Tau Asteria, Tau Ce Acatl, and Tau Iatromantis were in attendance** and presented on several topics related to their roles as Bishops within the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (EGC), their roles as Soverign Grand Inquisitors General in the Mysteria Mystica Maxima (M∴M∴M∴), and examinations of aspects of the Gnostic Mass (Liber XV), including the Eucharist, the role of the Priestess, and the relationship between the roles of the mass and the congregants at large.
Their presentations were direct, balanced, and pragmatic, and I don't think anyone who attended walked away without picking up something useful and interesting that made their enjoyment of the rituals of initiation and celebration that we share more meaningful.
I had a mild epiphany at this event, and I've been digesting it to make sure it's properly absorbed before I talk about it publicly. I ALSO want to make sure to distance my own take-aways from the Bishops who attended:
I am not saying this is what they meant, or intended me to hear, or even said explicitly. This is my presentation of my personal conclusions, reached after hanging out with these guys for a weekend and hearing what they had to say, about the OTO, the EGC, the M∴M∴M∴, the Mass, and the people who make this happen.
Aumgn Aumgn Aumgn.Ok? Ok.
So before I get to the epiphany, here's my experience of the OTO and EGC:
Me: I'm a Hermetic magician who thinks Crowley was awesome, but had a tendency to over-complicate things. I've found in Hermetic magick the cure to what ails us all, self-empowerment, self-actualization, and the ability to tap into the full reserves we're all born with using a relatively simple symbol-set; four elements, seven planets, one circle of stars, and some mysterious junk out past the stars that you can spend lifetimes enjoying.
My experience in OTO has been great. We get together, we talk magick, we drink, we do initiations, we have conferences, and everyone has a good time. When I say "We," I mean the lodge folk, who are magicians familiar with the Hermetic model of magick, in our own way. We have good speaks and help each other out. We talk about how we do magick, and how our results are coming along. We teach those with less experience about the tools we use personally, if they're interested.
My experience in the EGC has also been great, I was Baptised at Thelesis and a Soror Amy zapped me right proper, and I still have petals from the rose that I use in rites. I was confirmed at Hidden Spring (THANKS LEANNE, I'm fine now). I served as Child in the Mass, then Deacon, received ordination as Deacon, and now am serving as Priest in the Mass, with caveats*** because I haven't been ordained yet. Working on it though.
But after three years of doing this, I couldn't finish the sentence:
"The OTO [or] EGC is _____________________."
And that bothered me.
But problem solved, thanks to the good Bishops!
So T. Iatromantis (David Shoemaker) kicked off with a talk about the Mass, and how to use it as a magickal act as a participant/congregant. Then T. C Acatl (Craig Berry) followed up with a talk on the Sacraments of the EGC. Then T. Asteria went did some back-to-back talks about the role of the Priestess and the role of the Eucharist, specifically the Cakes of Light. And then they did a panel discussion where they barely even looked like victims of a firing squad as 20 people rapid-fired questions at them from around the room.
It was amazing, and we're typing up the notes to share. These guys are awesome, the M∴M∴M∴ is awesome, and the EGC is awesome, and that's why I'm writing this. Because without any one of them taking me aside and telling me straight up, "Hey Josh-Rufus, THIS IS WHAT THE OTO IS ALL ABOUT," they managed to do so cumulatively in a way that makes sense to me, and I'm sort of still a little bit high on it.
And anyone who's looked at the US Grand Lodge Web Site on OTO initiation can probably just sit back and laugh at me after they read this, because it's all right there.
But let's start with the Mass.
The Mass is super cool, and it's the symbolic formula of the all the rites of our Order, and everyone who's taken a minute to listen to OTO podcasts probably has heard several high ranking Duquettes and others speak about the magickal formula embodied in the mass. I've talked to enough magician-members of the Order after mass to know that a lot of us understand that we can think of a thing we want to happen throughout the mass to make it manifest. I'm simplifying, there's tech involved, but not a lot more than that.
T. Iatromantis' teaching on it this time was a little deeper, a little more personal. He used the magick words "Thought-Word-Deed" to explain that the mass itself is a Hermetic rite. It gives everyone an opportunity to take a THOUGHT, materialize it symbolically through WORD, and then to manifest as a DEED. And he took us through it twice in different ways, I realized something amazing:
THE GNOSTIC MASS GIVES ALL ATTENDEES A CHANCE TO PARTICIPATE AS A HERMETIC MAGICIAN IN THE CREATION AND MANIFESTATION OF THEIR LIVES.
All caps because it's important. Everyone who just shows up can do magick. No initiation required, no years of magical practice, no memorized columns of correspondences, no ability to draw a tree of life from memory.
No conjuration of angels or demons, either. You just show up, and do magick via participation.
Think about what you want. Symbolize it. Hold that symbol in mind. Speak it into being, because THERE IS NO PART OF YOU THAT IS NOT OF THE GODS. Then follow through, take advantage of the opportunities that come your way when you tap into it.
It's Hermetics! The Gnostic Mass is HERMETICS! (cue soylent green camera effects)
So the Mass is a chance for everyone, regardless of attainment, to participate in Hermetic Magick. That was part one of my epiphany. And the EGC is, in my opinion, primarily responsible for putting on the Mass. The official public presentations of the Mass will, with very rare exceptions, include at least an EGC Ordained Priest or Priestess as either Priest, Priestess, or Deacon.
