Greetings fellow Pagans!
I was recently invited to give a lecture on “ceremonial magick” to a local group of second degree Wiccans. After accepting the invitation, I took some time to consider what direction such a lecture should take. What about ceremonial magick would interest them, and how could I present it in a manner to which they could relate?
The answer came quickly enough: I would give them a condensed history lesson about the Western Mystery Tradition – covering the development of Hermeticism, the Hebrew and later Christian Qabalah, Rosicrucianism, Masonry, the Golden Dawn and Thelema. Finally, all of this would culminate in a discussion about the rise of Wicca and its interrelationship with all of the above.
In the lecture, I pointed out the influence of the Golden Dawn in Wicca’s magickal methods – such as circle castings, pentagrams, Watchtower guardians, the four Elements, etc. I discussed the impact of Regardie’s publication of ‘The Golden Dawn’ on mid-twentieth century occultism (Neo-paganism included). And I even discussed Gerald Gardner’s association with Thelema – drawing much from my old Thelemic Origins of Wicca essay.
Overall, I’d call the event a resounding success, and it looks like I’m going to have to come up with some ideas for a future lecture for the same group.
Meanwhile, in the days since the event I have discovered there is something in the air about this subject. I just received the latest edition of Hermetic Virtues Magazine, and wouldn’t you know it included a wonderful essay by Peregrin Wildoak entitled The Influence of the Golden Dawn in Wicca. I have been wanting to write that very essay for many years – but it looks like Peregrin beat me to it, and did it better than I would have done. ;) I forwarded a copy to the Wiccan priestess who organized my lecture, so she could offer it as “further reading” to her students. (I also recommend you get a copy of the latest Hermetic Virtues to check it out!)
I sent a message to Peregrin, offering my kudos and asking if he had ever read my Thelemic Origins… essay. He said he had indeed read it, and even brought it up in a related lecture he had given: The Influence of Aleister Crowley on the Development of Wicca. Let me quote his reply here:
thanks for this
Yes, I read your very interesting article…and politely disagreed with its central thesis in another recent lecture :) Would love a counter argument if you wish
That certainly piqued my interest. I doubted he disagreed with my premise of a Thelemic influence upon the development of Wicca. So I read his essay to find his specific point of dissent. I discovered a quote from my essay in a section entitled Myth Number 3 – Wicca as an Outer Court to the OTO or a Thelemic Vehicle:
“I’ve come to understand that Gerald Gardner intended from the very beginning for Wicca to be a largely Thelemic system.”
Having read the entire article, I think I understand where Preegrin disagrees with my statement. The above quote could be taken in one of two ways: Either I understand Wicca was intended as an organizational Thelemeic (that is, OTO) vehicle, or that it was a philosophical Thelemic vehicle.
In fact, I meant the latter. I am not among those who have suspected Wicca was intended as an outer court to the OTO, or even an “OTO for the masses.” Instead, my view is that Wicca was (to an extent) built upon Thelemic philosophy.
Of course, Peregrin also disagrees with that premise – and to prove it he cites several departures from (or in some cases the absence of) Thelemic philosophy in the Wiccan religion. And he is correct – such departures and absences do exist, and he does a fine job of pointing them out.
However, to play devil’s advocate, I would also point out that Thelema was intended to be a highly individualized philosophy. Are not those who dissect the Book of the Law and nit-pick specific points of Thelemic philosophy supposed to be “centers of pestilence”? Is it not the one cardinal rule of Thelema that one should follow his own True Will no matter what? Given this nature of the system, I don’t find it so hard to believe that Gerald Gardner felt at liberty to take Wicca in directions that might conflict with any of Crowley’s writings.
Still, I will admit my statement that Wicca was intended as “a Thelemic system” might have been over-stating the case to some extent. (That essay was one of my earliest pieces, and not an example of my best writing.) I certainly don’t view Wicca as just Thelema with Neo-pagan overlay.
However, the influence of Thelema and its philosophies upon Gardner cannot be denied. (Nor, to be fair, does Peregrin attempt to deny them in his essay.) I see more of Thelema in Wicca than the mere “fleshing out of sparse material” that Gardner claimed it to be. I believe Gardner’s occultism was heavily Crowley-influenced – first through Crowley’s published writings, then during Gardner’s time with the OTO – and that this formed the foundation upon which Wicca was ultimately constructed. (Much in the manner that Thelema is founded upon Golden Dawn principles, while it is not “Golden Dawn” in and of itself.)
Though, it is true that Gardner was taking Wicca in directions that often left the greater Thelemic system behind, and that Doreen Valiente took it even further afield. I suspect the apparent disagreement between me and Peregrim Wildoak on this issue is largely one of semantics.