Although officially founded at the beginning of the 20th century e.v., O.T.O. represents a surfacing and confluence of the divergent streams of esoteric wisdom and knowledge which were originally divided and driven underground by political and religious intolerance during the dark ages. It draws from the traditions of the Freemasonic, Rosicrucian and Illuminist movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, the crusading Knights Templars of the middle ages, early Christian Gnosticism and the Pagan Mystery Schools. Its symbolism contains a reunification of the hidden traditions of the East and the West, and its resolution of these traditions has enabled it to recognise the true value of Aleister Crowley’s revelation, The Book of the Law.
Carl KellnerThe Spiritual Father of Ordo Templi Orientis was Carl Kellner, Renatus (1st Sept. 1851 – 7th June 1905), a wealthy Austrian paper chemist. Kellner was a student of Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism and Eastern mysticism, and travelled extensively in Europe, America and Asia Minor. During his travels, he claims to have come into contact with three Adepts (a Sufi, Soliman ben Aifa, and two Hindu Tantrics, Bhima Sena Pratapa of Lahore and Sri Mahatma Agamya Paramahamsa), and an organisation called the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light.1
In 1885, Kellner met the Theosophical and Rosicrucian scholar, Dr. Franz Hartmann (1838–1912). He and Hartmann later collaborated on the development of the “ligno-sulphite” inhalation therapy for tuberculosis, which formed the basis of treatment at Hartmann’s sanatorium near Salzburg. During the course of his studies, Kellner believed he had discovered a “Key” which offered a clear explanation of all the complex symbolism of Freemasonry and, Kellner believed, opened the mysteries of Nature. Kellner developed a desire to form an Academia Masonica which would enable all Freemasons to become familiar with all existing Masonic degrees and systems.
In 1895, Kellner began to discuss his idea for founding an Academia Masonica with his associate Theodor Reuss, Merlin or Peregrinus (28th June 1855 – 28th Oct. 1923).
During these discussions, Kellner decided that the Academia Masonica should be called the “Oriental Templar Order”. The occult inner circle of this Order (O.T.O. proper) would be organised parallel to the highest degrees of the Memphis and Mizraim Rites of Masonry, and would teach the esoteric Rosicrucian doctrines of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light and Kellner’s “Key” to Masonic symbolism. Both men and women would be admitted at all levels to this Order, but possession of the various degrees of Craft and high-grade Freemasonry would be a prerequisite for admission to the Inner Circle of O.T.O. Unfortunately, due to the regulations of the established Grand Lodges which governed Regular Masonry, women could not be made Masons and would therefore be excluded by default from membership in the Oriental Templar Order. This may have been one of the reasons that Kellner and his associates resolved to obtain control over one of the many rites, or systems, of Masonry to reform the system for the admission of women.
The discussions between Reuss and Kellner did not lead to any positive results at the time, because Reuss was very busy with a revival of the Order of Illuminati along with his associate Leopold Engel (1858–1931) of Dresden. Kellner did not approve of the revived Illuminati Order or of Engel. According to Reuss, upon his final separation with Engel in June of 1902, Kellner contacted him and the two agreed to proceed with the establishment of the Oriental Templar Order by seeking authorizations to work the various rites of high-grade Freemasonry.
John YarkerTheodor Reuss, in addition to being the head of his revival of the Bavarian Order of Illuminati, was also the Grand Master of the Swedenborgian Rite of Freemasonry in Germany (charter dated 26th July 1901 from W. Wynn Wescott), Special Inspector for the Martinist Order in Germany (charter dated 24th June 1901 from Gérard Encausse), and Magus of the High Council in German of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (letter of authorisation dated 24th February 1902 from W. Wynn Wescott). With Kellner’s assistance, Reuss applied to English Masonic scholar John Yarker2 (1833–1913) to purchase charters to operate three systems of high-grade Freemasonry known as the Antient and Primitive Rite of Memphis 97°, the Ancient Oriental Rite of Mizraim 90° and the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite 33° (Cernau Council of New York, 1807).
Reuss received letters-patent as a Sovereign Grand Inspector General 33° of the Cernau Scottish Rite from Yarker dated 24th September 1902. According to a published transcript, Yarker issued on the same date a warrant to Reuss, Franz Hartmann and Henry Klein to operate a Sovereign Sanctuary 33°–95° of the Scottish, Memphis and Mizraim rites. Yarker issued a second charter confirming Reuss’ authority to operate said rites on 1st July 1904 and Reuss published a transcript of an additional confirming charter dated 24th June 1905.
Reuss commenced publication of a Masonic journal, The Oriflamme, in 1902.
These rites, along with the Swedenborgian Rite, were adopted as integral elements within the overall scheme of the Order. The Swedenborgian Rite included a version of the Craft degrees, and the Cernau Scottish Rite and the Rites of Memphis and Mizraim provided a selection of the workable “high grades” as nearly complete as had ever existed. Together, they provided a complete system of Masonic initiation at the disposal of the Order. With the incorporation of these rites, the Order was enabled to operate as a completely independent Masonic system. Reuss and Kellner together prepared a brief manifesto for their Order in 1903, which was published the next year in The Oriflamme. Kellner died on 7th June 1905, and Reuss assumed full control of the Order. With the assistance of co-founders Franz Hartmann and Heinrich Klein, Reuss prepared a Constitution for the Order in 1906.
Theodor ReussRudolph Steiner (1861–1925), who was at the time the Secretary-General of the German branch of the Theosophical Society, was chartered in 1906 as Deputy Grand Master of a subordinate O.T.O./Memphis/Mizraim Chapter and Grand Council called “Mystica Aeterna” in Berlin. Steiner went on to found the Anthroposophical Society in 1912, and ended his association with Reuss in 1914.
