Saturday, December 9, 2017

Perennial Jung: "God speaks, chiefly, through dreams and visions"


Near the end of his life, Jung finally managed to put his best and most original ideas in a form that was simple enough to reach a general audience, without diluting or dumbing anything down. He might not have done this except for a dream. After watching Jung's very human interviews with John Freeman for the BBC in 1959, the publisher of Aldus Books had a bright idea: why not ask Jung to write a book for a general audience? 
     Jung's answer, when approached by Freeman, was a flat No. He was now in his 80s, and did not want to take the time that remained to him for this. Then Jung dreamed that he was standing in a public place and lecturing to a multitude of people who were not only listening with rapt attention but understood what he was saying. The dream changed his mind. 
     Jung had said in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, "All day long I have exciting ideas and thoughts. But I take up in my work only those to which my dreams direct me." Now he proved this, again, by embarking on the book that was published (after his death) as Man and His Symbols. He conceived it a collaborative effort and invited trusted colleagues like Marie-Louise von Franz to contribute chapters. 
     His personal contribution was a long essay titled "Approaching the Unconscious" . The essay is, first and last, about dreams. He completed it just ten days before the start of his final illness, so this work may be called his last testament. It testifies, above all, to the primary importance of dreams in Jung's psychology and in his vision of human nature and evolution. Jung makes this ringing statement: "It is an age-old fact that God speaks, chiefly, through dreams and visions." 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Where's the rest of me?

I am looking for the rest of me
the one who goes barefoot in lush grass
the one who’s been off-planet most of my life
the one who is living in an old TV series
and needs a cowboy with a big lasso to get her out
the one who was buried under old archives
growing mold in a dirt floored basement
the one who is dancing with a fox
the one who won’t put on an asbestos necklace
the one who is hiding behind the sun
the one who lives in the beauty of flowers and plants
the one who jumps through the pictographs
on the walls of a deep cave, with a white rabbit
the one who might be at the end of a golden tunnel
I’m scared to enter
the one who’s in the room with the No Entry sign
the one who is right here, waiting for me to see her
and hug her and play with her
the one who whispers in dreams you can't quite forget,
“When you are your true self, I’ll be there”

Hey! The flag is up on the magic mailbox
where the dirt road ends in a field
Let’s try again. You open the box
when you answer the question,
“Where is the rest of you?”

“I thought you asked, ‘Where is the restroom key?’
I’ll have to get back to you.”

How about now?

I’ve been riding a rocking horse since I was three
I am trying to block my family ghosts
with a dream catcher made in China
I am shamanic shopping for the Golden Fleece
I am looking for a Thai restaurant that isn’t open
I am reading an email from a dead friend
I am in an enchanted apple orchard with my fairy lover
I am dancing on the dark side of the Moon
I am in my mind, which is everywhere
I am trying to go home to a blue star
I am stuck in a book only I can write my way out of


-          Mosswood Hollow, December 7, 2017


      This could be called a community poem. I wove it from the dreams and memories that came from members of my Soul Recovery Training at Mosswood Hollow when I put the question to them.



Sunday, December 3, 2017

The price Jung paid

If you choose to venture into Jung's Red Book, I strongly advise you to do so more cautiously than I did.  When it was first published, I stayed with it for three days and nights, without much sleep, following Jung on his Underworld journey. There was one moment, in particular, when I became very angry with him.
    He recounts a vision in which he comes upon the mutilated corpse of a murdered girl, and this fills him with grief and rage. A veiled woman appears and tells him he must remove the child's liver and eat part of it, to atone for the crime. He must take on the guilt, because he is a man and a man was responsible. Jung writhes in resistance, disgusted and horrified, but finally complies.

I kneel down on the stone, cut off a piece of the liver and put it in my mouth.My gorge rises - tears burst from my eyes - cold sweat covers my brow - dull sweet taste of blood - I swallow with desperate efforts - it is impossible - once again and once again - I almost faint - it is done. The horror has been accomplished. [1]

