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OTO Initiation is a Path of Service

OTO Initiation is a Path of Service

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

A recent discussion brought up the topic of why OTO sees so much attrition among its initiate members, especially at the more junior degrees. This question is one that as a sitting lodge master and a local leader for many years now I have given considerable thought to. When one asks former members why they’ve parted ways, the answers are all over the place. My own conclusions about this phenomenon I think pull the bulk of these disparate reasons together under one umbrella and offer a way that that we can do better going forward.

Initiation is Service

We retain very few Man of Earth initiates over time because very few people are intended for the demands and rigors of initiate membership in OTO. Ultimately, if people are not oriented toward service, they will leave. If they don’t understand their will as including the service of making the world more Thelemic or don’t see M∴M∴M∴ as an effective means of accomplishing that aim, they will leave.

Being an OTO initiate is hard work. It’s expensive. It bonds you to your brethren (many of whom you probably won’t like on a personal level) but will alienate you from many more. None of these qualities scream “The masses will love this!”

Yet rather than promoting ourselves as a service organization that initiates people in order to provide them with opportunities to become servants and leaders to themselves, their families, and within the broader community, we bill ourselves principally as a mystery school where one learns occult magic that will give people super powers. There’s an overwhelming conflation in people’s minds between our program and that of A∴A∴ (not that occult super powers is the ultimate aim of A∴A∴). Very little of our high level communications— internal or external—do anything to rectify this misperception.

Further, in addition to attracting the wrong people to our initiation program, there’s an opportunity cost of turning off the right people. There are plenty of people in the world who are motivated to learn how to better serve humanity, to become better leaders, to affect change in the world around them through the disciplined action of a religious organization. But the overlap is very narrow between those people and the ones who are hankering for occult superpowers, and in fact those two groups tend to repel one another. In short, we reject our core competency of teaching discipline, self-mastery, and service. This allows people to come to us for the wrong reasons and turns off those who might otherwise come to us for work we can actually help them with.

The flip side of this is: We need to develop our Gnostic Catholic Church as the principal vehicle for public engagement.

Initiates as Leaders in the Church

Making initiates is a means to an end, not the end itself. OTO’s mission is to promulgate Thelema, that is, make the the world more Thelemic. Striving to accomplish that through the primary activity of making initiates is doomed to failure. Doomed, I say! Stop trying that route. There will never in our lifetimes be any but the most marginal fraction of the public who are initiated into M∴M∴M∴, much less into OTO proper. Crowley himself in his twilight years conceded that these initiations, while useful, were inefficient in their ability to inculcate their lessons and not suited for the general population.

At the same time, the engine of OTO’s work is preserved and communicated through its initiates. It’s not that M∴M∴M∴ is outdated or useless, but rather that its use is more specific than the general case. Having an “indefeasible right” to something does not mean it’s a good fit.

The more specific case, as outlined above, is to regard M∴M∴M∴ as a training ground for service and leadership. Without divulging specifics, those who have undergone these ceremonies should have no trouble finding the many points drawn to convey the importance of discipline, service, and leadership to the initiate’s journey.

Well, if not for the initiations, won’t people be interested in M∴M∴M∴ for the fraternal relations? Most people aren’t looking for fraternity. They’re looking for community. Who actually reads the grandiose promises made in some of our founding documents about fanciful colleges, a right to order-provided medical care, shared use of large estates, etc. and thinks that’s realistic? Most people are concerned about how to pay rent, or give their kids better attention, how to care for their aging parents, or how to make their neighborhood cleaner and safer, and how to feel like their lives have purpose… not how many weeks they get annually in a profess house that they couldn’t afford the time off work to visit in the first place.

The fact is, Crowley failed miserably time and again at building community (or fraternity, for that matter), inasmuch as he even tried. His aristo-feudal vision of OTO membership is a relic and a fancy. We have an incredible, innovative, lasting body of theological work from him. He was a world teacher, not a community leader. We should use his social models as a window to understand his motivations and vision, not as dogma somehow irrevocably tied to the ultimate aims of OTO.

The Community of the Church

But yet our mission calls! If not by initiation and fraternity, then how? Fortunately we have other tools in our toolbox for actualizing our mission. When one thinks of community building and religion, the go-to vehicle for that is a church, and we happen to have one of those within our system.

At this point in OTO’s development our church manifests almost exclusively as liturgical in expression. The church celebrates Gnostic Mass and has a handful of subsidiary sacramental rites like baptism, confirmation, and marriage.

These are a great and necessary foundation, but a church is much more than its liturgies. The heart of a church is its congregation.

