Thursday, February 27, 2014

Scaffold Tree

Scaffold Tree

From a dream photograph that might have been taken by A.L.Kroeber

The pages of the talking book are thick
and floury to the touch. Blades of shadow
in the old black-and-white plates cut
Klamath landscapes into sourbread slices.
The tree in the photo that draws me
spreads stocky bare limbs from a headland.
Dark eagles roost, row on row.
Two women perch among them, second row
on the right. Can this be a group portrait?
The tree stands like a scaffold.

I must know more. I lean into the picture
and find it is an open window.
Leaning through, I see the tree has no roots;
strong native men hold it in place,
tensing their muscles against the wind
that wants to sweep it out across the bay.
Everything has been prepared by man’s –
or woman’s – intention. Birds and women
perch on cross-boughs tied together.
Early ethnographers, Teutonic ladies
of military mien, stand bespectacled watch
but will not speak to the interloper at the window.

I turn back to the book for help.
On the facing page is a Farewell Song.
The book sings utterly foreign words to me
full of long Es, full of keening,
and counsels me never to confuse
a terminal N with a final M.

I think this would be a sweet way to go:
to leave the body in the scaffold tree
to be picked clean by fastidious carrion birds.
Better than moldering in the earth
or viler still, in an airtight cask above it.
I will have my body burned to white ash
when my spirit is done with it
because scaffold trees are problematic
in places with health codes and too many people.
Yet in my heart I would like to fly off
with the sea-going eagles, rising into beauty.

Comment: This poem is in my collection, Here, Everything Is Dreaming: Poems and Stories, published by Excelsion Editions/State University of New York Press. I am inspired to post it today because of discussion of the influence on Ursula LeGuin of her anthropologist father, A.L.Kroeber, who is mentioned here.

GraphicTree burial of the Oglala Sioux near Fort Laramie, Wyoming. American Indian Select List number 18, US Government Archives.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Following one of my characters to Sintra

In writing fiction, you know that it's working when characters come alive and start creating their own plots. This happened with my historical novel Fire Along the Sky (published in the U.K. as The King's Irishman). Once I found the voice of my narrator Shane Hardacre, an Anglo-Irish dramatist and rakehell who is a fictional kinsman of Sir William Johnson, he ran away with the story, all the way down the Mississippi to New Orleans.
     For the second, expanded edition of the novel, I interleaved correspondence between Shane and Valerie D'Arcy, a worldly-wise and deeply intuitive lover from his later life between the chapters of his narrative of a time of war and intrigue on America's eighteenth century frontier. Their love letters are filled with dreams. "Dearest Shane," Lady Valerie opens her first letter, on the first page of the second edition, "I dream you as the leopard. Last night you came to me in his skin...As I write this, I feel the places in my body you praised and fed."
    I again had the experience of my characters taking over, driving things in their chosen directions. Valerie D'Arcy is very hard to resist!
   More recently, I have noticed a parallel and even more intriguing phenomenon: that when a fictional character comes fully alive, he or she may have an independent existence outside the pages of a book. They may even cast something of a spell over their creators.
    Last week, I found myself traveling into a possible future, maybe five years from now. To my slight surprise, I saw my possible future self seated under an orange tree on a hill in Sintra, the old royal capital of Portugal, close to Lisbon. He had a sweeping view of the towers and red tile roofs of the town, and to the sea. He was immaculately dressed in a white linen suit (not too rumpled), a very broad brimmed summer hat, and he looked fairly fit and lean. The glass beside him is porto branco (dry white port). He is writing with a fountain pen, signing books and making notes in a leather-bound journal. I don't know all the circumstances of his life but I know that he is now beloved for his stories, which are reaching children as well as adults. I rather like him!
    As I sketched the scene around the orange tree, I remembered that back in the mid-1990s, when I was writing the love letters between Shane and Lady Valerie, I decided to give Shane a villa in Sintra, the old royal capital of Portugal, as his place of retirement. Was my character now drawing me to the same place?
    I pulled the new edition of Fire Along the Sky off my shelves just now and found this

letter from Valerie, dated 15th January, 1805:  

My dear Shane,

What does it mean, to wake from your dream and discover you are still dreaming? This happened to me last night, not once, but six or seven times. I was with you, my skin a web of nerve endings, as we lay together. You were gentle and knowing, serving my time and rhythms...
    Then I realized our position was impossible. You were a young buck, not twenty years old, the hair on your face still a fine, silky down...At that moment, I awoke, knowing myself deceived by a dream. I never knew the pleasure of entertaining you between bedsheets until you had kissed good-bye to sixty summers...
    Then I saw you across the room, writing at my secretary by candlelight. Scratch, scratch....I was so glad to have you with me...I flung myself on your neck, kissing and stroking.
    Then I realized I was only dreaming again, with Sir Henry snoring at my elbow in the bed.
     And woke in the thickest woods I ever saw. I thought I was in the oak forests of the Dordogne, on a summer jaunt, and marveled that I had dreamed myself back in bed with Henry. Then I entered a clearing and saw my mistake. A cruel warbird shot down at my head from the sky, in a blur of tawny feathers. He sank his talons into my hair...I thought I was fighting for my life. Yet I did not want to harm this bird because he was somehow connected with you.
    With that thought, I woke from this fierce struggle. I found myself, to my great relief, back with you...I told you my dream of the warbird, and my feeling that there was a message here of the most urgent nature...
     Then I remembered: This cannot be. You are in Sintra, dipping your sweet face in the inhalations - or exhalations - of some Portuguese maid...
     Dreams within dreams, nested like those dreadful Russian matriosha dolls. I blame you for this giddying night, Shane. Will you explain to me what is happening?
     Can you assure me I am not dreaming, as I write these lines?

