Friday, August 26, 2016

Turning a dream into a song

Early Franciscan missionaries among the Caddo Hasinai of East Texas reported that dreams were valued highly among this people, and that it was common to recount a dream by turning it into a song. Stories sung or spoken with poetic rhythm are more likely to be implanted in memory that ones delivered in rambllng or halting prose.
    A dream may be turned into song. It may also deliver a song. In many other indigenous cultures, a  new song is considered to be one of the greatest gifts of dreaming. Power songs used for shamanic dreaming may come in this way. A song with the power to heal may come from a spiritual ally - the spirit of a plant or an animal, a river or a supernatural being - communicating in dreams. Among the Temiar Senoi of the Malayan rainforest, a dream song is called a norng, which literally means a "roadway". The dream song opens a path through the forest of life, and a path for souls on both sides of death to find their right place.

Source: On Franciscan reports of Caddo dreaming, see Carla Gerona, “Flying Like an Eagle: Franciscan and Caddo Dreams and Visions” in Anne Marie Plane and Leslie Tuttle (eds) Dreams, Dreamers and Visions: The Early Modern Atlantic World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013) 125.

Painting of Hasinai village from Texas Historical Commission website.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Cave of the Dreaming God

I am drawn, again and again, to a mythic version of how physical events are generated in a subtler reality that we could call the Dreamtime, or the matrix, or nonlocal mind. The account comes from Plutarch, the ancient Greek historian, biographer, philosopher, priest of Apollo and initiate of the Mysteries. He was a principal source for Shakespeare's plays and for many generations he was the main source of accessible information on the Egyptian religion of Isis and Osiris. He died at Delphi in 120. He continued after his death to inspire later members of his Mystery tradition through trans-temporal encounters; the philosopher Proclus described his conversations with Plutarch across - or rather, outside - the centuries.
     With Plutarch, we are going to take a look at what can be seen, with inner sight, in the face of the Moon. The source is Plutarch's extraordinary essay titled (in the bilingual Loeb edition) De facie quae in orbe lunae apparet, “Concerning the Face which appears in the Orb of the Moon”.
     Plutarch very cutely presents his narrative as a third-hand traveler’s tale, giving the reader the go-ahead to shrug it off as just another tall tale. In fact, beneath the veils, his narrative of a strange sea voyage is probably a very exact relation of what Plutarch himself, and the fellow-members of his Mystery school had learned through their personal travels across the astral sea. The voyage he describes, to the strange island of a sleeping god, is no more an ordinary sea journey than the voyage of Odysseus or those of Bran and other heroes in the Celtic immrama. 
     Plutarch claims that his source is third-hand, a “foreigner” (ksenos) who told a tale to a Carthaginian of a voyage to a western island, five days sail beyond Britain, where the deposed god Kronos lies captive and dreaming in a cave. Kronos sleeps confined in a deep cave of rock that shines like gold. His sleep was cast on him by Zeus, who toppled him from his place as the high god and now keeps him bound. He is fed by birds that fly in over the summit of the rock, dropping ambrosia. His island is suffused with delicious, sleep-inducing fragrance that streams from the rock as from a fountain
    The sleeping god is served by spirits [daimones] who were his comrades when he was king. They derive prophecies from his dreams. “The prophecies that are greatest they come down and report as dreams of Kronos”
    The dreams of Kronos become thoughts in the mind of Zeus. From the mind of Zeus, what was conceived in the dreams of the sleeping god becomes events in the worlds of gods and humans. Those intrigued by what quantum physics suggests about the nature of reality - for example, that the act of observation plucks an event into manifestation from a soup of possibilities - may here find a mythic model for understanding. The ancient philosopher, weaving myth, has given us a vivid account of a matrix, a formative reality which inspires thoughts that eventually generate physical events.
   Plutarch's supposed source, the “foreigner” traveled across a “congealed sea”.at the time when the star of Kronos (the Night Watchman) entered the sign of the Bull.
    Quite as interesting as the account of the dreaming god is the stranger's statement that “among the visible gods we should especially honor the Moon." The Moon is "sovereign over life and death" and borders on the realms of Hades.He proceeds to give an account of the transits of the soul, in the precinct of Luna.

