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.


  1. Extremely informative and well written- thank you.

  2. I really appreciate your recognition of the role gender played in Seckler's life and work. I agree with your assessment. It's my hope that her legacy will gain the respect it deserves over time.


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.