Monday, March 30, 2020

Let's become imaginal cells for collective transformation

In many cultures, the butterfly is a favorite image for soul. In Greek, the word psyche means both “soul” and “butterfly”. The cycle of the butterfly is a model for a life that is open to transformation. I know this to be true in an individual life. Let us hope that it is true for our kind on a collective level in these dark and crazy times.
     To spread butterfly wings, you must transform again and again. You must let your old identity collapse into mush. You must use your imaginal cells to overcome the resistance of the old you, the little you, who clings to what you once were. You will progress through four distinct life forms. Each time you change, those who knew your previous self may no longer be able to recognize you, because you will be radically, almost inconceivably different.
    The butterfly cycle begins with an egg, stuck on a leaf. Out from the egg comes a very hungry caterpillar that tries to eat all the green available. Eventually the caterpillar stops consuming and settles on the underside of another leaf, or perhaps in the bark of a tree. It grows a hard casing, the chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, it turns into a restless mush, a stew of contending elements.
    In the chrysalis, as in an alchemical retort, the worm produces new cells. Science calls these imaginal cells. They are quite different from anything that has been active in the caterpillar before, so different that the killer cells in the worm's immune system target them as enemies that must be destroyed. The job of the killer cells is to resist transformation and defend the old identity of this life form as a caterpillar hungry for green
   Enough imaginal cells escape the murderous attack  to create friendly communities. They resonate with each other. They have a social network, reaching each other on the same frequency band. They gather together, and soon the imaginal movement is so strong the riot police and death squads of the immune system are overwhelmed. The revolution produces a life form that could not be imagined without the magic of the active imaginal community. It is the butterfly, ready to burst from the chrysalis on bright wings and sparkle in the light.
    I love the biologists' choice of name for the cells of transformation: imaginal. It evokes the Imaginal Realm, the realm of true imagination known to poets, mystics and shamans.
   The struggle inside the chrysalis between the defenders of the worm state and the agents of winged possibility is one that many of us surely experience in times of spiritual emergence. We may find ourselves pounded into mush, hanging upside down from whatever we can cling to - and yet have the possibility and destiny of becoming much, much more.
    You can't stay a worm, if you want to become a butterfly. You are obliged to drop  old attachments and expectations and let your old identity be broken down in the mush as a new identity emerges. And you must allow time for the new form to grow, and be fully prepared to take wing. Don’t rush the butterfly.
    There is a wonderful cautionary story about this in the autobiography of Nikos Kazantzakis, the celebrated author of Zorba the Greek. He found a cocoon in the bark of an olive tree. He saw that the butterfly was beginning to emerge. He watched for a time, then became impatient. He blew on the cocoon, intending to speed up the process of emergence with the warmth of his breath. To his delight, the butterfly emerged from the cocoon. But it had been brought out prematurely. Its wings were crumpled and unusable. They had needed the heat of the sun, not merely the hot air of a man with hurry sickness. The butterfly died in Kazantzakis’ hand. Towards the end of his life, he wrote, “That little body is the greatest weight I have on my conscience.”
    Don’t rush the butterfly, and don’t pronounce it dead prematurely. I learned about that when I started teaching at the Esalen Institute near Big Sur in California. On a chill November morning, on the path from the Big House to the ravine, I stopped with a foot in mid-air because I noticed  just in time that what I had taken for a fallen leaf was a Monarch butterfly, lying dormant with folded wings. As the sun’s rays streamed down, warming its body and drying its wings, the Monarch stirred and flew off, towards the gardens..

Let those of us who can dream and imagine become active imaginal cells in our society. Let's help to relegate the very hungry caterpillars to past history. Let's help each other survive the stew of confusion in which old fears and old habits try to abort transformation. Let's encourage each other to allow each locked-down environment to become the chrysalis in which something brighter and lovelier takes form. Let's support what is new and vital, and help our kind emerge from our time of confinement shining, spreading wings of fresh creativity and compassion and soul.

Text adapted from "The Change in the Very Hungry Caterpillar"in  The Boy Who Died and Came Back: Adventures of a Dream Archaeologist in the Multiverse by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Photo by Kevin Bruff on Flickr

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Do Not Let Your Mind Fall: On the Practice of Anamnesis

