In 2008, on a wet November afternoon in Providence, Rhode Island, I found myself seated in a half filled community center auditorium, listening to various self-professed wise men attempt to spread their gospel. At the time, I was working on a documentary series for a cable channel about New Age Movements. I was there to interview Curtis Bloom, the keynote speaker at Rhode Island Shamanic Journeys Seminar. While I awaited Mr. Bloom, I decided to get some B-roll of the crowd, mainly middle-aged and elderly white men and women, as they drank herbal tea and listened to stories on how the mysteries of the Kabbalah could be unravelled. Nothing stood out until the Knowlton Brothers stepped up to the podium. They were different than what I was used to seeing. These were not spiritual frauds, intent on stealing money from the hopeless, nor were they teaching truisms and bastardized yoga—they had discovered something real, and I knew I had found the subject for my next film. After the seminar, I contacted one of their supporters, and I was soon invited to a meeting with the inner circle. Within six weeks, I became an active member of The Church of the Dark Sun.
For the last seven years, I have been slowly gathering footage for a feature documentary on this little known group. I have managed to record the audio from many of the meetings, both the small scale weekly Study Groups and the large general meetings, but I have yet to get video footage of what I have seen. However, I have managed to interview several ex-members of the Church, and I have pieced together an oral history of this secret order.
The Church of the Dark Sun was founded in 2000 by two brothers, Keith and James Knowlton, in New Haven, Connecticut, as a ritualistic magick and homeopathic discussion group known as The Seekers of the Ra. The brothers became well known for their lectures, and soon began teaching classes to a small group of devotees. In December of the same year, Tana Heim, a member of the Thelemic society known as the Typhonian Order, heard the brothers speak and invited them to join the Order.
Keith decided to stay in New Haven, while James returned to London with Heim to be initiated into the Order. He spent three years within the group, learning the ways of Thelema and the Left Hand Path. In late 2003, Keith Knowlton reunited with his brother in New Haven. In the meantime, James had brought the teachings of The Seekers of the Ra to larger audiences across the Eastern United States.
Taking what he had learned from the Typhonian Order, Keith worked with his brother to create a tighter central group within Seekers, known as the The Church of the Dark Sun. Using Thelemic themes, as well as Hermetic magical traditions, the brothers codified the practises of the group into a more regimented form, with a clear hierarchical structure. The brothers continued their lecture circuit as The Seekers, but invited anyone they saw fit to their inner, secret group.
In mid-2004, the Church became a tax exempt religious group within the States, and started weekly meetings in cities across the Eastern Seaboard. They adopted various Hermetic religious texts, and began to become more insular, with the Knowlton brothers performing fewer and fewer public lectures over the following years. The 2008 Rhode Island Shamanic Journeys Seminar was one of their final public appearances.
The Church beliefs surround the affirmation of the spiritual self over the temporal body, the separation of the mind and the ego, and the communion with other worldly beings, known as the “Dwellers of the Abyss.” While they have a strict hierarchical organization within individual chapters, each city’s Church operates independently of the others. Only the Knowlton Brothers have power over all chapters.
The general meetings I have attended, besides this latest gathering, consist largely of lectures by the Knowlton Brothers, as well as larger magick rituals, including sex magick. Once a year, the New York chapter sacrifices a goat to celebrate the Lunar New Year, however, in the seven years I have covered the group, this is the only violent act I have witnessed.