Sunday, November 27, 2016

From Cefalu to Sacramento Part 3: The A.'.A.'. after Karl Germer

The state of the Thelemic bodies on planet Earth after the death of Karl Germer left a certain something to be desired. While there were active O.T.O. members in Switzerland, and various charters floating around, there was no official Outer Head of the Order universally recognized. Within the US, Agape lodge had dwindled in size and had ceased performing initiations. As a result, there were less than a couple dozen active living members by the time Grady McMurtry agreed, in response to a letter from Seckler, to activate his Caliphate status and to take over as the head of the O.T.O.
Jane Wolfe, Phyllis Seckler, and Karl Germer

Aleister Crowley had left Grady McMurtry a letter designating him as the successor to Karl Germer where the O.T.O. was concerned. I've read a lot of commentaries about the intentions and the ideas that went into this designation, and it boils down to the fact that Crowley intuitively understood that the O.T.O. would be in trouble when Germer passed, so he made provisions by giving Grady McMurtry the Caliphate papers.

Unfortunately, there were no "caliphate" designations to the A.'.A.'.. To understand what's going on today, primarily within the United States, we must turn our attention back to Marcelo Motta, delve into his relationships with a handful of his various acolytes, followers, and direct reports within the testing order of the A.'.A.'. under his watch.

The following information is based largely on a careful reading of brother Wasserman's In the Center of the Fire. It is a condensed presentation of the detailed information he provides in his autobiography, his role in the history of the Order, and his understanding of events related to the members of the A.'.A.'. administration currently recognized as a partner with the O.T.O..

It is this relationship between the Orders that indirectly inspired my research into the history of the A.'.A.'.. As a result, I am focusing primarily on the events following the death of Karl Germer that led to the formation of this alternate administrative body, and how these events led to the situation I find myself in as a member of both the A.'.A.'. and the O.T.O.*.

As Frater Sabazius says, the O.T.O. can only ally itself with one Administrative body of the A.'.A.'.. They have currently made the choice to ally themselves with the administration led by J. Daniel Gunther, who traces himself indirectly back to the A.'.A.'. through Motta. He had some personal disagreements with his supervisor in the A.'.A.'., but he claims to have made direct contact with the Secret Chiefs to make up for the fact that he was no longer officially supervised by anyone actually in the A.'.A.'. that descends from Aleister Crowley, as one does.

Wasserman's In the Center of the Fire provides a detailed history of the events leading to the formation of this administrative body, and I was encouraged to read it by several people in the Order whenever we talked about the A.'.A.'.. It explains how Wasserman, in his position at Weiser Publications in the 1970s brought the members of this organization together, and details the timeline of events that led up to the formation of the new administration.

As Weiser published Crowley's books and the Thoth tarot deck, it became a communications hub for Thelemites from around the world. Correspondence came into the publisher the way it comes into the local bodies of the O.T.O. today, as people both new to the occult and old hands studying magick reached out to network with one another and discuss their studies and experiences. It was through Weiser that Wasserman met and corresponded with Motta, and eventually joined the A.'.A.'.. It was also through correspondence passing through Weiser that he was introduced to Richard "Gerney" Gernon, and J. Daniel Gunther.

The highlights of the timeline of events leading the initiations of these men into the A.'.A.'. as Wasserman recalls them are as follows:
  • 1953 - Motta was initiated into the A.'.A.'. by Germer
  • April, 1975 - James Wasserman signs the Oath of the Probationer under Motta. 
  • August, 1975 - J. Daniel Gunther announces himself as "Frater K.N.", an A.'.A.'. contact point in Nashville, Tennessee to Weiser Publishing, where Wasserman received the letter. 
  • Sometime in August-October 1975 - Gurnon introduces Gunther to Motta, and Motta apparently accepts Gunther into his A.'.A.'. 
  • October 1975 - Bill Breeze takes the Probationer's Oath from Gunther
Wasserman's record of his life is a very honest presentation of his strengths and his weaknesses. I think it's important to remember the state of mind he would have been in throughout these early days, to help understand some of the choices he made. He unabashedly describes his ongoing use of heroin and other intoxicants throughout his life, and summarizes his character of this time period as young, inexperienced, and ill-equipped to handle the responsibilities he was given. He seems to have been both head-strong and easily impressionable at the same time. With that in mind, let's look at that timeline of events in more detail.

