E is for Elsewhere

Yet again, I’ve had a week where I could not write a catch-up post for Monday, and worse still, could not write today’s post for the Pagan Blog Project in advance. I have about an hour in which to sound off—hopefully it won’t be riddled with typos, grammatical mistakes, and forgotten words.

The astral plane is a concept in occult and mystic practices, pagan or otherwise, that is difficult to avoid hearing about. For some, the first encounter is of a troll mocking the concept of legitimate experience beyond three spatial dimensions and time as if all mystery consisted of fools explicitly denying all progress in modern science for the romance of “escapism”. For others, it is reading the accounts of another’s experience beyond the veil. And for some, it is something they happen upon themselves without intent, perhaps even without knowing what it is.

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I personally dislike the term “astral”, not because of the strong association with mockery that it has obtained with trolls, but because it derives from a comparison with the stars. Stars are wondrous, uncountable and amazing—great balls of fusion lighting and irradiating their surroundings. They have their mysteries, but ultimately, for me, they make a little too much sense to work as a metaphor. Likewise the “etheric”—too difficult for me to divorce from the Victorian luminiferous aether, a once-beloved theory eclipsed by the greater wonder of light’s dual nature as both particle and wave.

So, I prefer the term “Elsewhere”. Personal preference, nothing more.

There are as many explanations for what Elsewhere may be and how one visits a place within it as there are theorists and travelers, and I’m afraid that my personal belief is a bit boring compared to some. I do not think that out-of-body experience is necessary—I am not even sure that what is often called an OOBE is always an experience where something, someone, is separated from their body. Rather, I think the entirety of existence, and certainly the body itself, is much more than what we have come to define it as.

Many traditions postulate a subtle body or astral body, which is sometimes but not always equated with the soul or spirit. I do not think that while we live that the distinction is necessarily so clean—after all, drawing the line to show where the mind ends and the brain begins is hard enough. We do not need to pluck our eyes out of our head in order to see the physical world around us. Why would it be different for what organs we possess outside four-dimensions of spacetime? Or even, for that matter, just outside of the three spatial dimensions alone. We do not consciously direct our liver much, but it acts regardless.

The conscious decision to pay attention to a limb, to perceive what it feels, and to move it willfully, is very different from letting it do as it will reflexively. Even walking in physical space is a mostly unconscious action many of us take for granted, unless we are wounded, unless we are disabled, unless we are in some way made to remember the effort in the effortless.

It is worth remembering that to walk on crutches is still walking. If someone else can run, well, that is what they can do. A woman with a cane should have no self-loathing because she cannot run a mile in seven minutes. A young practitioner, seeing tales of other’s exploits Elsewhere, may feel like a failure, and this is uncalled for. Even if you never run, never fly, self-acceptance is worth more than all of this.

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2 thoughts on “E is for Elsewhere”

  1. I like the emphasis you made in this essay – some folks in the OOBE/AP crowd get holier-than-thou about how much they go travelling to other places. I used to be really interested in OOBE, but I mostly let it go after some terrifying experiences with sleep paralysis and the so-called “watchers” or “guardians.” Creepy stuff – tall shadow figures moving in the darkness, giant spiders – yeah, it was enough to discourage me. I had some interesting flying experiences, but for the most part OOBE didn’t work out for me. It turned out I was better at lucid dreaming, but that’s a subject for another day. But thanks for sharing, I enjoyed it 🙂

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