Monday, April 27, 2015

Where worlds meet

Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California

A seal is basking in the sun on a rock
below the Place of Leaping
where sweet water joins the salt

This is a place where worlds meet.
I remind a woman who may be a selkie
to be careful where she leaves her skin.
I follow a path of monarch butterflies
to the bridge over the ravine
where a woman comes swinging a broom;

she left her other ride at home.

New altars to ancient gods are flowering
Poppies are the color of blood and of desire.
I offer tobacco and spirit to the head 

of an African gatekeeper
I give breath to a goddess of the sea.
I walk a plank hung with prayer flags

where they say it is not safe to walk alone,

Fox showed a laughing face in a pink cloud.
A flighty bear weathered a cyclone 
in my birth country to join us. 
A latecomer arrived from the hot land
where the Dogon remember the blue star.
Stag instructed a dreamer to shoot him
and when her arrow touched his heart
she vomited frogs, and was healed.

A dead Romanian scholar got a message to me
through a traveler who came here because
she found a book she dreamed  
where he instructs that it is not only shamans
who go through crises of initiation.
I met him in Transylvania and in Chicago  
and he suggested books for me to read and write.
He had been dead twenty years at the time,
but only in one of the many worlds.

A brave woman plunged into a mountain lake
where a man left her baby self to drown
and brought her back with the help

of a king-sized salmon and a star child
who showed her how to play with sun and moon.

A faery gave me a message for the morning
singing, "Look for me in the avocado tree,

that is where I'll be." When I thanked her
she invited me to come inside the tree
and shinnied up the trunk with simian grace
and threw down grenades of green joy.

In the baths a benign conspiracy of sisters
is plotting to soak this world in dreaming.
Eight cormorants on their own rock

pause from their exquisite fishing
to tell me it is time to communicate
with those I love in all worlds.

Weathering a writer's monsoon

This just in from a writer who asked me for guidance:

We've all heard of writer's block. This is the curse of the empty page. I seem to be navigating through something that exists on the opposite end of the spectrum from writer's block. It's more like writer's deluge. It is as if I am in a creative monsoon, each raindrop a poem, a potential short story, novel, script, non-fiction work exploring some topic or theme, and they are all coming fast and furious, all at the same time -- as if a vast ocean of ideas is trying to flow through a small pin hole. As a result, a similar feature of writer's block happens: no writing. What can I do?

My response:

Two thoughts.

1. I have always loved the saying of a Moroccan tribe that values poets above all others that "All poetry comes from flooding." This does not answer your problem, but it may perhaps reassure you that a surfeit of inspiration is not a bad thing at all.

2. So much in life depends on selection. If you go to a restaurant and you are so fascinated by everything on the menu that you can't make a choice, you'll go hungry.

So choose one idea. Give it 15 minutes, 30 minutes tops, when you can. Time how long you will spend on it. Stop when the time is up. 
    Great if it's unfinished because when you go back you won't have to start; you have started already.

By the way: your vivid description of monsoon season in a writer's life is already great writing.

 Art: "Deluge" by Brij M. Sondhi

Sunday, April 26, 2015

My black dog's first plane trip

I took my black dog walking stick on his first plane trip on Saturday. Waiting for our connection at Baltimore airport, we pause for refreshments and are immediately invited to play dream ambassadors.
    "What do you do?" asks a lady who strikes up conversation when she notices the black dog.
  . "I teach people how to dream." "Oh my God I need to sign up for that. I've been having all these bad dreams."
    I reassure her that dreams are not on our case, they are on our side. I explain how to go back inside a scary dream to confront the challenge and resolve it on its own ground. 

    Now my black dog deserves a beer. I scan the draft selections. They have an IPA on tap  called Flying Dog Snake Dog. How perfect is that?
    The lady pays for her wine and leaves, but rushes back a few minutes later, saying, "I want to know all about you and which of your books to read." 
     She makes eye contact with my black dog and tells me her family got a black dog for her brother in law because he was depressed. They called the dog Søren Kierkegaard because he was a cross between a Great Dane and a black lab. I observe that this is a doubly appropriate name since Kierkegaard was not only a Dane but a somewhat depressing philosopher He compared life's joys to the momentary thrill experienced by insects who die at the moment of fertilization. Happily, Kierkegaard the dog is apparently a cheery fellow.
     Now the lady tells me her "bad" dream from last night. In it she cut open her husband's skull and hacked his brain to pieces, trying to understand how he thinks. She woke up feeling terrible.
   ."If it were my dream", I say gently, "I would compare what my dream self was doing with the behavior of my waking self. Do I pick at my husband in a way that leads to pain and conflict. I need to understand him better, but the dream is telling me I need to go about that in a subtler and more effective way. Maybe the dream is showing me how he feels about some of our interactions."
     She blushes and nods.

