Exploring Thelema and Chaos Magick, with Pete & Sef (Part 5)

Fountain Head

Fountain Head

Dear Pete,

Originally, there was a serious danger of my essays becoming “Gnostic Movie Review Club”, but I’ll leave everyone else to watch The Fountain and draw their own conclusions in light of my response. I’ve spent enough time deliberating over this, so let’s get straight to your question:

I’ve always wondered if seeking The Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel seems like a good idea. The procedures for discovering it seem functionally indistinguishable from recipes for creating an obsession. It looks like a suspiciously monotheistic belief and thus a self-contradictory and limiting obsession with an ideal that has become effectively unattainable. You said that even with Crowley you follow the message not the man.  Does the OTO acknowledge anyone as having ever attained it?

This has taken some time to pin down properly, and the meat of the matter is (as I said to one friend and colleague who is in the A∴A∴ this morning): “I don’t want to piss on the chips of the earnest Aspirant, but some other peoples’ bonfires really need pissing on.”

The answer to your question in itself was given by several commentators on the various cyber-fora, and in particular by Brother Adrian whom you met at the Occult Conference, when he said:

“What has the HGA got to do with OTO? Seeking Knowledge and Conversation of the HGA is the work of the Aspirant of A∴A∴. The concept of the HGA is absent entirely from the OTO system.”

That would not however make for a very good discussion piece, and I believe we are in the fortunate position of educating, or at least challenging, in our respective traditions. Now I need to clarify that, again, I am speaking for myself as an initiate of O.T.O., not for the Order – nor for the A∴A∴ as I am not a member – but I am hoping that I can separate some issues which are rife within the Thelemic community consisting of members of one, both, other, and no organisation(s) associated with the above.

Much like the misunderstanding I discussed in my previous post, there is a problem which runs to the core of Thelemic discourse: the mislabelling of the Higher Self as the Holy Guardian Angel. O.T.O. in part concerns itself with the candidate’s approach and knowledge of the Self, and the HGA is approached in the early work of an Aspirant of A∴A∴, as Brother Adrian stated. I am not here to try and tell people what the HGA is, because that has as many possible answers as Aspirants who work with one. What I want to state categorically is that people only need to focus on the HGA if that is their system, not start applying it to systems which do not need or want it. The system of O.T.O. does not require the concept of the HGA, and shoe-horning it in leads to confusion at best, and complete misapprehension and misapplication of the material at worst. This goes for many, many other systems as well.

I have always had a strong notion of my Self, and coming into contact with the concept of the HGA has only served to blur this notion, when in fact I should have been working towards refining my idea of who I am and what I am here to do. The HGA has a specific function for those who work the systems which rely on it, but these are not applicable to every system and downright unhelpful in others. Mathers’ great strength was in synthesising multiple streams of information, many of which he had translated into English for the first time, but this also led to an eclectic approach which could easily be called “pick’n’mix” and the hanging of everything on the Tree of Life had little historical precedent. His Abramelin was unlikely to be older than 17th C but he considered it to be a pure source of knowledge, and in so doing made this practice a bedrock for much of the Western Mystery Tradition (WMT).

Instead of enjoying a period of self-determination and personal responsibility, free from having to go through an interlocutor to determine the Will of God, the WMT seems to have drawn itself back into the same paradigms that Jesus Christ himself came to overthrow when he broke the barrier into the Holy of Holies by dying on the cross. Rather than a progression into full responsibility for one’s magick and accordingly one’s results, it seems many magicians are trying to put these back into the domain of a nebulous HGA in a clear dereliction of their own personal agency. The danger isn’t obsession with a spirit by lone practitioners, but obsession with an idea which is only applicable to a particular set of schools, by many practitioners all at once. Thelema is the Aeon of the Crowned and Conquering Child-King, and if we are to live as Kings and ruthlessly prosecute our Will, we must take whole and full responsibility for our lives and our destinies.

To sum up: The HGA is not the Self (Yechidah) or the Intuition (Neshamah), although some aspirants may see it as useful to view it as such along the way. In the O.T.O. system the HGA does not exist, and the nebulous misconception of the HGA outside of its proper framework is detrimental to modern systems of magick. It is a hangover from the Golden Dawn and Abramelin workings which Crowley incorporated into the A∴A∴ system for lower-grade work, and this is as far as it should go. Magicians drawn to finding and attaining Knowledge and Conversation with the HGA should work those systems and leave them there.

