Friday, August 31, 2012

Star in the water, and the princess who came back from the toilet

I do a ton of radio interviews. I rate hosts according to their ability to improvise and go with the flow rather than sticking to a script or a set of prepared questions, and also according to whether they have a sense of humor. When the subject is dreams, a very important distinction is between hosts who share personal experiences and those who do not.
    Sandiee Peters, the host of "Soul Chat", gets high marks in the last category. I had fun on her show last night, especially when she recounted two moving dreams of her own.
    At a time she was feeling down and somewhat lacking in confidence, she dreamed she saw a red starfish under the sea, shining like a star in the sky. This filled her with hope and optimism. As she looked again, infused with wonder, she saw many other red starfish in the waters. She woke feeling confident and happy, ready to take on the world. She remembered, "I came out of that dream knowing I am a star."
    We discussed starfish. One of the things Sandiee knew about them is that they grow back. "If they lose an arm, they can grow it back." So one of the qualities of starfish is regeneration. I learned, in some quick overnight research, that some starfish can not only grown back a lost arm; they can even grow a whole new body from a lone surviving arm. Now that is a master regenerator. What a marvelous ally when life calls on us to grow back something hat has been lost or diminished!
    Dreams require action, to embody their energy and guidance. We discussed what Sandiee might do now to celebrate the star of the sea, now it was again shining brightly in her ind. She told me she is going to Puerto Rico, and will look for a red starfish, and keep it close to her.
    This lively discussion led her to recall another dream. "It's a little embarrassing," she began. "I'm looking in a toilet and I see there is a woman down there in the bowl, all folded up." To Sandiee's amazement and delight, the woman now emerged from the toilet bowl, raising herself up to impressive height, and revealed herself as a princess, assured of her power and beauty. On waking, the dreamer felt really good, as if she had received a gift.
    "If this were my dream," I suggested, "I would think about a part of my feminine power that may have been dumped or consigned to the toilet by others but is now rising again, unstoppable. I would want to claim that power, and walk with it, and require others to recognize and respect it."

    Through both of Sandiee's reports, we see the power of dreams to put us back in touch with parts of ourselves that may have been submerged by life, and bring back a royal and shining self.

Photo: Red starfish in Maldives waters by Anne Moulet
    

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dreaming is social, and PJ is getting married

I'm at a conference of dream researchers, running a bit late for dinner. I hurry through a large restaurant lounge area, looking for the friends I said I would meet. Off to my left, outside on a sunny terrace, I see women I know and like and go over to greet them.
    I kiss a woman with long dark hair on the back of a head and she turns to smile up into my eyes. She calls herself PJ, and she is getting married. I had forgotten this, or the information had never registered. She introduces me to her fiance, a tall, stocky blond man who seems suspicious of me, maybe jealous. When I recognize that his last name is Lithuanian, I try to open him up by talking about my deep connection with Lithuania. I sprinkle a few Lithuanian words into my spiel, and mention that I am thinking of writing a whole book about my adventures in the country of Žemyna and Perkunas.


I have no strong feelings on waking from this dream into morning sunlight a few hours ago. This small and very social dream feels just-so: went there, did that, talked to those people.
    Yes, I could play the "What part of me?" game and ask whether PJ is a feminine aspect of myself and whether the big Lithuanian is a strong but sometimes surly part of me, and so on. But my feelings tell me this would be a wholly misdirected exercise.
    I could play word games with the name "PJ." For many of us "PJs" are pajamas. Were these initials a prompt to me to wake up to the fact that I was dreaming, and enter a state of dream lucidity? (I did not become lucid in this dream.) Well, maybe. But then I don't wear PJs, so an allusion to "pajamas" is not the prompt for me that it might be for someone with a different dress code for bed.
    I know a woman who calls herself PJ in regular life. I don't think I know the woman in my dream, though I can see her quite distinctly - slim, deeply tanned, possibly Asian-American.
    I do sometimes go to conferences with dream researchers, and some of the other people in the dream are friends who belong to the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) where I have spoken several times. So I'll file this dream in two categories. It may be a rehearsal for a possible future event. It could be an experience in a parallel reality. Either way, I feel sure it involved transpersonal interaction with other people on a plane of reality close to the physical.
    Dreams are not only personal and subjective; they are transpersonal and may be experiences of an objective reality, in many possible times and dimensions. When we dream, we get out there. Some of us are actually much more social in dreams than in ordinary life. This is certainly true for me, in those periods in my life when I am off the road and down in my creative cave, writing and researching.


Graphic: Yes, they are wearing pajamas! The old photos show handlers of the Sultan of Oudh's hunting cheetahs. The origin of the word "pajama" is Persian; its original meaning is "leg garment."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dream bruises and other bleedthroughs

What if in your dream you went to heaven and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower and what if when you awoke you had that flower in your hand?

