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Ordo Templi Orientis

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Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) can be translated as Order of Oriental Templars, or Order of the Temple of the East. It is a secret, fraternal organization similar to that of Freemasonry, with a series of graded initations. For its teachings and principles of organization, it has accepted the Law of Thelema, which is expressed as “Do what thou wilt.” Thelemites believe that this Law was established with the writing of the Book of the Law by Aleister Crowley in 1904 in Cairo, Egypt.

Table of contents

Philosophy & Goals

According to Crowley, O.T.O. is "the first of the great religious Societies to accept the Law." The rituals of O.T.O. have been entirely revised by Crowley and his successors in light of the Law of Thelema. Both within its private ceremonies and in the world at large, the Order seeks to promote the Law as the ultimate standard of human conduct and understanding.

O.T.O. was also designated as the Crowley estate, and maintains possession of Crowley's intellectual property and literary remains. As the custodian of these materials, the Order seeks to make them available to the public in definitive editions.

Even before accepting the Law, the Sovereign Sanctuary of the O.T.O. was a body that maintained a Supreme Secret, which is said to be of inestimable magical power. This secret still reposes in the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Ninth Degree, and its nature is indicated gradually by hints in the initiatory ceremonies of the Order.

In common with Freemasonry, the Theosophical Society, and many other esoteric bodies, O.T.O. espouses an ethic of Universal Brotherhood.

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 fulfil 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.

The mission of O.T.O. U.S. Grand Lodge, which can largely be applied to the Order as a whole:

Ordo Templi Orientis U.S.A. is the U.S. Grand Lodge (National Section) of Ordo Templi Orientis, a hierarchical, religious membership organization. Our mission is to effect and promote the doctrines and practices of the philosophical and religious system known as Thelema, with particular emphasis on cultivating the ideals of individual liberty, self-discipline, self-knowledge, and universal brotherhood. To this end, we conduct sacramental and initiatory rites, offer guidance and instruction to our members, organize social events, and engage in educational and community service activities at locations throughout the United States.


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, and publishes books, journals, and newsletters.


Within O.T.O., the process of initiation is unlike that of many college fraternities or the military, the goal of which is to bond the individual to the group by means of ego-collapse, often via methods of pain, exhaustion, and degredation. Within O.T.O., the rituals are designed to be challenging, but in a way that honors the candidate. If bonding does occur, it does so through a conscious and willed effort on the part of the initiate. 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."[1] (

O.T.O. uses a graded system, similar to that of Freemasonry. There are thirteen numbered degrees and twelve un-numbered. They are divided into three grades or "triads": the Hermit, the Lover, and the Man of Earth. The entire system is as follows:

The Gnostic Catholic Church

The Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, or Gnostic Catholic Church, is the ecclesiastical arm of O.T.O. Its cental activity is the celebration of Liber XV, the Gnostic Mass. In recent years, other rites have been written and approved for use within the church. These include Baptism, Confirmation (into the Laity), and Ordination (for Deacons, Priests & Priestesses, and Bishops), and Last Rites. There are also several "unofficial" rituals that are celebrated within the context of E.G.C., including Weddings, Visitation and Administration of the Virtues to the Sick, Exorcism, and Rites for Life and Greater Feasts. Clergy in local sanctuaries can also choose to celebrate original rituals, such as "Liturgy 93 (" or the "Feasts of the Cross-Quarters ("

See also: E.G.C. Ceremonies

Membership in E.G.C.

  1. The Clergy
    • The Father/Mother of the Church (The Patriarch or Matriarch)
    • The Primate (or Presiding Bishop, and is the National Grand Master General)
    • Bishops (The Episcopate)
    • Priests & Priestesses (The Priesthood)
    • Deacons (The Diaconate)
    • Novices (The Novitiate)
  2. Lay members (The Laity)
  3. Bishops in Amity (Advisory membership)

Cultural Events

Other than initiations and ecclesiastical work, there are many activities that O.T.O. members can engage in. The U.S. Grand Lodge has hosted national conferences since 2000. On the local level, bodies host a wide range of events, including ritual theatre, classes & workshops, original rituals, publication of journals and books, creation of a web presence, study groups, and informal social gatherings. Some lodges have hosted smaller conferences on topics such as business aspects of O.T.O., women in Thelema, and other subjects of interest.


The Structure of O.T.O. is outlined in several historical documents, principally the Constitution of O.T.O. (1906, revised 1917), the Constitution of M.'.M.'.M.'. (1913), and Liber 194: An Intimation With Reference to the Constitution of the Order (1919).

