Excerpts from The Woman Magician: Star Ruby and Gnostic Mass

This is a book by Brandy Williams and after she describes these rituals she adds in comments based on her personal experience. It echoes many of my same concerns and the themes I explore on this site. It has been highly recommended by feminist magickians and witches. To those women, thank you.

The Star Ruby:

“It is vastly comforting to me to conduct a ritual that invokes the divine in feminine and masculine forms. That these divine forms reimagine Christian forms, and derive from Crowley’s encounter with Egyptian religion, is also comfortable to me. Nuit as loving star goddess is a powerful and moving image of the universe as female, an image picked up by later neo-Pagan religion as the Star Goddess.

Babalon is a modern aspect of a line of goddesses for whom I have long been priestess, a line that includes Innana, Ishtar, Aphrodite, Hathor, Qadesh, Asherah, and a number of Semitic desert goddesses, all of whom were worshipped in the Mediterranean region over a span of several thousand years. This line has in common a sense of sacredness and joy in women’s sexuality and the connection fo sexuality with power. This was the specific line of female sacredness that the author of the Book of Revelations demonized and that was repressed in Europe in the post-Pagan era. In the modern period, Babalon roared back, and Crowley was her priest promoted her power and the power of women’s sexuality. This was not only shocking and radical in his time, during the late Victorian-Edward era, but remains shocking and radical today, where women’s sexuality continues to be repressed rather than celebrated.(You may have seen a naked woman on an altar, but you probably haven’t seen a naked woman on an altar on prime time TV especially as an object of sincere worship.)

In the Star Ruby, four deity forms are invoked at the four quarters, two male and two female. This brings a balance to the gendered universe. It is also polytheistic, recognizing that the divine has multiple forms, which as a Pagan I also find comfortable.

In addition to these deity forms, two other deities are invoked, Iao and Pan. Both are ways of describing all divine things rolled up into one, and both are masculine names. Thelemic religion at times calls on this same ultime-divine-force as Lord or God. This of course is tremendously disappointing. Although Thelema explicitly differentiates itself as a religion from the monotheistic religions with the veneration of female deity and with polytheism, in the places where religious texts call on Lord and God it seems to me to echo the monotheistic image of the universe as fundamentally masculine.

It also shares the Western philosophical image of the person as fundamentally masculine. I am very appreciative that Crowley and prominent contemporary Thelemic theologians include women among the holders of the universal power. This is an innovation in Western philosophy, as we shall see. However, calling the phallus the immortal principle and equating this immortal principle with the renewing principle of life is a male-centric point of view. We shall explore the metaphysical phallus at length with a review of Freudian-Lacanian philosophy.

In the end, I am as uncomfortable performing this ritual as I am performing the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram. The Star Ruby does not seem to sacralize my experience as a woman, and it does seem to affirm gender assumptions which I challenge. I don’t have a problem valorizing my phallus (and I must note I never say “my phallus” in any other context than this ritual) for the purposes of doing the ritual, but this ritual does not accurately map the root experience of my body. As a woman, I am still not at home in this ritual.

Thelemic religion does have a religion in which my gender is explicitly valorized. That ritual is the Gnostic Mass.”

The Phallus in Western Traditional Magic:

“The Freudian-Lacanian phallus also describes the phallus in Western Traditional Magic. The phallus is the logos, the ability to reason and to speak, as well as the life-giving power of the universe. We see this play out in the Thelemic ritual of the Star Ruby, which valorizes the “phalle” as the “immortal principle.”

Let us consider the assertions that a woman’s clitoris is her version of the phallus [Note: The clitoris is in fact the only organ devoted to sexual pleasure and we all begin as female in the womb before sex differentiation], and that she therefore possesses a phallus. This assertion permits women to perform the Star Ruby, and to possess the Lacanian signifier, albeit in a temporary and limited fashion. That said, we don’t speak of women having phalluses in any other context than in the magical or philosophical valorization of the phallus. In English, the word “phallus” has several definitions. It is first, a penis, and next, a description of tissue at a pre-gender-differentiated state of fetal development.

For thousands of years, the penis has signified the male sex in Western culture. Eva C. Keuls surveyed phallic imagery on Greek vases in The Reign of the Phallus, Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens. The glorification of male genitalia occurred in the context of the glorification of men’s power and in particular men’s power over women. Keuls pointed out the juxtaposition of the clothed woman with the naked man. Maenads were depicted carrying long cone-tipped staffs, thyrsoi, which carried phallic resonances (Keuls 1985). Greek women in a Dionysian ritual, the phallophoria, paraded with carved wooden phalluses, both to possess and invoke the god, and to claim some of the political power of men (Williams 1998).

Roman culture specifically valorized the phallus as the emitter of semen, which is the male procreative power. In Gender and Genius, Christine Battersby traced the career of the logos spermatikos, the self-creating power of the male god, from Stoic philosophy into Christian dogma and then into Jungian psychology. The phallus-as-penis was the visible sign that a Roman man possessed his own Genius, a reflection of the Genius of Jove which created the universe through Jove’s emission of sperm.[…]

When I create rituals, I do not describe my urogenital complex as a phallus. The Greek word for vulva is kteis, and some Thelemic women have experimented with using this word instead of phalle, although some Thelemic thinkers point out that the kteis does not describe the clitoris or phallic tissue in women. If I were writing in Greek I would use the word yennetikos. When I write in English I say genitals.

So when I perform the Star Ruby, point to my genitals, and say “O phalle,” what am I valorizing? If I take the stance that I am valorizing (one source of) sexual pleasure, then the clitoris is the phallus. If I am valorizing the power of the regeneration of life, I would protest that this phallus does not describe (or substitute for) womb.