Through his position at Weiser Publications, Wasserman entered into a relationship with Motta, and this relationship had its ups and downs. While he ultimately signed the Oath of Probationer under Motta in April of 1975, he already had begun having concerns about allying himself with this leadership:
It would have happened six months earlier, as I had written to Motta in September 1974 requesting the Oath, just before he began his period of anti-Semitic rants. He later told me that my letter was lost in the mail. I was much relieved I had not bound myself to him on a spiritual level. But as things improved between us, I again requested the Oath."
Later in August, he received the announcement from Gunther that he was an A.'.A.'. point of contact in Tennessee. Wasserman goes on to explain that Gunther had no previous contact with anyone in the A.'.A.'. in real life, he had apparently been a student of the occult, read the works of Crowley, and was told by the Secret Chiefs that he was in the Order. Consequently, he of course wrote to the publisher of Crowley's writings, I assume to let them know that if anyone was interested, he was available as a contact of the A.'.A.'.. 

Wasserman was, by his own accounts during this period both youthful and filled with an enthusiasm that had not yet been tempered by experience. I personally have been in a position to see the kinds of letters we get at the local O.T.O. lodge from people in remote places who study the occult, and end up having a mystical experience that culminates, of course, in their being the chosen one of the Invisible College/Secret Chiefs/Alien Intelligences/Aiwass/Babalon/Ma'at, or whoever they'd most recently been studying that caught their fancy. Today, after surviving the New Age channelled writings of the gurus of the 1970s and 1980s, the occult community is more likely to toss grandiose self-proclamations directly into the trash as soon as they get them. 

Wasserman, it seems, hadn't yet reached that point. Instead, he decided he should introduce Gunther to his friend Gurney, "in hopes that we might learn more about this previously unknown individual and broaden our collective database, as it were."

Now, let's quote Wasserman's account of what happened, for posterity:
"As soon as Dan learned of Motta through Gurney, he contacted him. Motta forwarded the letter he received from Gunther and his reply. Frater K.N. (J. Daniel Gunther) informed Motta that he had been authorized by the Secret Chiefs to establish an 'American chapter of A.'.A.'.' and wished to cooperate."
Motta responded as a Secret Chief himself, to keep this whole scenario in context, saying "he didn't remember authorizing anything, that there were no "chapters" or other organizational bodies of the A.'.A.'. and that Gunther had mis-capitalized "Do what thou wilt" etc. in violation of the very commands of The Book of the Law."

So to recap, a guy in Nashville had an epiphany that he interpreted as a direct communication from the Secret Chiefs declaring him a member of the A.'.A.'. after reading the works of Aleister Crowley. He then wrote to Weiser announcing himself the contact point of A.'.A.'., and, when introduced to someone who he thought represented the A.'.A.'. had the temerity to declare that it was the Secret Chiefs themselves who authored his fantasies.

Motta, of course, mocked him, but also apparently took him on as a student, never mentioning that in fact, there was already an A.'.A.'. actively operating in California under a recognized member who had achieved Adeptus Minor under the actual auspices of Aleister Crowley and his successors, who was several grades higher than the grade Motta himself claimed to have achieved while his superior in the Order was alive (and shortly after his superior's death as well).

Also in 1975, Wasserman records Bill Breeze entering his life. He also says that in October of 1975, Breeze signed the Probationer's Oath during a visit from Gunther. Gunther had announced himself as contact of the A.'.A.'. in August, met Motta, been received as a student by Motta in that period, and then received Breeze as a Probationer in October of the very same year.

If you have never gone through the process of joining the A.'.A.'. that Crowley laid out in the Blue Equinox, you might miss the absolutely amazing series of events that had to have taken place in order for this to make any kind of sense at all. When you apply, you enter the Student phase of the Order. To get to Probationer, you must complete a Student test demonstrating your understanding the study materials of the Student phase. For reference, it took Frater Achad 4 years to complete the Student test.

Gunther must have completed the Student phase and test to Motta's satisfaction within the three-month period between announcing himself as a contact point of the A.'.A.'. in Nashville, and entered the Order as a Probationer. In that time, Breeze also would presumably have been expected to complete the Student phase, responded to the test, and received a passing grade. Motta would have had to present Gunther with a special dispensation as a Probationer to receive other Probationers on his behalf, and thus been able to receive Breeze in October.

