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Women and Thelema

For anyone in or interested in O.T.O. or Thelema, there is a vitally important conversation beginning to happen. How do we acknowledge, deal with, and move beyond the fact that Aleister Crowley was unapologetically racist and sexist?

Crowley was a genius, a prophet, a brilliant and prolific writer - and a flaming misogynistic asshole. Most Thelemites I know do admit this, yet in the Order there is a widespread refusal to look critically at the problematic aspects of his work. The philosophy of Thelema is a precious and vital thing that needs to grow beyond Crowley if it and/or O.T.O. is to have relevance to the modern world.

Below are the recent posts on the topic. Good, if sometimes painful, discussion happening here. Please read and add your own thoughts, there or here.

matertiamat: The Brotherhood of Man
brandywilliams: They also promulgate who call a spade a spade
brandywilliams: Women's experiences in Thelema

Here are some of my thoughts on what I would like to see happen next (also posted as a comment to Brandy's second post).

I'd like to see more recognition and analysis of Thelema as distinct from Crowley, as a living and breathing philosophy. You actually have to dig into OTO's website to find mention of Crowley; yet in practice so many of us are terrified to even appear like we are interpreting his work for others that the work needed to make the philosophy relevant to changing times is just not happening; at least not where anyone can see it. If there is more weight put on Thelema rather than Crowley, I think the problematic aspects of his work will be less likely to throw a shadow over the Order as a whole.

I'd like to see more feminist Thelema analysis and ritual published. I'd especially like to see female-oriented ritual that does not focus on assuming the role of the Scarlet Woman. I know there's some of this out there, but it's hard to find and not organized at all; most of it is performed once or twice at the local level and then forgotten. Ideally I'd like to see a compendium of Thelemic ritual by women published and promoted within the Order. That's a project I'd love to help with, though I don't think I'm equipped to take it on by myself. Would Magistra Press be a potential vehicle for this project?

I'd like to see more secular Thelemic organizations focusing on social justice, ideally female-led with explicit feminist/anti-racist bent. I'd like to see explicit recognition and cooperation between these organizations and the Order, at both a national and local level.

I'd like to see an explicit statement from the Order rejecting sexist/racist interpretations of Crowley's work, but I doubt that will happen out of deference to individual interpretation. The fact that the Order will re-ordain transgendered clergy I think is FANTASTIC, and I would like to see more actions and policy like that which affirm the worthiness of marginalized people.

I'd like to see an examination of the gender essentialism which seems to be so fundamental to Crowley's work, and yet which is rejected by most Thelemites of my acquaintance. (Example: when asked why a man must hold the Priest role in the Mass, the stock answer is "well, everyone has a mix of male and female energies, but we don't want to confuse the public with that") I'd like to see more than lip service paid to that idea that we are all a mix of male and female, with ritual and essay embracing the feminine within male bodies and the masculine within female bodies, and normalization of that mixture.

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
lazuli93
Mar. 23rd, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)
Some very interesting ideas here :) I like a lot of them.

The way the E.G.C./O.T.O. is run, I am not at a degree which allows me to speak with true authority on the Mass, which makes addressing questions like this problematic.

Per your last point, about the Mass and gender essentialism. I never received an answer at all when I asked that question, but I came up with one myself that I find compelling. I think that the reason our central public ritual is based on man/father woman/mother sex magick is that this is the dichotomy that all people on the planet share in one way. Regardless of sexual orientation or identification, each and every one of us was born from a combination of from an XX and XY chromosome pairing.

To solve the problem of magickal expression for those who do not identify with these gender traits I would focus on your earlier point about the creation and concordance of ritual/magick/writings that is open to or involves other perspectives.

pierceheart
Mar. 23rd, 2010 03:05 pm (UTC)
friendsfriends surfed here
Regardless of sexual orientation or identification, each and every one of us was born from a combination of from an XX and XY chromosome pairing.

