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The Ninth Principle – Working In Vision

June 14, 2021
Occultism’s Astral Plane, Folklore’s OtherWorld

by Tony Willis    

In both the Alice books by Lewis Carroll, the child-heroine accesses the Astral Plane. She dreams of Wonderland and later of the Looking-Glass World. In dreams we enter the Astral realm, but as a rule only that part of it known to psychology as the personal unconscious. Even that aspect of the Astral can be a scary place at times, as when a sleeper finds themself caught up in a distressing scenario and we say that they are having a nightmare. On entering Wonderland, Alice discovered that she was in a chaotic world where the rules of everyday life no longer applied. Students of occultism, going into the Astral Plane in full consciousness, endeavor to rise above the level of the personal unconscious, aspiring to reach the collective unconscious. In all its manifestations, however, the Unconscious is replete with symbols. Astral travelers who cannot decipher those symbols find this world to be as chaotic as Alice did, while those who possess the ability to extract meaning from symbols thrive upon the Astral and are able to make themselves at home there.

The Astral Plane is composed of a malleable, endlessly adaptable energy. Its primary mode of communication with human beings is visual, taking place through the mediums of color, shape and symbol. The forces inhabiting the lower astral tend to borrow images they find in the minds of the astral traveler and clothe themselves in these. If someone has a fear of felines – maybe because they are allergic to cat fur – an astral force feeling threatened by that person’s presence might well assume the form of a tiger or a lion so as to keep that individual at bay.

On the upper astral, the shapes taken by the astral forces tend, almost invariably, to be images and symbols already carrying an emotional charge. This charge will have been infused into the symbol by some particular culture or religious tradition. Astral forces may, therefore, appear to a Christian as an angelic being, to a follower of Hinduism as a deva, as a bodhisattva to a Buddhist, or as a sylph or some other elemental spirit to a Neo-Pagan. At times the astral forces assume the form of an object – a twinkling star, a tree, a spear, a wooden chest.

The symbols available to the forces on the upper astral come pre-charged with energy. Having been adopted possibly thousands of years ago by humans working in cooperation with the Higher Powers – which we may call gods, archangels or divine archetypes – this kind of symbol represents an area of agreement between human beings and the Higher Powers. A fair proportion of these symbols are religious in tone. Among these, I have already mentioned the deities of distant and current cultures. They also encompass culturally accepted images. I have in mind the pious fictions prevalent in some societies; for instance, the myths that babies are delivered by storks and Christmas presents arrive via the good offices of Santa Claus. While not literally true, these stories nevertheless resonate within the collective unconscious of a nation, which does not operate on logic but via symbolism. How these contracts between humans and divine energies came about is not a subject it is possible to go into today. I refer the curious to the works of Dion Fortune and Israel Regardie.

The upper astral is full to overflowing with the debris and detritus left there by ancient civilizations. Astral Forces will inhabit the images of ancient deities or legendary figures, as well as their attributes and totem animals whether that be the cow held sacred to Isis, the bear associated with Artemis, or King Arthur’s fabled sword, Excalibur.

This world, encompassing the Lower and the Upper Astral Planes, is constantly in motion, like a great sea ever ebbing and flowing. The images existing on those planes, too, are subject to change. They may shrink or grow larger; they may fade away as you look at them; they may shape-shift in mid-sentence. Examples of all these occurrences can be found in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. When Alice drinks from the bottle marked ‘Drink Me’, she is collapsed like a telescope. The Cheshire Cat disappears ever so slowly while talking to Alice until only its grin is left. The White Queen transforms into a sheep. Any of these things may happen while you are working in vision. It should also be bourn in mind that versions of the Jabberwock – “The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!” – and “the frumious Bandersnatch” also exist on the Astral. How should explorers of the OtherWorld prepare themselves for a trek across the lower astral and into the more rarified atmosphere of the upper astral?

See the source image

The Jabberwock

How to Travel Safely on the Astral Plane

Before going any further, you, Reader, should decide which religion you want to work with, and which deity from the pantheon of Higher Forces operating within the ethos of that religion you are going to rely on to protect you when you venture out onto the Astral. Hermes is the foremost guide through the unseen realms for followers of the Greek magickal tradition. Mercury carries out the same office for devotees of Roman esotericism, and also for those whose occult touchstone is Western astrology. The angel Raphael is the equivalent Being called upon by practitioners of angelic magick, while in terms of Egyptian mythology, Anubis is not only the protector and guide of astral travelers but is also known as the Opener of the Ways; it is by his good offices that travelers in the various sectors of the OtherWorld are directed back to the safety of physical reality when troubles arise. Followers of the Sufi path are able to call upon Khidr, the Remover of Obstacles. For those who would rather work with a female deity, several options are available. From the Egyptian pantheon one might choose Isis. In the Greek or Roman tradition, there is Hecate, as well as Athene, and, naturally, the Queen of the Underworld, known as Proserpina (to the Romans) or Persephone (to the Greeks). The deity you settle on will be the one to call upon should you ever experience difficulties while working “in vision”

Make an effort to form a rapport with your chosen god or goddess before starting Exercise Eight. This is a matter of etiquette, of good manners. Otherwise you risk giving the impression that you are only willing to acknowledge your protective deity when in need of their assistance while, at other times, paying no attention to them. No sentient being likes to be taken for granted, and it is a grave mistake for the budding occultist to offend one of the gods by disrespecting them.