That is, assuming they actually entered the Order by means of the processes of the administration of the A.'.A.'. that were described by Crowley in the Blue Equinox. They might have different standards and requirements, though. If they did follow the process, it is amazing that they were able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time.

The relationship between Bill Breeze and Marcelo Motta was short-lived. In 1976, Motta published his Commentaries of AL, which Breeze found to be incompatible with his understanding of Thelema. He cut off all contact with Motta upon reading this book, and he was one of the first in what quickly seems to become a trend. In brief, it can be said that after Motta published his "Commentaries of AL" some people started thinking he was insane, and stopped talking to him. Breeze was the first recorded in Wasserman's recount of history, but it spread.

Wasserman took his time coming to the conclusion that Motta's sanity was questionable at best, but ultimately all the men who formed the administrative body currently affiliated with the O.T.O. cut off contact with him, or were expelled into "the outer darkness" by Motta himself:
  • 1976 - Bill Breeze cuts off contact from his end with Daniel Gunther over the Commentaries of AL.
  • 1976, Early October - Motta cuts Wasserman off "from further correspondence" and Wasserman takes Daniel Gunther on as his Instructor. 
  • 1976, (later in October apparently) - Motta instructs Daniel Gunther to cast James Wasserman into the Outer Darkness. Gunther obediently stops being Wasserman's Instructor. 
  • 1978 - Daniel Gunther cuts off contact with Motta. 
  • 1978 - Wasserman signs the Neophyte Oath in front of Grady McMurtry, who seems to have declared that he went from 0=0 to Magister Templi without even having completed the Probationer's Work according to his superior in the Order, because he felt like he had been through the Ordeals of the Grade as he understood them.
  • 1980 - Richard "Gurney" Gernon cuts off contact with Motta.
  • 1985 - Martin Starr cuts off contact with Motta. 
At this point, it should be pretty clear that Motta was really good at alienating his American students. None of the people listed in Wasserman's narrative managed to maintain any kind of good relationship with Motta. From In the Center of the Fire, it almost appears as if everyone who spent time with him ended up thinking Motta was insane and unfit to administrate the A.'.A.'..

By the end of 1985, all the people who would eventually end up forming a new administrative leadership of the A.'.A.'. had been expelled, cut off, or had voluntarily left the A.'.A.'. that was led by their superior, Marcelo Motta.

Meanwhile, Seckler’s de facto administration of A.'.A.'. had continued uninterrupted and without such schism and strife for more than two decades.

Gunther, whose original correspondence with Weiser included the claim to be a contact for the A.'.A.'. at the inspiration of the Secret Chiefs, eventually determined that he had the right approach back in the beginning. After leaving the auspices of his A.'.A.'. teacher, he followed up on this initial inspiration, and he claims to have forged a new link to the Secret Chiefs, thus conveniently legitimizing the organization he formed with Martin Starr.

I don't pretend to understand why they took this step at all. Frankly, if they were interested in a legitimate link to the actual A.'.A.'. that Crowley had set up before he died, they all knew Phyllis personally.

They literally had her phone number.

All they had to do was call her.

But no one did that. In spite of knowing she was recognized as a 5=6 by Karl Germer, and had been trained in the actual Work by those who had done it themselves, including a superior in the Order who had studied directly at the feet of Crowley.

It made more sense to them to should go off on their own and establish their own neo-A.'.A.'. rather than subjecting themselves to the leadership of the last legitimate Adept of the organization they seemed to hold in such high regard.

Maybe if I'd been there to experience it first hand, the actions they took wouldn't seem to be quite the self-serving steps taken by expelled, resigned, or disgusted ex-followers of a Zelator that they appear to be in retrospect.

Regardless, history is history. In 1985, Grady died, and Bill Breeze was elected the Outer Head of the Ordo Templi Orientis. As Outer Head, he chose to ally the O.T.O. with the administrative organization led by Daniel Gunther, as was his right. I should note that I fully support the work of Breeze in his role of O.H.O. of O.T.O., and nothing in this discussion should be taken to mean otherwise. I stand with Seckler herself in recognition of his leadership of the Order.

The O.T.O. currently continues to officially work closely with this administrative group, although there are hundreds of initiates from other A.'.A.'. claimant groups working productively within the O.T.O. as well, at all levels of membership and in administrative capacities.

