Saturday, April 26, 2014

Le Hêtre: Beech Gate

The roots of the beech are living serpents
There is a green woman in the tree gate
her eyes are the green fire of growing things
The winged deer stamps its hooves
impatient for me to go in or go up.
High in the branches, close to the crown,
the raven couple wait for me
but for now my way is down
into the painted cave, past the see stone
where a ruined king came to call me.

For time I do not count I am among the long
luminous elegant people who raised me
when I was away from my body as a boy.
But I will not spend another life with them,
not yet. I feel my way down, ever down
to the shallows of blind fish
where grains of sand sparkle like jewels.
I choose the grain that glows like cinnabar
and it becomes a universe. I see now
how the infinitely large is contained
in the infinitely small, how the high branches
of the world tree in one universe
are the roots of the tree of life in another.

- Hameau de l'Etoile, April 27, 2014

Graphic: Le Hêtre de Ponthus, Forêt de Brocéliande

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Death and the Bull on the flight to Paris

Sometimes we don't understand the context and full significance of a dream until a subsequent event reveals it. On April 17, I recorded a dream report in my journal that included the following scene:

I am on the lawns of a center or temple devoted to Indian traditions, near a large sculpture of a sacred animal, a giant bull. I have a statuette of a bull that matches the giant version. I am carefully drawing a thick black line with a market, from between the horns along the ridge of the back. When I am finished, I place the statuette on the plinth, next to the giant version. This feels like the proper offering.

I woke from this dream tremendously excited, but the meaning and context of the dream remained a mystery. The location in the dream reminded me of the Kripalu yoga center, where I used to teach and where I had visions of Shiva. I felt strongly that the bull statues were of Nandi, a vehicle and form of Shiva.
    The match-up between the miniature bull statue and the giant one reminded me of other important resemblances I have noted in life, especially (given the Indian feel of the dream) of a time when I flew back from an emergency trip to London to pick up the pieces of a book tour I had been compelled to interrupt. I took an airport shuttle from O'Hare to the norther suburbs of Chicago and noted that the Indian driver had a large glass or crystal statue of Ganesha, the divine Gatekeeper in Hindu tradition, on his dashboard. I took out the miniature crystal figure of Ganesha I happened to have in my pocket. I almost never travel with talismans of this kind, but a friend had pressed this on me before I flew to London. My little Ganesha matched the big one perfectly. The shuttle driver became very excited and happy. "You know Ganesha!" he exclaimed. "Your doors will be open!" And so they were. The rest of the book tour went wonderfully well.
    So the new match-up between the giant and pocket-sized versions of a sacred statue in my dream of Nandi filled me with keen expectancy and a number of questions about other details of the dream.
    My curiosity was answered less than a week after my dream, on the evening of Wednesay, April 23, when I boarded a plane for the long flight to Paris, en route to Montpellier and the Hameau de l'Etoile, where I am leading a new adventure this weekend.

     My rowmate was a lively, intelligent woman from India who was traveling home to Bangalore because her mother had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Our conversation immediately went deep and the space we shared continued to deepen over several hours. We talked about death, and imagery for healing, and many elements in Hindu religious beliefs and practices. I spoke of my experiences of Yama, the Hindu death lord, and Ganesha, the opener of doors. Then I said, "Nandi". 
    My rowmmate smiled with her whole being. She told me there is a temple of Nandi in her home city, Bangalore , with a giant bull statue carved from granite. She added that she keeps a miniature statue of Nandi close and regards him as another important protector and gatekeeper. We discussed some specific pujas (offerings) her family might now make to call on support from the greater powers according to their traditions. The woman from Bangalore said, "Are you sure you weren't born in India? I feel you are here tonight to remind me of some of the deepest beliefs and practices of my own tradition about how to approach death and the sacred."
     A night on the mythic edge, at 37,000 feet.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Writing in pencil

