Karl Johannes Germer, successor to Aleister Crowley as outer head of the order of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), was born January 22, 1885, in Germany. His college career at the Sorbonne, University of Paris, was interrupted by World War I, when he was drafted into the German army. He served as a reserve officer and was awarded the Iron Cross, both first and second class, possibly for intelligence activity in regards to Russia.
After the war Germer joined the publishing firm Barth Verlag in Munich as a manager. In the early 1920 he worked with Tränker, a member of the OTO in the publication of several short works by Crowley, including Der Meister Therion: Eine biographische Nachricht (1925). By this means Germer became acquainted with Crowley and moved to England, where he worked publishing Crowley’s writings. Also with the help of Martha Küntzel, a former Theosophist, he founded Thelema-Verlag in Leipzig to publish German translations of Crowley’s books. In 1935, on a visit to Leipzig, he was arrested by the Nazi government, which was in the process of suppressing occult work. Germer was confined at Alexanderplatz prison and Esterwegen concentration camp for ten months and kept his sanity by reciting the Thelemic Holy Books, the essential writings of thelemic magic as taught by Crowley. Shortly before his release, he was given a vision of his Holy Guardian Angel, a major early magical step for all thelemites. (The word thelema, the central concept of Crowley’s magic, is derived from the Greek word for will.)
Germer then moved to Brussels and tried to keep in touch with the scattered OTO groups, but all of these were finally closed in 1937. In 1941 he was arrested again and spent ten months in an internment camp before he was allowed to get out of the country. He migrated to the United States, and Crowley named him the Grand Treasurer of the order. Germer concentrated on raising money to continue the fragile publication program of the OTO. He wrote an account of his experiences in prison but was never able to find a publisher. Among his duties as the highest ranking officer in the United States was mediating a dispute in the Pasadena lodge concerning the magical work of Jack Parsons. Germer worked through Grady McMurtry as his representative.
Crowley named Germer his successor as head of the order, then died in 1947. Germer lived quietly in rural California and seemed unwilling and uninterested in carrying out his duties as chief administrator of the OTO. In 1955 he chartered a lodge in England under Kenneth Grant, who formed the New Isis Lodge with instructions to limit his work to the first three of the eleven OTO degrees. When Grant began to work higher degrees, Germer withdrew his charter. He also chartered a Swiss lodge, but otherwise remained aloof from the members, many of whom were unaware for several years of his death on October 25, 1962.
Germer died without naming a clear successor or establishing a process for appointing a successor. His work was carried by several claimants, including Metzger in Switzerland, Kenneth Grant in England, Marcelo Ramos Motta in Brazil, and eventually Grady McMurtry in California, each of whom would head a separate branch of the OTO.