Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Gates of Anamnesis

Essential knowledge comes to us through soul remembering: through reclaiming the knowledge that belonged to us, on the level of mind or spirit, before we came into the body in our present life experience. This has been central to my understanding of everything since I was in my early teens, when I received instruction from an interesting mentor.
    He was one of my invisible companions. He usually appeared at my bedside in the middle of the night, when I was drifting in a twilight state of consciousness in that place between sleep and awake. He presented himself as a radiant young man from the eastern end of the Mediterranean. He came from a Greek community on the coast of the country we now call Syria.
     His name was Philemon. Many years later, I
discovered another Philemon, but this was the first time I had heard this name. This beautiful young man spoke to me in the language of the Platonists. He told me, “Everything important, everything you need to know that matters comes to you by way of anamnesis.”  The brain of my fourteen-year-old self did not previously contain that difficult word anamnesis. You can actually find anamnesis in an English language dictionary. However, it is not exactly household word. It's Greek and Philemon was using it in a very special sense.
     Anamnesis literally means “remembering”, but it's about more than remembering what you put on the grocery list or what you read in that textbook. Anamnesis in the doctrine of the Neoplatonist philosophers anamnesis is about remembering what belongs to us on the level of soul and spirit. Remembering perhaps the reasons we came here in the first place, why we took on embodiment in this life. It is as important as that. To regain such essential knowledge requires the practice of soul remembering.
    I learned later that in another Greek school of philosophy, attributed to Pythagoras, anamnesis is also about remembering your connection with a series of personalities living in other times. These may be reincarnational experiences, but there may be even more going on. Through anamnesis, you come to recognize that you are connected with personalities in other times and other dimensions and you can communicate with each other. When you do that, you bring together the knowledge of many selves. You start to see how your present life story is part of a much larger pattern. You find it possible to draw together lessons and gifts from many members of your multidimensional family.
     Heady stuff for a teenage boy in Canberra, Australia. I could do a little research, and was already reading Plutarch, but I was only able to unfold what all of this was about when I got to university and had access to a real research library. We did not have Google back in those days.
     When I read Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections at seventeen or eighteen, I discovered that Jung had a guide he called Philemon.  Jung’s Philemon looked very different from mine. His portrait is in the Red Book. Jung saw him as an old man with a long beard, bull horns and wings of kingfisher blue.He said that his Philemon taught him "the objective reality of the psyche"; that what we see as subjective or interior phenomenon are also out there. The contents of the psyche are also objective. They are both personal and transpersonal.

Over all the years, anamnesis has remained one of the most important words in my personal vocabulary, and soul remembering is central to my teaching and practice. We came here for a reason. We may or may not love the reason when we remember it, but we are here for a reason and we come here with stories from before this life. We want to remember those stories. We come here with soul kin, with a soul family extended over space and time. We want to remember more about that and start to connect consciously with our soul family. They will know us.  They will know us. They reach to us as we reach for them. As the Irish mystic AE affirmed, Your own will come to you.

Painting by AE (George Russell)

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Learning the language of the birds, Australian syle

“Nothing is nothing”, they say in the Cape York peninsula. Everything speaks of something else, and to something else. The spirit world and the physical world are interfused. The distance between them is the width of an eyelid, and no distance at all if the strong eye is open.
     You know when it is the right time to do something by listening to the land, by recognizing those things that like to happen together. The Yolngu of the Northern Territory know when food is ready to be gathered in certain places because they notice things that like to happen at the same time. When flower blooms in one place you know it is time to harvest in another. When that tree blossoms you know the yams in another spot are ripe and ready to eat. You do not check the calendar for the date of that big initiation ceremony; you know it’s about time when a certain fish is jumping in the river, big and fat.

     You learn that the birds are a whole telephone system. Night hunting birds, like owls, are powerful spirits whose call can mean that someone close to you is about to die. Listen carefully to the kingfisher, who lent wings to Jung’s Philemon. Kingfisher can see ghosts. If it calls out ekwe, ekwe, ekwe, watch out for a ghost attack that could inflict illness or even death.
     Little willie wagtail is a shaman of shamans among the bird tribes, He dances like a made man in ceremony when he jitters sideways. Watch willie wagtail for any unusual behavior, because this means news is coming. “Him good telephone that fella,” a Ngarrindjeri woman of the Lower Murray told Philip Clarke, who has been helping to map the Aboriginal landscape. *
     Listen to water as well as earth, to the voices in a billabong, to the song of a river. Today the indigenous fishermen of the Torres Islands see and feel the “scars on the water” caused by boat propellers and pollutants. Their shaman, the zogo le, flies on the wings of sea eagle, and sees with his keen eyes.

*Philip Clarke, Where the Ancestors Walked: Australia as an Aboriginal Landscape. (Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2003) 23.

