Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Call of the Hawk

Many years ago, I spent a weekend driving around the upper Hudson valley of New York. I was profoundly dissatisfied with my life. From the outside, that life may have looked like a dream fulfilled. I was a bestselling thriller writer; publishers competed to offer me high six-figure advances, laid on stretch limos and made sure the Dom Perignon waiting for me in the hotel suites they paid for was perfectly chilled. And my life felt hollow. I knew I had to make a break with big cities and the fast track I had been on and get back in touch with the spirits of the land and my own deeper creative spirit.
      On that upstate weekend, a few miles from the village of Chatham NY, a Realtor showed me some land with a run-down farmhouse that might be available. The house would need a ton of work, but as I walked the land, half of it still primal woodlands where the deer drifted in great droves, I knew in my gut this was a place I needed to be. I sat under an old white oak behind the house, feeling the rightness of the place but also that I needed a further sign.
     A red-tailed hawk circled overhead, dipping lower and lower, screaming urgently at me in a language I felt I ought to be able to understand. I did not speak hawk, but I could not fail to get a message when she proceeded to drop a feather between my legs.  That visitation by the hawk was the clincher. I purchased the farm, moved to the country, and soon found myself changing worlds, which is what can happen when we radically change the way we inhabit the world.
     When we had restored the farmhouse and moved in, I was drifting one night in that in-between state of consciousness the French used to call dorveille, sleep-wake. I found myself gently rising from my dormant body on the bed, in a second body, a dreambody - not an exotic experience for me, as far back as I can remember. I floated out over the night landscape, and found that in my dreambody, I had wings - the wings of a red-tailed hawk, scaled to my size. I had a marvelous time enjoying a highly sensory experience of flight, riding thermals, swooping and soaring, seeing the world at different angles.
     I found myself flying north, over Lake George and then Lake Champlain. I noticed the Northway and modern towns were missing from the landscape below me. I felt the tug of someone else's intention, and followed it, out of curiosity, to a cabin  in the woods somewhere near Montreal, where I was received by a beautiful, ancient indigenous woman. She spoke to me for a long time in her own language, her words like lake water lapping, while she stroked a beaded belt that hung from her shoulder, with the design of a she-wolf and human figures. I was fascinated, but did not understand a single word, any more than I had understood the language of the hawk. I knew I had been in the presence of a woman of power, and I hoped that, since this felt urgently important, more would be revealed.

The design of the belt, in my night vision, proved to be the equivalent of the hawk's feather: a way I could receive and confirm a message even though I lacked a necessary language. My first Iroquois friend - met later through an interesting series of coincidences - was able to show me a wampum belt identical to the one in my vision. It was in the archives of the New York State Museum at that time; since then it has been returned to Onondaga, the traditional capital of the Confederacy of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, or Longhouse People, among whom the Mohawk are Keepers of the Eastern Door. He told me it was believed that the belt was the credentials of an ancient mother of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk People.
    I entered deeply into the study of the traditions of the ancient dream shaman who had called me, when I was flying on hawk's wings. This opened to me ways of dreaming and healing that were possibly shared by all our ancestors, but which have become atrophied, when not actively suppressed, in modern society. I came to call the ancient shaman Island Woman; this  reflects the fact, which I was able to confirm through historical research, that she was captured as a young girl from the Huron/Wendat, called by the Mohawk the Island People, to be raised as Mohawk. In order to receive her teachings fully, I had to study the Mohawk and Huron languages, and reclaim terms from early sacred vocabulary.
     New dreams eventually called me to leave the land to which the hawk had called me and teach what I had learned about dreaming the soul back home and dreaming for our communities. We sold the farm to a woman who promised to conserve the land.
    As we were leaving the house, after our final checks, I was inspired to go back inside for no reason I could express. I heard a scuffling in the family room we had built, overlooking the old white oak. I found the noise was coming from the hearth. When I removed the firescreen, I found a young red-tailed hawk - a fledgling - that had somehow managed to fall down the chimney between my last two visits. My last action, on the land I acquired because of the hawk, was to carry the young hawk outside, next to my heart, and release her. She flew straight into the branches of the while oak where the first hawk had delivered her message.

The red-tailed hawk has become my most important bringer of omens. A hawk in good shape, flying my way or grabbing a good meal, will give me a surge of confidence for the day that has yet to be disappointed. A dead hawk in power lines will make me batten down the hatches and watch out for challenges.
    I was once very late for a phone interview with a California journalist who was irritated and pressed for time. I wasn't sure the interview was going to go well. She asked me to give an example of how I navigate by synchronicity.
    I was standing on the balcony of a villa overlooking Long Island Sound. Right below me, three bunnies had been scampering about in the grass. As I considered my response to the journalist's question, a red-tailed hawk made a vertical ascent, talons outstretched. It grabbed a bunny and shot straight up with its dinner in its clutches.
    Given my affinity with the hawk, I took this as a good sign, indicating that despite our bumpy start the interview would turn out fine. I was about to recount what had just happened when some inner caution made me pause. I was talking to a journalist for a Californian holistic magazine; for all I knew, she was a vegan who might be horrified by the scene of the hawk taking the bunny rabbit, especially if I reported it with the relish I was feeling. So I told her a black dog story and she loved it and the interview came out just fine. The hawk sign was, once again, reliable.

For fuller versions of my encounters with the red-tailed hawk and Island Woman, please see my books Dreamways of the Iroquois and The Boy Who Died and Came Back.

Drawings by Robert Moss

Saturday, July 14, 2018


“Put off your mask,” she says.
I tell her, “I’m not wearing one.”
“That is the best disguise.”
In this city, when people are unmasked
you see the false face behind the false face.

