What is the way to the Otherworld? How do we get there? Often the Otherworld is described as a landscape separated from our physical world by a threshold. Hades is across the River Styx. The Isle of Apples is across the sea to the West. Heaven is beyond the Pearly Gates. Asgard is across the Rainbow Bridge.
Mythology is like poetry. It is not literal. It requires us to dig a little, to interpret, to shift our perspective in order to find meaning. And like poetry, there can be many meanings.
With regards to the Otherworld, mythology gives us a clue: there is a threshold through which we must pass.
There's a lot of ways to interpret this and since this is Simple Spiritwork, we'll start with a simple interpretation and see where it leads us:
What if the threshold we must cross to access the Otherworld, is the threshold between our ordinary, waking, focused, (stressed out, distracted, over-occupied) consciousness, and our sub-conscious, our below-conscious, our non-ordinary, dreaming, deep consciousness.
Our subconscious has its say when we sleep and dream, and dreams are certainly spiritual and can be worked as part of spiritwork. But the skill the spiritworker wishes to hone is the ability to dream while awake. We want to access the ability to perceive our deeper imaginings as well as the deeper-still emanations of the Otherworld beyond our spirit.
In module five of Intro to Simple Spiritwork we will talk about our Spiritual Senses and learn how they detect and translate those emanations. But for today, we'll keep it simple and just say that access to deeper consciousness is the way to the Otherworld.
So deeper consciousness is the key to the Otherworld. But what's the key to accessing a deeper state of non-ordinary consciousness?
We might read up on magic phrases or sigils or ancient rituals that claim to unlock the door, and some of them surely work, but those priestly and occult things weren’t ever how ordinary folks accessed the Otherworld. Simple folks accessed the Otherworld through trance.
Trance is an altered state of consciousness, a non-ordinary state in which our normal, rational, critical consciousness is shifted or even disabled. (Critical in this case means critical thinking, as in the ability to question.)
This non-ordinary state of consciousness can bring forth creative power, insight, heightened emotional states, euphoria, and can cause visions, both internal and hallucinatory (meaning we perceive them as if they were happening outside of us).
In Simple Spiritwork we learn that the power of repetition is key to creating trance, as in chanting mantra, listening to a steady drumbeat, sex, or walking in meditation.
In Traditional Spiritwork methods of physical shock, awe, pain, and discomfort are also used to create trance. Techniques include fasting, tattooing, and exposure to extreme heat or cold among other things.
So how was it that our ordinary ancestors accessed the Otherworld so easily?
Repetition was readily available. Farmers had back-breaking, repetitive labor to accomplish, planting seeds from sunrise to well past sunset. Pain and discomfort were readily available. Try fasting in the woods for 48 hours because you can’t go home without a successful hunt to feed your family. And neither the hunter nor the farmer while set to his work would have the option of soothing himself with radio or TV. There were no little white earbuds or other adult pacifiers.
In modern times, we still perform repetitive trance-inducing tasks, we trance everyday in small ways. Ever get in the car to go the store, but end up turning as if to go to work? Zone out while watching TV or in a long meeting at the office? Get so engrossed in a good book that when someone tries to get your attention you don’t notice them? But these trances are already filled to capacity with stories and words. There’s no room for the quiet voice of the ancestors or the visions of the fae. We’ve tuned out the Otherworld.
If we’re determined to tune back in, we might sit on a cushion and stare at a candle, hoping a trance will happen. But glassy-eyed staring is a consequence of trance, not a cause of trance.
For the cause of trance to begin, look to repetition. And for the trance to open the ways to the Otherworld, that repetition should occur at a threshold.
Repeating the name of a spirit while relaxed and half-asleep, yet awake. Singing a repetitive song while exhausted from physical exertion, but not collapsed. Listening to the drum while nearly over-heated in the sweat lodge or sauna, but not sick. Physically rocking back and forth while watching the ocean waves with eyes neither open and focused nor closed.
What is repeated and at which threshold determines which door opens.
But remember, trance can disable normal critical thinking and cause states of euphoria and ecstasy. It is a powerful tool that can be healing or poisonous depending on how it is used or abused. Trance can be addictive and should always be taught and explored with care.
In Simple Spiritwork we enter trance purposefully and when we are done we leave it completely. We want to restore our equilibrium, focus, and ability to think critically when we are not in sacred space.
The Otherworld is dangerous in its beauty. People get lost there, floating on the threshold, never quite able to re-sync with the surface world and its time. (Always running late?)
If we journey to the Otherworld, we have to carry with us a love for the life we have in this amazing surface world. We have to have the desire to return to it.
Someone with a strong impulse to escape reality will be at risk studying trance techniques. At the same time, someone with a strong impulse to escape reality may already be floating in a few perpetual trances, and it is only with purposeful study that they will discover the tools needed to return fully to life.
So, naturally, our next module will be “Understanding Trance.”
But first, let’s recap! Understanding the Otherworld.