Sunday, January 31, 2016

On Brigid's day

Imbolc is the day of the High One, the Exalted One. That is the meaning of Brig, from which the name Brigid (also Brigit, Brighid, Brigantia of England and Brigindo of eastern Gaul) derives. The church made the goddess a saint, one of the most beloved saints of Ireland, with various biographies, the best of which is recollected in Kildare, where the flame of Brigid burned constantly until Henry VIII, and burns again today. She is a power of the land, and of the deeper world, that the church and the people can agree on. In Ireland and in Scotland, you feel her presence in stones and trees, in high places and in deep wells.
    In the stories told at Kildare, the woman Brigid is born at sunrise, as her mother stands straddling a threshold, one foot out and one foot in. When Brigid’s head comes out, the sun’s rays crown her with flame. We can see why she is the patron of people who open doors between the worlds – of shamans, seers and poets – and of all who work with fire, in the peat, in the forge, in the cauldron of imbas, the fire of inspiration.
     Marija Gimbutas wrote of her (in The Living Goddesses): “Brigid is an Old European goddess consigned to the guise of a Christian saint. Remove the guise and you will see the mistress of nature, an incarnation of cosmic life-giving energy, the owner of life water in wells and springs, the bestower of human, animal and plant life.” She is “Mary of the Gael”, and she is the Triple Goddess and Robert Graves’ Three-fold Muse. She is patron of poetry, healing and smithcraft. In Scotland she is Bride, and the White Swan and the Bride of the White Hills. In the Hebrides she is the protector of childbirth.
    Lady Augusta Gregory, Yeats’s friend, described Brigid in Gods and Fighting Men as "a woman of poetry, and poets worshiped her, for her sway was very great and very noble. And she was a woman of healing along with that, and a woman of smith's work, and it was she first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night." We are now entering the prime time of this High One, when nature awakens around February 1.
     She may appear as a snake from beneath the earth, even in Ireland, the country without snakes:

This is the day of Bride the Queen will come from the mound

This is the time of Brigid’s feast of Imbolc which coincides with the lactation of the ewes and the first signs of spring. You know the lambs are coming soon. You see snowdrops pressing up from the hard earth, perhaps through its white mantle. You offer the gifts of the goddess to the goddess: you pour milk on the ground, you bake and leave out special cakes. To she who spins and weaves life itself, you offer woven fabrics or offer a cloth – a handkerchief, a scarf, a pillowcase – to be blessed as it rests on the earth overnight. To this bringer of fire, you light a candle and offer your heart's flame.
    In the old country, in the old way, young girls carry her images - straw dolls or brideogs - in procession from house to house, and the goddess is welcomed and decked with finery. The dolls are laid on in “bride beds”, with a staff or wand of power resting beside them. At Imbolc, as on other days, you may raise the High One’s energy with poetic speech. Best to do this by a stream or a spring, or (if you know one) a sacred well. She does have a fine love of poets and those who bring fresh words into the world.
    There is a legend that, in one of her womanly forms, Brigid married the great poet Senchan Torpeist,  foremost among the learned fili (bards) of Ireland. It was this same Senchan, it is said, who recovered the great poem known as the Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) when it was feared lost forever, by raising the shade of the druid poet Fergus to recite all of the verses.
    Among the bevy of Celtic blessings in the great repository known as the Carmina Gadelica, collected by Alexander Carmichael in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland around 1900, some of the sweetest call on Brigid. In “Womanhood of Brigit” (#263 in the Carmina Gadelica)

Brigit of the mantles
Brigit of the peat-heap
Brigit of the twining hair
Brigit of the augury.
Brigit of the white feet
Brigit of calmness
Brigit of the white hands
Brigit of the kine.

Many kinds of protection are then asked of Brigid – safety from death or injury or mishap in many forms. Next comes a verse that makes it plain that Brigid is regarded, among all else, as a guardian of sleep and dreams:

Nightmare shall not lie on me
Black-sleep shall not lie on me
Spell-sleep shall not lie on me
Luaths-luis shall not lie on me.

I need someone more learned in Scots Gaelic than myself to translate Luaths-luis. Its literal meaning seems to be something like “fast-moving lice” for which our modern phrase might be “creepy-crawlies.” In the “Blessing of Brigit” (numbered #264 in the Carmina Gadelica) we have words that might please the Lady on her feast day, or any day:

I am under the shielding
Of good Brigit each day;
I am under the shielding
Of good Brigit each night.
Brigit is my comrade woman,
Brigit is my maker of song,
Brigit is my helping woman
My choicest of women, my guide

Brigid's Day is also a fine time for courting, and a time to dream, and seek guidance from dreams.
Art: "St Brigid's Path" by Carlos A. Smith.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Beethoven practices dream reentry

Dream reentry is one of the core techniques of Active Dreaming. We use a remembered dream as the portal for a conscious journey. This may be undertaken in reverie or in the shaman's way, with the aid of drumming. The principle is simple. If you have been somewhere in a dream, you can go there again, just as you might revisit a place in the ordinary world.
    Why would you want to do this? Maybe there was something fearful or challenging in a dream, and you know it is time to face that issue and seek to resolve it on the ground where it presented itself. Maybe there was someone in the dream - a departed loved one or a possible inner guide - with whom you would like to have sustained conversation. Maybe there is romance and adventure you would like to continue, or a mystery to be resolved. Maybe you want more information. Perhaps there is treasure in the dream, a creative discovery that you did not manage to bring into waking memory but which you sense may still be there, on the other side of the doorway.
    Beethoven reentered a dream to bring back some music his dream self had composed, but which eluded his waking memory.
    He recounted the episode in a letter from Baden dated September 10, 1821, to his friend Tobias Haslinger, to whom he dedicated the canon.*

