Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bear Sightings



You stood in the middle of a country road
to make me stop and listen.
I got round you and said, when my heart slowed,
that a bear in the road is just coincidence.

So you came over in the middle of the night
and stood between me and the moonlight
and scared me so bad with your size and the surprise
I jumped out of my skin.

A fox barked in the woods and snickered,
“What are you thinking of?
In your body or out of it,
you are now in the dream of the Bear.”

So when you came again, taller than my ceiling,
I made myself enter your embrace.
I thought I would die in your arms;
instead, I grew to your size, and we danced.

You showed me we are joined at the heart
as an unborn child is joined to its mother
by a thick umbilical pumping life juice.
You told me to call on you for healing.

There are days when I still forget you.
One night, from a hilltop, I saw you on the road
like a walking mountain, dwarfing the cars.
I feared you would crush them like matchbox toys.

Fox barked again, and I saw you were the shadow
thrown by the moonlight from my shoulders.
I had not known your power with me had grown so big,
and that I must choose whether it will harm or heal.

I am still remembering you. I remember now
that I knew you when I was a soldier in leather armor
fighting under the banner of the Bear Goddess.
Weary, I went to die in wild country, but you healed me.

I remember that when the Real People laid my body
in the blanket of mother Earth, I found rest
in the heartwood of an oak until, stirring from my long nap,
I sought life in a newborn cub that could fit in a pink palm.

You are healing. I have seen you open yourself
as a medicine chest, offering all you contain.
You are protection. I have seen you gather your kind
to form an unbreakable circle of defense against the dark.

Behind all your forms, you are the Mother.
You made me find the right song
to open a door in the roots of the Life Tree
and receive your blessing in a world beneath the world.

I bring others here, to be nursed and healed
in your generous lap, and be joined to their dream selves,
their wonder-children, their powers of healing and creation –
that fled from them when they fled from you.




This poem is in my collection Here, Everything Is Dreaming: Poems and Stories. Published by Excelsior Editions/State University of New York Press.

Drawing by RM


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Red Bull and the Morrigan

I see a huge red bull, with long silky hair. I know that he is the focus of an ancient battle.
    I see the warriors of two rival armies clashing together - kilted men swinging killing irons.
    Riding through the field of battle comes an immense dark figure, standing proudly erect in a chariot. She is three women in one. Their bodies are joined. Her chariot is not drawn by horses but races forward, powered by the intention of the War Goddess. Its great wheels are armed with scything blades, that mow down the fighting men like tall grass.
     As the bodies of the slain lie in heaps on the ground, the Morrigan divides into three huge black birds. They soar into the air, then swoop down on the fallen, picking out the eyes, stripping the flesh from the bones. They are separating what rots from what endures.
    When their work is done, they come together and the Goddess shows herself as a single being - a ripe, naked woman wearing deer antlers.
     In this form, she rises above the earth. She glides at tremendous speed from the site of the battle to a mountain whose name is Slievnamun. She shows herself here in yet another form - as a lovely young woman who sits above a natural cauldron, a bubbling spring among the rocks. Here and only here (I am informed) can the dread Morrigan be approached in beneficent human form.

This dawn vision, arising spontaneously in the liminal space between sleep and awake, has been with me since I led a retreat on a sacred mountain twelve years ago. I am posting it now because of my dream of the Scáthach last night. Here is the new report:


Sound of the Scáthach
SCAW-thach. The pronunciation is insistent, and the word is repeated. I know what it means. The Scáthach is the fierce warrior woman who trains the Irish hero Cúchulainn in the arts of war. I have heard her name said differently by contemporary Gaelic speakers (more like "Scath-ath"). Is my dream putting me on the trail of ancient usage, or simply incorporating the accent of whoever was urging me to think about a woman who was deadlier than most of the men around her?    Either way, I've been given a fresh research assignment, the kind that my dreams often give me. I go back to the Red Branch of the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology and learn that her name means "Shadowy" and that her home on the Isle of Skye was known as the Fortress of Shadows. Her father may have come from Scythia. She becomes a Celtic goddess of the dead, guiding the way for those killed in battle to the desirable Otherworld of Tír na nÓg.

