Monday, January 15, 2007

Shamanic Journeys in the Northern European Traditions: Innerworldly Symbols, Visions, Seership, and Journeying

"I have always made a distinction between pictures seen in the memory of nature and visions of actual beings now existing in the inner world. We can make the same distinction in our world: I may close my eyes and see you as a vivid picture in memory, or I may look at you with my physical eyes and see your actual image. In seeing these beings of which I speak, the physical eyes may be open or closed: mystical beings in their own world and nature are never seen with the physical eyes."

-Anonymous Irish Seer interviewed by Evans-Wentz in The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.

The greatest and most powerful gift that modern Pagan religion can offer us is a direct channel of communion with the Gods of our ancestors, and the other living, sentient beings who inhabit the world unseen. There is no spiritual illumination without the guidance and empowerments of these Gods, and we do not know the joy of our place in the great web of life until we learn to join the hosts unseen in some form of conscious fellowship that goes beyond mere belief in their existance. I am talking chiefly about our Gods, those beings who say of themselves:

"We are from the beginning of creation, without old age, without consummation of Earth."

While the reality that the Celts called Imbas or Awen- Spiritual Illumination- is certainly the "highest good" of the Ancestral Path, we cannot separate the reality of the Gods, nor the reality of our special relationship to them, from the path of wisdom and its supreme rewards. Socrates was correct to point out "There is no Wisdom without submission to the Gods", though one must not be put off by his wording- "submission" in this case refers to the simple and needful act of recognizing that the wisdom of the Gods, their immortal wisdom, is something we should seek and put before our own mortal wisdom, without discarding our own brand of mortal wisdom, which has its own uses with respect to the mortal world.

When we seek the mysteries, it is the Masters and Mistresses of those Mysteries that we must endeavor to become students of, and they are to be found in the Otherworld- the Gods, Goddesses, divinized ancestors, and powerful spirits of wisdom that make up the pantheons of our ancestors. Wisdom in the sense of "attaining the mysteries" is not the same sort of wisdom that guides you through everyday life (such as the wisdom of getting out of the rain to avoid catching a cold). The Wisdom of the Otherworld is of a different kind; it is a spiritual gnosis that reveals to us the workings of a deeper reality, and renders some of the events in our world meaningful in surprising ways.

In some manner, the Wisdom won from the mysteries represents knowledge of the Gods and their unseen worlds, and insights into the common origins of Gods and human beings. Otherworldly Wisdom is the final, deepest "layer" of wisdom-reality to which the mystic inclines and upon which lasting happiness and undefeatable understanding depends.

The Unseen or the Innerworld reality is the new stage, the new "way of being" occupied by those who have gone beyond the world of common mortal life upon achieving true Wisdom and Illumination. This is no "escape" from the world on their part, mind you, but an intense deepening of their experience of it, such that those beings who are released from limitation through the actualization of spiritual Wisdom can extend their minds and even bodies into different reaches of reality. They do this, it is thought, to better continue their perpetual existences and act as guides and instructors to human seekers on a more available, essential level, and to act as the creators and sustainers of many aspects of our cosmos. Who else but these mysterious beings can say WHY they do as they do, or exist as they exist?

The purpose of this article is to discuss some of the most essential and important mental capabilities and exercises that mystics of the Northern Tradition, especially the ancestral or Native tradition of Britain, need to be proficient in, when it comes to directly experiencing the Innerworldly or Otherworldly reality of the Gods.

There are a few vocal modern Pagans who react with horror at the idea that Pagans should seek "contact" with the Gods. To this vocal minority, there are too many dangers involved. I mean, let's face it; what person alive today can be trusted to be mature enough, to recognize the vastness of the mystery of the Gods enough, and be wise enough to "communicate" with the Gods in a trustworthy manner?

Surely, the bulk of modern Pagan "new agers", with their book-fed pseudo-knowledge and lack of spiritual maturity should not be told "You can talk to the Gods, using this powerful visualization technique!" To do so would only feed a greater cycle of egocentrism and spiritual degeneration. To do so would be to cheapen who and what the Gods were to our ancestors, and what they can and should be to us, today. I admit that it is a fact that many people are attracted to new-age and "Pagan" religions for all the wrong reasons, and these kids will thrill to the idea that they can indulge their egos in the role of "mouthpiece of the Gods". But would they be talking to the Gods? Certainly not; they would only be "talking" to themselves, while visualizing the words coming out of the mouth of a God or Goddess.

The simple thought of it is enough to help a person understand why many modern Pagans are against the idea of mystical communion with the Gods at all. A few go too far with their ambition, and try to claim that even our ancestors in ancient times never believed that humans could speak with the Gods, or that there never were castes or mystical operants whose task it was to commune with the Otherworld. This is merely these people re-writing history. The Druids of old WERE the mediators between the people and the unseen reaches of the Otherworld, just as the native Shamans were before them, and just as shamans today all over the world still are.

And there's nothing in Celtic mythology to insinuate that the ancients would have had any problem with the idea of humans talking to the Gods or Otherworldly beings- interaction between these two worlds is a very common fixture in these mythologies. Our ancestors simply didn't have the idea of "hard division" between one world and another the way many modern people do; interaction between the two worlds was common and ongoing. It was the Druid or the Mystic's task to recognize the subtle points of that interaction and honor it with poetic and religious expression.

Let me be clear: interaction with the Otherworld is possible. Conscious experience of the realities of the Gods and other spirits is possible and even needful if we wish to take our Pagan religious paths to their final conclusion- that of true Wisdom. But there are many dangers along this path, and one of the chief dangers is that spiritually immature people will abuse these noble goals to serve their own egos. There is a danger that foolish people who are looking for ego-boosts and kicks will claim to talk to the Gods on a daily basis, and try to gain some sense of respect as a person who can "speak for the Gods".

But these dangers and pitfalls can easily be avoided. It is simply a matter of recognizing maturity and approaching these matters with respect common sense. No working group of Pagans should ever "elevate" one person to some "mouthpiece of the Gods" position and then rely on that person to hear the words of the Gods. Each member of a mystical working group should strive to achieve this contact for themselves, only trusting one another to act as a mediator when they are certain of the maturity and sincerity of the others. No matter how close someone is to another, you should never ask a person who may be biased for some reason to "consult the Gods" for you or to do some form of divination for you.

