Thursday, December 30, 2021

Dreaming towards Epiphany

Whatever you do as the year turns, write in your journal! Write your dreams from the night, and your dreams of life for the coming year. Write, in particular, whatever you receive from dreams, synchronicity and spontaneous revelation over the last night of the Old Year and the first day of the New Year.
    If you were up all night partying - or the effect of your New Year's Eve reveling knocked your dreams out of memory - then record and work with the first dream that comes the following night, and whatever dreamlike symbols the world around you may give you.  
    In Japan they make a special effort to catch and work with the very first dream of the new year. Many Japanese people pay close attention to Hatsuyume, the first dream of the New Year. It may come in the night of December 31-January 1 but - since many may be up late partying or suffering the after-effects - it may come in the following day or on the night of January 1-2.     
     I would counsel you to stay alert for dreams for the New Year for a slightly longer period. In my mind the turning of the year rolls from December 30 until January 6, which is Epiphany in the Christian calendar, the day of “showing forth" when the Magi come to Bethlehem following their star, to honor the Christ child. Beyond the religious context, an epiphany may be a sudden revelation or perception of the reality or essential meaning of something important. It may be the gift of a dream.

In hopes of a lucky dream to kick off the New Year, some Japanese invoke the Shichifukujin or "Seven Lucky Gods" and may place a picture of them under the pillow. These may not be part of our belief system, but we have other sources of guidance and blessing available, and it is always appropriate to ask for help and blessing if we do it nicely!

 If you are ready to dream in the New Year, you could set the simple intention: 

Show me what the New Year will bring

Or give this a positive spin by couching your request to your dream makers the following way: 

Show me the best that life holds for me and those I love in the year ahead. 

Be as specific or as general as you like, but ask in a way that excites you and reflects your willingness to receive guidance and enter on new adventures.
     Don't forget that dreams require action! Your first action is to record anything you remember from your dreams and the drifty state of hypnagogia. Share it with a friend, if you can, using our Lightning Dreamwork process. Walk with your dream and see how what is going on around you may illuminate the dream and how your dream may illuminate your world.
    If you saw things in your dream you don't want to manifest in the year ahead, comb through the material with the eye of a detective, asking Who, What, When, Where, How? If you can clarify the details of the dream and identify where it may play out in coming events, you may be able to take appropriate action to avoid an event you don't want to live through in your physical life. You can also try to accomplish this by going back inside your dream, in a conscious reentry journey, to see whether you can change the script where it was playing. You may want to try writing the story of your dream so it comes to a happy ending. If those approaches feel artificial, however, that may be telling you that physical action is required to reshape the probable future for the better.
    If your first dream for the New Year is full of promise, then celebrate - but make it part of your celebration, once again, to take action to embody the energy and promise of the dream and to help it to take root in the world. Don't leave the old year without your journal, and don't enter the new year without your dreams. 
    May your New Year be filled with abounding joy, and may your best dreams come true!

Art: Sassetta, Journey of the Magi (1433-35)

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Trainer Bikes for Dream Flyers

I was inspired by dream sharing today to make a quick drawing of a scene that has recurred and evolved in a series of my dreams over the years. I observe, and later help to lead, a very special flight school. After I made the sketch, I found my original dream report, dated September 22, 2008. My drawing does not do justice to all the details of the first dream in the series, but it carries the spirit of the whole.

I am walking on the beach. The colors are the wonderfully vivid hues of poster paints. The sea is French blue, with fluffy little whitecaps. The sand is oriole-yellow. There is a distinctly French Impressionist quality to the whole scene, so much so that I feel that if I turn around quickly, I might catch a glimpse of the artist who has just painted it - and maybe the scene will end at the edge of his canvas. Yet the scene is entirely alive.
     I walk with a male companion, studying the scene. He is wearing a frock coat and a top hat, has a neatly trimmed black beard, and is swinging a walking stick. I notice that everyone on the beach, like my companion, is dressed in the clothes of another era. The women wear full bathing costumes, and the men wear sleeveless tops with their bathing trunks. There is something more remarkable. Nearly everyone has a cycle. More sedate couples ride bicycles - including at least one tandem bike, built of two - along the esplanade. Others are riding on the sand, or through the shallows of the water. More daring cyclists are riding in mid-air, ten feet off the ground.
     While many of the bicycles are intact, some are just the vestiges. One lady sits on a padded seat, gripping handlebars and pedaling away, but below her the bike has vanished - no frame and no wheels, A beaming boy is riding high into the air, riding a bike that is invisible except for the handlebars. A dashing young man with hair like a raven's wing and an artist's silk scarf billowing from his neck is showing off, doing aerial acrobatics, on a bike that has completely vanished, while he has his fists clenched as if gripping the handlebars and his legs are cycling away.
      My companion explains to me that this is a school for dream travelers. "All the bicycles you see are training bikes. As dreamers become conscious that they are dreaming and grow their understanding of what is possible here, the machines become less and less necessary. The bicycles fade and finally disappear." I follow his upward glance and see some high-flyers among cotton-wool clouds who move through the air like swimmers, or rocket-men.


