OTO, AMORC, and Ariadne’s Thread – Lessons from My Ill-Spent Youth, Part Four
In 2006, Allen T. Greenfield published an open letter regarding problems he saw in the leadership of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), an organization that he had been a member of for over twenty years. While I take no opinion on the OTO or Greenfield’s concerns from a decade ago, they are being presented here because they are a nearly complete summary of the experiences many people have had, regardless of affiliation. Greenfield writes:
“The world membership of OTO is only slightly larger than that of, say, The New York Society for Ethical Culture of which it is tellingly said, “The New York Society for Ethical Culture grew steadily until it reached its present membership of 1150 persons.” The notion that thirty-five years after McMurtry initiated the revivification of OTO that this is becoming the “chief organization for world reform” is an embarrassing absurdity. Add to this the likely fact (OTO upper management seems highly resistant to any comprehensive demographic research) that most OTO members seem to be marginalized, essentially powerless individuals, and the absurdity becomes a farrago of nonsense. In the post 9/11 world, it may even be said to be a dangerous nonsense. Islamic fanatics have had far more influence on world events than the OTO has had in all of its history since McMurtry’s activation of his emergency powers. It is not competitive in either the world of ideas or the world of practical activities. It has become not so much an evil as an irrelevancy under its present upper management.”
Greenfield further elaborates on his concerns about the organization to which he, along with many others, dedicated a significant part of his life to helping build and represent. However, what makes Greenfield’s letter so important is that it is not unique to the OTO. In fact, following the comments above from Greenfield’s letter, it is too often the norm rather than the exception in many movements. We see in his words the same ideas presented about Psychosynthesis: fossilization, dogma, false sense of security, ego-inflation, the inability to integrate into daily life, and ambitions failing to take personal limitations into account, thereby creating psychological (and with that, social, legal, and financial) difficulties.
For myself, my various crises were far less dramatic; in fact, one could call them anti-climactic. After nearly twenty years of membership and service to the Rosicrucian Order (AMORC), including service as a Regional Monitor (Emeritus), and after being twice asked to hold the post of Grand Councilor, I simply stopped paying my dues. Now, it is normal in a large organization for dues to lapse; however, given my position, I wanted to see if it attracted any attention.
It did not. I received no letter, phone call, or contact of any kind asking me if there was a problem or if there was anything anyone could do. Several years later I was asked by a local body to present. However, somewhere along the line it was stated that I could not present unless I was an active member so, unknown to me, my dues were “paid” without my knowledge and for three months I was reinstated. Again, no questions asked. So, while all of the time, talent, and money I gave to the organization over the course of my membership was appreciated at the time, it – or rather I – simply did not matter. Fortunately, I had many good experiences in the organization, made many good friends whom I am still in contact with, and found it actually very humorous in the end. Yes, funny. You see, while I learned many good skills as a volunteer, my basic motive for volunteering was more symptomatic of pathology than altruism. Once that is seen, it is easy to get over it. Wanting to be with others of like mind and similar experience is natural. In small doses it can be healthy, but as a lifestyle it can be limiting, extremely delusional, even pathological.
Orders must be viewed as schools from which we graduate, not social mechanisms or substitutes for professional achievement. When a school is a social mechanism its members tend to recruit from their friends, and genuine diversity of opinion, education, experience, and social and economic standing is, over time, eliminated. Again, everything is reduced to the lowest common denominator. When an administrative role in an Order becomes a substitute for professional achievement, the group itself becomes led not by those most capable, but by those most dedicated to the ideal and the cause. Those most ideologically committed become the ideal models of membership – and ultimately of leadership – rather than those who have applied the teachings, and created for themselves a life worthy of respect and imitation. Too often those who “need the title” along with whatever responsibility it brings as a substitute for creating a life for themselves outside of public occultism become the leadership – thereby turning their “spiritual path” into a profession, even if it is one without pay. Service is good and an important part of our spiritual journey; just be clear about what is the goal, what is expected, and when it will end so that it can be a part of your life, not a substitute for having one.
