Friday, June 11, 2021

Birth of Athena

If you devour a mother goddess
make sure you have loyal friend nearby
armed with the ax of the crescent moon.
It’s like this: the feminine power
you thought you could master
is going to stir and swell in you
until your whole being is a trembling womb
that can only open at the top
like a volcano rising from the ocean floor.
It will blow out your brains
unless your head is opened.
So keep a helper with the right tool handy
and be ready for the bright fury
with owl eyes and blazing mind
who will burst from your head fully armed
and love you to death, setting her spear
at the throat of your certainties.

Image: Attic black figure vase c.560 bce, in British Museum. Hephaestus splits the skull of Zeus with a two-headed mallet or ax to birth the goddess Athena from his head. Zeus is seated on a swan-backed chair and holds a lightning bolt in his hand. Athena springs from his head, shield in hand, ready for action. Hephaestus waves his hand in the style of an Eileithyia, a birth-goddess.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

How to talk to the Creator


Ruby Modesto, a shaman of the Desert Cahuilla in southern California, describes how her calling and guidance came to her through dreams. Listening to her voice, as mediated by anthropologist Guy Modesto, is to be in the presence of a wise woman of great common and uncommon sense.

      She tells us, as her grandfather told her, how to talk to the Creator and find his or her voice in the world around us. I want you to listen to her words about this:

     “Grandfather Francisco taught me how to pray to Umna’ah, our Creator. He told me to go alone into the mountains, to find a quiet beautiful place and to pray. He said I should talk out everything, say whatever I felt or needed, and then listen for an answer.

     “That’s the secret: to listen. You have to say everything that’s in your mind, cry until you’re empty. Then listen. He will speak to you.”

     To my ear, this is beautifully said and it is counsel to be followed any day, but especially on days when we are feeling lost or confused. Go alone to a special place, a place where you can hear the speaking land. Get out everything you need to express. Shout it out, cry it out, until you are empty.Then listen until you are filled with the guidance and strength you have opened a space to receive.

     For Ruby, that special place in nature was up in the Santa Rosa mountains near the traditional valley home of her people of the Dog Clan of the Cahuilla. For me, a good place to talk to the Creator is a lake in the woods that is quiet unless I get too close to a beaver lodge – which will get the male beaver thwacking his tail – or the red-tailed hawk is urgent to speak to me in her own tongue.


Quotes are from Ruby Modesto and Guy Mount, Not for Innocent Ears: Spiritual Traditions of a Desert Cahuilla Medicine Woman. Arcata, CA: Sweetlight Books, 1980.

Photo: Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. Public Domain.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

There Are Things That Like to Happen Together


Jung’s lifelong practice of field perception and observation of special moments of synchronicity is a model of how to navigate with the help of coincidence and let the interweaving of inner and outer experience open a path to “absolute knowledge.”

He had a little garden room on the lake where he would often receive clients and colleagues in his later years. He would receive all the natural phenomena that were buzzing or splashing or sighing within his field of perception — the flight of insects, the wake of a boat, a shift in the wind — as a commentary on whatever was going on in his interaction with his visitor.

Jung’s willingness to trust an unexpected incident — and accept it immediately as guidance for action — is evident in a meeting he had with Henry Fierz, who visited him in hopes of persuading him to support the publication of a manuscript by a recently deceased scientist. Jung had reservations about the book and opposed publication. The conversation became increasingly strained, and Jung looked at his watch, evidently getting ready to tell his guest he was out of time. Jung frowned when he saw the time.

“What time did you come?” he demanded of his visitor.

“At five o’clock, as agreed.”

Jung’s frown deepened. He explained that his watch had just been repaired, and should be keeping impeccable time. But it showed 5:05, and surely Fierz had been with him for much longer. “What time do you have?”

“Five thirty-five,” his visitor told him.

“Since you have the right time and I have the wrong time,” Jung allowed, “I must think again.”

He then changed his mind and supported publication of the book.

Well do well, in our daily practice, if we simply recognize that there are things that like to happen together, and allow those patterns to reveal themselves.


Look What’s Going Down the Toilet

Shortly before the stock market crash in 1987, in the restroom on an airplane, I dropped a small wallet containing my credit card and checks from the brokerage account I had at that time — and only just managed to catch it before it vanished down the toilet.

 Had this been a dream, I might have written a one-liner like: “If you’re not very careful, your stock market investments will go down the toilet.” Unfortunately, in 1987, I was not yet fully aware that incidents in waking life speak to us exactly like dream symbols. I failed to harvest the message, neglected to take the appropriate action to limit the risk to my brokerage account — and saw a large percentage of my net worth go down the toilet.


