Today I took a look at some of the first entries I posted here on the blog. The noxious blend of arrogance, insecurity, race/gender/disability identity politics and Libertarianism made me wince. But then there were the comments, and they were slowly leading me out of that dark tunnel. There was the grace, and there was the gift. From everyone - Echo, Maire, Seraph, all others, friends connected by this Indra's-net of the interwebz.
When I joined PS.net in 2008, I was a cocksure solitary, with runes in one hand and some Peter Carroll tract in the other, and experience limited to little more than a year's worth of Pagan study group, taken in bits and bobs over my life. I openly called Silver Ravenwolf "some bullsh*t" and openly disdained 'fluffy bunnies'. Little did I know that I was one. Boy, did I talk about some crap - open critiques of fringe groups that were already fringe, showing off my 'obscure knowledge' as an 'elite' chaos magician, while disdaining 'folks who weren't accepting' - little did I realize that I was one of them, too.
Being part of this community has helped me gain so many different perspectives. We are all in this together and all learning and growing.
Order or Disorder of Esoteric Research
Back to the tale. So I complained and complained and eventually started my own occult group - the Order of Esoteric Research - in late 2008. We were a lively, engaged bunch at first, aspiring toward our goal which was to be like the Pagan / occult InterVarsity or Hillel. We made and charged sigils, practiced Peter Carroll's vortex rite and more, and enthusiastically did public tarot readings on the campus of the university with which we were affiliated. But it was so surface, so light. And I wanted to take my friends deeper.
But there were problems. I think the turning point was the winter solstice of that same year - '09 - when we (rather myself) decided to have a big public ritual. Everyone was invited, both group and non-group. Adults from the local townie Pagan community showed up, and I started getting nervous because there were lineage Wiccans and other high muckety-mucks. It was our first public ritual - me and Sorors Persephone and Gothica and the rest of the crew.
My friend, who agreed to invoke Gaia in the rite, was running super-late. People were calling me and asking for directions, and it was chaos because it was too much to handle. And I had written in a group Lesser Invoking Hexagram as part of my "oh-so-innovative double circle casting" (arrogant idiot that I was) - oh boy. And our Sun God still wasn't here.
Hey. I thought about blaming all those folks who had told me to start a group in the first place, since that seemed to be a real common statement to make. Instead, I screwed up huge at a should-know-better age, and pretty much lost face in front of everyone. Some lineage Wiccans and other muckety-mucks even came up to us at the end of the ritual and offered rather stinging critiques and pity remarks.
I had dotted my I's and crossed my T's with permits and the reservation paperwork for the university party hall, and lugged a crapton of food and equipment there hours beforehand. But it still went wrong. Folks from outside our group no longer showed up to our rituals after that, and a lot of people dropped out.
You know, I externalized. I blamed other folks in the group for not 'putting in as much effort'. But it was lust of result that made me push and push even though it wasn't coalescing. You know what, a couple years later, some kids tried to start a Buddhist group and it didn't work. Neither did the atheist / skeptic club and I heard bad things about the Hindu club as of late. And these are strong, cultural religions that double-digit percentages of students grew up in. Maybe it's something about the structure itself. Who knows?
I was a real ass when it came to blaming other folks and pushing my trad on them. But when Western magic is presented as a 'universal' thing by Regardie and stuff, you know, it was very confusing when I'd meet self-proclaimed magicians and they would turn up their noses at the Tree of Life. Because it's 'Judeo-Christian'.
Another thing that baffled me was meeting up with the folks in a pre-existing Pagan club that had been in the same group of universities. The dynamics were a bit different. Most of us, but especially I, felt that our group was about exploring spirituality and magic. I was into the Western Hermetic tradition, though a lot of folks were lukewarm about that. But I was into Wicca too, and meditation, and the I Ching and all that, you know?
