The following appeared in Behutet, Issue #31, published in 2006. One of Thelesis’ Founders tells the tale…
The Genesis of Thelesis Camp, By Inominandum, July 2006
Thelesis was chartered to operate in the city of Philadelphia by the Ordo Templi Orientis on the vernal equinox, 1996. That makes 10 years since we were made official by the Order and another year before that of gathering independently to plan and plot. I am one of the founders of Thelesis, but I have never been its Master. Whether this makes me a better or worse candidate for telling the story of its origin I do not know. It has been commented by some Past Masters that although I was not its Arthur, I was its Merlin, and took charge of much of the early magickal activities. It has been further observed by some brethren that I was the Thelesis Den-Mother, a fair observation as it was run from my apartment for the first couple years and I was often the one left to manage issues between official meetings.
There is an official history in the making for publication in Behutet: a compilation of exact dates and quotes, who held what office when and that sort of thing. This article isn’t going to be like that. This is my telling and mine alone of the formation of Thelesis, which in the early days was made up of my closest friends and family. Others that were there may find fault with it, and I welcome their stories to be considered along with my own.
Before I begin, I should mention that I will be referring to many things which officially had nothing to do with Thelesis as an OTO body. Some events were official Thelesis functions; some happened around its periphery, some were just outside events that happened to involve several of our members. Thelesis at that time consisted not only of dedicated OTOers, but others who just took Minerval or First Degree so that they could participate in the Camp fully and still others that never joined the order at large in any capacity, yet will be forever remembered as Thelesis members, at least by me.
I want to make something very clear: all mention of drug use, petty larceny, trading in secret documents, kinky sex, and other assorted naughtiness were NOT in any way sanctioned by Thelesis, nor did they happen during official functions. We were always pretty clear about presenting the OTO in a good light and following the rules of the Order during functions. Individual members of the camp at that time however were known to, shall we say, dabble…
GATHERING THE TRIBE
In the early 1995 Frater Xanthias, Frater Koza and I were all members of Tahuti Lodge in NYC and met at the Vernal Equinox Ceremony that year. We met once or twice at my house in Trenton, NJ later that Spring to discuss our paths and progress. For reasons that are unimportant now, we all felt a bit out of place at Tahuti and were looking for something else in the way of a magickal group to work with. In June that year, due to some trouble involving homemade explosives with my roommates in Trenton, I fled New Jersey and moved to Philadelphia, falling completely out of contact with the OTO, including Xanthias and Koza, in the process.
I and my new roommate, Matt Brownlee — whom I had known since high school — began making contacts with the occult community in Philadelphia, even putting together a very short lived group called “Za Cabal.” This group consisted of myself, Matt, and two other local magicians, A. and K., that we met at Headhouse Square and whose attention we had gotten by invoking some Undines and forcing rain when the forecast hadn’t called for any. They were impressed with our Thaumaturgy, and we began meeting regularly for ritual.
It was also around this time that we befriended Gendler, a scholarly-minded Occultist who seemed to know everyone in the Philly magick scene, and just as importantly had an occult library bigger than anybody else we knew. He produced a zine called “Phurba” and was hosting weekly “open library nights” where all sorts of characters would show up for drink, smoke and conversation. Urban Sufis, Spirit Possession Kung Fu practitioners, Neo-Tantrikas, Golden Dawn initiates, and Thelemites of all leanings would all congregate at Gendler’s open nights. Though these gatherings were fun and interesting, I was looking for something a bit more focused. I was not alone.
In September of 1995 Xanthias tracked me down in Philly and after a few quick pleasantries came straight out and asked me if I would be into helping him and Koza form an OTO camp in Philly. Though it wasn’t named yet, that was the moment that Thelesis was born. I knew that Matt would be in as would A and K. Gendler had some negative experiences with Xanadu the former Camp in Philly which had since re-located to Reading PA, but was willing to help us network and participate in the local group even if he never joined the OTO. He did eventually take Minerval a couple years later.
Gendler helped us get in touch with the other OTO initiates in the city. The first was B.F. who was deeply involved in strange techno-magick. This involved quartz-sand filled magickal batteries, ley-lines, 11 th degree-style sex magick, and magickal machines that he claimed could do things like emanate banishing shields or pierce his muladhara chakra with life-giving force. Next was Denise and her ex-husband Dave, both of whom were old time OTO and had been initiated by Grady himself at Philadelphia’s first OTO Encampment, Hadit, in the early 80’s.
