Friday, April 29, 2011

The lion wakes today

Back from the Baltic, my intention on going to bed last night was to dream into the residential gathering of active dreamers I am leading up on Gore Mountain this weekend.

I woke in the early light with the following dream:

I have to take a slight detour to get to my home on the mountain. As I round a corner, leading some of my friends and students, I am thrilled to see a great gathering of animals around a deck - red-tailed hawk and owl on the railing, deer and lynx and a golden bear with a white face on the grass, and two splendid maned lions, one stretched out and looking splendid in profile, the other just stirring from a nap.

Feelings: happy, confident, feeling the world is full of promise

Reality: I have little doubt my home on the mountain here is the place where I am heading today, where I have led gatherings of frequent flyers for 15 years and we have built a deep community that supports extraordinary healing, discovery and adventure.

A slight detour will be required, since torrential rains earlier this week washed away part of an access road.

African lions are unlikely to make a literal appearance in this rural American landscape. But I have felt close to the lion since boyhood, I once lived at a place I called Lion's Head Farm (with a corresponding carved and painted sign) and there is a splendid lion image on the cover of my new book.

Yesterday evening, playing my coincidence card game with another group, I also asked for guidance on the Gore Mountain weekend. I drew a message about the very physical-seeming presence of another of the big cats. The card I drew (written by a man from what he saw and experienced during my first drumming session) read as follows:

The tiger on the path is powerful, instinctual and feral. I feel hums of energy, especially in my face, chest and stomach - a pulse. I am awake.

I told the group last night I would act on this by being sure to bring through the energy of the animal spirits into the body over the weekend. That will certainly be my action plan when I am home on the mountain. The lion wakes today.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Drinking the forest

From Tallinn to Palmse to Riga

Birch and pine, forest and sea. I am driving with some of my new Estonian friends along the northern coast. Ma naen und, says Urva, "Ī see a dream." It strikes me, again, that this is a much more satisfactory way of reporting a dream than the limping English expression, "I had a dream."

Her dream is of the sea eagle, rarely seen in ordinary reality along this coast, but a frequent companion in her visions, sleeping and waking and in between. She describes how she and a whole group were amazed when a sea eagle appeared on a nearby birch branch when she was drumming for a shamanic journey, then came even closer until it was watching her from perhaps three yards away. The powers of the deeper world are hunting us, we agree. I recall how I knew the sea eagle in my boyhood, in Queensland, and how it has come to fly me back to my native country when there is something there it is urgent for me to see, and how the sea eagle was also a companion spirit of ancient shamans in the Orkney islands off the north coast of Scotland, the land of my fatherš ancestors.

We pause at the site of the prehistoric hill fort of Muuksi, and pick dark-blue juniper berries from the trees. It takes three years for juniper berries to ripen to this point. They have a slight aniseed taste on my palate. The Estonian wise women burn the berries and use the smoke for spiritual cleansing. I recount a dream in which I saw a circle of European women burning the juniper berries, together with oak, in order to produce a medium for visioning as well as a psychic shield. I promise to send the full details. It seems that yet again, waking life is catching up with one of my old dreams.

On to Palmse, and a work around the yellow 18th century manor where once Baltic Germans lorded it over the local population, treating Estonian peasants as serfs. Lunch at the nearby korts (tavern) where the home-made butter, slathered on black bread or oat cakes, is the best I have ever eaten.

Next we drive south and west to the home of an Estonian shaman, Tonu Talimaa, who has created a magical world of stones in the midst of the forest. Concentric circles of stone, approached through a wooden gateway, define the pattern of a a cosmos and a place where people can bring the parts of the soul together. Deeper in the woods is a spiral path, defned by stones, climbing upwards in tight loops. "Space isn't straight here," says Tonu. "It spirals."

We drink tea in the afternoon sun and discuss the many kinds of gates, including how I teach people how to use dreams as personal doorways to the world-beyond the world.

