Friday, August 21, 2020

The dragon sits on your shoulder and other messages from the Index Card Oracle

One of my favorite games in my workshops is the Index Card Oracle. I get everyone in the circle to write something - a summary of a dream, an incident from memory, a reflection or a favorite quote - one one side of a 3x5 index card, as legibly as possible. We gather the cards into a deck. I then ask everyone to write down an intention for guidance, expressing this as simply and clearly as possible. ("I would like guidance on....") I then go around the circle, offering the deck. Everyone pulls a card at random. The game requires us to pretend that whatever is written on the card is a direct message from the universe in response to the intention for guidance.

The message may be obscure or ambiguous but, hey, that's how oracles stay in business long-term. As a divination deck, our Coincidence Cards can't be beat. We come up with a one-time deck, exclusively for us, that will never be used in this form again.

Of course, some of the messages are "keepers". My journals are stuffed with index cards whose inscriptions remind me of big dreams and coincidence fugues, of wildly funny incidents and of moments of insight and epiphany when we punched a hole in the surface world and saw into a deeper order of reality.

I've been looking over my collection of Coincidence Cards and I'll share some of the messages here, without attempting to recall the specific meanings that each of them assumed in the context of the intentions. Notes from the dreamworld included:

I’m in a wedding procession. As we walk down the aisle of the church and step up to the altar, I realize we have entered a diner.

Circus elephants circle around linked trunk to tail, lovingly, caringly giving each other a way to follow. Each is a leader as much as a follower.  

I’m in a large room where we each have to fly up to the ceiling every 2 or 3 minutes to breathe, as if the room is under water.

I was traveling from one space to another looking for my dad and my dog who have recently died. In what space would they now be? Are they standing in the galaxy? Are they in my dad’s house? Or in a new landscape by the sea?

 I recognized myself as a spider. The spider spits white webbing around the people. I am told, “It is a unifying force”.

The Moon goddess stands in her majesty above the Sea of Tranquility. She is flanked by her armored Moon soldiers and carried on the back of a giant crab moving gently through the sea.

The dragon sits on your shoulder. His fire breath drives back the dark.

Two men are taking me to my execution by beheading. I fight until my mother appears and tells me it will be okay. I submit myself to the execution and I am happy.

A jaguar leaps out of the forest and into the driver’s seat of a pink Firebird convertible. It morphs into a cartoon version of itself, puts on sunglasses, and drives away, waving as it says, “Hasta la vista”.

Standing near the refrigerator. The door opens, it’s packed, there is movement. Oh my, the turkeys are alive and they want to come out. Some of the messages come from observations on the roads of everyday life: My daughter hands me the feather of a blue heron and tells me I will need it this weekend.

A red passion flower lying in the roadway all alone.

A death’s head skull is floating in mid-air. I look for its origin and find that it is the reflection of a pattern on a woman’s purse.

A salmon pink trumpet-like flower opens before my eyes, bursting with joyful life

Some of the cards contain insights harvested from the workshops: 

You do not need to hunt your power. Your power will hunt you. Find a sacred space where your power can find you.

Throw out your net and fish in the River of Dreams.

The child does not need to grow up to be complete.

In playing the Coincidence Card game, we sometimes draw our own card, which is statistically improbable and often very interesting. It suggests, for one thing, that you already have the answer. You don't need to look outside yourself, only to go deeper within. Over the years, I've assembled quite a collection of cards that I wrote myself that spoke back to me in the game. Some of the messages are from dreams: 

A woman is falling to earth from a great height. I spread my falcon wings and swoop down to save her, catching her just before she hits the rocks. We soar straight up into the air before I gently bring her down to a house on a headland overlooking the water. I leave clear instructions for her on living on earth. 

Some are reflections: 

Before lightning strikes, it sends down probes to find its path to earth. In a similar way, we are rehearsed for BIG events by trial events, which may be diversions, dead-ends, first sketches or caricatures of what will come later. Don’t mistake the test drive for the big journey. 

Some are quotes: 

Everything can be taken from a man or woman but one thing, the last of human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. – Viktor Frankl 

On the last day of one of my depth workshops, I wrote on an index card a summary of an essay I had been working on in the early morning. My intention, in consulting the Index Card Oracle that day, was simply for "guidance on the week ahead". I drew a card from the deck. When my turn came to read out my message, I found I had drawn my own card. Here’s what it said: 

In the miasmic conditions of life on this planet, it's easy to forget the mission you came to fulfill. If you are lucky, you'll get a reminder - from a dream or another person with stars in their eyes. 

That, for me, was the right message, for the week ahead and for any week.

Now my ability to get on airplanes and lead on-site workshops has been shut down by the pandemic, I find it very satisfying – and sometimes shocking – to draw a card from the huge deck of cards I have collected in past gatherings. This brings back delicious memories and sometimes gives me starter dough for new writing and a spur to fresh projects. And messages for any day and every night.


