Thursday, February 20, 2020

Dreaming with Julia and Ulysses S. Grant

 Broken Mirrors and Never Turning Back: Dreaming and Superstition in the Lives of General Ulysses S. Grant and Julia Dent Grant

Guest blog by Wanda Easter Burch

Julia Dent believed in dreams, coincidence, naming bedposts, fairies and in an entire host of superstitions. Ulysses Grant believed in dreams, coincidence, and a few of his own hard-held superstitions. Julia married Lt. Ulysses Grant in 1848.
     In the years 1843 and 1844 Ulysses had begun an intense courtship that escalated to weekly visits when he was in the area of Julia’s home. He was aware of Julia’s quick wit, and intelligence but also became aware of Julia's attachment to folklore, fairies and her flawless track record of dreaming the future. Ulysses, a lieutenant at that time, left with orders to Louisiana, and Julia, knew he would not be back in his usual barracks.
    Julia consciously set a dream intent. She had a new bed and believed in a popular superstition called naming the bedposts. The “naming” was of the specific intended if you wanted your first dream to be of him or her. Julia named a bedpost Ulysses, and “
I did dream of Mr. Grant.  I thought he came at Monday noon and was dressed in civilian clothes. He came in, greeted us all most cordially, and seated himself near me; when I asked him how long he would remain, he said: ‘I am going to try to stay a week.’”
    Julia shared the dream with friends, all of whom said it would come true; but Julia protested that it could not come true because Ulysses was sailing down the Mississippi, “far below the mouth of the Ohio.” Monday morning progressed into the afternoon and Julia’s maid came to her and pointed toward the gate where Lt. Ulysses Grant was seen arriving, uncharacteristically in civilian clothing just as she had seen him in her “bedpost” dream.

   Julia met Ulysses in the drawing room. Certainly aware of a dream coming to fulfillment, she tested its information and asked Ulysses how long he planned to remain. He replied that he would try to stay for a week. “ On inquiring how he happened to be dressed in civilian’s clothes, he told me he was wearing borrowed plumage; that he had plunged into Gravois Creek and was nearly drowned, was of course very wet and had to borrow dry clothing from brother John, who lived some two miles from us.” His men wrote that once he started forward, whether it be on a march or in a battle, or just crossing a creek, he believed it was bad luck to turn around in a journey or on a path and go back. So Ulysses would have never returned to camp and put on his own dry clothing, thus, playing out a crucial element in Julia’s dream. [1]
     Ulysses took heed when intuition or dreams, folklore or fairies guided Julia’s surroundings. Just after her marriage to Ulysses, Julia sobbed with fear when they moved into a new house and found an heirloom mirror broken when she opened the moving box. The mirror had been in her father’s house for fifty years: “The Captain, in place of being impatient with me, tried to soothe me, saying, “It is broken, and tears will not mend it now.” I sobbed out: “It has always been at home, and then it is such a bad sign.” This meant someone would die within the year, a folk belief that dated to the Roman Empire.
     According to Julia's reminiscences, Ulysses knelt gently beside her and suggested that perhaps the breaking of the mirror did not cause misfortune to come. She said, "no," it did not cause the misfortune but foretold misfortune. The astute, now Captain Ulysses S. Grant, carefully suggested that since the broken mirror did not bring the misfortune that Julia had no cause for such grief. He also suggested, even more astutely, that they take each fragment of the broken mirror and have them made into single and separate mirrors, thereby breaking the manifestation of the foretelling of bad fortune. Julia agreed.[2]
     In her reminiscences, Julia described her need to verify and validate dreams, often using events as they unfolded to be the confirmation she needed.
     A significant dream captured a perilous moment in Ulysses’ life after “Colonel” Grant moved to Missouri and then to Cairo, Illinois. He had asked Julia to visit him there and to bring the children, now four in number. Nervous and frustrated, Julia “saw Ulys” a few rods away but only his head and shoulders as though he were on horseback. He also looked at her in what she thought was a reproachful manner. She awoke and called out his name: “Ulys!” Before leaving for the remaining leg of the trip Julia heard about the battle of Belmont. Ulysses met her at the train and she said that she had seen him in a dream on the day of the battle. He asked the hour of the vision, and when she told him the hour, he responded: “Just about that time I was on horseback and in great peril, and I thought of you and the children, and what would become of you if I were lost. I was thinking of you, my dear Julia, and very earnestly too.” [3]
      Julia's intuitive "feelings," equally as important as her night dreams, saved her husband's life when he was invited to accompany President Lincoln to the theater. It was not a rumored and difficult relationship between Mary Lincoln and Julia Grant; it was a strong, abiding intuitive feeling of danger that drove Julia to insist that Ulysses leave an important cabinet meeting immediately upon closing business and take a carriage for a train home rather than leave for the theater. The series of events began unfolding when a strangely dressed young man took a position near the door to her room. The young man said he was sent by Mrs. Lincoln and that she would call for Julia at 8:00 to go to the theater. In an instant flash of presentiment of danger, Julia declined. The young man reminded her that the newspapers had announced that General Grant would be with President Lincoln at the theater.
      Julia sent a note to General Grant telling him she wanted to go home that evening. Ulysses sent word back for her to pack her trunks and that they would leave immediately for Philadelphia. At a late luncheon four men sat near Julia and her luncheon companions. She noticed odd eating behavior, one of them, for example, holding a spoon near his mouth but never eating. The same man rode past the Grant’s carriage later in the evening, glaring through the carriage glass.[4] 
      In one of her last unexplained dreams recorded in her reminiscences, Julia sadly related a vision in Washington in which she “looked down upon a great throng surging up the avenue leading from Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House. In the midst of this throng of moving people was an open carriage drawn by four prancing horses, and seated in this carriage with his pretty wife beside him was one dear to me. The carriage drove on and stopped at the portals of the White House…After that, I gave no more thought to the subject, as I knew General Grant was not to be there, nor was I.” [5]
      These reminiscences shared a strong sense of Julia’s belief in the destiny of Ulysses Grant and of her destiny alongside him as his wife. She envisioned success, warnings of danger, and safe passage through difficult times and onward through a grand hero’s march around the world and back again to dreamed acclaim in the streets of New Orleans and sadly not in the presidential mansion.


