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To the Edge of the Abyss

A journey from New Age and the Occult to the Catholic Church

Blaise Pascal writes that there are three kinds of people: those who have sought God and have found him; those who are still seeking; and those who do not seek. The grace of a restless, searching heart is great indeed, for our Lord guarantees that he who seeks, finds. Before I loved him, he loved me first and gave me a heart burning to know the answers to all the big questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What does life mean? What does suffering mean?

I was born in 1950 and baptized in the Episcopal Church. My father had been raised a New England Congregationalist and was not religious at all. My mother came out of a Lutheran family for whom religion was a good, socially respectable thing to do, but hardly something to center one’s life around. My mother converted to Catholicism after the death of her mother in the 1960s but fell away almost immediately under the onslaught of feminism. For some reason, I was born with an intense desire to know about religion, and my parents allowed me to go to Sunday school (which I quickly gave up as too boring), and eventually I joined the choir and was in time confirmed, receiving a copy of the Book of Common Prayer with my name on it. I tried to convert a Jewish friend when I was about twelve. I failed.

I went to a non-denominational boarding school where I sang a lot of great sacred music and was required to take courses in Scripture. My interest in religion remained strong. I read a lot of C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and George Macdonald. I even planned to go to Union Theological Seminary after college, but this intention was complicated by my interest in the occult and in boys. The former was to gain influence, but it was my boy-craziness that began to trouble my faith. How, I asked in an early diary, could anyone remain chaste? It was beginning to seem impossible. From the perspective of my conversion I know now that it was during adolescence that pride began to enter my soul. My reasoning went something like this: I am a good person. I am having a really hard time not giving in to these desires. Ergo, the Church has got to be wrong. Soon after entering college and succumbing easily to the ethos of the late 1960s, I gave up any notion of Union Theological. I majored in ancient Greek, and, by the time graduation rolled around, not knowing what else to do, I applied and was accepted to a graduate program in classical philosophy. I dropped out after one semester. I still had these burning questions, and translating Greek and Latin did not seem to be the way to get them answered.

Besides, I had begun to study astrology, which seemed to offer practical information about why people are the way they are, was based on an ordered universe, and was very ancient. I studied diligently and in a few years was doing astrology professionally. I married at 25 and two years later had my first child and my second one three years later. My life was filled with the daily joys of being a wife and mother, but my heart was restless. I knew there was something else. Eventually I began to take yoga classes and then one day I picked up the autobiography of Aleister Crowley, perhaps the premier master of the occult, who was known as “the wickedest man in the world.” His creed is summed up in his dictum “‘Do what thou wilt’ shall be the whole of the Law.” He was to the occult what the Nazis and Communists were to politics, the logical and full flowering of the ideas of Nietzsche.

Crowley was the true father of the 1960s, at least the sex and drugs part. I am sorry to say that I fell head over heels in love with him. At last, thought I, here is the answer — magic. There is only one way I can describe what was to happen to me in the light of my subsequent conversion. My heavenly Father heaved a deep sigh, allowed me to look into the abyss — since that was where my restless heart had led me — and then, when I was just about to tumble over, he graciously pulled me back. There is no other word for it — it was rescue, pure and simple, in the form of what Sheldon Vanauken called “severe mercy.”

My involvement with Crowley was (thank God) through his books. I did not know any people who were Crowley followers, but I found out about a group of them in Brazil. I began to feel a strong pull to go and visit them. I mentioned this idea to my husband, and he was upset and scared. He said this could be the end of our marriage. He had recently returned to his childhood faith, the Catholic Church. Soon after this, I performed my first and only magical ritual and was on the brink of the abyss. It was time for the Lord to administer a dose of severe mercy.

A few weeks later I had a full-blown panic attack before a plane flight. I have never liked flying but never had experienced anything like this. Another panic attack followed, again in connection with a plane flight. Panic attacks are dreadful things, and I figured I needed therapy. Into therapy I went — and stayed for six years. I wasn’t ready for the Lord, but he was patiently guiding and waiting. I left the occult, at least the Crowley part, not so much out of conviction as out of the realization that it would put my marriage at risk. I continued to do astrology and to read, and, ever restless and hungry and unsatisfied, moved on to Buddhism.

During this time of therapy and Buddhism I realized how much I longed for a father. I had not lost my father as a child, nor did I have a bad relationship with him, but my life seemed filled with the search for the father who would explain the meaning of life. Many of us in the West are strongly attracted to Eastern religions because the “guru” seems to satisfy this need for a father. This notion of “guru” is, as Holy Church would say, a seed of the truth. It is corrupt and ultimately unsatisfying, but it is based in truth. I was a Buddhist for five years. I meditated and meditated (and am grateful for having learned how to sit still), but I found no peace, and the guru of the Buddhists I had joined had died.

Finally, in an act of spiritual desperation, one day on a walk I prayed. My prayer was something like this: “Is anyone there? I need help. Everything I have tried — astrology, yoga, the occult, therapy, Buddhism — has failed. In each case I have followed a path faithfully only to reach a dead end, a closed door, a big No. Please help me.” Thus did my restless heart, filled with the tremendous grace of not finding peace where none was to be found, come to the end of its rope. The Lord knew I was at last ready to hear him. Soon after, I was reading an interesting article in a magazine. The author’s name was Thomas Molnar; he was described as the author of The Pagan Temptation. It sounded like something I needed to read.

