Friday, March 28, 2014

A mirror for the Sun Goddess

One of my favorite teaching stories about soul loss and soul recovery comes from Japan. It is a mythic tale of Amaterasu Omikami, the Japanese sun goddess, and it offers a wonderful script for soul healing.
     The beloved sun goddess Amaterasu is shamed and abused by a raging male, her stormy brother/consortt Susanowo, who is a hero when is comes to fighting monsters but is no hero in the family home. They have had children together, born magically from gifts they have given each other – three girls from Susanowo’s sword and five boys from the jewels of Amaterasu.
     But Susanowo plays spoiler, smearing excrement where Amaterasu made fertile fields and crops, throwing a horse that is sacred to the goddess into the midst of her intimate weaving circle, and so on. The storm god’s violence reaches the point where Amaterasu takes refuge in a rock cave. And the light goes from the world.
      In her dark cavern the once radiant goddess sits brooding on the past, sinking deeper and deeper into feelings of guilt and shame. Maybe she starts telling herself that what has happened is somehow her fault, that she failed her consort in some important way, that she failed to give what was needed. In the depths, she has lost her inner light, while the world has lost her radiance. The myriad gods and goddesses are desperate to call the sun back.
     They try many ruses to lure Amaterasu out of the dark cave. They call on a wise god, whose name means Keeper of Thoughts, to advise them. He usually keeps his best ideas to himself, but the cold and darkness in the world have got him worried too. So he counsels the gods to gather all the roosters than can be relied to crow at dawn. He tells the gods to hang a mirror with strands of jewels on the branches of a Sakaki tree at the entrance of Amaterasu’s cave. The gods do this, decorating the tree with bright cloth banners, without fully understanding the plan. The cocks crow, the gods whoop and howl. And Amaterasu stays in her cave.
      Now one of her sister goddesses, Uzume, comes up with a plan of her own. Uzume is the goddess of mirth and revelry. She is also called the Great Persuader and the Heavenly Alarming Woman. Now we see why. Uzume overturns a tub near the mouth of the rock cave, strips off her clothes like a professional, and moves into a wild, sexy dance that has the gods laughing and bellowing with delight. Amaterasu is curious. Why is everyone having so much fun? She approaches the mouth of her cave and demands to know what is going on. Uzume calls back to her, “We’ve found you the perfect lover. Come and see.”
     Suspicious, Amaterasu peeks around the edge of the boulder she placed at the cave mouth to shut out the world. And she is awed and fascinated to see a figure of radiant beauty looking back at her. She is drawn, irresistibly, to this beauty, and comes up out of the darkness – to discover that the radiant being is her own beautiful self, reflected in the mirror the gods have hung in a tree near the cave. Now the god of Strength rushes out and holds Amaterasu, gently but firmly, to restrain her from going back into the dark. Another god places a magic rope across the entrance to the cave.
    Gods of passion and delight lead Amaterasu back into the assembly of the gods, and her light returns to the world. This is a marvelous collective dream of how soul recovery and soul healing become possible when we help each other to look in the mirror of the greater Self.
     Mirrors hang in the temples of Amaterasu today, to remind us to look for the goddess or god in ourselves. When we locate the drama of Amaterasu in our own lives, we begin to make a mirror for the radiance of the larger Self that can help to bring us, and those we love, up from the dark places.
     In some of my workshops, we have taken the story of Amaterasu's descent to the Underworld and turned it into a shamanic theater of soul recovery, with amazing results. However, the unfortunate cast as Susanowo must be depossessed of his role, and then welcomed back into the circle as a "new man", healed and enlightened. This can be profoundly healing too.

Graphic: Amaterasu returning from the Underworld, returning light to the world. By Utagawa Kunisada , 19th century. Public domain.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

