Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Braving up to Bear

Last evening, on my way to dinner at the Zamek ("Castle") restaurant in the lovely northern Bohemian town of Nove Mesto nad Metuji, I met an old friend on guard duty at the gate. I was carried back in memory to a time when a bear frightened me in my dreams, and I discovered that I was required to go back to the place of fear and brave up in order to claim the healing and protective power of a wonderful shamanic ally.
    I grew up in Australia, which has no native bears. Koalas are cute but they are not bears. My boyhood dreams and imaginings transported me back to the Europe of my ancestors, and warriors who went into battle wearing bearskins to claim the fighting fury of this magnificent ally. And I remember wanting, as a small boy, a giant teddy bear glimpsed in a Melbourne department store around Christmas that my parents declined to buy for me. But I had no sense of being especially close to bears. Other animals took me flying or prowling through the jungles of the night.
    After I moved to North America, however, the bear came to me in a very direct way. I dreamed, night after night, that a bear was inside my house. It usually appeared standing on two legs. It did not menace me directly, but it was so much bigger than me that I was scared. I could see the great claws hanging down.
    One night, the giant bear appeared in my bedroom. It was impossible to understand how its tremendous bulk could fit in the space. As I surfaced from the dream, I felt the continued presence of the bear in the room. I shook with fear and excitement.
    I decided then that I must do what I would now suggest to anyone else: that I must go back inside the dream and face the bear on its own ground and discover what needed to be done/ When we practice dream reentry in my workshops, we use shamanic drumming to fuel and focus the journey, and sometimes I drum for myself at home. On this occasion, I did not have far to go. The bear had been in my own house. And I had the energy of my fear and excitement to fuel my desire to meet it face to face.
    I sat back in an easy chair after closing the curtains and turning off the phone. I willed myself back into the reality where the bear was waiting for me. Quick as thought, I was there.
   The bear was more vividly alive than anything in the ordinary setting. It was rank and feral; I could smell it. It was mountainous. It took a real act of will to make myself rise, in my second body, and walk up to it. The bear raised its great arms and wrapped them around me. It seized me so fiercely I thought it was going to crush my rib cage. Then the bear's embrace softened into a hug.
    We now seemed to be the same size. That felt a lot better. The bear willed me, with its mind, to look down at my chest. I was amazed to see something like a thick umbilical cord. It joined my heart center to that of the bear. Vital energy was pumping back and forth between us. In a way I could not explain, the bear and I were joined at the heart.
    The bear wanted me to dance. Even I can manage a bear dance.
    The bear told me, with its mind, Call on me and I will show you what you need to heal. Call on me and I will help others to heal.
     I have been doing this for decades, and Bear has proved to be an impeccable ally. When I open a circle, we often sing a song that I borrowed from the Kanienkehaka, or Mohawk people, to welcome the Bear:

Don't cry little one
Don't cry little one
The Bear is coming to dance for you
The Bear is coming to dance for you

In personal crises of illness, Bear has come to me with amazing medicine, sometimes cracking open my body to remove an organ, cleanse it and renew it, before replacing it in a bed of soft ferns and herbs. Bear appears to others in the gatherings I lead as animal doctor and soul healer. I have seen Great Mother Bear help people to reclaim child selves who went missing through pain or grief or loss, holding the adult and the child together until they are one.
    I did not know when I decided to brave up and meet the beast in my bedroom that Bear is the great medicine animal of North America, and that the Lakota - who have many ways of meeting the sacred - maintain that the greatest healers are members of the Bear Dreamers Society, who are chosen and called by the Bear in dreams and visions.
    I know that the gifts of Bear are beyond itemizing. And I know that these gifts would not have been accessible to me, or to those I seek to help, had I not gone back inside a scary dream and stepped through a fear to find the power that was seeking me. What we most fear is sometimes what we must do.