[1] John Y. Simon, ed. The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (Mrs. Ulysses P. Grant), (Carbondale and Edwardsville:  Southern Illinois University Press), 1975. 49-50 and Footnote 22:  p. 63:  Julia Grant gave a more detailed account of the marriage proposal to a journalist in 1890. Foster Coates, “The Courtship of General Grant,”Ladies’ Home Journal, VII (October, 1890).
2 Ibid., 84.
3 Ibid., 99.
4 Ibid., 155-157, footnote 6: the man trying to overhear the luncheon conversation was also the man who rode up alongside the carriage – John Wilkes Booth. In Philadelphia, Grant received a telegram about Lincoln’s death, sent Julia on to Burlington, and returned.
Julia also enjoyed sharing her children’s precognitive dreams, one of them dreaming their papa would come into the room. When told he would not be there that evening, she pointed to the door. He had just walked in. On another occasion little Nellie announced that someday they would live in a great house like “the picture in my geography of the…Capitol in Washington.” 157.
5 It was unclear whether or not she thought she was dreaming about the possible presidency of her son Frederick. No further notes accompanied this dream.

Text adapted from The Home Voices Speak Louder than the Drums: Dreams and the Imagination in Civil War Letters and Memoirs by Wanda Easter Burch: (McFarland Publishers, 2017)

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Invitation to the Island of Apples

For the Celts, the road to the Land of the Living, the Islands of the Blessed, runs ever westward, across the sea. The immrama, or voyage tales, contain vital clues to the ancient European craft of dying. Despite flawed and faulty transcription, gaping lacunae, and editing and censoring by pious monks, the voyage tales still hold the memory of shamanic explorations of the Other Side, and of a deep practice for rehearsing the dying and guiding the departed along the roads of the Otherworld.
    The earliest of the immrama is the Voyage of Bran mac Febal, recorded in the seventh century. His journey begins when he is alone. Unearthly music sends him into deep sleep, and he wakes to find a silver branch, blossoming with crystal flowers, beside him.
    A beautiful woman of the Otherworld appears to him in the locked house and sings to him of the glories of the land from which she has come. In one of the loveliest invitations to a journey in all of world literature, she urges Bran to cross the sea and seek the original Avalon, the Island of Apples:

I bring a branch of the apple tree from Emain, from the far island ringed by the shining sea horses of Manannan mac Lir. A joy to the eyes is the White Silver Plain where the hosts play their games, racing chariots against curraghs...
    There is an ancient tree there in fruit and flower, and birds calling from it; every color is shining there, delight is common and the music sweet.
    There is no mourning or betrayal there...
     To be without grief, without sorrow, without death, without any sickness or weakness - this is the sign of Emain, and no common wonder it is.
     Its mists are magical, the sea caresses the shore, brightness falls from the air.
     There are treasures of every hue in the Gentle Land, the Bountiful Land, the sweetest music and the best of wine. Marigold horses on the strand, crimson horses, sky-blue horses...
      There are three times fifty far islands in the ocean to the west, and every one of them twice or three times more than the land you know.
      It is not to all I am speaking, though I have made these wonders known to all who hear me. Let you who are ready listen from the crowd of the world to the wisdom falling from my song.
      Do not fall upon a bed of sloth. Do not be overcome by drunkenness. Set out on your voyage over the clear sea, and you may chance to come to the Land of the Living, the Land of Women, the Island of Apples.

