Monday, October 31, 2016

The dream god and the fairy lover: an Irish story for Halloween

We find beauty or terror in our contacts with the Otherworld - or our flight from it - according to our courage and the colors of our imaginations.
    How people respond to the banshee is an excellent example. The banshee is well-known in Celtic folk memory as a death messenger, whose appearance and weird cries are feared as the sign that death is near. The banshee is often depicted as a hag, or a crow, or a crow-woman.
    But the banshee is actually the bean sidhe, which means "she-faery". She can appear as a being of amazing beauty. She can come as a personal or family guardian in tight situations - as a family banshee appeared to members of the royal house of Munster on the eve of the battle of Clontarf.
    Above all, the banshee comes to invite us or escort us on the Otherworld journey: not only the journey that follows physical death, but on journeys beyond the physical world from which we may return to the body with magic and power. Banshees are much abroad at Samhain, or Halloween.
    The story of The Dream of Aengus,  turns the traditional fear of the banshee on its head. Instead of being scared of being caught by a banshee, the hero of this story is out to catch one, because night after night, she has been visiting him as his dream lover. This wild love story haunted Yeats all of his life and inspired him to write some of his most haunting verse. We'll call the hero Aengus, as the poet did.
     Aengus is a lover and a friend of lovers. He is a trickster, a shaman and a soul healer. He is described as "mac Oc", the Young Son, forever young. He lives in the Brugh na Boinne, a palace beneath a Mound of Wonder that recent travelers know as Newgrange. Women everywhere dream of Aengus; his butterfly kisses graze their lips and their secret places.
    But Aengus is no longer master of his own dreams. His dreams have a mistress. She first appeared by his bedside in a glory of red-gold hair, her long white body dancing through the veils to music that played him like a harp and shook him like a tambourine. Carried by the music and his surge of passionate desire, Aengus flies with her, like a wild swan, into a different landscape.
    In the morning, exhausted, he can barely fall out of bed. He is listless, lethargic, not even interested in sex, his speciality. This goes on night after night, day after day. His mother is troubled. She sends for a famous doctor, so skilled he can diagnose what is wrong in a house before he walks through the door, by reading shapes in the smoke from the fire.
    The doctor sees at once that Aengus is away: a part of his soul has left his body to live with his dream lover. The cure is to put body and soul together again. This involves finding the girl, and putting the lovers together in their physical as well as their astral bodies.
    Will Aengus please describe his dream mistress as exactly as possible? He aches for her as he speaks of the red-gold hair, the pearly skin. Very well, Aengus' mother has resources. She is a queen and a goddess of the Tuatha de Danaan. She will send out searchers to look for a girl who fits Angus's description.
    This is not such an easy assignment, however, because the dream lover is of the Sidhe, and is hidden in the faery mists. A year passes, and she is not found.
    Now Aengus' father is called in. He is the Big Guy among the old gods, the Dagda, one end of whose outrageously huge eight-pronged club delivers instant death, while the other brings the dead back to life. But he can't or won't help with finding the dream lover, except to recommend the far-sighted Bodb the king of the Sidhe in Munster, as the faery for the job.
Bodb tracks the girl to yet another of the Mounds of Wonder.
    The girl is a bean sidhe, and she has the right kind of name for a banshee. Her name is Caer Ibormeith, which means Yew Berry. Of all trees in her landscape, the yew is most intimately associated with death.
    It is agreed that Aengus must rally himself and go to Yew Berry's mound to spy on the banshee and make sure she is the one he has dreamed. She is. Her beauty shines beyond that of the "three times fifty" noble ladies about her, all wearing silver at their throats while Yew Berry wears gold.
    At this point, in a different kind of story, we might expect the dream lovers to fall into each other's arms and elope. After all, they have been doing it every night for two years. But there are complications.
    First off, Yew Berry's mound  is in the realm of the notorious Queen Maeve and her jealous husband Aillil, and they must not be scorned. They agree to help bring the lovers together, but Yew Berry's father won't hear of it. Even after the joined forces of the Dagda and King Aillil have stormed his faery fort, he clings to his daughter.
    There are many tests and battles before the secret is learned. Yew Berry is under an enchantment, sometimes represented as a curse, sometimes - in the deeper tellings - as a gift. She does not stay in one form. She is a beautiful woman for one year. Then for the next year she is a white swan. Then the cycle repeats.
    The day of shapechanging is Samhain. If Aengus would win her, he must find her on the liminal day, on a lake whose name is The Dragon's Mouth. At Samhain, Aengus goes to the Dragon's Mouth. He finds "three times fifty" white swans with silver chains around their necks, and one swan with a gold chain. He recognizes his love in the shape of the beautiful white bird, and calls to Yew Berry to fly to him. No, she tells him. You must change into my form.
    Aengus changes, becoming the long-necked bird. They mate, in beating splendor, above the deeps of the Dragon's Mouth. They fly together back to the palace of Brugh na Boinne - Newgrange - and the love music they make in flight is so lovely and lulling that all the land is at peace and people drift into pleasant dreams and stay there for three days.
    It is an amazing story, a love god smitten by love, and seizing a moment of opportunity - at Halloween - to bring his lover from one realm into another.
    In the best-known tellings of the Dream of Aengus, death is not mentioned. But the whole story is a dance with death, in several guises. It involves the death-in-life that we suffer when a part of our soul goes away, because of pain or abuse or heartbreak or - in this case - a longing for something beyond the familiar world. It involves the rescue of someone or something from the Land of the Dead. Yew Berry's name is a dead giveway, since the yew is the favorite tree for planting in graveyards. Her mound  is actually a piece of the Underworld, her father one of the princes of the dead.
    Terror or beauty, banshee or faery lover. On the Night When the Veil Thins, we are especially reminded that we can never claim the treasures of the Otherworld - and a love bigger than the familiar world - unless we can brave up.