December 29, 2021
Lucid dreaming from the hypnagogic state

I decided to return to the scene of the flight school with trainer bikes. I didn't see the master last night but found a serviceable handlebar. I didn't need this to fly but thought it would be fun to experience what others did with a prop like this. As soon as I gripped the handles of the bar, we were off - whizzing at high speed ten or twenty feet above golden fields of grain, wind in my hair. I was delighted to see I had a companion, a long-haired black retriever pacing me on the farm road below, delighting in his run.


Drawings (c) Robert Moss

Friday, December 24, 2021

Dreaming Parallel Worlds

I've long been fascinated by dream experiences of parallel lives. These can take many forms. We find ourselves in the situation of a person living in a different time. We seem to be enjoying - or not enjoying - a continuous life in another reality. We slip into the perspective and apparently the bodies of other people (including even members of other species) who may be living in our present world, but are not ourselves.

    The parallel life experiences that intrigue me most are those in which we seem to find ourselves traveling - in an alternate reality - along paths we abandoned in this lifetime, because of choices we made. Contemporary science speculates about the existence of (possibly infinite) parallel universes. In our dreams, we have the ability to gain first-hand experiential knowledge of this fascinating field.

    In my own dreams, I quite frequently find myself living in a city or a country where I used to live, doing the things I might well be doing had I stayed in a former line of work and a certain life situation. In these dreams, I am my current age, but my life has followed a different track from the one I have taken in my waking reality. Sometimes it seems I have joined a parallel self who has been following a path I abandoned - through my life choices - twenty or even thirty years ago. There is a "just-so" feeling about these dreams. I return from them thinking, "Well, that's how things might be if I had made a different choice." Sometimes I'm quite relieved that I made the choices I did; sometimes I feel a little tristesse for something or someone left on the "ghost trail" I've seen in my dream ; but most often my feelings are entirely non-judgmental.

    This theme is nicely explored in a novel titled The Post-Birthday World, by Lionel Shriver. Through alternating chapters, we follow alternate event tracks in the life of the heroine, depending on whether she did or did not kiss a man other than her partner on the night of his birthday. That night, her world split. We follow her double life, through those alternating chapters, and the dual narrative is beautifully wrought. At the end of the twin tellings, it's hard to make a value judgment between the alternate life paths. You can't really say that one is better or worse than the other; they are simply different. The movie "Sliding Doors" dramatizes a similar theme.

    Through a chance encounter that was the product of a missed airline connection, I once met a woman who told me she was living a double life of this kind every night (or every day, depending on your perspective). Every night, she went home to her husband at their comfortable house on an island off the North Carolina coast. They might go to their favorite restaurant, or to the mall or the country club. In the morning, they went off on their separate ways to work. The shocker was this. The man she went to every night in her dreams was a different husband, in a different house in a different island. "Whenever I close my eyes," as she told it, "I'm in a different world. It's the same as this world, but everything is different." Under the Many-Worlds hypothesis now widely entertained by physicists, it's possible that every choice we make results in the creation of two or more new universes.

     In Parallel Universes theoretical physicist Michio Kaku suggests that another universe may be floating just a millimeter away on a "brane" (membrane) parallel to our own. He explains that we can't see inside it because it exists in hyperspace, beyond the four dimensions of our everyday reality. But in fact, we can and do go there - in dreaming and in the imagination.

     Second only to dreaming, imaginative fiction is our best mentor on these matters. In Matt Haig’s brilliant recent novel The Midnight Library a young woman whose body is near extinction after an overdose is allowed to experience some of the parallel lives she is living in worlds where she made different choices, and determine whether she can make a firm commitment to any of them.