On 24th June 1908, Dr. Gérard Encausse (Papus, 1865–1916) organised an “International Masonic and Spiritualist Conference” in Paris, which Reuss attended. At this conference, Encausse received, for no money, a patent from Reuss to establish a “Supreme Grand Council General of the Unified Rites of Antient and Primitive Masonry for the Grand Orient of France and its Dependencies at Paris”. The year before, Encausse, along with Jean Bricaud (1881–1934) and Louis-Sophrone Fugairon (b. 1846), had organised l’Eglise Catholique Gnostique, the Gnostic Catholic Church, as a schism of l’Eglise Gnostique, a neo-Albigensian church founded in Paris in 1890 by Jules Doinel (1842–1903). It is believed that Reuss received episcopal consecration and primatial authority in l’Eglise Catholique Gnostique from Encausse and Bricaud at this conference. Encausse’s involvement in O.T.O. per se is unclear. Also at this conference, Dr. Arnold Krumm-Heller (Huiracocha, 1879–1949) was chartered as Reuss’ official representative for Latin America. Krumm-Heller developed his own order called Fraternitas Rosicruciana Antiqua (F.R.A.). According to his son Parsifal, he never founded any O.T.O. Lodges, initiated any members into O.T.O., or appointed any O.T.O. officers.
As a journalist, Reuss travelled frequently to England. On one such trip, he met Aleister Crowley (Baphomet, 12th Oct. 1875 – 1st Dec. 1947), whom he admitted to the three degrees of O.T.O. in 1910.
On 21st April 1912, Reuss issued a charter to Crowley, for no money, appointing him National Grand Master General X° of O.T.O. for Great Britain and Ireland. Crowley’s appointment included authority over an English-language rite of the lower (Masonic) degrees of O.T.O., which was given the name “Mysteria Mystica Maxima”, M∴M∴M∴
On 1st June 1912, a National Grand Lodge for the Slavonic Countries was established under Czeslaw Czynski. Franz Hartmann died on 7th August 1912. In September of 1912, Reuss published the “Jubilee Edition” of The Oriflamme, which was the first issue of The Oriflamme to discuss O.T.O. in any detail, and it was almost entirely devoted to O.T.O. matters. Kellner, Reuss and Crowley were listed as X° members of O.T.O. Also in 1912, Crowley published the Manifesto of the M∴M∴M∴, in which M∴M∴M∴ was identified as the British Section of the O.T.O., which “includes all countries where English is generally spoken”. O.T.O. was described in this document as:
…a body of initiates in whose hands are concentrated the wisdom and knowledge of the following bodies:
It does not include the A∴A∴, with which august Body it is, however, in close alliance.
The Manifesto of the M∴M∴M∴ also gave the following scheme of organisation for the Order:
|IV°||Companion of the Holy Royal Arch of Enoch.|
Prince of Jerusalem.
Knight of the East and of the West.
|V°||Sovereign Prince of Rose Croix (Knight of the Pelican and Eagle).|
Member of the Senate of Knight Hermetic Philosophers, Knights of the Red Eagle.
|VI°||Illustrious Knight (Templar) of the Order of Kadosch, and Companion of the Holy Graal.|
Grand Inquisitor Commander, Member of the Grand Tribunal.
Prince of the Royal Secret.
|VII°||Very Illustrious Sovereign Grand Inspector General.|
Member of the Supreme Grand Council.
|VIII°||Perfect Pontiff of the Illuminati.|
|IX°||Initiate of the Sanctuary of the Gnosis.|
|X°||Rex Summus Sanctissimus (Supreme and Most Holy King).|
The September, 1912 issue of The Oriflamme included a similar listing of a ten-degree system:
|III°||Johannis-(Craft-) Freimauer [Craft Freemason]|
|IV°||Schottischer-(Andreas-) Mauer [Scottish Mason]|
|IX°||Vollkommener Illuminat [Perfected Illuminatus]|
Thus by 1912 Crowley and Reuss had condensed the system of Craft and high-grade Freemasonry into a workable system of ten numbered degrees which incorporated the teachings and symbolism of a number of additional occult and mystical societies. Kellner’s three-degree Academia Masonica formed the VII°, VIII°, and IX° of this system. The tenth degree, “Rex Summus Sanctissimus” or “Supremus Rex”, designated the National Grand Master General of O.T.O. for a particular country, region, or linguistic group. The ultimate authority in the Order world-wide was vested in the Frater Superior or Outer Head of the Order (O.H.O.).
The National Grand Masters General had the authority to appoint their own representatives, called “Viceroys”, in other countries with the same dominant language. Viceroys could also be accorded the X° by the O.H.O. The National Grand Masters General were expected to conduct the business of O.T.O. in accordance with the O.T.O. Constitution, but largely without day-to-day supervision by the international headquarters or “Central Office”.
The Manifesto of the M∴M∴M∴ included photographs of Crowley’s manor-house in Scotland, called Boleskine, which served as a “Profess-House” of the Order. It also included a list of dues and fees for each degree, as well as a list of “affiliation fees” whereby Freemasons could affiliate directly at the level corresponding to their own degree in Masonry. These lists were reprinted in the 1914 issue of The Oriflamme, along with the degree titles from Crowley’s Manifesto translated into German.
In 1912 the system of O.T.O., despite its various influences, remained principally Masonic. In the Jubilee Edition of The Oriflamme Reuss stated that O.T.O.
“is not a Masonic order, pure and simple, but every member of our Order, man or woman…must proceed through the Craft degrees of Freemasonry, also those of high-grade Freemasonry, before they can be illuminated and initiated members of our Order.” However, the United Grand Lodge of England, to whom Crowley technically owed Masonic allegiance, objected to the performance of the Craft Degrees in England outside of its jurisdiction, and objected to the admission of women into Freemasonry. Therefore, Crowley included the following statement in his Manifesto of the M∴M∴M∴
The O.T.O., although an Academia Masonica, is not a Masonic Body so far as the craft degrees are concerned in the sense in which that expression is usually understood in England and therefore in no way conflicts with, or infringes the just privileges of, the United Grand Lodge of England.
On 15th February 1913, Crowley adopted a constitution for the M∴M∴M∴ subject to the General Constitution of O.T.O. On 19th March 1913, Crowley and Reuss jointly chartered James Thomas Windram (Mercurius, 1877–1939) as the O.T.O.’s official representative in South Africa. Later in 1913, while visiting Moscow, Crowley composed the Gnostic Mass, which he “prepared for the use of the O.T.O., the central ceremony of its public and private celebration, corresponding to the Mass of the Roman Catholic Church”.
