Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Celtic God of Eloquence

In the satires of Lucian of Samosata, a Celtic man comments on a painting of Ogmios, a Celtic deity who looks like Heracles in his lion skin. He is depicted smiling and leading a smiling crowd with chains of the finest gold flowing from his tongue to their ears. It is explained that while Heracles conquers through strength, Ogmios wins through eloquence, which has the power to hold everyone in thrall.

Stranger, I will tell you the secret of the painting, for you seem very much troubled about it. We Celts do not consider the power of speech to be Hermes, as you Greeks do, but we represent it by means of Heracles, because he is much stronger than Hermes. So if this old man Heracles, the power of speech, draws men after him, tied to his tongue by their ears you have no reason to wonder, as you must be aware of the close connection between the ears and the tongue. ...In a word, we Celts are of opinion that Heracles himself performed everything by the power of words, as he was a wise fellow, and that most of his compulsion was effected by persuasion. His weapons ... are his utterances which are sharp and well aimed, swift to pierce the mind: and you too say that words have wings.

Albrecht Dürer depicted Ogmios with the caduceus and winged helmet and sandals of Hermes in psychopomp role, leading willing souls by chains of finest gold that stream from his tongue with his golden words. In lion skin or winged sandals, this is god of eloquence is one I am ready to honor. Though his name is largely forgotten, I find his spirit abroad, goading us to tell better stories and come up with fresh words.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Goddess Lives in the Dreaming Land

Lithuania is one of my soul countries and a place where I feel close to the Goddess. It is a country where the old Goddess tradition has survived unbroken from before the arrival of the Indo-European gods and is the country of the great scholar of the goddess, Marija Gimbutas. I have led six depth workshops in Lithuania over 15 years and had extraordinary encounters with the Goddess tradition here, as described in three of my books The Dreamer's Book of the DeadDreaming the Soul Back Home and The Boy Who Died and Came Back.

On my first visit, I led a shamanic group journey to the ancestors through the gateway of an ancient oak, and I found myself in direct contact with a priestess of Žemyna, the great Earth goddess of Lithuania. The žyne (priestess) belonged to an ancient time. She instructed me in methods of healing and visioning involving the use of amber, and gave me symbols and words in old Lithuanian – a language previously unknown to me – that others in the workshop helped me translate.

On a later visit,the priestess came to me in dreams suffused with amber light. She told me “You belong to the People of Amber. Your duty – and that of those you train here – is to build bridges and wooden pathways so people can get across the mud safely. You must remember to call on the power of Light Amber to heal and to guide, and on the power of Dark Amber to remove the darkness.”
A woman healer in my workshops- a woodwitch from Samogitia (bear country in the west of Lithuania) - was inspired by my dreams and visions to invite me to her summer home. She taught me how to use amber and beeswax for healing, spiritual cleansing and soul keeping. She taught me spells in Old Lithuanian handed down in the maternal line for countless generations. She said these had never previously been shared with a man or a non-Lithuanian. I found, yet again, that the right dream can be a visa.
I discovered first-hand that despite the long nightmare of invasion, occupation and persecution, the Goddess lives in the dreaming land, as the fire lives in wood. In my visits to the Baltic, I have been reminded again and again that one of the gifts of dreaming is that it opens authentic connections to the ancestors, offering us the chance to heal the wounds of the past and to perform cultural soul retrieval.

Image: Žemaitiu alka, a shrine to the old gods and goddesses at Palanga, Lithuania.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Releasing ancestral karma

