I found a very interesting, if dated, documentary about the use of Henbane by witches, focusing on its physical effects. Henbane is a poisonous plant of the nightshade family, thought to have been used traditionally as a flying ointment by witches to “cross the hedge” as hedgewitches say — to open the doorway to the spirit world.
The hallmark of a shamanic trance is that it is induced. Consequently, shamanic practitioners and journeyers are very interested in different ways of inducing trance. I’ve tried some different methods myself, one of which I haven’t seen mentioned in this context, so I thought I’d share.
Probably the most common method used by modern North American practitioners is drumming. Live drumming, either performed by oneself or a partner, is excellent, but I’ve always used a drumming track and headphones. Shamanic drumming tracks are readily available and are said to be just as useful as live drumming, though I imagine that drumming for oneself adds to the rhythmic, hypnotic experience. That said, I know I could never keep up drumming and journeying at the same time!
Another method is the use of consciousness-altering chemicals, otherwise known as plant medicine, entheogens, or psychedelics. One needs caution and know-how to go down this path. In addition to research, one ought to speak with the plant spirits themselves as well, otherwise you are doing no more than just taking a drug. What I’ve tried is mild — a so-called flying ointment of my own making — but has produced some good results. Still, I don’t use it often.
Rather, my favourite method for inducing trance is through the act of sweating. I don’t know the physical mechanics of why it works, though I can guess at things like changes in hydration, electrolytes, and body temperature. It’s definitely not a unique idea, but I haven’t seen in mentioned in the wealth of literature available on how to journey. Certainly great physical exertion and exercise would be a great way to sweat and alter your consciousness, but I take an easier route (and perhaps safer one, given that I faint easily). I simply take a very hot (but not uncomfortable) bath. It brings up my heart rate and aids my poor blood circulation for starters. Then, as I begin to sweat more, I find my focus sharpening and the Otherworlds coming within close reach.
Naturally, everyone works differently. I’d be very interested to hear of other ways of inducing trance, or your experiences of what works best. Happy journeying!
I promised my wife I’d put this up on my blog, and haven’t got around to it yet!
As a witch and shamanic practitioner, I love scented oils and candles. Many months ago I began making my own flying ointment, and that progressed into making moisturizers, soap, candles, and other bath and beauty products. It really is great stuff, and we love making it! So if you’ve ever wanted a moisturizer, soap, or candle in your favourite scent, we might be able to make it for you. I made an autumn scent that I absolutely adore, and we’re working on new witchy scent combinations too. Have a look: http://journeytreehedgewitchery.weebly.com/products.html
It can be so difficult to connect with spirit when you’re not well. This past week, I was visited by severe anxiety and some sadness, feelings which did not seem my own. When your world has gone dark and frightening, and your cries to spirit seem unheard, how can you care for your faith?
One thing to remember is that your core beliefs don’t change even when you can’t feel a connection with them. You may have lost that spark of inspiration and meaning, but it doesn’t mean these things have ceased to exist for you. Still, it may be best to wait rather than to push — desperately trying to connect with spirit when you are in this state could be terribly frustrating and even devastating. So put your faith symbolically into hibernation. Consider burying something to this effect, or planting a seed. Trust that your faith will emerge in its proper season and make some small efforts to care for it while you wait; as small as listening to a particular song that used to move your spirit. Try not to mourn, but trust instead that a season of renewal will come.