Saturday, February 18, 2017

In the garden of Ottoman dreams

In the collective imagination of Islam, paradise is a garden. In the Ottoman world, gardens are places where friends come together, where wonderful parties unfold, where joy and romance are easy, where the seeker finds the spiritual master, where the living and the worthy dead rub shoulders. The maturation of a person in spiritual and life terms is likened again and again to the opening of a bud. The bud becomes a flower. Sometimes this sets a whole garden astir with blossoming, delighting the senses with color, perfume and the susurrus of silken petals.
    A book may be a garden of ever-living plants. Ottoman biographical dictionaries are often called gardens: The Garden of Roses, the Garden of Peonies, even the Garden of Truths. The last is the title of a biographical dictionary by the poet and provincial kadi (judge) 
Nev’zade ‘Ata’i (d. 1637). He studied a thousand lives, of people from the generation before his, and planted these in formal rows in the garden of his book. He took only subjects who had died and gone into the earth. The fact that his subjects were dead did not mean that they could not speak. He reports face-to-face encounters with the dead, in a garden, or at a gravesite, or at the threshold of a home.  

    We can enter his world, and the gardens of Ottoman dreaming, through the pages of Dreams and Lives in Ottoman Istanbul by Aslı Niyazioğlu, a history professor at Koç University in Istanbul. We learn that for Ottoman officials, dreams were especially prized as a way of gaining counsel on career decisions; there is a practical edge to how they compared dream reports. In a society that valued dreams, a dream report might be a way to promote a case or a cause.    
    Versed in current scholarship on dream sharing in other early modern societies, from Mughal India, Safavid Iran, Habsburg Spain, Ming China, Aslı Niyazioğlu makes an important contribution to the history of dream sharing and how identities are constructed in different societies. We can almost hear the dreams being swapped at garden parties, by Sufis in the dervish houses, by students in the religious schools, in private homes. 
    Ottoman biographers often included dreams in their narratives. “They referred to dreams as mirrors that reflected the divine world that was hidden from ordinary eyes.”  In times of opportunity, as in times of unease, students and officials looked for role models  as they sought tools to survive and thrive.
    The full title of 'Ata'i's compendium is Garden of Truths in the Completion of the Peonies. Why peonies? I thought of those thick, ruffled blooms, ability to come back spring after spring for a century or more, and traditional associations with abundance, prosperity, fullness.
    What did the Ottomans want to know about the people they read about? What made, in their minds, an interesting or worthwhile life? Niyazioğlu correctly insists that we must abandon contemporary expectations to enter a different era and mindset. Ottoman biographies are full of dreams and encounters with the dead. On one level, 'Ata'i's collection is a set of resume lives, chronicles of career steps and appointments,  "Yet, it is also a book where the dreamers woke up to another sight of their world, a fearsome and restless world where social networks and career paths are turned upside down.” 
    The purpose of biography – according to Taskoprizade [d.1561], author of the Arabic biographical dictionary Crimson Peonies, a model for ‘Ata’i, it is “to learn from those conditions [of individuals of the past], to seek advice from them and to form the habit of experience through acquaintance with the vicissitudes of time.” 
     In Ottoman lives, dreams are shown to be guidance on practical decisions and career moves. It is also recognized that dreams can open the eye of truth, what Ibn 'Arabi called the eye of the heart. The bureaucrat Latifi [d.1582] recounted a memorable case of how the voice of conscience may be heard in dreams. The case involved a judge who gave up his career after he dreamed that on the Day of Judgment water mills crushed the heads of corrupt judges; the mills were powered by the blood of their victims.
    In this period Sufi sheikhs used dreams in the training of their disciples, especially in the Halveti and Bayrami orders. The Halveti leader Sinan Efendi wanted disciples to tell all their dreams to their sheiks. 
    Dreams selected by Ottoman biographers are typically clear and direct. These were held to be characteristics of a true dream. 
    Asli sees Ottoman dreams as “bridges between different realms…between the living and the dead, the past and the future, the human and the divine". This is a world where dreams change lives, the dead appear in broad daylight, and biographers invited their readers into gardens of remembrance where the departed will bloom again like peonies in the spring.
    Interaction between the living and the dead is constant in Ottoman biographies. The dead may appear at your door, or in a dream or both; it’s not always clear which reality you are in at the moment of encounter. In one of ‘Ata’i’s stories, an Ottoman sailor in North Africa is woken from a nap by a servant who tells him that his beloved friend, a sea captain reported dead three years earlier, is at the door. They embrace, they pass a couple of delightful hours together, then the friend leaves and the sailor is overcome by sleep. When he wakes, he hastens to tell his friends about the visit. He is amazed when they insist that the captain is indeed dead. No reason is given for the visit except the natural desire of good friends to spend time together.
    Rumi appears to welcome and bless a sheikh who travels to Konya, the poet-mystic’s domain. He appears at a sema and draws a skeptical sheikh into the turning dance, making him a convert. “I could not stay still”. 
     A dead lover appears to his grieving boyfriend and leaves a physical token.
    ‘Ata’i visits the tomb of a sheikh, who appears to him and gives him a pen and assures him he can function both as a kadi (provincial judge) and as a leading poet. When ‘Ata’i is blocked composing a mesnevi, his deceased father, the poet Nev’i Efendi appears and addresses him as “O young bud of the garden of my heart.” Telling him “I built a fountain of pure milk in this house.Strive so that it continues to flow. Do not bring it to a halt.” 
     In 'Ata'i's time, one preacher condemned visits to grave sites from the minbar of Ayasofya, while another praised them from the Blue Mosque just opposite. For 'Ata’i the wise dead are “guardians of the world”. Their bodies are beneath the earth, but their spirits open like wonderful ever-growing flowers.  
    Let’s notice these were scary times. The paranoid Sultan roamed the streets of Istanbul at night with his guards, sniffing for any tell-tale trace of tobacco; if he catches anyone smoking he will have him killed. Anyone caught walking without a light was also subject to immediate execution.
    The author of the Garden of Truths steadies himself in dangerous times with the knowledge that he has allies and bonds beyond death. He presents himself as custodian and gardener for wise men accessible to him in dreams. As a gardener, he removes weeds, prunes, fertilizes, displays unique plants. Asli  Niyazioğlu has rendered a tremendous service to the history of dreaming - which must also be a history of the role of dreams in social interaction - in this careful and fascinating study of Ottoman dreams and biographies.

