Saturday, October 30, 2021

The dream god and the faery lover at Halloween


We find beauty or terror in our contacts with the Otherworld - or our flight from it - according to our courage and the colors of our imaginations. 

How people respond to the banshee is an excellent example. The banshee is well-known in Celtic folk memory as a death messenger, whose appearance and weird cries are feared as the sign that death is near. The banshee is often depicted as a hag, or a crow, or a crow-woman.  

 But the banshee is actually the bean sidhe, which means "she-faery". She can appear as a being of amazing beauty. She can come as a personal or family guardian in tight situations - as a family banshee appeared to members of the royal house of Munster on the eve of the battle of Clontarf.  

Above all, the banshee comes to invite us or escort us on the Otherworld journey: not only the journey that follows physical death, but on journeys beyond the physical world from which we may return to the body with magic and power.  

Banshees are much abroad at Samhain, or Halloween.  

The story of Aislinge Ă“enguso, The Dream of Aengus,  turns the traditional fear of the banshee on its head. Instead of being scared of being caught by a banshee, the hero of this story is out to catch one, because night after night, she has been visiting him as his dream lover. This wild love story haunted Yeats all of his life and inspired him to write some of his most haunting verse. We'll call the hero Aengus, as the poet did.  

 Aengus is a lover and a friend of lovers. He is a trickster, a shaman and a soul healer. He is described as "mac Oc", the Young Son, forever young. He lives in the Brugh na Boinne, a palace beneath a Mound of Wonder that recent travelers know as Newgrange. Women everywhere dream of Aengus; his butterfly kisses graze their lips and their secret places.  

 But Aengus is no longer master of his own dreams. His dreams have a mistress. She first appeared by his bedside in a glory of red-gold hair, her long white body dancing through the veils to music that played him like a harp and shook him like a tambourine. Carried by the music and his surge of passionate desire, Aengus flies with her, like a wild swan, into a different landscape.

In the morning, exhausted, he can barely fall out of bed. He is listless, lethargic, not even interested in sex, his speciality. This goes on night after night, day after day. His mother is troubled. She sends for a famous doctor, so skilled he can diagnose what is wrong in a house before he walks through the door, by reading shapes in the smoke from the fire.  

The doctor sees at once that Aengus is away: a part of his soul has left his body to live with his dream lover. The cure is to put body and soul together again. This involves finding the girl, and putting the lovers together in their physical as well as their astral bodies.

Will Aengus please describe his dream mistress as exactly as possible? He aches for her as he speaks of the red-gold hair, the pearly skin.  

Very well, Aengus' mother has resources. She is a queen and a goddess of the Tuatha de Danaan. She will send out searchers to look for a girl who fits Angus's description.

This is not such an easy assignment, however, because the dream lover is of the Sidhe, and is hidden in the faery mists. A year passes, and she is not found.  

Now Aengus' father is called in. He is the Big Guy among the old gods, the Dagda, one end of whose outrageously huge eight-pronged club delivers instant death, while the other brings the dead back to life. But he can't or won't help with finding the dream lover, except to recommend the far-sighted Bodb the king of the Sidhe in Munster, as the faery for the job.  

 Bodb tracks the girl to yet another of the Mounds of Wonder. The girl is a bean sidhe, and she has the right kind of name for a banshee. Her name is Caer Ibormeith, which means Yew Berry. Of all trees in her landscape, the yew is most intimately associated with death.

It is agreed that Aengus must rally himself and go to Yew Berry's mound to spy on the banshee and make sure she is the one he has dreamed. She is. Her beauty shines beyond that of the "three times fifty" noble ladies about her, all wearing silver at their throats while Yew Berry wears gold.  

 At this point, in a different kind of story, we might expect the dream lovers to fall into each other's arms and elope. After all, they have been doing it every night for two years. But there are complications.

First off, Yew Berry's mound  is in the realm of the notorious Queen Maeve and her jealous husband Aillil, and they must not be scorned. They agree to help bring the lovers together, but Yew Berry's father won't hear of it. Even after the joined forces of the Dagda and King Aillil have stormed his faery fort, he clings to his daughter.  

 There are many tests and battles before the secret is learned. Yew Berry is under an enchantment, sometimes represented as a curse, sometimes - in the deeper tellings - as a gift. She does not stay in one form. She is a beautiful woman for one year. Then for the next year she is a white swan. Then the cycle repeats.  

