Saturday, January 25, 2014

My helper is of the Sidhe


Mosswood Hollow, Duvall, Washington

I am in a pleasant rural setting, looking out across fields and meadows, with deep woods beyond. My companion is a beautiful boy-man who looks about twelve years old.
    He starts running across the fields, skipping and circling.
    As he runs, the high grass, which is ready for haying, is instantly baled. At I watch the bales and haystacks rise effortlessly, as if shaped by unseen hands or machines, I am awed by the magical powers of harvest this young one seems to have.
   I watch him more closely. It seems he can run on four legs as well as on two.
   More striking is that one of his feet is nothing like a normal human foot. It is bulbous - the shape of a bulb you might plant in the soil - and it is glowing green. This is the green of spring fire, the verdant green of growing things. My young friend may have the gift of sowing as well as of harvest.
   I know now that I want him to be my special assistant in the community I have decided to settle here. But maybe he's a bit young.
   I ask him, to be sure, "How old are you?"
   "I am twelve," he confirms. "I am in the fourth grade."
   Fourth grade? Surely not in the American school system! Maybe "fourth grade", to him, means something else.
   As I seek to understand his identity and his powers, I hear a voice. It sounds like a wind off the sea, like a sea breeze skimming the white caps. "Sidhe!" it whispers, drawing out the syllable. "Sheeeeeeee."
   Sidhe. I know the word. It is a name for Faerie folk in Irish.
   "You are of the Sidhe," I tell the man-boy.
   "So are you," he responds.


I woke from this dream on my first morning back at Mosswood Hollow with a sense of happy enchantment. I felt that a beautiful magic charm had been cast over me and perhaps the whole group. I loved the image of an effortless harvest of benefits from the techniques of Shamanic Dreaming we are gathered here to practice. Prior to sleep, though weary from a long and choppy day of travel, I had set the intention to dream for the group, for our weekend together.
    The Sidhe. Yes, I know a little of them. When I heard stories and poems about humans taken into their realm, in my boyhood, I wondered whether that was what happened to me when I died and seemed to live a whole life in another world, aged nine. I tell more of that story than I have chosen to tell before in my new book, The Boy Who Died and Came Back.
    I love the idea that all this magic belongs to a twelve year old. Twelve years ago, I embarked on a novel whose protagonist is a twelve year old boy. I am sure my twelve year old Robert would like me to finish that unfinished work, or something similar. For now, I will make drawings from my dream, because he also loves to draw and paint.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Nine Rules for Helping Kids with Dreams




#1. LISTEN UP!

When a child wants to tell a dream, make room for that. Make some daily space for dream sharing. Listen to the stories and cherish them for their own sake. 



#2. Invite good dreams 

Pick the right bedtime reading or better still, tell stories. Help your child to weave a web of good dream intentions for the night — for example, by asking “What would you most like to do tonight?”
     Encourage children to sleep with a favorite stuffed animal (whether teddy bear or T-Rex) and make this a dream guardian.




#3. Provide immediate help with the scary stuff

If your child was scared by something in the night, recognize you are the ally the child needs right now. Do something right away to move out that negative energy. Get a frightened child to spit it out (literally) or draw a picture of what scared her and tear it up as violently as possible. When appropriate, try a Riddikulus spell, as in Harry Potter.




#4. Ask good questions

When a child has told a dream story, ask good questions. Ask about feelings, about the color of the sky, and about

exactly what T-Rex was doing. See if there's something about the future. Say what you would think about this if this were your dream. Always come up with something fun or helpful to do with this story. Open up the crayon box, call grandma, etc. 



#5. Help the child to keep a dream journal

Get this started as early as possible. With a very young child, you can help with the words while they do the pictures. When your child reaches the point where she closes the journal and says, “This is my secret book and you can't read it any more” do not peek. Give her privacy, and let her choose when she'll let you look in that magic book. 


#6 Provide tools for creative expression

Encourage the child to bring dreams come alive through art, dance, theater and games, and to draw or paint dreams. Gather friends and family for dream-inspired games and performance. Puppets and stuffed animals can be great for acting out dreams. This can also be dress-up time. It's such a release for kids to portray mom or dad or other grown-ups in their lives — be ready to be shocked! 

#7. Help construct effective action plans

Dreams can show us things that require further action — for example, to avoid an unhappy future event that was previewed in the dream, or to put something right in a family situation. A child will probably need adult help with such things, starting with your help. This will require you to learn more about the techniques of Active Dreaming.

# 8. Let your own inner child out to play

As you listen to children's dreams, let the wonderful child dreamer inside you come out and join in the play. 

#9. KEEP IT FUN!