The only way to be certain that you may be getting a pure or true "message from the Gods or the Otherworld" through the vehicle of another person is by knowing that this person is mature, honest, sincere, and serious, and by asking them questions about situations that they are not involved in directly, or about persons that they have no interest in one way or the other.

Obviously, common sense should rule in other ways- a very young person who only recently began studying the path is not someone you should rush off to, no matter how sincere they are. The simple fact is this: the skills required to achieve the mental clarity in which the Gods can reveal themselves fully via inner vision take time to acquire. Even people who may be naturally sensitive to the Otherworld need time to build up clarity and the needed focus to get true impressions that come from beyond, in such a manner that they can help others.

The activity of "oracle", as I said, is something every person should be working to achieve. Going to another to fulfill this task for you is fine too, and sometimes it is needful, so long as you bear in mind all that I have said here.

Above all, communities who have a specialized "caste" or "office" of some mystical practitioners, like Druids, should carefully watch and examine the character of their mystics, and only give them such responsibilities when they are certain that these people have gone beyond ego-games and gained the calm mental maturity and working experience that such offices require. There is no child's play here, nor room for foolishness.

Communities should also watch for any dangerous increases of ego that can occur as these people preside over the spiritual life of the group. Bear in mind that they "preside" only as helpers, not as the unquestionable messengers of the Gods. They "preside" as people who have developed a special ability of mind that anyone can develop- a unique mental discipline that they use to help, to advise, and to guide, not to rule and command or create dogma. It is, in reality, a specialized form of intuition, by which they can access transpersonal wisdom and input and help others. I like to think of these mystics or Druids as a form of spiritual counselor. They don't command; they guide and give advice.

Learning to access and use these forms of clarity, inner vision, and intuition is a most important assignment for all people who follow the Native Tradition, the Land-Based and Animistic/Polytheistic stream of the Western Way. I would say that only persons in the mystical vocation really need to really develop these capacities, but more and more, I'm seeing how everyone who walks these paths should work on it, and try to access it on whatever level they can, for the benefits are many. While it may be the "mystic" who fully actualizes these skills, the meditative and transformative states that are involved with these techniques are beneficial to all sincere people. I would like to speak for a while here about the process of creating and increasing inner vision.

There are some people who turn their noses up at using symbols and visualizations for inner work. Why? Because they believe (in line with many ancient and modern pseudo-understandings of what they call the "absolute") that the ultimate reality, the aim of mystical work, is far beyond form or symbol. In a strange form of internal iconoclasm, they try to "free themselves" from form and symbol and any hint of concept.

It's very amusing to me that such a person should exist, but it's easy to understand. The idea of the Gods of the Pagan world being "idols" and "false" and "graven images" is a deeply ingrained part of western consciousness. The idea of the "true" God being beyond form or image is just as deeply ingrained.

But what, precisely, IS "form" or "image"? Why did our ancestors choose to see the Gods in representational form? Why did they choose to see them, at various times, as shape-shifting spirits, taking animal form, or human form, or even the forms of various natural phenomenon? Why did they create anthropomorphic images, in places, to "symbolize" the Gods?

When you look at the world around you, you see that nature has given rise to many forms- the forms that we call "animals", "trees", "elements", and everything else. Humans did not "create" trees; we didn't create birds or wolves or clouds or the sun. We didn't create the human face or our bodies, or anything about how we look or act. We are all products of reality; all things are. And because of that, each and every form is no mere accident- I have discussed before how "accidental" forces do not exist in this world, and in the system of Fate and destiny.

The Gods are no accidents; the sky and the Land are not accidental. Human beings, along with all the other beasts of forest, mountain, sea, and field are not accidents. All forms that we see are manifestations of harmonious cosmic principles, or should I say, if a form exists and survives, it is because it is in harmony with the cosmic order. To see a raven is not to see an accident of evolution; it is to see the physical aspect of a great power, and to wear the mask of a raven, wear its feathers, dance like one, make its sounds, as Shamans do in their dancing, is not dress up and make-believe; it is a direct invocation of an essential, living aspect of reality that wears the form of the corvid or raven, and which has its own place and power in the web of life.

All of this means something very powerful- it means that when this cosmos is "overwhelmed by water and fire", when the "day of doom" finally arrives at the end of the cosmos-cycle, and when the new cosmos is born, the forms we identify as "canine" and "feline" and "humanoid" or "Anthropomorphic" will all be there, somewhere in that new cosmos. They will evolve and come to be in that "future" time, just as they did here. The forms of trees, with roots in the ground, and branches reaching for the sky, will also exist again. Sky will be above earth again. Water will course through the lands again. Birds will fly again. Beings that look like us- that look like what we call "human", will walk again, after the long process of life's formation. In the unfolding of the universe, only things in harmony with cosmic laws ever "come to be"- and what is in harmony "now" always was in harmony and always will be.

"Form" is not accidental; it is a representation of cosmic harmony, not just now, but always. Thus, the Gods and spirits are not "reduced" in their power or mystery by being "dressed" in forms. In fact, the only way the Gods can "appear" and interact WITH the minds of humans, or with any other being that has a mind, is by using some form. And all the forms they can or will use are already there, all around you, out in nature. You are staring at them right now.

Go walk in the woods- you are seeing countless harmonious forms. Look at the form of the human being; it is not mental idolatry to approach the Gods in human form or animal form, or even as just the powers of nature; it is natural to do so. Forms are not limited; they are universal, just as the Gods are. If anything, to approach the Gods WITHOUT using form, in terms of some formless abstraction, is a violation of the natural world; it is a denial of the holiness of things, the rightness and fitness of things.

Living or dead, your mindstream will only ever apprehend the Gods under some form. There is no escape to some "Formless" world. The Gods will only ever appear using some holy form, sprung from nature, and like us human beings, they are not separate from any other form or force in nature. And what is the natural "form" of the Gods? That is a very, very profound question. Manannan Mac Lir said (speaking of Himself and his fellow Gods), "We are without consummation of earth". This can be taken in many ways, but I believe that it means the Gods don't have to be sealed or bound by Fate into only one form or another at a time; the Gods are truly free. They freely interact with forms just as easily as mortal men and woman may interact with various ideas or emotions.

Now, I hope that I have banished any confusion or fear you might have had about the dreaded "idolatry" of the Pagans- embrace forms! Use the symbols and mental representations of forms, in your head, in your mind's eye, as a means of interacting with the Gods and the living spiritual powers that are there, because symbol and form is the chief method by which human beings can interact with them.

