Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Speakers for the living


Leonora Piper, William James's "White Crow"

I've been drawn back into the world of the Victorian spirit hunters, especially that great and eloquent pioneer of psychic research and psychology, Frederick (F.W.H.) Myers, and his famous American friend William James. 

There is an amazing moment in one of James's sessions with Leonora Piper, the Boston medium James studied and consulted over many years and came to call his "white crow".* She was supposedly communicating on behalf of Richard Hodgson, a great friend of James who had been secretary of the American Society of Psychical Research. Though "tremendously athletic", according to James, Dick Hodgson had died suddenly playing handball, leaving two book projects unfinished - and a half-joking promise that, if he died first, he would communicate from the Other Side and provide evidence of survival.

James grilled the Hodgson personality over and over, seeking proof positive that it was the dead man talking, through the revelation of personal secrets and codes neither the medium nor the sitter could have known. The demands this approach imposed on Hodgson's memory (assuming it was Hodgson) became ridiculous. Assessing the notes from these long sessions (James conceded) bored him "almost to extinction". 

But then something will come through that is thrilling even to a skeptical reader a century later. Here's what got me very excited, in the transcript of a "voice-sitting" on May 21, 1906:

Speaking through Mrs Piper, Hodgson tells James that Myers (who died in 1901) is with him. "Myers and I are also interested in the Society over here. You understand that we have to have a medium on this side while you have a medium on your side, and through the two we communicate with you."

The "Society" mentioned is the Society for Psychical Research, which was (and is) dedicated to producing evidence of "supernormal" (Myers' phrase) phenomena, including contact between the living and the deceased. Think about the statement made via Mrs. Piper's vocal chords. While there is a Society for Psychical Research on this side, there is a similar Society on the Other Side. They, too, hold seances or sittings with mediums. While James is listening to the voice of his dead friend through a speaker for the dead, Hodgson is apparently listening to the voice of his living friend through a speaker for the living. 

Was this the ultimate folie de grandeur of a psychic charlatan, promoting her own profession - that of medium - to the status of indispensability on the Other Side? I have a notion that this part of the reading, at least, can be trusted. There are sensitives among us who are more able than others to pick up presences and messages from the Other Side. It's not such a stretch to suppose that in the same way, there are people on the Other Side who are better as inter-world communicators than others, and may even have the ability to call spirits of the living for a session with relatives or colleagues who are eager to talk with them.

*  Having concluded that Mrs Piper's communications were for real, even though the sources could not be determined beyond doubt, William James declared: "If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black, it is enough if you prove that one crow is white. My white crow is Mrs. Piper." [William James on Psychical Research edited by Gardner Murphy and Robert O. Ballou. New YorK: The Viking Press, 1960, 41]

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pink silk road

Last night I dreamed I set up a director's chair for myself at the front of a huge gathering. Instead of canvas, the seat was pink shot silk. 


Waking, I remembered an encounter with a curious figure in a thriller of a dream I recorded in August 2006 - a huge bear-like man dressed in a pink frock coat with an amazing pink tie that grew to any length he imagined. 


Yes, I know Freud will be stirring now but I suspect there's much more going on, so I'll follow the pink silk road in my dreams and beyond.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rose Gate among the stars

There’s a garden among the stars
where flowers are gates to other worlds.

