A Brief History of the Ancient Order of The Oriental Templars Also known as THE ORDO TEMPLI ORIENTIS
by Fr. AO583 VIII OTO
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. –AL I:40
The ORDO TEMPLI ORIENTIS has had five Frater Superiors or individuals who have been in charge of running the affairs of the order from its inception to the present. Each has carried the title of OHO, which is the abbreviation for ‘Outer Head of the Order.’
The early history of the ORDO TEMPLI ORIENTIS is difficult to ascertain and is often shrouded in mystery. It is generally believed that the organization was founded in Germany shortly before the turn of the century by a rich Austrian industrialist named Karl Kellner (1850-1905) who was later assisted by Franz Hartmann, Heinrich Klein and Theodor Reuss. On June 7th, 1905, its founding father, Karl Kellner died in Vienna under very ‘mysterious circumstances.’ According to the death certificate the cause was attributed to blood poisoning. Unfortunately the medical advisor could not determine how he contracted this ailment. He was succeeded by Albert Karl Theodor Reuss (Frater Merlin Peregrinus, 1855-1923) who became the second OHO of the Ordo Templi Orientis.
Under the leadership of Theodor Reuss the OTO grew rather rapidly, chartering many OTO bodies — in France under Dr.Encausse (Papus), a German Lodge in 1906 under Rudolf Steiner, as well as Lodges in Denmark, Switzerland and Austria to name but a few. The OTO was enjoying a modest success. In 1910 an English gentleman by the name of Aleister Crowley (Frater Baphomet 1875-1947) entered the picture as a VIIth Degree member of the OTO. Crowley joined at this level because the OTO had a policy which stated that any individual who was a 33 Scottish Rite Mason, which Crowley was, could join the OTO at the equivalent degree — which, of course, is the Seventh Degree.
Around 1912, Theodor Reuss chartered Charles Stansfeld Jones of Vancouver to operate the OTO in North America and Canada. In the same year, on June 1st, Aleister Crowley was elevated to the IXth Degree. Reuss also chartered Crowley as ‘the Most Holy, Most Illustrious, Most Illuminated and Most Puissant Baphomet, X, Rex Summus Sanctissimus 33, 90, 96’ to operate a National Grand Lodge for Great Britain and Ireland.
Around 1914, a student of Crowley’s named Frank Bennett (Frater Progradior) brought the OTO to Australia where he had recently moved. Bennett was a bricklayer in Lancashire, England when he first met Aleister Crowley in 1910. Unfortunately Bennett would die in 1932 after achieving only a modest success in establishing the OTO in Australia. The OTO was also chartered to operate in South Africa under Thomas James Windram (Frater Semper Peratus X). Windram, an accountant living in Johannesburg, died in 1939.
The OTO took a very strange turn in the early 1920’s but it is difficult to ascertain all the details since so much of the historical information has been lost. We do know that in a letter from Cefalu, dated November 23rd, 1921, Aleister Crowley suggested to Theodor Reuss that he should step down as OHO. The exact reasons behind Crowley’s comment is not fully known. Some believe it could have been because of political strife and internal OTO problems but others think it was simply because of health reasons, especially since Theodor Reuss had recently suffered a serious stroke. Regardless of which, Aleister Crowley was further bold in suggesting to Theodor Reuss that it “is my will to be O.H.O. and Frater Superior of the Order and avail myself of your abdication — to proclaim myself such.” Unfortunately any reply by Theodore Reuss has been lost. We do know that in his November 1921 diaries Aleister Crowley wrote, ‘Die Sol … I have proclaimed myself O.H.O., Frater Superior of the Order of Oriental Templar.’ This appears to have been unofficial, of course, and was between only Crowley and himself but it was a premonition of things to come. Ironically even though Aleister Crowley had proclaimed himself OHO in 1921 it wasn’t until early 1922 that Reuss finally decided to resigned from the position. Reuss also named his successor and it was Aleister Crowley. Therefore it is anyone’s guess as to what had actually transpired between the two over the previous few years.
On the 28th of October 1923, Theodor Reuss died of complications suffered from the stroke. At the time of his death there were only three National Grand Master’s in the OTO, Heinrich Tranker (Frater Recnartus, 1880-1956) in Germany, Charles Stansfeld Jones (Frater Parzival, 1886-1950) in America and, of course, Aleister Crowley in England.
