Monday, June 24, 2013

Entering the afterlife sword in hand


Our relationship with the ancestors is a two-edged sword. We are required to separate from those elements in our multi-generational stories that can bind us to repetitive stories of feuding and addiction, hatred and abuse. Then we are free to claim our connection with wisdom-keepers of earlier times who can help us to bring about cultural soul recovery, reclaiming traditions and elemental connections that support life. We may even find, embarked on this purpose, that we are in direct contact, mind to mind, with ancestors and counterpart personalities across time and space.
   I was thinking of these things as I rode a train from Glasgow into the Western Highlands. This must be one of the lovelies train rides on the planet. We passed Loch Lomond on the right, later Loch Awe on the left. Near the stations great walls of wild rhododendrons rose high. The foxgloves were out everywhere. From time to time I caught a glimpse of red deer. The antlers of the bucks were still fairly new, trailing velvet. The red deer appeared and disappeared so quickly it was easy to understand why the old ones called them Fairy cattle.
     We crossed Mull from Craignure to Finnphort, where the main traffic hazard is sheep droppings. We took a little boat to Staffa, the strange island of basalt columns, and walked a high narrow ledge to the mouth of Fingal's Cave, that fascinated poets and musicians since Joseph Banks noticed it in the 18th century, and inspired a work of Mendelsohn named after it. On to Iona, which Fiona MacLeod, in a moment of rhapsody, called "the metropolis of dreams". He ("Fiona" was a pen name) suggested that to find the true Iona we must be willing to enter into a dream in which pagan and Christian found a place together, for a time.  Columba, who founded the monastery here as a missionary from Ireland, knew things in the way of a Celtic seer, and worked magic in the way of a high druid, to judge by the biography penned by his devout coarb ("heir"), Adomnan, the ninth abbot, which was among my travel companions.
    When I walked the hill to the Abbey, I found a church service going on. In the final prayer, the priest called for the intercession of the sainted Columba in our lives today, and that the spirit of the holy man work in us. I contemplated the signs of old wonder-working in front of the Abbey. A stone trough of water where the pious washed their soles, but where, also, by contributing three cups of water a mariner might hope to secure a favorable wind. A stone by the well, hollowed by pilgrims who turned a white stone ball inside it as they made their wishes; it was said that when a hole opened all through the stone, the world would end. The moody weather reminded me that Columba was renowned as a weather shaman, who would always have a following in these islands.
    What seized me most strongly on this return visit to the Abbey of Iona was the ferocity of

the burial images of the men in iron - Lords of the Isles and their armored followers -  formerly interred in the Rèilig Odhrain (Oran's burial ground), now gathered in the fine little museum behind the abbey itself. On his grave slab, one of these lords had himself represented drawing his sword as he prepares to enter the afterlife. This made me wonder what kind of afterlife he expected. Other knightly figures look hardly less relaxed. Far from quietly reposing with their hands folded over the hilts of their swords, they look ready for battle, still full of wrath and ready for revenge on their enemies.
    This is not the aspect of the ancestors I am eager to reclaim in my present life! Yet I have been called into the times of these men in iron. Once it was the red fox that brought me back. Another time it was a red deer, standing in goodly Monarch of the Glen pose above a waterfall, who drew me. Behind the waterfall, I found a Cave of the Ancestors, and inside it, the glowing figure of an ancient tribal king, wounded and bloodied and exhausted, who was desperately calling for my help. I accepted that I had to go back, in one of the most powerful and challenging shamanic journeys of my life, to aid him in his own time, calling in forces I did not know were available until I made the appeal. Chief among them was a giant Bear. The rest of that story is for another time, but I learned from it that we never need to be prisoners of the past, once we awaken to the fact that we can reenter the past and change things for the better,

   Photos of grave images from Iona (c) Robert Moss


Nigel said...

