Ordo Templi Orientis

Christian Giudice

Early Stirrings And Origins Of The Order

The Ordo Templi Orientis is an occult order founded at the beginning of the twentieth century. As with most orders currently in existence, it has been very difficult to put forth a clear analysis of the structure, succession rights and main ideas of the order, but recent scholarship has allowed a much more informed and impartial point of view than previously possible. The initiatic organization arose in the backdrop of fin de siècle occultism, and its links to major personalities, such as anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), Freemason and occultist John Yarker (1833–1913) and Papus (1865–1916), are proof that the prime movers and founders of the order were well connected in the English, German and French occult milieux. The first steps leading to the foundation of the order may be found in four major figures: the first, Henry Klein (1866–1913), has only recently been reassessed as a major contributor to the future founding of the O.T.O. (Kaczynski 2012: 1–32): through contacts in the music industry, Klein, in London, March 1886, met singer, socialist and Freemason Theodor Reuss (1855–1923), a figure ‘reminiscent of Cagliostro’ (Howe & Möller 1978: 28). The third member of the triumvirate, defined by Kaczynski as ‘world-class occult authority’ (2012: 49) was Dr Franz Hartmann (1838–1912), a doctor and illustrious member of the German section of the Theosophical Society. While bonds of friendship were tighter between Klein and Reuss, Hartmann was closer to the fourth figure, without whose financial aid, the O.T.O. would have never come into existence (Pasi 2005: 898): Carl Kellner (1850– 1905), a wealthy Austrian businessman, with interests as varied as alchemy, yoga and Freemasonry. His interest in yoga was manifested by an account of his many years of experience, in the 1896 booklet Yoga: Eine Skizze. The myth surrounding the early O.T.O. history also depicts pictures of Kellner studying under the guidance of three Eastern masters, whom according to Crowley-biographer John Symonds, were the Arab Soliman Ben Aïssa (b. 1865), Bheema Sena Pratapa (b. 1872) and Sri Agamya Guru Pramahamsa (b. ca. 1841), and Hartmann himself, in his ‘Dr. Karl Kellner’ (1924) confirmed the yogic teachings imparted upon Kellner by these individuals. Whether or not Kellner ever travelled to the East, where he has been credited with learning techniques of sex-magic, studies have yet to find out, although it must be pointed out that reference to sexual magic only appears in Reuss’s writings only after Kellner’s death (Pasi 2005: 899). Around the year 1901, Reuss obtained charters from the chief of the Societas Rosacruciana in Anglia, William Wynn Westcott (1848–1925) and from Freemason John Yarker to found various high-grade masonic rites on German soil. Reuss, Hartmann and Kellner all seem to have been involved in this masonic milieu, and a journal, Oriflamme, was launched by Reuss, in order to better coordinate the growing number of groups. An Inneres Dreieck, or Inner Triangle (König 2001: 62) seems to have existed behind the façade of the high-grade orders, presumably teaching sex-magic techniques and more advanced occult practices, in most likelihood formed by Reuss, Hartmann and Kellner themselves. In 1905 Kellner died, and Reuss lost the financial backing he had enjoyed up until then. Scandals concerning homosexual rites within his organization forced him to seek refuge in England once again. Nevertheless Reuss was undeterred, and in 1906 wrote four distinct works: The first Lingam-Yoni, followed almost verbatim the theories found in Hargrave Jennings’s (1817–90) Phallism: a Description of the Worship of Lingam Yoni(1889), according to which all religions could be elucidated by sexual symbolism. This seems to be the one of the sources of the sex-magic techniques of the O.T.O., as convincingly argued by Kaczynski (2012: 246–48). The other three were the two English and one German versions of the first constitution of the Ordo Templi Orientis: it must be noted that, because of the scandal that had surrounded Reuss, the year of publication was delayed considerably. (König 2001: 63).

For years, Reuss abandoned his project, until, for the first time in 1910, and successively in 1912, he met the British rising star of occultism Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), who helped Reuss to definitely give the O.T.O. a proper identity. As Ellic Howe and Helmut Möller wrote, ‘it seems unlikely that the O.T.O. was in any sense active as early as 1905–6 and we believe that it was not effectively launched until 1912 when Aleister Crowley got involved’ (1978: 38). Appointed head of the order for the British Isles, Crowley set out to revise the initiation rituals and appoint delegates in English-speaking countries. As Hartmann had already noticed in his ‘Light for Italy’ (1888: 19), the order needed to break away from the masonic habit of not initiating women within its ranks. If sexual-magical techniques were to be the core of the order, female initiates would have had to be a desideratum. From the very beginning of his rule as British head, Crowley openly advocated female initiation, and added one new element to the already peculiar blend too. A text, which he had received in Cairo, in 1904, dictated to him by an allegedly praeternatural being, Liber L,or The Book of the Law, was to be embraced as a holy book in each of the lodges he supervised, and the tenets of the new religion of Thelema, which the book advocated, were to be accepted by it members. Meanwhile Reuss felt it was time to fully publicize the O.T.O.’s strongpoint, and, in the 1912 ‘jubilee issue’ of Oriflamme, for the first time it was clearly stated: ‘Our Order possesses the KEY which opens up all Masonic and Hermetic secrets, namely, the teaching of sexual magic, and this teaching explains, without exception, all the secrets of Nature, all the symbolism of Freemasonry and all systems of religion’ (1912: 21).

