Monday, November 18, 2019

In the Cave of the Dreaming Bear

Some nights, at the edge of sleep. I picture myself approaching the roots of a great tree – the oak that once called me to a country home, or a beech, or an ash – singing the chorus of the song that was given to me as a key to a place of regeneration and creation.

Praise and serve the Mother
and let her grace unfold
Praise and serve the mother
and reenchant the world

An opening appears for me among the roots, and I go down into the breathing dark of a warm and cozy space. I snuggle with a family of bears. We are family. I am welcome.
    Then I am called into the embrace of a primal form of Earth Mother, and am nourished and loved and replenished.
    I can now go down to a cave deep in the world of the tree. It is light-filled and full of creative tools and toys, especially art supplies. There is a long wooden pointer there. It points unerringly, like a huge compass needle, in the direction I need to take. Sighting along it, or with it, I can see scenes of possible and desirable futures in the outer world.
    I can go from here along paths where other adventures await. I may start following the flow of an underground river to a waterfall, where I can enter a place of the ancestors by going through and under the falls, or leap up over the falls into a different kind of experience.
    I can picture myself rising up through the tree, as through a library from a Borgesian dream, with countless levels filled with bookcases and galleries. I can make it my intention to read in these books and bring back a few pages in the morning.
     I always hope that the pages I’ll bring back will be from books of my own that are not yet written or published in this world, but can be.

I am launching my new online video course.The School of Imaginal Healing, for The Shift Network this week by leading a journey to the Cave of the Dreaming Bear.

Art by Tracy Cunningham

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Let the universe tap you

"Don't ask what you already know," I was once advised by a babalawo, a high divination priest of Ifa, the Yoruba oracle. I think he was correct. We annoy the spirits, and confuse our own ways, by constantly asking questions when the answers are already with us.
    I have many friends who start the day by putting questions to some personal system of divination, from Tarot to tea leaves.  And many more who put a question to their dreams every night.
    I am in favor of seeking guidance from sources beyond the ordinary mind. But I have mixed feelings about asking all these questions, especially if the questions are on the same theme.
    When I put a question to the night, it is most often only, "Show me what I need toknow".
    There are questions that have to be lived, not merely answered. And it is often better to hear the questions the world is putting to us, rather than constantly putting our personal questions to the world. 
    Spontaneous night dreams and the play of synchronicity in everyday life will tell us what we need to know, if we are ready to hear. By attending to dreams, especially dreams we did not ask for and may or may not want, and  to the voices of the Speaking Land (as Aborigines call it) we escape the trap of constantly moving among projections of our wishes and fears. Spontaneous night dreams and synchronicity speak with an objectivity the ordinary mind often lacks.
     We can tap to awaken the spirits, as the reader of Ifa does with his divination tapper. But it is more interesting to let the universe and the spirits tap us.

Image: Opon Ifa, Ifa divination tray

Reincidence and the Triple Goddess

I invented a new word for a run of coincidence: reincidence. While the words "coincidence" and "synchronicity" define a meaningful conjunction of an outer event and an inner sense of significance in a given moment of time, "reincidence" describes a sequence of conjunctions of the same kind, playing out over time. For example, you might dream of a flamingo, or see one on the side of a van, and then it's flamingos all over - on a suburban lawn, on a beer coaster, in the description of staff officers (with red stripes on their pants) in a thriller set in World War II, on a baby blanket.   
     The following sequence, mostly played out in Asheville, North Carolina, shows how reincidence runs:

April 15, 2010 - In Asheville, NC there is a big crowd at Malaprops bookshop for my talk and signing. A woman asks me about the significance of the number 3 in the title of my book The Three"Only" Things. I give her a bit of a lecture about three as the Celtic number, the number of the Trinity and of the Triple Goddess and the Three Fates, ending with the statement, "Three times makes the charm".

April 16, 2010 - I wake from a dream feeling super-charged, with a shimmer of possibility all about me. I have learned to associate this shimmer with the play of numinous forces. In my dream, taking giant steps across a beautiful landscape, I feel that each step I take is being taken in more than one world, and is bringing worlds together. I notice three red haired women walking together up the slope towards me. They move so close together that their bodies appear to be joined, and I notice their heads are all enclosed by a single hood. Am I looking at the Triple Goddess? I have seen them before, going a different way. They look at me with intent interest and I feel a stir of excitement that they are in the field.

April 16, 2010, afternoon -  I sip a glass of wine at a civilized establishment, the beautiful. dog-friendly Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, and admire the griffins that guard the entrance of The Grove Arcade across the street. Three women, two of them redheads, the third a blonde, take the next table. In jolly mood, sipping margaritas, they strike up conversation with me and prove to be very interested in dreams. I say to the blonde, "If you were a redhead, I would think that the three of you are manifesting my dream from last night." She replies, "Oh, I'm a natural redhead. I colored my hair just last week for fun. I think I'll go back to red."

