Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Joseph, Aseneth and Divine Doubles


Jewish midrash, Hellenistic romance, and the coded manual of a Mystery school?

The divine double, or heavenly twin, one of my favorite themes in the history of religion. In a recent study, The Greatest Mirror: Heavenly Counterparts in the Jewish Pseudepigrapha (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2018) Andrei A. Orlov tracks it through the Pseudepigrapha ("False Writings") the name given to a mostly Jewish body of texts from late antiquity whose authorship and provenance is disguised or concealed.

Most interesting is the story of Aseneth, the high-born daughter of the chief priest of Heliopolis who is married to Joseph, the dreamer and patriarch. Her tale grows and grows from a few lines in Genesis through midrash and imagination until it becomes a popular Greek romance novel - and maybe also a coded manual for a Mystery school. In the two Greek-language versions of her story Aseneth receives a visitation from an angelic being who looks exactly like Joseph except that he flashes with fire and lightning. He feeds her mysterious honeycomb from his mouth and she is infused with divine essence and wisdom. When she looks in the mirror of water and sees the face of another radiant being, apparently her own divine double, who is named as Metanoia. 

 In its shorter and longer versions, Aseneth (as the scholar Ross Kraemer suggests we call it) is distinguished by the prominence it gives to the life and spiritual transformation of a woman, and to the appearance (very rare in Jewish texts) of a female angel who also happens to be her divine double.

In the Book of Genesis, Aseneth is the daughter of a powerful Egyptian priest. Pharaoh gives her to Joseph as a wife and she bears him two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

In Greek texts written somewhere between 100 and 350 ce, with versions in several other languages – the story was clearly popular – her tale expands into an ancient romance novel.

Though amazingly beautiful herself, she is awed by Joseph’s glorious appearance when he arrives at her father’s house (the priest is called Petiphres in Greek) in a gold chariot drawn by four white horses. Her father calls her down and wants her to marry him. She holds back and Joseph says he can’t marry someone wedded to idols. Aseneth is infatuated, she throws her magical statues and power objects out the window of her tower (yes, she has a tower) and dresses herself in sackcloth and ashes.

Now a mystical being appears to her. She is terrified. He blazes with fire and lightning. He also  looks just like Joseph except for the light show. We learn that he is Joseph’s heavenly twin and an angel who can look at the Face of God. Joseph’s divine double tells the Egyptian girl to take off her veil and her black garment, to wash her face with “living water” and to dress in fresh linen.  She exposes herself to him in a way she has never done with a man. There is an erotic charge in the scene.

The visitor then instructs her to bring a honeycomb she did not know was in her storehouse. When she finds it, he eats some and she asks him to feed her from his mouth. A transfer of spiritual power takes place when Aseneth receives the honeycomb from the mouth of that heavenly being - who of course has a heavenly voice and is identified as the Angel of the Name. Then beautiful golden and purple bees fly upwards, impossibly, from the honeycomb. Next the bees fall dead but immediately rise again.

The whole scene has an erotic charge but we discover it is about initiation and spiritual marriage. Aseneth is going to find her own heavenly double whose name is Metanoia (literally, Change of Mind), translated as Repentance in Christian-influenced texts but better translated, I think, as Transformation. At the end of his visit – before her physical marriage to Joseph – the heavenly victor tells her to put on her wedding dress.

When her father sees her, he says “your face is fallen”. Dismayed, she looks in a mirror of water. She sees that her beauty is greater than before, Her lips are “roses of life”, Her breasts are “mountains of God.” When she turns from the mirror, her father sees the change too and falls at her feet in reverence.

Later we get required elements in a bodice ripper. Attempted rape by Pharaoh’s son, abetted by two of Joseph’s bad brothers, foiled by Joseph’s good brothers (breaking with gene, Joseph isn’t in the scene). 


The image

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's painting of "Joseph, Overseer of Pharaoh’s Granaries" shows an Egyptian lady of power who may be Aseneth. 


Sunday, April 24, 2022

Nandi on Another Plane


Real magic is the art of bringing gifts from another world into this world. We do this when we go dreaming and when we remember to bring something back. We can also walk the roads of everyday life as conscious or lucid dreamers, learning to recognize how the world is speaking to us in signs and symbols. In night dreams and conscious excursions, we get out there; we go near or far into other orders of reality where the rules of linear time and Newtonian physics do not apply. 

Through synchronicity, powers of the deeper reality come poking and probing through the walls of our consensual hallucinations to bring us awake. Sometimes they work to confirm or encourage us in a certain line of action; sometimes they intercede to knock us back and discourage us from persisting in the worst of our errors. Sometimes in those special moments when the universe gets personal we understand that those who live beyond the veil are simply asserting their presence and letting us known we are not alone in our conscious universe.  

