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Gerald Gardner & Ordo Templi Orientis: A New and Greater Pagan Cult

Gerald Gardner & Aleister Crowley: A New and Greater Pagan Cult

by Rodney Orpheus

(An earlier draft of this article first appeared in Pentacle Magazine, Summer 2009)

Ordo Templi Orientis was founded at the beginning of the twentieth century in Germany under the leadership of Theodor Reuss, who recruited Aleister Crowley to the Order around 1912. Both men had been heavily involved in spiritual pursuits for many years previously, Reuss within the Theosophical Society and various esoteric Freemasonic groups, and Crowley within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Yoga, and Buddhism. Their vision was to form a new magical Order that would synthesise the Eastern mystical current informing Theosophy with the Western mystical current derived from Rosicrucian and other European sources, and thus O.T.O., or Order of the Temple of the East, was born.

The original rituals of the Order were derived from Freemasonry, but Crowley expanded and rewrote much of O.T.O.’s teachings; in particular writing the Gnostic Mass, which became the main public ritual of the Order, and which is still practiced regularly all over the world. After Reuss’ death in 1921 Crowley became the international head of O.T.O., a position he held until his own death in 1947.

Crowley had been quite the bon vivant during his lifetime. He travelled the world, dining with the cream (and sometimes the dregs) of literary society. He was frequently in demand as an after-dinner speaker, but by the mid-1940s he was becoming increasingly frail (he was in his seventies by then after all) and he wasn’t getting about much. However he still loved to entertain, and his diaries from this late period of his life are filled with notes on an almost daily basis about people who were coming to have tea with him. Notable figures who visited him included Captain Grady McMurtry, a young American O.T.O. member based in England during World War II, who would later become head of the Order in the 1960s; and Dion Fortune, already a well-known occult author, who was a great admirer of Crowley – she had given his Magick in Theory & Practice a glowing review, and acknowledged his influence in the introduction to her own work The Mystical Qabalah.

A third notable visitor was Gerald Gardner, later to be celebrated as the founder of the modern witchcraft movement. Gardner had made the acquaintance of a friend of Crowley’s, the well-known stage magician Arnold Crowther (later to be husband of leading witch Patricia Crowther), and Crowther brought him to visit Crowley on Mayday in 1947. Crowley’s diary records:

Thurs 1 Miss Eva Collins. Dr G.B. Gardner Ph.D Singapore. Arnold Crowther prof. G. a Magician to tea. Dr. G. R.Arch.

Extrapolating from Crowley’s shorthand:

Thursday 1 [May] Miss Eva Collins. Dr. G.B. Gardner Ph.D Singapore. Arnold Crowther professional G[entleman?] a Magician to tea. Doctor Gardner Royal Arch.

The “Royal Arch” mentioned may have been a reference to Gardner introducing himself as a Royal Arch Freemason, or it may allude to Crowley having initiated Gardner on that day to the IV° (Fourth Degree) of Ordo Templi Orientis, which is also known as the Degree of the Holy Royal Arch of Enoch.

At that time it was possible for Freemasons and Co-Masons to affiliate directly to O.T.O. at the same Degree they held in Masonry. If the note means that Gardner had introduced himself to Crowley as a Royal Arch Mason during this first meeting, which was the equivalent to the IV°  of O.T.O., then it would also have been easy for Gardner to affiliate directly to that Degree in O.T.O. Either way, it can be safely assumed that Gardner was elevated to the IV° of O.T.O. sometime during his contact with Crowley in May.

Apart from that we have no record of what they spoke about, but it appears that they certainly hit it off, since Gardner visited Crowley on several occasions over the next weeks:

Wed 7 Dr Gardner about 12. Tell him phone Wel 6709.
Wed 14 G.B.G.
Tues 27 Gardner here

Wel 6709 was the phone number of another of Crowley’s students, Order member and book collector Gerald Yorke. Crowley wrote to Yorke on 9th May:

This week I have had Dr. Gardner […] here. I would be grateful if you would send to him one of the 4 copies of the Equinox of the Gods, which he has purchased.

The Equinox of the Gods was an expanded edition of Crowley’s Book of the Law which O.T.O. had recently published. At some point Gardner also purchased a copy of Crowley’s Blue Equinox which contained much O.T.O. material, as well as several other works of Crowley, and he may well have bought these from Yorke in the same batch.