April 16, 2010, evening - A cheerful crowd gather for my Synchronicity playshop at Jubilee, a lively community church downtown. I drum for the group, asking them to relax into the rhythm and pull up a dream or memory we can use in a game. My mind turns again to the three redheads of my dream, the many forms of the Triple Goddess and the Three Fates, and the distinctly Celtic quality of all this. Through my stir of images comes the keening of bagpipes. A piper is playing at John of the Wood, the Celtic pub behind Jubilee. The sound of the pipes, skirling over the drumming, is irresistible. When the time comes for us to write on index cards a summary of a dream or memory that came during the drumming, I write: "My ancestors are calling me, reaching through my stir of memories. They want me to honor and celebrate and embody their knowing."

April 17, 2010 - I wake from a dream in which Lady Charlotte Guest, one of the first to translate and make accessible Celtic literature including he Mabinogion, invites me to stay with her at a country house . We discuss how events and opportunities recur in a life or in a day, and how when something recurs three times, we are prompted to pay attention.

Later that spring, in a powerful dream of love and longing, I was presented with a choice of three paths in the greenwoods

Photo: Site of a Triple Goddess encounter: The Battery Park Boox Exchange & Champagne Bar, Asheville NC.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

If You Don't Have a Dream, Ask for One from the World

One morning when I woke with no dream recall, I stepped out into the street to walk my dog saying, "I would love the world to give me a dream."
     A man walking his own dog across the street called out to me immediately, "Robert, do you have a moment? I'd like to tell you a dream." He was a neighbor I knew slightly. Our previous conversations were usually about our dogs.
    Of course, I hastened across the street. He was very excited. He had just dreamed that he was riding on a train with a bear, sharing a basket of apples. The train divided and he found himself in a different railroad car. He said, "I was glad I still had the basket of food, but sorry that the bear and I parted ways."
   We had a lively discussion about how the dream might reflect choices he would need to make about his job, and the need not to part company with all that the bear meant to him - healing, play, living a natural life - while earning his meal ticket. He was grateful for our dreamplay, and told me later that it helped him to push for - and arrange - the right job transfer.
    I was grateful that the world had literally given me a dream when I needed one.
    The incident was also an example of the workings of one of the favorite oracles of the ancients. They believed that voices from the deeper reality are heard in a kledon - sounds or speech coming out of silence or the undifferentiated hubbub of everyday life. In my book Sidewalk Oracles I explain how to listen for a kledon as daily practice.
   Whatever your relationship with your night life, when you step out into the day make it your intention to be alert and alive to the dreamlike symbolism of what is going on around you.
   If you have a theme for guidance, carry that with you. Get a statement clear in your mind, "I would like guidance on...." [you fill in the blank].Then be willing to receive the first unusual or unlikely thing that enters your field of perception as a message from the world, a dream delivered on the street.

photo credit: Bear on BART

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Dreaming to heal our lives

In our dreams, we have access to a personal doctor who makes house calls, provides an impeccable diagnosis of our physical, emotional and spiritual condition, and doesn’t charge a cent. If we are not in touch with our dreams, we are missing out on a tremendous resource for self-healing. Here’s why:

·         The body talks to us in dreams. It shows us what it needs to stay well and previews possible symptoms long before they manifest. If we recognize these messages from the body, and act on them, we may be able to avoid painful and costly medical intervention further down the trail.
·         Dreams are also experiences of the soul, and show us the spiritual sources of wellness and illness. The Iroquois say that dreams reveal the “secret wishes of the soul” – as opposed to the narrow agendas of the ego. If we honor the soul’s purpose, as revealed in dreams, we move towards health and balance. In traditional Iroquois practice, it is the duty of the community to listen to dreams in order to help the dreamer to identify and honor the wishes of the soul.
·         Our dreams provide us with fresh imagery and energy for self-healing.
·         By going back inside our dreams and consciously reshaping our inner dramas, we may be able to help shift the body in the direction of health.
·         Dreams invite us to reclaim vital soul energy lost through pain or grief or addiction. Absence of dream recall is sometimes a symptom of soul loss. Dreams in which we encounter a younger version of ourselves or return again and again to earlier scenes from our lives may be invitations to bring home parts of our energy and identity that went missing.
·         We can bring through dream guidance for others as well as ourselves.
·         Dreams give us a direct line to sacred sources of guidance and healing. In sacred sleep, the ancients not only sought diagnosis and healing images; they sought a direct encounter with the Divine Healer. We can ask for dream healing in the same way.

Here’s how to bring the energy and magic of dreams into daily life, in four easy steps:

1.       Make a date with your dreams

Before you go to sleep, write down an intention for your dreams. Make this a juicy intention – eg “I would like to be healed” or “I want to meet my soulmate” or simply “I want to have fun in my dreams and remember.” Have pen and paper ready so you can record something whenever you wake up. Write your dream in a journal later, give it a title and see if you can come up with a personal motto or “bumper sticker” distilling the message or quality of the dream.