Adapted from The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss (Destiny Books) (c) Robert Moss. All Rights reserved.

Art:"The Dream Maiden Visits Angus" by Ernest Charles Wallcousins (1883-1976).

Friday, October 28, 2016

Halloween, when the veil between the worlds thins

As we approach Halloween, I am thinking of the many meanings of the festival, from trick-or-treat to the turning of the year.
    This is the most magical, crazy, shivery night of the year. It is the topsy-turvy, inside-out, upside-down time, when the past lies ahead of you and the future walks behind you, breathing on your neck. It is a night when the doors between the worlds swing open, when the dead walk among the living and the living move among the dead.
    The last night of October is the start of Samhain (which is pronounced "sow-in"), the great Celtic festival when the dead walk among the living, the fires are extinguished and rekindled, the god and the goddess come together in sacred union, and as the year turns from light to dark, the seeded earth prepares to give birth again.
    It's a time, when the Celts knew what they were doing, to watch yourself and watch comings and goings from the barrows and mounds that are peopled by ghosts and faeries. It's a time to honor the friendly dead, and the lordly ones of the Sidhe, and to propitiate the restless dead and remember to send them off and to set or re-set very clear boundaries between the living and the hungry ghosts. It's a time to look into the future, if you dare, because linear time is stopped when the hollow hills are opened.
    As Celtic scholar Marie-Louise Sjoestedt wrote, "This night belongs neither to one year or the other and is, as it were, free from temporal restraint. It seems that the whole supernatural force is attracted by the seam thus left at the point where the two years join, and gathers to invade the world of men."
    If you have never learned to dream or see visions or to feel the presence of the spirits who are always about - if you have never traveled beyond the gates of death or looked into the many realms of the Otherworld - this is the time when you'll see beyond the veil all the same, because the Otherworld is going to break down the walls of the little box you call a world, and its residents are coming to call on you.
    It's a time for dressing up, especially if you are going out at night. You might want to put on a fright mask to scare away restless spirits before they scare you. You might want to carry a torch to light your way, and especially to guide the dead back to where they came from when the party is over. Before Europeans discovered pumpkins in America, they carried lit candles in hollowed-out niches in turnips.
    All of this was so important, and such wild, sexy, shiverish fun that the church had to do something about it. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III decided to steal the old magic by making November 1 All Saints' Day, or All Hallows Day; so the night of Samhain became All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween for short. A century before, an earlier pope had borrowed the date of the old Roman festival to propitiate the dead - the Festival of the Lemures, or Lemuralia - and renamed that All Saints' Day. But since Roman paganism had been largely suppressed, the church fathers decided to grab the glamour of the Celts, among whom the old ways are forever smoldering, like fire under peat.
     Few people who celebrate or suffer Halloween today seem to know much about its history. For storekeepers and the greetings card business, it's a commercial opportunity. For TV programmers, it's a cue to schedule horror movie marathons. For kids, it's time to dress up as vampires or witches and extort candy from neighbors.
     My preferred way to spend Halloween is to rest quietly at home, with candles lit for my dead loved ones, and a basket of apples and hazelnuts beside them, tokens of the old festival that renews the world and cleanses the relations between the living and the dead.
    This year, however, I am in Dracula country as Halloween approaches, leading a workshop in Romania at a villa within sight of Bran castle, notorious for its associations with Vlad the Impaler. In my experience, the only vampires you are likely to encounter there are the hucksters selling tee-shirts. They are having a Halloween party at "Dracula's castle" over the weekend, in advance of the actual date, but I don't plan to be there. I'll have dinner with our dreamers at the villa. Our appetizer will be raw garlic, to be crushed or sliced over toast with olive oil and salt. You can never be too sure...

