Visualization: the ability or skill to see something that doesn't 'really' exist in front of your eyes, either keeping your eyes closed or open. Also, forming and using a clear mental image, used in magick. Simple! Everybody can do it, if they only practice hard enough! But what if you simply aren't visually oriented and your visual imagery works better when "images" are actually heard, felt, smelt or tasted, or when they are metaphors? What if you can't see anything when you close your eyes, but your other senses or one of your other senses work quite well?
When you look at basic articles dealing with visualization, almost every single one of them will concentrate on visualization as something sight-based, as if there were no other options or if the other options were quite unimportant or effective in magick or meditation. The importance given to sight can be seen in the terminology used: visualization is the general term used to cover also the practice of forming mental images with other senses than sight.
When it comes to dominant senses, people who are visually oriented form the largest group, but there are still plenty of people who don't think or dream in pictures. According to some statistics, audio-oriented people are the second largest group, while people who have touch or movement as their strongest sense, or who have scent/taste as the strongest sense when it comes to dreams, memories, and mental "images" are left to form smaller minorities.
When your strongest sense is something other than sight, all the talk of visualization as something connected only to seeing can cause feelings of being inadequate and even worrying if one can even use magick. This is quite understandable, as visualization is explained as something that is very important for being able to use magick, even a precondition for it. When given practices center on developing sight, trying and failing can make you doubt your own skills and make you feel like there's nowhere to go. If the instructions of your traditions tell you that you should be able to see the circle cast with your mind's eye and you can't do it, it isn't that strange you'd start doubting if you can do a ritual. What about spells? If you are supposed to see the result in order to succeed - are you doomed to failure if you simply don't function visually?
Visual "visualization" isn't the only possibility there is, so you shouldn't be too worried if you can't do it. Working magick, rituals, spells, meditations and what have you are perfectly possible for 'sightless' people as well! It can require somewhat more work, as texts and instructions are written for those who function in sight, but it is possible. By modifying exercises and instructions you can make them work for other senses as well. That modifying requires a bit of (creative) application, but you can do it. By working on your strongest sense, you may with time be able to make your other senses stronger. Even if you are visually oriented, doing exercises on other senses can help you in creating a more complete visualization experience.
Here are some short, simple exercises to get you started:
As usual, it's good to have the place where you are doing the exercises somewhat dim and peaceful. Having people buzzing about and having other disturbances around don't exactly help with concentration. Part of the preparation is to sit comfortably, as you will be staying in one position for a length of time and relaxing yourself to a light trance state.
As a side note: it pays not to train yourself to be able to meditate or get into a trance only when it's perfectly peaceful. Total quiet or nearly so isn't always possible in situations where you need to work magick, nor is requiring such sensible. When you get basics in order, start doing your exercises where there are external disturbances.
A basic exercise one is often given is a candle-based one. Here's one version: Light a candle and have it stand at your eye-level about two feet away. Look at the flame, inspect and study it, its movements and colors, how the flame stands out against the dark background. Concentrate all your attention to the flame until it's practically all you can see. Then close your eyes, still facing the candle, and start building up the image of the flame using your mind's eye. In the beginning you may see only a faint glimpse of the flame, but don't panic - exercises take time. If your concentration breaks and the image disappears, try building it again without opening your eyes. When you can keep the image in your mind for a long period of time, try adding the movement of the flame, then expanding your exercise later on so that you can see the whole candle. You can also start modifying the image in your mind by making the candle larger, changing the color of the candle or the flame - whatever you can think up. Clarity is more important in this exercise than the time you can keep it up. With time you won't need stimulus to start with, that is, the candle to watch.
Note that some people can visualize in two dimensions, but not in three. If you're one of the two-dimensional people, work with that ability - don't feel lacking because you aren't a "three-dimensional visualizer".
If you're one of those people who has an internal jukebox playing songs and sounds out on its own initiative, or who remembers discussions down to the tones of voices, you can learn t "visualize" sound. Starting to exercise with "auralization" ("visualization by the ear") doesn't really need stimuli. However, it pays to rehearse your aural memory to work under your will, also to meditate on soundscapes. You can add concentrating on a certain sound and examining it while meditating; rehearsing single sounds, tunes, rhythms, repeated words (starting with, for example, type of mantras with no personal importance), sounds of nature, etc. If you have trouble clearing your mind of thoughts while meditating, you can try using soothing nature sounds like rainfall to "fill up your mind".