Three Geese in Flight

Nearly twenty years later — poorer but hopefully a little wiser — I was at the Iroquois Indian Museum in the rural Schoharie Valley of upstate New York. I was giving an informal talk about my book Dreamways of the Iroquoisand I was gratified that the large audience included many people of the First Nations as well as many descendants of the first European settlers.

Afterward, a long line of people wanted me to sign their books.

A pleasant, mature woman sprang into action, finding seats for the older people and helping others to stay cheerful while they waited.

When things became less busy, she asked if she might sit and talk with me. Of course. She introduced herself with modest dignity. “I’m Freida Jacques.  For twenty-seven years I have served as Mother of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga people.”

I felt honored and humbled to be in her presence.

She said, “I don’t dream in the night so much, or don’t remember. I dream like this. I need to know if I should accept an invitation to go out west, and I look up and there are three geese in flight, flying west like an arrowhead, with a hawk in front of them. Those three geese, the way they were flying, told me to go west.”

A man waiting behind her couldn’t restrain himself. He shoved his business card across the table. The name of his business was Three Geese in Flight, and he specialized in both Celtic and Iroquois books.

“That’s very interesting,” I told him. “Since I started dreaming in the Mohawk language, and studying Aboriginal peoples, some of my fierce Scottish ancestors have started walking through my dreams, basically saying, ‘Look here, laddie. We know a thing also. Don’t forget to talk to us.’ Sometimes they say things in Scots Gaelic. I really don’t know how I’m going to cope with that. Mohawk was bad enough.”

Then a tall, lean, tweedy man waiting behind the bookseller couldn’t hold back.

He pushed forward and gave me his hand.

“I’m a retired English professor,” he told me. “I have devoted the rest of my life to preparing the definitive grammar of Scots Gaelic.” He gave me his card. “If you need help translating those Gaelic words in your dreams, I’m your man, laddie.”



Text adapted from The Three "Only" Things by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.


Saturday, June 5, 2021

Robin Hobb's Ways of Magic and Dreaming

Notes from a Reading Life

I don't know why it took me so long to start reading the exceptional fantasy novels of Robin Hobb. Since I devoured Assassin's Apprentice,the first book in her Farseer trilogy,I have been cracking a new novel in the vast cycle every week or so. I might have finished the 13 novels by Hobb that I have in my current reading pile (she has published many more, under more than one name) except that I have just a few other reading assignments. I must also confess thatI have a polyamorous relationship with books, hopping in and out of bed with many in a single night.
     The names of her characters - King Shrewd, Prince Chivalry, Lady Patience - looked silly to me before I started in, but within a few pages I had made the adjustment. I wasn't sure to begin with that I wanted to give time to yet another neo-medieval series, replete with swords and sorcerers and dragons, but soon she had me in her spell, and her dragons are most superior..
     I am fascinated by the ways of magic described in Hobb's splendid series and by the wildly shamanic and moving treatment of human-animal bonding. Best of all, as her protagonist deepens his practice, he - and the reader - learns more and more about the power of dreaming.

At the start of Royal Assassin, Book 2 of The Farseer Trilogy).we are told we are in a world where there are three kinds of the magic.

The first is the Skill, inborn in royals of the Farseer dynasty and sometimes appearing as a "wild strain" in people whose ancestors came from outside the settled lands of the Six Duchies. "One trained in the Skill is able to reach out to another's mind, no matter how distant, and know what he is thinking. Those who are strongly Skilled can influence that thinking, or have converse with that person. For the conducting of a battle, or the gathering of information, it is a most useful tool."

The second magic is the Wit, denounced by many as "beast magic" and sometimes punished by a gruesome triple execution by hanging,cutting and immersion in water.  We are told by a cautious chronicler that "The Wit, it is said, gives one the ability to speak the tongues of the beasts. It was also warned that those who practiced the Wit too long or too well became whatever beast they bonded to. But this may be only legend." We will learn much more through the voice of the protagonist-narrtaor, FitzChivalry as we enter his deep bonding with a wolf, which gives us some of the most powerful writing and most moving scenes in the cycle.

Then there are the Hedge magics: potions and palmistry, skrying and spell-making and herbal remedies.

 The force of the Skill is dramatized when Fitz comes to the tower room where his master, King-in-Waiting Verity, has been using it to confuse the minds of the terrible Red Ship Raiders. Startled by his entrance, Verity "turned to me and his face was like heat, like light, like wind in my face. He Skilled into me with such force that I felt driven out of myself, his mind possessing mine so completely that there was no room left to be myself in it. For a moment I was drowning in Verity, and then he was gone, withdrawing so rapidly that I was left stumbling and gasping like a fish deserted by a high wave." The Skilled royal steadied him and apologized.

