Monday, February 29, 2016

Progenitrix: Soror Meral, Mother of the Modern O.T.O.

by Sr. Harper Feist

At Leaping Laughter, we tried to have a women’s group. Last summer and fall, we met haltingly a couple of times, before we realized that many of us really didn’t have another day to be at the lodge. The reasons? Some of us needed to work, some needed time with their family. Others needed Sunday to shop, garden, pickle (really!) and clean. It turned out to be impossible to get very many of us together at one time.

The one meeting that most of us attended was at the Lodge Masters’ house. At that meeting, we proposed to each study about one woman that we each thought had potential to be named a Gnostic Saint, one with Thelemic leanings, and then later share that knowledge with the others. Names from several historical epochs arose: Ida Craddock, St. Theresa of Avila, Ann Bonny the pirate and Katherine the Great. Jane Wolfe and Phyllis Seckler were naturally also mentioned, our true Thelemic grandmothers.

Of all these women, Phyllis, Soror Meral, would have understood best the fate of our women’s group last year. To adapt a phrase, she was the hardest working woman (and quite simply one of the hardest working initiates) in Thelema. She was a member of the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis in the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), a mother, an artist, taught art in a high school and typed many Crowley manuscripts, preserving them for the future. She was a thoughtful student of the occult, a member of both in the A.’.A.’. and the O.T.O., and also very serious about her astrological studies. She founded the College of Thelema , and later warranted the formation of its continuation as the International College of Thelema and the Temple of the Silver Star. In addition, she was also the editor of In the Continuum, the College’s journal, for almost 25 years.

Amidst all this, arguably her most important contribution to the history of our order is that she helped re-birth the O.T.O, which was all but dead in 1969, all the while carrying on her teaching and training, and supporting Grady McMurtry. In the name of the missing women’s group, I’d like to acquaint you with her story.

Phyllis Seckler (neƩ Pratt) was born on June 18, 1917. Her family moved around a lot when she was young, from Alberta to British Columbia to Seattle and then to Southern California where she graduated from high school in Los Angeles (1935). Shortly after her graduation, she left home following a split with her mother and began to support herself. She also took night classes in drama, where she met Regina Kahl. Regina introduced Phyllis to the Gnostic Mass at Agape Lodge, where she was the presiding Priestess. Attracted primarily by the stimulating people that frequented Agape, she moved in and did housekeeping to help pay her rent.

Regina Kahl, Agape Lodge ca. 1939
These were busy years for Phyllis. She married Paul Seckler, whom she has also met during the drama classes in 1938. In 1939, she received her Minerval and I* initiations. In June 1940, she was admitted as a Probationer in the A.’.A.’. under Jane Wolfe, the only member of Agape lodge to have studied personally with Crowley. She was at that time also studying astrology with Fredrick Mellinger. When the lodge moved from LA to Pasadena, the Secklers were founding members, along with Mellinger, Wilfred Smith, Wolfe, Kahl, Joe and Grace Miller, Jack Parsons and Betty Northrup. It should be said that the Secklers were not always happy with the “inconsiderateness” of the household. The one statement that sources agree with about Agape Lodge is that it was a pretty wild place. At that time, it was also the only operating O.T.O lodge in the world.

Painfully, Phyllis was invited to leave the Agape house in 1942 because of the behavior of her eldest daughter, who was a reactive child, and prone to screaming fits. Later, the daughter, Stella, was diagnosed as partially deaf, explaining the disturbing nature of her childhood. Phyllis settled briefly into a cabin in Fallbrook, later into a small apartment in Los Angeles. In spite of her insensitive treatment at the hands of the Agape members, she remained, however, loyal to both the O.T.O. and A.’.A.’.continuing to study with Jane.

