A Historical Overview of the Rites of Eleusis

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

 

The Rites of Eleusis is a series of seven invocations that were written by Aleister Crowley and first presented in Caxton Hall in London in 1910. They are thought to dramatically render the evolution of man’s consciousness, each ecstatically presented by characters representing seven planetary spheres and various astrological signs. Crowley’s plays were presented once and then for many years left dormant until relatively recently. This article is written as an overview about these modern renditions. This information came from members of Camps, Oasis, Lodge’s and Chapters of Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) from around the world. Some of the local body names no longer exist, but most still do. Some member names could not be included because of their active membership and seek to remain anonymous. Some have given permission to use their names. Others could no longer be reached due to out of date contact information, or they have passed away. Although the entire history of the Rites is not complete, what has been collected has been brought together as best as possible so that the reader may have an idea of the significance and lasting impression that Crowley left concerning the Rites of Eleusis.

A renewed interest in the history of Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis was garnered when the U.S. Grand Lodge organized a competition of video submissions to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Rites since 1910. Doing so would stimulate members to continue producing their own versions of the Rites, and with each presentation documented and preserved Crowley’s magical workings would continue to be accessible. Many who will be reading this were involved in the Rites throughout the later part of the 20th Century and into the early 21st. The Rites were lot of fun, their content instructive, they brought in new people, and they brought in needed funds for our developing local bodies. No one was sure how many of Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis had been presented, even locally. I wondered how many of the Rites had been performed in the U.S since that first presentation in London? How many had been presented the world over? It would be interesting to find out, and if nothing else the accumulation of that information could be added to our historical records.

An email of inquiry went out to all O.T.O. Grand Masters, Frater Superior Representatives, and as many Masters and Secretaries of each local body that could be queried. Had they or any of their predecessors presented the Rites of Eleusis, and if so to please respond with those dates? If they could share copies of any fliers, programs, or even pictures, that would be a bonus for our overall knowledge of how well Crowley’s works had stimulated his inheritors. The response I received was nothing short of amazing, and I first shared this information in a presentation at the Centennial Conference in Vancouver, Canada in May of 2015.

Most of us are already familiar with the early pictures of Crowley’s Rites that can be found in many places, especially on the Internet. Crowley had put together a “Sect of Seers”[1] who rehearsed the Rites in the London offices of The Equinox before performing them publicly at Caxton Hall. Along with Crowley, Sister Leila Waddell played the violin, Brother Victor Newburg danced in the Rites, and many others served in supporting roles.[2]

Fourteen months after presenting the Rites in Caxton Hall Crowley was appointed Xº of O.T.O. for all English speaking countries by Theodor Reuss. When Crowley traveled to North America in 1914, he appointed Charles Stansfeld Jones, Frater Parzival, as a Sovereign Grand Inspector General and his representative in Canada. Less than a year later British Columbia Lodge No. 1 opened in Vancouver. In this challenging early period, it took twenty years to open the next lodge, Agape Lodge No. 2, in Hollywood California. Masses were performed there weekly, but as far as we know, no Rites of Eleusis. By 1945 the California lodge was the only local body still functioning. There were no known performances of the Rites during the period when Karl Germer was the Outer Head of the Order (O.H.O.) from 1947 to 1962, or until Grady McMurtry took office. To the best of our knowledge, the Rites had not been seen for 68 years.

The revival of the Rites began in 1978 with two women thousands of miles apart. One was a theatrical young woman, Chandria Bowser, who started Nuit Urania Chapter in the Bay Area of California. The other was Heather Jennings at Oceania Lodge in Melbourne, Australia. Chandria did readings of the Rites that first year with a few costumes and props. The next year, Chandria teamed up with nearby Sirius Encampment to coordinate the first full presentation of the Rites. They were held in 1979 on the beach at the Golden Gate Recreation Area. The second set occurred at a house in Emeryville in April 1980. Many local Bay area members made it happen along with Chandria, such as Vandimir and Grady McMurtry, who became Frater Hymenaeus Alpha in 1969 and the new O.H.O.

One of the women Chandria met was Glenn Turner. Glenn first attended the third set of performances at Chandria’s house in El Sobrante, California. Obviously impressed with the importance of the productions, Glenn told Chandria that if she opened the Rites up to a public location she would take her Minerval in the Order. So in 1981 the “Rite of Luna” was held next door to Grady’s house on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley at what had been a beauty parlor. It seems Glenn had given Chandria a good idea.

