Part 3: Power corrupts
I am going to stop making promises about how far I will get with this story in each installment – since I quite obviously have more to say on some of these topics as I commit them to the page than I initially thought. So – from now on, I’ll just keep adding parts of my story to the journey as it unfolds.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that this post took me awhile to get up because of the effects that writing it had on me. I began by writing about the change of power dynamics in the Lodge, and how that affected me both then and now, but as part of writing that, I began to relate in some detail one of the rituals that I was always the center of attention for, and as I was writing it, I started to re-experience the feelings that I had, and I had to stop. I have cut most of that, but I’ve left what I can, for now.
One could be excused for thinking that the feelings that bothered me so much were feelings of victimization or exploitation, but that’s not what really bothered me. I felt megalomaniacal, with delusions of grandeur. I’ve been having some small amount of difficulty in keeping these feelings from bleeding over into my day-to-day life. , but I think I’ve managed to normalize things at this point. I am somewhere in the middle of where I want to be: warm and open, honest and bold – and where I was: cold and closed, aloof and narcissistic. I’m not as open and warm as I was just a few weeks ago, but neither am I as aloof and unconcerned as I was twenty years ago.
But to get back to the story…
My interactions with Joe’s extended family and a few others from the neighboring communities started to have a profound effect on my view of myself as a man over the next couple of years. I will refer to this extended group of followers from now on as the Lodge (since that was how we referred to ourselves).
My interactions with the Lodge began to take on more and more ritually significant roles, and either by fate or happenstance, this coincided with my own realizations concerning my atypical neurology and how I interacted with the world. This would prove to have a profound effect on who I became and the decisions that I would make for the next decade.
However, in order to understand how this happened, it is first necessary to explain something about the central concept at the core of our beliefs – the Thelemic concept of True Will.
I could probably write a book on that subject alone, but to provide just a small bit of context so that this makes sense, I will relate the two meanings that the concept of True Will carries.
Firstly, the meaning given to the outer order and the world at large – and the only official definition – is basically this: every person has a ‘best path’ – or True Will – for them to live in this life, and as long as you stay on that path, you will be happy and things will be easy for you. All of the things that are stressing you out now are things that are happening because you are not aligned with your True Will. This concept goes a bit further and early induction rituals involve contacting your own personal Holy Guardian Angel to help reveal your True Will, but basically you are told that there are different voices within that speak to you about what you should do, representing different facets of a cognitive being that connects us all, and you need to be able to filter out the voices that do not belong to you and that once you do that, everything will be perfect for you.
Secondarily, there was the meaning given to the inner circle. This may have been unique to our Lodge and my future interactions with members of the more official Ordo Templi Orientis would indicate that they do not generally acknowledge any other interpretation of True Will. Whether this facet was a perversion unique to Frater Jubal (for he did claim to have secrets) or a more widespread ‘inner doctrine’ I do not know, but the gist of this facet of True Will is this: as long as you are aligned with your True Will, you can do no wrong.
That is a very simple statement to encompass a much broader range of things, but that was the justification for every evil thing done by Joe or myself or any other member of the inner circle of the Lodge. If I am acting on my Will, what I am doing is absolutely – even Divinely – right.
Tying destiny and will together like this is insidious.
And then Joe did something that I’m certain every other Thelemite would balk at – he told me that I had the power to read others’ True Will.
According to everything that I had read, this should not be possible. One’s own True Will should only be revealed through a few specific rituals or ordeals. But Joe called me an Ascendant Being and told everyone that I had the ability to read their True Will, putting me in the position of being the Lodge fortune teller, for the most part.
In retrospect, I see it as a cunning move on his part. He thought he could control me, and he saw the opportunity to use a smart, observant kid to gain even more control over his flock.
I actually have no idea if this was his true motive or not, but it certainly makes a great deal of sense. By not claiming the power for himself, Joe was being falsely humble, and by telling the members of the Lodge that I had the ability to read their True Will, and then ‘guiding’ me to do so in such a way as to get everyone to do what he wanted them to, Joe was able to elevate himself – and me – from teacher/priest to demigod. Suddenly, if you had too much difficulty with the initiation rites (which was a very common problem for new acolytes), you had another option – you could just ask me.
This made me indispensable, and Joe continued to groom me to ascend to leadership positions within the Lodge.
This break from previous teachings actually caused a few people to leave, but those who remained were even more loyal and bound to us.
Ultimately though, this would prove to be the linchpin that gave way and allowed me to escape the Lodge.
As I grew older and more confident in my abilities (and while there was always a part of me that knew that something wasn’t quite right, I was, for the most part, a believer at this point) I began to disagree with Joe.
I can still vividly remember the argument that he and I had after I had read someone’s Will and gave a different pronouncement than Joe had pre-suggested to me that I should tell her.
It was a direct challenge to his authority, and he began as you might expect, by distancing himself from me and pronouncing that I had strayed from the path, appealing to the Lodge to oust me, for the most part.
It worked too – but only because I let it, and realizing that has been one of the biggest events of my life.
He made certain that our argument was very public, and while Joe was a very smart man, he was outclassed in this fight. He said that I had lost my way and that I would need to do penance to find my way again. This was not the first time that he suggested that I would need to do penance, but it is the first time that I disagreed. I took Joe’s own words that he had previously lavished upon me when I was a more timid, more compliant acolyte. I stopped speaking to Joe, even though he was the one in front of me – I started speaking to be heard – and I said that as an Ascendant Being, my mastery of Will was complete, and that as an avatar of the Lightbringer, I was the only being capable of discerning the Truth, and that, indeed, Joe had lost his way.
The last part is almost certainly actually true, but I no longer cared. I was about to leave for college and I was beginning to see things for what they truly were – a dangerous cult built around some stolen ideas and a charismatic personality. I was happy to let that argument be the last interaction that we had before I moved hundreds of miles away.
It wasn’t until much later that I would begin to understand the actual value of the things that I was taught and to use the gifts that Joe had helped me to hone in reading people as a way to gain personal power, and even later than that before I realized that to be such a creature would be to lose myself completely.
When I was 18, I graduated from high school as Salutatorian and left behind my small rural home town. I would spend a few days back in my parent’s home during that first year away, but after that, I would limit the amount of time that I spent in the area, even to the point of seeking poorly thought-out plans to ensure that I wouldn’t have to return.
One of those would result in an early and inappropriate marriage – and the other would result in sex work and my first introduction to BDSM.
I’m nowhere near done yet…