Witches Soul Work Part 6: The Path of the Mask
“If that which thou seek thy find not within thee, thy will never find it without.” (1)
The Craft involves deep soul work leading to understanding the authentic self, the connection with the divine, and understanding the Mysteries. If you were Buddhist you might called this enlightenment. What is enlightenment for Witches? Many people new to the Craft read the beginner books and think that that is all there is. I would like to share with you some of the ways that Traditional Witches do soul work, the way they approach and understand the Mysteries and an exploration of what the Mysteries are. This idea was inspired by a course called Soul Work from Cherry Hill Seminary (www.cherryhillseminary.org) and from a comment by a woman on our local pagan internet site who said that she was quitting our group because we were not serious (i.e. we are fluffy) about our spiritual work. (Thank you dear!) The Craft is the most deeply spiritual path I know, but because it is hidden it is not so easy to find. This is part 6 in my series for Pagan Pages.
The Path of the Mask
“Books of the Dead” can be found in Tibet and Egypt and were stories created to familiarize people with the afterlife ensuring a smooth transition between living and dying. The story of the Voyage of Maelduin can be seen as the Celtic Book of the Dead, and later many of its images were transposed into a Christian version called the Voyage of St. Brendan the Navigator. To read the story, follow this link:
Caitlin Mathews has created a wonderful deck and book that explores this and is one of the main sources I used in creating this pathworking.
The Celts had an understanding that all worlds connected and could be accessed at threshold places such as where the sea meets the land, where the night meets the day or where the forest meets the field. There are many examples of threshold places and states. Working with this concept meant that the Awenydd (pronounced Awen-ith and meaning Inspired One, one of their names for a Seer) could easily journey into the land of the Dead or Annwn (Ann-oown) and retrieve valuable treasures, learning and assistance from the spirits and ancestors living there. It is a magickal place of abundance, palaces, gorgeous landscapes and magickal beings, although we also find places where we must face our shadows.
The land of Annwn is divided into thirty-four levels, thirty-one islands, two seas and journey’s end. Calling them “islands” is a little misleading, as they may actually be seen as levels or planes within Annwn. Each island is a place of transformation and learning which prepares the soul to enter Tir a’nog also called the Summerland or Avalon. In his place the soul rests until ready to continue the journey of life wherever that may take him or her.
The purpose of using Shamanic technique to journey into Annwn is to complete the transformational process while still in the physical body. Thus we resolve issues, release grief, pain and sorrow, and come into our power before we actually leave this life. It is an extremely powerful process because we are making changes on a soul-level. You travel to each Island and meet the beings that reside there, ask them what you are meant to learn from this Island and experience the transformation. Often you will have to journey many times to an Island before you are finished working with the lessons and will also have to make changes in Ordinary Reality, your everyday life. It took me two years to complete my Imramma (Spirit journey) but the lessons I learnt are still being made clear to me and I realized that this Imramma was the first step in a longer process.
The experiences and lessons that you will learn will not be the same as anyone else’s, because you are working with your own life, your own soul and starting from who you are now. You can share experiences with others on the Imramma if you want to and read the meanings and interpretations written by Caitlin Matthews in her book but don’t be surprised if what you experience is totally different. Trust the process and go gently at your own pace. Be aware, however, that this journey will change you forever.
There are a few things that you will need to do before starting your pathworking. First you will need to do a ritual to dedicate yourself to this path. During the ritual enter a meditative state and ask for a guide to help you on your Imramma. Allow the guide that wishes to help you to come clearly into your awareness. Often the guide is Arianrhod who is a Goddess of the land of the dead, or Mananna Mac Lir, the God of the ocean similar to Neptune.