In praise of journaling

When a lusty, ambitious young Scot named James Boswell first met Dr. Samuel Johnson, Johnson advised him to keep a journal of his life. Boswell responded that he was already journaling, recording "all sorts of little incidents." Dr Johnson said, "Sir, there is nothing too little for so little a creature as man."
    Indeed, there is nothing too little, or too great, for inclusion in a journal. If you are not already keeping one, I entreat you to start today. Write whatever is passing through your mind, or whatever catches your eye in the passing scene around you. If you remember your dreams, start with them. If you don't recall your dreams, start with whatever thoughts and feelings are first with you as you enter the day, or that interval between two sleeps the French used to call dorveille ("sleep-wake"), a liminal space when creative ideas often stream through.
    If you have any hopes of becoming a writer, you'll find that journaling is your daily workout that keeps your writing muscles limber. If you are already a writer, you may find that as you set things down just as they come, with no concern for editors, critics or consequences, you are releasing descriptive scenes, narrative solutions, characters - even entire first drafts - quite effortlessly.
    Some of the most productive writers have also been prodigious journal-keepers. Graham Greene started recording dreams when he was sixteen, after a breakdown in school. His journals from the last quarter-century of his life survive, in the all-but-unbreakable code of his difficult handwriting. First and last, he recorded his dreams, and - as I describe in detail in my
 Secret History of Dreaming, they gave him plot solutions, character development, insights into the nature of reality that he attributed to some of his characters, and sometimes bridge scenes that could be troweled directly into a narrative. Best of all, journaling kept him going, enabling him to crank out his daily pages for publication no matter how many gins or how much cloak-and-dagger or illicit amour he had indulged in the night before.
    You don't have to be a writer to be a journaler, but journal-keeping will make you a writer anyway. In the pages of your journal, you will meet yourself, in all your aspects. As you keep a journal over the years, you'll notice the rhymes and loops or cycles in your life. 

    Mircea Eliade, the great Romanian-born historian of religions, was a great journaler. In the last volume of his published journals, he reflects, during a visit to Amsterdam in 1974, on how a bitter setback to his hopes at the time he first visited that city nearly a quarter-century before had driven him to do his most enduring work. He had been hoping that his early autobiographical novel, published in English as Bengal Nights, would be a big commercial success, enabling him to live as a full-time novelist. Sales were disappointing. Had it been otherwise, "I would have devoted almost all my time to literature and relegated the history of religions to second place, even though Shamanism was at the time almost entirely drafted." The world would have gained a promising, and perhaps eventually first-class, novelist; but we might have lost the scholar who first made the study of shamanism academically respectable and proceeded to breathe vibrant life, as well as immense erudition, into the cross-cultural study of the human interaction with the sacred.
    Synesius of Cyrene, a heterodox bishop in North Africa around 400, counseled in a wonderful essay On Dreams that we should keep twin journals: a journal of the night and a journal of the day. In the night journal, we would record dreams as the products of a "personal oracle" and a direct line to the God we can talk to. In the day journal, we would track the signs and correspondences  through which the world around us is constantly speaking in a symbolic code. "All things are signs appearing through all things. They are brothers in a single living creature, the cosmos." The sage is one who "understands the relationship of the parts of the universe" - and we deepen and focus that understanding by recording signs in our day journal.
     Partly because I keep unusual hours, and am often embarked on my best creative work long before dawn, I don't separate my night journal from my day journal. All the material goes into one book - a leather-bound travel journal, when I am on the road. I try to type up my entries before my handwriting (as difficult as Greene's) becomes illegible and put the printouts in big ringback binders. I save each entry with a date and a title in my data files, so I automatically have a running index.
     One of the things you'll come to see clearly, as you journal dreams over a considerable period of time, is that your dream self travels ahead of your waking self, scouting the ways. 

     To write my new book, The Boy Who Died and Came BackI mined my journals from many decades. There are fantastic dramas here, mythic trouble (and delight), times of terror and beauty and possible madness, and tremendous trans-temporal adventures in which sometimes I enter the situation of my counterparts in other times, and sometimes they join me in mine. We bring each other gifts and challenges, allies and adversaries from other times and other worlds.
      Reading over all these pages, I feel sympathy and compassion as I monitor how younger Roberts tried to make sense of all this while lacking any really helpful mentor in ordinary reality, and how they struggled to keep body and soul together on the roads of this world. I wonder, as I consider how “past” and “future” aspects of myself looked in on each other and sent each other mental texts, whether my present acts of observation are changing things in, say, 1987-1988.
     These journals are not really old; they confirm the idea that the only time is always Now and that all our pasts and futures and probable reality are accessible in the moment of Now, and can be re-visioned and revised for the better. 


