Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Play first, work later (and delight your inner child)

Like puppies or lion cubs or dolphins spinning silver lariats of bubbles, children play for the joy of playing. Young children are masters of imagination, since they know the magic of making things up. Our first and best teacher of conscious living is our inner child.
     But that inner child may have gone into hiding, under a glass dome or in a room in Grandma’s house, because of shame or abuse, ridicule or loneliness, because the world wasn’t safe or it wasn’t fun. If we have lost our dreams, if our imagination is stuck in a groove, it’s because we have lost our inner child. To live as active dreamers in everyday life, we have to bring that child home. This requires a quest, a negotiation, and fulfillment of a promise.
     The quest will lead us down halls of memory to a place and time where our wonder child went missing. We can embark on the quest as a guided journey to a real place in the imaginal realm, or through the portal of a dream or memory from childhood.
     The negotiation requires us to convince our child selves that we are safe and we are fun to be around. Fulfilling the promises we make will require us to remember to play without scheduling it.
     Play first, work later, our child selves will insist. The cautious dutiful adult self will protest. But if we are to keep our inner children at home in our bodies and our lives, we’ll need to fulfill our promises to be fun as well as safe. If we play well enough, then before we quite know it, we’ll fall in love with our work because it will be our play.

Adapted from ActiveDreaming: Journeying beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library

Art: "Bathers" by George William Russell (AE).

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Egyptian Rx for bad dreams: use bread and beer of the Goddess

An Egyptian dream book inscribed in the reign of Ramses II, in the 13th century  BCE,  contains a ritual for turning away the negative energy of "bad" dreams and the psychic forces at play in them.
     The hieratic papyrus classifies different types of dream as “good” or “bad”; the word “bad” is written in red, the color of ill omen in the Egyptian imagination.
     What to do about a "bad" dream?
     First,  the dreamer is counseled to rub his face with bread soaked with beer, herbs and myrrh. Presumably this was intended to draw "bad" energies (maybe hungry ghosts) into a container that could be safely disposed of later. Bread and beer are gifts of the Goddess, so we are already in her realm.
     Next, the dreamer is advised to tell his dream to Isis, addressed as Mother. The act of telling the dream to the Great Mother is held to disperse its evil. In the Gardiner translation, Isis says:

Come out with what you have seen, in order that the afflictions you saw in your dreams may vanish.

The ritual ends with a triumphal cry from the dreamer that he has dispelled an evil dream sent against him and is now ready to receive pleasant dreams. “Hail to thee, good dream that is seen by night or day!”
The dream book was found with a collection of magical and literary papyri in the cemetery at Deir el-Medina. The original author and owner are uncertain; at one time the papyrus belonged to a scribe named Qeniherkhepshef; who copied a poem about the Battle of Kadesh, which took place in the reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213 BC) on the verso.
Quotes above from A.H. Gardiner, Hieratic Papyri in the British Museum. Third Series. (London: British Museum, 1935).

Image: shabti of Qeniherkhepshef, the scribe who once possessed the Dream Book. The figure is depicted as a mummy standing like Osiris, gripping the crook and flail of kingship, but also two hoes, suggesting he is available for agricultural work. A shabti (literally, "answerer") was a magical doll intended to work on behalf of the deceased in the afterlife, once activated by a spell. The spell to make the shabti "answer" is painted in horizontal lines around the figure, starting with hieroglyphs that identify the owner by the title, "Scribe in the Place of Truth".

