This is transcript of Alan's solo podcast Crossing the Abyss Part 1: How to do it and what to expect.
In the Western Sacred Tradition of Magick there is an event known as ‘Crossing the Abyss’, which marks a certain milestone in the magician’s magical career.
Due to the histrionics of Aleister Crowley and the general degeneration of the Western Magical Tradition since his death, many contemporary magicians usually regard the abyss as a metaphor for going through a period of depression, losing a job or significant other, as a catch all term for any kind of initiatory crises whatsoever, or as nothing more than a fictitious magical attainment dreamed up by Crowley as a device for inflating his ego.
However, based on my own personal experience and that of others, I can tell you that crossing the abyss is only a metaphor in so far as it describes a specific, unique, one-off, personally verifiable magical event peculiar to the tradition of magick, although there are equivalents found in other traditions.
What is the Abyss?
The abyss is that which divides the relative from the absolute. Any experience whatsoever is relative, being an expression of a relationship between one thing and another. Quantum physics, Transactional psychology and postmodern thought all tell us that we are born relative creatures in a relative world, with our everyday reality being a unique construction based on our own peculiar conditioning, habits, biology and environment.
Sadly, it appears as though this realisation is as far as most magicians get in terms of understanding the world, hence their attitude to crossing the abyss as just another arbitrary metaphor for just another relative and subjective experience, because after all, aren’t all magical techniques, traditions and experiences of equal value?
Well, no, and this is what crossing the abyss is all about. One plane of relative experience is the mystical or profound. The language used to describe mystical or profound experience is known as metaphysics, and crossing the abyss is part of the metaphysic of magick. Just like every other plane, the metaphysical is dynamic – our experience of it is progressive, and we can grow and develop at the metaphysical just as our bodies grow and develop at the physical level of experience from foetus to adult.
To cross the abyss is to begin a metaphysical process that will lead from a reality composed solely of relative experience to one that includes the absolute for the first time. It is the beginning of magical maturity.
It should be noted that crossing the abyss has sometimes been equated with the destruction of the ego, but this is misleading. Yes, metaphysical experience transcends the relative self, but it is inclusive, not destructive or dismissive. If we first consider the hand and then the body, would it be correct to say the hand is destroyed by such a growth in awareness? The same is true of the growth in awareness from ego to absolute, and this is no more illustrated in those magicians, gurus or holy men who attain to enlightenment or the completion of the Great Work and yet still remain egotistical, sociopathic shit heads.
What is the Absolute?
It’s important to understand that there are many metaphysical events besides the absolute, such as various trances, states of absorption caused by concentration exercises, visions, psychic and magical experiences. None of these events, including those experiences that result from the absolute, are the absolute itself. If it comes and then goes, it is most assuredly relative.
Being beyond the relative and subjective, the absolute is not really an experience as such, as there is no experience or experiencer so to speak, but to refuse to talk about it on these grounds is firstly to risk failing to recognise there are techniques and an identifiable process that can lead to the absolute, and secondly, to reduce the Great Work or enlightenment to nothing but the intellectual realisation that words are inadequate for accounting for reality. I will therefore be referring to the absolute as an experience for convenience sake.
The absolute occurs as part of the metaphysical process, which proceeds in stages, and it isn’t something that can be practiced like a trance state and experienced at the whim of the ego. At first, the absolute will occur during the process as a peak experience, or as a momentary ‘blip’ in reality. As stated earlier, what happens during the ‘blip’ cannot really be accounted for with language, but the most useful term I’ve found to describe it is the Buddhist Theravada concept of emptiness, although the experience really isn’t anything like an absence, a negation, a void or a nothingness. I urge you to go and experience it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.
The results of experiencing the absolute may include but are not limited to: overwhelming bliss, a sense of coming home, an increase in compassion, the realisation of the Truth, perfect happiness and all round good times. If that isn’t reason enough to want to cross the abyss then I don’t know what is.
Eventually the magical developmental process will lead to the occurrence of emptiness as a plateau experience, when emptiness becomes progressively more obvious during real-time, fading in and out of the 'background' of reality, regardless of whether you are in the temple meditating or eating your lunch in the canteen at work.
The final stage of the process is the occurrence of emptiness as a permanent adaptation i.e. instead of identifying with an unknown, the self know finds its centre of gravity with emptiness. The divide between the relative and the absolute is abolished and the Great Work is accomplished.
