|Meditation Archive - GOING WITHIN: PORTALS TO OTHER WORLDS by Caitlín Matthews
|I stand at the door with staff and pack,
The gods protect me, there and back.
From this light to that light,
From this world to the otherworld,
Through the thresholds,
In the name of the Shining Ones,
I come bearing the [your own symbol or totem].
Otherworld entry prayer from Walkers Between the Worlds.
Throughout the Western Mysteries, one of the most common modes of training has been the leading of the soul through a portal into another world. Portals are both informal and formal, some of them have become traditional because so many used them. The informal ones lie about us, snagging our imaginations to come and visit. For example, over many years I had a recurrent image of a regal and ancestral pair sitting upon stone thrones. It was not until I decided to go through that open window of image and visit that the teaching from those figures became activated. And that is a shame, for many of us have similar experiences that we don’t explore further because we dismiss them as ‘only imagination.’ The sudden image that appears to our imagination is almost always the right one: it is usually the second guessing that tries to change it that makes us discard it as authentic.
Portals are found also at places where they lead to specific teachings to do with the earth, with the sidhe, with ancestral wisdom. When we visit what we think of as ‘places of natural beauty,’ we are claiming communion with the power of that place. If we draw aside from the throng, sit or walk in a way where we can understand what is touching us, we will often find a portal – it won’t suddenly swallow you up physically, as in science fiction films, but you will pass within nonetheless.
Some portals have been formalized as pathworking – a qabalistic term that arose from walking the branches of the Tree of Life in meditation. It has been used as a means of formation among the Jesuits, where St Ignatius Loyola created a series of meditations, the Spiritual Exercises, by which the meditator came into the presence of Christ. I always wonder how much inspiration Ignatius drew from the Jewish qabalistic tradition in these early years after the expulsion of 1493?
Those who are undergoing any esoteric training will have experience of both the informal and formal portals. Although physical teachers are important in spiritual development, they all acknowledge that the teachers ‘of our school,’ those spirits whose guidance we instinctively follow, can offer deeper understanding of our innate condition and vocational needs. As the hermetic text of Kore Kosmou (The Virgin of the World) tells, through the mouth of Isis, the nature of the soul and its guidance already has its own resonances and kinships:
‘(The variety of different souls) is due to the nature of the angels and genii (spirits) who assist them. For souls destined to (their offices) are not without ministers and escort. ...Where the ministering angels and genii appointed are warlike, the soul in their charge takes that character, forgetting its own, or rather laying it aside until some future change of condition. If the guardian angels are of a gentle order, then the soul follows its path in peace; if they are friends of judgement, the soul loves to judge; if they are musicians, then the soul sings; if they love trust, the soul is that of a philosopher. Thus the souls necessarily follow the teaching of their guardians; falling into human bodies they forego their proper estate, and while exiled from it, they approximate to those intelligences by whom they have been embodied.'
In order to take that teaching into us and activate it, we need to visit them. This has been how souls have been trained for generations. Recognizing our soul-likeness to others brings us into a position where the signals of those portals can be boosted: those who work, ritual, pray together are not merely ‘in a group,’ they are also in a wider relationship with ancestral practitioners and spirit teachers, who are attuned to specific contacts.
A door opening on sudden vistas:
Trails of story blink in an instant,
Time slows for our stepping in.
Meeting ever true, dear, powerful.
Openings almost too brief for notice -
That they still open for us is miracle.
Without between places, pauses, silences,
We might never see with one vision,
Where wisdom at one hearth shares its song.
But how can we travel? This qabalistic instruction, gives us the criteria: ‘Make yourself right. Meditate in a special place, where your voice cannot be heard by others. Cleanse your heart and soul of all other thoughts in the world. Imagine that at this time, your soul is separating itself from your body, and that you are leaving the physical world behind you, so that you enter the Future World, which is the source of all life distributed to the living.’ Here the practitioner speaks of a Future World yet, experience shows us that, in the otherworld, time does not run: we move from the world of time and space into timelessness and a condition that penetrates all realities at once, where life is indeed distributed.
Do portals remain constant or do they change? In C.S.Lewis’ Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, the old professor tell the children returning from their first trip to Narnia, ‘I don't think it will be any good trying to go back through the wardrobe door you won't get into Narnia again by that route ... don't go trying the same route twice. Indeed, don't try to get there at all. It'll happen when you're not looking for it. . . and don't mention it to anyone else, unless you find that they've had adventures of the same sort themselves.’ I would say that the last part of this advice is good for everyone, for speaking to others not of your resonance is useless and frustrating. As for the first part, about the route changing, well that sometimes happens – when a portal has been abused or when the practitioner has attempted to obsessionally control how it operates.
William Blake spoke eloquently about ‘cleansing the doors of perception’ which maintain our natural imaginings. A few years ago, I had a clear example of this. I was teaching a young man to journey: after a long absence, he returned for some more tuition, but I could tell something had changed. As he began journey to his usual portal to the Lowerworld, he reported that there were demons forbidding him entrance: he then tried to enter the Upperworld and found angels barring his way. I got him out as he began to freak out hysterically. He admitted he had been taking some powerful drugs in the interim which had clearly changed his whole relationship with the otherworld; his ordinary portals were running forbidding videos from his fundamentalist Christian upbringing because the drugs had reverted him to ‘factory settings.’ A clear imagination doesn’t produce horrors: but the intrusions of trauma, bad imprinting or warped education may stop good travel indeed.
What do we bring from the otherworld? For some, this special and sacred awareness of the universe is codified into song and chant, poetry and story, carving and painting, helping to give structure and coherence to the unfathomable and intangible, creating sacred anamnesis by which anyone hearing, viewing or reading what is made is put into communion with the deeper truth of the otherworld. We call this sacred art, because it opens windows into otherworlds through which we can travel: indeed, this is how an Orthodox believer would understand the power of an icon which is considered to be a window to God. The image by Chesca Potter above is the ‘Inworld’ from the Celtic Shaman’s Pack, sadly no longer available. It is an inscape that invites us deeper inwards: first of all we are caught by the hand print and the animals painted on the cave walls. It is only later that we follow the waters back and find the tunnel that leads somewhere deeper.
The paths that we walk between the worlds, if walked faithful, eventually enable the journeys of those who come after us, keeping the path clear, as with any forest path where deer or other animals set their feet. We leave a track that can be followed. When we return to our own world, we return imbued with a deeper knowing that shines out of us like a light, and that is when what we learn becomes of service at another point of sharing.