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Dreams and dynasty: Septimius Severus dreams his way to the purple

Septimius Severus made himself master of Rome in 193, after fighting and defeating several rivals in the power struggle that followed the murder of a previous emperor, Pertinax, by his own Praetorian Guard. Septimius came from the province of Africa. His father was Phoenician, his mother Italian. His first language was Punic, the language of Hannibal; under the tutelage of the great rhetorician Quintilian in Italy, he may have lost his "African" accent.
     He was a lawyer, a poet, a senator and a general, who valued dreams at all stages of his rise to the imperial purple. He used dreams as sources of tactical and strategic information as well as a useful language in public discourse and propaganda, in an era when dreams were widely believed to be a nightly field of interaction between gods and humans, and between the living and the dead.
     Newly installed as emperor, Septimius accepted homage from Cassius Dio, a young senator on the make, in the form of a little book describing dreams and portents. The dreams were attributed to Septimius himself, and were cited as evidence that the general was destined to become emperor. On the evening of the same summer day when he received the book, the emperor wrote Dio “many complimentary things” in a letter of appreciation.
    Dio’s book contains six dreams that must have come from Septimius himself, or members of his close entourage. In one of them, the emperor-to-be is suckled by a she-wolf, like Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. In another dream, Faustina, the wife of the revered philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius, prepares a wedding chamber for Septimius in the Temple of Venus, near the imperial palace.
    The dreams become more and more grandiose. Water streams from his hand, giving limitless refreshment to the people and nourishment to the earth. The whole Roman Empire salutes him. Someone takes him up on a high mountain. From the summit, he can see Rome and all the world. "As he gazed down on all the land and see, he lid his hands on them as one might on an instrument capable of playing all modes, and they all sang together." [Dio 74.3.1, 2.3]

    The dream that most specifically announces Septimius’ rise to power is one in which a horse throws Pertinax, his murdered predecessor, in the forum. Septimius mounts the riderless horse, which acknowledges its new master. Septimius ordered the creation of an equestrian statue of himself, and had this set up in the Forum Romanum at the spot where, in the dream, he mounted the horse that threw Pertinax.
    Some of these dreams may have been concocted or “improved” as propaganda in support of the new emperor. If that is the case, it speaks volumes about respect for dreams as sources of epiphany – revelation – prophecy, and divine favor. The contemporary historian Herodian, who claimed to have details from Septimius’ autobiography, said that “these things are believed to be honest and true when they turn out well.”
    However, we have evidence that as emperor Septimius valued dreams as sources of intelligence. Septimius reportedly dreamed that his very powerful Praetorian Prefect, Plautianus was plotting against him, and had Plautianus put to death. He required the Senate to discuss a dream report by the nurse of one of its own members, which was also held to contain evidence of treason.
    Septimius’ son Caracalla was a dedicated believer in the therapeutic power of dreams. He visited the great Temple of Asklepios at Pergamon in the winter of 214-215. Herodian reports that in the sanctuary of the god of dream healing, the emperor “had his fill of dreams” and made personal use of “the treatments of Asklepios.”
    The Severan dynasty, founded by Septimius, continued to take dreams very seriously.  As in other societies where dreams are valued highly, the Severans moved towards creating a  “dream police” in the effort to limit the circulation of dream reports that could be used by rebels and dissenters. Those who invent dreams and portents on the pretext that they are doing so “on the instructions of the gods” must “by no means go unpunished”, ruled imperial jurist Domitius Ulpian.
    Cassius Dio, who wrote up the dreams of Septimius, was instructed by his daimon in a dream of his own to write the history of "the wars and very great disturbances" that followed the death of Commodus and led to the emergence of the Severan dynasty.He eventually folded this into a vast history of Rome, in eighty books, written in Greek. Though much of this work has vanished, the surviving text contains a valuable account of the revolt led by the British warrior queen, Boudica. Dio's Roman History is full of dreams and portents, suggesting that these had great currency among the educated elite in his time, as well as in the centuries he covers.

Sources: The Loeb Classical Library has published a nine-volume bilingual (Greek-English) text of the surviving books of Dio's Roman History. Fergus Millar's A Study of Cassius Dio is a valiant attempt to penetrate the mind of this dream-oriented historian. The other almost-contemporaneous ancient sources are a colorful and unreliable history of the Roman Empire by Herodian of Antioch, writing in the 250s, and the no more reliable collection of imperial biographies known as the Historia Augusta, or Augustan History. The best biography of Septimius Severus is Anthony R. Birley, Septimius Severus: The African Emperor. William V. Harris provides useful leads in his full and skeptical study of Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity.