I do not speak of magicians.
They put  on masks to step into
the energy of an old god or a wild shaman,
a force of chaos, of disease or whirlwind,
and must then master that power
to bend it to their purpose.  If they fail
or wear the mask too long, it becomes poison.

Don’t wear any mask for too long
or you may find you have no face left
except the one molded by the role you played
or you can’t find yourself in a mirror
because you have become a ghost of the living.

- Mosswood Hollow, July 12, 2018

Friday, July 13, 2018

Griffin Rider

Track the griffin you once rode
to the airport where it lies caged and bound
under the control tower that plays
the jingle from the music box
you were given when you were six.
Free the winged lion. Feed it the manna
your controllers stole from its core.
See your bright dreamer awaken in its eyes.
Ride it again to find the girl whose mother let her
fall out of the sky but has been kept safe
in a garden on the dark side of the Moon.
When she is back in your heart,
ride to the House of Stone and Guilt
where the hag turns in circles of self-loathing
and offer forgiveness, the heart of healing.

- Mosswood Hollow, July 13, 2018

Image: Apollo Riding a Griffin

Monday, July 2, 2018

Bringing a Child Soul from the Well of Memory

In her dream, a woman comes to the edge of a deep well. She is horrified to discover that a beautiful but very sad young girl is drowning in the depths of the well. She wants to help. To do this, she must lower herself into the well. She loses her grip and falls. Now she is underwater. Her lungs are filling with water, her senses are swirling, she knows that she, too, is drowning.
    She remembers her intent to rescue the girl. As the will to do this revives in her, she discovers something amazing. She can breathe underwater. She swims to the drowning girl, grabs her, and carries her to the top.
    She was eager to tell me the dream.
   "First feelings after waking?" I asked the first question I ask, of any dream.
   "Is there anything in the dream you recognize in the rest of your life?"
   "The sadness. I have often felt I am drowning in sadness."
   "What do you most want to know about this dream?"
   "I want to know about the well. Why is this happening inside a well?"
   "If it were my dream," I said, "I would think of the well of memory, and the well of emotions. This well takes me deep into life memories, and emotions that are powerful enough to drown me if I fail to set very clear intentions in taking the plunge. The well is also a portal, a doorway. In my dream of your dream, the young person who is drowning in the well is my own younger self. This dream has given me a way to reach to her, to connect with her and help both of us to move beyond that overwhelming grief and sadness. I feel that I can use this connection to support my younger self in her own time. I also feel that the connection between us will allow me to bring the vital energy, joy and imagination of my younger self into my present life."
    The dreamer was nodding vigorously. Her face had been creased with worry or anticipation earlier; now a lovely smile flowered in her features.
    "Such a dream requires action," I went on. "I would do two essential things to honor the dream and to use the doorway that has opened between me and my younger self. First, whenever I find myself thinking about sad things that may have happened early in life, I would consciously project thoughts of encouragement to my younger self in her own time. For example, I can tell her, You'll survive. You'll make it through. I promise you this. I believe that you really can reach your younger self, in this way, folding time. In doing it, though, you must remember not to succumb to the raw emotions of that earlier time. Your mission is to be the rescuer, as you were in your dream."
    More eager nods and smiles.
    "Next, if this were my dream, I would want to be sure to do things in my present life that my younger self would enjoy. Eat something she likes. Play a game she enjoys. Go to a place she loves. I would want to encourage the child part of me to see that I am fun and I am safe, so that we can enjoy a creative life together in the present time."
     The dreamer eagerly agreed to follow both these suggested plans. As her features continued to soften and brighten, I felt sure that she had drawn her beautiful girl self back into her energy field. This sense was confirmed by the brightness of spirit in her eyes.
     I noted that in English there is another meaning for the word "well", as in wellness.
     Any night, and day,we may go fishing for soul in the dream well.

Art: "Soul of the Rose"by John William Waterhouse (1908)

The woman who sent me notes from the lecture I gave in her dream

It's hard to keep track of him. When I come home from our travels, I am not quite myself and no longer him. When we part company, I am left to pore over scraps of memory like the things I find in my pockets and on my phone after a regular plane trip: a boarding pass, a bus ticket, a foreign banknote, a scribbled love note, random photos of far-away cities and beaches and train stations.
      I am talking about the Traveler, the self who is not confined to my body or brain in dreams and journeys. I track the Traveler by recording his exploits – the ones I manage to catch – in my journal. In one report he seems to be very like my present self, just two days ahead of me, on my present probable event track. Sometimes he is much further ahead, or on a different – mildly or radically – event track, or he is in another body in another time or another world. 
    Sightings by others give me clues to the range of his excursions. On any given day, it is not unusual for me to receive 20 quite specific reports over the internet from people who say the dreamed of me, in addition to dreams of me shared in person by members of my workshops. My default response is to suggest that the dreamer might want to ask what part of them resembles Dream Robert in some way (for example, as dreamer, teacher, writer, traveler, large person with white hair). Yet I also know that dreaming is social as well as individual, transpersonal as well as personal, and I am aware that the Traveler leads adventures in the dream lands as well as in the physical world. 
    Some weeks after leading one of my 5-day adventures at the Esalen Institute, I received a note from one of the participants, a highly intelligent, spirited lady, a person with two PhDs who had explored consciousness in many ways. "I want to thank you for that wonderful lecture you gave last night."
    I checked the date. I had not given a lecture that evening anywhere in consensus reality. I had already intuited what she was telling me. She had attended a lecture I gave in one of her dreams. The woman from Esalen reported that in my lecture, I had listed, "very clearly and elegantly", five reasons why we misinterpret dreams about the future. I had written them on a whiteboard in view of the group.
    This gave me shivers. On that very day, I was laboring over a chapter in a book that was later published as Dreaming True. The chapter was titled "When Dreams Seem False" and on the first page I was developing a list of the five most common reasons why we misinterpret dream messages about the future. I was satisfied with my statement about the first reason we get these messages wrong. But I was not yet content with my formulation of the other four reasons, or the order in which they should appear on the page.
     I emailed the woman from Esalen. I asked her, "Any chance you kept notes from my lecture, or could reconstruct what I wrote on the whiteboard?"
     She responded within a couple of hours, sending me her version of Dream Robert's five points. They were expressed with admirable brevity, very much in my own style. Borrowing from my dream student's notes, I was able to compose the opening section of that chapter with almost no editing. Here's how it reads:

The five most common reasons why we misinterpret dream message about the future are:

1. We mistake a literal event for a symbolic one, or vice versa.
2. We misidentify people and places.
3. We fail to figure out how far in the future the dreamed event might be.
4. We see future events from a certain angle, that may not reveal the whole picture.
5. We confuse realities, confounding a dream that relates to external reality with dreams that are real experiences in other orders of reality.

    I often play the role of teacher in my own dreams, with many different audiences: with people I recognize, with people I will meet in the future, with people in countries I have not yet visited, with people in other orders of reality, including the afterlife. I have preserved hundreds of reports from people who say they have attended a workshop, a lecture, a ritual or some other type of training with me in dreams. I have learned to pay close attention to reports about Dream Robert's teaching activities, because sometimes I find that he is more than a few steps ahead of me. It's a rare student of mine who brings detailed notes back from the dreaming, but I am open to more. So if the Traveler says something interesting in your dreams, leads a new ritual or demonstrates a new exercise, please send me detailed notes. He is often a few steps ahead of me, as in the case of his lecture about why we miss dream messages.
   Let me hasten to add that if you dream of me and enjoy the experience, I am happy to accept the credit; if the experience wasn’t great, don’t blame it on me!

Text adapted from The Boy Who Died and Came Back: Adventures of a Dream Archaeologist in the Multiverse by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Photo: Dream coast at Esalen by RM

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The myths we are living swing on hinges into other lives

As some people use the word, myth is synonymous with fake news, or superstition, or outmoded hand-me down beliefs. A myth may be a prevailing worldview – that the earth is flat or the still center of the turning universe, that humanity begins with Adam and Eve, that the world is enthralled by a dark Demiurge. A myth may be a sacred teaching story that explains how the world came into being – and what is beyond it – and why bad things, as well as good, things happen, and what it means to be human. A myth may justify the ways of gods to humans, or those of humans before their Creator.
    A myth may introduce you, like the major arcana of tarot, to essential members of your archetypal family: to personified forces at play in your life and your universe. A myth may invite you to consider who among the gods defends you, and who has it in for you. A myth may also be a living reality beyond the realm of facts, a source of truth that cannot be confirmed in a laboratory experiment but may be evidenced by the data of raw experience.
    Your dreams can be a nightly screening of gods and archetypes. A dream may be your place of encounter with a Big story that is looking for you. It may call you to a tradition about which you previously knew nothing. Psychologist Betty De Shong Meador, author of Inanna: Lady of Largest Heart was called to study Inanna and her poet-priestess after a dream that involved the prayer flags of the great Sumerian goddess, Queen of Heaven and Earth, that were previously unknown to her.
     I was seized by Kali in a terrifying night vision – beginning with sleep paralysis – when I was fourteen. I wrote a cycle of poems in her honor. Later Kala, better known as Yama, became one of my principal mentors, reminding me to consider every life choice in the presence of Death.
     A little-known Celtic deity came into my ken in a series of dreams in which I was defending my property with a long-handled hammer, like a weaponized croquet mallet. Some shelf elf produced then image of a Gallo-Roman statue of a god with a similar hammer, named in the inscription as Sucellos, which means the Good Striker. He seems to share some qualities with Thor. He is also the consort of a great goddess of abundance, called Rosmerta by the Gauls and Abundantia by the Romans. 
    We confirm our relationship with a mythic power when it comes to our aid. Athena came to me like this in Anatolia when I incurred the wrath of another ancient deity, a story told in my new book Mysterious Realities. The Bear has come to me like this many times since it claimed me when I found the courage to step back into the space of a dream where it had terrified me.
     Myths are a cauldron of stories and symbols that hold superabundant energy for life. You want to become conscious of the myth you are living. If you are unconscious about this, then the myth is living you and you may be driven into confusion and disaster, like Odysseus when his men lose control of the winds. In different phases of life, we may inhabit – and be inhabited by – different myths. We may find ourselves in the play of rival stories. We may be able to match and mix.
    The great scholar of religions Wendy Doniger writes about the “seed text”, bija mantra. In her book Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India, this is the story of the goddess Saranyu (later called Samjna). Her father is the great Maker. He compels her to marry a hot, misshapen lump (who happens to be the Sun) who sires twins on her, Yama and Yami.  She can’t stand the male or the marriage, so she abandons her family. She makes sure that her defection will go unnoticed by creating a double, called Shadow (Chhaya) or Look-Alike and gives her copy clear instructions that she is never to reveal the swap to her husband. 
      Beyond the Indian names and exotic trappings, many of us may find a mirror for certain life situations in this myth. You can't abide a soul-crushing situation. So the spirited part of you takes off to run free, leaving a compliant copy in the house. Maybe no one will notice that you are soul-gone unless you overdo the Stepford Wife performance or do something completely out of character with the earlier you they remember. Wendy Doniger says that this story has kept after her for decades, prompting her to reach deeper and deeper into its well. Whenever she hears it, she says “That’s the story of my life.” 
      The myths we are living now swing on hinges into other lives, whose myths swing back at us. Because our present life dramas are connected with those of other personalities, in other places and times, within our multidimensional family, it is not surprising that “old” gods and “dead” religions feature in our spontaneous mythology, as mediated by dreams and visions and by moments on the roads of this world when we experience a hidden hand, pushing us forward or holding us back, or rearranging the stage set.

