Gerald Yorke 1901 – 1983

As part of our observance of Thelemic Holy Season,  The Thelemic Order is presenting not only daily readings, but a “Gnostic Saint of the Day”  in order to help humanize Thelemic practice and history. 

Today is March 21 SHIN, The Aeon  and our Saint of the Day is:  Gerald Yorke 1901 – 1983

Gerald Yorke was born in 1901 in Gloucestershire UK.  He enjoyed an immensely privileged background, attending Eton, one of Britain’s most exclusive public schools, and Trinity College, Cambridge.  He served in the peacetime Territorial Army (Army Reserve) and held the rank of Major.

Thelemites tend to view Yorke largely through the lens of his involvement with Crowley, however Yorke had a storied career in his own right.    He was a member of Crowley’s A∴A∴ through 1932, but eventually left to travel abroad as a Reuters correspondent, travelling through China and reporting on the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, the arguable first phase of what would become the Second World War.

Writing in 2004 Guardian cultural reporter Tim Cumming referenced Yorke as “almost single-handedly bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the west” as the emissary of the 13th Dalai Lama, reformer Thubten Gyatso, who died in 1933.   Yorke’s role seems to have been more as a public relations man, and cultural ambassador than in any political or legal capacity, however with Tibet embroiled in two successive wars, the Sino-Tibetan War and the Qinghai–Tibet War, Yorke’s expertise in Asian politics and military conflict must have served him well in enlisting support for the Tibetan cause, and interest in its culture and religion. 

Yorke’s contribution to Thelema was principally through his emotional and monetary support of Aleister Crowley and Yorke’s even temperament in regards to the irascible Crowley is one of the chief reasons Thelema has survived.  He was also one of the few individuals who seems to have been able to maintain decent relations with the man he called “Old Crow.”  Crowley was famous for burning bridges, often rather self-destructively, and Yorke seems to have been somewhat immune to this.  He distanced himself from Crowley but never abandoned him entirely, and revered his work, understanding his importance both as a thinker and poet.  The largest extant collection of Crowley’s materials, at the Warburg Institute in London, was donated by Yorke. 

Yorke was also core to the modern interpretation of Thelema.  He is credited as a “Thelemic consultant” on Kenneth Anger’s movie Lucifer Rising, and he provided a counterpoint to the biographical hatchet job of John Symonds.  Yorke may not have considered himself a Thelemite, but he fought to ensure the survival of the body of literature that supports modern Thelema.  The suggestion of a tradition of sharing a meal of hot curry on the occasion of Crowley’s Greater Feast may have originated from the Beast himself, but Yorke and Lady Frieda Harris are generally seen as the two principal organizers who brought it to fruition. 

When Grady McMurtry sought to re-found the O.T.O. in the late 1960s, his source of legitimacy and authorization was written blessing from Israel Regardie and Gerald Yorke, whom he referred to as the “Eyes of Horus,” recognizing emergency powers granted by Crowley in the 1940s, one of a complex mesh of somewhat contradictory orders on O.T.O. leadership and succession. 

Yorke’s contributions did not stop there.  Around the same time, Yorke arranged to deliver a collection of the original O.T.O. initiatory material from the early half of the 20th century to fellow journalist and writer Francis X. King.  Published as The Secret Rituals of the O.T.O. in 1973, the collection lacked the  IX° degree “Emblems and Modes of Use” paper, now widely available online, which summarized the sex magick theory of Crowley’s IX° degree.  Thanks to the foresightfulness of one of the “Eyes of Horus” this set of material which, however erratic, ties together some core theory regarding sex magick, was not hidden for another six decades.  McMurtry objected to the publication without the Emblems and Modes of Use paper, but there is no question the book aided in the resurrection of Crowley’s initiatory system in the days before internet transmission and home photocopiers.  Reliable contemporary references cite McMurtry as recommending the book to multiple individuals performing the role of Saladin in the initiations, before they received, or in supplement to an “official copy.”

Much of our ability to understand the breadth of writing on Thelema, both by Crowley and other correspondents, is due to Gerald Yorke.  His personal diligence, and deep concern for this tradition ensure that whatever one’s take on Thelema today, there is a clear, public, source for most Thelemic material.  More than perhaps any other individual he ensured that the diligent work of the early 20th century would survive into the latter half of that century, ensuring that Thelema in recognizable form would shine in the new Aeon.