Monday, May 2, 2011

Trance and Evocation

One more teaser for the Book of Summonings.
The topic of trance and imaginal vision is much debated in modern grimoire-magic circles. I understand the position of those who assert that a combination of the rhythm and focus of the rites themselves with the direct power of the spirits can provide all the vision or presence of the spirits that might be needed. However, I am mainly on the side that asserts that modern people can benefit from deliberate trance induction and imaginal leading in making contact with the Others.
Here's an excerpt from the single article on trancework and mental exercise in the Book of Summonings. (I actually think the article is my best job yet of constructing a concise set of practices to build skill in the kind of trance vision that supports spirit contacts.)

The Sorcerer’s Eye – Trancework for Spirit Arte

In the work of spirit art the question of how the spirits will or won’t appear to the magician is often discussed. Books of magic often make it their business to describe the appearance of their beings, and sometimes to discuss the mechanisms by which the spirits appear. As these old writings have been interpreted by modern mages several types of spirit appearance are commonly described:
• Material manifestation. In the most traditional descriptions, the spirits are said to gather bodies of the subtle elements of the air, of mist or smoke, and thus be visible to the material eye. While some schools place a great deal of emphasis on this kind of manifestation, we will treat it as a bonus, which indicates an especially strong connection with a spirit. It is good to follow tradition and let your Fire of Sacrifice generate a good sweet smoke, but material manifestation isn’t required for a successful conjuring.
• Manifestation in vision. This is probably the most common method used world-wide by shamans, priests and mages. In this manifestation the spirit makes itself present through the imaginative faculty of the mage, as a spontaneous or willed envisionment. In many variants this includes sleeping dream-states, but it also includes a variety of waking dreams and visions. In some traditions the rites, herbs and work of the invocation are expected to spontaneously generate the required trance-states, but in others the imaginative faculties are deliberately cultivated. This system is written with the latter approach in mind.
• Manifestation by effect. This is also an extremely common method of dealing with the spirits. When the invocations are well-worked the mage may perceive the presence of the spirit by a feeling. This can vary widely - a sense of peace or fear or comfort or alarm that comes to mean that the spirit is present. Often the sorcerer simply proceeds with the spell, confident that the spirits are hearing her, and their presence is then judged by the outcome. Divination is a direct means of seeking to commune with the spirits by effect. The spirit is perceived as present when the divination tool says so, and when communication happens.
In this system we will use a combination of deliberate waking-dream trancework with observation of effects and divination. If and when a material manifestation occurs, these will have made you ready.
The work of learning to focus and manage the impulses of the mind is a topic for a different instruction. In fact here in this grimoire we can give only the simplest set of exercises. These can, if practiced, lead to sufficient skill to enhance the effect of the rites. The alliance rites, especially, depend on the ability to enter a Threshold Vision and see and speak with images of the spirits.

The Threshold Realm
One of the primary spiritual powers of Druidry is the Power of Seeing. In the later folklore of the Gaels we hear of an da sheiliagh – the double-sight or second sight. That sort of seeing is commonly used to discern events at a distance, but there are also tales of the ability to see the Other Folk, their halls and lands and works. In this spirit arte, we will seek to draw the spirits close enough to our common world to be seen with this Inner eye.
In many kinds of trance and vision exercises the seer enters an imagined series of landscapes and environments. However we will use vision is a somewhat different way – we will establish an Inner vision, as part of the ritual space in which we work, and the events of the rite will then play out in both the material and the vision eyes of the magician. We will consider this half-constructed, half-discovered imaginal world to be a Threshold, a place Between the common world and the independent reality of the Other Places. This avoids the risk of taking our own imagined visions too seriously, yet reminds us that the spirits can arrive in that place as surely as we can. The forms we see (and make) in the Threshold may or may not be the ‘true’ forms of the spirits but that need not prevent us from speaking to them through those forms. The Threshold is a medium for reflection both of our common world and of the Other realms beyond.
While we may consciously shape and influence it, the Threshold realm exists without our conscious making. Just as the landscapes of dream occur as if subjectively real so the places of Threshold are often waiting for us when we arrive. Just as in a lucid dream we can shape events and places, but the life of the Threshold realm goes on, even around our conscious constructions.
It is this state of strange awareness, where the magician exists as a symbol of himself, and the symbols of the rite may move and speak as beings, which allows the spirits easy access to our awareness. The mage learns to stand strong in the Threshold, and to deal directly with the spirits, even while remaining physically active in the rite, making offerings, singing and speaking aloud. In the simplest form of the Threshold Double Sight there is no distinction between the ‘vision body’ of the mage and the material body – it is simply that the eyes of vision are open and the hands of vision are working.

Why Do We Need Trance?
It is worthwhile to ask ourselves how these techniques relate to traditional patterns of magic. Pre-modern writing about magic seems to assume that visions will simply occur when the conditions are right. There is very little discussion of states of mind or of methods to induce proper states of mind, beyond theological notions of ‘righteousness’ or ‘holiness’.
I believe that the distinction lies in the kind of world in which the ancient mage lived, and the kind in which we live today. For the ancients mental access to imaginative states and spontaneous visions seems much more a part of common life. The low levels of mental stimulation, lack of artificial light and constant presence of fire and smoke, along with a strongly oral culture and many other aspects of pre-technical living, would have inclined to a strong and well-developed imagination. This imagination would have come into play as the magician immersed himself in the symbols and ideas of his system, producing envisioned events of dreamlike power.
In contrast, modern minds have been taught a strong separation between imaginal content and ‘real’ or significant events. We are taught to disregard our dreams, to dismiss our imaginary playmates, and to distinguish plainly between self-generated ‘fiction’ and accepted fact. We live by an industrial clock rather than by the rise and set of the sun, and sleep in prescribed doses. For such as us, it simply makes sense to use specific techniques to induce trance states that can replicate the more naturally-occurring trances of traditional peoples. Thus, I hold with the importing of techniques of mental discipline and vision into the traditions of ritual spirit arte.

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