[Preface July 2000: It may be useful to mention that this Position
Paper was published nearly 20 years ago and it does not take - (of
course) - into account any later alleged or real consecrations, such as
for instance Jorge Rodriguez to David Scriven, O.T.O.]|
(Preface to the first version: "This position paper is issued privately for the information of the clergy and selected laity of the Ecclesia Gnostica. It is not for general distribution or publication. Recipients of this paper are requested to exercise the utmost discretion and caution in making the same available to others, which should be done only in cases when the position of the Ecclesia Gnostica versus the Thelemite or Crowleyan groups must be clarified as a matter of practical necessity.)"
Permission for the on-line version (which follows the integral original private distribution) by Stephan Hoeller, July 10, 2000. Some few notes by P.R. Koenig in [square brackets]
The Need for the Present Paper
As is evident to most observers of contemporary esoterica, the Sixties and Seventies has brought about a revival and public appearance of several organizations which endorse the teachings of the late Aleister Crowley and which allegedly trace their authority and successions back to the organization which he once headed in the English speaking lands, namely the O.T.O. (Ordo Templi Orientis) and its associated bodies. Among the latter frequent mention is made of an Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (Gnostic Catholic Church) which functions as an adjunct of sorts to other organizations following in the footsteps of Aleister Crowley, such as the O.T.O. and the A.·. A.·. (Argentinum Astrum).
Some fifteen years after the onset of the esoteric revival there has also come about a modest Gnostic revival, heralded by the publication in English of the famed Nag Hammadi documents in 1977, followed by the publicaton of the popular book The Gnostic Gospels by Professor Elaine Pagels in 1979, and to be followed most certainly by other books. After having been known as a "faith forgotten" for many centuries, the Gnosis and Gnosticism are once more becoming the subject of interest not only to academic experts but to the inquiring public at large. As one might expect under such circumstances, a variety of groups are springing up (or rather are expected to spring up) who will all use the word "Gnostic" to characterize their teachings and practices. This development in turn will cause a certain amount of confusion in the public mind and will make it incumbent upon representatives of Gnostic organizations to distinguish their efforts from those of others.
The effort represented by our Ecclesia Gnostica and its secular arm, the Gnostic Society is one of the oldest, if indeed not the oldest on the American continent. Founded in 1928, the Gnostic Society has labored in a variety of ways for over half a century for the Gnosis. Although the Ecclesia Gnostica was not openly attached to this effort until much later, its distinguished ancestry among the French Gnostic churches places it equally into a category of established stability and antiquity. The effort represented by our Ecclesia and Society was given recent public recognition in a paper presented by Dr. Robert S. Ellwood Jr., Professor of Religion at the University of Southern California at a prestigious conference at Yale University which was convened to celebrate the publication of the Nag Hammadi texts. It is interesting to note for our purposes that Prof. Ellwood mentioned our particular effort along with only one other movement (the Association Gnostica in Latin America) as directly Gnostic, while he mentioned the Golden Dawn and the O.T.O. of Aleister Crowley as being merely inspired by "the alternative western spirituality veiled in ... several garments". (For further details see Modern Meanings for Gnosticism, address by Robert S. Ellwood, Jr., Yale University, March 1987.)
In contradistinction to the efforts of the Ecclesia and of the Gnostic Society, some movements using the name "Gnostic" are of recent origin and belong primarily to the alternative western spirituality above referred to by Prof. Ellwood rather than to the tradition of classical Gnosticism which is embodied in the ancient Gnostic scriptures and sacraments. Thus we find an increasing number of groups in the Spanish speaking community wich are subsumed under the name of the Gnostic Christian Universal Movement, and which seem to be an off shoot of the Associación Gnostica mentioned by Prof. Ellwood as existing in Latin America. (This movement uses the pentagram designed by Eliphas Lévi as its identifying symbol, and its principal inspiration seems to be a mysterious "Master Samael Aun Weor". The members appear to have only a tangential knowledge of the classical Gnostic scriptures and traditions.) By far the most ubiquitous use of the description "Gnostic" appears, however, among the numerous revival movements of the O.T.O.
