Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO)

views updated May 23 2018

Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO)

A ritual magic organization founded in Germany around 1904. The order found its inspiration in the medieval Knights Templar, who were suppressed through most of Europe in the fourteenth century. Among the charges made against the order were that they practiced various forms of illicit sex, specifically sodomy and bestiality. Through the nineteenth century a number of groups had emerged in both France and Germany claiming to carry on the Templar tradition. However, this order seems to have originated out of a Masonic group founded by Karl Keller and Theodor Reuss and chartered in 1902 by English Mason John Yarker. They began publishing a magazine, Oriflamme, in which the first mention of the OTO occurred. There was mention that the order possessed the key of all hermetic and Masonic secrets (i.e., sex magic).

Keller claimed to have learned his secrets from three adepts, two Hindu and one Arab. His adepts seem to have been the sex manuals from India, the Kama Sutra and Ananda Ranga, and the Arab manual the Perfumed Garden. Keller died in 1905 and Reuss succeeded him as outer head of the order.

Meanwhile, in England, magician Aleister Crowley had emerged as head of his own magic order, the Astrum Argentinum. In 1909, with one of his initates, Victor Neuberg, Crowley conducted a series of magic spells modeled after the invocations in the Enochian language produced by Edward Kelley, the clairvoyant who worked with Elizabethan magician John Dee. Crowley would pronounce the invocation, hoping to receive a vision, the content of which Neuberg would write down. Halfway through the invocations, Crowley had the idea of the two of them performing a ritual sex act. Several years later he published a volume of free verse, The Book of Lies.

Theodor Reuss read the book and perceived that Crowley had discerned the secret of the OTO and confronted him with his discovery. Reportedly, Crowley at that point perceived that the ritual sex in which he had engaged was the key to understanding Rosicrucian, Masonic, and magic symbolism.

Crowley was invited to join the OTO and became the outer head of the order for England. He was also invited to rewrite much of the ritual material. The order was organized in a Masonic manner, with a system of ten degrees, progress upward through the degrees admitting the member to more of the inner teachings. In the first six degrees of the OTO students were taught a general occult system that prepared them for the introduction of the sexual magic presented in the seventh, eighth, and ninth degrees. The tenth degree was purely administrative. Crowley later introduced an eleventh degree based upon his homoerotic predilections.

During the 1970s the secret materials of the OTO were published. They revealed a system of sexual magic based on the use of sex to accomplish goals in magic. Crowley's system is very different from the mystical sexual practices of tantric yoga, with which it has often been compared.

Reuss resigned his position in 1922 and Crowley became the outer head of the order. The order became his major means of spreading his particular magical philosophy based on the revelatory The Book of the Law, which he claimed he had received from a disembodied intelligence in 1904. This book was translated into German in the mid-1920s, and many of the German members rejected Crowley and his perspective. They withdrew and continued as a pre-Crowleyite OTO, although enough German members accepted Crowley that he could count one German lodge in his branch of the order. Both of the German groups were destroyed by the Nazi regime. A group continuing the anti-Crowley lineage reemerged in Switzerland after the war.

During the time he headed the OTO Crowley experimented with a variety of magic practices, wrote widely, and compiled a curriculum consisting of his own books and some additional valuable works on magic for the order members. He died in 1947 and left the leadership of the order to Karl Germer, a German who had moved to the United States after a nasty encounter with the Nazis. Germer was a loyal member but the order languished under him. He did charter a lodge in England under the leadership of Kenneth Grant, but then withdrew the charter when Grant began to operate outside its dictates.

Germer died in 1962. He had initiated no new members nor arranged for a successor. He was so out of touch with the members that for many years some did not even know that he had died. The order languished and could easily have dissolved. However, in 1969 Grady McMurtry, a member residing in the San Francisco Bay area, began to reorganize the OTO. McMurtry had been given a document by Crowley containing broad emergency measures. Through the 1970s and until his death in 1985, McMurtry rebuilt the order (assisted by the publication of many of Crowley's books), and by the time of his death there were lodges across the United States and in a number of foreign countries. By 1992 the order had approximately 2,100 members in 135 lodges and local groups in some twenty countries.

Several months after McMurtry's death, the ninth-degree members met and elected a new caliph (the title assumed by McMurtry because of the way he came to head the order). The new caliph has chosen to keep his identity a secret from all except the higher-degree members and has never published his real name. He goes by his title, Hymenaeus Beta, acting outer head of the order.

