Monday, June 29, 2020

Making Songlines



A song is bursting from me. I sit on a rise overlooking the coast, and sing the first couplet:

We are singing till we're flying

We are flying till we're swimming


Two more lines come to complete the verse:


We are swimming till we're traveling

into the Land

Another verse comes in an easy flow


We are sleeping till we're dreaming

We are dreaming for awakening

We're awakening for our homecoming

into the Land

A woman singer-songwriter is beside me now, carrying the melody in her lovely voice, laughing with me as I experiment with additional lines.


We are laughing till we're bouncing
We are bouncing till we're flying


I know what this is. It's a wing song, a journey song. I am excited to think that I can share it with the people who join me for adventures in the dreamtime and in the dream of everyday life.
    I know what the Land of the song is. It is a happy Otherworld, a land of heart's desire. And the song can help to take us there. We are making songlines.

I rise from by bed bursting with energy after less than three hours sleep, eager to record the song, to share it, and make art with it. I grab oil crayons and create the picture I call, "Making Songlines".

_

I found this report, dated April 22, 2013, in an old journal while preparing for a class I will lead in my current online course this week titled "Dreaming Songlines". My intention is to help participants  make soul maps of their life journeys, correlated to the physical places where they have experienced a powerful awakening or sense of belonging. We will be open to finding our own dream songs. In many traditional dreaming societies, a song birthed by a dream is a precious gift: a way to call on the spirits, to take off on shamanic journeys, and to follow the path of soul in this world and other worlds.

It is not too late to register for my current online video course, Adventures for Healing in the Dreamtime, in which we harvest insights and practices from twelve world traditions of dreaming. The full menu is here:  https://shiftnetwork.isrefer.com/go/ahdRM/mossdreams/


Art: Robert Moss, "Making Songlines"

 

Friday, June 26, 2020

In praise of Bear medicine


The Bear is the great medicine animal of North America and in Native tradition, the most powerful healers are those called by the Bear in dreams and visions. In ancient Europe, the Bear was the king of beasts, and there was a sacred kinship between bears and humans that we can trace from Paleolithic times.
     From caves, in southern France we have evidence that the oldest religious ceremonies conducted by humans may have centered on honoring the Bear.  In ancient Attica, girls danced in bearskins in honor of the goddess Artemis as the She-Bear, in rites of passage into womanhood. In northern Europe, warriors put on bear shirts in order to claim the fighting power of the bear. For the Lakota, who have many ways of approaching the sacred, the most powerful healers are said to be members of the Bear Dreamers Society, called to practice by the Bear spirit in direct encounters in dreams and visions.
    Most of us no longer live close to the bear in nature, but bears still appear in our dreams and we can find our way, as shamanic journeyers, to realms of the Medicine Bear and the Great Earth Mother. I was called to follow the path of a dream teacher and healer when I was required to reenter dreams in which a giant bear frightened me by coming inside my house.. When I found the courage to face the Bear and step into its embrace, I discovered that the Bear and I are joined at the heart by something like a thick umbilical, pumping life energy back and forth between us. The Bear told me it would show me what I need to heal and what others need to be healed. This promise has been fulfilled, again and again. I don’t hesitate to say that I owe my life to Bear medicine.
     In that early, primal encounter I thought of the Bear as male. Three decades later, I identify with Great Mother Bear, as nurturer and fierce protector. When I have been ill, Bear has often come spontaneously to doctor me, sometimes by opening my body and cleansing and renewing organs before replacing them. I have seen Great Mother Bear help people, again and again, to reclaim parts of heir vital soul energy that went missing in childhood when the world seemed to cold or too cruel. Our inner child often seems to trust the Bear more than the adult self.
     I wrote this poem to honor and celebrate Bear medicine:




Great Mother Bear

You feel her under your feet.
You enter her realm through the roots
of the tree that knows you.
She is endlessly nurturing, fertile and abundant.

She will nurse you and heal you as she cares for her cubs.
You can call on her blessing at any time,
once you have found the courage to enter her embrace.


