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.


  1. Bravo !!! Excellent synopsis of verifiable and legitimate claims to authentic A.A. lineage/s. It has been said, what a tangled web we weave... You have done fine at attempting to disentangle this term as revealed through honest, first-hand accounts of the Magi themselves, which is no easy thing to attempt. There inevitably will be loopholes and one should never become so inclined to be anthing but skeptical therewith. Yet, despite some needful doubt, even sometimes seemingly absurd claims to magickal links may be nevertheless worthy of speculation. Fact is, no one knows all, save 666. A tree has many branches as well its roots, all the while it is but one tree. A Thelemite may have no record, no lineage, so to speak, if it be so willed. That aside, we are left with account of those whom have otherwised Wilt. None need argue this. And what we have here, as you have shown, is just that: a faithful account of direct lineages to The Great Wild Beast. And there are, in deed, and, in fact, what they preport to be. Jane's record is undeniably sound. Her confident adept, Phyllis Seckler, was heir to her wisdom upon this matter and only the most pathtic of fools would date sent that. In turn, David Shoemaker, was her chosen successor. Having known both of these two last figures personally as well as others ... I am willing to substantiate here, for the record, that David is a worthy custodian of the mysteries to the extent of that which was left in his care to maintain. Moreover, he is a fine exemplar of that. Likewise, while less intimately known by me, I may also go so far as to praise Wasserman and his efforts thus far in promulgating, commendably, the Magick of Thelema in this Aeon. He is a fine man as well. And there are others, here left un-named, that are equally entitled to mention and deserving of merit. However, as these figures are above left unmentioned I will say little more than that if certain of these I have of the uttermost respect and admiration and would suggest that true aspirants to the mysteries will likely come to the knowledge of these magicians and their work and be entitled to form, as I have, their own opinions of them. Grady, well, if you never knew him, then you probably never will ! And as far as I know anyone who did know him will never forget him and his most valuable contributions to the Life, Light, Love and Liberty of the O.T.O. as well as A.A., though surely that concerning the later will inevitably continue to confound the masses, for he was justly not one one, save 666, could best when it came to leaving one in wonder. Again,a valient and important effort on your part to speak up on this pertinent matter. Keep up the Great Work !!! 93s

  2. This is an excellent project! Thanks for continuing to explore the nuanced history of Thelema.

  3. Minor proofing point: You say:
    "Her diaries of the seven years she spent at Cefalu..."
    No-one was there that long!
    Otherwise, great account of things.


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.