Time to head south, along country roads, to the summer beach resort of Parnu and on to Ilka and the Latvian border. Yana, who is coordinating my workshop in Latvia, greets me with a big jug of birch juice, which she has tapped from one of the birches at her own place in the forest. The birth juice is very faintly sweet and smells lightly woody. Itš good to be drinking the forest.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Welcome to my roots

Pärnamäe, Harju County, Estonia

The gate is a simple weathered beam, fastened to young birch trees to make an arch. I tap three times with the wooden beater hanging below.
    "Tere tulemast minu juurde," says the smiling, bear-like man standing in the midst of the grove. "Welcome to my roots."
     He helps me to see the tree-sisters around us. Lindens, where ancient Estonian women offered sacrifice for fertility and domestic harmony, still held to offer psychic protection and many forms of healing; "bee-trees" in summer. Mountain ash. Birth. A solitary oak whose trunk divides into three near the roots. The oak, so important to my ancestors, is a rarity in Estonia these days. Once called "peasant's iron," the oak was the preferred wood for ship's timbers and barrels and much else.
    The trees are leafless in this season. Spring fire comes late to the Baltic. We feel spirit stirring, however, as we drum and sing together. "My house is built on the wind," sings the big man. He smiles again, after many verses, and says, "Some of the big spirits are sleepy. We have to sing runo-songs for a long time, to wake them up."
     Later in spring, he will bring school groups and their teachers into the woods and the groves, and teach them - as he says - "that a fox is not as big as a horse" and thaty inspiration, in-spiriting, comes in communion with nature.
     What does he want for the people he re-connects with the animate world of the forests? "That you can speak to everything, including your own body. And your soul. You can say to your soul, May you be like a beautiful berry."
     His English is excellent, but the strangeness of that Estonian phrase requires further translation. "A berry is good. A berry is full of juice. A berry is whole," he tries to transplant the thought.

When you are whole, you soul is a beautiful berry.

Still not sure I can take this in, until it hits me that this is Bear-talk. The Bear, lover of berries, would get it immediately.
    The man of the grove laughs when I make this observation, and mimes the action of the Bear eating berries. He grabs me in a powerful bear-hug and says, "Meel sa meeldid mulle. You come close to my soul."

Art: Albrecht Dürer, Three Linden Trees

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Wake up and dream, with runo-song

Tallinn, Estonia

We started the weekend sessions of my Active Dreaming workshop in Talinn with an old Estonian runo-song (regilaul) from Vigala in the west of the country. The spirit level soared immediately, in this country of singers.

The previous evening, I had opened with a Mohawk song for calling the Bear spirit, and noted that in the Mohawk language the work for song means literally "I am putting forth my power." A runo song puts forth the power behind the runes.

Here are the words of the runo-song we sang together in a light-filled upstairs studio in an old wooden house in Tallinn:

üles üles hellad vennad/ sõidame nüüd Sõõrumäele/ sääl me rõõmu rõkatame/ lahket laulu laksutame/ sääl me sööme sõstarida/ paugutame pähkelida/ sääl on meeled mesitsemas/ südamed sääl sütinemas

In translation:

Come on wake up brothers and sisters/ let's go to Sõõrumäe [a mountain] there we shout out with joy/ there we sing our songs/ there we eat currants/ there we crunch nuts/ there our minds stream with honey/ there our hearts are full of life and joy

The Bear we had invoked with the Mohawk shaman song on the first night was very pleased with the references to currants and honey. The theme of waking up to go to a sacred mountain was perfect for the opening of an Active Dreaming workshop, because one of our cardinal principles is that dreaming is not fundamentally about what happens in sleep. Dreaming is about waking up to a deeper order of reality.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Snapshots from a Dream of Tallinn

