Thursday, May 13, 2021

Your Own Will Come To You: Spiritual Gravitation


 "Man attracts spirits according to his own temperament," as William Butler Yeats observed. To "the sanguine, the spirits of fire, and the lymphatic, those of watery nature, and those of a mixed nature, mixed spirits." While observing that like attracts like, Yeats was also fascinated by the way that opposites may be drawn together, to complement and complete each other, and to spark that creative friction that brings new things into being.  

 Yeats' friend, the Celtic visionary artist George William Russell (whose pen name was "Æ") defined the key principle at work here as "spiritual gravitation", and described how it spills over into the play of synchronicity or objective chance. 

Your own will come to you. 

Æ summarized the law of spiritual gravitation in this phrase.  I find this a vital practical truth. He also wrote: 

I found that every intense imagination, every new adventure of the intellect [is] endowed with magnetic power to attract to it its own kin. Will and desire were as the enchanter’s wand of fable, and they drew to themselves their own affinities. ..One person after another emerged out of the mass, betraying their close affinity to my moods as they were engendered. 

In our lives, this plays out through chance encounters, through the dreamlike symbolism of daily events, when we turn up the right message in a book opened at random or left open by someone else on a library table. If the passions of our souls are strong enough, they may draw “lifelong comrades”.

In his beautiful little book The Candle of VisionÆ gave a personal example. When he first attempted to write verse, he immediately met a new friend, a dreaming boy “whose voice was soon to be the most beautiful voice in Irish literature” This was of course William Butler Yeats. “The concurrence of our personalities seemed mysterious and controlled by some law of spiritual gravitation.”

In his later life, Æ found a soul companion in the Australian writer P.L.Travers, the author of Mary Poppins and also a deep student of the Western Mysteries and a world-class mythographer.  AE wrote to P.L.Travers about a further aspect of spiritual gravitation: “I feel I belong to a spiritual clan whose members are scattered all over the world and these are my kinsmen.”

By the way, it deserves to be better-known that the inspiration for P.L. Travers'  idea that Mary Poppins came from a star was the author’s childhood vision of her dead father transforming into a star. Another case of spiritual gravitation, working beyond the apparent barrier of death.


The Magnet in the Book

Sometimes, beyond the play of the shelf elves who make books and papers appear and disappear, I sense other minds and other hands. In the early hours one morning, I found my copy of Yeats' Autobiography off its shelf, on a table where I had not placed it. There was no occult reason for this; it had been moved, with a small pile of other books relating to the poet, as part of a house cleaning.

I accepted the invitation to revisit Yeats' life through his words. Opening the book at random, I found myself reading a lively chapter on his mixed relations with Æ. 

Later that morning, I opened another book in that pile. It is a collection of occasional pieces, mostly literary and art criticism, by Æ, titled The Living Torch and published by Macmillan in 1938, that I found in a used book store near Mount Vernon in Washington State a couple of years ago. I had placed it in my forest of books without examining it closely.

This was evident, because when I opened The Living Torch at random, I found five loose pages hidden inside the book. They are written a fine lady's hand from an earlier time. They are fair copies of five of Æ's poems. The lady who made these copies was meticulous. She noted the publication date (1926) of the edition of Æ's Collected Poems from which she borrowed the lines she copied, and the number of the pages where these poems may be found.

I sat very still as I read the poem on the top page. It is titled "Magnet" and it begins as follows:

I had sweet company
Because I sought out none
But took who came to me,
All by the magnet drawn.

For me, in the final stage of completing a book on the workings of synchronicity, this was quite, quiet perfect. Within the past week, I had actually borrowed a line from A Candle of Vision as a section title in my own book: "Your own will come to you." It develops the idea that we draw people and situations to us magnetically, through the energy that is with us. I did not know that 
Æ had written a poem on this theme until just now.

The later part of his poem, I must note, develops a darker tone. It seems that Æ (described by Yeats as first and last a "religious teacher") is reflecting, ruefully, on an affair of the heart which tempted him to set aside the austere spiritual discipline he imposed on himself. I wonder whether, in her secret heart, the unknown copyist was stirred by her recognition of herself in a similar drama to make "Magnet" her own, by putting it in her own hand.

