A Feast for Fire: Confirmation into Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica
Confirmation is the second of the two introductory rites into the Gnostic Catholic Church. Like the rite of Baptism, it is mentioned at the end of the text of the Gnostic Mass:
“The PEOPLE communicate as did the PRIEST… The exceptions to this part of the ceremony are when it is… part of the ceremony of baptism, when only the child baptised partakes; and of Confirmation at puberty, when only the persons confirmed partake”
So we can be sure that it was considered an important and essential part of our Church’s structure that such a rite exists. However there has often been some confusion about what Confirmation actually entails, since although Aleister Crowley left notes on how our Baptism ritual should be structured, we have never found any notes on what he imagined our Confirmation rite should look like. We know that he wanted to us have one, but that’s as far as it goes. So it falls to us to discover what Confirmation is about and what structure such a ceremony should consist of.
In our previous article on Baptism we showed that that particular ceremony had its roots in many pre-Christian cultures, most notably in the old Egyptian religion, yet the roots of the ceremony of Confirmation do not grow as deep, it being mainly of Christian and Gnostic derivation. This by no means makes it any less powerful or vital, it’s still a ceremony with almost two thousand years of heritage behind it. We know that the very early Gnostics, such as the Marcosians in the second to fourth centuries, practised a Confirmation ritual:
“The anointing of the candidate with chrism, or odoriferous ointment, is a Gnostic rite which overshadows the importance of baptism. In the “Acta Thomae”, so some scholars maintain, it had completely replaced baptism, and was the sole sacrament of initiation. This however is not yet proven. The Marcosians went so far as to reject Christian baptism and to substitute a mixture of oil and water which they poured over the head of the candidate. By confirmation the Gnostics intended not so much to give the Holy Ghost as to seal the candidates against the attacks of the archons, or to drive them away by the sweet odour which is above all things (tes uter ta hola euodias). The balsam was somehow supposed to have flowed from the Tree of Life, and this tree was again mystically connected with the Cross; for the chrism is in the “Acta Thomae” called “the hidden mystery in which the Cross is shown to us”.
– Herbermann, Charles, ed (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia
So from the beginning of Gnostic tradition Confirmation was seen as being an extremely important ritual, perhaps even more important than Baptism. As noted above one of the components of the ceremony of Confirmation was the anointing with oil; but there were usually several other components to the ritual as well. Traditionally there have been four main parts in Confirmation rituals:
Confession of faith
Anointing with oil
Laying on of hands
Accolade on cheek
Confirmation is first and foremost about the candidate coming to the Church and confirming their aspiration, and only then being signed and sealed as a full member of the Church, so usually Confirmation rites begin with the candidate’s own “confirmation” that they wish to partake of this spirit. St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Contra Gentiles, 1258-1261 CE, writes:
“The perfection of spiritual strength consists properly on a man’s daring to confess the faith of Christ in the presence of anyone at all, and in a man’s being not withdrawn therefrom either by confusion or by terror, for strength drives out inordinate terror. Therefore, the sacrament by which spiritual strength is conferred on the one born again makes him in some sense a front-line fighter for the faith of Christ. And because fighters under a prince carry his insignia, they who receive the Sacrament of Confirmation are signed with the Sign of the Cross by which He fought and conquered. This sign they receive on the forehead as a sign that without a blush they publicly confess the faith of Christ.”
The line “…the sacrament by which spiritual strength is conferred on the one born again” gives us the key to the ritual – the “one born again” means that it is a sacrament conferred on those who have already undergone the ceremony of Baptism, in which the candidate is born again into the body of the Church; but that some time after Baptism there comes another ceremony in which the candidates confess their faith and have spiritual strength conferred upon them.
As Thelemites we are instructed in the Book of the Law to have “certainty, not faith” so the idea of a “confession of faith” seems somewhat problematic at first glance. However in the Gnostic Mass the Congregation begin the ritual by reciting the Creed, which title is itself derived from the Latin Credo (I believe). So confessing a belief is most certainly a part of what we do every time we participate in the Mass.
