Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Beast Becomes Beauty


Chinese folklore and literature are full of ghosts. The most famous is probably Lin Siniang, although thanks to the 18th century novel The Dream of the Red Chamber she is known as a beautiful woman warrior rather than a revenant, a concubine general who dies in battle fighting with her royal lover for the Ming dynasty as it falls.  That Lin Siniang lives in the YA imagination as a kind of Chinese Woman King. 

However, in half as dozen narratives written a century earlier,  after the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644, she is, first and last, a ghost. In five of these accounts, she rises from her tomb near the ruined palace of the Prince of Heng and appears to an industrious bureaucrat, Chen Yaobao, seeking company and feasting. These stories are filed with nostalgia for the fallen dynasty. The scholar Judith Zeitlin, in her studies of seventeenth century Chinese literature, assigns them to the genre she calls "The Return of the Palace Lady" in which, typically, a beautiful woman who may have been a concubine or junior wife or died unmarried, rises from a haunting locale to haunt a living man and very often engage him in love and sex. [1]

The sixth of the early version of the story of Lin Siniang is the one that has seized my interest. The ghost here is not a palace lady but a girl of good family who was  proud of maintaining her virginity until her suicide. This version was written by Lin Yunming in 1667. The author says not only that he heard the details from the mouth of Chen Baoyao, the Qing dynasty official who was haunted by the ghost, but that Chen paid him to write the account. 

I want to call this version of the story "The Beast Becomes Beauty". It's a story to dream on - and maybe to act on. In summary:

 After Magistrate Chen moves into his offices in Qingzhou, he and his staff  hear strange noises in the building. Suspecting an intruder, one of Chen's retainers goes hunting with a spear. What he flushes out is a horrific ghost, blue of face, as tall as the rafters, with terrible fangs. Intendant Chen confronts it. "This is an office of the imperial court! What demon are you that dares to barge in without permission?" Chen musters twenty guards to deal with the ghost the following night. It has changed its form. Now it is only three feet tall but its head is as big as the wheel of an ox cart, its mouth is as wide as a sieve,  its eyes flash sparks as they open or close - and its breath its literally chilling, freezing Chen's men before they revive and flee the scene. 

Day and night the imperial offices are plagued by falling tiles, collapsing walls and flying whizzbombs. An exorcist is summoned, defeated and humiliated.  

Liu, a friend of Chen, stops in Qingzhou, appraises the situation and tells him he has himself to blame. 

“You’ve only yourself to blame for this trouble. There’s a universal principle that where you have yang, you must also have yin. If you hadn’t been so eager to drive this poltergeist out, it would never have wound up bothering you to this extent!” [2]

The ghost appears and thanks Liu for his counsel. It appears more frightful than ever. However, Liu  looks calmly at its hideous features and says, "Please change this face for another." 

The ghost goes into the dark of another room. It returns as a beautiful woman, elaborately coiffured and richly dressed in mermaid silk and filmy gauze with no hint of a seam, exuding an unknown, intoxicating perfume.

 She announces, "I am Lin Siniang." 

The monstrous ghost now becomes friend and ally. She becomes Chen's writing partner, composing poetry with him during drinking sessions. She helps him in his government job to assess cases and draft documents. His reputation soars. She leaves him after 18 months and he cherishes her memory. 

It's not very clear in the story just why the girl who became a ghost killed herself or why she decided to haunt Chen - except that she and Chen and the wise friend all apparently came from Fujian province. Several sources confirm that an imperial official named Chen Baoyao really did describe his ghostly encounter to Lin Yunming. Those details are less interesting than the wonderful guidance we get on facing our fears from Liu, the counselor, which we might summarize as:

* Recognize the need to balance dark and light, yin and yang, masculine and feminine

* Face what challenges you and seek to understand it before you attack it

* Ask what terrifies you to put on a different face. Please change this face for another.


 A Note on Chinese Ghosts.

Read Maxine Hong Kingston's novel The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts and you'll find that ghosts are active in the lives of Chinese and Chinese Americans today. 

A classic story in The Return of the Palace Lady genre is a story called “Teng Mu’s Drunken Excursion to the Jujing Gardens” in an early Ming collection "New Tales Told By Lamplight". The hero, the young poet Teng Mu, finds himself one moonlit night in the ruins of the old imperial gardens. He is inspired to compose a huaigu (a poem of longing) to express the feelings the scene arouses in him, However, a deceased palace lady suddenly materializes and delivers a poem of her own. They become lovers. Later she reveals that she once served in the palace of a Southern Song Emperor. After she died at twenty-two, she was buried beside the palace gardens. The imperial ruins are both her burial ground and the site of her former pleasures, which her ghost remembers and haunts. [3]

"Ghost" can mean many things, as dramatized in The Woman Warrior. The Chinese word gui was once used to refer to the nomads of the north who came from Mongolia to devastate the Chinese plains, a pejorative term later applied to the whites who colonized China from the 18th century. 