2.       Share dreams with a partner

Regular dream sharing is wonderful fun, builds heart-centered relationships, brings us fresh perspectives on our issues and helps to nudge us towards taking appropriate action to honor our dreams. You’ll want to begin by creating a safe space where you and your partner will give each other undivided attention. Whoever is sharing a dream should tell it as simply and clearly as possible, giving the dream a title. The partner then asks a few simple questions. Start by asking how the dreamer felt when she first woke up – the first feelings are usually an excellent guide to the general character and urgency of the dream. Ask the dreamer whether she recognizes any of the elements in the dream in waking life, and whether any parts of the dream might possibly be played out in the future.
   You are not going to tell each other what your dreams mean. You don’t want to steal the dreamer’s power, or to lose the energy of the dream in verbal analysis. You can offer helpful, non-intrusive feedback by saying to each other, “If it were my dream, I would think about such-and-such.” Finally, you’ll want to ask the dreamer, “What are you going to do to honor this dream?”

3.       Act on your dreams

Dreams require action! If we do not do something with our dreams in waking life, we miss out on the magic. Real magic consists of bringing something through from a deeper reality into our physical lives, which is why active dreaming is a way of natural magic – but only if we take the necessary action to bring the magic through. Keeping a dream journal and sharing dreams on a regular basis are important ways of honoring dreams and the powers that speak through dreams. Here are some more suggestions:

·         create from a dream: turn the dream into a story or poem. Draw from it, paint from it, turn it into a comic strip
·         take a physical action to celebrate an element in the dream, such as wearing the color that was featured in the dream, traveling to a place from the dream, making a phone call to an old friend who showed up in the dream
·         use an object or create a dream talisman to hold the energy of the dream: A stone or crystal may be a good place to hold the energy of a dream, and return to it.
·         use the dream as a travel advisory: If the dream appears to contain guidance on a future situation, carry it with you as a personal travel advisory. Summarize the dream information on a cue card or hold it in an image you can physically carry.
·         go back into the dream to clarify details, dialogue with a dream character, explore  the larger reality – and have marvelous fun!

4.       Go back inside your dreams

When I started living in rural New York, I dreamed repeatedly of a huge standing bear. Though the bear never menaced me, it made me uneasy because it was several times my size. I realized that I needed to face the bear and find out why it kept appearing in my dreams. I made it my intention to go back inside my dream, and “brave up” to whatever I needed to confront. I stepped back into the dreamspace – as you might step back into a room you had left – and the bear was there, vividly real and tremendous. There was nothing cute or “made-up” about this encounter. I had to push myself to approach the bear.
    When I found the courage to step up to the bear, he embraced me and we became the same size. He showed me we were joined at the heart by something like a thick umbilical, pumping life energy. He told me he would show me what people need in order to be healed. I later discovered that the bear is the great medicine animal in Native American tradition, and that the most powerful healers of the Lakota are the members of the Bear Dreamers Society, composed of those who have been called by the Bear in dreams and visions.  Today, when I lead a healing circle, we call in the spirit bear.
    Our dreams may offer us gifts of power and healing that we can only claim by going back into the dreamspace and moving beyond fear or irresolution. We may need to go back inside a dream to overcome nightmare terrors, to clarify whether the dream is about a literal or symbolic car crash, to talk to someone who appeared in a dream, to reclaim our own lost children, to use a personal image as a portal to multidimensional reality – or simply to have more fun!
     Dream reentry is one of the core techniques that I teach and practice. If you would like to experiment, start by picking a dream that has some real energy for you. It doesn’t matter whether it is a dream from last night or from 20 years ago, as long as it has juice. Get yourself settled in a comfortable, relaxed position in a quiet space and minimize external light. Focus on a specific scene from your dream. Let it become vivid on your mental screen. See if you can let all your senses become engaged, so you can touch it, smell it, hear it, taste it. Ask yourself what you need to know, and what you intend to do inside the dream. And let yourself start flowing back into the dreamspace…
    In my Active Dreaming workshops, we use shamanic drumming - a steady beat on a simple frame drum, typically in the range of four to seven beats per second –to help shift consciousness and facilitate travel into the dreamspace. The steady beat helps to override mental clutter and focus energy and intention on the journey. If you are doing dream reentry at home, you may wish to experiment with a drumming tape or soft music.
    The applications of the dream reentry process for healing are inexhaustible. In this way, for example, we may be able to travel inside the body and help to shift its behaviors in the direction of health. In her wonderful novel for kids of all ages, A Wind in the Door, Madeleine L’Engle describes a journey into a world inside one of the mitochondria of a sick boy; when things are brought into balance inside a particle of a cell, the whole body is healed. As we become active dreamers, we can develop the ability to journey in precisely this way. Our dreams will open the ways.

We will practice these techniques and explore further paths of adventure, creativity and healing in my new online video course for The Shift Network, The School of Imaginal Healing. Classes begin on November 20.