Charles Stansfeld JonesWorld War I broke out on 28th July 1914. Crowley moved to New York in October of 1914, the following year finding employment as a writer for George Sylvester Viereck’s periodicals The Fatherland and The International, and as managing editor for the latter. In December of 1914, Crowley appointed Charles Stansfeld Jones (Parzival, 1886–1950) as Sovereign Grand Inspector General VII° and Crowley’s personal representative in the City of Vancouver. In March of 1915, Windram appointed Ernest W. T. Dunn VII° (Maximus) as Acting Viceroy for Australasia.
Despite his earlier disclaimer about the Craft Degrees in the Manifesto of the M∴M∴M∴, Crowley remained uncomfortable with the Masonic character of the O.T.O., for a number of additional reasons. In contrast with Reuss, Crowley believed that women could not be initiated as Freemasons, though he thought that they ought to be able to be initiated into O.T.O.
He was frustrated with the elaborate preparations required to stage Masonic initiations, and with the length of the Masonic rituals and their excessive wordiness. Crowley perceived these factors to be impediments to successful implementation among modern working people. He believed that the symbolic content of the Masonic rituals had become garbled nearly to the point of uselessness, and he wished to use the system of O.T.O. to help spread the teachings of Thelema.
For these reasons, Crowley undertook to prepare revised rituals which would convey the significance of the Craft and high degrees concisely and dramatically, which would be suitable for the initiation of both men and women, which would not infringe on the just privileges of the United Grand Lodge of England, and which would convey the basic teachings of Thelema. Crowley did so around 1915, and adopted the revised rituals for use in his own section of O.T.O., the M∴M∴M∴ Crowley wrote about his revised rituals to Arnold Krumm-Heller on 22nd June 1930:
Reuss was in the habit of initiating people with the merest skeleton rituals boiled down from those of Continental Masonry. There was, to put it plainly, no order or decency in the proceeding. He realised that perfectly well, and it was one of the reasons for his asking me to reconstruct the whole system of initiation.
I made a comparative study of numerous rituals to which I had access, and produced a series which were perfected up to and including the 6th degree (equivalent to the Kadosh) and these were worked in London with the greatest success. I must here pause to point out that the fundamental and essential change which is necessary in any rituals with which I have anything to do is the complete renunciation of the cult of the slave-gods. It is impossible for free men to acknowledge any system which is bound up with the fetishes of savages whose only motive for action is the fear born of their ignorance.
In 1915 or 1916, Aleister Crowley wrote Liber CXCIV: An Intimation with Respect to the Constitution of the Order, which developed the ideas set forth in Reuss’ 1906 O.T.O. Constitution, Crowley’s 1913 M∴M∴M∴ Constitution, and in Crowley’s Manifesto.
Gérard Encausse died on 25th October 1916. Charles Detre (Teder, 1855–1918) succeeded Encausse, and also appears to have received the X° of O.T.O. for France, but he died only two years later.
In 1916, Reuss moved to Basle, Switzerland. Whilst there, he established an “Anational Grand Lodge and Mystic Temple” of O.T.O. and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light at Monte Verità. Monte Verità was a utopian commune near Ascona founded in 1900 by Henri Oedenkoven and Ida Hofmann, which functioned as a centre for what the historian James Webb would later call the “Progressive Underground”.
On 22nd January 1917, Reuss published a manifesto for this Anational Grand Lodge, which was called Verita Mystica. On the same date, he published a revised version of his 1906 O.T.O. Constitution, with a “Synopsis of Degrees” and an abridgement of The Message of the Master Therion appended. In his revised constitution, Reuss included many of the provisions of Crowley’s M∴M∴M∴ Constitution of 1913. However, in this document, as in many of Reuss’ documents about O.T.O., he emphasised the Masonic character of the Order.
In May of 1917, Crowley’s Lodge in England was raided and closed down by the police, allegedly over charges of “fortune telling” against one of the members. However, Crowley’s work for Viereck’s anti-British publication The Fatherland may have caused the authorities to suspect Crowley’s Lodge of unpatriotic activities. All Lodge records were seized. Crowley was forced to temporarily resign the Grand Mastership in favour of C.S. Jones to ease the situation for the remaining members. The Lodge was never completely restored.
In Ascona, Reuss held an “Anational Congress for Organising the Reconstruction of Society on Practical Co-operative Lines” at Monte Verità from 15–25th August 1917. This Congress included readings of Crowley’s poetry (on 22nd August) and a recitation of Crowley’s Gnostic Mass (on 24th August – for O.T.O. members only). The announcement for this congress stated:
There are two centres of the O.T.O., both in neutral countries, where enquiries can be lodged by those interested in the aim of this congress. One is at New York (U.S. of America), the other at Ascona (Italian Switzerland).
Crowley was living in New York at the time so, evidently, he and Reuss were the only active National Heads of O.T.O. in 1917.
Reuss had his secretary, “J. Adderley” (Isabel Adderley Oedenkoven), send a copy of the announcement along with a copy of Crowley’s Manifesto of the M∴M∴M∴ to the United Grand Lodge of England, hoping that the Grand Lodge would send a representative. It did not; but William Hammond, the Grand Lodge Librarian, wrote to Reuss after the congress and asked for additional information. During Reuss’ correspondence with Hammond, Reuss reminded Hammond that they had met in 1913/14, and Reuss had provided him with copies of The Oriflamme and Crowley’s Equinox, which, he said, “give details about O.T.O”.
Reuss was clearly impressed with Thelema. Crowley’s Gnostic Mass, which Reuss translated into German and had recited at his National Congress at Monte Verità, is an explicitly Thelemic ritual. In an undated letter to Crowley (received in 1917), Reuss reported excitedly that he had read The Message of the Master Therion to his group at Monte Verità and that he was translating The Book of the Law into German. He added, “Let this now encourage you! We live in your Work!!!”
On 24th October 1917, Reuss issued a charter to Rudolf Laban de Laban-Varalya (1879–1958) and Hans Rudolf Hilfiker-Dunn (1882–1955) to operate a III° O.T.O. Lodge in Zurich, called Libertas et Fraternitas. On 3rd November 1917, de Laban became the Grand Master of the Anational Grand Lodge Verita Mystica. Later that month he closed Verita Mystica and moved his centre of operations to Zurich. In March of 1918, Crowley published the Gnostic Mass in The International. Reuss published his German translation of the Gnostic Mass the same year.
