The Scarlet Letter
Volume III, Number 4 | December 1996
From the Camel's Back
By Sr. N.V. Continuity P., Oasis Master
Please note that I have said that there is obvious misogyny in some of A.C.'s work, and that I have not said that he was a misogynist. That would be labeling him, and I dislike absolute labels, especially where they don't neatly apply. And therein lies the rub. For every virulent, nasty, arrogant and hateful thing Uncle Al had to say, there exists some other passage within his ouvre that is inspired, inspiring, beautiful and enlightened. Yes, it's true, Mr. Crowley had many voices. And if you want to experience them all, then get out your reading glasses and purchase a good chair, because he was nothing if not prolific.
So let's say you do get the necessary equipment (books, chair, coffee, good light, bullshit detector, etc) and you settle in and explore. Within the body of A. C.'s work you can find everything from light fiction to serious scholarship, from writings that "represent the utterance of an Adept entirely beyond the criticism of even the Visible Head of the Organization" to writings that represent the opinion of A.C. passed on in a purely epistolary fashion. And then there's all that poetry. The question is, how does one assign relative value to the individual writings? Crowley developed his own system for those pieces published under the imprimatur of the A.'.A.'. ...but are we to adopt his own classification of his work and value it similarly, because "he said so"?
The idea of a Thelemic canon is a strange and wonderful thing. Just what is it that Thelemites believe? There is a very basic root assumption that a Thelemite is a self-referential creature when it comes to personal beliefs, because each Thelemite dwells ineffibly in the center of the universe, determining their own reality or illusion of reality. Each to decide for themself, as they say. So the Thelemic canon must be one that emphasises individual liberty on every plane. Folks have the right to think what they will.
This raises some questions about the value and use of the canon of Aleister Crowley. The word canon presents difficulties of its own, of course. Webster's Seventh defines it in a variety of ways including (but not limited to) "a regulation or dogma decreed by a church council," "an authoritive list of books accepted as Holy Scripture", "a criterion or standard of judgement" and of course "the authentic works of a writer." I'm certainly willing to accept that the canon of Aleister Crowley is composed of his authentic work. But I personally draw the line at "Holy Scripture." In my world, that designation is reserved for "Class A" material. (For those of you who don't know, documents published under theur of the A.'.A.' usefully divided into classes, a system devised by A.C. himself so that others might know the valence he placed on each piece of work published therein.) Is the canon of Aleister Crowley (or the canon of the A.'.A.'.) the canon of Thelema? Does Thelema per say have a canon? And if so, need a practising Thelemite with integrated values accept it? And how does all this effect the O.T.O.?
As I conclude my fourth year of formal thelemic organizing under the banner of O.T.O., I've found that a tremendous amount of people care. And they are perplexed. I have privately thought for some time, and lately have taken to publicly stating that the reason I don't think O.T.O. is particularly attractive to women is because, hey, they can read now!
Aleister Crowley was the Prophet of our Law and of the New Aeon, and the author of our principle rituals; asI such his mark is all over our Order. Crowley and the O.T.O. are inextricably entwined. That's why I think it's ultimately important at this particular time for us to look at the misogyny (and for that matter, the anti-semitism and the outright racism) in the writings of A.C. and to call them what they are. On a personal level, it's always the right time to define what is useful and what is objectionable, and to trust yourself.
I am a Thelemite with an initiated perspective, and so when I read in Liber Aleph that woman has no soul, attaineth not in magick, and is not worthy of the truth, it's very easy for me to call it as I see it (complete bullshit ...hardly worthy of comment) and move along. My perspective allows this. The uninitiated perspective, however, is a more slippery slope, and while it may be true that if they are a king you can't hurt them, each and every initiate was once outside the veil. Many are the people, both initiated and not, who believe that Thelema is Crowleyanity. And of course, some individual expressions of Thelema are Crowleyanity. But many are not. And this is why it's important for individuals with initiated perspective to think and talk about these issues.
Among other reasons, such discourse at this time will set an historical precedent for such discourse in the future. It's important for the clear transmission of the Law of Thelema, which suggests that each and every Man and Woman is a Star, one, individual and eternal. Since I promulgate the Law from under the banner of O.T.O., which has provided me with a series of initiations that have unveiled myself to myself, I grow concerned about the face the Order presents to the world, and the countenance we show to one another.
This is a call for participation. The time is now. To call this a "women's issue" is to trivialize and ignore the obvious: if we accept fear-based stereotypes about any part of the community, we dishonor ourselves as a whole. When the children in our community start turning to the bookshelves, they are going to have some of these same questions. "Mommy, do you have a soul?" comes to mind, and that's an easy one. Appeal to the Class A writings themselves provide answer and inspiration. "Mommy, does our church believe being born a woman is an inferior incarnation?" is a tad more difficult. In the meantime, when someone tells you they think they've got a handle on "what Thelemites believe," better ask them what they've been reading lately!
Some topics that will be aired at the GenderCon are: misogyny in the writings of Aleister Crowley; the practice of assignment of role by gender in Thelemic ritual; and something on interesting questions concerning the assignment of gender to Godforms and how this may affect invocation. This is an open conference. We welcome all genders, and are open to all questions about gender, gender typification, assignment, and role in reference to Thelemic society and ritual. If you want to come and play with us, or if you will to dialogue from a distance, again I reiterate, the time is now. There's a lot of work to be done. Let's do it together!