The Scarlet Letter
Volume III, Number 1 | Sept. 1995
By Fr. Dionysos Thriambos
The word "catholic" denotes universality, liberality, and inclusiveness. It is in those senses that it is most often approached by members of the Thelemic Gnostic Catholic Church when it occurs in our Creed. The word is thus used to indicate the Church's catholicity rather than its Catholicism. The Catholicism of the Church is worth examining, however. Though Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica in no sense represents a form of Christian orthodoxy, it does share some key features with the Church of Rome, as compared with other Old Aeon religions.
The first point of Catholicism for our Gnostic Church is its history as an institution. Aleister Crowley's E.G.C. was derived from the G.K.K. (Gnostische Katholische Kirche) of O.H.O. Theodor Reuss, who had been recognized as a bishop by Gerard Encausse, a.k.a Papus. Papus' gnostic church emerged from a brew of fringe ecclesiastical activity in Europe that found its roots in the "wandering bishops" who split from the Church of Rome after the first Vatican Council. Some have included the Old Dutch Catholic Church in this organizational pedigree. But the connections in this series of sects are often tenuous at best, and frequently insignificant with regard to their respective philosophies and rituals.
On a more vital and personal level, the issue of "apostolic succession" has been raised as the chain connecting the E.G.C. to Roman Catholicism. Scholarly inquiry may have finally discovered in Crowley's correspondence his claim to have received legimate episcopal consecration. Substantiation of this claim seems unlikely, though it is easy to assume that Reuss was the consecrating bishop. The current Holy Father of the E.G.C. is reputed to have claim to a separate succession, and thus has had the power to retroactively recognize Crowley and legitimate lines of E.G.C. descending from him. Nevertheless, the succession derived from Roman Catholicism is, at best, trivial for the integrity of the E.G.C. The principal succession in the Thelemic Church finds its wellspring not in Jesus and his apostles, but in the Priest of the Princes Ankh-f-n-khonsu. (That's not a crucifix at the top of the super-altar!) Therefore, the transmission of the initiatory current from Crowley within O.T.O. forms the best basis for a Thelemic succession. The regularization of E.G.C. under its present Patriarch has made these mechanics plain, by tying eligibility for ordination and consecration to initiatory status in the Order.
It is only fair to acknowledge the incredible success of the Church of Rome over the last couple of millenia. There is perhaps no better example of the promulgation of a magical formula by a single institution. The formula of Osiris was transplanted to nations, peoples and cultures with remarkable efficiency, and not just by force. Though conversion by the sword played an occasional part in the spread of Roman Catholicism, there was a factor inherent in its religious practice that made it surprisingly capable of taking root in new soil. That factor, which the E.G.C. shares with its Old Aeon stepmother, is a set of methodical concessions to the formula of the previous Aeon.
Hagiolatry and the cult of the Virgin Mary have been incorporated by the Church of Rome because they provided a "comfort zone" for individuals and societies still operating with the formula of Isis. Hagiolatry (worship of saints) fulfilled the needs for polytheism and reverence to ancestors that were built into the Isiac formula. The Mary cult even preserved the key god-form of the previous Aeon, though in a distorted role subsidiary to that of Jesus-Osiris.
As the E.G.C. Manifesto of Benjamin Crowe explains:
The predominance of the Mother (Aeon of Isis) and of the Father (Aeon of Osiris) are of the past. Many people have not completely fulfilled these formulae, and they are still valid in their limited spheres; but the Masters have decided that the time has come for the administration of the Sacraments of the Aeon of Horus to those capable of comprehension.
The E.G.C. makes concessions to the Aeon of Osiris, just as the Church of Rome did to the Aeon of Isis. Various features of the Gnostic Mass can be seen as concessions to the old formula. Thus those who "have not yet fulfilled" the Osirian program are given a vantage point from which to sense the energies of the New Aeon.
One set of concessions to the formula of the Dying God consist of the proliferation of funerary imagery in the Mass. The Priest issues from and returns to the Tomb, the High Altar is proportioned like an Egyptian sarcophagus, and the Stele is a funerary tablet. The Mass thus takes advantage of the fact that Osirian culture has trained people to associate religious feeling with death and burial.
Another important concession is the exclusion of women from the list of saints. It seems strange that this sexist criterion should be applied in the Thelemic E.G.C. when it wasn't a factor in Christian canonization. But closer inspection shows that the saints are included to create history and a personalization of the past. Therefore, the saints are the ideal occasion to introduce a concession of this type, since their function is one of retrospection. A Catholic Church of any Aeon might be expected to base its list of saints on the formula of the prior Aeon.
As the central public and private ritual of O.T.O., the Gnostic Mass appears to have two institutional functions. As a public ritual, the Mass is an instrument to promulgate the Law of Thelema. As a private ritual, the Mass is said to adumbrate all of the chief secrets of the Order, especially including that of the Ninth Degree, which is traditionally held to be the supreme secret of sexual magick.
It is clear from the "coeducational" nature of the Sanctuary of the Gnosis that both men and women can employ the Secret of the IX°. In the Gnostic Mass, however, it seems that the Priest, and not the Priestess, is placed in the role of the sex magician. The other officers are subsidiary to the Priest ("they being as it were part of the Priest himself"), and it is the Priest who serves as a model for the Communication of the People. The omission of female saints may also reflect the priority given to the Priest in the ritual. A couple of possibilities for this limitation should be considered.
One reason that springs quickly to mind is that Crowley was male, and was therefore only interested in or capable of writing the ritual from that perspective. Evidence from two of Crowley's other rituals suggests that this explanation be discarded. Liber LXVI describes a ritual of sex magick that involves a male operator with a female "altar," but "the Priestess shall seek another altar" for her own operation, according to verse 39. The Supreme Ritual found in "Two Fragments of Ritual" in The Equinox I:10 gives the woman the reins. She directs the ceremony through interrogation and command, and the man sits upon the altar in her service.
The other motive for the Priest's primacy may be conscious concession to the formula of the Old Aeon. If the Secret were equally applicable by men and women, then it would not matter for purposes of its illustration whether the Priest or the Priestess applied it. Women and men among the People communicate on equal terms, thus affirming the equanimity of the new formula with regard to gender. But the assignment of the Priest to head the Mass reflects the old formula as a more accessible special case of the new. The ideologically awkward prioritizing of the Priest is a deliberate ritual concession which balances the private and public functions of the Mass.
Every man and every woman is a star. —AL I:3