Once You’ve Had a Taste of the Otherworld

Once You’ve Had a Taste of the Otherworld April 9, 2023

Legend says that mortals who eat the food of Fairy will be trapped there forever. There are exceptions to every rule and some who eat Fairy food do make it out. But there are accounts of such people wasting away and starving to death, because no mortal food could compare to what they once tasted in the land of the Fair Folk.

I have never eaten the food of Fairy. I have, however, journeyed into the Otherworld. I have experienced the intimate presence of three deities and at least one spirit person who is not divine but not far from it.

The experience is fantastic. It is amazing. It is a mystery that cannot be told, not because it’s forbidden but because words are completely inadequate to describe it.

And it’s addictive.

photo by John Beckett

Our place is in this world

We are the Children of the Earth. We were born here, we live here, and when we die at least part of us will remain here. Our ancestors are the Children of the Earth: our human ancestors, our mammalian ancestors, our vertebrate ancestors, and all our ancestors going back to the first single-celled organism that grew out of this planet. The Earth is not just our home, the Earth is our mother.

One of the many things that annoyed me growing up in a fundamentalist Christian church was the constant emphasis on the idea that “this world is not my home.” That line of thinking has consequences: excusing environmental desecration, trying to start a war to bring about an apocalypse, and wasting a mortal life that for all we know may be the only life we get.

I believe we get more than one mortal life, though I hold that belief loosely. What I believe strongly is that there are things we need to do – for the good of ourselves and for the good of the wider world – that we can only do in this world. We can’t do those things if we’re obsessed with ecstatic experiences of the Gods and the Otherworld.

But those experiences happen.

And when they do they’re amazing.

And I want to have them again, and again, and again.

In Vino Veritas

The Gods gave us wine because it stimulates conversation, and in doing so it strengthens relationships. It relaxes us and helps us see and hear things – and persons – we would otherwise fail to notice. It’s pleasurable, and pleasure is good.

And also, drinking wine in excess is harmful and potentially fatal.

Alcoholism runs in my family. I have several close relatives whose lives were cut short because of it. My father’s strict abstinence had less to do with his Baptist beliefs and more to do with the harm he witnessed to people he loved – not unlike my own opposition to smoking.

The genetic disposition to alcoholism seems to have skipped me. My tolerance for alcohol is so low I can’t drink enough to get addicted. Or perhaps it’s something else – it’s certainly not any sort of moral superiority (addiction is a disease, not a moral failing).

Ecstatic experiences are very much like drinking wine. They bring benefits, but they also bring risks. And those risks are different for some than for others, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.

photo by John Beckett

Most have a choice – some don’t

Listening to people talk and tell their stories, I think most people find their way into the Otherworld – or into an encounter with an Otherworldly person in this world – at least once or twice during the course of their lives. Doing it on-demand is difficult, but it can be done with training and effort. I’ve done it, and I’ve taught others to do it.

For some, it comes easy.

For a few, the challenge isn’t doing it, it’s turning it off when they want or need to focus on the ordinary world.

It’s hard to drive in traffic when spirits are yelling at you. It’s hard to do a paying job when a God is bothering you. It’s hard to give your family and friends the attention they need if you’re off in the Otherworld all the time.

And some people are called to do these things anyway.

In an indigenous society, these people would be shamans (or whatever word that society uses for their spirit workers). They would be cared for and provided for. Our contemporary Western capitalist society has no place for them or understanding of them. People who talk to Gods are assumed to be mentally ill, whether they are or not.

Some people have no choice. If that’s you, you don’t need me to tell you how difficult it is.

Most people who are called to this work do have a choice. But it’s a choice that may not be fully understood.

Until you’ve eaten the Fairy food and then wonder why the things you used to love no longer satisfy you.

Speaking reasonably about unreasonable things

Our mainstream society insists there is only one God… or no Gods. Speak of the Many Gods and they’re incredulous… or offended. They consider magic to be escapist fantasy, and fairies to be the things of, well, fairy tales. We can never be sure what people really believe and how strongly they believe it, but in general our mainstream society considers itself logical and reasonable.

My calling is to speak reasonably about unreasonable things.

I have been allowed to experience the Gods and the Otherworld, in part because I’m curious about them. The Gods (or rather, a few of Them) generously indulge my curiosity. But this experience is a bargain, and I’m expected to fulfill my end of the deal.

Sometimes, like the shamans, my job is to journey into the Otherworld and bring back knowledge and wisdom that a person or a group needs. Other times, my job is simply to remind everyone that living humans have formed and maintained relationships with Gods, ancestors, and spirits for at least as long as we’ve been human, and it’s to our advantage if we continue (or where necessary, re-establish) that practice today.

It’s my job to remind people that magic is real and it’s available to those who need it.

It’s my job to draw a good map and help people find the trailhead.

What they do after that is up to them.

What you do after that is up to you.

photo by John Beckett

Choose for yourself – and choose wisely

This isn’t for everyone. Some people simply can’t “jump the hedge” and explore the Otherworld. They can’t hear the Gods for themselves. That’s OK – anyone can worship the Gods and honor their ancestors, and reap the benefits of a diligent spiritual practice.

Some prefer to stay completely in the ordinary world. They’re uneasy about what they might find “over there.” Or they’re just not interested. That’s fine.

Some people don’t like the taste of wine, while others don’t like its effects. You don’t need a reason to not drink.

You don’t need a reason to not eat the food of the Otherworld.

I wouldn’t be doing my job – my whole job – if I didn’t warn you that once you start down this path, you may not be able to stop.

You may not want to stop.

Even if your life gets turned upside down.

photo by John Beckett

I can’t stop wanting it

At the end of the day, I can only speak with authority about my own experiences and my own life. And my own life is clear: I am required to keep one foot firmly in this world. The Gods I serve and who occasionally allow me to experience Them directly have forbidden me from spending too much time in the Otherworld – much less staying there.

Metaphorically speaking, I’m allowed to have a glass of wine. Occasionally I’m told to have a second. I am not allowed to drink the whole bottle, no matter how much I want it.

No matter how much I’m sick of the human world and its uncaring cruelties.

No matter how curious I am about the Otherworld and what goes on there.

I’m allowed to taste it.


I can’t forget that taste.

And I can’t stop wanting it.

So there’s no misunderstanding about something very important: when I speak of wanting to live in the Otherworld, I am in no way expressing suicidal desires. I’ve had those desires before and I dealt with them – that story is here. Rather, I’m expressing a desire, a longing, a craving to experience all the time what I get to experience on certain occasions. I’m not allowed to do that, and that’s probably for the best.

But I still want it.

Browse Our Archives