I wanted to throw the book across the room, but stopped myself, reflecting that this tombstone of a tome would break the furniture. I read on. The woman who commanded this cannibal act throws back her veil, revealing a lovely face, and tells Jung, "I am your soul."
     You will need a strong stomach for some of this. And you will need to be ready to accompany Jung, quite literally, in and out of the madhouse. But persistence will be rewarded. The Red Book, never intended for public consumption, is essential and fascinating reading for those who want to understand the price Jung paid for his gifts. He went down into private hells and depths of madness and he got himself out. We see him struggling heroically to find a vocabulary and a model of understanding for his experiences, weaving for himself the ladders of words that will help to get him out of the pit. We see the seething cauldron from which his greatest work would eventually emerge.
     Jung culled the material for the Red Book - whose fine calligraphy and vivid illustrations and decorative features make it resemble a medieval illuminated manuscript - from the journals ('black books") he kept during the years of his "confrontation with the unconscious", when he walked the razor's edge between madness and genius. As he describes it, the "spirit of the depths" ripped him out of the comfortable, rational assumptions of the "spirit of our times" and dragged him, night after night, through the terrifying stages of Underworld initiation.
-    In a crater in a dark and terrifying world below, where black snakes threaten to destroy a red sun, he meets the prophet Elijah and his "daughter" Salome, the evil beauty responsible for the decapitation of John the Baptist in the Bible. Salome tells Jung - to his amazement and confusion- that they are brother and sister, the children of Mother Mary. Disbelieving and fearing for his sanity, Jung yells at her that she and the Elijah figure are only "symbols". Elijah reproves him, saying, "We are just as real as your fellow men. You solve nothing by calling us symbols." Jung's Elijah also instructs him that "your thoughts are just as much outside your self as trees or animals are outside the body." [2]
-   While he is trying to continue to lead a normal life, as a prominent psychoanalyst and the father of five children. Jung's sense of reality is being shaken by the raw power of his night visions, and by synchronistic phenomona during his days when he feels the forces of a deeper world pushing through. In December 1913, in a well-cut suit, he gives a polished lecture to the Zurich Psychoanalytical Society. Three nights later, he tells Elijah, "It seems to me as if I were more real here" - in the Underworld - "yet I do not like to be here." [3]
    As Jung confessed, anyone reading the last chapters of Liber Primus, the first part of the Red Book, out of context might conclude that the author was crazy. Brilliant and erudite, but crazy. Yet from such perilous adventures out there beyond the roped-in precinct of sanity, Jung derived his ideas about "psychological objectivity", one of the most stimulating elements in his later work. From his dialogues with his dream characters and his efforts to integrate and balance the powers that moved with them he developed his practice of active imagination.
    Jung told the Dutch artist Roland Horst that he developed his work Psychological Types from 30 pages of his Red Book [4], apparently the pages in which the encounters with Elijah and Salome take place and in which - after Jung has been squeezed by a giant black snake until the blood gushes out of him and his head has become that of a lion - Salome tells him, "You are Christ". [5]

-   Looking back on this passage in his inner and transpersonal life in 1925, from across the divide of the catastrophic Great War that some of his visions had foreshadowed, Jung told a seminar that "You cannot get conscious of these unconscious facts without giving yourself to them. If you can overcome your fear of the unconscious and can let yourself go down, then these facts take on a life of their own. You can be gripped by these ideas so much that you really go mad, or nearly so. These images...form part of the ancient mysteries; in fact, it is such fantasies that made the mysteries." [6]
    "I fell into the mystery," Jung states after he has been squeezed by the black snake and saluted by Salome [7]. Reading the Red Book, we see the enormity of the price Jung paid for his wisdom, and come to appreciate the extent of his courage and eventual self-mastery. This is a record of a thoroughly shamanic descent to the Underworld, and of long testing and initiation in houses of darkness from which lesser minds and feebler spirits might never have managed to find their way back.
-
REFERENCES
1. C.G. Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus edited by Sonu Shamdasani (New York: Norton, 2009) 290.
2. ibid, 249
3. ibid, 248
4. Stephan Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead (Wheaton, IL: Quest, 1985) 6.
5. Red Book 252.
6. Jung, Analytical Psychology: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1925 edited by William McGuire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991) 98-99.
7. Red Book 254.

