Author’s note: While doing research for an article on The United Lodge of Theosophists, I heard about another Philadelphia occult group called Thelesis Oasis. Thelesis Oasis is a chartered body of a magical order called O.T.O., or Ordo Templi Orientis (Order of Oriental Templars). O.T.O., in turn, has accepted Thelema, a religion developed by Aleister Crowley in the early 20th Century. O.T.O. has some 60 followers in Philadelphia. As a condition of publishing this article, we can’t tell you the location of their temple. Nor, unusually, can we tell you anything about our contact. He is known simply as Frater Lux ad Mundi, or “Brother of Light to the World.” In this interview, he explains the reason for all the secrecy–it may not be what you think.
John Vidumsky: O.T.O isn’t new to Philadelphia.
Frater Lux ad Mundi: This body’s been around for 15 or 20 years. We’ve been in this particular space for seven years. Nowadays it’s becoming more common for O.T.O. bodies to have their own space. Almost all of them are rented. This is not freemasonry, where it’s engaged in by a lot of rich people. This is much more grassroots. The spaces that you see are dependent on the means of the people involved, and also on their own experiences, their own interpretation of it. Thelesis’s space ends up, in my view at least, as being a very punk-rock expression of it. There weren’t tens of thousands of dollars involved. People used their wits and the materials they had to create something that would capture the feeling of a sacred space.
JV: But the location of the temple is secret.
FLM: It’s in a rehabbed book bindery. It’s in Kensington. We have a rather large suite that was a big-ass storage space with no windows, so we got an amazing deal on it. It’s a huge old factory with huge oak beams, and it’s drafty as hell.
JV: You guys seem to be DIYers.
FLM: Absolutely. A member built the main alter. This space is covered in what looks like a big tent. It’s actually a tank parachute that we cut up in quarters and strung up on the walls. Because we didn’t have the $15,000 it would have cost to sheet rock the space.
As people deal with their spaces, they bring their own past experience to it. There’s a group in Baltimore that has a space in a similar kind of building. But theirs has finished floors, and they spent a lot of money. One of their leaders is an event organizer, very good at fund raising. Me, I come from more of a punk-rock background, so it’s like, “what can we use that we have access to? How do you make this look nice?”
JV: Where does one find a tank parachute?
FLM: Ebay. It’s very heavy. It came in a box the size of a refrigerator. The UPS guy just dumped it on the street and drove away. He didn’t want to lug it. It took two of us just to push it along. Finally we took it down to the little league field (to cut it up) and it covered the entire diamond. The system that all the curtains around the altar hang from is galvanized conduit from Home Depot, that we ended up screwing together and creating a scaffold.
JV: There is an element of magic to your worship.
Frater: What we get to use the space for is mainly magical ritual. And a place to hold classes, and for socializing as well. Typically after the more serious stuff is over people hang around and discuss what’s going on in their lives. Discuss what magical things they’re interested in, books they’re reading, rituals they’ve done. This is our chance to be an actual community, and not just an online user group. This is an actual community of people who get together to do stuff and make sure that we’re not simply doing empty rituals and gestures, that they have their impact, that it works.
JV: What is the religion of Thelema about?
FLM: Well, in my opinion when you refer to a “religion,” you’re not talking about one simple thing. You’re talking about a philosophy, a pantheon and a moral code. Anything you consider a religion will normally have those three elements. But those elements are not necessarily joined together. A lot of Buddhists, for example, look at Buddhism as a philosophy, not a religion. Likewise, some Thelemites pick and choose as to what they’re going to take it as. There is a pantheon in Thelema, that’s largely derived from the Egyptian pantheon. But I think that a lot of Thelemites, rather than thinking of them (the gods) as actual beings, think of them more as glyphs for qualities of the divine. Having said all that, if you ask about the key beliefs, it’s that Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. And love is the law, love under will.
JV: What does that mean?
Frater: Most Thelemites consider the first statement to mean that one of the key goals in life is to discover your True Will. It’s your reason for choosing to incarnate in this particular go-round. So the purpose of life is to discover the reason for which you are incarnated, and serve that and nothing else.
JV: How do you discover your True Will?
FLM: There are a couple ways of doing this. It would be my experience that the initiatic system of Ordo Templi Orientis gradually transforms individuals so that they are more attuned to their thoughts, their being, their reason for existing. Eventually it gives you enough self-knowledge to grasp what your True Will might be. There’s a series of nine degrees (levels of initiation) and a sort of probationary degree that comes before that. The initiations are dramatic presentations with a lot of information that is given verbally as well as symbolically, that in the end effects a particular kind of transformation (of consciousness) in the initiate.
JV: So why the emphasis on secrecy?
FLM: It’s mainly about not wanting the crazies to get in. It’s to keep unhinged people away. We get contacted by a lot of nuts.
JV: What kind of nuts?
Frater: People that are delusional, people that have psychiatric problems who’ll announce, “This angel appeared to me and they told me to do this and that.” People who think they’re cursed, and they want us to help. Or they think they’re the reincarnation of Aleister Crowley. Or they think they’re divine beings–which of course they ARE, but no more so than the rest of us including people who don’t believe they’re divine. So if you want to come play with us, you need to have that mindset. Yes, you’re divine. But so is the guy taking a crap out in the restroom there that you don’t like. We keep people at arms length until we can be reasonably sure that they’re not certifiably crazy. We vet people out in coffee shops as best we can before we tell them where it is. Sometimes we let people in, and they’re nuts. We had a young lady who came to a couple of events and then tells us that she wants to be ritually abused and humiliated by all the men. And we’re like, “You know, we don’t do that. You want to look up some other sort of group who’re into that. That is not something we do.”
JV: And you keep your own identities secret for the same reason?
Frater: When it comes to keeping our identities out of the public, some Thelemites are open about it, some are not. It depends on what they do for a livelihood, and if that would be impacted. If I sat down with an average American and started talking about what my experiences are, even as a skeptic (which I am), they’d be like, “you’re nuts!” But within our little community that doesn’t happen. That’s one thing people like about our group. People can talk about anything they might have experienced or might believe in, and we simply accept it unless they’re likely to hurt themselves or bring any sort of harm to other people. We’re the safe place to have these discussions. But we also need people to understand what’s consensual reality and what’s not and what sort of conversation with the general public might get them committed.
Contact Frater Lux ad Mundi at firstname.lastname@example.org.