From time to time one hears of O.T.O. members celebrating what is advertised as a "Gnostic Catholic Mass", as well as of priests and priestesses who claim "valid" ordinations at the hands of bishops in the "Gnostic Catholic Church" of the O.T.O. Upon visiting one of the above mentioned "Gnostic Catholic Masses" persons find that the ceremony is totally different from the Eucharist or Mass celebrated by our Ecclesia, and upon further investigation they may find numerous other puzzling differences also. It is high time therefore that some clarificatory statement should be forthcoming which might state the position of the Ecclesia Gnostica regarding such activities.
Lest the intentions motivating the writer of this paper be misunderstood it is necessary to mention one more important detail. In our view there is no single definition of Gnosticism and even less of Gnosis. We have no desire to stand in judgement over persons or groups and presume to pontificate about whether they are "genuine Gnostics" or not. All available evidence indicates that the ancient Gnostics were extremely pluralistic and creative in their attitudes toward the modalities they adopted for their spiritual transformation. Going even further we might say that Gnosticism is a tendency or attitude of the psyche rather than a doctrine or a fixed system of practice. It is our hope that as the present Gnostic revival expands there will be many diverse groups of a Gnostic orientation, and we hope to be one of these. By the same token we are also aware of our obligation to the specific Gnostic traditions of which we are the consecrated custodians. This makes it incumbent upon us to declare in clear and unambiguous terms where our practice and teaching differs from others who for reasons of their own have rightly or wrongly adopted the name "Gnostic" to describe their activities. While Gnosticism cannot be rigidly defined, this does not mean that everything is Gnosticism; neither does it mean that our Ecclesia ought to blandly and indifferently acceed to every teaching and activity that adopts the Gnostic name. Differentiation and discernment are some of the marks of consciousness and therefore of Gnosis. We sincerely hope however, that our statements made for the purpose of information and containing discriminating ideas will not be mistaken for manifestations of judgemental or hostile attitudes.
Whence Cometh the Thelemite Church ?
In order to attain to some clarity regarding the issue under consideration, a brief survey of the Thelemite or Crowleyan movement needs to be presented. Edward Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) was a noted student of and writer on subjects of Kabbalistic, Theurgical and Hermetic interest. He was also a poet, mountain climber, painter and bon-vivant. What he was not was a clergyman of whatsoever stripe, least of all a Christian clergyman, even if the term Christian should be modified by the adjective "Gnostic". While he delighted in the names, such as the "Beast 666", he appears to have been a fairly harmless Victorian-Edwardian eccentric. It is more than likely that today he would pass as a somewhat pompous, but otherwise not out-of-the-ordinary member of the swinging set. In fact his "evil acts" might appear less than unspectacular in some of the more avant-garde enclaves such as Marin County or the Malibou Colony. Crowley's main preoccupation was Theurgy, which he learned on the knees (- and at times in the sexual embraces -) of various adepti of the order of the Golden Dawn, which was the chief academy of theurgical matters at the turn of the Century and for a while therafter. The brash young Crowley soon parted company with the magicians of the Golden Dawn and turned his gaze toward other objectives. Among these was a German quasi-Masonic organization, known as the Ordo Templi Orientis (Order of Eastern Templars), founded around 1896 by a German industrialist named Karl Kellner [correction], who travelled in India and through the Middle East, and who was romantically excited by the mysterious image of the Knights Templar, who, were accused by their inquisitorial murderers not only of heresy, but of ritualised sexual practices.
Karl Kellner's order attracted but a small number of German intellectuals of occult leanings, among whom was the noted Theosophist Franz Hartmann as well as a certain Theodor Reuss, who succeeded the founder as head of the O.T.O. It was this Theodor Reuss who in 1911  admitted the young Aleister Crowley into his order and subsequently [in 1912] appointed him the head of that order for the English speaking countries [in Europe], which, - at least on paper -, he remained until his death in 1947 [Crowley was expelled in 1921]. The O.T.O. was a Masonic organization, having derived its Masonic successions from an eccentric English Masonic official, John Yarker, who by some obscure means managed to obtain authority to confer the degrees of three different Masonic rites. (The Scottish Rite, the Rite of Memphis, and the Rite of Misraim). The O.T.O. experienced a modest expansion under the leadership of Reuss and came to be divided into several autonomous national sections, such as the Mysteria Mystica Veritas in Switzerland, the Mysteria Mystica Aeterna in Berlin (under the leadership of Dr. Rudolf Steiner) and last not least, the Mysteria Mystica Maxima in England under the leadership of Aleister Crowley.
