Meditation is a fairly simple practice used not only by pagans, but people from all walks of life to quiet the mind, heal the body, and problem solve. While some believe you shut off your mind during meditation, the opposite is actually true. The intention of meditation is to focus the mind on self and enter a state of consciousness different from our daily consciousness. Some use meditation to contemplate while others use it to look inward to problem solve. None of these are "wrong," although some will tell you so. During this higher state of consciousness, you contact your inner "true" self and communicate with the Divine for whatever purpose you have in mind. Compared to pathwalking and hedge riding, meditation is very easy, although many find it difficult to quiet the mind, especially with the hustle and bustle of today.
To begin practicing meditation, I suggest going and sitting in a quiet place outside. Start slowly by sitting in a comfortable position, closing your eyes, and thinking about what you feel around you. Focus on the wind in your hair, the sun on your skin, the sound of the birds, and prickling of the grass. Start off by sitting in this way for about 10 minutes. As you become accustomed to focusing your mind, extend your sessions. Some people are able to meditate for hours, while some feel good with 20 minutes. Try not to fall asleep, but if you do, know it is because your body needed the rest. You can combine visualization and meditation, called imagery meditation, where you picture a simple scene in your mind or by imagining something you want, such as seeing yourself well again if you are sick. This is also a great way to retrace your steps if you have misplaced an item. These visualizations are simple and directed toward a specific purpose.
Pathwalking is a relatively new concept in paganism and is not believed to have existed prior to the occult revival. Originally, pathwalking meant astrally or mentally projecting yourself up and around Kabalistic Tree of Life in order to gain information, seek guidance, or heal. More recently, however, the term has evolved to mean any visualized journey, and shares many traits with a Shamanistic journey or vision quest. Pathwalking differs from meditation in that you embark on a visualized journey instead of focusing your mind on your inner self or a specific need. Pathwalking comes the closest to hedge riding as you often find yourself passing into the otherworld realms.
Pathwalking can be guided or self created. In guided pathwalking (sometimes called guided meditation) someone else talks you through what is happening while you visualize the journey. This is a great way to learn certain magical techniques, gain a better understanding of magical symbols, and heal. If you are just starting out, it may be best to use a guided exercise so someone can "pull" you back if and when needed. If you are self-creating, make sure you plan your journey ahead of time and carry a grounding stone with you to ensure a safe return. Sometimes you will feel you have somewhat lost control, but for the most part, you drive the visualization for a specific purpose. Astral projection is a form of pathworking as your astral self leaves your physical self to seek answers, divine intervention, healing, and more.
Hedge riding is the main practice that separates hedgewitches from other witches. Unlike meditation and pathwalking, hedge riding requires the witch to physically leave our realm to travel to others. This is not visualization. You do not have control of the journey, and the forces you meet there can cause you harm if you are not careful. To hedge ride, the witch must enter an altered state of consciousness (ASC). This can be done with drumming, dancing, chanting, or drugs, although many hedgewitches do not condone or support the use of drugs to reach an altered state of consciousness (ASC). It is too dangerous. However, flying ointments were common practice way back when and are thusly named because they allowed the witch to enter an ASC and thus fly or hedge ride to other worlds.
Hedge riding is shamanistic in nature and usually performed alone, although some witches prefer to work in groups. When riding, the rider's consciousness enters another realm, generally referred to as the otherworld, which is the collective unconscious. This otherworld has three different realms, Upper, Middle, and Lower, each with their own levels (9 total). The most common version of this is the Norse World Tree, Yggdrasil. Unlike practices in Shamanism, however, hedgewitches usually do not engage in psychopomp work which involves escorting souls to the afterlife or soul retrieval. Instead, hedge riding is used for healing, to search for knowledge, divination, or assistance in spell work. You can also meet your ancestors during hedge riding by moving into the past or future.
There are two different translations of verse 156 of The Havamal in the Poetic Edda of the 13th century that talks explcitily about hedge riding:
I know this the tenth:Both translations are a charm that can either cause the hedge rider to show their true self and return home, or cause the rider's spirit to separate from their physical body. Either way, these charms tell us that hedge riders traveled or flew to otherworldly realms, usually in another form.
If I see the hedge-riders magically flying high,
I can make it so they go astray
Of their own skins, and of their own souls.
Nigel Pennick (Havamal, Complete Illustrated Guide to Runes, 2002)
A tenth I know, what time I see
House-riders flying on high;
So I can work, that wildly they go,
Showing their true shapes,
Hence to their own homes.
Henry Adams Bellows (Hovamol, verse 156, The Poetic Edda, 1936)
Experienced hedge riders often shape-shift into an animal form for added protection. Journeys are also usually accompanied by animal guides who provide protection and guidance while traveling through the other realms. This can be very dangerous, so if you are not already experienced in meditation and pathwalking, I do not suggest you attempt to hedge ride. If you do, visiting the upper Lower realm tends to be safest, but go for no more than 20 minutes at a time. As you can see from the charms, it is possible to separate your astral self from your physical body.
While there is so much more I can say on all three of these topics, I think we have covered enough of the basics for everyone to have an understanding of what each is and the differences among them. As with any practice in witchcraft, I suggest using your best judgement when engaging in these activities. While meditation and pathwalking are relatively safe, hedge riding can be extremely dangerous.