Crowley knew that he didn’t have long to go in this world, and was desperate to ensure the survival of the O.T.O.’s teachings. It seems that he saw Gardner as a man who could keep the Order alive in Britain, which would explain why he so quickly arranged his initiation into O.T.O.

Crowley also issued Gardner a charter to allow him to initiate further new members to the introductory Minerval Degree of Ordo Templi Orientis:

Gerald Gardner's O.T.O. charter
Gerald Gardner’s O.T.O. charter

Do what thou wilt shall be the law
We Baphomet X° Ordo Templi Orientis Sovereign Grand Master General of all English Speaking Countries of the Earth do hereby Authorise our beloved son Scire, (Dr. G.B. Gardner,) Prince of Jerusalem, to constitute a camp of the Ordo Templi Orientis in the degree of Minerval
Love is the law, Love under Will
Witness my hand and seal,
Baphomet X°

(Baphomet was Crowley’s magical name within O.T.O. The Tenth Degree or X° signifies his position as a Grand Master of the Order. Prince of Jerusalem, or Perfect Initiate, is a mystical title of members who have passed through the IV° initiations.)

Another British occultist interested in O.T.O. during this period was W.B. Crow. He seems to have been running a small magical group and wrote to Crowley asking how they could be initiated into the Order. Crowley replied on 30th May, 1947:

I suggest that you refer all your following in the London district to Dr.Gardner so that he may put them properly through the Minerval degree, and some of them at least might help him establish the camps for the higher degrees up to Perfect Initiate or Prince of Jerusalem.

(The Minerval Degree is the introductory or 0° of the Order.)

A couple of weeks later, on the 14th June, it seems that Crowley raised Gardner directly to the VII° (Seventh Degree) of O.T.O., issuing him a receipt for 10 guineas, which was the fee for that initiation. This is significant in light of Crowley’s letter to W.B. Crow, since the O.T.O. system requires an initiator to be at least VII° in order to initiate new members to the Degree of Prince of Jerusalem. The implication is that Crowley and Gardner had discussed their plans further and had agreed that Gardner should be elevated in order to ensure his ability to initiate up to that Degree.

On 30th June, Crowley wrote to his second-in-command, the Order’s Treasurer General, Karl Germer:

England in particular is beginning to look up very brightly: we are getting a Camp of Minerval started during the summer if plans go as at present arranged.

So there appears to be no doubt that Gardner was actively involved in O.T.O. at this point in time, and that Crowley held high hopes for the outcome. In the past some have suggested that Crowley only initiated Gardner to get his money, but these letters to third parties show that Crowley was genuinely enthusiastic about having Gardner working within the Order.

Unfortunately both Crowley and Gardner were to suffer severe health problems shortly after this flurry of activity, and it appears that the planned Camp of Minerval never materialised. A few months later, on 1st December 1947, Crowley died. His papers were turned over to his literary executors in preparation for boxing up and shipping to O.T.O. Headquarters in New York. However Gardner wrote to Vernon Symonds on 24th December (note that I have preserved Gardner’s original spelling):

Alister gave me a charter making me head of the O.T.O. in Europe. Now I want to get any papers about this, that Alister had, he had some typescript Rituals. I know. I have them too, but I don’t want his to fall in to other peoples hands, I’ll buy them off the Executors at a reasonable price, together with any other relics they may be willing to sell.

Assuming this to be true (and given the other evidence there’s no reason to doubt it) we thus know that Gardner possessed copies of at least some of the O.T.O initiation ritual texts in 1947. Gardner also contacted Lady Frieda Harris, the artist who had painted the Crowley Thoth Tarot pack, who was a IV° member of O.T.O. Lady Harris on 2nd January 1948 wrote to Karl Germer, who had become the overall head of the Order on Crowley’s death, to inform him about the situation in the U.K.:

G.B.Gardiner, 282 Strathmoore Circle Memphis 12 Tenn. is head of the O.T.O. in Europe – Dr. W.B.Crow, 227 Glenfield Road Western Park Leicester has authority from A.C. to work the O.T.O. & the Gnostic Catholic Church. Would you write to him. Also Noel Fitzgerald 24 Belsize Road N.W6. seems to have been asked to initiate Mr. Gardiner & may be a member.