“The whole of world history often seems to be nothing more than a picture book which portrays humanity’s most powerful and senseless desire – the desire to forget.”
- Herman Hesse, Journey to the East
Active Dreaming, as I teach and live it,is a practice of soul remembering: reclaiming the knowledge that belonged to us on the level of mind and spirit before we came here, and our relationship with the collective odyssey of our kind and with all that is alive and conscious in our world. When I was a boy, one of my invisible friends was a wise teacher who appeared as a radiant young man who seemed to come from the eastern side of the Mediterranean. He told me that the most important things I would ever know would come by way of anamnesis, which literally means "remembering" but has the deeper meaning mentioned above. This is perhaps the most important teaching I have ever received and I seek to live by it. Anamnesis is a way of direct experience. Growing your dream recall is excellent everyday practice in the art of soul remembering. You wake up to the fact at all times you are present in many worlds. You realize that you are never confined to the body or to linear time except by your lack of courage or imagination. Learning to journey to the place between lives - to where you were, let us say, a little before conception and a little after death - is vital practice. It will give you first-hand confirmation that consciousness survives physical death, which may enable you to see the dramas of current life as part of a divine comedy. Recalling that you may have come to this world on an assignment is an essential part of anamnesis. I was once jolted awake at 3 in the morning by a knock on the door of my house. When I went to the door, I found a smiling young man, under bright moonlight, who introduced himself by saying, "I come from my father's house." He then shocked me by asking, "What is your contract with God?" I now came out of the dream, knowing that the visitation was entirely real, and hugely important. If I had a contract with God, how could I have forgotten it? Though the question was not couched in my usual language, it set me the task of revisiting choices I made before I became Robert in this life. This reopened direct links to personalities in other times. For the Pythagoreans, anamnesis specifically involved mental communication with other members of a reincarnational lineage of initiates. The Neoplatonist Proclus, who consulted with Plutarch in the middle of the night, saw that great moralist and biographer as a previous incarnation of his own essence. As I explored my own connections with my counterparts in other times and other dimensions I came to the conclusion that from the perspective of a Greater Self, it is all going on Now. We are not simply engaged in reincarnational dramas, but members of a multidimensional families whose actions affect each other across time. Anamnesis, in the history (past and future) of our kind, requires us to master the arts of what I have called dream archaeology. We have the ability, as shamanic dreamers,to enter the living experience of our kind in other times and other circumstances, to learn from this,and even to communicate, mind to mind, with people who are connected with us in those situations. We can do this within our own lives.We can journey to a younger self to act as the mentor and cheerleader she may desperately need in a tough transition. We can journey to a possible older and hopefully wiser self to gain perspective from what she or he has lived, beyond what we know.
For humans, anamnesis involves more than remembering all that it means to be human, part of the odyssey of our species on a blue planet orbiting a medium-size star, joined in a common ancestry that starts with an ancient Eve in Africa or someone before her. It means remembering that we live in a fragile ecosphere on the skin of Gaia with responsibility for all that shares life with us on her body. It means remembering that we are made of seawater and the dust of a distant star, and that our knowledge of our full identity and purpose may depend on remembering the experience of another world. The First Peoples of the area where I live - the Onkwehonwe, or Iroquois - say that our world began when Sky Woman fell from another world, called Earth-in-the-Sky. to dance our world into being on Turtle's back. They say that we fall into the Dark Times when we forget the life and the knowledge of that other world. In Mohawk, a language I had to study because of my dreams, when you tell someone to remember you say Tosa 'sasa' nikon'ren. This literally means, "Do not let your mind fall." In other words: Remember the higher world where your life and purpose have their source. I wrote a little poem about

The Art of Memory

Dreaming, waking or in between
in any part of the multiverse
in any body, in any life
you are invited to play
a memory game.

Whatever world you are in

the trick is to remember
the other worlds you inhabit
where you are dead and more alive

and the self that is dreaming you.

Picture: Ziggurat abode of the Moon god Nanna at Ur

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

No regrets

In my workshop "Making Death Your Ally", which I was supposed to lead in Ann Arbor last weekend but then couldn't, as our world stopped, I guide participants into a close-up encounter with a personal Death. You are required to imagine yourself at the moment when Death comes for you. Your Death will ask you a series of questions starting with this: "What do you most regret not having done in your life?"   
    Another question is: "What is the moment you most regret when your courag
e failed you?"
    The idea is that - if you are given a life extension - you will make a definite undertaking to do the thing left undone, or demonstrate the courage that failed you before, so that eventually you can pass on without regrets on these and other counts. You will find the full questionnaire in my book Dreamgates.
    Now that regular life has been paused for so many of us, I find it very helpful to reflect deeply on questions like this. The importance of the two that I quoted was confirmed when I chanced again just now on a list of the main regrets of the dying compiled by Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware from her many years of experience in this field. The top regret on her list: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."
    Other regrets of the dying that Bronnie itemized in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying included these: "I wish I hadn't worked so hard. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. I wish that I had let myself be happier."
    Montaigne advised us that since we do not know where Death is waiting for us, we must be ready to meet Death everywhere. It is not morbid to hold that thought in a time of pandemic. If we can find the courage to meet our personal Death and make it our fierce intention to live and die without regrets, we bring courage and clarity to all of our choices.

