[I wrote this post for my own purposes a few weeks ago, to try and work out some personal spiritual history and put down on paper where I stand right now, but I never published it. It seemed useful to write a short summary of my current status as I enter a new phase of life and of using this website (I plan to launch a new project soon with more specific subject matter and a more unified aesthetic, but this site will continue to serve as a personal archive). But this piece also seemed self-indulgent in a way that made me hesitate. Still, as tonight is the Feast for the First Night of the Prophet and His Bride, it seemed appropriate to put this out there.]
“Fear not at all; fear neither men nor Fates, nor gods, nor anything. Money fear not, nor laughter of the folk folly, nor any other power in heaven or upon the earth or under the earth. Nu is your refuge as Hadit your light; and I am the strength, force, vigour, of your arms.”Liber AL III.17
Back in 2016, when I first learned about the later life of Frater Achad, specifically about his 1928 conversion to Roman Catholicism, it felt like I had discovered a “missing link” of some kind, a lost piece of the puzzle. I had the audacity to immediately write about it for my column on Patheos Pagan at the time — a column I seemed to have lucked into writing on a regular basis solely because of the curiosity of being a recent Christian seminary grad engaging with occultism. Luckily, I still think a lot of that first essay on Achad holds up, even though I’ve learned an enormous amount about him since then.
Achad felt like the missing link for me to help reconcile Christianity with occultism, but this was a little misleading. It’s not difficult to reconcile Christianity with occultism, because most forms of occultism throughout Western history have been Christian, at least since Christianity displaced various paganisms as the predominant religion of Western Europe. What was really important to me was that Achad was a missing link between Thelema and Christianity, specifically Catholic Christianity.
This was important to me because, ever since my first encounter with Thelema in my teenage years (my first personal encounter with spirituality in general, really, besides cultural Catholicism), it has served for me as the ur-text of occultism, the standard by which I compare and contrast all other occult and esoteric systems. This has been true even when I’ve been heavily immersed in other systems, and even when I’ve judged Thelema harshly, as you can see in the archive of this blog.
When I was 15 in the early 2000s, I picked up a first edition of Richard Kaczynski’s Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley at a Barnes and Noble on Long Island. It took me several years to read the entire book, but through it I was introduced to the world of Thelema and ceremonial magick. I picked up several books by Crowley after that, as well as other books on Hermetic Qabalah, Wicca, and another aspects of occultism. Some of these books were terrible, some were way too deep for me. I remember when I got my first book written by Crowley himself — 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley. I had very little idea what Crowley was talking about, but the table of correspondences in Liber 777 fascinated me. I felt that I had stumbled upon something deeply important, something that explained the hidden correspondences between all phenomena.
From that point forward, I continued to study occultism, magick, and various systems of esotericism, especially Thelema, but a major shift occurred when I got into Religious Studies as a major in college and, to my own surprise, began to attend an Episcopal Church (I was not raised religious at all, even though my dad’s family, my godparents, and many people in my neighborhood were Catholic). I continued to study Late Antique Christianity and patristic theology in graduate school, and then modern theology at a liberal seminary in New York, around which time I was also confirmed Roman Catholic. In many ways, this decision was a combined result of my theological studies and a desire to connect more with my Italian American ancestry (most people at my seminary were fairly horrified by someone willingly joining the Catholic Church).
During this period, I was a committed Catholic, attending Mass every Sunday. I also practiced various forms of Christian mysticism and spirituality, from the Divine Office and the Rosary to long and short periods of Ignatian meditation. However, I never stopped studying occultism and experimenting with magick during this time, including non-Christian forms like Thelema and Wicca; I also spent some time studying Buddhism and Hinduism in college and seminary. I never saw this as incompatible or blasphemous, but also not quite reconciled in any logical way.
During this time period, I often spent summer breaks on occult work, while continuing to study more traditional world religions and Christian theology in school. But following my graduation from seminary, I committed to exploring occultism on a more permanent basis, and to writing about my experiences. This began with attending Gnostic Masses at my local OTO lodge, privately practicing basic magick, and writing more on occultism and theology. Eventually, during this period, I took the Minerval degree at the local OTO lodge — something I really rushed into without thinking through. Although I had started to identify as a Thelemite at this time, my understanding of Thelema was mixed with other religious ideas and an interest in post-Crowley Thelemites like Frater Achad, Jack Parsons, Kenneth Grant, and Nema, and the OTO didn’t feel like it suited me very well at all (though I really appreciated the members). I decided not to advance beyond the Minerval degree and formally resigned from the organization shortly thereafter. Still, even that brief initiatory experience was an important milestone in actually practicing occult work.
All this religious background is why discovering Frater Achad’s simultaneous devotion to Liber AL and its implications, but also his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church in 1928, fascinated me. I wanted to figure out what his conversation had meant for him and his specific path — and this led me more deeply both into Kenneth Grant’s and Nema’s work on the Aeon of Maat and into the history and teachings of the Universal Brotherhood. I continue to study Achad’s thought and its relationship with Thelema, and it has had a major impact on my own practice.
Throughout this time, I continued to experiment with different occult and esoteric traditions in theory and practice, including Rosicrucianism, Martinism, esoteric Freemasonry, Traditional Witchcraft, and various streams of the Gnostic Church. This has been while engaged, through my day(side) job, in social justice movement-building work largely rooted in Christian liberation theology, freedom church traditions, and dialectical materialism, adding even more complicated layers to my spiritual landscape.
However, Thelema has always remained my primary interest in terms of occultism, either as a dialogue partner while I explored other spiritualities, or as my main practice. For the last two years I’ve been more or less explicitly Thelemic in theory and practice, and gotten seriously involved in a number of Thelemic organizations. At this point I feel comfortable with the label of Thelemite, even though I’m still a Catholic of some sort, too. Frater Achad did it first, after all.
This has been a mostly analytical essay on my spiritual autobiography, not an attempt to seriously document my inner spiritual movements, such as they might be, or even to describe the philosophical and political shifts that have paralleled all these explorations. To state in a made-up-nutshell what my position is right now, I would say it’s viewing Thelema as a kind of dialectical post-Christian death of God theology.
But that really says nothing about what any of this has meant to me on a much more visceral, personal, spiritual level. That will have to wait for future reflections, but as I personally enter a new phase of life and of the use of this platform, it seemed important to lay all of this out in a clear way, as particular experiences in the movement of my own Star through the Body of Nuit. And may Nu be my refuge as Hadit my light (invisible).
1 thought on ““Nu is your refuge as Hadit your light”: Some Spiritual Autobiographical Notes on Thelema”
Thanks for this. It resonates with my own journey to integrate esoteric and exoteric practices and perspectives and actually gives me a little relief. I’ve found the Apostolic Johannite Church to be a good middle ground for me as I continue to wrestle with orthodoxy. I’m intrigued to read more about where you’ve landed and what role orthodoxy now plays in your spirituality (if any).