Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will. -- Aleister CrowleyRead More
Vampires in Their Own Words: An Anthology of Vampire Voices, edited by Michelle Belanger
Llewellyn Worldwide, 9780738712208, 245 pp., pp.
Michelle Belanger, perhaps best known for her first book, The Psychic Vampire Codex, serves as editor for this unique anthology. Vampires In Their Own Words is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of essays by various vampires, some identify as psychic or energy vampires, whereas others identify as sanguinarians (vampires who drink blood), and others who fall somewhere between the two.
In her introduction Belanger gives an overview of the myth of the vampire and details her “Awakening” (a term used to denote the starting point of one’s conscious awareness of hir vampiric condition) and process of acceptance. Much of this will be familiar to anyone who’s read her earlier works or listened to Shadowdance, the podcast she co-hosts with Chris Miller.
The rest of the anthology is divided into loose sections written by an impressive cross-section of vampires covering everything from vampire culture, feeding and the ethics surrounding various practices, codes of behaviour and traditions, followed by a section written by those with close ties to the vampire community but who do not consider themselves vampires.
Many of the essays open with explanations on how each individual arrived at their identification with vampirism and their “Awakening” process. The majority of the essays are followed with a definition section, explaining the vampire culture-specific terms used, such as “donor”, “therian”, “kitra”, and numerous others. There is some overlap, but it’s nice to see the range and variety in the answers, which points are emphasized, as it gives a feel for how individual vampires relate to the terms they use.
Naturally, taken as a whole, some of the essays are contradictory, and they’re far from equal in calibre, but such is the nature of anthologies. There are also quite a few that shine, and others which give pause for thought, such as Sylvere ap Leanan’s “American Vampires” where the author rants against the caste- and court-based vampire community structures. She writes, “…we’re Americans. Our nation was founded on the principle that all are equal in the eyes of our Creator and should be acknowledged as such by those around us…Yet, in clubs and on the Internet, we revert to the very societal structure from which our countrymen struggled to free us.” She raises many valid points.
In “Vampire Lifestyle and Culture” Sanguinarius makes a legitimate case for the appropriation of vampire myths in weaving an identity as a vampire lifestyler, writing: “Since we have no culture of our own, historically speaking, we are inventing it for ourselves…In our case, the only “existing cultural heritage” or knowledge base that could be said to exist are the social/cultural aspects of vampiric fiction…”
Though for this occultist, perhaps the most intriguing essay was that written by Alexzandria and James Baker, “The Serpent’s Kiss”, which explored Aleister Crowley’s use of the term “vampire” and explored his relationship with the vampire myth in modern occult views and through his published works.
Vampires In Their Own Words provides a fair range of opinions on what it means to be a vampire, how vampire behaviour ought to be conducted, what the community should look like, and would serve well as a resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the subculture.
In working on a book on dreamwalking, I ran into some interesting puzzles concerning the technique of dreamwalking and its relationship with astral travel. The issues inspired me to embark on a comprehensive study of astral travel, which in turn demonstrated that many sources on astral travel diverge on key points about this ability. The following article attempts to resolve the conflicts in information regarding astral travel, then address the related issue of dreamwalking.
In my Psychic Energy Book, I explored the idea of chakras and all the conflicting information that exists about them. Many different traditions address the notion of these subtle body energy centres, but quite a few of them disagree on a number of salient points about them. Depending on which tradition you consult, you will learn differing opinions on the exact number of energy centres, their placement in the subtle body, or even their overall purpose in the mind-body-spirit complex.
In order to sort through all the conflicting information, I introduced a method of critical analysis to my readers. Critical analysis helps students and researchers develop the best interpretation possible of existing information, especially when much of that information disagrees. Critical analysis is especially useful when you are working with subjective reports, where each individual’s presentation of the facts can be influenced by personal expectations and perspective.
