Friday, April 30, 2021

The Goddess and the Peacock

A dream report from last summer popped out of my journal and I see that it offers a portal for mythic exploration. My initial research took me to ancient Mesopotamia and a contemporary persecuted religion. There is more dream archaeology to be done with this.

August 4, 2020


Peacocks Fan Me

I am looking at a beautiful frieze carved in sandstone or alabaster. Are those lotus blossoms? There are reeds and lush vegetation. I suppose that once the scene was painted in bright colors. It starts to come alive. To my amazement and delight, peacocks step out of the frieze and fan me with their tails, a welcome breeze in the warm sunshine of the courtyard

A priestess is near me, seated on a bench, a light robe pinned at her shoulder. She wears a jeweled headband and a star. She is holding a moist tablet, wax or clay. She makes a notation and assures me that being fanned by peacocks is a very good sign.

Reentry: I stay with the dream and try to go back in. I want to check on the star and to find out more about the priestess. Her eyes are rimmed with thick bands of malachite blue, giving her the aspect of an intent bird

“You may call me Nanshe,” she says. I am humbled. This is the name of a Sumerian goddess. What have I done to earn her personal attention?

“You honored me with fresh poetry. This is the best offering you could bring. It pleases my sister Nisaba too.”

I want to pursue the symbolism of the peacocks. I have heard that only the male peacock has the cherubim tail of many eyes, and opens it only as a show of strength, especially when facing off other males in the mating season.

“The peacock reveals his splendor to honor the goddess,” she tells me. “And to open portals to other worlds.”

Feelings: Excited, intrigued, blessed.

Reality check: I have been close to peacocks in several European countries, including Ireland. I recall that peacocks feature in the auras of Indian deities.

I remember that in Madeleine L'Engle's wonderful novel A Wind in the Door a "singular cherubim" covered with eyes like a peacock tail provides the portal for travel to other dimensions.

Peacocks, in Mesopotamia? My inner fact-checker wanted to investigate right away.

Immediate research: I found that in Old Babylonian the word for “peacock” is also the name of a god, Haya, the consort of Nisaba, the goddess of writing and grain. Apparently this peacock god is himself no slouch at the scribal arts. l

The Peacock Angel (Tawûsê Melek) is central to Yazidi religion, and some believe he is a version of the ancient Mesopotamian god Dumuzi/Tammuz. In art and sculpture, Tawûsê Melek – king of archangels - is depicted as peacock. Though peacocks are not native to the lands where Tawûsê Melek is worshipped., peacock imagery spreads like the bird's tail over shrines, gateways, graves, and places of worship. The Yazidis have been persecuted as "devil worshippers" by Islamic extremists.

The Peacock Angel 

I go back to the night before the peacock dream and find this in my journal:

August 3, 2020

Hypnopompic Encounter


The name is clear and definite, stamped in fresh black letters on a white field as I exit my dreams at 4 am.

I try to see where it is coming from. I am looking down into what may be an archaeological dig, at objects partly obscured by dust and clay. An undulating spinal column, perhaps of a snake. A pointed helmet on a skull. A metallic scorpion or dagger shaped like one. Figures from the impression of a cylinder seal: lion, bull, bull man, a deity with thunderbolts. A stone ax, perhaps a thunder stone. A star connection I cannot track to a system I can name.

In a preceding dream I was seeking to limit a power - perhaps a spell - so it did not cause chaos and block the streets. 

I am reminded that in some genealogies, Ninhursag is the mother of Nanshe, a goddess of dreams and the sea and social justice. The act of generation is really strange, It unfolds in an Edenic garden where Enki has sex not only with Ninhursag but with their daughter and granddaughter Uttu  Ninhursag intercedes at round 3, draws Enki’s semen out of Uttu and pours it into the earth, where it generates trees and plants. Returning to the garden, Enki finds all this tended new growth delicious and devours all the plants. 

Now Ninhursag displays the full wrath of the Great Mother. She fixes the Eye of Death on him, and the god starts to die. Nothing can heal him except Ninhursag, the life bringer who has now brought death. Taking pity on him – or noting his continued usefulness – she arranges his body so his head is at, and maybe inside, her vagina. He is restored and the plants come back as deities including Nanshe. Now one of her titles is Lady of the Rib. One of Enki’s injuries was to a rib. More significantly, in wordplay the ancient Sumerian/Akkadian word for “rib” also means to “give life”.

I am moved to write a little hymn for Nanshe

For Nanshe, Dream Opener

Lady of dark waters
born in the first garden
the Mother made you for healing
you speak the language of birds
you bring fish from the deep
you call kings to give justice
to the poor and oppressed
you see into the hearts of men
as if they are split reeds

Dream opener, highly prized
open the gates of dream for us
come to us as a gentle breeze
or a wild goose on the wing
show us how to read
the handwriting of the gods

Nanshe with geese. Third dynasty of Ur

Until my journal retrieval just now, I had lost the chronology. I see that I wrote this poem the night before Nanshe appeared in the unexpected luster of the peacock plumes and told me "You honored me with fresh poetry".