Art from Jung's Red Book

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The case of the headless bear

I was leading a workshop at Maitrea in Prague, on a cobbled street just off Old Town Square, in February. Snow was falling outside. A thoughtful man named David told us he wanted to understand the illness of a family member. This was on his mind as he left our first evening session. I had suggested to everyone in our lively group that they should experiment with “putting a question to the world.” This meant formulating a theme on which they wanted guidance and carrying it with them, in the mind, as they went out into the external environment. The game would then be to receive the first unusual, unexpected thing that turned up in their field of perception in the world around them as a possible response from the oracle of the world.
David walked down the snowy street and turned left into Old Town Square. He saw an amazing scene unfolding in front of him. A headless bear was being pursued across the square by a pack of animals of various kinds. The headless bear was a man in a bear outfit, missing the head. As David tried to grasp the nature of this astonishing theater, he saw a fox being chased by a second pack of animals.
When he shared the episode with us in our morning session, we all felt that the world had staged a special production, a dream theater, just for him. There was a fine run of coincidence at work. On my first evening in Prague, I had taken a table at a restaurant in front of the astrological clock in the Old Town Hall, waiting for six o’clock to chime and the procession of sainted figures to emerge from behind their shutters. I heard these words in English wafting from a nearby table: “It was the time when the fox drank water with the bears.” Though tempted to get up and ask the speaker for the context, I was content to let the mystery words hover in the air. They had the quality of an enchanted children’s story, full of wonder, and also gave me a sense of confirmation the animal powers would be very active with my workshop group in Prague, in harmonious ways, as indeed proved to be the case.
During my first drumming on the first evening of the Prague workshop, I saw Bear and Fox standing on either side of a great tree, urging me to invite the group to enter the tree without delay, through a door among the roots, to seek consultation with the animal doctors in the way that had proved wonderfully successful in my workshop in Utrecht the previous weekend.
Now I proceeded to discuss what the theater of the headless bear and the running fox would mean to me if I were seeking guidance on someone’s illness and the way to healing. I suggested that our dreamer might want to help his sick relative find ways to connect with Bear and Fox, perhaps by growing a story for him that would carry the energy. We talked about the Bear as a great medicine animal and about the cleverness of Fox as an animal that must be able both to hunt and to hide and that has been — for me — an impeccable guide to ancestral matters, which can carry the code for contemporary complaints and also their cure. I have noticed that people who are attacking bears in their dreams, or running away from them, are often avoiding their personal medicine.
At night, in dreams, we sometimes feel that a company of players and scriptwriters are staging productions to dramatize certain themes in our lives. The case of the headless bear confirmed what Shakespeare taught us: that all the world’s a stage, as well.



Text adapted from The Boy Who Died and CameBack by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.


Photo of Old Town Prague by RM. February 2013.





Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Healer of all, come blessed one


Dream incubation has been a preferred way of seeking life direction in most human cultures as far back as we can trace. If you believe that, in seeking dream guidance, you are approaching a sacred source, then you will probably use some form of prayer or ritual as you seek help from that power. 
     In the Greek Magical Papyri we read this invocation:

Sender of true oracles
while I sleep send me your unerring skill
to read what is and and will be
.

     If we have a big request, it is important to ask nicely. Aelius Aristides, an ancient Greek orator who walked very close to his god – Asklepios, the patron of dream healing – used to phrase his requests as follows: “Lord, I ask for the guidance (or health, or resources) my body requires to serve the purposes of the soul.” A human who asks that way might hope to engage the support of a power behind the scenes.    
     The journey to a special place – the shrine of a saint, the tomb of an ancestor, a sacred mountain, an ancient tree – has often been part of a full-dress dream incubation. 
     But in our hurried everyday lives, we can make all of this simple. Are you in need of healing, life direction or a solution to a problem? Are you willing to turn to a source beyond the obvious ones? Then approach the night as a place of possible encounter with a power that can answer your questions and help to heal your life. 
     In the Active Dreaming circles I lead, we often invoke the sacred guide and healer by singing these words:

Healer of all, come blessed one

     This is a version of an ancient invocation used in the temples of Asklepios, the god of dream healing. But no personal name is mentioned. So in offering you these words I am not inviting you to sign up for an ancient religion (whether or not that might be a good idea) but to turn towards deeper sources of healing and counsel than are available in ordinary life. You can speak or sing these words in the privacy of your own space, on your way to dreaming.
     You may find it helpful to do something to make your sleeping area more of a sacred place; for example, by foregoing sugar and alcohol for a few hours before sleep, by lighting a candle, and/or by using a special fragrance or placing a little mugwort sachet under your pillow.
     Now you want to set your intention for the night. Make it as simple and clear as possible, and avoid composing a laundry-list of needs and wishes. You can make your request large and spacious:

I ask for guidance on my life path
I open myself to my creative source
I ask for healing

Or you can make it quite specific:

I would like guidance on my job interview.
I ask for healing for my friend in hospital.
I would like to see what will happen during my trip.
I want to prep for the exam.
Should I date the guy I met yesterday?

