Exploring the Penumbra: First Steps in Sorcery Part 2

Wordless Knowledge

In time I realized that my new experiences came from a sort of energy flowing through my body. This energy was always there, but most of it was engaged with thinking and frontal attention; consequently, I rarely noticed it. I had discovered a way to increase the flow of this energy, so that I became aware of it for the first time as a factor in my environment. I had no name for this energy because we only name the things we notice. In this way shifts in energy awareness lead to wordless knowledge.

As energy flowed through my body, feelings flowed through my mind. I couldn’t put words to these feelings, but I could place them in long forgotten memories. Apparently memory, too, had a foreground and a background, and these detailed memories were of past moments that had lain forgotten in the background. Reselection of sensations must lead to a reselection of memories. From background sounds to things seen to the side to forgotten memories, one penumbra led to another.

Were all my memories as detailed as these? If so, background sensations must be stored in memory whether we are aware of them or not. Or were moments in the penumbra all somehow linked together in their own separate memory? I wasn’t remembering everything, like a drowning person; instead, I was somehow recalling the feelings of past moments. I could follow any feeling back to its memory, and in that sense I had potential access to all my memories, but it was the feelings that were important to me. Each one contained the particular perspective I had at a given moment in the past, both on myself and on life. My present sense of myself was expanding back through my past. I began recovering my early openness to new experiences, and came to feel that everything is potentially interesting.

As my inner silence deepened, psychic abilities like telepathy and precognition began to appear, like mice that creep out at night after the family has gone to bed, as one writer put it.1 These things just happened by themselves after I’d accumulated enough energy. In what follows I will show the reader how to access this energy and save it up. If energy itself is the teacher, this might explain how the knowledge of sorcery arose in the first place.

The Echo

In 1972 I was living in Encanto, then a semi-rural community of southeast San Diego. At that time I’d found that three or four hours were about as long as I could attend to background sounds before thinking would start in again. Then one day while walking along Imperial Avenue, it suddenly occurred to me to mentally imitate the sound of a truck that had just driven by. This immediately resulted in heightened attention to sounds and a powerful surge of energy.

At first my mental reproduction of engine noises was not very accurate, but that improved with practice. Sometimes I reproduced sounds mentally a moment or two after they occurred; at other times the echo happened immediately afterwards, and became like an extra resonance to sound. I called the first the ‘delayed echo’ and the second the ‘immediate echo’. The delayed echo heightened attention to sounds, while the immediate echo prolonged such attention.

The echo combined well with other explorations and amplified their effect. On this occasion I tried mentally echoing sounds just heard while keeping my eyeglass frames in view. The result of this doubling up was three full days (not counting sleep) in the penumbra.

At one point the feeling of lightness became like a breeze blowing through my body from back to front. Things seemed to take on a bluish tinge, but this was feeling rather than vision; it had to do with how fresh everything felt. The feelings blowing through my body flooded every pore with wordless knowledge.

By the third day, the breeze had risen to a light wind and was blowing through my memories. My personal history, the sense of who I am, was being shuffled like a deck of cards, or rolled like those little pictures in the windows of slot machines.

I call this episode in my life ‘the spirit wind’. By the end of the third day the wind set me down somewhere else in myself; that is, my store of familiar memories was completely revised and my feeling of myself permanently changed from that point on.

Mental talk uses the memory of spoken words, played back on a sort of internal tape recorder, I reasoned. When I mentally replay sounds just heard, I momentarily unplug this tape recorder from my store of familiar memories and plug it instead into immediate memory, into sounds selected randomly by circumstances. The effect, after several hours, was to send my memories on a roll. In the longer run I discovered that the echo was like a feedback signal and provided a sense of inner companionship I usually derived from thinking. I talk to myself because I am usually lonely and want to have a companion, here in my mind where I feel most alone. With practice, the echo replaced mental talk as my inner companion.

The echo gave me the power to be alone without feeling lonely; and I had flown on the echo, flown without the desert, peyote, or magic mushrooms. Poor D.D.!

Years later, some friends and I practiced the echo together in a circle. Each of us in turn made a single soft non-human sound, after which we would all repeat it mentally. After three or four go-arounds, M. laughed and said it really made her feel dizzy.

