Joshua Adam Sharp is a Thelemite who associates with Alombrados Oasis in New Orleans, LA.
I was 18 years old, around 1999, and living in Olympia, Washington. At the time I had no interest in religion but was very interested in psychology, neuroscience, and formal philosophy. A very artistic friend of mine, who claimed to see the dead, hear the dead, and was often plagued by the dead, claimed his girlfriend had some kind of supernatural entity in her apartment and asked us if we would help call it out and remove it. My other, seemingly more rational college compadre and I decided to debunk the situation. My colleague suggested we try and “do this right” and prove to the girl that even if you go through all the supernatural bunkum that nothing would happened and that really she simply was crying out for psychological help. We ended up at a local occult shop in Olympia, I believe it was called Five Corners, and while I was in there looking for demonology texts and ghost nonsense I was struck by the familiarity of Crowley’s Liber 777. For whatever reason, whether I had unconsciously imprinted the name through media or it because it’s just catchy, the name Crowley really stood out. So, while there were all these other flashy grimoires and even Lon Milo’s “ENOCHIAN SEX MAGICK,” which I must say I certainly contemplated buying on title alone, I picked up 777 and took it home. I think my buddy grabbed The Grimoire of Armadel or something. He hated it; too much praying. Anyhow, I was fascinated with the esoteric take on religion, the organization of it in to these sorts of postmodern or maybe structural categories and I really appreciated the intelligent writing style and humor. That’s right I found 777 and other Qabalistic writings hilarious. I was also really interested in the qabalah. Not so much the gematria but the analysis of scripture and the theology. It led me to writers like Gershom Scholem and Aryeh Kaplan who I really enjoyed. I then found, The Book of the Law, was entranced, (I even burned it after reading), and so I began devouring Crowley’s entire corpus, began aspiring to the A∴A∴ and found the Seattle and Tacoma O.T.O. So now, here I am!
What is Magick to you?
I tend to separate it into a few different uses of the word. There is the sense in which Magick with a K is a specific tradition of illumination or attainment geared towards The Angel and The Abyss, knowledge of one’s True Self, one’s True Will, and complete fulfillment or manifestation of one’s True Nature. So in this sense it would be inseparable for me from the religion and philosophy delivered by Aleister Crowley and called Thelema. In another sense, like in Liber ABA, it is simply willed change in whatever guise. It may include the former sense of Magick but also extend into other avenues not necessarily Thelemic in nature. In this last sense I believe the word can stand for many modalities and traditions and would extend beyond only Crowley’s sense of Magick. Finally, Magic, without the trademark “K,” might also simply be the literal magic of tradition, of the Grimoire tradition, of the Chaldean astrologers and the Arab Djinn conjurers. I think for myself and for a lot of other Thelemites, these three major senses can work together as modes, or maybe even fall within a hierarchy of practice; each sense taking its proper place and scope within the larger body of Magick.
Why do you think Thelema is different from other philosophies? What makes it stand out to you?
Well, first off I think it shares a lot with some traditions but it certainly has its own flavor and for me, it is still not a synthetic tradition, regardless of how many symbols it responds to or borrows from, but is actually the discovery and revealing of a New Law. I think one thing that is unique about Thelema is that its central text requires constant reevaluating. The understanding of our own central values changes as one contemplates the meaning of scripture in the context of one’s own spiritual pursuit. It is almost impossible to pin down our Holy Books, especially when compared and contrasted, into objective statements which do not involve some level of subjective projection by the reader. I do not mean to say that the Books do not have some inherent purpose, but rather, that purpose might be malleable by design and their impact intimately related to changes in the soul of the aspirant. For example, the interpretation of Liber Al vel Legis 2:21 might take on a meaning to the Master of the Temple which is absolutely opposite to the meaning of a Neophyte. I think Thelema was not only revelatory to Crowley but is continually revelatory throughout one’s own life. This seems to be the impression of Liber B vel Magi and I believe this is rather unique. There are a lot of other things I guess I could touch on but for brevity I won’t. Ya lucked out!
What do you love about OTO? What drew you to it? What makes you stay?
I have always found the initiations and other central rituals of the OTO immensely inspiring, illuminating, and ethically challenging when they are performed with dignity and care. I think the social aspect of the Order is possibly significant to all Thelemites because it concerns the nature of “Love under will.” The world, the environment, other Stars, engagement in a community, are not just a field of action for you but are the ground for continued existence and the quality of that existence. It is, in religious terms, the mystery of Eucharist. If the food I eat is bad, my body, the instrument of my will, is hindered. If the only ideas I am exposed to are irrational or shallow, then my mind, the instrument of my will, is stunted. We are, in systems theory terms, autopoietic systems engaged in a feedback loop with our environment. Materially we are disseverable from it and are always being modified by it. I think the OTO proposes and constitutes a methodology where the individual discovers and maintains their Sovereign Will while also consciously engaging in Change via community and collective communion. I think the OTO engages in the difficult task of training aspirants to maturely negotiate the harmony between self and other, recognizing personal boundaries and autonomy while not ignoring the larger facts of human social and environmental interconnectedness. This idea has drawn me to the OTO and it is the reason I put up with organization at all.
What do you think are most important Magick and meditation practices?
I hesitate to answer for anyone whose journal I have not studied. Even then, until I see longitudinal studies I’d only be giving my anecdotal and off the cuff response. I would say experiment and continue with whatever gives you real results in whatever direction you are aspiring to.
What do you think is the thing that most people misunderstand about Thelema?