Graphic: Louis le Brocquy, The Morrígan, 1969, lithograph. Illustration for Thomas Kinsella's translation of The Táin.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Whatever you think or feel, the universe says yes

Whatever you think or feel, the universe says yes. Perhaps you have noticed this. Yes, we are talking about the law of attraction. It is indeed an ancient law, never a secret to those who live consciously. “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.
     What are you doing? A woman in one of my workshops told me she hears this question, put by an inner voice, many times a day. Sometimes it rattles her and saps her confidence. But she is grateful for the inner questioner that provokes her to look at herself. It’s a question worth putting to yourself any day. As you do that, remember that thinking and feeling are also doing.
    “The passions of the soul work magic.” I borrowed that from a medieval alchemist also beloved by Jung. It conveys something fundamental about our experience of how things manifest in the world around us. High emotions, high passions generate results. When raw energy is loose, it has effects in the world. It can blow things up or bring them together.           There is an art in learning to operate when your passions are riding high and to recognize that is a moment when you can make magic. Even when you are in the throes of what people would call negative emotions — rage, anger, pain, grief, even fear — if you can take the force of such emotions and choose to harness and direct them in a certain creative or healing way, you can work wonders, and you can change the world around you.
     How? Because there is no impermeable barrier between mind and matter. Jung and Pauli in concert, the great psychologist and the great physicist, came around to the idea that the old medieval phrase applies: unus mundus, “one world.” Psyche and physis, mind and matter, are one reality. They interweave at every level of the universe. They are not separate. As Pauli wrote, “Mind and body could be interpreted as complementary aspects of the same reality.” I think this is fundamental truth, and it becomes part of fundamental life operation when you wake up to it.
     The stronger our emotions, the stronger their effects on our psychic and physical environment. And the effects of our emotions may reach much further than we can initially understand. They can generate a convergence of incidents and energies, for good or bad, in ways that change everything in our lives and can affect the lives of many others.
     When we think or feel strongly about another person, we will touch that person and affect his or her mind and body — even across great distances — unless that person has found a way to block that transmission. The great French novelist Honoré de Balzac wrote that “ideas are projected as a direct result of the force by which they are conceived and they strike wherever the brain sends them by a mathematical law comparable to that which directs the firing of shells from their mortars.” 
     Scientific experiments have shown the ability of the human mind and emotions to change physical matter: studies by Masaru Emoto have shown that human emotions can change the nature and composition of water, and the Findhorn experiments have taught us that good thoughts positively affect the growth of plants. Conversely, rage or grief can produce disturbing and sometimes terrifying effects in the physical environment.
     “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.”
Whatever our circumstances, we always have the power to choose our attitude, and that this can change everything.


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




Art: "Puddle". Woodcut by M.C.Escher

Friday, July 21, 2017

Enchantment is the oldest form of medicine: Jung heals with a lullaby



Jung agreed to see a woman who had “incurable” insomnia that had resisted all previous treatment. In her presence, he found himself remembering a lullaby his mother had crooned to him in childhood. He started humming it aloud.
      The song was about a girl on a little boat on a  river, full of gleaming fish. It evokes the rhythms of wind and water. Jung’s patient was enchanted. From that night on, her insomnia was gone. Her regular doctor wanted to know Jung’s secret.
     “How was I to explain to him that I had simply listened to something within myself?," Jung reminisced, late in life, in the presence of his assistant Aniela Jaffe. "I had been quite at sea. How was I to tell him that I had sung her a lullaby with my mother’s voice? Enchantment like that is the oldest form of medicine.”
     Once again, we see that Jung's practice was that of a true shaman of the west.