Monday, March 24, 2014

Dreaming with the animals we know best

When shamans go dreaming, characteristically they operate under the protection and guidance of animal guardians. Forging a close relationship with one or more “power animals” is central to developing the arts of shamanic dream travel and tracking. It is invaluable in maintaining healthy boundaries and defending psychic space. A conscious connection with the animal guardians shows us how to follow the natural paths of our energy. A strong working connection with the animal powers brings the ability to shapeshift the energy body and project energy forms that can operate at a distance from the physical body.
     Our ancestors believed that we are born with a connection with a particular totem animal; this was the raison d’ĂȘtre of the clan system. Some Australian Aborigines believe, up to the present day, that when a human is born, its “bush soul” is born in the form of an animal or bird. We may feel that we have a lifelong connection with a certain animal or bird. Others may observe this in our body type, our life styles, our modes of responding to challenges.
     But in the course of a lifetime, we may develop many animal connections. Some of these may stem from our relations with the animals who share our homes and habitats, from the family pets to wild animals encountered in nature and in our travels. Animals we have met in the physical world may reappear in our dreams, as allies and helpers.
     Here are two personal examples, one involving a dog who had shared our home, the other a bird who had shared our habitat:
     After a black dog I had loved was killed on the road, he appeared again and again as a family protector. His presence, for a time, was all but physical. Driving the Jeep he had loved to ride in, a family member saw him in the rearview mirror and told him firmly to “Sit down!” The dog had died, but he was still very much around, watching over the family he had loved fiercely. After a time, I performed a ceremony to release his spirit.
     After this, he appeared in a different way. A larger intelligence began to work through his form, and I found a black dog – who sometimes walked upright and even drove an automobile – appearing as a guide and bodyguard in my dreams and journeys. He showed me passages into the afterlife. He played guide and escort for me on a powerful and challenging journey that finally resolved a past-life issue that had shadowed my current life in many ways.
     I believe that, in the year after his death, I was dealing with the individual spirit of the dog I had loved. I feel that in later years, the form of my beloved dog has fused with a larger transpersonal source of guidance, linked to the precinct of Anubis, the “Opener of the Ways”.
      On the same land where I lived with my black dog, I had a series of physical encounters with a red-tailed hawk who spoke to me in a language I felt I could understand – if I only spoke hawk. In a spontaneous vision one night, when I was drifting between waking and sleep, the hawk lent me her wings, and I found myself drawn to a cabin in the woods, north of Lake Champlain, where I had the first of a series of life-changing visits with an ancient Iroquois “woman of power.” I have written about this at length in my book Dreamways of the Iroquois. The hawk has appeared again and again over the years, to offer confirmation or warning in its flight patterns over the roads of everyday life, and to lend me her wings in dreams and visions.
     Animal dreams may be the doorway to developing strong working relations with the animal guardians. These dreams may hold up a mirror to our health or habits. They may show us how we need to feed and attend to our bodies. They may reveal a potential we have not yet developed. They may tell a story about our lives or relationships like one of Aesop’s fables. They may be the place of encounter between our dream self and a spiritual ally or guardian.
     Our true spiritual teachers come looking for us in our dreams, and often they come in unexpected forms.The cat in your dreams may be one who shares your life now, or the kitty you remember from childhood. The dream cat may be an aspect of your self that needs to be pampered or walk by night or play hunter. It could be the familiar of another dreamer, or a guide that has assumed a familiar face. It could have slipped the reins of Freya's chariot, with a nod from the goddess, to take you flying across the night sky. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Ready to Be Hanged

