Sunday, March 27, 2022

Choosing Your Future


By my observation and experience, consciousness is forever scouting ahead of the physical body and returning with memories of the future. It is important to understand that any future we foresee is a possible future. We can change the odds on the manifestation of a certain coming event by learning to read and clarify the information and then by taking appropriate action.     
     Shamans believe that in dreaming, we not only scout out the future but may actively choose between possible futures that are open to us. The more conscious we become, the greater our ability to choose. Physical events are born inside the dreaming, where it is possible to change them before they are manifested.
      Dream radar gives us fairly precise readouts on the probable outcome of our present actions and behavior, and the probable consequences of choices we might make in the future. Through dream reentry, we can check our messages and make sure we are working with all the pertinent information. By taking action based on the dream, we can steer toward or away from the dreamed event in waking life. Through conscious or lucid dreaming, we position ourselves to change the outcome inside the dream itself.
     The probability that a possible future event, perceived in a dream, will be enacted depends on a number of factors. These include:

Time lapse. Generally, the shorter the interval between the dream and the probable enactment of the event foreseen, the greater the chance that the event will be played out in waking life unless you are able to take deliberate action to avert the dream fulfillment.

Personal involvement. Is the dream about you or people connected with you whom you may be able to influence? If so, you may have latitude to act to change the dream result. But if the dream is about strangers, a remote situation, or a natural disaster, there is probably little or nothing you can do – except, say, call a friend in California to warn about the next earthquake and risk being regarded as a nut or (maybe worse) as merely stating the obvious.

Your willingness to act on a dream. Are you working actively with your dream source? Do you make a habit not only to read dream messages but to do something with them? If so, you may have more room to work around dream results you don’t relish.

Life burdens. The future events you dream may be the results of disease, old age, past actions, decades of bad habits, or the culmination of a whole lifetime. It might be difficult or impossible to get out from under a big accumulation of personal karma! But even if an unwanted event, perceived in the dream, now proves to be unavoidable in waking life, the lesson brought home by the dream may prepare you for the worst and lay the ground for a fresh start.

Text adapted from Robert Moss, Conscious Dreaming: A Spiritual Path for Everyday Life. Published by Three Rivers Press.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Causing a Bear, Scandinavian style

In my courses on healing through Active Dreaming and imagination, we call on Great Mother Bear as healer and protector. The Bear is the great medicine animal of North America and in Native tradition, the most powerful healers are those called by the Bear in dreams and visions. In ancient Europe, the Bear was the king of beasts, and there was a sacred kinship between bears and humans that we can trace from Paleolithic times. The Bear was a form of the Goddess and Athenian maidens danced in bearskins for Artemis, as She Bear, in the festival of Brauronia. Here, drawing on the Icelandic sagas, we recollect something of the warrior history of the Bear, and a shaman warrior of the North who could do much more than put on a bearskin and go wild.

His name is Bödvar Bjarki, which means "Warlike Little-Bear". He has a typical Scandinavian genealogy: his father Bjorn was a were-bear (as a result of a witch's curse); his mother's name, Bera, means "She-Bear". He casts a long shadow through the sagas of the North. He is the perfect warrior, stronger and fiercer than the berserkers ("bear-shirts") who are the champions and bodyguards of kings but must yield pride of place to Bodvar at the royal tables when he makes his entrance, often by knocking the door or wall down.
    While berserkers whip themselves into the fighting frenzy of an angry bear, Bodvar causes a bear. While his father was condemned by sorcery to turn into a bear of uncontrollable appetites in in the daytime, Bodvar is free from the curse of the were-bear; he chooses when to project a second body, in the shape of a warrior bear. This recalls the practice of Northern sorcerers who project fylgjur, "fetches" or shadow selves. The fylgjur are sometimes phantom figures, used to spy on adversaries or confuse their minds, but Bodvar's bear is entirely physical to those who meet it, and invincible among men in battle.   
     Bodvar is the hero of the last chapters of the Icelandic Saga of Hrólf Kraki. He is now the champion of King 
Hrólf of Denmark. who is leading a tiny force into battle against a vastly larger army that has invaded his lands. As the battle rages, a great bear advances in front of Hrólf's men. Always standing next to the king, the bear kills more of the enemy with a single sweep of its paw than five of the king's best warriors can despatch with swords and axes. The bear seems impervious to blows and missiles. It crushes men and horses with its weight, and rips enemies apart with its teeth.
     Against the odds, things are going well for King Hrólf until Hjalti - a boon companion of Bodvar - notices that his friend is missing from the field. He protests to the king that Bodvar should not be looking to his own safety in the midst of the fray. King Hrólf counsels that "Bodvar will be where he serves us best."
     Not grasping what this means, Hjalti runs back to the king's chamber, where he finds Bodvar apparently "sitting idle", or perhaps asleep. [1] Bodvar is in a state of shamanic trance. Not understanding, Hjalti seeks to rouse him, protesting that it is a disgrace that he is not fighting. "You should be using the strength of your arms, which are as strong as a bear's." In his outrage, Hjalti threatens to burn down the house, and Bodvar in it, unless his friend goes into battle.-
     With a deep sigh, Bodvar rises from his place and complies. After affirming that he is a stranger to fear, and fully aware of his obligations to the king, Bodvar cautions his friend that"By disturbing me here, you have not been as helpful to the king as you intended. The outcome of the battle was almost decided. You have acted out of ignorance...Now events will run their course, and nothing we can do will change the outcome. I can now offer the king far less help than before you woke me." [2]
     When Bodvar goes into battle, the giant bear disappears. Now King 
Hrólf's army is exposed to psychic as well as physical attack. When the bear was present, the dark arts of the invader's witchy wife Skuld were useless. Now she is able to project her own monstrous animal, a hideous boar that shoots arrows from its bristles. Bodvar Bjarki fights furiously, mowing down enemy warriors like grass. Yet their numbers do not diminish, and he begins to suspect that ghost warriors are fighting among the living. The champions fall, and after them King Hrolf. Because the bear shaman was torn from his trance when the bear was most needed.

