So, a little personal history here before I dive in: I’m a former Freemason. I haven’t been active in a few years, in part because I decided it was okay to be an atheist, and atheists can’t be Masons. Previously, I had identified myself as a deist, and sort of believed in the possibility of a God, but when that changed, I no longer had the qualities required to remain a Mason.
Why am I mentioning this? Because Aleister Crowley, also a former Freemason, had joined OTO and sort of transformed it with his own beliefs and rituals, and he allegedly included a lot of masonic stuff in there. Knowing this, I’ve always been really curious about the OTO. Presumably, the first, second, and third degrees of OTO are the same as the ones in Masonry. I’ll never know for sure, because I don’t intend to join and go through their degrees. I’m just going to go to their public rituals.
This means that it’s not likely that I’ll be able to give them a score. But given what I think I know about their degrees, they’d probably score pretty highly on my humanist scale.
One of the public things I can say about closing a Masonic lodge without reaping heaps of scorn and anger for revealing a “secret” is this: The last thing you hear as a Mason, before leaving the lodge, is the Master of the lodge telling you how to behave yourself. It includes everything in my criteria. In fact, it’s where my criteria comes from. If the OTO guys close their lodge in a similar manner, then I’d end up giving them high marks.
So there you go. This blog is officially a Masonic Conspiracy! And to add to the conspiracy, I’m going to highlight in bold everything I write about that I think ol’ Aliester might have borrowed from Masons. At least it will be things that Masons also do, so I suppose that it could be just something they both borrowed from somewhere else. Some Masonic symbolism is original to Masonry, and some isn’t.
The OTO lodge is in a little strip mall of a place off of the Aurora Avenue corridor and near the Seattle Center. This area is affectionately referred to as the “Mercer Mess” because of where Mercer Street comes in is a tangle of intersections, stop lights, turn-arounds, and traffic mayhem. The roads weren’t planned so much as congealed in place, and it’s hard to get through even when traffic is light. To make matters worse, there’s a multi-year plan currently being executed to fix it with tons of construction. So lanes are closed, Jersey barriers and dust and cranky drivers are everywhere.
It was Sunday, so the construction equipment was parked on the side of the road, like giant dinosaurs grazing in the shadow of the Space Needle. I walked around Denny Park, a somewhat infamous hive of scum and villainy (but I spied neither scum nor villains), and up the street until I found the place. On the way there I was buzzed twice by taxis, their drivers wanting to know if I needed a ride. One of them was in a hybrid Toyota that came up behind me so quietly that when the guy shouted out to me I jumped a little. They need to put bells on those things.
The strip mall was kind of shabby, and everything in it was closed except for the space right next door, which had a sign about a wedding. My first thought was, “Oh rats, the OTO is performing a wedding, I don’t want to crash that.” But then I saw the little sign for the Horizon Lodge next door to the wedding. I opened it and went inside.
The space was (obviously) a retail space that was being used as a church, and it showed. I think it might have been an Asian restaurant at some point, because the walls had this really interestingly gaudy red and gold wallpaper on it. I’ve seen this kind of color scheme in Thai and Chinese places.
At the back of the room, the east side, was a little raised platform, three steps up, with a checkerboard pattern, the altar being placed on atop the steps. There was a purple curtain opened on either side of the altar, and lot of candles. Chairs were placed along the north and south sides of the room, and there were two little tables in the center. Off to one side was a small fan, keeping the room cool-ish, at about 75 degrees or so, slightly warmer than the outside.
Next to the entrance, which was in the west wall, was a little room, which I would later learn was an allegorical tomb.
As I stepped in, and my eyes adjusted to the dimmer conditions inside, a man met me. It was hard not to meet me, because the space I’ve described can’t be more than about 400 square feet. About a 20 by 20 room or so. I can’t remember his name, and I wish I could, because he a nice guy that I would eventually have a really nice conversation with. He was playing the role of “Deacon” in this mass, and was kind of running the show.
He welcomed me, and I mentioned that I had sent an email, and had been welcomed to come the previous week, but couldn’t make it. He said he hadn’t been aware of the email, but he welcomed me just the same. I didn’t know if they’d be open to newcomers, but the folks there, about a dozen in all, were very friendly and happy to have a new guy in the house.