You will want to be ready to catch whatever your dreams give you whenever you wake. This may involve lingering in the half-dream state after you surface from deeper sleep; this in-between state is one in which important messages often come through.
     If you remember only a small piece from a dream, but your feelings are strong and your sense of direction is clear, you are in luck. Sometimes it is easier to read a plain answer from a short, uncomplicated dream vignette than from a rambling epic, and the energy that comes with a dream is often more important than the specific information it contains.
     If you can’t initially see any connection between the dream your record and the intention that preceded it, be patient and learn to use some detective skills. It’s possible that your dream producers decided to give you something they think you should see rather than what you asked for. All the same, it is always worth playing the game of trying to find a link between the dream and the intention.
     For example, I once sought dream guidance on a personal health issue. In my dream, I was racing a car at high speed up through one of those multi-tiered indoor parking lots, slowing to a stop at a fancy penthouse restaurant where a famous publisher was waiting to host me for lunch. I woke feeling marvelous. The dream might seem to have little or no obvious connection with my intention, but I could see a health advisory in my wild ride up through the vertical parking lot, and an Rx in my meeting with the publisher, since for me creative writing that results in publication has always been healing.
    Here is my account of a bigger personal experience, which came when I set the intention of opening myself to a source of sacred healing during the night.

A night of Asklepian dream healing

I set the clear and simple intention: “I wish to be healed.” I add a second statement: “I ask for the health of body and mind required to serve my spiritual purpose.”
-I stretch out of the bed. Immediately, I see an enormous serpent. It is gray-blue, and could be twenty feet long. I see the dark slits of its pupils, quite close to me, in a head larger than my own. I do not feel fear, but there is a strong sense of the uncanny, the presence of a transpersonal other. I feel this is the Asklepian serpent, a power mastered for healing. The form of the god appears less distinctly, like a living statue. Also the form of a large dog with tall pointy ears.
-     I resolve to let the snake enter my energy field and do anything required for healing. I begin to experience movements of the serpent energy through my chakras, starting at the root center and moving upwards. There are moments of gentle physical pressure or constriction as it passes through some of my energy centers – of slight pressure in the heart, of a little constriction at the throat. The movement ceases to flow smoothly at the vision center, where I had been experiencing pressure and blurring. An experimental probe, not pushing too hard.
     The movement loops down and back, returning to try again. I invoke Light as well, and feel the presence and blessing of a being of Light I know well. I feel a process of healing has been initiated, and will be played out over time, if I allow it to be.
-    All of this has been enacted in the liminal state of wake-dream the French used to call dorveille, which is where much of the work of Asklepian healing (I believe) took place, Now I let myself drift towards sleep, hoping for the gift of further healing in the dreamspace. That gift came in the form of an amazing and energizing sleep dream that connected my personal healing to new creative endeavors, writing new books and bringing them to the world.


-
However, you don’t want to ask for big messages, let alone big favors, every night. That becomes wearisome to everyone engaged, and can end by trivializing and cheapening the process. On the other hand, I see no objection to putting a simple request like the following one to the dream oracle fairly frequently:

Show me what I need to see 

If you try that, be ready for some shocks! Our dream producers see our needs and issues from a different angle than we do.

-

Please see chapter 4 of my book The Secret History of Dreaming for a full account of Asklepian dream incubation.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The dream that is a song that is a road



