Saturday, January 27, 2018

Hold the vision in your mind so you do not become lost

Long before Columbus, the Polynesians discovered and settled virtually every island group in the Pacific, creating a single sphere of cultural life that covered nearly 10 million square miles of the earth's surface. Polynesian sailors crossed the sea in open catamarans, made with tools of stone, bone and coral, their sails woven from pandanus. They sailed without maps, compasses or instruments.    According to Polynesian tradition, the first human to see Easter Island was a dream traveler and the island was settled because a young king trusted the traveler’s story and acted upon it.     In a time of savage warfare among the Polynesian islanders, a priest named Hau Maka, who was also the royal tattooist, went scouting for a new home for his people. He flew across the ocean in a dream and saw Rapa Nui (Easter Island). On returning from his dream journey, he described the island and its location in great detail to his young chief, Hotu Matu’a.    The king trusted Hau Maka’s dream. He gathered all of his people and ordered them to prepare for a long sea journey to a new land. The people set sail with everything they had. After two months, they reached Anakena Bay on Easter Island, and found it just as the king’s tattooist had described.     Polynesians crossed more than 2,000 miles of the Pacific to find and settle Hawaii in the same way.     Captain Cook saw the skills of the wayfinder when he took the Polynesian navigator Tupaia with him on a voyage of more than 13,000 km from Tahiti to New Zealand. Cook noted that at all times the wayfinder knew the exact direction of Tahiti.    It was hard for the outside world to understand or credit their extraordinary prowess as navigators until the Polynesian Voyaging Society launched a double-hulled catamaran, dubbed the Hokule'a (the Hawaiian name for Arcturus, the sacred star of Hawaii) in 1975, and Hawaiians crossed the seas the old-fashioned way.     Nainoa Thompson and the organizers brought a master navigator, a wayfinder or waymaker, from Micronesia to train the crew. His name was Mau Piailug. He was born on a coral islet smaller than one square mile, in the Caroline islands. His father and his grandfather were wayfinders. They began his training by keeping him in a tidal pool for hours when he was an infant. When he became seasick on his first sea voyage, aged eight, they tide him to the back of the canoe by a rope and dragged him through open waters until the nausea passed. When he was fourteen, he tied his own testicles to the rigging of a canoe to become fully sensitive to the movements.    He learned to read the coming of a storm in a halo round the moon and in the movement of dolphins heading for sheltered waters.    In preparing the crew of the Hokule'a for the voyage to Tahiti, he trained them to read wind and water, stars and birds, as he did. The master class took them deeper. On a point of land on Oahu, he had them spin until their senses were blurred and then tasked them to turn, eyes closed, in the direction of the island that was their destination.     When satisfied they were pointing the right way, he told them: "Go there. Be there with all of your senses." He wanted them to grow the destination so strong, in their minds and their inner senses, that they would bring the island towards them, Finally, he instructed them, "Hold the vision in your mind so you do not become lost."

Image: Hokule'a

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Your dreams give you myths to live by

I sense the iron inside my body, and I know that it is the dust of an exploding star. The iron in my body connects me with the supernova that created my galaxy, and as I move and stretch I feel the whole cosmology is alive in me. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe is leaving us. I see her starting to rise up off the sun-parched earth where her children in Mexico have been savagely abused. I am saddened to think that the cruelty and ignorance of humans may be losing us the support of higher powers.

I go to my special place in nature, by the white pines along the creek. For the first time ever,I find no solace here. I feel separate from nature, after separating myself from the hurry of people at the office. I try to imagine myself going deep inside the earth and finding refuge there, but today I can't manage that either. What has happened to divorce me from nature? Is it me, or is it all of us?

I am at a train station. I encounter an old woman with her daughter. Their heads are those of ravens. The old woman turns to me and her feathers turn white. The white-capped Raven Woman says to me, "Things are all happening too fast in your world. It's time to lift off. We'll come back at the right time." With this, she flutters up into the air. I realize that from her perspective it's possible to see far across time and space, beyond our present confusion.

I come to a living tree, There is the living face of a woman in the bark of the tree. The tendrils of her hair are like the serpents of Medusa. Now a great bull comes, stamping and snorting, magnificent and scary in his virile strength. As he stamps down, his hooves take root in the earth and little by little, he becomes part of the tree. I am amazed that the bull energy can be rooted and grounded like this. I want to plant this strength around me, in my life.

I am on the track of a part of myself that has been long buried in the ground. I feel the presence of a being that loves me, holding me by the shoulders, gently supporting me. The name of the woman that has been buried sounds like Michelle but is actually My-Shell, the part of me that had to hide and make itself small. I will dig as long and deep as it takes to bring her back to me.

These are summaries, in exact sequence, of dreams and visions that were shared one evening by members of an active dreaming circle that I lead in my home neighborhood. Not only does each report have mythic power; it is possible to read the whole sequence as a single mythic narrative.
     It starts (where else?) with the creation of our world. It dramatizes the perennial danger of the Dark Times that come when human behavior forfeits the support of higher powers and estranges us from the Earth. It introduces uncanny guides and living symbols: the woman who becomes White Raven, the bull (primal power of the ancients, consort of the goddess and preferred form of the gods) who becomes a tree. It brings the story home to us in the invitation to a personal quest for soul recovery, to bring out of the Earth what has been kept safe there through a time of trouble and trauma.
    Australian Aborigines say that the Big stories are hunting the right people to tell them, like predators stalking in the bush. The trick is to put ourselves in a place where the Big stories can find us. We see from the reports I have quoted above that our dreams provide that place, if we show up and remember.

