5 - The Journey to the Otherworld
I returned across the water to my temple, that dangerous journey across running water which absorbs and carries away magnetism and may break up the projection In my temple, from which the astral forms which we build with so much care are never banished, I laid my two hands on the altar and faced the Moon-symbol that hung upon the mirror that is a two-way door to another plane, and in the mirror I saw my own reflection with the image of the Great One behind me and to that shadowy form, built up by the mind I surrendered the vital force that I had drawn into myself.
(Dion Fortune Moon Magic)
Magic is the art of causing changes in consciousness, for it is in an altered state of consciousness that the seeds of magic are sown, that the visions of past, future or distant events are seen, and when the true communions with the Great Ones in their many forms may take place. Many modern witches will not make the effort of learning to still their bodies and awaken their minds by meditation; or practise the arts of visualisation, that magical inner story-telling; or expand their powers of concentration through determination and regular work. These are all basically very simple activities, but because of their seeming ease, they are seldom credited, by newcomers, with the power they offer.
To be able to control the state of your own conscious awareness is a very valuable skill. It requires lots of regular and consistent practice to bring that most fractious part of our beings under control, and yet without it all magical acts, rituals or divinations are pale shadows of what they could be, if the will is there to direct the inner perceptions accurately towards the goal of the moment.
This practice can be hard and seemingly unrewarding work, perhaps for days or even weeks, but suddenly that subtle control is gained when the physical body can be perfectly relaxed and at peace, and the mind is sharply focused and alert. It is in this poised state of resting wakefulness that the clarity of vision, the perceptions of symbols, the voices of the gods, and the clear apprehension of other realms of existence and the beings that dwell there are achieved. It can take a lot of effort, but nearly everyone who really wants to master the arts of magic can teach themselves these methods by making an attempt every day, until it happens.
Today we do not have many moments of quietness in the hustle and bustle of modern life, whereas our ancestors, living a much slower, simpler and more physically demanding lifestyle, travelled at the speed of the carthorse not the high tech horsepower of the car. Many tasks were performed by hand, laboriously, and whilst the body toiled at the plough, the loom, the pitface or the axe their minds were free to wander.
In those unlettered days, memory was sharp, as was vision and awareness of the minutiae of wildlife, the changing face of Nature, the growth, ripening and decay of plants, the activities of animals and the interaction of their human kin. They would not call their inner musings 'meditation', but often practical solutions to everyday difficulties or improvements to the patterns of work would arrive at the threshold of awareness, just as 'realisations' arrive for a more modern meditator.
It is necessary to realise that the greatest asset to magical work, especially that performed as a lone practitioner, is the ability to enter an altered state of controlled consciousness, for it is this which allows the seeker to come face to face with the Old Ones in their own worlds. It is by mentally entering this altered state, within a magical 'flying' circle, that the Otherworld becomes visible, real and interactive with the traveller between the worlds. Once the circle has been set up it should become a vehicle to allow you to travel through time, space or the realms of Nature, where all things which change have their roots and primal patterns, and where changes which happen in our world can be initiated.
There is no simple way of learning how to venture swiftly into the Otherworld, except by regular experiments. No one else can do it for you, or really teach you. What you experience there will be personal, so the accounts of another person's adventures will not help you. The closest ordinary experience which you may have often had is that of total absorption in a good book, or perhaps a film.
A book is really the nearest comparable activity, for then you are 'creating' the scene, the characters, the ambience, and if you are absolutely engrossed in the words the whole experience takes you outside time and your present space. What you will need to learn, for your magical experiments, is to be totally absorbed in the building up of the scenery, sensing, with your eyes closed, the atmosphere, the wind, the light of sun or moon.
It requires both concentration and relaxation. If you tense your muscles, as you might do whilst trying to perform some feat of physical strength, you will be unable to transfer your awareness to the Otherworld. Like many other occult skills, it is a 'knack', an art which is learned all in one. You cannot half-meditate, or nearly ride a bicycle, or just about swim. In each case there is a state of not being able to, and then, albeit badly at first, the actual ability to meditate, swim or ride a bike. Again, practice makes perfect.