Photo of Ryugu Sea Cave by Batholith via Wikipedia Commons.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Future of Imaginal Healing

As we grow the skills of Active Dreaming and become a dreaming society again, imagery for healing will become central to our medicine. Advances in hard scientific research, especially in the fast-expanding field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) have helped to provide the mandate, because they supply overwhelming evidence that the body believes in images, and that our thoughts and feelings can make us sick or make us well.
     It’s interesting to note that research in the PNI field was guided by dreaming long before it was given the clunky name. The first person to isolate and identify a neurotransmitter was Otto Loewi, and he saw how to perform the necessary experiment in a dream. He got out of bed, cut open a frog, and applied vagal juice to its heart as he had done in the dream; the relaxant in the vagal stuff was identified as the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
     According to molecular biologist Candace Pert, there is a “psychosomatic communications network” that operates not only in the brain, but in all parts of the body. Our conscious or unconscious thoughts and feelings are constantly affecting our health by sending directives to a pharmaceuticals factory inside the body. In her passionate memoir, Molecules of Emotion, the late great Candace Pert describes how she was guided by dreams and synchronicity in her own scientific odyssey.
     The key thing to know, as we seek resources for self-healing, is that the body believes in images and responds to images as if they are physical events. This means we have the ability to shape the condition and behavior of our bodies, for good or ill, according to the images we entertain and the thoughts and feelings that we allow to claim our attention.
     Physician Larry Dossey, a leader in mind-body medicine since the 1980s, observes that “The body responds to mental input as if it were physically real. Images create bodily changes, just as if the experience were really happening. "  Brain scans show that when we imagine an event, our thoughts “light up” the same areas of the brain that are triggered during the actual event.
     We are often unaware of our shifting thoughts and feelings. We may be wholly unaware of memories and images, held in the body, that bring us down. The decision to bring unrecognized thoughts and feelings into consciousness is an essential step towards self-healing. Starting from here, we can develop the practice of investing the energy of our attention in images that make us well.
     We can make it our choice, for example, to increase blood flow to a certain part body part, giving it the strength to flush out toxins and the nutrients required to heal. Norman Cousins got over a broken elbow and back on the tennis court in record time because he spent twenty minutes a day focusing on his intention to increase blood flow through the injured joint, after his doctor explained that elbow injuries often healed slowly because of poor blood supply.
     When imagery is used as a clinical tool, it involves the deliberate focusing of attention on specific images to bring about desired changes. A 2007 study conducted for Blue Shield of California grabbed the attention of the health insurance industry by proving that imagery not only works but cuts costs. Insurance giant Blue Shield of California decided to test the effect of a guided imagery on 905 Health plan members scheduled for surgery were prepared by a simple guided imagery tape, designed to allay fears about the procedure and promote recovery. Most patients were able to receive the imagery, regardless of bias or upbringing, and for most it seemed to relieve anxiety and was held responsible for a notable reduction in the time required for recovery - and a saving of over $2,000 per patient due to reduced time in hospital.
      Guided imagery CDs, like the one used in the California study, are now widely available. Hospitals are giving CDs to patients to help them marshal inner forces to attack cancer cells or to establish and visit a healing place in the imagination. In future imaginal healing, our society will go further. We can do much better than offering prefabricated imagery. We can learn to help each other to develop our personal factories of healing imagery, which are working nightly in our dreams. And we can learn to grow healing dreams for each other.
Community-based imaginal healing may include the following:
  1. Pre-need dream clinics
In our clinics and healthcare centers, and other community centers, people will meet to share dreams by an agreed protocol and will help each other to recognize and act on what dreams are giving us, which can range from diagnosis of a developing problem in the body (before symptoms present or are named) to an invitation to soul recovery.
  1. Imagery harvesting
Dreams are a factory of images. Anything that comes to us in dream, including the scary or unwanted things, is ripe and ready for work in the cause of growth and healing. I have found that almost any dream can be a source of healing, if we are willing to go back inside it or carry the story onward to a desired outcome. In my dream of healing medicine, the understanding of basic treatments will be expanded to include sessions to help patients harvest positive imagery for self-healing from dreams and also from positive life memories.
  1. Vision transfer training
We can grow a dream - a healing image, a script for recovery, a vision of larger life possibility - for someone in need of a dream. I teach vision transfer as a core technique of Active Dreaming. In my dream of healing medicine, nurses, therapists and community guides will be trained in vision transfer techniques for producing fresh, customized images for healing that can be gifted to someone in need of the right imagery. An image that I often use, for myself and others, to promote regeneration of the body's tissue and vitality, is that of a nurse stump or nurse log. The old tree has been cut down, or fallen, but from its apparent death new life is burgeoning; a new tree may rise, tall and strong, from the old Or I might use the image of a giant redwood that has been cored  by fire but is still putting out fresh growth, high above.
  1. Story healing
We’ll come to grasp that finding meaning in any life passage may be at the heart of healing, and our healers – declared or undeclared – will help people to move beyond personal history into a bigger story that contains the juice and sense of purpose to get them through.
In all of this, we will be guided by Mark Twain’s insight that “The power which a man’s imagination has over his body to heal it or make it sick is a force which none of us is born without. The first man had it; the last one will possess it.”