Mercury/Hermes as Peacock Boat

Peacock Tales Fan Out

Myths have a thousand faces, in collective as well as personal dreams. They fan out like the peacock's tail. Scholars believe that peacocks were unknown in the Hellenic world until Alexander the Great brought some back from India or Persia. Aristotle knew the peacock as a "Persian" bird. Then suddenly we hear that the peacock is the animal companion of Hera, especially at her temple on the island of Samos, where she was greatly reverenced. With his Metamorphoses Ovid carries the story throughout the Greco-Roman world that Juno (Hera) created the splendor of the peacock' s tail by sowing it with the glowing eyes of Argus.
      A century or two later we hear the story that the soul of Homer transmigrated into a peacock, a bird unknown to him in his lifetime. That tale sprang from a dream of the Roman poet Ennius.
     And the tales keep fanning out. To celebrate the wedding of a Medici prince, Cosimo II, in 1608, a pageant was staged on the river Arno. Among the floats was a giant peacock that carried actors playing Aethalides, herald of the Argo, and two of his fellow-Argonauts. The peacock was supposedly a form taken by Aethalides' father, Hermes/Mercury. Where that association came from will require further dream archaeology.[1]
       Two years after the peacock god appeared on the river, Peter Paul Rubens painted Ovid's blood-drenched story of Hera giving the peacock the eyes of Argus, her murdered watchman. We see clearly how the eyes in the peacock feathers are a symbol of vision. Rubens composes his picture in a blazing chord of primary colors: blue, yellow and red. The rainbow arch evokes the whole spectrum of light. 

Peter Paul Rubens, "Juno and Argus"

[1] Catalogue copy for the Peacock Boat: "The Argonauts Eurytus, Echion, and Aethalides (Eurito Echione e Etalide Argonote), led by Mercury [Hermes] in the form of a peacock, from the series 'The magnificent pageant on the river Arno in Florence' for the marriage of the Grand Duke'.

Illustration at top by RM


Acts of Creation


To be creative is to bring something new, and valuable, into our lives and our world. You don’t have to be an Einstein or a Shakespeare to be creative. You need to play the best game you can, in whatever field is calling you, and come up with some new moves, and play so hard you don’t think of your game as just work (and may never want to retire from it).

What makes a world-class creative remains mysterious. But new research in neuroscience is telling us interesting things about how the association centers of the brain work when new ideas are coming through, confirming that one characteristic of creative people is that they make connections between things that other people don’t see as connected. Nancy Andreasen, a pioneer of brain imaging at the University of Iowa, found that in episodes of high creativity, multiple association cortices of the brain are communicating back and forth with each other - not to process sensory input, but in free conversation. Wild and novel connections are made, and from these – through the brain’s character as a self-organizing system – new creation emerges.

 Educational psychologists who try to rate creativity levels speak of a “fourth-grade slump”, when adult assumptions and formal training start to block kids’ natural ability to make things up. This suggests another key to creative living; we want to stay in touch or get in touch with the spontaneous creativity of our inner child, our master imagineer. 

Something important that creative people have in common is that they develop creative habits. For choreographer Twyla Tharp, these include “subtraction” – making a conscious effort to minimize distractions and make sufficient time and space available for a new project. For creativity researcher Keith Sawyer (a psychology professor at Washington University in St Louis) good creative habits include “working smart”, creating a daily rhythm that sets the right balance between hard work and “idle time” when the best ideas often jump out.
    For Columbia business professor William Duggan, creativity in business hinges on “opportunistic innovation”, the readiness to watch for unexpected opportunities and change your plans in order to cash in on them when they turn up.

A high tolerance for ambiguity is a characteristic of highly creative people. This increases our ability to think outside the box, make connections others can't see, and escape from either/or choices..We grow our tolerance for ambiguity when we share dreams in the right way and receive feedback from multiple perspectives - and find that every viewpoint has something to offer. Active dreamers are capable of checking all the boxes when given multiple choices.

Great creators in all fields are dreamers, not only in sleep but in twilihght states of reverie where connections that escape the ordinary rational mind come easily and contact with higher intelligence is often made. Robert Louis Stevenson said he received his stories in a state of “reverie” in which benign visitors he called “brownies” helped him to compose.
      Wolfgang Pauli, one of the pioneers of quantum physics, said that dreams were his “secret laboratory.” Scientist Otto Loewi dreamed the experiment that enabled him to prove that nerve impulses are chemically transmitted, a discovery that won him the Nobel Prize. Einstein, Niels Bohr, 
Kekulé, – and Newton in his own day, and Hypatia in hers – were all dreamers. They drew inspiration from sleep dreams and developed the ability to slip into twilight states of consciousness

Other habits of creative people: 

- They find personal ways of getting “into the zone”.

- They are risk-takers. They are willing to make mistakes, and learn from them. They look at mistakes as experiments rather than failures.

 - Creative people are “prepared for good luck”; they view coincidences as homing beacons and turn accidents into inventions.

- They make room for creation – time and private space.

- They are visual thinkers.

- They find a creative friend. This is a person who provides helpful feedback and supports their experiments.

- They persevere. 

Creativity is not just the preserve of a lucky – or tormented – few. It’s a power we can all claim. 

And here is what, for me, is the most important key to creativity. When we take on a creative project - and its element of risk - and step out of whatever box we have been in, we draw supporting powers, especially the power that the ancients called the genius or the daimon. Most people understand this intuitively, even though we may fumble for an agreed language to describe it.

When we are passionately engaged in a creative venture, we draw support from other minds and other beings, seen and unseen. According to the direction of our will and desire, and the depth of our work, those minds may include masters from other times, and a greater Self. We draw greater support the greater the challenges involved in our venture. Great spirits love great challenges.

Yeats wrote about what it required to engage the daimon with quivering passion in his essay Per Amica Silentia Lunae. The title means “The Friendly Silence of the Moon”. He borrowed it from Virgil's description of the Greeks approaching Troy by stealth. Under the poet's moon, Yeats explains how we  can develop a co-creative relationships with minds operating in other times and on other planes of reality. 

Yeats believed, as I do, that whether we are aware of it or not, all our life choices are witnessed by a larger self he called the daimon. The daimon lends or withholds its immense energy from our lives according to whether we choose the big agenda or the little one. The daimon is bored by our everyday vacillations and compromises and detests us when we choose against the grand passion and the Life Work, the soul's purpose.

The daimon loves us best, Yeats said, when we choose to attempt “the hardest thing among those not impossible.”

