“The shaman knows that the soul’s urge toward beauty is not about perfect symmetry and mainstream approval. It is not about opening doors in business, or snagging the right mate, or fitting in at the A-list parties. The shaman knows that beauty is about opening doors to joy, snagging the moment, and fitting into your own life. She knows beauty is not something to buy. It is a path, a way of living and being in the world. The only path and the only way, if you want to keep dancing and singing.” ~ Robin Rice
It is perfectly normal to have difficulty learning to enter into trance states and to cross the Hedge. Thanks to certain authors, self help gurus and the like there is a belief that everything should be relatively easy or at least achievable after a couple of tries. The fact of the mater is that training one self to enter into trance states, or altered states of consciousness is not easy for most people. Hedge crossing (being the step you achieve after learning to enter trance states) is even more difficult. It’s supposed to be strenuous. There are reasons why shamanic practitioners are, and always have been, few and far between and are well respected (and a little bit feared) members of their communities.
It takes a minimum of twelve, but better twenty four, repetitions to create a new habit. So if you were to practice entering a trance state via drumming every full moon it could take you at least a year, and maybe two, to just begin to train your mind, body and spirit slip through the Hedge at the sound of your drum. This is just to start the new habit; you then have to follow through in order to maintain it.
Hedge crossing often, if not always, requires pushing past boundaries. Not just the boundaries of your own mind or the boundaries of this world, but the boundaries of what you think you can do. How long can you sit and chant for? How long can you dance? Can you keep drumming even when your arm is sore and hurting from the drumming? Can you perform ritual after three days of fasting?
The other night I performed a night ritual with a friend, introducing her to working with flying ointments. To begin she ate little that day and mostly healthy foods such as avocado, crackers and apple juice. We began the ritual around 9pm, at sundown purifying each other in the river, going through invocations, creating a boundary around our ritual space, and making offerings. Then I performed a short crossing myself seeking any last minute suggestions from my spirits.
Finally as we neared midnight I allowed her to coat herself with the ointment I had prepared. I had her do yoga for about half an hour. Then breathing exercises and swaying combined with chanting. Then I got her to plough the furrow (or Compass Round), dragging her feet and clapping her hands (or slapping her thighs). She did this through a hawthorn grove, being pricked by thorns that lay on the ground. I had her plough the furrow for quite some time, dragging her feet harder and harder, pushing against the tides. When she began to get out of breath … I made her chant out loud. I asked if she was tired and she nodded, so I had her keep going a little longer. Then, when it began to look as though she might rebel against my abuse, I helped her wrap herself up in a blanket against a hawthorn tree and attempt to cross.
She stayed there for about three hours. Her experiences are her own.
(All you people who write me saying you’d love to learn from me still wanna be my apprentice after reading that?)
This is how you cross the Hedge. Hedge riding is hardcore witchcraft and by that I don’t mean “hardcore” as in “cool” I mean it as in “hard right down to the very core”.
Here is a Hedge crossing checklist (in an undetermined order):
* What is your goal? What is it you want to achieve? Why? What is your motivation for crossing and what do you want to gain from it? Until you know what you want to do and why, everything else will not fall into place. Be clear, do your research. Have intent.
* Do you know where you wish to go? Many people report that they want to cross but do not know where they wish to go. They do not know for sure if they want to astral travel within the Middle world, if they wish to journey to the Underworld etc etc
You need to know if you wish to cross within your body, going deep within to converse with spirits and gods and ancestors. Or do you wish to leave your body behind and take your spirit for a flight else where, even if only within the confines of your ritual space?
Until you have a clear idea of where you want your spirit to go, how can it go? This is like walking out your door without knowing where you want to go or how to get there.
“Intent is not a thought, or an object, or a wish. Intent is what can make a man succeed when his thoughts tell him that he is defeated. It operates in spite of the warrior’s indulgence. Intent is what makes him invulnerable. Intent is what sends a shaman through a wall, through space, to infinity.” ~ Carlos Castaneda
* Study and research. It’s a good idea if you are going to cross to the Underworld that you have some idea of what you might find there. It’s easy to get lost while wandering around on the otherside and to find things that are strange, even scary. Study up on ancient and modern cultures mythologies and understandings of what lies beyond the Hedge.
* Find your safe entrance. Creating or finding a safe place that acts as your entrance and exit for crossing can not only help you make that “jump” across but it can also help provide you with a way to get the heck out if things go wrong.
Basing your visualization on something meaningful to you, or something with cultural significance will work better than just trying something from a book as well. Take the time to really build up your visualization, give it character, make it yours long before you even attempt to go through that hobbit door.
Also don’t try a million different entrances. If a cave doesn’t work for you the first two times don’t try a hedge the next time, then a tree the time after that, and then mountain after that. Giving something a fair try means doing more than just three or four times. If something isn’t working try variations before you scrap it entirely.