I just pulled from my journals a small episode in which we see a dream spilling into ordinary reality and feel the play of greater forces in both realms. The dream could be tagged as precognitive but there is something going on that is surely more important than merely seeing a future event, which I think goes on in dreams all the time though few of us notice or record these experiences, let alone take advantage of them.  

I did not understand the dream until I was on another plane, quite literally. In the dream I drew a line on a statuette of a bull, near a giant statue of the same bull. I knew in the dream that the bull was Nandi, the bull of Shiva, but on waking I had no idea why it featured in the dream. 

The next day I drove to the airport and started out on trip to Europe. On my second long flight to Paris, my rowmate was a pleasant woman from India. She told me she was traveling to rejoin her family in Bangalore, her home city, because her mother had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Our conversation immediately went deep and the space we shared continued to deepen over several hours during that overnight flight. We talked about death, and imagery for healing, and many elements in Hindu religious beliefs and practices. We spoke of Yama, the Hindu death lord, and Ganesha, the opener of doors. Then I said, "Nandi". 

My rowmate smiled with her whole being. She told me there is a temple of Nandi in Bangalore , with a giant bull statue carved from granite. She added that she keeps a miniature statue of Nandi close and regards him as another important protector and gatekeeper. We discussed some specific pujas (offerings) her family might now make to call on support from the greater powers according to their traditions. 

The woman from Bangalore said, "Are you sure you weren't born in India? I feel you are here tonight to remind me of some of the deepest beliefs and practices of my own tradition about how to approach death and the sacred." 

It was one of those moments when you feel the nearness of the Otherworld; that the sacred and the profane are forever at play together, that the realms of mortals and the Shining Ones are, as they say in Ireland, fighte fuaight, "woven into and through each other". I was asked in a recent interview, "How can we know more of the Otherworld?" I responded, "Start by recognizing that you are already inside it."

Friday, April 22, 2022

Meeting Your Dreams in Everyday life

Do you meet your dreams on the roads of everyday life?

There are dreams you would love to meet in ordinary life because they are full of joy and romance and creative fulfillment. You want the magic to spill over into the physical world, That may require some effort on your part, to bring a map from the dream and follow clues from that map to get you to the place of happy manifestation.

There are dreams you don't want to meet in everyday life because they are full of challenge or scary stuff or mere tedium. You need to confront what you don't like in the dream in the place where you encountered it and see whether you can change things inside the dream. If not, you need to bring enough information from the dream to clarify what it may portend - and the take the necessary action to avoid meeting that bad dream on your ordinary roads.
There are dreams about which your feelings are neutral. You're not sure whether you want to meet them in physical life or leave them as memories of experiences in another reality. near or far from where you are, waking. You don't need to hurry to do anything with these dreams. You just file the information in your memory bank - and your journal - and make yourself ready to encounter a corresponding event if the dream shows up on your life road.

Photo: "Rainbow Serpent on the Sidewalk" by Robert Moss

Monday, April 18, 2022

Writers dreaming, dreamers writing


Writing and dreaming are closely related as daily practice. Writers who keep journals and record their dreams are giving themselves a warm-up, flexing the creative muscles that will work on the larger project. Writers who may not record their dreams with any regularity nonetheless rise from sleep with their heads full of words – as Dickens related in a letter to a certain Dr Stone – that are pressing to come out.

A writer’s dream may help to “break up the great fountains of the deep” (a phrase Mark Twain used repeatedly) releasing the power of long-buried memories, or bringing through ideas that have been growing in the preconscious or the deeper unconscious for years or decade. That is how Aslan came to C.S. Lewis, giving him the key to Narnia.

As Lewis recalled

The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. The picture had been in my head since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’

At first I had little idea how the story would go. But then suddenly Aslan came bounding into it. I think I had been having a good many dreams about lions about that time. Apart from that, I don't know where the Lion came from or why he came. But once he was there He pulled the whole story together, and soon he pulled the six other Narnian stories in after him. 

Yeats was inspired by a dream to write his play Cathleen ni Houlihan. As he wrote in 1908:

One night I had a dream almost as distinct as a vision of a cottage where there was well-being and firelight and talk of a marriage, and into the midst of that cottage, there came an old woman in a long cloak. She was Ireland herself, that Cathleen ni Houlihan for whom so many stories have been told and for whose sake so many have gone to their death. I thought if I could write this out as a little play I could make others see my dream as I had seen it.

In dreams and flow states that writers come into contact with inner helpers. Robert Louis Stevenson communed with his “Brownies” in states of reverie, and gave them the credit for doing better than half his literary work. Yeats spoke of the “mingling of minds” that can bring assistance, in a creative venture, from intelligences that seem to belong to other times or other dimensions .

Milton described the source of his inspiration as celestial patroness, who deigns
Her nightly visitation unimplored,
And dictates to me slumbering, or inspires
Easy my unpremeditated prose [Paradise Lost IX. 21-4]

Milton spoke of “being milked” after his nights of inspiration, as – totally blind by the time he composed his most famous work – he dictated to a scribe.