Astral projection is a technique that has a lot of conflicting information written about it. As we have seen in the previous chapter, not only do different writers seem to be presenting different techniques under the label of astral projection, others seem to confuse matters by inventing new words for the same technique. Before we can really address is issue of dreamwalking and astral projection, it is necessary to review all the information at hand and develop a working definition of astral projection. As part of that task, we need to figure out why there is so much confusion in the first place.
With all of this in mind, let us turn back to the problem of astral projection. When we look at the conflicting information we have about this magickal technique, there are a few key points we must consider:
- Perception: People’s perceptions are different, and therefore they will report similar experiences in vastly dissimilar ways
- Technique: Magick directs the Will using symbols and symbolic actions as a focus, and each person’s symbol set is different
- Experience: Differing situations and skill levels can have a distinct impact on the end result of any technique
- Language: Magick has no standardized language; terms and definitions often vary from system to system – sometimes wilfully so
- Worldview: Historically, we have failed to agree on the nature and definition of any non-physical aspect of the self – or even the existence of a “soul”
Can we explain the differences in reports and interpretations about astral projection in terms of perception, technique, experience, language, and worldview? First we have to consider what all of the reports have in common. The common ground is a sense that some non-physical aspect of self can be extended beyond the limits of the physical body. This extension of self is distinct from telepathy, because instead of just thoughts and images, an actual point of consciousness and perceptual perspective is projected beyond the physical body. This non-physical projection then travels beyond the body, sometimes simply into the room also occupied by the body, and sometimes to more exotic locations still.
At the very core, this is what is meant by the term “astral projection.” It is the essence that is held in common throughout all the techniques explored in the previous chapter. From this simple foundation, however, details of astral projection – including the terms some use to describe it – diverge.
Aside from conflicts in terminology, there are two major points where many of the reports seem to disagree. The first involves the precise nature of this proposed non-physical aspect of self. Some systems, as we have seen, believe it has a form of its own. Others allow for no form, just a disembodied point of perception. Several other systems fall somewhere in between. The secondary issue, no less important than the first, involves a matter of direction. Once this non-physical aspect of self moves past the bounds of the physical body, where else is it able to travel? Some systems limit it to what amounts to the energetic echo of the physical world – what I call the subtle reality. Other systems, from the Golden Dawn to modern shamanism, seem to accept endless possibilities that involve strange, new worlds, different planes of existence, and even internal landscapes.
Lokas and Body Memories
Given our five criteria of perception, technique, experience, language, and worldview, can we develop an explanation for the disparity in both what is being projected and where that “something” ultimately projects?
We’ve talked a lot on why individual perceptions vary, and so I think this will be the easiest difference to address. If, on a basic level, our perceptions vary from person to person, it should come as no surprise that different individuals report different perceptions of the projection experience. In this respect, the perception of a second body may be precisely that: an individual perception, dictated by individual differences in approaching the world. It is not impossible for someone to report the impression of a second body even when nothing is actually there, particularly if that individual expected to possess a second body during the projection experience. Expectations can influence our perceptions. Similarly, a projector who does not report the presence of a second body may simply have overlooked it. If we consider the often dire circumstances under which spontaneous out of body experiences occur, it’s not entirely unfair to suggest that an OBE experiencer’s attention might be focused on other things.
Our first criterion, then, can tell us why different people report different experiences in regards to the secondary body. However, knowing how radically individual perceptions can diverge, this does not allow us to judge the objective reality of any of these reports.
As far as where an individual projects, the difference in perceptions is minimal enough that we can draw some solid conclusions about the objective reality those perceptions encompass. While individual perception may influence how a particular locale is described, it seems to have much less of an impact on the actual journey itself. Once they had achieved projection, both Monroe and Muldoon described nearly identical experiences with the physical world around them. Significantly, records in the literature on OBEs contain countless similar accounts. Although the sense of an actual second body will vary, the way in which the projected individual interacts with physical reality remains almost precisely the same.
