Tuesday, September 28, 2021
From my travel journals, an adventure in shamanic lucid dreaming that demonstrates many of our core techniques: dream incubation, dream reentry, dreaming with the ancestors of the land, group shamanic journeying through the portal of a remembered dream.
I am very excited. We have found a way to access the ancient spirits of this land, both spirits of the First Peoples and spirits of nature. I may give everyone the assignment to go this hill and bring back their own message, by entering a cave or copying and inscription or even by imagining what message they would inscribe as a symbol if they belonged to the ancient ways of this land. Through all of this, a native elder watches over us, initially wary, wanting to check my intentions, then very willing for us to learn, at the price of respect and careful study and attunement. His voice is like the wind. His name is Rushing Wind.
we honor you, we remember you
At the base of the mountain, I find the entrance to a cave or tunnel. There is a fierce guardian figure, with a single eye, like a giant hairy cyclops. He is ordered back by a power – Rushing Wind, the elder from my dream – who asserts my right to enter. I realize that white wolf and mountain lion are with me, hawk overhead, and the energy of Island Woman, the dream shaman and Mother of the Wolf Clan who called me long ago. I am asked for my name, and I give one.
Soon I am carried through a network of passages and caves by rushing winds, until I am deep in a great cavern in the presence of a giant bear. He is not friendly at first, but accepts the bear in me.
I begin to inspect patterns on a cave wall. A light glows behind the stone until it looks like frosted glass. Then it becomes transparent, like a window. Now it is no barrier at all. I step through into a world of primal beauty and simplicity, where people are fishing and gathering fruits. They remind me of the people among whom I lived when I left my body at nine years of age. They welcome me, and I am full of joy to be with them.
They tell me, “We are always here.”
For the natives of this land, they are the Original People, ancestors of the ancestors.
Whatever is done in the surface world, they are here.
“When you get sick, you come here. When you get well, we send you back.”
There is a deep sense of belonging, of home.
“We are alive. We are here. The dead are alive. The living are dead.”
I am reluctant to leave, but I am drumming for the group and responsible for them. I leave the caves and walk the trail on the other side. I see my radiant double. I know that, if things go well, we can finally come together and walk together through the sun, which is right ahead, on this trail leading beyond the Mountain of Messages.
I have led many journeys to caves of the ancestors over the years, and provide a script for this kind of shamanic journey in Dreaming the Soul Back Home. The dream-guided Esalen group journey was especially thrilling not only because it seemed to open an authentic link to the First Peoples of the land where we were gathered but because - for me personally - it reopened contact with a world-behind-the-world I discovered during a near-death experience when I was nine years old.
Monday, September 27, 2021
"Look at the great round halo, fringed with the symbols of fire, within which the god is dancing. It stands for Nature, for the world of mass and energy. Within it, Shiva-Nataraja dances the dance of endless becoming and passing away. It is his lila, his cosmic play. Playing for the sake of playing, like a child. But this child is the Order of Things. His toys are galaxies, his playground is infinite space."
I am quoting from a beautiful description of a statue of
Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance, in Aldous Huxley's last novel, Island.
In cast metal Indian figures of Shiva Nataraja, the oldest of which date from the 10th century, he is shown with four arms, which evoke the four cardinal directions. Each hand holds a a symbolic object or makes a symbolic gesture, a mudra.
In the upper right hand is a drum shaped like an hourglass. It symbolizes the creation of worlds, which begin with sound. It is beating the patterns of making, and the rhythms of Shiva's dance as Kala, Lord of Time. In the shape of the drum - two interpenetrating triangles - we also see the union of dynamic opposites and of male and female, lingam and yoni. When they are separated, the universe ends.
In his upper left hand, Shiva holds fire,
understood here to be the destroyer of worlds. In Hindu mythology, our present
world will end in flame.
Shiva's lower right hand is raised and the palm is turned outwards. The gesture signifies: "Don't be afraid." The Sanskrit name for this mudra is abhaya, meaning "without fear".
Shiva's lower left hand points to his feet. What's going on down there? His right foots is planted on a horrible dwarf who is the embodiment of ignorance, envy and greed. The Lord of the Dance is stamping on this demon, breaking his back. But his finger is not pointing at the demon dwarf. It is pointing at his left foot, which he is raising high from the ground. That raised foot, lifted so high it seems to defy the law of gravity, symbolizes moksha, liberation from the cycle of birth and death and rebirth. The gesture of the pointing hand resembles the outstretched trunk of an elephant and evokes elephant-headed Ganesha, Shiva's son, the one who opens and closes the doors and paths of this world.
