Into The Abyss


In the Abyss all things exist

Aleister Crowley

I think about death a lot.

Not least because of having lost so many friends and family members in recent years, but also because the idea of what happens after we die has always fascinated me. Is there a complete extinction of everything we are and ever were, or is it simply another stage of existence, does some part of us live on in another form: is the human body a caterpillar to the soul’s butterfly?

I have a strange memory from childhood, a false memory, it would seem. I was very young, pre-school age, perhaps even pre-nursery school, so probably aged around three or four. Though maybe that part of the memory is wrong also.

My father died a few months before I was born, and I asked my mother what had happened. He’d actually died of a heart attack, but in this memory she said, ‘He merged with the sea.’

This phrase is interesting because it was so beyond my childish understanding that I don’t think I could have made it up, and it left me with an image of my father being consumed by and dissolved in a deep, green sea, to become forever part of it.

I have no recollection of whether I later questioned my mother about this. And it sounds as much like something she would say, as something she wouldn’t. Though when I think about it logically, I can’t believe she did say something that would make no sense to a child and give no answers. Maybe she thought it though, and maybe I plucked that thought out of her head.

The sea is an interesting metaphor for the abyss that represents the great unknown of death, and the image of a person merging with the sea illustrative of the soul having left the body to return to the source, and makes such sense in a metaphysical way that it must have come from somewhere.

Aside from the crushing pain of losing someone, I have always viewed death as a comfort: an end to suffering, the eternal, dreamless sleep. Certainly the idea that there is always death has got me through some very dark times. To know that it is an option is to free you to look for other options.

A few nights ago, I dreamt I was dying. I was at the end stages of an illness, my body was weak and there was to be no way back, just a slow winding down into nothing. I felt the same fear I had only previously felt empathetically, such as when my mother was dying. This fear is not a panicked feeling, but more a sadness approaching quiet dread, the feeling that time is slipping away and nothing can be done. Everything slows down, rushing is pointless, yet there is no time to plan what kind of legacy you’ll leave, no time to right wrongs, say the unsaid. Lost time cannot be made up for. All you can do is wait. It is almost as if when you know the end is near, rather than rage against the dying of the light, you have to simply be still and wait for the night to descend, for the blackness to extinguish every last atom of the day.

The dying in this dream was a long, slow process. I had time to reflect on everything I hadn’t done, all the loose ends that would remain untied, and with the realisation that all I could do was to run all the what-ifs through my head while I waited for my life to end, while I hovered at the edge of the abyss in eternal longing for the life I once had.

I have been not so far from death a few times in my life, and at the time I was either too young or too focussed on recovery to appreciate what had been given to me. But this time, albeit only in a dream, I knowingly faced the abyss. Perhaps aided by the experience of having watched others face it. This time I can see the second chance, and can actually feel enough relief at having survived to appreciate it, to not take for granted life and good health.

Perhaps it takes a dream experience to learn the lessons we miss in ‘real life’. Perhaps being one step removed from the physical makes it easier to analyze information. Or perhaps it’s because dreams themselves come from the same abyss, the sea with which we shall all one day merge.



Invisible Worms

O Rose thou art sick.

The invisible worm,

That flies in the night

In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed

Of crimson joy:

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.

‘The Sick Rose’ William Blake



There have been many descriptions of and excuses made for the rioters and looters who are currently rampaging through various areas of London and other parts of the UK. They are supposedly the disenfranchised, marginalised, poverty-stricken youth who were driven to destroy the homes and livelihoods of others because of their treatment by or lack of support from the community/Government, and therefore we should all share the blame and feel sorry for them.

I don’t buy this. This kind of behaviour is not caused by boredom, feeling unwanted or not part of society. All young people feel like that, it’s part of growing up. Neither is it caused by poverty. Are these people starving? Are they stealing food? No, they’re stealing plasma television sets and designer clothes. Are they homeless? No, but the people whose homes they burnt down are.

Poverty does not cause crime. Single parent families do not cause crime. My mother was widowed while she was pregnant with me, the result of which was that I grew up poor as part of a single parent family. And when I say poor, I don’t mean last year’s trainers poor, I mean cold poor, hungry poor, make do and mend second-hand clothes poor.

No one was rich at my primary school. Some were slightly better or worse off than others, but we were all more or less in the same boat. Some kids grew up to become decent people, some didn’t, and whether they did or not had no bearing on their family’s structure or income.

I remember one boy in particular who was in my class from the age of five to ten. He was difficult. The teachers rightly regarded him as a problem child and kept a close eye on him, but it was much more than that. I’m not sure that adults can fully appreciate just how ‘bad’ a five-year-old child can be, but we children knew.

To us, this boy was like an adult gangster. We lived in fear of him. If one of us had something he wanted, you simply handed it over. Sometimes he would kick you under the desk or push you down stairs just for the hell of it, knowing full well you’d never tell on him. He frequently used physical violence against teachers who tried to discipline him. While they probably just saw it as a baby tantrum, to us it was a demonstration of his power. He had broken the last taboo and attacked an adult.

This all sounds pretty minor, I’m sure, but when you’re a small child and one of your peers tells you they will kill you if you don’t do as they say, it really feels as if your life is in danger. Especially when you know that adults have failed to protect you thus far.

I’d like to be able to report that he turned his life around and made something of himself. He didn’t. Barely into his twenties, he got life imprisonment for his part in an armed robbery.

Maybe he was ‘let down by society’, but so were many of us, and not all of us chose to vent our rage on innocents.

When I remember him I don’t see a child, I just see a person. A cruel, nasty, empty person.  A person sick to the core, an invisible worm where the heart should be.

And that’s what I see when I look at the rioters: worms eating away at other people’s enterprise.

My town is cordoned off, windows are smashed yards from my front door and there are bloodstains on the pavement outside the church.

This behaviour is not caused by disadvantage, but by greed and a lack of empathy. Someone has something they want, so they either take it, or destroy it.

We owe them no sympathy. Save that for those whose lives they have scarred.