I was laughing when I came out of my dream around 3:00 a.m. this morning. Two hours later, I am still grinning from ear to ear.
    If you read my dream report solely for content, you might have a hard time finding anything to laugh about. In the dream, in a seedy-genteel seaside town, I am sentenced to be hanged for a mysterious crime. I am tried in absentia, and a couple of young, incompetent lawyers inform me that I have been sentenced although the judge was not persuaded that there was any evidence that I even knew the alleged victim. Instead of pressing for a mistrial or an appeal, I accept my fate. I sit down to write letters to loved ones, but my pen is drippy, spoiling the pages, and I'm having a hard time remembering my home address. I am not in custody, but as the hour of my hanging approaches, a policeman with a red beard is watching me closely.
    I titled my dream report, "Ready to Be Hanged!" If you read the full report for content alone, you might cast yourself down into a state of Kafkaesque gloom. But my first feelings, rising from the dream, were utterly different - and first feelings are always the best guidance on what is going on in a dream and what needs to be done with it.
    Why was I laughing? Because I recognized that the complete passivity and indifference of my dream self as he neared the hour of his hanging was a superb, mocking dramatization of how I can be in my waking reality in a sluggish period between bursts of creative passion and activity. I reveled in how my dream producers, yet again, were stirring me to action by 
holding up a fun house mirror to my behavior and attitudes in ordinary reality.
     I welcomed the presence of the Hangman, just off-stage, coming closer. Why? Because the Hangman, for me, is Death, and I notice I am always clearer, bolder and more proactive about life when I feel Death close to me. Death has many faces.  Death the Hangman has one face, in particular, for me, that is recognized by millions of people in the Hindu world. Yama, the Hindu death lord, likes to take souls out of bodies with a noose. I have had some memorable encounters with him over the years, and I always feel more alive when I feel him near.
      Once, on an Amtrak train headed along the Hudson River to New York City, I played a little game of clairvoyance I enjoy. I closed my eyes and tried to see the landscape beside the tracks with inner sight. Then I opened my eyes and checked my accuracy. I did this several times, giving myself an A- for accuracy. Then, with eyes closed, I saw a figure dressed all in black, with a broad-brimmed black hat, swinging a lasso, like Tom Mix. Really? I opened my eyes. Nope. No man in black with a lasso in ordinary reality. I closed my eyes, opening my inner senses more fully, and the figure was right there, beside me on the train.
     "Who are you?" I began a silent dialog.
     "I am Yama, my dear."
     "Why are you dressed like that?"
     "I adapt to circumstances."
     "I really want to talk to you."
     "I know you do, my dear, but we can only talk if you let me place my noose around your neck."
     There, on the train, I had cold shivers when I agreed to let the death lord place his noose around my neck. I was relieved when he let the rope lie lightly against my collarbones. But our conversation never lost its edge over the next twenty minutes, before the train stopped at Poughkeepsie. Surrounded by state bureaucrats on their laptops and cell phones, with his noose around my neck, I spoke with Yama about life and death and things to come in this world as the result of the play of forces invisible to most humans.
      On another occasion, it was the noose itself that spoke for Yama. 
Here's how I tell that story in The Boy Who Died and Came Back:

It’s my first time in Hawaii. I am on the wilder north shore of Oahu, swimming every morning in Waimea Bay, among sea turtles, reveling in sun and sand and sea. My time here is a waking dream. I can feel the fresh and vivid life of these islands, the gift of fire under water, of the eruption of submarine volcanoes. I can feel everything in the landscape borning and dying at the same time.
    I am scheduled to lead an edgy workshop at a conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams. The dream researchers, shrinks and artists are gathered in an unlikely venue, the Mormon stronghold of Brigham Young University, where caffeine and alcohol are banned and men and women are supposed to be locked up in their dorms by 9 p.m.(naturally, I am staying off-site). The theme of my workshop is “Active Dreaming for Death and Dying.” I am planning to take people on a journey to the Other Side, with the help of shamanic drumming and focused intention. I would like to introduce them to their personal Death, and get them ready to help others prepare for the big journey from which they will not return to their bodies. All in two hours, in a Mormon college auditorium.
    I am having doubts about whether I should stick to the agenda I have set. Off-campus, our dreamers have been relaxing with mai tais and longneck beers, and it’s party time every night. Maybe my Death theme is a little too grim for this crowd, in holiday mood. I could shift focus and simply lead some of my popular exercises, guiding people to enter each other’s dreams, meet the animal spirits and instantly become psychic sleuths and shamanic trackers.
     I am thinking about this as I run back into the ocean for a quick dip before my afternoon program. Washing in towards me, carried by a wave, is a black noose. I catch it. The noose is black fishermen’s rope. I am quite sure it is a direct comment on my plans for the afternoon. Yama, the Hindu death lord, pulls the soul out of the body with a noose. He is one of the Death figures I know well, and once, in a vision, he required me to let him put his black noose around my neck before he would speak to me. I drop any idea of revising my original plan. I walk into the auditorium, crowded with hundreds of people, swinging the noose, and announce to the group that Yama is ready to receive us. 

Like Nachiketas in the Katha Upanishad, I have found Yama to be a tremendous teacher. I have also encountered him as a very tough negotiator, just short of implacable.  I wrote a poem for Yama after a later interview, in which the topic was the price for allowing a certain life to continue:

Yama, we know each other.
You consented to speak with me
in the cultured voice of a maharajah
who plays polo with heads
though you would only answer my questions
when I agreed to let you place your noose
around my neck. I have seen you
in a business suit, in a robe of flame,

and in the black Tom Mix outfit
of a cowboy swinging a lasso.

     I recognize that I have my own contract with Death, and that there are things I need to do - and especially to write - before I am truly Ready for the Hangman. I love the way a dream can bring us more fully awake. Like the greatest teachers, dreams sometimes accomplish that by shock and humor. That was the gift of my dream last night.