Art by Robert Moss: (1) "Serpent Staff in the Sky" (2) "Dancing with the Bear"

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The night when the veil between the worlds thins

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

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

I am offering a workshop on related themes in Berkeley over the weekend of November 23-24, "Ancestral Healing and Dream Archaeology"

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The dreams are coming back

In contemporary society, dream drought is a widespread affliction, almost a pandemic. This is deadly serious, because night dreams are an essential corrective to the delusions of the day. They hold up a mirror to our everyday actions and attitudes and put us in touch with deeper sources of knowing than the everyday mind. If you lose your dreams, you may lose your inner compass. If your dreams are long gone, it may be because you have lost the part of you that is the dreamer.
    Traditional Iroquois say bluntly that if we have lost our dreams, it is because we have lost a vital part of our soul. This may have happened early in life through what shamans call soul loss, when our magical child went away because the world seemed to cold and cruel. Helping the dream-bereft to recover their dreams may amount to bringing lost souls back to the lives and bodies where they belong. In my story “Dreamtakers”in Mysterious Realities I describe a shamanic journey to help return dream souls to people who have lost them. This is something I teach and practice.
     There are several ways we can seek to break a dream drought any night we want to give this a try. We can set a juicy intention for the night and be ready to record whatever is with us whenever we wake up. We can resolve to be kind to fragments. The wispiest trace of a dream can be exciting to play with, and as you play with it you may find you are pulling back more of the previously forgotten dream. 
    If you don’t remember a dream when you first wake up, laze in bed for a few minutes and see if something comes back. Wiggle around in the bed. Sometimes returning to the body posture we were in earlier in the night helps to bring back what we were dreaming when our bodies were arranged that way.
     If you still don’t have a dream, write something down anyway: whatever is in your awareness,
including feelings and physical sensations. You are catching the residue of a dream even if the dream itself is gone. As you do this, you are saying to the source of your dreams, “I’m listening. Talk to me.”
     You may find that, though your dreams have flown, you have a sense of clarity and direction that is the legacy of the night. We solve problems in our sleep even when we don’t remember the problem-solving process that went on in our dreaming minds.
      And remember that you don’t need to go to sleep in order to dream. The incidents of everyday life will speak to us like dream symbols if we are willing to pay attention. Keep a lookout for the first unusual or striking thing that enters your field of perception in the course of the day and ask whether there could be a message there. When we make it our game to pay attention to coincidence and symbolic pop-ups in everyday life, we oil the dream gates so they let more through from the night.
     Dream recovery may be soul recovery. Call back your dreams and you may find you are bringing back a beautiful bright dreamer who left your body and your life when the world seemed too cold and too cruel. Maybe she has been hiding out in Grandma's cottage, or a garden behind the Moon. Sometimes the right song will help to bring back that Magical Child with all the dreams fluttering like fireflies in her hair. I wrote a song in this cause and you are welcome to try it:

The dreams are coming back.
Slow down and feel their firefly glow.
Stay still and hear the rustle of their wings.
Open like a flower
and let them feed from your heart.
Don’t be afraid to remember
that your soul has wings
and you have a place to go flying.
The dreams are coming back

Drawing: "Retrieving my Wings" by Robert Moss, from a dream

Monday, October 28, 2019

Dogs, doppelgangers and dream assignments

I dreamed that a writer or publisher named Grenier was important to me. An internet search brought me, very quickly, to Roger Grenier, a celebrated editor at Gallimard who also wrote many books. Two days later (there is no cure for a bibliophile, at least none I wish to consider) a copy of his book Les larmes d'Ulysse arrived at my door, It is a treasury of short-form reflections on literature and the treatment of dogs in literature.
    I enjoyed being reminded that Baudelaire said there is paradise for dogs; he was correct. I was moved by Grenier's memories of his walks with his pointer, Ulysses - and then stirred by a moment when Grenier saw a man who appeared to be his doppelganger across the street, and his dog saw and sniffed the same thing.

"Walking along the rue Saint-Dominique, I saw a man on the opposite sidewalk who looked a lot like me, my double. Ulysses noticed him. He too was struck by the resemblance. For a second he pulled at his leash. Then he remembered he was with me. He looked at the double, he looked at me. He was totally bewildered, just as we would be, in the grip of what Freud called 'the uncanny'."

I never regret taking on the research assignments my dreams set for me, or being reminded that dogs are wonderful companions on the roads of many worlds. Best of all, dogs love you no matter what. Maybe his dogs helped Roger Grenier live in creative health to the ripe old age of 98; he died in November 2017.

Cat versus Chaos in the Mind of Egypt

An image from collective imagination of ancient Egypt offers a version of the cosmic battle between chaos and order that I find endlessly intriguing. The serpent is Apep (the Greek version is Apophis) and he personifies the forces of chaos that constantly threaten to overthrow humanity and the gods themselves.
    The giant cat is a form of Ra, cutting Apep to pieces with a knife in a battle around the Tree of Life. The long ears on this cat make it understandable that many viewers first thought was "rabbit". In fact the cat is a giant version of the long-eared Egyptian wild cat, Felis libyca Bubastis, which was the genus mummified by Egyptians.
    The Tree of Life here is the persea, a small evergreen whose yellow fruit symbolized the heart of Horus. The phoenix is reborn from the ashes of the persea.
    "I am the Cat which fought near the persea tree," Ra declares in the Book of Ani, which comments that Ra is also known as Mau, the Egyptian word for cat. I dreamed that a statue of a cat named Mau came alive and presented an atef crown.