In dreams,

Shane writes back, from Sintra:

Dearest Valerie

I cannot help you with your question about dreaming and waking.
   I have heard that the swamis of India say this life is a dream from which we wake up when we die. That would make birth the first of our false awakenings, if that makes any sense at all.

Your own

When fictional characters come alive, they not only take over the plot. Jumping outside the book, they may seek to draw their creators into their own plots. I gave a character in one of my historical novels a home in Sintra, and now it seems he is drawing me there.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Indiana Jones, dressed by Churchill's bodyguard

I fly rather a lot, in ordinary reality as well as in dreams. On average, in the course of a year I am on four different planes every week. One of the things that sustains me is that I am constantly having "chance" encounters that often prove to have rich story value, and sometimes give me messages from the world. This is the story of one of my all-time favorite encounters with a stranger on a plane. I have lifted the narrative here, unedited, from my journal. There is a polished version in the Introduction to my book The Three "Only" Things.

January 6, 2006

Indiana Jones, Dressed by Churchill’s Bodyguard

I dreamed that the poet Yeats – a frequent presence in my mind when I was writing The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead - wanted me to dress in a decent suit because he was taking me on a visit. When I was correctly dressed, he led me through St James's Park in London, past the swans, and eventually to Number Ten Downing Street, where he left me to have a private moment with Churchill, who seemed to be engrossed in receiving information on the telephone relating to the magical battle of Britain.
The dream excited and intrigued me. Subsequent research – studded and guided by coincidence – led me to understand that Churchill was deeply interested in the occult and in alternate history. I had always admired Churchill, and I now felt drawn to study him and to write about him. In my imagination, I played with an idea for a fact-based novel with some “Indiana Jones” touches, in which Churchill and his personal network – including one of his bodyguards – do battle with Nazi occultists, among others.
Since I had several other book projects on my desk, I decided to seek a “second opinion” on whether this book plan was really a good one to pursue.
As is typical any week of my year, I had another plane trip coming up. I decided that whatever came up during this trip would be guidance on my theme. To make sure there was no vagueness or confusion about that theme, I wrote it down on an index card:

I would like guidance on whether writing a novel about Churchill with an Indiana Jones flavor is a good idea.

On the first leg of my trip, I had an interesting companion, a woman who had recently decided to make radical changes in everything that was central to her life. She had left her husband and her job, sold her home and her furniture. After spending two weeks with a friend, she was now traveling back to an uncertain future. I suggested to her that “if you can see your destination, you are better than halfway there.”
I asked her to reach down deep inside and tell me what she wanted of life.
She began to talk about an old dream, of founding a center in her home town that would support women who had been abused or simply defeated by life and help them to find their voice and their power and their healing.
I asked her to take me there – to help me see and smell this center, to go there with all of the senses. She warmed to this task, and soon we were both there, in her dream center. She realized as she described the neighborhood that she now had the address – an old building in need of TLC – and that she had identified all the key players, including the financial sponsors, who could make this happen.
When we parted company at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, she was juiced and confident.
But she held my arm for a moment and said, “What do I say to that part of myself that’s going to rise up and say, It’s just your imagination?”
“You’re going to say what the poet Tagore said – The stronger the imagination, the less imaginary the results.”

This was a pleasant exchange, and I like to believe that the center we grew in the imagination now exists. But there was no definite guidance here on my very specific theme, about the Churchill novel with an Indiana Jones touch.
Now I am hurrying along the C concourse at O’Hare, dodging electric carts and milling crowds, heading for my departure gate.
I stop in mid-stride because at my gate is….Indiana Jones.
He has the whole kit: the hat, the jacket, the Sam Browne belt, even the canvas dispatch case. Everything except the whip and the gun.
He does not look like Harrison Ford, however. He’s considerably chubbier.
And while I am thinking this may be my sign, a part of me is also saying,  This is absolutely over the top. Just too much. Don’t trust this.
So I get on my plane telling myself the verdict is still not in on the theme I have proposed to the universe. I settle down to my in-flight reading, which is a copy of The Duel, a masterful study of the personal contest between Churchill and Hitler in the critical months of 1940 when Britain and her Commonwealth stood alone against the Nazi evil. I had just gotten to a page describing Churchill driving with his bodyguard to Number 10 on the day he became Prime Minister when Indiana Jones loomed over me and said, “I’m sitting next to you. I swapped seats with a guy so he could sit with his family across the aisle.”
I made room for Indiana Jones, noting that it is always interesting to track what is happening when seating plans (or other plans) are scrambled.
“Do you have the whip?” I asked Indiana Jones when he was buckled up.
“It’s at home,” he explained.
“How about the gun?”
“Got that too.” He knew about guns, he explained. He was in the Coast Guard, working Homeland Security.
He thumbed his shoulder belt and announced proudly, “You know, this is the real stuff. It was made by Churchill’s bodyguard.”
What did you just say to me?”
“These clothes were made by Peter Botwright. He used to be Churchill’s bodyguard. He went on to make clothes for the actors in James Bond movies, and then in Indiana Jones. I’ll give you his website. You can see for yourself.”
I showed him the open page of my book, where my finger had come to rest on a line describing Churchill in the car with his bodyguard.
“That’s quite the coincidence,” said Indiana Jones.
“You have no idea.”


Did I write the adventure with an Indiana Jones flavor? Not yet. But I feel the play of the shelf elves in the way this 2006 journal report popped up just now. A smart editor I know once said that if a story is really worth telling, it will come back to the teller, after years or even decades....