Image by French artist and dream teacher Véronique Barek-Deligny 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Great Mother Bear

You feel her under your feet.
You enter her realm through the roots
of the tree that knows you.
She is endlessly nurturing, fertile and abundant.
She will nurse you and heal you as she cares for her cubs.
You can call on her blessing at any time,
once you have found the courage to enter her embrace.

She calms the mad warrior in men.
She strips the berserkers of old skins.
Serve her, and you join the army of the Great Mother
whose purpose is to protect, not destroy.
She will defend you, even from yourself. 

When you call back your lost children,
she will hold you together in her vast embrace
until you are one, and whole.
When you reach across the jagged rifts in your family
to forgive and make well, you feel her rolling pleasure.

Art by Tracy Cunningham. In author's collection.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Place of the Lion

I dreamed that I stepped through a certain gate, and found myself swapping a place of self-limitation for a place of wild freedom, the Place of the Lion. One of the things active dreamers do is to offer the energy of a dream of power to others in such a way that they can take it into their bodies and minds and travel with it. So let me offer this dream to you as part of your possible life story:

You are at a zoo on a Sunday afternoon. People are wandering about, snacking and chatting as they inspect the animals and birds. As you approach the big cat enclosures, you are uneasy because you know that big cats don't belong in confinement.   
    When you come to the lion pen, you are disgusted because people are mocking the great beast, pulling faces - until someone screams that the gate is open and the lion could get them. Now all the people are running away.
    Instead of fleeing, you step through the open gate, into the place of the lion. The great beast runs towards you and leaps up...and his great paws are on your shoulders...and he licks your face like a friendly dog. He wills you to turn around and look at the scene in the zoo in order to understand what is really going on here.

    When you look back, you see that it is the humans that are living in cages. In the comfort of their suburban houses and malls and supermarkets they have failed to notice that they have walled themselves in places of confinement. When you look beyond the lion, you see there are no walls, only an open horizon of wild freedom and possibility. The lion says to you, in his gravely lion voice, "You see, my dear, humans are the only animals that choose to live in cages."

text adapted from Robert Moss, Active Dreaming. Published by New World Library.

Photo of a doorway in Prague by Robert Moss

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Nishan shaman brings back a soul from the Land of the Dead

Remember Orpheus, who went down to the Underworld to try to bring back a soul from the Land of the Dead? In an epic poem recorded in the Manchu language – related to the Tungusic language family that gave us the word “shaman” – we have a story that folklorists might place in the “Orphic” category but differs from the Greek myth in three important ways. First, the shaman succeeds in retrieving the soul – because, unlike Orpheus, she refuses to look back. Second, the shaman is a woman. Third, she is not operating on behalf of a spouse or lover or even a close family member, as in many tales of this kind. She intervenes on behalf of a stranger in need. 
     By the fires of the Daur Mongols and neighboring peoples of Manchuria, they still tell the story of the Nishan shaman. In addition to the oral traditions, there is a written version, collected by Russian ethnographers before the Bolshevik Revolution; The Tale of the Nishan Shaman is the one great surviving text of Manchu literature. By harmonizing these voices, we can reclaim the extraordinary experience of a shaman who is a woman, and a dreamer who uses her gift to rescue souls, even from the Underworld. It begins like this:

