Grady Louis McMurtry (October 18, 1918 – July 12, 1985) was a direct student of author and occultist Aleister Crowley and an adherent of Thelema. He is best known for reviving the fraternal organization, Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), which he headed under the motto Hymenaeus Alpha from 1971 until his death.
McMurtry grew up in the Midwest, and graduated from high school in Valley Center, Kansas in 1937. He then moved to Southern California to study engineering at Pasadena Junior College, where he made friends with some students at nearby Caltech. Through them he met Jack Parsons, who shared his enthusiasm for science fiction, and who introduced him to Thelema. In 1941 McMurtry was initiated into the Minerval and I° of O.T.O. at Agapé Lodge.
In February 1942, two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, McMurtry’s entire Reserve Officers Training Corps (R.O.T.C.) class was called to active duty, and he served as an officer in Ordnance. He took part in the Normandy invasion, the liberation of France and Belgium, and the occupation of Germany. McMurtry was recalled to active duty to serve in the Korean War, eventually reaching the rank of Major. He continued his studies as a civilian between tours of duty, with both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley.
During World War II, especially when he was stationed in England in 1943 and the first half of 1944, McMurtry was able to meet with and become a personal student of Aleister Crowley. There was a good rapport between Crowley and McMurtry, and Crowley respected McMurtry’s military experience. In November 1943, Crowley personally conferred the IX° of O.T.O. upon McMurtry, made him a Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the Order, and gave him the Magical Name he was to use from then on, Hymenaeus Alpha, which enumerates to 777.
Throughout the mid 1940s, McMurtry received letters from Crowley referring to him as Crowley’s “Caliph,” or eventual successor. When McMurtry returned to California after the war, he was appointed Crowley’s O.T.O. representative in the United States (April 1946), subject only to the authority of Crowley’s viceroy and heir apparent, Karl Germer. Crowley also entrusted McMurtry with documents of emergency authorization to take charge of the entire work of the Order in California, which included the only functional local body of O.T.O. at the time.
On June 17, 1947, six months before his death, Crowley wrote to McMurtry and informed him that while Germer was to be Crowley’s successor as Head of O.T.O., McMurtry should hold himself prepared to succeed Germer. Crowley died on December 1, 1947; and in accord with his wishes Karl Germer became O.H.O. of O.T.O., serving until his death in 1962.
Germer died on October 25, 1962 without having designated a successor. Some ranking members, including Grady McMurtry, were not notified of Germer’s death for several years, causing a long delay before the question of succession to leadership of O.T.O. was properly addressed. When McMurtry became aware of the critical condition into which the Order had fallen after Germer’s death, he was impelled to invoke his documents of emergency authorization from Crowley, and assume the title “Caliph of O.T.O.,” as specified in Crowley’s letters to McMurtry from the 1940s. For the two witnesses he believed were necessary for this act, he chose Dr. Israel Regardie (1907-1985) and Gerald Yorke (1901-1983). McMurtry referred to these two as the “Eyes of Horus,” as the two most prominent surviving personal students of Crowley. He advised them of his plans to reconstitute the O.T.O. using his letters of charter from Crowley, and requested their support, which they granted. McMurtry completed the activation of his Caliphate by June of 1969.
Along with Phyllis Seckler (Soror Meral) and two other surviving members, Mildred Burlingame and Helen Parsons Smith, he slowly began performing O.T.O. initiations again. They also eventually succeeded in their efforts to find a publisher for the Thoth tarot deck designed by Aleister Crowley. O.T.O. was registered with the State of California on December 28, 1971 as a legal organization.
On October 12, 1977, McMurtry founded Thelema Lodge in Berkeley to serve as the headquarters of his resuscitated O.T.O. Many initiations were performed, and a weekly celebration of the Gnostic Mass was soon established in the San Francisco Bay area. McMurtry, and other initiators chartered by him, established O.T.O. groups in many other areas in the United States and internationally.
By 1985, O.T.O. reported more than seven hundred members in several different countries. The same year, in failing health, he successfully sued Marcelo Motta in United States District Court over the possession of the O.T.O. trademarks and copyrights. McMurtry died in a Martinez, California, convalescent hospital on the day that the U.S. court clerk released the text of the decision that set the seal on McMurtry’s efforts to reestablish O.T.O. Since then O.T.O. has, by its own report, grown to over three thousand members in more than fifty countries.