Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Dictionary of Funny Dream Words

Over at my online forum, we are having fantastic fun playing a fresh version of the Dictionary Game. If you've never played the Dictionary Game, it goes like this: you open a fine fat dictionary, pick an obscure word, then call on the players to come up with a definition. Sometimes an erudite or lucky player will know the precise meaning of that arcane word. But the real fun is in making something up. In scoring (at least in my family) you vote for the entertainment value of the proffered definitions, above their plausibility.
Now, we have improvised a superior version of this game, and this is what we are now playing, with terrific gusto, on the forum. In the Funny Dream Words game, the dictionaries we use are our personal journals. We start by re-viewing the old reports (see my "Journal Times" post, below). We extract those mystery words, names and phrases - in known or unknown languages - that we never managed to decode. Then we offer these to others to track or define.
A funny word from a dream can open all sorts of territory. It can provide a clickable link to another culture or another world. It can reveal a new technology, or the grammar of elvish. It can open a connection with a person (hitherto unknown) on the other side of the world, or with a forgotten ancestor. It can be the hook that pulls in a song or a story or a painting, even a whole novel. And this is all streaming, fresh and spontaneous, from our own dream lives. But we often miss our messages, and someone else - through an intuitive flash, or a few minutes googling, or by hitting the books - can often help us hear what we couldn't make out, and see what escaped us in an apparent jumble of syllables.
The most fun part, as in the old Dictionary Game, is when the other players, who might otherwise be foxed by a funny word, start making things up. To give you a feel for how this goes, here are the definitions I suggested for five of the dream words posted at the forum over the past 24 hours. Only the first came with any context.
Morolli Novia (a dish demanded by an angry restaurant patron)

Morolli Novia [n]: odoriferous rum-drenched dessert named after the fiancee [novia] of Sal "Bankroll" Morolli, Miami restaurateur currently serving 6 months for postmortem abuse of Julia Child.
Sir Percy Belay
Belay, Sir Percy: Last baronet of Limpley-in-the-Hole, Somerset. Antiquarian and minor versifier in the style of the "silver poets" of the Elizabethan era. Best known for his "Response to the Nymph's Response to the Shepherd" (a reference to the famous poem by Sir Walter Raleigh) into which he worked his family name, of disputed (nautical and perhaps piratical) origin:
Belay the world and keep it young,
So we may feast with tongue to tongue,
Belay the sun so you are moved
To live with me and be my love
The Australian slang expression, "It's time to point Percy at the porcelain" is said to derive from his erratic bathroom habits.
Source: Burke's Minor Nobility and Silly Upper-Crust Names
Ursula Le Dean

Ursula K. Le Guin has been awarded the title of Dean honoris causa by the College of Fantasists because of her advocacy of truth-telling by fantasy as well as her own fantastic body of work. The citation refers to her Introduction to the English translation of The Book of Fantasy (compiled by Jorge Luis Borges, Silvina Ocampo and Adolfo Bioy Casares) where Dean Ursula states:
The central ethical dilemma of our age, the use or non-use of annihilating power, was posed most cogently in fictional terms by the purest of fantasists. Tolkien began The Lord of the Rings in 1937 and finished it about ten years later. During those years, Frodo withheld his hand from the Ring of Power, but the nations did not.
The judges especially commend Dean Ursula's observation that "Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities serves many of us as a better guidebook to our world than any Michelin or Fodor's."

Pay Uht
Pay Uht [n}: Kotror pidgin for "pay dirt." Negotiable in two forms: (1) as rolls of "cash", typically strung on cords and worn around the midriff; or (2) as dried cakes of yak dung. Most commonly used to purchase shashtree [yak offal delicacy] or swee balak [dessert custard, mixed with fermented mare's milk, sometimes resulting in death by sugar or alcoholic poisoning]. reference: Commercial Traveler's Pocket English-Kotror Dictionary, 3rd hipflask edition.
Interalicia [n]: A mode of travel in the multiverse that includes stepping through mirrors, diving down rabbit holes, and shrinking or growing at fantastic speeds, inter alia. See works of Lewis Carroll.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Journal Times

The quiet time of midwinter invites us to go within and go deep, and this is a grand time to look in the mirror of old journals to see where we have come from and what we are becoming. I open an old journal at random and find this brief report:

A narrow sandy beach, sheltered by headlands. The water is heron blue. I'm looking for a way through the crowd to the water. My perspective shifts, and I'm looking at the whole scene from a great height, like a sea bird. Out to sea, unseen as yet by the crowd, something is rising, mountain-high, from the deep. A sea-god, or sea-monster. I am charged with excitement. [August 22, 2003]
Here are some games I play with my journals that you may find rewarding:
Open an old journal at random and make the first entry that you see your message (or maybe your one-liner) for the day.
Notice where you find yourself in similar situations again and again in your dreams. Is there somethig here you need to understand and/or take action about?
This is the only one that matters! Single out important dream symbols - the snake, the tornado, the train station - and notice how they evolve in successive dreams.
Be open to discovering that an event in an "old" dream is starting to manifest only now - months or years later - and be ready (beyond the "wow" response) to harvesting guidance from the old report on the current situation. When you see a match-up between an "old" dream and a later event, forage around the individual report; look at other dreams from around the same time and see if there are further clues there to the new situation.
Study how your dream self behaves and responds to challenges, and compare this to your waking self.
Are you leading a separate life in your dreams - maybe one that is playing out in dozens of dream installments? Do you find yourself in the perspective, life situation and (apparently) the bodies of other people in dreams?
You may find it helpful to sake a series of lengthy dream narratives and condense each one - even several - into a text that would literally fit on a small index card. Standing apart from the profusiion of detail, you may now be able to discern the broad lines.
Dreams give us clues that require sleuthing, but sometimes our best attempts to follow up these leads don't get far and we move on to other things, leaving a mounting pile of "cold case" files. I pick up a lot of unfamiliar names, foreign words, and curious phrases in dreams and - especially - in the twilight state of hypnagogia, and I have found it extraordinarily revealing to track these verbal clues. In the era of googling, this is much easier than it was over most of the decades I've been keeping a journal, so I am now reopening dream files I had closed and making some exciting discoveries. One of those funny words, from a 1994 dream, has led me to an archeological site in Nigeria where the human remains date from 10,000 BCE. Another is guiding me, in the most practical way, on professional decisions I'll be making over the next couple of months.

These games become more fun and more profitable when you've been keeping a dream journal for many years. When journaling, you want to tag each report with the date and also a title, and then save your reports in chronological folders. You'll then have a running index of dreams. When you have enough material, you can pluck out recurring themes and group relevant reports in thematic folders as well. My theme folders range from "Bear" and "Black Dog" to "Precog" and "Parallel Worlds", from "Dream Doubles" to "Mystery Words".

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Solstice Poem

Eyes of the Goddess

From a journey to Newgrange

The poet waits for me in his countryman’s cape
And shows me the map in the gateway stone:
Twin spirals to get you in, and out, of the place of bone;
Wave paths to swim you from shadow to dreamscape;
A stairway of stars for when you are done with earthing.
I am here to practice the art of rebirthing.

She calls me, into the belly of the land that is She.
But I play, like the poet, with the shapes of time:
I am a swimming swan on the River Boyne;
I am a salmon, full with the knowing of the hazel tree;
I wander with Angus, and know the girl I have visioned
in gold at the throat of a white swan, beating pinions.

Drawn by the old perfume of burned bones, I go down
and doze until solstice fire, bright and bountiful
quickens me for the return of the Lady, lithe and beautiful
In the form she has taken, flowing as liquid bronze.
Her face is veiled, so the man-boy called to her side
like the red deer in season will not die in her eyes.

I see beyond the veil, for I come from the Other.
Oh, I yearn for the smell of earth and the kiss of rain!
I leap with her on the hallowed bed, coming again.
She knows the deer-king, as I am child and lover
Her eyes are spiral paths; the gyre of creation whirls
And sends me in green beauty to marry the worlds.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