And this is the explanation I give whenever someone accuses BTW of being sexist in the passing of initiation from man to woman, and woman to man.

You might not have sex with someone of another gender/sex, but more than likely, that happened for you to be here - can you celebrate that miracle?
jnanacandra
Mar. 23rd, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
I think that the reason our central public ritual is based on man/father woman/mother sex magick is that this is the dichotomy that all people on the planet share in one way. Regardless of sexual orientation or identification, each and every one of us was born from a combination of from an XX and XY chromosome pairing.

I like that, and would have to agree that that's at least a part of it.

I would, however, like to see greater dissemination of this and other ideas surrounding the Mass, as well as other rituals demonstrating other paths to the same idea. As it stands, a queer person may well attend the Mass and be so turned off by the heteronormative surface that they don't bother to look deeper. Of course we want to appeal to the cisgendered, heterosexual majority, but I am uncomfortable with doing so in a way that excludes or alienates those already marginalized by Old Aeon thinking.
elnigma
Mar. 23rd, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC)
I think the majority of pagans and Thelemites are queer (someone being other than what is presented as having as different than the what is presented as the majority's lifestyle.)
bodlon
Mar. 24th, 2010 04:16 am (UTC)
equally here out of the blue due to linkage
Regardless of sexual orientation or identification, each and every one of us was born from a combination of from an XX and XY chromosome pairing.

Yes and no. Some chromosomal intersex conditions do not result in infertility, so the biological parents at least may not be XX/XY.
lazuli93
Mar. 24th, 2010 05:17 pm (UTC)
Re: equally here out of the blue due to linkage
You bring up an interesting point in that we are on a scientific threshold in genetic research that could potentially blow the doors off of the necessity for xx/xy in the traditional sense. If a scientist can pick and chose the building blocks of life out of a group of cells, then the formula definitely changes.

I recently posed the question, what happens to the Mass, or any other sex magick, if humankind evolves to become more androgynous. It's a ways past our lifetime, but it's an interesting question to ponder, IMO.
bodlon
Mar. 24th, 2010 05:23 pm (UTC)
Re: equally here out of the blue due to linkage
I think we're well onto the verge of it socially, not just scientifically. Biologically, the above actually occurs in nature without scientific intervention (though it may require said intervention to detect it).

To me, this says that the world itself and its energies are more complex than a strict binary, and that the male/female dyad is an incomplete picture.

What that means in terms of practice among specific groups certainly bears discussion, though as an individual I've always leaned toward revision when tradition is plainly out of sync with reality.
poliphilo
Mar. 23rd, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
One way of dealing with the problem is simply not to take him too seriously. When I was active in Wicca we used to refer to Gerald Gardner as "Uncle Gerald" and Aleister Crowley as "Uncle Aleister". That put them in their places. They were like aged and doddery members of the family- honoured and loved- but hardly to be trusted not to piss on the hearth-rug.

Crowley was many things- among them an incorrigible self-publicist and a naughty little boy who loved to shock. If you're going to have a relationship with such a person you've got to be prepared for a whole lot of what they say to be bollocks.
jnanacandra
Mar. 23rd, 2010 03:34 pm (UTC)
I absolutely agree, and certainly that's a tack I take personally when studying his work. But that doesn't work so well for those new to the ideas. I'd like to see Thelema spread throughout the world - but right now, the doddering racist uncle is chasing a lot of people away because the rest of us aren't doing enough to clean up his piss.
thiebes
Mar. 23rd, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
when asked why a man must hold the Priest role in the Mass, the stock answer is "well, everyone has a mix of male and female energies, but we don't want to confuse the public with that"

The reason for this is simple and I don't know why you have had any trouble getting a straight answer.

The male priest is being used to symbolize that part of every person that is masculine; the priestess that part of every person that is feminine. The sex of the participants is itself symbolic of the concepts, just as the dagger and disk are symbolic of various ideas and can't just be switched.