We were also introduced to some other free-lance occultists that would eventually be brought into Thelesis’s fold: Omen, a dedicated Typhonian mage, and C a spiritualist of impressive powers, were the Priest and Priestess of the Maj-Kia Temple which wove its smagardine sorceries out in Germantown. J., Gendlers girlfriend at the time, was a priestess of Babalon and an expert in the construction of bone talismans. T was an art student and Wiccan. Sherman, who would eventually become one of the longest standing Camp Officers, practiced a rare form of Vietnamese Kung-fu Spirit Possession and had done some very in-depth chemi-gnostic workings.
My roll call would be remiss if I left out two very special yet unofficial members of our club: Cliff and Misha Pollick. They were a bit older than most of us, and Cliff had been one of the founders of Hadit in the 80’s. They were excited supporters of our activities and attempted to share their wisdom and materials as much as they could, even donating their entire collection of Old OTO Newsletters and Magickal links from the early 80’s to the Camp. A great resource on both Order history and magickal procedure, they would have made wonderful Camp members, but there was one catch: Misha had resigned from the Order, and Cliff had been formally expelled! Around 1985, at the height of the lawsuits and in-fighting between Thelemic groups, Cliff and a handful of others felt that spirit of the 93 Current was being lost. Thus he allowed a 9 th degree paper called “Emblems and Modes of Use,” which he was given by Grady, to be published in a clandestine edition of Mezla (a publication of the American branch of Kenneth Grant’s Typhonian order) with commentary by Bill Seibert, a Typhonian OTO initiate. Eventually, the two of them would join with Sam Webster and form the Chthonic Auranian OTO, which Matt and I were initiated into since, and into which I have initiated others. Though they could not come to initiations or closed events, we welcomed them at open events and had them lecture to the Camp from time to time.
THE SET UP
B.F had initially wanted to be the Master of the Camp, but both Xanthias and I felt that his peculiar yet insistently authoritative take on just about everything would leave most people cold. It was decided that though I lived in the city and would be hosting the meetings at my and Matt’s apartment, Xanthias should be the Master because he was the highest degree in the Order: an impressive 3 rd going on 4th, and this would help us get our charter sooner rather than later.
On January 12th, the core group of Xanthias, Koza, Brownlee and I gathered together to lay down the basics of what we wanted to happen. We did some divinations and though there was no official list or anything like that we more or less agreed on the below:
1. We would operate as much like a small family as possible and insulate ourselves from much of the Order politics that we didn’t like in other Bodies. Though we would work hard at becoming a means for people in Philadelphia to access the OTO and its initiations, the focus would be on the Camp not the Order.
2. We would as much as possible focus on actually doing magick rather than discussing it overly much.
3. We would focus on the amazing and varied work of the people in the Camp as opposed to just regurgitating Crowley rituals over and over by rote. Crowley had his place, but he wouldn’t be as much of a focus as he seemed to be in other OTO groups.
4. We would show the ladies some respect. Though we didn’t have many women involved in the camp at the beginning, we saw this was a prevalent OTO problem that we didn’t want to persist at Thelesis. It seemed that the best way to attract women was not to go out of our way to do it specifically at all, but rather just to make sure that those that did show up were treated with respect and not slobbered over by goons who were only interested in getting them naked for the Mass or in teaching them their own brand of sex magick.
5. We would take steps to insure that Thelesis remained stapled to the city of Philadelphia, even if we moved on to other places.
At the end of this meeting, I went out into the snow-covered intersection at 6th and Pine outside HQ and drew the Veve of Papa Legba in the snow. Because of the blizzard there were no cars on the road so it was easy to make the symbol extend a quarter block in each direction. I offered a cocoanut and a candle and asked him to bless this venture: pulling together a powerful magickal group.
A week or so later, we had our first official meeting with all the people mentioned above, (and probably a few that I am forgetting) in attendance.
Xanthias and I, both nervous about hosting our first meeting, got pissed drunk on something called “Bone Crushers” before the meeting but still managed to deliver a spirited and coherent, albeit somewhat slurred presentation, whist lying on my living room floor.
After some deliberation about the name — Legba Camp and Drakonis Camp were both possibilities — Xanthias offered up the name “Thelesis” which means “Will” in Modern Greek. Since the word “Thelema” has the connotation of “want” rather than “will”, this seemed an ideal name for a group Thelemites that saw themselves as breaking away from the mold.
In the weeks ahead, we began ferrying people up to Tahuti Lodge in NYC and down to William Blake Oasis in Maryland to take Minerval and First Degree initiations. It was in NYC that we met Alfred and his wife B. Alfred was the editor of Rant magazine and part of a writers group known as the “Unbearables.” They hit it off with us immediately and mentioned that they planned to visit Philly sooner or later and would look us up when they did.