"For Nataraja it's all play," writes Huxley. "And the play is an end in itself, everlastingly purposeless. He dances because he dances, and the dancing is his maha-moksha, his infinite and eternal bliss."
"It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days… Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me…So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling…"
Image: Shiva as Lord of the Dance. Bronze, Chola dynasty (10th century) from Tamil Nadu. Now in Los Angeles County Museum of Art:
Friday, September 24, 2021
The Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry wrote a commentary on a scene in Homer's Odyssey that offers a remarkable allegory of the soul's comings and goings from embodiment in this world. A translation of Porphyry's text, new to the English language at that time, inspired William Blake to paint a picture full of codes for the awakening spirit.
For Porphyry the Cave of the Nymphs is a “harbor of the soul”, a waystation between the worlds. Porphyry insisted that nous (mind, spirit) is never contained in the body, but only “acts in it” through affinity or gravitation. An affinity for what is moist and humid brings souls back into incarnation; a tendency towards what is dry and light and fiery carries the soul into the realms of the immortals. In the Cave of the Nymphs, Naiads (spirits of fresh waters and fountains) weave “moist envelopes” – “purple tissues” – on stone, and bees deposit their honey in stone urns. Images of taking on flesh, of coming into generation.
The word-picture fascinated
William Blake, who gave it visual form in a watercolor painting found only in
1947 in the clutter atop a cabinet in a stately home in
Kathleen Raine discusses Blake's imagery in an essay in her book Blake and Antiquity. She finds ithat even with self-taught, self-driven Blake, it is true (as Yeats declared) that poetry is “the traditional expression of certain heroic and religious themes, passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius, but never abandoned.”
In 1947 a stately home in
Neoplatonism may be compared to an underground river that flows through European history, sending up, from time to time, springs and fountains; and wherever its fertilizing stream emerges, there imaginative thought revives, and we have a period of great art and poetry. 
Blake was a contemporary of Thomas Taylor, who brought the
Neoplatonists into the English language (and was often ridiculed for it).
Blake's picture gives s nymphs, weavers at a loom, a sea-god, souls entering incarnation, bright spirits reborn - perpetual cycle of the descent and ascent of souls between an eternal and a temporal world.
In Mystery traditions, the voyage of Odysseus in its entirety was read as the type
of such a journey of soul. The sea, in constant flux, is the world. The watery
Blake incorporates the image of Odysseus throwing something out to sea, his face averted. This borrows an image from Book V of the Odyssey where the hero is washed up on the Phaeacian shore. Odysseus is the soul survivor of the wreck of his ship; the goddess Ino takes pity on him and lends him her girdle, urging him to swim to shore. When he lands he must throw her girdle back to her, turning his face away. In Blake’s painting, the hero has thrown the girdle; the goddess has caught it, and she is dissolving back into a spiral of radiant cloud.
Athena stands behind Odysseus, a figure of Divine Wisdom, pointing to the shining realm of the sun.
Things to look for in Blake's painting:
The source of life in the underground river or spring.
The dry and the moist. Heraclitus sas “a dry soul is the wisest” although “moisture appears delightful to souls”.
Womb and tomb: Birth into the cave is a death from eternity. The Cave of the Nymphs is the womb through which humans are born into the physical world.
Bowls and urns: Blake shows them carried like water pots on the heads of winged nymphs in the depths of the cave.
Bees: These winged nymphs are Porphyry’s bees, winged souls about to descend into the cave of the world through womb-like vessels.
Weavers: Blake has borrowed from his own Daughters of Albion, who ply their shuttles to bind immortals into mortal bodies. In Homer, there are marble looms and purple garments. Porphyry’s gloss is that “the formation of the flesh is on or about the bones, which in the bodies of animals resemble stones.” There is a hint of cruelty in the faces of the weavers.
The child enmeshed: To the right of the looms, in Blake’s image, a little girl is enmeshed in what the nymphs are weaving – she is being woven into a body.