Art: Æ, "The Bathers"



Wednesday, May 5, 2021

You Are Magnetic


Whatever you think and feel, the universe says Yes. The more strongly you think and feel, the stronger and faster the response it likely to be. It may come in ways you do not expect, since quite often you are unaware of the thoughts and desires you are carrying below your surface mind. The response may knock you back because you live in a world of contending energies and the force lines of your hopes and fears and ambitions may excite opposition.
     You may be frustrated because you have been drilling yourself to think yourself rich or successful or forty pounds lighter and the universe is not giving you any encouragement. That may be because your greater Self is uninterested in your ego agendas or flat out against them. It may be because what the grocery lists of wants and needs you put together in your little everyday calculating mind have nothing much to do with what stirs your soul.
     “All things which are similar and therefore connected, are drawn to each other’s power,” according to the medieval magus Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim. It is a rule of reality that we attract or repel different things according to the emotions, the attitudes, the feelings, the agendas that we carry.
     Before you walk into a room or turn a corner, your attitude is there already. It is engaged in creating the situation you are about to encounter. Whether you are remotely conscious of this or not, you are constantly setting yourself up for what the world is going to give you. If you go about your day filled with doom and gloom, the world will give you plenty of reasons to support that attitude. You’ll start looking like that cartoon character who goes about with a personal black cloud over his head that rains only on his parade. Conversely, if your attitude is bright and open to happy surprises, you may be rewarded by a bright day, even when the sky is leaden overhead, and by surprisingly happy encounters.
     Through energetic magnetism, we attract or repel people, events, and even physical circumstances according to the attitudes we embody. This process begins before we speak or act because thoughts and feelings are already actions and our attitudes are out there ahead of us. This requires us to do a regular attitude check, asking, What attitude am I carrying? What am I projecting?
     It is not sufficient to do this on a head level. We want to check what we are carrying in our body and our energy field. If you go around carrying a repertoire of doom and gloom, you may not say what’s on your mind, but the universe will hear you and support you. Attitude adjustment requires more than reciting the kind of New Age affirmation you see in cute boxes with flowers and sunsets on Facebook. It requires deeper self-examination and self-mobilization.
     “We are magnets in an iron globe,” declared Emerson. If we are upbeat and positive, “we have keys to all doors....The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.” Conversely, “A low, hopeless spirit puts out the eyes; skepticism is slow suicide. A philosophy which sees only the worst ...dispirits us; the sky shuts down before us.”
     In Beauty - The Invisible Embrace John O’Donohue reminded usthat “each of us is responsible for 'how' we see, and how we see determines 'what' we see. Seeing is not merely a physical act: the heart of vision is shaped by the state of soul. When the soul is alive to beauty, we begin to see life in a fresh and vital way. The old habits of seeing are broken. The coating of dead dust falls from the windows. Freed from their dead forms the elements of one's life reveal new urgency and possibility."
      Take a few moments in your day to check your attitude and see whether you are putting bright balloons of possibility or dour grey clouds over your head.

Text adapted from Growing Big Dreams: Manifesting Your Heart's Desires through Twelve Secrets of the Imagination by Robert Moss.Published by New World Library.

