This is part 2 of the Promulgation series. Click here to read part 1.
The bulk of the remaining posts will describe strategies devised by looking at Crowley's writings on promulgation in comparison to some of the traits of successful religious movements as observed by Rodney Stark and his colleagues. We will explore the ways in which we are already exhibiting some of these traits, and discuss some ways that improvement might be possible.
These strategies are not specific activities or tactics, but are rather approaches which could have any number of specific applications. For any one of the strategies, there are an infinite number of possible specific tactics that could be applied. The idea here is to stimulate your creativity in finding new ways to promulgate in your locale by looking at a variety of successful strategic approaches.
At this time I would like to thank Kjetil Fjell and Angel Lorenz for first bringing my attention to the work of Rodney Stark et al. and how this material is relevant to us.
The first strategy that I will bring up is called "medium strictness." Sometimes people chafe a little bit at the way this is phrased, thinking that it somehow refers to controlling or manipulating people. What it really means, however, is providing a program of training which many people are actually looking for.
"To the extent people seek religion ... the demand is the highest for religions that offer close relations with the supernatural and distinctive demands for membership, without isolating individuals from the culture around them." —"The New Holy Clubs: Testing Church-to-Sect Propositions" by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark.
As Crowley said, "The world needs religion," but what kind of religious traditions are the bulk of people looking for? In a number of studies, Stark and company have repeatedly shown that the largest demand is for religious traditions which offer "distinctive demands," as well as "close relations with the supernatural." These two features are inherent to Thelema as well as our Holy Order.
Close relations with the supernatural: While some may argue that there is nothing "supernatural" in our system, at the same time it should be obvious that a sociologist like Rodney Stark would consider "praeter-human intelligence" to be in that category, as well as likely any ideas of "esotericism" or even possibly "metaphysics." Many of our practices and studies therefore offer what Stark would consider "close relations with the supernatural." This can be improved through increasing the studies and practices which lead to these "close relations," or one might say "knowledge and conversation."
Distinctive demands: The "distinctive demands" of Thelema are clearly indicated by Aleister Crowley in a number of places and we will later examine ways that O.T.O. currently offers these distinctive demands and some possible avenues for improvement. Strictness is about the level of the demands that our movement places on people. Use of Thelemic greetings, and various other customs including our rituals and our aims as Thelemites, are included in this idea. "Distinctive" means that they are particular to our movement—particular to Thelemites.
Medium? What makes the strictness "medium" and not too strict is that the demands do not isolate individuals from the culture around them. Requiring people to renounce their families, blocking access to outside opinions, and blocking communication with outsiders are good examples of being too strict. I would add that of course, any degree of strictness employed in our communities must not be in actual violation of the Law of Thelema. At either end of the spectrum of strictness, the number of people interested is very small. It is in the middle of this spectrum where interest is greatest.
Let's look at a couple more statements from Stark et al. about this concept of medium strictness.
"The ultra-strict sects, communes and religious orders, and the ultra-liberal New Age and Unitarian Universalists are each appealing to a very limited segment of the total market. As groups appeal to the center of the continuum, however, the size of the potential market rises. Thus, most Americans are members of a congregation that falls somewhere between these two extremes." &mdash"The New Holy Clubs: Testing Church-to-Sect Propositions" by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark.
"New religious movements are likely to succeed to the extent that they maintain a medium level of tension with their surrounding environment—are strict, but not too strict." —"Why the Jehovah’s Witnesses Grow so Rapidly," Rodney Stark and Laurence Iannaccone.
I will resist the impulse to include a simple diagram of a bell curve here! Please picture a bell curve.
On the spectrum that Stark and his colleagues are examining, O.T.O. lands squarely in the small end of the liberal (or "loose" as opposed to strict) side of this curve. We're not as liberal as, say, the UUA, but we're a lot closer to them than we are to the middle of the spectrum, occupied by e.g. the rapidly growing Mormon and Jehovah's Witness congregations.
Thelemites tend to be naturally concerned about strictness because its abuse is such a hallmark of the Old Aeon. I would suggest that because of this natural disinclination in Thelemites, the danger of becoming too strict is not nearly as great as that of being too loose.
"Remember that unbalanced force is evil; that unbalanced severity is but cruelty and oppression; but that also unbalanced mercy is but weakness which would allow and abet Evil. Act passionately; think rationally; be Thyself." &mdashLiber Librae
Not all strictness is restriction, and many forms of discipline lead to greater freedom. This may seem paradoxical, but of course it should be an idea familiar to all of us, just as we understand that disciplined exercise routines lead to greater freedom of movement, disciplined thinking leads to greater freedom of thought, etc. Many Thelemites take up membership in Orders so that they may undergo a program of training to become more skilled to accomplish their Will. In fact, the findings of Stark et al. indicate that a moderate level of discipline is what the bulk of people are after. We would do well to increase the distinctive demands that we offer to our congregations; while this may alienate a few, it will appeal to far more, and thereby spread the knowledge of Thelema to a larger number of people.
