Friday, October 30, 2009

Einstein's probability bundles

When we go dreaming, we travel through the curtains of our everyday understanding, beyond the walls of our physical reality; we get out there. Through synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, the powers that live in that deeper reality come probing or poking through the veils, and sometimes this brings us awake to the hidden logic of events and the reality of a world-behind-the-world.
     Since posting my recent dream of the Synchronicity Beast, I've been thinking of other dreams that have influenced my understanding of these things. I recorded one of the most important at the end of 2003. In this dream my mentor is Einstein. He has appeared in a number of my dreams, talking in a stage German accent, sometimes at machine-gun speed, about such things as the physics of time travel and the code of the I Ching. 
    I have retained a healthy skepticism about whether my dream Einstein could possibly be connected to the great scientist, since I have a hard time wrapping my head around the simplest principles of physics. Whoever my dream Einstein may be, behind the familiar mask, he does have interesting things to reveal and to teach about the nature of multidimensional reality. Here is my 2003 report, exactly as I recorded it in my journal:

December 30, 2003
At Play Among the Manifestations of Time

A passage opens, like a long cylinder lined with silver and bronze-colored rods, angling up into the sky. As I speed up through it - shooting up effortlessly - I become aware that I am about to encounter someone who can instruct me on the workings of time and the content of the future. I come out high above the ground and look up at a huge revolving structure, something like a Ferris wheel on its side. At the end of each spoke is a different object, or rather bundle of objects. As the wheel revolves, I notice that the spokes go up and down at all angles, making the general shape of a sphere.
     At the hub of the wheel is "Einstein". He appears with his wild fluffy hair, in rumpled clothes, as he has appeared in other dreams. From the center, he works an engine that enables him to toss down bundles from the ends of the spokes. As one spoke dips, another rises, producing a seesaw effect. As the bundles fall to earth, Einstein instructs me that this is how the unfolding of events in time actually takes place: not in the serial fashion that is a concession to the limited human mind, but in the releasing of probability bundles, packages of time + energy whose contents will be unfolded over a certain period. The unfolding of events will be influenced by the dropping of subsequent probability bundles.
    When I notice a riff of coincidence - things popping up that you know are connected, though there is no causation involved on the physical plane - I think of those probability bundles, fired from another world into this one, to burst across our space and time like multidimensional pinatas. The world "quantum" means "bundle" or "packet", so this image may be a clue to how quantum effects are manifested on a human scale.
     What I like best about the dream image is that the machine that fires the probability bundles closely resembles something you might find in an amusement park, evoking a game greater than the ones we spend most of our lives playing. Heraclitus said (fragment XCIV) that life in time (aion) is governed by a child at play (pais paizon) moving pieces in a game (pesseuon) on another level of reality. The child is also a king. Classical scholars wrangle over how to translate the word pesseuon in this tricky text. Are the pieces in play something like dice? Dream Einstein has the solution: they are probability bundles.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Synchronicity Beast bursts into the world

I recorded just one short dream report from last night:

My dreamspace is filled by a great animate power of synchronicity. It is growing bigger and bigger, until it bursts into the physical world, like a great Mother Bear with many cubs. While most people can't see her, they'll find the tracks she leaves, mysterious but meaningful, and for at least a moment they'll slip free from linear understanding into the dream logic of the world-behind-the-world where synchronicity is born and grows, again and again, until it has to burst into everyday reality.

I was thinking about this, walking in the park and watching red and gold leaves skittering away in a moody wind, when my BlackBerry throbbed in my pocket. I found a fresh email from Robyn Johnson, a poet, photographer and teacher of Active Dreaming who lives on the edge of a nature preserve on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.
She included the photos above, with this report: "Look who came strolling into our backyard from the neighboring preserve! Yesterday I was working on my computer just before dusk and looked up to see this mama and her two cubs. They nosed around exploring and then came up towards the house.
"When I grabbed my camera and slipped out onto our deck, mama called to her babies and scooted off into the preserve. I’m sure they’re around for the free salmon dinners being served up daily compliments of the coho, in the bay. It was a day of synchronicities. When I looked up to see these magnificent beings I was writing an email to my daughter congratulating her for a breakthrough story she wrote about her dreaming. It was also my mother’s 94th birthday.
"I awoke this morning singing our Bear Song. What a thrill seeing those three bears."
I shared Robyn's sense of blessing. The timing of her message, with the three bears, seemed lovely confirmation of what I had dreamed, about the synchronicity beast growing bigger and bigger until it simply HAS to burst into the world, perhaps for a salmon dinner...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Around Samhain

It 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.