The O.T.O. during the Crowley and Germer Years

Under Reuss’s supervision, the O.T.O. initiatic path was divided in ten degrees, the tenth being purely administrative and representing the Rex Summus Sanctissimus, governing each country, while the eighth and ninth concerned the study and practice of sex-magic, with the former concerning masturbatory practices and the latter involving sexual intercourse. Crowley’s addition of a subsequent eleventh degree was based on anal intercourse, be it hetero- or homosexual, while the twelfth degree represented the Frater Superior, or Outer Head of the Order, O.H.O. During WWI Crowley relocated to the US, where he made a living writing German propaganda, while Reuss sought asylum in neutral Switzerland, and more specifically in the artistic community of Monte Verita’, near Ascona. There, popular Austrian dancer Rudolf von Laban (1879–1958) represented a focus around which an O.T.O. lodge was created, and, through many changes and vicissitudes, still exists to this day as the only surviving O.T.O. body from the Reuss era. Crowley’s pro-German propaganda articles, which he published in the US, culminated to a raid of the London lodge, where documents and paraphernalia were seized by the authorities (Pasi 2014: 16; Crowley 1978: 856–58). On Crowley’s return to Europe, the relationship between Reuss and Crowley had become strained. A letter dated 9 November 1921 sent by Reuss to Crowley clearly demonstrates that the German occultist had intercepted a letter destined to one of Crowley’s followers: ‘your brotherly suggestions that I am demented and your other suggestion to have your nominee, so to say “depose” me as O.H.O. – makes all arrangements impossible’ (König 2001: 76–77). Undeterred, Crowley wrote back: ‘It is my will to be the O.H.O. Frater Superiorof the Order, and avail myself of your abdication [sic] – to proclaim myself as such’ (König 2001: 77). Upon Reuss’s death in 1923, there seemed to be no other suitable candidate, and two of the remaining tenth degrees, Charles Stansfeld Jones (1886–1950) and Heinrich Tränker (1880–1956), respectively representatives for the US and Germany, gave their vote of confidence to Crowley. The Pansophiamovement in Germany, a neo- Rosicrucian umbrella organization, which comprised several occult orders and was headed by Tränker, split into different factions. Among those who refused to accept Crowley’s religio-philosophical tenets of Thelema fully was Eugen Grosche (1888– 1964), who proceeded to found the Fraternitas Saturni, an order in many doctrinal and ritual aspects similar to the O.T.O., but independent from it. The Fraternitas Saturni is still active to this day, with members mostly in Germany and Canada.

Although German initiates did follow Crowley after Grosche’s departure, most notably Karl Germer (1886–1962) and Martha Küntzel (1857–1941), the rapid rise of totalitarian regimes, and the consequent anti-masonic sentiment, which derived from these political movements, convinced Crowley to concentrate his efforts on expanding the O.T.O. in the US. Crowley agreed that Wilfred Talbot Smith (1885–1957), who had formerly been a charter member of O.T.O. Agapé lodge in Vancouver in 1915, would liaise with his former student, Jane Wolfe (1875–1958), in order to create a fully functioning body of the order on North-American soil (Seckler 2003: 146–47). Agapé lodge #2 was thus born in Los Angeles in 1933. By the end of WWII, close to Crowley’s death in 1947, Agapé #2 was the only functioning O.T.O. body remaining, its headquarters having moved to Pasadena, and its new head being John Whiteside Parsons (1914–52), a charismatic figure and well-respected aerospace engineer. In the meantime, Karl Germer, who had suffered internment in a Nazi camp for ‘seeking students for the foreign resident, high grade Freemason, Crowley’ (Starr 1995: 150) had been able to leave Germany and move to the US. When Crowley died, in 1947, he had already made provisions that Germer, ‘the most valued member of the Order, with no exception’ (Starr 2003: 263) succeed him at the head of the order. Despite vetoing new initiations within the order and de factocreating a stall in the expansion of the O.T.O., Germer’s years as O.H.O. proved vital for the perpetuation of the O.T.O. and Crowley’s legacy: The Beast’s letters and documents between Germer and long-time Crowley friend Gerald Yorke (1901–83) were copied, exchanged and preserved for posterity (Richmond (ed.) 2011: xlvi–xlvii) and Germer himself supervised the publication of several texts penned by his predecessor, such as The Vision and the Voice(1952) and Magick without Tears(1954). At the time of Germer’s death, in 1962, the Agapé #2 lodge had disbanded, and interest in keeping the order alive was at an all-time low.

