Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) (Order of the Temple of the East, or the Order of Oriental Templars) is an international fraternal and religious organization founded at the beginning of the 20th century. Originally it was intended to be tied to and modeled on Freemasonry, but under the leadership of Aleister Crowley was reorganized based on the Law of Thelema as its central religious and organizational principle. This Law—expressed as “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will.”—was established in 1904 with the writing down of The Book of the Law by Aleister Crowley. Similar to many secret societies, O.T.O. membership is based on an initiatory system with a series of degree ceremonies that use ritual drama to establish fraternal bonds and impart spiritual and philosophical teachings.
O.T.O. also includes the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (EGC) or Gnostic Catholic Church, which is the ecclesiastical arm of the Order. Its central rite, which is public, is called Liber XV, or the Gnostic Mass.
O.T.O. claims over 3000 members in 58 countries; about half of these are in the United States.
Philosophy of O.T.O.
O.T.O. was described by Crowley as the "first of the great Old Æon orders to accept The Book of the Law". O.T.O. originally borrowed ritual material from irregular Masonic organizations, and although some related symbolism and language is in use, the context has changed to Thelema and its tenets. "The Order offers esoteric instruction through dramatic ritual, guidance in a system of illuminated ethics, and fellowship among aspirants to the Great Work of realizing the divine in the human" O.T.O. has two core areas of ritual activity: initiation into the Mysteries, and the celebration of Liber XV, the Gnostic Mass. In addition, the Order organizes lectures, classes, social events, theatrical productions and artistic exhibitions; publishes books and journals; and provides instruction in Hermetic science, yoga, and magick.
Crowley wrote in his Confessions, "the O.T.O. is in possession of one supreme secret. The whole of its system [is] directed towards communicating to its members, by progressively plain hints, this all-important instruction." Of the first set of initiations, "the main objects of the instruction [are] two. It [is] firstly necessary to explain the universe and the relations of human life therewith. Secondly, to instruct every man [and woman] how best to adapt his [or her] life to the cosmos and to develop his faculties to the utmost advantage. I accordingly constructed a series of rituals, Minerval, Man, Magician, Master-Magician, Perfect Magician and Perfect Initiate, which should illustrate the course of human life in its largest philosophical aspect." The initiation rituals after the V° are such that "the candidate is instructed in the value of discretion, loyalty, independence, truthfulness, courage, self-control, indifference to circumstance, impartiality, skepticism, and other virtues, and at the same time assisted him to discover for himself the nature of [the supreme] secret, the proper object of its employment and the best means for insuring success for its use" (p.701).
Of the entire system of O.T.O., Crowley wrote in Confessions:
It offers a rational basis for universal brotherhood and for universal religion. It puts forward a scientific statement which is a summary of all that is at present known about the universe by means of a simple, yet sublime symbolism, artistically arranged. It also enables each man to discover for himself his personal destiny, indicates the moral and intellectual qualities which he requires in order to fulfill it freely, and finally puts in his hands an unimaginably powerful weapon which he may use to develop in himself every faculty which he may need in his work (p.703).
Initiation and teachings
Membership in O.T.O. is based upon a system of initiation ceremonies (or degrees) which use ritual drama to establish fraternal bonds between members as well as impart spiritual and philosophical teachings. They also serve an organizational function, in that certain degrees must be attained before taking on various forms of service in the Order (e.g. taking the degree of K.E.W. is a requirement for ordination as a priest in Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica).
There are thirteen numbered degrees and twelve un-numbered which are divided into three grades or "triads"—the Hermit, the Lover, and the Man of Earth. Admittance to each degree of O.T.O. involves an initiation and the swearing of an oath which O.T.O claims is similar to those used in Freemasonry. Advancement through the Man of Earth triad requires sponsorship from ranking members. Advancement into the degree of the Knight of the East and West and beyond requires one to be invited by ranking members.
The ultimate goal of initiation in O.T.O. is "to instruct the individual by allegory and symbol in the profound mysteries of Nature, and thereby to assist each to discover his or her own true Identity." The entire system is as follows:
The Man of Earth Triad
Imparted the mysteries of attraction and conception.
I°—Man & Brother
Imparted the mysteries of birth.
Imparted the mysteries of life.
Imparted the mysteries of death.
IV°—Perfect Magician & companion of the Holy Royal Arch of Enoch
P.I.—Perfect Initiate, or Prince of Jerusalem
Outside all Triads
Knight of the East & West
The Lover Triad
Sovereign Prince Rose-Croix, and Knight of the Pelican & Eagle
Knight of the Red Eagle, and Member of the Senate of Knight Hermetic Philosophers
Illustrious Knight (Templar) of the Order of Kadosch, and Companion of the Holy Graal
Grand Inquisitor Commander, and Member of the Grand Tribunal
Prince of the Royal Secret
Theoreticus, and Very Illustrious Sovereign Grand Inspector General
Magus of Light, and Bishop of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica
Grandmaster of Light, and Inspector of Rites & Degrees
Adoration of the phallus as the microcosmic counterpart to the sun is taught in this degree, including the creation of a personal 'chapel' which contains a sculpture of a phallus in silver, bronze, or another such substance.