As a collective community, occultists need to drop the obsession with “the HGA” and concentrate on becoming the best that they can be and doing all in their power to do what they love, and make a difference in so doing. I agree that this is the only empirical value “Do what thou wilt” can have, and it is my hope that my impact and legacy on the occult and esoteric community will be viewed favourably by those who come after me.

Therefore, seeing as you were kind enough to discuss yourself, and as the EPOCH is now being read and digested across the world, my question to you is this: What do you hope for your work to enable, enact, or create? Would you enjoy seeing the Chaobala worked into an entire current, or would you fear for another Crowleyanity modelled on Pope Pete?

I hope you will also touch on this at the first Bristol Session when you and Matt Kaybryn present on the EPOCH, and thank you for coming on board with my aims for The Visible College to spread learning, discussion, and community in the occult world – much as your invitation to this discourse has done.

All the best,



10 thoughts on “Exploring Thelema and Chaos Magick, with Pete & Sef (Part 5)

  1. Personally my work with the HGA turned out to be not about The Self but The Other – our (my) relationship with what in the 12 Step Program is described as ‘a Power greater than myself’. I think Rodney Orpheus expresses similar ideas about the HGA in his book ‘Abrahadabra!’ While conducted within a different paradigm to Thelema, my HGA work was devotional in style (just as the Abra Melin is) and was much more about a reaching out towards difference, than a consolidation of any type of self-identification.
    And, as a seemless marking opportunity, readers may wish to know that my own HGA process, and that of Greg Humphries is recounted in our book ‘Now That’s What I Call Chaos Magick’ 😉
    And, with reference to the pervious blog post, thank you Sef and Pete for this excellent discussion! 🙂 JV

  2. Kenneth Blight says:

    I don’t think that adreses the spirit of Pete’s question Sef, as generously as it might have. That the HGA has nothing to do with the OTO ( by the way I can’t tell you how much mirth that nugget renders) and it’s ‘system’, that might be but the OTO is also,surely, the body of its membership without whom,..well, then it wouldn’t matter, who are Thelemites (presumably) in the sense of people enjoying thelemic narratives in there heads and manifesting those narratives by performance, it’s a very beautiful thing and if you havnt been to a Gnostic Mass Pete , I think you might enjoy it for a dozen diferent reasons, my point is that which I said before, the HGA or rather the K and C of HGA which is all we can know, is prominent in thelemic narrative, I find Pete’s question important in effect he’s just asking (scuse me Pete) does the Magick work for if it does they’ll be Adepts then and thelemic adepts are not known for there modesty I don’t think. You know I once said recently that I thought Pete didn’t ‘get’ thelema and that I didn’t know if I was surprised or disappointed well I wasn’t disappointed, I was surprised for a moment till it faded to disbelief ( haha).
    Julian is the guy to talk to, his book is lovely and I recommend it, for he ‘understands’ such things his understanding transmuted to profound gratitude is expressed in ‘Giving Thanks’, what do you think he’s grateful for? And I recognise that without any equivocation.
    Thank you Sef and everybody taking part in this discussion …

    • Sef Salem says:

      Hi Kenneth, good to hear from you again.

      The thrust of my post was that despite the impact K&CHGA has on a magician, whether it makes an adept or otherwise, or any number of questions around that, is irrelevant. O.T.O.’s rituals consist of the initiations, and the text of Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass, and to be proficient in the OTO system there is very little else that needs to be studied from the A.’.A.’. system. The initiations are in themselves a magical system, concerned with the Self, and the Mystery of the Mass, which is the cycle of incarnation.

      Thelema as a whole is a belief system or religion or philosophy, and its only marker is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”. There is no other rules or regulations to becoming a Thelemic “Adept”. OTO on the other hand is something very specific indeed. Yes, the whole Order is made up of its membership, but that membership is generated from the IX° technical magick which is visible right through from Minerval and the Mass, and the way in which they combine. Whether someone is an Adept in A.’.A.’. does not have a particular bearing, although you would hope that the two Orders’ goals synthesise at that point or thereabouts.

      So – those attaining K&CHGA would be Adepts of A.’.A.’., not of Thelema generally, or of O.T.O., it certainly creates powerful changes in the lives of those who have managed it, but I am choosing to address the current trend of people pointing at “their HGA” and abdicating responsibility for their magical results, or lack thereof. O.T.O. recognises those who are fulfilling the requirements of their degrees, and that’s about it as far as I am aware from my lowly position. Anything else is outside the remit of the Order.

      Again, I’m very glad you are enjoying these, and look forward to further discourse.


