Tuesday, January 31, 2023

May Brigid's blessings be with you

Blessings to you on the day of the High One, the Exalted One. That is the meaning of Brig, from which the name Brigid (also Brigit, Brighid, Brigantia of England and Brigindo of eastern Gaul) derives. The church made the goddess a saint, one of the most beloved saints of Ireland, with various biographies, the best of which is recollected in Kildare, where the flame of Brigid burned constantly until Henry VIII, and burns again today. She is a power of the land, and of the deeper world, that the church and the people can agree on. In Ireland and in Scotland, you feel her presence in stones and trees, in high places and in deep wells.
In the stories told at Kildare, the woman Brigid is born at sunrise, as her mother stands straddling a threshold, one foot out and one foot in. When Brigid’s head comes out, the sun’s rays crown her with flame. We can see why she is the patron of people who open doors between the worlds – of shamans, seers and poets – and of all who work with fire, in the peat, in the forge, in the cauldron of imbas, the fire of inspiration.
Marija Gimbutas wrote of her (in The Living Goddesses): “Brigid is an Old European goddess consigned to the guise of a Christian saint. Remove the guise and you will see the mistress of nature, an incarnation of cosmic life-giving energy, the owner of life water in wells and springs, the bestower of human, animal and plant life.” She is “Mary of the Gael”, and she is the Triple Goddess and Robert Graves’ Three-fold Muse. She is patron of poetry, healing and smithcraft. In Scotland she is Bride, and the White Swan and the Bride of the White Hills. In the Hebrides she is the protector of childbirth.
Lady Augusta Gregory, Yeats’s friend, described Brigid in Gods and Fighting Men as “a woman of poetry, and poets worshiped her, for her sway was very great and very noble. And she was a woman of healing along with that, and a woman of smith’s work, and it was she first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night.” We are now entering the prime time of this High One, when nature awakens around February 1.
She may appear as a snake from beneath the earth, even in Ireland, the country without snakes:
This is the day of Bride the Queen will come from the mound
This is the time of Brigid’s feast of Imbolc which coincides with the lactation of the ewes and the first signs of spring. You know the lambs are coming soon. You see snowdrops pressing up from the hard earth, perhaps through its white mantle. You offer the gifts of the goddess to the goddess: you pour milk on the ground, you bake and leave out special cakes. To she who spins and weaves life itself, you offer woven fabrics or offer a cloth – a handkerchief, a scarf, a pillowcase – to be blessed as it rests on the earth overnight. To this bringer of fire, you light a candle and offer your heart’s flame.
In the old country, in the old way, young girls carry her images – straw dolls or brideogs – in procession from house to house, and the goddess is welcomed and decked with finery. The dolls are laid on in “bride beds”, with a staff or wand of power resting beside them. At Imbolc, as on other days, you may raise the High One’s energy with poetic speech. Best to do this by a stream or a spring, or (if you know one) a sacred well. She does have a fine love of poets and those who bring fresh words into the world.
There is a legend that, in one of her womanly forms, Brigid married the great poet Senchan Torpeist,  foremost among the learned fili (bards) of Ireland. It was this same Senchan, it is said, who recovered the great poem known as the Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) when it was feared lost forever, by raising the shade of the druid poet Fergus to recite all of the verses.
Among the bevy of Celtic blessings in the great repository know as the Carmina Gadelica, collected by Alexander Carmichael in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland around 1900, some of the sweetest call on Brigid. In “Womanhood of Brigit” (#263 in the Carmina Gadelica)
Brigit of the mantles
Brigit of the peat-heap
Brigit of the twining hair
Brigit of the augury.
Brigit of the white feet
Brigit of calmness
Brigit of the white hands
Brigit of the kine.
Many kinds of protection are then asked of Brigid – safety from death or injury or mishap in many forms. Next comes a verse that makes it plain that Brigid is regarded, among all else, as a guardian of sleep and dreams:
Nightmare shall not lie on me
Black-sleep shall not lie on me
Spell-sleep shall not lie on me
Luaths-luis shall not lie on me.
I need someone more learned in Scots Gaelic than myself to translate Luaths-luis. Its literal meaning seems to be something like “fast-moving lice” for which our modern phrase might be “creepy-crawlies.” In the “Blessing of Brigit” (numbered #264 in the Carmina Gadelica) we have words that might please the Lady on her feast day, or any day:
I am under the shielding
Of good Brigit each day;
I am under the shielding
Of good Brigit each night.
Brigit is my comrade woman,
Brigit is my maker of song,
Brigit is my helping woman
My choicest of women, my guide
Brigid’s Day is also a fine time for courting, and a time to dream, and seek guidance from dreams.

