Thursday, May 26, 2016

Raven at the Gate between Worlds


Raven sits in the doorway between the worlds.
He is black on my side,  white on the other.
Raven says, You have more power than you know.
You don't have to go on repeating yourself forever.


Once you remember that you've had this illness before
and gone through its whole progression
you can choose to release it from your present body
into a parallel world. It is the same with any scenario.


Once you recollect that you came this way
and suffered this consequence on your present road
or the roads of dreaming you can move the chain
to another of the many worlds. There may be a price.


To keep the boy from drowning in the deep blue pool
you may need to pay my counterpart in the coin
of the country, in rum and tobacco, or a black goat.
Talk nicely to your gatekeepers. Show some manners.


Don't forget that when you send off disease or disaster
to a parallel world you can stir a parallel self
out of sleep. If he wakes up and remembers you
he may decide to return your gift, with interest.



drawing (c) Robert Moss

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Call of the Hawk


Many years ago, I spent a weekend driving around the upper Hudson valley of New York. I was profoundly dissatisfied with my life. From the outside, that life may have looked like a dream fulfilled. I was a bestselling thriller writer; publishers competed to offer me high six-figure advances, laid on stretch limos and made sure the Dom Perignon waiting for me in the hotel suites they paid for was perfectly chilled. And my life felt hollow. I knew I had to make a break with big cities and the fast track I had been on and get back in touch with the spirits of the land and my own deeper creative spirit.
      On that upstate weekend, a few miles from the village of Chatham NY, a Realtor showed me some land with a run-down farmhouse that might be available. The house would need a ton of work, but as I walked the land, half of it still primal woodlands where the deer drifted in great droves, I knew in my gut this was a place I needed to be. I sat under an old white oak behind the house, feeling the rightness of the place but also that I needed a further sign.
     A red-tailed hawk circled overhead, dipping lower and lower, screaming urgently at me in a language I felt I ought to be able to understand. I did not speak hawk, but I could not fail to get a message when she proceeded to drop a feather between my legs.  That visitation by the hawk was the clincher. I purchased the farm, moved to the country, and soon found myself changing worlds, which is what can happen when we radically change the way we inhabit the world.
     When we had restored the farmhouse and moved in, I was drifting one night in that in-between state of consciousness the French used to call dorveille, sleep-wake. I found myself gently rising from my dormant body on the bed, in a second body, a dreambody - not an exotic experience for me, as far back as I can remember. I floated out over the night landscape, and found that in my dreambody, I had wings - the wings of a red-tailed hawk, scaled to my size. I had a marvelous time enjoying a highly sensory experience of flight, riding thermals, swooping and soaring, seeing the world at different angles.
     I found myself flying north, over Lake George and then Lake Champlain. I noticed the Northway and modern towns were missing from the landscape below me. I felt the tug of someone else's intention, and followed it, out of curiosity, to a cabin  in the woods somewhere near Montreal, where I was received by a beautiful, ancient indigenous woman. She spoke to me for a long time in her own language, her words like lake water lapping, while she stroked a beaded belt that hung from her shoulder, with the design of a she-wolf and human figures. I was fascinated, but did not understand a single word, any more than I had understood the language of the hawk. I knew I had been in the presence of a woman of power, and I hoped that, since this felt urgently important, more would be revealed.


The design of the belt, in my night vision, proved to be the equivalent of the hawk's feather: a way I could receive and confirm a message even though I lacked a necessary language. My first Iroquois friend - met later through an interesting series of coincidences - was able to show me a wampum belt identical to the one in my vision. It was in the archives of the New York State Museum at that time; since then it has been returned to Onondaga, the traditional capital of the Confederacy of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, or Longhouse People, among whom the Mohawk are Keepers of the Eastern Door. He told me it was believed that the belt was the credentials of an ancient mother of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk People.
    I entered deeply into the study of the traditions of the ancient dream shaman who had called me, when I was flying on hawk's wings. This opened to me ways of dreaming and healing that were possibly shared by all our ancestors, but which have become atrophied, when not actively suppressed, in modern society. I came to call the ancient shaman Island Woman; this  reflects the fact, which I was able to confirm through historical research, that she was captured as a young girl from the Huron/Wendat, called by the Mohawk the Island People, to be raised as Mohawk. In order to receive her teachings fully, I had to study the Mohawk and Huron languages, and reclaim terms from early sacred vocabulary.
     New dreams eventually called me to leave the land to which the hawk had called me and teach what I had learned about dreaming the soul back home and dreaming for our communities. We sold the farm to a woman who promised to conserve the land.
    As we were leaving the house, after our final checks, I was inspired to go back inside for no reason I could express. I heard a scuffling in the family room we had built, overlooking the old white oak. I found the noise was coming from the hearth. When I removed the firescreen, I found a young red-tailed hawk - a fledgling - that had somehow managed to fall down the chimney between my last two visits. My last action, on the land I acquired because of the hawk, was to carry the young hawk outside, next to my heart, and release her. She flew straight into the branches of the while oak where the first hawk had delivered her message.