Best of friends,
When I was in my carriage yesterday, on the way to Vienna, sleep overpowered me, the more so as I had scarcely ever had a good night's sleep (because of my early rising here). Now, as I was slumbering, I dreamed that I was travelling far away, no less far than Syria, no less far than India and back again; to Arabia, too, and at last I came even to Jerusalem. The Holy City reminded me of the Holy Scriptures; no wonder, then, that I thought of the man Tobias, too, and naturally this led me my thinking also of our little, during my dream journey, the following canon occurred to me :
Yet I had hardly awoken when the canon was gone and I could not recall a single note or word of it to my mind. However, when on the next day I returned here, in the same carriage (that of a poor Austrian musician) and continued my dream journey, though now awake, lo and behold, in accordance with the law of the association of ideas, the same canon occurred to me; now, waking, I held it fast, as once Menelaus held Proteus, and only granted it one last favour, that of allowing it to transform itself into three voices.
Perhaps the rolling rhythm of the horse-drawn carriage, which had drawn him into sleep and creative dreaming on the outward journey, helped Beethoven reenter his dream in a lightly altered state of consciousness, to bring back the music.

* Canon, O Tobias, WoO 182

Source:  Michael Hamburger (trans) Beethoven, Letters, Journals and Conversations (London: Thames and Hudson, 1984) p.177.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

On the tracks of the Antlered Goddess of the Ways

The British visionary artist Chesca Potter says that when she moved to London, she had a vision of an immense goddess figure, dressed in green and gold, over the church of  St Pancras. This is the oldest church,  in the city, founded (according to legend) by Helen, the mother of the emperor Constantine, who is famous for her dreams; Helen is shown dreaming on the cover of my book The Secret History of Dreaming. It was another Helen - or rather Elen - who seized the artist's imagination. In her visions, Chesca saw her as an antlered woman. She painted and sketched several versions of this antlered goddess. My favorite is the one shown here, which appears on the card labeled "Lady of the Ways" in John Matthews' Celtic Shaman's Pack.
      Cernunnos, the male version of the Antlered One, is famous. It is less well known that there is solid evidence for the ancient worship of the Antlered Goddess. In the far north, she was a Reindeer Goddess. Female reindeer (and caribou) sprout antlers too. In early times reindeer were native to Scotland. Reindeer bones have been found in three caves near Inchnadamph, a hamlet in Assynt, Sutherland, Scotland. The name of the hamlet is an anglicization of the Gaelic Innis nan Damh, meaning "meadow of the stags". In the British Museum there is a bronze figure from the Iron Age, discovered at Besançon in France, of an antlered goddess.
      I am always delighted to come upon fresh material on the ancient forms of the Goddess. Elen is very special, for me, because she is the patron of roads and gates between the worlds.      In Chesca's image, she stands before a dolmen gate embellished with symbols suggesting access to the Upper, Middle and Lower worlds.  When you travel the British isles, you may feel Elen's soft footfall - beneath the traffic and modern construction - along the deer paths and ancient trackways and in the the lapping of quiet streams.
     Elen is Lady of the Ways in many senses. Most significant, for me, is her role as Lady of the Dreamways. In the great cycle of Welsh epic poems known as the Mabinogion, Elen calls a king to her in his dreams, and he finds her embodiment in the physical world when he learns to use his dreams as a map and to follow their roads.
    To know more of all this, we must study the literature and the archaeology, and we must dream on it. We can do this even on the other side of an ocean from Elen's ancient trackways, especially if our ancestors knew her - and if we know the right tree.
     I know a Camberdown Elm, transplanted from Scotland to a sloping lawn in western Massachusetts. I call it the Village Tree because its canopy resembles a collection of thatched cottages, especially in late fall, when the leaves are matted dull brown. In that season, I walked down to the elm in a light, cold rain. I caressed the scaly bark of the trunk, and wished the elm health and renewal. A wooden seat had been placed under the tree and I sat there, open to vision without insisting on it.
     Immediately Deer appeared to me. This time – the first occasion I remember – the antlered deer was wearing a saddlecloth. The saddlecloth was a deep red with a brocaded border. I understood that I was to get on the deer’s back and let it lead me. So I swung myself up, as I would have mounted a horse. Instantly we were off at a terrific pace, heading north across a landscape of frozen marshes. I looked ahead, and saw a huge orange disk very low on the horizon. It seemed we were flying straight into the face of the sun.
     Instead, I found myself in the presence of an immense being. She appeared as a beautiful, mature woman, white-skinned, deep-bosomed - and wearing antlers. When she invited me into her embrace, we became the same size. I understood that I was entering the embrace of an Antlered Goddess. Then I shot straight up through the sky, into the face of the Moon, and encountered a number of beings with historical identities in early Europe who gave me specific information I was able to verify and document in subsequent research. Another exercise in dream archaeology, but with even broader resonance.
     A big question was put to me recently by a questing young friend: "What is the white man's spiritual inheritance?" he went on: "it seems there is a dearth of relevant, culturally appropriate spiritual practice for white people." After gently chastising him for using the phrase "white man", i suggested that the answer lies in dreaming. Active dreaming is crucial to collective soul retrieval, to recovering and living our authentic spiritual inheritance.
     Let me add that Elen of the Dreamways has a double or close sister across the North Sea in Nehalennia, who was venerated at Celtic sacred sites on what is now the coast of the Netherlands. She was the patron of voyagers; seafarers and traders made offerings to her for safe passage and success in their transactions. Her name may mean “Steerswoman” or “Pilot”. She is depicted as a lovely young woman enthroned within a seashell, with a basket of fruit on her lap and a dog nearby, gazing up at her adoringly. Often she has her foot on the prow of a ship, and a boat rope in her hand.
     Nehalennia’s other close animal companion is the dolphin. She is the patron of astral as well as physical journeys, just as Elen is the maker of roads as well as dreamways. For the Celts, the happy afterlife on the Islands of the Blessed requires a crossing by water. And in ancient Europe (as in Polynesia) one of the favorite forms of transportation for the Otherworld voyage is the dolphin. Ripe fruits are often carved over the top of Nehalennia’s shrines. She offers abundance and ever-renewing life, as well as safe passage through the Otherworld, before and after death.