Graphic (top): the Severan tondo, depicting the emperor Septimius Severus with his family
(bottom) statue of Septimius found at Alexandria, now in the British Museum, which some think gives him an "African" look.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Keeping a journal is making dates with your Self

When you write in your journal, you are keeping a date with your Self. I'm giving "self" a big S because I'm talking about something bigger than the everyday mind, so often prone to distraction, or mixed-up agendas, so driven by routines and other people's requirements.
     I can't really explain to you just how important a journal will be in your life until you have kept one for at least five years. But whether you have been writing a journal since childhood, or are just getting ready to start one today, I can offer you six everyday games to play with it that offer endless fun and self-therapy and creative release.

1. Write Your Way Through
Whatever ails you of bugs you or blocks you, write about it. Getting it out is immediate therapy. If you keep your journal strictly private (which is essential, by the way) what you put down in these pages can be your everyday confessional, with the cleansing and release that can bring. It's funny how when you start by recording your woes, something else comes into play that brings you up instead of down and can actually restore your sense of humor.
When you see and state things as they are, you already begin to change them. Keep your hand moving, and you may manifest the power to re-name and re-vision symptoms, challenges and difficult situations in the direction of resolution and healing.

2. Catch Your Dreams
Every time you remember a dream, record it. Date your entry and give the dream a title. By giving a name to a dream, you are recognizing that there's a story to be told, and you are now in process of becoming a storyteller. Also jot down your feelings around the dream; your first feelings on waking are the best guidance on what it is telling you.

3. Make a Book of Clues
The world is speaking to us through coincidence and chance encounters and symbolic pop-ups, giving us clues to the hidden logic of events. Once we start paying attention, we'll find that synchronicity is a fabulous source of navigational guidance. Write down in your journal anything unusual or unexpected that you notice during the day. Suggestion: note in your journal, what appears on the first vanity plate you spot each day..

4. Collect Pick-Me-Up Lines
No, I did not say "pick-up lines"! One of the things I treasure in my own journals, and in those of famous dead people that I read, is the collection of interesting and inspiring quotes that grows once we get into the habit of jotting down one-liners that catch our attention. Something you read, something that came up in conversation, something you overheard in the street.

5. Make Your Own Dictionary of Symbols
Tracking how symbols feature and evolve in your dreams and your experience of the world around you will give you your own encyclopedia of symbols, far superior to all those dream dictionaries, because the snake or the train in your dream is yours not theirs. The images that arise in our dreams and in the play of coincidence in waking life often seem to link us to the realm of the archetypes, to universal symbols that seem to repeat again and again in the collective mind of humanity. At the same time, the images that arise spontaneously in dreaming are individual, our personal gifts, and we don’t want to assign the meaning of our dreams or our lives to any external authority.

6. Write until you're a writer
Sit down with your journal every day and keep your hand moving, and before you think about it, you'll find you have become a writer. Whether the world knows that, or whether you choose to share your writing with the world is secondary. You are writing for your Self, and without fear of the consequences. You are giving your writing muscles a workout, and you'll find that tones up your whole system.

Adapted from Active Dreaming: Journeying Beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

White Wolf

Mother of wolves
Hunter of hearts
You are the antidote
To the wolf in man

Never tame

You gentle our wildness
You help us turn packs
Into families.

Killer of fear

Cleanser of souls
You shear away
What is dead, or meant to die

You bring light from dark.

On the night your scary twin
Eats the moon,
You give us white fire.

On your bicycling legs

With your flawless compass
You take us into the shining heart
Of the Peacemaker.

Over the black rubble

Of our guilt and shame
You spread a clean mantle
Of fresh-fallen snow.

Your clear eyes read

What belongs to us and what does not.
You know better than we do
What it takes to be human.

This poem is in my collection Here, Everything Is Dreaming, published by Excelsior Editions.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A dream prompt from a deceased scholar of the Iroquois

First of a series occasional notes on my rambles as a dream archaeologist. 

