NOTOCON III: 11 Aug 2001 e.v. -- Long Beach, California.
A number of members have written to me asking for clarification about the nature and direction of our Order – something that would help them focus their efforts on helping the Order go where it is headed. I don't think this is the time or place to go into technical details; but I would like to discuss a couple of very general principles. In order to understand where we need to be going, we need to understand our fundamental purpose as an organization. If we understand our fundamental purpose, i.e., what we actually do as an organization, we can then place our various functions, goals, and objectives in proper perspective – as factors that develop, enhance, improve, and promote, that which we do.
So – what is our fundamental purpose as an organization? Is it to extend the influence of the Law of Thelema? To teach Magick? To transform society? To develop Thelemic culture and community? To recruit more members and raise lots of money? To own property and buildings? To throw great parties? Some of these are legitimate enough goals, or functions; but I think the term “fundamental purpose” must entail something much more basic, and something toward which all our various goals, functions and objectives are ultimately pointed – more or less. I submit that, boiled down, the fundamental purpose of OTO is to collectively approach, encounter, and magnify the Divine, especially via two specific paths; paths which are very much intertwined.
Our first path to the Divine is through our shared Fraternal bonds, which is to say, through the yoga of our interpersonal relations as initiated Brothers and Sisters, as we discussed in detail two years ago. We learn to see the Divine in each other, and we see it grow within our collective spirit as we work and learn together. Our second path to the Divine is through the sacred rituals that we work together. We walk this path individually as initiatory candidates, and collectively in the Gnostic Mass and as initiatory participants. We are a Religious Order, and the principal expression of our nature as such is Sacred Drama.
As one of our Sisters said recently, there is nothing trivial about Sacred Drama. Sacred Drama is not mere entertainment. “Sacred drama,” she said, “is an ancient technology for imparting allegory in a bounded setting, where participants may, through their willing suspension of disbelief and openness to the numinous, encounter the Divine.”
Almost all of our policies and organizational structure deals either with various aspects of Fraternity, or with performing, facilitating, preserving, advancing, and broadening our understanding of, our own sacred rituals, our Mysteries. This is the legitimate function of the group, as a group – it is really up to us as individuals to actually integrate this shared glimpse of the Divine into our own lives. The group can provide the set and setting for Gnosis to manifest; but it cannot impart or confer that Gnosis. Each individual must make herself open to it, and then accept it when it is encountered. There is no certain test of success in this. An OTO degree is not a seal of attainment, it is an opportunity for attainment.
As our Sister noted, the approach to the Divine through Sacred Drama involves a willing suspension of disbelief. Sometimes, we need to drop our armoring notions about reality in order to allow experiential Truth to enter into our consciousness. It is well known among mystics, past and present, that openness and receptivity to the Divine requires a certain transcendence of reason. The Divine is the source of reason, and thus beyond its analytical grasp. This is why religion makes such extensive use of symbols. A true symbol – a sacred symbol – can never be fully resolved by reason, it cannot be pinned down, or measured, or have its one “true meaning” exposed. A true symbol is not a cipher, – it is not simply a cryptic representation of some other thing. A true symbol has its own real, complex existence. Its implications and suggestions are numerous – and even potentially contradictory – and it thus forges cognitive links between other things, other symbols and other ideas, bridging gaps that reason could never span on its own. So it is also with our sacred rituals, which can be seen as complex meta-symbols operating in time and space – with individual sacred symbols interacting with each other, transforming themselves through symbolic processes, and even creating new sacred symbols.
Now, even as reason can be a useless hindrance before the face of the Divine, it remains an essential and indispensable tool before the face of Nature. Look at the Tree of Life: The Ruach cannot pass upwards through the Veil of the Abyss; but below that Veil, the Ruach shines its light on all; and the Tree cannot stand without it. Reason – Science – cannot and must not enter the holy of holies, the Sanctuary of the Divine, where only Religion may go. But in the World of Nature, which is the Manifestation of the Divine, Religion must give Science its due. Religion can sing about things that tie the tongue of Science; but when Science stands to speak, true Religion does well to listen, because the method of Science can greatly further the aim of Religion.