Illustration "Lady of the Ways" by Chesca Potter from The Celtic Shaman's Pack by John Matthews, published by Element.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Be open to everyday angels

I believe in everyday angels. Humans can play this role for each other. Surely you remember a moment in your life when a stranger appeared, in the most improbable way, to give you a helping hand or a message you needed to receive. Here are two of my personal stories about strangers who were everyday angels for me, giving me exactly the guidance I needed to receive.

I was walking with a friend in the New Forest in Hampshire. We were both undergoing major life changes, which is not always smooth sailing. We had had a major row the night before, drinking too much and bumping up against darker sides of each other’s personalities.  Now we were walking, detoxifying, working it through. We walked all day, traveling fifteen or twenty miles on those forest trails, losing track of distance and — we finally noticed — direction. England may be a rather small country, but the New Forest is not a small wood. We looked at each other and laughed, realizing that in our effort to find ourselves, we had become utterly lost.
I said out loud, “I wish a guide would just appear out of nowhere and show us the way. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?”
My friend laughed like a crow. We had seen no one in the forest that day.
But within a minute or two, a runner appeared on our trail. He waved to us cheerily. “You two look lost. Need some help?”
“Yes, please.”
“Mustn’t break my stride. I’ll leave you markers.”
A minute later, he had vanished in the dappled wood. We followed his lead. At the next fork in the trail, we found he had indeed left a marker — an arrow formed with three sticks — showing us the right way to go. We found a succession of these arrows at every crossing or forking of the trail, along the whole two-mile distance back to the main road.


On another visit to England, I landed at Heathrow airport on a red-eye flight, exhausted and burdened with financial worries. I was carrying too much baggage and had to wrestle an oversize suitcase down the steps to the Underground.
As I collapsed onto a seat on the train, a roly-poly man, bearded like Santa Claus, winked at me from the seat opposite. He said with a broad grin, “The Buddha says — walk on the bridge, don’t build on it.”
The words slapped me in the face. They stung me awake. They were exactly what I needed to hear. Caught up in my immediate worries, stressed out and overtired, I had been forgetting one of the secrets of living the Incredible Journey: it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts.
The stranger on the London Tube was an example of how we play everyday angels — even gods in disguise — for each other. There is a provocative Buddhist text on this theme entitled Entry into the Realm of Reality (in the Thomas Cleary translation). It describes how authentic spiritual teachers — even the greatest who walk this earth — can appear in any guise, as an exotic dancer or as a monk, as a panhandler or a king, as a scholar or a warrior.
We are most likely to run into them when we are in motion, especially when we are crossing a border into unfamiliar territory, when strong emotions are in play, and when we are facing the biggest challenges. Greater challenges call through greater resources.

Adapted from The Three “Only” Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Art: "Alone in Forest" by artist and dream teacher Michele Ferro

Thursday, January 21, 2016

From Meister Eckhart, a secret of time travel and reality creation

When the soul wishes to experience something she throws an image of the experience out before her and enters into her own image.

The words are from Meister Eckhart, the medieval German theologian and mystic who knew about the laws of the larger reality through direct experience. I first read then and jotted them down as an undergraduate, eons ago. They turn up now and then unexpectedly, as they did just now in an old journal. I went looking just now for the exact source (the history professor in me dies hard) and I see that you can order a Meister Eckhart Quote Bag with this inscription.
     I'm tickled by the notion that instead of putting this quote in your bag of tricks, you might want to try packing what you carry through the day inside the thought.
     It's a thought that demands walking meditation. Travel with it, and see how it shapes and illuminates your day. Then test it against your dreams.
     The medieval master is telling us something vitally important about our relationship with time. He explains, for starters, how it is that we can see the future, especially in dreams. Consciousness - call it soul - is never confined to the body, or to linear time, except by our confining belief systems. The shared belief of most, if not all, ancient and indigenous cultures is that soul gets around, especially in dreams. It visits places distant from us in space and time. It finds itself at home in nonlocal mind (to use a contemporary expression).
     Meister Eckhart is prompting us to go even deeper. He is hinting at a secret of manifestation. He draws us to think about the confluence between what medieval theologians called the Aevum - the realm between time and eternity - and events in our world. It is in the Aevum that the incidents and circumstances of our physical lives are generated, in this understanding, through the agency of imagination, that great faculty of soul. On most days, most of us, sequestered from soul and its knowing, are merely receivers of the results of choices made in this realm that is hidden from the ordinary mind.

Who knew where we stood? 
In an aevum maybe, where time's conferred

with the beginning we gave it,
but with no end in sight.

These beckoning lines are from a poem titled "Aevum" by M.E.Caballero-Robb. They strengthen the enjoinder to walk through a day - why not today? - with Meister Eckhart's thought. That means asking, of whatever develops during the day, What image am I now entering? And, Where and how was this image created?
     Then, energized by these reflections, we go the long step further, which is to seek to be present, as conscious co-creators, in the place where soul makes its choices on what we - as its vehicles - will experience in the world.
     Do I sound like a mystic? Very well, you may call me a mystic, but I would say that I am a mystic of a very practical order. We are talking about how worlds are made.
     By the way, a more famous Meister Eckhart quote is this: "If the only prayer you said in your life was Thank You, that would suffice." That is my own philosophy of prayer, and it is the practice of people who live close to the Earth as well as the heavens, and give thanks daily for its gifts. Oh yes, you can get that on a "quote bag" too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dream tigers

