you are preparing to play. Reading your part aloud in practice lets you play around with different accentuations and intonations. Try to identify the various emotions you think each line might reasonably express. Look up all the words you aren't certain of, and consider that often words have more than one meaning.
Once you have begun to develop some personal interpretations of your role's motivation then you must start developing an acting style to convey your interpretation. What style to adopt is largely a matter of individual taste and intention; styles of Priesting, for instance, may range from the calm understatements of Cronkite or the dramatic intensities of Brando all the way to the histrionic artificialities of a cross between Winston Churchill and Bela Lugosi (believe me, I've actually seen such a rendition)! There is no accounting for tastes; just find the portrayal you are personally most comfortable with at any given performance (this will probably change as your understanding of the ritual grows). Whatever style you choose, try to be conscious of your breathing; make it relatively slow and deep, without hyperventilating. Practice projecting your voice from the diaphragm until your words may be heard loud and clear without being shouted. Opening your mouth a bit wider than usual will help to increase volume and clarity. Memorization is very difficult for some and very easy for others. I have found that it can help to outline the ritual in your own words, describing the actions and speeches in brief phrases. Once you've memorized this outline you have the sense of knowing where you are in the ceremony at all times; memorizing the actual wording of the individual speeches is much easier when you aren't worried about forgetting what actions come next. A truly top-notch Mass officer will perform from memory, but don't let the fact that you haven't yet memorized the Mass keep you from doing it publicly. An expressive and clear reading will usually top a tentative and mistake-filled attempt at recitation from memory. And much confidence can be gained through the experience of public performance. Still, though it's quite all right to take your time, you will certainly find it well worth your time to memorize your part. Once you have all the words and actions down you are free to relax and concentrate on the deeper levels of meaning and experience within the text. Even after more than a decade of performing the Mass from memory I still often come upon new and useful insights.
Though Crowley did provide theatrical suggestions for set design, costuming, props, and music he still left a great deal of room for creativity. Specific details of these aspects will be discussed later, but the general topic of lighting is appropriate at this point. Most officers prefer soft lighting for indoor Masses, and many insist on using candlelight only. The practice of using only candlelight has a subtly striking effect upon the communicants, and it offers no problems to officers who have memorized the Mass, but those who rely on scripts should realize that overly large numbers of candles placed all over the temple can be a major fire hazard. Certainly a fire extinguisher and/or fire-proof blanket are wise items to have on hand anywhere candles and incense are burned regularly. In some instances it would be safer to designate a Blackguard or even the Deacon to hold a light by which the officer(s) may read. When using incandescent or fluorescent lighting the amount of illumination can be varied by rheostats, globes, lamp shades, etc. The use of colored lighting, spotlights on specific areas or actions, ultraviolet lamps, even strobe lights, are all available for endlessly unique experimentation. But remember that such efforts will only succeed if you've assembled a requisite staff of technical assistants; the officers of the Mass should be free to concentrate on their performances.
In developing your dramatic interpretation of your role you must reach some emotional understanding of the part, but if you wish to imbue a characterization with the richness, symbolic suggestiveness, even contradictions, which these roles inherently display then you must achieve a conceptual understanding of the Mass as well. Commenting on the concepts conveyed by the Mass is in some ways the trickiest part of my current task. I have decided that I shall in this paper boldly and openly declare the meanings of the Gnostic Mass' symbolism to the best of my meagre ability. I do this in the resolute certainty that these declarations will be completely ignored by everyone who would misuse such power as they contain (and also by most of those who wouldn't!). The fact that the Roman and Orthodox Masses also reveal the same secrets (albeit heavily disguised) is proof that most everyone would rather not believe them (or perhaps it's just my filthy mind). In his reworking of the earlier Christian rituals Crowley made the truth much plainer and elaborated many technical points previously left unmentioned, but the basic idea is there all along. This enabled A.C. to adapt many lines (in English and Greek) directly from the “black” rituals of the Christians. Rather than present here a straightforward explication of the Gnostic Mass from this one limitless perspective I shall pepper my remarks throughout the following pages (thus making it harder for the paranoid editors of the future to catch them all!). I will also present a few simple bits of information, misinformation, Gematria, and panarchist political lobbying, where it seems appropriate.
Numerous supplemental readings in the Crowley “oeuvre” might be recommended to help illumine the concepts underlying the Mass. Here I will only list some of the many I've found particularly invaluable: THE BOOK OF THE LAW (all, without question or answer), THE BOOK OF LIES (all, but especially caps. i-v, viii, xi, xii, xv-xix, xxi, xxiii-xxix, xxxii, xxxvi, xliii, xliv, xlix, li, liii, lvii, lx-lxiv, lxix, lxx, lxxv-lxxvii, lxxxii, lxxxvi-lxxxviii), THE BOOK OF THOTH (especially caps. on Trumps 0, III, V, VI, IX, XI, XII, XIV, XV, XVII, XVIII), LIBER ALEPH (all, but especially caps. xviii, xxii-xxiv, xxvii, lii-lviii, lxiii, lxv, lxxi, lxxxii-xcvi, ciii, cvi-cxiii, cxx, cxxxv-cxxxviii, cxl, cxli, cli-clxiii, clxxiii-clxxv, cxci, ccv-ccviii), LIBER ARTEMIS IOTA (published in original edition of MAGICK WITHOUT TEARS), LIBER STELLAE RUBEAE (published in EQUINOX, Vol.I, No.7), ENERGIZED ENTHUSIASM (published in EQUINOX, Vol. I, No.9), MAGICK IN THEORY AND PRACTICE (all, but especially caps. 0-v, vii-ix, xii, xv, xviii-xx, and in Appendix vi, GRIMORIUM SANCTISSIMUM, a Latin version of the mass), TWO FRAGMENTS OF RITUAL (published in EQUINOX, Vol.I, No.10), THE VISION AND THE VOICE (all indeed, but especially the 9th Aethyr and beyond).
After having laid the foundations for a dramatic and meaningful presentation we finally come to the problem of making the Mass operate on a magical level. Certainly there is magick in a ceremony which pleases and teaches its audience, but we know that there is also another kind of magick possible. Could the officers but perform these prayers and invocations with their wills as well as their mouths they would experience an explosion of power, imparting reality to the blessing of the sacrament. The trick is the same as with any other work of ritual theurgy: devotion expressed in intense concentration, forgetfulness of doubt, and lastly, complete identification with the energies invoked. Success in these practices leads through various stages of trance; complete success is rewarded with samadhi. There will also be increased health and prosperity for the officers and communicants at a ritually effective Mass. Keeping a record of Masses you perform, how they go, and what results, is a good way to track your progress as magicians.
A couple of other issues of minor ritual significance should be discussed here. Most sanctuaries perform one or more banishings before beginning their Masses. Though Crowley did not, as far as I know, explicitly suggest this practice, his diaries indicate that he did often do an LBR before partaking of the sacrament, and it does seem advisable. But keep in mind that an improperly performed banishing will often be more disruptive to your Mass than no banishing at all. Avoid using people who are unsure of their ritual to perform the final banishing before a ceremony. There is another ritual custom which has grown up in some sanctuaries. It is the practice of publicly “dedicating the energy of the Mass” to some particular object. While I would not wish to prevent anyone from doing these dedications they should keep in mind that the activating power which channels the “energy of the Mass” is Will. Any strong opposition on the part of officers or communicants can vitiate or destroy the ceremony's magical effectiveness. So if you do openly declare a special purpose for your Mass then you'd best choose it by discussion and unanimous consent. Also remember that the Mass has its own explicitly stated purpose (best summed up by the Priest's triple blessing of the congregation after they have communicated); hence, if you choose some conflicting purpose you'll certainly achieve nothing or much worse. You could, of course, rewrite the Mass for some specific object (thereby outraging a lot of silly people), but I personally think it best to let public performances be dedicated to the aims which Crowley wrote into the ritual, and to reserve specific objectives for more intimate and adaptable performances.
This division into four separate categories of the factors involved in working a Mass is obviously arbitrary and artificial. It was arrived at by a consideration of the Four Worlds (i.e. Environment for Ashiah, Theater for Yetzirah, Concept for Briah, and Magick for Atzilut). Now we can start a point-by-point review of Liber XV using these four arbitrary criteria to highlight various implications of the text. Those who have not memorized the Mass may wish to refer to a text of the ritual at times while reading the following notes.
I - OF THE FURNISHINGS OF THE TEMPLE - The description here is admirably unambiguous without being so specific as to choke off variety in set design. The largest bit of construction involved is the building of a High Altar, and its platform with three-step dais. The dimensions of the altar are described by Crowley, but space limitations may require reducing the length (try to keep to the original breadth of 3 feet and height of 44 inches). The steps of the dais should be wide enough for the Priest to stand comfortably. The space between the altar and the edge of the top (third) step may have to be considerably wider than the other steps, so that the Priest and Priestess each have enough room on their side of the closed veil to perform all the necessary movements. The veil is usually best made with two separate pieces of material, color unspecified (black is quite common, but dark blue or purple, often with a stellar glitter, is not unusual; perhaps the most uncommon is scarlet red which goes strikingly well with the black and white pillars); these curtains are usually strung on a rod or line suspended a few feet in front of the High Altar. This rod or line should be long enough so that the Priest, in parting the veil, is able to reveal a full view of the shrine, and the drapes should be strung, either on rings or with a wide hem, so that they may easily be parted widely and quickly.
The super-altar may consist of three shelves hung on the wall above the High Altar; the top shelf is narrow, and long enough to hold a reproduction of the Stele of Revealing, with four candles on each side. The middle shelf is deeper, with some device (e.g., a stand, notch, clasp, or railing) to hold an opened Liber Legis, and with room for six candles on each side (be sure the candles can be placed so that they are not directly under the narrow shelf above, unless you want to liven up your celebration with an unexpected fire engulfing the Stele!). The bottom shelf must be deep enough to accommodate both the Cup (with the roses on each side of it) and the Paten in front of it. But don't have it extend out so much as to prevent the Priestess from sitting comfortably on the High Altar. The size of the superimposed black cubes which form the fire & incense altar is not specified, though Crowley describes in Book Four how a magician determines the height of a personal altar. You may wish to follow those instructions, but you also ought to consider the size of your temple when deciding how large to make your black cubes. The circular font is a large basin or bowl, usually on a pedestal. Unless you always have someone to play the roles of Children it is a good idea to use a broad pedestal-top with room enough around the font to set down the pitcher of water and cellar of salt when they are not in use. The upright tomb can be any thing from a veiled-off doorway to the most elaborate of coffins or mummy-cases. I have seen tombs made entirely of suspended veils, and even a tomb which looks like the entrance to the Cave of the Illuminati. I have even emerged from a tomb made by tacking a sheet to the wall! Use your imagination and available resources.