For a full description of how to play the Coincidence Card Game, and variant versions including one for creative writing and storymaking, please see my book Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Every

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Night Journey and Ascension with Gabriel

I have been re-rereading an excellent scholarly study of early accounts of Muhammad's "night journey" under the aegis of Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic), the angelic patron of dreams and astral travel. These "primitive" narratives, like the ascension discourse of Ibn ‘Abbas, are sometimes wildly different from Islamic orthodox teachings. The first angel the Prophet encounters in Ibn ‘Abbas’ narrative is a Rooster Angel (no kidding) - a giant with emerald green and blazing white feathers whose wings spread as far as the eye can see. Its function is to wake everyone up on Earth below. 
    Then the Prophet meets an angel who is half fire and half snow, split down the middle. Somehow the fire does not melt the snow and the snow does not put out the fire. Next the traveler meets the Angel of Death, who is studying a kind of cosmic laptop on which everyone's expiration date is inscribed - with the whole Earth between his knees, so none can escape him. He now encounters the Angel of the Hell Gates.
   The Prophet's ride is the Buraq, a mystical steed with a beautiful human face.  
   There are angels all the way up, through seven heavens. They get bigger and bigger. Higher up they stand in rows, with a distance of “50,000 years” of normal travel between each row,
   Muhammad is terrified by cherubim whose bodies are full of faces, and by seas of fire and wild water. These are the “veils” of God. Gabriel gives "firmness" to Muhammad’s vision, at last leaving him to trade in the Buraq and fly up in a strange green vehicle called a rafraf (for which there is no translation). It’s been suggested that it is a flying carpet. It dips and rises like a bucket seat on a tilt-a-whirl and will interest aficionados of UFOs.
    Muhammad leaves Gabriel behind to whizz up for a face-to-face with God (an idea frowned upon by orthodox imams). God "inclines' himself until he is the distance of "two bows", then reaches between Muhammad’s shoulder blades until the Prophet feels a cold hand closing around his heart, that delivers him from fear.
     Recurringly, Muhammad falls into a swoon, from which he emerges to tour the numberless palaces of Paradise as far as the Lote Tree of the Boundary, also known as a sidr tree. He then makes his homeward journey, stopping to greet the earlier Prophets in the lower heaven (Jesus in the lowest, the First Heaven).
     The authenticity of the narrative, attributed to Ibn Abbas, a contemporary of the Prophet (he was 13 when Muhammad died) revered as the "Interpreter of the Koran" and the "Great Sea of Wisdom" is contested. Yet the scholars concur that this version of the isra (night journey) and mir'aj (ascension) is very early, and gives us some insight into the type of visionary experience - embarrassing to organized churchmen - that is the fundament of religions..
     Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, who melded Christian faith with neoplatonist philosophy, gave us in his fifth-century Celestial Hierarchy tiers upon tiers of angels, from seraphim and cherubim closest to God down to archangels and angels nearest to earth and humans.  Ibn 'Abbas has angels in myriads, ordered in rows seventy rows deep, separated on their various levels by those 50,000 years of distance which the Messenger of God is enabled to cross in an hour. When the Prophet returns to his body he finds that the jug of water overturned by the hoof of the Buraq when they took off has not finished spilling. With the help of the archangel of dreams, he has visited heavens and hells and traveled to the outermost limit of what it is possible for a human to see and know, in less than the time it takes to empty a jug of water. 

Source: The book I quote here is Frederick S. Colby, Narrating Muhammad’s Night Journey: Tracing the Development of the Ibn 'Abbas Ascension Discourse (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2009). 

Art: Mounted on the Buraq,watched over by Gabriel, the Prophet visits the paradise of ḥūrīs Illustration from the Mi‘rājnāma (Book of Ascension) from the Timurid period in Persia, c.1436. In the Bibliothèque nationale de France

Sunday, August 16, 2020

When Zeus sent a deceptive dream

I was asked the following question,  "Can a dream ever be misleading or false? 
Or are dreams always based in truth, vision and foreshadowing?"

My immediate response: With dreams, as with anything else, we want to check on the reliability of our sources, trust our feelings, test and verify and apply that rare commodity, common sense!
    The dream archaeologist in me then recalled a most instructive story about deceptive dreams from the Iliad..
     For the early Greeks, Homer was the closest thing to the Bible. One of the things they learned from him was that the powers beyond ordinary humans speak through dreams, but can also use dreams to transmit deceptive messages. And that we want to check what is behind the mask of a dream messenger. A familiar face may be a disguise, and we want to grasp the motives and agenda of the guiser.
    In a scene in Book II of the Iliad, Zeus decides to avenge the honor of his protege Achilles, who is sulking in his tent, by making it clear to the Greeks that he is the indispensable hero. Zeus lays a trap for Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek host, who has dishonored Achilles. 
    Zeus summons Oneiros and orders him to deliver a misleading message to Agamemnon. The name Oneiros means "Dream". Here a dream is actually a dream messenger, an independent entity. 
   To carry out Zeus' command, Oneiros puts on the semblance of Nestor, a trusted comrade of Agamemnon, and visits the sleeping king in this form. Standing over Agamemnon's head, the dream visitor tells him - quoting Zeus himself -that the gods are no longer taking sides in the war. Therefore the  Greeks should make haste to attack Troy, which will fall easily.
    Trusting the dream, Agamemnon recounts it to his battle captains, and they launch their attack - only to find that the walls of Troy are not easily breached, and they cannot succeed without making amends to Achilles and bringing him back into the fray.
     We see that in dreams, as in other situation, we want to check the reliability of our sources.
    The Odyssey, too, is full of masks and disguises, in dreams and in other places. To prepare Nausicaa, princess of Phaeacia, for the arrival of the hairy, naked shipwrecked man who is her protege Odysseus, Athena puts on the dream mask of the princess' trusted friend.In another scene, Odysseus himself observes to the goddess that she is difficult to know because she takes so many forms.
     It is an old Greek saying that the gods love to travel in disguise.
     But the Greeks feared human sorcerers who could travel under masks and send deceptive or bewildering dreams.
There are many stories in later Greek literature about human "dream senders" -  - who abused their psychic skills in this way. 
     Egyptian magicians were reputed to be especially good (that is to say, bad) at this. In a romance of Alexander by pseudo-Callisthenes, the last native-born king of Egypt, Nectanebo, visits the mother of Alexander the Great wearing the mask and ram's horns of the god Amon. She  yields to the supposed god, and Alexander is on his way.
    In his treatise on divination, Cicero observed of Homer's depiction of dreams, , “although these stories were made up by a poet, they are not far from the usual matter of dreams.” 