In the drifty state before sleep, I became aware that there was a tiger in my bedroom. He was longer than the bed, magnificent in his beautiful striped suit, staring at me with golden eyes, whiskers a-quiver. I felt a shiver of wild excitement edged with a little fear. This tiger was real, and he was dangerous. Yes, he is "my" tiger - it's no secret that I have a long connection with Tiger, who has been a marvelous ally, not least in soul recovery work - yet he is also his own being. He is hunting me, and who knows where that will lead tonight? I accepted the invitation to travel with him, into the night. With the morning light, most of our adventures slipped back into the night forest, except for the delicious sensations of stretching and swimming in warm waters in the long, well-muscled body of the big cat that most loves to swim.
-    The little tingle of fear in the hypnagogic zone was a reminder of what is required to entertain a genuine relationship with a BIG spiritual ally. "Every angel is terrifying," said Rilke. Whether the ally shows itself as the angel or the tiger, we are required to brave up to claim and work our connection. When I first started living in the United States, it was the Bear - the great medicine animal of North America - who required me to brave up: to step into the embrace of something much bigger than me, to recognize that we have a heart connection, and to call in its power for healing for myself and others.
-    Animal guardians are not cute symbols to be looked up in books or flaunted as New Age decals. They are living energies, both personal and transpersonal, that need to be celebrated and fed in our bodies and our lives. We know they are true allies when they turn up when we need them and lend us their instincts and sensorium, which operates beyond the merely human range. Shamanic types may have connections with many animal guardians and may work temporary connections with the guardians - active or potential - of those they help. Like shamans, we can encourage animal spirits to take up residence in certain centers of our energy bodies, but they have their own characters and agendas. You can gentle the ferocity of the tiger, but you cannot ignore that it can rip out your throat.
-    If we cease to nourish and entertain our animal spirits, they go away, and we may experience their loss as fatigue or depression or blurred vision, drugged senses or a failing immune system. I once experimented with going vegetarian for six weeks. In that period, I visited a zoo with my family. I am usually very restive around the big cat enclosures even when - as in this case - the space is fairly generous, because big cats don't belong in captivity. We came to an enclosure where a family of tigers were lazing in the sun. My daughter clutched my arm. "Daddy, he's looking at you." The male tiger was now sitting up, staring at me in intently. He loped to the bars and examined me at close range. I had the keen sensation that he was trying to figure out whether I was family. He sniffed me then gave the tiger version of a shrug, and padded back to his pride, rolled over and went back to sleep. I was obviously not a member of the tribe of tiger that day. Tigers are not vegetarians. If you think you have a tiger connection and dine on tofu, forget it.
-     When I reverted to meat-eating, Tiger returned. His reappearance then was as startling and just-so as his manifestation in my bedroom last night. But that time he required me to brave up all the way to resume our relationship. I had to fight him, hand to paw, for what seemed like hours. I had to let him tear me limb from limb. When I was magically reassembled, I had to follow his instructions to tear out and consume his bleeding heart. This did not feel like a symbolic event. In the morning, I had to wash crusted blood from around my mouth.
-    I will say for the tiger what the children say of Aslan: "He is terrible and he is good." Children love the tiger, who may jump from their stories as Tigger or Shia Khan, the maneater. They know that Tiger can protect them when adults do not. Our own lost children - the child selves lost to pain and abuse and grief and shame - sometimes return to us when Tiger appears to let them know it's safe.
-   On a certain night, I embarked on many dream adventures in exotic landscapes. In the last scene, I was lazing on a chaise-longue in an upstairs room, enjoying a gentle breeze wafting through the slats of wooden shutters. I jumped down and prowled the spacious room, among rattan furniture and Eastern bronzes. I heard the clatter of hurrying footsteps on the stairs, and saw men in strange wooden armor, with spiky protrusions. They entered the room with caution, fanning out, long poles in their hands. After waking, I recalled that I had seen a photo of park rangers in Bengal wearing wooden armor of this kind when endeavoring to drive tigers back within prescribed boundaries. I wondered what form my dream self had taken that night.

Tiger mask by RM.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Death speaks to Jung through the trees

In a cold snap after his wife Emma died, the vine over the front door of Jung’s tower at Bollingen oozed a strange red sap that ran down over his crest. He felt the vine was weeping tears of blood.
    Shortly before his death, Jung dreamed of the “other Bollingen”, the counterpart in another world of the sanctuary he had helped to build with his own hands. The place was suffused with sourceless light. The deep voice he had come to trust told him his new home had been completed and was now ready for him to move in. Far below the tower, he saw a mother wolverine teaching her child to dive and swim in shining water.
    Jung died at quarter to four in the afternoon on June 6, 1961.Two hours after his death, an old poplar in the garden where he had watched the changing moods of the lake was struck by lightning in a sudden storm. The tree survived, but it was completely skinned; great strips of bark covered the garden. Those who knew felt the strong play of synchronicity in the lightning-struck tree.
     Jung might have seen a deeper level of symbolism. In his last recorded dream, he saw a grove of trees “all fibrous roots, coming up from the ground and surrounding him”, with gold threads gleaming among the roots.  He had written that our true life is “invisible, hidden in the rhizome”; what we see in the leaf and bark and blossom passes. Beneath the flux of our surface lives, the rhizome remains. Lightning stripped the bark from the tree, and death stripped away Jung’s body;  life continued, rooted in an unseen world.