"Visualization" is nothing more than using will to create representations of forms in your mind. Luckily for us, representations of forms work just as well as the forms themselves, so visualizing things has a profound inward transformative power.

To begin working with the Gods, to "contact" them, one must create an image of the God or Goddess they wish to make contact with. This image should be simple, aesthetic, and in-line with what we know of the God's character and appearance through mythology, and this image should be able to live in your mind with vibrant ease. Some Gods aren't described well, but with intuition, you can draw upon secondary and tertiary sources to create images, or draw from the common fund of symbols that seem to pop up universally among human beings.

Enough cannot be said about the importance of the act of creating "images" of the Gods and Goddesses within. Animals, natural forces, and plants that were totemically sacred to the God or Goddess should be intertwined with the image, and in some cases, if you are an advanced worker, you can approach the divinity completely through the image of a tree or plant or animal or natural force that was sacred to it. It is possible to speak to the Great Father through an Oak-tree or a Stag; it is possible to speak to the Lord of Sorcery through a Raven perched on an Ash tree or a lightning-storm; it is possible to speak to the Great mother or the Earth Mother through the ground beneath your feet or through rivers or springs.

You can "speak" to these beings through these forms, whether you are seeing them only in your inner vision, or seeing them with your eyes, "at" these various locations or before these various animals.

I suggest that you use anthropomorphic features- human features- when you create your inner visualizations of the Gods, at least at first. It is a profound statement of both our relationship to the Gods as well as their involvement with all forms, including the human form. It is also the easier for many people to make heart-level connections to these kindred beings if we see them as we see each other.

One thing is for certain- as you become more advanced in these practices, your internal visions will begin to change, completely on their own; this is a sign of "internal activity" and connection. This is how the true "achievement path" of internal visualization begins and progresses. When you begin to have spontaneous visions and feelings of connection with the Gods or spirits, then you will have progressed to an even deeper level. When you begin to meet with these forms and images in your dreams, another marker has been passed. What you are doing by creating and working with divine images is conditioning your mind to respond to the subtle touches and words of the Gods and other spirits. In some visions- especially the spontaneous ones that will begin to occur- you may find that your image has altered in some way. As I said before, this is a sign of power and progress.

Once you have created an initial image that you are comfortable with, (and please never forget that these images need not be complex, just meaningful to you, honest to what symbols and character we know from myth and history, and evocative) then you can being utilizing the image, in stages, to contact the being represented by it.

Internal meditation on the symbol is important, a practice in which you bring up the image to your mind while you are relaxed and peaceful, and say a short prayer or invocation to the deity or spirit, and then simply observe the image in as full detail as you can. Eventually, what you will want to do is visualize the image as though you were looking at a moving picture, or a movie screen, and see the wind blowing the deity or spirit's hair (if it has any) or see him/her moving, breathing, blinking, or doing whatever the form naturally does. It helps to imagine and then "hear" what sounds might naturally be made by the form, or what natural sounds might be in the background of the form's natural habitat or dwelling place, as revealed in the myths of places where he/she/it appeared.

The point is to try to bring the image "alive" in your mind, by easily, steadily meditating on it, and letting more and more features of the image "come to life". You can do this practice anytime of day or night, and the more you do it, the more powerful the image will become, and the stronger your connection to the deity or spirit so captured by it.

Once you have "enlivened" the image enough, you are ready to move on to the next stage of image-work. This is where Shamanic "journeying" becomes involved. Journeys are important things for many reasons, but most of all because they represent transition and effort. Journeys take us from one place to another, and they require effort of us. They force us to face uncertainties and dangers, as well. On all levels, journeying is an important and ancient human concept and practice.

It only makes sense that to speak to a God or Goddess or Spirit, you'd have to go to them or journey to them. We aren't necessarily talking about an outward journey; the journey within, the transition of the mind from one "way of being" to another is also a journey. Moving from ordinary consciousness to trance or nonordinary consciousness is also a journey of types. What your mindstream experiences during trance is a journey, a movement from one region of experience to another.

And this is what you need to understand, before you undertake the journey to reach the range of mental experience in which the Gods can speak with perfect clarity- you are not always moving on the outward level, but moving inwardly with great power. Of course, you can always journey outwardly, alongside your inner work, for the strongest possible experience. But for now, I will discuss the specifically inward work.

Once you have a living image of the God or Goddess you wish to reach, you have to consider for a moment what sort of place this God or Goddess mythologically inhabited, and what sort of Landscape the God or Goddess was native to. All of these things are related. If you can actually situate yourself in the actual physical locations sacred or related to that being, you need to do it- even if it means making an outward journey. As I said, such a practice is the most powerful thing of all.

If, for some reason, you can't journey as far as you need, a small, minor symbolic outward journey can do well to focus your mind and purify you through the effort you put out. Nothing is free, not in this world or the other, so a small journey made outwardly shows sincerity and effort, and may be required to achieve true Innerworldly contact.

Most of all, regardless of what you actually do outwardly, you will make an inward journey. You will do this by creating a scenario within your mind in which you encounter a "Boundary" of some type, representing the wall or boundary between this world and the next (usually a hedge, a river, a forest edge, an ocean, or a gateway of megalithic stone) and you will cross it in whatever way you imagine best- you may fly across it, be carried by a helping spirit, see stepping stones suddenly emerge from the water, see a boat appearing from the distance to take you across, or just by climbing or pushing your way through if your barrier happens to not be water).

Then, you will travel through a landscape (always taking your time, never hurrying the journey) that will eventually, gradually become very much like the landscape related to the God, Goddess or being you wish to meet, and there, in that landscape (or divine palace, or cavern, or shining plain or whatever) you will come to the enlivened image you created for that being.

You will call its name and invoke it in heart-felt words, and you will say whatever you need to say to it, and you will relax and watch the form of the being, just watch and open your heart and mind and intuition to whatever you happen to be feeling at that moment. In time, you will see its mouth move, or simply hear its voice, on some level. Maybe it won't talk at all, but move in certain ways or make gestures. Whatever happens, you must not try to "make it" do anything. Just watch the vision in your head without making any effort to affect it whatsoever; let the "natural motions" that you used to enliven the image be there, and then let it "run on its own" automatically.