From the date and tone of this letter it appears that she may have been quoting information given to her directly by Gerald Gardner the previous month – I am assuming that Gardner had told her that he was head of O.T.O. for Europe, and we know that Gardner had been in contact with W. B. Crow. The mention of Noel Fitzgerald, who was a high-ranking IX° member of the British O.T.O., as possibly being Gardner’s initiator is interesting. It was commonplace during this period for Crowley to initiate new members by putting them through all of the initiation rituals of the early Degrees of O.T.O. in one day, or over the space of a few weeks, and it is tempting to speculate that Noel Fitzgerald may have assisted Crowley in this. Internal evidence from Gardner’s witchcraft initiation rituals show similarities to particular points of O.T.O. initiation rites that would not be obvious through simply reading the text, but become quite obvious during performance of the rituals; so it is possible that Gardner was physically put through at least the Minerval initiation of O.T.O. and that these were not just “paper Degrees”.

Karl Germer appears to have accepted Gardner’s claim to be running the Order in England, and the two men met in New York to discuss O.T.O. affairs on 19th March 1948.

In December 1950 Gardner wrote to John Symonds, Crowley’s literary executor:

I tried to start an order, but I got ill and had to leave the country. After his [Crowley’s] death, word was sent to Germer that I was head of the Order in Europe, and Germer acknowledged me as such, but owing to ill health so far haven’t been able to get anything going. I’ve had some people interested, but some of them were sent to Germany with the army of occupation, and others lived far away, and so nothing happened. Actually, I haven’t all the rituals. The K.T. ritual has been lost; Gerald Yorke thinks it may never have been written. I have up to Prince of Jerusalem. You don’t know about the lost degrees, I suppose?

(The K.T. ritual mentioned was the Knights Templar initiation, or VI° of O.T.O. It had been written, but Gardner had not been given a copy of it by Crowley, since Gardner did not hold the Degree necessary to perform it.)

So evidence shows that at least up until this date Gardner still considered himself an active member of O.T.O., that he was in possession of the texts of the preliminary initiation rituals of O.T.O. and had been planning on continuing to perform initiations. However we know from Gardner’s own “Book of Shadows” that he had already written the first drafts of his witchcraft initiations in 1949, a year earlier. Therefore it seems that he was either planning on running both witchcraft and O.T.O. initiations, or that he wanted to get hold of the other O.T.O. ritual texts to use as source material for the writing he was doing for the witch cult. Perhaps if he had received copies of the other O.T.O. initiation rituals witchcraft might have ended up with more than three Degrees!

What does seem clear from the despondent tone of the letter is that Gardner didn’t realistically see much hope of his O.T.O. Camp succeeding. We have no record of any other O.T.O. correspondence from him after this date, and in March of 1951 Karl Germer asked a German member, Frederic Mellinger, to take over the leadership of the Order in Europe, and issued a charter to a young British member, Kenneth Grant, to form a new Camp in England to replace Gerald Gardner’s. Unfortunately this new Camp was rather short-lived too, since it was closed and Grant expelled four years later; Noel Fitzgerald was put in charge of the British section of O.T.O. from 1955 onwards, a position he held until his death.

Doreen Valiente, an early collaborator of Gardner, would later write that she had a confrontation with him about the use of Crowley material in Gardner’s Book of Shadows:

He explained this to me by saying, firstly, that as the holder of a Charter from Crowley himself to operate a Lodge of the OTO, he was entitled to use it; secondly, that the rituals he had received from the old coven were very fragmentary and that in order to make them workable he had been compelled to supplement them with other material. He had felt that Crowley’s writings, modern though they were, breathed the very spirit of paganism and were expressed in splendid poetry.

Gardner’s 1950 letter to Symonds also stated about Crowley that:

He was very interested in the witch cult & had some idia of combinding it in with the Order, but nothing came of it, he was fascinated with some snaps of the Witches Cottage….I enclose a Copy of my book, High Magics Aid, A.C. read part of the M.S. & highly approved, he wanted me to put the Witch part in full.

This is significant, in that Gardner himself states that Crowley was conscious of, and encouraged, him to use witchcraft ideas alongside O.T.O. teachings, and that he pushed Gardner to emphasise witchcraft in his work. This is unsurprising, since Crowley had for many years been advocating the use of lunar, solar, and seasonal nature-based rituals. As far back as 1914 he had written to C.S. Jones of the North American O.T.O. about a ritual of Isis that his Lodge had performed:

I hope you will arrange to repeat this all the time, say every new moon or every full moon, so as to build up a regular force. You should also have a solar ritual to balance it, to be done at each time the Sun enters a new sign, with special festivity at the Equinoxes and solstices.


