Monday, February 19, 2018

Dreaming the world of Joan of Arc and the tree seers

Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage
Dreams guide us to the necessary past, the history it is useful and timely to know. Sometimes dream clues help us to get to the understory, the deeper logic of events that may be missing from the texts.
    My dreams opened an adventure in medieval France, and a window into understanding the practice of the voyantes of ancient Gaul, who were often tree seers and to whom Joan of Arc may have belonged, at least in her natural mode of visioning.
     I often dream in French, the language of my ancestors just a thousand years ago, and often find myself in France in my dreams. In 2001, I woke from my dreams with just a single word as a keepsake – the French word chantepleure. The word literally means “sings and cries”. From the dictionary, I learned that it is an old name for a kind of sieve or filter or watering can. I had no idea why this term had come through to me in a dream, until three years later..
    On an afternoon in September 2004, I lay down for a nap. I lay on my back, hands folded over my chest – the approved position (called gisant) for a medieval knight approaching death, according to Philip Ariès, whom I had been reading as part of my research for my Dreamer’sBook of the Dead.
   I was immediately caught up in a powerful vision in which I seemed to enter the perspective of a medieval French nobleman as he embarked upon his after-death experiences.
   I saw him laid out in a church or chapel, among other sarcophagi with figures carved in high relief on the stone lids.
   To his left, “devils” appeared, capering around the church on cloven hoofs. Some of them looked like gargoyles. One had hideous animal features, something between a boar and an ass, plus little horns. I realized that these monstrosities had been created by the deformed imagination of the church; they seemed comical to me.
   The nobleman also seemed fearless, but he took these things a little more seriously. He wanted to take up a sword – a large one materialized in his hand – and fight the “devils”. Ghost knights took up positions around his tomb to defend and support him. They came like giant armored sleepwalkers, moving like automata.
   Two paths opened before the dead prince. In a beam of light rising into the sky, he saw a radiant female figure who reminded him of a woman he had celebrated in songs of courtly love. In this moment, I knew that he had been capable of great love, and that he loved poetry, as writer and patron.
   He was drawn to the woman in the light, but also drawn to a huge warhorse, a white charger armored for battle. Matching armor was there for him. He wanted to carry on old battles. I noticed a great white banner, with gold fleurs de lys.
   Torn between choices, the prince’s energy began to divide. I felt the fibres stretch and separate, like fabric pulled apart under high pressure.
   As I began to come back from the vision, I was eager to know his identity. I knew he was of the house of Orleans, perhaps a Duke of Orleans. I knew that he loved the city of Blois, and used its name as a title. I knew that he was a poet and a lover. I knew that the word gonfalonier or gonfalonière featured in his story.
    Research was clearly required! I did an overnight search online, and in my own library, and discovered that Count of Blois was one of the titles of the Dukes of Orleans. It was held by the first Duc d’Orléans, Louis, and his son Charles d’Orléans, a contemporary of Joan of Arc and an accomplished poet, held by some to be “the father of French lyric poetry”. The word gonfalonier literally means “standard bearer”. It might be a reference to Joan of Arc, who was famous for carrying her own banner into battle.
    I went into the used bookstore on the corner the next day, intending to look for a biography of Joan of Arc.
    At eye level on the European History shelves, I saw a book titled Charles d’Orleans, Prince and Poet, which proved to be a literate narrative biography by Edith Macleod, head of the French section of Britain’s Ministry of Information during World War II.
    I took the biography home and very soon stumbled upon the mysterious word from my “old” dream – chantepleure.
   There was a picture of one in the book: a long-necked globular vessel spouting large tear-shaped drops from multiple holes in the bottom. The text explained that Charles’ mother, Valentina Visconti, adopted the chantepleure as the emblem of her grief after the brutal slaying of Charles’ father, Duke Louis, by axe murderers hired by John, Duke of Burgundy (Jean-sans-Peur). The driving purpose of Charles’ life for many years – one fight he could not abandon – was to exact justice for his father’s murder.