In a note at the end of his translation of the Gnostic Mass, Reuss referred to himself as, simultaneously, the Sovereign Patriarch and Primate of the Gnostic Catholic Church, and Gnostic Legate to Switzerland of the Eglise Gnostique Universelle, acknowledging Jean Bricaud (1881–1934) as Sovereign Patriarch of that church. The issuance of this document can be viewed as the birth of the Thelemic E.G.C. as an independent organisation under the umbrella of O.T.O., with Reuss as its first Patriarch.
World War I ended on 11th November 1918. De Laban left Switzerland in November. In February of 1919, the Libertas et Fraternitas Lodge dropped its O.T.O. connections and became strictly a Masonic Lodge. It later became regularised under the Swiss Grand Lodge Alpina. Although no O.T.O. bodies remained in Switzerland, Reuss continued to confer O.T.O. degrees upon individuals. While Reuss persisted in asserting the Masonic authority of O.T.O., Crowley continued to move M∴M∴M∴ further from Freemasonry. In October of 1918, Crowley prepared another substantial revision to the Order’s initial rituals, this time altogether abandoning the term “Masonry” and the characteristic emblems, signs, grips, etc. of the Craft degrees. He presented his revised rituals to Reuss for order-wide adoption. In March of 1919, Crowley issued The Equinox, Volume III, No. 1 (the “Blue Equinox”), which contained a number of important O.T.O. documents, including:
Crowley’s Liber LII: The Manifesto of the O.T.O. was based nearly word-for-word on Crowley’s 1912 Manifesto of the M∴M∴M∴ Thelemic salutations were added; references to officers were updated; references to “guineas” were changed to their equivalents in dollars; two names of contributing organisations were deleted (The Rosicrucian Order and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn); the table of fees and the photographs of Boleskine were deleted; the statement “It [O.T.O.] does not in any way infringe the just privileges of duly authorised Masonic Bodies” was added after the list of contributing organisations, and the Masonic disclaimer quoted previously was changed to:
The O.T.O., although an Academia Masonica, is not a Masonic Body so far as the ‘secrets’ are concerned in the sense in which that expression is usually understood and therefore in no way conflicts with, or infringes the just privileges of, the United Grand Lodge of England, or any Grand Lodge in America or elsewhere which is recognised by it.
On 10th May 1919, Reuss issued a Warrant to Hans Rudolph Hilfiker, Dr. E. Pargaetzi, R. Merlitschek and M. Bergmaier to form a Supreme Council of the Cernau Scottish Rite for Switzerland in Zurich. On the same date, Reuss issued a “Gauge of Amity” document to Matthew McBlain Thomson, founder of the ill-fated “American Masonic Federation”. The document recognised Thomson as a IX° member of O.T.O. On 18th September 1919, Reuss was re-consecrated by Bricaud, thus receiving the “Antioch Succession”, and re-appointed as “Gnostic Legate” to Switzerland for Brocade’s Eglise Gnostique Universal
Crowley returned to England in December of 1919. In 1920, Reuss published his Programme of Construction and Guiding Principles of the Gnostic Neo-Christians: O.T.O. In this document, Reuss set forth his ideas for a [highly regimented] utopian society. The principles of this society were to be based on ideas from Thelema. The Book of the Law and aphorisms of the Master Therion are quoted (and explained) along with more traditional ideas from Rosicrucianism, Gnosticism, and Yoga and the “progressive” socio-political ideas prevalent at Monte Verità.
On 17th July 1920, Reuss attended the Congress of the “World Federation of Universal Freemasonry”, held at the Libertas et Fraternitas Lodge in Zurich. This conference3 was intended to take up the work of Papus’ “International Masonic and Spiritualist Conference” held in Paris in 1908. Reuss, with Bricaud’s authorisation, advocated the adoption of the religion of Crowley’s Gnostic Mass as the “official religion for all members of the World Federation of Universal Freemasonry in possession of the 18th degree of the Scottish Rite”. Reuss’ efforts in this regard were a failure, and he quarrelled with Matthew McBlain Thomson (who was elected Honorary President of the International Masonic Federation) over jurisdictional issues. Reuss left the congress after the first day.
C.S. Jones had resigned from O.T.O. in 1919, but had continued to correspond with Reuss, and on 10th May 1921 Reuss chartered Jones as X° for the “United States of North America”. On the same date, he chartered Heinrich Tränker (Recnartus, 1880–1956), who headed several esoteric organisations within a movement termed “Pansophia”, as X° for Germany.
On 30th July 1921, Reuss issued another “Gauge of Amity” document, this time to H. Spencer Lewis the founder of A.M.O.R.C., the San Jose, California based Rosicrucian organisation. This document also recognised Lewis as a VII° member of O.T.O. Crowley had met Lewis previously in 1918 in New York, and was not impressed with him. Reuss returned to Germany in September of 1921, settling in Munich. On 3rd September 1921, Reuss chartered Carl William Hansen (Kadosh, 1872–1936) as X° for Denmark. In October of 1921, upon Dunn’s resignation, Crowley appointed Frank Bennett (Dionysus, 1868–1930) as his Viceroy to Australia.
There is some reason to believe that Reuss suffered a stroke in the Spring of 1920, but this is not entirely certain. Crowley wrote to W.T. Smith in March of 1943:
the late O.H.O., after his first stroke of paralysis, got into a panic about the work being carried on…He hastily issued honorary diplomas of the Seventh Degree to various people, some of whom had no right to anything at all and some of whom were only cheap crooks
Shortly after appointing him his Viceroy for Australia, Crowley appears to have corresponded with Frank Bennett and discussed with him his doubts about Reuss’ continuing ability to effectively govern the Order. It would appear that Reuss discovered the correspondence; he wrote Crowley an angry, defensive response on November 9, 1921, in which he appeared to distance himself and O.T.O. from Thelema which, as shown above, he had previously embraced. Crowley replied to Reuss’ letter on 23rd November 1921 and stated in his letter:
It is my will to be O.H.O. and Frater Superior of the Order and avail myself of your abdication – to proclaim myself as such.
He signed the letter “Baphomet O.H.O.” In a diary entry for 27th November 1921, Crowley wrote:
I have proclaimed myself O.H.O. Frater Superior of the Order of Oriental Templars.
