Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why I Rejoined the O.T.O.

Recently, after much thought and consideration I have decided to re-activate my membership in the O.T.O. I have been an inactive member since around 2003 because I just decided that I didn’t want to progress any further in the degrees and felt that the organization really didn’t have much to offer me. I am unfortunately rather lukewarm towards the philosophy and theology of what I call classical Thelema and I am just not into acting as if Aleister Crowley was a defacto prophet of the coming age. The various religious tenets of Thelema just didn’t over-awe me compared to what I saw other folks dong and feeling when they were engaged with it. I was, in my own mind, something of a “partially disaffected” Thelemite. I therefore had no reason to continue to belong to that organization, or so I thought.

However, what I might not have really understood is that many Thelemites question Thelema and feel that it is their right to agree or disagree with what Crowley wrote, or to interpret the Book of the Law in a manner that appeals to their sense of logic, justice and overall rightness. There isn’t sacred cannon (although there is a tradition and sacred writings) and members are encouraged to use their own powers of critical thinking to determine the nature of what they believe and how they practice those beliefs. In other words there isn’t a right or wrong way and there definitely isn’t a sectarian power to keep the faithful believing in strict accordance with an established creed. In fact, there really isn’t any dogma in the O.T.O. or in the theological speculations of Thelema.

What the O.T.O. does have is quite an impressive collection of magicians and speculative occult experimenters that covers the whole spectrum of occult studies, both West and East. Most, but not all, of the cutting edge magical practices and perspectives have come from individual practitioners who are either actively associated or who once were associated with the O.T.O. It would seem that in re-activating my membership I am just affirming an association with a peer group that represents, in my opinion, the best of breed for modern magick and occultism.

This means that I can belong to this organization and I have the freedom to engage in a local body if I choose as well as attend any Order sponsored events. I can also contact other members of the order and I believe that they would be more likely to help me (even if I were a complete stranger) because I am a brother initiate. I also have the freedom (as well as the responsibility) to interpret Thelema however I wish and thereby practice it in a manner that would seem to be in accord with my True Will. Others may disagree with me or how I interpret Thelema, but as long as I comport myself within the basic guidelines (bylaws) of the order and the local body, I shouldn’t have any difficulties.

While other organizations are quite binding and exclusive, tying the individual members to an organization and its leader, the O.T.O. has no such rules, limitations or boundaries. I can be a Thelemite, an Alexandrian Witch or even a Gnostic Bishop (outside of the EGC) and no one will either comment nor seek to excommunicate me from the order. I have quite a bit of latitude to develop my beliefs and to practice them however I feel inclined. There are, of course, some boundaries, but they are quite wide and represent ethical as well as legal responsibilities.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for me to re-activate my membership is because there is such a large population of highly competent and knowledgeable magicians and occultists in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota who also happen to be members of the O.T.O. I would like to associate and also work with them to help develop my own practices and beliefs. This seems like a good group of men and women who could act as a peer group to judge what I am doing and how I am doing it. While I could probably do this as an inactive member, I would still be barred from participating in any local body activities as well as the various conventions, such as Noticon. 

It seems like such a trifle to reactive my membership and thereby gain all of the benefits that such membership affords. I have often said that having a peer group is very important for an aspiring student, and that is also true for a long time practitioner such as myself. Even a senior adept is not immune to hubris or erroneous assumptions about magic and the occult in general. If this group of local magicians can inspire me to greater heights and also curb my more egregious flaws then such a group is worth joining and maintaining.

Anyway, while this event has touched off a lot of thought on my part regarding Thelema and the O.T.O. another author had previously come to quite the opposite conclusion. She had decided to quit the O.T.O. The author of that article, which appeared in a recent edition of the eZine Spiral Nature (June 18), wrote about her objections to the O.T.O. and cited the rigid and inflexible beliefs and practices held by its members as one of the several reasons for leaving the order. This, according to her, was particularly to be found in the area of gender representation in the ECG ritual vehicle, which is the Gnostic Mass,. You can find that article here.