She stands before the fire, straight and tall as a flame, her fierce green eyes blazing. Irene stoops for a moment to make an offering to the fire, a pinch of tobacco, a sprig of sage. Then she carefully unfolds the first piece of paper. She reads aloud the following statement she has written: “I give to the fire all deep, encrusted feelings of powerlessness that drove my ancestors, our beloved men, into alcohol dependency.”
She consigns the paper to the fire, and the fire takes it hungrily.
She unfolds the second message and reads it in a clear, ringing voice so that even the people on the edge of the circle can hear her without leaning in. “I give to the fire the great sadness of my ancestors, the abandoned men, who never knew love and felt less than honored by their women, mothers and sisters, daughters and lovers.”
The flames leap higher as the second paper crackles and burns.
She bends to blow into the fire, adding soul, which travels on the breath, to her deep intentions.
When she stands again and turns to face the circle, there is a moment’s hush before we applaud her and celebrate what she has done, because we are amazed. In a fire ceremony like this, people bring many things they wish to release: old habits, fear or guilt, addiction or attachment. She has just sought to release a multigenerational history of stunted lives and toxic relations. Instead of casting out the men who blighted the lives of their women, she has asked to free them, back through the bloodlines, back through time immemorial. She has asked for deep ancestral healing, and she has asked as a woman of power with the right of the priestess to forgive and to intercede.
When we sat quietly together later that night, I asked where she had found those remarkable words. “Kate and Caroline,” she told me. “They were very clear. They had written everything out. They wanted to make sure I got it exactly right.”
She explained that Kate was her Irish great aunt, Caroline her German grandmother. Both were long deceased, but both had come through to her as spirit helpers in the soul recovery work we had been doing with the group. They had helped her recover a desperately sad and lonely six-year-old part of herself, who had been left in a foster home and cruelly separated from the father she loved, without explanation, and then beaten for mentioning him. Though she remembered Caroline as aloof and rigid, this grandmother now appeared as warm and loving, urgently concerned, wanting to assist in healing all the family, across the generations.
We were both filled with gratitude for the help that becomes available when we make ourselves available for soul work. Guided by strong women of her family reaching to her from the other side of death, Irene sought to free the generations of men in her bloodlines who were trapped in powerlessness, sorrow, and addiction. I believe she made a difference that night, bringing light into many lives across time and across dimensions. Her example may inspire us to seek similar healing for our ancestors.

Text adapted from Dreaming the Soul Back Home by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Photo of RM leading a ritual of fire releasing by Jeanne Campbell

I will lead a new depth workshop on ANCESTRAL HEALING AND DREAM ARCHAEOLOGY in Barcelona over the weekend of April 14-15

Friday, March 16, 2018

Reclaiming our essential stories

We live by stories. Our first and best teachers, in our lives and in the evolution of our kind, instruct and inspire by telling stories. Story is our shortest route to the meaning of things, and our easiest way to remember and carry the meaning we discover.  A good story lives inside and outside time, and gives us keys to a world of truth beyond the world of fact.
     Consciously or unconsciously, our lives are directed by stories. If we are not aware that we are living a story, it's likely we are stuck inside a narrow and constricted one, a story bound tight around us by other people's definitions and expectations. When we reach, consciously, for a bigger life story, we put ourselves in touch with tremendous sources of healing, creativity and courage. 
     How do we find the bigger story in our lives? The answer is easier than we might think. The First People of my native Australia say that the big stories are hunting the right people to tell them.. All we need do is put ourselves in places where we can be found.
    J.M.G. Clézio dedicated his Nobel prize for literature  to a storyteller of the rainforest of Darien, a woman who roamed from house to house spinning magic words in return for a meal or a drink. In his acceptance speech, Le Clézio painted a vivid word-picture of Elvira: “I quickly realized that she was a great artist, in the best sense of the term. The timbre of her voice, the rhythm of her hands tapping against her chest, against her heavy necklaces of silver coins, and above all the air of possession which illuminated her face and her gaze, a sort of measured, rhythmic trance, exerted a power over all those who were present. To the simple framework of her myths...she added her own story, her life of wandering, her loves, the betrayals and suffering, the intense joy of carnal love, the sting of jealousy, her fear of growing old, of dying. She was poetry in action, ancient theatre, and the most contemporary of novels all at the same time.”
   Is it too late to hope that we can bring back storytelling in our modern urban consumer society? I think not. As we practice telling our dreams and the stories of our life experiences simply and vividly we become bards and griots and storytellers without labor. The first step in the Lightning Dreamwork game requires us to encourage whoever is ready to tell a dream (or, for that matter, any life experience) to tell it simply and clearly, without background or analysis or interruption or reading from notes. We give undivided attention for the duration of the telling, and require the teller not to miss the opportunity to claim her audience.

“The world can’t end,” writes Michael Meade in The World Behind the World, “unless it runs out of stories. For this world is made of stories, each tale a part of an eternal drama being told from beginning to end over and over again. As long as all the stories don’t come to an end the world will continue.” 
   Scheherezade tells stories so she may live through another night, and tells them so well she turns a monstrous tyrant into a decent human being.
   In Healing Fictions, James Hillman explains how effective therapy is an exercise in storytelling. “Psychoanalysis is a work of imaginative tellings in the realm of poesis, which means simply “making”, and which I take to mean the making of imagination into words. Our work more specifically belongs to the rhetoric of poesis, by which I mean the persuasive power of imagining in words, an artfulness in in speaking and hearing, writing and reading.” 
    True shamans have known this for millennia.The shamans who interest me are one who heal bodies and souls, and our experience of the world, by telling better stories about them
   The Irish storyteller beautifully evoked by Ruth Sawyer in The Way of the Storyteller  tells stories so “each may find something for which his soul had cried out.” Or “to keep the heart warm in a country far from home.”
   You must know your story and tell your story and have your story received. This is a central teaching of the Sefer Yetzirah, a seminal text of Kabbalah.
    Learn to do that, and you can survive the worst nightmares of history, and bring heart and healing to others.