Photo: "Night palms on the Island" by Robert Moss

Monday, March 23, 2020

Turning to the sacred healer

When no other remedy was available, the peoples of the Greco-Roman world turned to Asklepios (Roman Aesculapius) "the kindest of gods to humans" and his divine family. We are looking here at a benign cult of healing through dream incubation that flourished fror more than a thousand years,from as far east as modern Ankara to as far west as the British Isles.
     The practice of Asklepian healing begins as a quest. You go on a pilgrimage, when you have failed to find other remedies for what ails you. You travel to a holistic center. You are cleansed and purified. You pray. You are shown images of the gods, and evidence of what happened before”. You see hundreds, maybe thousands of votive offerings and inscriptions depicting healings that have taken place. This stirs up the psyche, fires the imagination, primes you for a big experience in the sacred night. The temple helpers will ask you about your dreams, looking for a dream of invitation, noting when the caliber of your dreams indicates that you are not ready for the big experience. If you cannot produce a dream of invitation,you may not be admitted to the inner sanctum, to the abaton ("forbidden place") where you will seek a direct encounter with the sacred guide and healer.
    Contact with animals and animal spirits is a vital part of this tradition. The snake is a primary healing ally of Asklepios. There were snake pits in the Asklepian sanctuaries, and seekers of big dreams often had to brave up to serpents (non-venomous, but still scary for many) slithering over them in the night. In the testimonies, healing was often delivered by the experience of a snake licking or biting or coiling round an afflicted part of the body.

     You will meet dogs in the temple, and may be licked by a dog in a healing vision. A dog, a second Asklepian animal ally, is the guide of souls and guardian of passage to the Underworld in many traditions, the friendliest of animals to man, and a primary “bridge to nature” in many lives, ancient and contemporary.
     We can speak with some confidence about what went on the in the Asklepian temples because of the immense body of "testimonies" from grateful patients that survive. We have a convenient and fairly exhaustive collection of these thanks to the work of Emma and Ludwig Edelstein in the 1940s. The second edition  is available in a single-volume edition from the Johns Hopkins Press.
     We have the words of invocations sung for the sacred healer. My favorite is rendered in English as

Healer of all, come blessed one

     We know that the moment of sacred encounter in the incubation chambers typically came about not in a sleep dream but in the liminal state of hypnagogia, between sleep and awake.There is no more gripping account of the experience of meeting the healing god in the twilight state than in Aelius Aristides’ Sacred Tales:  “I seemed almost to touch him. Halfway between sleep and waking, I perceived that he was there in person; one was between sleep and waking. I wanted to open one’s eyes but I was anxious that he might leave. I listened and heard things, sometimes as in a dream, sometimes as in waking vision. My hair stood on end, and I wept tears of joy, and the weight of knowledge was no burden…Only if you have been through it can you know and understand.”

Remote healing and shared dreaming

One of the most fascinating cases of Asklepian healing that I have found in the testimonies is that of a young Spartan woman named Arata and her devoted mother, who made the long and often dangerous journey to the temple of Epidaurus to seek healing for her daughter.
    Arata, we are told, was υδρωπ, "dropsical". Today, we might say that she had an edema, a serious swelling due to the build-up of fluids in the cavities of the body. When ordinary medicine could do nothing for her, the mother embarked on her journey. She must have undergone the customary cleansing and ritual purification, and made simple offerings to the sacred powers of the sanctuary, including honey cakes for the serpents of Asklepios.
    She would have been assisted by the therapeuts - the helpers of the healing god - to incubate a dream of invitation and to clarify her request to the god, for the benefit of her beloved daughter. She would have been shown testimonies of those who had been healed before, and images of the gods, building a mental climate of positive expectation. Eventually she was ushered into the abaton, the inner precinct of the temple, where she would have been encouraged to lie down on an animal skin and await the coming of the healing god in the sacred night.
    In the night, "She slept in the temple and saw the following dream: it seemed to her that the god cut off her daughter’s head and hung up her body in such a way that her neck hung down." We can picture how a butcher might hang an animal carcass on a meat hook.  Out of the neck came a huge quantity of fluid matter. Then the mother took down her daughter’s body and fitted the head back on the neck. 
    After she had seen this dream, she went home and found her daughter fully recovered, in good health and excellent spirits. Her daughter reported she had the same dream. 
     In this wild and primal experience, glimpsed through a few lines of an inscription chiseled on stone, we see the lineaments of a healing practice that reaches beyond ordinary medicine and beyond time and place. A sacred power appears to the dreamer, in response to a heart-felt prayer. Let us notice that the experience unfolding is possibly best understood as a lucid dream playing in the liminal space between sleep and awake.[1]
    The god of this dream is a ruthless surgeon, but his cutting is true and precise. Something that was wrong in the body of a person at a distance is drained and healed during this operation., Not only is the effect transferred to Arata, hundreds of miles away, but Arata sees the whole thing, as if she were with her mother and the god in the sacred space.
    We have here remarkable evidence of the reality and efficacy of remote healing and shared dreaming. We have confirmation that direct engagement with the sacred is the ultimate healing resource. We have a reminder that even the most terrifying image - if it is authentic and truly belongs to us - can open a way to healing and transformation, if we are willing to stay with it and work with it.