When they are truly “on”, many writers experience the sense that they have entered a creative partnership with a larger power, a power the ancients used to call the genius or the eudaimon (the good demon). Some writers develop the ability to enter a certain kind of imaginal space – call it the Dream Library – where such encounters are easy; we do this regularly in my own creative writing retreats.


Matt Haig on How to Stay in a Body

I now rank Matt Haig among my favorite contemporary novelists. Reasons to Stay Alive is not fiction but his memoir of his struggle to overcome near-suicidal depression and affirm life. Here we discover the foundation of three extraordinary novels in which Haig's protagonists are challenged to find the will to stay in a human body on the physical Earth.

In The Humans an alien sent to Earth on a mission finds the body he is assigned and its situation ugly and grotesque. I was vividly reminded of what it felt like having to relearn to operate a physical vehicle after I died and came back from another world as a boy.

In The Midnight Library a young woman whose body is near extinction after an overdose is allowed to experience some of the parallel lives she is living in worlds where she made different choices, and determine whether she can make a firm commitment to any of them.

In How to Stop Time the challenge is to find a way to live in a world where you age ever so much more slowly than others, so that if you stay in one place too long you'll excite fear and literal witch hunts and if you fall in love you will watch your beloved wither and die while you are wrinkle-free.

"There is only one serious philosophical problem," Albert Camus wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus, "and that is suicide. To decide whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question." You'll notice from the evident depth and breadth of his reading that Matt Haig is no stranger to philosophy. However his moving and muscular fiction strips off the veils of abstraction and gives us not a problem to be solved, but a challenge to be lived.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Reality, Illusion and the Rupture of Time in Eliade's Strange Tales

Mircea Eliade is best known in English as a historian of religion, but he was also a prolific author of fiction and fantasy. He regarded the long novel published in English as The Forbidden Forest as his chef d'oeuvre, but many readers will find its loops and repetitions wearisome. However, his shorter fiction can be captivating while evoking some of Eliade's favorite philosophic themes: how the sacred is "camouflaged" in the profane, how at any turning we may encounter a moment of theophany, when the divine irrupts into everyday life and we are released from limits of time and space.
     I have been rereading the stories published in translation as Two Strange Tales. Perhaps we should call stories like this nonfiction fantasy rather than fiction. 
In "Nights in Serampore", Eliade makes himself a lead character. He assigns roles to actual people under their real names, in this case well-known people he encountered in India: the Russian (Eastern Orthodox) scholar of Islam Bogdanov, the Dutch Secretary of the Asia Society, van Manen, and Swami Sivananda (“Shivananda” in this version). The two Westerners, with the narrator (Eliade himself) are in the habit of driving to a rich man’s house in the woods near Serampore, sixteen miles from Calcutta, for long nights of talking, smoking and drinking in a lovely setting, in the perfumed air.
    A mystery develops. A Hindu professor reputed to be a master of tantra and yogic siddhis is seen on the road in his dhoti with the saffron stripes on his forehead. Questioned later, he denies having been there. He is spotted again, after Eliade has been discoursing on “awful” methods used to acquire occult powers in Hindu tradition, like meditating all night while seated on a corpse. That evening, as the threesome leave the rich man’s house, something strange happens during the car ride. It is taking far longer than it should to get to the highway, the trees are getting bigger and bigger. Eliade closes his eyes for a moment and when he opens them the jungle is wild and unfamiliar.
     They hear a woman’s screams. They get out of the car and follow a flickering light through the jungle. It brings them to charcoal burners, and an old, rather grand house. The owner receives them, but moves and speaks very slowly, using only an archaic form of Bengali. The visitors are confused. They forget the screams that brought them here. Then they remember something, and start to ask questions. The owner of the house informs them that they heard the screams of his wife as she was stabbed to death. Look, here is her body, being carried in on a bier.
    Eliade and his friends leave in discomfort and confusion. They can hardly stay when the lady of the house has just been murdered. Weary and drained, they pause under a tree where Eliade takes a nap. Eventually they find their way back to the car. The driver acts as though they never left. Confounded, Eliade and his companions retrace their steps. They return to the tree where Eliade took a nap. They see their footprints on the ground and follow them. They come to a clearing where the signs of their passage end. There is no grand house, no charcoal burners, no murdered woman being prepared for cremation.
    They learn that there was a great house at this place, but that was a hundred and fifty years ago, before it was burned to the ground. The case of the murdered woman, whose name was Lila, was notorious. She died resisting men who were trying to abduct her. It seems that Eliade and his friends were transported across time. Their adventure was not only metaphysical, since it produced physical effects – their torn and dirtied clothes, their footprints on the ground.
     When they seek to make sense of this, their suspicions fall on Suren Bose, the yogi magician. Could he have worked an enchantment, to distract them from spying on whatever he was doing in the forest? How could this be?
     Eliade’s question remains unanswered until he goes to a monastery in the Himalayas and tells his story to Swami Sivananda. The swami explains: “No event in our world is real, my friend. Everything that exists in this universe is illusory. Not only the death of Lila and her husband’s grief, but also the encounter between you, living men, and their shades – all these things are illusory. And in a world of appearances, in which no thing and no event has any permanence, any reality of its own – whoever is master of certain forces can do anything he wishes. Obviously he doesn’t create anything real either, but only a play of appearances.”
   When Eliade struggles with this, Sivananda stages a demonstration. The swami squeezes Eliade's arm and drags him along. Eliade staggers. Hi senses blur. Now he seems to be in a different time and place, back in the humid forest of the south. Sivananda makes him walk faster. He is again at the charcoal kilns, at the big house in the forest. “Wake me up!” Eliade pleads.