  3. Adrian Dobbie says:

    Sef did a pretty good job of clarifying a tricky subject I think. I stand by the comment I made on the previous thread about O.T.O. not having anything to do with the HGA, but I can understand why that might sound ridiculous, so if I may, I’ll expand on it a bit insofar as I understand the matter.

    Back in Crowley’s day and even after his death, it was common for people to join O.T.O. and A.A., often at the same time. These days, many O.T.O. initiates are also aspirants of A.A., but the days of people joining both almost as a de facto requirement are behind us.

    O.T.O and A.A. are both Thelemic, but they are distinct systems in terms of the work their members undertake, the structure of their initiations and the symbolic language they employ. One could argue that the aims of O.T.O. and A.A. are very different, which I believe they are. As a good brother and friend once said to me, one must be ‘careful not to confuse the planes’.

    As Sef rightly points out, A.A. is a direct descendent of the G.D. and as such, emphasis is placed on attaining Knowledge and Conversation of the HGA at the Grade of Adeptus Minor.

    O.T.O. on the other hand comes from another branch of the mystery tradition and is more concerned with the individual coming to a greater understanding of self, without referencing the HGA as a concept. That isn’t to say that certain individuals who are O.T.O. members are not privately engaged in work which concerns the HGA, but that work is very definitely a private affair, which may or may not be bound up with their private membership of A.A.

    Great conversation by the way. Respect due to both Pete and Sef 🙂

  4. Kenneth Blight says:

    Yes he covered a lot of ground, all helping to clarify our subject but not I think answering Pete’s question (and only he can know), it’s been made clear to me, let me assure you that’s it’s nothing to do with OTO (will you stop it, it’s cracking me up) and that it’s it’s own thing, I get it, at the same time Pete’s question did mention HGA is all and I don’t think just saying we don’t do that , well, adequate to the occasion and if not, why not? Maybe you should, whatever you call it.

  5. Adrian Dobbie says:

    Hi Kenneth

    At the risk of sounding like a terrible pedant (for which I make no apology) Pete’s question was “Does the OTO acknowledge anyone as having ever attained it [Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel]?”

    The simple answer to that has to be that there is no answer, since Knowledge and Conversation of the HGA is none of the O.T.O.’s concern, or indeed, business.

    The question really needs to be directed toward the A.A.

  6. Kenneth Blight says:

    But don’t stop for me, I’m not going argue the point as I don’t know what the OTO is or considers itself to be and cannot know what Pete thinks.

  7. Los says:

    You write: “I am not here to try and tell people what the HGA is, because that has as many possible answers as Aspirants who work with one.”

    Well, indeed anyone can say any answer that strikes their idle fancy, but not everyone can be right. Whether you like it or not, the term “Holy Guardian Angel” has a specific meaning within the framework of Thelema, and we can learn this meaning by consulting the writings of the creator of Thelema, Aleister Crowley.

    In brief, HGA is a symbol – an “absurd” one that Crowley says that he chose in order to underscore that it was a mere “convention” – that represents the True Self of the aspirant (that’s True Self, the actual individual which is “veiled” by the body and mind…not “higher self,” which is a fluffy new age term that roughly translates as “stuff my mind arbitrarily likes, often corresponding with a watered down version of Christian ethics”).

    That’s the correct answer. Sorry, I know it’s not popular to say that there are correct answers to these kinds of questions, but there are. If you’re curious, you can survey Crowley’s writings, and an impartial investigation will reveal that that’s the answer supported by the evidence.

    You write: “Rather than a progression into full responsibility for one’s magick and accordingly one’s results, it seems many magicians are trying to put these back into the domain of a nebulous HGA in a clear dereliction of their own personal agency.”

    I definitely agree that a lot of magician-types mistakenly think the HGA is some sort of ooky-spooky goblin (and many of them have ideas of “HGA” that are even more vague and nebulous than the ideas that other religionists have about “god”). And you’re probably right that a number of these types treat their mistaken idea of the HGA as a kind of god, something that can take responsibility for their dumb decisions (or as an imaginary buddy to whom they can “turn” in times of trouble because, let’s face it, a lot of people drawn to the occult are powerless and need a fantasy opiate). And I think you’re also right that a lot of people take the concept “HGA” out of its Thelemic context and interpret it as all sorts of incorrect things.

    But these mistakes are *compounded* — not mitigated – by adopting a relativist philosophy that “HGA” can (or should) mean anything to anyone.

    If the term can mean anything, then it means nothing, and it’s totally useless as a term.

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