Although Crowley had been proclaimed by Theodor Reuss as his successor he did not have the full support of the OTO membership, especially in Germany. He would not achieve this goal until the other two National Grand Masters threw their support behind him. This occurred in January of 1925 when Heinrich Tranker of Germany wrote to Charles Stansfeld Jones officially nominating Aleister Crowley to the post of Frater Superior and OHO. Crowley accepted the political opportunity to be recognized by his peers although he was quick to point out to Tranker in a letter that “Frater Peregrinus (Theodor Reuss) in the last letter we exchanged definitely designated me to succeed him” already.
Later in the summer of 1925 Aleister Crowley went to Thuringia, Germany where he attended the Weida Conference. It was here that the majority of the remaining OTO leadership gave their support to Aleister Crowley and he officially assumed the position as the second Outer Head of Order of the Ordo Templi Orientis. Those OTO members who did not wish to continue under Aleister Crowley’s leadership simply resigned, many citing their irreconcilable differences with his Book of the Law and the concepts it implied.
During the thirties a member of the Vancouver Lodge, an Englishman named Wilfred Talbot Smith (Frater Ramaka, 132), who had been an OTO member under Theodor Reuss, moved to Southern California. It was here that Wilfred T. Smith was chartered by Aleister Crowley to begin an OTO Lodge — named the Agape Lodge.
This was the early history of the OTO. We discussed this period only briefly, prompting to deal primarily with later events after Aleister Crowley assumed the position as the Head of this organization. The reason is quite simple — under Aleister Crowley the OTO changed quite drastically, especially with the incorporation of the principle found in The Book of the Law which had been transmitted to him in Cairo, Egypt in 1904. Because of the acceptance of The Book of the Law the OTO became the first organization to officially adopt the Law of Thelema in the New Aeon of Aquarius. Under Aleister Crowley’s influence even the Masonic rituals of the OTO were revised in order to conform with this new teaching. But probably the single most important ritual incorporated into the OTO was the Gnostic Mass (Liber XV), which Crowley had written in 1913.
We now jump many years later, in the winter of 1943, when certain events took place which would shape the course of OTO history in the future — a future which involves all of us today, particularly in America.
It was during World War II that an OTO member from the Agape Lodge in southern California named Grady Louis McMurtry (1918-1985) off-loaded from a troopship at Greenock, Scotland. His first meeting with Aleister Crowley took place on October 30th. One bright sunny morning he came to Crowley’s apartment at 93 Jermyn Street (pronounced ‘german’), located just off Piccadilly Circus in London. In response to his knocking, the door slowly opened and there stood the Great Beast, Aleister Crowley, who simply asked “Yes?”, to which Grady replied, “I am Lieutenant McMurtry.” Crowley’s response was, “Well, come in dear chap!” It was very joyous, after writing numerous letters back and forth, Grady and Crowley were finally meeting for the first time.
Grady McMurtry saw Crowley quite a lot during this period. On another occasion, Aleister Crowley opened the door saying, “Oh, there you are! A line from one of your poems has been running around in my head and I can’t get it out.” Crowley then recited, “I have heard the Mass of Mendes, Chaunted by a slitted tongue.” These lines were from Grady McMurtry’s poem entitled “Nadir.” Grady had recently sent a copy of this poem and others to Crowley for review and comment. Grady felt that it was a great privilege to submit his “poetry to Aleister Crowley for his critique. How many times in an incarnation would you have a chance to do that?” But he noted that “It was not an unmixed blessing. Sometimes his judgments could be severe. Getting a stinging letter from Aleister Crowley, especially when he had rejected your favorite poem and praised one you had thought was just off-hand, could be a sobering experience.” Although after hearing Crowley talk with praise about his poem Grady claimed, “I was high for weeks thinking about it — the greatest poet of the English language has a line in his head from one of my poems and he can’t get it out!” Years later, Grady McMurtry still had fond memories when he wrote that “this [the poem, “Nadir”] is one that A.C. really flipped over.”
Aleister Crowley would later express a belief that Grady needed a magical motto. We know that Grady asked Crowley for help in this matter, not fully understanding what the term ‘motto’ implied. According to Grady, Crowley simply asked, “What is your Will?” Grady thought for a second and then answered with a quick, brief comment, “… to unite that which is above with that which is below.” Crowley, lowering his head back to the chess board, simply replied that he would think on it. End of subject.
Later, after doing some further thinking on the subject Grady drafted a letter and sent it to Aleister Crowley. It was dated November 6th, 1943 and it contained some further ideas on the subject of what he was looking for in a magical motto. He wrote, “I have been thinking about your suggestion that I determine my motto. As I visualize it — my purpose is the unification of the universe — internal and external. The balancing of the mundane with the spiritual. The Great Work as you have shown it and more — much more. Quite a task.”