Coleridge's famous question is not a hypothetical to active and conscious dreamers, who notice various types of bleedthrough between different dimensions of reality and experience.

    A nurse who took part in one of my early dream classes later told me she had dreamed of a visitation from a being that was half woman, half deer. Waking in her second floor apartment, she found deer scat on her floor. Trying to make sense of this (nurses are no-nonsense, practical people) she recognized that a deer might have wandered onto the grounds of her apartment complex. But she was quite certain there was no way it could have gotten up her stairs or through her window! She was content to accept the unlikely deer poop as a sign from the deeper universe that her visitation had been absolutely for real. She later found the deer-woman turning up as a guide when she was caring for patients, especially the dying who needed help to prepare for their journeys beyond this world.
    One of the most common bleedthroughs from the realm of dream or astral experience into the world of the body is astral repercussion, to use a term favored by Dion Fortune and her peers. This is what happens when what is experienced in the astral body during its excursions outside the physical body leaves physical marks when it returns.
    While Fortune described cases where this kind of thing can be seriously depleting, even life-threatening, to the experiencer, astral repercussion may be a routine side effect of getting out and about in a subtle energy body, sometimes wholly benign and even entertaining. In the first letter from Lady Valerie D'Arcy in my novel Fire Along the Sky, she protests that an amorous visit from her lover in the form of a leopard-man left her with bite marks on her body; this fictional scene was drawn from experience!
    Let me give an example from my dream life this summer. I was enjoying a rather lazy week's vacation on Lake Champlain, swimming and reading a lot, dining well, spending a lot more time in bed overnight than is my typical pattern. My body's peace and ease over those summer days was balanced by the nocturnal adventures of my dream self.
    In a dream thriller that could easily be filmed in the style of The Bourne Identity, I go on a wild ride through the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. We have to dodge road-blocks and predatory packs that are out to stop cars and rob their drivers and passengers, or worse. The predators use all sorts of stratagems to get drivers to stop, sometimes pushing children in front of the cars. When they do that to us, I grab control of the steering wheel from my driver, managing to avoid hitting a child being used as bait, so we escape the trap. I hurt my arm making this maneuver, but pay little attention because soon I am caught up in a big-stakes international intrigue.

    I woke happy and excited. I felt like I had stepped into a movie to play an Action Man hero, and this was really enjoyable. But - uh, oh - how did that bruise come to appear on the underside of my left upper arm? There really was no physical cause I could locate. On the other hand, there was all that action in the dream, and the pain I experienced during the car chase. Someone had jabbed something at me through the window of the car, in that mad ride through the Bois de Boulogne.
   I
nter-dimensional bleedthroughs bring us awake to the fact that we are engaged in more than one order of reality, and that what happens beyond our default (physical) reality may not only be no less real, but sometimes more so. If the dream gave me the bruise, then which was more real: my night escapade in Paris, or my lazy day by a lake in Vermont?

Graphic: Astral repercussion from a dream thriller in the Bois de Boulogne?

Monday, August 27, 2012

The final metamorphosis of Ovid in exile


Since I made exciting discoveries on "Malouf Street" in one of my dream cities, I have been reading the wonderful Australian novelist and short story writer David Malouf. Over the past 24 hours I was engrossed in his slim and elegant early novel, An Imaginary Life (1978).
     The voice of the narrative is that of Publius Ovidius Naso, better known to us as Ovid. In the year 8 of the common era, Augustus ordered that Ovid should be exiled to the remotest outer reaches of the Roman Empire, to the Black Sea port of Tomis, in the thinly settled province of Moesia, for the term of his natural life. Tomis is known today as Constanţa. 
    We don't know why the emperor imposed this fierce punishment on the poet. Ovid referred to his commission of "a poem and an error". The poem may have been one of his erotic cycles, perhaps the Ars Amatoria, in which he offers laughing but explicit tips to both sexes on how to seduce each other; Augustus frowned on public discussion of such things, and the promiscuous behavior of his own daughter Julia made him very averse to the patrician party scene in which Ovid, when in Rome, appears to have been at home. The "error" may have been the poet's affiliation to a faction within the imperial family opposed to the power of poison queen Livia.
    As for what happened to Ovid after he arrived in the land of the Getae, in what is now southeastern Romania, we have the evidence of the poems he sent flying back to Rome like carrier pigeons, the Tristia and the Black Sea letters. In pleading mode, he exaggerates the rigors of the climate and the manners of the "barbarians" among whom he must now live. Reading his poetic epistles describing a frozen waste, you would never know that he was living at what is now a very popular summer resort. Yet we feel the depth of the pain of a wordsmith obiliged to live among those who do not speak his own language when he declares: "Writing a poem you can read to no one is like dancing in the dark." 1
     If we track the poet's writings from exile across time, we see his attitudes evolving. He is learning the language of the Getae, and even composing poems in a local language, which might be Getic but could be the pidgin Greek of the coast; Tomis was founded by Greek colonists. How Ovid died, and where his body was interred, are historical mysteries.
    These are the facts, and the lacunae, which David Malouf has seized in order to create An Imaginary Life. His story begins with a dream (perhaps the author's own?) attributed to Ovid. In boyhood, the poet dreams of an encounter with a wild Child who may or may not be a wolf as well as a boy. Nearly 60 years later, the dream is fulfilled, when the exiled poet meets a naked Child (always described like this, with the capital C) who speaks the language of birds and animals but no human tongue, and lives outside the walls of the fort where Ovid's Getic hosts shelter from the wild winters and the wilder Dacian horse-soldiers who come thundering over the frozen Danube.
    The poet makes it his project to teach the wolf boy human speech. But the Child is really his teacher, instructing him in the language of the birds, prising open his awareness until he can feel himself streaming with the animate world of nature about him, no longer separate. The mannered Roman poet of love, who recounted myths of gods and shapeshifters in his Metamorphoses with craft yet without conviction, starts to see and sense like a dream shaman.
     Malouf's Ovid reflects, early in his Black Sea sojourn,