* Practice, practice, practice. You need to train yourself to slip into altered states and then across the Hedge. Once you’ve been doing it for a while (possibly years) you will find it easier to make that transition and be able to cross, do your thing and come back all under an hour. But even someone who is experienced will struggle at times. If they are out of practice it may take time to get back to where it is less difficult. I don’t think it ever gets “easy” it simply gets less difficult and requires less effort over time.
* Know yourself. Become comfortable with yourself. Face your demons. Love yourself. You do not want to be in a drug induced Journey and then be forced to face an aspect of yourself or your life that you were unprepared for. When walking between the worlds you cannot wear masks, you cannot be in denial of who you are and the things you have done. Break down your inner barriers before you try to break through the barriers of the unseen. Going to therapy now to deal with your issues is better than going to therapy and a shaman later to deal with your issues and the trauma of having to face them in the Underworld.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ~ Jalal ad-Din Rumi
* Check your ego at the door. Waltzing out of your body or into the realms of gods, spirits and ancestors full or pride and with your hand out like some spoiled child will get you slapped down. Pretending the gods, spirits and ancestors are not greater or more knowledgeable or are less powerful than you are will not keep your safe from them on the otherside. Folks often like to think the gods (etc) are not bigger and badder than they are because the thought that they might be makes them uncomfortable, prepare to be very uncomfortable. People who say that they are equal to the gods or ancestors obviously haven’t met them in their own territory.
There’s a fantasy novel I adore wherein the main character who has had run ins with the gods before comes across a bunch of pilgrims. One of the pilgrims is going on and on about how she would love to meet the goddess face to face and all the things she would say. The main character thinks to herself “yeah right, if you found yourself in Her presence you’d be face first on the floor pissing yourself”
* If you want to start Hedge crossing on a regular basis I suggest you spend a little time studying things like Shamanic Death before they happen to you unexpectedly.
* Are you really, REALLY, called or do you just want to be a shaman? Do you know what the difference is? I am not saying you should not add shamanic practices to your spiritual path if you are not called to shamanize, but I am suggesting you be honest with yourself about whether you really have been called or not.
* Chant out loud, not just in your head. Repetition is only part of the purpose of chanting, using your voice and your breath is also necessary to make it worth your while. Vibration, breath, voice, repetition, intent, focus, energy and consciousness raising … these are what chanting is about.
* Ritual before a crossing matters, especially when you are first starting out. Think of it this way: First you enter into a ritual mindset, then into an altered state, and then you cross. X, Y, Z. There are good reasons why shamans around the world do certain things a certain way, wearing a specific costume, fasting, drumming, lighting candles, making offerings and so forth. Yes, part of the reason for these things may simply be for show (nothing like the placebo effect to help you along a bit right?) but the main purpose for these ritualistic actions is to prepare the mind, body and soul.
* Stick to it. It’s hard to stick to a single visualization or one chant or one drumming rhythm in a single ritual. But the idea here is to train your self like Pavlov’s dogs. Changing chants and such mid rite is like switching gears in your brain. Experienced practitioners have worked with one rhythm, one herb, one chant or one visualization until they know exactly how it affects them and what it does for them, and then they work with something else for a while, adding to their repertoire. Then they can “switch gears” according to their needs.
* It can take a while to learn what an altered state feels like for you, how to hold on to it and what to do from there. This is why the things listed above are so important.
* Flying ointments are like the usher in a posh theatre. Their purpose is to hold the door for you and help you find your seat. However you still have to buy the tickets, get to the theatre, walk through the door, watch the show and find your way back up the aisle afterwards. They can only do so much for you, they make your work easier but you still have to do the work.
Full on entheogens and hallucinogens, such as a good sized dose of datura, work a little differently than a flying ointment of mugwort or wormwood. These will grab you by the throat, drag you into the theatre, shove you into a seat and you don’t even get to choose what play you watch before being ejected face first out the door at its end.
* Expect it to be unpleasant. Many people give up once they start to feel seasick, dizzy, or uncomfortable. Altered states and Hedge crossing can be disorienting and feel very strange and be rather unpleasant. When working with tools such as ointments, tinctures, and smoke (to name a few) your body may be unhappy. Drumming, swaying, rattling and many meditative postures can give you sore muscles. You’re supposed to puke during a sweat lodge, a Sundance is really quite painful, and most entheogens make you sick and you can get lost wandering around on the otherside and fuck yourself up. Hedge crossing is for the stalwart souls willing to deal with a little discomfort and for those willing to risk going crazy as well.
* What is your goal? What is it you want to achieve? Why? What is your motivation for crossing and what do you want to gain from it? Until you know what you want to do and why, everything else will not fall into place. Be clear, do your research. Have intent. (Yes this is a repeat)
* If at first you don’t succeed try, try again.
* Yes, for some people this all comes naturally. Those folks are rare, don’t be sad if you aren’t one of them.
* Check out these articles and the books they suggest (if any) also read using your brain and critical thinking skills.
* Check out these books (click here)
“Observe the wonders as they occur around you.
Don’t claim them.
Feel the artistry moving through, and be silent.” ~ Jalal ad-Din Rumi
(And yes I know a Sufi poet and a Shaman are two different things, but you can never have too much Rumi)
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