Text adapted from Active Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Art: "Grandfather Tells a Story" by Albert Anker (1884)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

When the body refuses the soul's assignment

Edward Plunkett, known in society and to his vast reading audience as Lord Dunsany, was one of the masters of fantasy, producing more than sixty books in his lifetime at high speed, his publishers generally content to print the first drafts that he sent them exactly as they came in. He was an Anglo-Irish gentleman of the old school, a hunter, the chess and pistol-shooting champion of Ireland.But while he rode his fields, his mind was forever beyond the fields we know, in Elfland or in a Carcassonne of the imaginal realm, where a witch queen, terrible in her beauty

swims in a marble bath through whose deeps a river tumbles, or lies all morning on the edge of it to dry slowly in the sun, and watches the heaving river trouble the deeps of the bath. It flows through the caverns of earth for further than she knows and coming to light in the witch’s bath goes down through the earth again to its own peculiar sea….When there is blood in the bath she knows there is war in the mountains.

Somewhere between here and Elfland, Lord Dunsany came by an unhappy body engaged in a painful dialogue with its soul. “The Unhappy Body” (his title for the tale) is tired; all it wants is to sleep. The soul will not allow it to rest because it has an urgent assignment for this body. Everywhere, the soul explains,

People’s dreams are wandering afield, they pass the seas and mountains of faery, threading the intricate passes led by their souls; they come to golden temples a-ring with a thousand bells; they pass up steep streets lit by paper lanterns, where the doors are green and small; they know their way to witches’ chambers and castles of enchantment; they know the spell that brings them to the causeway along the ivory mountains – on one side looking downward they behold the fields of their youth and on the other lie the radiant plains of the future
But people forget their dreams. From their dream awakenings, they go back to sleep, forgetting the realms of magic and enchantment, and the causeway from which they can see into past and future. The soul’s urgent assignment for the body is: “Arise and write down what the people dream.”
     The body asks what reward it will receive for doing this. When told there is no reward, the body declares, “Then I shall sleep.” But the soul rouses the body with a song, and wearily the body takes up a pen and starts recording what the soul wants it to preserve: a vision of dreamers rising above the roar and distraction of the city to a shimmering mountain where they board the “galleons of dreams” and sail through the skies in their chosen directions. The soul goes on telling the dreams of all these travelers. But the body is tired and mutinous; it cries out for sleep.
    “You shall have centuries of sleep,” the soul tells it, “but you must not sleep, for I have seen deep meadows with purple flowers flaming tall and strange above the brilliant grass, and herds of pure while unicorns…I will sing that song to you, and you shall write it down.”
    The body protests, Give me one night’s rest.
    Go on and rest, the soul at last responds, in disgust. “I am tired of you. I am off.”
    The soul flies away. The undertakers come and lay the body in the earth. The wraiths of the dead come at midnight to congratulate the body on its happy estate. “Now I can rest,” says the body.
    Ursula LeGuin once said that Lord Dunsany is the worst temptation for the novice writer of fantasy, and it must be conceded that his prose can be overly rich and faery-infused. Yet A Dreamer’s Tales, where you will find these two stories, is a book for the ages, and reminds us that in fantasy we can sometimes the truth of our condition more clearly than in the roar of the city.

Quotations from Lord Dunsany, A Dreamer’s Tales [1910] reprint: Holicong, PA: Wildside Press, 2002

Illustration: "Romance Comes Down Out of Hilly Woodland" by Sidney Sime for A Dreamer's Tales

The Bardo of Air Travel

I lead group shamanic journeys to an airport that won't be found on any ordinary map. They leave their bags, check in, go through security and board a plane that will take them to a destination where the dead are alive. Instructions for this crossing to the Other Side are in my book The Dreamer's Book of the Dead. During my air travels over the weekend, I sometimes felt that I had stepped into my own dream scenario, or that it had spilled into my world - or that, at least, I had been cast in a new episode of The Twilight Zone.


