I’m thrilled to share the enlightening answers I received from David Shoemaker, head of the Temple of the Silver Star. David took time out of his busy schedule to provide an in-depth look at this fascinating modern magical order. I must add here a big thank you to Robert Allen who made me aware of David and the Temple of the Silver Star in this interview.
For those unfamiliar, the Temple of the Silver Star is an initiatory order that provides training in spiritual and mystical development. The goal is to help initiates uncover their “True Will” and achieve alignment with higher states of consciousness.
From their website:
The Temple of the Silver Star (TOTSS) is a non-profit religious and educational organization based on the principles of Thelema. It was founded in service to the A∴A∴, under warrant from Phyllis Seckler (Soror Meral), to provide preparatory training in ceremonial magick, Raja Yoga, Qabalah, Tarot, Astrology, and much more. Using these foundational tools, we seek to guide the student toward a deeper apprehension of the True Will, the Law of Thelema, and their own psycho-spiritual constitution.
Throughout this interview, David sheds light on the Temple’s unique teachings and practices. We explored everything from the esoteric symbolism in their rituals to the deep self-knowledge gained through spiritual journaling. It’s clear David has a nuanced understanding of the tradition, which he shared with thoughtfulness and care.
I’m sincerely grateful to David for taking time to explain the Temple’s work. It’s not often the veil is lifted on these sorts of private magical orders. His openness provides a rare glimpse into what such a group can offer. I found greater appreciation for the Temple’s aim of empowering seekers to manifest their highest potential.
I hope you find the interview as enlightening as I did! Let us know in the comments if you have any other questions about the Temple of the Silver Star. And thank you again David for sharing your wisdom.
Before we dive into the interview, I just wanted to share this video from David, as it introduces you to David and the Temple of the Silver Star in his own voice. This way I hope you gain deeper insight from the written interview.
PAA: Please introduce yourself and how you became part of the Temple of the Silver Star.
David: I am David Shoemaker, I am the Prolocutor and Chancellor of the Temple of the Silver Star, that is the head of the order, and I’m also a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I specialize in Jungian, transpersonal and cognitive behavioral approaches to psychology and I’m also a personal and executive coach for individuals around the world, although my therapy practice is just in North Carolina and California. And I’ve been involved in the larger tradition behind Temple of the Silver Star for 30 years this year actually.
The broad philosophical and religious tradition is the Thelema, which is the philosophy and religious approach of Aleister Crowley, focused on the concept of the true will, which we’ll talk more about. And I moved from the broader tradition into the founding of the Temple of the Silver Star in 2008, and over the last 15 years we’ve grown from a relatively local population there in California to be spread around the U.S. We have multiple groups around the U.S. and the U.K., Europe, South America, a growing population of people, so it’s been a delightful journey.
PAA: You have some wonderful info on the website, but could you give us a little intro into the Temple of the Silver Star?
David: So the Temple of the Silver Star is a training order for magical and mystical practice that is founded on the principles of the Thelema and follows in the pattern of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, what they called their cipher manuscripts, the original kind of building blocks, foundational building blocks of the Order of the Golden Dawn from the late 1800s. But over the course of the last more than a century now, these so-called Western mystery schools have continued to evolve, and in particular our tradition over the past 120 plus years has incorporated, as you might expect from my training, a lot of emphasis from the Jungian literature and other depth psychology, transpersonal psychology of the 20th century.
In addition to just being a living tradition where each successive generation of initiates adds their own perspectives and incorporates their own visionary work and enlightened moments and does their best to integrate that into the tradition. So it’s been a living, growing thing, even over the 15 years that it’s existed. And our mandate is to help initiates be psychologically balanced, be self-aware, remove limitations of their own or society’s expectations for them to be a certain thing other than what they are, and to thereby help each initiate come into conscious awareness of their true will.