The O.T.O. had no pretension along ecclesiastical lines for quite some time. Such claims as exist of this kind developed primarily as the result of a rather tenuous association with the O.T.O. and with the noted leader of the Martinist Order, the French occultist Papus also known secuarly as Dr. Gérard Encausse (1865-1916). Papus became the recipient of two apostolic successions of expressed Gnostic character. The first of these came to him by way of a consecration as bishop which he received (together with his friends Paul Sédir and Lucien Chamuél) at the hands of bishop Jules Doinles, patriarch of the Église Gnostique Universelle. The date of this consecration is obscure, as indeed are the sources of the holy orders of bishop Doinel, (known under his patriarchal title as Tau Valentin II). It is reported that his was a spiritual consecration possibly without any demonstrable historic continuity with apostolic sources.
Papus also became a bishop for the second time, probably about 1913, this time at the hands of bishop Jean Bricaud (1881-1934), known under the ecclesiastical name of Tau Jean II. Bishop Bricaud was consecrated to the episcopate on July 21, 1913 by bishop Louis-Marie-François Giraud, who was ordained and consecrated with complete regularity (from the Catholic point of view) by a bishop of the Vilatte succession. (In fact Giraud was ordained priest by the noted archbishop Vilatte himself in 1907, and elevated to the episcopate in 1911 by the Gnostic bishop Jules Hussaye, who in turn received his episcopate from bishop Paolo Miraglia-Galotti who was consecreated bishop by archbishop Vilatte). All of this needs to be mentioned in order to indicate that Papus was a validly consecrated catholic bishop of Gnostic belief since 1913, and that he was also a Gnostic bishop of Gnostic belief since 1913, and that he was also a Gnostic bishop of far more dubious validity in the catholic sense since sometime prior to that date.
The claim of various followers of Crowley is that Theodor Reuss, the head of the O.T.O., received the initiatic succession of the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica from Papus in 1909, along with all the other successions of the Martinist order which Papus possessed. It is also asserted by some that Reuss in turn passed on these Martinist successions, including the Gnostic Catholic episcopate to Aleister Crowley in 1912, and thus that Crowley was indeed a duly consecrated bishop. It is further assumed (although not frequently stated explicitly) that Crowley passed on this ecclesiastical succession to others within his branch of the O.T.O. and that thus today there are valid bishops within the revival movements of the O.T.O. and within its ancillary activity known as the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica.
In brief outline form these seem to be the claims upon which various persons base their contention that within the Crowleyan or Thelemite bodies some sacramental activities can be carried out which are in fact valid in the catholic sense because they are administered by priests, priestesses and deacons who are validly ordained by true bishops.
A Critique of Thelemite Orders
One of the most glaring contradictions in connection with the above claims may be found in Crowley's own attitude. A quotation from the pen of Francis King, a contemporary authority on Crowley may be useful here:
... when Crowley visited Reuss in Berlin and had conferred upon himself the chieftainship of the British section of the O.T.O., he was also consecrated as a Gnostic Catholic bishop - or so Reuss claimed. Crowley, however, does not appear to have been aware of his new status; certainly he never made any attempt to exercise his ecclesiastical functions [wrong: see W.B. Crow], although, it is true, he did write a special Mass for the Gnostic Church. (Italics by Stephan Hoeller. Francis King: Man, Myth & Magick, ed. Cavendish).Indeed, as far as one can discern, Crowley's only act that related to anything even remotely ecclesiastical is his writing of the Liber XV O.T.O. Ecclesiae Gnosticae Canon Missae, of which more shall be said later. When perusing Crowley's voluminous Opus of many volumes, nowhere does one find any indication of his interest in or knowledge of the sacraments, the mythos and ethos of the historic Christian church. He frequently uses (some would say misuses and abuses) the technical terms of the sacraments, associating them with sexual matters, but that is about all.
