What is the Gnostic Mass?
The Gnostic Mass—the full title of which is Liber XV: Eccesiæ Gnosticæ Catholicæ Canon Missæ (Book 15: The Canon of the Mass of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, the Gnostic Catholic Church)—is the central ritual of Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.). It was written by our religion’s founder, Aleister Crowley, in Moscow in 1913. Of this ritual he wrote,
Human nature demands (in the case of most people) the satisfaction of the religious instinct, and, to very many, this may best be done by ceremonial means. I wished therefore to construct a ritual through which people might enter into ecstasy as they have always done under the influence of appropriate ritual … I resolved that my ritual should celebrate the sublimity of the operation of universal forces without introducing disputable metaphysical theories. I would neither make nor imply any statement about nature which would not be endorsed by the most materialistic man of science. On the surface this may sound difficult; but in practice I found it perfectly simple to combine the most rigidly rational conceptions of phenomena with the most exalted and enthusiastic celebration of their sublimity.
Who can attend Gnostic Mass?
Anyone can attend a public performance of the Gnostic Mass. No formal membership in O.T.O. or Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (EGC) is necessary to attend, though we do kindly ask for a small donation (donation box located on the desk in the foyer) to cover temple and material expenses.
What will I be expected to do when I attend Gnostic Mass?
The Gnostic Mass is a participatory ritual. This means that at certain points throughout the ritual, congregants will be expected to say certain things and perform certain actions. Don’t worry—most of these actions are subtle, and if you miss them or make a small error, no one will notice or hold it against you!
Gestures and Actions Performed by the Congregation
The congregation will be signaled to stand by the Deacon a few times throughout the Mass. When you are standing, assume the Dieu Garde position: thumbs interlocked, fingers crossed over one another at the pelvis.
At the beginning of the Mass, immediately before reciting the Creed, the Deacon will advance with the Step and Sign of a Man and a Brother. The congregation will imitate him. Start with the right heel in the arch of the left foot, perpendicular to it. Take a step forward with the left foot, and bring the right foot forward, heel back into the arch of the left foot. Then with the right hand, fingers extended, thumb at right angle to fingers, draw the thumb smartly across the throat. (This happens quickly, so don’t worry if you miss it.)
At this point, the Deacon will lead the congregation in the recitation of the Creed. Please follow along as best you can from the Missal.
At four points throughout the Mass, the Deacon will lead the congregation in giving the Hailing Sign of a Magician: place your right hand over your heart and raise the left arm with upper and lower arms forming a right angle, thumb and fingers at a right angle. (This happens quickly, so don’t worry if you miss it.)
After the Priest’s circumambulation, the Deacon will lead the congregation in Kneeling in Adoration, palms together over the head. If you are physically unable to perform this gesture, please sit instead.
During the Collects, the congregation will say, “So mote it be,” after each collect. Follow along as best you can.
Later, the Deacon will lead the congregation in the recitation of the Anthem. Follow along as best you can from the Missal.
When it is time to take Communion, the Deacon will direct the members of the congregation to the foot of the dais one-by-one. Take a Cake of Light and eat it. Take a glass of wine or juice and drink it. Cross your arms over your chest, right over left, and say, “There is no part of me that is not of the gods,” and resume your seat.
When all else fails, just follow others to the best of your ability!
What if I can’t drink alcohol?
There will be an opportunity before the ceremony to signal your intent to drink juice instead of wine for Communion.
The Gnostic Mass is the central ceremony of O.T.O., and as such, we consider it a sacred occasion. Please refrain from talking during or otherwise disrupting the performance of the ceremony. Please turn off your cell phones during the ceremony. During any moments of participation by the congregation, please perform those actions as closely as possible to the way they are described in this document without embellishment. If you have any doubts during the ceremony about how to perform an action, the behavior of your fellow congregants—many of whom have been participating in this ritual for decades—will serve as a useful guide.
What do all these actions and words in the Gnostic Mass mean?
There are many layers of meaning embedded in the symbolism of the Gnostic Mass. If you have questions about what you’ve seen—and you probably will!—please feel free to ask the Priest or Priestess or anyone else in the congregation you feel comfortable talking to. We are all happy to answer questions about the Mass, O.T.O., or Thelema in general! A useful online resource, written by the Primate of EGC, can be found here.
How do I participate in the Gnostic Mass as an officer?
If you are interested in helping with the performance of Mass, the first step is to undergo Baptism into EGC. This will allow you to perform the role of Child in the Mass. Being a Child is a great way to acquire more familiarity with the ritual and all the work necessary to perform it. Any Priest or Priestess should be able to help you with questions about Baptism. To perform as a Deacon, Priestess, or Priest, one must undergo Confirmation and must also be an initiated member of O.T.O.