Image: "The Winged Man (Fallen Angel)" by Odilon Redon (c.1880)

So you want to be a writer

I have a few simple rules for the practice of writing:

1. Keep a journal. Write in it every day - your dreams, your thoughts, something you saw in the street or in the clouds, something you read. Keep your journal secret. This is just for you.No judgment, no critics or editors, no consequences.

2. Read every day. Go on reading binges. Appreciate books that are less than perfect, because they will help you to see what you may truly be able to do better. Notice what grabs you and what leaves you yawning.This will help you recognize your natural genre.

3. Write for a short and specified time every day. 15 minutes is great, 5 minutes will do. I time myself with a quarter hourglass. I write until the blue sand runs out, and sometimes for a few minutes more, but it is important tp respect the time limit. This practice is different from keeping a journal. Now you are writing The Book. You may be clueless about the shape of the book to begin with, but if a story wants to come through, it will reveal its form and its dimensions.

When your project has taken shape, and you are ready to set deadlines and send out proposals characters, do this:

4. Apply the work habits that worked for you in the past.What work habits and schedules have made you most productive in any field in the past? Have you done best on a daily 9-5 schedule,or on wild overnight rushes to meet a deadline?Do you do better in solitude or among workmates or with a partner? Apply those past habits to your writing project.

5. Shhhhhhhhh. Don't waste energy and lose magic by talking to much about that book or script you are working on. If being in a writing group suits you, well and good. However, don't talk to the world at large about what you are doing or not doing. And avoid, like the plague, the feedback felons who bring you down instead of saying what you need to hear from a creative friend, which is More, More!

I am about to publish my 26th book, Growing Big Dreams: Manifesting Your Heart's Desires through Twelve Secrets of Imagination. I am still learning what it means to be a writer, and what risks it is necessary to take and what habits it is necessary to grow or reinforce to bring something truly new into the world. Yes, I am writing new books, different from anything I have published before.No, I cannot say any more because of rule #5.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Birth of the Kairomancer


While working on my book Sidewalk Oracles,  I tried to come up with a new word to describe the phenomenon of meaningful coincidence. Jung coined the word "synchronicity" because he was frustrated by the difficulty we have in talking coherently about coincidence. "Synchronicity" is actually a very unsatisfactory term, since in its literal derivation, it refers only to phenomena occurring at the same time, while synchronistic events - as Jung was well aware -may play out over extended periods of time.
     Wolfgang Pauli,the quantum physicist who helped Jung develop his theory of synchronicity, insisted that the key element in this phenomenon is isomorphy, which means the identity or strong similarity of forms. Things resemble one another. What is inside us is around us, and a symbol recurs in both worlds. auli dreamed that "we must build cathedrals to isomorphy" and encouraged Jung to adopt the term. But Jung cleaved to "synchronicity" and since it sounds respectable and scientific, many of us use it to allay the skepticism and confusion that arise at the mention of "coincidence".
     I had the sense, however, that we can do better. I considered older terms for meaningful coincidence and what generates it, from correspondence and confluence to sympathy and signatures, from wryd to weirder. I played with some neologisms of my own,but found them awkward. 
    I dreamed the word "reincidence", for a riff of coincidence. I thought that was cool,but not the suitcase term I was seeking. I reviewed the central elements in the experience of synchronicity:

-          You know it when you feel it.
     There is a meetup between what is on your mind and what is in the world around you.
-          You know that this is a special moment, a moment of revelation.            
           You may feel that ordinary time has been suspended.           
           You may feel epiphany, a lifting of the veil of the regular world.-          
           You feel the universe just got personal.
     You sense that a hidden hand is giving you a secret handshake or pushing you pack.
     You feel it in your shivers.

It is easier to describe the experience than to account for it. The trick is to apply the phenomenon, to use for navigational guidance, to make it part of a personal, practice method of divination: a mantic art.
      I ask myself, what word would Jung use for synchronicity now that he is living outside time? Wouldn’t he want to remove the Chronos who lives on in the word, as the younger gods overthrew old Chronos and jailed him in a cave? 
|    I ponder this under the shower. I recollect that in Greek, there are two kinds of time. Chronos time is what we observe when we look at a clock and measure out our days. The name of the old god lives on in words like chronology and chronometer, and of course in that slightly problematic word synchronicity.
     Then there is Kairos time, the time of a younger and less predictable god. Kairos time is the "appointed time", when powers and movements of a deeper world irrupt into our regular lives, when the Greater Trumps are in play. 
    Kairos time is risky time, offering both opportunity and danger, the excitement of living on the edge. Lynn Haupt says beautifully in Crow Planet, "It is a time brimming with meaning, a time more potent than 'normal' time."
    Kairos is the god of special moments, when time works differently or seems suspended. He is the lord of jump time, opportunity time, of what Jung once called - in dialogue with Mircea Eliade - a "rupture in time" (that is to say, Chronos time).
     In the iconography Kairos was depicted as a handsome youth. He is fast and slippery.When he appears, bringing perhaps amazing opportunity, you have to grab him while he is on front of you. His hair curls over his forehead but the back of his head is bald.Once he's sped by you, there is nothing to grab. This is the origin of our phrase "seize time by the forelock". 
     The celebrated Greek sculptor Lysippos carved his image, showing a winged figure with a razor and hair hanging down over his face. As explained by Poseidippos, the razor is "a sign to men that I am sharper than any sharp edge." His hair hangs over his face because "he who meets me must take me by the forelock." The back of his head is bald because "once I have sped by none can seize me from behind." 
     It comes to me, standing naked as Kairos on the bathroom tiles with a towel in my hand, that I have a word for the practice of navigating by synchronicity.
      Kairomancy. Divination by special moments of Kairos time. Develop this practice and you become a kairomancer, someone who is always poised to recognize and act in those special Kairos moments of opportunity.
     In my book Sidewalk Oracles, I lay out the basic rules of kairomancy. I summarize the key qualities and qualifications for a kairomancer as:


Don’t worry. It’s not a solemn pledge but a mnemonic. To navigate by synchronicity and catch Kairos moments, we need to be 

Open to new experience
Available, willing to set aside plans and step out of boxes
Thankful, grateful for secret handshakes and surprises, and ready to
Honor our special moments by taking appropriate action.

Part of this text is adapted from Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Image: a copy of Lysippos' carving of Kairos

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Following a map from a dream in the Mabinogion


Reading the great cycle of Welsh epics known as the Mabinogion with the eye of a dreamer, we can discern an ancient account from the British Isles of the technique I call dream reentry – going back inside a dream in a conscious journey.

What follows is a simple retelling of the central part of a wonder story from the Mabinogion called "The Dream of Macsen Wledig". King Macsen is the Emperor of Rome, and the dream woman who becomes his queen is Elen of Britain.

The King Who Dreams, and Reenters His Dream

A great king is out hunting with his men when he is overcome by the sudden urge to nap, under the heat of the sun. His men make a tent for him with their shields, set up on spears, on the slope beside the river, and once the king is away, floating rather than riding towards a mountain upstream that seems to touch the sky.

Beyond the mountain, he comes to a great plain, and beyond this a great harbor where he crosses a bridge made of ivory to board a ship that speeds him to a beautiful island in a Western sea. He surveys the whole land, and enters a castle where he finds two handsome young men playing a board game that is something like chess but has different plays and much greater stakes. Beyond them, a white-haired man with the air of majesty is enthroned in a chair with two eagles, fashioning new pieces for the game. In front of the royal game-maker is a woman who shines like the sun, lovely in her flowing white garment and red-gold clasps and armlets and necklaces, flashing with jewels. She rises to greet the traveler, and they are joined in an embrace that claims the king's heart. They fit together, as one, on her throne.

When the noise of the world pulls him out of his dream, the king's vital energy stays there. His soul has been claimed. He wants only to go back inside his dream and live with his beloved. His followers become troubled when he no longer joins their pleasures or speaks in their councils. When they confront him, warning him it is being said that the king is no longer fit to rule, the king tells his dream. The wise ones of the kingdom confer. They advise him to send his men out to search the world, for three full years, to find the woman of his dream. Perhaps the hope that she can be found will enable the king to keep enough of himself in the body to perform his duties. Nobody questions that the dream woman exists. She is somewhere, because the king finds her there whenever he dreams.

The searchers go out, and they fail in their mission. Now the advisers have a better idea: the seekers if the king returns to the place of his dream, and sets out from there in the direction he traveled in his dream, perhaps he will recognize the landmarks of his dream and they will take him to the lady who shines like the sun. The king delegates thirteen envoys to try this. They find the mountain that touches the sky, and the ivory bridge to the ship that takes him to the Western island, and the castle where young men play a game while a kingly man makes new pieces....and the woman who shines like the sun. She is not impressed by their rank and power. She will not go with them. If their king wants her, he most come and pay court to her himself.

So the king takes the road of his dream, and finds her sitting with her royal father as he makes pieces for the game that is no ordinary game. The golden-haired woman leaps into his embrace. They make love that night, and are married, and the king shares his power and his possessions with her as she directs.

 Just as she gave the king a road to her in his dreams, it is now the pleasure of this Lady of the Ways to make roads across the land. The has three castles built in different parts of Britain and has great causeways built between them. So she is called Ellen of the Ways.


Scholars discuss the history that has been shapeshifted in this tale, and mostly agree that a Spanish general in the armies of Rome - one Magnus Maximus - most closely resembles Macsen, although there are huge differences between their careers. Caitlin Matthews helps us to swim in the deeps of this Celtic tale of a dreaming king in her splendid book King Arthur and the Goddess of the Land.

If we will only go deep enough into this story, we may discover, like the king, the way to bring soul back into the body and marry the worlds.    The map is inside the dream. Though the road brings love and healing and power in the physical world, the road moves through two worlds.

When the trackers, and then the king himself, go back to the place of the dream, they also practice dream reentry. The mountain as high as the sky is no worldly mountain; the bridge of ivory is no ordinary gangway. The most important part of the journey to the beloved of the soul - who is also a goddess of the land, and in this version the Sovereignty of Britain - is a dream journey.

