So that title may be a bit of a misnomer, but with Margot Adler’s passing (and also learning she took initiation in the OTO many years ago), last year listening to stories of Sallie Ann Glassman performing free-form Gnostic Masses as priestess for the OTO back in the late 80’s, and then the other…
Care Frater dj-ghostatl,
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
There’s a couple of different angles my mind wants to take to address this question. First let’s work with the following premise: The OTO that existed under Grady/Hymenaeus Alpha during the 70’s and 80’s lacked the structure that Crowley had envisioned for the Order and it also attracted all sorts of folks with counter-cultural, anti-authoritarian, heterodox and antinomian tendencies. There was also a lot of cross-pollination with other magical groups as people sought to bolster their identities with degrees and titles. One could make the mistake of thinking that the OTO was all of these quirky radical elements rather than thinking that these people belonged to an order which was struggling to define itself amidst a myriad of conflicting elements. So consequently regulations guaranteeing personal safety, the seriousness of the oaths taken, even the sanctity of the ceremonies themselves were all very nascent at the time, and when they were brought up they were generally frowned at.
When Grady died and Hymenaeus Beta took over in the late 80’s the Order was in a process of growth and benefited from the climate of the time. The Soviet Union had collapsed, technology promised us new ways of communicating about our sacred Art and Science, Chaos Magick was enjoying its time in the spotlight, and rave culture was redefining the realms of Dionysian enthusiasm. The OTO of that time was certainly a reflection of that as well with a number of us joining and looking at the principles of the Order as valid blueprints of a social order we could see forming all around us in new burgeoning online communities as well as on the dancefloor, and elsewhere. But still the structure of the Order was pretty makeshift. It used to take forever to hear back from IHQ for instance unless you had the inside line to these guys’ personal AOL, Juno, or NetZero accounts.
Once the US Grand Lodge was formed in 1997 you begin to see a lot of this energy geared towards establishing the Order along the lines that Crowley actually intended (There was a lot to do back then to accomplish this. Hell, there still is!). So since then there have been regulations put out there to increase member safety, improve performance standards of the initiations and the Mass, and improve member communications and record keeping. These changes have not always been met with open arms. I sometimes think that there are some folks who join the Order and think it will be some string of hot tub parties and sex rituals – like some polyamorous love cult, and then split when it becomes apparent that it requires real effort to keep doors open, lines memorized, props purchased, etc.
So after 1997 you begin to see a lot of Grady’s crowd hitting the bricks because the Order “just isn’t what it used to be”. My position would be that the OTO that existed when they were members wasn’t really the Order that AC wanted or envisioned in the first place. So with every major policy change there’s going to be one camp that cries that the OTO has become “no fun anymore” and another camp that cries that it isn’t going far enough. Often the “No fun anymore” crowd are usually the same people who tend to come from the more neo-pagan end of the magical spectrum.
Thelema (and by extension the work of the Order in particular) is open to the techniques of other spiritual traditions. So in the instance where you have solitary witches doing some sacred hand jive that baffles you, the responsibility to keep up with what the ever-protean witchcraft movement and whatever it is doing this month is certainly in your hands. Crowley obviously didn’t write about cunning craft or afro-diasporic spiritual traditions. Instead he fused together eastern mystical techniques with European magical traditions. Even so, you can trace the work done in those moldy old grimoires back to decidedly non-Abrahamic sources and thus to paganism without breaking much of a sweat. On a personal note and aside: I find that there has been a massive swing to outright superstition at this point in search for some “authentic” traditional witchcraft. But that doesn’t mean that Thelema cannot be seen as “pagan”.
Something to consider: Imagine for a moment that you are a man of some learning living in Alexandria during the 2nd Century EV. You’ve studied the Greek philosophers, your cosmology is Neoplatonic in structure and you practice a syncretic form of Coptic-Judeo-Gnosticism. You also have a villa where you pay your respects to the household gods and the gods of your family. Are you a pagan? By Christian standards you absolutely would be, but by the standards of the day you would be a pretty typical, cosmopolitan Alexandrian. For me, Thelema is the same way. We have a fusion of philosophy, theurgy, thaumaturgy, and ethics which separates us from a lot of other pagans, and our absorption of Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, and Taoist ideas, figures and works presents some challenges for hedgewitches to wrap their heads around. I’m sure to them they see the whole thing as really unnecessary. And for them I’m sure they’re right. For me, however, the heady syncretic mix that Crowley provides us and that we cultivate and further is just what the witch doctor ordered.
Love is the law, love under will.
In the Bonds of the Order.