According to an ancient Chinese glossary, the Erya, compiled around the third century BC, “ghost‟ (gui) means "to return" and "to die".  When soul and body separate at death, each returns to its true place or nature:

A ghost means to return, that is, to return to its true home, not to the "false" home to which the deceased clung when still alive, but to his or her “true” origins elsewhere. A ghost is therefore defined as what goes away and does not come back. [4]

The renowned Daoist physician Sun Simiao (581-682) identified the sources of disease and depression as gui who enter the body through thirteen Ghost Points with colorful names, including Ghost Pillow, Ghost Hall and Hiding Ghost.  In his book Qianjin Yaofang (“Essential Formulas for Emergencies [Worth] a Thousand Pieces of Gold “) he declared that the Ghost Points should be watched "like milk on fire". If these points become weak, then spirits could settle there and sow disorder, overthrowing the virtuous balance of correct Qi. [5]


1. Judith T. Zeitlin, “The Return of the Palace Lady: The Historical Ghost Story and Dynastic Fall” in  in David Der-wei Wang and Shang Wei (eds), Dynastic Crisis and Cultural Innovation from Late Ming to the Late Qing and Beyond (Cambridge MNA and London, 2005: Harvard University Press) pp.151-199.

2. ibid p. 177

3. ibid p.154

4. Judith T. Zeitlin, The Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Literature (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2007) p.19.

5.  Sun Simiao, Prescriptions d’acupuncture valant mille onces d’or  trans. Catherine Despeux: (Paris: Guy Trédaniel, 1992).


Top: Hungry Female Ghost from the Kyoto Ghost Scrolls (12th century)

Lower: Zang Daqian (1899-1983), "The Reading Lady"

Bottom: The 13 Ghost Points of Sun Simiao (581-682)

Friday, December 30, 2022

Fred and the Phantasms

“The question for man most momentous of all is whether or not he has an immortal soul; or . . . whether or not his personality involves any element which can survive bodily death.” Frederic W.H. Myers, the great Victorian psychic researcher and classical scholar, made this magnificent statement 120 years ago, on the first page of his major opus Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, published posthumously in 1903. He made it his life cause to gather evidence of the existence of a spiritual world from which soul comes into the body and to which it returns. He followed a rigorously empirical approach, declaring that “if a spiritual world exists, and if that world has at any epoch been manifest or even discoverable, then it ought to be manifest or discoverable now”. [1]

He saw "supernormal" faculties  - one of many terms he invented - as evidence that spirit operates beyond the body and therefore survives it. Telepathy and telaesthesia (clairvoyance) are “survivals from the powers which that spirit once exercised in a transcendental world” [2] ). “So soon as man is steadily conceived as dwelling in this wider range of powers, his survival of death becomes an almost inevitable corollary” [3] 

He thought that "psychical excursions" in which an aspect of the self travels beyond the body and may be perceived by others are primary evidence that consciousness is not confined to a physical vehicle and will therefore survive death. To refer to what we might call an OBE or astral projection,  Myers coined the scary term “psychorrhagy,” and referred to a propensity for this experience as a “psychorrhagic diathesis” [4] . At the high end this might be an ecstasy giving access to a spiritual world and to “communities higher than any which this planet knows” [5]

Myers described “self-projections” as “the one definitive act which it seems as though a man might perform equally well before and after bodily death” [6] 

The first major public work by Myers, with Edmund Gurney and Frank Podmore, was titles Phantasms of the Living. Based on thousands of cases collected and analyzed by the  Society for Psychical Research, this huge book was devoted to "apparitions of persons still living", received through any or all of the senses. Myers declares in his introduction that "we have no wish either to mystify or startle mankind". Yet the sheer volume of first-hand testimony of encounters with "ghosts of the living" would startle many audiences..

Myers says the authors are not aiming at any “paradoxical reversion of established scientific conclusions” but rather “working in the main track of discovery” and “assailing a problem which, though strange and hard does yet stand next in order among the new adventures on which science must needs set forth” [7]  Trying to walk a middle path between the Spiritualists and the evolutionists, Myers continues, “We held it incumbent upon us… to conduct our inquiries in the ‘dry light' of a dispassionate search for truth” [8]  

Some of my favorite cases involve experiences in the hypnagogic zone, between sleep and awake, sometimes when a visitor steps from a dream into the dreamer's physical space. Thus a minister from Bradford, the Rev. E.H.Sugden, reports a vivid dream of a person he knows well. Waking suddenly, he finds the man in his room. "I saw him in the light of early morning, standing by my bedside in the very attitude of the dream." The minister gives him a good kick and he vanishes. [9]

Myers' published oeuvre spanned a wide spectrum. He published poetry and essays on classical literature and a fascinating short autobiography that was unfortunately bowdlerized before publication by his widow. [10] Then there is all he has to tell us from the other side of death, especially the scripts recorded via two remarkable women mediums, Winifred Coombe- Tennant ("Mrs. Willett") and Geraldine Cummins. In his communications with Winifred, Myers gives the impression of a well-organized Club of psychic researchers working indefatigably to deliver evidence of the survival of physical death - from the other side of death. [11] Via Geraldine, Myers authored books describing several stages of the soul' s transitions beyond the physical plane, a comprehensive Western Bardo.  

I feel tremendous affinity for "Fred" Myers across time, and gratitude for his work, which continued after death. While I was rereading 
Phantasms of the Living I made a comment about it to a friend who exclaimed,  "Those Victorian ghost hunters really rock". I couldn't resist fooling around with an AI image generator to see what that might look like. 