     I talk about how to go back inside a dream to try to work things through. And how -, when she feels the time is right and can do this with humor - recounting the dream to the husband could actually help them to establish better communications.
     Now she is off to her gate, with my books
The Three 'Only" Things and Conscious Dreaming on her immediate to-buy list.
     When I join the line for departure at my own gate, I find my neighbor is a cat named Magnolia, going to California in her crate. The conversation with the humans around me immediately turns to the character of cats and dogs as life companions and  therapeuts. My black dog is pleased.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


I am in favor of affirmations. At a certain period in my life, I did not think much of some of the self-help gurus who were pushing them. I still have major reservations about affirmations that seem to be pitched from the head instead of the heart, and either project ego-driven "gimme" agendas or , alternatively, are shackled by received notions of what is spiritually correct. 
    But I am greatly in favor of starting the day with a statement to the universe that affirms the intention to live as fully and creatively as possible, and return thanks for the gifts of life, especially when life seems hard. 
   To affirm is literally "to make firm", or strong. To make a conscious affirmation, on any given day, is to firm up our whole approach to life. Whether we know it or not, everything is listening, in our conscious universe.
    If an affirmation is going to work good in the world, it must enlist the support of the body and draw the approval of higher powers, especially the one that is no stranger: the Higher Self. As you shape your words, test them in your gut and in your heart. Feel what is stirring or stagnant around you. Let your thoughts become charged with natural energy.
    It is good to put an affirmation in the present tense. Not, "I will create something new" but, "I am a creator."
    Sometimes you can come to a good affirmation by listening to those negative mantras you have been playing in your mind, and even speaking out loud, for far too long. Like, "I can't speak in public." Go to your heart and your gut and ask what they want you to express. You may find you can then say, with conviction, "I speak my truth."
    I like to come up with fresh affirmations as often as possible. But I also find it good to voice "default" affirmations on any day they feel right, including those on which "fresh words" are lacking. I think of the stump of a great red cedar from which a new tree is growing and I say, "I grow again".
    Here's a simple affirmation that came to me long ago, when my dreams and visions drew me into the Earth-centered wisdom and the imaginal realm of a Native American people - the Onkwehonwe, or Iroquois - for whom returning thanks is part of what keeps the world turning: 

I return thanks for the gifts of this lifetime
and for its challenges
I seek to walk in balance between earth and sky

Photo of great stump (c) Robert Moss

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When I like my body best

I like my body when my creative writer is at home
 and the muse is in bed with him.
She is a glorious, ardent and insatiable lover.
She keeps my body up for whole nights before
she lets it drop for an hour of industrial sleep. 

I don't complain, any more than you would
after a night with your perfect lover
as you watch the stars go to bed over Copacabana,
or the dreaming spires of an Old World City,
or the Mountains of the Moon. 

I have heard some writers moan that their work
involves sweating blood. Maybe so, but when
the creator is home, in the arms of the muse,
what you sweat isn't ordinary blood. It is ichor.

Photo: Garden goddess at Esalen (c) Robert Moss

Friday, April 17, 2015

Mountain of the Dreamers

Today I go up to a very special mountain where I have led very special gatherings over twenty years. It is a place where the Deer energy is strong and where dragons are sometimes seen. Here I test-fly new techniques and lead group journeys to explore many interesting territories in the multidimensional universe
     Here is a poem I wrote about the experiences we have shared on this mountain. This is traditional Mohawk Indian country, so the first words are in Mohawk, addressing the ancestors of the land:

Aksotahi, Raksotahi,
Grandmothers, Grandfathers,
We remember you, we honor you here
we feed you with tobacco and laughter and tears
we ask your blessing and protection for all our journeys.

Spirit of the Fire, we give you our old skins
you turn our despair and anger into cracklings
you carry our heart’s desires to the high ones

Dreamer adrift in the shadows:
When you fall through a hole in your world
you can come here to dance a new world into being.
When the moon is eaten out of your sky
by the men with hungry caterpillars in their hair
you can come here to grow it back.

There'll be days when you have to struggle to get here,
climbing out of flooded subways, plowing through snowbanks.
There'll be times when you forget the way.
There'll be nights when you can't believe this place is real
and you let it fade from your heart like an exhausted dream.