In the following we shall undertake a systematic, point by point examination of the features of the claims of the Crowleyan succession which seem doubtful to us:
(1) Crowley seems never to have used the Papus successions at all if he ever received them in the first place. Crowley only operated two orders: the O.T.O. which he received from Germany, and the A.·. A.·. which he took from the Golden Dawn. At the time Crowley received his authorities from Reuss, the Gnostic Catholic Church had merged or was about to merge with the Martinist Order, in such a manner that they no longer functioned separately. There is no reason to suppose that Reuss or Crowley would have gone contrary to the rules established by Papus and separated this church from the Martinist context.
(2) Neither Papus nor Crowley had a valid apostolic succession to pass on because they had none in the first place. Reuss is said to have received the succession from Papus in 1909. Papus only received the unquestionably valid succession from Bricaud after July 1913, this being the date of Bricaud's own consecration. Thus in 1909 Papus may or may not have been a valid bishop depending on wheter he did or did not receive the Doinel succession by this time and (b) whether one is justified in accepting the Doinel succession is valid. The only succession possessed by Papus which one must accept as valid, however, he simply did not have to confer on Reuss in 1909.
(3) Assuming that Papus had a valid succession to hand on in 1909, which is assuming too much -, the succession may not have passed on to Reuss owing lack of proper intention. Proper intention in the ecclesiasitcal sense implies that in consecrating an other bishop the consecrator intends to do as the church has always done under such circumstances. The passing on of the Martinist and associated grades and initiations was a pro-forma honorary gesture on the part of Papus, given in exchange for a similar honorary confering of O.T.O. degrees on himself by Reuss. This sort of thing is customary among heads of initiatory orders who recognize each other in a fraternal manner, but it is a little more than a friendly formality. (A famous and controversial analogous event being the exchange of honorary grades in a like manner by Aleister Crowley and H. Spencer Lewis of the A.M.O.R.C.) While there may be honorary degrees of Masonic orders conferred at a distance or "on sight", this cannot be done in an ecclesiastical succession. Thus even if Papus may have wished to pass on some kind of an ecclesiastical succession to Reuss, the manner of conferring it would have been enough to render it very suspect indeed.
(4) There is nor proof that either Reuss or Crowley were technically capable of receiving a valid catholic episcopate. In order to be consecrated a bishop, a person must be validly baptized, confirmed, and ordained a priest and deacon. Were these prerequisites fullfilled in the case of Reuss? Were they in the case of Crowley? If not, they were not capable of receiving a valid episcopate even if the consecrator possessed a valid succession and held the proper intention.
(5) Reuss probably and Crowley almost certainly could not pass on any valid succession they received because they lacked proper intention. Reuss was a Mason with little or no knowledge of catholic practice, and Crowley was a passionate neo-pagan without any shred of sympathy for the catholic sacramental mythos even in its most esoteric aspect.
(6) Provided that claims should be raised to a succession descending from Papus through Reuss and through Crowley to various O.T.O. bishops, such bishops themselves could probably not pass on an apostolic succession in a valid manner for lack of proper intention. The leading members of O.T.O. organizations as a rule are so out of touch with even the rudiments of the catholic tradition that it is highly unlikely that their actions could be accepted as conforming to the doctrine of intention even in its most liberal and esoteric sense. Present-day representatives of the O.T.O. tradition at least in the United States are woefully uneducated in all matters including those ecclesiastical, and emotionally unstable to boot - at least in the majority of instances. It would be too much to expect from most of these ragtag subculture-magicians to know anything of proper intention, not to speak of holding such an intention.