At this moment of contact, you will have to make great effort initially to NOT adulterate the vision with your own desires or words. Place your own desires FAR from the action and really concentrate on how this image or form isn't just an image or form, but the vessel of a Godly or spiritual force which is ancient, living, perpetual, and beyond you. Let IT speak or interact with YOU. If nothing happens, just watch it move naturally and pay attention to how you feel- how you begin feeling can sometimes say more than any words. But don't pretend that the being said something or did something that it didn't, and don't expect this to work overnight. It is something that takes time and discipline.

When you are done, when the being has either made a gesture, or showed you something, or said something, or did nothing at all, or perhaps when you feel it is time to go, or when you have communed with the deity-image through emotional responses or whatever, you return the way you came, and cross back over the way you crossed. Take you time and do not hurry the return journey; it gives completion and transition back to your "normal" state of mind. I will go into more detail on other particulars of this "simple" or beginning practice further below.

What I outlined here is the basic technique of journeying; the advanced techniques must be assembled and put to use by you over time. A point comes when a straight, linear journey into the symbolic landscape of the Deity isn't enough. A point comes when you will have to go to the home of the deity or spirit more directly, through a more detailed inner visualization.

For instance, the Gods often were considered to have dwellings in the shining plains "above", and their underground palaces and mounds are reached through hills and grave mounds, but are still technically "plains of heaven", simply accessed through the earth. Of course, some of those realms are truly underground or Underworldly. One must realize that "up" and "down" are really not "hard and fast" in the "spaceless space" of mind that we experience the Otherworld in.

Either way, to reach these places, your journey will have to take you "up", either by you levitating in your vision or climbing a great tree or going up rays of sun, rising on the smoke of a fire, or the like, or going "under" the ground through a grave mound or a cave or a spring/well/pond- all to reach the legendary "home" of the deity or spiritual power in question.

Other mythological features have to be incorporated into your journeys, and should with time- guardians, for instance. The Three Cranes that guard the entrance to the Underworld is one example, within the Celtic framework. These Guardians, no matter who they are or how you encounter them, are "passed" by facing them squarely and refusing to retreat, and realizing that they are not ultimately separate from you- nothing is. Their tests are inner tests, self-tests, and that is how you must think of them. When you "encompass" the guardian by recognizing how you and the guardian(s) are parts of the same whole, and how the visionary test it is presenting to you represents a reflection of your own inner state, then their power fades and they stand back to allow you to pass. Sometimes, they disappear or turn into something else.

Facing dangers and guardians is more common in advanced journeying than you think, and the Innerworldly powers that actually guard the Otherworld appear in surprising ways. You may not realize it, but the feeling of boredom you suddenly develop, the feeling of frustration or the fear you have that you may be "making all this up" are actually manifestations of the power of guardians. It is how they run off people who are not worthy- and no one becomes worthy until they overcome those things. Everyone will experience them; doubts, lack of energy, fears, boredom, and many other negative emotions that interrupt your inner practice.

So guardians need not appear as vicious animals in our inner landscapes, or as testing humans or other figures; they are far more effective hitting you with wandering thoughts, lack of focus, and doubt. The secret is to recognize these things as the tests of guardians and then re-focus yourself. If the guardian refuses to go away, call him or her out! Internally demand that it appear and show itself to you.

Allow it to take whatever form it will, but don't imagine what it will look like. Just go with whatever appears first, no matter how odd or mundane it may be. Then, face this thing, and do as I suggested above. If you face it with square awareness, unwavering awareness, and consciousness of the fact that this thing and you are part of the same great reality, that you are inseparable, and that its tests are merely projections from within you, without the power to hurt you as some outside alien force, then it will vanish and you will be free of its interference.

You must accept guardians, in a radical way, but also refuse to allow them to stump you or push you around. You must come to terms with them, but never one-sided terms. They are there to reveal something to you, not hinder you. They are manifestations of blockages in you, which are also Otherworldly realities that you need to clear or transmute in your deep mind. They are there to make certain that only a certain type of disciplined and motivated person "gets past" them, so in a sense, they are Otherworldly quality control. In this way, these minor "enemies" or challengers become our teachers and helpers.

What you are doing with all this is creating a detailed Innerworldly saga or drama in which you finally come into the presence of the God, Goddess, or spirit(s) that you feel that you should contact. You are creating a power-story, deep in the dimension of myth, deep in the place where power is born and humans and Gods walk with one another. You are orienting yourself inwardly to be "open" to these realities, both within and without. You are crafting within yourself the ability of the vision-seer.

Much detail can be added to these journeys, including many traditional symbols and places and cues to the spirit's reality. There can be tests and the journey can become detailed, ranging high into the Holy Plains above, to the far Western Isles, to the Ancestral Underworld, or even out into our own green world. Eventually, when you reach the God or Goddess or Spirit that you worked hard to communicate with, you may feel that it is them, but they may look different, or the landscape they are in may have changed- this is fine. It is the natural evolution of this practice.

This is not merely "mind play", though most people do take it that way, and never get beyond that stage. This is about training the mind to be sensitive to mythological themes and symbols. This is about increasing the inner eye's ability to visualize and be open to dreams and subtle realities. Most of all, it is about making closer inner ties between you and the Gods and spirits. It is about finding direction on the path to Wisdom.

* * *

I'd like to make a brief outline now, of the material I covered above, for your convenience. In this section I am also including specific journeying instructions that are based on living British Isles traditions, which may go back quite a ways.


1. Begin with a being, a God, Goddess, or Spirit that you feel a connection to, and which it will be to your benefit to contact- if you work in a forest, for instance, the powers in that forest or the Spirit of a great tree near you is a good place to start. If you have a spring or lake or river running through your property or near your home, that can be a good place to start. If you have felt drawn to some God or Goddess from mythology (Lugus and Brigid are commonly approached by modern Celtic pagans, just as Freya, Frey, Thor, and Odin are by Germanic Pagans) then begin researching these beings, and opening yourself to their reality. This is more important than it sounds- opening yourself to their reality means putting aside any and all doubts and putting yourself completely in their hands, open completely to their interaction.

2. Make sure your image incorporates any natural force, beast, or traits and characteristics that the myths of the being or beings claimed they had. Look to folklore for clues as well. If you are lacking guidance from mythology, build up an image that feels right, purely intuitively. Make it as clear and simple as you can manage, but always aesthetically pleasing or awe-filling and powerful as possible. Always situate the God, Goddess, or Spirit in a "background" that fits in with mythological cues as to the being's home, or in a natural environment that suits it.