The ability to move merely by thinking it is a detail recounted in event after event. Individuals travel through physical reality by focusing on a location or person, and then suddenly finding themselves there. Variations in individual perception seem only to come into play when the experiencer attempts to describe exactly how this miraculous method of travel is achieved. Some hover, some levitate, some fly, some feel as if they walk to the target location, but each step covers hundreds of miles, as if they were wearing a spiritual version of thousand league boots. It’s easy to see that all of these different descriptions add up to more or less the same thing: non-physical travel happens rapidly and with little more than a thought.
For individuals who report the ability to travel to exotic, distant planes, the method of travel also remains consistent. The projector focuses on the desired destination, and somehow, usually with a perception of rapid flight, the distance is closed. Interestingly, an identical description of travel between realities occurs in an ancient and well-respected text: the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The text describes what it is like to be a spirit, explaining that an individual who has achieved this state of being will be able to:
“move hither and thither everywhere, through walls, houses, land, rocks, and earth…In a split second, you can circle this four-continent planet with its axial mountain. You now have the power just to think about any place you wish and you will arrive there in that very instant. You can reach anywhere and return just as a normal man stretches out and pulls back his arm.”
According to the Tibetan system there are many layers of reality all stacked on top of one another, and if differences in language and other matters of individual perception are taken into account, these different layers of reality, called lokas, sound very much like the various locations occultist describe as part of the astral plane. These contiguous yet separate locations also sound like the various worlds one can visit by mastering the arts of shamanism.
The distinct similarities between reports of these locations in the literature of astral projection, OBEs, and even Tibetan Buddhism and shamanism strongly suggest that there is an objective reality behind the subjective perceptions. Still, some people seem unable to access these exotic levels of reality. If we must account for the different reports of projection locations, we will have to turn from the issue of perception to one of technique.
Technique and Experience
Certainly the disparity in reports about the presence – or lack of – a second body is influenced by the natural differences between individual perceptions. Because one person might impose the perception of a second body on their experience while another just as easily might not even consider this body worthy of note, we cannot say for sure, based purely on issues of perception, whether or not a second body really is involved in astral projection. However, the presence or absence of a second body may very easily be a matter of individual technique. One of the truths about magick and psychic experience is that there are almost as many ways to achieve certain effects as there are individuals who practice them.
Rather than concluding that people simply report their experiences differently, what if we consider that there is more than one method for achieving more or less the same thing? Our basis for astral projection is the projection of some non-physical aspect of self. What if it is possible both to project this into a second body of energy and, under different circumstances or with a different set of skills, also achieve the same manner of projection without the medium of an energy body? This can very neatly explain why some very reliable writers relate an experience that involves the separation of a second body while others seem to circumvent this step entirely.
Technique can also account for the difference in “where” an individual projector can travel. Individuals who are trained in the traditions of the Golden Dawn or Madame Blavatsky are taught that it is possible to travel to more than just this ordinary world. The techniques these individuals learn involve methods for projecting farther than just one’s bedroom. Sylvan Muldoon and Robert Monroe both hit upon their abilities to astrally project by accident. They had no formal magickal training, and therefore they were never taught that it was possible to journey further than just this level of reality. Considering this, it is significant that Monroe eventually did learn how to travel to “otherworldly” locations. Monroe doggedly experimented with his abilities, pushing himself to expand both his understanding and his control, and so refined his technique over time.
Just as technique can impact the exact expression of astral projection, so does the individual experience itself. There are both internal and external factors, many of which can change from instance to instance, that will inevitably influence the way in which a learned technique works. These variables can include, but are not limited to, environmental issues, a shift in mindset, a change in personal or local energy, or distractions that interrupt the exercise. In addition to the influence of environmental factors, there is the fact that each person’s skill level is different. A beginner is likely to achieve a different result than a more advanced student, and someone who’s had practice may even be able to overcome certain environmental issues with enough effort and focus.