Illustration: Ernest Charles Wallcousins (1883-1976), "Dream Maiden Visits Angus"




Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The matriarch on the golf cart: welcomed to the future by the deceased

I always pay close attention to dreams that unfold around the turning of the year. They may give a feel for the quality of the year ahead and sometimes contain clear glimpses of the possible future. In the early hours of January 2 this year, I entered the following report in my dream journal:

2020 1.2 New Year's Night


Invited to a Famous Women's Retreat

I am invited to lead a program at a famous women's retreat center in the rural Midwest. The legendary founder - an aged and immense matriarch - drives up in a golf cart while I am being given a tour of the rural property. She greets me warmly and I treat her with appropriate respect 

Feeling/reality check. I welcomed this dream as both a glimpse of a possible coming event and as lovely confirmation, as a mere man, that my work is of service to women.

Action: The dream had sufficient energy for me to draw the matriarch on her golf cart. I resolved to be ready to receive a corresponding invitation.  

I included a summary of the dream in a selection of "Dreams of Epiphany" (reported over the week before January 6) in my new book Growing Big Dreams

When the pandemic shut down all my travel plans,I mentally filed my dream of the matriarch on the golf cart as a glimpse of a possible future that had been rendered inactive.Clearly I would not be traveling to that rural campus this year. 

Then my friend Normandi Ellis -renowned for transporting us into the mind of ancient Egypt - approached me to sound out whether I would be willing to give presentations for at the annual conference of a Spiritualist association. Normally their gatherings take place at a center inIndiana, but this year the conference would be conducted remotely, via zoom. I said I would be honored, and my calendar was open for their October dates because I can no longer jump on airplanes to foreign destinations.. 

I did not fully grasp the connection to my dream until I received the contract from the association this week. The address of the association is  "Historic Camp Chesterfield". I promptly sent my January 2 journal report and drawing to Normandi, who fired back this response:

Ha! Yes, it was about Camp Chesterfield! Mabel Riffle who ran this place for 50 years was known to tour the grounds in her golf cart to see how everything was going. There is even a portrait of her in the Art Gallery here. I'll send it when I find it. BTW. I live in Mabel's house.  

When Normandi found the portrait I was amazed and delighted to see that it shows Mabel (on the right) standing by an old-fashioned golf cart with her mother.  

Normandi noted that Mabel Riffle presided over Camp Chesterfield with great authority and presence for half a century. We agreed it would be most appropriate for the leader of a Spiritualist association to welcome me, in spirit, to a conference where I will be speaking about dreaming with the departed and opening paths for for personal journeys to the Other Side. 

Sometimes little stories are instructive about big things. This happy little tale of dream manifestation confirms several big things about dreaming that are deeply relevant to all our lives in these troubled times: 

* We have natural contact with the deceased in our dreams.
* We dream the possible future, scouting challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
* Dreaming, we can travel without leaving home


Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Trees in My Life

Guest blog by Nina Shoroplova

Nina is a lover of trees, and celebrates the amazingly rich and varied world of trees in her beloved Stanley Park in Vancouver in a beautiful new book. Her foreword, tracking her life with trees, is a splendid example of how we can map our soul journey through this world in connection with the natural world around us. I am grateful to Nina and to her publisher, Heritage House, for giving us permission to post this excerpt from Legacy of Trees: Purposeful Wandering in Vancouver’s Stanley Park 

Whatever place I have called home during each stage of my life, that place and time has been associated with a specific tree or trees. I only came to realize that recently. Maybe it’s the same for you. What are the trees you can see from your window? In your backyard? Which is your favourite tree in your nearest park?

Growing up in Wales, I was a Brownie (seven- and eight-year-old girls on the path to becoming Girl Guides). My Brownie leader—the Brown Owl—taught me about the common English oak trees growing in Roath Park beside our local library in Penylan, Cardiff. I learned to recognize the oak trees’ acorns and their five- to seven-lobed leaves.

When I entered high school in Llandaff, aged eleven, I chatted with my girlfriends in the playground under the shelter of several massive horse chestnut trees. Their shiny brown conkers were appealing to the touch and decidedly collectible.

When I first married and lived at Douglas Lake Ranch in the province of British Columbia—having by then immigrated to Canada—my home was surrounded by tall black cottonwoods. This member of the poplar family has a habit of constantly dropping bits of itself: yellow-green pollen that aggravated family allergies, red blooms that stained the front path, cotton-covered seeds that made it look as though it had snowed, little branches, big branches, and finally leaves, millions and millions of leaves. These cottonwoods also spread out their roots to ensure they gained all possible goodness from the soil; it was difficult to grow anything much in that garden.

Living in Australia during the first half of the 1980s, I fell in love with the “gum trees”—the eucalyptus trees—with all of them. These flowering evergreens express their individuality through their twisted, irregular shapes, peeling barks, variety of colourful blossoms, and aromatic resin. They absolutely called to my soul. I also loved the many weeping willows that hugged the banks of a tiny stream below our house on our sheep and cattle property.

When I returned to Canada, my parents immigrated to BC too, to Victoria, BC’s capital city on Vancouver Island. Victoria is one of the few places in Canada where the arbutus tree grows really well. Although eucalyptus trees and arbutus trees belong to two different families (Myrtaceae and Ericaceae), they have many common features, at least in this high-school botanist’s eye, such as an irregularly shaped trunk and peeling bark. So, naturally, I also fell in love with the arbutus trees during the three years Victoria was my home.

