How to Journey
Journeying is the act of letting your spirit (or soul, or spirit twin, or part of your soul, depending on your belief system) travel to the otherworlds, of which there are many or one, depending on your belief system (I believe in many, so this is the language I will use). Though the lines can blur between journeying and visualisation, the difference is largely that in the former, you travel outside of the body into external spiritual worlds and in the latter, you work within the body and the psyche, in an inner universe that can be visited by external forces.
Journeying is common in many animistic cultures, and happens in some pagan practices. It’s generally not something many people pick up instinctively, because the otherworlds are potentially dangerous and unsafe places, and you don’t have to go in order to experience growth of the soul / spirit towards more healthful places. I personally feel the reason why so many people find journeying difficult is simply because it’s a built in defense-mechanism against accidentally placing the soul in situations of great vulnerability or danger. Unlike visualisation, journeying is not a generally safe practice, though it can be made safer with experience and preparation.
People journey usually by entering a trance state, or particular altered state of consciousness (ASC). The trance state on its own is not journeying. People experience different types of ASCs all the time (such as when you zone out while driving home and can’t quite remember how you got from work to your front door), but it doesn’t mean they’re journeying. And some people experience the strange, ecstatic heightening of sensation and experience during trance; but this doesn’t mean they’re journeying either. The journey process for me begins when the spirit moves from ‘within,’ to ‘without.’ Where you go from being rooted in this reality, to actually finding yourself within the otherworlds.
How long does it take to learn?
It can take some people a very long time to learn how to journey to the otherworlds, and some people may never learn how to do it. Others pick it up through dreams, or other experiences. They may spontaneously journey at a rave, while taking recreational drugs, or simply while sicker than usual. To learn how to do it deliberately and consciously, however, is generally something that most people have to apply themselves to. It takes work.
Don’t be disappointed in yourself or discouraged if you don’t ‘get it’ the first time, or the second, or after a month or more. The technique you’re using might not be right for you, or it may just be that your mind and body need training to learn how to journey.
Remember that journeying can sometimes be harder to learn for people who have no reason to really be in the otherworlds; your guides and spiritual teachers may be blocking you from entering, or it may be that the only reason you want to go is because you think you should. Ask yourself what your reasons are for journeying? What is your intent? If it’s just to add another feather in your cap, it’s not advisable that you learn unitl you find some more useful goals. Not everyone has to learn how to journey in order to be a healthy and whole person.
One of the main differences between journey techniques and visualisation techniques, is that the former tend to be quite active in nature and involve the body. The latter tend to be oriented towards stilling and quieting the body (i.e. slowing down the breathing while lying still and centred). While quieting techniques can be used to journey, they are sometimes less successful for beginners, who may find themselves ending up in a visualisation state or their ‘inner universe’ over and over again.
Drumming – This is probably one of the most common techniques used in practical animism journeying; it is a technique used in some traditional animistic cultures and its popularity has been propagated by animism-based paganisms. The idea is to hit the drum at an often high speed (often a hoop drum, but many drums suffice) until the repetitive sound and the vibration of the bass sound places the body and brain into trance.
Rattling – Rattling is another technique used for journeying. Roger Walsh has indicated in his book The World of Shamanism that higher pitched sounds are less likely to instigate a trance-state than bass sounds, and I think this may be one of the reasons why rattling is a less popular vector for attaining trance-state / and journeying.
Dance / Chanting – A traditionally popular technique, because the whole community can easily engage in it without needing any innate sense of rhythm, but less common in contemporary animistic practices; dancing and chanting are other repetitive ways of attaining trance state and journeying. With dancing, you are literally pounding a hypnotic rhythm through your body, encouraging it to join you in the trance state. With chanting, the act of vibrating sacred words or sounds through your sternum and throat can be a very spiritual experience even if you don’t end up journeying. It can also be an excellent way to raise energy.