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On Pele's Island

The dreamers breakfast on kona coffee
and tropical fruit and stories
of shapeshifting overnight:
plant into human and back
black boar into lava rock,

swimmer into shark god, 
white woman into brown-skinned priestess, 
singer into dragonfly whose lover is the wind. 
Forms are fluid, everything quivers
at the edge of becoming something else. 
What else would you expect,
where the land is a thin blanket
over the molten body of a hot goddess, 

rising from her bed below the sea floor? 

- Kalani, February 17, 2014

Phot0: Kalani coast 2014 (c) Robert Moss

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How active dreamers save a future world: Guest blog by Judith Moffett

Active dreamers will revel in the account of the role they can play in a future society in science fiction writer Judith Moffett's new story "Space Ballet." At a future Center for Dream Research, trainees go into "dream reentry rooms" and teams of dream trackers work together in group shamanic journeys. Here they must play space detectives to head off a catastrophe that imperils the world, and they do it by applying core techniques of Active Dreaming. Judy was inspired to learn those techniques after a "chance" encounter with Robert Moss on an airplane he wasn't supposed to be on. Her novel The Bird Shaman was shaped in part by a subsequent run of synchronicity and by Robert's books and workshops. In this guest blog, she tells the story behind the stories.

Guest Blog by Judith Moffett

I met Robert Moss under circumstances so astonishing that I think I must begin by describing them. 
     Background:  My husband, Ted Irving, died of lung cancer in Cincinnati in March 1998, shortly after we had moved there.  When the academic fall semester began I returned to the University of Pennsylvania, where we had both taught before Ted’s retirement; I was trying to decide whether to come back permanently to Philadelphia and to Penn.  A few weeks into the semester I flew back to Cincinnati for a long weekend of work in our house there.  What follows is my lightly edited journal entry from October 4, 1998.

“A very weird series of events occurred on Friday, the day I flew to Cincinnati.  I got on the plane to find an older woman sitting in my assigned seat.  When it became clear that she was traveling with the woman in the seat beside her, and that her proper seat was right across the aisle, I offered to switch with her.  The small fuss attracted some attention.  After I sat down I fished the Raymond Moody book on mirror-gazing out of my backpack, whereupon the gent seated in the row ahead of the two ladies turned and inquired, “Is that one of Raymond Moody’s books?”  He was a large, ruddy, white-haired bloke; I’d noticed him earlier.  When I acknowledged (with embarrassment) that it was, he said he did work along the same lines, and passed me two trade paperbacks with New Age looking covers [a false impression], both something about dreaming.  Hm.
     “He asked me to write down the titles of some of my books, which I was doing when the guy sitting next to him decided to move to an empty row.  So I took the vacated seat next to the dream-book writer.  Turns out he wasn’t even supposed to be on that plane, he was supposed to be on a direct flight to Cincinnati from New York, and that such developments, he said, usually meant he was supposed to meet somebody on the plane; it had happened before.  His name was Robert Moss.     

  "In no time flat he’d found out about Ted.  In no time flat I was bawling my eyes out—through almost the whole flight, in fact   He said he sensed Ted’s presence, wanted to know if I’d been contacted by him since his death, said T was enjoying himself a lot—he picked up on the copper mask from the Sutton Hoo burial, nosepiece and cheek pieces, some sort of metal [Ted was a Medievalist who had worn a cardboard copy of that mask into his Old English classes]—but that T was also very concerned about me.  Robert suggested that I needed to release him, that my grief was holding him back, or soon would be, and that writing would be the best way to work everything through.  The whole encounter was astonishing, given that the guy was a total stranger and that sitting there within his aura I had no control, I couldn’t not cry.  I cried and cried.”  I had been crying a lot, but never in public, and was shocked by my absolute inability to contain my grief.

Robert was flying to Cincinnati to conduct a weekend workshop, and also to give a lecture that same evening at a Quaker meeting.  When his contact person arrived at the airport to collect him, she took my phone number and said she’d try to arrange a ride for me so that I could attend the lecture.  I thought then:  if it’s supposed to work out, it will; but actually I was thinking of taking a taxi clear across town, I was that intrigued. In the event I’d been home only a few minutes when the phone rang:  a ride had been arranged, everything had fallen perfectly into place.  I spent that evening hearing Robert speak and fighting tears.   Back in Philadelphia a few days later, deep into Conscious Dreaming, I was still wondering what had hit me.
    In the fifteen-plus years since that remarkable encounter, I have followed Robert’s trajectory and bought each of his books as soon as it appeared.  His subject matter initially drew me in, but what insured my dedication over time was the quality of the writing.  For me, good writing authenticates the substance of what it’s being used to say.  For me, then, Robert’s excellent prose gives him authority above that of every other writer on my dream-book shelf.
     I had been logging my dreams and working with them for years before we met, but my focus had been on searching for evidence of repressed memories—treating dreams as windows on the past, rather than the present or the future.  Robert’s books helped change that.  Something he said also brought about a paradigm shift in my personal life:  that people often interpret dreams too symbolically and lived experience too literally.
      The book besides Conscious Dreaming that gripped me the hardest was Dreamways of the Iroquois.  I found the idea of shamanic dreaming deeply fascinating, and practiced hard to get somewhere with it myself.  My efforts weren’t entirely unsuccessful, but I had to realize at some point that a shaman dreams on behalf of his/her community, and that I wasn’t making better progress because I had no community to represent—and also, alas, because I’m not, except in special circumstances, a particularly gifted dreamer. 
     So instead I gave my ambitions to a character in a science-fiction novel I was working on, whose “community” in this case was the human race.  (I hadn’t exactly “worked through” my grief by writing, but writing did prove to be a superior distraction from it.)  My character, a young woman called Pam Pruitt, is a very reluctant shaman, but I endowed her with all the native abilities I lacked myself, deriving these from my general research but especially from what Robert had written on the subject.  When a child in her custody is abducted, Pam has a whopper of a conscious dream that shows her where to look.  (Pam’s dream is partially modeled on a passage from Robert’s novel The Interpreter.)  When a friend who should not be fertile conceives a child, Pam learns about it in a dream.  After more such episodes, even she must finally concede that she can do what shamans do, and must embrace her fate in order to help her people.