From Ottoman Istanbul: A Sufi cure for a dream drought

According to his biographers, when Ibrahim Tennuri wanted to become a disciple of the Bayrami sheikh Akşemseddîn (d. 1459), the sheikh asked him about his dreams. As he could not remember any, he was placed in a retreat for forty days. The retreat worked: he had a hundred dreams and remembered each with great precision.

The subject of this review article is Dreams and Lives in Ottoman Istanbul: A Seventeenth-Century Biographer's Perspective  by Asli Niyazioğlu. Published by Routledge for the Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman Studies Series, 2016. 

Art: anonymous painted illustration of the garden of Sa'dabad at Kağıthane, Istanbul, ca. 1720.

Friday, February 17, 2017

I'll see you in dorveille

There's a word from medieval French I want to revive and give a home in English. The word is dorveille, which literally means "sleep-wake". It refers to the liminal state between sleep and awake. When I lead residential retreats in France, we often ask at the breakfast table, not "Did you have a good sleep?" or "Did you dream?" but "As-tu dorveillé bien?" Dorveille was recognized in earlier times as a singularly fertile place for poetic creation and for true visions. It was familiar to the troubadour and the medieval knight "sleeping on his horse" as he rode long distances, sometimes wearied by battle. The great fourteenth-century poet and composer Guillaume de Machaut spoke of dorveille in his Dit de la fontaine amoureuse (Story of the Amorous Fountain) [1361], which he also called the Book of Morpheus:
Il n’a pas longtemps que j’estoie En un lit ou pas ne dormoie Einsois faisoit la dorveille Com cils qui dort et encore veille
Not long ago I was in a bed where I did not sleep I was making dorveille like those who sleep and are yet awake
The French medievalist Michel Stanesco describes dorveille as "a sort of second state where the protagonist, half sleeping, moves in an inherently ambiguous universe, between the near and the far, the strange and the ordinary, the mysterious and the familiar."[1] My friend the French dream teacher and scholar of medieval poetry and music, Sophie Bordier, gives the following account: "La dorveille is a word of ancient French that first appears in the 13th century, It defines a phase of semi-vigilance that is highly propitious to creativity, prayer and visions. It is an expanded state of consciousness that connects us with the source of oneiric and poetic imagination. "Dorveille, or dormeveille, can occur as we approach or leave sleep, but also in the interval between two sleep cycles that characterized the nights of our medieval ancestors. The slept in two distinct phases: an initial period of deep sleep ("sleep of the dead") and a second period of lighter sleep, rich in images, apparitions and premonitions. When the sense (virtutes animales) are dormant, the soul can more easily slip free from the body, according the the medical theories of that era." This liminal state opens for each of us every night, though we generally flit through it without noticing. It is great practice for growing consciousness to set yourself the intention of lingering in this twilight state. As images rise and fall, you can choose to follow one that has special attraction, and so find yourself embarked, effortlessly, on an adventure in lucid dreaming. In his poem Le joli buisson de jonece (1373), Froissart describes being transported into a marvelous space “round as an apple” from a state of dorveille. This began when he went to bed early on a dreary winter evening and felt himself touched by fire. As he drifted towards sleep, thoughts and memories rose and became visions. Then Venus – he says– carried him to that apple-round space. The colors were blue streaked with white but they changed with the winds. He can’t tell the size of the space he is in but he is always at the center. Inner guides are easily accessible in this state. Creative connections are made that escape the ordinary mind. So: let's agree to spend more time in dorveille. And why not borrow the word, absent an equally good one in English? We imported déjà vu, so we can manage this too.