I like to write in pencil. For preference, I use an inexpensive mechanical pencil with an eraser at the end. I write most of my poems with a pencil like this, typically over a cup of coffee in the early morning. As I write and erase, the page takes on the quality of a palimpsest, with one layer laid over another, and another.
    Writing in pencil, there is little fear of consequences. If your first efforts fall flat, you rub them out, cross them out, or just let them go.
    There is a sensuous engagement with the writing process.
    Sometimes there is a sense of magic, as if the pencil is a wand.
    But there is a huge problem. It's not that my handwriting is illegible to others. That is great, because it means what I write by hand is in a secret code that requires no effort on my part. The problem is that my handwriting becomes illegible to me, too, within an hour or two of setting my hand to a page.
    So I need to transfer my jottings to a more permanent vehicle as soon as possible. On days when I am leading workshops, I can do this by sharing at least part of my fresh writing with the group. Reading aloud is already a form of publication, and has its pleasures and rewards when you are sharing with the right people.
    I will still try to get to a keyboard before the new material goes cold and the memory traces blur, to enter it in a folder in my electronic documents.
    As I ramble in sidelong, circuitous ways into the territory of the next books that are beckoning me, I am minded to go back to writing more in pencil than I have been doing of late. I opened an old journal at random just now and found a dream from early last year that seems like a huzzah for this idea:

Graphite Wand

I am writing with a stylus in a field of powdery graphite that is also the night sky. I am writing with great loops and flourishes, rather as I wrote cursive in my early days at school. My words make patterns of silver stars, moving together in spiral rhythms, like a turning galaxy.

(dream report from January 22, 2013)

When I write in pencil, I am easily drawn to add sketches to my texts. This pleases the boy creators in me, who love to draw and paint at least as much as writing.
    Now I am curious about the origin of the word "pencil". I see that the use of the word for a graphite writing implement is relatively recent. It originally meant a fine artist's brush. The English "pencil" derives from the Old French pincel (cf modern pinceau), in turn derived from the Latin penicillus, meaning a painter's brush or "hair pencil". The Latin term literally means "little tail", a diminutive of penis ("tail"). Yes indeed, there is something quite sexy about writing in pencil. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Make dreaming together part of the fabric of family life

Dream teacher Valerie McCarney has shared a dream that inspires us to make dreaming together part of the fabric of family life - within both our biological families, our communities of friends, and our intentional families. In the dream, she met a remarkable guide after she decided to dream on the mysterious tragedy of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370 that has moved so many of us over all the weeks the families of the passengers have been hoping and praying for some definitive word.
    Here is Valerie's narrative:

I was watching tv and the Smithsonian station had a documentary on the missing Malaysian Airline flight. I thought I am not taking all that sadness to sleep with me and turned it off. Then I thought, I will set an intention to see if I can find out where the airline has gone. I dreamed:

Surrounded by the fabric of life,  she speaks

I am in a bazaar some place. I am in an area filled with colorful fabrics hanging all over . They are beautiful and I am walking through looking and touching some. I come to one area and there is a woman standing there. I smile at her and she watches me touch the fabrics on her table. She is Asian, maybe Malaysian. She speaks to me.
   She says, "I want to tell you that you need to teach dreaming to families. Teach them to share their dreams with each other, the simple dreams , the silly dreams , the big dreams. They need to get comfortable doing this. So when there is trouble they can help each other through the dreaming process. If the people on the Malaysian airlines flight did this, by now some of their relatives would have shown up in their dreams . They would have told them where they are and what happened. It would give the families much comfort . In turn they could share the information with the other families who have lost a loved one."
    She said this quickly in a matter of fact way without changing the expression on her face. I just listened. When she was done speaking she turned and started to fold fabric.
    I started to leave and she said, "Oh wait a minute, tell Hillary Clinton to be careful when speaking to large crowds."
I awoke surprised that I got so much good information.The last bit about Hillary Clinton mystified me. What was that about?
    My first action was to honor the dream by painting the woman among all those fabrics.
    The following week, I heard that Mrs. Clinton was speaking to a crowd and got a shoe thrown at her. I paid attention. This seemed like confirmation that the woman in my dream knows what she is talking about. I took the incident as a strong signal to so what I was being advised to do, where I am able to make a difference.
    My next action will be to get my own family dreaming together on May 10th, the World Day of Active Dreaming. I will be with my extended family on vacation that day.Many members of my family, especially but not only the women, are vivid dreamers who are no shy about sharing what they dream.
I will set up a group intention for us to meet some place we all know and visit with family members that have passed on . I am very familiar with doing this but most of my family is not . We will set the intention at the beginning of the week and watch our dreams.  Then on May 10th we will see what we have.  Since some of the other dreamers will not be there with us I will email them and ask them to see what dreams come up during that time as well.
    By doing this I believe I will be honoring the wisdom of the dream guide, weaving an even stronger family fabric, and maybe seeing what is going on behind the veils of ordinary understanding.