In his introduction to Two Strange Tales, Eliade discusses the importance of fiction in his work. Both stories turn on the use of supposed yogic techniques to wield occult powers. The mélange of reality and fiction in these stories, he observes, is well-suited to his concept of “camouflage”, of how the sacred is concealed in the profane. He writes that

in these two stories “camouflage” is used in a paradoxical manner, for the reader has no means to know whether the “reality” is hidden in “fiction” or the other way round, because both processes are intermingled. 
     A favorite technique of mine aims at the imperceptible yet gradual transmutation of a commonplace setting into a new “world’, without however losing its proper, everyday or “natural” structure and qualities...The parallel world of the fantastic is indistinguishable from the given ordinary world, but once this other world is discovered by the various characters it blurs, changes, transforms or dislocates their lives in different ways. 
      Each tale creates its own proper universe, and the creation of such imaginary universes through literary means can be compared with mythical processes...The imaginary universes brought to light in littérature fantastique disclose some elements of reality that are inaccessible to other intellectual approaches.

    The second story, "The Secret of Dr. Honigberger", involves another real person, a colorful German-Romanian from Brasov. The narrator (Eliade himself) receives an invitation from a Mrs Zerlendi to inspect her husband’s Oriental collection. He arrives at the kind of house that often features in Eliade’s fantastic tales, “one of those houses that I never can pass without pausing for a closer look”, an old villa behind an ironwork fence and an overgrown garden with a dried-up pool, where a world disappearing from other parts of the city is strangely preserved. The main entrance is protected by a sunroof of frosted glass, of the kind that struck me when I visited Eliade’s old neighborhood in Bucharest, on a street near Mantuleasa.
      Eliade is seduced by an immense library of 30,000 books. We learn that Mr. Zerlendi was doing research for a biography of Honigberger, a German-Romanian from Brasov who became famous for his adventures in the East. However, Zerlendi disappeared many years before. Going through Zerlendi’s notebook, Eliade finds clues to what happened. Among all his composition books, Zerlendi left a journal written in Sanskrit, correctly assuming that it would take a rarely qualified investigator to recognize and interpret its contents. In this journal he recorded his experiments with yogic techniques, including the art of invisibility.
     Central to his practice was the kind of dream yoga or lucid dreaming that places high value of maintaining continuity of consciousness between waking, dreaming and other states.

After some time I woke up sleeping, or, more precisely, I woke up in sleep, without ever having fallen asleep in the true sense of the word. My body and all my senses sunk into deeper and deeper sleep, but my mind didn’t interrupt its activity for a single instant...
     I was astounded to behold, with my eyelids closed, the very same scene as I had with my eyes open…I saw in any direction I wanted to, I saw wherever I turned my thoughts, whether or not I had my eyes open. 

He sees others moving in their dream bodies.

The unification of consciousness is attained by means of a continuous transition, that is, one without a hiatus of any sort, from the waking state to the state of dreaming sleep, then to that of dreamless sleep, and finally to the cataleptic state. 

Eliade comments: “All the Indian ascetics that I have known who have consented to give me any explanations regarded this stage, the unification of the states of consciousness, as the most important of all. Anyone who did not succeed in experiencing this could never derive any spiritual benefit from following yoga practice.” 
     Dr Zerlendi applied himself to placing himself in cataleptic trance for longer and longer periods. He believed he had proved that he stepped outside time when he rose after 36 hours to find his face as freshly shaven as when he lay down. He laid in suspended animation for 12 hours without drawing breath. He declared, in his secret book, “I know the way to Shambhala. I know how to get there.”
     He made it his aim to transport himself to Shambhala. To do this he would have to step outside time. He practiced the art of invisibility as a step towards gaining the power of teleportation, de-materializing in one reality in order to re-materialize in another.
     Seized with excitement, Eliade smuggles the journal out of the house, in order to study Zerlendi's techniques closely. He will return the book covertly before anyone notices it is missing.
    There is a slight problem. When Eliade returns to the house to interview Mrs Zerlendi again. When he succeeds, nobody remembers him. He protests that he was working in the library for two full months. This is quite impossible, they tell him. There is no library in the house. There used to be one, but it was broken up and sold off twenty years before.
   Eliade goes to the house again, hoping that it will be as he first found it. Now the whole scene is falling apart, like a broken dream. The Zerlendi house is being pulled down.
    My favorite passage in the story: "
I have always divided people into two categories: those who understand death as an end to life and the body, and those who conceive it as the beginning of a new, spiritual existence. And I never form an opinion of any man I meet until I have learned his honest belief about death." 

