Thursday, April 26, 2018

An Emperor of China Governs by Synchronicity




Ours is not a dynasty that shuns bad omens 
                
-          Kangxi, Emperor of China 1661-1722

Kangxi, Emperor of the Qing (Manchu) dynasty, ruled China for over sixty years, surviving wars, rebellions and numberless intrigues. He was a man of science and reason who personally attended to many details of government without getting overwhelmed by those details. Dissatisfied with the quality of graduates from the all-important civil service examinations, he personally graded hundreds of exam papers while campaigning under a military tent. 
     Unimpressed by his generals’ handling of river pirates, he issued exact and savvy directives on the recruitment of agents, the deployment of special forces, and the need for rulers to have personal knowledge of the character and motivation of the enemy: "To learn about pirates you need more than official reports – you can question pirate leaders in person, as I did…You can employ captured pirates themselves as advisers, or use them to take messages to their fellows and induce them to surrender. ..One needs, too, to examine the type of person who is a pirate."
     One of the most instructive aspects of this Emperor’s long and successful reign is that he governed with the help of synchronicity and, in particular, with that remarkable Chinese vehicle for pattern recognition, the I Ching or Book of Changes. From his own surviving writings, beautifully edited and arranged by the distinguished Yale historian Jonathan D. Spence* we can track Kangxi’s study of the Changes and decisions he made based on specific readings. There is absolutely no flavor of credulity or superstition in his practice or his commentaries. We are observing a ruler who simply understands that whatever is happening – or is likely to happen – in a given moment is connected, and that by reading those connections , and reaching for the secret harmony, we can do better.
      In 1680, Kangxi embarked on a “preliminary reading” of the Book of Changes with three counselors. They devoted three days’ study to each hexagram. Four years later, they went through the hexagrams all over again. The emperor noticed that his diviners were placing some things in the category of “things there was no need to discuss” for fear of offending their master – for example, the sixth line in hexagram 1, Ch’ien: “Arrogant dragon will have cause to repent.” Kangxi instructed that nothing would be off-limits for discussion of a reading. A warning against arrogance was especially important since “arrogance means that one knows how to press forward but not how to draw back…something about winning but nothing about losing.”
     In 1683, after the capture of Taiwan, the Emperor discussed hexagram 56,  Lu - “Fire on the Mountain” - with his diviners:The calm of the mountain signifies the care that must be used in imposing penalties; the fire moves rapidly on, burning up the grass, like lawsuits that should be settled speedily. My reading of this was that the ruler needs both clarity and care in punishing: his intent must be to punish in order to avoid the need for further punishing.” Here the Emperor’s reading is based on considering the natural qualities of the two elemental trigrams, Mountain and Fire – not on looking up the wordy and obscure commentaries of Confucian bureaucrats (which, however, he uses in other readings). Be calm like a Mountain, and look on things from a higher perspective; be quick and decisive in cleansing, like Fire.
     The Emperor gives us excellent guidance on the need for a ruler to be open to receiving unwanted messages:

My diviners have often been tempted to pass over bad auguries, but I have double-checked their calculations and warned them not to distort the truth: the Bureau of Astronomy once reported that a benevolent southeast wind was blowing, but I myself calculated the wind’s direction with the palace instruments and found it to be, in fact, an inauspicious northeast wind; I told the Bureau to remember that ours was not a dynasty that shunned bad omens.

He notes that while some phenomena once held to be supernatural are now known to have natural causes and may be predicted “with absolute precision”, their guidance within the weave of change must still be acknowledged and honored:

Human affairs are involved in the phenomenon of eclipses, and it makes no difference that we can now calculate them with absolute precision; we must still make the reforms necessary to avoid trouble and obtain peace.

He insists that we make our own fate, and should “urge on Heaven in its work”:

Things may seem determined in our lives, but there are ways in which man’s power can help Heaven’s work….We must urge on Heaven in its work, not just rely on it….In our own lives, though fixed by fate, yet that fate comes from our own minds, and our happiness is sought in ourselves…If you do not perform your human part you cannot understand Heaven’s way. 

