Just Showing Up Is Enough (3/3)

“All you have to do is to be yourself, to do your will, and to rejoice.” —The Law of Liberty

(Continued from What it Means to Grow)

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

How do we go about serving more pilgrims? There are two sides to this coin, a projective element and a receptive one, the Sun and the Moon. Projection-wise, serving more means increasing awareness of our existence, reminding people that pursuit of religious and spiritual life is still valuable even in these crass and nihilistic times, connecting with people and communities who share in some of our values. More on these aspects later. It’s the receptive side of the coin that I want to address first.

I also will preface this by stating that I don’t mean to offer these as a way of saying where we are sucks or as some deep criticism of how our lodge has done things and cultivated itself up to this point. We are nascent and we are alive, and both of those traits insist upon mutability and evolution. What is good for us now would not necessarily have worked in the past, just as what has worked well in the past may not be our strongest hand now. I’m focusing on how we could be doing things differently as a study in contrast, not as a condemnation of our history.

Receptive-wise, we need to make a hospitable environment in which to receive people. We’ve devoted no small amount of attention over the years to this practice, and we rightfully pride ourselves on hospitality. We make our temple look appealing and comfortable, make a practice of individually welcoming newcomers and offering them conversation, providing great food and drink to warm people’s bellies. We do a lot to receive people with grace. Still, we could do well to guard ourselves from some traits that often serve to repel.

Much of our local culture revolves around initiation. We talk about initiation. We make announcements about initiation application deadlines. We ask newcomers if they’re interested in initiation, letting them know that it’s available to anyone who’s free, of full age, and of good report. And there’s lots and lots of subtext that when you get down to it implies that O.T.O. is all about the initiations. While I don’t think it’s accurate to say that is false, it is only part of the story.

I don’t want to pontificate too windily from my bleacher seats in the Lover Triad about the ultimate aims of the Order, but it is necessary to lay out some premises for my thinking here, even if it turns out to be idiosyncratic. The purpose — from the Order’s perspective — of creating M∴M∴M∴ initiates can be distilled down to two perspectives on one aim. One is to prepare candidates to eventually receive and practice our central secret. The other is to promulgate Thelema as the law of this age. Certainly initiates are required for the former (though only a very few), but it is not a requirement of the latter. The key point here is that we aren’t particularly interested in making initiates for their own sake. We’re not operating simply as a mystery school. We’re making initiates to execute the Order’s work, as a training ground. This is supposed to also benefit the initiate personally, in no small part because it is a significant component of their personal will to help bring about the changes in the world our Order is charged with instantiating.

This is another way of describing the high bar I mentioned in the previous post. Most people are not going to be initiates. That our culture has such a noticeable bent around presenting initiation as “what we do” serves to alienate far more people than it attracts. Even when we say out loud there’s no requirement to initiate nor need one be a member in order to partake of our events and public rituals, the litany of small references, making a public fuss over collecting applications, insider comments about initiation, and so on, the indirect gestalt serves to overwhelm and contradict the explicit statement.

We certainly don’t want to make a secret of initiation (well, even if the contents must remain secret), but we live in a clique that I don’t think we’re necessarily consciously aware of. I’d like us to be more consciously aware of it and to give a place to nurture that bond which unites us irrevocably, but a private place where it is less disposed to alienating people who are amenable to our work, who stand to benefit from it, who may even promote the Thelemic current in their own way, yet who are not interested in becoming members now or probably ever. For the vast majority of people coming through our doors, just showing up is enough.

Further, promoting initiation as our principle activity has the ill effect of actually creating more initiates… temporarily. It’s a common occurrence for people to take initiation shortly after their introduction to O.T.O. only to very shortly afterward realize they’re not up for that kind of commitment. Now technically there’s nothing stopping them from simply going inactive or formally resigning and still remain a part of the community, attending public events and the like. But psychically, having crossed that threshold sets up a dynamic of expectations — largely self-imposed, I suspect — that prompts these folks to leave and never return. In many cases I imagine it’s also a matter of deciding they’re just not into Thelema, period. But I will hazard that at least in some cases we’ve lost people who would still like to participate in the community but feel like they can’t because of past-initiate awkwardness. Even if this phenomenon is entirely self-imposed by these individuals, it behooves us to help people avoid it, to help people find a place in the community as a non-initiates until they’re really very certain and aware of what they’re getting into.

There are other insular aspects of our culture that we ought at least be aware of. Let me throw out some examples. The preponderance of our educational efforts revolve around magick and the occult. These make sense for initiates, but these topics cater to an altogether niche group. They are, in isolation, irrelevant to those are who are interested in Thelema as a philosophical and ethical framework or as a religious tradition for a laity. On the one hand, there aren’t a lot of places even in Keep Portland Weird, Oregon where one can meet with others to discuss the occult, so it’s a service that we have these classes. On the other hand, the opportunity cost of having a lot of occultism classes is that it takes up resources that could otherwise be expended on other topics which may serve a greater number of people. Philosophy, ethics, history, yoga, crafting workshops, and so on. With a bit of sophistication we can endeavor to make these topics accessible while also tying them back in to the occult principles that are invariably the light behind this shadow world.

This list also includes insular language like “93”, or “Holy Guardian Angel,” “HGA,” “True Will,” and other technical terms. There are insular cultural expectations, like tacitly or explicitly asserting that a Thelemite must be a sex-positive polyamorist, or even expecting that a newcomer is not a bigot or won’t have other notions that clash with our values. A lot of these latter cases are intractable and need to be shown the door quickly. We need to maintain a safe, hospitable place, and we can’t do that if we “allow and abet Evil.” Yet there is a balance to be struck. Part of our work is helping people become better, which by implication necessitates that there’s something presently preventing them from effectively expressing their inmost self. Sometimes those things can be pretty ugly. This is not necessarily cause to exclude someone who is earnest and who has enough self-control to behave with an acceptable amount of social grace.

It’s not my intent to bring up all these points as evidence in some trial as to whether or not the Portland O.T.O. community is insular or cliquish, requiring the establishment of a hall monitor to make sure people only say the right and maximally hospitable thing at all times. Most of these insights came from observing my own marginalizing behaviors and seeing the effect it has on non-initiates. I’m not trying to be harsh but to bring awareness of a dynamic. In a small, struggling group, increased insularity is worth its costs. There are benefits to having a small, tightly knit group that has an identity tied to a sense of exclusivity. But there’s a point at which the costs of exclusivity outstrip the benefits. Sekhet-Maat has reached that point. My purpose in this missive is to cultivate an awareness of that possibility so that each initiate may apply it to their own life and mode of participation as they see fit. We offer amazing opportunities and experiences for our community already. I love knowing that we can do even better.

Love is the law, love under will.