Originally posted as a part of my column, The Blooming Staff, on the Agora, the group blog of the Patheos Pagan Channel.
I can’t recall the number of times I have sat at my computer with a stack of books by my side in the middle of the night, say at 2:45 AM or maybe 4, bursting (silently) with excitement over some intellectual epiphany, some sudden realization or Eureka! moment in which I feel like I have finally cracked open the secrets of the universe. All the questions I have struggled with for years—answered. An entire treatise of occult knowledge and mystical revelation unfolding before my third eye. When you spend most of your time immersed in theological and religious questions, great conversion moments are almost guaranteed to happen with an unsettling regularity, unsurprisingly proportionate to the number of books you read that purport to share some hidden knowledge.
This doesn’t always mean that such moments stick the following day, when the daylight breaks in through the shuttered window and you try desperately to sleep off the hangover you got from rereading too many passages of The Book of Lies in a single evening. More worryingly, the harsh light of day frequently makes you rethink what the point of it all really is—okay, so I felt last night like I discovered the missing link, the connecting tissue that really Explains It All—but does anyone else care? Maybe my spiritual issues are only my spiritual issues. Maybe I should stop positing a “missing link” at all.
Reader, I have discovered the missing link. It is Frater Achad.
This column explores the intersections between Catholic theology and the Thelemic current, so it was only a matter of time before Frater Achad—mundane name Charles Stansfeld Jones—came up. Prior to the late nineteenth century, most occult and esoteric movements were Christian, many heterodox Catholic—the Elus Cohen of Martinez de Pasqually, the Martinists, the Rosicrucians of the Parisian occult revival, and even many members of the Golden Dawn. In the twentieth century, A.E. Waite, Dion Fortune, and many other figures continued the esoteric Christian current. But Thelema appears to have a built-in bias against Christianity, stemming directly from its founder and from his Aeonic schema, which suggests that the formula of the dying and rising God (the Aeon of Osiris) is now outmoded in favor of the formula of the crowned and conquering child (the Aeon of Horus).
I have tried to show how this is an overly simplistic picture of the relationship between the Christian mythos and Thelema, but it is the story of Frater Achad that really provides the missing link. Achad could be said to be the most prominent Catholic Thelemite to have lived since the reception of the Book of the Law.
This is because, in 1928—19 years after first joining the A∴A∴ as a Probationer—Frater Achad converted to Roman Catholicism.
Achad’s claim to fame as a Thelemite—and the reason he must still be contended with even by orthodox Thelemites who might think his curious researches were mistaken or dangerous—is that he discovered the qabalistic “key” to the Book of the Law, causing Aleister Crowley to rename the book Liber AL vel Legis in place of Liber Legis, its previous title. Achad detailed this discovery in his magical diary, published later as Liber 31. This epiphany caused Crowley to anoint Achad as his magical son prophesized in the Book of the Law, and to recognize his claim to the grade of Magister Templi, a “Babe of the Abyss” in the Thelemic system.
Yet by the 1920s, certain publications of Achad’s had caused Crowley to grow disillusioned with his son and heir. Specifically, Achad’s 1922 Q.B.L.; or the Bride’s Reception, contained Achad’s experiment with rearranging the paths of the qabalistic Tree of Life. Achad continued this work in two further books, 1923’s The Egyptian Revival and 1925’s The Anatomy of the Body of God. To put it mildly, Crowley considered such experiments foolhardy.
By this time, Achad was also an active member of the Universal Brotherhood, another esoteric order that purported to share universal religious and philosophical knowledge, a “true transcript” of the objective universe. Crowley, and many other occultists, considered the complicated UB system to be a “swindle,” or, worse, a front for the Catholic Church’s infiltration of occult groups (for more on the UB, see the recent article in the O.T.O. anthology Success is Your Proof). Founded by a Catholic scholar of comparative religion, Merwin-Marie Snell, many high level members of the UB ended up converting to Catholicism.
Crowley and Achad eventually ceased contact, and Achad was expelled from the O.T.O. in 1936. But Jones never ceased reflecting on his role as Crowley’s magical child, and the insights of Thelema remained a central part of his spiritual world-view. After Crowley’s death, Achad exchanged a voluminous series of letters with Crowley’s executor Gerald Yorke. In April 1948, these letters—which will eventually be published by Starfire—“announced the incoming of the Aeon of Maat, and from this time onwards the correspondence includes material documenting the unfolding of the new Aeon which Jones had detected, and exploring its ramifications and implications.”