Art (c) Valerie McCarney

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I am here for flooding

I am here for flooding.
In the mountains of the moon
the secret source is swelling, rising.
I am here for the river to burst its banks
leap the familiar channels
and turn and pleasure the thirsty land
to climax in a shivering harvest of words.

I climb to a savage height
yearning for the song of the sacred spring
that is held mute in a prison of stone.
I call the raw, unstoppable flying horsepower
born of the blood of conquered nightmares.
“Come to us now! Pound the rock,
beat down resistance with drumming hooves,
free the fountain that makes muses
and lets the muses sing in us.”

Here, now, my gatekeeper is a flow god
with bull horns, robed in running streams
and waterfalls where fishes leap.
He swims in the underground river of my life.
He knows how to rescue goddesses
who went down to the darkest Underworld.
I tender the price of entry, the promise
I will not obstruct water when it should flow.

In another Now, I am the Hanged Man
suspended in a queasy mush of elements,
fighting with myself inside a sack,
clinging to old forms, to shades of what I was.
I am here to let the old self fall away
and to burst the stiff casing like a bag of waters
and fly on shining wings to bring fresh dreams
as butterfly kisses to a sleeping world.

-        -  Gore Mountain, April 13, 2014

      Photo: Snow and Sun at 13th Lake (c) Robert Moss

Friday, April 11, 2014

Wings of the hawk

Members of my dreaming family are helping me to put on the wings of a red-tailed hawk. They are perfectly fitted to my size, and are part of a full outfit. The plumage covers my chest, my back, and my whole head except for the face. Now the dreamers are helping me to put on the face mask. I notice the curve of the beak, and the enormous holes for the eyes. I shake out my wings and tilt forward. I lift up and fly over the furniture, laughing.
    Other dreamers have put on garments and power objects associated with their own allies among the bird tribes and the animal powers. We are together on the sacred mountain where we have gathered for seventeen years to deepen our practice as dream healers and dream ambassadors, to commune with the spirit of the land, and to share adventures in the multiverse. This is so right. There is such joy and excitement among us.

The joy and excitement stayed with me as I rose from this dream last night. 
    I was filled with gratitude for all that Hawk has shown me - and shown to others, through me - since I got in a car and drove 120 miles north of Manhattan in 1986. I was ready to change my life, and was seeking the right ways. I though they were likely to involve putting down deeper roots in my adopted country, living close to the land and its seasons. I had dreamed of an endless struggle that was finally resolved when I followed the counsel of an old poem - Antaeus-like, grow strong. In Greek mythology, Antaeus is the son of Ge, or Gaia, our ancient Mother Earth. Whenever he is thrown in a fight, he rises with renewed and even greater strength, because of his renewed contact with Earth.

So on my very first weekend in what I learned to call "upstate" New York, I found a falling-down farmhouse on many acres. Half the land was virgin woodland that had never heard the sound of an ax. When I sat under an old white oak behind the house and watcheda red fox trotting to or from his earth at the edge of a cornfield, I knew this was the right place. But in rational terms, a snap decision to move to this area, where I knew no one, too far to commute to the City, seemed nuts. I needed a confirming sign. As I leaned my back against the oak, a red-tailed hawk came circling overhead, squalling at me in a language I felt I would be able to understand if only I spoke hawk. She dropped a feather between my legs. It was the clincher; I bought the property.