Late in his reign, he celebrates the Book of Changes in these words:

I have never tired of the Book of Changes and have used it in fortune-telling and as a source of moral principles; the only thing you must not do, I told my court lecturers, is to make this book appear simple, for there are meanings here than lie beyond words.

We can learn today from Emperor Kangxi’s curt response to the diviners who tried to pretty up a disturbing portent: "Ours is not a dynasty that shuns bad omens." In other words, give us the data straight, whether we like it or not – notice the larger patterns - and do not ignore any source that can be checked out.





* Jonathan D. Spence, Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-hsi. (New York: Vintage Books, 1975).

Images: (top) Kangxi in ceremonial armor, on the hunt. Qing Dynasty (bottom) Fuxi drawing a trigram. By Gua Yu,circa 1503.


Dreaming like an Egyptian


The ancient Egyptians understood that in dreams, our eyes are opened. Their word for dream, rswt, is etymologically connected to the root meaning “to be awake”. It was written with a determinative symbol representing an open eye.
     The Egyptians believed that the gods speak to us in dreams. As the Bible story of Joseph and Pharaoh reminds us, they paid close attention to dream messages about the possible future. They practiced dream incubation for guidance and healing at temples and sacred sites. They understood that by recalling and working with dreams, we develop the art of memory, tapping into knowledge that belonged to us before we entered this life journey, and awakening to our connection with other life experiences.


     The Egyptians also developed an advanced practice of conscious dream travel. Trained dreamers operated as seers, remote viewers and telepaths, advising on affairs of state and military strategy and providing a mental communications network between far-flung temples and administrative centers. They practiced shapeshifting, crossing time and space in the dreambodies of birds and animals.
     Through conscious dream travel, ancient Egypt’s “frequent flyers” explored the roads of the afterlife and the multidimensional universe. It was understood that true initiation and transformation takes place in a deeper reality accessible through the dream journey beyond the body. A rightful king must be able to travel between the worlds.
     It seems that in early times, in the heb sed festival, conducted in pharaoh’s thirtieth year, the king was required to journey beyond the body, and beyond death, to prove his worthiness to continue on the throne. Led by Anubis, pharaoh descended to the Underworld. He was directed to enter death, “touch the four sides of the land”, become Osiris, and return in new garments – the robe and the spiritual body of transformation.
     Jeremy Naydler’s Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts makes a convincing case that the palace tombs and pyramid texts of Egypt are about much, much more than funerary arrangements; that the Egyptians traveled beyond the gates of death while very much alive, not only to bring back first-hand knowledge of the afterlife, but to enter into sacred union with the gods and enthrone their power in the body, and so acquire the spiritual and sexual potency to marry the worlds.
      The dream guides of ancient Egypt knew that the dream journey may take the traveler to the stars – specifically to Sothis or Sirius, the “moist land” believed by Egyptian initiates to be the source of higher consciousness, the destination of advanced souls after death, and the home of higher beings who take a close interest in Earth matters.
      When we look for ancient sources on all of this, we are challenged to decode fragmentary texts, some collated over many centuries by pious scribes who jumbled together material from different traditions and rival pantheons.  Wallis Budge complained (in Osiris) that “the Egyptian appears never to have relinquished any belief which he once had”. We won’t find what we need on the practice of ancient Egyptian dreaming in the fragmentary “dream books” that survive, any more than we’ll grasp what dreaming can be from the kind of dream dictionary you can buy in drugstores today.
      We gaze in wonder at the Egyptian picture-books displaying the soul’s journeys and ordeals after death – and the many different aspects of soul energy that survive death – and quickly realize that to understand the source of such visions, and the accuracy of such maps, we must go into a deeper space. We must go to the Magic Library.
      In Hellenistic times – the age of Cleopatra – dream schools flourished in the temples of Serapis, a god who melds the qualities of Osiris and Apis, the divine bull. From the 2nd century BCE we have papyri recording the dream diaries of Ptolemaios, who lived for many years in katoche, or sacred retreat, in the temple of Serapis at Memphis. A short biography of the dreamer has been published by the French scholar Michel Chauveau in his book Egypt in the Age of Cleopatra. Ptolemaios was the son of Macedonian colonists, but like ancient Egyptians he was called to the temple by a dream in which the god appeared to him. He seems to have lived for years as a full-time dreamer, whose dreams guided him not only in his spiritual practice but in handling family and business matters beyond the temple walls.
     In this later period, the Egyptian priests who specialized in dreaming were called the Learned Ones of the Magic Library. What marvelous promise is in that phrase! What profound recognition of the magic and wisdom that is available to us through dreaming!

Adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

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 ask a friend to go along with us as family support in conscious shared 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: Tappingthe Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination. Published by New World Library.


Drawing from RM journal. Great Turtle might have been scary when it first rose from the waters, but proved to be an amazing Teacher of the Deep.



Thursday, April 12, 2018

A shining tarot from the dark places of wisdom

My very sparky card of the day from the beautiful new Pholarchos Tarot sent to me by its creator, Carmen Sorrenti. I have some reservations about the 10 of Wands in other decks but this 10 of Sparks (her name for the suit) makes me glow with creative fire. I rarely look at assigned meanings for tarot cards since I have known tarot on the inner as well as the outer planes for as long as I can remember. However. since I have just opened this deck I went looking for this sparkplug in Carmen's little book and found this:

10 of Sparks 
"The experience is now feverish with detail and story, eyes are open to the lucid dream of it, conscious of the fullness of this manifestation. A fire can burn too high, too wide, too long - take time out, unburden."

I applauded this one-card reading. I had indeed been feverish with detail and story as I read and re-read a hundred books on world mythology, plotting my new online course on "Living Your Mythic Edge",among other things. A little time out could be a good plan.    
    I like the cat's eyes on this card. In my own tarot deck (created and painted by me for my personal use and trainings I sometimes lead, not for publication) the Court of Wands are all cat people as well as fire people.    
    To understand Carmen's title for her tarot, you'll need to check out Peter Kingsley's provocative riff on pholarchos as "lord of the lair" in his book In the Dark Places of Wisdom, which landed at my door as suddenly as the new tarot when it was published in 1999. This takes us to a wild and primal level of Greek spiritual experience. A pholarchos, it seems, may have been an ancient Hellenic shaman who goes down into a cave for initiation, connection with the animal powers, and to incubate prophetic and healing nocturnal experiences. The word "pholarchos" appears on inscriptions from just one place: Velia, as the Greeks called a settlement in southern Italy. Carmen tells me she grew up just north of Velia.    
    Fascinated by all of this, I asked her to share more of her personal story of creating this beautiful tarot and to introduce us in her own way to three of the cards. Here is Carmen's guest blog

Behind the Scenes with the Pholarchos Tarot
Guest Blog by Carmen Sorrenti

I was living in London and Paris as a young actress when I got called to shoot Gangs of New York in Rome. They were going to recreate the old Hell’s Kitchen at Cinecittà studios thanks to the vision of Dante Ferretti and they needed Irish looking mischief makers to be part of Cameron Diaz’s gang of thieves. Sure, I would go—and with that excuse I took a bunch of friends from the film set down to my birth town, Positano. We were only there for 3 nights and in that fire cauldron of a bay where the elements meet without any half measures, I woke shaken by this dream:

“The healer turns into a woman with white hair, light eyes and immense power. I’m blown away by her and spontaneously enter a trance ritual. She speaks to me, firm and lit up. Words to the effect of forgetting what I’m doing with my life and getting ready for a mission. She then vanishes.”