When you get the hang of this, you'll find it's about the best home entertainment you can enjoy. 

There is one thing more. It's not on this list, but it would be at the very top of a list of what not to do with a child’s dreams.

Never say to a child “It's only a dream”. 

Children know that dreams are for real and that scary stuff that comes out in dreams needs to be resolved, not dismissed.

Text adapted from Robert Moss, Active Dreaming. Published by New World Library. All rights reserved. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

The dodecahedron is It - but I can't read the instructions

I announce, with high excitement, that the dodecahedron is a portal and a model of the multiverse we need to use. I have written down the instructions, given to me in dialogue with an impeccable guide on a higher plane.
    A friend asks me to read the text. I had recorded the dialogue in ink that has turned 
reddish over time - perhaps it is blood. Alas, my handwriting is more gnomic than ever. I can translate very little except for the phrase: "bull of reddish gold." 

Feelings after this dream from last night: excited, wanting more. 


Reality: A dodecahedron has twelve pentagonal faces, three meeting at each vertex. Plato suggested in the Timaeus that this figure was used by the Creator in "the delineation of the universe."
    My handwriting is all but illegible, even to me. I would have a very hard time deciphering any material that required real knowledge of mathematics. I am aware I have forgotten far more than I know.
    
Over a hundred bronze dodecahedra from Roman times, like the one in the picture, have been discovered. They are hollow, with circular holes inside the pentagonal faces.



    In Salvador Dali's painting "The Sacrament of the Last Supper", the room is a hollow dodecahedron.
    In Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, the Dodecahedron is a character who presents one of his twelve faces at a time, according to his mood.
 "My sides are many, my angles aren't few. I'm the Dodecahedron, and who are you?"
    One of my students made a model of a dodecahedron after a dream.
    The bull has great significance in my personal mythology, as in the mythic imagination of the ancient world. 


Action: Find or make a model of a dodecahedron and use this as a focusing device and a launch pad for group shamanic journeying. Track the bull of reddish gold.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Immrama: Celtic voyages to the West


For the Celts, the road to the Land of the Living, the Islands of the Blessed, runs ever westward, across the sea. The immrama, or “voyage tales”, contain vital keys to the ancient European craft of dying. Despite flawed and faulty transcription, and gaping lacunae, and editing and censoring by pious monks, the Celtic voyage tales still hold the memory of shamanic explorations of the Other Side, and of a deep practice for rehearsing the dying and guiding the departed along the roads of the otherworld. As Caitlin Matthews says wisely in The Celtic Book of the Dead, “The function of the immram is to teach the craft of dying, to pilot the departing soul over a sea of perils and wonders.”
    The earliest of the immrama is the Voyage of Bran mac Febal, transcribed in seventh century. His journey begins when he is alone – unearthly music sends him into deep sleep. He wakes to find a silver branch beside him, blossoming with crystal flowers. A beautiful woman of the Otherworld appears to him in the locked house and sings of the glories of the land from which she has come. In one of the loveliest invitations to a journey in all of world literature, she urges Bran to cross the sea and seek the original Avalon, the Island of Apples:

The Invitation to Avalon

I bring a branch of the apple tree from Emain, from the far island ringed by the shining sea-horses of Manannan mac Lir. A joy to the eyes is the White Silver Plain where the hosts play their games, racing chariot against curragh….
    There is an ancient tree there in fruit and flower, and birds calling from it; every color is shining there, delight is common and the music sweet.

    There is no mourning or betrayal there...

    To be without grief, without sorrow, without death, without any sickness or weakness – this is the sign of Emain, and no common wonder this is.

    Its mists are magical, the sea caresses the shore, brightness falls from the air.

    There are treasures of every hue in the Gentle Land, the Bountiful Land, the sweetest music and the best of wine…
    Marigold horses on the strand, crimson horses, sky-blue horses.
    It is a land of constant weather. Silver is dropping on the land, a pure white cliff on the edge of the sea, warmed by the sand…
    There are three times fifty far islands in the ocean to the west, and every one of them twice or three times more than the land you know.
    It is not to all that I am speaking, though I have made these wonders known to all who hear me. Let you who are ready listen from the crowd of the world to the wisdom falling from my song.
    Do not fall upon a bed of sloth. Do not be overcome by drunkenness. Set out on your voyage over the clear sea, and you may chance to come to the Land of the Living, the Land of Women, the Island of Apples.[1]

Who could refuse such an invitation? Bran sets sail with three companies of nine men. They meet Manannan mac Lir – lord of the sea and the underworld. They reach the Land of Women but after a year they leave because one of the men is homesick. When they return to Ireland they find that centuries have passed and they are remembered only as figures of legend. When the homesick man stumbles ashore he crumbles into dust. Bran and his men cross the waters again and do not return – and yet, in another telling, the head of Bran, the man who went to the Otherworld and returned, becomes a true oracle from generation to generation.


