Monday, March 29, 2010

Visits with my favorite professor


I am with my favorite professor, Manning Clark. We sit in a cafe, discussing my progress towards a PhD dissertation. He is delighted I am working for my doctorate, but the content of my dissertation will need careful thought in order to satisfy all three supervisors. While Manning will support whatever I choose to do, the other two supervisors - Australians of a younger generation, with a different approach to academic research - are going to want me to demonstrate the ability to do exact research and analysis, and would like me to include some Australian material in my dissertation.
-
In my outline, I have borrowed an idea from Spengler that 5,000 years ago there was a fundamental change in human societies that can be observed all over the planet. While Manning is happy for me to play off this sweeping notion, he counsels that the other supervisors won't like Spengler.
-
This is a very friendly, relaxed conversation, and I am greatly enjoying my time with Manning.
-
I wake cheerful, sunny and optimistic.
-
Some background: Manning Clark, Australia's famous narrative historian, was chair of the history department at the Australian National University when I arrived there as an undergraduate in the late 1960s. He was a wonderful mentor and friend. He encouraged his students to read Dostoyevsky and Faulkner, Freud and Jung to understand the springs of human action. Raised on the King James Bible, he exhorted us to find "the ditch where we are digged". I vividly remember the dinners at Manning's house where he put vodka in the soup to loosen tongues. Manning's constant help and encouragement kept me on an academic track for a short time (I was appointed Lecturer in Ancient History at the ANU at the ripe age of 21) when I was powerfully tempted to do other things - like becoming a full-time journalist or joining the Australian foreign service.
-
Manning died in 1991. Since his death he's turned up in some very important dreams, always as guide and friend. Once I met him in a building that resembled the Institute of Advanced Studies at our old university in Canberra. In an airy, light-filled space, I watched him move a pair of shoes across a broad table each time he completed a section of the new research he was doing. Puzzled and intrigued, I asked him about the nature of his new work. "I'm working on parallel lives," he explained. He demonstrated what this meant by showing me how he had found close interweaving between the life of Lenin and the life of Dionysius of Syracuse, an ancient Greek tyrant. From being a historian of lives lived in Chronos time, it seemed that Manning had become a meta-historian, working to trace the interplay of lives unfolding in different times. When I thought about the shoes he was moving about on his desk, the symbolism came home to me. My professor is matching up soles. Sounds like...?
-
I've noticed before that my favorite professor tends to turn up in my dreams when I am embarked on new writing projects requiring detailed research and careful selection of materials. I'm not planning a PhD dissertation; I started on one four decades ago but gave that up to go off to see the world and sniff cordite as a foreign correspondent. However, I am again teaching some university courses and I am currently working on several new books.
-
It's nice to feel Manning's benign presence, which will remind me to cherish my Australian identity and what I can bring to my work from my Aussie connections, including the link with the Aboriginal people who believe that our personal dreams can take us home to the Dreamtime, where everything truly important has its origin. His counsel will also encourage me to stay away from cloudy generalizations like the Spenglerian cycles of history. It will draw me, again, to the pursuit of trans-temporal history, which sounds like an oxymoron but may be a key to understanding how things really work, through the interplay of personalities in different times and dimensions.
-
Portrait of Manning Clark (with his dog Tuppence) by Arhur Boyd (1972). This used to hang in his home in Canberra and is still on view there for 6 months of the year (in what is now the Manning Clark House); for the rest of the year it is in the National Portrait Gallery.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Creating a psychic cop


Kaunas, Lithuania


I've been invited to stay at the palatial home of a very wealthy family. I think they are Swedes, members of the old Swedish merchant/industrial dynasties. We are going to a villa that is part of a family complex on a lake or inlet. On my left, through picture windows in the house, I notice a number of subtly-lit grottos or caverns nearby, each containing treasures. A couple of these caverns hold marvelous libraries of old books, clearly visible through thick glass walls, in climate-controlled spaces. The caverns are either man-made or have been converted to form a kind of matching set. I have the impression that the water in front of the houses is also a controlled environment, that these people have sought to arrange their world so they can even dial a temperature for a large body of water.

My host is a charming older man, both worldly and scholarly. It seems that his extended family is gathering for the wedding of his young daughter. This is an arranged marriage, set up in the old dynastic way to join two branches of this powerful Swedish family. The key planner is the mother of the groom, a sharp-featured snobbish schemer who always insists on appearances and protocol being just so. She does not approve of my casual clothing, for example, making it clear she expects me to dress in more stylish clothes for dinner. I walk to the room where I have left my bag to consider my dress options and find a couple snogging there.

I leave them to it and enter another room where I find the intended groom assaulting a woman. I think his intended victim is not his bride-to-be but another young woman he considers vulnerable, a poor relative or household servant. I pull him off the girl and teach him a lesson by winding fishing line tightly around his balls, making it plain to him that he could lose them if he fails to get the message. When I release him, I sense that he has no intention of changing his ways. He is spoiled and arrogant, a Eurotrash type in his late 20s who is his mother's darling.