It was to be years before I managed that first part of changing direction, time spent at a luminous crossroads going through a series of deaths and rebirths, before the power women came with more instructions. 
    By 2014 they were zipping in and out busy as fireflies. It was the year I decided to start work on a deck of cards. It seems simple now but I only got glimpses each time and was confused for great stretches of time. Faith, not patience, kept me afloat. This was the year that I visited the island of Lipsi for the first time. I mention this because Positano and Lipsi are fundamental places that bound me to the vision of this deck. 
    I was unaware that they shared something in common but the first night in Lipsi I had a remarkable experience with another dream. I could sense my sleeping body on the bed as my dream body moved ever so gently up a spiral staircase so as not to wake that me in the bed. Something so uncanny and so intimate. At the top I found myself on a terrace facing the vast sea. Before I knew it, I opened my arms wide in communion with the divinities of this place.
    The next day I noticed that from our tiny island we could almost touch Turkey, or more specifically, Caria. Just as Positano can almost ‘see’ Velia just down the coast… as if both stand guard at the thresholds of the ancient Pholarchos and their liminal existences. That part of Italy was in fact colonized by the Greeks and some of the Pholarchos were amidst the new inhabitants. The caves of Caria came to life again in this new environment. 
    I felt caught in the web of these majestic figures that spent days incubating healing and prophetic dreams in caves that they would then take back to their communities. This is, of course, if the term pholarchos means what we think it does. In any case, symbolically the story holds weight for me. As a child I was terrified of the immensity of dreaming—this window that takes us all the way to the infinite or as the Tibetans would say, the clear light—traveling through every terrain the soul can or cannot handle along the way. 
    Another of these power women in 2014 was from Positano itself and she worked in her own underground lab (or cave) as well as being the daughter of a place called the ‘Buca di Bacco’, a famous restaurant many will recognize but, more importantly: ‘the den of Bacchus’, Lord of ecstatic communion and wild surrender. What will we do to cover up our vital force and then what will we do to try to reclaim it? I’m hoping such a deck of dream healers can inspire those who come across it to walk into those personal caves of limitless potential where dreams and visions lead the way through the labyrinth.    
     The thing is, dreams are phenomenal because they do slowly guide our way home, to the central kingdom, if we just allow. And no matter how often we lose faith, they are always ready to flood us with renewal.     
     My mother had no idea I would make a deck of dreamers. They did all have big dreams for me in town, but of another sort. It does greatly amuse her however that she had my birth predicted by a tarot reader who gave her advice on how to overcome a near death experience of the fetus in her growing belly. I tend to steer away from predictions myself but sure enough she hemorrhaged hard enough for the doctor to say I had died… my mother remembered Pina (who in secret was doing readings for top Italian politicians as once astrologers had done for popes despite the decrees against such practices) and followed her instructions to safety.


The deck has the traditional structure of 78 cards and can be used in conjunction with other books on tarot if you should want to do so. Here is a flavor of a magical trio of cards: Lovers, Tower and Queen of Sparks, posted along with their fragments of dreaming. It is for you to ride the waves with them and see where they land you. May you travel safely, feeling your own deep and numinous pulse.

Lovers

Venus drops her precious stones in your blood stream and Vulcan nimbly makes jewels of them. You plunge and surge onto a shore of deep belonging. Now you are vast, the waters of love dissolve your mold yet passion is always glistening inside you, setting a course for life, not only now. Within the fiery dragon of the heart is the lookout point. Keep the taste on your tongue and rather than burn right through, seek an underlying design. This is you unfolding.


Tower

The elemental forces all rush through you. Will it be a trial by fire, water, air, earth or all of the above? Lightning strikes and splits your soul into a thousand colors. This is an awakening. Every particle gets charged and when you knit yourself back together, the transmissions work differently; you may need to learn a new language that bonds you with the world. Here is the complete annihilation, the revisioning, a new incarnation in your old body. The ancients called this the “House of God”—are we ever prepared for such a meeting?


Queen of sparks

A huge parade with thousands of people. She places her feet firmly on hot coals, clear that intent is as important as action. She sits on the throne and fingers the fulgid wee dragon that lives in her heart chamber till they both cast the velvet green of their eyes upon you. Your turn to unleash enchantment, the crazy magnetism of creativity.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Black Elk, the Poet and the Dream Passport


