Portals: Opening Doorways to Other Realities through the Senses

Portals: Opening Doorways to Other Realities through the Senses

Portals: Opening Doorways to Other Realities through the Senses

Portals: Opening Doorways to Other Realities through the Senses


As Alice in Wonderland discovered, cave entrances, tunnels, spirals and mirrors can transport people to strange worlds where anything is possible. Portals investigates how we move beyond the conscious and physical world using our senses, into other realities of the spiritual and the divine. Portals looks at the techniques used to alter consciousness practised by shamans, monks and other religious specialists. These include the use of drugs. as well as drumming, chanting and meditation. The book provides a new, anthropologically-grounded perspective on the wide-ranging questions about the realities of human consciousness and mystical, spiritual and religious experience.


Each of us lives within … the prison of his own brain. Projecting from it are millions
of fragile sensory nerve fibers, in groups uniquely adapted to sample the energetic
states of the world around us: heat, light, force, and chemical composition. That is all
we ever know of it directly; all else is logical inference. The senses are the portals to
the mind.

Biocca, The Cyborg's Dilemma

Philosophers, visionaries and writers throughout history have written and discussed the notion of separate realities that can be accessed by moving beyond the physical body via some sort of doorway or passage. This idea has permeated children's stories as well. Lewis Carroll's 'looking glass' enabled readers to move, along with Alice in Wonderland, into a world that was similar, but strangely different in many ways to their own. Wonderland was a place where anything could happen: rabbits could speak, Cheshire cats could appear simply as a smile and fish were footmen. If the reader persists in following the arguments in this book to its conclusion, Lewis Carroll's fictional world may not seem as bizarre as it once did. As I want to articulate, the everyday reality that we perceive through our senses can be altered dramatically by 'working' the senses using a variety of somatic stimuli, creating a paradigm shift in perception. Not only is this possible, but certain practices have been used the world over to bring about this shift in perception, which, as I point out using examples from vastly different cultures and historical epochs, include a kind of set of sensory syntactics to what we might call the spiritual encounter.

In my research into altered states of consciousness over several years, I have found not only that the notion of moving through some sort of portal or doorway to access another type of reality is widespread, but that there are certain techniques employed to do so. These techniques are used universally by shamans, monks, religious specialists and lay people, and involve different physical senses. Sometimes only one of the senses is involved (for example, visual concentration on a particular object) and sometimes a combination of senses is used. With the aid of the senses, and devices such as mandalas, voice and/or musical instruments, body movements and decoration, physical pain, and olfactory and tactile stimuli, it is possible to move from what we call mundane, or ordinary reality, into alternate reality. This can be done with or without the use of entheogenic or psychedelic substances (drugs). All . . .

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