The Tuscarora ethnographer John Napoleon Brinton Hewitt was a fascinating figure who epitomized the Iroquois ability to live in two worlds. Hewitt sat patiently with the old Speakers on the reservations, married a Washington socialite, attended a Unitarian church, and, without a relevant diploma, awed droves of newly minted anthropology Ph.D.s at the Smithsonian with his inexhaustible scholarship and command of languages.
      He appeared to me in a dream when I was writing my book Dreamways of the Iroquois. He presented himself in an Edwardian wing collar and frock coat, to urge me to read his essay on Tawiskaron, the Dark Twin in Iroquois cosmology). This proved to be an invaluable source, previously unknown to me, when I was eventually able to locate in volume 2 of the long out-of-print 1910 edition of the Smithsonian Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Black Elk, the poet and a dream passport

One of the great creative and spiritual encounters in American history took place under a shelter of pine boughs on a barren hill on the Pine Ridge reservation in the summer of 1930. The men who met that day were John G. Neihardt, a renowned poet and critic from Nebraska, and the Lakota holy man Black Elk.
     Neihardt was engaged in writing “The Song of the Messiah”, the last narrative poem in his epic  Cycle of the West. He was eager to talk to an elder who had been warrior and healer, hunter and seer, who had worn the Ghost Dance shirt and lived the brave and tragic history of his people from the slaughter of the buffalo through victory at Little Bighorn and the massacre at Wounded Knee. The government agent at Pine Ridge, an admirer of Neihardt’s work, had arranged an interview, describing the “old Sioux” as a “kind of preacher”, a wichasa wakon (holy man). Neihardt’s Lakota interpreter, Flying Hawk, counseled him not to get his hopes up about the interview. Black Elk, now almost blind, was reclusive and reluctant to talk about sacred things; he had turned away another writer the week before and might simply refuse to see Neihardt..
    As it turned out, Black Elk was eager to talk to Neihardt, and talked for nearly five hours during their first encounter. He spoke not only from memory but from vision, “of things that he deemed holy”. As Neihardt passed out cigarettes, Black Elk said, through the interpreter,“I feel in this man beside me a strong desire to know the things of the Other World. He has been sent to learn what I know, and I will teach him.”
     Black Elk was not mistaken. Both men had received their calling in dreams and visions, and they immediately recognized that in each other. Black Elk placed a power object, representing the Morning Star, round Neihardt’s neck, and started talking about a “power-vision” from his boyhood. When he was just nine years old, the Lakota fell into a trance on Harney Peak and saw the sacred hoop of the world, and the tree of life, and the powers of the six directions.

I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.

