Saturday, July 24, 2021

Hathor Gives Instructions for Traveling without Leaving Home


One of the gifts of dreaming is that we can travle without leaving home, a great benefit in shut-down times of pandemic.This is no secret for dream adventurers across history, who have understood that in dreams we make visits and receive visitations and can practice destination travel in dreaming in many ways. I have been looking again at a fascnating text from Egypt from 3300 years ago in which the goddess Hathor instructs a devotee on howhe can visit her sacred precint without stirring from the place where he is lying down. I'll give a translation or the text, with some commentary, after a few words about dreaming with Hathor in ancient Egypt.

Hathor was beloved of Egyptians, especially around her temple at Luxor (Thebes) towards the end of the 18th dynasty. It is from that time and place that we have retrieved the first non-royal accounts from ancient Egypt of direct interaction with the gods in dreams. Hathor, goddess of love, beauty and motherhood, also gave the promise of access to a happy afterlife in her embrace. She was associated with the cow, ripe and nurturing, and was depicted with a cow head or with cow ears.You did not want to meet her in her warrior mode, however, when she could become the take-no-prisoners Eye of Ra. Goddesses don't stay within a frame.

We have an inscription on a stela attributed to Ipuy, a master craftsmen who livd at Deir el-Media, honoring his direct vision of Hathor. This is the first recorded account of a non-royal meeting a deity in a dream in the vast history of ancient Egypt. It is a  very important landmark in the history of dreaming. Borrowing from the scholarly translations and commentaries, I have produced a fresh version of the key passages and given it the title:

 

Hathor placed joy in my heart

 

Give praise to Hathor who lives in Thebes
kiss the earth before her in all her forms…

On the day that I saw her beauty
my heart was spending the day at her festival
I beheld the Lady of Two Lands in a dream
and she placed joy in my heart
her food revived my energies…


The wonders of Hathor should be told
from generation to generation
the beauty of her face under the sky…
I am bathed and intoxicated by the vision of her
her father Amun shall hear all her petitions
when she rises in beauty
he crowned her with lapis lazuli  
and adorned her limbs with gold [1]

 

Ipuy describes a dream that seems to be something other than a sleep experience. His heart or mind (the hieroglyph jb can be translated either way) goes traveling, probably in the hypnagogic zone. Ipuy was a craftsman, possibly a sculptor, working with a construction crew on a royal tomb. 

While the inscription begins with generic praise of the goddess, its tone fast becomes intimate and personal, The goddess of beauty, love and motherhood places joy in his heart. He does not give us the details but we feel the stream of love and empowerment. She nurtures and nourishes him. 

Ipuy is not alone in his adoration of Hathor. We also have a stela inscribed for an overseer of the fields of the temple of Amun in his tomb in the village of Deir el-Medina, where Ipuy also resided. The name of the overseer is Djehutiemhab, which means "Jubilation of Tehuti" (a name for the god Thoth). 

Like Ipuy, the overseer was clearly dedicated to Hathor, who also gave the promise of access to a happy afterlife in her embrace. The stela he placed in the chapel of his tomb described how Hathor gave him specific instructions on how to visit the site without traveling there. The goddess’ own words are quoted, and we feel the force of the numinous. Here is part of the text. I have added a title.

 

See your place without traveling

A hymn of the golden one, Eye of Ra, 
who kisses the earth for her ka
A prayer to her beautiful face, applauding her every day...

 

He [Djehutiemhab] said:
“I have come before the Lady of the two Lands,
Hathor, Great of Love
Behold….your beautiful face
and I kissed the erth for your ka
I am a real priest of yours
and I am on the waters of your command.
I don’t cast aside the speech of your mouth
I don’t ignore your teacjings
I am upon the path which you yourself have given
upon the road which you have made.

How joyful it is when the one who enters your shadow
rests by your side!