Another aspect of this point concerns how easy it is for us to be hoodwinked when we fall in love with a person or an ideal. In one instance we idealize the person; in another, we personalize the ideal. Neither of these are acceptable options, and yet they are the basis of nearly every spiritual tradition in existence. A spiritual teacher must be trusted, but not necessarily idealized. We must trust them to hold our nose to our own personal failings so that we can recognize and overcome them. We must also find the ideals compelling and important, but this is not the same as being told to idealize and embody a cause or group spirit at the expense of our individuality – the basis of our very existence and of our potential for experiencing enlightenment.
When we join large organizations we often find ourselves in the domain of fantasy due to our lack of contact with individuals, particularly those in leadership roles. When we do encounter them, it is under very public and controlled circumstances, when people are often on their best behavior. As a result, the tendency to idealize them places us in closer connection to the energies of the egregore – a projection, a fantasy – than it does to our own inner state of awakening. It becomes, if you will, a sort of “guru yoga” in reverse, leading us away from our inner awareness rather than towards it. So, if you are a member of a large organization whose teachings you find useful, you must find a way to seek out honest and integrated support: someone who has walked the path ahead of you, who is able and willing to lead you through the minefield of errors that can easily become stumbling-blocks when working an essentially solitary path within the framework of an encompassing egregore.
This need for common association all too often leads to a peculiar conformity, a creeping conformity that over time can come to include dietary concerns along with social, political, and economic views, thereby creating an insular notion of what “spirituality” and the “spiritual person” is supposed to be like – a veritable stereotype of enlightenment. This creeping conformity does not always come down from leadership, but can evolve over time as membership expansion becomes a goal; it is of course true that those “interested” fall into a narrow range of possible contacts based on how the movement is presented to the public. Whether by written rule or as the result of membership growth, groups become a form of social control for those associated with them. This is often taken to a nearly obsessive level when the very nature of the group is social control – either through politics or magic.
For myself, the idealism of the founder eighty years earlier – the source of my familiar affiliation – was not matched by the administrative challenges at the time of my departure. What we heard earlier about Psychosynthesis we can also witness in the experiences of others. A movement that “started out reflecting the high-minded spiritual philosophy of its founder, [it] became more and more authoritarian, more and more strident in its conviction that [insert name of group here] was the One Truth.”
Now, the issue here is not the imperfections (actual or perceived) of leadership, but the gap between ideal and real. Theoretically, psycho-spiritual practices are supposed to help us bridge such a gap so that we can “be more than human.” In many ways, this implies overcoming the very “marginalization” Greenfield mentions in his open letter. This is exacerbated by any idea of the movement being at the cutting edge of “social advancement,” “human evolution,” “worldwide reformation,” or any similar collectivist jingoism. The reason is simple: those are political objectives with a spiritual gloss and are too often inflexible in the face of reality, as they must appeal to the greatest number (or the lowest common denominator). Promises must be made that cannot be fulfilled, and disappointment and suffering can be its only fruit.
The third string we encounter is that of our own mind. Genuine psycho-spiritual work is hard enough; if done correctly, it deconstructs us and lays our inner landscape bare. We meet the “Terror of the Threshold,” and it is our own very self, created from the sum of our thoughts, words, and deeds. This process of unraveling is often not well explained to students before it begins, and few understand that genuine initiations provoke the experience rather than avoid it. We are pushed into the deep end of the pool and the water there is dark – at least at first. As stated about Psychosynthesis, an inability to anchor the transcendent in daily life is present in many esoteric movements, and with it comes the inability to integrate the graphic and powerful forces of life into daily activities. We constantly need to be reminded that roses have thorns, and they feed on the blood of the seeker who is careless in approaching the sweet smell of their perfume.
In conclusion, all psycho-spiritual activities have a string attached. By knowing what it is – what is expected of you, clearly and unambiguously – it is easier to allow that string you place your hand upon to lead you out of the labyrinth, like Ariadne’s gift of red yarn to Theseus, and the goal of self-awakening achieved.