Occultist Marco Visconti has led a fascinating life journey, from discovering Aleister Crowley as a young boy in Italy to eventually leaving the Ordo Templi Orientis and becoming an independent teacher of magick and Thelema. In this wide-ranging interview, Visconti provides deep insights into the nature of magic, the doctrines of Thelema, and the challenges of practicing authentic ritual in the modern world. He reflects on the cyclic popularity of magic throughout history, social media’s impact on spiritual pursuits, the vital mindset shifts needed for embodied rituals, and more. Visconti also discusses his new book, his upcoming projects, and shares wisdom for navigating a world in flux between old aeons and new paradigms. Join us for a rare glimpse into the mind and experiences of this prominent modern magus.
Thank you, Marco, for participating and sharing your knowledge with us.
PAA: You mentioned in previous interviews discovering Aleister Crowley by chance as a 12-year-old in Italy. What initially grabbed your interest about him, even at that young age?
It was very much a kind of “love at first sight”, but not so much for Crowley the man himself, but for what he seemed to embody. That is someone who took the reins of his own life and pursued his calling without bowing to any social conventions.
And I suppose this is precisely what drives so many others to Thelema, so I don’t see myself as particularly unique or even original in this. It would take me many years to come to understand that Crowley’s boldness was also fuelled by the immense privilege he was born into and that the kind of unbridled freedom it brings is more a hindrance than a boon in the long term.
And, most importantly, that Thelema is way more than just victory over society. The kind of freedom it promises is much sterner, fuelled by extreme self-control. This remains one of the most challenging lessons to inculcate in new Thelemites, and it seems to me it’s a feature – not a bug. It’s a sort of early test to determine who can see past the promise of the low-hanging fruits, which tend to produce only pathetic libertarians well suited for another terrible Ayn Rand novel.
PAA: What prompted you to eventually leave the O.T.O. after being an active member, and what core lesson did you take away from that experience?
Multiple reasons locked in my decision to leave Ordo Templi Orientis, likely more than I can discuss here for the sake of brevity. However, this topic comes up repeatedly in discourse, and since I was recently talking about it with my friend and esteemed author Peter Levenda, I will share part of our conversation with you.
In a nutshell, the main issue is that O.T.O. is different from what it says on the tin. You are promised a magnificent organisation with a very complex yet well-thought-out structure that allows for solid leadership to act as needed, which, at the same time, is controlled by an ingenious set of checks and balances that ensure the whole never devolves into tyranny and nepotism.
Unfortunately, tyranny and nepotism are the very things you will find in spades. This is even before addressing the problem of the need for valid initiatory channels with the original egregore. The “history lessons” you find plastered over the official websites and printed by the “official biographers” (always high-ranking members) in the “official sanctioned publications” are nothing but propaganda which ends up being parroted diligently by those rank-and-file newbies who learn very early on that the only opportunity they have to ever been admitted to the sought-after “invitational degrees” is to simply comply with the party line.
Crowley never intended O.T.O. to be a system where a carrot was forever dangled in front of its members. The Secret of the Ninth Degree was meant to be used, shared, and conferred to those who could understand it. Since William Breeze, aka Hymenaeus Beta, took over in 1985, he worked solely to recreate O.T.O. as a cult of personality with him at the centre, stripping its rituals by core initiatory clauses (with oaths being sworn to him or to the few other National Grand Masters, as opposed to Baphomet) and, when the attempt of turning it all into a USA-style mega-church failed already in the 90s, the tendency has been to use O.T.O. as the breeding grounds for his own “true” A∴A∴
Too bad he was expelled by his own superior, Marcelo Motta, alongside his co-conspirator J. Daniel Gunther. But truth and facts don’t matter when you control a brand because people will flock to it in ignorance.
And then, of course, there are the countless issues of sexual abuse constantly silenced, the harassment of ex-members (I am still targeted to this day – the only bad reviews of my book on Amazon are from O.T.O. members, go figure), and the growing contingent of alt-right and straight-up far-right members in its fold.
The core lesson here is simple: it’s time to move past the delusion of hierarchical groups. It’s a great idea on paper, but at its core, it always hinges on the utopian vision of a caste of Philosopher-Kings able to run it. Humanity will always, invariably disappoint you.
Furthermore, another thing that has bothered me about the Order is that they know that the IX degree secret (for instance) is available virtually everywhere on the Net and in print in various places. Still, they act as if their initiations add something meaningful to the written secret.