Photo: Sacred kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus). Australian Museum

Monday, July 1, 2019

Tracking the Traveler

I can only keep up with him by becoming him. When I come home from our travels, I am not quite myself and no longer him. When we part company, I am left to pore over scraps of memory like the things I find in my pockets and on my phone after a regular plane trip: a boarding pass, a bus ticket, a foreign banknote, a scribbled love note, random photos of far-away cities and beaches and train stations.

It is now one of my ongoing undertakings to track the Traveler through my journal reports. Here he seems to be very like my present self, just two days ahead of me, on my present probable event track. Sometimes he is much further ahead, or on a different – mildly or radically – event track, or he is in another body in another time or another world. Is the traveler sometimes in a different body in this world, like the kids in  the Japanese film “Your Name”? Perhaps. I think back to the body swapping dream of many years ago when the Traveler tries on at least three different bodies – of a black athlete, a rich Republican country club type, and finally an older, eccentric scholar much like my current self.

I think of the dream in which I am dressing up in a blue satin ballgown, excited by the prospect of turning on my boyfriend. I wake wondering whether I have been in a woman’s body. This doesn’t feel quite right. My excitement in the dream is surely male arousal, within a man’s anatomy. Confused, I look out the window and see a tall black transvestite, gorgeously attired in a long blue satin ballgown, teetering down the steps on stiletto heels on the arm of her boyfriend. 

I like to play with words in English. The Traveler plays with words in many languages. One morning I was left with an unlikely phrase in French, on acccable par les hochements. This could be a newly-minted saying with the sense of “yessing someone to death”, or a commentary on the storm surge of Hurricane Irma, or both. Now I remember the Traveler’s effort to find the right words to greet Stalin at lunch in Ufa in the midst of World War II. He sought an edge of humor while trying to avoid getting his throat cut. He managed, in the Georgian language.

I am beginning to think that the moment of lucidity, in a sleep dream, is often the moment when the self that has been dormant in bed – or somewhere else altogether – catches up with the Traveler. It may be a moment of self-possession, of taking control of a vehicle that has been traveling under the direction of an autonomous self, like the captain of a ship coming back on board and taking over from a junior officer or crew member. However, the person in the wheelhouse may decline to give over control, and a sudden rebuff may result in falling out of the dream (for the person who wakes in the bed) and the Traveler’s disappearance from radar. So it could be like a horse bucking a would-be rider.

Just as I now seek to track the Traveler, I now watch the person who is writing these lines. I see him fumbling with his nautical analogy. I like the bucking horse analogy better, though we lose the notion that there may be a second rider. I am not going to play editor or critic. The writer’s attempt to model and understand what is happening in his many lives is part of his story, the one on which I will put the name we use in the ordinary world.

When I am the Traveler. leaving my body consciously on astral excursions the journey often begins at a certain threshold, a gap between the worlds, in a twilight of the mind. I may find myself floating upwards. I roll over and as I do so I feel something pulling loose from my physical body. Lights flash at the top of my head and I find myself being drawn up into a cone of light, like a pyramid with an opening at the top. 

There are days when, flat on my back under a tree, I fall upwards into the bowl of the sky, like Rumi. There are nights when I feel I am about to blast off like a rocket, or be blown from the mouth of a cannon, through circles of red within black. Or I find myself stripping off, shedding the body like a snake skin, dropping it like an old overcoat. When the travels begin, I often find myself looking at geometric pattern. It may be a glowing energy grid. It may resemble the weave of a carpet, or the strands of a net.

I find it soothing to study parallels for my dream travels, and my relations with the Traveler, in reports of anthropologists and mythographers. I find again, in A.P.Elkin's Australian classic Aboriginal Men of High Degree, conformation that the projection of a dream double was a primary skill of indigenous shamans in my native country. 

Among the Aborigines of Walcott Inlet it was believed that the high god Ungudd summons potential shamans through dreams. Those who had the courage to answer their calling faced a terrifying trance initiation in which they saw themselves killed and dismembered. The potential “man of knowledge” is reborn from this ordeal with a new brain, filled with inner light, and a new body, filled with shining quartz crystals. He now has the ability to send his dream double, or ya-yari, outside his body to gather information. His shamanic powers are described by an interesting term, miriru. Elkin explains its meaning as follows: “Fundamentally it is the capacity bestowed on a medicine man to go into a dream state or trance with its possibilities.” 

In a book of paintings by Father Arsenie Boca, a celebrated Romanian Orthodox priest and mystic whose church I once visited and who rises from his grave to visit Romanian friends in their dreams, I find clear depictions of an astral double operating beyond the physical body. In the mythology of Egypt, I find the belief that the god Ra has no fewer than fourteeen Ka souls, or astral doubles. I must have further conversation with the Traveler about these matters. I am sure he has first-hand knowledge of how things are done in Egypt, and among the casuarina trees, and in the mountains of Transyvania.

For many related adventures, see my book Mysterious Realities: Tales of a Dream Traveler from the Imaginal Realm. 

Photo "Tracking the Traveler at RatiboĊ™ice" by RM