I magic up a kind of psychic cop that will force him to stop abusing women. A huge, heavily muscled figure takes form. Otherwise mindless, it has been created for just one purpose: to prevent the abuser from ever harming women again. I call it a maldonado. The spoiled abuser blanches at the sight of this figure, but relaxes when it fades from the scene, thinning to a mist and then vanishing. When the brat begins to reassume a sneering, bullying attitude, the psychic cop reappears, reducing him to abject submission. I make it clear to the abuser that this enforcer will stay very close to him from now on, and will manifest if he ever tries to break his "parole"by mistreating women again.

I will now talk to the father of the young girl and the girl herself, to see whether they really want to go through with the wedding.

Comment: I woke from this dream, happy and satisfied, on the morning of the second day of my workshop in Kaunas. When I shared it with a group of women in the workshop, they hooted with delight over my use of the fishing line. It turned out that two of them are actively involved in supporting survivors of sexual abuse. We agreed that it would be great if we could actually deploy psychic cops for protective purposes as my dream self managed to do. "Actually, if you can do that in your dream, maybe you can do it in ordinary reality," suggested a Lithuanian therapist. I noted that my dream self often appears to be a long way ahead of me in his practice.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Scottie of Kaunas


Kaunas, Lithuania
-
On the way to leading my workshop in the Old Town of Kaunas, I pause for coffee at a bijou establishment on the square called the Šokoladas Cafe. No sooner have I sat down than the door opens and in walks a very confident black Scottish terrier, followed by his master. I greet the Scottie with enthusiasm. His name, I am soon informed, is Oscar, which I especially like because I was recently reading the poems of Oscar (O.V. de L.) Milosz, an older relative of the Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, who is well-known as a poet and esotericist in France and was a very active diplomat in the cause of Lithuania early in the 20th century. I tell Oscar's owner about Sadie, the Scottie who was recently picked as Best Dog in the Westminster dog show in the United States for the second year in a row. Oscar's human taps eagerly away at his I-phone and quickly finds Sadie.
-
A friendly black dog in an unlikely place is usually a good sign for me, and I have seen very few dogs in the streets since my arrival in Kaunas, so the arrival of the Scottie in the coffee shop makes me feel the day will turn out well. I report this little incident to our workshop members soon after opening the circle. A woman from Latvia is amazed. "I think that's the dog in my dream last night." She recounts a dream that came after she set the intention of receiving guidance on her job situation during the night. In the first scene, she is in a boxy office, playing interviewer and interviewee for a job opening at the same time. A young woman comes in with a chunky black dog with a silver collar, looks around and announces that she doesn't want to work in a box. When she walks out with her Scottie, the dreamer feels longing to be with the dog. In a second scene, she finds herself playing a game for a prize she doesn't want. The young woman with the black dog reappears, heading off in a different direction altogether. Again, the dreamer feels longing to be with the black dog and go wherever it is going.
-
"Since the black dog is always a reliable guide for me in my dreams," I say, "I would want to re-enter that dream and follow that black dog and see whether it brings me to the guidance I am seeking." The Latvian dreamer readily agreed to do this, and what followed - during a drumming session - was a marvelous journey that involved an ocean crossing, the release of a captive from a solitary island, and insight into both work and life situations.
-
In one of the smaller groups we form for dream-sharing, I recount one of my own dreams from my nights in Kaunas:
-
ACTIVATING THE ANCIENT ARTIFACT
-
I study an ancient artifact. It stands against a wall on a stone pathway that leads towards the sea. It is of rather abstract design, with long curving elements. People here are intrigued and excited by it, but don't know what it means or what to do with it. I stand with the sculpture, leaning my body inside its structures (it's about my height). Then I push down, decisively, with my foot, inside the base, with rather the motion you might use on a motorbike. This has the effect of turning on the "ignition". The artifact is evidently a powerful machine. I decide it needs to be stabilized while we work out exactly how to use it. I prop a staff that branches into three short sections at the top inside the structure, a little like a trident, as an extra support.
-
"So how did you feel when you woke up?" asks Jurga, a Lithianian high school senior. She is playing guide for our Lightning Dreamwork process.
-
"Excited. Charged with energy."
-
"What do you recognize from this dream in your life?"
-
"Well, I think I am here in Lithuania. Some of the people with me may be from the workshop. I've been trying to study ancient Baltic symbols and traditions, and I've found that the sources are limited and the meaning of some ancient symbols is unknown or disputed by scholars. The staff with the three short branches at the top looks natural, like something taken from a tree."
-
"Could the dream play out in the future in some way?"
-
"I doubt that I'll find an artifact that is literally a machine. But I'm open to the idea that I could help to discover the meaning of a lost symbol and activate it in some way."
-
"What do you want to know?"
-
"I'd like to know what the dream is telling me about my intention, which was to receive guidance on leading this workshop."