1. Adapted from The Voyage of Bran Son of Febal translated by Kuno Meyer and Alfred Nutt (London: David Nutt, 1895).

Photo: Landing at Staffa (c) Robert Moss

Text adapted from The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

When I learned he owned the heart of Africa


Through dreams, we learn interesting things about each other that go beyond what we already know. I was once staying in the Manhattan apartment of a friend from whom I was drifting apart. His world was one of money and society, and my interests were now worlds removed. He had never volunteered a dream to me. 
     That night, I dreamed that he owned a vast area in the heart of Africa. This was not the Africa of Kurtz, in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. It was a realm of primal, surging life. I was thrilled by the profusion of colors and wildlife and the presence of indigenous people who lived close to the Earth and close to the dreaming. I carried from the dream the idea that there was far more to my friend, in his larger self, than he allowed to show, and that it would come through when he was ready.
     I chose not to report the dream to him. I simply carried its energy. As we shared coffee, I looked at my friend, in his custom shirt and sleek barbering, with his copies of all the newspapers and his invitations from society ladies and from Capitol Hill, with affection. Our friendship survived, and I saw my friend speaking and acting in more spontaneous, livelier ways.

Image: Henri Rousseau, "The Dream" (1910)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Into Manannan's realm

I sing of a voyage, and a voyager, sails furled in the dusk, yet ready to spread before a favoring wind.
---The black goose sails before, into the fire below the sunset rim of the world. The way leads to the sunken lands, and to the earth beneath the sea that land-bound men will never touch.
---Watch how the waters turn and swirl, opening a tunnel between the elements. Let yourself flow through the passage.
---You are entering the realm of Manannan mac Lir, most unknowable of the Old Ones, one who escapes definite and conventional forms. Your kinsman.
---You are at home here. You breathe where others drown. Sea-born, sea-girt, salt blood in your veins, coral sprouts from your marrow.You surge with the horses of the sea into a rare kingdom.
-
Away, away come away my love
to fields of coral and pearl
Away, away come to me my love
to she who once was your girl
-
I heard the siren song though I had long since turned my back on the sea and lived in a tamed country, in a gentle valley.
---She found me there, as surely as a kelpie finds a lone fisherman in a curragh on a lonely night with the whisky in him, or the fire of the stars.
---Something out of memory. But whose? The memory of the cell, a current in the blood? Something held in the mirror of dreams without bodily substance, yet alive in the silvered deep of the glass, in suspension between the middle world and the worlds that escape form?
---Do all such visitations come from the past, from those beneath the earth and sea? Or do they come from the same time, but a parallel world of being? Why not from the future?
---Questions, questions, while her lilting song echoes in my inner ear.
-
Away away come away my love
-
Set this down. Etch it on stone, mark it for memory:
-
There is one time, one art that encompasses all. Look through the hole in the stone. The Holy Man knows. See through his single eye the oneness of things. All created things, all that is past, or present, or to come, can be seen in this lens without a glass.


Photo (c) Wanda Easter Burch

Sunday, January 12, 2014

When dreams are mysteries, become a detective - or an initiate

From my mailbox:

I have been going over my dream journal, and I find it fascinating to track how symbols and themes reappear and evolve. I also notice that I have dreamed many events before they happened. But many of my dreams remain quite mysterious to me. What do you advise?

RM:


There are dreams that remain mysterious until life catches up with them. There are dreams that cannot be understood until we see them as part of a broader pattern. There are dreams that cannot be decoded in ordinary terms because they are experiences in other realities that escape ordinary understanding. There are dreams it is hard to fathom because they are glimpse of lives we never led, in worlds we don’t recognize outside the dreaming. There are dreams that seem alien because they are the dreams of others, not actually our own. 
    A dream may be a mystery in the sense of a case to be solved, in which case we want to play detective and follow the clues. We want to follow threads of connection between one incident report and others around it. We want to see where the suspect - a dream character or element - may have turned up in other situations. We want to try to run down every detail, including words and names we can't initially figure out. We may be required to revisit the scene of the incident, which means lifting the police tape applied by the routine mind to the door of a dream and going back inside to look for more than was noted in the original report. A dream detective must be a pro at dream reentry.* You can bring assistant sleuths to help you investigate the scene.
     You are going to use your imagination, but you are also going to respect the facts of the dream situation. Jung was quite correct about that: "Dreams are the facts from which we must proceed." Yes, your first report of that strange word in a foreign language may be garbled, but don't settle for some alternative version until you have checked and re-checked whether the original version is correct. And keep it in your active file - pinned to the wall in front of you - even as you are drawn to other leads.