I see a Lady stepping from a constellation of stars into a boat in the sky. I want to meet her. This will be a far journey, and I want the drum to give me fuel and to help me to return safely. My friend is a good drummer,and she is ready to provide what I need.
     When I get my body settled on the sofa in order to slip out of it, the Lady has vanished. I search for her in the field of stars. I see something like a pink rose, out there in the wild blue. Is this her sign?
     The rose calls me, unfurling its soft petals, revealing a portal. I slip into the heart of the rose. Now I am sliding down a chute that might be its stem. I make a soft landing in a gentle scene, a Victorian garden where a table is set for high tea. A handsome, very properly dressed Victorian lady is pouring.
      I roam the garden, wanting tounderstand why I was drawn here. Young children are playing here, including agirl on a swing. A pleasant clergyman in country tweeds is playing with them. I know at once that this is the Rev. Charles Dodgson, known to countless readersas “Lewis Carroll”.
    As I observe him among the children, I realize I am present at the inception of some of Lewis Carroll’s best ideas. He looks at a rabbit burrow and the roots of a tree with the eyes of one of the children. With this borrowed sight, he can picture Alice dropping down the rabbit-hole into another world. As a child smiles at ginger cat in the garden, he sees the smile on the face of the Cheshire Cat. As he contemplates the pretty young girl swinging high into the air, he gets the idea– not actually used in the Alice books, as far as I can recall – for another way of entering another dimension. The swing goes up above the bar…and you’re off into another world.
    I borrow from where his imagination will lead. I think about the “Drink Me” bottles Alice found, and decide to see what will happen now if I drink from the one that makes you very much smaller. 
    Quick as thought,I am shrinking so fast I don’t even have time to see how that blade of grass grew as big as a royal palm, or how that ant became a black six-legged elephant.
    Dropping between the smallest of particles, I enter a universe as big as the one I came from, a cosmos contained within a speck of a speck of a speck, something you couldn’t find even with an electron microscope. This revelation is as simple as cracking your head open. It’s about finding the infinite in a grain of sand, as the poet did. It’s about universe hopping, pearl by pearl, on the necklace of Indra.    
   I am eager to explore this fresh universe, full of promise. And to find the Lady.
      But something falls across my path. It moves jerkily, an armored, jointed, mechanical thing. Its shape reminds me a little of cardboard periscopes I played with as a boy –the kind with joints that enabled you to peek around a corner. But this metallic thing is taller than a skyscraper. At its end is a rectangular hollow or “mouth” that might be an immense suction cup.
     Guard yourself, says an inner voice I have learned to trust. With this, an impermeable, transparent shield goes up, and I know I am safe, and invisible to whatever intruded.
   Steer for the Light Ship.
   I see it again now, in the distance. It looks like a kind of space station. I understand that it is a place of transit and communication with higher intelligences as they move in and out of range of human thought bands.
   I will go there on another journey.
   For now, I am content to come back to the body on the couch, settle in, and stretch and wiggle around to make sure I did not leave too much of myself out there in the field of stars..

The fragrance of the pink rose is still with me. I sip a glass of wine and write with its beauty within and around me:

There’s a garden among the stars
where flowers are gates to other worlds.
Try the pink rosebud that opens shyly.
plunge through its smooth and fragrant folds
into the Victorian garden where tea is laid
and sweet girls play and show a blushing priest
a bunnyhole that leads to Wonderland
and a ginger cat issues opaque directions.

Take the dare of the “Drink Me” bottle
and you’ll become inconceivably small
even faster than Alice,so fast you won’t see
a grass blade rear into a royal palm
and ants turn into six-legged horses.

You’ll grow, by diminishing, into a world
vaster than the one you knew before,
you’ll swim among stars no telescope has seen,
you’ll find light-ships among the galaxies,
immensity held in the iota of a speck
that eludes the electron microscope
but not the home-drawn voyager.


As I enter another Northern winter, I am doing what I often do in this inward time: mining my old journals. I have previously published the Rose Gate poem, but not the narrative of the journey that inspired it. Yes: I have made (and guided) many other journeys to universes within the inconceivably small.

Homage to the Pink Rose. Photos by Kirsten Love Lauzon.




Friday, December 16, 2011

Where's the Hitch?

In his autobiography, Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens declared, “I personally want to ‘do’ death in the active and not the passive and to be there to look it in the eye and be doing something when it comes for me.” It seems he fulfilled this wish, chronicling his struggle with esophageal cancer until he succumbed to pneumonia, a side-effect, yesterday, aged 62. I knew Christopher when we were both in our 20s. Though I often disagreed with his opinions - which veered from youthful Trotskyite verbal bomb-throwing to neocon advocacy of America's disastrous war in Iraq - I admired his blistering wit, his ferocious literacy, his wicked contrarian courage. He never met a tide he wasn’t willing to throw himself against, preferably with a bottle of Johnny Walker Black (his “breakfast of champions”) in hand.