Dreams bring us images and energy for healing and revitalizing our lives. These gifts may be delivered through the vehicle of a song.
    My Celtic ancestors lay in tomb-like spaces in the dark, sometimes with heavy stones on their bellies, hoping for the gift of awen - poetic inspiration - to burst through in song.
    For the Temiar-Senoi people of the Malaysian rainforest, the greatest gift of a dream is the kind of song they call a norng. The word literally means a "roadway". The dream song can open a road between the worlds. It can also help to open a path through the thickets and obstacles of everyday life.
    In the Mohawk language, which my dreams required me to study, the word for song is karenna, which literally means "I am putting forth my power." In my book Dreamways of the Iroquois, I describe the experience of a Mohawk grandmother of the Turtle Clan who received a healing song in a dream and was able to transfer its energy to a whole circle. As she sang, the veils between the worlds thinned. The whole group became vividly aware of the presence of spirits of the land, including Great Turtle, a form of the teacher of the Deep in the Iroquoian tradition.
    I have been gifted with many songs in my dreams. Sometimes I have to reenter a dream in order to capture all of the words and elements. Once I awakened from a dream in which I was bouncing across lush grass towards an immense tree that resembled a beech. I knew, in the dream, that secrets of life were waiting for me in a world below the roots of that tree. And that there was an entry price. To enter the gate of this tree, I must bring a song. When I rose from my dream, I had the music of this song humming in my mind, but not the words.
    Urgent to move with the dream, I called a close friend who has traveled with me in the way of the shamans over many years. "Can you come over at once? I need you to drum for me." She jumped in her car and was with me in less than an hour.
    As she drummed, I traveled back into my dream. I enjoyed the springiness of the grass under my bare feet, the clean smell of woods and water. Over the drumming, through the drumming, I hummed the little hum that had stayed with me after the original dream. Now the words came too:


Praise and serve the Mother
and let her grace unfold
Praise and serve the Mother
and re-enchant the world. *

The way to the world of our Great Mother Earth now opened to me, through the roots of a world tree. I was healed and nourished in her generous embrace. I found specific guidance, for myself and others, in a kind of creative cave that opened to me, within her realm. This is a place to which I have returned, again and again, to restore my inner compass and replenish my energy.
     The dream song may be a wing song, a song that can help you journey beyond the body, into other worlds, at any time you choose. My dreams have given me many songs of this kind, some of which I share with the circles I lead to power our group shamanic adventures.
     One morning I woke with this song streaming in my mind:

We are sleeping till we're dreaming
We are dreaming till awakening
We're awakening for our homecoming
      into the Land

Anxious that I might lose the tune, I phoned two friends and sang it to them over the line. One made a recording; the other had her musician husband listen in and write down the notes. We have sung this song in many of the adventures I have led since the dream, including our shamanic gathering up on a mountain in the New York Adirondacks last weekend.
     In the Celtic way, we sing to call lost spirit home. In some of the old tales, a part of soul that has left the body is up in a tree, in the form or a bird, and must be charmed by the power of the right song into returning to the heart and the body of the person. In recent gatherings, I have encouraged participants to go to a special tree, with a special song, and call back whatever parts of their spirit may need to come into their bodies and their current lives - a child part lost when the world seemed very cruel, a counterpart personality from another time, an aspect of a greater Self, a bright shining winged soul.
     But what if you have no song?
     Sometimes it will be gifted to you. We have journeyed on wings borrowed from the old ones - songs of the Highland and Islands, and of W.B.Yeats, chants from Africa and Native America, through Baltic dainas and Romanian doinas, rhythms of the orishas. We also share the fresh songs that come through members of our dreaming family. On the way to a workshop on Celtic Dreaming that I was leading, my friend Wanda Burch shared a marvelous song for soul healing that had come to her.

I am calling my spirit back home

She readily agreed to invite the group to use this when they traveled to the special tree to call spirit back home. It worked like a charm then, and has been charming spirits ever since.


Picture: Path of magic at Mosswood Hollow, where I lead many of my retreats in North America.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Calling the Deer





Deepheart, mountain guardian
who harries the hunter
and knows what belongs to us
and what does not,
give us your speed,
your ability to read the land,
to see what is behind us and around us.
-
May we grow with the seasons
into your branching wisdom
putting up antlers as taproots into the sky
to draw down the power of heaven,
reaching into the wounded places
to heal and make whole,
walking as living candelabra,
crowned with light,
crowning each other with light.


I wrote this invocation many years ago, on a mountain in the Northeast where I lead advanced gatherings of shamanic dreamers. It is a very special place, where we draw on the deep fires of Earth, and the spirits of the land, and where the healing energy of the Deer is very strong.
     The symbolism of the antlers is vitally important in every tradition that knows the cervid family. The antlers represent spiritual connection; they rise above the physical body into the spirit realm. They also embody the power of regeneration; the bones die and fall away and grow back stronger and greater than before. 


Art: L'Arbre et la Brume by Annick Bougerolle

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

We dream dreams of the child, and the child dreams of us


I often hear dreams from adults that sound like the products of a child's imagination. One dreamer is menaced by giants. She runs but can't get away - until Superman swoops down to rescue her. Another dreamer is entertained by a strange composite animal, a cross between a jolly pink pig and a hairless dog, with a strip of carpet instead of a tail.
     In such dreams, buildings and people around the dreamer often seem vastly larger than in regular life, as adults and cities might appear from the perspective of a young child. At the same time, the dreamer may find she has the ability to make herself greatly bigger or smaller, like Alice with the "Drink Me" bottles.
     I wonder whether such child-like dreams really are the dreams of the child within the dreamer. They may be returning memories of dreams in early life. They may also be a direct link to the inner child, providing a chance to bring more of her energy, joy and imagination into current life. They may even be a bridge to connect with the child in her Now time, which is past history for the adult except when released from the constraints of linear time, as in dreaming.
    I have given happy examples thus far, but the dreams of the child may of course be filled with challenge and drenched in fear. Those menacing giants may represent abusive adults and authority figures the child can't handle, and Superman is not always available. Yet when the bridge to the child in her own Now time is open, we can slip across it, to offer support and mentoring that may be desperately needed. We can help to provide the heroes our child selves want to be dreaming of.
 

    I know this: we can travel across time, and we can play mentor and counselor to a younger self, or receive help and guidance from a wiser older self. At the very least, when we reach to that younger self, we can offer the assurance that however much he is suffering, he or she will make it through.
    We dream dreams of the child, and the child dreams of us.

Art: "Jumping Rope" by A.E. (George Russell)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

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.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The night when the veil between the worlds thins

The hair salon on the corner advertises, "Halloween Makeup Done Here." There are spooks and scarecrows at the doors of the houses on my block. As we approach Halloween, I am thinking of the many meanings of the festival, from trick-or-treat to the turning of the year.
      This is the most magical, crazy, shivery night of the year. It is the topsy-turvy, inside-out, upside-down time, when the past lies ahead of you and the future walks behind you, breathing on your neck. It is a night when the doors between the worlds swing open, when the dead walk among the living and the living move among the dead.
     The last night of October is the start of Samhain (which is pronounced "sow-in"), the great Celtic festival when the dead walk among the living, the fires are extinguished and rekindled, the god and the goddess come together in sacred union, and as the year turns from light to dark, the seeded earth prepares to give birth again.
     It's a time, when the Celts knew what they were doing, to watch yourself and watch comings and goings from the barrows and mounds that are peopled by ghosts and faeries. It's a time to honor the friendly dead, and the lordly ones of the Sidhe, and to propitiate the restless dead and remember to send them off and to set or re-set very clear boundaries between the living and the hungry ghosts. It's a time to look into the future, if you dare, because linear time is stopped when the hollow hills are opened.
     As Celtic scholar Marie-Louise Sjoestedt wrote, "This night belongs neither to one year or the other and is, as it were, free from temporal restraint. It seems that the whole supernatural force is attracted by the seam thus left at the point where the two years join, and gathers to invade the world of men."
     If you have never learned to dream or see visions or to feel the presence of the spirits who are always about - if you have never traveled beyond the gates of death or looked into the many realms of the Otherworld - this is the time when you'll see beyond the veil all the same, because the Otherworld is going to break down the walls of the little box you call a world, and its residents are coming to call on you.
     It's a time for dressing up, especially if you are going out at night. You might want to put on a fright mask to scare away restless spirits before they scare you. You might want to carry a torch to light your way, and especially to guide the dead back to where they came from when the party is over. Before Europeans discovered pumpkins in America, they carried lit candles in hollowed-out niches in turnips.
     By tradition, Samhain is also a time for divination, since the departed can see across time and at this turning of the year we may share in their powers - and anyway, at New Year who doesn't think about what the year ahead may hold? 
     All of this was so important, and such wild, sexy, shiverish fun that the church had to do something about it. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III decided to steal the old magic by making November 1 All Saints' Day, or All Hallows Day; so the night of Samhain became All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween for short. A century before, an earlier pope had borrowed the date of the old Roman festival to propitiate the dead - the Festival of the Lemures, or Lemuralia - and renamed that All Saints' Day. But since Roman paganism had been largely suppressed, the church fathers decided to grab the glamour of the Celts, among whom the old ways are forever smoldering, like fire under peat.
    Few people who celebrate or suffer Halloween today seem to know much about its history. For storekeepers and the greetings card business, it's a commercial opportunity. For TV programmers, it's a cue to schedule horror movie marathons. For kids, it's time to dress up as vampires or witches and extort candy from neighbors. My preferred way to spend Halloween is to rest quietly at home, with candles lit for my dead loved ones, and a basket of apples and hazelnuts beside them, tokens of the old festival that renews the world and cleanses the relations between the living and the dead.



