Astral Appointments with Gods and Spirits

alice-in-wonderland-1253474_1280Astral travel as I see it is the process of projecting one’s consciousness out into realms and worlds far from, adjacent to, and/or overlaid upon this one (readily accessible, easily acknowledged, consensus reality). In my own practice, I most often refer to astral travel as journeying or faring forth. When I plan to fare forth and its on my own timetable, I like to prepare by igniting rich resinous incense and lighting anointed candles. These acts serve two purposes. First and foremost they are initial offerings for the Powers who taught me to journey and who support the work that I do on those journeys.  Second, pretty smells and warm lights signal to my busy mind that stillness is needed. When taking a planned but somewhat leisurely trip to the otherworlds, I take these early moments of preparation to focus on my destination and any Powers I need to meet and greet in that place.

When I have time to prepare, because I am journeying on my own schedule, I prepare offerings for the denizens of the worlds I plan to visit. My offerings are sometimes simple, taking the form of bread and wine and fresh flowers, or sometimes elaborate requiring two or more hours of cooking, arranging, dressing, anointing, and pouring. These things I place in sacred space along with the candles and incense.

When I fare forth on my own schedule, I also enjoy taking time to slowly ground and center. I draw my awareness to my body by wiggling my toes and fingers, rolling my neck, flexing my muscles. I settle into my own skin and the wonders of corporeal existence. I bring my awareness to my breath, to the steady rise and fall of my abdomen as I take in and release measured air. I allow myself the simple pleasure of humming a haunting melody, whatever creeps into my mind at the time. I feel the vibration of my voice as it resonates through my bones and blood. When preparing to fare forth, I take stock of exactly where I am in this world that I might more easily find my way back.

alice-30615_1280When it’s time to then fare from here to there, I allow my body to sway, my breath and voice to summon a spirit song, and my mind to reach out in search of a road, a path to carry me there. Sometimes the way is smooth and clear, sometimes its crooked and narrow. My fylgja comes with the song and rides it with me into the otherworlds. It may sound like I’m in charge but in fact he leads the way. Oftentimes he is so sure of the place to which we journey. Sometimes not. But he leads all the same. And with the flapping of his wings we end up exactly where we need to be, having a chat with exactly who we need to talk to. Sometimes he stays with the Powers and me, other times he wanders off. Over the years it’s become a gauge for me of how safe I am with the spirit or deity I connecting with. Safe equals fylgja flying free, doing whatever he feels like doing. Less safe equals fylgja practically perched on my face. He and the gods who charged me to travel the worlds nevery promised me absolute safety. That would be silly, and impossible. What wisdom is ever really wrought by safety?

When our audience is done, my fylgja leads the way back home. With a whoosh of my own breath I am back in my body, wiggling my finger and toes, checking my mind, body, and spirit for impurities, broken or lost bits, and hitchhikers. Good times…when I have time.

alice-29775_1280But over the last two years, with changes in the professional demands on me from my doctoral program I didn’t have as much opportunity for leisure, planful strolls through the otherworlds. However the calls to journey across the hedge kept coming. My fylgja visited his sense of urgency on me and shouted every call from the Powers That Be that I had let slip with an Alice in Wonderland White Rabbit-like ping in my left ear: “You’re late!”. What? Then I was dragged off into the otherworlds while on the bus, watching TV, cooking, or at some other inopportune time. If I was lucky, an unplanned trip happened while winding down for bedtime.

When the pings first started happening on a semi-regular basis, I tried to delay the powerful pull into trance. I would ask my fylgja to buy me more time, usually a few hours, so that I could wrap up what I was doing and then cross the hedge. Sometimes I would try to delay things even longer, especially if I knew it was a big call. I did this with a call from Hekate once. She was 47 kinds of pissed, so needless to say, I stopped procrastinating and started turning the damned stove off, having a seat, and letting the trance come. When I strolled through the otherworlds more regularly, this sort of thing still happened but was less often and was oddly less surprising when it did happen.

alice-in-wonderland-276452_1280When I was journeying more regularly, I felt the call more urgently and was ready – in mind, body, and spirit – to make the trip. But when I started traveling less, each call felt less urgent, and it was unexpected, so I found myself less ready to travel. Of course astral travel/journeying/faring forth skills take spiritual and psychic muscles, and I had let myself go a bit for about two years. So it’s not really any wonder that the gods and spirits started pushing harder. Of course my fylgja had to grab me by the scruff and drag me to the appointed meeting place with the spirit or power in question.