[1] Michel Stanesco, Jeux d'errance du chevalier médiéval: Aspects ludiques de la fonction guerrière dans la littérature du Moyen Age flamboyant (Leyden: E.J.Brill, 1988) 149.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The romance of dreaming

On Valentine Day, romance your dreams. The romance of dreaming is played out beyond your present life and your present world. Through dreaming, as the Irish poet-painter AE (George Russell) promised, "Your own will find you". Someone you loved and lost five thousand years ago may call you to remember that romance, and look for its fulfillment in new bodies that have ancient eyes.
    Yes, I am a romantic about these things. But I am also a practical romantic. I know that we can dream the way to manifest the kind of love that transcends time, and also that dreaming will show us how to do what we love and let the world support us. However, this requires us to develop the practice of active dreaming, which involves not only growing our dream recall and keeping our journals, but learning to clarify the content of dreams and above all taking action to bring energy and guidance from the dream worlds into the physical world.
    One of my favorite teaching stories about this comes from India. It is sometimes called "The Sketcher of Pictures". It goes like this:

The princess (and all women may be princesses, or queens) is dreaming. She dreams of the perfect lover, who satisfies her in every way. The dream streams like silk. It smells like jasmine and honeysuckle.
   She opens her eyes and howls with pain and loss, because although her surroundings are opulent she knows no one like the man of her dreams.
   Her father sees that she is very sad and asks what is wrong. When she tells him it has something to do with a dream, the king summons his wise men to listen to the dream and tell her what it means. They gather in a council chamber, ready to give their interpretations.
    As the princess recounts her dream, a wild man rushes into the room, his hair a white storm about his shoulders. He is a rishi who lives in the woods and cares nothing for the rules of the court. He grabs a piece of paper, makes a quick sketch, and hands it to the girl.
    When she looks at the picture, the princess is stunned. The rishi has captured the very essence of her dream lover.
     Abandoning the conclave of dream interpreters, she runs after the wold man from the woods. When she catches up to him, she begs him to tell her the identity or her dream lover. "Who is he? Where can I find him?" Clearly the rishi knows the man of her dreams.
     Good teachers don't give you everything all at once. The rishi says only, "The map is in your dream." Then he takes off into the woods.
     The princess thinks about it. What does it mean, that a dream contains a map? When she thinks about it some more, she realizes that she was not with her lover among the clouds. She was in a bed in a room in a house in a city in a certain landscape. Though she recognizes none of these places, she has vivid memories of them and feels she would know them again.
     So she sets out on the quest. In an Indian village, they may take hours to tell this part. There will be tigers, of course, and bandits, and deserts and snakes and all manner of perils. There will probably be elephants.
     But let's catch up with the princess at the moment when her quest is almost over, because there on the horizon, after long travels and many ordeals, she sees the city from her dreams. And now she is rushing through those streets the house from her dream, and up the stairs to the bedroom from her dream, where she finds her lover rising from his dream of her.