[1] Frederic W.H. Myers, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (London: Longmans. Green, 1903) Vol. 1, p.7
[2] ibid, Vol. 2, p. 267
[3] ibid, Vol. 2, p. 274
[4] ibid Vol. 1, p. 264
[5] ibid Vol. 2, p. 194. 
[6] Vol. 1, p. 297). 
[7] Edmund Gurney, Frederic W.H. Myers and Frank Podmore,  Phantasms of the Living (London: Society for Psychical Research/Trübner & Co, 1886) Vol. 1, p.xxxvi
[8] ibid p.xlix
[9] ibid  Vol1, pp.390-1
[10] Frederic W.H. Myers, Fragments of Prose & Poetry edited by Eveleen Myers (London: Longmans, Green, 1904)
[11] Gerald William, Earl of Balfour, "A Study of the Psychological Aspects of Mrs. Willett’s Mediumship, and of the Statement of the Communicators Concerning Process" in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol 43., 1935) 43-317. Geraldine Cummins, Swan on a Black Sea, A Study in Automatic Writing: The Cummins-Willett Scripts (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965
[12] Geraldine Cummins, The Road to Immortality: Being a description of the afterlife purporting to be communicated by the late F.W.H. Myers (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1933)


Top: "Psychical Excursion: Edwardian Lady in Astral Flight" Drawing by Robert Moss

Bottom: "Fred and the Phantasms". Digital art by RM

Thursday, December 29, 2022

A Dreamer's Notes: Creating a Psychic Cop

I was inspired by a question I was asked today to look again in my dream detective's casebook. I was asked, “Are there codes of ethics or laws in the dreamworld to abide by?”

My immediate response: For me we are morally responsible for our actions in all realities. Different communities set different rules in any world according to their belief systems and social codes.

My further thought: There are psychic police who try to prevent astral felonies of various kinds. I found this journal account of an experience in which I tried to play a defender of this kind and may have helped to generate an entity to restrain a potential abuser.

March 12, 2010


Creating a Psychic Cop

I've been invited to stay at the palatial home of a very wealthy family. I think they are Swedes, members of the old Swedish merchant/industrial dynasties. We are going to a villa that is part of a family complex on a lake or inlet. 

On my left, through picture windows in the house, I notice a number of subtly-lit grottos or caverns nearby, each containing treasures. A couple of these caverns hold marvelous libraries of old books, clearly visible through thick glass walls, in climate-controlled spaces. The caverns are either man-made or have been converted to form a kind of matching set. I have the impression that the water in front of the houses is also a controlled environment, that these people have sought to arrange their world so they can even dial a temperature for a large body of water. 

My host is a charming older man, both worldly and scholarly. It seems that his extended family is gathering for the wedding of his young daughter. This is an arranged marriage, set up in the old dynastic way to join two branches of this powerful Swedish family. The key planner is the mother of the groom, a sharp-featured snobbish schemer who always insists on appearances and protocol being just so. She does not approve of my casual clothing, for example, making it clear she expects me to dress in more stylish clothes for dinner. I walk to the room where I have left my bag to consider my dress options and find a couple snogging there. 

I leave them to it and enter another room where I find the intended groom assaulting a woman. I think his intended victim is not his bride-to-be but another young woman he considers vulnerable, a poor relative or household servant. I pull him off the girl and teach him a lesson by winding fishing line tightly around his balls, making it plain to him that he could lose them if he fails to get the message. When I release him, I sense that he has no intention of changing his ways. He is spoiled and arrogant, a Eurotrash type in his late 20s who is his mother's darling. 

I magic up a kind of psychic cop that will force him to stop abusing women. A huge, heavily muscled figure takes form. Otherwise mindless, it has been created for just one purpose: to prevent the abuser from ever harming women again. I call it Maldonado. The spoiled abuser blanches at the sight of this figure, but relaxes when it fades from the scene, thinning to a mist and then vanishing. 

When the brat begins to reassume a sneering, bullying attitude, the psychic cop reappears, reducing him to abject submission. I make it clear to the abuser that this enforcer will stay very close to him from now on, and will manifest if he ever tries to break his "parole" by mistreating women again. 

I will now talk to the father of the young girl and the girl herself, to see whether they really want to go through with the wedding.

 Comment: I woke from this dream, happy and satisfied, on the morning of the second day of a workshop in the Baltic. When I shared it with a group of women in the workshop, they hooted with delight over my use of the fishing line. It turned out that two of them are actively involved in supporting survivors of sexual abuse. We agreed that it would be great if we could actually deploy psychic cops for protective purposes as my dream self-managed to do. "Actually, if you can do that in your dream, maybe you can do it in ordinary reality," suggested a therapist. I noted that my dream self often appears to be a long way ahead of me in his practice. I don’t know why I called my psychic cop Maldonado, which means “ill-favored’ in Spanish and is a well-known surname in that language.

I could of course play "What part of me?" with the dream, but it feels like a social, transpersonal dream in which I was inside the world of that Swedish family in one reality or another. Of course I have not trouble accepting that Maldonado is a projection of my own energy; he was made that way.

Illustration: "Psychic Cop" by RM with AI assistance


Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Robertson Davies' novel approach to Jung

Questions opened with a Weasel Scot who said: “D’ye really know anything about this Yoong, or did ye juist mug up eneuch o’ his stuff to write that noavel?” I replied winsomely that I had been reading Jung for 30 years , and that The Manticore had been kindly received in Zurich, where they were in a position to judge

“Do you dream much?” asks Dr. Johanna von Haller, a Jungian analyst, in their first session in Zurich. David Staunton, a wealthy Toronto barrister - and functioning alcoholic - has not been much of a dreamer, but he has one from the previous night. In this dream, he left secure and cozy surroundings to travel down back roads where he met a wild Gypsy woman in colorful rags whose whose speech is strange to him. He hurries away and is soon back on familiar ground, speaking from his brief as a barrister in court. Dr von Haller suggests this was an “anticipatory dream” – that the Gypsy was a preview of her, another foreigner whose language is strange to him and from whom he is inclined to flee. “Dreams do not foretell the future,” she observes. “They reveal states of mind in which the future is implicit.” [2] 

 With this exchange, we are in the midst of the liveliest account of the process of a Jungian analysis that I know. It's in The Manticore, the central novel in the Deptford Trilogy by the wordmaster Robertson Davies, one of my favorite novelists. Davies never underwent analysis - which he described in a letter as "barnacle-scraping" [3] - or any formal training in psychology. On the other hand, he had read Jung for thirty years, kept a portrait of Jung on the wall of his study and was a founder of the Analytical Psychology Society of Ontario. He was a depth psychologist in the classical sense of the word, a student of soul. Like his protagonist, he became increasingly attuned to his dreams and his inner life. 