What can we learn from this tradition for our own lives, in the time of pandemic? We can take courage from the knowledge that help from greater powers is always available. We can build a temple of healing in our own imaginations.  In my online courses, I often lead group journeys to a Temple of Dream Healing. We can practice dream incubation in our homes, and grow the practice of asking for help from greater powers nicely.
   Aelius Aristides, a famous orator who walked very close to the gods of healing, addressed Asklepios like this:  “You in your kindness and love of man, relieve me of my disease and grant me the health that is required for the body to serve the purposes of the soul.” Now that is a creative way to invite the benign intervention of a god of healing!
    From the viewpoint of a god, or angel, a human who asks for help to serve “the purposes of the soul” must be rather more interesting than one who is just ringing the changes on “Gimme” (as in: “heal my liver” or “cure my baldness” – something people actually wished for at Epidaurus). However, Aelius Aristides, as a gentleman of late antiquity, could not resist slipping in a further wish: “And grant me a life lived with ease.”
     Then we have the Homeric Hymn to Asklepios:

Great to humanity, soother of cruel suffering…
You are welcomed, Master. By this song I beseech you.

1. The testimony of Arata's mother is printed in Emma J. Edelstein and Ludwig Edelstein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies (second edition, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Press, 1998) as #423.21.

Graphic: modern statue of Asklepios in RM collection

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Seth and the Dream Department of Literary Production

I love first-hand stories of how writers are inspired and spurred to action by dreams. In an old journal, I found notes I made while reading Susan M. Watkins' account of the classes she took with Jane Roberts and Seth in the early 1970s. She reported that a dream pushed her to jettison her doubts about turning her journals into a book. She dreamed she saw a print shop growing out of her backyard garage, “literally growing, like a time-lapse garden film – out of the garage walls and floor”. She knew this print shop contained everything she needed to produce her book and get it circulating to an audience.
    She proceeded to put together and publish her book, 
Conversations with Seth, a treasury for those of us who are drawn to the Seth material and its wonderfully clear description of multidimensional reality and the multidimensional self and the vital importance of dreaming in all of this.
    Susan compared the mobilizing effect of this dream to the kind of experience described by Jane Roberts in Adventures in Consciousness, when a surge of creative energy is given to us by the psyche at exactly the right moment.
    As a writer myself, I assign such episodes (devoutly to be wished) to the Dream Department of Literary Production.

My rediscovery of the Watkins story made me open her book again, at random. I found precious thoughts from Seth on two very important themes: how absence of dream recall may be caused by fear of the inner self, and how the dream world s not only a real world but may be the source of events in the physical world.
    In a session of Jane Roberts class in June 1973 Seth had this to say to a participant who wanted to know why, if dreams are important, she could not remember hers:
    “You are still afraid of the inner self. You still do not trust your dreams, and you are afraid of them. You do not want to remember them. When you give yourselves the suggestion that you will remember your dreams…you do not mean it. You are afraid or what you might meet, and you are still afraid of one particular dream, and you know the one to which I am referring.
     “You can change the ending of the dream by understanding the nature of reality: that you form it….You must believe in the power and energy and strength and glory of your being, and know that problems are challenges for you to solve…Then face them joyfully [with] your entire self….
    “Stop cowering! Do not cower before your own belief that the inner self is frightening, or that you are a bad person, or that while you are good, there are bad things hidden down there. Tell yourself, and convince yourself, that since you area part of All That Is, you are in your own way, now, a unique expression of All That Is, and there is nothing in All That Is to be afraid of and there  is nothing in you to be afraid of.”
     Later in that session Seth comes to his favorite theme:
    “How real is a dream? What makes you think that there is any difference between what you think of as a dream and what you think of as reality? You assume that a dream is less real; yet through what you think of as your dreaming life, you make your physical life…You choose in the dream state the probable realities that you will then make physical.”

Thursday, March 19, 2020

When the Bull was My Healer

I am going to continue to post and repost some of my personal narratives of healing through the imagination in the hope that they may arouse you to work more actively with your personal imagery, your animal spirits, and your inner guides. I recorded this experience in Barcelona on February 13, 2013