A Thelemic Renaissance

From 1962 onwards, out of the many groups belonging to the Thelemic milieu, four in particular seemed to have stronger claims to successorship than others. In March 1951, Crowley’s last secretary, the London-based Kenneth Grant (1923–2011) had successfully received a charter from Germer to found an English body of the O.T.O. The London camp soon developed into something different, and after alleged extra- terrestrial communications from a planet which was identified as being called Nu, Grant issued a manifesto of his new creation: the New Isis Lodge. Germer was swift to expel Grant from the order, and Grant in turn disavowed Germer’s authority as O.H.O. and continued to promote his particular blend of Thelemic magic, which included Eastern tantra, the mentioned communications with extra-terrestrials and an emphasis on the works of artist Austin Osman Spare (1886–1956) and pulp- horror author H.P. Lovecraft (1890–1936). That Grant would consider himself to be the rightful head of the O.T.O. is backed by documentation. Crowley himself had written, shortly before his death: ‘value of Grant: if I die or go to the USA, there must be a trained man to take care of the [...] O.T.O.’ (Evans 2007: 287). In 1972 Grant embarked in a writing tour de forcewhich would only end in 2002: the results are nine books, better known as the Typhonian Trilogies, which elucidate Grant’s magical system, and Crowley’s role within it, in all of its aspects. The order survives to this date as the Typhonian Order, and is primarily based in the United Kingdom. It no longer claims links to the O.T.O. and has changed substantially in structure since the days of the New Isis Lodge.

While Grant was organizing his lodge in England, Herman Metzger (1919–90) was busy rebuilding the Swiss O.T.O., which Reuss had founded in the pre-Crowley days. Germer had accepted this lineage as valid and kept in touch with Metzger, monitoring his attempt at rebuilding Reuss’s legacy. After Germer’s death, Metzger claimed the grade of O.H.O. for himself, since his claim to leadership, in his eyes, was stronger than Grant’s, who had only entered the scene during the last years of Crowley’s life. After Metzger’s death, his friend and follower Annemarie Aeschbach (1926–2008) succeeded in leading the order up until her death, in April 2008. The Swiss branch is today no longer operative.

The biggest and only active group today, to have been recognized as O.T.O. by courts of law, is the so-called ‘Caliphate’ O.T.O. The O.T.O. was revived by Grady Louis McMurtry (1918–85), who had received direct instructions from Crowley to succeed after Germer’s death. The two had met in the 1940s, when McMurtry had been stationed in Britain during WWII. Crowley had then written in clear terms that Germer was to be his successor, but that, at any moment, he could ‘take charge of the whole work of the Order in California to reform the Organization’ (Cornelius 2005, vol13: 46). Helped by notable thelemic representatives of the Agapé #2 lodge days, McMurtry slowly started rebuilding the order from its ashes. Far from being a model of efficiency, McMurtry’s focus on his occult workings was at times unclear and he was often found to be intoxicated during initiation rituals, and there are many accounts, which corroborate this statement (Wasserman 2012): but the carefree attitude of the late 1960s and McMurtry’s undeniable charisma enabled the O.T.O. to grow and prosper. In 1979, the order was incorporated under the laws of the State of California and the corporation attained federal tax exemption as a religious entity under IRS Code 501(c)3 in 1982. The last contender for the position of O.H.O. of the order was Brazilian occultist Marcelo Ramos Motta (1931–87): during the 1950s, Motta had been a student under Germer, and, at the time of the latter’s, had proclaimed himself O.H.O. and, in this claim, he had been backed by Germer’s widow, Sascha. Motta and his followers set up an enterprise named Society O.T.O., or S.O.T.O., and had begun publishing new editions, often followed by his commentaries, of Crowley’s writings. McMurtry sued Motta over copyright issues, and the trial dragged on for years, until 1985, when, shortly before McMurtry’s death, the court ruled in favour of McMurtry’s group, and assigned them sole custody of Crowley copyrights. After the death of McMurtry, according to his wishes, all of the ninth degrees were summoned to elect the next O.H.O. William Breeze was chosen and is currently still head of the Caliphate O.T.O., expanding the order from the relatively few active in 1985 to the thousands affiliated to the order today.

