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Ten Ways to Diversify Magical/Pagan Groups

Look around the room. How diverse is your group? Are there ten guys and one woman (the Wendy and the Lost Boys configuration)? Half men and half women, all white? No kids, no seniors, no one in a wheelchair?

Why does it matter if the room is filled only with our friends? It means our message is not reaching everyone who needs to hear it. Also we learn from people who are not like us, it grows our world.

The magical groups I spend most of my time with skew white/middle-aged/childless/able-bodied. Here are some starter ideas for getting more diversity in our groups.

One: Educate ourselves

The first item on any diversity agenda is learning about the experience of people not like us. There is so much information available about people of color, women, transgender and other genders, families, disabled people, seniors, veterans. In my corporation and as a human rights council member I organize lectures and panels which invite subject matter experts to share their knowledge and experience. From these events we learn that fathers need paternity leave, parents need flex time and child care, disabled people need equipment, trans people need non-gender-specific bathrooms, seniors need not to be discounted, people of color need affinity groups.

One excellent place to start is with the works of Crystal Blanton. This writer, organizer and priestess works tirelessly to bring race into the discussion and educate the magical communities.

These books written by Crystal are excellent resources for leaders:

These anthologies Crystal has edited give a platform to many diverse voices.

Two: Educate each other
The next step is to discuss these ideas within our group and communities. We need men to talk to men to get them past mansplaining to women what we already know about our own experience. We need white people talk to white people to get past the initial defensive and racist responses. (“Why are there only white people in the room?” “Don’t they have their own groups?”)

Three: Leverage the diversity already in the group

Are there any people of color, women, disabled folk, families with children in the room? Invite them to speak to the group about their experience in life and with the group. Put them on a podcast or a panel. Ask them for their suggestions about how we can be more inclusive and accepting. Use the listen-and-learn skills honed in the education phase to maximize their time and minimize their aggravation. Say thank you.

Next, implement their suggestions. Open participation for people with different abilities. Notice the needs of people who can’t stand, kneel, or hear well. Set up child care and learn to live with some chaos. Listen to the older folk when they tell stories of the times before you came. Play music that isn’t on the usual playlist. Make non-alcoholic drinks an equal option. Cut back on the hug line phenomenon – model walking in and out without having to hug everyone in passing.

The group’s culture will change and that’s uncomfortable. That’s also the inclusion part. Being open to new ideas makes diversity work.

Four: Build a program

Where diversity doesn’t exist we can go out and get it. Twenty years ago O.T.O. groups were mostly men but we have attracted more women and other genders through focused attention. Pagan groups in the Bay Area are making active efforts to include people of color – Pantheacon 2017 had a Pagans of Color hospitality suite.

In the corporate world we have a Diversity Executive, Diversity Champions and Diversity Ambassadors. If you have a large enough organization you can implement a program. If you’re a local leader you can implement in your area. Find people interested in the same subject and sign them up. You can do podcasts and conference panels, workshops, reading groups. Here’s an example: T. Thorn Coyle’s New Jim Crow study group.

Five: Get out in the community

The Showing Up For Racial Justice chapter I belong to bought a table at the annual NAACP benefit banquet. The Women’s March Huddle I belong to visits the ICE Tacoma Detention Center to bring families toys and blankets. This is different from outreach to proselytize and attract new members. It’s getting your people out to listen, learn, be observed, and contribute and support.

Six: Have interfaith conversations

Social justice work is interfaith work. The entire magical-Pagan population which makes up our friend set is one-third of one-percent of the US population. Half of the country is Christian, so if you get active in social justice you’re going to end up meeting with people in churches. Most of those folk are going to be more knowledgeable and experienced than we are. They have a vocabulary and a history. They talk about the Beloved Community.

In these rooms we are the diversity people. The other folk will be curious about us. We need to have an elevator speech to explain what we do. We can also be prepared to do public ritual work. I did an impromptu invocation of Athena at an interfaith gathering that invited me to participate.

We can learn from the failures and successives of other groups. The Unitarian Universalist Church did some learning earlier this year when groups offered criticism of white privilege. The local church has responded by organizing self-education (see item one) and having hard discussions with each other. A group that has come farther along the road offers this Clergy Anti Racism Preparedness Toolkit which we can model based on our own religions and philosophies.