According to Crowley’s Thelemic system, an Aeon covers roughly a period of 2,000 years (coinciding with the precession of the equinoxes), and is ruled by a central spiritual idea or formula as well as the god-form that personifies that idea. The Aeon of Horus, announced by Crowley in 1904 with the reception of Liber AL vel Legis, is ruled by the crowned and conquering child, the god Horus, and will not end for several thousand more years.
Yet some unorthodox Thelemites, like Achad, have accepted the possibility of a premature dawning of the Aeon of Maat—for example, Kenneth Grant in his Typhonian Trilogies, the Thelemic magical order Ordo Adeptorum Invisiblum, and Nema—whose received text Liber Pennae Penumbra and system of Maat magick is perhaps the most influential result of the Maatian speculations. Don Karr’s book, Approaching the Kabbalah of Maat, provides the best account of these recent currents in speculative occultism.
Although Achad’s announcement of the Aeon of Maat inspired several important occultist researchers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, his Maatian revelation doesn’t obviously follow from his books, his Catholic conversion, or his involvement with (and eventual leadership of) the UB. One must understand the qabalistic implications of Achad’s 1920s theories to fully grasp the significance of an early Aeon of Truth and Justice—the spiritual ideas personified by the god-form of Maat.
Achad is perhaps uniquely pro-materiality among early twentieth century occultists. Unlike various Gnostics, Neo-Buddhists, and Theosophists of the era, Achad supports a material world that is infused with spirit—one might say sacramentally infused. This goes hand-in-hand with the philosophical realist teachings of the Universal Brotherhood. Significantly, it also fits Achad’s radical qabalistic speculations. Unlike other qabalists, Achad’s complex vision of the primal fall and eschatological restoration of the Tree of Life resembles a process of cosmic fulfillment rather than a myth of transgression and forgiveness. He has this in common with the modernist Catholic theologians who were current in his day. In The Anatomy of the Body of God, Achad writes,
Idealism and Materialism must unite and go hand in hand if a new Civilization is to be built up. The Soul of Humanity is the connecting link. There is nothing to be ashamed of in our material bodies, but they would not be of much use without the Spirit and Will which give them Life and motion. On the other hand we should not be so cowardly and selfish as to desire to be re-absorbed into Spirit, as if the whole Creative Plan were a waste of time, and had better never have been started. No! Let us give thanks in our souls for both body and spirit, using both rightly and to the full extent of our power.
Achad’s writings become increasingly oriented toward the immanent fulfillment of the Kingdom of God over the course of the 1920s, a view that would be labeled “realized eschatology” in the terms of Christian theology. Again, from Anatomy: “We must enter upon the heritage of Freedom that has been prepared for us in the Father’s Kingdom upon Earth”; “In the Name of the True and Living God, let us cease from bloody sacrifice, and start to build a ‘Living Temple, not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens’—upon Earth.” The preface to the book concludes with the stirring declaration,
There is a place prepared for every one of you, Here and Now. There is a place for everything, when all things shall be put in place. Take up your places in the Kingdom of the Ever-Coming Son, fulfill yourselves, in the fulfillment of the Will of God within you, and show those who are still in darkness without, that there is room for all who are prepared to keep their place, and cease from trying to usurp that of others.
Frater Achad’s understanding of the incoming Kingdom of God results from his interpretation of the cosmic processes of Qabalah. The Egyptian god forms in the orthodox Thelemic schema, Isis—Osiris—Horus, correspond to Binah—Kether-Chokmah—and Tiphereth, respectively. Maat completes the sequence of four by representing Malkuth, the Material Kingdom. The Aeons can also be assigned to the four letters of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, IHVH—Osiris (I), Isis (H), Horus (V), with Maat (final H) completing the sequence.