Our hero Fitz, a royal bastard, is both Skilled and Witted, though he is given no useful training in either magic. He learns the depth of animal bonding after he purchases an abused wolf cub from a vendor who has been keeping it in a cage. The wolf hates and distrusts humans. But with time and exquisite care Fitz is able to grow and gentle their relationship until they are closely bonded, able to converse mind to mind, to protect and heal one another and even to share, for a time, each other's bodies. The country folk who are Witted call themselves Old Blood. Hobb's description of what evolves between Fitz and the wolf he comes to call Nighteyes is wildly and truly shamanic, also so deeply human and canine 

In Assassin's Quest (Book 3 of Farseer trilogy) we learn more of the risks of the "magic of minds"known as the Skill. 
 "It requires a great deal of energy to wield it on a daily basis, and it offers to its practitioners an attraction that has been misnamed as a pleasure. It is more of a euphoric, one that increases in power proportionately with the strength and duration of Skilling. It can lure the practitioner into an addiction to Skilling, one which eventually saps all mental and physical strength, to leave the mage a great, drooling babe." 

We are given further ruminations on the magic of the Old Blood: "The Wit seems to be a form of mind linking, usually with a particular animal, which opens a way for understanding of that animal's thoughts and feelings...What the Wit may be is a man's acceptance of the beast nature within himself, and hence an awareness of the element of humanity that every animal carries within it as well." 

As his faculties come more fully alive, Fitz finds himself able to enter the perception and seemingly the bodies of people at a distance, initially without control. When the coastal duchies are plagued by the raiders, his dream self joins a boy in a desperate battle ."I do not think the boy could sense me. This was not my Skilling out but his reaching to me with some rudimentary Skill sense of his own. I could not control his body at all, but I was locked into his experience. I was riding this boy and hearing his thoughts and sharing his perceptions." . Before he can figure it out, the boy's throat is cut and for a moment he is joined in the rapture of a bloody death. 

Later he Skill-dreams into another desperate fight against the Red Ship Raiders. He enters the body of a Duke's daughter and wields his battle ax, through her, with amazing effect. The cost of his unplanned Skill dreams is terrible headaches and fatigue for which he takes a dreadful remedy. 

He has to learn discernment, targeting, how to set up walls so he is not open to anyone, Skilled or Witted, who leans his way. The urgency becomes clear as we witness the continuing raids, which deploy a mode of psychic warfare that reduces opponents to ravening zombies, and a vicious struggle for the Farseer throne. We learn that the Skill unlocks powers initially beyond imagination. Ancient masters created portals and highways into a deeper universe and sculpted living dragons from black memory stone, and the arts can be revived. 

In Fool's Errand (book 1 of The Tawny Man trilogy, the sequel to the Farseer threesome) Fitz discovers the treasures of hypnagogia. experiences in the liminal space between sleep and awake: "I lingered in the hinterlands of sleep. Sometimes I think there is more rest in that place than there is in true sleep. The mind walks in the twilight of both states, and finds the truths that are hidden alike by daylight and dreams. Things we are not ready to know abide in that place, awaiting that unguarded frame of mind. " 

SPOILER ALERT: You may want to skip the two following short paragraphs if you have not already read Fool's  Errand

His communication and bonding with the wolf deepens. He escapes death by fleeing the "battered husk" of his physical body and sharing the wolf's body, with his consciousness, for a time. "I shared residence with the wolf in his body, perceiving his thoughts, seeing the world through his eyes."

Later, when Nighteyes is near death, Fitz risks everying by projecting himself into the wolf''s body again, to heal his heart by becoming his heart, moving it back to a regular pattern. You have a hard head indeed if either of these passages leaves you dry-eyed. 

 In Fool's Fate (Book 3 in The Tawny Man trilogy) we learn more, with Fitz, about traveling in dreaming and joining others in their dreams. Without giving away too much of the plot, a character who is richly endowed with the raw power of Skill but has very little brain is bringing down the energy and spirit of a whole ship's crew through his nightmare visons. Fitz can't contain this alone. He must travel into the dream space of a young woman who is a more powerful dreamer. He gets through the dark thorny woods that oppose him, finds her in a glass tower and begs her to help calm the dark dreams that are afflicting many. He tells her, 
"You are very strong in the magic that lets one person go into another person's dreams and change them." 