The governing bodies of O.T.O. include:

  1. International Headquarters
    • Presided over by the Outer Head of the Order XII° (OHO—also known as Frater Superior)
    • Supreme Council (Administrative Body)
    • The Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis of the IX°
    • The Secret Areopagus of the Illuminati of the VIII°
  2. National Sections or Grand Lodges
    • Presided over by a National Grand Master
    • Executive Council (Administrative Body)
    • The Supreme Grand Council
    • The Grand Tribunal of the VI°
    • The Electoral College


1. International Headquarters (IHQ) is the body that governs O.T.O. worldwide. IHQ is presided over by the Outer Head of the Order (OHO—also known as Frater Superior), who possesses the XII°. Since the time of Grady McMurtry, the office of Outer Head of the Order has been associated with the title of Caliph.

2. IHQ is administered by the International Supreme Council, which consists of the Outer Head of the Order, the Secretary General, and the Treasurer General.

3. The Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis consists of members who have reached the IX°. Their prime duty is to study and practice the theurgy and thaumaturgy of the degree, consisting of the Supreme Secret of the Order. The Sovereign Sanctuary is not technically a governing body, however, as a collective, it has the authority to:

4. The Secret Areopagus of the Illuminati is a philosophical Governing Body comprised of those who have reached the VIII°. It has the authority to reverse the decisions of the Grand Tribunal. It’s duties are:

5. In addition to the above-listed bodies, IHQ includes a number of administrative offices including:

The International Headquarters of O.T.O. is incorporated in California as a non-profit, tax-exempt, religious corporation under the name Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.). The Board of Directors of O.T.O. U.S.A. is constituted by the Supreme Council.


1. International Headquarters has the power to charter National Sections or Grand Lodges, with their own Officers and Administrative and Governing Bodies, in countries that have developed an organization large enough to support independent operations. Each Grand Lodge is presided over by a National Grand Master General, who possesses the Tenth Degree (X°).

2. A Grand Lodge is administered by an Executive Council, or Executive, which consists of the National Grand Master General, the Grand Secretary General, and the Grand Treasurer General.

3. The Supreme Grand Council consists of nine members of the VII° appointed by the National Grand Master General. It is charged with:

The National Grand Master General, the Grand Secretary General, and the Grand Treasurer General are ex officio members of the Supreme Grand Council, and consititute its Executive Committee.

4. The Grand Tribunal is composed of members of the degree of Grand Inquisitor Commander (a sub-degree of the VI°). Their primary duty is to hear and arbitrate disputes and complains not resolved at the level of Chapters and Lodges. They may also grant exemption from any consequences within O.T.O. for pursuing a civil case. They may also rule in cases of abuse of authority and membership privileges. The Grand Tribunal is technically a Governing Body at the National level, due to the degree of its members. However, even members of higher grades are subject to the decisions of the Grand Tribunal.

5. The Electoral College consists of eleven members of the V° appointed by the National Grand Master General. Its primary duty is to oversee the affairs of the Man of Earth Grade. It has the authority to:

Current Grand Lodges

The U.S. Grand Lodge is the National Section of O.T.O. in the United States of America. The U.S. National Grand Master General is Fr. Sabazius X°, who was appointed on 30 March 1996. The U.S. Grand Lodge is incorporated in California as a non-profit, tax-exempt, religious organization named Ordo Templi Orientis U.S.A. (O.T.O. U.S.A.). The Board of Directors of O.T.O. U.S.A. is constituted by the Executive.

The UK Grand Lodge is the National Section of O.T.O. in the United Kingdom. The U.K. National Grand Master General is Fr. Hyperion X°, who was appointed on 1 May 2005 (93 years after the last Grand Master for the UK, Aleister Crowley, was elevated to that office).

The Australia Grand Lodge is the National Section of O.T.O. in Australia. The Australia National Grand Master General is Fr. Shiva X°, who was appointed on 15 April, 2006.

O.T.O. Bodies

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 intiations. They are encouraged to celebrate the Gnostic Mass.

2. Oases are the next largest, and should be able to initiate through the III°.

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 permenant temple, and have the ability to initiate through IV°/P.I.

Chapters of Rose Croix are bodies established by members of the Lover Grade. A Chapter is headed by a Most Wise Sovereign and a High Priestess. 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.