We have some power in us that knows its own ends. It is this that drives us on to what we must finally become. We have only to conceive of the possibility and somehow the spirit works in us to make it actual. This is the true meaning of transformation. This is the real metamporphosis. Our further selves are contained within us, as the leaves and blossoms are in the tree. We have only to find the spring and release it. 2

     I like the way dreaming is developed as a theme in Malouf's novel. There is a fine description of a gathering experience of interactive dreaming in a scene where Ovid and the wild Child are sleeping under the same thatch. They may have been in contact

in our sleep, as we move through this room in the same liquid medium, as if floating together in a pool, some casual meeting of one dream with another, a flowing into his sleep, or his sleep into mine, at some point that the waking mind would not know of. 3

Malouf take us further into the nature and importance of dreaming. It begins to dawn on his Ovid that the place he most wanted to avoid may be exactly where his soul needs him to be, the place where he will at last become the person he was intended to be. When he asks himself how this began to manifest, he reflects that

It begins at first, perhaps, in our dreams. Some other being that we have kept out of mind, whose thoughts we have never allowed to come to the tip of our tongue, stirs and in its own way begins to act in us. 4

Malouf imagines a scenario for Ovid's final metamorphosis and physical death. The headman who protected Ovid and the Child is dead, and his people think this is the work of a demonic animal that was brought among them by the boy. Now the poet and the boy are fleeing north across a sea of grass. And Ovid is changing. The ever-poised flâneur, rich and noble by inheritance, never short of words or self-importance, is relinquishing his old identity and streaming into something else. 

Slowly I begin the final metamorphosis. I must drive out my old self and let the universe in...Then we shall begin to take back into ourselves the lakes, the rivers, the oceans of the earth, its plains, its forested crags with their leaps of snow....The spirit of all things will migrate back into us. Then we shall be whole. 5

Wonderful writing, and a thrilling evocation of the dawning of a cosmic consciousness. 

I see us from a great height, two tiny figures parting the grassland with a shadowy crease as we move through it.. From a point far ahead I see us approaching, from a point a whole day's distance behind us, I see us moving away. 6

Now Ovid is coming close to a death he dreamed, long ago.
    I never suspended my disbelief that Malouf's narrator is the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso. That may be partly because I know that Ovid - whatever he pretended to folks back home when trying to enlist sympathy - was not quite as remote from Greco-Roman culture as this narrative makes out. Tomis was still in many ways a Greek town, and there was a Roman governor and a Roman garrison, and some handsome buildings and elegant Grecian art, not just the thatched huts and Getic tribesmen of the novel. The people of Tomis treated Ovid with respect, exempting him from local taxes and paying tribute to him as a poet. 7
   But David Malouf's intention was not to write an historical novel, still less a biography but rather (as he states in an Afterword), 
"a fiction with its root in possible event." In this he succeeds brilliantly. As the Italians say, se non è vero, è ben trovato. "If it's not true, it's well found." 