But before things got started, I had a concern to address: I have read that their communion cakes are baked with Ingredient X, which is variously reported to be ash, blood, menstrual blood, or semen. I don’t mind eating a little ash, but there’s no way I’m eating blood, menstrual blood, or semen. So I asked the Deacon guy about Ingredient X. He told me not to worry, that this would be a confirmation mass, and so only one person would be taking communion, and he would talk about Ingredient X with me after the mass. Turns out that what I had read was partly true. What they do is take leftover communion cakes, drizzle some of their blood on it, and then burn that to ashes, and then bake those ashes into the next cake.
Well, that’s still kind of gross, but at least it’s burned to ashes. I guess that’s relatively safe. If I can eat haggis and Rocky Mountain oysters, then I suppose a little burnt blood is okay. If I ever go back to mass again and end up taking communion, I’ll probably eat it.
A note about the players in the mass: There are five performers, essentially putting on a show for the benefit of the attendees. This is not unlike what Masons do for their rituals. Masonic degree initiations, for example, are essentially plays put on by the members of the lodge. They’re intended to be allegorical and instructional, and also kind of fun for the play actors. The role the actors take on don’t necessarily relate to their position in the lodge hierarchy. This mass turned out to be the same kind of thing.
The show was run by the Deacon, and included a Priest, a Priestess, and two “Children” (who were both a bit older than me). The Priest and Priestess weren’t necessarily actually an ordained Priest or Priestess. They were just members of the lodge who knew the part and were willing to play it.
Also, the Priest and Priestess are a team. They’re either boyfriend and girlfriend, or married, or very comfortable with each other, for reasons that will become clear a little later.
So, we sat down and the mass began. I’m not going to dissect each and every part of it, because it’s quite long and wordy, but instead I’m going to give a very generalized overview, and pick out a few things that I found interesting. If you’re curious, I have uploaded a PDF of the Gnostic Mass, which is identical to what these guys performed verbatim. If you look at it, you’ll note that there are a lot of speaking parts that are quite long-winded.
So the Deacon stood in the middle of the room, facing the altar in the east, and started by chanting the law: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, and the congregation chanted a response back, he lit some incense, and everyone got up and did the step and sign of a man and brother (even though I’ve bolded this part, it wasn’t exactly like the Masonic signs and step for any particular degre, but kind of a meld of different Masonic signs and steps).
There was a long recitation of the creed, which is basically the Deacon saying what he believes to be true, and everyone agreeing. You can read the Creed in the PDF, and not to be mean or anything, but I found it all to be a bunch of gobbledygook that really doesn’t mean much of anything at all. It’s supposed to be mysterious and profound, and alluding to deeper mysteries, but it just comes off sounding pretentious and weird.
If I were making a movie with a ranting Ming the Merciless type of villain, I might make him chant something like the Creed right about the time he’s about to sacrifice the heroine in a pit of sharks, and right before the hero comes in and punches him in the face.
At the end of the chant, he said “AUMNG.” Now, that’s how it’s spelled in the Gnostic Mass booklet. What it sounded like was this: AAAAUUUUUUUUUUWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm-NING-NING-NING-NING.” The Deacon later explained that the AUM part was similar to the Buddhist “OM” and that the various bits opened and shaped the throat and mouth to symbolize being born, living, dying, and then the “NG” part was allegorical of life after death.
They did this a lot.
The two “Children” came in, purified the area with incense, and put some water and salt on one of the tables, and stood beside them sentry-like.
Then the Priestess came on the scene, and she brandished a sword. Which I thought was pretty cool. We all gave the Hailing Sign of a Magician which closely emulated the Grand Masonic Hailing Sign of Distress. I don’t know if that was a coincidence or not. Crowley surely must have known that a Mason would regard that particular gesture as a plea for help, not as a sign of welcome.
She poured the salt into the water and said a few things, then with the Children in tow, marched around the two tables in a serpentine fashion. Finally, she raised her sword and demanded that the Priest come out.
The Priest had been hiding in the tomb all along. And he has a spear.
So, the Priest’s spear: I know it’s supposed to be a symbol of … um… well, you’ll see in a minute, but it was kind of comical. It looked pretty new. A nice new wooden haft, that was probably made of pine, and had that bright, unfinished look of the handle of a brand-new farm implement. The pointy part looked like a shiny new garden spade stuck on the wooden haft. It was bright aluminum and someone had taken the trouble to paint in some blood on the tip. The blood wasn’t red though, it was kind of blackish bluish. Like it was done with a Sharpie.