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


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


Art: "Dancing with the Bear" by Robert Moss

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Ganesh Splash

Just for fun, from an old journal:

A woman reported a dream in which she watches three elephants bowing to me with deep reverence. Then they rise up and splash me copiously with water sprayed from their trunks. She has the feeling that this is to make sure I don't get puffed up over the honor they have given me. In her dream, I welcome this with laughter and joy.

I chuckled when I read this account, and also felt that little tingle that comes when life rhymes. About the same time she sending me her dream, I was spraying members of a workshop circle in Connecticut with salted water, my favorite psychic cleansing agent. Having given them their shower, I proceeded to splash myself with water from the same vessel.

There was another rhyme. That same morning, I shared or reported three unlikely and mildly embarrassing screw-ups in front of the group, of the kind that made it entertainingly clear that the leader was far from infallible.     

I felt confirmation, when I read the dream report, that I had received a trunk call from Ganesh, the elephant-headed form of the Gatekeeper beloved and honored in India. From now on, I think I'll add the term "Ganesh Splash" to my personal lexicon of the modes of meaningful coincidence. 

Ganesh Splash: An unlikely and mild embarrassment that prevents you from taking yourself too seriously (or allowing yourself to be guru-ized by others), produced with love and laughter.

 


Sunday, June 14, 2020

On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places

When he was 24, after spending several cold, wet weeks in Wick in Caithness in northern Scotland, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote an article “On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places”. He observed that “We see places through our humors as through differently colored glasses.” He declared that we can choose to find beauty in an “unsightly” place and when that’s too hard, “we may still embellish a place with some attraction of romance.”
     He used his imagination to bring color and drama to dull days and drab landscapes. He pictured heroes and villains behind a hedgerow and conjured the figure of Dick Turpin in “many an English lane”.  He wrote, “I have often been tempted to put forth the paradox that any place is good enough to live a life in, while it is only in a few, and those highly favored, that we can spend a few hours agreeably. For, if we only stay long enough we become at home in the neighborhood.”
    He recalls a moment of calm by the sea when a couplet in French into his mind

Mon coeur est un luth suspendu,
Sitot qu’on le touche, il resonne

"My heart is a hanging lute
As soon as it's touched, it responds"

The couplet is from “le Refus” by Pierre -Jean de Béranger.  Edgar Allan Poe borrowed it, changing mon to son,  as his epigraph for "The Fall of the House of Usher". 

RLS concludes that wherever you are, if you look for something to “please and pacify” you in the right spirit, you will find it.  This early essay seems to me to be well worth pondering in our strange times of pandemic, inside or outside,masked or unmasked.



“On the Enjoyment of Unpleasant Places” is reprinted in June Skinner Sawyers (ed) Dreams of Elsewhere: The Selected Travel Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson (Glasgow: The In Pinn, 2002).