In the grounds of my home in Vernon, in the Okanagan Valley, grew a mature Ginkgo biloba tree, a unique holdover genus from 270 million years ago—that is, before the days of the dinosaurs. Unmistakable fan-shaped leaves grow closely around each branch, tracing its shape; some call them butterfly leaves. One fall, every yellowed leaf on our ginkgo fell to the ground overnight, and the next day we took our family Christmas card photograph standing on a yellow carpet provided by nature.

For a while, the place I called home was shifting, and I don’t remember any particular trees. Perhaps it is the trees that tell me I am home and it’s time to spread my roots down and my branches out and up.

Now living in Vancouver’s West End many decades later, I identify with a full range of trees. The myriad of maples planted along the city’s sidewalks are glorious in their fall colours, with leaves ranging from the size of a loonie coin (one of the Japanese cultivars) to as big as a large dinner plate (the native bigleaf maples). The magnificent Caucasian wingnut on the corner of Comox and Chilco Streets is well over a hundred. The giant northern red oak in Alexandra Park, overlooking English Bay from the corner of Beach Avenue and Bidwell Street, is a West End icon. Witch hazel trees, with their constantly changing summer and fall palette, their early spring brightness, and their intoxicating scent, are among my favourites. Black locust trees, with their brilliant yellow fall colour and their big seed pods, are proud against the sky. And the enormous weeping willows at Second Beach invite one to relax.

One tree demands special attention, the weeping beech at the top end of the Shakespeare Garden in Stanley Park. When I first walked under its canopy of falling, dark green drapery, tears came to my eyes. Somehow, the generosity of that tree, offering its shade and comfort to all who stand, walk, and drive underneath its south-facing leaves, opened my heart.

As a friend says, “Trees are divine beings.”

That weeping beech reminded me of the moment in James Cameron’s movie Avatar when the Na’vi princess Neytiri takes Jake Sully to utraya mokri—the Tree of Voices—so that he too might hear the prayers of the ancestors. Before James Cameron wrote what became the climactic love scene in the movie Avatar, he must have visited Stanley Park’s most special weeping beech, with its hanging green boughs.


Book excerpt from Legacy of Trees: Purposeful Wandering in Vancouver’s Stanley Park by Nina Shoroplova. Published by Heritage House. Used with permission.

Photos: (1) A group of four weeping European birches (Betula pendula ‘Dalecarlica’) within the Vancouver Park Board’s grounds.
(2) Four weeping European birches within the Vancouver Park Board’s grounds after a snowfall.
(3) The same group the following spring.

Radio date: Your Life with Trees

Nina Shoroplova will join me for a conversation on my Way of the Dreamer radio show on Tuesday August 11 from 9:00-10:00 a.m. Pacific You can access the show via its healhylife archive to listen live download aftre.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Just-so dreams

 I always note my feelings on leaving a dream. Very often I jot down "just-so", meaning that it feels as if I have been having an entirely literal experience in a another space.That space is other than my ordinary reality in which my body has been lying dormant on the bed,but is no less real. Indeed, in our crazy shut-down time the dream space may feel more real and certainly more vibrant and mobile than the everyday world.
    Dreams are social as well as private, transpersonal as well as personal. We get out and about, far from the basement of the personal subconscious. We make visits and receive visitations. We meet people who are not merely projections or aspects of ourselves. We enter parallel worlds and alternate realities. We travel across time and space, seeing things that may play out in the future and meeting up with friends and strangers far away.
    Let me call as evidence my records from dreaming in the last two phases of sleep overnight. There is nothing extraordinary going on here and no strong feelings were aroused. I felt just-so: been there, done that. My other feelings were mild curiosity and a certain wistfulness over the fact that I can't get out and about in my regular body right now the way that I can in dreams. Nothing stronger. No sense of a call to action.No need to face a monster or call a doctor, to walk a tiger or swim to the moon, to continue a dialogue with a master teacher or bring back a book from the Total Library that has not yet been seen in this world. Had I had to rush to the airport, I might have let these little dreams go. But since March I have only been to airports in my dreams.
    I recorded six small just-so reports from my last two phases of sleep. I am glad I did so because the ordinariness of these vignettes may help to make my main point, that dreams are a field of action and interaction with others. In dreams we travel without leaving home, and can be as social as we please. Any approach to dreams that does not go beyond symbolic interpretation or rests on the narrow theory the whatever is going on in a  dream is a is part of the dreamer is going to miss the panoply of dream experience 

Here are unedited excerpts from my journal reports:

2020 August 8

dream (up at 4:00  a.m.)

New Retreat Place

I am showing a man around a retreat center where I am leading an advanced gathering. Someone comments on how the decor shifts very visibly from feminine to masculine design.  I realize that all the complex travel plans for this year must be abandoned.

I watch noisy kids go into the building in pairs from a pleasant outdoor recreation or pool area 

I lead the man to the dining room. It is very sterile, reminiscent of a diner. There are quite a lot of people there already but they are from another group. I don't recognize anyone from my group all of whose members are known to me because they have come to previous retreats. There is a second dining area. I lead the way there, hoping for a private table and more pleasant decor.

Feelings: Just-so. Mild curiosity.

Reality check: I don't recognize my male companion or this retreat center outside the dream. I could encounter them in the future. It does seem I will have to postpone all my teaching and travel plans for this year in my ordinary reality.

dreams (6:00-7:30 a.m.)

Mountain Loop

Taking a walk on a mountain path. The sun is bright but there is ice and hard packed snow. I decide to go back to the lodge but don't like the look of the ramparts of snow and ice I would need to climb. I think it will be easier to follow the trail making a big loop that will bring me to an easier access point. Walking slowly I am passed by cheerful girl hikers who are delighted by how melted snow sends little jets of water into the air. I have done this walk before but decide it is too long for me now. I turn back. If I need help climbing up I will ask for it.

