Each subsequent night, we participated in a ritual conjuration of the forces of each of the 22 paths of the Tree of Life. Check out Scott's blog post on the ritual he uses that he made back in 2008 on Augoeides. I think the ritual may have changed slightly over the years, but it's the basic formula we followed.
Beginning at Path 32, Tav, the Universe, we worked our way up the Path of the Serpent. The last three paths leading to Kether, Gimel, Beth, and Aleph align with the Feast of the Three Days of the Writing of the Book of the Law.
In a conversation on Facebook sparked by Michael Kolson, the subject of the value of the Office of the Readings came up in a post about the Zero Equals Two article on the Readings. Michael expressed his doubts about the value of the process, and asked if he was alone in thinking it was worthless.
In that conversation, I found myself saying this:
Going through an intentional experience of the 22 paths of the Tree of Life yearly becomes a shamanic quest for us as a group. It becomes an Ordeal, and it's cathartic in ways that are hard to put into words. Last year, we (my partner Harper and I) were dealing with cancer, this year we're dealing with something else, but this operation provides us with a framework to address and deal with things in a way that is beneficial that doesn't happen in any other way communally.Frater IAO131 asked for more clarification:
To be clear, you are saying that reading segments of Holy Books "provides us with a framework to address and deal with things in a way that is beneficial that doesn't happen in any other way communally"? Can you expand more on how reading these book portions/chapters provides those things? I am very interested to hear.
And that's what started this blog post.
Let's begin with a discussion of the basic framework of the ritual as a whole, and individually. Beginning on the night after the Equinox, Scott performs a ritual that does the following:
- Cleanses the ritual space
- Calls on the powers of creation and manifestation within the Thelemic system to attend, bear witness, and provide their influence in the execution of our statement of intent (my interpretation of his "operant field" theory)
- Uses a Call and Response formula with the congregants to focus our intents collectively, and to shape the ritual space so that it is conducive to the forces and intelligences we are seeking to conjure, in accord with the ideas of how Magick works as presented in Magick in Theory and Practice.
- Incorporates a hymn based on four stages of the Alchemical Work that progress as we progress.
- Conjures the forces represented by the Hebrew Letter, tarot Trump, and Astrological/Planetary/Elemental assignments in 777.
- Provides a timed period for the attendees to sit in contemplation and integration of these forces.
- Wraps up with a benediction that further anchors the forces within the magical sphere of the attendees.
So that's the framework. It is a daily group ritual conjuration, contemplation, and integration of the forces of each of the paths as we progress up the path of the Serpent on the Tree of Life.
If you look at the process of initiations we go through in the Man of Earth Triad, for example, you can see that it is a similar process. We are exposed to certain truths, influences, and mysteries, and we are then given an opportunity to integrate those forces before continuing on to the next logically progressive moment in the path from a Guest to a Master Magician. It takes years in the OTO.
In the A.'.A.'., the progression is from Student to Probationer to Neophyte, and so on. Each phase has tasks, assignments, and tests before the cumulative processes have prepared the individual for the next step. This process also takes years.
In the EGC, the progression is through the Sacraments, and a person can go from Baptism, to Confirmation, and on to the service officers of the Ordained Priesthood, and beyond. At each phase the person is exposed to forces, mysteries, and experiences that have to be integrated as they progress in the Church. And again, this process takes years.
In all of these processes of progressive initiations, the participants get to deal with the esoteric alchemical processes that crop up as they go along. The number of anecdotal stories I've heard related to the Ordeals of the MOE degrees are awesome. I've seen people nervous about taking their II*, not because of the actual initiation, but because of what they've seen their lodge mates go through over the next year. The A.'.A.'. Ordeals are consistent enough across the process from the times of Crowley that Dr. Shoemaker was able to produce a podcast and a chapter in his book Living Thelema about what can be expected at each phase.
But when you go through the Paths of the Tree from 32 to 11, you are taking yourself through an initiatory system that goes from the most material and mundane aspects of your existence to the absolute purest, rawest, first expression of the parts of existence.
You go center, then outside, then inside, then outside again, then inside, and then across.
Catch your breath.
Then it's Up one, Up two, up three.
Then back outside, and inside, and outside, and inside, and across.
Catch your breath.
Then it's outside, inside, outside, inside, and across again.
And then take a deep breath.
Because it's up Book 1, up Book 2, and up Book 3, and you've done it, you've gone up through the Tree along all the paths that connect the spheres that trace the manifestation from the purest to the most material. You've done it. You've taken apart the outer shells of things, seen what lied beneath, and how they are connected across from one another. You've ascended.
And you've breathed it all in.
So in real life, the process is a framework of initiation that has a start, and a stop, and clear path markers along the way. It's a controlled distillation of the members of the community that participate.
Harper was going through the process of being diagnosed with cancer the first time we participated in the Office of the Readings, and this community effort to work through things from the most mundane to the highest as a group helped us personally get through a lot of the pain and confusion we were dealing with in our relationship at the time. It gave us a perspective to put our experiences into. A framework to see spiritual things when we would otherwise have been focusing on some frightening truths.
This year there wasn't as much drama going on in our personal lives, but being in the crucible of the progressive pathworkings still managed to bring things that I thought I had dealt with years ago back up to the surface to address and overcome.
And the same was going on for everyone else, to varying degrees in the lodge. We went through it together, sometimes sharing the emotions, sometimes keeping them to ourselves. But we were all going through it, and we went through it together as a community. It strengthened the bonds that we share, and made paths and connections between us that don't form in any of the regular classes, masses, and events we come together to share the rest of the time.
The temple space becomes our Alembic. The rituals and the conjurations of the forces provide the heat. We who participate are the Primum Materia, and the progressive exposure to that sustained heat transforms us, purifies us, and creates a community amalgamation that leaves us stronger, purer, and more able to do what it is we are here to do.
And that doesn't happen often as a group at the local OTO community. Most Work is done alone, especially in the A.'.A.'., and the OTO and EGC initiations are at a much different level of intensity and personal transformation. Not less powerful, but more prolongued than 23 days, for sure. Having a few weeks out of the year that you know you're going to go through some immersion therapy that will draw things up to the surface to address as you climb the Coils of the Serpent is awesome.
So thanks much, Brother Stenwick (and Sorors Lalita and Maurine) for doing the rites, and thanks to all the members of the Lodge of Leaping Laughter for reading, and for the foods and wines and conversations, and above all else for showing up as a community to participate in this rite of renewal and celebration.
Super well done, sisters and brothers.