Tallinn, Estonia

I walked past Fat Margaret, the massive medieval tower that guards the north gate of the Old City, and down Pikk Street. Just before 9 AM, it was nearly deserted; while the word "Suletud" on the doors of shops and restaurants and museum simply means "Closed" in Estonian, I was able to enjoy blissful solititude, in the more familiar sense, instead of tourist crowds .
    I walked up to the pink palace that houses Estonia's parliament, then down Toompea Street to a great unhewn block of stone that has been turned into a monument. On August 20, 1991, the day of an attempted coup in Moscow, the Supreme Council of Estonia declared independence. This was one of the rocks that nonviolent independence fighters hauled to block the roads to the citadel against Soviet tanks that (for once) never came.
    At the foot of the hill, I turned west to visit Freedom Square, where a man-made monument greeted me. It is a Victory Tower constructed entirely of glass, honoring Estonia's earlier struggle for independence in 1918-1920, when Estonians, supported by a British fleet and international volunteers, had to fight on two fronts - against the Red Army and against the German Iron Guard, in league with the Baltic German Landswehr. The glass tower, surmounted by the Cross of Liberty, Estonia's military medal, resembles an ice sculpture, suggesting both the difficulty of building a free society, and its fragility in a country whose geographic misfortune is to be situated in the "Bloodlands" between Germany and Russia.
    I walked up the Hill of the Hartu Gates, above the glass tower. A group of Russians were rough-housing with a Samoyed. I heard angelic singing behind me, as I stood under an ancient linden, and turned to find a troop of school girls chorusing a folk song.

  I arrived at the Museum of Occupations at opening time. This was at the top of my "must-see" list because I felt a strong need to understand the long nightmare of the 20th century from which the Estonians emerged, singing. I saw old suitcases piled everywhere, a mute tribute to all the Estonians forced to flee their homes or their country. A sinister inner gateway loomed in front of the exhibits. It looks like a cross between a tank and a border checkpoint, embellished on one side by the red star and on the other by the swastika, emblems of the twin evils that invaded and oppressed Estonia in World War II.
     Beside this iron gate, the museum's statement of intent included these words:

The loss of memory and gaps in memory are dangerous for a people.

Yes. And it takes remarkable bravery to own the memories of a history in which so many were not only brutalized or murdered, but compelled to fight in the uniforms of foreign armies commanded by psychopathic despots. The exhibits are understated: a collection of every-shifting identity cards, an NKVD trroper's body armor, a bottle of homemade vodka, a photo of Forest Brethren - who took to the woods to resist the Soviets - smoking cigarettes under a tree. The testimonials of survivors, speaking in documentaries running on monitors above the display cases, are more graphic. A woman speaks of the "smell of burned meat" after the Soviets arrived to "liberate" her district.
     I leave the Museum of Occupations with all the material in English I can find and walk up to Town Hall Square to drink a local beer - A. Le Coq - at a sidewalk table in the sun. Suddenly a large group at two long tables behind me burst into song, quite beautiful song. When I thank them, they tell me they are Swedes, a choir arrived for a singing competition at the Concert Hall. At my request, they proceed to sing a "summer hymn". And I wish that all international conflicts could be resolved in a singing contest. 
    My walk brings me back to Fat Margaret, once a prison. Now the thick-walled stone tower houses a maritime museum. I wander inside and contemplate images of Neolithic Estonians in skin boats, of fish-factory ships, of the salvage from warships sunk in the Baltic. There's a copper deep-sea diving suit from the 1920s, worthy of Jules Verne. It's hard to image anyone in that kind of armor surfacing again from the deep; the commentary notes it was never used. Just above the right shoulder of the deep-sea suicide suit is the first painting in special exhibition of seascapes by an Estonian artist, Rein Mägar. It's dated 2011, and shows a wild spray of blue and white. The title? Unistus. "Dream." Perfect. Another nudge to keep on doing what I have come here to do.
    Leaving Fat Margaret, I look at the interesting building across the street, which pays distant homage to the Tudors. Now a children's library, this building at 73 Pikk was formerly the Tallinn headquarters of the Soviet KGB. A nice progression. At the Museum of Occupations, I watched the former deputy head of the KGB in Tallinn, Vladimir Pool, recalling on camera his experiences when he was trying to monitor the growth of the Singing Revolution in 1988, three years before the popular movement in the Baltic countries helped trigger the collapse of the Sovet Union. The KGB boss had his agents phoning in estimated numbers of Estonians arriving for a songfest that had been shaped as a cry for freedom from Soviet rule. Pool was astounded as his agents reported ever-growing numbers of people. He lost contact with one of his agents. The man called in. "Fifty thousand now," he reported. (The number was to get much larger). Then the agent added, "Soviet power has just gone down the toilet."
    In the evening, I walk along Soo Street, northwest of the Old City, to a studio in an old wooden building where I open the first session of my Active Dreaming workshop. People are excited; some have read Conscious Dreaming in its Estonian edition.
    As we go round the circle, making our introductions, I feel that a grand communal adventure is beginning.
    A young Estonian man tells us, "I am here because I feel an ache in my belly when I have to come back to the body from my dreams."
    An older woman says, "I am here because your book gave words for how I have dreamed all my life."
    A computer programmer says, "I'm here because my dreams have returned after years of amnesia but I'm clueless."
    A beautiful woman announces, "In my dream, I saw Russians driving around crazily on a monster, aggressive lawnmower in front of my dream home and I want them off my grass."

