A History of the Craft in America: California and Councils, 1967 to 1973, Part I

A History of the Craft in America: California and Councils, 1967 to 1973, Part I January 25, 2013

In the preceding blogs in this history series, I have been describing what was happening with the Craft movement in the US up to the early 1970s. There is one more installment I need to present, on “Witchcraft in the Heartland,” but it is being vetted by some friends, including Orion Foxwood, since I am unsure about the details for some of the groups discussed.

I needed to describe what was happening outside of California in the early 1970s, because many of those groups figure directly or indirectly in the story of the events in California starting in 1967that led to the creation of the Covenant of the Goddess in 1975. In what follows, I am also picking up the threads for many of the groups described in the initial blogs in this series entitled “Before the Gardnerians”—so you might want to review that.

When I and my friends founded the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn in 1967, we were not in touch with any other Pagans, and would not be until 1971, when we met Gwydion Pendderwen and other of the Feris. Also in 1967, quite unknown to us, a movement to create an umbrella organization for Pagans was begun in Los Angeles. That year Don Harrison started to publish a modest pagan discussion magazine, which he called Julian Review, after the Emperor Julian, the last Pagan Roman Emperor. It offered a forum for serious discussion about the revival and possible restoration of the ancient pagan religions in the modern world. A reader of Julian Review, Michael Kinghorn, wrote to Donald. That alliance led to the foundation of the Delphic Fellowship, which was strongly inspired by the ancient Greek faith and was the first serious attempt to bring together all the various modern Pagan groups existing at that time. They also made contact with Fred Adams, the founder  of Feraferia, who was working on the same sort of project; it seemed self-evident they should combine their efforts. This partnership led to the foundation in January 1969 of the broader Council of Themis, named after the Greek Goddess guarding all kinds of meetings and counsels.

The Council of Themis was centered in southern California and was a coalition of several dozen organizations, especially new religions, mostly magical and/or Pagan, but also some metaphysical and left-wing political groups. It acquired new members steadily until 1972. For the history of that council to make any sense, one needs to know a little about the separate histories of its member groups (that is, the ones that have not already been mentioned), so that the synergy evoked by their collisions becomes believable.

Ordo Templi Orientis

The history of the Order of the Eastern Temple as such begins with Karl Germer in 1904, continues on with Aleister Crowley, and has been described in many books. However, the history that is relevant here begins in 1969, when Grady McMurtry decided to exercise the authority given to him by Crowley during World War II. The OTO, like the PVC, was never consiodered to be a Pagan organization in the current sense, but its history, because of dual memberships, overlaps so much with that of the Craft, especially in the San Francisco area, that it needs to be included here.

McMurtry had been initiated in the 1930s into the OTO chapter in Pasadena headed by the enigmatic Jack Parsons, founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. When the military stationed McMurtry in England during World War II, McMurtry sought out Crowley, then living in what the English call a “bedsitter,” a tiny one-room apartment, his fabulous wealth, like his enormous libido, now only a memory. McMurtry did what he could to take care of Crowley, who in turn gave him letters granting him extraordinary powers to oversee the OTO’s affairs, probably intending him at the time to investigate Parsons’ activities, rumors of which disturbed even Crowley. However, McMurtry did not act upon that mandate when he returned to California. It was only after Germer’s death in the 1960s that McMurtry, now the only person authorized to act in the OTO’s name, in 1969 decided to found a new OTO chapter in Berkeley, CA, at that time the only one in the United States.

During the 13 years that McMurtry, using the name Hymenaeus Alpha, oversaw the OTO, it revived, grew, and expanded. His chapter held regular, well-attended meetings in the East Bay. Its history did not intersect with that of the NROOGD until about 1974, when both Glenn Turner and Chandria from Glenn’s coven, Allan Moonbloode from Isis Rising and Silver Star, plus Witches from several other traditions, were active in it. Chandria subsequently founded the Nuit-Urania coven, practicing what she called “Thelemic Wicca,” a blend of OTO and NROOGD practices. This NROOGD variant subsequently spread into the Pacific Northwest, under the leadership of Vandimir and Lady Jezebel.

Grady McMurtry passed over on July 12, 1985, at age 66. After McMurtry’s death, the IXth grade members of the OTO elected his successor, who has chosen to be known publicly only as Hymenaeus Beta and who moved the international headquarters of the OTO to New York City. However, rivals appeared, claiming to be Crowley’s true successors. It is unusual for members of an occult organization to turn to the legal system to settle a dispute, but that is what happened. In decisions in 1985 and 1988, the United States Supreme Court ruled that McMurtry had been Crowley’s only legal successor, basing its decision not only on McMurtry’s letters from Crowley, but also on the fact that the original manuscript of Crowley’s Book of the Law had been found in a box in a basement in Berkeley, albeit under suspicious circumstances.


Ordo Templi Astarte

 After completing his military service, Carroll “Poke” Runyon relocated to southern California, where he founded the Ordo Templi Astartes (O.T.A.) in 1969 and incorporated it in 1971. It was dedicated to the revived worship of the Canaanite goddess Astarte and her consort  Baal.  He has said that his flamboyant public persona was the basis for the title character in the 1971 movie Simon, King of the Witches.

After receing an MA in Anthropology, Runyon became a Freemason and went through all the degrees of the Scottish and York Rites. After serving as an officer in three active Golden Dawn temples,he founded the Church of Hermetic Sciences (C.H.S.). a Hermetic order practicing ceremonial magic, and published its jourbal, The Seventh Ray, from 1972 to 1977.

The two orders that Runyon founded, referred to collectively as the CHS/OTA, addressed different areas of magical, Pagan, and occult ritual. The O.T.A. performed Canaanite seasonal ceremonies at the solstices and equinoxes; the C.H.S. specialized in Solomonic Ritual Magick. He was also associated with the late Nelson White, although their friendship was often quite rocky.

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