A rich boy is out hunting. They call him Sergudai. He kills the animals without reverence, for sheer pleasure. Sometimes he does not even bother to send his retainers to take the hides and the meat. He revels in running down a mature female reindeer; her antlers are bigger than those of the males. He kills her with his arrows, and laughs.
     The animal spirits complain to Irmu Khan, the Lord of Death, that the order of things has been disturbed. The death lord sends his shadow to strike down the boy hunter and carry his soul down to his inner keep in his sunless domain.
     The boy’s father, a wealthy headman called Baldu Bayan, is inconsolable. A stranger tells him there is a powerful shaman, who lives on the Nishan river, who could bring back his son. Bayan is skeptical; the local shamans are greedy charlatans and the stranger is a hunchback in rags. Then the stranger performs a disappearing act on a many-colored cloud, and Bayan understands – whether or not he was dreaming – that his message came from an immortal.
     So the father sets out in quest of the shaman. People describe her house, on the east side of the river. When he comes to the western shore, Bayan looks over the water and sees a pretty young woman doing the wash. She is wearing a simple, unbelted dark blue gown, the year-round garb of any other ordinary woman. But when he swims his horse across the river, he greets her with respect. “Elder Sister, are you the shaman?”
“Not me,” she tells him. She directs him back across the river, to another house. When Bayan makes his way back, they tell him on the other side that he has been deceived. Shamans are tricky.
Bayan crosses the river for the third time. “You are a powerful shaman. Can you bring back my son?” She must consult her guardian spirits, her onggors. They can take many forms. They promise their help. She must also ask permission from her mother-in-law, because she is living with her husband’s clan, and is required to conform to their rules, shaman or not. She has been a widow for some time, and may be older than she looks. The mother-in-law says she can go.
Her personal name is Teteke; it is there in the Manchu version of the tale. But most people who tell her story call her simply “the Nishan shaman”, as if to release her from personal and family circumstances. [Note the word “shaman” is not gender specific]
The shaman’s fee is agreed. The Nishan shaman gathers her professional tools – her drum, her robe hung with bronze mirrors and horse tails, her antlered headdress – and follows Bayan back to his home, where the son’s body is laid out. She knows that her work will require a long journey, where no normal person would choose to go. Offerings will be required for the gatekeepers she must pass; bean paste and bundles of paper, a dog and a rooster.
    Her safety requires an assistant who is a powerful drummer and singer, strong enough to propel her along the roads of the Underworld – and, above all, to bring her back. She names the man she must have, Sunny Anggu. There’s an edge of excitement when he is named; we sense that they know each other body and soul.
When Sunny arrives, the Nishan shaman gets ready to journey. She is unrecognizable now as the girl with the wash, resplendent in her long fringed coat of skins, hung with bells and horsetails, with a bronze mirror hanging over her heart. In her own language, the mirror is called the “soul vessel”, a place to capture and carry soul. She pounds her skin drum, while Sunny echoes her beat. She is cantering, galloping, turning to the left, her feet almost noiseless in her high reindeer boots. A deerskin fringe flutters over her face, hiding her eyes. The antlers of her headdress sweep back and forth, in a spray of feathers.
She dances until there is foam on her lips, until she crumples into a dream as deep as death, her drum over her face. “She dies,” they say.
The hoofbeats do not slacken or tire. Her assistant is riding his drum, sending her the power.
The steady beat helps her to make a road out of a chaos of fog and sourceless shadows. The road brings her to a river. The Lame Boatman is on the other side. He is a hard bargainer. She has to promise more than is easy before he comes for her in his dugout canoe.
There are more crossings, more negotiations, and many tests of her courage. She comes to a river without a ferryman; she crosses by making her drum her boat.She descends at last to the inner keep of Irmu Khan. She sees the soul of the boy hunter playing with a youngster she knows to be the child of Death. None of her companion spirits can help her now. She must raise a cry from her heart and her gut that can reach all the way to the nest of the heaven bird that is her strongest ally.
    In some lands, they call him the Garuda. The shaman’s cry spirals up from the depths of the Underworld. In the Middle World, her assistant echoes it. The cry rises up the World Tree, and rouses the heaven bird from his nest. The great bird unfolds his long form and swoops down. At the shaman’s direction, he folds himself tight enough, like a projectile, to penetrate the fortress of Irmu Khan, snatches up the boy hunter, and delivers him to the shaman, who places the soul in her mirror.
Now she is racing back up the confusing, murky roads from the lower depths, pursued by Death’s servitors. Her animal guardians can help her now, blurring her trail, leading pursuers in the wrong directions.
Her greatest test is in front of her. From a mob of hungry spirits, twittering like bats, a man’s shape separates and becomes gruesomely familiar. It’s her ex-husband. He often out her down, when he was still living, beating her if the milk was sour or his meal was late, chasing after other women. But he wants her now, desperately. “Take me with you,” he implores, alternately cajoling and threatening. When she explains that there is nothing to be done for him – his body rotted long ago – he tries to hold her in the Underworld by laying a guilt trip on her, then by brute force. She has to fight him and silence him. “She stamps on his face and his mouth” so stop the words that are draining her strength and resolve.
She stops by a kind of registration office and bargains hard for a good long lifespan for Sergudai, the soul in the mirror. She has a moving encounter with Omosi-mama, the "divine grandmother" who "causes leaves to unfurl and the roots to spread properly," who is the giver of souls and protectress of children. We learn that it was Omosi, no less, who ordained that Teteke would become a great shaman.
The Nishan shaman loses so much energy during all of this that she might never make it back, except for the pull of the drum. Sunny is beating harder and faster, calling her back. Now she is riding his beat, back to her prostrate body. When she rises in that, she can finish her job by fanning the boy hunter’s soul from its vessel – the bronze mirror – back into his own body. The Nishan shaman has dreamed strong enough to rescue a soul even from the fortress of Death.

Her feat does not go unpunished. The Nishan shaman is not allowed to enjoy her triumph for long. In the Manchu text, her late husband’s mother brings the equivalent of a legal action against her, for failing to bring her ex back. She is forced to relinquish the tools of her trade – the antlers and the mirror, the robe and the drum – and to give up her lover, the indefatigable drummer, and becomes just another of the drab “work women” in her village, bound to the routines and taboos of her husband’s people. In this last version we encounter a perennial theme in the history of women.
     The Nishan shaman is not a solitary figure in the history of shamanism, especially in this part of Central Asia. The Chukchi say “Woman is by nature a shaman.” [1] Among the Manchus, shamans were mostly women. There is strong evidence that under the Shang dynasty in China [1766-1122 BCE], shamans again were mostly women. For the Nishan shaman, as for women of power in other cultures, the way to establish authority is to dream stronger than others, to become at home with the uncanny, and to risk herself in a soul journey from which most men would flinch. A woman with gifts like hers will be sought after in an emergency, but the guardians of the conventional order will pull her down, if they can, once the crisis is over. [2]

For more on the Nishan shaman, please see The Secret History of Dreaming, chapter 1. In this telling I have interwoven (a) the Manchu version translated in Margaret Nowak and Stephen W. Durrant, The Tale of the Nishan Shamaness: a Manchu Folk Epic. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977 with (b) oral traditions, especially a Daur Mongol version transcribed in Caroline Humphrey and Urgunge Onon, Shamans and Elders: Experience, Knowledge and Power among the Daur Mongols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.