You may lose the mountain, but the mountain will find you,
calling in the voice of the wind, in the color code of fall leaves,
in the taste of rain, in an old song on the radio, 
in a poem urgent to be born, in the dream you cannot slay.
Hawk may give you a feathered sign, and wings to follow it.

White wolf may call you here, into the light of the Peacemaker,
where your soul is healed in the garnet heart of this mountain,
and your inner compass is restored, and you rediscover yourself 
in the best of all families, a family stronger than blood,
and the extraordinary is easy because we allow it to come through.

The dream people are always here for you.

Photo of Robert opening fire ceremony on the mountain by Jeanne Cameron.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Poets of consciousness

Poets, it’s said, are shamans of words. True shamans are poets of consciousness. Journeying into a deeper reality with the aid of sung and spoken poetry, they bring back energy and healing through poetic acts, shapeshifting physical systems. When we dream, we tap directly into the same creative source from which poets and shamans derive their gifts. When we create from our dreams, and enter dreamlike flow, we become poets and artists. When we act to bring the energy and imagery of dreams into physical reality, we become poets of consciousness and infuse our world with magic.
     In Birth of a Poet, William Everson raised a clamorous appeal for poets to reawaken to their shamanic calling: "O Poets! Shamans of the word! When will you recover the trance-like rhythms, the subliminal imagery, the haunting sense of possession, the powerful inflection and enunciation to effect the vision? Shamanize! Shamanize!" 
     Across the centuries, many of our greatest poets have recognized their kinship with the shaman’s way of shifting awareness and shapeshifting reality. As his name in a spiritual order, Goethe chose the name of a legendary shaman of antiquity, Abaris, who came flying out of the Northern mists on an arrow from Apollo’s bow.
    Our earliest poets were shamans. 
    Today as in the earliest times, true shamans are poets of consciousness who know the power of song and story to teach and to heal. They understand that through the play of words, sung or spoken, the magic of the Real World comes dancing into the surface world. The right words open pathways between the worlds. The poetry of consciousness delights the spirits. It draws the gods and goddesses who wish to live through us closer.
    Shamans use poetry, sung or spoken, to achieve ends that go deeper than our consensual world. They create poetic songs of power to invoke spiritual help; to journey into nonordinary reality; to open and maintain a space between the worlds where interaction between humans and multidimensional beings can take place and to bring energy and healing through to the body and the physical world.
    The South American paye takes flight with the help of "wing songs". These flight songs help him to borrow the wings of the kumalak bird [a kind of kite] that is a main ally of shamans.
    Among the Inuit, the strongest shamans are also the most gifted poets. One of the reasons their spirit helpers flock around them is that they are charmed and exhilarated by the angakok’s poetic improvisations. Inuit shamans have a language of their own, which is often impenetrable to other Eskimos. It is a language that is never still. It bubbles and eddies, opening a whirlpool way to the deep bosom of the Sea-goddess, or a cavernous passage into the hidden fires of Earth.
     My favorite Inuit shaman-word is the one for "dream". It looks like this: kubsaitigisak. It is pronounced "koov-sigh-teegee-shakk", with a little click at the back of the throat when you come to the final consonant. It means "what makes me dive in headfirst." Savor that for a moment, and all that flows with it. A dream, in Inuit shaman-speech, is something that makes you dive in headfirst. Doesn’t this wondrously evoke the kinesthetic energy of dreaming, the sense of plunging into a deeper world? Doesn’t it also invite us to take the plunge, in the dream of life, and burst through the glass ceilings and paper barriers constructed by the daily trivial self?
     Shamans know further uses for dream poetry. They call the soul back home, into the bodies of those who have lost vital energy through pain or trauma or heartbreak. And from their journeys, they bring back poetic imagery that can help to shapeshift the body’s energy template in the direction of health. Mainstream Western physicians agree that the body believes in images and responds to them as if they are physical events. By bringing the right images through from the dreaming, the poets of consciousness explain dis-ease in ways that help the patient get well, and interact with the body and its immune system on multiple levels without invasive surgery.
     To heal and enrich our lives, and wrap the world around us as a magic robe, we want to grow our poetic health, and commit poetry every day, in every way.

Text adapted from Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the Secret Wishes of the Soul by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books.