If, for example, a passage of sacred scripture speaks of things that we know, in a way that appears to contradict what we have found out about such things by experience and repeated experiment, then perhaps we would do well to re-evaluate the way we interpret that passage. If we hold to interpretations of holy writings that contradict what has been revealed to us by the disciplines of physics, astronomy, biology, genetics, and even history, then our religion becomes superstition, it becomes the enemy of Truth, and it thus loses its ability to refresh itself at the Well of the Divine, which is the source of Truth.
Now, scientific knowledge is never absolute, and is constantly changing – the institution of Science is constantly trying to progress and to outdo itself – it is always reaching into the future. By contrast, religious tradition tries to remain constant, in order to provide us with a stable moral center, a way to maintain focus in our lives, and a way to promote harmonious group action – and in so doing, it seeks to anchor itself more deeply in our minds by extending itself more deeply into the past. We who honor both Science and Religious tradition must find a way to reconcile these seemingly opposing forces. When a religious tradition, extending into the past, contradicts what has lately been discovered in the realm of Science, we can still respect and honor that tradition as we would an ancient book, or a beloved grandparent; but – in the same way, we can also respectfully disagree with it, and apply ourselves to the slow and cooperative process of building new traditions upon the foundations of the old traditions, as our own legacy for future generations.
As we seek within our Order to strike a balance between Religion and Science, between the New and the Old, we must also seek to strike a balance between our identities as individuals and our identification with the group. Our organization has failed itself if it thwarts the will of its individual members; but it has also failed itself if it does not bring them together in harmonious activity.
Some wag once said that our Order can be characterized by the phrase: “Think for yourself and repeat after me.” I think this phrase rather aptly summarizes the paradox of group effort, especially within Thelema. We must be true to ourselves, to our unique wills; to our personal judgment and our other individual gifts and faculties – and – we must also be willing make those little sacrifices and compromises that enable us to work together harmoniously, and synergistically, toward fulfillment of our common goals. If it is our will to participate in this group endeavor, then it must also be our will to make these small compromises, because there simply is no group endeavor without them. If it is your will to be a part of this group effort, then thy will be done! –And if your will is being done, does it really matter whether the gang will think of you as a “conformist”?
Consider the allegory of the tapestry from Liber 194: ”…thus we gather up all the threads of human passion and interest, and weave them into an harmonious tapestry, subtly and diligently with great art, that our Order may seem an ornament even to the Stars that are in the Heavens at Night. In our rainbow-coloured texture we set forth the glory of the whole Universe–See thou to it, brother Magician, that thine own thread be strong, and pure, and of a colour brilliant in itself, yet ready to mingle in all beauty with those of thy brethren!“
As the book says, we need to gather up our threads into a harmonious tapestry – but we also need to keep our own, individual threads strong, I say even to make them stronger. To my amazement – and chagrin – I still occasionally hear of inquiries from junior members, who ask whether they really have to do what some local member of marginally higher degree has commanded them to do. I'd like to ask you all to help stamp out this idea, that OTO degrees convey any kind of authority over other members of lower degrees. Remember that an initiation in OTO is not a seal of attainment, but an opportunity for attainment. In our system, authority is social and organizational in nature, it is conveyed by office, not by rank, and even that authority is limited and very specific to the particular office held. I'd like to ask all of you who hold positions of such authority to renew your commitment to guard yourselves against abusing that authority in any way, and against taking improper advantage of the social standing that inevitably stems from your position of authority.
Now, some of us hold administrative offices with relatively broad authority to formulate policy, others hold managerial offices with more circumscribed authority intended to implement policy; and some hold offices whose duties are “largely ceremonial.” Our duties as officers may include such functions as ensuring that our sacred rituals are performed safely, faithfully, rightly, and reverently; they may include preserving the pax templi; or resolving disputes and offering good counsel; they may include defending the freedom, rights, property, and good name of our Order and of our Brothers and Sisters; but one thing they do not include is dictating what you – or anyone – should think. In fact, it is our duty to ensure that individuals maintain the right and ability to think for themselves.
