Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Kansas City Adventure - Part 2

This is part 2 of a two part biographical article about the times when I lived in Kansas City in 1980's. This part is about the Order of the Gnostic Star and how it was founded.

It was in the year 1986, when I was living in Westport that I met two individuals who talked me into sharing my recently developed knowledge. I had been a confirmed solitary practitioner and as I said, I didn’t seek to form any group or teach my knowledge to anyone. I had been convinced that my newly acquired knowledge was for me alone, and that it was useless for anyone else. That made me shy away from sharing it with others. However, these two individuals, who became known in the Order as Frater Calixtus and Frater Discipulus Merlinii, convinced me that not only was my knowledge of magick relevant and intelligible to others, it was also incumbent upon me to teach this knowledge and spread its practice.

So inspired was I by these newly met friends and future associates that I began to immediately formulate what I had developed as a personal system of magick into the lore of the E.S.S.G. Frater Calixtus had been a wiccan high priest, occult scholar and theosophist, with many years of occult practice and knowledge. Frater Discipulus Merlinii was also an accomplished occult scholar, who had a quick wit and was also a brilliant writer. The three of us became the founding elders of the first temple of the Order. What they saw in me was someone who had a lot of practical magickal knowledge, the kind of knowledge that they needed to build a magickal lodge. So they formed an alliance with me and melded their greater scholarly skills and erudition with my practical and creative capabilities. The result of this synthesis was the birth of the lore of the E.S.S.G.

To gain an even better understanding of this event, I will use the musings of Frater Calixtus written in 1996, which was used  in the prologue of the first volume of “Mastering the Art of Ritual Magick.” I think that you can get a pretty good idea of how he perceived me and what he thought of my supposedly “useless” lore.

“Nearly a decade ago [1986] through the kindness of a mutual friend I met Frater Barrabbas. That encounter is still reverberating and growing within my magickal life. And much of what is best within me I owe to that encounter. It is difficult if not impossible to write of the life of any occultist, as Moina Mathers once wrote of her late husband MacGregor; ‘...there being so much of an inner and secret nature much of the symbolical in the historical, so much of the latter in the symbology.’ ( Preface to ‘The Kabbalah Unveiled,’ p. viii by M. Mathers)  Thus to write of Frater Barrabbas's outer life, his family, his siblings, his academic background is but to give you a single dimension of this myriad minded man.

At our first meeting it was our love for that Western yoga known as Magick which sparked our further conversations and enlivened our discussions. But I noticed early on in our friendship a unique quality to his Magickal vision and work. There was no derivation, no dependency upon past systems of magickal exploration in his philosophy. He was not content to retrace old patterns within the Magick ritual Circle, but to use them as jumping off points for deeper pioneering in the transfigured time and space of the Circle. Only with great reluctance on his part and even greater prodding on my part was I eventually able to see his Magickal diaries and rituals - and nothing I could have done could have prepared me for the experience. Immediately I saw innovative ritual structures such as the vortex and the Elemental Octagram presented. I saw his respect for Magickal traditions of the past; be they Kabbalistic, Enochian, Freemasonry, Golden Dawn, Thelemic or Neopagan. Moreover I felt his frustration that here in the late twentieth century ‘Magick’ for the most part was merely endless variation on themes established in the past and frozen in time.

Others of like mind came together to form the Egregora Sancta Stella Gnostica (E.S.S.G.) a gnostic ritual magick order. Uniting us was Frater Barrabbas's view that the sheer stasis of contemporary Magick was evident by the nature of the information available to the occultist in the public arena. And that adherence to a tradition regardless of its historical richness was a prison with its doors locked from the inside.”

How odd it seems to me today to be credited with changing Frater Calixtus’ life when not long after writing that tribute, he abandoned his study of magick altogether and became, instead, an atheist and a political Socialist. He must have believed what he wrote at the time, but whatever effects the group had on him were completely supplanted by other beliefs that he held more dear than the practice of magick or any form of occultism. Perhaps it would have meant more to me if he had remained and even mastered his occult practices and advanced his beliefs. I believe that he would have made a formidable occult scholar and practitioner. He even wrote some of the lore that the Order uses today. One other point, what Frater Calixtus was writing may have been true of the occult community in the 1980's, but by the 90's, there were a lot of new directions being developed, not to mention Chaos magick and the forming of the new Golden Dawn orders.

Anyway, let me continue with my narrative. At first there were only five or six members of this loosely defined group of magickal students. Then within two years, it had reached its peak of around fifteen active members. Those members began their task of crafting the lore of the Order by first writing all nine of the seasonal ceremonies. All I did was set the pattern for the rituals, the rest was their work entirely. Also, the first of the Circle Consecration and Elemental Octagon rituals were developed at this time. During the Autumn of 1987, all sixteen Elementals were sequentially invoked by the group in a period spanning a couple months of Saturdays, so they experienced the first flush of their own generated magickal power. In the midst of these intense workings, the egregore of the temple began to emerge, becoming a tangible presence. Also, the first two initiations were written and performed for most of the members of the group, and the first vision quest was devised and performed that autumn. We had planned to fast for most of the duration, but found that camping and fasting didn’t go well together, so we broke the fast and decided that such activities were better deployed in other types of (mystical) workings.

