HOW IT ALL STARTED
The story of how I came to review this book deserves its little intro, and here it is.
I have spent the last few years of my life constantly sounding the alarm about the fact Thelema has been infiltrated by a group of people with ultra-reactionary worldview when not veering directly into the far-right and posing themselves as the “one truth and one spirit” of the current — and yes, that’s the title of a silly book published a few years ago which tried, and failed spectacularly, at making the point for their Papal infallibility.
This is not something new, nor something that happened overnight. The roots were placed already in the late 80s, when author Martin P. Starr, at the time still a member of Ordo Templi Orientis, convinced O.T.O. leader Bill Breeze to begin the work of reconstructing the A∴A∴ the same way they went about with O.T.O.
To do so, they resurrected from the grave of oblivion (how Osirian indeed) their pal J. Daniel Gunther, who originally introduced them to the A∴A∴ via Marcelo Motta a decade or so earlier. They didn’t seem to care about the fact that Motta expelled each one of them, and by this time, Motta himself proved to be a volatile individual during the years of the landmark O.T.O. copyright legal case. Most importantly, Motta died in 1987 and wasn’t around anymore to tell the world these would-be Adepts never made it far in the structure of the Great White Brotherhood.
But at this point, Breeze controlled the brand. And it would take another decade or so before the Internet began to make it easier for researchers to see through the cracks of the story they were weaving, and almost thirty years for the facade to finally fall apart as it did since the late 2010s.
Long story short, these people are my ideological enemies. They represent everything that I deem wrong about Thelema. The only exception is maybe the one who started it all, Martin P. Starr. When I briefly met him in Chicago in 2004, he was leaving Thelema behind to focus on Freemasonry. He seemed like someone who realised he had let the genie of the bottle and was regretting it. Then again, this is just my recollection of a brief encounter almost 20 years ago.
And so I was amazed when Frater L.R.H., someone I knew to be deeply embedded in the cult I just described, got in touch with me and presented me with John-Peter Lund’s work.
I only knew L.R.H. from some short exchanges online during the years of the O.T.O. schisms I chronicled since 2017. Like me, he was a keen Freemason, and it seemed to me he tried to hinge on that common interest we shared to convince me that their A∴A∴ lineage wasn’t so terrible after all. Spoiler alert: he failed. Mainly because a quick look at his public social media persona convinced me we had nothing in common — apart from Freemasonry, indeed. L.R.H. presented himself as a “true Texan”, pro-Trump, pro-Bolsonaro, anti-woke, writing about the retvrn of the Sacred Monarchy… you got the idea. The same ideological enemy as the others.
But something must have happened in the intervening years. I mean, besides the worldwide socio-political crises deepening almost to the point of no return and the shared trauma of a global pandemic disrupting our lives. L.R.H. saw first-hand how his friend was treated by the organisation they both put their names and hearts on the line to defend. The book’s preface goes into this sombre story in detail, and I wholeheartedly suggest everyone take the time to read it carefully. It’s a masterclass in understanding what happens when you give your life to a cult of personality and eventually decide to affirm your own truth. It never ends well.
And so he fulfilled his friend’s final request and then contacted me — someone he knew well wasn’t an ally — to give this work a fair review. I can only commend his intellectual honesty here, something I have scarcely found among most Thelemites, even those seemingly on my side of the barricades in the ongoing struggle to find some semblance of balance inside our Current.
Let’s now look at the book.
John-Peter Lund’s The War of the Rose and the Cross is a remarkable work that deserves recognition for its clarity and accessibility in explaining the intricate Thelemic philosophy deeply rooted in the writings of J. Daniel Gunther, the one who tried and failed multiple times to be established as the new World Teacher, and often shrouded in gnomic allusion to maintain an aura of mystery and secrecy. Lund’s book offers a refreshing departure from the convoluted language and cryptic symbolism frequently characterising Gunther’s offerings. Instead, it provides a much-needed bridge for those eager to understand the peculiar take on Thelema presented as the “one true way” by the members of this particular lineage of the A∴A∴ — the one in close amity on the surface, but, in fact, in total control, of Ordo Templi Orientis.