  1. M. A. Czaplica, Aboriginal Siberia, a study in social anthropology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1914, p 243.
  2. Stephen W. Durrant,, “The Nišan Shaman Caught in Cultural Contradiction” in Signs, Vol. 5, No.2. (Winter, 1979), pp. 338-347.
Image: The Nishan shaman with her drum and antlered headdress. Illustration from Nowak and Durrant (trans.) The Tale of the Nishan Shamaness: a Manchu Folk Epic.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Plutarch in the Light of the Moon

For Plutarch (c 50-120 AD), the realm of the Moon assumes huge importance as the residence or way station for some (though by no means all) spirits of the departed, and the base for a variety of daimons (many of them formerly humans) who take a close interest in Earth affairs.
Plutarch knew what he was talking about. He was not only a marvelous historian and philosopher, but a Mystery initiate, who spent his last thirty years as a priest at Delphi, communing with the gods and traveling between the worlds. He traveled in Egypt and wrote a treatise on Isis and Osiris that has a continuing influence on our understanding of ancient Egyptian religion.
He knew the importance of dreams. He wrote in his essay "Amatorius" that “Since [the soul’s] arrival in the world, it is by means of dreams that it joyfully greets and gazes upon that which is most beautiful and most divine.”
In hies essay "On the Divine Vengeance" Plutarch describes a journey to a locale in the sphere of Luna where three daimons sitting together in the shape of a triangle are mixing dreams in a cosmic krater (or mixing-bowl). Different streams flow into it, one “whiter than sea foam” another “the violet of the rainbow”. The lighter and whiter the dream that is mixed up, the more true it will be. “This is the source from which dreams derive.”
The source of this account is an ancient NDE. A dissolute man of Soli who is told by an oracle that he will do much better when he dies. Soon after he falls from a height and is believed to be dead until he revives at his burial place three days later
Plutarch explains how after death spirits that are able to rise beyond the lower astral plane may enjoy a pleasurable afterlife in the realm of the Moon. They may live on there for a great length of Earth time, or graduate to existence on a higher plane, leaving their astral bodies behind. Or they may become Moon-based daimons, closely engaged with human affairs, playing far-from-infallible guides to people in the physical world.
In a most remarkable tract titled" Concerning the Face that Appears in the Orb of the Moon" Plutarch gives a comprehensive account of the role of the Moon in relation to the soul history of humans. The Moon is here described as the portal through which spirits travel on their way to birth on Earth, and to which they ascend, if they pass certain tests, after physical death. Some of these spirits of the departed may be promoted to the status of daimons, with permission to interact with the living.
"Not forever do the spirits tarry upon the moon; they descend to take charge of oracles; they attend and participate in the highest of mystic rituals; they act as warders against misdeeds and chastisers of them, and they flash forth as saviors manifest in war and on the sea." [1]
These spirits of the Moon, far from omniscient or infallible, are on probation.If they act unfairly, giving in to wrath or envy, they are cast out and again confined in human bodies on earth.
Plutarch shakes up our mythic geography when he tells us that Earth is the realm of Demeter, the Moon of Persephone, and everything between Earth and Moon is the realm of Hades. Entry by the departed into the realm of Luna requires the ability to travel beyond the temptations, fears and distractions of the lower astral (Hades) and go through a clean-up, effected by “scrubbers” (maybe resembling scarab beetles).
In summary, this ancient shaman-philosopher confirms that It is in the realm of Luna that spirits take on and take off the astral body before birth and after death. And that the Moon, as an astral realm, is the base for a large population of daimons (many formerly human) who have a close engagement with human affairs.
[1] Plutarch, De facie quae in orbe lunae apparet [“Concerning the Face which appears in the Orb of the Moon”] in Moralia XII trans Harold Cherniss and William Helmbold
Image: Detail of the Moon from Donato Creti, "Astronomical Observations" (1711) in the Vatican Museum

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The reindeer with shaman eyes

We derive the word shaman from the Tungus people of Siberia, now generally known as the Eveny or Evenki, which means "fast runners". I have been rereading an extraordinary book about the Evenki by anthropologist Piers Vitebsky, who lived with them and entered their culture, ecology and dreaming very deeply. The book is titled The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia. It is beautifully written and offers a gift on every page.
    We learn, for example, how anomalies in the natural environment are immediately scanned for guidance on what is developing beyond the normal range of perception. The Evenki read the world around them as a book of clues. "If they noticed an untypical pattern, or a striking analogy between two forms that were otherwise unconnected, they took this as a pointer to something significant in reality itself." The behavior of animals, both in regular life and in dreams, is studied for clues as to what is happening at a distance in time or space. It is considered an especially bad omen if a wild animal comes inside a tent. A dream of a wounded reindeer might portend the illness or death of someone. Predictive dreams are especially likely towards morning, when the dreamer is half-awake. For focused guidance, for example on which way to go on a hunt, the Evenki still heat the shoulder-bones of reindeer over embers and find maps in the patterns of cracks. Vitebsky reports step-by-step instructions by a shaman hunter on how to get this right.
    I am greatly moved by the depth of soul connection between the traditionally shamanic Evenki and the reindeer - those they herd, and the wild ones they hunt. This extends to the bonding with individual reindeer who are chosen to defend the health and even the life of their humans. The reindeer given this role, in ritual bonding, is known as the kujjai. A Evenki may have a whole series of kujjai in the course of his or her life, as one after another gives its life to preserve that of the human. It is believed that the reindeer that takes on this role is a willing sacrifice.
    "Nearly everyone who lived on the land had a kujjai, a reindeer that was specially consecrated to protect its owner from harm. When you were threatened by danger, your kujjai placed itself in front of you and died in your place...You then had to consecrate another reindeer to maintain the same level of protection...Only a reindeer could sacrifice itself knowingly and intentionally."
    An Evenki reindeer herder told Vitebsky, "A kujjai is a very special kind of reindeer. Its 
eyes aren't like an ordinary reindeer's. I can't really explain it. It's like a shaman's, I suppose - it's hypnotic."
    A kujjai can be consecrated by a shaman to protect someone at a distance. Vitebsky describes the simple ceremony by which a white reindeer was appointed to guard the life of his young daughter in England; he was to carry a photo of the kujjai back home with him.
    I have seen a deer give its life for a human, and I have painted the Deer hanging on the cross, its heart open, as the willing sacrifice. I find it fascinating that a people who live so close to the deer have made this a ritual of conscious mutual bonding, for life.
    I have read elsewhere, in Esther Jacobson's The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia, that in archaic hunting rituals the Evenki honored a form of the Antlered Goddess. Before a moose hunt, a shaman would go into the forest, to a sacred tree, to contact the female spirit of the land and ask for her help. She would sent the shaman a spirit ally that took the form of a giant cow moose or perhaps a giant woman with moose horns. The shaman would now rehearse a successful hunt with the help of his ally. The physical hunt that followed was believed to manifest what had already been accomplished on the spirit plane.


