The Scarlet Letter
The Gnostic Mass requires five officers for full performance. Unfortunately, due to shortages of temple space and/or ritualists, it is often performed with only three. This necessitates gross changes in the role of the Deacon, which will not be addressed here. Certainly, the essential formula of the Mass can be enacted by the three "adult" officers without further assistance. But it is the purpose of the present essay to provide those other two officers with some suggestions and advice that may enrich their participation in the rite, as well as to stimulate interest in these roles among those who have not seriously considered performing them.
The official missal of the Mass, Liber XV, specifies the participation of "Two CHILDREN, one clothed in white, the other in black." So these offices in the Mass are generally referred to as the "children," regardless of the maturity of those filling the offices. In fact, however, these roles were written so that they could be performed by children. No speaking is required of them, and they are always in a position to be directed by one of the other officers, if necessary. Note that Priest, Priestess, and Deacon are all offices which may carry the status of ordination. This is definitely not true of the "children."
In fact, it is most appropriate for anyone who has been baptized in the Church to participate as a "child" in the Mass before they seek confirmation. Children do not recite the Creed (which confirmands are expected to have memorized), nor do they make the various signs of the Church and/or Order called for from the People in Liber XV. But they have an "inside" perspective on the ritual that should give them further insight in their consideration of confirmation. Since the Church only baptizes those past the age of puberty, all "children" following this schedule would be adults.
The technical term for these officers—which Baphomet XI° somehow avoided in his composition of the missal—is acolyte. This term is from Greek roots signifying "following in the path." The designation is therefore both literally and figuratively true of the "children" roles of the Mass. It is common practice for would-be Priests and Priestesses to serve as acolytes in the Mass as part of their training, since the "children" are in a position to see many of the details of consecration, consummation, k.t.l. that are obscured from the People by distance or interposed bodies.
Other traditional titles that might be applied to these offices stem from the classical mysteries of Eleusis. In the Greater Mysteries, which were rites of individual initiation (unlike the pageant of the Lesser Mysteries), there were three officers: the Hierophant, Stolistes, and Dadouchos. Hierophant means "revealer of the sacred" and the original Greek ierophantes has the value of 1101. The Deacon as the bearer of The Book of the Law fulfills this role. The torchbearer in the Eleusinian ritual was known as the Dadouchos (Greek value of 1209). Clearly, this role is in accord with the acolyte in the Gnostic Mass who wears white and is known as the "positive child." The stolistes (895), unsurprisingly, bore a bowl of water. The black-robed acolyte or "negative child" corresponds neatly. The communicants (Priest and People) of the Mass fill the role of the candidate in the mysteries. Note that the word "candidate" originally meant "clothed in white," as the Priest is at his first appearance in the Mass.
In the Eleusinian mysteries, the obvious polarity of the stolistes and dadouchos was associated with the moon and the sun. This suggests the traditional alchemical formulae, and through them the tableau (with children) in the "Lovers" trump of the Crowley/Harris tarot. The Deacon in that image is the towering angel Aiwass/Eros, presiding over the union of the Priest and Priestess.
There are many other ways to interpret that polarity, usually referred to as "positive and negative" in connection with the Mass acolytes. The positive child is the yang principle, while the negative is the yin. This obvious correspondence opens the floodgates of Oriental metaphysical dualism.
It is common to assign the different acolyte roles by gender in the Mass, with a masculine positive child, and a feminine negative child. It would be a mistake to become doctrinaire about such gendering. "For he is ever a sun and she a moon, but to him is the winged secret flame and to her the stooping starlight. But ye are not so chosen." (AL 1:16-17) "Countercharged" acolytes, as well as pairs of like gender work quite well.
Symbolically, the acolytes may be seen as siblings. Two male children might be Set (negative) and Horus (positive). Two female children might be Isis (positive) and Nephthys (negative). Assuming god-forms is an especially rewarding magical project for these speechless roles.
The children may be seen as the two versions of the child Horus: Hoor-pa-kraat, the babe in the lotus (negative), and Ra-hoor-khuit, the crowned and conquering child (positive). The Deacon would then be Heru-ra-ha, their adult synthesis.
If the Deacon is considered as mercurial (with his Book and bell) rather than solar, the children may be thought of as Din and Doni. These two spirits of Mercury illustrate the essential doubling and duplicity of thought expressed through language. Thus the children, while not speaking at all, symbolically represent the meaning and countermeaning inherent in the Deacon's principal pronouncements—the Collects.
The positive child is "Truth," or the meaning manifested by the Word; and the negative child is "Lie," or the meaning hidden by the Word. An analogous reading would be the Ape of Thoth made duplex.