I’ve been basically done with my doc program (yay!) for the last several months so I am getting back into the flow of journeying.  It’s been rewarding building my spiritual and psychic muscles back up so that I don’t have to be grabbed as often!

In summary, here’s what I learned from being called, shouted at, and then grabbed by my guide/ally and dragged off into the otherworlds:

  1. If you are paying attention, you get notification in advance, or at least have an inkling that a particular power may be calling on you soon.
  2. If you don’t pay attention, you may be man/woman/person-handled by your guide/ally.
  3. By the time your guide/ally is forcing you into trance, find a safe place and don’t resist the lull into trance. You’re late for an important appointment and your guide/ally is just trying to look out for you and make sure you get there while receiving as little flak as possible from the spirit or power you’re supposed to meet with.
  4. After these encounters, gift the spirits and powers (including your guide/ally!) richly, because you kept them waiting beyond a reasonable time frame, which some may read as a sign of disrespect.
  5. Schedule time for regular travel so that you are less difficult to call and meet with.

Happy Astral Traveling!

The Man in Black and the Lady in Red

Witch Upon A Stang
And I shall go in the Devil’s name,

Ay while I come home again.

~ An excerpt from Isabel Gowdie’s shape-shifting charm

In the wee hours, I stood at the door between worlds; I closed my eyes and stepped through. When I opened them I was standing in the living room of a two-story house of modest size. As I walked toward the stairs I could hear my feet on the floor boards and feel the slide of my dress against my outer thigh. But most acutely I could sense that I wasn’t alone in the house. I cautiously made my way up the stairs.

Near the top of the staircase I called my fylgja to perch on my shoulder and we moved to one of the upstairs rooms where I found a tall man dressed in black standing near a fireplace. He wore the 17th century’s finest and had a glimmer in his eye as fiery bright as an ember. I knew that the man was more than he seemed. Every foot of gut in me screamed Devil. I was afraid, not of what he would do but of what he could do. I was also curious. Fear and curiosity are a well-known and often felt emotional brew for witches and spirit-workers in my experience. And so, standing before the Man in Black – the Devil himself – I respected my fear of him, and also indulged my curiosity. I circled him slowly and with my fylgja perched on my shoulder I posed a number of questions. My time between the worlds has taught me not to be shy about refusing to make assumptions about exactly who and what I am taking to. When asked, he said that he is a keeper of secrets and that he intends to pass a portion of those secrets on to me. His eyes seemed to shimmer and dance. His presence was strong and true. When I asked the man why, he answered that the wisdom he has must be passed on and preserved. We conversed for a while longer.

After my exchange with the Man in Black, I turned my head and saw a woman standing in the doorway. As she approached, again my fylgja was at the ready and I was circling with questions. In an instant her entire appearance changed: her clothing and her eyes waxed red as blood. She referred to herself as the Red Lady. And, growing wild inside the fireplace, I saw a bunch of beautiful purple trumpet-shaped flowers. The flowers had not been there during my interchange with the Devil. Intuition said that these flowers could be used to seek her out and call her nigh. We conversed for a while and then she pulled me back into everyday consciousness.

My instinct tells me that I spoke with the Witch-Father and Witch-Mother. The interaction was steeped in a fare bit of imagery traditionally associated with them and it was also steeped in magical bits that represent the core tools of their operation. I have a ton of research to do in combination with divination in order to learn more about what this encounter means for me overall. I am sure that I will write as much as possible about this journey as it unfolds.

Away I fly!

Sending the Fetch Forth

Barn Owl In FlightAs you may recall, my fylgia (aka fetch) travels between the worlds in Barn Owl form. The fylgja is conceptualized as a guardian spirit but also as a soul-part, reflecting a bit of the person’s personality. Diana Paxson discusses the fylgja and other soul-parts here. Since beginning our work together several years ago, I have come to rely on the services that Barn Owl provides for me in the Otherworlds. He most commonly serves as my protector and as my guide. I shared a few reflections on his work in those roles very early in our work together. You can find that post here.