Feelings: Neutral, curious.

Reality Check: This is a plausible situation. Despite my knee replacement, I have difficulty getting about on rough ground and am scared of slippery slopes. I don't recognize this locale but I could find myself there in the future. It was good to be out in the fresh mountain air. Symbolically, there are passages in life where one may need to be ready to turn back and ask for help. However, this felt like an entirely literal, just-so situation.

Dreamwork at a Table in Europe

With a friend at a big table in a restaurant in a European city. She gives me an update on her activities and we do dreamwork with several dream reports she shares.

Feelings: Glad to see my friend.

Reality Check: I think I know that restaurant. 

Action: Check whether my friend remembers a restaurant meeting from her dreams overnight. 

Deep Reading 

A man talks to me about a plan for deep reading he is following. This in involves reading or re-reading a list of books in a prescribed sequence with parallel reading encouraged at certain points. I suggest he should add Alejo Carpentier's The Lost Steps

Feelings: Cheerful

Reality check: Without much of a plan, I have lots of books on the go at any given time, skipping back and forth. I learn so much by re-reading old favorites. I loved The Lost Steps, which I first read in high school, and if I can find my copy in my forest of books I shall add it to my current reading pile. I don't recognize the man in the dream. I am willing to entertain the notion that he is an aspect of myself that approaches things with more planning than I do, but again he feels like another person altogether.

Call to an Author

I have the phone number of a famous author with an Italian surname. I decide to call him. I admire his work and would like to engage his support for a new book project. When I call, it is like listening in on a party line. His wife delivers his eulogy but in a robotic monotone. His son is lively and friendly but has a hard time speaking over the monologue. The writer seems to be taking a nap but when I ask the son to get his dad he says he'll do it without asking who I am. However the man I want has not come on the call when I leave the dream. 

Feelings: Lively curiosity

Reality: I don't recognize the name I recorded (not included here) but I guess I have been given a detective assignment I do hope to birth some new books in different genres, and will be glad of support. 

Action: Maybe I'll manage to reenter to dream and complete that phone call.

As I complete this inventory I see that the "little" dreams are maybe not so trivial after all, and that a couple contain leads I will want to follow in one reality or another. 
    Whatever exactly is going on, all these episodes are examples of "just-so" dreams, leaving the sense of been there, done that - in another room, another land or another world. " They invite exploration rather than interpretation. I often find myself asking detective questions: Who, What, When,Where...Why?
    After a night of a dozen or more of these outings, my dominant feeling may be "travel worn" or "jet-lagged"....

Thursday, August 6, 2020

On "bad" dreams and trash dreams

I've often said that dreams - including scary dreams and nightmares - are not on our case but on our side, in the sense that they show us things we need to see and to deal with.
    However, I am not of the opinion that all night experiences come in the service of health and wholeness, except in the sense that we can regard anything that comes up in life as a possible learning experience.
    Every ancient and indigenous culture that I know teaches that there are bad things that can try to enter our space in the night, and bad neighborhoods in the dreamworld in which we can get mugged. Hence the dreamcatcher, originally a spider web, intended to catch and keep out bad dreams and bugs, and other apotropaic rituals and procedures, including prayer to divine guardians. Hence traditional rituals for dispersing the energy of a bad dream right away.
   The ancient Assyrians sought to remove the contamination of bad dreams by rubbing the body with a lump of earth that was believed to absorb the unwanted energy. The lump would then be destroyed, preferably by breaking it up and scattering it over running water, so the river would dissolve it and carry it away. In the Assyrian Dream Book, we read that someone who experienced a "dark" dream should pray and then

He shall take a lump of earth, he shall recite three times the conjuration over it, he shall throw it into water. His misfortune will depart. [1] 

    The Egyptians employed similar rituals for cleansing the dreamer of from the pollution of an evil dream. In the Chester Beatty papyrus, this involved (1) telling the dream to the Great Mother - here the goddess Isis - and invoking her help and protection and (2) rubbing the face and body with bread soaked in beer and infused with myrrh and herbs. This bread-sponge was believed to be highly effective for psychic cleansing. The ingredients may seem odd, until we remember that in the ancient mind, bread and beer are both the gift of the Goddess. In the Gardiner translation, Isis says: “Come out with what you have seen, in order that the afflictions you saw in your dreams may vanish.” The ritual ends with a triumphal cry from the dreamer that he has dispelled an evil dream sent against him and is now ready to receive pleasant dreams. “Hail to thee, good dream that is seen by night or day!” [2]
    Some traditional dreaming cultures teach that it is not a good idea to share a certain type of bad dream with others, because you don't want to dwell on it and feed it with the energy of your attention, or risk spreading psychic infection. In West Africa, a traditional practice to avert the evil of a dark dream is to spit it out right away, within telling anyone about it. In Bali, in Anatolia, and in other places, there are traditional practices that involve telling - and sometimes expectorating - "bad" dreams into running water.
    Then there are dreams that are not necessarily "bad" but don't deserve attention because they are trash left over from the night before. Hawaiians have a marvelous term for trash dreams. They call them "wild goatfish dreams". Goatfish is something Hawaiians like to eat, in the right way, in the right season. But a "wild goatfish dream" - like a spicy pizza dream - is occasioned by eating the wrong way at the wrong time, and is not to be valued, but rather thrown away among the leavings of the previous night.
    As everyday practice, I would counsel anyone who feels oppressed by a bad dream to spit it out. I do mean literally. Spit it out on the ground or down the toilet. If you feel that's not enough, draw the dream image and burn it. Then think carefully about whether you really need to spend more time with that troubling night experience, and whether it is really necessary to inflict it on others. I am reminded that it was the wisdom of some Irish grandmothers, on both sides of the big pond, that you should not tell your dreams before breakfast unless you want them to come true.

