Thursday, March 4, 2021

Ten Books That Gave Roadside Assistance on My Soul Journey


Books have been faithful and essential friends all my life. I had a difficult and lonely boyhood, an only child who suffered double pneumonia twelve times between the ages of three and eleven. Books were my portals to realms of imagination and wonder as I lay in the half light of sick rooms. I thrived on good historical novels and on scifi and fantasy.

I like to own paper copies of all the books I read so I can sniff them and caress them and interact with a pencil. I live with an extended book family of around 14,000 volumes. My best finds are often mediated by dreams and by lively shelf elves of the kind that make books materialize and dematerialize in magical ways. My cat Lucy has recently asserted herself as a shelf elf or more - a supervising librarian- on four paws 

Like my favorite writer, Jorge Luis Borges, I sometimes picture paradise as an Infinite library. Like another of my favorite writers, Mircea Eliade, I also know that the most important book I will ever write - and one of the most important I will ever read - is my own journal. Recording dreams, observations and reading reports in my journal is essential daily practice for me.

I was recently invited to identify ten books that have provided guidance and inspiration in my spiritual odyssey and share what was happening in my life when they came to me. My journal was there to remind me what restored my inner compass and put gas in my tank in the critical passages.



The Odyssey 

Since I was boy, the Odyssey has been my favorite vision of life as a mythic journey. Beyond the thrill of sea monsters and angry gods and one-eyed monsters, the tale of Odysseus, the “man of many ways” is the story of a wounded warrior who is healed in the realm of the Divine Feminine. This is why Robert Graves thought it was created by a woman, and I believe he is right. In the Odyssey we see what it means to travel consciously in the presence of a guiding spirit, in this case the goddess Athena. We see that dreams are a field of interaction between gods and humans and transit lounge between the Otherworld and the physical world. Has it been made clearer anywhere else that the hardest part of the heroic quest is the homecoming? A large part of the epic is devoted to the struggles of the returning traveler to find their feet on home ground. I have used many translations over the years, not least for occasional bibliomancy; my favorite now is the most recent; the clean, spare poetic version by Emily Wilson.



W.B.Yeats, Collected Poems 

I knew many of Yeats’ poems by heart before I was presented with my first copy of his collected poems at my graduation from Canberra Grammar School as a prize for writing verse.  In his “Song of Wandering Aengus” I thrilled to the bardic voice of one who lived close to the Otherworld, who knew the secrets of shapeshifting and understood soul loss and soul recoveryI learned much more from Yeats’ other writings, especially Mythologies and A Vision and from walking in his footsteps in Ireland, where it is easy to understand his statement that “the visible is the skin of the invisible”. He appeared to me during a shamanic journey, saying “What better guide to the Other Side than a poet?” and I was enchanted to let him play that role in my inner life as I wrote The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead. I learned the truth of his conviction that kindred spirits reach to each other across time and may generate a “mingling of minds”. I shared his experience of a creative daimon that is forever driving us to attempt the things that are most difficult, short of the impossible.



Dion Fortune, Secrets of Dr Taverner 

She was a true priestess of the Wester Way. I came to her first through her important book Psychic Self-Defence, which is not for the faint-hearted. I proceeded to read, over the years, everything that I could find by her. I was excited to discover that she regarded her fiction as her most important writing on the practice of real magic A character in her novel The Goat-Foot God says that "writers will put things into a novel that they daren't put in sober prose." Dion Fortune herself said "the novels give the practice." While I love The Sea Priestess and her other novels, it is the stories collected in The Secrets of Dr Taverner that I return to again and again. The central character is a soul doctor in tweeds who deals with such complains as reincarnational dramas, astral repercussion, psychic attack, soul theft and energy vampirism. The Taverner stories are both entertaining and a valuable source of practical guidance on psychic protection and spiritual cleansing. In its fictional wrapping, The Secrets of Dr Taverner is a practitioner's casebook and perhaps the most accessible of all Dion Fortune's works for the contemporary reader.



Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents *

When I moved in the 1980s to a farm on the edge of traditional Mohawk country in upstate New York, because of a hawk and a white oak, I started dreaming in a language I did not know, which proved to be an archaic version of the Mohawk language. The speaker was an ancient arendiwanen, or “woman of power”. Our encounters recalled me to ancient ways of dreaming and healing and gave me immense research assignments. In the way of synchronicity, a used book dealer turned up at my door with all 73 volumes of the Jesuit Relations in the back of his truck. These are the reports of blackrobe missionaries from Indian country in the 17th century. Read carefully, drawing aside the veils of religious prejudice and fear, we have here an extraordinary source on the spiritual practices of Native Americans in Northeast America at the time of first contact. The Iroquois taught their children that dreams are the single most important source of both practical and spiritual guidance. They believed that dreams show us “the secret wishes of the soul.” In a time of war and imported disease, they recognized dreaming as a key survival tool and sent their dream shamans to scout the future. You’ll find the essential things I learned from the Jesuit reports -and the direct teachings of the Mother of the Wolf Clan who led me to use them – in my book Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the SecretWishes of the Soul.



C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections 

I discovered Jung in high school and devoured many volumes of his Collected Works when I was an undergraduate. In the midst of my own psychic storms in 1987–1988, I turned to Jung again, to see how he made sense of his own “confrontation with the unconscious.” My main source was Memories, Dreams, Reflections, his life story as recorded and edited by Aniela Jaff√©. We did not yet have the Red Book, and the memoir is in any event a more accessible account of what was essentially the Underworld ordeal and initiation of a shaman-scholar of the West. Central to Jung’s ability to restore his inner compass was his daily recording of dreams. “Dreams are the facts from which we must proceed” is one of the most helpful statements that has ever been made about dreams and dreamwork, and confirmation for me of the method I was obliged to improvise in my own time of testing. He confirmed for me that engaging with images in your inner life – including the terrifying ones – is a path to healing and self-empowerment. I felt the deep truth of his ringing assertion that “anyone who takes the sure road is as good as dead.” I write about Jung as “The Dream Shaman of Switzerland” in my book Dreaming the Soul Back Home.



Jane Roberts, Seth Speaks 

When I was going through a crisis of spiritual emergence at midlife, a friend prevailed on me to read Seth Speaks, a book channeled by Jane Roberts from an intelligence who describes himself as “ an energy personality essence, no longer focused in physical matter”. Previously somewhat resistant to channeled material, I found myself gifted with the clearest model of multidimensional reality and the multidimensional self that I had encountered. The book was a life ring for me in my efforts to understand and navigate “past life” and parallel life connections. Seth confirmed for me that we may live many existences at one time. We are connected to personalities living in the past and the future and in parallel realities, ane it is all happening Now.  Reincarnation is for real, but only one of many after-death options, and we mustn't get trapped in linear conceptions of karma and in past-life "passion plays" because any past or future is a probable reality that can be accessed and changed Now.



Joan Grant, Winged Pharaoh 

Winged Pharaoh thrilled me with its vivid depiction of the practices of a dream school in ancient Egypt operating in the precinct of Anubis. Joan Grant published it as a novel, but revealed later that it is actually a book of “far memory” of a life in early dynastic Egypt. We follow Grant’s alter ego, Sekeeta, as she learns to go scouting in dreams to find lost objects, look into the future, observe things happening at a distance, and discover what is going on behind the scenes. As a child, she sleeps with a wax tablet beside her bed, and her first task each morning is to record her dreams. She takes her reports to the priest of Anubis, her dream teacher. Some days she must carry out assignments he gave her inside a dream – for example to bring him a certain flower, or bird feather, or colored bead. She learns to travel in dreaming beyond time and space, to scout the possible future, and to communicate with the deceased. She encounters people who have died and are confused about their condition and moves into the role of psychopomp. In the language of ancient Egypt, a dream (rswt) is literally an “awakening”. Winged Pharaoh reawakened me to what it means to dream like an Egyptian and I have used it as a handbook in guiding others.  