Thanks for your new blog Robert. I loved the images in particular. I noted your ambivalence about the violence of former times. I recently enjoyed reading "The Warrior Ethos" by Steven Pressfield, and am starting to take on board that even people of peace can learn lessons from warriors. Some battles must be fought, either on the inner or outer stages of life, and challenges confronted bravely, invoking that warrior spirit. Thank you !

Robert Moss said...

I read Pressfield's "the War of Art" and was fascinated by his over-the-top insistence that we should approach writing like a combination of boot camp and a special forces operation. I decided that's not the way I choose to write, or do anything else. As for the role of warriors in history, of course there are times when we need them - like when my Viking ancestors were swarming out of the mist to slaughter my Scots ancestors when they were at Christmas prayer in the church on Iona. But once again, we must choose what we take from the past, and what we say to those who live in it. I find myself saying again and again, across centuries, "Look after the women and children."

Nigel said...

I must be a person of contradictions because two books I really enjoyed were "War of Art" and "A Pace of Grace" by Linda Kavelin-Popov. The latter book is almost a complete contradiction to the former, arguing that western life is too responsibility driven ("hard virtues") and needs to get back to "soft virtues" such as gentleness and joyfulness. I like to be in "A Pace of Grace" mode most of the time, but with "War of Art" in my back pocket for times that I need it. That's me anyhow. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I have been enjoying reading "Conscious Dreaming" which at last arrived via Amazon to my part of the world.

Patricia said...
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Justin Patrick Moore said...

Good to catch up with your adventures in Scotland Robert...among the Fairy Cattle and the echos of Fingal's Cave.

I think it's important to remember the values of our ancestors are different than ours. Older isn't better, just as newer isn't better, per se. When you time travel in dreams the cultural gaps may be vast... yet if we are called in to do a shamanic or magical job in service, to the land, ancestors, or other forces, trusting our contacts and guides becomes critical.

And in our own time it's up to us to do as best we can according to our own moral and ethical compass, and try to leave as little mess for our own descendants -as future ancestors ourselves- to clean up.

On another not I am fascinated by the way the Celtic church harmonized with the Elder faith, to form for a time, a nice syncretism...

Robert Moss said...

"I think it's important to remember the values of our ancestors are different than ours." Certainly. And I have lived long enough, in my present span of years, to recognize that this is true within a life that allows for transformation, as well as between different lives in different centuries. My cardinal rule holds: from this moment of Now, we can reach consciously into other minds in other times, and this can change many things for the better.

James Wilson said...

"On his grave slab, one of these lords had himself represented drawing his sword as he prepares to enter the afterlife. This made me wonder what kind of afterlife he expected. Other knightly figures look hardly less relaxed."

I don't know what kind of ideas they had about the afterlife in that time, but maybe they thought that they would encounter all the people they had killed in life again in the afterlife? Because they preceded them in death.

Robert Moss said...

That is entirely possible, James. Of course early Scots - as made notorious by the climactic scene in Shakespeare's "Macbeth" - used to take the whole heads of their enemies, not merely as trophies, but in an effort to hold their spirits captive after death.

Sven-Kristjan Kreisberg said...

"Look after the women and children."this phrase caught my eye.
I have a friend who is in his seventies.He was raised in spirit of the old ways,ways that ruled estonians before christianity was brought to our land.He is one of the last warriors of the old ways.
At the beginning of 90s,when Soviet Union collapsed and Estonia gained its independence,he had vision.On the basis of this vision he formed an voluntary militarily organised national defence organisation which has currently about 13.000 members.
He told me once that if the days of trouble should rise again,we have to get as much of women and children out of the country as possible.
Felt that I need to share it.

Robert Moss said...

Sven-Kristjan, It sounds like your friend has the kind of warrior spirit we need in all times.

Nigel said...

Well spoken !

James Wilson said...

Hi Robert, last night I had a dream which confirms the assumption that at night we often dream about the things we did the day before.
A part of my dream was a Medieval-style scene, location right behind my house. Everyone was dressed in medieval costumes and carried swords. At one point in my dream I was going to decapitate someone because he had betrayed me. He attacked me while we had made peace just a few moments before. Luckily he was drunk so I could easily beat him in a sword fight. After this fight I laid a short rope on the back of his head, so he had to bend his head forward and I could chop off his head.
A dream that fits nicely with this post.

