To Perfect This Feast: A Commentary on Liber XV, the Gnostic Mass
James and Nancy Wasserman; Bishops Tahuti and Mara
Book reviews are strange territory- they stand only as opinion, and yet pretend to objectivity, influencing the reception of the text. They habitually disclose little of the nature of the reviewer's thought process in arriving at Hir conclusions. As this is the first book review I've posted here, I'm going to start with a bit of disclosure, in hopes that it benefits the reader.
I find that the value of a commentary on any ritual is best judged by how it informs and affects both the understanding and performance of reader. Dissection of the language and symbolism of a ritual has its place, however, such an approach produces a result that is more ambiguous in its value, and always highly debatable- one's own interpreted and initiated understanding of the operation inevitably trumps any interpretation that is presented by another. Indeed, the more a commentary focuses on interpretation, the more likely it becomes that its value will be the inspiration of armchair debate, rather then facilitate practical experimentation and testing. As such, I approach any commentary on ritual with a certain degree of caution- while I will inevitably learn something, I information that I can test against my own experience in it's execution. If my experience and another's are resonant, then I accept it as a confirmation, if dissonant, then more investigation and testing is required, until I have satisfied myself that I am obtaining appropriate results.
As such, I read "To Perfect This Feast" with a clear idea of what I was hoping to gain, and the species of commentary that I sought. Specifically, a commentary that supplemented the performance, and addressed questions about the functions of the Congregants and Officers in both the mechanical and metaphysical senses, yet avoided interpretation and doctrinal proclamations. I believe that I set the bar rather high, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the text delivered what I hoped for- the prevailing attitude throughout is an encouragement to "do your own Work, this is how we do ours." I found it refreshing that the nature and tone of "To Perfect This Feast" was not an attempt to be definitive, but rather aimed at being Useful.
"To Perfect This Feast" begins with a brief prefatory discussion of the history and place of the Mass and its relationship to O.T.O, and then proceeds to an insightful discussion of the matters of preparation for performance of the Mass, with a focus on the kinds of questions that one might benefit from contemplating before administering the Mysteries, and the execution of The Miracle of the Mass, progressing into a brief discussion of the logistics of the Mass, including matters such as the growth of a Mass team and the presence of children at Mass. This is followed by the Official Missal of the Mass for reference and study. Finally, we arrive at the main focus of the text, which is the performance commentary.
This commentary focuses on those things which the authors consider useful in application to the Mass. What distinguishes this commentary from others I have read is that comprises both stage direction and discussion of the kinds of energy that the roles should embody at various points, in opposition to the symbolic analyses found on the internet and in a smattering of other books. On the side of stage direction, there is a fantastic breakdown of what gestures are paired with which dialogue- The text of Liber XV tends to bundle up stage direction and gestures first, and the speech components that company them afterward as a second unit, using only the ✠ to indicate placement of benedictions. The Commentary clarifies these passages with a skillful interweaving of the text with the canonical stage direction and comments on means of successfully managing direction which is unclear - or even awkward - in the original.
On the metaphysical side of the performance, the commentary serves to clarify some energetic aspects of the performance- such as in Section IV (p.77), wherein it is pointed out that the posture of the Priestess and placement of the Lance combine to allow Her to focus the Baphomet current. As the roles of Priest and Priestess are very much tied to gender, I found such passages particularly enlightening: they say enough to allow the roles to successfully support each other in the invocation of forces, but never so much as to lead to cross-over or confusion of the roles. To the credit of the authors, the metaphysical aspects are offered more in the character of advice, without dogmatic interpretation.
These two aspects of the commentary combine to clarify the narrative of the Gnostic Mass and what goes into the production of the Miracle. Reading Crowley is a bit like reading Shakespeare, in that the language is a bit unfamiliar, and the author makes a great number of assumptions about the education and experience of the reader; At times this can be an obstacle to understanding something inherently simple in its conception, in the way that a gilded lily marks the error of losing the sense of the whole to the beauty of the details. The lighthandedness of this guide makes it stand out.
The one thing that I would liked to have seen in this book is a more explicit metaphysical commentary on the role of the Congregant and Communicant, and how the congregation can, in the authors' views, best support the Miracle of the Mass. From the parts that the the congregation speaks - the Creed and the Anthem, it is naturally apparent that conviction and enthusiasm are necessary to successfully commit the role. I will speculate that with the context of the O.T.O. as an initiatory society, that aspects of these Roles may simply not be available to me, and not critical to public or untyled Mass performance; or it may simply be that the nature of the role is that it is to be interpreted and fulfilled in accordance with the shape of one's own Gnosis.
"To Perfect This Feast" is a great resource for anyone interested in the Gnostic Mass, be it from the perspective of an Officer, Congregant, or Student. It's a fast read, but worthy of study and consideration for those who aspire to perform the Mass, or officers and teams which want to understand how another Mass team pulls together their performance of the Ritual and accomplishment of the Miracle.
"To Perfect This Feast" is not merely a book that every O.T.O/E.G.C. member should read, it is one that every member and Mass team should write and evolve for themselves.
"To Perfect This Feast" can be purchased directly from the authors at Studio 31.