DREAMING WITH JUNG

A new weekend adventure at magical Mosswood Hollow, near Duvall, Washington, on December 9-10

Jung labored to bring together the best of Western science and scholarship with ancient ways of soul travel and soul remembering. Throughout his life, he was guided by dreams and synchronicity, and in this class, we will learn from his practice rather than his theories. 
     We’ll journey, like Jung, through the many-tiered House of the Soul. We’ll walk with the Sacred Guide, as Jung walked with his Philemon. We’ll meet the Shadow. We’ll discover that dreams unlock the limitless field of nonlocal mind he called the collective unconscious.
    We’ll develop learn to navigate by synchronicity and practice field perception as Jung did when he watched the movements of wind and water, of a fox or a beetle, as he counseled his clients by Lake Zurich. Details here.

Art: Child and Boat by Edmund Tarbell (1899)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Scarab and the Fox: How Jung Navigated by Synchronicity


Jung’s life practice of paying attention to coincidence and symbolic popups in the world around us is a model of how to navigate by synchronicity.
    In his work with patients, he paid close attention to the interplay of dreams and signs from the world. He was encouraged to do this by his celebrated breakthrough work with a female patient who had been seriously blocked until she dreamed of a scarab, the dung beetle of the Nile Valley. Despite its lowly origins, the scarab was one of the most important Egyptian symbols of rebirth and transformation; it had been deified as Khepri and was placed over the heart of the soul traveler to guide journeys beyond the body and beyond death.
    As the woman discussed her dream with Jung, a flying beetle known as a rose chafer appeared at the window. It was the nearest match for the Egyptian scarab you could hope to find in Europe, and as the patient’s eyes widened in recognition, she experienced a sense of confirmation of her dream and the work she was doing with Jung that carried her to deep healing.
     When he saw patients in his house at Küsnacht, on Lake Zurich,, he liked to sit so that they both faced the garden, the poplars at the edge of the lake, and the water beyond, noticing what the world was saying.  He found significance in every shift in the environment — a sudden wind whipping up the lake water, the shape of a cloud, the cry of a bird.
     He was especially intrigued by how animals or birds sometimes seemed to participate in a human exchange.  On one occasion, he walked in his garden with a woman patient. As they wandered beyond the garden into light woods, she was talking about the first dream of her life that had major impact on her; she said it made an “everlasting” impression. “I am in my childhood home,” she recalled, “and a spectral fox is coming down the stairs.” She paused and put her hand on Jung’s arm, because at this moment a real fox trotted out of the trees, less than forty yards in front of them. The fox padded softly along the path in front of them for several minutes.  Jung noted that "the animal behaved as if it were a partner in the human situation.”
     Jung’s willingness to trust an unexpected incident — and accept it immediately as guidance for action — was evident in a meeting he had with Henry Fierz, who visited him in hopes of persuading him to support the publication of a manuscript by a recently deceased scientist. Jung had reservations about the book and opposed publication. The conversation became increasingly strained, and Jung looked at his watch, evidently getting ready to tell his guest he was out of time. Jung frowned when he saw the time.
     “What time did you come?” he demanded of his visitor.
     “At five o’clock, as agreed.”
     Jung’s frown deepened. He explained that his watch had just been repaired, and should be keeping impeccable time. But it showed 5:05, and surely Fierz had been with him for much longer. “What time do you have?”
    “Five thirty-five,” his visitor told him.
    “Since you have the right time and I have the wrong time,” Jung allowed, “I must think again.”
     He then changed his mind and supported publication of the book.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Don't let me sleep too long


Don’t let me sleep too long.
If I leave my bed for more than a few hours
I come back jet-lagged
and sometimes with bruises and bite marks
I didn’t get in the world where I left my body.

When the body sleeps the soul travels
and it does not go naked.
It makes its excursions in a subtle form
whose adventures and misadventures
can leave astral stigmata.

In a cold land near the Northern Lights
women preparing corpses for the funeral pyre
place moss on their tongues and caw like ravens
to scare away hungry ghosts
that gobble spirit bodies like chitlins.