Piers Vitebsky, The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia. New York: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
Esther Jacobson, The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia: A Study in the Ecology of Belief. Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1993.

Graphic: Reindeer rider from a collection of Evenki folk tales published in Novosibirsk in 1971. 

Nine Keys to Helping Kids with Their Dreams

Here's what we need to know about listening to children's dreams and supporting their imaginations: 

1. Listen up!

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

2. Invite good dreams

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

3. Provide immediate help with the scary stuff

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

4. Ask good questions.

When the child has told her story, ask good questions. Ask about feelings, about the color of the sky, and about exactly what T-Rex was doing. See if there's something about the future. Say what you would think about this if this were your dream. Always come up with something fun or helpful to do with this story. Open up the crayon box, call grandma, etc.

5. Help the child to keep a dream journal

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

6. Provide tools for creative expression.

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

7. Help construct effective action plans

Dreams can show us things that require further action - for example, to avoid an unhappy future event that was previewed in the dream, or to put something right in a family situation. A child will probably need adult help with such things, starting with your help. This will require you to learn more about dreaming and dreamwork, as you are doing now.

 8. Let your own inner child out to play

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

9. Keep it fun!

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

Notice two things that are not on this list, but would be at the very top of a list of what not to do with a child’s dreams: 

1. Never say to a child "It's only a dream". Children know that dreams are for real and that scary stuff that comes out in dreams needs to be resolved, not dismissed.

2. Do NOT interpret a child's dreams. You’re not the expert here; the child is.

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

Drawing by Robert Moss

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Befriending the ugly dwarf

I have a friend who has held high office in the Swedish government, a man deeply versed in both the humanities and science who has attended Nobel Prize dinners under the three crowns of Stockholm’s town hall.
   Over beer and akvavit one night, he confided, “I’ve had an inner guide who has helped me greatly, in and out of governments. He turns up in my dreams and fantasies. He is a horrible, ugly dwarf. He always begins by insulting me, using filthy language. You miserable piece of shit, he’ll begin. Then he’ll proceed to tell me all the reasons I’m a failure. When he’s satisfied that he’s hit home, and I’m starting to fill with self-loathing, he’ll tell me something useful. He gave me the location of a legal document that had gone missing. I found it exactly where he said it would be, and that resolved an important family matter.”
   “How reliable is your ugly dwarf?”
   “He is eighty percent reliable. Better than most advisers. So I put up with his insults.”
   I was delighted with this revelation, which sounded like something from Scandinavian folklore. It also occurred to me that there are the elements of a practice here that can be very helpful for all of us on our road to manifesting our life dreams.
    Each of us has an ugly dwarf inside us. You’ve heard his voice. It’s the one that’s forever reminding you of your failures and shortcomings. He knows your every weakness. He won’t let you forget how you let yourself or others down. Let him vent for long enough, and you’ll squirm with self-loathing. And this can become a moment of power. Let your ugly dwarf pull you down far enough, and you may find yourself bouncing up with fresh ideas and new vigor. Why? Because there is energy in all strong emotions, including the ones we tag as “negative” and that a certain kind of self-help book advises us to avoid.
   Let your ugly dwarf beat you down, break you down, and rattle you out of the need to maintain pretenses and defenses. Then move with the energy of the emotions this releases. But don’t put up with someone in your social environment who tries to play ugly dwarf; accept no substitutes for your very own version.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Arnold Toynbee, Time Traveler

The once immensely popular historian Arnold Toynbee aspired to write a universal history, and in his 12-volume work A Study of History he traced the rise, flowering and decline of human civilization. Few generalists have equaled his breadth of scholarship and his ability to synthesize, although academic specialists have poked many holes in his work.
    It's intriguing that Toynbee reported that in the course of his researches he became a time traveler, finding himself deeply engaged in dramas of different eras. He describes being "carried down in a 'Time pocket'" and experiencing "the local annihilation of Time" in Volume X of A Study of History. His revelations come in Section XIII. “The Inspirations of Historians” part E. “The Quest for a Meaning Behind the Facts of History”. 

A tenuous long-distance commerce exclusively on the intellectual plane is an historian's normal relation to the objects of his study; yet there are moments in his mental life -- moments as memorable as they are rare -- in which temporal and spatial barriers fall and psychic distance is annihilated; and in such moments of inspiration the historian finds himself transformed in a flash from a remote spectator into an immediate participant, as the dry bones take flesh and quicken into life.

