Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Art of Memory

Dreaming, waking or in between
in any part of the multiverse
in any body, in any life
you are invited to play
a memory game.

Whatever world you are in

the trick is to remember
the other worlds you inhabit
where you are dead and more alive

and the self that is dreaming you.

Drawing: "Return from Earth Mountain" by R.M. Oil crayons.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Heard by fairies, followed by Freud, transported to Van Diemen's Land

Mosswood Hollow is my favorite place to lead retreats in North America. Think a cross between Hogwarts and Wind in the Willows. I knew the name was propitious when a friend first brought me here ten years ago. Before that, the owners had never heard of me, nor I of them. Yet my surname is in the name they invented for their retreat center, inspired by the mossy woods all around us, in the foothills of the Cascade mountains of Washington State.
    I have been at Mosswood for two weeks, leading trainings. I am not surprised that i have new evidence that (as the Chinese say) "there are things that like to happen together", though I was amazed with delight by the incidents I will now report:

1. Fairy dust gets around

We had fairy voices in my Level One training for teachers of Active Dreaming at Mosswood last week. They included the achingly beautiful voice of inspired singer-songwriter Kai Altair. During our graduation ceremony on Friday, she sang "The Calling", a song of the heart's yearning that stirred every heart in our circle. Later she gave us a song that was born in a workshop I led on "Making Death Your Ally". Both songs are on her marvelous dream-charged album Dreamwalker.
    Faerie magic continued into Friday evening, when we gathered round a fire in the field between the lodge and the beaver pond. Joined by two other wonderful singers, a flute player and drummers, Kai sang again, improvising, riffing, playing with the spirits of the land and with visitors from the world-behind-the-world.
    When I went up to the porch, I found the owner of the lodge relaxing with a glass of wine and the glow of Faerie fire. I remarked, "We don't need a conference on fairies with so much fairy magic going on in my programs."
    He told me there is actually a conference on fairies that meets in Washington State, not at Mosswood Hollow but at another wildly beautiful location. He named some of our mutual friends, including prominent Celtic scholars, who have been presenters there.
    When I opened my email in the morning, I was amazed and delighted to find an invitation to lead keynote workshops at the 18th Congress on Human and Fairy Relations in June 2016. The invitation was charming, and since it came over the transom edged with Fairie fire, it did not take me long to clarify the details and say Yes.

2. Freud is following me

At the breakfast table yesterday, I share a brief report of a dream in which I am teaching a group to recognize the signs that gods and fairies are at play among humans. The discussion that follows leads me to recall that Sigmund Freud amassed a huge collection of statuettes of gods from the ancient world. He hated to be separated and seemed to commune with them. He jokingly referred to them as his "old and grubby gods". I was able to view 2,000 (of the original 3,000) when I visited Freud's last home in London. Later, while leading a writing retreat here at Mosswood Hollow, I wrote 4,000 words of a story about Freud's relationship with his gods, which were regarded by their makers as living vessels for the powers that had been called into their forms.
    Dreams require action. I announced that my action plan, after discussion of my dream, would be to pull out my Freud story, edit it, and see if it wants to become part of a new book.
    When I opened my laptop upstairs, I saw a message that read:

Sigmund Freud is Following You on Twitter!

     I checked and found that my new follower on Twitter is sigmund freud@freudfreaks, a site that posts daily quotes from Freud. I rushed downstairs to tell my group that Sigmund Freud is now following me. "It's about time," I quipped.
     I stepped out onto the porch to spread the word to dreamers sipping coffee in the morning sun. When I opened the door, the first phrase I heard - from a man sharing his own dream at an outdoor table was "an erect penis."
     I am not sure whether this is confirmation that Freud is following me, or Freud's revenge.