The true will, which is, again, the core principle of the tradition of Thelema, is the basic nature of the human. We believe that each human being has a unique nature, a way of being, a way of living, and we believe that the world functions best and each individual prospers the most and society prospers the most when each individual seeks to live out their lives according to their basic nature in a way that is joyous and harmonious and passionate and basically, you know, creating a life where their purpose for living has space to actualize itself and the meaning they can derive from living has space to actualize itself. So it’s a beautiful thing to cultivate this in initiates and to watch these people grow into themselves. Our tools are not meant to define for anyone else what their true will is or what they’re supposed to be doing in life or anything like that. Our tools are designed to help them discover that for themselves.
We use many of the traditional tools developed by Aleister Crowley, but again, also unpublished tools that have come about over the last 120 years and both within psychology and within magical and mystical training schools. The rituals of the Temple of the Silver Star are patterned on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Each degree corresponds to a particular sphere on the Tree of Life and the ritual of that degree unlocks the symbolic world of that particular place on the tree. And then the daily ritual and meditative and intellectual work of the initiate while they’re in that degree is keyed to that sphere as well. So by the time an initiate has walked through the First Order, the Outer Order, they have encountered these different zones of themselves and sort of unpacked them to understand them better and then reassembled them into kind of a purified and consecrated vessel for the next stage, which is moving into more direct awareness of the true will and contact with what Crowley would have called the knowledge and converse of the Holy Guardian Angel, which is the central spiritual attainment and crisis of each initiate’s path.
PAA: What processes are in place to help initiates effectively balance ego defenses with vulnerability as a part of their training?
David: That’s a very interesting question. So what we are doing in one key sense is exposing people to their own illusions, that is giving them tools to expose their own illusions to themselves, to strip away, as I said earlier, expectations of oneself, either laid upon oneself by oneself or by the society or family or various cultural expectations. And when people encounter the falsity of some of those expectations compared to the vibrancy of the will within, the nature of the true self really shining out, it’s not hard to prefer the truth part as opposed to the veiled expectations part. And so the defenses that have been built up largely to defend against the onslaught of those expectations or the negative ways we talk to ourselves or treat ourselves or let people treat us because of these societal conditions, when we encounter the truth underneath that, it’s easier to let go of those defenses.
When we are more in touch with ourselves, our center, our true self, it is easier for the ego to recognize that it can have a more relaxed stance and not be so defensive. And the vulnerability that we have cultivated in ourselves to tolerate our own self-scrutiny has brought a greater sense of confidence and centeredness that may seem paradoxical, but is a safe vulnerability. We trust ourselves, we know ourselves, we know where we can let down our guard and where it’s actually not appropriate to let down our guard. So it is a balance, but the balance between appropriate defensiveness and appropriate vulnerability.
This might be a good time to introduce the A∴A∴ and the significance of being under warrant from Phyllis Seckler, Soror Meral. The A∴A∴ was Crowley’s attempt to revise a training organization in 1908-09 in that zone, starting then. And he had come out of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and was disillusioned with some of the pitfalls of the social aspects of that organization. So he reoriented the A∴A∴ to be a one-on-one training organization where you would only work with your own teacher and your students would only work with you one-on-one. So there was none of that social consideration there. And that works on its own plane.
Other groups have found value in the social aspects of things, including his own Ordo Templi Orientis. But in the A∴A∴, there’s a core set of tools that we still use today that, excuse me, the core set of tools that fall into categories of ceremonial magic, yoga, mystical techniques, intellectual study. And overarching all of that is a commitment to each individual testing these tools and deciding for themselves what meaning they derive from it. It’s not an organization, and the same is true for Temple of the Silver Star, it’s not an organization that says, here’s your creed, here’s what you should believe, and here’s what’s true, and you better have faith in it. That’s just not what Crowley and Thelema are about. It’s about testing tools, coming to your own conclusions, reserving the right to have philosophical or religious conclusions of your own, or not. So that’s an extremely important part of it. Phyllis Seckler was my teacher in A∴A∴. Her teachers were Jane Wolfe and Karl Germer, and their teacher was Aleister Crowley.