The standard Christian confessions of belief are the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, and since they are clearly an influence on the Creed of the Gnostic Catholic Church it’s worth quoting them in full to compare. The Apostles Creed is given in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer as:
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
The holy Catholick Church;
The Communion of Saints;
The Forgiveness of sins;
The Resurrection of the body,
And the Life everlasting.
The Nicene Creed is quite similar, but has a couple of differences, particularly in the last lines:
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
(Roman Rite, 2011 translation)
There seems little doubt that Crowley was in favour of this idea of a confession of belief since he wrote our own Creed and made it part of the Gnostic Mass; and as well as adopting the idea, also used a very similar format and structure to the two creeds given above, especially in the end sections. Of course the actual beliefs listed are very different. He explained his rationale for his changes in his Confessions:
“…I resolved that my Ritual should celebrate the sublimity of the operation of universal forces without introducing disputable metaphysical theories. I would neither make nor imply any statement about nature which would not be endorsed by the most materialistic man of science.”
In this he was attempting to get around the problem of faith by making the Creed a statement of facts about nature rather than faith about metaphysics. How successful he was in this is arguable, but that was certainly the idea behind it. He was in some senses expanding on the work of the Deists of the 17th and 18th centuries in not rejecting the concept of gods as such, but attempting to show their existence as sublime conceptions of nature that humanity can approach through reason, not faith:
“By natural religion, I understand the belief of the existence of a God, and the sense and practice of those duties which result from the knowledge we, by our reason, have of him and his perfections; and of ourselves, and our own imperfections, and of the relationship we stand in to him, and to our fellow-creatures; so that the religion of nature takes in everything that is founded on the reason and nature of things.”
—Matthew Tindal, Christianity as Old as the Creation, 1730
Crowley took these concepts and from them created a creed which has a similar purpose and intent to the Christian creeds, but requires little to no “faith” on the part of the Congregation in the Mass:
I believe in one secret and ineffable LORD; and in one Star in the Company of Stars of whose fire we are created, and to which we shall return; and in one Father of Life, Mystery of Mystery, in His name CHAOS, the sole viceregent of the Sun upon the Earth; and in one Air the nourisher of all that breathes.
And 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.
And I believe in the Serpent and the Lion, Mystery of Mystery, in His name BAPHOMET.
And I believe in one Gnostic and Catholic Church of Light, Life, Love and Liberty, the Word of whose Law is THELEMA.
And I believe in the communion of Saints.
And, forasmuch as meat and drink are transmuted in us daily into spiritual substance, I believe in the Miracle of the Mass.
And I confess one Baptism of Wisdom, whereby we accomplish the Miracle of Incarnation.
And I confess my life one, individual, and eternal that was, and is, and is to come.
AUMGN. AUMGN. AUMGN.
Although the names of deities are mentioned they are very specifically used in the context of being personifications of natural forces: the sun, the air, the earth, the womb etc.; the “Baptism of Wisdom” can be taken as the simple act of being born, without any other metaphysical connotations; and so on.
During our Baptism rite, this Creed is recited for the candidate by the Sponsors, but in the rite of Confirmation the candidates themselves must recite it i.e. the candidates must affirm that this is their belief, and that they wish to proclaim that belief to the community of the Church, and fully identify as part of the Congregation. This is one reason why the text of the Gnostic Mass specifies that Confirmation should not be offered to those below the age of puberty – candidates for Confirmation must be able to comprehend fully what it is they are confessing to, and this is not possible with a child who is below the age of independent reasoning.
The early Christian author St. Cyril of Jerusalem writing on the oil of Confirmation (the “Mystical Chrism”) in the year 350 CE, says:
“But beware of supposing that this is ordinary ointment. For just as the Bread of the Eucharist after the invocation of the Holy Spirit is simple bread no longer, but the Body of Christ, so also this holy ointment is no longer plain ointment, nor, so to speak, common, after the invocation. Rather, it is the gracious gift of Christ; and it is made fit for the imparting of His Godhead by the coming of the Holy Spirit. This ointment is symbolically applied to your forehead and to your other senses; and while your body is anointed with the visible ointment, your soul is sanctified by the holy and life-creating Spirit.”