One of the great creative and spiritual encounters in American history took place under a shelter of pine boughs on a barren hill on the Pine Ridge reservation in the summer of 1930. The men who met that day were John G. Neihardt, a renowned poet and critic from Nebraska, and the Lakota holy man Black Elk.
     Neihardt was engaged in writing “The Song of the Messiah”, the last narrative poem in his epic  Cycle of the West. He was eager to talk to an elder who had been warrior and healer, hunter and seer, who had worn the Ghost Dance shirt, survived the massacre at Wounded Knee, and lived the brave and tragic history of his people from the slaughter of the buffalo through victory at Little Bighorn and the massacre at Wounded Knee.
    The government agent at Pine Ridge, an admirer of Neihardt’s work, had arranged an interview, describing the “old Sioux” as a “kind of preacher”, a wichasa wakon (holy man). Neihardt’s Lakota interpreter, Flying Hawk, counseled him not to get his hopes up about the interview. Black Elk, now almost blind, was reclusive and reluctant to talk about sacred things; he had turned away another writer the week before and might simply refuse to see Neihardt..
     As it turned out, Black Elk was eager to talk to Neihardt, and talked for nearly five hours during their first encounter. He spoke not only from memory but from vision, “of things that he deemed holy”. As Neihardt passed out cigarettes, Black Elk said, through the interpreter,“I feel in this man beside me a strong desire to know the things of the Other World. He has been sent to learn what I know, and I will teach him.” 
     Black Elk was not mistaken. Both men had received their calling in dreams and visions, and they immediately recognized that in each other. Black Elk placed a power object, representing the Morning Star, round Neihardt’s neck, and started talking about a “power-vision” from his boyhood. When he was just nine years old, the Lakota fell into a trance on Harney Peak and saw the sacred hoop of the world, and the tree of life, and the powers of the six directions.

I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.

On the first conversation with Neihardt, Black Elk gave only “flashes” of  what the vision contained. But he invited the poet to come back in the spring to receive it all. He announced that his purpose was to “save his Great Vision for men”; he had chosen Neihardt to be his “word sender”, the one who would take his story from one language and mindset and root it in another, so the world could hear and awaken.
     Neihardt was ready to understand and interpret, not only because he had studied Native American traditions for thirty years, but because he was a dreamer whose life had been shaped by a big dream in his boyhood. Aged 11, on his own “hill of vision” in Nebraska, Neihardt lay in a fever. Three times during the same night, he felt himself hurled through a vast emptiness at terrifying speed, his arms stretched forward, while a great voice drove him on. He interpreted the dream as a mandate for his life calling: to follow a higher purpose that he would manifest through poetry.
     Two decades later, Neihardt wrote of his encounter with the voice of the fever dreams in a poem titled “The Ghostly Brother”. Here he presents the driving force of the dream as a greater self or daimon that tells him, “I am you and you are I.” The poem speaks of the tension between a power that calls him to travel “somewhere out of time and place” beyond “the outer walls of sense” and the everyday self that wants safety and comfort and rest.
    When Neihardt shared the dream with Black Elk, the Lakota elder called it a “power-vision”, using the same language with which he described his own boyhood vision on Harney Peak. Black Elk told Neihardt that he thought the voice in the dream was “an Indian brother from the happy hunting grounds who was your guide.” Black Elk felt that the guide that sent young Neihardt flying through space had brought them together. “It seems that your ghostly brother has sent you here.”
    Neihardt felt shivers of recognition when Black Elk got to the point in his narrative – the following spring – where he described himself flying through space, in a vision when he was in Paris with a Wild West show, in the same style as the 11-year-old poet.
     From the conversations between the two dreamers came an essential and perennial classic of Native American spirituality, Black Elk Speaks, first published in 1932 and now available from Excelsior Editions (an imprint of SUNY Press) in a handsome annotated edition with illustrations by Standing Bear. The subtitle of the book speaks of the depth of creative collaboration the Lakota holy man and the poet achieved: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux as told through John G. Neihardt (Flaming Rainbow).
     Notice the phrase “told through”, as opposed to “told to.” The book blends two voices flawlessly, and beautifully fulfills Neihardt’s intent (as he described it in 1972, a year before his death) “to re-create in English the mood and manner of the old man’s narrative.”
     In the Mohawk language, which I was required to study because of my own dreams and visions, the word for “interpreter” (sakowennakarahtats) carries the sense of transplanting something from one place to another. This Neihardt accomplished. In his work with Black Elk, as he again wrote near the close of his life, he was convinced that “there were times when we had more than the ordinary means of communication.” I am sure of it. Dreamers know each other, and where people value dreaming, the right dream is a passport to essential things, which are shared on more than one level of consciousness.  

