I’ve done a few different types of what I call generically “journeywork.”
There are a lot of different techniques that I have read, learned, and practice for these experiences (“accident” is perfectly valid, by the way), and many of those techniques can be path specific and rather complicated and time consuming.
So I’m not going to discuss the techniques, or even go into great detail on the experiences themselves, but rather how and why they are different.
So first, a few terms.
Journeywork is a term that I use to describe any kind of altered state experience that is interpreted in terms of perceiving yourself to be in a location that may or may not mimic the physical world.
This includes but may not be limited to the following:
Dreaming: Most people are familiar with a dream state. In this state you may experience unusual or fantastic things, and those experiences may represent interactions or insights that bear significance either psychologically or spiritually. Dreams usually seem to operate on their own.
Lucid Dreaming: This is a dream state in which the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming and has control over the dream environment.
Out of Body Experience (OBE): an experience in which the consciousness leaves the confines of the physical body but can still perceive the environment.
Astral Projection: An experience in which the consciousness is “projected” into something ominously refereed to as the “astral realm” or “astral plane.” This realm is usually experienced to have geographical features that may or may not be manipulated at will.
Pathworking: An experience in which the consciousness leaves the body and travels to a very specific location (usually understood to be on the astral) in order to witness certain events or interact with certain entities that reside in those locations.
Visualization/Guided Meditation: An experience in which attention is focused on certain locations or events so that they are experienced, but usually with the connotation that consciousness at least partially remains in the body.
So, this is kind of what I’m talking about. Now I’ll go into how I differentiate these experiences, and how I see them as related. Please note that this is based upon my own experiences, and your own mileage or understanding may vary.
I’ll start with the difference between an OBE and astral projection. As I understand it, and OBE involves leaving your body, but still observing and moving around the “normal” physical world, whereas astral projection involves “traveling” to the “astral plane,” wherever that is. In short, if you’re floating around your room, it’s an OBE; if you’re in an ephemeral mystical place that is vaguely physical, it’s astral projection.
Now, for dreams.
I don’t know if you go to the astral plane when you dream or not. The dream world behaves similarly to the astral realm. I’ve had dreams that took me to astral locations. I’ve projected to places that I saw in dreams. So as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter if they’re the same or not, because they act the same and appear to have enough of an overlap that it doesn’t hurt anything to treat them as if they were the same.
When most people dream, they go along with what happens on kind of an autopilot. I believe this to happen for a few different reasons. 1) I believe that dreaming is related to the function of a memory palace, and helps you process and retain memories of experiences you’ve had. So you are acting kind of intentionally, even though you’re not fully engaged. 2) I believe that your “higher self” or equivalent is still acting with intent during these experiences. Just because the conscious mind is not engaged does not mean that the self or the mind is not. 3) Sometimes those experiences are imposed by other higher order entities. “Training,” if you will. 4) I honestly think that sometimes they’re just entertainment.
Lucid dreaming is when you know you’re dreaming. And you can change the script. And with a little bit of focus, your environment as well. This is why I speak of an overlap between the dream and astral realms: my experience of lucid dreaming is indistinguishable from my experience of astral projection. I can do the same things, perform the same magic, visit the same locations, and call upon the same entities. The main difference is that lucid dreams will tend to break from a dream script, and also tend to slip back into them. Forcibly deviating to far from a dream script while lucid will tend to wake me up.
When in full astral, I have a great deal of control over my environment. I can manifest objects and tools, fly, project energy, “bend” the environment (like on Avatar), and visibly weave spells. I can also teleport (to an extent) and manifest or access temples or other locations on demand. And I can also access the dream realms of other people if I want. (This supports the idea that a person’s “dream realm” is a specific demesne of the astral realm that surrounds or is native to a person. But that’s a lot more cosmology than I want to deal with.)
My experience with pathworking is closely related to my work with the Tree of Life and Qabalah, although it can be used with other systems and locations. Essentially, you would use intense symbolically specific visualization (Like a tarot trump) to “project” yourself into a given “place” (Such as the sephira of Yesod) and interact with entities and energies native to that place. The goal is usually the interaction with the entities you are seeking. These experiences and journeys can be less structured as well, and they can also be dangerous, as not all entities are honest or friendly.
I differentiate guided meditations and visualizations from pathworking because they don’t seem to be fully engaged. You are still mostly in your body and the physical, and for me at least the experience is more like dipping your awareness lightly into a script someone else is directing. These experiences act more like dream scripts experienced in a lucid state, and typically if you deviate too far from the script, you get booted from the experience (or less commonly, fully sucked in and detached from the “guide”).
So these are how I differentiate and understand these experiences. I don’t know what or where they really are, and I’m not sure it matters too much anyway. But these models help me describe them.
I’d also like to clarify that I’m not an expert at astral projection or lucid dreaming by any means. I don’t work with these experiences often, and they usually pose a great challenge for me to attain. (I think a lot of this is due to the centrality of visual imagery to most of the techniques for attaining these states.) But once I do attain them, I can pull off quite a bit (and usually wake up exhausted).
I’d love to hear any perspectives on these states that my readers might share.