Apparently the powers at work behind the scenes decided that Alfred and B. belonged in Philly with Thelesis sooner rather than later. In early March 1996, just one month after meeting them in NYC, they showed up at my Thelesis HQ and explained that they had a serious and violent falling out with family that they were staying with and had to get out of NY quick. They spent every penny they had on securing an apartment, but didn’t have any food or furniture. Matt and I fed them, gave them some pillows and blankets and welcomed them to Thelesis Camp.
Though there were many active members in Thelesis, I think it would be fair to say that Xanthias and I were the main decision makers and leaders at the beginning. Alfred was to turn that partnership into a triad. With the arrival of B. and Alf, the first cast of the Thelesis was complete.
HORUS COMES TO TOWN
The day that Thelesis was chartered officially by the OTO was also the day that we pulled off our first big public magickal working. On March 22 nd 1996, we rented space at the first Unitarian Church on 20th and Chestnut. The original four members, Xanthias, Koza, Brownlee, and I had all been working diligently to put together a Thelemic ritual that would cement Thelesis as a group and permanently staple the 93 Current to the city of Philadelphia. We invited everyone we could think of; anyone that had the slightest inkling of interest in the occult or even just counter-culture got invited. Tattoo artists, Anarchists, piercers, fetishists, strippers, drug dealers, art students, and all sorts of varied characters descended upon the Unitarian church to receive the mark of Horus.
After setting up a multi-tiered altar (that was cobbled together from my kitchen table, three milk crates, and some boxes with red fabric draped over them), Koza dressed in full Samurai gear, banished the room with a Star Ruby and let the crowd of about 35-40 people into the temple. Xanthias welcomed the crowd and explained what would be going on. He than got the atmosphere charged up with the 93 Current by doing Reguli, while I meditated in front of the altar. After Reguli, I broke meditation and unknowingly broke one of the Order’s by-laws by performing the Mass of the Phoenix in public (I am somewhat amused that first ritual act I did as a Thelesis Camp officer was break one of the Order laws, and can’t help but feel it set the tone for my own path in the Order). Though some of the fetishists in the crowd were kind of disappointed that I didn’t draw more blood than I did, it was enough to ruin Kevin’s linen robe that I’d borrowed for the event.
After Phoenix — with the crowd all chanting the name “HOOR-EE” — I launched into a souped-up version of the Great Invocation that I had re-written and added a bunch of Egyptian text to. Horus took hold of me and after the invocation while Brownlee began reciting Liber Tzaddi I went around the crowd anointing everyone with the sign of the triangle and occasionally whispering messages that would pop into my head.
After the rite, we handed out our schedule and contact info and networked. An old man that worked as a night janitor for the Church freaked out when he saw altar that we set up, and told us that he dreamed about the eye in the triangle we had hanging above it the night before. Many people reported having apocalyptic dreams that night, and I myself had a very detailed vision of a nuclear bomb exploding in the city. While we never saw most of that crowd at a Thelesis meeting ever again, those that did stick around were jazzed that there was a group doing something with some focus. There was a lot of momentum to get things rolling.
LOVE UNDER WILL, PHILLY STYLE
Thelesis performed many group rituals after that first one, both public and private. There was the “Sun, Serpent, and Savior” ritual (still my favorite Thelesis rite) compiled by Xanthias, during which police car #93 was parked outside the apartment. Then came the “Invocation of Azrael” led by Gendler and myself, also held at the Unitarian Church. We held a Dumb Supper on Halloween that went very well (as opposed to the one a couple years later that didn’t. We managed to get people from rival shops, Hand of Aries and Harry’s Occult, to attend) a crank-fueled dawn invocation of Pan at Penn-Treaty park led by Brownlee, and then all get breakfast together afterwards. There was time-travel sigil work; Enochian scrying sessions; Tunnel of Set explorations; Vodou supplications; creating chaos magick servitors; and a series of Planetary Intelligence invocations that spanned seven months. I could go on listing all rituals, talks and training sessions that we had, but I think it’s important to stress how much of what Thelesis was about had nothing to do with official meetings at all. We were brothers and sisters 24-7 and our lives began to overlap as such. My apartment quickly became a clubhouse with its doors open to members between meetings. Actually our door was literally open for about 3 months because Brownlee kicked it in and we didn’t have money to get it fixed. Even after we did get it fixed, we left it unlocked most of the time. It was not uncommon for Thelesis members to not go home for a couple days after a meeting or to find members hanging out in the living room when we got home from work.
