Ordo Templi Orientis, Latin Order of Oriental Templars, is currently one of the largest magical orders in the world. It emerged from central European Masonry at the end of the nineteenth century when Freemasons Carl Kellner (1851-1905), a wealthy Austrian industrialist, and Theodor Reuss (1855-1923), a journalist and former opera singer, started discussing plans for the development of a “Masonic Academy” for esoteric studies.
Kellner was a serious student of yoga and Tantrism, and claimed he studied sexual esotericism in the 1880s under three teachers-the Sufi Soliman ben Aifa, the Hindu tantrikas Bhim,a Sena Pratapa, and Mahatma Agamya Paramahamsa. But the influence of such Indian teaching must be questioned because at the same time both men were involved in the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, an English magical order which taught sex magic based on the teaching of the American occultist P. B. Randolph. The sexual magic later exhibited by the OTO practically paralleled Randolph’s methods.
In 1902 Kellner and Reuss met with John Yarker, a marketer of Masonry degrees, and bought a charter to establish a lodge of the Rite of Memphis Misraim, a variant of Masonry that offered no less than 99 degrees to its initiates. A year later a new order of the OTO was published. This new project showed little progress till a year after Kellner’s death in 1905. The OTO was officially founded in 1906, and had small membership during the following six years in which Reuss worked on its ritual and structure.
The new order went public in 1912, offering ten degrees:
I Prufling (Probationer)
III Johannis-(Craft-) Freimauer (Craft Mason, or Freemason of St. John)
IV Scottischer-(Andreas-) Mauer (Scottish Mason, or Mason of St. Andrew)
V Rose Croix-Mauer (Rose Croix Mason)
VI Templer-Rosenkreuzer (Templar Rosicrucian)
VII Mystischer Templer (Mystic Templar)
VIII Orientalisher Templer (Oriental Templar)
IX Vollkommener Illuminat (Perfect Illuminus)
X Rex Supremus (Supreme King)
The sexual mysticism of the H. B. of L., the basis of Reuss’ system, was taught in the VIII and IX degrees; specifically magical masturbation was the core of the VIII degree curriculum, while riyual intercourse belonged to the IX. The grade of X degree was purely administrative and given to the head of OTO in a country.
The year 1912 also marked another major event in the OTO, the meeting of Reuss and Aleister Crowley whom Reuss elevated to the position of Rex Supremus for Britain and Ireland. Crowley immediately started building the British branch of the order under the name of Mysteria Mystica Maxima (MMM). Crowley’s less the perfect occult reputation, however, kept the membership small, although this did not prevent Reuss from making claims of admiration about Crowley’s influence.
Within a few years following his advancement to this position Crowley had revised Reuss’ rituals to make them conform more to his philosophy of Thelema. He also renamed the degrees, adding several intermediate steps modeled on Scottish Rite degrees:
I M. (Entered Apprentice Mason)
II M.. (Fellow Craft Mason)
III M:. (Master Mason)
IV Companion of the Holy Royal Arch of Enoch Prince of Jerusalem Knight of the East and of the West
V Sovereign Prince of Rose Croix, Knight of the Pelican and Eagle Members of the Senate of Knight Hermetic Philosophers, Knights of the Red Eagle
VI Illustrious Knight (Templar) of the Order of Kadosch, and Companion of the Holy Graal Grand Inquisitor Commander, Member of the Grand Tribunal Prince of the Royal Secret
VII Very Illustrious Sovereign Grand Inspector General Member of the Supreme Grand Council VIII Perfect Pontiff of the Illuminati
IX Initiate of the Sanctuary of the Gnosis
X Rex Summus Sanctissimus (Supreme and Most Holy King)
Reuss soon regretted placing Crowley in such a high position of the order. By 1915 Reuss had contacted H. Spencer Lewis, an American occultist and future founder of the Ancient Mystical Order of the Red Crucis (AMORC). Subsequently Reuss provided Lewis with an OTO charter, and made a series of moves to counter Crowley’s influence. It was in 1921 that Reuss elevated Lewis through the honorary degrees of the Scottish Rite, the Rite of Memphis, the Rite of Misraim, and the OTO respectively in order to side-step Crowley and Charles Stansfield Jones’ claim of exclusive jurisdiction over the British and North America branches of the OTO. About this time Reuss and Crowley had a complete falling out, and Crowley appointed himself Outer Head of the order. For his part, Lewis distanced himself from Reuss, not wanting to be involved in the internal political struggle of the OTO, as he began developing his own organization.
Following Reuss’ death in 1921 few branches of the OTO managed to survive, certainly Crowley’s English one did not; it went out of existence after the police raid of 1917, although Crowley initiated a few member until his death in 1947. No one seemed to hold ceremonial leadership, but it was generally accepted that Crowley was leader and eventually when he died the OTO had just one lodge in Pasadena, California, which dissolved a few years later. It seems to be an exaggeration to say that the organization was loose-net, for twenty years the membership consisted of a handful of people scattered over two continents, with few on speaking terms with each other, and even fewer practicing ant OTO rituals at all.
The state of affairs took a change in 1969 when the American Grady McMurtry (1918-1985), under the title of Hymenaeus Alpha, announced that Crowley had given him the charters to act as his Caliph or deputy when he had visited him in England in 1943. This claim, needless to say, was vigorously debated within OTO circles, but it seemed McMurtry did have some authority over one American OTO lodge.
Regardless of the many disputes, McMurtry managed to resurrect the OTO and transform it into one of the larger magical lodge organizations of the twentieth century. He managed to present Crowley’s ideas to a larger audience that Crowley could have done himself. The majority of the revival of Thelema in North America and Europe in the last quarter of the twentieth century is credited to the revival of the OTO.
McMurtry endeared legal squabbles until his death in 1985, then the Caliphate was taken over by a senior OTO member, not wishing to make his name public, as Hymenaeus Beta. Under this leadership and despite further disputes and legal battles the OTO has became one of the largest and most active orders in the world. Also there are many smaller orders in various parts of the world claim OTO inheritance. A.G.H
Drury, Nevil. The Watkins Dictionary of Magic. London. Watkins Publishing. 2005. p. 219
Greer, John Michael. The New Encyclopedia of the Occulti. St. Paul, Mn. Llewellyn Publications. 2005. pp. 348-350