In spirit work, we often connect with the spirits that have crossed over and are present in the physical world. However, there are also ways to cross over into the spirit world and connect with spirits in their home environment.
As I mentioned in a previous post, a pathworking is a specific type of meditation where you go on a psychic journey, but are still anchored to your physical body. It’s sort of like dipping your toes into the spirit world.
There are two important elements to a pathworking: a clear entrance/exit point and a way to retrace your steps. Pathworking journeys are typically cyclical — there is both a journey out and a return where you go back the way you came. This makes it easier to fully return your consciousness to your body, and failing to do so can cause you to feel disoriented upon the return.
Your entry/exit point can be absolutely anything, but common examples include a door, a gateway, a tree (or sometimes The World Tree), a cave/tunnel, or a natural landmark like a beach or mountaintop. What’s important is that it’s recognizable and easy to find your way back to.
If you want to try pathworking, make a rough “road map” of your journey beforehand. This doesn’t have to be super specific, but it should contain the following: a goal for the pathworking (such as to connect with a certain spirit), an entry/exit point, and a general idea for the route you’re going to take. If you’re worried about getting lost, author Thea Sabin recommends using “the Theseus trick.” Like in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, you can tie a golden thread or rope to your entry point and the other end to your astral body. If you get lost, you can follow the thread back.
Pathworking is fairly beginner friendly, and I highly, highly, highly recommend starting with pathworking and becoming comfortable with this method before trying astral travel. Even for more advanced witches, pathworking is often a better option than astral travel because it’s less involved and requires a little bit less effort. I personally prefer pathworking for most situations.
Performing a Pathworking
- Before you begin, establish a clear goal for your pathworking and write out a rough “road map.” At the very least, you should know what your purpose is, where your entry point is, and how to find your way back.
- Begin in a dark, quiet room. Cleanse the room by burning incense, diffusing or spraying essential oils, or using a ritual broom to sweep out old energy.
- Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down and begin meditating. You may want to play meditation music, practice breathing techniques, or use some other method to help you reach a meditative state.
- Once you reach a meditative state (you should know what this feels like if you have experience with meditation), see yourself standing at your entry point. This is your entrance to the astral realm.
- Set out on your pathworking.
- When you are ready to leave the astral realm, you will need to find your way back to your entry point. Once you reach your entry point, it should be fairly easy to return to your body.
- Once you’re fully present in your physical body, use your favorite method to ground yourself.
- Write down everything you experienced during your pathworking in a journal.
If pathworking is dipping your toes into the spirit world, astral travel is diving in the deep end. Also called spirit flight and hedge riding, astral travel includes actually sending your soul/consciousness out of your body and into the spirit world. As you might guess, this is more complicated and requires more effort than pathworking. For this reason, astral travel is not beginner-friendly. If you are completely new to meditation, witchcraft, and spirit work, it’s best to learn to pathwork before you attempt astral travel.
A word of warning: you may want to avoid astral travel at times when you’re in a very vulnerable or volatile emotional state. Some days you just aren’t up for it, and that’s okay. On those days, a pathworking or another form of spirit work may be a better option.
Triggering Spirit Flight
In astral travel, a trigger of some kind is used to help disconnect the soul from the physical body. Common triggers include drumming, special music, shaking a rattle, chanting, and dancing.
You can find shamanic drumming tracks on YouTube that can help you achieve astral travel. If you find that repetitive motion helps you trance out, you may look into getting a small drum or rattle to play.
In many cultures, those who travel into the spirit world do so with the guidance and protection of an animal spirit. From the Norse fylgja, to the shamanic power animal, to the witch’s familiar, history is full of examples of these types of guides.
Before you begin astral travel, do a pathworking to meet your animal guide. It’s important to note that you aren’t choosing an animal guide — only meeting one that has always been with you. Your guide may be an animal that you like or identify with, or it may not. When I first began experimenting with astral travel, my guide was a coyote — an animal I had never identified with before, but who I learned was deeply connected to my inner self.