"I always quote myself," said Oscar Wilde, "it adds life to the conversation." In the passage above, I am quoting my own Dreamer's Book of the Dead. I have noticed, recording my own dreams and reviewing those of hundreds of others sent to me privately or posted at our forum at over the past week, that many of us already seem to be dreaming towards Halloween/Samhain.
In my own dreams last night, I attended what at first seemed to be a festival of new wine in an Old World setting, with people dancing around merrily with open containers, drinking freely and sloshing wine on the earth for the spirits, and over each other. As we danced under a vine-draped arch, I noticed an animal skin overhead and assumed it was a wineskin. The neck was chopped off and wine splashed down over us. Laughing, the dancers leaned back their heads to catch the gushing liquid in their mouths. But as I was embraced by a woman like an Earth priestess in the clearing, I noticed that the "wine" on our skin felt sticky, and wondered whether we had been drenched by the blood of animal sacrifice, as in the old times.

I dreamed I woke up

I dreamed I woke up.
In this waking life my thoughts
are agate points and deep lagoons
that make ancient cities and heroes
and bust dakinis out of lunch boxes.

Everything is alive when I am awake.
I remember to swim in air
and fly in water, and ride moon-tigers
to the Moon Cafe, and the light in my head
is the light of the blue-white star.

I went back to sleep in a world
of fewer voices and more noise. Out here
in mossy woods, sleep life is pleasant.
It's good to watch a cedar shake her frills,
good to be surprised by lime on watermelon.

There are days I don't want to wake up.
Then there are days of pain and lost delight,
city days caught in time and trivial stories
when I forget that I am asleep
and can change the game if I awaken.

I cannot say whether the person writing this
is asleep in the world, or awake in the dream.
The photo is of the yurt at Mosswood Hollow, the magical retreat center in the woods near Seattle where I wrote this poem and often lead advanced programs.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A daimon of Luna

Do you believe in the man in the Moon?

No, not the face people imagine in the shadows of the craters, which is really the Great Rabbit, or Lunar Hare. Nor do I refer to those artful pictures, ever popular on greetings cards and in children’s stories, that add a nose and a grin and a wink to the crescent moon.

I am speaking of something altogether different. I am inquiring whether you know anything (for worthwhile beliefs can only stem from knowledge) of the beings who live in the Moon. I am well aware that since humans in clumsy space suits first walked on the Moon, it has been commonly believed that the Moon is an astral desert, empty of organic life. This is merely a modern superstition, founded in the confusion of different orders of reality. Beyond appearances, the Moon is thickly settled. Its inhabitants do not live on the Moon in the way you live on the Earth. They cannot be found on the lunar surface from which astronauts and robots pick rock samples. The lunar population lives in the Moon, which is to say, in the Sphere of Luna, a frequency domain located a little – just a little – beyond the realm you can touch and smell and taste with your ordinary senses.

I know what I am talking about, because the Moon is my home. If you chance to meet me tonight, because you happen to be looking up at the bright face of the Moon from under just the right tree at just the right time, or because you travel to my world on the wings of a dream, it’s quite likely you might see me as the man in the Moon, or at any rate a man in the Moon. I find it generally convenient, in my dealings with humans, to show myself as a human male, taller than average, with what I conceive to be a commanding – though not overbearing presence – exquisitely tailored in a mode that is rarely encountered on Earth outside Jermyn Street and one or two most particular establishments in Buenos Aires. Yet I must disclose, at the beginning, that "man in the Moon" is a misnomer.

I live in the Moon, but I am not a man. I am a daimon. I have lived very close to men, so close that I have sometimes forgotten my true identity. But I belong to a different and more ancient order of beings. When you turn to books, you will find the word daimon has several spellings. I prefer the oldest version, an accurate transliteration from the Greeks, who were close observers of traffic to and from my realm. Their witches – especially in the wild northern reaches – were adept at the dangerous art of drawing down spirits from the Moon. The most excellent shaman-philosopher, Plutarch, studied deep in our academies before he took up permanent residence and joined the faculty of one of our finest schools. Plutarch’s essay on the Sphere of Luna, De facie quae in orbe lunae apparet remains the best travel guide to our realm outside the closed stacks of the Magic Library.

Do please be careful with the word "daimon" now it is in the air, darting around you on dragonfly wings. Words have the power to call things into manifestation, and bring creatures from one world into another. You don’t want to say "daimon" out loud the wrong way; this can produce unpleasant effects, and sometimes unwanted visitors. To call me a "demon" would be extremely rude. I did not mind being called a "demon" in demotic Greek in the age of Cleopatra, but since then a fog of fear and confusion spread by the morbid imaginations of the Dark Ages has made that version quite unusable.