Text adapted from The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss (Destiny Books)

Divination at Halloween: By tradition, Samhain is also a time for divination, since the departed can see across time and at this turning of the year we may share in their powers - and anyway, at New Year who doesn't think about what the year ahead may hold? The 1904 postcard in the illustration above shows a young woman looking in a mirror 
in hopes of spotting her husband-to be, a survival of an ancient rite.

Photo: The view from my terrace in Dracula country as Halloween approaches. Bran castle, notorious for its associations with Vlad the Impaler, is hidden in the mist.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Island Woman on Dreaming with the Animal Spirits

When we discover any possible power animal connection, we want to (1) study the natural habits and qualities or the animal (2) track it through folklore, mythology and spiritual traditions (3) learn from the animal itself, by journeying to it, and then with it (4) feed and honor the animal in our bodies and our lives.
    I want to let one of my great teachers on this subject speak to you on this subject. She is a true "wolf woman". Born Huron, she was adopted by the Mohawk as a child and became the mother of the Wolf Clan of the Kanienkehaka (People of the Stone, as the Mohawk call themselves in their own language) and a powerful  atetshents (dream shaman). She called me from across time. Because of her, I was required to study the Mohawk language, and she helped to put me on my path as a dream teacher.
    I call her Island Woman in my books and the drawing shows how I first saw her, in a night vision in which I was carried to her on the wings of a red-tailed hawk. Here she is, speaking on the animal spirits in my book Dreamways of the Iroquois :

"If we are not in touch with our animal spirits, we don't know how to be in our bodies or how to feed them.
    "Everybody is born with a soul in the wild, an animal double. That animal soul can move from one animal body to another, which is a good thing because animals usually have shorter lives than humans, or their lives are cut short. The needs of that animal are your needs. If your animal is a meat eater and you don't eat meat, you are going to get sick. If that animal is a runner and you don't get off your butt, you are going to get sick.
    "As you grow in power, you will meet other animal guardians. A true person of power, an arendiwanen, has many animal guardians, and when they are not traveling around, they live in power objects and in power centers inside her body. I keep some pretty big packs and herds of animals in my solar plexus, because I need extra to give to people who have lost their own animal spirits, maybe because they forgot to feed them, maybe because they chose a tame life and the animal spirits became disgusted with them....
    "Some of the kids go vision questing to get an oyaron [power animal]. To go out in the wilderness by yourself, to fast and stay up all night and know fear are good things. A powerful oyaron won't bother with anyone who isn't brave enough to face him and claim his power, and we come into knowing by being alone with the spirits. But there are powerful callings that are announced when we are sleeping in our regular space. We may think we are hunting the spirits, but it's usually the other way round. They are hunting us, which is why they can always be found. Especially in dreams."

- from "The Teachings of Island Woman" in DREAMWAYS OF THE IROQUOIS by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books.