Image: The goddess Yami (also called Yamuna) and attendants, red sandstone sculpture from Rajasthan c.800 in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

I am leading a high-octane weekend adventure in "Living on the Mythic Edge" in Berkeley, California on October 27-28, 2018/

Monday, June 25, 2018

Night of the Blue Bird

Sometimes all we need from our dreams is one simple image, bringing clarity and direction. In the midst of leading a soul recovery training in France, I set the intention of dreaming on behalf of the group. 
     In the middle of the night, my upstairs room in an old stone house at the Hameau de l’Etoile was filled with blue light. In the spectrum of blues, I would say that the color was azure. Amazed, I found the source of this light in a great blue bird suspended in mid air. The light shone from within it, as if from the heart of a crystal. In that light, I knew that all would be well and that great gifts would come to those who had made the journey to this little village of hope, in the Midi.
    The quality of this blue light reminded me of figures who have appeared to me in other visions of the night, especially one I call simply the Blue Lady, who has attended and prepared me for grand adventures between the worlds. I thought, also, of the blue-skinned deities of Egypt and India. My bird visitor had a crest on its head, bringing an unassertive sense of royalty and grace.
    I carried the wonderful energy of this vision with me as I went down for coffee in the refectory in the morning. “Good morning to your waking soul,” a member of my training greeted me, with a line from Robbie Burns. I shared my simple dream image by the hearth, and we fanned the ashes from the fire ceremony we had shared the previous night into new life. 

Art: Marc Chagall, "The Blue Bird" (1952)

Everyone who dreams is a little bit shaman

It’s a saying of the Kagwahiv, an Amazonian dreaming people: “Everyone who dreams is a little bit shaman.” Or, in an alternate translation: “Everyone who dreams has a little bit of the shaman in them.” The Kagwahiv are right. It is no less correct to flip and amplify the statement, as follows: Every shaman is a big-time dreamer.” Or: Every shaman dreams big.
     We have been enjoying a resurgence of shamanic practice in Western society. This is partly due to the work of teachers like the late Michael Harner (who made the important contribution of stripped-down “core” techniques for shamanic journeying) and the wonderful Sandra Ingerman (who has brought us a clean and clear approach to soul retrieval as a mode of healing). It is also connected to our hunger for experiential knowledge of ancestral traditions such as those evoked by Joseph Campbell and the great archaeomythologist Marija Gimbutas.
     In all the descriptions of the shaman in the literature – as wounded healer, as guide of souls, as walker between worlds, as negotiator with the spirits – there is an essential element that is rarely featured strongly enough, and is sometimes missed altogether. First and last, the shaman is a dreamer. Shamans typically receive their calling in dreams, and are initiated and trained in the Dreamtime. The heart of their practice is the intentional dream journey. They may incubate dreams to diagnose for a patient and to select the appropriate treatment. They travel – wide awake and lucid – in their dream bodies to find lost souls, to intercede with the spirits, to fight sorcerers and to guide spirits of the departed along the right roads.
     Yes, hallucinogens or “entheogens” are characteristic of shamanic traditions in some parts of the world, especially South America. But the master shamans manufacture their own chemicals inside their bodies, and hallucinogens are never required for a truly powerful dreamer. They have never been part of my own practice, but then I was called by dreams in early boyhood, and discovered the reality of other worlds during life-threatening illnesses, so I do not judge those who seek help in opening the strong eye of vision.
     In the language of the Mohawk (who have never used hallucinogens as part of shamanic practice) the shaman is “one who dreams (ratetshents), a term that also means “doctor” and “healer”.
     In the languages of other indigenous peoples, especially in Native America, the connection between dreaming and shamanic practice and perspectives is equally clear. For the Makiritare of Venezuela, a dream is an adekato, a “journey of the soul”. Among the Dene (Athabascans), the same words are used to designate dreams, visions and shamanic journeys. Among the Wind River Shoshone, the word navujieip means both “soul” and “dream”; the navujieip “comes alive when your body rests and comes in any form.”
     Among the Aborigines of Walcott Inlet, it is believed that the high god Unggud summons potential shamans in dreams. Their initiation will depend on their ability to brave up to a series of fearsome tests, at the end of which they are reborn with a new body and a new brain filled with light. The shaman now has the ability to project a dream double. His powers are described as miriru. In Aboriginal Men of High Degree, A.P.Elkin explains that miriru is fundamentally “the capacity bestowed on a medicine man to go into a dream state or trance with its possibilities.” Here, built into the language of the Earth’s oldest people, is the understanding that the heart of the shaman’s power lies in his or her ability to dream.
     In our everyday modern lives, we stand at the edge of such power, when we dream and remember to do something with our dreams.

For much more on dreamers as shamans and shamans as dreamers please see my book Dreaming the Soul back Home.