If you are drinking pour a little for the thirsty dead
because the subtle body is also a body of desire.
If you’re out there, you’ll learn that to go beyond the Moon
you must leave your astral body behind. Make sure
you put it in a locker where thieves can’t take it.

It’s late and my double is eager to go wandering.
It could come out through my toes
or through my groin, or my core.
It could fly from my mouth or rise from the fontanel -
the right way, says the yogi, to go out at death.

Leaving my body tonight, I don’t plan
more than a temporary death.
I might go to the mermaid cove
or the island of apples or a tower in the clouds
but I’ll be back unless you let me sleep too long.


-        -   Mosswood Hollow, July 14, 2017


Art: Willliam Blake, illustration for "The Grave", a poem by Robert Blair

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Lick the sky and rule China

The future of an empress of ancient China was foreshadowed by a dream in which she rose to the sky and drank from it. The crucial role of dreams and shamanic experience in imperial China is another chapter in the history we weren't taught in school.
   Deng Sui (81-121) ruled China as dowager empress in the Later Han Dynasty. As a young girl, she dreams that she rises up to the sky. It is beautiful, flawlessly blue. She touches it, moving her hand lightly across the smooth, rounded surface. Her exploring fingers find something shaped like “the nipple on a bronze bell”. She puts this in her mouth and sucks on it like a baby, feeling herself fed and nourished. 
    When she tells the dream to her parents, her father, a high official and royal tutor, calls in a dream interpreter. The professional draws on precedents. He recalls that two of the legendary “sage kings” of ancient China dreamed of rising to the sky before they rose to take the throne. Yao dreamed that he climbed up to the sky. Tang dreamed he rose to the sky and licked it. Both dreamers became emperors, ranked among the “sage kings” because of their wisdom and innovation. The dream interpreter declared that Deng Sui’s dream was “unspeakably auspicious.”
    For a second opinion, a face reader was called. He studied Deng Sui’s physiognomy and pronounced that her features closely resembled those of the sage king Cheng Tang. Therefore her destiny would be tremendous, as the dream seemed to promise.
    Still in her teens, Deng Sui was selected as a consort of the young Emperor He. A slightly older consort, Yin, was raised to the status of empress. Jealous and scheming, Yin hired sorcerers to attack Deng Sui with black magic. When this was discovered, Yin was deposed and Deng Sui took her place on the throne. When the emperor died, she became the regent for his child successor, and ruled China as dowager empress for several years, fulfilling the dream  prophecy.
     My source for Deng Sui's dream is an excellent scholarly study of shamanism, religion and poetry in early China: Gopal Sukhu, The Shaman and the Heresiarch: A New Interpretation of the Li sao. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012). This is the first book-length study in English of the Chinese poetic classic, the Li sao, attributed to Qu Yuan, a high official of the kingdom of Chu in the 3rd century BCE who lost his position thanks to the jealous intrigues of rivals.
    The title is translated here as Encountering Sorrow”. It might also be rendered as "Departing from Sorrow". In his sorrow, the poet contemplates suicide; according to tradition Qu Yuan drowned himself in a river in 278 BCE, an event memorialized by the Duanwu or Dragon Boat festival. Yet the force of the poet's violent emotions is also the departure lobby for vividly described shamanic journeys between the worlds. He rides on dragons and phoenix-like birds, summons elemental powers, talks with gatekeepers of heaven worlds.

I sent Wangshu, the moon's charioteer, ahead as my herald,
And Feilian, the wind god, to the back as rear guard.
Male huan birds were my fore-runners,

And the Lord of Thunder would warn me of the unforeseen.

    The long poem is full of challenges for modern readers, especially in its elaborate floral codes (have as many flowers and herbs ever been named in another poem?) and in the gender-twisting narrative voice; Gopal Sukhu deftly traces the rival paths of interpretation and contributes a new translation with detailed notes.

Graphic: Chinese postcard depicting Deng Sui in Han dynasty hairdo.