    A dream may be a mystery in a larger sense. It may be a mystery in the original Greek
sense of the word. A mysterion is a secret and powerful rite that can only be approached through a depth experience, through direct revelation. It is not a case to be solved but an engagement with the sacred that is to be lived. It requires transformation. The one who enters and understands the mystery in this sense becomes the mystes, the initiate.


* Dream reentry is a core technique of Active Dreaming. The method is explained in several of my books, including The Three "Only" Things and Active Dreaming. You can learn to revisit a dream with a partner or a whole team of helpers, or trackers, in a conscious journey for which shamanic drumming is especially helpful. "Wings for the Journey", my CD of shamanic drumming for dream travelers is available from Psyche Productions.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The absentee Australian and the friendly Gatekeeper

I am an absentee Australian. I have not visited my native country - where I have no blood family left - or taught workshops there in many years. Yet last time I taught in Australia, a decade ago, I had very powerful experiences of soul recovery, especially in Melbourne, where hundreds of people crowded into a university auditorium for a one-day workshop I gave on shamanic dreaming.
    I did not bring happy memories with me to my birth city. I died in a Melbourne hospital, aged nine, and had a very hard time living in the world around me when I came back with what seemed to be memories of a whole life lived in another, beautiful world. In those days, growing up in a military family in a conservative environment, it was very hard for me to talk safely to anyone about my deepest experiences. I drew solace from the words of an Aboriginal boy who told me, "When we get sick, we go and live with the spirits. When we get well, we come back, not always as the same person."
    In my workshop in Melbourne, I found myself in the company of a vibrant, creative, spiritually questing group of people who were eager to share dreams and to learn the arts of Active Dreaming. I realized that one of the inner guides who helped me to survive my lonely boyhood, when I was so often in the half-light of sickrooms, had kept his promise. He appeared to me as a large man with white hair, looking very much as I do today. He assured me that, despite everything, I would survive. He promised that though it was hard for me to talk about my dreams to anyone in my environment, "The day will come when people all over the world will be eager to hear your dreams." He was right.
   I may not fit most stereotypes of an Aussie. I know those stereotypes irritate my thoughtful countrymen. But I must confess that I am willing to reap their benefit upon occasion.
   My favorite example is an incident at my local airport not long after 9/11, and the tightening of security checks at American airports.

   I had been leading a shamanic gathering up on a very special mountain and had rushed to the airport without considering what tools and toys I had stuffed in my drum-bag. On the other side of the X-ray machine, a security guard asked me, "Is this yours?" To my horror, I saw he was holding up a ceremonial Lakota knife with an elk-bone handle that he had just removed from my drum-bag. He extracted the nine-inch blade from the sheath and held it up. "Wait here. I have to get my supervisor."
    Wild thoughts are thrashing in my brain. They'll arrest me. They'll grill me. At least they'll give me a tongue-lashing for being such a fool as to leave that knife in my carry-ons.
    The supervisor appears. His first words are, "What time is your flight?"
    "6.15."
    "Good. We've got time to get this in your checked luggage so it can meet you at th other end. I'll walk you back to the ticket desk." With this, he hands me the knife, still out of its sheath.
      I wonder if I am dreaming as I accompany him, knife in hand, back through security.
     "Go on, do it," he says.
     "Do what?"
     "You're Australian, aren't you? Do the Crocodile Dundee thing."
     So I fake a strine accent and snarl, brandishing the knife, "Call that a knife? This is a bloody knife, mate!"
     Gales of laughter. All the airport security people within earshot are cracking up.
     Down at the airline check-in desk, the ticket agent is delighted to put his long line of passengers on hold when I explain the situation. He dashes to get my knife into my checked suitcase. He returns beaming. "It will be waiting for you at the other end. I know you Aussies can't go anywhere without a bloody knife."
    I think the Gatekeeper who opens our doors and gates in life was in laughing mood that day. And that he sometimes makes special rules for people from Down Under.


On the absentee bit: I do plan to return to Australia to teach, and to continue to explore my
personal connections with my native country and its Dreamings. Several wonderful Australians have taken my trainings for teachers of Active Dreaming, and I believe that Australia is one of the places where we will see the rebirth of a dreaming culture, in the not-so-distant future. It's time.
    Dream people from my native land come after me, across the Pacific Ocean and the continent of North America. I have written of how the sea eagle - a bird I knew in my boyhood - flew me back to Australia to prepare me for a death in the family, and gave me a visa into the Dreaming of an Aboriginal people, the Mununjali.
    When I get sick, sometimes the spirits of plants and animals I knew as a boy come, unasked, to help me through. Eucalyptus Man may come to help clear my sinuses. Echidna Woman may come, with her family, to suck bugs out of my body. The results are always healing, sometimes to an astonishing degree.