There are 2 strange elements in this dream which made me remember that I've been dreaming this dream years before. After this fight there suddenly appeared a comfortable leather armchair (style 1940s) in which I sat down. While the rest of the scene remained Medieval. And suddenly there appeared a stone fireplace with fire in the garden.
The second element: a man suddenly appeared with a white greyish bag over his head. The bag had the form of a tulip bulb (bottom thick, pointed at the top) making it seem as if the bag with contents was dropped on his romp. The bag flies on fire, he tries fast to take it off, this succeeds. Then I see the face of the man and that a large part of his skull missing.

These strange elements (the man with the bag over his head, armchair and stone fireplace) made me remember that I've had this dream before. Which made me think again of a documentary, about memory, that I've seen on tv recently.
After which asked myself the following: "are the strange and frightening elements that we sometimes see in our dreams only there to make sure we remember our dreams?"
Robert, I was wondering if you have already suggested this in your books or your blog? And if not, what’s your opinion about this question?

In this documentary they mentioned a certain method: the method of logic. This method makes it easier to remember a list of objects. (For example during a memory match)
On the internet I later found a similar description of this method under the name: method of loci, (or Journey Method, or the Roman Room technique)
The method can be seen as a trick to remember a long list of objects better. In this method you try to visualize a particular route for yourself in which you look at certain aspects that are always present there. On this route you make a strange association (that evokes an emotion) at every word/item that you need to remember. And when you need to retrieve the list off words/items from your memory you walk the same route again with all the matching strange associations.

The rules for making up an association is simple, how stranger, funnier or sexist the image is, the better we can remember. (for example, a cat that’s being put in a microwave, a naked man sitting on the counter, a man who pours a bottle of wine over his head)

The reason that strange associations helps us to remember better, this is because an strange image gives a strong emotional charge. Which activates the stress hormones in our brain, which on their turn make sure you remember the information better. Your brain “decides” by the emotions you experience what is important to remember.

I wonder, does this principal also works while we are dreaming?
- Your brain recognizes that there is important information to be seen in your dream and therefore creates (from itself) a strange image so that when you awake you are more likely to remember the information.
- Or an identity that wants to pass important information to you while you’re sleeping creates a strange image so when you awaken you’ll remember the information.
- Or your dreamself creates during a dream journey a few strange images in his consciousness (such as a participant during a memory match) to make it easier for the waking self to travel the same journey again along all the matching strange associations.

Robert Moss said...

James - The Art of Memory you describe is what I think of as the "memory palace" method, and it was considered of great importance in the Renaissance; Dame Frances Yates has written very interesting books about it. In the age of Google, we are not accustomed to storing memories in the same way!
If your dream were mine, I wouldn't be too hasty in putting it into a bag. I would actually ask myself whether the man who needs to get his head free from the bag is myself, when I settle on too limited explanations or views of things! If this were literally my dream, I might think that the scene of the medieval killing was a preview of what I learned the next day (in my rambles in Scotland) about how Robert the Bruce killed John Cumming before assuming the Scottish throne. I would also question (1) my own connections, personal or ancestral with dramas from other times and other lives and (2) whether I am at odds with some aspect of myself and whether - in either scenario - I can find a better resolution. The armchair and fire make me think of "armchair explorers", not in a dismissive sense, but in the sense of all we can accomplish through reading and scholarship accompanied by imagination.
Finally, we never want to confuse brain with mind. The brain is inside the mind, a transceiver for what comes from larger sources.

James Wilson said...

Hi Robert, thank you for your response and your view on my dream.
Your remark: "armchair explorers" made me aware that a few elements from this part of my dream seem to refer to when I am writing down my dreams of the night. My writing case and the folder in which I store my dreams have the same color as the armchair in my dream. And when I am writing at my desk I have a heating radiator on my left.
If this part really refers to this moment it is fun to see how my mind changes these elements in a dream so they would fit more with the chosen scenery, the Middle ages. A heating radiator transfers into a stone fireplace.

