German singer, journalist, Freemason and secret society founder, (1855–1923). Born in Augsburg, the son of an innkeeper, he began a musical career as a vocalist in his youth and did tolerably well, winning a part in the chorus of the first performance of Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal at Bayreuth. He was initiated into Freemasonry during an 1876 visit to London. In 1885 he returned to London to pursue his singing career on the English stage, and also involved himself in radical politics, becoming a member of the Socialist League; it was later alleged that he was a spy for the Prussian secret police sent to check up on links between the London socialists and anarchist circles in Germany. See Anarchism.

During this stay in England he also began a career as a journalist and traveled throughout Britain, Europe, and America. Until 1894 he showed no interest in occultism at all. In that year, however, he published an article on “Pranatherapy’ in a German occult journal and made connections with a variety of central European occultists, above all Austrian industrialist Carl Kellner (1851–1905), an initiate of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light. He and Kellner began to discuss the idea of a quasi-Masonic organization that would teach occultism, especially the sexual magic the Brotherhood had inherited from American occultist Paschal Beverly Randolph (1825–75). See Hermetic Brotherhood of Light; Randolph, Paschal Beverly.

At this time, however, Reuss was active with another organization, an attempted revival of the Bavarian Illuminati, which he founded with Leopold Engel in 1895. Unlike the original Illuminati, a rationalist organization with liberal political views, Reuss’s Illuminati was an occult Masonic order working five degrees – the three ordinary Craft Masonry degrees, plus the degree of St Andrew and the Rosicrucian degree. It attracted a small amount of interest, and at one point had six lodges affiliated with it. He and Engel parted company in 1902 and Reuss, leaving the Illuminati name with Engel, obtained a charter for the Rite of Memphis and Misraim from John Yarker in Britain. This proved more successful than the Illuminati, and by 1903 his order had over a hundred members; for an irregular occult Masonic order at the time, this was respectably large. See Bavarian Illuminati; Rite of Memphis and Misraim; Rosicrucians.

The success of the Rite of Memphis and Misraim proved fleeting, though, as the members had little patience with Reuss’s demands for large sums of money. By 1906 Reuss was interested in a new project, the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), which would be the quasi-Masonic body he and Kellner had discussed years before. He found few takers before 1910, when he recruited Aleister Crowley. In 1912, in a move he would later richly regret, Reuss made Crowley head of the British branch of the order. Within a few years the two had fell out, and Reuss spent much of the First World War and the years immediately following it trying to undercut Crowley’s position, especially in America, where he gave an OTO charter to H. Spencer Lewis, later the founder of the American Rosicrucian order AMORC. See Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC); Crowley, Aleister; Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO).

Reuss spent most of the First World War in Switzerland, and moved back to Germany in 1921. Two years later, still in the midst of quarrels with Crowley, he died in Munich.


The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006