Journeying and Pathwalking

excerpt from The Pathwalker's Guide

path3There are two ways that I know of to visit another world. (There may be more, but I don't know about them yet.) One is traditionally referred to as "journeying" (if you're Pagan), or "faring forth" (if you're a Heathen seidhr-worker), or "astral travel" (if you're a New Ager). It consists, at its most simplest, of removing your astral body from your physical body (leaving it connected by a cord of energy) and taking it elsewhere. Some do it alone, others in a controlled ritual with people present to monitor the body and hopefully "pull back" the astral body if the journeyer gets in trouble.

The second method I have come to call pathwalking, and it is a little more difficult, but it can sometimes be utilized be people who can't leave their physical bodies for whatever reason. I will go into both these methods in succeeding chapters, because most people who visit the Nine Worlds get there by one or the other of them. But this brings us back to the question that should have been implicit at the beginning of this book: why bother? Why travel the Nine Worlds, or any other worlds, at all? After all, it likely won't pay your credit card bills, find you a girlfriend or boyfriend, or get you a better job. Wouldn't you be better off concentrating on this world?

Frankly, I'm not going to say that everyone ought to be out walking other worlds. Most people probably shouldn't, especially if they have no training and no understanding of what they are getting into. But like sex among teenagers, some people in the Pagan and Heathen demographics are doing it anyway, with various levels of skill and knowledge. Some of them are going places that are more real, and thus more dangerous, than they expected. Some are getting into trouble. If they are going to be doing it anyway, it seems that they ought to be aided rather than merely admonished and left to their own devices.

Long ago, before the age of easy travel, explorers made maps of the place that they had traveled. Often there were large empty places where they'd never made it through; these might have borne signs like "Here Be Monsters". Strange people and animals lived there, in uncharted (to them) territory, people and animals who might object strenuously to the presence of strangers wandering through. Each explorer grew the map a little larger and a little more detailed, so fewer travelers stumbled in and never came out again. This book, with its collected experiences from many different worldwalkers, is rather like one of those old maps. There are still plenty of unexplored places where we suspect there are monsters....and there are plenty of well-marked places where we know there are monsters, and travelers should beware.

Here I need to put in a word or twenty on the nature of reality, and of these alternate worlds. A guided meditation, as we'll go into in the next chapter, is not the same as journeying. That doesn't mean that when people do a guided meditation together, they aren't going anywhere but their own heads. They might be going somewhere in their own heads, or they might be visiting a kind of archetypal world-space that seems to exist as a cosmic construct attached to the collective unconscious. This cosmic construct, like a Star Trek holodeck, is sensitive to those who touch it, and can become a kind of idealized facsimile of wherever it is that they are trying to go, be it Asgard or Brooklyn. Most people who go there realize suddenly that they're somewhere besides their own heads - wow! - and decide that they are really, truly in Asgard or Olympus or wherever it was that they were trying to go. This can happen with early attempts at journeying, too. In fact, some people never get beyond this place.

The problem is that it's not really Asgard or Olympus or even Brooklyn. Going there is rather like going to Disney's Epcot Center World Showcase and then saying that you've been to China, Italy, and Mexico. In fact, those of us who worldwalk regularly refer to it as "the Disney ride". In a Disney ride, everyone speaks your language, is friendly and helpful, wants to make sure that you have a good time, and never tries to kill you. If you throw popcorn at the waving god puppets, the worst that will happen is that you might get bounced out.

In the actual Nine Worlds - or the many otherworld equivalents - inhabitants are not there to teach you, mentor you, or even talk to you. Some of them might be friendly just because they're that sort; some will lie to you. Some will not want you there, and may try to throw you out, or prevent you from entering, or worse. Every animal you meet is not your potential totem or spirit animal. Some of them may consider you to be an intruder, or food. Every hall whose door you bang on is not going to let you in with no payment and no questions asked. Things aren't always aesthetically pretty, especially if you're among nonhumanoid types. People don't act the way you expect them to. In fact, they may be unable to - or refuse to - speak your tongue.

