I’ve been thinking about Thelemic churches. The founders of these churches call them Gnostic churches, but that’s a front for OTO stuff adapted for the general public, as well as an “outer organization” for anyone interested in being initiated into the OTO or possibly the A.’.A.’.. And they might outwardly proclaim that they consider themselves closer to Christianity, or “real Christians” but without Jesus, so some people believe they are a slightly different version of Universalists/Unitarians that welcome everyone.
Christians, as well as other Thelemites, consider practicing Thelemites to be pagan, or at least in the same general group as them, since they’re not Abrahamic; and adherents of Thelema (which is at its core a philosophy) can be atheist, agnostic, henotheist, Deist, polytheist, animist and more. Of course the Abrahamic religions consider them to be “satanic” no matter what they do. But Western Mystery Tradition? It’s a fancy word for esotericism and pursuit of gnosis, the roots being Hermeticism, Gnosticism and Neoplatonism. It’s a spiritual tradition, and so it remains opposed to exoteric traditions such as organized religion which are more concerned about the letter of the law (dogma) than the spirit of the law. There are no two ways about it.
How is relevant to this topic? Because Thelemites, like neopagans and Wiccans, face the issue of going mainstream in the desire for acceptance. I also read about this ban on magic arts and fortunetelling, where anyone can claim that they violate city code (whether they actually do or not). So I thought,”Fuck this political bullshit making it difficult for people to practice their craft and even make a living at it.” Note that these people (including the Roma) were not falling over themselves to get state sanction and other people sticking their noses into their business, they had to; originally, they intended to be independent, entrepreneurs. (also cf. Fortune-telling, the law, and pagans)
What I find so damning, though, is that these same aforementioned Thelemites founding churches bitch and whine about organized religions getting tax-exempt status (even as the missionaries and charities bribe people into converting so they can get help), but end up doing the exact same “corrupt” thing for the benefits and prestige (people taking them more seriously, and apparently some measure of legal protection, given enough funding). And by incorporating their church names they are effectively turning it into a business. That way they can euphemistically ask for “donations” in exchange for something (for example) which is just a weasel way of saying,”pay me, sucker!” Now it is an issue of Thelema being formed as an organized religion — and not just by members of the OTO (who everyone agrees is a mundane, fraternal order), either. Even though there is such a thing as having an Abbey of Thelema – a private building where students can retreat and help out around the house in exchange for room and board – it is somehow not as important, and I challenge that view.
So I have to laugh when I see a Gnostic church (such as LVX) getting persecuted by the pre-existing Christians and allying with other organized religious minorities out of mere convenience and under the pretense that,”The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Pardon me if I disagree with them wanting to have their cake and eat it, too: proclaiming to be a spiritual organization, while being (or at least seeming to be) financially dependent on the “goodwill” of the people at the same time. People who, I’m sorry to say, are not very spiritual. Like you didn’t know you would be considered competition for them and all the other businesses associated with the Christians? Even after you got tax-exempt status and incorporated the church name as a business? Smh. You got state approval, and then submitted your organization to societal approval and got disapproved of; now you’re upset because they didn’t act the way you wanted them to. The state cares about enforcing the status quo, not your freedom; after they grant you your licenses and whatever else, the authorities are not going to hold your hand. Minorities are on the bottom of the social pecking order, no matter how “kingly” you believe yourselves to be. There is no real equality here. It’s fake, as your hard experiences are proving, and getting a license will not make you immune to the persecution you may think instead just gets relegated to people and groups who do not have licenses.
Not to mention how silly the “they’re not real Christians, we are!” argument is, being a no true Scotsman fallacy; it’s as dumb as saying,”Real men don’t hit women!” (real men do). Why are they trying to co-opt instead of arguing their own merits? Is it so bad to admit the founders and some of the attendees are Thelemites instead of hiding behind benign-sounding words like “Gnosticism” and “Christianity” as your guise? If you are going stealth while trying to publicly argue for your position, then I wonder whether it is valid at all. You have no room to talk about the fundies sending their own going stealth as attendees into your events to infiltrate and spy, and see for themselves. They were open to the public!
Gnosticism and Christianity, while having some commonalities in their mystic forms, aren’t the same thing. Even if they are taken as mere types of approaches alone, telling your fundamentalist Christian neighbors that they aren’t acting very Christian and that they are bigots is not going to change their minds. Not when they are able to get away with things that would otherwise be considered criminal (such as vandalism) without even getting caught. You’re not going to convince them. They have connections and power in numbers; you don’t. They fight dirty, and expect you to do the same. And can you blame them in light of their goals? That is how they were able to consolidate power in the first place and become a monopoly.
