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Ordo Templi Orienti | Secret Societies

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Ordo Templis Orientis

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Ordo Templi Orienti

on Feb 15, 2012 in Ordo Templis Orientis

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. English author and occultist Aleister Crowleyhas become the most well known member of the order.

Originally it was intended to be modelled after and associated with Freemasonry, but under the leadership of Aleister Crowley, O.T.O. was reorganized around the Law of Thelema as its central religious principle. This Law—expressed as “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” and “Love is the law, love under will”—was promulgated in 1904 with the writing of The Book of the Law.

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.

Origins

The early history of 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 Austrian industrialist, in 1895 (although nothing verifiable 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 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, the authority of which was confirmed in 1904 and again in 1905. Although these rites are considered to be irregular, they, along with the Swedenborg Rite 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 first 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° (tenth degree). The appointment included the opening of the British section of O.T.O., which was called the Mysteria Mystica Maxima or the M∴M∴M∴. Crowley then went to Berlin to obtain instructional manuscripts and 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 its basic ten-degree system with Kellner’s three degree Academia Masonica forming the seventh, eighth and ninth degrees.

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 the United States of America. It was around this time that Crowley decided to integrate Thelema into the O.T.O. system, and in 1915 prepared revised rituals for use in the M∴M∴M∴.

In 1917, Reuss wrote a Synopsis of Degrees of O.T.O. in which the third degree 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 fourth degree 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 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 Theodore Reuss suffered a stroke in the spring of 1920. In correspondence with one of Reuss’s officers, Crowley expressed doubts about Reuss’s competence to remain in office. Relations between Reuss and Crowley began to deteriorate, and the two exchanged angry letters in November 1921. Crowley informed Reuss that he was availing himself of Reuss’s abdication from office and proclaiming himself Outer Head of the Order. Reuss died on October 28, 1923 without designating a successor, though Crowley claimed in later correspondence that Reuss had designated him. Crowley biographer 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 a tumultuous Conference of Grand Masters, Crowley was officially elected as Outer Head of the Order (or O.H.O.) by the remaining administrative heads 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, migrated to America after being released from Nazi confinement. On March 14, 1942, Crowley appointed him as his successor as Outer Head of the Order, and Germer filled the office after the death of Crowley in 1947.

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