Sunday, January 25, 2015

The hidden chain

I am studying a pattern of islands. I can see from the observation deck – which might be on a space station – that the islands are the peaks of underwater mountains, not truly separate but part of a range. This is a simple model for patterns of coincidence. We see some resemblance between surface events because they are part of a larger structure, a hidden chain.
    I wake with the impression that in the same dream I am with a group that monitors anomalies such as coincidence for clues to the convergence, confluence – or collision – of different aspects of reality. As the islands are joined in the underwater mountain range, so surface events may be part of deeper structures and woven from one fabric. How that fabric is folded or torn changes everything.
    I start to speculate that there really is a corps of observers who monitor wrinkles and rents in reality fabric. Are they interdimensional cops, or at least maintenance teams? I feel they are observers, not enforcers, and essentially benign. Would their findings lead to interventions or repair operations? Are there rival groups? Are these observers able to cross between parallel worlds and travel across time?
    I haven’t finished forming the last question before the answer comes to me: of course.

- from my journal

Photo: Palau island chain. NOAA Photo Library. Public domain.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jung's exploding knife

In Jung's Letters, I came again upon the photo of an "exploded knife" that he sent to J.B.Rhine, the famous American researcher of extra-sensory perception, with his account of poltergeist-like phenomena that he experienced in 1898, when he was twenty-three.
   Jung reported that a steel bread knife exploded inside a locked cabinet while his aged mother was seated across the room and Jung himself was outside in the garden. The bang sounded like a gunshot. Nobody could understand it until they unlocked the cabinet and found that the knife had shattered into four pieces, now lying in a bread basket beside a loaf of bread, neither of which had been damaged. "The explosive force apparently did not exceed that amount of energy which was just needed to break the knife and was completely exhausted with the breaking itself." 1   
    Jung took the knife to a master cutler who inspected it closely under a magnifying glass and found no flaw in the metal. "The knife is perfectly sound," the expert informed him. "There is no flaw in the steel. Someone must have deliberately broken it piece by piece." When Jung denied that this could have happened, the cutler shook his head. "Good steel can't explode. Someone had been pulling your leg." 2
    Jung told Rhine that there was an equally noisy and mysterious incident within a few days. Again, there was a sound like a pistol shot. This time, the explosion came from an old and very solid round table. It was found that for no apparent reason the table top had split from the rim to beyond the center, three-quarters of the way across.
   Jung went to work as a psychic detective. He could not accept that the explosions were "only" coincidence any more than it would be "only" coincidence if the river Rhine were found to be flowing backwards.
    He decided that the explosions were connected with the emotional and psychic forces that were running strong in his relationship with his cousin Helene "Helly" Preiswerk, a natural medium with whom he had conducted seances since he was a teenager. They had suspended their sessions. The exploding knife and the self-splitting table persuaded Jung to resume them. His experiments with his cousin formed the basis of his doctoral dissertation "On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena."  Jung said quarter of a century later that the period of the seances "contains the origins of all my ideas."3
    In a 1934 letter to Rhine, Jung declared "I am highly interested in all questions concerning the peculiar character of the psyche with reference to time and space, i.e., the apparent annihilation of these categories in certain mental incidents."4
Jung kept the pieces of the exploded knife for the rest of his life. 5

1. Jung, Letter to J.B. Rhine 17 November 1934 in C.G. Jung, Letters 1:1906-1950 trans R.F.C.Hull ( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973) 181
2. C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ed Aniela Jaffe, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Vintage Books, 1965) 106.
3. Analytical Psychology, Notes of the Seminar Given by C.G. Jung in 1925 ed. W. McGuire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989) 6.
4. Jung, Letters I, 180.
5. Memories, Dreams, Reflections 105

Shelf Elf Moment

I wrote this note after rereading Jung's 1934 letter to J.B.Rhine and some material on the mediums in Jung's family. I realized that something was missing and I needed to go back to his account of the exploding knife in Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I sighed over the probable need to page through the early chapters to find the passage I wanted. The book fell open at the right page, and the first line I read was the start of Jung's account of the exploded knife.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A place to write from (Red Ink)

Write from the place that is raw
from the night when you lost your skin.
Write of the time in the war-torn city
when your heart was a quivering bird in your palm
and the blood pool kept filling, and you knew
no doctor could heal this wound
though the world would end if you failed
to keep the wounded lover alive for three days more.

Write from the night you wished yourself dead
and spirit flew from your heart, winged by your desire,
down to the lightless lands of the dead
that no one escapes without help.
Write from the day when, incredibly,
there was enough of you topside
to bribe the ferryman with the ribcage boat
and carry home the part of you that married Death.
Remember the promises you made her:
"You'll never be hurt again." "Every day you'll make poetry."

Write from the night you could not keep those promises
and had to hold the young lover in you by force,
rough as a jailer's armlock, soft as lambskin,
when she thought the one you were losing now
was the one she lost before. And when your heart
breaks again, hold her fast, willing a greater power
to embrace and join you, and write from that.
Dip your pen in the blood pool. This is the time for red ink.