   An odd, archaic word, first surfacing in dream or vision, seemed to be putting me on a path of connection with dramas and personalities from a different era.
    The synchronicity riff grew stronger, leaving me amazed though not necessarily surprised. The day after I picked up the book, I flew to Seattle where a friend was organizing a workshop for me. When she met me at the airport, she told me that a man had called from Paris that same day to ask whether there was room for him in my workshop. She told him there was, and he announced he would fly in.
    The man from Paris was charming and cultured. He explained that he had established a foundation devoted to alternative healing and spirituality. Would I be willing to let him sponsor a program for me in France. Where? “The retreat could be held at a chateau near Orleans,” he told me.
    Naturally, we found a gap in my schedule, and agreed that I would lead a program in the region of Charles d’Orléans and Joan of Arc in June 2005.
     By now, the play of dreams and synchronicity had driven me to further research. I learned that the Maid of Orleans launched her crusade in the cause of Charles d’Orleans, the “prince across the water” who had been taken prisoner by the English after the French rout at Agincourt and remained a captive in England for nearly two decades.
    The chateau where my workshop took place was forty minutes drive from Charles’s beloved city of Blois, where he established one of the greatest libraries of medieval Europe and held poetry competitions.
    I found the scene from my vision of his burial in the church that forms part of the chateau at Blois. This chateau is guarded by the fiercest gargoyles I have ever seen. Some look like souls in torment, avid to pull others into their howling hells. Looking up at them, where they leap with the flying buttresses, I recognized figures from my vision of the after-death experiences of a medieval prince of Orleans (whom I now believe to be Charles), confronted with the demons and angels of the medieval imagination, at his moment of choice between different paths.On the wall of the church that holds Charles’ tomb is a plaque honoring Joan of Arc, the seeress who led an army in his name.
    Our host at the chateau told me there was a local tradition that Joan of Arc had spent a night on the estate on her way to the relief of the city of Orleans, her most celebrated victory. Would I like to see the tree where Joan was reputed to have slept?
     We crossed rough ground through a deer wood to a tree she identified as a chataignier, or “sweet chestnut”. It had survived the lightning. She called it L’Arbre de la Dame. Would I please give my intuitions?
   I stood with the tree, holding it and leaning my head against its trunk.
   Immediately, I received a vision in brilliant, living color, of a knight wearing a white surcoat with the figures of three red lions over his breastplate. An English knight; I was sure. He wore a coronet over his helmet, whose visor was open. A nobleman, then, a duke or an earl. But why was I looking at an English knight?
    As I continued to look into the scene, other figures appeared. A massing of soldiers around a walled city. I realized that I was looking at the positions of the English besiegers of Orleans as Joan might have seen them, performing a psychic scout before she led the French into battle.
   How did she see this way? How exactly did she receive her inspiration?
   No sooner had I formed the question in my mind than I sensed a greater-than-human being approaching from above and behind, descending in a beating of wings. I felt its intent driving home, like an arrow or a bee-sting, at the nape of the neck. Le cou, an inner voice confirmed. I felt no pain, but sensed the pain Joan might have felt, in her visioning – and later learned that before she marched to Orleans, she predicted that she would be wounded by an arrow, as she was indeed, in the field.
    At her tree of vision, I sensed a continuity between Joan of Arc and the ancient Gallic female seers who climbed into trees, or into towers constructed from tree limbs, to scout and direct battles for their warriors. Julius Caesar regarded these ancient “remote viewers” as his most formidable adversaries.
A deeper story began to unfold, of a tree seer in a deer forest, linked to an ancient line of seeresses. The significance of sacred trees in Joan’s earlier life is there in the documents (though I could find no reference to the chataignier). Joan’s accusers at her trial made much of her connection, as a child, with a “Fairy Tree” – called l’Arbre aux Dames – a giant beech in an oak forest near her home town in Lorraine.

