Sunday, November 11, 2018

Dreams may be secret wishes of the soul

Dreams are experiences of the soul, and they can recall us to the soul’s purpose, as opposed to the petty agendas of the ego. This understanding is central to the practice of dream healing among many ancient and indigenous peoples.
   When I moved to upstate New York in the mid-1980s, I started dreaming in a language I did not know, which proved to be an archaic form of the Mohawk Indian language, laced with Huron. I studied Mohawk to decipher my dreams, but the meaning of one curious word eluded me. I recorded it as ondinnonk. I eventually found the meaning of this word in reports by a Jesuit who had lived among the Hurons in the early 1600s. 
    I will share some brief excerpts from Father Paul Ragueneau’s explanation, since it opens out an ancient approach to dreaming and healing and the responsibilities of the community to both that suggests rich possibilities for Active Dreaming in our own times.
   Reporting from the Jesuit mission to the Hurons in the winter of 1647-8, Father Ragueneau wrote:

In addition to conscious desires that arise from a previous knowledge of something we suppose to be good, the Hurons believe that our souls have other desires, which are, as it were, both natural and hidden... They believe that our soul makes these natural desires known to us through dreams, which are its language. When these desires are accomplished, it is satisfied. But if, on the contrary, it is not granted what it desires, it becomes angry; not only does it fail to bring the body the health and well-being it might [otherwise] have wished to bring, but often it even revolts against the body, causing various diseases and even death…Most of the Hurons are very careful to pay attention to their dreams, and to provide the soul with what it has represented to them during their sleep…They call this Ondinnonk, a secret desire of the soul expressed by a dream

Among this dreaming people, satisfying the secret wishes of the soul is the key to healing It is the task of the community to listen attentively to dreams, to help the dreamer identify the soul’s purpose as revealed in dreams, and to take creative and decisive action to honor and act on the dream. This may involve community theatre and performance, parties and gift-giving, making talismans or embarking on a journey or honoring the ancestors.
    Father Ragueneau continued: “They believe the soul is pleased when it sees us take action to celebrate a favorable dream, and will move faster to help us manifest it. If we fail to honor a favorable dream, they think this can prevent the dream from being fulfilled, as if the angry soul revokes its promise.” 
   In the practice of the First Peoples of Northeast America, as in our contemporary lives, dreams bring us healing by connecting us with the purposes and the energy of soul.

Quotations from Ragueneau's report are from The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites (Cleveland: Burrow Brothers, 1896-1901) volume 33, pages 191-5.

For much more on ondinnonk and the practices inspired by the understanding that dreams may reveal secret wishes of the soul, see my book Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the Secret Wishes of the Soul (Rochester VT: Destiny Books, 2004).

Art: My drawing of the Huron-Mohawk arendiwanen ("woman of power") who called me in dreams and gave me the word ondinnonk and with it a powerful approach to dreaming and healing that helped shape my own teaching and practice.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Lady of Changes