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

Monday, January 18, 2016

If it looks like a duck, it could be a Celtic goddess

At the shrine of Sequana, at the source of the River Seine in the Dijon area of France, ancient Celts came to seek healing dreams in the sacred night. Cloaked pilgrims journeyed with their offerings, which included models of the organs that needed healing, carved from oak or stone. They bathed in the sacred spring, prayed to the goddess, and placed their offerings beside a sacred pool. They entered a long portico or dormitory, hoping that in the night - during sleep or in the twilight state between sleeping and waking that the ancients knew is especially propitious for contact with the more-than-human - the goddess Sequana or her emissary would appear to them.
    No magical power, other than simple cleansing, was attributed to the spring itself, but the waters were regarded as a source of creative flow, and as a portal to the Otherworld and its powers.
     We know the name Sequana from nine inscriptions found in the area. It has been suggested that it means "The Fast-Flowing One". Sequana is the goddess of the River Seine, which flows through Paris, and (according to Strabo) was the patron of the Sequanae, a Gaulish tribe in this region. Her special companion animal is the duck, and in a statue now in the Musée archéologique  de Dijon, a crowned Sequana is depicted riding in a duck-headed boat.
     Only the foundations of the healing shrine of Sequana at her spring, the Fontes Sequanae, survive, but we can glean a great deal about the ancient practice of dream incubation for healing from the contents of two pottery vessels discovered at the site. One contains more than a hundred  carved effigies of eyes, breasts, limbs, heads and internal organs. A second vessel contained more than 800 similar carvings.
     Pilgrims who needed healing for the parts represented ascended a series of terraces, pausing perhaps to drink from streams and cisterns containing the sacred waters, before reaching the main sanctuary and being admitted to the place of sacred sleep. Grateful travelers paid for inscriptions at the site thanking Sequana for gifts of healing, evidence that we have here a Celtic parallel to the practice of Asklepian dream healing in the ancient Mediterranean.
     What happened to this great precinct of dream healing in the realm of the Goddess when the Church arrived? One guess. The site was appropriated by the Church and re-dedicated to an invented male saint, St Sequanus.
     In reviving the memory of the "Fast-Flowing" Goddess, we take another step towards cultural soul recovery - and remember a healing practice that can transform our lives.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Sharing Bear Medicine through a coincidence game

One night I found myself deep inside an ancient warrior cult of the Bear Goddess. As soon as I lay down and closed my eyes, in the early hours of the morning, a portal opened. It appeared as an ancient stone gateway immensely tall in proportion to its width. Through the dream gate, I saw warriors armed with axes, spears and swords were marching to battle. They wore leather armor of a type I thought might be Romano-Celtic. Above them fluttered the banner of a Bear Goddess; the standard bearer wore the full pelt of a bear.
    My curiosity became intense. I zoomed in on the scene, then my consciousness joined one of the bear warriors. I felt the heat of the bear skin over my body, and the heat of the coming battle. The body I had joined was compact and heavily muscled. But I did not want to be present for the hacking and killing that was about to begin.
     I seemed to jump across time, into a different season, when the leaves were gone from the beeches and oaks. Still in leather armor, I stumbled alone through the wilderness. I was tired of battles, weary of slaughter. I was ready to die. I abandoned my weapons, and stripped off the bear skin that had been stained by the blood of battles and the grime of life. I lay down among the roots of an oak. But I was not alone. A bear cub, walking on two legs, took me by the hand and led me to a place of healing. The doctor here was a huge mother bear. She opened my chest and took out my heart. She rinsed the organ carefully and replaced it in a soft green bed of moss and herbs. Grateful and amazed, I looked around the space I was now in. The hut was full of natural remedies and charms, herbs and spices, dried lavender and other flowers. Dried lavender was laid around my neck, like a necklace.
     I emerged from this lucid dream adventure feeling blessed and healed. I also recognized that, not for the first time, I had been taken into ancestral territory and challenged to make some choices.
      There were gifts here to be shared with others, and very soon the world gave me a remarkable opportunity to do this. I led a workshop in Santa Fe the next weekend, at a center not far from Bear Canyon, where I found a white quartzite stone in the natural shape of a bear’s head; I gave this to a man who had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. One of the people who came to that workshop was a most reluctant participant I will call Bella. She, too, had been diagnosed with a serious illness and felt that her life, at this time, was a “train wreck”; she had recently lost both her job and her marriage. She did not remember dreams, was skeptical about shamanism, and was basically there only because friends had dragged her to my workshop. She sat with her arms folded tight over her chest, resisting all efforts to turn her into an active participant. I wondered whether she would make it through the morning.
      But Bella was still with us after lunch, when I had decided to introduce a new game. I set an intention for my own dreams the night before: “I would like a new game to play in this workshop.” In my dream, I saw my group swapping story cards, regular 3”x5” index cards on which each participant had been invited to write something with story value; this might be part of a dream, or a life memory, or something experienced in a journey with the drum, or the product of pure imagination. The cards were made into a deck and shuffled. Then people drew from the deck at random, read out what was written on their cards – and then pretended that this was part of their own story. They were now required to make something up to dramatize that story, or expand it.
      I followed my dream directions exactly. When the cards had all been written and distributed, I span my drumstick to pick the first person to play. It pointed to Bella. I groaned inwardly, thinking, That’s the end of this game. Bella turned over her card with evident reluctance and read out what was written on it. This was the text:

I am a warrior in leather armor in an ancient army that marches under the banner of the Bear Goddess. Tired of battles, I go into the wilderness to die. But a bear cub takes me by the hand and leads me to a place of healing.

Bella coughed. She got to her feet, but then her legs folded and she lay full-length on the floor, making the sounds of dry retching. She crawled a few feet, then croaked her own lines. “I have been fighting in the army of the Earth Mother. I have been fighting for clean water and clean air. But I have lost my battles and I can’t fight any more. I have come here, into the desert, to die. But bear cub won’t let me leave. She brings me to a healing shack, where my organs are regenerated. I don’t have the disease anymore. Now the Mother Bear places dried lavender across my throat, and I smell its sweetness.”
     She had most of us in tears. She had taken the story on the card — the card I had written, of course — and made it her own. She had moved the action from the Northern forest to the desert of the Southwest, where she lived. She had defined the field of battle as the environmental cause she had been fighting bravely, but without success. She had shifted the symptoms to the area sof her body affected by her own disease.
     When she returned to her place in the circle, the woman seated next to her opened her journal and took out a sprig of dried lavender. “You mentioned dried lavender, so I would like you to have this.” Bella let her neighbor place it across her neck. I must note that although dried lavender was in my original dream, I had not mentioned it on the card I wrote. Two secret handshakes from the universe.
     At the end of the day, Bella stood before the group to thank us, and the Bear. “I am going to let my body believe. I am not going to die the way the doctors said. However I die, I will die standing up. And I will fight the good fight in the ways that Earth Mother teaches me.”

