Álfheimr the gods gave to Freyr
In bygone days as tooth-payment.
The Poetic Edda. Grímnismál, stanza 5, Larrington translation.
“Journeying” is the term most often used to describe the process shamans go through to engage the spirit world. Some call it ecstatic journeying or shamanic journeying, starwalking, skywalking. The journey process encompasses setting an intention, then traversing the layers of the spirit realm with one’s spirit guides for healing or insight retrieval. Often done with drumming or other rhythmic induction, specific tempos induce a theta, or light dreaming, brain state.
Journeying is often confused with pathworking, in which participants are guided in what to see and do. When learning to journey, a general framework is followed to access the ecstatic state, though what occurs once in the spirit realm is entirely organic. Upon mastery of theta trance, the framework used can be as unique as what occurs in the journey, itself, if a framework is necessary at all.
In the beginning, for most eager shamanic students, journeying is vivid, lush. Deep emotions stir and challenge how we hold our changed psychology in waking reality. For many, those first flights out fulfill a deep longing to connect, or reconnect as it were, with the unseen, that other belief systems or practices don’t provide. In those early stages, journeying seems to provide answers to everything, and for that reason it can be addicting, even escapist if not done with care.
Inevitably, though, the journeying process begs to deepen or to expand in some way that challenges the shamanist. Perhaps getting into trance becomes more difficult. The devices that facilitated it at first no longer smooth the path. The sensual experience internalizes. We begin to see that the spirit realms aren’t wonderland, serving up what we want to see, comfort, companionship. Its messages become less clear. Guides are absent or not as forthcoming. What happened? Why would a process that so fulfilled and provided stop working?
Traditionally, in indigenous and ancient cultures, shamans were chosen by heredity or transformation of a trauma (also called a shamanic death), while some were self-appointed. How they are revealed isn’t as significant as noting how shamans developed and were supported by their communities. Most modern students of shamanism come to it out of personal need, be that trauma or a sense of needing “more.” However, we are not a shamanic culture. We haven’t been surrounded from birth in an animistic life view that fosters our connection with the spirit world in and out of trance. As a result, we leave shamanic circles and classes to return to a mundane that doesn’t support our experiences. We don’t have the network of support to help us sustain the miracle of the ecstatic state beyond the journey. Thus, the journey process, itself, becomes strained.
That lack of network also tends to create the pattern of journeying only when something is wrong, when we feel a lack in our lives, or on behalf of others. In this way a constant pattern of taking is established, creating an imbalance in how we relate to the spirit realm. Without making it a daily practice as part of our personal spiritual discipline, we can’t evolve to be truly proficient at journeying, and we can’t begin creating ourselves as an animistic culture. We can’t become solid anchors engaging in waking what the spirit realm guides in trance.
Should journeying lose its initial luster, instead of forcing it to suit expectation and demands, dig deeper into formed being. Find a mentor and community who can support soul travels. Connect with the the spirits of immediate surroundings — familiar space, daily relationships, Nature. The more grounded we can be in the awareness that unseen reality is with us all the time, not just in trance, the more we lace spiritual interconnection through everything we do, the more readily trance comes.
Normalization of the journey experience isn’t failure. It’s natural, it’s progress, integration. The act of journeying is a relationship, not just the connections we make from it. At some point, it is right for the experience of trance to integrate, for us to become the embodiment of the community, connections, and wisdom we gain from it. Yet at the same time, we must hold our journey experiences loosely. Let the process unfold as it desires. Along the path of ecstatic journeying, we learn to trust the inner compass, not just to show direction, but when to be directionless, when to become the direction.
Originally published at The Huffington Post.