(7) Whatever valid stream and current of magic, ecclesiastical or otherwise may have existed in the O.T.O. in Crowley's time is now probably absent in the present O.T.O. offshoots, owing to their lack of proper succession authority. Here a little insight into more recent O.T.O. history may prove helpful. According to the late Louis T. Culling (Frater Aquila), a high-ranking member of the O.T.O. as well as of its short-lived offshoot, the G.B.G., and a long-time personal friend of this writer, the only person lawfully entiteld to head the O.T.O. was Karl Johannes Germer (1885-1962). This man, - of whom even the most rabid critics cannot say much ill - became the Outer Head of the O.T.O. upon Crowley's death as he was already somewhat the acting head during Crowley's last years. According to reliable informants Karl Germer named a man named Metzger (Frater Paragranus) as his successor. Metzger resided in Switzerland and re-stablished the O.T.O. in the German speaking countries in a most sensible and respectable way. It would appear on the basis of this information that all other existing O.T.O. groups (exclusive of that of Mr. Metzger, Frater Paragranus) are without proper succession authority. The English writer on Crowleyana, Kenneth Grant, who claims to be Outer Head was expelled by Karl Germer from the order on July 20 1955. An other alleged chief, Grady McMurtry of California was indeed appointed by Crowley as his personal representative in the United States and as the reformer of the order, but only subject to the approval of Germer. Germer never approved, thus McMurtry's position also evaporated in spite of his claims. Neither the expelled member Grant, nor the unapproved representative McMurtry were mentioned in Karl Germer's will. A Brazilian claiment named Motta has similarly failed to establish any valid authority for his high-sounding titles in yet an other revival movement of the O.T.O. Unlike in churches, where schisms do not invalidate successorship, in the O.T.O. the magical current is said to go with the lawful successorship, - at least so this writer was informed by the late Luis T. Culling and other informed O.T.O. members. Perhaps this factor may be held accountable for the stability and common sense of Metzger's O.T.O. and for the lamentable ways of the other, less legitimate bodies?
Thelemic Sacraments and Teachings
The only document available that pertains to the sacramental practice of the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica of the O.T.O. is the aforementioned Mass written by Crowley himself. It is a curious text, poetic and magical in nature, but having virtually nothing in common with a Mass as understood by catholic tradition both orthodox and heretical. While it cannot be thus said to be either a Mass or catholic, one may also say that it has hearty little in it that could be called Gnostic either, unless the frequent use of the mystic word IAO unaccompanied by any other Gnostic feature should be accepted as atoning for the ommission of everything else.
The Ecclesiae Gnosticae Catholicae Canon Missae is not what its title declares. It is a complicated magical ceremony of considerable dramatic effect written in the typical bombastic style of Crowley, and dilated with his poetry, and containing quasi-Egyptian, Kabbalistic and other elements, with the Christian sacramental mythos notably absent. It does not contain many of the essential features which make up a Mass in any and all branches of the church catholic whether in East or West. Although it does contain the necessary formula of consecration in Greek ("this is my body" and "this is the chalice of my blood") the formula of consecration is taken out of the traditional context wherein it is identified as spoken by Jesus the Christ. Also in other portions of the Mass the consecrated host is referred to as sperm, and indeed there exists a probably well-founded rumour to the effect that the bread-like substance used in the Mass contains sperm. It is also telling that although many personages of various spiritual stature from Lao-Tze and Krishna to Rabelais, Swinburne and (naturally) Sir Aleister Crowley are mentioned by nae in the Mass, the name of Jesus or Christ is never mentioned once. This ritual is clearly not a Mass in any sense of the Christian and catholic mythos. We are not informed whether Crowley recognized or had any use for the other six sacraments, or whether he felt that one, i.e. his Mass was enough. The story goes that he wrote this Mass after he visited a Russian Orthodox service in Russia, which pleased him. Even if this ritual were a lot more satisfactory from both a catholic and a Gnostic point of view, one would be forced to say: "one Mass no church doth make".
The teachings of Crowleyanity (as Maj. Gen. J.F.C. Fuller named it) are too vast to be analysed here. The only feature we need to mention here is the so-called Law of Thelema (Will) which involves the acceptance of a new sacred scripture gathered on occult ways by Crowley and called the "Book of the Law" and the acceptance of Crowley as the prophet and incarnation of the new Aeon of Horus, which is said to have supplanted and indeed abolished the old Aeon of Osiris, to which belongs the Christian mythos with its dying and resurrecting God. It is almost needless to emphasize that this mythos is unacceptable to any Gnostic who takes his inspiration even in part from the authentic scriptues of the ancient Gnostics, or to any peson who has an affinity for the sacraments of the catholic mythos, which are all based on the mysterious and majestic figure of the Christ. With all due respect to Aleister Crowley, we as custodians of this certain tradition of the Christian Gnosis are by no means willing to substitute Baphomet - Therion - Perdurabo - Crowley for the figure of the Christ!