I find it curious that the author, who calls herself Psyche, would pick apart the one ritual in the religious branch of the O.T.O. that has rather strict traditional roles associated with the primary celebrants. While it is true that you might not be able to find a situation where the Priestess would be portrayed by a male, or the Priest, a female, there have been plenty of women body masters and officiants of the O.T.O., and I might add, even a few Gnostic Bishops. In fact, I can attest that the order was something of nearly all-male kind of occult geek club back in the 80's and early 90's, but it has since greatly changed. This was due in part to a more rigorous change in the bylaws that made the local body as well as the Grand Chapter more equitable and gender neutral. However, those changes are not yet reflected in the actual rites of the ECG, and that could be because it is a kind of religious tradition.

It is also a mystery to me that something which is deemed part of the “tradition” of a spiritual and magical order would be expected to rapidly change and mutate itself in accordance with the current trends. I have not found this to be the case in British Traditional Witchcraft, although the inclusion of members of the LGBT community has occurred rapidly (and recently) over the last couple of decades. Still, traditional witchcraft stipulates that a woman initiates and man, and a man initiates a woman, and that rigid gender biased versions of polarity are taught and used in rituals and ceremonies despite the sexual orientation of the members. I know a number of gay and lesbian folk who are quite happy practicing traditional witchcraft, and they have no qualms with what passes as tradition. Gender based roles are not exclusive to the BTW or the O.T.O. for that matter, they can be found nearly everywhere in our social institutional organizations.

Should we be open to experimenting with gender roles and magical sexual based polarities? Of course we should be open to anything that can expand our consciousness or help us to evolve as human beings. However, something that is part of the core “tradition” of an organization might be beyond the bounds of experimentation even though it could still be an effective and relevant trope. This doesn’t mean that such boundaries are to be deployed for any or all rites, most especially those that are written up for the purpose of experimentation. However, traditional rites and practices aren’t typically subject to experimentation.

Anyway, I find Psyche’s reason for leaving the O.T.O. to be curious because she took such exception at what is a traditional practice or rite. Traditional rites do change, but they usually change slowly over time, not rapidly due to new trends or social conventions. Even so, there is a place for having a completely experimental based magical and spiritual organization where every variation can be tried and tested.

I have belonged to a couple of groups in my occult career that did a lot of experimentation. In fact one of them started out with no traditional rites at all - they had to be written by the group. What was established in those groups, however unique, experimental and cutting edge, became something of a tradition in its own right over time. The really successful workings were brought into a kind of common practice and the ones that bombed were either analyzed to death or quickly forgotten. I believe that the better organization is the one that can be completely experimental, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some O.T.O, bodies out there that have the capacity for changing gender roles or experimenting with polarity. Still, we shouldn’t expect a tradition to break its own tradition. Someday, I will seek out the company of a few like-minded individuals who are driven by curiosity and a desire for pushing the envelope, and together we will discover some whole new vistas in the area of magic and occultism. For now, however, I will content myself with being a member of the O.T.O. 

Psyche says at the end of her article that she is still looking for a magical and spiritual community. In my opinion all she has to do in order to find like-minded individuals is to be engaged with the greater alternative spiritual community in which she lives. Forming a loose confederation of equal individuals (what I call a Star Group) is not particularly daunting, and once established, then the group can decide what is important and significant to them, writing up their own rituals and ceremonies to experiment and discover what works for them. I can’t think of a more challenging and equally fun project to engage one’s time, but it does require a maximum amount of creativity, research, flexibility and a good ritual writing ability, and, I might add, a fair amount of time and patience.

What seems likely is that Psyche doesn’t have the time, the connections or maybe the dedication to form her own group, at least not just yet. Perhaps in time, she will gather together a small group of magicians and occultists and start her own organization. That’s how I did it, and it was worth the time and effort to make it happen. For the rest of us who have neither the time nor the inclination, there’s always the traditional groups and organizations already set up with their established traditions, and I might add, biases and boundaries. At least with the O.T.O. you can, to certain extent, pick and choose what you want to practice and believe.

