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The Legacy of Jane Wolfe

[The following article appeared in In the Continuum, Vol. V, No. 10 (Autumnal Equinox, 1996 E.V.). It is provided here in response to questions that we occassionally receive from inquirers.]

Jane Wolfe, Phyllis Seckler, and Karl Germer in 1957 For nigh unto a quarter of a century, In the Continuum has served as the expressive organ not only of the College of Thelema, but also of the Jane Wolfe lineage of A∴A∴. The College of Thelema was itself "Founded in Service to the A∴A∴" — as has been stated in every issue of this periodical, from its inauguration in 1973 through the present.

But, despite the exposition of Jane's life lovingly told by Soror Meral over some 30 issues of I.T.C., one still occasionally encounters misstatements about Jane, her work, and the A∴A∴ legacy she left behind.

Most of these misstatements seem to arise out of ignorance of the facts. Much of this ignorance is due to the persistent modesty of Soror Meral who, despite being quite willing to tell Jane's story, has been highly reticent to tell much of her own tale. She has, however, agreed not to interfere with some of the facts being told by another, and has agreed to publish the account in this final issue of In the Continuum, provided all of the facts are true.

The purpose of this present article is to give a brief accounting of the true facts.

Jane Wolfe was admitted as an A∴A∴ Probationer on June 11, 1921, during her residence at the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu. Her admitting Superior was Aleister Crowley. As is customary in the A∴A∴, two copies of the Probationer oath were prepared, one to be retained by the Probationer, and one to be retained by the Order. The original of the copy Crowley retained is presently in a major university library collection. The original of Jane's own signed and sealed copy, long held and preserved by Soror Meral, is presently in my own possession.

At her admittance, she took the aspiration name Estai. Years later, she rearticulated her aspiration in the words, "I will become the creative Force of the Universe," which became expressed in the new motto, Fiat Yod.

On June 3, 1940, Soror Estai admitted Phyllis Seckler as a Probationer. The original Probationer oath, signed by both of them, is presently in my possession. Phyllis took the aspiration name Tenax Propositi. As is known to most of the Thelemic world, she later took the name Meral.

It is occasionally stated — incorrectly — that Soror Estai never moved beyond the Probationer Grade. It is true that Jane long felt this to be true. Then, in April, 1940, she wrote to Crowley acknowledging that she was only a Probationer, and inquiring whether there was a way that she might nonetheless admit Phyllis to the Order. Crowley wrote back to Jane soon thereafter, indicating that she had, in fact, been a Neophyte for years, and should go ahead. Soror Meral was, therefore, admitted to the A∴A∴ not only by a qualified Neophyte, but with the explicit authorization of Crowley himself.

There are other, less direct indications of Jane's advancement to Neophyte. For example, she regularly received from Crowley the Word of the Equinox, which is not disseminated below the 1=10 Grade. Indeed, for a time she was the only initiate on the West Coast who received the Word.

Beyond this point, Jane's own personal Grade progress in A∴A∴ is vague. She personally felt that she did not get past the 2=9 Grade of Zelator; and her continuing work, much of which has been discussed in this present publication, is very characteristic of the Task of the Zelator. On the other hand, she had accomplished most of the chief tasks of the Zelator Grade in 1921 during her stay in Cefalu. Based on a study of her subsequent record, she would appear to have completed the Zelator work and to have solidly begun that of the 3=8 Grade. That, however, is somewhat speculative. All that really matters to the present discussion is that, in June of 1940, she was at least a Neophyte, 1=10.

At this point, another person becomes relevant to our story. He is Karl Germer, Frater Saturnus. Germer's place in the history of O.T.O., of A∴A∴, and of Thelema in general is established in the public record. He attained the 5=6 (Adeptus Minor) Grade in 1927, and was recognized by Crowley as a Magister Templi, 8=3, by 1938.

Germer was appointed to be Crowley's direct administrative successor in several areas. It is well documented that Crowley appointed Germer to be his "caliph" (literally, "successor") as head of O.T.O., and also to succeed Crowley as head of the lesser known Order of Thelemites (not to be confused with the still-lesser known Order of Thelema). There is no record that he, or anyone else, was appointed as head of the A∴A∴. However, he was a Master of the Temple, 8=3.