Photo of guardian bear at the castle in Nove Mesto nad Metuji by Robert Moss

Monday, August 28, 2017

Dreaming in Bohemia

We turn nightmares into butterflies
We hear the counsel of elders
who change into trees at night
We share advice with our parallel selves
We make apple orchards with our minds
We wake up in different worlds
and know this dreaming is for real

Shooting stars applaud our good intentions
Thunderclaps tell us when it's time to stop
We build our houses on the threshold
You can't put butter on our heads
or reel us on with a limp noodle
We beat our drums with baby socks

We ride in the cosmic school bus
and walk in a castle of possibilities

┼Żernov, August 27. 2018

Photo: Fire in the Apple Orchard by Robert Moss

Friday, August 18, 2017

Wotan Time: Being Seized by a Dark Archetype

In November 1932, Jung declared in a speech in Vienna that "the gigantic catastrophes that threaten us today are…psychic events. To a quite terrifying degree we are threatened by wars and revolutions which are nothing other than psychic epidemics.”
     Four years later, as the full horror of Nazism unfolded, Jung gave a name to the psychic epidemic that had seized Germany. He suggested that Hitler, in himself a hollow man, had been seized by a dark force and that through him the collective mind of the German people had been possessed. He expressed these thoughts in a 1936 essay titled “Wotan”.
     Jung brought out of Teutonic mythology a dark archetype, the wild and furious figure of a war god ever hungry for blood, who drives men to crazy and violent excess. “Because the behavior of a race takes on its specific character from its underlying images, we can speak of an archetype 'Wotan’... Wotan is an Ergreiffer [possessor] of men, and, unless one wishes to deify Hitler – which has indeed actually happened – he is really the only explanation."
     Jung observed, “We are always convinced that the modern world is a reasonable world, basing our opinion on economic, political, and psychological factors... In fact, I venture the heretical suggestion that the unfathomable depths of Wotan’s character explain more of National Socialism than all three reasonable factors put together.”
    In a letter to Miguel Serrano, he added, “When the belief in the god Wotan vanished and nobody thought of him anymore, the phenomenon originally called Wotan remained; nothing changed but its name, as National Socialism has demonstrated on a grand scale. A collective movement consists of millions of individuals, each of whom shows the symptoms of Wotanism and proves thereby that Wotan in reality never died, but has retained his original vitality and autonomy. Our consciousness only imagines that it has lost its gods; in reality they are still there and it only needs a certain general condition in order to bring them back in full force.”
   I wish we could say that none of this is relevant to our current conditions.

Note: We want to separate Odin, the shaman-god of the Eddas, from the bloodthirsty entity Jung was talking about. Just as we would wish to separate the swastika - a symbol of transformation in the Baltic, in India, and among the Pueblo - from the crooked cross of Naziism (though alas, thanks to the Nazis, it is now probably impossible to reclaim that symbol in the West).

Illustration: This is also troubling. In the year Hitler was born, 1889, Franz von Stuck made a painting of the Die Wilde Jagd, the Wild Hunt, showing Wotan leading a crazed band of hungry ghosts. At 13, Hitler saw the painting and was fascinated. Von Stuck became his favorite artist. Some people see a strong resemblance to Hitler in the face of the leader of the mad and deadly hunt in the picture.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Waiting for the Spiral Galaxy

I have long suspected that in the end we will have more regret over what we did not do in this life than what we actually did. This suspicion was reinforced by a conversation on a plane during a redeye flight to Europe. The stranger seated next to me explains, when a conversation starts, that he is an astronomy professor approaching his 70th birthday. He has no plans to retire, generally likes his work and gets to travel to many international conferences. I ask him if there is something he longs to do in the years ahead. "Oh yes. I'd like to work on spiral galaxies. I've wanted to do that since I heard a great mathematician, C.C.Lin, explain his theory for the nature of spiral galaxies at M.I.T. back in 1968." I love the theme, but I am puzzled. "You heard that theory nearly fifty years ago. What have you been working on since then?"     "Oh, stars. I can tell you that stars are not round and they're ugly."
    "What about spiral galaxies?."
    "Well the problem is that C.C. Lin ran into big-time opposition. Another titan of science objected to the Lin-Shu density wave theory, contending that spiral patterns are caused by outside interference - by a galaxy bumping up against another galaxy, let's say - rather than integral. The fight got really bad. Anyone who publicly aligned with one side would get shot at by the other."
    "But you've had tenure for decades. Surely you can follow any line of research you like and damn the torpedoes."
    He talks about difficulties with funding and getting time on colossal computers required for galactic simulations.
    I am sad for him. Nearly fifty years after a vision of cosmic spirals set his imagination on fire, he's still not ready to stir the embers.
    "I'm risk-averse," he explains.   
    I reflect on this in the darkened cabin. I review what I regret in my own life, and realize that being risk-averse is not high on the list. For this I am grateful.