As protector he has helped me to identify dangers while traveling, before they become a problem. And when I do encounter full-blown problems, Barn Owl often has a save or a solution. As a guide he is knowledgeable of the geography of the Otherworlds. He has led me to the halls of various Powers. Barn Owl has also offered a fair bit of useful information. For example, he helped me to identify a good place to establish my home in Midgard, found out what offerings I needed to give to a few spirits while I was in their realm, and informed me of “local customs” that I needed to be aware of in order to interact/communicate appropriately.

Barn Owl has also helped me tremendously by serving as a clerical aid of sorts. It may sound completely ridiculous but he often makes appointments for me in the Otherworld. I have quite unexpectedly arrived at my astral home to find him waiting on the mantle with the message that I need to set out again to meet So-n-So. A few times I came home to him insisting that I was late for an appointment. When we fare forth he leads the way or he perches on my shoulder (an odd sight, I’m sure). He is a constant comfort in my journeying.

As I’ve moved along in my magical work, I have worked with Barn Owl in another incredibly useful way: intelligence gathering. I have sent him forth to gather information about a few mundane and spiritual things (e.g. health issues, where to find a particular spirit in real time, etc.). I usually give him his favorite offerings (in quantity) when sending him forth in this way. And when I call him back so that he can report, he has clear information to provide. I like to use a pendulum or other aid to help focus my awareness/intuition. I’m new at this aspect of working with him but I hope to work with him more in this capacity. There is quite a bit that I hope to learn about this particular magical technique!

The Road to Helheim

“Hermod Before Hela” (1909) by John Charles Dollman

As a part of my work with The Catskin Sisters, a small group of seidhr women based in Central Illinois, we journey to some of the Nine Worlds within the Norse cosmos. Generally, we choose to visit worlds that are known to be (at least somewhat) hospitable to human travelers. One of our most recent journeys was to Helheim or Hel-Home, the realm of Hela, the half-living half-corpse ettin-maid with jurisdiction over the teaming hoards of the dead. Before journeying to Hela’s realm I held a blot to her. I offered good beer and incense. I also made prayers for safe travel. The runes delivered a favorable message from the Queen of Hel and so I set off on my journey.

I slathered myself in a goodly amount of The Witch of Forest Grove’s Aves Salve, sat down on my loveseat, drew my white silk veil over my head and shifted left out of my body. I departed on the back of my Barn Owl fylgja through the kitchen window after brief conversations with the housewight and the spirit of my staff. My fylgja and I headed north here in Midgard until we reached the Tree, then north again and down its trunk and down one of its roots we went. The journey was fast and sinking. We “exited” at the edge of Niflheim where Mist-Home meets a set of dark gates that lead into Hela’s realm.

I was shrouded in mist and cold, and more than a little flustered. I waited at the gate until I felt comfortable continuing. I spoke the runes given to me for entrance to the realm and the gate opened. I was greeted by a spirit clad in white. Birch imagery immediately came to mind. The spirit was stern in manner and speech, and clearly empowered to halt any antics I might perpetrate in her mistress’ realm. While she gave me directions to Hela’s hall, I noticed the dead as they moved. They appeared to be grey-washed or sepia, not the color of life. I tore my eyes from the dead and instead focused on the road to Hel’s hall. Barn Owl reiterated the White Lady’s advice on the walk to the hall, warning me not to veer from the path if I ever wanted to leave Hel-Home. Of course I complied though the “water” flowing under the bridge there was sorcerously entrancing.

After a short walk, I arrived at the entrance to Hela’s Hall. Once invited, I entered. I was more than a little nervous to meet her. Hela was not much for pleasantries. She could smell my fear just as surely as I could smell her rot. The Queen of Hel was not pleased to see me there if I was not ready to be there. She reached for me with her fleshless arm and drew me close. I wanted to freak out, then I thought better of it. She offered counsel on my work with the dead, showed me a landmark on her property that might aid in my work, passed along a message from another Mighty Northern Power, and then sent me on my way. I followed the White Lady’s instructions from earlier, but in reverse, and ended on the other side of the gate not much worse for the wear.

Barn Owl and I gathered ourselves and got back on the expressway to this world. After emerging from trance, I did another rune reading which helped to verify many of my experiences in Helheim. I also reviewed my notes from other trance encounters with Death deities. I was pleased to see that they have a united front on many points where it concerns me and my Work with the dead.

So much Work to do, so little time! Well, that just means I gotta keep movin’.