It was a vision from reverie that gave him the image of the manticore and thereby gave the book its title - after he transplanted it into the mind and circumstances of a fictional character. Davies had completed part one of The Manticore when, dozing on his screened porch after lunch, he saw before him a gallery with an ancient picture, showing a beautiful woman in a classical robe, leading a strange beast on a golden chain. "It had the body and head of a lion, the clawed feet of a dragon, a tail which was barbed as the tails of scorpions are barbed in ancient art, and it had the anguished face of a man." Davies consulted an encyclopedia of mythology and identified the beast in his vision as a manticore. [4] 

In the version of the dream that Davies' character tells his analyst, the manticore has his own face and the woman commanding it is Dr Johanna von Haller. When she tells him the name of the beast, he asks, "How can I dream about something I've never heard of?" She responds: "People very often dream of things they don't know...It is because great myths are not invented stories but objectivizations of images and situations that lie very deep in the human spirit." [5] 

 Here we are deep into the Jungian understanding of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, but we have come here effortlessly and fluently, thanks to Robertson Davies' word magic and marvelous ear for dialogue. It must be granted that it is highly unlikely that many therapy sessions - and any patient autobiographies - will manifest the eloquence, wit and lightly-worn erudition of these pages. 

Here is how Dr. von Haller introduces the concept of archetypes: “You might call them the Comedy Company of the Psyche, but that would be flippant and not to do justice to the cruel blows you have had from some of them. In my profession we call them archetypes, which means that they represent and body forth patterns towards which human behavior seems to be disposed, patterns which repeat themselves endlessly, but never precisely in the same way.” [6] Later the analyst declares, "Our great task is to see people as people and not clouded by archetypes we carry about with us, looking for a peg to hang them on...You will recover all these projections which you have visited on other people like a magic lantern projecting a slide on a screen" [7] 

Davies wrote of this novel: "There have been other books which describe Freudian analyses, but I know of no other that describes a Jungian analysis." He added, "I was deeply afraid that I would put my foot in it, for I have never undergone one of those barnacle-scraping experiences, and knew of it only through reading. So I was greatly pleased when some of my Jungian friends in Zurich liked it very much." [8]  

The Zurich crowd were not unanimous, however. When Marie-Louise von Franz, one of the most brilliant of the women around Jung, arrived in Toronto, she was quite frosty to Robertson Davies because she was extremely annoyed by the suggestion that she was the model for Johanna von Haller. Davies had never previously met her, though he had read much of her work and admired her greatly as a classical scholar and interpreter of myth and fairytales, as well an excellent explicator of the Jungian psychology of projection and re-collection. [9] 

After meeting Swiss frost with Canadian froideur on their first evening, Davies charmed von Franz as he played genial host - as Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto - over the days that followed, and von Franz charmed Davies in turn, with her spin on a dream he recounted to her. In the dream, Davies (whose first career was on the London stage) found himself as an actor in a play. His cue has been given, the audience is waiting, but he does not know his lines and doesn't even know what play he is in. Davies told von Franz that he thought the dream expressed his deep sense of inadequacy. She told him robustly: "I would have said it is an indication to you that you don't go on stage to say what other people have written, but to say what you have to say yourself." [10]


[1]Robertson Davies to Arnold and Letitia Edinborough February 19, 1980 in For Your Eye Alone: The Letters of Robertson Davies edited by Judith Skelton Grant (New York: Viking, 2001)49. [
2] Robertson Davies, The Deptford Trilogy (New York: Penguin, 1990)276. The Manticore was first published in 1972. [3]Robertson Davies to Leon Edel, Thanksgiving (Canadian Style) 1981 in For Your Eye Alone 72.
[4] Judith Skelton Grant, Robertson Davies: Man of Myth (New York: Viking, 1994) 498.
 [5] Deptford Trilogy 404-405. 
[6] Deptford Trilogy 449. 
[7] Deptford Trilogy 450-451. [8] Davies to Leon Edel; For Your Eye Alone 72. 
[9] Von Franz's master work on this theme, Spiegelungen der Seele, had not yet been published, however. The German edition appeared in 1978; Projection and Re-collection in Jungian Psyxhology, translated by William H. Kennedy, followed in 1980 (LaSalle and London: Open Court, 1980). 
[10] Grant, Robertson Davies: Man of Myth 498.

Monday, December 26, 2022

A Dreamer's Notes: Playing Detective with Old Journals

I have been keeping a journal, off and on, since my teens, and as a dedicated daily practice for nearly 40 years. My first entry every day is usually a dream report, sometimes many of them. I like to go back to old journals, open one at random, and see what pops up. This simple act of bibliomancy produces intriguing results. Sometimes I notice that an incident I dreamed long ago is just starting go play out in ordinary reality.

