The term “hedgecrossing” is modern in usage stemming from the Germanic term haegtessa meaning hedge witch. In the shamanic community this technique is called “shamanic journeying”. Hedgecrossing doesn’t necessarily mean flying out of body. Hedgecrossing is truly an altered state of consciousness commonly known as trance. When in this altered state certain persons can see, hear, and interact with gods and spirits, receive visions, as well as perform divinations as a seer or oracle. You may call it something else such as trance work, journeying, travelling between worlds, or the second-sight. How one crosses the hedge differs from person to person as one technique doesn’t work for everyone. Due to this, there are many options presented within this ritual to customize it to your own preferences.
First you’ll need to pick your stimulus. Your stimulus is what aids you to go into trance and it becomes a repetitive ritual action you do over and over so your body, mind, and soul know that now is the time to fall into trance. You could play a traditional trance-inducing instrument like a drum, rattle, or sistrum using fast beats and rhythms. Fast repetitive drumming has been scientifically proven to alter some people’s state of consciousness as much as an entheogen would, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Some find drumming distracting and prefer a more silent stimulus. Others may have trouble keeping up playing an instrument during trance and for this I recommend making a recording when starting out. If you make a recording it also allows you to set a time limit on your travels; when the music stops, it’s time to return.
Your stimulus could be an entheogen, but I wouldn’t recommend starting out with harsh ones as you wouldn’t know if your experience was real or if you were just hallucinating. If you choose this method use a milder entheogen like wormwood, mugwort, tobacco, or even alcohol and then work your way up to flying ointments if entheogens are part of your practice. Entheogens can be a tool in hedgecrossing, but they aren’t a requirement. If you choose to use an entheogen be aware that it can leave you open to possession or harm by spirits and protective talismans, a protector familiar, or a person acting as watcher are necessary to prevent this.
Other stimuli can include ecstatic trance postures, breathing techniques, a chant or rhyme, donning a ritual costume, ecstatic dancing, or even performing the rite somewhere in complete darkness like a cave, a room with no windows, or a blacked-out room. Such stimuli are aids to those with trouble and mental blocks when it comes to slipping into trance and letting go of normal consciousness. I recommend trying a few different stimuli when starting to find one that works best for you.
Ritual to Cross the Hedge
This ritual is designed for 1-2 persons, but could be used by a larger group as well with one person acting as watcher.
You can do this ritual anywhere you choose; at home, in your back yard, in the forest, at the beach, at a pagan festival or retreat, etc. Just make sure you will not be disturbed too greatly by other people. Use your common sense. If you wish to commune with nature and plant spirits it is best to do so outside in nature. If you want to talk to the dead, being near where they are buried is going to have the best results. To amplify your experience, try performing hedgecrossing rituals at crossroads and other liminal places of power like the edge of the forest, a hedge in a field, the shore of an ocean or lake, or the top of a hill, mountain, or great stone.
To perform this ritual you will need: a notebook and pen, a blanket, a pillow, a blindfold (optional), a musical instrument (optional), a stave (wand, stang, or staff), and incense or offerings for your gatekeeper deity and your familiar spirits. Now that you have chosen your trance cue and have gathered all your items needed, you can begin the ritual.
- Purify yourself with spring water and smoke – wipe or sprinkle your face, hands, and feet with the water and waft incense or smoke from smudge over your body with your hands.
- Cast a protective sphere around the space you’ll be using with whatever your chosen method is. I like to hold onto a wand or have my stang in the center of the ritual space when I cast a caim and hedgecross.
- Invoke a gatekeeper to open the door between worlds. If you worship gods call a psychopomp or messenger (i.e. Hekate, Hermes, Prometheus, Manannán mac Lir, Gwyn ap Nudd, Nicneven, Odin, Heimdall, Papa Legba, etc). Be sure to ask which door. It is best to start with the underworld or upperworld –avoid the middle world until you truly know what you are doing.
- If you are an animist, invoke a “crossroads” animal instead (owl, serpent, frog/toad, etc) or the great World Tree itself.
- Give offering to the gatekeeper, animal, or tree in thanks; incense, alcohol, tobacco, food –whatever their favourite offering is.
- Call your familiar spirits. You will need one protector to watch over your body and one guide to lead and protect you in the otherworld. If you use fetiches as spirit vessels for animal or ancestral familiars use your vessels to summon them. If the fetiche is something you can wear on your person, even better.
- If you need to, set a time limit. If you have a watcher, they can gently bring you back with a song, a musical instrument, or by burning incense when your time is up. If you’re alone set a “gentle” alarm. If you have the luxury of time you won’t need a limit. If you are alone and not setting a time limit you will need a cue so you remember to return. A safety word or chant to use while wandering in the otherworld should work.
- Lay down on the floor either on your back or stomach (there are differing opinions as to which is better so I leave it up to you), and cover yourself with the blanket so your body being cold doesn’t bring you out of trance. If you’ll be drumming or playing another instrument throughout you can stay sitting up, and just make yourself comfortable with blanket and pillow. If light distracts you, wear a blindfold.
- Pick a place to start/enter. Is there a tree you go to, a cave, a stairway, a well? Fall up or down the rabbit hole like Alice. You can have a specific destination in mind or person/spirit/god to reach or you can have no plan and see what you see and go where you go. Both are rewarding. Let the images and experiences and words come. Don’t fight what you experience and don’t try to control it. Relax and let it happen.
- Remember this is spirit work and the most important thing is manners, manners, manners. Be very polite to whatever and whoever you meet. Read fairy tales to brush yourself up on spirit manners as well as how to protect from the dangerous ones. I hold a Rowan wand when travelling as spirits cannot harm one touching the wood and sometimes it can be used to open more doors once in the otherworld.
- Don’t rush back – retrace your steps and find a way back. If you need help, ask your familiar guide to lead you back. When you are fully back in your body wait a moment to rest, collect all the bits of your soul back together, and think on your experience. When you are ready, sit up.
- Write down your experiences and any messages you received right away so you don’t forget. No matter how much you think you’ll remember it later, you won’t.
- Thank your familiars and leave them their favourite offerings. You don’t need to banish familiars because they are a part of you.
- Ask the gatekeeper/animal/tree to close the door between worlds. The gate is closed – lock it with your stave as key. Leave them another offering and say farewell to gently banish their presence from your space and their power from your stave.
- Take down your protective space and ground. Eating is the easiest way to ground after travelling about as it reminds you you’re flesh and blood.
Further Reading by Sarah Anne Lawless: