W.W.: For more than a decade now you’ve been concerned with the O.T.O. What started your interest in this subject?
P.R.K.: In 1985 I was finally getting my book-collection in order, which I’d been accumulating ever since I studied psychology and ethnology at university. Since I’d bought all the reference sources for the books that I’d read, it only took a moment to pull the complete collection of Swiss O.T.O. writings out of a pile of other volumes. While leafing through them I thought “This has absolutely no rhyme or reason.” At the time I was reading Carlos Fuentes’ ‘Terra Nostra’ which had put me in the mood to conduct some kind of criminal investigation. The confusion of claims and counter-claims, falsified histories, the exaggerated sense of self-importance (“the illuminati rule the world”), the sort of people who could only express their religious freedoms in middle-class lounges and bedrooms, the aping of Freemasonry, the protagonists who’d had streets named after them (like the Friedrich Lekve-Strasse in Hildesheim)—all these seemed to be contained within the small limits of the OTO groups. Like assembling the separate bits of a puzzle, by trailing the quarry with enough patience, doggedness and luck, I thought I could eventually decipher this exaggerated, obsessive-compulsive reflection of our society. I wanted to be like Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Arthur Conan Doyle all at once.
W.W.: You played your part as an undercover member in a number of O.T.O. groups. Why?
P.R.K.: Proper ethnological study requires that you engage with individuals (here I’m being Conan Doyle); hence this interview too. As part of my in-depth ethnological field-studies I became an undercover member of several competing O.T.O. groups; this helped me verify things like how easy it was to join, what techniques were used in each group, how to get insider material, to collect facts on the members directly as well as being able to publish all this information. Perhaps you understand the resemblance to a researcher with wild tribes in a jungle better now?
W.W.: I see what you mean. What tribes, that is groups, were you involved with?
P.R.K.: In the American O.T.O. founded in 1977 for whom the word according to Crowley is the be-all and end-all; in the Voodoo O.T.O. (or O.T.O.A.) which has absorbed a lot of West African beliefs and is strongly sex-magical in its methods; in one Memphis-Misraim branch, which has been amalgamated with the O.T.O.A.; in the XI° (which operates independently outside order structures); in the Ordo Argenteum Astrum; in several branches of the Fraternitas Rosicruciana Antiqua; in the Ordo Saturni, alleged successor-body to the Fraternitas Saturni; in the Gnostic-Apostolic Church and numerous obscure little groups (e.g. the Choronzon Club)—but all of them related to the O.T.O. Except in the American O.T.O. and the Ordo Saturni I reached their highest degrees. Modern O.T.O. groups have only the name in common with Theodor Reuss’s original O.T.O. Ever since Reuss died in 1923 innumerable offshoots, splits, re-foundations and separate branches have trumpeted their existence to the public all over the world. All that, as well as the “influences” from researchers, the media and “other affected parties” I have gathered together under the title of “The O.T.O. Phenomenon”. This O.T.O. Phenomenon is interwoven in my principal work published under the same name (‘Das OTO Phänomen’, ARW, 1994) as a series of post-modern factoids, rendered down from factual data. You can think of it as the foundation for all my other books.
W.W.: How did the publishing side of things develop?
P.R.K.: I made it clear from the start that I was going to take a critical position. My contact with the groups, as well as my accumulation of titles, offices and dignities, were only undertaken with the specific aim of documentation and publication. On legal “journalistic duty of care” grounds, I published ‘Das OTO Phänomen’ first as a series of articles in several occult magazines, so that I could receive opposing views, corrections and more information. It could then be legally assumed, after a certain period of time had elapsed, that no objections from those “concerned parties” need be anticipated. As any ethnologist getting involved in his “field of study” will change it purely through his own intervention, this fact needs to be made clear. Thus I included evidence of my activities as an “undercover agent” (warrants, membership documents, etc.) right from the start of my series of books which was published over a five year period by the well-known “Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Religions- und Weltanschauungsfragen” group. This publishing-house was founded by one of the first sect researchers in Germany, Friedrich-Wilhelm Haack. Haack had already spent a long time collecting material “under cover” in diverse occult and neo-Nazi groups himself, before he became at all well-known for it.