Postcard: Wick, Caithness, a couple of generations after RLS' sojourn


Friday, June 12, 2020

Befriending the ugly dwarf

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

Saturday, June 6, 2020

A Medical Scientist Dreams with a God

Galen (128-210) was one of the greatest scientists of his time, and a pioneer of scientific methods of experiment. He was a prolific author in many fields, ranging from psychiatry to linguistics, from pathology to mathematics. He was court physician to Marcus Aurelius, able to influence the most powerful men in the Roman Empire. He doctored gladiators and enjoyed their company.
     He wielded his sharp mind like a scalpel and a digging tool, and was in many ways the model of Greek rationalism. Second only to Hippocrates, Galen is the most important person in the rise of Western medicine.
      He owed his career and, by his own account, his life, to dreams of a god. He was born in Pergamon, a highly civilized Greek city renowned for its library of 200,000 parchment books and its Asklepeion, a huge temple complex devoted to the healing religion of Asklepios. Galen’s father Nikon was one of the top architects in the city, and initially opposed his son’s desire to study medicine until his mind was changed by “vivid dreams” of the god. When he was twenty, Galen wrote, “Asklepios, god of my fathers, saved me when I had the deadly condition of an abscess.” The god directed him to perform a surgical procedure, opening an artery in his hand between his thumb and forefinger.
     He wrote some of his medical books under direction from Asklepios. When he was at the height of his career, the god cautioned him not to go on an eastern campaign with Marcus Aurelius. He may have won the emperor’s indulgence because Marcus Aurelius thanked the gods for granting him “assistance in dreams” and especially for showing him “how to avoid spitting blood and fits of giddiness.” Later in Galen’s writing career, Asklepios reproached him in a dream because he had not completed a treatise on the optic nerve; he then pushed himself to finish this work.
     As he recorded medical case histories, Galen paid close attention to the appearances of the god in diagnosing and prescribing for different ailments, and in facilitating direct healing. He was in no way superstitious. It would have been irrational, from his perspective, not to work with a friendly god who could fix the parts other medicine could not reach – and demonstrated this again and again.
     The surviving text of Galen’s essay On Diagnosis from Dreams shows his no-nonsense approach. He explains that dreams can provide accurate diagnosis because during sleep the soul travels inside the body and checks out what is going on. He notes the need to distinguish a somatic dream of this kind – for which he uses the word enhypnion – from other types, such as those that originate in waking thoughts and actions, or the prophetic dream (oneiros). He is especially interested in dream weather, believing that an excess of moisture or dryness, of heat or cold in a dream, will indicate the action that needs to be taken to balance a patient’s “humors”, or vital energies.
     He notes a cautionary example of how a dream warning was missed when a patient’s dream that one of his legs was turned to stone was interpreted symbolically instead of more literally. “This dream was interpreted by many skilled in these matters as a reference to the man’s slaves. However, contrary to all of our expectations, the dreamer became paralyzed in that leg.” 
    Galen prided himself on his ability to use his observation and intuition to diagnose emotional, as well as physical, problems. Called to treat a woman who was suffering from insomnia, he noticed that her pulse became wildly disturbed when the name of a handsome dancer, Pylades, was mentioned, but remained unaffected when he mentioned the name of a rival dancer. Galen diagnosed love-sickness. 
     And then there are the dreams where the god appears, to prescribe and to cure. Sometimes he does this by issuing prescriptions that might puzzle even the most adventurous physician. In one case reported by Galen, a “foreigner” came to the temple at Pergamon, in response to a dream, and had a visionary encounter with Askeplios in which he was directed to drink “a drug made from vipers”, and then smear the potion on his skin. This produced an ugly skin condition, which disappeared as the patient was healed. One scholar suggests that “viper” – echidne – should be read as “wild fig”, echinos, which certainly sounds less scary, but hardly less strange. [1] And we must never forget the vital importance of the “health-bringing snakes” in the Asklepian religion.
     One of the benefits of divine dreams, according to Galen, is that patients are more willing to comply with directions from a god than from a regular doctor. “In Pergamon we see that those who are being treated by the god obey him when on many occasions he bids them not to drink at all for fifteen days, while they obey none of the physicians who give this prescription.” [2]
     The god may also offer an Rx that addresses the whole person, rather than merely the symptom. Galen believed that this approach was at the heart of healing. In one of the most striking fragments from his works (many of which perished in a fire in the Temple of Peace – of all places – in Rome) he states, “We have made not a few men healthy by correcting the disproportion of their emotions.” Asklepios now appears as a power that restores balance in a life. He ordered some “to compose comic mimes and certain songs”, others to take up vigorous exercise including hunting, horse riding and martial arts to “arouse passion when it was weak” and to restore “measure” in the patient. [3]

 

We don’t want to miss the place of healing in Galen’s city of Pergamon, also well-known to his contemporary Aelius Aristides. The Asklepeion was on the south-western edge of the city, approached through a long colonnade. Those seeking health of body and mind entered a courtyard whose central feature was a white marble pillar adorned with the snakes of Asklepios. Beyond it, they moved through an arch into the sacred precinct. There was the round temple of Telesphoros – the Finisher – an enigmatic figure sometimes described as the son of Asklepios, but depicted as a hooded dwarf whose name and whose image carried the sense of nearness to death, the Finisher of human affairs. In the subterranean level of this temple, patients were immersed in purifying baths and rites of dream incubation took place.A passage led to the sacred well, and what went on here may give us a clue to the mystery of Bethesda.
     Aristides tells us that “this well is the discovery of the great magician who does everything for the safety of mankind.” For many it “is like a drug.” By bathing in it, the blind recover their sight; by drinking from it many are cured of chest trouble and regain “the breath of life.” The lame get up and walk. Some who drink from the well become prophetic. “For some merely drawing up the water has been like a means of safety.” [4]
    No surprise, then, that Galen not only reports dreams as clinical data, but includes an invocation to Askelpios when he administers medical treatment, as he did with these words for an emperor: “Be gracious, blessed Healer, you who made this remedy; be gracious and send your always gracious daughter Panacea to the Emperor, who will offer pure sacrifices for the freedom from pain which you can grant.” 