Note: My post on "Bombing the Moon" triggered a lively discussion of how we can establish the reality of intelligent beings in the astral realm of Luna. There is really no substitute for direct interaction, when that is possible and timely. So I thought I would post this excerpt from one of my early conversations with a daimon of Luna who - over the nine years since I recorded this not unamusing statement - has been an excellent guide to the realm where he has resided, by his account, for a very long time. He counsels that this is not the time for humans to make uninvited visits to Luna; many of the residents are quite angry over the fact that a human agency (NASA) targeted and fired on the Moon. Though the physical impact was trivial, this apparently added to a deep-seated suspicion of humans.
The graphic: "Nocturnal Float" by artist and dreamer Michele Ferro, who recorded a dream in which humans fired on the Moon - with devastating consequences - in June 2003, and posted it at our forum over at a month before NASA shot rockets into a crater near the lunar south pole. Here is Michele's dream report:
Mankind blew up the moon. Not completely, but all that remained was a craggy charred clump. Something "bad" was happening in the world so that the "experts" felt it was necessary. Many of us were against this action and protested, argued, prayed, and did what we could think of to prevent it but we did not succeed. And of course, as it turned out, things in the world were even worse now. I knew that if you peered through a telescope there were strange squiggly masses in the sky that were headed toward the earth from the moon.
I stood alone at the top of a snow-capped mountain in the late afternoon and looked at the moon - black, charred and destroyed - in a bright blue sky. I reflected that someday it would be a myth that it was once white and round and full. I wondered how the cycles would look now and how the tides would be affected. I also started to see advertisements reflected into the sky that angered me greatly.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pink Jaguar and other delights

October 15
Classic Car
I am driving a vintage Jaguar, with a woman companion. This is a classic car, from the 1950s or earlier, and it is pink (skin-pink or powderpuff pink). I decide to take a short cut to the road I want over very high sand dunes, lightly covered with grass. The idea that the grade may be too steep or that the wheels could get stuck in the sand fleets through my mind; I dismiss it. Sure enough, we get over the dunes easily enough, with just a few bumps that have us bouncing in our seats. Now we are on the white road, gliding smoothly towards our destination.

I woke from this dream feeling confident and refreshed. It was a very busy night of dreaming, but after two weeks of constant international travel and workshopping, I decide to let other memories slip away and hold only this one. From subsequent nights this week, I've plucked similar short clips, each intriguing or enticing in its own way.
October 16
Seven-Level Goddess Bed

I enter a bedroom filled with soft peachy light, streaming in through gauzy curtains. There is a wonderful smell of fresh linen. A bed fills half the room. It rises in stepped levels, like a ziggurat. The highest level is close to the ceiling. I know this is a Goddess bed, and a form of the Goddess herself may be at the top. To climb to her, and to descend, is a ritual act that may mean death and rebirth. I picture rising to the Goddess at the time of literal death, releasing something that will remain behind at each of the seven levels. I do not ascend the bed at this time; there are other rooms in the house, further mysteries to explore.
I woke with feelings of tender delight. I like goddesses and am deeply engaged again in studying many goddess traditions.
October 17
Back in School, with Bridge Reopening Assignment

I am back at college, but I am my present age with my present life memories. I want to check on the requirements for the semester, so I talk to the student manning an information booth. He tells me I only need to complete one course, but I will be expected to join in a work party that will be required to reopen a bridge in the woods come the spring. The work group will be led by a shamanic practitioner named Andrew Pachenko. The course in which I am enrolled involves ancient history and mythology, always favorite subjects of mine. I'll need to go over the term paper I've been writing to double-check the references and pull the threads of my arguments tight, because the professor is intellectually rigorous. The paper opens with some general statements about the "sacred king" in ancient societies, then homes in later on the biographies of several ancient kings, whom I present as consorts of the Great Goddess.
I woke with a "just-so" feeling that this had actually happened, or will play out in the future in a fairly literal way. There were none of those "oh no, not again" feelings that come with some back-in-school dreams. In waking life, I'm considering some invitations to teach at colleges and graduate institutes. I don't know any "Andrew Pachenko" but some cyber-sleuths over at my online forum at came up with a Ukrainian actor of that name who played a Bear, which is quite significant to me. I'm excited and intrigued by the idea of reopening a bridge in the spring.
October 18
Laughter that Comes in the Moonlight