On the first conversation with Neihardt, Black Elk gave only “flashes” of  what the vision contained. But he invited the poet to come back in the spring to receive it all. He announced that his purpose was to “save his Great Vision for men”; he had chosen Neihardt to be his “word sender”, the one who would take his story from one language and mindset and root it in another, so the world could hear and awaken.
     Neihardt was ready to understand and interpret, not only because he had studied Native American traditions for thirty years, but because he was a dreamer whose life had been shaped by a big dream in his boyhood. Aged 11, on his own “hill of vision” in Nebraska, Neihardt lay in a fever. Three times during the same night, he felt himself hurled through a vast emptiness at terrifying speed, his arms stretched forward, while a great voice drove him on. He interpreted the dream as a mandate for his life calling: to follow a higher purpose that he would manifest through poetry.
    Two decades later, Neihardt wrote of his encounter with the voice of the fever dreams in a poem titled “The Ghostly Brother”. Here he presents the driving force of the dream as a greater self or daimon that tells him, “I am you and you are I.” The poem speaks of the tension between a power that calls him to travel “somewhere out of time and place” beyond “the outer walls of sense” and the everyday self that wants safety and comfort and rest.
     When Neihardt shared the dream with Black Elk, the Lakota elder called it a “power-vision”, using the same language with which he described his own boyhood vision on Harney Peak. Black Elk told Neihardt that he thought the voice in the dream was “an Indian brother from the happy hunting grounds who was your guide.” Black Elk felt that the guide that sent young Neihardt flying through space had brought them together. “It seems that your ghostly brother has sent you here.”
     Neihardt felt shivers of recognition when Black Elk got to the point in his narrative – the following spring – where he described himself flying through space, in a vision when he was in Paris with a Wild West show, in the same style as the 11-year-old poet.
     From the conversations between the two dreamers came an essential and perennial classic of Native American spirituality, Black Elk Speaks, first published in 1932 and now available from Excelsior Editions (an imprint of SUNY Press) in a handsome annotated edition with illustrations by Standing Bear. The subtitle of the book speaks of the depth of creative collaboration the Lakota holy man and the poet achieved: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux as told through John G. Neihardt (Flaming Rainbow).
     Notice the phrase “told through”, as opposed to “told to.” The book blends two voices flawlessly, and beautifully fulfills Neihardt’s intent (as he described it in 1972, a year before his death) “to re-create in English the mood and manner of the old man’s narrative.”
     In the Mohawk language, which I was required to study because of my own dreams and visions, the word for “interpreter” (sakowennakarahtats) carries the sense of transplanting something from one place to another. This Neihardt accomplished.  In explaining why he gave the poet the name Flaming Rainbow in a Lakota adoption ceremony, Black Elk said:

He is a word sender. This world is like a garden and over it go his words like rain, and where they go they leave everything greener. After his words have passed, the memory of them shall stand long in the West like a flaming rainbow. 

    In his work with Black Elk, as Neihardt  wrote near the close of his life, he was convinced that “there were times when we had more than the ordinary means of communication.” I am sure of it. Dreamers know each other, and where people value dreaming, the right dream is a passport to essential things, which are shared on more than one level of consciousness.

Time Note: I wrote a first version of this essay in 2011, when I was honored by an invitation to give the John G. Neihardt Memorial Lecture (in honor of the author of Black Elk Speaks) at the State University of New York.

Photo: Black Elk on Harney Peak by Enid Neihardt (1931)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Dreaming in India ink

“Action is better than inaction” – Krishna to Arjuna.

I continue to be impressed by how dreams can call us to traditions and cultures of which we may have had little or no previous knowledge, from any obvious sources, yet may now prove to be part of our authentic path. One of my students, Maureen, described how she was guided deep into Indian philosophy by a fascinating series of dreams. The sequence began with a dream encounter with a charming Indian man who wanted to escort her on a trip.
     When Maureen asked for specific guidance on her spiritual path, she dreamed she was given two books, one a book for children, the other the Bhagavad Gita. She then joined her sisters – they all used to be champion gymnasts – and they performed in something as important as the Olympics. In company with her sisters, she discovered a “book” composed of five panels. Examined a certain way, the five panels revealed an unusual and highly significant map, drawn in “India ink”, that only she could see. She communicated the map to her sisters by singing its meaning.
      Now: the dreamer had never previously read the Gita. She did not know that it is a “song” (the title means “Song of the Lord” and it is traditionally sung in recitation). She knew next to nothing about Indian philosophy. She certainly did not know that the Greeks in the army of Alexander the Great who encountered yogis called them “gymnosophists” (a word related to “gymnasts” that means “naked philosophers") because these ascetics wore rather little clothing.
     Inspired by her dream, Maureen proceeded to read the Bhagavad Gita. She reported: “I feel as if I am holding a jewel in my hands with this book. I have never been to India, and have no close associations with it - but now it has really grabbed my attention. I feel I am being guided on a question I always wrestle with - how do we live a truly spiritual life in our earthly existence?”
      She felt the gymnasts in her dream had a dual meaning, related to that question. “The lesson I learned from my father about embracing gymnastics not to compete, but to give myself to the sport, to let it be an expression of me, was very liberating for me at the time, and life altering.” As she studied the Gita, she realized that the “five panels” that composed her dream map may relate to the five “immutable truths” and five “causes of action” that Krishna explains to Arjuna.
      She found the Karma Yoga (yoga of Action) in this work highly relevant to her need to make a balance between the practical necessities of life and a spiritual awakening. “Action is better than inaction,” Krishna admonishes Arjuna, on the field of battle. (But think not on the fruits of action...)
      Maureen’s experience is a rich example of how dreaming can guide us in keeping body and soul together as we try to marry a spiritual awakening to the requirements of ordinary life.
      Frjtof Capra dreamed that the subatomic world is Lord Śiva's dance.
      Now I recall 
that I once told reporters in a dream that I am writing a book inspired by the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata - the immense cycle in which the Bhagavad Gita is the central jewel. That would be quite an assignment!