 In Borges' 1941 novella "The Garden of Forking Paths" a sinologist discovers a manuscript by a Chinese writer where the same tale is recounted in several ways, often contradictory. Time is conceived here as a "garden of forking paths", where things happen in parallel in infinitely branching ways. Borges conveys how all possible outcomes of a given event may take place simultaneously, each one opening a new array of possibilities.

    It's fascinating to speculate on what may happen if parallel selves, and their parallel worlds, bump up against each other. Could we combine the gifts of different life experiences, or would we compete with each other? One approach to this theme is a creaky old Roger Moore movie titled "The Man Who Haunted Himself", hilarious to watch now because of its silly, jingly circa-1970 musical score. An arrogant, power-mad, womanizing s.o.b. finds enlightenment, and becomes softer and kinder to the point where his family, his office and his girlfriend can't figure him out. When his other self - the s.o.b. in the Savile Row pinstripes - turns up, everyone accepts him as the true Roger Moore character, and Mr. Softer and Kinder is shut out of his home and his office.

     All the questions raised here apply to our collective world as well as our personal one. Just beside us, perhaps, is a parallel world - or a thousand of them - in which there is no pandemic and there was no insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. And parallel worlds where there is still a Soviet Union or where (as in the Philip K. Dick novel The Man in the High Castle) the Axis won World War II and a Japanese commandant rules California. In another parallel world, we have evolved to the level of a Type III Kardashev civilization, with colonies established all over our home galaxy and the technology to tap the energy of a billion stars.

    Before Earth's ecosphere ceases to support life, Michio Kaku conjectures, we may have learned how to transport ourselves to a parallel world in the multiverse. Or maybe (as some scientists believe the Big Bang came about) everything will end and begin again through the collision of parallel "branes". Forking paths, dividing - and sometimes converging. To know more, let's go dream on it.

Illustration: "Alternate Lives" (c) Robert Moss

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Dreaming the Cosmogram

Lucid dreaming from the hypnagogic zone

On the Cosmogram
Something is skimming the surface of wetlands. I can't see it clearly among the rushes. I am told it is a Nightskimmer. The marshes extend as far as the horizon. I wonder whether these are the waters between the worlds of the living and the dead in the Kongo cosmograms.
I see one of them now, drawn with motion signs to show progression from life through death to rebirth. The cycle moves from birth to death as the sun moves from sunrise to sunset. When the sun goes down in the world of the living, it rises in the white clay world of the dead. To die in one world is to be born in the other. To die in the world of the living is to “go upside down”.
Then there is the other arm of the cross within the circle. It is actually a vertical pole. It takes you up or down, between the two worlds. The way is open to the initiate and the sorcerer and the sacred king. In their different ways they stand feet planted in the cosmogram, connected to its points, choosing among its ways, drawing the flash of spirit from above and below.
Feelings: high excitement
Reality check: I am not versed in Kongo tradition or practice. However, I was intrigued by the pictures and commentaries of Kongo ground drawings (Brazilian: pintos riscados) of the cosmos in recent rereading of Robert Farris Thompson's wonderful book Flash of the Spirit.
The traditional cosmograms are usually highly abstract, often basically just a circle cross. In my lucid dream space, one came alive and I saw the parallel life and movement of the two worlds and how an initiate could himself become the vertical axis between them. I gave my figures bird crowns like Yoruba kings. My solar barque sailing both sides of the world-ocean recalls Egypt. In the African diaspora, the traditions stream together.
Since I have made drawing and coloring from dreams a daily practice, my imagery in the HG state is often very painterly, suggesting how to transfer something from the dreaming to a physical surface. I don't have the technical proficiency to bring through more than a small part of what my inner artist is showing me, but I'll go on doing what I can!

The drawing below came from another distinctly African passage in my recent dreaming in the liminal space between sleep and awake.

Bird on the Iron: Staff of Osanyin (Osain)

The bird of mind, the spirit head, floats above six iron spikes. This is the staff of Osanyin, wounded healer, lord of leaves, crippled orisha of medicine and initiation of the Yoruba. I own a staff just like this, in Afro-Brazilian style, that I acquired in Salvador da Bahia several decades ago. The bird, lean and graceful, hovers above the crossroads of the tricky god Eshu and the sharpened iron of the hard god Ogun. The spikes may also be a psychic stockade and the healer's apothecary tree. Look carefully and you may see the serpent energy raised.