 

[He now describes how she instructed him on how and where to construct his tomb chapel and blessed him with a full life]


You are the one who has spoken to me yourself
with your own mouth:


[Voice of Hathor]
“I am the beautiful Hely [a pet name of Hathor]
my shape being that of …mother
I have come in order to instruct you
See, your place – fill yourself with it,
without traveling north, without traveling south”


While I was in a dream
while the earth was in silence 
in the deep of the night

 

[He does what she says. Picturing himself in his tomb he concludes]

 

Place your face in order to let me bow down to it
Reward [me with] your beauty
that I may perceive your form within my tomb
in order to recount your power
in order to make young men know of it.[2]

 We notice that Djehutiemhab is in this dream “while the earth was in silence, in the deep of the night”. He is under the “shadow” of the goddess and “rests by her side”. Hathor instructs him in her own voice to travel to a place at a distance – or bring it go him -without moving his physical body. See, your place – fill yourself with it, without traveling north, without traveling south. Active dreamers can do that. Let's notice he is also rehearsing for the big journey that follows physical death. Never too late, or too early, to do that.


References

1.The text of the stela of Ipuy, dating from around 1300 bce, was first published by Helmut Satzinger with German translation: “Zwei Wiener Objekte mit bemerkenswerten Inschriften” in P. Posener-Krieger, ed., Mélanges Gamal Eddin Mokhtar (Cairo: Institut français d'archéologie orientale du Caire, 1985) 249-54.

2. The text from the stela of Djehutiemhab was first published by Jan Assman, with German translation, in "Eine Traumoffenbarung der Göttin Hathor” Revue d'égyptologie 30, 1978, 22-50.I have drawn on the English version and commentary by Kasia Maria Szpakowska in "The perception of Dreams and Nightmares in Ancient Egypt", Ph.D diss., (University of California Los Angeles, 2000) 226-232


Image: Beautiful Hathor in the Louvre. Photo by RM


What Is In Your Way May Be Your Way


The Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius did not live the life of an armchair philosopher and was not fortunate in the character of his family or the state of his beleaguered empire.  Nonetheless, in the midst of the fray, writing to establish and maintain a witness perspective on the broiling events around him, he formulated two principles in his Meditations that seem to me to be essential rules of life. The first is that our lives are dyed in the colors of our imaginations.

The second (in the excellent recent translation by Gregory Hays) goes 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.” In summary: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." [1]

What a magnificent invitation to upend our reflexive response to adversity and seek the opportunity in the obstacle and the gift in the challenge!

It’s not about telling yourself that it’s all good. It’s about making it good.

The obstacle in itself is less important than how we see it and respond to it. We have the power to choose our attitude and adjust our perception. Epictetus, another Stoic philosopher at the other end of the social spectrum from the emperor (as a former slave), counseled that when presented with an obstacle we need t step back and take a cool hard look: “Don’t let the force of an impression when it first hits you knock you off your feet. Say to it: Hold on for a moment, let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test.”

This may not be easy in storm of grief or rage or bitter disappointment that come in the face of a letdown, a wound, a loss, a shaming or betrayal. We may have struggle to rise to a witness perspective and see the larger picture. This gets easier when we adopt the practice of looking back on our lives to see if something good came out of a bad situation. 

The blocks we encounter on our roads - whether they are in ourselves, in our circumstances, or both - may be teachers and helpers, as well as part of life's cycles. A block can drive us to discover a new direction, spur us to develop new skills and courage and stamina, or lead us to look again at what really matters in life. We may find that obstacles we encounter on our life paths can save us from compounding mistakes, make us take a longer view of our issues - and encourage us to shift direction and notice better options.

We may even come to recognize that there is a hidden hand that places some of these obstacles in our way. If we can make the necessary attitude adjustments, we may find, like Marcus Aurelius, that what stands in the way becomes the way. 

Sometimes the speed bumps we encounter on the roads of life are just a sign to slow down. Sometimes they look like solid brick walls, or mountains set in our way. Sometimes we feel we have come to a door that won't open however hard we pound, or however many keys we try.

I once had exactly that sense, of coming to a door in my life that would not open. I believed that everything I most wanted lay behind that door. But I simply could not get through. Frustrated, exhausted by trying, I slumped into an easy chair one afternoon and suddenly had a spontaneous vision of my situation. I saw myself beating until my knuckles were bloody on a great oak door banded with iron. Yep, that's how it was. 

A little movie clip began to unfold in my consciousness. It was the kind of dream movie where you are not only the observer but can step right into the action. Slipping into the situation of my second self I felt a kind of prickling at the back of my neck. I turned - now fully inside the vision - to see an elegant but Trickster-ish figure beckoning to me from some distance to my right. He was standing in the middle of an archway. Behind him was a scene of great beauty, with a lovely house on a hill above orchards heavy with fruit and flowering trees in full blossom. I knew, in that instant, that everything I was seeking lay through this archway. 