Image: M74 spiral galaxy. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

On the Ides of August, Honor the Goddess of the Grove

She is a huntress, at home in the wild, fleet as any animal, her quiver on her back, her hounds at her side. She is the Moon. She is queen of tides, in water and in the body. She dies every month and is reborn, so she is also queen of the Underworld.
    She is called Trivia, but don't confuse that with anything trivial. Feel her presence where three roads meet. In your life, this is where you come to a fork where a choice must be made. She is a maker of nets, a weaver of veils.
    She is a healer and midwife, the protector of pregnant mothers and newborn babies.
    She is a virgin yet she draws the passions of men. They come to her to be cleansed from guilt and released from the madness of deviant mind. If they get close to her, they pay a terrible price, but may be reborn under her aegis, as in the story of Virbius.
    She is Diana, also called Selene and Hecate and depicted with them as a triple goddess on Roman coinage. Her mirror, the Speculum Dianae, is Lake Nemi, a beautiful spring-fed lake inside the crater of a volcano. It is near the ancient town of Aricia (modern Ariccia).
    She was called Diana Nemorensis, Diana of the Sacred Wood, or Grove (nemus). Today, the Ides of August, is her special day. * This is the day of the Nemoralia, which became a holiday across Italy but was celebrated most elaborately at her temple beside Lake Nemi. Burning torches were carried in a procession around the lake, known as Diana’s Mirror. Those whose prayers had been answered at her shrine came wearing wreaths of flowers, to show their gratitude and fulfill specific promises made to the goddess. Dogs were garlanded and given special treats today. Nemoralia was a holiday for slaves, reflecting the alternations in status we see in the face of the Moon.
    We may be drawn to Diana as we are drawn to the Moon. She does not begin as Artemis, though they are closely twinned when the Romans start importing Greek deities, and their statues as young huntresses in tunics, with bows, become interchangeable. By one account, the first image of Diana, described by Ovid as  "a golden goddess fashioned by a barbaric hand" [1] was smuggled to Nemi, concealed in a bundle of sticks, from what is now the Crimea.
    The precinct of Diana did not grow into the vast world-city of Artemis of Ephesus. It remained a remote place in the wild woods, though not far from Rome if you were able to get up the steep slope of the volcano in order to get down into the crater. However, a beautiful Hellenistic temple complex developed, with baths and healing pools and a theater - where actors came up and down from a pit as from the Underworld - and granaries and the ancient version of a teaching hospital, one of the best in the world.
    Pilgrims and petitioners of all social classes came here to seek guidance and healing. As with the cult of Asklepios and his divine family, it must have been the experience of the numinous in this place - and the word that was spread about it - that kept the supplicants coming. In an excellent recent monograph, classical scholar C.M.C. Green observes that "the success of the cult was the result of the religious experiences of the people who came to the sanctuary for the goddess." [2]
    Votive statues from the temple of Diana depicting body parts and internal organs and newborn babies suggest some of medicine people came seeking. Some of the ex-votos are heads of Diana, maybe suggesting that they wanted to get the numen of the goddess into their heads. Green reminds us that supplicants did not come to the temple of Diana looking only, or even especially, for miracles. Treatments of every kind were offered here, offering state-of-the art pharmaceuticals and surgery, as well as dream incubation in the sacred night. This was a hospital for dogs as well as humans, with the best remedies for scabies and other canine complaints known in ancient times.
    The sanctuary of Diana was famous for treating or containing mental and psychospiritual complaints. We hear again and again about men who seek refuge in Diana's woods, tormented by Furies of guilt and despair, with what modern psychiatrist might call PTSD but which Horace - following the assistants of the Goddess - called fanaticus error, the obsession of the deviant mind. [3]
    Now we come to the baking. The precinct of Diana at Nemi included large granaries, the source of the flour used to form and bake untold numbers of strange deformed pastry dolls. These were sometimes called maniae, which usually means evil spirits, especially unclean spirits of the dead, and is the plural of mania, which speaks for itself.
    It seems that a key practice for spiritual cleansing and repair, in the healing rooms of Diana, was to encourage a patient to transfer the entities and energies that brought affliction into one or more of these doughboys, some of which were quite hideous. Think Fright Night gingerbread boys. The pastry figures would then be broken up, crushing and dispersing the unwanted energies. It is possible - this part is speculative - that the pieces might then be mashed together, reshaped and baked into a new and desirable form, representing the return of the patient to physical and mental health.