He describes how, mulling over some dry research – a précis of one of the lost books of Livy’s History – he was hurled into intimate engagement with a war between Rome and confederate Italian states. He was “transported, in a flash, across the gulf of Time and Space from Oxford in A.D. 1911 to Teanum in 80 B.C., to find himself in a back yard on a dark night witnessing a personal tragedy that was more bitter than the defeat of any public cause” – to witness the fate of Mutilus, a proscribed confederate leader denied sanctuary at his home by how own wife, who takes his own life by the sword.
    His experiences of mental transport across time quicken as he travels to ancient sites – and enters the perspective of Philip of Macedon, checking his battle lines, or is present to a roaring crowd at Ephesus, or falls again into “the deep trough of Time” after climbing to a ruined citadel in Laconia.
    Then in London, soon after the Great War, walking by Victoria Station, he is seized with the universal movement of Time streaming through him and around him:

"In London in the southern section of the Buckingham Palace Road, walking southward along the pavement skirting the west wall of Victoria Station, the writer, once, one afternoon not long after the end of the First World War -- he had failed to record the exact date -- had found himself in communion, not just with this or that episode in History, but with all that had been, and was, and was to come.
     "In that instant he was directly aware of the passage of History gently flowing through him in a mighty current, and of his own life welling like a wave in the flow of this vast tide. The experience lasted long enough for him to take visual note of the Edwardian red brick surface and white stone facings of the station wall gliding past him on his left, and to wonder -- half amazed and half amused -- why this incongruously prosaic scene should have been the physical setting of a mental illumination. An instant later, the communion had ceased, and the dreamer was back again in the every-day cockney world which was his native social milieu and of which the Edwardian station wall was a characteristic period piece."

His ability to be present to the rise and fall of civilizations led Toynbee to make some observations that have uncomfortable contemporary relevance:

"Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder."

My favorite Toynbee quote, deeply prescient (he died in 1975) and unsettling in the midst of the current chaotic period in American politics, is this:

"Of the twenty-two civilizations that have appeared in history, nineteen of them collapsed when they reached the moral state the United States is in now."

Due diligence: though this statement is widely circulated, I have been unable to nail down a source in Toynbee's published works. Perhaps we can practice "mental transport" across time or dimensions to see whether he will claim the statement, and whether he wants to add to it in the context of what has unfolded since his death.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Feeding Tiger

The wheeling of the stars is not infinite
And the tiger is one of the forms that returns.

- Jorge Luis Borges

In the early days of my public teaching, many people said they came to my workshops because they had dreamed of tigers. One woman dreamed again and again that she was searching in a forest for a white tiger. A man arrived at the arts center where I was then teaching and froze in the doorway, staring at the artifact I had placed at the center of our space. It was the carved head of a tiger, open-jawed, set atop a wooden staff hung with bone rattles. An artist in Colorado had started carving the head shortly before he met me, guided by a dream. After he met me, he dreamed he should set the head on a rattle-staff and give it to me. The man in the doorway at the arts center exclaimed, “I know I’m in the right place! This is my dream.”
     “For more than a year,” he explained, “I was hunted by a tiger in my dreams. I kept running away, and usually woke myself up, still terrified, trying to convince myself this was only a dream. Then the tiger was on me, snarling and snapping, and I could not get out of the dream. He drove me down a dark forest trail. I saw things there that scared me, huge snakes hanging from the trees, savage eyes in the shadows, but nothing was as scary as the tiger. He kept on me, tearing my clothes and flesh.  I was bleeding when he forced me to the edge of clearing in the jungle, where he licked my wounds. I saw he had brought me to a place where jet fighter pilots were being trained. They had been waiting for me for a long time. I went through the training and got my wings, all before breakfast back at home. I felt really good, and empowered to do stuff to help and protect other people. That’s why I came to you.”
     I loved this dream resolution. I know, as young children know, that the tiger is power that can indeed help and protect. In soul recovery work, the tiger – as well as the bear – has often been my ally in persuading lost boys and lost girls to return to an adult self from whom they separated because of pain or abuse or trauma in early life. Those child selves often trust the tiger more than the adult, to keep them safe and to make life crazy fun.
     The tiger must be gentled to purposes of this kind. The tiger must also be fed. For six weeks, in the late 1990s, I decided to go vegetarian. Towards the end of this experiment, I visited a zoo south of Montreal with my family. I was edgy as we neared the big cat enclosures. Though the zoo was well laid out, with space for the animals to roam, big cats do not belong in confinement.
I glanced through the bars at a group of Sumatran tigers dozing in the sun.
    “Look, Dad!” my youngest daughter exclaimed. “That one is looking at you.” I looked again and saw that a male tiger had sat up and was staring at me. Suddenly he bounded from the slope where he had been napping to press his face against the bars, still staring at me. I returned his stare, wondering if he felt – as I did – that we were kin.
     He sniffed me, gave a kind of shrug, and loped back up the hill to resume his nap. I got the message. He may have considered the possibility that we were related, but one whiff on my body scent had assured him we were not. Tigers are not vegetarians.
     I returned to eating meat – starting with bacon, of course, the vegetarians’ favorite kind – and one night the tiger returned to me. Reclaiming his power was not easy. I learned again that night that there is a price for gaining and maintaining a relationship with a true animal power. The tiger irrupted into my space that night as an energy form that was entirely real, more real than the darkened room around us. He made me fight with him, hand to claw. Few, if any men, could hold their own in a wrestling match with a tiger, and I was certainly not one of them. He made me fight long and hard, until I was bloodied and torn. Then, relenting, he gave me a harder assignment than combat. He told me I must eat his heart. He opened his chest, and I took out his steaming, beating heart, dripping blood. Half-gagging, I forced myself to eat the tiger’s heart. This felt exactly like eating the living organ.
     From that time, the tiger was with me again, available whenever  I needed his help. He was ready to yield pride of place to other allies, like the bear, when their talents were needed, and even to introduce new helpers. When I landed at Cuzco in Peru in 1999, I was cautioned to be careful to avoid altitude sickness. Our guidance was to take this slowly, and relax in the hotel lobby for an hour with some coca leaf tea. It was stressed that the tea would calm and strengthen us but was unlikely to have hallucinogenic effects because the coca content was so small.
    I did not regard what I saw in that hotel lobby, beyond the comings and goings of tourists and staff, as a hallucination. I saw the tiger, moving in front of the desk and a wall covered with murals with Incan themes. He was a translucent form. He signaled to me that I was going to need help up here in the Andes, and that he would send the right helper to my room that night. I should make myself ready.
    Near midnight, in my hotel room, I lay on my back on my bed, looking out the window at a night full of stars in constellations whose names I did not know, or recalled only vaguely from my childhood in the Southern hemisphere. I felt an urge to go flying up among those stars, and to bring back their names, and something like a grid opened in my perception, inviting me to go through it. My body started to vibrate and I heard the kind of humming I had long associated with the run-up to conscious astral projection. An instinct of caution was still with me. Was it really safe to leave my body in an environment I had not yet tested, without defenses?
      My thought flow was interrupted by the very palpable sense of another presence in the room. I sat up in bed and saw the energy form of a big cat approaching me. As my senses adjusted, I saw it was a puma. I was certain that this was the ally the tiger had promised to send. The puma pressed its face against mind. It spoke to me, mind to mind, in words I can transliterate like this:
      “Big cats are not intended to live at these altitudes. We took millennia to adapt, following the game animals up the mountains. You have just arrived and have not time to make the necessary adaptations. So what you need to do is this. You need to open yourself at your solar plexus and let me in. I will help adjust your body systems so you will be at home in the Andes, as we are.”
      I did what the puma suggested without hesitation, since this new helper had come with the right introduction. I felt the energy of the mountain cat streaming through my blood, toning my muscles, flexing my sinews. Over the ten days that followed – though I am not athletic and do not work out – I was the fittest member of our party. I had no difficulty with the altitude,  no fear of heights, no shortage of breath.
     Tiger is not only a fierce but reliable friend. He is willing to share his whole tribe.