Adapted from my book The Boy Who Died and Came Back. Published by New World Library. This was the first time I introduced a version of my Coincidence Card Game, which we now play in several versions in my playshops all over the world map. We experiment with a digital version, with exciting results, in my new online course for The Shift Network last night. Please see my book Sidewalk Oracles for guidance on playing the game with friends, and developing a solitaire version.

Drawing: "Dancing with the Bear" by RM

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Literary yeast and the mating of books

Reading, even just handling, lots of books puts literary yeast in the air. It means, as anyone who bakes knows, that good things tend to rise faster. If you want to get a book of your own in the oven, make sure you have literary yeast.
     I don't have a reading plan. I am a non-linear reader, jumping from one thing to another, easily driven or distracted by shelf elves, ever ready to take on reading and research assignments suggested by dreams and the play of synchronicity. I have at least twenty books on the go at any given time. I read novels from beginning to end, generally at high speed, but will open anything else where I please and read forwards and back. I am pleased that Montaigne approached reading the same way. 
"I leaf through one book, now another," he wrote, "without order and without plan, by disconnected fragments." Yet as his biographer Sarah Bakewell informs us, "he took up books as if they were people and welcomed them into his family."   
     Family, yes. And a huge one. This helps to account for the fact that I welcome into my home, on average, at least three new books a day, to m
ingle with the thousands already there. My books form a very lively society, and their mixer parties are remarkable. Right now, for example, on my desk, a trio of goddesses (books on the Sumerian goddess Inanna) are getting to know Victorian ghost hunters (W.T. Stead, F.W.H. Myers), and some mysterious Romanians  with French accents (in Mircea Eliade's fiction, which I am reading in French). Fairies loosed from several anthologies are dazzling a cohort of neuroscientists, physicists and anthropologists from a mountain of academic works.
     When I'm not looking, the goddesses give the Bull (from Michael Rice's The Power of the Bull) a fine gallop around my study. Jung or Yeats, Robert Graves or Arthur Koestler, swoop down from time to time, from eyries above my desk, William Blake arises, flourishing drawings that he made for Dante's Divine Comedy. Philip K. Dick mutters, "The Empire never ended" and looks for something strong to drink.
    I want to be at these parties for longer than the night allows. I always want another four hours with my books before the sun comes up, winter or summer.
    At some point, I have to leave the books to carry on without me, while I go to bed or head off to an airport. Later there is evidence that carry on they did. The disarray around my desk or reading corner suggests that the Victorian ghost hunters staged a seance, or that the goddesses scared the pants off a neuroscientist. Philip K. Dick has crashed and lies sprawling face down on the floor. There is something in the air that indicates that the strange magician Andronic from Eliade's novella went on making magical passes to raise the serpent. I hear the echo of a lecture I would like to give on how dreaming is the key to understanding quantum reality on a human scale.
     I am pretty sure these nightly book parties turn into orgies when I have gone to bed. The literary sex that goes on may be wild but I think it is also sacred, the hieros gamos of a dozen or a hundred minds slipping in and out of their covers. The proof will come if new books are born, through me, with the DNA of many, many literary ancestors and a character that is all their own, When the mating of books is as wild and free as it is around me, around the clock, I am quite sure of this: What happens in Bookland won't stay in Bookland.

Photo: I took this one in Shakespeare & Co in Paris. I was going to photograph the books on my desk this morning, but they made it clear that some things do need to stay in Bookland.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

At the door to the dream vault

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

- Rumi

It happened again this morning. Noises in the house ripped me out of sleep in the early morning, and my dreams fled from me as I tried to grab them, groggy and disoriented, hurled too quickly from their world into the bedroom.
    I padded to the bathroom, grumpy. I went back to bed and made it my game to place myself at the door to the dreamworld. I sensed the presence of a favorite gatekeeper, the black dog. Then a portal appeared, vivid on my inner screen. It was a large round opening, big enough for me to step through without stooping. Its shape and the impression of locking mechanisms made it look like an open hatch in a spacecraft. Or the open door of a bank vault.
    I went through, without setting any firm intention about where I wanted to go. I found myself, immediately, in a tunnel. There was the sense of a benign wind in the tunnel, pushing me forward at increasing speed. I came out on a road beside water. I saw a pleasant village ahead of me, fishing boats and pleasure boats tied up at the docks. As I entered the scene more deeply, I found I was in Canada. It was a pleasant visit, just-so, eh.