In Dreamland

In Dreamland, when a decision is required on a matter of community importance, the people must come together in the Big House and make a web.
----In the first years of Dreamland, when the community was small, there was only one Big House, built of very simple materials around a great tree that rose through the roof like a ladder into the sky. Now Dreamland has many Big Houses, but the making of a dreaming web is essentially the same. Standing in a great circle at nightfall as they sing songs of Earth, the weavers raise the Mother’s energy into the tjurni and share it hand to hand, giving and receiving. When the energy is flowing strong between them, they each project ropelike energy cords to a common center and began to weave and shape the web. The cords flash with many colors, but as they interweave they glow sparkling white. When the chief weavers are satisfied that the web is strong enough to serve the group intention, the dreamers lie down in a cartwheel on the floor.
---Lying together in the dark, with their web of dreaming glowing above and around them, the dreamers sing their group intention, over and over. As they sing, the web grows. It will grow until it has brought within it everything the dreamers need to see and know. As the energy filaments stretch, they may encompass the whole planet. All times are accessible. Years or centuries may slip by, like blown leaves, in the group perception. While the group visions together within the web, individual Dreamers move along its strands, agile as human spiders, and drop down on scenes they choose to see close-up.
---At daybreak, the Dreamers share their perceptions, and the necessary decision becomes clear. They say there is no need to count heads when hearts are joined and connected to the heart of the Mother.

Excerpt from DREAMLAND: A Vision of the Possible Future. For a selection of documents from a dream commonwealth of the future, transmitted back to the 21st century through oneiric channels, visit Comments welcome on this thread.

Graphic: The cover art for the revised second edition of Dreamgates, to be published by New World Library in April 2010, now available for pre-order. This work is required reading in all faculties of the university of Anamnesis, as well as for the Corps of Watchers and the College of Flying Doctors, in the commonwealth of dreamers.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The People beyond the Garden Gate

Though mostly skeptical of reported sightings of the Little People, I have had some personal encounters – wide awake and dreaming in the animate world of nature – that have quelled my inner naysayer. Here’s a brief account of one such episode, when I stepped through a garden gate beyond the rambling roses at Hawkwood College in Gloucestershire, into the greenwood:

I walk by the redwood - a newcomer to this English landscape, and a link to a place of my heart - above the cow pastures, and past an ancient sycamore that leans over a softly bubbling spring. I am drawn to a path that leads up to the kitchen garden on a rise behind the stone manor house. The far end of the garden is aglow with pink and peachy roses, rambling and climbing over trellises, forming a bower.
   Beyond the roses is a gate in the high, old brick wall that separates the garden from the woods beyond. In the arch is a weathered gray door, secured by a simple wooden latch. The woods are bottle green, dark as an inkpot above the top of the door. I open the gate and step through, onto a trail part covered by ground ivy.
   As I walk the path, a breeze picks up, and soon the woods are alive with whispers. The stir is most active beneath and around me, where the wind does not reach. I have the vivid sense of small creatures running and hiding. I am amazed by the thought that they are trying to hide from me. I can't see them, not yet. But I sense them quite distinctly. They are Little Ones.
   There's no need to be afraid, I tell them. I'm not going to hurt you.
   For a moment, the woods seem very still.
   Then a small country voice says, from among the roots of a tree, We thought you were one of the Lords.
   Oh, I don't think so. Who are the Lords? Do you mean the Normans? Or the Courts of the Fairies?
   Sshhhh. We don't talk about Them.
   This leaves me quite uncertain about the identity of the Lords they fear.
   Wait, they tell me. We'll get the Centaur.
   It seems that this creature is the Big Man in the society of the Little Ones. I am tremendously excited by the prospect of meeting a centaur. When he gallops up, I am amazed. He is certainly a Big Man, in this company, with a massive torso, a curling black beard, two stumpy horns - and a phallus like a club. But he is about six inches in length, from his chin to his tail. And his body below the waist is that of a billy goat, not a horse, although he does indeed stand on four legs rather than two.
-----The Goat-man tries to act bold in front of the Little Ones, but is plainly terrified. From his perspective, I am a giant, and of entirely unknown intentions.
-----I can see the whole company more distinctly now. The Little Ones are the size of elm leaves. I have no wish to disturb their society, or make their centaur lose face. I bid them good day, and follow the track deeper into the woods.
-----It does not surprise me that when I stroke the smooth bark of a beech, the tree responds. I absorb a deep knowing from within the beech, and have the impression of a feminine figure whose eyes are leaf-green, without pupil or irises. She instructs me on natural remedies for various bodily complaints; when I check them out later, they work brilliantly.