    In the farmhouse, in nights of adventure, I found myself rising from my sleeping body in a second body equipped with the wings of the hawk. It was on hawk's wings that I flew to the ancient arendiwanen ("woman of power") and atetshents ("dreamer") I have called Island Woman in my books. She began my instruction in ways of dreaming and healing that went far beyond anything I had heard about in Western society. She insisted that I learn her language, an archaic form of Mohawk laced with Huron. I discovered that she had an historical identity. She lived in the early 1700s, captured as a child from the Hurons and adopted by the Mohawk people, who eventually raised her up to be Mother of the Wolf Clan.
    In night visions and shamanic journeys over all the years since then, I have found myself flying on the wings of the hawk to perform rescue missions, to scout out the possible future, and to enter the sacred realm of the Peacemaker, from whom we learn that we must seek to heal the minds of our enemies rather than kill them.
    When I have been uncertain of my way, or have simply needed further confirmation, hawk has appeared on the roads of my life in quite literal ways. A hawk going my way is always a good sign for me. So is a hawk having a good breakfast on roadkill, or something livelier. Once, when I was leading a fire ceremony above a waterfall in the western Connecticut woods, a red-tailed hawk came circling overhead, dropping lower and lower, screaming at me like the one above the white oak at the farm. There was again the gift of hawk feathers, not from the bird itself but from a man who had come from Akwesasne, the Mohawk reservation on the Canadian border. He chose this moment to offer me hawk feathers as a gift from Island Woman's descendants.
    We'll gather again on the sacred mountain this weekend. I look forward to fulfilling the dream of putting on the wings - and keen vision - of the hawk again, where my second self met some of his dreaming family last night.

Drawing: "Dreaming in Hawk". (c) Robert Moss.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dreaming like a child

I often hear dreams from adults that sound like the products of a child's imagination. One dreamer is menaced by giants. She runs but can't get away - until Superman swoops down to rescue her. Another dreamer is entertained by a strange composite animal, a cross between a jolly pink pig and a hairless dog, with a strip of carpet instead of a tail.
     In such dreams, buildings and people around the dreamer often seem vastly larger than in regular life, as adults and cities might appear from the perspective of a young child. At the same time, the dreamer may find she has the ability to make herself greatly bigger or smaller, like Alice with the "Drink Me" bottles.
     I wonder whether such child-like dreams really are the dreams of the child within the dreamer. They may be returning memories of dreams in early life. They may also be a direct link to the inner child, providing a chance to bring more of her energy, joy and imagination into current life. They may even be a bridge to connect with the child in her Now time, which is past history for the adult except when released from the constraints of linear time, as in dreaming.
    I have given happy examples thus far, but the dreams of the child may of course be filled with challenge and drenched in fear. Those menacing giants may represent abusive adults and authority figures the child can't handle, and Superman is not always available. Yet when the bridge to the child in her own Now time is open, we can slip across it, to offer support and mentoring that may be desperately needed. We can help to provide the heroes our child selves want to be dreaming of.

I know that this helped a sick, lonely boy in Australia long, long ago, in the 1950s. I was reminded how that worked not long ago when I ordered a taxi to take me to the airport at 4:00 a.m. The driver was whiskery and bleary, but friendly, and struck up conversation by remarking, "You have an accent." I get this endlessly in the United States, where anyone who speaks another form of English is held to have an "accent". After allowing that my accent might be described as "Anglo-Australian", the driver proceeded to tell me that he is fascinated by "the British life style" and watches lots of period English movies and TV. He then asked if I could solve a mystery. "The characters are always having tea and crumpets. What is a crumpet?"
    I spent the rest of the ride explaining the difference between a crumpet and an English muffin, and singing the praises of the crumpet, a staple of my boyhood and still a favorite comfort food, though I must now order my supply by mail.
    As I got out of the cab, I realized this odd early morning conversation had given me a lead for the day. I was scheduled to give a lecture that evening at East West Bookshop in Seattle. I had already decided that I would read some fresh selections from The Boy Who Died and Came Back but had not yet made my selection. Now I had it. An early chapter in my memoir is entitled "Crumpet Time". It celebrates crumpets, but is also a narrative of time travel by an older self to support a younger self in his own Now time. Here is an excerpt:

The friends who helped me most in the time I was sick and lonely as a young boy were invisible to others. One of the best of these friends was the Big Man. He was like a favorite uncle I did not have. One of the lessons he taught me was how to eat crumpets.
    The Big Man came to me when I was in my bedroom, sick and lonely and feeling really sorry for myself. It was one of those days when I wanted to leave.  I felt a presence in the room, then the mattress tipped a little as someone eased down on to the edge of the bed. A hand closed on my shoulder, squeezing just a little.
    “That’s right,” my visitor said. “You really are all right.”
    The warm, confident voice was familiar but I could not put a name to it. I rolled over and looked up into a large pink face, smiling at me from under a mane of white hair.
     “I know it’s hard for you,” my visitor went on. “I know you’re lonely and feel rotten. But you are going to make it through. You’ll be knocked down some more, but you will always get up again. You are a survivor, Robert. Trust me. You will make it through.”
     The Big Man was hugging me then. I felt so small and fragile in his embrace, and I could not stop the tears flowing because I felt safe and because this stranger was holding me as my mother never did, not since I died.
     “Write,” he encouraged me. “Write your dreams. Write those adventures that stream through your head when you’re playing with your toy soldiers.”
    “Nobody wants to hear my dreams,” I complained.
    “You may have to lie low for now. But the day will come when lecture halls will be filled with people who are eager to hear your dreams and to tell their dreams to you. I promise you.  You are lonely,” he repeated. “But I promise you that the time will come when you will know the love of women and women will love you.”
    I must have fallen asleep, because I did not see him go. I did not ask him who he was. I often sensed him nearby, when I was alone. When he was close, I felt bigger and stronger.

When we were living in Melbourne, my mother took me to the café in the stately old Myers department store for afternoon tea, and I always had crumpets.
    I felt the Big Man close to me one afternoon in the café. “Crumpets taste much better with salt and pepper,” he nudged me. “Go on. No one will mind.”.  
    I reached around the pots of jam and marmalade for the shakers, and gave my crumpets a good dose of salt and pepper. The waitress looked at me. My mother just went on sipping her tea. .I had done stranger things. The Big Man was right. Crumpets are really nice with salt and pepper. 
     I know this: we can travel across time, and we can play mentor and counselor to a younger self, or receive help and guidance from a wiser older self. At the very least, when we reach to that younger self, we can offer the assurance that however much he is suffering, he or she will make it through. 

We dream dreams of the child, and the child dreams dreams of us.

Book excerpt from The Boy Who Died and Came Back by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library. 

Photo: The dreamer as a boy.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ignore your feelings and go hang: a cautionary Ottoman tale of misinterpreting a dream.

Location, location, location. These are the oft-quoted first three rules for a real estate agent. The first three rules for anyone attempting to decipher a dream are: Feelings, feelings, feelings.
    The dreamer's first feelings on coming out of a dream experience are likely to be the very best guidance on the character of the dream and how to explore it. Those feelings will tell us whether the dream is positive or negative, important or trivial, of intimate personal concern or reflecting things at a distance. They may suggest whether the dream relates to the health of the body, or to possible future events, or is an experience of a separate reality, and whether it needs to be read literally or symbolically.
    Feelings inside the dream are also interesting, but are less significant than the first feelings on waking or emerging from the experience. Once again, I am talking about first feelings, not the feelings we may have after talking to a shrink or sharing the dream with our hundred closest friends.
    The vital importance of this theme came home to me as I read a splendid article 
by the Turkish scholar Asli Niyazioğlu on the misinterpretation of the dream of an Ottoman poet . [1] Her main focus is a dream of the poet Fiġānı, who was executed in 1532 because he was identified as the author of a widely-circulated couplet mocking the grand vizier, Ibrahim Pasha. Her source is a biographical dictionary compiled by ‘Ᾱşık Çelebi, who devoted nearly four manuscript pages to the poet's dream and events around it.
    Figani was one of a set of high-living, hard drinking literary figures in the "magnificent century" of Sultan Suleiman. After a night of carousing in the pleasure grounds of  Kara-bālı-zāde, a libertine official who dabbled in poetry, he had more than a hangover. When his host found him in the seaside garden, he was like "a sorrowful pistachio" (in the biographer's wonderful phrase) that won't open, or like a harp with floppy strings left leaning against a wall by a drunken player. Asked what was wrong, the poet recounted a dream.