The pre-existing Pagan group was about 'finding a space for Pagans among all these Christian and Muslim clubs', like they were talking about 'starting a Latino club among all these African and European culture clubs', and I just couldn't relate to that, you know? To me, that's not what Paganism was about. I was into ritual and magic. The Pagan group was more into, what does it mean to be Pagan, where are we as a community and a people.
We did a whole bunch of workshops, maybe once a month or so. We repeated them over and over. Tarot and the Tree of Life. Intro to astrology. Lesser pentagram and hexagram rituals. Runes and divination methods. I loved teaching them, but my enthusiasm waned when people just came and didn't get it. They showed up a few times and just couldn't remember what was taught last time, with the exception to rune classes which were just casual meet-ups. People don't want to do it. They don't want to memorize the elemental points on a pentagram. And eventually, they just stopped coming and I was tapped out of energy, too.
There were wonderful rituals - an Imbolc one where we 'crossed a veil', then took off our blindfolds and snapped on glowsticks, symbolizing the return of the light. But when me and my friend - a member of the OTO who wasn't part of our club technically - decided to run initiations, four people signed up but only 2 showed.
I never saw those two within an OER context again, but the initiations did 'take' - they became more motivated and sincere in their practices, though they went other places. And I wallowed in sadness for a bit that they didn't come back to OER. But now that I look at it, they were changed by the experience, their lives became better and more congruent to their 'true wills', as Thelemites put it.
The final ritual of the OER was a beautiful, mellow Summer Solstice rite in 2011. We found a power spot in the park and did something simple, meditative, calling upon the four directions and the power of the sun. A close friend of mine actually came from two counties away - a touching act of devotion, yet bittersweet since it had arrived too late. We built a pentacle on the ground out of twigs and branches, and it was still there a month later.
A Taste of Thelema
A year before that, I had provisionally joined the OTO just so that I could have that in common with the person whom I had started dating. The same guy who had helped me with the OER initiations before, and who I'm with right now. He's a bit of a higher degree member, and it's difficult when one person is an initiate in a trad, and the other person isn't. (Though I had been initiated in another Pagan tradition.)
We talked about deploying one of my OER workshops at the OTO lodge, where there'd be a built in audience who was into that kind of stuff. I was apprehensive because this was me, my OER stuff, and I have to serve my OER people. At that time, I still did not consider myself emphatically a Thelemite - still experimenting, a true child of the OER exploring different paths. My revulsion for Crowley as a sexist, racist, etc was too strong - and wasn't the spirit of OER about inclusion and multiculturalism?
So I gave a little workshop on hexagram rituals- throwing in ruminations on the Star Sapphire and 'Psalm 69'. It was a small group - yeah, I could handle that - and it was wonderful. For the first time, people actually paid attention to what I said. I actually got folks to get up and draw the different planetary and elemental hexagrams. And they loved it. I actually got folks to come up and demonstrate the NOX signs for the Star Sapphire. It was lovely to be around people that actually knew and understood what I was into. I was no longer the odd witch out, despite my misgivings about Crowley.
Moreover, I started considering my disabilities, and whether I could do this on my own. I was too tired from the OER thing. No, I can't be a High Priestess or Lodge Master 'like I always wanted to be', but I can serve. I needed a lot of help giving that workshop, setting up the Powerpoint and even just getting settled before giving it. But I didn't have to do my own advertising, and that was grand.
The spirit of the OER is still there, but I've been involved in Thelema. And I guess I can call myself a Thelemite considering how often I'm in the lodge, doing workshops and participating in ritual. We had a wonderful ritual a while back based on Liber Trigrammaton, and it was very well-enjoyed even by Higher-Ups. Oh man - I really needed that. Validation from Higher-Ups for my approval-seeking nerdy self. I had folks who were experienced and could help me put this together. And I never had to say Crowley was a prophet or whatever.