The red-tailed hawk has become my most important bringer of omens. A hawk in good shape, flying my way or grabbing a good meal, will give me a surge of confidence for the day that has yet to be disappointed. A dead hawk in power lines will make me batten down the hatches and watch out for challenges.
    I was once very late for a phone interview with a California journalist who was irritated and pressed for time. I wasn't sure the interview was going to go well. She asked me to give an example of how I navigate by synchronicity.
    I was standing on the balcony of a villa overlooking Long Island Sound. Right below me, three bunnies had been scampering about in the grass. As I considered my response to the journalist's question, a red-tailed hawk made a vertical ascent, talons outstretched. It grabbed a bunny and shot straight up with its dinner in its clutches.
    Given my affinity with the hawk, I took this as a good sign, indicating that despite our bumpy start the interview would turn out fine. I was about to recount what had just happened when some inner caution made me pause. I was talking to a journalist for a Californian holistic magazine; for all I knew, she was a vegan who might be horrified by the scene of the hawk taking the bunny rabbit, especially if I reported it with the relish I was feeling. So I told her a black dog story and she loved it and the interview came out just fine. The hawk sign was, once again, reliable.





For fuller versions of my encounters with the red-tailed hawk and Island Woman, please see my books Dreamways of the Iroquois and The Boy Who Died and Came Back.


Drawings by Robert Moss





Sunday, May 22, 2016

Jung in the Underworld


Let’s be candid: Jung’s Red Book is not for the faint-hearted. Yes, there are passages of incandescent beauty, perhaps beyond any other of his writings. There are also vertiginous falls into places of rank terror and screaming madness. In my own reading, there was a moment when I wanted to throw the book violently across the room – and may well have done so, except that the book is the size and weight of a tombstone, and I feared for breakages.
    The moment when I was close to chucking the book came when Jung describes how he found himself compelled (by a woman he identified as his soul!) to eat part of the liver of a murdered girl. I was revulsed, almost gagging. And I forced myself to read on, to go every step with Jung on his frightful shamanic journey through the many cycles of the Netherworld.   
    Let’s be even more clear: Jung goes through hell. He converses with a Red Devil. He battles with a Bull God and shrinks him to the size of an egg he can fit in his pocket, then raises up the old horned god again. He howls to a dead moon and a dark sea about combining good and evil, but he doesn’t trust his own shouting.
   
    He comes to a library that may be a place of sanctuary and reflection. When the librarian asks him to choose the book that he wants, to their mutual surprise he names 
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, a medieval favorite. He debates with the librarian what it would mean to imitate Christ today. He decides that since Christ imitated no one, this would mean going his own way, and paying the full price for creating that way that no one before him has mapped or trodden.   
     He finds himself in a kitchen attached to the library, conversing with a plump, matronly cook. There’s a great stir in the air and a host of the restless dead come flying through, yelling about going to Jerusalem. He demands why these dead are not at rest, and their leader tells him that 
he must explain that to them. He tells the dead that they can’t rest because of what they failed to do in their lives. The dead clutch at him, and he shouts, “Let go, daimon, you did not live your animal” – by which he means the instinctive, natural life of the senses.   
    The noise of this altercation is so loud the police come and carry him away to a madhouse where a little fat professor diagnoses “religious madness” after the briefest of interviews. “You see, my dear, nowadays the imitation of Christ leads to the madhouse.”
    He is confined in a room between two other patients, one sunk in lethargy, the other with a fast-shrinking brain. He compares himself to Christ crucified between two thieves, one of whom will go up, the other down. His mind turns on the problem of dealing with the dead, which the kitchen scene taught him is vaster than he had known – “the dead who have fluttered through the air and lived like bats under our roofs from time immemorial.” This will require “hidden and strange work”, but it is not clear how he can do this from his confinement.   
    He listens to a voice praising madness, a voice he identifies as his soul. “Madness is a special form of the spirit and clings to all teachings and philosophies, but even more to daily life, since life itself is illogical.”
 