The Camera

I saw that vision supplies a sense of continuity to my experience even when interrupted by thoughts, so I tried disrupting this continuity by fluttering my eyelids like a strobe light. My lids soon got tired, so I tried opening and shutting them more slowly and resting them for a moment or two between ‘shutters’. Eventually I settled on a shutter speed that was slow enough to be comfortable but too quick for my mind to begin thinking about what it saw. I called this the ‘camera’.

In this exploration, close your eyes and breathe quietly for a few moments. Now open and shut them again immediately; not rapidly, just before you start thinking about anything. Take a few more breaths, then open and shut the eyes again. Do this for a few minutes. It works well to try it before a changing scene, so try it before an open window, or when you’re riding as a passenger in a car or on a train.

The camera can be practiced while walking across long flat surfaces such as park lawns or sandy beaches. Just look towards the ground about three feet in front of you and open your eyes often enough so you won’t trip over anything.

The disruption in visual continuity forces the mind to turn its attention to hearing and the other senses. At the same time, the slow deliberate interruption of the shutter interferes with the rapid disruption of frontal vision by thought.

An unexpected effect of the camera is to relax the chronically tensed muscles at the outer corners of the eyes. We tense these muscles habitually in order to track on objects. Once those muscles relax, something opens up there and a flow of energy enters the eyes from the sides carrying with it feelings and wordless knowledge. The eyes no longer strain to see but instead become passive windows, and vision becomes fresher and more vivid. Try varying the number of breaths taken between shutters, as well as the speed of the shutter itself. Eventually, your eyes will shutter by themselves spontaneously.

The ‘swing camera’ is performed by moving the head slowly from left to right several times, working the shutter at each end of the arc. Then face forward and slowly open your eyes. The whole visual field will appear united, with the left and right peripheries prominent.

Where there is danger of stumbling, the reverse of the camera can be performed: the eyes are open but are slowly and relaxedly closed and opened again at intervals. To avoid strain, let your eyes blink by themselves normally between times. The discoverer called this exploration ‘long blinking’. [P.J.]

A related exploration involves periodically opening the eyelids a little wider than usual, then letting them relax back into their accustomed position. This is most effective after practicing the camera for a while. [W.W.]

But there was one problem with the camera, and solving it led to a new way of exploring the lumina.


When I first began practicing the camera, I noticed that I tended to drift back into thinking during the phase when my eyes were closed. So I took the explorer’s tack of looking for whatever I was ignoring in the situation.

What I was ignoring were phosphenes, all the little lights and vague shapes that seem to hang or dissolve across the backs of the eyelids. Here was an unexplored region of the lumina, a book only I could read, though written in an unknown language.

I was not trying to project known forms on my phosphenes; I simply picked out this or that detail and tried to follow its changes. Though these images were like nothing in the world, I could study the ways they changed into each other, getting a feeling for their movement. I saw that one way they change is by reversing figure and ground. At one point a detail that is part of the foreground begins to merge into the background, while background details gain in prominence, like the black silhouette of a wine cup that becomes two lovers kissing, or the ambiguous paintings of M.C. Escher.

When I combined this exploration with the camera, each shutter was followed by an after-image that faded into the usual slow dance of unknown figures. Whatever I caught sight of when my eyes opened slowly disintegrated when they were shut again, and in this way I saw something known gradually turn into something unknown. I tried to catch the point at which the after-image was no longer recognizable. These explorations deepened my inner peace suddenly. It felt like slipping down a floor or two in an elevator.

While watching phosphenes, the eyes can slowly and gently move from side to side, as they do more rapidly while dreaming. The eyes are not moved physically but move by themselves as the explorer moves his attention across the field of lights and shapes. [W.E.]

A related exploration involves opening the eyes just enough to admit a minute crack of external light, which is essentially the way Zen Buddhists peer at a wall while meditating. This ‘wall vision’ heightened the mind’s attention to phosphenes when the eyes were fully shut again.

Echoing sounds just heard provides a soundtrack to the phosphene movie. When I did this, my mind associated the two in a single rhythm. I called this sort of exploration a ‘blending’. Blendings concentrate the attention more fully in the penumbra, so that the explorer goes in more deeply and stays there longer.

