This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project (PBP). It’s the first – and very late – one for the letter J. It is inspired by a post called “JourneyFail” by courageous devotion, another participant of this project.
Here’s a quote from said post:
All of the Internet Pagans (many of whom are incredible inspirations to me) write almost exclusively of their amazing experiences journeying (or crossing the hedge, or slipping their skins, or shapeshifting–choose your parlance)–and almost none of them write about their failures.
Here’s the thing–I suck at it. I rarely experience success with journeying, when I mean to do it.
I also have a hard time with journeying, and when something actually happens, I immediately doubt that it was anything but my own imagination and wishful thinking. In fact, there hasn’t been anything in my experience so far that I would accept as 100% proof that I actually went anywhere else instead of making it all up as some kind of creative daydream.
I have been assured by some authors that journeying is so easy that only very few people really can’t do it, and that the biggest problem usually is not trusting oneself and one’s journeying experiences. This would suggest that I should accept what I saw and felt as real journeys and stop worrying and doubting so much.
Then again, there are descriptions of journeys as going into full theta trance, which apparently is a different state of consciousness than the one described by most core shamanic-influenced authors. Here we have certain images that are allegedly seen by people who go into that kind of trance (e.g. geometric shapes, tunnel imagery) as well as certain physical reactions (e.g. falling down/inability to stay upright, shaking). According to this definition, I may or may not have made an actual shamanic journey so far.
In short: The information about what makes a shamanic journey has been ambiguous if not outright contradictory. The main difference seems to be that most core shamanic-influenced people tend to emphasize how easy and safe shamanic journeying is and how we will always meet a supportive animal spirit first, whereas shamanic practitioners with different backgrounds tend to underline how difficult and dangerous it can be and how we may also encounter truly scary and malevolent spirits. (By the way, I touched on related issues is my earlier post “C is for Choice vs. Calling (and Core Shamanism vs. Classic Shamanism).”)
Which results in me being confused and torn over whom to trust and what to believe.
At first, I used core-shamanic instructions and went off to visit the Lower World for the first time. The first attempt was a complete failure, which I attribute mostly to my incompatibility with the CD I used (it started out as a sort of guided meditation to get people to their starting places and give them some basic information about what to do and what to expect and then eventually switched to just drumming). The second attempt worked so well that I thought I must have made it up. I left huge gaps between my journeys and therefore always felt like I was starting over again every time I made another journey attempt.
Initially, I deliberately tried to avoid learning about specific cosmologies/deities/animals/plants so that my rational knowledge of these things wouldn’t influence my journey experience (or what I took to be my journey experience). It worked okay, but the landscapes I visited never resembled the intensely vivid ones I had read about. Neither did I have any kind of all-senses-heightened experience – I was lucky if I saw or felt anything at all, but I never smelled anything and rarely heard anything but the drums.
That is, my experiences didn’t quite match with what I read about, and so I never reached the point where I had any kind of trustworthy measuring stick for my journeys (or “journeys”?). Since I also never any insights about anything that I couldn’t have known from elsewhere (unlike friends of mine who also journeyed reported), I never really stopped distrusting my experiences. I never knew if it was just my lack of practice, or my lack of innate talent, or something else that kept me from ever being sure that my experiences were valid.
At this point, let me quote another bit of the blog post that inspired me to write my own:
When you practice an experiential or mystery tradition (like witchcraft or shamanism or something similar, from a technique point of view) as a solitary, you start to rely on the accounts of others’ experiences to guide your experiments, to inform your choices for personal testing. So when Internet Pagans focus on their successes, when they choose to only show the Internet Newbies their best possible face, we fail to communicate to others that this is a long and often annoying learning process.
Indeed, I lacked comparison with others in a similar situation. Did others also struggle with the same doubts? Did they feel/act the same as I did when they were doing what they called journeying? How fast or slow a learner was I compared to others, and how much (or how little) talent did I bring to the table? That nearly all of my communication about shamanic issues took place via written text online didn’t make it any easier for me to even sort out who was just telling tales and who actually had experienced what they claimed. Not to mention that I often didn’t even know if we were talking about the same kind of journeying in the first place. It often remained unclear where the differences between guided meditations, daydreams, and deep-trance journeys were, which I guess is partly because there isn’t much useful vocabulary around to describe and properly define these things.
After a while, I also came to the conclusion that the core-shamanic idea of using shamanic techniques detached from any specific culture/tradition didn’t feel right to me. Maybe it was because I read one time too many that one should be firmly rooted in a cosmology before one even attempted to travel anywhere (the analogy being that of not traveling to a foreign country without at least having a map and/or guidebook and knowing a few basic sentences in the language spoken there). Or maybe I really felt a bit lost in comparison to friends who had culture-specific traditions on which they based their shamanic practice (or of which their shamanic practice was a fundamental part). At any rate, I eventually stopped journeying altogether and instead began looking for a tradition that made sense to me and that I felt alright about using, mostly by reading about the ones that are out there.
This is more or less where I am now. I’ve decided to spend some time learning about Northern Tradition stuff and I’m happy to report that I’m slowly learning names and that I can even already tell a few story basics from the Eddas. So far, no deity or other being in particular has stood out for me or demanded my attention in a dramatic way, although I seem to be drawn more to the whole Angrboda-Hela-Jormungandr family of Jötunns and other monstrous beings than I feel drawn towards the “regular” Aesir and Vanir deities. It remains to be seen, however, if this is just my default identification with and love for the outsiders in most stories, or if there is more to it.
The last journey I tried (after about a year of not journeying at all) was what I would call a failure. Perhaps my intent/question was too fuzzy to get anywhere. Maybe it just was a bad day. But I’m still thoroughly unsure whether I should attempt to journey again soon, even if I’m still far from having a map or being able to ask for directions in the local language, or whether I should wait until I feel more at home in the Northern Tradition cosmology. Should I focus on systematically building a basis for my spiritual practice and do things like practicing grounding and centering regularly and try to remember to actually talk to my ancestors instead of just glancing guiltily at the neglected ancestor altar? Or should I ignore the standard “curriculum” and forge ahead and learn by practical try-and-error as I usually do?
In any case, I should definitely make up my mind sometime soon or I will end up doing nothing at all… But how?
Opinions? Thoughts? Ideas?