William Bernard Crow, Aleister Crowley and the Order of the Holy Wisdom

The history of Archbishop William Bernard Crow (Mar Bernard, later Mar Basilius Abdullah III, 1895-1976) and the Order (later Apostolate) of the Holy Wisdom has been discussed here previously, with an additional clarification of certain matters.

A matter of consistent interest is the relationship between Dr Crow and the occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). The two men corresponded during the 1940s, Dr Crow later stating that, according to what Crowley had told him, Crowley’s Gnostic Mass was written “under the influence of the Liturgy of St. Basil of the Russian Church.”[i] In August 1944, Crowley issued a document to Dr Crow making him a Sovereign Patriarch of the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica and Vicar of Salomon “with full right, power and authority to administer the said Church and to consecrate, ordein, appoint hyrarchs, priests, priestesses, deacons and other necessary Officers therein, to work the Gnostic Catholic Mass, and to take charge of all ceremonials, organisational, and financial affairs in connection therewith.”[ii]

To Mega Therion The Word of The Aeon
Unto All And Singular To Whom These Presents Shall Come
Whereas the Gnostic Catholic Church, adhering to the vital elements of the most ancient true tradition, fixes its intentions and its aims most firmly on the future. And whereas the world has entered the New Aeon, the Age of the Crowned and Conquering Child, and the Masters have decided that the time has come for High Initiates to administer the Sacraments of the Age of Horus. Now, therefore, We, by virtue of the Supreme authority vested in us do hereby nominate and appoint our very dear brother and most reverend father in God William Bernard Crow by the name and title of Basilius Abdullah a Sovereign Patriarch of the Gnostic Catholic Church and Vicar of Salomon with full right, power and authority to administer the said Church and to consecrate, ordein, appoint hyrarchs, priests, priestesses, deacons and other necessary Officers therein, to work the Gnostic Catholic Mass, and
to take charge of all ceremonials, organisational, and financial affairs in connection therewith. Love is the law, love under will.
… August 1944

In the same year, Dr Crow issued a Manifesto for Crowley’s E.G.C. inviting any who were interested to contact him for further information.


Crow – Manifesto for the Gnostic Catholic Church, with handwritten annotations by Aleister Crowley. Reproduced in O.T.O. Rituals and Sex Magick by Theodor Reuss and Aleister Crowley, edited and compiled by A.R. Naylor with an introduction by P.R. Koenig (Pentacle Enterprises, England, 1999), also reproduced online at https://www.parareligion.ch/crow.htm 

Crowley wrote to Dr Crow, “You might of course start afresh; begin by open-air preachings of Liber OZ; you might find supporters in unexpected quarters, the work and opportunity would grow; in a year you might be standing for Parliament.”[iii] In a letter of 30 May 1947 Crowley advised Dr Crow (who had in 1945 moved from London to Leicester) to refer his followers in the London district who were ready for initiation in the O.T.O. to the London-based Gerald Gardner, who was to receive his O.T.O. authority from Crowley on 14 June. Writing some years later, Dr Crow would say that Crowley held that his principle “Do what thou wilt’ did not mean ‘do as you please’. He was, he said, trying to teach people to find their true will. In other words he was trying to do what many practitioners of depth psychology are aiming at.”[iv]

In correspondence with Crowley during 1944-46, Dr Crow and Mar Georgius of Glastonbury, together with Bishop George Henry Brook (1912-88) (who as Mar Adrianus was a bishop of the Catholicate of the West until his resignation in 1948 and would remain an associate of Dr Crow for many years) requested that Crowley should charter them to confer the Rite of Memphis and Misraim.[vii] As the following document shows, Dr Crow was successful in his request to Crowley, who appointed him as Patriarch Grand Administrator of the Rite in August 1944.

On 16 August 1948, Dr Crow was enthroned as head of the (Masonic-originated[v]) Rite of Memphis and Misraim and of the Ordo Templi Orientis (Order of Oriental Templars)[vi].

Dr Crow maintained all of these authorities from Crowley as part of the Order (later Apostolate) of Holy Wisdom and specifically its Ancient and Universal Rite of Cosmic Architecture (Arcane Section), working their rituals and conferring them upon others. It will be seen that these authorities had no connexion with any other organization deriving from Crowley’s legacy. Nor did they have anything to do with any regular Masonic obedience, for reasons that were explained by Dr Crow in the following explanatory document, issued around 1970.

