According to Rosicrucian initiate, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), there are seven “inexpressible” or “unutterable” mysteries of life which previously have never been spoken of outside the ranks of the hidden, esoteric brotherhoods. It is only in our age that it has become possible to speak of them openly. One of these is the “Mystery of the Abyss.”
In order to clarify this “inexpressible” mystery, the following article has been taken from my book, The Star of Higher Knowledge: The Five Guiding Mysteries of Esoteric Christianity (2015), which is available from Amazon.com.
Supersensibly perceived, the actual point of death is when the etheric body, astral body and ego-bearing soul together sever all connection with, and permanently exit, the physical body. Once the etheric vehicle has sufficiently withdrawn, what generally occurs is a loss of consciousness; what is esoterically termed, the “soul-slumber.” As described by Yogi Ramacharaka in The Life Beyond Death (2010):
The soul leaving the physical body (in the ‘Astral body’) is plunged into a deep sleep or state of coma resembling the condition of the unborn child for several months before birth. It is being prepared for re-birth on the Astral Plane … This period of soul-slumber is like the existence of the babe in the mother’s womb―it sleeps that it may awaken into life and strength.
Not only is the soul slumber a time of rest and recuperation for a world-weary soul, but it also protects the unprepared soul from consciously experiencing some of the shattering events that occur relatively soon after death.
If full clairvoyant consciousness is present, as was the case with Christ-Jesus, immediately upon exiting the physical body there ominously appears before the discarnate soul a yawning chasm of nothingness that separates the sensory world left behind from the supersensible world yet beyond. This terrifying drop into seeming oblivion is esoterically termed, the “Great Abyss.”
Various ancient cultures were knowledgeable about the Great Abyss, and incorporated their understanding in mythological imagery. The ancient Greeks, for example, referred to this fearful boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead (Hades) as the river Styx. They also believed that newly-departed souls needed to cross this perilous boundary in order to properly live in the afterworld. Also, in ancient Hindu mythology, what separated the earth from the realm of the dead (Naraka) was called the river Vaitarani. Only sinful souls were forced to cross this difficult and terrifying river. In Japanese Buddhist tradition, the dead needed to cross the river Sanzu to reach the afterlife. It was further believed that good souls could use a special bridge to cross the frightening Sanzu, while evil souls had to wade through deep, serpent-infested waters.
To modern-day esoteric understanding, the Great Abyss is simply the large sphere of etheric force and substance that surrounds and penetrates the earth; what can correctly be termed, the “planetary etheric vehicle.” Nevertheless, encountering this etheric region in an out-of-body condition can be a terrifying experience for the unprepared. Etheric substance is clairvoyantly characterized by extreme emptiness. It has a disturbing quality of being “emptier than space,” a sort of negative space. As such, this vacuum of etheric emptiness has a relentless, centripetal sucking action.
When this planetary region of etheric emptiness is encountered after death, or through initiatory development, it is a daunting confrontation―like standing at the precipice of a bottomless pit that is irresistibly drawing the soul in. Moreover, while the sphere of planetary ether that extends above the surface of the earth exudes warmth and light, the levels that extend into the subterranean regions of the earth are comprised of corrupted and debased etheric substance. To the esoteric investigator, electricity is light ether that has been corrupted by Luciferic activity; magnetism is chemical (sound) ether that has been corrupted by Ahrimanic activity; and nuclear energy is life ether that has been corrupted by asuric activity.
Not only does the Great Abyss draw the soul into it, then, but the subterranean ethers also have a strong tendency to pull the deceased’s etheric body downwards. As the various mythological stories indicate, an exemplary soul will predictably pass through (or “cross”) the planetary etheric void in their journey after death, while an evil soul will be drawn in and become tethered to the subterranean earth. Typically, the excarnate etheric body is sloughed off from the astral vehicle after several days, and then dispersed into the planetary and superplanetary ethers. In contrast, an etheric body hardened by immorality or drawn to the earth by strong passion (such as despair, revenge, lust or hatred) will not easily disintegrate, but may instead haunt or roam the earth as a ghostly “spectre” for many years.
Despite never having encountered the Great Abyss before, Christ-Jesus had no difficulty facing the void and passing through it. Similar to his physical levitations on water, crossing the Great Abyss was easily accomplished through the superplanetary forces of the indwelling Christ-ego hypostatically united to the Word and the Son. Moreover, by resolutely focusing on the golden light of the mystic star, attention was “directed to the Father” (that is, trained on his highest, spiritual nature), which provided an etheric sphere of protection around him. By floating in this “bubble zone,” Christ-Jesus was securely ferried to “the other side.”