Drawings (c) Robert Moss

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Waking the Sleeping King

In one of Madame d'Aulnoy's classic fairy stories, “The Blue Bird” an abused princess survives incredible   trials and transformations. Disguised as a beggar girl, she at last manages to gain access to the Echo Chamber in the castle of King Charming, who loves her as she loves him but believes her lost. What is said in the Echo Chamber can be heard distinctly in the royal bedchamber above. The princess wails her story of love and loss, assuming it will awaken the king to the fact that she is alive and available and recall him to the pledges they exchanged.

But night after night, the king fails to hear. The princess has used up nearly all of the magic a good witch gave her — which has enabled her to buy entry to the Echo Chamber — before she learns that the king does not hear her because he takes a sleeping-draught every night. She manages to bribe a page to withhold the sleeping potion. Awake in the night, the king hears her love pleas, goes in search of her, and they are united.

This is a much more relevant story for our times than the theme of the sleeping princess. Here the woman has to wake up the man, as is so more often the case. How many “sleeping kings” do we know? How many forms do their “sleeping draughts” take? Whenever you run into a guy who has lost touch with his dreams, who may even say, “I don't dream”, remember you may be dealing with a sleeping king, and you may be called on to play the role of the awakener.

The very adult message in this story made me want to know more about the author. Where did her clarity of perception, amongst all the fantasy and finery (and raw horror, too) come from? The story of the author of “The Blue Bird” is fascinating, and takes us into the primal depth of lived experience from which the pre-Disney and pre-Victorian fairytales come — in this case, not from peasant folklore but from the no less brutal life dramas of France's real-life princesses.

At age fifteen, Marie-Catherine le Jumel de Barneville was kidnapped from a convent school and raped under the pretext of an arranged marriage — the polite name for an arrangement by which her father sold her to a rich and depraved aristocrat three times her age. The Baron d'Aulnoy was odious, a heavy drinker and gambler with very unpleasant sexual penchants. 

Three years into the marriage, it looked like Marie-Catherine had found a way out of her cage when her husband was arrested on charges of high treason against the king. However, under torture two of the accusers confessed that they had invented the treason charges because they were Marie-Catherine's secret lovers. The baroness had to flee to Spain, where she restored herself to royal favor — over many years — by functioning as a secret agent for the French. 

We derive the term “fairytale” from this extraordinary survivor, Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy.. She titled her first collection, published in 1697, Les Contes des Fées. She spun her tales for adults, rather than children, in her seventeenth-century salon, in fashionable colloquial style, as reflected in the subtitle of her second collection, Les Fées à la Mode. Hers is a true-life story of spinning soiled hay into gold. 

Text adapted from Active Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Crumpet Time

I know this: we can travel across time, and we can play mentor and counselor to a younger self, or receive help and guidance from a wiser older self. At the very least, when we reach to that younger self, we can offer the assurance that however much he is suffering, he will make it through. I know this because I started doing it when I was in my midforties, reaching back to the sick and lonely boy who found it so hard to live in the ordinary world.

The friends who helped me most in this period were invisible to others. One of the best of these friends was the Big Man. He was like a favorite uncle I did not have. One of the lessons he taught me was how to eat crumpets.
The Big Man came to me when I was in my bedroom, sick and lonely and feeling really sorry for myself. It was one of those days when I wanted to leave. I was curled up in the bed, with the covers pulled up over my head. I had been pretending I was in a silken tent in the desert, being waited upon and entertained by dancing girls. But I started coughing until my chest hurt and I was spitting into the basin beside the bed. I fell back, exhausted and desperate, and buried my face in the pillow, hoping to conceal the sound of my coughing from my mother
I felt a presence in the room, then the mattress tipped a little as someone eased down onto the edge of the bed. I thought it was one of my parents, come to check on me. I whispered that I was all right, no worries, which was the kind of fib I told to everyone except myself. A hand closed on my shoulder, squeezing just a little.
“That’s right,” my visitor said. “You really are all right.”
The warm, confident voice was familiar, but I could not put a name to it. I rolled over and looked up into a large, pink face smiling at me from under a mane of white hair. The blue-gray eyes were slightly hooded, a feature my mother and I shared.
“I know it’s hard for you,” my visitor went on. “I know you’re lonely and feel rotten. But you are going to make it through. You’ll be knocked down some more, but you will always get up again. You are a survivor, Robert. Trust me. You will make it through.”
The Big Man was hugging me then. I felt so small and fragile in his embrace, and I could not stop the tears from flowing because I felt safe and because this stranger was holding me as my mother never did, not since I died.
“Write,” he encouraged me. “Write your dreams. Write those adventures that stream through your head when you’re playing with your toy soldiers.”
“Nobody wants to hear my dreams,” I complained.
“You may have to lie low for now. But the day will come when lecture halls will be filled with people who are eager to hear your dreams and to tell their dreams to you. I promise you.”
I did not know what to say.
“Keep up your art. Draw and paint.” He surveyed my room and smiled at the stack of how-to-draw books I had bought with my pocket money. 
“You are lonely. But I promise you that the time will come when you will know the love of women and women will love you.”
I must have fallen asleep, because I did not see him go. I did not ask him who he was. I often sensed him nearby when I was alone. When he was close, I felt bigger and stronger.

