Some days you encounter stupid on the internet, and other days you deal with straight-up retarded!
Case in point, this week in the Church of Ophiel group on Facebook, one of the members (Naomi, a wonderful woman) asks whether it’s a sin if one acts in ignorance. She asks a very fair question, and comments give answers running the gamut from Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and everything in between.
So far, so good. Until one person calling himself “Frater” followed by some Latin that could only come from Google Translate, posts: “The word of sin is restriction.” After which, he receives questions and expounds on Thelema in the replies to his comment.
Thus far, whatever. First Amendment and all that. Until Frater Abdiel (whom I’ve mentioned in the post about St. Uriel) points out the group’s rules to him. Sadly the entire exchange was deleted before I could make a screencap, so I’m doing this from memory.
Frater Abdiel: “This group’s rules state it’s a Christian group, and Thelema is off-topic.”
Frater Google Translate: “Thelema is derived from the Golden Dawn. The GD is Rosicrucianism. Rosicrucianism is esoteric Christianity. Therefore Thelema is Christianity.”
My first reaction was WHAT. THE. EVER. LIVING. F*CK.
And then I started laughing. This is one of the most ridiculous claims I’ve ever heard!
Why Is This Claim Ridiculous?
Well, I’m glad you asked!
Oh, wait a minute. You didn’t ask? Well that’s too bad, because I’m about to tell you anyway!
The first reason this claim is ridiculous, is that it’s flat-out denied in the source-text for the religion of Thelema, the Liber AL vel Legis or the “Book of the Law.” For example we find in Chapter 3, verses 51 and 55:
51. With my Hawk’s head I peck at the eyes of Jesus as he hangs upon the cross.
55. Let Mary inviolate be torn upon wheels: for her sake let all chaste women be utterly despised among you!
This in no way can be seen as concordant with any sort of Christianity. In fact, these verses take place in context of a blaspheming of all religions. In The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Crowley himself explicitly states that Thelema is a separate religion from any of them.
Similarly, Aiwass, uttering the word Thelema (with all its implications), destroys completely the formula of the Dying God. Thelema implies not merely a new religion, but a new cosmology, a new philosophy, a new ethics. (page 398)
From these few citations alone, it is clear that Thelema is not, and was not intended to be, any sort of form of Christianity or even a derivative thereof. It seems more to me that Thelema was intended to be a replacement for all religions that existed before it, as evinced in the same chapter of Confessions, on page 396:
In the above section I have shown that the failure of previous religions is due, not so much to hostile criticism, but to their positive defect. They have not made good their claim.
On this end, I rest my case. But wait, there’s more!
Let’s Talk about the Golden Dawn
If all Frater Google Translate did was claim “Thelema is a version of Christianity,” then this blog post would be finished. But the dude had to go and invoke the Golden Dawn, Rosicrucianism, and Esoteric Christianity. Which means I can’t be lazy and just stop writing.
Now, we’ve all heard the claim that the Golden Dawn descends from Rosicrucianism in some or other form. And this claim sounds great, until one reads the original Rosicrucian Manifestoes: the Fama and the Confessio Fraternitatis.
A full analysis of the Manifestoes is outside the scope of this blog post, but my own reading of their theological content leads me to agree with Waite in his Real History of the Rosicrucians when he says the Rosicrucian Manifestoes present a form of esoteric Lutheranism:
But here in their own acknowledged manifestoes they avow themselves a mere theosophical offshoot of the Lutheran heresy… (page 197)
Waite goes on to list the reasons for this conclusion on page 200:
From the “Fama” and “Confessio” we gather the religious opinions of the Rosicrucian Fraternity, and classify them as follows:—
a. They acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
b. Man is born into life by the power of God, falls asleep in Jesus, and will rise again through the Holy Spirit.
c. They acknowledge a personal devil, the old enemy, who “hinders every good purpose by his instruments.”
d. They “use two Sacraments, as they are instituted with all Formes and Ceremonies of the first and renewed Church.
e. It follows from this that they believe the Lutheran Reformation restored the Christian Church to its primitive purity.
f. They consider “that from the beginning of the world there hath not been given to man a more excellent, admirable, and wholesome book than the Bible,” which is “the whole sum” of their laws.
g. They call the pope Antichrist, a blasphemer against Christ. They execrate him, and look forward to the time “when he shall be torn in pieces with nails.” They foretell his “final fall,” with the assurance of Brothers the prophet, and in the terminology of Mr. Grattan-Guiness.