The day of shapechanging is Samhain. If Aengus would win her, he must find her on the liminal day, on a lake whose name is The Dragon's Mouth. At Samhain, Aengus goes to the Dragon's Mouth. He finds "three times fifty" white swans with silver chains around their necks, and one swan with a gold chain. He recognizes his love in the shape of the beautiful white bird, and calls to Yew Berry to fly to him. No, she tells him. You must change into my form.

Aengus changes, becoming the long-necked bird. They mate, in beating splendor, above the deeps of the Dragon's Mouth. They fly together back to the palace of Brugh na Boinne - Newgrange - and the love music they make in flight is so lovely and lulling that all the land is at peace and people drift into pleasant dreams and stay there for three days.  

 It is an amazing story, a love god smitten by love, and seizing a moment of opportunity - at Halloween - to bring his lover from one realm into another.

In the best-known tellings of the Dream of Aengus, death is not mentioned. But the whole story is a dance with death, in several guises. It involves the death-in-life that we suffer when a part of our soul goes away, because of pain or abuse or heartbreak or - in this case - a longing for something beyond the familiar world. It involves the rescue of someone or something from the Land of the Dead. Yew Berry's name is a dead giveaway. Her mound  is actually a piece of the Underworld, her father one of the princes of the dead.  

Terror or beauty, banshee or faery lover. On the Night When the Veil Thins, we are especially reminded that we can never claim the treasures of the Otherworld - and a love bigger than the familiar world - unless we can brave up. 


Adapted from The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books.

Journal drawing by Robert Moss from a spontaneous night vision. A white swan took flight from my third eye and we went flying together lover a river in Europe.



Friday, October 29, 2021

The price Jung paid

If you choose to venture into Jung's Red Book, I strongly advise you to do so more cautiously than I did.  When it was first published, I stayed with it for three days and nights, without much sleep, following Jung on his Underworld journey. There was one moment, in particular, when I became very angry with him.
    He recounts a vision in which he comes upon the mutilated corpse of a murdered girl, and this fills him with grief and rage. A veiled woman appears and tells him he must remove the child's liver and eat part of it, to atone for the crime. He must take on the guilt, because he is a man and a man was responsible. Jung writhes in resistance, disgusted and horrified, but finally complies.

I kneel down on the stone, cut off a piece of the liver and put it in my mouth.My gorge rises - tears burst from my eyes - cold sweat covers my brow - dull sweet taste of blood - I swallow with desperate efforts - it is impossible - once again and once again - I almost faint - it is done. The horror has been accomplished. [1]

I wanted to throw the book across the room, but stopped myself, reflecting that this tombstone of a tome would break the furniture. I read on. The woman who commanded this cannibal act throws back her veil, revealing a lovely face, and tells Jung, "I am your soul."
     You will need a strong stomach for some of this. And you will need to be ready to accompany Jung, quite literally, in and out of the madhouse. But persistence will be rewarded. The Red Book, never intended for public consumption, is essential and fascinating reading for those who want to understand the price Jung paid for his gifts. He went down into private hells and depths of madness and he got himself out. We see him struggling heroically to find a vocabulary and a model of understanding for his experiences, weaving for himself the ladders of words that will help to get him out of the pit. We see the seething cauldron from which his greatest work would eventually emerge.
     Jung culled the material for the Red Book - whose fine calligraphy and vivid illustrations and decorative features make it resemble a medieval illuminated manuscript - from the journals ('black books") he kept during the years of his "confrontation with the unconscious", when he walked the razor's edge between madness and genius. As he describes it, the "spirit of the depths" ripped him out of the comfortable, rational assumptions of the "spirit of our times" and dragged him, night after night, through the terrifying stages of Underworld initiation.
-    In a crater in a dark and terrifying world below, where black snakes threaten to destroy a red sun, he meets the prophet Elijah and his "daughter" Salome, the evil beauty responsible for the decapitation of John the Baptist in the Bible. Salome tells Jung - to his amazement and confusion- that they are brother and sister, the children of Mother Mary. Disbelieving and fearing for his sanity, Jung yells at her that she and the Elijah figure are only "symbols". Elijah reproves him, saying, "We are just as real as your fellow men. You solve nothing by calling us symbols." Jung's Elijah also instructs him that "your thoughts are just as much outside your self as trees or animals are outside the body." [2]
-   While he is trying to continue to lead a normal life, as a prominent psychoanalyst and the father of five children. Jung's sense of reality is being shaken by the raw power of his night visions, and by synchronistic phenomona during his days when he feels the forces of a deeper world pushing through. In December 1913, in a well-cut suit, he gives a polished lecture to the Zurich Psychoanalytical Society. Three nights later, he tells Elijah, "It seems to me as if I were more real here" - in the Underworld - "yet I do not like to be here." [3]
    As Jung confessed, anyone reading the last chapters of Liber Primus, the first part of the Red Book, out of context might conclude that the author was crazy. Brilliant and erudite, but crazy. Yet from such perilous adventures out there beyond the roped-in precinct of sanity, Jung derived his ideas about "psychological objectivity", one of the most stimulating elements in his later work. From his dialogues with his dream characters and his efforts to integrate and balance the powers that moved with them he developed his practice of active imagination.
    Jung told the Dutch artist Roland Horst that he developed his work Psychological Types from 30 pages of his Red Book [4], apparently the pages in which the encounters with Elijah and Salome take place and in which - after Jung has been squeezed by a giant black snake until the blood gushes out of him and his head has become that of a lion - Salome tells him, "You are Christ". [5]