As I moved towards it, and then through it, I turned to try to understand the whole story. I noticed two things. While with one hand, the Gatekeeper was beckoning me towards the archway of opportunity, with the other hand he had been holding the door that refused me firmly shut. Behind that door, was something like a jail cell, a place of confinement. I had been wasting my energies in a vain attempt to put myself into the wrong place.

I carried guidance from this vision, with its dramatic and objective perspective, into my life immediately. I abandoned work on a certain project and ended a certain professional relationship. I soon found myself, in a creative sense, in that wonderful place of the flowering trees.

I learned from this experience something I believe to be relevant to all of us at certain times of challenge in life. When you feel hopelessly blocked, check whether the block is actually a signal to choose a better way forward. Behind that seemingly insuperable block may be a beneficent power - which I call the Gatekeeper - who is opposing your progress on the path your everyday mind has chosen in order to get you to turn around and find a better way. Schopehauer wrote of how there can be a "conspiracy of fate" to prevent us from pursuing the wrong goals, He advised that "when fate opposes a plan with such obvious doggedness, we should give it up since. as it is unsuited to our destiny that to us is unknown, it will not  be realized and by wilfully pursuing it we simply draw down upon us the harder blows of fate until in the end we are again on the right track."[2]

This is only one of the ways in which our blocks may be our friends. We may be on the right path, but that path may include challenges that are necessary tests, requiring us to develop the courage and the skills to go forward. As Dion Fortune once put it, the block may be "thrust-block", like that used by sprinters at the start of a race. 

At every major threshold in our life journeys, we are likely to encounter some form of the Dweller at the Threshold, a power that challenges us to brave up and rise to a new level. Faced with such a challenge, and the inner resistance that comes with it, we have a choice. We can break down or break through. I am in favor of breaking through. Practice will teach us when that requires moving forward, despite the block, and when we need to shift direction and go around the block.

References

1. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations trans. Gregory Hays (New York: Modern Library, 2005) 60

2. Arhur Schopenhauer, "Transcendent Speculation on the Apparent Deliberateness in the Fate of the Individual” in Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philsophical Essays  trans E.F.J.Payne (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974.) 218




Text adapted from Growing Big Dreams: Manifesting Your Heart's Desires through Twelve Secrets of Imagination by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.


photo by RM

 

Friday, July 16, 2021

Invoked or uninvoked, gods are present

 


