on Feb 13, 2012
Eightfold Path to Altered States of Consciousness
**Disclaimer: I do not suggest anyone to practice any of the suggested techniques without proper understanding and experience in this area. Some of the content is a bit too mature for the average age of this site- so you may wish to look it up on your own if you are interested, as I will be excluding it from this post. Another key point I wish to make is that there is no "right" eightfold path. The one I will be presenting is largely based off my understanding of the work of Raven Kaldera, whom is easy to follow (personally). You'll find several varying sources and contradicting information regarding the eightfold path, because it can be largely individualized .**
The eightfold path is a collection of shamanistic techniques (from northern practices, not to be confused with the Buddhist terminology) that are centered on controlling one's own consciousness. There are several different "paths" which all differ and alter steps in doing this. As stated in the disclaimer, there is no "right" eightfold path: often, defining each path can prove to be difficult as depending on how you practice- the lines between can often disappear and you find that you can incorporate multiple "paths" at one time. You do not have to practice all eight, and it is suggested that you not try to practice all eight: stick with what you are comfortable with and feel that you do well. But as with anything, before attempting to practice this- read up on it, understand it, develop your skills in this area. Before attempting something as this, you should take into consideration your personal wellbeing. It's been suggested that jumping into something like this without building up the proper tools and skills can be disastrous for the user. Other than that, have fun learning.
Here is a list of the paths:
Path of Breath (The Path of Meditation/Trance)
Path of Ritual (Chants/Spells)
Path of Rhythm (Rhythm/Music/Dance)
Ascetic's Path (Fasting/Deprivation)
Path of Sacred Plants
Path of Flesh
Path of the Horse (Evocation)
** I will not be covering paths 5-7, as I feel they are too mature in content to be put in the forums of this site, esp. considering the general age of most members. If you wish to learn about them, I suggest you look into them on your own. **
The Path of Breath
This tends to be the most popular path, as it deals mainly with types of meditation. It's called the Path of Breath because the most common form of this path is seen through various breathing exercises and techniques. Understanding that breath and life are thought to be highly interconnected is an important concept. While northern tradition does not have a "set" standard or way of doing these exercises, it is common for northern shamans to practice this as much as others, because it is not unlike galdr- a form of magic involving singing. "This path includes techniques of trance work such as utiseta, "faring forth", and so on." (Raven) (*Note: Utiseta essentially means "sitting out" which involves working on nonphysical planes -> astral projection).
The suggested first step is to become aware of conscious of air: focusing on it as we breathe in and out and paying intent attention to it, rather than letting it be a natural breathing. The second suggested step is to alter the breathing :Counting the number of breaths, monitoring movement of diaphragm, etc can be helpful in relaxing your state of mind. "The best beginner's technique is the basic four-fold breath: you breathe in for a count of four, you hold for four, you breathe out for four, you wait for four, and you just do that..The trick of doing the four-fold breathing thing is to actually extend yourself at the times when you're holding the breath out. You breathe out for four counts, and then you slip further out during the counts before you breathe in again." From there, visualization/focused thought and projection can occur more easily.
Path of Ritual & Path of Rhythm.
This second path, the path of ritual, involves creating sacred space and following a set of repetitive and focused activities (with personal meaning and intention) in said space to create the desired altered state: often these activities are imbued with meaning, symbology, and types of projection through various things such as spells, tools, and often the incorporation of repetitive actions and motions(which is the third path, the Path of Rhythm). This path involves drum beats, repetitive motions, dancing, and other forms of music making. It is not uncommon to see this type of path practiced in a group, as it is thought to make the transition easier when a group of people are dancing erratically and wildly. Chanting is a big part of this path as well. It is the repetitive use of a sound (which can be a word, note, sentence, verse- though most would stick to simpler and easier chants) that is used to induce a trance state.
Sherry Gamble suggests that there are four components of this: relaxation, sensory restriction, rhythm and boredom. Relaxation would be making the mind carefree of worry or stress so that it is more open. Sensory restriction means narrowing your focus to a single point of awareness- keeping the intention as the main thought without allowing outside noise to interfere. Rhythm, as described above, is suggested through chanting, dancing, making motions, etc. This ties in with boredom: doing the same thing over and over will allow the mind to be free of thought, making this work easier.