My continuing researches resulted in a chapter titled “Joan of Arc and the Tree Seers” in my Secret History of Dreaming. I have always loved beech trees, and when I dreamed with an ancient beech in nature after the adventures described above, I was rewarded with the vision of a green seer, perhaps a spirit of the tree itself. This is the drawing I made of her.

Green Seer drawing by Robert Moss

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Put yourself where Tiger can find you

Hunting Power

You say you are hunting your power
But your power is hunting you.
I’ll go up to the mountain, you say.
I’ll fast and live on seaweed
I’ll hang myself on a meat-hook
Under the hot sun. I’ll give up sex
And wine and my sense of humor.
What are you thinking of?
For you to go hunting your power
Is as smart as the mouse hunting the cat.

Go out in the garden any night
Step one inch outside the tame land
And you are near what you seek.
Open the window of your soul
Any night and your guide may come in.
The issue is whether you’ll run away
When you see what it is. To make sure
You succeed, tether yourself like a goat
At the edge of the tiger wood that breathes
Right beside your bed. He’ll come.

This poem is in my collection Here, Everything Is Dreaming: Poems and Stories by Robert Moss. Published by Excelsior/State University of New York Press.

Drawing by Robert Moss

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Conversations with a Free Self on a terrace above the world

Higher Self, Greater Self. These are very big words. I want something smaller for him. There may be many levels to the Higher Self, ten that I know, others beyond counting. He lives on a level just above the level I am on.
    When I set out to meet him, I follow the road of dreams to a terrace above the world. Sometimes it is the rooftop of a tall building, twenty stories up, or more. Often the terrace has the air of a civilized café, operating just for us. I find him seated at a table, perhaps with a glass of wine the color of moonlight. He is usually impeccably dressed, in a perfectly tailored white suit or a dinner jacket. Occasionally I have the impression that he has a female companion; once she seemed to be an opera singer. But she is never part of our conversation.
    He is impossibly beautiful. He looks like a man in the prime of life, maybe thirty years old, yet carrying the knowledge of millennia. He does not judge me. He is my witness. He knows all of my life. It is as open to him as the contents of a doll house when you remove the back and the roof. More than this, he remembers my other lives.
    I should say, rather, our other lives. Something I have remembered, through our conversations, is that we have a twining relationship across time. When I am in the body, in a life on Earth, he is up here, on his balcony above the world. He still enjoys pleasures and creature comforts, but he is not enmeshed in the confusion and clutter of the physical world. He can sample delights that we associate with a physical body without being confined to one. The babalawo in me, the African diviner he calls my witchdoctor, says it has always been like this. While one of us is down in the marketplace of the world, the other observes as a “double in heaven”.
     I like that phrase, but his is a near heaven, rather than a remote one. So how shall I describe him? I have decided I will call him my Free Self. He is not bound by the conditions of physical life. From his terrace, he can see the big picture. When I join him up there, I can see the crossroads and forking paths of my life from an aerial perspective.
    He shows me some navigational challenges that lie ahead. There’s a spaghetti junction with whirling stands of traffic going off in all direction like an exploding bowl of pasta. It’s dizzying to look at. Inspecting this with his mildly humorous detachment, I see the scene lift to reveal a manageable locale, the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Now I can survey, one by one, the possible roads I can take from that place of decision. He reminds me that when life on the ground poses difficult choices – when I run into blockages or risk making a turn without reflecting on where that direction will take me – I should come up here, look at things from the higher perspective, and freeze the action while I observe myself traveling more than one of the possible roads in order to clarify and compare the probable outcomes.
    From such encounters comes daily practice, one I can share with others. I picture myself in the thick of a situation where I am facing a choice or conflict or dilemma. I see myself pausing from acting or worrying, placing myself in a quiet mental space whatever is going on around me. I feel light coming down around me, until I am within a column or pillar of light. This brings the sense of blessing and protection. I sense benign energies and intelligence reaching down to me within the pillar of light. Then there is the sense of traction, of being carried up within the pillar. I could be carried up many levels, as if on an elevator. But it is sufficient, for everyday navigation, to go up just one level, to that terrace above the world.
     Here I find again the Free Self, my wiser twin. From his table, I can see a relief map of my life, and of other lives and situations that will concern me. When the traffic patterns are hard to read, I can have everything slow down or stop so I can study it at my leisure.

Graphic: "The Art of Conversation" by René Magritte (1963)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The romance of dreaming

On Valentine Day, romance your dreams. The romance of dreaming is played out beyond your present life and your present world. Through dreaming, as the Irish poet-painter AE (George Russell) promised, "Your own will find you". Someone you loved and lost five thousand years ago may call you to remember that romance, and look for its fulfillment in new bodies that have ancient eyes.
    Yes, I am a romantic about these things. But I am also a practical romantic. I know that we can dream the way to manifest the kind of love that transcends time, and also that dreaming will show us how to do what we love and let the world support us. However, this requires us to develop the practice of active dreaming, which involves not only growing our dream recall and keeping our journals, but learning to clarify the content of dreams and above all taking action to bring energy and guidance from the dream worlds into the physical world.
    One of my favorite teaching stories about this comes from India. It is sometimes called "The Sketcher of Pictures". It goes like this:

The princess (and all women may be princesses, or queens) is dreaming. She dreams of the perfect lover, who satisfies her in every way. The dream streams like silk. It smells like jasmine and honeysuckle.
   She opens her eyes and howls with pain and loss, because although her surroundings are opulent she knows no one like the man of her dreams.
   Her father sees that she is very sad and asks what is wrong. When she tells him it has something to do with a dream, the king summons his wise men to listen to the dream and tell her what it means. They gather in a council chamber, ready to give their interpretations.
    As the princess recounts her dream, a wild man rushes into the room, his hair a white storm about his shoulders. He is a rishi who lives in the woods and cares nothing for the rules of the court. He grabs a piece of paper, makes a quick sketch, and hands it to the girl.
    When she looks at the picture, the princess is stunned. The rishi has captured the very essence of her dream lover.
     Abandoning the conclave of dream interpreters, she runs after the wold man from the woods. When she catches up to him, she begs him to tell her the identity or her dream lover. "Who is he? Where can I find him?" Clearly the rishi knows the man of her dreams.
     Good teachers don't give you everything all at once. The rishi says only, "The map is in your dream." Then he takes off into the woods.
     The princess thinks about it. What does it mean, that a dream contains a map? When she thinks about it some more, she realizes that she was not with her lover among the clouds. She was in a bed in a room in a house in a city in a certain landscape. Though she recognizes none of these places, she has vivid memories of them and feels she would know them again.
     So she sets out on the quest. In an Indian village, they may take hours to tell this part. There will be tigers, of course, and bandits, and deserts and snakes and all manner of perils. There will probably be elephants.
     But let's catch up with the princess at the moment when her quest is almost over, because there on the horizon, after long travels and many ordeals, she sees the city from her dreams. And now she is rushing through those streets the house from her dream, and up the stairs to the bedroom from her dream, where she finds her lover rising from his dream of her.

It sounds like a fairy story, but there are no fairies in it, or any of the gods, demons and others from the rich forests of Hindu mythology. There are only humans, and what humans can do when they learn to make maps from their dreams and have the will and stamina to follow their maps.
    Through the perfume of romance, we receive a lesson in practical romanticism. Do the work in dreamwork. Recognize that dreams require action. Learn - why has it taken you so long? - that a dream is a place. Because you have been there, you can go there again. This can bring you, in this physical world, to place of your dream lover. More often, it will bring you to places in a more spacious universe where you can rejoin the beloved company of your soul, those who love you across time and space, even when you make each other crazy.
   Give a hug to someone you love on Valentine Day. Bring flowers or chocolates if you must. But don't let the day pass without sharing dreams.

Art: Mughal painting of a prince giving wine to his lover

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Thirteen Levels of Shamanic Dreaming

Ruby Modesto grew up on the Martinez reservation in Southern California. Her dreams called her to become a pul, or shaman, introducing her to the eagle that became her ally, giving her wings for flight. She did not need the medicine plants used by some shamans among her people, the Cahuilla, because, she said, she had her dreams.
    The medicine plants were very strong. However, not all puls used power plants. That should be clear from the start. I am a pul myself but the “ally” as Castaneda calls it, the spiritual helper which distinguishes a pul from ordinary people, came to me through Dreaming not from the effects of a plant.
    Ruby learned that there are successive levels of dreaming, and that you achieve increasing clarity and get closer to the really good stuff when you go to level 3 or beyond. Her uncle was a dream shaman, and he taught her about “setting up dreaming” in order to get to those interesting levels. She explained the practice to anthropologist Guy Mount like this:

The way you do that is by remembering to tell yourself to go to sleep in your 1st level ordinary dream. You consciously tell yourself [inside the first dream] to lay down and go to sleep. Then you dream a second dream. This is the 2nd level and the prerequisite for real Dreaming. Uncle Charlie called this process “setting up dreaming.” You can tell yourself ahead of time where you want to go or what you want to see, or what you want to learn.
On the 3rd level you learn and see unusual things, not of this world. The hills and terrain are different. On both the 2nd and the 3rd dream levels you can talk to people and ask questions about what you want to know.

    She adds that “during Dreaming the soul goes out of the body, so you have to be careful.” When she was young, she dreamed to the thirteenth level but did not know how to come back. “I kept having different dreams and falling asleep [inside each level of dreaming] and going to another level.” In the course of this immense, multitiered experience, she met her shamanic ally, Ahswit, the eagle. But her spirit was lost in the dreamlands. For days she was semicomatose, in a sleep from which no one could rouse her. Her father tried to bring her back to her body, but couldn’t.
     Finally Uncle Charlie, a specialist in soul retrieval, was able to find her spirit and put it back in her body. “When I woke up they made me promise not to Dream like that again, not until I knew how to get back by myself.”
   To do that, you must learn “how to dream and think simultaneously,” so that you don’t forget where you left your body, and you remember, whatever level of dreaming you are on, to give yourself a clear direction to go back.
    We see that traveling from an outer dream to an inner dream, and doing this again and again in a single sequence, may be an experience of traveling to many levels of reality. We are also reminded that dreaming is a discipline. To get to the different levels, and to return with gifts for this world, requires practice and attention to flight safety and navigation. While we all dream and can all gain from doing far more in dreaming, dreaming to the thirteenth level is not for the “innocent” and is not recommended as nightly practice for anyone!

Text adapted from Dreaming the Soul Back Home by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Photo: Cahuilla Woman (1924) from Native American Encyclopedia