The furnishings of the temple are potent symbols in themselves, and many associations come immediately to mind. For instance the tomb in the West conjures up Tum, the sun setting in the West; it represents Death, but also fruition; the Concealed Mysteries, but also ignorance. In one Qabalistic interpretation it corresponds to Malkut. The font, where Earth & Water mix, can convey ideas like the Feminine Principle, Yonideva, the Moon, or Sephirah Yesod. The six-surfaced double-cube altar of Fire & Air can be associated with the Masculine Principle, Shivalingam, the Sun, or Sephirah Tipheret. In this particular attribution of Sephiroth the black and white pillars of Boaz and Jachin stand for Geburah and Chesed; the veil before the shrine symbolizes Da'at, while the High Altar supports both the Cup (Binah) and the Host (Chokhmah). This High Altar is also the place where the Male & Female contradiction unites above the Abyss (the Connubial Bed of the Prophet and His Bride). Suspended above all, the super-altar represents Sephirah Keter. Of course this is far from exhausting the examples of symbolic significance in the temple furniture, but it nonetheless exhausts my present effort.
II - OF THE OFFICERS OF THE MASS - Here Crowley gives a general description of the officers and their accoutrements. Once again there is plenty of leeway for individualism. Certainly the more active public sanctuaries should have a complete set of robes and implements on hand for use by those officers who are without their own equipment, but the ritual value for officers-in-training in creating their own ensembles is much much greater than many people might expect. As with all the other furniture and props (except the High Altar) the details of dimension and design of the Sacred Lance are left almost entirely to the practitioner, and thus the possibilities are endless. I have seen examples of serpents, lions, and lion-serpents, carved to all sizes with various degrees of craft. I've also seen fireplace pokers and broomsticks used successfully. Many people believe it is optimal for the lance to have either a sharp point or a receptacle to receive the host; but I think that any weapon through which a Priest can manifest his understanding is acceptable. I have most often used a rungu (club) carved for me from Rift Valley hardwood by a Maasai elder named Moses; it curves slightly to the left. What understanding am I trying thereby to manifest? An understanding, perhaps, of the Sacred Lance as IAO, as Baphomet, as Mjollni, as Caduceus, as Kundalini serpent, as all these forces manifested in me by means of the Holy Phallos. This might explain the insistence of some Gnostic Catholics that only a person with a penis capable of erection is competent to perform the office of Priest in our Mass. However, this insistence arises from a confusion of the “planes”. To perform the specific opus of which Crowley's Mass serves to instruct us it is indeed necessary for the Priest to meet this requirement and more, but to perform the role of Priest in a work of dramatic magick it requires but display of the proper symbols, along with the projection of an appropriate image (any women inclined to play Priest might find it useful to astrally formulate the equipment of Priapus for themselves).
This might be a good time to bring up the question of heresy, because reversed-sex or same-sex Masses seem to arouse the most ardent accusations of that crime (I would guess that this is so because of our society's general phobia about same-sexuality, but that's a whole other essay in itself!). Heresy, by definition, requires dogma in order to exist. So the first thing a heretic hunter must do is to study all the dogmas of their church. This is easier said than done if this church is defined by Liber XV. Search Crowley for clues about church dogma and you'll find passages like this one in Confessions: “I resolved that my Ritual should celebrate the sublimity of the operation of universal forces without introducing disputable metaphysical theories. I would neither make nor imply any statement about nature which would not be endorsed by the most materialistic man of science. On the surface this may sound difficult; but in practice I found it perfectly simple to combine the most rigidly rational conceptions of phenomena with the most exalted and enthusiastic celebration of their sublimity.” In other words, Crowley's Gnostic Catholic is asked to take nothing on faith. We may have our intellectual & emotional disputes about the Mass, but, unless there is an official dogma with which to reject the various arguments of intuition, sentiment or reason, there cannot be heresy in the Roman Catholic sense of that word. Organizational disputes will almost inevitably arise and develop out of rational, emotional, or other disagreements about safety, organization, style, and the like. As each case arises, it should then be judged rationally, emotionally, and otherwise, by both the group-as-a-whole, and its individual members. And even then, none of the decisions relating to these procedural questions is written in stone. New social or economic conditions for an organization will often mean new policies. Surely there have been, and will be, enough disputes over these very real kinds of issues without anyone needing to add doctrinal heresy to the list of possible complaints!
The officers' robes may be made of any type of fabric, but a costume in which one is too hot or too cold could negatively impact the performance. Try to gauge the particular needs of your sanctuary and choose the material accordingly; if it's necessary to meet widely varied conditions, then have more than one weight of robe on hand. The Priest's white robe should be of a lightweight material in all but the coldest situations, as he will soon be clothed in the scarlet robe and headdress. Footgear is not specified, but I find in practice that bare feet are most comfortable and make for a freer flow of vital energy; for the same reasons, it's usually better not to wear any undergarments beneath your robe (this is generally true for all ceremonial magick, unless otherwise specified). The Priestess' red girdle is a sash or belt of fabric around the waist (I've never seen any Priestess use red lingerie, but it's probably been done), from which is to be hung a sheath for the Sword. This weapon plays a part only briefly at the beginning of the ceremony, but if a sword of ordinary length is used it may interfere with the Priestess' movements before, during, and after her enthronement. A dagger, bayonet, or short sword will work much better. Many Priestesses will carry the Sword in their hands or in their girdle and, when its work is done, hand it to the Deacon (who may either bear it up to the shrine before or during the Priestess' enthronement, or transfer it to a Blackguard).
Crowley says that the Priestess should either be a virgin with hymen intact, or “specially dedicated to the service of the Great Order”, which is to say, a Whore. This status should not be confused with that of a mere merchant of sexual activity, though at the best of times a prostitute may also be a Whore. The Whore is characterized by devotion to awakening “the lust & worship of the Snake”. She slays herself, and her blood fills Babalon's cup, and she is Babalon, Her cup fills with the milk of stars erupting from the nipples of Nuit, and past purple peaks of eternal orgasm, she achieves Hadit. Or at least she gives it her best shot! Her Paten is any plate or dish which she wills to use to express her understanding. I like it best if her dish recalls a glorious Sun disk, delivering forth its precious rays as cakes of Light. These are the cakes described in The Book Of The Law (III,23-25): “For perfume mix meal & honey & thick leavings of red wine: then oil of Abramelin and olive oil, and afterward soften & smooth down with rich fresh blood. The best blood is of the moon, monthly: then the fresh blood of a child, or dropping from the host of heaven: then of enemies; then of the priest or of the worshippers: last of some beast, no matter what. This burn: of this make cakes & eat unto me.”
The exact nature of some of these ingredients is a matter of hot dispute (particularly with fundamentalists of all persuasions), so I'll only deal with those on which there is a fairly wide consensus. In his own commentary Crowley recommended ordinary wheaten flour for meal; however, some Priestesses do prefer corn (maize) meal for arcane reasons beyond my ken. I've also been subjected to a few experiments with cookie, brownie, and cake mixes, and I was never particularly satisfied with the effect. Millet, barley, emmer wheat, and sorghum were all grains grown by the ancient Egyptians, and have all been used quite successfully in preparing cakes. Honey is produced by the action of bee enzymes upon the nectar of plants, and some people believe that it is included as an ingredient in cakes of Light because of the pollination of flowers which the bees perform as a byproduct of their nectar gathering. Many different kinds of honey are available, each classified according to which flowers' nectar was gathered by the bees that produced it. Clover, sage, and orange blossom honeys are all commonly sold, and I can think of no reason, other than personal taste, to prefer any particular variety. Wine leavings are a residue of solids that precipitate out as grape juice is fermenting into wine. The visible portion of this residue, usually called lees or dregs, is completely filtered out of most of the wine that is sold commercially, so unless you can make a deal with a local winery for some of their lees (which they normally just throw away) the only way for most of us to get the real stuff is to make our own red wine. Many people try to approximate wine leavings by letting some mass-produced red wine evaporate to powder or even by boiling it down to a thick goo, but though these processes drive off the water and alcohol what they leave behind is nothing at all like real leavings of red wine! Many of the very finest wines are still filtered in a way that leaves a lot of particulate matter behind, so if you want to use the evaporation method you must buy wine bottled by human beings and given a year of vintage. Take a bottle that has been setting awhile, and carefully hold it up to the light. If you can't see any dust floating around near the bottom don't buy it for this purpose. Crowley recommends using “beeswing” of port; beeswing is a crust that forms on top of old wines, so be prepared to pay hefty prices for classic port vintages. If you'd like a much less expensive approximation, you could use some partially-spent yeast; that's what lees mostly consist of. Should the Thelemite market ever become large enough I'm sure that some enterprising entrepreneurs will try to strike it rich by packaging and selling lees as “authentic leavings of red wine”!
The oil of Abramelin is made with eight parts oil of cinnamon, four parts oil of myrrh, two parts oil of galangal, and seven parts olive oil. Both Abramelin's oil and its constituent oils are available from various commercial sources. Some people whose opinions I respect have warned that many producers use chemical methods to derive their oils which are injurious to the oils' essential qualities, but whether you buy “natural” or “artificial” it can be relatively expensive. The costliest constituent is the galangal oil, but you can buy the actual galangal root in some Thai food stores and then try to make your own oil. I know of one person who shaved very thin slices of the root and tightly sealed them in a jar of olive oil which was then exposed to direct sunlight for much of every day. After a number of months the galangal oil had quite visibly permeated throughout the jar; though I still have no idea how one would estimate its strength for the purpose of mixing Abramelin's oil. Galangal oil is also available in drum quantities (sometimes under the name 'false ginger oil') from Thai restaurant suppliers, but as the oil in an unblended form quickly goes bad much of this “industrial” oil is in some degree spoiled from an essence-maker's viewpoint. Olive oil is one of the most easily available and unambiguous ingredients in the cakes. The decision on whether to use a 'Virgin' or an 'Extra Virgin' variety is best left to the parties concerned. The final ingredient is blood, and the best blood for cakes of Light is menstrual blood. Because this source is often irregular at sanctuaries without a resident Priestess, it may be a good idea to occasionally prepare cakes whenever there is an opportunity whether there is a relatively immediate need or not.
The optimal proportions of the various ingredients are not explicitly suggested by Liber Legis, but obviously the end result should be something like a dough or a batter. Experimentation is the only way to find out exactly what proportions produce the best results for you, but it can speed things up considerably, and improve your results, if you use some basic cake, bread, cookie, or cracker recipes as your models. In order to allay all concern about the possible transmission of A.I.D.S. by way of the blood (red, white, or black) which is used in making the cakes, you should be sure that all your cakes are baked entirely through at a temperature of at least 200 degrees Fahrenheit (why not use 350 degrees for at least a half hour so no one need worry at all?). Some people believe that the cakes are to be “burnt” only when used as incense, so they use sun-dried, instead of baked, dough as their Host; if you use such a method you must be sure to warn the congregation of that fact, so that they can make their own judgments both on what constitutes an acceptable personal risk level and on what are the probable risks of the particular situation they are facing (a truly voluntary association is one that gives all of its participants a chance to make equally well-informed decisions). Conceptually, the cakes symbolize the vitality which sustains all physical regeneration. They are the Seeds of Life, the spores, the milt, the roe, the sperm swimming in seminal soup, and the eager eggs awaiting. They are also the secret of eternal life and, if you're lucky, they taste good, too!
