Purple text is my partner, blue text is me. We doubled up on this one. PS my partner is The Brass Bell, so go read her shit!
Question 1: How do I bring myself back from what I'm feeling now (astral-presence)? And if I can do that, how do I get back to it?
Mundane activities. Washing dishes, folding laundry, garden tending. Anything that doesn' require insano mental processes. Something that brings you down to earth and reminds you are in a physical body, and still have stupid remedial responsibilities to tend to. Be careful though. Sometimes these activities lead to absence of thought, which can sometimes pull you back into the astral.
I was gonna say the same thing. I like to eat or do stupid things that slowly remind me I have a body. But don't try driving while astral-intoxicated, as you might suddenly start seeing shit on the side of the road and get distracted...it's a bad idea.
That being said, how to go back there? Will it. Honestly, it's all will power and desire. It takes some practice, but if you truly desire it, your energy calls it forth. Some people work better with some form of material. So maybe you cast a portal, or construct your own space of which you enter from (your homestead for example. Get to know it well, and you will enter in at ease. Then that can be your base for traveling outwards).
In the beginning I set up a full circle shenanigans and the whole 9 yards, because I knew it would put me in a ritual frame of mind so I would be calm and easily slip into journey-mode. I used shamanic drumming a lot or anything rhythmic that would trance me out. When visiting the L'wa later I looked up chants for Legba and such. And then I would just place yourself in your room and go from there.
Question 2: How do you move on from your familiar places/explore/expand?
You will know when you ready. I know this sounds all sagely and vague, but it is true. When you are ready, there will be no hesitation or thought to it, you will just open the door and leave and lo and behold the journey begins. First, get acquainted with your homestead. Know every nook and cranny. Learn how it moves, changes, how the light is. (Is it day time? Are there 4 moons in the sky, does the sky not change at all, is time relevant? Climate? Materials? Etc). Move things around and see what happens. Use this place as experimentation, but also as a safe haven.
Once you've exhausted that, you'll either be bored enough to venture out, or you'll know enough to ponder the idea. As soon as you make a move, the astral responds and changes accordingly--you will be swept off your feet before you know it. Try to make all your decisions consciously. I also wouldn't move on until you know yourself---are you as you are now? Are you in a different body/form? Do you lack form? You will not be able to answer these questions right away, but try your best to recognize yourself. It will tell you more about where you are and what you can do.
Maybe even start with planned trips. Like, "I want to go see Olympus today" (Don't, it's a sketchy place btw), or "I wonder if I can visit Legba's tavern". Often a place or face you're familiar with will help move your body along for you. Then you can start discovering places you never fathomed.
this. ^ Also yeah, fuck Olympus in my professional opinion.
Question 3: Psychic Self defense. How to learn it, plus grounding/meditating.
Don't feel bad if you have trouble with this. I know a bit of defense but my grounding skills are absent. I'm sure Kristin has a better answer for you on this. For me, it was trial by fire and relying on instinct informed from past lives and time. When I woke up in the astral, I was stuck in a very very bad situation. Defense became imperative. At first I approached it from the human level, but then I quickly learned about mental constructs and energy forming. (No, I'm not talking about making sparkly balls of light, though you can if you want).
Do some research on different methods and find what rings a bell with you. I know for Kristin it is mostly seal work and such. For me it is masking. Masking is hiding your energy signature, as well as even feigning a different aura or energy. Masking is a good practice to do daily in anything, simply because it doesn't give any new acquaintances the upper hand by evaluating you at first glance. I don't really know how to instruct on masking...I usually focus very intently on the center of my soul, and literally draw my outside energy inwards, and then project different energy outwards to replace it.
Yeah actually I didn't really know defense until something tried to eat me, no joke. Then my body just reacted. I just instinctively knew seal magic once I go there too; I could visualize the symbols and the keyholes and shit. I started with small, simple ones with squares and circles, and I added crystals for 'lynchpins' to hold it all together, and then I graduated to bigger ones. Interesting to note I've never seen the seals I use in real life, exactly.
Basic defense shit: I would suggesting asking a deity. (I know Aubs works with Sekhmet...she's kind of a badass.) There's probably a particular way those of you from various traditions learn self defense, and no better way than direct from a source. No form of defense here (energy circles, etc) really resonated with me until I got there and found seals and shit.
As for grounding, I'm fond of the meditation you'll find all over the internet that involves visualizing your feet becoming roots into the ground and really feeling out that connection and visualizing energy coming and going. Failing that going outside and sitting on REAL ground is even better. (Shocking!)
Once you get to "made-up" things, you can basically both learn energy healing (really, it's all visualizing) and creation of inner "rooms" and sacred spaces at the same time. Start by holding the image for 15 seconds, or 30 seconds, and slowly work at it.
Although if you're already at the point where you can see the details in your room(s), you're probably much better at visualizing than you thought you were. So maybe try creating a place you like and try going there in your head. Mine is a lakeside house in the middle of Spring. :)
Question 4: How do I find guides?