[1] In a paraphrase of the famous (but otherwise lost) poem "Bjarkamal" appended by Saxo Grammaticus to his Gesta Danorum. Bodvar Bjarki (here called "Biarco") is in a deep "sleep" from which Hjalti has great difficulty in rousing him.
[2] Quotations are loosely based on Jesse L. Byock's translation of The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki (New York and London: Penguin Books, 1998).

Graphic: Bodvar's fetch on the field of battle in the shape of a bear, in "Hrolf Kraki's Last Stand" by Louis M. Moe (d.1945).

You can’t find serendipity unless you get lost


The cardinal navigational law of serendipity is this: You can only get to the magic kingdom by getting lost. You get there when you think you are going somewhere else and fall off the maps.

Take the case of Mark Twain's search for fortune in Brazil. He wasn't yet Mark Twain. He was young Sam Clemens from Missouri, eking out a living in a print shop in Iowa, drinking red whiskey and dreaming of greatness.

Up there in the guest house in Keokuk, Iowa, Sam Clemens read a book that described “a vegetable product with miraculous powers” that grew in Brazil. Sam was “fired with a longing” to go up the Amazon, secure a supply of this miracle plant – and make a fortune. He sailed to New Orleans on a riverboat whose pilot was the celebrated Horace Bixby.

When he got to New Orleans, Sam found that no ship in port was sailing for Brazil, and no one could tell him how to get there. So he changed his plans, sought out Bixby, and used his gift of the gab to persuade the old river man to take him on as an apprentice pilot, which was a pretty good meal ticket in those days.

Working on the Mississippi river, he got many of the ideas for the books that made him famous under the pen-name he now borrowed from the boatmen’s cry “Mark Twain”, meaning two fathoms, safe water.

The miracle plant Sam had set out to find was coca. Had he succeeded in his original plan, Keokuk, Iowa would have become the cocaine capital of America. Because Sam Clemens couldn’t find Brazil, he failed to become the first cocaine dealer in North American history and instead became Mark Twain.


Mark Twain made a lifelong study and practice of navigating by coincidence. For more on this, read "Mark Twain's Rhyming Life" in The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.


Monday, March 21, 2022

The Place of the Lion

I dreamed that I stepped through a certain gate, and found myself swapping a place of self-limitation for a place of wild freedom, the Place of the Lion. One of the things active dreamers do is to offer the energy of a dream of power to others in such a way that they can take it into their bodies and minds and travel with it. So let me offer this dream to you as part of your possible life story:

You are at a zoo on a Sunday afternoon. People are wandering about, snacking and chatting as they inspect the animals and birds. As you approach the big cat enclosures, you are uneasy because you know that big cats don't belong in confinement.   
    When you come to the lion pen, you are disgusted because people are mocking the great beast, pulling faces - until someone screams that the gate is open and the lion could get them. Now all the people are running away.
    Instead of fleeing, you step through the open gate, into the place of the lion. The great beast runs towards you and leaps up...and his great paws are on your shoulders...and he licks your face like a friendly dog. He wills you to turn around and look at the scene in the zoo in order to understand what is really going on here.

    When you look back, you see that it is the humans that are living in cages. In the comfort of their suburban houses and malls and supermarkets they have failed to notice that they have walled themselves in places of confinement. When you look beyond the lion, you see there are no walls, only an open horizon of wild freedom and possibility. The lion says to you, in his gravely lion voice, "You see, my dear, humans are the only animals that choose to live in cages."

text adapted from Robert Moss, Active Dreaming. Published by New World Library.

