Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO)
A ritual magic organization founded in Germany around
1904. The order found its inspiration in the medieval Knights
Templar, who were suppressed through most of Europe in the
fourteenth century. Among the charges made against the order
were that they practiced various forms of illicit sex, specifically
sodomy and bestiality. Through the nineteenth century a number
of groups had emerged in both France and Germany
claiming to carry on the Templar tradition. However, this
order seems to have originated out of a Masonic group
founded by Karl Keller and Theodor Reuss and chartered in
1902 by English Mason John Yarker. They began publishing a
magazine, Oriflamme, in which the first mention of the OTO occurred.
There was mention that the order possessed the key of
all hermetic and Masonic secrets (i.e., sex magic).
Keller claimed to have learned his secrets from three adepts,
two Hindu and one Arab. His adepts seem to have been the sex
manuals from India, the Kama Sutra and Ananda Ranga, and
the Arab manual the Perfumed Garden. Keller died in 1905 and
Reuss succeeded him as outer head of the order.
Meanwhile, in England, magician Aleister Crowley had
emerged as head of his own magic order, the Astrum Argentinum.
In 1909, with one of his initates, Victor Neuberg, Crowley
conducted a series of magic spells modeled after the invocations
in the Enochian language produced by Edward Kelley,
the clairvoyant who worked with Elizabethan magician John
Dee. Crowley would pronounce the invocation, hoping to receive
a vision, the content of which Neuberg would write down.
Halfway through the invocations, Crowley had the idea of the
two of them performing a ritual sex act. Several years later he
published a volume of free verse, The Book of Lies.
Theodor Reuss read the book and perceived that Crowley
had discerned the secret of the OTO and confronted him with
his discovery. Reportedly, Crowley at that point perceived that
the ritual sex in which he had engaged was the key to understanding
Rosicrucian, Masonic, and magic symbolism.
Crowley was invited to join the OTO and became the outer
head of the order for England. He was also invited to rewrite
much of the ritual material. The order was organized in a Masonic
manner, with a system of ten degrees, progress upward
through the degrees admitting the member to more of the
inner teachings. In the first six degrees of the OTO students
were taught a general occult system that prepared them for the
introduction of the sexual magic presented in the seventh,
eighth, and ninth degrees. The tenth degree was purely administrative.
Crowley later introduced an eleventh degree based
upon his homoerotic predilections.
Ordo Stellae et Serpente Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
During the 1970s the secret materials of the OTO were published.
They revealed a system of sexual magic based on the use
of sex to accomplish goals in magic. Crowley’s system is very
different from the mystical sexual practices of tantric yoga, with
which it has often been compared.
Reuss resigned his position in 1922 and Crowley became the
outer head of the order. The order became his major means of
spreading his particular magical philosophy based on the revelatory
The Book of the Law, which he claimed he had received
from a disembodied intelligence in 1904. This book was translated
into German in the mid-1920s, and many of the German
members rejected Crowley and his perspective. They withdrew
and continued as a pre-Crowleyite OTO, although enough
German members accepted Crowley that he could count one
German lodge in his branch of the order. Both of the German
groups were destroyed by the Nazi regime. A group continuing
the anti-Crowley lineage reemerged in Switzerland after the
During the time he headed the OTO Crowley experimented
with a variety of magic practices, wrote widely, and compiled
a curriculum consisting of his own books and some additional
valuable works on magic for the order members. He died in
1947 and left the leadership of the order to Karl Germer, a
German who had moved to the United States after a nasty encounter
with the Nazis. Germer was a loyal member but the
order languished under him. He did charter a lodge in England
under the leadership of Kenneth Grant, but then withdrew
the charter when Grant began to operate outside its dictates.
Germer died in 1962. He had initiated no new members nor
arranged for a successor. He was so out of touch with the members
that for many years some did not even know that he had
died. The order languished and could easily have dissolved.
However, in 1969 Grady McMurtry, a member residing in the
San Francisco Bay area, began to reorganize the OTO. McMurtry
had been given a document by Crowley containing
broad emergency measures. Through the 1970s and until his
death in 1985, McMurtry rebuilt the order (assisted by the publication
of many of Crowley’s books), and by the time of his
death there were lodges across the United States and in a number
of foreign countries. By 1992 the order had approximately
2,100 members in 135 lodges and local groups in some twenty
Several months after McMurtry’s death, the ninth-degree
members met and elected a new caliph (the title assumed by
McMurtry because of the way he came to head the order). The
new caliph has chosen to keep his identity a secret from all except
the higher-degree members and has never published his
real name. He goes by his title, Hymenaeus Beta, acting outer
head of the order.
One part of the organization of the OTO is an ecclesiatical
structure, the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (or Gnostic Catholic
Church). The church offers a Gnostic-like mass written by
Crowley that embodies the order’s perspective in a public, ritualized,
and celebratory setting. Crowley was consecrated a bishop
in the French Gnostic tradition of Charles J. Doinel, and he
in turn passed that episcopal authority to the OTO leadership.
The order values and uses all of Aleister Crowley’s writings
on magic. In the 1980s it published two collections of the most
important writings, one concerning the OTO and its organizational
structure, and a second consisting of the ‘‘holy books’’
(the revelatory material received, i.e., channeled, by Crowley,
as opposed to the books he consciously wrote). The first was issued
as Volume 3, number 10 of The Equinox, one of the order’s
Address JAF Box 7666, New York, NY 10116.
Crowley, Aleister. Magick in Theory and Practice. 4 vols. Paris,
Heidrick, Bill. Magick and Qaballah. Berkeley, Calif. Ordo
Templi Orientis, 1980.
Hymenaeus Beta, comp. The Equinox 3, no. 10. New York
Thelema Publications, 1986.
King, Francis. The Holy Books of Thelema. York Beach, Maine
Samuel Weiser, 1988.
———. O.T.O. System Outline. San Francisco, Calif. Stellar
Vision, 1981.
———. The Rites of Modern Occult Magic. New York Macmillan,
———. Sexuality, Magic and Perversion. New York Citadel
Press, 1972.
Symonds, John. The King of the Shadow Realm. London
Duckworth, 1989.