Her face glows in the dark of my bedroom like a yellow moon. The lovely young Chinese woman is studying me intently. She is as near as the foot of my bed. Her eyes are both very dark and very bright, her hair is lustrous black, cut neatly at shoulder length to produce a helmet effect. She is wearing a yellow tunic dress, and I remember that in China yellow is the color of Earth.=
    She communicates her intention: to teach me the real I Ching. As I look in her eyes I see they are like 8-balls, in constant rhythmic motion, displaying the eight trigrams that compose the essence of the Book of Changes, marrying in pairs to make the 64 hexagrams.
     If this is a Lady of Earth, of the receptive power of K'un, where is her consort? I see him now, wearing a robe of deep blue silk, embroidered with what may be bronze dragons. He is a Lord of Sky, and I know he personifies Ch'ien, the Heaven of the Changes. His lower body moves, indistinctly, like that of a great serpent-dragon, its coils turning like a mobius strip. I sense that his lower body interweaves with that of the Lady.
     I recall that according to tradition, the trigrams were invented by the dragon emperor Fu Xi, drawing knowledge from Heaven, and that in certain Taoist temples Fuxi and his consort Nuwa are depicted together. Their upper bodies are human; their lower bodies are those of serpent-dragons, intertwined. Awed by the energy presence of these ancient beings in my space, I am also embarrassed by my faulty memory of the Changes. I try to rehearse the names and forms of the eight trigrams in my mind. The primal pair: Heaven and Earth, Ch'ien and K'un. Fire and Water, Li and Kan. Lake and Mountain, Tui and Ken. Wind and Thunder, Sun and Chen. Do I have that right?
    Not that way. The code of Thunder flares in the Lady's changing eyes. Her fierce intent interrupts my effort to recite the list of the trigrams. Like this. Her eyes change again. I see a green mountain rising in a soft mist. There is a gentle lake at its summit, and around the peak a perfect cloud ring. Lake on the Mountain. I struggle to remember the name and the attributions of the corresponding hexagram. Something to do with lovers, newlyweds, attraction.
     Not like that. She is opening a different way of seeing and reading the code of the Changes. I relax into the embrace of Earth, and soon find myself in a different scene.
     I am on top of a very tall and steep hill, with warriors dressed in skins and armed with bows and spears. There is an intense feeling of being alive up here. The wind is fresh and brisk, lifting my hair, fluttering a loose fringe. We may have a battle to fight, but our spirits are high, our defensive position is very strong, and we can see whatever is coming at us from far away. This hill fort has a commanding view. I can see across great vistas in all directions.
     Access to our hill fort is via a wooden ladder that goes up the hillside for hundreds of feet. It can be pulled up to deny access to strangers. My lieutenant is so agile I doubt that he needs a ladder. Laughing, he sways his body over the edge of the drop until his back is almost horizontal. This defies human physiology. Maybe he has feet that can grip like fists. Respecting my human limitations, I take a step back from the brink, then smile at myself because the body I am using here can do things the body I left in bed can't manage.
     Remembering that my regular body is in a bed in a snowy town in western New York, I recollect my encounter with the Lady who told me she would teach me the real I Ching. Am I inside one of the hexagrams? If so, which one? My guess would be the 20th hexagram, which is called Guan, or Watching. Wind over the Earth.
The wind blows over the earth.
This is the image of Watching.
In this way ancient kings
looked across the four directions
observed the people
and gave them instruction.
     I hang over the precipice, studying the ladder. Despite its great height, it has only six rungs. Now I recall that ascending the Watchtower whose shape is concealed and revealed in the lines of the 20th hexagram is a journey of six steps. Few can manage these six steps in the course of a lifetime. On the first step, we see as an un-wise child; we notice only what relates to our cravings and fears. On the second step. we see like a nervous homebody peering out through a slit in a wall; protected by structure, we see little beyond it. On the third step, we look in a mirror and begin to observe ourselves, and what we have done and not done on our life journeys. On the fourth step, like lookouts, we can see across the land and provide news and warnings for our communities. On the fifth step, we return to self-observation, looking harder and deeper at our true selves. If we make it to the sixth and final step, we can see the whole. We can look at ourselves from a witness perspective. We no longer look from the ego, but from the greater Self.
     Again, I see the changing eyes, with the turning codes, and sense the movement of the dragon coils in their mobius dance. I have read thirty books on I Ching, and made my own guide to the hexagrams, giving personal names to each one and noting incidents that followed a particular reading on a certain date. I once taught a course titled "I Ching for Dreamers" in which we drummed the patterns of broken and unbroken lines, inspired by the most ancient, fragmentary text of the Book of Changes, found in a lacquer hamper in the tomb of a lord at Mawangdui as recently as 1973, where it is written that "the sages drummed the movements of all under Heaven" into the oracle. 
    However, I consider myself a rank amateur in this area, and would not trust my ability to read the Changes until I have internalized the 64 hexagrams and the changing lines without the need to look anything up. In Chinese tradition such mastery requires either a lifetime of training, memorizing and practice, or the direct inspiration of past masters, or both.
    The shining eyes give me Heaven under Earth, the desirable placement since this means the primal pair are coming together. Maybe I can aspire to know a little more of the Changes in the years that remain to me. Maybe, with the Yellow Lady and the Blue Lord as gatekeepers, I will lead others on a journey through the cycles, to climb the ladder of six steps to the Watchtower.


Oracles have their own life, and can call you even when you are not calling on them. I took up the study of I Ching because Einstein met me at a Chinese gate and instructed me that the Chinese oracle is the best working model of the universe that is generally accessible. Months later, on a snowy night in a motel in western New York, the oracle came alive for me. Jung knew something of this. He wrote that “One could even define the I Ching oracle as an experiential dream, just as one can define a dream as an experiment of a four-dimensional nature.” (Letter to the Rev. W.P. Witcutt, August 24, 1960). The Mawangdui text quoted here follows the translation by  Edward L. Shaughnessy, I Ching, The Classic of Changes: The First English Translation of the Newly Discovered Second-Century B.C. Mawangdui Texts (New York: Ballantine, 1997) 203.

Adapted from Mysterious Realities: A Dream Traveler's Tales from the Imaginal Realm by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Image at the top: ancient painting of Nuwa and Fuxi