The ability to achieve an altered state of consciousness is a fundamental skill in witchcraft. It facilitates the use of psychic abilities as well as the application of magick. It is also a critical component of awareness and paying attention -the most important skill one can develop as a witch. However, the term altered states is frequently discussed in a manner that makes it seem as if achieving an altered state of consciousness is difficult to accomplish or that it requires the use of hallucinogenic or toxic plant material. In reality, however, this simply isn’t the case.
What is an Altered State of Consciousness?
An altered state of consciousness is nothing more than any sort of mental state that differs from one’s normal mental state. While there are measurable changes in brain waves that accompany some altered states, and much has been said about what those specific brain wave states are most conducive to metaphysically, there is also considerable pseudoscience and straight-out bullshit that has been published on the matter.
For the purpose of relevancy, this article will not go down that drunk-dug rabbit hole but will provide a simple caveat that whether the following means outlined herein constitute a measurable altered state of consciousness or are merely shifts in personal energy that are conducive to facilitating psychic abilities for stronger application of magick (or just outright stronger use of those psychic abilities) is both irrelevant and kind of saying the same thing. I’m not a scientist and lack the equipment to prove one way or the other, but I am a witch with the experience that says, regardless of the case, these means are effective for the goals to which they are applied.
How is Achieving an Altered State of Consciousness Useful in Witchcraft?
Altered states are an integral part of witchcraft. Not so much a tool as a natural consequence, one will find themselves entering an altered state of conscious as part of many magickal acts. In fact, it can be argued that an altered state is essential in order to feel the energy currents about oneself and to wield them to effect change -which is the basic premise of magick.
While the term “altered state” has been brought more into widespread usage from general metaphysical and New Age influence, the discussion of such has been a common component of modern witchcraft for as long as books have been being published about the subject. One such term is that of the soft gaze, where one looks at the world with eyes half focused to better see that which is there to be seen. Another more poetic name is that of starlight vision, invoking the difference between shining a beacon of light on something and that of using starlight by which to see it.
While these do both more specifically refer to the noticeable physical difference in someone in an altered state, as well as describing the manner in which that individual is seeing the world about them, they do still also demonstrate the activation of witch power. This is an altered state of consciousness.
In this state of using starlight vision, of being in an altered state, one’s awareness is increased to that which is there to be seen. The witch power is turned on, the psychic senses primed, and one walks with a foot in the otherworld. This state of being is useful in all manner of magickal acts as it allows one to more clearly see and feel the energy about them. This allows one to more effectively bend and alter the course of that energy, to more clearly hear the voices of Gods and spirits, and to divine more accurately as messages are able to come through more cleanly and with less distortion.
How to Achieve an Altered State of Consciousness?
The following are simple means of achieving an altered state of consciousness. They are safe, effective, and do not require any bizarre or hard to come by materials. Your experience with these may very well prove that one (or more) is more effective at helping you to enter an altered state than other means, while one (or more) may prove to have little -or even an undesired- effect altogether. You may even find that certain of these means is better suited to achieving an altered state as part of specific magickal acts. For example, breathwork and chanting may prove more useful prior to making and charging tools, while certain specific herbs and dancing may be more useful for channeling or communicating with spirits and/or Deities.
With some of these means, repetition will allow you to better gauge their efficacy for you personally, as well as to better gauge the subtleties of their effect on your person. This is because the context in which you employ any of these means can alter their efficacy. For example, the foods you eat, stress of the day, and many other factors can result in a differing mental state from which you begin. This can change the needed duration or dosage (necessitating an increase or even a decrease) of any of the following means in order to accomplish a noticeable difference in your mental state that lends itself to the magickal work you hope to accomplish.
There is a reason why the words for spirit and breath are the same in many languages or share the same root word. Breath is one of the simplest means of moving energy through and throughout the body. It requires no additional tools and no previous training or experience; you simply just need to focus on and consciously alter your breathing. Both increasing and decreasing the rate of your breathing can facilitate changing your state of consciousness. In fact, you’ll likely notice that the flow of energy through and within your body changes depending upon how quickly or slowly you breathe (which is why breathing more slowly is often used as part of grounding and breathing more quickly or in a syncopated manner is used to raise energy.) Experiment with the speed of your breath to learn how you can most effectively use this in your craft practice.
Few people who regularly drink coffee or tea are unaware of the effect too much caffeine can have on them. While personal tolerance naturally varies from individual to individual, the stimulating effect of caffeine is quite effective in achieving an altered state of consciousness. However, the caveat is that it is very possible to overdose on caffeine. Like any overdose, too much caffeine can be dangerous and may require medical attention.
