Excerpts from the address delivered by National Grand Master General Sabazius X° to the Eleventh National Conference of the U.S. O.T.O. Grand Lodge “For the Chance of Union”
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Our theme this year is “For the Chance of Union,” taken from the Book of the Law, Chapter I, verse 29, “For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union.”
The Latin word ligare means to tie, bind, or unite; and to reestablish such a bond, to reunite after separation or division, is re-ligare, from which we ultimately derive our word religion.
Now, there are two topics you customarily don’t talk about in polite company: religion and politics. I talked about politics last time, so…here we go with religion.
But before I get started, I should offer a disclaimer about how difficult it is to definitively pin Thelema down on a lot of specifics, particularly regarding such things as social science, psychology, and other sciences, for several reasons. For one thing, Crowley offered differing models of his vision for an ideal Thelemic society depending on who he was trying to convince at the time.
For another thing, a great deal has happened since Crowley’s death; including many advances in physics, biology, psychology, neurology, communications, etc etc etc.
So you’ll still see a lot of disagreement about how the principles (and prophesies) of Thelema ought to play out in the modern world. There are Thelemites who believe some things along these lines that I pretty strongly disagree with, personally, and I’m sure they just as strongly disagree with me. I don’t think that means they’re not Thelemites. So, as I speak to you, keep in mind that I cannot offer to you any definitive guide as to how you should interpret the principles of Thelema. I can, however, offer what I believe; and the principles and prophesy and poetry of Thelema have certainly been a major influence on my thinking and my esthetics.
For my purposes here, I’m going to define religion as that which comprises the various collections of customs, practices, and beliefs that deal with our human relationship with the divine–whatever that may turn out to be.
Interestingly, the question of whether Thelema is or is not a religion has always been pretty controversial among us. There could well be an argument about this going on in some Facebook group right now. Maybe even in one of the back tables there.
But the question of whether Thelema is or is not a religion was pretty thoroughly put to bed by Brother Bill Heidrick in his “From the Outbasket” column in the November 1992 e.v. issue of the Thelema Lodge Calendar. Short answer: yes, it is.
What I personally find interesting about this, though, is why this question has been so controversial over the years, and why so many Thelemites find the idea that they are participating in a religion to be offensive.
Well, centuries of aiding and abetting–if not instigating–war, genocide, and brutality against women, children, and dissident minorities may have something to do with it.
And, for some of you, it may be even more personal. A lot of people have had childhood experiences with religion that have left them traumatized and bitter. Some–though not all–of the particular exoteric religious organizations that we have had to deal with while growing up were both authoritarian and corrupt; and they attempted to instil in us toxic, manipulative beliefs about ourselves, and each other, in order to mould us into passive creatures that can be easily controlled.
Just consider, for example, the belief that women are naturally inferior to men and must submit to their authority. Or the one that the only permissible justification for having sex is to produce more
sla hard-working citizens–and it must, therefore be smothered in prohibitions, guilt and shame.
And then there’s the whole idea of original sin–the notion that disobedience to Authority is such a terrible thing that the consequence for it is a curse that can be passed down to every subsequent generation for all time, condemning all human beings to an eternity of post-mortem torture unless they come groveling for forgiveness–to the right religious authorities. And then, when they do give up their own “willfulness” and submit to Authority, they are given a metaphysical rain check!
Religion has notoriously been employed since the time of the Roman Empire, and even before, as a tool to shore up and reinforce existing power structures which would be unable to stand on their own merits–to preserve and magnify the power and wealth of privileged, hypocritical, corrupt elites at the expense of basically everyone else; by exploiting our natural insecurities about life and death. The putative afterlife we are promised is configured to both frighten us into conformity, and console us with vague promises of a remote reward for our putting up with what would otherwise be intolerable circumstances.
As one famous, but failed, anti-corruption activist succinctly put it in 1844: “Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes.” In essence, religion provides false consolation in the face of real injustice.
But is this the fault of religion, per se? The fault of–our attempts to understand and deal with the human/divine relationship? Or is it the fault of the corrupt power structures that have abused and twisted religion for their own purposes?
There have been numerous attempts throughout history to free religion from them– to shake the unchecked power of these superstitious, authoritarian institutions; but most such attempts, including the Reformation and Communism, have simply substituted their own, new brands of superstition and oppression for the old–rattling and temporarily loosening the shackles on the human spirit; but ultimately leaving them locked firmly in place. In modern times, here in America especially, the implements of religion, sharpened over the ages, have been stolen from the sacred toolsheds of the old corrupt institutions by enterprising, equally corrupt individuals, who combine them with the scientific techniques of the salesman, the psychologist, and the stage magician to turn basic human insecurities about death, success, and money into vast personal fortunes.
But there is a different way to challenge the power of the ossified, oppressive structures of the old times–because religious beliefs themselves are a two-edged sword. The other edge of the sword is esotericism–including occultism, mysticism, and magick–from which our religion of Thelema derives. This is where religion recognizes that its core consists of the ecstatic religious experience–the experience of divine union–which ultimately must be sought out and achieved by the individual–with or without help from others.