Art: "Tiger in a Tropical Storm" by Henri Rousseau (1891). In the first years of my public teaching of Active Dreaming, my original synthesis of dreamwork and shamanism, many people told me they had come to my workshops because they dreamed of tigers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

From Ass to Initiate: The Dream-Fueled Divine Comedy of Apuleius

The Metamorphoses of Lucius, better known as The Golden Ass since Augustine gave it that title, is a second-century novel written in Latin by Lucius Apuleius of Madauros. Its comic, picaresque narrative follows the misadventures of a young man whose obsession with sorcery and sex leads to his transformation into a donkey. He is beaten and abused by successive masters, including ferocious bandits, and subjected to the lewd attentions of castrati priests of a Syrian goddess and ancient porn show promoters. Through his ears, we hear amazing stories, one of which – the story of Eros and Psyche – has become a perennial myth, inspiring artists, tickling the diagnostic nerve of psychologists, teasing anyone who knows what it is to yearn for the beloved. In the final, eleventh book, when Lucius is returned to human form, we move abruptly from low farce and gratuitous violence to a deep account of spiritual transformation that will blaze in the memory of any sensitive reader like the midnight sun of the initiate.
    Lucius starts out as a young man obsessed by magic. He seduces Photis, the maid of the witch Pamphile. She tells him that the witch is going to turn herself into a bird so she can fly to the room of a man she wants to have sex with. From a hiding place, Lucius watches the witch get naked and smear herself all over with an ointment, as she voices incantations – and she sprouts feathers and takes off. Lucius is now eager to fly as a bird. Photis is nervous, but he persuades her to steal some of the ointment. In a comedy of errors, she brings him the wrong one. It turns him into a donkey. To recover human form, he must eat roses. The antidote is nearby. But before he can get to them, robbers burst in, and then use him as a pack mule, and through all his misadventures in the first ten books, he somehow never manages to eat roses.
    He wakes, still a donkey, near the sea in a sudden panic and finds the full moon shining in his face across the waves. He dips his donkey head in the sea seven times, while invoking the goddess by all the names he knows in a beautiful prayer. He is unsure which aspect of the Goddess to invoke, so he calls on the Divine Feminine who shines through the thousand faces like the Moon before him. O Queen of Heaven…
    Cleansing and prayer are followed by what looks like dream incubation on four legs. He falls asleep on the sand. A divine figure rises from the sea and stands before him, crowned with a wreath of flowers, with the mirror of the moon shining at the center and serpents and ears of corn on either side Her jet-black robe is covered with shining stars. In her right hand she carries a sistrum - a bronze rattle - and in her left a boat-shaped vessel with a rearing serpent for a handle.
    "Here I am Lucius, roused by your prayers." The Goddess announces herself as universal, mother of all life.  "I am the mother of the world of nature, mistress of all the lements, first-born in this realm of time. I am the loftiest of deities, queen of departed spirits, the single embodiment of all gods and goddesses."* She tells him that peoples worship her under any names, but Egypt knows her true name, Isis. She reassures him that she has come to his rescue. “I am come to you in your calamity.” 
     She tells him to join the procession in her honor that will take place the next day and press forward until he comes to the priest with roses in his right hand. The priest will be prepared because, in that same moment, Isis is appearing to him in a night vision. Bilocation is hardly a big deal for a goddess. She cautions him that after he is changed back, Lucius will no longer be the man he was before; he must dedicate his life to her service and in return she will guide him through life and beyond death.
    The priest, the next day, is indeed ready for him; he not only offers the roses but delivers a speech revealing that he knows Lucius whole story and calls for people to bring a garment to clothe the naked human, and promises that under the aegis of Isis, Lucius will at last be freed from the slings and arrows of Fortune.
    Lucius arrives at “the birthday of initiation” (natalem sacrorem). He is transformed and dies to his former life. The whole narrative can be seen as a conversion story, wildly thrilling and never stuffy – taking the reader rollicking over a cliff into a place of awe. Dreams and visions guide the man who became an ass through death and rebirth under the aegis of the Great Goddess. 

* Apuleius, The Golden Ass, translated by P.G.Walsh (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) 220

Monday, June 18, 2018

Close encounters with gods and angels

In Homer’s world, gods and goddesses hover close to mortals, and frequently intercede in their lives. It is rare for a human to see a deity in its true form. Most often, perceiving the gods is a matter of sensing a presence, or noticing a light or pattern of vibration, or awakening to the fact that a stranger – an uncannily beautiful youth or maiden, or an old beggar or shepherd in rags – is a divine being going around in drag. The Greeks say that the gods love to travel in disguise.
   Old Priam, scared and defenseless, makes his way through a hostile army to Achilles’ camp. The king is helped by a charming young man who appears out of nowhere and acts as his guide. “Some god has held his hand over me!” Priam exclaims, not realizing that his escort is Hermes. Even the hero Odysseus, famed for his intimacy with Athena, fails to recognize her when she appears in some of her disguises. The gods hardly ever identify themselves by name, and when they disclose their presence to mortals, it is an act of “voluntary self-revelation”. As Circe says, “Who would ever see a god, going to and fro, unless he wished to be seen?” When they show themselves, gods take on forms appropriate to the understanding of humans.
    While it is hard to see gods as they are, in the ancient world seeing the gods was regarded not only as possible, but as highly desirable. Through ritual and invocation, the Greeks asked the gods to reveal themselves in specific forms, and in a good mood. “Come in kindly mind and in easily recognizable form,” the chorus chants in Sophocles’ play Ajax, reflecting a mode of prayer in common use outside the theater.
    When Greeks invoked gods, they hoped that their divine patrons would come and stand over them and surround them with the protection of their aegis. Above all, they sought close encounters in dreams, in the sacred night. As Robin Lane Fox observes in Pagans and Christians, “in their dreams, pagans of all classes and backgrounds kept the closest company with the gods.” Dreams were regarded as a nightly screening of the gods.
    Certain individuals brought gods and humans closer together.