Before her death in 2004, Soror Meral warranted me to found an organization when and where I chose to do so, and that’s what became Temple of the Silver Star as a continuation of her original work with her own College of Thelema and A∴A∴. So in that we are a lineal link in the chain of A∴A∴, as well as a lineal descendant of the Hermetic Order of Golden Dawn, we have a pretty unique set of tools in our bag, and my own experience as a clinical psychologist has added to that as well, I think, I hope.
PAA: You are very organized in that you have two clear approaches to study, the academic track and initiatory track. I see from the site that the latter is far greater in size than the former. Are you able to share a little about both approaches?How do they approach building the fundamentals of concentration, mental silence, visualization, energy work?
David: Okay, so let’s start with the academic track because it’s a bit more straightforward. There are a central set of tools that were developed originally by Soror Meral, things like the basic ritual, the Pentagram, the solar adorations that are done four times a day called Liber Resh el Helios, that’s an original Crowley ritual from A∴A∴, and some intellectual exercises and writing exercises like book reports, review of one’s own natal astrology, psychological work like being mindful of psychological projections onto others, monitoring health, just the building blocks. And so all of those things comprise one of four courses of the academic track. Students have up to two years to do each course, and they’re working primarily with one individual instructor, but often there are group classes offered as well. In the initiatory track, we take everything in course one and spread it out across the order, the first order degrees of the Temple of the Silver Star. So by the time someone has finished the first order of the initiatory track, they have also completed course one.
So it’s a question of whether an individual is looking for an initiatory component and a more social component, not social for its own sake, but social in the sense of regular group ritual and a certain forging of a group mind from that regular work together. So our local groups, which are called Temples or Pranaoi, that’s plural of Pranaos, get together regularly, typically monthly for a single core group ritual that’s done every month. This includes healing components and energy raising components. And it’s generally designed to be, as you regard, you might say, a hothouse for the growth of the soul of each initiate. So we work with building concentration through daily assigned meditations. Mental silence also grows out of that.
Visualization work comes in more intensely at a certain place in order to forge that particular skill, but we work with visualization from the outset in the sense that many of our core practices, even something as widely known as the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram, you are visualizing these pentagrams as you’re drawing in the air, you are attempting to visualize and interact with archangels that are contacted in the ritual. And one can maintain a skeptical and even atheistic approach to what all these beings are and what all these entities are, but that doesn’t matter for our discussion here. The main thing is the visualization is happening and that’s being strengthened.
Energy work is bound up certainly in visualization and concentration and mental silence in the sense that all of those muscles are used in order to move energy. We train our initiates to be able to tolerate containing more energy and we train them in the ability to direct that energy into specific forms. That’s where visualization comes in and of course the mental silence needs to be there in the sense that you don’t have intrusive or distracting thoughts while you’re attempting to do these things. This is basic yoga and concentration similarly. We need to maintain a razor-sharp focus on the intended goal of the magical work, the visualized outcome, the image we’re trying to hold in meditation, and so on.
PAA: How is progress gauged, especially progress in the initiatory track?
David: So we have landmarks of testing and training and at each stage, this is true for both A∴A∴ and Temple of the Silver Star, at each grade or degree there are specific rituals or other magical practices that need to be demonstrated and mastered. That is, our mastery is demonstrated by demonstration. Also through recording of all our daily practices in the Magical Diary, which is reviewed by the chiefs of the temple and kept confidential, of course, and not retained after it’s reviewed. Just as in Crowley’s day, the Magical Diary is the basis of what he would have called the scientific illuminist approach to magic, where we encounter the results of our experiments and draw our conclusions and have a record, much like a subjective scientific record or a behavioral science experiment, where we simply state what we did and what the results were and the conditions of that practice.