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.

Drawing (c) Robert Moss

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Dreaming with the Fast-Flowing Goddess

At the shrine of Sequana, at the source of the River Seine in the Dijon area of France, ancient Celts came to seek healing dreams in the sacred night. Cloaked pilgrims journeyed with their offerings, which included models of the organs that needed healing, carved from oak or stone. They bathed in the sacred spring, prayed to the goddess, and placed their offerings beside a sacred pool. They entered a long portico or dormitory, hoping that in the night - during sleep or in the twilight state between sleeping and waking that the ancients knew is especially propitious for contact with the more-than-human - the goddess Sequana or her emissary would appear to them.
    No magical power, other than simple cleansing, was attributed to the spring itself, but the waters were regarded as a source of creative flow, and as a portal to the Otherworld and its powers.
    We know the name Sequana from nine inscriptions found in the area. It has been suggested that it means "The Fast-Flowing One". Sequana is the goddess of the River Seine, which flows through Paris, and (according to Strabo) was the patron of the Sequanae, a Gaulish tribe in this region. Her special companion animal is the duck, and in a statue now in the Musée archéologique  de Dijon, a crowned Sequana is depicted riding in a duck-headed boat.
      Only the foundations of the healing shrine of Sequana at her spring, the Fontes Sequanae, survive, but we can glean a great deal about the ancient practice of dream incubation for healing from the contents of two pottery vessels discovered at the site. One contains more than a hundred  carved effigies of eyes, breasts, limbs, heads and internal organs. A second vessel contained more than 800 similar carvings. Pilgrims who needed healing for the parts represented ascended a series of terraces, pausing perhaps to drink from streams and cisterns containing the sacred waters, before reaching the main sanctuary and being admitted to the place of sacred sleep. Grateful travelers paid for inscriptions at the site thanking Sequana for gifts of healing, evidence that we have here a Celtic parallel to the practice of Asklepian dream healing in the ancient Mediterranean.
     What happened to this great precinct of dream healing in the realm of the Goddess when the Church arrived? One guess. The site was appropriated by the Church and re-dedicated to an invented male saint, St Sequanus.
     In reviving the memory of the "Fast-Flowing" Goddess, as we do in my Celtic-themed workshops and gatherings, we step towards cultural soul recovery - and remember a healing practice that can transform our lives.

Image: statue of Sequana in a duck-headed boat in the Musée archéologique  de Dijon.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Deep play with the most important book you'll ever write

Your journal, kept over time, will become many things: your personal encyclopedia of symbols, your data log for experiences of supernormal phenomena like precognition, telepathy and synchronicity, your stealth writing course, a sanctuary and place of healing, a sacred space where you dialogue with your Self.  
     Journaling is a practice, and as in any true practice, you have to earn the right of admission to the more advanced levels. In
this article, you'll find wonderful games you can play with your journal any day, at any level of practice.  Now I am going to offer six deeper games to play with your journal when you’ve been keeping it for a while and have gotten into the practice of looking over "old" material that may prove to be highly relevant to your current life. I doubt that you'll understand all that your journal will be for you until you've been keeping one, with dedication, for at least five years. However, the time is always Now, and if you are ready to play, jump in!