3. Begin daily sessions of relaxing and then bringing up your image to your mind's eye and observing it on an inward level. Always pray to or invoke the being or beings that are depicted in the image. Gods and spirits can "hear" and receive our prayers, even if we only say them internally, and seeing images of them containing their symbols and forms makes the connection between us and them stronger. See your image, without effort; just watch it, and gradually, as time goes on, add features to it that make it seem alive- let the being in the image breathe or blink, or see their hair waft in the wind, or what have you. If your image is just a tree or a fire or a stone, let there be environmental noises in the background like birdsong or the sound of wind, and rain, and see branches swaying, see the fire crackling, etc.

4. Keep letting the image build up more and more until it seems very alive, as though you were watching a movie screen. After that point, your image is enlivened.

This same technique can be done to make images of helping spirits in the form of totem beasts that you may wish to encounter and "talk" to on an inner level. Those who feel the pull to converse with or approach the powers of the Land directly may do so, whether we are speaking of the spirits of a particular Land or place, or the "Faery people" who live inside the Land and who are typically the subtle forms taken by the ancestral dead.

Some of the Fae appear as royal beings of light and actually present to us, (via that symbolic inner form) the timeless reality of the ascended "light-bodies" of the ancestral dead in their most spiritual, "illuminated" aspect. They are very difficult in this "body of light" form for most people to encapsulate within mental vision.

You can visualize and create images of the Land-powers or the Faery folk as hooded, dark-eyed groups of beings, smaller in stature, or (in the case of the Faery people) white-skinned, radiant and beautiful beings dressed richly and often riding or walking in stately processions.

The Faery people often gather to feast in otherworldly feasts under Hills and other powerful places in the land- but one should never accept their food if offered; you can politely decline. Accepting food from deities is different, but even then, one should never accept it from them unless you feel love and devotion for the Deity, a love and devotion that goes beyond your "self" into real selflessness. You should only accept food from deities if devotion to the Gods and the Old Ways is foremost in your heart, with no hint of temptations towards any other religion, and only if you have nothing less than Perfect Wisdom as the supreme spiritual goal of your life.


1. Begin, if you can, by making an outward journey of some type to a place that is sacred or related to the spiritual power in question, or just making some sort of journey to mark what you are about to do. The effort you put into the journey will act to purify you and align you to your intentions, and prove to the Innerworldly powers that you are serious about your intentions. Making "Red Meals" or food/drink offerings to the Gods or spirits that you will try to contact is very appropriate and powerful at this time, especially if done at an appropriate, meaningful place; they will always add a great amount of power to facilitating the journey and the contact.

2. Relax yourself, either in the place you journeyed to, or back at your home, or in a convenient place. NEVER try this technique if you are too tired; be as well rested as you can be. Let yourself "see" yourself standing in a forest clearing or in the middle of some non-descript plain or field, with some sort of boundary blocking you from seeing very far or leaving the clearing or field- there should be a hedge or a river or an ocean, a wall of mist, or something of that nature. It must clearly be known by you as the boundary between this world and the unseen world. Let this landscape and boundary form clearly in your head; it need not be complicated, just clear. If your boundary is of water, always have a willow tree hanging over the water on the bank, somewhere in the visualization. If your boundary is a dense treeline or forest edge, always have thorn and ash trees in the treeline, if you can visualize them well.

3. Imagine that you have some sort of traveling gear on- special boots, a traveling cloak, or a traveling staff and a pack or bundle. The staff is certainly necessary, as it represents the pilgrim or person on a journey. All this "traveling gear" represents the intention you have to journey on the inner level. If you are wearing some sort of protective talisman on your body, it should also be on you in your inner visualization.

4. Face your boundary and say words like these, which are paraphrased from John and Caitlinn Matthew's book "The Western Way, Volume 1":

"I am _______ (spiritual name or actual name),
The son/daughter of _______ (your mother or father),
The son/daughter of _________ (your mother or father's mother or father).

I stand at the boundary of my world,
Bearing my staff and pack;
May the Gods of my ancestors protect me on my way
And bring me safely back.

From this world to the other,
Across the threshold I go, in the name of ______
(insert the name of your guardian spirit/helping spirit, tutelary deity or divine protector)
And I go to the home of ______
(insert name of the spirit or spirits you are going to visit.)
From the light of this world I go to the light of another."

Then cross your threshold and journey, as I discussed in the main article. The crossing of the threshold is the important first symbolic step that triggers deep responses. Remember that you must NEVER "hurry" a journey. Let unfold in a leisurely way, but don't let it drag either. The best thing you can do is achieve a "middle" way of journeying in which the action happens almost as though it was out of your control, sort of generating itself. That is the key.

If you have an active relationship with a helping spirit, it will often be met near the other side of the hedge or boundary, and if you need help crossing the boundary, it may appear to take you across. Visualize this happening if you need to, or invoke the helping spirit seperately before you do this part of the work, only beginning this work when you feel it near you or with you. That way, when you begin the visualization, it should appear "within" it of its own accord.

Always be honest with beings you meet on the other side. Gods won't invite you back if you lie to them, and it will undo all your work, and spirits have ways of knowing when you are lying, especially guardians, who will instantly have power over you if you lie to them. Always obey the law of hospitality- if you enter a dwelling and are made welcome, be polite and don't become hostile to your host or your host's guests, regardless of what they do. Treat them as guardians, if it becomes apparent that they are, for guardians can appear anywhere in any shape or form.

Saying words such as those given above before you cross the threshold orients a person to the journey on more than one level, and it gathers the protection of the Gods, the attention of helping spirits, and gives you a fixed point of destination. It also signals the beginning of the transformation you are hoping to attain. When you have done what you came to do, the "words of return" are similar to the "words of departure", only changed to reflect the new goal- that of going home.

Before you begin the return journey, say something like this:

"I am _______ (spiritual name or actual name)
The son/daughter of _______ (your mother or father),
The son/daughter of _________ (your mother or father's mother or father).

I return now to my world,
Bearing my staff and pack;
May the Gods of my ancestors protect me on my way back."

And when you reach your boundary again, say:

"From this world to the other,
Across the threshold I go, in the name of ______
(insert the name of your guardian spirit/helping spirit, tutelary deity or divine protector)
And I go to the home of my human birth,
The home of my grandmothers and grandfathers.
From the light of this world I go to the light of another."