When we were living in Melbourne, I liked going downtown with my mother on little shopping expeditions. The stately old Myers department store was always the high point of these expeditions. My mother took me to the Myers café for afternoon tea, and I always had crumpets.
I felt the Big Man close to me one afternoon in the café. “Crumpets taste much better with salt and pepper,” he nudged me. “Go on. No one will mind.”
I reached around the pots of jam and marmalade for the shakers, and gave my crumpets a good dose of salt and pepper. The waitress looked at me. My mother just went on sipping her tea. I had done stranger things. The Big Man was right. Crumpets are really nice with salt and pepper.
Many decades later, when I was living in North America, crumpets ceased to be a daily feature of my diet. Americans eat things called English muffins, but these are not crumpets. On rare occasions packets of crumpets popped up in the bread and cakes section of the local supermarket, and I would buy all of them and take them home. Fixing myself a snack in the kitchen of my new home in New York, I popped crumpets in the toaster and as they came out, browned but still delightfully soggy, I sprinkled salt and pepper before applying the butter. And I felt the attunement with that young boy in Melbourne who kept dying and coming back.
“Go on,” I messaged him, mind to mind. “Nobody will mind. You are going to make it through. I promise you.”

Text adapted from The Boy Who Died and Came Back by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Where’s the rest of me?


Where’s the rest of me?

Part of me is weeping against an ash tree beside a field of hay
Part of me checked out of this body at age three
Part of me never left London
Part of me is on an island of no-pain where I never have to grow up
Part of me never stopped fighting battles that cannot be won
Part of never stopped winning battles that should not be fought
Part of me never left that marriage, or that early love
Part of me wears a lion robe lined with the night sky
Part of me remembers this as a fading dream
Part of me does not know he has more than one body
Part of me is teaching school in a dusty town in New South Wales
Part of me is painting with Kupka in a French garden
Part of me is an African witchdoctor dancing with spirits all night
Part of me is fighting the Magical Battle of Britain
Part of me is entertaining in a villa in the astral realm of Luna
Part of me is in the Cinema of Lost Dreams, lost in the movies
Part of me fights to leave my body whenever I suffer heartbreak
Part of me abandoned me when I gave up on a life dream
Part of me hanged himself from the World Tree but did not die
Part of me is swimming with manta rays in the South Pacific
Part of me is interrogating the ghosts of Egyptian sorcerers
Part of me keeps score by money and part of me flees from it
Part of me is the tiger and part of me is the sheep
Part of me stands at the center of all these selves
and reminds them of our family motto: Reviresco. I grow back
Part of me is weeping against an ash tree beside a field of hay

Art: "Alternate Lives" by Robert Moss

The need for dream archaeology

Marija Gimbutas, the great Lithuanian scholar of Old Europe and its Goddess traditions, declared with urgent clarity in The Civilization of the Goddess, her chef d'oeuvre:  “We must refocus our collective memory. The necessity of this has never been greater as we discover that the path of ‘progress’ is extinguishing the very conditions for life on earth."

The new art and science of dream archaeology provides powerful tools for refocusing collective memory, exactly as the great Lithuanian scholar of the Goddess proposed.  I invented the term "dream archaeology".  It is the study of first and essential (arche) things with the aid of dreamwork and techniques of shamanic lucid dreaming. It is a discipline that enables us to access the living past, to enter into direct communication with the keepers of ancestral wisdom and heal the collective and cultural soul loss that is a feature of our age. 