In the metaphysic of magick there are three grades that designate the three stages of the process. After crossing the abyss and the occurrence of emptiness as a peak experience, the magician becomes a Magister Templi, or a Master of the Temple. When emptiness occurs as a plateau experience, the magician attains the grade of Magus; and with the permanent adaptation of emptiness, and the accomplishment of the Great Work, the magician assumes the final grade of Ipsissimus.
How do you cross the abyss?
There is only one act a magician can do to the cross the abyss, and that is to gain the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. The Holy Guardian Angel is the embodiment of the absolute. The Holy Guardian Angel is a means by which the relative self or ego can interact on its own terms with that which is above the abyss.
Once the knowledge and conversation is attained, or the magician has entered into a dialogue via vision and synchronicity with the angel, the magician will be led through the developmental process, which occurs as a cycle with stages, with the angel providing the right teachings and techniques at the right time. This usually means a daily meditational practice, but when I crossed the abyss I went through the first cycle using a daily ritual of sun worship. As a relative entity, it follows that there will be methods relative in their usefulness for each magician at each stage. In other words, it's different strokes for different folks.
how do we actually gain the knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel?
Being the absolute, it doesn’t follow that the relative self or ego can command the angel to appear or make contact; rather, it is the angel that must initiate the conversation, for the angel transcends but includes the magician. The correct attitude to be adopted then is one of surrender – the magician must open himself up to the absolute, to give up all he has, has been or will ever be in favour of the knowledge and conversation of his angel. The relative self or ego must take a back seat if it is to begin the process of union with the absolute.
A devotional ritual involving the surrender of the self to the angel should therefore be constructed and performed daily, for the rest of your life, or until instructed otherwise. Note that the surrender must be genuine – if the relative self or ego doesn’t really want to let go then you are wasting your time. Of course, for most people this does take practice, hence the rather lengthy traditional invocations of the angel such as the one given in the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage.
It may be that the relative self has a number of issues preventing the correct practice of surrender, and these will need to be addressed before success in the work can be expected. Similarly, if the magician has no real magical skill or experience, how is the angel to affect communication?
Before attempting to gain the knowledge and conversation the magician should have a good solid grounding in the basics, especially divinatory methods, dream and visionary work, plus a degree of intimacy with synchronicity.
In Crowley’s order of the A.’.A.’., we find a magical syllabus for practicing magick peculiar to each plane of experience in order to prepare the magician, and grades are conferred based on the acquisition of competency at each level.
However, it should be made explicit that these grades do not describe the metaphysical process as the three grades above the abyss do. The grades below the abyss are simply designations of magical competency within certain areas, and are only ever conferred by man; those grades above the abyss describe a process independent of the accomplishments of the relative self or ego, and can only be given, as it were, by the absolute.
In other words, you do not need to engage with Crowley’s A.’.A.’. grading system, or attain each of the grades below the abyss, before attempting to gain the knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. The absolute and the metaphysical process are not a system, and they are not dependent on any syllabus or on any one’s opinion of it or you. If you want to join the A.’.A.’. proper, you need only gain the Knowledge and Conversation.
Since Crowley’s day practical magick has moved on somewhat, and if you want a good solid practical magical education in order to prepare yourself you could do a lot worse than taking up the pseudo-tradition of chaos magick for a few years.
How do I know I’m crossing the abyss?
To recap, crossing the abyss is going through a metaphysical process, starting with the acquisition of the knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, and ending with the occurrence of the absolute, or emptiness, as a peak experience for the first time.
The division, or the abyss, between the relative and the absolute will have been crossed for the first time, and as this can only ever be said to occur once, the crossing of the abyss is necessarily a one off event. While it is true that the metaphysical process doesn’t end there, and that the magician will cycle through the same process again and again, the attainment of the experience of the absolute is akin to losing your virginity – you can never go back, nor can you say you lose your virginity each time you have sex thereafter.
If it helps, you can consider crossing the abyss as being deflowered by God.