"If it were my dream," Jurga comments, following our protocol flawlessly, "I would think that the structure I bring alive is this workshop group, where my job is to raise the energy of the group while keeping it stabilized and moving in the right direction."
-
I told Jurga I thought this was spot on. My action plan? To be guided by this understanding in leading the workshop. Oh yes - and to remain open to finding a lost symbol. It transpired that in one of our group journeys, to a very interesting locale in the imaginal realm that I call the House of Time, I did just that. I found myself entering the life of a 19th century merchant and collector of antiquities who acquired a three-headed ancient "Curonian" figure as yet unknown to the scholars. But that is another story.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In the City of Devils


Kaunas, Lithuania

This is the only city in the world, they boast, that has a Museum of Devils. It began with the private collection of the landscape artist Antanas Žmuidzinavičius, who painted in classical style and appears from his portraits to have been a cheerful, apple-cheeked fellow. Yet he was fascinated by how Old Nick is depicted, especially in folk art; a sculptor friend contributed a carving of a devil fleeing in terror from Antanas, who is pursuing him to add him to his collection. The artist liked the number 13 and eventually assembled 20 times 13 images: 260 devils.

Popular motifs are the devils of addiction, riding drunks and leering around the edges of drinking cups. The splayed body of a devil makes an ashtray, inviting the cigarette smoker to keep puffing. Here's a devil forcing a bottle down a drinker's throat. A cute commentary instructs us that alcohol originated with she-goat urine. It's okay to have one drink for God, then one for yourself, but after that your drinking is for the devil and your throat (for starters) is going to burn.

The devils in the core collection are twisted and ugly, but generally fairly stupid - there are many images in which a smart fellow tricks a devil - and not especially scary. However, there is one piece that evokes a dark time when it seemed that most of Europe was possessed by true devils. This is the 1975 sculpture by Kasys Dereskevičius titled "My Lithuania". It depicts the devil Stalin flogging the devil Hitler across a field of the dead (see the graphic above).

On the top floor of the museum are devil images from far and wide. Slavic countries are strongly represented, but there are also Rakshasas from India, Tibetan "wrathful deities", and capering skeletons from Central America. Foreign visitors are politely informed that if they have a devil they'd like to unload, they may leave it here. As I walked the museum, I felt more and more acutely that something essential was missing. While most of the devils were shown with little horns, these were not actually horny devils. Not a single one had even the faintest suggestion of sexual equipment. Finally I had to ask one of the curators: "Why don't the devils of Kaunas have sex organs?"

Blushing and smiling, she said, "But some of them do. Even very big ones."

"Then where are they?"

She explained that the sexy devils are kept in a storeroom under lock and key. Because of the school groups that tour the museum. How very silly, I thought. Children are curious about sex, just as they are curious about death, and well-meaning adults do no good at all by trying to push either theme under the tablecloth. It's even possible that we create devils, and magnify their power, when we try to repress or deny primal forces and feelings. "The Devil's greatest art,"said Baudelaire, "is to make us believe that he does not exist." I found it impossible to believe in the devils on display in the Kaunas museum (except for Hitler and Stalin) but it was possible to not-quite-disbelieve in the devils locked in the basement.