Document reproduced at https://www.parareligion.ch/crow.htm

It should not be thought that Dr Crow, in entering into close collaboration with Crowley, necessarily accepted all of Crowley’s worldview, practices, or ideas. Dr Crow was a much more conservative and scholarly character than Crowley and although his interest in the esoteric certainly extended into the operative realm, his interpretation of the authority that had been conferred on him was in the context of his Christian and Orthodox beliefs; a view that has also been taken by his successors as described below. Crowley will always remain a controversial and divisive figure – anathema for those whose concern is with mainstream “respectability” – but within his work there remains much of significance for the scholar of the Western Wisdom Traditions.

The Order of the Holy Wisdom was extended to the United States of America with the consecration by Dr Crow on 11 April 1972 of the late Dr Kermit William Poling de Polanie-Patrikios (1941-2015) as Mar Titus, Bishop of Tayma in the Order.

Dr Poling established the Grand Circle of America of the Order of the Holy Wisdom and eventually became the only living bishop of the Ancient Orthodox Catholic Church which is the religious division of the Order, and which under him became the in-house ekklesia of the Polanie-Patrikios dynasty. Dr Poling’s work continued despite attempts by certain persons to suppress the Order after Dr Crow’s death, to which Dr Poling rightly paid no heed.

In 2015, the present Prince-Abbot of San Luigi, Archbishop John Kersey (Edmond III, Mar Joannes Edmundus) succeeded his adoptive father Dr Poling as head of the Apostolate and Order of the Holy Wisdom and Patriarch of Antioch in the Ancient Orthodox Catholic Church. This occasion marked the reunion of these bodies with the Catholicate of the West of which the Ancient Orthodox Catholic Church was a progenitor.

Since that time, these organizations and their important spiritual heritage have been under the overall aegis of the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi, where they remain active and continue the mission for which they were originally established. The Apostolate of Holy Wisdom has a small and select membership, which is admitted by invitation and direct personal knowledge only. This membership is open to men and women of all creeds and nations without regard to membership of any Masonic or esoteric fraternity.

The Order of Holy Wisdom is of an initiatic character within the Apostolate, consisting of seven degrees. The first degree is open to anyone of a good moral character approved by the Order. Additional degrees are obtained by actual study and instruction, and a recognition by the leaders of the Order that the member is increasing in wisdom and knowledge. All 7th Degree members are Honorary Prelates (Titular Bishops) since that Degree is conferred only on those who have received consecration in the historic successions by the laying-on of hands.


[i] W.B. Crow, A History of Magic, Witchcraft and Occultism, London, Aquarian Press, 1968, p.289
[ii] Copy of document at http://www.parareligion.ch/crow.htm
[iii] Quoted in Hymenaeus Beta, The Magical Link, Official Bulletin of the O.T.O., vol. 3 no. 4, Winter 1990, pp.25-30.
[iv] Aletheia, Second Series, no. 2, Christmas 1971, p.3
[v] These Rites were under the aegis of John Yarker (1833-1913) and his associate Theodor Reuss (1855-1923), who succeeded as Grand Master in 1913. They are considered clandestine by mainstream Freemasonry. Reuss was founder and head of the Ordo Templi Orientis. Crowley proclaimed himself head of the O.T.O. on 27 November 1921 in contravention of Reuss, who had become antipathetic to Crowley and Thelema in his last years.
[vi] See copy of document at http://www.parareligion.ch/sunrise/wbcrow.htm “On 16th August, 1948, the Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Wisdom, having previously been duly elected in accordance with the constitution and regulations was enthroned and crowned as Grand Hierophant of the Rite of Memphis, Absolute Grand Sovereign of the Rite of Mizraim, Supreme Power of the Order and of all Rites included therein and allied cognate affiliated Orders and Rites in a Temple near London…All the rites in question have been placed under the sub-division of the Arcane section of the Apostolate of the Holy Wisdom, known as the Ancient and Universal Rite of Cosmic Architecture, which previously included material of this type, but which is now established on an impregnable basis and can be worked in a vastly fuller range than heretofore.”
[vii] These letters are in the Gerald Yorke collection at the Warburg Institute in London.