The proper relationship between the two people playing Priest and Priestess is entirely up to them. To think that they must actually be lovers is to “mix up the planes” in a similar way to those who make gonads a restriction in casting. It may be helpful if there is sexual attraction between a Priest and Priestess, but lust is only one component of a good performance. The important thing is not whether real passion exists between them, but whether they are able to project passion in their performances. It's unlikely that you would want to put on a dazzling Mass with someone you hate, but with a requisitely disciplined cast it could be done. Working with a friend, it's that much easier to succeed. However, if two people do a “platonic” Mass effectively enough and/or often enough it can sometimes create a real passion between performers (which might be a good or a bad development, depending upon the circumstances). Another common complication arises whenever an enthusiastic Priest or Priestess wants their reluctant mate to perform the corresponding role. Such enthusiasts must remember the distinction between trying to arouse someone's interest and coercing them by force or blackmail. The mates of an enthusiast must remember that joining in may sometimes be preferable to being jealous of your mate's avocation and/or Mass partners. A ritual that celebrates light, life, love and liberty surely shouldn't be a bone of contention in a healthy interpersonal union. I'm told that among some mass communities the idea of Liber XV being performed by a priest and priestess who are not lovers is held in great derision. I certainly hope that report was exaggerated. If an individual priest or priestess adopts a policy of doing the mass only with current lover(s) it's entirely his/her own business, but they ought to then remember to mind their own business when it comes to other people's preferences. Were a church to encourage the adoption of such a policy as a norm for its officers it would necessarily disadvantage all those whose natures suit them for a more platonic, or even impersonalized, approach to the rite of the sacrament.
The Deacon's duties, in some sanctuaries, are manifold. He, or she (only the most frenzied and unimaginative literalists insist that males alone may act as Deacon), is responsible for the temple, acting as maitre d', security chief, custodian, and prop manager, all-in-one. If the sanctuary maintains a logbook of Masses the Deacon sees that the officers and people sign in. If a collection is taken up the Deacon is often made responsible for seeing that the resulting funds get into the sanctuary's treasury (always make certain that someone has agreed to be responsible for the money from collections, or don't bother collecting!). The Deacon may also be asked to make sure that wine, roses, candles, incense, and the like are all in their proper places before the ceremony. And quite often it is the Deacon who performs the banishings and makes any special announcements or dedications before the Mass begins. The Deacon's costume can be of virtually any design, as long as it's white and yellow (or gold, in some opinions). Robes, togas, loincloths, tuxedos, have all been worn at one time or another. The Deacon's headgear is not mentioned in Crowley's canon, and thus most Deacons wear no headgear at all (though laurel wreaths, hoods, and various styles of caps and hats are less commonly used). The Deacon bears The Book Of The Law, and thus symbolizes the forces of the new aeon which have brought the ancient pre-Christian mysteries of the Mass into the full light of a new dawn. And in fact, Liber Al itself sometimes makes far more sense to me now when I read it as a sex manual than back when I read it first as a literal Bible and later as an etiquette book. Of course, I have a somewhat simple mind, and the disciples of Al shall either laugh at me or take offense, whichever is demanded by their own natures.
Children are the most overlooked officers of the Mass. This is largely a result of how little they are involved in the ritual, but it's also for a couple of other reasons: lack of available performers, and/or lack of space in the temple. The first of these problems is usually overcome by dedicated individuals who organize regular and joyous Masses, which eventually attract an enthusiastic congregation, which includes many people who'll happily play the parts of Child, Blackguard, Deacon, Priest, or Priestess, as opportunity and necessity may dictate. The “tiny temple” problem is harder to solve. Nimble officers can plan out movements to avoid collisions. The Children can kneel or stand to the sides for much of the ceremony to avoid cutting off anyone's view; they have little if anything to do after the Opening of the Veil. In some Masses the Priest and Priestess' actual children have played the parts of Children, but there are a number of reasons not to recommend this practice. First, child performers must not be motivated to do the part by any pressure from adults or other children; if their motivation is truly self-willed and sincere then they should be allowed (never forced) to rehearse their parts. Nonetheless, even with the best of intents, most children (and a lot of adults) find it difficult to really concentrate on their roles for an entire Mass; the odds of children under twelve doing a really good job are very small (though they must be given the chance to prove their capacity if they will). The two Children actually represent the idea of polarity; they are the archetypes of contradiction, without which there is no unity or balance; they are impersonal forces, yet are found variously mixed in every actual person. Thus the effect of complete blackness and whiteness, achieved through masks, make-up, or monkish hoods, may often stir an audience at subconscious levels. The white Child of Fire and Air bears the censer (with charcoal), and a container of incense. The particular scent is not specified, but I personally find that copal, musk, myrrh, olibanum (i.e., frankincense), rose, sandal, and dittany of Crete, are each excellent in their own way. The black Child of Water and Earth bears a small pitcher of water (cool and clear, if possible), and a saltcellar. Technically, a saltcellar is any small dish or container (with holes in the top) used to hold and dispense salt. I have found that for me a small, open shell with crystalline salt inside it strongly expresses the underlying elemental symbolism.
The Blackguards are not, strictly speaking, officers of the Mass, but Liber XV does mention that there “should be a doorkeeper to attend to the admission”. Some sanctuaries maintain both an Inner Guardian to usher the congregation and assist the officers, and an Outer Guardian to admit latecomers and secure the outer precincts. These kind of arrangements are well advised for any sanctuaries which open themselves to interested members of the public. Security, especially at public or semi-public performances, should be handled with the utmost finesse. Calmly projected words, and fearless, yet non-threatening, body languages, are far more effective than insults and weapons. Swords, daggers, and other weapons should never be drawn or brandished for security purposes except in the highly unlikely circumstances of a sanctuary that is actually being attacked (not just threatened with attack) by some lethally armed person(s).
One other “officer” that Crowley neglects to mention here is the People. Of course, an audience for the Mass is not really necessary, but then, neither the Children or even the Deacon (some would also say the Priestess!) are truly essential to the consecration and consumption of the Sacrament. If they are in fact present, then the People have lines and actions just like any of the other officers. It's an excellent idea if the Deacon acquaints the People with their various duties. Copies of the Gnostic Creed, along with the Chorus to the Gnostic Anthem, should be provided for those People who've not yet memorized the words. First time celebrants should be informed explicitly of the requirement for all of the People present to partake of the sacrament. The only exceptions to this requirement are described by Crowley in the third to last paragraph of Liber XV. Blackguards should always remember that their purpose is merely to act as symbols and assistants. Disrupters and/or non-communicants may occasionally have to be ushered out, but it is not a Blackguard's (or any other officer's) duty to enforce absolute conformity; those in the audience who cannot or will not stand, kneel, recite, or salute with the rest, or whose particular actions happen to be nonconforming, should never be accosted on that account. Behavior that thwarts the purposes of the sanctuary should not be tolerated, yet the definition of such behavior is only possible in each specific and unique situation. Human beings too easily fall into routines of following their established rules robotically; try to avoid making rules whenever you can.
III - OF THE CEREMONY OF THE INTROIT - As mentioned above, the Deacon in many sanctuaries will, after the congregation has been seated, start the ceremony by performing a banishing ritual, and then proceed directly to advance and bow before the shrine. The Deacon faces a series of potential pitfalls from the very first line. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” draws an almost instinctive (one might even say, mechanical) “Love is the law, love under will” from most Thelemites. But in this instance the Deacon has another sentence to say before the congregation is supposed to reply. If a Deacon pauses much after saying “Do what thou wilt…” the audience will almost invariably respond before the Deacon has a chance to begin the succeeding line. The next opportunity for blunder comes with the “step and sign of a Man and a Brother”. It has been common to substitute the customary hailing sign of the ancient Romans for the actual “secret” action referred to in the script, but see the “Revised and Enlarged” edition of Book Four for the “official”, and detailed, if not always easy to understand, description of how to perform many of the signs and actions required by the ritual. Next, the Deacon leads the People in declaiming the Gnostic “Creed”, a text which is well worth commenting upon from a conceptual standpoint.
[here begins the interpolated article:]
BEYOND BELIEF: THE GNOSTIC CREED
A creed is a formalized statement of religious beliefs, an 'authorized' profession of faith describing some particular church's main principles. Though such statements are not at all required by the religious quest for (re)union with the source of all being, they do often seem to be required by the social quest for individual and group definitions. Though I know of no evidence to indicate that an obligatory creed was enunciated by any of the shamanic traditions among our hunting & gathering ancestors, it seems clear that as societies increased in population and technological mastery their religions became organized, and developed into permanent social institutions. They collected sets of 'orthodox' beliefs, often making a formal confession of these beliefs into a pro forma part of religious observance. The more that a religious group is a social movement (as opposed to a technology for individuals to experience divinity) the more importance it usually places upon the acceptance of a specific creed. This tendency is at its most extreme in religions which are also 'complete' social systems, e.g., Islam, where the first of the five essential duties of every Muslim is to profess the 'shahada', “la ilaha illa'llah muhammadun rasulu'llah” (which means, roughly, “there is no God but God, and Muhammad is His prophet”). In the history of Western culture the major political points at issue have often involved one of the many significant formulations of religious belief. The famous Nicene Creed, developed once the Catholic Church had consolidated its control of the Roman Empire, and the Augsburg Confession, which defined Lutheran practice, both clearly demonstrate that creeds were often determined, not by abstract theology, but in order to meet the evolving exigencies of practical political and cultural conflict. Formal creeds are most often identified with highly organized, socially active, and group-oriented religious movements.