1. Bibliomancy

“Bibliomancy” is the fancy name for opening a book at random to get guidance on a theme, or simply the quality and content of the day. In Western countries, over the centuries, the Bible has been the hand-down favorite as a book oracle. Abraham Lincoln used to open his family Bible – the one on which Barack Obama took his oath of office – to get a message for the day or a second opinion on the meaning of a dream.
    I enjoy doing bibliomancy with my old journals. One Christmas Eve, after learning that a friend had developed a serious illness and was having other major troubles in her life, I reached blindly into a shelf of 30+ old travel journals, grabbed one without looking at the date, and opened it at random, I found myself looking at a short dream report from  five years before. The dream was about my friend. It stated that she had “accepted Purgatory for a year. This Purgatory is a room in her home that opens into the same realm.” I shared this report with my friend, and we began to work with the meaning of “acceptance” and of “Purgatory”. Our mutual exploration provided assurance that “this too shall pass” and that a year in “Purgatory” would result in healing and new growth, as proved to be the case.

2. Compare Your Dream Self to Your Waking Self

Are you running away from something in your dreams? Ask yourself when you tend to run away from something – a person, an issue, a necessary conversation – in regular life.
Does your dream self have supernormal powers? Can she fly, or knock villains down like ninepins? If so, then ask yourself where you might be able to draw on her courage and powers in the rest of your life.
Comparing the behavior of the dream self and the waking self is highly instructive. We may also find that bringing gifts and qualities from one realm into the other can be tremendously healing and empowering. My waking self may be able to bring courage – the determination to brave up to a challenge – to a dream self that is frightened or frozen.
My dream self who is fluent in another language, or can breathe underwater, may be able to give me the power to expand my vocabulary of understanding, or to operate with ease in a new environment.

3. Dialogue with your other selves

Sit down with your journal and imagine yourself talking to a character from one of your dreams. Since everything is alive in dreams, you can call anything from a dream – a horse, a house, an 18-wheeler – to talk to you. You can call up every character and element from a dream to explain themselves in turn, if you like.
Start out with a question like, “Who are you?” Or: “What are you doing in my dream?”
Move onto a question like “What can you tell me?”
Be ready to be surprised! You may find you are interviewing sides of yourself you never knew were part of your family of personality aspects. You may find you are talking to a departed loved one, or an ancestor, or the guy who owned the house fifty years ago. You may even encounter a dream character who tells you, “I am dreaming you. You are in my dream.”

4. Reopen your cold case files

Dreams give us clues that require sleuthing, but sometimes our best attempts to follow up these leads don't get far and we move on to other things, leaving a mounting pile of "cold case" files. I pick up a lot of unfamiliar names, foreign words, and curious phrases in dreams and - especially - in the twilight state of hypnagogia, and I have found it extraordinarily revealing to track these verbal clues. In the era of googling, this is much easier than it was over most of the decades I've been keeping a journal, so I am now reopening dream files I had closed and making some exciting discoveries. One of those funny words, from a 1994 dream, has led me to an archeological site in Nigeria where the human remains date from 10,000 BCE. Another is guiding me, in the most practical way, on professional decisions I'll be making over the next couple of months.
   Be open to discovering that an event in an "old" dream is starting to manifest only now - months or years later - and be ready (beyond the "wow" response) to harvesting guidance from the old report on the current situation. When you see a match-up between an "old" dream and a later event, forage around the individual report; look at other dreams from around the same time and see if there are further clues there to the new situation

5. Let out the artist inside you

I often type my journal reports directly into a computer, to save the time required for transcription from a manuscript version, and to get round the problem of finding it hard to decipher my own handwriting. When I write by hand, however, I find there’s an artist in me who wants to come bursting through. Suddenly the pages facing my text reports are filled with drawings that may then demand to be colored in or painted. Some of these drawings occupy successive panels like pages from a graphic novel. The famous movie director Fellini, who started out as a cartoonist, kept dream journals that are primarily visual.
    Many dream journalers find they have a poet inside. Or a songwriter. Sometimes a whole poem or song is delivered, complete and intact, within  a dream, or in that fluid in-between zone of sleepwake, dorveille. Some dream reports turn into poems rather effortlessly, with a little editing. Every dream contains a story; some want to be stories in the fuller and finished sense, and journaling will get you there.

6. Journal from Journals

Thoreau journaled all the time. He wrote down his observations of nature, his thoughts and dreams, his notes on his constant reading. Most interesting, he journaled from his journals, picking over old volumes, plucking out promising bits and pieces, copying them out and marrying them up as fresh drafts. It became his habit “to work back over his journals…to reengage old subjects in the light of new interests, to revise and recopy his own earlier journal work, measuring, weighing, culling and sorting his materials…taking up earlier threads, reweaving and combining them.”
I can’t recommend this practice too highly. For any writer, as for Thoreau, it opens treasuries of material and above all it supports the writing habit. Playing around with old notes removes the terror of the blank page. When you dip into an old journal, you are never at a loss for a theme. The simple processes of selection, arrangement and retitling will fire the imagination. Before you know it, you’ll be in the midst of writing something new. 

As you tend your secret book over time, you'll discover more, and more will discover you.  You'll find yourself straying off the tame and settled territory of the everyday mind, into the wilder borders of imagination, where the Big story of your life can find you. You may discover, as I have done, that your journal is the most important book you will ever write, and quite possibly the most important book you will ever read.

Adapted from Active Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library