But during this time, Phyllis Seckler was not idle. Seckler’s contributions to the O.T.O. are seldom called into question. It is known that she was the impetus that resulted in Grady exercising his Caliphate papers after the death of Karl Germer. Her participation in the initiations in the mid-1970s of new members is also on record, and there is little dispute that she is one of the main reasons the O.T.O. exists at all today. Her perseverance, her dedication, and her discretion kept the O.T.O. vibrant, authentic, and fundamentally alive.

Her Work in the A.'.A.'. continued as well, though with considerably less public recognition or acknowledgment. With the death of Karl Germer, she found herself in the position of being the highest ranked documented A.'.A.'. initiate on the planet, and saying so in this way puts a particularly fine point on a subject many people would like to see disappear.

Seckler had Sascha Germer and Marcelo Motta corresponding with her about all manner of things regarding the successorship of the O.T.O. and the bodies of Thelema. Her responses are vague, and tended to mollify his claims, mostly in the interests of keeping peace so that the establishment of Thelema could continue uninterrupted.

Throughout her life in the Order, and since her passing, she has not been afforded, in my opinion, the respect or recognition she earned by virtue of her dedication to her personal Work, and the establishment of Thelema as a living, breathing, and growing body. I've often speculated that had she been born a man, we'd be a part of a completely different Thelemic community.

Instead, we have the kinds of statements we find in In the Center of the Fire related to her alleged complicity to the thefts of documents from the O.T.O. library that border on slander. Wasserman at one moment acknowledges Germer's confirmation of her degree, and in the next rejects her advice relative to Reguli, even though her warnings about his activities mirrored exactly the conclusion he reached in later self-assessment. Even in comments on this series of posts, standards of authentication are brought up that apply, apparently, to her alone. Her attainment is questioned, her authority is questioned, her activities (documented at length) are questioned, and history itself is rewritten to conform to a story that simply never happened.

Furthermore, Wasserman's published complaints that Grady failed to "muzzle" Phyllis in her expressions of her opinions, historical facts, and the harsh realities he was not equipped to process at the time show neither respect nor reverence for a member of the Sovereign Sanctuary. He refers to her as if she were a dog, rather than the person whose efforts ensured that he himself had a chance to become a member of the O.T.O., and who was the highest-legitimately-ranked member of the A.'.A.'. at the death of Karl Germer .

Seckler never publicly took actions that she felt were harmful to the Orders, and while she would defend her status and her Work to the very end, she maintained a low profile for the sake of peace.

Instead, she continued her Work. She took on the responsibilities of the administrative triumvirate of the A.'.A.'., serving as the de facto Praemonstrator, Imperator, and Cancellarius as Crowley and Germer had before her. She continued to take on new students (not that there were very many during that Thelemic “dark age” from the early 1960's to the early 1970's,) to teach the lessons of the A.'.A.'., testing the students as she had been tested, and implementing the structure of the A.'.A.'. Crowley had left behind, in some cases for the first time in history.

Over the years, she continued to maintain the formulae of the A.'.A.'. as Crowley intended them. Records of students writing her, receiving the list of required documents, and their subsequent tests and advancement through the degrees attest to this fact. It is public knowledge that she partnered with James Eshelman for a time (though they were not on speaking terms at the end of her life) and passed her teachings on to others who continue to work with students in their own rights as legitimate heirs to the legacy of the A.'.A.'.. Although Seckler had also founded the College of Thelema in the early 1970s as an additional avenue of instruction, her administration of A.'.A.'. proper never ceased.

* This post largely ignores the history of the various claimant groups throughout Central and South America. There are groups today that claim heritage from Motta around the world, and they seem to have had a very different experience than is represented in either the correspondence between Germer, Motta, and Seckler, or in In the Center of the Fire.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

From Cefalu to Sacramento Part 2: Enter Marcelo Motta

Picking up where we left off in the previous installment, Aleister Crowley and Karl Germer both served as superiors to Jane Wolfe within the A.'.A.'., and Wolfe served as superior to Phyllis Seckler until her health failed. Germer gradually took over as Seckler's de facto superior and, along the way, recognized her as a 5=6 in 1952. At his death, without declaring a clear successor (more on this later), the leadership of the Order was in question. It is reasonable to assume that leadership should pass to someone with significant spiritual “seniority," in terms of their actual grade, and also someone who could ably bear the authority of V.V.V.V.V., as evidenced by their own interior linkage to this spiritual source, as well as the fruits of their work in the world. As we will demonstrate, the person most qualified to inherit this mantle of leadership was Phyllis Seckler.