Therefore, when I first encountered the Gnostic Creed I had an awful lot of problems with it. There I was, a seeker after wisdom it's true, but still rebelling against every conventional and organized religion, and suddenly some person in vestments is leading me and a bunch of other folks in a chant of “I believe” in this, and “I confess” to that. Before truly believing and confessing I had to go through a very long process of finding out exactly what the words of the Creed could really mean to me. So far, I know of no “orthodox” interpretation of the Creed to blindfold, lead, and ultimately enslave us (but then who knows what may happen in time!); however, Crowley's own attitude toward interpretation of the entire Gnostic Mass seems to be summed up by this statement in his CONFESSIONS: “I resolved that my Ritual should celebrate the sublimity of the operation of universal forces without introducing disputable metaphysical theories. I would neither make nor imply any statement about nature which would not be endorsed by the most materialistic man of science. On the surface this may sound difficult; but in practice I found it perfectly simple to combine the most rigidly rational conceptions of phenomena with the most exalted and enthusiastic celebration of their sublimity.” Of course Crowley does not, after making this sweeping claim, proceed to illustrate it with any examples. But, even though recognizing AC's occasional tendency to overstate, I found that by approaching the Creed in the spirit of these comments I was at last able to begin to somewhat convincingly, if very loosely, paraphrase its words to myself:
“I believe in one secret and ineffable LORD”
- that is, I experience existence as ultimately a unity (what Qabalists call the Sephira Kether). It is a highly philosophical concept at best, something along the lines of 'the substrate of consciousness', and in the end, as the text makes explicit, nothing can truly be known or said about it, it cannot even be truly experienced, as it is experience itself;
“and in one Star in the Company of Stars of whose fire we are created and to which we shall return”
- Sol is physically both the son and younger brother of those myriad ancient and contemporary stars which have been born, lived, and died to create the atoms of the elements of which we ourselves, along with Sol, are constituted, and some of which same atoms must eventually be part of successor stars, star systems, and life-forms;
“and in one Father of Life, Mystery of Mystery, in His name CHAOS, the sole viceregent of the Sun upon the Earth”
- life was probably born through the operation of paradoxically predictable patterns of randomness in the interactions between Solar radiation and the Earth's physical and chemical components. This process by which order arises out of disorder and complexity out of simplicity, this Chaos, acts as the terrestrial viceregent to that Solar energy which powers it, as in turn the Sun itself acts as a regent of the secret Lord of being in this world of physical manifestation;
“and in one Air the nourisher of all that breathes”
- the atmosphere of Earth, absolutely unique in the Solar system, supplies oxygen to animals and carbon dioxide to plants by the chaotic action of its winds and currents, which are continually reblending the various gases' molecules into new configurations. Thus, what comes out of a car's tailpipe in Los Angeles may eventually go into a penguin's lungs in Antarctica, and the more livestock we keep the hotter or wetter the climate may become. In addition to nourishing us breathers, a healthy atmosphere also protects us and other living beings from too direct an exposure to that Solar might and power which, while it certainly sustains, can also destroy;
“And I believe in one Earth, the Mother of us all”
- the ancient Greeks worshipped Gaia as the goddess of Earth and original mother of all life, while modern ecologists use Gaia as a name for the Earth's biosphere considered as one unified living system, of which each species may be rather poetically reckoned a 'tissue' and each single being a 'cell'. Looked at from this perspective modern humanity can only be seen as a seriously diseased tissue, multiplying cancerously, and ravaging much of the rest of Gaia's body;
“and in one Womb wherein all men are begotten, and wherein they shall rest, Mystery of Mystery, in Her name BABALON”
- for it is almost as natural that one should find rest in the blessed Vagina as it is that one should be born out of Her, or less poetically, sexuality has not only a reproductive reason, but also a spiritual significance, or yet more poetically, where wisdom ever sees a womb, there in truth is a tomb (and herein hides the beauty of a bomb!);
“And I believe in the Serpent and the Lion, Mystery of Mystery, in His name BAPHOMET”
- that old devil Penis, weeping tears of joy unto his death, certain to live again in the son (by the tender care of the mother), the interpretation of which metaphorical phrases is perhaps too obvious to need explication even for scientists. The phallus stands to the Sun as that star stands to the Lord, which is the triune message of all the so- called solar-phallic deities, Mithra, Abraxas, Iaw Sabaw, Pan, Satan, etc.;
“And I believe in one Gnostic and Catholic Church of Light, Life, Love and Liberty, the Word of whose Law is THELEMA”
- one thing which seems to characterize all the varied groups generally classified as Gnostics is an avowal of the ever-present possibility of direct communion, via mystical experience, with “the secret and ineffable LORD”. Thus Gnostics are often not just the passionate followers of some other prophet's revelation, but rather they are active seekers after their own divine revelations, even when they operate within frameworks laid down by traditions and hierarchies. The label Catholic (when stripped of the distasteful connotations imparted to it by the less savory practitioners of that superstition commonly called Roman Catholicism) means all-inclusive, tolerant, pluralistic. Church comes from the Greek phrase, 'doma kyriakon' (house of the Lord). In other words, it names itself as a place where virtually all who desire it may come to seek a personal revelation of 'divine truth', and then the further assertion is made that this 'divine truth' is manifested through any spontaneous, creative, joyous, and free exercise of an individual human will;
“And I believe in the communion of Saints”
- 'Saint, sacred, consecrate', all these words come from the same Indo-European root (hypothetically, 'sak-'). Specifically, a saint is a sacred (divinely consecrated) human being, and thus if we define all life as sacred then to us every human who has ever lived is a saint, and, at every moment we are communing with these sainted ancestors because each life they lived, every decision that they made, affects us whether we know about them or not. Even the words which you speak in, and think in, have their roots outside you, and no matter how clever you've become in using, abusing, improving, or twisting them the language they make up is still only one of the many aspects of your communion with the past of the entire human race, that is, + Saint Humankind;
“And, forasmuch as meat and drink are transmuted in us daily into spiritual substance, I believe in the Miracle of the Mass”
- that which we consume becomes us, it becomes our bodies, and thus it becomes all the substances which our bodies must then produce in order to maintain individual life and to insure the perpetuation of the species, and it also becomes our energies, our thoughts, and even our creations. Still another, though not entirely different, interpretation of this miracle of the mass would substitute 'semen and menstrual blood' for “meat and drink”;
“And I confess one Baptism of Wisdom whereby we accomplish the Miracle of Incarnation”
- our science may arrive at the point when it is possible to produce a human baby without a male's ejaculation baptizing a female's egg somewhere along the line (even if just by indirect means in a laboratory which neither father nor mother has ever visited!), but somehow I think that orgasm is unlikely to go out of fashion anytime soon. And even if it eventually does we'll still only remain immortal as a species as long as we're able to continue producing new individuals;
“And I confess my life one, individual, and eternal that was, and is, and is to come”
- of all the clauses in the creed I still find this the hardest one to interpret in a way that would be endorsed by Crowley's “most materialistic man of science”. The most difficult phrases are “my life”, and “eternal”. Certainly materialists wouldn't endorse the concept of personal immortality, rather they would point to the lack of convincing evidence for even such an object of universal belief as 'life-force'. In fact, this confession might only make some sense in a purely philosophical context, as in a description of all life as one unified phenomenon. Otherwise one would have to have recourse to 'reincarnation' and 'souls' or other similar metaphysical concepts which would certainly provoke snorts of derision from many good scientists, and hence leave unfulfilled Crowley's claimed criterion for inclusion in his Mass;
“AUMGN, AUMGN, AUMGN”
- for the Qabalistic significance of this formula (as 'reformed' by AC) see MAGICK IN THEORY AND PRACTICE, Chapter VII, section V. Reading that passage, Crowley's hypothetical materialist must once again be scratching his head, “Surely this Qabalah is the language of a poet, not a physicist!”, and as for the physical or psychological effects of Mantra Yoga, scientific investigation has been so far too limited to fully catalog, much less endorse or debunk, all its claimed efficacies.
I hope you have found these comments enlightening, or infuriating, or novel, or trite, but I especially hope that whenever you are standing in a congregation at a Gnostic Mass, reciting the words of this creed, that you will also be reflecting upon their meaning to you.]
[here ends the interpolated article]
We now find the first occurrence of a stage direction referring to music. There are, altogether, eight of this type of direction in Liber XV. They are all extremely vague, quite often consisting of the lone word “Music”. Whether to use live or recorded music, one genre or another, is all left to the tastes of a Mass' producers. Successful use of music in the Mass requires a lot of coordination, and additional personnel (unless enough of the cast members can perform musically). Some people find it much easier to use a prepared tape that runs as background music throughout the performance. In these cases you should be sure that the volume is not so high as to make hearing the performers difficult (you may want to station someone to vary the volume at appropriate moments). Choice of background music is of course a matter of taste, but I find the best is something with droning, repetitive qualities, that changes slowly if at all. There is a lot of this kind of music to choose from, in Native American, African, Asian, and Melanesian, as well as in Western, musical traditions. Many Masses are performed without any music but that of the officers' words and voices alone; and they are not necessarily poorer Masses because of it. A poorly executed musical accompaniment most often detracts rather than enhances. But to those who haven't tried it I must recommend that you make at least an attempt to supply music for the sections which Crowley designates. I believe you may discover a noticeable difference in your ability to hold the audience's attention at key moments (especially if you keep the musical interludes rather brief, and make them emotionally appropriate). However, another problem with using music is the chance that some of the congregation will be put off by the particular style(s) selected by a Mass' producers. Such situations are usually inevitable at well-attended sanctuaries, but it would certainly help if you avoid using the same songs and/or styles of music for every performance.
Now the Virgin and Children enter the temple. The Virgin should be standing in front of the High Altar, facing the Deacon, before she begins to deliver her line. Once again, a decision may be required from the Deacon in regards to his task of leading the assembly in giving the “Hailing sign of a Magician”. You may substitute the ancient Roman hailing sign here (and in fact for any hailing sign called for in the rest of the script), but remember also that it is apparently with this particular gesture that the congregation recognizes the Virgin as its Priestess, or you may follow the directions in the “Revised and Enlarged” edition of Book Four. Next, this newfound Priestess treads her serpentine path. Exactly how she travels is, of course, a matter of insuperable controversy among the Gnostic Catholics of Aleister Crowley's communion. I say “of course” because Crowley, wittingly or not, wrote this stage direction in a terribly ambiguous way. We are told that the Priestess makes 3-and-a-half “circles” of the temple, and then given a description which, depending on whether you interpret “about” to mean a partial or full circuit, is either 2-and-a-half traversings of the temple or something quite difficult to describe quantitatively at all. The path which I personally find most efficacious was taught me by Sor. B. (see fig. n). In Sor. M.'s notes on the Mass you will find a different path, which I believe may presently be used by a majority of Priestesses. The symbolism is impossibly extensive, though some of these possible paths resemble the coilings of the great Serpent Goddess, the Kundalini energy (which might be described as the vital force which creates balance in the body's nervous system, or perhaps as the force of the Cosmos manifest in each of its elements. The production and circulation of this energy in the body is variously detailed by many Yogis of numerous traditions). There may also be here various diagrams, drawn by the Priestess' feet, of the matings of zero with infinity, or of the yin-yang symbol, or of other esoteric sigils.
