Top 5 Mistakes of Newcomers about OTO

Top 5 Mistakes Newcomers make about OTO

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

What are some of the most common mistakes and misconceptions that newcomers have about OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis)?

1) Thinking that OTO is an occult society that teaches occultism.

SOLUTION: Realize that it’s not. OTO is a fraternal order that teaches how to live in accordance with the Law of Thelema, with a strong ecclesiastical arm to administer sacraments in accordance with the New Aeon’s Law of Liberty. We are here to establish the Law of Thelema in the world, and to spread its message, not to yell mispronounced Hebrew at the walls.

2) Expecting that all OTO members are High Adepts that conform with your distorted notion of ‘how an Adept should act’.

SOLUTION: Realize that OTO is made up of human beings who are living, thriving, shitting, fucking, and making mistakes like the rest of us. We are just doing it together, to try to build something. Care to help serve?

3) Thinking that taking an OTO degree somehow makes you a better person than someone of a lower degree or someone not in OTO.

SOLUTION: Realize that the Work is your own and the initiations are guidance, and that your smarminess actually, if anything, makes you a worse person. If you actually learned the lessons you wouldn’t be wasting your time comparing your dick length to others and you’d be trying to go and do your Will.

4) Expecting that joining the OTO means you get free access to sex orgies, or free access to touch anyone without their consent.

SOLUTION: Grow up and be an adult, and realize that both Thelema and general adult human society agrees that you need consent before engaging in such things.

5) Expecting OTO to hand you all the Real Secrets™ on a platter so you can do absolutely no work.

SOLUTION: Realize that you get out of OTO what you put into it, and that the real Karma Yoga of OTO is service to the Order.

Love is the law, love under will.

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The Officers of the Gnostic Mass – pt.1: Introduction & the Priest

Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica - The Gnostic Mass

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions related herein are strictly my own. They do not represent any kind of official stance of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, Ordo Templi Orientis, or anyone else. 


The Gnostic Mass is an incredibly deep, complex, multi-layered ceremony. It seems to be an inexhaustible source of meaning and illumination. This is because the Mass itself represents the Mysteries. These are not the secrets that are known by some and guarded from others, but the “Mystery of Mystery” Itself. It represents in dramatic form that which is “secret and ineffable,” “beyond speech and beyond sight,” and “beyond all term.” It celebrates “that most holy mystery.”

As The Master Therion says, “Since truth is supra-rational, it is incommunicable in the language of reason” (Postcards to Probationers), and “all real secrets are incommunicable” (Magick in Theory & Practice). The Gnostic Mass therefore “refers to a knowledge incommunicable—save by experience” (Temple of Solomon the King). This knowledge attained through experience is what is meant by gnosis, the direct experiential “knowledge” that is not (and can’t be) communicated with words – it can only be hinted at through symbol and allegory, like fingers pointing to the moon. And this is one reason our Church is the Gnostic Catholic Church. As the Master Therion says, “ye shall comprehend, when, rising above Reason, which is but a manipulation of the Mind, ye come to pure Knowledge by direct perception of the Truth” (De Lege Libellum).

One issue I see in some individuals’ writings and understanding of the Gnostic Mass is that they often get quickly “locked in” to a certain symbolic interpretation being “right.” For example, the most common I see is the understanding that the Creed or the Officers represent the formula of Tetragrammaton (YHVH) and nothing else. Since the nature of the Mysteries is that they are, by definition, not exhaustible or completely explainable through language, there is therefore a theoretically infinite amount about them that one can say or write. Because of this, what is expressed below is most certainly not exhaustive in its explanation of anything in the Gnostic Mass. What follows is neither official nor “Absolutely True,” but it is intended to offer different perspectives in the hopes of widening and deepening one’s understanding and appreciation of the Gnostic Mass.


There are technically 4 “roles” filled by 5 individuals in the Gnostic Mass: (1) The PRIEST, (2) The PRIESTESS, (3) The DEACON, and (4) The two CHILDREN. I am going to go through each one and briefly discuss different ways of understanding the Officers symbolically. This will not be an incredibly in-depth analysis because the intent is to make these different perspectives known in order to broaden and deepen one’s understanding, not to make an academic-intellectual case for one or the other. It is also intended to leave room open for one’s own scholarship, fantasy, and experience.