    The knife resembles a feather, which some people saw in the image. That may have been intentional in the ancient iconography, since Apep, as a destroyer of civilization, is eternally opposed to Ma'at (Truth) whose symbols is a feather.
    The battle between Truth and Lies, Chaos and Civilization, is never over in the Egyptian mind. Every night Apep attacks the barque of Ra. Apep has been hacked to pieces and thrown into the abyss again and again, but he returns. Egyptians made wax images of Apep and mutilated and destroyed them in multi-stage rituals to help Ra in the cosmic battle.
     Some say that Apep is a dark shadow of Ra himself, an archaic form that the great god shed as he evolved. Much to dream on here, and perhaps much to illuminate our current complaints, and vice versa.

The Egyptian image is from the the papyrus of Hunifer in the British museum. The drawing of Mau is from my dream journal.

Friday, October 4, 2019

The dream world is my home world

The dream world is my home world, and has been from very early childhood.
    I first died in this lifetime when I was three years old. My great aunt the opera singer saw this in the tea leaves but didn’t talk about it until long after. What she did not see was that – as a doctor at the hospital in Hobart, Tasmania told my parents – I “died and came back”. That is still the term I prefer to use of these experiences. I don’t remember much of what happened when I left my body at age three, only that it was very hard to live in a body in this world after I came back, and that I felt that my home reality was somewhere else.
     At nine, I died again during emergency appendectomy in a Melbourne hospital. This time I seemed to live a whole life somewhere else, among a beautiful people who raised me as their own. I came back remembering that other life and that other world. It still wasn’t easy for me to live in the ordinary world, and I was nostalgic for that other world. The gift of these experiences,  and my persisting illness (I had double pneumonia twelve times between the ages of three and eleven) was an inner life that was rich and prolific, and an ability to move between states of consciousness and reality at will.
     At age eleven, I had the vision of a great staff of burning bronze with a serpent wrapped around it that seemed to fill half the sky. Right after that, I came very near death for a third time, back in hospital with pneumonia. But this time, I came back healed, and was able to live a relatively normal life – except that in my mind, the dream world was my “normal”. I later realized that my vision in the sky resembled a giant version of the serpent staff of Asklepios, the Greek god who heals through dreams.

I can’t remember a time when I did not understand that our personal dreams can take us into the Dreamtime, which is about more than the bargain basement of the personal subsconscious; it is the place where we find our spiritual kin on a higher level and remember the origins and purpose of life. That’s the way the First Peoples of my native Australian, the Aborigines, see it, and one of the few people I met in childhood who could confirm and validate my experiences of dreaming was an Aboriginal boy. He said of my near-death experiences, “Oh yeah, we do that. When we get very sick, we go and live with the spirits. When we get well, we come back.” He did not think it was extraordinary to dream future events, or to meet the dead in dreams, as I did all the time.
    I had to be fairly quiet about these things, growing up in a conservative time in Australia, in a military family. But as I grew older, I was able to do more and more with the gifts of dreaming. My dreams of ancient cultures led me to my first job, as lecturer in ancient history at the Australian National University. My dreams of possible future events enabled me to avoid death on the road, quite literally, on three occasions. Then, in mid-life, on a farm in the Upper Hudson Valley of New York, I was called in a lucid dream – also an out-of-body experience – into a meeting with an ancient Native American shaman, a Mother of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk people, who insisted on speaking her own language. That changed everything and put me on the path of a dream teacher, for which there is no career track in Western society.

Most human societies have valued dreams and the dreamers for three principal reasons. They have recognized that in dreams we see the future, and this can help whole communities as well as individuals to make better choices. They have understood that dreams give us a direct line to the sacred, to the God/Goddess we can talk to, to the ancestors, to the animate spirits of Nature. And they have grasped that dreaming can be very good medicine. Dreams diagnose problems before they present symptoms; they offer imagery for self-healing; and they show us the state of the soul and can help us retrieve parts of our vital energy that may have gone missing through what shamans call “soul-loss”.
    In Western society, dreams are undervalued by those the English call the “talking classes”, especially in academe and the media. Yet we all dream, so this is common property. Ever the hardhead who says “I don’t dream” is only saying “I don’t remember” or “I don’t care to remember”. And when life is tough or he is going through a big life transition, his head may be cracked open by a big dream that will expand his understanding and maybe give him sources and resources not otherwise available.  One of the most common types of “big dreams” that can accomplish that is a visitation by a dead family member or loved one.

