Pathwalking: What and Why

excerpt from The Pathwalker's Guide

path2There are many ways to journey from world to world. The most common one throughout the ages was, simply, to leave the body behind and go out with only the soul and consciousness, connected to one's unconscious or tranced-out flesh by an astral cord. This is way that most world-travelers go, because it's the easiest. The technique is generally referred to as "journeying", or "pathworking", or "faring forth". There are many books on how to do this - Michael Harner's Way Of The Shaman is one of the most famous - and many groups and teachers who will help you to do it, such as Hrafnar. Check out the Resources chapter for more information.

However, not all of us can manage to do this kind of traveling. Some people are very tied to their bodies, and just can't seem to get out of them no matter how hard they try. There may actually be some organic built-in reason why they're so stuck - perhaps being in a body is part of their lesson for this lifetime - and it may be best not to force the issue. Some folks are just very body-centered; others find that without the sense-boundaries of the body, they become easily confused and lost.

The problem may also be one of not being body-centered enough. I am personally not allowed to leave my body and go out on my own; my patron deity knows me all too well, and knows that my personal discomfort with my own flesh (mostly due to gender dysphoria) might make it all too tempting for me to stay out of it longer than might be healthy for me. Other folk who aren't comfortable with the concept of having a body at all, or aren't comfortable with their personal bodies for whatever reason, might decide that the ability to leave might be far too open to abusing.

Another reason not to fare forth is when you're part of a team that does worldwalking of some sort, and you're not the central figure going into the main trance. Many groups who do journeying rituals as a public spectacle, or at least with a team of people to monitor the tranceworker, find that it's useful if the drummers and monitors know how to go along on the journey, at least partially, with the main tranceworker. However, you can't do that without your body and still do your job, especially if that includes beating a drum, so pathwalking is a good technique for them to learn, if possible.

Pathwalking, or "way-taming" as we've also called it, after one of Odin's titles, is the technique of walking in two worlds at once. In order to do it, you "pull in" the other world and superimpose it on this one. Your physical body walks in your home world, while your astral body moves through the second world. It's safer spiritually, in some ways, than going out without your body. First of all, you can't get separated from it accidentally, which is the number-one risk of astral journeying. It's harder for you to lose pieces of your soul, either accidentally or to malevolent entities, if it's still firmly tied to your flesh. It's harder to get hopelessly lost, because you can back out and start over if you need to, which is annoying, but not actually harmful.

On the other hand, it is unquestionably harder on the body than short-term astral journeying. (Long-term astral journeying has its own risks of not eating or drinking for days, but that's something that few people end up doing except by unfortunate accident.) Crossing worlds can cause headaches in some people, and the "double vision" can wear on the nerves. It's also exhausting, and sometimes the body can start to feel very heavy after a while. Doing it for several hours is not so bad, but several days of pathwalking can leave you fairly weak and in need of a great deal of recuperation.

I find that every time I switch from one world to the next, my gastro-intestinal tract becomes upset and decides that it wants to purge everything, usually within an hour of crossing. Two or more crossings per day means that my food doesn't digest well at all. I can't fast due to hypoglycemia, but I can imagine that fasting could make this easier. On the other hand, pathwalking does seem to burn calories and leave you hungry in short order, so even food that passes through quickly might do some good. Some people might have the opposite problem: food that "sits" in them and refuses to digest. The secret to dealing with this is to have your food energized before eating it, as constipation during pathwalking is likely to be a problem of the food not being able to exist in both worlds until it's been in you for a while.

Another thing about pathwalking that is both useful and annoying is that you can take physical objects with you into other worlds.....if they have been charged and ensouled enough that they, like you, will show up in two worlds at once. Some folks who journey have learned that they can call special charged magical tools and items to them while they work in other worlds; the astral body of the item goes with you while the physical one stays here, just like the human who uses it. When you're pathwalking, anything that you actually intend to physically use in the other world has to be charged enough to be visible and useful there as well as here. That includes all your clothing, dishes, tools, and anything else that you might need. It can be handy, though....if you really want to wear your favorite shirt, you can take it with you. The chapter on "Creating Your Kit" will go further into this issue.