-   Looking back on this passage in his inner and transpersonal life in 1925, from across the divide of the catastrophic Great War that some of his visions had foreshadowed, Jung told a seminar that "You cannot get conscious of these unconscious facts without giving yourself to them. If you can overcome your fear of the unconscious and can let yourself go down, then these facts take on a life of their own. You can be gripped by these ideas so much that you really go mad, or nearly so. These images...form part of the ancient mysteries; in fact, it is such fantasies that made the mysteries." [6]
    "I fell into the mystery," Jung states after he has been squeezed by the black snake and saluted by Salome [7]. Reading the Red Book, we see the enormity of the price Jung paid for his wisdom, and come to appreciate the extent of his courage and eventual self-mastery. This is a record of a thoroughly shamanic descent to the Underworld, and of long testing and initiation in houses of darkness from which lesser minds and feebler spirits might never have managed to find their way back.
1. C.G. Jung, The Red Book: Liber Novus edited by Sonu Shamdasani (New York: Norton, 2009) 290.
2. ibid, 249
3. ibid, 248
4. Stephan Hoeller, The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead (Wheaton, IL: Quest, 1985) 6.
5. Red Book 252.
6. Jung, Analytical Psychology: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1925 edited by William McGuire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991) 98-99.
7. Red Book 254.

Art from Jung's Red Book

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The shaman's diagnosis of our existential complaints: soul loss

The greatest contribution of the ancient shamans to our medicine and healing today is the understanding that in the course of any life we are liable to suffer soul loss - the loss of parts of our vital energy and identity – and that in order to be whole and well, we must find the means of soul recovery.
     On a visceral level, we all know how soul loss comes about. We suffer pain or trauma or abuse, we are overwhelmed by grief or guilt or shame, and part of us goes away because it doesn’t want to stay in a world that seems so harsh and cruel. We are compelled to make a wrenching life choice, leaving a partner or a job or a home, and part of us resists that choice and parts company with our dominant personality, clinging to the old relationship or the old place. Soul loss deepens when we fall into depression or addiction or make compromises with the world as we understand it, giving up on our big dreams of life. Lacking the courage and confidence to make that creative leap, or to trust ourselves to love, we wimp out – and part of our bright spirit, disgusted with us, goes away.
     Good analysts and therapists can help us to recognize parts of ourselves we have repressed and denied, including the famous Shadow, the term especially favored by Jungians for what we have tried to relegate to the basement of the personal unconscious because we would rather not own it as a part of ourselves. The shamanic concept of soul loss reaches further. It recognizes that soul healing is not only about identifying and integrating aspects of the self that we have buried or denied; it is retrieving pieces of soul that have literally gone missing and need to be located and persuaded to return and take up residence in the body where they belong.
    In my own practice, I have come to distinguish five forms of soul loss or disconnection that call for healing. I have yet to encounter a human being who is immune to any of these.

Loss of vital energy
You suffer from chronic fatigue. You find yourself torpid and listless, reluctant to get out of bed. Your days seem drab and gray and joyless. Your immune system in blown and you seem to pick up every passing bug. There is something missing in you and you try to stuff the whole with sugar or booze.

Loss of younger selves
You have lost younger versions of yourself – the young child with abounding energy and that beautiful imagination, that fine romantic who was hurt or betrayed as a teen, that inner poet or businessman who wanted to make different life choices from the ones you made. These younger selves have gifts and energy you can use in your life today if only you can find out where they are and discover how to bring them back.
Loss of animal spirits
Indigenous and ancestral shamans know that we are all connected to the world of the animal powers, and that by recognizing and nurturing our relation with animal spirits, we find and follow ther natural path four eneries. Yet many of us have lost this primal connection, or know it only as a superficial wannabe symbolic thing that we look up in books and medicine cards without feeding and living every day.

