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Science, Charlatanry and Thelema

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.thelema,alt.magick,talk.religion.misc,talk.religion.newage,alt.skeptic,alt.wicca
From: nagasiva@luckymojo.com (nigris (333))
Subject: Science, Charlatanry and Thelema
Date: 24 Jul 1999 00:11:28 -0700

49990612 IVom

a correspondent wrote:
# Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

The word of Sin is Restriction.
 
333:
#> a critical review of secret societies yields a sad history of
#> deception, self-aggrandizement and bad science. this is not to
#> say that any single organization includes it, but it is a
#> hazard of which the adventurer into them ought be very aware.
#> indications that information like this is being impeded can be
#> signs of cultism and corruption.
# 
# ...You once asked me to define what a "cult" is. Since you are
# invoking the word once again, I ask you to provide a definition 
# of your own.

in the way I'm using it here I mean to imply a socio-religious
extreme which pits the central personality or administration 
of a dedicated group against its membership for the purpose
of parasitically draining them of individuality, will and genius.
there are common qualities associated with cults, in this modern
sense of the word, any of which can become warning signs for the 
wary, such as have been well described as:

	1. political power exercised over membership
	2. wisdom and infallibility claimed by leader(s)
	3. wisdom credited to leadership by followers
	4. doctrinal inflexibility, dogma
	5. emphasis on recruitment
	6. subsidiary groups with different names
	7. wealth accumulation and emphasis on donations
	8. political power desired outside of membership
	9. sexual manipulation/control over membership
	10. control over information seen/considered by membership
	11. intensity of effort to minimize dropouts
	12. endorsement of violence used by or for group/leader(s)
	13. fear of perceived enemies and their power
	14. disapproval concerning jokes about group/leader(s)/dogma
	15. emphasis on membership not being responsible for
	    personal decisions

[paraphrase from "Real Magic", by Isaac Bonewits, p. 215.]

to this I would add things like

	16. focus on group-defined terminology and concepts as
	    a measure of 'fitting in'
	17. intolerance of variant behaviors/appearances, 
	    especially those which imply individualism and 
	    personal enjoyment
	18. elitism of the group over general society and
	    the leader(s) over the rest of the group

there are of course other qualities I haven't listed here,
but this should give you an idea. 
 
#> I think I'm a pretty good judge of character, especially over
#> the long haul, yes. I can compare what the culture or person
#> says 'illumination' should look like and see if the person
#> conforms to their own standards. beyond this I don't think
#> there is much value in attempting to judge another person's
#> "illumination", since by and large it is a matter of opinion
#> and fantasy.
# 
# "Beyond this?" Beyond what? 

beyond an assessment of consistency, matching up what a person
or their group says an individual who has achieved some 
spiritual state should behave with the reality of how those
acclaimed to be in that state do in fact behave.  if it doesn't 
match up, then *by the standards of the person or group* that 
individual doesn't qualify and is not 'illumined'/'illuminated'.

# I don't see the usefulness in determining someone's 
# "illumination level," regardless of the situation. 

I think we agree here.

#> confusing the names is a part of the confidence game that secret
#> societies (and general religions too) can play in order to bring
#> in marks and impress so as to convert and shaft the unsuspecting.
# 
# What are you referring to here? I thought that the "Sanctuary of 
# the Gnosis" was simply a name for the body of individuals occupying 
# the IX in the OTO.

this is the most logical presumption, yes. however, there are
psychospiritual conditions associated with both the IXth degree
and with gnosis by some (c)OTO membership. it is alot like how
priests and bishops and popes are viewed by adherents to more
conventional religions -- the upper echelon is idealized as
having achieved some mystically-superior state, regardless of
any evidence to the contrary. 

there are some who will try to separate out the IXth degree
as a stage of spiritual maturation and the administrative
position description. sometimes they will talk about one and
not the other, but they may not clarify for you which they
mean. in this way they can build up trust and awe with
respect to the administration of their organization. when
pressed they may revert to an explanation of 'oh I was only
talking about the "astral" or "ideal" Sanctuary of the Gnosis'
or 'but of course the actuality may not conform exactly with
the ideal'. it can become a method of backpeddling after
having been caught out trying to talk up their cult.

