This is a brief summary of the Occult of Personality podcast interview with David Beth. I would recommend you listen to the full interview, as I will naturally have only picked out points most interesting to me, and there is plenty more to be had from the interview. My sincere thanks to David Beth for revising, editing and approving this summary.
Who is David Beth?
David Beth is Sovereign Grand Master of the OTOA (Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua) and the LCN (La Couleuvre Noire) and presiding bishop of the Ecclesia Gnostica Aeterna. The OTOA and LCN are originally Haitian Gnostic occult societies associated with each other, but which function separately. The OTOA works with a fusion of ancient Haitian and European Hermetic currents. The LCN is more specialised, with a focus on sorcery and direct spiritism. DB shares leadership in these groups with SGMA Courtney Willis.
DB is also involved with the Fraternitas Borealis, a hyperborean magick group with a cosmic tradition of magical exploration. The Gnostic church focuses on a more general transformation through the apostolic-gnostic sacraments and gnostic initiations and conducts esoteric research in a more classical gnostic sense. The Fraternitas Borealis achieves the same thing through experimentation with magical techniques and sorcery as well as basing itself on very specific transcendental ideals.
On the Ecclesia Gnostica Aeterna:
The EGA is an apostolic Gnostic church, where Gnostic attainment and liberation is achieved through the sacraments. The Church views itself as a continuation of the ancient mystery schools, a way of empowerment passed on through Gnostic Christianity. The sacraments are tools to provide the seeds of gradual enlightenment and development as Gnostic beings. It is then the initiate’s role to cultivate the seed to flower and fruit. Initiation is a combination of outside forces being given to you that also need to be fused alchemically with your own readiness. Occult spirituality needs nurturing.
Unlike the ancient form of Gnosticism, this is not approached as escapism or as a way of leaving the body and its associations behind; this Gnosis is Kosmic Gnosis, i.e. through the body and senses we can achieve a unified experience with the cosmos, hence avoiding dualism.
On the Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua:
The OTOA was never a Masonic fraternal organisation as such, perhaps in the beginning and more particularly through its division into lodges. Building on occult haitian-voudoist roots, they took the essence and qualities of Masonry, stripping away the superstructure and further into the C20th the Masonic elements were gradually eliminated. In the 1960s the organisation was based in Chicago, New York and Haiti, comprising small groups totalling maybe 50 people. The OTOA presents a more abstract form of Voudon gnosis but still with a practical focus. There are a few group rituals although most of what is done is on an individual basis. Initiations are given from master to student. The OTOA provides knowledge of Voudon Gnosis (a basic preparation to approach the LCN) – you need the foundations of the OTOA first, and once the principles have been grasped then a student would be eligible to move on to the LCN, although not each student wishes to progress to the LCN because of the extreme character of the (spirit) work and the specific demands of the LCN subcults.
On La Couleuvre Noire and Bertiaux:
Bertiaux’s Voudon Gnostic Workbook is the main public teaching tool of the LCN, presenting a spiritist type of sorcery. The student first establishes contact with spirits, working “lucky hoodoo”, a simple but effective way of establishing spirit contact before moving on to more complex areas. There is a symbiotic relationship between the spirits and the practitioner. Whether the spirits are internal beings, Jungian archetypes or external realities is irrelevant as long as the relationship is effective.
A fundamental understanding of metaphysics allows us to incorporate esoteric Voudon into our own systems. Bertiaux drew parallels between systems; his was not a kitchen magick taking simplistic ingredients to make a composite whole, he goes deeper than that, drawing on the essential core which because of its bare-bones truth can be clad in the flesh of other systems.
On his book, Voudon Gnosis:
DB’s own book was published as an introduction and commentary but would only really be understandable to slightly more experienced occultists. It is not a dogmatic introduction to how people should study Voudon Gnosis although it contains some “official doctrine”; it is intended more as an introduction to ideas and perspectives. At the same time however the book, through its language and ideas, can work as an opener of inner gateways and dimensions and so takes on a truly unique magical character. It is a book to be read with your gut and soul open on multiple levels, not processed purely by the cerebral cortex. Topics cover Las Prise des Yeaux, Points Chauds, Spider Sorcery, Time Travelling, Elemental Sex Magick and The Grimoire Ghuehde, including two appendices on ‘Nganga and the Fetish’ and ‘A-Mor: an initiated analysis of Love’.
On the Merciless Path:
DB speaks of the Merciless Path which has complex implications within the Fraternitas Borealis and calls for a focus and dedication which should be observed by anyone with a sincere intent to study Voudon Gnosis or in fact any occult system; a dedication of their whole being to their spiritual and occult calling: this is a vocation. Occultism has become part of pop culture, a thing done in our spare time. A vocation calls for everything else to be submitted to the path, a kind of sadhu of Western Esotericism who sacrifices everything to focus on their spiritual development through occultism. It is called the Merciless Path because this type of dedication is self-critical; it requires constant challenging of our own status quo, and questions what our ideals and motivations are. It is a cruel look in the mirror everyday. People should continually move out of their comfort zones, and continue walking the thorny path even when it gets difficult. Instead, many approach their “spirituality” like an “occult supermarket” buying only those ingredients that fit their lives to build their own religion. Occultism as originally conceived in Gnosticism and sorcery is only for people with a vocation. It requires the student to take a stand against society, to face their fears and stand against the crowd in a secular society where spirituality is not highly regarded. The only spirituality that flourishes in mainstream societies such as America is the superficial spirituality of evangelists.
