Passive But Equal Role Of Gender

Passive But Equal Role Of Gender Cover One of the most contentious issues in current Thelemic discussion is the subject of gender roles in the Gnostic Mass, the central ritual of the O.T.O. Among the questions that are often asked are these. Why do most of the lines, and most of the action, fall to the Priest, with the Priestess relegated to a role that seems secondary? Why is the Lance so much more prominent than the Cup? Why can official O.T.O. Masses feature only men as Priests and only women as Priestesses? Why are all the saints men?

The Address was insulting toward those who believe that Crowley wrote his sexism into the Mass. “I’ve heard the Mass criticized as sexist, and frankly think that stupid. Who, when the Mass was first introduced into North America during World War I, was worshipping the goddess? Especially in the context of religious ceremony of Western origin? Who understood the divinity of the feminine at all?”

The alternative Spirituality movement out of which Thelema arose was replete with female deities, and with female leaders acting as mediators to the divine. The Golden Dawn often named its temples after goddesses, and had so many female members that A. E. Waite and other conservative men felt threatened and tried to limit the leadership to Masons. Spiritualism and Theosophy were led by women. P. B. Randolph and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor treated women as equal partners with men in sex and sex magic, unlike the male-centered O.T.O. Thomas Lake Harris’ sexual mysticism had a great deal to do with his contact with enlightened female spirits. More than a century earlier, Richard Payne Knight had dealt enthusiastically with the erotic rites of various goddesses in his influential book. Crowley himself said that there existed at the time female-led communities of witches (although he criticized them for refusing to have sex with men, or as he preferred to say, “denying to the Holy Spirit the right to indwell His Temple”).19 Even in the mainstream, Catholicism’s cult of Mary was in full force. The answer to the question is: Within occultism, nearly everyone was working with the divinity of the feminine in Western ceremonies, except Masons — and even there, at the progressive edge of esoteric Masonry and Co-Masonry. To represent the Gnostic Mass as an advance in gender relations, merely for presenting a sacred female, would be unhistorical.

The presence of a female figure who is treated with deference does not mean that a religious tradition is not sexist. The example of Mary demonstrates this; her prominence hardly makes Catholicism a haven for women’s rights. If a ritual indicates that a female character should naturally be subjugated to a man or reduced to stereotypical “feminine” attributes, then her treatment is sexist no matter how high she is placed atop the pedestal (or sat upon the altar).

The practice of staving off an accusation of sexism or racism by pointing to the presence of a member of the oppressed group is known as “tokenism.” Is the Priestess being tokenized? We will need to look at her role. Is she presented as naturally subjugated to the Priest? Is she viewed through a veil of stereotype? In the opening the two partners seem roughly equivalent. The Priestess dedicates more time and effort to raising the Priest to his role than he does to raise her to hers, but she really opens the ritual. The ceremony of the Introit belongs to the Priestess, even though it mostly goes to her raising of the Priest. In the central formula, though, the Priest is paramount, performing the critical points VI through VIII nearly solo while the silent, naked Priestess acts only to present this or that tool for his favor, authorize him to reveal her nakedness, and utter with him the word of orgasm once he is ready to shed his sacred blood. As written this seems to be a formula of phallocentricity. The male is the center of the sexual act and woman his functionary, as in other Crowley writings on sex magick.

The Address acknowledges that in the Mass the male “has the largely active role” and the female is passive. In the future there will be an alternative ritual “in which the female takes the more active role and the male the more passive.” This seems to be a curious approach to sex. Ordinarily one partner is not active and the other passive.20 Both are active; an unresponsive partner is disliked by all genders and persuasions. It is hard to understand why the O.T.O. would seek to enshrine this odd formula of activity and passivity in its rituals, except in the context of Crowley’s Victorian-era view of sex as a male activity done to women.

If the ritual requires one active officer and one passive officer, rather than an active male and a passive female officer, what need is there for a new ritual? Why not just perform a Mass by the script, with women free to assume the role of the active partner and men free to assume the passive? It is current O.T.O. policy that the Priest must be played by a man and the Priestess by a woman. Does the leadership of the Order assert as policy that there are natural and proper roles for men and women?

Holding out hope of a future, “perhaps not soon,” in which these questionable roles are reversed in a new ritual “produced by a woman” where there is still a particular part for the woman and a particular part for the man, does not address concerns about the status of Thelemic women here and now, or about gender stereotyping, or about heterocentrism.

The Gnostic Mass raises another issue, which is the list of saints, all of whom are men. The Address explains that “the Saints are paternal, but this is intentional. It is a list of the small handful of men and man-gods who, in the opinion of the author of the Mass, understood the divinity of woman.” No citation of the author, Crowley, to this effect was provided. The short biographies of the saints presented by the O.T.O.21 rarely even touch on this theme, and it’s hard to see how they could, short of contrivance. What do Hermes, Moses, Priapus, Merlin, Francois Rabelais, Elias Ashmole, Friedrich Nietzsche, or most of the other Gnostic saints have to do with “understanding the divinity of woman?”

The script of the Mass introduces the saints in a way that makes the intent of the author clear. They were not chosen for their respect for female divinity — they were chosen as the champions of the phallus. Addressing the “Lord of Life and Joy, that art the might of man” — that is, the phallus — Crowley describes the saints as the servants of this Lord, those “that did of old adore thee and manifest thy glory unto men”. Women and goddesses are not mentioned, and need not apply. From his description, we could reasonably infer that Crowley wrote an all-male saints list because he believed that the guardians of phallic magick through history had been men.

We are told that “the Order is actively researching female saints; they do not however belong in ‘Liber XV’,” that is, the Gnostic Mass, the central ritual of the O.T.O. No reason is given, and it does not seem that this addition would deface the Mass. Without disrupting the ritual structure, the “Saints” passage of the Collects could be directed to both Lord and Lady, and male and female saints listed together.

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