I am coached in the pronunciation of a very long word in Russian that means something like "laughter that comes under moonlight." I'm enchanted that there is a single word for this, even if it is many syllables.
I wake with feelings of gentle amusement, wondering whether this dream is a glimpse of a future adventure in Eastern Europe, recalling how unusual words in foreign languages have so often been my visas for travel in both realities.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A glass of words


In my current travels in Eastern Europe, I continue to learn the value of taking the trouble to learn a little of languages few outsiders can speak. This is respectful to the country where you are traveling, and when you make it your game to pick up odd and unusual terms you would never find in a tourist phrase book, the results can be very entertaining.
A case in point. Over dinner on my first day in Bucharest, my host described how he makes wine on his own land in the eastern part of the country. He explained that at this time of year, the crushed grapes are on their way to becoming wine, but are not there yet. In this in-between state, the somewhat alcoholic brew is sweet and "murky". He struggled for the right English word. I asked him for the Romanian. Tulburel, he told me. The near-wine is called tulburel. I found the word interesting and jotted it down.
Then over lunch at an outdoor restaurant with other new friends on Friday, a pleasant waitress also started talking about Romanian wine. She explained that this is the season when fermentation is going on and the wine is nearly but not quite ready. "I don't know the word in English."
"Tulburel?" I offered.
Her eyes widened. "How you know this word?"
"A friend who makes wine." I shrugged. "I like funny words."
"How long you been here?"
I glanced at my watch. "Twenty-two hours."
"You are MAGICIAN!" she cried.
She vanished but promptly reappeared, bearing a huge glass of pinkish liquid. Tulburel. "A gift for the magician of funny words." Too sweet for my palate, but drinkable with the chicken in spicy sauce.
On Saturday, the first day of my weekend workshop here, my language lessons continued, as we traded dreams and stories and experiences from group journeys powered by shamanic drumming. We played my Coincidence Card Game, in which everyone writes part of a story or a quote or reflection on one side of an index card, which is then offered to the group as a one-time divination deck, from which each player will pull a card with the understanding that what is written on it will be a response to a request for guidance they have formulated.
The first player picked by a random twirl of the drumstick to read a card had asked for guidance on improving relationships. She found this message on the card she pulled from the deck (written, as it happened, by our host): Nu accept rolumni in dramele altora. "Don't accept a role in other people's soap operas." Sometimes oracles are mysterious and ambiguous; that's how oracles stay in business long term. This message was wonderfully clear, as the woman who drew it acknowledged, through her laughter.
Life rhymes. Inspired by a vision of the White Wolf known in these parts, I wrote this simple message on a card: "Let the White Wolf guide you." Camelia, the woman who drew this message, was seeking the way to fulfill her soul's longing, its dor, and liked the suggested guide. When I turned over my card, I found the message Camelia had written, which advised me to look for a "white star" i in my future relations with Romania. When we discussed the meaning of these messages during the break (pausa) Camelia told me she had been unable to attend my evening program on Friday because she had drunk quite a lot of tulburel and it hadn't agreed with her.
Most people smoke here. It's startling to anyone arriving from a typical Western city, with its prohibitions on smoking in public places - let alone for someone accustomed to teaching in holistic centers. In my hotel, the restaurant is nefumatori only until 11:00 am; smoking after. The waiter appears shocked when I refuse the offer of an ashtray. "No smoke?" he grimaces. During breaks at my workshop, hillocks of butts and ash rise from the ashtrays on the garden tables, spilling in small avalanches. It's a throwback to the heyday of cancer sticks in the world of "Mad Men". When I comment on the intake of the most prodigious smoker in this crowd, I pick up another handy Romanian phrase: fumeaza ca un sarpe. "He smokes like a snake."
In the garden, after a delicious and copious barbecue, Joana, a young woman from Transylvania, sings a doina. The doina is a lyrical song that typically speaks of love and longing. This one is achingly beautiful. It reminds me of nights of fado in Portugal, and the bittersweet mood of saudade that wells up when fado is sung. The Transylvanian singer explains that a doina often has a companion song, something frisky and funny that moves people on from the tears. When she belts out something happy and slightly risque, I am reminded of how ladino singers (from the Sephardic Jewish tradition of Iberia) also shift back and forth between tragedy to comedy.
I need to hear the original doina again and Joana oblges me. Her wonderful singing comes from the heart. It carries me back into a dream I hold deep in my heart's memory, a dream I titled "The Birth-Funeral." In my dream I have made a choice; I am leaving those I love in my home world to go on a mission to another world where I must oppose dark forces that are stealing the light. The high voices of the mourners are keening, almost unbearably sad and beautiful, as I walk a path of blue lotus petals, towards the place where I will drop my old body and put on a different one.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bombing the Moon

On Friday NASA bombed the Moon, firing a rocket hull and then a big flying camera at a crater near the south lunar pole, in the hope that the resulting six-mile-high plumes of dust might contain vapor that will indicate that there is ice down below - a source of water for a future human colony. So far the main public concern expressed over this remarkable event is that the pictures received on TV screens were somewhat fuzzy. A NASA spokesman shrugged off the idea that bombing the Moon could cause any damage; the result will just be "another dimple" in the cratered surface of a dead ball in the sky.