If we consider the possible influence of environmental factors and individual expertise, we can see that both the manifestation of a non-physical aspect of self and the ultimate destination of this self could easily be impacted by such variables. Certain influences from the environment might make the projection of a perceptible second body much easier to achieve. The calm quiet of a bedroom is likely to be more conducive to a full projection, complete with a perceptible second body, whereas the chaos of an emergency room may demand too much attention for an individual to achieve much more than a dim shadow of this extension of self.
As for the actual location of travel, internal and external factors at work in each experience will also have an impact on how that experience ultimately manifests. External factors like location, the degree of distractions, and ambient energy may very easily make it harder to project over increasing distances. Internal factors such as expertise will also come into play. If there is any kind of quantifiable “distance” between the subtle reality and the exotic worlds of the so-called astral plane, it only makes sense that a more advanced practitioner would find it easier to traverse this distance. A beginner might be limited to what amounts to astral baby-steps, wandering around his or her room or projecting only to known locations.
Language and Worldview
We have already established that due to individual differences, people tend to describe similar experiences in different terms. Our criterion of language, then, will inevitably have ties to individual variations in perception. Perception is the internal way in which we process a particular experience. Language, then, is the way in which we attempt to communicate that experience to the world.
The first thing we must consider with language is how much a person’s unique way of thinking will influence the way in which an experience is described. A person with a very visual nature is likely to astrally project and return with vivid descriptions of what was seen on the journey. The language that presents such a description will focus on things like visual imagery, light, shape, and colour. Someone who has a more emotional intelligence is going to return and describe the experience in terms of how it felt. The language this particular person is likely to report in will involve feelings, impressions, and sensations.
The different descriptors an individual chooses to report an experience in are the least complicated aspect of language we need to consider. Another issue in the arena of language is the use and development of lingo. Every specialized area of human endeavor inevitably develops its own particular language. If you sit a computer programmer down with a linguistic specialist and add a molecular biologist into the mix, then ask them all to talk about their respective jobs, it will sound as if each person is speaking a completely different tongue. Language is something that evolves and mutates as we use it, and the more specialized the use, the more specialized the language can become.
Consider the development of slang, how certain expressions are regional, and how time will alter the list of “in” words. Even within our private social circles, the mutation of language can be tracked through the development of inside jokes and figures of speech. Many of these, given enough time, will reduce themselves down to one or two word statements that only those in the know will understand.
The magickal subcultures are no different. Although Pagans, Wiccans, vampires, occultists, and chaos magicians all practice “magick,” their terms and particular expressions regarding this practice can vary widely from group to group. This problem of language becomes even more pronounced when you move to traditions that prefer the concept of psychic abilities over the use of the term “magick.” New Agers, lightworkers, paranormalists, and even ghost hunters often refer to techniques and experiences that are identical to things experienced within the magickal communities – and yet the language is so different that an outsider would rightfully conclude that they are talking about radically different things.
To some extent, this gulf in language and terminology results simply from the different perspectives of these communities, but some of the variances in terms are very intentional. Many of the New Agers I’ve met are leery of Pagans and Wiccans and any practice that might fall under the label of “witchcraft.” Therefore, in my experience, they are very quick to draw lines of distinction between their psychic techniques and so-called “magick.” Even when the techniques are essentially the same, different terms exist to maintain the lines of identity between ideologically distinct groups. This function is at work in the conflicting terminologies applied to various techniques of projection. “Out of body experience” is a term many psychics and parapsychologists find more palatable. It has a slightly more clinical and less esoteric sound than “astral projection.” Those with an even more distinctly expressed scientific approach are likely to prefer the term “remote viewing.” Occultists, of course, are more likely to use “astral projection” because this is the term that the technique has been presented under in the writings of foundational occultists such as Fortune, Blavatsky, and the Golden Dawn.
