Introduction to Spirit Journeying: Preparation

Reishi mushroom from the Plant Spirit Oracle offers a vision of healing, growth, and regeneration

Spirit Journeying is a technique that we use commonly in the druid tradition, but it certainly is not unique to only our tradition.  In fact, spirit journeying is what I’d consider being a core human spiritual practice, being used by different peoples throughout time.  The more people that I meet who follow different traditions, and the more that I read about traditions around the world, the more that this practice seems to be part of the repertoire of how humans connect to the divine. We may call it different things, put it in different packages, or use different techniques to get there, but in the end, there are realms of spirit that we all can access, interact with, and visit. Spirit journeys depend on you getting into a deep trance state, an altered state of consciousness that is different from the mundane reality, and these journeys may be assisted by drumming, breathwork, ceremony, fasting or other preparation, and/or entheogenic substances.  Other terms you may hear that are also tied to these practices include guided meditation, shamanic journeying, astral travel, pathworking, imaginal realm traveling, and inner journeying–and while some of these different terms do suggest nuance and some differences in the practice, many of them are rooted in the same set of core practices: creating a deeply relaxed and altered state, going inward, and using the inner visualization skills to explore, meet spirits and guides, and learn new things.

I use spirit journeying as a core part of my own spirituality, and as I said, this is a technique that is commonly taught in the druid tradition, primarily through the use of an “inner sacred grove” that at least several different druid orders teach. I’ve had some requests from people for me to offer a primer on spirit journeying, so I’m going to spend the next few posts offering some possibilities. I’m choosing to use the term “spirit journeying” as you are taking a journey, in spirit, but as I mentioned above, many other terms exist. This post offers preliminaries on spirit journeying, while the second post (next week) will discuss finding a spirit ally or spirit guide to assist with the journey. The third post will talk about how to actually begin to spirit journey and how to use it as part of your regular spiritual practice, particularly for nature-based spiritualities like druidry.

I will also say that this focuses primarily on astral spirital encounters, I do have a whole existing series on working with plant spirits (which focus more on etheric plant spirit encounters).  You can find that series here: plant spirit journeying: Your native language, communication in many forms, plant spirit journeying, plant spirit communication – medicine for the body and soul.

The Material, Etheric, and Astral Planes

Understanding spirit journeying requires an understanding of the difference between the astral plane and the etheric plane.  This comes out of occult philosophy; I usually use Dion Fortune’s works as my go-to for those who want to read more on these and other related subjects. The distinctions are important because generally when the term “spirit journeying” is used, it refers to journeying to the astral plane.

Catnip from the Plant Spirit Oracle -- an excellent example of the material and etheric planes
Catnip from the Plant Spirit Oracle — an excellent example of the material and etheric planes

The Material plane is the physical reality that we live in, and where most people in the world spend their time.  This is governed by the laws of the universe (gravity) and bounded by our physical bodies and what they are capable of. This is where we spend our waking time when we are conscious.

The Etheric plane is the plane of spirit that basically overlays ours. This is where you can interact with one level of spirits–these are beings that live in the same spaces we do. This means, if you are walking up to a tree and interacting with the spirit of the tree where you see the tree spirit, or hear them, or communicate with them, you are engaged in an etheric interaction. A good example of an etheric is a ghost in someone’s house; this is a being who maybe got stuck in the place they died and now can’t move on–that ghost is stuck in the etheric. Another example of this would be things like elemental beings, who are nature-based spirits that are tied to the elements–such as air spirits moving through the wind, water spirits in the lake, and so on.  If the world is an enchanted place, that enchantment is, in a large part, due to the bountiful spirits that are living here and that we can connect to.

Typically, when we connect with the etheric plane, we can do so in a regular state or frame of mind.  You slow down, take a few deep breaths, and then reach out for conversation or energy exchange with a tree, for example.  Or perhaps you are walking through a city and feel “weird” energy coming out of a building, and then you choose to enter (or hurry along, depending on your personality!)