There are occasional penalties for living and traveling as I did [before the pandemic]. Sunday before last, I flew back from Hawaii to the frozen Northeast, a journey of almost 20 hours including a redeye overnight flight. I enjoyed three days at home, in temperatures nearly 70 degrees F below where I had come from, then caught another series of planes, including another redeye, to Frankfurt, arriving for breakfast last Friday. The temperature here was only 60 degrees F lower than in Hawaii. No problem, then, in walking around the part of the city where I was staying for three hours in a light coat, under slightly heavier snow.
    As we entered the weekend, I noticed I had major symptoms of oncoming cold or flu. I tried to drive these away by eating like a bear at breakfast and dinner, and did not let my condition interfere with the workshop, where we had a royally good time. But, with my nasal passages largely blocked, I found it hard to get more than two hours sleep at night. No problem, I told myself. I had already planned to spend a few days in Barcelona between Frankfurt and another depth workshop I was leading in Utrecht the following weekend. I looked forward to exploring Gaudi territory and enjoying a little sun and sea .
    Fast-forward to 3:30 a.m. today, Wednesday, in Barcelona. I am hunched over the sink in the bathroom, my chest screaming with pain when I cough, and a slosh of stuff I don't want to look at heaving from me to the drain. I don't get colds or flu, I have told myself for years. But this is moving very fast, towards bronchitis and possibly pneumonia. I recall, without cheer, how fast that happened when I was a boy, and suffered life-threatening bouts of double pneumonia twelve times over eight years, between the ages of three and eleven. I thought I had put all that behind me, and found a way to show up in this body on a reliable basis, at least on most days.
    I'll need to find a doctor, I realize. Or at least see if a local pharmacy would sell me some powerful antibiotics without the formality of a prescription. Back to bed, my chest aching. At least, with this sudden and serious descent of my condition down through the respiratory system, I could breathe a little through the nose.
    I lie on my back, finding some slight comfort in the surprising quiet of this part of Eixample  (the Gaudi-era section of Barcelona outside the Old City), hoping for at least a little rest. I continue to be gripped by a sense that my condition is serious, and could get very much worse. Okay, I tell myself. Try your own stuff. Start by asking for help, and ask the right way.
    It takes me some thinking before I get the words of my petition right. Speaking to the Universal Healer, I say, "I ask for the health my body requires to serve the purposes of the soul." Wait, let's be more specific. "I ask for the health my body requires to serve my purposes as teacher, creator, writer, healer and father." From somewhere in the depths, I sense approval.
    Then a power rushes into me, entering me from behind, around the kidneys. Its wild rush and its potency reminds me of the bull, and I recall my encounter, walking the city the previous day, with the thinking bull of the Rambla de Catalunya. I feel this huge, bull-like energy spreading all through me, expanding my energy field. I start to feel huge, and strong.
    I feel a second stream of energy, rising like a great serpent from the Earth, up through the soles of my feet, and through all of my energy centers.. And  yet another stream, a tremendous flood of light comes washing  down through my crown to join the others in dynamic, confluent movement.    

Now a strong vision forms spontaneously, showing me how my body has been invaded and how its defenders are now moving with decision to trap and destroy the invaders. The scene resembles the barbican of a medieval castle. The barbican was the space between an outer and an inner gate, in front of the main castle walls. It was designed as a death trap for attackers who managed to break through the portcullis of the outer gate. Once invaders got inside the barbican, the defenders could seal the outer gate, leaving the inner gate closed, and then massacre the intruding force by firing arrows into it through slits in the inner walls and sometimes in a roof structure overhead. Hurling down stones and pouring boiling oil over the invaders were also popular defense stratagems.
     I watch with delight as the defenders of my immune system dealt with my body's invaders. Now I see the brilliance of allowing the agents of infection through the outer gate, into the death trap. I watch the mass execution of the germs under the direction of a lordly figure wearing the silver antlers of a stag on his helm. As the attack falters and the grisly germ-warriors die, I see a giant of my cause, wearing the horns of a bull, wading among my body's enemies, finishing them off with his great ax.
     I leap from the bed, absolutely certain that my battle has been won. I go to the bathroom and cough over the sink. No pain. The phlegm that comes out is now brown, not green or yellow. I am expelling the corpses of the illness army. I feel vastly restored.
     When I return to bed and close my eyes, I am back at the scene of battle. Again, it is vividly alive and the action has clearly continued during my bathroom break. I am delighted to see that the defense forces are now scouring out the space of the barbican. Finally the bull-knight summons women in long white dresses to finish the cleaning, checking that no marks appear on their fine white linen.
     I am quite sure I am good to go.
     I get out and about happily that morning, and travel on to my next workshop full of bright energy.

What can you take from my story? For starters, the need to recognize that we have inner as well as outer resources and can invoke greater powers for healing. It is very important to set our intentions wisely. If we are going to engage the active support of those greater powers, we must do more than ask for a quick fix, or recycle some hand-me down stuff. It is no less important to trust in the vital reality of the imagination, and to work with the spontaneous images that come to us. And to recognize that the most propitious time for adventures in imaginal healing may come in the twilight zone between sleep and awake.