Next, she draws her sword and “pulls down” the veil of the tomb. This is usually interpreted to mean that she uses her sword to draw to one side a veil which covers the entrance to the tomb, but in this case a more literal interpretation may recall the words of LIBER AL (II:52): “Tear down that lying spectre of the centuries”. Dramatic literalists will want their Priestesses to use the sword to physically rip the veil down off the tomb. The shock value of this practice may perhaps outweigh the effort of reattaching, and/or the expense of replacing, veils which have been thus pulled down. A better approach might be to drape the veil over the tomb so that it can be torn down without actual damage. My sanctuary has constructed a tomb with sides formed by black veils suspended from two long hooked rods which stick straight out of the wall, at a height of about six and a half feet; the entrance is formed by another black veil suspended on the hooks by means of a curtain-rod. The Priestess merely uses her sword to dislodge the rod and let the entire front veil fall to the ground. The design of a tomb, like most details in the performance of the Mass, depends largely upon the officers and congregation. Crowley left us the script and little else. I have been told of speculation that he did perform the ritual at Cefalu in the early 1920's, but when he issued a revised text of Liber XV in the Appendix to MAGICK IN THEORY AND PRACTICE it appears that he made only the changes of a literary editor and left all the ambiguous or impossible stage directions as they were. This is reasonable enough, considering that Crowley's trade was writer, not theatrical director. He wrote numerous plays, but did not have the pleasure (or embarrassment!) of seeing too many of them produced; I do imagine that he might be highly gratified by the performances and readings of his works put on by present-day groups.
The symbol “+” represents the action of making a cross (with hand alone or holding a weapon or object, as the case may be). Usually Crowley states how and where +'s are to be made. But in this first appearance of the symbol (during the Priestess' speech which resurrects the Priest) there is no indication of where she is supposed to make the +'s. The speech itself implies that she uses her sword to make them, but not where upon the Priest's body, or whether upon his body at all. As one might expect, where there is no information given, the performers will supply what is necessary with their own imaginations (usually until their improvisation turns into a personal tradition which is then simply given as information to later performers!). Some Priestesses take the easy and effective option of foreshadowing the imminent sets of three +'s over the Priest's forehead, breast, and body (various interpretations of “body” in this context are the solar plexus, the navel, or the perineum; I believe that here it means the perineum because that is where the head of the sleeping Kundalini serpent lies encoiled). Besides being easy to remember, these locations for the +'s dovetail nicely with the Priestess' lines.
Next, the Priest awakens to enact, among other things, the “first three regular steps”. There are a number of fraternities which describe secrets with this title. In lieu of initiated instruction a Priest may wish to follow the steps of a Blue Lodge Mason. Blue Lodge Masons have a set of three penal signs which might be used to complement the masonic steps. You may also use the positions and movements described in the “Revised and Enlarged” edition of Book Four. Another not entirely uncommon and, in my opinion, quite visually effective set of “penal” signs that might be used here are those found in both the first and last Gestures of Liber V vel Reguli, in the subsection “The Horizontal Components of the Enchantment”.
What it means to worship the Lance “with both hands” is not automatically clear. I've seen Priests clasp the rod firmly in both hands, or hold their outstretched hands up in adoration, or place their hands together in the classic position of prayer. A common mistake at this point is for the Priest to take the lance and/or rise before giving his first line. There are also a number of places in the Mass (starting here) where the Priest is told to raise or lower his lance. Two different interpretations of these instructions are commonly seen. Usually the lance is raised or lowered while being held all the time in an upright position, but a few Priests will also point the lance up or down along with raising and lowering it. This is sometimes explained as a reference to the differing states of phallic tumescence. How the Priest's first and second lines are delivered is an instance where different celebrants can imbue the Mass with their individual spirits. “I am a man among men” can be either boasting, or matter-of-fact, or even a genuine statement of humility. “How should I be worthy to administer the virtues to the Brethren?” may then be either a virtual command issued to the Priestess, or a simple request for instruction & assistance, or even a heartfelt plea of personal insufficiency on the part of the Priest. I personally prefer one of the latter portrayals because they give some opportunity for later development of the priestly persona. Too many of the Priests who issue from the tomb in full-blown triumph proceed to deliver a one-note performance which most often finds the congregation uninvolved and inattentive.
Now the Priestess performs the purifying and vivifying ablutions of the four elements upon the Priest (cf. “De ceremonio Principii” from Grimorium Sanctissimum). When the ceremony is performed without Children the Deacon will often present the elements to the Priestess (though many performers prefer to serve themselves at the font and fire altar). According to the script the Deacon should make separate trips to bring the robe and then the crown from the High Altar to the Priestess (though many Deacons, more often in negligence than conscious innovation, will bring both at the same time unless taught otherwise). The “Robe of scarlet and gold”
There, at the beginning of a new sentence, is where I left it back in 1991. The document itself later underwent some editing, as I've indicated. By the time I might have been ready to resume my efforts they no longer seemed quite appropriate. The larger church in which I celebrated this communion had taken a somewhat different approach in its policies, an approach which meant that my personal opinions were no longer of much relevance. Nevertheless, there are a few more bits of Crowley's ambiguous stage direction that plainly deserve comment from anyone with some experience as a celebrant.
The issue of the priestly robes, where we last left off, is just as good a starting place. The priest “is clothed at first in a plain white robe”, and later the priestess “robes the PRIEST in his Robe of scarlet and gold”. This has quite reasonably been taken to mean that the red robe is put on over the white robe. I'm sure I'm not the first or last priest to stand so attired before an unparted veil and feel incongruous when the priestess commands, “come before me in a single robe”. Of course, only a literalist would be troubled by any religious significance they find in this. Hence the sight of a priest coming before the priestess in an obviously double robe might fortuitously alienate any highly observant literalists who happen to attend the mass. There are, however, some other points to consider. One is physical; I find it more comfortable to celebrate the mass with less clothing. The effect of two layers, even of the lightest fabric, is unpleasant enough for some people that it can detract from their performance. The other point is a matter of interpretational heterodoxy. The fact is that folks should realize they are making an assumption when they drape the red robe over the white one. It might be argued that this assumption is justified because the removal of the white robe is not explicitly enjoined, but then neither is the customary procedure explicitly described. The action of robing the priest in red could be understood to include first taking off his white robe. Of course I'd have no problem with a church where priests are allowed to follow either practice.
I think Crowley's choice of the phrase “cap of maintenance” to describe part of the priest's headgear is somewhat unfortunate. Perhaps he just meant any headcovering that might go under a crown, but in English heraldry there are two different specific caps which may be so called. One is worn by peers on ceremonial occasions; a sort of short red pillbox, with a band of ermine about the front and sides, its ends tapered to points and sticking out in back. The other cap is designed to go under one of those very tall golden crowns of British royalty; it looks a bit like a big red velvet chef's hat. Either of them looks rather silly with a uraeus serpent crown. I much prefer the look of Crowley in the famous 1911 portrait where he wears the uraeus over a headdress that's something of a cross between a nemyss and a keffiya (traditional Arab). I hope the church will encourage freedom in the design of this and other vestments. It would be so sad to see all our priests required by regulation to wear some relic of medieval civilization (though of course if anyone wants to wear one I'd be the first to encourage them in their desire).
For anyone like me, who doesn't care too much for standardization, Crowley's choice of words can be delightfully interpretable. Take the matter of the priest's three circumambulations of the temple. In every mass I've ever seen (except some where I've acted as priest or deacon) the deacon and children leave off following the priest after about the three-quarters point in the third circle to go and kneel in adoration. I believe the phrase “At the last circumambulation” is better interpreted as meaning soon after the third circle has been begun. This gives everyone time to get into proper position before the priest is ready to take his first step. I believe that's why the direction “The PRIEST returns to the East” only appears in the script after the officers and people have assumed their worshipful postures as instructed.
Another, rather more obvious, ambiguity in the stage directions occurs during the consecration of the elements. This is the notorious “He takes the Cup” miracle. There are three equally good methods of performing this sleight bit. In one, you take the cup before saying “Vehicle of the joy, etc.”, and continue to hold it until after you've shown it to the people. Another technique involves the priest ignoring the first direction to take the cup, but following the second direction, thus making his action with the cup identical to his previous treatment of the host. The third way was revealed to me by M., and I have since adopted it in my own performance. I take the cup, say “Vehicle of the joy, etc.”, then return it to the priestess. After consecrating the cup with my lance I then take it once again, and continue on as the script indicates. A little later the priest must make “three great crosses”. What makes these crosses great is not immediately obvious (I suppose it's all in the wrist). Some priests just make these crosses extend further along the horizontal & vertical axes than usual. I didn't have a clue about it until I underwent a particular initiation, and even then the solution was still just my own construction; I don't know of any authoritative instructions.
One more of those many ambiguous stage directions in the mass, one that has often engaged me over the years, is encountered at the conclusion of the mystic marriage. According to all three of Crowley's published texts, after the shrill scream of orgasm is heard the priest takes the lance while the priestess covers the cup. Then the priest genuflects, rises, bows, joins hands, and strikes his breast, all this while presumably still holding the lance. He delivers his triple “O Lion and O Serpent, etc.”, and then he “joins hands upon the breast of the PRIESTESS, and takes back his Lance”. The commonest way of dealing with this impossibility seems to be a rather rude looking action wherein the priest suddenly and momentarily presses his lance between the priestess' breasts. I had puzzled over this for a long time until I finally thought to consider it in the framework of the entire text. The cup is uncovered three times during the mass, and re-covered twice. Throughout the ritual the priest treats the cup with the greatest of reverence. On the two occasions when the priest uncovers the cup he genuflects immediately afterward. On the last occasion, when the priestess uncovers the cup and offers it to him, he is already kneeling.
The first time the cup is re-covered, at the end of the consecration of the elements, there is no explicit indication of by whom. There is, however, the instruction “He replaces the Host and the Cup and adores.”, in which “replaces” might well be taken to include his re-covering of the cup. The direction referring to adoration is one of nine such directions occurring in the Gnostic Mass. What exactly constitutes a gesture of adoration is a matter of some confusion. In five of the nine occurrences kneeling is an associated action. Also, during the introit the priestess genuflects before saying, “Mother (Father) be thou adored!”. So I think it would not be unreasonable for a priest to interpret the script as calling for him, at the conclusion of the elemental consecration, to cover the cup and then kneel briefly. Of course, there may be many other reasonable interpretations as well, but if this particular understanding is adopted then perhaps a solution to the enigma of the stage directions following the mystic marriage may be inferred. If we overlay the pattern of the first uncovering and re- covering on top of the second we are led to entertain the idea that the whole muddle derives from a simple typographical error, the officers have been mistakenly reversed, and it is the priestess who takes the lance and the priest who covers the cup. As the priest's first action after the cup is covered is to genuflect, complete symmetry with the earlier uncovering/re-covering is achieved. The priest is then able to join hands and strike his breast without hitting himself in face with his lance, and his action of taking back the lance from the priestess looks both sensible and natural.