Reuss died on 28th October 1923 e.v.
In his Confessions, Crowley recounts that Reuss “resigned the office [of O.H.O.] in 1922 in my favour”. In a letter to Heinrich Tränker dated 14th February 1925, Crowley stated the following:
Reuss was very uncertain in temper, and in many ways unreliable. In his last years he seems to have completely lost his grip, even accusing The Book of the Law of communistic tendencies, than which no statement could be more absurd. Yet it seems that he must have been to some extent correctly led, on account of his having made the appointments of yourself and Frater Achad, and designating me in his last letter as his successor.
In a letter to Charles Stansfeld Jones dated Sun in Capricorn, Anno XX (Dec. 1924 – Jan. 1925), Crowley said: “in the O.H.O.’s last letter to me he invited me to become his successor as O.H.O. and Frater Superior”. Reuss’ letter designating Crowley his successor as O.H.O. has not been found, but no credible documentation has surfaced that would indicate that Reuss ever designated any alternative successor.
Aleister CrowleyAleister Crowley served as the Outer Head of the Order from 1922 until his death in December of 1947. Crowley’s first act as O.H.O. was to reconfirm the charters of Jones and Tränker as Grand Masters for North America and Germany respectively. Tränker, on Jones’ recommendation, invited Crowley to formally assume leadership of O.T.O. as well as of the various organisations included in the Pansophical movement, at a conference to be held at Hohenleuben, near Weida, in the summer of 1925. The other attendees of the conference were: Heinrich and Helene Tränker, Karl Germer (Saturnus, 22nd Jan. 1885 – 25th Oct. 1962, at the time Tränker’s secretary and publisher), Albin Grau, Eugen Grosche, Martha Kunzel, Henri Birven, a gentleman named Hopfer, Crowley and Crowley’s associates Dorothy Olsen, Leah Hirsig, Norman Mudd; and others.
The results of the conference were mixed. The attendees were divided over Crowley’s teachings and The Book of the Law, of which they had previously been largely unaware (it had only recently been translated into German). There were personality conflicts as well. Fraulein Kunzel and Herr Germer went with Crowley. Herrn Tränker, Grau, Hopfer and Birven decided to keep the Pansophical Lodge independent from the Master Therion. Herr Grosche originally sided with Crowley, but he and Germer quarrelled, and Grosche decided to remain independent. After the closure of the Pansophical Lodge in 1926, Grosche regrouped a number of the ex-Pansophists to found the Fraternitas Saturni. Fraternitas Saturni recognised Crowley’s status as a prophet, and accepted the Law of Thelema in a modified form; but Grosche insisted on keeping it independent from O.T.O. and under his own, rather than Crowley’s, authority. Fraternitas Saturni continues to the present day in Germany, Canada and elsewhere, and does not represent itself as being O.T.O.
Tränker apparently attempted to lay claim to the title of O.H.O. of O.T.O. for himself in 1925, but it appears that he was not widely recognised as such and that he ceased his efforts in this direction by 1930, when he and H. Spencer Lewis began to work together directly (but unsuccessfully) to establish a German branch of A.M.O.R.C.
Wilfred Talbot SmithAgapé Lodge No. 1 had been established in 1915 in Vancouver, B.C., Canada under the authority of Jones and Crowley. In the 1930s, Wilfred Talbot Smith (Ramaka, 1885–1957), a charter member of Agapé Lodge No. 1, moved from Vancouver on instructions from Crowley to work with Jane Wolfe (1875–1958), who had been a student of Crowley’s at Cefalu, to establish Agapé Lodge No. 2 in Los Angeles, California. Smith and Wolfe gathered a group together in Hollywood, California, and along with Regina Kahl (1891–1945) began to celebrate the Gnostic Mass on a weekly basis on Sunday, 19th March 1933. Agapé Lodge No. 2 held its first meeting in 1935. Agapé Lodge contributed greatly to Crowley’s publishing efforts, and Crowley appointed Smith as X° for the U.S.A. Later, Agapé Lodge No. 2 moved to Pasadena, California, and was headed by John W. “Jack” Parsons (Belarion, 1914–1952), a respected chemical engineer and aerospace pioneer. Parsons was instrumental in the founding of both the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and of Aerojet General.
When World War II broke out in 1939, international communications became increasingly disrupted and civilian travel was limited. Crowley became very dependent on foreign representatives, being unable to travel himself. Karl Germer, Crowley’s German representative, was arrested by the Gestapo and confined in a Nazi concentration camp for “seeking students for the foreign resident, high-grade Freemason, Crowley”. Released early in the War through the efforts of the American Consul, Germer travelled ultimately to the United States where, as Grand Treasurer General and Crowley’s second in command, he conducted much of the business of O.T.O. On 14th March 1942, Crowley wrote to Germer: “I shall appoint you my successor as O.H.O. … A complete change in the structure of the Order, and in its methods, is necessary. The secret is the basis, and you must select the proper people.” The other European branches of O.T.O. were largely destroyed or driven underground during the War. The Latin American branches of Krumm-Heller’s F.R.A. maintained a light contact with Germer until the early 1960s. By the end of the Second World War in 1945, only Agapé Lodge in Pasadena, California was still functioning. There were isolated O.T.O. initiates in various parts of the world. Although Crowley received visits from O.T.O. members in England, no Lodge work had been conducted there since the police raid of 1917. Initiations were very rare outside of California. Krumm-Heller in Mexico performed no O.T.O. initiations, but sent a candidate, Dr. Gabriel Montenegro (Frater Zopiron or Theophilos) to California for initiation.
During the Second World War, two Californian O.T.O. members, Grady Louis McMurtry (18th Oct. 1918 – 12th July 1985) and Frederic Mellinger (Merlinus, 1890–1970, originally a refugee from Nazi Germany), travelled to Europe on military assignments. McMurtry went earlier and visited Crowley on several occasions while on leave. Mellinger visited Crowley after McMurtry was rotated back to the United States. There was a good rapport between Crowley and McMurtry, and Crowley respected McMurtry’s military experience. In 1943, Crowley personally conferred the IX° of O.T.O. upon McMurtry and made him a Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the Order, and gave him the Magical Name he was to use from then on, Hymenaeus Alpha 777.
