Trance-Portation: Learning to Navigate the
Inner World


When I was in college, many of my friends were involved in the charismatic
Christian movement. I used to go with them to services, sitting in envious
silence as they babbled away. Clearly they were having an ecstatic experience,
but no matter how I strained, I found it impossible to let go. When I met
Marion Zimmer Bradley, I joined the Aquarian Order of the Restoration, a
Ceremonial Lodge which she and her husband had founded in the Sixties. I
loved the rituals, but when other members spoke of their past lives, their
possessed trances, and their prophetic dreams I was silent, convinced that
the only role I could fill in the Order would be to keep an eye on the
candles and guard the door.

It was not until I took a course in self-induced hypnosis from Harvey
Foreman that I began to suspect I might not be hopeless at trance-work
after all. I had assumed I was learning nothing because I was not taking
notes, and I seemed to fall asleep whenever he began to narrate a meditation.
But one afternoon when my niece got a leg cramp and started to go into
hysterics, I found myself launching into a hypnotic induction to calm her.
Apparently some part of my mind had been listening, and if that could
happen, it might be worthwhile seeing what else I could learn.

And so I began a process of chipping away at my mental blocks that has
continued for more than thirty years. Eventually I realized that this slow
progress was actually an advantage, as it gave me the time to observe the
process and identify the stages by which one gains the ability to work in
trance. Understanding the steps, I have been able not only to teach those
who, like me, find their spirits too well armored, but to slow down the
process for people who are shaken by every psychic breeze.

Today, every city has a metaphysical bookstore, and “New Age” is a
publishing category. In the 1960’s, when researchers such as Charles Tart
were just beginning to explore consciousness, books imported from England,
the already venerable Weiser Books and the newly founded Llewellyn were the
only sources for material on the esoteric. Those who wanted to learn trance
work haunted used bookstores, hoping that some dusty volume by Dion Fortune
or W.E. Butler would turn up in the bin. But the times were changing, and
from the 60’s to the present an ever increasing flood of material from a
wide variety of traditions (and varying widely in value), has filled
booksellers’ shelves.

Just as the writings that came out of the Western Mystery Tradition from
the thirties through the fifties tried to incorporate the new theories of
psychology that were becoming popular into their explanations of occult
phenomena, in the sixties, Timothy Leary’s experiments with LSD inspired
research (with or without drugs) into what scientists like Charles Tart
called “Altered State of Consciousness”, or ASC’s. This was a term for all
those states of mind in which one feels not merely a quantitative
change or shift in degree of alertness or other awareness, but also “…that
some quality or qualities of his mental process are different. Mental
functions operate that do not operate at all ordinarily, perceptual
qualities appear that have no normal counterparts, and so forth.” (Tart, 1969)
As he observed, Western culture has tended to view non-ordinary states as
undesirable, if not downright pathological. However the research into ASC
that began in the 60’s opened up the field, and the spread of meditation
techniques from Asia made such practices popular.

This is nothing new. Interest in ways of transcending ordinary
consciousness, whether we call it trance work, occultism, parapsychology or
the latest neo-shamanic teaching, has ebbed and flowed since the 19th
century, which saw the emergence of the Spiritualist Movement, Christian
Science, and the Western Mystery Tradition, exemplified by the short-lived
but highly influential Order of the Golden Dawn. All three traditions taught
that there is more to reality than the physical world, and that with practice
one can learn to experience and transform it. In the thirties, inheritors of
the Golden Dawn tradition such as Dion Fortune and her Society of the Inner
Light sought to interpret and teach psychic skills in the light of new
scientific concepts. Fortune’s work, which lays out the principles of
occultism, has been in and out of print ever since. In the fifties and
sixties, W. E. Butler, who had been her student, wrote a series of little
books discussing training methods for esoteric skills appropriate for people
living in a Western (i.e. First World) culture. This approach is the
foundation for the exercises presented in this book.