Drawing by Robert Moss: "Humans are the only animals that choose to live in cages"

A Night with the Princes from the East

The Assignment

An old friend has asked me to lunch with a pair of foreigners, a man and a woman who are Persian or Near Eastern. We go to a restaurant where he disappears to converse with staff in the background. I join the foreign couple at a table. We seem to be the only patrons in the restaurant, which is either windowless or has the windows heavily draped. the decor is expensive but anonymous, generic hotel or airport lounge style.
     The first phase of the conversation is guarded and superficial. I decide I'm ready to go, having discharged my personal obligation.
     My friend approaches me, highly agitated, as I prepare to leave. He gestures at a set of handwritten notes and a typed memo that he slipped to me earlier but I haven't bothered to read. These papers, especially the handwritten notes, make it plain that the people I am lunching with are top priority. It is vitally important for me to pursue the conversation and draw them out, so that their words can be recorded. I have been picked to pursue this opportunity because the couple trust me.
     I yield, lingering at the table to drain glass after glass of armagnac. The man matches me, glass for glass, with cognac. The mood is increasingly jolly and intimate. I can only guess at the size of the bill for all these drinks, but I plan to present the bill to my friend. The waiter seems to be in on the plot. He refers to us as "Excellencies" and "Your Highnesses." It seems the "assignment" will be completed by the end of our session, which looks likely to continue for the rest of the afternoon.

I woke from this dream in a pool of moonlight, lying on a bed in a cabin on North Hero Island on Lake Champlain. I was excited and intensely curious, wanting to know much more about the message I was supposed to record. I needed to go back into the dream, and made it my intention to do this, lying on my back on the bed. I kept a pad and paper close to my hand. If I succeeded in resuming my conversation with the mysterious strangers, I was determined not to forget my assignment to record the proceedings.

The Prince and Princess of Fars

I focus on the restaurant as my portal for dream reentry.. The name of the restaurant is "The Golden Cage" or "The Golden Bowl". I confirm that the restaurant, though spacious, is tightly sealed - no views of the outside. 
     I try to examine the papers my friend gave me. I find there are three documents, in a large manila envelope: handwritten notes, on several smallish pieces of high-quality bond; a typed memo; and a clipping from a newspaper. The newspaper is the Tehran Times. The headline describes a visit by "The Prince and Princess of Fars."
     I need to talk to them.
     The man shows himself. He is pleasant-looking, clean-shaven, with an oval face, black hair combed straight with the slightest suggestion of sideburns, large dark brown eyes, immaculately dressed. The woman's features, by contrast, are indistinct. She is veiled, not in Islamic style but in "High Priestess" mode of the Tarot trump.
     The man is Shams. I met him in a previous dream. He is wearing a beautiful grey-blue shirt with a narrow white banded collar under his tailored suit. He says I may know the veiled princess as Fatima. He urges me to study the typed sheet my friend gave me. I review the paper, and find it contains a list of 20 questions. The first questions give me shivers:

1. What is the nature of exile?
2. What are the conditions for the return?

As I record the questions on my pad, Shams, gives me his responses, for the record:

1. What is the nature of Exile?

To be an exile is to be separated unwillingly from your homeland. This is the condition of the soul when it comes into the body. It is the condition of the higher man when he is separated from his Higher Self.

2. What are the conditions for Return?

The return requires courage, the willingness to deny the ways of the world. It is always a journey to the Mountain. It requires cutting the cord of attachment to worldly things.
    There are many tests and obstacles along the way, also distractions and temptations. But Home reaches out to guide the returning exile. There is always a guide. The appearances of the guide are almost always unexpected. The face may be that of a familiar friend, or a stranger.

3. What is the Source?

The Source is the bottomless well of remembering. You may see it as a passage or a bore-hole, leading to inexhaustible reserves. Do not confuse the bore-hole with what lies beyond it. From a certain viewpoint, the bore-hole is also the birth canal. You may learn to swim back, into the Water of life, into the womb of the Ancient Mother.

4. Who is the Guide?

The guide is the emissary of the level of Intelligence - the level of the Real - that you are able to work with at this time. The guide takes the form you are ready to recognize.

5. What is the Kingdom?

The kingdom is this world. But a true crown is earned only through the blessing of the Other World. the true crown is Xvarnah.

6. Is there eternal conflict between good and evil?

There are competing forces in the cosmos. Humans interact with the battles and struggles of races beyond the human. The conflicts of this world are related to those of subtler kingdoms.
In dealing with problems of good and evil, humans must know that
- In the universe, humans interact and have intercourse with beings other-than-human that are friendly, neutral, hostile or inimical to men.
- Demons are real, often generated by human thought and emotion.
- There are "criminal souls".
- The principle of "active evil" is also a real phenomenon.
- In the world of duality, it is necessary to take sides. Embodied beings, in a world of duality, cannot evade this choice.