NOTES
1. Epistulae ex Ponto IV 2:33-4. Translated by Peter Green in Ovid, The Poems of Exile: Tristia and the Black Sea Letters (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005) 176.
2. David Malouf, An Imaginary Life (New York: Vintage International, 1996) 64.
3. ibid, 78.
4. ibid, 95.
5. ibid, 96
6. ibid 142

7. Peter Green, Introduction to Ovid, The Poems of Exile, xxxi

Graphic: Bronze statue of Ovid in the square of Constanţa

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Empress and her red-hot lover, Jesus

Empress Zoe does not appear to mind that the emperor has installed his official mistress in the Grand Palace, right opposite her own apartments. She has her own red-hot lover, Jesus.
    The rapture she shares with him is not a disembodied transport of the spirit. She has helped to create a physical body in which she may commune with Jesus in her private chamber. This is a full-size statue, anatomically complete, that has many properties that seem bizarre or impossible to the modern mind, though not to the minds of crafters of "breathing images" in many cultures, from Egypt and Mesopotamia to the crumbling Byzantine empire to Hindu or Tibetan Buddhist temples today.
     The empress believes her statue to be fully alive and ensouled. She kisses and caresses it. In moments of distress, she alternately clasps the icon, speaks to it as to a living person, addresses it as her lover, or flings herself to the ground, wailing and beating her breast.
     Beyond this, the complexion of her savior of the bedchamber is quite changeable. She uses the changes in color as a mode of divination. When Jesus turns pallid, she is stricken with fear than an evil event will take place, to the point where she may throw herself to the floor and beat her breast and rend her clothes. When Jesus turns ruddy, however, she is assured that her affairs - and those of the empire - will go well. She gives advice to her husband, the Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos, based on the skin tone of her holy statue.
    She feeds the spirit in the statue with perfumes and incense, in immense quantities. Any necromancer knows that spirits don't feed on gross food and drink, but on the essence or vapor of things; they are sniffers rather than swallowers. Fires burn in braziers day and night in the empress' chambers, even in the full heat of summer, as she keeps her retainers working to produce new aromas to please and feed her spirit lover and keep him lively in the body she has crafted for him. Aromatic substances are placed inside the effigy, to fuel and recharge its spirit.
     A fantasy story? No more than other episodes of Byzantine history, carefully recorded in the 11th-century Chronographia of Michael Psellus and available in a Penguin translation retitled Fourteen Byzantine Rulers. Psellus [1]was no minor clerk who gathered gossip; he was the foremost philosopher and orator of his day and an imperial counselor who rose as high as prime minister. He became a monk but loved the Neoplatonists more than the scriptures, on the evidence of his books, and did more than anyone in his age to rescue their w0rks from obscurity. Byzantine scholar John Duffy says of Psellus: "Singlehandedly, he was responsible for bringing back, almost from the dead, an entire group of occult authors and books whose existence had long been as good as forgotten." [2]
    His understanding of what was going on between Zoe and her Jesus statue was informed by first-hand observation, and also by the study of works on theurgy: a lost commentary by Proclus, and the intriguing text known as the Chaldaean Oracles. Psellus was not only a learned man; he sought "a wisdom which is beyond all demonstration, apprehensible only by the intellect of a wise man, in moments of inspiration." [3]
     I pulled Michael Psellus from my shelves when I learned that I will be staying at the site of the Grand Palace of the Byzantine emperors during my visit to Istanbul next month. I marveled at the legible signature and date on the flyleaf; I purchase this book as an undergrad in Canberra, Australia in May, 1967. I knew more then about the Byzantines, in my conscious mind, than I do now, and write a poem about the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. My mind went sailing - and still does - with Yeats:


At midnight on the Emperor's pavement flit
Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit

(W.B.Yeats, "Byzantium")

I wonder now what errant flames of memory await me at the side of the Grand Palace.

Graphic: mosaic Zoe at Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

NOTES
1. Psellos, in Greek, means "Stammerer". Maybe Michael Psellos (like Demosthenes) had to overcome an early speech defect; he was certainly no stammerer when it came to winning the ear of emperors. His surname is widely latinized as Psellus.
2. John Duffy, "Reactions of Two Byzantine Intellectuals to the Theory and Practice of Magic: Michael Psellos and Michael Italikos" in Henry Maguire (ed) Byzantine Magic (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1995) p. 83.
3. E.R.A. Sewter (trans) Fourteen Byzantine Rules: The Chronographia of Michael Psellus (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966) p.175

Monday, August 20, 2012

Safe in honey



Warmed by the sun, amber quickens and streams,
remembering a golden world within wood.
A honey bee wakes in the dream of amber
and bursts from the yellow dome in its silver mount.

I track the bee to the old barn, paint-less and forgotten,
we had thought an abandoned wreck.
Something has been working here, unseen.
The barn is filled with sweetness. Honey drips from the rafters.
Soon I am drunk with abundance, giddy with joy.