I'd like to see more than lip service paid to that idea that we are all a mix of male and female, with ritual and essay embracing the feminine within male bodies and the masculine within female bodies, and normalization of that mixture.

Then why don't you produce these things?
jnanacandra
Mar. 23rd, 2010 07:19 pm (UTC)
I never said I was having trouble getting a straight answer. In fact what I said was the stock answer is pretty much the same thing that you said. But in my experience it is usually presented as an afterthought, a stock answer, without much analysis or commentary. I would like to see that change.


I am working on many of them. I'd like to see more people doing so. It takes time and careful construction, though, because so many within the Order immediately attack any hint of criticism of the status quo. Ironic, isn't it.
thiebes
Mar. 23rd, 2010 07:43 pm (UTC)
I never said I was having trouble getting a straight answer. In fact what I said was the stock answer is pretty much the same thing that you said. But in my experience it is usually presented as an afterthought, a stock answer, without much analysis or commentary.

I don't know really what you mean. My explanation is meaningfully different from what you said is the "stock answer." It's not an afterthought, it's a real explanation which has been arrived at after significant analysis, and has been explained in numerous ways with plenty of commentary and quotations from Crowley to back it up.

I have repeatedly tried to offer explanations and the response has universally been that people call me names and attack me personally, even saying that by trying to explain it I am engaging in sexist "mansplaining." And the following week, the complaints resurface that nobody has bothered to explain this. That's the real irony here and if you are looking for change, that is where you need to look.

I'd like to see more people doing so. It takes time and careful construction, though, because so many within the Order immediately attack any hint of criticism of the status quo. Ironic, isn't it.

Really? There have been a lot of rituals and essays produced along the lines of what you describe. Can you point me to anywhere these have been attacked?
wishingwell111
Mar. 24th, 2010 04:32 pm (UTC)
My my you are trying to get some posts on your LJ. When you say "status quo" what are you referring to, exactly? Local Body, USGL, OTO International? What? Because in my very hard won experience, the higher you get the more Oaths of Secrecy you take, the less you can defend yourself against rumors and innuendo from those who are usually in the MOE, and pretty much at the very beginning of an unimaginably long road.

Please clarify.
wishingwell111
Mar. 24th, 2010 04:29 pm (UTC)
Isn't it funny how Crowley's sexual preferences influenced his vision, as did Gardner's? Gardner likes to be tied up and whipped by his Priestesses, and therefore in Wicca the feminine is dominant- Crowley, well lets just say the reverse is true.

So these two mens sexual preferences have created something of a division in core beliefs in two descendant groups of Western Esoteric thought. Gardner got lucky that we had a sexual revolution in the 60's or perhaps Wicca wouldn't be where it is today.

Who gives a rats ass if Crowley was sexist or not? You don't have to be. Many a genius was a fucking jerk.. does that mean the contributions they gave humanity are worthless? Many doctors used to tie up "insane" people and dissect them while still alive, in the name of science and medicine. Should we get rid of their works, when the advances in modern medicine came about from such cruelty?

It's petty if you ask me, and people who are made uncomfortable by Crowleys views on sex and gender need to explore their own a little better.

But I am biased.
jnanacandra
Mar. 24th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, look. A troll.
What. The. Fuck.

Way to miss the point, attack what you don't understand, and piss all over everything in the process. There was a good point hidden in there somewhere under the abusive and insulting crap. Pity you obviously don't care about communicating that point effectively.

To any other readers:
I'm leaving this comment visible as a demonstration of exactly what I and my like-minded brethren are fighting against within the Order. This comment is a great example of the status quo I referred to earlier: criticism of the system is attacked viciously, twisted and misinterpreted, and framed as a moral failing of the person criticizing. The comment aims to silence the people criticizing the system, with a (sometimes very transparent) veneer of debate.
alexwilliams
Mar. 24th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
And please don't forget those wonderful medical advances that came about as a result of Dr. Mengeles wonderful work in the Nazi concentration camps! Where would we be without them?
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