3. The she-oak lizard of Van Diemen's Land

One of the great delights of the residential retreats I lead at Mosswood Hollow is the chance to sit out on the porch under the stars in the evening and share stories, poems and songs.
    Yesterday evening, we were graced by the flute playing of a Huron/Wendat dreamer who has come to me - as she announced - t learn how to bring back the dreamways of her ancestors. Were thrilled by the soaring voice of a singer who once formed a band called The Sidhe. Then an Irishman in the group was persuaded to give us a favorite Irish ballad from another time, "The Black Velvet Band", in which a Belfast man laments that he was deceived by a lovely woman and transported as a convict to Van Diemen's Land, known today as Tasmania.
    I sat down today to write this note on synchronicity, with the tickling feeling that the two cases above needed to be  joined by a third, since three times makes the charm and is also in the title of my book The Three "Only" Things, which explains how we may notice a hidden hand in the play of synchronicity, which thins the veils between the worlds as forces of the deeper world probe and push through the curtains of our consensual hallucinations about reality.
    I paused to check email, and found this message from a man in northern England who was previously unknown to me:

"I dreamed last night I was standing in a shallow part of the sea. Out of a small hole in the shale on the sea floor, a very long black lizard popped its head out and swam towards a group of others. When I woke up I thought this was just some strange dream creature, but then decided to Goggle it, and came across an image that was very similar, which described the animal as a She-oak skink (Cyclodomorphus casuarinae) which is found only in Tasmania.
     "A few hours later, while having lunch, I looked for a book to read and my eyes fell on Conscious Dreaming by Robert Moss on my bookshelf, which a friend lent me a couple of years ago, and which I must confess I’d never previously got round to reading. Just four pages in, my jaw dropped a little when I read; 'They were as real as the thrilling walk I once took through the Queensland bush, under a sunshower, when I heard the she-oaks sing.'
     "I had to drop you a line about this because I’d never seen any type of long lizard before this dream, and didn’t even know such things existed. I’ll have to wait and see now if there is a deeper meaning to this synchronicity!"

Fairy wings are beating, and playful spirits work are in the wires, and the wireless.

Coming soon: Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity inEveryday Life by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library. Pub date: October 3. Available now for pre-order.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Message board

The words on the eraser board
vanish faster than I can get them down.
If I can catch them I will have the code
to free the prisoner in the border jail
and remember what the divine wants of me.

While I worry about this
a fish is slipping through the yard
and the lion in my living room

tells me that she is the part of me
that is on fire with love for the world.

Mornings are all like this.
I return from a room next door
with messages from another world

that slip through my fingers like slippery fish.
I see what the art of memory requires.

I train myself to step through the door
between the worlds. In my second body
I write on the message board
while my ordinary hand scratches on a pad.
This is my writer's way.

- Robert Moss, Mosswood Hollow, July 23, 2015.

Tree Dreaming at Mosswood Hollow. Photo by Robert Moss.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Dreamer at the Helm of the Starship Enterprise

As part of the graduation ceremony for teachers of Active Dreaming, I ask each graduate to make a short statement about the importance of dreams and dreamwork in front of the circle. I was deeply impressed by the clear and powerful remarks offered on Friday at Mosswood Hollow by the graduates from my most recent training.
    Of all their calls to the dreamer in each of us, this is my favorite.

by Theresa Matthews

When recently asked why dreams matter, I was reminded of Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise.  We learn in the opening of one movie that of all the Federation officers past or present, he was the only cadet to have survived the Kobayashi Maru simulation.  In one dire moment, but with a gleam in his eye, he confesses to a young cadet that he doesn’t like to lose and that he snuck in and changed the rules of the game.  

Dreams are game changers.  They bring us secret weapons in the form of hints, allies, insight, and sometimes very direct information that allow us to navigate the unknown territories of our lives with no small measure of bravery and distinction.  They allow us to masterfully captain our own ships.

Dream Teacher Training Level One, Class of 2015

USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-A)

Friday, July 17, 2015

When a kid is afraid of the dark, YOU can be the flashlight

This guest blog by dream teacher Jane Carleton is a lovely reminder that the first thing kids need from us when they talk about what goes on in the night is for someone to LISTEN UP - and then, if necessary, to help make a decisive move to deal with the scary stuff.