Nonfiction fantasy. I like the genre description I just invented. In Eliade's case, it not only means that he gives himself permission to use the identities and circumstances of "real" people, starting with himself. It means that the stories are derived from experiences in realities beyond the physical that may be no less real and sometimes intersect - magically or catastrophically -with the world of the senses. 

Quotations are from Two Strange Tales by Mircea Eliade, published (appropriately) by Shambhala (Boston, 1986). The translation is credited to Herder & Herder.

Art: "Nights in Serampore" by Christian Bode (2016)

Friday, April 8, 2022

Praise the Goddess and Stop Being an Ass


"O holy, perennial savior of the human race, you are ever generous in your care for mortals, and you bestow a mother's sweet affection upon wretched people in misfortune. No day, no period of sleep, no trivial moment hastens by which is not endowed with your kind deeds. You do not refrain from protecting mortals on sea and land, or from extending your saving hand to disperse the storms of life. With that hand you even wind back the threads of the Fates, however irretrievably twisted. You appease the storms raised by Fortune, and restrain the harmful courses of the stars.

"The gods above cultivate you, the spirits below court you. You rotate the world, lend the sun its light, govern the universe, crush Tartarus beneath your heel. The stars are accountable to you, the seasons return at your behest, the deities rejoice before you, the elements serve you. At your nod breezes blow, clouds nurture the earth, seeds sprout, and buds swell. The birds coursing through the sky, the beasts wandering on the mountains, the snakes lurking in the undergrowth, the monsters that swim in the deep all tremble at your majesty."

- Lucius praises Isis in Book XI of The Metamorphoses of Lucius, better known as The Golden Ass, by Apuleius. (P.G. Walsh translation).

The Golden Ass is a second-century novel written in Latin by Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis. the son of a Roman magistrate in the colony of Numidia on the North African coast, in what is now Algeria. The comic, picaresque narrative follows the misadventures of a young man whose obsession with sorcery and sex leads to his transformation into a donkey. He is beaten and abused by successive masters, including ferocious bandits, and subjected to the lewd attentions of castrati priests of a Syrian goddess and ancient porn show promoters.

Lucius starts out as a young man obsessed by magic. He seduces Photis, the maid of the witch Pamphile. She tells him that the witch is going to turn herself into a bird so she can fly to the room of a man she wants to have sex with. From a hiding place, Lucius watches the witch get naked and smear herself all over with an ointment, as she voices incantations – and she sprouts feathers and takes off.

Lucius is now eager to fly as a bird. Photis is nervous, but he persuades her to steal some of the ointment. In a comedy of errors, she brings him the wrong one. It turns him into a donkey. To recover human form, he must eat roses. The antidote is nearby. But before he can get to them, robbers burst in, and then use him as a pack mule, and through all his misadventures in the first ten books, he somehow never manages to eat roses.

Through his long ears, we hear amazing stories, one of which – the story of Eros and Psyche – has become a perennial myth, inspiring artists, tickling the diagnostic nerve of psychologists, teasing anyone who knows what it is to yearn for the beloved. In the final, eleventh book, when Lucius is returned to human form, we move abruptly from low farce and gratuitous violence to a deep account of spiritual transformation that will blaze in the memory of any sensitive reader like the midnight sun of the initiate.

The goddess of Fortune (Tyche) is depicted as blind, but Lucius is convinced she has a malevolent eye on him.

Dreams and visions guide the man who became an ass through death and rebirth under the aegis of the Great Goddess. He wakes, still a donkey, near the sea in a sudden panic and finds the full moon shining in his face across the waves. He dips his donkey head in the sea seven times, while invoking the goddess by all the names he knows in a beautiful prayer. He is unsure which aspect of the Goddess to invoke, so he calls on the Divine Feminine who shines through the thousand faces like the Moon before him. O Queen of Heaven

Cleansing and prayer are followed by what looks like dream incubation on four legs. He falls asleep on the sand. A divine figure rises from the sea and stands before him, crowned with a wreath of flowers, with the mirror of the moon shining at the center and serpents and ears of corn on either side Her jet-black robe is covered with shining stars. In her right hand she carries a sistrum - a bronze rattle - and in her left a boat-shaped vessel with a rearing serpent for a handle.

