I’ve come to realize that the geography of my inner landscape reflects my personal spiritual journey.
The inner landscape I visit most often in meditation consists of a number of consistent regions. I’ve described them in detail in other articles, but in brief they are:
The Abyss of Fear
A bottomless chasm that radiates terror. It is always dark at its edge — although no stars are visible in the sky — but everything is lit by an unholy blue light. A path, unevenly paved, leads away from its edge into…
The Forest of Branching Paths
The path gradually becomes completely unpaved, lined with springy fallen leaves. It is a wood of oak and birch. The forest is pitted with hidden dells and valleys, waterfall-fed pools frequented by goddesses, nymphs, and less pleasant things. A web of footpaths weaves among the trees, and one can frequently find souls wandering along them – I have encountered ancestors, minstrels, a band of thieves, and hidden realms of other people entirely. But if you follow the right paths, you will eventually come to…
It stands right at the edge of the forest; beyond it is the top of a grassy hill, in full daylight, the air clear and cool, with a strong breeze blowing in from the sea. The temple is a small Greek affair, little more than a dome supported by columns, covering a small pool with water rippled by the breeze and dappled by sunlight through nearby trees. It is stunningly cheerful compared with the forest. From the top of the hill you can see a long way — the ocean, at the bottom of the hill to the left; a vast prairie, extending out to the right; and the Faerie Pool and the Forest of Cernunnos, all of which I will describe shortly.
But a path leads right down the hill to…
The Hall of the Anima
A huge building rather like the Parthenon, nestled between two hills on either side, facing the prairie on one side and the ocean on the other. There are huge tall windows all along it, which would give magnificent views of the sea. This is the home of my anima – built to her exact specifications – though she only stays in one room of it, right in the center. The rest of the building, which has hundreds of rooms, is the semipermanent residence of many people who come over the sea. If you walk down to the sea you reach…
Here, a pier made of huge stones extends straight out into the water a couple of hundred yards. Occasionally, boatloads of people will arrive from over the sea, dock next to the pier, come out and wander around. Not far from the pier, there is a small region where the sun is always setting over the water, and a group of revelers are having a barbecue and playing Calypso music. If you go out along the pier and get in a rowboat, you can make your way out to…
The Isle of Smoke
It is breezy and sandy, and covered with thick pine forest. Near the center of it is a clearing where I sometimes go to light fires and appeal to the gods for intention manifestation.
The Sun Prairie
This lies on the landward side of the Hall of the Anima, and extends far out into the distance. At least one herd of buffalo has been sighted here, and my spirit guide Bison is usually around, too. At the edge of sight, high purple mountains march at the edge of the sky. If you cut across the Prairie parallel to the ocean, you reach…
Where the Pool abuts the hills, there is a thin ravine, and a narrow inlet – no wider than a long jump – where the Pool joins the ocean. The water is dark and green, and fairies may be glimpsed darting between the trees on the opposite bank. Those trees are part of…
The Forest of the Horned God
It is a region of oak, ash, and beech spaced comfortably apart, with grass and wildflowers growing between them, and plenty of light scattering over the forest floor. There are no paths in the forest – at least, none visible to the human eye – but any wandering traveler will be drawn deeper and deeper into it, to the very foot of…
The World Tree
It climbs far beyond the atmosphere. Its branches and roots — which are interchangable — seem to parallel the branching and merging paths of time. From the lower branches of the Tree, you can see lines and lines of mountains — some dry and craggy, others lush and forested — marching off into the mist.
I’m noticing for the first time as I write this that the Landscape is bounded on four sides — by the Sea (water), the Abyss of Fear (air), the Sun Prairie (fire), and the endless mountains on the other side of the Tree (earth). How cool is that?!
I have begun to think about why this landscape is arranged the way it is. Why, for example, is Apollo’s Temple right by the Forest of Branching Paths, and not by the Forest of the Horned God? Is everything sort of randomly arranged, or is there some underlying pattern?
I started to get a clue when I realized that the guides and gods tended to have certain areas that they really preferred to appear in, and they either never appeared elsewhere, or looked and felt very different when they did.