The letters of the Tetragrammaton fulfill a cosmic myth recounted in most books on Hermetic Qabalah. In order to restore the Tree of Life to its pre-Fall state, the fallen Daughter (Heh final) must unite with the Son (Vav) to rise to the level of Heh prime, installing the Daughter/Malkuth on the throne of Binah, the Mother (Heh prime). As Achad explains in Q.B.L., the Mother then “arouses the active force of THE FATHER, and these twain being UNITED, all is RE-ABSORBED into THE CROWN.” Thus the eschatological kingdom is realized on earth, Malkuth being united with Kether in fulfillment of God’s plan for creation.
In the Catholic system, this process can be described through the salvation economy of Mary, a Daughter of Israel and child of earth, conceiving the Son, the Christos, by the Holy Spirit, then being united with God the Father in her Coronation as the Mother of Heaven. The Son’s Incarnation thus redeems the material world of Malkuth—represented in microcosm by Mary— through the inbreaking of the eschatological Kingdom in the event of Jesus Christ. Catholics participate in this reality—the eschaton made present here and now in fulfillment of God’s plan—through the Eucharistic Mass.
Numerous orthodox Thelemites have suggested outlandish theories as to why Frater Achad would ever convert to the Roman Church: insanity, the desire to convert the Church to the Law of Thelema, or being lost in the Abyss as a Black Brother. Yet Achad himself gives a different explanation of his curious conversion:
It was necessary for Achad to be led to the opposite Pillar of the Temple there to learn the mysteries of the R[oman] C[atholic] Church. He became an orthodox member of that Church and received his first communion at Midnight Mass, Christmas, 1928. This step, and this alone, led to the opening of the Initiations and Ordeals which were to follow in accordance with Liber Legis. (Jones, letter to Gerald Yorke and Albert Handel, May 6, 1948; cited in Hymenaeus Beta, Prolegomenon to the Second Edition of Aleister Crowley’s Liber Aleph).
Achad is referencing here verses 63-67 of chapter III of Liber AL:
- The fool readeth this Book of the Law, and its comment; & he understandeth it not.
- Let him come through the first ordeal, & it will be to him as silver.
- Through the second, gold.
- Through the third, stones of precious water.
- Through the fourth, ultimate sparks of the intimate fire.
After coming through these ordeals, Achad was ready to proclaim the dawning of the Aeon of Truth and Justice—the eschatological Kingdom fulfilled on earth, glyphed in esoteric terms by the goddess Maat, glyphed in the New Testament by St. John the Divine’s vision of the New Jerusalem:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-3)
This is the bride’s reception—the New Jerusalem come down to earth, the divine united with the material world. Achad saw his initiations into this new New Aeon as relevant to both the occult community and the Catholic Church: “Jones communicated the news of his 1932 Silver Star Ordeal not only to Crowley, but to the Catholic Church as well,” explains Hymenaeus Beta. “He developed a conviction that the Aeon of Horus was ending, and a new Aeon of Truth and Justice—ruled by the Egyptian goddess Maat (or Ma) was imminent.”
Achad’s conversion allowed him to join in the sacramental life of the Church. This means he also participated in the Eucharist, with his first Mass being the Mass celebrating the Incarnation at Christmas, 1928. The Eucharist is, for Catholics, the Kingdom of God made present here on earth, the eschatological reality breaking into our present moment. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, the Eucharist is “a pledge of future glory,” a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come (CCC 1323).
Like the inbreaking Kingdom of God, rushing in from the future to meet us in the present (see, for example, radical Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx’s God the Future of Man), the Aeon of Maat is a “backwards current,” granting us a vision in the here and now of an age in which “we all may become something far greater, something which exists in the form of seeds within us in the eternal Now” (Horus/Maat Lodge FAQ page).
Unlike other unorthodox Thelemites, who posit a “double current” in which both the Aeons of Horus and Maat are active at once, or those who suggest a premature dawning of the Aeon of Maat to replace that of Horus, my reading of Frater Achad through the lens of the Catholic Mass suggests that the new Aeon of Truth and Justice is here in the present at the same time as the “force and fire” of the Aeon of Horus—sacramentally, in the Eucharist, through the foretaste we receive here and now of the heavenly banquet that is to come. The Daughter is raised to the throne of the Mother, the Father is roused, and the Son of God is born in the midst of the people of earth. As Frater Achad proclaims, “Kether is in Malkuth and Malkuth is in Kether.”