When you get back to your "Starting place" then open your eyes and sit up, and touch your feet. Then stand and breathe deeply three times, and touch both sides of your face with your hands. Then stomp one of your feet three times and you're done. Make it a point to write down or record all of your experience somewhere.


Advanced journeys are done in the same manner as the initial inner journeys, but with the additions mentioned in the main text. You will begin to add extra "legs" of the journey, reaching mythical and actual locations that you may need to climb up or down to, or fly or walk long distances to "reach". As I said above, You must never hurry journeys of any kind; let them unfold naturally and slowly, leisurely.

Your journeys will become "advanced" on their own- they will become more complex through a mysterious natural process of inner growth, the more you take them. Guardians and their interference will begin to show up in various ways, and characters and turns of the lane that you never planned. That is a good sign that your Innerworldly senses are opening. Before long, you will be a walker in two worlds. But it takes years before you are ready to help other people with these techniques. In the beginning, it will be about your own personal growth.

You will find that the Otherworld is not sparsely populated. Deities and spirits are seldom alone, unless they choose to appear that way for some reason. The retinues and servants and companions of deities and Innerworldly heroes will often appear with them, and their halls and dwellings are often full of feasting parties, companies, and other beings. The Ancestors almost always appear as a company of beings. Do not force this "population" to appear, but let them appear naturally.

Always obey the laws of hospitality and truth, no matter what. Deal with "hostile" spirits as you would guardians, but any reptilian or amphibian creature of large size and red or reddish color with one large eye who may or may not show a threatening mouth of teeth should be avoided.

If you see such a creature, or some other intensely disturbing creature, immediately go back the way you came and end your experience, and do not try it again until you have built a large fire and jumped it at least three times, and prayed to the Gods for protection from dark powers, or until you have dropped three burning coals into pure water and washed your face and body with it, asking for Brigid and Lugus to preserve you from evil powers. If you follow the Troth of the Germanic peoples, pray to Freya and Odin for the same protection, and the High Thunderer.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Ring of Healing and the God of Sorcery

In my "Mera material" (which will soon be the first part of my coming work "The Sacred Forest") the spirit of the shamaness Mera discusses the uses that the ancient Britons had for the various circles of stone that they erected around their land. Britain, Ireland, Orkney, and the Continent of Europe all have many beautiful and powerful alignments and circles of megalithic stone, and the power they contain and transmit to the lonely souls of modern mystics is profound.

This subject is very important to me, and to all Traditional Pagans because if you work in the stream of Ancient Britain you must come to terms with what the ancient stones mean. They stand there, in Albion's landscape, long-standing shadows and ghosts of former times, and they inflame the imagination of practically every person who has a chance to get close to them or experience them.

The old stones have certainly influenced modern Paganism a great deal- even today, and despite the fact that the "Druids" had nothing to do with the actual building of Stonehenge and Avebury and the other megalithic circles, they are ubiquitous symbols of Land-based Paganism, particularly of the Celtic stream.

Now, don't get me wrong- I do not believe that the Druids were "solar priests" of some wave of Indo-European Celt invaders that suddenly shot into Britain and displaced the native Britons, inheriting the monuments of a previous people. No, I believe that the culture we call "Celtic" on the continent and "British" and "Irish" in the Isles was present in those places for a very, very long time.

I think that it slowly, gradually evolved into the form the Romans encountered it in. I don't think it had to "invade" out of its original homelands, where the "proto" form of the culture evolved; I think it slowly spread through trade, contact, travel, and "slow filtration". I'm more convinced by the scholarship I've read that suggest the "gradual Celticizing" of Europe than I am by the "waves of invaders" theories which were popular long ago.

In that sense, the "Druids" can be thought of as products of a slow spiritual evolution and "changing of the guard"- from the primal shaman of the Stone and early Iron Age to the time of the Roman conquest, there was always a "priestly" caste of people, dealing with the powers of the Otherworld and dealing with the sorcerous mysteries of initiation, sacred poetry, memory, relationship to the unseen dimension of the Land, and trance- but who can say at what point the term "Druid" became the term used to refer to them, or at what point they achieved the level of organization that they were reported to have, at least in Gaul and Britain. But the later "Druids" were certainly the "next in line" to be the guardians of the great mystical traditions of the European peoples in their own regions. Some people see the Christian priesthood as the "next in line" after the Druids, but on this point, I must take a serious issue and disagree. More on that later.

If we look at things as I outlined above, it was the shamanic guardians of the native religions of these people in Europe, on the continent and in the Isles, from tribe to tribe, which were there when Stonehenge was raised, as well as all the other megalithic sites. Even if they weren't called "Druids" then, or didn't operate according to the later structure and organization and learning of the Druids, the ancient Druids and the modern ones can claim to be in the same spiritual line of descent from the stone-raisers.

Any group of people that came to live near the stones would have been influenced by their numinal presence, and the great sum of Otherworldly power contained in them. In this way, I don't really mind the stones being used as "symbols" of Land-based modern Paganism; they are as good a symbol as any, and better than most.

Even in the mysteries of "Traditional Witchcraft" (which is the term given by me and others to the latest manifestation of Celtic and Germanic folk-wisdom, degenerate, forgotten animism and paganism, and primal gnosis which arises from the intuitive level on the parts of modern people of a mystical bent and the proper fateful or ancestral ties) the ancienet stones rise over the "inner" landscape, as symbols of the "foretime". The same can be said about Druidry. And the voices of these stones call out for people to come to terms with the mystery they represent. Who built them? What did they do inside these rings of stone? What can they do for us today? What can these ancient monuments tell us about ourselves?

People have wondered for a long time what Stonehenge was used for. There have been many theories, some better than others, of course; but the very best theory in my own never-so-humble-opinion has been put forth by Timothy Darvill, professor of archaeology at Bournemouth University.

There is a short news story here which gives Professor Darvill's theory:

Stonehenge was a site for sore eyes in 2300BC

To make a long story short, Professor Darvill has proposed that Stonehenge was a place of healing, a shrine that ancient people came from very long distances to see, hoping to be healed of various ailments.

The article states:

"For most of the 20th century archaeologists have debated what motivated primitive humans to go to the immense effort of transporting giant stones 240 miles from south Wales to erect Britain's most significant prehistoric monument.

Stonehenge was built in different stages between 3000BC and 1600BC and theories about their meaning and purpose have ranged from the serious to the wacky. The most widely accepted view is that it was to honour their ancestors.