Fare well, Christopher Hitchens. You denied God and gods, and spurned the heaven of religions as a "celestial North Korea". You are now entering a larger geography than you knew in the 60-some countries from which you reported. May your many gifts, and your delight in the dance and slash of words, serve you on the road of this immense journey. May you avoid leaving any part of you stuck in a bottle of Johnny Black. May you file fresh accounts from new territories, and find native guides who will help you to understand what you are experiencing. May your paths be open.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Life as Marcella


I am Marcella, called the Songbird because of my voice and because I can make men’s bodies sing. I can write my story in my own hand, because my father paid for a tutor. He was a merchant who sailed to the Bosphorus and the Black Sea.

Bruno brings me figs and young green olives of Lucca, the best of the new harvest. The cloth of gold that trims my dress belonged to my mother. The mad monk of Florence tried to kill her for wearing it, under his sumptuary laws. Witch, they called her, as they call me, though none dares to raise a hand against me so long as I have the favor of the bishop. I confess that I sewed the mouth of a toad shut to punish a calumniator for speaking against me and to silence his abuses, and that I melted a wax imago of Cosimo’s organ after he raped me.

I will never marry, but I know men and they know me. There is no one in the city as practiced in the arts of love, though there are acts I will not perform, not even for the bishop.

Bruno will guard my body with his life, and he is as strong as a bear. But I know I will not be allowed the fullness of my years. I have no wish to survive the withering of my body, still firm and juicy as a maiden’s after forty summers.

I will heed the wishes of my sisters of the Hive. We are about in all the countries of Christendom and in many that have never heard of Christ or accepted his message.

~

I wrote these lines after leading a group journey to a Chamber of Mirrors where you can look into the lives of personalities in other times who are part of your multidimensional family. Participants in the workshop were asked to write an autobiographical statement in the voice of a personality of another time. The voice that wanted to speak through me was that of Marcella. Her reference to her mother's persecution by a "mad monk" (evidently Savonarola, a Dominican who ruled Florence and staged the notorious Bonfire of the Vanities before he was excommunicated and executed in 1498) suggests she lived in 16th century Italy. I am glad to know her, because in most of my impressions of past lives closely associated with my own, I have found myself linked to men, typically men of power.

Where are the women? I have often asked myself. Oh, there is that woman of the future; I feel her even now, as I write. She is a priestess and a scientist, working to restore our world, seven generations into the future. Dreaming is central to her practice and that of her Order, and I am driven by a sense of obligation to her, the obligation - through my work as a dream teacher - to help make her possible.

Perhaps Marcella and I will now be able to share gifts. In psychological terms, such episodes may mean that I am getting more deeply in touch with my female side, and I would be happy with that. Except that the encounter also feels transpersonal. Jane Robert's Seth insists that "the entire reincarnational framework must involve both sexual experiences. Abilities cannot be developed by following a one-sex line. There must be experiences in motherhood and fatherhood." Perhaps I am making a little progress.

Marcella hints at an Order of women content to call themselves a Hive. I have encountered this language, and similar women, in other times and other lands, "in all the countries of Christendom and in many that have never heard of Christ or accepted his message", just as Marcella says.

Detail of a 16th century portrait of an unknown woman (sometimes identified as Lucrezia Borgia) by Bartolemeo Veneto.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Robin Hood, Changing Woman & the Battle of Britain


I am walking with companions across hills and fields with a view to London and the English Channel. A war is being waged in the air. Though the main battles are far away, large pieces of debris – and small airplanes that look no bigger than crop dusters, some even smaller – come crashing down around us.

There is no sense of panic. The falling planes and pieces of metal seem to be coming down very slowly, slowly enough to dodge them even if they are coming straight at us. I do this several times. Their substance also seems softer than shrapnel or metal. I feel I could push them away with my hand as if they were merely cardboard or felt (and may do this too).

