Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) Quasi-Mason magical order founded in Germany in 1901 and focused on sex magic as the key to Hermetic and Masonic secrets.
The principal founders of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) were Carl Kellner and Theodore Reuss. Kellner, born in 1851, was a wealthy Austrian industrialist and metallurgist and a high-ranking Freemason. He also was a member of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, which included sex magic in its Rituals. In the 1890s, Kellner said he met three Eastern Adepts—a Sufi and two Hindu tantra masters—and received a “Key” to the esoteric mysteries.
Reuss, born in 1855, was a pharmacist, singer, and journalist also said to work as a spy for the Prussian police. Reuss joined Freemasonry in 1876. He also was Magus of the Societas Rosicruciana (Rosicrucian Society). Reuss was interested in reviving the defunct Bavarian Illuminati, a Masonic-based order founded by Adam Weishaupt in 1776, and he succeeded in establishing a new Order of the Illuminati in 1880. In 1886, he was a cofounder, along with Leopold Engel and Franz Hartmann, of the Theosophical Society of Germany.
In 1895, Kellner approached Reuss about creating a Masonic rite for his secret Key. Kellner’s idea was to do so through a reformed Hermetic Brotherhood of Light. In 1901, Reuss and Engel produced—but probably forged—a charter giving them the authority over the Bavarian Illuminati. The two, with Kellner, then founded a new and unnamed order. Initially, they relied on Masonic material for its rites. Reuss created a 10-degree system and wrote its original rituals. He became Grand Master of the Swedenborgian Rite, used in the first three grades of Masonry. By 1902, Reuss had acquired through his Masonic connections the 90th and 96th degrees of the Ancient and Primitive Rite of Memphis and Mizraim, and the 33rd degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. Kellner took the name Frater Renatus, and Reuss became known as Merlin and Peregrinus.
Kellner died in 1905, and Reuss assumed complete control as Outer Head of the still-unnamed order. After Kellner’s death, he named it the OTO. In 1906, Rudolph Steiner was chartered to found an OTO lodge; PAPUS was chartered in 1908.
Aleister Crowleyjoined the OTO in 1910 and was given an honorary seventh degree rank. According to lore, Reuss’s attention was drawn to Crowley’s The Book of Lies, published in 1912, in which Crowley described his ritual sex magic and Enochian Magic work with his initiate, Victor Neuberg (see Choronzon). Reuss contacted Crowley and told him that he knew the Key, the secret of the ninth degree, and therefore he must immediately take that rank. Crowley said he did not know the Key, but Reuss pointed it out in The Book of Lies. Crowley later said that instantly it flashed upon him that he indeed did hold the secret of the “future progress of humanity.” (He did not, however, say exactly what the secret Key was, or which chapter of The Book of Lies contains it. Occultists have speculated that the Key lies in either chapter 36 or chapter 69). Crowley took the ninth degree and became head of the OTO in the British Isles. He quickly advanced to the 10th degree. He was invited to rework the OTO’s ritual material. He removed most of the Masonic material and replaced it with his Thelemic magic.
In 1922, Reuss resigned and Crowley took over as Outer Head of the OTO. He continued to use the organization as a means for spreading his New Aeon gospel as dictated by the entity AIWASS in The Book of the Law. Some members of the OTO disapproved, and they withdrew to carry on their own versions of the OTO. Crowley’s OTO continued on its own. The groups all expired under the Nazis during World War II but resurrected after the war.
Crowley named Karl Germer as his Outer Head successor, and Germer took over in 1947 when Crowley died. Germer, a German and a concentration camp survivor, emigrated to the United States. Under his leadership, the OTO languished; he initiated no new members, but he did charter a lodge in England, under the direction of Kenneth Grant. But when Grant started using his own material, Germer expelled him.
Germer did not arrange for a successor, and a vacuum was created with his sudden death in 1962. More than 1,000 persons claimed to be the new Outer Head. Grant continued the operation of his New Isis Lodge and called himself the only real Outer Head. In 1969, the OTO was reorganized by Grady McMurty in San Francisco, who assumed the title of “caliph.” McMurty worked hard to rebuild the order, an effort that continued after his death in 1985. The OTO decided henceforth to keep the name of the caliph secret; he is referred to by his title, Hymenaeus Beta.
The OTO has lodges in more than 20 countries around the world. Crowley’s material remains in the teachings and rituals.
Jack Parsons was head of the Agape Lodge of the OTO, opened in Los Angeles in 1934 by his friend, Wilfred Smith.
- Carter, John. Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons. Los Angeles: Feral House, 2004.