Wandering Other Worlds

When Pagans talk about otherworlds, it’s usually in a shamanic sense. You make a deliberate journey to an otherworld for a purpose – a spiritual, learning or healing purpose usually – and then you journey back. The otherworlds associated with various spiritual traditions have defined characters and there are specific reasons for visiting them. This is not something I really do.

Every now and then I find a book, or a series (and just occasionally, a film) that takes over my thoughts. A piece of creativity where the world is so complex, rich and involving that the act of reading the book is a journey into it and emerging takes a while. I finished the second Matlock the Hare book about a week ago, and am only just leaving the dales now. I’m not sure what happened to me while I was there – the journey created by a book and the aftermath of a book is not one I have full conscious control over. Certainly it has facilitated changes for me. I have seen other perspectives, thought new (to me) thoughts. I have wondered, and felt and dreamed and been carried to places of other people’s imagining.

Really good, imaginative fiction (of which Matlock the Hare is a fine example) takes the reader somewhere else. Out of your own life, out of your everyday concerns and into another place, one that may or may not shed light on things for you, and where the experience itself is a blessing. Really good, imaginative fiction can create worlds for you that are like nothing you have ever encountered before. Landscapes and challenges, characters and possibilities can blow you away. These worlds can be utterly surprising and yet wholly pertinent to life lived.

Which leaves me wondering why our descriptions of otherworlds in the mainstream of non-fiction books often seem so samey. The idea that we would all experience roughly the same things in comparable ways seems to underlie most of the shamanic books I’ve read. All too often, the otherworld of non-fiction is not presented as likely to startle, overwhelm, radically change or otherwise upheave a person. It’s a fairly safe place. You go in, you find your spirit guide, or animal guide or whatever your tradition dictates, they take you sightseeing. So long as you have them, you are safe. There are some basic rules to follow – precise etiquette varies with tradition. You go in, you get what you need, you come out. There’s no room for the place to radically change you – in fact I wonder if the methods and setups are very much about avoiding that happening.

Step into the world of a fictional novel, and if it’s any good, the lives and fates of imaginary people start to matter to you, and the world itself is able to seep into your mind. Not a world you control, or choose, or get to direct. Not a world that exists necessarily to heal you and answer your questions. It may be going to challenge you, break your heart, throw your own world into chaos, demand you rethink your personal philosophy. It may leave you grieving or shocked. The worlds inside books are not safe places – not in terms of the power they have to act on your emotions.

I thought about trying to review Matlock the Hare: The Puzzle of the Tillian Wand in a normal way, but it’s the second book of the series and assumes you’ve read the first one. It is too plotty and complex to start here. Get a copy of the Trefflepugga Path first.  Find out more about them on www.matlockthehare.com

And question why it is that so many authors present the otherworlds of magical tradition as safer, more predictable and less awe inspiring than the magical worlds available to us in books. Step onto the Trefflepugga path and anything can happen to you. Your life is no longer in your control. It’s very difficult to have wild change beyond your imagining if you also insist on staying safely in control of the experience.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Wandering Other Worlds

  • landisvance

    You are introducing me to new worlds and experiences of delight and transformation!

