What is O.T.O.?
The initials O.T.O. stand for Ordo Templi Orientis or the Order of the Eastern Temple. O.T.O. is a serious and secret Order, pledged to the high purpose of securing the Liberty of the individual, and his or her advancement in Light, Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge and Power, through Beauty, Courage and Wit, on the Foundation of Universal Brotherhood. The Order offers esoteric instruction through dramatic ritual, guidance in a system of illuminated ethics, and fellowship among aspirants to the Great Work of realizing the divine in the human.
The Mission of O.T.O. U.S.A.
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.
Program Synopsis of U.S. Grand Lodge
1. To create, maintain, and promote a structured society of men and women within the United States of America, who are united by their acceptance of the Law of Thelema, by a common interest in Magick, Yoga, and Hermetic Science, by the common experience of ceremonial initiation and sacramental ritual, by common pledges of fidelity, cooperation, and mutual aid, and by certain common ideals, namely: individual liberty; self-discipline; self-knowledge; universal brotherhood; and opposition to tyranny, superstition, and oppression.
2. To manage and govern this society in substantial conformance with the principles set forth in the writings of Aleister Crowley and other historical leaders of Ordo Templi Orientis, with the approval and under the authorization of the International Headquarters of Ordo Templi Orientis, and in such a way as to ensure its continued survival and promote its continual growth and advancement.
3. To provide certain benefits to the members of this society, including, but not limited to: participation in sacramental rituals; social community and entertainment; pastoral guidance and mediation of disputes; instruction in Hermetic Science, Yoga, and Magick; and opportunities for creative expression, community service, and development of beneficial social and professional relationships.
4. To preserve and advance the principles and practices of the religious, philosophical, and magical system of Thelema, and to promote the principles of individual liberty and universal brotherhood.
5. To conserve and manage books, documents, and other properties of historical or practical value which it may possess.
6. To establish physical centers of activity for the society in diverse locations throughout the United States of America.
O.T.O. does not offer the sort of individual mentorship and formal supervision associated with some other esoteric orders, such as A.'.A.'.. The Order is most visibly a community of initiates who share certain ideals regarding the quest for peace and wisdom. Although officially founded at the beginning of the 20th century, O.T.O. represents a surfacing of ancient esoteric systems which were originally driven underground by political and religious intolerance during the dark ages. It draws from the traditions of the Freemasonic, Rosicrucian and Illuminist movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, the crusading Knights Templars of the middle ages and early Christian Gnosticism and Pagan Mystery Schools (i.e. from Greece and Egypt). Its symbolism contains a reunification of the hidden traditions of the East and the West, held together by the principles of the Law of Thelema.
The O.T.O. is a fraternal organization that operates local bodies throughout the world. There are three levels of local bodies: Camps, Oases, and Lodges (in order of increasing importance and services available). The two central activies of most local bodies are the administration of our rites of initiation and the regular celebration of the Gnostic Mass. Many bodies also have numerous other activies, such as classes and workshops, performance of public rituals, theatrical events, publication of a journal, producing festivals, and various social events.
O.T.O. is a California charitable corporation and a federally recognized tax-exempt religious entity under IRS section 501c(3). We have proven ourselves to be the genuine O.T.O. of Aleister Crowley, both in the U.S. Federal Courts, and more importantly by our demonstrated success in faithfully promulgating practical Thelemic philosophy through a careful implementation of Crowley’s vision of the mission of the Order.
Many worthy aspirants to the Great Work of Thelema have a genuine need for information, guidance, fellowship, or the opportunity to assist their fellow aspirants and serve humanity. Such aspirants will find welcome in O.T.O.
The O.T.O. System of Initiation
The structure of O.T.O., like that of Freemasonry and the ancient mystery schools, is based on a staged series of initiations or degrees, most of which are conferred ceremonially. In the Rituals of these degrees, O.T.O. seeks 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.