Art: Marc Chagall, "The Poet Reclining"

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Men in suits

They are coming around again, in my dreams, those men in suits.
    Last week, I was fixing dinner in a beautiful cabana on a tropical island. I had purchased an impressive slab of beef and got it broiling on the grill. Then men in suits turned up, three of them, and I had to turn off the grill to go outside and talk to them about business stuff. I did not care for these people, and when I got back to the kitchen I found that my steak was only partly cooked.
   I was annoyed by the interruption, but recognized that I had an opportunity to make a better dinner than I had been preparing. I cut and trimmed the meat. It was now shaped like a perfect filet mignon, ready to be sliced after grilling.
   I came out of this dream still feeling some irritation over the way my cooking had been interrupted. I reflected on how in my dreams the state of food preparation often reflects the state of a creative project, especially writing a book. I noticed how the agendas of the "suits" - people and parts of myself heavily focused on business and commercial calculations - have sometimes interfered with my creative process.
    Yet, in the dream, I was only delayed, not deflected. I did not join the suits. I returned to my cooking and produced something better than what it might have been. I applied this immediately to a current project. I had been pushing myself to complete a certain assignment. I decided to take a little break and let my creative springs start flowing again in their own sweet time. This worked beautifully. A couple of days later, after cutting and trimming, I completed my assignment, feeling really good.
    Then the suits came back, in my dreams this week. I found myself with three men in suits, walking a path above a high cliff. There was a glorious vista of ocean below, the waves breaking over a rocks and sandy beach.
    The suits had an agenda and I had agreed to go with them. But the way they had chosen was not getting us anywhere interesting. In fact, the path we were on was falling away. It seemed that it had crumbled through erosion or rockfall. There was no safe way to go forward, and certainly not to get down to the beach, if that had been the intention.
   To go forward would require trying to swing myself over gaping holes - with a drop of hundreds of feet - by grabbing tree branches and vines that seemed flimsy and poorly rooted when I tested them. I decided the journey was not worth the risk. I went back to a luxury hotel where I had been staying, apparently in a Northern European city. I was recognized and greeted warmly at reception, in a vast modern lobby.
    Yes, I know. I could have jumped from the cliff and started flying and enjoyed time at the beach. That might have been a more interesting way to part company with the suits. I remembered, inside the scene, that in dreams we can fly. Yet I also remembered that the physics of other realities does not always permit jumping off cliffs without consequences. I wrote myself a one-liner: You should not jump off every cliff you come to just because you can.

     I used to live in the world of suits. As a young man in my twenties, I affected super-tailored power suits, calculating that people would be more likely to forget my age and take me seriously if I was "better dressed" than any other man in the room. This calculation generally proved correct, for what that was ever worth.
     Now you will hardly ever catch me wearing anything more formal than jeans or chinos. My divorce from suits - and the suits - began many, many years ago, when I moved to the country. Then I dreamed that I was in a fancy menswear store of the kind I used to frequent, looking at the kind of power suits I used to affect, and found myself drawn to something quite different - a garment made of skins and furs with strange metal fastenings and an inside label that read "shamanic".
    I dream of wearing suits, as well as of encounters with men in suits. Sometimes I recognize that putting on a suit in a dream may be a rehearsal for a situation in waking like, especially a wedding or a funeral. It may be a prompt for me to remember, as teacher and author, that it is necessary to reach people in all environments and that putting on appropriate coloration can help speed that process. Sometimes Dream Robert is in a suit because he is back in an earlier time, within my present life, or off in a parallel world where I made different choices.
    I shall continue to watch out for those men in suits, including the parallel selves who walk with them.

Drawing by RM

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Soul recovery through the portal of an "old" dream

Soul loss, as shamans know, is at the root of many of our existential complaints - of chronic fatigue and depression, of addictions and autoimmune problems, of creative blockage and even "bad luck". If we are missing vital soul energy, how do we get it back?
     Our dreams will show us, if we are able to remember our dreams and willing not only to read them carefully but to take action to bring their guidance and energy into our lives. If we are suffering from a prolonged dream drought, that is almost certainly a very strong indication of serious soul loss because it suggests that we have lost contact with the part of ourselves that is the dreamer. If this is our situation, the essential first step towards soul healing is to find the ways to end the dream drought. I have offerered simple and practical advice on how to do that in my book Active Dreaming..
     In working with thousands of dreamers over several decades, I have noticed that there are five types of dreams that very frequently offer clues to where soul has gone, and invitations to bring it back:

Dreams of the old place
Again and again, you dream you are in the old place - back in the home you shared with your ex, or the office where you worked at the old job, or at grandma's house, or in the school yard. Maybe you'll want to ask yourself: did I leave part of myself behind when I left that old situation?

Dreams of a younger self as a separate person
You dream of a same-sex companion, notably younger than your present self. You may not recognize this person to begin with, or you may confuse him or her with a younger member of your family - with a child or a cousin, for example. Look again, to see whether that younger dream figure is actually a part of yourself who appears as a separate being because he or she is not currently a part of your life, having separated from you during a crucial life passage.