The Astral Plane or Inner Planes refers to places that exist only in spirit, and that do not clearly overlay our own material plane.  There are infinite realms that exist and that we might journey to. When we say “spirit journeying” the journey is to the astral plane.  The astral is not limited by the passage of time nor is it tied in any way to the laws that govern our physical reality (e.g. gravity, the solidity of form, the passage of time). Instead, the astral is infinite in its possibility–it is here that you could with practice, fly, shapeshift, travel anywhere, and meet many different beings.

Some spirit beings only live on the astral, while other spirit beings may have the ability to move between the astral and the etheric.  For example, if you have a spirit guide that you regularly interact with as part of daily life, that’s an etheric interaction.  But if you choose to journey into your inner sacred grove, and your spirit guide shows up there, then they’ve also moved into the astral.

If this is new to you, it can be useful to recognize that we grow up and live in cultures with a disenchanted view of the world.  In this  disenchanted view, humans do not acknowledge anything beyond the material plane.  This is only a very recent development in Western cultures, particularly with the rise of industrialization and the age of reason.  For millennia spanning into prehistory, most humans understood and interacted with spirits. Most major religions also recognize a world of spirits.

Preparation for Spirit Journeying

Spirit journeying can be aided greatly if you spend some time in preparation. Several barriers often present themselves for those who are starting to journey into the astral plane: setting, focus, believability, and safety.  We’ll now cover each of these in turn.

Preparing the Mind and Body: Focus, Relaxation, and Meditation

Meditation can open worlds. (Tobacco from the Plant Spirit Oracle)
Meditation can open worlds. (Tobacco from the Plant Spirit Oracle)

One of the first building blocks of spirit journeying is being able to stay in a focused, clear, and relaxed state for a period of time and visualize the inner worlds. This can be challenging because a big problem with modern culture is that it can literally change our brain chemistry.  Too much screen time disrupts our sleep, alters our brain’s reward system (e.g. the little thrill you get from likes), creates more stress, overloads our sensory system, disrupts our ability to focus and pay attention, and also depletes our general mental energy and reserves.  The more we are on screens, the harder it can be to do this focus work. For some of us, this means we need to engage in some preliminary work to build the focus visualization, and relaxation techniques necessary to have a meaningful spirit journey.

The best way of learning to focus is by taking up a regular practice of meditation. I offered a guide to meditation on my blog here.  Meditation is a practice that will reap so many rich rewards in your life–it will help you balance some of the ill effects of screen time, build your stamina for focus and clarity, and allow you to cultivate a more rich and more full inner life.  Practicing meditation is a fundamental requirement for having the focus necessary to engage in spirit journeying.  I recommend for spirit journeying, practice two kinds of meditation.  First, you want to work on clearing meditation–this allows you to quiet the mind, focus on your breath, and create a state of inner quietude.  A favorite of mine is a simple candle meditation, where you focus on the candle, relax, and attend to the breath.  A second form of meditation that can be helpful is a focus meditation, such as discursive meditation.  Both of these are described more in the primer and can assist you in preparing your mind for deeper spiritual journeys.  Meditation serves to help us relax both the mind and body so that we can enter a more receptive state.

Another suggestion I have for focus is spending regular time in nature where you practice stillness, observation, and interaction can be very helpful here.  Learning how to simply be present in your own body, and quieting your mind allows you to be more open to the messages of spirits.

In terms of visualization, If you haven’t done exercises in visualization before, here is one to get you started. Light a candle in a dark room. Focus your eyes on the candle as it flickers and attend to your breathing—deep and steady breaths. Continue to keep the image of the candle firmly in your vision. Now, close your eyes; continue to see that candle in your inner vision, reflected in your eyelids. Practice this, and then you can attempt to visualize other things: forests, stone circles, anything you like, to practice in preparation for your journey. The power of imagination matters here—and this is something we were all able to do as children. Some of us need to relearn the skill in adulthood.