The Hawaii story in this article is adapted from The Boy Who Died and Came Back: Adventures of a Dream Archaeologist in the Multiverse by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Drawing: Yama Adapts to Circumstances (c) Robert Moss

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A night of Asklepian dream healing

I have an intention for the night, and I state it simply and clearly: “I wish to be healed.” I add a second statement: “I ask for the health of body and mind required to serve my spiritual purpose.”-
     I stretch out on the bed. Immediately, I see an enormous serpent. It is gray-blue, and could be twenty feet long. I see the dark slits of its pupils, quite close to me, in a head larger than my own. I do not feel fear, but there is a strong sense of the uncanny, the presence of a transpersonal other. I feel this is the Asklepian serpent, a power mastered for healing. The form of the god appears less distinctly, like a living statue. Also the form of a large dog with tall pointy ears.
-   I resolve to let the snake enter my energy field and do anything required for healing. I begin to experience movements of the serpent energy through my chakras, starting at the root center and moving upwards. There are moments of gentle physical pressure or constriction as it passes through some of my energy centers – of slight pressure in the heart, of a little constriction at the throat. The movement ceases to flow smoothly at the vision center, where I had been experiencing pressure and blurring. An experimental probe, not pushing too hard. The movement loops down and back, returning to try again. I invoke Light as well, and feel the presence and blessing of a being of Light I know well. I feel a process of healing has been initiated, and will be played out over time, if I allow it to be.
-    All of this has been enacted in the liminal state of wakedream the French used to call dorveille, which is where much of the work of Asklepian healing (I believe) took place, Now I let myself drift towards sleep, hoping for the gift of further healing in the dreamspace. That gift came in the form of an amazing and energizing sleep dream that connected my personal healing to new creative endeavors, writing new books and bringing them to the world.
Comment: This is an excerpt from my journal from the night of March 6-7, 2003, a night of terrific personal healing of the kind pilgrims traveled to the temples of Asklepios to seek. For a full account of the ancient experience in the temples of dream healing associated with Asklepios and his divine family, please see The Secret History of Dreaming.

Photos: (1) Asklepios with his companion, in the archaeological museum at Epidaurus; (2) the author at the serpent column in the temple of Askelpios at Pergamon (Bergama) in Anatolia.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Night trains

I've always liked trains. When I was a boy I would spend Saturdays riding out to the end of the train lines in Melbourne, Australia, and collecting the little timetable booklets they used to give out at each terminus. The floor of my room was wholly occupied by model Lionel trains, with little villages and battalions of toy soldiers, with which I would make Little Worlds. In later life, I've enjoyed riding trains across the English countryside, and from upstate New York along the Hudson River to Penn Station, a ride that can make you imagine you are sailing down the Rhine, when the state workers aren't squawking too loud on their cell phones.
     But I take far more trains in my night dreams than in regular life. Sometimes these journeys closely resemble ordinary trips, or anticipate future ones. Sometimes they take me into a different era - to a bittersweet kiss at the Gare du Nord in Paris, on the eve of the German Occupation, before I was born - or into an alternate reality like those suggested by de Chirico's steam engines, forever puffing away beyond a wall, or the trains that can plow the sea in Japanese anime movies.   
     As I listen to train dreams, and review my own, I'm struck by the wordplay that is often puffing away with the dream engines.What 
line are we on? Are we on track or off track? Are we in need of new training? What's on the other side of the tracks? Are we tied to the tracks (or have we tied someone else to the tracks)? Are we in danger of missing the train?   
      At a point in my life when I was changing lines of work, I dreamed I came to a station where I was in danger of missing the train. I had to push open door after door in order to get to the platform. The doors were heavy and there seemed to be no end to them. I was becoming hot and frustrated when I became lucid and realized that there is more than one way of getting over a dream obstacle. My dream self levitated, rising above the barriers, then hovered like a bird above the railyard. From this perspective, I could see that there were many lines available, not just one or two options. And I could see into the distance, getting a glimpse of what lay ahead on each of the tracks.
      When I remember this dream, it reminds me to try to get the big picture when approaching any decision, and that it's not enough to stay 
on track; we need to be sure that we are on the right track.     By contrast, in another dream I f was being hustled along by an incompetent tourist guide to get on board a train that was about to leave a station. The guide gave me no forewarning of the departure time and I had to scramble to get my essential stuff - my journals, camera and art supplies - together for what was supposed to be a fun day of exploration. I found myself in an overcrowded compartment with no space to read and write. I carried this "little" dream with me as a caution not to let myself be hurried by other people's agendas into following a line that isn't right for me.   
     Though I like trains, in dreams like this they can represent collective approaches and group thinking that don't serve our creativity and our personal preferences. Yet staying on track with other people's values and approaches may be the right way to go. In her dream, a woman was shown two trains that would each get her to her chosen destination at the same time. One of these trains ran on rails; the other did not. In the dream, she chose the train that stayed on track because this felt more comfortable and secure.
      There is urgency, or sadness, in some dreams of trains. We are worried we are going to miss a train, which seems to represent a life opportunity. We are parting from someone we love, as did another women dreamer who waved a tearful goodbye to her husband as his train pulled out of a station the week before he died from a heart attack. A mother who lost her son tragically young dreamed that she and her surviving boy accompanied him to the far side of the railroad tracks, and had to leave him there.
    Of course, a dream of trains may be quite literal, so you always want to ask whether it is possible you'll be taking that line in the future.   
     Then there are the trains that take us into another realm, like the Hogwarts train that leaves from platform 9 3/4 in the Harry Potter stories. Recently I dreamed I was riding the Story Train from Junibacken, the Children's Museum in Stockholm devoted to the works of Astrid Lindgren. In my dream, the scenes that became visible from the Story Train were new ones that wanted to be written and shared with children through me.
    Michele dreamed she was in the desert, looking at an immense lion sculpture that reminded her of the Egyptian Sphinx. As she watched, the great lion rose from the sand and became the engine of a train that carried a happy band of children off on magical adventures. This dream inspired her to create an illustrated children's book and to help children with their dreams.
    As in Michele's dream, the engine of the dream train may represent what drives us and fires us up in our life journeys. I love the idea of riding a train that is pulled by a lion!
Night Station. Photo (c) Robert Moss

