A friend recently asked about how I go about spiritually journeying – traversing with my spirit into the otherworlds. The practice is pretty integral to my spirit work, and the topic is one I’ve been meaning to explore on my blog for a while. So – let’s jump right in.
There are a few different terms within modern Paganism that relate to what I am doing.
‘Pathworking’, in its more generic meaning of ‘guided visualization’ rather than the more specific meditation upon the Tree of Life or Tarot, is similar to the spiritual journeying I use. Visualized meditations where one travels to another space and interacts with the spirits there, following a script (usually from a book), were how I taught myself to journey. I don’t tend to use the term to describe my current practice because of the more freeform nature my journeys take.
‘Hedge riding’ is another term that could be used to describe my practice. Crossing the boundaries of this world into that of the spiritual and visiting the inhabitants there, without the structured format of a scripted visualization – that is what ‘spiritual journeying’ is to me. I shy away from using the term hedge-riding because I do not identify as a hedge witch nor do I engage in other practices commonly found in hedge-witchery (working with plant spirits, cultivating herbs and utilizing them in spells). It certainly fits what I do, however.
‘Astral travel’ or ‘astral projection’ is a term I do not feel fits this practice, unlike the two above. I do not aim to leave my body or join my astral double. My spiritual journeying is not focused on traveling around the human planes. I suspect I do not go as deep as astral travelers do when projecting, as well. Much of the terminology found related to astral projection just doesn’t fit what I am doing. (The thread connecting the astral body to the physical is simply not part of my journeying practice, for example.)
Spiritual journeying is the term I prefer, for all that it is very bland. I am journeying with my spirit. It might seem silly to nitpick – and I am certainly nitpicking definitions! – but there is some value to be found in clarification. (I hope.)
How I Learned
Truthfully, developing my journeying practice naturally occurred over my life. My childhood was spent surrounded by witchy books and practices, with my mother teaching me rudimentary meditations and visualizations. As a teen I began exploring guided visualizations and pathworkings I found in various texts as well as honing the meditation and relaxation skills I had already been taught. And getting harassed by the spirits as I was meant that developing a practice to more easily communicate and control my experience of them was crucial. (Though those spirits would often act as teachers in how to journey to the other realms.)
All of this is to say that nothing about my journeying practice is unique. It is probably rather standard! So please do not expect any hidden secrets or revelations.
For the best results from journeying – the clearest connection to the other realms, messages and spirit interactions I feel confident in, meaningful symbols and stories – sitting comfortably in a comfy space where I won’t be distracted is preferred. This said, I can relax and focus enough to journey in most places and situations. The purpose of the journey will determine where I set myself up; if I am aiming for a story or myth I will want to be near a computer or tablet so I can get the details down as fast as possible (with typing being significantly faster than handwriting). Having the usual bells and whistles of candlelight, incense, actual bells, artwork or statuary associated with the God or spirit I am attempting to contact, helps get my mind frame where it needs to be as well.
I am of the opinion that an experienced practitioner should be able to journey to the otherworlds with minimal aid, but the extras certainly help. For beginners, ‘setting the stage’, so to speak, to enable one to get out of their own head and into the spiritual realms is very important.
Relaxing and becoming aware of breath follows. From there I do a simple centering meditation and then attune myself to the parts of my spirit body. Once I have relaxed sufficiently and my spirit body is readied I will see myself journeying over to the spiritual realm I am aiming for. The specific visualization and details will vary dependent on my goal or where the spirits are leading me.
I might dunk under the waves of a river. I may take a step out from my body and fall from an otherworldly sky into another realm. Or perhaps I will walk through a glowing portal, or simply a doorway, or down into a cave that then winds back up to another world. Maybe I will see myself logging into a computer or hooking up to a machine. It all depends, usually on the spirit that is accompanying me or leading me through the journey.
In certain situations a spirit might yank me into a journey. This is obviously unpleasant and usually results in mental fog and other irritants, so it is not my preferred way of going into a journey. It is also not a common occurrence, usually limited to when I have been ignoring a spirit trying to get my attention or when a spirit has a certain temperament. (Aster Aira, for example, has little concern for human boundaries and will gladly yank one to and fro.)
Protections and Precautions
Because I like to live dangerously, my spiritual protections are not nearly as…robust as others recommend.
Rather, my protections and wards are specific to the realms and spirits I work with. I was much more cautious when I started out and it is only now, many years after engaging consistently in this practice, that I am seemingly ‘lax’ about such matters.
I do not cast a circle or other protective barrier. The Otherfaith concept of the spirit body has protections already, so if I have attuned myself correctly I already have a protective barrier similar to that of our actual skin.
If I do feel threatened or wind up in a bad situation while journeying, I will usually call upon a spirit ally or one of the Gods. Knowing the names and epithets of the Gods and spirits is important in such situations, as one can call with more specificity and urgency if needed.
There are certain gestures that I use to ward off certain spirits. I have also built up spiritual tools tied to my spirit body that I can summon up if needed. The specificity of these is going to develop alongside any spiritual journeying practice and will be influenced heavily by the tradition one learns, the realms one traverses, and the spirits one encounters. Some wards will work well on certain spirits and be absolutely useless against others.
Returning to myself and this physical world can involve as varied imagery as entering into the journey. Unless I have exited from the journey in a rush, essentially pushing the ‘emergency escape’ button, I will find a safe place to exit out of the otherworld and see my soul returning to my body.
Feeling the physicality of myself is important for this. If I don’t ground myself and attune back to my embodied form I will be off-kilter for a while. Spaced out, inattentive, mentally foggy, probably grumpy. I have trouble being attuned to my body normally (hence why journeying is relatively easy for me), so any additional dissociation is not good. Coming back to myself involves tensing and relaxing my muscles, tapping my fingers over my body, and stretching and moving my limbs. Eating something helps as well. I try to give myself a buffer of time after a journey where I can just laze about until I’ve properly settled in.
Sometimes I will get booted out of a journey by a spirit, in which case I take extra time to ground myself – it is just as unpleasant being kicked out as it is being forcefully yanked into the otherworlds.
Recording what happened during the journey is, obviously, important. I will do so as soon as possible, and I may put off proper grounding in order to write things down. I don’t recommend this. It is a bad habit of mine and shouldn’t be encouraged.
If something especially distressing happened during the journey or I am worried I brought someone or thing back with me that I did not want to I will cleanse the space. This involves very typical smoke and water cleansing, praying to the Gods and calling upon spirits of protection.
Purpose of Journeys
When I journey I am almost always venturing to the Westernlands or Western Fairy, the spiritual landscape in the Otherfaith. The Westernlands are between the realms of fairy and the realms of man, according the spirits that live there. One can journey to other various worlds and landscapes from the Westernlands, as well as enter into the Westernlands from other realms.
As for why I journey to the Westernlands – the reasons are endless. Meeting the Gods in ritual is one experience; journeying to Their side in the Westernlands is another. (I like both equally.) There are some spirits that do not have any interest in interacting with the physical plane but who I quite like, so visiting them is one reason I journey. I also journey to to clarify or get messages from the spirits I work with. Journeying allows me to see different sides to the Gods and spirits, to become inspired with sacred stories, to learn concepts and ideas that are difficult to convey in the physical world.
I temper my journeys with various methods of discernment: recording symbols and messages to see if they repeat, comparing journey experiences against physical world omens, Tarot spreads and pulls to affirm or deny the validity of what occurred in a journey, and lots of self-reflection so I can separate my own loud brain(weasels) from actual spirit messages.
Mainly, though… I journey for the mere pleasure of it.