Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Gnostic Mass with the Ordo Templi Orientis

On Saturday, I went to a Gnostic Mass held by the Ordo Templi Orientis (Order of the Eastern Temple) (O.T.O.), the group founded by Aleister Crowley using his spiritual system of Thelema as a base. How was it?


I was unable to take any pictures of the event. When we got there, they were still setting up, and they didn't seem too keen on us taking pictures of the ceremony itself. The Mass was held in the basement of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, which I reviewed on here, before.

The set up was done according the the rubrics set up by Crowley:

There was an altar set up in the "East" (which was actually in the North). The altar was a three tiered structure the top level was an image of an Egyptian stele depicting several Egyptian gods, and on either side a row of white candles. The next tier held a copy of the Book of the Law lined on either side again with a row of white candles, then the bottom tier had a bouquet of roses on either side, a black candle on the left, a white one on the right, a chalice, and a paten. To match the candles on the last tier, there were two pillars, a black one on the left, and a white one one the right. The black one held a tray of cups, and the right one held a tray of hosts.The whole structure was surrounded by a black curtain that could be open or closed to conceal the entire altar.

A few feet in front of the high altar was another much smaller altar which had a gong, and a metal vessel to hold burning incense. This was called the Altar of Incense. Behind that a few feet was another smaller altar with a bowl of water and a bit of salt in a shell next to it. This was called the font. Finally, a few feet behind that was a curtained off box, called the Tomb.

Though the event was held in the basement of a church, I was quite impressed by the atmosphere of it, and it was quite beautiful and well done.

The People:

The people of the O.T.O. of Ogden are quite interesting. It is a motley crew of non-conventional people. A few were dressed in your garden variety Gothic clothing: black shirts and pants; necklaces of dragons, pentacles, or the unicursal hexigram (the symbol of Thelema); non-conventional or unwashed hair. Still others looked to be hippies or nature lovers of some form. Still others were dressed in sweat pants and t-shirts or generic street clothes, still others looked like soccer moms. There wasn't any one type of person in the group, which I found a nice change from some groups I've visited where everybody looks the same, dresses the same, and feels very uniform. The personalities of the people were just as varied. All of them seemed to be nerdy, much like I am, but quite varied in their likes and approaches to their beliefs. I talked with a couple.

One man seemed to be the president of the local chapter, I think he said his title was body leader. We asked him questions about Thelema and their organization. He was very sparse with what information he would give us. Even information that should have come easily. For instance, the local chapter is called N.O.X., we asked him what N.O.X. stood for. I know it's the name of the Roman goddess of night, but he wouldn't tell us what it meant. He said that it's symbolic of the dark night of the soul, but the rest is a mystery. But we can look it up in an internet search. So, thanks to the modern convenience of smartphones, we did just that right there. Essentially, it's the Night of Pan, the Greek nature god, but the name also means "all" in Greek, so he's the god of life and death, so it's about the transformative powers of death and what that does to the Ego.

Honestly, I understand some spiritual traditions have what are considered mysteries and secret ceremonies (usually framed as sacred, though the ceremonies are secret and not discussed) which are worked up to. But you have a mystery of your faith, you won't talk about it with us, then you tell us that we can search it online to find out, you might as well just tell us. It doesn't make it more mysterious and meaningful if we have to look it up. It just makes it more annoying. And if were truly a mystery we had to learn in time, you wouldn't have directed us to the internet search.

In general, the people were friendly, we were personally told we were more than welcome there by the woman who acted as priestess, and had some lovely and friendly conversation with many there.

The Service:

The service was structured heavily on the Catholic Mass and Eastern Orthodox Liturgy. It also took elements from many other tradition and patched them together into a quite interesting religious ceremony. For instance, the service had all the parts of a Catholic Mass, but it also had words of Greek, a modified version of the Hindu word, Om (a sacred word representing the totality of existence) rendered as Aumgn but still pronounced "om", a hymn sung to the tune of an Eastern Orthodox chant, several ritual hand gestures modeled after Freemason signs, which are similar to the ones used in LDS temples, images and dress like Egyptian gods, use of the Greek version of the Hebrew name of God, Yahweh (Iao), use of the name Baphomet, etc.