Drawing of Island Woman (c) Robert Moss 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Digging for Smile Recovery

You don't know how you came to be
so deep underground, where walls are crumbling
and the air is powdered with burned bones.
This kind of archaeology is new to you.
The crew cannot be trusted; diggers mutter
behind your back and will steal any treasure you find.
Are you here to release a trapped soul
or make sure it stays sealed in its cage?

You're not happy when you recognize
someone who died from your life
who wants to travel with you to fields of war.
You want out, but there seems no way up.
The shaft you came down rises vertical,
intransigent, without handholds or footholds.

You ache for released, for yourself and the one
who was buried alive. Out of your longing
a deep voice speaks, strong as a drum,

nearer to you than your jugular vein.
Blessed One, light giver, let me rise
on your wings into your heart of light.

This is no time for surrender.
It is the time to speak, and to act.
You repeat the fresh mantra,
Let me rise on your wings.
The words of power are fireflies in the dark

that explode and expand into wings of light.

You rise on your new wings
strong enough to carry any you choose to release.
Now you can send your buried dead and undead

to fields of light and healing grace.
At last you can give yourself to the way
all the dark passages of life have prepared you for.
You are here to practice smile recovery.

- Hameau de l'Etoile
St, Martin de Londres
October 23, 2016

Thursday, October 13, 2016

If it were my dream

Don’t let anyone tell you what your dreams mean. And never do that to anyone else. This is the golden rule of dream-sharing.
     None of us have the right to tell another person what his or her dream means, based on any certification or presumed authority.  We don’t need to be doctors or shrinks, gurus or experts to offer helpful comments on someone else’s dreams. In commenting on each other’s dreams, we should begin by saying, “If it were my dream,” making it clear that we are offering our personal associations and projections, not presuming to tell the dreamer the definitive meaning of his or her dream.
     If you are commenting on someone else’s dream, you can do little wrong as long as you follow the simple rule that you will preface your opinions and associations by saying “if it were my dream.” You will not presume to interpret another person’s dream. You are absolutely free to give your own ideas on the meaning of the dream, but you will do that by pretending that the dream is your own. You will own your own projections instead of foisting them on the other person. You will not only help to guide the dreamer towards grasping the meaning of a dream; you will help her to claim her power to determine the meaning of her dreams, and her life, for herself.
    You listen to a dream, you ask for the dreamer’s feelings on waking (which are always the first and best clues to what is going on in the dream) and you run a quick reality check, asking the dreamer what she recognizes from the dream in the rest of her life and whether any of it could manifest in the future, literally or symbolically.
     Then you offer your comments, starting with the phrase, “if it were my dream”. As long as you follow this protocol, you are free to bring in any associations, feelings or memories the dream arouses in you, including dreams of your own that may come to mind. Often we understand other people’s dreams best when we can relate them to our own dream experiences.
     For example: If the dreamer has told you a dream in which he/she is running away from a bear, you may recall a dream of your own in which you hid from a bear – before you discovered that the bear was an ally. Your own experience may lead you to say, “If it were my dream, I would like to go back into the dream and meet the bear again and see whether it might be an ally”. You are now doing something more useful than merely interpreting the dream; you are gently guiding the dreamer to take action on the dream.
     It is very rewarding to receive a totally different perspective on a dream, so sharing in this way with strangers can be amazingly rewarding – as long as the rules of the game are respected.
     The fact that we may be highly intuitive, and highly skilled as dream interpreters, does not give us the right to take people’s power away by telling them what their dreams mean – even (and perhaps especially) when we are convinced we are “right” in our reading of what is going on in the dream.

      As dreamers, we also want to be open to what other people can contribute to our understanding of our own dreams. We don’t want to adopt a “know-it-all” attitude, because even if we think we have a pretty fair idea of what is going on in a dream, more than likely someone else’s take will offer fresh perspectives. Even if feedback we receive seems remote from our own feelings about a dream,  that can help us to home in on what matters for us.            Because dreams are multi-layered, it is also possible that a different perspective can help us open up aspects of the dream we may have missed. I find it very helpful to hear from people who have a very different perspective than my own. For example, because I tend to see dreams as transpersonal experiences in which we encounter other beings, in one order of reality or another, it can be very useful for me to be prompted to ask “what part of me” are the different characters and elements in a dream. 