#> this would be an oversimplification of my assertion but do in
#> fact hold if brother Pederson expects to be taken at face value
#> by those who wish to use 'the method of science'.  I like quite
#> a bit about what Crowley writes on the subject, and one of these
#> things is that skepticism and critical inquiry are essential
#> prerequisites for the student. to present the societe Theleme as
#> some sort of, well, religion (requiring faith in order to adhere)
#> is to do it a disservice, to take it back to the days of religion
#> *masquerading* as science in an effort to convert scientists to
#> superstition.
# 
# I haven't been following this thread. Is anyone supposing that 
# faith is required in our studies? I would be suprised if they 
# were. 

'our studies'? which ones are these? there has been suggestion
that discussion of "gnosis" (which was described as 'encompassed
by the Order' or something like this) is useless until one has
experienced it at the IXth degree. this includes faith that it
is something which is or even CAN be experienced, and that it is
indeed experienced at this degree (implying that those who are
"IXth degree" membership are the qualified because they have all
had this experience and anyone other than this is a less reliable
source on the matter). it is an equation of administrative position
with psychospiritual state, and the faith is in the process of
initiation and the wisdom of the "General" (i.e. the head of the
Order).

#> Thelema is a Law (principle) by which intentional action is
#> carried into manifestation. those who recognize and foment an
#> unimpeded approximation of life and civilization according to
#> this Law are rightly characterized as 'Thelemites', whether
#> they adhere to any fashion of cult or culture in addition.
#> Thelema is will and the repercussion of the valuation of will
#> and its identical complement, love.
 
# I haven't seen anyone disagreeing with you about what makes 
# a "[Thelemite]." (...I agree with this basic definition....)
# ... why do we keep revisiting this issue? 

because there has been for some time a social shift towards
identifying 'Thelemites' as those who are members of certain
select groups (often groups which were associated with or
founded by Aleister 'Thelema' Crowley). the ideal is lost
for the membership card. 'are you a Thelemite?' begins to
mean 'have you been initiated into the (c)OTO?' or 'are you
a Crowleyite?'

# Is anyone pushing the idea that the OTO should be a 
# religious body?

the EGC (Gnostic Catholic Church) is firmly in control of
the (c)OTO. in order to become an initiate of upper standing
in this Order you have to be baptized, as I understand it,
into this church (what, III or IV or V degree? I don't recall,
it may even by IX). more and more individuals appear to be
making the association that 'Thelemite' = 'OTO member' =
'Gnostic Catholic' = 'adherent to the religion of Thelema'.
more and more do I hear "Thelema is a religion" uttered by
those who are part of (c)OTO, that certain rituals are
necessary in order to BE a 'Thelemite', that membership in
certain organizations (usually ours or those like ours)
is required in order to be a part of this religious body,
taking "Liber Al vel Legis" as its holy book, the Gnostic
Mass (Liber XV) as our sacred rite, and Aleister Crowley
as the Prophet of the New Aeon, etc., etc. this is at
extreme variance with the personal description that I 
gave above for what I call 'Thelema'. 

if you don't think that this is the case and instead think 
that there is no difference between the two, I'd like to
hear how you reconcile the differences in description
between them: particularly that the latter requires cultural
involvement (in a 'Thelemic organization') and the other 
does not (one can avoid all ceremonialism and Crowleyanity
and still be a Thelemite by my lights and, I contend, by
Crowley's own descriptions).