Loss of ancestral soul
This is a two-edged affair. When we live oblivious to the fact that we are always in the presence of the ancestors – those of our bloodlines, those of the land where we live, and those of our spiritual kin in a broader sense – we are likely to be the plaything and even the tenement for entities we don’t necessarily want to have near us. When we awaken to ancestral soul, we become ready to claim the connection with wisdom-keepers and protectors who can help us to re-establish heathy psychic boundaries and clear out what does not belong with us.

Loss of connection with the Greater Self
Ultimately we can only make peace between the many aspects of our selves, and follow a path of true spiritual evolution by opening or re-opening a direct and conscious connection with the Self on a higher level – the Self that is no stranger. When we clear the right space within our embodied selves, we may be ready for the deep and beautiful act of soul growing that I call spiritual enthronement, bringing a part of the Higher Self to live in our bodies and infuse our lives and our life choices with its radiance.

I have learned that dreams often show us where soul had gone, and offer paths by which it can be reached and encouraged to come home. Through the techniques of Active Dreaming, we can learn to help each other to become the shamans of our own souls and the healers of our own lives.


I wrote this article early in 2011 and then expanded it into key chapters of my book Dreaming the Soul Back Home: Shamanic Dreaming for Healing and Becoming Whole (New World Library). The original article elicited a tremendous response; this feels like the right time to share it again.

Art: Edvard Munch, "Lady from the
Sea" (1896)

the Night When the Veil Thins

Back in the day, I used to give a talk on the meaning of Halloween, on the night, at the New York Open Center, when it was still downtown in SoHo. We always had standing room only in the lecture room, which was partly filled by witches, ghouls and vampires dressed for the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade that would unfold just down the street right after. 

I notice, looking through old journals, that on the night of October 30, 1998, prior to taking the train to Manhattan the next day, I asked for some Halloween dreams. This is what came as soon as I closed my eyes:

I watch a beautiful woman in a flowing, gauzy white dress like a wedding dress rise from a coffin and begin to float around a dark, undefined space (like an artists' background, defined by brushstrokes rather than finished shapes). The eyes are dead. All that is there is blind appetite. She is the living dead, a hungry ghost. I avoid her.

As we approach All Hallows' Eve, a shiverish, magical, crazy night in a more than usually crazy year, I am thinking of its many meanings. It is the topsy-turvy, inside-out, upside-down time, when the past lies ahead of you and the future walks behind you, breathing on your neck. It is a night when the doors between the worlds swing open, when the dead walk among the living and the living move among the dead. As my dream of the beauty from the coffin dramatized, it is a night when you want to be able to discern who is who and what is what. 

The last night of October is the start of Samhain (which is pronounced "sow-in"), the great Celtic festival when the dead walk among the living, the fires are extinguished and rekindled, the god and the goddess come together in sacred union, and as the year turns from light to dark, the seeded earth prepares to give birth again. It's a time, when the Celts knew what they were doing, to watch yourself and watch comings and goings from the barrows and mounds that are peopled by ghosts and faeries. It's a time to honor the friendly dead, and the lordly ones of the Sidhe, and to propitiate the restless dead and remember to send them off and to set or re-set very clear boundaries between the living and the hungry ghosts. It's a time to look into the future, if you dare, because linear time is stopped when the hollow hills are opened. 

As Celtic scholar Marie-Louise Sjoestedt wrote, "This night belongs neither to one year or the other and is, as it were, free from temporal restraint. It seems that the whole supernatural force is attracted by the seam thus left at the point where the two years join, and gathers to invade the world of men." 

If you have never learned to dream or see visions or to feel the presence of the spirits who are always about - if you have never traveled beyond the gates of death or looked into the many realms of the Otherworld - this is the time when you'll see beyond the veil all the same, because the Otherworld is going to break down the walls of the little box you call a world, and its residents are coming to call on you. 

It's a time for dressing up, especially if you are going out at night, although there is likely to be much less of that in this time of pandemic. The Celts put on fright masks not to extort candy but to scare away restless spirits before they scared them. Out and about ,they carried torches to light the way, and especially to guide the dead back to where they came from when the party is over. Before Europeans discovered pumpkins in America, they carried lit candles in hollowed-out niches in turnips. 

All of this was so important, and such wild, sexy, shiverish fun that the church had to do something about it. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III decided to steal the old magic by making November 1 All Saints' Day, or All Hallows Day; so the night of Samhain became All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween for short. A century before, an earlier pope had borrowed the date of the old Roman festival to propitiate the dead - the Festival of the Lemures, or Lemuralia - and renamed that All Saints' Day. But since Roman paganism had been largely suppressed, the church fathers decided to grab the glamour of the Celts, among whom the old ways are forever smoldering, like fire under peat. 

