History of Ordo Templi Orientis by Sabazius X° and AMT IX°
[early version summer 1996 before it had to be corrected]
Although officially founded in 1902, 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 and 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 recognize the true value of Aleister Crowley's revelation of The
Book of the Law
The Spiritual Father of Ordo Templi Orientis was Carl Kellner (Renatus, Sept. 1,
1851 - June 7, 1905), a wealthy Austrian paper chemist, a Freemason, a scholar
of Eastern mysticism and an initiate of an organization called the Hermetic
Brotherhood of Light . During the latter years of the 19th century, Kellner
claims to have made contact with three Adepts (a Sufi, Soliman ben Aifa, and two
Hindu Tantrics, Bhima Sena Pratapa of Lahore and Sri Mahatma Agamya
Paramahamsa). During the course of his studies, Kellner believed that 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.
To develop and disseminate his discovery, Kellner proposed in 1895 to his
associate Theodor Reuss (June 28, 1855 - Oct. 28, 1923) that a reformulation of
the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light be founded in Germany as an "Academia
Masonica" of three degrees, which would be named the Oriental Templar Order. The
Order, open only to initiates of the highest degrees of Masonry, would expound
the symbolism of all the degrees of the various rites of Masonry in the light of
the "Key" which Kellner possessed.
Theodor Reuss, was, at the time, the head of a reformation of the Bavarian Order
of Illuminati, the Grand Master of the Swedenborgian Rite of Freemasonry in
Germany, and Magus of the Societas Rosicruciana in Germania. With Kellner's
assistance, Reuss obtained charters to operate two systems of high-grade
Freemasonry known as the Rites of Memphis and Mizraim of 97*; and 90*;, and the
Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of 33*; (Cernau Council of New York, 1807)
from the English Masonic scholar, John Yarker. These rites, along with the
Swedenborgian Rite, were adopted as integral parts 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.
In 1902, the founding of Ordo Templi Orientis was officially proclaimed. Reuss
(who used the pen names Merlin and Peregrinus) was named Outer Head of the Order
(O.H.O.) with Kellner as Honorary Grand Master. Kellner died on June 7, 1905.
With the assistance of co-founders Franz Hartmann and Heinrich Klein, Reuss
prepared a Constitution of the Order in 1906. With the participation of many
other initiates, they developed O.T.O. from a loosely organized association of
rites into a complete Masonic initiatory system, open to both men and women,
which concentrated all the major symbolism of the three degrees of Craft
Freemasonry, the myriad degrees of the rites of high-grade Freemasonry and of
numerous other societies (listed below) into ten principal and eight ancillary
degrees. Kellner's three degree "Academia Masonica" formed the VII*;, VIII*;,
and IX*; of this system.
A list of the organizations whose symbolism and teachings were encompassed by
O.T.O. as an Academia Masonica was published in "The Manifesto of the O.T.O." in
1912. It included the following: The Gnostic Catholic Church, The Order of the
Knights of the Holy Ghost, The Order of the Illuminati, The Order of the Temple,
The Order of the Knights of St. John, The Order of the Knights of Malta, The
Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, The Hidden Church of the Holy Grail,
The Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, The Holy Order of Rose Croix of Heredom, The
Order of the Holy Royal Arch of Enoch, The Antient and Primitive Rite of
Masonry, The Rite of Memphis, The Rite of Mizraim, The Ancient and Accepted
Scottish Rite of Masonry, The Swedenborgian Rite of Masonry, The Order of
Martinists and the Order of the Sat Bhai. In 1915 or 1916, Aleister Crowley
published "An Intimation with Respect to the Constitution of the Order" (Liber
CXCIV), which developed the ideas set forth in Reuss's 1906 Constitution and in
Crowley's Manifesto. In 1917, Reuss published a revised version of his 1906
From 1902 to 1921, Reuss spread O.T.O. internationally through the appointment
and chartering of national heads, who were generally accorded the rank of X*;
(except when representing a National Head in a developing area; in which case
the degree of IX*; Viceroy was sometimes given). The chartered X*; national
heads 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." Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925, who
later founded the Anthroposophical Society) was chartered to head an
O.T.O./Memphis/Mizraim section in Germany in 1906. Dr. G‚rard Encausse (Papus,
1865-1916), who was also the head of the Order of Martinists, was chartered as
head of O.T.O. for France in 1908. Dr. Arnold Krumm-Heller (Huiracocha,
1879-1949) was chartered, also in 1908, to head O.T.O. in Latin America.
