On Crossing the Abyss

In summer 2013 I crossed the Abyss in vision. Over the course of the last year I have been dealing with the consequences of this magical act in its various forms. It taught me as much about divinity as it did about myself. In particular it taught me about the fragility of our human lives and the immense contrast to that which we find in the eternal silence and vibrant presence of divinity. While the former is constantly passing through different states of creation, the latter never enters into creation fully.

What I am sharing below are my personal findings from crossing the Abyss, returning from it and trying to re-integrate my life after this experience. First, we will take a look what the 'Crossing of the Abyss' actually refers to. A lot has been written about it, but very little has been explained. Then we will examine the inner state we are thrown into as part of this experience. Rather than trying to predict what type of life changes we should expect as part of this transition, let's examine how we are likely to experience these. Finally, we will end with some very pragmatic survival tips that I found highly useful during my own experience.

and i knew that i could trust you to give me a ride
like the ocean trusts the moon to give it a tide.
— Herman Düne

A final word of caution: Not every magical experience that is possible needs to be made. Curiosity and fascination should be ruled out as motivators for taking life-changing decisions. It has to be hoped we don't decide to give birth to a child because we are 'interested' in what the experience might be like? Hopefully we decide to give birth because we are willing to take responsibility for the life we create. It is the same with defining the milestones of our magical journey: Don't allow tradition to define which experiences you are supposed to make at which point in your life. Be your own guide.

In order to support you in your own decision making, I hope the below considerations are helpful.

Frater Acher
Munich, spring 2014 

What is the Nature of Crossing of the Abyss?

The experience of Crossing the Abyss is triggered by a liminal rite and results in a series of liminal experiences in our everyday lives. It describes nothing other than the actual process of crossing the Abyss, i.e. the passing over the visionary threshold that lies between creation and divinity - as well as hopefully a safe return of the practitioner into creation. The term is not specific to a particular rite or tradition of magic but describes an underlying pattern of human existence: When we cross from creation to divinity we are stripped bare of all created forms that we hold as part of our own being: our body, our ego, our memories, our mind, etc. What passes through to the other side of the threshold is the individualised spark of divinity that we carry within ourselves. Rather than the crossing itself, it’s the process of re-integration into the world of creation upon one’s return that can be the even more problematic and painful experience.

How this process of passing over the Abyss is done is the subject of much speculation. Personally I know of three pathways and have only practiced the first one: in vision, in meditation or in ritual. Each of these paths over the Abyss leans on different skills in the practitioner. Therefore it’s wise to choose our path in line with our main field of practice and experience. However, whatever path we choose the consequences on our everyday lives are likely to be very similar. Interestingly, these consequences and the related process of re-integration upon one’s return is almost neglected in the occult literature. Maybe we can take this as a hint at how many of the authors actually are writing from first-hand experience? 

The truth is that many people who have never set their foot into a magical circle are dealing with the consequences of passing over the Abyss: People who have been traumatised through severe injuries, war experiences, natural catastrophes, etc. From a psychological point of view we could describe one aspect of the experience as a trauma that results in dissociation with ourselves, the life we lead, the people around us, possibly even our own bodies and ways of thinking. However, while the actual real life experiences might be the same for non-magicians and magicians, there are two essential differences to observe: 

  1. The magician is undertaking this passing deliberately and with very well defined intent. The non-magician is thrown into the experience and will mostly perceive themselves as passive and victimised.
  2. For a short period the magician is encountering divinity on the other side of the Abyss; the non-magician remains focussed on the pain and horror of losing oneself and being torn out of one’s personal existence. 

Wether we go through this experience as magicians or non-magicians, the crossing of the Abyss comes with the end of meaning as we knew it - and the beginning of a journey towards a new kind of meaning. The magician is supported on this path through a brief encounter of divinity as well as the fact that they chose to undertake this journey voluntarily. The war victim or cancer patient do not have these luxuries: Instead of divinity they only encounter the pain of losing parts of themselves and instead of voluntarily letting go, things are taken from them. So while the psychological consequences both groups are dealing with might be relatively similar, the magician is offered a much broader set of resources and better coping mechanisms to overcome them.

The real-life consequences of crossing the Abyss are whole different minefield again. Many people think that this experience is a psychological one and therefore just ‘in their heads’. They are simply wrong. If done properly the actual passing happens on a level that might be accompanied by our consciousness but actually happens on a much deeper and more essential level of creation. The spark that passes over the Abyss in the end is the spark that has maintained us over many incarnations. It has nothing to do with the person that carries a specific name or eye-color in this very life. It is our essence as a created being. Upon our return, therefore, we should expect all layers of our existence to be affected by this magical act. Yes, we might experience severe life changes, we might loose relationships or jobs and we might get very sick. Most of all, however, we shouldn’t expect to recover from these events as the same person we have been before. It's the nature of significant change that it leaves us as a different being to who we once were - with all bridges burned to our previous selves.