One episode in that novel fictionalizes something that actually happened to me. A Cooper’s hawk flies into Pam’s window, breaking its neck.  The event, in context, demands to be interpreted.  The day it happened to me, I wrote up this disturbing experience and emailed it to Robert, who made time in the midst of a weekend workshop to suggest an interpretation, and also to advise me what to do with the hawk’s body—advice that got worked into the novel as well.  The book is The Bird Shaman and the bird shaman is Pam.

More recently, I was approached by David Hartwell, an editor at the online fantasy and science-fiction magazine, with an invitation.  Editors of the old-time pulps would sometimes acquire an illustration they thought would make a first-rate cover for their magazines.  They would then show it to several writers, in hopes that one of them at least could write a story that the painting would appear to illustrate.  Readers, of course, would assume the story had come first.  David thought it would be fun to try this and see what happened.
When I first saw Richard Anderson’s painting “Jellylite,” I thought I would have to turn the invitation down.  I couldn’t come up with a single story idea that could be set in the world depicted there, whose space ship and tethered astronauts suggested “hard” science fiction—robots, rockets, computers—which I don’t write.  Then, cudgeling my wits for ideas, I suddenly thought:  what if the picture could be treated as a picture in the story, rather than as a setting?  And immediately after:  what if it’s a picture of a dream?
     That prospect was exciting.  I told David I would accept his challenge.  In fact, once I’d had the idea, the treatment came easily.  If this was a picture of a dream, it begged to be interpreted; what if there were an institute for training gifted young dreamers to interpret their dreams?  A reason for establishing such an institute had to be devised, but that was easy too:  what if society had been forced to take precognitive dreaming seriously, as a viable means of preventing catastrophes (lots of backfill to establish how this had come about).  I didn’t have a clue what possible catastrophe the picture could be illustrating, but that’s the fun of creative work:  as you start to tell the story, your unconscious busily begins to organize a solution to your conundrum, which you will discover as the story takes shape around it. 
      And my strategy for pursuing the solution?  That was a no-brainer:  the students would use Robert’s techniques for dream exploration, which I had learned and thoroughly internalized years earlier. 
      Just as the true-life story of the Cooper’s hawk got woven into The Bird Shaman, something personal went into the new story, “Space Ballet.”  Bob Christian, the professor who teaches the dream interpretation class, was twelve years old on the eve of 9/11.  He has a dream anticipating that event and tells it to his mother, who writes it down.  What she writes is quoted in the story.  In fact, Bob’s dream is mine, one of the few precognitive dreams I’m sure I’ve ever had.  The description is adapted from my dream log entry for August 8, 2001, which I emailed to Robert after the attack.  He replied that others had sent him similar dreams.  That fact—that reports had come in from multiple sources—becomes part of the rationale, in “Space Ballet,” for setting up the Center for Dream Research.   
     I didn’t consult Robert’s books while writing the story; I didn’t need to.  And I figured out what the picture was saying at the same time the students did, just by letting them follow Robert's methods and giving my imagination a loose rein.

Judith Moffett is a retired English professor and the author of fourteen books in six genres:  science fiction, poetry, Swedish translation, creative nonfiction, literary criticism, and memoir.  Her work in science fiction includes four novels and a story collection, as well as a number of uncollected stories.  Her novel Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Stream was short-listed for the James Tiptree, Jr. Memorial Award; her short fiction has been nominated three times for the Nebula Award and once for the Hugo.  In 1987 her first published story, “Surviving,” was given the first Theodore Sturgeon Award for best science-fiction story of the year; the following year she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.  Judy lives with her poodles, Corbie and Lexi, in Lawrenceburg KY and Swarthmore PA.  Contact her through her website. You can read her story "Space Ballet" here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When Jung made Freud swoon

The psychic field between Freud and Jung was always highly charged, producing both paranormal and all-too-human phenomena. It was never more charged, perhaps than when Egyptian elements were also at play. Here is the story of how Freud fainted twice in public during conversations with Jung that involved Egyptian themes - mummification and the psychology of Akhenaten.

Bremen, August, 1909 

The young Jung takes Freud and Sandor Ferenczi, who will sail with them to New York, to visit Bremen cathedral. The lead cellar and crypt are a grisly chamber of curiosities. Centuries earlier, a workman fell from the roof and when his body was discovered years later in the cellar, it had been preserved like a mummy. Corpses of birds were in the same condition. It became a strange fashion for wealthy burghers of Bremen to have themselves buried in the lead cellar, wishing for the same effect.    After inspecting the mummies of Bremen, the three psychologists lunched at one of the best restaurants in the city. Jung compared the Bremen mummies to the bodies found in peat bogs in northern Europe that were similarly preserved. Wine flowed. Freud became noticeably tetchy. Finally he yelled at Jung, repeatedly, "Why do you keep talking about these corpses?" Then he fainted at the table. Jung picked him up and carried him to another room.     

    Freud later told Jung that "all this chatter about corpses" meant that Jung harbored "death wishes" towards him. The incident is still very curious indeed, since Freud was generally an enthusiast for mummies. He took pains to acquire painted Egyptian mummy bandages and mummy cases for his immense private collection of ancient sacred art, much of which came (via dealers and patrons) from tomb robbers.

Munich, November 1912. 