It was not long before Grady received a letter from Crowley, dated November 19, 1943, in which Crowley wrote, “… Ah! United. Yes: Sometimes I sat and thunk, and sometimes I just sat. But no nearer to your motto. Then a flash! Well, yes, I think it may do. Hymenaeus Alpha (=Aleph) (You know the Greek Alphabet & its values of course?) Hymenaeus, the Graeco-Roman God of Marriage; and Alpha (Aleph) with all its meanings — see Essay on Atu O in the Tarot. And the whole show adds up to 777. Good enough?” Grady McMurtry immediately sent Crowley a letter back which was dated November 25th, “Is 777 good enough? I should argue with Jack Pot! This Alpha business. A bi-lingual pun asserts itself, i.e. ‘Liber Aleph’ which could mean anything from ‘Greetings, o perfect Fool’ to ‘Hi, Chump’. Yes, I think that it will do. And I think that I am the boy for the job.” This is how Frater Hymenaeus Alpha 777 was born and equally important during this period, Grady McMurtry received his official papers and became a IXth Degree member of the Ordo Templi Orientis.
On June 6th, 1944 that which Lt.Grady Louis McMurtry had originally been sent to Europe for, finally occurred, D-Day: the landing at Normandy. The Allied invasion of the continent against Hitler’s Nazi Germany had begun. Grady McMurtry’s company went a shore during the early days. Toward the end of the month, on Wednesday the 28th of June 1944, Aleister Crowley wrote in his diary that about 1:48 a.m. he saw an “Apparition of Fra H.A. In oval of dim light. Dark Blue clothes, standing at attention. Greeting returned, before I finished mine.” There is no indication in his diaries of Crowley attempting to figure out what this meant. It is believed to have had a great impact on Crowley, who soon begins looking toward Grady as a possible OHO or successor to the OTO leadership in the future. A few days later, on the 30th, Crowley writes, “Fra H.A. wrote from Normandy!” and he immediately wrote a letter in reply. The letter begins with Crowley saying, “I can’t tell you how glad I was to hear from you this A.M. I was, naturally, anxious to know that you were safely across.”
A few months later an “official letter” arrived from Crowley dealing with Grady’s “position in the Order.” Something which he had enquired about and Crowley wished to clarify. The letter was dated September 28th, 1944 and in it Crowley frankly states, “I hope you will prefer my plan for your career as my Fidus Achates, alter ego, Caliph, & so on.” During this period Grady was extremely busy, especially since Belgium was being liberated from the Nazis by the United States Army throughout September of 1944. However Grady did managed to reply to Crowley’s letter on November 8th to ask for more details on the Caliphate. Crowley replied from his home at the Bell Inn on November 21st; his diaries record that he dealt with “IX & Caliphate.” Crowley wrote Grady: “The Caliphate. You must realize that no matter how closely we may see eye-to-eye on any objective subject, I have to think on a totally different premisses where the Order is concerned. One of the (startling few) commands given to me was this: ‘Trust not a stranger: fail not of an heir.’ This has been the very devil for me. Fr. Saturnus (Karl Germer 1885-1962) is of course the natural Caliph; but there are many details concerning the actual policy or working which hit his blind spots. In any case, he can only be a stopgap, because of his age; I have to look for his successor. It has been Hell; so many have come up with amazing promise, only to go on the rocks … I do not think of you as lying on a grassy hillside with a lot of dear sweet lovely wooly lambs, capering to your flute! On the contrary. Your actual life, or ‘blooding’, is the sort of initiation which I regard as the first essential for a Caliph. (Saturnus) had lots of it: Iron + twice wounded: rose from the ranks to 1st Lieut — our major. For — say 20 years hence the Outer Head of the Order must, amongst other things, have had the experience of war as it is in actual fact to-day.” Crowley then goes on to say that, “1965 e.v. should be a critical period in the development of the Child Horus!”
Years later Grady would explain that this letter obviously showed that Crowley “could foresee the future,” and basically that’s why “I am Caliph. Not merely because I am a poet … I belong to that vanishing breed known as the ‘Warrior-troubadour’ … when the battle is over you take off your piss pot (which is what we call our helmet) and sit down in your muddy combat boots and write a poem about it (see my Normandy in June for an example), but also because I know what it is like to ‘go in,’ as we say … basically, I am Caliph because I am a soldier: First, last and always.” He further explained that he has often been misunderstood by the “weak sisters,” expressing to them that he was not their “Groovy Guru … who is here to perform while you sit around and are entertained. I am here to find that iron core of dedicated Thelemites …” In a letter to a friend in 1973 Grady attempted to further elucidate the Caliphate as it was explained to him by Aleister Crowley. He wrote that Crowley had told him, “Your actual life, or ‘blooding’ is the sort of initiation which I [i.e. Crowley] ] regard as the first essential for a Caliph ….” No one can deny that Grady McMurtry didn’t go through the proper ‘blooding’ — he had his soul torn on the battlefields in preparation for the ordeals which Aleister Crowley foresaw in his future.