This is an excerpt from the travel journal I kept while leading a five-day summer adventure in “Reclaiming the Ancient Dreamways” at Hawkwood College in Gloucestershire, at the invitation of Celtic scholar and shaman Caitlin Matthews.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Eater of bad dreams

I was once in the marvelous Field Museum in Chicago, chatting to one of the curators, when he said brightly, "Maybe you can help with a question a visitor left in the box this week." He produced the inquiry, which ran as follows: "I was given an antique dream catcher. Ever since it's been in the house, I've had the feeling that something's just not right and I can't get any good sleep. Maybe I should cleanse the dream catcher or something like that?"

I smiled at the idea of an "antique" dream catcher. The original purpose of a dream catcher is to catch bad stuff you don't want in your psychic space. It looks like a spider web because that's exactly what the first dream catchers were. An Onondaga Indian friend of mine hung a literal spider web from a hoop, in the old way, over his son's face when he was a little baby. You do not want a hand-me-down dream catcher. More than likely, its web will contain traces of other people's "bugs" and psychic pests. "There's no way to cleanse something like that," I told the curator. "If it were mine, I would burn it."

In the understanding that dreaming is social as well as individual, most human cultures have come up with methods to deter unwanted intrusions or visitations during the night. There's a dream guardian in Japan who is rather livelier than a spider web. Here's how it is described in the opening of a folk tale about a girl named Little Silver who feared she would meet ghosts and demons in her dreams:

The old nurse told her to draw pictures of a tapir on the sheet of white paper which was wrapped around her tiny pillow... The nurse told her what many old folks believe,—that if you have a picture of a tapir under the bed, or on the paper pillow-case, you will not have unpleasant dreams, as the tapir is said to eat them. So strongly do some people believe this that they sleep under quilts figured with the device of this long-snouted beast. If in spite of this precaution one should have a bad dream, he must cry out on awaking, "Tapir, come eat, tapir, come eat!" Then the tapir will swallow the dream, and no evil results will happen to the dreamer.

In the story, this has mixed results. Little Silver's dreams take her on a fantastic voyage among ghosts and drunks whose excesses feed demons. At the end, she is terrified by the impending wreck of the ship in which she is sailing. As she wakes, she remembers to cry out "Tapir, come eat, tapir come eat!" This lifts the bad feelings around the dream, but she retains the memory of her adventures and can draw important lessons, including the consequences of to much saki. The narrator observes that it was a good thing she did not actually see the tapir, since it would have scared her more than the ghosts.[1]

The tapir in this story is not the long-snouted pig-like mammal of the natural world. It is a baku a composite beast originally borrowed from Chinese folklore. In early Japanese depictions, this eater of bad dreams is portrayed with an elephant’s trunk and tusks, plus horns and tiger’s claws. Today the baku is also known as yumekui ("dream catcher") - perhaps a borrowing from North America - and in manga and anime it takes many forms. In Satoshi Kon’s animated film Paprika, a young woman is a baku who devours a dream villain in the climactic scene.

The idea of the baku, in a sense, puts the spider into the web of the dream catcher. I rather like the idea of a dream guardian who will eat bad energy from a dream without depriving us of the memory of the dream experience.

[1] "Little Silver" in William E. Griffis, Fairy Tales of Old Japan (London: Harrap, 1911).
Graphic: Baku byKatsushika Hokusai.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Don't look back too soon

In my dream: I am dreaming together with a group of people, including a family in which a man has been expected to die in his middle years. In our group experience, we are able to change probabilities; the man survives and enters a new creative phase of life, and other things change for the better. In order to accomplish this, we all need to remain focused on the reality we have been dreaming until it is fully embodied in the physical world. If any one of us lets our focus - and belief - waver too soon, the physical outcome will revert to what it was before. This attempt is a great success.

But when we try again, one or two of our group can't sustain focus after the collective dreaming. They may want to celebrate too soon. So on the second attempt we lose the fruits of our dreaming. However, we can try again.