Seven: Be visible

  • Get out on the street with Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March and Gay Pride.
  • Wear T-shirts with your affiliation.
  • Wear clergy garb to activist events.
  • Take pictures of yourself and your group while out in the community. Post on your own internal media and on social media.

Eight: Set a policy
Stand strongly against racism and sexism and strongly for human rights. Some examples:

Statement from the U.S. Grand Lodge of O.T.O.
Solar Cross Stands for Justice
Covenant of the 9/1/2015 Statement on Black Lives Matter

Nine: Have the difficult conversation
The foundation of the welcoming community is the willingness to confront our own racism, sexism and other biases. We can start that conversation one-on-one with each other. We can bring a community leader in to do a presentation that will lead to a conversation.

It’s okay to take it slow, to make mistakes, to try it again. The important thing is to get started.

Ten. Your idea here

What has worked for your group to become more inclusive? What barriers do you experience to joining or participating in a group? What would you like to see happen? Let’s do this!

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How to save the future

Antennae_Galaxies from Wikimedia


Recently I had a wonderful conversation with some friends. One of them challenged me to articulate how to change the future. Western magicians have ceded our ability to change the world, discouraged by the psychologization of magic and the scientific skepticism that what cannot be measured does not exist. Magicians in earlier ages just did the magic. Here are some ideas for the contemporary age.

1. Know the future you want.

Understand it clearly. The future I wanted at twenty is the future I am living in today: one in which nuclear war is averted, in which I have a place to live and a good job, love and friends, and published books.

The future I want today is one in which nuclear war is averted, the climate settles into a sustainable pattern, I have a place to live, funds in retirement, love and friends, and finish the additional books I need to write. My future also includes progress toward these human goals:

  • Every living human child is fed, housed and safe.
  • All war has ceased and there is peace everywhere on earth.
  • Every person is accepted as they are, able to work and love and live as they will.

The specific visualization I have for this is a family picnic at a local park. This park has green grass and trees and sits along the water. The people I love are all there eating delicious food and enjoying each other’s company. Around the park people of all ages, genders, races and cultures play in the ball parks and playgrounds. It is paradise. I am having an iteration of the picnic in this weekend.

2. Cling to it fiercely

Once you know the future you want, forsake all other futures. Ruthlessly banish images of desolation, of the end of life in nuclear war or climate change. Whenever people talk to you about their fears, focus on the positive actions they can take to steer toward the future you want.

Some may object that it is already too late, that the climate has already changed too much, that human nature will prevent our development as a species. 350.org says it is not too late and we know what we need to do. Changing human nature is what the psychologization of magic is all about. Are you advocating to keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition to renewables? If you are, excellent. If not, do it. Sign up for Climate Change Theater and host an event in your town/valley. (My favorite play is The Hope Project).

3. Get good at manifestation

I have a perfectly good book, Practical Magic for Beginners, which trains this skill. If you hate being seen reading a beginners book (even though it’s more sophisticated than that) put a cover on it. There’s also Denning and Phillips’ Practical Guide to Creative Visualization and Shakti Gawain’s Creative Visualization if my work isn’t to your liking.

I started with Silva Mind Control when I was eighteen. I started with finding change on the sidewalk.

4. Change the past.

Rev. Koichi Barrish of Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America says: “Those who are aware of mission (future) and boil their blood to do their best in their lives (present) are able to alter the currents ([and purify] the past) of fate.” There’s a similar quantum theory. This is an idea worth exploring, magicians.

5. Steer the boat of your life through the multiverse.

Physics just now is playing with the multiple world theory that each probability splits into a new world. To give credit where it is due, I first encountered the idea through Jane Roberts in Seth Speaks. As I remember she said something like this: we shift worlds all the time, and where the new world differs from the old, we rationalize the difference. You can give yourself the idea that next time you will just notice the change. Like the library on the corner that wasn’t there yesterday, or the vacant lot that turned into a fifty-year-old apple orchard.

If the world continually splits along probabilities, and magic gives me the ability to choose the path I am on, then I choose the world which looks like the one I am visualizing and manifesting.

In closing

I’m not going to tilt at windmills – it is the tenor of the age to doubt that magic is real. Fortunately I don’t have to convince anyone to keep saving the future, and neither do you. All you have to do is do it. Due to scientific skepticism and the psychologization of magic, the second bullet is the hardest. Trust yourself to know what you know.