"Here I am Lucius, roused by your prayers." The Goddess announces herself as universal, mother of all life.  "I am the mother of the world of nature, mistress of all the elements, first-born in this realm of time. I am the loftiest of deities, queen of departed spirits, the single embodiment of all gods and goddesses.. I order with my nod the luminous heights of heaven, the healthy sea-breezes, the sad silences of the infernal dwellers. The whole world worships my single divinity under a variety of shapes and liturgies and titles…But the peoples on whom the rising sun-god shines with his first rays--Ethiopians, and Egyptians --worship me with the liturgy that is my own, and call me by my true name, which is Queen Isis."

She reassures him that she has come to his rescue. “I am come to you in your calamity.” 
She tells him to join the procession in her honor that will take place the next day and press forward until he comes to the priest with roses in his right hand. The priest will be prepared because, in that same moment, Isis is appearing to him in a night vision. Bilocation is hardly a big deal for a goddess. She cautions him that after he is changed back, Lucius will no longer be the man he was before; he must dedicate his life to her service and in return she will guide him through life and beyond death.

The priest, the next day, is indeed ready for him; he not only offers the roses but delivers a speech revealing that he knows Lucius' whole story and calls for people to bring a garment to clothe the naked human, and promises that under the aegis of Isis, Lucius will at last be freed from the slings and arrows of Fortune.

Lucius arrives at “the birthday of initiation”, natalem sacrorem [Book XI, 24]. He is transformed and dies to his former life. The whole narrative can be seen as a conversion story, wildly thrilling and never stuffy – taking the reader rollicking over a cliff into a place of awe.

Ridentum dicere verum quid vetat? May not truth in laughing guise be dressed? (Horace) The tale of Lucius, veering from bawdy farce and picaresque perils to the depth of spiritual awakening and divine dreaming, is at the top of my list in two categories (a) the comic novel and (b) visionary narrative.

Illustration by Jean de Bosschère: Lucius is returned to human form when he eats the roses being carried in a procession in honor of the Goddess, as Isis directed him in a dream.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Sunset Road




A piece of sky has fallen into the sea,

So this must be the time.

The Sound is banded pink and heron blue

By the gentle palette of the lowering sun.


I strip at the shore of the shelly beach

And fold my clothes neat as Christmas packages.

I was never tidy in life, except in leaving it,

So they’ll know that I left with intention.


The water receives me in a lover’s embrace.

Discreetly, the watcher on the reef takes off

And becomes a black arrow, flying west,

Beyond the lighthouse island, pointing my way.


There has been a sea-change. The chop and current

That resisted me fiercely, day after day,

Pushing me always toward the Old World,

Now streams with my strokes.


I am riding blue water, crested with burning bronze.

How my body loves the sea, its element and its nature!

I swim through all the colors of memory

And I remember the water-world that is my home.


Something slips from me like a swimsuit

Whose elastic has snapped, and I am free of human form.

I am a cormorant, fishing and skimming the waves.

I play with the shapes I remember:


I am a dolphin, leaping and plunging in its joy

I am a sea-king in his chariot, plowing the waves

I am the Blue Man, tireless lover from the deep

I am the one who fell from the sky like a shooting star. 





I remember the sunset road. Perhaps I looked too long

Into the black light at the heart of the sun

Because I have skipped a continent, and return to myself

On the white sand of Manly Beach.


For a moment, I am in the body and memory

Of an awkward Australian boy of eighteen

Learning how to make love. Quickly I am drawn

Through green shadows and groves of familiar dead


To the World Tree. It has an everyday name:

A Moreton Bay fig. The flocks of ibis birds around it –

Travelers from the precinct of Thoth the Star Voyager,

Measurer and Rememberer – herald its greater name.


Its corkscrew roots drill a passage to the Underworld.

Its manifold trunks and branches open many ways.

Its upper limbs are ladders to the World Up Top

Where a couple with black opal eyes help me up.


In the lubra’s opulent body I read a pattern of stars.

Her eyes shift. She is flying fox, and echidna,

And black Venus. Her eyes turn as spiral galaxies

And I find she is a way through the Milky Way.

- This poem is in my collection, Here, Everything Is Dreaming: Poems and Stories. Published by Excelsior Editions. 


Photo by RM

Tarot Gate to Atlantis

Working the Tarot can bring us in contact with past masters of this system. On a fall evening, I had been discussing Tarot and did a personal reading in which the last two cards were the Hanged Man and the High Priestess.

When I lay down, preparing for sleep, I had a strong sense of contact with a female personality. I had no doubt she was a priestess. I associated her with a woman who had led a great esoteric order in Britain, and used the Qabalistic Tarot (as they called it) in her teachings and rituals.[1] This woman died six months before I was born, but I had often dreamed of her and her circle.

The priestess invited me to go on an astral journey, and instructed me to put on special vestments, black, white and silver. She led me to an inner temple and showed me the gateway to the path of the High Priestess on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. This is the longest and most challenging of the journeys known as Tarot pathworkings, requiring the traveler to cross the Abyss. I was told that I must on no account veer, or even look, to right or left, where there were all manner of threats, temptations and distractions.