As part of my own journey I have experienced much of the above: In addition to the severe psychological distress that came with it I almost lost my job as well as the wonderful relationship to my wife. Maintaining and re-building both of it was the work of many months. Like many others I also needed to redefine my entire magical path as much of it had turned meaningless as a result of this visionary act. Finally, later on I was faced with emergency surgery, I lost an organ and was confronted head-on with the possibility of dying. 

It was a pretty full on year. But the point is this: We can’t reverse the decisions we take; yet as magicians we hold the privilege of choice! If we are allowed to choose we better know what is at stake and all the things we might be paying with… ’Choose wisely’ is just another way of saying ‘Be careful which doors not to open.’ Not all experiences that are possible are needed. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. The real question is: Is it necessary? And to answer this question we really need to know ourselves.

Now, I hope the above helped to clarify that the actual experience of crossing the Abyss as well as the specific consequences will differ in each of our lives. However, where we should expect some consistency at least is the way how these consequences of loss, weakness, dissociation and meaninglessness are experienced from within. Ultimately the makeup of our human minds and bodies is relatively comparable. Thus if we get exposed to specific spiritual forces we should expect similar reactions. 

What is the Experience of Crossing the Abyss?

There is a category of experiences humans can go through that are so intense, that demand so much of us that we simply struggle to reflect on them while we are passing through them. While being in the middle of such experiences our focus mainly is to stay in one piece. Our body focusses on not becoming distanced from itself and is constantly busy recalibrating its boundaries to the seemingly threatening forces around it. Reflection - if ever - only follows much later.

Being exposed to such experiences can easily feel like being mentally numbed. Our mind goes idle for long stretches of time while our body and soul are busy absorbing new impulses and often blows. Putting our minds at rest during these times is critical as well as allowing our body-consciousness to lead us through them, one day after another… Unfortunately these are also times when our minds easily get scared. They fall prey to fear because they cannot control. In most cases they don’t even contribute in any meaningful way to the experience. In theory, our mind’s job is to simply get out of the way while we engage with the world in much more essential than purely mental ways. Regrettably our minds hate getting out of the way, just as much as they hate resting, listening or being formed by forces they don’t constrain.

As much as I am ready to understand the process I am currently in, this pattern seems to be at the core of crossing the Abyss: People have called it a state of being ready to offering up ourselves - and I can see a lot of truth in this. Once we are in the process of crossing the Abyss we are no longer in control of what is happening to us. Our challenge in such a situation is not to maintain our form or shape through protection or shielding ourselves from the incoming forces, but to stay soft and to resist the temptation of becoming rigid. Control at this point in time sits on the other side of the table. Just like a substance reacts to the exposure of acids or the blow of a hammer so we need to react to these experiences - rather than trying to prepare for them proactively. In situations like these power can only flow from the present tense.

Tradition also holds that while crossing the Abyss Daath can easily become the trap we get caught in. This as well makes a lot of sense to me: In a state of blindness and needing to let go, there is nothing more tempting to our minds than the seeming solidness of ‘knowledge’. Such knowledge can come in many forms: in the attempt of using books as anchors of truths, in the attempt of compiling voluminous records of our own traditions, in researching minute details of our magical past, or in the form of huge tables and structures that are meant to form and contain the chaos we find ourselves exposed to… (Note: If you visit this page more often, many of these might seem familiar from my work of the last year.) True strength lies in allowing such attempts for stability to happen whenever we need them and to let go of them as soon as we are ready to flow again. Releasing the anchor doesn’t mean we have reached the harbour. It means that amongst all the tides we deserve some time to rest. 

Maybe think of the Vision of Death as described in Josephine’s 'Magical Knowledge' series: Once we have crossed the river of death we begin to ascend the huge mountain of oblivion and rebirth. Our life, all of our living memories begin to fall off, like pieces of an armour that we leave behind on our trail. As we ascend each step turns more difficult. There is a moment in this ascent when we lose consciousness of wether what we shed is still a piece of the armour or pieces of our own skin. The boundary of our self blurs and we lose awareness of the space between centre and periphery… Crossing the Abyss is not dissimilar to the experience of death: while all of yourself is at stake you cannot rush it nor can you push it. You can only decide when to slow down, to catch your breath and when to get up and take the next step. To walk into death is a difficult undertaking. And being gentle with oneself is just as important as being persevering.