Freud and Jung are at a conference. Tension between them has been running high. Freud resents the younger man's entry into the field of the psychology of religion, where he would like to reign supreme. Jung has been less and less inclined to yield authority to Freud as the father figure he formerly declared him to be. He is steadily chipping away at Freud's most important theories.
    They leave the conference crowd to take a long walk. Maybe their relationship can be repaired. It started out with such a deep sense of affinity that on their first meeting, they talked for thirteen hours. Until recently, Freud regarded Jung as his heir and successor. During the walk, Jung apologizes to Freud for various "mistakes" that hurt his mentor's feelings. They go in to lunch apparently reconciled.      

      The conferees discuss a paper by Karl Abraham on Akhenaten, the pharaoh who tried to abolish the worship of the many gods of Egypt in favor of a single, abstract God represented by the solar disk and called Aten. Abraham's argument, very much in line with Freud's way of thinking, proposed that it was Akhenaten's "father complex" that gave rise to his monotheism. He founded a religion in order to bring down his father, the luxury-loving polytheist Amenophis III. He took pleasure in effacing the images of the god Amon from inscriptions because this was part of his father's name.
    This approach profoundly dissatisfied Jung, who had recently written in Symbols of Transformation that Akhenaten was "a profoundly religious person whose acts could not be explained by personal resistance to his father." 
Freud is deeply disturbed by the gathering debate about a pharaoh and the origins of religion. Suddenly he swoons at the table, in front of all the analysts. Once again, Jung catches him up in his arms and carried him to a private space to recover.
    Perhaps there was an element of presentiment in Freud's swoon at the Munich conference. His last major work, the brilliant but deeply flawed Moses and Monotheism, was an attempt to attribute the rise of monotheism to Akhenaten, and analyze the founder. This book caused him immense frustration and self-doubt and he took to referring to it as his "historical novel."
Both Freud and Jung knew that fainting can be a defensive mechanism. Though I do not know of any record of Jung swooning in front of others as a man, he did this as a boy in order to get out of going to school in a period when he was being bullied.
    Freud's fainting acts bring into clear focus the tremendous energy generated between the aging master and the increasingly reluctant acolyte. The emotional and psychic field between them was always highly charged. This came to a head in a different way on the night when they were discussing the occult in Freud's study. Freud kept rejecting Jung's examples of paranormal phenomena, indicating that he regarded them as mere "spookery". Jung tried to withhold an angry response. As he held himself in, he felt odd sensations in his body, "as if my diaphragm were made of iron and becoming red hot". The next moment, there was the sound of a loud crash from Freud's bookcase. Freud jumped up to examine it. Jung told him to wait a moment, there would be a second crash. And there was.
    Jung suggested that the crashes were the work of a poltergeist. Freud suspected that Jung may have tried to conjure such a force to prove his theories of the occult. After Jung left, he tried to summon the poltergeist himself, without success. 

It is hard to overstate the importance of the Egyptian current in the fainting spells, especially when conscious that Egyptian images were dominant in Freud's vast collection of "ancient and grubby gods" (as he once called them). He kept a bronze head of Osiris on his desk, and rubbed it from time to time. He told H.D. that he called it the Answerer, because it gave him answers, even lacking the jeweled eyes that tomb robbers had removed from the sockets.

Top photo. Looks odd, because it is. Someone (not I) doctored a famous group shot of Freud and Jung  with colleagues at Clark university in 1909. The photo-shopping has removed not only the three men (including Sandor Ferenczi) in the second row, but pioneer American psychologist Stanley Hall, seated between Freud and Jung in the actual group photo. I thought the photo's strangeness suited my subject here.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Tracking the Dream Traveler

Most days I spend time tracking the Traveler, trying to figure out where he went this time, in what my waking mind says was a dream. Was he scouting the possible future again? Or having adventures in a parallel world or a past life situation? Or visiting the dead in their current habitats?
     Tracking my traveling self is like trying to follow a series of subtle marks left on a forest trail – a broken blade of grass, a scratch in the bark of a tree, animal spoor that is not quite right. 
     But Robert the Traveler is not all that woodsy. He likes the play of words, often in languages I don’t understand. Then I am required to become a word detective and amateur linguist in my efforts to follow the traces he leaves in my groggy brain as it stirs awake, sometimes after the thump of a bumpy landing.
     My efforts to track the Traveler are complicated by the fact that when he is on the road, I sometimes forget that we are not one and the same. He is never bound to the body and brain in the world where I am writing this. He uses different bodies, and I have learned that some of these are quite vulnerable to the physics of other worlds, so he is not simply a thought form or a creature of air.
     What he goes through in his adventures sometimes leaves marks on my body, an effect that used to be called astral repercussion. When he flies across oceans or between worlds, I sometimes come back feeling more jet-lagged than I ever do after conventional air travel.
     I continue to learn about this. In some of our excursions, I slip in and out of his perspective, joining in the action and then stepping back to assess the situation as an observer. This happens a lot. When it does, I don't waste time or blur focus by shouting to myself, "This is a dream!" or "I'm having a lucid dream!". I simply know that I have managed to achieve dual or multiple consciousness in the midst of an adventure in another reality. When I write this up in my journal, Robert the Recorder may tag it as a dream. But for Robert the Traveler the experience is entirely real, and what matters is making the right choices - with full consciousness that you have choice - whatever world you happen to be in.
     Last night Robert the Traveler was in Brazil, talking to the dead and negotiating the price of a bundle of long, slightly greenish cigars. That's just a trip to the corner store for him. Last month he traveled to Ufa in 1943 and sat down with Stalin. In November, he traveled to Mongolia, jumping between two different times other than my own, seeking to foil a Nazi plot to locate and appropriate the spirit banner of Genghis Khan. 

