“I do not say that [Napoleon’s army] cannot come. I simply say that they cannot come by sea.
—Lord Saint Vincent to the House of Lords, c. 1803.
Tonight, I was a little overeager to do a path working. I’m working my way through a Druidic curriculum based on the Tree of Life diagram (Celtic/Welsh/geomantic/alchemical associations, rather than cabalistic), and I’m eager to finish before January, so that I can do my initiation to the Bardic grade in early February, which has special associations for me with the role of the Bard. And that means that I can begin my formal training as a Druid, then, too.
But today, I rushed. The druidic work I’m doing involves opening a series doors, if you will, between me and the path-working rites. First, there is a temple to be prepared in the physical realm; then there’s a set of mental exercises to do beforehand, and then a set procedure to go through to open the temple in a particular grade. Once the temple is open in that grade, there’s a further effort to open on the Inner Plane, where contact with spirits and with spiritual forces is easier.
It’s kind of like entering an airlock, really: first the doors to the outer world must be shut, then the doors to the inner realm must be opened, after some preliminaries to equalize the pressures between outer and inner. And it must be done correctly; as with an airlock in space, or underwater, there are fail-safes which prevent the outer doors from being entirely closed unless the correct procedures are followed. And there are fail-safes which prevent the inner doors from being opened at all when the outer doors are still open.
Once these preliminaries are finished, of course, one slips into meditative and astral states quite easily — the barriers are lowered, there are no outside distractions, and there can be no interruptions. Once, I was doing the rites before some friends came over for dinner… I lost track of time, and drifted in meditation nearly 45 minutes after I was supposed to stop. I came out of meditation, did the exit procedures, passed through the airlock… and at that very moment, my friends all arrived simultaneously, having been delayed by traffic, construction, and whatnot, all fearing terribly for the delay… we had a fantastic dinner together.
Tonight, I skipped a step in closing the outer doors. I ran through all of the other procedures, but nothing happened. I went nowhere. Called upon the powers correctly. Heard nothing. Called up the spirits. Saw nothing.
Instead, I saw and heard the sounds of the world, which normally fade away: my upstairs neighbor clunking around; my side-neighbor changing his laundry over in the basement; my dad calling on the phone.
I made an effort to shut out these distractions. I called up an image of the gateway that led to the path I was intending to walk tonight. It came… but it was immediately apparent that it was the memory of prior visits, and not the thing itself. The thing itself is solid like a mountain is solid, vast and unknowable even though it’s only ten feet across and sixteen feet high or so; the memory is pale and wan, like a mist in the valley under the moon.
I did what any sensible sorcerer should do. I undid my work, went backwards through my checklist, and closed the temple, snuffed the candles, and went back to my grimoire and guidebooks. I found the mistake: three circumambulations of the altar during the invoking of the temple. And for that, an hour of my time, lost.
In another hour, I’ll try again. I’ve got the procedure written out by hand in front of me, and I’ve re-set the temple, and I’ve reviewed my error. I know that I’m going to do this right, probably, this time; and if not today, then tomorrow. And I’ll power through it, and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
But there’s another side to this. The walls between there and here, they are not easily breached. You can do it with drugs, though I’ve seen that end badly for a good many people and *I* recommend against it. You can do it by living for extended periods of time in nature, or through special diets, or through programs of sleep disruption. Those have their own problems, too. You can do it with ceremony, and I’ve seen everything from Buddhist ritual to a Lakota sweat lodge to a Jewish Friday-night service to a full-on High Church eucharist, and a Pentecostal hands-in-the-air do it effectively, and reasonably safely — although, again, they have their own problems. You can do it with dance and with music.
But after fifteen years of this, I’m more or less convinced that opening this door between here and there cannot be done by closing one’s eyes, wiggling one’s nose and wishing. At least, *I* cannot do it. And I tend to look askance at those who can, or who claim that they can. When I look at people face-to-face who I think can communicate with spirits, I find that I see a transformation, a clarity, in them, which is difficult to hide and even harder to fake. I’m going to have to think long and hard about whether this is a matter of my own strengths and weaknesses; or whether I hold this as a general principle. But my heart and my own experiences such as this evening, as well as my rational faculties, tend to suggest to me that not everyone who claim communication with the spirits from moment to moment can genuinely do so. It simply seems that it is too difficult, and requires substantial practice on the part of most people, that there could be so many who can achieve it so easily.
I’m writing this entry in part to revisit this issue later. But if you have thoughts or responses, please feel free to comment.