For more on the vision of the coming dreaming society, please see my book Active Dreaming: Journeying beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom.

Image: Nurse stump, symbol of regeneration and rebirth. Photo by RM.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Honor the Gatekeeper, Dance with the Trickster

The Gatekeeper is one of the most important archetypes that is active in our lives. He or she is that power that opens and closes our doors and roads. The Gatekeeper is personified in many traditions: as the elephant-headed Ganesa in India; as Eshu/Eleggua in West Africa; as Anubis in ancient Egypt; as Hermes or Hecate in ancient Greece. I open my classes and gatherings by invoking the Gatekeeper in a universal way, with the request:

May our doors and gates and paths be open

They say in Spanish, “Tiene que pagar el derecho” (You have to pay for the right to enter). In many traditions, it is customary to make an offering to the Gatekeeper when embarking on a project or a journey. The offering required of us may simply be to check in and show a little respect.
There is a close affinity between the Gatekeeper and the Trickster. A being like Hermes or Eshu may play either role. One of Hermes’ appellatives, stropheos literally means “socket,” as in the socket of a hinge that enables the pin to turn, and the door to open and close. So we can think of him as a Hinge guy — as in “hinge of fate” — or a Pivot. As he swings, so do our fortunes. Hermes steps through the doors between worlds with a hard-on, as men often transit from the dream world to the waking world and as hanged men enter the afterlife. Hermes is penetrating, and this is the effect of synchronicity. It pushes through, it opens up, and it inseminates.
Trickster is the mode the Gatekeeper — that power that opens doors in your life — adopts when you need to change and adapt and recover your sense of humor. If you are set in your ways and wedded to a linear agenda, the Trickster can be your devil. If you are open to the unexpected, and willing to turn on a dime (or something smaller), the Trickster can be a very good friend.
The Trickster will find ways to correct unbalanced and overcontrolling or ego-driven agendas, just as spontaneous night dreams can explode waking fantasies and delusions. Our thoughts shape our realities, but sometimes they produce a boomerang effect. The Trickster wears animal guise in folklore and mythology, appearing as the fox or the squirrel, as spider or coyote or raven.
Anansi, a Trickster god of the Ashanti of Ghana, brilliantly and hilariously evoked in Neil Gaiman’s novel Anansi Boys, is a spider and also a man. “It is not hard to keep two things in your head at the same time. Even a child could do it.” He makes out that he is the owner of stories. Indeed, to make friends with the Trickster, we want to be ready to make a story out of whatever happens in life and to recognize the bigger, never-ending story that may be playing through our everyday dramas. If nothing goes wrong, it has been said, you do not have much of a story. The Trickster knows all about that.
We are most likely to meet the Trickster at liminal times and in liminal places, because his preferred realm is the borderlands between the tame and the wild. He invites us to live a little more on the wild side. He approves when we make a game or a story out of it when our plans get upset, our certainties scrambled.
He insists on a sense of humor.