Dreams of animals
The state of animals in our dreams often represents the state of our vital energies, and can show us the natural path of our energies. Such dreams may also offer an invitation to connect or re-connect with our animal spirits. This is one of the quickest ways I know to restore and raise vital energy in our contemporary lives.

Dreams of shoes
Shoes, I've noticed, are often an analog for souls in our dreams. You can hear the homonym; shoes have "soles" which sounds like "souls". Whe you dream that you can't find your shoes, or that they are lost or missing, ask whether you are being given a message about soul loss - and perhaps a clue to where to go to locate what you lost. If you dream your shoes don't fit, ask where in your life your situation no longer serves the needs of your soul and your creative spirit.

Dreams of the unexpected visitor
The surprise caller at your door in your dreams may be a messenger from your Great Self. Maybe you resist that visitor, trying to bar your door. Of course, it is always important to discern the character of the visitor and make sure that you are not going to entertain an intruder.
      You'll want to remember that the little self, the ego self, is always terrified of being overwhelmed by the larger Self,  and that to claim a relationship with greater powers we are required to brave up. So when you are surprised or alarmed by that unexpected dream visitor, you'll want to look again, by getting your head back inside the dream and asking, Who are you?
     Here, as with all five types of dreams reviewed here, the royal road for turning a dream suggestive of soul loss into an exercise in soul recovery is to learn to re-enter the dream and  operate consciously within its space.

     You may find it extremely helpful to undertake this form of shamanic lucid dreaming with a partner who is willing to accompany and support you on your healing journey.

For much more on this subject, please read my book Dreaming the Soul Back Home: Shamanic Dreaming for Healing and Becoming Whole. Published by New World Library.

Art: "Dancing with the Bear" (c) Robert Moss

Monday, April 6, 2015

I want my new book in my arms

For me, the genesis of a creative work is both tactile and magical. It involves the urgent desire to touch and caress, and the sense of bringing something into manifestation from the imaginal plane where it already exists. I want to share the feelings, keen as the desire for a perfect lover, that helped to bring one of my most adventurous books (Dreamgates) into my hands, and then into the hands of its readers.

The feeling comes in strong. I want to touch it, stroke it, leaf back and forth through the pages, linger over details of typesetting, the pleasure of rereading an especially felicitous passage. Stroking my previous books, reading over drafts, letters, journal entries, won’t hack it. I want the real thing, the finished thing, bound and sewn.

     I know it’s there.
I have known for quite a time (well over a year) that my new book already exists. This is confirmed when I go through my journal and commonplace book. A paragraph here — and here, and here — a page or two there, are leaves from the finished product. Sure, I have recorded them out of sequence and need to figure out how to shuffle them to match the pagination of the actual book. There are big gaps where material had been left out in transmission. But these are not drafts, despite garbles, typos, and screwups by the filing clerk in my brain. They are the book — the actual, finished book — coming through. 
     I think of a bronze by Ipoustéguy in a sculpture garden in Washington, D.C., that shows a man moving through a solid door. An arm is coming through, up to the elbow. A leg is jutting through, up to the knee. A face bulges round as a moon, penetrating the membrane that only impersonates a solid barrier. My book has been coming through like that.
     Now I want its whole body in my hands.
     I could pause and give myself a lecture on the laws of manifestation, of bringing things into the surface world from the imaginal realm in which they are born. But I am not in the mood for a dissertation on Platonic forms or the Mundus Imaginalis of the Persian philosophers.
     My need lives in my body — in my loins, in my gut, in my nerve endings. I want to cradle and caress, to touch and be touched.
     Can I write from this?
     I can do better. I can deliver.
     My naysayer has nothing to say. My brakeman can’t stop the train. (The brakeman lives in the logical mind, as anyone knows who remembers his Greek; phren, “logic,” is related to phrenon, which means “brakes” — and “damper.”) Coming through!
     You could call my condition relaxed attention, or attentive relaxation, as my fingers trip and skirl across the keyboard. I don’t mind what you call it. As the screen fills and refills, as pages spill from the printer, I am simply bringing a book from my dream library into my physical space, to enjoy it with all of my physical senses.