That year Grady visited Heru-Ra-Ha Lodge in Newport Beach to officiate some initiations, and Chandria was present. At the feast she spoke to Lon DuQuette, Master of Heru-Ra-Ha Lodge in Newport Beach, “to discuss her intention to mount Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis in the Bay area and her hopes that in the coming years the Rites could be regularly presented by other O.T.O. bodies around the world.”[3] In 1982, Chandria took the show on the road to hold the Rites at different locations over the month of October. Here was their travel schedule: Grady served as Magister Templi for the “Rite of Saturn” at Thelema Lodge in Emeryville. Chandria then went to Costa Mesa where Lon acted as CICT for the “Rite of Jupiter”. Back to Grand Lodge for the “Rite of Mars”. On to Mt. Tam in Marin County for the “Rite of Sol”. Next to the El Sobrante house for the “Rite of Venus,” then back to the Lodge for the “Rite of Mercury,” and to Mt. Diablo to finish the series with the “Rite of Luna”. Glenn made good on her promise and took her Minerval that year.

The next year Thelema Lodge continued with the Rites. We have photographs of Grady battling in “The Rite of Mars,” of Chandria in the “Rite of Mercury,” and of Glenn and Vandimir performing in “The Rite of Jupiter”. Thelema Lodge continued to perform the Rites steadily through 2002.

Word must have gotten around, because 93 Camp in San Clemente, run by Doug and Karen James, along with members at DeMolay Camp in Pasadena, wanted to join Heru-Ra-Ha Lodge, run by Constance and Lon DuQuette, and so these bodies took turns hosting the Rites from 1983-1985. We have a photo of Lon and Constance in the “Rite of Sol”. After that Heru-Ra-Ha continued to do the Rites through 1991. 93 Camp, then Oasis in 1990 and as a Lodge in ’92, continued to do the Rites steadily through 2002. We have many pictures of Karen and Doug James in the Rites; Doug as Pan in Luna, Karen as Venus in Venus and as a maenad in “The Rite of Jupiter”; and both Karen and Doug in several of the Rites held on campouts in the Angeles National Forest in California.

Other countries were also beginning to present the Rites. In Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, Heather Jennings was gathering local members way back in 1983 at Oceania Lodge for a complete run of the Rites. And in Canada, in 1984 Nephthys Chapter began with the “Rite of Mars”.

On July 12, 1985, Frater Hymenaeus Alpha passed away and on September 21st Hymenaeus Beta was elected as the new O.H.O. The next year the U.S. became the first Grand Lodge. In 1986 a new structure of local bodies was implemented, with Camps, Oases, and Lodges. Camps had previously been called Chapters (Tribes in Australia); now the term “Chapter” was reserved for Vº bodies.

James Wasserman at Tahuti Lodge in New York began presenting the Rites in the mid 80’s and did the full run of the Rites for three years. The Rites continued at Thelema Lodge, as witnessed by a T-shirt that came from the Lodge in 1985. It was found recently for sale at an online store based in Barcelona. Even Hymenaeus Beta innovated with a “Rite of Sol,” replacing some of the original poetry with that of Harry Crosby, who was a tragic American poet that wrote Chariot of the Sun in 1928.

Beginning in 1986 eight California local bodies produced the Rites. Ankh-af-na-Khonsu Lodge in Berkeley did the Rites for two years. Hypatia Camp in the Castro County presented the “Rite of Mars” in 1987. The next year Aiwass Oasis in San Jose offered the “Rite of Venus”, Nefretiti Camp in San Francisco presented the “Rite of Mars”, and Hriliu Oasis in Cotati offered the “Rites of Jupiter” and of “Sol”. In 1988, Heru-Ra-Ha Lodge in Newport Beach and 93 Lodge in Capistrano Beach continued to perform the Rites, and that year Lon produced a set of programs for the Rites. In keeping with the program theme, 93 Lodge also produced programs and we have photographs of all of them. Some of them took on additional themes, such romantic films, or with Greek and Roman themes and dress. Sister Karen also taught classes on the Rites before their presentations to prepare members for understanding them. At the end of the 80s, Babalon-Therion Camp in Los Angeles did the “Rite of Jupiter”, and Hermes Oasis in Los Angeles did “Jupiter”, “Sol” and “Mercury”.