Walking – Make sure that you can walk in a safe place, and make sure you don’t have to cross any roads; walking in a trance state can be dangerous and I don’t advise first-timers try it! I personally prefer to walk in a wide circle at a local oval; or through the bushland. If you are lucky enough to have these sorts of places nearby, and you know what your trance-state feels like, then I highly recommend walking to effect trance state. Firstly, you are in nature and have greater access to literally being visited by the animals and plants and spirits of your local landscape. Secondly, you are actually pounding a rhythmic beat into your body without needing to take an instrument with you.
Deprivation – Much more common in traditional animism societies, methods of sleep, food, fluid, community deprivation (not all at the same time, usually!) were practiced in order to inflict trance state on the practicioner. Deprivation methods are much more common in initiatory experiences, and are not considered safe enough to be used all the time, or even often. I would recommend using caution and consulting with a health expert before trying one of these methods. Do not engage in this alone, have someone to check in on you.
Entheogens – Drugs like Salvia, Amanita muscaria, peyote etc. have been used in traditional and contemporary cultures to inspire a trance state and journeying with mixed results. I don’t use entheogens in my personal practice (too many unreliable and allergic reactions to make it worth my while), but I know of those who do and find it works for them. If you are going to use entheogens to journey, I’d recommend at least mastering another technique so that you can journey without their assistance.
Soundtracks/playlists etc. – Soundtracks of shamanic drumming (rattling, singing, etc.) get their own category because I feel that while they may have the benefit of repetitive sound that you can loop – and many now have call-back tracks as well – what they lack is the same vibrational experience (though very high quality headphones help a lot these days). Having the beats of a drum move over your body is much more effective for journeying than simply listening to something through headphones. That said, many soundtracks do work. You can now buy soundtracks that have journeying-specific drumming and call-back tracks to assist you. A good bass system can improve the presence of vibrational rhythm, but be careful not to damage your hearing.
How can I tell I’m journeying?
One of the questions I’m commonly asked is ‘how can I tell if I’m journeying and not visualising?’ There is no clear and concise answer for this; because the experiences of our inner universe and visualisation are so subjective. Generally, there are a few things to look out for:
1. Sensations, colours, sounds, etc. tend to be heightened in the otherworlds (with some exceptions, lands of the dead sometimes show a reverse effect).
2. Many people will simply say ‘it feels real,’ or ‘I can tell its real,’ there is a very certain experience of authenticity, and a feeling that it is not an internally authentic place; but an externally authentic place.
3. Those who have experienced visualisation will often know instinctively as soon as they are journeying and be able to tell the difference.
4. The otherworlds will be filled with events and occurrences that do not always concern you. You may meet spirits, entities and gods that want nothing to do with you. As they are not a part of your ‘inner universe,’ not every animal that crosses your path will be pertinent to you specifically. You are not the centre of this universe; unlike when you visualise within your own psyche. In fact, interpreting encounters as being ‘personally meaningful’ while journeying can be dangerous.
5. Sometimes people will report a sense that they are doing something that the body isn’t used to (particularly when they first start out). They may report feeling drained of energy more quickly, feeling geographically distant from themselves, or being aware of malleable physics; such as time passing in different ways to what we’re used to.
This is an example of some of the ways you can tell if your journeying experience is real – they won’t be true for everyone, and you may find that you have different, personal ways of being able to tell once you’re journeying. No one can answer this question for you with satisfaction, until you have experienced both journeying and visualisation and can answer it for yourself.
Identification is a complicated issue, especially because some people do work that sits on the frontier between both the otherworlds and the innerworlds, and until they have experienced both separately (and not together), they just may not be able to distinguish.
This is just a very short introduction to journeying and some of the techniques used to help people journey. It’s not going to cover everything, but hopefully you found something in here that was helpful to you. Remember to not get discouraged by your attempts, and to locate other people to help you out (either online or off) if you feel you get stuck or hit a plateau.