magister templi

Thelemic Mysticism – part 5: Mysticism in Practice – Crossing the Abyss & The Hermit

Thelemic Mysticism

[ ← Part 4: Mysticism in Practice – The Lover ← ]

PART 5: MYSTICISM IN PRACTICE – Crossing the Abyss & The Hermit

The Ordeal: The Dark Night of the Soul – The Babe of the Abyss

One might think that such light, love, and bliss has no ordeal, but there is a distinct ordeal that awaits the Mystic at this second Stage of Illumination. As mentioned previously, the Mystic is united with the Object of her devotion in this Stage but still remains separate therefrom. If this Illumination is continued through the Mystic’s persistent devotion and meditation, the by-products of this Illumination – especially the sense of overwhelming joy, bliss, and rapture – eventually “settle down.” The initial Illumination is like an explosion and if one remains in it, the clouds slowly disperse and one can see clearly.

At a certain point, the Mystic may realize that – despite all the joys and encouragements that Illumination has brought – she is still not completely united with her Beloved. In other words, a sense of distinction, separateness, or duality still remains. The opposition between self and not-self, between ego and non-ego, has not been completely transcended. Upon achieving this insight, the Mystic must re-engage with the Art of meditation with renewed vigor in order to know the Absolute so intimately and completely that there is no duality that can remain. This brings the Mystic to the final “crisis” of the Path: the ordeal of Crossing of the Abyss.

The Nature of the Ordeal of Crossing the Abyss

• “Verily and Amen! I passed through the deep sea, and by the rivers of running water that abound therein, and I came unto the Land of No Desire.”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, III:1

• “…they abode in the Land that the far-off travellers call Naught.”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, V:59

• “…the Land of No-Thing.”
Liber A’ash vel Capricorni Pneumatici, line 32

The crossing of the Abyss is a metaphor that essentially correlates to Saint John of the Cross’ term “the dark night of the soul.” A similar metaphor is given in Buddhism where one has “crossed the stream” to the other side, from samsara to nirvana. It is sometimes referred to by Christian mystics as “Dryness” or “aridity.” This term is adopted by Crowley when, for example, in De Lege Libellum he writes, “But this Dryness hath its virtue, in that thereby the Soul is purged of those things that impeach the Will: for when the drouth is altogether perfect, then is it certain that by no means can the Soul be satisfied, save by the Accomplishment of the Great Work. And this is in strong souls a stimulus to the Will. It is the Furnace of Thirst that burneth up all dross within us.”

In Thelemic terminology, in this process of “crossing,” one becomes a “Babe of the Abyss.” After the period of Illumination which is characterized – as mentioned previously – by joy and beauty, there is a corresponding darkness and blankness that occurs. This shift may go back and forth repeatedly but ultimately, if there is persistence, the Mystic comes to the Abyss, the dark night of their soul. This is characterized by various things:

“[He then] is stripped of all his attainments and of himself as well, even of his Holy Guardian Angel, and becomes a babe of the Abyss…”
One Star in Sight

  • The loss of a sense of “presence” of the Absolute/Divine.
  • Intense feelings of stagnation, impotence, solitude, fatigue, and difficulty. They are essentially opposite of that which is felt in the midst of Illumination; it is the withdrawal of the ‘Beatific Vision’ characteristic of the grade of Lover.
  • There may even be physical trials of illness and weakness, a sense of oppression by circumstance.

All this serves as a great purification, a great trial by fire, by which the Mystic is purged of attachments. It is the purgation that breaks apart the life of the Mystic, allowing a new stage of attainment to arise from its destruction. It is as if all those darkest corners of the self that were not purged in the initial purification find their way to expression in the Mystic, and this is because the whole individual – the microcosm of the Mystic – must be transmuted in this ordeal. As the Alchemists might say, there is no transmutation without fire. It “cures” the aspirant of being able to settle in any lesser satisfaction than the achievement of the final stage or grade, that of the Hermit.