Aleister Crowley (Baphomet, Oct. 12, 1875 - Dec. 1, 1947), who had joined the
Order in 1910, was appointed head of O.T.O. for the British Isles on April 21,
Crowley appointed Charles Stansfeld Jones (Parzival, 1886-1950) as his Viceroy
to North America, and Frank Bennett (Dionysus, 1868-1930) as his Viceroy to
Australia. Crowley and Reuss chartered James Thomas Windram (Mercurius,
1877-1939) to head O.T.O. in South Africa. On May 10, 1921, Reuss chartered
Jones as head of O.T.O. for the U.S.A. On the same date, he chartered Heinrich
Tranker (Recnartus, 1880-1956), who was also the head of the Collegium
Pansophicum, to head O.T.O. in Germany. C. W. Hansen (Kadosh, 1872-1936) was
chartered to head O.T.O. in Denmark on December 3, 1921.
National heads usually chose a distinguishing name for the section of the lower
(Masonic) degrees of O.T.O. they operated, though the name "Ordo Templi
Orientis" was used for the over-all system. Crowley's British section was known
as "Mysteria Mystica Maxima", or whereas Reuss's Swiss section was known as
"Veritas Mystica Maxima" and Steiner's early Austrian section was known as
"Mystica Aeterna." Krumm-Heller's South American O.T.O. was merged into his own
order called Fraternitas Rosicruciana Antiqua (F.R.A.). Krumm-Heller never
founded any O.T.O. Lodges, initiated any members into O.T.O., or appointed any
Reuss also issued several documents called "Gages of Amity" to certain other
Masonic and Rosicrucian personalities, notably in 1919 to Matthew McBlain
Thomson, founder of the ill-fated "American Masonic Federation," and in 1921 to
H. Spencer Lewis, founder of A.M.O.R.C., the San Jose, California based
Rosicrucian organization. Lewis also worked directly with Tranker in 1930 to
establish a German branch of AMORC and to solidify his link to German
Under Reuss's leadership, O.T.O. remained predominantly a Masonic association.
Initiations to degrees in the Scottish, Memphis and Mizraim Rites were held to
be equivalent to corresponding O.T.O. degrees. High-grade Freemasons who had
obtained their Masonic initiations from other recognized Masonic Authorities
were granted membership in O.T.O. degrees by direct recognition of the Masonic
degrees they already held. For such Masons to enter O.T.O. at a corresponding
degree, it was only necessary for the O.T.O. Grand Lodge officers to issue a
certificate of membership in O.T.O. for the degree in question and to record the
name of the new member in the roster. For non-Masons, a series of initiations
into O.T.O. was required. These later initiations were represented by O.T.O. to
confer the corresponding degrees of the Scottish and Memphis and Mizraim Rites.
Crowley was never comfortable with the Masonic character of the O.T.O., for the
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. The Cernau rite was considered fraudulent by the
"legitimate" Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Rite . 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. He wished to use the system of O.T.O. to help spread the teachings
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 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
1913, more thoroughly for the rituals through III*; than for the others, and
adopted the revised rituals for use in his own section of O.T.O., the MMM.
Around 1917, he revised the rituals again, 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, and
several of the National Heads began to use them. Crowley later discontinued the
practice of admitting Masons directly into the parallel degrees of O.T.O.
Reuss was enthusiastic about the Law of Thelema, and cooperated with Crowley in
his proposal to revamp the rituals of the Order. Reuss held readings of
Crowley's works, including The Message of the Master Therion, at Monte Verita,
and in 1920, he translated Crowley's Gnostic Mass into German for performance
there. Reuss also began to translate The Book of the Law into German; but,
unfortunately, his work was interrupted by a stroke in the Spring of 1920, which
resulted in the loss of some of his faculties. He returned to Germany in
September of 1921, settling in Munich.
Crowley stated in a number of letters to associates that Reuss had designated
him as his successor as O.H.O., and in a diary entry for November 27, 1921,
Crowley wrote: "I have proclaimed myself O.H.O. Frater Superior of the Order of
Oriental Templars." Reuss died on October 28, 1923 e.v. Crowley was confirmed in
office by Jones and Tranker.
Crowley served as the Outer Head of the Order from 1922 until his death in
December of 1947. In 1925, Tranker asked Crowley to assume leadership of O.T.O.
as well as his Pansophia movement, and invited him to a conference to be held at
Hohenleuben, near Weida, in the summer of 1925. The other attendees of the
conference were: Heinrich and Helene Tranker; Karl Germer; Albin Grau; Eugen
Grosche; Martha Kunzel; Henri Birven; a gentleman named Hopfer; Crowley;
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. There were personality conflicts as well. Fraulein Kunzel and Herr
Germer went with Crowley. Herrn Tranker, 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 quarreled, 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
Fraternitas Saturni recognized 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.