Spirit Door, Spirit Candle

Early on I tried experiments with crossing my eyes, making the visual field all penumbra. It was hard to do without strain, so I developed a preliminary relaxation. First I crossed my eyes for short moments without focusing on anything in particular. This helped to loosen up some of the muscular tension around my eyes. I just crossed them a moment and then relaxed letting the muscles go, allowing my eyes to uncross by themselves. This warm-up by itself led to a calm feeling of strengthened will power in the center of my head.

As practicing the camera also helped relax the muscles around the eyes, it was natural to try it out with the eyes crossed, once they could be crossed without strain.

I tried darkening the room and lighting a candle on a table at eye level, three feet or more in front of me. I lit the candle and then did the preliminary relaxation, making two candles, then releasing the eyes and letting them return to one candle again. I repeated this several times until my eyes suddenly stayed crossed by themselves, without strain.

(Fig. 1: Spirit Door: 1st point, lower 2nd point.

Fig. 2: Spirit Door: 1st point, lower 2nd and 3rd points.

Fig. 3: Spirit Door: 1st point, upper 2nd and 3rd points.

Fig. 4: Spirit Candle.

The signature is my son Corin Elliott’s, who drew the illustration in 2000 C.E.)

My eyes were directed at a point midway between the candle flames and on a level with them. Keeping my eyes on that point, I extended my attention to a point just below the first (fig. 1). This made the space between the two apparent candles seem like a doorway; feelings began flowing through this doorway into my eyes, producing a surge of energy in the middle of my head. I called this ‘the spirit door’.

Without moving the eyes, I then moved my attention to a third point at the same lower level, but closer to me (fig. 2). This triangulation gave space a different geometry, in which the two apparent candles seemed to be rushing towards me without ever arriving. If I extended my attention to a point just above the first, and from there to a third point on that level but closer to me, the strange geometry also appeared, in which I seemed to be rushing towards the candles without ever getting to them (fig. 3).

When the candle was farther away, I redirected my eyes from point 1 to point 2 to point 3, keeping part of my attention on point 1. In other words, I practiced ‘gazing from the side’ instead of ‘gazing to the side’.2 I found both forms of gazing to be effective.

The ‘spirit candle’ was similar but used two candles of the same height and shape but of different colors. When crossing the eyes created a third ‘spirit candle’ between them, both colors were present in the candle but did not blend as a third color. When one eye got lazy, the corresponding color disappeared. Keeping the two colors steady helped to detect mind-wandering and stopped it in time (fig. 4).

My candle experiments became rather baroque after a while. I would place two candles side by side in the corner of my bathroom sink, where they were reflected in two mirrors at right-angles to each other, making as many as six apparent candles. The additional images didn’t result in more energy, however.

The spirit door and spirit candle filled me with calm will power. Will and knowledge seemed to be the same thing after practicing them, and this effect combined with a surge of power in the center of the head.

Filling the Boat with Water

The traveler in the penumbra must manage to integrate these strange practices into a reasonably normal life, or he may give the appearance of schizophrenia and wind up in an asylum, like the protagonist of the French film ‘La Vie a l’Envers [Life Upside Down]’. 3 It is probably not possible to avoid a certain appearance of eccentricity, but with circumspection one can avert raising a general alarm.

While sitting in an airport and maintaining peripheral vision I found it was enough to wear dark glasses and hold a magazine in front of my face, turning the pages occasionally, to avoid appearing odd. I called these tricks of protective coloration ‘alibis’.

I saw that every situation affords some opportunity for extending the attention beyond the lumina. In a restaurant it may be revolving shadows cast by a ceiling fan, a convenient thing to gaze at while waiting for one’s order to arrive, while of course maintaining an air of day-dreaming. This ever-present opportunity I called a ‘bindu,’ a Sanskrit word meaning a point from which new creation can emerge. So in every new situation I looked for the bindu and had an alibi ready for camouflage purposes.

This helped me to integrate sorcery into any given moment, but the question of integrating it into my life as a whole remained. I still built up my energy for two or three days and then wasted it through anger, worry, or mild obsession. I enjoyed the fluid lightness of continuous sensation, but could only save up just so much energy, since my thinking mind found so many ways to squander most of it. Accessing the energy, then, wasn’t enough; I had to find a way to save it and store it up if I wanted to make progress.