"I was just walking Zeus,” the lady dogwalker greets me on the sidewalk. “He’s in a very good mood today.”
     This is excellent news, even (or especially) if the Zeus in question is a large black lab mix. “God” is “dog” spelled backwards. Anyone who knows anything about gods knows that they don’t stay in one form.
     The mug on my desk has the motto, Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit. “Invoked or uninvoked, the god is present.” This is the inscription Jung carved over the entrance to his home on Lake Zurich. He found it in a text among the papers of Erasmus it is said to be a Latin version of an oracular message to the Spartans. My mug holds pens and pencils I reach for every day.
     Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous, goes that old saying. This is certainly the view of ancient and indigenous peoples, though they would prefer the plural version. The Stoics maintained that divination is possible because there are gods and they wish to communicate with humans. “If there is divination, there are gods; if there are gods, there is divination,” Cicero summarized the argument in his treatise De divinatione. [1]
     Living in the vicinity of Zurich, city of bankers and cuckoo clocks, and mentored by Freud, a self-declared atheist and skeptic, Jung invented a language of “archetypes” for public use, in place of the old talk of gods and spirits. But the old gods continued to dominate his imagination, and they even exerted a hold on Freud, who surrounded himself with an army of statuettes of deities from all over the ancient world and refused to travel without at least a platoon of these “old and grubby gods”. [2]
     When Jung speaks of archetypes as dynamic forces emerging from the collective unconscious and working effects in the mind and in the world, he is talking about powers that most human cultures have recognized as gods or spirits. In his essay "The Spirit of Psychology", Jung describes an encounter with the archetypes as an experience of the “holy”. He observes that it can be both healing and destructive and that no one who has gone through this experience remains unchanged. The archetypes are not subject to time and space.
     Canadian dream teacher Nance Thacker recalls, “When I was a kid I used to think the gods, goddesses and our ancestors were playing with us, setting up the scenarios and making bets as to what we'd do. Sometimes they'd slip us a little hint about something that was to come or give us a little nudge to remind us that they were there in the form of synchronicities, déjà vu and the like (though I didn't have words for the experience at the time).”
     Perhaps we need to return to the wisdom of the child, and the ancients. While the world around us is alive and spirited, it is also the playground or boxing ring for spirits whose home is in other realities. Some have been worshipped as gods, invoked as angels or feared as demons, and still are by many. A passage in the Puranas informs us that there are forty thousand orders of beings, humanoid to human perception, that are within contact range of humans. They may be friendly, hostile or inimical to humans and human agendas.
     For the ancients, the manifestation of a god did not necessarily remove the need to do some fact-checking or at least get a second opinion. There is a most illuminating story about this in the Odyssey. The hero Odysseus has survived sea monsters and sirens and the wrath of a sea god and is at last on his home island. But he has been away for ten years since the war he went to fight, and almost everyone believes he is dead. His palace is full of brutish and lustful men, suitors vying for the hand of his wife Penelope and with it, his kingdom. Their appetites are laying waste to his livestock, his wine cellar and his female servants.
     At the prompting of his constant guide, who is no less than the goddess Athena, Odysseus has disguised himself in the rags of a beggar, with a funny traveler's hat. He is mocked and scorned by the suitors and even some of his own retainers. Nobody recognizes him. They will find it hard to recognize him even when he shows himself in a different form. His homeland seems stranger to him than the magic realms from which he has returned. He must be asking himself, Which is the dream? He may be wondering whether he is dead.
    He spends a sleepless night, tossing and turning.  The "man of many ways" is seeking a way to expel the suitors who have taken over his home. But they are many and he is one, and even if he finds the way to kill them all, their kinsmen will come to take revenge. The goddess Athena now appears to him in mortal form, "swooping down from the sky in a woman's build and hovering at his head". She wants to know why he is still awake, fretting and exhausting himself. Why does he distrust her when she assures him that he will gain victory that day? Athena promises that "even if fifty bands of mortal fighters closed around us, hot to kill us off in battle" — because she is with him.
     Athena "showered sleep across his eyes", but when Odysseus wakes, on the morning of Apollo's feast day, even the promise of a goddess is not enough. He wants further signs. He speaks to the All-Father, Zeus. "Show me a sign." In fact, Odysseus asks for two signs, "a good omen voiced by someone awake, indoors" and "another sign, outside, from Zeus himself."
     He is answered at once by a great roll of thunder, out of a clear blue sky.
     Then he hears a "lucky word" from a woman grinding grain inside the halls. Hearing thunder from a cloudless sky, the woman recognizes a sign from Zeus. She speaks aloud to the king of the gods:

Sure it's a sign you're showing someone now.
So, poor as I am, grant my prayer as well;
let this day be the last, the last these suitors
bolt their groaning feasts in King Odysseus' house! [3]
 

    The twin oracles — from the sky and from overheard speech — harden Odysseus' resolve, and the scene is set for the astonishing slaughter of the suitors under the rain of arrows from the bow that none but the hero (and his son) can bend. In the Fagles version, Book 20 of the Odyssey is given the title "Portents Gather", and it is a good one. Here we see oracles speak in ways the Greeks observed closely and valued highly: through brontomancy, divination by thunder, and by listening for kledons, overheard speech or sound. 
    In the Odyssey, as in ancient Greek society, dreams and visions are the most important mode of divination. Yet our understanding of dreams may be deceptive, as Penelope explains in Book 19, when she speaks of the since-famous gates of ivory and horn. So even when blessed by a direct encounter with a goddess, the hero turns to the world around him for confirmation.
    Consciously or unconsciously, we walk on a kind of mythic edge. Just behind that gauzy veil of ordinary understanding, there are other powers, beings who live in the fifth dimension or dimensions beyond. To them, our lives may be as open as the lives of others would be to us if we could fly over the rooftops — and nobody had a roof on their house and we can look in and see it from every possible angle.
   A kairomancer [5] is always going to be willing to look for the hidden hand in the play of coincidence, and to turn to more than one kind of oracle to check on the exact nature of the game.