Guest blog by Jane Carleton

I was once at a friend’s house and met a young girl, about seven years old, visiting with her family from far away. I asked her about her dreams, and she shyly shared that she had a reeeeeeally scary dream that week.
     “Really scary." Oh? Tell me more! “I was home and the wall in my bedroom was full of eyes looking at me!” Oh, how scary! Was it day or night? “Night.” Oh! Scary! “Yes.” What would you like to see happen with those eyes if you could do anything? “I want them to close!” Oooof. Me, too. What could make that happen? “I’d shine a big light at them.” Great idea! What kind of light? “A big flashlight!” Perfect! Would you like to do something about those eyes right now? “OK.”
      All right…see that wall…let’s imagine that wall is the wall in your bedroom. “OK.” And now…I’m here with you, so you’re safe…can you image that wall is full of those eyes, just like in your dream? “Ooooo Yes!” OK, we need a flashlight, right? How about if I be the flashlight, and you shine me on all of those eyes and make them not only close, but also disappear? “Yeah. OK!!!”
      We did a little dream theater right on the spot. This beautiful little girl, empowered and happy, shone her imaginary flashlight all over the wall, guiding me as the flashlight to shine right where she felt the light was needed. It was just right and the dream was no longer scary. No interpretations, no lessons, just a moment of dreaming together.
       Meanwhile, the adults were deep in conversation and didn’t realize the beauty of the moment. My new friend skipped off to another room and I rejoined the conversation.
                     About twenty minutes later, she came up to me with a big sheet of drawing paper…she wanted to share more dreams with me, and had drawn sketches of about a half dozen dreams…and was brimming with excitement at telling me about her dreams.
      A gate had opened simply because she found someone who was genuinely interested in her amazing inner life. We can do this for others, children and adults alike, and if we open to dreaming with adults, the child within will come out to play.

Jane E. Carleton, MA, GG specializes in dreams as an international consultant, educator, and workshop leader. With two graduate degrees in Dreams and Consciousness Studies, she is an adjunct professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Jane teaches a variety of contemporary and cross-cultural experiential, transformative dreaming techniques, including Robert Moss’s Active Dreaming. 

Eldorado Kite

The great bird lifts from my hand
drawn to the sun
on Your breath.
I tug on the string,
trying to drag it down,
forgetting what You taught me:
the falcon longs for the wrist of the King.

This strange wind is too strong for me.
I am rising with the bird
above all that is fenced in,
urgent to cut the cord.
My tame self panics.
It wants to hide among limits and shadows
where air does not move like this,
in animate waves of intent.

Something falls like a worn-out coat
and Your breath blows me as a sail
across oceans of sky
to my home in Your heart
where falcon and falconer are one.

Poems do not require explanations, but I want to tell the story of this one, which is a story of growing a vision for someone in need of a vision.
    I was staying with a generous man who was near death. I had sought various ways to offer help and return his hospitality. I had found a quartzite rock shaped exactly and naturally like the head of a bear and brought it to him as a possible agent of healing.
    But Death was getting ready to take him. He knew that in his body, in his dreams and in the behavior of the ravens that were always around his adobe house in the Southwest.
    I walked the neighborhood, grieving and searching for something to offer that might help him prepare for the Big journey. I saw a hawk overhead, a good sign for me. Coming closer, I saw it was a hawk-shaped kite, so well made you could easily mistake the semblance for the real thing. The kite soared aloft. It had escaped the hand or the pole that had held it.
    What a beautiful metaphor for a soul rising from the body, lifting towards the heavens.
    I wrote the poem for my friend and read it to him at his bedside. He was especially moved by the words about a "strange wind" and air moving differently, and had me read them again. Then, with his failing voice, he read the poem back to me.
    I like to picture him rising, at death, like a falcon that has slipped the leash, to return to the wrist of the Great Falconer above. 

