12th International Thelemic Symposium

5 10 2008

Seshat and I have just returned from this event, and I have to say, no disrespect to Ludlow et al, that it sets the pace for pagan conferences as far as I’m concerned.

Seshat has given her full thoughts on the day here, and I’d urge you to read both her post and mine to get the full picture! I was very much concentrating on studious scribbling, so may have missed the local colour!

Held in what can only be described as a hut in deepest suburban Oxford, the day comprised a series of talks, food, a Gnostic Mass and a live band / DJ set until 2am, with bar. Ambitious, perhaps, but the level of attendance was startlingly good. The quality of attendance was equally good. The speakers were, frankly, excellent and so highly organised, thoughtful and well-researched that it makes me wonder if this is a sign of the type of folk who practise Thelema or the result of practising it. 

I am clearly not a Thelemite, nor do I know the first thing in any real sense about the subject matter; this made it an extremely interesting day out for me. Expecting to be hurled off the deep end and to feel utterly adrift from the swirl of discussion, I was surprised and pleased to feel as included as I think I could have done; I could make sense of the lectures and get them into context. 

The running order was as follows; Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimech : Babalon, an Evocative Glimpse; Mike Magee : Shiva, Shakti and the Five Senses; Melissa Harrington : Thelema and the Feminine Pt II; Charlotte Rodgers : Taboo and Blood Rites; Jake Stratton-Kent : Goetic Magic and the Grimorium Verum; and David Beth on Voudon Gnosis.

I took copious notes, apart from the last speaker; for whatever reason a fuse went in my head and I couldn’t make head or tail of the lecture from a note-taking perspective, which is not to say David Beth was unintelligible – far from it. It was just so far outside my frame of reference that I put my pen away and concentrated on what he was saying. I’m glad I did, because it was fascinating. More details here.

Sketches follow of my take on the main themes of the talks – I will be writing up lecture notes shortly if anyone would like copies. If I have misrepresented any of the speakers, it is through ignorance; do let me know and I’ll be happy to reframe my comments to reflect the subject matter more accurately.

Babalon: an Evocative Glimpse – this was a new look at the subject matter, from a comparative perspective. There’s clearly a great deal of feeling within Thelema about the differing ways Babalon, the Scarlet Woman, is portrayed. To me, this piece presented Babalon in a different light to the traditional representation in the Bible – it discussed the subversion of the image and the removal of her power; stripped of her glamour she’s rolled in the dirt, raped and ridiculed by patriarchy and those who follow the biblical God. This piece and the companion piece by Alkistis Dimech that followed called for an honest reappraisal of Babalon. How should we see her? Give her back her majesty and her jewels and her glamour and her power and stop seeing her as an archetypal strong, strident whore. She is what she is – if she’s a whore, it’s because the world says she’s so. We should celebrate the blood, power, sex, dirt and pleasure she brings. Love is the central point of her being – are we ready for it?

Transcripts of their pieces can be found here at Scarlet Imprint – they were strong and fearless and quite wonderful. Very emotional. I’d like to go over them again, in detail, at leisure.

Shiva, Shakti and the Five Senses – Mike Magee endeared himself to the audience by admitting, quite matter-of-factly, that he’d been expelled both from the order he founded and a subsequent one; whoops and cheers and ‘Go Yourself!’s from the audience pleased me no end. The whole crowd was partisan and happy to be there, supportive and sincerely interested. No factionism, at least none displayed. Keen to listen and contribute. Makes other conferences I’ve attended in the pagan world look a little flat. Where’s the partisanship in Wicca, for example? Get 60 Wiccans of whatever stripe in a room together and they’ll pick a fight within 5 minutes. I find this a bit sad in comparison with these happy Thelemic types. I bet they argue too; just not when they’re trying to celebrate their similarities. Good on ’em! Well, digression over, let’s get back to the matter in hand.

From what I could gather (this was one of those times I felt the lack of clear grounding in the subject matter) the discussion centred around a Left Hand Tantric Tradition, the second degree of which comprised 26 weekly exercises designed to expand and encourage the feeling of the centre of the self, which is seen as the centre of knowing. The aim was the relating of many differing forms of Shiva and Shakti to the self, by developing the senses. In the first week, the identification of as many shades of grey as possible, with specific reference to when those shades may have been seen before during the celebrant’s life; the point being to relate previous life experience to the now and the future, and to relearn lessons perhaps forgotten. The next week centred on listening, gauging conversations for what was not said; week three might focus on taste, week four on smell, and so on.

The premise was that we are all so ignorant of the world around us, so uncaring of impression. We don’t know what affects our essential natures, and so we can’t alter them. The knower, the means of knowing and the known are all forms of consciousness. More information on this from http://www.shivashakti.com as there’s no doubt I’ve missed the greater part of the point.