Art: "The Red Tree" by Robert Moss



Sunday, April 25, 2021

Always coming home to the Goddess

Ribeirão da Ilha, Santa Catarina, Brazil

On my first night on Santa Catarina Island, I dreamed I was introducing people to the Great Mother Goddess, counseling them to treat her with respect.
    On my last day on the island, I agreed with my host that we would take a drive around the bay side, to an area of Azorean fishing villages and oyster beds. The drive was wonderful. On the forested hills, indigenous garapuvu trees put up vivid yellow canopies, like floral umbrellas.
    Just short of the village of Ribeirão da Ilha, I saw a wonderful female figure in a flowing blue gown, arms raised, a star in her hair.
    "Stop the car," I said to my friend. "That's Yemanjá." I gave the great goddess of the sea and of motherhood her Brazilian name. In Spanish-speaking countries she is Yemaya. In both versions, her name is a contraction of the Yoruba phrase yeye omo eja, meaning, "mother whose children are like fish." The phrase evokes her endless fecundity; she embodies the sea of life, immense and universal and giving and forgiving.
    In other parts of Brazil, her presence by the water would be no surprise. Hundreds of thousands of people gather by the sea in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador da Bahia for her festivals. But here in the south, I was in a very white part of Brazil, settled by Germans, Austrians and Italians after the Portuguese sent early colonists from the Azores; signs of the Afro-Brazilian tradition had been absent until now.
     We noticed a sign across the street from Yemanjá, for the Ilé de Shangó, the temple of Shangó, the thunderer among the Orixás, the African gods who crossed the Atlantic with those brought to the New World in captivity. We crossed the road and were greeted by a friendly, maternal black woman who proved to be a filha de Shangó (a daughter of Shangó). She gave us an informal tour of the temple and explained that it had required a long campaign to get permission from conservative, white town fathers to place a statue of a black goddess at the edge of the bay. Pleased by my enthusiasm and my familiarity with some elements of her tradition, she invited me to take off my shoes and enter the sanctuary, where I was received with kisses and embraces as one of the family.
    I studied photographs of the pai de ilé (the father of the temple) with drummers in Nigeria, and recalled how, thirty years ago, I nearly gave up my familiar life to go to West Africa to be trained and initiated in this tradition.
    The priestess expanded her tour to the kitchen, where her daughter-in-law was nursing a baby, and showed us the pots used for cooking for the feasts that accompany their nights of ritual. I thanked her, and the Great Mother by the bay, with respect, for what felt like a happy homecoming.
   I had been uneasy until now about my return flights to the United States, receiving broken reports of the progress of Hurricane Sandy. I now relaxed, feeling all would be well. All three of my flights went almost impossibly smoothly; I arrived a few minutes early at my home airport, on Halloween.
   On my first night home, I dreamed again of a Great Mother, in a different guise, this time as a Native American spirit woman who opened and held a marvelous space for healing within the gathering I am leading on a mountain in the New York Adirondacks next weekend.
   As I look over my wanderings in this world, and the traffic from the mythic world that is forever part of this story, I see I am always coming home to the Goddess.

From my pre-pandemic travel journal. This episode unfolded when I was teaching in Brazil in 2011. Obviously it was not my first encounter with Yemanja.


Saturday, April 24, 2021

The importance of doing things before you're ready

As I work on a new book, I am reminded of one of the basic rules of life: If we wait until we are fully prepared in order to do something, we may never get it done. Perfection is not available in our human condition. It's important to do things before we think we are ready.
    A case in point, mined from my own journals in the period when I was working on my book The Secret History of Dreaming: 

I've spent the past few days reading and sketching my way into a chapter about Jung and Pauli. I have been prey to both the temptations and the performance anxiety associated with this theme.
    One of the temptations is to wait until I have read or re-read the 18 volumes of Jung's Collected Works (I own nine of these volumes, plus five volumes of selections from the others) and his memoirs and letters, and at least half a dozen of the biographies, and a dozen of the studies of his approach to synchronicity (all of which are also on my shelves or my desk). 
    There’s also a strong temptation to wait until I have found someone to explain Pauli’s Exclusion Principle, and Riemann Surfaces, and Violation of Parity and the Fine Structure Constant to me, and exactly where and why he differed with Einstein and (on another front) with Niels Bohr and the Copenhagen School, and the whole debate over symmetry - and until I have found someone else to disinter and translate Pauli's full correspondence with Aniela Jaffe and Marie-Louise von Franz. Oh yes, and of course to delay getting on with this chapter until I have hunted down the text of Schopenhauer's Essay on Spirit-Seeing, which turns out to have been a critical influence on Pauli's approach to dreams and reality and - after he pushed Jung to read or re-read it - on Jung as well (but is almost completely unavailable in English today and which I have - so far - been unable to locate online).
    At the very least, I realize, I want to go through the entire Jung-Pauli correspondence yet again (and the 400 Pauli dreams summarized and analyzed previously in Jung's Psychology and Alchemy) page by page, checking every reference, grounding every allusion in the personal and general history of their lives and their time, making sure I have missed nothing and understood everything.
    The performance anxiety centers on knowing that I understand Pauli’s physics no better than Jung, and do not have the advantage of having Pauli around to give me personal tutorials. And on the fact that there are a thousand Jungians (maybe many more) around ready to howl at any misrepresentation of the master.
    There is only one satisfactory response to such temptations and concerns.
    The only recourse is to get on and write the chapter NOW, regardless.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

"Dreams are the facts from which we must proceed": a tribute to Jung

I have studied Jung's Red Book and read most of his recently-published Black Books, but Memories, Dreams, Reflections is the book I most treasure by this great depth psychologist and dream traveler and the one I constantly recommend to those who are just starting to explore his work. Here is a modest tribute.