The drone of the bees is a song, the chant of melissai.
I remember priestesses who bring the honey of the invisible
and always lead home to the bosom of the Great Mother.
With the song, a power is rising in the dark amber shadows.
I feel the heat of its quivering flanks.
Earth heaves with the stamping hooves;
its great windy mane drives a breeze through the still air.
It comes to me now, and I mount it with joy, safe in honey.

~

I rediscovered the text of this poem (composed in 2006 and not included in my forthcoming collection, Here, Everything Is Dreaming) just now. It revives my desire to learn more about the mysteries of the ancient Bee Goddess, the honeybee priestesses, and the connection between honey and amber. I look to the Baltic for the most reliable access to these things, because  the Bee Goddess (whose Lithuanian name is Austeja) is still known and revered there, and this is the source of the most precious amber, and because ancient priestesses of this tradition have communicated with me directly when I have been in the Baltic lands. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Confessions of a literary sprinter

Everyone who writes, or wants to write, is interested in how others do it.
    I think of Graham Greene as one of the great professionals among the writing class. He made it his game to get up every morning and meet his daily quota - sometimes 500 words, sometimes 750 - regardless of what he was doing the night before or what he had to do in the rest of a day. He was also one of those who made constant use of his dreams, keeping a dream journal over many decades and using his nocturnal adventures to fill gaps in a story, flesh out characters and generate themes and dialogue. I write about the role of dreaming in Greeneland in my Secret History of Dreaming.
    I have a novelist friend, Terry Persun, whose discipline awes me. He tells me he gets up very early and spends four hours at the keyboard, writing drafts, before he begins his day job. He has managed to publish half a dozen novels with small presses, including Wolf's Rite, has more "in the trunk" (as editors used to say) and will no doubt win a larger audience over time. He is a marathon writer, good for the distance.
    I am willing to confess that I am not a marathon writer, and don't follow Graham Greene's example, though in my dreams Greene has urged me to do so. I write almost every day, journaling, blogging and committing poetry, but don't sit down to work on a book draft until I feel a strong wind of inspiration. When that wind is up, I go with it, writing as fast as I can until exhaustion or the calls of the outside world cause me to pause.
    I am a sprinter when it comes to writing books, not a marathon man or a steady slogger. Of course, successive sprints, with pauses, can carry you the distance of a marathon. To start a sprint, I need to hear a starter's gun, somewhere in my being. It's also helpful to me to see a finishing line in the near distance, which is why I like to have a fierce deadline - near impossible suits me well - with people waiting, eagerly or anxiously, for me to cover the distance.
    Which leads me to a more general reflection on the writer's trade.
    As writers, we do well to draw on habits that served us well in any kind of work we have undertaken. If you once worked on a farm, for example, you know how to adjust to the seasons and natural rhythms in a writing cycle, and may have the patience to seed your creative earth, in due time, and wait for things to sprout. If you have thrived on a 9 to 5 schedule, then set yourself regular hours to produce. If you have prospered in group work situations, with lots of meetings and interaction, then you will probably want to be part of a writing circle. 

    If you were good at pulling all-nighters to get a term paper done, as a student, you may find you are just as good at pulling all-nighters with a current writing project. If you were a journalist, as I was earlier in my life, then you may be geared to giving everything it takes to meet a deadline, and ready to thrive on crisis. That's one of the reasons I am a sprinter when it comes to writing, even if it's a matter of delivering 400 pages rather than 400 words.
    I like to write a book in about three weeks, six weeks tops. It may take me years to hear the starter's pistol and get running, though. So I am always liable to be overtaken by the steady person who covers some of the distance every day. When I hear the fable of the tortoise and the hare, I feel for the hare.
 
 
     