Kristin will have to be your best answer on this. I struggled with this for many years. I didn't have guides, no working relationships with Deity (except Apollo, but he's a rapist and he wasn't of much help). I honestly wandered alone, no lie, in a desert for a couple of years. Eventually through my journies and traveling out, I would meet other beings, and befriend them (cautiously) and just observe them instead. Follow their cues. It wasn't until I met Kristin that her guide stepped in as a pseudo guide for me as well (though now we're just bros that fist bump over good poetry and argue about dancing technique). And after I saw her deep connection to her guide, I tried to fill the void of not having one myself. I had passing teachers and passing guides, and I've come to learn my energy just isn't the same as most beings. So my guides have ironically been more of the demon sort. But they all come and go. Honestly, it is your friends who will guide you.
Alternatively, your working deity are your guides. They are on a path of progression as well, let them help you, instruct you, and ask for their help.
Ditto on the Deity comment.
My other advice is the seek them out method. You may have seen scripted meditations on other sites about finding totems, but what you may not have realized is they essentially lead you on an underworld journey to a safe space to meet guides. You might want to purposefully visualize a space within yourself (a "safe" "closed" space) and ask for a showing from a guide or totem. And then wait for signs or something. Advice: Specify. Ask for a guide who might be able to specifically give you advice on astral journey, so you don't have random ones showing up. And don't flip out if it's not an immediate thing. Sometimes you are actually SUPPOSED to go wander around alone.
Question 5: How do you distinguish between astral shenanigans, and conjured imagination?
To me, they have distinct feels. I suffer from hallucinations sometimes from a long battle with chronic insomnia in my teen years. But the hallucinations have this weighted feeling to them. They are shaded, and almost look Hi-def. They are fast moving too. And they don't seem to care about the world around them.
Astral shenans react to the environment in which they are contained. So you will notice they are conscious of such things. Also, it tends to feel lighter, more dream like, and eventually you'll see things happen you could NOT ever in your wildest imagination, conjure up yourself.
It helps to be very honest with yourself too. Do some deep digging always to know yourself, and your desires. Compare what it is you experience with your honest wants. Is something happening in the direction you want it to? Perhaps it is not as real as you think then.
For instance, are you desirous of being a world leader? and suddenly you find yourself all to conveniently in such a position. To be honest, this could actually be legit, but question the actions of those around you. Are they helping you to be in that position because it is right, or because you are desiring them to?
Deep down in your heart, you will actually know. Is it beginning to sound like a bad romance fantasy rpg novel with stock characters and buildings? Are you being open minded to new things? The astral is full of ups and down. It IS life. Just like here on earth things don't always work out, same with the Astral. So if things are going to perfect too, that's a good indicator.
On the other hand, lets go back to the world leader example. Are you a world leader but finding the opposition is actually taking over? You're having a hard time lining up your allies? Are you getting emotionally overwhelmed, worried about your predictions and such? These would all be plausible cases. So perhaps you are not imagining things.
If all else fails for me, I pull tarot. My tarot is snarky and brutally honest. It has never failed to tell me when I'm projecting my own makings upon my experiences. It usually does this by giving me a card with my desires and then slapping down a shitty card on top of it. As in "THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT BUT HERE IS REALITY".
Yeah, I can tell the difference between inner journey and outer by feel. (I consider "imagining things" to be like an inner journey, because an act of creation by imagination still utilizes energy.) Generally the same thing, it depends if you can easily alter the environment and if you can control exactly what is going on. A good test is, if you have a guide/etc there, ask them a strange question you don't know the answer too, and if you get a strange answer you never expected, you're likely really there. But then again I still wake up some days convinced I'm imagining everything/crazy, but look at it this way: would you rather be sane and boring? ;)
Extra Advice: Keep an open mind. Remember you are a tiny particle of dust in the universe, and that anything is possible. Things you cannot fathom are possible, and you must be ready to submit yourself to the unknown to allow real growth to happen. Remember that cultures exist. Are you only hanging out in Avalon? Maybe you need to reevaluate that African spirits exist too and if you aren't seeing any, maybe you aren't being open. (I'm only using this in the example because I feel paganism is very white washed in its imagery, and people tend to traverse the astral based on the imagery that surrounds them). Also, allow room for things you've never heard of or seen.
My first experience in demon realm was interesting. It wasn't hell fire and mangy pestilence horses running around. It was so immaterial it broke my mind for a few days. It was a place of sound and black and white geometry that moves in rhythm to a pitch that buries itself in your head.
Everything is probably going to look completely different than you know, so if you get freaked remember there's a place of refuge you have (your "landing pad") that you can always return to by will. Also, if you follow a particular tradition, you can usually find astral versions of those temples to sit around in. Any act of will and energy is adding something to the astral, so you can bet thousands of years of belief in deities and secret orders has peppered the landscape with architecture.
Failing that, you can build on the astral too, remember...