It’s worth noting that this book has been subject to controversy within Thelemic circles. As mentioned above, it’s in the preface that we learn that the leadership of the A∴A∴ lineage he belonged to, including J. Daniel Gunther himself, have deemed the book heretical. This reaction may stem from the fact that Lund’s work demystifies the persona of the new Magus and Prophet that some individuals have attributed to Gunther, suggesting that he possesses new, exclusive revelations from the Secret Chiefs of the A∴A∴.
Lund’s book paints a different picture, showing that there is nothing essentially new in Gunther’s writings. It’s just a matter of having the entire Crowleyan corpus (including the “secrets”) synthesised in two baroquely written volumes (Gunther’s) or even further into a single, clear one (Lund’s).
The contention surrounding The War of the Rose and the Cross underscores the diversity of thought within the Thelemic community, as well as the ongoing debate about the nature of Thelema and its interpretations. It is essential for readers to approach this book with an open mind, keeping in mind that there are different viewpoints and interpretations within the broader Thelemic tradition. Lund’s work adds a valuable perspective to these ongoing discussions and provides an opportunity for those interested in Thelema to explore its teachings in a more accessible way.
He avoids unnecessary jargon and mysticism (emphasis on “unnecessary”, as the reader will still find a good amount of both), opting for clear explanations and examples that anyone with a genuine interest can grasp. Lund’s background in mathematics is also precious, as he succeeded in giving an element of scientific credibility to the application of gematria and sacred geometry, which often devolves in magical writings to pure “qabollocks”. This accessibility is invaluable, as it opens the doors of Thelema to a broader audience, enabling more people to explore its profound teachings. Still, I would not consider this a beginner’s book by any stretch of the imagination.
Incredibly surprising was also to see it written in clear and plain English, the long “anti-Christian” narrative found in several of the later chapters. This has been a challenging topic to tackle by every Thelemic writer thus far, especially in these years of renewed Satanic Panic. Lund doesn’t shy away from making a very compelling point about the true nature of Christ and the Messiah and giving a gnostic spin to Thelemic mysticism. Maybe this is why Gunther is so worried about the book, especially given the bizarre nature of some of the “secret rituals” of his A∴A∴ lineage, such as an antinomian version of Liber Resh vel Helios, which surfaced recently.
Dubbed Liber Portae Secretae sub Figura DX, being the Book of the Averse Adorations of the Sun, on first reading, it looks like a perverted approach to one of the standard Thelemic sets of adorations and something that seems straight out of a Kenneth Grant’s tome — which is very strange when you realise that these folks spent the good part of the last three decades insisting that Grant only wrote nonsense.
But not so much anymore when you learn your Thelemic history and the who’s who of the Current, and you realise that Martin P. Starr (remember him from the beginning of this review?) was keenly interested in alternative approaches and evolutions to Thelema. I can’t speak of what he thinks today, but he most certainly was when I met him back in the days in Chicago, where I was visiting my early mentor Michael Bertiaux, who was Starr’s friend. Starr wasn’t the only one either, as another famous name in Thelemaland, a professor at Gotheborg University no less, is a high-ranking member of both O.T.O. and this particular A∴A∴ cult, as well as editor of several fine editions of Kenneth and Steffi Grant’s works.
The Mysteries of the Averse, as Gunther describes them in his books, do play a significant role in the Adept- and Master-level magick and mysticism of the New Aeon. This truth, found scattered in Crowley’s lesser-known and barely studied Libri, such as Liber 231 and Liber Stellae Rubae, is still considered a tough sell by those who elected themselves to be the gatekeepers of the Current. I certainly wonder how much these inversions would sit well with the crowd of ultra-reactionaries and alt-right folks they’ve been courting in the past decade. Time will tell.
The question that should be answered now is how these people can propose a religion of scepticism on the one hand through the uber-secularised O.T.O. while pushing an “inner circle of enlightened Adepts” (that also apparently always reincarnate together…) and making things up as they went along like with these “new” rituals directly from their “inner planes contacts”.
Lastly, of particular interest are the chapters dedicated to the Hierophant, the Hierus, and the Hegemon, three officer roles inherited from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (and, before it, from the Holy Royal Arch of Freemasonry, under a different guise) and how their roles change by use of the Formulae of LVX (the Adept) and of NOX (the Master). Anyone with the right amount of understanding will finally make sense of what kind of authority J. Daniel Gunther, Bill Breeze, and the rest of this particular A∴A∴ claim to represent. Several of Lund’s remarks in these chapters did not sit well with them, I am sure.