W.W.: Can you tell us about the particular conditions of admission to the various OTO groups?
P.R.K.: Well, the procedure went like this in one case: I corresponded in great detail with Michael P. Bertiaux, who led the Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua (OTOA) in Chicago, an alleged offspring of Theodor Reuss' O.T.O. via France and Haiti, which usually only admitted black people. Obviously I was interested in getting the names and photos of all the members I could, but it wouldn’t suffice to just be an ordinary member. That was when the idea of becoming the OTOA leader for Europe was suggested, even though it was highly likely to undermine the authenticity of my research. Bertiaux then pointed out there would be the small formality of a payment if I was to receive such a dignity. I wrote back along the lines of “Since it’s already been referred to, I accept the grade of so-and-so”. Bertiaux had a joky attitude to the subject of money, because he’d experienced a lot of prejudice at the hands of the tabloid press: “Taxes must be paid in acceptable euro-currency of XI° issue – Nice big Nazi cock Meisters! Paid to fat, dirty, perverted Bricaudian (sun) French underground (plutonian) captors of Germanic Gods, Macho-Hunk-Stud-Officers held captive by dirty French Gnostic perverts,” as he wrote to me. Whereupon I repaired to the nearest porn-shop and acquired a couple of untitled photos. On the highly aroused bodies I then drew in the chakras, the Kabbalistic tree of life, and a pair of Tantric energy-centres—sent the lot off as my “fee” to him, and lo and behold, by return of post I was “in”.
W.W.: And then you got hold of the names and photos?
P.R.K.: Of course. Bertiaux was delighted that I’d understood his sense of humour, answered hundreds of my letters and recounted the rich drama of his life, which he often supplemented with documents. He even photographed all his members for me and sent the originals. I published some of the results of this rersearch in the ‘OTOA Reader.’
W.W.: What went on in the other OTO groupings?
P.R.K.: For initiations there would be trips to a “Temple” where they would celebrate the event with a Freemasonic ritual: these often went on for hours of extremely boring “amateur dramatic”-type performances held in places like empty factories or rented museum basements. Mostly my “promotions” arrived by post without my having any previous personal contact with these people, except an awful lot of correspondence.
Normally it takes at least a year to reach a higher degree. To get there required membership fees, an intensive reading-programme of wading through immense quantities of (mostly) Crowley’s writings, on which you were regularly tested, and naturally “everlasting loyalty” to the order itself—with no disagreeing with the order chiefs, either. Since many OTO groups try to give an impression of being highly hierarchical and bureaucratic organisations (though there are some OTOs that do without any structure, hierarchy or membership-fees) contact with other members becomes very important, because they submit reports and keep journals which they show to others. Everything feels like it’s inside a tight network of controls and sanctions, though in reality nowadays “the” OTO is about as full of holes as a Swiss cheese. Despite the dire warnings of some prophets of doom, almost all OTO factions are harmless, loose groupings incapable of acting against each other. You see, Crowley’s “Thelema” values the will of the individual above absolutely everything else, and when that produces overblown fantasies of omnipotence surrounded by strong religious regulation, competitive group-pressure and individual hopes of special magical superpowers—and also generates attempts to resolve such things with a marginalised reality—it often results in intrigue, disappointment, cliques and rows over “self-revealed” knowledge, which is jealously guarded from other members. Even though the American OTO has now turned into a business, ever since 1992 it has habitually used its regulations to reprimand its membership about engaging in such disputes. There’s always another new OTO group being founded, and these newcomers invariably attract abuse from all the other OTOs. Becoming “one of the elect” in this sort of secret society seems to confer moral certainty and religious impunity. This is what leads to the legal cases they try to bring against critics and apostates.