The blood design was supposed to make it seem serious and somber, but it really just looked like someone had had an unfortunate gardening accident.
Then the Priestess put a red skull cap on the Priest, and topped it off with a circlet that looked like a plastic dollar store cobra toy coiled up and hissing. This made the Priest appear to be a robed farmer with a snake on his head.
There was a lot of interaction between the Priest and Priestess, a lot of speechifying by the Deacon, and a bit more parading around the tables, occasionally with the Priest leading with his spear. When he was doing this, he held it out in front of him, straight up, and kept his eyes on the spade part. This is not a defensible position at all. If you want to use a spear, you’ll need to lower it a bit, point it in front of you, and keep your elbow bent so you can jab with force. Just sayin.
At one point, the Priest holds his spear out like an erect phallus, and the Priestess strokes it lovingly and erotically. She is eventually led to the altar, where she goes up the steps, and a little step ladder and sits on the altar, an object of worship. She strokes the Spear a few more times, and even kisses it, and the Priest closes the purple curtains hiding her from sight.
He then proceeds to parade around the tables for a little while, spear first, with the Children and the Deacon following. Meanwhile, we can hear things going on behind the curtain. There’s not a lot of space back there, and whatever she’s doing, she’s kind of knocking things around a little. I imagine what would happen if she knocks over one of the lit candles and sets the place on fire. Now that would be a scene to remember.
Also, at about this point, the wedding next door started to get a little rowdy and there was cheering. I guess they had finished tying the knot. There would be intermittent cheers and whoops and various noises during the rest of the mass, and at points it’s as if they’re cheering on the Priest because they mostly come during his speaking parts.
There’s a lot more speaking, from the Deacon and Priest, with audience participation. There is a bit where we stand and hold our feet perpendicular to each other, and then we have to sit on our knees with our hands above our heads making a flame shape above us. We had to sit like this for a while, and it got kind of tiring.
While we were doing this the curtains were drawn back to reveal that the Priestess had taken off all of her clothes.
The Priest, with much long-winded and well-memorized speech, approached her and worshiped her on the altar. The Spear is involved again, and it gets more love.
During the Priest’s very long speaking part, he’s positioned on his knees, at her knees, or sort of between them, and is basically addressing her chest. I think he was supposed to be looking at her eyes, but mostly he looked at her chest. There was an application of ointment to her various body parts, and times during which she sort of hugged her sword, which was placed either across her chest or in the crevice between her breasts.
During all of this, I looked around at the group to see what they were doing while this was going on. A few were watching with some interest, but most appeared to be bored and trying really hard not to fall asleep.
The love interlude concluded, the Priest closed the curtains, and he and the Deacon and the Children marched around with his spear out again for a while (apparently quite proud of his performance), spouted more wisdom, and then they all went into the Tomb.
At this point, the lights were turned on, the Priestess put her clothes back on, and they changed the position of the tables. There was a short communion service for the new member who was being confirmed, which involved the Deacon, the Priestess, and the new recruit all saying some lines, and the communion cakes eaten and wine drunk.
The whole thing lasted about 90 minutes, but it felt longer to me. It would be more interesting if there was more moving around and less talking. The speaking parts were interminably long and filled with pretentious blither blather. Maybe they could sing a little. That would be okay.
Also, I didn’t particularly like the naked chick on the altar. I get the whole “Mother Earth” worship thing, which is nice, and I’m not a prude about nudity, but watching someone get to first base with his naked girlfriend made me feel like a creepy voyeur. It would be improved, I think, if they just gave her a speech or something from the altar. Then the nudity would seem like a person just being natural, and not an object of titilation or of lust.
Of course, the lust part was purely intentional, and it kind of the whole point. I mean, this is Aliester Crowley’s outfit, after all.
So, I guess I wouldn’t make a very good hedonist.
After the service, we hung out for a little, and chatted. The Deacon seems like a pretty smart guy who’s got a good mind for philosophical and religious conversation, and I enjoyed that. The glasses of wine they gave me probably helped loosen my tongue a little, and I stayed for about another hour or so before going home.
I found them to be a very nice, friendly, and welcoming group of people.
Even so, I probably won’t go back, at least not to another gnostic mass. I suppose someday I might go to a different public ritual.
I’ve heard of similar groups, offshoots of OTO that also have a Crowley influence, doing similar things. It might be interesting to compare them.