Source: The Dreaming Door
Pathwalking is a type of trancework that straddles the worlds, where one moves about in physical reality while simultaneously experiencing another Place and engaging with a spiritual reality. Essentially, you are peeling back the veil that separates the worlds for an extended time, while staying fully aware of material existence. It is often said to be one of the more difficult practices, especially compared to travelling wholly on the astral plane (or “faring forth”). However, I personally find pathwalking easier, as I do not possess the mental visualization abilities to properly journey outside my physical form, and because my entire path is based on being in a position between the physical and spiritual worlds. But it still requires a lot of work to do well, and it is often challenging to initiate the transition from regular, everyday perception, especially because one does not have the luxury of blocking out sensory signals and messages the way one does in many other forms of trance.
One technique I have found useful is something I think of as “narrowed focus.” The simplest version can be done by paying attention only to your feet as you walk along. Narrow your field of vision until you can only see your feet and the surface on which you are walking – the sidewalk, the forest path, whatever it may be. It helps if you can also narrow your other senses, so that, for instance, you predominantly are hearing only your own footsteps rather than any distant noises that would alert you to what is happening in the larger area.
In this little bubble, you are still experiencing physical reality, but it is somewhat separated from the world that you know is around you. This helps you both to disconnect a little bit from the tyranny of your preconceived ideas (what you have come to expect about your surroundings), and to access other Places which might look very similar from that limited viewpoint. For instance, if you are walking down a city street and look only at the asphalt and concrete and grass around your feet, you could be almost anywhere – across the country, across the world, or even in another world entirely. You could be in the present day or in a moment that happened decades ago. You could be alone or surrounded by others. The familiar suddenly becomes the unknown, and that disorientation creates an opportunity for you to slip sideways a little, into a liminal state where both Here and There exist together.
Once you feel that altered perception taking hold, you can slowly raise your head and start to shift your attention to the rest of the world around you, seeing it all with new eyes. You may literally see the otherworld superimposed on this one, if you have that gift, or you may experience the dual realities in other ways – for instance, encountering unusual objects or people that are clearly being influenced by spiritual forces, hearing strange music or a voice just out of sight, feeling compelled to take a certain route that leads you to a significant location or event, etc.
Of course, there is some practical danger in this technique, especially when done in an urban environment. Taking your eyes off your surroundings, even for a few minutes, puts you at risk in a number of ways, so it must only be done in certain situations. But if done carefully, it can be a very powerful tool. (Having another person walk with you might seem like a sensible precaution, but in fact will probably hinder you more than help, as their unaltered, everyday perception of your mutual environment may serve to drag you back into consensus reality.)
Obviously, if you are trying to access a specific otherworldly Place, it’s best to choose a material landscape that’s at least close in appearance. Or, you can just let yourself slip behind the veil a bit and see what’s going on in the spiritual realm that is closest to where you are at the moment; this is especially effective if you’re trying to meet the local spirits. Remember, also, that just as that world and its denizens become clearer and more present to you, so do you become more noticeable to Them, so it’s best to always do this kind of work armed with offerings, protective talismans, and anything else you might need in a variety of spiritual encounters.
A final note – in my experience, movement is fairly crucial to this technique. You should be actively walking (or even riding in a vehicle of some sort – anything that causes you to traverse the material world to some degree) as you narrow your focus and then slowly begin to widen it again. It may be due to a simple psychological reason; perhaps our brains expect that we must be moving in order to change locations, at least when interacting with physical reality (as opposed to dreams and even astral travel, where we can easily transition from one place to another just by intention rather than an actual process of movement). There may also be some magical or spiritual reason, even just the common guideline of “as above, so below.” Whatever the case, just like in the Amber books by Roger Zelazny, walking between the worlds seems to require actual walking in this world.
Just a quick note to announce that I’ve got an article in the forthcoming issue of Walking the Worlds (Ecstatic Practices), called “Sleep as Altered State of Consciousness.” We’ve got a great issue all around this time and I highly recommend subscribing – you can also purchase single copies.
As 2017 begins, I find that I’ve come to a place in my life where I think I’ve said most of the useful things I could say regarding spirit-work and devotional polytheism (at least, to a general audience), and it feels like the right time to put this blog on an indefinite hiatus.
My plan is to collect the best of what I’ve written since publishing Dwelling on the Threshold and release a second book of my essays (hopefully before spring), and then remove many of the old posts from this blog – directing those who wish to read my work to my books instead. A Forest Door will remain, however, as a repository for some of my more important and popular posts, and as a way to keep offering my cartomancy services and any other small things that might come up. So I may make brief announcements here or there, and please do keep subscribed if you want to receive those. As always, my various specific projects and other blogs can be found at BirdSpiritLand.com.
But, before I go – I thought it might be interesting to see if there were any questions or topics any of you had that might spark a few final posts, anything I might have not covered over the last 6 or 7 years or that I could expand upon. So please, comment to this post with any suggestions, questions, etc. on Hellenic polytheism, polytheism or animism in general, spirit-work or spirit relationships, mysticism, trancework, oracles/divination, localizing practice, Dionysos, entheogens, animal bones, liminal magic, or anything else in my wheelhouse. I can’t promise I’ll write on your topic, but I’ll consider all suggestions.
