The Orgone Committee. The Congress of Causation. The Cult of BehOhZedOh. The Focus Circle. The Adventuring Party. A Temple of the Apotheosis. These are some of the names associated with our gang’s prior endeavors. Also: the Vinny and Chris religion.
Chris West and Vincent Downing met in Brooklyn in 1988, in the bloom of post-adolescence, and swiftly became comrades in ceremonial magic–the kind with the ‘k’ on the end–and assorted esoteric exercises. Chris was into runes and Norse mythology. Vincent was honing his inward practice, still grappling with his Catholic upbringing and learning to sublimate it through thelemic-style metaphysical work, and through being queer.
Basement campaigns of D and D became initiation in the O.T.O. The pair signed on as Kings County apparatchiks of the Crowleyite order. Their method concentrated on working with symbols. Invoking gods, goddesses, and sundry elementals didn’t mean “believing” in them so much as deploying them to stand in for certain energies or concepts or aspects of consciousness or intentions–instruments with which to reach and tinker with one’s own metaprogramming.
The cabal’s third key member entered the scene in 1991, during the Orgone Committee phase. Robin Grant met Chris when they worked together at a theatrical equipment rental house. He joined in D-n-D sessions and private magical practices in the dreaded Room 101.
Youthful Roger with Maypole, ca. 1996
Roger Kimmel Smith fell in with the gang in 1993 when he moved in with Robin in Park Slope. That September, this foursome decided to hold a ceremonial gathering for their friends in honor of the autumn equinox, with party to follow, on the roof of Roger and Robin’s apartment building overlooking Prospect Park. That night was the start of a larger ritual that would encompass the entire year: organizing public gatherings for all eight of the so-called grove festivals of the pagan or neo-pagan calendar, the four seasons and their cross-quarters.
By the following fall, when we gathered in the park to usher in a second year, this little Brooklyn-based weirdo community had grown to a few dozen participants. We did Wiccan circle-casting, led guided meditations, scripted passion-play sketches, went to the woods. Once or twice we skipped the formal ritual and just partied on Chris’s home-brewed mead or other libations. Often we met in Vincent’s basement temple, or out at the “faerie grove” circle of trees in the park’s Long Meadow; once we met up with some actual Radical Faeries there. Improvised theater of reverent irreverence, and desperately needed community-building for ourselves and other young urban counterculturals.
We kept it going through a second year of seasonal rites, then a third. People consistently showed up. A few stepped up to help logistically or artistically with planning the gatherings. Chris and Vincent, always with the larger ambitions, launched us into a new program in 1996. They had noted that a few successful religions you’ve probably heard of seem to get a lot out of bringing people together once a week. Could we infuse our quasi-holy shtick into an anything-goes every-seven-days kind of, um, service? We chose Thursday nights; Chris found a venue, an unused funeral home in the East Village. The Congress of Causation, spiritual vaudeville show, didn’t last long–turns out it’s not easy to do weekly strongly–but it did its work in the lives of the principals.
Flyer for Halloween at the funeral home, 1996
Another step we took around the same time was incorporation as a religious non-profit. This was A Temple of the Apotheosis, or the palindromic ATOTA. As we defined it with characteristic pomposity: “Apotheosis is a five syllable word which means living your life with such skill and passion that you constantly cultivate the genius which is a part of the divinity inherent in every one of us.”
We dreamed up some initiation ceremonies for what we called “small-m and large-M members,” (phal/logocentrism, anyone?), while Chris and Vincent conferred upon themselves the title of Counselor, aspiring to become what we now know of as humanist celebrants.
– from the ATOTA pamphlet
What happened after that? It sputtered to a stop. The seasonal rites ended sometime in their seventh year. The energy diffused as each of us stepped up into the challenges of adulthood. Careers, marriages, parenthood happened. Chris moved to Vermont and began using his civil engineering degree as a home-builder and eco-house consultant. Vincent moved to Vermont, then back to Brooklyn. Roger moved upstate, from Brooklyn to Brooktondale by way of Ithaca.
Flash forward to 2020, a few weeks into COVID. Our boys are now in their fifties. Vincent, Chris, and Robin have been chatting on Discord, hatching an idea for a new project. They reach out to Roger: we’re getting the band back together. The basic idea hasn’t changed much, only this time we have a new word to play with, a new instant-yet-ancient tradition, humanism. A slightly amended, updated slant on the Vinny and Chris religion, on what this alternative culture is we really do strive to build in our moment on this earth. Perhaps after three decades we’re finally ready to advance, in Vincent’s memorable phrase, “from dabbling to meddling.” This, for better or worse, is what we’re doing with the rest of our lives.