I have written about my Australian boyhood and its challenges in my new book, The Boy Who Died and Came Back.
    

Friday, January 10, 2014

Visiting the animal doctor



Utrecht, Netherlands

"Let's go to the animal doctor," I proposed to the wonderful circle of dreamers who joined me for an adventure in Active Dreaming in a space that opened onto the towpath along the Oudegracht, the old canal that runs through the heart of Utrecht. There was a stir of lively interest.
   The directions that I gave for our group shamanic journey were very simple.
   "Go to your special tree," I instructed our dreamers, as they let their bodies relax and their eyes close. "Among the roots you will find a door. It will open into the consulting rooms of an animal doctor. The animal may be quite familiar to you. It could be an animal you don't know so well. Maybe one of your animal helpers will introduce you to a second animal who is a specialist in an area where you need some help.
   "You will receive an exact diagnosis on your current condition - on your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. You will be shown what you need to stay well or get well. Better than this, you may be given immediate help and healing because when it comes to doctoring, the animal physicians don't waste any time."

    When I was satisfied that everyone was fully primed, I started drumming. The results were instant, and quite wonderful. Our dreamers visited their personal animal doctors, and brought back wonderful encounters of what they learned and received.
    One dreamer met a raven in a white doctor's coat who went to work on an infection, pecking out germs and bugs. When he withdrew his surgical beak, a host of "ran worms", as the Dutch call them (worms that appear in great numbers after rain) filled her body, and while this might have alarmed her, she knew they were completing the cleansing as they wriggled inside her. They finally exited her body, shooting out of her pores and every orifice as she had seen worms rising in the grass after rain. Then the raven doctor reappeared to claim his payment, gobbling up all the worms and with them whatever glop they had removed from her body.
    The bear was an animal doctor in great demand. He opened bodies, removed organs that needed cleansing and renewal, and replaced them in a soft bed of ferns or moss, sewing everything up.
    One of the animal doctors was a composite. She had elements of a cow, a giraffe and a hippo - all favorites from childhood - and radiant yellow eyes that projected light like lasers to remove something dark and fearful that one of our dreamers had located in her abdomen. This operation left the dreamer with superabundant energy and confidence.
    One of my favorite reports was from a dreamer who met a hedgehog in a doctor's coat. The hedgehog doctor showed him that his head was covered by cobwebs that had been preventing him from perceiving and dreaming with clarity. The hedgehog stripped away the cobwebs, layer upon layer. He then called in three assistants who turned themselves into living scrubbing brushes and vigorously scoured away any residue, including cobwebby materials inside the dreamer's skull.
    I know I'll be guiding more visits to the animal doctors in my playshops. 


Art: "Moose Magician" (c) Alayna McKee

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Through the blue door, into the house of the ancestors

A guest blog by Romanian dream teacher and life coach Ana Maria Stefanescu.

I am in a old traditional Romanian house. The walls are painted deep, deep blue. I step through the small door, and I am warmed by the smell of childhood, the smell of summers spent with family in the country. This is wonderful. I realize that I am in a village in Ardeal, in Transylvania, perhaps the village where my mother was born. An old woman, wearing white and black traditional clothes of the region, is just waking up from sleep as I enter the room. She seems older than Time itself - or better said, there is a feeling of her being outside Time. She starts speaking ardeleneste - the sweet accent that my heart loves. She uses regional expressions I thought i had long forgotten. She is giving me food recipes, suggestions for delicious regional dishes. As her voice rises and falls, the words stream into a rhyming chant. The sounds are so alive. Their energy stirs me.

I woke from this dream feeling blessed. I felt immense gratitude. Over the years, I had had dreams connected to different traditions. This one connected me directly, and deeply, with the ancestors of my native land. I wanted to put on the ia, the traditional Romanian blouse - the one that inspired Matisse and is well depicted in his painting "The Dream".
     There was an amazingly beautiful follow up to this dream, inspired by fellow dreamers

in our Romanian Dreaming Circle: some weeks later, all of us dressed in ii - the traditional blouses we organized a Sezatoare, a circle of women gathered to share stories, to sing, to dance, to plait hair, to knit. Gatherings of this kind used to be common in the villages. Our circle shared hours of joy and laughter and dreams..     The gifts of the dreamworld are many. For me, reconnecting with the authentic, ancient Romanian tradition is one of the most cherished gifts.. I believe the techniques of Active Dreaming help to establish similar connections for dreamers all over the planet, making the link to what is authentic and true and right to bring through now, into our world. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Lying down with Lion: Of energy doubles and animal messengers