"Eldorado Kite" is in my collection, Here, Everything is Dreaming: Poems and Stories. Published by Excelsior Editions.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Salmon, the Fox and The Little Prince at the Boarding Gate

A lady in line  behind me at the Southwest gate at BWI asks about things to do in Seattle. "Start at Pike Place Market," I suggest. "It is a synchronicity magnet. Eat wild fresh salmon."
    She asks whether I am going home or traveling for business or on vacation. "At Mosswood Hollow, it's all three, I tell her." She is amazed that my surname is enfolded in the name of my favorite retreat center in North America, and wants to know what I teach there.
    Soon we are talking about the magic of chance encounters, and how the powers behind the curtain of the world reveal their presence through synchronicity, and how we dream the future and can change it for the better.
   The kid behind her leans in, apparently looking for a way to join our conversation. He finds his moment when the lady asks, "What is the best season for fresh salmon in the Pacific Northwest?"

    "Year round," he says. He got that right. Clearly a native of the Northwest.
     I notice the logo on his sweatshirt. Naval Academy Wrestling. Really? He explains he has spent six days wrestling Navy Seals with his high school team. The Seals gave them the sweatshirts as souvenirs.
    "They gave us Le Petit Prince to read in French class in school," he tells me. "I thought you might know it."
     Indeed. In no time we are talking about alternative translations for the word apprivoisé  in Saint-Exupéry's beloved fable. The fox tells the little prince he cannot reveal the most important secret until he has been apprivoisé. The standard translation is "tamed" but the sense in more like "until we have become close" or "until we have gotten to know each other."
     When the fox delivers the secret it goes like this: “You can only see clearly with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes."
     The eyes of the high school wrestler are dancing. Such an intelligent, sensitive face in such a strong frame. A young prince of the Pacific Northwest.
     Our conversation ends when we board because after six days wrestling with Seals, he has to sleep. A friendly wink from the universe: the Little Prince and the wild salmon at the boarding gate.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A one-liner a day keeps verbal diarrhea away

I have been asked for guidance, yet again, on keeping it simple. "How can I eliminate superfluous clutter and say what I need to say in fewer and better words?"
    If it is a matter of getting your story together in speaking to others, our Lightning (or Lightening) process is excellent practice. You take turns with a friend or a group to tell personal experiences, which may be dreams or anything else that has story value. If it is your turn to speak, you make it your game to tell your story as simply and clearly as possible. You leave out unnecessary background. You give your story a title. You are conscious of your need to hold the attention of your listeners, and they accept their need to listen closely and then to offer helpful feedback.
    When it comes to writing, here are a couple of daily games I play that you may find helpful.

     Compress the essence of anything you wish to say so it will fit on one side of a small (3"x 5") index card. We do this very often in my workshops and it is amazing what focus it brings. As  a sample of what is possible through the "index card" process, consider this account of how we harvested remarkable tales in miniature from a deep group journey in a workshop I led in the mountains of Romania. Everything here, apart from my introduction, is a selection of narratives written on one side of a small index card.
      Keep a journal and on any day you can, harvest a one-liner from your experiences, reflections and reading. I do this all the time. I re-write some of my one liners on index cards and keep them in a box I use as a personal oracle, dipping in to pull out a thought for the day. I did this just now, for purposes of illustration, and pulled out the following one-liners:

Don't pray against, pray for.

Creating is healing,

Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say and say it hot.

I borrowed that last one from D.H. Lawrence. It is exquisitely relevant to our theme here.

Hone the craft of creating your own one-liners, and you may become an aphorist, a maker of aphorisms, those witty, pithy one-liners that distill something of the human condition. Mark Twain is the American master of this art, forever crackling with snappers and astonishers. I celebrate the art of making aphorisms here.
     Coming up with a one-liner can help you to draw the moral from a life experience, or a message for action. In dreamwork, producing a bumper sticker or action phrase from a dream narrative and any subsequent exploration gives you a way to carry energy and direction from the dream.
     Play like this and you have a chance to entertain the spirits. The Inuits say we need to entertain the spirits by offering them "fresh words", which is grand advice.
    The heart of the matter is this:

The more you need to say, the more need to say it in fewer words.