If you are already well able to immerse yourself in a good book and so forget the world, the time or the everyday activities around you, the inner arts will come easily to you. The method used in the West is the very ancient art of story-telling, familiar to many of us from childhood, familiar the world over from the childhood of mankind. The only difference between seeing story-telling as an entertainment or as a form of magical training and illumination is the effort the listener has to make.
In the magical context, the listener tries to create, see or enter into the action of the story, meet the hero, walk through the forest, encounter the dragon or challenger, discover the treasure. Of course, today we have the Dungeons and Dragons type of game, both as books and as video games where, by making decisions as you follow the plot, you conquer enemies, gather weapons and treasure or seek out advantages. In the magical arts, which are probably as old as tribal sorcery, you may meet real characters, gods and goddesses, discover very real-seeming dungeons, become a hero or heroine on your own account. The more effort you are able to put in to perceiving what is being described, the more you can concentrate, in a relaxed way, on the action, the clearer and more real will your experience become.
Today, to help all those who are interested in the magical arts, there are many inner journeys, 'path workings' and creative visualisations on cassette tapes. I have made some basic ones myself. This is the most effective way of learning the technique because you can relax, sit comfortably in a quiet place and, using a tape player or personal stereo, simply listen to the words and build up the scenes as they are described.
This is much easier than reading from a book, a section at a time, whilst also trying to remain relaxed and switched off, and of course, it is impossible to read with your eyes shut. Most people dislike the sound of their own voices on tape but while you are learning, it really is worth the effort of slowly reading the myths of the Goddess or a description of a place sacred to the Sun God on to a tape, and allowing yourself to build up the scenes in your mind's eye, rather than sacrificing the relaxed state to read from a book. You may find that a friend with a calm and gentle voice might be willing to read a suitable text from a book for you.
What ought to happen is that you enter a dreamy and pleasant state of mind, when your body is comfortably relaxed, and yet the images that you hear described unroll themselves before your inner vision. At any moment, if the phone rings or you hear the baby crying or something needs to be attended to, you only have to open your eyes to be back in the ordinary world.
Of course, if you are sensible, you will cut off as many distractions as you can, for knowing that you might be disturbed is a sure way of making it impossible to relax properly. Over a few sessions, using the same narrative, you will find that the images become clearer, and that you start to sense the atmosphere, see the light of the sun, smell the greenery or the incense or whatever is being described. Like many similar sorts of activity, it does pay to hasten slowly. Take your time.
One session each day for a week and then a few days off will produce far better results than three or four sessions in one day and then none for a month! The mind, like an animal, is trained most easily by techniques applied little and often. Regular attempts, first thing each morning or in the afternoon, are better than late at night or at irregular intervals.
Although this might seem a far cry from the activities of the old village witch or the tribal sorcerer, it is one aspect of a collection of arts which our forebears would have used more or less unconsciously. Our modern lives are permanently bombarded with sounds, music, pictures of other places, the activities of other people, whereas our ancestors had far less input, and their minds would have been freer to wander through time and space as they worked their way through the hard and boring grind of manual labour.
We know from the vast hoard of folk songs and work songs that these hours each day were filled with new ideas, old tales and the rhythmic tunes accompanying each task. Of course, many of these songs were bawdy, but others recounted the most ancient legends, the history of the people or the job they were doing. There is a huge amount of sung and oral material largely ignored by modern scholars, yet it contains valuable insights into the depth of traditional wisdom, ancient lore, songs of worship and the seasonal feasts, if we can learn to value the simple things from the past.
Take a familiar folk song, like Scarborough Fair. It is a riddle song, about sowing seeds between the salt sea and the white strand, making a shirt without any seams and no needlework parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, all culinary and magical herbs. It is one of the challenge songs, old as the hills, in which the initiate seeks to win the hand of the girl he loves by performing some impossible tasks.
These are similarly parts of many fairy stories where, because of kindly deeds towards animals, the heroine is helped to sort seeds, spin enormous amounts of thread or something similar. Underlying these is the Mystery, the magical heart of the myth wherein the main character is able to call upon Otherworldly help, often portrayed as small animals or birds, in order to perform some seemingly impossible task.