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



It's perfect timing that the evening before Halloween this year, I am launching my online course Shamanic Approaches to Death, Dying and the Afterlife for The Shift Network. It runs for 13 weeks, the perfect number.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Keeping Waste Books is no waste of time

“Everyone is a genius at least once a year.  The real geniuses simply have their bright ideas closer together.

This choice aphorism is one of hundreds of snappers and astonishers to be found in the journals of the German polymath Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799). If you have any doubts about the long-term value of journaling, take a look at Lichtenberg’s lifelong practice. He journaled thoughts, observations and wittcisms, starting in his student years, in notebooks that he called his Waste Books (Sudelb cher). 
    He borrowed this term from the English accounting houses of his day. For English bookkeepers, a “waste book” was a temporary register of transactions, jotted down in rough form before being entered in meticulous copperplate in a formal account book.
    I like the throwaway quality of the term. It encourages us to get down the scraps and the rough sketches, without concern for form or structure or even spelling. 

Some more choice one-liners from Lichtenberg's Waste Books:

"A book is a mirror; if an ass peers into it, you can't expect an apostle to look out."

"People who have no time usually do nothing."

“Don't judge a man by his opinions, but what his opinions have made of him.” 

“A person reveals his character by nothing so clearly as the joke he resents.” 

“Where the frontier of science once was is now the center.” 

“The most dangerous of all falsehoods is a slightly distorted truth.” 

"One has to do something new in order to see something new."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The forgetful envoy

You are sent from your homeland on an important mission, to rescue something beyond price. You understand the enormous risks of this assignment, and you freely choose to fulfill it. On leaving your homeland, you are honored and mourned, because you are dying, for a time, to those who love you and know you best.
             The conditions of your assignment require you to put on the clothes and the habits of the country where you will operate. You must fit in with those around you and follow their ways. This is hard for you, to begin with, because the people here live as if there is nothing beyond their world of getting and spending. Their pleasures are tawdry and their drugs numb the mind, but you are required to pass for one of them, so you do as they do.
             In the miasmic conditions of this plane, you start to forget why you came here. Your memory of your homeland, of its achingly beautiful music and its true communion of souls, seems like a fantastic dream that is starting to fade away. You let those around you, in your new country, tell you what life is about and you act in accordance with their valuation of things.
             You join them in snickering at dreamers who rant of other worlds.
             Then one night there is a knock at your door. You open it, and feel a strange wind, like the beating of giant wings. The person framed in the doorway is strangely familiar. When he speaks, his words leap to your heart. I come from my Father’s house. He is here to remind you of the mission you forgot. You are weeping now, ashamed. He is not interested in your tears. Now you remember your contract, you are required to fulfill it.

This is my own version of a story I feel I am living. You’ll find versions in sources ranging from the Gnostic Hymn of the Pearl to Doris Lessing’s novel Shikasta. Perhaps it will speak to you too. I find it useful to believe (as Plato believed) that each of us agreed to a contract before we came into this world in our present bodies. The trick is to remember the terms of that sacred contract, and then to find the courage and constancy to fulfill them. I am grateful for the night, long ago, when I heard a knock on my door in the middle of the night and opened it to find a young man outside, his face shining like the moon. He said, I come from my father’s house. And the dream was more real than the life I had been living, in this sublunary world.



Text adapted from Active Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Libraty.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Gates of Horn and Ivory


In Homer’s
Odyssey, we first learn, with Penelope, about the two gates of dream: the Gate of Ivory and the Gate of Horn. Dreams that come through the Gate of Ivory are “dangerous” and may not be manifested; dreams that come through the Gate of Horn are clearer, and may be embodied in events. The difference seems to be a matter of clarity rather than deception. Carved ivory is totally opaque; polished horn is translucent.

Synesius of Cyrene wrote a marvelous treatise on dreams around 405 in which he asserted that it is the weakness of our understanding, not confusion or deception in dreams themselves, that makes some dreams seem false. "The Penelope of Homer assumes that there are two gates of dreams, and makes half of them deceptive dreams, only because she was not instructed in the matter. For if she had been versed in their science, she would have made them all pass out through the gate of horn." Penelope was "guilty of ignorance" about her own power of inner sight, distrusting her dreams without reason. Therefore "we should not confuse the weakness of the interpreter with the nature of the visions themselves". 