     In the night, everything heaves in his room in black billows. The walls become terrible waves. He finds himself now in the smoking room of a great ocean liner, where the professor reappears in beautiful clothes and offers him a drink, while telling him he is utterly mad and must be committed. The torpid neighbor from his room reappears and announces he is Nietzsche, and also the Savior. Back in his locked room at the madhouse, he struggles with entangling webs of words and ideas. He cannot tell whether it is day or night when he hears a roaring wind and then sees a great wall of darkness advancing on him.
 
    He opens his eyes and looks up into the jolly round face of the cook. “You’re a sound sleeper,” she tells him. “You’ve slept for more than an hour.” Jung thinks he is awake, but of course he is still in a dream, and far from his physical home.
 
    Once again, we see the price Jung paid for his knowledge of the depths. He commented in his Epilogue to the Red Book, nearly half a century later, that he would certainly have gone mad “had I not been able to absorb the overpowering force of the original experiences.”
         
    Some of the processes he developed in that heroic effort are ones that are suitable for all of us. He wrote his way through, by journaling and then writing up his journals. He sought and created images of balance and integration, which became a fascinating series of mandalas. And he developed the approach he called active imagination, by which – instead of rejecting the characters and contents of dream and fantasy – we work with them, carrying the drama forward towards healing and resolution. This is the shaman’s way, attuned to our modern language of understanding, but born in the depths of primal experience.

Illustration from Jung’s Red Book.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Story conference


I hear them at night, sometimes, east of the Well of Memory, west of the Mountains of Desire. They talk like herons after dark, like bears torn from sleep, like alien phone sex, like underground rivers, but mostly like a storytelling of crows. When the moon is old, I send my my shadow to listen.

“Back off,” says a story that might be a griffin to one of the hungry ones. “He’s mine.”
    “But I’m starving.” The smaller story is drooling.
    “Then go snack on something your own size," says the bigger story. "This is is my ride.”

    There is pushing and scuffling, and complaints from tall tales and flash fiction that has been flushed out of cover or jolted from long moonbath siestas.
    The hungry one leaves, snarling, to make a hide in the long grass by the beaver swamp.

    The one who has been scented by the big story comes along the path, humming a tune from a musical.
    He feels a stir in the air. With it comes the sense that he is 
being watched, or even ogled. He turns to look behind him. Nothing there.

    Something wallops him. He is knocked to his knees. The something is settling between his shoulder blades, drilling into the base of his neck, jabbing at his kidneys. He writhes and gropes behind him. He feels what may be a snout, and the hard ruthless curve of talons or claws.
    "Gotcha," says the big story.



I just concluded "Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming", a writing and storytelling retreat like no other, at magical Mosswood Hollow in the foothills of the Cascades. The dates for next year's retreat are May 22-26, 2017.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The first dreamer

Not long after the creation of this world, the Creator became disgusted with the behavior of the people he had made. He went back to the Sky World, leaving humans to the darkness and confusion they had chosen to inhabit.
    In their benighted condition, no longer able to talk with God or walk in the spirit realms, people forgot who they were. They mated with peccaries and anacondas and lived as they did, and before long they thought they were wild pigs and water snakes and acted accordingly. They forgot they had human souls, and counterparts in higher orders of being.
    The man named Medatia began to dream. He dreamed sitting on a bench in his thatched hut. He dreamed do strongly that a hole opened up in the roof of his house. He went whirling upward, through the hole, through an opening in the sky.
    When Medatia passed through the clouds and entered the first of the upper worlds, he was unable to understand anything that was going on around him. He encountered beings in various forms — animal and human, godlike and beyond naming — but could not comprehend who they were or what they were saying, until they changed his sight and hearing.
    With new eyes and new ears, he was able to enter a succession of higher realms. He was cleansed and made new in a lake of blue fire. In each of the upper worlds he encountered powerful beings who were intimately related to him. They taught him their songs.
    When he returned to earth, Medatia was not the same. He had become the first shaman, the first of the great dreamers of his people.
    He was saddened to see how low his people had fallen. He made it his mission to open their eyes, to awaken them to the knowledge of what it is to be human.
    Night after night, while people were sleeping, Medatia called their dream-souls out of their bodies and instructed them, one by one. When the dream-souls returned to the sleepers, they reminded them that they were not meant to live their lives like pigs or snakes. One by one, awakened by their dream selves, Medatia’s people returned to their villages and began to live again as human beings.
    There is nothing wrong with anacondas or peccaries. But there is something wrong with a human who lives like a peccary or a snake and has no larger purpose.