I discovered Jung in high school and devoured many volumes of his Collected Works when I was an undergraduate, though I probably failed to digest the most difficult passages. In the midst of the psychic storms of 1987-8, I turned to Jung again, to see how he made sense of his own "confrontation with the unconscious". My main source book was Memories, Dreams, Reflections, his life story as recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffé based on conversations he began when he was eighty-one.
     His great life crisis began in 1912, after his break with Freud. For several years, he lived in a house of the spirits. The contents of his dreams and visions seemed to be spilling over into his physical life, producing poltergeist-like phenomena and apparitions that his children could see. Night after night, he descended into a dark and thrilling Underworld where he met mythic characters who seemed to him to be entirely real and transpersonal. He often felt he was under an avalanche of psychic events, "as if gigantic stones were tumbling down upon me." His survival required him to draw on a "demonic strength" that brilliant, mad Nietzsche  had lacked.
    He kept seeing patients, but stopped lecturing at the university and ceased publishing for three years, no longer confident that he could make sense of things for other people. He had no mentor now, in the ordinary world. He sought stability through his family, his continuing work with clients, through painting and through "hewing stone", building a miniature stone village that he thought he was making in collaboration with his eleven-year-old self.
    He realized that he had to reclaim beginner's mind. He said to himself, "Since I know nothing at all, I shall simply do whatever occurs to me." Then he took the shaman's plunge. "I consciously submitted myself to the impulses of the unconscious." 
    Central to Jung's ability to restore his inner compass was his daily recording of dreams. Now divorced from theory, his main preoccupation was to set down an unedited, uncensored chronicle of his experiences. "Dreams are the facts from which we must proceed." This was one of his central discoveries, and it is one of the most helpful statements that has ever been made about dreams and dreamwork. Let's start with the facts of the dream, leaving aside theory until we have recovered as much of the experience as possible.
     This was confirmation for me of the method I was obliged to improvise in my own time of testing. I journaled my dreams and visions as exactly as possible, giving each a title noting the time and duration of each experience. I most required clarity when my experiences rebuffed interpretation and linear thinking. I found it essential to disentangle the reports of inner adventures from other material so that their nature and content was not blurred. I underlined Jung's statement that "otherwise the material would have trapped me in its thicket, strangled me like jungle creepers" and put a big check mark in the margin. Exactly right.
    In his storms of emotion, Jung sought to let images take form. Images gave him a way to work with the raw power of emotion rather than being torn apart by it. He was learning how to harvest images and rework them through what he later called "active imagination" in the laboratory of his own psyche.
    He recorded the facts of his inner experiences even when he found the content nonsensical, repugnant or freakish. In this way, he hoped that instead of being drowned by the contents of his inner life, he would gain a means of navigation. 

    He felt himself pulled into the Underworld. Instead of resisting, he let himself drop and began a harrowing journey of Underworld initiation, played out over years rather than hours, reminiscent of the shaman's path of tests and ordeals. In this time, he found an agreed form for an inner guide: an old man with the horns of a bull and wings of kingfisher blue that he named Philemon. "It was he who taught me psychic objectivity, the reality of the psyche."
    Near the end of his life, Jung observed that "all my works, all my creative activity, has come from those initial fantasies and dreams which began in 1912, almost fifty years ago. Everything that I accomplished in later life was already contained in them, although at first only in the form of emotions and images." 
    He had had a plan for his life, to become a professor and pursue a scientific line that had seemed clear to him. "But then, I hit upon this stream of lava, and the heat of its fires reshaped my life." What overthrew his plans and expectations also gave him the prima materia for a greater life work. "That was the primal stuff which compelled me to work upon it, and my works are a more or less successful endeavor to incorporate this incandescent matter into the contemporary picture of the world."
    On my own stormy path of initiation in 1987-1988, I felt immense affinity for the great shaman of the West who spoke those words, and took comfort and courage from his example. I felt the deep truth of his ringing assertion that "he who takes the sure path is as good as dead", and spoke those words aloud, as I walked with my dogs to the old white oak behind the house, and scrambled up the slippery banks of the creek to the highest of the waterfalls.

The most important statement for me in Memories, Dreams, Reflections is this:"All day long I have exciting ideas and thoughts. But I take up in my work only those to which my dreams direct me." This is equally true for me.
     Many days a week I embark on research assignments that dreams have given me, often before doing anything else in a day. I dreamed of yesterday of writing a scholarly paper.Since then I have been investigating its subject: the life and mind of Princess Marie Bonaparte, Freud's patient and patron. Popups of synchronicity and the play of shelf elves in my large and lively home library give me further prompts for research when I am dreaming with my eyes open. Jung understood this very well too.


Sunday, April 18, 2021

The most important book I will ever read

I have kept a dream journal for many decades and I know it is the most important book  that I will ever read. I say this as a voracious reader with a personal library of nearly 14,000 books.
    My journal is my personal encyclopedia of symbols. It is my user's manual for living a fruitful life and choosing wisely between alternate possible futures that my traveling self visits every night. It is my scientific data log for incidents of precognition, telepathy and clairsentience, and for transpersonal experiences in which, for example, two or more people are engaged in the same dream activities. It is my atlas of the multiverse, my magical diary and the core of my personal mythology. It commemorates the nightly screening of gods, archetypes and daimones.
     It is starter dough for creative expression. It is the first and sometimes the best draft of pages that will appear in my books or be shared as stories in my lectures and classes. It is a book of clues, full of curious words and intriguing details that will send me off on research assignments.   