Brigid's Flame

I dreamed this poem at Imbolc in 2020

May the radiance of her blue mantle
surround you and protect you
May you burn with her fires:
fire of seership,
fire of craft,
fire of inspiration,
fire of healing,
fire of transformation
fire of heart.
May you always stand ready
to wrest the killing irons
from evildoers and oppressors
and to take up the Sword of Light
in defense of the weak and the just
May you always be a lover of poets
and commit poetry every day.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Synesius on the Dream Oracle


You have direct access to sacred knowledge, in your dreams. Your dreams are a personal oracle that reveals the future and helps you prepare for it. Don’t let anyone tell you what your dreams mean; get rid of dream dictionaries. Pay attention to signs from the world around you; know that everything in the universe is interconnected and constantly interweaving. Use your imagination. What you grow there will be stamped on your world and on your soul – on the energy body in which you will travel to another life after death. [1] 

Amazingly, these insights come from a fifth-century bishop of the church. His name was Synesius of Cyrene, and his treatise On Dreams, composed around 405, is one of the wisest books ever written on dreams, coincidence and imagination. Synesius was a most unusual bishop. In his life and work we find – alas, only briefly – a confluence between the best of the ancient practice of philosophy and the new religion of the Roman empire.

Synesius was a Greco-Roman aristocrat who could trace his pedigree back to the founders of Sparta, seventeen hundred years before him. He lived on a great estate in Cyrene, part of modern Libya, enjoyed the pleasures of both the hunt and the study, and chuckled over the fact that rural folk in his area still thought “the king of the world” was Agamemnon. [2]

 He had the best education possible in his time, in Alexandria, in the school of Hypatia, the extraordinary woman scientist, mathematician, and Neoplatonist who strode the streets of the world-city in her philosopher’s cloak, surrounded by eager students. 

It was in Alexandria that Synesius experienced his first and deepest conversion, when he found “the eye of the soul” within him opening to reveal the sacred depth of the universe. His consciousness expanded to give him the clear vision of the One beyond the many. He saw the reality behind the forms of religion. In his quiet hours, he dedicated himself to “mysteries without rites” devoted to awakening the divinity within the human that corresponds and coincides with the divinity within and beyond the cosmos. [3] He was a convert to philosophy as it was understood in the Greco-Roman world: the love and practice of wisdom. 

It was in Alexandria, around 405 and recently married, with the Barbarians at the gates of Rome, that he wrote his treatise on dreams. 

He makes it clear that his discussion of dreams is grounded in personal experience. Dreams have guided him in the hunt, showing him how and where to find the game. Dreams have led him to “swarms of wild beasts that have fallen to our spears”.[4]

He was guided by dreams when his city sent him to Constantinople to plead for favors from the emperor. In a hothouse of political intrigue, his dreams helped him to tell friend from foe, and alerted him to hostile intrigues in which his enemies hired “ghost-raising sorcerers” to attack him by black magic.

The dream oracle “helped me in the management of public office in the best interest of the cities, and finally placed me on terms of intimacy with the Emperor.”

His dreams contributed to his success as a writer and orator. The dream source “frequently helped me to write books”, correcting his style, and helping him to prune archaic Attic expressions – products of his love of old books - from his essays and poems. 

Synesius explains that dreams are “personal oracles”. We want to claim authority over our own dreams and reject anything and anyone who tries to come between us and the dream source. “We ought to seek this branch of knowledge before all else; for it comes from us, is within us, and is the special possession of the soul of each one of us.

The dream oracle speaks to us wherever we go. “We can’t abandon this oracle even if we try. It is with us at home and abroad, on the field of battle, in the city and in the marketplace.”

Dreams are our common birthright. They belong to rich and poor, to kings and to slaves. The dream oracle turns no one down because of race or age, status or calling.