As we become more and more like a family, we endeavored as best as possible to help and to take care of one another. I remember when Sister J was being manipulated by a local Gypsy into giving money and goods in exchange for her removing a “curse.” She felt so magickally coerced by the Gypsy that she even went so far as to give one of Gendler’s socks for the Gypsy to use as a link to remove the curse. She called us during a meeting from her job at Tower Records and asked for help because the woman and her friends were there shaking her down for free CD’s. We stopped the meeting and the whole Camp went down to Tower to confront them like a rival gang.
Another time, we did a group healing for A’s son, who soon recovered miraculously from calcified adrenal glands, and when an unstable and dangerous person was threatening members of the Camp, he was ritually banished from the city and wound up in Ohio never to be heard from again. Then there was the occasion when a search party of Thelesis people spread through some of the seedier parts of the city looking for one of our sisters that had gone missing; it later turned out she was actually on the run from the law. Once a meeting was ended early when the entire Body went to tend to members whose house had caught fire; sure, perhaps the house burnt down because she forgot to follow through on burning some sigils from a ritual held at her apartment, but the point is that we were still all there for one another.
Amidst all this flurry of activity, Brother Alfred took charge of the Camp’s media and secretarial duties. He established a clandestine network of office temps who would abuse photocopiers and pilfer from supply closets to support our needs. He organized a decent-looking schedule and distributed it to the local occult stores. Next, he pulled together Behutet, Thelesis’s long-running print journal which quickly was being distributed internationally. Finally, he constructed a website that would eventually serve as a point of contact for a whole other cast of miscreants that would join our ranks.
Alfred was organized and dedicated, so much so in fact that his early submission of quarterly paperwork confused the heck out of the disorganized slackers doing the filing on the national level. At one point our charter pulled because they thought our quarterly paperwork hadn’t been filed when in fact it had and they’d lost it; and then didn’t notify us that this’d happened. It was only because we inquired about Cliff’s status with the Order (which turned out to be “eternal and ineffable Bad Report”) that Bill Heidrick happened to mention that we had lost our charter in passing! It was good that I was NOT Camp Master because I was so pissed off by this that I moved to break Thelesis off as an independent group and tell the Order to piss off. Cooler heads prevailed and our charter was restored.
Pockets of Camp members began to form informal sub-groups that specialized in one thing or another. There were several people involved with the Seven Mountains Spirit Fist Kung Fu which practiced Taoist and Buddhist spirit possession. Xanthias and I attracted several others who were into Tibetan Buddhism and started doing pujas and such on the side. A group of meditators met every Sunday morning at the Dragon Temple in the Philadelphia Art Museum. Politically minded members of the camp got involved with people at Wooden Shoe and the West Philly Anarchist collectives. There were also unofficial Thelesis trip-circles like the “Psychedelic Supper” where a small number of us partook of pasta with a very special mushroom-marinara sauce or the various acid excursions to Penn’s Landing.
We also took trips together. Some were to the local occult curiosities like the Freemasonic Lodges Egyptian style temple, the Rosicrucian Cave of Kelpius, and the most mysterious Swedenborgian Cathedral; a design right out of a Lovecraft story if ever there was one. The trip that sticks out the most for me though was the trip to the Summerhawk festival in 1996. This Thelema-specific festival was focused on Nema’s Maat Magick that year and gave us a chance to hobnob with her and many other Bate Cabal members including Louis Martine, Mishlen Linden, Linda Falorio, and Fred Fowler as well as OTO higher-ups like Bob Stein.
Things were wonderfully surreal by the end of the festival: we got to see Nema read Liber Penne Penumbra in a sequined robe under a disco ball backed up by Cliff Pollick on synth guitar. There was a Gnostic Mass where a now-former OTOer by the name of “Tiger” dove headfirst into the priestess’ yoni and delivered a rousing speech to her crotch as she giggled. I solidified my conversion to Tibetan Buddhism that weekend during conversations with Mishlen Linden followed up by mushrooms, LSD, and Datura Flying Ointment all the same night.
At some point during the weekend, Koza, had purchased a Russian assault rifle from the hardware store in town (somehow with no waiting period or papers). I was scared to death that we would get pulled over on the way home and that the combination of drugs, occult material, and a Russian assault rifle wouldn’t sit well with the cops. Thankfully the gods take pity on fools and we all made it home safe, secure, and free – but all quite a bit different than a few days before the festival. It was not too long after Summerhawk when things would begin to change.