    Dreaming is not fundamentally about what happens during sleep; it is about waking up to a deeper order of reality. So my journal not only contains reports from sleep dreams, but also from shamanic journeys and special moments of synchronicity when we become vividly aware that ordinary life may be a waking dream. I take particular care to record the impressions that come in the liminal space between sleep and awake. The most important spiritual dialogues of my life have unfolded from contact with inner guides who communicate in this space, and some of my most thrilling adventures in lucid dream travel have taken off from here. 
     My journal reveals continuous lives that I seem to be leading in parallel worlds where I made different life choices. It shows me threads of connection between my present dramas and those of counterpart personalities living in other places and times, and helps me to pull gently on the web, to bind or release. My journal holds up a magic mirror to my attitudes and actions, offering course correction and restoring my inner compassIt helps me to track my progress in the practice of continuity of consciousness. This involves retaining witness perspective and awareness of choice in two or more realities simultaneously, as you cycle through states of sleep, dream, sleep-wake, waking dream and more.
     I may write my first reports of the day with a pencil or a fountain pen, in a beautiful bound journal with archival quality paper that invites me to sketch and to color as well. As soon as possible, however, I'll transcribe my reports into a digital data base. I date and title each report, so I have an instant chronological index. Saving my documents in Word gives me a search engine so if I want to track a theme or a name over all the years - "black dog", "Mircea Eliade", "HG" [hypnagogic] - all I have to do is type it in the box and all the relevant entries are there before me.
     No doubt everything is recorded somewhere - more likely in nonlocal mind than the basement of the personal subconscious - but it is essential (and can be wonderful creative fun) to develop searchable logs of this kind over time. They become the most important scientific data (in the sense of state-specific science, adequate to the field under investigation) in this area that we will ever attain.
     How much to record? My feelings will guide me on the urgency and importance of a dream - and indeed of whatever enter my field of perception - and how much detail I should include in my journal reports. On most days, I don't try record everything I remember from my dreams, just as I don't write down what I ate for breakfast or how many times my dog relieved himself in the park. A map as big as a country is no longer a map, as in the Borges story.
     There are limits to how much even the most dedicated dream journal-keeper can bring back from a night in the multiverse. On some days, my inner guidance is to write down whatever I remember as soon as possible, and let further writing and pattern recognition emerge as I do that. This works really well when I start by drawing something from the dream. On other days, my guidance is to forego journaling altogether in favor of simply writing with the energy and elements my dreams and hypnagogic experiences have given me.
    Some of the things that happen in Dreamland and stay in Dreamland have enduring effects even when we are amnesiac about what happened. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

Stamp of reality

 "Where have you been?" He glares at me, hurt and angry. How could I have missed the big event? He slew or tamed the monster - I missed the story - just before his 12th birthday. As everyone knows this is the very best time for adventures of initiation. His birthday party became a public triumph. I can see the evidence in ribbons and exploded fireworks in the square.

How can I explain to him that we don't live in the same country? I only visit in dreams and miss out on the action when I'm away. If I tell him this he will think I am crazy, just as people in the country where I will record this over coffee will think me mad if I tell them that I travel to a land where hydras and dragons are as real as traffic lights and Ubers.
I mutter something like, "I had business on a far island. I sailed on a two-masted schooner."
I give him a postage stamp with a picture of a two-masted schooner. It slipped out of the pages of a French novel overnight. He is mollified. What boy does not love stamps from far places? Uh-oh.There is a discrepancy. The schooner in the picture is three-masted. But in the world of the novel from which it sailed, with no need of an outer wind, it is une goélette à deux mâts. Two-masted. This is important. The author inists on it again and again. Perhaps the boy won't notice. However,it is precisely the kind of thing that won't pass the scrutiny of a 12-year-old with a love of adventure.

If you are curious about the back story of the French novel that came to me via a friend's dream, you will find it here. What I have shared on this page is of course a jeu d'esprit. However, I did meet that boy monster slayer in a dream before dawm today. Embarrassed by the difficulty of explaining that I don't live in his country all the time, I did reach to the novel (L'agent de change by Jacques Bellefroid) to fumble an answer to his question.

I was reading the French novel in the early hours, my favorite time for intimacy with books. When I turned in at 4:00 a.m., the narrator had not yet realized that the unusual postage stamp commemorates Joseph Conrad (born Józef Korzeniowski). Conrad became a master of English prose despite that fact that English was  not only not his native tongue but, as I recall, the third language he learned.

On the Trail of My Bookish Dream Double

I am constantly tryng to keep up with my traveling dream self. A friend in Europe recently reported a dream in which he visited a Paris bookshop and leafed through an interesting novel about dreams and reality titled L'agent de change. He left the bookstore without purchasing the book. When he mentioned this to my double, in his dream, Dream Robert reprimanded him for not buying the book.

After waking, he went online and discovered that there is a novel called L'agent de change with similar content to the one he looked over in his dream. The author is a veteran French writer with an interesting name, Jacques Bellefroid ("Beautiful Cold").

Well, of course I could not refuse a book recommendation from my dream self. I ordered the novel and it arrived today. There is a mystery involving a tiny picture of a schooner (goélette) on a postage stamp that starts sailing on a lively sea when the narrator looks at it. The writing is spare and crisp and doesn't make me go to the dictionary often. So I'll add it to my current reading. I smiled when I came to these lines:
On me dit que les écrivains ont peur de la page blanche. Grâce à Dieu, je ne suis pas écrivain
"I am told that writers are scared of the blank page. Thank God I am not a writer."
Agent de change means "stockbroker" in French, and that is the narrator's profession. He thinks his job requires him to "trust in only quantifiable things that keep him at a distance from dreams and surprises ". We can be sure the author was conscious of the double entendre in his title.
Everything changes in the stockbroker's perception of reality when he sees and feels the spray bursting over the stem of the two-masted schooner in the ocean of a postage stamp he was given by his wife, who sees nothing except a pretty picture.