All ancient and indigenous peoples that I have encountered, in my studies as an independent scholar and in my travels, understand that the dream world is a real world, maybe more real than the regular world of our consensual everyday hallucinations. When I told an elder of the Longhouse People, or Iroquois, about my dreams of the Mohawk “woman of power”,  he told me “you made some visits and you received some visitations.” There you have a central understanding, forgotten or ignored in much of Western psychology: dreaming is traveling. In dreams, soul or consciousness gets around, far beyond the body. In dreams, we may also receive visitations. The very words for “dream” in many cultures reflects this insight. In the language of the Makiritare, a shamanic dreaming people of Venezuela, the word for “dream” is adekato, which literally means “a journey of the soul.”
    As I explained in The Secret History of Dreaming dreams and dreamers have been central to human evolution, critical for soul and survival. Look at what is painted on the walls of the Paleolithic caves and you have evidence of the central importance of dreaming from as far back in the human odyssey as we can trace. The images are portals into a deeper reality, not simply hunting or fertility magic, but ways of connecting with the spirits, of calling through power, and of traveling between dimensions. On the most practical level, dreaming has always been a key part of our human survival kit. When we were little better than naked apes, without good weapons, dreaming helped save us from becoming breakfast for leathery raptors or saber-toothed tigers, by enabling us to scan our environment, across space and time, and identify possible dangers. 
    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 symbol representing an open eye.  
   As dreamers, we are time travelers. With or without intention, we travel to the past and the future as well as parallel worlds. This can become conscious practice, and we can learn to fold time in the sense of being present, mind to mind, with other personalities in other times, sharing gifts and insights with each other. Our ability to travel into the future is essential to our survival and well-being. We not only bring back memories of future events for which we – and sometimes whole communities – can then prepare. We visit possible futures, and our ability to read our memories of the possible future and then take appropriate action can determine whether we can escape a future event we don’t like, or manifest one that we want.
    Contact with the deceased, especially in dreams, is natural and easy if we are open to it. It’s a very common experience. Our dead may still be around, because they have not yet moved on and that can be problematic if they don’t understand that they are dead (in the sense of not having physical bodies any more). Or they may come calling, for all the reasons we might call on each other in regular life, and then some. And in dreams we go traveling, and may find ourselves in realms where the dead are at home. These experiences have been the source of the enduring and near-universal human belief that consciousness survives physical death, and of countless geographies of the afterlife.

The trick is to live consciously in both worlds, always aware that at every turning, we have the power to choose. Even when conditions seem most difficult and confining, we have the power to choose our attitude, as Viktor Frankl taught us in Man’s Search for Meaning. And that can change everything. We want to develop the art of memory, remembering who and what we are in one order of reality while traveling in another. Jung came to suspect that we lead continuous lives in other realities, and I think this is exactly correct. The dreams we recall may be memories of other lives in other times – past or future or in parallel universes – and the versions of ourselves that inhabit those other realities may be dreaming in and out of our present lives, just as we dream ourselves in and out of theirs.
    Are we asleep in regular life and awake in the dream world? Sometimes it feels like that. When I close my eyes, I often have the sense of waking in another landscape, among people who may have been waiting for me. Then there is that phenomenon of “false awakening”. Within a dream, you sleep and wake up, to find later that you were in another level of the dream, not yet back in the body in the bed. Such experiences mark transits from outer to inner courtyards of dreaming, and when we learn to recognize what is going on, this deepens our practice of conscious dreaming.   
    I practice operating in multiple states of consciousness. When I am drumming for a group adventure in shamanic dreaming, for example, I am in control of my body. I am also scanning the psychic environment, warding the group. At the same time, I am engaged in a personal journey in consciousness that may take me deep into another reality.  Simultaneously, I may be looking in on the journeys of people in the group. When I am really on, I feel I can see the whole scene, physical and psychic, in 360-degree vision, as if it is all enclosed in a bubble and my awareness is at every point on the surface of that bubble as well as at the center. That begins to evoke what perceiving from the fifth dimension may be like.

Art by Robert Moss:  1. "Storm Bird Brings Me Back to My Body" 2. "Serpent Staff in the Sky"

Thursday, October 3, 2019

At home with the philosopher emperor

I have been rereading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius in the excellent recent translation by Gregory Hays. I opened the book at random and found my favorite line (“A man’s life is dyed in the color of his imagination”) rephrased in different English: "Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts." On the next the page, I came to essential counsel: what seems to be in your way may be your way. Marcus Aurelius, in the Hays version, puts it like this:

"Our actions may be impeded...but there can be no impeding our intentions or their dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." [Book 5, 20]

Stoic encouragement, from 19 centuries ago, to make friends with our blocks and look for opportunity in any setback.

I turned back to the beginning of the book, possibly not to be recommended since the contents are not structured in any way. Book 1 might seem to belong at the beginning, since it is mostly composed with the emperor's testimonials to mentors (above all Antoninus, the previous emperor). But after this we get recurring ideas and no apparent evolution in personal thinking. The division of the books was probably dictated by the space available on a single papyrus scroll; you come to the end of one and start a new book.
    In his introduction, Hays reminds us that Marcus was not writing for publication and maybe only for an audience of one: himself. He did not give his reflections a title. He wrote a New Thought book for himself, to remind him how to respond to adversity and why he should get out of bed in the morning.
    Throughout he insists that we can come to no real harm if we follow the Logos in ourselves and in the cosmos. It seems that Logos here means something similar to the Dharma in Eastern thought.
     Life is short, Marcus reminds us again and again. And at the end, it seems, we either dissipate as atoms or stream into a greater light. There is no indication here that Marcus believed in a personal afterlife. He certainly did not believe that it matters whether we are remembered by others. They will die too, and those who come later will forget all of us.
There is the stern military injunction: stand at your post, fulfill your assignments, be a Roman. Not surprising in a man compelled to spend so much time with the legions – fighting in Germania, suppressing the Sarmatians, containing the Parthians, dealing with the revolt of Cassius.
   Knowledge has three divisions for him: physics, logic, ethics. His writings are devoted to the third: to mortal duty towards others and towards the order of the universe. He affirms – no doubt against all external evidence – that whatever happens in the world is for the best, that God or gods have a secret plan in conformity with Logos.
    Like Viktor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning, the Stoic emperor contends that whatever our circumstances, we always have the power to choose our attitude. We can go into an inner fortress that is unassailable from without.

