Beyond the Veil – but where is that exactly?
Since I’ve been regularly posting a selection of my journey notes, it seemed important to address what I think they are, where they might come from, and more generally my advice for evaluating such experiences either as a hedgecrosser or a reader. So let’s dive right in, shall we?
The possibilities of what the source and meaning of a visionary experience in order of most skeptical to most credulous include:
1. The narrative is a creation of the author’s imagination. In other words, fiction or, at worst, delusion.
2. The narrative represents knowledge or insight the author already possessed, but could not recall or access during normal consciousness.
3. The narrative reveals knowledge that is accessed from a personal or collective unconscious that is perceived extrasensorily.
4. The narrative is a real interaction between the author and entities/deities who are completely independent and exist outside of the author’s mind.
1. The journey experience is a creation of the author’s imagination. In other words, fiction or fantasy.
This definitely an option, albeit the least fun of all four. Nevertheless, I urge everyone to interpret their own experiences and especially the experiences published by others (including my own!) with this possibility in mind.
Works of fiction labelled as such are perfectly benign and can be immensely inspirational. Just because something is “made up” certainly doesn’t negate its artistic or spiritual value and there is nothing fraudulent or dishonest about a work of fiction represented as such. Reading is amazing. We should all do it 10 times as much as we already do. Writing is also pretty awesome. Don’t sell your ideas short just because they came from little old you and not some fancy spirit guide.
However, what I’m really talking about here are visions published under the premise that the narrative is not a conscious work of literary prose or poetry, but as an actual account of a spiritual experience. That includes this blog.
Specific to me, I am presenting my hedgeriding as originating from outside my ordinary consciousness. I didn’t experience them as a hypothetical conversation or a waking daydream. Or at least I don’t think I did. However, let’s go back to my disclaimer.
It is totally possible that every single one of my trance experiences was a figment of my imagination and conveys no deeper meaning. While it’s kind of a downer to entertain this notion, I think being aware of that possibility is useful for my own analysis. More importantly, I emphatically encourage everyone to take my or any one else’s writing with this grain of salt.
Another variation on this theme is that the journey experiences are simply ordinary dreams. However, most hedgeriders do not report being an a sleep-state and usually differentiate between the experiences of dreaming, lucid dreaming, journeying, and simple daydreaming.
So if the shaman is asserting that she is neither asleep and dreaming or awake and consciously day-dreaming is she…. hallucinating?
Some accounts of spiritwalking certainly sound like psychotic symptoms of a mental disturbance or drug-induced trips. They could just be the symptom of neurons randomly misfiring in an abnormal or damaged way, medically speaking.
So, if all the magical tales of “crossing the veil” are all made up, what then?
Is everyone just a deliberate fraud or inadvertent crazy person?
If you’re the hedge-rider, my advice is this: cover you bases and be up front about your writing. Do not represent it as anything other than your personal experience and be okay with readers taking it or leaving it.
If you’re worried about the crazy person possibility:
do you feel like these experiences are occurring within a controlled space and are affecting you positively or at least not negatively?
Yes, yes, and yes?
Well, you’re not a scam artist or nuts.
If you’re the reader, rock that healthy skepticism. Liars and nutjobs aren’t worth getting your witchy britches in a twist over. Just file them as “not useful” and move on.
But what is the POINT of these experiences, then?
Well, if you were honest about your trance work affecting you positively, there’s your answer. If you’re learning something, gaining discipline, obtaining catharsis, enhancing your spiritual practice, honing your writing skills, good for you! And I don’t mean that facetiously. Really, good for you.
Same goes for readers. If you feel inspired or informed or just spent an enjoyable 10 minutes reading, I don’t really think it matters if what you were reading was “made up” or straight up divine prophecy. It’s ok to be perturbed with an author that is verifiable disingenuous about the origin of their ideas, but you can still enjoy their writing in its own context too.
Maybe that doesn’t feel very magic or profound, but give your imagination some credit! Little chicken scratches of letters that form words and sounds and ideas in our brains, that add up to a language that you and anyone else that speaks it understands, describe events that took place long ago, will take place in the future, or will never take place at all, abstract concepts and emotions that have no tangible, physical manifestation, and make you feel real emotions while you’re just sitting there reading or writing them? That’s pretty fucking magic to me.
2. The narrative represents knowledge or insight the author already possessed, but could not recall or access during normal consciousness.