I think we all misunderstand a lot about Thelema and that is part of the process. I also hesitate to answer this one.
Why do you think OTO is important to Thelema?
I think it creates a space where Thelema can manifest as a distinct community and lays the ground work for a type of political state where laws and ethics are regulated and substantiated only if they do not violate the central ethics of Thelema. So long as its promises are not vacuous and its manifestation is not maimed, OTO offers us the possibility of being politically free from superstition, tyranny, and oppression. We will see.
What do you think are the most important aspects of Thelema?
The bridging of the gap between the human and the divine, the profane and the holy; the elevation of Ecstasy as a method of spirit rather than purging through suffering and pain; and that spiritual authority comes through work and experience rather than birthright or public opinion. I further think the admonition to constantly try spiritual revelation against reason while simultaneously not over privileging the limits of the human mind are salient features of Thelema. I think that holding sacred the centrality and sovereignty of the Will for both the Self and the “other,” is another central aspect of Thelema.
Do you have any stories from any experiences with magick?
Yes I have quite a few. They are mostly very literal, in the sense that I sound crazy talking about spirits and demons, and no one who wasn’t involved directly or tangentially would believe me. I currently reject the so-called “psychological model.” I bet you can find a few shaken ex-members to comment though! At this point I just stop talking about most it. Every time I open with, “so I was doing this conjuration using the Amduat in the Tombs of the Builders beneath the Pyramids at Giza, drunk at 3:00am, illegally, after being abandoned in the desert with nothing but a 40oz of Sakara beer and my buddy from MSNBC Australia…” people tend to think I am spinning yarns. I swear I am not. I have one example that might interest however.
You can essentially thank Robert b. Crow III’s penchant for telling tall tales to hospital staff and local PD, as well as few of your other OTO brethren and I for the last episode of Season One of True Detective. A few months before director Cary Fukunaga scouted the space, a few OTO folks and I, conjured and bound the Spirit Paimon, using traditional Goetic methods, and in the very Fort and chamber which would become “Carcosa.” There is an interview with director Cary Fukunaga in Vulture magazine where he talks about the why they chose Fort Macomb, Louisiana. He says, “A lot of locations were supposed to take place in a forest, including the meth compound and the original crime scene, but there’s not a whole lot of forests that are easy to shoot in around New Orleans. We had scouted that location for something else, actually. It was all chained and locked up and I like old things like that, especially Civil War things. When we got in, there were snakes everywhere and it was covered with weeds and grass. When we got to the inner chambers it was pretty awesome and really spooky and definitely had some weird energy around it.” What Fukunaga didn’t know is that central chamber is the grave of a violent and recalcitrant spirit; buried in lead, asafoetida, and brimstone. Normally I hate treating the spirits that way, but it really had gone too far. There were deaths, sickness, and more than one accident. It is a very long story. Anyhow, you can find the full Fukunaga interview at http://www.vulture.com/2014/03/true-detective-finale-director-cary-fukunaga-interview.html I have photos of the set up for my Journal. True Detective fans might recognize it!
Here is one of the preparations:
Where do you see OTO going in the next 10 years? Where would you like to see it go?
I would like to see it go to Infinity and beyond. Seriously, judging by Google trends I think we will see further growth in Brazil, Puerto Rico, and Japan. I also hope to see Mexico explode now that we have begun opening up opportunities like Spanish Gnostic Mass. I really want to see us be more participatory in the non-anglo world and to confront the challenges that will come allowing our message to flourish in areas we are not in control of. I find it exciting and cannot wait to see how different cultures manifest The Law, the OTO, and put it into real practice.
How do you see the world differently as a Thelemite?
I think I am excited by it rather than threatened. The world is an Eucharist to be enriched, consecrated, sanctified, glorified, and enjoyed. “Like locusts shall they gather themselves together, the servants of the Star and of the Snake, and they shall eat up everything that is upon the earth.” I, of course, do not see this as meaning consumerism, in the Capitalist Christian Prosperity movement sort of way. I mean it in the sense of assimilation of the nature of the world through Love under Will. I mean acceptance, tolerance, and truth. That is my difference.
What is your favorite part about the Gnostic Mass?
I love this ritual. I cannot even begin to break it into favorite aspects. I feel shy talking about it.
How do you see Thelema evolving in its 2nd Century of existing (i.e. after 100 years)? How is it different or how is it going to be different? What has grown or changed?
I do fear this second century is going to be very difficult for us. We are plagued by infighting and are essentially jockeying for which way the boat should go or thinking of whether we would all rather take our own life-boats and seek purchase without captains. I think it will be a mix of these things and maybe we should be tolerant of the different choices. I suspect OTO will continue to strengthen its hegemony and relevance over certain social aspects and I also suspect its impact on society will become more visible and because of that more challenging. For me, this is a great opportunity for positive impact by OTO. I hope we are ready to capitalize on it for all of Thelema. However, I also think that those who have abandoned the ship of organized Thelema will still surprise us with innovations, insights, and act as outliers and inoculants against the disease of satiety, complaisance, and blind sight. Those of us who believe in the importance of organized Thelema should still try and maintain dialog with those who have rejected organized Thelema and do so with respect. I foresee a series of punctuated equilibriums from such folks and the balance between radical change, experiment, and tradition can be extremely fruitful where respectful dialog is maintained. I think Thelema and Thelemites are maturing and beginning to get upon their sea-legs. It is no longer so reactionary and if we can stave off defensiveness then I suspect we can discovery all the hidden treasures of our legacy.