Rarely has scientific hubris, paired with the inability to see beyond the surface of things, been so shockingly evident. The Moon may be a cold desert to NASA cameras, and under the boots of astronauts, but what goes on there has a tremendous effect on human minds and on Earth affairs. The "lunar effect" on the tides of Earth's oceans and the tides - physical, emotional and psychic - in our bodies is a basic fact in our lives and our world. We see notable shifts in behavioral patterns, and in the content of quality of dreaming, with different phases of the Moon.

Now let's put on a set of lenses that NASA laboratories have never produced - although clearly NASA is urgently in need of them. Let's look through the lunar dust into the astral geography of Luna. All ancient and indigenous peoples see the Moon as alive and conscious, and the realm of Luna as "thickly settled" (as they say on Massachusetts road signs) by entities that have a major influence on Earth affairs.

Plutarch wrote that Luna is home to tutelary spirits that counsel humans, especially through dreams, and is also a transit station for souls in their after-death journeys. Suppose he is right? If so, wouldn't it be possible that bombing the Moon, on the physical plane, would stir things up on the astral in a way that could hardly fail to disturb the collective unconscious and add to our troubles on Earth?

I am going to leave this question hanging in the air while I go to consult a once-friendly daimon of Luna (who may or may not have lost his good humor). In the meantime, I propose the launch of a new gathering of dream travelers who can boldly go where no NASA spacecraft is likely to go in our lifetimes, and bring back reports that will be a corrective to the imperial delusions of a science that sees only with instruments. We might call this flight of oneironauts LUNA: the League to Understand Nonordinary Anomalies. Hmmm, or is that: the League to Utilize Nocturnal Awareness? Either way, a first tracking assignment for League flyers is to investigate what is going on in the realm of Luna since NASA bombed the Moon.

With Bear and Wolf in Dracula Country


On the main road from the airport to downtown Bucharest is a statue of Romulus and Remus with the she-wolf. This is the foundation story of Romania as well as Rome. Romania was once the Roman province of Dacia. Romanians claim Romulus and Remus were theirs before they were Rome's, since R&R were actually Thracians and the borders of Romania encompass ancient Thrace, renowned for its shamans - not to mention that fact that wolves still range the hill country here. Thracian or Dacian, the Wolf is big around here. Strabo reported that the original name of the Dacians was derived from daos, meaning "wolf". Warrior Dacians vaunted their wolf connection; their standard featured a wolf head on a dragon body.

Nonetheless, we'll be singing my Bear song when we open my first program in Bucharest tonight. This is actually a song I borrowed from the Mohawk Indians and turned into English. Traditionally, it is a lullaby to comfort children and call a protector to watch over them in the night. It is also a shaman song that calls in one of the great medicine animals of North America. I find that it travels well, and facilitates powerful connections will all the animal spirits.
Don't cry little one
Don't cry little one
The Bear is coming to dance for you
The Bear is coming to dance for you
In Romanian, the Bear song looks like this: -

Nu plange micutule
Nu plange micutule
Ursul danseze pentru tine
Ursul danseze pentru tine -

My host tells me there is a tribe of gypsies in Romania called the Ursari, or Bear People. They go from village to village dancing with trained bears at fairs. -

I learned just now that the Bear may also be at the heart of the ancient mystery religion of these parts. Herodotus and other ancient Greek writers mention a mysterious god of the Getae named Zalmoxis. Most likely (the etymology is disputed) this name means "Bear Skin" or "He Who Wears the Bear Skin", deriving from the tradition that the infant Zalmoxis was wrapped in a bear hide (zalmon, in Getic).