Or maybe think of a scabbard: What a delicate balance for it to strike between being soft and flexible as well as taut and tight? If the scabbard contracted too tightly it got cut by the sword; if it expanded too widely it would loose its grip on the blade. A good scabbard does not get bruised when the sword is inserted and equally it will hold the blade tightly when turned on its head. A good scabbard is a very intelligent being; it has mastered the art of embracing. It has mastered the art of balancing softness and hardness to sheath what otherwise could bring death.

Some Tips on How to Stay Sane?

For anyone who might think these considerations sound rather abstract, believe me, once you are back from the Abyss they will take on a very tangible echo... The actual problem with crossing the Abyss is not how to initiate the process, but how to complete it in one piece without getting broken or stuck. As mentioned above, the process itself isn't a psychological one. However our psyche is one of the main filters through which we are experiencing it. Thus preparing your psyche for when it will get hit by such a wave of power and change simply is a reasonable thing to do. 

Here are a few practical tips that might help anybody at this junction on their magical journey. They also might help in many other challenging life experiences? Of course I had days where I neglected each one of them. Luckily I also had days where I recovered from my own foolishness.  --  Finally, it’s important to understand that the below advise has noting to do with comfort once you are back from the Abyss. Instead each point has much more to do with survival or remaining sane.

  • Revisit your foundations: By the time we reach the threshold of the Abyss most of us will have practiced magic for at least a decade if not more. Equally most of us will have outgrown the strict regime of daily ritual practice that is essential for building foundational magical skills during early years. At this stage it might be helpful to revisit these very foundations - and pick up again a regular routine of simple beginners’ practices. Most of all what we will gain from it is stability when needed. When the storm is at its peak, these will prove to be safe-haven practices that offer much needed shelter and support. Such practices can be as traditional and straight forward as the Middle Pillar Ritual, the LBPR, elementary-energy retuning or basic cleaning rituals as part of our morning routine. 

Many of us wondered why such a huge amount of repetitions of these introductory rites were necessary when we first picked them up. Well, now is the time when we harvest the fruits of the ritual patterns we seeded as Neophytes. Only if these choreographies of energy and power are deeply embedded into our body and psyche - as well as activated by the spiritual beings under whose protection they work - will they help us to quickly reestablish a balance that otherwise would be unattainable. Think of them as the skeleton of your magical practice that provides stability and strength to your being from within; if nurtured well during your magical youth you’ll be able to now greatly benefit from it. 

  •  Keep yourself grounded: Maybe even more basic than the previous point is this one. In times of radical change always keep at least one foot solidly on the physical ground. Most of the practices that fall into this category are simply sound advise to anybody who is at risk of getting lost in their own imaginations: Work out or go for a run regularly so your body is offered a natural way to reduce stress and is positively exhausted by the time you go to bed. Cut screen time to a healthy minimum. Of course you don’t need to socially isolate yourself. Rather you need to watch the danger of isolating yourself and withdrawing from the physical world by spending too much time online or in front of the TV. These days that’s such a convenient trap for your imaginations and fears to lock you in… Instead revisit the activities you enjoyed before the virtual world invaded your life to the extent it currently does: Pick up an old offline hobby again, work in the garden, re-decorate your flat or begin to paint again. There are no limits to your creativity. The only thing to ensure is that it finds a path to flow out into the physical world and isn’t cut off from growing roots by being trapped online entirely. 

Finally, this point can also mean it might be wise to stay away from magic altogether for a while. Don’t forget you don’t give up on being a magician simply because you offer your mind sufficient time to heal. The experience you are going through right now is truly significant - like a submarine quake or a build up of energy inside a volcano. Times of outer stillness and rest will be needed to allow your body and soul to concentrate your energies where they are needed. Just because you don’t do magic doesn’t mean that you are not involved in it or processing it. If you are anything like me, just add another month of rest when you actually think you are ready to engage in magical practice again… 

  • Get therapy: Yes, at this point on your magical path latest this might be a very good idea. However, I would strongly advise against picking up any classical types of long-term therapy, such as psychoanalysis, while you are crossing the Abyss. If you haven’t started such a (psychological) journey at an earlier stage of your path they can easily result in simply more damage right now. What we don’t need at this point is a therapist who tries to explain our current state of distress through childhood experiences or by how we are stuck in our anal phase. Rather we need a therapist who helps us paying more attention to the present moment, to reconnect with our body and who can support us in being okay with feeling pretty shaken and out of shape for at least a while. 

So look for types of therapy that offer short-term interventions orientated towards increasing your resilience and maybe re-adjusting some of your stress-related coping mechanisms. Well known forms of such short-term therapy are cognitive-behavioural (CBT) or Gestalt therapy. Also, ensure you find a therapist you really trust and feel comfortable with; it might take visiting a few of them until you find a safe place. 