The church clergy help the congregation tend to its social welfare, offer counsel and guidance, and develop structured educational and worship programs. Church staff serve their congregation by nourishing the rudiments of community and providing the structures by which supple and enduring ties can form, bringing people together into smaller subgroups that coalesce around shared interests, season of life, areas of study, or community service. Church leaders help guide congregants through the educational programs, connect newcomers with other congregants with whom they may have a shared interest, maintain ongoing contact with people slipping away, and otherwise facilitate the congregation in understanding how to internalize theology and apply it practically to their lives.

People seeking M∴M∴M∴ initiation should be involving themselves in such because they want to participate in the service of the congregation of our church, to be leaders of that body. That congregation then in turn serves the wider community by manifesting the church’s mission there.

This is no call for ultimate sacrifice and self-abasement. There is personal growth, comfort, and benefit to be found at every level of the work. Having a service orientation should not be confused with denying the personal. Being service oriented guards us from having to tend overmuch to noisome “drifting occultists” who endanger our Order with irrelevance. Service orientation means that our initiates are better equipped to accomplish the aim of the Order of the Templars of the East, to provide safe passage and hospitality to pilgrims on the long road to the Holy Land.

Love is the law, love under will.

This article is written by guest contributor Rev. Clay Fouts who currently serves as rector and master of Sekhet-Maat in Portland, Oregon.

One thought on “OTO Initiation is a Path of Service

  1. Clay, your article is very well written. I find that the reason people go to “church” associated with any religion are for one or all of these reasons:
    * To be entertained
    * To feel a sense of belonging through common beliefs
    * To show support for a person whom they admire
    * To give and recieve (experience sharing)
    * To confirm a transformative personal story that can be experienced over and over again

    The Gnostic Mass provides fulfillment for all those reasons people gather together in community. Those motives are not necessarily tied to public service per se. In Ecclesia Gnostica baptism initiation one publicly commits to doing their Will, in Confirmation one memorizes and recites the Creed, which confirms our common beliefs regarding that Will. With the Minerval Degree is the first entrance to a non public Initiation. There is a paradox I percieve:

    The non public initiations trigger a greater sense of public service, while the public initiations (baptism and confirmation) trigger a greater sense of community. The magical middle pillar of promulgation might be a realization of alchemy synthesizing the two concepts together in a harmony that conveys a combined benefit of service and community. The broader application of community is most likely best realized through the Rituals of the Elements and Feasts of the Times (public participation) and the broader sense of Service is realized through private participation in Degree specific Rituals and initiations. Of course the sublime joy in my opinion is that The Gnostic Mass unites all this together so that there is no negative stigma for choosing not to pursue service more than community or community more than service. Each Initiate on their own unique journey will integrate community/service much differently than each other.

    Regarding the idea of attracting mass appeal without compromise I think it is a worthy goal to inspire a minimum 1000 persons to Public (baptism/confirmation) and/or Private (Minerval) membership in each “district” as the Equinox 3:10 details in Liber 101. I have never seen an official document clearly defining what a district is but for the time being I am going to postulate that it refers to any region where an O.T.O lodge is.

    Concerning the duties and privileges of joining the Order Liber 101 clearly states, “These regulations come in any district where the membership of the order exceeds 1000 souls”. This is said before any of the duties and privileges are mentioned. After I first encountered this strange preface I realized that there is a great solution offered by restraining any attempt to implement the duties and privileges with anything less than 1000 members.

    1) Firstly there is every reason to accept very rationally the utopian possibilities for such claims that are promised which the Order will provide with a 1000 + membership .

    2) The fact that Crowley never required Duty and Privilege to be enforced in a district UNTIL 1000 + membership brings an immense sense of freedom, a breath of fresh air to all Initiates to enjoy the journey of getting there, and to also extend a sense of hospitality that has no sense of pretentiousness from a small elite that runs the operation of a Lodge, Masses, and Initiations. By pretentiousness I mean a false sense of required duty that feels forced because “Equinox 3:10 says so”. But as I have pointed out there is a specific number mentioned for Duty to take effect. This also implies the same for Priviledge. The great call to cause such a community to come into existence could only take place by marketing the benefits of reaching 1000 + in a district. Essentially the constant theme would be, “Look everyone, none of us gets to partake of any of these privileges until membership reaches this number.” The often criticism by outsiders of elitism in the Order would have no place with such a mindset; because even members of the highest degrees are technically not able to access the publicly mentioned privileges without the 1000 soul minimum. And for icing on the cake the sense of duty would never be felt as a drag or burden after that many people are members of a Lodge.

    So I write all this to say that I feel where you are coming from and am working on a solution that could actually work. But I may be two years away from articulating it in a manner worthy of attention and implementation. In the meantime I look forward to listening to your own solutions/suggestions, and that of others, so that we can all contribute somehow to the rising again of an Atlantis like society that truly emancipates all individuals to be themselves.

    Am looking forward to hearing more from you on these topics. Your perspective is clearing a pioneering path that could pan out to have some deep impact on the global society as a whole.


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