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Ritual to preserve Ma’at

From Wikimedia.

Imagine yourself holding a small image of Ma’at in your palm. Say out loud:

I offer Ma’at to Ma’at that Ma’at may be preserved.

 

How it works:

There are many images from ancient Egypt/Kemet of people with power (pharoahs, queens, priestesses and priests) making offerings to various deities. Offerings included food, drink and incense. In The Presentation of Ma’at: Ritual and Legitimacy in Ancient Egypt, Emily Teeter discusses another kind of offering: presenting a tiny image of Ma’at. In ancient Egypt/Kemet the goddess Ma’at embodied truth, justice, and the orderly pattern of the universe. So offering Ma’at was a way for the official to promise to uphold the principles of the orderly universe.

This ritual is a quick way to affirm our support for justice, peace, and the rule of law applied equally and fairly to all.

Dancers of magic: Loie Fuller

Aleister Crowley’s ritual Liber XV, The Gnostic Mass specifies that the priestess “moves in a serpentine manner involving 3½ circles of the Temple”. In their notes on the mass Helena and Tau Apiryon note that while some people refer to this movement as a “serpentine dance” the ritual does not specify dance or music here.

Since the actual path of the priestess is more or less serpent-like it’s clear that serpentine refers to the pattern she walks, not how she walks it. But why do we say “serpentine dance” so automatically? That’s down to Loie Fuller.

Fuller started her career as a “skirt dancer” (think can-can girl). She made the form uniquely her own in several ways. First she sewed wands into her costume; if you’re a belly dance fan you may have seen “Isis wings”, smaller replicas of Loie’s wands. Second, her costumes weren’t dresses as much as drapes, hundreds of yards hanging directly from her neck. Finally she developed a lighting system that threw color and images onto the fabric. It was startling, new, fabulous and completely modern. At the Folies Bergere Loie came to epitomize the Art Nouveau.

Anatole France describes Fuller as “a person of good mind and good heart, a soul somewhat inclined to mysticism, to philosophy, to religion, a very deep, a very cheerful and a very noble soul.” She may not have been a magician in the same sense as Florence Farr or Dion Fortune but she was very much concerned with magical ideas expressed in a performative way.

Fuller was interested in the effects of color. In her autobiography she describes her meeting with Camille Flammarion who experimented with the effects of colored light on plants. Fuller believed that color had a distinct impact. She says “colour so pervades everything that the whole universe is busy producing it, everywhere and in everything.”

At the turn of the century a few pioneering dancers rejected the formalism of ballet and sought a more natural turn of movement. Fuller was among the earliest to seek emotional expression in movement. “At present dancing signifies motions of the arms and the legs…the motion…is regulated rather by the time than by the spirit of the music.” In contrast, she argued, music “ought to indicate a form of harmony or an idea with instinctive passion.” The motion of the dance should mirror the sensations of the body and express sorrow, joy, surprise, hope.

Fuller combined the expressive emotion of dance with the emotional impact of color. Her combination of music, color, and billowing movement transported audiences and inspired artists of all kinds. She herself linked this to a religious feeling, describing the rapture she experienced when she waved a scarf in the light from stained glass windows in Notre Dame, the same rapture she experienced in the dance.

Here are a few representations of her work. The Lumiere Brothers captured her “serpentine dance” on film and laboriously hand-tinted the frames to capture the sense of color. The serpent-like movement is created by the swirling fabric.

Loie Fuller did not found a school of dance, however contemporary dancer Jody Sperling has revived her dance style. Sperling’s residency at University of Wyoming recreated Fuller’s performance piece “Ballet of Light”. This short film documents the process and records the complete performance (beginning at 20:58).

Fuller created a dance called “Fire”. Sperling re-imagined it here.

Sperling’s work extended the fire idea into a “Dance of the Elements”, including water, earth, air, and ether. Here is water.

Sperling’s Fuller-inspired interpretation of Clair de Lune is peaceful and ecstatic; it’s a breathtaking moment of beauty.

Fuller’s pioneering work laid the foundations for modern dance and paved the road that Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis and Martha Graham would follow. She remains unique in her combination of music and color. She inspires me as a priestess to work with the meaning of gesture, sound and color to produce grace.