Agape Lodge No. 1 had been established in 1912 in Vancouver, B.C., Canada under
the authority of Jones and Crowley. In the 1930s, Wilfred Talbot Smith
(1885-1957), a charter member of Agape Lodge No. 1, came down from Vancouver on
instructions from Crowley to establish Agape Lodge No. 2 in Los Angeles,
California. Agape Lodge No. 2 held its first meeting in 1935, in Hollywood,
California. Agape Lodge contributed greatly to Crowley's publishing efforts, and
Crowley appointed Smith (Ramaka) as X*; for the U.S.A. Later, Agape 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, 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 traveled 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. The other European branches of O.T.O. were destroyed or
driven underground during the War. The South American branches maintained a
light contact with Germer until the early 1960s. By the end of the Second World
War, only Agape Lodge No. 2 in Pasadena, California was still functioning. No
Lodge work was conducted in England at that time, and initiations were very rare
outside of California. Krumm-Heller in South America performed no O.T.O.
initiations, but sent a candidate, Dr. Gabriel Montenegro, to California for
During the Second World War, two Californian O.T.O. members, Grady Louis
McMurtry (Oct. 18, 1918 - July 12, 1985) and Frederick Mellinger (Merlinus,
1890-1970) (who was originally a refugee from Hitler's Germany), traveled to
Europe on military assignments. McMurtry went earlier and visited Crowley on
several occasions while on leave. There was a good rapport between the two men,
and in 1943, Crowley appointed McMurtry (Hymenaeus Alpha) a IX*; O.T.O. member
and Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the Order. Crowley entrusted McMurtry
with documents of emergency authorization 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 March 22, 1946 and April 11, 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 Agape Lodge meeting at
which McMurtry had presented them. Six months before his death (June 17, 1947),
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
Mellinger visited Crowley after McMurtry was rotated back to the United States.
Although Crowley did ask Mellinger to hold himself ready as a possible successor
to Germer, Mellinger did not receive any assignments of the kind given to
Crowley died on December 1, 1947; and in accord with his wishes Karl Germer
(Saturnus, Jan. 22, 1885 - Oct. 25, 1962) became O.H.O. of O.T.O., serving from
late 1947 until his death in 1962. Agape Lodge No. 2 continued in Southern
California until 1949, after which the Lodge ceased to hold regular meetings.
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 later closed the Camp and expelled Grant from O.T.O. membership 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's Swiss section of the O.T.O. named Pinckus, but had no original
connection with Crowley's O.T.O. Germer appointed Mellinger to supervise
Metzger's regularization into Crowley's O.T.O., but Germer and Metzger fell into
disagreement toward the end of Germer's life. Metzger never engaged in O.T.O.
activity either directly or indirectly in the United States.
Germer died in 1962 without having designated a successor. Some ranking members,
including Grady McMurtry, were not notified of his death for several years, and
several years passed before the question of succession to head 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 Frederick Mellinger, Metzger's appointed superior, were
not informed of Metzger's purported election until after the alleged fact.
Metzger was not generally accepted as head of the Order outside his own group.
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 recognized Karl Germer as head of
O.T.O. However, Grant's own writings from the 1950's, 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.
When 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 authorization from Crowley. In 1969, 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. On December 28, 1971 e.v., the Ordo Templi
Orientis Association was registered with the State of California to form a legal
entity for O.T.O. This Association included members of Agape Lodge No. 2, from
the Crowley and Germer period. Grady McMurtry produced his letters of charter,
and assumed the title "Caliph of O.T.O.", as specified in Crowley's letters to
McMurtry from the 1940s.
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 March 26th, 1979 e.v. 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 Motta
(1931-1987) under the name "Society Ordo Templi Orientis." Mr. Motta had been a
personal student of Karl Germer for a number of years, but had never formally
become a member of 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 recognized 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 favor 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.
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 recognized by the Court to be the continuation of 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 O.H.O. of O.T.O. within
the United States. The 9th District decision also recognized O.T.O. under
McMurtry as a legal membership entity. This decision was appealed and upheld.
Grady McMurtry died on July 12, 1985, following the original decision of the 9th
District Court, but the process of appeal established that O.T.O. continued as a
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, 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 reorganized itself as the
International Headquarters of O.T.O. On March 30, 1996, Sabazius X*; was
appointed as National Grand Master General for the U.S. Grand Lodge.
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, aso 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, which was a mystical society which surfaced
publicly in England in 1884 under the auspices of Max Theon (AKA
Louis-Maximilian Bimstein, 1850-1927). The origins of the H.B. of L. are
unclear, but there is some evidence linking it with the Brotherhood of Luxor,
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 summarizing 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 .
Paschal Beverly Randolph (1825-1875) 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 spirtualization of sex.