In this way you can establish a regular cult; and if you do them in a truly magical manner, you create a vortex of force which will suck in all the people you want. The time is just ripe for a natural religion. People like rites and ceremonies, and they are tired of hypothetical gods. Insist on the real benefits of the Sun, the Mother-force, the Father-force, and so on, and show that by celebrating these benefits worthily the worshippers unite themselves more fully with the current of life. Let the religion be Joy, but with a worthy and dignified sorrow in death itself, and treat death as an ordeal, an initiation… In short, be the founder of a new and greater Pagan cult.


Here Crowley explains how he envisaged an O.T.O body conducting its practical operations: pagan rituals built around the natural cycle of the year. It’s a position that is also made extremely clear within his text of the Gnostic Mass, written around the same period as the previous letter; for example within the section of the Mass known as The Collects, which call upon The Sun, The Moon, The Earth, The Lord, The Lady etc. So we can see that this vision of a natural religion had been part of Crowley’s approach to Ordo Templi Orientis for over thirty years before he met Gerald Gardner – no wonder the two men hit it off so well right from their first meeting!

In their study of the early witchcraft movement Wicca: Magickal Beginnings David Rankine & Sorita D’Este show conclusively that much of Gardner’s original Book of Shadows was derived from Crowleyan and O.T.O. sources, particularly the Gnostic Mass. For example, the ritual of Drawing Down the Moon, written in 1949, contains these lines spoken by the Magus:

I Invoke and beseech Thee, O mighty Mother of all life and fertility. By seed and root, by stem and bud, by leaf and flower and fruit, by Life and Love, do I invoke Thee to descend into the body of thy servant and High Priestess

Compare this to the speech of the Priest to the Goddess in the O.T.O. Gnostic Mass, written by Crowley for Ordo Templi Orientis over three decades earlier:

O circle of Stars whereof our Father is but the younger brother, marvel beyond imagination, soul of infinite space, before whom Time is Ashamed, the mind bewildered, and the understanding dark, not unto Thee may we attain, unless Thine image be Love. Therefore by seed and root and stem and bud and leaf and flower and fruit do we invoke Thee.
Then the priest answered & said unto the Queen of Space, kissing her lovely brows, and the dew of her light bathing his whole body in a sweet-smelling perfume of sweat; O Nuit, continuous one of Heaven, let it be ever thus; that men speak not of thee as One but as None; and let them speak not of thee at all, since thou art continuous!

Or the Charge of the Goddess from Gardner in 1949:

I love you: I yearn for you: pale or purple, veiled or voluptuous. I who am all pleasure, and purple and drunkenness of the innermost senses, desire you. Put on the wings, arouse the coiled splendor within you. Come unto me, for I am the flame that burns in the heart of every man, and the core of every Star. Let it be your inmost divine self who art lost in the constant rapture of infinite joy. Let the rituals be rightly performed with joy and beauty.

This is taken largely from the speech of the Goddess in the O.T.O. Gnostic Mass:

But to love me is better than all things; if under the night-stars in the desert thou presently burnest mine incense before me, invoking me with a pure heart, and the serpent flame therein, thou shalt come a little to lie in my bosom. For one kiss wilt thou then be willing to give all; but whoso gives one particle of dust shall lose all in that hour. Ye shall gather goods and store of women and spices; ye shall wear rich jewels; ye shall exceed the nations of the earth in splendour and pride; but always in the love of me, and so shall ye come to my joy. I charge you earnestly to come before me in a single robe, and covered with a rich head-dress. I love you! I yearn to you! Pale or purple, veiled or voluptuous, I who am all pleasure and purple, and drunkenness of the innermost sense, desire you. Put on the wings, and arouse the coiled splendour within you: come unto me! To me! To me! Sing the rapturous love-song unto me! Burn to me perfumes! Wear to me jewels! Drink to me, for I love you! I love you. I am the blue-lidded daughter of sunset; I am the naked brilliance of the voluptuous night-sky. To me! To me!