The key takeaways are these:

1. Remember to ask for help from greater powers
2. Be ready to work with animal spirits and mythic allies
3. Imagine that if an infection has entered your body it can be confined in a holding space and defeated there without gaining access to all of your body. My spontaneous imaginal battle, played out in what seemed to be the barbican of a medieval castle, becomes extraordinarily relevant when we look at the spikes of the virus, so reminiscent of a medieval war mace.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Healing with an artist's brush

In these crazy times, I am going to repost some of the pieces I have written about imaginal healing: how we can draw on inner resources, dreams and creative imagination to help ourselves and others. I am privileged to work with many visual artists, and I know they will be nourished by the marvelous vision,in a French novel by Henry Bauchau, of healing a disease brushstroke by brushstroke, Perhaps this will arouse the artist in each of us, to take up the brush of imagination, or the literal paint brush, or both.

He is a pyromaniac, but he burns only what he loves. She meets him at the port of a Mediterranean city, sketching vivid but unromantic scenes of seagulls converging on the barges collecting refuse from garbage trucks. She sees him crumple and burn his drawings, one after another. Strangely, as one of his sketches burns, it lifts high into the air and becomes a fiery seagull.
     He is Florian, a legend among art collectors and gallery owners. To burn even the most tentative of his sketches is to burn a banknote of the highest denomination. He is a man who has been fleeing certain things all of his life. The young woman has also come to this southern port in hopes of escape, from a disease which is never named but whose nature we can guess from the way the cells multiply and progress, like those moving mountains of garbage in the harbor.
     The young woman becomes the elderly artist's helper, the one he can lean on in every sense. As she gives to him, we understand that he is giving to her. He embarks on a new series of paintings, making her model for him. She cannot understand, to begin with, why he studies her and then paints more of his pictures of steaming garbage and grim harbor walls - until she grasps that he is painting the interior of her body, the living landscapes of her disease.
     He burns and crumples, but the work progresses, until she has stripped herself naked  under his eyes and the result is a canvas that fills her with terror, a scene of a dark, intractable wall, a vista without hope. He lashes himself into a new burst of creative power and little by little something like a tunnel opens in that iron wall.

He takes his brush and digs into the wall. I suffer, we suffer together. He is digging a tunnel through the middle of my illness. He drives it through with his brushes...He knows me...I have the impression that an enormous nail, the one that pinned the seagull that resembled me, now pins me to the wall...We are crying out together. I lose consciousness, with the sense that I am swimming, naked, in a very calm blue-grey ocean...

When she returns to herself, the artist shows her his last image. A deep tunnel goes through the rubble and rotting garbage, all the way through that terrible, unyielding wall. through the tunnel, she sees two white seagulls flying towards open blue water and a rising sun. Her heart leaps.

Beyond happiness, incandescent joy rises in me. I think only of the two seagulls winged by wild freedom, the harsh and savage freedom of the world.

When she goes to the doctors for her next tests, they are dumbfounded. There is no trace of her disease. The artist has burned it out of her with his fiery brush.

This is a summary of the passage through art into healing described in an extraordinary novel by Henry Bauchau titled Déluge. It is an inspired and mobilizing vision of imaginal healing by a deeply wounded healer, and I recommend it strongly to all readers who can cope with the French language.
    The story takes us further, into Florian's work on an immense canvas that holds the whole experience of the Flood. Bauchau's word-pictures take us right inside a great artist's perception of color, and a creator's trembling sense that the same powers that can make a world can also destroy it.
     Not the least remarkable thing about this novel is that the author completed it at the tender age of 96. Bauchau (1913-2012), a poet, dramatist and psychoanalyst, was born in Belgium in 1913; he was a friend of Albert Camus and fought with the French Resistance and the Ardennes during World War II. 

Déluge by Henry Bauchau is published by Actes Sud, 2010. The translations are my own.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Imaginal Healing in the Realm of the Goddess

Imagery is healing. The trick is to find the right imagery that the body believes and will act upon  fast. In these scary times, as we try to cope with a pandemic, I am being asked more than ever where we can find the images for inner healing and protection. Let me offer a personal case of imaginal healing from infection in the realm of the Goddess. This report is from my journal for June 21, 2014.