References

1. Steven M.Oberhelman, "Galen, On Diagnosis through Dreams" in Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 38 (January, 1983) p.38.
2. Emma J. Edelstein and Ludwig Edelstein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies (second edition, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Press, 1998).Testimony 401, p.202
3. ibid.,Testimony 413, 
pp. 208-9.
4. Aelius P. Aristides, Complete Works trans. Charles A. Behr (Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1981) 2 vols. 2:.237


ImageThe Healing of Archinus, ex-voto tablet, c. 370 BCE in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens. The tablet commemorates an act of dream healing in the shrine of Amphiaraos in the city of Oropos,on the border of Boeotia and Attica. The deified king of Argos, Amphiaraos, was credited with powers of healing and his cult, like that of Asklepios, featured dream incubation. On the right side of the tablet, the patient is asleep or dormant on a couch. In the left foreground, Amphiaraos, like a mortal physician, is treating the patient’s right shoulder. At the same time, a sacred snake is licking or biting the same right shoulder of the sleeping patient. Behind, on a pillar, a votive stele commemorates the god’s act of healing. The figure on the right may be a third representation of the patient Archinus,giving thanks for his healing.




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


Friday, June 5, 2020

Colors of the Simurgh


There are mythic beings that roost in the mind, ready to seize your imagination and carry you off on wild adventures: dragons, griffins and other fantastic beasts. Some may stay with you for a whole lifetime, and may remind you of other lifetimes. I can’t remember when I first heard the Persian name of the heaven bird known as the Simurgh, but I know I have heard its cry and felt the wind of its wings long before naming.  

Jorge Luis Borges was also fascinated by the mystical bird of Persian mythology. He wrote an essay reflecting on the mystery of how, in The Conference of the Birds, thirty birds become one bird, while the one bird is still thirty. He quotes these astonishing lines by his fellow-Argentine poet, Silvina Ocampo: 

Era Dios ese pájaro como un enorme espejo:
los contenía a todos; no era un mero reflejo.
En sus plumas hallaron cada uno sus plumas
en los ojos, los ojos con memorias de plumas
  

This bird was God, like an enormous mirror
that contained them all, and not a mere reflection.
In his feathers each one found his own feathers,
in his eyes, their eyes with the memories of feathers.[1]

When I found this, my memories stirred of one of the big dreams of my life. In the dream, half a lifetime ago, I found myself in a house on a canal, perhaps in Amsterdam. The house belonged to a magician. I sampled the rich library. On a large table in another room, under glass, I found an elaborate machine signed by Israel Regardie, who disclosed the secret rituals and "flying rolls" of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Upstairs, in the master bedroom, I found a Persian rug, lying on the bed. Still rolled and tied with strings, it seemed to have been recently delivered, and still unused, at least in this house. While I contemplated the rug, a shamanic teacher with whom I had studied entered the room behind me. He was immensely excited by the rug, wanting to know when it had been delivered and when and how I planned to use it.

I woke excited, with many questions. The first was: who is the owner of this house? Instead of speculating on this theme, I reentered the dream, with the aid of shamanic drumming, to make a full tour. I discovered what you might have guessed, had you heard my initial report. The house on the canal was my own, a place where I could explore my connections with many traditions of inner work and practical magic with which I appear to have connections across space and time. I went carefully through several volumes in the library. I examined the Golden Dawn machine. It was antiquated, with unnecessary Heath Robinson features, but still in fine working order.