Text adapted from Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Picture: Athena counsels Odysseus. From red-figure pelike c.450 B.C. in Staatliche Museen, Berlin.


References

1. Cicero, Cicero on Divination: De Divinatione, Book 1 trans. David Wardle (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 2006) 108.

2. Janine Burke, The Gods of Freud; Sigmund Freud’s Art Collection. (Milford Point NSW: Knopf Australia, 2006)

3. C.G. Jung, "The Spirit of Psychology". English translation of Der Geist der Psychologie in Joseph Campbell (ed) Spirit and Nature: Eranos Yearbook 1954 (Princeton NJ: Princeton Universty Press, 1954). 

4. Odyssey Book 20, lines 128-131 trans. Robert Fagles (New York: Penguin Books, 1997)

5. A kairomancer [my coinage] is someone skilled in divination by special Kairos moments of opportunity and synchronicity.

 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The price of Fox's secret


The Little Prince is sad. He has left his planet and the rose he cared for. Now on Earth, he is devastated to find there are thousands of roses, when he thought his was unique.
    He meets a strange, pretty animal that greets him from under an apple tree. It is a fox.
    The Little Prince asks the fox to play with him. Fox tells him, "I cannot play with you because I have not been tamed."
    The Little Prince does not know the meaning of this word "tamed".
    He has to ask three times before the fox tells him that "to be tamed" is "to establish ties."
    How is that done? It takes time, the fox instructs. If the Little Prince wishes to tame him, he must meet him in the meadow at a certain time every day and sit at a certain distance. Each day, the Little Prince may move a little closer. In this way, the fox is eventually tamed and is able to reveal the secret of life.


It's a lovely story, from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's beloved fable The Little Prince, known to most of us from childhood. The secret the fox is about to give is one of the great moments of clear and simple revelation in world literature. But he can only give it when he has been "tamed".
     Now it seems improbable that any fox would ask to be tamed in the sense of being house-broken or put on a leash or made to obey commands. The critical word "tamed" is a correct, but imperfect, translation of Saint-Exupéry's original term apprivoisé. In French, “to tame” an animal (or person) in the sense of making them submissive is dompter; to turn something wild into a domesticated being is domestiquer.
     Apprivoiser
has a different lilt. In early medieval French usage, it means to make something  less savage (but not domesticated), to make something alien more familiar. For the poet-prince Charles d’Orléans, apprivoiser is to make someone gentler, softer, more tractable. The fox tells the Little Prince that the way to bring this about is créer liens, to make links or ties.
      Synonyms for apprivoisier might include “to gentle” or “to befriend”. As the fox uses the word, it is about establishing the kind of connection that will make your relationship unique.  Once gentled (apprivoisé) the fox is no longer one of a thousand foxes that hunt chickens and are pursued by hunters; he is your special friend. Once a rose has befriended you, it is no longer one of a hundred thousand roses; it is your rose.
     “Here is my secret,” the fox, befriended, says to the Little Prince. “It is very simple. You can only see clearly with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes."
     Fox has two more secrets, all of them things that humans have forgotten.
    “It is the time you lost for the sake of the rose that made the rose so important.”
    Then, never to be forgotten: Tu deviens responsible pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé. “You are responsible, forever, for everything you have gentled. You are responsible for your rose.”

I think of an old white oak, a tree that I know that knows me. Its image shines in my mind as the Little Prince’s rose shines in his. When I need to know whether other thoughts or visions are to be trusted, I sometimes let the oak rise and rustle in my inner senses, to confirm or caution.
    I think of the red-tailed hawk who dropped from the sky to guide me and, as I came to know, to do something more: to befriend me and, in its own wildness, to gentle me.
Elle m’a apprivoisé.    
    I think of how Death has come to me, over and over, in personal guise, sometimes as a Hindu god who speaks in the accent of an Oxbidge-educated maharajah. In gentling me, Death has found it amusing to play the gentleman. Now I see the brilliance of the French translators of The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead in devising the title Apprivoiser la Mort par le Rêve for my book. “To Gentle Death through Dreaming.”  