I remark to the group that experiences like ours may be the source of the legends in which the hero fails because he looks back too soon. Orpheus charms Hades with his music and wins the release of Eurydice from the Underworld, on condition that he must not look back until they have both returned to the realm of the living. But when he reaches the sunlit world, Orpheus forgets and looks back at his wife before she is safely out; so she must return to the dead. I tell the group we don't have to go on making the same mistake.
I woke from this dream excited and intrigued. I have been actively exploring the possibility of looking in on parallel lives and switching between them. This has been the focus of several recent experiments in group journeying in my advanced workshops and of several posts at this blog over the past couple of months. Could we stage a group experiment along the lines of the one in my dream in the future? Why not?

Sunday, December 6, 2009


I am in many forms before I am bound.
I am the starwalker who won't come down.
I am the pond dweller who won't come up.
I am a hawk on a hill.
I am a bear in a berry wood.

I am the giant of the deep
who walked the Earth for ten thousand years
before he went back to the sea.
I am the sleeping king
who mated with the Earth
and dropped his horns in due season
and grew them back

I am the blasted oak that drew the lightning
I am the man in the Moon
I am the Hanged Man, and the Emperor, and the Fool.
I am medicine and I am poison.
I am the springing tiger and the quaking goat.
I am the one who makes a prison of the world
I am the one who makes the world his playground.
I am the death lord on his dark throne
I am a humming bird courting a flower.

I am the heaven bird in the World Tree
and the dragon coiled at its roots
and the squirrel that makes mischief between them.
I am a shard from a mirror
that was broken in transit from a blue star.

To release me, you must tie me down.

- Portland, Oregon, December 6, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wake up and smell the stories

"I heard something scratching at my door in the middle of the night," the young man in the front row began. "When I opened the door, I found my dead cat, the one that died a couple of months ago. Then I noticed my house had four stories, which is a couple more than it ordinarily has. I was wondering what was going on in those extra stories up top. Then I heard my dad's voice. He was calling to me, 'Hurry up! You don't want to miss the music!'"
"How did you feel when you woke up?" I asked. It's always my first question, of any dream.
"Kind of nervous. My dad passed last spring, and I didn't know what he meant."
"Have you had any previous contact with your father, since he passed?"
"Oh sure. I feel like he's been dealing with a lot of stuff, and I've been helping."
"How did your father sound, when he spoke about the music?"
"He sounded real happy. Like something happy was going on."
"If it were my dream, I said carefully, I might think that my father's discovered something really good, and he wants to share it with me. Maybe he wants to show me that he's found his way, in his new life. If it were my dream, I might want to see if I could have a proper conversation with my dad. I want to know the rest of our story. Those extra levels to the house give me the sense of space and possibility. I might want to light a candle for dad, and put out something personal pertaining to him - like photo - and maybe something to eat or drink that he would enjoy, and see whether I can just start up a dialogue. Could you give that a try?"
"Sure," the young man nodded. "I like the idea of getting the rest of the story."
I looked around the group. "Would anyone else like to share a dream?" A few hands went up. This was a group of newbies, gathered for an evening program at an adult learning center. For many of them, this was the first time they had told a dream in front of a group. For some of them, this was the first time they had talked about a dream in their whole adult lives.
"I dreamed I went to this very pricey restaurant," an older woman began. "I started sipping a glass of wine and the glass broke in my teeth and the shards of glass were inside my mouth, stabbing me. I was trying to tell people what had happened, and that I needed help., but they wouldn't believe me, even though there was blood everywhere."
"How did you feel when you woke up?"
"I couldn't understand why they wouldn't believe me."
"Yes, and how did you feel about that?"
"It's hard to say. Slightly disturbed."
"But you didn't feel frightened, for example? Or disgusted."
"Nothing that strong."
"Well, that's interesting. That sets a little distance. Sometimes it's revealing that we don't have strong feelings around a dream. Reality check - could you go to a restaurant like that in the future?" "Sure." "Is it possible this could involve an occasion, maybe with family, when there is some conflict brewing and it's difficult to say your piece?" "That's entirely possible."
"If it were my dream," I pursued, "I'd think about the broken glass in terms of emotional conflicts. I'd think about my need to express myself in such a way that others can hear me and believe me, on whatever I need to get out."
This resonated deeply with the dreamer. After more discussion, I asked her for an action plan. She said she would start by keeping a journal and getting practice that way in saying what she needed to say. "Can you come up with a one-liner that moves in that direction?" She produced one right away, "I'm going to tell my story."