That this sort of error in typography is easily possible may be seen from the first printing of the revised and enlarged Book Four; in that version of the mass one of these very same stage directions is given as “The PRIESTESS [sic] joins hands upon the breast of the PRIESTESS, and takes back his Lance.” (I love coincidences). Clearly Crowley never bothered to carefully proof the stage directions on any of the three occasions he took the mass to press. I've often cited that fact as evidence that AC never actually performed Liber XV (though he certainly performed a great many masses!). J. believes that he might easily have done it publicly at Cefalu without even bothering to read the stage directions, which I think is certainly possible, but still of somewhat dubious likelihood. And in any event, it's not important whether or not Crowley actually performed the Gnostic Mass. Those of us who are called to bring it to life must do the best we can with whatever he has left us.
The point, for me, is not to have some perfect authority come up with the “correct” answers to all these questions of interpretation, but rather to have a flexible leadership that recognizes the value in variety. Any specific cases of difficulty which may arise should be addressed and judged on their own merits. Rules are of course necessary, but they should define proper limits and requirements with as little infringement of individuality as practicable. The opposite of every true principle is another true principle. Failure to realize this usually leads to all sorts of bureaucratic codifications and precisely defined etiquettes, which then hamper good administration by restricting an administrator's power to apply the appropriate Mercy or Severity which any particular situation may demand.
Forasmuch as Aleister Crowley's text of the Gnostic Mass is marvelously ambiguous, especially in its stage directions, it is not surprising that whenever some community establishes a regular and ongoing celebration of the mass it is also likely to see the development of local and/or personal traditions of performance. This is not in and of itself a bad thing. People and groups can often both express and transmit their deepest understandings of the text by means of these traditions. Nonetheless, when a tradition becomes a mere routine devoid of its original significance it may well end up stultifying the very understanding out of which it first arose.
One part of the mass around which a great variety of usage has occurred is the manner of the People's communication. In my local community a standard practice has long prevailed. The People “advance one by one to the altar”, receive and consume a Cake of Light and a goblet of wine and, “as did the Priest”, turn to the people and utter the words “There is no part of me that is not of the Gods” in an “attitude of Resurrection”. The people respond to this declaration with three cheers, and it is this outburst which I understand has struck some visitors used to more sedate communications as rather irreverent. For myself, I find it both glorious and joyful to shout out my approval of each communicant. In celebrating everyone else's divinity I find my own is celebrated as well. The point, I think, is not about whether we file up to the altar one by one or have the Children deliver communion to us in our seats, nor about whether we face the Priestess or the congregation when we make our declarations, nor whether we maintain a reverent silence or make a joyous noise while the communications proceed. Ultimately, the point is whether or not the mass brings us to the accomplishment of our wills. To truly know this we must continually be scrutinizing the mass and the customs which we follow in regard to it. By questioning, our understanding will grow and change. Perhaps this understanding will in its turn give rise to new traditions, for other people to emulate, ignore, ridicule, or react against by establishing yet undreamed-of variations. Freedom is very often quite chaotic in its outward appearance, but then so is Nature itself.
The question of whether to actually change or adapt the mass for specific purposes is only an issue within the framework of ecclesiastical administration. The auspices under which a mass is performed will doubtless determine the ability of the participants to adapt the text to their ends. I once, in order to make what I believed was a much-needed public statement about human rights, had for the Principles collect substituted the following: “Forces of Nature, dancing in the Balance of Chaos & Order, let there be Harmony & Beauty in that especial Reel of Humankind which, tracing Spirals in from Ignorance to Wisdom and from Slavery to Freedom, bends every Contradiction into Unity. Lend us the Strength to shine with Light & Life, like the Stars, and to express our Joy in Love & Liberty, as True Men & True Women.” Frankly, I'm saddened that such acts of creation and intelligence can be so easily and unknowingly thwarted by standards of uniformity.
A few years ago I set out to write an essay on one of the many possible subtexts of the Gnostic Mass. It's working title was SEX SEX SEX, but after composing a few desultory paragraphs of introduction I was barely able to continue working on it at all. One day I took a break from my latest attempts, and set out on the two block trip to pick up some mail at the local post office. I walked along at my usual brisk gait, lost in pondering my troublesome paper, groping for some genuine inspiration, my hands swinging back and forth, as they will when one walks forcefully. Nearing the corner occupied by the post office, and just as my right (writing) hand had reached the top of its swing, right palm almost parallel to the ground, suddenly, Blap! A swooping white pigeon had left a large blob of its shit squarely in the center of the back of my hand. As I disgustedly wiped it off on the nearest telephone pole I was abruptly struck by a thought quite diametric to disgust. I rushed home and started writing furiously. Within a week the first draft was done.
A DROPPING FROM THE HOST (or, SEX, SEX, AND MORE SEX)
I guess you're thinking that an essay so entitled must surely be about the Gnostic Mass. And of course you're right! The single most obvious difference between our Thelemite mass and the traditional Christian mass shows up in their attitudes to sex. To say that “We're fer it, 'n' they're agin it” may be overly simple, but it's also not a total distortion. The Gnostic Mass certainly does celebrate sexuality as among humanity's holiest and most powerful attributes. It's no wonder that, as our Thelemite community gropes toward new ways to accommodate the realities of sex, the Gnostic Mass seems to be arousing more interest, even controversy, than ever.
The whole of our experience may be contained in three spheres: the human, the natural, and the sacred. The Gnostic Mass can also be understood on these same three levels, where the penis (uterus/vagina) represents the human, the sun (earth) symbolizes the natural, and the secret ineffability (infinite space & the infinite stars thereof) conceals the sacred. Each of these androgynous metaphors may also be considered from both magical and mystical viewpoints. The interplay of the three and the two is often merely five, but in this case let's make it six, that is, six basic ways in which the text of the mass may be read metaphorically:
the human/magical, as an instruction in sex magick,
the human/mystical, as a guide to sexual meditation (i.e., tantra),
the natural/magical, as a group working of ceremonial magick,
the natural/mystical, as the fellowship of communion,
the sacred/magical, as the cult of the infinite within,
the sacred/mystical, as the cult of the infinite without,
(both these last two refer to the ordeal x, which fact brings us back in a way to the five, but after another manner).
It would of course be great fun to describe in reasonably clear terms exactly how to read the Gnostic Mass in each of these six ways; however, since that is largely impossible for the last two, and far from rare for the middle two, it remains for me to amplify instead upon the first two, and try at least a little to live up to the promise of my title. Actually, in this particular essay I'll mainly concentrate on the sex-magical metaphor alone, although a few of the contrasts between sex magick and tantric sex will be very briefly mentioned.
If, as Crowley defines it, doing Magick involves “causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”, then perhaps being Mystick involves allowing Stability to occur in conformity with Love. The one is all power and strength, the other all peace and silence. An even simpler way of understanding the distinction is to consider that any thing, action, event, being, or quality, is magical if it leads to expansion, mystical if it leads to contraction. Of course, since expansion and contraction are always relative to one's frame of reference, every experience is liable to partake of both the magical and the mystical. Which tendency predominates in any particular experience is largely dependent upon your point of view. In fact, both paths share the same ultimate destination. As the Hindu philosopher Ramana Maharshi wrote, “What to inward sight is peace appears as power to outward sight. For those who truly know, the two are one and the same.”
Therefore it's only natural that some of the distinctions between sex magick and tantric sex are not immediately obvious. Both approaches require the achievement of a state which might be called a sexual trance, wherein an energy (often called Kundalini energy) is excited. But what then becomes of the sexual energy thus aroused is entirely different in the two practices. An excellent metaphor for this dichotomy may be found in The Book Of The Law, II:26, “I am the secret Serpent coiled about to spring: in my coiling there is joy. If I lift up my head, I and my Nuit are one. If I droop down mine head, and shoot forth venom, then is rapture of the earth, and I and the earth are one.” At the moment of orgasm the sexual energy can either go up (that is, inward) to create an ecstatic illumination, or down (that is, outward) to create an ejaculate incarnation. Thus in the traditional tantric practices of South Asia, where the aim is to lift the Kundalini energy up the spine, both ejaculation and menstruating women are to be avoided, while in the European “Gnostic/Rosicrucian/H.B.L.” tradition of sex magick it is exactly the semen and/or the menstrual blood (or the egg and lining of the womb, if they still live) which often act as the basic vehicles for directing this same vital energy out into the world at large through the creation of children, be they physical or subtle or both.
Before I begin a detailed description of the Gnostic Mass as a metaphor for a sex-magical operation a couple of pertinent disclaimers must be strongly emphasized. Firstly, the interpretations contained in this essay are entirely the personal opinions of the author; they have absolutely no official status of any kind within any church or religious organization whatsoever. Secondly, the performance of Liber XV as a dramatic ritual does not entail or require the performers to engage in any variety of sexual act, either before, during, or after the ceremony; in fact, to make overt sexual acts a part of the Liber XV dramatic ritual is an example of the error known as “mixing up the planes”, and will almost always result in serious confusion and turmoil. These disclaimers may seem obvious to most readers, but they are necessitated by the risk of mischief which may ensue from the misapprehension of fools.
The Gnostic Mass is arguably a prime example of Crowley at his literary best, and it may certainly be studied profitably by anyone who enjoys it as a work of literature (whether in written or dramatic form); though to get the most out of such study one would need to be well read in both classical and modern literature (up to the early 20th century), as well as possessed of an extensive knowledge of history and metaphysics both Western and Eastern. In contrast to such demanding academic prerequisites, in order to fully appreciate the Mass as an instruction in sex magick one must merely be able to look behind the actions, props, and words, and recognize what they all fairly blatantly symbolize. This is not to say that every symbol in the mass must have some significance from the standpoint of sex magick. Though the lance which symbolizes the fire of will is also quite obviously meant to represent the phallus, and the cup which symbolizes the water of emotion is also the womb, it does not necessarily follow that the sword and paten must also refer, in addition to the air of reason and the earth of physical manifestation, to some specific feature of the human anatomy. For instance, one may consider the fact that while the cup itself contains the wine which signifies menstrual blood, for the lance this same containing function must be performed by the paten which holds the hosts, which themselves stand for the actual semen. But this does not mean that, for sex-magical purposes, the paten represents a priestly testicle! To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a pentacle is only a pentacle.
The sex-magical symbolism of the officers of the mass is not quite as direct as that of the major weapons. Crowley states in a note at the end of the mass, “The Priestess and other officers never partake of the Sacrament, they being as it were part of the Priest himself.” This is often pointed to as evidence of Crowley's male chauvinism; however, male chauvinist though he may well have been, I don't think this particular sentence need necessarily be a statement about the proper power balance between the individuals performing the roles of Priest and Priestess, but rather it may refer to the fact that the Priest here acts as a metaphor for anyone who undertakes to perform a work of sex magick, and that the performance of such a work does not necessarily require more than one person. This is obviously the case whenever orgasm is the result of masturbation, and also more subtly so when one is assisted by a partner who is unaware that any sex magick is being worked. I think this interpretation is perhaps borne out by the way in which the People communicate; in partaking of the Sacrament the women of the congregation imitate (and thus identify with) the Priest just as fully as the male communicants do.