However, at this time, a man already exhibiting the symptoms of mental illness that would echo throughout his lifetime chose to declare himself the head of the A.'.A.'., and later attempted to claim that the O.T.O. was also his inheritance. As we will see, his self-declaration of achievement, and demand of recognition in his self-proclaimed roles set the pattern of events that continue to echo through to today.

This man was Marcelo Motta. Among many other roles he carved out for himself in his lifetime, he became a thorn in the side of the modern O.T.O., the catalyst of our legal recognition as the sole continuation of Aleister Crowley's O.T.O., and perhaps one of the least mentally stable sources of the current state of affairs related to the number of "administrative bodies" claiming to represent the A.'.A.'. created by Aleister Crowley

Marcelo Motta was apparently initiated as a member of the Fraternitas Rosicrucianus Antiqua (FRA) in Brazil at the ripe old age of 17. He left Brazil under political pressure to travel to Europe and the United states, and later he portrayed this voyage as being part of a mission assigned to him by the leadership of the Brazilian FRA, to meet the head of their order at the time, one Parsifal Krumm-Heller. Parsifal was the son of Arnold Krumm-Heller, who had written a novel about the Rosicrucians that inspired young Motta.

Arnold Krumm-Heller was a German fascist sympathizer and Hitler apologist who spent much of his adult life in Central and South America, serving as a military advisor, mercenary, and aiding various governments in their wars as he saw fit. One of the first ex-O.T.O. members, he was initiated into the O.T.O. as a contemporary of Theodore Reuss. He met with Aleister Crowley, and thought highly of his works in the esoteric communities. He went on to form the FRA based on his own understanding and ongoing study of the occult arts.

Marcelo Motta, years later, found his way to the teachings of Aleister Crowley through the writings of John Symonds, specifically the book The Great Beast. Initially nervous about accepting the teachings of the Wickedest Man in the World, it was Parsifal Krumm-Heller, the legal leader of the FRA, who managed to convince Motta that there was something of value to be found in Thelema.

Motta was born in 1931, and Symonds' book was published in 1951. Parsifal Krumm-Heller eventually went on to introduce Motta to Karl Germer in 1953. When Motta was first introduced to the ideas, teachings, and philosophies of the Great Beast, he would have been between the ages of 20-22 years. He would have been studying the FRA teachings for 3-5 years at this point, with, we presume the same level of intent he showed later in his life as a Probationer.

I can only imagine what it was like moving into Crowley's work from the perspective of a person trained in the esoteric arts by a German fascist sympathizer and Hitler apologist who created his own Rosicrucian Order when extant Orders failed to provide him with the education he thought they should teach. Later events indicate the cognitive dissonance between his early exposure to the occult sciences and the liberating truths presented in the A.'.A.'. and the O.T.O. were in conflict throughout Motta's occult career.

In 1953, Parsifal introduced Motta to Karl Germer, and Germer offered Motta initiation into the O.T.O. or the A.’. A.'.. Motta chose the A.'.A.'., having no interest in the O.T.O.

I've looked for some documentation that indicated the Motta actually signed a Probationer's Oath and took on the Work officially under Germer. That documentation doesn't exist. Germer was not as interested in keeping track of signed Oaths as I sometimes wish he were.

It makes sense--it's not like he signed the Adeptus Minor's Oath in a concentration camp before he attained K&C of the HGA. These were the "pioneer" days, as Crowley commented in Jane Wolfe's diaries, the days when the active leadership members were also the active Candidates pursuing the Work with all their hearts, minds, and spirits.