References
Fuller, Loie. “Fifteen Years of a Dancer’s Life: With Some Account of Her Distinguished Friends”. Boston: L.L. Maynard and Company, 1913. Web site: Google Books

Sperling, Jody. “Loie Fuller”. Dance Heritage 2012. Web site: Dance Heritage.

Photo credit: By Frederick Glasier – This image was uploaded from Shorpy.com, a photo-blog site specializing in vintage photography. Source url: 1641Shorpy.com host many images from public domain image repositories, including the Library of Congress. A high resolution version of this photograph may be available elsewhere., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2689845

Petition to Flora

Louise Abbéma [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Hail Flora!
Lovely Goddess of the bloom,
garlanded with a thousand flowers,
grant that my flowers open in beauty,
avert the rusts which would blight them,
let them set seed and fruit and bloom again.

Via Wikimedia

How I Know I’m Not in a Cult


When I was twenty I spent a day and a night with the Moonies. The story begins on a street corner in San Francisco as my boyfriend and I came up from a BART exit wearing our backpacks and were snagged by a recruiter. It ends with us walking down a deserted country road in the middle of the night while a group of people chanted “choo choo choo, choo choo choo, yay yay pow!” after us. The highlight is when my boyfriend managed to snag a moment alone with me to say urgently, “We have to get out of here. Something’s wrong. These people smile all the time.”

The experience has made me a cult-watcher. I avidly devour books written by ex-members making daring escapes on buses and motorcycles, planning exit strategies with their families on burner cell phones.

I belong to Ordo Templi Orientis, I’m a member of a coven, I sometimes work with a Golden Dawn group. Some people describe any esoteric group as a cult. It takes more than a minority spiritual belief to earn the title though. Cults take your money, your choices, your family and your time. The trouble is people get sucked into groups only to wake up years later realizing they’ve been had. So how can I tell that I’m not being strung along right now?

Here’s how I know:

  • I can read criticism and not feel as if I’m waking up. No one thinks less of me for reading criticism of the group or engaging in criticism myself.
  • I’m not a true believer. I don’t think my spiritual path is the best in the world, just the one that’s right for me. I don’t think the groups I belong to are perfect. I don’t feel like I’m saving the world.
  • No one tells me who to marry, who my friends are, or asks me to cut people out of my life if they leave the group.
  • They don’t ask for my money. I pay annual dues to O.T.O. – I also pay annual dues to the AARP, PMI, ACLU, and other organizations.

Also, the other people in my magical groups have a normal range of emotions. They get mad, they celebrate successes, they mourn losses. They’re not constantly angry and, the spookiest affect of all, they’re not smiling all the time.

The mission of my writing

I am a writer with a mission. All my books have a purpose. They form a story arc and contribute to the overall theme. That mission is to re-vision Western magic.

That sounds pretty grand, and maybe it is! I’ve been living with the idea so long that it seems natural to me. I had the very early experience of being handed a belief system which I rejected. My mother raised me in the Catholic church but I left the faith when I was twelve. My father had exposed me to the wide world of spiritual ideas and I knew that I wasn’t meant to be Christian.

When I was sixteen I bought my first book on Witchcraft and felt as if I had come home. I read “once a Witch, always a Witch” and I believed that fervently. As I approached my first degree initiation I thought, well, if I wasn’t a Witch in a previous life, I was making the commitment now!

The initiation opened a world of mystery to me. I was introduced to the powers of the elements and the Goddess and God of the Craft. I felt as if I had passed through a door and walked in an entirely new world.

That initiation also left me with doubt. An idea nibbled at the back of my mind. Something was off kilter here. I had a nagging sense that there was something wrong, but I couldn’t articulate what it was. The voice of guidance told me that something here needed reform.

I formed the first true bond of my adult life when I met Alex. He practiced Ceremonial Magic. We traded notes – he taught me his kind of magic and I taught him mine. With Ceremonial Magic I had an even stronger sense that the system needed reform. The majesty and precision of ritual drew me powerfully but it also seemed that it was designed partly to keep me out. As a woman I seemed to be pushed into a role that didn’t fit me. Why wouldn’t that be true? After all the culture at large created the box “woman” that confined me to some roles I didn’t want and shut me out of other roles that fit me better. I didn’t want to have children or raise a family. I wanted to devote myself to the life of the mind, the artist’s life.