During the Agape years, Soror Meral helped keep Crowley in the loop with respect to the goings-on at Agape with letters and cartoons, primarily of the inhabitants of the house, something Crowley appreciated. She was not universally valued, though, as this excerpt from a letter to Jack Parsons from Crowley reveals. 19 October 1943 “… (5) I very strongly disapprove of your description of Phyllis Seckler as an indigent cook. I know nothing of her financial status, and have never been subjected to her cooking, but from my personal knowledge she is an admirable psychologist and an extremely clever artist. The information that she has supplied has been more illuminating than the total of what I have had from other sources…” [1] The very next day, Crowley wrote to Seckler herself, “You have all the courage and all the common sense necessary to pull you through. I will only remark that, whatever anyone else may say, you have in me a sincere friend and admirer: on me you may always rely, if ever you need me.” [2]

When Crowley died in 1947, Germer took over as head of the O.T.O. and A.’.A.’. As such, he received all of Crowley’s book and writings and literary effects under his title as the Grand Treasurer General of the O.T.O. He received 3 tons of materials from England that he kept at various addresses until his death in California. While he was still in NJ, Phyllis wrote to him with her concern that some of the unpublished works of Crowley would be lost unless some copies were made. She typed Liber 418, “The Vision and the Voice,” “Magick Without Tears” and a portion of Crowley’s confessions.
Germer was principally concerned with protecting Crowley’s literary heritage, and not on growing or administering to the Order. During his leadership, besides advancing those who were already in the order, there were no new initiations. [3]

In the mid-1950s, Agape Lodge finally failed. At this time, Seckler was still typing and editing Crowley’s work for Germer. She finished a Master’s degree in art at UCLA in 1955 and began work as an art teacher at a high school in Livermore. Germer confirmed in a letter written around this time Phyllis’ status as an Adeptus Minor (5°-6°) in the A:.A:..[4] She was also advanced to IX° of the O.T.O. by Germer, including instructions in the central mysteries of the Order.

At the same time, Grady McMurtry gathered some Agape folks in California with the goal of trying to convince Germer to resume initiations. There was agreement on this in the short term, but then the two men argued over issues related to a personal loan. Shortly after this in 1961, McMurtry lost his job in California and moved to Washington D.C., began teaching at George Washington University and worked as a management analyst for the U.S. government. [5]

Germer died in 1962 from prostate cancer, although this fact was kept from the community for years, in part because his wife Sasha did not trust the members of the O.T.O. During the time between Germer’s death and widespread recognition of it, Crowley’s magical implements and private notebooks were stolen from Sasha Germer’s house. In 1969, Seckler and McMurtry shared a series of letter where they planned to revitalize Thelemic activity in the US. Seckler’s initial plan was to start a Thelemic college, but then she discovered that McMurtry had been appointed by Crowley as Caliph after Germer’s death. Seckler then paid for McMurtry to go to California to support the reactivation of the O.T.O. It appears that Phyllis supported Grady financially throughout this period, until finally she asked him to find lodgings in Berkeley.

Figure 2 - Phyllis Seckler 
(Soror Meral)
in the early 2000s.
Seckler, McMurtry and Mildred Burlingame (of Agape Lodge) reinaugurated the O.T.O. in July 1969, with the first initiation being performed at a park near the Russian River. Phyllis’ concern that very few of these people went on to I* has been documented. She resolved to mitigate the ignorance about Crowley and his writings.

In 1973, Phyllis started the College of Thelema (COT) and began to edit and publish Into The Continuun, a project she pursued for 25 years afterward. She saw the COT as a much-needed source of preparatory instruction for aspirants to the A.’.A.’., having seen too many students fail due to a lack of training in the basics. She also continued her initiatory and instructional work within the A.’.A.’. itself.

Phyllis retired from teaching art in 1975, and gave herself more completely to Thelemic activities. She worked with McMurtry until his death in 1985. In 1979, she was granted a charter for 418 Lodge. The Temple of Thelema – an initiatory branch of COT - was founded in the late 1980s, patterned after the structure and curriculum of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

It goes almost without saying that the organizations founded or administered by Soror Meral have produced students of very high caliber – including David Shoemaker, James Eshelman, Gregory Peters and Lon Milo DuQuette.