Molnar is a devout Catholic philosopher, and his book was the instrument God used to convert me. Reading The Pagan Temptation was like being the Samaritan woman at the well with Jesus. Molnar “told me all that I ever did” (John 4:29). I had succumbed to the pagan temptation hook to worship natural forces, to identify with them, to use them for self-glorification. Even Buddhism, which ostensibly is a reaction against the excesses of nature worship in Hinduism, cannot escape from the results of the pagan ignorance of Christ. Suffering remains an enigma, the only answer to which is a combination of stoic resignation and yogic manipulation of consciousness. Love and joy remain illusions because their true source is unknown.

Molnar unmasked for me the pretensions of Crowley and the New Age pretensions I had adopted. The scales dropped from my eyes as he showed me that the entire project of the occult, of the New Age, and of the twentieth century with all of its ideologically-driven utopian carnage is simply power. Buddhism, which does contain seeds of truth, attracts Westerners primarily because it involves a technology whose mastery (it is hoped) will give the power to deal with suffering. Buddhism for Westerners is another way to “work out,” to “go to the gym,” so that in addition to our perfect body we will have a perfect consciousness. I began to see what happens to man without God, and I knew it had happened to me: the pursuit of self, of self-gratification in hedonism, of self-exaltation in the occult, of self-obsession in the religion of therapy, of self-control and self-annihilation in Buddhism.

But along with the grace of my restless heart God had given me another grace: the desire to give myself away. Even in the midst of the pursuit of self there was the desire to find the right path, the true path, the teacher/father that I could at last give myself to. After all, the two best things that had ever happened to me before conversion were marriage and children — the giving away of self to others in love. At any rate, after reading Molnar (and I read everything of his I could get my hands on), I concluded that God is my real, true Father, that he had given me life and all blessings and he was the One I was supposed to give myself away to, and that he loved me even during the time I had spurned him. Molnar was a Catholic — in fact, he was a daily communicant. The signs read, “Next and final stop: the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.”

I think it is important to say that, before the moment of my conversion, I had no intention of returning to Christianity. Christianity was not another thing to try after the other things had failed. I was pro-choice, pro-unfettered sexuality, a true child of my generation. I was looking for the truth but wanted a truth that would let me continue in sin. My conversion was radical and completely unexpected.

Since coming into the Church at the Easter vigil of 1992, I have never been so deeply happy. In the words of the old hymn, echoing the words of Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives, what joy the blest assurance gives.” My restless heart is resting, my questions are answered. Like the Magi astrologers, I came to worship at the Crib and left astrology behind. After coming into the Church, I was a little bewildered. I needed some time to get my bearings. I studied hard to find out why the Catholic Church is in fact Christ’s Church. I knew family and friends would be skeptical, and I wanted to be ready “to give a defense” for the joy and peace I had found. I dived head first into Scott Hahn’s tapes, read G. K. Chesterton and Thomas Howard and Peter Kreeft, became a daily communicant, started to subscribe to This Rock and other Catholic publications, eventually found a spiritual director.

Within two years of my conversion I was ready to step out and started to teach CCD, starting with one class and now with two classes of wonderful, questioning seventh graders who definitely need a combination of catechesis, apologetics, and evangelization. In 1994 the Catholic Evidence Guild started up (again) in New York City under the guidance of Fr. Robert Quarato and the auspices of Fr. Benedict Groeschel. I joined up and am now the unworthy vice-president. The Lord has showered me with blessings and teachers and friends. I know that there are terrible problems in the Church but the study of her history and the knowledge of Christ’s promise fill me with hope. Who knows? Maybe in my lifetime we’ll be singing Adoro Te Devote again.

My whole life has been a search for the truth, in order that once found, I might give myself to that truth. This is how to explain my leaving academic life, where nobody seemed to be passionate about truth, and my coming into the orbit of the occult, with astrology, then yoga, and eventually Crowley. The occult (which is basically just gnosticism) promises truth. My life shows that one can be mistaken intellectually and morally, but, if one’s thirst to give oneself to truth is strong, the Lord will be able to direct the soul because the soul longs to know and longs to love. Yes, I fell in love with astrology and Crowley but found no peace. The Lord, despite my sin and pride, saw my heart longing to give itself away, and, when I was ready, he was there.

Initially I did not come to him in repentance, only in great need. True repentance came only when I saw how much he loved me. This is why Newman’s motto “Cor ad cor loquitur” is so true. Faith is a movement of the heart in love for the One who is so lovable. Paul speaks of those who “refused to love the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10). God can work with any heart that seeks to love and serve and cherish truth, even the misguided and sinful heart. As long as that heart has a soft spot somewhere, he’ll use it. What pride does is turn the heart to stone so that the longing to love, to give oneself away, is strangled gradually. I say “gradually” because I was lost in pride and lust and sin, but my heart, by God’s grace, was still soft enough to ache, to long, to be restless and dissatisfied with what I thought was true but was not. The dear Lord never gave up on me. Deo Gratias. 

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