7. What is the work of the Invisible Schools?

You are born (which is to say, re-born) within a spiritual tradition or lineage. You are called in dreams and visionary states to resume contact with teachers of your Order. You may be invited to attend other schools but you are born with one primary connection.

8. What are the conditions for soul travel?

The keys to the practice are in meditation, concentration, the presence of the guide, courage for the journey. Also a trustworthy map and a password. Above all, the traveler's robe.
It is not only a matter of leaving the physical body, but of putting on the heavenly body.
This has to be earned, to be grown (or rather, re-grown).
     The celestial body, the true Body of Light, is required for the high experience of soul travel.

I broke contact for a moment to tiptoe into the bathroom. When I returned, I was given some personal information, and was then able to return to the questions. The ninth question involved the nature of the soul. We got through 13 of the 20 questions, but the quality of my reception began to waver, and we agreed to reserve the completion of the dialogue for another time. I dated my journal report as I always do. August 1, 1998.
     I pulled on shirt and shorts and walked down to the lake. In the twilight before dawn, I lay out on the floating dock and watched the changing light on the lake. A silver streak near the horizon gradually increased in size. 
      A rosy blush spread over it, cloudlike against the silver, until the water looked more like the sky than the sky itself. A field of bright, clear blue, shaped like an elongated triangle, emerged within the rosy "clouds". I seemed to be looking into a lake in the sky, into an Otherworld landscape. Fish broke the surface. The black silhouettes of nightbirds and early fishers glided above the lake, to plunge after fish. I saw a kingfisher, mighty in head and chest, take possession of the far shore.

Drawing by Robert Moss: "The Princes from the East"

Friday, March 18, 2022

Dreaming History, Past and Future


Dream reports from 8 years ago popped out of my journal. One of them seems closely related to the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, and reminds me that to navigate the future, we must understand the past. This is a summary of one of several travel reports I recorded from my dream adventures on one night in 2014, a few weeks after Putin's "little green men" started the invasion of Crimea.

March 17, 2014
Kaganovich's Baby
I agree to make a trip to the north, a secret mission. I am supposed to check on a baby that is going to be delivered. The father is Kaganovich. I recognize the name. He is one of Stalin’s strongmen. A woman colleague drives. In the dream, I pull cards from a tarot-like deck to get a reading on where this is going.
The first card I draw is bronze-colored. There is a line drawing of an armored horseman. He does not look like a medieval Western knight; the style is from farther East. In scrolling script, perhaps Cyrillic, the card has a name that means Sovereign. I see it is numbered XV. So, this corresponds to the Devil card in familiar decks. Here, it seems, the Sovereign – or the pursuit of sovereignty over a land – is the Devil. The devils of history are out again. And perhaps the horsemen of the Apocalypse.
We arrive at an apartment building full of sweet young girls. I learn that Kaganovich's baby has already been born. This is not good news.
I made the following notes on the dream after writing it down:

Kaganovich makes a speech in 1938

Lazar Kaganovich, born in Ukraine, was one of Stalin’s closest henchmen. "Iron Lazar" was Stalin’s chief enforcer against Party rivals and the effective dictator of Ukraine in the 1930s. In 2010, before the supreme court in Kyiv, 250 books of documentary evidence were produced by the prosecution to support the charge that he was guilty of genocide through the deliberate starvation of more than 3 million Ukrainians in 1932-3. The horror he and Stalin inflicted on Ukraine is known as Holodomor, "Killing by Starvation".
Kaganovich was one of the few Jews to survive at the top through Stalin’s reign. Amazingly, he almost outlasted the entire Soviet era, dying in 1991 aged 97.
What is Kaganovich's baby? Kaganovich had a daughter, born in 1917.I don't think the dream is about her. Maybe his baby is his legacy as reflected in Russian actions at the time of the dream, but more especially in 2022, when killing civilians by starvation again seems to be the policy of a Russian dictator, and Putin's violent rhetoric echoes Stalin's. My dream title makes me think of "Rosemary's Baby", a horror story on film. Dreams can key us into the history we need to know, and reruns of old horror stories we want to avoid.

Photos at top: Holodomor monument, Kyiv

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Déjà vu in the Bardo of Dream Travel

A vignette from my pre-pandemic travel journals:

March 12, 2018 

The Woman in the Zulu Hat

I look behind me and there she is again, the mountainous woman in the Zulu hat, coming along the ramp behind me. I step on board the plane and the flight attendant takes my coat, exactly as he did before.

