Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The night when the veil between the worlds thins

The hair salon on the corner advertises, "Halloween Makeup Done Here." There are spooks and scarecrows at the doors of the houses on my block. 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.
     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? 
     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.

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

I am offering a workshop on related themes in Berkeley over the weekend of November 23-24, "Ancestral Healing and Dream Archaeology"

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The dreams are coming back

In contemporary society, dream drought is a widespread affliction, almost a pandemic. This is deadly serious, because night dreams are an essential corrective to the delusions of the day. They hold up a mirror to our everyday actions and attitudes and put us in touch with deeper sources of knowing than the everyday mind. If you lose your dreams, you may lose your inner compass. If your dreams are long gone, it may be because you have lost the part of you that is the dreamer.
    Traditional Iroquois say bluntly that if we have lost our dreams, it is because we have lost a vital part of our soul. This may have happened early in life through what shamans call soul loss, when our magical child went away because the world seemed to cold and cruel. Helping the dream-bereft to recover their dreams may amount to bringing lost souls back to the lives and bodies where they belong. In my story “Dreamtakers”in Mysterious Realities I describe a shamanic journey to help return dream souls to people who have lost them. This is something I teach and practice.
     There are several ways we can seek to break a dream drought any night we want to give this a try. We can set a juicy intention for the night and be ready to record whatever is with us whenever we wake up. We can resolve to be kind to fragments. The wispiest trace of a dream can be exciting to play with, and as you play with it you may find you are pulling back more of the previously forgotten dream. 
    If you don’t remember a dream when you first wake up, laze in bed for a few minutes and see if something comes back. Wiggle around in the bed. Sometimes returning to the body posture we were in earlier in the night helps to bring back what we were dreaming when our bodies were arranged that way.
     If you still don’t have a dream, write something down anyway: whatever is in your awareness,
including feelings and physical sensations. You are catching the residue of a dream even if the dream itself is gone. As you do this, you are saying to the source of your dreams, “I’m listening. Talk to me.”
     You may find that, though your dreams have flown, you have a sense of clarity and direction that is the legacy of the night. We solve problems in our sleep even when we don’t remember the problem-solving process that went on in our dreaming minds.
      And remember that you don’t need to go to sleep in order to dream. The incidents of everyday life will speak to us like dream symbols if we are willing to pay attention. Keep a lookout for the first unusual or striking thing that enters your field of perception in the course of the day and ask whether there could be a message there. When we make it our game to pay attention to coincidence and symbolic pop-ups in everyday life, we oil the dream gates so they let more through from the night.
     Dream recovery may be soul recovery. Call back your dreams and you may find you are bringing back a beautiful bright dreamer who left your body and your life when the world seemed too cold and too cruel. Maybe she has been hiding out in Grandma's cottage, or a garden behind the Moon. Sometimes the right song will help to bring back that Magical Child with all the dreams fluttering like fireflies in her hair. I wrote a song in this cause and you are welcome to try it:

The dreams are coming back.
Slow down and feel their firefly glow.
Stay still and hear the rustle of their wings.
Open like a flower
and let them feed from your heart.
Don’t be afraid to remember
that your soul has wings
and you have a place to go flying.
The dreams are coming back

Drawing: "Retrieving my Wings" by Robert Moss, from a dream

Monday, October 28, 2019

Cat versus Chaos in the Mind of Egypt

An image from collective imagination of ancient Egypt offers a version of the cosmic battle between chaos and order that I find endlessly intriguing. The serpent is Apep (the Greek version is Apophis) and he personifies the forces of chaos that constantly threaten to overthrow humanity and the gods themselves.
    The giant cat is a form of Ra, cutting Apep to pieces with a knife in a battle around the Tree of Life. The long ears on this cat make it understandable that many viewers first thought was "rabbit". In fact the cat is a giant version of the long-eared Egyptian wild cat, Felis libyca Bubastis, which was the genus mummified by Egyptians.
    The Tree of Life here is the persea, a small evergreen whose yellow fruit symbolized the heart of Horus. The phoenix is reborn from the ashes of the persea.
    "I am the Cat which fought near the persea tree," Ra declares in the Book of Ani, which comments that Ra is also known as Mau, the Egyptian word for cat. I dreamed that a statue of a cat named Mau came alive and presented an atef crown.

