Alternative title: The Nature of a Trance
Alternative title #2: Trancework Will Make You Its Bitch
I recently read a post by Tess Dawson about Cradling Oracles. In this post, she suggests a number of actions to be taken when working with oracles, visions and dreams. Above all, the message seems to be that in order to be able to experience the “kiss of inspiration” that an oracle brings, you must be clean and gentle.
After reading the post, I mulled over how it is I interact with oracles and visions and I came to the following conclusion: I don’t really think that oracles, visions and dreams are something you cradle. They cradle you (to put it nicely or poetically).
To be more accurate, they drown you and suck you in. You feel the wave of the vision rushing towards you, and before you can even think to run away you’re dragging in under the tide. They take you and claim you as their own.They hit you like a tidal wave and take the breath out of you. Once you finally finish and are able to resurface to get a gasp of air into your lungs, you’ll find that they burn like fire because you’ve succumbed to the water for so long, you forget what air feels like.
And once you’ve finally got some of your sense back to you, you’ll be left wallowing or basking in the feeling of the whole thing, dumbstruck and wondering what the hell you just experienced.
In short, visions are not something you control. While its true that some vision work will allow you minor control (starting or stopping the vision, rewinding the vision, possibly the ability to move around in the vision space), you shouldn’t go into them expecting to control them – if you’ve even got enough of your wits about you to even consider control once you’ve fallen into the oracular crack pit. So much of vision work involves a loss of control, and many of the methods behind seeking out visions (or receiving them) involves you not really being yourself or overly present anymore. The whole point is to let your brain go so that you can take visions in.
It is quite literally like falling into an ocean and hoping that you can get what you need out of the ocean before you run out of breath.
Hell, in Japanese tradition, oracles are so taxing and consuming that you need a second person present to question the person channeling the kami in particular. It’s taxing to take this amount of information into your brain all at once. And considering that the imagery is often very traumatic or mind blowing, it can leave you feeling spent for days after the fact.
Not to mention that many visions and oracles are in another language. I call Osiris Mr. Wingdings for a reason- he speaks in visions and symbols. He speaks in a language that I can’t read- and most visions are the same way. You fall in, receive a host of symbols and gestures and hope to the gods you can piece it all together once you’re done. It’s not clear cut, and there is a lot of room for interpretation.
And unlike interpreting runes or tarot cards, reading animal entrails, or interpreting the flight patterns of birds- all of which are forms of interpreting omens, one does not usually consciously interpret an oracle (or get a choice in experiencing an oracular session or vision). Oracles and visions are direct communication with the spirit world and are not something one can control and observe from a safe distance. The word “oracle” comes from the Latin verb ōrāre, “to speak,” and refers to a person in an altered state delivering cryptic prophecy, often “possessed with the voice” of a God. When one is delivering an oracle, the God or spirit has seized the individual and is forcing the message through that person, whether they’re ready for it or not, whether they understand it or not.
Or to put it succinctly, reading omens are like having a god sit in front of you and tell you XYZ. Delivering an oracle or experiencing a vision or trance is like having the deity barf those ideas onto your head and down your windpipe.
And this really does follow along the lines of another idea I’ve been mulling over lately. You see, when it comes to Pagandom or polytheism at large, it seems that everyone thinks in two categories. You’ve got people who are laypeople and people who are priests or clergy. But I feel like this discussion about oracles and vision questers and astral travelers really hits home for me that there is a third category of people that we need to discuss.
These are the people who mingle in between priesthood and laity. They are the folks who are close to the gods because they’re sat and talked with them, been drowned by them, and been led on crack-infested adventures via visions and dreams. To use a Kemetic metaphor, I would expect these people to be the ones whom people would consult for assistance with problems and remedies. They weren’t the purified priests who spent their days in front of kar shrines and offering tables. These were the people who lived on the edge of town, and in between day to day tasks, they would get led off into no-man’s land by various spirits.
By modern terms, these folks might considered shamans, mediums, or something similar. I know that most people who fall into this category classify it as “woo folks”.
But these people are the people who live in the mire that is visions and oracles. They speak and breath in oracular visions and dreams of crack laden donkeys. These are the folks who pay the price to get the visions – not necessarily out of choice, but because sometimes your head is broken open.
These people don’t cradle an oracle. We know that cleansing and purifying before a vision questing session is a futile effort because we know that getting to the meat of such a beast is a dirty job. Perhaps the method for a priest is different when attaining these things, but to speak in such absolutes as the OP did (in my opinion) gives this unrecognized third category no credit to the work that it does (and has done in the past).
Interacting with the spirit world is messy business. Even if you start out clean, you’re going to end up dirty. And in my experience, you don’t hold onto anything in the process of watching a vision, you get laid out barren by the entities at hand who are showing you these things. You’re reduced to a passive watcher who has no choice to be take note of the images playing across your vision.
If anything, I think that the advice to be given to folks who deal in oracular visions isn’t that you should “cradle” the vision- oh no. That’s about as effective as cradling a cactus. The vision is its own living entity and much like a god, it doesn’t need cradling. Instead, I offer this as an alternative:
Learn to take care of yourself, because gods know that this line of work is going to do its damndest to chew you up and spit you out. Instead of worrying about the oracle’s needs- consider your own. Build up your own network of entities and people that can assist you so that when the next batch of visions and prophecies beat you upside the head, you have the means to come back from it alive and not in a million pieces.