In January 1988, I wrote and performed an invocation ritual for the spirit of the Egregore, known as the Archangel Chiramael. This rite was attended by some of the members of the group and represented their first exposure to the specialized techniques of invocation and evocation as conceived and developed by me. Needless to say, the overall experience was quite a hit with the group, and that finally determined for me that the invocation technique which I used was capable of being perceived and experienced by others, not that I had any doubts.

In the second year, the group had already tired of the Celtic Grail lore and proposed to write up a completely Egyptian variation. I helped them with this task, but once again, they did most of the work. I later refined those rituals, but the material used was selected and incorporated by members of the group. So the more basic rituals were written and practiced as a group effort, all I did was act as the teacher and guide. I also often led the first attempts at performing these rituals, but soon afterwards, others were getting their chance to lead the group in the performance of these magickal rites. At this time I introduced not only the techniques of talismanic magick, but also my system of invocation and evocation. I conducted classes where these techniques were taught, and some of the group members were able to take up these new practices and perform them for themselves. The group also performed some of this new lore, but not as aggressively as had been done with the elemental workings. In the second year, I also introduced the specific five Grail celebrations, and then later on, the five Grail Alchemical mysteries. There was a lot of creative effort going on all during this time, and not only from me.

As new levels of occult knowledge and practice were needed by the group, the associated rituals and lore were translated from my seemingly endless personal supply. I also formulated the structure of the Order, and with the help of my associates we put together the bylaws and determined the hierarchy of the temple. On February 13th, 1988 (after practicing together for almost a year and a half), the group officially inaugurated itself as the first temple of Isis-Sophia #1, which was based in Kansas City. For the next year, I acted as the Magister Templi and brought to fruition the study and practice of magickal Gnosticism and the liturgy of the Anti Apostolic succession, which became the backbone of the initiatory lineage of the E.S.S.G. At least two members became ordained as gnostic priests, and one of them made it to the grade of acolyte. 

I had believed (and still do) that the Masonic lineage and occult lore, which had spawned numerous occult lodges and organizations, had been exhausted. So, I had based the lineage of the Order on my personal spiritual lineage, transmuting this new occult lineage from the ordination and consecration that I had received years previously. Thus, the Order became a Gnostic magickal religious order, based on initiatory holy orders and a sacramental system of illumination, making it quite different from what had been practiced previously.

Also, I decided, and was enthusiastically supported by the members, to fashion the hierarchical structure of all temples of the Order into a Star Group. This is an organizational structure where each temple is an autonomous group ruled by the consensus of its members regardless of rank or spiritual accomplishment. The internal hierarchy of the temple was temporary and subject to the will of the group. In this manner, I had finally put to rest the particularly bad experience that I had in the “coven from hell”eight years previously.

The structure of the Order and the hierarchy of the temple was successfully established and accepted by all. Yet as a sign that even I was subject to its rules, I relinquished my role as Magister and turned it over to my second, Frater Discipulus Merlinii, in an orderly fashion on Feb. 13, 1989 (the second Anniversarium). Group consensus was absolute, allowing no one to dominate it, which was a good and wise decision on everyone’s part. That meant that as the founder, I was not beyond or somehow outside of its rules. I had to comply with them in order for me to continue as an active and equal member, and I had no problems with this approach.

As I had given up my status as preeminent member of the group, some of the most important activities that the group engaged in were done without my direction or leadership. I can recall a couple of outdoor Vision Quests being done without me being the ritual leader, and at one of them, all I did was the domestic work of making certain that the torches and the fire were tended. The rest was done by members of the group, and the resultant ritual performances and magickal effects were quite profound. 

Then in the early summer of 1989, I finally left Kansas City permanently to pursue career opportunities in the Southeast. The temple in Kansas City continued on for another year and a half and then folded in late 1990, when its members could no longer function as a consensus-ruled group. The last Magister was Frater Arjuna, who was a faithful, brilliant and dedicated member of the Order, having received all of his transformative experiences through the practices and initiations of the Order. He was the product and prime example of what the Order was capable of doing for an individual seeker. He continued to be the head of an informal body, known as the Isis-Sophia #2 temple, which also finally disbanded in 1993.

My move took me to Atlanta, and then to Tallahassee, where I was able to assemble and perform some of the most important magickal and occult work that I had ever managed to previously achieve. Of course, that story is part of my continuing sojourn through the southeast, and one that I will relate in the future.

So that was my Kansas City adventure, and it lasted for six very important and formative years. At one of the last pagan gatherings that I attended there, one person summed up what I guess most folks felt about me leaving their community. She told me that the community was going to lose an important and valuable member, and that it would be nearly impossible to find anyone to replace me. I was flattered by her effusive support and belief in me, but I knew that no one was irreplaceable. However, according to my friends who still live there, the community did change, losing its depth and quality of engagement for a larger and less knowledgeable community. I blush at the thought of this acknowledgment, but I don’t for one minute believe that it was my fault or occurred because I left.

All communities change, and sometimes that change makes things less meaningful and engaging to some, but to others, it might seem as though things got much better. It all depends on your expectations and goals. One person’s engaging community might be another person’s boring continuation of fluff and superficial mediocrity. It all depends on your point of view. Needless to say, I will always remember my wonderful time in Kansas City and the great crew that I helped to assemble so we could forge and practice a new cutting edge type of ritual magick.

Frater Barrabbas

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