Last night, I saw that a minaret was built near the port, high as the favor from statesmen and resembling the smoke from the sighs of the lovers. I climbed on top of it after some people had proposed to me to do so. I recited the call for prayer on that minaret but fear struck at my heart that I lost my life.

Figani's host laughed at the dream report. He assured the poet that the dream was auspicious and there was "no possibility for another interpretation." He identified the port, correctly, as Eminönü, in Istanbul, at the heart of the Ottoman empire. He announced breezily that high elevation at such a site would mean that Figani would get a government sinecure that would give him even more time for drinking and partying, and that he knew a certain Effendi who could get him the right position, probably as a scribe for the customs office.
   Through this discussion, Kara-bali-zade completely ignored the poet's terrible feelings about his dream, including his fear of imminent death, and the striking comparison of the "minaret" to the smoke rising from the burned-out hearts of lovers. Thus nothing was done to prepare Figani for his arrest and execution three days later. He died by strangulation and his body was hung from a gibbet in a fish market at Eminönü.
Niyazioğlu's discussion of this Ottoman episode, beautifully written and organized, is a model of what fine historical research can bring to our understanding of dreaming traditions, and what true insight into the nature and importance of dreaming can bring to our knowledge of history. She takes us deep into the Ottoman world, and brings into high relief the great respect for both dreams and poets in that society. Respect of this kind, as the sad fate of Figani reminds us, is a two-edged sword. When dreams are socially prized, false dreams may be manufactured for personal gain or political influence. When poets are revered, their words can bring down the wrath of a government, and its executioners.

   Asli Niyazioğlu is opening a treasury of material to dream researchers and cultural historians as she continues to mine the Ottoman biographical dictionaries of the poets and writers. I look forward to her next discoveries.

1. Asli Niyazioğlu, "How to Read an Ottoman Poet's Dream? Friends, Patrons and the Execution of Fiġānī" in Middle Eastern Literatures (2013) .She draws from ‘Ᾱsık Çelebi's  Meşāirü’ş-Şu’arā ("Halting Stations of Poets) (c.1558), one of the earliest Ottoman Turkish biographical dictionaries of poets. 

Graphic: Ottoman poets and artists consult the books. 1581 miniature in the Topkapi Palace Museum.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Follow Your Own Merlin

