The Etiquette of Alternate Reality

excerpt from The Pathwalker's Guide

mistsTo actually walk other worlds, you should have a reason for going there besides your own amusement or even your own personal growth. The nine-day journey that I describe in this book was on the order of an orientation tour; it was meant to get me familiar with the territory so that I could go back there for purposes of doing work for others. I've since been sent back to one world or another for a variety of duties: bearing messages (that's a common one), finding lost pieces of people, asking advice for seekers who can't (or shouldn't) go themselves, and so on. Part of being a real shaman is being a public utility, a servant for the community. (I'll go into that in another chapter.) While a certain amount of wandering about to get the lay of the land is useful, it's only preparation for other tasks. If you don't have a good reason to go there, don't. This should not be something that people do because they are bored on a Saturday night, or want to think that they're cool and powerful.

Going to the otherworlds to gain personal wisdom is a reason that can be both good and bad. While a quest for wisdom is always honorable - after all, Odhinn did it - please don't go in with the attitude that your spirit teacher is waiting for you there (unless you've been specifically told that, in which case they will make arrangements to get you to their door with a minimum of wandering about) or that everything and everyone that you meet is going to be willing to teach you something (besides the lesson of minding your own business so that you don't get hurt). Imagine going on a quest to find knowledge and teachers in the slums of Los Angeles or New York City. It's not that there aren't any, but you don't want to be buttonholing every stranger hanging out on a stoop and asking them to teach you. It could be unhealthy. Parts of the Nine Worlds can be like that.

If you do go, there are some basic rules to follow. Many of these rules, ironically, can be found in folktales of fools and jacks and maidens who go on journeys themselves - so many of them, in fact, that one wonders if some of these folktales existed to subtly teach worldwalking etiquette, just in case. In her wonderful article "Guidelines For Travel In Other Worlds", Ragnheid lists quite a few rules skinned from folktales, some of which I will paraphrase here:

1. Be vigilant; stop and analyze a situation before leaping in. Look carefully at the participants and how they are interacting with each other; remember that you are in an alien culture and people might not be reacting in familiar ways.

2. See if all the individuals or objects involved are really what they seem. This means that you had best learn to see through glamour, if possible. Some glamour will still probably fool you, but if you stop and check before jumping in, you might notice that disguised pit at your feet. Many a folktale has a brave lad or lass saved because they had anti-glamour precautions.

3. If you want to approach someone or something, pause within their field of vision, bow or otherwise give a nonverbal signal that says you would respectfully like their attention, and check their reaction. If they ignore you or glare at you, keep walking. If they acknowledge you in a neutral or positive way, approach and speak to them as courteously as possible.

4. If you are asked questions, be truthful. The one exception to that is telling your true name to faeries, and we'll address that in the chapters about the Alfar realms. But if they ask you where you are from, don't be shifty, or assume that they wouldn't know where Cincinnati is, so why bother to tell them. That's not the point; your truthful answer, even if it is unfamiliar to them, will be more proof to them of your trustworthiness. Don't assume that the individual you are speaking to cannot sniff out lies. If it's important to you to get your home place across to them, you can say, "the sister-world of Midgard", which many of them know of, or at least will nod and move on.

5. If someone or something asks to travel with you, you should probably accept their company, unless your intuition screams otherwise (we'll cover how to tell friend from foe in another chapter), but don't assume that by doing so they are automatically putting themselves in the position of "native guide".

6. If they do offer to be your native guide, or do some other sort of useful task for you, ask them how you can repay them for it. The Nine Worlds are very definitely "no such thing as a free lunch" sorts of places. They may tell you up front about the conditions for their help; you might want to do some divination to see if it is worth your while. If they don't say it up front, ask, politely, putting across the assumption that of course you will repay them in whatever way is possible. Make sure you get the price fixed before you accept the services. Don't try to cheat them, or get the better of the deal; your honor and your maegen is on the line here, and is being judged. You can always invoke the name of Syn (Frigga's handmaiden who watches over lawful and fair contracts) when you agree, and ask them to do the same. (Don't settle for a price of merely owing them a nonspecified favor at some point in the future. That could get you in trouble.)

7. If someone or something asks for your help, and you can give it out of generosity with little loss to yourself, do it. That especially goes for sharing food - bring more than necessary, and share it with any who ask, or who look at you hungrily when you get out your lunch. If they ask for help on something that seems beyond your powers, ask if they can tell you how to do it; they may not know how ignorant you are about their world, and it might not have occurred to them to give the details in the original explanation. Unlike accepting help, don't set a price on it. Just do it, and then let them owe you the favor and be in your debt, and then you can (gently and courteously) bargain for a favor, or just let it be a mitzvah, as it were.

8. If you promise you will do something, do it. No exceptions. If it is truly impossible, ask if there is something else that you can do instead that will be a fair substitution. Don't substitute anything yourself, assuming that you know best.

9. If someone or something gives you a token of some sort, keep it. It might be useful later, if only to prove to someone else you might meet that you really did speak with that person.

10. If you undertake a task for someone or something, do it to the best of your ability. If you can't do it alone, ask for help. It may be that the Powers That Be will send some. Be smart enough to recognize it when it comes.

11. Don't judge nonhumans by human standards of beauty or behavior. Don't flinch when someone you find physically ugly touches you; that's an insult.

12. If someone screws you over, before taking any kind of revenge, figure out if they did it because it is a function of their which case they will not learn from your vengeance, and it's a waste of time. A better thing to do would be to lay a changing spell on them, although that may not work.

13. If you run across someone or something who is bound to help or serve you because of a geas or spell placed on them, ask if there is anything that you can do to help them. On occasion, just asking can break the spell, or perhaps there is something you can do, but they can't tell you unless you ask of your own free will. If there is nothing you can do, then be as kind and polite and considerate to them as possible while they do their job, and get it over with quickly so as to make yourself as little burden as possible.

14. On the other hand, if you run across someone who offers to serve you because it is their job to do so and they are proud of that job, accept the service graciously, treat them courteously, and don't tell them that they ought to be off living their own life.

15. Don't hare off on adventures with people that you meet without getting good information on where you are going, what that place is like, and why you are bothering. Don't take the advice of strangers who tell you about interesting places and cool treasure.

16. Be careful what you eat and drink. You can always pour it out as a libation to the Gods, and they usually will not gainsay you. We'll get to food in a later chapter....

17. Don't assume that you know best the about needs for any other being in the Nine Worlds. You don't.

If you can go with this kind of respectful attitude, then maybe you can get through without creating too much havoc. Actually, the best reason of all to go is that the Gods and spirits (or some combination of the above) are telling you that you have to. If you're not sure, go to a good honest runemal and get some divination. Don't do it yourself; you won't be objective enough. Do pray, though, and talk to your patron deity, or a deity that you trust.

And be willing to take no, or not yet, for an answer.