This should not surprise us, since unlike most forms of Protestantism, Lutheranism has always had its own spiritual traditions. In his Table Talk, Luther himself speaks approvingly of alchemy, for example:
The science of alchemy I like well, and, indeed, `tis the philosophy of the ancients. I like it not only for the profits it brings in melting metals, in decocting preparing, extracting, and distilling herbs, roots; I like it also for the sake of the allegory and secret signification, which is exceedingly fine, touching the resurrection of the dead at the last day.
His right-hand man, Philip Melanchthon, was an astrologer, and Melanchthon’s uncle was none other than the great Humanist and Cabalist Johann Reuchlin. Lutheran spirituality likewise seems influenced by the same Devotio Moderna movement which gave us St. Thomas A Kempis, and even Luther’s own Four-Stranded Garland reminds us of his monastic training and Lectio Divina. Unlike their Swiss counterparts, there was clearly no shortage of spirituality of all kinds within the German Reformation.
What’s the point me telling you all this? The point is that once we get to the Golden Dawn’s “Rosicrucianism,” what we see is nothing like the Book of Concord-compliant content of the Confessio and Fama. What we see instead is a cluttered hodge-podge of goyim-friendly Kabbalah, adapted Enochianism, some references to Christianity, Hindu Tattvas, a Judaized form of “praying a caim,” and even more, all encompassed within an Egyptian-themed matrix.
While Unionist Lutherans would have no problem with that level of syncretism and some would actively encourage it, Confessional Lutherans (you know, those who take the BoC seriously) wouldn’t exactly be fans of this sort of arrangement.
Esoteric Unionist Anglicanism?
In fact it’s been suggested to me that the Golden Dawn can more accurately be called “esoteric Anglicanism,” and the numbers of Anglo-“Catholic” clergy who joined the Golden Dawn and its daughter organizations in droves would lead me to agree with that assessment. Of course it’s more than just that in motion, since the year of the Golden Dawn’s founding (1888) was a significant year in the Anglican Communion’s own self-understanding.
Part of this development, at least within High Anglicanism, goes back to the Anglo-“Catholic” movement and its notion of “Branch Theory” (this theory is why I put the word “Catholic” in quotes here; I’ll explain fully in a moment). This theory was created by theologian William Palmer in 1838 in his A Treatise on the Church of Christ, and he explains it as a way of “proving” the Catholic Church is not one monolithic entity but a tree of many branches. In the preface to the 1842 edition he explains Branch Theory as:
… it will be shown, that the churches of the British or Anglo-catholic communion have so many external signs or notes of being a portion of the universal church, that it is not necessary to establish their soundness by proving in detail all their doctrines and discipline to be conformable to the word of God; but that their general and external characteristics should determine their members to remain attached to their communion.
In other words, Palmer advanced that a church’s catholicity has nothing to do with its doctrine but with its external practices. An observant Catholic reader will automatically perceive that this idea flies in the face of any sort of catholicity, which has historically been measured first and foremost by historically-consistent doctrinal teaching. In fact the Catholicism’s historic principle self-measurement, also known as the “Vincentian Canon” tells us plainly:
In ipsa item catholica ecclesia magnopere curandum est, ut id teneamus quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.
Moreover, in the Catholic Church herself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.
In other words, Catholicism is not judged exclusively or even primarily be her externals, but by her doctrine. This is why I use quotes when saying Anglo-“Catholic,” because by their acceptance of Branch Theory they rejected the primary ground of one’s catholicity.