      I wonder how Robert the Traveler looks at Robert the Writer, who has been holed up reading and scribbling for a few weeks of a bitterly cold Northern winter. Oh dear. I fear that some days the Traveler may look at me the way that Indiana Jones would look at a couch potato.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Journal as Omniverse: Reading Mircea Eliade's journals

I am doing my assignments, Mircea.
   I met Mircea Eliade when I was leading an adventure in Active Dreaming in the Bucegi mountains of Romania last October. He died in 1986, but active dreamers know that the fact that someone no longer has a physical body is not a serious impediment to communication. I wrote about this encounter in a previous article, "Mircea Eliade and the Flow God."
   Inter alia, Eliade urged me to read all of his journals, and pay special attention to what he was recording and using while bringing through his fiction. I'm on it.

Few writers can have valued their journals as much, or made as copious use of them, as Mircea Eliade. He also devoured the journals of other writers, preferring those that were written in the least calculated way, essentially for the writer himself rather than for whatever he thought posterity might make of him, the journals containing the details of experiences in time – a street scene, a dream, a snatch of conversation, a thought on the wing.
    Much of Eliade’s published work streams straight from his journal pages, not only his autobiographical fiction but his works on philosophy, religion and shamanism as well. He fills page after page with quotes and excerpts and commentaries on his voluminous reading.
     I especially enjoy his journals from the first decade after World War II, a period when he was an exile from his native Romania, now under Communist rule, trying to find his way in the world. His pages are studded with dreams.
     We feel the weight of history and the sadness of the exile in a recurring dream that oppressed him. He finds himself in a familiar landscape, a lake district. He cannot remember how he came here. “I repossessed my entire life as a ‘past’ that had become present again.” This brings no happiness. He is overcome by grief for the loss of “a plenitude no longer known”..
    His spirits are lifted by a delightful, happy dream. He is among young children in a moonlit meadow when a cluster of stars start to fall. The stars fall around them like golden apples. They start eating them, though they are very hot. Eliade runs about, juggling a hot star in his hand, calling to the children, “Quick! Seize your opportunity! These falling stars bring us good luck!”
     Eliade finds, as I do frequently, that dreams set us reading assignments. He describes a dream that pushed him into an orgy of reading. In Paris, at the end of August, 1947, he dreams he has again become a complete “Balzacian”. “Toward morning I dreamed that I’d become a Balzac enthusiast again, and I was in the bookstore on the rue Bonaparte.” He starts reading and re-reading everything by Balzac he can lay hands on. Soon he is planning to write a book on Balzac. He recalls that he first read Le Père Goriot when he was ten, then became a “Balzacian” when he re-read it as a teen.
    A couple of days after his dream, he declares in his journal, “I believe that in the past two days I’ve read Balzac for more than thirty-two hours, driven by a fever that reminds me of my adolescence. I can’t do anything else. I can’t read any other book.” He visits Balzac’s house in Passy, looks at the river Seine from the garden, and at the trapdoor through which the writer fled into a tunnel under that garden when creditors came hunting him. The palace opposite that Balzac hoped to buy is now occupied by the Turkish legation. From Balzac's Les secrets de la princesse de Cadignan, he transcribes this: the writer d’Arthez kisses the hand of the princess, from the wrist to the nails, “avec une si délicate volupté, que la princesse inclina sa tête en augurant très bien de la littérature.” (he kissed her “with such a delicate voluptuousness that the princess bowed her head, auguring very well for literature.” 
    Eliade's journals become an omniverse. He records his decision to record anything and everything that catches his attention in one notebook, The Journal.
    He thought in 1947 that the book that would express his essential self would be a journal written in a nonlinear way. 

“I think sometimes about writing a book that will express me entirely. I’d withdraw for several weeks into an isolated place – an island, a cabin on a mountaintop (the ideal spot would be Tierra del Fuego!), without any books or manuscripts. With nature presenting no interest, I’d write a kind of journal, but without order or any kind.”     

He writes that for him a journal is not a confessional, and not primarily a means of knowing himself (though he thought that as an adolescent). It is a way to record “in the flux of the hours, certain images, situations and thoughts…by ‘freezing’ them, fragments of concrete time.” His journals record his steps in time and his efforts to step out of time, his recurring life theme.
     When he was laboring on his seminal work Shamanism in a little room in Paris in 1949, laid prostrate by heat in summer, holding a bottle of hot water in his lap to thaw his hands in winter, Eliade wrote in his journal, "It would please me if this book would be read by a few poets, dramatists, literary critics and painters. Perhaps some of them would profit more from the reading of it than would certain orientalists and historians of religion."
      We heard you, Mircea.

Quotations are from Mircea Eliade, Journal I, 1945-1955 trans Mac Linscott Ricketts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Francis Ford Coppola, struck by Romanian lightning

Here is a great statement about starting anew:

"The film would have to be about many things - time, memory, second chances, the illusion of the new man, European history, love and using the one we love, language - and I knew that the only sensible way to deal with this dilemma was to become young again, to forget everything I knew and to try to have the mind of a student. To reinvent myself by forgetting I even had any film career at all and instead to dream about having one." 

The voice is that of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. He is talking about what was required for him to turn Mircea Eliade's novella Youth Without Youth into a 2007 film with the same title. I am intrigued by how closely Coppola identified with Eliade's semi-autobiographical protagonist. In Youth Without Youth, Dominic Matei is a scholar in his later 60s who is ready to kill himself because he thinks he will never complete his life work, a book on the origin of language. He leaves the provincial town where he lives and teaches Latin and Italian for the capital, Bucharest, with a blue envelope filled with strychnine. Before he can take the poison, he is struck by lightning. The effect is a medical miracle. As he recovers, he has the body of a vigorous young man and is even able to grow a a full set of new teeth. His mental acuity is greatly increased; he absorbs books in a flash.
    When he came on this story, Coppola had not made a film in a decade and was about the same age as Dominic Matei. He took Eliade's story, which fills less than 140 pages but is intricate and complex and brought it to the screen with remarkable fidelity. Themes central to Eliade's life and imagination are limned with great care.
    There is the yearning to escape from linear time. There is the fascination with a second self, depicted as a double, neither dark nor light. 