    The knife resembles a feather, which some people saw in the image. That may have been intentional in the ancient iconography, since Apep, as a destroyer of civilization, is eternally opposed to Ma'at (Truth) whose symbols is a feather.
    The battle between Truth and Lies, Chaos and Civilization, is never over in the Egyptian mind. Every night Apep attacks the barque of Ra. Apep has been hacked to pieces and thrown into the abyss again and again, but he returns. Egyptians made wax images of Apep and mutilated and destroyed them in multi-stage rituals to help Ra in the cosmic battle.
     Some say that Apep is a dark shadow of Ra himself, an archaic form that the great god shed as he evolved. Much to dream on here, and perhaps much to illuminate our current complaints, and vice versa.

The Egyptian image is from the the papyrus of Hunifer in the British museum. The drawing of Mau is from my dream journal.

Friday, October 4, 2019

The dream world is my home world

The dream world is my home world, and has been from very early childhood.
    I first died in this lifetime when I was three years old. My great aunt the opera singer saw this in the tea leaves but didn’t talk about it until long after. What she did not see was that – as a doctor at the hospital in Hobart, Tasmania told my parents – I “died and came back”. That is still the term I prefer to use of these experiences. I don’t remember much of what happened when I left my body at age three, only that it was very hard to live in a body in this world after I came back, and that I felt that my home reality was somewhere else.
     At nine, I died again during emergency appendectomy in a Melbourne hospital. This time I seemed to live a whole life somewhere else, among a beautiful people who raised me as their own. I came back remembering that other life and that other world. It still wasn’t easy for me to live in the ordinary world, and I was nostalgic for that other world. The gift of these experiences,  and my persisting illness (I had double pneumonia twelve times between the ages of three and eleven) was an inner life that was rich and prolific, and an ability to move between states of consciousness and reality at will.
     At age eleven, I had the vision of a great staff of burning bronze with a serpent wrapped around it that seemed to fill half the sky. Right after that, I came very near death for a third time, back in hospital with pneumonia. But this time, I came back healed, and was able to live a relatively normal life – except that in my mind, the dream world was my “normal”. I later realized that my vision in the sky resembled a giant version of the serpent staff of Asklepios, the Greek god who heals through dreams.

I can’t remember a time when I did not understand that our personal dreams can take us into the Dreamtime, which is about more than the bargain basement of the personal subsconscious; it is the place where we find our spiritual kin on a higher level and remember the origins and purpose of life. That’s the way the First Peoples of my native Australian, the Aborigines, see it, and one of the few people I met in childhood who could confirm and validate my experiences of dreaming was an Aboriginal boy. He said of my near-death experiences, “Oh yeah, we do that. When we get very sick, we go and live with the spirits. When we get well, we come back.” He did not think it was extraordinary to dream future events, or to meet the dead in dreams, as I did all the time.
    I had to be fairly quiet about these things, growing up in a conservative time in Australia, in a military family. But as I grew older, I was able to do more and more with the gifts of dreaming. My dreams of ancient cultures led me to my first job, as lecturer in ancient history at the Australian National University. My dreams of possible future events enabled me to avoid death on the road, quite literally, on three occasions. Then, in mid-life, on a farm in the Upper Hudson Valley of New York, I was called in a lucid dream – also an out-of-body experience – into a meeting with an ancient Native American shaman, a Mother of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk people, who insisted on speaking her own language. That changed everything and put me on the path of a dream teacher, for which there is no career track in Western society.

Most human societies have valued dreams and the dreamers for three principal reasons. They have recognized that in dreams we see the future, and this can help whole communities as well as individuals to make better choices. They have understood that dreams give us a direct line to the sacred, to the God/Goddess we can talk to, to the ancestors, to the animate spirits of Nature. And they have grasped that dreaming can be very good medicine. Dreams diagnose problems before they present symptoms; they offer imagery for self-healing; and they show us the state of the soul and can help us retrieve parts of our vital energy that may have gone missing through what shamans call “soul-loss”.
    In Western society, dreams are undervalued by those the English call the “talking classes”, especially in academe and the media. Yet we all dream, so this is common property. Ever the hardhead who says “I don’t dream” is only saying “I don’t remember” or “I don’t care to remember”. And when life is tough or he is going through a big life transition, his head may be cracked open by a big dream that will expand his understanding and maybe give him sources and resources not otherwise available.  One of the most common types of “big dreams” that can accomplish that is a visitation by a dead family member or loved one.