Reading in Dreams: Don't trust any of those dream researchers who tell you that you can't read in dreams. Nonsense. I read as much in my dreams as in regular life, that is to say, enormously. While I may sometimes bring back only a few lines or just a title (of books that may or may not exist in regular life) I can sometimes bring through several pages. My friend was reading, too, in that Paris bookshop,and brought back a title and a summary of content.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Ariadne and the Moon Bull that Came to My Town


A dream shows me how to craft a new group shamanic journey into mythic territory in quest of the Minotaur. Then the Minotaur turns up, thirty feet tall, on a building haf a mile from my house in a little rustbelt city in the Northeast United States.

Like the Great Goddess,a myth we can live by may turn any one of a thousand faces to us. Sometimes they shine on us in dreams, as in  a dream I recorded on May 13,2018. Here is my unedited journal report:
Ariadne's Magic Ball
Overnight I led a workshop in which I guided eager participants on a new group journey modeled on the story of Ariadne's thread. The assignment was to find your way through a confusing maze to confront your own version of the Minotaur: the shape of the fear that prevents you from claiming your full creative gifts. I instructed the journeyers to take with them a magic ball of luminous thread. They would tie one end of the thread to the lintel at the entrance to the maze and then let the ball roll before them, guiding them to the place of encounter with the Beast. They would then follow the thread back, like Theseus the Minotaur-slayer.
Feelings: I came out of this dream cheerful and satisfied, also curious about the variation from the familiar story of Ariadne's thread,
Reality check and research: Ariadne's thread is usually described as something that will get you out of a hairy situation, rather than into it. I was excited to find that Robert Graves reports (in The Greek Myths) that Daedalus, the builder of the Cretan Labyrinth (actually more like a maze) gave Ariadne "a magic ball of thread" that would roll along winding ways to the place of the Minotaur. This is what she loaned to Theseus to get him to the "innermost room" of the Minotaur and back.
Dreaming with a myth: What was actually going on here? Is it possible the original reason for braving the labyrinth was not that you had been condemned as a blood offering to a monster,or called to a hero's quest to slay the monster,but invited to a place of initiation and union with the sacred?
Revisiting old sources, I was reminded that Minoan culture was Goddess-centered and that the hieros gamos (sacred marriage) between the Goddess and her Moon Bull consort was an essential rite. It has been suggested that the Goddess, embodied by her priestess, wore a cow mask and horns and that the King wore a bull mask and horns.
Was the place of the Minotaur (literally "Bull of Minos"; Minos means "Moon-being") a place of enactment of the sacred rite? Or an ordeal that must be survived to earn the right to enter the divine embrace? Was passage through the labyrinth (not the neat unicursal labyrinth of later churches but a wilderness of wandering ways) initiation in the deep womb of the Great Mother?
Has the simplified and familiar story of the hero killing the monster been overlaid on the more ancient Goddess story, and the Goddess reduced to a crazy queen and a girl with a crush on a strapping Greek?
"Without the names, the meaning of things is lost," wrote the great lexicographer Isadore of Seville,and that is especially true in threading this myth. When you know that the name Ariadne may be related to a Greek title of the Queen of the Underworld and may originally derive from a Sumerian name (Ariande) meaning “High Fruitful Mother of the Barley" you'll be freed from the notion that she is just a romantic girl with a useful ball of thread. 
When you learn that the name of Queen Pasiphae, mother of the Minoteur and his half-sister Ariadne, means "Shines on All" you might doubt those versions in which she is a cracked tauromaniac who has a wooden frame constructed so she can have sex with a very special bull by tricking him into thinking she was a cow  You may then be able to visualize ancient Minoans and Hellenes chortling over the rubes who bought an exoteric, literalistic telling of the Goddess's relations with the bull.
You'll find that boughs heavy with fruit were carried in rituals in her honor. She was worshipped as a goddess of the fertile earth, as well as the Underworld and the Moon, and was attributed the power to bring men inside the experience of women. In Cypriot rituals devoted to her, men simulated the pain of childbirth.
A ball of yarn is also called a clew. This, from Middle English, is the origin of our word "clue". Ariadne's clue can take you to a place of creative discovery,where you step beyond fear and blockage into the embrace of a greater power.
Let's hear from Joseph Campbell. Still writing in hero more than Goddess mode in The Power of Myth, he gives us further valid perspective:
“The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we thought to find an abomination we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another we shall shay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence."
If we find that we have to face a monster at the heart of the labyrinth, we may discover that the monster is no stranger, but a shadow self that must be recognized and integrated or overcome.
Men and women may have differing experiences of the Minotaur. A man man may be more inclined to fight,a woman more poised to gentle and heal and embrace. In his extraordinary short story "The House of Asterion", Jorge Luis Borges speaks in the voice of the Minotaur (one of whose Cretain names is Asterion) expressing his longing to be released from self-imposed isolation by the bronze sword of the hero.
Whatever we find at the heart of the labyrinth, let's be ready to recognize that what we feared as a monster may prove to be a teacher, as promised in the derivation of the word. Our word "monster" comes from the Latin monstrum, which means "portent" or "oracle" and is related to monstrator,or "teacher" and demonstrator, one who shows what we need to see. Threading the maze brings us to the center of the self, to what we need to confromt in order to release our full creative and erotic power, marry separated aspects of our energies, and embody the god/goddess of our greater nature.
Last week in my current online course Dreaming Your Mythic Life I invited participants to go on a group shamanic journey to thread the Labyrinth and meet the Minotaur. This went very deep and the journey reports shared later were amazing, turning the face of the myth in hundreds of fresh and original ways.

Then the Minotaur appeared, 30 feet tall, on the wall of a building half a mile from my home. We learned from a local news report that a downtown meadery called The Bull and Bee commissioned an artist to paint him. Unknown to me, this was accomplished in the dark the night before my class. The message, for me, is clear: when a mythic power comes after you, invoked or uninvoked, be ready for it to show up in the street.