Gardner’s February Eve Sabbat ritual from 1949 contains the section:

Dread Lord of death and Resurrection, life and the giver of life, Lord within ourselves, whose name is Mystery of Mysteries, encourage our hearts. Let the light crystalize in our blood, fulfilling us of resurrection, for there is no part of us that is not of the gods.

which is also obviously derived from a section of the O.T.O. Gnostic Mass:

Thou that art One, our Lord in the Universe the Sun, our Lord in ourselves whose name is Mystery of Mystery, uttermost being whose radiance enlightening the worlds is also the breath that maketh every God even and Death to tremble before Thee – By the Sign of Light appear Thou glorious upon the throne of the Sun.

Make open the path of creation and of intelligence between us and our minds. Enlighten our understanding.

Encourage our hearts. Let thy light crystallize itself in our blood, fulfilling us of Resurrection.


There are innumerable other excerpts from Crowley’s works included within Gerald Gardner’s other early rituals, particularly initiation rituals; so it appears clear that when Gardner was first formulating these rituals of his early witchcraft movement, the influence of Crowley and O.T.O. was a considerable one. O.T.O. scholar Bill Heidrick has alleged that as much as 80% of the text of Gardner’s early witchcraft rituals may have been derived from Crowley’s writings.

I think it is important that we do not see this use of Crowley material as simply plagiarism on the part of Gerald Gardner. He was clearly considered to be an active and important member of O.T.O. at one point (albeit relatively briefly), and both Aleister Crowley and his successor Karl Germer granted him full authority to initiate new people into the Order and involve them in its teachings. However after Crowley’s death Gardner seemingly felt that he was unable to fully utilise the O.T.O. structure, but did feel that the ritual teachings were important and could be inspirational to a whole new generation – hence his motivation to re-use them for his witch cult revival.

The growth of modern witchcraft has shown that Crowley’s vision of the revival of natural religion was a correct one, and that Gardner shared that vision and applied it successfully. As such, I think that it behooves us to re-examine the relationship between Ordo Templi Orientis and witchcraft and treat it as one that can be both complementary and fruitful, as it has been right from the beginning.


Apiryon, T. & Helena, 2001. Mystery of Mystery: A Primer of Thelemic Ecclesiastical Gnosticism 2nd ed., Red Flame.

Blecourt, W.D., Fontaine, J.D.L. & Hutton, R., 2001. Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Volume 6 (History of Witchcraft and Magic in Europe), Athlone Press.

Crowley, A, 1947 Diaries & Letters Warburg Institute & O.T.O. Archives

Crowley, A., 1919. The Equinox III, 1, Detroit MI: Universal Pub. Co.

Davis, M., From Man to Witch: Gerald Gardner 1946-1949. Available at: [Accessed May 19, 2009].

Fortune, D., 1935. The Mystical Qabalah, London: Williams and Norgate.

Heidrick, W., 1994 alt.magick: Wicca and OTO. Available at: [Accessed May 20, 2009]

Orpheus, R., A Timeline of O.T.O. Succession After Crowley’s Death. Available at:[Accessed May 19, 2009].

Rankine, D. & D’Este, S., 2008. Wicca Magickal Beginnings: A Study of the Possible Origins of This Tradition of Modern Pagan Witchcraft and Magick 2nd ed., Avalonia.

Starr, M.P., 2003. The Unknown God: W.T. Smith and the Thelemites 1st ed., Teitan Press.

Valiente, D., 1989. The Rebirth of Witchcraft.

Rodney Orpheus is well-known musician, writer, and lecturer. He is the author of the acclaimed Abrahadabra: Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thelemic Magick and Grimoire of Aleister Crowley.

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5 thoughts on “Gerald Gardner & Ordo Templi Orientis: A New and Greater Pagan Cult

  1. Ross Nichols “Nuinn” echoes and extends the notion of a religion of the soil in his collaborative book with James Kirkup “Cosmic Shape”. Gardner was one of the four founders of OBOD, along with Nuinn, Vera Chapman, and a fourth person whose name I cannot recall.

  2. You may want to do some editing of the first line. It makes it sound like Theodor Reuss was the founder in the twelth century and then recruited Crowley in 1912. Probably should be a period after Germany and then a capitol U in under to start a new sentence.

    “Ordo Templi Orientis was founded at the beginning of the twentieth century in Germany under the leadership of Theodor Reuss, who recruited Aleister Crowley to the Order around 1912.”

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