The well-known psychic and paranormal investigator Alan Vaughan tells a great story against himself about the peril of taking signs too seriously. He read that Jung had noted a perfect correspondence between the number of his tram ticket, the number of a theater ticket he bought the same day, and a telephone number that someone gave him that evening.
Vaughan decided to make his own experiment with numbers that day in Freiburg, where he was taking a course. He boarded a tram and carefully noted the ticket number, 096960. The number of the tram car itself was 111. He noticed that if you turned the numbers upside down, they still read the same. He was now alert for the appearance of more reversible numbers. Still focused on his theme of upside-down numbers, he banged into a trash can during his walk home. He observed ruefully, “I nearly ended by being upside down myself.” When he inspected the trash can, he saw that it bore a painted name: JUNG.
It was impossible not to feel the Trickster in play. Alan felt he had been reminded — in an entirely personal way — that the further we go with this stuff, the more important it is to keep our sense of humor.
A title of Eshu, who is both Trickster and Gatekeeper in the Yoruba tradition of West Africa, is Enforcer of Sacrifice. He is the one who makes sure that the gods receive their offerings. The price of entry may be a story, told with humor.

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

Image: Hermes on the roof. Photographer unknown. What's on your rooftop?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Egyptian Gates to the Otherworld

What can we learn from ancient Egypt about soul travel and viable gates to the Otherworld? Among the dense menagerie of Egyptian deities and practices evolved over 3,000 years, so far as we can fathom them through scholarship and far memory, five distinctive themes emerge:

1.          1.  Shapeshifting is a preferred model for soul travel

The gods assume the forms of birds or animals. Humans, in assuming the god forms, take the shames of the same birds and animals. Shapeshifting is one of the shortest passages through the terrors of the Underworld to the heavens of the blessed. In facing down his adversaries, the journeying soul may assume successive forms including those of his most terrifying challengers, such as the crocodile god Sobek.
    This type of shapeshifting is not reserved for the deceased. It is a model for the living of how to journey most effectively in the subtle body. There is a clear continuum here with shamanic practice. Just as in Egypt the gods show themselves as birds or animals, the animal powers – in shamanic cultures – are not confined to animal forms but may display themselves as humans or gods.

  1. Feeding and Preserving the Energy Double
The Egyptian cult of the Ka was an incredibly elaborate magical industry devoted to escaping the “second death” and ensuring the survival of the dream body or astral double close to the realms of the living. It is clearly based on the recognition that different aspects of soul and spirit go to different places after physical death. The Ka has its own priests, responsible for its care and feeding. In the event of their death or dereliction, the Ka may be sustained by objects or images placed in the tomb that supply magical food and support. The Ka interacts with the living. It can travel from its house – the sarcophagus or a separate house or statue inside the tomb – through special doors, just as it sees through special eyes. It may influence the living for good or bad. It may be the source of prophetic dreams. It may stand guard over tomb and their treasures, as in the magical tale of Khaemewas and the Book of Thoth.