Few people who celebrate or suffer Halloween today seem to know much about its history. For storekeepers and the greetings card business, it's a commercial opportunity. For TV programmers, it's a cue to schedule horror movie marathons. For kids, it's time to dress up as vampires or witches and extort candy from neighbors. My preferred way to spend Halloween is to rest quietly at home, sometimes with candles lit for my dead loved ones, and a basket of apples and hazelnuts beside them, tokens of the old festival that renews the world and cleanses the relations between the living and the dead. 

Text partially adapted from The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss (Destiny Books)

Photo: Greenwich Village Halloween Parade masker by Wendy R. Williams 

Monday, October 25, 2021

A dream is a place, and an awakening

Notes on the nature and meaning of dreams from ancient Egypt, where they did a lot of dreaming. 

       Welcome, o dream, the one of goodness,
       which is seen in the night and in the day.

-          - Invocation to Isis in the Chester Beatty Papyrus

A dream is an awakening

Two terms for dream are used in ancient Egypt. The more recent (qd) is translated as slumber. The older and more enduring term is rsw.t whose root means “awakening”. It is written in hieroglyphs with a determinative, at the end of the characters, that appears as wide open eye with makeup. It first appears in Letters to the Dead in the First Intermediate Period. It continues in Coptic. Kasia Szpakowska writes, “In Ancient Egyptian a dream can be considered something one sees upon awakening during sleep or is perhaps the very state of being aware, while asleep.” [ 1]

Awakening in a dream is like awakening after death. It is written of the resurrection of Osiris, “A tired god is waking up.” [2]

The Other World is inhabited by three categories of beings – gods, the dead and dreamers. The sleeper enters the primal ocean of Nun. When he awakens he is “over there”, in the other world, able to interact with its residents. [3] 


A dream is a place

Rsw.t is a noun, a substantive, not a verb. It is a space and a state. You see something in a dream. You meet the Goddess, make love, feast or fight in a dream. The most common way to report is to say “I saw a dream” or “I saw in a dream” or  “It came in a dream.” When you have that sense that a dream is a space, it is easy to grasp that if you have been in the space of a certain dream, you could go there again.

There is no verb for “to dream” in Sumerian or Akkadian either. 

The geography of dreams is related to geographies of the Duat, the “Over There”.  A dream is another world.

The “New Kingdom Dream Book”

 Chester Beatty Papyrus, 13th c BCE

 It was written in hieratic – a cursive form of hieroglyphs - on the recto of a papyrus whose verso (the side with the horizontal fibers, always inscribed first) contained an account of a battle written in the 13th c BCE.

 It is not clear whether it was written essentially for the dream ritualist – the Scribe of the House of Life (or sesh per ankh) – or for a more general audience. Some of the items warn against entering the inner sanctum of a temple, and are plainly aimed at non-priests. But others prescribe apotropaic rituals for turning away psychic evil from “bad dreams” and seem intended for specialists. As with so many Egyptian texts, this is probably a collation of many separate documents. It may have been consulted by priests advising those who slept in temples to obtain dream oracles and to see the gods and the dead. 

Reading dreams according to the type of dreamer: 

In the New Kingdom Dream Book, dreams are read very differently according to whether they are experienced by “Followers of Horus” or “Followers of Seth” (who are given to violent passion and ill-regulated lives) 

If a man sees himself…. 

The arrangement is orderly. Down the right margin are the words “If a man sees himself in a dream”. The papyrus is read from right to left.

Next comes a summary of a dream. Then the pronouncement – “good” or “bad”. Then the interpretation. 

If a man sees himself… 

       Drinking blood: Good. It means putting an end to his enemies                                 

       Copulating with a pig: Bad. It means being deprived of possessions

       Seeing his face as a leopard: Good. It means authority over his neighbors                                                             

       Copulating in daylight: Bad. His crimes will be seen by his god

       Capturing a female slave: Good. He will get satisfaction.


“If a man see himself in a dream eating donkey-flesh: good, it means his promotion”

“If a man see himself in a dream shod with white sandals: bad, it means roaming the earth.”


There are instructions on seeing or interacting with the gods and the dead. The worst dreams are those in which the dreamer is judged to be “unjustified” before his deity, or has provoked the wrath of the dead. Some are the best are those in which the dreamer is judged to be moving into closer proximity to friendly gods – as in a dream where the dreamer is climbing a mast, or looking through a window or across a river (into the realm beyond).