I embarked on the journey. At the place where the road crossed the path of Strength, I learned something new about the Lion. I was required, at this point, to leave my second body – my astral body – behind, as I had left my physical body behind in the bed. This was the condition for crossing the Abyss and “shooting for Kether”, the Crown.

I survived the whirling swords of attackers who may have been very fierce Gatekeepers. I came at last to a chamber with curving walls. Here the priestess reappeared, indicating that I had earned the right to knowledge of secret and essential things. She described the chamber as a “premonistory”, a word unknown to me. Through an observation window, I looked out into an ocean in which people swam about in strange diving suits that looked like the skins of giant fish. Or perhaps they were fish-people. Some of the males were whiskered like catfish. It came to me that these might be the true people of Atlantis.

The priestess explained:

We came from the sea. The Source of Light determined to experiment with several species. Since most of the planet is covered with water, it was possible that the most propitious environment was the dominant one.
    The early Masters came from the waters, in the literal as well as the cosmic sense. This is remembered in the Chaldean stories of Ea, known to the Greeks as Oannes, and in the myths of the Dogon and other African peoples. Our form was human only by adaptation: the equivalent, on the physical plane, of the contact pictures projected by archangels and ascended Masters to greet and educate humans who are journeying into the astral on the paths of initiation.
    Hence the significance of the Hanged Man, in its reference to the element of Water, and of Nun and Tzaddi, associated with Death and the Star, in the Qabalistic Tarot.[2]
    We remember the founding priesthood as Atlantean, in the exact sense of Plato’s myth. It is recollected in a differing version in the Irish legends of Fomorians and invaders.
     To this day, the sea is the guardian and repository of the deepest mysteries. It has absorbed and transformed the effluvium of human waste and veil; this is remembered in the story of the ten thousand sealed vessels Solomon had cast beneath the waves. Great entities live far between its depths, at levels no human has plumbed – or will ever plumb – in the corporeal body.
     It is of the most urgent consequence that the sea should be appeased, its rulers propitiated. Never forget that the Moon is ruler of the sea and its tides. The seas have been ravaged by mankind. The fish are dying. It is time for humans to give back, through sacrifice.

After recording the passage above I picked up Dion Fortune's magical novel The Sea Priestess, and soon found myself reading, as if for the first time, the chapter in which the narrator picks two cards from a gypsy's Tarot deck: the High Priestess and the Hanged Man. 

I recorded this beyond-astral journey in my journal on November 17, 1994. 


1. The magicians of the Golden Dawn and its offshoots practiced "Qabala", as distinct from the Jewish Kabbalah. The attributions of the Tarot trumps and the Hebrew letters to the paths between the sephiroth on the Tree of Life are explained by Robert Wang in Qabalistic Tarot.

2. Nun, in the Hebrew alphabet, means "fish" and in Qabalistic Tarot it is identified with trump XIII, Death. Tzaddi means "fish hook" and is associated with trump XVII, The Star. The letter Mem, meaning "water", is identified with trump XII, the Hanged Man, which was chosen by the Golden Dawn as the symbol of the Order.

Journal drawing of Oannes by RM

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Time Travel, Other Worlds and Othertime

C.S. Lewis's novel of Malacandra, Out of the Silent Planet, describes a journey in a spaceship to another planet by three humans - one driven by greed, one by darker ambitions to make humans the predatory master species in the universe, the third a thoughtful, attractive adventurer called Ransom, who is a professor of philology. They enter a world quite unlike the Earth, where three quite different intelligent species are able to coexist without conflict, and everything is ordered by the benign rule of a godlike being called Oyarsa, whose messengers and assistants are the radiant eldila.
In Malacandra, we learn that Earth is known as "the silent planet". Contact between Earth and other planets has been cut off because Earth has fallen under the sway of the Bent One, a dark overlord. Unknown to humans, the eldils still travel to Earth, but it's become a dangerous journey and they go down like warrior angels, concealed from the perception of most humans.

Lewis adds a postcript to the novel that purports to be a letter to the author from "the original of Dr Ransom", an acquaintance on whom the Ransom character is based. Supposedly their friendship began when Lewis - a medievalist - found a twelfth century account of a voyage through the heavens that introduced a being there called Oyarses, "the intelligence or tutelary spirit of a planet".In a nonfiction book, The Discarded Image, that Lewis published late in life, he discusses the 12th century Platonist, Bernardus Silvestris - "Bernard of the Woods" - who wrote about a journey out of this world and planetary gods he called Oyarses.