  1. Testing Alternate Routes to the Neterworlds
The Egyptians studied and tested various itineraries for traveling to heavens, star worlds and neterworlds. In several thousands of years of evolution, magic and experiment, they developed a rich geography of the afterlife, peopled by a host of gods and demons who set trials and obstacles in the path of the journeyer.
    The Book of Gates depicts the departed soul having to confront a series of terrifying gatekeepers who may all be personifications of the Great Goddess. In other funerary texts, the pilgrim soul has to evade the nets of an implacable Soultaker, brave up to the attacks of a series of monstrous beasts in a passage through utter darkness, or survive a dramatic life review in the hall of judgment where the heart is weighed against the feather of Ma’at, the divine embodiment of natural law. Go out with a heavy heart, and you are consigned to the ravening monster Ammit.
    The Egyptians believed that it helped to cast off from this earth with a good route map, and to know the names of those you will meet. A well-equipped traveler took a map and recognition codes with him into his grave.

  1. Knowing the Names
Knowing the names of the entities you’ll meet along the way was one of the best ways to prepare for these journeys. Egypt was a land of magicians, and the hekau (magic words) were thought to bring things into manifestation; Heka, the god who personified Magic, rides with Ra in the solar barque along with Sia (Intelligence). Knowing the secret names of the neteru and how to vibrate the hidden vowels was one of the highest magical arts. There is a thriller about hhow Isis gleaned the secret name of Ra by catching his spittle to make a scorpion that stung him. Because it was made from his own spit, it had the power to kill; Isis promised a cure at the price of learning his secret name. Now she can wield his power. On the roads of the neterworlds, the journeyer assumes the powers of his challengers – and sometimes their forms – by speaking their names.

  1. Way of the Heart
It is easy to get lost in the thickets of exotic names and directions, in which many pantheons and rescensions over millennia meet and merge and morph, in cohabitation with earth spirits and perhaps star travelers. Let’s notice that the Egyptian craft of death is also a plan for larger life, at home in multiple worlds from the Duat to the Akhet. Of special interest are the Way of Ra and the Way of Osiris (they merge in mystery texts and vignettes of Osiris transforming into Ra, or birthing him from within his mummified corpse). The Way of Ra is the story of the 12 Hours in the funerary texts, in which we see the Boat of Ra go through many levels of the Underworld and survive many challenges before it is reborn. It may also open into the Way of the Sun Behind the Sun, the opening of a stargate that may lead to the intelligences of the Sirius star system>
    The Way of Osiris requires the experience of death and rebirth within a Mystery or shamanic initiation. It becomes enfolded into the ethical teachings implicit in the scenes of the Weighing of the Heart and the 42 assessors.
    Let’s observe that throughout it is the heart that provides the operating center and purpose for the journeys. While the brain is discarded, the heart remains in the chest, sometimes protected by a heart scarab of carnelian.
    Approaching the place of inquisition and judgment, the traveler is reminded to call on his heart – the Ka of his heart – to speak and act for him.

My heart, my mother
My heart, my mother
My heart of my becoming

Photo: Hathor in the Louvre by RM

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Active Dreaming circles: spaces of belonging, models for enlightened community leadership

Community, as Peter Block defines it in a provocative  book, is about the experience of belonging. To belong is to feel at home, to know you are among family or friends. When something belongs to you, you are an owner; you have a stake in something. Playing with the word, Block notes that belonging evokes longing to be - to come fully alive, to embody fully a deeper purpose in life. 
     The model leader in this kind of community  is one who can bring the right people together in the right way, name the right questions for group exploration ("what can we create together?") and listen as others find their voice and their power. Such things are best done in small groups, which Block promotes as the best agents of transformation. 
      It strikes me that groups that share dreams the right way are now at the vanguard in developing the kind of social space that Block advocates. Dream groups are typically small (six to twelve people) and establish a different kind of space, and a deep sense of belonging to an intentional community. They are circles in which each member receives the gift of deep listening, the chance to play leader or teacher, and the opportunity to tell their life stories and re-vision those stories. 
     In Active Dreaming circles, we recognize the need for strong leadership to provide the structure and dynamic within which extraordinary group experiences can be shared. This includes selecting and defining a safe and protected physical space. It means gently insisting on time limits (dreamers can get things done on time), building and maintaining circle energy and keeping everything moving for the two or three hours of a typical session, and making sure that everyone feels at home and that everyone's voice is heard. Part of the leader's job in an Active Dreaming circle is to ensure that a lively alternation of discussion, movement and conscious group dream travel keeps everyone alert and engaged..
      Above all, the leader will enforce simple rules that ensure that no one present - least of all the leader herself - will try to claim authority over anyone else's dreams or life story. We are only permitted to comment on each other's material by saying "if it were my dream" or "if it were my life." In this way, we offer associations and suggestions while encouraging the dreamer to claim the power of her own dreams - and to take the necessary action to embody their energy and guidance in the world. Finally, the leader of an Active Dreaming will give her power away repeatedly by inviting others to take charge in leading the processes.
      In these ways, we fulfill Block's definition of the mode of leadership required to restore and re-story our communities: "Perhaps the real task of leadership is to confront people with their freedom."
The quotes are from Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers)
For guidance on creating and maintaining an Active Dreaming circles, please see my book Active Dreaming, published by New World Library.