An eastern teaching says we are like leaky vessels; we should find the leaks and plug them before filling the vessel with water. This means correcting bad habits and purifying oneself ethically before opening the door to psychic development.

Exploring the penumbra, however, is like filling an old boat with water to find the leaks. The explorer saturates mind and body with the energy of the penumbra and then quietly observes what his personality does with the increased energy. The eastern

teaching is prudent, and the explorer should bear in mind that filling the boat with water can be risky at first until you know where your big leaks are. Although adventures can be therapeutic they also contain dangers. To protect themselves, seasoned travelers travel lightly, simplifying their lives by eliminating useless possessions, opinions, commitments, relationships, clutter of all sorts. Greater openness to sensations makes the explorer seek silence and solitude, and cutting down on distractions makes it easier to spot energy leaks and plug them.

After the leaks are plugged and the hull is caulked, the old boat can be launched into the sea of the unknown.


Upon awakening, not putting on the light right away, but lying quietly, slipping gradually from sleep to waking. Watching the lights on the inside of the eyelids. Slowly beginning the camera, fluttering the eyelids open every third breath or so. After this getting up and moving around, keeping the attention in the penumbra for a few more moments.

Driving to work around dawn, watching the long shadows of trees fall across the face like weightless waves, shadow-surf. The eyes seem to feel things.

Noon, cars gliding by on their shadows like carpets fixed to the wheels, yet the wheels roll over them just the same, a visible contradiction.

Swimming slowly across the pool, watching unrepeatable detail, lights wriggling like phosphorescent worms along the bottom, how light this body, how long the breath can be held!

Restaurants are excellent for peripheral listening, even better in the evening, by a window or in a glassed-in patio, mixing reflections with listening. Ocean of conversations all together, surging and falling to a great tide.

Lights at night, exquisite when the mind is quiet. Reflections of the interior mingled with views of the night outside. This mind wants to see either the reflections or the night, so watch them both. Headlights of cars beyond the inlet moving across the forehead of that woman eating at the next table wearing a streetlamp behind her left ear.

In the evening listening to distant sounds, letting my ears travel to the limits of the night, echoing fugitive noises until the dark flows back into my mind and the night is inside and all around me.

Late at night, off with the reading lamp, shutting the eyes, falling-asleep thoughts mingling with phosphenes. Those vague lights and patterns will be woven into dream images. My day begins and ends with this book that only I can read.


“I’ve always got some tune or other going through my head,” my father said.

Minor obsessions like tunes that stick in the head waste a lot of energy but can be dispelled by blending them with sounds heard in the moment. Begin by echoing sounds a moment after they occur. Let the pace quicken on its own, until you are echoing sounds immediately upon hearing them. Now listen to the tune and the echo together as though they were a duet, like one of John Cage’s chance compositions.

The mind will find a rhythm common to them and they will sound as though they were keeping together within it. Presently, the inner tune will be absorbed into the outer sound, and only the outer will remain.

Mental tunes and inner talking can also be absorbed into visual movement. Watch how things move, observe their rhythm and let the mind blend with it.

When I am sleepless or otherwise caught up with obsessive thoughts, I can blend them with the rhythm or sound of my breathing, the way sitar music blends with the droning tamboura in the background.

If I try to suppress thoughts, they will only grow stronger; so instead I blend them like tunes into external sounds, letting them reverberate and die away on their own. The solution to these small dilemmas can be found in this moment of sensation.

Sometimes, when I am upset about something I can’t do anything about for the present, I begin obsessively repeating what I am going to say when the time comes. Pointless rehearsing, as opposed to intelligent planning, is a major energy leak in the hull of my boat.

At other times, dissatisfied with my response or role in a situation recently past, I will begin rehashing the situation over again, seeking to look better in my own eyes; or else I will hug to myself some quick response I made that drew laughter or applause. Either way, I waste a lot of energy in my obsessive concern over how I appear to others.

Like all trains of thought, the rehash and the rehearsal can be blended into sounds just heard, or into visual sensations. The echo, in conjunction with other explorations, lets me build up enough energy to sidestep the rehearsal and rehash before they capture my attention.