In view of these several and other considerations it is only fair to state that we of the Ecclesia Gnostica and its associated bodies cannot in good conscience recognize the O.T.O. groups and their alleged Gnostic Church as being in any way compatible to or related to our own effort or movement. We do not question the sincerity and worthiness of the efforts of persons in these movements and wish them not only no harm but the best in every way. To compare us to the Thelemite groups is impossible and tantamount to comparing apples and oranges. We do not doubt that their efforts may play some useful role in the Gnostic revival, though we honestly can't see what it might be. We would even respectfully suggest that they might call themselves some other names which would more truthfully describe their orientation, such as Kabbalists, Magicians and so forth and leave the name Gnostic to those whose teaching and practise resembles the original model more closely. Meanwhile we fell dutybound to uphold our own Gnostic traditions and as far as we may be able to do so to prevent them being confounded with what they are not.
To sum up the conclusions which we feel must be drawn from the foregoing we might consider the following points:
(1) No kind of intercommunion of sacramental nature may be established between ourselves and any revival movements of the O.T.O. Since it is our policy to discourage intercommunion between our communion and other bodies in any event, this point should not be difficult to observe. The main reason for this cautionary stricture in this instance is the fact that the validity of the O.T.O. orders is very highly questionable.
(2) Any public association of our organization with the O.T.O. revival movement should be scrupulously avoided. The reasons for this are both theoretical and practical. In terms of theory and teaching we cannot go along with the so-called Law of Thelema which abrogates the Christian dispensation and substitutes for it the erratic personality and unsatisfactory doctrines of the late Aleister Crowley. The Christian mythos in Gnostic interpretation represents our main foundation. We do not hesitate to amplify this mythos by any spiritually stimulating element which appears compatible with it, but we have no inclination to replace this mythos with any other. In addition to this, Crowleyanity and its votaries possess a not undeserved evil reputation in many circles of spiritual and occult students. There is no need for us to be tarnished by this same brush.
(3) In spite of the above statements we wish to state that we pass no judgement on Crowley, the O.T.O. or anyone who accepts the so-called Law of Thelema. All members of our Ecclesia, whether clergy or laity are entirely free to study or to otherwise involve themselves with the legacy of Crowley if they wish. Similarly we do not wish to withold our friendship and recognition from Bishops or Churches possessing valid orders but being disposed more positively toward the "Law of Thelema" than we are ourselves. It needs to be remembered therefore that our policy of dissociation concerns the O.T.O. revival movements themselves and not bodies which may be inclined toward Crowley, but otherwise possessing valid orders and observing the accepted forms of the sacraments. Our clergy and lay members are advised to consult verbally with their bishops regarding the details and other feature of this matter.
(4) The issue of the Thelemite bodies brings us a delicate point which all Gnostics must face sooner or later. While Gnosis and Gnosticism cannot and should not be rigidly defined, from this one should not draw the erroneous conclusion that everything is Gnostic that adopts that name. In the last analysis it is the prerogative as well as the duty of the individual to discriminate and chose between the authentic and the inauthentic in this field. Still, an Ecclesia (Association) of our kind also has obligations in this regard. Among these is the upholding of the specific Gnostic traditions which have from the beginning been generally taught and accepted among us as the fundamental basis of our ecclesiastical life, and without which our Ecclesia has no distinctive reason to exist. To act otherwise would invite chaos both in our own ranks and in our relationships to the inquiring public which expects a clear and meaningful presentation of the Gnosis from us. These are not times when we can afford our trumpet emmitting an uncertain sound. The charming vagaries of the Flower Child Era are passing, indeed they have already given way to a far more focussed form of inquiry among the public than we have seen in a long time. Thus, while the knowledge of the Heart will always remain our chief concern, the distinctions and definitions formulated by the knowing Mind informed by Gnosis must also be given its due in our activities. To sift the wheat from the chaff is part of Gnosis. It is thus that we feel justified in preparing this Position Paper which we now bring to a close.
© Stephen A. Hoeller
Study a version of the Eucharistic Service used by Bishop Stephan A. Hoeller of the Ecclesia Gnostica, incorporating modifications attributed to the late Primate, Roger St. Victor Herard (Tau Charles), as prepared and edited in 2000 by the Gnostic Catholic Apostolic Church, the Primacy of the United States of America.
Discussions on the Nature of the O.T.O. Phenomenon