The tubs: borrowed from Porphyry (who in turn borrowed from the Gorgias and Hesiod): the tub or bucket of the evolved, temperate and “dry” soul that is intact and can hold its contents, and the one of the person ruled by passion that is pierced and spills everywhere. Seen in two figures in the right foreground of Blake’s painting: a resolute woman turns her back on the swirl and climbs the steps, holding a bucket in her right hand while her left is raised towards the heavenly world. She is opposed by the nymphs. Close to her, a “moist soul” lolls half-immersed in a tub which lies on its side, forever spilling and unfilled even as water streams into it; she looks happy but she disgusts Blake, because she is caught in the “deadly sleep” of physical life and is on her downward journey.
The river’s mouth: the lowest stage of descent into matter
in Blake’s painting. Here he introduces Fates who control the entry of souls
The sleeping sun god – when this world wakes, the other world sleeps.
1. Kathleen Raine, "The Cave of the Nymphs" in Raine, Blake and Antiquity: The A.E. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts (Princeton N.J.: Bollingen, 1977) 4
William Blake, "Sea of Space and Time" (1821)
William Blake, "Sea of Space and Time" (1821)
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
One day Sophie sat down beside me and asked with great earnestness, "Daddy, would you like to know how I get to Teddy Bear Land?"
"I'd love to."
"Sometimes I take the Sun Gate. Sometimes I take the Moon Gate. Sometimes I take the Tree Gate. Sometimes I take the Rainbow Bridge. And sometimes I just punch a hole in the world."
I've never heard anyone say it better. To live the larger life. we need to punch a hole in the world. This is what dreaming - sleeping or waking or hyper-awake - is really all about. On our roads to adulthood, we sometimes forget how to do it, just as older children in the Chronicles of Narnia cease to be able to see Aslan as they approach adolescence and become more and more burdened by the reality definitions of the grown-ups around them.
When we listen, truly listen, to very young children, we start to remember that the distance between us and the Magic Kingdoms is no wider than the edge of a sleep mask. True listening requires us to pay attention; to attend, in its root meaning in the Latin, is to stretch ourselves, which requires us to expand our vocabulary of understanding. We owe nothing less to the young children in our lives. When we do this, we discover that they can be our very best teachers on how to dream and what dreaming can be.
Here's what we need to know about listening to children's dreams and supporting their imaginations:
1. Listen up! When a child wants to tell a dream, make room for that. Make some daily space for dream sharing. Listen to the stories and cherish them for their own sake.
2. Invite good dreams Pick the right bedtime reading or better still, tell stories. Help your child to weave a web of good dream intentions for the night - for example, by asking "What would you most like to do tonight?" Encourage children to sleep with a favorite stuffed animal (whether teddy bear or T-Rex) and make this a dream guardian.
3. Provide immediate help with the scary stuff If your child was scared by something in the night, recognize you are the ally the child needs right now. Do something right away to move out that negative energy. Get a frightened child to spit it out (literally) or draw a picture of what scared her and tear it up as violently as possible.
4. Ask good questions. When the child has told her story, ask good questions. Ask about feelings, about the color of the sky, and about exactly what T-Rex was doing. See if there's something about the future. Say what you would think about this if this were your dream. Always come up with something fun or helpful to do with this story. Open up the crayon box, call grandma, etc.
5. Help the child to keep a dream journal. Get this started as early as possible. With a very young child, you can help with the words while they do the pictures. When your child reaches the point where she closes the journal and says, "This is my secret book and you can't read it any more" do not peek. Give her privacy, and let her choose when she'll let you look in that magic book.
6. Provide tools for creative expression. Encourage the child to bring dreams come alive through art, dance, theater and games, and to draw or paint dreams. Gather friends and family for dream-inspired games and performance. Puppets and stuffed animals can be great for acting out dreams. This can also be dress-up time. It's such a release for kids to portray mom or dad or other grown-ups in their lives - be ready to be shocked!
7. Help construct effective action plans Dreams can show us things that require further action - for example, to avoid an unhappy future event that was previewed in the dream, or to put something right in a family situation. A child will probably need adult help with such things, starting with your help. may require adult help, starting with yours. This will eventually require you to learn more about dreaming and dreamwork (hint: you can start with my books).
8. Let your own inner child out to play As you listen to children's dreams, let the wonderful child dreamer inside you come out and join in the play.