A simple qabalistic reading of the acolytes attributes them to the pillars of Severity (negative) and Mercy (positive). In fact, when not in procession with the other officers, the only paths walked by the acolytes are those pillars. The temple is defined by a high altar at Kether and a tomb at Malkuth. The negative child moves east and west on the north side of the temple. The positive child moves east and west on the south side of the temple. The middle pillar, or pillar of Mildness, could be attributed to the Deacon.
When the acolytes first enter the temple, they do so in the company of the Priestess. The stolistes or negative child leads, and the dadouchos or positive child follows the Priestess. Regardless of the point of their entrance to the temple, they must proceed in a widdershins manner to "the space between the two altars" (i.e. high altar and fire altar). Not only does this reflect a lunar energy borne by the priestess, but it places the dadouchos in the pillar of mercy and the stolistes in the pillar of severity. Also, it fulfills the subsequent instruction that when the Priestess turns and ascends to the high altar, "the positive child [is] on her right."
The children follow the priestess through her dance, with the positive ahead of the negative child. This order primarily reflects the prior placement of the children and the direction of the path of the Priestess.
During the time that the Priestess is enlivening and consecrating the Priest, the children should flank the tomb, each in their respective pillar. Though it is tempting for the acolytes to linger to the east of the Priestess, and thus closer to the font and the fire altar where they are called for; putting them in the west clears the central space for movement of officers and perception of the People. Each acolyte in turn gives his or her implements to the Priestess, and then resumes them when she has dedicated and used them.
The acolytes follow the Priest and Priestess to the East and provide their implements to the Priest for his work in enthroning the Priestess. Then they follow the Priest in his triple circumambulation of the temple, this time with the Deacon as well.
Though there is a faint implication that the children relinquish their implements before those circumambulations, there is a sound reason for them to retain the items. At the end of the Mass, the People are to "communicate as did the PRIEST." The Priest's status in communication included having been made "pure" by earth and water, being made "fervent" by air and fire, and identified with the Sun and the Lord by his raiment. That sequence from the earlier ceremony of the Introit may now be subtly extended to the People as the officers pass them thrice with the implements. The three passes correspond to the three crosses made by the Priestess in each case, and the acolytes may therefore hold their implements at the level of the "forehead, breast, and body," respectively on the three circumambulations. If this reasoning is accepted, then the order of the officers in this procession (which is not specified by the missal) should be: Priest, negative child, positive child, Deacon.
After the Priest's circumambulations, the acolytes must leave their devices at the subaltars, so that they can kneel in the "flame" position. The triple flame of the Deacon and the two children in the Ceremony of the Rending of the Veil formulates a shin for spirit in the midst of the tetragrammaton formed by the temple of the four elements. This is the Osirian pentagrammaton [heh vau shin he yod], representing spirit indwelling the human form, "the Khu in the Khabs." (AL I:8)
When the acolytes next relocate, at the beginning of the Ceremony of the Consecration of the Elements, they move to flank the High Altar. Thus the archaic pentagrainmaton is replaced by that of the New Aeon: FIAOF. The children are the two phases of spirit (F), and the three principal officers between them are the human form in the glyph IAO (Priestess-Deacon-Priest) —"the Khabs is in the Khu." (AL I:8)
Note that the children are directed, when not carrying implements or making the "flame," to stand with their arms crossed upon their breasts. i.e. they make the sign known as the Blazing Star or Osiris Risen. This sign is also the "attitude of resurrection" assumed by the People on concluding their communion at the high altar with the words "There is no part of me that is not of the gods." There is an artful reference here to the nature of childhood in regard to magick and spirituality.
As the People communicate, they are offered the elements by the acolytes. The positive child presents the paten with the Cakes of Light, and the negative child gives a goblet of wine to each communicant.
The children are the last visible officers of the Mass, entering the tomb after the Priest and Deacon. Their retreat should be made along their "pillars"—westward on their respective sides of the temple. Their vanishing upon convergence at the tomb is thus illustrative of the 0= 2 formula and the mutual annihilation of opposites in love.
The children do not communicate in the Mass. There is a special mechanism of gnosis operating during the communication of the People, however, to which only the acolytes are entitled. Throughout the Mass, the acolytes may cultivate in themselves an awe of and reverence for the "adult" officers of the Mass. Psychologically, this is augmented by the silence of the children and their repeated trailing of the other officers. Physiologically, it may be further stimulated by deliberate relaxation of the facial muscles, even to the point of letting the lips separate, as well as staring at the officers. In the final three ceremonies of the Mass, this adoration will be naturally focused on the Priest before the high altar. By the time the People communicate, this state of the acolytes can amount to a free-standing function directed at the approach to the Priestess. The children are consequently in a unique position to directly perceive the inherent divinity of each communicant.
The acolyte roles of the Gnostic Mass are subtly yet firmly woven into the infrastructure of that most exquisite rite. Let us rejoice in and as these "children," who are "Beauty and strength, leaping laughter and delicious langour, force and fire" (AL II:20).