Organizations (spiritual or otherwise) often carry the seeds of their own destruction. There’s a tendency for people to lash out against the leadership of a group, or for leaders to enslave the minds of their members. Many organizations have tried to modify their own structures to limit the effect, but it still remains. Even simplistic relationships between two people can share this fate. I came to the conclusion that such problems are related to Power Dynamics in the age of free will. In other words, most organized systems cause some level of suppression of one’s free will, and this starts the friction.

Power Dynamics Defined

Power Dynamics are relationships where one side wields power, and the other side submits. A dictatorship would be an extreme political example, but there are examples in a free society: a verbally abusive spouse, a controlling manager, a “do what I say” guru.

While the power wielder can be aggressive, there are also seducers. Such people wield some form of power (money, social importance, leadership, magnetism, magic) to attract someone else. The recipient is drawn to such power and gives up some of their personal sovereignty in order to gain. These relationships rarely last as they are built on an idea of one holding an authority and another craving it. The recipient will stay in such a relationship temporarily, until they maximize their utility. When such people realize that the teacher/master/guru has no more to offer (or nothing to begin with), they will exit and often the exit is loud and painful.

Power Dynamics of Organizations

Almost every company, corporation, non-profit, scholastic, religious or spiritual organization has suffered to the hands of power dynamics.

The problem of power becomes more an issue when there is a system of achievement or attainment. With limited seats available, people will fight for the title or the honor of such a position. While some people are withheld from advancing within the organization (and others progressed) enmity can result. Leaders fall prey to favoritism and so on.

Smiling Up and Frowning Down

Throughout my work carrier, I’ve noticed employees who are very positive with leadership above their rank, but hostile to those below their rank. I’ve referred to this as “smiling up and frowning down.” This is yet again a result of power dynamics.

Craving the attention, status, and power of the leadership, some will appeal to the leaders. Such people might even put up with bad behavior, even encouraging the leader who openly mocks them.

Yet these same people, when they rise up the ranks, become hostile to those “below” their new status. This person was never positive, they simply wore a mask to cover up their intentions.

Coups

There are “celebrities” in every organization. These could be leaders, but they don’t have to be. They could be anyone who has some sensationalism behind their work. They might be a published author, a tv script writer, a local business owner or the relative of a famous person.

My father was a minister, and when I was a kid I remember his church going through a split. The split was related to someone with status, they were a wealthy business owner and they decided to stage a coup and overthrow the church leadership.

Although not having notoriety at the time, Crowley caused a massive split with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

The Temple of Set has had it’s own issues as described in both Michael Kelly’s autobiography and Tapio Kotkavuori;s 3 volume work on his time in the Temple. The specific case is with Zeena Schreck 1 Zeena, the daughter of Anton LaVey, joined the temple and remained a member for roughly 7 years. According to these accounts, she rose to leadership. With much drama, she exited the Temple of Set and took a portion of the membership.

Personal Relationships

One of the most common themes in group splits (that I’ve witnessed) relates to personal relationships. I witnessed this problem in several groups, including a modern variant of the Golden Dawn, a Buddhist organization (Asian Classics Institute), and a modern “psychic guru.” In these specific cases, a leader had a sexual relationship with a student or member. In time the relationship gets rocky and this spills out into the organization itself.

In Karina Blackheart’s work, “A Witch’s Book of Silence,” she writes directly to this issue of Power Dynamics. In this case she’s writing about sexual relationships within teacher/student dynamics :

We readily agree with the ethical and legal standards concerning sexual relations between professors and students, coaches and team members, administrators and assistants, adults and children. In these instances, true consent is not possible because one person holds power, authority, decision-making and advancement over the other.

The term, “consenting adults” does not apply because the victim is profoundly influenced by his or her needs being met. The power dynamics are such that “consent” cannot be freely given.

BlackHeart, Karina. A Witch’s Book of Silence (p. 23). Kindle Edition.

It’s common to think of a young man or woman, attempting to seduce someone with money, power, attention and so on. The other person attracted, drawn by the materialism of the power, will often consider it a temporary arrangement. Once their power needs are no longer required, they exit to something “better.”

Unintended Power Dynamics

Not every situation with Power Dynamics is related to an evil genius. Sometimes the person abusing their authority is doing so without even knowing it. My mother is a great example of this. She threw her demands about with others, without knowing how her actions created problems. We are often the last to see our own imperfections.