It’s important to always have your animal guide with you when going on astral journeys, as they are an important source of protection and power. They may also literally guide you to the things you need to see and the spirits you need to meet.
Historical accounts describe witches using “flying ointment” to help them achieve spirit flight. These traditional flying ointments contained toxic and/or hallucinogenic plants like belladonna, datura, henbane, mandrake, and opium poppies. For obvious reasons, most modern witches do not use these herbs.
Please do not try to create your own flying ointment with poisonous plants. If you’re a true traditionalist and feel like you just have to try a historically accurate flying ointment, Bane Folk Apothecary sells several. Bane Folk is run by Sarah Anne Lawless, a kickass witch who knows her stuff and produces safe, medicinal products inspired by traditional flying ointment formulas. I am usually very pro-DIY, especially when it comes to witchcraft, but this is one case where it really is best to defer to a professional.
To create a modern, non-toxic flying ointment: heat eight ounces (or one cup) of poppy seed oil over low heat on the stove. Once the oil is warm, add 2 ounces (or 1/4 cup) of beeswax into the oil. (Use carnauba wax for a vegan alternative.) Take the mixture off the heat, and allow it to cool off a bit. Once it has cooled (but before it’s begun to solidify), add nine drops each of mugwort essential oil, star anise essential oil, and peppermint essential oil. Pour the mixture into a mason jar and seal tightly. To extend your ointment’s shelf life, add a few drops of Vitamin E oil and store in the refrigerator. If you don’t have access to essential oils or prefer a more traditional method, you can buy dry herbs and infuse them into your oil instead — to do this, crush up 2.5 ounces (or 1/3 cup) each of dried mugwort, star anise, and peppermint and add them to a mason jar; add enough oil to the jar to cover the herbs completely, with about an inch of oil above them; seal the jar and place it in a sunny window for 2-3 weeks to infuse; and finally, strain the herbs out of the oil with a mesh sieve or a cheesecloth. You can then add your Vitamin E oil and beeswax to create an ointment.
This modern recipe does not contain hallucinogens, but it does contain plants that are commonly used in magic to increase psychic abilities and aid in astral travel. You can say an incantation over this ointment while making it to add some extra magical potency. Applying the flying ointment can also become a sort of ritual that prepares you for spirit flight by helping you slip into a more spiritual head space.
Performing Astral Travel/Spirit Flight
- Before you begin, know why you are journeying to the spirit world. You should always have a clear goal for your astral journeys.
- Begin in a dark, quiet room. Cleanse the room by burning incense (mugwort incense aids in astral travel), diffusing or spraying essential oils, or using a ritual broom to sweep out old energy.
- Use your favorite method to ground yourself.
- If you are choosing to use a flying ointment, rub it on your skin now.
- Hold a protective item in one of your hands. I like physical items for protection during spirit flight, because they can ground you and help you find your way back to your body. Examples of protective items include a sprig of rue, a piece of iron, or a protective crystal like black tourmaline. If you ever feel scared or uncomfortable during your journey, you can bring this object into the astral realm to protect you. It will also keep your body safe while your consciousness is occupied.
- Start up your trigger, whether this is drumming, rattling, dancing, etc.
- Allow yourself to drift into a trance state, and then to disconnect from your body.
- Call your animal guide to you.
- Set out on your journey in the spirit world.
- When you are ready, feel yourself returning to your physical body. Allow yourself to come back slowly — don’t rush it.
- Ground yourself. One good way to ground after astral travel is by eating a snack.
- Write down your experiences in a journal.
- Wicca for Beginners by Thea Sabin
- Southern Cunning: Folkloric Witchcraft in the American South by Aaron Oberon
- Hedge Riding by Harmonia Saille
- “How to Make Herb-Infused Oils for Culinary & Body Care Use” and “How to Make Herbal Salves” from the Mountain Rose Herbs blog
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