Motta's A.'.A.'. career is difficult to track, as a result. All we have are the records of what he claimed publicly, and some correspondence between himself and Germer. From these records, I've managed to put together the following:

  • 1953 - Karl Germer accepts Marcelo Motta in the A.'.A.'.. I would hope that Germer gave him the list of Student Materials, told him to go study them, and let him know when he was ready for the student test. I doubt that happened in real life though. What we do know is that, according to Motta, in ....
  • 1960 - 7 years after his initial acceptance into the A.'.A.'., Motta claims to have completed the Probationer Work. I personally find it fascinating that it took him 7 years to complete the Probationer Work. Rumor has it that C.F. Fuller took 4 years to finish the Student Test. I've taken it, and I understand, it's an ordeal. But in 7 years, Motta went from Student to the completion of Probationer Work, by his own claims. Seckler was 5=6 in 12 years. 
  • 1961 - A year after he claimed he completed the Probationer Work, Motta published a copy of Liber Aleph. In the Imprimatur of that work, his symbol appears with the indication he is a 6=5. While this might be considered an “honorary” grade of Adeptus Major, it would only have been so in the same way that JFC Fuller was noted as a 5=6 on various Imprimaturs published while Crowley lived. In reality Fuller still remained a Probationer. This Imprimatur might have established him as a member of the administration of the A.'.A.'., if it were in fact recognized and supported by anything written by Germer. Instead, correspondence shows that Germer had a completely different response after Motta began making certain claims:
  • 1962, June - In response to some megalomaniacal and disturbing claims made by Motta, Karl Germer responds unequivocally and clearly as his superior in the A.'.A.'. that Motta is "a Neophyte, at best*."
  • 1962, July - To which Marcelo Motta responded... "Yea, you're right, I renounce any claims to anything higher." I'm paraphrasing, but Motta agreed with Germer that he was nothing more than a Neophyte.
  • 1962, October - Karl Germer dies, without naming anyone to follow him as the leader of the O.T.O. or the A.'.A.'. in writing. There are claims that Sascha said Germer named him “the Follower” on his death bed, but these fail to hold much water in full context. While there is no clear paper trail validating claims to Motta’s succession as head of the A.'.A.'., even those groups who claim he was the heir to the A.'.A.'. recognize and support the fact that Motta was suffering from multiple mental illnesses. These mental illnesses effectively left him incompetent to administer anything at the time of Germer’s death. 
  • 1963, January – Motta writes a letter to Sascha Germer in which he signs off as a 2=9, effectively claiming his status as Zelator.

Motta's A.'.A.'. Path to Zelator

So at the death of Karl Germer, Marcello Motta acknowledged he was a Neophyte, at best. Some sources indicate he completed the Zelator work shortly before the death of Germer, but I haven't seen anything other than his own writings that indicate his superior in the Order acknowledged his claims in any way.

Again, this only matters because people, mostly Motta at the time, but later others, claimed that Motta was somehow the legitimate successor to the A.'.A.'. and the O.T.O. Though Sascha Germer later noted to Motta that he was named “the Follower” on Germer’s death bed, the veracity of this claim, the context, and the state of mind of Germer at the time is unknown. When combined with the mental state of Sascha, as shown in her correspondences with Motta, this claim seems likely spurious. Motta himself expressed confusion about what this “Follower” business meant, in a letter to Sascha after Germer’s death. Regardless, the obvious deterioration of Motta’s mental state, as attested to by his own writings and the reactions of his disciples, students, co-workers, and everyone else who worked with him makes it abundantly clear that he was mentally incompetent to lead anything at the time of Germer’s death or beyond.

Following Karl Germer's death, Seckler maintained correspondence with Sascha Germer, Marcelo Motta, Gerald Yorke, and many others as she sought to figure out what should happen next. Reading through the old letters between Seckler and Motta, it becomes pretty clear that she was already aware that he had reached the disconnection with sanity later noted by Wasserman in In the Center of the Fire. In her letters, she would placate his more extreme statements, while continuing to strive to accomplish the best interests of the Orders. Her dedication to the preservation of fraternity and peace at the time continues to impact the circumstances we find ourselves in to this day.

Looking back, I really wish she had been more strident about the administrative succession of the A.'.A.'.. I appreciate that she wanted to keep peace for the good of Thelema, but she had a right that she never chose to exercise because she didn't want to make trouble. She was a woman in a male-dominated world, and we can see how the men treated her in the 1970s through the 1980s in Wasserman’s account, and how the men she was inspiring to re-form Thelema and the O.T.O. treated her personally, esoterically, and professionally. She chose the honorable route, laying down her rights so that people would focus more on rebuilding the O.T.O. rather than being yet another divisive voice in the crowd. While I respect her choices, I regret that they were necessary.