References and Further Reading

Breeze, William [Hymaeneus Beta] (ed.), (1986) The Equinox – The Review of Scientific Illuminism – The Official Organ of the O.T.O., vol. III-10, York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.

Cornelius, Jerry, (2005) In the Name of the Beast: A Biography of Grady Louis McMurtry, a Disciple of Edward Alexander Crowley, Red Flame 12–3, Berkeley, CA: Red Flame Productions.

Crowley, Aleister, (1952) The Vision and the Voice, with Commentary by the Master Therion, Barstow, CA: Thelema Publishing.

——– , (1954) Magick without Tears, Hampton, N.J.: Thelema Publishing.

——– , (1978) The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography Edited by John Symonds and Kenneth Grant, London: Penguin Arcana.

Crowley, Aleister and Reuss, Theodor, (1999) O.T.O. Rituals and Sex Magick, Thame, I-H-O.

Evans, Dave, (2007) The History of British Magick after Crowley: Kenneth Grant, Amado Crowley, Chaos Magic, Satanism, Lovecraft, the Left Hand Path, Blasphemy and Magical Morality, Milton Keynes, Hidden Publishing.

Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas, (2005) ‘Hartmann, Franz’, in W. Hanegraaff, A. Faivre, R. van den Broek, Jean-Pierre Brach (eds.), Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, Leiden: Brill.

Hakl, H. Thomas, (2013) ‘The Magical Order of the Fraternitas Saturni’, in Occultism in a Global Perspective, Gordan Djurdjevic and Henrik Bogdan (eds.), Durham: Acumen, pp.37–56.

Hartmann, Franz, (1924) ‘Dr. Karl Kellner, ein Opfer des Okkultismus’, Teosophische RundschauXII:6, pp. 306–9

——– , (1888) ‘Light For Italy’, LuciferIII:13, pp.18–20.

Howe, Ellic and Möller, Helmut, (1976) ‘Theodor Reuss: Irregular Freemasonry in Germany: 1900–23’, Ars Quatuor Coronati, 91, pp. 28–46.

——– , (1986) Merlin Peregrinus: Vom Untergrund des Abendlandes, Königshausen-Würzburg: Neumann.

Jennings, Hargrave, (1889) Phallism: a Description of the Worship of Lingam Yoni in Various Parts of the World, n.p., privately published.

Kaczynski, Richard, (2012) Forgotten Templars: The Untold Origins of Ordo Templi Orientis, n.p., privately published.

——– , (2010) Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley: Revised and Expanded Edition, Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Kellner, Carl, (1896) Yoga: Eine Skizze über den psycho-physiologischen Teil der Alten Indischen Yogalehre, München: Kastner & Lossen.

King, Francis (ed.), (1973) The Secret Rituals of the O.T.O., New York, Samuel Weiser.

König, Peter R., (2014) The O.T.O. Phenomenon <parareligion.ch> (Last accessed 2 May 2014).

——– , (2001) Der O.T.O Phänomen Remix, München: Arbeitgemeinschaft für Religions-und Weltanschauungsfragen.

——– , (1994) Materialen zum OTO, München: Arbeitgemeinschaft für Religions-und Weltanschauungsfragen.

Pasi, Marco, (2005a) ‘Ordo Templi Orientis’, in W. Hanegraaff, A. Faivre, R. van den Broek, Jean-Pierre Brach (eds.), Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, Leiden: Brill.

——– , (2005b) ‘Crowley, Aleister’, in W. Hanegraaff, A. Faivre, R. van den Broek, Jean-Pierre Brach (eds.), Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, Leiden: Brill.

——– , (2014) Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics, Durham: Acumen.

Seckler, Phyllis, (2003) Jane Wolfe: Her Life With Aleister Crowley, Red Flame 10–11, Berkeley, CA: Red Flame Productions.

Starr, Martin P., (2003) The Unknown God: W.T. Smith and the Thelemites,Bolingbrook, IL: Teitan Press.

Reuss, Theodor, (1906) Lingam-Yoni oder die Mysterien des Geschlechts-Kultus als die Basis der Religionen aller Kulturvölker des Altertums und des Marienkultus in der christlichen Kirche sowie Ursprung des Kreuzes und des Crux Ansata, Berlin: Wilsson.

——– , (1912) ‘Unser Orden’, in Jubilæums-Ausgabe Der Oriflamme, No. VII (1912), p. 21.

Richmond, Keith (ed.), (2011) Aleister Crowley, the Golden Dawn, Buddhism: Reminiscences and Writings of Gerald Yorke, York Beach, ME: Teitan Press.
 pp Wasserman, James, (2012) In the Center of the Fire: A Memoir of the Occult, 1966–1989, Lake Worth, FL: Ibis Press.