Let me say that again, in fresh words:

A one-liner a day keeps verbal diarrhea away.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Wind and the Book: Spontaneous Dream Transfer

We can gift a dream to someone in need of a dream. This may be a healing image, a vision of life possibility, or even a road into the afterlife. I have developed a focused technique that I call Dream Transfer or Vision Transfer which is explained in several of my books, including Dreamways of the Iroquois.
    Sometimes a very wonderful dream transfer is accomplished effortlessly, when we find we have the right dream to give to another person, either the right dream about that person, or a dream of power we can invite them to share.
     When I was writing my book Dreaming the Soul Back Home, a European friend, visiting family in the United States, called me and asked how it was coming along. I replied that I had not done much focused writing of book drafts, but that I was relaxed because my whole life experience was feeding this book, and the deadline was still a few weeks away, which seemed like a very long way off to me. As a former journalist - and student - I don't really believe in deadlines until they are so close I have to pull an all-nighter.
     "I don't think you need to worry," my friend said. "I dreamed that you were in a magnificent grove of trees, holding a bunch of typed pages. You decided to take a nap.
     "A magical wind whipped up, carried the pages out of your hands and took them swirling round and round in the air. Finally the wind placed the pages on your belly. You woke up, examined the pages, and exclaimed with joy, 'That's it! My book is done!'"
     I declared that I would make this dream my own, and let it become my creative reality.
     That is exactly what unfolded. When I sat down to work on my new book, the pages flew together. Some flew from my journals, some from this blog, others seemed to come whirling down the chimney or through the skylight.
     I felt that the wind from the dream was with me. I clasped the printouts of my book pages and said, "My book is done!" and hit the Send button to get the digital version winging its way to my editor.
     I am going to call on that dream and that magical wind when my next book deadline is creeping up in the calendar.

Art by  Irene Alexeeva. inspired by Vladimir Kush

Friday, July 10, 2015

Breaking a dream drought

In our society, many people are suffering from a protracted dream drought. This is a serious condition, because our dreams offer essential guidance, energy, connection with meaning and purpose – and fun – that is essential to being fully human.
     Here are some fun and easy ways to renew and refresh your relationship with your dreams:

1.Set an intention for the night

Before sleep, write down an intention for the hours of dream and twilight that lie ahead. This can be a travel plan (“I would like to go to Hawaii” or “I would like to visit my girlfriend/boyfriend”). It might be a specific request for guidance (“I want to know what will happen if I change my job”).
     It could be a more general setting of direction (“I ask for healing” or “I open myself to my creative
    You might simply say, “I want to have fun in my dreams and remember.”
     Make sure your intention has some juice. Don’t make dream recall one more chore to fit in with all the others.
     If you like, you can make a little ritual of dream incubation, a simple version of what ancient seekers did when they traveled to temples of dream healing like those of Asklepios in hopes of a night encounter with a sacred guide. You can take a special bath or shower, play a recording of the sounds of nature or running water, and meditate for a while on an object or picture that relates to your intention.You might want to avoid eating heavily or drinking alcohol within a couple of hours of sleep. You could get yourself a little mugwort pillow – in folk tradition, mugwort is an excellent dreambringer – and place it under or near your regular pillow.

2. Be ready to receive

Having set your intention, make sure you have the means to honor it. Keep pen and paper (or a voice recorder) next to your bed so you are ready to record when you wake up. Record something whenever you wake up, even if it’s at 3 a.m. If you have to go to the bathroom, take your notebook with you and practice doing two things at once. Sometimes the dreams we most need to hear come visiting at rather anti-social hours, from the viewpoint of the little everyday mind.

3. Be kind to fragments.

Don’t give up on fragments from your night dreams. The wispiest trace of a dream can be exciting to play with, and as you play with it you may find you are pulling back more of the previously forgotten dream.The odd word or phrase left over from a dream may be an intriguing clue, if you are willing to do a little detective work.
    Suppose you wake with nothing more than the sense of a certain color. It could be quite interesting to notice that today is a Red Day, or  a Green Day, to dress accordingly, to allow the energy of that color to travel with you, and to meditate on the qualities of red or green and see what life memories that evokes..