Photo by RM


Monday, May 3, 2021

Chancing an Encounter


The Book of the Road (Putnik) was on a list of banned books in Tsarist Russia. It was a treatise that attributed high importance to chance encounters. It reflected traditional beliefs about whether it is lucky or unlucky to meet certain kinds of people on the road. To meet a nun, a priest or a blind man is unlucky. To meet someone on a bridge or threshold is ominous  Such views were deeply rooted in traditional Russian culture, even in the mind of Tsars. Ivan the Terrible thought it was a terrible omen if anyone crossed his path when he was setting out on a journey and had such offenders killed. [1]
      I am more in sympathy with the Greek saying that the gods love to travel in disguise, so we should take care of strangers.
     “Mind attracts mind.” Jung observed that this principle is at work in chance encounters where more than chance seems to be involved. Jung described what happened when a stranger sat down next to him on a train. The stranger was a general. “We talked, and although he did not know who I was, he told me all about his dreams, which is certainly unusual for a man of his position. The general considered that his dreams were absurd, but after listening to him, I told him that one of his dreams had changed his whole life, and that otherwise he would have been an intellectual.
      “The general was startled and looked at me as though I were a witch, or at least a person gifted with second sight. But in reality, it was the unconscious which was knowing and directing. The general had sat down next to me because he was unconsciously searching for an answer.” [2]
     Jung felt the general was called to sit next to him because something deeper than his conscious mind was calling for a mentor, to help him make his dreams conscious.
     My friend Carol, a family counselor and addictions counselor or great wisdom and compassion, encountered an elderly man who was praying for an angel.
      Carol went to a pharmacy to pick up a prescription. There were some problems with the paperwork and she was feeling quite grumpy. When she came out into the parking lot she noticed an elderly man pushing a shopping cart, unsteadily, towards his car. When he reached his car, he left the cart by the trunk, still filled with his purchases, and slumped into the driver’s seat, leaving his door open.
    “I knew something was wrong,” Carol told me. “I sat in my car as three people walked past the old man. Then I knew I had to check on him.”
    She walked over to the old man and said, “Do you need some help?”
    “Well, yes. I did ask if you could use some help.”
    “You’re not gonna believe this. Right before you showed up, I was sitting here praying to God to send me an angel. Could you put my shopping in the trunk for me?”
     “ I would be happy to do that.”
      The old man popped the trunk and Carol loaded his shopping bags. The contents felt soft Carol guessed the bags contained products like Depends, for older people whose bodies are failing. She noticed a walker, folded, and two canes in the trunk.
     “I came out too soon,” the old man told her when she had finished loading. He did not explain exactly what this meant, but he told Carol that he was the caregiver for his wife. They were both ninety years old and they had been married for seventy years.
     “Are you sure you can drive home safely?” Carol asked.
    “I’ll be okay. I know there is an angel watching over me.”
    Carol commented later, “If I was an everyday angel for him in that parking lot, he was a kind of angel for me. I felt happy and blessed by this encounter. All my grumpiness was gone.”   
.    Chance encounters may not be caused, in the sense of being made by appointment, but they may be called.

Travel by train, as Jung found, or by airplane can provide almost ideal conditions for a chance encounter with a stranger that may lead to extraordinary things. People are on the move – which may help release them from routine inhibitions – and at the same time the circumstances are contained and relatively “safe”. Contact need last no longer than the ride or the wait at the station or departure gate. 
     On a train in the mountains of Sweden in 1904,a dispirited young Danish artist, Emilie Demant, found herself questioning her calling yet again. A stranger struck up conversation. He was a Sami wolf hunter and trapper named Johan Turi He told Emilie he had a dream of writing a book about the Sami, famous as a shamanic people of the drum. She moved to Sami country and helped him to produce the book and in the process matured into a brilliant artist and a pioneer Sami-speaking female ethnographer, the author of important books from her own fieldwork and fatherig of stories from the grandmothers. Pre-pandemic, chance encounters during my almost constant air travel were a great compensation for missed connections, long layovers, and aching knees. I found strangers willing to open up, drawn together to commiserate about delays or share travelers’ tales. Many clearly felt an active desire to tell and listen to stories, if only to shorten the seeming duration of a flight or a layover.
     Generally, I did not 
initiate conversation unless I had a positive feeling about the person sitting next to me, or was intrigued by the title of the book they are reading. Often my neighbor on a plane would be the first to speak, especially when I was carrying one of my own books.
     I will never forget the matriarch who took the seat next to me after settling her extended family in various parts of the airplane cabin. She noticed the beautiful cover of the second edition of my book
Dreamgates and asked if she could look at it. Naturally, I handed it over. Opening the book at random, she found herself reading a section headed “Designing Your Home on the Other Side.”
     She turned to me in high excitement. “Is that really possible?” she demanded.
     I told her “Absolutely.”
     I explained the group adventures I lead in which we have observed how the creative imagination constructs living environments – and cities, universities and pleasure domes – on the other side of physical death.
    “I will buy this book as soon as possible!” the elegant matriarch declared. “I have spent twenty five years creating a jewel of a home in Carmel, California. I am going to be spending a lot longer in my next residence, and I want to get it right.”

My favorite, indelible experience of a chance encounter on a plane was my ride with the
Death's Head Dominatrix.  It left me in no doubt that forces from behind the veil of consensual reality were in play and that, truly, there are things that like to happen together. The episode still gives me delicious shivers.

1. W.F. Ryan, The Bathhouse at Midnight: An Historical Survey of Magic and Divination in Russia. University Park, PA :Penn State University Press,: 2011) 123-4.

2. Jung in conversation with Miguel Serrano, September 1960. Reprinted in C.G. Jung Speaking ed. W.McGuire and R.F.C.Hull (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978) 464-465.