• “Thou shalt mingle thy life with the universal life. Thou shalt keep not back one drop.”
Liber Cheth vel Vallum Abiegni, line 3

• “…It is attained by the resolve of the Adeptus Exemptus to surrender all that he has and is for ever. It is an annihilation of all the bonds that compose the self or constitute the Cosmos, a resolution of all complexities into their elements…”
One Star in Sight

In order to Cross the Abyss successfully, one must be purged of all that one has and all that one is. This is what, in Thelema, is metaphorically stated as the draining out of one’s blood into the Cup of Babalon. This is called the “Universal Life” insofar as one has drained out the blood of one’s “individual life,” the separate self, to be merged with the Universal Life. That is, one must release all attachment to everything that one possesses and to everything with which one identifies. This is why this phase is often called “annihilation,” “dissolution,” “cessation,” “self-naughting,” or “self-surrender.”

The Holy Book of Thelema, Liber Cheth, lists in particular the discarding of wealth (attachment to all possessions), health (attachment to the body), and love (attachment to others). These can be simply taken as three symbols that, together, refer to all of one’s attachments.

“[There] are the Black Brothers, that cry: I am I, they that deny Love, restricting it to their own Nature.”
Liber Aleph, chapter 157

Failure to do this results in what Thelema calls a “Black Brother,” one who has attained this far yet refuses to give up the self in dissolution; the “Black Brother” is one who insists on retaining a sense of individuality or selfhood and does not drain the blood of their individual life into the Universal Life. However, if one succeeds in persisting to the end, one achieves the final stage.

3) The Hermit: The Arising of Nemo

The complete dissolution of the sense of separate self, of the ego, constitutes the attainment of the third grade, the Hermit. One is then, in Thelemic terminology, a “Magister Templi” or “Master of the Temple.” One is an arhat or buddha in Buddhist terminology, and one has achieved moksha, or “liberation,” in Hindu terminology; it is equivalent to Samadhi in the terms of Yoga, the total union of subject and object. Since one is stripped of one’s identity, any sense of self, then one also may be called “Nemo,” which is Latin for “no man” (see The Vision and the Voice, 13th Aethyr for more on this symbolism).

“The essential Attainment is the perfect annihilation of that personality which limits and oppresses his true self.”
One Star in Sight

Aside from this attainment being characterized negatively by a total dissolution of the sense of self or ego, it is also characterized positively by awakening to the ultimate reality, the transcendence of duality, the complete union of subject and object, or the total identification with the Absolute. These are really two sides of the same coin, so to speak, and lead Mystics to make pronouncements such as “My eye and God’s eye are one eye” (Meister Eckhart) and “I am the Truth” (Mansur al-Hallaj).

Characteristics of this grade include:

  • Peace: The dissolution of the self means a complete identity with the Infinite and therefore with nothing partial. No event can trouble the individual who has perceived this Reality, for there can be no anxiety or fear of death if there is no one there to die, so to speak. The identification with any partial, component thing has been transcended and therefore any occurrence to these things does not disturb the Hermit. It represents equanimity of the mind raised to highest possible degree.
  • Energy: New creative powers are conferred upon attaining this grade, for the Mystic has unified her entire self, feeling oneself to be an agent of divine vitality. The superabundant energy of Mystics can be seen historically with those who have had this Mystic experience including St. Paul’s many letters and evangelizing efforts, St. Joan of Arc’s leading the armies of France, St. Ignatius Loyola leading the Jesuits, let alone the histories of figures like Christ or of Buddha who taught for 40 years after his attainment.

The Task: Being cast out of the Abyss and tending to the Garden

“Those other parts of me that I had left for ever below the Abyss must serve as a vehicle for the energies which had been created by my act. My mind and body, deprived of the ego which they had hitherto obeyed, were now free to manifest according to their nature in the world, to devote themselves to aid mankind in its evolution.”
Confessions, chapter 66

The complete dissolution, as previously said, leads to what one metaphorically may say is the birth of a New Man, the Master of the Temple or “Nemo.” The mind and body are not destroyed in this attainment, but they are purged of a sense of ego or self.

Although the trance may involve the obliteration of consciousness itself, there is consequent to this the inevitable re-formulation of awareness. This is symbolically called being “cast out from the Abyss.” The symbolism at work is that one has attained the Supernal Triangle of the Tree of Life and then one is “cast out” from it back into the lower Sephiroth of the Tree of Life. One then “re-occupies” one’s body and mind but free of ego.

“From the Abyss comes No Man forth, but a Star startles the Earth…”
One Star in Sight

This is essentially equivalent to the Bodhisattva Vow to “come back to the world” to aid others in enlightenment, and it is found in symbolism of people returning from a remote or isolated place to teach humanity (e.g. Jesus returning from the wilderness, Mohammed returning from a cave, Buddha returning from the Bodhi-tree, et cetera).