This beautiful teaching story comes from the Makiritare, a native people of Venezuela.  It is used in the education of apprentice shamans. It gives rich insight into how dreaming can help us recover soul and the soul's purpose. We dream to awaken to who we are. And it is the strong dreamers — the shamans — who can heal the wound between Earth and Sky.

Adapted from Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and Life Beyond Death by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Image: shaman rattle from Venezuela in author's private collection.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Notes for the road


Notes for the Road

To find yourself you must lose yourself.
The One you are seeking is not inside you.
You are inside the One.

To be present in every time
you must be here, now.
Now is the center of all times.

Here, now, you can step on and off
the trains to past and future
and travel on parallel lines.

To get to a place you do not know
you must go by a way you do not know.
Burn your maps to make beacons.

To wake up, you must dream.
Without dreams, you are a sleepwalker
who could join the ranks of the living dead.

There will be monsters, of course,
dark dwellers at every new threshold.
Without them, how could you be ready to pass?

In dealing with demons, you must learn
to choose the forms of your worst fears
and laugh at your creations.

If you wish to see marvels around you
you must carry marvels within.
A mirror can't show you what you don't bring.

The gates of the Otherworld open
from wherever you are. Don’t think
you have to drink jungle juice with anacondas.

Put your blade away, dragonslayer.
You only conquer the dragon when you raise it
and ride it and turn its energy towards Light.

Turn out the lights if you want to find the Light.
The visible is the skin of the invisible.
In the dark, it is easier to see with inner eyes.

Don’t list the Trickster among your demons.
He is your friend if you expect the unexpected
Everything interesting happens on the boundaries.

If you want to be fully alive, be ready to die.
How about now? You feel the cool breath
of Death on your neck. Give him some foreplay.

To find the One, don't spurn the many
Name only one God, and you’ll always end up with two.
Seek the nameless behind the forest of names.

Make your confessions on the road
not from behind a curtain. The hawk will hear you
and the rabbit, the lily and the stone.

Walk on the mythic edge. Let your life
become a stage for divine events.
Notice what neverending story is playing through you.

Look after your poetic health.
Notice what rhymes in a day, and a life.
Follow the logic of resemblances.

Practice real magic: Follow the passions of your soul
and bring gifts from the Otherworld into this one.
You’ll regret what you left undone –

the fence you wouldn’t jump, the dream you didn’t follow –
more than anything you did when your cool lover
stops licking your neck and takes you in his full embrace.


Photo: Path in Transylvania (c) Robert Moss

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The spider in my dreams is not the spider in your dreams


The spider in a dream might be a disease marker or an ally, a clue to the need for some cleanup or even a goddess in disguise. To know what the spider means for you, you need to track your dreams and learn to go back inside them consciously.
    A woman named Jennifer shared a vivid and very specific account of how the behavior of a black spider in a series of dreams gave her disease markers she learned to take seriously. As she tells it, the sequence includes the following prodromic dreams (and follow-up events):

1."I am standing in an open doorway. A black spider leaps from the frame onto my abdomen, scaring me badly. Three months later, I developed appendicitis in the same spot and had to be rushed to hospital for an emergency appendectomy."


2. "A black spider jumps on my face. I am terrified and grossed out. Several months later, I developed a horrible and virulent skin condition that made me look about a hundred years old. After five days, hospitalized on intravenous antibiotics and anti-viral medicine, I learned I had contracted a life-threatening strep infection."


3. "A black spider leaps on my face, near my left eye--again from the door frame in former dreams. A few months later, I am driving on the freeway and a black, spider web configuration covers the entire visual field of this eye. In an urgent care intervention, the on-call eye doctor discovers that I have a torn retina in that eye, and I undergo emergency laser surgery."