Frater Barrabbas

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dark Side of Madison Avenue - Perspectives on E. A. Koetting

One of the most vilified magicians on the internet today is found in the personage of Eric Koetting, who goes by the moniker E. A. Koetting. He is ridiculed, called names, vilified by the hosts of Western based occultists and magicians. He is also called a complete fraud, hoaxer and all-around poster child for what is supposedly wrong with the nefarious Left Hand Path. I haven’t seen a week pass without someone ridiculing his marketing hype or launching personal attacks on him. There is even a Face Book page devoted to ridiculing Koetting and disparaging his various claims. 

If it weren’t for the fact that I have had some conversations with this man and can claim to know him a little I would have to agree with those who decry his excessive marketing hype and his diabolic teachings. I happen to know that Eric isn’t really a fraud, that he does know how to successfully work his form of magick, and he can also teach others to use it, too. Eric isn’t a genius and some of his ideas and pronouncements have been shown by others to be quite false, particularly when he talks about subjects outside of his purview. Whether you hate what he is saying and promoting through his internet marketing persona or disagree with this methods, I am certain that to some people, particularly disaffected millennials, Eric is a valuable resource for learning and mastering a form of LHP magick.

Eric claims that he can teach anyone who is willing to apply himself to become a “living God” with all of the powers and perquisites that such a vaunted state entails. In promoting this kind of quick path to total fulfillment, one must assume that Eric is selling a system that he has used himself to become a living God. Since we live in a fundamental Christian religious based culture, making such a claim is strikingly inflammatory and goes deeply against the grain of the basic values of our Christian heritage. Making such claims can only be couched in forms of Satanism, since to claim to be a living God is to abrogate that status from the supposedly true God of Christianity. The rule of thumb is that if you oppose God and set yourself up as his replacement, then you are modeling the behavior associated with Satan himself. You are, in a word, emulating the Devil. Of course, from my perspective, replacing one autonomous absolute monotheistic Deity with another one, even if it is yourself, is merely perpetuating what I think is inherently wrong with monotheism itself.

Still, I am certain that this outrageous claim gives some particularly young and disaffected men quite a thrill to contemplate becoming a living God (and thereby overthrowing the religious status quo), but it also very likely to be misunderstood. If all you know about religion is what you rejected as Christianity then any contrary religious claim can only be perceived as a form of Satanism. So, it is easy to label what Eric is selling as over-the-top Satanism to rebellious, puerile and immature youths who are often enough disparaged and labeled as archetypal “losers.” Can Eric help these young men out of their cultural rut? That, of course, remains to be seen. He is reaching a group of people that other occultists aren’t as successfully acquiring.

In contrast to Eric’s marketing is the rest of the magical community who either finds some amusement in these media broadsides, or who are astonished, outraged and quite put-off by anyone making such ridiculous claims. It is apparent to me that the self-satisfied and smirkingly arrogant cast of the occult and magical opposition to Eric’s claims were never the intended audience for his advertising hype. Even so, they none-the-less engage in ridicule and ad-hominem attacks instead of soberly examining what Eric is really selling, and how his message is both a boon and a problem to the occult world as a whole. I am also quite certain that Eric couldn’t care less what these members of the various competing occult schools think of his marketing tactics and messaging, since he appears to be quite successful at acquiring a fair number of adherents to buy his classes and engage in his teachings. If these marketing ploys weren’t working then I suspect that Eric would have changed them so that they would be successful. What I or any other number of magicians and occultists think is really completely irrelevant. Eric has his market pretty well defined and amongst a certain set of individuals, he is a “rock star” and someone to emulate.