Seeking redemption with the Lady of the Beasts


Zamaitija, Lithuania
-
"I came here for redemption." Petras Dabrišius' blue eyes glint under his watch cap. "All my life I was a hunter. Then I learned that the wild animals are dying off. So I came here to help bring them back, to return what I owe them."
-
We are talking on a snowy trail deep among the pines and birches of Samogitia, the old Baltic name for a region of western Lithuania shown on contemporary maps as Zamaitija. The 3-hour drive from Kaunas took us off the A-1 through Telšiai, an old Samogitian town dedicated to the Bear. In the town square, a standing black bear with gold-painted claws capers above the clockface atop the clock tower. From here, we took bumpy, unplowed back roads to a weathered sign that read Žvėrinčius. The word means "zoo", but is a little more lively than the English version; this is the Place of the Beasts.
-
The Bear featured again in an unusually handsome wooden sculpture of Medeina, Lithuania's goddess of the woods and guardian of animals, by Petras' gate. I had chosen her image as etched by Arvydas Každailis the day before - in warrior mode, with the Bear at her back - to illustrate my last blog piece, without knowing how deep and how quickly I would be going into her realm. It struck me now that through the whole of my conversation with the artist Kazdailis, his design for the coat of arms of Telšiai - a standing Bear - had been directly in my line of sight.
-
Petras insists that I should start by meeting the bear. Timofejaus is a big Siberian brown bear, still dreaming in his long winter sleep, his head and great shoulders just visible through the door of his house. Petras explains that he brought Timofejaus a mate, but they did not get along. A pity. He muses on how the she-bear gives birth, in her winter cave, in a state of dreaming. A bear cub is a dream child. Petras asks me about my own dreams of the Bear. I tell him about the giant bear that appeared in my house, again and again, after I started living on the land in upstate New York, and how I finally felt called to go back into one of those dreamscapes to confront the bear and find out why he was in my space. "When I found the courage to step up to the bear and enter its embrace,"I recall, "Bear showed me we are joined at the heart and signalled that I must call on him for healing." Petras nods. You need different tickets to go to different places. It seems I have told him the right kind of dream.
-
Approaching a place where forest trails meet, we hear the caw of kranklys, the raven. Petras reproduces this perfectly from down in his throat and two - no, three - huge ravens come winging low towards us along a forest alley, wheeling just in front of us to speed off over the main trail. Three for a message. The three black birds against the white snow seem like a living badge of heraldry, the key to a story from the time of campfires and sagas. Petras speaks of the keen sight of the raven, and of how "the raven carries death under its wings".
-
He leads us to the lynx enclosure, a section of the forest surrounded by a high wire fence. Two lynxes are sleeping high up in the branches of a pine tree. Others prowl close to us, their amazing high ears twitching as they check us out. Good at hunting and at hiding, a master of surprise, the lynx is a liminal creature. "I built this fence," Petras shakes the wire, "in order to open it again." He is helping lynxes to breathe and replenish their numbers. In time, he''ll release many of the current pack back into the wild.
-
Back on the trail, we see a red fox who stops to stare at us. Petras takes us up on a viewing platform while he goes to fetch his wolf pack, whistling for them. We are thrilled to watch the silver wolves loping across the snow.
-
"Now I will drum for you and you will meet the animals in a different way." Petras guides us to a yurt he has constructed in the simplest style, pointed like a tipi. Inside, the walls are lined with pieces of carpet and hung with fox tails - dozens of black fox brushes, with the whole skin of a red fox in the place of pride, opposite the door. Petras swears by fox tail for protection against bad spirits.
-
When he has gotten us seated on a little bench near the stove, facing the red fox skin, Petras beats a deerskin drum. He starts very slow, making it clear that he is calling in the spirits, building only gradually to the kind of beat we use for sonic driving (i.e., inducing and powering a visionary state of consciousness). With the first drumbeats, in my perception, a great Bear enters the space, and is soon joined by many bears. A great white she-bear assumes leadership. Some of the bears take up guardian positions behind our backs, rather like the bear in the Kazdailis image of Medeina. The wolves come next, and I witness the meeting of different packs of Wolf People. A pure white she-wolf asserts her ascendancy, and I look into her vivid blue eyes. From now on, in my sight, a feminine power is primary in these woods. I see it again in the form of a woman who comes out of the trees in a long hooded robe that appears pearly gray in the indistinct light.
-
Petras nods when I report my sightings. "A female spirit rules these woods," he reports. "And I answer to her. She wears the robe you saw. It is white in the sunlight, gray in the shadow. And a she-wolf leads the wolf pack."

Over herb tea and sweet grainy honey from his own bee houses, Petras tells us about the signs of the old ways he has found in these woods, of sacred springs and threshold stones. He shows us the Buryat shaman robes he brought back from his visits to Tuva and Mongolia. He brings Mongolian shamans here, to the Place of the Beasts, to drum for the land. His big face breaks into a warm grin. "They say it is so clean and sweet here in these woods, it is like sleeping in honey." He pushes the honey pot my way again and I spoon a little onto a chunk of peasant bread. "Medus,"he smacks his lips. "When the bear is awake, I give him this honey too."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

From the lost books of the ancient Balts


Vilnius, Lithuania


Winter still has the Baltic in its grip, and my head is lowered against wind and snow flurries as I navigate the icy sidewalks of the Old Town in search of the small street where Arvydas Každailis has his studio. Two unlit courtyards and five flights of mostly darkened stairs bring me to the cheerful room at the top, crowded with the artist's work, the tools of his etching craft, and ancient statues and artifacts. He welcomes me with tea and local brandy, his eyes glinting merrily behind half-moon glasses. Nearing 70, the artist looks like a master craftsman of another era in his suspenders, cardigan and tie. "I know Russian well," he tells me as he accepts a copy of the new Russian edition of Conscious Dreaming. "Thanks to the Soviets who forced me to make guns." Prior to 1990, when Lithuania was the first of the captive republics of the USSR to claim independence, Lithuanian boys were drafted into the Red Army.
-
Leafing through Conscious Dreaming, Každailis recalls dreams that made him grab the pencil and paper he kept by his bed and start drawing immediately on waking. He shows me reproductions of a couple of works from 1967 that were directly dream-inspired. "Old House" shows a multi-layered interior dreamscape of improbable angles and strange corridors; you sense that a deliciously creepy encounter might take place along any one of them. "Beast" is an inchoate, nightmare animal.