It’s also possible that people aren’t knowingly wielding power, yet become part of the Power Dynamic. A founding member, a person of notoriety, such a person may not wield any power at all, but there will be those of the slave mind who appeal to such people. They create the power dynamic by presenting themselves lower than the other. In this false humility they hope to infiltrate the mind of the status holder, in order to get a piece of their authority.

Attempts to Thwart Collapse

A corporate entity is legally its own entity. As Power Dynamic behavior is a threat to the capitalization of a corporation, Human Resources attempts to thwart these problems. Ultimately nothing can stop human nature. There are always going to be people who lord their status, wealth and power… and equally so there are always going to be people who crave it. Limiting the amount of seats to this power or status, will always create friction.

Consider the fate of the Golden Dawn. Not long after Aleister Crowley joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, did the organization fall to ruin. Crowley himself was largely responsible. It was after the fall of the Golden Dawn that Crowley attempts to recreate the theme of an initiatory order. The A.’.A.’. is Crowley’s attempt to neutralize threats to an organization, by maintaining a magical system. The A.’.A.’. (Astrum Argentum) had no group meetings. Each individual only met with a teacher. One teacher, has a student and that student is a teacher to another, and so on. In this way, he probably thought, it would mitigate power dynamics.

I was in a Jane Wolf lineage of the A.’.A.’. for a few years… technically I’m still a member, I suppose I forgot to resign. I only ever met one person. Because of this, there wasn’t a need to “show off.” I can see how this approach silences coups as there certainly isn’t a body of people to appeal to. Everyone is siloed off into their own specific vein.

Even that though has its pitfalls. My teacher appeared to grow tired of the lack of social gathering. To that end, he started putting more attention into a Thelemic initiatory order, and that’s about the time I dropped out. I wasn’t interested in that, as my experience told me where that would end up.

In reading the writings of Setians, like Micheal Aquino, I noticed that the structure of the Temple of Set, was such that there was no long lasting leader. Each leader was appointed by a council of 9, and over time they would step down to allow another member to hold the reigns. Each leader was to bring a new “word” or vibe to the temple, under their leadership. For example, Aquino brought the word “Xeper” and Dr. Flowers the word “Runa.”

The Temple of Set paradigm seems a good way to neutralize the feelings of ego, yet in practicality we read about Zeena and her drama. There’s also the accounts from Michael Kelly’s autobiography, of inner politics that prevented some from advancement. In my own personal interaction with Temple of Set forums on Facebook, I found some members kept people in line with mockery and dismissive comments. Often others would pile on and join in with the jeering over someone else’s magical working or hypothesis. While these individuals may (or may not) have been leaders, they were high ranking members. When I dealt with admissions with the executive director, I felt this same “knuckle under” approach of a Power Dynamic. It’s one of the reasons I withdrew my application. The Power Dynamic was still alive, even in this rotating leadership mechanic.

Conclusion

These examples of Power Dynamics are not necessarily an issue with the ideology of a group. No matter the good intentions of a leadership, there is always a hierarchy, or a status holder. Someone wealthy will join and the leadership will cater to them, as they become a means to keep the doors open.

Even if the status holder choses not to wield their authority, there will be members that create the power dynamic, subverting their own nature in order to express a false humility and subservience.

Humans, coming together in a system of inequalities, will always fall to this problem. There’s no escaping it. In some ways we can’t avoid it, and must put up with it. We require money, so we work a job and in that job there may be cliches and “in crowds” that have the status. We might miss our opportunity for advancement due to favoritism. In a situation like that, we put up with it.

Our spirituality is an entirely different element. Unlike a job, we don’t require a 3rd party to provide for our spiritual welfare. Our spirituality is our Individual responsibility. “Diabolism in your own lane,” as the hosts of Black Flame Immersion recently described the process.

That said, one can still reach out for advice, without falling victim to Power Dynamics. It is in the organization of people, that the struggle for power begins to be realized. For this reason I’ve come to a conclusion, that despite some of the best organized spiritual systems out there, they will always have a power dynamic. My own interaction could unknowingly create such a problem. Such is the problem of spiritual organizations.

Footnotes

  1. “The excitement of revolution is upon some people. Some have used it to burn bridges they have built for years. On a deeper level they let years of not speaking up – and most importantly of NOT DOING anything – to destroy the magical egos they had created. If all you are is fantasy, then you have to be very dramatic – not just in the ritual chamber.

    I am not surprised at Zeena’s departure. I am saddened at the engineered drama (or in Temple-speak, LBM), sadder still that it destroyed friendships, and saddest that for the most part, it won’t wake up those that leave.” (“Aletheia Volume 3″, by Tapio Kotkavuori)

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