Illustration: Teasing the HG Curtain

I lay down the book, stretch out on the bed,and close my eyes.I immediately see a beautiful woman in a red dress. She swings on theater curtains, opening and closing my view of the space beyond. I see a giant head in profile. It looks like a Roman portrait bust. Beyond it, the scene is bright and warmly lit but undefined from where I am observing. Shall I go through the curtain?

Blue depth

Healing and amazing discoveries await us if we are willing to dive deep. We do that in certain dreams, which may help us to understand why in the vocabulary of the Inuit shaman, or angakok, a word for dream means literally "that which makes me dive in headfirst." We can learn to take the plunge into the blue depth of healing waters wide awake and conscious, as I did in the journey with the drum that is briefly recounted here.

I am entering a blue depth. It is vast and oceanic. I see many sea creatures swim by: dolphins, whales, sharks, schools of fish, squid and octopus. The blue whale is very close to me, and I swim with it for a while. It is surprisingly elegant. When I join the blue whale, I am no longer aware of any difference of size between us.
    I begin to explore lower levels of the blue depth. I descend to a place of bones and shipwreck, to something like Davy Jones’ Locker. I glimpse treasure here, like pirate gold. But I do not want to become enmeshed with the spirits in this underwater locale. Among them are soul-parts of living people that have been lost or stolen, often through addiction . There may be work to be done here, but this is not a place to linger without a clear mission.
   I go deeper. Far, far down I have a strong sense of contact with a different kind of being – a being that produces its own light, a soft glow. These beings have bodies that resemble a soft, mobile coral. They can shapeshift and grow new organs very easily. What they know and what they are can be very helpful in mending and strengthening bones, including generating new cartilage, and in releasing pain from joints.
   I enter more and more deeply into the rhythms and resonance of the sea. The drum itself seems to be singing the song of the whales. The sonic effects are quite amazing, healing and relaxing.

Photo: This amazing picture of a harbor seal was taken by underwater photographer Kyle McBurnie.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Yggdrasil, a Place to Stand

The red fox stands beside the tree gate.
I’m never at ease when he shows himself,
but he is flanked by the black dog,
ever watchful and reliable, a true guardian,
and there seems to be no conflict between them.
This is new. I could take the open door
down through the roots of the world tree
but I am distracted by the frisky moves
of a squirrel that is running down the trunk.

He is as big as an elephant, perfectly in scale
with the tree that rises into the clouds
and could contain cities. His presence confirms
I am at the place where a shaman-god
hung for nine days and nine nights,
sacrificing himself to himself.

Rattling his nuts, the squirrel of mischief
plunges into the Lower World ahead of me.
He is playing his old game, Wake the Dragon.
Fire and stink rise from the roots of the tree.
Earth shudders. The squirrel snickers in glee.
Ratatosk, Ratatosk, Ratatosk.
Here he comes back again.
He scurries up the tree, all the way to the top,
telling tall tales to anger the heaven bird
that keeps watch over all the worlds.

Dragon rises. Branches of the world tree
creak and groan as the eagle shakes out its wings
and comes down, talons eager for battle.
Between them, on a ledge in the tree world,
I see a man in a grey robe, with a broad-brimmed
grey wizard’s hat. There are birds on his shoulders
and a great company of birds all around him.
Lightning is with him. His eyes flash, his hands
spark white fire from the air. His form is never still.
He is the ancient of days, he is the magic man,
he is the young deer prince, antlered and horny.

As the dragon rises to join battle with the heaven bird,
he catches it by the throat with his left hand. His body
twists and buckles as he struggles to hold this power
and raise it. It is pulling him down, tearing him apart,
until he lifts his right hand, palm downward, and the eagle
lands on his wrist as the falcon returns to the falconer.

The balance is  made. The powers of above and below
are joined and turning together, evenly matched.
This is how the game of the world goes on.
The man with lightning eyes is calling me.
Come. Stand where I stand. See what I see.

I am drawn to him as the sparks fly upwards.
On his edge between the worlds,
my body stretches beyond itself,
my mind cracks open like the squirrel’s nuts.
Ratatosk, Ratatosk. There is a role for mischief.
And I have found the right place to stand.