"The double. He always answers the questions I'm ready to ask him. Like a true guardian angel."

There is Eliade's love of his native Romania, shadowed by the horror of its history in the mid-twentieth century and the horrible choices many Romanians (including the young Eliade) were driven to make. There is the dream of a car that augurs a troubling event in the future. There are perennial issues of love and betrayal.
    There are such small questions as these: What is the price for being given a second life? What happens if you jump from one body to another, through metempsychosis? Is the dreamworld more real than the physical world?
    After another lightning strike, a young Swiss woman named Veronica starts speaking fluent Sanskrit. She seems to be hosting the spirit of a certain Rupini, a seventh-century female ascetic from Central India. A Sanskrit scholar called from Rome to examine her offers the Rupini personality this explanation of how she comes to find herself in a different time and a different world from the one she remembers:

[This world] is not, properly speaking, a dream...but it participates in the illusory nature of dreaming because it is a matter of the future, therefore of time; now, time is par excellence unreal.

    "I'd be interested to know what my chances are now," says Dominic Matei as his lightning-gifted powers reveal their full strength.
    "What kind of chances?" asks the professor who is monitoring him at a secure facility.
    "My chances for continuing the life I recently began, without the risk of reintegrating it into my previous biography." 

     Read Eliade's Portugal Journal from 1941-1945, the only unedited and largely unexpurgated of his many published journals, and you will understand his deep desire, reflected in the words of his character, to escape a "previous biography."
     Eliade died in 1986, two years before the first American edition of Youth Without Youth. The translator was the tireless Mac Linscott Ricketts, whose dedication has brought many of Eliade's books to anglophone readers, including his long novel The Forbidden Forest (where a dream car is a major plot element) and most recently the Portugal Journal (in an edition from one of my own publishers, SUNY Press).
   Coppola's film of "Youth Without Youth" received mixed reviews. But I think Mircea Eliade would be pleased by what Coppola made, and by Tim Roth's brilliant performance as his alter ego and his double. Above all, Eliade would surely applaud Coppola's courage in choosing to reinvent himself in this cause: to set aside his previous career and accomplishments and dream something new into being.

Flitcraft again?

Watching the film version of "Youth Without Youth" again last night, I spotted a possible allusion to the Flitcraft Shift I recently discussed here. When Matei and his lover escape to Malta, she asks what kind of bird she is watching from the terrace. "A Maltese falcon." Of course. This exchange is in the movie, but not in the book.

Quotations are from Mircea Eliade, Youth Without Youth translated by Mac Linscott Ricketts with a Foreword by Francis Ford Coppola. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Top photo: Mircea Eliade as an aging professor, in the snow.

Monday, February 3, 2014

What did I say to Stalin? Working on a dream puzzle

The elements of a dream are sometimes like pieces from a complex jigsaw puzzle, needing to be inspected carefully and fitted together with equal care.
   My puzzle pieces often relate to memories of dream travel in other times and other realities, whose geography and languages may be quite mysterious to my waking mind. So figuring out the puzzle involves not only working with the shape of the pieces, but discerning what is on them. This can involve quite a lot of research.
   Let me share an example from my recent dream life.

What did I say to Stalin? I have written it down, as I remember it, but it looks like nonsense.
    I need to back up. I won’t start at the beginning; that would take hundreds of pages. I’ll start in mid-story, which is where humans find themselves on any given day, including the day of birth.
     On the night of this adventure, I am sick and low and catching cabin fever after days of shut-up time in the deep freeze of a Northern winter.  I drag myself to bed in the early hours wishing for a livelier scene. I want to get out and about in a fitter body and a happier state of mind. Not just any body. A body that belongs to me, but is not subject to my current indignities. The body of a Traveler who might be a parallel version of myself, having fun in a parallel universe near or far from my own.
    There are places I know. But I set no bearings, no destination.
    Surprise me, is all of my intention, as I seek and find the sweet spot for my face on the pillow. .

I’m traveling fast, ever eastward through Central Europe. I have energetic companions who know what they are doing. When we stop to refuel the car, I look at the office, trying to identify where I am. I see the word “RUSAVA” painted on the glass of a window. Then we are pushing east again, in a variety of conveyances.
     We go as far as Ufa. I am escorted to a rustic restaurant where something very important is taking place. Heavyset men in suits and winter coats, some in uniform, most of them clearly armed. I am shown to a big wooden table where bottles of alcohol and plates of snacks are laid out.
     The heavy men huddled around the man at the head of the table lean back, opening my line of sight. I am looking at a man with a big mustache in a peasant blouse. This is Stalin. I know this and I am amazed. I must have jumped across time as well as space. I know the year is 1943. We are in the midst of World War II. Robert the Traveler seems at home in this situation.   
     Introductions are being made. I have no idea what to say to Stalin. I don’t speak Russian, apart from a few drinking toasts. Wait, a toast might be perfect. I come up with something I have heard others say during my journey.
    “Zhveega, zhveega!” I don’t know what this means. I have the notion that the expression means something like “Eat up!” or “Eat meat!”
     I grin like a fool. The response from Stalin’s crew is absolute silence. Stalin’s smile is frozen. The others have erased all facial expression. I don’t know what I said but it is not winning any awards here.
    Stalin’s eyes narrow, his cheeks rise, his chest heaves and he lets out a booming laugh. His cronies join in. He claps me on the shoulder, barking something that is not quite what I said. When I join the men at the table, conversation centers on the importance of bread. A man who does not like bread cannot be trusted, says Stalin. I agree, though this seems like an odd statement in a time when many people are starving. Not at Stalin’s table, however.

