Introduction to the Gnostic Mass

The Gnostic Mass is a beautiful ritual that celebrates the mysteries of Thelema and OTO. It is a magical rite that exemplifies the union of the individual soul with the Absolute, culminating in a eucharistic sacrament embodying Life and Joy. This essay offers a brief guide to the ritual and provides useful information for those interested in attending.

The ritual particulars of the Mass are outlined in a document called Liber XV (Book 15), which was written by Aleister Crowley in 1913. The ritual officers include a priest (who carries his Lance) and a priestess (girded with her Sword) who are assisted by a deacon and usually accompanied by two adult acolytes called “children”. The congregation as a whole—referred to as the People—can also be interpreted as a “sixth officer” since the members are active participants within the ceremony.

While it's true that the Mass is “churchy” in its presentation, it does not contain preaching or evangelical-style sermons—although it does mention the central ethical statement of Thelema, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” and “Love is the law, love under will.” Moreover, participation does not require devotion to any particular deity or person nor acceptance of any supernatural event. It certainly does not require any kind of renunciation or confession of “wrongdoing”—Thelema rejects the notion of original sin, instead asserting that every person is inherently sacred, and thus the Mass glorifies the identification of the Self with the Divine.

A typical High Altar for the Gnostic Mass.
A typical High Altar for the Gnostic Mass.

The basic narrative

After the congregation enters the temple, the Deacon declares the Law of Thelema, and everyone recites the Gnostic Creed. Afterwards, the Priestess and the two Children enter and greet the People. After a serpentine dance, she reveals and upraises the Priest, who begins as a “man among men” within his Tomb. The Priest then raises the Priestess in turn and enthrones her on the High Altar, enclosing her within the Veil. The Priest and the Priestess exchange their invocatory orations, during which the Deacon also recites the Thelemic Calendar. This culminates in the opening of the Veil, revealing the Priestess, now naked as the Night Sky.

Next is the Deacon's intonation of the Collects—eleven prayers addressed to the Sun, Moon, Lord, Lady, Gnostic Saints, Earth, Principles, Birth, Marriage, Death, and the End. Afterwards, the Priest consecrates the Elements, transmuting the bread into the Body of God and the wine into the Blood of God, which are symbolically offered to ON (the deified Sun). The Priest and all the People then recite the Anthem, praising the universal Creative Principle.

A blessing is made upon the Sacrament, stating the magical intention of the ritual, to bestow health, wealth, strength, joy, peace, and the perpetual happiness that is the successful fulfillment of the Great Work. The climax of the rite now occurs with the placement of a particle of one of the Cakes on the tip of the Lance, which the Priest and Priestess depress into the Cup with the orgasmic cry of “Hriliu”. After exchanging the Law with the People, the Priest finally partakes of the Eucharist and turns to the People with the declaration, “There is no part of me that is not of the Gods.”

The individual members of the congregation now Communicate, much as the Priest did, by eating a Cake of Light, drinking a glass of wine, and making the same declaration of godhood. After they are finished, the Priest encloses the Priestess within the Veil and delivers the final benediction to the People. The ritual ends with the Priest, Deacon, and Children exiting into the Tomb.

This is but a brief outline of the ceremony. Guests are encouraged to read the full text of the ritual at least once before attending. For those who are interested in understanding some of the more esoteric elements of the ritual, “The Gnostic Mass: Annotations and Commentary” by Helena and Tau Apiryon (the Primate of the U.S. church) is recommended reading.

Congregant participation includes making various gestures and speaking assigned words, most notably the Creed, the Anthem, and Communication (the partaking of the Eucharist). Although everyone is expected to participate as best they can, ritual proficiency is not required and most guests find it quite easy to follow the experienced attendees and the deacon, who leads the People. Also, in some temples instruction is often given before the ritual and missals are available for the speaking parts.

If your local sanctuary doesn't have missals for guests, or you aren't sure, download and print this Missal for the Gnostic Mass [PDF, 1.9Mb] giving the Creed, Anthem, instructions for Communication, and a visual guide to the various Steps and Signs

Steps and Signs

The People make several unusual gestures throughout the ceremony. Near the very beginning is the Step and Sign of a Man and a Brother, which was the original (now obsolete) Step and Sign of the I° of O.T.O., which signifies our Birth as incarnate beings. On four occasions the People give the Hailing Sign, which was the original sign of the II°, the degree symbolizing Life. When the People stand, the proper stance is the Dieu Garde, which is reflective of the III° and the now obsolete stance assumed when exchanging OTO mysteries with another initiate. Finally, there is brief Kneeling in Adoration with the hands joined above the head. This gesture is not tied to any particular degree, but has other possible meanings, including the Union of Opposites, the flame of illumination, and the salutation of a Deity.