Together they enter the space of  man who is drowning in his dream. The girl is able to change the dream. "Now it's my dream, and in my dream we can walk on the waves." She helps construct a pleasant new dreamscape woven from the dreamer's happy childhood memories, where he can lie safe and warm on an immense bed. She tells him -in the new dream - that he can return to this sanctuary whenever he chooses. All he has to do is think of a pillow on the bed.

Robin Hobb is weaving some true dream magic here, even as her character says, "This dream-changing is not magic. It is just a thing I can do."

My favorite character in the series,the Fool (no room to explain him here) says early in the stories,  "You can only understand a thing when you become it." As we follow what this means for Fitz, we come alive to what it may mean in our own lives.


Dreams are the novels which we read when asleep


Notes from a Reading Life

“Dreams are the novels which we read when asleep,” according to an anonymous “writer” quoted by Charles G. Leland in the preface to his anthology The Poetry and Mystery of Dreams, published in Philadelphia in 1855. Perhaps the writer was Leland himself. It’s a curious anthology, originating in the ancient idea that prophecy and poetry are intimately connected; did not the Pythia speak in verse? Leland even finds room for a Bohemian drinking song, translated from “Czech-Slavonian” by himself:

Drink good beer and never fear, 
Love the girls both far and near!

He comes again and again to his beloved Chaucer and Chaucer’s ringing validation of dreams:

Dreames be significations 
As well of joy as of tribulations, 
That folks endure in this life present: 
There nedeth to make of this none argument

"A tale is not beautiful if nothing is added to it."
- Tuscan proverb quoted by Italo Calvino in the introduction to his collection of Italian Folktales, which contains many wonder tales translated from Tuscan dialect, including "The Sleeping Queen" (La Regina Marmotta).,recorded from te oral narration of a laborer around 1880. The manner of the queen's awakening could keep Freudians and Jungians and anthropologists arguing for weeks. For Calvino it is enough to declare that "folktales are real".
In the course of his journey into folklore, he tells us, "the world about me gradually took on the attributes of fairyland, where everything that happened was a spell or a metamorphosis...I had the impression that the lost rules which govern the world of folklore were tumbling out of the magic box I had opened."

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The only dream expert is you

You are the final authority on your dreams, and you should never give the power of your dreams away by handing them over to other people to interpret. Yes, our dreams can be confusing and opaque, and we gain greatly from other people's insights, especially when those other people are "frequent fliers" who work closely with their own dreams and have developed a fine intuition about what may be going on in dreaming. So it's okay to ask for help. More than that, we often need help because we are too close to our own issues, or too inhibited by self-limiting to see what may be obvious to a complete outsider.
     However, we need to learn some simple rules about how to share and comment on dreams. I suggest the following guidelines for both sharing and self-study:

1. Record or tell the dream as clearly and exactly as possible. Dreams are real experiences, and the meaning of the dream is often inside the dream experience itself. Give your story a title.
2. Consider your feelings, inside the dream and especially on waking. Your first feelings around a dream are a quick and usually reliable guide to its relative importance, urgency and quality (e.g. positive/negative, literal/symbolic).
3. Always run a reality check by asking: Is it remotely possible the events in this dream could be played out in waking life? I have never seen more time wasted in dream analysis -- and more life-supporting messages lost -- than when we fail to recognize that our dreams are constantly rehearsing us for challenges that lie around the corner. In our dreams, we are all psychic.
4. If you are going to comment on someone else's dream, always begin by saying (in these words or similar words), "If this were my dream, I would think about..." This way, you are not leaning on other people and presuming to tell them the meaning of their dreams or their lives. If we can only encourage more people to follow this vitally important etiquette for dream-sharing, we'll create a safe space for many people to share dreams and work with them in everyday situations. Most important, we will help each other to become authors of meaning for our own dreams, and our own lives.
5. Try to go back inside the dream and recover more information. A dream fully remembered is often its own interpretation. You may find dream reentry much easier than you thought when you wake up to the fact that a dream is also a place; because you have been to that place, you can find your way there again.
6. Try to come up with a one-liner to summarize what happens in the dream (or encourage the dreamer to do that). This will often turn out to be a personal dream motto that will orient you towards appropriate action -- to act on the dream guidance and honor the dream.
7. Always do something with the dream! Dreams require action. We need to do far more than interpret dreams;we need to bring their energy and insight into manifestation in waking life.

The simple guidelines above are central to my Active Dreaming approach. You can learn more about fun, everyday techniques for working and playing with dreams and using them as portals for adventure and healing in a larger reality in my books; The Three "Only" Things and Active Dreaming are good places to jump in.