Seckler did, however, leave us an important document detailing her concerns about claimant groups opportunistically attempting to claim A.'.A.'. as their own, as well as her views of her own grade status, and that of Marcelo Motta.  This document, drafted in 2000 e.v. near the end of her life, was her commentary on the Constitution of the Order of Thelemites.  While this document doesn’t pertain to successorship in A.’.A.’. per se, it does make clear her views on relevant matters such as those mentioned above.  Reprinted here in its entirety:

From The Kabbalah, Magick, and Thelema, Selected Writings Vol.II

* The context of this quote is:

"If one tried to go into refuting or arguing your recent letters one would run the risk of getting contaminated by the demonic forces that have got a hold of you. What I will do is give you the benefit of my experience. It has been my privilege or misfortune to have to watch at least a score of “experts of delusion” in the last more than thirty-five years of my connection with Thelema!)

"What you claim – the title of BEAST – is only minor, i.e. a repeat of another title. (Yet Crowley assumed the grade only 15 years after he had become M.T., while you are at best a Neophyte!)"

Saturday, November 19, 2016

From Cefalu to Sacramento Part 1: Crowley through Seckler

Note: Months ago, we started exploring the history of the A.'.A.'., and I thought it would be fun to type up how we went from where Crowley started things to our current experiences. I thought it would be a couple weeks between posts, but the more I got into it, the bigger the "next" post became, until I ended up with a 6600-word essay that's definitely in the TL;DR category. I've broken that piece into several more-digestable parts that will be published over the next few weeks. 

From Cefalu to Sacramento 

Part 1: From Crowley to Seckler

Trying to figure out why there are so many different A.'.A.'. groups today led me to ask David Shoemaker how it all happened. His response began, "Well, to really understand that, you have to go back to the state of affairs when Germer died..."

We went on to have a discussion that went on over multiple evenings. These conversations filled in the gaps in my understanding, and explained the situation clearly. I had already gone through several of Jane Wolfe and Phyllis Seckler’s diaries, books, and personal correspondences, and had a pretty solid understanding of their personal experiences and the kinds of things they recorded for themselves, their superiors, and the things they said publicly. The things David Shoemaker shared filled in the practical, administrative, and functional gaps of the narrative that don’t get mentioned in magical diaries, or the kinds of letters shared between Phyllis and her superior in the Order about her HGA experiences, or in regular publications.

Reading Brother Wasserman's In the Center of the Fire provided an alternate view of the events surrounding a lot of the Order’s history, and shed some light on the peculiar impact of Marcelo Motta on the state of affairs we have to deal with today. While I completely disagree with Wasserman’s conclusions about Seckler, his memoir of the time provides a raw look at his experiences with the key players he interacted with and his own involvement with them.

Furthermore, Wasserman’s account is presented with a no-holds-barred honesty in which he documents the correlation between uncontrolled drug addiction and grandiose spiritual experiences, his own naiveté as a child of the sixties, and his fundamental lack of preparation to face the trials and ordeals he went through during this period of his life.

Tracking down reliable information relative to the claimants who trace themselves back through Grady McMurtry was more difficult. While there are reams of published materials available on the internet, much of it comes from questionable resources and unverifiable claims. Sifting through that was a nightmare full of dead ends, as you can imagine.

I ended up reaching out to my friends who trace their A.'.A.'. experiences back to Grady McMurtry, and wound up receiving an honest and clean account from a first-hand eye witness to the stuff that went down when it was going down. There are some interesting arguments related to the authority of Grady to take on students, or to represent the A.'.A.'. as its leader that, frankly, don’t make much sense to me. That said, with a couple notable exceptions, the people I’ve met in groups descended from Grady are consistently the kind of magicians I like to hang out with. They generally have done the Work, and have integrated it to the point where they can carry on a decent conversation without it degenerating into meaninglessness.

Documenting the history of the orders up through the last quarter of the 20th century e.v. is fairly easy. The people in question have left historic records, and their writings are fixed reference points to which we can refer as we discuss history. It’s historically documented. However, when we start getting past the 1970s e.v., we start to interact with people who are still alive, which makes it a lot harder to say, “this is what they did in their lives, and at the end of their incarnations in this plane, this is what they accomplished and what they’ve left us to sort through.” We simply can’t speak of the living conclusively, because they haven't, ah... concluded.