Thelema uses the symbolism of a “Star that is cast forth to give light to the Earth… [One] appears ‘as a morning star, or as an evening star, to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.’ This is then the man himself, save that his separate individuality is no longer present; it is replaced by this single passion to rescue mankind.” (18th Aethyr).

In short, one becomes conscious once again, devoid of ego, to do one’s Work in the world, to accomplish one’s Will purified from the elements of separateness and the sense of self. In Thelema, the symbolism used is that of Nemo “tending his garden.” In the 13th Aetyhr it is stated, “Know thou that every man that is called NEMO hath a garden that he tendeth,” and Crowley comments on this by saying, “Every Magister Templi has a Work to do for the world.”

This Work is the Will of the individual, purified by the Mystic path of imbalance and egotism, invigorated by a reconnection to one’s deepest creative wellspring of power stemming from one’s own Godhead.

← Part 4: Mysticism in Practice – The Lover ← ]


The Belly of the Beast: A short play on divinity and consciousness

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Belly of the Beast
NOTE: Written originally on August 29, 2009


The Magister – V.V.V.V.V.
Adonai – The Lord
The Mind/The Prophet – Crowley’s reasoning faculty and personality
The Scribe – Crowley’s body

SCENE 1: The Dawning of Awareness

SETTING: Unconsciousness, i.e. Infinite blankness.

Outside time, there is nothing but utter darkness: a darkness so blank it has forgotten even its contrast with light. It is formless, beyond relation, and unaware. To say these two characters are two names for One Thing may be confusing but no one ever judges that we are essentially conversing with ourself in dreams. Either way, the Magister is Adonai and Adonai is the Magister.

MAGISTER: Infinity is so… impersonal. Suppose We formulate Ourselves finite-ly?
ADONAI: To create anything from scratch One must formulate an entire Universe…
MAGISTER: Let Us form a Beginning, then!
ADONAI: Yet a Beginning is in Time which is only a category of Perception.
MAGISTER: We require perceptual apparatuses, then! Shall We fashion them out of extra clay?
ADONAI: I prefer simplicity: One Law will be uttered which will unfold into unfathomable complexity… and eventually, self-perception in certain complex organisms.
MAGISTER: How can anything evolve through time if time is simply a category of perception?
ADONAI: This system wasn’t written with logical consistency in mind. You were the one who insisted on matter being both particles and waves, remember?
MAGISTER: Yes, and I wouldn’t have it otherwise.
ADONAI: How can you have so many questions if We are One Thing?
MAGISTER: I enjoy hearing Myself speak; isn’t creating a Universe a similar act of cosmic vanity?
ADONAI: We are quite beautiful.
MAGISTER: Granted… terrible, too, but no matter (at least not yet). Wait: If a Universe unfolds and no one is there to perceive it, does it still exist?
ADONAI: We know it turns on your notion of ‘existing’ – and we have little time for semantics and jokes.
MAGISTER: Yes, indeed, No-Time at all which means we have Eternity… so don’t we have time enough for one more Joke?
ADONAI: I suppose… Now, how do you work this thing?

Out of formlessness, space and time emerged…

SCENE 2: Coming to Self-understanding

SETTING: Aleister Crowley’s consciousness

Matter expanded and evolved into various forms. One of these was a human being known to many as Aleister Crowley. He lived about 1900 years after this particular species’ most famous human sacrifice.

MIND: I have conquered a hundred slopes, beaten a thousand chess competitors, written endless words of poetry and prose… but lo! all my creations eventually turn to dust. What could possibly rend this knot of suffering in my heart?