3. Barbara Sjoholm, "The Art of Recalling: Lapland and the Sami in the Art of Emilie Demant Hatt in Feminist Studies vol 40,no.2 (2014) 356-393


Text adapted from Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Journal drawing: "Airport Lady of the Veil" by Robert Moss

Friday, April 30, 2021

The Goddess and the Peacock

A dream report from last summer popped out of my journal and I see that it offers a portal for mythic exploration. My initial research took me to ancient Mesopotamia and a contemporary persecuted religion. There is more dream archaeology to be done with this.

August 4, 2020


Peacocks Fan Me

I am looking at a beautiful frieze carved in sandstone or alabaster. Are those lotus blossoms? There are reeds and lush vegetation. I suppose that once the scene was painted in bright colors. It starts to come alive. To my amazement and delight, peacocks step out of the frieze and fan me with their tails, a welcome breeze in the warm sunshine of the courtyard

A priestess is near me, seated on a bench, a light robe pinned at her shoulder. She wears a jeweled headband and a star. She is holding a moist tablet, wax or clay. She makes a notation and assures me that being fanned by peacocks is a very good sign.

Reentry: I stay with the dream and try to go back in. I want to check on the star and to find out more about the priestess. Her eyes are rimmed with thick bands of malachite blue, giving her the aspect of an intent bird

“You may call me Nanshe,” she says. I am humbled. This is the name of a Sumerian goddess. What have I done to earn her personal attention?

“You honored me with fresh poetry. This is the best offering you could bring. It pleases my sister Nisaba too.”

I want to pursue the symbolism of the peacocks. I have heard that only the male peacock has the cherubim tail of many eyes, and opens it only as a show of strength, especially when facing off other males in the mating season.

“The peacock reveals his splendor to honor the goddess,” she tells me. “And to open portals to other worlds.”

Feelings: Excited, intrigued, blessed.

Reality check: I have been close to peacocks in several European countries, including Ireland. I recall that peacocks feature in the auras of Indian deities.

I remember that in Madeleine L'Engle's wonderful novel A Wind in the Door a "singular cherubim" covered with eyes like a peacock tail provides the portal for travel to other dimensions.

Peacocks, in Mesopotamia? My inner fact-checker wanted to investigate right away.

Immediate research: I found that in Old Babylonian the word for “peacock”is also the name of a god, Haya, the consort of Nisaba, the goddess of writing and grain. Apparently this peacock god is himself no slouch at the scribal arts. l

The Peacock Angel (Tawûsê Melek) is central to Yazidi religion, and some believe he is a version of the ancient Mesopotamian god Dumuzi/Tammuz. In art and sculpture, Tawûsê Melek – king of archangels - is depicted as peacock. Though peacocks are not native to the lands where Tawûsê Melek is worshipped., peacock imagery spreads like the bird's tail over shrines, gateways, graves, and places of worship. The Yazidis have been persecuted as "devil worshippers" by Islamic extremists.

The Peacock Angel 

I go back to the night before the peacock dream and find this in my journal:

August 3, 2020

Hypnopompic Encounter


The name is clear and definite, stamped in fresh black letters on a white field as I exit my dreams at 4 am.

I try to see where it is coming from. I am looking down into what may be an archaeological dig, at objects partly obscured by dust and clay. An undulating spinal column, perhaps of a snake. A pointed helmet on a skull. A metallic scorpion or dagger shaped like one. Figures from the impression of a cylinder seal: lion, bull, bull man, a deity with thunderbolts. A stone ax, perhaps a thunder stone. A star connection I cannot track to a system I can name.

In a preceding dream I was seeking to limit a power - perhaps a spell - so it did not cause chaos and block the streets. 

I am reminded that in some genealogies, Ninhursag is the mother of Nanshe, a goddess of dreams and the sea and social justice. The act of generation is really strange, It unfolds in an Edenic garden where Enki has sex not only with Ninhursag but with their daughter and granddaughter Uttu  Ninhursag intercedes at round 3, draws Enki’s semen out of Uttu and pours it into the earth, where it generates trees and plants. Returning to the garden, Enki finds all this tended new growth delicious and devours all the plants. Now Ninhursag displays the full wrath of the Great Mother. She fixes the Eye of Death on him, and the god starts to die. Nothing can heal him except NInhursag, the life bringer who has now brought death. Taking pity on him – or noting his continued usefulness – she arranges his body so his head is at, and maybe inside, her vagina. He is restored and the plants come back as deities including Nanshe. Now one of her titles is Lady of the Rib. One of Enki’s injuries was to a rib. More significantly, in wordplay the ancient Sumerian/Akkadian word for “rib” also means to “give life”.