The Gates of Horn and Ivory reappear in the Aeneid but Virgil changes the characterization in his account of Aeneas’ descent to the underworld to visit his dead father Anchises. Now dreams that come through the Gate of Ivory are designated “false”, while those that come through the Gate of Horn are “true”. This becomes a standard distinction for centuries in the minds of Westerners raised on the classics.

However, there is a mind-trap in Virgil's story. Anchises sends his son back from the Underworld through the Gate of Ivory. Aeneas and the Sybil return to the regular world through the gate of empty dreams. Is the poet hinting that our ordinary experience of reality is the false dream?

Image: Aeneas and the Sybil return to the ordinary world through the Gate of Ivory. 
 Codex Vaticanus Folio 57r  



Saturday, September 30, 2017

"Call that a knife?" When the Gatekeeper is friendly

I arrived at my local airport at 5:30 am on a Sunday, checked my bag, and got in line for the security check. Before I produced my drivers license and boarding pass, the female TSA agent who was doing the documents scan greeted me by name, like an old friend, "Well, hello, Robert!"
     Her Southern accent was familiar and so was her warm smiling face. I recognized a woman who had been a member of one of my monthly evening circles more than a decade before. She had entertained us with wonderful stories of growing up in the rural South and of dream travels to ghost villages and other locations that are not on airline itineraries. "How come you're working here?" I asked her. "I was dreaming about airports so much I decided I might as well work at one."
      It felt like a very good start to the day, to meet a gatekeeper who is also a dreamer. The Gatekeeper is a very important figure in my imaginal life. In dreams, the Gatekeeper may appear as a generic figure familiar on the roads of regular life - the customs officer, the ticket collector, the security guard. Sometimes the Gatekeeper appears in more enigmatic or mythic guise. I have met the Gatekeeper, in my dreams, as a slick fellow beckoning me towards an open archway, leading to delightful vistas of life possibilities, while holding a door I was trying to force open shut. I have met the Gatekeeper in dreams - and on the dashboard of an Indian taxi driver, after riding on Air India - as elephant-headed Ganesha, and as a black dog who sometimes walks on two legs, as Anubis does.
     I am very much alive the play of the Gatekeeper (who can be a trickster, especially if we are too set in our ways) in the ordinary reality of airports, on the way to different planes. At Sea-Tac airport, some years ago, a cute dark-skinned TSA agent laughed in my face when she inspected my drivers license. "Why are you laughing?" I asked her. "It's because of your name. In my language, 'Moss' means 'Banana'." "What language would that be?" "Somali". The humorous side of the Gatekeeper was definitely in play that day. Just think about it. Being teased at an American airport because your name means something funny in Somali.
     At Boise airport, an older, balding TSA guy asked me if my rather abundant white hair was my own. "Absolutely." "Sonufabitch. I really want that hair." "Sorry, it's not available."
     After I sent my carry-ons through the X-ray machine at my home airport in upstate New York, I was stopped by the security guards. "You got a lampshade in here?" The guard indicated my drum-bag. "Actually, it's a drum." I willingly extracted the simple frame drum that has powered many, many group journeys in my workshops so they could see. "Will you play it for us?" the guard requested. "Excuse me?" "Go on, we'd like you to play." So there, just inside the security barrier, I was tapping out the heartbeat of the drum, surrounded by smiling faces. That felt like another good start to the day.
     I've saved the best story of brushes with the airport Gatekeeper for last. This was back before 9/11.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 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 a carry-on bag.
     The supervisor appears. His first words are, "What time is your flight?
     "Six-fifteen."

     "Good. We've got time to get this in your checked luggage so it can meet you at the 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 put on my best strine accent and snarl, brandishing the knife, "Call that a knife? This is a bloody knife, mate!"
     Gales of laughter. The ticket agent was delighted to put his long line of passengers on hold while he dashed to get my knife into my checked suitcase, saying "I know you Aussies can't go anywhere without a bloody knife." I guess the Gatekeeper was truly in laughing mood that day. And that he sometimes makes special rules for people from Down Under.





For more reflections on meeting the Gatekeeper and dancing with the Trickster, please see my book Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life.