Thoughts on initiation and crossing the Abyss


It seems very appropriate that as I write this, it’s twilight and there’s a thunderstorm going on.

I recently read this post at Theomagica about “crossing the abyss”. I was particularly struck by what Frater Acher said about the difficulty of reintegrating your life afterwards:

“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.

“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.”

(My emphasis.) Though I have not magically undertaken anything that could be called crossing the Abyss, I was struck by how much this description resonated with other experiences I’ve had–in fact, with a pattern of repeating experiences that has dogged me my whole life.

Maybe it’s that way for everybody and other people just don’t talk about it? I don’t know.

In his interview on the Rune Soup podcast, Dr. Jeffrey Kripal said that one’s world should end at least twice before one settles on a belief system. The first time your world ends, you often simply reject your previous belief system and latch onto whatever convenient system presents itself, overzealously. The second time your world is destroyed, you realize that worlds are constructs prone to collapse, and that all belief systems are necessarily provisional and incomplete. Maybe my worlds are just especially fragile, but I’ve lost count of how many have been blown up at this point. I’ve also watched as others’ worlds were destroyed. I learned at a pretty young age that lesson about provisional beliefs.

Well, my life is once again in the process of falling apart and reassembling itself in weird, unforeseen shapes (a process that probably started when my mom died last October but which is really picking up steam now), and after reading that post at Theomagica, it occurred to me that every magical initiation is also “triggered by a liminal rite and results in a series of liminal experiences in our everyday lives”, “comes with the end of meaning as we know it–and the beginning of a journey towards a new kind of meaning”, and “it’s the process of re-integration into the world…that can be the even more problematic and painful experience.” I imagine (since I don’t have direct experience) that there is a difference of degree between these initiations and the death-within-life that is the point of crossing the Abyss. But it underscores something I do have direct experience with, which is that there is no one magical initiation–one spirals back and re-initiates over and over in one’s life. At least, that’s true if one remains involved in magic.

And initiations always come at the least convenient times, and it’s very hard to explain to non-magicians why suddenly I need 11 hours of sleep every night, have no energy, and am not all that fussed about finding a job or anything else I “should” be worried about.

As you might have guessed, I am currently going through another one of these initiations. Into what, I don’t know. First there were a bunch of synchronicities. The first ones I noticed during this go-round started shortly after I finished reading The Chaos Protocols. In it, Gordon suggests a version of the Headless Rite which can serve as a self-initiation. The result, says Gordon based on his experiences, is a sensation “almost as if you dropped a depth charge into the ocean of the spirit world. Some things get cleared away, some things get shaken loose and some things come aswimming.” During this time, I started doing two things: preparing to launch my own business, and paying more attention to my ancestors (as in physically visiting their resting places, which was formerly not an option as I didn’t live in this state). But I did not do the Headless Rite. In fact I haven’t done any rite or spell from the book. Yet right afterwards this chain of syncs started with several related to headlessness, then ones related to road-opening and to my ancestors, and then things just started to…solve (so far no coagula). Divination confirmed that I might as well strap in for the ride, because I am sure as hell not in the driver’s seat.