Many of our modern pantomimes are based on such tales, like Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast where magical happenings are brought about. Many of these stories are very widely told, and often extremely old. Cinderella, for example, is found all over Europe, Africa and as far afield as China, in slightly varied local versions.
We need to become aware that there are many paths which lead to the Otherworld, many of them ordinary and well-known, but probably not recognised as having a magical application. Begin to look again at stories you read last as a child, or which you may be reading to your own children. See if they are still playing the old games, with ropes or rhymes or songs and actions. Even things like Hopscotch with its ten squares could be based on the magical Qabalistic Tree of Life, a diagram of the creation of the Universe, according to ancient Hebrew occultists!
The story of King Arthur and his knights and their quest for the Holy Grail contains a vast amount of evolved material about the initiate's search for some hidden treasure, the tests of his common sense, his strengths, his religious beliefs and his relationships with young ladies. This particular set of legends contains many valuable clues about the ancient Celtic system of magic, seeing animals as guides or omens, seeking out wild places where hermits lived in sacred groves or dangerous Otherworldly beasts had their lairs. This ancient quest is still a valid part of our own heritage and, like the path of the solo witch, one which often had to be carried out alone, using individual skills and personal resources.
As you reread some of these traditional old tales and legendary cycles, see how what they are saying can be relevant to today's personal search for enlightenment and magical power. All the clues are there, but today we travel through the equally wild and frightening concrete jungle and our wildernesses are peopled with strangers or machines rather than giants and monsters. We still need to rescue the maiden from the dragon's dinner table but now may see she represents our inner female nature, or a part of the Goddess we can adopt during our rites of worship.
We might understand that the faithful horse is our physical body, which needs to be properly fed, exercised and groomed, for without it we will not be able to travel through any worlds, let alone those inner realms wherein it can be safely left behind. We may need to sharpen the sword of our wits and strengthen the shield of common sense and good humour as we set off through the mindfields of the Otherworld, so that we are not frightened by anything we meet there, nor overawed by the power we shall discover.
Both these things which may scare us on our magical journey and the upwelling of power initially come from within ourselves. We cannot banish them, or overcome them, anymore than we can cut off a foot or, on a sunny day, detach ourselves from our shadow.
The best and safest paths to the Otherworld begin in the wild places of this world. The image of a deserted moor, uncultivated meadows of wild flowers cropped only by deer and rabbits, sacred groves of small trees set about a sparkling spring, or a wild wood will each offer you a genuine and safe doorway to the Otherworld. So would a cave, or a sea-girt grotto, or an unclimbed mountain peak, but the first suggestions will be easier to imagine, clearer to see and are more gentle, as you make your first assays into the inner realms.
Here is a simple exercise. Read the words a few times to impress them into your memory and then take a comfortable, upright posture with your back supported by a chair or tree. Breathe deeply half a dozen times, slowly and gently, feeling all tensions leaving your body, yet remain awake and alert, though physically relaxed and at peace. Close your eyes without screwing them up, and feel around inside your body for any discomfort or tension, making sure that neither your arms nor your legs are crossed, so that your energy flow will not be impeded as you enter the Otherworldly state. Then, bit by bit, build up these images. As slowly as you need and as completely as you can, enter into each image in turn:
First, see a soft brown cloak of natural wool being wrapped around you. Feel its pleasant texture, its warmth and comfort. This will protect you, making you invisible if you are out of doors, or reduce your awareness of intruding thoughts or disturbances indoors. Become really aware of it before you go to the next image.
Now, still enclosed in the cloak of protection, rise to your feet and see that you are standing on a narrow path through a field of wildflowers. It is a pleasant sunny day with a light breeze touching your cheek. You may smell the scent of hay, the many flowers, and feel the wild wind blowing freely. You may hear the drowsy buzz of bumble bees, the chirrup of crickets, the hum of insects among the flowers, and the shush of the wind among the grasses. Otherwise it is very quiet.