When I started my current books I envisioned it as a four-part series: The Practical Magician, The Woman Magician, The Pagan Magician, and The Sex Magician.

Practical Magic for Beginners lays the foundation for the work. I am a Western Witch and Magician working within the tradition. The spiritual work grounds in the material world. You have to have a place to stay, food to eat, family and friends to support you, and health in order to launch into the stratosphere of spiritual life.

Donyae Coles recently interviewed me and commented that Practical Magic isn’t a typical collection-of-spells kind of work. It sets out to explain the underpinning of magic. I loved that she caught that, it’s an important part of what I am doing, to put the tools of magic in everyone’s hands so we can all make the magic that works for us.

The Woman Magician tackles the subject of being a woman and doing magic that is centered on my own life and experience. It’s really an extended meditation on gender. As I talk about the work I find that the category “woman” really includes all the “not-male” genders; people who are not comfortable with the binary are drawn to women’s events and to my work.

For the Love of the Gods is the first installment in the “Pagan Magician” series. I trace the connection between ourselves and our ancestors, claiming our history. It is also important that we acknowledge and begin to undo the history of colonialization. Our magic roots in the wisdom of ancient Egypt/Kemet and was created by black people.

I’m currently working on the next installment of the “Pagan Magician”. The working title is “Soul and Cosmos”. Our magic descends directly from the work of the Neo-Platonic philosopher-magicians. They understood the soul to be on a journey to become more and more good and reconnect with our divine origins.

While each book stands alone, they also form building blocks for a new way of experiencing traditional magic, one that acknowledges and equally values all genders and all races and ethnicities. Magic only works for one of us when it works for all of us. Giving voice to that understanding is the mission I am on.

What Does the Stele of Revealing Reveal About Reincarnation?

By ILAOSVSen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By ILAOSVSen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By ILAOSVSen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

When Crowley saw this object he did not immediately recollect an image of a past life. His identification with the priest of the stele emerged as the entity Aiwass dictated to him Liber al vel Legis, the Book of the Law. Chapter I says:

35. This that thou writest is the threefold book of Law.
36. My scribe Ankh-af-na-khonsu, the priest of the princes, shall not in one letter change this book…

Crowley was the scribe, so he must have been Ankh-f-n-khonsu. He was familiar with the doctrine of reincarnation through his studies with fellow Golden Dawn member Alan Bennett, who shared his extensive knowledge of Buddhist and Hindu scriptures.

Buddhism seems to have come to Egypt about the time of Alexander the Great, several centuries after the death of Ankh-f-n-khonsu. There were Buddhist temples in the city of Alexandria, and reincarnation was a doctrine known to the philosophers of that city. As an English gentleman with a classical education Crowley studied those works of the Alexandrian philosophers which survived through time.

Reincarnation was not a doctrine known to Ankh-f-n-khonsu himself. In Kemetic/Egyptian religion, the soul did not leave the body and then return in a different body. Instead, ritual performed after death united several parts of the soul in a new spiritual-material form which travelled from the land of the dead to the land of the living every day, just as the sun did. The deceased was anchored to the living world by a mummified body, or by an image of the person while alive, or even by the rememberance of their name.

Thelemites visiting the Cairo Museum in 2004 found a mummy labelled Ankh-f-n-khonsu. This mummy was intended to secure the eternal life of that person. Similarly, the funerary stele of Ankh-f-n-khonsu was intended to give him a virtual tomb within which to rest and provide him the eternal food piled on the offering table. He is still with us. He is still there. We know where he is, physically in the holdings of the Cairo Museum, calling his united soul forth by day to travel with the sun back to the land of the living.

So when Ankh-f-n-khonsu stands in the body of Aleister Crowley to view his own funerary stele, we’ve jumped worldviews. Has something gone wrong? Did the religious ritual, the magic, of the funerary stele fail?

Science tells us that the mind dies with the body, and treats both Kemetic and Buddhist thought as forms of wishful thinking to stave off the fear of the end of material existence. Catholic theology resembles Kemetic more closely than Buddhist, holding that the soul inhabits a realm after death (Heaven, Hell or Purgatory), and that at the end of days the soul will return to Earth to be reunited with its physical body, now made eternal. Nearly everyone in the English speaking world is familiar with all these competing conceptions of life after death and we are accustomed to knowing several views which contradict each other.