Soror Meral led 418 Lodge from its inception until her death in 2004, founded organizations that are important in the promulgation of Thelema, and helped resuscitate an O.T.O. that came very close to being lost in the 1960s. I believe that our beloved grandmother would well understand the struggles of our Women’s Group, and also presents us with an ambitious and tenacious FEMALE role model, a thing very useful and important in today’s Order.


1. Red Flame 11, “Jane Wolfe, her life with Aleister Crowley, Part II” Red Flame Productions, Berkeley CA, 2003. ISBN 0-9712376-3-8 (p 55).

2. Private correspondence, ICOT archives.

3. Private correspondence between Germer and Wolfe, ICOT archives.

4. Private correspondence, ICOT archives.


Further Reading

1. Shoemaker, D., G. Peters and R. Johnson, Eds “Phyllis Seckler (Soror Meral) – The Thoth Tarot, Astrology & Other Selected Writings,” The Teitan Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-933429-19-2.

2. Shoemaker, D., G. Peters and R. Johnson, Eds “Phyllis Seckler (Soror Meral) – The Kabbalah, Magick, and Thelema” The Teitan Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-933429-4.

3. Red Flame 10, “Jane Wolfe, her life with Aleister Crowley, Part I” Red Flame Productions, Berkeley CA, 2003. ISBN 0-9712376-2-X.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Bishop-induced OTO Epiphany: The EGC is...

A few weeks ago, I went to a conference in Florida called "A Gathering of Bishops." Sherri, the local Body Master at Hidden Spring Oasis put it all together with her local lodge mates, and she did an awesome job*.

Tau Asteria, Tau Ce Acatl, and Tau Iatromantis were in attendance** and presented on several topics related to their roles as Bishops within the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (EGC), their roles as Soverign Grand Inquisitors General in the Mysteria Mystica Maxima (M∴M∴M∴), and examinations of aspects of the Gnostic Mass (Liber XV), including the Eucharist, the role of the Priestess, and the relationship between the roles of the mass and the congregants at large.

Their presentations were direct, balanced, and pragmatic, and I don't think anyone who attended walked away without picking up something useful and interesting that made their enjoyment of the rituals of initiation and celebration that we share more meaningful.

I had a mild epiphany at this event, and I've been digesting it to make sure it's properly absorbed before I talk about it publicly. I ALSO want to make sure to distance my own take-aways from the Bishops who attended:
I am not saying this is what they meant, or intended me to hear, or even said explicitly. This is my presentation of my personal conclusions, reached after hanging out with these guys for a weekend and hearing what they had to say, about the OTO, the EGC, the M∴M∴M∴, the Mass, and the people who make this happen.
Aumgn Aumgn Aumgn.
Ok? Ok.

So before I get to the epiphany, here's my experience of the OTO and EGC:

Me: I'm a Hermetic magician who thinks Crowley was awesome, but had a tendency to over-complicate things. I've found in Hermetic magick the cure to what ails us all, self-empowerment, self-actualization, and the ability to tap into the full reserves we're all born with using a relatively simple symbol-set; four elements, seven planets, one circle of stars, and some mysterious junk out past the stars that you can spend lifetimes enjoying.

My experience in OTO has been great. We get together, we talk magick, we drink, we do initiations, we have conferences, and everyone has a good time. When I say "We," I mean the lodge folk, who are magicians familiar with the Hermetic model of magick, in our own way. We have good speaks and help each other out. We talk about how we do magick, and how our results are coming along. We teach those with less experience about the tools we use personally, if they're interested.

My experience in the EGC has also been great, I was Baptised at Thelesis and a Soror Amy zapped me right proper, and I still have petals from the rose that I use in rites. I was confirmed at Hidden Spring (THANKS LEANNE, I'm fine now). I served as Child in the Mass, then Deacon, received ordination as Deacon, and now am serving as Priest in the Mass, with caveats*** because I haven't been ordained yet. Working on it though.

But after three years of doing this, I couldn't finish the sentence:

"The OTO [or] EGC is _____________________."