It sounds like a fairy story, but there are no fairies in it, or any of the gods, demons and others from the rich forests of Hindu mythology. There are only humans, and what humans can do when they learn to make maps from their dreams and have the will and stamina to follow their maps.
    Through the perfume of romance, we receive a lesson in practical romanticism. Do the work in dreamwork. Recognize that dreams require action. Learn - why has it taken you so long? - that a dream is a place. Because you have been there, you can go there again. This can bring you, in this physical world, to place of your dream lover. More often, it will bring you to places in a more spacious universe where you can rejoin the beloved company of your soul, those who love you across time and space, even when you make each other crazy.
   Give a hug to someone you love on Valentine Day. Bring flowers or chocolates if you must. But don't let the day pass without sharing dreams.

Art: Mughal painting of a prince giving wine to his lover

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Dream Interpreter at the Sign of the Bull

νύπνια κρίνω, | τοῦ θεοῦ πρόσταγ|μα ἔχων·
τύχ᾿ ἀγα|θᾶι· Κρής ἐστιν ὁ | κρίνων τάδε.

I judge dreams, having the mandate of the god.
To good fortune! The one judging these is a Cretan.

Th text is on the shingle of an ancient dream interpreter at Saqqara in Egypt in the Ptolemaic age,  2nd century bce. Scholars debate the identity of the god he declared to be his patron, but a god guess would be Serapis, a composite deity who melded aspects of Hades, Osiris and the Apis bull. Serapis was a lord of death and of healing; the famous pool at Bethesda belonged to him before it became part of the Christian story. We know that the training of a kathodos, or candidate for initiation, in the ancient precincts of Serapis centered on incubating and working with dreams. We have records of a candidate in the time of Cleopatra being assigned to spend a whole year recalling and reporting dreams to his mentor.
    The image above is a wonderful gypsum copy of the stele mounted in front of the dream interpreter's kiosk. In the painted scene a bull approaches a horned altar. The bull was sacred in both Egypt and Crete and was the favorite animal form of gods around the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East. A very dramatic form of dream incubation was practiced in a mausoleum of bulls at Saqqara where the supplicant slept amongst mummified bulls encased in giant sarcophagi.
    The dream interpreter at the sign of the Bull plied his trade near the Anoubeion, the House of Anubis. Very appropriate, since the canine-headed Anubis was the patron of dreaming and soul travel as well as the guardian of the portals to the Otherworld. This was a busy commercial district, with constant traffic between two great temple complexes at either end of the street, the House of Anubis and the Serapeion, the Temple of Serapis. There were lost of vendors and small businesses. The dream interpreter sat in a booth behind his sign, waiting for trade. By identifying himself as "Cretan", he may have hoped to appeal to the Greeks and Macedonians who now ruled Egypt under the Ptolemies, in the wake of the conquest by Alexander the Great.