The Shakespeare Seat in the Twilight Zone

There is a woman in front of me at the airline desk where I am waiting to check in for my flight to Atlanta on Friday morning. The airline agent who is checking her in says to me, “You two are traveling together, right?”
    I tell her No but she doesn’t believe me. “He’s kidding,” she says to the woman passenger. “You two are together, yes?”
    “Sorry," I amplify. "This lady seems very nice but we don’t know each other.”
    “I was sure you were together.”
     “Are you looking for a career as a matchmaker? My wife won’t like it.”
     “Neither will my husband,” smiles the woman passenger.
     A male airline agent intervenes to take my bag and issue my boarding pass. "You got the Shakespeare seat," he congratulates me. I don’t get it until he says my seat number out loud. "2B."  
     I catch up to the stranger the other agent wanted to make my wife. She has a broad, open face and sensible shoes. She looks ready for a genteel country walk, or to give a tutorial.
    "I need to know who you are," I tell her. "The airline agent was so keen to play matchmaker that there must be some connection."
     "I'm a vertebrate paleontologist," the stranger tells me brightly. She helps me out by adding, "I study dinosaurs."
   "So we have something in common. I tell my psychology friends that I am a Paleolithic psychologist."
    I check my cellphone and a cartoon pops up on my Facebook news feed. It shows two dinosaurs in bed. One of them is saying, “I had a nightmare that I was small, frail, covered in feathers and fluttering through the air.”
    I show this to the Vertebrate Paleontologist and we exchange our website information. I distantly recall an episode of the old TV series "The Twilight Zone" in which the people on an airplane are thrown back across time. As I recall, the episode ends with a glimpse of a grazing sauropod dinosaur, and no resolution. You never know when you might need expert advice on a dinosaur situation.

In the line for the security check, I notice a key on the floor, just the one key. I wave it at a TSA agent, “Someone dropped a key.”
    The young man in front of me whips around and gapes. “That’s mine.” When I hand it to him he says, “That’s the key to my girlfriend’s apartment. You just saved my life, man.”
     The airport public address system is busy this morning, with announcements about other things left at the security check. In ascending order of strangeness: a jacket, a belt, a cell phone, a driver's license, a passport, a purple cane and one shoe. How do you leave behind one shoe? This only records the visible things missing from people in my airport Bardo today.

After I take my Shakespeare seat on the plane, the airline agent who tried to marry me to the Vertebrate Paleontologist rushes down the aisle and spills two pens in my lap. Certainly I can write two things at once.
   While they de-ice the plane, I ponder what it means to me today to be in what the airline guy called the Shakespeare seat. These lines from Polonius in Hamlet return to me:

This above all - to thine own self be true:
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

2B or not 2B, sure. How about 2C? When I look across the aisle from my Shakespeare seat, the fellow in 2C is doing amazing things with a salad in a clear round plastic container he has brought on board. He spins it between his palms like a wheel, he shakes it, he spins it a different way. I get that he's trying to get the dressing nicely mixed with the leaves but this goes on for ten minutes. It seems this is his version of spinning a Tibetan prayer wheel or doing asanas.
    I wait until we are landing before asking him what was in the salad dressing. "I've never seen Salad Yoga before." He tells me it's a Thai dressing from Panera, an "intense" experience. Evidently.

Settled into my seat, I am rereading the Bhagavad Gita while sipping a gin and tonic. I am distracted by what is going on in the row in front of me. Sarah Sanders is sitting in the window seat. A hyena-like younger man is chatting her up. Their conversation gets louder as they toss back free drinks. Now they're talking about online dating and what lies it's okay to tell intimate partners before and after dumping said partners.
   Am I dreaming? No. But I realize this is not the Sarah of the briefing room but a lookalike of her possible future self, ten years older and thirty pounds heavier.
    As we get ready to disembark, I say to her, "Thanks for the entertainment."
    She blushes to the roots of her hair. "You mean you could hear us?"
   "Every word. But I decided not to record you this time."


Night Flight from Atlanta

I look behind me and there she is again, the mountainous woman in the Zulu hat, coming down the ramp. I step on board the plane and the flight attendant takes my coat, as he did before.
    "Sorry to bother you again," says the man who needs me to stand up so he can sit in the window seat. He fires up his computer and starts watching the same old movie he was watching before.
    The man who is going to sit behind me fumbles with stuff in the overhead compartment and I brace myself in case he lets something fall on my shoulder as he did before. But he catches it this time, pats my shoulder and says, "Good thing I knew what was going to happen."
    "We've met before," the man across the aisle says to the woman next to him. She says, "In your dreams."
    These are vignettes from the Bardo of my air travel during my trip home from Atlanta on Monday night. The first plane broke. They found us another plane, unbroken but otherwise identical, where we took the same seats we had before. It was deja vu all over again. People were blurry, taking off after midnight, 2 1/2 hours late. Hard not to feel we were in a Twilight Zone episode in which things go on repeating until you wake up to the fact that you are dreaming, or dead, or both.