With new members coming into the local bodies throughout the 1990’s, the number of Rites being produced grew. In 1990 Baphomet Lodge in Los Angeles offered “The Rite of Jupiter”, Bacchus Camp in Garden Grove, CA did “Saturn”, “Mercury” and “Sol”, and AHA Camp in Long Beach presented four Rites into 1991. In 1993 Canada’s Amon-Ra Oasis performed the “Rite of Mercury”. Tahuti Lodge in New York presented more Rites in 1990 and continued into ‘93, took a break, and then did a full run in 1998, some performed at the House of Candles Theater and others performed at the Todo con Nada Theater. They also presented “The Rite of Sol” later in 2012. Albion Lodge in London did a full run of the Rites at Conway Hall; only the second time the Rites had been presented in their original location since 1910. Horus Oasis in Salt Lake City Utah started up in 1992 and consistently did all the Rites every year until 1999, took a break and then did the series again in 2004. Most were held at a private residence and then publicly at a studio space at Positively Fourth Street in Sandy, Utah. In Croatia, Mirrach Camp began doing the Rites in 1992 and did ten Rites in eight years. The next year Hooded Man Camp in Montclair California did all the Rites multiple times between 1992 and 1995. Camp of the Sacred Drum in Idyllwild California did the “Rite of Mars” in 1994. Qunita Essentia Camp in Long Beach did “Luna” in 1994 and 1995, and “Venus” in 2000.

More O.T.O. local bodies began the Rites in 1995. Thelema 93/Thoth Camp in Yugoslavia did the “Rite of Mercury” two years in a row. Scarlet Woman Lodge in Austin Texas had a steady run from 1995 to 2001 of all the Rites. The first ones were held at the Bodhi Yoga Center, then at the Threshold Theater, and then more on Newmont Road. Then there is a gap in time of 13 years, but they started up again in 2014. Athene Lodge in Denmark did the “Rite of Saturn” in a local community building, and the following year when they performed “Saturn” again, they also showed a silent film that a Thelemic-inspired theatre group had made of the “Rite of Saturn” from the previous year. The next year Rosslyn Camp in Hayward, California did the “Rite of Saturn” and “Sol”. Beginning in 1997 LAAL Camp of Ivanic Grad in Croatia completed eight Rites in eight years. Knights Templar Oasis in Salem Massachusetts began with the Rites in 2007, with more following in 2012 and 2013. We have a picture of a program from Sirius Oasis in Berkeley for the “Rite of Saturn” in 1999. Also that year LVX Lodge in Los Angeles did the “Rite of Mars”.

Circle of Stars Oasis in Victoria, B.C. offered the Rite of Saturn in 2000. We have a copy of the cover of a program from the “Rite of Saturn” that was held at Thelema Lodge. The next year Psyche Eros Chapter in Portland, Oregon did the “Rite of Mercury”, “Luna”, “Venus” and “Saturn”. And in 2003 Circle of Stars in Victoria British Columbia, did the “Rite of Jupiter”.

In 2001 Jon Sewel and Melissa Holm of Horizon Lodge in Seattle Washington, formed Eleusyve Productions and began a series of rock operas for each of the Rites. The first one was the “Rite of Jupiter” performed in March 2001 at The Vogue in Seattle, Washington, and in July 2001 at an outdoor magical retreat called Summerstar Pagan Festival. “The Rite of Luna” was performed on April 16, 2005, in Portland, Oregon, and from May 5 through May 8 also in Seattle. “Venus” was presented at the DoHo Theater June 9th in Portland Oregon, and at the Richard Hugo House June 28 through July 8 in the summer of 2007. The “Rite of Mercury” was produced in 2009, the “Rite of Sol” in 2011, and the “Rite of Mars” in 2013.

Blue Horizon Oasis in Glendale California began a series of the Rites in cooperation with LVX Oasis of Los Angeles from 2005 to 2007. In 2005 Blue Horizon hosted the “Rite of Luna”. In June there was a punk rock theme for the “Rite of Mars” at LVX Oasis. In July LVX Oasis hosted a hippie rendition of the “Rite of Sol” titled Jesus Christ Supersol, held at the Black Broom Bookstore in Los Angeles. In September they also presented a Henry and June “Rite of Venus”, and in October a Phantom of the Opera “Rite of Mercury” all at the same bookstore. In November the “Rite of Saturn” was held at Blue Horizon Oasis, followed by a December presentation of a Parsifal-themed “Rite of Luna”. During 2006 both bodies were busy with many of the Rites. In April Blue Horizon Oasis offered the “Rite of Jupiter”, in May the “Rite of Luna”, in August the “Rite of Mars”, in November the “Rite of Saturn” called From the Factory with an Andy Warhol theme, and in December the “Rite of Sol” with a Templar theme. That same year LVX, now a Lodge, offered “Saturn” in May; “Jupiter” in July held at a campground in the Angeles National Forest; “Sol” in October, and “Venus” in November. In February of 2007 Blue Horizon Oasis offered a Mardi Gras “Rite of Venus”. In May a “Rite of Mercury”, and also in May a Horned God ritual with the “Rite of Luna”. LVX Lodge presented the “Rite of Saturn” in April, and the “Rite of Mercury” in October.