Women who wish to perform sex magick should take note of this apparent gender reversal. I say “apparent” because actually the Gnostic Priestess does not as one might have expected denote in this context a female practitioner of sex magick, but rather the person/entity/image wherein the practitioner's object of devotion (ultimately Nuit) is manifested on some plane of space/time/being. For most performers of sex magick the object of devotion will usually appear in a human form whose conscious involvement in the ritual ranges from that of a full co- operator to that of a passive, or even ignorant, sex partner (passivity and ignorance referring in this context to the magical and not to the sexual element of the ceremony!). In essence, in sex-magical terms, the Priestess signifies the magician's altar of working. This is not to deny that the Gnostic Priestess also represents both a supremely mighty goddess and a marvelously successful woman on other levels; she most assuredly does. But in this particular metaphor she represents the shrine's altar. Such an altar is necessary to the working whether the magus be male or female, though of course it need not always manifest itself in human form, nor indeed in any physical form at all. It is often partly, or even mostly, beheld in the mind's eye of the Priest. In this present context the actual physical altar in a Liber XV mass ritual merely represents the place where the sex magick working is performed (often a bed). In an operation where both (or all) partners are active participants in the magick they must each successfully be both a subject and an object; this is why, like it or not, the odds against significant success will grow along with the number of participants who are actively engaged in the creation of the magical link (the number of passive partners is usually unimportant, as long as they don't disturb anyone's concentration). The theoretical advantage involved in tapping the power of more wills is balanced by the increased practical difficulty of achieving success, but for experienced operators two actively engaged wills can be more effective than one, though only for the truly adept are three or more active participants a manageable number.
The Deacon, like the Priestess, is considered by Crowley to be “as it were part of the Priest himself”, and thus does not represent an independent will involved in the ritual of sex magick but rather the will of the Priest (magus) as expressed through a physical magical link, perhaps a talisman or the magician's own body, or through a link symbolized on other planes, for instance an idea, a quest, or a passion. Therefore when the Deacon opens the mass by proclaiming the Law of Thelema and reciting the Gnostic Creed he is symbolizing the fact that the sex magick operator's will is always an underlying factor, prior to any magical working, prior even to birth itself. Then the Priestess makes her appearance, and is saluted by the Deacon and the People; and the Deacon subsequently assists her in awakening and preparing the Priest. This shows that, as a necessary preliminary to any operation of sex magick, some object of devotion must both inspire and work with the operator's will, though the people directly involved may well be partly or even entirely unconscious of the fact. When the tomb is opened the Priest (operator) begins to become consciously acquainted with both the object of devotion, and that object's interaction with her/his will. In a wholly successful working, this object must stir up both nobility and enthusiasm in the magus, it must require deeply passionate spiritual responses from the magus, and most importantly it must be capable of sexually arousing the magus. That this last point is most clearly demonstrated in a nakedly phallic fashion by the Priestess' stroking of the lance should not obscure the fact that a woman may also perform sex magick entirely in her own right. It so happens that the author of our Gnostic Mass was physically a man, and that he could hardly help but present matters from a male perspective. The same limitation applies to the author of this present article, who therefore respectfully requests forbearance from his female readers for the undoubtedly phallocentric bias of most of the comments that follow. It would be high honor indeed if any sister is inspired by the deficiencies and omissions of this paper to record her own perspectives on sex magick.
As the mass proceeds the Priest enthrones and fully establishes the Priestess within the veil of the shrine. This process describes the first steps in preparing for the actual sex-magical working. In accordance with the operator's will the assistance of a suitable manifestation of the object of devotion is obtained upon the desired plane (i.e., the magus finds a willing sex partner or dreams one up). Then the Priest performs his circumambulations and steps, culminating with his intoning of the “A ka dua …” mantra and the Priestess' response, “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt”. This describes the second stage of the preparation for the magical operation. The magus must first make sure of an appropriate circumstance somewhere in time/space to commune with the object of devotion. Then she or he must reach a clear understanding of the goal of the operation, and if this goal is specific it must then be phrased (felt, seen, etc.) in a “prayer” as beautiful and as unequivocal as the magician can manage to create or select, and then it must be committed perfectly to memory. Whenever a physical talisman is to be charged as a result of the ritual it should be made and/or consecrated prior to the actual charging, and it should in some appropriate way symbolize the magician's goal. Since a clear understanding of this goal ultimately depends upon a clear understanding of one's own true will, it may be wise to make the Great Work the objective of all of one's ritual until such time as said opus is achieved. Metaphorically, it is during this period of aspiration and reflection that the Priest formulates the collects and writes (or chooses) the anthem.
There are also times when sex magick may be performed without any consciously selected aim in mind, as when the motive is a pure celebration of what is. This method is sometimes called “LAShTAL”, or “the Noblest Way”, or “instant karma”; an excellent example of this style of sex magick is the Holy Hexagram ritual given in Chapter 69 of The Book Of Lies. In a celebratory opus of this sort it is quite acceptable to omit the anthem entirely, in fact silence may be positively enjoined; however, in what might be termed a “Gnostic Mass- style” sexual rite it is the standard practice at a crucial moment to make an utterance of some sort, be it simple or elaborate, laboriously composed or fully spontaneous. Exactly how the operator wishes to handle this ritual requirement must be thought out well in advance.
The final step necessary before the ritual proper may commence is the achievement by the magus of conscious singleness of will, a state of mind wherein doubt is, for the time being, held completely in abeyance, a state which is also sometimes called presence, or mindfulness, or one-pointedness. The ability to enter this state is conferred by mastery of any one of a multitude of magical and/or mystical methods. Which method is best for each individual can only be determined by that individual, and then only for him/herself. For those who wish their instruction to be along traditional Crowleyan lines, the revised and enlarged edition of Book Four, taken along with Eight Lectures On Yoga might make up a fairly complete manual of AC's assorted magical and mystical methodologies for achieving this particular trance (and many others as well). Two French expressions come to mind when I think of the choices that people must make as they confront an often bewildering array of schools of adeptship: 'chacun a son gout', and 'honi soit qui mal y pense'.
Now the veil is parted by the lance, and the actual working begins with the Priest's sexual arousal. In the working for which the Gnostic Mass is a metaphor the specific foreplay used to achieve this is fellatio (or, by construction, cunnilingus), but that this is just one option among many and not an absolute requirement may be gathered by a comparison with Grimorium Sanctissimum where the method is manual, or with Liber XXXVI where the Adept achieves erection “as he may know how”. As the Priestess holds the lance to her breast, the Priest falls at her knees, kisses them, and the Deacon then recites the collects. Thus, the object of devotion must succeed in keeping the magus aroused (a male operator may wish this to be done both intermammarily and orally by a female partner while he performs cunnilingus to prepare her for intromission; this same arousal is usually accomplished manually by anyone performing the operation alone) while he or she “inflames” him/herself into the necessary trance state. This inflaming involves the strongest possible concentration by the magician upon the goal of the operation. Concentration is usually aided by employing the aforementioned “prayer”, which is generally some particular mantra, song, or verse that was previously especially composed or selected to suit the purpose of the working. In ceremonies involving more than one person, these words can be repeated sotto voce or even subvocally, and very often must be, as the mouth(s) and tongue(s) of the operator(s) are usually physically engaged in activities which make open speech difficult or impossible. Also, a prayer need not always be cast solely in the form of words; for the present purpose a sound, a visualization, even a bodily sensation, may serve some operators far more effectively. Indeed, some sex magicians find it best to concentrate as much as possible on some non-semantic thought until the time comes for them to give voice to their anthem. It cannot be emphasized enough that unbroken concentration during this stage of the ritual is the key to overall success; it is from this time on that the magical link must be most firmly established between the magician's will and those physical constituents which will go to make up the alchemical elixir. In this context the best possible mediums for the sexual force are menstrual blood (or a living egg) and/or semen, but in theory anything material which derives from the operator's body will serve to create a magical link to the physical plane. Some of the other most commonly used mediums, hypothetically ranked in order of decreasing efficacy, are: feces, urine, blood, and sweat. The process by which the establishment of this magical link to the physical plane is successfully accomplished is symbolized by the Priest's identification with first the Body of God/hosts/semen, and then the Blood of God/wine/menstrual blood.
During the phase corresponding to the consecration of the elements the action becomes even more heated, as the participant(s) become completely absorbed in the work. That this stage may involve a mixture of oral, manual, and intromissive sex is indicated in the mass by the Priest's lance dancing all over and about the Priestess, paten, and cup. Continued long and fervently enough this period of the working will eventually reach what might be described as a fever pitch, and the magus will recognize an approaching orgasm. The recognition by the Priest that he/she has completely entered into the Holy of Holies is symbolized by the striking of a bell at the elevation of the host and cup. Then the anthem is recited by the Priest and the Chorus. Thus, when the magus feels the approach of orgasm she or he begins to audibly chant, sing, scream, vibrate, etc., the words of the prayer. Ideally, the magus' partner will soon join in the prayer, repeating it with him/her in perfect unison. But this may not always be possible, as in many instances either one's anthem may be partly or entirely spontaneous, or one's partner may be ignorant, or incapable, or unwilling to perform this task satisfactorily. At the actual onset of orgasm the prayer is abandoned and the operator identifies completely with whatever physical constituent(s) will make up the elixir (in Liber XV this ingredient is referred to by the Priest as “Sperma” which is the Greek word meaning 'seed', and which might just as logically be applied to an egg, or its remains, as to a sperm). The goal of the operation, which prior to orgasm should have been virtually the sole focus of the magician's conscious mind, is now to be completely blotted out of her/his awareness; in fact, one of the surest signs of supreme success in this art lies in the blotting out, for this orgasmic moment, of conscious awareness itself.
This moment of orgasm is represented in the Gnostic Mass by dropping a particle of the host (semen) from the lance (penis) into the cup (uterus/vagina) of wine (menstrual blood) while the Priest and Priestess both cry out “Hriliu”, a word which Crowley glosses as “the shrill scream of orgasm”. Now the achievement of simultaneous orgasms by the sex-magical partners is not usually of much importance, except when they are acting as equal co- operators in the magical working. In that case the coincidence of climaxes must be consciously aimed at if they wish to multiply the power of their one common mass, rather than merely to add together the forces of their two separate rituals. It generally requires much effort and discipline to accomplish this kind of simultaneity, but the rewards are certainly well worth what is often some very enjoyable work. There are two other points which may also be inferred from this part of the ceremony; that, in “Gnostic Mass-style” sex magick, the sacramental elixir is created intravaginally, and that it optimally contains both semen and menstrual blood. According to the stage directions, after this dramatic enactment of orgasm is performed, the Priest takes the lance and the Priestess covers the cup. That this is an error carelessly left uncorrected by the author is indicated by a number of considerations. Nowhere else in the mass does the Priestess explicitly cover the cup, but previously it has been explicitly uncovered and (implicitly) recovered by the Priest; conversely, the Priestess does at times hold the lance, both before and after this occasion. The most telling piece of evidence comes in the very next group of stage directions when the Priest is directed to join hands upon the breast of the Priestess and take back his lance. The attempt to carry out this maneuver looks fairly ludicrous if she hasn't been holding the lance all along.