I have no problem with that, but restricting the invitational degrees the way they have is a little like trying to lock the barn after the horse has been stolen.
The best and the brightest have already left the Order. Its inability to retain initiates indicates that the strategy concerning the invitational degrees does not work. That means there is a fundamental flaw in the process. By arbitrarily restricting access to the higher degrees, they inadvertently devalue the lower degrees. The higher degrees are not awards to be handed out for good behaviour, but the Order leaders see themselves as gatekeepers to Thelema itself. They restrict access to Crowley documents, to the Crowley copyrights, etc. and to the higher degrees. Thus, they can actually seriously talk about “heresy”. Their model becomes the very thing the New Aeon was designed to avoid: a College of Cardinals and Papal infallibility and an Office of the Inquisition. The Order has managed to suck the joy out of Thelema by trying to mould itself along the lines of organised religion.
There are Mysteries and Magick in Thelema, and they protect themselves quite nicely from the ignorant and the authoritarian. If a person’s progress and attainments merit further initiation, they are entitled to it, regardless of how well or poorly they suck up to the leadership.
Basically, if you trust the system, if you trust Thelema, then trust it all the way and do not stand in front of the Gate with a baseball bat and a sneer. You are not the Order. The Order is bigger than you are, bigger than the sum of its members. Get out of the way. By limiting access to initiation, you are limiting the Order to your own ego. I think that’s called being a Black Brother, but I could be wrong.
Now, before the usual suspects accuse me of seeing all black and being negative because I didn’t fit in the system, I will also admit that for folks who crave, first and foremost, a local community of like-minded people, the experience of the Man of Earth Triad and so of the local Lodge/Oasis/Camp will often be rewarding. However, it is a problem when a Holy Order is reduced to a weekly esoteric book club with a bit of cosplay on top.
On the nature and current state of magic
PAA: In your view, why do interest and participation in magic seem to ebb and flow over time? What accounts for that cyclic nature?
In my lifetime, I have observed this cycle three times. Of the first, I have only vague memories since I was born in 1978, and by the time I started to become interested in mythology in the mid-80s, it was already dying down.
Then you had another short burst of interest in the late 90s, and finally, the current one, which started around 2008 but took much longer to reach its zenith around a decade later and is in its death throes now.
It would seem that these cycles are strictly connected to moments in time when things go catastrophically wrong or are about to go that way, and humanity needs a reminder that we are all born with the tools to make sense of the seemingly – and, at times, factually – impossible tides that life throws against us.
PAA: Is the recent decline in magic’s popularity just part of the usual cycle, or are there unique factors in our current age making it harder to sustain?
I have very little doubts about it, but as you already remarked in the question, something is definitely different this time. I will sound like a broken clock, and I will certainly show my age, but it became evident to me that the social media-addled brain simply isn’t tailored for spiritual evolution of any kind.
And I say this as someone who tried to make it work because social media offered (for a while, it’s all gone now) the option to push these ideas to a broader audience. It seemed like a handy tool that could be appropriately used if proper thought went into it. I was wrong.
When the entire raison d’etre of a system is to produce “content” for a megacorporation instead of focusing on creating Art – and magick, with the k or without, is the Royal Art – it’s time to accept that such a system is corrupted beyond hope of redemption and move on.
This is easier said than done. We don’t have alternatives now, so if one still wants to share these ideas, the only way is to bargain with the devil.
PAA: You recently mentioned magic seeping into the mainstream in repackaged forms – do you see this as a positive trend overall?
Ideally, these repackaged forms would lead to a deeper search for their sources. I have witnessed many people moving from the “Kundalini” yoga class at the local gym to studying sex magick.
But, once again – and this is the common trend of the current spiritual landscape – this isn’t happening anymore. We’ve grown lazy and complacent as a society, and no, this is not just a case of “old man yelling at the clouds”. The kids are NOT alright, and the proof is in the last few years of WitchTok and similar superficial trends. Those who skirted the online occult community for a long while will remember how the mantra, for a long time, was that these new, chronically online generations would “save occulture”. I remember older folks swearing by the gospel of Tumblr witchcraft and Deviantart chaos magick. Instead, we only got more superficiality and more attrition.