W.W.: That still doesn’t explain why you got such high grades.
P.R.K.: You’re right, I was wandering. I usually didn’t have to “hustle” through the lower grades, but just jumped straight to the top. Maybe it had something to do with my cheek; in correspondence with the “worldwide chiefs” I came straight to the point about the “secrets” of these OTO groups. I soon picked up the vocabulary and the particular sort of humour that would win the “trust” of these people. Nor should one forget the desire for self-advertisement among many of the protagonists, who really yearned after publicity. Some of them even told me that I had the Swiss bonus of neutrality, which wasn’t particularly evident elsewhere in “occulture” back then.
P.R.K.: By “occulture” (a term which I didn’t invent myself) I mean the cultural-creative characteristics of those active in the occult underground. Traces of their cultural ambitions may sometimes be seen surfacing in mainstream culture—T-shirts with the OTO logo, for instance. And I include the term “mainstream” here because words change their meaning over time: what would have been understood by “sect”, for example, at the start of the twentieth century, is seen rather differently today—among experts a broader definition of this term has become current. You can see how Rudolf Steiner is a good example of this: he used many formerly “innocuous” terms that have since become emotive words with lots of emotional baggage—“occultism” and “cult” to name just two—which are understood in a completely different way today, compared with their turn-of-the-century senses. I don’t use “occultism” in the negative sense, but purely as a descriptive term.
W.W.: How do people deal with “occulture” nowadays?
P.R.K.: In distinction from pop-culture, where a David Bowie or a Madonna can flirt with the idea of occultism, one can define three viewpoints that filter the new religions into society. The cult-apologists promote religious diversity, the anti-cult people are against new religions in general, and the counter-cult specialists oppose a particular new religion (e.g. Scientology). There are often well-heeled organisations behind these “whistle-blowers” which collect, approve and transmit a particular sort of information. Their working like this can produce some bizarre results, well-illustrated in America by the so-called ‘Multiple Personality Syndrome’ business, where youngsters “remember” innumerable sexual-satanic incidents from their childhood during the course of psychiatric sessions, which are arranged by parent-groups (mostly of a Christian-fundamentalist tendency). They proffer documentation of cases where individual X in North America “remembers” how, together with individual Y (from South America) they were induced to commit a “satanic” crime by individual Z, when they were together in the city of NN at the same time—although no proofs are ever given as to whether X, Y, or Z had even been in NN, let alone met each other. Certain fundamentalist-influenced organisations operate networks of informers—reporters, police and local politicians. They distribute questionnaires for worried parents and children to fill out, speak at law-enforcement seminars, and so on and so forth, with the effect that those involved all end up using the same vocabulary and exhibiting the same “symptoms”. Psychiatrists and social workers ask the same leading questions and the “usual suspects” are traded countrywide as if they were supermarket brands. But I’ve just noticed I’m digressing again.
W.W.: Yes, back to the OTO. Could you please tell us about the particular practices, activities and rituals you participated in?
P.R.K.: Masonic initiation-rituals, the Pentagram ritual, invoking spirits, various forms of the Gnostic Mass, group breathing and meditation exercises, astral group-travel (that is a speaker described a series of images and we had to visualise them behind our closed eyes). These were nothing special, unless you’re talking about sex-magical rituals, and I should add that I never took part in those. In contrast to what happens in Anthroposophy, say, the magical careers of most OTO people involve spiritual hierarchies, cosmic authorities, supernatural or divine visitors and astral embassies, who contact the initiates mentally or through a self-induced trance-state—other members would regularly tell me about such things. Though the actual order meetings themselves were generally cramped lectures held in back rooms of suburban restaurants, where half the members waited patiently until the others had finished their meals, so they could pounce on the left-overs.
W.W.: Were there ever any problems about resigning?
