Thursday, June 30, 2016

"What better guide to the Other Side than a poet?"


“What better guide to the Other Side than a poet?”
     The question was put to me by a dead poet, as I embarked on writing The Dreamer's Book of the Dead. I did not know, up to that moment, that a modern poet and his efforts to envision and create a Western Book of the Dead were going to figure as the central panel in the triptych my book was to become. 
      It seems to me that the true poet has two gifts that are vital for a reliable and effective psychopomp, or guide of souls. The first is the magic of words: passwords that open gates, and the power of naming that can bind or appease gatekeepers or even bring things into being. Shamans and initiates of all traditions know that poetic speech is important.
    The second gift of the poet as Otherworld guide is that poets live by metaphor and are therefore friends of metamorphosis – inclined by their calling to shapeshift realities, averse to being penned in any routine concept of what is solid or ‘real’.
      What better guide to the Other Side than a poet? The more I think about it, the more the answer seems clear: none better.

The question was put to me by a poet – not one of my contemporaries, but a poet who died seven years before I was born. You know his name: William Butler Yeats.
     Our conversations took place in a space that was outside the physical world, but quite real to me and to others who have learned – and been invited – to go there. It is a place like a library, inside a complex building I have come to call the House of Time. There are fierce guardians at the gates of the building.   
     This is, of course, a magic library. You can find a book on any subject that pleases you, and – as in the children’s movie ‘The Pagemaster’ – when you open any book you may be transported into the scenes or dramas that it concerns. 
     Yes, the magic library is a ‘made-up’ place. But so is the Sears Building or the Eiffel Tower in the sense that they are products of thought and imagination. The magic library may outlast either of those physical structures. It has its own stability, now that generations of visitors have been here and contributed the energy of their own imagination and passion for study. It is a real place in the imaginal realm, which for initiates of many traditions is more real, not less real, than the physical plane. 
     Yeats was no stranger. I had always loved his poetry and have been able – since elementary school – to recite long passages from memory. I have had dreams and visions of Yeats and his circle for as long as I can remember. He was not only a marvelous poet; he was a Western magus, one of the leading figures in the Order of the Golden Dawn.I had met him many times before, in dreams and reverie.
     On one of my visits to the library of the House of Time, while I was drumming for a group and helping to hold the space for what Yeats called ‘mutual visioning’, I found myself drawn from the ground level of the library up a corkscrew staircase.
  Yeats was waiting for me,lounging at a table on a mezzanine. He appeared as he might have in his prime, broad-shouldered, his hair flowing, gold-rimmed spectacles on the bridge of his patrician nose, wearing a loosely knotted silk bow tie and a three-piece light-colored suit. I sat with him at the table and we had a mental conversation – no need to speak aloud here, and anyway libraries are meant to be quiet - that ranged far and wide and gave me crucial counsel for my life as writer.



Since I grew up on Homer and Virgil and struggled to read Dante in medieval Italian when I was a student, I was aware that poets are extraordinary guides to the Other Side.  All the same, I was shocked when my Yeats made a spontaneous appearance, and proposed that I should let him be my guide to the Other Side. He suggested that my fieldwork should include interviewing quite a few dead people previously unknown to me – but not, perhaps, to him – on their post mortem experiences.
      I was on the Connecticut shore on a blustery day in mid-November when Yeats made his proposal. I was leading an advanced group of dream travelers, by common agreement, on a group journey to the Library of the House of Time. I was drumming for the circle and watching over the group both physically and psychically, allowing myself to enter the astral locale quite deeply, but with no fixed personal agenda. I checked on our dream travelers. Some were meeting a favorite author, or consulting the librarian, or opening books and travelling into the worlds of knowledge and memory and adventure that each one contained. A couple of brave souls were inspecting the books of their own lives, looking in to the future or to things beyond time – for knowledge of the soul’s purpose, and the connectedness of one life in time to other lives in other times, and to personalities beyond time. Everything seemed to be going well. No need for me to intervene to help someone overcome their fears or open the vision gates wider.
      So: my body is circling the room, my arm working the beater against the drum. My mind is tracking inside the dreamspace. And in that space, I feel the tug of a transpersonal intention. It is not coming from another member of our circle of thirty dream travelers. It is coming, quite specifically, from the figure who appears at the top of the spiral staircase that leads to an upper level of the library. It is Yeats, inviting me to join him up there, where he had called me in previous encounters. It is here that he makes his astonishing proposal: “Virgil was Dante’s guide to the Underworld, and I am willing to be yours.”
      The poet’s manner is quite brisk. He sounds rather like a tour guide announcing the schedule we’ll follow before a pub lunch. Next time we meet, Yeats advises me, we’ll visit the place of an ancient king. Later, we may delve ‘into the realm of Maeve’. Most certainly, I will need to interview quite a variety of people on their experiences of the afterlife, because these vary so greatly.
     Yeats insists on the need for me to understand the importance of Ben Bulben, the ‘bare’ mountain under which he had wanted to be buried – in Drumcliff churchyard – with the following inscription carved on his tombstone:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death
Horseman, pass by