We may decide to simply inhabit both worldviews, granting Ankh-f-n-khonsu his eternal life while simultaneously granting Aleister Crowley as a reincarnation of that priest. We may decide that the Egyptian worldview was in error and that Ankh-f-n-khonsu discovered this upon his next rebirth. We may craft a sophisticated theological response which would divide the soul, one part to engage in its journey with the sun, another to be reborn in a succession of human bodies.

In The Gnostic Mass, Annotations and Commentary, Helena and Tau Apiryon note that Crowley as Ankh-f-n-khonsu was the living prophet of the Aeon of Horus, and that the stele has an oracular connection to the reception of the Book of the Law and the Law of Thelema. This transformation renewed the energies of ancient Egypt in the pattern of aeonic evolution.

However we frame the transformation, what is certain is that Crowley repurposed the stele. Instead of anchoring the travels of the soul from the realm of the dead to the living, it anchors the spiritual awakening of the Book of the Law. The image of Nut becomes Nuit, the star goddess; the solar disk becomes Hadit; Re-Horakhty becomes Ra-Hoor-Khuit. The stele itself is reproduced in physical form and sits on top of the altar during the Gnostic Mass, an altar which reproduces the structure of the cosmos.

There is an overtone of colonialism here. Crowley benefitted from the power and privilege of the British empire; he didn’t question his right to appropriate the image of the stele for his own purposes. When I viewed the stele in the Cairo museum in 2008, the only other person in the room was a young woman wearing a hijab; she was kneeling on the floor painting the stele on a papyrus sheet, and fled on my arrival before I could speak to her. This was a cross-cultural encounter with colonialist implications – my religious experience was her cultural heritage, which she was practicing to sell back to tourists like me.

However, her cultural heritage was not her religious experience, and my religious experience was conducted privately in a non-religious context. Our sacred object is the museum’s physical property. Egypt is an Islamic country, and while tourism is a critical industry, it is tourism limited to admiring objects in a cultural or scientific framework. When the Temple of Thelema became aware the stele had been removed in 2011, members warned each other not to query the museum’s authorities and alert them that this object has meaning to us, implying a fear that the museum may choose to lock it out of sight permanently.

Since the Gnostic Mass requires the stele as part of the altar equipment, and since the stele is so important to Thelema, several artists sell full and partial size reproductions. Both sides of the stele are reproduced in The Equinox Vol. I No. VII, and people often photocopy these and paste them onto foamboard or wood. O.T.O. Eire has made available Cathryn Orchard’s line drawing in black and white for individuals to color in themselves, for learning, and as an act of devotion.

Whatever our reason for reproducing the stele, the image lives on, and the name of Anhk-f-n-khonsu is remembered thousands of years after his death, a form of immortality the stele was meant to ensure. Viewed in that light the magic has been wildly successful.

Read more:
Temple of Thelema public discussion, The Stele of Revealing has been moved.
Kaczynski, Richard, Ph.D. (2002). 0 Comments/by

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Was Aleister Crowley a Witch?

Aleister Crowley from Wikimedia Commons
Aleister Crowley from Wikimedia Commons

Aleister Crowley from Wikimedia Commons

Gardner’s version of his meeting with Crowley

Gerald Gardner met Aleister Crowley in the last year of his life. We know that Crowley initiated Gardner into the O.T.O. and issued him a charter to form an O.T.O. camp. There are persistent stories that the initiatory currents went both ways – not only was Gardner an O.T.O. initiate, but Crowley was a Witch.

Gardner was introduced to Crowley by Arnold Crowther. Crowther’s widow Patricia told Heselton that Crowley had seemed knowledgeable about Witchcraft but wasn’t interested in rituals led by a High Priestess because he “wasn’t the sort to be bossed around by women”. Heselton quotes additional details Gardner provided about that first meeting to John Symonds: “He was very interested in the witch cult, and had some idea of combining it w. the Order, but nothing came of it.”

Gardner also wrote to Cecil Williamson that Crowley was “in the Cult” but found the nudity distasteful, although he highly approved of the Great Rite. Gardner also claimed that Crowley didn’t want to have to kneel to a High Priestess. Heselton immediately quotes sources who find this unlikely. How unlikely is apparent to anyone who has seen a Gnostic Mass in which the priest kneels before the nude (if she chooses) priestess on the altar.