Friday, August 17, 2012

Time Road to the Stars


C.S. Lewis's novel of Malacandra, Out of the Silent Planet, describes a journey in a spaceship to another planet by three humans - one driven by greed, one by darker ambitions to make humans the predatory master species in the universe, the third a thoughtful, attractive adventurer called Ransom, who is a professor of philology. They enter a world quite unlike the Earth, where three quite different intelligent species are able to coexist without conflict, and everything is ordered by the benign rule of a godlike being called Oyarsa, whose messengers and assistants are the radiant eldila. 
     In Malacandra, we learn that Earth is known as "the silent planet". Contact between Earth and other planets has been cut off because Earth has fallen under the sway of the Bent One, a dark overlord. Unknown to humans, the eldils still travel to Earth, but it's become a dangerous journey and they go down like warrior angels, concealed from the perception of most humans.
     Lewis adds a postcript to the novel that purports to be a letter to the author from "the original of Dr Ransom", an acquaintance on whom the Ransom character is based. Supposedly their friendship began when Lewis - a medievalist - found a twelfth century account of a voyage through the heavens that introduced a being there called Oyarses, "the intelligence or tutelary spirit of a planet".In a nonfiction book, The Discarded Image, that Lewis published late in life, he discusses the 12th century Platonist, Bernardus Silvestris - "Bernard of the Woods" - who wrote about a journey out of this world and planetary gods he called Oyarses.
     There are more clues to Lewis' evolving thinking about how we can open and maintain communication with the intelligences of other star systems in the patrial draft of a late novel he did not intend to publish. Lewis's former secretary narrowly managed to save this from a bonfire on which the author's brother was burning his manuscripts shortly after his death. This unfinished novel, titled "The Dark Tower" by the editor, involves time travel. The editor suggests it is the true sequel to Out of the Silent Planet.l
     In the postcript to Out of the Silent Planet Lewis made the fascinating suggestion that time travel will be the key to travel to intelligent life on other planets.The last sentence in that postscript reads as follows: "The way to the planets lies through the past; if there is to be any more space-traveling, it will have to be time-traveling as well."     
     The heart of the matter (as Lewis also came to believe) is that given the Cloaking of Earth, the best and safest way to reopen communication with benign intelligences on other planets and in other dimensions may be to go across time and take off from a past - or future - location. After leading many group journeys by flights of intrepid shamanic dream travelers (following the "Sirius" script I published in Dreamgates, and others) I believe he was correct.

Of related interest: Tolkien's Wager with Time

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Silver wolf invites me to see how past life memories are selected

I am in a village of terraced houses, in Ireland or Britain a few centuries ago. I have come here to investigate my possible past life connections with a friend. This may be one of a number of excursions I have made overnight, to different landscapes in different times.
    I leave my friend in the village and walk a path towards the woods beyond the fields. The woods are lovely, deep and dark and inviting. But at the edge of the wildwood, something is moving. It is a black snake, slithering across the path, from right to left, at a diagonal. This snake is huge. When its head reaches the other side of the path, it straightens the body to move parallel to the path. I can now see at least twenty feet of its body, and more is coming.
   I hesitate. Though I don't think this snake is venomous, I'm not sure I want to get any closer. I am ready to turn back, when I see the head of a silver wolf among the shadows of the forest. The wolf is staring intently at me. I recognize a friend, and know it is safe, and maybe essential, to go forward.
   I step over the snake, as if it is merely a garden hose.
   At the instant I do this, I am transported to another level.
   The scene changes completely. I am now in some kind of vessel, like a spaceship or orbiting observation platform. Two men are working the control panels, under huge windows. One remains at his work. The other stands up quickly, to see who has entered their space. He is clearly very surprised to find me here, but also friendly and welcoming.
    I know, before words are exchanged, that this vessel is a "relay station" and that the work of its controllers is to supervise and help to select the past life memories that become accessible to people living on the Earth plane. I understand, in this moment, that it is very important that past life memories are meted out carefully, so that we are not overwhelmed by a rush of information and emotion that could bind or distract us in our present lives.


Feelings after the dream: Excited and full of active curiosity.

Reality check: I have again been studying our relations with personalities and dramas in other times, and how these can provide a context of meaning for current relationships and challenges. Silver Wold is a name I gave to a native shaman who can appear as man or wolf and gave me indelible instruction on the nature of various aspects of the soul and what happens to them after death. Black snakes have sometimes featured in my dreams as important boundary markers, between different worlds as well as different states of consciousness. To gain entry to an earlier time and fulfill an assignment in Celtic lands that once seemed urgently important to me (in a lucid dream followed by a shamanic journey) I once had to move beyond a seething mass of black snakes.

Action plan: Return to the "relay station", whenever possible, to learn more!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Things that like to happen together: Spilled coffee en route to Montana


