When you can’t see

I’ll tell you something that isn’t spoken of nearly as much as it should be: Not everyone who can trance and talk to spirits and leave their bodies can see visions. We tend to think of visions as the default way of experiencing the otherworlds, accessing oracular knowledge, making spirit contact, etc., but in fact just as we parse the physical world through several senses (some stronger than others in each individual), so too can the realm of spirit be conveyed to us by varied means.

I would further posit that sometimes a strong visual orientation can actually be a handicap rather than an asset. It is easy to mistake visualization (which takes place in one’s mind) with the actual visual manifestation of the spirit world (which is external to oneself). As Sarah Lawless says in her post Walking Between Worlds:

“I have to say this – visualization and guided meditations are NOT walking between worlds or trancework – they’re painting a lovely picture of doing so in your head. If you are still in your head, you are not walking between worlds. Any practice where you are using only your imagination and not actually leaving this reality or your body is not hedgecrossing.”

While it seems that the majority of people are primarily visually oriented, including in the context of trancework, there are definitely other senses through which we can perceive the spiritual.

Hearing is probably the next most common. Many people receive communications from their gods and spirits through “hearing” Their voices speak to them – I put this in quotation marks because it’s not always an external sound, indistinguishable from the voice of a person in the room with you, but often a voice in the mind, the way you can recall a voice or a song you have heard, without there being a current physical source of sound. Either way, it’s interpreted by the brain in the same basic way. (Just like the difference between seeing something manifest right in front of you like a physical thing, with eyes open – what we might term a “hallucination” – and seeing something in your mind’s eye, whether a memory or imagination or an actual spiritual entity or place. In both cases, the key to discerning its authenticity is in practice and experience and often confirmatory divination.)

While not as common, it’s also possible to smell and taste the otherworlds. I have heard of at least one person who primarily navigated spirit interactions by his sense of smell. There is also touch. In the post Communicating with the Gods II: Presence on the Lagutyr blog, the author writes:

“One way I experience the presence of a God or Goddess is by, quite literally, holding out a hand or hands and feeling the responding touch. This can be interesting, giving you a new, very immediate sense of the God or Goddess that goes outside the realm of meditation.”

This is something I have been doing for years, but had never seen described by anyone else before. It certainly doesn’t always yield strong results, but when it does, it is more memorable for me than almost any other encounter.

There are other physical senses as well, beyond the five we were taught in grade school. Sense of temperature, sense of one’s body in relation to the environment, sense of pain, sense of magnetic fields, sense of time, etc. These can all be ways in which spiritual forces might be perceived (especially that last one – many stories tell of time distortions related to certain wights, for instance). One way I often feel the sudden presence of my spirits is in a sharp disturbance in my equilibrium – more than simple dizziness, I am nearly pushed over to one side by an invisible force. This is as clear as any visual cue would be.

And then of course there’s that “sixth sense” – the alteration to consciousness that is difficult to describe but unmistakable, when Their presence kind of hits you heavily with a whump and you feel Them there without necessarily having any traditional sensory cues at all.

Even if visualization and visionary experiences come easily to you, these other methods can augment your practices, fill in some gaps, lead you in interesting new directions. They also can be tied in nicely with the various ritual acts we all do to connect with the gods and spirits, which involve our senses as well. Burn a particular incense often enough for a god, for instance, and you may start smelling it at other times when the physical herb isn’t present, but the god is – it can become a signature. In fact, doing the physical rituals is a really solid foundation for everything else, and can always be returned to when one’s “spiritual senses” aren’t open enough. Grounding the spiritual in the physical is extremely powerful in itself. As the Swamp Witch says in Visualization: Casting circles, grounding and centering:

“So what do you do if you still can’t visualize? Then you DO. You can call it low magic, you can call it cheating (yes I’ve actually heard this, senseless as it is) but we have magical tools for a reason.”

~ by Dver on December 27, 2011.

23 Responses to “When you can’t see”

  1. As someone who ‘cannot see’, this post mean a lot to me. Visionary skills are often presented as the key to connecting with the Gods, so much so, that one might feel disabled if this just isn’t your strong suite. Every time that I have gotten closer to the Otherworld – not being strong in faith anyway – I discredited my experiences because I did not see. I was on the brink of hearing, or feeling time change, but what did it mean if I could not mentally climb downstairs to the cave to meet my guardian spirit. Thanks for reminding me that even if this particular road is closed to me, there may be many others that remain open. It doesn’t excuse me giving up or being lazy.