  • Stay away from important decisions: It would be expected that while you are crossing the Abyss you’ll gain access to some pretty unfamiliar perspectives on your current life. Existing relationships, commitments or day-jobs might seem less meaningful, even optional and irrelevant. Should this be true for you chances are you have grown more unstable than you might think and the above three steps are critical to revisit. If you truly managed to get to the Abyss and begin to cross it, one would expect you have acquired quite some experience with managing magical change in your life. It is simply unlikely that everything you believed in before you set your foot on the Abyss was either irrelevant, vain or simply wrong. Rather it might be that your decision making filters are being shaken, broken down or even rebuilt more than you are used to. 

During such phases it’s important to stay away from important life decisions - and to be able to bear up and persevere in the inner tension that this comes with. There simply is no easy way out of your current situation - except for maybe accepting it and allowing yourself to experience it for what it is. Chances are that experiencing the very feelings you are exposed to right now, is actually part of you crossing the Abyss. Wherever you turn they would follow you. See, magic works through your physical, astral and mental bodies. They are used as mirrors that help expose you to and reflect certain experiences, emotions and states of beings onto you. If these mirrors are tarnished or over-shadowed it doesn’t matter what is reflected in them - their tarnish will remain the same. Staying grounded is so important, because it allows you to cope with and tolerate these radically changing perspectives on your life. Take each one of them and look into them like you would look into a magical mirror. But rather than getting lost in what they show you, accept it objectively and begin to learn about the mirror itself.  

  • Work with your HGA: This one is optional of course as only available to anybody who has managed to achieve communion with their HGA. At this point - just like a therapist - your HGA will offer a wonderful source of support and advise. No rituals or evocations are needed to tap into this stream of protection and support. Just speak to it regularly, sit in its presence and accept its sometimes startling advise. 

Whenever I manage to sit in the presence of my HGA a deep feeling of calm and rest overcomes me. I am entering it like an invisible room in which I myself become invisible. The absence of myself, my thoughts, my emotions and the overwhelming presence of this being is one of the most powerful experiences I have made. Talking to it becomes easy then, as I feel its words vibrating through my body. During my experience of crossing the Abyss it has given me wonderful advise. Such as: ‘Pay more attention to your stomach. It needs to speak to you.’ or ‘What about less rock ’n’ roll and more tango?’ or ‘Watch out for balance: What is it that you support and what is it you are supported by?’…

Be careful though that resting in your HGA’s presence doesn’t turn into an escape. Your HGA isn’t meant to replace the thick skin you’ll need to navigate through this experience. It can only offer you a truly wise and intimate perspective as well as the occasional boost of energy that comes from being free of yourself. Both of them should be consumed in small dosages only; as passive exposure to them is so much easier than actively integrating them into your everyday life.

  • Don't be a sissy and don't be a hero: Remember what we said about the scabbard above? This is basically the same advise in more human terms. Remember that both states are temporary: the strength you feel as well as the weakness you endure. While you’ll recover from the latter eventually, the former is a temporary gift. These truly are the skills of the mature adult learner: knowing when to push through as well as knowing when to let go. If you’ll cry every time you feel tears behind your eyes, crossing the Abyss will easily leave you emotionally depleted and broken half-way through the journey. If on the other hand you cannot see moments of weakness and recovery coming before you run out of strength the whole experience will cut much deeper into your bones than it has to… 

Let’s put the finger on the wound: Being a sissy means acting with less courage than we actually have. It means making ourselves smaller than we are in order to attract pity. Searching for pity on the other hand is a completely useless and dysfunctional behaviour for anybody on a magical path. Whenever we are suffering or weak we need to look for places of recovery and rest ourselves - and not to others for pampering us. Neither spirits nor spouses get paid to lick our magical wounds. If the price of our magical practice turns into a burden for others, it’s likely we either have risked too much or aren’t taking sufficient responsibility for our own decisions. Both are good reasons to slow down and closely examine our state of being - and wether we actually hold back on our own strength in order to draw it from others? Yes, people who behave like sissies often are nothing but energy-vampires to others.

Trying to be a hero on the other side means naively accepting more risk than we actually can afford. It means acting as if we were bigger than we are in order to receive recognition for something that we aren’t. Acting like a hero is the modus operandi of the narcissist. Unfortunately in most cases their behaviour results in more damage to themselves and their loved ones than simply behaving like Johnny-white-socks would. Neither spirits nor spouses get paid to adore us for something that we are just faking. Instead of showing off our fake armours we should rather accept the reality of how thin and fragile our skin and bones are underneath. Again, true strength results from humbleness and knowing exactly what is at stake in each situation.