-          October 17, 2014

From a vision while leading a group shamanic journey through the Tree Gate at the Hameau de l’Etoile, near Montpellier. We danced on the mythic edge all week, and my dreams and visions - like those of many in our gifted circle - often turned on Greek themes. But on a certain day, I was hurled deep into an indelible scene that seemed to come from the Nordic imagination.

Art "L'arbre et la brume" (c) Annick Bougerolle

Monday, September 30, 2019

Dream Brownies May be Authors...or Engineers

The novelist Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) described dreams as occurring in "that small theater of the brain which we keep brightly lighted all night long."
    Stevenson said of his now classic novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it was "conceived, written, re-written, re-re-written, and printed inside ten weeks" in 1886. The conception came in a dream:

"For two days I went about racking my brains for a plot of any sort; and on the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene afterward split in two, in which Hyde, pursued for some crime, took the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his pursuers."

His wife related picturesquely how one night Louis cried out horror-stricken, how she woke him up and he protested, "Why did you waken me? I was dreaming a fine bogy-tale!" She also related how he appeared the next morning excitedly exclaiming, "I have got my schilling-shocker -- I have got my schilling-shocker!"
    Stevenson wrote extensively about how his passion for writing interacted with his remarkable dreams and said that, from an early age, his dreams were so vivid and moving that they were more entertaining to him personally than any literature. He learned early in his life that he could dream complete stories and that he could even go back to the same dreams on succeeding nights to give them a different ending. Later he trained himself to remember his dreams and to dream plots for his books.
    Stevenson described the central role of dreaming and dreamlike states in his creative process in “A Chapter on Dreams”. During his sickly childhood, he was often oppressed by night terrors and the “night hag”.  But as he grew older, he found that his dreams often became welcome adventures, in which he would travel to far-off places or engage in costume dramas among the Jacobites.
    He often read stories in his dreams, and as he developed the ambition to become a writer, it dawned on him that a clever way to get his material would be to transcribe what he was reading in his sleep. “When he lay down to prepare himself for sleep, he no longer sought amusement, but printable and profitable tales.” And his dream producers accommodated him. He noticed they became especially industrious when he was under a tight deadline. When “the bank begins to send letters” his “sleepless Brownies” work overtime, turning out marketable stories.
    In his “Chapter on Dreams” (written in his house on Saranac Lake in upstate New York and published in Across the Plains) RLS gave a vivid depiction of his dream helpers.

“Who are the Little People? They are near connections of the dreamer's, beyond doubt; they share in his financial worries and have an eye to the bank-book; they share plainly in his training; they have plainly learned like him to build the scheme of a considerate story and to arrange emotion in progressive order; only I think they have more talent; and one thing is beyond doubt, they can tell him a story piece by piece, like a serial, and keep him all the while in ignorance of where they aim…
“And for the Little People, what shall I say they are but just my Brownies, God bless them! who do one-half my work for me while I am fast asleep, and in all human likelihood, do the rest for me as well, when I am wide awake and fondly suppose I do it for myself. That part which is done while I am sleeping is the Brownies' part beyond contention; but that which is done when I am up and about is by no means necessarily mine, since all goes to show the Brownies have a hand in it even then.”

He observed that  “my Brownies are somewhat fantastic, like their stories hot and hot, full of passion and the picturesque, alive with animating incident; and they have no prejudice against the supernatural.” – and have no morals at all.”

 A Railroad Baron’s Brownies

We may nod our heads over this and say, Well, there you go – that’s a writer’s imagination. Yet similar sources of inspiration are at work in the lives of innovators who might seem far removed from literature. 

    A case in point is one of the great financiers and railroad barons of nineteenth century America, one Arthur Stilwell. He made a fortune and lost it, but his name – as in Stilwell Financial - is still associated with Janus Mutual funds and the Kansas City Southern Railroad. And with a city he founded in Texas, Port Arthur, as a result of dream encounters with beings that, like Stevenson, he called Brownies. It took the city fathers of Port Arthur well over a century from incorporation (1898) to admit its origins. At the time of writing, the official city website contained the following statement:

The inspiration for Port Arthur's founding was novel; railroad pioneer Arthur E. Stilwell, who established the town, later wrote that the ideas for his railways and the location of his namesake city came from "brownies" who spoke to him.

   Stilwell himself kept quiet about these things until the end of his business career, concerned that his respectable investors would consider him a “nut” if he revealed that he was laying railroad track according to plans that were being given to him in his dreams.
   In 1921, Stilwell confessed that he had been visited in his sleep throughout his heyday by guides that (like Stevenson) he called Brownies. In dreams these beings gave him the plans for his railroads, the location and layout of the city of Port Arthur, and the spur to embark on many other business ventures, as well as ideas for books. Stilwell wrote: “There is no doubt in my mind that these messages come from the spirit world, and that this circle of spirits that communicates with me by this rare method is comprised of engineers, poets, and authors.”
    There’s that “committee of sleep” that Steinbeck invoked. In any life, we are likely to find it most lively when we are engaged in a creative task that fresh and risky, especially when that task is all but impossible. Greater challenges draw greater helpers, in and out of the dreamworlds.

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