This is but one shift within Anglicanism, and was apparently sufficient to allow this section of their church to enter a magical order that taught emanationism, reincarnation, calling upon alien deities, and all sorts of other things incompatible with Christian doctrine, let alone the Thirty-Nine Articles of their own theological tradition, which are accurately described as being more Reformed than Catholic in character (in fact in one of Rome’s greatest political mistakes of history, Pope St. Pius V described them as being “after the rule of Calvin”). While the year of the Golden Dawn’s founding – 1888 – also coincided with a Unionist-ward shift on the part of the Anglican Communion in general (i.e. the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral), I’m inclined to agree with Episcopal priest John N. Wall’s interpretation of this, when he says “The defining marks of Anglicanism, therefore, do not reside in adherence to a common system of theology,” and elsewhere “Indeed, the very fact that such a statement of the essentials of Christian identity emerged from within Anglicanism and not from within another Christian tradition suggests that the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral points to characteristics of the Anglican tradition that were really there all along, waiting for such a definitive articulation.” (Source: Spiritual Traditions for the Contemporary Church, pp. 269-270, p. 271)
Of course this is all well and good, and to me explains the “High, Low, Broad Church” spectrum that’s always been a part of Anglicanism. But I’ll be damned if this is not off-topic and I’m not seriously digressing!
Whose Rosicrucianism Is It, Anyway?
So we’ve talked about how the Rosicrucianism of the Golden Dawn is a syncretic hodge-podge nothing like the Rosicrucianism in the Manifestoes. We’ve also talked about a shift toward Unionism in Anglican thinking that enabled many of their clergy to join the Golden Dawn and find it perfectly in-line with their own church’s teachings. But that doesn’t fill in the entire picture.
The last piece we need is: Where did this divergent Rosicrucianism come from?
The story is that the GD’s founders – Mathers, Westcott, and Woodman – were in communication with a Rosicrucian organization based in Germany named “Licht, Liebe, Leben” (Light, Love, Life) and received their materials from there. While the specifics might be disputed, the general outline has been found true.
The link in the above paragraph gives the full story, so I’ll just give the short version here:
There was, in fact, an irregular Masonic lodge named “Licht, Liebe, Leben” operating in Germany, in the vicinity of Nuremburg. It was founded in 1864, known for its peculiar rituals and refusal to change them, and was never regularized in spite of multiple petitions to their Grand Lodge.
The lodge itself was founded by a Dr. Johann Leutbecher, who saw the ancient Jews, Egyptians, Essenes, and Early Christians as all part of “one grand mystery tradition” and, the article tells us, “he was quite comfortable describing masonry as a body for the Egyptian, Pagan, Jewish and Christian mysteries all at once; something that doesn’t seem quite common for his time.”
As far as the LLL’s connection to the GD, it can be debated whether the founders (particularly Westcott) received any materials from this lodge, but we can be certain he was aware of them. In any case the “Rosicrucianism” of the Golden Dawn seems closer to a reflection of Leutbecher’s syncretistic notions of a “grand mystery tradition” than to the Rosicrucianism found in the Manifestoes, so it’s possible Westcott et al. either did receive materials from the LLL lodge, or one of its successor organizations, or fabricated it whole-cloth along the lines of Leutbecher’s published works, or followed a different course entirely.
The world may never know, but what we can say with certainty is that since the “Rosicrucianism” of the Golden Dawn does not match the Rosicrucianism of the Manifestoes, Frater Google Translate’s claim that Thelema <- Golden Dawn <- Rosicrucianism <- Esoteric Christianity is utterly debunked before we even get to the Book of the Law.
What’s Our Takeaway?
I’m sure somebody’s going to read this post and accuse me of “oppressing” Thelemites, or Anglicans, or whomever. Whatever, I don’t care; those who don’t like what I’m writing are free to stop reading.
To be blunt, this post is not taking issue with Thelema as a religion. I do not care whether Thelema is “satanic,” or “pagan,” or “syncretic,” or Thelema’s legitimacy as a religion, or whether the OTO is overrun by SJWs, or any number of other criticisms one finds on the so-called “interwebz.” All of those are subjects for another time.
This post is taking issue with individual Thelemites who attempt to misrepresent Thelema as some sort of derivative or esoteric version of Christianity. Just as I take issue with Christians who attempt to misrepresent Christianity as any sort of “Judaism 2.0,” or even worse those who attempt to misrepresent Christianity by limiting it to some Hyper-Inclusive Cult of Social Justice, or on the other extreme the Hyper-Exclusive Cult of Fire and Brimstone. No one is exempt from the line of fire here, nor should they be.
That’s it. That’s my only interest in writing this post, no matter what other swerves or meanders we may have undertaken. And in that, I think I’ve accomplished my goal.