The wake of the moment just past often contains a ready-made synopsis of my life’s ongoing story. Maintaining a running story-line for my life and worrying over the plot is a full-time job and engages most of my energy.

If I blend the synopsis with sounds of the present moment my story starts

to fade, and is eventually replaced with a series of timeless pictures, like the calm

colored illustrations by Clement Hurd to Margaret Wise Brown’s children’s book

Goodnight Moon. 4

These pictures convey the feeling of immediacy enjoyed by very small children. Here is a small rabbit saying good-night to all his familiar companions: chairs, a red balloon, the moon in the window. This ‘great green room’ must be his first room, where everything began for him; only this is near the beginning and his story hasn’t really started yet. Instead there is a series of timeless moments, each complete in itself. Everything fits together and makes sense the way pictures make sense, but the moments following each other do not add up to a story because there is no plot and no synopsis.


When my second son was little, we used to take evening walks. On the way home one night suddenly we both looked at the moon. “It’s following us home,” I said, with that slight twinge of guilt parents feel when they’re lying about Santa Claus. Then it occurred to me that I hadn’t noticed this for years, probably since being told it was an illusion.

Here was an experience usually ignored, like the shadow carpets of moving cars or the fuzzy sensations that are all I can see of my head without a mirror. These sensations, rejected once we ‘knew better,’ are doors into the penumbra. I decided to call them ‘mirages,’ because like desert mirages they tend to melt away when we suddenly see through them.

The mind’s proclivity for placing unrelated sounds in some sort of rhythmic pattern, so that all the conversations in a restaurant, for instance, seem to swell and fall in a great tidal pulse, was mentioned earlier. In the preceding section its usefulness for stopping mild obsessions by ‘blending’ them into external sounds was described. These explorations make use of the energy locked up in mirages.

When out walking on a windy day, attend to the wind in rhythm with your breathing. Don’t try to control your breathing, but follow the sound and feeling of breathing while listening to the wind as though it were the breathing of some enormous animal. Breathe with the wind, then breathe in response to the wind.

When clouds are packed up in more than one layer, look at one cloud and reverse it with the cloud in back or in front of it, switching figure and ground. This one is from my brother, a field surveyor. [W.W.]

The ancient Norse seeking their farmstead idols collected stumps and rocks and such that seemed to have faces carved in them by nature. 5 These were regarded as beings trying to emerge from stock or stone, and were carved and decorated just enough to help them come out. Like the Surrealist painter Salvador Dali, they looked for hidden faces in things.

We look at faces differently from mere objects, because faces look back. The explorer finds faces in wood grain, clouds or foliage and looks, then gazes at them as if they were faces looking back, without believing or disbelieving that they are. This is a good follow-up to the camera or echo, and augments or fine-tunes their effect.

Watching phosphenes leads to a feeling of being asleep while knowing one is awake. The next two mirages also play with the border between sleeping and waking and result in strong surges of energy accompanied by strange feelings.

When it is difficult to dispel the feeling of a dream, or if you simply recall the flavor of some dream, whether recent or from long ago, project its feeling into the current waking situation; that is, look for qualities or features similar to the dream and blend them with your memory of its mood or atmosphere. Pretend the dream is happening right now and you are temporarily aware that you are dreaming.

When you have actually had a lucid dream and can remember how it felt, project that feeling into the present waking moment and look at everything as though you were back in that dream. As lucid dreamers know, anything in a dream is a potential distraction that can make the dreamer lose his lucidity, so you want to look at things warily, without being drawn into them. Once you are drawn in you will forget you are dreaming and it will become an ordinary dream again. If you do this while awake, you will receive a strong jolt of energy.

We have a major energy investment tied up in the isolation of dreams from waking reality, which makes it very difficult for most people to become lucid dreamers. I will conclude by considering this barrier to lucid dreaming, and how it might be overcome through a mirage.

1 Alan Watts, I think.

2 See page 6.

3 Jessua, Alain, writer and director. See bibliography.

4 Brown, Margaret Wise. See bibliography.

5 Davidson, H.R. Ellis, Pagan Scandinavia. See bibliography.