Text adapted from Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and Life beyond Death by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Photo at top: "Man Passing through Door" by Jean-Robert Ipoustéguy in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Shamanic dreaming in ancient Britain: an interview with Manda Scott

Manda Scott’s Boudica novels – from Dreaming the Bull through Dreaming the Serpent Spear – are a magnificent act of historical imagination. We are plunged into the battles of Britain in the time of the Roman occupation, into a maelstrom of deception and divided loyalties, in which the heroism and sacrifice of a warrior queen shines with a clean bright flame. The characters are indelible – the Boudica, horsewoman, visionary, resistance leader - her tormented half-brother, her lover who dreams with the wren, and their fierce but honorable Roman adversary, whose soul is branded and bound by the cult of Mithras.  
   Manda takes us deep into ancestral realms. The Boudica novels are a gift to dreamers everywhere because they show us a way of dreaming – and healing and seeing – that may have been shared by all our ancestors, a way we urgently need to revive to restore our connection to soul and to re-vision our world. Manda helps awaken us to the possibility that dreaming has been a secret engine of history, far beyond what the history books have taught us. The dreamers in the Boudica novels are druids and shamans. They are scouts and trackers for the warriors. They mediate between the living and the ancestors. They fly with the birds, and run with the hound or the deer. They enter each other’s psychic space, and travel at will into other times and other dimensions. They speak to us, across time.
      I talked to Manda Scott in December 2006 about her vision of the ancient British dreaming.

Your Boudica novels beautifully evoke an early society in Britain in which dreamers were of central importance - as military scouts and mediators with the ancestors, and as the conscience of the leaders. What are your sources?

Our ancestors wrote in Greek but  chose not to keep written records of their work, thus we have nothing  from their point of view.  In literary terms, then, I started with the Roman writers and lawmakers. 
   We have to be careful in that they are writing through the lens of their own experience and for an audience which they wish to manipulate, but it is possible to begin to read between the lines and in some cases, I assumed they were speaking without undue spin when, for instance, in de Bello Gallico  Caesar described the 'druids' as the lawgivers and lawmakers and said that the druids of Gaul sent their apprentices to Britain for up to  twenty years' training. 
   Caesar furthermore said that the druids were above and beyond tribal boundaries and that their word was law. He described a society in which the 'men live forever in the eyes of  their gods' and that the principal point of their doctrine was that  the soul does not die, but after death passes from one body to  another.   He states that the druids were not a hereditary order (possibly in contrast to the “nobles” who were the other “rank” in  society, although this may be purely a Roman perspective)
   Later, Tiberius passed a law in which it was a capital offence for any to practice 'soothsaying' which was clearly intended to wipe out  the druids. 
   We can infer further the power of the druids from Rome's actions:  In almost all cases, Roman practice was to enfold the religions of a conquered people into their own relatively peacefully.  This was often a two-way street - the Egyptian cult of Isis became huge in Rome in the early centuries AD.  Mithras was a Persian god before he was ever Roman, the entire Greek pantheon was renamed and subsumed. Only when the priestly class were involved in insurrection did they try to wipe out a religions/spiritual force and this only happened twice: with the Jews of Jerusalem and the Druids of the (later) Celtic lands  of western Europe.  From this and other writing, we can infer that  the druids were instrumental in overcoming tribal friction to unite  the tribes not only within the different nations, but between them in the war against Rome.
    Apart from writing, we have archaeological evidence. this is always prone to subjective interpretation, but it is nonetheless interesting:  An examination of the midden remains of the Eceni in east Anglia showed that they used hides and feathers extensively for  decoration, that black feathers and white were particularly popular but nowhere in all the middens were found the feathers of a magpie - a carrion bird (black, of death, perhaps of Briga) with white on it - the colors of swans and geese, the birds who fly high to the sky gods and can then live underwater.  Neither were there ever otter skins although beaver abounded in those times - so these two, magpies and otters, were so taboo or so sacred they were never used.
   So I can begin to build a picture of a shamanic society in which the people live forever in the eyes of their gods. They live communally in round-houses and have a possibly hereditary nobility but a non- hereditary (presumably skill-based) priestly class.
   I abandoned the  name “druid” because it is too laden with projection - and created the  dreamers and the singers.
    It's important to remember that the tribes were not the militaristic society they have been painted: they were  agrarian, with massive amounts of man/.woman power needed for their cereal based diet and they were tremendous craftworkers in iron and precious metals - they had a love of beauty and a level of skill that was unmatched in the ancient world for at least another millennium.   These two are not going to happen if all the able-bodied men and women are busy fighting their neighbours. A warrior-based society is not necessarily always at war.
    I read a great deal of the Irish “Celtic” laws of the 4th and 5th  centuries.  Rome never conquered Ireland and although there is some Christian spin, the Irish laws are astonishingly egalitarian and quite at odds with the rest of emerging “Roman” Christianity.  In particular, women were able to hold property and to request a divorce, something that we have only recently won back.  I also read the old Irish and Welsh sagas, particularly for evidence of women as  warriors.  When CuChullain wanted to learn truly to fight, he went to a warrior school taught by women. This does not seem to have been thought of as unusual.
   Finally,in the context of the wider culture, for years I indulged in battle re-enactments where I fought as a Dark Age spear/sword-bearer.  I discovered that a) one does not need to be a man to fight and b) what one does need is supreme self- belief - and the skill to back it up.