In May of 1945, Germany officially surrendered and by late November Grady found himself on a troopship bound for America. He arrived in New York on the 17th and he arranged for two nights leave. He wrote in his diaries simply, “AWOL to see Karl & Sascha” He left on November 20th, flying out of Newark Airport on an old DC 4 bound for California.
In 1946, on March 22, the first of two extremely important documents from Aleister Crowley arrived. In the first document Crowley appointed Grady “as Our personal representative in the United States of America, and his Authority is to be considered as Ours, subject to the approval, revision, or veto of Our Viceroy Karl Johanness Germer IX [degree] OTO …” The next document to arrive came dated April 11th, 1946, and briefly states, “This is to authorize Frater Hymenaeus Alpha (Capt. Grady L. McMurtry) to take charge of the whole work of the Order in California to reform the Organization in pursuance of his report of Jan. 25, ’46 e.v. subject to the approval of Fr. Saturnus (Karl Germer).” Crowley continues by stating that “This authorization is to be used only in emergency.”
Ironically Grady McMurtry thought very little of this authorization at the time. But years later an emergency would present itself where these two documents would prove to be the most powerful and convincing piece of evidence that Grady Louis McMurtry needed to re-establish an almost dead OTO. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Aleister Crowley and McMurtry continued to exchange many letters during the postwar period, many of which were friendly correspondence rather than official business. Soon the new year of 1947 was upon Grady Louis McMurtry. In April Aleister Crowley writes a scribbled letter to Grady where he claims that on March 8th his health failed badly and that he came very close to “cashing in my checks!” It had been a severe winter, and Grady’s reply of the 15th voices concern and relief that Crowley is alright. Crowley replied “I was very glad indeed to have your letter of the 15th inst. The Winter here has been unspeakable — one of the worst I ever experienced, and I have known some. It has kept me ill but ailing and confined to the house for practically the whole time. It has not let up on us yet.” On June 1st Aleister Crowley wrote out his Last Will & Testament. He also writes Grady McMurtry a letter dated June 17th, which begins, “It seems a long while since I heard from you. This is a great mistake: I will tell you why in strict confidence. In the event of my death, Frater Saturnus is of course my successor, but after his death the terrible burden of responsibility might very easily fall upon your shoulders: for this reason I should like you to keep closely in touch with me.”
Over the next few months Grady McMurtry and Aleister Crowley exchanged many letters. The last letter Crowley wrote to Grady is dated November 5, 1947, a very brief reply to Grady’s letter of October 26th. He ends the letter, “Love to Foxie and Shannon [Grady’s wife & child] as well as to yourself, with my blessing.” On Monday, December 1, Aleister Crowley died at the age of 72.
On Wednesday morning Grady Louis McMurtry received a Western Union telegram which simply stated, “Aleister died peacefully Monday 11 AM Love, Karl [&] Sascha.”
Grady replied to Germer’s telegram with a letter dated December 9th. “Your night-letter informing me of Aleister’s death reached me Wednesday Morning. I find it difficult to describe my feelings. I suppose that ‘Choric sadness’ comes about as close to it as anything. A great, ringing chorus of joy to send him on his way to the fulfillment of his Will, and at the same time a certain infinite sadness that I have lost, temporarily at least, a friend and we have lost a teacher. You will note that the sadness is for myself, not Aleister.”
After Crowley’s death the discussion arose as to who would become the new Outer Head of the Ordo Templi Orientis. It was no secret that Aleister Crowley himself, along with everyone else, believed this was to be Karl Germer. As Grady put it, “there was simply no one of stature to oppose him.” Still, an election was required according to Crowley’s wish to make everything legal. Crowley had previously instructed Karl Germer that ‘a year and a day’ following his death, Karl as Grand Treasurer General of the Order, was to call a convocation of the IXth Degree members of the O.T.O. who would choose a new Outer Head of the Order.
Grady waited for the letter from Karl Germer announcing the date of the IXth Degree meeting whereby the election for the new O.H.O. would be determined — unfortunately it never came. Instead Grady claims, “You can imagine how surprised we were one day to receive a letter from Karl saying that he was now Outer Head of the Order!” There was no election, Karl simply proclaimed himself head of the OTO. He continues by stating, “What to do? Obviously there was nothing we could do. Karl Germer was the highest ranking member of the Order, short of revolt, there was no recourse.”