    Reflecting on the many faces of Diana, Green writes: "Diana's triple form...represented the multiplicity of her sacred experience. There was not one Diana. She belonged to the underworld, to the earth, and to the sky. That triple nature would also be exemplified by the sanctuary itself, the lake and the caves and the springs, leading to the underworld, and the crater as the circle of the earth, all ruled by the moon moving slowly across the sky." [4]   

1. Ovid, Heroides 12. 70-71
2. C.M.C. Green, Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) 153.
3. Horace, Ars Poetica 454.
4. Green, op.cit.,291.

The Goddess and the King of the Woods

In the sacred wood, the hunter becomes the hunted. Perhaps this goes to the depth of the mystical relationship between the hunter and the game animals in hunter-gatherer cultures. It is an enduring feature of the cult of Diana, shocking to many ancient, as well as modern, minds.
   The savage ritual observed at Nemi was made famous by James George Frazer, who brought from it the title, opening chapter and ruling theme of The Golden Bough. The following brief account departs from Frazer, drawing on recent scholarship.
    In the woods at Nemi is a wild man who is nonetheless a king, rex nemorensis, the King of the Sacred Wood. He arrives here a fugitive, an escaped slave, a man without a country. Maybe only a man in his condition would be desperate enough to pay the price of kingship.
    First, he must find the evergreen oak in the depths of the forest where mistletoe hangs from an upper branch. This is called the golden bough because yellow blossoms of the mistletoe that grows on oak are that color year-round. He must separate the parasitic plant with his bare hands.
    Once he has done this, he is given a sword. Weapons are forbidden to all except the King of the Woods and his challenger in this sacred precinct. Two desperate men now stalk and hunt each other through the woods. Even if he is old, the reigning king has the advantage of knowing the forest well, The challenger has the advantage of relative youth. They meet in mortal combat and one dies.
    The survivor, maybe wounded, must drag the body of the slain contender to the funeral pyre. After, he must carry ashes and bones down into a deep cave, viewed as a mouth of the Underworld, to lay them in an ossuary of fallen kings. Down there, he will dream and see visions. When he returns to the world above he will not be the same because he has gone through the death and rebirth of the shaman.
    His reward may include becoming the mate of the Goddess - embodied by her priestess - in the hieros gamos, the sacred marriage. His life will always be lived on the edge, with death at his shoulder.


* In the Roman calendar, while the Ides of March notoriously falls on the 15th of the month, the Ides of August falls on the 13th. Julius Caesar has an interesting connection with Lake Nemi. He had a sumptuous villa built overlooking the lake. But when he came to inspect it for the first time he ordered it leveled to the ground. It may be that surveying the sacred wood, he suddenly felt fear at the sight of a place where royal succession was accomplished by assassination.

Art at top: Speculum Dianae by Enrico Coleman (1909)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

When you don't know you're dreaming until the dream spills into the street

Dreams offer many clues that we are not in ordinary reality. We can fly, or breathe underwater, or find ourselves inside different bodies. We have the powers of superheroes. We can talk to animals and ride dragons. We meet people who died in the regular world but are very much alive here.
    Even humdrum dreams offer many lucidity triggers: prompts to wake up to the fact that we are dreaming. We are naked in public or engage in other anomalous behavior. The scene shifts inexplicably from one location to another, as if we have teleported. There is odd repetition; the same scene plays out several times, like the black cat walking across the room in the movie The Matrix. People we know are notably older or younger than in regular life.
    When a lucidity trigger awakens us to the fact that we are dreaming, we are sometimes so startled that we are jolted out of the whole experience, back into the dormant body on the bed. When we can stay in the dream, conscious that we are not in ordinary reality, we may be on our way to grand adventures, to romance or healing, to solving a mystery or vanquishing a fear.
     To recognize that you are dreaming is not the same as telling yourself This isn't real. Dreams are real experiences. The realities in which they unfold may be as real, less real, or more real than the physical world. In a certain kind of dream experience, the reason you may not pause to say to yourself I'm dreaming is that you are conscious, in an even deeper sense, that you are in another reality, for example a world where the dead are alive, where you will join them on a full-time basis when you leave your own body behind at physical death.
     You can fail to notice you are dreaming during sleep and then wake up to the dreamlike character of everyday life. I missed several lucidity triggers in a dream overnight, and then found elements from my dream spilling into the street, quite literally, as I took my dog on the first walk of the day.
    In my dream:

I'm at a retreat center in California, wearing a wild tropical shirt I think looks great on me. Next I am giving directions to a group of my students on how to take a train from a London station - I specify Victoria or Euston - on certain assignments. There's an air of adventure, as if I am asking them to play detectives.
    As soon as I name the stations, I am transported to a train station. I go back and forth between a pleasant waiting room and a platform. I notice a shower head near the door, outside the waiting room, and decide to take a quick shower. The flow isn't strong, and I catch water in my cupped hands and sprinkle it over myself. I find this quite enjoyable.
    I'm still naked when I hear a station announcement that the train is coming. I look along the platform and see a bus. Can this be right? Behind it, a train or tram is coming.
    A attractive lady in a dark blue uniform - a station official - smiles at me. I tell her I probably shouldn't get on the train naked. Will she hold it for me until I get dressed?
   There's a small problem. I can't find my clothes. Eventually I discover a crisp white short-sleeved shirt on a hook and a pair of boxers. This wasn't the shirt I was wearing earlier (one with a wild tropical design) but it will serve.
    I'm barefoot and pantless and missing not only my carry-on bag but my wallet and ID. Who can I call? I think of a dear friend but I am not sure he can help. 

I felt some concern towards the end of the dream, but relaxed - and fairly soon amused - on waking.
   I did a radio interview yesterday on lucid dreaming in which I talked about lucidity triggers. My little dream report contains several classic examples of lucidity triggers that I missed. 

* Instant change of scene. I am whisked from California to London, quick as thought.
* Naked in public. One of the most common dream themes, and a lucidity prompt for that reason alone.
* Anomalous behavior. I take a shower in an unlikely place, fully exposed to public view. The lady station official acts in a very non-official way.
*  Repetition and recurring dream situations. Trains and train stations often feature in my dreams and I was talking about their symbology in a recent class. Naked in public, losing ID or valuables, and quick change scenes are also recurring situations here, as in many people's dreams.
* The dead are alive. I don't call my friend but it does not occur to me that, in ordinary reality, he died several years ago.

Maybe you'll want to make a list of your own lucidity triggers, including any of the ones I missed that are relevant to you.
    The entertainment value of this little episode was enhanced by what happened when I walked the dream, along with the dog, before coffee in the morning. A couple of blocks from my house, a woman was packing her car. She called to her boyfriend, at the door of an apartment, "Hey, is my wallet in there?" He responded, "I don't know."
    There was the theme of misplaced or lost ID, spilling from the dream into the street.
    It got better (or worse) when we returned to my house. On the sidewalk, I noticed a discarded pair of men's briefs. Not the kind of underwear I had in the dream (or would choose in regular life) but there was the theme of naked in public, dropped right where I live.

Art: Giorgio de Chirico

Friday, August 11, 2017

Through the Skylight: Adepts who take on bodies

The light comes on at the top of my head. It is bright, white and steady and I know there is no cause for alarm. It is like the opening of a skylight. I sense that a circle of benign tutelary presences has been formed, and is beaming a communication to me. The theme is the deliberate incarnation of a succession of adepts who teach and inspire humanity. I am able to record the following:
     “This is truth: there is a line of spiritual masters, known to each other across the ages, who watch over humans and are alert to the stirrings of spiritual understanding and intellectual achievement. From time to time they take on bodies voluntarily. Their descent into the body is both mourned and honored.
     “Born remembering, they are nonetheless exposed to the phenomenon of memory loss. Unless closely supported and protected, they are feared and resented, as unnatural, as “demons”, as illegitimate bastards. Hence the stories of efforts to put them to death: of Moses in the rushes, of Asklepios exposed on the mountain. Alternatively, in some traditions they are welcomed and even worshiped, but may become pawns for greedy and ambitious theocracies.”