We of Thelema desire to seize the tools of religion and employ them to liberate, awaken and challenge the human spirit by appealing to its nobility, its curiosity, its desire to understand itself, its sense of adventure, as well as its sense of humor. We want you to pursue and experience religious ecstasy. We are, therefore, committed to a spiritual struggle against those entrenched ideas and beliefs that have been spread to enslave, oppress, exploit, and divide the human spirit–against those characteristic aspects of religion that make the very word religion repulsive to many.
But while it can be said that we are at war with toxic beliefs, we have no enmity towards people who hold those beliefs–if they mind their own business. There will always be those who prefer to remain comfortably enslaved and consoled. It is not within our purview to convert them or to take further advantage of them. We do not wish to see them oppressed or treated cruelly or unfairly. They can keep their opium and go about their dull business, as long as they don’t impose their banality and passive cruelty on us and our friends. The flock of sheep may safely graze, as our flock of birds flies overhead.
Do not clip the wings of those who desire to fly, and we will not disturb your troubled dreaming.
Every religion–every identifiable group and class and race and culture of people– contains bright sparks of those who cherish self-discovery, who value human rights, who recognize and perhaps embody creative genius, and who long for the liberty of the human spirit. We may rightly consider these our friends–in some cases even brothers, or perhaps, more appropriately, cousins. But, considering this, there is ultimately no group or class of people that can be identified with a label that deserves to be coerced or oppressed–other than that class of people that seeks to oppress.
As I mentioned before, religion, at its core, comprises the various collections of customs, rituals, practices, stories and beliefs that deal with our human relationship with the divine, centered around the ecstatic religious experience–the experience of divine union made possible by division: which some call Gnosis. True religion is this personal experience, and the community and culture that naturally develops around it.
And this brings us back to our theme: “For the Chance of Union.” The NOTOCON webpage states, “This theme reflects the desire of individual magicians to work with others within the O.T.O.”
I believe that O.T.O. constitutes such an intentional community of religious culture. But one of the fundamental ideas that we as a community hold especially sacred is the idea that the religious experience is ultimately an individual one, and thus we place a high value on individual will and individual rights. Despite our cohesion and common characteristics as a group, we insist on maintaining a recognition of each individual as having their own agency, their own autonomy, their own rights of expression and creation, and their own right to be themselves and live according to their uniqueness, rather than conforming to an arbitrary standard imposed on them. Paradoxically, one such arbitrary standard is that of the independent individual who stands apart and is responsible only for and to himself. Even though we recognize the absolute rights of the individual, we, as members of a sodality, still pledge each other our appropriate aid, honest discourse, and reasonable cooperation. We believe in the rights of the individual, but we also believe in the value of community.
For one thing, humans are, by and large, naturally gregarious. We evolved under environmental pressures which gave survival advantages to those who lived in groups. There’s an added degree of safety, and strength, in numbers. Obviously, some things are nearly impossible to do by independent, unaided individuals. Moving a piano, for example. But it isn’t enough to have raw numbers–the numbers have to act together in a coordinated manner. It is much easier to fight 1,000 independent individuals than it is to fight a coordinated batallion of 1,000 disciplined soldiers. So, if you happen to be an entrenched power structure of the sort I mentioned before, trying to maintain control in the face of rising awareness of the fragility of your claims, there are several pernicious ideas that you could inject into society as effective psychological weapons to diffuse the cohesiveness of hostile forces and break down their ability to successfully coordinate their activities. These include the idealized vision of the Rugged, Independent, Self- Sufficient Individual as an model to be emulated by all; and the idea that certain easily- identifiable groups are biologically or morally superior to others. Divide and conquer.
Furthermore, there is something to be said for a kind of synergistic, spiritual enthusiasm that comes from working within a religious community. For a species that has evolved with a gregarious nature, what really constitutes the spirit of an individual? How did you become the unique individual that you are now? Even if we accept the doctrine of reincarnation, we cannot deny that our individual identity has been shaped by our heredity and genetics; our gender and sexuality; our appearance, our health issues; our family’s ethnicity, nationality, language, and class status; our upbringing; our family’s traditions, stories, assumptions, expectations, and rules; our wealth or poverty; our childhood nurturing or the lack thereof; our relationships, good and bad; our education; our friends and mentors and enemies; our allies and our oppressors. All these things and more contribute to the conditioning and development of our mature individual personas, and will influence how we choose to pursue religious experience, as well as how we choose our friends and fellow-travelers.
But, ultimately, all these things that make us unique are things that take us farther from the Unconditioned Essence of Self that we were before we incarnated in these bodies. Even if we accept the doctrine of reincarnation, all the lives that we experienced before simply added more experience and knowledge and conditioning and limitation and restriction to that Nameless Essence–to the You that is beyond all you are. You have become a living, sentient work of art, beautiful and joyful and tragic in your uniqueness, sculpted with Love by Life from formless Chaos. One way to look at the religious experience, the experience of union with the divine, is to see it as a conscious, inspired journey of return to the understanding of–and reunion with–this primordial Self; the Center and Secret of the Sun, the Most Holy Mystery of which you are the vehicle. Look around you and see, in their glorious diversity, the other vehicles of that identical Mystery–which is beyond death and life. And security.