You begin to walk along the path, seeing it wind along a hillside towards a small cluster of trees. You feel very peaceful as you stroll in the sunshine. Soon you draw near to the grove of trees, all deep green in the full leaf of summer. Perhaps you recognise young oaks, small ash trees, the darker green of holly, the feathery-edged leaves of hawthorn with clusters of green haws among them. You enter the cooler shade and begin to hear the chirping of birds, and the rustle of the light breeze in the branches. In the dimmer light you pause.
After a few moments, something brighter catches your eye and you walk on, winding among the trunks of the trees. You see the lush grasses beside the path dotted with white and mauve flowers. You begin to sense other presences, perhaps only birds or small animals, or perhaps those watching spirits which are found everywhere under Nature's care.
Carefully you make your way forward, for the trees crowd closer here, and the path has petered out amid the loamy brown leaf-mould that carpets the wood. You look around you, not sure which way to go.
You turn round, seeking the path, but it has vanished. The leafy branches seem to brush your hair, and the trunks of the trees feel as if they are closing in. The dim green twilight darkens and you begin to feel lost and alone. Before you there seems to be an arching doorway of slender rowan trees, leaning in towards each other, and beyond them a lighter glade seems to offer a safer path. You push your way through the low branches, here and there scented with the peppery aroma from the clustering white rowan flowers. It feels as if a door toward the light is opening for you as you pass between the smooth, slender grey-green trunks. Ahead there is a fallen tree, entwined with ivy and creepers, but part of the bole is clear, and great fully you sink down to sit and rest awhile.
The light which seemed to fade under the trees now begins to brighten and every leaf glistens and shimmers with dazzling points of sunlight. The birds all sing in tuneless chorus. Around you the wind seems to rustle the branches, and small whirlwinds raise twists of dust. As you sense all these things at once, another great presence looms near to you, and a bell-like voice speaks from behind you.
'Welcome, my child, why have you come through the Door in the Heart of the Greenwood?'
You try to turn to see who is there, but your body is reluctant and all you see is a greenish shadow out of the corner of your eye. Somehow you manage to speak and answer. New questions follow, and you receive answers for what may seem a long time.
Eventually there is silence, the light dims, the birdsong dies and the trees are still. You look round and may just catch the departing swirl of a green cloak vanishing between the tree trunks, a tall form moving swiftly into the leafy gloom. For a few moments you ponder on what has been said, and then slowly rise to your feet.
Looking between the arching rowans you see the path, now quite clear and straight. You make your way along it. The trees that seemed to press closely now lightly touch your hair, conferring a blessing. The scent of greenery, wildflowers and soft loam fills your nostrils, and you breathe deep of this free, fresh air. Soon you leave the wood, seeing how tiny it appears, how safe and familiar the trees. You cross the flowering meadow, again being acutely aware of the colours of the flowers, the touch of the grasses, the twitter of rising skylarks and the low murmur of bees.
As you look about you the scene grows misty and dim. You feel very happy and relaxed, but those images, feelings and experiences linger with you. Soon you are ready to open your eyes, and return gently yet completely to your own familiar world. Return and remember!
Perform this journey several times, always noting what you see, feel and hear - including distracting everyday noises, and the questions the Being in the Wood asked you. Each time you will discover new aspects of this very simple yet powerful exercise, for it is a key to the door to the Otherworld. When you become used to the technique, you will find that as you set out on this path, another may unfold between this world and the Otherworld. You will voyage on mental adventures of discovery, sensing new aspects of this inner realm. Its entry is free, its paths are protected, and anything you fear will have been brought with you.
Make some real journeys, too, to visit quiet country lanes, old villages, river banks, cliff-girt beaches and high, open moors. Here you will be able to discover that what you see in your inner vision, conjured in your own room or garden or quiet place, has genuine natural counterparts. Similarly, you will find that in the wild, the Great Beings of Nature, the gods and goddesses of the green world, the nature spirits, dryads or tree guardians, totem and real animals, mythical beasts, all may be encountered, if you go half way to meet them. That is a simple act of willing yourself into their presence, with a relaxed body, closed eyes and an awakened consciousness.