I'm not saying that we officers don't have opinions – you all know better than that – nor am I saying that you shouldn't listen to our opinions – in many cases, they are very well-considered, insightful, initiated, and maybe even inspired opinions. We hope you will listen to them, but we also hope that you will use your own powers of reason, and honor your own insights, as you come to your own understanding of our Mysteries and of the Mysteries of Nature. Because, regardless of what titles we may or may not hold, regardless of our degree of initiation, and regardless of our seniority or lack thereof – we are all still learning.
Another balancing point within our system is that between the local body and Grand Lodge. Grand Lodge consists of several governing and administrative bodies, including the Electoral College, which governs the Lodges, Oases, and Camps, the supreme Grand Council, which governs the Chapters of Rose+Croix, and Temples of Kadosch, the Grand Tribunal, which handles disputes and complaints, and the Executive, which functions as the corporate board of directors and the primary source of national policy. The principal function of Grand Lodge is to develop, support, and oversee its local bodies.
The local bodies, in turn, are where most of the real action of the Order takes place. Grand Lodge may be the central nervous system of our fraternal organism, but the local bodies are its flesh and blood. Members need to look primarily to the local bodies for the services that the Order provides to individuals, such as initiations, Gnostic Masses and other E.G.C. rituals, seasonal rituals, Rites of Eleusis and other dramatic rituals; classes in Magick, Yoga, Qabalah, and comparative religion; access to reference materials, social events, and even pastoral counseling from properly-trained clergy. Grand Lodge expects all local bodies to work toward qualifying themselves to provide all these services, and more.
The basic local body in the Man of Earth Triad is the Lodge. It is the only Man of Earth body mentioned in any of our formational documents. Camps and Oases are best viewed as proto-Lodges in different stages of development – a Camp is at the beginning stage, an Oasis is at an intermediate stage. In the past, Lodges have been identified with, and essentially owned, by specific individuals. The new Lodge will be different. The new Lodge will be a fully-formed local organization, with legal standing to rent facilities, or to purchase insurance, or to enter into any other legal agreement as necessary; with officers, a treasury, and a chain of succession to prevent its collapse in the event that the Master's chair suddenly falls vacant.
Local bodies must offer their services in a way that will safeguard and promote our spirit of Fraternity, that will attract new Stars to our little Galaxy, and that will truly magnify that which we adore. Our rituals should always be performed rightly, with as much joy and beauty as is possible, and with more each time. Candidates who come to initiation, and those who come to Gnostic Mass for the first time, should be awestruck by that joy and beauty, and power – it should sweep them into the presence of the Divine. All Brothers and Sisters – you – should actualize the living spirit of fraternity by contributing to, and participating in, these noble efforts to the greatest extent you can – by constantly helping your local body to exceed its past limitations. The more you put into your local body, the more it will give back to you, and the more we will all be able to give to the world.
So help your local body to grow, but not just in numbers, help it to grow in quality. If you have sponsored a candidate for initiation, take an interest in that person's progress. Encourage them to work to understand the initiation they have just undergone. Help them practice their signs, grips and words. Make sure they receive their study guides, and help them gain access to the materials they need. Help them remember their oaths, and support them when they face their inevitable ordeals. Encourage them to participate in local activities, find and suggest ways for them to apply their talents and abilities toward contributing to the collective effort of the local body. Infect them with your own enthusiasm.
Finally, be an example to those you sponsor, and to all your Brothers and Sisters. Realize in your self what our Order has offered to teach you. Be a model of self-actualization and self-control. Do not try to escape your oaths by forgetfulness, or sophistry, or hair-splitting – but seize them with joy and courage, as you would a shining sword, take them and cut down your own weaknesses and false limitations. Love and Honor your Brothers and Sisters, and what we have built together, and what we will build together. Open yourself up to the Divine that we seek, and let it shine forth from within you, for Thou art That.