Thelemic Symposium Oxford 2008
Yesterday I attended the Thelemic Symposium in Oxford. My motivation was intensely personal. As such I took no notes, so my impressions of the speakers are entirely subjective, probably skewed and flavoured with my own biases and opinions (what’s new?).
Once we had got over our initial hilarity at the location, which was essentially a scout-hut with bar at the back of a housing estate, we soon realised what an absolutely perfect site it was: private, comfortable with bar and food, and no prying eyes of locals. Inside, the stage area was decorated with curtains and a beautiful arched painting of Nuit. She took my breath away and I looked at her often throughout the day.
Unfortunately the DuQuettes were absent, so the number of talks dropped to 6. First off were Peter Grey and his partner on Babalon. Each read their own incredibly evocative and thrilling interpretations of Babalon, the Whore, the Scarlet Woman. (I notice a discrepancy here in my understanding of their work, and TGW’s notes – this I think reflects my bias in favour of Babalon.) Their Babalon was a strong, indefatigable woman, independent and raw; she was the Babalon of two people in love; and the Babalon who challenged all preconceptions including those of Thelema. They called on Thelemites to reject dogma and to commit blasphemy to infuse new life into a partially degenerate philosophy that needed to change to respond and be relevant to the times. The raw sexual language was beautiful, challenging and ultimately deeply arousing. I later overcame my innate shyness to ask them for copies of their work because I very much want to read through both texts at my leisure.
A couple of talks later, this particular image of Babalon was shaken to its roots by Melissa Harrington who spoke about Thelema and The Feminine. (I would just like to say I admired her spirit and thoroughly enjoyed her talk. It’s only because she posed such interesting ideas, that I feel able to engage in discussion and disagree with some of her points of reference.) Her first words, though not unkind, were to Peter Grey and partner, saying, “Come back when you’ve had children and tell me again about Babalon.” I prickled at what I felt was a rather dismissive statement. Her talk went on to question the role of women in Thelema; that because the structure has been so male dominated since its inception, that there are not enough provisions made for women, either in a spiritual sense or practically in the form of crèches at rituals. She looked at the audience and marked everyone as a first generation believer, and wondered how on earth anyone could be expected to bring up a child in Thelema with the lack of structure and openness to families and children. This was a fair point, but one that could have been made in isolation. Instead she cited Crowley’s behaviour with a string of women, the drugs, the abandonment and death through negligence of some of the children. She found this an unacceptable basis for a religion; that women were essentially given sexual freedom but not the power to deal with it. This is true, and perhaps because I don’t see Crowley as a prophet, but more as an inspired madman, I have no issue in taking the good and leaving the bad: when you start talking about “religion” then people start wanting absolutes; they want their prophets to be flawless and their gods to be manifest in dogma. Untidiness irritates such people. And such people irritate me. Whether it is directly Crowley’s responsibility or actually a failure of responsibility by the women themselves, I find harder to say, and the discussion smacks to me slightly of arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Are the personality flaws of Crowley then, still relevant now? Can’t we take the best of his work and just move forward with it? If we are looking to him as a cult leader, then his personality flaws certainly create stumbling blocks; but if he is an inspiration, in the true sense of the word as a source that inspires us to other things, then I don’t see that it matters.
Another thing that riled me slightly, was that all of these points could have stood strongly on their own without bringing in the image of Babalon. She said that Babalon was a whore, and a male wet-dream, that ultimately Crowley did not question the motivation of whores and the desperation that drove them to whoredom. A fair point to a degree. But she ultimately robbed Babalon of any power, citing her childlessness as indicative of the barren nature of her symbolism, and that consequently this barrenness was being expressed in current day Thelema by the lack of provision for women and children, and the concomitant outcome that no one at the conference had been brought up as a Thelemite. Two points need addressing here: one – I HATE the way women who have had children then interpret everything in their lives thereafter from the perspective of motherhood as the pinnacle of female achievement. I understand that to them it is the most momentous thing of their lives. But to invoke childlessness as an expression of barrenness, negativity, lack of self, lack of will, slavery to male sexuality is in my opinion entirely missing the point of Babalon. She is an independent woman figure desired by man. She holds tremendous power. I have seen so many women lose any sense of self and individuality to their children; so many merge and become solely the power engine for their brood. Rightly so. If you are going to bring a being into the world, it is your responsibility to give that being everything you can. I am not criticising this. What I criticise is the assumption that childless women are less because they do NOT sacrifice themselves for their children. (This was implicit rather than explicit in her talk; it was unaddressed and hence bugged me big time.) For me, Babalon is a powerful Goddess that represents the ultimate in freedom. Does feminist freedom always have to be entirely and utter split from men? Can’t we be free and still in relationship with men? And if it is right to sacrifice yourself to your children whom you love, why is it suddenly wrong to sacrifice yourself to a man you love? The second point is that my understanding of Thelema is that it is a spiritual path which requires a spiritual awakening: it needs you to make the realisation of will to undertake the path; it is not a philosophy that can be taught at Sunday school. It is the philosophy of adults searching for a way to the divine. By trying to force a familial pattern of parental guidance on Thelema, she is trying (in my opinion) to make a tomato out of a chestnut.
