The views expressed in this article are the author’s own experiences, and do not represent Ordo Templi Orientis in the UK or otherwise.
“The magick. The magick is very powerful. You might leave with a big smile on your face and you don’t know where it’s come from, or you might not get anything for a couple of days. But you’ll get something.” I say to Thomas.
I’m leaning against my car, desperately trying not to show how hungry I am as I wolf down a chicken and bacon sandwich one of my Camp has kindly foraged for in the local Tesco’s. An affable young man, with more than a touch of nervousness about him, has come to attend a celebration of Liber XV: the Gnostic Mass at Shemyaza Camp in Brighton, and I am trying to make encouraging conversation in between mouthfuls. Brother Adrian, President of the Electoral College of UK Grand Lodge, O.T.O., will be giving an address beforehand which I am eager to hear, having booked him as a speaker for the Occult Conference 2014 in Glastonbury.
Thomas looked not unlike a rabbit-worrier caught in the headlights, after falling down a particularly unsympathetic rabbit-hole. I had been trying to make small talk on what was laughably becoming my lunch “quarter-hour”, perhaps in hindsight I should rather have taken my time amongst the beautiful stars of the Order shining brightly outside Shemyaza’s venue, or sitting in my car after the long drive, but I felt compelled to offer warmth and hospitality to those who had never been before. Thomas looked like he needed warmth more than anyone; the grey September day must have drizzled upon him particularly hard, but being from Manchester it was lovely weather where I was standing.
I had come to Brighton by way of Hastings, where I had been performing Initiations into Ordo Templi Orientis the day before. A five hour drive from Glastonbury via Bournemouth with three brethren, after a full week of work and script-learning, a brief sleep overnight, a full day of ritual rehearsal and performance, and an evening of feasting. In an alternate universe I would have been enjoying a lazy Sunday around the Lodge rather than talking to this chap and his lank hair and expensively worn-looking schoolteacher’s jacket, but the call had come in from the Body Master in Brighton that they required some Officers for the Mass – and Calix Sanctus, our Camp, would not be found wanting.
First thing that morning I had awoken, performed Resh and spent time in meditation; then I washed dishes from the Feast, made coffee for everyone, sounded the alarm, and tidied the Lodge. We were out of there by ten fifteen, tired but happy, and headed to Brighton. Upon reaching our destination, carefully driving my battered Ford Mondeo up the gravel path and under scaffolding by a block of flats, we reach the community centre which Shemyaza rents at fair expense without expecting a penny in donations for its rituals. We hopped inside, helped to raise the Temple, and had a thorough rehearsal of the Mass. One of my sisters from Glastonbury, herself only recently baptised into E.G.C. and initiated to I°, had acted as Officer for the initiation yesterday and was now to be Child for the Mass. As we went through the ritual preparation, the tremendous effort which we had all put ourselves through became worth it as the beauty of the ritual crystallised into our physical actions. You can read the script every day for a lifetime, but until you experience a Gnostic Mass in the flesh you will never understand what it means to be there. You will never feel the tech.
So as I finally catch a break, say my hellos to brethren who have travelled cross-country as I have to be there, and eat my breakfast behind my car, I am enthused about the Miracle of the Mass. I am looking forward to acting as Positive Child for Adrian, whom I believe to be one of the foremost ritualists in UK Grand Lodge, and his Priestess, whose skills and proficiencies might on the surface include “a beautiful Eastern European with dark eyes and darker jewelry” but also incredible depths in both communicating the beauty of the Mass and her passion for the Order. It is in this frame of mind that I encounter Thomas, and hope to ease him into an obviously unfamiliar situation. As we talk, I describe the profound results I have experienced from taking the Sacrament of Communion within the Church.
He replies to me, “I was kind of hoping just to observe. Is it obligatory to participate?”
I gave him a very close look. It enters my mind that he hasn’t read the script, or been made aware that it is a participatory celebration of the Mass..