  • Éilis Niamh

    Beautifully said Nimue. I think you have answered your own question. “It’s very difficult to have wild change beyond your imagining if you also insist on staying safely in control of the experience.” That’s exactly why, when you tried journeying in that prescribed tamed, predictable kind of way, it hasn’t given you, or myself for that matter! Much to talk about. I’ve tried it, that kind of shamanic journeying, many times. I always get the feeling my guides are like, okay, we know you’re wanting to see if this all in your mind’s eye journey will be any good, but could you perhaps make it a short journey because we’re just waiting for you to come back out of it to rock your world. 🙂 I mean, I was reading your post and thought, well, you certainly haven’t met my guides! No normal is normal, wild is a given. But then, I don’t do traditional shamanic journeying. I don’t travel into another world, deliberately, seek out a guide, ask my preplanned question, and go home. I, to give you one example, wake up, go out to my living room, find two of my guides standing there with their hands forming an archway, and they say, here’s the next part of your journey, you need to leave the fear of x or y behind and step through. This is very of a sudden and I have not expected it. I’ve just gone out to check email, and we’ve got an impromptu moment of passage going on whose significance is yet unknown. I don’t know what awaits on the other side of that doorway. I have not asked a question to my own purpose. When I need to ask a question, it is, show me, show me what we’re doing, learning now. I have control over whether I walk through that door, but certainly did not control the appearance of the door or its threshold, or the why of going through it now, and all of what will happen is uncertain. And giving up for instance the fear they’ve asked me to leave behind in order to cross means letting go, and allowing, not dictating, the journey. I walked through that door. To walk through it is to change, and I changed, in unpredictable ways. That’s just one such experience. I walk between worlds and live like this on a daily basis. I’ve only walked through a door in that way once. No part of the journey is the same, no two moments alike, every experience new and challenging and breathtaking and moving, sometimes the kind of raw moment you can only breathe through. It’s wild, and to be honest, I love wild. So, all to say, for the people who give up the illusion of separation and control and can view their guides more like best friends, companions, family, and not like just someone you get information from, experience is I think quite limitless. And I agree, I get lost in the otherworlds of fiction too, and absolutely love it. 🙂

  • Suzanne Read

    Interesting article Nimue, I have to agree, many things can have a deep impact upon us and our psyche, anything we experience has the potential to bring about personal gnosis and internal change, some books of fiction can be just as transformative to our psyche and worldview as can the most spiritually profound moments we experience, and yet, I find there is much more to the Otherworld(s) than most experience, whether this is because my own Worldview allows me to think this is the reality I experience, or whether it actually exists is a metaphysical discussion that can have us running around in circular logic for as long as we wish to follow it, but I digress, apologies!

    For me I identify different levels of Otherworld, there is the mental realm where we can journey with mere thought or through creative visualisation and meditation, which is where most folks venture, then there are the Other places, somewhat deeper levels that many do not seek to enter or even acknowledge as existing.

    If I were to take you out into the woods at night with our Coven, and cast a circle, then you would be – in our worldview at least – somewhat removed from the mundane world, a barrier would exist between us and normality, if we then performed another Rite, a Circle (of sorts) within the Circle, then we could ‘move’ the location of our circle away from the mundane plane of existence and to another level, a deeper one, more ethereal, where things outside the circle change, where time seems to run at a different speed, where personal energy feels different, and where those beings that are ‘Other’ can come forth and interact. From this lower level – the ‘Otherworld’ true (for me) also known as the ‘Underworld’, then further journeying to other realms is then possible, I tend to see the Ancestral Realm as separate to the Otherworld, etc. The only problem with journeying further and further – for there are multiple layers or levels beyond each place we reach – is that the further we go the thinner the connection to our bodies, the more energy is required and the harder it is to journey further forwards. Coming back is far easier, akin to a cork being released from beneath the water, you tend to find yourself ‘popping’ to the surface quite quickly!

    You may say I talk nonsense, as is your prerogative, I know what I have experienced – along with others who have shared the experiences and can verify that we all experienced the same things – and as such my worldview, my reality, my perception of the Worlds has changed as we have both shared the actuality and then shared our personal experiences through discussion and all have had to allow our understanding to grow. And yet, as always it is subjective, our experiences are just that, our own, telling another ‘do this, try this, this is what you will find and feel’ negates the experiential nature of a personal valid journey, even prompting someone with tales of what you have experienced sets up an expectation that can then form an experience that is nothing more than ‘wish fulfilment’.
    I understand it would be good and useful for others to have a book they could reference and understand, that by reading they would gain enough insight to feel comfortable about potentially attempting to ‘travel’, yet any book written could have a negative effect on the individual experience, far better to glean what information you can find, to ‘tap the bone’ to seek aid from the Ancestors and to then go and try it, taking it slowly and carefully peeling back the layers of reality and crossing the boundaries one at a time, slowly, carefully, with respect and taking time to get to know what you are doing, that way personal gnosis, wisdom and understanding can be reached.

    Whew, apologies for the long post, didn’t mean to ramble on!

    I hope the above was of some use?

    • Nimue Brown

      thank you for sharing this. My growing suspicion is that we have a body of literature that has little to do with what practitioners are experiencing. Simply having other peoples experiential stories opens up the possibilities…

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