But what else?
T. Ce Acatl was up next, and spoke about the sacraments, specifically the sacraments of marriage, and of death. As he spoke, he talked about how the rites in the EGC are founded around the fundamental understanding that the source of power that is being outwardly structured and affirmed is within you, putting you in the position to realize the only "divinity" being called on is yourself. He picked up on a metaphor T. Iatromantis had used, that as you go along in your work, you are becoming more and more focused, like a light that starts out shining in every direction slowly over time becoming more and more focused until it was a laser.
Now all this happened to be a confirmation of what I learned over years and years of Hermetic studies outside of these OTO Orders. I limited my occult Work to sources betwen the first and third centuries EV, with a lot of framing from Agrippa. I eschewed all the 1899 EV and later "occult" teachings at the time, but since then I have come to realize that everything I learned in those studies of the source texts is also presented in the teachings of the OTO.
Not to get ahead of myself though.
The next day, T. Asteria took the lead and spoke about the role of the Priestess, guidelines on official stances, where there's room to wiggle, and her personal expectations of the Priestesses she oversees as Bishop. Then she spoke on the development of the Cakes of Light, and the myths, the magick, and the mysteries surrounding them.
In each discussion, she presented very practical advice, based on experience. She dealt with pretty specific topics in a frank and earnest way, with facts laid out, anecdotes, and conclusions she's reached on the different aspects of the topic at hand. And she addressed things across the whole spectrum of the experiences, from Tree of Life interpretations of the roles of the Mass teams, to how to deal with ... overzealous Priests reinterpreting the script without letting you know ahead of time.
They were all like that, honestly. Attending this conference was just like going to a professional seminar, or a college level class on the kinds of things we can expect to experience as we do the OTO thing that we do. A lot of it was a discussion on advanced topics that you run into when you're doing Magick in public with other people, who also do Magick. Another part of it was how to deal with people who might be working with different images and at different levels of understanding and experience in a group rite.
But every part of what they were teaching provided a way to do the OTO thing we do that meets everyone where they're at. Giving them what they need, so they could do Magick.
And I started hearing a theme in everything they were talking about, whether it was individual roles in the Mass, the Mass itself as a whole operation, their own roles in the M∴M∴M∴ and the EGC, the things they do as Bishops, about being extensions of the sovereignty of the King, the other hats they wear in service to the OTO ...
Everything they do and teach is about how to become an effective Magician, and then how to become an even more effective Magician. And then the people we interact with through the various aspects of the OTO can learn to accomplish their True Will and attain happiness. And then that makes the whole world a better place for everyone at the same time.
You know... they do the Great Work.
The Summum Bonum.
And it hit me, the OTO hosts and presents the Mass so that everyone else who attends can do Magick. And if they don't understand how to do that, the OTO teaches what that means, over time, in small bites, within a specific context.
They make magicians!
In the Mass anyone can participate in Magick. All the principles are there that I spent years researching in ancient papyri and Renaissance grimories. Four elements, Seven Wandering Planets, a Circle of Stars, and the underlying Mysteries of the Eighth and Ninth Spheres, the stages of incarnation, the Hermetic Secret that thou art god, in a way...
It's all right there, laid out for anyone. You don't even have to understand it to get to benefit from it.
Learning that stuff changed my life. It took me from a place where I was simply responding to events in my life as a victim to a place where I am able to create the events of my life. I went from being a victim to an effective human being, able to change the world as I saw fit (without screwing it up for anyone else) because I had gained a deep and personal relationship with the occult forces that manifest the world. It took a long time to understand these basic Hermetic principles, and I was quite proud of myself for figuring it out. I had dreams of bringing the freedom and empowerment of Hermetic philosophy to the world.
Imagine my surprise finding out that there's already an organized body of people working globally to give this same opportunity to everyone else who's interested?
So my epihany then... I think I'd phrase it this way:
The OTO and EGC are the best vehicle available today for transmitting the Hermetic principles that made me an effective human being. We provide a means for all humans, regardless of our exposure to occult principles to learn the Thought-Word-Deed manifestation process that Hermetics has tried to teach for millenia. These organizations create Magicians who can become their own masters in life.
Now for the "no-shit, sherlock" moment I mentioned earlier about the Initiation page on the (well-indexed and organized) US Grand Lodge wb site.
Look at the names of the First, Second, and Third Degrees of the OTO:
I* Woman and Sister / Man and Brother
III* Master Magician
As you progress through the OTO, you go from Woman/Man to Magician to Master Magician.
It took me WAY TOO LONG to figure that out.
* It's worth noting, OTO folk, that people who want to make things happen are making things happen. If you want things to happen, like a bishop event at your local lodge, make it happen. There are bishops. They will show up. With valuable experiences and interpretations. And bullet points.
** Christeos Pir was scheduled to attend and present something about the growth of local bodies that I really wish I'd gotten to see, but he couldn't make it. I'm still looking forward to hearing his presentation though, it looked like it had some meatiness to it. He kind of owes us now, I think.
*** Warning: Near-flawless Greek, still thinking lewd thoughts about Harper most of the time, and that second-step speech, I just ... sigh.