We don't know exactly what the dream reader at the sign of the Bull did for his clients, but his prime location suggests that he did not lack business. In his age, it was generally believed that dreams are a field of interaction between humans, gods and others, and that dreams often reveal the future. Everyone knew that dreams are important, so important that help may be required to determine the exact meaning, to decide on appropriate action to be taken, and to disperse or ward off bad energies that may be operating during the night.
   According to Aristotle (a skeptic in regard to dream precognition and transpersonal communication) we need help with the meaning of dreams because the images are distorted: “dream-pictures, like pictures on water, are pulled out of shape by movement”.
    An older and more popular view was that we need help in discerning the origin and nature of dreams because not all of them speak truth. Some may be deceiving messages dispatched by evil spirits or manipulative “dream senders” (oneiropompoi). The Greeks thought that Egyptian sorcerers were especially good at this.
   It was said that we may need help in reading dreams because “the gods love to speak in riddles” in order to test us and goad us to expand our understanding.

The prime requirement for a dream interpreter, according to Artemidorus, the most famous practitioner of this trade before Freud, is “a gift for resemblances.”
   Our dream interpreter at the sign of the Bull claimed something more, a special connection with a greater power. "The mandate of the god."

For a full discussion of ancient dream interpretation, please see chapter 2, "Interpreters and Diviners" in The Secret History of Dreaming.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Towards a history of dream sharing

Shall these texts live? This is a major challenge for the historian of dreams in other eras. A dream is not a text; it is an experience whose full nature and dimensions can only be glimpsed in even an extensive dream report. If we are working with contemporary dreamers, we may have the opportunity to enter that fuller experience with them, through careful questioning to elicit details that are initially flown, and even by traveling with them back inside the dreamspace, through the techniques I call dream reentry and tracking. [1] However, this option is not obviously available when we are trying to fathom the dreams in the personal diary of an eighteenth-century Quaker physician, or the dreams attributed to an anonymous Huron/Wendat by a seventeenth-century French Jesuit. 
     When we are examining reports of dreams collected by outsiders with very different agendas from native dreamers, the challenge of remoteness in time is magnified, because now we are seeing through a distorting lens. Close study of the context of dreams, and especially of the way they are shared and valued in a certain time and culture, brings us closer. A history of dreams must be, to no small degree a history of dream sharing, and this is what the authors of Dreams, Dreamers and Visions have given us, in a remarkable collection of essays that explore and compare patterns of dreaming on both sides of the Atlantic in the early modern era.
    The editors set the stage beautifully in their introduction, announcing that “dreams and the struggle to explain them offer a unique vantage point from which to examine the social construction of truth and meaning in an historical period often considered the crucible of the modern world.” In societies that value dreams and visions, the sharing of a dream may be the assertion of authority and a claim to divine favor.
    When dreams are regarded as prophetic or direct messages from divine powers, a dream can be a mandate for revolt or reformation. In history, dream sharing has been “a means through which to assert oneself in the social world” and “a power-laded form of communication.” In societies where dreams are valued and regarded as possible messages from the divine, some kind of dream police often arises. If dreams are known to be powerful, there will always be those who want to hijack that power. So we see church authorities ruling on whether a dream comes from angels or devils or is mere trash to be thrown out.