The practice of dream archaeology involves reclaiming authentic knowledge of ancestral traditions, including those that may have been buried or suppressed in the course of history, through a combination of careful research and shamanic journeying across time and between dimensions. The dream archaeologist combines the skills of the shaman, the scholar and the detective. 

We let dreams set us assignments. Secrets of the past, of which the waking mind may know nothing or very little, come to us in dreams because we are ready for them, and because the ancestors speak to us in dreams. As dream archaeologists, we learn to work with such dreams, both through focused research and by learning the technique of dream reentry, which means making a shamanic journey through the doorway of a remembered dream to harvest more information, to deepen communication with the ancestors, and to travel beyond the maps. 

When we are already engaged in a line of research, we draw on the skills of shamanic lucid dreaming, as well as spontaneous gifts of the night, to find what cannot be located in ordinary ways, but can often be confirmed by subsequent dream-directed research. We are open to the phenomenon that Yeats, with poetic insight, called the “mingling of minds”. This means that when we give our best efforts and passion to our chosen work or study, we draw the support of intelligences beyond the everyday world, including those of past masters in the same field. 

After her death, Marija Gimbutas appeared to her friend and biographer Joan Marler in a powerful dream. Marija said fiercely, “You must remember us.” Joan understood that the great Lithuanian scholar of the Goddess was speaking from the realm of the ancestors, “a place of collective memory and wisdom”. She describes this encounter in an essay in From the Realm of the Ancestors, a magnificent Festchrift in honor of Marija that she edited. 

I have been privileged to lead six workshops in shamanic dreaming and dream archaeology in Lithuania. Each visit has been a grand adventure and a deepening encounter with the ancestors of the land. On my first visit to Marija’s native country, in the summer of 2004, 40 Lithuanians joined me at Nida to reclaim the arts of dreaming. With the aid of shamanic drumming, we made a group journey together through the gateway of an ancient oak, with the aim of establishing direct and authentic communication with the ancestors of the land. 

I found myself in direct contact with a priestess of Žemyna, the Earth Goddess. The priestess belonged to an earlier time, but seemed to speak from a place of amber light outside time. She instructed me in methods of healing and visioning involving the use of amber, and gave me symbols and words in old Lithuanian – a language previously unknown to me – that others in the workshop helped me translate. I am glad to report that I am returning to Lithuania in May this year to lead new adventures in dream archaeology and shamanic dreaming in Vilnius and Kaunas. 

Wherever I go now, I find myself traveling in two worlds. From behind the curtains of ordinary perception, the ancestors are calling. I am reminded again and again that one of the gifts of dreaming is that it opens authentic connections to the ancestors, offering us the chance to heal the wounds of the past and to perform cultural soul retrieval.

For much more on dream archaeology in the Baltic, and elsewhere, see my book The Boy Who Died Came Back

Photo: Žemaitiu alka, sanctuary of the old gods in Samogitia



Monday, November 22, 2021

Orenda and the practice of giving thanks

In the indigenous North American way, giving thanks is a practice for every day, not just for an annual holiday. Here is a little of what I learned after I was called in dreams by an ancient woman of power to study the traditions of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois.

Orenda is the power that is in everything and beyond everything. It clusters in certain things – in that tree, in that stone, in that person or gathering – and if you are sensitive you will feel its weight and its force.
    People come from another world – in the Iroquoian cosmogony, they call it Earth-in-the-Sky – and the origin and purpose for life here below is to be found in that Sky World. Tosa sasa ni’konren, they say. “Do not let your mind fall” from the memory of that other world where everything is directed and created by the power of thought, and everything lives in the glow of a great Tree of Light.
    The first person on Earth who was anything like a human came from that Sky World, after she fell – or was pushed – through a hole among the roots of its great tree. As she fell, she was caught on the wings of great blue herons, who carried her gently down to a chaos of water. Animals, diving into the black deep, found earth for her, so she could begin to make a world. Turtle offered its great back and First Woman danced a new world into being. Under her feet, a handful of soil became all the lands we live on.
    The memory of Earth-in-the-Sky in no way blurs the knowledge that orenda – which is power, spirit, energy, consciousness all at once – is in everything. In the way of the Onkwehonwe, the Real People (as the Iroquois call themselves) we must remember that our relations with our environment are entirely personal, and require appropriate manners.
    If you want to take something from the Earth, you must ask permission. The hunter asks the spirit of the deer for permission to take its life and wastes nothing from its body. I once watched a Mohawk medicine man gathering healing plants. He started by identifying the elder among a stand of the plants and speaking to this one, seeking permission. He offered a little pinch of native tobacco in return for the stalks he gathered for medicine.
    In this tradition, the best form of prayer is to give thanks for the gifts of life. In the long version of the Iroquois thanksgiving, you thank everything that supports your life, and as you do this you announce that you are talking to family.