Regardless of where you fall on the skeptic scale, this is something that is part of most visions, in my opinion, whether that is the entirety of their origin or not. That’s just how our brains work: we absorb way more data that we can consciously process but it is still in there. That is one explanation of how an oracle can report very specific facts or names that she is certain she “didn’t know.”
I personally experience this most often with names. Many of the words in my journeys seem unfamiliar or foreign to me. After some research, I am amazed to find that they translate perfectly from a language I don’t know or refer to a spirit or deity I have no memory of ever studying. For example, while in a trance state, I once described a Norse god, headless, in a well, with a name with an “m” sound, and associated with Odin in response to a friend inquiring about her seiδr practice. A quick Wikipedia search turned up Mimir and all the details checked out to my astonishment since I was completely certain I had never heard of that myth.
Later, I realized that I had been scrolling through lists of pagan rituals days before and a rite to Mimír was among them. So I had in fact encountered the name, despite not remembering doing so nor even consciously processing the name in the quick seconds my eyes skimmed over it. Because I read faster in my head than I can speak the words aloud, I — any everyone else– definitely store away more info than I am consciously processing at the time or can deliberately recall at will. This is how my brain can cut and paste words from languages in which I am not fluent nor have any memorized vocabulary, but have seen somewhere before among the zillions of pages I have read in my lifetime. For others with different backgrounds or strengths, this unremembered knowledge could take the form of colors, images, numbers, dates, sounds, faces, flavors, smells, or any other sensory input. You were there, your senses were all on, it’s just that your conscious brain was just tuning them out so you could focus on what you were actually doing.
The other aspect to this explanation is that sometimes symbols and advice can emerge from within the oracle’s mind that she doesn’t want to admit or acknowledge consciously. She may perhaps lack confidence in her own intuition and is more likely to take the same advice seriously if it seems to be coming from another person or source. We all have hang ups about what we think we “supposed” to do or want or what we think we “deserve.” This is obviously something that we all experience in our conscious lives as well. We’ve all heaved a sigh and admitted, “I know. I just needed to hear it from someone else.” In the same way, some visions are a stage for subconscious thoughts that are suppressed by our conscious minds to surface or to present themselves in symbols that the conscious mind is more apt to understand or accept.
As with the downer of a skeptical explanation for seemingly supernatural events in section 1, this completely non-clairvoyant source of hidden knowledge isn’t quite as exciting as the alternative. So again, what’s the point?
If visions are merely mash-ups of personal experience that we don’t remember knowing, is there any deeper meaning?
Personally, I think taking a little trip to the World Tree and doing some real-life Limitless or Lucy shit is magic as fuck. If having access to everything you’ve ever seen, read, heard, tasted, or touched whether you were aware of it at the time or not is NOT completely amazing to you, you have a really high bar for magic.
Is this Madlib-ed data less meaningful because I already “knew” it?
Well, if it reads like an actual nonsensical Madlib, probably not. However, all of my instances of this phenomena have made sense and were very useful bits of information. Again, the important question to ask is, “is this beneficial or positively affecting my life?” The result is the same regardless of whether a divine voice supplied the name or whether my brain cut and paste it from my unconscious.
3. The narrative reveals knowledge that is accessed from a collective unconscious that is perceived extrasensorily.
In practical terms, this explanation is similar to the one above. In both cases, an independently sentient magical force or experience can be ruled out, but there is more wiggle room for explaining how a person could obtain meaningful information to which he or she would not otherwise have obvious access.
The theory is that the collective unconscious is a kind group mind or a reservoir of human or cosmic knowledge that we can access via extrasensory perceptions; in this case, those produced by a trance state. It might be called telepathy, clairvoyance, astral projection, akashic records, cultural memory, etc but the basic jist that the mind is capable of accessing wisdom, advice, or divinatory information from sum of human consciousness or from the universe itself, just as one might google a topic on the internet.
Of the explanations so far, this is the least skeptical, employing a mechanism that is not observable or verifiable scientifically unlike option 2 which describes documented neurological or psychological processes or option 1 which assumes the visions are purposely or mistakenly invented. However, while relying on the belief in intuitive of telepathic senses, it offers the skeptic space to withhold a belief in divine forces or spirits.