    I think many young pagans are discouraged in this way. Almost every pagan 101 or meditation book focusses on this visualisation as the start of things. It says a lot about are Western culture in which reading books and afterwards looking at screens, are the epitome of learning.

    • That is exactly why I wrote this, because I had the same type of frustration – I am not totally “visually impaired” in this sense, but visions aren’t the most prominent way I receive information from the otherworlds, and I used to worry I was missing something because I wasn’t having these detailed visual experiences like other people described. Then I figured out I just wasn’t wired that way, even in the material world.

      I do think you’re right that the issue is at least being exacerbated by our modern reliance on visual stimuli via screens.

      • Actually I am beginning to think I am not completely visually impaired either. However, when I do see, it is fully out of my control. I cannot mentally visualize in a controlled manner, I cannot force it. But then, perhaps I do not need to after all …

    • As a young pagan (and you are as well?) and on my own practice wise, I agree, and it is very frustrating when one cannot see, but personally I think the other senses are often more reliable, palpable and provide a more vivid and memorable experience then sight. My sight is very vague but I often get noticable physical sensations that many other people might ignore as imaginary, which I feel is absurd.

  2. I recently read a book that I was “told” would be helpful to me, and it touched on this very thing. It was the first time I had ever seen anyone talk about connecting to the Otherworld with a sense that wasn’t sight. I cannot quite express how thankful I am for reading that book and your post about this – I don’t quite feel like a FAILURE anymore. I’ve always beaten myself up over this, because I am very good at visualizing and calling up/manipulating images in my head, which is always held up in books as the key to being able to do trance-work. It… isn’t.:/

    It’s nice to hear other people talk about sense of touch and other senses too; I have realized that that is how I distinguish between an authentic experience versus something I’m imagining. I can’t “imagine” a temperature change, or my ears suddenly ringing, or a pressure change in the room, or an actual weight on my body. Those sensations aren’t things I can conjure up if I wish hard enough.

    • What book was it? I’m curious.

      I feel the same way, that visual experiences are easier to doubt because they could be more readily fabricated by my mind than the other sensory cues.

    • I’d also like to know what book this is.

    • I actually just read “Seidr, the Gate is Open” by Katie Gerrard and this book happened to make mention that not all visualisation is really what one needs to be doing. It also touched on the High Seat and some rituals for same. Something I doubt the fundy-reconstructionalists would be happy with but it made for a nice change of the “visualise this” sort of meditation and gave some rather interesting examples I may use in my own practice.

  3. I used to think my ‘seeing’ was flawed because I could see best peripherally and couldn’t look at anything in the Otherworld straight on or I would lose it. After reading a few of the old books (Evans-Wentz and Robert Kirk) I found that seeing in that manner was very common. It was very discouraging before I found that material because I felt that I couldn’t possibly be where I thought I was since I had the impression that all ‘seeing’ was full-on, in technicolor, and more like you were standing there bodily as if in a dream. I played down quite a few of my experiences because of this. Makes me sad that others are going through it too.

    People in general seem to discount the other senses beyond seeing and hearing when it comes to spiritual experiences, from what I’ve seen. I don’t know if this has to do with television, instantly-accessible music and such or if people really do put a lot into “seeing is believing”. On TV there are a lot of vision sequences for people to watch and I just have to wonder if this is the way people are learning about this sort of thing since, outside of some deeper articles on the Internet and in books, there’s no other example in front of them. They see that everything is right there in front of the character with the experience, high definition, easy to hear, and wonder why they can only smell things or feel something tugging at them… Because obviously seeing and hearing tv-style is the proper way to have that sort of experience.

    • Yes! I too find it much easier to see peripherally in the otherworlds, rather than straight on. I sometimes have this in dreams as well.

      I think you’re right, that we’re being overly influenced by “vision” and dream sequences on television, that make it seem very different than how it actually is, at least for many people (I know my dreams, for instance, never look the way they show on tv). That’s why I’m hoping to get more of a conversation going with posts like this, so the information about other ways can start to trickle out there.

  4. I am very, very visual and I agree, this can be a problem.
    Great blogpost.

  5. Wow, nice; I’ve always wondered about this as there’s so much emphasis on Visualisation – but visualisation isn’t the same as touching the Worlds, and I’ve had some real weird stuff happened that wasn’t like seeing a directed movie in my head.