    This little experience of entering lucid dreaming from the hypnopompic state (the liminal state after waking) leads me to offer a few more reflections about what to do when our dreams seem to be locked away on the other side of a sealed door.
     You've been into a deep place, full of valuable things you'd like to bring back with you. But as you leave the treasure house, a door swings shut behind you. Maybe you try to catch the door before it closes, but it's so heavy and its movement so strong that you frequently find you can't manage that.
    When the door is sealed tight behind you, you may look for a way to reopen it. But the combination is tricky, and there may be a time release, as with the doors to some vaults. that won't open until a certain hour or date unless you can find a supervisor or an override mechanism.
     Many people just shrug and go about the business of the day, leaving the door between the worlds shut. Some people dedicate themselves to keeping it shut, because they don't make room in their lives for dreams or because something once happened on the other side that scared them. But even the most passionate and dedicated dreamers go through periods when the vault door slams shut, morning after morning, leaving the strange feeling that we are missing out on something really important.
     I have recorded many thousands of my own dreams over the years, sometimes a dozen from one night. Because I know just how much goes on in the dream worlds, I get edgy when I find I have lost my night dreams. Yes, I make a practice of living as if everything around me is a set of dream symbols. And I have developed many techniques for entering states of conscious dreaming, including the use of shamanic drumming. But I treasure the gifts of spontaneous night dreams, especially the ones we don't ask for and may or may not want, because they hold up a magic mirror to our lives and show us things with an objectivity we can rarely achieve in ego-centered consciousness. They may also be adventures across time and in other dimensions of reality. 
    Dreaming is social as well as individual. We get out and about and meet others: other dreamers, the deceased, beings other-than-human. Sometimes I feel that behind the door of the bank vault is a lively, well-appointed restaurant, as in the photos from a converted bank in Butte, Montana.
     Let's assume you know all about setting an intention for the night. (My favorite one is "Show me what I need to see.") And that you have trained yourself to be ready to catch and record dreams at whatever hour you stir from them. But now you are finding that, despite your best efforts, that heavy metal door keeps swinging shut behind you, keeping the treasure (and the beauty or terror or both) down in the vault. What to do?
     See if there is a wisp that followed you as the door was closing, or slipped through the tiniest crack before it was sealed airtight. In ancient Mesopotamia, dreams were called "zephyrs" because, like little breezes, they can slip through a chink in the ordinary world. Stand under the shower, or sit with a cup of tea, and see whether the wisp will reveal itself in the rush of the water or the rising steam. If you can grab that wisp, it can take you back behind the sealed door, in its own special way.
      If you can't catch even a wisp, be alert for how the logic of the dreams you missed may now be playing out in the world around you. Find signs and symbols as the day unfolds, and read them as if they were dreams.
     As general practice, we want to learn how to slow down the closing of that tremendous door, by schooling ourselves to linger in the twilight zone between sleep and waking. Instead of jumping out of bed when you wake, however you wake, see if you can stay for a time between the worlds, in the twilight state that researchers call the hypnopompic or hypnagogic zone. A great place to develop the practice of conscious or lucid dreaming.
    You might try this, when you wake up and find your dreams are missing. Picture yourself standing in the doorway between the worlds. It is open, like the door of the bank vault in the photographs. One one side is your dormant body in the bed. On the other is an adjacent world, a world from which your traveling self is returning. You can look both ways. If you are crafty, you may be able to tiptoe back into the vault and grab something you can bring back to the daylight side. It could be pure gold. Or the deed to a magic kingdom.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Dreaming is practice for immortality

Dreaming is practice for immortality, perhaps the best we have available. Why? Because dreaming is traveling. We journey effortlessly beyond body and brain, into realms beyond the fields we know in ordinary life. We travel to territories in which the dead are at home. In this way we gain first-hand knowledge of the roads and conditions of the afterlife.
    In dreams, we also receive visitations from the dead. They come for all the reasons we may contact each other in ordinary life, and then some. They come for healing and forgiveness. They come for an update on family affairs. They come with warnings and information. Sometimes they need help and information from us, because they are lost of confused.
    Tremendous numbers of people who are living in the afterworld are seeking to communicate with the living. In one of my workshops, I led forty active dreamers on a group shamanic journey, powered by drumming and focused by clear intention, to visit communications centers on the Other Side where the dead gather to try to contact the living. We found them using technologies both ancient and hyper-modern, according to earthly notions.
     I found some of the dead gathered in an old fashioned seance room, trying to call the living into their space, as Spiritists or mediums seek to call up the dead. In another space, the dead were trying to text and phone and make video calls to the living. I was especially intrigued by a special courier service. The dream messengers, called Zephyrs, are slim and elegant, almost diaphanous, in uniforms that recalled winged Mercury, but capable of putting on any costume that might help them to get into the minds and memories of the people to whom they are tasked with bringing dream messages.
    We may become open to contact with the dead in many ways: through the sense of a presence, through physical anomalies, through goosebumps, with the help of a go-between like a reputable psychic or shamanic practitioner. But the easiest way to communicate with the dead is in our dreams.
     We may be catapulted into afterlife situations by a near-death experience, or brave the gates of death in a shamanic journey or a ritual of deep initiation (which always requires death and rebirth). Yet, again, the easiest way to become familiar with the Other Side and develop a personal geography of the afterlife is through dreams and then by developing the practices of Active Dreaming.
    An old Lakota saying has it that "the path of the soul after death is the same as the path of the soul in dreams." This is exact. In quoting this, I have often added the thought "except that after death, you don't come back." But that is not entirely correct. Some who have died do return to the body. I did this as a child, and so have millions of experiencers of what is now called the NDE. And the dead who have left their physical bodies behind for good return to us in subtle bodies.
    We need to know a little about what happens when we die, and before we are born, in order to live well. Death is an incredible teacher. Looking at our life choices in the clear knowledge that our story did not begin in this body and doesn't end with it can help us to develop a courage and clarity in approaching life choices that may otherwise be lacking.
    These things are too important for us to leave to hand-me-down religious dogmas, or avoid through denial. Maps from recent travelers to the Other Side are good. If you are contemplating a trip abroad, it's good to hear the opinions of others who have stayed in that hotel, or taken that cruise. But the afterlife is infinitely malleable, ever-changing, even within the battlements of the collective belief systems, so  we'll want to find out how things are for ourselves. The most reliable ways to do that are through contact with the dead, and through personal travel in the realms where the dead are at home. Both are most easily and safely accomplished through dreaming.
    You may say, why be in a hurry? We'll find out about the afterlife when we are dead, yes?
     Well, certainly. But I stand with Montaigne on these matters. Puisque nous ne savons pas ou la mort nous attend, attendons-la partout. "Since we do not know where Death is waiting for us, we must be ready to meet Death everywhere."

For much more on this subject, please read my books The Dreamer's Book of the Dead and Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and Life Beyond Death.