I am moved to write a little hymn for Nanshe

For Nanshe, Dream Opener

Lady of dark waters
born in the first garden
the Mother made you for healing
you speak the language of birds
you bring fish from the deep
you call kings to give justice
to the poor and oppressed
you see into the hearts of men
as if they are split reeds

Dream opener, highly prized
open the gates of dream for us
come to us as a gentle breeze
or a wild goose on the wing
show us how to read
the handwriting of the gods

Nanshe with geese. Third dynasty of Ur

Until my journal retrieval just now, I had lost the chronology. I see that I wrote this poem the night before Nanshe appeared in the unexpected luster of the peacock plumes and told me "You honored me with fresh poetry".

Mercury/Hermes as Peacock Boat

Peacock Tales Fan Out

Myths have a thousand faces, in collective as well as personal dreams. They fan out like the peacock's tail. Scholars believe that peacocks were unknown in the Hellenic world until Alexander the Great brought some back from India or Persia. Aristotle knew the peacock as a "Persian" bird. Then suddenly we hear that the peacock is the animal companion of Hera, especially at her temple on the island of Samos, where she was greatly reverenced. With his Metamorphoses Ovid carries the stiryhroughout the Greco-Roman world that Juno (Hera) created the splendor of the peacock' s tail by sowing it with the glowing eyes of Argus.
      A century or two later we hear the story that the soul of Homer transmigrated into a peacock, a bird unknown to him in his lifetime. That tale sprang from a dream of the Roman poet Ennus.
     And the tales keep fanning out. To celebrate the wedding of a Medici prince, Cosimo II, in 1608, a pageant was staged on the river Arno. Among the floats was a giant peacock that carried actors playing Aethalides, herald of the Argo, and two of his fellow-Argonauts. The peacock was supposedly a form taken by Aethalides' father, Hermes/Mercury. Where that association came from wll require further dream archaeology.[1]
       Two years after the peacock god appeared on the river, Peter Paul Rubens painted Ovid's blood-drenched story of Hera giving the peacock the eyes of Argus, her murdered watchman. We see clearly how the eyes in the peacock feathers are a symbol of vision. Rubens composes his picture in a blazing chord of primary colors: blue, yellow and red. The rainbow arch evokes the whole spectrum of light. 

Peter Paul Rubens, "Juno and Argus"

[1] Catalogue copy for the Peacock Boat: "The Argonauts Eurytus, Echion, and Aethalides (Eurito Echione e Etalide Argonote), led by Mercury [Hermes] in the form of a peacock, from the series 'The magnificent pageant on the river Arno in Florence' for the marriage of the Grand Duke'.

Drawing at top by RM


Acts of Creation


To be creative is to bring something new, and valuable, into our lives and our world. You don’t have to be an Einstein or a Shakespeare to be creative. You need to play the best game you can, in whatever field is calling you, and come up with some new moves, and play so hard you don’t think of your game as just work (and may never want to retire from it).

What makes a world-class creative remains mysterious. But new research in neuroscience is telling us interesting things about how the association centers of the brain work when new ideas are coming through, confirming that one characteristic of creative people is that they make connections between things that other people don’t see as connected. Nancy Andreasen, a pioneer of brain imaging at the University of Iowa, found that in episodes of high creativity, multiple association cortices of the brain are communicating back and forth with each other - not to process sensory input, but in free conversation. Wild and novel connections are made, and from these – through the brain’s character as a self-organizing system – new creation emerges.

 Educational psychologists who try to rate creativity levels speak of a “fourth-grade slump”, when adult assumptions and formal training start to block kids’ natural ability to make things up. This suggests another key to creative living; we want to stay in touch or get in touch with the spontaneous creativity of our inner child, our master imagineer. 