4. Still no dream recall? No worries.

If you don’t remember a dream when you first wake up, laze in bed for a few minutes and see if something comes back. Wiggle around in the bed. Sometimes returning to the body posture we were in earlier in the night helps to bring back what we were dreaming when our bodies were arranged that way.
     If you still don’t have a dream, write something down anyway: whatever is in your awareness,
including feelings and physical sensations. You are catching the residue of a dream even if the dream itself is gone. As you do this, you are saying to the source of your dreams, “I’m listening. Talk to me.”
     You may find that, though your dreams have flown, you have a sense of clarity and direction that is the legacy of the night. We solve problems in our sleep even when we don’t remember the problem-solving process that went on in our dreaming minds.     

5, Remember you don’t need to go to sleep in order to dream.

The incidents of everyday life will speak to us like dream symbols if we will are willing to pay attention. Keep a lookout for the first unusual or striking thing that enters your field of perception in the course of the day and ask whether there could be a message there. Sometimes it’s in your face, as happened to a woman I know who was mourning the end of a romance but had to laugh when she noticed that the bumper sticker of the red convertible in front of her said, “I use ex-lovers as speed bumps.”
When we make it our game to pay attention to coincidence and symbolic pop-ups in everyday life, we oil the dream gates so they let more through from the night.

For more on this, and even more games to play, please read my book Active Dreaming.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Heart of Conscious Dreaming: Nine Keys to Your Dreams

I dreamed last night that I was having lively and happy conversations about my book Conscious Dreaming. It is almost 20 years since I published Conscious Dreaming, the first of my many books on dreaming, and the one that introduced my original synthesis of contemporary dreamwork and shamanism to the world.
   Many hundreds of people have told me about the effect that Conscious Dreaming has had on their lives. It seems to be a flying book. I have heard, for example, about how it flew off a shelf in the Boulder Bookstore and hit a well-known shamanic teacher in the place of the third eye. He purchased the book and then invited me to lead a workshop in his home town.
    The path to publication for Conscious Dreaming was opened when I incubated a dream for guidance. I received exact instruction, in symbolic language that spoke to me, on how to proceed. I followed that guidance immediately - and found myself staring at the key scene from the dream when on book tour in San Francisco nine months later.

     Right now I want to honor my latest dream, and the book that confirmed my path as a dream teacher, by sharing the core of the practice offered in Conscious Dreaming.

Nine Keys to Understanding Your Dreams

1.  Trust Your Feelings
Always pay attention to how you feel when you wake from a dream. Your feelings and bodily sensations may be your best guide to the relative urgency and importance of a dream, and its positive or negative implications.

2.  First Associations
In keeping a dream journal, you will want to get into the habit of jotting down your first associations with the dreams you record. What floats to the surface of your consciousness in the first minutes after waking may come from layers of the dream that have eluded, or from deeper levels of dreaming.

3.  Reality Check
Though dreams are inner experiences, they often contain accurate information about external reality. In both subtle and unsubtle ways, dreams incorporate signals from the outside environments.

4.  Dream Re-Entry
Dreams are real experiences, and a fully remembered dream is its own interpretation. The meaning of a dream is inside the dream itself. By learning how to re-enter dreams, you will develop the ability to clarify messages about future events, resume contact with inner teachers, and resolve unfinished business.

5.  Dialogue with Dream Characters
One of the best ways to work out what your dream characters are telling you is to ask them.

6.  Tracking Your Dream Self
Who are you in your dreams? Are you the protagonist or simply an observer? Are you younger or older? Male or female? The character who appears in all of your dreams, even if only as a witness is you.

7.  Symbol Exploration
Although the dream source tries to communicate with us as clearly as possible, it must often speak in symbols in order to carry us beyond the limitations of the everyday mind.

8.  "What Part of Me?"
Dreams make us whole. They show us the many aspects of ourselves and help us to bring them under one rood. This is why it is often useful to ask "what part of me" different characters and elements in a dream might represent.

9.  Dream Enactment
Write a dream motto: See if you can come up with a one-line statement that summarizes what the dream is telling you.