Thank you all so much for reading A Forest Door, especially those of you who have been with me from the beginning (and even before, on Yahoo lists and Livejournal!), and to those who have purchased my books and services and helped support me in my work. I hope my writings have been helpful to you.
I think I’m going to start making a monthly post here of the dates I’m doing cartomancy, just as a reminder, and will update it if/when sessions become full. Fee is $20 per question. More details here.
Dates for the next month are:
I was listening to an interview about polytheism with Galina Krasskova and Edward Butler (found here, and very much worth listening/watching), when a question was posed about the idea of each god being limited to a certain function or sphere – like people tend to think of there being, in any tradition, a “god of love” and a “god of the ocean” and a “god of vegetation,” etc. Oddly, I had just been talking with my (Heathen) partner about this, and how it’s not a particularly useful or accurate concept when describing real, living polytheism, either in the past or present. Edward had this to say in response, which I transcribed because it was so great I thought it needed to be preserved:
“I would say this is a typically modern misunderstanding of polytheism. For someone who is the particular devotee of a certain deity, that deity is – at least potentially – all things to them. For someone who is only peripherally concerned with a particular deity, that deity may be concerned with some narrow function, that they only need recourse to in a particular circumstance of their life, for instance.
It’s one of the artifacts of our modern perspective these days – one of the misleading artifacts of that perspective – that we tend to look at all the deities from this peripheral perspective, and see them as having these narrowly circumscribed functions, and that again is partly because of an excessive reliance on the poets. It’s also because of other intellectual and conceptual confusions and distortions that have arisen over time.”
This is one of those things that, while I understand it and even exemplify it in my personal practice, I still find myself mistakenly slipping back into that erroneously simplistic conception especially when thinking of pantheons and gods I’m not familiar with. Which perhaps makes sense, as those would be deities who I would only be, at best, peripherally involved with, and therefore I see Them through the lens of those limited functions. But it’s good to keep in mind that every god is so much more than the “god of X” and can and will fulfill many roles in the life of Their devotee.
That’s not to say that They are all the same or interchangeable, or that They don’t each have areas of specialty. I may go to Dionysos for help with a problem totally outside His usual realms because we are close, but He’s still going to be the most helpful and most responsive with issues that are near and dear to Him. Still, He’s much more complex than just “the god of intoxication” or even “the god of liberation.” And plenty of other gods are involved in those things too, in Their own ways.
It’s true that we have been unduly influenced by the poets and storytellers, because (as Edward also pointed out) it’s not as if we can directly experience the living cultus that existed for our gods when it was thriving, and see how it might have differed from the myths that came down to us – we can reconstruct with the evidence we have, but we’re missing something crucial that I think will best be restored simply by practicing the living cultus today. It’s going to take time to recapture that mindset.
It’s important, though, to take note of these mistakes in thinking, especially because in some ways they can perpetuate harmful underlying concepts, even just subconsciously. For instance, the interviewer went on to ask, if the gods overlap in Their abilities and areas so much, what is the point in having more than one god at all? And see, that is a common response that reveals a critical assumption (again, even subconsciously): that gods are ultimately an invention of the human mind or culture, that people made up these gods of various aspects of life, and therefore one can question the point of having them overlap. Because it’s true, if it were just an invented system, it doesn’t always make sense or seem very elegant. But Galina’s wonderful response was that the point is, They exist. They exist and we are privileged to engage with Them. So you see, if you get too caught up in the mythology-book idea of the gods fitting into neat little boxes and each fulfilling a human need, you are subtly relegating Them to the position of human inventions, as sure as any anthropologist or psychologist might. The real gods are messy and complex and multi-faceted.
This more encompassing view of Them also kind of dismantles the reasoning behind thinking of gods as equivalent to other gods of similar functions. Hermes and Odin might both be gods of travellers and magic, but if you’ve gotten to know both of Them beyond Their functions, you’ll see how They are individuals with many non-intersecting areas of interest, strength, influence, etc. (This isn’t to say there can’t be useful syncretic practice, when done thoughtfully and carefully, but that doesn’t make those two gods the same, it just focuses on the places They overlap and intersect.)
Like Edward said, in antiquity people would have approached many if not most gods on a relatively simplistic level when they had occasional need of Them, seeing Them mostly through the filter of Their most well-known functions, and that’s fine – it is unnecessary and impossible to delve more deeply into all the gods, even just within one pantheon. But it’s good to remember that those depths exist, with all of Them.
I just re-found this quote I’d saved and it seems like a good time to post it, considering it’s that time of year.
I’m not in tune with the dead, generally speaking – I think it’s because I’m not in tune with humans, dead or alive. I don’t tend to sense dead spirits, even though I’m easily able to sense and communicate with other types of spirits. But… as students of folklore know, there’s a certain amount of crossover and ambiguity between the dead and fairies, and fairies are something I deal with quite often. I’ve always wondered, what makes some dead become something other than just a former human, what might transform them or meld them with the local nature spirits. This might explain it:
“They could be ghosts,” he said.
“The dead can’t speak….”
“Maybe not when they’re newly dead. I had a thought about that. When they’re newly dead, they can’t speak, and they look like themselves. And you can make them speak using blood, like in Virgil….Later, they draw life from things that are alive, animals and plants, and they get more like them, less like people, and they can speak, with that life.”
(Jo Walton, Among Others)