For example, how was our mood that day? How was our energetic level? How were we physically? Were we disturbed by interpersonal interactions or external events? What was the weather? What was the moon phase? All of those things may make a difference for a given individual in their practice. The Diary is an incredibly important way of gauging an individual’s progress. In many cases, their change of consciousness, for those who have walked the path already and are doing the training, we can observe the changes in consciousness that grow out of this work. We can see that a person has, to give a simple example, begun to be more tolerant of individual differences in others. They’re not as judgmental. They’re aware that each person has their own path and their own way of being. Those kinds of character changes are certainly one thing that we’re looking for. What specifically we’re looking for varies from degree to degree.
PAA: As current head, what have been some of the biggest challenges that you’ve had to overcome?
David: Well, like any startup, at the beginning, a lot of it is pretty exhausting work that you’re doing more of than you really have time and energy for, but you’re doing it anyway. Getting over that hump of the initial few years of really bootstrapping things. Of course now, 15 years later, with Temple of the Silver Star and also with A∴A∴, we just have a very strong network of great people who have come up through the system and are incredibly devoted and hardworking and loving in their approach to the work and their own teaching and writing and working with others in the system. I’m just tremendously proud and honored to have a team of people. But initially, getting over and through that hump of the startup phase, and unfortunately, in the wider Thelemic world, there will always occasionally be people or organizations that decide to be antagonistic for some reason, and sometimes, what am I saying? Sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly, but that’s never pleasant, and that’s not why I do this, and I think that’s not why most people do this, to be schoolyard bullies. That’s no fun, but that’s definitely a small corner of the work.
PAA: Once you began this work, what have been some of the most memorable occasions for you personally and for the organization?
David: Each time we’ve expanded into a new area, like in the last three years, the expansion of our work on the East Coast of the US has grown incredibly well. In the past eight years or so, I would say, our expansion into UK and Europe, we have a growing presence in South America. Each of those growth directions and growth phases has been incredibly rewarding in terms of going to visit and seeing the people who are there excited to have something happening locally and really digging into the work, and watching new people come in who then five years later are leaders in their area, and the growth that is so visible in them due to that, that’s really rewarding, so I would say that.
PAA: How does the lived history and institutional memory of the Temple of the Silver Star differ from occult orders that have no direct lineage from the original Golden Dawn?
David: I think what is missed in the visible public view of organizations, say, that stem from the Golden Dawn, is the way that much of the process of growing in the order, an individual’s growth in the order, and their experience of it, and their integration of order culture, if you will, like the real energy of being in an order. I think what’s missed is the way that that requires, to be maximized, it requires living in a temple culture, month in and month out, for years. It’s much like martial arts in a certain way, there is, it’s not just content or intellectual learning, there’s a way of doing things, a way of problem solving, a way of moving physically, a way of carrying an implement that you’re using, a way of invoking, and you can’t get that from reading it, you can’t get that from limited exposure to it, or occasional exposure to it, you can only get that from living in a thriving temple culture for years. And what we benefit from in Temple of the Silver Star is an unbroken experience of that, and as you put it, an institutional memory of that, that extends back more than 120 years now, I think we’re coming up on 135 or something, and from the original Golden Dawn to today, and we have at each stage of our evolution, and at each successive organization that is branched off, that has always happened in the context of leaders at the highest levels deciding to form a new organization, including myself with Temple of the Silver Star.
So each new branching off has brought with it that lived temple experience that simply is a domain of ceremonial magical culture that can’t be there unless you’ve got that institutional memory. Now all that said, there is absolutely value to be had in self-initiation, or a group of kids deciding they’re gonna pick up the Golden Dawn book and start to work some of the rituals and just kind of get into that and have fun with it and grow from it, so there’s absolutely value in that, I’m not devaluing that in any way, but there’s a component that won’t be there, and that is everything I just described that’s from the lived temple culture.
PAA: What is the main spiritual attainment that the training in the Temple of the Silver Star is designed to lead to? Is it completely the same as that of the Law of Thelema, or are there some differences?