Unlike some of his most virulent detractors, I have actually read some of Eric Koetting’s books. While I have found them to be pretty much rudimentary and based on LHP themes and tropes, it is also apparent that he has acquired his knowledge the old-fashioned way - he has experimented and worked magic for many years. Even so, Eric’s knowledge of the occult and magic is evolving, and there are a number of things that he has stated which I know are erroneous,  incomplete or superficial. Perhaps that is the nature of writing things down or the fact that Eric is learning as he progresses through his spiritual and magical process. I know that I have made mistakes and have written things that I later found out were wrong, so I can’t condemn someone for making analogous mistakes or writing something erroneous.

So the question is whether or not Eric is completely off-the-wall and a total fraud, selling his lore to low information millennial magicians, or that perhaps his ideas have some foundation in modern occultism. Since I already know that Eric Koetting is not a fraud and that his knowledge has been earned by a long period of experimentation and practice, I will not join the bandwagon to condemn what he is doing or ridicule him. I won’t do this because what he is presenting to his defined public arena comes awfully close to my own perspectives and practices. There are many differences between what Eric and I do as functioning magicians, but essentially there are more points in agreement between us than differences. I found this out when I talked with him a while back, and I happen to know where we are in agreement and where we are divergent. So, rather than ridicule or vilify Eric, I will, instead, explain in my own terms why he is proclaiming the things that he does in his internet persona and how that impacts the rest of us who also work magick. I think that this is more productive because there is a bit of Eric Koetting in all of us, and that is why he provokes outrage from so many established practitioners.

What Eric has done is to simply conflate four topical areas that are typically kept distinct and separate from each other. It is the nature of that conflation and the associated marketing excesses that has produced the internet persona of Eric Koetting and his training regimen. Eric is the exemplar of a kind of dark-side or night-side Madison Avenue promotion. If P. T. Barnum were alive today he would have highly approved of Eric Koetting’s marketing style.

The four topical domains that are being conflated by Koetting are:

  • Tales of Power - these are the out of context stories that magicians tell each other about their paranormal experiences and exploits with strange powers, spirits and Godheads.
  • Self as Godhead - it is the objective for all magicians to ultimately assume Godhead, and both the right hand and left hand paths have their own methods of obtaining this sublime state.
  • Advertising Marketing - anyone who is in the business of selling their teachings will use some kind of marketing and advertising to reach potential customers.
  • Left Hand Path Perspectives - these are the ideas, practices and overall theology of the left hand path. Often, the rhetoric displays a high degree of antinomianism, inversion of basic cultural values and anti-establishment sentiments.

Most magicians engage in some or even all of these topical areas, since they represent the cultural domain of ritual or ceremonial magick. Most of the magicians I have met engage in telling tales of power. All magicians are seeking some kind of union with the Godhead, however they might define that entity.

Any magician who is selling their teachings will engage in marketing, and at the very least will promote their path and methodologies over those of other magicians. A good salesman will promote themselves without denigrating others, but as we all know from watching media based advertising, this is hardly the typical form of promotion. I suppose it’s all too easy to add a bit of hype to one’s marketing message so that instead of an honest (and boring) promotion for a product or service it becomes the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Additionally, left hand path magicians often engage in talk that sounds quite strange to those who are not part of their antinomian perspective. This is where demons are good, angels are bad, performing nefarious forms of supposed black magic is good, successfully summoning and constraining demonic spirits is an important challenge, and amplifying the self as Godhead over any other creed or deity is a basic predilection. For those who are not so disposed to the left hand path rhetoric, such claims and beliefs must seem quite foreign or even diabolic.

As you can see when these topical areas get conflated with each other then the message also gets quite distorted and mixed up. This is particularly true if the need to aggressively market one’s methodology and public persona pushes the envelope for maintaining a certain degree of factual balance and realistic representation. When you take the Left Hand Path’s left-over perspectives on elevating the self to the status of Godhead and you add a considerable layer of marketing blitz cheese to sell your ideas and yourself, and sprinkle over it a fair amount of tales of power and season it with a distinct peppery flavoring of left hand path diabolism, then you will get a marketing recipe identical to what Eric Koetting is currently doing.