When Sekhmet licked the Hyenas

I spent a very rocky night after my long journey from the United States to Istanbul. My body had been depleted by 23 straight hours of travel, more than half of it spent in the recycled air of airplane cabins. I had also been exposed to some rather murky psychic influences, not to mention a drunken neighbor who not only sprayed me with his miserable view of life but with some horrendous sneezing, insufficiently contained by the back of his grubby hand.
    I found myself coughing and coughing, and by three in the morning the infection had rushed down my bronchial chords, hurting my chest and making me rush to the bathroom sink to throw up. I was appalled to realize that whatever infection had gotten inside me, my body's exhausted immune system was letting it go where it wanted. What to do?.
    I lay on my back on the bed in my room and basically said in my mind, I could use a little help.
    The image of Sekhmet, as I had met her and led others to meet her in my Egyptian workshop the previous weekend, filled my inner screen and brought all my inner senses vividly alive.  Her eyes were red as carnelian, red as murder, as one of her praise poems has it. She was mad at the agents of my infection. With her came a whole pride of lions.
    They soon defined a field of battle. I understood that they were going to fight whatever was making me sick. Something slashed at me from behind. I turned to see a rabid hyena. Ah yes, the right form for an adversary of my lion protectors. Lions and hyenas are mortal enemies.
     There seemed to be hundreds of hyenas, but they had no real chance against Sekhmet, in furious Eye of Ra mode, and her pride. The lions slaughtered hyenas until the survivors fled the field, then moved over the ground of battle licking up any nasty stuff that remained. I felt this as deep healing inside my body.
     There was a small catch. I had been wounded by the hyena who attacked me from behind. But now Sekhmet tongued the wound, erasing it, restoring my energy field.
     I turned on my side, profoundly grateful, knowing that the crisis was over. My immune system was fully functional again, and I had all the help I needed.
     As I lay on my left size, a beautiful lioness my own size settled full-length on the bed, facing me. I felt the warmth of her body. I felt her breathing her energy into me. We lay together like lovers, hearts beating together.
    I have been more than fine since the night the lions licked the hyenas.

I have learned that I have an imaginal metabolism, a mythic constitution. My body responds at astonishing speed to the images I permit it to entertain. When the images come charged with mythic, transpersonal power, they work wonders. My experience with Sekhmet and the sickness hyenas is a fresh example. My book The Boy Who Died and Came Back contains many more.
     I think we are all alternately beneficiaries and victims of the power of imagination. We want to learn how to use it well, and how to draw on those greater powers. This starts with becoming more conscious of the stories we are living, and the images we invite to live in us.

Shamanic Dreaming with the Goddesses of Rebirth: This is a new 7-week online video course I am leading for The Shift Network. Classes begin on April 9. You can take part in a free introductory mini-workshop on Saturday March 21.
Photo of Sekhmets at the Louvre by Robert Moss. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

From the Indisciplined Territories

March 16, 2020
In a time of lockdowns, plane cancellations and shuttered restaurants, adventures in dream travel are more welcome than ever. Last night I enjoyed the company of a fascinating group that included a prince of Persia and a French aristo who asked me to make a picture for a countess who will invite me to her villa at Cap St Jean. A very exclusive travel agency handled all the arrangements and sent me an exotically beautiful young assistant


I slowly take in the unusual patterns of paint and ink on her brown face. Her cheeks are covered with fine ink that may be pictographic script. Some of the symbols look like musical notes. Over her mouth are crossed diagonal bars of red paint. The shape reminds me of heraldry. Though bars over the mouth might suggest an effort to suppress the voice, the opposite effect is at play here. She speaks clearly and strongly, in British Empire English with an island lilt.

She tells me she is from The Indisciplined Territories. Is she joking? Oh no. "They call us the Indisciplined Territories because no one dares to take us on." Her enunciation is precise. Indisciplined, not merely Undisciplined. She describes a small group of islands and atolls defined as dependencies of a recognized group with a double name I don’t quite get; it sounds like Bones-and-Something....

I emerge from this encounter excited and intrigued. As usual, my dream sets me research assignments, tracking names of places and people and of the strange conveyance, like a miniature carousel on wheels, that took us through a forest.  It was called a "coneebo", possibly written as conibo. I may look into indigenous traditions of face paint and tattoos. 

I will not waste a moment on analysis. A dream like this is, first and last,an adventure in another world. Some elements may spill over into my physical reality but I am satisfied with the adventure in its own right. I will draw on its creative energy with pencil and colors and keyboard. Maybe I can draw and paint the relief map I was showing people in the dream. Perhaps it will reveal the location of The Indisciplined Territories.

I wonder whether I have made the picture the countess wants. If so, can I expect an invitation to Cap St. Jean Ferrat? I am unlikely to get there by plane in the near future, but dream flight is always available and I do have a very special travel agent to call.

Follow-up: dream directed research

I was soon reminded that the Conibo are an Amazonian people and rapid research online produced many photos of elaborate face painting, for which women are the artists. Catalog copy for an exhibition at the Museum of Natural History in New York titled "Body Art:Marks of Identity" included this:

"The intricate rectilinear and curvilinear designs that cover the faces, clothing, houses, ceramics and other objects of the [Shipibo-Conibo] cultures on the Ucayali River of the upper Amazon in Peru derive from the origin of the world, when everything in the universe was covered with such lines in a continuous unified design. The original patterns were lost, or obscured, due to misdeeds of failed proto-humans, but they are still present everywhere if one can see them. Male shamans can reclaim the patterns through hallucinogenic visions and relay them to artists who bring them back into the world through the decorations they create on objects. The women artists are aided in realizing the intricate patterns by placing the colorfully veined leaf of the iponquene plant over their eyelids before they start — the plant is named after a complexly patterned armor-headed catfish. These harmonious designs are associated with human cultivation and prosperity. In rituals, shamans can sing the tunes of songs from this labyrinth of lines."

