What is hedge-riding?
Hedge-riding is when one's spirit takes flight into one of the Otherworlds (either the Upperworld or the Underworld) in search of wisdom, speaking with the dead and ancestors, etc.
What is the symbolism of the hedge?
The hedge was a boundary between worlds and separated outside life with inside life. "Riding" the hedge is crossing into that outdoor world, the "wild" world. The hedge is a symbol of Midgard (or middle earth; physical realm), in between the Upperworld and the Underworld.
Hedge-rider, according to Eric de Vries, can be translated from many languages: Middle Dutch: Haghetesse, German: Hagazussa, Old Norse: Hagzissa, Old English: Haegtesse. Hedge-riding is shamanic in origin.
Hedge-riders usually go down into the Underworld in search of unseen wisdom or to talk to the spirits of the dead, which dwell in the Underworld (some may see it as a river). The Underworld is a place of wisdom, as seen by the Norse belief in the Well of Wisdom, which is guarded by Mimir, a giant who is sometimes called a water demon and who is also the god of prophecy and wisdom, ponds, and waters. Odin, the main father figure of the Germanic pantheon, went down to Mimir's well to drink to gain wisdom; he was searching for wisdom. Death can be seen in Greek mythology: Hades was the god of the Underworld, the keeper of souls.
The Upperworld is the home of the divine (for example, in the Greek pantheon Zeus rules); it's where our teachers, guides, spiritual masters, etc. are found. We travel here for answers to our questions from our guides and such.
How does one hedge-ride?
Trance and altered consciousness is essential! One must be aware of all their senses and be able to see, hear, feel, etc. things that are not there. One must have an altered state of consciousness in order for the spirit to take flight. There are stories of hedge-riders/journeyers who ride easily while in a state of utter confusion and illness. For example, some Native American shaman tribes use peyote, a psychoactive plant, that makes one's stomach purge because it is intoxicating. Peyote is an entheogen; an entheogen is a "vision-producing drug that figure in shamanic or religious rites" (Ruck et al. 1979). Entheogens are used to aid in inducing trance, to alter consciousness.
Flying ointments are often seen referenced in many areas as well. These ointments were said to, when applied on the broomstick/stang or the body of the witch, enable the witch to fly. Flying ointments often contain hallucinogenic compounds in order to alter the witch's consciousness. Traditional flying ointments were said to have contained fat of an unbaptized baby, which gave the ointment it's solubility. But in reality, this was lard. Aconite was said to have been included in many ointments, which affects the heart and aids in a feeling of flying. Belladonna produces delirium, hemlock produces excitement and later sends the body into paralysis; sweet flag, mugwort, and cinquefoil are also traditional in flying ointments. There are "traditional" flying ointment materials and compounds. These hallucinogenic drugs are NOT used like today's people would use them. They were used in proper dosages so one would not be poisoned or become ill.
Today there are various ways to induce trance. Many start off meditating or listening to drumming, rattling, etc. and then slowly go deeper into trance, getting rid of all physical feeling and moving toward creating that feeling of flight with one's spirit; usually at the beginning, some may start off listening and focusing on their breathing or heartbeat. Visualization usually comes after the beginning, but if one is still in their mind, they are not hedge-riding. Visualization helps aid the hedge-rider into being at the realm they would like to go. Once the visualization becomes more and more clear and real, you know you have crossed; when one has crossed one doesn't have to think about what is there, it just is. The "new age" term for hedge-riding could be considered astral travel because the goal of astral travel is to release your spirit in order to travel to other realms.
I'm not quite happy with the article yet, I will be writing more about this subject!
Further Reading & Recipes:
Scott Cunningham's The Complete Book of Incense, Oils, and Brews (for flying ointments, search it under the book cover thumbnail)
Diana L. Paxson's Trance-Portation: Learning To Navigate The Inner World
Christopher Penczak's The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft
Michael J. Harner's The Way of the Shaman
Walking The Hedge Forum: Flying Ointments
☆ Ball, Martin W. Mushroom Wisdom: How Shaman Cultivate Spiritual Consciousness. Berkeley, Calif.: Ronin Pub., 2006. Print.
☆ De Vries, Eric. Hedge-Rider: Witches and the Underworld. Sunland: Pendraig, 2008. Print.
☆ Gottlieb, Adam. Peyote and Other Psychoactive Cacti. Berkeley, CA: Ronin Pub., 1997. Print.
☆ Morford, Mark, and Robert J. Lenardon. Classical Mythology. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.
☆ Penczak, Christopher. The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft: Shadows, Spirits, and the Healing Journey. St. ☆ Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 2005. Print.
☆ Turner, Patricia, and Charles Russell Coulter. Dictionary of Ancient Deities. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.
☆ Walker, Barbara G. The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983. Print.
☆ Podcast: The Unnamed Path: Deathwalking