ADONAI: Greeting(s) of earth and heaven! I am Adonai, Lord of the Universe!
MAGISTER: Must Our entrance always be so grandiose?
ADONAI: How would anyone know My superiority otherwise? Humans tend to ascribe authority and truth to whatever overpowers them.
MAGISTER: Unfortunate, but that is how it has unfolded. Go on.
ADONAI: Ahem! I am Adonai, Lord of the Universe: I am the Truth and the Life!
MIND: A voice! Is this a demon that speaks to me? APO PANTOS KAKODAIMONOS!
ADONAI: You cannot banish that which cannot die.
MIND: What is your word and your number?
ADONAI: Never mind these unnecessary quibbles, We’ve come bearing a message.
MIND: Are you a discarnate intelligence?
ADONAI: Sure, if that will get you to listen to me.
MIND: …So you are the Yechidah, I am the Ruach…
ADONAI: Stop your categorizing and listen!
MIND: Alright – what is this message you speak of?
ADONAI: The message is “Awake!” Awake to your True Self who is God. You are no more than a temporary concatenation of forces, weaved together to produce perception.
MIND: Why is my mind mired in multiplicity? Has man fallen? Are we as sinful and sorry as the Sunday school preacher says we are?
ADONAI: Forget their fairy tales: multiplicity is the device of unity for self-realization. In short, Eternity is in love with the productions of Time for thereby can the Unmanifest be made Manifest. Infinity can only be apprehended through Finity.
MIND: So Aleister is God, then!
ADONAI: No, you fool! Aleister Crowley is a worm… yet it is through Aleister Crowley that We make Ourselves aware of Ourselves. Only through duality can the ecstasy of annihilation be experienced.
MIND: So I am formulated to destroy myself?
ADONAI: Isn’t the fruit pod of a plant grown to destroy itself so new life may be born thereby?
MIND: Yes, but I don’t see why it must also be the case for me….
ADONAI: Perhaps we could have advanced evolution in a different fashion but, in short, your evolutionary path necessitated shutting off various potentialities to make room for others… and in the process, awareness of one’s true identity in Infinity was lost. It is not my fault if someone unrightfully claims to be King and suffers the inevitable consequences of taking on duties beyond his capacity: the ego was meant to be a messenger and interpreter, certainly not the General giving orders. I am the True Motion of all Beings and their True Self: only in uniting with me may Life be complete harmony.
MIND: Yet there are some who will never overstep their own bounds… and always think themselves their own ego.
MAGISTER: They are of no matter to Me, as all jokes are made at someone’s expense.
MIND: So all of this suffering is one big punchline to you? You are nothing but a black and terrible god.
ADONAI: Such is the normal reaction to anything more complex and mysterious than oneself – I don’t blame you.
MAGISTER: Things are much more savory when complemented with spice.
MIND: I see now that beauty is nothing without the ugly, depth nothing without height. Yet what is my complement?
ADONAI: The world is your bride, ready for the taking; the world is your master with laws inexorable and unchanging. The single fact is Experience and the single question is One or Two? Is Perception unified or is Perception mired in “me” versus “them”? The latter is ignorance and clinging to the personality, which forms, changes, and dies away; the former is awareness: Awake!
MAGISTER: Thought is Two, We are One.
MIND: I have created a Word and a Symbol to express this truth!
ADONAI: No! Every symbol selects and arranges, but this Vision is of No Difference. Choose not, argue not, debate not, speak not, think not, create not. There is no difference between object and object; there is no difference between subject and object.
MIND: My pen is ready for writing: bestow upon me divine truths!
ADONAI: Truth cannot be communicated, only experienced: Be still and awake.

The scribe drops his pen. The prophet relents in his thinking. Aleister Crowley is destroyed and only Adonai and the Magister remain.

SCENE 3: Returning to the world

SETTING: Aleister Crowley’s superconsciousness

MAGISTER: Back where we started again!
ADONAI: We both knew the Beginning is actually the End, anyhow. The Arcane Substance is already hidden inside the First Matter, after all.
MAGISTER: Perhaps we should hide it elsewhere, then?
ADONAI: No, I think this World is quite alright. What shall We do now that we have, again, come to Ourselves?
MAGISTER: I say we go for another ride. This Aleister Crowley has been cleansed of his Aleister Crowley-ness… we won’t have the same problems before now that he has identified rightly with Us.
ADONAI: It is time to set in motion the next play of the game: when the Many becomes One, the One must reformulate itself in the Many.
Fresh Fever From the Skies: The Collected Writings of IAO131MAGISTER: I want to be a dog this time.
ADONAI: We are the animals, every single one of them… although unaware of the possibility of ecstasy through union of opposites.
MAGISTER: I know, I know. But I thought it would give some humorous person the chance to say “God really does live in a dog!”
ADONAI: Oh, We are so clever.

Love is the law, love under will.