Only regular work at these basic exercises will ensure clear visions, full perceptions and valuable experiences. Both the real trips to the country and the practice runs in your own space need to work hand-in-hand, for both build up the data banks of knowledge, symbols and experiences.
Remember, you will be encountering real beings whose world interacts with ours, but to most people they are invisible and their touch is unfelt. Once you have walked in spirit through a few of the old doors to the Otherworld, you may begin to perceive ever more clearly where the two worlds overlap and interlock. It is for this reason that you cannot call up, command or banish any of the Old Ones you meet. They are always there and it is your own sight and ability to interact with them that you may command. Like muscles, the inner eyes of Otherworldly journeying need to be trained slowly, gently and carefully, to give the most rewarding results.
Every creature, tree, spring, wild stretch of countryside, Great God or nature spirit has its own place in the scheme of things. All may become visible to you, if you make the effort to get to know them. Be polite, respectful and reasonable in your dealings with these Old Ones from other dimensions. They can bring you wisdom, healing, power and love, and will ask little in return.
Often they will give you gifts which, though they usually vanish inside you before you fully return to this world, are real and many are valuable in terms of the Otherworld. Always give thanks for such gifts, even if at the time of their receipt, you do not know what they are or what they may be used for. Each is probably a key to unlock entrances to your own doors of the Otherworld, behind which you may gain the knowledge, experiences, magical energy or divinatory skill which you most need.
One day you will start to see that there are doors to the Otherworld all round you, as there have always been. They may lead from your own street to fairyland, or from the city to the Heart of the Greenwood. You will come to understand, through personal experience, that inner sight is not the only way of apprehending these Otherworlds. Some you will only feel, sensing the ambience, the warmth, coolness or energy; others you will hear, speaking with many voices, inside your head or even heard with your ordinary ears. Some places or Beings from the Otherworld, especially animal forms to whom scent is a language, may be smelt or tasted on the air, in the way that the salty tang tells you that you are near the sea or that it is raining when the pungence of wet dog precedes the animal into the house.
Our senses are blunted, even compared with our ancestors, by such bad habits as smoking, eating unnatural foods and living in centrally heated air, but we should use them to the full, especially when our sight, our predominant sense, is taken from us in the closing of the lids and refocusing on other realms.
You will soon encounter the magical paradox encompassed by the question, 'But am I making it all up?'. The whole matter hinges on the word 'make'. What you are saying (probably to yourself, as it is the sort of query which surfaces when you are struggling on alone) is, are you 'imagining' whatever you see, feel, smell or sense otherwise. The word 'imagine' and the word 'make' come from the same root! You are making yourself perceive in a new way, which perhaps at first seems irrational, but gradually you will find that the actual question has no meaning. It simply does not matter if you are making things up, or imagining them, or actually seeing and sensing things beyond your normal range, so long as you are actually learning to become aware of them. You can try to surprise yourself, in the way that some of the scenes you encounter in the Otherworld will surprise you. Then you will understand the nature of occult knowledge.
Elementals are natural energies associated with the elements of Earth, Water, Fire and Air. We can't really be sure what they are like in their own realms, for like all beings that appear to our clouded vision, they tend to be shaped by our own imagination. A simple example is an angel. Now, you can look at pictures throughout Christendom and see illustrations of robed figures with feathered wings, in various colours, designs and degrees of reality. Show such a picture to a foreigner or a child and they will probably be able to identify the image as that of an angel.
Angels don't actually look like that - they are not flying people but great energy forms, shapeless and rainbow-hued, if you ever see them in their own forms, as you can if you ask them to appear like that. But human artists, over many hundreds of years, have created the stereotyped image, originating from some vision but interpreted into human form. The same applies to Elementals. They look like their element, flowing, streaming, illuminating, almost invisible giant vortices of power, but because they are willing to limit themselves to the stereotyped image constructed by humans, they may be perceived as nymphs or dryads or sylphs or gnomes.
Once you learn to catch them unaware, by entering their worlds gently and without making cross-dimentional ripples, you may see them as they are. Do realise, though, that all these beings are huge, vast, lofty and expansive. Imagining them as little animal-like spirits diminishes them and demeans their might. They are eternal, awesome, potent and far wiser than we children of Earth.