If you are “in the know,” then you understand that all of these terms describe similar, if not identical, techniques. For someone coming into these communities from the outside, without the benefit of that inside understanding, it is only natural to take the definitions presented at face value, thus concluding that each term describes a separate and distinct technique. And yet different systems have their own pet terms. New writers often enjoy making up their own terms to set their teachings apart as something unique, or, like Robert Monroe, they create a new language to describe their experiences because they simply had no background in what had been established before.
The mutation of language and terminology is also sometimes intentionally harnessed to confuse, or to allow a group or individual to stake a kind of intellectual claim on a technique. Occultist Aleister Crowley decided that he was going to spell “magick” with a “k” to distinguish his practices from the magic of prestidigitation and sleight of hand. Although this was a completely arbitrary move, enough time has passed that the affectation has passed into common usage. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I employ Crowley’s spelling myself.
This intentional mutation of language is still at work within the modern magickal subcultures. In the vampire community, for example, it has been the practice of some individuals to distinguish between “vampire” and “vampyre.” The lines of demarcation between these two terms are entirely artificial. Someone decided that “vampyre” should be used to distinguish between people who believe themselves to be real vampires, and that “vampire” should be left for creatures of myth, folklore, and fiction. Possibly taking this affectation for inspiration, I have now encountered several individuals who make a distinction between a psi vampire and a psy vampire. Apparently, the difference is that one feeds on psi energy, also known as prana or chi, while the other is a vampire who happens to be psychic.
My mind boggled when I encountered this latest permutation, because if one has the ability to feed upon and therefore sense psi energy, then one also happens to fit the qualifications of being psychic. There is no difference between these two terms save one that has been constructed by exchanging a “y” for an “i.” Somewhere, someone felt the need to establish a special distinction to set him or herself apart, and now we have terms circulating on the Internet that will do nothing more than confuse newcomers and create more lines of definition than are logically necessary. And, if Crowley is any indication, given enough time, these new words, however artificial, may nevertheless establish themselves as separate, recognized terms.
It is through the evolution of language, the development of lingo, and the arbitrary creation of redundant terms that we have ended up with some of the confusion between bilocation, astral projection, remote viewing, out of body experience, and even shamanic journeying. Although there are shades of difference between all of these, each term essentially describes the same thing. This can be a major source of confusion, and given enough time, the original meanings can become lost or blurred.
As we saw with New Agers who prefer “psychic” over “magick” because types of witchcraft have negative connotations to them, worldview plays a role in the confusion as well. Both the “what” and the “where” of astral projection are predicated on fairly profound spiritual concepts. First, the idea that we can project some non-physical aspect of the self relies heavily on the notion that there is more to us and our world than ordinary, physical reality. The idea that there is a subtle reality, an energetic echo of our physical world, that we might be able to interact with, is radical enough to many modern thinkers. Positing the existence of other worlds, other planes of existence requires a serious expansion of the average person’s worldview.
The question of whether or not the physical world is the only reality takes us into speculative territory often reserved only for world religions. We swim even deeper into the waters of religious belief when we contemplate the possibility of a second, non-physical body. There is not getting around the fact that the idea of a second body is intricately connected to the belief in a soul. Historically, humanity has been unable to agree on whether or not we even have souls, and when we accept that we do, the nature of that soul is hotly disputed. Traditional Western thinking allows that humans have one soul, and this survives the death of the physical body. And yet the Chinese allow for several different types of soul. Each of these, like the hun, performs different functions for the individual. The ancient Egyptians also had a composite vision of the soul, and these different non-physical aspects of self were so distinct that several of them went to different places in the afterlife.
So our final stumbling block in the issue of astral projection – and just about any other magickal technique – is the issue of belief. Our individual worldviews have a profound impact on what we are willing to accept and what we are driven to deny in our experiences. Belief not only has a powerful impact on how we expect reality to function, but it also helps to dictate the symbols and even the methods we might use to achieve certain techniques. A Kemetic Orthodox practitioner who attempts astral projection will very naturally focus on sending forth his or her ka, or body double, in keeping with ancient Egyptian beliefs. A fundamentalist Christian may have trouble accepting that he or she even had an out of body experience, because only God can call the soul from the body. Given sufficient belief in a particular worldview, it is not uncommon for an individual to completely discount or re-interpret certain experiences in order to fit them more neatly into that worldview.