For the purposes of this discussion, it doesn’t matter what power is being valorized by this ritual. The point is that I have had to consider what “phalle” means at some length, here, and in my own practice. A man doesn’t have to think about it at all — he can just point to his genitals, say “O phalle,” and go on with the ritual. The male phallus is source of sexual pleasure and organ of generation at the same time. The female phallus is not, and labeling female procreation as “phallic” minimalizes, masculinizes, female embodiment.

Similarly, when Lacan discusses the phallus as the signifier of speech and reason, women fight through the discussion about whether the clitoris qualifies as a phallus. Freud was clear on the subject: women don’t have penises and envy those who do.

The assertion that a woman’s clitoris is her phallus does not act to valorize female embodiment, but instead to keep the focus on the male member. The point of all this focus on the phallus is precisely to define a man as a man, to define a woman as not a man, and to define a man as possessing the full and complete phallus which entitles him to speech, agency, and sexual potency.”

The Gnostic Mass:

“I love this ritual and perform it as often as I can. It’s an astonishing accomplishment on so many levels. First, this ritual was written nearly a hundred years ago and is still being performed today. Since it is preserved by a church that takes its magic very seriously, it is performed using pretty much the same script Crowley wrote, and (with some regional variations in bits of business) is performed pretty much the same way around the world. On any given day, someone somewhere is likely to be performing the Mass.[…]

In this ritual, a woman (naked if she so chooses) sits on the altar and is the focus of adoration. It seems to me that the physical priestess is the visible manifestation of the female power of reproduction, and the Mass valorizes the tender power of sexuality to create the magic of life.

This extraordinary ritual is a very early example of the veneration of the divine feminine which developed in the modern era. It is the first moment that a priestess appears in the context of a church. In E.G.C., the priestess holds exactly the same power as a priest — she can conduct baptisms and confirmations, marriages and funerals, and she can ordain deacons with the dispensation of a bishop. As bishops, women also hold the same power as the men, to ordain priests and priestesses. This church quietly and without fuss levels the playing field for women in a way that monotheistic religions still struggle to attain. While there are women rabbits, priests, and bishops, and even a few imams, there are branches of Jewish and Christian religion that refuse women the right to administer sacraments, and the few women imams practice secretly. Women who move into positions of authority in the monotheistic religions routinely receive death threats. In E.G.C., these positions are normative.

This ritual includes gendered parts, with a male priest and a female priestess. This gendering acknowledges the lived experience of the body, although, as is common, this comes with a cost. The gendering of elements here allots to women the earth-water-passive-body-intuition side of creation. Men occupy the air-fire-active-intellect-passion side of creation. That may sound as if it is balanced, with male and female occupying separate but equal spheres, but Western metaphysics nearly always weights one side of a polarity with greater value than the other, justifying the dominance of that side over the subordinate other. In the male/female, white/black, rich/poor, healthy/disabled, young/old polarities, Western culture favors the male, white, rich,  healthy, and young. Western occult metaphysics subordinates emotion to reason, receptivity to action, body to mind, and female to male.

We can trace the subtle variation of the male again in the deities of the systems. Nuit and Hadit form a triad with the child Ra-Hoor-Khuit. The father-mother-son triad is commonplace in Egyptian mythology, and Thelemic theology is unexceptional in this. In this system, the woman can embody the priestess, speak as Nuit, and represent Babalon, the mother-lover goddesses, the queen and bride. But the child of Nuit and Hadit is a male child, Ra-Hoor-Khuit, and Babalon is not equivalent to that child.

This is the first ritual in the modern era which a woman could perform as a woman. It is a great joy to participate in religious ritual as a woman. It is majestic and moving. It is not, however, a woman magician’s ritual. For most of the ritual, the priest is the active, directing principle. The Mass team acts in service to the congregation, and the entire congregation benefits from the ritual — women as well as men take communion with no gendered distinction. However, while the priest takes communion, the priestess, deacon, and children do not. The priestess does not stand at the center of the work or direct the work. The priest says,”The father becomes the son through the holy spirit.” The priestess does not say,”The mother becomes the daughter through the holy spirit.” The priestess is not the magician, she is the soror mysticae, the magician’s mystical sister.

This ritual is the first we have studied that sacralizes my experience as a woman. However, it does not yet valorize the woman as a magician. It also still understands the sacred universe through a dominantly male lens. The religion that came after it, Witchcraft, finally moves beyond God into natively Pagan theology.”

Additionally, she writes,

“Whatever the image of deity in these systems, the image of the magician remains male. Women can perform the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, imagining ourselves as sacred men standing in a sacred male universe. In the Thelemic version, the Star Ruby, we can also pretend we are sacred men standing in a sacred male universe. […]

One interpretation of the Gnostic Mass holds that the priest is the magician, while the priestess, deacon, and children represent facets of the priest. As priestesses in the Gnostic Mass, we can embody the lover and mother and assist the male magician in his quest for wholeness. The Gnostic Mass makes explicit what is implied in the Star Ruby — the fundamental person is male and incorporates aspects of the divine feminine to make himself whole.”


About Cammy

Self-employed freelance writer
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One Response to Excerpts from The Woman Magician: Star Ruby and Gnostic Mass

  1. Hi! Glad you liked the book. Have you seen “Feminist Thelema” in Beauty and Strength? http://www.amazon.com/Beauty-Strength-Proceedings-Biennial-Conference/dp/143924734X

    I’m co-keynote at Babalon Rising this year and I’ve submitted a preso for the OTO Women’s Conference “Ladies of Force and Fire”. Will you be going to one of those events? Would love to meet you in person.

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