Art: René Magritte, Belgian, La légende des siècles (1952).

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Notes from a Reading Life: Wendy Doniger's Implied Spider

"When Kevin Costner wanted to learn an Indian dialect for his film Dances with Wolves, he didn't realize that there were different grammatical forms for men and women; he learned the language from a woman, and hence, apparently unknowingly, throughout the film referred to himself as 'she' and 'her'."

This delightful anecdote in Wendy Doniger's book The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth reminded me of my first attempts to learn the Mohawk language on and off reservations. In Mohawk the primary nouns and pronouns are feminine. So Okwari is Bear but in English it is also she-bear. If you want to specify you are talking about a male bear you must add a prefix and say Rokwari.

Doniger's Kostner anecdote comes in a discussion of how women's voices have been suppressed in the literature of many cultures. Throughout Doniger displays the fruits of her omnivorous reading and proves herself a worthy successor to Mircea Eliade as professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago.

Myths are her passion but she declines to give any fixed definition of the word "myth". You can catch her on the fly, however, saying things like this:

"A myth is a story that is sacred to and shared by a group of people who find their most important meanings in it."

And this:

"Myths from other people's cultures often provide us with useful metaphors that are more refreshing than our own."

I strongly endorse the last statement. Doniger gives an example of what it has meant to her in another provocvative book, 
Splitting the Difference: Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India. Here she describes how she found her “seed text”, bija mantra, in the story of an Indian goddess, Saranyu. This goddess, little-known in the West, cloned herself in order to get away from a husband she detested, leaving a compliant Hindu version of a Stepford Wife at home while she ranged free as a wild mare. This story kept after Doniger for decades, prompting her to reach deeper and deeper into its well. Whenever she heard it, she would say, “That’s the story of my life.”

I weave  myths from every culture accessible to me into my courses, refreshing old stories as they refresh us. To touch our lives a myth must come vitally alive in our imaginations and our experience of the world. 


Subtle Bodies and Astral Sex in Killing Commendatore


Notes from a Reading Life

"An image of a color I should add came to me. The idea sprang up suddenly, all on its own. The color was like that of a tree with its green leaves dully dyed by rain. I mixed several colors together and created what I wanted on my palette..I was simply following ideas that sprang up naturally inside me, with no plan or goal. Like a child, not watching his step, chasing some unusual butterfly fluttering across a field."

This is how Haruki Murakami captures the moment a burned-out artist gets in the zone in his novel Killing Commendatore. While the book title might suggest a mob movie, it is the name of a painting inspired by a figure in Mozart's "Don Giovanni".

Amomg its many gifts and surprises Killing Commendatore gives us a wildly interesting perspective on the nature and travels of subtle energy bodies. It also dramatizes processes of materialization by which entities from realms beyond human perception can take up residence in  forms created by humans.

I thrilled to this observation by Menshiki the son of a great Japanese artist: "There's a point in everybody's life where they need a major transformation. And when that time comes you have to grab it by the tail. Grab it hard and never let it go. There are some people who are able to, and others who can't."

The action of the novel gets under way when a thirty-something commercial portrait artist leaves a broken marriage and an uncreative life to live in borrowed space, the mountain house of a famous artist who is now in a nursing home with dementia. He discovers a previously unknown painting by the artist hidden in the attic and tightly wrapped. Inspired by Mozart’s Don Giovanni, it depicts the stabbing of The Commendatore with amazing vividness, adding a figure sticking his long head out of a hole to observe.

The discovery of the picture, and a little grey horned owl in the attic, triggers a strange series of events. A bell-like sound from the woods behind the house before 3 am every night leads to major excavation -organized by the mysterious rich man in a white palace on a peak across the valley – that opens a pit with slick, unclimbable walls nine feet deep.This leads the narrator to recall a classic horror story of a Buddhist monk who had himself buried alive, ringing a  bronze bell to indicate he was still there until he wasn’t (but something else now walked the earth in his semblance).There is an old bronze bell in the pit. Who or what was buried here and why were all those stones and boards placed to hold it captive?

The question is enlarged rather than answered when a two-foot high character, the spitting image of The Commendatore in the painting, starts appearing to the narrator.

Late in the novel there is an astonishing description of the protagonist having astral sex with his estranged wife, flying from his eyrie on a mountain to her bedroom in Tokyo. It’s so real that he worries that he raped her while she was asleep. Nine months later she has a baby for which there is no physical father in ordinary reality since she had stopped having sex with her boyfriend.