NIHIL OBSTAT: An Interview with Helen Kirkby

Out of California we found an unusual witch with both a unique background and an enlightening outlook. Soror Nihil Obstat, a proponent of Sacred Sexuality and an initiate of A.’.A.’., was recently kind enough to tell us about herself…

WOTKY: Let’s start by talking about you, in general. Tell us a bit about yourself.

HK: Well, I am a first generation Asian American woman residing in Southern California, currently 23 years of age, happily married, an artist, occultist, and philosopher. I am currently enrolled in the University of California, Irvine and have an Associates degree in Humanities from Pasadena City College. I have also taken classes in fine arts at the ArtCenter College of Design. In my spare time I enjoy sewing/embroidering, cosplaying, collecting stuffed animals, drifting and modifying cars, cooking/baking/eating, enjoying the gothic and fetish nightlife of Los Angeles, classical ballet, contemporary dance, bugspotting, and growing cacti/succulents.

WOTKY: What attracted you to the occult?

HK: I discovered occultism (the Western Hermetic tradition, to be more specific) shortly after a passionate interest in metaphysics, epistemology, anthropology, theology, and primarily the philosophy of religion. What led me to the latter was the desire to understand, to bridge together my traditional Chinese upbringing with the world I was living in, and find an all-encompassing spiritual philosophy. I felt Hermeticism was perfect for these things and for me. 

WOTKY: What authors influenced you the most?

HK: Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Gottfried von Leibniz, Franz von Baader, Jacob Boehme, George W.F. Hegel, John Dee, Robert Fludd, George Berkeley, Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, Arthur Schopenhauer, Meister Eckhart, Rudolf Otto, Friedrich W.J. Schelling, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Zizek, Milton H. Erickson, Gregory Bateson, Soren Kierkegaard, Edmund Husserl, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Satre, Aldous Huxley, Paul Brunton, David R. Hawkins, Daniel Dennett, David Papineau, D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Elliot, Robert Duncan, Lewis Carroll, John Keats, John Yarker, Walt Whitman, Vladimir Nabokav, Emily Dickenson, Theodore Sturgeon, Ida Craddock, H.P. Blavatsky, Eliphas Levi, Rudolf Steiner, Austin Osman Spare, Robert Anton Wilson, Alan Watts, Peter Carroll, Phil Hine, Timothy Leary, Christopher Hyatt, A.E. Waite, Israel Regardie, Phyllis Seckler, Charles Stanfeld Jones, Isaac Luria, Pat Zalewski, Benjamin Rowe, Stephen Skinner, Paul Foster Case, Robert Allen Bartlett, E.J. Langford Garstin, Mark Stavish, David Shoemaker, and of course Aleister Crowley.

WOTKY: What brought you to Aleister Crowley and Thelema?

HK: After my initial studies in various grimoires of Renaissance-era magic, I discovered the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and it became the first organized system that utilized attributions I had read in grimoires. Naturally, my path transitioned into Thelema and the works of Aleister Crowley. I stuck with Thelema because it was familiar enough in Qabalah and Western Occultism to be comfortable, but progressive enough to be exciting and challenging. It incorporates a comprehensive symbol set with roots deep in the Hermetic and Gnostic traditions, in addition to both RHP and LHP philosophy, along with Eastern and Western concepts. On the outside it is clear and structured, but inside contains a lifetime of mysteries to uncover. I hope that I may uncover some of these mysteries and contribute to the New Aeon in ways that my personal experience can be utilized for others down the line.

WOTKY: Tell us about your views on Sacred Sexuality.

HK: I believe we live in an age where all have the potential to embrace hermaphroditism in essence – the balance of the female/yin and male/yang aspects of self through sexual practices. To be clear when I speak of “male” and “female,” I am not simply speaking about sex – the masculine is that which seeks unity. The feminine is unity which reminds the masculine of his nature; that he was, will be, and is united. Gender is not polarity, but a scale of abstraction. The end and the beginning are feminine. The coming into being is masculine. We are all female in the womb, and hence we return to female upon Crossing the Abyss. Every man and every woman is a star. Within every star, I feel lies the same structure representing different parts of the mind and higher self; Man and Scarlet Woman reside in the ruach, their relationship symbolic of the self receiving unconditional love, and the Scarlet Woman provides this initiatory gate for Man to gain Splendour from his experience and environment. This presents the first interplay of active/passive roles within the self. At this stage, the HGA is still indefinable to the man, but he feels its presence – the ego is what mediates the id and superego. Once Beauty is apparent, Man is Beast – the conscious mind that contains the potential to select, block, and filter that which it seeks to manifest. Babalon functions as the subconscious mind which has the potential to attract that which the Beast selects, given he has not constricted it himself with lust of result. She “gives her love freely to all men,” meaning she is neutral in preference to all goals of the Beast. That which the conscious mind represses will seep into the subconscious, giving the appearance of Babalon as the source of emotion, the feminine aspect in life. True Will is the mediator between these two aspects of self. The ultimate Joy is in the Beast’s surrender into Babalon; and this is portrayed by a person’s absolute trust and fragility towards his partner, she in accepting and loving him regardless of any and all accretions. She allows his Joy, and His Joy becomes Hers. As for practices – it is the New Aeon and I hope to see an end to fetish and paraphilia shaming. If we have desires, we should experiment without judgment (in ways without breaking the law or endangering others for karmic purposes). Experimentation is, after all part of the attainment of Hadit, and being without judgment, part of the attainment of Nuit.

WOTKY: Do you belong to any organizations? Tell us about it/them.

HK: I am only at liberty to disclose one organization to which I belong – and thus I do so openly – and that is my affiliation with the A.’.A.’. I also seek to volunteer as an artist for the International Alchemy Guild in the near future.