I give thanks to my brothers the Thunderers
I give thanks to Grandmother Moon and to Elder Brother Sun

In the Native American way, as Black Elk, the Lakota holy man, said, “the center of the world is wherever you are.” For him, that was Harney Peak. For you, it is wherever you are living or traveling. You may find a special place in your everyday world. It may be just a corner of the garden, or a bench under a tree in the park, or that lake where you walk the dog. The more you go there, and open both your inner and outer senses, the more you will find that orenda has gathered there for you.
     A woman who lives near the shore told me that she starts her day like this: “I go to the ocean in the morning at sunrise and put a hand in the water and say Good morning, thank you, I love you. I feel a response from this. The tide will suddenly surge up a little higher, hugging my feet, which is kind of cold in winter but wonderful in warmer weather. I talk to everything out loud like this.”
     The simple gesture of placing your hand in the sea, or on a tree, or on the earth, and expressing love and gratitude and recognition of the animate world around us is everyday church (as is dreamwork), good for us, and good for all our relations
    It is good to do something every day, in any landscape, to affirm life in all that is around us. This may be especially important on days when the world seems drab and flat and even the eyes of other people in the street look like windows in which the blinds have been drawn down. The Longhouse People (Iroquois) reminded me that the best kind of prayer is to give thanks to all our relations, to everything that supports life, and in doing so to give our support to them. When I lived on a rural property, I began each day by greeting the ancient oak on the dirt road behind the house as the elder of that land.
    These days, it is often enough for me to say to sun and sky, whether on the sidewalk or in the park or among the streaming leaves of Grandmother Willow

I give thanks for the morning
I give thanks for the day
I give thanks for the gifts
    and the challenges of this lifetime

Photo of Grandmother Willow by RM

For more on indigenous tradition, please read my book Dreamways of the Iroquois. For more on everyday practice, please see my book Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Your tears fall on my tongue


Empathy Dreams

When you weep for all you have lost
I listen with my mouth open;
your tears fall on my tongue
and I taste your pain.


When you were in the river of tiny fish
I splashed with you.
When you hug your swelling belly
I breathe love songs in your ear
to welcome the spirit who is coming
into this world through you.


When they broke the child in you
something broke in me.
When you fled from the johns to the jones
I tried to crack your crystal palace
so you could visit that beautiful boy
who found refuge with Peter Pan.


I was with you when they beat you
for sucking your thumb, and when they
beat you harder because you couldn't kill
the lovely soft bandit cornered by coon dogs.
I am with you at the white table
of the one who has shared his cup with you.


I laugh with you when you cartwheel through life
as a circus acrobat, and when you
walk the high wire without fear
because your second self goes ahead of you
making footholds so you cannot fall.


At the border camp. I share your terror
of returning to a country you can't remember
where killers still haunt the killing fields.
I am with the scary man with brick dust
on his skin and a claw hammer in his belt.
I whisper to him, "Don't tread on wildflowers."


I am with then hunter and the hunted.
I am Cossack and Jew, slave and slave owner.
I am the man in iron from the dragon boat.
I am the priestess whose weapons
are a mirror and the sickle moon,
who can give blood to the earth without cutting.


I am in the blade of grass that bends
under the tremendous gray hoof, and springs back.
I am with the elephant mother who grieves
for her calf as metal rain from the poachers' gunship
turns her dreams to blood ivory.


I am no bodhisattva, able to remember
all lives, past and present, without being overwhelmed.
I must spit out the tears I have tasted
and not go stooped under grief and pain of others.


But I can do this: I can go to the one
with a hole in the heart, and show you
the precious child who fled from your body
when they tried to kill your dreams,
and you lost the dreamer in you.