All ancient and indigenous peoples that I have encountered, in my studies as an independent scholar and in my travels, understand that the dream world is a real world, maybe more real than the regular world of our consensual everyday hallucinations. When I told an elder of the Longhouse People, or Iroquois, about my dreams of the Mohawk “woman of power”,  he told me “you made some visits and you received some visitations.” There you have a central understanding, forgotten or ignored in much of Western psychology: dreaming is traveling. In dreams, soul or consciousness gets around, far beyond the body. In dreams, we may also receive visitations. The very words for “dream” in many cultures reflects this insight. In the language of the Makiritare, a shamanic dreaming people of Venezuela, the word for “dream” is adekato, which literally means “a journey of the soul.”
    As I explained in The Secret History of Dreaming dreams and dreamers have been central to human evolution, critical for soul and survival. Look at what is painted on the walls of the Paleolithic caves and you have evidence of the central importance of dreaming from as far back in the human odyssey as we can trace. The images are portals into a deeper reality, not simply hunting or fertility magic, but ways of connecting with the spirits, of calling through power, and of traveling between dimensions. On the most practical level, dreaming has always been a key part of our human survival kit. When we were little better than naked apes, without good weapons, dreaming helped save us from becoming breakfast for leathery raptors or saber-toothed tigers, by enabling us to scan our environment, across space and time, and identify possible dangers. 
    The ancient Egyptians understood that in dreams, our eyes are opened. Their word for dream, rswt, is etymologically connected to the root meaning “to be awake”. It was written with a symbol representing an open eye.  
   As dreamers, we are time travelers. With or without intention, we travel to the past and the future as well as parallel worlds. This can become conscious practice, and we can learn to fold time in the sense of being present, mind to mind, with other personalities in other times, sharing gifts and insights with each other. Our ability to travel into the future is essential to our survival and well-being. We not only bring back memories of future events for which we – and sometimes whole communities – can then prepare. We visit possible futures, and our ability to read our memories of the possible future and then take appropriate action can determine whether we can escape a future event we don’t like, or manifest one that we want.
    Contact with the deceased, especially in dreams, is natural and easy if we are open to it. It’s a very common experience. Our dead may still be around, because they have not yet moved on and that can be problematic if they don’t understand that they are dead (in the sense of not having physical bodies any more). Or they may come calling, for all the reasons we might call on each other in regular life, and then some. And in dreams we go traveling, and may find ourselves in realms where the dead are at home. These experiences have been the source of the enduring and near-universal human belief that consciousness survives physical death, and of countless geographies of the afterlife.

The trick is to live consciously in both worlds, always aware that at every turning, we have the power to choose. Even when conditions seem most difficult and confining, we have the power to choose our attitude, as Viktor Frankl taught us in Man’s Search for Meaning. And that can change everything. We want to develop the art of memory, remembering who and what we are in one order of reality while traveling in another. Jung came to suspect that we lead continuous lives in other realities, and I think this is exactly correct. The dreams we recall may be memories of other lives in other times – past or future or in parallel universes – and the versions of ourselves that inhabit those other realities may be dreaming in and out of our present lives, just as we dream ourselves in and out of theirs.
    Are we asleep in regular life and awake in the dream world? Sometimes it feels like that. When I close my eyes, I often have the sense of waking in another landscape, among people who may have been waiting for me. Then there is that phenomenon of “false awakening”. Within a dream, you sleep and wake up, to find later that you were in another level of the dream, not yet back in the body in the bed. Such experiences mark transits from outer to inner courtyards of dreaming, and when we learn to recognize what is going on, this deepens our practice of conscious dreaming.   
    I practice operating in multiple states of consciousness. When I am drumming for a group adventure in shamanic dreaming, for example, I am in control of my body. I am also scanning the psychic environment, warding the group. At the same time, I am engaged in a personal journey in consciousness that may take me deep into another reality.  Simultaneously, I may be looking in on the journeys of people in the group. When I am really on, I feel I can see the whole scene, physical and psychic, in 360-degree vision, as if it is all enclosed in a bubble and my awareness is at every point on the surface of that bubble as well as at the center. That begins to evoke what perceiving from the fifth dimension may be like.