None of what Eric is saying when he is selling himself and his teachings is inherently wrong or fabricated; but taken as a whole, it is quite misleading, distorted and even harmful. In elevating himself in such a manner, Eric has unwittingly become one of the magical gurus that he has talked about needing to kill in order to achieve one’s goal. The irony here is that in telling his erstwhile disciples that they need to kill their gurus, he is setting himself up as a target for his own students. In order to truly grow and achieve their potential, Eric’s students will have to overcome his amplified persona and overly hyped methodology and find their own path at some point in their magical careers.

One would assume that Eric expects this to happen, that is, if he doesn’t believe his own PR and remains down-to-earth. However, the problem with creating such a powerful public image is that it becomes all too intoxicating and seductive. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, so the saying goes, and many a public figure has succumbed into believing that they are indeed the exalted personality that they are promoting. I hope that Eric doesn’t succumb to this fatal flaw, but the odds and human nature are against him. Still, the overly inflated claims that Eric is making and his various You-Tube discussions about black magick, supposedly killing people, invoking a demon that gets out of control and possesses his wife, and other such tales of power could be construed as proof that he is losing control of his marketing hype and overly identifying with his media persona. Only time will tell what will happen to Eric and his overly ambitious program, but from my perspective, the future doesn’t look particularly good.

I think that one of things that Jake Stratton-Kent said about Eric Koetting and his media blitz is that the only thing a person needs to do in order to begin to master Goetic Magick is to select one or a few of the more reputable copies of the traditional grimoires and then begin to practice and experiment with the rituals and mechanisms found in those books. Over time, a periodic and steadfast practice will teach the erstwhile student magician more than joining or engaging with any of the much vaunted traditions, organizations or reputed teachers.

While I am also a proponent of the self-made magician, I do believe that exploring other groups or individual teachers is not inherently a bad thing. As long as students understand that their path and process belongs solely to them, and that organizations, teachers and even books are a temporary aid that they can engage with (or not) to help them accomplish their end, then they will be able to maintain their freedom and continue to achieve their ultimate goal. Getting seduced or side-tracked by some overly inflated magical master is one of the major pitfalls that all magician students face as they follow their path. 

A good teacher will tell his or her students that their special relationship is temporary and subject to limitations, and additionally, leaders of a good organization will tell their members that when they are no longer learning or growing within that group then it is time to leave and move on to other possible paths. A bad teacher or leader will insist that their way is the only way and that meek obedience is the only acceptable behavior.

So, as a final note, we should ask the following question. Is Eric Koetting a bad teacher? I can’t really answer that question because I haven’t been one of his students. When I have talked with him he seems to be quite down-to-earth and never talks about how great he is or how powerful his magical system is compared to others. That may be because he is talking with another experienced magician and not a beginner, or it might be the way Eric really thinks and behaves outside of his persona.

However, I believe that everyone sees Eric’s marketing blitz and media persona as problematic, particularly if such a ploy backfires and makes Eric an adherent in his own cult of personality. He has sensationalized Left Hand Path magic which doesn’t need any more hype than what the misinformed public has already given it, and this will cause many of us who are magicians and who follow our paths discretely to look like fools. We will probably be painted with the same brush in the eyes of the public, even though we are practicing and promoting ourselves in a very different manner.

Runaway marketing knows no boundaries nor limitations, so it is only a matter of time before Eric becomes noticed by more mainstream media and thereby manages to make us all look bad. Think of the impact if or when Eric Koetting is interviewed by FOX news, or when they do a program about him and his teachings. Of course once that happens, Eric will be quite the example of evil black magicians to the Fundamentalist Christians. No matter how it is spun it won’t look good at all, and for those of us who are public figures we will have to answer a lot of stupid questions that we would rather not answer since the truth is actually more complicated than the general public would be able to understand. I, for one, don’t look forward to this likely future event, and I hope and pray it never really happens.

Frater Barrabbas