You will need a new blank book, which has been blessed to record your journey, or you can use a section in your current BOS. You will also need a Witch pouch, if you don’t already have one, to place gifts from the Otherworld that you receive during your journey. These are powerful tools that you will use all your life. For example, when I was on my Imramma I met a Hyperborean, a being from beyond the North Wind, who gave me a red ribbon as protection. I put it in my Witch Pouch and whenever I need to create protection for myself or others I use her red ribbon. Whenever I use it, I replace it with a new one in my Witch Pouch and it immediately becomes charged with protection again. It’s some of the most powerful magick I have ever felt.
The Three Souls
The common idea of the soul today, which comes from Christian thought, is that the soul is one entity containing the personality and the divine identity of the person. This soul is subordinate to the Divine Soul, God, and superior to the physical body, although God is seen as triple: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Celts believed that each person had three souls, each one connected to the three cauldrons, represented by the bones of the pelvis, the bones of the rib cage and the skull. The soul connected to the Cauldron of Warming (the pelvis) is the soul of vitality, the soul connected to the Cauldron of Vocation (the rib cage) is the soul of emotion and the soul connected to the Cauldron of knowledge (the skull) is the soul of intelligence. If the soul-shrine (physical body) is attacked, one of these souls can be stolen or frightened into leaving, which will affect the persons physical health, emotional health or mental health. Only the Shamans were trained in retrieving the lost soul parts but protecting them was a common everyday practice. Ask your guide for advice on how to protect your souls during your Imramma. It can be as simple as wearing braided red ribbons around your wrist.
Connected with the three souls were also extensions of these souls. The double soul called the “riocht” or “co-walker” is an exact astral double of the person. A seer can send his double out at will but for a normal person only a great shock or the approach of death can loosen the ties of the riocht to the body. This is the part of the soul that we send out on our Shamanic journey. It is tied to our soul-shrine by a thread that brings it back.
Another belief in Celtic stories is the hidden soul. It is a part of the soul that is bound up with another living entity or an object. An example of this is Arthur’s sword Excalibur, which contains a part of his soul. He cannot cross over to Avalon until the sword is returned to the Lady of the Lake and his soul part is returned to him. There are stories of individuals being spiritually connected to trees, so that if the tree is damaged or destroyed they are also hurt or killed. The hidden soul does not appear in human form but in the form of a bird or a butterfly. When unusual bird activity happened around the home, the Celts saw it as an omen concerning the souls of their family, for example if a bird flew into the house they saw it as a visit from a departed loved one.
Celtic people believed that soul power is contained in the blood, the breath and the hair. The custom of covering the mouth when we yawn comes from this belief, that we must protect our soul power from escaping. There are many stories about people losing their power and strength when their hair is cut, not only in Celtic stories. It is an old Scottish belief that a man should not cut his own hair because he will lose some of his soul power and that a woman should never brush her hair at night because each hair that is dropped could increase the danger for a loved one at sea.
Soul power can also be contained in anything that is woven, knotted, wound or braided. The Celtic knot drawings contain soul power. Even today the women of Aran knit special designs of protection into the jerseys of their men. This is why a triple braided thread is seen as a strong protection against negative energy.
You will now need to read the complete story of the Voyage of Maelduin’s Boat and prior to journeying to each island, re-read its meaning and the sections that relate to it in the story. Read the original story in the archaic language first and then read the newer version. Let the images sink into you. If you are an artistic type of person, drawing or painting the images would be helpful.
The complete poem is a little difficult to understand because of its archaic style but you will need to read it slowly and thoughtfully because it will connect you to the images on a spiritual level, if not a mental and emotional one. It is a Sacred Story, not just a mundane romance, and it addresses us on deeper levels than we know. Caitlin Matthews has re-written the story in more modern language that will help you to understand it better so I do recommend that you buy her book if you are going to do the path of the Mask, but it is not necessary to do so. Working with the sacred text link also works.
As you can see by this short description of this work it is deep and involved, a spiritual quest and a commitment to yourself. I have not studied the Egyptian book of the dead or the Tibetan book of the dead, but perhaps they could be part of your study as well. Good luck to you on your spiritual questing dear Witch and may the winds of love bring you home again safely.