To this end, caffeinating yourself to the point where you are physically shaking, have difficulty focusing, and are nauseated is not only counterproductive, but does constitute the beginning symptoms of caffeine overdose.
Now, necessary disclaimer and common-sense warnings out of the way…
Depending upon your own tolerance levels, a cup or two of coffee is easily all that is necessary to sharpen awareness and reach a more focused state. One particularly effective way that I like to use is blending black tea (which is also a magickal catalyst) with other appropriate herbs that naturally facilitate in shifting awareness and activating your witch power, such as Cinnamon, Damiana, or Yarrow.
Repeating specific words and phrases is a common practice throughout many religions. It has the effect of focusing the mind and facilitating receptivity so that you can better raise or draw energy and/or spirits. That focusing of the mind and increased receptivity is an altered state of awareness that can be used in order to communicate with spirits and/or Deities, to raise and send healing energy, to consecrate and/or charge tools and charms, or to simply strengthen your awareness of your connection to the world about you.
What words you choose to chant should be chosen based upon your reason for chanting. Do you want to shift your awareness to aid in healing work? Try a chant that centers on the idea of moving energy, cycles, and interconnection. Do you want to more easily feel your connection to nature or your Gods? A chant invoking emotions you experience when in nature or the presence of your Gods would be appropriate. And yes, you are absolutely able to write your own chants, tailoring them perfectly to the situation and goal.
Your chants need not rhyme, as they may only be a single verse that you repeat. You may find rhyme and rhythm to be beneficial, however, should you compose a chant of two or more lines, as they have the effect of drawing the mind in more tightly, of building energy within you in a rolling or swaying fashion. How many times or for how long you repeat your chant is irrelevant: you repeat it as many times as is necessary to your goal. Trust your intuition.
More than any of the other means of achieving an altered state of consciousness in this list, dancing focuses the mind upon the physical body, using movements and the sensation of moving to shift awareness. This is especially useful if the work you hope to do while in an altered state is more physical in nature or would benefit from an excited energetic state because dancing -even awkward, stumbling self-consciousness dancing- does raise considerable amounts of energy.
To reap the most benefits, try to lose yourself in the movements, focusing your attention on being in your body, on being physical. Remember: you are not a spirit having a physical experience, as is so loudly touted in new age circles. You were physically incarnated for a reason. This time, this physicality matters and has purpose -and that purpose is not to scorn it with the over glorification of spirit. In all things, balance. There is no balance in life if one component is favored over another. There is no awareness of interconnection with the world if you revile the most blatant way that you are connected to it (which is through your physical body.)
While toxic herbs hold the most attention when it comes to entering an altered state of consciousness, there are many innocuous herbs that are able to help shift awareness, albeit more subtly. That subtly, however, comes at the expense of reduced likelihood of poisoning oneself due to ignorance of proper dosage, as safe use of herbs such as those in the nightshade or datura family is dependent upon body size and weight, physical and mental/emotional health, and personal tolerance levels.
The spirits in the following herbs are less inclined to bite the ill prepared witch and are much more forgiving of any slights or accidental disrespect. They also lack the significant negative side effects due to their physical composition. With each herb is a recommended way to use it that is beneficial in attaining an altered state. These herbs in the suggested uses are able to be safely combined with any of the other consciousness shifting means listed within this article.
Regardless of the method, either passive or active, meditation is an excellent way to shift your focus and enter an altered state of consciousness. There are no tools required, no experience necessary, and no prerequisite skills in order to meditate effectively or “properly.” If you like, you can employ the “empty your mind of all thoughts” form of meditation, but you may find it simpler and possibly more effective to focus on an object (perhaps a potted plant or the wind blowing through tree leaves,) your breath, or a repeated phrase (see Chanting above.)
Physical movement can also be a form of meditation so long as the focus is placed solely upon the movement. Walking is a common example of an active meditation, though any repetitive action can be used (such as washing the dishes or folding laundry. See Dance above.)
While going without sleep for significant periods of time can cause hallucinations and have serious consequences to your health, mild sleep deprivation -such as a reduced length of sleep or a night of broken sleep- can be conducive to achieving an altered state of consciousness. This isn’t recommended to actively do too frequently, and not more than a couple of nights a week at most, but the effect can last well throughout the day, making it a good choice should you be able to plan a day focused upon your witchcraft practice.
For example, should you want to take advantage of an astrological event with the creation of multiple charms and/or tools, followed by some divination, and then maybe some magick just for magick’s sake, cutting back a few hours of sleep the night before (while getting plenty of sleep for several nights before that) may provide you sufficient push to awake and remain within an altered state of consciousness.
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