And because they haven't concluded yet, there's a lot left that can happen. Minds might change, people might see things differently, apparent successors might renounce all occultism and return to the religion of their birth, leaving everyone else wondering what the actual heck just happened, as one (cough cough cough Achad cough cough cough) does.

With this in mind, I think it’s probably best to just delineate the main points to date as they pertain to other people’s public statements, and then to focus on the events leading the A.’. A.’. to Sacramento.
Over the course of this work, I’ve been keeping track of things as they unfold using a timeline that shows the ongoing chain of events. It’s been pretty useful, I must say. I like pictures, dates, and small words to summarize things, and if a picture is worth a thousand words, then this is definitely that picture:

The Whole Enchilada

But a picture isn’t a thousand words, really. So let’s tell the story then, shall we?

We’ll begin at Cefalu.

It's April 1920, and Aleister Crowley and his whole squad is totally on point. He is Magus, he is the Prophet, he is the gate of manifestation of the Aeon of Horus, and he's got one of the very first hippy communes ever set up, in beautiful Cefalu, Sicily. He's got acolytes, disciples, and groupies. He's got it going on. The Abbey of Thelema is open for spiritual business, there's drugs, there's ceremonial magick, there's asana and pranayama, and all the sex you can imagine.

Things are going pretty well, if he does say so himself.

And he's not just a local phenomenon. His reputation and influence has spread around the world, even to the silver screen of Hollywood. He has been in touch with a young starlet named Jane Wolfe, and she has agreed to come and join him on his adventure, to participate in the grand experiment, and to devote herself to the teachings of the A.'.A.'..

When she arrived, she immersed herself into the communal life. Her diaries of the seven years she spent at Cefalu are a clear demonstration of what it was that Crowley expected from his A.'.A.'. students in real life. The exercises he assigned her, the documentation requirements, the progress made and the hand written feedback in the margins are a clear record of what it means to be a member of the A.'.A.'. the way Crowley ran things in actual practice. He came pretty close to following his own recommended approaches to things, but there were a lot of deviations as he saw fit. It's amazing to have such a complete record of what Crowley actually did with his students through her diary entries.

A Closer View of Jane Wolfe's Time at Cefalu
She spent three years with Crowley at Cefalu. She ended up leaving after Loveday died, but before Mussolini was convinced to kick Crowley out of Italy. Crowley sent her first to London, expecting her to single-handedly put together a Cefalu Mark II on her own, with little resources, few contacts, and no source of income.

This didn't exactly work out the way Crowley had hoped. Wolfe spent months trying different tactics to find a way to help Crowley accomplish his intentions, but there was little money, less support, and none of the kinds of financial windfalls that would have been necessary for her to succeed in her mission. Over time, her health deteriorated, and she eventually had to return to the United States for surgery and recuperation.

When she had recovered, she returned to the service of the OTO and A.'.A.'.  in California, joining Wilfred Smith at Agape Lodge II, which took the place of Smith’s initial efforts at Agape Lodge I in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. By the end of World War II in 1945, she was a pillar of the last remaining Thelemic community on the planet. Various individual members remained scattered around the world, and maintained communications with Crowley and Germer, but Agape Lodge had become the last active group in the body of the Order. And it was beset by the challenges of the birth pains of the Aeon, both within and without.

It was here that Wolfe met Phyllis Seckler, who became her student in the A.'.A.'.. Seckler was a pragmatic and intense person, whose experience as a high school teacher educating adolescents served her well in her later years in both the O.T.O. and the A.'.A.'.. Between June of 1940, and June of 1952, Seckler applied her tenacity, intelligence, and her Will to accomplishing the Work of A.'.A.'.. During this time, Wolfe's health again deteriorated, and eventually Karl Germer took over Seckler’s direct supervision within the A.'.A.'.. He acknowledged her attainment of the 5=6 grade in 1952, first in personal correspondence with Jane Wolfe, and later directly to Seckler.

The two continued their relationship as student and teacher throughout the rest of Germer's life. When he died in 1962, Seckler's actual grade was not a matter of public knowledge or commentary, but she was officially, per the O.H.O. of the O.T.O. and Head of the A.'.A.'., recognized as 5=6. This, as we will see, becomes important as time goes by.

In our next installment, we'll examine one of the primary sources of conflict within the Orders historically, the echoes of whose madness continue to be heard today.