One useful exercise is to transform a persistent "ear-fly" (a piece of music, often a quite unwanted one, playing as a loop in your head) to something else, like a mantric sigil. For those who are less hearing oriented, the starting point can be meditating on repeated words, mantras or simple sounds, with a stimulus to reconstruct in your mind's ear or without one.
When it comes to exercising this sense, you can approach the subject through feeling touch, temperatures, air streams or presence. However, it's good to practice all of these. It is quite difficult to give any direct exercises, as the way each individual feels is rather personal. Therefore finding the way that fits you best is left to your own activities and aptitudes. It helps if you know a relaxation routine when you concentrate your thoughts on one part of your body at the time until it starts to feel warmer and it feels like a stream of air / gentle touch would be around that body part - that exercise can be modified to be used here.
The basic principle with "scent visualization" is the same as with sight visualization. Light incense and breathe in its scent. Let the scent fill your whole consciousness, excluding everything else. Concentrate on the scent, examine it in your mind from all angles, studying its effects on you - what it brings to your mind, how it feels. Let the incense burn all up, keeping the scent alive in your mind as long as you can. Later on, after the scent has all but disappeared from the air around you, concentrate and strive to bring the scent back to your mind using the associations you created. There's no need to worry if you can't do that straight away - you can always practice more. In fact, you should always practice more. Let the incense burn for a shorter period each time you do this exercise, trying to keep the scent 'visualized' a little longer than before, until you are able to 'visualize' it at will without the help of the actual incense.
For taste, you can work using the same principles as with scents.
In the introduction to this article, I mentioned metaphors. You can use and develop 'word/verbal visualization' not only as a technique of its own right, but also in aiding and strengthening other imagery. You can use the previously described visual-visualization as the basics. Work otherwise like you did in the earlier exercise, but after closing your eyes describe - with words - the candle flame and then the whole candle as vividly as you can. Keep in your mind complete certainty of the candle's existence. Why wouldn't you be certain it is really there? After all, it does exist, even though you can't see it at the moment. If you would extend your fingers towards the flame, the flame would still burn your fingers - even though it is "visible" only as a description in your head. Take that certainty and be that certain when you are, for example, describing to yourself deities called in rituals.
Exercising different senses as such doesn't solve the original problem, that is - how to manage with a weak or totally nonexistent visual-visualizing ability while meditating and working magick, and how to enrich one's sphere of visualization.
You could say that the basic idea is that of "mixing sensations". That is, observing stimuli often associated only with one sense, with other senses as well. At the same time, taking into consideration all senses if possible, finding out your own strong and weaker senses for example by using the different exercises. Even "in real life", what you experience of the world surrounding you is formed by all of the senses you have working together, not through one singular sense. So, why would things be one-sense-dimensional in the world of magick?
You can start bringing down the walls separating each of the senses by, say, asking yourself what does the taste of a given feeling sound like, what a taste feels like, what does the sound of a scent look like, what does the sight of a tune scent like, etc. To put it in other words, by questioning the limits of possibilities and bending your mind to accept the idea that the possibilities of different senses are not set in stone - especially when the senses in questions are inside your own mind.
Instead of concentrating on what any given object (or 'object') looks like, you can concentrate on how they sound, feel, smell, taste. You can add sensations even to quite abstract subjects, choosing the associations according to your own experiences or the 'tables of correspondences' used by your religion or tradition, searching for connections crossing the boundaries of senses. One tool to use can be, for example, Aleister Crowley's Liber 777.
Discovering and writing down your own associations and correspondences is also quite a good exercise. You can expand your overall magick usage through building a network of correspondences speaking to you on a very personal level.
I'd say that one big reason for exercises, instructions for rituals, and so forth concentrate so much on sight is that it's the easiest way to explain. Unfortunately, at the same time many other possible approaches get overlooked. What also can get overlooked is that no matter what approach your visualization takes, the certainty in what you are doing and experiencing is more important than whether you are able to reproduce something in your mind. This "mere reproducing" happens all the time in your normal, everyday thought processes and few would call thinking visualizing. It may not even be possible to 'cut down' a visualizing or magick working experience and even when sight is playing the major role, it is (most often) only part of the experience.
With rituals, you can instead of (or in addition to) seeing symbols and other visualized parts, hear sounds associated with them, draw them as a trail of scent or feel their presence. While meditating, you can sense colors as scents, sounds or feelings. With spells, you can 'visualize' the result of the spell by hearing clearly, say, the company you applied to calling you and telling you that you got the job.
Bathe in imagery, whether the images were pictures or something else.