I have come to talk to Každailis to talk of collective dreams of the Baltic peoples, those that were crushed or interrupted by a brutal history that he has been helping, through the power of his artistic vision, to requicken. Walk in some of Lithuania's depleted forests and you will come upon whole groves of horrible carved figures with evil, twisted features that purport to be gods and nature spirits and raganas (witches). These may be products of the deformation of the imagination by those in the Church or the Communist Party who tried to demonize or dismiss the spiritual world of Old Europe. Certainly, they are unlikely to represent the imaginal truths of the old ways.
-
By contrast, Každailis gives us images of the old Baltic tribes and their gods and rituals that look like pages from the lost books of these peoples. He gives us Žemyna , the great Earth goddess of Lithuania, as an immense mothering figure who holds a whole communal banquet within her embrace. He gives us a stag whose great antlers, feathered by birds, form a nine-branched candelabra rising to draw down the light of Heaven. He gives us the goddess Medeina as a warrior armed with a bow and a giant bear at her back. He gives us ducks that fly as messengers between humans and the Upper World.

In his illustrations for Peter of Dusburg's Chronicles of Prussia, Kazdailis offers a vision of the vanquished as a vital corrective to this medieval apologia for the destruction of the Prussians and neighboring tribes by the Teutonic Knights. The Prussians were a proud Baltic tribe before their name, as well as their land, was stolen by the Germans. Každailis shows simple village festivals, harvests and weddings, and ancient priest-kings and warrior chiefs in days of thunder. Here is Diwans, nicknamed "Lokys" (Big Bear), the fighting chief of the Barta (a Baltic people whose very name has all but disappeared) with helmet and mace; and here he is as a desperate standing bear with an arrow through his neck. Here is Kriveis Krivaitis, a priest whose power was as great among Balts (said John of Duisberg) as that of a pope, gripping dual symbols of temporal and spiritual power as he passes judgment on a criminal who has violated the laws of gods and men. No cute stuff here; the convicted prisoner, trussed in ropes along the whole length of his body, will be buried alive in a deep hole. Down inside the Earth, we see the image of a beast of evil confined in a cage of ropes whose patterns suggest interweaving Mobius rings.
-
The artist and I talk of callings - how dreams and synchronicity can call a creative mind to a path of connections with traditions that were previously lost or unknown. Kazdailis recalls that when he was three and four, he spoke a coherent language that no one could recognize or interpret, though he was completely at home within it. Songs in the old Prussian language, revived by a friend of Každailis who has taken the name of the ancient priest, Kriveis Krivaitis, gust through the studio, evoking the blossoming gifts of Earth and the hammer of thunder around the oak of Perkunas, who speaks in storm and lightning.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A visit from the Reindeer People



Nacka Strand, Sweden
-
The lead rider approaches at a slow trot, in a blur of white. The earflaps of his conical fur-lined cap turn up into points. He is quite close when I realize he is not riding a horse, but a reindeer. From the reindeer riders behind him, one dismounts and advances until I can see him quite distinctly. He is robed in skins and furs. There is a buttery gloss to his skin, under a hat with a broad band that is decorated with a pattern of stones or beads; some of them may be amber. The word "Mösa" comes to me, spelled like that, with the two dots. He is the leader of this band, and I know they are Sami, reindeer people of the far north. The chief brings forward a beautiful young woman who looks more Asiatic than European, with high cheekbones and slightly slanted dark eyes. I am given her name, but will not record that here. I am instructed that she will be Speaker for her people.
-
The first word she plants in my mind is "Sami", but it does not come through in the normal pronunciation ("Sah-mi"); it comes through as "Say-me". This is followed by a rapid stream of information, too fast for me to receive word by word, a kind of primal burst transmission. I understand I am being given things, mind to mind, that will unfold over time. I am being prepared to accept an invitation to enter the world of the Sami, the shamanic dreamers of the far north.
-
This visitation took place in the twilight state, in that in-between state of consciousness the French used to call dorveille ("sleep-wake"). It is a just-so experience, reminiscent of encounters with Speakers for other ancient and indigenous traditions that I have had in my travels; for example, with a zhyne (priestess) of Zhemyna, the Baltic Earth goddess, who instructed me in visions when I first visited Lithuania, as described in my Dreamer's Book of the Dead, or with the ancient Mohawk arendiwanen ("woman of power") and Mother of the Wolf Clan I call Island Woman. I feel honored by this visitation by the Sami, whose shamans, or noaides, were revered and feared, riding their reindeer hide drums, beaten with reindeer bone tappers, between the worlds.
O
In the morning, at my workshop, I recount this incident. A young woman tells me that her mother is Sami and insists on exact descriptions of my visitors' headgear and clothes. "That word Mösa? That is the Norwegian name for a fur hat. Maybe the headman came to you from Norway, where Sami also live." A man in the group who has studied shamanism and indigenous cultures in many countries is excited that a link with Sapmi (the Sami heartland) seems to have been made in this direct way. "You know, the drums of the great Sami shamans, confiscated in the days of religious persecution, are still kept locked up in Stockholm where no one can see them." Another member of the group knows a Sami woman noaide who lives in a far northern village; she volunteers to introduce me.
-
The young woman with the Sami mother pulls me aside. She wants to give her explanation of the unusual pronunciation of the word "Sami" in my night encounter. "They are saying, Same-Me. They are telling you they see you as one like them." Oh dear. Could be the start of yet another adventure.