Something important that creative people have in common is that they develop creative habits. For choreographer Twyla Tharp, these include “subtraction” – making a conscious effort to minimize distractions and make sufficient time and space available for a new project. For creativity researcher Keith Sawyer (a psychology professor at Washington University in St Louis) good creative habits include “working smart”, creating a daily rhythm that sets the right balance between hard work and “idle time” when the best ideas often jump out.
    For Columbia business professor William Duggan, creativity in business hinges on “opportunistic innovation”, the readiness to watch for unexpected opportunities and change your plans in order to cash in on them when they turn up.

A high tolerance for ambiguity is a characteristic of highly creative people. This increases our ability to think outside the box, make connections others can't see, and escape from either/or choices..We grow our tolerance for ambiguity when we share dreams in the right way and receive feedback from multiple perspectives - and find that every viewpoint has something to offer. Active dreamers are capable of checking all the boxes when given multiple choices.

Great creators in all fields are dreamers, not only in sleep but in twilihght states of reverie where connections that escape the ordinary rational mind come easily and contact with higher intelligence is often made. Robert Louis Stevenson said he received his stories in a state of “reverie” in which benign visitors he called “brownies” helped him to compose.
      Wolfgang Pauli, one of the pioneers of quantum physics, said that dreams were his “secret laboratory.” Scientist Otto Loewi dreamed the experiment that enabled him to prove that nerve impulses are chemically transmitted, a discovery that won him the Nobel Prize. Einstein, Niels Bohr, 
Kekulé, – and Newton in his own day, and Hypatia in hers – were all dreamers. They drew inspiration from sleep dreams and developed the ability to slip into twilight states of consciousness

Other habits of creative people: 

- They find personal ways of getting “into the zone”.

- They are risk-takers. They are willing to make mistakes, and learn from them. They look at mistakes as experiments rather than failures.

 - Creative people are “prepared for good luck”; they view coincidences as homing beacons and turn accidents into inventions.

- They make room for creation – time and private space.

- They are visual thinkers.

- They find a creative friend. This is a person who provides helpful feedback and supports their experiments.

- They persevere. 

Creativity is not just the preserve of a lucky – or tormented – few. It’s a power we can all claim. 

And here is what, for me, is the most important key to creativity. When we take on a creative project - and its element of risk - and step out of whatever box we have been in, we draw supporting powers, especially the power that the ancients called the genius or the daimon. Most people understand this intuitively, even though we may fumble for an agreed language to describe it.

When we are passionately engaged in a creative venture, we draw support from other minds and other beings, seen and unseen. According to the direction of our will and desire, and the depth of our work, those minds may include masters from other times, and a greater Self. We draw greater support the greater the challenges involved in our venture. Great spirits love great challenges.

Yeats wrote about what it required to engage the daimon with quivering passion in his essay Per Amica Silentia Lunae. The title means “The Friendly Silence of the Moon”. He borrowed it from Virgil's description of the Greeks approaching Troy by stealth. Under the poet's moon, Yeats explains how we  can develop a co-creative relationships with minds operating in other times and on other planes of reality. 

Yeats believed, as I do, that whether we are aware of it or not, all our life choices are witnessed by a larger self he called the daimon. The daimon lends or withholds its immense energy from our lives according to whether we choose the big agenda or the little one. The daimon is bored by our everyday vacillations and compromises and detests us when we choose against the grand passion and the Life Work, the soul's purpose.

The daimon loves us best, Yeats said, when we choose to attempt “the hardest thing among those not impossible.”