On membership, students and mentoring:
The OTOA and LCN have a very small capacity and are consequently selective in their membership. The aim is to create a smooth-running structure to facilitate the mentor relationships between student and teacher and to provide the best possible working environment; however, students must also display a suitable character to respond to such an opportunity to learn. The societies want people who work individually and have an experimental mind and approach (in particular applicable to the Fraternitas Borealis). It doesn’t provide a social group or environment like many other pagan groups. There is a focus on the individual and the burden of work falls on him or her.
Advice to students, the ‘Left-Hand Path’, sexual magick and esoteric love:
When asked what advice he would give to people interested in membership, DB said for the individual to question exactly what their motivation is in their involvement with occultism. What do they truly want? Materialistic powers? To overcome their outsider position in the society at large? Is it a vocation or supplemental to their life/a hobby? Their true motivations will soon be uncovered within the group. The would-be student must be ready to have his or her Self challenged and to break through boundaries. Lots of groups provide a sociological setting for people to have a devotional relationship with the divine where they can meet like-minded people and share in the odd ritual. People of the ‘Left-Hand Path’ (an inadequate and sorely abused term) need to challenge their own ideas, concepts and status quo constantly. They may need to do things they consider inappropriate, especially within the context of sexual magick. As a preliminary, they need to want to work with sexual energies and sexual magick in all forms in a way employed for spiritual advancement. If a person has some kind of extreme sexual tendency, such as masochism, they may have to act as a sadist in some contexts. The intention here is to break through the original framework and free the practitioner of such extreme constraints. If you work with sexual energies, you are also working on the liberation of self, without being dependant on an outside person (a Luciferian idea). In specific ritual contexts, the other person can act as a spark to ignite the inner fire of transformation. The risk here, however, is that the practitioner can confuse the other person with a full embodiment of the divine bride or groom.
The body is viewed as a temple, a tool to express the divine. Through experiences of the body, a person can experience the divine, and by employing the body in particular ways combined with a trained mind, it can lead to spiritual enlightenment. It is not about satisfying cravings for darker magick but about challenging what you think is proper for you. It is not an occult path that supports a person in maintaining the chimera of who they are at this moment – it strips that away and challenges it. The student must avoid interpreting things the way they want to, which is why the mentor relationship is so important, so he or she does not get stuck within their own prejudices and fantasies.
Myth conveys an esoteric reality; a form of collective memory clad in myth. The symbolism of myths communicates most to the cultural group it is closest too. Unlocking myths provides you with occult tools; such as Parsifal, the spiritual warrior, walking the Merciless Path, he sacrifices all to his cause. Myth provides us with a link to a living occult tradition; for example, the icon of Christ, the dying and resurrected man who through spiritual transformation obtained divine status. We must die to the profane self, crucify self on the cross of the elements and be resurrected in a higher self. In such an instance it is irrelevant whether Jesus was a historical figure or purely mythical, the message is still relevant against either premise.
On magick’s role in spirituality:
The spiritual journey per se is the path up the mountain; the magickal journey is the exploration of the mountain. Magick fulfils a searcher’s cravings for exploration and is a way to discover one’s own potential. Magickal work can support spiritual existence if employed as a supplement to spiritual development.
On the state of published occult knowledge today and pop culture:
Occult works are more prolific today as the fear of persecution has for the most part been removed. The question naturally exists as to what is authentic, and in particular with the use of the internet, one must consider the source.
The last 30 years of publishing have seen a plethora of poor quality material produced. New occult writers are bringing very little that is new to the circle, merely regurgitating the discoveries of the Old Guard. Nowadays fundamental research is missing, and people are instead looking for quick answers and quick-fixes. Superficiality is what glues people together today. There is no longer a desire for a Weltanschauung (a philosophical, conceptual understanding of the world at large), there is a greater desire for the “wild ride”, so occultism succeeds in popular culture as long as it is wild and interesting. People are a product of their society, a fact that infiltrates the occult community too. There must be a will to study and learn. The opportunities are there, but many don’t take advantage of them because they are comfortably ensconced in the society they live in; they neither have the capacity or the will to sit down and study properly. The purpose of true occult spirituality is to engage in a work that serves a higher purpose (which ultimately benefits the Self too). It cannot be approached as social group membership or in a consumer role with the wish to fulfil the aggrandisement of his or her ego.
On the future:
DB envisages a hope for the future where there is a chain of initiates who will carry on the work until the dark times of spiritual apathy are over, when a new consciousness will kick into action which will tear down the dualistic, exploitative and dehumanising structure we currently inhabit. The attainment of Kosmic consciousness for all of humanity will be sparked by this chain of initiates.