      In many languages, you don’t say that you “had” a dream; you say that you “saw” a dream. In a fascinating discussion of the valuation of inner sight, Mary Baine Campbell reminds us that rêve the French word for “dream” that supplanted songe in this period, arises from verbs that mean “roving” (or “raving”). Its first appearance in print may have been in Le Jeune’s account of Iroquoian dream practices in the Jesuit Relations, the huge compilation of blackrobe reports from New France in the seventeenth century.
    Janine Rivière’s elegant contribution on night terrors will win the sympathy of contemporary sufferers from the misnamed phenomenon of sleep paralysis (it is parasomniac, “around sleep”, not of sleep) though early modern explanations (from demonic invasions to the effects of lying on your back) are unlikely to be found helpful.
    In her careful account of Lucrecia de León, the dream seer of Madrid in the age of the Spanish Armada, Maria V. Jordán takes us into a culture in which dreams were scanned for political and military intelligence as well as applauded or condemned as vehicles for prophecy, depending on the implications for those in authority. I would have liked to have seen more on Lucrecia’s relations with her amanuenses and the mode of dissemination of transcriptions of her dreams – for example, by mounted courier to her powerful Mendoza patron in Toledo, or by painted images displayed at the house parties of an English-born duchess. [2]
     Luis Corteguera gives us the prodigious but dubious story of Pere Porter, a peasant who claimed he went to hell and back, and was then tried by the Inquisition but found innocent. This is an intriguing tale of what might now be described as an alleged near-death experience was used as a vehicle for social criticism. Luis Filipe Silverio Lima describes how prophetic dreams harvested from the Bible fueled the efforts of Father Antonio Vieira, a Jesuit missionary in Brazil, to promote a “Fifth Empire” with the Portuguese monarchy as the executor of “a divine plan…for human history.”
  The middle part of the book explores the encounter between Europeans and the dreaming practices of indigenous Americans, and it is a mine of fascinating materials.
     Carla Gerona takes us, with the Franciscans, into Texas border country where dreams from the Old World and the New World corresponded and collided. Both the missionaries and the Hasinai became obsessed with sightings of a flying blue woman. Such a being was central to native mythology, but the Franciscans made a determined attempt to persuade the Indians that they were seeing a flying nun – Sister Maria de 
Jesús de Agreda, who was credited by church authorities with accomplishing some 500 bilocations, appearing in the New World while her body was in convent in Spain. Indigenous connas (shamans) were widely credited with powers of flight, but the Franciscans were quick to condemn such reports as deceptions of the Devil. Meanwhile, either bereft of spontaneous dreams or fearful of them, members of the Texas mission cried for visions and sought magical powers by fantastic austerities.
    Andrew Redden explores how the Jesuits sought to reshape the indigenous imagination in Peru and Mexico towards conversion by the judicious dissemination of dream reports favoring their cause.
    Leslie Tuttle gives us a finely crafted study of the mentalité that shaped the attitudes of French Jesuits before they made the crossing to New France. She adds a very useful analysis of how the Jesuit Relations were composed and disseminated, giving the educated Catholic world a view of Canada and indigenous ways that was  in many ways “a Jesuit rhetorical creation”.
     The scholarly thriller in this book is Emma Anderson’s excellent study of the visions of Marie de Saint Augustin, a nursing sister who presented herself as guided and even possessed by the spirit of Father Jean de Brébeuf, who was fire-tortured to death by the Iroquois in 1649 and eventually canonized. Marie served the pulverized bones of Brébeuf to the sick, and claimed they produced miracles. After she saw the Jesuit martyr crowned, with a dove in his heart, in a big vision, she gained influence over men of power in Quebec, and was even able to make and break bishops. While talking to the apparition of Brébeuf – and conceding at times that he may be an aspect of her own greater self – she is also demon-haunted, puking at the idea of taking the eucharist. The elements are all here for both a depth psychological study and a superior horror film.
In her splendid contribution on dreaming in the British Enlightenment,  Phyllis Mack observes that dreaming was “the most credible means of experiencing a connection to the divine or inward change". Dreams were “a universal  source of fascination” though there was a  “combustion of opinions” about their sources and reliability. In popular street literature, dreams might come from the Devil or from a witch’s spell, or be caught like a contagious disease. Physicians spoke about glands and heavy meals too close to bedtime. But repentant former slave trader John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace” declared that dreams can deliver divine energy and offer proof  “the soul, without flesh, can act” – and will therefore survive death.
   Mack takes us through the rise of “a virtual dream culture” among Arminian Methodists and Quakers, who made a regular practice of sharing dreams and used nightmares as wake-up calls. She gives us a welcome reminder of one of the best 1,500 words on dreams that have ever been written, a 1712 article by Joseph Addison in The Spectator in which he explains that dreams are generated from within the dreamer but independently from the conscious self – and so offer proof of one of the preconditions for immortality, the capacity of the soul to operate outside the body.
    In a final essay, Matthew Dennis revisits the dreams of the Seneca prophet and recovering alcoholic Handsome Lake, which gave rise to a new religion, as explained in Anthony F.C.Wallace’s magnum opus The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca. Dennis’ contribution is distinguished by his attention to how the codification of the Gaiwio asserted patriarchal claims to authority that were absent from earlier Iroquois society, and by the way he situates the Seneca revival in the spiritual geography of the “Burned-Over” region of upstate New York that was a hothouse for new religious movements in the nineteenth century.
    There is a glaring hole in this book. It is disappointing that there is no treatment of Africa in a collection devoted to the “Atlantic world.” I made a small attempt to construct a picture of shamanic dream practices among the peoples of the Gold Coast who were Harriet Tubman’s ancestors [3]– and possibly a partial key to her prowess as a dream seer who helped liberate many fugitive slaves before the American Civil War – and I would love to read a scholarly treatment of this theme.