Both of these techniques should also help your body relax.  If you have difficulty relaxing or have a lot of tension in your body, one of the things you can do is a relaxation meditation.  For this, lay down on the ground (laying on a yoga mat or carpet can make you al little more comfortable).  Do some deep breathing (fourfold breath, explained in my meditation link).  Then,

Preparing the Space: Setting

A second consideration is the setting.  Spirit journeying requires a quiet setting of at least 45 minutes to an hour where you will not be disturbed in any way.  This setting can be outdoors or indoors.  I find that it is important to journey in a place that feels entirely safe for you. If you have family, roommates, and so on, you will need to figure out ways for you to journey without being disturbed.  Some parents I know make it a point to wait till their children are asleep or away before engaging in spirit journeying.  Others do it in group settings.  Other people make it a point to spirit journey in a ritual bathtub, where you can relax and where you won’t be bothered. As we will discuss in next week’s post, it is a very good idea to setup a sacred space for yourself prior to journeying.  Thus, if you have a ritual space that you regularly use, this would be very comfortable.

Being comfortable, but not so comfortable that you will fall asleep, is another important part.  Many people prefer to lie down to spirit journey, while others may sit in a comfortable chair or sit on the earth.  You may need to experiment with what feels best for you and your own body.

Preparing Our Doubts: Believability

Another thing you may need to address, particularly if you are starting out, is believability. One thing that can happen is that someone has a powerful experience but they doubt that experience was “real” or that it was “all in their head.”  In other words, they have a problem with belief.  This problem is completely associated with the fact that we live in a modern era that almost entirely disavows the world of spirit and thus, we have to take time to accept the fact that spirit does exist and these things are real. This can take time, sometimes a lot of time, and that’s ok. You may be having to deal with literally decades of social conditioning. The way that I talk about this with new druids is basically this: we have evidence that people have connected with spirit beings, engaged in spirit journeying, and generally recognized the multiple planes of spirit for longer than we have human history. We literally have images of spirit journeys painted on cave walls from our pre-human ancestors. We can see this in nearly every pre-industrial culture, in existing indigenous traditions around the globe, and if we go back far enough into our own ancestral histories, spirit journeying and spirit interactions were part of all humans’ lives. It is part of our birthright and part of how we grow and learn spiritually. It is only in the last few hundred years with the disenchantment of the world (which included scientific empiricism, industrialization, and colocalization) that we have seen a loss in these beliefs.  Thus, we have to work to reconnect with the world of spirit and throw off modern conditioning.  And yes, that takes time.  Be patient and kind to yourself as you work to do this.

Several good methods exist for addressing believability. The first is to have a community of practitioners that you can share journeys, stories, and experiences with. These should be people who are also engaged in similar lines of work or even people with whom you journey together.  Even in a safe group setting, there are specific details you should never share (names of spirits, specifics of their likeness, etc) but you can share enough of a general thing to talk through your experience with others–and have other human beings help validate and unpack those experiences. By surrounding yourself with people who are also engaged in these practices, it can help you understand them more deeply.  I do not ever recommend that you share with people who are only fully present in the physical world and who do not cultivate their own inner life.  They can serve to magically disrupt your work and make you question yourself.  In other words, I don’t talk about spirit journey with anyone who isn’t also engaged in spirit journeying (its kind of like fight club, haha!)  Otherwise, you may end up with people who want to pathologize you or undermine your own experience. Better to remain silent in that case.

Plantain from the Plant Spirit Oracle. Spirits can be found anywhere!
Plantain from the Plant Spirit Oracle. Spirits can be found anywhere!

Another method you can use is validation. I described validation extensively in my post on personal gnosis, so I’ll briefly summarize here.  If tell you something, you can ask for an “outer plane” check. This allows you to ask for a physical sign in the world–so after you ask for it, keep an eye out and see if you see one. These work really well for things that are big decisions.  For example, when I was trying to make the decision to move to a new state and take a new job, I did a spirit journey and spoke with some of my spirit allies on the inner plane. They told me it was the right move, and I asked for an outer plane check.  That evening, a giant tree dropped (away from my house) and onto the road. Ok, that’s a clear enough sign for me!