Grady and the other IXth Degrees at the time wrote many letters back and forth, discussing Karl’s decision and “wondered why Karl would disobey one of Crowley’s final instructions, but it was his karma — we had to let it go at that. True, it was unfortunate that Karl was only de facto O.H.O. instead of de jura O.H.O. as Crowley had meant him to be; but it was no matter. Karl was obviously O.H.O. either way.”
Of course it is debatable as to whether or not an election was even needed to nominate Karl Germer as OHO. This belief has been voiced by some members within the OTO who claim that no such election according to the OTO Bylaws was actually required, which might possibly be true. It is believed that Germer simply had the undisputed right to proclaim himself the Outer Head of the Order because Aleister Crowley had stated that “Frater Saturnus is of course my successor.” In the OTO Bylaws it states that the OHO should be named by his predecessor and Crowley obviously did just that by naming Karl Germer to succeed him. In fact, this was exactly how Aleister Crowley assumed OHO, Reuss nominated him.
On the other hand, a fact remains which is difficult to simply explain away. During this particular period of OTO history, it was Aleister Crowley’s personal wish that an election occur “one year and a day” after his death. Crowley requested that this occur because he strongly felt the need for Karl Germer to be ‘accepted’ amongst his peers. He felt that since Germer was the only proper choice, everyone would automatically vote for him anyway. In doing this the entire upper Degree of the OTO would ‘officially’ throw their support behind Germer as the next OHO. It must be remember that Crowley himself, although named OHO in 1922, would not be fully accepted till the membership of the OTO acknowledged him three years later. It is believed that this is why Crowley requested an election “one year and a day” similar to his own interim period. To enable Germer to become ‘accepted’ amongst him peers, or IXth Degree members.
It was a good plan and Crowley while acting as OHO, with the authority to change OTO Policies and Bylaws made this request for an election — a request which was never followed out by Karl Germer. We can debate till we’re blue in the face but the facts remain the same. Karl Germer simply ‘proclaimed’ himself OHO and was not elected by his peers as the previous OHO, Aleister Crowley had requested. Because of this, Crowley’s worst fears would become reality, in time many within the OTO would distance themselves from Karl Germer and he likewise would do the same to them.
In the end, whether one believes that Karl Germer was simply de facto O.H.O., de jure O.H.O. or both — it is best said that shortly after he assumed the office of Outer Head of the Order of the OTO the politics under his leadership changed drastically. It is not the purpose of this pamphlet to go into details regarding all the problems and events that would so completely reshape the Order. It is fair to say that Karl Germer, also known as Frater Saturnus, like his namesake Saturn, ‘ate his children.’
Regarding the OTO during this period, Grady writes, “about this time — the mid ’50’s — I came to realize that the Order was dying because Germer wasn’t initiating people. So I brought this up in one of my periodic visits up to West Point to see him. His reply, which I have in writing, was that, and I quote, ‘I consider all that to be lower magick.’ Well, lower or not, and human mortality being what it is, you still have to have a supply of new members if an Order is to survive. Besides, to deny true Thelemites the opportunity in their incarnation to become a part of Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis is in my opinion a crime.” Unfortunately little was achieved in changing Germer’s mind during this period and the OTO began slipping into a slow death due to the lack of new members. Grady, like many members in the OTO remained intermittently active in the Order for quite awhile.
In March of 1961 Grady McMurtry move to Washington D.C. after quitting his job in California. Approximately a year after he moved into seclusion Karl Germer died of prostate cancer in West Point, California. This was October of 1962. Few in the OTO knew of Germer’s death; even Grady wasn’t informed.
According to Germer’s Last Will & Testament he left “the whole of my property and possessions to my beloved wife Sascha Ernestine Andre-Germer as sole heir.” He did not, as some historians believe, leave the OTO property to her. To further quote his will, “As regards the property of the Order Ordo Templi Orientis, of which I am the Head, I direct that this is passed to the Heads of the Order, but that, my wife, Sascha E.Andre-Germer, has to be the executor of this part of my will, together with Frederic Mellinger IXth Degree of the OTO.” The executors’ basic job was to make sure that the OTO property ended up in the hands of the ‘Heads of the Order.’ We do know that Mellinger, then in Germany, was eventually notified to assist Sascha in concluding the administration of the will but he chose not to get involved. Therefore Sascha was left on her own in deciding what to do with Crowley’s library and his possessions, something which she was incapable of due to her increasingly fragile mental state and her ignorance of OTO customs. She mistrusted everyone, especially the old Agape Lodge members, most of whom were never contacted regarding Germer’s death. In the end Sascha Germer, who wasn’t even a member of the OTO, decided to keep all of the possessions belonging to the OTO and to leave everything basically as it was.