In 1944, Crowley began discussing with McMurtry the possibility of assuming the “Caliphate”. Crowley wrote to McMurtry on 28th September 1944: “I hope you will prefer my plan for your career as my Fides Achates, alter ego, Caliph, & so on.” On 21st November 1944, he wrote to McMurtry again:
‘The Caliphate.’ You must realise that no matter how closely we see eye-to-eye on any objective subject, I have to think on totally different premises where the Order is concerned. One of the (startling few) commands given to me was this: ‘Trust not a stranger: fail not of an heir.’ This has been the very devil for me. Fr [Saturnus] is, of course, the natural Caliph; but there are many details concerning the actual policy or working which hit his blind spots. In any case, he can only be a stopgap, because of his age; I have to look for his successor. It has been Hell; so many have come up with amazing promise, only to go on the rocks. … But – now here is where you have missed my point altogether – I do not think of you as lying on a grassy hillside with a lot of dear sweet lovely woolly lambs, capering to your flute! On the contrary. Your actual life, or ‘blooding’, is the sort of initiation which I regard as the first essential for a Caliph. For – say 20 years hence the Outer Head of the Order must, among other things, have had the experience of war as it is in actual fact to-day.
The title “Caliph”, while perhaps appealing somewhat to the sense of humour of both men as a pun on the abbreviation for California (the State of McMurtry’s residence and the location of Agapé Lodge), is from the Arabic word Khalifa meaning “deputy”. It was historically used in early Islam to designate the successor to the Prophet, the world-wide Commander of the Islamic Faithful. Crowley’s use of the term as applied to Germer and McMurtry was parallel for O.T.O.
In 1946, Crowley entrusted McMurtry with documents of emergency authorisation to take charge of the entire work of the Order in California, which included the only functional O.T.O. body at the time. Crowley additionally appointed McMurtry his personal representative in the U.S.A., whose authority was to be considered as Crowley’s own. These two charters, dated respectively 22nd March 1946 and 11th April 1946, were subject only to Karl Germer’s approval, veto or revision. Germer was well informed of McMurtry’s charters from Crowley, as he had attended the Agapé Lodge meeting at which McMurtry had presented them. In addition, in a letter to Germer dated 19th June 1946, Crowley informed Germer that “The only limitation on his [McMurtry’s] power in California is that any decision which he takes is subject to revision or veto by yourself”, thus removing the requirement for prior approval by Germer.
On 6th June 1947, Crowley wrote to Germer:
You seem in doubt too about the succession. There has never been any question about this. Since your re-appearance you are the only successor of whom I have ever thought since that moment. I have, however, had the idea that in view of the dispersion of so many members, you might find it useful to appoint a triumvirate to work under you. My idea was Mellinger, McMurtry, and, I suppose, Roy [Leffingwell], though I have always been a little doubtful about the trustworthiness of the last.
On 17th June 1947, six months before his death, Crowley wrote to McMurtry and informed him that while Germer was to be Crowley’s successor as Head of O.T.O., McMurtry should hold himself prepared to succeed Germer.
Crowley, while trusting in Karl Germer’s ability to govern the Order as his successor, evidently did not trust in Germer’s ability to find and designate an appropriate successor for himself. In what appears to have been an additional contingency measure in the event that McMurtry died or became incapacitated, Crowley also advised Mellinger to hold himself ready as a possible successor to Germer, in a letter dated 15th July 1947. However, Mellinger did not receive any assignments of the kind given to McMurtry, and Crowley never used the term “Caliph” in reference to Mellinger.
Karl & Sascha GermerCrowley died on 1st December 1947, and in accord with his wishes Karl Germer became O.H.O. of O.T.O., serving from late 1947 until his death in 1962. Agapé Lodge continued in Southern California until 1949, after which the Lodge ceased to hold regular meetings.
The records of Agapé Lodge, consisting of minutes of meetings, annotated copies of rituals, lists of members initiated to various degrees in O.T.O., correspondence and financial records, were preserved by Jane Wolfe and various members of the Lodge.
Following Crowley’s death, his will was probated and the executors began receiving his property for shipment to Germer. Germer received most of the materials from Crowley’s estate and eventually took them with him to his final home at Westpoint in Calaveras County, California.
Germer was a quiet and reclusive man, and primarily interested in publishing Crowley’s writings. Several O.T.O. members helped him with this, but, aside from promotion of those already initiated, no new initiations were given. Germer notified McMurtry and others that O.T.O. was to be incorporated and governed by a triumvirate of officers, but this incorporation was never accomplished under Germer’s headship of O.T.O. Germer did charter an O.T.O. Camp in England under Kenneth Grant, a III° member; but closed the Camp and expelled Grant from O.T.O. membership on 20th July 1955 when he learned that Grant had become associated with Grosche’s Fraternitas Saturni, had circulated a manifesto for the a new Lodge of O.T.O. under the joint authority of Germer and Grosche, and had begun to modify the O.T.O. rituals, all without notice to Germer.
Germer also took an interest in the efforts of Hermann Metzger (Paragranus, 1919–1990) in Switzerland. Metzger was a student of a surviving member of Reuss’ Swiss section of the O.T.O. named Felix Lazerus Pinkus (1881–1947), but had no original connection with Crowley’s O.T.O. Germer appointed Mellinger to supervise Metzger’s regularisation into Crowley’s O.T.O., but Germer and Metzger fell into disagreement toward the end of Germer’s life. Frederic Mellinger wrote after Germer’s death that Metzger had failed to satisfy the program of instruction set forth for Metzger by Germer under Mellinger’s tutelage. According to one source, Metzger claimed to have chartered Gabriel Montenegro as X° for the United States. However, Montenegro never claimed any such authority, and never even mentioned any O.T.O. appointment from Metzger to his O.T.O. colleagues in the U.S.
O.T.O. members in California actively sought to influence Germer to reopen public access to O.T.O. Concern was expressed in correspondence that a failure to initiate new O.T.O. members would result in the ultimate demise of O.T.O. In 1959, McMurtry had called a meeting in Los Angeles, to which members of Agapé Lodge and others were invited, with the purpose of attempting to create a unified front to pressure Karl Germer into resuming OTO initiations. McMurtry was ready to invoke his authorisations from Crowley in support of this idea. Dr. Montenegro opposed the idea, and the others failed to lend any support; the idea was abandoned. Montenegro wrote to McMurtry on 21st November 1960 to memorialise his opposition to the idea.