Initiate membership can be conferred only in a physical ceremony by a properly chartered initiator. There are a total of 21 Initiate degrees in O.T.O., including thirteen numbered degrees and eight un-numbered, intermediate degrees or sub-degrees. The degrees of O.T.O. are divided into three Grades or “Triads”: the Hermit, the Lover, and the Man of Earth:
The Man of Earth Grade
(The Third Triad)
I° Man and Brother/Woman and Sister
III° Master Magician
IV° Perfect Magician and
Companion of the Holy Royal Arch of Enoch
P.I. Perfect Initiate, or Prince of Jerusalem
Outside all Triads
K.E.W. Knight of the East and West
The Lover Grade
(The Second Triad)
V° Sovereign Prince Rose-Croix
Knight of the Pelican and Eagle
Knight of the Red Eagle
Member of the Senate of Knight Hermetic Philosophers
VI° Illustrious Knight (Templar) of the Order of Kadosch Companion of the Holy Graal
Grand Inquisitor Commander
Member of the Grand Tribunal
Prince of the Royal Secret
Very Illustrious Sovereign Grand Inspector General
Magus of Light
Bishop of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica
Grandmaster of Light
Inspector of Rites and Degrees
The Hermit Grade
(The First 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 Minerval Degree (0°) is an introductory Initiate degree, designed to allow the aspirant to decide whether or not to become a full member. The First Degree (I°) bestows full membership upon the initiate. A First Degree initiate may retire from active participation in O.T.O., but the spiritual link forged between the initiate and the Order during the ceremony of the First Degree will remain throughout the initiate’s life.
The Man of Earth degrees represent, in dramatic form, the Individual’s Path in Eternity. In the 0°, the Ego, a wandering God, is attracted to the Solar System (i.e. conception). In the I°, the Child experiences Birth. In the II°, the Man or Woman experiences Life. The III° represents the Death of the individual, and the IV° represents the world beyond Death, the glorified state of the Initiate. In the P.'.I.'. Degree, the Initiate symbolically achieves ultimate Perfection (Completion), and the entire cycle is withdrawn into Annihilation.
Of these Events or Stations upon the Path, all but the II° represent single critical experiences. We, however, are concerned mostly with the varied experiences of Life. All subsequent degrees are therefore elaborations of the II°, a progressive instruction in how to live. The V°–IX° rituals and teachings are therefore instructions to the Initiate in the Mastery of Life; there is instruction in Hermetic Philosophy, Qabalah, Magick and Yoga, all aimed at preparing the Initiate for the revelation and application of one Supreme Secret.
A Brief History
The O.T.O. was not founded by Aleister Crowley, as many would believe, but by an Austrian paper chemist, Carl Kellner. Upon his death in 1905, Theodor Reuss became the Outer Head of the Order. In these early years, the O.T.O. was affiliated with European Masonry, and attempted to combine the various masonic rites. Soon after meeting him, Ruess initiated Aleister Crowley into the Order in 1910, who was then appointed National Grand Master General X° for Great Britain and Ireland. Crowley's appointment included authority over an English language rite of the lower (Masonic) degrees of O.T.O. which was given the name "Mysteria Mystica Maxima," or M.'.M.'.M.'. (which eventually became the initial degrees up to VII° of the current Order). In 1912, the O.T.O. cut it’s formal ties with Masonry, since the United Grand Lodge of England, to whom Crowley technically owed Masonic allegiance, objected to the performance of the Craft Degrees in England outside of its jurisdiction, and objected to the admission of women into Freemasonry. In 1915, Crowley rewrote the largely masonic M.'.M.'.M.'. degree system to reflect and embody Thelemic priciples. In 1923, upon the death of Reuss, Crowley became the Outer Head of the Order of O.T.O. and remained so until his death in 1947. Since that time, the office of O.H.O. has been held by Karl Germer, Grady McMurtry, and the current Frater Superior, Hymenaeus Beta, who took office in 1985. In 1996, Sabazius X° was appointed as National Grand Master General for the U.S. Grand Lodge.