The Hermit Triad
Perfect Pontiff of the Illuminati
Epopt of the Illuminati
Masturbatory or autosexual magical techniques were taught, referred as the Lesser Work of Sol
IX°—Initiate of the Sanctuary of the Gnosis
Heterosexual magical techniques were taught
X°—Rex Summus Sanctissimus
XI°—Initiate of the Eleventh Degree (This degree is technical, and has no relation to the general plan of the Order)
Anal intercourse techniques as sexual and magical
XII°—Frater Superior, and Outer Head of the Order
The governing bodies of O.T.O. include:
Presided over by the Outer Head of the Order XII° (OHO—also known as Frater Superior)
The Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis of the IX°
The Secret Areopagus of the Illuminati of the VIII°
The Grand Tribunal of the VI°
The National Grand Lodge
Presided over by the National Grand Master X°
The Supreme Grand Council
The Electoral College
At the Man of Earth level, there are three levels of Local Body, which are Camps, Oases, and Lodges.
1. Camps tend to be the smallest and are not required to perform initiations. They are encouraged to celebrate the Gnostic Mass.
2. Oases are the next largest. Oases must be capable of initiating through the III° and are required to perform the Gnostic Mass six times yearly.
3. Lodges are the largest local body within the Man of Earth Grade, and are expected to celebrate the Gnostic Mass on a regular basis, work towards establishing a permanent temple, and have the ability to initiate through IV°/P.I.
4. Chapters of Rose Croix are bodies established by members of the Lover Grade. A Chapter is headed by a Most Wise Sovereign. They are generally charged with arranging social activities, such as plays, banquets, and dances. They also work to promote harmony among the members by tact and friendliness.
5. Guilds are groups recognized by O.T.O. International designed to promote a profession, trade, science or craft. Subject to approval by the Areopogus, they make their own regulations and coordinate their own efforts. There are currently three Guilds: the Psychology Guild, the Translators' Guild, and the Information Technology Guild.
6. The term Sanctuary is sometimes used to indicate a group of initiates organized for E.G.C. activities. This designation currently reflects no formal chartering process or official standing within the Order.
The early history of the O.T.O. is difficult to trace reliably. It originated in Germany or Austria between 1895 and 1906. Its apparent founder was Carl Kellner (probably with the German spelling Karl), a wealthy German industrialist, in 1895 (although nothing is known of the Order until 1904).
Theodor Reuss (1855-1923) collaborated with Kellner in creating O.T.O., and succeeded him as head of the O.T.O. after Kellner's death. Under Reuss, charters were given to occult brotherhoods in France, Denmark, Switzerland, the U.S.A. and Austria. There were nine degrees, of which the first six were Masonic.
In 1902, Reuss, along with Franz Hartmann and Henry Klein, purchased the right to perform the Rite of Memphis and Mizraim of Freemasonry (which is considered irregular by most Masonic Grand Lodges and Grand Orients), the authority of which was confirmed in 1904 and again in 1905. These rites, along with the Swedenborgian Rite (also considered irregular), formed the core of the newly established Order.
O.T.O. and Aleister Crowley
Reuss met Aleister Crowley and in 1910 admitted him to the three degrees of O.T.O. Only two years later, Crowley was placed in charge of Great Britain and Ireland, and was advanced to the X°. The appointment included the opening of the British section of the O.T.O. , which was called Mysteria Mystica Maxima. Crowley then went to Berlin to obtain the instructional manuscripts and also the title of Supreme and Holy King of Ireland, Iona and all the Britains within the Sanctuary of the Gnosis. Within the year Crowley had written the Manifesto of the M∴M∴M∴ which described the basic ten-degree system with Kellner’s three degree Academia Masonica forming the VII°, VIII° and IX°.
In 1913, Crowley composed the Gnostic Mass while in Moscow, which he described as being the Order’s “central ceremony of its public and private celebration.” In 1914, soon after World War I broke out, he moved to America. It was around this time that he decided to integrate Thelema into the O.T.O. system, and in 1915 had revised rituals prepared for use in his M∴M∴M∴
In 1917, Reuss wrote a Synopsis of Degrees of O.T.O. in which the 3° was listed as "Craft of Masonry" and listed the initiations involved as "Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, Master Mason" and elaborated on this with "Full instruction in Craft Masonry, including the Catechism of the first three degrees, and an explanation of all the various Masonic systems." The same document shows that the 4° of O.T.O. is also known as the Holy Royal Arch of Enoch. It was summarized by Reuss as the Degree of "Scotch Masonry", equivalent to "Scotch Mason, Knight of St. Andrew, Royal Arch", and he described it as "Full instruction in the Scottish degrees of Ancient and Accepted Masonry."