Top image
The National Archaeological Museum of Spain in Madrid houses an Attic black-figure cup from around 515 bc with this painting ofthe Minotaur iniside. There are letters around the edge. start just before the Minotaur’s left foot and ead in a counter-clockwise direction and you will the Greek phrase, χω παις καλώς ho pais kalos, which translates as “I play well”. Maybe not would expect and a clue tyhat a sacred game is afoot. It may be a sexual come-on. Such cups were used in symposia where older and younger men and boys partied together.

Dreaming with the Bee Goddess in the Baltic

Safe in Honey

Warmed by the sun, amber quickens and streams,
remembering a golden world within wood.
A honey bee wakes in the dream of amber
and bursts from the yellow dome in its silver mount.

I track the bee to the old barn, paint-less and forgotten,
we had thought an abandoned wreck.
Something has been working here, unseen.
The barn is filled with sweetness. Honey drips from the rafters.
Soon I am drunk with abundance, giddy with joy.

The drone of the bees is a song, the chant of melissai.
I remember priestesses who bring the honey of the invisible
and always lead home to the bosom of the Great Mother.
With the song, a power is rising in the dark amber shadows.

I feel the heat of its quivering flanks.
Earth heaves with the stamping hooves;
its great windy mane drives a breeze through the still air.
It comes to me now, and I mount it with joy, safe in honey.

I rediscovered the text of this poem, composed in 2006. It revives my desire to learn more about the mysteries of the ancient Bee Goddess, the honeybee priestesses, and the connection between honey and amber. I look to the Baltic for the most reliable access to these things, because  the Bee Goddess (whose Lithuanian name is Austeja) is still known and revered there, and this is the source of the most precious amber, and because ancient and contemporary priestesses of this tradition have communicated with me directly when I have been in the Baltic lands. 

Austeja is a woman and a bee in one person. Her name melds the Lthuanian word for weave (austi, as in weaving linen) and for flying swiftly, or repeatedly closing and opening doors (austyi)

When you make offering to Austeja, you toss your drink up into the air.Mead is best, offered to Austeja at ceremonies related to marriage, pregnancy and christening – she is the protector of brides and pregnant women. Her holiday [Zoline] is in mid-August, when bees are very active in bringing in honey. At this time, honey is offered to Austeja, a gift of the goddess to the goddess.

Before honey is gathered from the hives, the beekeepers pray and make offerings, Such a gathering is called biciuliai (“fellow beekeepers”). The use of the word has been  broadened to mean "close friends".

Bees are not ordinary. The death of a human and the death of a bee is described with the same word – there is a different term for death in all other species.A dead bee is to be buried in the earth. You are supposed to watch your manners around bees; they understand human speech.

In The Civilization of the Goddess, Marija Gimbutas,the great Lithuanian-born scholar of the religions of Old Europe, wrote that bees are symbols of the Goddess as the power of regeneration. They "may represent the Goddess herself, or souls that leave the body at death or during dreams.” 

Art: "Path of Honey" by Robert Moss

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Way and the Changes


We find in China a word and a way of understanding synchronicity that are simple and profound. The word is Tao (also transliterated as Dao). It is sometimes translated as “way”, or the Way, which is good enough for me. If we are attuned to the Tao, then our ways are open.

    The Tao of Psychology, Jean Shinoda Bolen’s lively little book from 1979 is one of the very best expositions of the theory of synchronicity. She goes looking for an easier and more elegant way to explain the phenomenon Jung struggled to define. She found it waiting where it has been for thousands of years, in the Chinese understanding of the Tao, the Way that had no name but generates the ten thousand names. 

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.[1]