Recitation of the Creed

The Gnostic Creed is recited near the beginning of the ceremony. Being a creed, it is a statement of beliefs which are relevant to the celebration of this particular ritual. Several of the words will likely be unfamiliar to guests, and it can be awkward to declare a belief in something that is unknown. In this case, it might be useful to think of the word “believe” as meaning “to acknowledge” rather than “to have faith in”. For more information on the particulars of the Creed, you might find “The Creed of the Gnostic Catholic Church: an Examination” by Helena and Tau Apiryon to be useful reading.

The Gnostic Creed

I believe in one secret and ineffable LORD; and in one Star in the Company of Stars of whose fire we are created, and to which we shall return; and in one Father of Life, Mystery of Mystery, in His name CHAOS, the sole viceregent of the Sun upon the Earth; and in one Air the nourisher of all that breathes.
And I believe in one Earth, the Mother of us all, and in one Womb wherein all men are begotten, and wherein they shall rest, Mystery of Mystery, in Her name BABALON.
And I believe in the Serpent and the Lion, Mystery of Mystery, in His name BAPHOMET.
And I believe in one Gnostic and Catholic Church of Light, Life, Love and Liberty, the Word of whose Law is THELEMA.
And I believe in the communion of Saints.
And, forasmuch as meat and drink are transmuted in us daily into spiritual substance, I believe in the Miracle of the Mass.
And I confess one Baptism of Wisdom whereby we accomplish the Miracle of Incarnation.
And I confess my life one, individual, and eternal that was, and is, and is to come.
AUMGN. AUMGN. AUMGN.

Recitation of the Anthem

An anthem is generally a symbolic composition or song of celebration. In the Gnostic Mass it is based on an antiphon, which involves alternating groups of speakers or singers. Although our Anthem has been set to music, in practice it is almost always chanted.

This Anthem can be seen as an invocation of and paean to the essential Creative Principle. The chorus, chanted by the People, furthers the ode to include praise of the sacred Life imbued within the outcome of the rapturous Union of Opposites, which is symbolized in the climax of the ceremony.

The PRIEST: Thou who art I, beyond all I am, · Who hast no nature and no name, · Who art, when all but Thou are gone · Thou, centre and secret of the Sun, · Thou, hidden spring of all things known · And unknown, Thou aloof, alone, · Thou, the true fire within the reed · Brooding and breeding, source and seed · Of life, love, liberty, and light, · Thou beyond speech and beyond sight, · Thee I invoke, my faint fresh fire · Kindling as mine intents aspire · Thee I invoke, abiding one, · Thee, centre and secret of the Sun, · And that most holy mystery · Of which the vehicle am I. · Appear, most awful and most mild, · As it is lawful, to thy child!
The Chorus:
The People: For of the Father and the Son · The Holy Spirit is the norm; · Male-female, quintessential, one, · Man-being veiled in Woman-form. · Glory and worship in the highest, · Thou Dove, mankind that deifiest, · Being that race, most royally run · To spring sunshine through winter storm. · Glory and worship be to Thee, · Sap of the world-ash, wonder-tree!
First Semichorus, Men: Glory to Thee from Gilded Tomb!
Second Semichorus, Women: Glory to Thee from Waiting Womb!
Men: Glory to Thee from earth unploughed!
Women: Glory to Thee from virgin vowed!
Men: Glory to Thee, true Unity · Of the Eternal Trinity!
Women: Glory to Thee, thou sire and dam · And self of I am that I am!
Men: Glory to Thee, beyond all term, · Thy spring of sperm, thy seed and germ!
Women: Glory to Thee, eternal Sun, · Thou One in Three, Thou Three in One!
Chorus: Glory and worship unto Thee, · Sap of the world-ash, wonder-tree!

Communication (Partaking of the Eucharist)

At the culmination of the ceremony, each member of the congregation approaches the Priestess in turn to partake of the Eucharist. The minimum action includes the eating of a single Cake of Light and drinking an individually-prepared glass of wine (or water), and then crossing the arms over the chest—while facing either the Priestess or the People, your choice—and declaring aloud, “There is no part of me that is not of the gods!”

Although we encourage all attendees to participate in the full completion of the ceremony by communicating, first-time guests are welcome to decline. There are other exceptions as well, notably when the Mass includes a Baptism and/or Confirmation, where only those individuals Communicate (although all other participation actions remain).