Any Reader seeing further instruction on how best to choose a protective deity should read paragraphs 3 to 5 on page 96 of Practical Greek Magic by Murry Hope (Aquarian Press, 1985).

Should a problem arise while you are meditating or travelling on the astral, the first thing to do is return your body, i.e., re-establish your everyday mode of mentation. That done, proceed to draw in your aura, which will have expanded while you were in the heightened state of awareness attained while working “in vision”. Do this by imagining that you are gathering all your psychic energies within the confines of your physical body and centering them around your heart chakra. Next clear the room of discordant energies by taking up a position where you are surrounded by plenty of space, in the center of a room, for instance. Then stretch out your active arm with your forefinger pointing directly ahead of you and turn around clockwise in a full 360 degrees. As you turn, say: “In the name of [your protective deity], Guardian of all who seek the Light of knowledge, may all confusion and negativity be gone from this place.”

That done, immediately insulate yourself from outside influences by putting your physical body into an imaginary ‘bubble’. Here are the instructions of how to effect that, which I have extracted from Murry Hope’s book on Psychic Self-Defence.

Now we all know what a large plastic bag looks like, the sort we use for our laundry or dry cleaning to keep out dust or dirt. Simply imagine you are stepping into a clear blue or clear white one, pulling it over your whole body and fastening it securely over the top of your head. But your mental plastic bag will be waterproof, germproof and astral-bullet-proof, if you see what I mean; and you will be able to see through it out into the world without being aware of it being there once it is in position. With regard to fastening it on the top, here you can use a safety-first symbol according to your personal persuasion. If you are a Christian you may like to think of a gold or silver cross. A Taoist may prefer the yin-yang symbolism; a Qabalist one of the sephira, the Hermeticist a caduceus; and so on.”

In addition to these measures, there are other rules to be followed. The first consideration is a simple one: Rely on the text of the guided visualization if you are working from a book, or from an article you have found on a blog. Or rely on the spoken directions coming from the audiotape if that is the method of working you have adopted. As long as you are confident that the source of the guided visualization is to be trusted, that the teaching emanates from an author of good repute, or an authority you have come to trust by having worked under their instruction over a period of time, you are unlikely to come to harm. Beyond that, the advice is: Question everything new, wherever and however you encounter it. Question the appearance of any Being or Entity, of any door or passageway, or of any object not described in the text of the guided visualization you are working from.

Most importantly: Do not deviate from the original text. It will have been put together with great care. The relevant symbols, the waymarkers, the signposts, will all be in place. It will introduce you to guides or instructors who can help you in various ways; for the objective of a guided visualization is to have you reach a particular Astral destination while at the same time putting you in a frame of mind that will allow you to learn from the experience of being exposed to one or other of the Higher Powers that live and move and have their being on the Astral. To deviate from the instructions is to ask for trouble.

Pathworking, Creative Visualization, and the Active Imagination

These three terms are not identical (although for our present purposes we may consider them interchangeable from a practical standpoint). A Pathworking is one example of the broader category ‘creative visualization’, but not all creative visualizations are Pathworkings. Properly speaking, a Pathworking is a journey made TreeOfLifeJPGalong one or more of the Paths on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. This is a diagram lying at the heart of the esoteric system known as Qabalism. The diagram doesn’t look anything like a tree but we won’t dwell on that anomaly right now. Instead let us focus on the Tree of Life’s components. (See illustration.) These are Ten Spheres (represented on the diagram as circles) and Twenty-Two ‘Paths’ – the bands running between the Spheres.

Rather confusingly Qabalistic tradition also classes the Spheres as Paths, and so Qabalists at times speak of “the thirty-Two Paths”. Thus, for instance, the journey from the lowest sphere on the Tree of Life (representing physical reality) to the Sphere directly above it is, in Qabalistic terms, a journey from the Tenth Path to the Ninth Path by means of the Thirty-Second Path. For the sake of simplicity, in this article I will distinguish between Spheres and Paths, confining the latter word to the bands linking the various Spheres of the Tree of Life one to another. If one adheres to this nomenclature there are twenty-two Paths on the Tree of Life.

Each of these twenty-two Paths corresponds to a tarot Trump and they all have three symbols associated with them. These symbols act both as keys to the Path, giving safe entrance to and exit from it, and as waymarkers. Anybody passing along one of the Paths “in vision” who cannot locate any of the designated symbols has lost their way and would be advised to return to their starting point post haste. Once back at the beginning, that person ought to quit the Astral Plane altogether and thoroughly Earth themselves before attempting to travel that Path again. The procedure for doing this has already been described.