Saturday, March 15, 2014

News from Ephesus: dream divination is applied science

Artemidorus, the most famous dream interpreter of the Hellenistic world, lived and practiced in the great temple city of Ephesus in Anatolia. Only one of his many books survives, The Interpretation of Dreams, or Oneirocritica. The title was borrowed by Freud many centuries later, but their approach could hardly be more different. While Freud is plumbing the basements of the personal subconscious, Artemidorus is searching in dreams for knowledge of the future that can be used for the good of an individual, a family or a whole community.
    The dreamer of Ephesus states his general objective at the start of his book. He wants to make a rational and effective case for divination, based on his personal experience and the case studies he has collected.  He also wants to offer a practical guidebook that any intelligent reader can use. He gives his credentials in his opening pages: “I have not only taken special pains to procure every book on the interpretation of dreams, but have consorted for many years with the much-despised diviners of the marketplace…In the different cities of Greece and at the great religious gatherings of that country, in Asia, in Italy and in the largest and most populous of the islands, I have patiently listened to old dreams and their consequences.” His authority is based on experience: “Everything has been the result of personal experience, since I have always devoted myself, day and night, to the study of dream interpretation.” [1]
     Artemidorus proceeds to distinguish different types of dreams. A fundamental difference is between oneiros, which he defines as a dream that “indicates a future state of affairs” and enhypnion – stuff “in sleep” – that “indicates a present state of affairs”, ranging from the state of your digestion to your desire to be with your lover or the haunting images of things that you fear. People who lead “an upright life” try to discipline themselves to avoid being “muddled” by the fears and desires reflected in such sleep experiences, which are the stuff of much modern dream analysis
     In the Oneirocritica, Aretmidorus is interested only in dreams that reveal the future, and especially in those that do this through allegory rather than by literal depiction of possible scenes and events. Allegorical dreams are “those which signify one thing by means of another.” 
      Artemidorus states bluntly, “The mind predicts everything that will happen in the future.” He gives examples of precognitive dreams that presented future events in an entirely literal way. A man dreams of a shipwreck and then his boat is wrecked and he narrowly avoids drowning, as in the dream. Another dreams he is wounded in the shoulder by a friend in a hunting accident, and again the dream is played out exactly.
      If it is possible to dream the future with this kind of clarity, why do we need allegories? Artemidorus offers two reasons. The first is that we may lack the experience to understand a future event perceived in a dream – for example, because we have not yet encountered a person or situation that features in the dream. By setting us a puzzle to figure out, the “allegorical” dream gives us a rational way to access what the larger mind knows about things to come. Second, the kind of dream dramas Artemidorus describes can bring an emotional charge that leads to action; “it is the nature of the oneiros to awaken and excite the soul by inducing active undertakings.”
       Artemidorus notes that while the gods do not lie, they like to speak in riddles. This is because “they are wiser than we and do not wish us to accept anything without a thorough examination”. He gives the example of a man who dreamed the god Pan told him that his wife would poison him via his best friend. It was the relationship that was poisoned, when the wife proceeded to have an affair with the friend. 
     Artemidorus is very clear about what the Oneirocritica is, and what it is not. He is going to show us how to decode allegorical dreams in order to discern the future. He is well aware that other kinds of dreams require other kinds of dream work, and he wrote about other types of dreams in books that have not survived, as well as a book of augury – divination by bird-watching. 
      Artemidorus recognized that every dream may be unique. The snake in your dream is not the same as the snake in mine. To read the meaning of a dream symbol correctly, you must know the dreamer’s identity, position in life, habits and medical condition. You must also question the dreamer’s feelings about a dream.
     Artemidorus observes that we dream the future for others as well as ourselves. Sometimes we receive a dream message for someone else. “Many dreams come true for those whose characters are similar to the dreamer’s and for his relatives and namesakes.” Artemidorus gives the example of a woman who dreamed she was married to a man who was not her husband. He observed that work with this dream could proceed in several directions, including exploring the possibility that it warned of death; “marriage and death signify each other because the circumstances surrounding a marriage and a funeral are similar.” This association, it turned out, was on the right track, but it was the dreamer’s sister, not the dreamer herself, who “married death” after the dream.   
     Artemidorus kept in touch with his clients after consultations, and apparently believed that divination through dreams is for the benefit of the whole community. This carries a burden. “If a man dreams that he has become a prophet and has been celebrated for his predictions, he…will take upon himself, in addition to his own anxieties, those of others.” 
      He wanted to raise dream divination to the level of an applied science. In the view of one modern scholar, Christine Walde, he succeeded. “The more complex aspects of divination – which is the attempt to investigate the connections underlying fate and the cosmos through natural and artificial means – constituted both an ancient mode for mastering life and a way of gaining knowledge or insight that, in the context of its time, can in no way be dismissed as irrational; at most, it might be considered extrarational.” Artemidorus devised a “demystified” approach to divination that “provides the standardized conditions that scientific distance requires” and “an imposing reservoir of knowledge about things in the world and their interdependence.” [2] 