Did your own dreams and visions contribute to your understanding of 
Boudica's people?

Yes, massively, continually and through every sentence of the writing.

Will you identify and explain some of the specific shamanic dreaming practices you describe in the novels?

 There are “night” dreams, in which a sleeping dreamer is sent specific information, regarding (For instance) a flood which will wipe out the steading if they don't move). There are waking dreams in which the gods visit specifically to give information - Valerius has those regularly, even when he is fighting for Rome. There are visions sent to non-dreamers, particularly to the Boudica in order to bring her closer to her destiny.  These often happen in or around grave mounds or passage tombs left over from neolithic and megalithic times. 

Do you personally practice any of these techniques?

All of them.  My intent with the first book was that every part of the dreaming, from Breaca's “vision quest” through to the end where  Macha and the dreamers call down the mist to confound the legions,  was something I had either done personally, or had seen done - mostly the former.  By the second book where Breaca helps Airmid cause the 
death of a Roman governor and where the bear-cult begins to arise, we are stepping beyond things I have done or seen done, into the realms  of what I believe may be possible, but wouldn't choose to do.  I also  highlight, where I can, those practices I believe to be dangerous. In addition, because I am a teacher, I have made an effort to be sure  that the books can be used as a learning by those who follow, if they so choose.

How did you learn them?

I learned mostly from men and women in this country who learned them from Native American teachers and later branched out to learn from others who have tried to explore Britain's past.  The problem we have  is that there is no direct lineage - the druids really were wiped out  and we have no true lineage.  Thus, to reach again the gods of this  land, we have to listen and learn from those who have never stepped  away from their own true connections.  I learned basic journeying to a drum and progressed from there.  The writing of the books themselves grew out of a vision quest and my dreaming moved in unimaginable ways during the six years of writing.
    The books arose when I was at the end of my crime thriller, No Good  Deed.  I was contracted to write a sequel and was out with my (then)  two lurchers walking, thinking about the new book.  They put up a  lactating hare and, eventually, caught and killed her. I was devastated.  Hares are sacred and she had young, which meant if I couldn't find them, they would die.  I couldn't find them, though I did spend a long time looking.   I sat down and decided that if something had to die to show me that I was walking along with my brain in neutral going in the wrong direction (which I was - I could have  stopped the dogs if I'd noticed what they were doing) then I had better pay attention.
   I went out into the woods alone with the specific question, “What do you want of me?”  The answer very clearly was to write Boudica - I  had made a commitment to write about her in a ceremony some years  before, but had added the coda, “when I'm a good enough writer” -  which of course was always going to be at least a decade away.
     But no, they wanted it NOW.  I argued that I wasn't a historian, an archaeologist, an anthropologist and I knew nothing about the subject. I also had no money and had been paid to write a different  book. It wasn't negotiable. I agreed that I would spend a month doing the research and if I still didn't think I could do it, I'd be back.
     By the end of the month, I had a 23 page synopsis and the beginnings 
of the first book. I also had a new editor, and a new publisher, and enough money to continue with something that required quite astonishing amounts of research.

Your love of animals, and your deep affinity for them, shines through all of your writing. Do animals dream? Do your dream with  the animals who share you life, and those you have helped?

Animals definitely dream - my lurcher (a hunting dog which is a cross 
between a greyhound and a collie) always dreams more of hunting when she has recently put up a hare -  her feet paddle, she yelps exactly as she does when running and she  breathes in a running rhythm.  My cats used to display REM and I'm as sure as I can be there were dreaming.  Inca (my lurcher) dreams with me regularly and if I'm in trouble in a dream and am unable to wake up, she will stand over me and put her nose on my brow until I  wake.   
     In general, I think that if we live with animals as genuine members of the family, accepting them as equals, not repositories of our projections or our insecurities, they will dream with us.  One of my most profound spiritual experiences was when I was out with my two lurchers and a pair of working cocker spaniel bitches, both of whom had given birth five weeks previously.  We were casting through bracken, not thinking very much and suddenly I was aware that I was one part of a five-parted being in which I knew where each other part was  (though I could see none of them) they knew where I was and we all worked as a unit.  It was quite astonishingly profound. I realized then that my dogs live in this state all the time and that I could do so too if I stepped away from my 'head-mind' into my 'heart-mind'

Your ancient dreamers are closely identified with animal guardians. Tell us about the animal guardians, and their role in shamanic dreaming. Will you share something of your personal experiences in this area?