                Climbing up a mast.                        Good. He will be elevated by his god. 

                Gazing through a window.           Good. His call will be heard by his god. 

                Seeing a god who is above.          Good. It means a great meal.

            His mouth is broken open.              Good. Something that is terrifying in his                                                heart, god  will break it open 

            Writing on a papyrus scroll.            Bad. His crimes will be reckoned by his                                                  god.

            Enfolding wings round himself.       Bad. He is not justified before his god. 


It is clear, as in the older non-interpretive texts, that the dreamspace is shared by dreamers, the departed and the gods. 

Ritual for dispelling the energy of an evil dream

The “Horus” section in the New Kingdom Dream Book ends with a ritual to be used by a person who has experienced a dream portending evil. This involves (1) a cleansing action: the dreamer’s face is to be rubbed with fresh herbs moistened with beer and myrrh and with bread, to remove the contamination of the dream. And (2) an invocation of the goddess Isis, addressed as “Mother”; the dreamer tells his dream to the goddess, and the act of reporting is held to turn away the unwanted consequences. 

In the Gardiner translation, Isis says: “Come out with what you have seen, in order that the afflictions you saw in your dreams may vanish.” The ritual ends with a triumphal cry from the dreamer that he has dispelled an evil dream sent against him and is now ready to receive pleasant dreams. “Hail to thee, good dream that is seen by night or day!” [4]

The truthfulness of dreams

The truthfulness of dreams would be accepted and beyond doubt if those who interpret them did not make mistakes

 - Ammianus Marcellinus, soldier and historian, in his vast chronicle of the Roman empire, Res Gestae, written before 391. In it he describes the Serapeum of Egypt, where dream incubation was a popular practice, as one of the glories of the empire. The Serapeum was handed over to the Christians in 391. 


1. Kasia Szpakowska, "The Perception of Dreams and Nightmares in Ancient Egypt: Old Kingdom to Third Intermediate Period". PhD dissertation, UCLA, 2000. 25

2. Jan Zandee, Death as an Enemy According to Ancient Egyptian Conceptions (New York: Arno Press, 1977) 11. 

3. Erik Hornung, "The Discovery of the Unconscious in Ancient Egypt" in Spring: An Annual of Archetypal Psychology (1986) 18-19

4. A.H. Gardiner, Hieratic Papyri in the British Museum. Third Series. Chester Beatty Papyrus. LondonBritish Museum, 1935]


Top: Fresco from the Temple of Isis at Pompei depicting a ritual at the sarcophagus of Osiris. 1st century CE.

Bottom: Egyptians priests performing purification ritual. 13th century BCE.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Sekhmet Time


Sekhmet is much on my mind this week. Here's how it began. My main desk computer had a meltdown on Monday and the Geek Squad guy on the phone couldn't help me fix it beyond saying that the situation was "unfortunate" and "quite rare". So I rushed out and bought a new computer. I had only a couple of hours before a very important recording session to set up the new computer and remember all my passwords and download all the key apps. Paleo-Man here was sweating and still trying to figure out the audio settings by the time he had to join the zoom meeting room.

In this emergency, I abandoned my study and my normal home studio "set" and set up on the dining room table. My hosts observed that my backdrop - red wallpaper - was rather fiery. They could not see that at eye level, across the room from me, was a bust of Sekhmet that has been with me for a very long time. There may be a little more fire than usual in the program we made.

Sekhmet has a fearsome reputation. She is sometimes called the 
Eye of Ra, a title shared with Hathor in her warrior mode. The association between Sekhmet, Hathor and the Eye of Ra is dramatized in a text known as "The Book of the Heavenly Cow". The version we can read today is a compilation of tomb inscriptions from the period or Ramses II, but is much older.

The top god in the story, Ra, learns that humans are plotting against him because he has grown old. He is advised by other gods to mobilize his Eye, which has been used to maintain order and fight the forces of cosmic darkness. He plucks the uraeus cobra from his third eye and it becomes Hathor in warrior mode. She receives his order to destroy humanity and appears on earth as Sekhmet, an unstoppable, ravening lion.

While some humans are left, Ra relents. But he can't turn of the killing frenzy of hie Eye (Hathor/Sekhmet) until he has 7,000 jugs of beer dyed red to look like blood poured in her path. The Lady of Destruction likes a drink. She drinks until she passes out - which is why she is also known as the Lady of Drunkenness. When she wakes up three days later, her killing lust is gone and and humanity survives.

You can't keep a great goddess in a frame.