Thanks to Karl Germer’s restrictive reign the OTO slipped into near oblivion, and after his death only a small handful of initiates remained throughout the world. Another tragedy is that Germer never named a successor and since most were not notified of his death there wasn’t even a conclave of IXth Degree Members called to vote upon a new OHO — which meant, for all practical purposes, the OTO was all but dead. But behind the scenes an amber was slowly burning which in time would rekindle the very fire that would bring the order back from the brink of death to what it is today. This amber was Grady Louis McMurtry.
In the interim, it took almost five years for the news of Karl Germer’s death to slowly trickle down to Southern California. What occurred next would require a rather lengthy article to explain in detail, but it can be summed up as tragic. A group of individuals who believed that the OTO was dead took it upon themselves to break into three homes and steal the libraries. One of the homes which was ransacked belonged to Sascha Germer and much of Crowley’s library was taken, along with many of his manuscripts and personal possessions. This occurred over the Labor Day weekend of 1967. An old Agape Lodge member, Soror Meral, immediately began a personal investigation to discover the identify of the thieves. She drew her own conclusions as to who had stolen the libraries, but that is another story. During her investigation she contacted many of the old Agape Lodge members, one of which was Grady Louis McMurtry. They struck up a correspondence between December ’68 until April of 1969. Many issues were discussed and it was through these early letters that Grady first learned of Karl Germer’s death.
More importantly, Soror Meral recalls, “I learned that he [Grady] held letters of authorization in regards to the O.T.O. from Crowley which also named him as Caliph and successor to Karl.” Soror Meral and Grady McMurtry discussed at length the possibility of jump starting the OTO by using Aleister Crowley’s authorizations. Grady remembered the words which Aleister Crowley had written to him in the summer of 1947 – “In the event of my death, Frater Saturnus is of course my successor, but after his death the terrible burden of responsibility might very easily fall upon your shoulders.” Grady realized that Crowley was right and the words about “the burden’ falling upon his shoulders echoed in his mind. He immediately left his job in Washington D.C. and headed for California, arriving there on April 29th of 1969.
If one remembers, Aleister Crowley had sent Grady McMurtry two very important letters in March and April of 1946 giving him certain authorization to act in case of emergency. Once in California, Grady would finally get the chance to use this “emergency power” — believing there was no greater ’emergency’ than the near death which Karl Germer had plunged the OTO. The first thing he did was to contact both Israel Regardie and Gerald Yorke whom he regarded as ‘The Eyes of Horus.’ Grady hoped that since both of these gentleman knew Aleister Crowley very personally they might give their support behind his plan to jump start the OTO. After reviewing Grady’s documents and letters from Aleister Crowley — both did just that.
There is another important fact which warranted Grady’s claim to assume OHO. After Crowley’s death there were many IXth Degree members but there was only two official officers of Grand Lodge, OTO. This was the Grand Treasurer General, Karl Germer and the Grand Inspector General who was Grady Louis McMurtry. During his lifetime, Karl Germer named no one to assume any positions at Grand Lodge. Since Karl had now died, the only surviving member of Grand Lodge was of course Grady Louis McMurtry which meant that he was the senior officer of the Ordo Templi Orientis.
On December 28, 1971 Grady McMurtry registered with the State of California to form a legal entity for the establishment of the OTO on solid ground. Many of the surviving IXth Degree members of the OTO were included in this new association after voting upon and accepting Grady McMurtry as the fourth OHO of the Ordo Templi Orientis. The burden had fallen upon him just as Crowley had predicted. This period from the late sixties through the early seventies is sometimes referred to as the ‘Kaaba Clerk House’ days. However these early years would not be totally successful and the rebirth of the OTO moved very slowly at first. Still Grady McMurtry did not give up on his dream.
Then according to Grady, in the early spring of ’77 he did some “fairly heavy magick” to open “up the Order to an influx of psychic energy from the ancient Egyptian Gods worshipped by the Order.” Jokingly he then goes “KAPLOOIE!!” and continues by stating, “the hippie-commie-pervert-weirdo-heathen occultists of Berkeley descended upon him ‘en masse’, to check him out.” They “found a hard drinking, hard thinking crusty old man, with one of the world’s greatest collections of humorous Al Crowley stories.” Soon his house became filled every Tuesday night with an increasing number of Crowleyites, eager to learn about Thelema and to join his magical order. It was like magic! Some were obviously ‘Bezerkeleyites’ but many others were serious students who wanted to study.