A second thing you can do in terms of validation is to write your experiences down, and then, later return to your writing and see what happened. I’ll give you a great example of this.  In a spirit journey in 2015, which I wrote down in my journal, I had a series of interactions with spirits where they told me that the world would be “upturned” and I should prepare myself spiritually by focusing on my own resilience.  They gave me a series of exercises to do and things to explore in my own practice to cultivate resilience.  One of the things they kept indicating was that this would happen in five years–in 2020. I did that work, integrating it, and forgot about the dates entirely.  Much later, in 2021 when I was reading back through all of my spiritual journals, I came across that original entry.  I had forgotten that they had literally given me the date, and of course, in the middle of the pandemic, that was tremendous confirmation. (And if you want to know more about how writing can support spiritual practice, do check out my Earth-Centered Sacred Journaling Course!) The two examples I’m giving above are the kinds of things that happen only very occasionally, but the fact that they do happen is important.

You may also have much smaller confirmations of insights or things from your spirit journeys.  For example, you can use a divination system to check the message in a different way.  You can also just go about your day, being open to additional messages and insights.  For example, I was having a series of journeys and in one of them I was given a rare object as a gift from a long-term guide who told me to make one of these in the material world and put it on my altar.  The next day, I was visiting with a long term friend and she specifically mentioned how I had “found the object” that had happened in my journey. It was a wonderful confirmation.

These three examples show a range of possibilities–from seeking wisdom on big changes in one’s life, to journaling and writing spirit journeys down, to validating practices and smaller confirmations.  Before you begin spirit journeying, it can be helpful to understand what I’m writing about here and to figure out how you might have a supportive community and/or document your experiences.

Protecting Ourselves: Safety

On the matter of spirits themselves,  the last thing to cover today is safety. Just like when you encounter an unknown person in the street, they might have good intentions or they might seek to rob you. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve spoken to those new to the druid or pagan path who have gotten themselves in a lot of trouble because they assumed that any spirit they met was a teacher or guide, or assumed that all spirits had good intentions. Just like the human world, the spirit world is big, it’s full of many different kinds of spirits, and not all of them are kind and friendly.  Many spirits are fairly neutral to you, others may seek to help you or are curious about you, while still others are looking to cause you harm, feed off of your energy, or even spiritually trap or enslave you.

Thus, one of the most important things to realize is that interactions with spirits can have consequences, and these consequences can be very steep and dangerous. Thus, it is a good idea to make sure you have a clear sense of how to protect yourself and ascertain the intentions of spirits you may meet before you go off journeying.

The first and most important layer of safety is that of having a spiritual ally or guide who can help ascertain the intentions of others.  For example, perhaps you are committed to a deity–that deity would be a very outstanding choice.  Or perhaps you have a spirit guide or plant spirit ally that can help you journey safely. Regardless of who your guide is, take them with you.  If they say to stay away from a spirit, listen and heed their advice. If you already have such an individual, great, ask them if they can journey with you, and listen to what they tell you. If not, then one of your first orders of business, before you begin spirit journeying, is to seek out a spirit guide.  I will cover that in a separate post in next week’s blog.

The second layer of safety is having some “spirit smarts” and not assuming everything at face value. Just like a human relationship, you can take time to get to know a spirit.  Don’t immediately make agreements,give anything to them, take anything from them, give them a name, or give them your name.  You want to avoid any such energetic connection with the spirit till you are sure they have good intentions.  I will say that this is particularly important in spirit journeying on your own.  If you are engaged in some kind of spirit journey that is guided and led by others, and you have a good practitioner who knows what they are doing, they’ve probably put in a lot of safety checks into the journey, so it will be generally safe to follow their lead.