Germer authorised McMurtry to form a nucleus of new O.T.O. public access, but Germer and McMurtry had a falling out over a personal loan and other matters. Whatever differences they may have had, there is not the slightest suggestion that Germer even considered vetoing or revising McMurtry’s charters from Crowley. McMurtry lost his job in California due to health problems and moved to Washington, D.C. in March of 1961. Here he taught Political Science at George Washington University while working as a Management Analyst for the U.S. Government. He also directed the Washington Shakespeare Society.
Germer died on 25th October 1962, without having designated a successor. Germer’s last will and testament named his wife Sascha and Frederic Mellinger the executors of his estate in the matter of property held for O.T.O. Sascha was an elderly lady of less than sound mind, and cut herself off from the surviving members of O.T.O. in California. Germer’s estate was never probated. Some ranking members, including Grady McMurtry, were not notified of Germer’s death for several years, causing a long delay before the question of succession to leadership of O.T.O. was properly addressed.
Metzger in Switzerland published a claim to being the Outer Head of the Order, based on a private election represented to have been held in Switzerland on January 6, 1963. Ranking members of O.T.O. outside of Switzerland, including Frederic Mellinger, whom Germer had appointed as Metzger’s mentor, were not informed of Metzger’s purported election until after the alleged fact. A copy of Metzger’s manifesto was sent to Wilfred Smith, who had been dead since 1957. Metzger was not generally accepted as head of the Order outside his own group. Sascha made a half-hearted attempt to send Germer’s O.T.O. property material to Metzger, but this was blocked by Mellinger in a letter dated 25th September 1963 which denounced Metzger as a fraud. Metzger later incorporated his system of O.T.O. as part of a new organisation of his own formulation, the “Ordo Illuminatorum”, which purported to be a revival of the order of the Illuminati. Metzger died in 1990.
Kenneth Grant (b. 1924) also asserted a claim to being Outer Head of the Order; but he had previously been expelled from membership by Germer. Mr. Grant disputes his expulsion, claiming that he never recognised Karl Germer as head of O.T.O. However, Grant’s own writings from the 1950s, in particular the manifesto of New Isis Lodge, refer to Frater S (Saturnus, i.e. Karl Germer) as the international head of O.T.O. Grant’s organisation asserts that O.T.O. had ceased to be a membership organisation in its traditional sense of having Lodges and conferring degrees ceremonially. Grant’s organisation also ignores the Gnostic Mass, which is, according to Crowley, “the central ceremony of [O.T.O.’s] public and private celebration”.
Grady Louis McMurtryWhen McMurtry became aware of the critical condition into which the Order had fallen after Germer’s death, he was impelled to invoke his documents of emergency authorisation from Crowley, and assume the title “Caliph of O.T.O.”, as specified in Crowley’s letters to McMurtry from the 1940s. For the two witnesses he believed were necessary for this act, he chose Dr. Israel Regardie (1907–1985) and Gerald Yorke (1901–1983). McMurtry referred to these two as the “Eyes of Horus”, as the two most prominent surviving personal students of Crowley. He advised them of his plans to reconstitute the O.T.O. using his letters of charter from Crowley, and requested their support, which was offered. McMurtry completed the activation of his Caliphate by June of 1969, with a letter to Hermann Metzger of Switzerland.
Upon activation of the Caliphate, surviving O.T.O. members from the Germer and Crowley years were invited to join with McMurtry to resume regular operations of O.T.O. At that time there were less than a dozen surviving older O.T.O. members in the United States. Soror Meral, Soror Grimaud, Mildred Burlingame and Gabriel Montenegro indicated willingness to see the O.T.O. accessible to the general public. Ray Burlingame had died some years before, and Dr. Montenegro died on 14th July 1969, before an organisational meeting could be held. Frederic Mellinger had re-established his contacts with the Theosophical Society and had been essentially inactive in O.T.O. since approximately 1956, except to write his letter blocking the probate of Germer’s will in favour of Metzger in 1963. Mellinger died on 29th August 1970. In 1969 and 1970, McMurtry, Burlingame and Sorores Meral and Grimaud began to perform initiations. On 28th December 1971, the Ordo Templi Orientis Association was registered with the State of California to form a legal entity for O.T.O.
Sascha Germer died in April of 1975. In 1976, when her death became known, the O.T.O. Association under McMurtry obtained a court order for delivery of the remnants of the O.T.O. archives that had been in her custodianship. This order was issued, recognising Grady McMurtry as the authorised representative of O.T.O., by the Superior Court in Calaveras County, California, and filed on 27th July 1976.
Under McMurtry, as Caliph or acting Head of O.T.O., several attempts were made to attract new members to O.T.O. and to make the Order known to the public. In 1970, O.T.O. published Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Cards, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, from the Dublin, California address. Response was slow, but a few new members were initiated through efforts centred in Dublin at The College of Thelema and in San Francisco at the Kaaba Clerk House. The San Francisco activity collapsed, and one new member resigned. Activity continued for two years in Dublin, and was then transferred to Berkeley, California.
In 1977, McMurtry held O.T.O. initiations at his home in Berkeley, California, and began a group there. O.T.O. was incorporated under the laws of the State of California on 26th March 1979. Those who had claimed in print to be O.T.O. members or who were known to be former members were notified of the formation of this corporation, and given a period of time to file a claim to continued membership, according to a precedent established earlier by Karl Germer. The corporation attained Federal Tax exemption as a religious entity under IRS Code 501(c)3 in 1982.
A substantial effort was made to assume control of O.T.O. by Marcelo Ramos Motta (1931–1987) under the name “Society Ordo Templi Orientis”. Mr. Motta had been a personal A∴A∴ student of Karl Germer for a number of years, but had never formally obtained a charter to Initiate or operate a Lodge. In fact, he had never even been formally initiated into O.T.O. After Germer’s death, Motta asserted a claim to being Germer’s successor, and formed an O.T.O. group in his native country of Brazil. Motta at first recognised Kenneth Grant as head of O.T.O., but rescinded this recognition on learning that Grant had been expelled by Germer. Motta ultimately came to the United States to claim the Crowley copyrights. He first sued Samuel Weiser, Inc., a publisher of many of Crowley’s works, for copyright and trademark infringement, maintaining that he was the sole representative of Crowley’s O.T.O. This case was decided in Weiser’s favour by the U.S. District Court in Maine. The Judge found that Motta’s representations regarding O.T.O. did not meet the test of legal existence. O.T.O. under McMurtry was not a party to this case, and did not factor in the judgement.