The ceremony began with us being welcomed into the temple, as they call it, and sitting down in rows that faced toward the center of the room. We recited the Gnostic Creed, modeled after the Nicene Creed. The priestess, dressed in a white dress, blue stole, and Egyptian headdress, and two women, one dressed in black, one dressed in white, came out and walked in a serpentine pattern in between the altars. They then opened the curtain on the tomb, and the priest, clad only in a white tunic, was there, the priestess took him out of the tomb, blessed him with water mixed with salt, and incense, then clothed him in ceremonial garments, gave him his spear, then massaged the spear. The two then joined hands and walked towards the high altar. The priestess then sat on the lower tier of the altar facing the people.

There the priest blessed the priestess similarly to how she had blessed him, and reverenced her. Afterward, the priest closed the veil leaving the priestess sitting on the altar.

There was more ceremony from the priest and deacon, then the priest went to the veil of the altar and had a dialogue with the priestess where they talked back and forth about her as the hidden mystery and to know her is the greatest of joys.

Afterward, the priest opened the veil, and the priestess was clothed only in a white gown. (It is my understanding that the priestess is supposed to be naked at this point, but I'm sure this was for modesty purposes given it's a public event in a conservative state.) The priest then sang a modified version of the Thrice Holy Hymn, an Eastern Orthodox hymn praising God. The priestess then kissed the spear of the priest multiple times. The priest then placed the spear between the priestess's thighs, knelt before her, and kissed her thighs, his hands interlocked with hers.

While this was happening, the deacon recited several prayers in honor of the Sun, the God, the Goddess, the Earth, the Moon, etc. He also reverenced their saints, which included mythological figures, like Dionysus, Hermes, Pan, Merlin, etc. It also included religious figures like Lao Tsu, Muhammad, Moses, Krishna, and historical figures like Charlemagne, and William Blake. One figure that really astonished me was Pope Alexander VI, one of the most corrupt and infamous popes in the history of the Catholic Church.

After that, the consecration of the bread and wine took place. This was remarkably similar to the consecration in a Catholic Mass except the words were slightly different, and the elements were presented to the priest by the priestess sitting on the altar. The priest consecrated the elements using the same words of the Greek Orthodox Church, and using his spear to consecrate them.

We all then sang the hymn that is done to a tune very similar to an Eastern Orthodox chant. After that, all the people present went up and took communion, each taking a host and eating it with the words, "In my mouth is the essence of the Light of the Sun." Then drinking a paper cup full of boxed wine, saying, "In my mouth is the essence of the Joy of the Earth." After that, we were to say, "There is no part of me that is not of the Gods." The communion wafer was delicious. It tasted almost like a moist gingersnap with a sort of rosemary taste. I'm not sure what exactly is in it, but it was good.

Then the ceremony ended with a blessing, then all the celebrants went into the Tomb and closed the curtain.

It was a very beautiful ritual with lovely aesthetics, chants, etc.

The Message:

There wasn't a sermon or anything like that, but the ceremony is rich in symbolism and mysteries. I thought the symbolism and mysteries of the ceremony were pretty straight forward and easy to understand. The priestess represents the Earth, the priest the Sun. The priestess takes the priest from the tomb representing rebirth. There's lots of sexual imagery representing creativity and fertility. The communion is taking part in what nourishes us, the Earth and the Sun which is the source of all we have, it ends with them returning to the tomb representing death, etc. While I'm sure there are minor more deep things in the ceremony, but as a whole, it was pretty easy to follow. They stated before hand it was to recognize the male and female within you and the complexity of your nature. I found all of that in the ceremony.

Overall Experience:

This was a very beautiful and very cool thing to be able to see. I liked the ritual and thought it was beautifully done, but the wait time outside in the heat before the ceremony was pretty rough. I don't know how I feel about all the different elements taken from other cultures, religions, and groups hodgepodged into a ceremony like this. You've essentially taken some of the most sacred elements of Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism and mixed them with Freemasonry, Golden Dawn ceremony, and other elements. What Crowley did seems both disrespectful to the cultures and like an ingenious system.

I sort of have a love-hate relationship with it leaning more towards love. It was an interesting experience, and I think I would return for a second one.

Additional Notes:

I visited Embry Chapel, African Methodist Episcopal Church (a historically black church), today. I will try to have that blog up tomorrow. That one does have pictures to go along with it.

Until next time, peace be with you!

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