Ordo Templi Orientis

From Theodor Reuss to Aleister Crowley

The spread of Masonic and Theosophical secret societies in the late nineteenth century gave birth to a variety of syncretic esoteric movements that freely intertwined culturally disparate elements: the mixture of religious ideas drawn from the traditions of the West and the East, seen mainly from a perspective theosophical, they brought together for the first time forms of esoteric practices and the spread of eclectic organizations also in North America and in the Anglo-centric and conservative soil of British Columbia.
The esoteric religious brotherhood organization known as Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O), Order of the Temple of the East or Order of Oriental Templars, a heterodox co-Masonic system founded and headed by the German journalist, Theodor Reuss, spy and promoter of 'fringe' Masonic rites, by Karl Kellner (wealthy Austrian industrialist) and Franz Hartmann (theosophist, astrologer, occultist, geomancer and German physician), is one of these.

The roots of the O.T.O. they can certainly be found in Freemasonry, a widely socially accepted form of fraternalism with a prevalent underlying current of esoteric content.
This conventional basis was merged with a form of Rosicrucianism that included secret sexual ritual practices derived from the hostile accounts of the Church Fathers of the various Gnostic groups, Tantric teachings and the occult influence of the nineteenth-century African-American occultist Paschal Beverly Randolph, and a liberal dose of Theosophical nuances: the denomination "Eastern Templars" suggested this marriage of East and West, which found its realization in the "Gnostic" teachings of the O.T.O proper in its degrees of the VII ° -IX ° degree.

Along the lines of hermetic brotherhoods throughout Europe, Ordo Templi Orientis attributes its descent directly and spiritually from the ancient Templar Knights, keeping intact all the mystical symbolism of the Order: Kellner himself assured his followers that the Order possessed the key to access every Masonic and Hermetic secret, that is, the teaching of "Sex Magick" capable of explaining, without exception, the arcana of all religious systems.
Under the management of Reuss, who replaced Kellner after his death, the order expanded significantly reaching Denmark, France and England.
Although initially the OTO was modeled on the addition of three initiatic degrees following the six degrees of Freemasonry, under the subsequent guidance of what will become its best known and most influential member, Aleister Crowley, it was later restructured on the basis of Thelema's Law (English transliteration of the noun taken from the Greek koinè θέλημαi, "Will"), an occult social or spiritual philosophy developed in the early 1900s by the same Crowley, whose fundamental precepts are "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law", " Love is the law, love under will "and" Every man and every woman is a star".


Reuss had admitted Crowley to the first three grades of the OTO in 1910 but only two years later (1912) Crowley, also known as the Beast 666, assumed command of the Ordo Templi Orientis of Great Britain and Ireland, and was advanced to the Xth. The British lodge was called Mysteria Mystica Maxima (M.M.M.) and by the end of the year, Crowley had written the Manifesto including the description of its basic ten degree system and then added an "XI homosexual Degree" to his branch of the Order.
In 1916, doctrinal differences led to a rift with the German parent company, but later Crowley re-established his relationships succeeding Reuss in 1924 as international head of the Ordo Templi Orientis.
Meanwhile, black magic had crossed the Atlantic thanks to the disciple Charles Stansfeld Jones - aka Frater Achad - who brought order to Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The purpose of O.T.O. is to implement and promote the doctrines of Thelema, recognizing particular attention to the care of the ideals of individual freedom, self-discipline, self-knowledge, and universal brotherhood as well as to preserve and advance the principles and teachings, the traditions and rites of the Order: it is no coincidence that it is open to every man or woman of legal age, without racial, religious, political or physical disability discrimination, in full respect of Human Rights.

It also includes the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (E.G.C.) which is the ecclesiastical branch of the Order itself whose central and public rite is called Liber XV or Gnostic Mass.

