SEATTLE – Over two decades ago, Jon Sewell attended a camping event in Washington state. Performed under a full moon, the “Rite of Luna” consisted of poetry and music, and it provided inspiration for a vision that has been 20 years in the making.
What Sewell experienced is one of the seven public rites written and published by Aleister Crowley in 1910 called Rites of Eleusis. These productions were named after the seven classical planets and follow the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. The trio of Crowley, Leila Waddell, and Victor Benjamin Neuburg put on the productions over the October and November months of that year.
Crowley, an English occultist and founder of Ordo Templi Orientis, claimed that the Rites were used to inspire and experience “religious ecstasy.” Since the works were released to the public, there have been additional productions by many OTO initiates over the last hundred plus years.
Speaking about his early thoughts on Crowley’s writings, Sewell mused, “Sure, there is poetry and music, but is there a story?” He delved deeper: “Then the more I pieced together, the more they looked like instruction books to me, with astrological and Kabbalistic magical practices.” The words became not only educational to him, combining the tarot with planetary and star sign elements, but they began to guide him in his practice.
Sewell’s first undertaking was the “Rite of Jupiter” in 2001. Upon leaving a matinee showing of “Rent,” an idea took form. After arriving at the Edge of the Circle bookstore to meet the soon-to-be cast, he asked, “Is there anyone that can sing?” Those raised hands helped to place the lifelong musician’s rock opera plan on track.
The first production received high marks from local reviews. Riding high on the success of his first production, Sewell turned his sights towards his design of the “Rite of Luna.” Three years in the making, the rendition would be presented to audiences over April and May of 2005. The rock operas continued their journey until the last of the Eleusyve Productions, “Rite of Saturn,” was completed in 2018.
Music had been at the forefront of Sewell’s formative years, and his talents helped to propel the productions’ soundtracks. Sewell was introduced to the cello at the age of nine, and then, at age 14, he began to play the electric guitar in his home of Fairbanks, Alaska. “My parents made me go out play in the courtyard of our apartment complex,” Sewell laughed. “I was making these terrible noises. People who passed by would stop and tune the guitar for me. Or they would show me how to play something.” This love of music would evolve into composing original music for the plays.
Eleusyve Productions was accepted as a finalist in the 2020 Midway Multicultural Film Festival. Sewell, along with Melissa Holm, his partner and also the director of the productions, flew to Park City, Utah, to attend the ceremony in January. “The Rite of Saturn” received the festival’s award for “Best Musical.”
In addition to Midway, the film was also entered into two other festivals in Moscow and Italy. Unfortunately, their plans for traveling to the festivals to represent the “Best Occult Film” category have been put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The film release of “Rite of Saturn” is slated for May 1st, 2020, when it will complete the set of other rites available on Vimeo. As an added bonus to the films themselves, there are pre-show lectures by Thelemic authors Lon Milo DuQuette, Richard Kaczynski, and David Shoemaker, who present various topics surrounding the Rites. These in-depth lectures offer an educational review for the audience.
Looking back on the creation of these productions, Sewell is modest. “If I have seen far, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants,” he says, quoting Isaac Newton. “Melissa [Holm] and I would take long road trips and listen to the music to figure out how we would want the stage set to be or what the actors would be doing at that moment.” Holm provided stage direction for the cast, conducted behind-the-scenes logistics, and had the final say in the music.
“There has been so much support by those around me to help make these performances possible,” said Sewell, praising his cast and crew, “and I really can’t thank them enough.
Like the majority of the country, Sewell is housebound in his Seattle home. Lately, he is working on composing original music for ‘The Ship’, which is another one of Crowley’s works. There is no talk of a start date on this project as of yet, only the promise of creating new music to add to his lineage.
“There is a feeling of accomplishment working on the projects for 20 years of my life,” Sewell noted. “I looked forward to Mondays because I got to see my friends at rehearsal and that helped give me a reason to bring my best self. I have so many memories that are real treasures in my adult life.”