This is a very instructive example of how dreams can anticipate physical symptoms. By learning to recognize personal markers, we may not only be forewarned of possible problems; we may be able to take action to avoid manifesting those problems.    The spider in Jennifer's dreams is not the spider in your dreams, or mine. While we recognize common themes when we hear each other's dreams, every dreamer's experience is personal and unique to them. For some dreamers, the spider is an ally, offering the power to re-weave the web of possibility in life. To claim that kind of power, it may be necessary to go back inside a dream and brave up to whatever is there.
     I worked with one dreamer, a gifted artist, for whom the spider was at first a disease marker- warning of a possible recurrence of cancer - but then became an extraordinary ally when she found the courage to go back inside her dream and face the spider, through the dream reentry technique that is central to Active Dreaming..
    The artist was terrified by a recurring dream of a jumping spider that grew bigger and bigger until it took over her studio. I urged her to go back inside the dream and volunteered to go with her. Sitting together, with our hands joined, we embarked on conscious shared dreaming with a clear intention: the dreamer would face her terror and find out what she needed to do, while I would support her as friend and bodyguard inside the dream space. 
     Between the energy of her fear and the familiarity of her dream space - her studio - the artist had no difficulty reentering the dream. Almost effortlessly, we found ourselves together in the dream version of her studio, facing a spider that grew rapidly to enormous size. Its multiple eyes and cheliceral fangs were not a pleasant sight at close range. The artist was shaking and sobbing, but she stayed inside the dream. 
    Then spider shapeshifted into Spider Woman, an indigenous American form of the Goddess. Spider Woman told the artist: "Because you found the courage to meet me, I will give you the power to re-weave the energy web of your body and the web of possibility in your life." 
     At that time, the dreamer was facing a biopsy. The results showed she was cancer free. She embarked on the most creative period of her personal and artistic life. Spider kept her promise, when the dreamer found the ability to brave up and reach for the power beyond the terror. 
     A young woman reports that when she is ill a spider climbs inside her torso and starts spinning a web. While this would be terrifying to many dreamers, and might suggest a chest infection, her dream spider is an ally who catches what is bugging her, rolls it up in a silk ball, and elegantly expels the possible complaint from her body.
     By contrast, my friend Wanda has found it necessary to eject spiders she felt were adversaries - possibly embodying a threatening disease - from her dream houses in various creative ways. In one of her examples, she managed to convert a large and menacing spider into a wind-up toy that could be put out into the street, like the trash.
     I've had spider dreams of both kinds. I discovered a dream report from many years ago in which I knew that I had to remove a large black spider - not a tarantula, and not furry, but about that size - from my dream kitchen. I tried to catch it in paper towels in order to carry it out without harming it, as I would probably try to do in regular life. However, the spider died as I struggled to contain it, and then promptly morphed into a set of plastic parts, like a broken child's toy, that I carried out and placed in the trash. I woke from this dream feeling a strong sense of wellness and resolution, and felt no need to interpret the dream. Moving with the energy from a dream is often more important than figuring out what the content means.
    When it comes to the pursuit of meanings, let's remember that it's usually a good idea to study the nature, habits and habitats of the critters that turn up in dreams. There is a vast variety of spiders on this planet, most of them non-venomous but some incredibly deadly, so when we dream of spiders we may want to pause and attempt an identity check.
     We also want to study the specific gifts of different kinds of spiders: what kind of webs they weave, for example, and the uses of those webs. The first dream catchers were spider webs. An Onondaga friend told me that when his son was very young, he hung spider webs above his sleeping head to catch and keep out bugs of both the physical and the psychic kind, in the old way. Don reminds us in a comment on my last post that spider webs are helpful in stopping bleeding.
     Finally, let's remember that in the shaman's way of dreaming, we can learn to get close to fierce and dangerous creatures with which safe encounters in the physical are generally inadvisable. In my dreams of my native Australia, I am sometimes offered a funnel-web portal to enter the Dreaming of the Koori, the Aboriginal people. I remember being sternly lectured by my parents, as a small boy in Queensland, to check boots and shoes every morning in case a funnel-web spider had built inside one of them overnight, and to avoid or kill this type of highly venomous spider on sight. In the Dreaming, things work rather differently.