On a deeper level, the Bear connection involves the Underworld journey. Zalmoxis is one of the god-men who dies and is reborn. He goes down into the Underworld as the bear goes down into its cave, to hibernate. Zalmoxis reappears after three years to impart the "knowledge of the skies" to humans. Central to his teachings was the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and the idea that we cannot heal the body without healing the soul. In some versions, he is the teacher of Pythagoras though in others, the relationship is the other way round and Zalmoxis is a slave who was manumitted by the sage Pythagoras and acquired great wealth and wisdom of his own. Mircea Eliade wrote a monograph about Zalmoxis, "the vanishing god", that I read years ago but found the least accessible of that great mythographer's works.
To know Zalmoxis, perhaps, we have to dream him. Romania seems ripe for more adventures in dream archeology, in which we use the techniques of Active Dreaming to open direct channels to ancient knowledge, and then use the best of modern science and scholarship to confirm our leads. -

Road Notes: I have not yet spotted a vampire, though a U.S. girls' sports team at Prague airport were very excited that they were being matched against a team here called the Vampires.I struck up a conversation with the young woman who was my rowmate on the plane when I noticed she was reading Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. It turns out that she is a Romanian novelist, whose second novel was titled Men and who is now seeking a publisher for her third, Dava. I remarked that it seemed auspicious that we were flying in to Bucharest on the day it was announced that a Romanian-born author had won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Bear report: We sang the Bear song in Romanian at the start of tonight's program, and it was wildly popular. Prior to this, socializing in the garden before the workshop began, I told everyone I met that I planned to learn Romanian in one day, and would each of them please give me an interesting word in their own language. Words volunteered (in chronological succession) included:
- iubire (love)
- vis (dream)
- daruire (giving yourself)
- suflet (soul)
- dor (longing)
- vasc (mistletoe)
- doina (folk song)
- pescarus (seagull)
- luna (moon, of course)
-frumesete (beauty)
- reveria (reverie, daydream)
- efervescenta (effervescence)

No lack of effervescence in the wonderfully high-energy opening session!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Escape to the Golem


In between my adventures in Active Dreaming in Lithuania and Romania, I have taken a day to catch my breath and take in the sights in the storied city of Prague. The Czech capital is as beautiful as you have ever heard, but overrun with tourists. As I walk through the square in the Castle district where Obama spoke, and through the gates of the Castle itself, I sigh at the droves of visitors following the fluttering banners of their tour guides, cameras swinging. My attention is diverted by a huge poster showing a rabbi with a high hat and a long beard, with a giant clay-like figure. I can guess the identity of the giant. Famously, Prague is the city of the golem, an artificial being supposedly created by a medieval Kabbalist to defend the Jews in tomes when their survival was in doubt. The legend has been the stuff of countless amazing tales up to the present day; in the parallel reality of the popular young adult "Bartimaeus" trilogy, for example, the magicians of Prague are still whipping up golems to deploy against their enemies.

I inspect the poster more closely. I am in luck; in the Royal Stables there is a temporary exhibition curated by the Jewish Museum devoted to Rabbi Judah Loew (c.1525-1609) the reputed golem-maker of Prague, and it is going on now. By some merciful act of contemporary magic, the exhibit seems to be invisible to the swarms of tourists. I rush for sanctuary inside.

It's a fine exhibition, putting the life and work of a great rabbi and scholar in the context of his times and the communities that he guided. The story is edged with tragedy, since much of the Jewish Quarter of Prague has been demolished.

The section on the golem tracks a legend that only began to gain popular currency more than two centuries after Rabbi Loew's death, in folk stories that were printed in 1847. German Romantics seized on the story of the golem, and then it flourished in the early 20th century with Gustav Meyrink's novel The Golem (and the haunting illustrations by Hugo Steiner-Prag), followed by movies that included Paul Wegener's versions and Martin Fric's 1951 film "The Emperor's Baker and the Golem". Yet the idea of the golem predates the fantasy. A passage in the Talmud refers to the possibility of crearting an artificial man. The formula for doing this is later said to be in the Sefer Yetzirah. Early rabbius dsicussed the morality of killing an artificial man (and concluded this was permissible) and in early folklore pious rabbis create a calf in a time of hunger and consumer it for dinner.

Rabbit Loew was received by the Emperor Rudolf II, perhaps because of Rudolf's appetite for magical practices from every source the Empire could access. One of the most intriguing features of the exhibit is a display of magical objects that were used by Rudolf himself, in the time when he made Prague his residence and patronised a group of alchemists, scientists, neo-Platonist philosophers and "Christian Kabbalists", including the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe and the Englsih sham-magus John Kelly; some of their houses can be viewed along the Golden Lane in the Castle.

I inspected Rudolf's magical bell, composed of seven metals adorned with images of gods associated with the planets. Imagine - the head of the Holy Roman Empire ringing a bell to summon planetary spirits! Here is a set of three rings that the Emperor had buried with him. One is green jade, another gilded wood, a third is set with jewels and four zodiacal signs on the outside and on the inside with four archangelic names (Gabriel, Michael, Uriel and Aniel) and the magical work AGIA. And here is a kabbalistic amulet that belonged to Rudolf. On the obverse is a Jewish menorah, surmounted by the imperial crest and surrounded by jewels "from the breastplate of a high priest".