“Ever since she has taken on her priesthood the gods have been appearing in visitations as never before, to the girls and women, but also to men and children. What does such a thing mean? Is it a sign of something good?”

-     Question of Alexandra, priestess of Demeter, to the oracle of Apollo at Miletus. 3rd century.

“The angels will come among you, like the prophets,” Jesus promises in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. By “prophets” he means not only the venerated characters of the Old Testament, but the seers who were active and highly respected in early Christian communities. Often women, they were believed to consult with angels on familiar terms, to go on otherworldly journeys, and to see into the future. In some Christian communities, such prophets may have been honored above priests and bishops. “When you open a jar of wine or oil,” advised the early Teaching of the Apostles, “take the first fruits and give them to the prophets.”

Art: Giuseppe Bottani, Athena Appears to Odysseus to Reveal Ithaca

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Look for the hidden hand behind synchronicity

Jung described the pairing or clustering of events through meaningful coincidence as an “acausal” phenomenon. Certainly, we do not observe causation in the play of coincidence in the way that we can say the kettle boiled because we turned on the burner. A characteristic of coincidence is that it does not have a visible cause.
But this does not mean that there is no cause for coincidence. "Beyond the accidental surface effects of this world sit - as of yore - the gods," Joseph Campbell declared.
Most human cultures, across most of recorded history, have believed that there is indeed a hidden hand at work in coincidence: that it is through the play of unusual or unexpected conjunctions, and natural phenomena, that gods or angels or animate forces of nature or other dimensions send messages to humans or actively intervene in our world. Let’s not shrug this off as a “primitive” idea it has worked, and continues to work, in highly practical ways. And let’s not classify this idea as a “metaphysical” belief.
The forces that cause meaningful coincidence may be quite physical. We miss this because we cannot observe their workings with our ordinary senses and our regular assumptions. These forces include our own thoughts and feelings, and those of others connected to us. They may include the powers that Jung called “archetypes” as long as we remember that in Jung’s mature thought the archetypes are not structures but “habitual currents of psychic energy” and “systems of readiness for action,” and that they are as much physical as psychic. The physical forces that play with us through coincidence may include our parallel selves in parallel universes, interacting with our world in constant and complex weavings through what quantum physics has taught us to call “interference” patterns, forever shifting the balance of probabilities for any specific outcome.
 Quantum physics shows us the universe as a dynamic web of connection. Subatomic particles are not separate “things”; they have meaning and identity only through their connections with everything else. Those connections do not depend on physical proximity or causation. Particles that have once been in contact with each other remain connected through all space and time.
 Quantum physics also confirms that when we go to the heart of physical reality, there is no separation between mind and matter. Subatomic particles exist in all possible states until they are observed at which point something definite emerges from the soup of possibilities.
 Inner and outer, subjective and objective, interweave and move together at quantum levels, on a human scale, and no doubt everywhere in the universe. We live in an energy field where everything resonates to a greater or lesser degree with everything else. The world we inhabit mirrors our thoughts and feelings, and vice versa.
 In the hidden order of reality, there is no distinction between mind and matter. The split between inner and outer subjective and objective that we experience in ordinary life is unknown in the deeper reality.
Richard Wilhelm’s account of  the Chinese rainmaker contains the essence of a worldview in which the human mind and the external world form a whole. A village has been without rain for weeks. The desperate villagers send for a rainmaker. When the old man arrives, he shuts himself up in the house provided for him, performing no ceremonies until the rains come. When asked how he brought the rain, he explains that when he arrived he noted a state of disharmony in himself, so he retired to compose himself. When he restored his own equilibrium, the rain came according to its natural pattern.
As we become more awake to what is going on, we may become personal magnets for coincidence, “strange attractors” that draw more and more interesting and unexpected encounters and events toward us. The brilliant analyst and classicist Marie-Louise von Franz, who knew both Jung and Pauli well, alluded to this: “The larger our consciousness is, and the more it develops, the more we get hold of certain aspects of the spirit of the unconscious, draw it into our own subjective sphere, and then call it our own psychic activity or our own spirit.”

Text adapted from The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination by Robert Moss.Published by New World Library

"The Houses Are Watching". Photo of house in Sibiu, Romania by Robert Moss

Dreams are not on our case, they are on our side

Our dreams show us things we may prefer not to think about — which is a major reason why many of us slam that door shut on our dreams and try to keep it closed. Those things may include future life problems, or parts of ourselves we tend to ignore or repress, or the larger values and issues involved in a situation we are approaching from a limited point of view.
We may prefer not to think about these matters, but if they are in our dreams, it is because our wiser Self is telling us we need to think about them. When our dreams show us future problems, they are also offering tools to avoid or contain those problems — if we will only heed the messages and take appropriate action. When our dreams reveal aspects of ourselves we tend to deny, they invite us to reclaim the energy we waste in denial and to integrate and work with all the aspects of our energy. When dreams reflect the bigger issues involved in a current situation, they offer us an inner compass and a corrective to decisions driven by ego or other people’s expectations.
            When we see things in night dreams we don’t like, we need to pay careful attention, because we are being shown elements in our life situation that require understanding and action. The scarier the dream, the more urgent the need to receive its message and figure out what needs to be done.
          Here’s one of my personal mantras:
          Dreams are not on our case, they are on our side.
          We need to stop running away from what our dreams are showing us and learn to stand our ground and confront the issue or the monster in the space where it first presents itself. If we fail to resolve a challenge in our dreams then – as Jung discovered – it is likely to come after us in the waking world, perhaps with even more scary consequences. A nightmare, in my lexicon, isn’t just a scary dream; it is and interrupted or aborted dream. We tried to escape from the dream, leaving it broken and unresolved, because we were too frightened to deal with what confronted us.
         We want to learn to go back inside an interrupted dream of this kind, when we can muster the strength and resources to do that, and dream it onward to healing and resolution. We can do this through the Dream Reentry technique explained in my books The Three “Only” Things and Conscious Dreaming. We can write a satisfactory ending for the broken dream, which can be a fabulous exercise in creativity.
    We may find we’ve been running away from an advisory than can help save our job or our relationship, or can enable us to avoid a road accident or an illness. Sometime we find that what we’ve been running away from is our own power. When we manage to brave up and face the beast or the alien, we may discover that what was most alien to us was our own larger Self, or that the wild animal we feared is an invitation to move beyond self-limitation into a life of wild freedom.