A favorite example: I was hurrying to get into my car and drive to a retreat center 90 minutes from my home where I was scheduled to teach for the first time. I paused to pull a binder from the shelves housing printouts of my dream reports, intending to see what I would find when I opened it. A loose-leaf report - three legal-sized pages of single-spaced text - flew out of the binder. I had written the report 11 months earlier. I glanced at the first lines:

74 people are registered for my workshop. I am given this information at reception by a bald man with a big beard.

I skimmed the rest of the report. There was weird stuff there, material for dark fantasy and scifi. I had no time to study the details. I folded the report and put it in my pocket.

When I got to the retreat center, I was greeted by a man with a big beard, wearing a hat. I asked him t remove his hat. When he did, I saw he was bald and a match for the man in my dream. "How many people do we have for the workshop?"


This was already interesting, as a clear case of dream precognition. Eleven months ago, when I recorded my dream, I had not yet been invited to this retreat center; indeed, I had never heard of it. The three-day workshop I was bout to lead was not in my calendar. 

In my cabin, I read through all of my dream report carefully, wondering how all the dark drama and special effects might relate to what was unfolding now.

I did not have an assistant for that workshop. Seventy-four people is a rather large group to handle alone, in a huge drafty barn with bats flying - literally - up among the roof beams. Naturally, there were people there who had come hoping to heal deep wounding and get relief from nightmare terrors. As the workshop progressed, I realized that what I had seen in a dream eleven months before had prepared me for things that were going to be shared and sometimes acted out in the group. I had dreamed the dreams of others. And received a p[review not only of a registration number but of various personal situations that would need to be handled with care and sensitivity. Over that long weekend  my dream report was my counselor, whispering in my ear, Be prepared for what's coming next, giving me a context for understanding and sometimes a path resolution.

My Bald Man with a Beard dream is more than an example of how we dream the future. It's a prompt to look at how an "old" dream can provide navigational guidance when a situation it previewed starts to manifest.

Sometimes digging in old journals brings up a dream I could not fathom at the time but may have been illuminated by subsequent discoveries. I may now have a new way to investigate what I left as a cold case when I failed to solve a mystery. One of the characteristic features of my style of dreaming is that I read a great deal and read and receive messages in  many languages. My dreams are full of obscure names and phrases from languages ranging form Mohawk to Japanese to medieval French, from Farsi to Georgian to the Greek of the Neoplatonists. In the pre-Google days I was not able to run down some of the odd names and phrases I recorded from my dreams. It's so much easier now.

There are mysteries in the dream life I have recorded that continue to elude explanation. I suspect that some of these are related to the adventures of my traveling dream doubles. They get out and about in  other realities near or far from the one in which I am writing this piece. I am looking right now at a report I entered in my travel journal in 2019. My handwriting in pencil is almost indecipherable, and slightly smudged. I did not transcribe this short text in my digital data base. I did make a sketch, and that is what made me take another look at these journal pages.

Here is my attempt to reconstruct the text:


Showing Aubrey His Body

In the Cévennes. A little blue Fiat 500 has crashed. A man in a light blue parka is sprawled on the snow. I go through the door of a house where a party is in full swing. I approach a man drinking eggnog, telling him there is something he needs to see. I guide him to the door and show him the body in the snow. He doesn't realize for a moment that he is looking at his own body, dressed in the same light blue parka. I know that his name is Aubrey. I reassure him that someone is coming to get him on the right road. 

My feelings, then and now, are of curiosity rather than high emotion. It seems that my dream self is performing a service, a little psychopomp work to held a soul with the first stage of his bardo: recognizing that you are dead in the sense that you can't use your physical body any ,more.

I have traveled and taught in the general region of the Cévennes but haven't used that term - which may be of Celtic origin - outside the dream. 

I don't think I know any man named Aubrey. Not an Aubrey Beardsley fan. I might go back to the Brief Lives compiled by John Aubrey, the 17th century English biographer and antiquary, and take a look at Ruth Scurr's recent novel about him disguised as his intimate journal. Always happy to find pretext to acquire another book....

Dreaming in Occupied France

An artist dreams on the eve of the German Occupation of Paris that millions of little French souls are playing like multicolored butterflies. An army of robots appears and attacks them with giant clubs, injects them with toxic words from newspapers that make them fight each other, and then chews them up with the sound of shattering crystal.

A philosopher in his seventies, ashamed that he is too old to be mobilized to defend France, dreams that he is transformed into a moldy, rickety armchair that falls from a high window to be kicked by rag-and-bone men picking over the trash below.

A wealthy socialite suspected of being a German agent dreams before his suicide that he is up on a catwalk in a beauty pageant in which brothel madams (tenancières) are choosing the most likely man. He thinks he is looking really good but when the prize goes to an obese lump of a man he is enraged. He wrestles the prize away and puts it around his own neck. Then he sees he is wearing a dog collar

The French-Hungarian novelist and painter who took the pen name Emil Szittya ("Emil the Scythian") collected and published 82 raw dream reports from people in all stations of life over the six  years of World War II. The book has the no-nonsense title 82 
rêves pendant las guerre 1939-1945He introduces the dreamers but does not comment on their dream reports. This is fascinating but hardly cheerful stuff since the dreams are as dark as the era and leave some of the dreamers - as one told the collector - "swimming in sweat".

An artist interned at Drancy concentration camp reports that every night he dreamed "the best dream of my life". Racked by stomach pains all day long, he dreams he is given a vast platter of sweet noodles (nouilles sucrées) eats with gusto. In regular life he always detested this dish.

A bold young aviator gives way to his fears in the night, confessing that "in my dreams I am a man who wets his pants."