1.      Robert Moss, Active Dreaming (Novato CA: New World Library, 2010) 49-60.
2.      Robert Moss, The Secret History of Dreaming (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008) 163-176.
3.      Moss, Secret History, 177-192


This review of Anne Marie Plane and Leslie Tuttle (editors) Dreams, Dreamers and Visions: The Early Modern Atlantic World. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013) was published in The Journal of World History volume 26, number 4 (December 2015)

Image:  Sister María de Jesús de Agreda, the flying blue nun

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Sighthounds and mermaids: the magic of converging dreams


We all want to spend more time in that liminal space between sleep and awake. In the hours before dawn the gateway to a magical blue world opened to me in that space, and then the blue dream manifested in the physical world in the form of a painting gifted to me of which I had no prior knowledge. Before dawn, I set the intention, "Show me what I need to see." In that in-between state I immediately received a clear vision of the outline of an ancient Egyptian sighthound on stone. I was not sure whether I was looking at a carved relief or at a very faint shadow. Either way,although the lines were faint, I had impression that this ancient dog, bred for sight and speed, was in movement, was about to spring from the rock and race into another scene.
reams require action, and set us research assignments. I found a photo of ancient Egyptian relief that looks very like my hypnopompic sighting. I see that this breed, the ancestor of the greyhound, is often called Saluki; the etymology of that word - Sumerian or Arabic - is disputed.Egyptian themes came up strongly in the first session of my workshop in Prague the day before. On icy sidewalks, I have been relying heavily on my black dog stick; the fine features of the face have more of the sighthound than the lab.
I took a tram to the Staroměstská stop and walked to Old Town Square en route to the tall house on a winding cobbled alley behind the square that is the home of Maitrea, which hosts my workshops in Prague. As I walked, I felt the quivering vibration of that image of the sighthound, set none too securely on stone. I felt wind rushing past its long head and its lead body as it raced after a target, dissolving space. I was curious to see how this dog would run.


The follow-up was swift and fascinating. On the second day of my workshop in Prague, I asked people to come together in groups of three and four and share dreams by our Lightning Dreamwork process, in which we take turns to play storyteller and guide.

    In my dream-sharing group, the first report, from a young Czech woman, was a thriller.
    She felt a strong wind and started running with it, reveling in her speed. As she ran faster and faster, like the wind, she realized that her body had changed. She was now in the body of a very lean canine, something like a greyhound, except even taster, taller, thinner. She was seized by a happy sense of wild freedom. She wondered if she was becoming a wolf. Yet her bodily form, in the dream, still felt very light.
    She came to new landscapes, to cities and beaches, to places with many humans. Now her form became human again. But she kept the eyes, the eyes of the wind-runner. When I asked some questions, she clarified that her dog was indeed one that tracks through sight.
    I shared my own report from the place between sleep and awake. We were all delighted by the convergence. We agreed that the message, for both of us, might be to remember to use the speed and sight of an ancient and primal ally. The Czech dreamer felt that, as she rehearse for any shift in life, or simply wants to see things at a distance in space and time, she can use those eyes and fleet feet to where she needs to go, beyond the perception of the ordinary body.