"Sorry to bother you again," says the man who needs me to stand up so he can sit in the window seat. He fires up his computer and starts watching the same old movie he was watching before.
The man who is going to sit behind me fumbles with stuff in the overhead compartment and I brace myself in case he lets something fall on my shoulder as he did before. But he catches it this time, pats my shoulder and says, "Good thing I knew what was going to happen."
"We've met before," the man across the aisle says to the woman next to him. She says, "In your dreams."
These incidents unfolded during my trip home from Atlanta last night. The first plane broke. They found us another plane, unbroken but otherwise identical, where we took the same seats we had before. People were blurry, taking off after midnight, 2 1/2 hours late. It was hard not to feel we were in a Twilight Zone episode in which things go on repeating until you wake up to the fact that you are dreaming, or dead, or both.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Time as Dream or Devil in J.B.Priestley


I have been rereading J.B.Priestley and watching movie versions of his “time plays”. These include a quite wonderful 1985 television film of “An Inspector Calls” with David Thewlis starring as the mysterious inspector who interviews a wealthy family after a young woman’s suicide – and then, when the story seems to be over, turns up to start the action all over again. There is also a 1985 film adaptation of "Time and the Conways", my focus in this piece.

The first and last act of Priestley’s play “Time and the Conways” are set in 1919, the second act in 1937, all in the same room of a spacious Victorian house in north England. In the first act Mrs.Conway and her six children have gathered for the 21st birthday of her daughter Kay, and they are dressing up for charades. We see the varying ambitions of the adult children – Robin, just demobbed from the RAF, thinks he’ll make money and lead a dashing life by selling cars. Kay wants to be a novelist though she has just burned the draft of her first novel as “putrid”. Beautiful Hazel expects to marry someone one rich and tall and handsome. Madge, a severe school teacher, wants a Socialist utopia. Carol has quieter ambitions. Alan, void of any sense of style or self-importance, is content to live with his mother and work as an unnoticed clerk in local government. Moving in and out are visitors including Joan – who rebuffs Alan’s attentions, drawn to Robin’s bad boy glamour, and a ferrety lower-class little fellow named Beevers who’s been sniffing after Hazel and is brought in by the family solicitor. Hazel snubs him.

Towards the end of Act 1 Kate and Alan talk about time. Kate says it’s a devil. Alan says it’s a dream. They have the power to see all of their lives from beginning to end. At any given moment they are looking only at a “cross-section”. Seeing the whole story will give them the sense that despite everything, all is well. He quotes lines from William Blake to that effect. And says he will give her a book about time (certainly Dunne) to read on the train.

In Act II we shift from the aftermath of one world war to the eve of another and see how life has worked out for everyone. Carol died very young, perhaps from cancer. Robin is a drunk who married Joan who now wants a divorce. Kate is successful as a journalist but never published a novel. Madge is bitter and cynical, hoping to get a job as a headmistress. Beevers has made lots of money and married Hazel, who lives in fear of his sadistic abuse. Alan is quiet and philosophical as ever. Mrs Conway is in desperate financial straits and may have to sell her house for a lot less than it used to be worth. Kate has a vague recollection of some lines from Blake. Slowly, they come to her.

Joy and woe are woven fine
a clothing for the soul divine
and when this….we rightly know
safely through the world we go

In Act III we pick up from where we left Act I before, in the cheerful mess left from the dress-up games. Beevers is still being slighted. Mrs. Conway and some of her children, playing psychics, deliver happy predictions about how life will turn out for everyone. Mrs. Conway reports that she was offered an amazing sum for her house and a big profit for her shares but of course has no reason to accept…

So this is not about time travel but rather foreknowledge. It dramatizes the idea of the “long body”: that past, present and future all exist simultaneously and that in life we travel through “cross sections” of a reality that is already complete. The play delivers two cross-sections of the life of the Conways, with the hint that with greater awareness the actors could learn to remember the future and see the larger pattern. The script doesn’t take us to the idea that if you can see the future, you might be able to change it for the better. The benefit, if any, might be that you are better prepared to accept your fate.

Priestley had been impressed by J.D.Dunne’s theories of time and introduced the author to the original cast of “Time and the Conways”. Priestley later quipped that the actors gave the best performance of their lives when they pretended to understand Dunne's concept of Serialism.

Though the play is entertaining in its period drawing-room style, the implied philosophy is rather dismal and deterministic, and I am glad that Priestley didn’t stick to it. In other works, notably his huge and splendid nonfiction book Man and Time, he explored the possibility of an order of time he called “Time 3” in which it is possible to make adjustments and choose between alternate event tracks. He did not have the Many Worlds hypothesis that is increasingly popular in modern physics – which holds that our universe is constantly splitting into parallel versions where any outcome is possible. 