1. All quotations from Artemidorus are from, Oneirocritica: The Interpretation of Dreams. Trans. Robert J. White. Torrance CA: Original Books, 1990.
2. Christine Walde, “Dream Interpretation in a Prosperous Age? Artemidorus, the Greek Interpreter of Dreams” in David Shulman and Guy G. Stroumsa (eds) Dream Cultures: Explorations in the Comparative History of Dreaming. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 126, 128.

This article is adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library. All rights reserved.
Photo: Medusa at Ephesus (c) Robert Moss

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The causes of dream drought

Too many of us have lost touch with our dreams. It's no exaggeration to state that our society is suffering a severe and protracted dream drought.
   From the viewpoint of many spiritual traditions, this is a very serious condition. It's through dreams, say the Navajo, that humans keep in touch with the spirit realm. If you have lost your dreams, say the Iroquois, you've lost part of your soul. "It is an age-old fact," declared the great psychologist C.G.Jung in his last major essay, "that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions."
    There are three main reasons for the dream drought in many modern lives:
1. Bad habits.
The rhythms and routines of a typical urban life simply don't support dream recall. Too often, we are jolted awake by alarm clocks - or bed mates, or kids who need to get to school - and stumble out into the world, fueled with caffeine, to try to get through our rounds of deadlines and obligations. In many situations, we have nothing that supports and rewards the habit of taking time to collect our dreams. Most of us also lack a practice for creating a safe space where we can share our dreams, receive helpful feedback, and be supported in devising creative action to embody the guidance and energy of our dreams. If we don't do something with our dreams, we will not dream well.
2. Fear and regret.
We run away from our dreams because we think they might be telling us something we don't want to hear - about the dark side of ourselves, or trouble or illness ahead. We slam the door and say "it's only a dream." This is a poor strategy. Issues we leave unresolved in the night are likely to come round and bite us in the rear end in the everyday world.
    Alternatively, we dream of something wonderful - of joy and delight with Mr or Ms Right, of a dream home, a dream job, a world of peace and beauty. But when we wake up we tell ourselves there's no one like Mr Right in our life, or we don't have the looks or the money or the ability to manifest what we enjoyed in our dreams. So we kiss off the dreams, telling ourselves they are "only" dreams. Again, this is a foolish reflex. If we can dream it, we may just be able to do it.