It has been noted that the only real constant in life is change itself, and so it was a guarantee that eventually Thelesis would evolve. Thanks to the support of Paul Hume and others at William Blake Oasis, members of the Camp that were into following the OTO structure started taking higher degrees at regular intervals and became more invested in the Order at large. As the internet grew more and more popular, this line of progress was supported by people who started finding the camp through the web and looking for quintessentially Thelemic things like the Gnostic Mass. Thelesis folks who were integral to the formation of Thelesis yet from the start had little interest in the OTO at large — Omen, C., Gendler, A, etc. — started feeling pushed to the outside.
Friction and competition started boiling up amidst the leadership. I was accused on more than one occasion of being overbearing and arrogant (both true). Alfred was accused of being nit-picky and intolerant of people that were not as organized as he, eventually demanding that the growing Camp archives be moved from my house to his (which admittedly was probably for the best). Xanthias was accused of not coming around at all for long lengths of time, then showing up and declaring martial law (ala the infamous “red-sheet”), then disappearing again. Xanthias’s absences become extended that Alf and I were able to create a fake camp member named “George Dorn” who we would all talk about and who would post to the list via a puppet e-mail, yet who only Xanthias hadn’t had the good fortune to meet.
Though we remained friends through all of this, there was growing tension. Acknowledging his fading interest in running things, Xanthias announced that he would be stepping down and one of us would run it. Alf and I bickered a bit about who would make the best Master: me feeling entitled because I was there first, and him feeling that he would be a better administrator of a group connected with an Order that I had expressed unwillingness to progress further in. Though Xanthias did eventually offer the position to me, I realized that Alf was right; since I had already declared my intention not to take 3 rd Degree, it would be silly for me to lead the Camp. There was a meeting between the three of us in Rittenhouse Square. After being accosted and cussed out by a homeless woman in need of a nicotine fix that we couldn’t provide, Xanthias officially passed the reigns to Alfred. I would support Alf as Assistant Master for another year or so, but would eventually pull back and devote more time to my Tibetan studies. Meetings had already begun to be held at Alf and B’s apartment more than my own so the transition was pretty easy.
Alfred’s reign as Master would boast its own successes, and during this period we attracted many of the figures key to Thelesis today. Mary-Lynn who would follow Alfred as Camp Mistress (thank you may I have another…) Alfred would re-take up the reigns of Mastership for a short time before passing it to Howard who has been a capable Master ever since.
TO WHAT END?
As I said before, I will leave the exact catalogue of what happened when to the former Masters, Mistress and secretaries who have better notes than I. The presentation above is horribly out of sequence and it could be that at least one or two of the events above happened after Alfred took over the Mastership, my stopping point for this history. Oh well, it was all early Thelesis to me, and since there has been an “official history” in the works for at least a year and a half now, I feel justified in presenting my addled memories. I may also be remembering things a bit more dramatically than they actually were: Koza insists he had proper papers for that assault rifle though transporting it across state lines is another story… If any of the above doesn’t ring true to the people that were there, I apologize.
But what was all this for? What was accomplished?
We were successful in meeting some of the goals from our original planning session: We created a group that would be a vehicle for the 93 Current in Philadelphia on a long term basis. None of the founding officers are Officers today or even all that involved in the Camp, yet Thelesis remains active and growing. We set out to make a Thelemic group that would be female-friendly; at times Thelesis has achieved a 50/50 female/male split and women remain an active and driving force in the Camp today; and there is even a Thelesis Women’s group. We made OTO initiations available in Philadelphia, at first through visiting initiators, and now with Howard as Chartered Initiator.
We also succeeded in creating a magickal group that was more than just an OTO body. We were more concerned with helping put people in touch with their own True Will than we were with people taking OTO degrees. Some found that their will was to stay in the OTO and rise in its ranks; some found that their Will took them elsewhere. It didn’t really matter, Gnosis was the main thing, not secret handshakes and badges made of sticky felt. Mary-Lynn had once observed that early Thelesis was a bit of a magickal halfway house: an Oasis in the true sense of the word where tired and confused pilgrims would stop in and receive sustenance, companionship, rest, and perhaps some much needed directions. If some people were brought a little further along the royal road towards Heliopolis, then we achieved our most important goal.
My thanks to all the original members of Thelesis Camp – which became an Oasis in the Fall of ’05 — for sparking the flame of Gnosis.
My thanks to the current members of the Oasis for continuing to carry the torch.
May you all stand upright; your heads above the highest heavens, your feet below the lowest hells.