One part of the organization of the OTO is an ecclesiatical structure, the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (or Gnostic Catholic Church). The church offers a Gnostic-like mass written by Crowley that embodies the order's perspective in a public, ritualized, and celebratory setting. Crowley was consecrated a bishop in the French Gnostic tradition of Charles J. Doinel, and he in turn passed that episcopal authority to the OTO leadership.

The order values and uses all of Aleister Crowley's writings on magic. In the 1980s it published two collections of the most important writings, one concerning the OTO and its organizational structure, and a second consisting of the "holy books" (the revelatory material received, i.e., channeled, by Crowley, as opposed to the books he consciously wrote). The first was issued as Volume 3, number 10 of The Equinox, one of the order's periodicals.

Address: JAF Box 7666, New York, NY 10116.


Crowley, Aleister. Magick in Theory and Practice. 4 vols. Paris,1929.

Heidrick, Bill. Magick and Qaballah. Berkeley, Calif.: Ordo Templi Orientis, 1980.

Hymenaeus Beta, comp. The Equinox 3, no. 10. New York: Thelema Publications, 1986.

King, Francis. The Holy Books of Thelema. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1988.

. O.T.O. System Outline. San Francisco, Calif.: Stellar Vision, 1981.

. The Rites of Modern Occult Magic. New York: Macmillan, 1970.

. Sexuality, Magic and Perversion. New York: Citadel Press, 1972.

Symonds, John. The King of the Shadow Realm. London: Duckworth, 1989.

Ordo Templi Orientis (Grant)

views updated May 18 2018

Ordo Templi Orientis (Grant)

Aleister Crowley served as outer head of the Order of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), until his death in 1947, when he was succeeded by Karl Germer. Germer died in 1962 without naming a clear successor, and among the people who emerged to succeed him was Kenneth Grant. Germer had given Grant a charter to begin a lodge in London to work the first three of the nine degrees of the OTO system, and in 1955 he founded New Isis Lodge. However, when Grant began working the higher degrees using his own material, Germer expelled him from the order. After Germer died in 1962, there was no one in England to challenge Grant's authority, and for a decade he operated unchallenged. In 1969 Grant co-edited The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, and in 1973 he published Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, the first of a series of books on the thelemic magical tradition. As these books appeared, they described his work with the Kabala (the Hebrew system of magic that became very popular in western magic in the twentieth century). He described his experiences exploring the Qliphoth, the negative side of the kabalistic work. While some accused Grant of flirting with black magic, other magical students were drawn to his work. Grant also brought out new editions of the work of the eccentric artist and magician Austin O. Spare.

Grant's OTO practiced a program similar to other OTO groups. Its goal was the establishment of the Law of Thelema (Will) in the world. New members had to have been practicing magic for at least nine months prior to being accepted in the order and had to agree to disseminate Liber LXXVII, the brief statement of thelemic principles written by Crowley. Grant also dropped the masonic initiatory degree system found in most magical groups, including the American OTO. Members are expected to seek their own true will (destiny) by their magical work.

Under Grant, the OTO dominated the British ritual magic scene into the 1970s. Over the last two decades a number of other thelemic magical groups have arisen in Great Britain and Grant's OTO has come to the United States, though it has remained small.

Ordo Templi Orientis (Roanoke, Virginia)

views updated May 14 2018

Ordo Templi Orientis (Roanoke, Virginia)

The Ordo Templi Orientis (Roanoke, Virginia) was one of several ritual magic groups to emerge in the 1970s. Karl Germer had served as outer head of the order for 15 years (1947-62), but after his death, the order endured a period of leaderlessness and corporate chaos. While several leaders stepped forward with papers and claims from either Aleister Crowley or Germer, Robert E. L. Snell put forward other credentials. He suggested that the mission of the OTO was to facilitate the movement of humanity into the new age of the Aeon of Horus, which had been announced by Crowley in 1904. Snell suggested that leaders must validate their role by their allegiance to the Law of Thelema (Will), the primary principle guiding the order. He also claimed direct contact with the secret chiefs, those preternatural beings (similar to the Theosophical Society's Great White Brotherhood ) believed to be ultimately guiding the order.