The key symbols associated with any given Path are: The tarot Trump by means of which entry to the Path is obtained, the letter from the Hebrew alphabet assigned by tradition to the Path, and the tarot Trump marking arrival at the traveler’s pre-determined destination and through which they are at liberty to pass into the Sphere of the Tree of Life this second Trump grants ingress to. In its most basic form, a Pathworking is nothing more than an astral journey taking the traveler from one Sphere on the Tree of Life to another.

There is also the symbolism of the start and end points of the journey to be considered. As said, these terminuses represent Spheres on the Tree of Life and they are invariably configured as Temples. There is a specific imagery connected to these Temples just as there are specific symbols associated with the twenty-two Paths. In the case of the Temples, there are many more than three symbols involved, all chosen so as to accord with the psycho-spiritual environment of the Sphere to which they have been allocated. This is a recondite subject that, regrettably, there is no time to enter into in this article. For our present needs it is only necessary that the student contemplating deeper investigation of the OtherWorld understands that every area, every domain there is out on the Astral has certain particular symbols associated with it. While ignorant of these symbols, and more importantly while lacking the knowledge of how the symbols are employed, the astral traveler is at a serious disadvantage.

Many books on occultism contain lists of relevant symbols. In Henry Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy we find, for example, under the heading ‘Of the Number Four and the Scale Thereof’, a chart depicting the symbols assigned by custom and convention to the Four Elements. Likewise, under the heading ‘Of the Number Seven and the Scale Thereof’, there is a similar chart, this time enumerating the traditional symbols allotted to the seven visible planets by the magi of Agrippa’s day. Lists of the symbols associated with the ten Spheres and twenty-two Paths of the Tree of Life can be found in Gareth Knight’s Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism. Aleister Crowley’s 777 is given over almost one hundred per cent to lists of a similar kind. David Allen Hulse’s two-part work The Key to it All (reprinted as The Eastern Mysteries and The Western Mysteries) contains scores of lists, the majority composed of symbols acting as keys to the various domains of the Astral Plane. In this day and age, these symbols are no longer secret, but how they are activated and to what purpose does remain a close occult secret. Over the decades some details concerning the way guided visualizations are correctly formulated have been released to the public by the mystery schools of the Western Esoteric Tradition. Yet very few of the methods for handling the symbols that function as keys to various locations on the Astral Plane have become common knowledge.

Why is knowledge of the symbols associated with the twenty-two Paths on the Tree of Life considered so necessary to anyone attempting a Pathworking? To understand this, imagine the diagram of the Tree of Life as a map of a jungle viewed from above. Imagine that the circles on the diagram delineate ten clearings within that jungle. In each clearing there is a stockade inside which can be found shelter, food and drink, and the means of making fire; in short, a stockade represents a place of safety to anyone attempting to traverse the jungle. Easy passage from stockade to stockade is possible by following these ready-made pathways running between them, clearly visible on the map (understanding that map to be the Tree of Life diagram). Leaving a path and striking out into the uncharted territory of the surrounding jungle is a venture fraught with peril. Wild animals live there as do stinging insects, and poisonous plants whose touch is lethal flourish in the lush deep green undergrowth. Travelers who value their lives would do well to keep to the paths. To ensure that they do not lose their way, certain markers or milestones have been set up by those who have gone before to indicate to anyone trekking through the jungle that they have not gone astray.

As I have said, the term ‘Pathworking’ describes a particular type of mental journey undertaken using imaginative qualities and known to occultists as creative visualization. However, the rules and conventions applying to Pathworkings also hold true for all other means of working with creative visualization. In any form of astral travelling, certain precisely crafted symbols are employed by occultists. As I have already explained, these symbols either give access to a designated area of the Astral Plane or they indicate where a person is within the confines of that specific area.

When I say ‘specific area’ I have in mind those locations or levels of the OtherWorld wherein, for instance, the Olympian deities of Greek myth reside, or where Tolkien’s imaginary creation Middle Earth is situated, or the Wonderland that Alice fortuitously tumbled into, as well as the Egyptian underworld so vividly described in the famous ancient text ‘The Book of the Dead’. These and other “imaginary worlds” co-exist upon the Astral Plane. All have their share of sunny uplands as well as dark, forbidding recesses. Out on the Astral one may, unless the necessary precautions are taken, run into the three-headed hound Cerberus who guards the entrance to Greek mythology’s equivalent of Hell, or one may accidently stray into Professor Tolkien’s Mirkwood, overrun with spiders and the haunt of hostile orcs, ill-disposed and armed to the teeth. (The illustration is or Crowley’s Hermit card from the Thoth deck. Cerberus can be seen in the bottom right hand corner.)

thoth hermit 09

To sum up then, the key symbols of which I have spoken were created to prevent those working “in vision” from accidentally stumbling upon such terrors in the course of their wanderings in the OtherWorld. Knowing what the appropriate symbols are, coupled with an understanding of how they operate, ensures safe entry into, and safe exit from, a given destination or level on the Astral. The correct symbols also act as landmarks that Astral wayfarers can use to judge how far they have come on their journey, how much further they have still to go, and perhaps most importantly, whether they are headed in the right direction or have by some mischance lost their way.

Thus prepared, we are ready to contemplate the work Exercise Eight will require of us.

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