Golden Lotus Oasis in Laguna Hills California presented their first Rite, the “Rite of Venus” in 2005. In 2010 the “Rite of Jupiter” was presented in a private home in Orange California; and then in 2012 the “Rite of Sol” was presented at the Oasis.

Circle of Stars in Victoria, Canada, produced the “Rite of Mars” in 2006. Sekhet-Maat Lodge in Portland Oregon got in the game in 2007 and offered the “Rite of Venus”. Abrahadabra Oasis in Portland Maine did “Venus”, “Jupiter”, and then “Luna” twice. Hoor-Paar-Kraat Oasis in Ogden Utah began the Rites in 2007 with the “Rites of Jupiter”, ”Mars”, “Venus”, and the following year with “Mercury”.

In 2008 Raymond Salvatore Harmon presented a video performance for the 100-year anniversary of the union of Leila Waddell and Aleister Crowley at the Horse Hospital, a London underground space for avantgarde media. His work is described as, “Utilizing the entire text of Crowley’s rites as subliminal content Harmon will improvise the abstract layers of imagery to a prepared score.”[4]

Star Sapphire Lodge in Los Angeles, began with the “Rite of Saturn” in 2009. Apep Lodge in Melbourne, Australia presented the “Rite of Saturn” and “Jupiter”, and then “Mars”, “Sol” and “Venus” in 2010, and “Mercury” and “Luna” in 2011, to finish the series. We have pictures from most of their Rites showing the cast of characters and close ups of their staging.

Jon Sewell and Melissa Holm traveled across the United States over the course of 2010, interviewing those who had been an early part of The Rites of Eleusis, and collecting participant’s stories and pictures. Those interviews were edited and shown at NOTOCON in 2011. A copy resides in the US Grand Lodge Library, and copies can be made available.

Alombrados Oasis in New Orleans performed the “Rite of Venus” in September of 2012, as their first performance of one of the Rites, and again later that same month. That same year, Thelesis Lodge in Philadelphia presented the “Rite of Mercury” and “Luna”, and Mithras Encampment in Windham, Connecticut, offered the “Rite of Mars”. On October 27, the “Rite of Jupiter” was performed as part of United Kingdom Grand Lodge’s M\M\M\ Centenary Event at Conway Hall. It was as true to the original as possible, and included the music of a live violin playing the original musical pieces. We have pictures of this cast. In 2013, Lapis Lazuli Oasis in Phoenix jumped in with the “Rite of Sol”. Knights Templar Oasis in Lynn, Massachusetts presented the “Rite of Luna”, and Tahuti Lodge of New York presented the “Rite of Sol”. Back in London, the “Rite of Jupiter” was presented at the Pagan Federation Conference in August 2014, and we have several pictures from that rite, as well.

Baphomet Chapter in Austin Texas also did a presentation of the “Rite of Saturn” and of “Jupiter”. In 2015 Bubastis Oasis of Dallas Texas presented “Jupiter” and “Mars”. We have pictures from both rites of the cast and scenes from those productions.

As of April of 2015 counting all performances that have so far been reported from around the world, the count is just over 600 Rites! More reports are still expected, and over a dozen countries have yet to respond. Perdurabo Camp in Chile is completing translations of the Rites into Spanish and hopes to perform at least one of the Rites later this year.

A copy of an Excel spreadsheet listing all performances worldwide with the data collected so far, is available to any Grand Master, Frater Superior Representative, or Body Master upon request. It lists each country with the name of the local body, the date, which Rite was performed, and any comments about theme that were offered. So far there are about 120 pictures that have been sent in, and more are expected. So the count goes on. I have offered to continue to keep track of the Rites performed and reported, and now a U.S. Grand Lodge contact email has been created for voluntarily reporting all presentations. Each performance adds to our overall worldwide historical documentation so that future generations may be continually inspired to perform Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis.

 

Love is the law, love under will.

 

[1] “Between the periods of frantic possession in producing that tremendous and completely incomprehensible magazine, the Equinox, Mr. Crowley has found time to form a Sect of Seers, who presently are going to perform the Rites of Eleusis in a newly-erected Temple on the top of a block of flats in Victoria St.” Rites of Eleusis. Occultism Dressed in Classic Garb. The Straits Times, Singapore, 2 November 1910.

[2] Aleister Crowley, “The Rites of Eleusis as Performed at Caxton Hall Westminister in October and November 1910 by Miss Leila Waddell and Mr. Aleister Crowley with Distinguished Assistance,” The Equinox 1911, 1(6): supplement.

[3] Quoted from Brother Lon DuQuette from his recollections on the Rites, email dated April 19, 2015.

[4] The Horse Hospital description of the presentation can be seen at http://www.thehorsehospital.com/past/live-past/raymond-salvatore-harmon/ [accessed July 2, 2015].