Confirm your dream messages: Especially if your dream seems to contain a warning about a situation looming up in external reality, you may want to take steps to check the information.

Dream fulfillment or avoidance: If your dream seems to promise good things, you will want to figure out practical ways you can help to bring them to pass. If your don’t like a future event you have glimpsed in a dream, you will want to consider how to get off the path that is leading you toward it.

Personal Rituals: Making a poem out of a dream report, drawing or 
painting the images you have seen, or constructing a personal shield or dream talisman are all excellent ways to honor the powers that speak to you through dreams.

"Nine Keys" adapted from Conscious Dreaming: A Spiritual Path for Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by Three Rivers Press. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Arata's severed head: remote healing and shared dreaming at Epidaurus

I go back from time to time to the testimonies of those who received healing in the ancient temples of Asklepios and Apollo. We have a convenient and fairly exhaustive collection of these thanks to the work of Emma and Ludwig Edelstein in the 1940s. The second edition  is available in a single-volume edition from the Johns Hopkins Press.
    I was talking last night in an online class for The Shift Network about the experience of healing with the sacred guide in the Asklepian tradition, which was immensely popular in the Greco-Roman world for more than a thousand years. I am now preparing to take people on a deeper dive into this tradition, in a new online course on Seven World Traditions of Dreaming that will start in August, as well as in live workshops.
    So, as is my way, I opened the collection of testimonies at random. I found myself considering again the fascinating case of a young Spartan woman named Arata, and her devoted mother, who made the long and often dangerous journey to the great Asklepian temple of Epidaurus to seek healing for her daughter.
    Arata, we are told, was υδρωπ, "dropsical". Today, we might say that she had an edema, a serious swelling due to the build-up of fluids in the cavities of the body. When ordinary medicine could do nothing for her, the mother embarked on her journey. She must have undergone the customary cleansing and ritual purification, and made simple offerings to the sacred powers of the sanctuary, including honey cakes for the serpents of Asklepios.
    She would have been assisted by the therapeuts - the helpers of the healing god - to incubate a dream of invitation and to clarify her request to the god, for the benefit of her beloved daughter. She would have been shown testimonies of those who had been healed before, and images of the gods, building a mental climate of positive expectation. Eventually she was ushered into the abaton, the inner precinct of the temple, where she would have been encouraged to lie down on an animal skin and await the coming of the healing god in the sacred night.

    In the night, "She slept in the temple and saw the following dream: it seemed to her that the god cut off her daughter’s head and hung up her body in such a way that her neck hung down." We can picture how a butcher might hang an animal carcass on a meat hook.  Out of the neck came a huge quantity of fluid matter. Then the mother took down her daughter’s body and fitted the head back on the neck. 
    After she had seen this dream, she went home and found her daughter fully recovered, in good health and excellent spirits. Her daughter reported she had the same dream.
     In this wild and primal experience, glimpsed through a few lines of an inscription chiseled on stone, we see the lineaments of a healing practice that reaches beyond ordinary medicine and beyond time and place. A sacred power appears to the dreamer, in response to a heart-felt prayer. Let us notice that the experience unfolding is possibly best understood as a lucid dream playing in the liminal space between sleep and awake.
    The god of this dream is a ruthless surgeon, but his cutting is true and precise. Something that was wrong in the body of a person at a distance is drained and healed during this operation., Not only is the effect transferred to Arata, hundreds of miles away, but Arata sees the whole thing, as if she were with her mother and the god in the sacred space.
    We have here remarkable evidence of the reality and efficacy of remote healing and shared dreaming. We have confirmation that direct engagement with the sacred is the ultimate healing resource. We have a reminder that even the most terrifying image - if it is authentic and truly belongs to us - can open a way to healing and transformation, if we are willing to stay with it and work with it.

Source: the testimony of Arata's mother is printed in Emma J. Edelstein and Ludwig Edelstein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies (second edition, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Press, 1998) as #423.21.

Photo: the author with the serpent pillar of Asklepios at Pergamon (modern Bergama) in Aeolis (western Turkey).