A friend recently contacted the OTO to ask about us attending one of their services, and last night we went to their Gnostic Mass in Wellington.

The OTO - Ordo Templi Orientis (Order of Oriental Templars) - is an occultist brotherhood, kind of like the freemasons but more full-on, that was formed in Europe in the late 19th century. The group was taken over by Aleister Crowley in the 1910s, and he quickly impressed the group with his beliefs.

OTO adherents believe in Thelema, and study many writings - both ancient and written by Crowley - including Crowley's Book of the Law. Their creed is:

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will"

Although the group nearly died out in the 40s and 50s, they're now global. There are 5 Grand Lodges, and many smaller groups around the world - Lodges, Oases and Camps. Auckland has a Lodge, Wellington has a Oasis (Eschaton) and Christchurch has a Camp.

We met with the local head of the group in a pub a few days in advance of the Gnostic Mass, and had a chat - ostensibly to check that we were not going to be disruptive during the event.

Last night we turned up at 7:15pm - there were about a dozen attendees, and for about half of us it was our first time at an OTO event. We were walked through the participatory parts of the ceremony by the Deacon, learning the Step, the Hailing Sign and the Kneeling in Adoration.

We were then walked in to the building, past an upright coffin to our seats. We each had a run-sheet for the evening on our chairs.

The room was dark, and at the end of the room was an altar draped in red cloth with candles on it. To either side of the altar was a tall column, and a curtain rail between them held two black curtains. Between the coffin and the altar were two tables - a second altar and a font.

The ceremony started with the deacon, wearing a white robe and yellow scarf, accompanied by three women - one in a black robe and one in a white robe (the Children), and one in a patterned robe (the Priestess). They walked around the room, and we were meant to recite the Gnostic Creed:

"I believe in one Earth, the Mother of us all, and in one Womb wherein all men are begotten, and wherein they shall rest, Mystery of Mystery, in Her name BABALON"

Then they opening the curtain on the front of the coffin - and inside was the Priest holding a long red lance. The Priest wore a white robe, and was given a red cloak and red headdress.

Everyone then moved to the High Altar at the end of the room, and the Priestess sat on the altar. Eventually the curtains were closed, and some words were recited by the Priest and Deacon. When the curtains were reopened, the Priestess was naked. We then said the Anthem, and part of it was:

"Glory to Thee, beyond all term, Thy spring of sperm, thy seed and germ!"

The Priest then used his lance to consecrate the bread and wine for communion and he took communion, before we were invited to walk up to the altar and take communion one by one.

Having done my homework, and asked questions at our prior meeting, I knew that the communion wafer most likely contained human sperm (although sometimes menstrual blood or other blood is used). We had been given an assurance that whatever was added, it would be cremated before being added.

I had mentally steeled myself for this, but the cracker was drier than I expected and it was obvious from the first person that went up that this was going to be a slow process. Unlike a Christian communion, for the Gnostic Mass after the bread and wine you have to turn around to face the congregation, cross your arms over your chest and say:

"There is no part of me that is not of the Gods"

Because you need to do this, you need to ensure you have swallowed the bread before you speak. The small goblet of wine helps, but for several people it took a long time for them to swallow the bread. Thankfully I was able to ball a lot of the bread in my mouth and swallow it when I downed the wine.

After the communion, the Priest returned to the coffin and then we were led out of the building.

We stayed around chatting for a while, and then most of us went to the pub. Of course, the attendees are normal people, living normal lives, but with an interest in the "esoteric". We were asked for our star sign and Chinese animal, and luckily I know both of them!

There seemed to be a disdain for atheists and skeptics, as we apparently don't accept people's spiritual experiences.

Hopefully I'll be back for more, as I'm definitely curious about the group and its members.