There are more clues to Lewis' evolving thinking about how we can open and maintain communication with the intelligences of other worlds in the partial draft of a late novel he did not intend to publish. Lewis's former secretary, Walter Hooper, narrowly managed to save this from a bonfire on which the author's brother was burning his manuscripts shortly after his death. This unfinished novel, titled The Dark Tower by the editor, involves an experiment in time travel that propels one of the experimenters into the body of his double in a weird Othertime. The editor suggests it is the true sequel to Out of the Silent Planet.

In the postcript to Out of the Silent Planet Lewis made the fascinating suggestion that time travel will be the key to travel to intelligent life on other planets. The last sentence in that postscript reads as follows: "The way to the planets lies through the past; if there is to be any more space-traveling, it will have to be time-traveling as well."     
     The heart of the matter (as Lewis also came to believe) is that given the Cloaking of Earth, the best and safest way to reopen communication with benign intelligences on other planets and in other dimensions may be to go across time and take off from a past - or future - location. After leading many group journeys by flights of intrepid shamanic dream travelers (following the "Sirius" script I published in Dreamgates, and others) I believe he was correct.

Atlantis-haunted: Tolkien and the Bent World

A recurring dream of the drowning of Atlantis was the secret engine of some of J.R.R. Tolkien's greatest work. As he described this work in a letter:

This legend or myth or dim memory of some ancient history has always troubled me. In sleep I had the dreadful dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quiet sea, or coming in towering over the green inlands. It still occurs occasionally, though now exorcized by writing about it. It always ends by surrender, and I awake gasping out of deep water. I used to draw it or write bad poems about it.

Tolkien came to suspect that the dream of the downfall of Atlantis may have been ancestral memory, passed down through the generations, especially after his son Michael shared similar dreams with him before they had ever discussed the dreams of the father. Tolkien spoke of his "Atlantis-haunting."
     In many unfinished drafts and sketches, as well as in his most famous works, Tolkien attempted to describe the fate of Atlantis before and after the fall. He gave it many names, settling on Númenor for the civilization at its height, and Atalantê - directly evoking "Atlantis" - for the drowned world. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien transfers his dream to Faramir, dreaming of the fall of Númenor . The short fourth book of The Silmarillion, titled Akallabêth (The Downfallen in Adunaic , one of Tolkien's invented languages) we are given Elendil's account of the destruction of Númenor.
    For me, the simplest and earliest of Tolkien's many versions of this theme is the most stirring and provocative, hinting at a workable geography of a deeper reality that may be directly relevant to our condition today. This is a two-page sketch for "The Fall of Numenor", published by Tolkien's son Christopher at the start of The Lost World and Other Writings, volume 5 in The History of Middle-Earth. In the story outline Tolkien describes how, when the gods decided to punish the Numenorians/Atlanteans for their crimes, they "globed the earth".

The Gods therefore sundered Valinor from the earth, and an awful rift appeared down which the water poured and the armament of Atalantê was drowned. They globed the whole earth so that however far a man sailed he could never again reach the West, but came back to his starting-point.

This was the creation of what Tolkien came to call the World Made Round. Before the bending of the world, a traveler could sail West in a straight line towards the realm of the gods (though few humans were welcome to go all the way). Now, in our "bended" (or bent) world if we travel West and keep on going for long enough, we merely come back to where we started.
     On a higher level of reality, however, above the clouds of our consensual hallucinations, the Line of the Gods still runs straight. Unless you are an elf, or at least an elf-friend, however, you have little chance of finding the straight path. Tolkien's dream of Atlantis not only spurred him to become a world-maker, a master shaman of the imagination; it made him a world-rememberer, offering a vision of the sources of our human condition and a possible path (through travel in dream and in time) of transcending our bent condition. Makes you think twice about the possible merits of being a flat-earther.

Of related interest: A Robert Moss vision of Atlantis

Graphic: "The Fall of Numenor" by Darrell Sweet

Friday, April 1, 2022

Serpent from the Mound

The liminal space between sleep and awake is prime time for sacred encounters. In this twilight zone, before dawn two years ago, I received a visitation by a Celtic priestess, red hair streaming all about her, who took me deep into the realm of Brigid, the goddess and saint of Ireland. I was thrilled with delight. I spent most of the day that unfolded in a blaze of fresh research following the leads I had been given. I crafted a new class devoted to Brigid, with three new group shamanic journeys

Drifting again in a liminal state the next morning, in a grey pre-dawn hour, I wondered if contact would be renewed. I again felt a presence in my room. It became vividly alive: an enormous green and gold serpent, so beautifully patterned that it might have been crafted by a jeweler. I felt entirely safe with it.

I wondered about the connection with Brigid - since famously there are no snakes in Ireland. Then I remembered that in Scotland Brigid is associated with snakes. There is an invocation in the Carmina Gadelica, the Scottish collection of charms and blessings, that speaks to Brigid as if she is a serpent coming of the mound at the end of winter:
On the day of Bride of the white hills,
The noble queen will come from the knoll,
I will not molest the noble queen,
Nor will the noble queen molest me.

Journal drawing by Robert Moss