Thelema and the Feminine Part II saw Melissa Harrington take the stage. A Wiccan, Thelemite, practising magician, mother and wife, as well as an academic, she was completely fired up and ready to go from the off. Her Part I had been delivered at the last Symposium, which I gather was 10 years ago, and was a success even then.

I loved the way she spoke, and felt resonance with many of the things she said. Her position was in polite counterpoint to Peter Gray. She saw a masculine and chauvanistic tone to Thelema in general; the OTO and more recent Thelemic organisations are largely male led. She called it ‘boys’ magic’ in counterpoint to witchy, more visceral women’s magic.

The main entree currently to Thelema for women seems to be via their male partner. Can Thelema draw women? Does it want to? Several commentators have spoken, which Harrington summarised thus;

Tim Maloney – a largely androcentric approach.

Karl Abrahamsson (apols for incorrect spelling, I’m doing all this phonetically) ‘Get out it you don’t like it!’ (cue loud and appreciative laughter and clapping from the floor).

SubRosa (BabalonNew forum) Thelema is genderless in theory. In practice, of course, it is androcentric. The Sacred Feminine is there but not yet fully awake. Women are not yet active enough in divining their own role. ‘Let the re-evolution begin!’.

Parenthood has changed Harrington’s view of Thelema. She is in intense opposition to Crowley, and finds his treatment of his Scarlet Women shoddy at best. She feels him to have been incapable of facing his own responsibilities, and that he blamed his Scarlet Women for their own problems.

Thelema and the feminine is difficult because the divine feminine is too close to being a prostitute. This is the worst example of female oppression and exploitation by men. A whore cannot be sacred; she is chattel. So in the end, who loves Babalon? Who nurtures the Scarlet Woman? Is Babalon, and hence Thelema, in the final analysis, barren?

Harrington called for a book focussing on Crowley’s Scarlet Women in their own right, as people and magical practitioners. She recommended Gray’s ‘Book of the Scarlet Goddesses’, and suggested feminist Thelemites should quit, have a drink, and remake the model in their own image.

Taboo and Blood Rites saw Charlotte Rodgers come forward. This woman was the most interesting of the day’s speakers for me. Admittedly flawed and damaged by her practice, and quite happy to confess mistakes in judgement, she is guided by the magical and transformative, and fascinated by that which crosses the boundaries of ‘acceptable’ life. She has spent 8 years submersed in experiential and academic research, and stresses her personal approach to the subject matter.

The subject matter, it must be said, will not be everyone’s cup of tea, a phrase she later got a big laugh with when used in context. She researches blood rites; namely, those rites involving her own venous and menstrual blood. Coming from an anthropological background, as I do, it doesn’t seem horrific that some choose to let their own blood and use it in rite; rather, I’m interested in the theory. When one is concerned with stripping away boundaries, particularly in the West, one must try pretty hard. 

Taboo and the origins of the word were discussed, and Charlotte’s interest in ritualised sigilisation in the form of tattoos and scarification – the deliberate emplacement of pattern to effect change.

Menstruation and her research into it was covered; she is dissatisfied with male researches into to the subject and sees woman as a battery, whose energy can be used differently at varying times in her cycle. A recommendation of reading material, the Thunder Perfect Mind of the Nag Hammadi gospels, hit home to me; and her description of the use of blood on mirrors to draw the other half of the self and effect the world beyond struck a nerve; who has not, as a child, tried to speak to and act upon the person in the mirror?

Goetic Magic and Jake Stratton-Kent’s talk upon it was the last one I was able to note. Jake gave a very engaging and comprehensive overview of the Grimorium Verum, together with some crafty sideswipes at other Goetic magicians, particularly those who (over) emphasise the Solomon the King grimoire. He disputes the general translation of the term ‘goetia’ as ‘howling’, and suggests ‘lamenting’ as more appropriate, given that Goas were those who lamented at funerals. Goetia is concerned with the dead, with the earth, and not with any celestial or imparted religions. Its primary role was benign, in the laying of ghosts and the settling of unquiet spirits. The other use was necromancy, the temporary retrieval of spirits from the underworld to work on one’s behalf in divination. the most sinister aspect is the calling of such spirits for purposes other than divination.

The identity of the operator makes goetia what it is. There is no celestial authority, and therefore the practice has its own morality, world view and as such forms the basis of the whole Western tradition of magic.

These are necessarily tiny extracts of the talks, probably skewed entirely away from the main thrust of the speakers’ intentions. For this I apologise, but I was so overwhelmed by the level of information that I just got my head down and scribbled. 20 sides of notes. Argh! But what a wonderful day. Thank you, one and all, for putting it on. I shall attend next year.

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17 responses

5 10 2008
Thelemic Symposium Oxford 2008 « Seshat’s Voice

[…] subjective, probably skewed and flavoured with my own biases and opinions (what’s new?). If you want a more fair-handed coverage of the day, please read TGW’s post which is exhaustive…. The unexpurgated version is available on the password protected page Rantings of an Egyptian […]

6 10 2008
naufragiobella

I think the whole idea of Babylon is the full power of the female. This is inherently sensual and sexual and a threat to the male dominated societies that have ruled on this planet forever. What’s the first name a man calls a woman he sees as a threat? “Whore”

We had a game as children, “bloody Mary”. If said 3 times in the mirror, you would die. Good way to keep you from messing around in the mirror, eh?