Who could refuse such an invitation? Bran sets sail with three companies of nine men. They meet Manannan mac Lir - lord of the sea and the Underworld. They reach the Land of Women but after a year they leave because one of the men is homesick.
    When they return to Ireland they find that centuries have passe and they are remembered only as figures of legend. When the homesick man stumbles ashore, he crumbles into dust. Bran and his men cross the waters again and do not return - and yet, in another telling, the head of Bran, the man who went to the Otherworld and returned, becomes a true oracle from generation to generation.

In another immram, the Voyage of Maelduin, the hero's journey begins as a quest for vengeance - for Aillil, Maelduin's the murdered father. But in the course of the voyage, deeper purposes emerge and we travel through a marvelous geography of shifting states of reality and consciousness.
    The transition from an ordinary boat trip is marked by a shift in relative scale and proportions as the voyagers come to an island with "ants the size of foals". Many terrors and temptations and reality shifts follow until they pass through a mysterious Silver Net to realms of abundance and love and deeper wisdom. When a falcon from Ireland appears to pilot them home, their petty agendas are forgotten. Maelduin can forgive his enemies and go home. However, he remains joined to a deeper world.

Text adapted from The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books. The excerpt from the Voyage of Bran is from Kuno Meyer (trans.) The Voyage of Bran Son of Febal to the Land of the Living (London: David Nutt, 1895). In The Dreamer's Book of the Dead I describe a nocturnal journey in which Kuno Meyer or something like his holographic projection gave me a tour of some of his transitions on the Other Side.

Art: "The Voyage of Bran to the Isle of Women" by Monica Lu.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

When Great Owl gave an author the breath of creation

Jeffrey Eugenides' novel Middlesex is a triumph of creative empathy. It accomplishes what the best novels do, which is to expand our humanity by transporting us inside the lives and perspectives of others. It also shows us how we can do this for ourselves, by using active imagination to enter the lives of ancestors or the body of a person of a different gender, even a gender not commonly recognized.
     So I was delighted, though not surprised, to find Eugenides' revelation that it was a dream, simple but shockingly direct and numinous, that gave him the power to finish Middlesex. He was living in Berlin at the time, struggling to keep food on the table through a modest fellowship, often sleep-deprived because of an infant child, drinking a good deal of German beer in an effort to loosen up.
     He was seized by a dream. His entire dream report reads as follows:

An owl, descended out of nowhere, seized me in its talons and blew into my mouth a single breath tasting of blood. 

The one-sentence report describes a dream that lasted (he says) all of four or five seconds. Yet he sensed that the owl's visitation "originated not from my mind at all but from a source outside of me". The owl was gigantic, "and not particularly realistic". Its plumage reminded him of paintings by Klimt, with lozenges of color running up and down the wings and over the  breast, and "a large helmeted ceremonial head".
    The owl's eyes were fierce and bright yellow. When the owl dipped its beak to Eugenides' lips, he opened his mouth, unresisting. The owl exhaled one long forceful breath. With a whoosh, his lungs inflated. This inspiration had a taste: "the mineral, meaty flavor of a predatory diet".
    The writer awakened with the deep knowing that a power had been conveyed to him from a greater source: "the great Owl in the Sky had taken a personal interest in me and my book. The owl had come to give me the power to write."

Art: René Magritte, "The Companions of Fear"(1942)

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Lightning dreamwork is enlightening

I invented a fun way to share dreams, get some non-authoritarian and no-nintrusive feedback, and move toward creative action. I call this the Lightning Dreamwork Game. It’s like lightning in two senses — it’s very quick (you can do it in five minutes), and it focuses and brings through terrific energy. It’s a game you can play just about anywhere, with just about anyone – with the stranger in the line at the supermarket checkout, or with the intimate stranger who shares your bed. The rules are simple, and they open a safe space to share even the most sensitive material.

You can play this game with two or more people. We’ll call the principal players the Dreamer and the Partner. There are four moves in the Lightning Dreamwork Game.