Photo: Black Elk on Harney Peak,1931

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Swinging with Hermes on the Hinge of Fate


He is always in motion; he belongs to the journey (hodios); his home is the road itself. He is the angel of the Odyssey, the angelos, the messenger of the gods. He is “the quick one”, especially as angel of death. He is dios eriounios huios, the “swift as death son of Zeus.” He was born in a cave, through the mating of Zeus and a primordial goddess, Maia, who was shrunk in the later phallocentric theology to a mere nymph.
    He is ruler of dreams (hegetor oneiron) and guide of souls (psychopompos). The dream people of Phaeacia – who rescue Odysseus and send him safe to the harbor of the soul – make offerings to Hermes before going to sleep. (Odyssey Book VII, 138).
    He is the embodiment of synchronicity, and his oracles speak through natural events that convey supernatural meaning. The oracle of Hermes at Pharai, in the Peloponnese, was located at the center of a walled market, where there was a simple rough-hewn statue of the god.
 Consulting this oracle was as simple as this: 

You enter the market through the gate in the wall towards the close of business, as the vendors are packing up their stalls. You bring your question for the oracle with you. You walk to the statue of the god and whisper that question in his ear. Then you plug your ears, or press your hands over them, shutting out external sounds as you walk back to the gate. At the exact moment you reach the gate, you unplug your ears. The first sounds you hear – a snatch of conversation, the cry of a bird, the creak of an overloaded wagon – will be the response of the oracle. The god will speak to you directly through the everyday noise of the world, once you have set a clear intention and put yourself in a frame of mind to receive the message.

Hermes is “the friendliest of gods to men” but his actions are unpredictable, and he begins his career as a thief. He bestows on humans the gift of fruitfulness. The stroke of good luck, the windfall, is named after him in Greek; it is a hermaion. He can be roguish, and shameless in singing bawdy, teasing songs over his lyre, strung on a tortoise shell. He sings of love and riches. He tells the tale of his own begetting, the lusty embrace of his parents in their secret union in the cave. He carries memory. He has great appetites – for meat, for sex, for song, for improv. He is of the night. 
    According to the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, Zeus fathered Hermes by making love to Maia, then oldest of the Pleaides, under cover of dark in a cave. When she delivered Hermes, Maia bundled him up in warm fleeces and fell asleep. Hermes is quick. Within hours, the newborn baby had crawled to Thessaly. Before nightfall the next day,now fully grown, he had stolen some of his half-brother Apollo's cattle and invented the lyre by stringing a tortoise shell. Hermes' theft of the cattle caused a dispute among the gods that was resolved only when Apollo agreed to receive the lyre as payment for his cattle.   
    In the older strata of the myths, preserved by Cicero in De Natura Deorum ("On the Nature of the Gods"), Hermes is the son of Heaven (Ouranos) and Bright Day (Hemera); Aphrodite is their daughter. 
He is the escort of the goddesses – on the reliefs he is always leading three of them. He is the lover and ally of the feminine world of springs and caves, trees and streams. He is the primal lover, seminal in every sense. He has associations with water; at Pharai he has a sacred fishpond. He is one of the consorts of Hecate, who also presides at crossroads and is a keeper of gates.
      He manifests a world, a world of spontaneous creation and fluctuation. The great mythographer Karl Kerenyi, colleague of Jung, struggled to explain this in his elegant little monograph Hermes, Guide of Souls:

The sum total of pathways as Hermes’ playground; the accidental “falling into your lap” as the Hermetic material; its transformation through finding – thieving – the Hermetic event – into an Hermetic work of art, which is always something of a tricky optical illusion, into wealth, poetry and every sort of evasion from the restriction and confinement imposed by laws, circumstances, destinies – how could these be merely psychic realities? They are the world and they are one world, namely, that world which Hermes opens to us. 