1. A. Leo Oppenheim, The Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1956) p.301
2. A.H. Gardiner, Hieratic Papyri in the British Museum. Third Series. Chester Beatty Papyrus. LondonBritish Museum, 1935, in Oppenheim, op.cit., p.244.

Photos: Clay effigies of "bad" dreams, destined for release in flowing water, made by Xander Cloudwalker for a contemporary version of the ancient Mesopotamian apotropaic ritual.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Symbol migration and dream telepathy

I am rarely surprised when I hear accounts of telepathy between people who are closely connected. We sense each other's feelings (telepathy literally means "feeling at a distance'); we feel a tug in the head an know someone is calling us; we pick up sounds and smells and images relating to the other person's activities. When living across an ocean from me, one of my daughters always knew when I was cooking my fiery version of Hungarian goulash, which she detested. "Ugh, I know you were cooking that yukky stuff again." I would know when she was thinking about me, across all the miles,  because I wold smell a little girl cologne she had bought in a general store.
      Dream telepathy is very interesting because it extends beyond picking up elements of what is going on in another person's mind or life. We may actually find that we are meeting each other in a dream space and sharing adventures. This happens spontaneously. It can also be done by setting a dream date, with a rendezvous place.
     I once agreed with a group of active dreamers who were on a residential retreat with me that we would seek to meet at the Jean Talon market in Montreal overnight. We agreed to meet at a cheese counter. Only one person in that group, a French Canadian, knew the market. He was later able to confirm details of our travel reports. It seemed we had not only shared some good times; we had been to a version of the market very close to the physical one. I found that all my senses were engaged, I came back with the taste of a perfect brie and a pungent roquefort on my palate.
     When dream telepathy extends to full-fledged interaction between two or more people, we may want t call it shared or mutual dreaming.
      A variant on this theme I find fascinating is what I have decided to call symbol migration. A symbol that is alive in your mine can exert powerful magnetism. It may help to generate effects in the world around you which you may notice in the play of synchronicity. It may also exert a reach that brings it into the minds of other people, whether or not this is any part of your intention An image you are thinking about and visualizing in your waking reality may enter the mind of someone connected to you in a dream.
     Jung gave us a wonderful example of symbol magnetism in his tale of repeating fish. I want to share a personal experience of symbol migration that also has significant fishy content.
      I often read deep in the night, when some of my best research is done and my best
discoveries are made. Over a weekend at a mountain lodge where we were doing deep shamanic work with the spirits of the land, my middle-of--the-night reading included a book by one of the great ethnographers of Northeast, Frank G. Speck, titled Midwinter Rites of the Cayuga Longhouse, based on his fieldwork among the Six Nations in the 1930s.
   I was struck by the following elements in his account: 

1. Fever Mask. Speck includes a photo of a "Fever Mask" for catching and controlling a fever spirit, and writes about how Indians can handle red-hot coals in an altered state.

2. Dreams of Angry Fish. He discusses dreams regarded as "persecution by animals". According to his native informants, animals that have suffered from humans and want redress may haunt those who killed or tormented them in dreams. Speck listened to a number of disturbing dream reports involving fish. These were taken very seriously. A dreamer afflicted by unpleasant dreams of fish was thought to required cleansing and ritual propitiation of the fish spirits. Speck reported that among the Cayuga at that time, if you had a troubling dream about fish, the first thing people should do for you is to splash water on you to reassure the fish that you will honor their element.

3. Whirlwind Mask. In the book Speck discusses the Iroquois belief that disease as well as mayhem are carried by Whirlwind Mask, and has photos of a mask representing the Whirlwind spirit that only a powerful shaman can wear. I was stirred by the idea that the greatest healer in this tradition may be one who can take on and contain the forces of chaos and disease and transmute them within their own being.

The next morning, I was excited to discover that key elements from my reading appeared to have slipped into dreams of our group through symbol migration.  

The first people to share dreams with me at the breakkfast table reported the following: 

1. Fever dreams."I dreamed of a a man whose skin was on fire." (Later a second dreamer reported, "I dreamed my husband had a fever")

2. Dream of angry fish. "I dreamed that the fish were mad at me. They stripped me to the bones, like a filleted fish. Them men wrapped me in skins and took me out into the water to grow me a new body."

3. Dream of Whirlwind Mask. "I dreamed I should make a mask of the Whirlwind and then put it into the fire to contain that power." This dreamer, an artist, had already constructed an amazing whirlwind mask, using birch bark fallen from trees in the woods around us.

We are porous to the thoughts and feelings of those connected with us. Within a loving and supportive community,this offers seeds for growth and healing and deepening understanding. It may also remind us to check our boundaries and may sure we are not open to the migration of unwanted images or preoccupations. In my groups we always take care to set up effective psychic screens and shields,not least by invoking the Gatekeeper, that entity that opens and closes our roads between the worlds.

Art: René Magritte, Les merveilles de la nature (The Wonders of Nature), 1953.