During the proceedings in Maine, O.T.O. under McMurtry served Motta with a suit to be heard in the 9th Federal District Court in San Francisco. The San Francisco case was concluded in 1985, with Motta again losing. O.T.O. under McMurtry was recognised by the Court to be the continuation of the O.T.O. of Aleister Crowley, and the exclusive owner of the names, trademarks, copyrights and other assets of O.T.O. McMurtry was found to be the legitimate head of O.T.O. within the United States. The 9th District decision also recognised O.T.O. under McMurtry as a legal membership entity. This decision was appealed and upheld. Grady McMurtry died on 12th July 1985, following the original decision of the 9th District Court, but the process of appeal established that O.T.O. continued as a corporation.
Rather than designate his own successor, McMurtry desired that his successor be chosen by vote of the Sovereign Sanctuary of O.T.O. after his death. The election was held on September 21, 1985, with the two surviving members of Agapé Lodge participating, and Frater Hymenaeus Beta was elected to succeed Frater Hymenaeus Alpha as Caliph and acting O.H.O. of O.T.O. Hymenaeus Beta continues in office to this day.
In early 1996, a new corporation was founded to carry on the work of the U.S. Grand Lodge of O.T.O, while the existing corporation reorganised itself as the International Headquarters of O.T.O. On 30th March 1996, Sabazius X° was appointed as National Grand Master General for the U.S. Grand Lodge, and on 1st May 2005, a United Kingdom Grand Lodge was established with Frater Hyperion X° as National Grand Master General. Most recently, on 16th April 2006, OTO Australia attained Grand Lodge status under the leadership of Frater Shiva X°.
In addition to materials in the O.T.O. archives, the published writings of the following protagonists and historical researchers were consulted in preparing this essay: Calvin C. Burt, W.B. Crow, Isaac Blair Evans, Antoine Faivre, S.E. Flowers, Rene Le Forestier, Joscelyn Godwin, Dr. J.A. Gottlieb, Ellic Howe, Francis King, Helmut Moller, William G. Peacher, M.D., Martin P. Starr, John Symonds, M. McBlain Thomson, A.E. Waite, James Webb, and John Yarker.
The following individuals provided substantial assistance in the form of historical information and/or criticism: William Breeze, Martin P. Starr, Parsifal Krumm-Heller, Soror Meral, Soror Grimaud, Lon Milo DuQuette, James T. Graeb and Bjarne Salling Pedersen.
1 The Hermetic Brotherhood of Light was a mystical society which claimed descent from the late 18th century Austrian Masonic/Rosicrucian body known as the Fratres Lucis. The Fratres Lucis, also known as the Asiatic Brethren or Initiated Brethren of the Seven Cities in Asia, was derived from the earlier German Order of the Golden and Rosy Cross. The Hermetic Brotherhood of Light also appears to have had connections with the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, a mystical society that surfaced publicly in England in 1884 under the auspices of Max Theon (AKA Louis-Maximilian Bimstein, 1850–1927) and which was involved in the founding of the Theosophical Society, as well as with the aforementioned Fratres Lucis and with the latter’s 19th century English spiritualist namesake.
Born in Poland, Theon travelled widely in his youth. In Cairo, he became a student of a Coptic magician named Paulos Metamon. Theon came to England in 1870, where he recruited the violin-maker Peter Davidson (1842–1916) to establish an “Outer Circle” of the H.B. of L. They were joined in 1883 by Thomas H. Burgoyne (AKA Thomas Dalton, 1855–1895), who later wrote a book summarising the basic teachings of the H.B. of L., titled The Light of Egypt. The function of this “Outer Circle” of the H.B. of L. was to offer a correspondence course on practical occultism which set it apart from the Theosophical Society. Its curriculum included a number of selections from the writings of Hargrave Jennings and Paschal Beverly Randolph.
P.B. Randolph (8th Oct. 1825 – 29th July 1875) was a noted medium, healer, occultist and author of his day, and counted among his personal friends Abraham Lincoln, Hargrave Jennings, Kenneth McKenzie, Eliphas Levi, Napoleon III, Edward Bulwer-Lytton and General Ethan Allen Hitchcock. Randolph’s Order claimed descent from the Rosicrucian Order (by charter of the “Supreme Grand Lodge of France”), and taught spiritual healing, western occultism and principals of race regeneration through the spiritualisation of sex.
2 Yarker was elected Absolute Sovereign Grand Master of the Oriental Rite of Mizraim in 1871. He was installed as Grand Master 96° of the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Antient and Primitive Rite of Memphis for England by Harold J. Seymour on 8th October 1872. Seymour had in turn received his letters-patent from Jacques Etienne Marconis de Negre on 21st June 1862. Yarker received letters-patent for the Cerneau Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite from Theo. H. Tebbs of the Combined Canadian S.G.C. of that Rite on 12th January 1884. Yarker was elected Imperial Grand Hierophant 97° of the Rite of Memphis on 11th November 1902.
3 Those attending the congress were: Reuss (representing the Sov. Sanctuary of Memphis and Mizraim Rites for Germany, Grand Orient of the Scottish Rite in Germany, and the National Grand Lodge of the United Scottish, Memphis and Mizraim Rites for Great Britain and Ireland), H.R. Hilfiker, R. Merlitschek, M. Bergmaier (representing the Grand Orient of the Scottish Rite in Switzerland, based on a Reuss Charter dated 10th May 1919), Dr. E. Pargaetzi (representing the Sov. Sanctuary of the Scottish, Memphis and Mizraim Rites for France), A. Spilmer (representing the Grand Lodge of Colombia), H. Schumtz (representing Prince Alexander of Greece, Grand Protector of Greek Freemasonry), John Anderson (representing the National Grand Lodge of Scotland) and Matthew McBlain Thomson (representing the American Masonic Federation, the Grand Lodge of Washington, D.C., and the Grand Orient of Cuba).
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