The animal guardians mirror my own experience in that animals have always
formed a more significant part of my emotional life than  (most) people and this extends tothe dreamworld where they can and do represent and lead to aspects of reality that I
might otherwise be unable to access.  In the books, I have extended it and embraced slightly the concept of animal “totems” where a man or a woman, on coming to puberty may (but not necessarily) find an animal or a  bird to which they form a unique bond during their “long nights'” -  their dreaming time at which they cross from childhood into  adulthood. This animal is either a specific one - as in Hail the Hound with whom Valerius dreams, or they are generic, as in Airmid and her frog-dreaming. 
   My own experience is that I bond with specific animals, but also that many of us, including me, bond more solidly with other things - elements (fire, water, storm, earth) or  ancestors.  The animal dreaming grew out of the story, but I think it's important that people realize they may not make an animal  connection and if they do, it may take many years to work through  their projections before they make one that is genuine.

Tell us about the relationship between the living and the dead, as it is lived by your characters.

The boundary between the living and the dead is as thick - or as thin  - as we choose to make it.  Because my characters live in a society where the elderly and the ancestors are held in high regard, and where the soul does not die at death, then they live in the constant awareness of their ancestors, particularly those with whom they have  been close in life.  These act as guardians and guides.  They also, for a short time, see the dead as they leave the lands of the living  and walk towards the lands of the dead.   
    In the start of the third  book, Dreaming the Hound, Breaca speaks for a while with the spirit of a Roman standard bearer whose throat she has just cut.  The Romans choose not to listen to their dead (as we often do) and so are the weaker for it. Moreover, they are the invaders in a land where their gods do not tread, so their spirits have a longer journey when they die than do ours, who cross the river immediately to the lands of the dead.  Thus also, when it comes to personal sacrifice, Dubornos can offer himself as a living/dying mediator between the tribes and the  gods in the time of greatest need and his offer is perceived as entirely noble - and worthwhile  - not a waste of a life, or a loss  to him.  

Manda Scott is a veterinary surgeon, writer and climber, not necessarily in that order.  She was a horse vet in Newmarket, home of English thoroughbred racing, when she first began to write the Boudica: Dreaming series.  She now lives in Caradoc's land in the west, in the threshold place between England and Wales, a few miles south of Caer Caradoc.  She has been actively working with dreaming since she was a student in Glasgow. Visit her website here.

© Robert Moss and Manda Scott. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Beatrice complains that Dante would not listen to his dreams

Dante has gone through all the cycles of hell. He has mounted the three dread steps to the Gate of Purgatory - the mirror step, which compels him to look at himself in all facets as he truly is; the black step cracked from side to side, that requires him to examine the darkness in his soul; the blood-red step that requites him to explore the meaning of sacrifice and choose the offering he will make.
    He has found that he can only pass the stern Gatekeeper of Purgatory, throned on a great rock hard and bright as diamond, by knocking on his heart.
    He has begun his slow ascent of the mountain of Purgatory.
    And at last he has come to the presence of the one he yearns for, the radiant Guide of his soul. She appears to him in the form of the lovely young woman he loved but could never have. But he sees in her eyes that this being is more than any mortal woman. In her eyes is reflected the terror and beauty of the griffin, the lion-eagle that pulls her chariot, which is accompanied by a host of angels.
    Beatrice addresses Dante by name, the only time the author of the Commedia identifies himself in the text. Then she turns to the angels to make this complaint: 

Ne l’impetrare inspirazion mi valse,
con le quali e in sogno e altrimenti
lo rivocai: si poco a lui ne calse

-      -  Purgatorio canto xxx, lines 133-136

Nor was it any use for me to inspire him,
calling him in dreams and other ways;
he would not heed them! [my free version]

This is a stunning moment. From the heart of Western literature, and of medieval Christendom, we are receiving the message that the Guide of the soul seeks us in dreams. For years before he fell into hell, Dante was dreaming of the Guide, but failed to remember or to heed what he was dreaming. Beatrice's complaint to the angels must resonate in our minds. If we are missing our dreams, we are missing a direct connection to the sacred Guide, the Beloved of the Soul that wishes to be with us everywhere.

Art: William Blake's vision of Beatrice addressing Dante from her griffin-drawn chariot.