“Everyone,” I say, gently, “is expected to take the sacrament.”
His eyes say it all: Shit.
I start to explain that the congregation take part in the Mass from the very beginning, before the Priestess, Children, or Priest are even on-scene, and that the Sacrament is merely the Officers giving back in an energising format the work that the People have put in; but Brother Adrian appears at the doorway and motions for Officers to come inside. I smile warmly at Thomas, pat him on the shoulder reassuringly, and move away.
We perform final checks for the Mass, and then it is time for the TEDx OTO lecture. As always, Adrian is a fantastic speaker, and, as always, I stick my oar in during the more free discussion afterwards. I’m aware that we are pressed for time, but every initiate is so passionate about the subject that we continue well past the optimal start time. We break to change the hall back to the Mass Temple, and I am relieved that the one newcomer whom I am aware had to leave early has stayed on and enters so we can start.
Now in my Confirmation robe and a black sash, I attend the Deacon as he goes through the steps, signs, actions, and contributions of the People for the ritual, and also the exact composition of the Cakes of Light for today’s celebration. It’s a good thing really, because otherwise people can end up repeating the same tosh you might find on the internet, on otherwise reliable websites.
Another shorter break and we begin. I subsume myself into the role, the Vau in the IHShVH of the Mass team, the Pillar of Mercy, the bearer of the Generative elements, and do my best to ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible within the remit of, well, a pillar. (Not, as I once thought a sister called me during Mass, a pillock. She said pillar, honest.) The ritual proceeds, and I pay strict attention to the actions of both the Priest and Priestess, as my wife and I are due to act in those very roles in a fortnight. The elements are consecrated, the mystical marriage performed, and the Miracle of the Mass is brought back below the veil for all congregants to participate and feel the Divine inside them brought to the fore as they ecstatically declare, “There is no part of me that is not of the Gods!”
As a Child, I see every communicant come up; two Bishops who had also attended the Lodge the day before, then initiates from across the South of England, local initiates, and those outside the Order for whom this day was prepared at great length. I realise towards the end of the communication that Thomas is not there, and I worry for an instant that I have said something to scare him off. This thought sloughs off my mind quickly however, as the next communicant approaches for their Sacrament, and I provide it without hesitation. They consume the Cake of Light, then move to my sister who provides a goblet of wine. They make a cross over the Priestess, consume the wine, replace the goblet, and Communicate. This process is impossible to describe to someone who has never experienced the Mass, but a rough idea is that of standing before God – not “a Goddess”, because Nuit is everything, all of the universe, the “continuous one of Heaven” – as your soul is filled with light until you feel it may explode, and you suddenly understand that there is no difference between yourself, the Priestess, or any other person. Love truly is the Law, at that point, Love under Will.
All of this is not to be experienced by poor Thomas, our doubting near-attendee. The Mass is concluded, the Priest retires to the tomb, spent from transmitting the Light of the Gnosis, and the People exit. As we clear down the Temple, and once Adrian is back from Priest-space, I apologise profusely for scaring an attendee off. Adrian, always kind, shrugs and absolves me of my guilt as he was only half sure the chap would turn up at all.
We strike the Temple, and retire to a pub. I am exhausted, but happy, and have found the courage to speak to more of our attendees, which goes down much better as nobody Hail Marys and runs away. I peruse the menu for something to eat, looking for perhaps a steak, or a hamburger, or even a chicken wrap. Typically, this is Brighton, and we have found our way to a raucus, rock-playing pub for Vegetarians. I guess I’ll have to make do with a cheese and onion sandwich.
Sef Salem III°
Body Master, Calix Sanctus Camp Glastonbury
[Our token Thelemite contributor, Sef wrote this in response to an account of this same event from Thomas McGrath, which can be found here. There were a few inaccuracies in the original article; notably the type of sandwich being eaten during the conversation, and Sef’s age. Although, he will accept “affable yet sly” as a descriptor. NW]