Available from Éditions AdA

Graphic: Watercolor by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from Le Petit Prince

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Star Rover: Jack London’s Astral Adventures


The more tightly the prisoner in Jack London's novel is confined, the more freedom he finds for astral travel into other lives in other times.

I just read a curious novel by Jack London titled The Star Rover. I looked for it thirty years ago, to add to a collection of astral travels I drew from in Dreamgates, but couldn't find the text back then. I did find George du Maurier's novel Peter Ibbetson, in which a prisoner manages to leave his body in his jail cell to meet his lover in many locations. A peculiarity of du Maurier's romance is that the lovers can only meet in a conterpart version of a place that one or both of them has visited in ordinary reality.

The prisoner in The Star Rover is not hampered by any such restrictions, though he does not have a constant lover and can't even be sure where he is going on any occasion when he leaves his body and his cell. Jack London'ts character is  a professor of agronomy, Darrell Standing. He is in solitary confinement in San Quention, having been sentenced to life for murdering a fellow-professor under circumstances that are not explained until near the end. He is sentenced to death, while in jail, for punching a guard. A sadistic warden believes a false report that Standing  knows the location of dynamite smuggled into the jail as part of a plot for a mass escape and has him tortured, eventually by having him strapped into a strait jacket for as long ten days at a time.  The pain is excruciating until he learns to travel beyond the body.  

In his first days he distracts himself by “a method of mechanical hypnosis”, focusing his attention on a piece of straw from his pallet placed so light strikes it. “I stared myself unconscious by means of a particle of bright, light-radiating straw.” This frees him to travel in a dreamlike state for a while. In his spontaneous dreams, he is also out and about, giving lectures and attending seminars as if he is still a professor, planning an ideal farm according to his ideas about the most efficient use of land.  

“But these were dreams, frank dreams, fancied adventures of my deductive subconscious mind. Quite unlike them, as you shall see, were my other adventures, when I passed through the gates of the living death and relived the reality of the other lives that had been mine in other days.”

A veteran of solitary confinement, knuckle-tapping through the wall, becomes the professor’s mentor in travel beyond the body. This method starts by willing the body dead so it can be left behind like a corpse. “The trick is to die in the jacket” – says Morrell – “to will yourself to die...The thing you must think and believe is that your body is one thing and your spirit is another thing. ..You don’t need any body.” 

In a spirit of “empiricism”, as he insists, the professor learns to will his body dead. He starts with one of his little toes, seeing and feeling it become lifeless. When he works his way up to his head there is an explosion of light and he is out among the stars. Soon he discovers that from starry space he can plunge into vividly sensory adventures in different bodies, in different times. His experiences are different from those of his mentor. While Morrell remains himself when he is out of the body, dropping in on people and places he knows in the San Francisco Bay area, Standing may find himself in any time and location. The increasingly emaciated body in the jacket feels no pain or thirst while he is away. 

He can never seem to control where he goes. He simply finds himself in another body, in a certain environment, generally full of danger and sometimes romance. He is a boy in a wagon train in the dust bowl, facing the combined attack of Indians and Mormons, and dies with all his family. He is a hermit in a desert cave, a follower of the heretic Arius. He is often a blond beast: for example, a Norseman in a Roman force under Pontius Pilate, or a Viking-like English adventurer in the South Pacific who goes to Korea and wins the love of a princess. And so on and on. Just when the reader may start to wonder whether he experienced life as a woman, he says that he has, again and again. “I have been woman born of woman. and borne my children.” But he omits details. 

“Through these five years of death-in-life I managed to attain freedom such as few men have known,” he declares. “Yet I have never been able to guide any journey to a particular destination." The professor bounces around the world map and across calendar years in these experiences. He tries to pull together stories of other lives with a beginning, middle and end as he edits a supposed memoir while waiting to meet the hangman.

Lovers of Jack London's more famous adventure yarns won't be disappointed by the vivid description of many landscapes and all the action scenes. London must surely be writing from some personal experiences, though I'll bet he also heard from former convicts who got out and about from their cells through some kind of astral projection. His descriptions of the jacket used for punishment at San Quentin were  based on interviews with a former convict named Ed Morrell, who spend five years in solitary confinement. London became an advocate for Morrell's pardon and aftre his release Morrell was often a guest at the novelist'Beauty Ranch.

