There’s something sexy and dangerous about robed occultists performing rituals for old gods in the moonlit desert.
With the arrival of my digital invitation to this weekend’s public performance of the O.T.O.’s Rite of Mars comes a flood of mental images provided by Hollywood films I’ve seen growing up: hooded figures silhouetted by firelight—long shadows lying in the sand like serpents, disembodied voices droning incantations in dead languages.
Of course this is all fantasy. I’ve been to these sorts of things before, and what they don’t show you in Eyes Wide Shut is the scene after the ritual, when the cultists have to go home and throw their robes in the wash before taking the dog out to pee. Under the masks are usually people like the rest of us.
But I have to admit a touch of excitement as I drive to the home of Soror Luz, a representative of the local encampment of the Ordo Templi Orientis. The O.T.O. may be one of the most famous occult fraternal organizations of this century and the last, thanks largely to the influence of its one-time leader, Aleister Crowley—the infamous drug-fiend, sodomist and blasphemer. Crowley (which rhymes with “holy” and not “bowely,” as Ozzy would have you believe) was also one of the greatest minds to come out of the 20th century. His influence blasted through popular culture, leaving the ’60s in its wake (Timothy Leary really did claim to be the reincarnated Crowley, and you can find the old sod’s head poking out between Sri Yukteswar and Mae West on Sgt. Pepper. As for the myth that he fed Aldous Huxley his first mouthful of peyote ... the results are still out).
Crowley joined the O.T.O. in 1912, back when it was still just another pseudo-Masonic magical order-cum-boys club. Within a couple of years, he was running the show and had implemented his own home-grown religion Thelema as the official creed of the order.
As with all initiatory magical groups, there is a distinct odor of secrecy floating around the O.T.O.’s shadowy center. Rumors abound. This would be my first time meeting a Thelemite in real life, and I’m not quite sure what will greet me when I answer Soror Luz’ invitation to talk about the upcoming performance.
What I find is a sleek, modern loft with Robert Anton Wilson on the bookshelf and a plush couch that threatens to derail the entire meeting with its comfiness. Instead of rumors, I smell clean linens.
“The rite is a dramatic ritual, meaning it’s a play, but it’s also a teaching ritual, where you can experience Crowley’s idea of the nature of the planet Mars and what its occult significance is.” Soror Luz is well-spoken and cordial. She sits lightly on a matching love seat as I struggle with the siren’s call of her perfect couch.
I ask about the local branch of the order, the Subtlety or Force Encampment, and she tells me there are a couple dozen active members—a number which surprises me, given the relatively modest population of our fair city.
“New Mexico has a really thriving alternative scene. There’s a lot of people with different spiritualities and philosophies out here. Neo-Pagan groups, Reconstructionists, Rosicrucians. They’re all here and thriving. ... It’s just a very inspiring place. There’s a current for wanting knowledge and illumination in the culture here.”
That current will be flowing toward the desert this Saturday, July 11, for the live performance of The Rites of Eleusis: The Rite of Mars, put on by Heart of Blood, a traveling production company who organizes events to promote teaching the mostly unaware public about Crowley and Thelema.
Soror Luz says the play will be a great way for anyone who’s curious to check out the order. “I know there’s a lot of people in town who have thought about coming around, and this would be a really fun way to meet us and interact with us and see what we do.”
Tickets are available to the public, and anyone who wants to experience the rare opportunity to see the up-close invocation of an ancient Egyptian deity this side of the 21st century is urged to nab one while they’re available. For more info, firstname.lastname@example.org.