However, he did his darnedest to get our minds out of the coffin of a theory of the fourth dimension that maintains that we only see the future because it has already happened and can’t be altered. Like Dunne, he noticed that dreaming is our best way to travel across time, and staged an experiment to demonstrate the reality of precognition by collecting first-hand, verifiable reports of foreknowledge through dreams. Outside the Conways’ drawing room, Priestley is one of those who encourage us to make time a dream rather than a devil.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

The Taste of a Dream: Coffee with Centaurs


Wake up and smell the coffee? Dream on! The coffee was so good in that mysterious museum in the desert. I can still taste it. The full report fell out of my journal from a year ago.

March 9, 2021
Coffee at the Museum
I am at a remarkable private museum, an elegant structure of stone and glass, standing in the desert. The name "Abba T.Izawi" stays with me; it may be on a sign by the entrance. Every piece here is extraordinary, reflecting exquisite and unusual taste.
I study a wooden high relief sculpture that rises from the floor to the skylight several stories up. It's hard for me at first to understand what is in front of me. Are those two apes with long bodies hanging their heads down from trees? Then I get it.
I am looking at two centaurs dipping their heads like horses to drink from a river. Their human heads are primal and look from another perspective like horses' muzzles. The human torsos are shaped like the horses' heads and long necks. So these are centaurs, but not like the ones I have seen in classical art. Horse and man are interfused, not separated at the waist.
I am leading a workshop in a spacious room in the museum. There are just three men in a group of 30, but they are cast in leading roles in performance and are helpful in healing work.
Now it is early morning. I don't expect that the coffee in a pot on a beautiful wooden cart will be hot. It's not only hot but amazingly good. I pour some more and find only hot water is left. But that tastes good too.
I am in no hurry to get out of bed and smell the coffee. I can still taste the coffee from my dream. My usual French roast is no match.
Feelings: Top of the world!
Reality: I am teaching at least one workshop every night in my dreams. We usually have far more women than men, as in ordinary reality in the United States (in Europe men are bolder about sharing their inner lives in mixed groups).. I don't know this museum, which seems to be in the Middle East. I like coffee in the morning but don't drink much.

I am often eating or drinking in my dreams and the taste can be wonderfully intense and often lingers on my palate as I wake. The meals are often simple. One of my favorites was a sandwich of thinly sliced Italian roast beef on ciabatta, with mesclun and dijon mustard. The dream drove me to get the ingredients on waking and make the sandwich for lunch. It remains one of my favorites.

In a recent dream, I was at an upscale pub where the bartender let me sample several locally brewed beers. I came back with the hoppy, slightly grapefruit-y taste of an IPA on my palate.

In one of the most romantic dreams of my life, which felt like a visit to a life in another time, I kissed a beautiful woman at the Gare du Nord in Paris under the shadow of the coming war. We had been eating raspberries and I woke with the taste of the juice in my mouth. When I looked in the bathroom mirror, I expected to see it still dribbling down my chin.

The ancients thought that dreams in which senses beyond sight and hearing come richly alive have special importance. They remind us, for one thing, that in dreams we don't just get around as disembodied thought forms. We travel in a subtle body of varying density, with a sensorium capable of experiencing pleasure and pain quite as intensely - sometimes even more so - than the physical body. In Indian philosophy, they speak of the kama body, the body of desire, that travels in dreams and survives physical death,

In other dreams, I have eaten books - typically parchment or papyrus scrolls - and returned with the sense that I have absorbed hidden knowledge. The ancients recognized this kind of dream too. What have you been eating or drinking in your dreams?

: Back to my dream of coffee at the museum. I enjoy doing the research assignments that dreams give me. Often these require me to play word detective. "Abba" means "father" in Aramaic and is the name by which Jesus addresses God in the Book of Mark. I could not find any relevant "Izawi" in a quick search, but "Sidawi" is an Arabic name associated with Sidon.

I remember the centaurs in the Lycian sarcophagus from Sidon that I viewed in the archaeological museum in Istanbul some years ago. The centaurs in my dream were more original and almost alive, pulsing through the grain of the wood.

Journal drawing by RM: "Coffee with Centaurs"

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

How Mircea Eliade delivered his Snake

I love finding out how other writers do their thing. It's fascinating to learn how the great Romanian scholar and fiction writer Mircea Eliade – prolific in so many genres – sustained and generated his creative production under almost all circumstances. He wrote stories in a secret police prison. He hammered out books under the shadow of his wife’s terminal illness and of the Red Army occupation of his country. He went on writing in conditions of penury and exile and raw terror (the terror of History, he called it again and again). He started early, publishing in a popular science magazine at fourteen (when he aspired to become an ichthyologist) and basically kept it up till the end of his life.
    Some of his larger projects he had to put down and take up again over many years  This was the case with his huge autobiographical novel Noaptea de Sanziene (published in English as The Forbidden Forest) and with his pioneer study Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, an enduring inspiration to the neo-shamanic movement in the West since its first publication French in 1953.
     Then there are the books that Eliade wrote in a frenzy, abetted by both the demons of necessity and his greater creative daimon. I am thrilled by his account of how Șarpele (The Snake) streamed out of him over ten nights:.