In The Star Rover (published in Britain as The Jacket) London seems to be pushing a message about prison reform rather than about spiritual evolution or transformation. However, there is vigorous confirmation that spirit is not confined to the body and doesn't perish with it, and that we have lived in many times - and can step into any of these dramas if we have a way to leave the body behind. “The spirit is the reality that endures. I am spirit, and I endure.”  

As his date with the gallows draws near, London's character gives us Pascal: “Pascal somewhere says, “In viewing the march of human evolution, the philosophic mind should look upon humanity as one man, and not as a conglomeration of individuals.’” Nothing about bardo states of transition between all these lives. After a few pages of nostalgia for women he has loved in different bodies, he flings this assertion to the stars: “After the dark I shall live again, and there will be women.”




 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

In praise of bricolage


I've given up trying to translate the marvelous French word bricolage, sometimes rendered as "tinkering". It's about putting together bits and pieces on a whim, rather than approaching a project as a solid, stolid work of engineering. It's about following oneiric logic rather than plans and structures.
     Claude Lévi-Strauss,who made the word at home in French, found that this approach is central to the making of myths and the workings of "the savage mind". In his celebrated book La pensée sauvage he observed that the bricoleur employs "devious means". His game is "always to make do with whatever is at hand, that is to say with a set of tools and materials which is always finite and is also heterogeneous because what it contains bears no relation to the current project, or indeed to any particular project, but is the contingent result of all the occasions there have been to renew or enrich the stock or to maintain it with the remains of previous constructions or destructions."[1]
     Found objects, junk shops, storage basements, words overheard from strangers...these are materials for bricolage. So are your journals. I love to go through old journals plucking out curious and shiny things and arranging them on fresh pages. I was encouraged to learn that this was a regular practice for Thoreau, a dedicated journal keeper. He liked to forage through old journals plucking out promising bits and pieces - observations in nature, quotes from his reading, dreams and reflections. He copied excerpts and married them up as fresh drafts. It became his habit “to work back over his journals…to reengage old subjects in the light of new interests, to revise and recopy his own earlier journal work,measuring, weighing, culling and sorting his materials…taking up earlier threads, reweaving and combining them.”[1]
     For any writer, as for Thoreau, it opens treasuries of material and above all it supports the writing habit. Playing around with old notes removes the terror of the blank page. When you dip into an old journal, you are never at a loss for a theme. The simple processes of selection, arrangement and retitling will fire the imagination. Before you know it, you’ll be in the midst of writing something new. However, the practice of journaling from journals is not only for writers. It is a marvelous tool for self-observation, for life navigation, and for constructing a personal encyclopedia of symbols.  
     Ah, but what is best is the pure bricolage. I might start working through old journals with a specific agenda, using the search engine to pull up items from my digital files, arranging materials in orderly folders, setting production schedules. Then I am distracted or enchanted by a note I made after a concert:

Barber's Adagio for Strings: The sad and lovely waves of sound carried me effortlessly into vision: of an island in the mist, of the grace of swimming swans, and the loneliness of a solitary swan, of a bright winged being towering above the many-colored waters. Meeting me halfway in the crossing, the swan prince made me know what is required to be enfolded in his knowing. I remember how Aengus, dream god and love god, took the form of a swan.

or a quote that stuns me awake:

Plotinus on the personal guardian: "“Our guardian is the power immediately superior to the one we exercise, for it presides over our life without itself being active…Plato truly said that ‘we choose our guardian’, for, by the kind of life that we prefer, we choose the guardian that presides over our life.’

or a dream of any kind, calling me into fields of memory, mystery and delight:

The Thumbelina Exchange: A young woman has mastered the art of entering another universe by becoming incredibly small.This may have been intentional; she may have wished herself out of her life situation, at least for a fling. Not clear if she is able to return at will.

Soon the pleasure of simply playing with my finds as they come up and come back, takes over. I forget my agendas, and play with the pieces that catch my eye, arranging and fitting them together without expecting them to snap into prearranged place like a jigsaw puzzle. I don't count on it, I don't try to program it, but I am open to finding again that it is in these moments of dickering and tinkering and playing without thought of consequences that fresh and unexpected creation bursts through, as I once saw an apple tree rise from an abandoned core in a heap of compost.  