Gardner’s biographer Phillip Heselton concludes that Crowley may have said something offhand about knowing about Witchcraft as a form of one-upmanship in his first meeting with Gardner.

Pickingill Brothers

There is however another source of stories about Crowley and Witchcraft. In the 1970s W.E. (Bill) Liddell published a series of articles which he claimed were written by pre-Gardnerian Witches who wished to remain anonymous. Liddell himself claimed both Gardnerian and Hereditary initiations, making him a bridge between the two worlds. The articles discussed the activities of George Pickingill, 1816 – 1909, a Witch in a hereditary line eight centuries old who founded nine covens in Canewdon in Essex. In 1994 Michael Howard assembled these articles in The Pickingill Papers, The Origin of the Gardnerian Craft.

In “Gerald Gardner and his Detractors” Liddell (or the anonymous Witch) claims that Allan Bennett was one of Pickingill’s pupils. Bennett was both a member of the Golden Dawn and a Buddhist and Crowley’s first teacher in these spiritual paths. The article claims Bennett passed a third spiritual practice to Crowley – Witchcraft. Bennett introduced Crowley to one of Pickingill’s nine covens. Crowley received the Second Rite in Hereditary Witchcraft but was rapidly expelled; however he used the material he received in later rituals.

Liddell’s story goes on: this means that when Crowley met Gardner the two men discovered they not only shared Masonry but initiation into Pickingill covens. Crowley reproduced from memory the book of Witchcraft rituals he had received from his initiators and this material was one of the sources Gardner used in creating his books. When Crowley affiliated Gardner into O.T.O, Gardner reciprocated by inducting Crowley into Gardnerian Craft.

There is no documentation to substantiate any of these stories. Heselton notes that Ronald Hutton discounts all the stories of Crowley’s involvements with Witchcraft on the grounds that there is no mention of this in his diaries.

It is interesting that the Liddell articles equally disapprove of Crowley, Gardner, and Pickingill! The Hereditary Craft “brethren” purporting to write this material condemn Pickingill’s rejection of Christianity, Gardner’s insistence on nudity and the power of the priestess, and Crowley’s overt sexuality.

Fellow Travelers

I’m not seriously suggesting that Crowley was an initiated Witch; surely we would have heard about it from him rather than anonymous sources if the rumors were true. What I find interesting is that Crowley’s and Gardner’s work have so much in common. They were English gentlemen and Masons. Both rejected Christianity and explored numerous magical and spiritual paths – Crowley was a Golden Dawn initiate and a Buddhist, Gardner was a Rosicrucian and a Druid. Both were inducted into existing magical groups, Gardner into Witchcraft, Crowley into O.T.O. Both rewrote the rituals they were given and placed an indelible stamp on that spiritual path. Gardnerian Witchcraft is the most widely known and practiced form of Witchcraft in the world. O.T.O. is governed by Aleister Crowley’s foundational writings and performs his initiatory and sacramental rituals.

They knew each other and supported each other’s visions. They share the same critics too. The persistent stories that Crowley wrote Gardnerian rituals or himself used hereditary Witchcraft rituals in his own work are not historical fact, they are disproved or unproved, but are interesting because they point to the consonance of the two men’s work.

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Prayer to Hermes for effective speech

We all face times when it is important for us to be heard and to be believed. At those times I turn to Hermes who the Greeks called “friendliest of the gods to people”. He was known to the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, medieval Europe, straight through to today where he continues to be a lively presence in the world.

Times you might call on Hermes:

  • A job interview
  • Appearing in court
  • Proposing marriage
  • Negotiating an agreement

I call on him every morning before I start my round of petition signing and phone calls!

This working can be as elaborate or simple as you like. You can make an altar with a statue of Hermes , light a candle, and write out what you want by hand. Or you can pull up an image on your computer and type the result you want. Hermes is at home on the internet!

Prayer to Hermes

Hail Hermes,
Graceful god,
Friend to the people and guide.
Hear the words I speak and aid me.
Let my words be received,
Let my message be believed,
Let my speech make the change I seek,
Bring me success.
Friend to the people and guide,
I honor you and thank you.

Offering: you can offer incense, candle flame, simple food like bread and drink like water, milk or wine. You can also post about him and bring his image and power to others.

How do you make offerings to Hermes?