9. Keep it fun! When you get the hang of this, you'll find it's about the best home entertainment you can enjoy.
Notice two things that are not on this list, but would be at the very top of a list of what NOT to do with your children's dreams:
1. NEVER say to a child "It's only a dream". Children know that dreams are for real and that scary stuff that comes out in dreams needs to be resolved, not dismissed.
2. DON'T INTERPRET a child's dreams.You are not the expert here; the child is.
Art: Book Tree by a 10-year-old Romanian boy
Saturday, September 18, 2021
Through dreaming, we have access to a source that is infinitely wiser and deeper than the everyday ego, and we want to be available to that source. I am in favor of learning to choose where we go and what we do in dreams, as in waking life, but that requires discernment, not the fantasy of control.
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
At the Stag Tree
I am the antlered one.
I raise living bones
as taproots into the sky
to draw down the strength of heaven.
I am sure-footed, potent,
a warrior in love,
with power to read the land,
to see behind me and around me.
I grow my own crown, royal,
magnificent, and have the wisdom
to give up its burden
when the year grows old.
I come here, to the hickory,
to rub out my royalty,
to drop the burden of my crown
and grow again, stronger than before.
- lines composed in an exercise to become Animal Speakers in my "Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming" retreat in the green fairyland of northern Bohemia
Monday, September 13, 2021
We are linked to those with whom we have shared significant life experiences by cords of psychic and emotional attachment. The Hawaiian kahunas maintain that an aka cord of "sticky" etheric substance runs between us and everyone who has ever touched our lives unless it is detached.
One woman pictured herself swimming in healing waters while little fish nibbled away gently at the psychic cords that needed to be released. A man found that an ally (a "Chinese doctor") entered the scene; he tiled "little bows" in the problematic cords, leaving them to wither and drop away gradually. For another member of the group, the ally appeared as a crow that pecked away at the root of a black cord of connection to a deceased friend, until all the stagnant dead energy drained away.
drawing by Robert Moss
I returned this morning from an excursion to an archaeological site. I did not have to wait for my bags, clear customs and health checks, or catch an Uber home from the airport. Yet my travels were entirely real. I walked that site, studied it with the help of a guide and a little bilingual guide book, felt the sun and sand in my face, and gratitude for the warm water of that wadi. I felt goosebumps in the presence of stones that might be eidola, breathing images. My outing has given me a new research assignment in the field I call dream archaeology. I'm juiced, especially because I knew very little of the culture involved before my dream self traveled to Petra overnight.September 13, 2021
The Columns of Siq
My guide is a younger woman, Arab or Turkish, wearing a hijab. We are walking around a vast archaeological site in the desert. We came through a dark, narrow passage lined with niches and columns, some natural, some carved from the rock. Some of the stones around us give the impression of humanoid forms, perhaps of gods or jinn.
“This place is protected by them,” she tells me. She gives the protectors a name I can’t quite understand. Is it “The Daniels”?
The place, or some part of it, is called Siq. I see it in a section head in a little bilingual guidebook. Between us and the barren mountains, on a rise, is a ruined colonnade. I have the sense that there is life in these stones, even the ones that may have belonged to a Roman marketplace. Perhaps holographic memories of what happened here.
She walks me up a hill. I feel sun and sand on my skin. I am getting very thirsty, in the dry heat. There is water below us, across a slope of fine greyish sand, apparently rich in metal content. I enjoy the walk down. She tells me, again, “This place is protected by The Daniels.” Again, I can’t quite get the key word.
The pool is very shallow, perhaps only the last of water that fell in the last rains. But we are now in welcome shade from the mountains and I long to drink. I reach down into the water with cupped hands.
I am surprised when she tells me that I need to go to Cyprus. She says she has family there. Is she also telling me that cousins of "The Daniels" are there? I know Cyprus is the island of Aphrodite. I tell my companion that I have always wanted to go to Cyrus, because “I have a relationship with Aphrodite.” Whoops. I must avoid provoking the goddesses again.
Feelings: Excited, intrigued. Just so: this was an entirely real experience, engaging all the senses.