This threw my mind back to something I had seen yesterday morning in my local paper, at the bottom of the local news page. It was an ad for coffee. Across a landscape of green mountains scrolled the following text: "I realized today's the day I will tell my story."

The ability to tell our story - and in doing so, choose the stories we are living - is not only a creative gift, it is a vital survival tool. We live by stories. If we don't undertand that, we are probably living inside old, unacknowledged stories that may cramp and confine us, stories passed down through families or imposed on us by others. A grand way to get into the practice of telling our own stories is to share our dreams, large and small.
Another woman in the group began, slightly diffident, to talk about a recurring dream from which she was always relieved to wake up. "I have a baby, maybe eighteen months old, and I'm supposed to take care of her. I want to get away because I don't know who she is."
When I asked some questions, she added, "The baby is fine. I'm the one who's not fine."
"If it were my dream, I might wonder whether what I running from was actually a part of myself. I might want to sit down quietly, at the right time, and take a closer look at that very young child and see whether she is a very young part of me that separated out for some reason but is now ready to bring her joy and energy into my life."
This struck a chord. She was willing to give it a try. Through our dream stories, we sometimes find a part of us that was missing is calling to us, seeking a way to gain entry to our lives, to make us stronger and more whole.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Parallel Lives and the Meaning of Catastrophe

I continue to think about how paths not taken -because of choices we made in our present lives - may still be part of our story. Of how a second self, who made a different choice at that crossroads, is traveling in parallel to the present self, and how sometimes we sense it moving very close.

One of the best fictional treatments I know of these matters is a wonderful novel by Lionel Shriver titled The Post-Birthday World. The question is whether the protagonist, Irina, did or did not kiss a man other than her partner after dining with him alone (at her partner’s encouragement, since this had long been an annual ritual among friends) on his birthday. The twin post-birthday worlds unfold in alternating chapters. Along one event track, she leaves her partner and marries the other man and becomes bitterly frustrated. Along the parallel track, her hitherto boringly predictable partner starts cheating on her, and their relationship starts to unravel for different reasons.

There are brilliant mirroring effects. In each of the worlds, filled with compassion for the man she is not with, she presses her cheek to the TV screen when his face appears – and has to explain herself to her current mate when he walks in unexpectedly. In one world, a hose-ring popped from a car engine is just part of a mechanical problem; in the other it is the temporary wedding ring used in a hasty marriage.

There is some fabulous writing: “His face lurched to one side like water in a bucket.” “His omission [to tell her about a trip she has learned he is planning] grew tumorous, and she would brush up against it like a lump on her breast in the shower. As many a woman had done to her peril, she told herself it was nothing, in preference to bravely palpating its dimensions, testing for a texture that might indicate a discrete, cystlike aberration, or a growth more invasively malign.”

There is a hauntingly shiverish moment when the parallel event tracks, with the twin selves, are running very close to each other. Ramsey (the man she did or did not kiss) – improbably, a snooker champion – walks on stage in a Bournemouth coliseum, and she knows that this trip is a “catastrophe.”
“A catastrophe, as in the definition of a collision: two objects trying to occupy the same space. As soon as Ramsey materialized, a feeling of wrongness permeated the hall, of an occurrence that shouldn’t be physically possible, like parallel lines meeting, or attending your own funeral. Suddenly the occasion felt off, out of kilter, like that uncertain period that precedes full-fledged nausea when you don’t yet accept that you’re going to be sick.”
Here repetition of “catastrophe” is interesting – though she shifts to “collision” as the more precise term for what is threatened: “two objects trying to share the same space” and striking or clashing as they do so. In Greek drama, the catastrophe is the denouement, the fatal turning point. It is the “overturning” from the Greek verb katastr├ęphein, “to overturn.” In mathematics, interestingly, it means bifurcation, “where a system shifts between two stable states.” In this moment of the novel we have the sense of the possible lives that bifurcated – “forked in two” – the night of the kiss (or no-kiss) resonating off each other like the tines of a tuning fork.
Maybe you have felt something similar, whether or not it has inspired you to press your cheek to a television screen.