Comments on my recent post "Ready to Paint it Red" lead me to re-post this poem, written in 2011 and included in my collection Here, Everything is Dreaming.

"Deer Sacrifice" (c) Robert Moss

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ready to paint it red

I am wandering through an immense and beautiful art museum. In one of the rooms, the ceilings are beyond cathedral height, and as far up as I can see there are enormous paintings in softly glowing pastel hues. I know these images are sacred and they have something to do with ascension towards successive levels of a Higher Self.
    I am carrying an open can of red paint in one hand and a paint brush in the other. The paint is bright crimson, fire engine red. The brush is large enough for a house painter but I think it is the kind an artist would use to cover a wide area very quickly.
    Through an open doorway, I look at a small group of people clustered around a professor who is talking to them about the large framed painting in front of them. This is a special invited group. The picture shows a stone tub, possibly limestone, that looks like it could be filled with water. Hooded figures in white and light-colored robes are around it, evidently waiting for some event.
    In mid-sky, in the picture, there is an arc of light. Figures are moving along this arc in the sky. Some are mounted, some on foot. They appear to be in many sizes. They are golden, and glowing.
    There is something of the quality of the Journey of the Magi about this painting, but the images are not explicitly Christian.
    I am fascinated by the stone "tub". I can't find the right word for it. It could be a sarcophagus, but the feeling is of coming birth or baptism rather than of death.
    My high excitement and curiosity are with me as I become fully lucid inside the scene.
    I hear these words streaming through my mind:

From life to life, from day to day, I bring essence from the world of soul into the world of time.

I rise into the California morning charged with energy and excitement.
    I want to know what my dream self means to do with that red paint. I think of it now as life blood, blood of spirit. I feel I want to fill that hollow tub with this blood of spirit and see whether this will provide a medium of manifestation for those glowing spirits in the sky.
    I am reminded of a big dream from many years ago in which I led a special group of invited guests along a spiral path, past a great stone lion with a huge carnelian on his back, into a gallery space with an immensely high ceiling. We studied an unfinished painting of incalculable size. Within it, a life size human figure was as small as a candle flame in proportion to the shapes that rose around and above him. I understood that this was an unfinished portrait of the Higher Self. I was the professor in that dream. In the new one, I am watching my second self - I am almost certain - play professor while I get ready to lay on the red paint.

- Berkeley journal, January 17, 2015. Drawing (c) Robert Moss

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Bloodied Hedgehog: Dream as Flash Fiction

I decide to swim the lake from bottom to top. It’s a hundred miles, I figure. I manage the distance, but there’s no way I can swim back without stopping. So I get out and find a bicycle. It must have a motor, because now I can thread the traffic on a busy road, following the median. There is a big American flag up ahead, so I think Canada must be that way, beyond a border post. I am not planning to go there today, so I find another form of transportation.
     I’m now in a huge gasoline tanker with a double cabin. I park it on a side road in the middle of the night to catch a nap. When I wake, I’m concerned maybe I don’t have enough gas to get where I want to go in the tanker. I don’t notice the irony of driving a gas tanker that is running low on gas until I look back on this. I could do with some help. I can say I just happened on the tanker and was trying to do the right thing with it.
    To support this story I paint my face to look like an American Indian from a tribe I know only by name. I come to a family farm where a father is giving instructions to his grown sons. He looks like a decent sort so I present myself to him. He’s no hayseed. He has a lawyer’s wits and he sees through my disguise. He tells me it’s the last day of a big native powwow and if I can get in there they will give me the right cover, but to do this I must stop pretending to be the wrong kind of Indian and present myself as the kind I truly am.
    So I wipe off the paint and enter a general store full of Indians where they have big pots of soup and corn mush on the cookers. A broad, flat-faced woman sizes me up, says she knows me. I tell her I often feel I have met people before, somewhere out of this time. It’s like opening a top drawer in a chest and having a bottom drawer fly open.
    She talks about someone she thinks I must know. “When other people bring a bottle of wine or a six-pack to a party, he shows up with a bloodied hedgehog.”
    “Don’t you mean a porcupine?”
    “No. A porcupine has quills you can pull out and wear. A hedgehog doesn’t.”
    “Hedgehogs are cute.”
    “Not this one.”
    No bloody use for a bloodied hedgehog, we agree. I realize that I am speaking without closing my lips, the way her people speak. We don't say “porcupine” because there is no P in Kanienka talk. We say it their way. Anen:taks.
     I guess I’m in.

Sometimes all I want to do with a dream is tell its story. The shifting modes of transportation here are fascinating to me as symbols. I am intrigued by the irony of driving a gas tanker that may be running low on gas. I am excited by the prompt to recall my connections with a Native American people whose language and customs I was led to study by big dreams many years ago. I remember once having to slam on the brakes when I was driving a Mohawk family in northern Ontario because they had spotted roadkill, a dead porcupine, and wanted to harvest the quills for jewelry. But first and last, with this report of a dream from last night, I want the satisfaction of serving up flash fiction like hot soup from that country stove.