Reality check : The word “Siq” was crystal clear but I did not recognize it. An online search told me instantly that it is the name of a long passage through a narrow gorge leading to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. Siq means “gorge”. It is lined with niches that once held “god-stones” called baetyls or betyls. Some were meteorites. It is speculated that the ancient Nabataeans thought they contained the energy of gods, and that contact with the stones could open a portal to other worlds. I suspect that what I heard as “The Daniels” was actually “The Betyls”. The Arabic is betel. Related to the Hebrew Bethel, “House of God” as in the place where Jacob had an immense night vision while sleeping on a stone he afterwards set up as a column. I see that Wendy Doniger, the religious scholar, thinks that the betyls in their niches – they have counterparts in many cultures - were the first of all altars.
If you want to know what I mean by "provoking the goddesses" read my story "How Much Ephesus Have You Had?" in Mysterious Realities.
Action: I love taking on the research assignments my dreams give me. In my memoir The Boy Who Died and Came Back I give detailed reports on the dream archaeology missions that have taken me into other times and other lives. I have barely started to follow up my visit to Petra and the magic stones. The dreamer and the independent scholar in me look forward to more discoveries.
Follow-up: Pillars of the Goddess
I had just started my research when a friend found a report by a German scholar who surveyed hundreds of betyls at Petra. This added some interesting leads. The style of Nabataean religious art was basically aniconic; in other words, not figurative, though stones were sometimes given a hunt of anthropomorphic form.
It was notable many betyls were dedicate to al-Uzzah, the mother goddess of Petra, or to Allat, the Great Goddess worshipped especially in the Arabian peninula. Some of these betyls had "eyes" in the form of simple rectangles, or twin stars. "The eyes can be interpreted as the morning and the evening stars, the two aspects of the planet Venus."  The betyls of Petra were typically set in niches on bases,. Quite a few were carved from free-standing stones and could be carried in procession.
A relief carving from Bab al-Siq ("Gate of the Siq") shows a betyl being transported on the back of horse of mule. Some betyls were simply carved from rock walls.
Where stone was quarried for such purposes, efforts were made to show respect to Dushara, Lord of the House among the pantheon at Petra, whose energy was strongly felt in sacred stones. Columns were left standing in his honor. Other standing stones around Petra were for the nephesh (the same word as in Hebrew). The nepheshes held spirits of the dead rather than the energy of the gods.
I later found photos of an unusually anthropomorphic version of the "eye-betyls" of Petra. It stood in a niche in the wall of the temple of the Wnged Lions and is believed to represent al-Uzza or Allat. The eyes here are almond shaped and the nose and lips are formed naturalistically. The face is crowned by a wreath with an opening in the center that mikght have held a jewel or a horn. This iamge,carved from limenstone in the 1st or 2nd cetury of the common era, may reflect syncretism between Nabataean religion and the Isis cult.
1.Robert Wenning, “The Betyls of Petra” in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 324, 2001, p.83.
Journal drawing: "The Columns of Siq" by Robert Moss
Friday, September 10, 2021
You have direct access to sacred knowledge, in your dreams. Your dreams are a personal oracle that reveals the future and helps you prepare for it. Don’t let anyone tell you what your dreams mean; get rid of dream dictionaries. Pay attention to signs from the world around you; know that everything in the universe is interconnected and constantly interweaving. Use your imagination. What you grow there will be stamped on your world and on your soul – on the energy body in which you will travel to another life after death. 
insights come from a fifth-century bishop of the church. His name was Synesius
of Cyrene, and his treatise On Dreams,
composed around 405, is one of the wisest books ever written on dreams,
coincidence and imagination. Synesius was a most unusual bishop. In his life
and work we find – alas, only briefly – a confluence between the best of the
ancient practice of philosophy and
the new religion of the
Synesius was a
Greco-Roman aristocrat who could trace his pedigree back to the founders of
He had the best
education possible in his time, in
It was in
It was in
He makes it clear that his discussion of dreams is grounded in personal experience. Dreams have guided him in the hunt, showing him how and where to find the game. Dreams have led him to “swarms of wild beasts that have fallen to our spears”.
He was guided by
dreams when his city sent him to
The dream oracle “helped me in the management of public office in the best interest of the cities, and finally placed me on terms of intimacy with the Emperor.”
His dreams contributed to his success as a writer and orator. The dream source “frequently helped me to write books”, correcting his style, and helping him to prune archaic Attic expressions – products of his love of old books - from his essays and poems.
Synesius explains that dreams are “personal oracles”. We want to claim authority over our own dreams and reject anything and anyone who tries to come between us and the dream source. “We ought to seek this branch of knowledge before all else; for it comes from us, is within us, and is the special possession of the soul of each one of us.