Art: "The Red Tree" by Robert Moss



Sunday, April 25, 2021

Always coming home to the Goddess

Ribeirão da Ilha, Santa Catarina, Brazil

On my first night on Santa Catarina Island, I dreamed I was introducing people to the Great Mother Goddess, counseling them to treat her with respect.
    On my last day on the island, I agreed with my host that we would take a drive around the bay side, to an area of Azorean fishing villages and oyster beds. The drive was wonderful. On the forested hills, indigenous garapuvu trees put up vivid yellow canopies, like floral umbrellas.
    Just short of the village of Ribeirão da Ilha, I saw a wonderful female figure in a flowing blue gown, arms raised, a star in her hair.
    "Stop the car," I said to my friend. "That's Yemanjá." I gave the great goddess of the sea and of motherhood her Brazilian name. In Spanish-speaking countries she is Yemaya. In both versions, her name is a contraction of the Yoruba phrase yeye omo eja, meaning, "mother whose children are like fish." The phrase evokes her endless fecundity; she embodies the sea of life, immense and universal and giving and forgiving.
    In other parts of Brazil, her presence by the water would be no surprise. Hundreds of thousands of people gather by the sea in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador da Bahia for her festivals. But here in the south, I was in a very white part of Brazil, settled by Germans, Austrians and Italians after the Portuguese sent early colonists from the Azores; signs of the Afro-Brazilian tradition had been absent until now.
     We noticed a sign across the street from Yemanjá, for the Ilé de Shangó, the temple of Shangó, the thunderer among the Orixás, the African gods who crossed the Atlantic with those brought to the New World in captivity. We crossed the road and were greeted by a friendly, maternal black woman who proved to be a filha de Shangó (a daughter of Shangó). She gave us an informal tour of the temple and explained that it had required a long campaign to get permission from conservative, white town fathers to place a statue of a black goddess at the edge of the bay. Pleased by my enthusiasm and my familiarity with some elements of her tradition, she invited me to take off my shoes and enter the sanctuary, where I was received with kisses and embraces as one of the family.
    I studied photographs of the pai de ilé (the father of the temple) with drummers in Nigeria, and recalled how, thirty years ago, I nearly gave up my familiar life to go to West Africa to be trained and initiated in this tradition.
    The priestess expanded her tour to the kitchen, where her daughter-in-law was nursing a baby, and showed us the pots used for cooking for the feasts that accompany their nights of ritual. I thanked her, and the Great Mother by the bay, with respect, for what felt like a happy homecoming.
   I had been uneasy until now about my return flights to the United States, receiving broken reports of the progress of Hurricane Sandy. I now relaxed, feeling all would be well. All three of my flights went almost impossibly smoothly; I arrived a few minutes early at my home airport, on Halloween.
   On my first night home, I dreamed again of a Great Mother, in a different guise, this time as a Native American spirit woman who opened and held a marvelous space for healing within the gathering I am leading on a mountain in the New York Adirondacks next weekend.
   As I look over my wanderings in this world, and the traffic from the mythic world that is forever part of this story, I see I am always coming home to the Goddess.

From my pre-pandemic travel journal. This episode unfolded when I was teaching in Brazil in 2011. Obviously it was not my first encounter with Yemanja.


Saturday, April 24, 2021

The importance of doing things before you're ready

As I work on a new book, I am reminded of one of the basic rules of life: If we wait until we are fully prepared in order to do something, we may never get it done. Perfection is not available in our human condition. It's important to do things before we think we are ready.
    A case in point, mined from my own journals in the period when I was working on my book The Secret History of Dreaming: 

I've spent the past few days reading and sketching my way into a chapter about Jung and Pauli. I have been prey to both the temptations and the performance anxiety associated with this theme.
    One of the temptations is to wait until I have read or re-read the 18 volumes of Jung's Collected Works (I own nine of these volumes, plus five volumes of selections from the others) and his memoirs and letters, and at least half a dozen of the biographies, and a dozen of the studies of his approach to synchronicity (all of which are also on my shelves or my desk). 
    There’s also a strong temptation to wait until I have found someone to explain Pauli’s Exclusion Principle, and Riemann Surfaces, and Violation of Parity and the Fine Structure Constant to me, and exactly where and why he differed with Einstein and (on another front) with Niels Bohr and the Copenhagen School, and the whole debate over symmetry - and until I have found someone else to disinter and translate Pauli's full correspondence with Aniela Jaffe and Marie-Louise von Franz. Oh yes, and of course to delay getting on with this chapter until I have hunted down the text of Schopenhauer's Essay on Spirit-Seeing, which turns out to have been a critical influence on Pauli's approach to dreams and reality and - after he pushed Jung to read or re-read it - on Jung as well (but is almost completely unavailable in English today and which I have - so far - been unable to locate online).
    At the very least, I realize, I want to go through the entire Jung-Pauli correspondence yet again (and the 400 Pauli dreams summarized and analyzed previously in Jung's Psychology and Alchemy) page by page, checking every reference, grounding every allusion in the personal and general history of their lives and their time, making sure I have missed nothing and understood everything.
    The performance anxiety centers on knowing that I understand Pauli’s physics no better than Jung, and do not have the advantage of having Pauli around to give me personal tutorials. And on the fact that there are a thousand Jungians (maybe many more) around ready to howl at any misrepresentation of the master.
    There is only one satisfactory response to such temptations and concerns.
    The only recourse is to get on and write the chapter NOW, regardless.