When I lie down for an evening nap, I become aware of the full-formed energy presence of a maned lion on the bed with me. He settles down, nose to nose, like a friendly dog. He is all lion, except that his breath seems sweet; I am fully aware of his strength and killing power. But he is my very dear friend. I drift off into a delicious nap. And dream:

I give an impromptu speech to a large audience. It's all about how to get to the Place of the Lion. This requires you to speak and act, always, from the heart. I talk about Aslan, how "he is terrible but he is good". My voice rises to a roar, then drops to a far-carrying purr when I remind my audience, "When the lion speaks, everyone listens."

Feelings: delight
Reality: Yes.

This sweet encounter got me thinking about the many ways in which energy doubles and visitors have turned up in my field of perception in animal form. I started to make a mental inventory of bedroom encounters in that drifty hypnagogic zone prior to sleep, or to hyper-awakeness.
     While I can see the lion in my bed as my own energy double, the jaguar who turned up in the night many years before in my bedroom was definitely something else. He startled me, though he did not scare me. When he made me understand that he was a messenger, I agreed to travel with him, and sped through the astral to come down among lush tropical vegetation at the home of a Maya shaman in Belize, who proceeded to instruct me in songs of healing and rituals of divination.
     Then there was the white wolf who showed up in my bedroom another night. Though I knew him and loved him, he was not a part of myself. I let him lead me out the window and across the night sky, to the far North, to an encounter with a radiant being who seemed to be entirely covered with glowing white shells. Deeply moved, I felt I had been blessed to encounter a form of the Peacemaker.

This is an unedited excerpt from my journals from January 24, 2011. I write about the
Place of the Lion in my book Active Dreaming

Graphic: I took the photo of the lion in the Egyptian rooms at the Louvre in December 2013. He is an appropriate presence here, since he once guarded a doorway to the Serapeion in Memphis. Dreaming and dream incubation were highly encouraged in the cult of Serapis, a composite god whose first image was a statue carried to Alexandria from the Black Sea because of a dream of one of the Ptolemies.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The sadness of the man of Many Worlds


I am thinking about the sadness of Hugh Everett III. As a brilliant Princeton postgrad student, he dreamed up the Many Worlds hypothesis, with the help of “a few sloshes of sherry” and brainy joshing from his contemporaries. He aspired to reconcile quantum mechanics and classical physics. The basic question he posed was: If an atom can be two places at once, why can’t we?
    In the quantum field, it seems that a particle can be any number of places at the same time – until the act of observation fixes one quantum event out of a multitude of probable events. But our normal experience of physical reality, on the human or macro scale, is quite different. Hugh Everett’s bold proposition was that quantum effects are at work in every part of the universe, on every scale, all the time. We don’t notice this because our universe is constantly splitting. Any move we make, any breath we take, generates a new universe. In the moment we observe such things – in the quantum field or in a city street – we generate a parallel universe in which a parallel observer is either not looking or looking in a different way.
    “We live in an infinite number of continually interacting universes,” Everett proposed. “All possible futures really happen.”
     His 1957 dissertation, advancing this thesis through very hard mathematics, was a huge challenge to the greatest minds in physics. Niels Bohr dismissed it. Many top scientists in that era were reluctant to entertain the idea that quantum weirdness might be going on everywhere, and in every aspect of our lives.
    Finding himself rejected, Everett applied his talents to work on advance weapons targeting for the Pentagon and then to making some money as a defense contractor. He was subject to deep recurring bouts of depression. He smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, drank like a fish, and died from a heart attack at 51. In a NOVA television program, his son Mark – the lead singer for the rock group the Eels – goes in search of his emotionally distant, almost unknown father, and we feel the full sadness of a beautiful mind that allowed its essential work to be interrupted by rejection.