P.R.K.: Oh no. With a lot of OTO groups you’re often quicker out than in, though their membership-lists would still show plenty of members who were long gone in reality. I never actually tried to leave any group; as a researcher I was frankly curious to see how people would react to my publications. Indeed, somehow or other I still seem to be the main European representative of some of these groups, although I’ve had no contact with them for years now. Since I have not myself expressed any personal opinions about the practices and teachings of OTO people (not being either a cult-apologist for hire, or an anti- or counter-cult specialist) and I’ve only ever tried to stay neutral, I still enjoy the trust of certain protagonists. Former members are of course encouraged by my existence and have since snowed me under with their documents.
W.W.: Were there any detrimental results for you after it came out that you were revealing what you knew about particular groups in your books?
P.R.K.: None that I can remember. I certainly wasn’t recounting the story of my own life, just researching the history of the entire OTO phenomenon and analysing or describing its thinking and practices.
Some OTO leaders were naturally dumbfounded when they got their hands on my books. As a result many of them cancelled all their plans and went incommunicado. Others tried by hook or crook (and a lawyer) to sustain a pretty picture of their noble, honourable and not-for-profit organisation and its “Prophet” (allegedly, of course). Obviously many of those concerned were incapable of distinguishing between an individual, their occupation, and their subject-matter. If all the rumours current about me were true, then I was a lapsed-Catholic striptease-dancer suffering from AIDS, working in a transvestite bar, who had madly squandered my father’s inheritance on converting the native population of India into OTO initiates. It goes without saying that I never contradicted any of this, because such projections are full of useful clues that mirror the moral sensitivities of these types.
W.W.: Are any of the different OTO groups capable of being taken seroiusly?
P.R.K.: What is “taken seriously”? Where I always get stirred up personally is over the persistence of fascistoid ways of thinking. I think everyone should be taken seriously, in spite of their religious beliefs. There are certainly plenty of dedicated spiritual seekers hanging on inside the OTO. But then there are plenty of others who want instant illumination right now, and who scrabble around after it in the spiritual supermarket, or by following even weirder paths.
In the Crowleyan context one is always hearing of supposed criminal activities, really serious accusations. But I have never yet come across a single documented case that was (or needed to be) reported to the police, though I’ve known dozens of members personally over the years, and corresponded in detail with hundreds more. True, there was one woman researcher who did claim in her dissertation that the first words of a toddler in an OTO family were “Hagios, hagios, IAO” (words which come in the OTO’s sex-magical ‘Gnostic Mass’), but I hardly think this stands up as an accusation of child-abuse.
To me it’s much more important to take the diversity of the OTO world seriously, and to reflect it accurately. Sometimes I need the help of some irony to keep me in a state of objectivity. Because of the sheer lack of humour among many of these people, the irony isn’t always appreciated.
W.W.: You’ve been blamed by some for leaving the spiritual aspects of certain occult groups out of your investigations and books, in deference to those groups’ sensitivities. Is this accusation true?
P.R.K.: Plainly not. They can’t have taken my twelve [in 1998] books (so far) to heart yet. Most of them contain collections of facsimilies, which are specifically included to clarify the spiritual aspect of the whole subject AS WELL. On the internet I post pertinent original texts by occultists who operate outside organised occultism, many of which bear ample witness to the effects that power-oriented groups can have on individual lives.
As to analysing the spiritual aspects, I’d particularly mention my books ‘Ein Leben für die Rose’ and ‘Abramelin & Co.’. Beyond that, I’ve written numerous essays which investigate ONLY the psychological, sociological and spiritual background of organised occultism in the OTO context. I’d mention here ‘Ecstatic Creation of Culture’, ‘The McDonaldisation of Occulture’, or ‘Spermo-Gnosis and OTO.’
First published in German as “Gestatten, Under-Cover Agent Peter-R. König”, in Flensburger Hefte 63, Flensburg 1998.
Translated by Mark Parry-Maddocks
German original online.
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