There were more adventures, but enough clues to follow in what I have recorded here. I came back from my excursion energized, much restored after only two hours in bead, eager to know more. Where had my traveling self gone this time? How did I get to a private dinner with Stalin, and why him? What did I say to Stalin?
      I had three primary leads. Rusava. Ufa. Zhveega, zhveega. I set to work tracking them.
     It did not take me long to locate Rusava. It is a village in Moravia, on the eastern side of the Czech Republic. A river with the same name flows through the town. The word “Rusava” refers to the rust-red color of its waters after the spring thaw. I have not been to Rusava, in ordinary reality, but it could feature in my future travels. I now teach regularly in Prague and enjoy visiting the Czech countryside. Robert the Traveler may have decided to go ahead of me and scout the land. He does that quite often.
     Ufa was distantly familiar. I found it on a map, south-east of Moscow in what is today the Republic of Bashkortostan  I noticed that in 1941, Ufa became the headquarters of the Comintern – the organization charged with fomenting Communist revolution around the world - after its staff was evacuated from Moscow by train. That was significant to me, and maybe even more significant to my traveling self. In a previous era in this life, I wrote a historical novel, Carnival of Spies, involving the Comintern and love and betrayal in Stalin’s time, on the eve of World War II. I had planned a sequel set in the time of the war itself, but abandoned that project because my life and my interests changed. It seemed possible that another Robert in a parallel universe had carried on with the book project I abandoned, and that I had entered his imagination as he brought its scenes alive, as well as his travels in the landscapes of the book.    

    “Zhveega”? That was a trickier assignment. I gave several versions of the word to Auntie Google and her sisters. Zveega. Zweega. Zwigr. I searched dictionaries of Russian, Czech other East European languages. No luck. Then I sent my dream report to a Czech friend. She came up with an intriguing suggestion. “Zveega” could be the Czech word žvýkat, which means “to chew”, or its imperative form, žvýkej". Stalin’s policies resulted in widespread famine and he sent huge numbers of people to Siberia, to the gulags where they were starving. When starving people got bread or a little meat, they would need to chew very carefully.
     If I said, “Chew, chew!” to Stalin in the context of those times, my statement would certainly have produced astonishment. I suppose that Robert the Traveler was lucky that Stalin chose to receive this as a joke.
     Was my journey to Ufa an experience of time travel? Or a quantum jump into a parallel universe? A scene from a past life - and if so, whose, exactly? A virtual fantasy generated by some unseen crew of dream producers - and if so, why? Or all of the above.
     I am willing to leave the question open. What I do know is that it is endlessly productive to work with the facts of a dream, to hold those facts clear and firm in the mind and to stay with them until something turns up, and you can see where a puzzle piece fits into a larger pattern.
     I must add that when you have all the pieces fitting together, you may need to turn the whole construction this way and that, like a Rubik's cube, because it is more than a jigsaw puzzle on a table. It is a product of experiences in the multiverse.


When a dream has as much energy and intrigue as this, I leave my case file open and go on adding further information as it becomes available. I asked a Russian friend for her take on the mystery word I transcribed as Zhveega. She commented:

In Russian, there is a verb жевать, zhevat', derived from the same root as the Czech verb. An imperative form would be "Zhui!" Other imperatives include  "Zhri!" - a crude word for "eat", especially eat greedily and sloppily, gobble, devour; "Zhivi!" (stress on last syllable) - "Live!" and even "Dvigai!" (stress on first syllable) - "Move it!" But none of these words rings true. Also, Stalin was Georgian. Could this be a Georgian word?
     The scene is so easy to re-create in one's imagination: a tyrant surrounded by his terrified courtiers, eating and drinking merrily during the time when most people are starving... Bread was indeed an huge propaganda tool. The man-made famine of 1932-33 occurred a decade before the wartime year of 1943, but the party bosses probably partied non-stop between these dates - at least those of them who managed to avoid the gulag. 
    My first and admittedly biased association with "Zhveega!" pronounced in the company of Stalin was with "izverg" (EEZ-verg) - an archaic word for a monster, sadist, somebody extremely cruel and evil, derived from a Slavic for "outcast". Stalin was izverg all right. But this word is unlikely to provoke a lighthearted reaction from your hosts. 

The word sleuthing continues. After I posted this blog, I heard from a friend who is fluent in both Czech and Russian, and may have come up with the best interpretation of what I said to Stalin yet:

I read your blog "What did I say to Stalin?" today and suddenly it dawned on me. How do you like the word ZVÍŘE (animal) in Czech? In Russian it is ZVJER (wild, predatory animal). Maybe you said to Stalin " Ty zvíře" (in Czech) or: "Ty zvjer" (in Russian) it means: "You (are an) animal!" as a greeting.
     If you called called Stalin "zvíře"  or "zvjer" (an animal) you could have had three reasons:
1. You wanted to look tough, and on familiar ground. Tough guys sometimes greet each other by saying: " Ty zvíře!" or: "Zvjer!" (in Russian).
2. Stalin was a dictator. He was "velké zvíře" (a big animal)  - a big shot.
3. Stalin was a "zvjer" because he 
ordered and committed " zvjerstva" very bad things or he behaved like an animalIn this context it means somebody extremely cruel - a monster - as your Russian friend suggested.

Zhveega=zvjer? To my ear, that's a match. Pretty daring of Robert the Traveler to say that to the dictator of Russia, but he seems to have gotten away with it - in this time. 

Jigsaw photos (c) Robert Moss