Crowley was of a similar opinion as regards the ability of the oil to consecrate. In Magick, Book 4, Part II, Chapter 5 he writes:
“The Holy Oil is the Aspiration of the Magician; it is that which consecrates him to the performance of the Great Work; and such is its efficacy that it also consecrates all the furniture of the Temple and the instruments thereof. It is also the grace or chrism; for this aspiration is not ambition; it is a quality bestowed from above. For this reason the Magician will anoint first the top of his head before proceeding to consecrate the lower centres in their turn.
This oil is of a pure golden colour; and when placed upon the skin it should burn and thrill through the body with an intensity as of fire. It is the pure light translated into terms of desire. It is not the Will of the Magician, the desire of the lower to reach the higher; but it is that spark of the higher in the Magician which wishes to unite the lower with itself.
Unless therefore the Magician be first anointed with this oil, all his work will be wasted and evil.”
The oil described above by Crowley is Abramelin oil, which is made to a recipe adapted from the Book of Exodus. This oil is made from a blend of olive oil, myrrh, cinnamon, and galangal. As with the balsam of the Marcosians, Crowley considered this blend to be connected to the Tree of Life:
“This oil is compounded of four substances. The basis of all is the oil of the olive. The olive is, traditionally, the gift of Minerva, the Wisdom of God, the Logos. In this are dissolved three other oils; oil of myrrh, oil of cinnamon, oil of galangal. The Myrrh is attributed to Binah, the Great Mother, who is both the understanding of the Magician and that sorrow and compassion which results from the contemplation of the Universe. The Cinnamon represents Tiphereth, the Sun — the Son, in whom Glory and Suffering are identical. The Galangal represents both Kether and Malkuth, the First and the Last, the One and the Many, since in this Oil they are One. These oils taken together represent therefore the whole Tree of Life. The ten Sephiroth are blended into the perfect gold.”
Within the rite of Confirmation the oil is normally applied in the form of a cross to the forehead.
Aquinas wrote that this was in the form of a cross to signify that “…by which He fought and conquered”. Note the emphasis on the candidate being made into a “fighter”. We see this imagery of the candidate becoming a soldier in the ranks of the faithful being an integral part of the ceremony right from the beginning – and in this we see a clue as to a possible derivation of the ritual: from the rites of Mithras. Mithraism was an incredibly popular religion two thousand years ago, and Mithras was by far the most worshipped god in the world. His religion was composed of graded initiation ceremonies, wherein the new initiate was first baptised with water, and then on a later occasion given further initiation wherein he was confirmed as a soldier of Mithras and marked with a sign on the forehead. The early Christian historian Tertullian wrote sometime between 197-212 CE (quoted in the Catholic Encyclopedia):
“The flesh is washed that the soul may be made stainless. The flesh is anointed that the soul may be consecrated. The flesh is sealed that the soul may be fortified. The flesh is overshadowed by the imposition of hands that the soul may be illuminated by the Spirit.” Tertullian also tells how the devil imitates the rites of Christian initiation, sprinkles some and signs them as his soldiers on the forehead.”
– De resurr. canis n.8 Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908, pg. 218
Usually when early Christian writers speak of the “devil imitating Christianity” it actually means the complete opposite and that the Christian rite was originally taken from a pre-Christian tradition; in this case, from Mithraism.
The sign of the cross is heavily emphasised in Christian writings on Confirmation, and they take it as a symbol of the crucifixion of Jesus. However the use of the cross dates all the way back to neolithic times and was widely used within Celtic and Egyptian religions, as well as many others. The sign of the cross is also of course heavily used within the Gnostic Mass, usually as some form of transmission or sealing of magical energy – for example the three crosses the Priestess makes over the body of the Priest at the beginning of the Mass.