Merlin has a thousand faces. He is magician, enchanter, poet, trickster, prophet, wise or scheming adviser to kings, the hero or anti-hero of countless dramas. In the Four Ancient Books of Wales, his name is Myrddin, but in later texts an L was substituted for the Ds - it is said - because in the ears of the Anglo-Norman nobles who read Geoffrey of Monmouth's version in the 12th century, the old form sounded too close to the French merde. In Geoffrey's Vita Merlini (c.1150) " He was a king and a prophet, to the proud people of the South Welsh he gave laws, and to the chieftains he prophesied the future." He is Welsh, he is Briton, he is Scots, he is universal.
     Merlin is a dreamer, though in some of the ages in which he was remembered this was no term of praise. In Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur, his enemies denounce him as "a wytche and dreme-reder". In Shakespeare's King Henry IV, Hotspur sneers at Welsh boasts about “the dreamer Merlin and his prophecies” and “such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff." Merlin's company is that of the awenyddion, or "inspired ones", of whom Gerald of Wales wrote that "their gifts are usually conferred upon them in dreams."
      Merlin is a shaman, perhaps the very model of a shaman of the West. I was greatly helped, back in 1985, by Nikolai Tolstoy's book The Quest for Merlin, in which he tracks the shamanic Merlin's phosphorescent footsteps not only through the literature but through the landscapes of the Scottish Borders, all the way to Hart Fell ("Deer Mountain") where one of the Merlins ran wild with the deer, conversed with a tame wolf and a little pig, and shamanized by a chalybeate spring where the waters bubbled rust-red. This Dumfriesshire landscape is that of my paternal ancestors, and many years ago - using Tosltoy as my Baedecker - I walked from the site of a ruinous battle whose expense of blood and kin drove this Merlin temporarily mad to the mountain of his dreaming, a story I may one day publish in extenso.
     As the legends and landscapes stream together in my mind, I see the Merlin I know and love as shaman - which is to say, arch-dreamer - in the following essential ways:
- he is born different from others (some say the spawn of an incubus, some of a golden one) yet cares for and helps and counsels those in need
- his calling is renewed by a spiritual emergency (his distress over a terrible battle and then the noise of the world)
- he is at home with the trees (he finds sanctuary inside an ancient apple tree, and feeds on apples and nuts, and shamanizes among oaks and hazels and birches)
- he knows the animals and can take their forms (he rides from his wooded mountain on the back of a stag, surrounded by a herd of deer)
- he knows the gates and paths of the Otherworld and can guide others along them (in one telling, he makes a narrow bridge between this world and an island on the Other Side)
- he sees the future, and can bring accurate knowledge of what is to come that is valued by others (a primary function of true shamans, as far back as we can know or imagine)
- he is master of story, poetry and song, through which bardic arts he can redefine and so remake the world around him
- through his own wounds, he finds the power to heal the wounds of others (he loses his mind, but regains it when his shining double, Taliesin, reminds him of the courses of heaven and earth in poetic speech, and so opens a magical spring - so Merlin can then offer the same waters of healing to another, to help him bring his spirit back into the body).
We are drawn to him by his company, of warring kings and lustful queens and questing knights. Yet Merlin, for me, rises beyond Arthur and Guinevere and Lancelot and the company of the Round Table, and even Morgan le Fay, though I dream of them too, and felt close to the knightly band when I stopped in Carlisle en route to the Scottish Borders.
     We dream of Merlin, and it may be he brings dreams to us. My Merlin, lover of woods and deer and poetic speech, is not confined to the  "glass house" where a lovely female apprentice is said to have confined him after she tricked him out of his master spells.
      My Merlin travels with a magic orchard that goes with him everywhere. If you are very lucky, he may offer you an apple, either silver or gold. When you bite down, you'll taste not only the sweet juice of the apple, but the heady power of a story - a story that will inspire you and give juice to your life - slipping into you. The dream shaman who gives us the right stories is the Merlin I follow.

Adapted from Dreaming the Soul Back Home by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.
The Bard by John Martin (1817)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dream languages

