In the earliest days of my magical exploration, my cosmology was very simple. There was the mortal, material, world in which I existed primarily, and the energetic, spirit, world in which it was encapsulated, and which intruded into the material at whim. The literature I was reading at that time spoke of the Otherworld, and the astral, and the Akashik … each monolithic, undifferentiated, either identical to or incomparable with the others. Owing to my obsession with achieving astral projection, I tended to conceive of it all as the astral plane.
As I continued my magical practice, encountering spirits and phenomena that could not fit within that simple construction, and began encountering descriptions (often shallow) of other cosmologies – the Tree of Life; the Upper, Middle, and Lower worlds; competing theological visions – I incorporated these other realms as layers running parallel or perpendicular to the mortal world, or wholly elsewhere… perhaps as separate realms, floating distinct and distant in the astral sea. In retrospect, I am embarrassed how much my personal cosmology was shaped by role-playing games. But however ill-pedigreed it may have been, that multi-layered map succeeded in describing the world I actually saw, where no other really did.
Years passed. My practice waxed and waned, and waxed and waned again. I became isolated, finding few pagans practicing serious magic, and – as I became ever more queer – finding pagan spaces increasingly hostile to my gender.
I began studying shamanic visionary practice, and finally achieved the out-of-body experiences that I had craved since I first began studying magic ten years before. And, somehow, without even noticing, I bought into the implicit cosmology: a Middle World, where mortals and land spirits dwell; an Underworld, full of the dead and demons and trickster spirits and cthonic gods; and an Upperworld, populated by angels and sky gods and archetypes and ascended masters. It did not do as good a job of describing my own experiences, or the experiences of my friends, but the practice seemed to require a certain commitment to the metaphor, and after a couple years I forgot some of the subtitles and vagaries that had previously defined my personal map.
Then came the ceremonial experiment, and my complete inability to buy the Tree of Life cosmology, and my eventual emphasis on conjuring spirits of the planetary spheres. The Platonic planetary spheres were even less adequate to describe my previous experiences than the “shamanic worldview”before it, but it was operationally effective. Once again, being a terrible Chaos Magician, I bought in.
Somewhere in the temporal mess of the above two paragraphs and the decade they represent, I was shown a vision of the cosmos. All such visions are suspect, and this one was doubly so as it conformed more closely to one of my previous worldviews than any I have heard described before: a black-skinned goddess, hair in dreads and face obscured by a wooden mask, lifted me up into the sky and showed me a vision of the Earth, made up not of tidy layers or ascending spheres, but of lines of force and raging currents and irregularly shaped planes, all jammed together around and through one another, some vast beyond imagining, some trully infinite, and some shockingly small. In this vision, the mortal world was formed by the places where those lines and planes and currents intersected most densely, and the Otherworlds extended outward beyond the material.
Now, almost fully extracted from the ceremonial experiment and the painfully regimented structures in which I inadvertently bound myself, I find myself going over old notes and dredging up near-forgotten memories and magical techniques which defy the cosmologies in which I have spent the last five to ten years. I find myself in need of a new cosmology. I need a new map.
The map is not the territory: there are subtitles of texture and meaning and contrast that a map simply cannot convey. There are regions inadequately represented, and at some point editorial decisions of scale and significance must be made. That does not mean it is not helpful to have one.
The world exists. Get in your car and drive in any direction, and there it is. Perhaps you will find yourself in Dullsville, or a Cave of Wonders. But without a map, that experience drifts free without anchor. Perhaps you will avoid Dullsville in the future, or perhaps you will somehow find yourself there again and again because the road looked more appealing at the outset. Perhaps you will manage to return to the Cave of Wonders, or perhaps the angle of sun or rain that drove you down that road will never again align in your favor, and it is lost to you forever.
I recall the vision I was given with sharp clarity, and relate it often as one of the most profound magical experiences of my magical life, but I have not managed to … internalize it. To see, it seems, is not, in fact, to know. I need a map.
So I ponder. I recall the times I have wound my way through magical defenses by stepping sideways. I turn the worlds I have seen over and over in my mind. And I keep that vision in mind. I think of ghosts, and shadow people, and all the phenomena I have seen and experienced which never rested comfortably in the maps I have used before. I recall, also, the experiences of others that have been related to me – ancestor works, and godspouces, and cryptids, and alien abductions – which must also be accounted for if my map is to be useful.
Art may serve me better, in this quest, than science. But I shall pursue it with all of both that I can muster.