Photos of Tallinn (1) Great Coastal Gate (2) Prison doors in Museum of Occupations (3) Steps in Old City (c) Robert Moss

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sun of the Hanged Man in the Sky of Tallinn

Tallinn, Estonia

"Time to start dreaming" was the message of a card on the bed in my hotel room. Perfect counsel for a dreamer, especially after 20 hours of travel to Tallinn from New York, with long stopovers at JFK and at Stockholm's Arlanda airport.

But no dreams survived my first short sleep, a couple of hours when my aching body claimed some rest and relief. The restaurant was still open in the Wiegand restaurant downstairs, so I had a quick bite, preferring not to find myself waking ravenous in the middle of the night. I learned that the Wiegand in question - the 19th century manufacturer who founded the factory complex of which the fine modern Domina Inn Ilmarine is now a part - made a habit of feeding his workers a decent breakfast and lunch every day, so I seemed to be dining withing a good tradition. Wiegand produced the equipment for mass-producing vodka and other products (sugar, plywood). Optimistically, he named his factory after a character in the Finish epic, the Kalevala, who has a magic mill that spews out vast quantities of grain, salt and money. (The Estonian language is related to Finnish, and there is a lot of traffic across the Baltic between Tallinn and Helsinki.)

Back in bed in the early hours, I made it my plan to dream into my coming days in Estonia. I am leading an Active Dreaming workshop here for the first time, and also exploring the Old City of Tallinn and the coast, and meeting some shamanic practitioners who are working to recover old ways.

I woke from the following dream:

I look across the frozen sea at the sun, a great disk low on the horizon. The sun shines with a brilliant white-gold light, and I can look at it without blinking. To my amazement, the sun does a complete flip, like a gold coin. It falls flat over the ice, then turns over and shines brighter than before. I have never seen such a phenomenon.

I say in high excitement to the group I am leading, "This is the symbol of the Hanged Man when he has emerged from his oppression and the light is reborn in his life. It is the greatest of prizes - a new sun in the heavens, infusing all of life with new purpose and energy."

My excitement spreads through the group. I sit down and draw an image of the sun's revolution, about the size of a Tarot card laid out horizontally in one corner of a large sheet of art paper. Then, with rapid strokes, I give the impression of tremendous activity, in the sky and on the earth, on the rest of the paper, and hold it up to show the group.

Someone shouts that he recognizes "Catherine" in the larger and more impressionistic part of the sketch. We won't talk about that now, I respond. We'll save the details and go with the big picture.