Distinctive demands naturally create a tension with the surrounding culture. Stark et al. repeatedly find that a lack of tension with society results in a loss of organizational vitality. Moreover, that increasing the strictness of a loose organization has the result of increasing organizational vitality; and growth appears to be directly related to their ability to maintain medium strictness.
"Religious movements will continue to grow only to the extent that they maintain sufficient tension with their environment—remain sufficiently strict." —"Why the Jehovah’s Witnesses Grow so Rapidly" by Rodney Stark and Laurence Iannaccone
"Our initial results show that when pastors of liberal denominations attempt to increase their congregations' tension with society, they experience an increase in organizational vitality. Conversely, when pastors of liberal denominations attempt to further reduce their congregations' tension with society, they continue to lose organizational vitality." —"The New Holy Clubs: Testing Church-to-Sect Propositions" by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark.
Given that O.T.O. tends to be on the extreme liberal end of the scale of strictness, we can expect that an increase of strictness will result in an increase in organizational vitality, and an increase in the appeal we have to the bulk of people, thereby increasing our reach to spread the Law of Thelema. Simultaneously, increasing the distinctive demands of our movement will result in greater attainment by initiates, which is reflected in the idea of "closeness to the supernatural," above.
Strictness in Thelema
There are a number of distinctive demands for Thelemites as given to us by the Prophet. We can begin developing greater strictness by cultivating stronger expectations that these demands be met by Thelemites in our communities. Techniques of actually establishing and encouraging higher standards is a matter for leadership which is a side topic too large to enter here. Nevertheless, a few examples of areas where standards could be raised might be in order.
First and foremost in importance is to study constantly in Liber AL. Read it, read Crowley's commentary, and continually study the various class E tracts and other explanatory material. Begin engaging others in reading and discussion as part of your own study.
"There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt. Yet it is well for Brethren to study daily in the Volume of the Sacred Law, Liber Legis, for therein is much counsel concerning this, how best they may carry out this will. [...] The Brethren shall be diligent in preaching the Law of Thelema. In all writings they shall be careful to use the prescribed greetings; likewise in speech, even with strangers. [...] The first and greatest of all privileges of a Brother is to be a Brother; to have accepted the Law, to have become free and independent, to have destroyed all fear, whether of custom, or of faith, or of other men, or of death itself. In other papers the joy and glory of those who have accepted The Book of the Law as the sole rule of life is largely, though never fully, explained;" —666, Liber CI
In Liber Aleph, Crowley offers a regimen of practices:
Now, o my Son, that thou mayst be well guarded against thy ghostly Enemies, do thou work constantly by the Means prescribed in our Holy Books.
Neglect never the fourfold Adorations of the Sun in his four Stations, for thereby thou dost affirm thy Place in Nature and her Harmonies.
Neglect not the Performance of the Ritual of the Pentagram, and of the Assumption of the Form of Hoor-pa-Kraat.
Neglect not the daily Miracle of the Mass, either by the Rite of the Gnostic Catholic Church, or that of the Phoenix. Neglect not the Performance of the Mass of the Holy Ghost, as Nature herself prompteth thee.
Travel also much in the Empyrean in the Body of Light, seeking ever Abodes more fiery and lucid.
Finally, exercise constantly the Eight Limbs of Yoga. And so shalt thou come to the End.
Another area where our standards could be raised is in volunteerism and attendance. To lead by example, volunteer as often as possible to participate in rituals hosted by your local body of O.T.O., and cultivate the expectation for this among your brethren. The Gnostic Mass and initiations especially should be worked on a regular basis, with or without congregations or even initiation candidates. This is of great benefit to the local body, as the more people volunteer, the more the bar can be raised on performance quality and the more ideas for joyful and beautiful performance will be generated. It also has direct benefit to yourself, as immersion in these rituals and memorization of their rubric will greatly improve your understanding of the core teachings of the Order (and your subsequent ability to teach others), yielding a field of indirect benefits to yourself and the local body, which then feeds into all your promulgation efforts).
Contribution of time and money is another important way that we are all expected to maintain strictness. Requiring contribution, and not allowing participation or initiation without it, is indispensable. If everyone knows that everyone is contributing, everyone can stop worrying about income so much because income is then a known quantity which can be counted upon for basic operating expenses of the local body. Focus can then be directed to the work of practice and promulgation. Additionally, as it is said in other Orders, Laborare est orare - Labor is prayer. The time and money we put towards our movement is used to create Thelemic culture, through our works. This inherently promulgates, as these works have a ripple effect through time and across continents.
I invite anyone to offer further suggestions of areas where we can increase our strictness, and to share your experiences, opinions, and ideas about this subject.
In the next installment I will examine Aleister Crowley's Liber CCC: Khabs Am Pekht, which contains his advice on promulgating the Law of Thelema, and I will evaluate it against the findings of Stark et al., as well as describing a specific application of Crowley's advice which is being increasingly adopted by O.T.O. bodies around the world.