Art by Robert Moss:  1. "Storm Bird Brings Me Back to My Body" 2. "Serpent Staff in the Sky"

Thursday, October 3, 2019

At home with the philosopher emperor

I have been rereading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius in the excellent recent translation by Gregory Hays. I opened the book at random and found my favorite line (“A man’s life is dyed in the color of his imagination”) rephrased in different English: "Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts." On the next the page, I came to essential counsel: what seems to be in your way may be your way. Marcus Aurelius, in the Hays version, puts it like this:

"Our actions may be impeded...but there can be no impeding our intentions or their dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." [Book 5, 20]

Stoic encouragement, from 19 centuries ago, to make friends with our blocks and look for opportunity in any setback.

I turned back to the beginning of the book, possibly not to be recommended since the contents are not structured in any way. Book 1 might seem to belong at the beginning, since it is mostly composed with the emperor's testimonials to mentors (above all Antoninus, the previous emperor). But after this we get recurring ideas and no apparent evolution in personal thinking. The division of the books was probably dictated by the space available on a single papyrus scroll; you come to the end of one and start a new book.
    In his introduction, Hays reminds us that Marcus was not writing for publication and maybe only for an audience of one: himself. He did not give his reflections a title. He wrote a New Thought book for himself, to remind him how to respond to adversity and why he should get out of bed in the morning.
    Throughout he insists that we can come to no real harm if we follow the Logos in ourselves and in the cosmos. It seems that Logos here means something similar to the Dharma in Eastern thought.
     Life is short, Marcus reminds us again and again. And at the end, it seems, we either dissipate as atoms or stream into a greater light. There is no indication here that Marcus believed in a personal afterlife. He certainly did not believe that it matters whether we are remembered by others. They will die too, and those who come later will forget all of us.
There is the stern military injunction: stand at your post, fulfill your assignments, be a Roman. Not surprising in a man compelled to spend so much time with the legions – fighting in Germania, suppressing the Sarmatians, containing the Parthians, dealing with the revolt of Cassius.
   Knowledge has three divisions for him: physics, logic, ethics. His writings are devoted to the third: to mortal duty towards others and towards the order of the universe. He affirms – no doubt against all external evidence – that whatever happens in the world is for the best, that God or gods have a secret plan in conformity with Logos.
    Like Viktor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning, the Stoic emperor contends that whatever our circumstances, we always have the power to choose our attitude. We can go into an inner fortress that is unassailable from without.

Illustration: Teasing the HG Curtain

I lay down the book, stretch out on the bed,and close my eyes.I immediately see a beautiful woman in a red dress. She swings on theater curtains, opening and closing my view of the space beyond. I see a giant head in profile. It looks like a Roman portrait bust. Beyond it, the scene is bright and warmly lit but undefined from where I am observing. Shall I go through the curtain?

Blue depth

Healing and amazing discoveries await us if we are willing to dive deep. We do that in certain dreams, which may help us to understand why in the vocabulary of the Inuit shaman, or angakok, a word for dream means literally "that which makes me dive in headfirst." We can learn to take the plunge into the blue depth of healing waters wide awake and conscious, as I did in the journey with the drum that is briefly recounted here.

I am entering a blue depth. It is vast and oceanic. I see many sea creatures swim by: dolphins, whales, sharks, schools of fish, squid and octopus. The blue whale is very close to me, and I swim with it for a while. It is surprisingly elegant. When I join the blue whale, I am no longer aware of any difference of size between us.
    I begin to explore lower levels of the blue depth. I descend to a place of bones and shipwreck, to something like Davy Jones’ Locker. I glimpse treasure here, like pirate gold. But I do not want to become enmeshed with the spirits in this underwater locale. Among them are soul-parts of living people that have been lost or stolen, often through addiction . There may be work to be done here, but this is not a place to linger without a clear mission.
   I go deeper. Far, far down I have a strong sense of contact with a different kind of being – a being that produces its own light, a soft glow. These beings have bodies that resemble a soft, mobile coral. They can shapeshift and grow new organs very easily. What they know and what they are can be very helpful in mending and strengthening bones, including generating new cartilage, and in releasing pain from joints.
   I enter more and more deeply into the rhythms and resonance of the sea. The drum itself seems to be singing the song of the whales. The sonic effects are quite amazing, healing and relaxing.

Photo: This amazing picture of a harbor seal was taken by underwater photographer Kyle McBurnie.