Initiation into the realm of Sekhmet required braving up. During the Heb-Sed festival at Saqqara, devotees of Sekhmet guided a  shamanic rite of “passing through the skin” of Sekhmet in lioness form. This gave the right, in turn, to wear the skin. [1]

I have guided group experiments in shamanic lucid dreaming to enter the realm of Sekhmet, with all due respect and preparation. This resulted in personal blessings when I was in profound need of healing from a sudden and overwhelming health crisis in a foreign country. Here's the story. 

Istanbul, June, 2014

I spent a very rocky night after my long journey from upstate New York to Istanbul. My body had been depleted by 23 straight hours of travel, more than half of it spent in the recycled air of airplane cabins. I had also been exposed to some rather murky psychic influences, not to mention a drunken neighbor who not only sprayed me with his miserable view of life but with some horrendous sneezing, insufficiently contained by the back of his grubby hand.

I found myself coughing and coughing, and by 3 in the morning the infection had rushed down my bronchial chords, hurting my chest and making me rush to the bathroom sink to throw up. I was appalled to realize that whatever infection had gotten inside me, my body's exhausted immune system was letting it go where it wanted. What to do?.

I lay on my back on the bed in my room and basically said in my mind, I could use a little help.

The image of Sekhmet, as I had met her and led others to meet her in a workshop called "Dreaming like an Egyptian" the previous weekend, filled my inner screen and brought all my inner senses vividly alive.  Her eyes were red as carnelian, red as murder, as one of her praise poems has it. She was mad at the agents of my infection. With her came a whole pride of lions.

They soon defined a field of battle. I understood that they were going to fight whatever was making me sick. Something slashed at me from behind. I turned to see a rabid hyena. Ah yes, the right form for an adversary of my lion protectors. Lions and hyenas are mortal enemies.

There seemed to be hundreds of hyenas, but they had no real chance against Sekhmet, in furious Eye of Ra mode, and her pride. The lions slaughtered hyenas until the survivors fled the field, then moved over the ground of battle licking up any nasty stuff that remained. I felt this as deep healing inside my body.

There was a small catch. I had been wounded by the hyena who attacked me from behind. But now Sekhmet tongued the wound, erasing it, restoring my energy field.

I turned on my side, profoundly grateful, knowing that the crisis was over. My immune system was fully functional again, and I had all the help I needed.

As I lay on my left size, a beautiful lioness my own size settled full-length on the bed, facing me. I felt the warmth of her body. I felt her breathing her energy into me. We lay together like lovers, hearts beating together.

I was more than fine on the rest of that trip after the lions licked the hyenas.

Imagery is healing. The trick is to find the right imagery that the body believes and will act upon without delay. It helps when you have reason to believe that greater powers are engaged. 

I have learned that I have an imaginal metabolism, a mythic constitution. My body responds at astonishing speed to the images I permit it to entertain. When the images come charged with mythic, transpersonal power, they work wonders. My experience with Sekhmet and the sickness hyenas is one example. My book The Boy Who Died and Came Back contains many more. I think we are all alternately beneficiaries and victims of the power of imagination. We want to learn how to use it well, and how to draw on those greater powers. This starts with becoming more conscious of the stories we are living, and the images we invite to live in us.

1.Normandi Ellis, Imagining the World into Existence: An Ancient Egyptian Manual of Consciousness.  (Rochester VBT: Bear & Company, 2012) 286

The program we recorded under Sekhmet's eyes this week is a free introduction to my new advanced course for The Shift Network on Shamanic Lucid Dreaming. You can watch it and participate in a shamanic lucid dream journey on Saturday October 23.

From the Blue Lake of Healing

Bucegi Mountains, Romania

There is a blue lake of healing, on top of a mountain. You must earn the right to go there, by tracking a wounded animal through the woods, following it up steeper and steeper trails even when mountain mist swallows your sight. The animal is connected to you. The places where it is wounded reflect your own condition.
    At the top of the mountain, you are amazed to find a shining blue lake. As you watch, the animal staggers to the lake and falls in. It is gone for so long that you fear it has died. Have you come here for death?
    At last, you see a stir in the waters. The animal surfaces on the far side of the lake. As it takes off, you see it is whole, and healed.
    It is your turn to enter the waters of the healing lake. You may go far deeper than the world you come from. How far you go will depend on your courage and imagination. 

