A Magick Life: the biography of Aleister Crowley by Martin Booth
Booth, M. (2000). A magick life: The biography of Aleister Crowley. London: Hodder & Stoughton. [Worldcat]
In the austere postwar years, Crowley had little money. His main source of income was the Agape Lodge of the OTO in Pasadena, California. Germer, living in New York, also sent him a percentage of OTO initiation fees. […]
The Agape Lodge was founded in 1915 by Wilfred T. Smith, an initiate of Charles Stansfeld Jones’ Vancouver branch, who broke away from Jones. With Crowley’s approval and Jane Wolfe’s assistance, he set up a lodge in Hollywood in the 1930s: after many years living in Britain, Jane Wolfe had returned to the USA in poor health but lived to the age of eighty-three, dying in Glendale, California, in 1958. The lodge was later taken over, at Crowley’s behest, by John W. Parsons (whose wife Smith was said to have seduced), who moved it to Pasadena. Parsons, who was in his twenties, was a leading rocket fuel chemist and aerospace engineer and one of the founders of the California Institute of Technology’s famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For several years, the lodge ran smoothly until Parsons started a search for a Scarlet Woman who would bear a moonchild. Aiding him in this was a fellow scientist, L. Ron Hubbard, the originator of dianetics and the Church of Scientology.1
When he heard of this, Crowley was aghast and wrote to Germer, ‘Apparently Parsons or Hubbard or somebody is producing a Moonchild. I get fairly frantic when I contemplate the idiocy of these louts.’ Hubbard seems to have been the moving force behind the plan. Parsons was in his control, to such an extent that he put his life savings of $17,000 in a joint account with Hubbard, who contributed only about $1,000. This raised Crowley’s suspicions. ‘It seems to me [he wrote to Germer] on the information of our brethren in California that Parsons has got an illumination in which he has lost all his personal independence … Apparently it is the ordinary confidence trick.’ Crowley’s reservation seems to have been justified. Hubbard and Parsons fell out, the former apparently half emptying the joint bank account to buy a yacht and running off with Parson’s wife. For all their animosity, Parsons maintained to Crowley that Hubbard was a genuine magical neophyte,
‘the most Thelemic person I have ever met and is in complete accord with our own principles. He is also interested in establishing the New Aeon.’2
His viewpoint changed somewhat when the OTO came under FBI scrutiny after, it is thought, being tipped off by Hubbard. 3, 4 Hubbard claimed he had been involved because he had been trying to break up ‘this evil black magic group’ and succeeded: despite this apparent animosity he was, in his Philadelphia doctorate course lectures recorded on tape in 1952, to recommend students to read Magick in Theory and Practice by ‘the late Aleister Crowley, my very good friend’, and, according to his son, Hubbard frequently read Crowley’s works, believing in the possibilities of magical memory. 5 Parsons was killed in 1951 in a laboratory explosion at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, accidentally dropping a container of volatile fulminate of mercury.
By early 1946, Crowley was beginning to wonder what would become of the OTO after his death. Crowley had appointed Karl Germer to be his successor on his release from the concentration camp, but Germer was sixty-one years old and Crowley was worried that he would not chose an appropriate heir. There was, however, someone in Crowley’s mind to succeed Germer. He was an American army captain called Grady McMurtry, who had been posted to Britain during the war and visited Crowley on a number of occasions. After the war, McMurtry returned to America. An intelligent and educated man, he enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, gaining a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. During the Korean War, he served once more in the US Army before returning to Berkeley to complete a master’s degree in political theory. He subsequently became a management analyst for the US State Department of Labor in California and Washington, DC.
In 1943, Crowley made McMurtry Sovereign Grand Inspector of the OTO with the magical name Hymenaeus Alpha: then, in 1946, Crowley gave him a letter of authorisation allowing him to exercise emergency control of the order should the OTO in California start to degenerate, and to take charge of its work. In June 1947, Crowley delegated to McMurtry his authority as head of the OTO throughout the USA on Germer’s death.
Germer approved both these moves, which placed McMurtry in a virtually unassailable position, for no one else had been given Crowley’s express authorisation or delegation.
When Crowley eventually died, what he had feared came to pass. Germer let things slide and, by the time of his death, had failed to name a successor. A Swiss OTO member, Hermann Metzger, claimed the position but was generally rejected. Another grab for the throne was made by one of Germer’s initiates in California, Marcelo Ramos Motta. After a spate of arguments, court cases and expulsions, McMurtry stepped in and, having sought the support of Gerald Yorke, Israel Regardie and many OTO initiates, implemented the emergency procedures. Under him, the administration of the OTO was restructured, its affairs put on a sound footing. By the time McMurtry died in 1985, the order was flourishing once more. His successor, Hymenaeus Beta, runs the global organisation to this day.
- Hubbard was not a scientist. ↩
- This is, as Hubbard would say, an altered sequence. According to Kenneth Grant (1991), Parsons wrote to Crowley about Hubbard being the most Thelemic person in July 1945. http://blacklies.xenu.ca/archives/232 Also according to John Symonds (1997) it was July 1945. http://blacklies.xenu.ca/archives/60 John Carter (1999) dated the letter around January 4, 1946. The latter dated seems most likely. There are textual differences between the excerpts quoted in these books, but all three include the “most Thelemic” language. In any event, Parsons’ “animosity” toward Hubbard arose some time after Parsons wrote to Crowley about Ron as Thelemic. ↩
- See Jack Parsons FBI file. ↩
- Hubbard’s FBI files show Hubbard’s history of reporting people to the FBI as early as 1940. On March 3 1951, Hubbard reported on “SARA NORTHRUP (HUBBARD), formerly of 1003 S. Orange Grove Avenue, Pasadena, Calif. 25 yrs. of age, 5’10”, 140 lbs.” Northrup was Hubbard’s wife, the “girl” he later claimed to have rescued. ↩
- Cf. Golden Age of Tech training, in which students commit copious quantities of Hubbard’s scripture to memory. ↩