Before beginning, it is important to remember what is said in the 5th Aethyr, “there could be nothing true except by virtue of the contradiction that is contained in itself.” That is to say: Each symbol is not “X to the exclusion of not-X.” Something may very well symbolize something and its exact opposite. One example is the symbolism of “darkness” and “night”: It can symbolize the darkness of the uninitiate’s ignorance or it can symbolize the highest attainment of NOX, the dissolution of All into None. Remembering this, no explanation of symbolism can ever be “logically consistent” because logic insists on something being either X or not-X; symbolism works with something beyond logic – something “supra-rational” – where meanings combine, oppose, intertwine, and interrelate in many different ways.


1) John Everyman: A Man Among Men

The Priest, in many senses, represents every individual. In particular, the Priest is a representation or archetypal expression of each of the Congregants. This is reflected in the Priest’s words when he exits the Tomb: “I am a man among men.” It even says in the rubric of the Gnostic Mass that “The PRIESTESS and other officers never partake of the Sacrament, they being as it were part of the PRIEST himself” (emphasis added). He is the natural protagonist of the Gnostic Mass, although I very much agree with several people who mention that the Priest, Priestess, and Deacon are each the protagonist from their own point-of-view. Nonetheless, the Priest is the one who undergoes “the Hero’s Journey” in the mythopoetic drama of the Gnostic Mass, and individuals often naturally will identify with him. This relates to the next symbol:

2) The Conscious Self: The Subject

The Priest is the natural “protagonist” and symbol with which people identify most readily because he symbolizes the conscious self. One could say the Priest represents the “ego,” but he is deeper than that: He is the Self that expresses itself through the ego on a “lower level”. The Priest is the individuality of each individual. For comparison, one could say the Priest is the Self and the Deacon represents the ego with all of its mental-rational capabilities (memory, volition, imagination, desire, reason) that assists the Self. Qabalistically, one can think of the Priest as Tiphareth, the Sun, and the Deacon as representing the Sephiroth surrounding and aiding it. Again, since the Priest represents the conscious self, he naturally represents the Subject of awareness and represents each individual’s Subject-hood. In relation to this, the Priestess represents the Object. In terms of the language of Yoga, the Subject of awareness unites with the Object of awareness in samadhi, or non-dual awareness.

3) The Yod of Tetragrammaton: The Father of Life

In the symbolism of Tetragrammaton, the Priest can represent the “Yod” (YHVH). This Yod relates to the Father, the King, the Element of Fire, and the magical weapon of the Wand. The Priest is called “Lord” and calls himself “Priest and King,” identifying himself with the “Kingly” element of Yod. The Priest bears the Sacred Lance, which is a form of the Wand, a phallic instrument of force and power (but it is not the exact same thing as the Wand, as will be mentioned later). The Lance (Yod) combines with the Chalice (Heh), further emphasizing this connection. Further, he is clothed in scarlet, a shade of red which is attributable to Fire and therefore to Yod. Further: On his second step toward the Veil, the Priest identifies with Hadit, the heart of every man and the core of every star, which is the ultimate Paternal idea beyond even notions of gender. In the Creed, the “Father of Life” is called CHAOS, who is identifiable with “Therion” (The Great Beast 666), which are all Father-Force symbols attributable in the Qabalah to the 2nd Sephirah, Chokmah. All these things go to reinforce the fact that the Priest can be identified as the Yod of Tetragrammaton, the Father-King of Life.

4) The Vav of Tetragrammaton: The Sun/Son

To further complicate things (as is natural with symbolism), the Priest can be identified with the Vav of Tetragrammaton (YHVH). On the Tree of Life, Yod can be attributed to Chokmah, Heh to Binah, Vav to Tiphareth (and the surrounding Sephiroth), and Final Heh to Malkuth. In this scheme, Vav is attributed to the Sun, and the Priest is called the “Priest of the Sun” by the Priestess. Further, in the incestuous Qabalistic drama of Tetragrammaton, the Son/Prince is said to marry the Daughter/Princess and set her upon the Throne of the Mother. This is explicitly seen when the Priest says, “I, PRIEST and KING, take thee, Virgin pure without spot; I upraise thee; I lead thee to the East; I set thee upon the summit of the Earth.” The Priest then literally sets the Priestess upon the Throne in the East. As it says in the 4th Aethyr, “And this is that which is written: Malkuth shall be uplifted and set upon the throne of Binah.” In this sense, the Priest begins as the Prince/Son and, by virtue of his interaction with the Princess/Daughter, uplifts her to become Queen/Mother and he assumes the place of King/Father.