The first part of this article is adapted from The Three “Only” Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination. Published by New World Library

Photo: Lew Friedander, New York City, 2011

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Duke of Jin and the Shaman of the Mulberry Woods: Dreaming the Understory in Ancient China

In his dream, the Duke Jing of Jin, a powerful state in ancient China, is attacked by a demon with disheveled hair that streams to the ground. The demon beats its breast and leaps up, yelling, “You have murdered my descendants and I have called on the High God for justice!”
The monster breaks down the palace gate and bursts into the state room where the duke is sitting. When the duke flees into an inner chamber of the palace, the demon pursues him, again breaking down the door.
Waking in terror, the duke summoned the shaman (wu) of Sangtian, “who told him everything he had dreamed.” When the duke asked the shaman what the outcome would be, the wu predicted, “You will not taste the new wheat” – in other words, he would die before the next harvest.
After this, the duke became very ill, and asked for the services of Huan, a famous physician from a neighboring state. Before the doctor arrived, the Duke of Jin dreamed that his disease turned into two boys. He listened to them plotting to escape the doctor’s intervention by hiding themselves in spaces between his heart and his diaphragm and between his heart and his throat. When the doctor arrived and conducted his examination, he informed the duke that nothing could be done, because the disease had lodged in places he could not reach with medicine or by acupuncture – between the heart and the diaphragm and between the heart and the throat. The duke acknowledged that Huan was an honest and capable physician, and sent him away with rich rewards.
In the sixth month after the demonic dream, new wheat stood high in the fields. The Duke of Jin ordered his estate manager to have some cut and send it to his baker. Confident that he had survived the end predicted by the shaman who had seen and read his dream, the duke had the wu brought to him. He showed off the new wheat, then had the shaman put to death. The duke was just about to taste the wheat, when he felt his stomach about to explode. He rushed to the latrine, fell in, and died ignominiously.
It was learned afterwards that one of the servants who carried his body from the privy has dreamed in the early hours that he had carried the duke on his back up to heaven. The servant’s dream may have played out when he was buried alive with his master. [1]

This savage tale of dreams and death comes from the earliest narrative history written in China, a collection of chronicles known as the Zuo zhuan that were composed between the fifth and fourth centuries BCE.
What is going on here?
According to one of the oldest commentaries, the demon that scares the duke is an angry ghost of unusual power. He is the ancestral chief of the Zhao clan, that the Duke of Jin utterly destroyed. His wild appearance and behavior are those expected, in those days, of a mourner at a funeral. [2]
The curse laid on Duke Jing by the vengeful spirit is confirmed by the shaman the duke summons. According to the narrative, the duke does not tell his dream to the shaman; the shaman tells the duke’s dream to him. In many ancient and indigenous cultures, the dream interpreter who is most respected is someone who is capable of entering your dreamspace and talking to you from his or her direct experience of your dream.  
    Something of this kind may be at play between the Chinese shaman and the Duke of Jin. But something more is suggested: that the shaman was inside the duke’s dream at the same time the duke was dreaming it. If this were the case, the shaman’s role becomes ambiguous. Is the wu neutral in this matter, and if not, whose side is he or she on?
Though shamans have personal names in many other sections of the Zuo zhuan, this one is identified only as “the wu of Sangtian”. The term wu is not gender-specific, but is more often used of women than men. “Sangtian”, a place-name in modern China, literally means, “Mulberry Woods”, in the sense of wildwoods rather than tame silk-producing groves. The descriptive phrase, in Chinese ears, implies that this shaman comes from a place beyond the borders of civilized order and may have a close connection with death, since mulberry wood was used for the topknot of corpses prepared for ceremonial burial. [3]
A prime function of the shaman, elsewhere in the Zuo zhuan, is to deal with intrusive ghosts by propitiating or exorcizing them. Thus Zichan, who is both a shaman and a Zheng minister, deals with the ghost of a vengeful nobleman by relocating it, explaining, “I provide the ghost with a place to return to.” [4] The shaman of the mulberry wood, however, is neither asked nor volunteers to relieve the Duke of Jin of the hostile spirit who has attacked him. The wu simply delivers a death sentence.
We may suppose it occurred to the duke that the shaman was in on a plot to remove him, by reinforcing his fears – in a sense, by pointing the bone – without giving him any chance to reshape the evil future he had dreamed.
In the second dream, the duke is able to see his disease, in the form of two boys who may represent the two Zhao officers he had recently executed. This part of the narrative reflects the understanding, in traditional Chinese medicine, that dreams may provide accurate diagnosis of what is going on inside the body and reveal causes of disease that may go beyond the grasp of Western allopathic approaches. When the doctor comes, he confirms the duke’s dream of where his disease has lodged, and that it is untreatable by the methods at the physician’s disposal.
The problem sounds like a case for shamanic treatment. But the shaman is not called. She is left out there, in the mulberry woods, until the duke dares to hope that he has survived the duration of the ancestral curse that has been laid on him. Then he calls in the shaman – to have her killed – and survives just long enough to see the curse fulfilled. He does not live to taste the new wheat.