The Ascetic's Path
This is the fourth path, and I do not suggest that just anyone do this path- it is not as gentle as the first three. It can include fasting, types of sensory deprivation and different forms of purification. This path is worked by placing the physical body in an environment that is far from its usual comfort zone by depriving certain things from it. It's not uncommon to see this worked through the use of sweat lodges, hot springs, isolation, being put into darkness. Extended bouts of silence has even been added to this list. An example of how this has been used in the North would be the use of saunas. I'll discuss two important aspects of this path: fasting, and isolation. Fasting has been tradition from some of the earliest times, as it is a means of increasing a personal spiritual awareness. The type of fasting you choose to do will alter how rigorous it is. There are fasts where you simply consume less, such a a diet of water and breads, and diets where you avoid food all together for a short period of time (Note: I do not suggest this to anyone. It can be dangerous, esp. if you do not understand the body and how to properly fast.) Fasting can help an individual to define their self control, and draw attention to the awareness of the body itself. It is generally used with other techniques to boost effectiveness or clarity/awareness.
Isolation can be another key part of this path, should it be chosen by the user to be implemented. Isolation, or drawing one's self out of society and company, can be an extremely important element of spiritual work. Isolating ones self from people can help to isolate the mind from the physical world and allow more openness. "Like all the methods of the Eightfold Path, isolation is best used with care, thought and clear intent. We may sometimes envy the stories of mystics or shamans who pushed themselves far past normal limits and experienced ecstatic states or stunning visions of other worlds. At the same time, few of us can abandon ourselves so completely to our magickal work that we can afford to release all vestiges of consensual reality and cast off every line holding us to the common landscape. As a controlled magickal tool, isolation can be used to help us reach beyond our boundaries without forcing us to leap irrevocably off the edge of the world."
Path of the Horse
This is the eighth path, which involves "direct spirit-possession: bringing the Gods or wights into the body for a short period of time"(Raven. He suggests that this is the rarest path, though the most direct, as he believes most people are not 'wired' for it and it deals in religious aspects). I will simply provide the information on it and let you decide what you think on the matter. "The word "horse" is borrowed from the Afro-Caribbean religious traditions. In those religions the person whose body is borrowed by a God or a spirit is referred to as a "horse", and the act of being spirit-possessed is referred to as being "ridden". While we who do these things in a modern northern-tradition context do unashamedly borrow this term, it seems oddly appropriate in spite of its origins. One is reminded of the runes Ehwaz and Raido, the Horse and the Ride, which are also Movement and the Path." (Raven)
God-possession tends to be looked upon with a lot of skepticism and disbelief, as many do not believe in it. It is suggested that generally only skilled and well practiced spirit-workers should even attempt this, and are often the ones who are able to tell what to look for in these cases. Typically, if a claim is made of possession there is a process of peer testing and observation. Galina Krasskova writes: "A Lukumi friend of mine offered this advice: Take the first possession at face value-theres just not empirical evidence beyond that. Note, however, that in subsequent ones, the crisis situation of possession (by the same Deity) tends to produce the same symptoms in the horse. This is a tell."
Here, as suggested by Raven's work, I will provide what he considers the hallmarks of true "riding":
1) The deity does not advocate for the horse. The deity usually treats the body as if it is their own, and doesn't refer to the horse much at all.
2) If the deity does refer to the horse, they will very rarely refer to them by name; more likely they'll say "this one" or something like that. This is because being called by name can actually shake many horses out of the possession and call them back to themselves (a useful trick for helping someone ground afterwards if theyre having difficulties coming all the way back). In some religions, the practitioners may not recognize themselves as being in a horse though weve never had this happen with Northern-Tradition Deities.
3) Beware overstressing of the archetype of the deity: most possessions are unique. In most possessions, the deity gets personal. It goes beyond and doesnt feel distant. They are right there with you.
4) Don't be bothered by a lack of supernatural manifestations; that doesn't mean that it's not a true possession. Some of the most powerful manifestations do not involve super amazing feats. The Gods, after all are not there to do parlor tricks.
5) The support staff will get better understanding with repeated possessions. If the same God or Goddess goes into the same person on more than one occasion, it becomes easier to see the pattern. Sometimes, a deity will refer to something theyve said in a previous possession, even if that possession occurred in another horse.
** As stated above, I did skip a few paths due to content. If you wish to read on them, I've provided sources at the bottom and you are welcome to look them up on your own. But be warned about the content of the writings. The views and expressed ideas in this article come from my personal understanding combined with writings and sources that I find to be the most open to personal interpretation- so while one thing may be right for someone else, it could be wrong for another. This was really meant to be more informative than anything else.**
Sources (which you may refer to for additional information):
WightriddenPaths of Northern-Tradition Shamanism by Raven Kaldera
Work from Walter Wright Arthen, Sherry Gamble, Inanna Arthen
Silence by Silence Maestas