I lead my group down into London, to a square near the dockyards. No sign of modern traffic congestion. We gather a great group of people, mostly women, in the square. We sign and dance in a circle. Around us, at the cardinal directions, heraldic devices are set up on posts. We are singing and dancing to bring change.

I lead the group in singing an old song of Changing Woman

There is a woman who weaves the night sky
See how she spins, see her fingers fly
She is within us from beginning to end
Our Grandmother, sister and friend
She changes everything she touches
Everything she touches changes

The women, in particular, love this. We spin faster and faster, turning deosil (to the right). Then I pause the group, and step into the center of the great circle.

I notice with clarity, for the first time, the devices set up on the post that is now facing me; I think this is on the north side of the circle.

There are the words “ROBIN” and “AIR”, separate, and in capitals. There is a symbol that at first appears to be an anchor but I think is a bow and arrow. With a thrill of excitement I realize that these devices are related to Robin Hood and that the square was the scene of a drama from his life. With this recognition comes the sense that we are succeeding in calling up ancestral forces to help with the battle that has been raging in the skies and could soon reach the land.

Now I hear the great voice, loud and merry, of an Englishman who is coming to join us. I can now withdraw from leading the people and leave him to take charge.

Feelings: Excited, stirred.

First thoughts: I feel like I was a time traveler in the period of the Battle of Britain. Though I appeared substantial to those around me, I seemed impervious to things that would ordinarily wound or destroy a body – perhaps because I was moving in a subtle energy body, or had unusual powers, such as the ability to slow the experience of time (so the falling planes appeared to be coming down in slow motion) and to thin and loosen the molecular structure of objects.

Was I in my present body, or in the body of a contemporary person? Not sure.

It seems one of the key assignments of my dream self was to help call up ancestral forces, to awaken the sleeping powers of the land to support the living in a struggle for survival. An incident in the “psychic Battle of Britain”, perhaps…

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bear tracks to the cave of the vanishing god


My day began with my little dog pushing his bushy face against mine as I lay back on the pillow. I petted him and sang to him. Without considering the content, I found I was singing the Romanian version of a song to call the spirit Bear that is a favorite in my workshops.
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Romanian friends helped me make the translation when I taught in Bucharest a couple of years ago.

Nu plânge micutule
Nu plânge micutule
Ursul danseze pentru tine
Ursul danseze pentru tine

Don't cry little one
Don't cry little one
The Bear is coming to dance for you
The Bear is coming to dance for you

After walking the dogs, I went online and found a Romanian Facebook friend had just commented on the article I posted here about the Vapor Drinker I met while traveling to Santa Fe for the board meeting of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners last weekend

When I told him I am returning to Romania in October 2012, to lead an adventure in shamanic dreaming and dream archaeology in the Bucegi mountains, he replied:

Ursii te asteapta! "The bears are waiting for you."

I shared today's Bear story with the physician who is the current president of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners, who told me he loves bears after I led the group in singing the Bear song. He told me that his grandfather was Romanian.

Right after this, I received an email from my coordinator in Romania telling me that she is considering a workshop site called....The Cabin of the Bears.

Good stories can have many installments, or sequels. I suspect that this one is going to go far.

There is a tribe of gypsies in Romania called the Ursari, or Bear People. They go from village to village dancing with trained bears at fairs. -

The Bear may also be at the heart of the ancient mystery religion of the Dacians (in what is now Romania). Herodotus and other ancient Greek writers mention a mysterious god of the Getae named Zalmoxis. Most likely (the etymology is disputed) this name means "Bear Skin" or "He Who Wears the Bear Skin", deriving from the tradition that the infant Zalmoxis was wrapped in a bear hide (zalmon, in Getic).-
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On a deeper level, the Bear connection involves the Underworld journey. Zalmoxis is one of the god-men who dies and is reborn. He goes down into the Underworld as the bear goes down into its cave, to hibernate. Zalmoxis reappears after three years to impart the "knowledge of the skies" to humans. Central to his teachings was the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and the idea that we cannot heal the body without healing the soul. Mircea Eliade wrote a monograph about Zalmoxis subtitled "The Vanishing God".
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To know Zalmoxis, perhaps, we have to dream him. Romania seems ripe for fresh adventures in dream archaeology, in which we use the techniques of Active Dreaming to open direct channels to ancient knowledge, and then use the best of modern science and scholarship to confirm our leads. -

