Trancework and Journeying
I came to Paganism directly through the practice of “core shamanism, ” so trancework was a foundation stone of my spiritual practice even before I consciously thought of myself as Pagan, and it remains so to this day. It is the third leg of the cauldron, so to speak, in my communication with the Gods, especially my Patron, the other two being prayer and meditation. I personally see these three practices as separate and distinct, although they are quite similar in many respects and overlap considerably in my practice.
Meditation, to me, is just plain ol’ Eastern-style void-stillness meditation, and I use it to give myself a break when the chatter of Talking Self gets to be too much. I use it to wind down the “rat wheel, ” to reestablish my spiritual equilibrium and to center and ground out the toxic energies we so often encounter—and accumulate—in the workaday world. I have been known to “slide sideways” from meditation into a spontaneous journey, but I do consider meditation a discipline, much like regular exercise, and when I set aside time to meditate, I try to stay focused on just that practice.
Prayer, for me, is nothing more or less than talking directly to the Gods. I have regular times – morning and evening, for instance—when I pray, but I don’t limit my contact with Deity just to those times. Depending on what’s happening in my life, I may be in prayer pretty much all day long, and I talk to the Gods “just as if” They were right there in the room—or the car!—with me, because in my understanding of reality, They are. Sometimes They answer, sometimes They don’t, but They are always there, and They always hear.
Journeying is what I do when I want to meet the Gods “face to face, ” in Their own Realm, and the majority of my journeys have been very vivid and very powerful. I have always been a very visually-oriented individual, and I conceptualize in pictures. So the imagery of journeying comes very naturally and powerfully to me, and it’s only a small step from there to incorporate sound and texture. The subjective realities of my journeys are so immediate, that I react physically to my surroundings—I’m told by observers that I “twitch” during journeys, as my physical body attempts to mimic the responses and movements of my Otherworld form.
Initially, I was concerned that small details—and sometimes large ones!—appeared to be inconsistent between one journey and the next, or even during the same journey. My Patron advised me that this was a matter of experience. Our minds, conditioned to this reality, have to adapt to the sensory input of the Otherworlds, and apparent inconsistencies in the appearance, texture, smell or whatever of Otherworld localities and entities is due to this process of adaptation. Over time, with practice and repetitive journeys to the same destination(s), our perceptions grow more acute, more vivid and more stable—if such a word can apply to the Otherworlds.
The other side of the trancework coin is “invoking for possession, ” or “channeling” Deity. I don’t normally trance in this manner, as the sensation of Someone co-habiting my body is unsettling to me. It can also be a dangerous practice, I’m told, although I have never had any unpleasant consequences myself, aside from the aforementioned discomfort. Indeed, on the three occasions I have invoked for possession, the sensations have been nothing short of ecstatic and transcendental. Perhaps the danger lies in that; I might easily get hooked on the “buzz” of channeling!
In all seriousness, invoking for possession is something to be attempted only with a foundation of experience in other forms of trancing, and with expert and caring guidance and companionship in this realm.
To prepare for trancework, I normally create some form of sacred space, usually a simple circle, invoking the Spirits of place and my other Allies to watch over my physical form while I am away. This is my “launching pad, ” and ensures that I have a safe point of departure and return, and also serves as a “homing beacon” when I’m journeying deep into the Otherworld.
I usually take a few minutes to stretch and massage out any kinks or stiffness that I may have physically. I also take time to consciously set aside any intellectual or emotional issues that may not have to do with the purpose of the upcoming journey, but which may create unwanted “static.”
After a few years of experience, I have found that simple breathing techniques, coupled with the appropriate visualizations, are enough to induce the trance and begin the journey. I have always used the cave/passage or well/pool theme as my entrance into the Otherworlds—lately I favor the well, as Brighid is becoming an increasingly important part of my life. For deep journeys, or when I’m having trouble “launching, ” I use a simple single-beat drumming CD. I prefer the CD as it doesn’t have the hiss that a tape does. Live drumming would be great, but I don’t usually have access to a drummer.
Of course, it always helps to take the phone off the hook, put up the “Do Not Disturb” sign, and so forth; the fewer distractions the better. And I try not to journey on a full stomach—I tend to slip from “journey” to “dream, ” and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I might not get done what I wanted to do!
On returning, I take time to jot down a few notes, capturing the “high points, ” as it were, of the journey. I do this even if the impressions seem vivid and lasting, as things will sometimes become jumbled or fade in the most unexpected ways. After that, I often find a bit more stretching to be in order. As I have said, I respond physically to my journeys, and I have come back stiff and sore from particularly lively trips. I do a pretty typical grounding and centering before I release the sacred space, and then I make it a habit to have a light snack. I don’t usually eat heavily for at least half-an-hour to an hour after a journey, as I have found the effects unpleasant on one or two occasions.
One thing I practiced early on was “bailing out”—hitting the astral Panic Button and returning to normal consciousness at a moment’s notice. I practiced this to get used to the sensations—often unpleasant—of this kind of emergency exit, in the event I had to do so unexpectedly during a journey. I’ve never had to, but if I do, I believe I will be better able to handle the situation, having practiced on my own. Sort of like fire drills in school. One caution—I did my “fire drills” on my own; I would not recommend this! If possible, do these with a partner or teacher.
Journeying is, for me, a mystical, ecstatic practice. We often associate “ecstatic” with extravagant physical movements, but the physical stillness of a journey trance can mask incredibly powerful sensations. And I sometimes journey simply to experience that ecstasy, to replenish my internal reserves in a most emphatic way. I also use it to commune, in a very intimate and personal fashion, with Deity. I am not one of those who can “see” Deities and other Beings of Power in this realm. I can only do that when I journey to the Otherworld. So it is an affirmation, if you will, of the reality of Deity, and of the profundity of my relationship with Spirit. I can meet with the Gods in Their Realms, face to face, to question and learn, and sometimes just to socialize. It has been my experience that the Gods crave an intimate relationship with Their children, of a kind that cannot be experienced through the filter of dogma and liturgy, however “spontaneous” and “unstructured.” Just as Mom prefers a visit to a phone call, the Gods prefer to meet us “in the flesh, ” no matter how fervent our prayers or how reverent our ritual.
On those occasions when I have journeyed for the specific purpose of healing others, I can only say that it apparently did no harm to the subject of the healing. Was it “successful?” Did it “work?” That is difficult to quantify. Everyone I helped in such a fashion had been exploring every possible avenue for healing—if they hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have agreed to help. When we need healing, for whatever reason, I believe we must use every possible resource. To rely on one technique or body of knowledge to the exclusion of others is to limit the ways in which the Gods may help us. So I can’t say that my journeying alone, or the acupuncture alone, or the prayer alone, or the vitamins alone, or the chemicals alone, were what ultimately helped one person or another. I tend to think that everything positive we do for ourselves helps in some way. So I feel that, in journeying for those in need, I did indeed contribute to their wellness.
In Their Service…