First Move
The Dreamer tells the dream as simply and clearly as possible, as a story. Just the facts of the dream, no background or autobiography. In telling a dream this way, the Dreamer claims the power of the story. The Partner should ask the Dreamer to give the dream report a title, like a story or a movie.

Second Move
The Partner asks the Three Essential Questions. (1) How did you feel? (2) Reality check: What do you recognize from this dream in the rest of your life, and could any part of this dream be played out in the future? (3) What do you want to know about this now?
The Dreamer answers all three questions.

Third Move
The Partner now shares whatever thoughts and associations the dream has triggered for him or her. The Partner begins by saying, “If it were my dream, I would think about such-and-such.” The etiquette is very important. By saying “if it were my dream,” we make it clear that we are not setting out to tell the Dreamer what his or her dream — or life — means. We are not posing as experts of any kind. The Partner is just sharing whatever strikes him or her about the dream, which may include personal memories, other dreams, or things that just pop up. (Those seemingly random pop-ups are often the best.)

Fourth Move
Following the discussion, the Partner asks the Dreamer: What are you going to do now? What action will you take to honor this dream or work with its guidance? If the Dreamer is clueless about what action to take, the Partner will offer his or her own suggestions, which may range from calling the guy up or buying the pink shoes to doing historical or linguistic research to decode odd references. Or, the Dreamer may want to go back inside the dream (see below) to get more information or move beyond a fear. One thing we can do with any dream is to write a personal motto, like a bumper sticker or something that could go on a refrigerator magnet. 

After road-testing Lightning Dreamwork in some of my advanced groups, I introduced the process to general audiences in 2000. Since then I have noticed that 90 percent of the people who mention it in writing misspell the name, making it "Lightening".
    I used to play spelling cop, but I have tired of than, and also notice that there is something interesting that is showing through the slip. Learning to tell our stories to each other by this method does "lighten" the day, and sometimes brings enlightenment, and encourages us to lighten up.
 he term One of our dream teachers reminds me that the term "lightening" also refers to a stage of delivery just before birth in which the fetus descends farther down the birth canal. So Lightning or Lightening, it's all good. 

Photo: Dream sharing on Gore Mountain (c) Robert Moss
The rules of the game are adapted from the version in The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Monday, February 3, 2020

"Sargon lay down not to sleep but he lay down to dream"

I have been saying for decades that dreaming is not fundamentally about what happens during sleep; it is about waking up to a deeper reality. I found confirmation for this understanding in a Sumerian text that is a mere four millennia old. It is the story of "Sargon and Ur-Zababa". The famous Sargon of Akkad began his career as a cupbearer to Ur-Zababa, the Sumerian king of Kish around 2350 bce.. Ill and anxious, the ruler of Kish asked Sargon to dream on his behalf. We then read "Sargon lay down not to sleep but he lay down to dream" Sargon's dream brought no comfort to the king.He saw the goddess Inanna as a beautiful young woman "high as the heavens and vast as the earth" who drowned Ur-Zababa in a river of blood. Ur-Zababa tried to have the dreamer killed but he was the one who died and Sargon took his throne. The people believed, because of his dream, that Sargon was under the aegis of the great goddess. Source: Gil H. Renberg, Where Dreams May Come: Incubation Sanctuaries in the Greco-Roman World (Leiden: Brill, 2017) 45

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Brigid's flame

I dreamed overnight that I found and posted six images and blessings of Brigid beyond what I offered here in my last post. I just composed one more:

Brigid's Flame

May the radiance of her blue mantle
surround you and protect you
May you burn with her fires:
fire of seership,
fire of craft,
fire of inspiration,
fire of healing,
fire of transformation
fire of heart.
May you always stand ready
to wrest the killing irons
from evildoers and oppressors
and to take up the Sword of Light
in defense of the weak and the just
May you always be a lover of poets
and commit poetry every day.

- Robert Moss, Imbolc 2020

Icon of Brigid
One of the most powerful experiences of my life at a place of worship was at Solas Bhride in County Kildare, where the eternal flame of She who is both Goddess and Saint, joining the old religion and a newer one, is kept burning. She rose from her icon, suffusing the whole space with the blue aura of her robe. She plucked the sword from under her feet and held it up. She said, with blazing eyes, "I have kept the sword here not only to deny it to killers and evildoers but to offer it to those I call to be warriors for the Light." How can I not love a Goddess who born at a threshold in the fire of sunrise and is patron of those who work with the fires of metalwork and healing and poetic inspiration?