I woke from this dream to look out through my hotel window at the sun shining on the red roof and towers of the Old City of Tallinn. I felt deep gratitude for this dream, whose imagery seems highly relevant to my purposes in returning to the Baltic. The Baltic republics are located in what has been termed the "Bloodlands" of Europe, the territories between Germany and Russia that have suffered repeated attack and occupation by both those powers. At the start of World War II they were seized by the Red Army (as Stalin took advantage of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a deal of devils to carve up Central Europe); then in 1941 they were occupied by the Nazis; and in 1944 the Red Army came back, to stay until the Baltic states won their independence in 1991.

The Hanged Man, usually shown as a figure hanged upside down, is the perfect image for an individual or a culture that has suffered oppression, which may include addiction. I am here to support the spiritual and cultural rebirth that can be born from the depths of suffering. The world saw the courage and rich folklore traditions of the Estonians at work in the Singing Revolution, when a quarter of the population came together to defy the Soviet tanks with their songs.

Catherine? Perhaps the wife of Peter the Great, whose bedroom survives in the cottage that the tsar used as a summer residence while Kadriorg Palace was being built.

Sunrise over the Bay of Tallin photo by Marko Kalmus

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dream Show live on Tuesday April 12th

Calling all dreamers: My next "Way of the Dreamer" radio show on will be LIVE with call-ins next TUESDAY, April 12th. Please call in with dreams and questions to share. We'll play the Lightning Dreamwork game and explore the many ways in which we can use the arts of Active Dreaming to live more consciously and creatively.

The show airs from 9-10 AM Pacific time, which is 12 noon-1 PM Eastern.

The toll-free number for callers is (800) 555-5453. If you can't get through right away, try, try again. If you are calling from outside North America (or need a backup number because the 800 line is busy) alternative numbers are (310) 371-5459 and (310) 371-5444.- You can access the archive and download or listen to previous shows at

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dream archeology, anamnesis and a Baltic hero

When I was a boy, I was instructed by a dream visitor that the knowledge that matters comes to us through anamnesis. The visitor took the form of a radiant young man from the eastern edge oif the Mediterranean, and he spoke in the diffcult language of the neoplatonist philosophers, for whome the word "anamnesis" - which literally means "remembering" - has a special spin. It means re-membering the knowledge that belonged to us on a higher plane, before we crossed the river of Lethe (forgetfulness) to enter the body for our present life experience.
      Humans are forgetful animals. On our roads in life we forget and remember, remember and forget. Dreams, when we catch them and work with them, are vital tools for anamnesis, which I want to translate as soul remembering. But the clues and souvenirs we retain from dreams are often mysterious, fragmentary or obscure. We may need help to grasp where exactly they come from and where we need to follow them. We can gain greatly from the insights and suggestions of fellow-dreamers once we have the right process for sharing and offering mutual feedback on each other's dreams. The Lightning Dreamwork is the process I developed and recommend for opening a safe space where dreams can be shared in a way that is fun and energizing and leads to appropriate action.
     I shared a dream from Saturday morning with an online community and I was thrilled and even awed by the depth and quality of the responses I received from fellow -dreamers. A key element in my dream was that I had discovered a Baltic hero from the Middle Ages, apparently from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and wove a mythic story around him. On the forum, a dreamer named Lisa - who professed no prior knowledge of Lithuania or Baltic heroes - reported that she had done an online scout and found a "seer and dream interpreter" named Lizdeika and thought he was a candidate for the role of my "Baltic hero."
    I was amazed by her discovery. Until I read her comments, I had completely forgotten that on my second visit to Lithuania, I was taken to the old city of Kernave and show a hill that was the reputed birthplace of Lizdeika. According to tradition, he was born in an eagle's nest on that hill. Under cold rain, I had paused to take a photograph of the shaman's hill - and wonder of wonders - still had that photograph on the hard drive of the Netbook on which I am typing this (see above).
     Lizdeika lived closed to wolves, and was reputed to be able to shapeshift into their form. He plays a central role in the unfoldment of the most famous dream in Baltic history. Grand Duke Gediminas dreamed of an iron wolf that howled. He consulted Lizdeika - by now the krivu krivaitis, or high priest of the old religion - on the meaning of the dream. Lizdeika told the grand duke he should build a fortified city on the hill where he had been sleeping. That city is Vilnius, where you can see a statue of Gediminas' iron wolf in front of the cathedral.
     My dream of a Baltic hero has given me a very interesting story line, which I will explore both through the creative imagination, through conscious dream tracking and through field and archival research. This is a fresh example of dream archeology, in which a dream provides a lead to the relevant past that can be checked out and may take us far beyond what was previously known to scholars. It is also an model of how dreamers can help each other to claim the full power of soul remembering that becomes available through dreams.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The man who told his son not to let him die

