by John Griogair Bell
I’ve been known to say “The worst of Thelema is Plymouth Brethren for assholes; the best of Thelema is Roman Catholicism for sex addicts.” One of the things that I’ve seen people adopt and adapt, at least in major part, if they’re honest, from Roman Catholicism in their Thelemic practice is the use of rosary. Among others who have done workshops and articles, there’s T Polyphilus’ A Magick Rosary which has an example for the construction and use of a Thelemic rosary.
Within the Roman Catholic tradition, the use of the rosary is sometimes naturally paired into a kit with wearing a devotional scapular. Whilst you might have a pretty good idea what a rosary looks like, and how it is used; you might be much less familiar with the scapular if you’re not Roman Catholic or other sect that uses them, and even then, maybe not.
The devotional scapular is a kind of wide necklace that drapes over the shoulders and has pendants in front and back, typically rectangular cloth suspended from bands, and worn under the top layer of clothing, as opposed to being outerwear. The device is used to symbolically both show others and remind the wearer of a pledge, vow, or way of being. The rectangular cloth can be decorated with images or verses related to one’s intention in wearing.
The scapular (from L. scapulae “shoulders”) was a piece of clothing that may have developed from an apron-like outer garment worn by medieval monks into both the monastic scapular and the devotional scapular. Typically the monastic scapular is worn over the shoulders and draped in front and back by those in monastic orders, and you’ve certainly seen images of monks and nuns wearing them. Originally a development from a practical piece of clothing, the monastic scapular has even become required kit for some.
The scapular is described is as both scutum (L. “shield”) and jugum Christi (L. “yoke of Christ”). The term shield might bring to mind St Patrick’s Breastplate (“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left,” &c.) which has some striking similarities to, and I’ve suggested an influence on, the Kabablistic Cross (“Before me Raphael; Behind me Gabriel; On my right hand Michael. On my left hand Auriel” &c.) as in used by the Golden Dawn, in Liber O, and so on. The term yoke might bring to mind the thought of Yoga (Sk. “yoke”) and the etymology of religion (L. re-ligio as “re-link” or, if you will allow, re-yoke).
The scapular (long, hanging open at the sides) is not a tabard (short, also having open sides) or surcoat (long, closed at the sides but split in the middle for riding). Two images that might come to mind are the white garment with a red cross of a Knight Templar, or what sombunall celebrants at Gnostic Mass wear in the role of child or deacon. (In the lodge where I was most active, we had them and called them, it turns out incorrectly, tabards. However, I’ve also seen other kits use white, black and gold scarfs or stoles instead.) The Knight Templar is probably wearing a proper tabard or surcoat. And, the participant in Gnostic Mass is probably wearing essentially a monastic scapular.
Whilst the monastic orders had their scapular appropriate for their use, the devotional scapular is appropriate for others not in orders. One might say, given the relation to vocation, that at a certain point members of EGC might best wear an actual scapular, but the adopting and adapting the use of a devotional scapular as symbolic statement and reminder seems useful in a number of ways.
One can actually find rosary and devotional scapular kits in various places, but I’m going to suggest that both are easily made, and being made are more meaningful. Plus the making can be a whole thing to make into an intentional ritual operation as well.
Rosaries and devotional scapula are made of many kinds of materials, like beads, leather, metal, and so on. You can, of course, get as fancy as you like, but keep in mind that you can also make them plainly and even DIY. For example, grab some paper and string, a pen and scissors and tape/stapler; make your own scapular right now. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just be intentional about it.
Here’s some ideas for what you could do right now. Head to the Liber Legis pages at the library and print out the images of the front and back of the Stele of Revealing, and use those for the front and back. You could go really wild and use a bead loom to create representational patterns of stele or tarot or so on. Or, go entirely simple and just write 93 and 93s on the paper, cut it out, and hang them on some yarn.
One other thing I’ll suggest as an idea is to borrow the symbols and meaning of the pentagram and hexagram from LBRP (“For about me flames the Pentagram, And in the Column stands the six-rayed Star.” &c) and the robes of the A∴A∴ probationer; with the red 5 pointed star on the front and the red and blue triangles in the shape of a six pointed star on the back; a design you’ve probably seen and realize has meaning.
Of course, one could also tattoo. You’ve no doubt been around Thelemites without shirts and seen how they often have a variety of more or less ornate pectoral stigmata tattoos, but, as far as I recall rarely if ever do they have a matching dorsal tattoo to make a pair. So, maybe there’s something there to explore by your own ingenium.
Although a permanent tattoo might be interesting and serious, the ability to wear different devotional scapular depending on the current season, moon phase, ritual operation, or so ever, might be a really good reason to start creating and collecting. Start building a set of scapular with all the tarot cards and use each of them when you find them appropriate to what’s going on for you. Or, take a magick oath and make a scapular as a statement and reminder of that current operation.
What designs might you think of and for what ritual or devotional purpose will you use them?
John Griogair Bell is the enigmatic super-villain, known only, to some, as Librarian.