Now Timothy Darvill, professor of archaeology at Bournemouth University, has breathed new life into the controversy with the publication of a book which proposes that the monument was in fact a centre of healing. Prof Darvill also backs the recent view that modern-day druids and hippies who celebrate the summer solstice at the site in the belief that they are continuing an ancient tradition should in fact carry out their rituals in December.

In his book Stonehenge: The Biography of a Landscape, Prof Darvill points to evidence that many of the human remains excavated from burial mounds around Stonehenge, dating from around 2300BC, show signs of the individuals having been unwell prior to their death.

Chemical analysis of their teeth has shown that a good proportion of those buried near the monument were not locals, but in fact came from as far away as Wales, Ireland and the Lake District. A grave uncovered in 2002 three miles from Stonehenge revealed the remains of a man who became known as the Amesbury Archer. He was found to have originated in what is now Switzerland."

The professor doesn't stop there. I have not yet read his book, but I will, very soon. But the news story on his theory quotes the professor giving two further important bits of support for his ideas.

Firstly, he points out that the stones were taken from 240 miles to the west, from the Preseli mountains of Wales. Why? Because there are many sacred springs in Wales that were (and are) believed to have healing properties.

But the second bit of support is by far the best- he points out something that folk-tradition even upholds- that Stonehenge was the temple of a Solar God or a Sun-God. Which God? He points out that in the beliefs of the Greeks, Apollo, the God of Light and Healing, left his home in Greece, at his oracle-shrine in Delphi, to go to Hyperborea, or Britain during the winter. The Hyperboreans were considered Apollo's sacred people; of course, we have no idea what the ancient Britains called the "Apollo-type" God, but we can be certain that he was with them. And I believe that Stonehenge was meant, at one point, to be a temple for him. Perhaps it was raised specifically for him.

The "Apollo-type" God is a common fixture among the Germanic and Celtic peoples. The Romans encountered Gods they called "Apollo" all over Celtia and Britain. If you look at the lore of Apollo, who he was, precisely, among the Northern Peoples is not hard to divine at all- Apollo was a God of Light, the Underworld, and Healing, as well as occult rites and prophecy.

He (Apollo) bestowed trances upon his shamanic priesthood, the Iatromantoi who went into caves and dark places to lie down, like hibernating animals, and journey into the Underworld. They took these journeys to gather healing power and knowledge for others, and sometimes, they helped others to take these journeys, lying in stillness for days sometimes, in caves which were situated near shrines or entrances to the Underworld.

Apollo's links to these shamanic practice are only the tip of the iceberg. Ravens, wolves, and serpents were all sacred to him, totemic emblems of his power. He was an archer, and a hunter. No Greek God had more rustic shrines devoted to them than Apollo. He was called the "enlightener" of mankind. Foremost, to the Greeks, he was a healer.

It's perfectly clear that this God Apollo, who was not originally from Greece, was the same God that the Celts encountered and called Lugh, who was also an archer, also a God of light and lightning, and a God of Druidry, sorcery, healing, and who was totemically represented by Ravens. Lugh was the God who mastered all arts, including the magical and healing arts.

There are, of course, variations in Celtic myths regarding Lugh; his myths in Celtia are not the same as his myths in Greece, but this is not hard to understand; the Greek experience of him was very different from the Celtic experience. They gave him two different names, which is not surprising, as these people spoke different languages. But in both places, he was who he was and he still is who he is.

Lugh is often syncretized with Hermes/Mercury, as well, but only because he was the master of the skills of tradesmen and merchants, and thus, worshipped by them as well. He protected travellers just like Hermes did, and like Hermes, he likely had a "psychopompic" role for the dead. The Romans who encountered Celtic merchants and tradesmen worshipping Lugus or Lugh had little choice but to immediately assume that they were seeing the familiar activity of their God Mercury.

It's an interesting fact that the Romans called the Germanic God Odin or Woden "Mercury" as well. Shall I point out that, like Lugh and Apollo, Odin had Ravens as a sacred beast? Like Apollo, he also had Wolves as a totemic beast. Like Apollo, he was a God of occult rites and shamanic mysteries. Like Lugh, he wielded a spear, which he hurled- a ranged weapon. Lugh and Odin both defeated the forces of Chaos, to establish the dominance of the Gods over the Giants (whom Celtic myths call the Fomorians).

Like Lugh, Odin he was born of one giantish parent and one godly parent (Lugh was the son of a Fomorian princess and a Godly father). Odin is depicted as one-eyed, and he sacrificed one of his eyes to gain wisdom and power. Lugh, when he used deadly magic against his enemies, closed one of his eyes to take on a "one-eyed" visage, which was considered magically powerful. Like Apollo, Odin was also totemically related to the serpent or the snake. Odin was also a guide of souls, a psychopomp, and a God of the Underworld and the Death mysteries.

And like Lugh/Lugus in the Celtic world, Odin came to be worshipped all over the Germanic world. When Romans encountered these two peoples, they encountered the manifold appearances of Odin and Lugus. The Romans were quick to label Odin and Lugh as "Mercury", but a study of the mystical and shamanic myths of Odin and Lugh would reveal that Apollo is the more likely counterpart.

It just so happens that the Celtic people were not as "compartmentalized" with their Gods as the Romans. Lugh was able to be a God of Druids and deep mysteries, and a Sovereign God of Kings, but also a God of smiths, tradesmen, warriors, and the like. He was able to be all things to any person, for he was the "Samildanach", the "Master of all Arts". He was a transfunctional God.

Odin's character is less "across the board", but this merely tells us more about the state of Germanic culture and religious interpretation at the time, and less about the deeper reality of Odin. Odin was typically worshipped only by Kings and Sorcerers, but he was still the "Allfather" of the Germanic peoples and their Gods, after a point. What we can see, historically, is that his "sovereign" aspects, as well as his sorcerous aspects were emphasized over any others he may have had. His character as an original God of the Dead, however, is always there, and thus the old saying about "Seeing Odin" at death. This is also another reason why the Romans were in a hurry to call him "Mercury".

There's more than enough evidence to suggest that the Sky God Tyr/Tiwaz was the original "Great God" or dominant God of the primal Germanic pantheon, at least in Continental Germania, just as there is evidence that Thor was also once a "chief" figure in Germanic pantheons in certain places. There's no doubt that a lot of religious evolution took place in Germania and in all the groups of Germanic peoples around Europe. And as I have long said, this tells us about human cultural realities, not the realities of the Gods, of who they are and what they are.

