In the Craft, the ways methods of changing consciousness are called the Eightfold Ways or Eight Paths. They are:
- Trance states
- Herbal knowledge
- Chants and spells
- Body control
- Total involvement in worship
To paraphrase Aleister Crowley, magic is the art of changing consciousness at will. That is at the heart of everything we do. In fact, it pretty much sums up everything we do.
You can gather as much information as you wish, read as many books, look at as many websites and learn endless lists, you can turn up to as many moots and rituals as you like, but without the art of changing consciousness at will, there is nothing – nothing at all.
The word ‘consciousness’ is derived from the Latin con-scire meaning ‘with-knowing’. Consciousness is a spectrum from wide-awake, logical thinking to daydreaming, dreaming and deep trance.
Carlos Casteneda, a writer on south American shamanism, coined the terms ‘ordinary reality’ and ‘non-ordinary reality’. Ordinary reality is the consensual reality we all experience everyday – we can all agree that there is a table over there, rain is wet, two and two make four and so on. We experience this reality through our five senses. It is often called the physical or material plane, the time-space world.
In ordinary life, we are focused on the business of living, yet while we are dreaming, meditating, are in ritual, or open ourselves to the energy of a place, we may experience other kinds of realities. In dreams and visions, we might meet dead relatives, other beings, speak with animals and experience the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.
Non-ordinary reality is only encountered during an altered state of consciousness. Usually, this form of reality is experienced by an individual; he or she sees things that are meant for them alone, and they are generally witnessed by no one else. The exception to this is the work of a close magical group who are trained to change consciousness together using specific methods.
In the modern western world, only logical thought is considered important and ‘real’, only the state of being wide-awake is given credence as ‘reality’. In religious and shamanic worldviews, other levels of consciousness are equally valid. In the worldview of tribal people everywhere, the realms we know from dreams and visions, the worlds inhabited by gods, spirits, animal powers and ancestors, are recognised as equally real. Moreover, these realms hold the key to healing, wisdom and magic.
According to The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness: “Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspects of our lives.”
We take in the information that is provided by our five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, and the brain processes them to give us a picture of our surroundings and what is happening. This gives us a consensus of ‘reality’. For example, when you hold a flower, you see the colours, you see its shape, you smell its scent, and you feel its texture. Your brain manages to bind all of these perceptions together into one concept of a flower.
However, if we encounter something outside of the ‘reality’ we have logged in our internal data banks, we can overlook it or even not see it. Native American Indians on Caribbean Islands couldn’t see Columbus’s ships as ships because they were beyond their knowledge. They just saw them as features of the horizon. It was only when the shaman was taken on board one of the ships, could walk around it and see how it related to his world, that he was able to process it and share this knowledge with the rest of the tribe.
Consciousness is one of the biggest mysteries in the universe. There is no real consensus of what it is and how it arises.
Increased understanding of quantum physics has led to a growing band of scientists and philosophers who believe that consciousness permeates the whole of reality. Physicist Sir Roger Penrose believes consciousness to be a fundamental property of the universe, present even at the first moment of the universe during the Big Bang.
In the monotheistic worldview, supported by western materialism and rationalism, man is the only entity in creation that has consciousness, the pinnacle of creation, above the rest, made in god’s image, the only being that can pray and be elevated to a holy state. The rest of creation is lesser, not conscious, transient and there just to be used.
But this approach is a reflection of a culture that sees the spiritual and physical as separate. If we think of consciousness pervading all things, nature becomes a single whole. Traditional Pagan societies have always recognised that the spiritual and the physical are indivisible and that one is a reflection of the other. To the Ojibwa Native Americans, ‘persons’ comprise one of the major classes of things to which the self must become orientated. This can include animals, plants and inanimate objects.
From a practical perspective, we see everything in life as a distinct, separate entity, with its own unique properties that set it apart from anything else. Essentially, though, this is a construct of the mind, a way to order the world so as to create a structure that is familiar and in which we feel safe to live. It’s not true.
Even your body is not a solid object that carries you through life. It is a network of energy and information in dynamic exchange with the world around you. With every breath, every mouthful of food, every noise you hear and sight you see, your body changes. In the last few seconds, it has exchanged four hundred billion trillion atoms with your environment.[ii] The body only appears to be static because the changes taking place are too small to see. Every year 98% of the atoms have been exchanged.
If we recognise that there is no such thing as ‘me’ and ‘mine’, but a flow of creation, and not separate at all, this involves a whole new way of seeing, acting and belonging. We call this letting go of the ego, the ‘I’, an essential stage in changing consciousness.
But while the energy of creation, the Gods, the land, spirit, flows throughout creation, eternal and always present, we are not always aware of it. The ability to change consciousness is not in the gift of another person or group, and another person cannot stop us changing consciousness and making connection with the Gods. If we want to open ourselves to the consciousness of other beings, other ‘persons’, as the Ojibwa say, whether it is an animal, a tree, a rock or a stream, we can’t do it by bringing with us our intellectual preconceptions, prejudices and usual way of thinking. In fact, we have to do it by not thinking in the usual way at all.
[i] What the Bleep Do We Know, http://www.thebleep.co.uk
[ii] What the Bleep Do We Know, http://www.thebleep.co.uk
One thought on “The Eightfold Ways”
Most excellent. 8)