These books were written with the assumption that the reader is
interested in ceremonial magic, and is, if not still a practicing Christian,
then still Christian by affiliation. Today’s community of practicing pagans
would have filled Mr. Butler with amazement. Nonetheless, these books by
Fortune and Butler are based on a great deal of hard experience, and if you
can find copies, well worth reading as an amplification of the material in
this book. Unlike earlier works, which confined themselves to esoteric
theory, the material that came out of Fortune’s tradition embedded
instructions for training one’s psychic abilities in the text. What was
missing from the published work was an organized sequence of training

After having worked with the Western Mystery Tradition in general and
the (Western Esoteric) Kabbalah for many years I felt the need for a magical
practice that would be more solidly based in Earth spirituality. The
Way of the Shaman
, by Michael Harner, had just appeared, followed by
a number of other books on shamanism (also of varied value). I found that my
previous training in guiding meditation enabled me to lead “shamanic”

As traditions that seek a more culturally focused and authentic practice
have emerged on the neo-pagan scene there has been a certain amount of debate
regarding the value of Harner’s work. From his later writings, it is clear
that Harner and his students are aware that what they are teaching is not
traditional shamanism—nor was it ever intended to be. Instead, he has done
a brilliant job of extracting from the shamanic practices of many cultures
the core elements they have in common, and adapting these for use by
contemporary Western practitioners in much the same way that the earlier
Occultists developed the Western Mystery Tradition.

Since then, my research has included a deeper exploration of traditional
shamanism, and I have ranged widely over the esoteric teachings of many
cultures. The focus of my own spiritual practice began with
Goddess-spirituality, and has continued with intensive work in Northern
European (Ásatrú) and Afro-Diasporic spiritual practices,
including oracular and possessory trance. For the past twenty years I have
taught classes and led rituals on the average of two or three times a month,
adapting and refining the basic trance skills to help others seek spiritual
guidance and increase the effectiveness of our work. These skills, which
have empowered all my spiritual practice, are presented here.

I originally began teaching trance techniques as preparation for
oracular seið, the Norse tradition of oracle work described
in the Viking sagas. For a weekend workshop, the exercises had to be pared
down to a bare minimum, and it soon became apparent that the students who
were most likely to be able to build on the workshop material and develop
their own oracular practice were those who were already trained in shamanism
or other spiritual disciplines. Clearly there was a need for a more extended
form of the training. More recently, deity possession (also known as aspecting
or drawing down) has become more prevalent as well as more popular,
especially in the pagan traditions which seek to reconstruct the religions
of specific cultures, and we have found that developing good trance discipline
makes this kind of work safer and easier as well. In my opinion, basic
trance skills are a prerequisite to success in any of the more specialized
kinds of spiritual and magical work. Once this book is available I hope it
will serve as a foundation for additional books on oracle work and deity

In 2002 I announced the first trance class, and worked with a talented
and enthusiastic group of people to practice and revise, and expand the
exercises. As I wrote the handouts, we also experimented with distance
learning, e-mailing the material to various people all over the country,
who participated in discussion with those in the live action class between
meetings via the class e-list. In 2003 two graduates of the first class,
Lorrie Wood and Bella Crow, conducted the beta-test of the materials to see
how they worked when taught by someone other than me. This class also
generated many ideas that have been incorporated into the system. In 2007,
a gamma-test was conducted by Ember Leo, Hilary Ayer, and Dave Schultz, to
whom I am indebted for additional notes and suggestions.

This book is designed for use in solo study, but as I have noted above,
it was originally written for use with a class. The student comments quoted
at various points in the text will give you an idea of the insights that can
come out of group discussions, in person or online. Every learner is
different, and despite my best efforts, this book does not cover every
possible way of addressing the material. When someone was having trouble
dealing with one of the exercises, very often another student would come up
with an idea that helped with the problem. Some have found that the shared
energy of a group makes it easier to move into an altered state. It is
certainly easier to keep working when you realize that you are not the only
one who finds some of the skills hard to learn. Even if you are not able to
join or lead a class, you may find it useful to recruit a “trance-buddy” as
a companion on the road. If you do wish to form a group for study, you
will find “Notes for the Tour-Guide” as an appendix at the end of the book.

The goal of this book is to teach skills that underlie the spiritual
practices of a variety of traditions, from the ceremonial to the shamanic.
But acquiring the “gifts of the spirit” cannot be an end in itself. They
have to be used. Eastern spiritual traditions teach that the purpose of
spiritual transformation is to free the soul from the Wheel of Karma so
that it can escape the world. Those few who, like Kuan Yin, refuse to accept
permanent union with the Divine until all living creatures can share it are
considered bodhisattvas.

As Evelyn Underhill points out in her classic work on mysticism, in the
West, even contemplatives have found in their ecstatic union a mandate to
turn around and try to transform the world.

We are all born with the potential to use our inner senses as well as
our outer ones, to transcend the limitations of the selves we thought we
knew. This is the Way of Power, but rather than seeking power over
others, through this training we seek the power to help others do
the same, and in doing so, to nourish, rather than stunt, our own souls.

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