John Beckett wrote an article recently, about how we as pagans and magical workers ought to be paying attention to changes between the worlds, and I enjoyed it, and generally agree. As I think back, more than half of what I’ve done this past year in my spiritual-magical practice was just dealing with Otherworldly situations of one type or another:
- Establishing and then maintaining relationships with who I refer to as my “Locals”, after I moved in March 2020
- My regularly-scheduled oracular work, much of which focused on Otherworldly goings-on
- Discussing Otherworldly turbulence with other practitioners (both local and not)
- Divination to gain insight into Otherworldly encounters, both mine and others’
- Helping friends and acquaintances deal with their own Otherworldly encounters
The other less-than-half consisted mainly of ongoing divination studies, maintaining relationships with my Deities and other Allies, celebrating holidays, and using magic to help problem-solve mundane issues as they cropped up — business as usual in my life. I’ve also done my fair share of gardening and baking from scratch and attempting to entertain a lonely toddler who couldn’t go to the park or the pool during the pandemic, of course! But I think Beckett’s point that we need to be doing more than just mundane prep work, that we need to be monitoring the changes between the worlds is very important.
The article gives a rhetorical question: “So, what do we need to do to pay attention to the changes that are happening in the Otherworld and between the worlds?”, and then goes on to answer that: build foundations, be places you can observe, listen to your senses (including the inner ones), explore by journeying. Anyone who is familiar with Beckett’s writing will be unsurprised to see daily practice listed under foundations, and regular practice is definitely important, but I must admit my own practice is more “every couple of days on average” than strictly “daily”! I’ve never managed to do *anything* every day for longer than three weeks, but I do 3-4 days a week just fine for months at a stretch! So don’t be too disheartened if your practice looks more like mine, but I still generally agree with this point. It’s the second one that made me pause.
The second heading is titled “Put yourself in places to see what’s happening”, and while I agree with the starting premise (“if you want to encounter an Otherworldly person, your odds are much better if you put yourself in a place where they’re more likely to be”), I can’t say the same for the second half. It emphasizes the importance of going to wild places, and ends with the phrase “the wilder the better.”
I don’t think wilder is always better, when it comes to seeking out Otherworldly beings. Most of the Fair Folk I’m in most frequent contact with, I met somewhere nearby, often in one of the local suburban stream valley parks. I live in Northern Virginia, and while a lot of these parks are large and fairly sprawling, my chronic illnesses sometimes make it difficult to go longer distances across more complicated terrain, so I usually stay on or near the path, almost always somewhere I can still hear traffic noise in the background. And yet, I have encounters. Numerous encounters. Most any time I go out with the intention of finding a Local to wherever I am, in my own neighborhood, or in someone else’s (back when we could gather in groups!), I find Someone. Liminal times and places can be helpful, and the paved trails around here are liminal in their own way (as most people are only passing through) but they certainly aren’t very “wild”.
I think part of the reason that I have so many suburban encounters is simply because I, and most of my nearby friends, live in suburbia. That is the environment I am in the most often. In the places I frequent the most, I begin to develop relationships with the land wights and the nature spirits, as a matter of course, and along with that comes the possibility — or perhaps the likelihood — that I will eventually encounter whatever Otherworldly Neighbors also frequent these places. So if I walk out my door with the intention of meeting my Good Neighbors, I usually do. They have already “seen me around”, we already have friends in common, and the foundations for mutual hospitality have already been laid.
If I am somewhere very new to me, like when I travelled to conferences and events (back when those were in person!), I will give offerings and introduce myself to the land and the nearby nature spirits first, before I attempt to introduce myself to the Otherworldly Locals, and while I usually manage to find Them and exchange hospitality, it is in the wilder places that I have gotten the most push-back. Things like token acceptance, but no chit-chat; a sense of knowing that my offering is accepted, but no visions; only the bare minimum politesse. They are more standoffish, and I have fewer common relationships to draw on, especially when the human hosts are unknown to me. If I were looking for a new ally to help me better understand our current turbulence, I wouldn’t do it there. Do you talk to people who live somewhere else about your local weather and local politics, or do you talk to your nearby neighbors? I would think for most of us, it’s the latter, especially if we’re trying to understand the patterns, and not just recounting anecdotes. Your internet friends three timezones away might find your story about April Fool’s Snow interesting, but they don’t have the same kind of local knowledge as someone who’s lived in your town their entire life. When it comes to climate change, I’m interested in the wisdom of local humans. When it comes to the Otherworldly turbulence of Tower Time, I turn to the wisdom of Good Neighbors who’ve been been Local since before I came to this town — and perhaps also since before I was born, or before my grandparents were born, though they probably wouldn’t tell me!
The rest of Beckett’s advice seems good. Learning to develop one’s subtle senses is usually helpful, though I haven’t read Mat Auryn’s book, so I can’t comment on that, specifically. Exploring via journeys is something I’d also recommend, though I would suggest newbies start with Lora O’Brien’s Otherworld Journeys classes over at the Irish Pagan School. The first class is free, and after that there’s a lot of material at the higher levels. It isn’t how I learned to journey, but it does work well as remote learning for practitioners at any level. Experienced folk should be able to easily adapt to her methodology — I did! And the method is also designed specifically for the Irish Otherworlds, and as such, is designed to minimize some of the associated danger. I will still echo Beckett’s next point, though — this isn’t Safe. Exploring the Otherworlds isn’t safe, trucking with spirits isn’t safe, working for Deities isn’t safe, witchcraft isn’t safe. But it’s necessary work.
Likewise, I agree that sharing our stories is vitally important. I’ve been doing more of that, mainly on social media (in FB groups or on others’ posts mostly, and a couple of Discord servers), and in the few groups I was a part of pre-pandemic that I’m still regularly attending Zoom sessions for (which at this point is only the Potomac Ondvegisulur Seidr Guild, as the Fellowship Beyond the Star is somewhat on hiatus currently, though I hope to get back involved with our local UU Pagan group, Fox and Fungi at UU Reston). It helps to compare notes, to figure out what seems to be a larger pattern, and what may be a personal fluke instead. I have put some of it on this blog, and should maybe do more of that in the future, but with how fast everything seems to be changing, and with how deep into UPG Woo Land a lot of my stories are, at the moment I’m more comfortable sharing only the broad strokes of those insights in public, or contributing some details when they align with someone else’s experience. What and when to share, and when to keep silent instead, is a line I’m still figuring out how to walk, and I tend to err on the side of silence. Lately, however, I’ve been feeling like I should share at least the general shape of my interactions with the Fair Folk, and this seemed like a good place to start.
Note: Another thing worth mentioning, though it would have interrupted the stream of my discussion above, is that what most white Americans think of as “wild” or “wilderness” is a colonial construct, especially when the adjectives “pristine” or “untouched” get thrown around. A lot of these places were carefully and gently tended by indigenous peoples for generations, possibly hundreds or thousands of years, before the settlers showed up and declared them “untamed”. For more information on this, I suggest researching the importance of fires for maintaining the Great Plains, and the nurturing of berry patches and sugar maple forests in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Lakes regions.