The dream oracle speaks to us wherever we go. “We can’t abandon this oracle even if we try. It is with us at home and abroad, on the field of battle, in the city and in the marketplace.”
Dreams are our common birthright. They belong to rich and poor, to kings and to slaves. The dream oracle turns no one down because of race or age, status or calling.
Even the worst tyrant is powerless to separate us from our dreams – which may hold the key to his overthrow – “unless he could banish sleep from his kingdom”.
“Dream divination is available to all, the good genius to everyone.”
It is no wonder that dreams show us the future, because dreams are experiences of soul and “the soul holds the forms of things that come into being”
Synesius dismisses dream dictionaries – popular in his time, as in ours – with admirable vigor. “I laugh at all those books and think them of little use”. General definitions don’t work because each dreamer is a different mirror for dream images – some are funhouse mirrors, some are made of varied materials. Big dreams do not require interpretation; their meaning is in the experience of the dream itself. Dreams that are “more divine” are “quite clear and obvious, or nearly so”, but come only to those who live “according to virtue”.
Steeped in Homer, he can’t avoid mentioning the scene in the Odyssey where the Gates of Horn and Ivory are described. In his view, both Homer’s Penelope and legions of commentators and borrowers failed to understand that dreams, in themselves, are never false. Penelope assumes that there are true dreams and deceptive dreams “because she was not instructed in the matter.” Deception arises through false interpretations, not false dreams. If Penelope had understood the nature of dreaming better, “she would have made all dreams pass out through the Gate of Horn…We should not confuse the weakness of the interpreter with the nature of the visions themselves.”
Synesius recommends setting an intention for the night. “We shall pray for a dream, even as Homer prayed. And if you are worthy, the god far away is present with you…He comes to your side when you sleep, and this is the whole system of the initiation.”
Synesius also stresses the value of keeping a dream journal, and of writing and creating from dreams. “It is no mean achievement to pass on to another something of a strange nature that has stirred in one’s own soul”.
Synesius urges us to keep a “day book” for our observations of signs and synchronicities as well as a “night book” for dreams. “All things are signs appearing through all things…they are brothers in a single living creature, the cosmos…they are written in characters of every kind”. The deepest scholarship lies in reading the sign language of the world; the true sage is a person “who understands the relationship of the parts of the universe”.
Five years after writing his essay On Dreams, Synesius was persuaded by Theophilus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, to accept the bishopric of Ptolemais. It seems that he was baptized at the same time, rather late in the day according to our common understanding of what is involved in becoming a bishop of the church.
Synesius’ entry into
the episcopate was a political, rather than a spiritual, event. The influence
of his wife – who he loved deeply – may have been important; she was presumably
Christian, since Theophilus was at their wedding in 403. Winning an
aristocratic philosopher to the church was a coup for the Patriarch; though
Christianity had become the religion of the empire, the old houses were still
keeping their distance. For Synesius, assuming the rank and responsibilities of
a bishop was both a case of noblesse
oblige and an accommodation to the movement of history. In 399, the
Serapeum – the great temple complex of Serapis at
In theological language, Synesius joined the Christians through adhesion rather than through the transformative experience of a full conversion.  But we can trace some possible lines of convergence between his philosophy and the Christian message. He believed in One divinity, behind the many forms of the divine. He wrote of the “fall” of the soul from a state of knowledge and truth. He believed that in times of darkness, a saving power may be sent to rescue humanity from itself and its deceivers. His essay On Providence depicts a world dominated by dark forces whose purpose is to drag humans down and destroy them if they reach for the light. Behind the surface events of history is the struggle between the higher instincts of humanity and the darkness within and around it. The power of light in humanity runs down, and must be restored periodically, at the end of the great cycles of history. But sometimes, when humans are in extremis, divine intervention may take place before the end of a cycle, to keep the game in play. 
If Synesius lived long enough to
learn the end of his mentor, Hypatia, he would have been left in no doubt that
the darkness was rising. Though Hypatia’s students included Christians, the
fanatical Cyril, who became bishop of
In such a world, Synesius offered the means of communicating with a higher realm, and bringing gifts from it into everyday life. He taught that the realm of imagination is “the hollow gulf of the universe” where the soul is at home. Imagination is “the halfway house between spirit and matter, which makes communication between the two possible”. [Bregman 148] The soul travels in this realm in dreams.