You know, thank you all for being here for me and for the OER and for whatever. There is so much out there to know. Groups also come and go, and are less stable than they appear. They take so long to form, and there is so much 'surface'. Even in the OTO, people don't want to dive deep all the time. There's gossip and who-did-what and shopping talk, and I've just learned to tune it out and focus on my relationships there. Every time I hear them talking about some old bullsh*t I have to remind myself - these people have hundreds of years of occult experience between them. But wisdom does come from the most unexpected sources, at the most unexpected times. I realize I don't know anything. Anything. And advice doesn't get into my thick earth-sign head.
Closing Thoughts and Sundry Scenes
It has to be applied through experience, for I can only learn through experience and some hard core embarrassing omg kill me now type mistakes. To this day, I sometimes wonder if I've ruined my reputation in the greater Pagan community, but then again, has the greater Pagan community ruined its reputation in its community? I love Silver Ravenwolf now, and I adore 'fluffy' Wicca. If only because of the nostalgia, and because it's actually a simpler and more wonderful presentation of the stuff I study.
Sometimes it makes me sad that Thelema, the brand name - is such a cult favorite, but Western Hermeticism is not. OER was about the Hermetic tradition. Thelema is 99% Hermetics. I don't care about the idea of rebellion or Satanism at all. It just isn't my cup of tea, but if this is the only place I'm going to find good resources I'm going to stick with the best.
Tons of people do practice non-Thelemic CM and Hermetic magic, but it is such a tiny group and so dispersed. You have the same factions (instead of Celtic and Asatru, there's Memphis-Misraim and alternative Mason types, Arabic evocation magic, Martinists, Christian Gnostics, Jewish Gnostics, Gurdjieff fans, esoteric Buddhists, different Golden Dawn factions, etc.)
There's even more drama in those scenes, and sometimes less work. Everyone wants to carve out their own order, reinventing the wheel and traveling thousands of miles. Like me! Tons of people are writing Gnostic Masses or working with increasingly obscure grimoires (the Picatrix was hugely popular a while back), like Neopagan trads writing circle casting and Sabbat protocols. Like me! It's cool, and I loved it and was dabbling in it for a while, but a lot of time was spent saying 'we're not Thelemites' - sounds a bit like the 'anything but Wiccan' talk in parts of the Neopagan community. And replace the 'Gardner was a racist/sexist' with 'Crowley was a racist/sexist' and you get the same shtick.
Then I realize what's really important. What's really important is your friends, your spirituality, and continual growth. It doesn't have to be Kabbalistic, it could be as simple as where to get the best wine for gatherings. It could be how to get a higher number of miles per gallon, or how to work a spell to get your friend the best job. It's about having friends that fit in with you and you fit in with your friends, and working to make that happen.
A little less than a year ago, I began a project called Esoteric Research Press. I had no expectations, only to help and to share out-of-print spiritual books with friends and fellow travelers. Right now, it's the new manifestation of Order of Esoteric Research - and it is helping so much. Finally, I get to share something of worth with the community, that I'm good at, instead of pushing hard and putting together yet another tired old trad.
It's continual growth with your HGA and going where Spirit flows, listening and being a child of the Gods instead of what your ego wants to do. Oh man I am such an egotist. And here is where I belong, and here is where we all are. Moving when you need to, instead of stagnating - there's a reason Occupy Wall Street is huge, and Ayn Rand is reviled - though they both preach the gospel of human freedom. The same force that drives the popularity of Crowley, and of Silver Ravenwolf drives the flow of love between you and the world and finds you teachers and mentors.
And here I am, a newbie, a neophyte. Just as I always was. I am here to learn what I had once thought I knew. Also, a very high-degree Thelemite that I know is taking his first step into Traditional Witchcraft - the initiator becomes a Neophyte yet again. We all come back to the same place. And that place is Divine.
"Nor by memory, nor by imagination, nor by prayer, nor by fasting, nor by scourging, nor by drugs, nor by ritual, nor by meditation; only by passive love shall he avail.
He shall await the sword of the Beloved and bare his throat for the stroke.
Then shall his blood leap out and write me runes in the sky; yea, write me runes in the sky."