I have not yet found an image of the barred pattern over the mouth and chin displayed by the exotic travel assistant in my dream.

Journal drawing by Robert Moss

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Egyptian dreams: I’ll See Your Snakes and Raise You

Yet again, I am dreaming of Egypt, the Egypt of mythistory and the Egypt of the imagination. From last night's dream report:

A drama is unfolding in the courtyard of a villa in ancient Egypt. Huge snakes, larger than humans, rise above on of the walls, raised up like cobras. Sometimes there are five, sometimes seven. On the other side of the compound are beings who can appear as humans or cats. There is contention between these forces. I am here to mediate, to make a balance. I have no fear of the serpents and I know the cat people have my back.

I approach the door of the house with the typescript of a book. I know this is what is needed to make peace. What may be a snake or an arm darts through the open door and carries my book to where it is needed. I know this is successful.

 Later I am with leaders of an esoteric order. The chief is a very old, very large woman. She may be deceased, projecting a form like the one she had near the end of physical life. Her right-hand man, the Warden, is also very old but maintains a military bearing. He is wearing a dark blue suit of heavy wool. They want me to understand that the correct use and pronunciation of a word with hidden vowels is essential. I have to figure this out; they won't just give me the combination. I see the owl glyph, doubled, and hear the consonants M M. I play with sounds like Mama. Then I see the owl glyph followed by the glyph of an open mouth and hear the consonants as M R. This brings me to MARI – and maybe Mary? It seems she is the very heart of the mysteries. 

Feelings: Excited, intrigued

Reality check: I am again immersed in Egyptian studies. Yesterday I was reading The Dawning Moon of the Mind, Susan Brind Morrow’s beautiful rendition of the poetic text from the Pyramid of Unis (also spelled Unas). Long ago I was stirred to the roots of my being when I read earlier translations  of related texts in the splendid recreation of chambers from the mastaba tomb of Unis’s son, Unis-Ankh, at the Field Museum in Chicago. I have been studying hieroglyphs again, partly inspired by the remarkable work of Normandi Ells, whose new book Hieroglyphic Words of Power is being published this year.  I have a hunch that I know the identity of the esoteric luminaries in the last scene. They dreamed of Egypt too. As so often, my dreams have set me research assignments. And maybe another book to write?

Drawings from Robert Moss journal

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Tarot by your own design

One of the fun assignments in my Tarot workshops is for everyone to produce a sketch of a personal tarot card, based on discoveries and imagery that came to them during the program. There is no shortage of material, since our Tarot for Dreamers playshops include theater and performance, journeys through the doorways of the cards, monologues in the voices of both major and minor arcana as well as readings for ourselves and each other in many different styles.
     In  a Tarot workshop, I produced sketches of several cards. The card that demanded my closest attention was the Four of Swords. In a Celtic Cross spread, it had come up in the position of my Hopes and Fears. I had seen it in the same place before, in another recent reading, and realized that I needed to explore why this number card - a benign one in the sometimes scary and clanking procession of the Swords - might speak to me of my Hopes and Fears.
     My personal name for the Four of Swords is Rest. My catch phrase for it is "Time Off". Weapons are laid down or hung up on the walls. We have moved beyond the pain and grief and possible self-laceration of the Three of Swords; we are not yet menaced by the terrible mental strife of the Five of Swords. A period of calm and relaxation might certainly figure among my hopes; why would is also be a source of fear?
     In one of our exercises, I drummed for the group, inviting our participants to step through the frame of a selected card, as through a door, to learn more about the character of the card within its own realm. When I let my mind travel through the frame of the Four of Swords, I saw metal pens hanging on a wall. They were the Zebra F-402 pens, inexpensive but elegant, that I often use.
     Inside the scene I strolled from a writing nook through an open doorway into a rather Hawaiian setting with a sandy beach, palm trees, a lounger near the water. A great place for rest and relaxation, imagined or physical. Then why the fear? I looked back into the writing space and saw one of my pens lying on top of an unfinished manuscript. Ah, yes. Now I saw it. The writer in me - who might be the creator and producer in other contexts also - fears rest periods because he knows that starting up a project that has been left for a while requires overcoming the heavy weight of inertia. 

     So I produced a personal version of the Four of Swords with the hope of delightful R&R, but also the implied fear of that pen laid to rest across the unfinished book.

For designing minds: Though "Tarot for Dreamers" is not in my current workshop schedule, we are likely to play some Tarot games in my creative retreat, "Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming" at magical Mosswood Hollow near Seattle in May and on a beautiful country estate in northern Bohemia near Ceska Skalice in August

Image: Four of Swords (c) Robert Moss