For Bishop Synesius, dreaming is everyday church. It is also a way of entry into the real world. According to Synesius, dreamer do not return to reality when they awaken; dreaming, they are already there.
1. JayBregman, Synesius of
3. ibid 26, 32-3,citing Letter 137.
4. All quotes from De
insomniis (On Dreams) unless otherwise noted are from Augustine FitzGerald (ed) The Essays and Hymns of Synesius of
5. See A.A.
5. See A.A.Nock, Conversion. (
6. Synesius, De providentia quoted in Bregman,op.cit., 66-72
7. Socrates Scholasticus, “The Murder of Hypatia” in Anne
Fremantle (ed) A Treasury of Early
Lion at the Templeof Apollo in Cyrene
Lion at the Templeof Apollo in Cyrene
"Eye in the Sky" Journal Drawing by Robert Moss
"Eye in the Sky" Journal Drawing by Robert Moss
Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Notes from a Reading Life
We are not told why Aladdin - a tearaway street kid who is the despair of his impoverished mother - is selected for favors and a potentially fatal assignment by the African magician who poses as his uncle. (This fools no one but the largesse he delivers gets him in.) Aladdin is to go down a well and through tunnels and overcome many obstacles to obtain a lamp the magician (for reasons unexplained) can't get for himself. In addition to directions Aladdin is given a ring that is a talisman. He finds the lamp, empties it as instructed, and wraps it inside his garment where it is soon buffered by all the beautiful balls of colored glass the boy plucks from the trees, not knowing them to be precious jewels.
The magician's plan is to seize the lamp from Aladdin as he comes up the tunnel, and seal him below the stone lid to die. But Aladdin evidently has some street smarts. He won't yield the lamp before he gets out. In a rage, the magician seals the tunnel and leaves him to die. Rubbing the ring, he produces a genie (called a demon in Husain Haddawy’s recent translation), hideous but required to serve him without conditions. He wishes to be out and so he is.
At home he discovers that rubbing the lamp produces a bigger and even scarier genie and a whole host of jinn (perhaps the best term for this genus)all bound to serve the master of the lamp. There is no limit to the number of wishes and their magnitude and no conditions for the user. Aladdin goes from ordering up a good dinner to demanding vast riches and armies of slaves that persuade the king to give him the beautiful princess in marriage. They live in a palace more splendid than the king's created by demons overnight.
Things go on until the African magician returns, guided by his geomantic box of sand. Aladdin survives the first take back attempt but not the magician's brother, who takes possession of the lamp when Aladdin is away hunting and has the whole palace including the princess transported to Africa. The genie of the ring eventually enables Aladdin to locate them. When he has possession of the lamp he can move everything back to "China" where the main action is supposedly playing out
Utterly amoral. Whoever owns the lamp has full control of the genie - in fact legions of genies - unconditionally. Things created by enchantment don't vanish. They stay solid in the world. A couple of quick prayers to Allah are said here and there but not a modicum of virtue or any appeal to higher powers or even personal intelligence are required for success. There are no threats to the immortal soul, not even a hint that - as in other tales of invoking captive spirits - there will be dire consequences if the genie escapes captivity, or even that he can escape.
This puts the story on a cruder level than Scheherezade's tale of a genie confined in a copper jar who has been made to wait so long that- having originally promised to reward his liberator with untold riches- he will now kill him.
When RLS develops the theme in "The Bottle Imp" he introduces conditions and concern for the state of the soul (though on a transactional rather than moral basis). An imp perceived as a mysterious white shadow inside the bottle will manifest your wishes but as a result you will be sent to hellfire when you die unless you can sell the bottle to someone else for less than you paid for it, after apprising them of the risk. The money must be paid in coin. Our protagonist pays the $50 he has in his pocket to the haggard owner of a mansion in Nob Hill who got his house from the imp.
The drama now turns on a series of efforts to sell the bottle at ab ever lower price (after fulfilling a series of wishes) until we are down to one cent and hell for the owner is certain. Then it is recalled that there are places where there are coins worth less than a cent. And we are off to Tahiti and traffic in centimes. It ends with a drunken longshoreman, not afraid of hell, taking the bottle with its imp for one centime.
Illustration by René Bull' (1872-1942)