One of the biggest areas of overlap between all of the various pagan and other non-monotheistic religions and traditions is that of altered states of consciousness (ASC). In paganism particularly, this often takes the form of a practice that is variously known as journeying/astral journeying, self-guiding visualization, pathworking, or various specific pre-Christian cultural practices (e.g., útsenna). This practice, which typically involves sending the conscious mind “out of” the body, or splitting it away from the normal flow of life, can be used for a myriad of purposes – from connecting with personal power animals á là transpersonal psychology’s Personal Totem Tree or Harper’s core shamanism to oracular and other divinatory work, to communication and interaction with specific non-mundane planes/places and beings.
Generally the idea is that, by altering our consciousness from its usual state, whether through mindfulness meditation, ecstatic trance dancing and drumming, informed and reverent usage of entheogens, or any of the other dozens of methods that people have used over the millennia to change their perceptions of reality, we unlock the keys to transpersonal, transdimensional and even transspecies experiences and modes of thinking. When we are in the throes of the Wolf dance, or seeing through the senses of a tree, or walking the paths behind the moon, the world suddenly becomes full of magic and wonder, and so much bigger than our society and culture tells us day after day. In that between space, to shamelessly paraphrase, “Nothing is Real; All things are True,” or, in other words, absolutes and rigid categorizations of reality fall away, and we find ourselves believing and experiencing things that, in our objective, rational, acceptable minds, we would normally dismiss as so much horseshit.
Thus, a lot of times, many newcomers to paganism (and even outside of paganism in other subcultures that encourage ASCs) come across this experience of openness and “loose” reality, and lose themselves. Most pagans with more than a couple of years time dealing with other pagans know of or have encountered at least a few people who, for all intents and purposes, have forsaken functionality in the wider world to go on epic adventures in the Otherworlds (that always seem to involve them in the spotlight as perfect, always capable, never overwhelmed BAMFs), or drop all obligations to family, friends and community for The Work.
Now, that is not to say that people, especially those who do work intensely with gods and other non-corporeal beings, can’t get caught up in politicking or other conflicts in the non-human realms; far from it. In fact, some of the impetus behind the early formation of the Waincraft model was the result of spirit meddling and politics. However, of all the pagans I’ve personally met that have been legitimately roped into conflicts or important goings-on in the Otherworlds, it’s usually been because they were caught unawares and with clear signs of wyrd behind the scenes.
But as a general rule, there should be a balance between this-world and Other-world. Thus far in the neopagan movement, there have been clear camps on either side of the debate – many reconstructionists, especially Heathens, look down on ASC experiences (though there are some who fall into the other camp); many non-deistic pagans view ASC experiences as only as “real” as they have psychological or intrapersonal benefit; many spiritworkers and other “spirit-bothered” pagans forsake, or at least denigrate, the mundane, the this-world, the “boring” reality of life on Earth.
Waincraft seeks to walk the middle way, integrating seamlessly both the mundane and the Other, the Reality and the Truth. The tree in your front yard is a 50-year old member of the Quercus family; it is also Balanos (Hamadryad of the oak tree), who dances when the moon is full. The mountain in the distance is an old god, who has watched over this particular valley ever since the ice retreated; does the fact that he is made of granite and limestone make him any less a god than Thor?
And thus, when we journey, when we walk between worlds, remember this – when we journey outward from ourselves, we are also journeying inward. The Center is everywhere, it contains everything. Nothing is True; Everything is Real. Journey out to the Center, and when you return, find you never truly went anywhere at all.