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Founded by Carl Kellner and Theodor Reuss in the late 1800s or early 1900s, Ordo Templi Orientis is a fraternal religious organization that has since become identified with another of its members, Aleister Crowley, the English occultist, and author who founded Thelema.

O.T.O. began either in Germany or Austria sometimes between 1895 and 1906. Carl Kellner, its chief founder, was a chemist, industrialist, and inventor, as well as a student of Eastern mysticism, Freemasonry, and Rosicrucianism. The co-founder, Albert Karl Theodor Reuss, was a journalist, singer, and possibly a police agent, as well as a Tantric occultist and Freemason.

Kellner and Reuss intended Ordo Templi Orientis to be associated with European Freemasonry, which it was modeled on. Membership is based on an initiatory process that includes a series of degree ceremonies, each with its own rituals and spiritual teachings.

Reuss purchased the right to perform the Rite of Memphis and Mizraim from John Yarker, the International Grand Master of the Masonic Rite. Along with the Swedenborg Rite, it formed the core of the O.T.O. Later, the O.T.O. received the right to perform the rites of the Martinist Order and that of the Scottish Rite.

William Westcott, a Rosicrucian and co-founder of the Golden Dawn, granted permission for O.T.O. to establish a College of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, and the Order began publishing a Masonic journal in 1902.

Following Kellner's death in 1905, and Reuss' ascension to the leadership of the Ordo Templi Orientis, the organization's membership declined. Masonic periodicals criticized him for his lack of Masonic credentials and charged that the O.T.O. was not a legitimate Masonic organization. There were also allegations of homosexual activity. In 1906, Reuss moved to London, losing control of most of the German O.T.O. lodges.

In England, Reuss was introduced to the Gnostic Catholic Church, and the O.T.O. became affiliated with that neo-Gnostic Christian organization. He was also influenced by the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, an English occult group.

Major changes came about after Aleister Crowley was admitted to the Ordo Templi Orientis in 1910, and put in charge of its networks in Great Britain and Ireland only two years later. Crowley traveled to Berlin and obtained additional jurisdiction over the organization, and began writing the Manifesto of the M∴M∴M∴, which incorporated Kellner's three-degree Academia Masonica to form a ten-degree system of advancement, for which Crowley was advanced to the tenth degree.

When World War I broke out, Crowley moved to the United States, and began the process of integrating Thelema into the O.T.O. system.

Reuss tried to walk the changes that Crowley had made back in his Synopsis of Degrees of O.T.O., published in 1917, in which he emphasized the organization's ties to Masonry. Crowley made an attempt to work within the Masonic framework, but was rebuffed by the Council of the Scottish Rite. Crowley rewrote the initiation rituals for the first three degrees, removing all references to Masonry.

In 1920, Crowley alleged that Reuss had suffered a stroke and was no longer competent to remain in his leadership position. The two exchanged angry letters, in which Crowley insisted that Reuss had abdicated his office, and proclaimed himself Outer Head of the Order.

Reuss died in October of 1923 without designating a successor, although Crowley later claimed that Reuss had designated him. No other candidate came forward to refute Crowley, so he was elected Outer Head of the Order in 1925.

The European branches of the Order were either destroyed or driven underground during World War II and, by the end of the war, the only surviving body of the Order was Agape Lodge in California. Few initiations were performed during the war years.

When Karl Germer, Crowley's representative in Germany, was released from Nazi confinement in 1942, he moved to the United States, and Crowley appointed him as his successor.

Crowley died in late 1947, and Germer had trouble maintaining memberships in the O.T.O.

Germer died in 1962 without naming a successor, and the organization was left without a head until 1969, when Grady McMurtry invoked emergency authorization and named himself the Frater Superior of O.T.O. Under his leadership, the O.T.O. was incorporated in California and received federal tax-exempt status in 1982. By initiating new members, he rescued the Order from likely extinction.

The O.T.O. has Grand Lodges in Australia, Croatia, Italy, the UK, and the US, with regional facilities in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Macedonia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Ukraine.



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