    Touch, smells, and sometimes a crashing headache (actually the latter is almost a given), I’ve had people dousing for ley lines and so forth in my vicinity and I told them “I know, I’m standing on it.” “How do you know that?” “Migraine, mate.” Maybe not all the beautiful-smells-of-roses-kind-of-Woo people expect but, nevertheless, Woo.

    • As someone who connects with one of my spirits often through quite intense nausea, I definitely understand that sometimes woo isn’t all fun and pretty. There are so many ways for it to manifest in the body.

  6. Thank you so much for writing this! Now I do mostly blame it on laziness and not really trying in my case, but I am so far…well, not entirely blind, but very hazy eyed at best and occional moments. Mostly, I “hear”. Not even voices – music, err, …feelings. Well not really feelings as they aren’t personal emotions, or really always emotional at all. It’s hard to describe. Anyway, thank you. The “witch 101” type things are by far the most discouraging. “Grab a bowl of water and stare until instead of your face you see all these fantastic things! Everyone can do it”: one hour later: still my face. Etc. It’s good to know having a built in HD TV isn’t always a requirement for communication.

    • Here’s the thing about scrying – most books get it wrong. The point isn’t to see tv-like images in the water/crystal/fire/etc., not even to see basic shapes to interpret like reading tea leaves. The point is to use the object as an inducement of trance, and then see with one’s inner eye. The reflective surface, the dancing flames, are things that often work on the brain to trigger a trance state – the rest is up to how you experience trance (visual or otherwise).

  7. Yes, yes! I know exactly what you mean. The “whump!” right in your chest when they’re there. The feel of a hand on your shoulder. I often smell a scent associated with an ancestor when they come. The otherworlds are a multisensory place. I love how you mention time as well, that is so true. Often when I have had a truly good vision I find that what I experienced as an hour was only 15 minutes.

    I often find that the visual is the last sense to engage. When I first encounter a spirit is is through a feeling of presence, or a color or smell. I think that as I experience them I learn better how to interpret them through my everyday senses. Eventually I get full color surroundsound when I am keeping up with my practice, but like other skills it fades with disuse.

    • I too often find that the visual is the last thing, and therefore often the strongest, paradoxically, even though it’s more rare for me. In other words, I skip all the visualization and imagination and mind’s eye stuff and either have no visual experience or a very real, very intense, very immediate one.

  8. So glad to know I’m not alone in this. Even though I know my experiences are real, there’s always a whisper of doubt lurking in the background because I’m still somewhat tethered to reality, knowing that I’m in my bed or on the floor in front of my altar, not kneeling on grass or walking through the woods.

    While visualization is easy for me, I trust it less than other sensory clues because of that. Part of that sensory experience is absence of noises and tactile sensations from the mundane world – I know it’s not a visualization exercise or just my mind when there’s that sensory shift to a very different place. It’s hard to talk about that if people don’t experience it, particularly things like losing time or having physical effects from what happened. Once, I was bitten in a trance experience and had two tiny puncture marks bleeding when I came out of it. How do you begin to explain that?

    At some point, could you talk more about confirmation through divination, especially blind divinations?

    • At some point, could you talk more about confirmation through divination, especially blind divinations?

      Sure, I’ve touched on that before but it probably deserves its own post. I can see that a lot of people aren’t very careful to structure their confirmations in a way that removes the human element. I’ll put it on the list for a future post.

  9. I think it’s also very misleading that a lot of people talk about visuals, but maybe omit the other sensory input they get. Often because people who talk about “Smelling” or “hearing” without “seeing” are branded fruitcakes or fakers.

    While I talk about “seeing” – It’s actually kinda not. Of course, explaining the why is medically esoteric – I am a Synasthete. Because of some unique crossed wires – my brain develops shapes and color from auditory input. I find this is amplified in the Otherworldly ways. If I’m “looking” at a spirit, I turn my head about 30 degrees off to the side and “listen” to it. It is this “listening” that becomes the “image”.

    • I would think that synaesthesia might actually be an asset in dealing with spirits and the otherworlds. While I do not have it myself, I do find that having very strong interconnections between sensory inputs (and associated mental concepts) enriches my comprehension and experience of otherworldly things.

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  11. This is excellent! I’m fairly new to working with spirits and have yet to see. I don’t feel so discouraged now! I have heard before (an experience where I actually heard singing in response to prayer), but so many people place focus on visual only that it can get really disheartening when that’s not the first thing that happens.

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