Saturday, February 1, 2020

May Brigid's blessings be with you

Blessings to you on the day of the High One, the Exalted One. That is the meaning of Brig, from which the name Brigid (also Brigit, Brighid, Brigantia of England and Brigindo of eastern Gaul) derives. The church made the goddess a saint, one of the most beloved saints of Ireland, with various biographies, the best of which is recollected in Kildare, where the flame of Brigid burned constantly until Henry VIII, and burns again today. She is a power of the land, and of the deeper world, that the church and the people can agree on. In Ireland and in Scotland, you feel her presence in stones and trees, in high places and in deep wells.
In the stories told at Kildare, the woman Brigid is born at sunrise, as her mother stands straddling a threshold, one foot out and one foot in. When Brigid’s head comes out, the sun’s rays crown her with flame. We can see why she is the patron of people who open doors between the worlds – of shamans, seers and poets – and of all who work with fire, in the peat, in the forge, in the cauldron of imbas, the fire of inspiration.
Marija Gimbutas wrote of her (in The Living Goddesses): “Brigid is an Old European goddess consigned to the guise of a Christian saint. Remove the guise and you will see the mistress of nature, an incarnation of cosmic life-giving energy, the owner of life water in wells and springs, the bestower of human, animal and plant life.” She is “Mary of the Gael”, and she is the Triple Goddess and Robert Graves’ Three-fold Muse. She is patron of poetry, healing and smithcraft. In Scotland she is Bride, and the White Swan and the Bride of the White Hills. In the Hebrides she is the protector of childbirth.
Lady Augusta Gregory, Yeats’s friend, described Brigid in Gods and Fighting Men as “a woman of poetry, and poets worshiped her, for her sway was very great and very noble. And she was a woman of healing along with that, and a woman of smith’s work, and it was she first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night.” We are now entering the prime time of this High One, when nature awakens around February 1.
She may appear as a snake from beneath the earth, even in Ireland, the country without snakes:
This is the day of Bride the Queen will come from the mound
This is the time of Brigid’s feast of Imbolc which coincides with the lactation of the ewes and the first signs of spring. You know the lambs are coming soon. You see snowdrops pressing up from the hard earth, perhaps through its white mantle. You offer the gifts of the goddess to the goddess: you pour milk on the ground, you bake and leave out special cakes. To she who spins and weaves life itself, you offer woven fabrics or offer a cloth – a handkerchief, a scarf, a pillowcase – to be blessed as it rests on the earth overnight. To this bringer of fire, you light a candle and offer your heart’s flame.
In the old country, in the old way, young girls carry her images – straw dolls or brideogs – in procession from house to house, and the goddess is welcomed and decked with finery. The dolls are laid on in “bride beds”, with a staff or wand of power resting beside them. At Imbolc, as on other days, you may raise the High One’s energy with poetic speech. Best to do this by a stream or a spring, or (if you know one) a sacred well. She does have a fine love of poets and those who bring fresh words into the world.
There is a legend that, in one of her womanly forms, Brigid married the great poet Senchan Torpeist,  foremost among the learned fili (bards) of Ireland. It was this same Senchan, it is said, who recovered the great poem known as the Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) when it was feared lost forever, by raising the shade of the druid poet Fergus to recite all of the verses.
Among the bevy of Celtic blessings in the great repository know as the Carmina Gadelica, collected by Alexander Carmichael in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland around 1900, some of the sweetest call on Brigid. In “Womanhood of Brigit” (#263 in the Carmina Gadelica)
Brigit of the mantles
Brigit of the peat-heap
Brigit of the twining hair
Brigit of the augury.
Brigit of the white feet
Brigit of calmness
Brigit of the white hands
Brigit of the kine.
Many kinds of protection are then asked of Brigid – safety from death or injury or mishap in many forms. Next comes a verse that makes it plain that Brigid is regarded, among all else, as a guardian of sleep and dreams:
Nightmare shall not lie on me
Black-sleep shall not lie on me
Spell-sleep shall not lie on me
Luaths-luis shall not lie on me.
I need someone more learned in Scots Gaelic than myself to translate Luaths-luis. Its literal meaning seems to be something like “fast-moving lice” for which our modern phrase might be “creepy-crawlies.” In the “Blessing of Brigit” (numbered #264 in the Carmina Gadelica) we have words that might please the Lady on her feast day, or any day:
I am under the shielding
Of good Brigit each day;
I am under the shielding
Of good Brigit each night.
Brigit is my comrade woman,
Brigit is my maker of song,
Brigit is my helping woman
My choicest of women, my guide
Brigid’s Day is also a fine time for courting, and a time to dream, and seek guidance from dreams.