David: So leading each initiate to understanding their conscious understanding of their true will is absolutely our central aim. The climactic attainment of the Temple of the Silver Star is knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, which happens at the pinnacle of our Second Order, that defines the pinnacle of our Second Order, and in that way it is analogous to what the A∴A∴ is doing up through the degree of Adeptus Minor, which is where knowledge and conversation happens. In case people don’t know, knowledge and conversation is an archaic term that describes the spiritual connection to the Holy Guardian Angel, or to whatever term one would want to use with that, the higher genius, or God, or you know, fill in the blank, but the important thing is when you get there, you know it, and it’s unmistakable, but that’s the the climactic attainment that the Temple is designed to bring forth, and that is impossible to disentangle from knowledge of true will,because those two go together.
PAA: In what ways has Temple of the Silver Star evolved the rituals and symbolism over time compared to the original Golden Dawn system?
David: So a lot of evolution happened before Temple of the Silver Star was even founded, of course because we’re talking about the period between 1888 and 2008, so there have been organizations in between that have continued to evolve. Some of these brought in the Thelemic elements, some of these brought in, for example, the thinking and writing and visionary work of Paul Foster Case and others like that, so there’s just been a lot of various influences that have fed the tradition, almost like tributaries to a river, you know, coming together to make us what we are today.
Temple of the Silver Star itself, under my leadership, has evolved even in just its 15 years in terms of integrating rituals, symbol sets, visionary experiences that, in my experience personally, have been there in order to build the system. Experiences I’ve had that I knew when they were happening needed to be integrated into the way this work is taught, and so that’s one thing that makes an order a living order, or we might call it a contacted order, that someone at the top is plugged in to information that is trying to flow out and be manifest in the work of an order, and so I know that this isn’t a terribly specific answer to the question, but that’s as much as I can say under my obligations.
Suffice to say that we have brought in an increasing degree of specific symbolism that relates to my visionary work, as well as depth psychology again, and sort of the whole Jungian transpersonal way of understanding the great work. By the way, when I say visionary work, especially in reverence to myself, I don’t mean that in the sense of visionary is a compliment to someone, you know, saying that they’re a visionary. What I mean is visionary literally in the sense of having visions that, in mystical states, that brought through certain symbols and brought an impetus to steer the order in a certain direction. A lot of these have their seeds in what was published as the Winds of Wisdom, which is a record of my scrying of the 30 Enochian Aethers that came out a few years ago. So that flowed into the Temple of the Silver Star as well.
PAA: Is there anything we’ve missed? Please feel free to share here anything you’d like to share about Temple of the Silver Star.
David: Temple of the Silver Star can be contacted at totss.org. On that website you’ll see lots of preliminary information, a good solid FAQ, contact information for all of our Temples, Pronaoi, campuses, and study groups, online applications for both the academic and initiatory tracks, some additional explanatory documents, and basically everything you need to know to get started. If you’re interested in the A∴A∴, you can contact A∴A∴ at A∴A∴ | A∴A∴ – The System of Spiritual Attainment Established by Aleister Crowley (onestarinsight.org), which gives contact information for initiating your studies there. If you are interested in getting announcements of public events offered by any of our groups in Temple of the Silver Star, you can look for the TOTSS-Public Google group and subscribe to that, and you’ll be notified when any of our groups do things that are open to the public.
Also, if you are living near Temple Pronaos or campus or study group, you can see that on the website, and make sure that you get on that local list for whatever they may be doing in terms of public classes or rituals in your area. If you have any questions about the order, you can write to info at TOTSS.org, and we’ll be happy to help you out there. I think that’s what I would like to share on top of everything else. We do have a YouTube channel with a lot of good content, and of course my own Living Thelema podcast and YouTube channel overlaps in terms of the training in many ways with what we do in Temple of the Silver Star and A∴A∴. Okay, James, I think that’s about it. I’m happy to elaborate, answer additional questions, whatever you need. Thanks very much.
PAA: Thank you very much David for taking the time and in sharing so much detail. Greatly appreciated.