Henry Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism 

A lifelong student of the medieval Sufi philosophers, French scholar Henry Corbin brought the term Imaginal Realm into currency in the West. In Arabic, the term is Alam al-Mithal and it refers to the realm of true imagination, an order of reality that is at least as real as the physical world, with cities and schools and palaces where human travelers can interact with master teachers. Corbin’s great work Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi is a marvelous essay in visionary spirituality that embodies his driving purpose of helping to free the religious imagination from all types of fundamentalism. Corbin regarded study as a quest. In The Voyage and the Messenger looking back on his scholarly journey, he wrote that “to be a philosopher is to take to the road, never settling down in some place of satisfaction with a theory of the world…The adventure is…a voyage which progresses towards the Light". His books were with me, to anchor and orient, through the incandescent nights when I found myself in dialogue with Persian philosopher mystics and riding with the heaven bird of Persian mythology, the Simurgh. The Man of Light is Corbin’s most accessible work and one to which I return again and again. The subtitle of my book Mysterious Realities is Tales of a Dream Traveler from the Imaginal Realm.


W.T. Stead, The Blue Island 

I love the Victorian ghost hunters, especially F.W.H. Myers, W.T. Stead and William James. They were passionately dedicated to producing evidence of the survival of consciousness after physical death that would meet the scientific standards of their day. They promised that after their deaths they would continue their work by trying to communicate in exact detail from the Other Side. Among all the channeled books that resulted, my favorite is The Blue Island,in which Stead (who went down with the Titanic) recounts his early after death experiences to male mediums sitting in the presence of his daughter. As a former journalist, Stead is especially interested in how news is transmitted in the transition zone where he finds himself. He describes a communications center, “an amazingly well organized and businesslike place” constantly filled with ex-physicals. “Those who had on earth believed and those who had not, came to try and wire a message home.” The ones who feel a “heart call” always get priority. They have a system of “travelers”, who can reach receptive minds on Earth. Stead describes how the living can reach to the departed in a similar way. You concentrate on an individual in the spirit world, and if you put enough energy into that thought, the individual you have in mind will feel you and you may be able to open a communications channel. This beautiful little book is one of the essential Western books of the dead.



Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning 

I reread this extraordinary book every few years. A successful Jewish psychiatrist in Vienna, Viktor Frankl was carried off to Auschwitz and reduced to a walking skeleton with a tattoo on his arm. In one of the darkest nightmares of history, he applied his imagination. He grew an impossible dream: of a scene in the future when the Nazis were a memory and he was standing in front of a well-fed audience in a good suit giving a lecture on “The psychology of the Concentration Camps”. In his vision the Nazi evil was so thoroughly destroyed – and he so thoroughly restored – that he could lecture about it from an objective perspective. Frankl not only survived the Holocaust. His dream played out a year after the war, in every detail. I have derived three life-orienting lessons from this. First, that however tough our situation may seem to be, we always have the freedom to choose our attitude, and this can change everything. Second, that our problems, however bad, are unlikely to be quite as bad as the situation of someone who has been sent to a Nazi death camp. That thought may help us to gain perspective, and to stand back from a welter of grief and self-pity and rise to a place where we can start to dream up something better.Third, we can make inner movies, and if they are good enough it is possible that they will play in the theater of the world.

 I look over this list and wonder why it does not include so many other books and authors that have affected me deeply: Albert Camus, Rilke, Herman Hesse, the Upanishads, Dostoyevsky, Christopher Brennan, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Hilda Ellis Davidson, Ursula Le Guin, Mary Oliver, AE (George Russell), the (for me) inescapable Borges and Eliade. Again, my journal shaped my selections, reminding me how certain books converged with critical passages of spiritual emergence in my life, when I needed confirmation even more than inspiration.

*I'm not expecting anyone to read the 73 volumes of the Jesuit Relations that are on my shelves although today you can no doubt find them onlne. I was looking over the books that gave me anchors and life rings in decisive passages in my journey.In this case, I needed confirmation of what I was learning from the Mother of the Wolf Clan I call "Island Woman"in my books. In another book that was very important to me, The Journal of Major John Norton, a half-Cherokee British officer in the war of 1812, I confirmed the historical identity of Island Woman as the grandmother of Molly and Joseph Brant, born Huron (Wendat) and adopted into the Mohawk natoion after she was captured by a Mohawk raiding party aged about five.



Normandi said...

An intoxicating list of books as as seeds. I love the recognition of some of my favorites through your eyes.

Unknown said...

Joan Grant! I devoured her books as a teenager while still searching..feeling the ring of truth in her words. I think I'd like to revisit those books from the vantage point I now occupy. I agree with your take on Seth, and love your description of The Odyssey! Happy Reading!