Monday, December 5, 2011

The vapor drinker and the hungry road

Albuquerque-Santa Fe, New Mexico

In The Famished Road, Nigerian author Ben Okri takes us deep inside the lives of those who are at home (and not at home) in the worlds of the living and of the spirits. This extraordinary novel seized me with the first lines, which I had to read over and over, not for comprehension, let alone to turn them into a pale paraphrase, but to let them dwell fully inside me:

In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry.

I took the book as my in-flight reading on my journey to New Mexico last weekend for a board meeting of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners. The narrator is a boy of the kind called abiku in Nigeria, who may be fated to die young because he has spirit companions on the Other Side who want him to return to them soon and will do almost anything to pull him out of the land of the living. Madame Koto's palm-wine bar is his constant hangout, and its clientele make the denizens of the Space Bar in Star Wars look like country club golfers in plaid pants.
     I was seized by descriptions of how, as the living raise a glass or a fork or a cigarette to their lips, the spirits pressing thick about them dive in to get the first taste. The spirits drink the vapor of booze or food or smokes rather than the solid stuff. By my experience and observation, this is very much how it is, though few in modern Western society are able to perceive it. I have never met a genuine alcoholic, for example, who is not afflicted by a press of dead drunks trying to get another drink - that is to say, the spirit of the bottle - through them.
     I was thinking about this when I deplaned at Albuquerque airport. On my way down to baggage claim, I was greeted by a crescent line of cheery people ringing handbells, with a large explanatory sign that read: "ENCHANTMENT. Albuquerque Handbells Ensemble." Nice.
     As I rode the last escalator down, I was astonished to see a lean man in dark glasses puffing on a cigarette. Not something you expect to see in a U.S. airport these days. When I got closer, I saw that he was not blowing smoke. Rather, as he sucked on the tube, a fine mist - a vapor - rose around him.
     After I took my seat at the front of the airport shuttle, he came up the steps, still sucking on the strange cigarette. "Excuse me," I spoke to him. "I would like to know about your ghost cigarette."
     He took this as an invitation to take the vacant seat next to me. He explained how the e-cigarette, as he called it, simulates the act of tobacco smoking by using heat to vaporize a propylene glycerine liquid solution into an aerosol mist that is inhaled.
     I told him about the vapor drinkers in the novel. "When I saw you, I thought a character had stepped out of Madame Koto's bar." He laughed and shared part of his life story. A writer and artist, he has traveled the two worlds, experimenting with lucid dreaming and the shamanic use of hallucinogens. He quickly agreed with me that the most powerful dreamers and shamans have no need of chemicals beyond those produced in their own bodies. He told me about his friend Francis Huxley's early work in Amazonia and Haiti, adding two books to my always immense reading list.
     He had lived in Bali, and gave me a thrilling, step by step account of rituals of village exorcism in which the powers of good - barong - must be mustered against evil spirits led by the terrifying demon queen, the Rangda.
     All of this made for a wonderfully fast and fun ride from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. As we got off the bus, I noticed another man carrying a marvelous leather bag shaped a bit like a tall drum. "It's a goat," he told me when I complimented him on his carry-on. "I got it in Africa forty years ago. It holds everything I need for my trips." I looked more closely and saw that the bag had indeed been fashioned from a whole goatskin.

I make a round trip by airplane most weeks of the year, and this frequently involves from 10 to 20 hours of travel each way. When people ask me how I can do it, I respond that I am hungry for the road of fresh experience and everyday magic. Coincidence multiplies when we are in motion. Of course, this requires us to be open to the gifts of chance encounters, and the play of the Trickster, And to notice how life rhymes, as when the vapor drinker popped out of the book after a sign promised Enchantment.