Sef Salem is a Thelemite who is Past Master of Calix Sanctus Oasis in Glastonbury, UK, and remain an active member as one of its Ordained Deacons.
How did you hear about Thelema and what drew you to it?
I first came across Thelema when spending time becoming “shop furniture” in New Aeon Books, Manchester. At the time I was part of the pagan/occult scene there in 2001, there was an OTO schism drawing to a close which I had no knowledge of and therefore no active Body, but a good friend and mentor who is an initiate put me on to the source material. I was impressed by the core tenets that we all get out of reading CCXX Chapter I for the first time, and as a philosophy it drew me in as a way of living outside the bounds of normal, expected life – something my teenage years were very much spent searching for. I ended up with a little paperback Liber AL in my leather trenchcoat which I wore everywhere (yeah, really), and I would pull it out on the bus three or four days a week and read through short sections, over maybe four years. This deepened my interest in the text, although it really didn’t make a whole load of sense at that point. Later on, I picked up the black & cream edition of Magick in Theory and Practice, and that lived in my suede 3/4 length jacket (my fashion did eventually improve, honest) for the same amount of time. I absorbed much more of that information, and still go back to it to learn more as I progress through the OTO degree system.
What is Magick to you?
Magick is life. We accomplish the miracle of incarnation as a willed act, and we have Stuff To Do TM. From my perspective, at least. Magick is what happens when you apply yourself and get results, so in that I concur with the definition in MITP. I’ve always believe that magick is a mechanical function of the universe, so I guess you can synthesis Crowley’s tagline with Arthur C Clarke’s quote to say: “Magick and science are identical when you know how the technology of the universe works.” Yeah, I’ll put that in a book sometime.
Why do you think Thelema is different from other philosophies? What makes it stand out to you?
Thelema is, for me, a true and very personal religion, but it took me a long time to harmonise that with my previous spiritual beliefs. Up until my revelatory experience connecting me to Hadit and Nuit in a striking and illuminating manner, I had thought of Thelema as being a synthetic religion or philosophy which can overlay on to other paths and practices, and I still believe that to be the case. I find that is the best way to promulgate the Law and have people accept the notion of a free society, at liberty and joy, so when I’m talking to people about Thelema I introduce it as a philosophy first and let them draw their own conclusions. Thelema stands out because it is entirely individual, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” and it is not my right to tell another his or her Will. It’s a tricky thing to understand, but once I concluded that I had to fight for everyone else’s freedom to do their Will in order to be free to do my own, the utopian possibilities of establishing Thelema as a universal framework became incredibly persuasive. I’m a pretty zealous recruiter for the Order and Thelema in general because I genuinely think we’d all be better off living in a society like that.
What do you love about OTO? What drew you to it? What makes you stay?
I love OTO because it is full of incredible people who do awesome things, coming together to do even more amazing stuff. I liken it to the Avengers – we are all individual heroes, every man and every woman, but together we can achieve the utmost perfection, such as the Mass or the initiations of our Holy Order. I was drawn to the Order after spending nights up until 4amwith my chainsmoking friend Mark in Manchester, absorbing huge amounts of information about the Occult, and the things he had done with the Order and the way he talked about OTO made me want to be a part of it – to do magick with other people and see if it worked. It took eight years from that point to taking Minerval, largely due to the aforementioned problems in Manchester which are now largely fixed, but the wait was surely worth it. I stay primarily for the people in the Man of Earth Triad going through their trials and tribulations, working out their issues with the Mysteries of Conception, Birth, Life, and Death, on their journey to come into full apprehension of their Will. I also stay because I believe fervently in the Blue Equinox model of the Order, and I’m quite proud of the work Calix Sanctus Oasis has achieved here in Glastonbury towards that goal already in its short time.
What do you think are most important Magick and meditation practices?
“9. Let the Aspirant beware the slightest exercise of his will against another being…10. Let the Aspirant exercise his will without the least consideration for any other being…11. Let the Aspirant comprehend that these two practices are identical.”
What do you think is the thing that most people misunderstand about Thelema?
I’d like to say:
“The subtle nuances between True Will, Pure Will, and Want” or “That the HGA is an A∴A∴ concept, not an OTO concept”
…but it’s going to have to be
“No Crowley didn’t kill babies, can we all get over this now?” and “The message is important, not the messenger. Prophets are cast out of villages for a reason.”
I constantly worry that Thelema could descend into Crowleyanity, and the community is in constant danger of doing so, but keeping watch is a reasonable price to pay for such a brilliant system of life.
Why do you think OTO is important to Thelema?