The Chinese say there are things that like to happen together. I had a vivid experience of this goes and how it can flow in my travels to Bozeman, Montana last Thursday.
    When I boarded my first flight, before 6:00 a.m., I was alerted to the possibility that there might be some mishap ahead. The fellow who took his seat across the aisle from me turned to me, staring, and announced "This will be an eventful flight." I didn't ask him what he meant, but I got the message that there might be a surprise in store of the less-than-welcome kind.
     As soon as we were in the air, the fellow sitting ahead of me threw his seat back so he was virtually in my lap, so I could not bring my table down properly. I realized I'd better be careful with the coffee I was about to order from the flight attendants, especially since they were quite distracted, caught up in intense gossip of their own; they were mixing up orders and had already spilled someone's ice. I nursed my coffee carefully, when it came, and got it down safely. Nonethess, I continued to feel some anxiety, edged with irritation
     Then the woman to my left spilled her coffee all over my left leg. As she gasped apologies, I sloshed water from a bottle over the vast and spreading stain, grateful that I was wearing jeans instead of the linen pants I had considered earlier that morning.
     I turned to my rowmate and said, "Since you have introduced yourself by spilling coffee over me, I need you to explain yourself. There is cleartly some reason we are meant to have a conversation." Yes, I talk to strangers like this, all the time.
    For the rest of the flight, she explained her family, her work as a special ed teacher, her hopes for retirement and why she was traveling with her husband to Milwaukee (to visit a married daugher who was a product manager for a department store chain). This was of mild interest, but no big "hits". Then she started tellng me about Bozeman, Montana. "Wait a minute," I interreupted. "You told me earlier you've never been to Bozeman, and you're not going there today. How do you know about it>" She told me that last thing the night before she watched an episode of House Hunters on TV in which a couple were checking out real estate options and lifestyles in Bozeman. So she was prepped, to a small extent, to tell me something about a town I was visiting for the first time, through this coincidence.
    This was mildly entertaining, but no big deal. As I waited for my connecting flight at Chicago's O'Hare airport, I reflected that the main interest of my travel experience thus far might be that it suggested he workings of presentiment, an old word for what happens when we feel or sense somethig before it happens. I seemed to know that coffee was going to be spilled. When the spill took place, my prior anxiety and irritation evaporated. I did nopt need to express them now the incident they foreshadowed had taken place, as the White Queen dod not need to scream after she pricked her finger since she had screamed in advance.
     I was curious to see what "objective chance" (a Surrealist term for the play of coincidence) might bring me on my second and longer flight. I found myself immediately engrossed in a wonderful conversation with my new rowmate. When I mentioned I was speaking at a bookstore in Bozeman that evening (a marvelous independent called the Country Bookshelf) she immediately offered to put me in touch with another fine independent bookstore in the town where she lives. She recomemnded authors she knows, one of whom I plan to invite to be a guest on my radio show.
     When she told me she has been a pediatric nurse for more than 20 years, the conversation deepened. I told her that over that same period, nurses have been the #1 occupational group respresented in my workshops. Nurses have immediate uses for the techniques of shamanic dreaming and are called on to play the role of spiritual guides, and sometimes psychopomps on teh roads through death. We discussed specific techniques that can help nurses to play these roles and to hold their own in the presence of doctors who aact as if M.D. means "minor deity".
     For over three hours, our talk ranged wide and deep - from her vivid account of riding in a haycart among a herd of bison during a thunderstorm on a ranch in Wyoming, to the life of the Lakota at Pine Ridge and the visions of Black Elk, tothe work of an achaeoastronomer who discovered that an ancient arrangement of stones in Chaco Canyon cats the shadow of a great bear at the equinox.
     Then came the climactic exchange. I was not surprised to learn that my rowmate was a writer, given her great literacy and narrative skill. What was she working on right now. "A memoir of my life when I was three years old," she told me. She explained that this year in her early life was shadowed by a comng death; her father died when she was just four.
     I felt shivers running through all of my energy field. Because, for the previous three days, I had been writing a sketch of my life when I was three years old, a time in my early boyhood that was also shadowed by death. I died for the first time, in my present life, at age three, losing vital signs in a hospital in Hobart after I contracted pneumonia. On of the doctors told my parents that I "died and came back." That event changed everything.
   So here we were, on the plane to Bozeman: two people who had just discovered that each had been called to write a memoir of what happened at age three, in a time shadowed by coming death. What do you say, when the play of concidence is this profound, specific and personal. I say thank you to the powers of the deeper world that use coincidence to bring us awake.
    I also felt I had been rewarded for keeping my sense of humor through the spilled coffee incident. We don't ever want to leave our sense of humor at home.

After the spill: RM with high-octane coffee at Wild Joe in Bozeman, Montana

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"What is your contract with God?"