I don’t think that the man with the bag could be myself. This was a long dream where several different scenes occurred before this dream scene. And in all those scenes I was the same person who eventually sat down in the armchair at the end of my dream.
Because I saw the man with the bag when I was sitting down in the armchair ( maybe in waking live writing my dreams) I wonder if this scene refers to my dreams / dreaming.
Taking of the bag can symbolize things that reveal themselves.

Yes, the method is also called the memory palace method. Robert, what’s your opinion about my question: "are the strange and frightening elements that we sometimes see in our dreams only there to make sure we remember our dreams?"
Could it be useful to ( when we try to remember our dreams in the morning) focus first on strange or frightening elements that pop up out of itself in our mind. And try to remember the rest of the dreams from these starting points?

P.s. I think you are referring to the fact that Robert the Bruce killed John Comyn before the high altar in Dumfries.

Robert Moss said...

James - I could not endorse the notion that "the strange and frightening elements that we sometimes see in our dreams only there to make sure we remember our dreams". Though it is sometimes true that our dream producers will resort to scary and dramatic special effects to get our attention. Even more interesting is the way we are challenged in dreams to brave up in order to claim a connection with the greater powers that only accept us when we are able to step through our fears.

P.S. Quite right. Robert supposedly killed John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, and his fellow Guardian of Scotland, in Greyfriars Church in Dumfries (the exact territory of my paternal ancestors). Nobody knew how to spell in the early 14th century, of course.

James Wilson said...

Hi Robert, again thank you for your response. You are probably right that it is not fair (to our dreams) to say that strange and frightening images only have one goal, to help us remember. As you say, a frightening animal or person in a dream can be there to challenge us to achieve a greater purpose.
Sometimes I have a dream with a certain dream image that literally stands out. Not only because it is a strange image on itself, but because it seems to fit in no way with the dream scene of that time.
Just as strange as the images from the memory exercise. Hence my question.
Personally I am going to focus on strange images in my dreams for a while. Who knows what it will bring.

James Wilson said...

Yesterday evening I was watching a news report on TV off the protest in Egypt after the shooting by the army. One off the protesters held a piece of skull from one off the victims in his hand. This piece of skull was just as big as the missing piece off skull from the man in my dreams.
One hour later I watched a news report on CNN. I saw a protester walking down the Street wearing a long white garment with two big black circles on the front of his garment. I didn’t wrote the following on this blog, but I have written it down on my computer on 28 June. The bag the man wore on his head had two small black circles. On the place where his eyes should have been.

Intriguing how in this short time 2 elements of this dream scene are manifesting themselves in the waking life. Although I have no idea if this could mean something or it is just coincidence.

James Wilson said...

Another reality check on this part of my dream.
Yesterday I read an article in a newspaper about the protest in Cairo. The article had a photo of one of the 3 people (Morsi supporters) who were shot while protesting at the headquarters of the Republican Guard.
He was lying down on the street. I cannot see his face but it’s a bald man. Similar to the one in my dream.
And as I come to think of it. I have described the shape of the bag as the shape of a Tulip bulb, but an onion bulb has the same shape.

So could this dream image refer to the short moment which formed the start of the violent eruption of the protest in Egypt?
- Bag shaped as an onion bulb around the man’s head: a reference the use of tear gas?
- There are two small black circles, where his eyes are, on the bag: a reference to the group the man is a part of? (With whom he shares the same view on things.) A reference to the man (also Morsi supporter) I saw on TV (CNN)wearing a long white garment with 2 black circles on the front.
- Bag suddenly starts burning in flames: a reference to the violent eruption on that moment?
- I can see the face off the man, bald and with a part of his skull missing on the left side of his brain: referring to the victim a saw yesterday on the photo? On the photo he was lying down with the left side of his head on the street. So I could not see if something was missing. But on the news they showed a piece of skull.