In 1919, Crowley attempted to work this Masonic based O.T.O. in Detroit, Michigan. The result was that he was rebuffed by the Council of the Scottish rite on the basis that the O.T.O rituals were too similar to orthodox Masonry. He described this in a 1930 letter to Arnold Krumm-Heller:
However, when it came to the considerations of the practical details of the rituals to be worked, the general Council of the Scottish Rite could not see its way to tolerate them, on the ground that the symbolism in some places touched too nearly that of the orthodox Masonry of the Lodges.
Crowley subsequently rewrote the initiation rituals of the first three degrees, and in doing so removed most of those rituals' ties to Masonry. He did not, however, rewrite the fourth
degree ritual, which remains in its form and structure related to the various Royal Arch rituals of Masonry.
Crowley wrote that Theodor Reuss suffered a stroke in the spring of 1920. In correspondence with one of his officers, Crowley expressed doubts about Reuss's competence to remain in office. Relations between Reuss and Crowley had begun to deteriorate—the two exchanged angry letters in November of 1921. Crowley informed Reuss that he was availing himself of Reuss's abdication from office and proclaiming himself the Outer Head of the Order. Reuss died on October 28, 1923. Crowley claimed in later correspondence that Reuss had designated him as his successor. Lawrence Sutin, among others, casts doubt on this claim, although there is no evidence for or against it, and no other candidate stepped forward to refute Crowley by offering proof of succession. In 1925, during the tumultuous Conference of Grand Masters, Crowley was officially elected as OHO by the remaining administrative heads (X°) of O.T.O.
During WWII, the European branches of O.T.O. were either destroyed or driven underground. By the end of the war, the only surviving O.T.O. body was Agapé Lodge in California, although there were various initiates in different countries. Very few initiations were being performed. At this time, Karl Germer, who had been Crowley’s representative in Germany, came over to America after being released from Nazi confinement. In 1942, Crowley appointed him as his successor as OHO, the office he filled after the death of Crowley in 1947.
O.T.O. after Crowley
Under Germer, O.T.O. activity dropped to near extinction. He died in 1962 without naming a successor. It was not until 1969 that anyone stepped into the void when Grady McMurtry invoked his emergency authorization from Crowley and assumed the title of Caliph. He began performing initiations in 1970. O.T.O. was incorporated under the laws of the State of California on March 26, 1979. The corporation attained Federal Tax exemption as a religious entity under IRS Code 501(c)3 in 1982. Grady McMurtry died in 1985, having successfully saved the O.T.O. from extinction.
McMurtry requested that members of the Sovereign Sanctuary (members of the Ninth Degree) elect the next Outer Head of the Order, which they did in 1985. William Breeze was elected to become the next OHO, taking the name Hymenaeus Beta, and he continues in that office today. In 1996, Sabazius X° (David Scriven) was appointed as National Grand Master General for the U.S. Grand Lodge. In 2005, Fr. Hyperion X° was appointed the National GMG of the newly formed UK Grand Lodge. Fr. Shiva X° was appointed the GMG of Australia Grand Lodge in 2006.
Aleister Crowley and O.T.O. are frequently labeled as "evil." Several Christian churches consider O.T.O. to be Satanic, although the tenets of Thelema do not include Satan or his worship.
According to some, such as P. R. Koenig, Aleister Crowley and his system are misogynistic: "Crowley saw no use in the vaginal fluids nor did he think that women are divine, therefore he could not imagine lesbian sexmagick. He believed that 'man is the guardian of the Life of God; woman but a temporary expedient; a shrine indeed for the God, but not the God.' ==> Women exist for the use of men. His ideal female: 'robust, vigorous, eager, sensible, hot and healthy.'  That is to say, his interest was in the woman's body and he wanted no spiritual or intellectual participation from her."
There are those, including occultists and Thelemites of other organizations, such as members of Grant's Ordo Templi Orientis, who do not agree that O.T.O. as revived by McMurtry is the sole legitimate continuation of the Order as headed by Aleister Crowley as found by U.S. courts. Those who hold such views tend to refer to the O.T.O. as revived by McMurtry as the "Caliphate" O.T.O. (based on McMurtry's title of Caliph given to him by Crowley) so as to distinguish it from other organizations that use the name "Ordo Templi Orientis". Other organizations that use the O.T.O. name and consider themselves to be legitimate continuations of O.T.O., are O.T.O. Foundation, Albion O.T.O., The Parzival XI° O.T.O. Foundation.
In 2002 an ex-member of the O.T.O., writing under the pseudonym "Satyr", released The Black Lodge of Santa Cruz on the web. This was a detailed account of his membership in the O.T.O.
In February 2006, a long-time high-ranking member and occult author, T. Allen Greenfield, called for the resignation of upper management and stepped down from all managerial duties in protest. In July 2006, his profound disagreement with present OTO upper management led to his resignation from both O.T.O. and E.G.C. He continues to be a critic of the current head of the Order, William Breeze, who he insists is only the acting Outer Head of the Order. This position appears to be supported by the transcript of Breeze's election as "Caliph" .