Pathwalking does have some basic requirements that are absolutely necessary. First, you have to have the Sight. By this I mean that psychic input translates to your brain as visual stimuli. When you do energy work, do you "see" something as well as feel it, smell it, or hear it? Not everyone does get visual stimuli from psychic work, and that's all right for many other techniques....but for pathwalking, you do have to see where you're going. Stumbling blindly through another world is a bad idea. It's also good if you can hear things as well, for obvious reasons.

Second, you have to have a good awareness of your astral body, even if you can't remove it from your physical body. You should be able to track your energy flows, know when your astral body is low-energy, or wounded, or just not doing well. To pathwalk, your astral body walks in one world while your physical body walks in another; although they are in the same space, you may feel sensations with one and not the other, and you have to be aware enough of your hame, or aura, to tell the difference. This also means that pathwalking requires you to mentally process a variety of stimuli at once; if you're easily distracted and can't multi-task well, it may be more confusing than it's worth. Practice by trying to hold a conversation while listening to a song on headphones. You can switch your attention back and forth, but you have to be able to both follow and add to the conversation, and be aware of the song lyrics. If you can't do that, even with practice, then pathwalking may not be your thing.

Some people respond very poorly to pathwalking; one seidhkona described her attempts as: "I found the superimposition dizzying; the sensations uncomfortable, bordering on painful, overly exhausting, and decidedly unpleasant. I had a headache for days, felt like I was dragging around lead weights in the form of my body and had very little ability to manage things after the experience. It was very difficult for me to leave the experience when I had to return as well." If you're used to "faring forth" without your body, the sensation of having to manage that body, as well as having to manage two simultaneous superimposed visions, may seem entirely too difficult and not worth the trouble.

Occasionally, someone will slip into pathwalking during a guided meditation ritual without actually meaning to, or understanding what's happening. Another seidhkona recounts, "Recently, at a friend's ritual, someone was conducting a guided-imagery meditation and I slipped into a pretty deep trance state. I was able to get up and walk around outside for several minutes without slipping out of it. I wasn't exactly seeing the other world, but I had a definite sense of being in both worlds at the same time. This has happened to a lesser degree on two other ritual occasions." Some have reported trying to leave the ritual by getting up and walking out, and feeling unable to leave the other world behind. They generally either walked around until it wore off, or they went back in and rejoined the group journeying, leaving normally at the end with everyone else.

Other people can interfere with your experience of pathwalking. First of all, interactions with other people who are not actively pathwalking with you can knock you out of the other world and back into this one. In rare cases, it can also drag them in, which is a real problem, especially if they can't see what's going on, or if they can but are easily freaked out. I recommend absolute privacy for most pathwalking experiments...but I also recommend that you tell at least one other person about it, and tell them to come get you if you don't return reasonably on time. It's also good to have someone magically-adept who knows how to come in and fetch you; perhaps traveling in astrally, perhaps just knowing how to knock you out if you're stuck somewhere. When I was gone for nine days, I got regular meals delivered to a specific place by my boyfriend, who would have become concerned and called for help if I'd missed two meals in a row.

Now comes the hard part. How the heck do you actually learn the trick of pathwalking? The answer is that I can't tell you how, especially in the medium of print. I was spirit-taught, meaning that various gods and spirits "motored me through" the technique by taking my body, doing it, and then having me try it. ("Motoring through" is a word utilized by people who work with autistic patients; often, the only way to teach them a physical skill is to actually move the parts of their body in the way that it should go. For example, to teach them how to turn a doorknob, you'd wrap their fingers around the knob, wrap your hand around theirs, and turn. That's what the gods and spirits who taught me did, on an astral level.) Not only can I not describe how to do it properly on a printed page, I couldn't teach you if you were there in front of me, at least not the way I learned. So how do you go about it?

Start by talking to the gods who do this sort of thing regularly. The Norse deities who are most associated with this kind of thing are Odhinn (one of whose epithets is Way-Tamer), Freyja (the mistress of seidhr), Hel, and Loki. Make offerings to them, ask them to teach you this (or to send some other spirit to teach you), and then spend some time doing utiseta, or "sitting-out" - and meditating. Wait for a teacher to come to you. If you feel the sense of forbidding pressure, it may be that you're not meant to learn this technique. If the spirits come to teach you, they may ask a price. Consider carefully before agreeing to it, especially if it involves lifelong vows.