I finally got around to sending off for the OTA membership program, and I’ve been re-reading Flowers books. While somewhat painful, because I now know way more than I used to ages ago, it’s good to go back and touch base. The OTA application prompted this loopback and examination because they want to know a bit of magical history and about yourself. Unfortunately for me, I won’t be joining in person because they’re on the other side of the nation from me but I always liked the Hermetic Hour and the videos, so why not support that?
Lets talk about what I like, first, about the OTA. Poke has a decent presentation. There’s an element of the ceremonial magic community which thinks all magic should be done in secret and taken very seriously even when casually discussed. While I have become more sympathetic to the first one the more I work (I haven’t published any rituals or readings in a while, compared to about two years ago when I would publish everything and anything), I strongly disagree with the second one. The argument I usually make is “my secrets keep themselves” and the argument from the other side is “pearls before swine”. Well I don’t think people are swine, I think people want good things for themselves and I think people want good things for their community, and I think people are incredibly short-sighted and actions are usually poorly thought out. A swine will never be gifted with philosophy, but people can certainly ignore philosophy and choose to act like animals. That being said, one of the things I love about the videos (especially Rites of Magic) is that the bones are there. The ceremonial magic themes are present, and the ritual circle is correctly constructed for what it is supposed to represent, and the actors understand the subtext of the presentation. Mot, for instance, enters under Saturn and literally works Baal over and through the alchemical elements. I’m assuming (although it’s not shown) that Baal “falls” before Mercury, and rises under Venus, but it could also easily be the sun and the moon. Stuff like that is pure gold. It presents the mythology, the guy playing Baal is a nice guy, I actually want to drink with Baal, and there’s an illustrative lesson about life and alchemy and planetary magic all rolled up in there. If someone’s knowledge level is just getting over the fluffy bunny hump, it’s a wonderful dramatic ritual. If someone is a planetary magician, there’s symbolism there. Alchemical interests are appealed to, and if someone is a flat-out atheist, heck, it’s just fun to run around with fire and mead.
Lets now talk about what didn’t work, or why I didn’t settle into a group. These are going to be locally colored experiences, your experience will probably be different.
Wicca tends to not work well for me. Llewelyns is a sodden mess with no discernment. Most of the wicca groups around here are “show me” groups. The rituals tend to be a mess of feel-good and not a lot of formal structure. I’m sure anyone reading the blog is familiar with the difference but where Gardner tried to remove Crowley’s ceremonial magic influences from his religion, Sanders with Alexandrian Wicca attempted to put them back. It remains the biggest division in the practice today. I could probably get on with Alexandrian Wicca except I find it disingenuous to go through Gardenarian Wicca to go to Alexandrian Wicca when I could just add ecstatic elements to ceremonial magic in the first place. The OTA does this very well. In fact I think that the ideas are so compatible that this is the subject of the next class and I feel strongly that removing the so-called “ceremonial magic” influences is wrong and hurts the product.
I joined the OTO, it was a lot of nice people but the drive killed me. There was also a bit of Crowley worship there. Coupled with the OTO’s political problems, copyright pissing contests, and everything else, it wasn’t really “home”. Also my local temple is a hell of a drive from me (over an hour) and add traffic to it and I could never plan on actually attending anything. I think I joined it expecting to practice Book 4 in a group like the Golden Dawn style magic and found it was much much closer to masonry with Crowley’s tastes than a magical lodge. Your mileage may vary, the OTO is intentionally structured around the Gnostic Mass (which is awesome) and everything else is up to the community for presentation and activities.
My local Asatru groups fell into two categories – people were preparing for the end of the world and people who were interested in the political structure of Asatru. The end of the world guys are actually pretty cool and practice the Virtues in Northman lore. The political guys are tools and were only interested in who is wearing whom’s oath ring. While having a “viking society” is interesting in a reconstructionist perspective, I still have to answer to the law of the land. I’ve come around to the idea that the first group is the better group and the sword thing is easy to get over once I realized two of the big three religions encouraged their members to keep swords. (Also: Some sects of Hinduism and Seikhs). They had community! They had camaraderie! They had neat rune tattoos! But neither group practiced magic!
Really at this point I have three distinct parts of appeal – I desire intellectual appeal, I want emotional appeal, and the je ne sais quoi – the spiritual zing which is really hard to make ends meet.
The first one is easy enough to accomplish. The intellectual appeal of the group is as simple as the reading list. Are the books well cited? Do the members know what they’re talking about? Does Llewelyns account for less than 30% of the bookshelf? The real big win here would be – does the group produce its own materials? There is an intellectual hump between book club and philosophy discussion group. Simply giving someone a reading list means that once that list is over, that person is going to pack up the cats. Potentially worse, they’re just going to chase through the degrees without actually working the material and it encourages armchair occultism.
The second one is a bit harder to accomplish because the individual can come up with things which resonate with them emotionally while still working inside of intellectual constraints, but working inside of a group, the group needs to agree on the intellectual symbolism and the emotional resonance. This is one of the great problems with the information age – no-one joins a group “dry”. Most people, like myself, have come up with some personal system they like based on their intellectual understanding and personal tastes and stick to that system. Fortunately I think the OTA satisfies that (mostly) for me and I can cite a bunch of places where The Hermetic Hour has beaten me to a good idea. This is also a good sign that the group might be a good fit. More importantly, because we live in the Age of Mercury and people don’t go into things unprimed, it helps people make good decisions about those groups if those groups are publishing. I would, for instance, probably be happy in the OTO if I was in California hanging out with the Speech in the Silence folks or the Thelema Now folks. But then I could also join the OTA in person. Fortunately the OTA is not exclusive in whom a member can associate with, which is to the OTA’s credit.
The spiritual end of the triangle is the most pure – either someone agrees with the goals of the working or they don’t. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
Anyway, the biggest question I usually get is how I got from Asatru to Ceremonial Magic. The answer is that there’s fairly comfortable place around 1600AD where Christian (or Western Esoteric thought) was being co-opted into Icelandic magical texts. The product, the Galdrabok, is largely ignored by the Asatru guys and the Ceremonial Magic guys. The Asatru guys don’t practice magic as a general rule, and the Ceremonial Magic folks see Stephen Flowers and run. Stephen Flowers Galdrabok is pretty typical of his work – it tends to be undercited, he doesn’t note where he is making speculation, and he tends to read the rituals in the most provocative ways he can. Everything is blood ritual! Well, not really. Blood ritual was present, but not nearly everything was blood ritual. On the other hand, that particular piece of history was a lucky entry point for me into the greater framework of ritual and tradition and most importantly – that everything can be trued up. I almost wish I had read the Three Books of Occult Philosophy first, but it would have been less practical. Being a viking is just fun.