Thursday, August 27, 2015

Progenitrix: The Jane Wolfe Legacy

In the next couple of posts, I'm going to be introducing a couple of the women of the A:.A:. and the OTO that are being spoken of less and less in our modern discourse of the history of our Orders. There is a movement afoot to restore these ladies to their rightful positions as the central core of the OTO that kept it alive through the darkest of times, often in spite of the men who held the official reins of the Order.

I'd like to begin with Jane Wolfe. Her Wikipedia entry provides the basic overview of her biographical data, and is in itself a testament to her strength in the early 20th century.

Born in Pennsylvania in fucking 1875, she left home to pursue a career in New York City.

Full stop.

Think about that, for a second. Pennsylvania Dutch farm folk are pretty practical people. They are born with dirt under their nails. Hearth and home, family, finding a strong farmer man to have babies with to continue the prosperity of the community, these are the primary values ingrained in these people from the womb.

But not her. She got some business skills, and took off to New York City.

What kind of 19th century farm girl does that? She not only knew what she wanted (NOT FARMERS), but she had the courage and the audacity to take a huge risk to pursue her will. She wasn't someone who had never thought about doing what she needed to do to get her world to align with her aspirations before she met Crowley. She was a born Thelemite.

And she didn't fail, guys. She succeeded. She found herself in despair over the mess her parents had made of her upbringing, and to combat that pursued a career on stage. She didn't wallow in her issues, she instead found a treatment that was opposed to the symptoms she was feeling. She couldn't express how she felt in her daily life, so she threw herself into a place where she would have to express feelings she had no other outlet to express.

She built herself a career on stage, but eventually she smelled that there was something new in the world, that things were changing. She understood the power of film, and how that was going to change the world. She followed her instinct, and relocated to California and became one of the first movie stars, in the silent film industry.

She could have continued in that, getting roles, building up her stats, and making all the money she wanted, but it wasn't enough. Like the rest of us, she had a hunger. She attacked the world, sucked out the marrow of all things material, achieved stardom and celebrity status, and she was still unsatisfied.

Her understanding of the changing focus from theater to film is indicative of another thing: she sensed and responded to the change of the Aeon. She recognized the potential of film, the shift in focus before anyone else did, and she made her place in the new frontier, carving it out and dominating her niche.

She was drawn to the occult, and like so many of us, got off to a bad start. She got hooked up with the roots of the New Age movement of her day, and began dabbling in automatic writing, and trusting the channeled instructions of a man who claimed to represent her guides. Deeper into the miasma she went, until she suffered a breakdown, shouting on th eset of a Cecil B. DeMille film, "It is God, it is Illujmination!" After some time in a sanitarium, she began clawing her way back to normalcy, and, having gotten her hands on a copy of the Equinox, she began writing to Aleister Crowley.

He quickly set her on the path of Scientific Illuminism, teaching her to question every spirit and disembodied Master that came through the pen, or the ouija board, or the sensitive weak-minded channelers in her life. In time he convinced her to join him in Cefalu, and packing up her things, she took the step that led her to living Thelema.

On June 30, 1920, she wrote in her diary, "In Bou-Sada, alone." The woman who left Pennsylvania to pursue a career on Broadway, the woman who left that to pursue a career in film, left everything behind once again to explore a completely different experience: life with Aleister Crowley.

She staid at Cefalu until it closed, living the life of the A.'.A.'. student the way Crowley intended it. She spent a year studying and practicing, recording her results, and submitted them to Crowley. Her typed diary entires and his handwritten response are available today from this link. Everyone should read them, the insights into how he taught his students, the things he had them do, his self-assessment made in passing is so useful to us now. Seeing the way the methods of the modern A.'.A.'. continue his on-site and in-person system and tradition is awesome.

After Cefalu, things unraveled quickly for the Beast. Jane became an integral force for carrying on the current, and Crowley referred to her as the "spearhead" in the effort to re-establish an Abbey of Thelema. After much sturm and drang, and ordeal after ordeal, she returned to the States, continuing her work to advance Thelema in the world.

This time period of the A.'.A.'. and the OTO was, quite frankly, just awful. Crowley wrote regularly how desperate they were for cash. Jane's health was deteriorating, but she continued to support the Work as best she could with the people she had available.

As the years went by, the men of the early years of the A.'.A.'. and the OTO came and went, leaving behind the names and anecdotes we recall today. C.F. Russell, Charles Stansfield Jones, Willfred T. Smith, Jack Parsons, she was there through them all, and remained after they were gone. At Crowley's acknowledgement of her rise to Neophyte, Jane took on Phyllis Seckler as her Probationer in the A.'.A.'., passing on the teachings and traditions she received at Cefalu. She worked tirelessly and continuously in the establishment and maintenance of Agape Lodge in the US, and at the time the lodge closed, she was the sitting Body Master.

Her life was not one of many joys, easy successes, or financial prosperity. When she died, it was said she died from sheer exhaustion. Doing the research into the ife of Jane Wolfe was pretty terrible. I read letters in the Red Flame editions of Jane Wolfe's life with Crowley (available from Conjoined Creations at this link), and it was like immersing myself into a frantic stream of frustration, annoyance, and what we'd call pure and unadulterated abuse by today's standards.

Yet at the same time, I read her diaries and her commentaries, and in spite of the frenetic horse shit she had to deal with month after month, year after year in the birth pains of the modern Thelemic orders, she kept careful notes of her practices and experiences. She found moments of peace, bliss, and ecstasy. She found a calm center from which to move the foundations of the Earth as it welcomed the New Aeon. She was a proto-feminist, recording that some might accuse her of "suffragette syndrome," yet she never considered Aleister Crowley above her in any way, but always considered the man her equal.

She remains a great role model for our tradition, a quiet fighter who faced madness, ridicule, and the light of the divine alike, and staid her ground. It was undoubtedly her work that laid the foundation for Grady McMurtry and Phyllis Seckler to re-birth the OTO after the death of Karl Germer.


  1. Have you read the two volume biography? It's a much better source than Wikipedia...

    1. You mean the Red Flame books? If so, then yes I did, and mentioned them in the article. I forgot to put the hyperlink on it though, so thanks for mentioning it.


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