I wrote the book in the course of ten nights, working between 11 and 3 or 4 a.m., in the spring of 1937.

He had to deliver the completed work on “Book Day”, otherwise the publisher would not pay him. But at the same time he was teaching at the university and proofreading a scholarly book that had to be ready by the same deadline.

I was overworked, exhausted, and in order to stay awake I drank coffee; then, so I could sleep in the mornings I took sleeping powders. Every morning Ciornei [his publisher] sent a boy to pick up the 15 or 20 pages I had written during the night and take them directly to the printer. I did not reread a single page of the two hundred which comprise the book; nevertheless, Șarpele is one of my most successful writings.

He had plenty of ethnographic and folklore material relevant to his theme. He did not consult it. “The writer in me refused any conscious collaboration with the scholar and interpreter of symbols.” He discovered in this way that “the free act of literary creation can…reveal certain theoretical meanings.”

Indeed, only after I read Șarpele in book form did I understand that in this book I had resolved, without knowing it, a problem which had preoccupied me for a long time.

Naturally, after reading this I was eager to read the novel that emerged from these nocturnal frenzies. There is no English translation, and my Romanian is hardly enough to order coffee, but I found an edition in French, titled. Andronic et le serpent and devoured it in one night. Strange, sexy, wild and feverish, a remarkable birth from those ten incandescent nights.
    The story of how Eliade produced this novel  deepens my conviction that for some of us the all-but-impossible deadline is a great prompt to commit the creative act. This has often worked for me.

Source: Mircea Eliade, “Autobiographical Fragment” in Norman J. Giradot and Mac Linscott Ricketts, Imagination & Meaning: The Scholarly and Literary Worlds of Mircea Eliade  (New York: The Seabury Press, 1982) 123

Friday, March 4, 2022

Calling in the Brownies: Robert Louis Stevenson's Dream Helpers

The novelist Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) described dreams as occurring in "that small theater of the brain which we keep brightly lighted all night long."
     Stevenson said of his now classic novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it was "conceived, written, re-written, re-re-written, and printed inside ten weeks" in 1886. The conception came in a dream:
    "For two days I went about racking my brains for a plot of any sort; and on the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene afterward split in two, in which Hyde, pursued for some crime, took the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his pursuers."
     His wife related picturesquely how one night e cried out horror-stricken, how she woke him up and he protested, "Why did you waken me? I was dreaming a fine bogy-tale!" She also related how he appeared the next morning excitedly exclaiming, "I have got my schilling-shocker -- I have got my schilling-shocker!"
     Stevenson wrote extensively about how his passion for writing interacted with his remarkable dreams and said that, from an early age, his dreams were so vivid and moving that they were more entertaining to him personally than any literature. He learned early in his life that he could dream complete stories and that he could even go back to the same dreams on succeeding nights to give them a different ending. Later he trained himself to remember his dreams and to dream plots for his books.
    Stevenson described the central role of dreaming and dreamlike states in his creative process in “A Chapter on Dreams”. During his sickly childhood, he was often oppressed by night terrors and the “night hag”.  But as he grew older, he found that his dreams often became welcome adventures, in which he would travel to far-off places or engage in costume dramas among the Jacobites.
     He often read stories in his dreams, and as he developed the ambition to become a writer, it dawned on him that a clever way to get his material would be to transcribe what he was reading in his sleep. “When he lay down to prepare himself for sleep, he no longer sought amusement, but printable and profitable tales.” And his dream producers accommodated him. He noticed they became especially industrious when he was under a tight deadline. When “the bank begins to send letters” his “sleepless Brownies” work overtime, turning out marketable stories.
     In his “Chapter on Dreams” (written in his house on Saranac Lake in upstate New York and published in Across the Plains) RLS gave a vivid depiction of his dream helpers.
     “Who are the Little People? They are near connections of the dreamer's, beyond doubt; they share in his financial worries and have an eye to the bank-book; they share plainly in his training; they have plainly learned like him to build the scheme of a considerate story and to arrange emotion in progressive order; only I think they have more talent; and one thing is beyond doubt, they can tell him a story piece by piece, like a serial, and keep him all the while in ignorance of where they aim…
     “And for the Little People, what shall I say they are but just my Brownies, God bless them! who do one-half my work for me while I am fast asleep, and in all human likelihood, do the rest for me as well, when I am wide awake and fondly suppose I do it for myself. That part which is done while I am sleeping is the Brownies' part beyond contention; but that which is done when I am up and about is by no means necessarily mine, since all goes to show the Brownies have a hand in it even then.”
     He observed that  “my Brownies are somewhat fantastic, like their stories hot and hot, full of passion and the picturesque, alive with animating incident; and they have no prejudice against the supernatural – and have no morals at all.”

