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Phyllis Seckler

Phyllis Seckler IX°

(1917 – 2004 e.v.)
By Sr. Harper Feist

Phyllis Seckler (Soror Meral) was an individual of wide-ranging abilities, and amazing tenacity and persistence, all of which she brought to bear to the promulgation of Thelema. She was a mother, an artist and a teacher in many disciplines. She typed many Crowley manuscripts, saving them from potential oblivion.  She was a thoughtful and intense student of the occult, a member of both the A∴A∴ and the O.T.O., where she was inducted to the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis. She was a talented astrologer and had a deep appreciation of tarot. She founded the College of Thelema in order to make basic materials on occultism and Thelema more available. She was the editor of In the Continuum, the College’s journal, for almost 25 years.

Amidst this continuous flurry of activity, Seckler accomplished what was her most important contribution to the history of Thelema: she helped to re-birth the O.T.O, which was all but dead in 1969.

Phyllis Seckler (neé Pratt) was born on June 18, 1917.  Her family relocated several times during her youth, from Alberta to British Columbia to Seattle and then to Southern California where she graduated from high school in Los Angeles (1935).  Shortly after her graduation, she left home following an argument with her mother and began to support herself. She also took night classes in drama, where she met Regina Kahl. Regina introduced Seckler to the Gnostic Mass at Agapé Lodge, where she was the presiding Priestess. Attracted primarily by the stimulating people that frequented Agapé, she moved in and did housekeeping to help pay her rent.

These were defining years for Seckler.  She married Paul Seckler, whom she had also met during the drama classes, in 1938.  In 1939, she received her Minerval and I° initiations. In June 1940, she was admitted as a Probationer in the A∴A∴ under Jane Wolfe, the only member of Agapé Lodge to have studied personally with Crowley.  She was at that time also studying astrology with Fredrick Mellinger. When the lodge moved from Los Angeles to Pasadena, the Secklers were founding members (along with Mellinger, Wilfred Smith, Jane Wolfe, Regina Kahl, Joe and Grace Miller, Jack Parsons and Betty Northrup.)  

During these years, Seckler helped keep Crowley informed about activities at Agapé with letters and cartoons, primarily of the inhabitants of the house, something Crowley appreciated.  He wrote to her in appreciation of her observations in 1943, “…I have had more illuminating information (from the cartoons in particular) than I had from all the rest that has come from California in the last quarter of a century!” [1]

He understood that she was in challenging circumstances — not in an ideal relationship with the Master of the Lodge, Jack Parsons — and supported her as well. This support is demonstrated in another few sentences from the previously quoted letter: “You have all the courage and all the common sense necessary to pull you through. I will only remark that, whatever anyone else may say, you have in me a sincere friend and admirer: on me you may always rely, if ever you need me.”[1]

When Crowley died in 1947, Karl Germer took over as head of the O.T.O. and A∴A∴. As such, he received all of Crowley’s books, writings and literary effects under his title as the Grand Treasurer General of the O.T.O.  He received three tons of materials from England that he kept at various addresses until his death in California. While he was still in New Jersey, Seckler wrote to him with her concern that unpublished works of Crowley would be lost unless some copies were made.  In order to avoid this eventuality, she typed Liber 418, The Vision and the Voice, Magick Without Tears and a portion of Crowley’s Confessions.

In the mid-1950s, following years of financial challenges and no initiation activity, Agapé Lodge finally failed.  At this time, Seckler continued to type and edit Crowley’s work for Germer. In the judgment of Germer, with whom she was in close correspondence, Seckler had by 1952 accomplished the critical A.’.A.’. attainment of Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.[2] She was also advanced to IX° in the O.T.O. by Germer, and was instructed in the central mysteries of the Order. On a more prosaic note, she finished a Master’s degree in art at UCLA in 1955 and began work as an art teacher at a high school in Livermore.

At the same time, Grady McMurtry gathered some ex-Agapé initiates in California with the goal of trying to convince Germer to resume initiations.  There was agreement on this plan in the short term, but then the two men argued over issues related to a personal loan. Shortly after this in 1961, McMurtry lost his job in California and moved to Washington D.C., began teaching at George Washington University, and worked as a management analyst for the U.S. government.

Germer died in 1962 from prostate cancer. During the time between Germer’s death and widespread recognition of it, Crowley’s magical implements and private notebooks were stolen from Sasha Germer’s house. In 1969, Seckler and McMurtry shared a series of letters where they planned to revitalize Thelemic activity in the US.  Seckler’s initial plan was to start a Thelemic college, but then she discovered that McMurtry had been appointed by Crowley as Caliph after Germer’s death. Seckler helped McMurtry to relocate to California to support the reactivation of the OTO. It appears that Seckler supported Grady financially throughout this period.

Seckler, McMurtry and Mildred Burlingame (of Agapé Lodge) re-inaugurated the O.T.O. in July 1969, with the first initiation being performed at a park near the Russian River. Shortly thereafter, in 1973, Phyllis formed the College of Thelema (C.O.T.) and began to edit and publish its newsletter, In the Continuum, a project she pursued for 25 years afterward. She saw the C.O.T. as a much-needed source of preparatory instruction for aspirants to the A∴A∴, having seen too many students fail due to a lack of training in the basics. She also continued her personal and instructional work within the A∴A∴ itself. In the 1980s, she also co-founded the Temple of Thelema (T.O.T.) with James Eshelman and Anna-Kria King.

In 1979, Phyllis Seckler was granted a charter for 418 Lodge O.T.O., first located in Oroville, California, and later in Sacramento. She led the Lodge until April of 2004 when she passed the Mastership to Dr. David Shoemaker. A little over a month later, Phyllis died surrounded by loved ones, while the Holy Books of Thelema were read. Our beloved grandmother presents us with an ambitious and tenacious role model, a thing very useful and important in today’s Order.  Her life was long, focused, and intense—a testament to the Will-ful living at the core of our Great Work as an Order.

Specific References:

  1. Crowley’s letter to Seckler, October 20, 1943: Shoemaker, D., G. Peters and R. Johnson, Eds “Phyllis Seckler (Soror Meral) – The Thoth Tarot, Astrology & Other Selected Writings,” The Teitan Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-933429-19-2, page 316.
  2. Ibid. p. 335-336.

Supplemental Reading:

  1. Red Flame 10, “Jane Wolfe, her life with Aleister Crowley, Part I” Red Flame Productions, Berkeley CA, 2003. ISBN 0-9712376-2-X.
  2. Red Flame 11, “Jane Wolfe, her life with Aleister Crowley, Part II” Red Flame Productions, Berkeley CA, 2003. ISBN 0-9712376-3-8.
  3. Shoemaker, D., G. Peters and R. Johnson, Eds “Phyllis Seckler (Soror Meral) – The Kabbalah, Magick, and Thelema” The Teitan Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-933429-4.
  4. Shoemaker, D., A. Farrell and S. Voss, Eds, “Karl Germer – Selected Letters 1928-1962,” The Temple of the Silver Star, Sacramento, CA, 2016-7. ISBN 0-9976686-5-2

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