Guilds are groups recognized by IHQ that are designed to promote a profession, trade, science or craft. Subject to approval by the Areopagus, they make their own regulations and coordinate their own efforts. There are currently three Guilds recognized by the Areopagus: the Psychology Guild, the Translators' Guild, and the Information Technology Guild.

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 founding of Ordo Templi Orientis began with a wealthy paper chemist, Carl Kellner (1851-1905). A student of the occult and familiar with several modern secret organizations, he had come to believe that he had discovered a “Key” to the symbolism of Freemasonry and to the Mysteries of Nature itself. He then aspired to create an Academia Masonica that would unifiy the various systems of Masonry. Kellner, along with an associate, Theodor Reuss (1855-1923), decided to call it the Oriental Templar Order. In 1902, Reuss, along with Franz Hartmann and Henry Klein, purchased the right to perform the Scottish, Memphis and Mizraim rites of Freemasonry, the authority of which was confirmed in 1904 and again in 1905. These rites, along with the Swedenborgian Rite, formed the core of the newly established Order. When Kellner died in 1905, Reuss assumed full control, becoming the first Outer Head of the Order.

Ruess 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 advanced to the X°. The appointment included the operation of the Masonic degrees of O.T.O., which were called Mysteria Mystica Maxima. Within the year Crowley had written the Manifesto of the M.'.M.'.M.'. which described the basic ten-degree system—which was still principally Masonic—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.'.. He revised them again in 1918, and in so doing removed the ritual's ties to Masonry.

In 1921, Reuss issued a charter to Charles Stansfeld Jones as X° for the U.S. The very next year, Crowley proclaimed himself as Outer Head of the Order of O.T.O. based on the claim that Reuss (who might have suffered a stroke) had become incapable of running the Order. Reuss died in 1923.

In 1933, Agape Lodge #2 was formed in Los Angeles, California under the leadership of Wilfred Talbot Smith (1885-1957). He and Regina Kahl celebrated the first public performance of the Gnostic Mass. Smith was advanced to the X° for the U.S. in 1935. Soon after, the Lodge moved to Pasadena where it was run by Jack Parsons (1914-1952), a founder of the JPL.

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, although there were various initiates in different countries. Very few initiations were being performed. At this time, Karl Germer, who had been Crowley’s representitive in Germany, came over to America after being released from Nazi confinement. In 1942, Crowley appointed him as his successor as OHO.

In that same year, Crowley personally conferred the IX° to Grady McMurtry (1918-1985), a member of Agapé Lodge. It was then that he assumed his new Magical Name, Hymenaeus Alpha. McMurtry received several letters from Crowley in 1944 stating his desire to have McMurtry assume the role of Caliph and to be in line for succession to OHO. In 1946, McMurtry was entrusted with documents of emergency authorization to operate O.T.O. within California (the location of the only operational Lodge), along with the appointment of being Crowley’s personal representitive within the U.S., second only to Germer.

Crowley died on December 1, 1947 and Karl Germer became OHO. He served from 1947 until his death in 1962. During his time as OHO, O.T.O. activity came to a standstill, with no new initiations being performed. An O.T.O. camp was chartered in England to Kenneth Grant, but he was expelled in 1955 for modifying the initiation rituals and claiming that the body was under joint leadership with another organization, Fraternitas Saturni.

Germer died in 1962 without himself naming a successor. In 1969, Grady McMurtry invoked his emergency authorization from Crowley and assumed the title of Caliph, which Crowley had granted him. He began performing intiations in 1970. Growth was very slow for the first few years, although McMurtry did pick up on the publishing front, such as issuing Crowely’s Thoth Tarot deck. Grady McMurtry died in 1985.

McMurtry requested that members of the Sovereign Sanctuary elect the next OHO, which they did in 1985. Frater Hymenaeus Beta was elected to become the next OHO and he continues in that office today. In 1996, Sabazius X° was appointed as National Grand Master General for the U.S. Grand Lodge. Since McMurtry's time, O.T.O. has greatly expanded its publishing activities, initiated thousands of men and women into its ranks, and become an international organization with groups in dozens of countries around the world.


Challenges to Leadership & Legitimacy

Divergent claims to authority are a recurrent feature of the history of Ordo Templi Orientis. Over the years, several individuals and groups of various credibility have claimed the title of OHO or to be the ‘true’ O.T.O.

Other groups that have made use of the O.T.O. name or purported to offer genuine initiation into O.T.O. include:

Links of Interest

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