In our little group of four, another dreamer shared a night adventure that flowed from the intention, "Show me what I need to know." In the high moment of the dream, she met a "calm mermaid". We were struck with the freshness of the phrase. We had never heard a mermaid described as "calm".
    The calm mermaid had counsel for the dreamer: Relax. Breathe. Give Up Your Will to Stop. When we talked over the last bit, the dreamer told us she had a tendency to give up before finishing things in life. She agreed that the calm mermaid might be a deeper self, rising to give her exactly the advice she needed in response to her intention for the night.
    In the way of synchronicity, the fourth member of our group, who played guide for the mermaid dreamer, had had a big experience of her own with a mermaid in a journey with the drum in our session the previous evening. She found a wild fish-woman in a place of pain and anger, and recognized a part of herself that had separated because of a life trauma, and had not yet moved out of rage and grief. She found a way, in her journey, not only to recognize but reclaim that energy.
     Though the wild fish-woman was very different from the "calm" mermaid, we recognized a common theme: the discovery, in a sleep dream and a hyper-awake shaman dream, of a previously unrecognized aspect  of the self, now rising from another element - from the depths - with the potential to bring wholeness or wisdom.


Grow a family, where people tend deeply to each other's dreams of the night and dreams of life, learn to share by a process that is mutually empowering, and you will notice the magic of converging dreams. In my workshops, we often find ourselves dreaming together, in interactive group shamanic journeys. These journeys are often opened by  the sharing of an individual dream that can become a portal for everyone, as we take off, powered by the energy of the drum.
    The convergence may come in entirely spontaneous ways, unexpected until we awaken to how people with shared interests and soul connections may be joined in adventures beyond the physical plane. Sometimes we feel blessed by an oneiric logic of manifestation, as with my experience of the blue dream the previous morning, which I saw take form on the physical plane.
     The last dream shared in our smaller group in Prague yesterday was a dream of cut flowers, of trying to get the arrangement right and clip the stalks to exactly the right length. It was shared by the woman who met the wilder fish-lady. As we discussed the dream, she said that she felt it had some connection with a grandmother who might be approaching death.
    The symbolism of cut flowers became very deep. It was reinforced, for me, by a phrase I had read on the first page of a fantasy novel * I had opened for the first time on a plane on my way to Prague: "the sound of cut flowers". You might not be surprised to read, "the silence of cut flowers". "The sound of cut flowers"brought for me, the sense of the great pressure of a force building up behind the scenes, something that was getting ready to manifest.
   The dreamer of the cut flowers said she would carry that phrase with her, to orient her as she now sought to play soul friend for her grandmother.

* The novel is The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Friday, February 3, 2017

Blue dreams

Before dawn on my first morning back in Prague, I have a thrilling experience in the liminal space between sleep and awake. Behind closed eyelids, I see an opening like the outline of an eye. Through it, I look into a marvelous blue deep, the deep blue of ocean. I flow through the blue portal. The seascape is vividly alive, yet neither literal nor artificial. I feel I am in a living painting, where imagination can shapeshift and generate forms. I can see to the other side of the ocean, which now seems to shrink to the size of a lake. I am now in a city. It seems normal enough, and pleasant. I do not know the name of this city. It may be in another reality. I am ready to explore, but want to check that I can get back to the body I left in the bed in my Prague hotel. I open my eyes. Yep, I'm still in the body I left here a little while ago. What's with that blue depth, and that portal? I have been thinking about the term "blue dream" which in Spanish (sueño azul) also means "daydream". I've been looking to freshen the vocabulary we use to describe various types of dreaming, including dreaming wide awake, eyes open, when you are IN your physical body but things around you are unfolding with oneiric logic, in the way of a dream.

I have a lunch date at the Cafe Imperial, an art deco palace where it isn't hard to recognize that you may be dreaming with your eyes open, with a wonderful Czech artist, psychologist and dream teacher, Kamila Ženatá. I am curious to see whether my blue vision will resonate with her. The story gets better. She has a fabulous gift for me, a painting of a blue seascape she had made for me. The male figure out there in the water is me. Her title: "Robert IN the shoreline".