Hermes, Kerenyi declares, is “the source of his own world”.    
     He is the masculine aspect of the life force, represented as the herm, the phallus.
     His phallus is a pivot between the worlds. We begin to grasp this sexy mystery when we find a carved phallus used as grave marker. There is a stone phallus three feet high inscribed with the name and portrait of an ancient Greek woman named Lysandra of Alexandros. Priapus, the god of the permanent hard-on, according to some a son of Hermes, is a guardian of graves and gardens. Seed is also soul. On an Attic black-figured vase, an ithyphallic man blows on a double flute as he ejects four drops of semen towards a large fluttering butterfly – which appears to be emerging from the first of the drops. 
    Hermes embodies the phallic and active principle, reigning over the rebirthing of souls. Hermes steps through the door with a hard-on, as men often transit from the dream world to the waking world, and hanged men, universally, enter the afterlife. Hermes is penetrating, and this is the effect of synchronicity. It pushes through, it opens up, and it inseminates.
    He is depicted wearing winged sandals, and a winged traveler's hat, and bearing a caduceus.
    Hermes is one of the great mythic Gatekeepers. Through him, every house opens into the Otherworld. One of his names, sotheos, means The Socket, as in the socket of a hinge that enables the pin to turn and the door to open and close. So we can think of him as a Hinge guy – as in “hinge of fate” – or a Pivot. As he swings, so do our fortunes.

Image: Hermes watches Hypnos and Thanatos prepare to carry the fallen hero Sarpedon back to his homeland in Lycia. Painting from the Euphronios krater (c.515 bce), now in the Archaeological Museum of Cerveteri. 




Friday, April 6, 2018

Crumpet Time



I know this: we can travel across time, and we can play mentor and counselor to a younger self, or receive help and guidance from a wiser older self. At the very least, when we reach to that younger self, we can offer the assurance that however much he is suffering, he will make it through. I know this because I started doing it when I was in my midforties, reaching back to the sick and lonely boy who found it so hard to live in the ordinary world.

The friends who helped me most in this period were invisible to others. One of the best of these friends was the Big Man. He was like a favorite uncle I did not have. One of the lessons he taught me was how to eat crumpets.
The Big Man came to me when I was in my bedroom, sick and lonely and feeling really sorry for myself. It was one of those days when I wanted to leave. I was curled up in the bed, with the covers pulled up over my head. I had been pretending I was in a silken tent in the desert, being waited upon and entertained by dancing girls. But I started coughing until my chest hurt and I was spitting into the basin beside the bed. I fell back, exhausted and desperate, and buried my face in the pillow, hoping to conceal the sound of my coughing from my mother
I felt a presence in the room, then the mattress tipped a little as someone eased down onto the edge of the bed. I thought it was one of my parents, come to check on me. I whispered that I was all right, no worries, which was the kind of fib I told to everyone except myself. A hand closed on my shoulder, squeezing just a little.
“That’s right,” my visitor said. “You really are all right.”
The warm, confident voice was familiar, but I could not put a name to it. I rolled over and looked up into a large, pink face smiling at me from under a mane of white hair. The blue-gray eyes were slightly hooded, a feature my mother and I shared.
“I know it’s hard for you,” my visitor went on. “I know you’re lonely and feel rotten. But you are going to make it through. You’ll be knocked down some more, but you will always get up again. You are a survivor, Robert. Trust me. You will make it through.”
The Big Man was hugging me then. I felt so small and fragile in his embrace, and I could not stop the tears from flowing because I felt safe and because this stranger was holding me as my mother never did, not since I died.
“Write,” he encouraged me. “Write your dreams. Write those adventures that stream through your head when you’re playing with your toy soldiers.”
“Nobody wants to hear my dreams,” I complained.
“You may have to lie low for now. But the day will come when lecture halls will be filled with people who are eager to hear your dreams and to tell their dreams to you. I promise you.”
I did not know what to say.
“Keep up your art. Draw and paint.” He surveyed my room and smiled at the stack of how-to-draw books I had bought with my pocket money. 
“You are lonely. But I promise you that the time will come when you will know the love of women and women will love you.”
I must have fallen asleep, because I did not see him go. I did not ask him who he was. I often sensed him nearby when I was alone. When he was close, I felt bigger and stronger.