Call him Sol. He was a rich and successful Jewish businessman who came to one of my programs at his wife’s insistence. His veneer of cynicism cracked when he spoke of his father. He described how his father died in his arms in hospital, and that his father’s last words were, “Don’t let me die.”

Sol rarely remembered dreams, and recalled no dreams of his father in the decade since his death. But he confessed that he often felt a crushing sense of guilt and heaviness. In discussion, he also told me that, in his family and his religious upbringing, the afterlife was never discussed. His father’s belief was that life ends with death; after death (to quote Harold Kushner) we just become “soil”.

I worked with him and a woman who served as a second tracker. I asked him about what his father had loved. Travel and his tropical fish aquarium were two of the main things. I could feel that the father was not far away. We agreed we would set a location for a dialogue: the basement of the old house where he kept his fish tanks. It seemed promising that in recent years Sol had also been keeping fish.

We all found the father right away and had three overlapping and unfolding experiences. Sol had his first conscious encounter with his father since his death - a loving and ultimately very clearing and unburdening encounter which opened his heart tremendously. They had a very specific exchange about the father's surviving wife, who recently suffered a heart attack. The father confirmed that he had helped to send her back from her NDE in the ambulance because she "wasn't ready yet".

In conversation with the woman tracker and me, the father was initially confused by a number of things - what was this drumming noise? Where was Sol's wife? Who were these people in the basement? What was Sol doing on the floor with a pretty woman the father did not recognize?

Sol's father - in dialogue with me - proved quite eager to learn. Having absolutely no preparation for an afterlife, he had checked out without ever leaving. Like many Jewish people, he had been taught that there is nothing on the other side of physical death. The body decays until it is "earth" and that is that. Sol's dad now recognized that he was alive on the other side of death, but he had been living with the family all this time.

We discussed the risk that he might be transferring health problems he had suffered to his son (he had cancer, as well as other serious symptoms), being so tightly enmeshed in the energy field. He agreed to support an action to separate and relocate his dense energy so that his higher consciousness could move free. We explored this together and came up with a plan. He would not go to the expensive mausoleum where his body had been stored; he found that idea disgusting. He would be willing to have his dense energy transferred to a ring - one he described in specific detail - that was in the son's possession. Because of his love of fish and the water, we agreed that the ring would be placed among the "angelfish" (his favorites!) in the tabletop aquarium in the son's study. And he wanted Sol to eat some halvah in his honor.

In the sharing we learned that Sol had recently added angelfish to his collection. He also told us that he had an "inexplicable" desire to buy halvah the previous day - and that his father had left him a ring that perfectly matched the description I was given. We had the makings of a "sea burial" in a fish tank. Sol proceeded to place the ring in the aquarium, and we all felt we had launched a tremendous healing.

The next day (without knowing what had happened), one of the other women in the workshop presented me with a wonderful little carved fish fetish, very like an angelfish. Then yet another woman in the workshop presented me with a copy of a book with an almost identical fish on the cover. Synchronicity will tell us whether we are in the right waters.

Postscript: In some parts of Europe, an April Fools prank is known as an "April fish." However, this fish tale is no joke. I have described exactly what happened, just as it did. If I haven't published much fiction in recent years, it may be because it is hard for fiction to compete with what I encounter in my practice.