B.A.L.A.T.A. as an accessory Word of the Magus in the Aeon of the Child is also analysed, and once again, we get a glimpse of the beliefs held by this lineage/cult — J. Daniel Gunther is a Magus 9=2, at the very least. They really don’t make them like they used to anymore!
The book does have its limitations. In my personal opinion, one notable issue with the book is Lund’s unwavering belief in the hierarchical system of the A∴A∴ and the O.T.O., as well as his endorsement of J. Daniel Gunther and Bill Breeze as the true heirs of Crowley’s legacy.
Within the broader Thelemic community, there are differing viewpoints on the legitimacy and authenticity of these contemporary organisations and their leaders. Some individuals argue that these organisations are merely reconstructions, attempting to replicate the past, while others may be critical of the way they operate, likening them to “cosplay book clubs.” These debates reflect the diversity of opinion within the Thelemic tradition and suggest that Lund’s perspective on this matter is not universally accepted.
Another notable issue is the continued emphasis on Qabalistic exegesis as the primary and often exclusive means of making sense of Thelema. While this approach aligns with Crowley’s own position and the traditional teaching methods of the A∴A∴, it might have been beneficial to see more comprehensive explanations of how certain Thelemic rituals are properly performed. The focus on Qabalistic exegesis can sometimes leave practitioners feeling limited in their exploration of Thelema, particularly those who may be more interested in the practical aspects of the magical philosophy.
Across the book, Lund seems to struggle with the will to keep his clear and coherent writings while, at the same time, remaining true to his oaths to secrecy — possibly realising their pointlessness. This is particularly evident in the chapter dedicated to the Mass of the Holy Ghost, where he acknowledges the secretive nature of certain rituals and practices within Thelema. Thelemic organisations have historically treated certain rituals and techniques as closely guarded “trade secrets,” creating an atmosphere of exclusivity. Lund does address this issue, highlighting the secrecy and reluctance to share certain practices within these organisations. This, in my view, can indeed come across as disingenuous, as it runs counter to the principles of open exploration and spiritual growth that are often at the heart of Thelema.
Lastly, the most disappointing part is the chapter where Lund warns others against the dangers of taking the Oath of the Abyss too soon. This is perhaps the single most crucial step in Thelemic initiation, as the Law of the New Aeon and its Magick allows for the mystical experience denominated the Crossing of the Abyss — a concept multiple authors wrote about, especially in recent years, but very few actually understand. If you had the misfortune of spending any amount of time across Reddit, Facebook Groups, and the (thankfully now gone) Occult Twitter circles, you would be familiar with how everything and their dog seem to have undergone this advanced and complex initiation with great success. And then, in the few cases of these folks being sincere enough to put a name and a face to their claims, you realise their bold claims are nowhere to be mirrored in the lives they lead.
“By their fruits, ye shall know them”, indeed. This is what Lund correctly argues while issuing his warning. Too bad he then presents a series of “failures” that are nothing but all those relatively well-known thelemites (Frater Achad, Wilfred T. Smith, Jack Parsons) that simply moved away from the yoke of Crowley’s Orders. Even in the end, Lund seemed unable to face the truth and the failure of Ordo Templi Orientis and its leaders — the same folks also leading the A∴A∴ lineage he spent all his life working for, only to be dropped unceremoniously at the very end.
The War of the Rose and the Cross by John-Peter Lund is a groundbreaking work in the realm of Thelema, offering a straightforward and comprehensible approach to this complex philosophy. For once, this is very much NOT a book aimed at beginners, something that those who think they know it all have been desperately asking for years now. I know a thing or two about that, having just written a successful primer and attracted their ire.
Lund’s dedication to demystifying Thelema and his clear, engaging prose makes this book a valuable resource for anyone seeking to understand the core principles and beliefs of Thelema, which were often obscured by cryptic language and allusions to “secrets” only the dutiful servants of a specific group can access to.
Still, it remains the work of a zealot who spent his entire life in a cage of his own making, and in the end, when he found his voice and declared his truth, those holding the keys of his cell simply decided to forget him there.
WHERE TO GET YOUR COPY?
At the moment, you can’t. The first edition sold out immediately. The publishers are considering a second edition. You can contact them via Facebook here.