Photo: Doors open and shut at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. By RM.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Here the statues do not stay in their places

Here the statues do not stay in their places. The Poet on the high cliff gets off his plinth and walks along the esplanade to court the Diva in front of the opera house. Sometimes the Great Leader can be found in the city square. Other days his place has been taken by a stone lion or a pyramid of old cannon balls.
    On nights like summer, an orchestra plays in the casino. Peacock princes and sleek financiers study cards and cleavages under the glittering chandeliers. In the morning, the casino is open to the variable winds, each of which has a face and a personality. They blow through the glassless windows and rattle the doors, poorly secured by ropes and chains. They do not trouble the legions of rats. Birds fly with them, in formations that make ideographs, dropping feathered secrets over a sea that is neither black nor blue.

Sometimes dreams require nothing more nor less of me than to write and create from them. A city where I wandered in dreams last night reminds me a little of Constanța, on the Black Sea coast of Romania, where I took these photos in October 2015.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Inanna at the breakfast table

The plot thickens, the veil of mystery flutters and closes and opens. The night before I posted my blog piece titled "A Dream Doorway to Inanna", a male friend dreamed that he saw me having to deal with a skeptic in a group. Dream Robert revealed he was wearing a jeweled necklace with something resembling a "letter opener", studded with lapis lazuli, hanging down from it. Using this power tool, Dream Robert invoked a goddess. She appeared, raging at the ignorance and stupidity of humans. Her rage brought skyscrapers tumbling down. When my friend sent his report, I remarked, "That sounds like Inanna in her take-no-prisoners mode." He did not know about Inanna, which makes it all the more interesting that - as I study the original sources again - it seems that the placement of the jewels in Dream Robert's outfit strongly resembles the placement of jewels on Inanna's outfit as she dresses to visit her dark sister. I'm now guessing that the "letter opener" studded with lapis lazuli may be Inanna's lapis measuring stick, which is in her hand as she begins her descent to the Underworld, or one her other rods and wands of power. Lapis lazuli has great significance in the Inanna story; it was believed to supports powers of seership and to light the way to the afterlife.  
We dream of Inanna, and maybe she dreams of us, whether we call her goddess or archetype. Once, when I was leading a retreat in the foothills of the Cascades, Inanna took possession of the breakfast table where our group was gathered for coffee, waffles and dreams.    "How is your dream recall?" I asked the first person to join me at the table.    She proceeded to recount a dream in which she is traveling through a dusty landscape to the home of a tarot reader. Instead of spreading the cards, the tarot reader shows her two fish tanks, each containing elaborate dioramas. At the center of each is a statuette of a goddess. The dreamer recognizes the goddess forms: Isis and Inanna. The tarot reader tells her she must choose one. She chooses Inanna. Immediately a great tornado whips up,swirling everything around her. She wakes excited and curious to know mor eabout the power and the attributes of the goddess she chose.     We started talking about Inanna and the great cycle of poems composed in her name in ancient Sumer. I spoke of the terrifying praise-poems in which Inanna goes forth into battle, with a flashing carnelian at her throat and the mace of a warrior raised in her hand, with the force of a tornado. I mentioned that in my carry-on bag for this trip there just happened to be a copy of the beautiful versions of the Inanna poems composed by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer.     We were joined by a psychologist who had made a close study of the myths of Inanna and spoke about the story of the Descent of the Goddess as the model for a woman's journey to the depths to meet and integrate her Shadow side. She reminded us that one of the mysteries in this mythic cycle is that we are not given a clear reason why Inanna chose to make her descent to the darkest level of the Underworld, the realm of her dark sister, Ereshkigal, tobe hung in a meathook. We do know that she did this of her own volition. It was a choice she made freely.     We had now been joined by many other dreamers, all eager to take part in the weave of mythic associations that was taking place over the waffles and coffee. One woman shared that she was in the midst of a ritual journey through the Descent of Inanna organized by a women's group and unfolding over many days. She had made the descent, through visualization and ritual, through the seven gates of Inanna's descent, at each of which she was required to give up an aspect of her power and protection. As she made this mythic journey, she realized that it evoked many of her personal life dramas and passages - for example, losing a job and leaving a home - which now assumed even deeper resonance.    I confessed that Inanna, in full warrior mode, makes me, as a mere man, a little nervous. At that moment, a woman named Moon took the place at the table that someone had just left free. I smiled. Inanna is the daughter of Nanna, the Sumerian Moon god, and I am a very lunar man. We were at a mythic edge - with all the juice that brings - that was also a family situation.
We see again how dreams are only personal myths; they are swing doors between our world and the world of gods, archetypes and others. I am thinking again about my friend's dream of me invoking a goddess with a power tool that looked like a letter opener. In front of me now, as I write, is the letter opener I use every day. It has the form of the caduceus, twin serpents wrapped around a staff and here surmounted by wings. The earliest form of the caduceus was in Mesopotamia. It seems to have been one of the many forms of the staff or wand of power of Inanna. It turns up all over the world map later on, including as the want of Hermes and Mercury and Hermanubis. But it seems to begin with Inanna. Perhaps, without knowing it, I have been reaching to her every time I open mail.
That turns my mind to a famous statement from Jewish tradition, that a dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is left unopened. We do better than interpret dreams, in our Active Dreaming practice. We engage with the dream world, we enter it at will, and we bring gifts from it into waking life. We are ready to act in the understanding that our dreams may be a nightly field of interaction with greater powers, and that those powers - even of often camouflaged - are at play in our ordinary world. I look at the letter opener again. Inanna's people in ancients times did not have paper or parchment or papyrus. They recorded dreams on clay tablets that were then baked, making them strong and durable enough for us to read of Inanna's Descent to the Underworld and the Dream of Dumuzi more than 5,000 years later. They had an interesting expression in Sumerian for dreams that defy understanding. Such dreams are inside "a closed archive basket of the gods" - that is to say, a basket of dream reports written in cuneiform with a read stylus on those tablets of baked clay." Sometimes the gods open the archive basket and give us a myth to live by, even in our modern lives.