The Laying on of Hands
Another aspect that was considered essential to Confirmation from the beginning was the laying on of hands, which meant that the person or persons performing the Confirmation ritual would lay their hands on the head of the candidate. The Lyons Rite of Consolamentum, used by the Cathar Gnostic Perfecti (the “Perfected Ones”) as a substitute for Baptism and Confirmation, contains a laying on of hands section with the following words:
“‘And in the Gospel of Saint John He said to Nicodemus, “Verily, verily I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and the spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God” And John the Baptist spoke of this baptism when he said, “I indeed baptize you with water, but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loosen ; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”
This gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands has been instituted by Jesus Christ as Saint Luke tells, and he said that his friends would confer it as Saint Mark says,”They shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover”
And Ananias conferred this Baptism on Saint Paul when he was converted.
For Saint Luke says thus in the Acts of the Apostles, “Now when the Apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God they sent unto them Peter and John, who when they were come down, prayed for them that they might receive of the Holy Spirit, for as yet He was fallen upon none of them. ”
Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. This Holy Baptism by which the Holy Spirit is given the Church of God has kept from the Apostles until now, and it has come from the Good Men to the Good Men until now and shall do till the end of the world.’
This is often taken as the primary reason for Confirmation within the Christian Church – that baptism alone was not enough for full reception of the Holy Spirit, that it also needed sealing by the laying on of hands by the Apostles, and their successors in turn, the Bishops of the Church (in early Christianity), or in this case by the Perfecti (in Catharism). Hence the line “…it has come from the Good Men to the Good Men until now…”, the Good Men being the term that the Cathar Gnostics used to refer to themselves.
This way an “apostolic succession” was created that could trace its source (theoretically) all the way to the original founding of the religion. Since the Gnostic Catholic Church is a Thelemic church we trace our version of this apostolic succession concept from our religion’s founder To Mega Therion (Aleister Crowley), who laid his hands on Grady McMurtry and consecrated him a Bishop in 1943, who then in turn created several of the E.G.C. Bishops alive today (such as Archbishop Lon Milo DuQuette for example), and so on, all the way down to the candidate coming forward for Confirmation in our Gnostic Church today.
Usually within the Roman Catholic Church only Bishops can perform the ceremony of Confirmation, presumably because it is felt that this laying on of hands should be in some way closer to the original source. Currently within E.G.C. the rite of Confirmation may be bestowed through the laying on of hands by a Bishop of our Church, or by an ordained Priestess or Priest under the supervision of a Bishop.
So whereas the anointing with oil symbolises the sealing of the candidate by the divine powers, the laying on of hands is the sealing of the candidate as a member of the Church and of the communion of Saints.
An early addition to the rite of Confirmation was the Accolade, when the Bishop would cuff the candidate upon the cheek – if you’ve seen the movie Kingdom of Heaven you may well remember this being a pivotal moment in the creation of a new Crusader Knight. The original Christian ritual contained the phrase:
“Deinde leviter eum in maxilla caedit, dicens: Pax tecum”
(Then he strikes him lightly on the cheek, saying: Peace be with you)
In the early days of the Christian church this cuff was simply a light touch on the cheek, but over time it came to be a more robust blow, possibly due to its use within the chivalric tradition as well, and because of the Confirmation’s traditional symbolism of the candidate becoming a soldier in the service of the church. In modern times the Roman Church has begun to omit this custom of accolade, and it is no longer mentioned within the text of their Confirmation ceremony. Within E.G.C. however we see no reason to lose it – our religion is one of force and fire, and O.T.O. is designed as a military Order along the lines of the Templars, so the accolade makes perfect sense when candidates come to confirm their membership of our Church.
Confirmation in E.G.C.
Since Crowley charged us with performing Confirmation ceremonies within E.G.C. but unfortunately did not leave us notes towards how precisely to do it, we in the modern Church have had to figure it out for ourselves, based on the fourfold structure given above, and incorporating texts from Thelemic Holy Books. In a Thelemic church such as ours, the ceremony of Confirmation is probably even more important than in that of other churches, since we believe so deeply in the primacy of the individual Will. It is not enough for a candidate to be brought to our Church and welcomed within it, as we do in the ceremony of Baptism; candidates must also have the ability to make an informed choice to confirm their Will to become a full member of our Church. May many find it their Will to do so.