# It seems like you're arguing with someone that isn't there.

individualism and the promulgation of a Law of Liberty is
quite possibly at odds with mechanisms of conformity and
dogma. when I am told that the latter somehow supports the 
former, then I naturally ask how. when I am presented with
a multitude of symptom indicating that members of an 
organization contending to promulgate what they call 'the 
Law of Thelema' engages what appears to be outrageous
claims and the special qualification of its leadership,
then I start wondering where this promulgation is really
taking place and what these leaders have in store for the
membership in the coming years.

if what I'm describing above is all my imagination, I'll
be happy to learn that this is so, but I'm not the only
one who has voiced my alarmed response and occasionally
expressed my opposition to the religification of Thelema.
one need only turn to the archives of this email list and
their reflection in the esoteric archive that I've
constructed at Hollyfeld (contact me for details) to see
the expressions about which I am speaking. a variety of
'new prophets' have arisen intending to take the Thelemic
culture for a religious ride down their own path and
exclude those less interested in prophet-worship and
ceremonialism than the understanding and application of
an important socioeconomic and ethical philosophy.
 
#> what kind of skepticism is 'healthy'? how can inquiry and critical
#> review become 'unhealthy'? is it valuable, when serious criticism
#> is levelled upon extraordinary claims, to immediately call into
#> question the authority and motive of those who ask the questions?
# 
# ...why is everyone so fixated on the IX? 

why is everyone so fixated on sex?  thrill, power, knowledge.

# I joined the OTO because I benefit from a little bit of 
# direction in my work, and I severely enjoy initiation. I 
# don't even care if I get to the IX. ...Why are people so l
# fixated on reaching the IX, 

it varies. the IXth degree is the uppermost degree in (c)OTO
and other quasi-masonic occult systems which the ordinary
member can expect to obtain if they are interested in being
very involved with the administration of the organization
and are favored (at least in the (c)OTO) enough to be invited
to that position. it simultaneously symbolizes the spiritual
upper echelon (by its association with certian "advanced"
magical work that is said to be the objective of those who
have 'made it' to that position) and represents the pinnacle
of administrative power aside from the Xth degree which is, 
at least in (c)OTO, held by a single individual within every
country system.
 
# and why are so many so intent on criticising it?

I don't think that there is really alot of criticism about
the IXth degree per se, but about the deceptive and unfounded
claims being made about it. it would be like the criticism of 
people who describe the president of an influential business
or government as a saint based on their adoration of the 
organization (and possibly based on gullibility and degree of
hero-worship). it is extremely self-serving when those who
make these outrageous claims are part of the organization
itself, therefore have something to gain from the claims, and
don't bother to either put them into context (e.g. "After
having investigated and come to know all of the IX degree
membership in said organization it is my evaluation that
they are exceptional spiritual adepts whose leadership and
example are those in which I place my trust for the New Aeon.")
or temper them with logic (e.g. "I have faith that those in
charge of my Order have been so transformed by the system of
initiation therein that they have achieved the heights of
personal development and are qualified to bring us into the
fruits of the Aeon of Horus.").
 
#> I think that these types of reactions are indicators of religious
#> befuddlement having mucked up the works of scientific scrutiny.
#> this may be why the occasional Thelemic philosopher throws up
#> their hands in dismay at the resistance to the method of science,
#> propaganda and faith-based thought-systems having corrupted the
#> foundation of a beautiful Thelemic ideal.
# 
# Skepticism and scrutiny can be tools of the self-same propaganda 
# you refer to. Surely you realize that.

when turned against those people and forces intending to
carefully examine the basis of unusual or special claims,
skepticism and scrutiny can become the tools of cultists.
when the skepticism is not cynicism but a willingness
consider unusual claims in an unbiased manner and when
scrutiny indicates an exacting level of effort contributed 
to the enterprise, it seems evident to me that those who 
ignore or oppose these either have something to hide or are 
afraid that their basis in faith may be undermined when 
comparing the reality with their flowery and deceptive 
descriptions.

if those who choose to guard the sanity of the Thelemic

culture become somewhat cynical or cutting in response to
the repeated barrage of cultists attempting to degrade
and corrode what we see as the future of the species, I
hope that you can humor us and see the virtue of our acts
through the roughness of our approach.

333
nagasiva@luckymojo.com 
-- 
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