     As Bolen observed, “the Eastern mind has considered the underlying connection between ourselves and others, between ourselves and the universe, the essential reality and called in Tao.” [2]  The I Ching is a way of invoking the Tao; its first successful Western translator, Richard Wilhelm, decided that the best one-word translation of Tao is “meaning.”
     Jung’s thinking about synchronicity flowered when Richard Wilhelm sent him the text of an ancient Taoist treatise, The Secret of the Golden Flower, for which Jung wrote a preface. Wilhelm also introduced Jung to the Book of Changes, or I Ching, for which he provided the first translation that made the Chinese oracle accessible for Western readers as a divination system. Jung studied I Ching closely, and realized he was entering the mind of a culture for which synchronicity — as the Way and its Changes — was the fundamental law of life, and the preferred way of understanding what wants to happen in life.
     The dynamic interplay between yin and yang is at the heart of I Ching. It is the interplay between the receiving and the creating forces, between dark and light, between cool and warm, forever intermingled and turning into each other.
    The emergence of the I Ching is wrapped in legend and mystery. By tradition, it was the ancient Dragon Emperor, Fu Tsi, who “noticed” patterns in the cracks of turtle shells, and distinguished these patterns as the eight trigrams (pa kua) that are the root of I Ching. Then later the “King of Writing”, Wu Wen amplified the system into the 64 hexagrams and the Confucius ordered and numbered the arrangement.
     Archaeology suggests an evolution over some 4,000 years. Under the Shang dynasty, shamans read auguries in the cracks that appeared in the bones of animals offered as burned offerings. It was believed that as the appeals of humans traveled upward in the smoke, messages and warnings from higher powers came down. The relation between patterns of cracks and subsequent events was noted, and cracked bones were kept in pre-literate “archives”. Later turtle shells were substituted. They provided a larger surface, and their shape was thought to resemble the dome of heaven above and the square fields of earth below. With the coming of the bronze age, turtle shells were cracked with bronze pokers. Patterns corresponding to later events began to be marked with simple symbols, suggesting fire or flood. From these symbols, Chinese writing emerged. Under the Chou dynasty — before the supply of turtles was exhausted — shamans and diviners began to record the code of the I Ching on strips of bamboo, tied together with silk ribbons. And the first books of China emerged.
    The ancient method for casting the I Ching involves a fistful of dried yarrow stalks. The yarrow most valued for early divination as found growing on the graves of past teachers and masters of I Ching, including Confucius. Early translator James Legge reported seeing yarrow growing on the grave of Confucius. The Chinese still believe that when a good diviner in the right state of mind is doing his/her stuff, there is communication with the spirits, whether you are using yarrow stalks or coins or grains of rice, which my first teacher recommended, after lighting some incense.
    The Great Treatise (one of the earliest long commentaries on the I Ching) maintains that the I Ching contains "the measure of heaven and earth" — ie, it is a microcosm of the whole cosmic game — and that if we place ourselves in exactly the right point in its revolutions, we move in synchrony with the workings of the universe and can help to shape events on every scale through our conscious participation. The Great Treatise suggests that you not only learn to meet every event in the right way but may be privileged “to aid the gods in governing the world.”
    The I Ching hexagrams are stacks of six lines, broken or unbroken. Variations on a single binary code. The unbroken lines are yang, the broken ones are yin. One way to understand them is to see an unbroken line as a portal that is opening, and a broken one as a portal that is closing. Through this binary code, the Book of Changes reveals the interplay of three realms: the earthly, the human and the heavenly. The two lowest lines of the hexagram relate to the Earth realm, the middle lines to the human, and the upper pair to Heaven.
    You don’t use I Ching for fortune-telling. It’s not about seeing the future; it’s about seeing when and how to manifest your hopes and plans for the future, which is actually much more interesting. This is a tool for helping you to create the future you choose. You bring your clear intention — your project — and you ask for guidance on current conditions and the strategy to be followed. The I Ching does not bind you to any determinist scheme of things. It gives you a diagnosis of how things are, with the world and with you now, whether this is the right time to pursue a goal and what strategy you should follow.
     Since Jung’s death, we have had access to a manuscript of the Book of Changes that is more ancient than those available in his lifetime. It is a broken text, and therefore not useable — without creative addition or fabrication — as a full oracle. Nonetheless, it makes very exciting reading for those interested in the shamanic origins of the oracle and the different levels on which it registers and provokes synchronicity.
      The text dates from about 175 BCE. It was discovered in the tomb of a duke of the Han dynasty at Mawangdui that also contained the text of the Tao Te Ching, clearly placing this version of the Changes in the ancient Way. The ordering of the hexagrams in the Mawangdui version is quite different from that of the familiar Duke Wen arrangement used by Wilhelm and other translators. The two primal hexagrams have different and sexier names. Among the “appended statements” to the text, in Edward Shaughnessy’s translation, we find this: 

The sage…takes the real characteristics of all under heaven to their extremes and causes them to reside in the hexagrams; drums [emphasis added] the movements of all under heaven and causes them to reside in the statements; transforms and regulates them and causes them to reside in the alternations; pushes and puts them into motion and causes them to reside in the unity; makes them spiritual and transforms them and causes them to reside in his person; and plans and completes them…and causes them to reside in virtuous action.[3] 

     Inspired by this, when I led a course in I Ching, we drummed the binary code of the lines, changing and constant, yin and yang, on our single-headed frame drums, and pictured early diviners doing something similar.
     We drummed the six lines of the twentieth hexagram, which is called Watching and whose shape is that of a watchtower, the kind that Chinese armies placed along the borders. We saw how rising up through the lines of the hexagram is like climbing steps from the lowest level of an observation tower to the very top, from a place of limited or impeded vision to a space from which we could see, without restriction, across time and space.
     A great revelation came when we worked, with drumming and also with body movements, with the 61st hexagram, Wind on the Lake, called Zhong Fu, or Inner Truth. The hole in the center of the hexagram can be seen as the opening of the heart, and also as the unveiling of a window between worlds.
      In Philip K. Dick’s fascinating novel of alternate realities, The Man in the High Castle, the casting of this hexagram brings a shift between parallel worlds. In the main narrative, we are in a world where the Axis powers were the victors in World War II, and North America is divided between Japanese and German occupation armies and other entities. Yet a subversive work of fantasy is circulating, a story in which the Allies won the war and everything is different. When Juliana casts Zhong Fu for Abendsen in the last pages of The Man in the High Castle, he understands (if only for a moment) that the alternate reality he thought was fiction is true, the real world. We see the observer effect working on a human, and even global scale. If only for a shimmering moment, as the coins roll and settle, we glimpse how it may be possible to switch worlds.
     The way we see reality generates our experience of reality. A method of seeing like the I Ching can make us co-creators of our worlds. The Great Treatise suggests that through deep study of the Book of Changes we not only learn to meet every event in the right way but may be privileged “to aid the gods in governing the world.” [4] The Mawangdui text asserts that the Book of Changes “knows the reasons for light and dark” [5]. It “strengthens beings and fixes fate, taking pleasure in the way of all under heaven…This is why the sage uses it to penetrate the will of all under heaven.” [6]


1. Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching trans. Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English.
2. Jean Shinoda Bolen, The Tao of Psychology: Synchronicity and the Self  (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982) xi 
Edward L. Shaughnessy (trans and ed) I Ching: The Classic of Changes. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1997) 203
4. Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes, trans., The I Ching or Book of Changes (Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990) 294.
5. ibid, 191
6. ibid, 199

Text adapted from Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Graphic: The precursor to I Ching as China's main system of divination (besides dream interpretation) was the Shang dynasty system for reading the "oracle bones": shoulder bones of animals and the plastrons from turtle shells.