In 1977 Grady McMurtry began holding some of the first initiations into the Ordo Templi Orientis since the Kaaba Clerk House days of the early seventies. It began with eight people being initiated into the Minerval Degree on April 19th with more initiations being held later on May 21st. Also in May of 1977 Grady released the first issue of the official O.T.O. Newsletter, Volume I, No.1. This was originally designed to get the word out about the Caliphate OTO and to let everyone know that there was a place “where all Thelemites can come together in harmony” and “thus bringing us to the fulfillment of Aleister Crowley’s dream.” A dream which Grady long voiced but felt had been stifled under the leadership of Karl Germer. Thelema was beginning to bloom once again.
The first O.T.O. Newsletter carried a short article about ‘Associate Membership’ which Grady recently decided to institute. It appears that in the past only full membership to the OTO could be obtained by actually being present for an physical initiation. Grady decided to change this and add another class of membership — or an associate. He wrote that “Full initiation must be ‘grounded’ by physical presence. Still, there are many who are unable to travel to Berkeley or to arrange for the visit of an initiation team. For such worthy aspirants to the Law of Thelema, something must be done. OTO now offers Associate Membership — with the understanding that this is not Full, Initiated Membership. Being an Associate of the Order is being a recognized Friend and Communicant of O.T.O.” This enabled many people, like myself, to write back and forth with the OTO in these early days.
Then on October 12th, 1977, just as the Sun passed the peak of an eclipse on the birthday of Aleister Crowley, a ‘Charter’ was signed in Berkeley, California by Frater Hymenaeus Alpha IX 777 using Crowley’s Seal Ring of Ankh-af-na-Khonsu. Grady signed the Charter as a Magus 9=2, uttering his magical ‘Word’ — or the letters ‘OTO.’ Grady’s entire life had prepared him for this single moment and his magical affirmation would give birth to The Grand Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis. An affirmation which also helped to reactivated the vital current which animated the Order, or so Grady McMurtry believed.
A few months later in December, a local newspaper, The Berkeley Barb released it’s ‘Joy of Sects’ issue. (No. 643 Dec.9-15th, 1977) which was subtitled ‘A Mystic Eye View of Krishnas, Crowley & Guru Ma.’ On page 7 there was a full page article which interviewed Grady entitled ‘How Aleister Crowley Came To Berkeley.’ It was a good article, being informative and giving the basic history of Crowley’s OTO detailing who Grady Louis McMurtry was in relationship to the whole. The article ends with explaining the circumstances revolving around the recent Feast of Crowleymas held on October 12th and the signing of the official OTO Charter, stating, “Like a phoenix rising from the flames, Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis appears to be reborn, thanks to Bay Area occult know-how and a little divine help.”
The OTO grew rapidly between the years 1977 to 1984 and chartered many branches throughout the world. Hundreds of new members joined its ranks. It also issued new Bylaws and was officially Incorporated on March 20th, 1979 in the State of California. So much was happening during these years that it would take a lengthy book to explain everything. But to put it briefly – the OTO was alive, thanks to Grady McMurtry.
However by 1985 Grady’s health began to weaken and by late June he had to be hospitalized. The Supreme Council fearing the worst, issued a special OTO Bulletin entitled ‘Grady’s Situation’ dated June 24th. It began by stating that Grady had been admitted to Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley on the 20th. “His condition is extremely serious, and his chances to continue this incarnation are not good.” Throughout the evening, during the peak of the crisis, over twenty five people took turns, three at a time, to sit by Grady’s bedside to hold his hand and quietly talk with him. The official bulletin also stated that Grady “can often recognize people, but still spends much time on other planes. His lucid moments come and go. Much of his present is being spent in re-living and resolving past unfinished business. Grady is making his peace with his incarnation, and there is no hope that he will return to good health by any foreseeable time or means.”
After a few days he began to improve and was removed from intensive cardiac care but this was only a foreshadowing of things to come. Although extremely weak there seemed to be no damage to his thinking ability or memory. The only permanent damage was to his heart. On June 26th Grady wrote out his Last Will & Testament. He basically gave everything to the OTO except for a few personal items. Regarding his future successor he wrote, “It is my desire that the Order’s Supreme Council elect the successor Caliph for the Ordo Templi Orientis.” In doing this Grady McMurtry became the first OHO not to name his successor, which according to the OTO Bylaws he should. Instead he requested an election occur so that the next OHO would be immediately accepted by the Supreme Council of IXth Degrees. In time Grady McMurtry’s request would be honored. Grady also stated in his will that it “is my desire to be cremated and that thereafter my remains be placed in an urn. The urn is to be given to the Order to be kept or disposed of as they wish.”