What this concept boils down to is a belief in magical gnosis that is still consistent with an agnostic or atheistic cosmology. So not as woo-woo as believing in talking totem animals, toga-ed goddesses, and helmed gods if you’re not into that sort of thing, but more woo-woo than good old neuroscience.
4. The narrative is a real interaction between the author and entities/deities that are completely independent and exist outside of the author’s mind.
This explanation is certainly the most romantic and is, in fact, the most literal. This view takes the visionary experience at face value: if a totem animal, spirit guide, shade, deity, etc is interacting with you, it really is that entity (or an equally “real” entity in a disguise). If you appear to be in Asgard, Hades, or the Feywild, you really are.
Just as I emphatically exhort acknowledging the option that visions are entirely imagined, it is also cautious to be prepared for them to be entirely real.
It is deflating, perhaps even heartbreaking, to consider that one’s beloved guides and otherworld patrons are little more than figments of the imagination. Sucky, but not particularly dangerous. On the flipside, it could be irresponsible and potentially blasphemous to cavalierly traipse across otherworld poking things with sticks and have that thing turn out to be potently divine.
That said, I think it’s important to reiterate my opening injunction to take everything with a grain of salt. If if you are interacting with really real spirits or forces, that doesn’t mean everything they say is true or even helpful nor that interacting with them is good for you. Being respectful is not tantamount to unquestioning belief even if you’re a hard polytheist. Promise.
Treating things with due respect and humility regardless of whether you expect them to help you, harm you, or ignore you is a pretty good policy for life in general.
But, really. Which one is it?
Go with whatever explanation sounds reasonable to you. If you’re a feisty chaote, why not try believing each one in turn and seen what happens? Or sleep on it indefinitely and don’t bother deciding right now. Or ever. Whichever sounds good, my advice is the same on all counts:
Ask, “Is this beneficial to anyone? Is it negative or harmful to discount this?”
If YES, cool. Take it but with a grain of salt, respectfully.
If NO, cool. Ignore it, respectfully.
Super bonus witch points: if you answered “yes” try asking yourself, “Does it matter to me what the source was?”
So what do I believe?
My hedgrcrossing experience definitely feels distinct from daydreaming, dreaming during sleep, or path-working. The Beyond the Veil notes I post are visions that occur in a trance state where I can mostly control what I think, say, or do but the events around me are not directed by me unlike a daydream or lucid dream where I can imagine or alter the scene as it goes. Unlike a dream, I am aware that I am in a trance state and not experiencing the mundane world with my body.
I believe my own visions to be a mostly of my subconscious/unconscious and some kind of network of universal knowledge which is like a web of information that is the fabric of the universe. For the most part, I look to the former to explain surprising or inexplicable details and that usually is, in fact, the source. However, the more I practice journeying, the more often I receive advice that definitely doesn’t sound like something I would say. I also encounter symbols or phrases that not as likely to be things I have encountered before, even fleetingly. That’s both exciting and a little scary.
As far as option 5, are the spirits and deities I encounter real? I’m still in a squishy place about that.
I tend to view deities as aspects of an infinitely complex and dizzingly abstract cosmic force. I think of specific gods’ shapes as being more like shorthand that my mind uses to make sense of the vastness of that divinity. So yeah, divinity as a force is sentient and surely exists with or without me contemplating it. However, I shy away from a polytheistic pantheon of anthropomorphic gods that are solidly distinct from one another. To complicate things, I do believe that certain kinds of thought-forms can take on an independent consciousness and act and endure beyond the bounds of their inception. So sometimes a symbol or archetype can become a “real” spiritual entity, at least in the sense that it can operate independently.
In general, I regard figures I label as “divine” as independent entities although their appearance, mannerism, and human personality traits are more like archetypal symbols they adopt or that mind assigns. “Spirits of place” or animistic wights of particular plants, stones, bones, etc are also independent entities. In contrast, some guides I presume to be more like a fetch or animus: aspects of my own psyche. A few are thought forms I create, but now exist autonomously it seems.
However, this delineations are loose as I constantly challenge myself to consider all the options listed here. I would be sad to think some of my guides are inventions of subconscious, but I try keep in mind that their value is the same regardless. On the flip-side, I’m sometimes freaked out to think that other things might not just be symbols! I always try to contemplate each experience as potentially being mere coincidence, symbolic, or a “real” interaction with the otherworld and interpret the significance based on each being a possibility.