The mists at sunrise whispered his name. It is exciting for me that Stevenson wrote his "Chapter on Dreams", as well as some of his most-loved fiction, in a cottage on Saranac Lake in upstate New York. After I started dreaming of people who lived in that area - traditional Mohawk country - in the 1700s, I watched the sun burn the mist off that lake in the early morning. And I suddenly knew the meaning of the name of a Mohawk Bear Clan warrior who has featured in my dreams. He was one of the four "Indian kings" invited to London in 1710. His portrait by the court artist Verelst is on the cover of my novel The Interpreter. The colonial scribes rendered his name as Sayenqueraghta. I knew now that it means Vanishing Smoke. My vision at the lake was part of a rich and complex interaction with spirits of the land from which I wrote the most powerful chapters The Interpreter. The engagement carried me further: to find and follow the path of a dream teacher for which there was no career track in modern society,

Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by John Singer Sargent

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Running to Catch a Poem: Remembering the Poet in the Story


Poems came to me
As if from far away.
I would feel them coming,
I would rush into the house,
Looking for paper and pencil.
It had to be quick,
For they passed through me
And were gone forever.
- Ruth Stone, "Fragrance" (in her collection What Love Comes To)

As a poet myself, I feel for Ruth Stone. Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert's wonderful book Big Magic, Stone's mode of chasing poems like runaway horses is now famous, but few have read the poet herself or even remember her name. It's well worth seeking out her work and noticing, along the way, how she rose above a dark river of grief and pain, especially after her second husband (also a poet) hanged himself from a door in the family home.
There are two delicious further revelations in Gilbert's account of how she heard it from Stone. When a poem got away from her, she felt it galloping away, "searching for another poet". Then sometimes she would manage to grab an escaping poem by the tail, and would feel herself pulling it back. "In these instances, the poem would appear on the page from the last word to the first - backward, but otherwise intact." (Big Magic p.65.)
Many of us dreamers know exactly how that works, as we pull back dreams by the tail as they run away. How many of the dreams that escape go searching for another dreamer?

Image of Ruth Stone running to catch a poem by Daryl Thetford

The Greatest Spell

The Poetic Edda contains the narrative of a young man, Svipdag, who raises his mother from her burial mound to help him on an impossible quest to find the beloved of his soul, his "fated bride". Groa was and is a völva, or seeress. Before she died, with her knowledge of things to come, she told him to call her back when he needed help.
Groa weaves nine spells of protection over him, to preserve him from flood and fire and to change the hearts of enemies so they cannot reach for their swords. The great spell is probably the ninth. If Svipdag finds himself in a "war of words", his own will not fail him.
Wit nor words be wanting you
At behest of the heart

- Grógaldr (The Spell of Groa) in Lee Hollander (trans) The Poetic Edda

The story of Svipdag and Groa has many counterparts in Norse tradition. In the Völuspá, the greatest of the poems in the Poetic Edda, a seeress summoned from the Underworld by the high god Odin tells the story of the creation of the world and its coming destruction and rebirth.

In tale in the Flateyjarbók, a poet is made by dreaming on the burial mound of a dead poet.

Dream Poetry from the Mound

An Icelandic shepherd lay down to sleep on the burial mound of a poet, hoping for inspiration to compose a poem in the style of the bard he admired, though he had no skill with words. While the sheep browsed and dozed, the dead poet appeared to the shepherd in a dream. “I will give you a rare verse. If you learn the verse by heart and can recite it without flaw when you wake, you will become a great poet.”

- Flateyjarbók I: 174 quoted in H. Ellis Davidson, Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe.

The Norse stories have counterparts in other traditions. A story from Ireland weaves together the theme of calling on wise ancestors and the power of poetic speech.

Raising a Bard to Lift the Fog of Forgetfulness
There is a legend that the great Irish epic, the Táin Bó Cúailnge, or Cattle Raid of Cooley, was brought back from the fogs of forgetfulness when the foremost poets of Ireland gathered at night on the burial mound of Fergus, the ancient druid of dreams and battles. They called on Fergus to awaken. They praised him with drink and gallant words, and above all with fresh poetry.
When one of them delivered a fine enough poem, a deeper mist rose from the tomb, and from the mist came Fergus with his shining hair, to sing again the lost epic of gods and heroes and warrior queens. And the poets caught the words and carried them to the written page.

Illustration: "Old Birch at the Sogneford" by Thomas Fearnley (1839)