Frater Saturnus is significant in the present thesis because of the role he played in witnessing and confirming the advancement of Soror Meral in the A∴A∴ Grades.

On the morning of July 1, 1952, Phyllis Seckler attained to the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, that attainment, or consequence, which marks the Adeptus Minor Grade, 5=6, of the A∴A∴, the full initiate of the Sephirah Tiphereth. (Technically it marks the senior 5=6, or "Adeptus Minor Within.") She shared her results with Karl Germer. Many letters survive of their subsequent correspondence of the subject.

One of the earliest of these is Karl's letter to Phyllis dated July 7, 1952 (following her letter to him of July 1), in which he answered one of her queries thus: "Dear child: your questions go to the bottom of one of the deepest problems that have puzzled and tortured all initiated men and women from time immemorial... I suppose it is the conflict with being human with a body of flesh, and the fact that YOU HAVE RISEN TO OR ABOVE TIPHERETH [emphasis added] where the voice of the Secret Guide is gradually taking over and begins to speak to your soul." He followed this with wise and loving counsel on how to adjust to her newly awakened state.

Even before this time, Karl felt Phyllis had reached the Tiphereth level. In a letter to Jane Wolfe, dated June 24, 1952 — exactly one week before Phyllis' full experience of the K&C of the HGA — he wrote: "I find Phyllis's statement [about a certain matter] a definite message, to be heeded, as I have been doing, or trying to, all along. You know that I have a high regard for P.'s attainment. I'm sure she has gone through 5=6 some time ago. I'm sure she is under guidance."

Although willing to talk of this Angelic experience to someone of Karl's stature, and occasionally to discuss some aspects of it with intimates, Phyllis remained quiet about this for many decades. She continued with the first stage of her life's work, teaching school and raising her children. Nearly two decades passed before she agreed to accept an A∴A∴ Probationer. In the early 1970's she founded the College of Thelema as a teaching vehicle, to prepare individuals, so far as they are able, to undertake the deeper work of the A∴A∴.

Even in 1979, when I first visited her home in Dublin, California and was myself admitted to Probation, she was firm in focusing on the reality of the Work and not its labels. When I asked her (enthusiastic young upstart that I was and, some would say, still am) what Grade she held, I had my first direct experience of her natal Mercury-Mars conjunction: "All you need to know, young man," she rapier-quick retorted, "is that I'm a Neophyte!" And, truth be told, that is all I needed to know at the time!

Methinks that Soror Meral has answered others over the years with comparable humility. Her reasons are clear — they are a hallmark of a true Adept — but they have not always left an accurate record of the facts.

What matters most is that she was admitted to the A∴A∴ in 1940, by one who was qualified to do so; that by the magnitude of her devotion and the depth of her heart, she attained to the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel in 1952, and was acknowledged in this by one who was qualified to do so (being admitted, thereby, to the Order R∴C∴); and that she, in turn, has admitted numerous others to the system by which she first found her own way to the Light. I am lucky enough to be one of those, and luckier still to know many of the others, as friends and companions.

Some have fallen away. Some have persevered. And, of those, some have attained. The legacy continues, passed from generation to generation in an uninterrupted chain.

Jane Wolfe's final legacy was, foremost, to be one link in that unbroken chain; and none of us can ever hope for a more noble calling. Even the completion of the Great Work for ourselves is of small consequence compared to the Greater Work of completing it for all humanity — indeed, for all life — through passing along, to each successive generation, that which we have received.

To speak more fully of Jane and the inheritance she left behind, I must add that she was the only Scarlet Woman in the whole of Crowley's life (except for Rose, who shared in the birth of The Book of the Law) who bore viable progeny to the Beast, and that through a single daughter whom we have come to know and love as Soror Meral — and whom we thank, in this final issue of In the Continuum, for 24 years (and counting!) of unremitting giving through this periodical and through her teaching.

James A. Eshelman