OTO is important to Thelema in the same way train tracks are important to transport infrastructure. Some people use trains, some people choose not to, and others may spend their whole lives going around the country without ever getting on the train, quite possibly to the same destinations. What is important is that we still offer that journey for people, and that those who need OTO can find it ready and willing to assist them. I believe OTO will have succeeded when it has fostered a society where nobody needs to join it to find and do their Will, because that will be the norm!
What do you think are the most important aspects of Thelema?
I like the word “Do” in “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”, it’s definitely a verbing philosophy/religion, you can’t actually sit there talking about it all the time. I also like the words “Every man and every woman is a star” because that’s really hard to remember when you have to talk to people on a semi-regular basis, and it keeps me interested in the world. Also, “Thou hast no right but to do thy Will”/”There is no law beyond do what thou wilt!” is an important, paradigm-setting baseline for me. Am I doing my Will? No? Then I can’t complain.
Do you have any stories from any experiences with Magick?
Loads. I used to work as an exorcist, so there are some funny/weird/kinda grim stories there. My cocktail-party story is the time when my Mum called me needing a new monitor at work, and the Archangel Michael himself directed me to “page 32” and disappeared from my scrying mirror. What was on page 32 of the Grimoire of Armadel? Vau-ael, “an angel charged with granting pleasant visions to the faithful.” I honestly could not have made it up. For those on the edge of their seats: Mum’s new, oft-delayed monitor was there the next morning, when her office had been locked over the weekend. She couldn’t believe it. Magick!
Where do you see OTO going in the next 10 years?
I see OTO continuing to grow; we have a hundred times the membership today that Crowley ever saw. I hope that our five Grand Lodges expand to fill all of the roles of their ECs, SGCs, and other governing bodies according to Liber 194, and that we then consolidate this position with Profess Houses and permanent Lodges which the Order owns. Currently, there is one Profess House in the world, Amarantos Abbey which is a fantastic achievement for AUGL, and something I intend to create here in Glastonbury in the next decade or so. I have a place picked out already, and I’m sure my brothers and sisters here will be glad when we have somewhere to put up visiting brethren which isn’t “any available floorspace in the house or the garden”!
How do you see the world differently as a Thelemite?
As a Thelemite, I see the world without the restrictions of arbitrary laws, and look at what is possible. Not all the time, we all have bad days, but it’s incredibly liberating. I felt the same way when practising parkour 2007-2009, as it changes the way you look at moving through spaces, displays for a sham the rules trying to restrict where you can and cannot place yourself, and shows you that your body is capable of a lot more than you might possibly imagine. That is Thelema for me – a way of moving through life without the sin of restriction, and endless potential for self-change and self-actualisation.
What is your favorite part about the Gnostic Mass?
The primary recommendation of the Mass is that it is a piece of technology which gives reproducible results. Ordained Mass teams will create a sacrament of potency, which the congregant consumes to bring out their own divinity and achieve their Will. I’m pretty down with that as a whole, but when you start to figure out that, if the IX° ritual is effectively the Mass, and the IX° is in Minerval, then you can put together the initiations and the Mass right from the get go and come to some exquisite and surprising insights about the structure of OTO. I know I have, and re-living my initiations as the key points are referenced is awe-inspiring, so that’s my favourite aspect. Currently I’m aspiring to become an Ordained Priest of EGC in due course, so I can provide this same sense of wonder, and magical tech, to those who would like to receive it across the country; we have worked hard on outreach at Calix Sanctus, and we have offers to tour with the Mass when we can perform it regularly for the public.
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?
The internet puts all the manuals out there for people to get hold of the information, but as I said earlier Thelema is about doing. People have more access than ever, but the “slacktivist” trend of social media means many likes or shares or comments (or blog posts, ha) can be generated without ever leaving the house. We must be careful of this and OTO should be providing a framework for people to get out, meet people, and do some awesome magick! We can’t go back to the “gentleman occultist” days, nor should we pine for them, when we have so many more amazing opportunities. I’m hoping to go to OTOK this year, and NOTOCON when possible, where I can meet people who live hundreds or thousands of miles away yet I have communicated with by email, messenger, and video call for years! At the same time, I’m organising events across the UK for The Visible College to bring together Occultists from all paths and traditions, so we can really look to do our Wills whether we call it that or not. We have such a wonderful Thelemic community, and it really is something to be proud of as I said to Pete Carroll in the last of my essays to him. Now we need to come together and get more done, to make doing our Will not just a philosophy, but a way of life, for all who choose it.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about related to Thelema, OTO, and/or Magick?