Origin: This journal entry, from New Year's morning, 1999, surfaced during one of my bouts of bibliomancy (divination by book) in my old journals. It describes an experience unfolding in the hypnopompic zone, the place between sleep and awake - prime real estate for adventurers in consciousness. 

Skylight photo by RM

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Smelling the lilacs and other scientific research inside dreams

The most original and revealing scientific study of dreams – the only kind that is likely to bring us the big stuff – is research inside dreams, rather than research about dreams. Charting a path for future research, William C. Dement, one of the leading research scientists in the area of sleep and dreams, appealed for “trained introspectionists to give us somewhat more confident information about what goes on in the mind during sleep.”
    Research should center on recognizing that there are some individuals who seem to be “supremely good at recalling their dreams.” Perhaps they could be encouraged not only to increase their recall even further but to attain some degree of mental control inside the dreamstate “which would allow them to attend to the dream more closely with the idea of remembering it and reporting it.” Dement concluded: “Our major data about the dream world should come from those best able to describe it” – dream experiencers. [1]
    A century before Dement made his remarks, the Marquis Hervey de Saint-Denys (1822-1892), a French aristocrat and oriental scholar, made this type of research is ruling passion. He started observing his dreams closely at the age of thirteen, as a way of whiling away his time after completing lessons with his private tutors. Within a year, he noticed he was often aware while dreaming of his “true situation” - that he was dreaming – and was able to “guide their development” consciously.
    He dreamed, for example, that he was among flowering lilac trees. Aware that he was dreaming, he remembered reading that our memories of smell are “seldom correct” when we wake from dreams. “I caught hold of the branch, and first assured myself that the smell of lilac was recalled in my memory by this imaginary but voluntary act.” [2].
    Over decades, Saint-Denys became an intrepid investigator inside his dreams, producing and exploring dream images that revolved around his research interests. “During the day I reflected on the subjects most worthy of examination; at night, during the dreams in which I was aware of my situation, I sought every possible opportunity to discover and analyze.”
    There was a curious blind spot in his dream exploration. He believed that dream images all derive from our waking experiences: that whatever we see in dreams is constructed from life memories. Scientist that he was, he tested this by his experiential method.
    Perhaps the fact that he was not able – by his own account – to identify dreamscapes that were unrelated to waking life memories was a function of his own belief system. That would fit his own observation that whenever he thought about something in a conscious dream, a corresponding scene or image appeared. Dream images, he concluded, are “the representation in our mind’s eye of the objects that occupy our thoughts.”
    Today, we look to active dreamers 
to help us expand the frontiers of our knowledge of the deeper realities accessible to the dreaming mind. An active dreamer is not only an enthusiastic and prolific dream recaller. He or she develops the ability to enter and navigate inside the dream state at will, to maintain continuity of consciousness through success states of sleep, dream and hypnagogia - and keeps extensive logs of these experiences.
    Active dreaming, as I teach and practice it, is a discipline - a fun one, but one that requires practice, practice practice. The rewards are immense. We discover that dreams give us personal doorways to the multiverse. We confirm that, dreaming, we are time travelers. We scout out the possible future, and we can visit past times and past lives and communicate, mentally, with other personalities. We gather first-hand evidence of the reality of parallel worlds and explore how quantum effects may work on a human level. We become quite familiar with the normalcy of "supernormal" abilities like precognition and telepathy. We embark on experiments in mutual or interactive dreaming, sometimes by traveling together on group shamanic journeys powered by drumming, at other times by setting overnight assignments for our circles. And - oh! - the places we go!


1.      William C. Dement, “Proposals for future research” in Gabrielle C. Lairy and Pero Salzarulo (eds) The Experimental Study of Human Sleep: Methodological Problems. (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1975) 442.

2.      Marquis Hervey de Saint-Denys, Dreams and How to Guide Them trans. Nicholas Fry, ed. Morton Schatzman M.D. (London: Duckworth, 1982) 56

Art: "The Bunch of Lilacs" by James Tissot (c.1875)