With Cernunnos, for example, it was quite striking. In his native Forest, he is an enigmatic and restless but friendly figure, bearded, bright-eyed, with tall spiraled horns and the hindquarters of an animal (different animals depending on how he wants to travel). But when he appears in the Forest of Branching Paths, he is shadowy and mysterious, hard to see, and his eyes glow dangerously. I think he is the same being, but viewed from a “lower vibration”, i.e. a place of nervousness and uncertainty instead of relaxed openness and joy. In other words, the Forest of Branching Paths has more nervousness and uncertainty — more fear — than the Forest of the Horned God. And the Abyss of Fear has (you guessed it) more fear than the Forest of Branching Paths, and Apollo’s Temple has less…
In fact, one can trace a kind of arc, a trajectory, an axis of fear / courage that leads from the Abyss, through the Forest of Branching Paths, out via Apollo’s Temple, across the Sun Prairie and through the Faerie Pool and into the Forest of the Horned God, and right up the trunk of the World Tree.
My guess is that this is my personal representation of the path from my own self/ego back to the Center, the universal subconscious (see Meeting the Master of Dreams for more on that).
Guises of Gods and Guides
I’ll now share a few words about each of my primary guides, and what form they take in different parts of the landscape.
Cernunnos I’ve already mentioned. He almost never appears anywhere except in the two Forests. When I ask him to come to the Isle of Smoke, he usually takes the shadowy, uncertain form.
Apollo in the Forest of Branching Paths is completely hooded and cloaked. In his Temple, he takes on his classic shape — a young, somewhat short man, with skin that varies from tanned to blazing molten gold at different times of the year, and black eyes flecked with stars. He also sometimes appears in the upper airs, somewhere along the path between the sun and the ground, and takes the same shape there.
Odin in the Forest of Branching Paths is absolutely classic Gandalf — the wandering wizard with the gnarled staff and gray cloak — and he’s even called himself by that name to me. On the Isle of Smoke, he looks rather more like Odin is supposed to — with one eye gone, and suggestions of a sword instead of a staff, and armor instead of a cloak.
My anima can go anywhere in the landscape with me, although she is less likely to appear around the edges, far away from her Hall. She essentially always appears the same — a slight woman in a purple dress, with unruly blond-red hair and eyes like mine.
Bel is a tall, statuesque woman dressed in blue-white, with hair like white flames, a somewhat bulbous head, and huge black eyes. I do not see her much (although sometimes my anima seems to merge with her — more about that another time), but I have seen her in my Anima’s Hall, and, once, seated on a throne at the edge of the sky and the Prairie, her hair and skin on fire — the sunset personified.
Bison is a massive American bison, with amazingly human eyes that always seem full of sadness and longing. He is usually in the Sun Prairie, although sometimes when I have called for a steed he has, amazingly, come and offered himself. But his appearance never varies.
What a rogue’s gallery! Why do they have such different appearances in different places?
If I had to guess, I would say that the Forest of Branching Paths is a place that represents the worldly concerns of many of us — wandering in a place with no particular landmarks, trying to go somewhere — we’re not sure where, and making decision after decision as the paths branch and fork and merge. Perhaps by chance we’ll reach the open green grass, where everything is plain and clear to see; perhaps not. In that kind of forest, Cernunnos — who, to me, represents Free Will — can be a mysterious, unpredictable, and fearsome thing. Odin, the wandering wizard, may be dangerous or helpful, depending on how you approach him. Apollo — the light of vision and knowledge — is cloaked and hidden.
How do you get out of the forest? It takes courage and self-trust to approach one of these fearsome-seeming guides — for indeed, Cernunnos and Apollo and Odin are not the only guides in the forest, and not all of them are friendly — and ask for help. But they cannot help if you do not ask.
A note about guide and guise: the words are closely related — they both come from Proto Indo European weid, a verb meaning “to see”. This root is also the source of wisdom, idol, kaleidoscope, wit, view, vision, vista, advice, provide, review, idea, history, penguin (!?), and Rig-Veda. TO SEE: a guide is one who SHOWS you the way; and a guise is how something is SEEN. Energetically, both words indicate guarded, cultivated source energy that rises up with intelligence and creativity. But the result of the energy is different: the guide helps you through a doorway or decision; a guise leads to a path, perhaps troubled, but with purposeful energy and force.