Offering feedback according to the "if it were my dream" protocol is one of the four steps in the Lightning Dreamwork method of dream sharing, invented by Robert Moss. The Lightning approach can be used for any kind of personal story. The rules are fully explained in Robert's books Active Dreaming and Sidewalk Oracles.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Welcome to the Twilight Zone, Your Launch Pad for Lucid Dreaming

The easiest way to embark on lucid dreaming is to practice maintaining awareness as dream images rise and fall during twilight states between sleep and waking.The twilight zone offers optimum conditions to develop your ability to make intentional journeys beyond the physical body to learn the nature and conditions of other orders of reality. 
     As you spend more time in the twilight zone, you will discover a notable increase in both your creativity and your psychic awareness. Going with the flow of spontaneous imagery in the twilight zone puts you into the stream of the creative process. It puts you in league with your creative source, mediated by mentors who appear to you in the half-dream state, or coming through cool and clear as a mountain spring. It is no accident that highly creative people — from Einstein to the romance writer and the powerboat designer I met on recent plane trips — are very much at home in the twilight zone
      In the language of the sleep scientists, the twilight zone is the realm of hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences. Hypnagogic literally means “leading toward sleep”; hypnopompic means “leading away from sleep.” But these terms do not take us to the heart of the matter. You may enter the twilight zone before and after sleep, but you may also enter it wide awake, with no intention of sleeping.
      It is not the relationship to sleep that defines the twilight zone; it is its character as a border county. It is the junction between sleep and waking, certainly. But more than this, as Mary Watkins wrote beautifully in Waking Dreams, it is “the plane of coexistence of the two worlds." In this borderland, you will find the gates to other worlds opening smoothly and fluidly — if you let them and are prepared for what may follow.
      When I allow myself to drift through this frontier region with no fixed agenda, I have the sense of leaning through a window or a doorway in space. Sometimes this feels like hanging out of the open hatch of an airplane. I have come to recognize this as the opening of a dreamgate. Depending on circumstances and intention, I can step forward into the next dimension or haul myself back into physical focus.
      From this departure lobby, the great explorers of the imaginal realm have used many gates and flight paths. This is why the twilight state has such vital significance in dream yoga, in shamanic training, in the Western Mystery traditions, in the “science of mirrors” of the medieval Persian philosophers, and in other schools of active spirituality.
     According to Tantric teachings, it is by learning to prolong this “intermediate state” and to operate with full awareness within it that you achieve dream mastery and, beyond this, the highest level of consciousness attainable for an embodied human. The Spandakarika of Vasagupta, which dates from the tenth century, recommends the use of breathing exercises to focus and maintain awareness as you move from waking into the twilight state. The dreamer is urged to place himself “at the junction between inhaled and exhaled breaths, at the very point where he enters into contact with energy in the pure state.” This is the entry into conscious dreaming, whose gifts (according to Tantric text) could be immense: “The Lord of necessity grants him during dreams the ends he pursues, providing that he is profoundly contemplative and places himself at the junction between waking and sleeping."
     The aim of the practice is to achieve continuity of consciousness through sleeping, waking, and the intermediate state. When this is attained, the practitioner has ascended to the mystical Fourth State — the turiya of the Upanishads. This is the highly evolved consciousness of a person who has awakened to the reality of the Self; it now infuses his awareness at all times.
     In the Greco-Roman world, the twilight zone was a place of rendezvous with divine messengers and even the gods themselves. Iamblichus, the author of an important book on the Mysteries, urged the need to pay special attention to “god-sent dreams” in the intermediate state, especially after waking:

“They come when sleep is leaving us, or we are just waking. We may hear a certain voice that tells us concisely what needs to be done. Sometimes we feel surrounded by a presence that cannot be perceived by the sight, but is sensed in other ways. The entrance of the spirit is accompanied by a noise….But sometimes a bright and tranquil light shines forth.”

From the ascent to the Fourth State to a walk-in by a spirit or daimon, there is clearly no ceiling on possibility in this area. But first and last, experiment in the twilight zone is wonderful fun. Think of this as your cosmic playground. 

