From the PODnet Thelema echo:
Date: 26 Nov 93 From: Josh Norton Subj: the abyss
Thus said K. B. to Josh Norton:
KB> 93 josh!
KB> oh good! i thought that you might find my reaction
KB> i've been tryng to find out something about how you
KB> conceptualize the abyss. i've been looking through
KB> whatever i've found of your writings, but haven't been able
KB> to find much. is there a paper that you've written
KB> floating around in cyberspace anywhere, that might give me
KB> some idea of your views on this? (i've never felt that
KB> what the GD or crowley has said about the abyss seemed
KB> valid. yet, i've not been able to even figure out my own
KB> conceptualization of it. i just know that the crowley/GD
KB> writings on it, don't feel right to me.) so little has
KB> been written about it, by anyone. i've even been through
KB> some of the jewish cabalistic literature, and still havent
KB> dug up much.
There's not a whole lot in one place -- it tends to get brought up as a side-issue to some other topic. Besides, most of those papers were written before I claimed the M.T. grade, so are mostly second-hand information received by inspiration or told to me by various magickal beings. Not very reliable.
Other places, I don't think there's really much available. Crowley's the only one I've seen talk about it in a magickal context to any great extent. He must have got the idea somewhere, but I don't know where; I've never seen any sources he might have read. (Perhaps Paul H. or some other scholarly magician can clue us in on that.) A couple of English Christian mystics -- can't remember the names -- talk about it in a similar way. In other places it's used for a variety of different experiences, confusing the issue.
The primary usage of the term is to denote a "gap" or discontinuity between the perceptual states and internal organization of the Ruach or mind aspect, and the perceptual states of the transcendental grades. This is how Crowley uses the term.
The traditional Western interpretation of this apparent discontinuity is to say that there is a real gap between the divine levels and the lower levels, as if God had taken a sword and cut all connections between the Supernal Triad and the other sephiroth. And having accepted the reality of the division, they necessarily go on to view the transition to transcendental levels as requiring the seeker to somehow "leap" or "cross over" this gap. One gets the impression that this transition involves all sorts of horrific experiences, confrontations with demons, violent destruction of the self, etc., etc.
My own experience denies this view almost entirely. In the reality of the universe, there is no gap of any sort. All parts of existence are completely connected to each other, and are constantly interacting. All of them are involved in every event; the transcendentals as much as any other.
The Abyss is an illusion generated by the way in which the Ruach filters, organizes, and assigns priorities to the elements of experience. All the things that make up the experience of the MoT are already present in the raw experience of the person. It's just that the way the Ruach processes experience creates internal structures into which those things don't fit.
(I'm going to have to build up to my point -- please be patient.)
Let's start with an extremely simplified example to illustrate this. Say you've got a little computer that does certain things when it gets a signal. Whoever programmed this computer put in instructions for what to do when it gets the signals "01", "10", and "11". It is capable of also receiving the signal "00", but has no programmed instructions for that case. So what happens when it receives a "00" signal? It either ignores it, or treats it as one of the signals for which it does have instructions. As far as its internal activity goes, the signal "00" simply doesn't exist.
On a vastly larger scale, this is what the Ruach is doing. It only processes information for which it has a hard-wired program, or for which it can create new programs by adapting and combining older programs. Any information for which it can't make an interpreting algorithm simply doesn't exist, as far as it is concerned.
Most of the Ruach's processing programs are software, and some of them are capable of modification in such a way as to handle the usually-excluded data that makes up the transcendental experience. The problem is that nearly all its programming derives (sometimes through many levels) from adaptations of the basic "hard-wired" instructions for processing and responding to raw data from the physical senses. That's why the sephira Yesod, where this processing takes place, is called "The Foundation" of the Tree of Life.
So the entire structure of our minds, from our basic emotions up to the most inclusive "intuitive" level, has a built-in bias towards seeing and processing data in sensory-like ways, and an equally complete inability to see or process information that can't be fit into that schema or its more abstract analogues.
Now as I said in another message, nearly all of the path of initiation is a process of expanding the number of levels at which we can perceive consciously and integrating each new level into what came before. When this process is done for a given level, its functioning becomes relatively automatic, and falls below the threshold of awareness. Throughout most of the process the expansion and integration are fairly well-balanced, so that new levels open up at about the same speed with which we integrate the old ones. The progress is incremental, allowing gradual adaptation of old programs to new uses.
But as we reach the Exempt Adept level (in Chesed) we also get close to the limits of the available data-flow that can be easily integrated into a structure based fundamentally on the programs for processing sense-data. The Ruach, deprived of its means of further expansion, turns towards improving its internal models, making them more complete, tying up loose ends, and consciously dealing with aspects of the integration that were previously done through automatic unconscious processes. The mind starts to develop its "Grand View" of the universe, in which all its knowledge is brought together in a single structure.
This is where the "Abyss" starts to come into the picture. As with previous levels of integration, the "Grand View" level begins to fall below the threshold of consciousness. The conscious self starts to look around for new levels to explore, and doesn't see any. It's _not_ that there isn't anything to see; there is plenty there. It's that the consciousness is so accustomed to seeing the universe through the pre-processing of the Ruach that it literally _cannot_ perceive anything that doesn't fit into the Ruach's integrated structure.
The person thus enters into a curious and somewhat unpleasant state. He seems to be living in a wasteland, devoid of the life-giving, perpetually-stimulating diversity of the earlier stages. His invocations never seem to produce anything new, just variations on experiences that he already knows well. His efforts to forcefully project his awareness into higher levels leads him into states that aren't truly new, but are obvious distortions and perversions of his normal state of awareness. He feels like he's run up against a barrier like the light-speed barrier; no matter how hard he pushes, he never quite gets through it. And beyond the barrier -- perhaps making up the barrier -- there appears to be nothing but a void, a total lack of any perceptible quality whatsoever. This is the so-called "Abyss".
I can testify from my own experience that the Wasteland is well-named. It is a desert in which the hunger, the thirst for a touch of a higher spirit can reach excruciating levels. (The biblical crucifixion seems to me to be a compact but very appropriate description of this stage.) The intensity of the need is so great that sometimes total oblivion seems a preferable state.
I can see how someone reaching this stage might eventually decide that there really isn't any further to go, turn his back on it, and try to continue living in the world he has known. This is what Crowley says makes a "Black Brother", one who denies the spirit and sees himself as the epitome of creation, with no purpose higher than his own desires.
But you've got to keep pushing, no matter what. Because, while one's conscious experience is utterly miserable, on unconscious levels there is a very great deal going on. As I said, the perception of this gap or void is an illusion, produced entirely by the limitations of the Ruach with its biased processing structures. Fortunately, the universe doesn't give a damn about our illusions; it just keeps working in its own way, whether we see it or not.
In the unperceived under-reality, the magician's invocations (and more important, his intense hunger for the spirit) are actually producing a response from higher levels. These may even erupt into the conscious level on occasion, so that for brief moments the magician gets a glimpse of what it is like on the "other side" of the non-existent gap. But the details of these experiences are usually forgotten almost as soon as they are over; the mind simply can't retain them in its current state.
Anyway, these underground activities produce the usual destructive effects on the structure of the Ruach, and condition at least the highest levels of the structure so that they can change their program along lines that are _not_ limited to the biases mentioned above. This allows the transcendental levels to enter the person on a conscious level, thus creating the impression that one has "crossed" the "Abyss". But there was really no Abyss to begin with; just an inadequate perceptual organization.