Then I went up the stairs to the bedroom and unrolled the Persian rug. I marveled at the beauty of the design. It was woven in colors of blue and silver. At the center was the form of a great bird I knew to be the Simurgh. When I spread out the rug, the Simurgh rose and spread its great wings. I found myself instantly on its back. We made a wild ride across space and time. I was drawn into the world and the visions of the Magi, and saw Bethlehem as they visioned it. I found myself chanting ancient names in Farsi. My mind opened to memories of the Fravarti, the Choosers, spiritual knights of Persian tradition who make the choice to leave a higher world to come into this one to fight a good fight. 

 Over the years that followed my discovery of the Persian rug in the house on the canal, I received visitations in the twilight zone between sleep and awake that prompted me to deepen my study of Persian mystical traditions. A name that was mentioned again and again was that of Suhrawardi, the great medieval mystical philosopher. On a night that opened like a flower, I felt a radiant presence in my room.

 Rise from your body, and I will descend to you. 

I loosened physical focus without separating from the body. I had the impression of a handsome young man of Persian appearance, wearing modern clothes, a suit and a shirt with banded collar. He said that his name was Shams. He told me, “Suhrawardi is the key to your understanding of the dream cosmos,” and that I should use his geographies of the Imaginal Realm. “Go to Mount Qaf.” 

I read translations of Suhrawardi’s works, and books about him by the French scholar Henry Corbin. I read about a mystical journey through the realm of the moon to a tree bearing all fruits on a high peak of the world mountain, Mount Qaf. In that tree is the nest of the Simurgh. 

I stretched out on my bed, in an early dawn, and was transported into this scene: 

I am in a palace that is open to the winds, a place of soaring arches. It does not seem to stand on earth, but among the stars. It is roofless, open to the night sky, which is dark yet light at the same time, shimmering in every particle. There are twelve spacious rooms in the palace. Each contains marvelous musical instruments, shaped like butterfly wings. Some have multiple wings or leaves. They resembled stringed harps, yet the “strings” are so fine as to be invisible. Cosmic winds blow celestial harmonies through these wings of sound. I marvel at the beauty of these harmonies.[2]

In one of Suhrawardi’s visionary treatises, I found the Simurgh with its wind and music:
 

“This Simurgh flies without moving, and he soars without wings. He approaches without traversing space. All colors are from him, but he himself has no color. His nest is in the orient, but the occident is not void of him. All are occupied with him, but he is free of all. All are full of him, but he is empty of all, All knowledge emanates and is derived from his shrill cry, and marvelous instruments such as the organ have been made from his thrilling voice….His food is fire, and whoever finds one of his feathers to his right side and passes through the fire will be safe from burning. The zephyr is from his breath, hence lovers speak their hearts’ secrets and innermost thoughts with him.” [3] 

 I went on a quest to find an image of the Simurgh as it appeared on the magic carpet in my dream of the house on the canal. I found many pictures over the years, but failed to find the silver and blue heaven bird that took flight in my dream.


 I have Peter Sis' beautiful illustrated and simplified version of The Conference of the Birds, the long Sufi poem by Farid ud-din Attar that is our main source on the Simurgh and the mystery of the many who are one and the one who is many. There is a lovely picture of thirty birds joined in the form of a giant bird in full flight, but not the colors from my dream. [3] 

I mounted yet another online search and hit gold, or rather, silver. The mosaic in the photograph, from Bukhara, shows the Simurgh in the colors of my dream. 

For me, this sequence is important confirmation that we are called in dreams and dreamlike states to traditions and lineages that may be part of our larger, multidimensional story.  

References 

1.      "The Simurgh and the Eagle" by Jorge Luis Borges is one of his "Nine Dantesque Essays" reprinted in Selected Non-Fictions, edited by Eliot Weinberger (New York: Penguin, 2000). The Silvina Ocampo poem is Espacios métricos, 12.

2.      For more on own adventures in these realms, please see The Boy Who Died and Came Back chapter 38, "Flights of the Simurgh"

3.      Peter Sis, The Conference of the Birds (New York: Penguin Books, 2013)

4.      Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi, “The Shrill Cry of the Simurgh” in W.M.Thackson, Jr. (trans) The Mystical and Visionary Treatises of Suhrawardi (London: Octagon Press, 1982) p.88

 

Top pictureSimurgh in a mosaic on the wall of Nadir Divan-Beghi madrassah, Bukhara, Uzbekistan