A conscripted pimp  with a soldier friend dreams he is looking for his girl  in the house on La Chapelle. The madam tells him she has gone to the 16th arrondissement with les Fritz. When he finds her, his army friend is threatened by German soldiers with machine guns. Waking, he breaks with his only friend for fear he will bring him into danger.

The raw transcripts speak with chilling eloquence, and the many voices become an orchestra.  The weave of Szittya's collection of dream narratives becomes as compelling  as  Georges Perec's La boutique obscure and Michel Leiris' Nights as Days, Days as Nights, books in which more famous French authors recorded their dreams and let them expand into stories without analysis. In 82 Dreams we are taken into the intimate lives of ordinary people, and also into the collective mind of the French people during the worst nightmare of the twentieth century. 

Illustration by RM with AI assistance

Saturday, December 24, 2022

A Dreamer's Notes: The Cover Girl is Out of the Book

There are books that won't stay quietly on a shelf or a table unless you put them inside a birdcage. My book Conscious Dreaming once flew off a shelf in the Boulder Book Store in Colorado and struck a visiting shamanic teacher at the third eye. He bought it, read it, and invited me to his city to lead a workshop. 

Someone told me this week that that she dreamed the cover of Dreamgates, my book for frequent flyers. I was inspired to look up my report of an experience in the drifty hypnopompic zone between sleep and awake, when that book showed signs of life in an interesting way. Cover girls are one thing, but we don't expect book covers to start kicking up their heels.

January 4, 2020

Hypnopompic state

The Girl from My Book

Lying in bed after waking I become aware there is something like a television monitor above the right side of my head. It is superposed on the ceiling rather than in the ceiling. The colors are poster paint bright. There is a young fair haired girl in a white dress and a white horse under a huge leafy tree

They are familiar. Can this be the girl who is sleeping on a branch of a giant tree while a white horse grazes on the cover of my book Dreamgates? I recall now that in a dream before waking I was reading pages from Dreamgates aloud to a girl who needed help in transitioning between different energy bodies

The girl on the screen above me looks at me and says, "When I wake up here, I fall asleep there."

She shows me things beyond the picture on the cover of my book, which has become a living landscape. There is a primal beast the size of an elephant that makes me a little nervous until she demonstrates that it obeys her like a trained dog. Like the girl in my dream she wants to discuss subtle bodies and what happens when we travel beyond the astral plane. Perhaps she is the girl from the dream as well as the girl from the book tree. We'll be talking some more, when she falls asleep there and wakes up here.

I tracked down the drawing I made from this vision. The girl on the screen deserved some special recognition. Cover girls are one thing, but we don't expect book covers to start kicking up their heels.

Friday, December 23, 2022

A Dreamer's Notes: A Pint of Compensation


The compensatory function of dreams is featured in both Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis, and can be a useful concept. Central to the Jungian approach is the 
idea that dreams compensate for thoughts and desires that are repressed or denied by the daytime ego or simply fail to reach consciousness. Excluded from waking consciousness, they teem in the unconscious and surface in dreams, typically in a language of symbols.

Recognized and worked with, dreams of this kind can become a path to balance and  "individuation". Jung wrote that “the unconscious content contrasts strikingly with the conscious material, particularly when the conscious attitude tends too exclusively in a direction that would threaten the vital needs of the individual. The more one-sided his conscious attitude is, and the further it deviates from the optimum, the greater becomes the possibility that vivid dreams with a strongly contrasting but purposive content will appear.” 

This compensatory function of dreams can goad the psyche toward greater conscious achievements or shatter the delusions of the day. In Jungian terminology the former is known as the “prospective function” and the latter the “reductive function.”

All good stuff. However, the workings of dream compensation can be rather simple. You dream of living in a way you are not doing in ordinary reality, but wish to do. Think of the nun inn the movie Slumberland who dreams she is a wildly sexy tango dancer surrounded by eager men. Think of all the destination travel you may have done during the stay-at-home era of the pandemic.

I'm smiling over a small personal example of how this works. I'm nearing the end of a week on the wagon. I enjoy alcohol but take a few days or weeks off now and then to make sure I'm not dependent. I haven't noticed any cravings over the past week except a fleeting desire late one night for some cognac (my favorite spirit).

Alcohol hasn't featured in the dreams I recall either - though my dreams have been highly social - except for two brief scenes over the past two nights. In the first, towards the end of a busy night, I relax with a pint of best bitter - you know, room temperature English beer. You won't find me drinking this in ordinary reality except when I am in the UK. In the dream, I find it wonderfully comforting.

Then last night I was with several women, some family members, who all declared that they wanted some red wine. I thought in the dream that this was a good idea, and thought the same on waking. In the early hours, I was about to pour myself a glass of a decent red from Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert when I remembered that I'm still on the wagon....

Illustration: "Compensation" by RM with AI assistance 

Birth of a Trilogy


Because of a hawk and a white oak and my need to get away from big cities, in 1986 I purchased a farm in rolling horse country in the upper Hudson Valley of New York. I had no idea how completely this move would change my life. But there were clues from the very beginning, in the irruption of the dream-logic of a deeper reality into my ordinary world. The first weekend my wife and I saw the farm - much of it still primal woodlands where the deer drifted in great droves - I knew in my gut this was a place I needed to be. I sat under an old white oak behind the derelict farmhouse, feeling the rightness of the place but also that I needed a further sign if we were to make the move to a new landscape far removed from the people we knew and the fast-track life I had been leading as a bestselling thriller-writer.