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

Drawing: "The Moon Is At the Foot of My Bed" by RM

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Call of the Mountain Mother

She calls me again
to walk the avenue of sacred lindens

and climb the steep hill
that leaves me breathless
to where light falls
across golden fields and sleeping volcanoes.
She says, terrible and beautiful

in her majesty, "Show me what you can offer."

I unfold my tents in the market
that is already hot and busy.
I proffer dolls that were lost by little girls
and toy soldiers broken by lost boys

and a rocking horse that can fly across the sky
and mirrors where you can see more of yourself
whether you like it or not.
My tents open into each other

making a breezeway that can float you
to the place of the stuffed animals
whose shadows are giant lions and bears
that walk by themselves.

The Lady accepts what I have to give.
She calls me through the tent flaps

to taste the harvest she is stirring in her bowl
and enter her glorious embrace.
With apples and cherries on my tongue

I become a tree on her mountain
streaming with the juice of many fruits
putting roots down and down, deep and wide
able, on her fertile ground, to draw lightning
and hold it without falling, spreading wings of light.

from a journey to Mount Říp, in the heart of the Czech heartland.

Monday, October 3, 2016

How to Handle a Giant People-Eating-Goat: Making a dream book with a six-year-old

On the last day of a training for dream teachers I was leading in Prague, Marketa brought us a little book with the most wonderful illustrations. She told us she had made it with her six-year-old daughter Františka. She said, "It is one of the most precious books we have at home."
    She proceeded to tell us the origin of the book, which is titled V
elký Kozel, or "Big Goat".
Františka woke crying from a very scary dream. Her mother comforted her, but did not press for the contents of the dream when her daughter said that she did not want to talk about it. "I know that my daughter is brave, and I knew she would deal with it when she was ready."    A couple of days later, Františka came to her mother with a question. "Mom, do goats eat people?"    "I don't think so."
    "And what about billy goats?"
    "That's an interesting question. Why do you ask?"
   At this point, 
Františka was ready to tell the  dream. What had scared her was a giant black billy goat, bigger than a tree, that was eating people.    "Let's explore," her mother suggested. "Why would a goat start eating people?"
Františka thought about this. She loved puzzles and codes, and soon her creative and investigative mind was working.     She started telling the story of a goat who was desperately unhappy because he was abnormally large and shunned by other goats.
   "Wait," her mother said. "Don't you want to draw his picture?"
   She drew the big black goat, and as her story developed, she made picture after picture. Not wanting to miss a detail, her mother helped her to write the chapters that went with the drawings.

Once there was a very big goat who was unhappy because he did not fit in. He had eaten a blade of magic grass that made him bigger than trees or houses. He grew as big as a mountain. He was always hungry, and he started eating people. One day he ate a goat that had wandered away from the flock. Now the goats were very scared and they asked a giant for help. The giant asked the black goat what was wrong with him. "I'm too big!" the black goat complained. The giant went to consult a wizard.

    When the giant found the wizard, he was in the middle of an experiment. He was so startled that things blew up. Nonethless, the wizard was able to tell the giant where to look for the counter-spell that will restore the people-eater to the normal proportions of a goat. This will require another blade of magic grass, dipped in oil. The wizard also explained that humans must make a special blueberry cake that would bring the people and other creatures the giant goat had eaten back to life.
    The story develops terrific energy on its way to a happy ending. 
Františka's mother, who is a librarian, was able to bind the pages together to make a lovely little book, which will always be treasured.
    There is a rich teaching here for anyone who has the privilege of listening to the dreams and stories of young children.
     There are three things we need to be prepared to do, always, to help kids with their dreams. First, we need to listen up, to be present without judgment or analysis to what is being shared. Second, we need to be ready to provide help, right away, with the scary stuff, In  
Františka's case, this simply required hugs from her mother and reassurance that mom would be there whenever she needed more. In another case, a child might need to be encouraged to spit out bad energy (quite literally) or to accept a stuffed animal as a guardian for the night.   
    Third, we want to be poised to help kids do something creative with their dreams. Pictures on the fridge are a great start, but why not think about helping a child to create a long-running journal, or even to make a finished book? 
Františka's dream book, in its text and pictures, is at least the equal of many books for children produced by professional writers, and it has the power and authenticity of imagination working on first-hand experience.   
Františka! And Bravo, Marketa, for being a dream mother!