    The first time Mark could recall ever touching his father – he said on camera – was when he found him dead in bed. Hugh Everett was an atheist who did not believe in the survival of the soul, though he did believe that you can die in any number of parallel universes and go on living in any number of other parallel universes, a kind of quantum longevity, if not immortality. He directed that his remains should be thrown on the trash. After keeping his ashes in a file cabinet for a few years, his widow followed his instructions.
     His sadness, and his burial wishes, were communicable. After several attempts at suicide, his daughter Elizabeth succeeded in killing herself with an overdose of sleeping pills fifteen year after his death. She said in her suicide note that she wished her ashes to be thrown out with the garbage so that she might "end up in the correct parallel universe to meet up w[ith] Daddy".
     Today, the Many Worlds theory has a huge following in the scientific community, and talk of parallel universes endlessly splitting from each other is commonplace. Chances are you’ll find a television documentary on this on some channel any given night.
    Hugh Everett III, the founder of the theory, fell victim to a yawning gap between theory and practice. He saw the multiverse as a fantastic garden of endlessly forking paths, but appears never to have explored the possibility that we can move from one path to another. The concept of jumping between parallel worlds has been popularized in recent films and television series, and in fiction. Would your life be altogether different is you missed – or caught – that subway train? That is brilliantly explored in the movie “Sliding Doors.” Could intentional travel between parallel universes threaten the survival of one or both? That is one of the questions dramatized in the excellent scifi series “Fringe”. Can quantum leaps, on the human scale, take you across time as well as space, and are there enforcers who try to limit this kind of thing and keep the world oblivious to it? These are themes that are brilliantly explored in Ian McDonald’s novel Brasyl, set in Brazil in the present, in the 1700s, in the 2030s and in spaces in between.
    I am still thinking about the sadness of that beautiful mind known as Hugh Everett.
    In one or many of the parallel universes he envisioned, he was not struck down by drink and depression at 51. He found ways to recruit the supporters he needed to spur him to go forward with his work on the Many Worlds. He experimented with ways to slip between parallel life tracks and bring together his own best qualities, as developed in other universes. And that changed everything, again and again and again.
    A couple of nights ago, I lay down with such thoughts in my mind. I made it my intention to reach to one of more parallel selves who were not suffering the severe cold symptoms and fatigue I had been experiencing since rushing to England and back in three days over New Years for the funeral of a close friend.
    I woke a couple of hours later, full of juice, with memories of exciting travels across Central Europe, from Rusava in the Czech Republic all the way to Ufa, deep in Russia. I traveled across time as well as space. I met characters from the era of World War II. I came back charged with energy and excitement.
    I have not been to any of these places in my current universe, though I do teach and travel in Eastern Europe, including the Czech Republic. I did once write an historical spy novel, Carnival of Spies, involving the Comintern and intrigues (in Germany and Brazil) in the 1930s. I planned to write a sequel involving secret operations during World War II – but then I made radical changes in my life, and that scenario, and much else, was consigned to parallel realities.
    I was curious to understand what exactly Parallel Robert was doing in Ufa? Was that
really Joe Stalin at the big wooden table in the restaurant, talking about meat and bread? Dreams give us research assignments. I discovered things about Ufa I did not need to know, such as that today it is the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan, a new word for me. Then I noticed that in 1941, Ufa became the headquarters of the Comintern after its staff was evacuated from Moscow by train. So it is a place that Parallel Robert, the Globetrotting Spy Novelist, might well have considered for a scene in a book.
     I think my intention for dreaming was answered, exactly though unexpectedly. I entered the parallel life and imagination of a Robert who remained a bestselling novelist, researching and writing a series of pretty good historical espionage novels. He seemed to be really enjoying himself doing that stuff, and some of his excitement stayed with me, making a bright start to the day.
    I wish Hugh Everett had learned this trick, rather than accepting that when a parallel universe splits off, it is no longer accessible. But then, in who knows how many parallel universes, he is not only a quantum mechanic, but a quantum pilot.


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In this multidimensional universe, we are connected to many counterpart personalities living in other times, other probable realities, other dimensions. According to the choices that we make and the dramas that we live, we sometimes come closer to them. Sometimes we step through an opening between the worlds, an interdimensional membrane, and our parallel lives, with their issues and their gifts and their karma, are joined.
    Active Dreaming gives us tools to explore these themes experientially and bring gifts and lessons from parallel realities to help us in our everyday lives. 