A red-tailed hawk circled overhead, a female (to judge by the size), her belly-feathers glinting silver-bright in the sunlight. She proceeded to drop a wing feather between my legs. Sometimes you can't escape the sense that something from a deeper world is poking through the veil of consensual reality, like the finger of an unseen hand. Or a wingtip.
     An early snowstorm in October the following year, soon after we had finished the renovations and moved into the farm, isolated us from the modern world behind downed maple limbs and huge snowdrifts. With power gone for three days, well water was no longer available and we heated snow in buckets over the fire in the great hearth of the family room in order to flush the toilets. We read stories by candlelight, and made them up, and joked about living like the first settlers on that land, the Dutch pioneers who had used my study as their "borning room" and whose pre-Revolutionary bodies were buried in a simple graveyard on the hill on the northern side of the house.
    I had impressions of presences from earlier times as I walked that land. When I sat with the white oak, I felt I could see the passage of those who had come before, indigenous and immigrant, across seasons and centuries. I saw a strapping native warrior with a great tattoo like a sunburst on his chest. In my dreams, I observed and then sometimes seemed to become a powerful man who sometimes wore the red coat of an English general of an earlier time, but at other times appeared in a great feathered head-dress, like a native chief.

     I decided to take an interest in local history and played with the idea of writing an historical novel set in my new neighborhood. I frequented used bookstores, and in one of them - the old Bryn Mawr bookshop in Albany - that benign shelf elf that Arthur Koestler called the Library Angel came into play. In the local history section, my hand fell on a thick blue-bound volume, one of a collection titled Sir William Johnson Papers. Sir William Johnson? Never heard of him. I opened the book at random and found myself reading a letter from this Johnson, involving Indian affairs. His prose flowed in rolling cadences. I heard the voice behind the text, and felt sure that I knew that voice.
     Intrigued, I took the book home. I was soon deeply immersed in researching the life and times of an extraordinary Anglo-Irishman who came from County Meath to the American colonies in the 1730s in hopes of making his fortune on the New York frontier. Leaders of the Mohawk people, who were no slouches at diplomacy and war, recognized in Johnson a plausible, capable young man with a magnetic personality and set out to recruit him as their agent and interpreter to the British and the colonial whites after he started farming in the Mohawk Valley. Though Johnson rose to fame as King's Superintendent of Indians and one of the architects of the English victory over France in the French and Indian War - whose outcome ushered in the American Revolution - he started out more Mohawk (and of course more Irish) than English.
     It was understandable that I had never heard of him. I grew up in Australia, and American history was almost completed ignored in my school education. I now discovered that Johnson is virtually unknown in the United States today, perhaps because the world he shared with the Mohawks is quite foreign to the post-Revolutionary experience. This story has nothing to do with the triumphalist "Whig" view of American history, in which events are portrayed as moving in a steady forward progression through the Revolution to the creation and expansion of democratic institutions, or with the old chauvinist "manifest destiny" theory according to which European settlers were "meant" to claim the continent from sea to shining sea.

I acquired all fourteen volumes of the Sir William Johnson Papers, and later the 73 volumes of the Jesuit Relations, the extraordinary compilation of reports from the blackrobe missionaries of New France on the woodland Indians they were assigned to convert. I flew to Ireland to walk the scenes of Johnson’s childhood. He was born four miles from the holy hill of Tara, and raised in a stone house in Smithtown, County Meath. The mound of Newgrange, containing a temple-tomb older than the pyramids of Egypt, is just up the road and was discovered by a farmer digging stones for a wall when Johnson was a boy. When I explored the site, the image of a double spiral incised on one of the guardian stones struck me forcibly.

Back at the farm in New York, the double spiral floated before me in the middle of the night in the drifty state between waking and sleep that the French call dorveille. I found myself lifting off the bed, leaving my dozing body behind. Soon I was flying under the night sky, seemingly on the wings of a red-tailed hawk. I felt the exhilaration of flight, the joy of catching a thermal, the discomfort when I brushed the dried-up needles of an old spruce somewhere near Lake George. I searched below me for traces of the battlefield where Johnson, at the head of an amateur militia and a band of Mohawk warriors, defeated a famous career general, Baron Dieskau, and a professional French army in 1755. I realized that modern developments and roads were missing from the landscape below. I was looking down at first-growth forest.

I kept flying north, following a tug of intention that became stronger. It pulled me down into a cabin in the woods somewhere near Montreal. I found myself sitting with an ancient indigenous woman with a face like a wrinkled apple. She spoke to me for a long time in cadenced speech, her words lapping like lake water. As she spoke, she stroked a wampum belt that depicted male and female figures holding hands near a she-wolf. This was not one of those dream visions in which you understand everything at once. The native woman spoke to me in her own language, and all I could retain were a few fragments, including a word that sounded like on-dee-nonk. And the image of the belt with the she-wolf.

Soon after this night visitation, in a serendipitous way, I met an Onondaga scholar who was working for the New York State Archives, which at that time held the wampum archives of the Confederacy of the Six Nations of the Haudenosonee, or Iroquois. When I told him the dream, he unlocked a steel cabinet and produced a wampum belt that depicted a she-wolf and two human figures holding hands. “We believe that these are the ancient wampum credentials of a Mohawk clanmother – the mother of the Wolf Clan. It would be appropriate for a woman of power to display her credentials when she spoke to you.”