And that bothered me.

But problem solved, thanks to the good Bishops!

So T. Iatromantis (David Shoemaker) kicked off with a talk about the Mass, and how to use it as a magickal act as a participant/congregant. Then T. C Acatl (Craig Berry) followed up with a talk on the Sacraments of the EGC. Then T. Asteria went did some back-to-back talks about the role of the Priestess and the role of the Eucharist, specifically the Cakes of Light. And then they did a panel discussion where they barely even looked like victims of a firing squad as 20 people rapid-fired questions at them from around the room.

It was amazing, and we're typing up the notes to share. These guys are awesome, the M∴M∴M∴ is awesome, and the EGC is awesome, and that's why I'm writing this. Because without any one of them taking me aside and telling me straight up, "Hey Josh-Rufus, THIS IS WHAT THE OTO IS ALL ABOUT," they managed to do so cumulatively in a way that makes sense to me, and I'm sort of still a little bit high on it.

And anyone who's looked at the US Grand Lodge Web Site on OTO initiation can probably just sit back and laugh at me after they read this, because it's all right there.

But let's start with the Mass.

The Mass is super cool, and it's the symbolic formula of the all the rites of our Order, and everyone who's taken a minute to listen to OTO podcasts probably has heard several high ranking Duquettes and others speak about the magickal formula embodied in the mass. I've talked to enough magician-members of the Order after mass to know that a lot of us understand that we can think of a thing we want to happen throughout the mass to make it manifest. I'm simplifying, there's tech involved, but not a lot more than that.

T. Iatromantis' teaching on it this time was a little deeper, a little more personal. He used the magick words "Thought-Word-Deed" to explain that the mass itself is a Hermetic rite. It gives everyone an opportunity to take a THOUGHT, materialize it symbolically through WORD, and then to manifest as a DEED. And he took us through it twice in different ways, I realized something amazing:


All caps because it's important. Everyone who just shows up can do magick. No initiation required, no years of magical practice, no memorized columns of correspondences, no ability to draw a tree of life from memory.

No conjuration of angels or demons, either. You just show up, and do magick via participation.

Think about what you want. Symbolize it. Hold that symbol in mind. Speak it into being, because THERE IS NO PART OF YOU THAT IS NOT OF THE GODS. Then follow through, take advantage of the opportunities that come your way when you tap into it.


It's Hermetics! The Gnostic Mass is HERMETICS! (cue soylent green camera effects)

So the Mass is a chance for everyone, regardless of attainment, to participate in Hermetic Magick. That was part one of my epiphany. And the EGC is, in my opinion, primarily responsible for putting on the Mass. The official public presentations of the Mass will, with very rare exceptions, include at least an EGC Ordained Priest or Priestess as either Priest, Priestess, or Deacon.

But what else?

T. Ce Acatl was up next, and spoke about the sacraments, specifically the sacraments of marriage, and of death. As he spoke, he talked about how the rites in the EGC are founded around the fundamental understanding that the source of power that is being outwardly structured and affirmed is within you, putting you in the position to realize the only "divinity" being called on is yourself. He picked up on a metaphor T. Iatromantis had used, that as you go along in your work, you are becoming more and more focused, like a light that starts out shining in every direction slowly over time becoming more and more focused until it was a laser.

Now all this happened to be a confirmation of what I learned over years and years of Hermetic studies outside of these OTO Orders. I limited my occult Work to sources betwen the first and third centuries EV, with a lot of framing from Agrippa. I eschewed all the 1899 EV and later "occult" teachings at the time, but since then I have come to realize that everything I learned in those studies of the source texts is also presented in the teachings of the OTO.

Not to get ahead of myself though.

The next day, T. Asteria took the lead and spoke about the role of the Priestess, guidelines on official stances, where there's room to wiggle, and her personal expectations of the Priestesses she oversees as Bishop. Then she spoke on the development of the Cakes of Light, and the myths, the magick, and the mysteries surrounding them.