Photo of Krishna and Arjuna by RM

Literature begins in dreams of the Goddess

Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth

The raw sexuality of her call to her lover is wild and shocking.  He plunges into her like a wild bull. When they couple, he is the green life of all growing things and she is the Queen of Heaven. He is Dumuzi and she is Inanna.
     But she is called to go down into the dark places and travel a terrifying path of ordeal and initiation. When she returns, transformed, to the surface world, she finds that her man has forgotten her and is playing king of all he surveys. Her angry curse sucks the light out of his day. 
     Now Dumuzi dreams that everything turns against him. Trees are uprooted, his hearth fire is doused, his drinking cup is thrown down, his shepherd’s crook is taken away. A fierce raptor seizes a lamb from his sheepfold, and he knows that something fearsome and unforgiving is coming for him.

The churn lies silent; no milk is poured.
The cup lies shattered; Dumuzi is no more.
The sheepfold is given to the winds.

Death is coming for him, and his only hope lies in the love and feminine wisdom of his younger sister, Geshtinanna. She is a reader, “a tablet-knowing scribe” who knows the meaning of words and of dreams.
     She tells him, “Your demons are coming for you.” She helps him hide, but in the end he cannot escape his demons. 

Dumuzi fettered by demons

He is overpowered by them and carried in the talons of a raptor down to the realm of Inanna’s dark double, the Queen of the Underworld, and into his own cycle of death and rebirth. Grieving, both Inanna and his constant sister, drumming like shamans, will seek him in the lower world. And they will make a deal by which Geshtinanna will take her brother’s place in the Underworld for half the year, giving him time up top with the goddess in her sunnier disposition. But that is a later story in the cycle of Inanna.
     The Dream of Dumuzi is the oldest recorded dream. It was written in Sumer nearly five thousand years ago, scored with marks on baked clay that look like the tracks of a very thoughtful sandpiper. It was almost certainly written by a woman, who authored a magnificent cycle of hymns to Inanna. We know her name: Enheduanna. The first recorded author is a high priestess and poet devoted to Inanna. The first dream analyst is a female shaman who becomes a goddess.
     Geshtinanna becomes the goddess of dream divination (and of wine). Her consort, who is depicted with serpents shooting up from his shoulders, has an awkward-looking name, Ningishzida, which is worth inspecting closely. Chastely translated by previous generations of scholars as “Lord of the Upright Tree,” it actually means “Lord of the Erect Phallus”. Those Mesopotamians knew a thing or two about sexual arousal in dreams and how real magic rides on sexual energy.
     The Dream of Dumuzi, unclothed in its beauty and terror in a modern translation by Diane Wolkstein, is great writing, and it takes us where great writers do not fear to go: into the inner chambers of the heart, into the demon-haunted mind, into the mysteries of death and rebirth. Thanks to its survival, we can say without hesitation that one of the first uses of writing was to record dreams,  and that one of the great things that emerged from dreaming with the Goddess, at least five thousand years ago, was literature.
     That statement may be strengthened by current scholarly investigation, inspired by Marija Gimbutas, into a possible "language of the Goddess" expressed through a visual code in inscriptions in south-eastern Europe, which may prove to be a form of writing even older than that of Sumer, developed by matrifocal societies.

Adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.