I am very interested in how dreams prompt us to expand our vocabulary, setting us learning tasks ranging from the language of quantum physics to the identification of different types of hermit crab. Even if we decide not to take more than a few steps in some of these journeys of learning and remembering, our ability to decode an initially mysterious word or symbol sometimes provides important objective confirmation that we are dreaming into transpersonal and/or ancestral territory.
     Some of the greatest adventures in my own imaginal life, which have sometimes brought me to a watershed in ordinary life, have begun with receiving a phrase in a language that is not my own, and yet is retained with enough accuracy to set a clear path for investigation. When I was in my teens in Australia, one of my dream visitors was a radiant young man who seemed to come from the eastern edge of the Mediterranean and insisted on speaking to me in a difficult vocabulary that I later learned was that of the Neoplatonist philosophers. He insisted that all true knowledge comes through anamnesis which means "remembering" in a special sense: remembering the knowledge that belonged to us, on the level of soul and spirit, before we came into the body.
    When I moved to a farm in the Hudson Valley of New York twenty years ago, I dreamed of an ancient native woman who insisted on communicating to me in her own language. One of the words I wrote down phonetically was ondinnonk. It looked improbable. I discovered that far from being a nonsense word, it was the key to a practice of dreaming and healing that went deeper than anything I had learned from Western psychology. In the spiritual vocabulary of the Huron, ondinnonk meant "the secret wish of the soul", especially as revealed in dreams. I discovered this in the report of a Jesuit missionary who lived among the Huron in the 16oos. I learned that among the Huron and their Iroquois cousins, dreamwork centered on helping the dreamer to recognize the "secret wish of the soul" as revealed in a dream, and honoring that wish.
    In 2001, I recorded a word of medieval French - chantepleure - that was the legacy of a mostly forgotten dream. I knew enough French to see that it combines the words that mean "sings" and "cries". A dictionary told me that is is an archaic term for a watering can. I had no context and could not grasp why this word had come through - until three years later through a string of dreams, visions and synchronicities, I found myself drawn into the world of Joan of Arc and Charles d'Orleans, the prince in whose name she launched her warrior crusade. I discovered that a chantepleure dripping blood was chosen by Charles' mother as the family emblem, signifying grief and the demand for justice, after his father, the first Duke of Orleans, was slaughtered by ax-murders employed by the Duke of Burgundy.
     When I was invited to lead a workshop in Lithuania in 2004, I found myself dreaming words and symbols that belonged to an ancient zhyne, a priestess of the Earth goddess Zemyna, whose attributes you can read about in the wonderful books of Marija Gimbutas. I recount part of my experience of dreaming in Lithuanian in a chapter in my Dreamer's Book of the Dead titled "Death and Rebirth through the Goddess", more in my spiritual memoir The Boy Who Died and Came Back.
    Because I am a fairly lazy linguist, I sometimes resist the dream call to embark on yet another voyage into ancient or foreign philology. But my Scots ancestors have been on my case for a while, and they would like me to remember a little more Gaelic (which in a Scots accent sounds rather like "garlic"). My researches have turned up something that fascinates me. In Scots Gaelic there is a prolix and specific vocabulary for many forms of dreaming and seership and paranormal phenomena. The best literary source on these things is the work of John Gregorson Campbell, a minister of Tiree in the late nineteenth century who gathered the oral traditions of Gaelic speakers and wove them into two books, Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1900) and Witchcraft and Second-Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1902).
     The term da-shealladh (pronounced "dah-haloo"), often translated as "second sight", literally means "two sights". It refers to the ability to see apparitions of both the living and the dead. The taibshear (pronounced "tysher") is the seer who specializes in observing the energy double (taibhs). A dream or vison is a bruadar ("broo-e-tar"). The bruadaraiche ("broo-e-taracher") is more than a dreamer in the common sense; he or she is the kind of dreamer who can see into the past or the future. That's a nugget worth close evaluation. The depth of the practice of dreaming in any culture is reflected in its working terminology for such things. I'm not sure that current English offers a single word as rich as bruadaraiche but I doubt that we can import the Scots term since (at least as it comes off my tongue) it sounds like something boiled up in a sheep's stomach.

So what do you do if you dream words in an unknown, or largely unknown, language? You write them down as exactly as you can. If your original version is phonetic rather than visual - because you heard the word without seeing a text - you may want to play with alternative written versions, but be careful not to stray too far from the data of the dream. The internet has evolved hugely since I started dreaming in Mohawk in the late 1980s. Auntie Google may be able to give you some leads. If the word can't be deciphered, or remains mystifying when first translated, be patient. You may be given more, in  subsequent dreams and visions, or through the play of synchronicity around you. As with my dream of the watering can, the foreign word may be a first hint of something that will come through strong and clear when you are ready to receive.