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Ordo Templi Orientis
(see also: Aleister Crowley, Freemasonry, Gnosticism, Knights Templar, Magick, Thelema)

Article by David Claiborne
(C) Copyright 2000  All rights reserved

The Ordo Templi Orientis, or O.T.O., is an initiatic body composed of men and women who have accepted the principles of The Book of the Law, which was transmitted through Aleister Crowley in Cairo, Egypt in 1904 E.V.  The O.T.O. was the first of the Great Old Aeon Orders to accept the Law of Thelema.

The O.T.O. practises yoga, meditation, ceremonial magick, qabalah, divination and related disciplines of the Western Mystery Tradition.

In 1885, Karl Kellner, a wealthy Austrian industrialist and paper chemist, as well as a high-grade Mason, founded the Ordo Templi Orientis.  Kellner traveled widely in the East, where he met three Adepts who instructed him in specific magical practices.  Kellner's efforts to develop the Order were later assisted by Franz Hartmann, Heinrich Klein and Theodor Reuss, who had worked together prior to joining the O.T.O.  The Order was first proclaimed in 1902 in Reuss' Masonic publication, Oriflamme.  On Kellner's death, Reuss succeeded him as Outer Head .  The "Jubilee" edition of the Oriflamme, published in 1912, announced that the Order taught the secret of sexual magick.

Reuss was later associated with William Wynn Wescott, the leader of the Golden Dawn, who introduced him to John Yarker.  Yarker chartered Reuss to found the Rites of Memphis and Mizraim in Germany.  After several attempts to concretize various Masonic Rites, Reuss settled on the development of the O.T.O.  The Order experienced reasonably steady growth under Reuss' leadership.  He chartered Papus (Gerard Encausse[?]) in France, Rudolph Steiner in Berlin and H. Spencer Lewis in the USA.


In 1910 Aleister Crowley was given the VII° in recognition of his status as a 33° Mason, which was a common practice at this time within O.T.O.  This was also partly in support of Crowley in his lawsuit with MacGregor Mathers over Crowley's publication of Golden Dawn material.  During the proceedings Mathers declared his authority as the Head of all the Rosicrucians, probably assuming his Golden Dawn to have been the only practicing Rosicrucian system at that time.  However, Mathers' statement offended many members of various Rosicrucian fraternities, and many of them bestowed titles upon Crowley in support of his case.  During the following two years, Crowley worked through the VII°, VIII° and IX°, receiving the IX° in 1912.

However, many years later, in his Confessions, Crowley says "Shortly after publication [of the Book of Lies], the O.H.O. came to me. (At that time I did not realise there was anything in the O.T.O. beyond a convenient compendium of the more important truths in Free Masonry.) He said to me that since I was acquainted with the supreme secret of the Order, I must be allowed the IX° and obligated in regard to it.  I protested that I knew no such secret.  He said 'but you have printed it in the plainest language'.  I said that I could not have done so because I did not know it.  He went to the bookshelves; taking a copy of the Book of Lies, he pointed to a passage..."  The only problem with this story is that the Book of Lies was not published until 1913, after Crowley had taken the IX°.  To the author's knowledge, this discrepancy is still a source of some speculation.

What is most likely is that Crowley, writing about 30 years later, remembered incorrectly which particular book it was in which Reuss pointed out the passage.  At a recent public lecture, Lon Milo DuQuette IX° commented that due to the sublime everpresent nature of the IX° secret, Reuss could well have pointed to many of Crowley's writings.  Some believe that Reuss wanted Crowley as the Rex Summus Sanctissimus of all the English speaking world because by this time Crowley was a rather famous magickian there, and would inspire more interest in the Order.  Knowing that Crowley was enlightened enough to see the secret when a particular piece was shown to him, Reuss more or less tricked Crowley into becoming a IX°.

At this time, Crowley essentially took over the publication of The Equinox as the official organ of the O.T.O.  Additionally, in 1912, the Ordo Templi Orientis officially accepted the Law of Thelema, and Crowley was given authority to rewrite the initiation rituals of the O.T.O., infusing the doctrines of the New Aeon.

----end o.g.

Crowley succeeded in fostering a few strong leaders in North America, and it is to these deep roots that the O.T.O. owes its continued survival.  The North American O.T.O. was founded in 1912 when Charles Stansfeld Jones (aka Frater Achad) brought together twelve sincere and interested associates in the vicinity of Vancouver, British Columbia, all of whom signed forms agreeing to take initiation through the III°.  They were duly chartered as Agape Camp.

Frater Achad, as Parzival X°, continued to stimulate O.T.O. activity in both Canada and the U.S. for many years.  However, it was Wilfred Talbot Smith, one of the charter members of the Vancouver body, who founded the first Lodge in the United States.  Agape Lodge in Pasadena, Californi, in the 1930s.

Reuss resigned as the Outer Head of the Order in 1922 after suffering a stroke and named Crowley as his successor

The Order of Oriental Templars, or Ordo Templi Orientis

The letters O.T.O. stand for Ordo Templi Orientis, the Order of Oriental Templars, or Order of the Temple of the East. O.T.O. is an Outer Thelemic Order which is dedicated to the high purpose of securing the Liberty of the Individual and his or her advancement in Light, Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, and Power through Beauty, Courage, and Wit, on the Foundation of Universal Brotherhood.

O.T.O. is the first of the great Old Æon orders to accept The Book of the Law, received by Aleister Crowley in 1904 EV. This book proclaims a New Æon in human thought, culture and religion. The Æon arises from a single supreme injunction: the Law of Thelema, which is Do what thou wilt.

This Law is not to be interpreted as a license to indulge every passing whim, but rather as the mandate to discover one's True Will and accomplish it; leaving others to do the same in their own unique ways. "Every man and every woman is a star." The Law of Thelema can ultimately be fulfilled only through the individual efforts of each person. Nevertheless, many worthy aspirants to the Great Work of Thelema have a genuine need for information, guidance, fellowship, or the opportunity to assist their fellow aspirants and serve humanity. Such aspirants will find welcome in O.T.O.


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Off-Site Links

Ordo Templi Orientis Grand Lodge Website

The Equinox - The Official Organ of the O.T.O.

Related Books

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