Who could be knocking on the door, so late? Reluctantly, I left my book and the warmth of the fire. White moonlight gave the smooth oval of my visitor's face a pearly glow. A pleasant face, without distinctive features. The man at the door appeared to be ten years younger than myself, and perhaps a bit simple. I sensed a quiet fervor in him. Was he a Jesus freak, one of the kind who peddle religion at the doorstep?
     "I come from my father's house." His first words commanded my whole attention. I knew that this statement was true, and better than any identity card.
     He gave me a name I recognized from my father's Scottish family.
     He watched me with steady eyes, unblinking. He asked calmly, "What is your contract with God?"
     The scene shimmered, then exploded. Back in my body, I rose from the dream gasping, as if coming up from under a giant wave on a surf beach. The bedside clock told me it was shortly after 3 a.m. That's a popular time for people to be born, or to die. My wife was breathing evenly, away in a different dreamland, and did not stir as I slipped from the bed and padded downstairs to record what had just happened to me.
     I had no doubt that I had received a visitation. The stranger at my door had come to me with a question that pierced me to the marrow. The question implied that at some time, in some reality, I had made a sacred contract, "a contract with God". If this were so, then how could I have forgotten it? What would be the penalty for violating such a contract, in God knows how many ways? Would amnesia serve as an alibi?
     This visitation sowed a sort of divine discontent in me. It made me restless in familiar modes of living,    urgent to know the contents of the contract my visitor had mentioned. It brought back shards of memory, from my earlier life and from other lives. I remembered another visitor, who appeared as a radiant young man on white nights in my boyhood, and engaged in extended conversation; he taught me that the knowledge that matters is acquired through anamnesis, through "remembering" what we knew, on the level of soul or spirit, before we entered our present bodies.
     We humans are forgetful animals. We forget and remember, remember and forget. Sometimes it is necessary to die in order to remember what really matters. There is a magnificent story about that in Plato's Republic. It concerns a man who died and came back, a soldier named Er. In today's language, we might call him a near-death experiencer. From his experiences on the other side, Er brought back one of the greatest accounts in world literature of how each of us, in a space between lives, may choose the terms and conditions of our next life experience before our souls take up residence in a new body. There are varying degrees of choice, in this version. Then there is the question of how much an incoming soul will be allowed to remember after taking up residence in a body on earth. On the way to the body, a soul gets to drink from Lethe, the waters of forgetfulness; according to how deeply it drinks, it will remember a little, or a lot, or perhaps nothing at all.
     I like, even more, a Yoruba version of how we choose our births and may be helped to remember the sacred contracts we tend to forget. As the Yoruba tell it, before it enters a body the ori, or individual soul, kneels before the high God, Olodumare, to confirm a destiny that is intended to unfold in a new life.  Fortunate, evolved souls are able to choose their destinies. However, many souls have only a limited degree of choice, and many more have their destinies "laid upon their backs."
crown of an oba, a Yoruba king
     When a soul has received its life contract from the high God, it embarks on its journey toward physical birth. At one of the gates between the worlds, it must answer the question of the Gatekeeper, the oni’bode

Gatekeeper: Where are you going?
Soul: I am going into the world.
Gatekeeper: What are you going to do there?


Can a contract with God be renegotiated? I am cheered by the Yoruba teaching that “an unhappy destiny can be rectified if it can be ascertained what it is.”
    I am also inspired by another Yoruba insight: that we have an ally on a higher plane of reality who is in no way alien to ourselves. This ally can help us remember our contract with God, and coach us on how to fulfill it or modify it. While the soul is down here in "the marketplace of this world", it has a “double in heaven,” observing from a higher level. From one life to another, they may swap places, alternately playing the role of actor and witness or memory-keeper. 
    Maybe the man at my door who said he came from "my father's house" was such a being. Certainly, he has inspired me to recover elements of what I regard as a sacred contract, and to live, work and play, with a clear sense of life purposes to which I believe a committed myself before I came into my present life.
    Let me hasten to add that remembering a sacred contract doesn't mean getting stuck in details. A babalawo, or high divination priest of Ifa, the Yoruba oracle, once told me that contrary to what most people suppose, most things in life are negotiable. I may be interested in renegotiating one clause on my contract that says I am supposed to publish 68 books; I am only up to 22. In the workshops where I guide intrepid dream travelers to make journeys to recover their sacred contracts, I sometimes suggest a follow-up visit to an otherworldly yet cheerily familiar Contracts Office where negotiation is the name of the game.

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For more on Plato's Myth of Er, and the Yoruba tradition of how the ori receives its destiny, please see my book Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and Life Beyond Death.

Graphic: 1401 Latin manuscript of Plato's Republic, which contains the story of Er.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Serving the Goddess




I am only a man, but I serve the Goddess. When I was fourteen, she claimed me in one of her most fearsome forms, and from that dark night I wrote a cycle of poems titled Creatures of Kali. 
     I have met the Goddess in the deep loamy earth, in molten lava, in the waves of the sea, as Spider Woman and Reindeer Queen and as Great Mother Bear. I feel her robe swirl in the shifting stars. I have received instruction from ancient priestesses, communicating across time, and from wise women of many cultures in our present world. 
     I am conscious of walking in the footsteps of Marija Gimbutas, the great Lithuanian scholar of the Goddess, and it was in her native country that I made an indelible connection with the oldest living Goddess tradition in the Old World.     

She sets fierce conditions for her love.
No man may have her unless he serves the Goddess in her.



Photo: My picture of the garden goddess at Esalen, where I am leading a week-long adventure in November.