Trying to make Thelema appeal to the masses will fail because we live in and are conditioned by a Christian culture. So while you can argue against the rigidity of tradition and culture, people will still find more comfort in their native culture and its imagery and rally around that. This is especially true in non-Western cultures. I argue that culture and the religion(s) springing from it are inseparable; one feeds the other. Native cultures and religions will have power for (or have power over) their adherents. For non-Christians, it’s much more difficult to coexist: even though they are not adherents of the religion, they are still expected to adhere to the cultural norms. But any manner of proselytizing should be regarded with distrust, whether done by Christians or Thelemites.
From “Cult and Culture” (William Hatcher):
“We have all heard ad nauseum of companies where “We are family here.” More often than not, that becomes euphemistic for “Your first devotion is to us.” This is not culture but rather, cult, where only those who adhere to the tribal ethic will thrive and prosper. Cult most often orbits about a patriarchal star—less matriarchal as women tend to subsume ego better [note: this part is crap; women are conditioned to subsume ego better but it’s not an inherent part of their nature] —or a military work ethic.
Organizations that revolve around cult are more susceptible to ethical breaches as blind loyalty becomes a surrogate for a charter of principles as a foundation. There is also usually a revolving door of employment as whatever might be defined as culture most resembles junior high where one is either in or not and, if not, relegated to insignificance in the company.”
If you can’t fight according to the corrupt rules of the system (“beating them at their own game,” sotospeak) the bullies are going to quash you. So how do you avoid this? Don’t get caught up in the desire for state sanction in the first place, that is, unless you are somehow able to dismantle that structure to your advantage. Otherwise it’s a case of “the man on the top supports the status quo, and the man on the bottom just wants to be the man on top,” which is true of any supporter of capitalism (individual wealth and power at the expense of others, in order to consolidate said wealth and power within elite classes). Non-profit, my ass.
These Christians, as Dion Fortune wrote, are of the cult of Brugammem and Mammon. That’s what most people associate with when they think of typical Christian churches: televangelists demanding your money, the commodification of religion, ostentatious displays of materialism, greedy wish-fulfillment. Not spirituality.
“To be or not to be, that is the question. To be an accredited, mainstream religion, with society’s approval, or to be a mystery path on the fringes of society; to be a formal religion of priesthood and laity, or a path for those who seek their religious experience outside of the mainstream.
This subject has recently been hotly debated by Pagans and occultists from all over the world. Those in support (and they are vocal), insist that Paganism must come of age; must provide ministers who can lead
society back to the Goddess, and who can serve the community as social workers, counsellors and priesthood. Those against point out that most Pagans seek the religion in the first place because it is a path of individual spiritual growth, which does not demand that its practitioners spend a large proportion of their time spoon-feeding a congregation, or acting as unpaid social workers.[…]
And this is actually why I am rather fond of these ego-centric types, for although they are a superficial parody of the genuine occult path, they do serve as a reminder that the dark is ever-present, and that if we remain true to our spiritual core, then we can never be a socially acceptable, mainstream religion. Where these ego-centrics fail of course, is it promoting the dark satanic image as the ONLY path. They do not know any better, ignorance and stupidity being their main faults, and I really cannot see the Pagan/Occult community ridding itself of them. Instant fame is too strong a drug to withstand common sense and the hard work which the genuine occult and Pagan paths demand. But those who would present Paganism and the occult as all white-light and fluffy bunnies are equally at fault. Not only is it untrue, we are leaving ourselves open to accusations of whitewashing our practices for public consumption.”
As an aside to the above issues presented above, and even those below, I have known something of what is described. When a Reguli ritual (performed by the later-to-be founder of the Gnostic Church I was talking about) was filmed, they took care to edit out all mentions of “Set.” It did not matter that the video would be uploaded to youtube in an incomplete form; whitewashing it was more important.
“How tame we have become. How polite about our witchcraft. In our desire to harm none we have become harmless.
We have bargained to get a seat at the table of the great faiths to whom we remain anathema. How much compromise have we made in our private practice for the mighty freedom of being able to wear pewter pentagrams in public, at school, in our places of employment. How much have the elders sold us out, genuflecting to the academy, the establishment, the tabloid press. In return for this bargain we have gained precisely nothing. The supposed freedoms we have been granted are empty. Late capitalist culture simply does not care what our fantasy dress up life is like as long as we work our zero hour contracts, carry our mobile phones and keep consuming. The reason that social services are not taking your children away is that nobody believes in the existence of the witch. We have mistaken social and economic change for the result of our own advocacy. Marching in lock-step with what used to be called mainstream, but is now mono-culture, we have disenchanted ourselves, handed over our teeth and claws and bristling luxuriant furs. I will not be part of this process, because to do so is to be complicit with the very forces that are destroying all life on earth. It is time for Witchcraft not to choose, but to remember which side it is on in this struggle.”