The metaphysical process is made up of a three-part cycle, consisting of a plateau, a trough and a peak. It is the successful completion of the first cycle that constitutes crossing the abyss, and you can expect the following:
The plateau is a period of novelty, where magical practice is interesting and progress is steady. Insights come easy, and the plateau culminates in an event I like to call Naïve Enlightenment. Naïve Enlightenment can include, but is not limited to, the following phenomena: trance states, dissolution of boundaries, visions of bright light, feelings of bliss, oneness, vibration, love, great enthusiasm for Non-dualism, the belief you’ve experienced God/the Tao/the Truth, the belief enlightenment has occurred as a single event, as opposed to a process.
The trough quickly follows Naïve Enlightenment, and practice becomes difficult and unpleasant. The success enjoyed during the plateau is gone, and the magician can experience any number of negative emotions, at varying degrees of intensity, in regards to perception itself. The trough can include, but is not limited to, the following phenomena: feelings of fear, disgust, and hate, desire for deliverance, psychosis, unpleasant bodily sensations, and sleepiness. The trough is sometimes referred to in other systems as the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, and can last anywhere from a few hours to a number of years, the latter usually as a result of buying into the Naïve Enlightenment event.
The Peak arrives with a gradual equanimity towards phenomena: peace is made with perception. Magick is no longer the slog it was during the trough, and a certain feeling of mastery prevails. The peak reaches a climax with the occurrence of the absolute as a peak experience, and this marks the attainment of a grade, being the grade of Magister Templi if it is the magicians first time through the cycle.
The cycle then begins again, and it usually takes a few more cycles with peak experiences before the absolute occurs as a plateau experience and the next grade is attained.
So far, so good. Everything I’ve said isn’t too dissimilar to many other developmental models, but what sets crossing the abyss apart is the fact that it is a magical event. As such, the cycle doesn’t just manifest in an emotional or perceptual way, but on many other planes of experience too. During the crossing you can expect all kinds of bizarre synchronicities, magical visions, manifestations and interactions with entities.
It goes without saying however that there will be one entity you will have to deal with during the crossing, and that is the denizen of the abyss, Choronzon.
Choronzon can be considered the embodiment of what is experienced during the trough: fear, disgust, and most especially confusion. How Choronzon will manifest, both as an entity and on other planes, is unique to each magician, but how to deal with him is the same for all. He should be met with silence and acceptance, and the same goes for the
fear, paranoia and confusion that will arise in his presence. Your angel will provide instruction in any specific rituals that might need to be performed.
For an account of my meeting with Choronzon, please see Crossing the Abyss Part 2: The Encounter with Choronzon.
It is often said that crossing the abyss is a terrifying event – but this isn’t necessarily the case. The trough can last anything from a few minutes to a number of years and can vary greatly in intensity with each individual. Apart from my encounter with Choronzon, crossing the abyss wasn’t really all that terrifying.
You might be wondering why, if you can achieve the Great Work or enlightenment through other much simpler, less poetic systems of attainment, such as vipassana or Zen, you might want to consider attempting the Great Work the magical way.
The answer is simple: the Holy Guardian Angel is the fastest, most efficient means of metaphysical development I have ever come across. Working with the angel means progress is no longer a question of conscious deliberation, and the angel is in the position of knowing your self better than you do. Who better then than the angel in providing instruction?
The fact that the magician undergoes transformation on the basis of magical vision does not mean the magician is any less engaged with fundamental insight, or simply dealing with the content of his mind – rather, the relative self is afforded the opportunity of dealing with the process of insight on its own terms in a dualistic fashion, being the complete antithesis of the life denying asceticism of most systems of purely meditative practice.
The abyss is the divide between the relative and the absolute. To cross the abyss, the relative self must engage with the absolute, by attaining the knowledge and conversation of the holy guardian angel through a habitual ritual of surrender. Once this is attained, the magician will begin the metaphysical process of union with the absolute, which occurs in cycles made up of three stages.
The first time through the cycle is known as crossing the abyss, and the magician can expect to go through a novel plateau with a trance event known as Naïve Enlightenment, a trough with an encounter with the denizen of the abyss Choronzon, and a peak with the occurrence of the absolute for the first time.
The magician will then have attained the grade of Magister Templi.
With repetition of the cycle, eventually the absolute will occur as a plateau experience, and the grade of Magus will be attained.
Further repetition will eventually lead to the occurrence of the absolute as a permanent adaptation, the Great Work will be completed and the magician will have attained the grade of Ipsissimus.
Obviously, there is a lot of work involved. So what are you waiting for? Go and get deflowered!