Elsewhere in the Zuo zhuan, we learn that the way that dreams are shared and interpreted has a huge influence on what comes from them. As we talk about dreams, as when we talk about life, we are engaged in the making of meaning. We must be careful in choosing when we tell evil dreams, and to whom we tell them. The act of making an evil dream public could help to manifest an unwanted event, as when one ruler – who had kept a dream of his own death secret for three years – finally decided to tell it, and died immediately afterwards. On the other hand, telling an evil dream to the right person can sometimes help to tame or rescript the message it contains.
    There is a fascinating example in the eve-of-battle dream of another ruler of Jin, Duke Wen. He dreamed that he was grappling with the ruler of Chu, when his enemy threw him to the ground and started sucking out his brains. Duke Wen was terrified until his minister Hu Yan pronounced that the dream was highly auspicious. On his back, Duke Wen, was facing Heaven, while his adversary, bent over him, was face down in the posture of a man receiving punishment. Eating the brains evoked a Chinese proverb about what makes you soft. The minister insisted that Duke Wen’s “brains” would win over his enemy – and indeed, when the battle came, they did. [5]

The Zuo shuan is a dutiful work of linear history, following events year by year according to strict chronology. Across its vast sweep, it is also a book of dreams. If we are willing to make an intellectual and imaginative leap into the collective mind it represents, we will find a way of looking at both dreams and history that is radically different from that of modern Western understanding, and is both fascinating and rewarding to explore.
     The ancient Chinese chroniclers not only record dreams and how they were interpreted; they use dreams (and other signs) to interpret the world, and reveal the understory behind human events. In the field of dreams, we can observe and sometimes take part in the interplay of humans and the more-than-human.


[1] My retelling of the story of the Duke of Jin is based on James Legge, The Ch’un T’sew with the Tso Chuen (Taipei: SMC, 1994) p.374, and a recent translation in Wai-yee Li, “Dreams of Interpretation in Early Chinese Historical and Philosophical Writings” in David Shulman and Guy G. Stroumsa (eds) Dream Cultures: Explorations in the Comparative History of Dreaming (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) pp. 22-3.
[2] According to Du Yu’s commentary, the wu says, “a ghost is furious.” See Gilles Boileau, “Wu and Shaman”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London Vol. 65 No.2 (2002) p. 366.
[3] Boileau, “Wu and Shaman” pp. 369-71.
[4] Wai-yee Li, “Dreams of Interpretation” p. 20.
[5] Ibid, p.26.

Image: Dancing women shamans. Black clay figures from the Zhou dynasty.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Dream People Are Waiting for You

Around the mid-point of my life, I was awakened by a dream that changed everything.  
     I was embarking on the path that led me to become a dream teacher. I had practical concerns about paying the bills. I asked for a dream to guide me on a business plan. I was not happy with what immediately followed. In my dream, I found myself trying to drive down a street that was clogged by construction, where traffic was hopelessly jammed. I woke from the dream frustrated.  
    Remembering my intention to try to get some practical guidance, I tried to put myself back into the dream and find a way forward. I succeeded. Now fully lucid, I surveyed the scene, looking for a way through the traffic jam. Then I noticed something different in the scene. It was an amazing figure, flying over the broken street. I looked more closely and saw that this was an impossibly beautiful version of myself, a radiant double.
     He flew into the mouth of a kind of tunnel, going up a hillside above the city scene. I thought, How could I have forgotten I can fly? I flew after him, and came out in a lovely wooded setting. I was drawn to a large, simple building where people who lived close to the Earth were gathered in ceremony around a firepit. I was nervous that I might be intruding, but an elder made me welcome and showed me that they had a place for me in their circle. 
     I sang with them, I drummed with them. After a time, when the fire got friendly, I went and lay down at the center of the circle. One by one, the dream people came to me. They took red-hot glowing coals from the fire and placed them over my eyes, saying, "We do this to change your eyes, so you may see clearly."
     They placed hot coals over my ears, saying, "We do this to change your ears, so that you may hear clearly."
     They placed a red-hot coal on my tongue, saying, "We do this so that henceforth you will speak only truth."
     Then one of the dream people placed a glowing coal on my heart. I felt a stab of pain as it burned a way to my heart. I felt the fire within me rise from my heart to my throat. The dream people said, "We do this to open your heart and the passage from your heart to your throat, so that henceforth you will speak and act only from the heart."
     I rose from this thrilling lucid dream charged with energy and courage. I jumped in my car and drove to a lake in the woods. With my hand on my heart, I said to the wind and the lake and the trees and the red-tailed hawk that came knifing through the clouds, "Henceforth, I will speak and act only from the heart."

This was a turning point experience in my life, in which I reentered a frustrating dream and found myself guided to a hyper-awake, indelible encounter with my spiritual kin and my soul's purpose. It that has stayed fresh in my mind across the years. On dark days, it gives me light and warmth. It resets my inner compass when I am confused about any decision. Following its direction, I found it possible to let go of old worries and ego agendas and pursue the path of a dream teacher - for which there was (at that time) no career track in our society - with confidence that the universe would provide, as it did. 
    I wish for you an awakening with similar power.

Drawing: "We Do This To Open Your Heart" by Robert Moss