Her second partial criticism was how women often came to Thelema through a male partner, but that often the women remained in Thelema once that original partnership dissolved. She used this as indicative of the non-woman friendly feeling in Thelema. Again, I disagree and believe that the reason for this is perhaps slightly more complicated. Thelema, the Gnostic mass and other tenets, are very sexual; to an outsider they could appear (indeed in some ways ARE) sexually aggressive. In today’s world I think there are very few women who would feel comfortable entering such a scene on their own, however great their interest. So perhaps the fact that women often approach Thelema through a male partner is less about emphasizing the male dominance and male leadership in Thelemic male/female relationships, than it is about reflecting the sad status of our society, that women are often frightened of overt, public expression of sexuality and feel safer approaching it all through a male partner whom they trust will keep them safe (at least until they have gained trust and confidence in the community).
The second talk was The 5 Senses in AMOOKOS and Tantrik Traditions, by Mike Magee. This was a fairly basic introduction to the idea of Tantra; the balance of Shakti and Shiva, the balance of male and female internally. The only new bit of information for me was gleaned from a training level in the AMOOKOS tradition, where initiates were called on to practice sense focus for a period of 26 weeks: one week they would focus on sight and keep a journal about (for example) the different shades of grey they saw through the week; the second week focused on taste; the third on hearing; the fourth on touch; the fifth on smell and the sixth represented ether and was a week of meditating on the present, of grounding and feeling utterly in the moment. This sequence was repeated over the 26 weeks, by the end of which you would have an extensive diary of your sensory experiences, which often led to certain changes in the initiate and the integration of disparate memories and sensory experiences. An integrity of being seemed to be the ultimate focus, but the final outcome depended entirely on the initiate’s own experiences and it was up to them to apply interpretations and learn from their experiences. This is a practice I am considering working through, as it could be very useful for my Kundalini practice.
Following Melissa Harrington, there was a talk by Charlotte Rodgers on Taboo & Blood Rites. There was in my mind very little information on generic blood rites, and it was more of a personal journey using blood; this was fascinating and I warmed to this woman greatly. She discussed the difference between venous blood and menstrual blood. She cited personal experience, which I don’t think it is appropriate to go into here. She touched on the subject of Mayan yoga, as in Maya/illusion. Performing this type of yoga in front of mirrors covered in blood symbols draws out aspects of self. This encourages a splitting of self to enable working on manifest aspects of self.
After this there was a talk on Goetic Magick by Jake Stratton-Kent. His experience seemed focused primarily on the Grimoirum Verum. The content of his talk passed me by, the prime interest for me came in the question time where he talked more openly about spirits with whom he had what he termed a “marriage type relationship”. These relationships were concrete things that he worked on as any other kind of relationship. I enjoyed the matter-of-fact way that he spoke about spirits. His relationship with them seemed more concrete than my own, but the way he spoke of them as such an integral part of his life – “I get along with some spirits better than I do with some people” – this rung true for me, and I felt he was speaking my language.
The final talk was given by a young German man, David Beth, Into the Meon – Inside Voudon Gnosis. His English was excellent, but unfortunately he assumed that everyone in the audience was privy to certain knowledge, that TGW and I mostly certainly were not. Consequently we were unable to follow the thread and missed out on learning much of anything. I’m sure that wasn’t the case for the more learned people in the audience. What did strike me was that in his tradition blood shares a cosmic essence with the “upper world”. The junction where these two essences meet in the adept is the hieros gamos. He also spoke of a concept called Las Prise des Yeaux, which is a form of esoteric vision of objects where you view the spiritual essence in all things animate and inanimate (another practical exercise in the offing).
This is a censored and curtailed version of the event, and hence the text at times appears a little choppy, for which I apologise. I took some hefty secateurs to it to make it publicly palatable 🙂 Some things are not appropriate for public consumption, some things are too personal to me to convey. Let it just be said, that this was a hugely important day for me and I will definitely be going next year.
© starofseshat 2008