On the fundamentals of embodied ritual
PAA: For beginners drawn to ritual magic, what’s the most vital mindset shift they need to make regarding practices like meditation and breathwork?
A widespread critique I hear repeating, again and again, is that, since the grimoires of old do not speak of breathing or visualisation, then you can safely get rid of those practices. They are only later additions – primarily due to the “undue” influence of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn – and, thus, unworthy of consideration.
I know it sounds absurd, but this is one of the most common discussion points on the various online forums.
So, for starters, I suggest steering clear from Facebook Groups, Reddit, and the like. Everyone has an opinion these days, and most folks confuse opinions for facts. Being constantly barraged by opinions presented as facts will only confuse you, especially if you are at the start of your path. I understand the need for community, but I cannot stress it enough anymore… you are going to lose much more than you will ever gain.
Ultimately, the most vital mindset shift is to approach these practices with sincerity, an open heart, and a willingness to explore the depths of your own consciousness and the mysteries of the universe.
PAA: What’s the most common complaint or obstacle you’ve seen among students new to daily embodied rituals like pranayama? How do you advise overcoming that?
The difficulty lies in establishing a consistent daily practice.
I encourage students to start with realistic goals. Instead of committing to an hour of pranayama daily, I suggest beginning with just a few minutes. Once this becomes a habit, they can gradually increase the duration.
Furthermore, having a dedicated time and space for their practice can make it feel more structured and easier to incorporate into their daily routine. This might be very difficult, as those of us who live in big cities know that the space available is becoming increasingly small. But even creating a corner in a room could do the trick. I also suggest setting reminders, such as alarms or calendar events, to prompt them to do their daily practice. Consistency is critical, and reminders can be beneficial.
Another fundamental point is to emphasise the importance of gradual progression. As students become more comfortable practising, they can explore more advanced pranayama techniques and longer durations.
It’s also important to remind students that missing a day or having an irregular practice is okay. They shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. The goal is consistency over time, not perfection every day.
What we do is like training to run a marathon – not a sprint. So we are in the game of endurance, and even then, we are at the very early stages of such endurance training. It will take time, dedication, and sweat, and it’s fine like this.
Your first book, “The Aleister Crowley Manual: Thelemic Magick for Modern Times”
PAA: What core components of Crowley’s magical system proved most challenging to break down into digestible concepts for new readers in your book?
All of them! And that is why my book focuses on the magical practices that lead to Thelema, and then it ends right when we reach it.
Crowley was an incredibly erudite man, a true polymath, and to think one can really condense his vast, multifaceted, and very often seemingly contradictory body of work in a book for beginners is foolish, and that was never my aim to begin with.
Rather, I wanted to offer a how-to manual for those who are willing to give the “tech” a go, see if they like it, and if they do leave enough breadcrumbs for future explorations. I think I did a decent job at introducing the concepts of Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit, and I was happy to be able to clarify some common misconceptions regarding famous Thelemic rituals such as the Star Sapphire or Liber Samekh.
I plan to explore these concepts, as well as the advanced Thelemic rituals, in future publications. Being free from oaths sworn to gatekeepers implies that I can actually write what these rituals are for without resorting to gnomic allusions. Since this book has already been a minor commercial success, there are hopes publishers will be interested in what I will write next.
PAA: Was there any significant part of Crowley’s original teachings that you wanted to explore in your book but couldn’t due to copyright issues?
I couldn’t print any of the ritual rubrics, for instance. I will admit that I never sought permission from the copyright holders, but that’s not only due to the fact they see me as public enemy #1 (I jest, but it’s not too far from the truth), but mainly because the previous Crowley book published by Watkins – the Stephen Skinner edition of Liber ABA – was blocked from publication in the USA by the very same people.
The situation regarding Crowley’s literary estate and the related copyrights is complex. Given the time passed since his death, one would think that most, if not all, of his material would be in the public domain. And this is true in most territories, but the USA remains more problematic than many others. After all, the same trick has been used repeatedly by Disney to maintain the commercial reins over their empire.
I will just say something, and that is that there are very mundane reasons beyond the change of spelling of the word “fill” to “kill” in Liber AL vel Legis around a decade ago, done by Bill Breeze and justified with a long and baroque article I was tasked to translate in Italian during my time in O.T.O.