In the section on the old Jewish cemetery, there are old paintings and modern photographs of Hasidim trooping to the grave of Rabbi Loew to post their letters to the Maharal (as the rabbi was known to the faithful). Such a letter, know as a kvitl, requests one of the righteous (Tzaddikim) to intercede with the Lord on behalf of the supplicant. Kvitl-writing was introduced by the founder of Hasidism, the Bal Shem Tov (1700-1760) more than a century after Rabbi Loew's death, and was originally a process of appealing to a living Tzaddik for intercession. Later these letters were addressed to departed Tzaddikim, to whose ranks Rabbi Loew was posthumously promoted. So to this day, letters of appeal are pushed into the cracks on his tombstone in the Jewish cemetery. I visited the cementery itself later, rising up a man-made hill (produced by "shelves" created to accommodate 12,000 graves) near the Old-New Synagogue, which abuts the designer stores of Paris Street in the Old City.

Kabbalist footnote: A Kabbalist friend who read this piece wants me to be sure to note that genuine golems come with an ON/OFF switch. You write the Hebrew letters for EMET ("truth") over the third eye to turn a golem on. When you erase the first letter, producing the word MET ("death") the golem is ready to return to the mud. I haven't road-tested this. Try it at your own risk.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Mud People and the People of Amber

Suvalkija district, Lithuania

I am out in the woods, in the rural part of western Lithuania where I am staying. I come to some wide, shallow steps, just packed earth with wood at the edges. I notice two snakeskins, tied in knots that resemble figures of 8, then a larger one, tied in a slightly more complex knot, on a higher step, and know these were left as signs and also that the snakes were not venomous.
    Now I see vivid, brightly colored scenes of ancient battles - of Teutonic Knights who invaded these lands, and Lithuanian Grand Dukes with their knights and men at arms, struggling against great odds to force them back.I This living history unfolds into times where local people took to the forests and the mud to carry on their resistance against invaders. I see people who lived with wolves and bears and tried to call on their energies in the fight. I see huge mystery beasts in the woods that look like elephants and wonder whether these are the shades of extinct prehistoric creatures, or entities created by the country''s defenders in an effort to equalize a conflict through psychic means of attack.
    I wander deeper into the woods. I am conscious that sticky mud is everywhere, and geeting deeper, just as I found it roaming fields and ancient hill forts the previous day. I come to the house of a ragana - a witch - on one of the sloppy forest trails. It is just a hut among the roots of a crooked tree. I see the face of the witch before she scuttles away into hiding. She has painted the upper part of her face, from the hairline to the cheekbones, chalk-white so it looks like part of a death's head, or perhaps a venomous spider. While she avoids me, nasty slithering things rise from the mud.
    I'm willing to fight her allies, if need be, and am glad to see that an enormous Bear is with me, as a bodyguard. Yet I'm thinking that the witch is merely defending herself; I have wandered into her territory, and she has reason to fear intruders. Instead of starting a fight, I call down Light, and a bright shaft of amber light immediately descends.
    I am happily surprised to find that it serves as a traction beam. It pulls me straight up into the air, far above the mud and the dark woods. I find myself inside what seems to be an egg-shaped amber, with female presences who remind me of ancient priestesses of this land I have met in previous dreams and journeys. The leader tells me, "You must understand that there are the Mud People and the Amber People, and here you belong to the People of Amber. Your duty - and that of those you train here - is to build bridges and wooden pathways so people can get across the mud safely. You must avoid allowing yourself to be sucked down into the mud. You must remember to call on the power of Light Amber to heal and to guide, and on the power of Dark Amber to remove the darkness."

As I surfaced from this mostly lucid dream, the moon shone bright in my face for a moment, like a spotlight. Then a cloud blew above the apple trees and mountain ash outside my window, and I lay back in the gentle dark, savoring my latest encounter with the "understory" of the Baltic country where I was traveling.
    I stayed on Monday night at the country place of a "good witch" in the Suvalkija distrct in Lithuania. She invited me - after attending my workshop - to learn practices of healing and divination handed down in her family from mother to daughter and never written down (until I took notes, with her permission). She had burned amber in a ritual the night before. In the morning, after hearing the dream, she continued my instruction. She demonstrated how to move light amber over the body in a spiraling motion to heal. Then she showed me how she uses a dark amber (also called "vampire amber" here when used in this way) in a different pattern to extract disease and "strangers" in the body.
     Over a breakfast of dark, nutty "grandmother's bread", homemade cheese and butter and coffee chewy with grounds, we talked about the significant of "Mud People" in the literal history of Lithuania, whose name means "Rain Country". Lithuania has no real natural borders. Its main defense against invaders and occupiers, across the centuries, has been the mud. When the cities fell to enemies, people "went into the mud".