WOTKY: What is it like being an ethnic minority in a subculture that is predominantly “white”? How does this affect your practice?

HK: First off, ethnicity and culture are not the same thing. People of color, of varying generations, all differ in the amount of culture/tradition passed on to them from their family. These traditions are usually complete with a religious/spiritual ideology that tie into customs, ethics, and language that benefit the status quo of the historical region associated with the given ethnicity. Therefore, any person (of any ethnicity) who feels they are satisfied with the culture most familiar to them usually does not need to immerse themselves in another. Secondly, having your worldview molded by a culture at an early age is not the same as growing up and then utilizing aspects of a culture or tradition. The latter is usually done because Western culture emphasizes individualism, and although there is absolutely nothing wrong with it – in fact it is a great way to broaden one’s mind, the confusion and disillusionment lies in the categorization of the experiences. The characteristics of Western society since the advent of Christianity have also primarily been a mixture of rationalism, capitalism, and democracy. Western esotericism, in short, seeks to illuminate the rational individual, to aid him in success, and have his success improve the status quo of the society. So although the subculture is predominantly “white” at present, I suspect there will be more people of color finding interest in Western esotericism as cultures continue to mix. There is only an ethnic minority because “white” people are the ethnic majority in every Western subculture. As for me personally, it can be uncomfortable sometimes because people (including people of color) cannot perceive the amount of ethnic tradition I have accreted – and that is if people can tell what ethnicity I am to begin with. It does not affect my practice so much as make me socially awkward at events.

WOTKY: Do you utilize anything from your ethnic heritage in your practices?

HK: I frequently use the Wu Xing attributions for medicine in combination with practices involving the Tattvas and I am also learning to incorporate the folklore and superstitions I grew up with into my pathworking. I find that a lot of the most challenging work in life is making peace with your family and childhood.

WOTKY: You have mentioned “mental illness” in connection with Magick. Tell us about that.

HK: So I’ve personally been diagnosed and can only speak for myself – but I hold no shame and hope others can benefit from my thoughts on this. Essentially, I believe magick is a useful tool for transmuting symptoms to aid in the health of the practitioner, and that in some cases symptoms can heighten the magick of the practitioner. Above all, know thyself – and in order to know thyself, one must be honest with thyself. I test as an INFP/J personality type and my astrological chart is a hot mess. Which of these arbitrary models is the true one? Probably all of them, but regardless – I know myself and know the extent of any insanity which may arise. I also know my emotional baseline. It is when these two aspects fluctuate away from the baseline in various combinations that result in the myriad of symptoms in “mental illness.” My personal philosophy is to keep these charts in harmony, not restricting the heights or depths of psychosis/neurosis or emotion/indifference, but to balance and keep the rhythm. My strengths and weaknesses keep evolving as I encounter different aspects of the Work. Up until recently I had a hard time letting go of grudges and opening up to people for fear of being hurt. But now, I love my sentimentality, fragility, passion, emotion, all that erupts from the depths of ego-impurity. It is the raw feeling of being human, and being hurt. If there is any “major lesson” I have learned in my short lifetime in congruence with magick, it is that you cannot conquer anything when beginning the journey with a detachment from fear. This detachment is a fear of fear itself, a fortress of defense from the ego. It is not the same Nothingness one feels from the sorrow of the ego shattering. You have to lose yourself in what arises.

WOTKY:What forms of fiction have had an effect on you: Movies & the like?

HK: I typically enjoy gothic fiction and poetry. I believe monsters to be metaphors for aspects of the self that we fear to face. In the case for gothic fiction, we learn about ourselves through a relationship with those monsters that is not just characterized by fear, but the desire to unite with them. My husband has been working on a sci-fi-fantasy universe which contains separate sagas that I read in my spare time. These stories examine transhumanist spirituality, social control and engineering, transcendental artificial intelligence, ultra-terrestrial entities, and meme-theory among other topics I feel are interesting and relevant to magick. As for movies and TV shows – Le Grande Bleu(1988), Altered States (1980), Cannibal Holocaust (1980), A Serbian Film (2010),Lesson Faust (1994), Onibaba (1964),Woman in the Dunes (1964), Funeral Parade of Roses (1969), The Magus (1968),Anatomy of Hel (2004), Funny Games(1997), Gerry (2002), Mermaid in a Manhole(1988), The Babadook (2014), Dogtooth(2009), 500 Days of Summer (2009), The 400 Blows (1959), Persona (1966), Her(2013), Possession (1981), The Piano(1993), The Piano Teacher (2001) Stalker(1979), On the Silver Globe (1988), A Waking Life (2001), The Holy Mountain(1973), Hukkle (2002), Childhood’s End, andBlack Mirror all stood out as having been significant to me. 

WOTKY: Do you have any basic advice for young women new to this area of research and practice?

HK: Be yourself – don’t try to fit a mold or impress anyone. And if you don’t know what to do then your first task is to find out what you’re capable of. Respect your elders but don’t let them put you down.

WOTKY: What other related areas are of interest to you? Which do you involve yourself in?

HK: I try to vary my interests as much as I can in order to provide context for myself and application for my magickal work – so I consider all my areas of interest related to magick. However, more directly related areas of interest are alternative medicine, ethnobotany, yoga, applied kinesiology, NLP, hypnosis, sociology, psychology, asemic writing, art and dance.

In regards to art, I began as a (figure-drawing, fine art nude) traditional artist using conte, charcoal, and chalk pastels, then I started oil painting, watercolour, mixing mediums, contemporary embroidery, and have just begun dabbling with digital art. I believe we manifest a microcosm of ourselves and everything that has influenced and created us into our art. Magick is an art, and art itself is magick. The magnum opus of my art is eventually to experience with my senses that which I have created (in my image). Only through art can we validate our own existence by acting as our own “other.”