Dream fliers of Stockholm


Stockholm and Nacka Strand
-
On our way to my lecture in the thriving modern part of Stockholm called City, we follow a car whose vanity plate reads EAGLE1. One of the first dreams shared by the audience that night is titled "Eagle Man and Me". In it, a Swedish woman watches a moving speck in front of a full moon that becomes a great eagle that swoops down in front of her, in the deep woods, and becomes a man.

It seems fitting that on my first night in Sweden, I encountered Karlsson on the Roof, because the dreams I am hearing in Stockholm are full of flight. A man in my weekend workshop reports, with vigorous body movement as well as words, a night of twisting pain and discomfort in his back - until his shoulders burst open and he sprouts wings that bear him aloft. I felt I was listening to a muscular version of that passage in Phaedrus in which Plato describes what it feels like when a human soul (that gave up its wings when it descended into a body) begins to sprout wingfeathers again.
-
A woman who feels oppressed in a dream that featured a dead boyfriend and lizard-like alien intruders discovers - during a dream reentry journey supported by drumming - that two ravens are available to support her and show her what needs to be done. She routs her adversaries and acquires great white wings and golden body armor, and goes soaring aloft, eyes flashing with joy.
-
Dreaming is all about soul, and we are privileged to share many experiences of soul recovery. A young woman is troubled by the way three little sisters were being handled in a childcare situation in her dream. I suggest that we should turn this dream into theatre, and she readily agrees, picking members of the workshop to play all the characters, including the three little girls, who seem to be aged around 5, 7 and 9. I encourage the dreamer to dialogue with the children, and she soon realizes that they are childhood selves that separated from her at times of sadness and challenge. She is eager to bring them back into her life. She soon learns that this will not only involve promising them safety, but offering them things they would really enjoy, things that would induce them to bring their vital energy and imagination into an adult life.
-
The dreamer is now engaged in deal-making with her childhood selves, and she has to go deep to find the right offers."Dress-up," she proposes to her 5-year-old self. The actor playing the youngest sister responds by wrapping bright scarves around her head and shoulders, and the dreamer claps her hands in delight. "Drawing!" she invited her 7-year-old. Out come the crayons and scrap paper. "Theatre!" she promises her 9-year-old. No problem; we are in the thick of it. It's time for the hugs. When the dreamer embraces the players who embodied her childhood selves, everyone in the room is warmed by the glow of returning soul. This is a glorious thing, and it is wonderful how easily it comes when instead of diminishing dreams to a set of analytical terms, we play actively with the energy we can release from the dreamspace.
-
The continuing play of sychronicity within and around the workshop gives us the happily shiverish sensation that we are receiving secret handshakes from the universe. Before spinning the drumstick to select the first person to tell a dream to the group, I recount an episode in which a Mohawk grandmother was chosen in just this way to share a dream at a workshop I was leading years ago in upstate New York. She introduced herself as a member of the Turtle Clan, and the story centered on the use of a turtle rattle to bring through a healing song from the dreamtime. At our first break in the Swedish program, a woman in the group introduces me to a frend she has smuggled into our space: a box turtle named Ludde. This is the first time a live turtle has showed up in one of my workshops. That's the kind of coincidence you can't dismiss as "only" coincidence.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Karlsson on the Roof, Gabriel on the Strand


Djurgärden-Nacka Strand, Sweden

On my first day in Sweden, I was too tired after 16 hours of travel to do more that take a first ramble around the Old Town and enjoy köttbullar and beer at the old tavern known as the Golden Peace. So in the middle of the night, lying in bed, I decide to give myself a quick tour of the fourteen islands on which the city of Stockholm stands, and perhaps the archipelago beyond, by taking a conscious dream flight over the whole scene. It is brisk and cold as I sail over the night city, swooping down from time to time to inspect a locale more closely. It occurs to me that I am surely not alone as I ride the astral winds above this city of the sea. I sense huge sea birds and winged creatures like stork-men flying around me. A goddess-like figure soars through the night sky in a chariot pulled by what could be great flying cats. Can she be Freya?

Then a chubby little fellow buzzes up in front of me, with something like a tiny aircraft propeller on his back. I recognize Karlsson, a character in beloved children's books created by Astrid Lindgren. I am incredulous, of course. "You're not really Karlsson," I tell him. "Of course I am Karlsson, the best Karlsson in the world," this roly-poly character insists with an air of pompous irritation. "The imagination of the Swedish people is full of me."

This confirms my plan to take the ferry across to Djurgärden, the "Island of Animals" in the morning and visit Karlsson and Astrid Lindgren's other characters in the Junibacken, a museum devoted to the fantasy world she created for the child in all of us.