Again: the symbolism intertwines and overlaps in many ways. At the end of the Gnostic Mass, the Priest consumes the two-fold Eucharist and, in the attitude of Resurrection, proclaims that “There is no part of me that is not of the gods.” This is the traditional symbol of Osiris who died and was reborn, and the attitude of Resurrection was called “the Sign of Osiris Risen” in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was attributed to the Sephirah of Tiphareth (that was, in turn, attributed to the grade of 5=6, that of the formula of LVX, IAO, and INRI, i.e. Life-Death-Rebirth). In a certain way, the Gnostic Mass represents the “perpetuation of the Tetragrammaton,” which is to say that it represents evolution (One becoming Many, Creation) and involution (Many becoming One, Attainment) and evolution again, et cetera ad infinitum. In this light, Crowley comments on the quotation from the 4th Aethyr mentioned above, “This mystery of the Daughter awakening the eld of the all-Father and thus perpetuating Tetragrammaton is of great importance.”

5) The Masculine Operator in Sexual Magick

As if it is not already obvious from the previously mentioned symbolism (and the Mass itself), the Priest represents the masculine operator in sexual magick. I say “masculine” because he represents one half of the equation, and each individual “soul” is androgynous, containing both male and female (and all other opposites) in itself. In this way, in Hindu symbolism, the Priest represents Shiva and the Priestess is Shakti. This is reflected in Atu XI: Lust where Babalon (Shakti) is astride the Beast (Shiva). From this symbolism, one comes to wonder why the Priest is constantly identified as the “active” element in this duo when the symbolism repeatedly points to Babalon-Shakti as the more “active” participant – the masculine seems to often be “along for the ride,” so to speak. She’s the one who came down and pulled the Priest out of the Tomb, after all. In fact, Babalon is literally on top of the Beast in Atu XI, and – during the Collects – the Priestess can be seen above the Priest as they exchange their loving glances and breath.

Alchemically, the Priest is the Red Lion who interacts with the White Eagle, combining their essences in the hermetic vessel (or Grail) in order to produce the Elixir of Life, the Stone of the Philosophers, the Arcane Substance, the Two-in-One (et cetera). This alchemical symbolism is shown most explicitly in Atu VI: The Lovers where the Chymical Marriage takes place, and the result of their Consummation is shown in Atu XIV: Art.

6) Parsival: The Fool’s Journey

The Priest represents Parsival, specifically the character from Wagner’s opera. The Master Therion was obviously most fond of this allegory and he references it in many different works. In fact, he notes that “The dramatic setting of Wagner’s Parsifal was arranged by the then head of the O.T.O.” (i.e. Theodor Reuss). He explains that “Parsifal in his first phase is Der reine Thor, the Pure Fool” (The Book of Thoth), so the Gnostic Mass can be seen as the archetypal narrative of “the Fool’s Journey.”

Consider this: The Priest issues from the Tomb in white, symbolizing purity and innocence, just like that of Parsifal in the first Act of Wagner’s opera. Next, “Parsifal seizes [the sacred lance]; in other words, attains to puberty.” This is shown by the 11 strokes of the Lance by which the Lord is made present among us; further, going back to the symbolism of Tetragrammaton, this shows the Priest attaining “spiritual puberty” represented by the Lance (Vav) by which he may unite with the Daughter (Final Heh) and set her upon the Throne of the Mother (Heh). As the Master Therion explains, “the Fool: the innocent and impotent Harpocrates Babe becomes the Horus Adult by obtaining the Wand. ‘Der reine Thor’ [the pure fool] seizes the Sacred Lance. Bacchus becomes Pan. The Holy Guardian Angel is the Unconscious Creature Self – the Spiritual Phallus. His knowledge and conversation contributes occult puberty” (Liber Samekh).