Those of us who want to world-walk for real need to get over the idea that otherworlds exist for our own edification and amusement. They do not, any more than the denizens of foreign cities exist to help you find your way around, teach you the native arts, let you invade their homes to gawk, and politely ignore your rude and crass ignorance of their manners and customs. We also need to get over the idea that we have an automatic right to be there, which we don't. We are there by the sufferance of the Gods and spirits who order those realms, and those worlds are their territory, not ours. We need to stop acting like superior tourists; it is not in our best interest to play the archetypal Ugly American all over the multiverse.

The divine equivalent to the Disney ride is the divine answering machine. This is a phenomenon that those of us who work closely with deities have observed for quite a while. If you approach a deity who does not wish to speak to you directly, you get the cosmic equivalent of their answering machine. A deity's cosmic answering machine is complex, impressive, and it can do a lot of things, including give advice, recite key statements, receive prayers, and put out a little power for appropriate magicks. It is not, however, the voice of the deity itself. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, although one may be fooled into thinking that the voice of man (or an archetype) is the voice of deity, no one could ever mistake the actual presence and voice of deity for anything but what it is.

Approaching the deity without believing in them is almost sure to get you the answering machine, and if you've never heard anything else, you might not ever know the difference. The sole exception to that is if a deity takes an interest in you, and decides to make sure that you really believe in them. If that happens, they generally win, if you're important enough to them. If you keep your eyes staunchly closed, they may give up and move on, deciding that you're not worth it.

On the other hand, some people may scream into the void repeatedly and be denied an answer, never be spoken to by divine voices. I am not certain, myself, whether this is because they don't know how to listen, or because it is their orlog this time around to make their own decisions (and mistakes), and not be guided by other hands. Perhaps they are not yet at a time in their life where they can hear the Gods and spirits and not simply argue with them, or perhaps it's something else entirely. However, this has always been the real schism in any religion or spiritual community....not between those who believe and those who don't, or between two different sets of beliefs, but between those who follow what's written down or taught because they have no other experience, and those who the Gods and spirits bother and pester, and who take their beliefs from that. Mystics have always been the real troublemakers, even more so than infidels.

Today, those who have conversations with Gods and spirits are dismissed as nutballs. I'm always annoyed by the attitudes of anthropologists who write about native shamans and spirit-workers with the subtle attitude of "So tell me about these alleged spirits of yours." I'm also annoyed by anthropologists who write about their practices and include only those details that they find interesting, or quaint, or shocking, or as proving some thesis. Part of this is personal; many of us have been involved for years in the practice of uncovering and researching the shamanic roots and practices of northern European and Eurasian religions, especially the ones that have been lost and have few or no surviving practitioners. There's nothing more infuriating than reading the account of some snooty Victorian scholar telling how he observed a shaman or spirit-worker doing some now-lost rite, and he merely comments about how the shaman "did something odd with piles of herbs", and the little ding goes off in my head as if to say, "You're supposed to learn that," and I scream at the empty pages, "What! What kinds of herbs! What did he do!"

I was recently interviewed by an anthropology student, and I pointed out to her that we were once again, ironically, in the same position as those long-deceased scholars and tribal spirit-workers. I stressed that she should keep in mind, while writing any paper that might be published and added to a body of permanent work, that someday someone might be desperately trying to reconstruct something from books because they no longer have access to human beings who hold that information orally. I told her to keep that in mind for anything she wrote; to consider what would be most helpful, not just in getting her a good grade, but for that possible future researcher and would-be shaman. What would he or she read in that paper that would help to confirm their course, or give them useful advice? It's a challenge I hold out to all academic writers on the subject matter.

Many books on shamanism stress that world-walking is entirely safe, or mostly safe as long as you don't go into those nasty areas, which will of course be clearly marked in a way that a modern Westerner will find symbolically meaningful. When I read or hear this, I have to assume that they're all on the Disney ride. Not that there's anything wrong with that; the Disney ride is put there for a reason. I'd rather have ugly Americans being ignorant and obnoxious at the China World Showcase than in Beijing, and I'd rather have seekers trying to enrich their lives and learn more about themselves during guided meditation to the "archetypal spiritual holodeck", as a friend put it, than actually bothering real nonhuman individuals on their own territory.