THE SHIP THAT DIED OF PRIDE

Ice cakes bang and clang against the ferry's hull during the morning crossing. It has been a very long winter in Stockholm. I slither along icy paths from the Djurgärden ferry dock, dodging great potholes full of melted ice, and trucks that throw up icy jets.

I pause at the Vasa Museum, devoted to a great 17th century vessel built for an imperial-minded King of Sweden, Gustavus Adophus. This 64-gun warship was designed to be the largest and most powerful naval vessel in the world, and to overawe enemies, foremost among whom, in the contemporary struggle for the Baltic, was Poland. When the gunports were opened, huge wooden lion heads, teeth bared, appeared above the mouths of the cannon. A springing lion, the king's personal symbol, decorated the prow. The statues of thirty Roman emperors, plus gods and sea-spirits, gargoyles and monsters, bible heroes and warriors of all periods, added to the imaginal freight of the Vasa.

Almost lost among these garishly painted figures, at the stern, was the memento mori of a pale head with snakes slithering in and out of all the orifices - eyes and ears, nose and mouth. Proud Hercules stood atop this head, promising victory over death, but the promise was soon dashed. On the Sunday in 1628 when the Vasa left the dock on her maiden journey, the ship rolled over and sank in a modest squall, drowning fifty seamen and vanishing from the world until she was salvaged in the 1960s. Naval historians think that what sank the ship was a relative lack of ballast - not enough down below to balance all that top-heavy firepower and vainglory. For me, this is a ship that died of pride. What a cautionary tale about the price of hubris!

THE TRAIN TO NANGIJALA

On across the ice and snow and through a dense forest of prams to the Junibacken, where I am given a ticket for the train ride through Astrid Lindgren's imaginal worlds. On the way to the train, excited children are jumping in and out of the pages of a giant book, stood upright. Soon I am transported, with an eager little Danish boy and his parents, into landscapes of enchantment, thrills and delight. Through a series of wonderful dioramas, we enter the landscapes of Pippi Longstocking, who flouted conventional notions of how children ought to behave by lying with her feet on her pillow. Then the commentator asks, "Do you see that you are flying?" Indeed we are. The sensation is remarkably vivid, almost as vivid as my astral flight the night before. Far below, above the lights of a night city, a chubby figure is buzzing around over the rooftops. "Karlsson!" the boy beside me exclaims in delight, hissing the Ss. Now we are in Karlsson's messy house on the roof. Can't stay there for long.

It's in the world of the Jonathan and Karl Lejon - the Lionheart brothers - that the full scope of Astrid Lindgren's gift to children comes home to me. The Brothers Lionheart was not part of my boyhood reading (it was published in 1973) and I have to intuit much of the story as we enter the scenes. It involved the tragic death of one brother, followed by the death of his younger sibling. So death is not kept off-stage here, but put in front of young readers, where it needs to be, however reluctant many adults may be to face it themselves or talk about it with children. Not only is death featured, but we are given a tour of possible afterlife locales. Soon we are flying over a beautiful world of green meadows and flowering cherry trees, a happy afterlife. But on its borders is a dark and sinister prison world, ruled by a cruel tyrant whose will is enforced by a she-dragon. The brothers go to war to help free the captives. I am deeply stirred by these glimpse of life beyond life in Nangijala, Astrid's name for the region of the afterlife she evoked. It has entered so deeply into the collective imagination that now it is not unusual to say of a child's death, in Sweden, "She went to Nangijala". The Brothers Lionheart has replaced the mystery novels on my list of my next Swedish must-reading.

MEETING THE ARCHANGEL ON THE NACKA SHORE

On to Nacka, a commune on a large island south of Stockholm, where my weekend workshop will be held. I check into the beautiful Hotel J, where they advise me to walk down to the water, turn left and walk for five minutes to get to lunch at their restaurant on the Strand. By following these directions quite literally, walking with care on deep ice, I find myself at the end of a narrow spit of land that ends at a great metal beam soaring up against the sky, curling over at the top like a giants diving board. High above, a heroic figure in flashing silver seems to be playing a starry constellation like a washboard. At the base of the metal pillar, right next to me, is a winged figure about my size, holding a single star. A grounded angel, or an angel who came down to catch a falling star?

I am eager to know the story. In the restaurant J, before I look at the menu, I ask the waitress if she knows. It seems the sculpture is famous in Sweden. Designed by Carl Milles, it was intended to decorate the United Nations in New York, but the religious element was considered incorrect, so its full realization came about here. In English, the title of the sculpture means God the Father on the Rainbow. What about the winged figure on the ground. "Ah, that is the Archangel Gabriel," I am told. You just met the Archangel Gabriel.