Next, Parsifal must seek Monsalvat, the Mountain of Salvation, that is the same as “Abiegnus” the sacred mountain of Rosicrucians (as well as Mount Sinai, Mount Meru, the world-ash wonder-tree, and all other symbols of the axis mundi) that is symbolically shown as the High Altar in the East. The Master Therion continues, “Where is Monsalvat, the mountain of salvation, which he has sought so long in vain? He worships the lance: immediately the way, so long closed to him, is open.” This is seen in the Priest’s three circumambulations of the Temple in darkness, led only by the Light of the Sacred Lance, which eventually brings him to the Veil of the Sanctuary. Then, “Accordingly, to redeem the whole situation, to destroy death, to reconsecrate the temple, he has only to plunge the lance into the Holy Grail; he redeems not only Kundry, but himself.” This is seen in the moment of the Lance plunging the particle into the Grail with the simultaneous orgasmic “HRILIU” from Priest and Priestess. It is from this “mixture,” the Eucharist infused with Godhead Itself, that the Priest (and the People) can partake and arise as that which may truthfully proclaim, “There is no part of me that is not of the gods.” This is one reason that the Sacred Lance is not just another name for the magical implement of the Wand. Without the Lance, the entire symbolism of Parsifal’s “Fool’s Journey” (the connections of which goes much deeper than the above) is almost completely lost.

Again: This list is not exhaustive, nor is the symbolism of any of those meanings listed above completely fleshed out. The idea is to show there are many interconnected, intertwining, overlapping sets of symbolism by which one can more fully appreciate the mysterious depths of the central ceremony of Ordo Templi Orientis.

[→ Part 2: The Priestess →]

On Contributing to the Greater Community in Thelema

IAO131 - On Serving the Greater Community in Thelema

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.


Before even beginning to discuss the extent that contributing to the greater community is part of Thelema, it should be acknowledged that the “alpha and omega” of Thelema is Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. There is no law beyond doing your Will and you have no right but to do It. The answer to any question that takes the form “Is X or Y part of Thelema” is always “if it is your Will, then yes; if it is not your Will, then no.” I am not saying anyone “should” or “should not” do anything, but I am presenting an argument why contributing to the greater community is justified within the philosophy of Thelema. With that in mind, we can take a look at what Thelema implies and Crowley said about contributing to the greater community.

A maturing view of True Will

I would argue that, at a less mature level, Thelema is understood to be an entirely selfish doctrine. (By “less mature,” I simply mean “not fully developed,” and no pejorative implication is meant by it). When first learning about Thelema, individuals often understand “Do what thou wilt” to essentially mean “I have the right to find my Will and do it, so my personal needs trump everyone else’s.” From a certain standpoint, this is true. Your needs certainly deserve to be fulfilled. The problem is that many people simply do not know yet what their true “personal needs” and desires are in the first place – hence the necessity to engage in the process to know one’s Will. Further, one in this mindset maintains a very dichotomous (i.e. dualistic, black-and-white) view of the “self” as distinct from “others.” 

Many people move to the next level of maturity when they join an organization or start applying Thelema at a broader scale. That is, one matures to realize that everyone else has the right to do their own Will just as much as oneself. It is the realization that, just as you are the center of your own universe, everyone around you is the center of their own universes. Not only this, but many come to realize that becoming aware of others’ needs and even helping to fulfill them actually makes one’s own Will much easier to accomplish. The dichotomous view of “my Will versus the world” begins to break down and we see that we are a Star in the company of Stars. We see that disagreement does not preclude a greater harmony or cooperation, and often we find that we can accomplish greater things if we work together with others. We may even begin see that the distinction between “self” and “other” is much more tenuous, fluid, and dynamic than previously supposed, perhaps gaining a glimmer of the meaning of “the union of opposites” being the Great Work. 

This all may sound very obvious to some, but this is where things generally start to “break down.” Thelemites may see the rationale to serve their own needs and the needs of their Brothers and Sisters, but many do not see a rationale for contributing to the greater community. By “the greater community” I simply mean “people who are not part of OTO” or even “people who are not self-identified Thelemites.” Why might this be?