On one hand, it served as a way to shoehorn J. Daniel Gunther’s “prophetic revelations” as truth and thus begin the attempted, and ongoing, takeover of their A∴A∴ lineage over the whole organised Thelema. But on the other hand, it’s all about extending the copyrights on the central text of the Current.
On Thelema’s Aeon of Horus
PAA: Do you think the Aeon of Horus has fully taken hold yet in the world, or is it still just emerging? What makes you say that?
Whether or not the Aeon of Horus has fully taken hold in the world remains a matter of interpretation and belief, and it largely depends on one’s perspective and worldview.
I see the cultural changes, individual empowerment, and a decline in traditional religious authority of the past 119 years as evidence of this shift. And yet again, a powerful ultra-reactionary current has been resisting it and raising its ugly head in dangerous ways, especially in the last few years. It’s not a case we have as absolutely insane trends lately, such as glorifying the “Traditional Wife” life or the “anti-woke” ramblings of the Perennialists.
Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci famously said “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.” while languishing in a Fascist prison in the 1930s. Very little has changed since, and very little will change for a long time.
Aeons are born, develop, and eventually die on a time scale well beyond human comprehension, and 119 years are nothing but the blink of an eye from their perspective. Moreover, the Aeon of Horus is an Aeon of Force and Fire and of incredible prodigious marvels. Those monsters Gramsci wrote about, at least from a Thelemic perspective, aren’t only those enjoying tyranny and oppression and those prodigies that will lead humanity to the full embrace of the New Aeon.
After all, “monster” comes from the Latin “monstrum”, which indicates a divine omen, a portent… a prodigy.
PAA: For a Thelemite, what might indicate you’re having an authentic experience of the Aeon of Horus versus falling back on old magical paradigms?
This is an excellent question because you simply cannot avoid falling back on such magical paradigms for all the reasons we discussed above.
We are, effectively, in an interregnum period, and thus, we are still heavily leaning on the formulae of the Aeon of Osiris while we learn how to use the new “tech” of the Aeon of Horus.
I know that plenty of other Thelemic authors made it clear that one can just jump straight away into performing the Star Ruby (just an example), but I simply don’t have any evidence that’s the case. Without mastering the old Pentagrams and Hexagrams first, you won’t really “get” what the most famous “Thelemic Pentagram” aims are or how to control the energies it invokes and banishes.
While there are some exceptions (case in point, Liber V vel Reguli), I would still encourage some caution in performing rituals meant to be forceful and fiery. That might seem a paradox, as on the one hand, one should be cautious while on the other one should strive to be bold, but the tension between those two polarities is indeed one of the critical factors – if not THE key factor – of the magick of Thelema.
Alongside learning to navigate this constant struggle of polarities, one should never forget that Thelema’s central tenet is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Authentic experiences in the Aeon of Horus would involve aligning one’s actions and decisions with one’s True (or Pure) Will.
This means seeking self-discovery and self-expression rather than conforming to external norms or dogmas. Easier said than done, especially when we are tested with understanding the limits of our personal freedoms vs the need to look after the good of the community we are locked in a social contract with – and I am obviously referring to the experience of the lockdown years.
And so, my suggestion to live a full Thelemic life, to the extent we can do it while in the interregnum, is to accept the incessant conflict and clashing of polarities this embodied existence is about, all while keeping true to the North Star of our Wills.
Easier said than done.
Anything else you would like to share
I can easily be found online across all the various platforms, even if I am trying hard to finally cut my ties with social media. Still, I always try to answer every message and every email I receive, as long as it’s not death threats.
My website is www.marcovisconti.org, and there you will find all the details about the courses I currently offer. From an introduction to the magical practice (consider it a multimedia version of my book) to a deep dive into the Formulae of Thelema hidden in plain sight in the Thoth Tarot, to a series of lessons preparing you for the experience of the Holy Guardian Angel.
My book has almost sold out its first print run of 5,000 copies in the 9 months since its publication. I am working on an Italian translation, which will be out on a very prestigious Italian publisher, while Polish, Bulgarian, North Macedonian, and Albanian editions will also be published in 2024.
I also hope to finish the one I am writing by the end of next year for a 2025 publication.
In closing, I would like to thank Perseus Academy and its readers for the space given to me and my story and the opportunity to return to the written interview format after years of podcasts. I still love those, but it was a nice change of pace!
PAA: Thank you so much for your time in answering these questions. For more info on the work of Marco Visconti please visit his website at: www.marcovisconti.org