Photo: Dream sharing at Mosswood Hollow by RM

How Mircea Eliade delivered his Snake

I love learning about how other writers do their thing. It's fascinating to learn how the great Romanian scholar and fiction writer Mircea Eliade – prolific in so many genres – sustained and generated his creative production under almost all circumstances. He wrote stories in a secret police prison. He hammered out books under the shadow of his wife’s terminal illness and of the Red Army occupation of his country. He went on writing in conditions of penury and exile and raw terror (the terror of History, he called it again and again). He started early, publishing in a popular science magazine at fourteen (when he aspired to become an ichthyologist) and basically kept it up till the end of his life.
    Some of his larger projects he had to put down and take up again over many years  Ths was the case with his huge autobiographical novel Noaptea de Sanziene (pubiished in English as The Forbidden Forest) and with his pioneer study Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, an enduring inspiration to the neo-shamanic movement in the West since its first publication French in 1953.
     Then there are the books that Eliade wrote in a frenzy, abetted by both the demons of necessity and his greater creative daimon. I am thrilled by his account of how Șarpele (The Snake) streamed out of him over ten nights:.

I wrote the book in the course of ten nights, working between 11 and 3 or 4 a.m., in the spring of 1937.

He had to deliver the completed work on “Book Day”, otherwise the publisher would not pay him. But at the same time he was teaching at the university and proofreading a scholarly book that had to be ready by the same deadline.

I was overworked, exhausted, and in order to stay awake I drank coffee; then, so I could sleep in the mornings I took sleeping powders. Every morning Ciornei [his publisher] sent a boy to pick up the 15 or 20 pages I had written during the night and take them directly to the printer. I did not reread a single page of the two hundred which comprise the book; nevertheless, Șarpele is one of my most successful writings.

He had plenty of ethnographic and folklore material relevant to his theme. He did not consult it. “The writer in me refused any conscious collaboration with the scholar and interpreter of symbols.” He discovered in this way that “the free act of literary creation can…reveal certain theoretical meanings.”

Indeed, only after I read Șarpele in book form did I understand that in this book I had resolved, without knowing it, a problem which had preoccupied me for a long time.

Naturally, after reading this I was eager to read the novel that emerged from these nocturnal frenzies. There is no English translation, and my Romanian is hardly enough to order coffee, but I found an edition in French, titled. Andronic et le serpent and devoured it in one night. Strange, sexy, wild and feverish, a remarkable birth from those ten incandescent nights.
    The story of how Eliade produced this novel  deepens my conviction that for some of us the all-but-impossible deadline is a great prompt to commit the creative act. This has often worked for me.

Source: Mircea Eliade, “Autobiographical Fragment” in Norman J. Giradot and Mac Linscott Ricketts, Imagination & Meaning: The Scholarly and Literary Worlds of Mircea Eliade  (New York: The Seabury Press, 1982) 123