In the end, we can conclude that there are vast differences in individual language, interpretation, perspective, and technique that impact how astral projection and its related practices are presented. Individual beliefs can also shape how we choose to approach a technique as well as how we choose to interpret the experiences resulting from that technique. After covering all of this ground, and it has been extensive, I think we can draw a few conclusions about the nature of astral projection:
- During projection, some aspect of consciousness is projected beyond the limits of the physical body
- Circumstances and individual technique determine whether or not projection involves the manifestation of a second, energetic body
- Travel in the subtle reality or near-astral is common and may be seen as the easiest “place” to reach with projection
- Some individuals seem to possess the ability to journey beyond this first “layer” of reality to very different realms
- Practice often allows individuals to develop the ability to extend the range of the journeys
- Projection has been practiced under a variety of terms. Some differences in terminology are arbitrary. Others attempt to encompass differences in either destination or technique
If these are the qualities of astral projection, how does dreamwalking measure up? Dreamwalking is a technique that bears much in common with astral projection – including some puzzling conflicts in how each individual experiences the technique. As we saw with astral projection, arriving at solid answers is not always easy, but the process of analysis provides a deeper understanding of what’s involved.
Dreamwalking and Astral Projection
In the early nineties, when I was writing out my first notes for the Codex, I made certain to distinguish dreamwalking from astral projection. As far as I understood the two techniques, they were very different from one another. The obvious distinction, of course, was one of destination. Astral projection involved projecting a second body to traverse the astral plane. Dreamwalking had nothing to do with astral journeys: it aimed at projecting into another person’s dreams. The very term “astral travel” seemed to separate the two techniques. Astral projection is all about going somewhere. The journey itself is often both the goal and the reward. Dreamwalking, on the other hand, uses the medium of dreams to achieve another purpose: contact and interaction with people. The whole point of dreamwalking, especially from the perspective of a psychic vampire, is to reach out to another human being and interact with them on a non-physical level that is nevertheless real.
When I was first writing the Codex and outlining the technique, there was another detail that I felt distinguished dreamwalking from astral projection. At no point during the set-up phase, where a dreamwalker reaches out to make contact with the target person, is there a sense of creating or separating a second body. Dreamwalking does not feel like any kind of travel. It feels like you are stretching a part of yourself out to connect with another being. Place and distance are not considerations in this activity. The focus and the goal is the other person. Everything else involved in the technique is peripheral.
At this point, I feel that we can define dreamwalking as separate from both telepathy and astral projection. It differs from telepathic communication in that there is a distinct sense of direct interaction between the individuals involved in a dreamwalk. This connects it in concept to astral projection, because some non-physical aspect of self is extended to that other person in order to accomplish this direct interaction. And yet the focus, destination, and some aspects of the method separate dreamwalking from astral projection.
Dreamwalking shares some common ground with both astral projection and telepathy. Like telepathy, dreamwalking seeks to reach out over distances in order to convey messages to another person. Like astral projection, dreamwalking extends a non-physical portion of the self in order to do this. Although there can at times be crossover, such as dreamwalking leading into astral projection, dreamwalking remains distinct from both of these other techniques. We can define dreamwalking as separate and distinct because:
- It uses another person as both a focus and a destination
- It connects to the target through the medium of the dreamspace
- It does not involve the projection of a second body during the set-up phase
These are the qualities that distinguish dreamwalking from astral projection. This is not to say that the two techniques are not related. They are actually related in ways that sometimes still surprise me.
Note: This selection originally appeared as Chapter Five in Psychic Dreamwalking but was cut from the final edition of the book for considerations of space.