Truth comes with goosebumps. My shivers of recognition were telling me that when I sought to reenter Johnson’s world, something of his world came reaching out to me. My encounters with the Wolf Clan woman continued. I sought the guidance of native speakers to help translate her words. One of them told me, “This is Mohawk, but it’s not the way we speak it today. It’s the way Mohawks may have talked three hundred years ago, and there’s some Huron in it.”

My research revealed that the grandmother of Molly Brant, who became Johnson’s Mohawk consort (and whom he called Tsitsa – “Flower” – at home) was taken captive as a child by a Mohawk war party from a Huron village. I decided to develop a character based on her, and my nocturnal visions, in my fictional recreation of Johnson’s world. In my novels I call her Island Woman. In The Interpreter she is a girl on her way to claiming her power, under the tutelage of the grandmothers and an extraordinary shaman nicknamed Longhair. In The Firekeeper we meet her as the mother of the Wolf Clan, one of those truly power-full women who call themselves the “burden straps”, those who carry the burdens of the people. As an atetshents (“one who dreams”) part of her work is to scout across space and time to seek the means of survival for her community.

That strange word that sounded like “on-dee-nonk” is central to her practice. I found its meaning in one of those volumes of the Jesuit Relations, in a report from Father Jean de 
Brébeuf during a harsh winter in Huron country in the 1600s. The ondinnonk, he observed, is the “secret wish of the soul, especially as revealed in dreams”. Among these “savages”, it was believed that it was a prime duty of the community to gather round a dreamer and help him identify and honor the wishes of the soul, as seen in dreams. If this was not done, the soul might become disgusted and withdraw its energy, leaving the dreamer prone to illness and despair.

In my quest for an Irish adventurer, something from the world that he and Island Woman shared awakened me to a primal practice of dreaming and healing that was deeper than anything I had learned from mainstream Western culture. Dreaming shows us what the soul wants, and how to bring the vital energy of soul back into the body where it belongs.

While my Cycle of the Iroquois – Fire Along the Sky, The Firekeeper and TheInterpreter - is full of great men and battles that changed world history, opening the way for the American Revolution, it is above all the story of a native people’s struggle for survival, and of how dreaming can bring the soul back home.

Drawings: "Hawk Calls" and "Island Woman" by Robert Moss

Portrait of a young William Johnson by John Wollaston in the Albany Instiute of History and Art


Sunday, December 18, 2022

A Dreamer's Notes: Library Night with Borges

What’s missing from Edwin Williamson’s long biography of Jorge Luis Borges (Borges: A Life) are the dreams. There’s mention of an early and recurring nightmare, in which Borges does not know where he is or who he is, a dream that may have anticipated his blindness but extends to his existential condition. There are a couple of references to nightmares in his later years – of being terrified by a dream that oppressed him in a book-lined basement in a professor’s house in East Lansing, so he had to be moved to a hotel; of a terrible dream in which he is crucified and glimpses a she-wolf as his oppressor. But nothing, really, about the dreams that may have inspired and fueled the poems and stories.

Did Borges really dream only on paper? If so, this might account for his uncertainty about whether there is an afterlife, something that weighed on him into his final days. His father – who went blind long before him – sometimes spoke of his longing for death in the sense of being totally “extinguished”. Borges, bitterly and recurringly rejected by women and disappointed in love, and tied to the clumsy body of a failing, eventually sightless animal, also yearned for this, and often thought of suicide. Feeling close to his own death, three years after the death of his boyhood friend from Geneva, Maurice Abramowicz, Borges wrote 

I cannot tell whether you are still someone
I cannot tell whether you can hear me

Yet the next year in a Greek taverna in Geneva, when a certain song was playing, Borges experienced an epiphany. The song declared that while the music played, you could enjoy the love of Helen of Troy; while the music played, Ulysses could go home to Ithaca. In this moment, Borges knew that Maurice was alive and present, and raised his glass in a toast to his friend. “Tonight I can weep like a man,” he wrote that same night, “ because I know there is not a single thing on this earth which is mortal and which does not project its shadow. Tonight you have told me without words, Abramowicz, that we should enter death as we might enter a fiesta.” [“Abramowicz” in Los Conjurados]

Borges was now released to imagine – in a burst of visionary optimism after all the black despair – a world created by dreamers. In his prose poem “Someone Shall Dream” (“Alguien sonara”) the future “shall dream dreams more vivid than our waking life today. It shall dream that we can work miracles, and that we won’t carry them out because it will be more real to imagine them. It shall dream worlds so intense that the voice of a single bird could kill us.” 

A Library Date with Borges

I have dreamed of Borges, and these dreams are very much the dreams of a writer and bookman, as you might expect. During a visit to Barcelona, I picked up copies of a couple of Spanish-language editions of books by Borges and his friend Adolfo Bioy Casares and leafed through them on a sunny hotel terrace during siesta time. That night, Borges called me, as he had promised in a previous dream, to his ideal library. In that well-upholstered space, he appeared in his prime, no longer blind, beautifully dressed. He gave me a personal seminar on the art of the short story, drawing on his own experience of writing three drafts of a story. “Each,” he remarked, “had merits and demerits.

The story was "The Secret Miracle", that dark jewel in which a Jewish playwright who has been sentenced to death by a Nazi official in occupied Prague is granted his wish for a year to complete an unfinished play. The world around him is frozen as he spends a year of mental time on this work. When he finds the last word the bullets are released from the barrels of the firing squad. The story contains two remarkable dreams within its own oneiric logic.

“My first draft had the most passion,” Borges told me. “The third was the most technically accomplished. It is essential not to lose the passion in the developing craft.”

Illustration: "Library Date" by RM with AI assistance