Why should we contribute to the greater community?

I am defining contributing as “giving resources, including but not limited to time, energy, and money.” We should certainly make sure to dedicate our resources to ourselves, making sure that our needs are met so that we may accomplish our Wills. Many Thelemites naturally and intuitively understand that contributing to an organization like OTO – i.e. by giving their time, energy, and money – is a great way to not only aid others in accomplishing their Wills but to learn more about one’s own Will in the process. The struggle for freedom – and the freedom that one has won for oneself – is naturally desired to be shared with others, so we band together into communities in order to preserve and promulgate the Law of Life, Light, Love, and Liberty. Why should we stop at our local community of Thelemites? Is not the Law for all? Do we not acknowledge that every man and every woman is a star? Do we not want all individuals to have the freedom to do their Wills? 

The image that precedes this essay is a well surrounded by four palm trees. This comes from Crowley’s essay “Liber CXXIV: Of Eden and the Sacred Oak” with the subtitle “And of the Greater and Lesser Hospitality of the O.T.O.” The subject of the essay is about “Profess Houses” in OTO, but I believe many of the principles apply on a greater, more general scale. As it is said, “For, in True Things, all are but images one of another; man is but a map of the universe, and Society is but the same on a larger scale.” The import of the image is that the Thelemic community – represented by the Profess House, but it could be any group of Thelemites of any or no formal organization – is a source of nourishment and hospitality to everything around it. Crowley writes:

“The symbol of the Profess-House is therefore a great Oak from which flow streams of water to every quarter fertilising indeed the ground about the hill and fortifying with moisture the roots of the oak itself, but not eddying about it and sapping its foundations. And in the spread of this Eden shall many men rejoice, taking shelter beneath overspreading branches, and refreshing their weary limbs in the fresh waters of the fount celestial pure. Alternatively, the symbol may be that of a well in the desert, sheltered by four great palms.”

Although the idea of the paradise of Eden with 4 rivers is a bit utopian and hyperbolic, it is nonetheless an important symbol.IAO131 - On Serving the Greater Community in Thelema The idea is that the community (represented by the oak or the well) nourishes things around it (the four streams of water or the four palms); further, in the community’s nourishing of others, it also fortifies itself without losing its own foundations. I think this is a beautiful image: every Thelemic community is a beacon of Light to those who stumble in darkness, a well of Life for those who struggle to subsist. 

Crowley himself says clearly, “thou must by Law assure to every Man a Means of satisfying his bodily and his mental Needs, leaving him free to develop any Super-Structure in Accordance with his Will, and protecting him from any that may seek to deprive him of these vertebral Rights.” This is essentially the idea of Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” about 4 decades before the idea was described by Maslow: every individual needs the foundation of their basic needs – their “bodily and mental needs” – before the capstone of any kind of “Super-Structure” can be developed. Crowley reinforces this idea when he wrote to Lady Frieda Harris, “The whole world as I see it is at present lost in constipations of this kind; the real needs of humanity are what they have always been: food, shelter, love and freedom. That, roughly speaking, is the general true will of the species, and all devices, which are not subservient to this will, are errors.” If we have the means to, for example, satisfy the bodily needs of those who spend most of their energy concerned about food and shelter, does it not make sense to contribute to them if we are capable? That is, if we have the resources – the time, money, and/or energy – to aid others in by helping to satisfy their basic needs, are we not simply – in some some small way – allowing more and more individuals to do their Wills more fully? 

Crowley writes in Duty, “Pity, sympathy and like emotions are fundamentally insults to the Godhead of the person exciting them, and therefore also to your own. The distress of another may be relieved; but always with the positive and noble idea of making manifest the perfection of the Universe. Pity is the source of every mean, ignoble, cowardly vice; and the essential blasphemy against Truth.” Here we have a very good lesson from Crowley: if we are to help people, it is to manifest the perfection of every man and every woman being able to do their True Wills. It is to work towards the order and harmony of all the stars on Earth being as perfect as the order and harmony of all the stars in the Heavens. It is not done out of pity for distress or suffering, nor is it really done out of any emotion at all. This relief – this service of others – is done out of the desire to fulfill the Law of Liberty, to bring about a world where everyone has the capability and freedom to accomplish their True Wills. Perhaps this is one way that we can fulfill what is hoped for in OTO US Grand Lodge’s Vision Statement, “We will foster harmonious and constructive relationships with the academic, business, civil, and greater social communities within which we operate.”

