Monday, April 13, 2020

The Dream School of Anubis

Those who write from true imagination can take us where historical data cannot, into the Magic Library. Among the most intriguing – and to my mind, the most reliable - published sources on the Egyptian way of dreaming are three books that have all been classified as fiction. Two are ancient works; the third is a novel that was very popular in the 1930s but is waiting to be rediscovered by a new generation.
    Apuleius (who was almost certainly a Mystery initiate) chose the mask of a comic novel for The Golden Ass, or the Transformations of Lucius, in which Isis speaks directly to humans in dreams, travelers encounter each other in the dreamspace and dreamers are coached for future events before they manifest.
     In another ancient tale, The Romance of Alexander the Great, pseudo-Callisthenes describes the practice of a sorcerer-king of late Egypt, Nectanebo, who fights battles long-distance and visits others in dreams (not always, alas, for the most evolved purposes).
     Joan Grant’s book Winged Pharaoh (first published in 1938) takes us into the possible reality of the First Dynasty and the dream training of a king’s daughter who becomes co-ruler of Egypt. As she explains in a memoir (Far Memory), the book came to Joan through “far memory” of a possible past life. After a short visit to Egypt, she was shown a collection of Egyptian scarabs in London. When she took the oldest in her hand, she saw vivid scenes of the time and place from which it had come, and then began talking as Sekeeta, the dreaming princess of her story.
    We are dealing here with a visionary narrative that transcends the categories of fiction and nonfiction. The best word to describe it is the Greek term mythistorema, which could be translated as “mythic history” but which I would prefer to render as mythistory – in other words, a true history of something that may or may not have happened but always is.
     The most fascinating element in Joan Grant’s mythistory is the description of a dream school that operates within the temple of Anubis. When she is a small child, Sekeeta’s mother gives her a tiny statue of Anubis – represented as a black hunting dog – and a little painted house for it to live in, and tells her that Anubis is the bringer of dreams to small children.
     When she is a few years older, Sekeeta meets her dream teacher Ney-sey-ra, the priest of Anubis. Her training begins in the dreamspace, when he shows her an open lotus flower and tells her that just as the lotus opens its petals to the sun, she must learn to open the gateway of soul memory to reflect the light. When the scene is played out in waking life the next day, she recalls her dream, which is confirmation to both that she is ready to begin her training.
     She learns to go scouting in dreams to find lost objects, look into the future, observe things happening at a distance, and discover what is going on behind the scenes. Suspicious of a foreign ruler who is visiting the court, she embarks on a dream journey to his country – flying to her target like a bird – and brings back a very detailed and disturbing report that she shares with Pharaoh, her father.
    At the age of twelve, she becomes a full-time student at the dream school, taking up residence in the temple of Anubis. She sleeps on a bed with Anubis heads carved at head and foot. Beside the bed she keeps a wax tablet, and her first task each morning is to record her dreams. Every morning she goes to the priest of Anubis and tells him what she has recorded. Some days she must also carry out assignments he gave her inside a dream – for example to bring him a certain flower, or bird feather, or colored bead. Through practice her memory is trained and sharpened.
    After three years, she undergoes advanced training. On the night of each full moon, she sleeps in total darkness in a room that has been psychically shielded. She undertakes many assignments, visiting distant places and bringing guidance and healing to people on both sides of death. She recounts her dream travelogues to her teacher and he confirms her experiences, adding further details and sometimes suggesting follow-up missions. When she finds herself blocked by a monstrous crocodile, for example, her teacher tells her that this thing was “a creation of the evil one” designed to scare her back into her body and sabotage her work. Next time she must go on, and if the adversary is too strong, she must call to the priest for help.
     Frequently, in her dream travels, she encounters people who have died and are confused about there condition. She meets a man who had been murdered in a wine-shop in Crete, and refused to believe he was dead. Her teacher encourages her to go to the dead man again, gently help to awaken him to his condition, and guide him in the right direction on the paths of the afterlife.
Anubis as psychopomp, on a shroud in the Louvre
     At this point we come fully alive to the intimate connection between dreaming and dying well, and the reason why Anubis is such an appropriate patron of dream travel. As every school child knows, Anubis – most often portrayed as a human figure with the head of a jackal or black dog – is a guardian of the Otherworld, who watches over tombs and mummies and guides souls of the departed to the Hall of Osiris. But Anubis’ significance goes much deeper. As psychopomp, or guide of souls, he is the patron of journeys beyond the body (which is why he is invoked to guard those who have left their bodies under trauma or anesthesia) and everyone journeys beyond the body in death and dreaming, with or without instruction.
     As Sekeeta’s training in the dream school deepens, she takes on more and more work as a psychopomp. One of the most movingly realized scenes in the book is one in which Sekeeta helps a grieving widow who has been crushed by the drowning deaths of her husband and son. Sekeeta advises the woman that she can meet her loved ones in dreams. The woman insists that she does not dream. (How often have we heard this from people we know?) Sekeeta gently insists that, nonetheless, she would like the woman to be open to a dream experience with her loved ones.
     That night, Sekeeta goes out – as a conscious dream traveler – to reintroduce the grieving woman to her husband and son. She enters the woman’s dream space, and finds herself sobbing over the dead bodies of her loved ones, frozen in a past scene of trauma. With the power of her focused intention, Sekeeta bathes the widow in light and lifts the “cloak of grayness” that is preventing her from seeing her husband and son as they now are. There is a loving reunion, and Sekeeta skillfully guides them to a beautiful park-like setting where they can share happy times together.
     This episode is a wonderful glimpse of what compassionate psychopomp work is all about. It seems entirely plausible to me that advanced spirits in ancient Egypt did it this way. I know that gifted dreamers are doing the work in very similar ways today, because many have shared comparable experiences with me during training in our contemporary dream school.     As entertainment, Winged Pharaoh is wonderful fun. But when you read it as an active dreamer, you’ll find that it suggests a whole curriculum of study. The exercises Sekeeta’s dream teacher gives her are ones you can practice with a partner. 

For more on dreaming like an Egyptian, please see The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Anubis mask, late period. Roemer-Pelizaeus Museum, Hildesheim

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