I can promise your child of wonder
that, despite everything, you are safe and can be fun.
I can hold you together until you know each other.
Growing beyond myself, I can go on holding you
in the fierce embrace of Great Mother Bear
until you cannot be apart, because you are one.

The most gifted dreamers may be, like the most gifted seers and healers, highly sensitive people who will be challenged, across a lifetime, to set and maintain healthy boundaries. Gardens require walls. This poem is a gift; it emerged from images shared in a wonderful community of active dreamers in one of my pre-pandemic workshops in a red cedar grove at Mosswood Hollow, where the Great Stump always reminds me of the possibility of  regeneration.

"Empathy Dreams" is included in Here, Everything Is Dreaming: Poems and Stories by Robert Moss. Published by Excelsior Editions.

Photo by RM

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Jung on the Virtue of Making Dream Pictures


In his 1929 lecture "The Aims of Psychotherapy", Jung issued a passionate appeal for art therapy - specifically, for the art of turning dreams into pictures.

First, he notes that it was often a very positive development in a patient's inner life when their dreams featured photos, paintings or films and even more so when the dreamer declared "If only I were a painter I would make a picture of it". When this happened he would encourage his patients to actually draw or paint their dreams and abandon any protestations that they lacked artistic ability. "Many of my more advanced patients, then, began to paint."
He noted that this shifted the dreamer away from a passive attitude to dreams, and to life. "He puts down on paper what he has passively seen, thereby turning it into a deliberate act. He not only talks about it, he is actually doing something about it."
In making a dream picture, the dreamer comes to reflect on a dream in depth and starts to bring vital energy from the dreamworld into embodied life. "The concrete shaping of the image enforces a continuous study of it, in all its parts, so that it can develop its effects to the full. This invests the bare fantasy with an element of reality, which lends it greater weight and greater driving power."
He insists that making art from dreams helps the dreamer to become "creatively independent". The patient no longer depends on the doctor's opinion. "By painting himself he gives shape to himself." He has gone beyond ego to work with his "interior agent" and "the hidden foundation of psychic life".
Then he goes right to the top, or perhaps over the top. 'It is impossible for me to describe the extent to which this discovery changes the patient's standpoint and values, and how it shifts the center of gravity to his personality. It is as though the earth had suddenly discovered that the sun was the center of the planetary orbits and of its own earthy orbit as well." [1]

Painting Philemon

"Since I did not understand this dream-image, I painted it"
In 1914 Jung dreamed of a figure he called Philemon. He came to play an extraordinary role in Jung's imaginal life. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he recalled:
"There was a blue sky, like the sea, covered by flat brown clods of earth. It looked as if the clods were breaking apart and the blue water of the sea was becoming visible between them. The water was the blue sky. Suddenly there appeared from the right a winged being sailing across the sky. I saw that it was an old man with the horns of a bull. He held a bunch of four keys, one of which he clutched as if he were about to open a lock. He had the wings of a kingfisher with its characteristic colors.
"Since I did not understand this dream-image, I painted it to impress it upon my memory."
The tremendous - indeed Otherworldly - significance of the dream encounter was confirmed for Jung when, a few days later, he came upon the body of a dead kingfisher, a bird rarely seen around Lake Zurich.
He said in his memoir that “Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life. Philemon represented a force which was not myself. In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought. For I observed clearly that it was he who spoke, not I.
"He said I treated thoughts as if I generated them myself, but in his view thoughts were like animals in the forest, or people in a room, or birds in the air, and added, “If you should see people in a room, you would not think that you had made those people, or that you were responsible for them.” It was he who taught me psychic objectivity, the reality of the psyche. Through him the distinction was clarified between myself and the object of my thought. He confronted me in an objective manner, and I understood that there is something in me which can say things that I do not know and do not intend, things which may even be directed against me.”
Jung's first portraits of Philemon - at least, the first that have survived - are a pencil drawing and a study for a lost picture that once hung in the room of Jung's wife Emma. They are reproduced in the lavishly illustrated book The Art of C.G.Jung, recently published by the Foundation of the Works of C.G.Jung. Their great interest is that they show the bull horns and a vigor of flight that are missing from Jung's later painting of Philemon in The Red Book.

1, C.G.Jung, "The Aims of Psychotherapy" in Collected Works volume 16 trans R.F.C.Hull (Princeton: Bollingen Series, 1985) 47-49

"Lady of Many Colors'. Dream drawing by Robert Moss.