References
1. Claude Lévi-Strauss, La pensée sauvage (Paris: Plon, 1962)
2. Robert D. Richardson Jr., Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986)

Friday, June 25, 2021

Walking a Dream

 


Jung said that one of the things he liked to do with a dream was to “circumambulate” it, wander around it, considering it from many angles. He liked to do this while in physical motion, wandering around his house on the lake, through the garden, into the woods.

This is a grand way to get greater perspective on a dream. Walking with a dream for a while, you may find that more of the dream narrative returns to you. You are almost sure to get commentary of some kind from what you notice playing around you, wherever you happen to be going.

You may find that both inner and outer perceptions accomplish what a dreaming people of central Africa say we must do with a dream. Like other cultures that value dreaming, the Yansi of Zaire have special words for dreamwork practice. According to anthropologist Mubuy Mpier, the Yansi share dreams every morning, and the core of their approach to dream exploration is embodied in the term a bumi ndoey, which means to “turn a dream.” [1] The teaching is that we need to turn a dream carefully, as we might lift a great rock, to see what is underneath, on the side that is not initially visible.

It’s not only a matter of letting the world illuminate the dream; it’s a case of letting the dream illumine the world. “We do not always have only to sit with closed eyes, moving around in our heads, to draw closer to an image. We can put it in our pocket and carry it with us throughout days and nights,” as Mary Watkins wrote in her passionate appeal for us to let images speak to us and through us. “You not only see different things, you see things differently” when you are seized by poetic imagery, poet and scholar Kathleen Raine observed.

One of the things we want to do when we are walking a dream is to notice when it starts to play out in the world around us. There might be a considerable time gap between the dream and its unfolding in the world, so patience and a decent memory — assisted by your journal! — may be required. When a dream does begin to manifest in external reality, let an alert flash on your inner control panel. In my mind, the default version is: Dream Playing Out Now.

When the dream starts playing out, you have several options. They are not mutually exclusive. If there is no sense of danger and the original dream left you feeling happy and confident, you may be content to let the dream play again and enjoy it with all of your senses. Maybe you’ll find that a sense of “rightness” comes with this: that you have made the right choice, that you are in the right place, that at last you have found the right friend or lover or teacher. If you had a darker sense of the dream — if it involved risk or danger — you will want to be poised to change the script, solve a problem, avoid that accident or that drama at the office.

As a dream plays out in exterior reality, you may notice that its symbolism is now alive in your world. This can become a whole education on how to refresh and renew our perspectives on what is a dream and what is real. We need to take dreams more literally and waking life symbolically.

A dream may be fairly literal in the sense that it reveals something that is happening or will happen in the future in the ordinary world. Yet when the dream is enacted, we see that there is symbolism in the physical event. So a literalistic dream can point to a symbolic play in the outer world. Let’s consider an example.

A man I will call Yves dreamed that his ring finger was cut off in an accident. There was blood and pain, and he saw the splintered bone, and woke with feelings of dread and fear. When he brought the dream to me, I asked very early, as is my practice, whether it was possible that he could lose a finger in a literal accident, maybe cutting or slicing something. Did his work involve such risks? Well, yes, it did. He worked part-time pruning vines on a hillside in southern France, where he lived. He agreed that he would need to be more watchful about how he handled the secateurs.

We proceeded to discuss the symbolic levels of the dream. Hard to miss the significance of losing the ring finger in terms of a relationship. He was not married, but he had a live-in partner and felt her interest had begun to stray. This brought in the Freudian bit. Did the loss of “tall man” — the middle finger — speak of a decline in sexual performance?

Yves walked with his dream. Within the week, it began to play out when he made a false move while working in the vineyard. He only narrowly managed to avoid cutting off his own finger with the pruning shears. It was the ring finger, as in the dream. The partial fulfillment of his terrible dream led him to confront the symbolic issues. He sat down with his partner. She told him, with the sexual candor for which the French can be notable, that she was dissatisfied with his sexual performance and had already taken another lover. They agreed to separate.





[1] Mubuy Mpier, “Dreams Among the Yansi” in E.M.Jedrej and Rosalind Shaw (eds) Dreaming, Religion and Society in Africa (New York: E.J.Brill, 1992) 100-1110



Text adapted from Sidewalk Oracles by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Photos by RM