In each discussion, she presented very practical advice, based on experience. She dealt with pretty specific topics in a frank and earnest way, with facts laid out, anecdotes, and conclusions she's reached on the different aspects of the topic at hand. And she addressed things across the whole spectrum of the experiences, from Tree of Life interpretations of the roles of the Mass teams, to how to deal with ... overzealous Priests reinterpreting the script without letting you know ahead of time.

They were all like that, honestly. Attending this conference was just like going to a professional seminar, or a college level class on the kinds of things we can expect to experience as we do the OTO thing that we do. A lot of it was a discussion on advanced topics that you run into when you're doing Magick in public with other people, who also do Magick. Another part of it was how to deal with people who might be working with different images and at different levels of understanding and experience in a group rite.

But every part of what they were teaching provided a way to do the OTO thing we do that meets everyone where they're at. Giving them what they need, so they could do Magick.

And I started hearing a theme in everything they were talking about, whether it was individual  roles in the Mass, the Mass itself as a whole operation, their own roles in the M∴M∴M∴ and the EGC, the things they do as Bishops, about being extensions of the sovereignty of the King, the other hats they wear in service to the OTO ...

Everything they do and teach is about how to become an effective Magician, and then how to become an even more effective Magician. And then the people we interact with through the various aspects of the OTO can learn to accomplish their True Will and attain happiness. And then that makes the whole world a better place for everyone at the same time.

You know... they do the Great Work.

The Summum Bonum.

And it hit me, the OTO hosts and presents the Mass so that everyone else who attends can do Magick. And if they don't understand how to do that, the OTO teaches what that means, over time, in small bites, within a specific context.

They make magicians!

In the Mass anyone can participate in Magick. All the principles are there that I spent years researching in ancient papyri and Renaissance grimories. Four elements, Seven Wandering Planets, a Circle of Stars, and the underlying Mysteries of the Eighth and Ninth Spheres, the stages of incarnation, the Hermetic Secret that thou art god, in a way...

It's all right there, laid out for anyone. You don't even have to understand it to get to benefit from it.

Learning that stuff changed my life. It took me from a place where I was simply responding to events in my life as a victim to a place where I am able to create the events of my life. I went from being a victim to an effective human being, able to change the world as I saw fit (without screwing it up for anyone else) because I had gained a deep and personal relationship with the occult forces that manifest the world. It took a long time to understand these basic Hermetic principles, and I was quite proud of myself for figuring it out. I had dreams of bringing the freedom and empowerment of Hermetic philosophy to the world.

Imagine my surprise finding out that there's already an organized body of people working globally to give this same opportunity to everyone else who's interested?

So my epihany then... I think I'd phrase it this way:

The OTO and EGC are the best vehicle available today for transmitting the Hermetic principles that made me an effective human being. We provide a means for all humans, regardless of our exposure to occult principles to learn the Thought-Word-Deed manifestation process that Hermetics has tried to teach for millenia. These organizations create Magicians who can become their own masters in life.

Now for the "no-shit, sherlock" moment I mentioned earlier about the Initiation page on the (well-indexed and organized) US Grand Lodge wb site.

Look at the names of the First, Second, and Third Degrees of the OTO:

I*   Woman and Sister / Man and Brother
II*  Magician
III* Master Magician

As you progress through the OTO, you go from Woman/Man to Magician to Master Magician.

It took me WAY TOO LONG to figure that out.

* It's worth noting, OTO folk, that people who want to make things happen are making things happen. If you want things to happen, like a bishop event at your local lodge, make it happen. There are bishops. They will show up. With valuable experiences and interpretations. And bullet points.

** Christeos Pir was scheduled to attend and present something about the growth of local bodies that I really wish I'd gotten to see, but he couldn't make it. I'm still looking forward to hearing his presentation though, it looked like it had some meatiness to it. He kind of owes us now, I think.

*** Warning: Near-flawless Greek, still thinking lewd thoughts about Harper most of the time, and that second-step speech, I just ... sigh.