When we were living in Melbourne, I liked going downtown with my mother on little shopping expeditions. The stately old Myers department store was always the high point of these expeditions. My mother took me to the Myers café for afternoon tea, and I always had crumpets.
I felt the Big Man close to me one afternoon in the café. “Crumpets taste much better with salt and pepper,” he nudged me. “Go on. No one will mind.”
I reached around the pots of jam and marmalade for the shakers, and gave my crumpets a good dose of salt and pepper. The waitress looked at me. My mother just went on sipping her tea. I had done stranger things. The Big Man was right. Crumpets are really nice with salt and pepper.
Many decades later, when I was living in North America, crumpets ceased to be a daily feature of my diet. Americans eat things called English muffins, but these are not crumpets. On rare occasions packets of crumpets popped up in the bread and cakes section of the local supermarket, and I would buy all of them and take them home. Fixing myself a snack in the kitchen of my new home in New York, I popped crumpets in the toaster and as they came out, browned but still delightfully soggy, I sprinkled salt and pepper before applying the butter. And I felt the attunement with that young boy in Melbourne who kept dying and coming back.
“Go on,” I messaged him, mind to mind. “Nobody will mind. You are going to make it through. I promise you.”


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




Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Turtle rescue, Turtle blessing


In the dream, in a busy shopping area, my little dog is after something up ahead. I glimpse it under a lamppost. It looks like a pigeon that has gotten hold of a paper plate. Oskar rushes at it, with me hurrying behind. It jumps up onto my left shoulder. I am surprised to see that it is a little turtle. The “paper plate” is its shell.
     I experiment with removing the turtle. It clings to me with determination. Since I have not figured out what to do with it – beyond keeping it away from my dog – this is okay.
     My body is stirring in the bed. I could leave the dream now, but I want to stay in it. I want to take care of the little turtle that is still clutching my shoulder.
    Fully lucid now, I walk with a protective hand over the turtle while I keep Oskar on a short leash with my other hand. I look for a safe place to set down the turtle. There is a large garden on the next corner. Behind an ornamental iron fence, I see steps leading down to a pond. There is a sculpture garden and there are statues of animals – including a turtle – there. This seems like a good place to release my little refugee.
    I open the gate and walk down the steps. I tie Oskar up while I set down the turtle near the pond. He seems fine now.
    But there is a tremendous stir in the waters. They fountain upwards. With a great roar an immense being rises from the water. Its great head looms over me. I look up at the leathery skin, the lures of the tongue, the ancient, heavy-lidded eyes. I know in this moment I am looking at Great Turtle, A’nonwara, the Teacher of the Deep. In its gaze, I remember the story of the Real People: how the Light Twin, descended to the deep realm of Great Turtle, to learn how to wage the eternal battle with the Dark Twin.   
    Great Turtle wants me to descend to his realm. I let myself drop. I am on my back in the water, falling, falling. I have no problem breathing. I go through utter dark to a place of light. There is a world of light own here, in the depths of water. Here Turtle adjusts its form and becomes humanoid, but nothing like a Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtle.
     I am infused with an ancient and sacred story: of an eternal struggle between Dark and Light and of the Teachers of the Deep who help humanity to remember its origin and purpose, and keep the great game in play.

I step out of this lucid dream adventure feeling blessed and filled with light.
    I recall that I live on what Native Americans call Turtle Island. I have great respect for the snapping turtle (the kind in the dream) and its cousin the sea turtle. They can’t retreat into their shells. Their underbellies are not armored apart from a tiny shield piece called a plastron.
    I have studied the cosmology of the Iroquois (the Onkwehonwe, or “Real People”) in which Great Turtle not only offers its back as a home for Sky Woman but becomes a form of the Great Teacher of the Deep. I have swum with sea turtles. Shamanically, I could meet Great Turtle again.
    I immediately made a drawing of Great Turtle. His fierce appearance reflects my original nervousness as this huge creature exploded from the water. His intentions, as I turned out, were wholly benign.

My bumper sticker: When I help turtle, Turtle helps me.

Unedited report and drawing from my journal dated January 3, 2017