I am wildly happy to think that I met Gabriel by straying slightly from my directions, here on a snowy beach in Sweden. This bodes well for the dream adventures I will be leading soon. For all three people of the Book - Jews, Christians and Muslims - Gabriel is the archangel of dreams, the patron of astral travel and a primary messenger and mediator between the divine realm and that of humans. A dreamer's kind of angel.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

At the sign of the dodgy fish



Old Town, Stockholm, Sweden
-
On my way to new places, I like to read mysteries that unfold in these landscapes. Stories in which a detective or a journalist is going to many addresses, runing down clues, are good for getting a vivid sense of geography and for acclimating to place names. So my reading en route to Sweden included Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Henning Mankell. Reading Mankell's Before the Frost on the plane, I was struck by the intelligent ways in which the author uses dreams to define character and sometimes to drive his plot forward.
-
In between my mystery reading, on the long flight from Chicago to Stockholm, I leafed through the Scandinavian airline magazine and tried to memorize the name of a restaurant, Den Gyldene Frede. It was mentioned repeatedly in a long interview with Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, that was conducted here. My first phrase in Swedish. Den Gyldene Frede. The Golden Peace. It seems the members of the Swedish Academy dine here every week, on their way to choosing the next winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Understandably, Peter Englund was circumspect in fielding questions about his literary tastes, confining himself to mentioning dead authors, notably one of my own favorites, Jorge Luis Borges.

I have come to Sweden now because of a dream supported by a little riff of synchronicity. Late last fall, I found myself in a rather boring dream situation, wearing a power suit among a bunch of men in power suits, all preoccupied by business deals. The deals were going well, but I felt this was not my scene. In the dream, I pulled off my jacket and tie and went outside, into a pleasant wooded landscape. In the distance, I saw what I took for a retreat center. Then a great wooden sign was lowered over the landscape in front of me. Carved in the wood in huge letters were two words: THE SWEDES.
-
Waking from this dream intrigued in the early hours, I went downstairs, fired up my computer and checked my email on my way to jotting down my dream report. I found that three emails had arrived within minutes either side of my waking. One was from a Swedish woman, hitherto unknown to me, who reported she had read in her local paper that I was coming to Sweden; she wanted to know how she could sign up for a workshop with me. The second message was from a man called Pär Wedin, a musician and shamanic teacher who had offered to host programs in Sweden for me a couple of years before. The plan had fallen through at that time but he had just heard from the publishers of the Swedish edition of my book The Three "Only" Things; they wanted to know if I was coming to Sweden. The third email was from a Swedish dreamer who had previously corresponded with me; someone had told her I was coming to teach in Sweden.
-
Pär and I both found this dream logic irresistible, and quickly found dates in the calendar for me to lead programs in Sweden. So last Thursday, I landed at Stockholm's Arlanda airport to find him waiting for me, ready to host the workshops I had agreed to offer in Sweden. He had suggested that I spend the first night in Gamla Stan, the Old Town, a must for first-time visitors. On a cobbled street called Stora Nygatan, he stopped the car just short of an amazing restaurant sign. It displayed a pointing finger in a hand that shifted at the wrist into the body and tail of a fish, with the curious word Slingerbulten. As we walked back the other way, to the alley where my hotel was located, I resolved to find out the story here.
-
Sven Vintappare Gränd - the Alley of Sven the Winemaker - was about as wide as I am tall. Packed ice would have made it impassable but for the gravel and salt liberally scattered on its surface. My tiny hotel, also named for Sven the Winemaker, was in a high and narrow seventeenth-century house where the office is in the kitchen. My welcoming innkeeper guided me up the tightest corkscrew staircase I have ever navigated en route to my room on an upper floor.
-
Par met me for dinner that evening and led me briskly through the streets of the Old Town to Den Gyldene Freden, the one restaurant in Sweden (other than Slingerbulten) whose name I knew. It turned out to be a handsome 1722 tavern of many alcoves and cellars, preserved almost exactly as it was when opened. Until this meal, I had never suspected that meatballs could be fairly described as exquisite. But that was no hype for the Svenska köttbullar (pronounced "Shirt-buller-er") served with gravy and lingonberries, that we shared that night.
-
Over the meatballs and Old Gold beer, I recalled the fishy sign and the strange word "Slingerbulten". Par smiled at the word, seeking an English equivalent. "It means something a little tricky, something that shifts or twists." "Like a fish?" "Maybe."
-
I consulted an online dictionary later and found that the literal translation of slingerbulten is "dodge", as in the "artful dodger". This brought the playful sense that my first notable sighting in Sweden was an alert to notice what is shifting and a little tricksterish around me. Par pointed out that Dodge is the name of an American car. That didn't seem relevant until the next day, when I moved to a hotel on Nacka Strand, by a yacht marina south of Stockholm near the site of the weekend workshop and discovered that in the past, some of the area now occupied by an elegant modern development here was the location of an automobile plant that assembled...Dodge cars.
-
I made this discovery after meeting Karlsson (as in Astrid Lindgren's beloved Karlsson on the Roof) buzzing around in the night sky over Stockholm while making my own astral tour of the archipelago, and then had a close-up encounter with the Archangel Gabriel on the icy shore at Nacka Strand. These adventures will be the theme of a further report.