We therefore have a very powerful but very simple view of contribution to the greater community: Contributing is done to help satisfy basic needs such as food and shelter which are common across all humanity that they may be able to more fully accomplish their True Wills. We do not impose any “Super-Structure” upon others but allow them to develop as they Will and make their own choices, and we do not contribute aid out of pity. This is done to “make manifest the perfection of the Universe.”

So why aren’t we doing this already?

Contributing to others is too Christian! The most obvious answer to why many Thelemites do not see contributing to the greater community as justified is that helping other people sounds like “charity,” a word that is inevitably tied up in many people’s minds with Christianity. Aside from the various arguments around charity itself, I think  we can acknowledge that rejecting an idea or behavior simply because it resembles some other belief system is not a good reason for rejecting it. Most Thelemites would think twice before rejecting Liber Resh as “too Muslim,” rejecting the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram as “too Jewish,” rejecting the Gnostic Mass as “too Christian,” or rejecting the use of a mantra as “too Hindu.” The reason to reject all these things should be determined by whether or not it is fulfilling or thwarting your individual Will, and that is always the only determining factor for everything. Perhaps some do not realize that “charity” comes from “caritas,” the Latin word used in the New Testament to translate the Greek word “agape which some Thelemites may be familiar with. With this, I would also add things like the argument that contributing to others is too “liberal,” “socialist,” “communist,” or whatever label associate with the general idea.

Contributing to others is too Humanitarian! Yes, Crowley said “An end to the humanitarian mawkishness which is destroying the human race by the deliberate artificial protection of the unfit.” He also lived off of a family inheritance and the generous donations of his friends and disciples. There is no need to even argue what “unfit” means in this context. I personally believe that we should concern ourselves with what is “fit” and “unfit” within ourselves to accomplish our own True Wills, and we acknowledge that every man and every woman is a star with an indefeasible right to accomplish their Wills as we do ours. Further, we have all benefited from others’ resources, from amniotic fluids to stimulating conversations to job promotions. While it is obvious that our own choices determine our destiny to a large extent, it would be a vain and short-sighted thing to believe we are entirely “self-made” in any way. As Liber Librae says, “A man is what he maketh himself within the limits fixed by his inherited destiny; he is a part of mankind; his actions affect not only what he calleth himself, but also the whole universe.” Aside from the fact that this means your acts (such as contributing to others) affect all of those around you, it  also means every single other individual’s actions affect your universe as well. A humble acknowledgment of this fact makes the idea of contributing to others seem quite natural.

We need to focus on our own! Yes, we do need to focus on “our own.” Our concern should begin with ourselves and emanate outward farther and farther. If, for example, an OTO body is struggling to even pay the rent, it would not make sense to devote money toward contributing to the general community. As Liber Librae says, “If thou thyself hast not a sure foundation, whereon wilt thou stand to direct the forces of Nature?” Of course you need a sure foundation, both individually and organizationally. That still doesn’t preclude the possibility of extending influence and resources beyond oneself once that sure foundation is secured.


Fresh Fever From the Skies: The Collected Writings of IAO131Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. If it is your Will to contribute to the greater community, then that is fine; if it is not your Will, then that is fine as well. Nonetheless, there is a good rationale for engaging in contributing to the greater community. If we appreciate the freedom to know and do our Wills, we will naturally appreciate aiding others to achieve this freedom, even if it is in a small way. Crowley insisted that we are to assure the satisfaction of basic needs such as food and shelter so that individuals may have the capacity and freedom to develop their own unique proclivities. He also reminded us that this should be done out of making manifest the perfection of the Universe on Earth, of wanting every man and every woman to be able to accomplish their Wills, not out of pity or distress. If we have the resources to help others satisfy their basic needs so they may more fully know and do their Wills, why wouldn’t we contribute to the greater community?

Love is the law, love under will.

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