Friday, January 3, 2014

The haruspex flight


I'm not always overjoyed to be upgraded to first class on airplanes, because the stories I hear are usually better in coach. But on my way home from a very short trip to England this week, I was delighted to be promoted to the front cabin, expecting nothing more than extra legroom, free drinks and edible food. My rewards proved to be greater than these.
    The pleasant woman who took the seat next to me spoke in a soft Southern accent. When she told me she was from Mississippi. I could not resist telling her that within the past week, I had recorded a dream in which I was making my way to Grant, Mississippi. I noted that "Grant" seemed an unlikely name for a place in Mississippi, given its history with General Ulysses S. Grant in the Civil War. "Oh, I don't know," she responded. "My daughter would like a grant for her research."
    She explained that her daughter was majoring in Latin at the University of Mississippi, and had broader interests in archaeology and the religions of the ancient world. "She just wrote a paper on Etruscan divination that her professor thinks is wonderful. There were a special class of Etruscan priests who got messages by looking at the livers of animals. There's a term for that which I forget."
    "Haruspicy," I suggested.
    "That's it!" My neighbor's eyes widened a little. "What are the odds in meeting a stranger on a plane who would know about that?"
     I started rattling off a few things I had learned about methods of divination in the ancient world. Haruspicy - which the Greeks called hepatoscopy, or hepatomancy - was the inspection of the liver of sacrificed animals. Extispicy was a broader term for examining the entrails, especially the intestines. Scapulomancy was the study of the shoulder blade of a slain animal. All these methods, probably first developed in early Mesopotamia, were regarded as critical in making major decisions. Babylonian kings and generals went to war with a baru priest in their entourage, ready to kill a sheep to check from the folds and color of the liver which side the gods were on. The supposedly rational Athenians behaved the same way. The Hittites looked at animal livers to get a second opinion on the meaning of royal dreams.
    I noted that my first job was as a junior professor of ancient history at the Australian National University and that I had written on ancient divination in my book The Secret History of Dreaming. Since first reading about the history of Rome, I had been fascinated by the special role of the Etruscan priestly caste, under both the Republic and the Empire, in decisions of state. As I understood these things, the haruspex (literally "the reader of the victim") who examined livers was consulted on matters of high policy, such as war and peace, and was always an Etruscan. An interesting paradox, that Romans turned to an order of divination priests drawn from a people they had conquered.
    "Oh, you have to talk to Juliana," my neighbor said. "I'll swap seats with her after lunch." It seemed that her two daughters, who had gone with her to London for a week of theater-going, were back in coach.
    After the meal, the switch was made. Juliana proved to be a brilliant student with a searching mind, who introduced me to sources and aspects of the subject that were previously unknown to me. She had recently attended a seminar with Jean Mackintosh Turfa, the author of a recent scholarly book Divining the Etruscan World: The Brontoscopic Calendar and Religious Practice. It was my turn to receive an unusual word under unlikely circumstances.  "Brontoscopic" refers to a method of divination by listening to the sound of thunder. The Etruscans kept a calendar that linked thunder and lightning to outbreaks of disease and social events, day by day, through a lunar year. The fulgurator was a specialist in divination by thunder and lightning.
    I was soon scribbling notes. My new rowmate was very knowledgeable about Near Eastern parallels and precedents for the Etruscan diviners consulted by the Romans. She described an Etruscan bronze mirror that shows a haruspex with one foot on a rock and wings on his back as he inspects a liver, clearly depicted as a link between the worlds of men and gods. She compared models of livers, made in clay by the Babylonians and in bronze by the Etruscans, used to guide the diviner on what to look for in a liver. An Etruscan model, intricately divided by many crisscrossing lines, appears to have the name of a deity inscribed in each section.


    My young mentor had fascinating views on why the liver was regarded as so important for people wishing to know what was going on and whether the deities were on their side. A sacrificial animal may have been exposed to similar ailments and parasites as humans in the same environment, and may have consumed some of the same foodstuffs.
    The liver was understood to be a vital organ, not least for its role in cleansing the blood. It was seen as a seat of emotions and even of the soul.
     We laughed over Cicero's comments about divination by animal innards. The Etruscans, he noted, were "raving mad about entrails." Yet while his equestrian nose twitched over superstitious mumbo jumbo, Cicero allowed that since "the gods are real", they may choose to make their wishes known even through the state of a slaughtered animal's entrails. He spoke of the Etrusca Disciplina - the name the Romans gave to Etruscan divination - with respect and narrated the myth of its founder, Tages, in his essay "On Divination." Well might Cicero treat the craft of the haruspex with caution and respect. It was a haruspex, Vestrinius Spurinnia, who 
delivered the famous warning to Julius Caesar to beware the ides of March.


I have a fresh list of reading and research assignments that I will happily pursue, though maybe at a comfortable remove from future meal times. I see that the best liver for haruspicy was one that had been just carved from the animal victim, still warm and quivering in the diviner's hand. As I embark on fresh research, I find that the Hittites also liked to observe the spasms of the dying animal as its organs were removed. I won't be eating liver, with or without onions, any time soon.

For more on travel synchronicity: My book The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination opens with narratives of what flowed from five chance encounters on airplanes, typically after an original plan got changed.


Graphic: 4th century BCE Etruscan bronze mirror showing a haruspex identified as Calchas, a diviner mentioned in the Iliad, in the Gregorian museum at the Vatican.