Although this issue of stage directions rightly belongs to another essay I bring it up here because it has some implications for the consumption of the sacraments, which always culminates those sex magick rituals for which Liber XV is a metaphor. Since, archetypally, the elixir of semen and menses is distilled in the uterus/vagina of a male operator's object of devotion (the altar bears a cup!) he must, in order to partake of the sacrament, literally cover the cup with his mouth and suck out the elixir (while, if possible, the object of devotion uses her pelvic muscles to squeeze). If the operator is female then the object of devotion should attempt to deliver as much of the elixir as he can, directly from his mouth to hers. If she is performing a solo working her fingers may be used to accomplish this fairly simply, though it might be better to also use something absorptive (e.g., cloths, herbs, natural sponges, etc.). The magus should always consume slowly and thoughtfully, letting the sacrament virtually seep into the mouth and throat, as her/his mind basks in the glow of the body and reflects upon the goal of the operation. A silent repetition of the prayer until the elements have been entirely eaten up is one way to consummate your ritual. In most cases the sacrament is completely consumed by the operator(s); however, if a talisman is to be charged it should either be rubbed directly on the vagina, or impregnated with the elixir orally, while the operator either resumes the prayer of the rite or performs any other kind of invocation which he or she deems proper.
After communicating the Priest declares, “There is no part of me that is not of the Gods.” Likewise, as the magus of a sexual opus one signals the completion of the working by whatever means conform with one's own divine will. For some this may involve the performance of a closing ceremony or a banishing, others will rest in delicious languor or dissolve into sleep, while yet others may simply switch the subject, resuming again the daily weaving of their lives. The Gnostic Mass ends as the Priest veils the shrine, bestows blessings upon the People, and then goes back into the tomb. And thus another ritual of sex magick is done. If it be done properly then one shall be blessed, and go about life as a blessing to others, until at last the blessing of death is granted.
For any folly or ignorance displayed in the preceding words I am entirely at fault; however, for any wisdom or knowledge herein I must thank all of my beloved brothers and sisters in gnosis.
I'll never forget a visit that O. and I made to see G. back in 1977. We got to discussing the story that Crowley tells in Confessions about how Reuss pointed out to him a passage in the Book Of Lies where he had revealed the secret of the IXo, and then obligated him in that regard. I asked G. which passage had been pointed to by Reuss. He took a copy of the Book Of Lies down off the shelf and opened it to Chapter 36, the “Star Sapphire”. I was a little disappointed by this because my guess had been Chapter 69 (though I was relieved he hadn't picked out Chapter 87!). O. asked him, “Well what if someone were to actually perform it as ritual magick?”, and G. got this look like he'd never even thought of that notion before, and said, “I guess you could if you wanted to”. I can't help thinking of that whenever I see someone perform the Star Sapphire in public.
Of Crowley's non-Class A writings the Book Of Lies has been my favorite ever since I first came across it back in 1976. Some years later the following scholium emerged. It has never been printed, but I've given out three or four copies. S. is one of the only people to ever actually acknowledge it; he liked the new arrangement of Abrahadabra, though he seems to have missed the ironic element intended in the labeling of it as “true”.
(this excerpt from an unpublished study by Frater Asar-had-on of Crowley's “The Book Of Lies” is presented for its suggestive value, and is not to be taken in any way as an official instruction; also, in this era of AIDS the practices it describes may be dangerous to your health, hence caution and discretion are strongly advised—Editor)
Chapter 69: THE WAY TO SUCCEED—AND THE WAY TO SUCK EGGS!
This is the Holy Hexagram.
Plunge from the height, O God, and interlock with Man!
Plunge from the height, O Man, and interlock with Beast!
The Red Triangle is the descending tongue of grace; the Blue Triangle is the ascending tongue of prayer.
This Interchange, the Double Gift of Tongues, the Word of Double Power– - ABRAHADABRA!—is the sign of the GREAT WORK, for the GREAT WORK is accomplished in Silence. And behold is not that Word equal to Cheth, that is Cancer, whose Sigil is 69?
This Work also eats up itself, accomplishes its own end, nourishes the worker, leaves no seed, is perfect in itself.
Little children, love one another!
The title is a pun to gladden the hearts of lovers of cornball everywhere! It refers to the two fluids basic to the performance of the Hexagram ritual, seed (i.e., the sperm and seminal fluid) and eggs (i.e., the menstrual blood containing pieces of the expelled ovum). Though this chapter contains much information about the Hexagram ritual in general it refers specifically to a certain asana of performance, which may be called (as per line 1) “The Holy Hexagram”.
This asana is described in the second and third lines of the chapter; it is formed by the interlocking of two human beings in such a way as to form a six-pointed star, the four outer points created by their legs, the two central points created by the conjunction of each one's head with genitals of the other. An even more exact configuration is described if we consider that “Man” refers to the mouths of the yogis, while “God” refers to the erect penis, and “Beast” to the lubricous vagina. Of course, this is merely an exoteric understanding of the text. God, Man, and Beast also refer to “psychological” states. The pages of Ovid are full of examples of the various repressions, compensations, and metamorphoses to which the human psyche is subject. Among the more relevant to this topic are the stories of Pasiphae and the bull, Jupiter and Io, Jupiter and Callisto, and especially Jupiter and Europa. Perhaps the most relevant exposition of all is found in the classic Greco-Roman novel, “The Golden Ass of Apuleius”. At the initiated level the meanings of these terms are perhaps best revealed by study of Liber Tzaddi, particularly the “glittering Image in the place ever golden” and the “Blind Creature of the Slime”.
The chapter's next line can be interpreted in many many different ways, but a few in particular stand out. The two triangles can represent the two partners in the operation; the descending tongue of the Red (active) partner is inspired by pure love to lavish attention on the very maw of hell, while the ascending tongue of the Blue (reactive) partner is inspired by pure adoration to lavish devotion on the Devil himself (see Boccaccio's “Decameron” - 3rd Day, 10th Tale). Another interpretation is that the Red triangle is itself the descending phallus which sheds its “grace” in the form of the sperm (which sacrifice all for their purpose without lust of result), while the Blue triangle is the ascending cunnus which oozes out its “prayer” in the form of an egg (which yearns but for completion until it can no longer even hold itself together). Both these interpretations can be blended if we match the lusty Red tongue and member of one partner to the worshipful Blue vulva and tongue of the other. The triangles also describe the different natures of the mental/spiritual states proper to each of the participants; the physical sexes of the partners are far less important than their unity of will, which can only be achieved by a balancing of complements. Here it can be useful to reflect upon the difference between love and adoration, between giving and taking.
In the next sentence Crowley evokes the single-minded trance states which must be achieved by the operators if their operation is to work successfully. The word Abrahadabra is especially important in this context. In Equinox I(5), and in Liber D, Crowley diagrams the eleven letter Word of Power as a Pentagram and Hexagram (three variations) and as a Triangle and two Squares, thereby showing the word's relationship to the Great Work, and to the Tree of Life. He fails to include in those publications the “true” geometric arrangement of Abrahadabra, but this present chapter of The Book of Lies provides evidence that he had discovered it by 1912 c.e. (whether his failure to publish it was purposeful or not I do not know). Twelve letters are required to create the pattern of a “classic” hexagram of interlocked triangles. However, the hexagram of Water, formed by two triangles with their apices interlocked requires only eleven letters to diagram (this hexagram is also emblematic of a pyramid viewed from above; this fact, plus the fact that the letter of Water is Mem, indicates the possibility of linking Abrahadabra with the Word of a Neophyte, but then that connection is best revealed by Silence - as Mother always said, “Don't speak with your mouth full!”). When the eleven letters of Ra-Hoor-Khut's great Word of Power are arranged as a hexagram of Water some remarkable coincidences occur:
A B R A H A D A B R A
The diagonal line of five A's divides the other six letters into two triangular Hebrew words: BRH, to eat; and DBR, to speak. These are the two main uses of the tongue! The diagonal also connects two of the keys from Liber Legis III:47 (that is, the “line drawn” and Abrahadabra). The “line drawn” itself touches exactly eleven letters in the manuscript (Liber XXXI), making another connection between these two keys (I will not comment on the fact that the letters touched are an anagram of “satisfy Beta”).
The next sentence of the chapter shows the connection to the sign of Cancer and to its sigil, which symbol is a stylized side view of the “Holy Hexagram” asana (better known as “sixty-nine”), hence our chapter numeration. It is also interesting to note that 6, the number of Tiphareth, is solar, while 9, the number of Yesod, is lunar.
The penultimate sentence reveals that the operators must entirely consume and completely absorb the sexual fluids, all while they are fully concentrated on their object. Only in this way may they achieve complete success. A question arises here of “communion in both kinds”, that is, is not the inevitable outcome of this act the consumption of only one of the types of sacramental fluid by each partner, rather than a mixture of the two? This potential problem can be remedied by a change in position, after mutual orgasm(s), to bring the tongues of the practitioners into contact and allow the formation of a complete elixir, which is then mutually absorbed in a prolonged kiss. Nonetheless, it is well worth experimenting with a pure “communion in one kind”, especially in the early stages of one's workings; this makes for greater appreciation of both the obvious and the subtle differences between these two types of communion.
The final sentence of this chapter is a poignant exhortation to each of us to practice and perfect this ritual. It is also a reminder that, in this aeon of the Child, Love is the principal weapon in the armories of our Wills!
For Roman Catholics the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine, but for Gnostic Catholics the Sacraments symbolized by the bread and wine are no such simple fantasy. Rather they encompass all the manifold realities of our triune God/dess. On the most obvious level they represent the gifts of lingam and yoni, the sperm and the egg (or menses). Yet more largely they represent the grace of the Sun and the Earth in the form of vitalizing energy and nurturing matter. And on an even more metaphysical level they represent the simultaneous expansion & contraction, of the atom of individuality, and of its ocean of infinity. Somehow it doesn't surprise me that where the Christians have only a pair of eucharistic sacraments we Thelemites may have an entire sextet.
The Gnostic Mass is, like any highly symbolic text, a virtually inexhaustible source of interpretations. This essay has in no way been meant to define or explain the mass, but rather to suggest just a few possibilities which I hope will inspire my readers to develop and make explicit their own personal appreciations of this ritual.
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