So, part of this is to take stock in what the new spirit you meet is saying and doing.  Consider these questions:

What does the spirit look like?  Just because a spirit looks nice or friendly doesn’t mean anything.  The Astral plane is fluid, and just like spirits, you can learn to take any shape you can imagine.  In the same way that a human being who is intending to harm can smile and charm, so too can a spirit.

What are they saying to you?  Are they buttering you up with flattery or telling you what you want to hear? Are they sharing wisdom? Does what they are saying make sense?

How do you feel?  What feelings arise from your gut and intuition when interacting with this spirit? If you feel that anything is even the slightest bit off, it is a good idea to end the interaction and avoid the spirit.

What do they want?  You can ask the spirit directly what they want–do they want conversation, a deeper connection, or they are just curious?  Asking what they want can help ascertain their intentions (and use your intuition when you do this).


There’s a lot to the preliminaries of spirit journeying, but taking the time to lay the foundation for your work can really reap rich rewards.  Taking the time to lay a good foundation will allow you to build spirit journeying into your work as a core practice and can give you deep, meaningful, and life-changing interactions with the world of spirit.  In the next post in the series, we will talk about how to find a spirit guide to assist you on your journeys.

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this article. Really good guidance and helpful. Looking forward ro next week’s chapter.

    1. You are most welcome, Lori :).

  2. This is extraordinarily well laid out. It’s done with so much kindness the energy washes over the reader.
    I, myself, have never been able to meditate without feeling like I was being attacked by crawling insects or stung by mosquitos. I also have never felt like I had a spirit guide despite having felt energetic nudges and hearing the occasional scream in my head to do this or that – turn LEFT, call home right this second – that sort of thing.
    This winter has been the worst I’ve ever experienced. Endless storms – and I do sense entities in the wind so the non-stop blizzard like winds have just been too much to bear. I almost wrote debilitating but that’s an exaggeration – came close one day though.
    It hit me like a thunderbolt that I can no longer afford the expenses of maintaining my home here in Spring Creek with the cost of water and propane. I looked at how the interest rate on my credit card balances had gone from a somewhat manageable 12 percent to 19.79 percent thanks to the Federal Reserve jacking up the prime rate.
    And so on February 4, I made the decision to contact my realtor and to start looking for a new home in Tennessee. No one believed me at first. When they saw I was making an offer on a property with the contingency that I drive 2100 miles to check it out first and that I sell my house, then it made my friends wake up.
    Was it spirits that shook me to my core and told me to get out while I still can?
    Probably. What I do know is I really, really need to walk in the woods and smell the leaves on the forest floor and go swimming in lakes and wade in creeks. The desert drained me. The mountains are gorgeous but that’s all there is.
    Your blog has driven home the resolve and with a lot of manifestation and the blessings of the woodland spirits, I hope this time next year to be in the woods in Tennessee!
    THANK YOU my friend for this FABULOUS post.

    1. Hi Barbara, thanks so much for sharing. It sounds like you have found a great way forward to be back in the forest! I don’t think I’d do well in the desert–like you, I need trees, mountains, and streams :). I hope that you are able to relocate and everything will go as planned!

  3. Priscilla Poupore

    This article is so valuable to me. A medium sent me a spirit guide who tried to kill me two nights in a row?

    1. That’s a pretty intense experience. What are you doing to protect yourself?

  4. Thanks for this article.
    To your statements about the universality of spirit connection and the presence of guides, I’m currently reading “The Awakened Brain,” by Dr. Lisa Miller, a psychologist who has made empirical studies of the brain and found, to the surprise of *some*, that there are physical brain cells that respond to and seem dedicated to spiritual awareness.
    I listened to a blog the other day where the host talked about different guides for different purposes. I never heard of this before and don’t know what to make of it. I’ve spent lots of time in my Grove, meditating, and asking to meet a guide, but have never done so.
    But I have met a spirit who has shown up, doing specific tasks, at times of illness and death. I have no idea of the name of this spirit, but would recognize h/her if I saw them on the street!

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