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dreaming on the Amber Road

I am exploring the streets of the old city of Vilnius. This is an earlier time, because the walls of the city are intact and there are no automobiles or artificial lighting. I pass a number of people, including older women in traditional Lithuanian dress, with embroidered fringes and large, richly ornamented pins and brooches.
One has an unusual headdress. It contains a glowing orange-golden head that radiates ight. I pass a second woman who has three similar heads suspended above her own, also radiating light. Then I pass a woman who has twelve of these glowing heads shining above her own. The heads look like human heads, but they are half-size or a little smaller. The rich orange color makes me think of jack o' lanterns, but they are certainly not pumpkins.
I wake awed and intrigued from this dream on Sunday morning, in my hotel room near the Gate of Dawn in the Old Town of Vilnius, where I am in the midst of leading an "Active Dreaming" workshop for 30 Lithuanians (plus a Finn, a Latvian couple, and a young woman from Austria). My intention before sleeping was guidance for the circle for the day ahead. I feel I have received it, though I cannot immediately explain the "head lights" the dream women are wearing. These are clearly women of power. I reflect that I am privileged to have several such women in my workshop, several of them renowned as healers and psychics in this country. I decide that I will share my dream with the group early in the day.

When I open the circle and tell the dream, I am immediately urged by several Lithuanian dreamers to go back inside the dream right away and seek closer contact with the women with the headlights. This group has wasted no time in learning core practices of Active Dreaming such as dream reentry and tracking. Accordingly, I drum for a short time, get my head back inside the dream and realize that the "headlights" are amber, and that amber - the gold of the Baltic, but better than gold - has value far beyond its beauty. The amber heads embody the essential spirit and energy of great ones who are lending their wisdom and light to those who carry on an ancient Goddess tradition as healers and guides. The numbers are significant. They relate to levels of initiation and earned powers. The third woman has reached the 12th level, the highest a human can ordinarily aspire too.
A much-revered Lithuanian woman healer in the group tells me that the amber heads are also gates. She saw me stepping past the first gates, and then three gates (of gold, silver and gold), bent on something beyond.
This is fascinating, but we have to move on. There is a lot of dreaming and healing to be done on our second and last say. To minimize the time needed for translation, I introduce a rapid-fire series of seven mini-journeys, aided by drumming, through the seven major energy centers. I explain that while the energy schema we are using may sound familiar from yoga, this has nothing to do with yoga. We will enter a visionary landscape in each of the chakras with the aim of finding a living symbol and the energy of an ally - who may appear vas animal or bird or something else - that we can use in our own healing and may be able to transfer to others.
The results of this journey were wonderfully productive. I encouraged the group to make personal energy maps, by drawing seven images of the key symbols they found in each chakra. Then, in a follow-up journey, I had them go the place in their energy chart where they found most power, and carry that power to places in the map - and in their lives beyond the map - where there was a challenge, a deficiency or a mystery to be addressed.
But for now I will stay on the Amber Road. I found things in my own energy chart that I had never seen before, things related to the mythic symbology and ancient practices of the Baltic territory where I was traveling and teaching. I saw a great crowned water-serpent rising from the sea. I saw a great golden beehive dripping with honey, with wild bees buzzing around that were also - on closer inspection - winged priestesses; and knew I was in a Goddess realm. I saw a great amber, and was instructed by a zhyne (priestess) that this was a see-stone that could be used like a crystal ball. She showed me how burning amber is a valid sacrifice, offering a gift of the Goddess to the Goddess herself, and also how the smoke becomes a window into the world-behind-the-world. In the smoke of amber, I saw into the realm of Sleeping Kings - in this case the Grand Dukes of medieval Lithuania who fought invaders and would-be oppressors and wait (like the Arthur of British legend) to be recalled to fight for their land again, on the psychospiritual plane, in the event of a new threat to its survival.
I was told by the ancient priestess that I should wear amber on my body to maintain a link with her tradition. My translator, Agne - a marvelously gifted linguist, psychologist and artist - gave me no opportunity to duck this assignment. She presented me with the amber figure of a man (a copy of an ancestral figure) on a thong. I am open to fresh discoveries of ancient things on the Amber Road that has opened before me.