Humans will see the Gods in many ways, and come up with many myths about them. They will evolve names for the Gods, unique myths, and unique ways of worshipping them. But the Gods are the Gods. I do not believe that people invent or create their own Gods. I do not believe that the Gods are dependant on human beings for their own existence. I do not believe that the God of Sorcery and Light and Primal Wisdom that stands behind the cultural masks of Lugh, Odin, and Apollo would cease to exist if the Germanic peoples vanished, or the Celtic peoples, or the Greeks.

I do believe that the Gods are related to us within this system of Fate, within the inter-locked system of forces that we call "this world" and "the many worlds". We affect one another, but the Gods do not depend on human belief to exist.

The main point of practicing Ancestral religion is to honor the wisdom of your ancestors- and that means honoring these Gods as they knew them. It means giving worth to the cultural features and practices of your ancestors, because you believe that these features and practices were good, worthwhile things. It doesn't mean losing your common sense and creating a "Germans only" club or a "Celts only" club and becoming an ethnocentric ass. It doesn't mean ignoring the bigger picture of mythology when it doesn't suit your exclusivist claims.

A few very disagreeable people in modern Paganism, particularly the reconstructed ancestral religions, get angry when someone insinuates that Lugh and Odin may have been the same God, simply experienced in two different ways by two different cultures.

They refuse to see the possibility of a deeper reality, and choose to remain ignorant, selfishly holding on to unrealistic theories about how "Odin" only belongs to the Germanic peoples, (despite the fact that his mythology clearly states that he created the entire world and all the worlds) and that Lugh is the God of an "alien" people, and not at all possibly just the way that an Indo-European cousin people- the Celts- experienced the numina of the same God.

These people aren't in Paganism to honor the ancestors; they are in Paganism to find an identity that they can jealously protect. I find that many of them are people who are very jealous of small, ethnic cultures around the world, especially Native Americans and Jews, and they want so badly to belong to a small, exclusive group. They feel the lack of identity- especially spiritual identity- that so many people in the desacralized modern day feel, and they go for broke.

In most cases, they tend to find Asatru, and then begin abusing the spirit of the Germanic peoples. They butcher the myths and discard common sense, all to make the myths say what they want them to say, and they tend to carry along their own smiling racism to top it all off. They re-write history better than the early church did, and that is nothing short of ironic.

But enough of that. If we can admit to the reality of Odin, Lugus, and Apollo's identity as the Lord of Sorcery and Occultism among many ancient peoples from Europe's Pagan past, we can begin to see a deeper vision of this God's long and lasting relationship with our ancestors. We can see how important he has always been to us, and why he is important now.

In the "Colloquy of the Two Sages", Lugh is given credit for gifting mankind with cultural technologies, including the "Assembly", slingshot balls, and goads for horses. This marks him as the primal "culture teacher", the one who gifted mankind with the knowledge to create items of physical culture, as well as cultural institutions, by which they could make better lives for themselves.

It was Odin as "Rig", (The King-God) who sired the three classes of human society, and taught the Runes or mysteries to humankind. Apollo was called the "enlightener" of mankind, and was likewise there to give gifts of culture to human beings, a Promethean role that demonstrates the mystical connection between shamanic priests and the wisdom, insights and "laws" they brought back from the Underworld or the Otherworld, to make this world a better place.

Mera's material is not silent on the role of the Sorcerer-God. It says:

"There was a "Sorcery God" or a "Shaman God", a "God of Magic" who made shamans powerful and sometimes brought about the Traumas needed to awaken their relationship with their Follower-spirits. He was symbolized by the sun, but he was not a sun god; the sun was his emblem because it represented the power of light conquering darkness and cold, and he was a famous hunter and slayer of monsters and evil spirits. He was represented by snakes, wolves, and ravens, all of which were forms he took to communicate with people, and all of which acted as his messengers at times. He was possessed, like shamans, of an unpredictable and wild side, but he was married to the wind-mother, and was a great healer of body and mind, like she. He knew the secret of the Trance better than any other being." (6)

In footnote 6, I write:

"More clearly than the others, this God seems to be the primal origin of Lugus, Woden or Odin, and Apollo. Insofar as the "cunning" God who taught or initiated human sorcerers and shamans was always also mythologically associated with the gifts of culture and other human technologies, we can see a similar Basque deity here in BASAJAUN or BASAYAUN, the "Lord of the Woods" who hunted evil, protected cattle, and taught humans agriculture, smithing, and other crafts. Smithing, especially, was associated with shamanism and sorcery."

The Sorcerer-God, the "Proto Apollo", the "Proto-Odin" or the "Proto-Lugh", was the presiding deity at Stonehenge. He was a healer; he had to be- sickness and disease were believed to be manifestations of the ravages of wicked spirits and dangerous spiritual miasma in the human being, in the minds of all primal peoples, and certainly in the minds of the ancient Britons. Indeed, even today, the same logic holds true- the dis-ease of the order of the body is caused by harmful intrusions from the outside, viruses and bacteria, which are nothing short of the physical manifestations of giantish or fomorian powers, especially epidemic diseases.

The other source of dis-ease is some part of the body's natural harmonious order breaking down or not working correctly- again, this is what the dangerous, titanic or giantish powers do to the order of our world- from without or within, they degrade it, make it fall apart, work to spread chaos and destruction. The God of Sorcery IS the Healer because he is the God who was cunning enough to overcome these evil powers. The winter and darkness and cold have always been associated with these wicked powers; winter, when the sun moves away and less light and warmth can bathe the world, is the time of the greatest power of dangerous forces.

The light and the sun that rises and restores warmth, life, green to the world, and kinder weather, IS the face of the protective and healing God coming back. It is that same power that dawns within the sick body or mind, the body or mind which is "winter-gripped" and heals it.

His light dawning is the ultimate mytical emblem of not only healing but literally "enlightenment". He didn't just heal the sick bodies or minds of humans; he healed the rift between our isolated, wandering minds and the truth of spirit. He was and is the initiator into the Mysteries, which is the healing of spirit. A body that is healed will die still, one day. A mind that is healed will stay healed for a time or perhaps forever, but the body which is another aspect of that mind must die, still, one day. The awakening of the "internal sun" of spirit puts a person beyond the grip of death and the suffering caused by dark forces forever.