Part of the Old Arts is the acceptance of other dimensions, other realms, alternate realities from which we are only cut off by ignorance, or perhaps over-keen scepticism. We cannot see TV pictures without a set, electricity and an aerial, but those waves of information are all round us. We cannot see Elementals or angels, but if we visualise them, so mentally providing the power, the aerial and the receiver, we may well perceive them. As we tune these senses, just as an engineer would tune a satellite dish, the picture becomes clearer, the sound more distinct and our understanding of what is
being transmitted greater all the time. All of us are born with the ability to pick up these 'astral' signals from the starry heights. Many of us as children were well aware that we could travel through the air, meet fairies or animals or other childhood heroes. We encountered them most nights in our 'dreams' but now, as adults, we have to learn again that childlike simplicity, acceptance of what our adult logic tells us is improbable. That is the secret of walking into the Otherworld, realising that there can be things of which we are not aware in our everyday state of mind, but which the Old Arts may reveal to us if we trust intuition and our inherited wisdom.
It may require us to make huge cultural leaps, but that is one aspect of 'becoming a witch' or walking the solo path towards the realms of the Great Ones. We will certainly be surprised, for that is a sure sign that something magical is at work in our lives, and that we have stepped through that flimsiest veil of conscious acceptance, and so begun to see and experience for ourselves. Try it; it might genuinely change your life!
Today we have psychological expressions to describe various states achieved during meditation and creative inner journeys. In the old days such states were part of the boring and repetitive work most people had to endure. Because mental distraction is a rare occurrence, those who use meditation as a vital tool for their inner studies have to learn this simple art, and surprisingly difficult it may prove to be.
The techniques which need to be worked upon during the fourth moon have to be mastered to make any magic work, and to allow the practitioner personal visions of the gods and goddesses on a controlled basis.
Start by reading a description of one of the deities and then, with your eyes closed and in a relaxed position, begin to retell that description to yourself, building up the image until it is clear. Try this for at least four days, for about fifteen minutes at a time.
Another valuable exercise is to look at a real flower or plant in front of you, then close your eyes and try to 'see' it in your mind's eye. You know it is real, it has life, but seeing it with your eyes closed may be very hard at first. Keep at it for as many sessions as it takes to get a clear impression of the plant. You can then mentally make it flower for a few sessions, putting forth buds, then blooms, then fruit or seeds. You will need to be able to create and then manipulate images as acts of magic, so the sooner you get the knack, the better.
Look at some familiar tales and see if you can discover the magical story within them. You may be surprised. How clearly do your favourite writers lead you into the world of their fictional works? Try to unravel the occult theme of any children's story you can get hold of, too.
Try out the inner journey as described in this chapter at least three times. Write down in your Book what you saw, felt, imagined and what changed between the first and third attempts. Write out your questions and the answers you received on each occasion.
Find time to walk in uncluttered places and build up an inner journey based on a real walk along a country lane, or by a river or the sea. Try also a couple of times and see what happens, comparing what you feel and sense with the deliberately magical journey into the Greenwood.
Why are the Beings of the Otherworld real? How can you prove this, if only to yourself?
Try to enter an inner place where you can meet the Elementals of Earth and then of Water. Write down what happened, then later, when you have had a lot more practise, try Fire and Air Elementals.
Is anything new happening in your dream life?
Here are some books with instructions about meditation or path working. (You might like to try some of the cassettes of inner journeys I have recorded - write to me care of the Publishers for latest details.)
Robert Holdstock, Mythago Wood (Fiction)
Naomi Humphrey, Meditation: The Inner Way (Aquarian)
Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters (Corgi) (Fiction)
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Bloomsbury) (Fiction)
R.J. Stewart, Magical Tales (Aquarian)
If you keep failing to enter the proper, relaxed frame of mind which makes these exercises produce results, realise you may be trying too hard, so play at it, make it much more of an experiment, gone about in an attitude of 'Well, it doesn't really matter, but let's give it a go!' Try also at different times of day; early mornings are usually best but midday, if circumstances permit, or early evening might work for you.