     Those lines had been with me since childhood, so I was a little wary of what I was receiving. I have a vivid imagination, and it seemed rather likely that it was weaving from half-buried memories. The idea that Yeats could play the role for me that Virgil played for Dante was absolutely thrilling, but was this anything more than a pleasant fantasy?
      The creator’s answer moved through me: Just let it play. Enter the game, and let the results be judged on their own merits. Whether you are talking to the actual Yeats, or the part of yourself that so loves him, or some daimon or essence of personality that is using the mask of the poet is of secondary interest. What is primary is what you bring through.
      Need I say that this offer was quite impossible to refuse?
      No sooner had I accepted the offer than synchronicity came into play, as may be counted upon when emotions are running high and bold ventures are unfurling their sails.
       I drove home from Connecticut and found a message waiting for me from a friend who had traveled in Yeats country in the west of Ireland the previous year. She had decided, for no obvious reason, to share with me her feeling that the barrows and faery mounds of Ireland had been used across the centuries as sites of shamanic initiation and interdimensional communication – even as launchpads for star travelers, coming or going.
     I shivered with excitement as I recognized the link with Yeats’s inaugural itinerary, involving two ancient tumuli in his own landscape. I hurried to research the names that Yeats had given me. My excitement deepened when I found that ‘Queen Maeve’s Tomb’ – a huge cairn that has never been opened – is right opposite Ben Bulben, at whose foot is Drumcliff churchyard where Yeats wished to be buried.
     In Yeats’s early book The Celtic Twilight, I found a passage in which he says that there is a gate to the Otherworld in the side of Ben Bulben, “famous for hawks” – “the mountain in whose side the square white door swings open at nightfall to loose the faery riders on the world.”
      I called the friend who had sent me the message, out of the blue, about the cairns of Ireland. She described how, as she drove by Ben Bulben, her Irish guide had pointed out a strange shadow moving across the side of the mountain and declared that Yeats believed that this marked a door to the Otherworld of the Sidhe and the ancestors.
      My encounters with Yeats have guided me to travel to ancient sites in the west of Ireland that were places of vision for him and portals to the realms of the ancestors and the Sidhe. 



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



Photo: Ben Bulben from Yeats' gravesite by Wanda Burch
Drawing: "Yeats in the Magic Cottage" by Robert Moss

6 comments:

Eugene Wilde said...

A couple of days ago. I was using the technique i learned from robert about meeting with the deceased. I did it in a different way and for a different purpose. At first before using the technique before bed i imagined myself to be a golden warrior with golden armor a long sword and a golden tibetan dragon type mask. In a beautiful forest. The colors were exceptional reminds me of mosswood. Then i decided to sit in a meditative posture in the dream and open a second dream space. In this dream space i am in a slim long warrior viking ship with bears with round dark red shields on their backs in the ship rowing through the waters. We end up at a mountain that seems like the one from roberts picture. There isnt a way to walk to the top. They are vertically long stairs ingrained into the stone all the way to the top. Not deeply so i had to watch my step. Very dangerous. Kinda like mountain climbing with no rope. As i got all the way to the top i saw clouds or fog. Once i got up there were roman or greek type building structures with a pool. There were invisible beings who wear brown hooded cloaks. Thats how i could see them. One of them takes a cloak off and they disappear. At this point i feel i can sit in the water and open another dream space. I think i did and passed out. I had a hyper realistic dream that night.

Feels great to share.

Also very cool stuff for anyone who likes germanic tradition and ancient ways. They had soldiers under the bear totem called berserkers. Badass stuff shaman warriors.

Theres also something about warrior poets in norse mythology.

Eugene Wilde said...

Next time i am a build a wooden elevator to go up. Hah. I could fly. But thats to easy. intresting that i reread the post about a door inside the mountain. Perhaps into another dreamscape. Perhaps there is one in my mountain but i dont know am i limiting my imagination or either way if there is or isnt the top of the mountain is just as sacred as the door inside. Hmmm

Eugene Wilde said...

Perhaps the mountain is my body. And perhaps there is a door leading to a hidden city. City of gold. Where building tops crowns are made of gems rubies and jewels. Small ones and huge ones. A world where the fish are big and fat jumping out of the water in numbers. People hunt in numbers. The market place is full of fun and action. Trading and bargaining. And the community works in synchronicity. As one pushes the wheel at the beginning another grabs it and pulls it to the end. Now thats a magical place i would wish to live in day in and day out. Haaaaa oh and did i say the women are beautiful?!

Live in Peace with All living things said...

Quite easy to imagine Yeats saying these words:

Books are but waste paper unless we spend in action the wisdom we get from thought - asleep. When we are weary of the living, we may repair to the dead, who have nothing of peevishness, pride, or design in their conversation. - William Butler Yeats

ngocminh nguyen said...

I just recently found your blog, and I absolutely love it; I love how it has a little of everything. I look forward to reading a lot more!
Work at Robert Greene Books Corp.

manho valentine said...

Thanks you so much for sharing!

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