The Order offers esoteric education through its rituals (Initiation into the mysteries, and the celebration of Liber XV, the Gnostic Mass) and the communion between aspirants to the Great Work of realizing the divine in the human. the Order has always organized conferences, lectures, social events, theatrical productions and art exhibitions, publishes books and magazines, and provides instructions in hermetic science, yoga and magic and Eastern and Western mysticism, especially the Qabalah (Kabbalah).


In "The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography" the author claims that OTO system offers a rational basis for universal brotherhood and religion and allows each man to discover his own personal destiny independently by indicating moral and intellectual qualities necessary and allowing him to master an incredibly powerful weapon that he can use to develop any faculty he may need in his work.

Admission to the order is based on a system of initiation ceremonies (or degrees) that use ritual drama to establish fraternal ties between members as well as impart spiritual and philosophical teachings.

The degrees also have an organizational function, as some of them must be achieved before they can take on various roles within the order. There are thirteen numbered degrees and twelve unnumbered degrees which are divided into "triads" - the Hermit, the Lover and the Man of Earth.

Entry to any degree involves an initiation and oath similar to those used in Freemasonry.

The final goal of OTO initiation 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".

The degrees system is structured as follows:

The Man of Earth Triad

  • 0°—Minerval
  • I°—Man & Brother
  • II°—Magician
  • III°—Master Magician
  • IV°—Perfect Magician & Companion of the Holy Royal Arch of Enoch
  • P.I.—Perfect Initiate, or Prince of Jerusalem
  • Outside all Triads
  • Knight of the East & West

The Lover Triad

  • V° -Sovereign Prince Rose-Croix and Knight of the Pelican & Eagle
    • Knight of the Red Eagle and Member of the Senate of Knight Hermetic Philosophers
  • VI°
    • Illustrious Knight (Templar) of the Order of Kadosch and Companion of the Holy Graal
    • Grand Inquisitor Commander and Member of the Grand Tribunal
    • Prince of the Royal Secret
  • VII°
    • Theoreticus and Very Illustrious Sovereign Grand Inspector General
    • Magus of Light, and Bishop of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica
    • Grandmaster of Light, and Inspector of Rites & Degrees

The Hermit Triad

  • VIII°
    • Perfect Pontiff of the Illuminati
    • Epopt of the Illuminati
  • IX°—Initiate of the Sanctuary of the Gnosis
  • X°—Rex Summus Sanctissimus
  • XI°—Initiate of the Eleventh Degree (This degree is technical, and has no relation to the general plan of the Order)
  • XII°—Frater Superior, and Outer Head of the Order

The degrees of the Hermit Triad are of a sexual nature: in the VIII° degree, the initiate is taught masturbation magical practices, in the IX° degree magical techniques related to vaginal intercourse, and in the XI° a form of sex magick involving anal intercourse.
At the basis of principles of sexual magic there is Crowley's theory of mixing semen and female ejaculate released during the magic ritual to produce an "elixir", which is ingested or smeared on an object for magical purposes.

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

  • International Headquarters
  • Presided over by the Outer Head of the Order XII° (O.H.O.—also known as Frater Superior)
  • Supreme Council
  • Revolutionaries
  • The Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis of the IX°
  • The Secret Areopagus of the Illuminati of the VIII°
  • The Grand Tribunal of the VI°
  • The National Grand Lodge
  • Presided over by the National Grand Master X°
  • Executive Council
  • The Supreme Grand Council
  • The Electoral College

From the official website you can read the following:

"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 State(...)""

“My friend tells me that memory fails me in part because nature mercifully wishes to hide from us things which are painful. The spider-web of protective forgetfulness is woven over the mouth of the cave which conceals the raw head and bloody bones of our misfortunes.
"But the greatest men," says King Lamus, "are those that refuse to be treated like squalling children, who insist on facing reality in every form, and tear off ruthlessly the bandages from their own wounds.”

― Aleister Crowley, Diary of a Drug Fiend

Resources related to Ordo templi Orientis"

Cover image by Joséphin Péladan

Article image 1 by Magikritualnacht

Article image 2 by Elembis

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