Photo: William Shattner in the 1963 Twilight Zone episode, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"

Friday, March 9, 2018

Causing a Bear, Scandinavian style

In my courses on healing through Active Dreaming and imagination, we call on Great Mother Bear as healer and protector. The Bear is the great medicine animal of North America and in Native tradition, the most powerful healers are those called by the Bear in dreams and visions. In ancient Europe, the Bear was the king of beasts, and there was a sacred kinship between bears and humans that we can trace from Paleolithic times. The Bear was a form of the Goddess and Athenian maidens danced in bearskins for Artemis, as She Bear, in the festival of Brauronia. Here, drawing on the Icelandic sagas, we recollect something of the warrior history of the Bear, and a shaman warrior of the North who could do much more than put on a bearskin and go wild.

His name is Bödvar Bjarki, which means "Warlike Little-Bear". He has a typical Scandinavian genealogy: his father Bjorn was a were-bear (as a result of a witch's curse); his mother's name, Bera, means "She-Bear". He casts a long shadow through the sagas of the North. He is the perfect warrior, stronger and fiercer than the berserkers ("bear-shirts") who are the champions and bodyguards of kings but must yield pride of place to Bodvar at the royal tables when he makes his entrance, often by knocking the door or wall down.
    While berserkers whip themselves into the fighting frenzy of an angry bear, Bodvar causes a bear. While his father was condemned by sorcery to turn into a bear of uncontrollable appetites in in the daytime, Bodvar is free from the curse of the were-bear; he chooses when to project a second body, in the shape of a warrior bear. This recalls the practice of Northern sorcerers who project fylgjur, "fetches" or shadow selves. The fylgjur are sometimes phantom figures, used to spy on adversaries or confuse their minds, but Bodvar's bear is entirely physical to those who meet it, and invincible among men in battle.   
     Bodvar is the hero of the last chapters of the Icelandic Saga of Hrólf Kraki. He is now the champion of King 
Hrólf of Denmark. who is leading a tiny force into battle against a vastly larger army that has invaded his lands. As the battle rages, a great bear advances in front of Hrólf's men. Always standing next to the king, the bear kills more of the enemy with a single sweep of its paw than five of the king's best warriors can despatch with swords and axes. The bear seems impervious to blows and missiles. It crushes men and horses with its weight, and rips enemies apart with its teeth.
     Against the odds, things are going well for King Hrólf until Hjalti - a boon companion of Bodvar - notices that his friend is missing from the field. He protests to the king that Bodvar should not be looking to his own safety in the midst of the fray. King Hrólf counsels that "Bodvar will be where he serves us best."
     Not grasping what this means, Hjalti runs back to the king's chamber, where he finds Bodvar apparently "sitting idle", or perhaps asleep. [1] Bodvar is in a state of shamanic trance. Not understanding, Hjalti seeks to rouse him, protesting that it is a disgrace that he is not fighting. "You should be using the strength of your arms, which are as strong as a bear's." In his outrage, Hjalti threatens to burn down the house, and Bodvar in it, unless his friend goes into battle.-
     With a deep sigh, Bodvar rises from his place and complies. After affirming that he is a stranger to fear, and fully aware of his obligations to the king, Bodvar cautions his friend that"By disturbing me here, you have not been as helpful to the king as you intended. The outcome of the battle was almost decided. You have acted out of ignorance...Now events will run their course, and nothing we can do will change the outcome. I can now offer the king far less help than before you woke me." [2]
     When Bodvar goes into battle, the giant bear disappears. Now King 
Hrólf's army is exposed to psychic as well as physical attack. When the bear was present, the dark arts of the invader's witchy wife Skuld were useless. Now she is able to project her own monstrous animal, a hideous boar that shoots arrows from its bristles. Bodvar Bjarki fights furiously, mowing down enemy warriors like grass. Yet their numbers do not diminish, and he begins to suspect that ghost warriors are fighting among the living. The champions fall, and after them King Hrolf. Because the bear shaman was torn from his trance when the bear was most needed.

[1] In a paraphrase of the famous (but otherwise lost) poem "Bjarkamal" appended by Saxo Grammaticus to his Gesta Danorum. Bodvar Bjarki (here called "Biarco") is in a deep "sleep" from which Hjalti has great difficulty in rousing him.
[2] Quotations are loosely based on Jesse L. Byock's translation of The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki (New York and London: Penguin Books, 1998).

Graphic: Bodvar's fetch on the field of battle in the shape of a bear, in "Hrolf Kraki's Last Stand" by Louis M. Moe (d.1945).