A fascinating and diverse group of people participated in the creation of Thelema as a modern philosophy and faith. Many contributors left Aleister Crowley’s Thelemic community under strained circumstances and pursued their own visions. There are literally thousands of individuals who were key to the esoteric ideas that gained final shape in the early 20th century as Thelema, and many others from Timothy Leary to the Beatles who helped to popularize it. The individuals in our slideshow are notable for having contributed materially to the growth of recognized Thelema or as progenitors of its philosophies.
There is a tendency stemming from 20th century Thelema to see the philosophy as a cult focused on Aleister Crowley. In this view individuals may be appreciated for material which Crowley approved of – Charles Stansfeld Jones’ Liber CLXV – A Master of the Temple is still considered a principal document by various branches of the A∴A∴, while their work is ignored and their character often questioned from the point where they broke with Crowley. This was certainly not aided by Crowley’s tendency toward high-handed denunciation of “treachery” after falling out with former intimates and colleagues.
Throughout the first half of the 20th Century Crowley was the center of the major organized community of Thelemites. It was never very large, seldom mustering, even at its height, more than a double handful of active participants. Outside of Germany it was difficult for anyone to maintain a Thelemic identity or Thelemic group without Crowley’s direct approval, leading many of those who fell out with him to walk away from him and sometimes his revelations, though many continued to hold the same central beliefs, moderated by their own experience. Following Crowley’s death the community splintered. Various groups claimed to be “successors” to Crowley’s work, with the California based group lead by Grady Louis McMurtry eventually establishing legal claim to Crowley’s copyrights and the use of the name “O.T.O.”
Even within Crowley’s lifetime, his was not the only Thelemic community. After the contentious meeting at Weida in Germany in 1925 when Crowley claimed leadership of O.T.O. in the wake of Theodor Reuss’ death, Eugen Grosche founded the Fraternitas Saturni, which accepted Liber AL and Thelema, but rejected Crowley’s Leadership. A descendant organization exists today and has been cited as an influential force in the ongoing estoteric awakening.
TTO has little interest in bloodlines, lineages, or specific lines of descent. More than seventy years after Crowley’s death, almost a century and a half since his birth, and nearly a hundred twenty since the writing of Liber AL we see direct ties to the Thelemic progenitors as interesting, but less important than a clear and modern understanding of Thelemic Doctrine and an attitude and organization that can respond to the New Aeon.
For this reason we look at many Thelemic figures, defining them not by their involvement in Thelemic organizational politics, but by their actual significance and contribution to Thelema.