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 (neé 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.


  1. My only question remains: with her experience, hard work and devotion to the actual members themselves-why was she not made the head of the OTO?

    1. 93, Ms. D.!

      Thanks for your question! My understanding of how McMurtry became the Caliph comes from the history section on the U.S. Grand Lodge website, where the situation following Germer's death is described. "When McMurtry became aware of the critical condition into which the Order had fallen after Germer’s death, he was impelled to invoke his documents of emergency authorization from Crowley, and assume the title “Caliph of O.T.O.,” as specified in Crowley’s letters to McMurtry from the 1940s."

      You can read the related text here:

      This by no means minimizes her very important contributions to the O.T.O., of course, nor the respect that is her due.

      Thanks again!
      93 93/93

    2. After Grady died she didn't step forward for election, but was highly influential in electing one of the men who did.


The authors of Horns of Cerastes are happy to share their insights, opinions, and interests in all matters Thelema. Anything uncited is probably an informed opinion, but there are times when we have been known to just have fun. Do be careful, it might get on you. Also, all comments are moderated.