This is a summary of the simple instructions for a group journey that I gave to the intrepid dreamers who gathered in the Bucegi mountains of Romania with me in October, 2013 for my program "Dancing with the Bear: Reclaiming the Arts of Dream Healing". The Blue Lake of Healing is a real place in nonordinary reality. You can read about how I discovered it, and the full instructions for the journey, in my Dreamways of the Iroquois.
    We found once again that our shared adventures in shamanic dreaming and soul healing produce gifts that keep on giving. I asked our dreamers to write summaries of what they experienced and what they learned in the journey to the Blue Lake. Here is a first sampling of their travel reports:

"A wounded deer was completely healed as she entered the blue lake in the mountains. In the middle of the lake there was a crystal and from there healing was being sent for Mother Earth and for all the living creatures on Earth. I was healing people and animals and through healing a part of the light was being sent, so that they themselves became filled with more light."

”The aura of your heart will soften the hearts of those around you. It will transform them into clay that you will mold until it becomes liquid. It must be left ripening in the dark until it becomes light.” 

"Healing comes from the depth ! You can heal yourself there, where you did not think that you could even live! The diamond tunnel with rays of divine light help you heal yourself."

"The mountain goat was hurt in many places and still she had the power to reach the lake. The drums and the fire were calling me, recognizing me as one of their people. I was asked why I needed healing. I said, 'Because I want to make art with colors.' Again, I was asked 'Why?' I said, 'Because in this way i can travel.' I brought colors to my heart and my body." 

"The animal I met was very young and very beautiful. He was bleeding in the neck area. In the deep of the lake I found a rock, removed it and got to the top of a mountain, where I sat in lotus position. I felt myself being charged with energy. I met some dynamic forms, light green in color. I received a gift: a schoolbag with pockets with buckles."

”A giant eagle was my guide. I became one with her and felt her pain As I came out of the water my body was translucent. I was light, I was love. I saw my dear ones - I sent love to them and they sent love to me. Together, we created an immense sphere of light and love and sent it to float above the lake, the country, the planet. Then I transformed into a tree.”

”I follow a big stag, wounded in the chest, in the left. He is limping, but still I cannot reach him. I arrive at the lake, just in time to see him going into water. I run to the lake and I see him getting out on the other side, healed, running towards the forest. I dive into the water, which on the inside looks like an immense lagoon, with light in every corner. There are nymphs and gods at the bottom of the lagoon. My chest hurts, on the left side. I feel the energy healing me. When I get out of the water I notice I have a big scar on the left side of my chest, where my heart was healed.”

"Dancing with the eagle and the bear and the lion. Great festivities in an underwater city. Ceremony around a cauldron. Diving into the cauldron, swimming through a curvaceous tunnel and arriving in the kingdom with all of our loved ones."

"Heart wounded, I realized I came here to die. I let myself fall in the blue lake. Sweet fall, like floating. Beings, translucent tall beings put this golden, shiny, small energy ball inside my heart center and it started spinning. Golden light revived me and i started breathing the blue, good water. Breathing like the first breath in my life. Came back from the journey with a new song in my head: It is a new life, it is a new dawn.

“I was dancing with the shamans around the fire. In the rhythm of the drums I started spinning - faster and faster - until at a certain point I was not touching the ground any more. I was at one with the wind."

"The stag is bleeding from the eyes and his back right leg is injured. When he comes out of the blue lake, he is healed - and he has dropped his antlers. As he moves away, the antlers grow again, larger than before, and golden. 
   "Ravens strip away dead energy & disease from the energy field of the group. Bear dismembers some people, cleanses their hearts. Below the lake is a hospital of animal doctors. We are covered by angels' wings, blazing bright."

"The giant with the head and antlers of a stag was standing on the lake shore, with six of my ancestors flanking him, with staffs in their hands looking at me. He gave me his blessing to enter the lake. Now is your time. I entered the lake cautiously, and found I could breathe normally.
     "I came to a gate near the bottom of the lake. It was like a lens. When I passed through, I was flying within a blue horizon. I realized I could create anything from my heart. The Heart Fairy appeared. We put our chests together and our hearts were united. They were one, with a tremendous power. And then my chest opened, as I was flying and i connected with thousands of hearts. We were linked in a net of love, light and healing. I realized I was golden. I was there for a long time.”

"I met the bear. He was weak, wounded and tired. At the blue lake he dived below and then he came out all shining. His fur, once grey and without light, was now shining in the moonlight. After my healing I was given a white and silver dress that looked like the fur of the bear waiting for me on the shore. I climbed onto his back and we went into the forest where a shaman woman taught me a dance and an incantation for cleansing: "I release to the fire, water, earth and wind what does not belong to me and is a burden for me.'" 

Vindecarea exista in fiecare dintre noi. Crede. "Healing exists inside each and every one of us. Believe.”

For an expanded version of this report please see my new book Growing Big Dreams.