I have a friend, a Thelemite, mother of 7 daughters, daughter of a Native American, Golden Dawn father who is more the Shaman type these days. It’s funny to read how some of the little ones must say goodnight to Tum before going to sleep and incorporate making signs and pentagrams in the air as part of their play.

I wonder what Boleskine 93 would have thought of the Goetic one. That is right up his alley.

6 10 2008
brianicharles

Thanks for this – very informative indeed. The event sounds fascinating. I must confess that I have always been somewhat repelled by Crowley’s chauvinism and the chauvinism of those of his adherents I have met. From what you have written it is clear that there is another side. You have made me want to learn more.

6 10 2008
The Green Witch

Really glad these note were of interest – I must say, I’m still mulling over everything I heard! Talk about a fruitful use of a rainy Saturday!

6 10 2008
starofseshat

Naufragio, absolutely I know what you mean. But oddly, today I jokingly referred to myself in a comment on my blog as a “barren whore”. Rather than feeling it was negative, it stuck with me all day and I thought hmm, I quite like the sound of that. Am now thinking of adding it to my business card:
Seshat
Technical Translator
Barren Whore (available for Bar Mitzvahs, Weddings, Necromantic Funerals …)
LOL
🙂

6 10 2008
The Green Witch

It could be a term implying strength!

7 10 2008
starofseshat

I feel it does. Sometimes words can be reclaimed and given new life and meaning… in fact they should be reclaimed. There is a bundle of “grrrr” in me that currently has no definition. This is a new place for me. “Barren whore” carries the edginess and strength that I feel and certain people are seeing in me …

7 10 2008
The Green Witch

I like this. ‘Positive reclamation of historically negative words’ should go on your business card too…

8 10 2008
starofseshat

LOL Wow. Me like.

Seshat
Technical Translator
Barren Whore (available for Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, necromantic funerals…)
Reclaimer of words (no word too foul, no phrase too phallic …)
“Let Seshat’s tongue do the talking…”

🙂
Okay, I’m getting carried away now! LOL
Love you TGW.

8 10 2008
The Green Witch

Love you too, my precious little broomstick xxxx More like a broomstick every day, you skinny malink! 😛

8 10 2008
starofseshat

Wow! Ride me, baby! Ride me! 😉

9 10 2008
The Green Witch

Hee Haw!! 😛

9 10 2008
naufragiobella

Hey, GW, any other resources or information you can pass on about the Blood rites? I’m rather interested in that.

10 10 2008
The Green Witch

Sure! I’ll reprise my notes and send you a wodge of stuff.

14 10 2008
Selena Truth

Hi,
Thanks for such a great summary of the talks given at the conference. I was especially interesting in the comments about how a whore can’t be sacred because she is chattel. The word whore comes from a Babylonian word which means “healer”. I worked for ten years as a modern-day sacred prostitute. This is quite different than the “victim” or “chattel” image that many have of prostitution. I was using sexual energy as a powerful tool for healing. While I don’t support the circumstances that contribute to women being prostitutes out of no other choice, it is important to realize that many of us do have other choices and we choose this path because of its power and effectiveness. There are growing numbers of modern-day women who identify as a sacred prostitute, and they are doing the work out of their free will. It is a difficult path, partly because of the societal viewpoints about women, prostitution, and the goddess. This kind of dismissing of prostitution as all bad contributes to that difficulty.

Check out my blog, http://talesofasacredprostitute.blogspot.com to read more about my experiences in doing this work, and healing from doing it. I’ve also written a book about it, “Tales of a Sacred Prostitute”, which will be out in early 2009.

Blessings,
Selena Truth

14 10 2008
The Green Witch

Welcome, Selena, and I’m very grateful to you for posting here and giving us the benefit of your wisdom and experience on this subject.

As I metioned you will have to excuse my ignorance; I was scribbling madly, and so the views I have represented here on the summary may not necessarily reflect those of the speakers!

The issue of the whore is a very interesting one for witches in general. How do we take back our essential sexuality, which after all makes us what we are, differentiates us, gives us form? Millennia of negative prejudice against the power of the feminine have ensured that even the most neutral words are tinged with malice.

Like many, prostitution in Britain today looks to me like people trafficking. It might be useful for all of us to delve further. To have the choice to spread healing through the application of the body is a great one; and perhaps it might be worth considering that this is what we do for our partners, and they for us, each and every time we make love.

21 02 2009
David Beth « The Green Witch

[…] spoke at the 12th Thelemic Symposium which I covered in this post. Since the symposium, Seshat has made a study of his work with La Coulevre Negre and Voudon Gnosis. […]

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