Drawing (c) Robert Moss

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Elemental divination with the Odyssey

..So the man prayed
and the god stemmed the current, held his surge at once
and smoothing out the swells before Odysseus now,
drew him safe to shore at the river's mouth.

- Odyssey Book 5, lines 497-500 Fagles translation

This was the result of my morning stoicheomancy.
    The term combines the Greek words 
Greek stoikheion, "element", and manteia, prophecy. Ancient Greeks used this term for a very special branch of bibliomancy or book-dipping: consultation of the works of Homer, considered "elemental" among literature. You open the Iliad or the Odyssey anywhere, and read aloud the first lines that you see. As I opened the Odyssey today, my left thumb fell on the lines I quoted. 
    I felt a warm shiver as I recognized the blessing. After all his misadventures, shipwrecked Odysseus has been washed up safe on the shore of Phaecia, the land of a people of dreams. Princess Nausicaa, alerted by a dream in which the goddess Athena speaks to her in the guise of a girlfriend, will meet the naked stranger and give him safe haven.

Art: "Ulysses and Nausicaa" by Louis Gauffier (1798)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Homer's Book of Portents

The homecoming is often the hardest part of the hero's journey. Odysseus has survived sea monsters and sirens and the wrath of a sea god and is at last on his home island. But he has been away for ten years since the war he went to fight, and almost everyone believes he is dead. His palace is full of brutish and lustful men, suitors vying for the hand of his wife Penelope and with it, his kingdom. Their appetites are laying waste to his livestock, his wine cellar and his female servants.
     At the prompting of his constant guide, who is no less than the goddess Athena, Odysseus has disguised himself in the rags of a beggar, with a funny traveler's hat. He is mocked and scorned by the suitors and even some of his own retainers. Nobody recognizes him. They will find it hard to recognize him even when he shows himself in a different form. His homeland seems stranger to him than the magic realms from which he has returned. He must be asking himself, Which is the dream? He may be wondering whether he is dead.
    He spends a sleepless night, tossing and turning. This is wonderfully conveyed in the muscular modern verse of Robert Fagles, which will speak to anyone who has struggled through a night like this:

...But he himself kept tossing, turning,
intent as a cook before some white-hot blazing fire
who rolls his sizzling sausage back and forth,
packed with fat and blood - keen to broil it quickly,
tossing, turning it, this way, that way - so he cast about

- Odyssey Book 20, lines 27-30, Fagles translation

    The "man of many ways" is seeking a way to expel the suitors who have taken over his home. But they are many and he is one, and even if he finds the way to kill them all, their kinsmen will come to take revenge. The goddess Athena now appears to him in mortal form, "swooping down from the sky in a woman's build and hovering at his head". She wants to know why he is still awake, fretting and exhausting himself. Why does he distrust her when she assures him that he will gain victory that day? Athena promises that "even if fifty bands of mortal fighters closed around us, hot to kill us off in battle" - because she is with him.
     Athena "showered sleep across his eyes", but when Odysseus wakes, on the morning of Apollo's feast day, even the promise of a goddess is not enough. He wants further signs. He speaks to the All-Father, Zeus. "Show me a sign." In fact, Odysseus asks for two signs, "a good omen voiced by someone awake, indoors" and "another sign, outside, from Zeus himself."
     He is answered at once by a great roll of thunder, out of a clear blue sky.
     Then he hears a "lucky word" from a woman grinding grain inside the halls. Hearing thunder from a cloudless sky, the woman recognizes a sign from Zeus. She speaks aloud to the king of the gods:

Sure it's a sign you're showing someone now.
So, poor as I am, grant my prayer as well;
let this day be the last, the last these suitors
bolt their groaning feasts in King Odysseus' house!

- Odyssey Book 20, lines 128-131

    The twin oracles - from the sky and from overheard speech - harden Odysseus' resolve, and the scene is set for the astonishing slaughter of the suitors under the rain of arrows from the bow that none but the hero (and his son) can bend. In the Fagles version, Book 20 of the Odyssey is given the title "Portents Gather", and it is a good one. Here we see oracles speak in ways the Greeks observed closely and valued highly: through brontomancy, divination by thunder, and cledonomancy, divination by overheard speech or sound.
    In the Odyssey, as in ancient Greek society, dreams and visions are the most important mode of divination. Yet our understanding of dreams may be deceptive, as Penelope explains in Book 19, when she speaks of the since-famous gates of ivory and horn. So even when blessed by a direct encounter with a goddess, the hero turns to the world around him for confirmation.

Quotations are from Robert Fagles (trans) The Odyssey published by Penguin Books.

Graphic: Odysseus in beggar's disguise, about to be identified by his childhood nurse Eurykleia, when she sees the scar on his thigh from "the wound I took from the boar's white tusk on Mount Parnassus."