At the end of his life Grady suffered from pulmonary edema, a condition in which water surrounds the heart, causing strain on the heart muscles and often resulting in death. In his last year he had been hospitalized several times for this ailment. Finally, on July 12, 1985, after a long illness, Grady Louis McMurtry died. He was laying in his hospital bed at Brookside Hospital in San Pablo reputedly discussing forms of meditation with a friend when he softly said, “I think my path is more the Sufi Path.” When questioned what he meant by this, he simply looked up and said, “I don’t know.” He then closed his eyes and quietly died. Grady once wrote that “The moment of ultimate self-embarrassment is when you die. That is when you wake up.” Grady was sixty six years old.
On July 15th his body was prepared at the Apollo Crematory in Emeryville, California. He was dressed as Saladin, in a turban with his favorite red robe. A bouquet of roses was placed in his arms shortly before he was cremated. Predictably one of Grady’s poems was read at his funeral service, one which he had written in 1941, appropriately titled Requiem.
Grady’s ashes would remain in the possession of the OTO for almost a year. Then on July 12th, 1986 a large group of individuals boarded a boat rented at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. On arriving about three miles past the Golden Gate Bridge and with help of the Neptune Society, his ashes were spread out across the Pacific Ocean. It was written, “From the fire cremation to the waters of the great sea, by formula and verse did we rejoice him on his way.” A single rose was then tossed into the water, cut from the same bush as the bouquet which was placed in his hands when he was cremated. As his ashes slowly vanished beneath the waves another of Grady’s poem was read to send him off on his last voyage, entitled “The Redeemer that is in the Waters.”
The history of why the OTO almost slipped into a certain death under Germer’s leadership and how Grady Louis McMurtry saved it from near oblivion is extremely well documented. It is a major part of the legacy which we owe Frater Hymenaeus Alpha, the war-lord of the forties. His hard work and belief in Aleister Crowley brought the Order from near extinction to what it is today. No one can deny this. Grady had many letters, documents and papers of authority which gave him sole and rightful claim to assume the world leadership of the Ordo Templi Orientis and, with Grady at its helm, the OTO sailed into prosperous waters. Even the courts of the United States have agreed.
Three months after the death of Frater Hymenaeus Alpha 777, on September 21st, 1985 in the mid-1980s, the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis of the Ordo Templi Orientis held its elections in California for the new OHO. They elected Frater Hymenaeus Beta as the fifth Outer Head of the Order and successor of the late Grady Louis McMurtry. Initially Frater Hymenaeus Beta had chosen that his true identity will be concealed owing to a section of Liber LII ‘The Manifesto of the OTO’ which states ‘The O.H.O. is only known to members of the VIII and IX’ but inevitably his identity slipped out. His name is William Breeze. Under this new leadership the OTO grew prosperous and the legacy of Aleister Crowley continued to spread throughout the world but in recent years it membership has drastically declined as less and less individuals are drawn to the Order. Since the mid-1990s and especially after the election of Frater Sabazius [David Scriven] as Xth Degree and Head of the United States, the OTO slipped into a Dark Ages where the old Masonic ways of Theodore Ruess were sought more so than the magick and philosophy of Aleister Crowley; especially regarding OTO matters. Under Sabazius the original OTO Initiatory approach to the Tree of Life designed by Crowley from Chockmah downward was discarded in favor of an older Golden Dawn style aproach which symbolised climbing the Tree from Malkuth upward, sphere by sphere. Even Crowley’s Chakra system was thrown out leaving the symbolism behind initiations all but worthless. Basically, the modern OTO pulled a ‘Frater Achad’ by reversing Crowley’s entire system and standing it on its head!
What once flourished under Grady Louis McMurtry is now all but gone; I think they call it — Thelema.
“I am the warrior Lord of the Forties: the Eighties cower before me, & are abased.
I will bring you to victory & joy: I will be at your arms in battle & ye shall delight to slay. Success is your proof; courage is your armour; go on, go on, in my strength;
& ye shall turn not back for any!” – Liber AL vel Legis III:46.
To sum up the history of the transition of power from one OHO to another it is best said that no two individuals have ever received the position in the same fashion nor has their reign ever been the same. In some ways this is the Beauty of Thelema, in other ways its the curse.
Love is the law, love under will. –AL I:57
Note: This original article was written in Berkeley, California on February 5th, 1995 ev. This new, revised and edited edition is dated September 2007.