3. Artificial sleep cycles.
Very often our concept of a good night's sleep is at odds with our dreams. Many of us believe - supported by any number of sleep doctors and pharmaceutical companies - that we need to spend seven or eight hours each night in uninterrupted sleep. This idea would have amazed our ancestors. Before the advent of artificial lighting (gas and then electricity) most humans experienced "segmented sleep" divided into at least two distinct cycles, a "first sleep" and a "second sleep" as they used to be called in England.
    Experiments by a team led by Dr Thomas Wehr for the National Institutes of Mental Health suggest that, deprived of artificial lighting, people revert to the ancient sleep plan, with an interval of several hours between the two sleeps.One of the most interesting findings of Wehr's research was that during this interval subjects typically register elevated levels of prolactin, a pituitary hormone that helps hens to brood peacefully on their eggs for prolonged periods, and assists humans to lay eggs of a different kind, but putting them into a benign altered state of consciousness not unlike meditation. Sleep historian A.Roger Ekirch says flatly, "Consolidated sleep, as we experience it today, is unnatural."
    The French had a charming word for the liminal state between two sleeps: dorveille, which literally means wake-sleep. Among indigenous and early peoples, it's a time when you might stir and share dreams with whoever is available. It's a highly creative state, so much so that in my Secret History of Dreaming I have called it the "solution state", based on the many scientific discoveries, and other breakthoughs, have come in this zone. While we are primed or medicated to give ourselves just one longish sleep period,we are limiting our chances of recalling and sharing dreams, and depriving ourselves of easy access to the fertile field of hypnagogia - the images that come and the connections that are made - between sleep and waking.
For more on natural and artificial sleep cycles, and the "solution state", please see The Secret History of Dreaming. For practical help on breaking a dream drought, please see my book Active Dreaming.
Graphic: Sign in Rawnsley Park, South Australia during a drought. By Peripitus via Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Freud studies isomorphy at the corner of my street

Freud is observing the traffic at the corner of my street. He looks to be in the prime of life, wearing a well-cut suit and hat, his beard glossy and recently trimmed.
     Some of the cars approaching the stop light look like parade floats. Freud pays close attention when they slow as the light changes. A group atop a truck look like rebel soldiers from India in the era of the British Raj. People in costume on other vehicles seem to be enacting historical tableaux, showing the passage of great events.

     Freud is adjusting his view that dreams are inner psychological experiences that have nothing to do with anyone except the dreamer (and of course the analyst). He is tracking resemblances between inner dreams and outer events, in the world as well as an individual life. He is a keen student of isomorphy.
     With some excitement, he is also developing and modifying his theories - reflected in his "historical novels" (as he once called his works on Leonardo, Moses and Akhenaten)  - that the evolution of a society or a religion can be compared to that of an individual. Standing outside the swirl of events, he can read their patterns better. Like the observer of a passing parade.

I woke from this dream before 4:00 a.m. today with feelings of satisfaction. It seemed well and good that Freud is alive and well in my neighborhood, his agile mind in motion, not stuck in past grooves. Freud, after all, was not - and, it seems, is not - a Freudian.
    I love finding that Freud is a student of isomorphy. In his correspondence with Jung, quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli suggested that "isomorphy" - meaning identity or close similarity of forms - is a better term than "synchronicity" for the phenomena Jung tagged with that neologism.
    I am curious about the people dressed as Indian soldiers, maybe sepoys from the Indian Mutiny. Freud kept a statue of Vishnu, commissioned for him by his followers in the Indian Psychoanalytical Society, on his desk. In her memoir of her sessions with him, the writer H.D. describes handling it; the shape of this white figure reminded her of a lotus. I don't know whether Freud knew much about India, or studied Indian history. I will add that to my list of research topics.

As I record this short dream report, I do a quick count of the stack of books by Freud and about him on a table of current reading near my desk. Only ten. Ah, that's a manageable assignment for reading and re-reading. Only half the size of the stack of books by and about Mircea Eliade on the same table.
    I have been writing a story about Freud, off and on. I have great admiration for the depth of his culture and his studies of archaeology, history, mythology, languages, literature, religion. I have often wondered what he makes of his own theories, wherever he is now. Maybe I'll have the chance to learn more about that through direct observation. Will "my" Freud choose to speak with me face-to-face? I'll be open for that.

Action plan: Finish my story about Freud.
Bumper Sticker: On my street, Freud is not a Freudian.