Even the worst tyrant is powerless to separate us from our dreams – which may hold the key to his overthrow – “unless he could banish sleep from his kingdom”.

“Dream divination is available to all, the good genius to everyone.”

It is no wonder that dreams show us the future, because dreams are experiences of soul and “the soul holds the forms of things that come into being”

 Synesius dismisses dream dictionaries – popular in his time, as in ours – with admirable vigor. “I laugh at all those books and think them of little use”. General definitions don’t work because each dreamer is a different mirror for dream images – some are funhouse mirrors, some are made of varied materials. Big dreams do not require interpretation; their meaning is in the experience of the dream itself. Dreams that are “more divine” are “quite clear and obvious, or nearly so”, but come only to those who live “according to virtue”.

Steeped in Homer, he can’t avoid mentioning the scene in the Odyssey where the Gates of Horn and Ivory are described. In his view, both Homer’s Penelope and legions of commentators and borrowers failed to understand that dreams, in themselves, are never false. Penelope assumes that there are true dreams and deceptive dreams “because she was not instructed in the matter.” Deception arises through false interpretations, not false dreams. If Penelope had understood the nature of dreaming better, “she would have made all dreams pass out through the Gate of Horn…We should not confuse the weakness of the interpreter with the nature of the visions themselves.”

 Synesius recommends setting an intention for the night. “We shall pray for a dream, even as Homer prayed. And if you are worthy, the god far away is present with you…He comes to your side when you sleep, and this is the whole system of the initiation.”

 Synesius also stresses the value of keeping a dream journal, and of writing and creating from dreams. “It is no mean achievement to pass on to another something of a strange nature that has stirred in one’s own soul”.

 Synesius urges us to keep a “day book” for our observations of signs and synchronicities as well as a “night book” for dreams.  “All things are signs appearing through all things…they are brothers in a single living creature, the cosmos…they are written in characters of every kind”. The deepest scholarship lies in reading the sign language of the world; the true sage is a person “who understands the relationship of the parts of the universe”.

 Five years after writing his essay On Dreams, Synesius was persuaded by Theophilus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, to accept the bishopric of Ptolemais. It seems that he was baptized at the same time, rather late in the day according to our common understanding of what is involved in becoming a bishop of the church.

Synesius’ entry into the episcopate was a political, rather than a spiritual, event. The influence of his wife – who he loved deeply – may have been important; she was presumably Christian, since Theophilus was at their wedding in 403. Winning an aristocratic philosopher to the church was a coup for the Patriarch; though Christianity had become the religion of the empire, the old houses were still keeping their distance. For Synesius, assuming the rank and responsibilities of a bishop was both a case of noblesse oblige and an accommodation to the movement of history. In 399, the Serapeum – the great temple complex of Serapis at Alexandria – had been destroyed, and the might of the Roman Empire was now being used to stamp out pagan practices. The new God was fast supplanting the old ones.

In theological language, Synesius joined the Christians through adhesion rather than through the transformative experience of a full conversion. [5] But we can trace some possible lines of convergence between his philosophy and the Christian message. He believed in One divinity, behind the many forms of the divine. He wrote of the “fall” of the soul from a state of knowledge and truth. He believed that in times of darkness, a saving power may be sent to rescue humanity from itself and its deceivers. His essay On Providence depicts a world dominated by dark forces whose purpose is to drag humans down and destroy them if they reach for the light. Behind the surface events of history is the struggle between the higher instincts of humanity and the darkness within and around it. The power of light in humanity runs down, and must be restored periodically, at the end of the great cycles of history. But sometimes, when humans are in extremis, divine intervention may take place before the end of a cycle, to keep the game in play. [6] 

If Synesius lived long enough to learn the end of his mentor, Hypatia, he would have been left in no doubt that the darkness was rising. Though Hypatia’s students included Christians, the fanatical Cyril, who became bishop of Alexandria in 412, saw her as magnet for pagans. His violent diatribes against her helped to inflame a mob, led by a church lector, that pulled Hypatia from her carriage at night. In their collective dementia, these frenzied fundamentalists dragged her into a church called the Caesarium, tore off her clothes, and flayed her alive with sharp-edged shells. Then they butchered her body and burned the pieces to ashes. [7] 

In such a world, Synesius offered the means of communicating with a higher realm, and bringing gifts from it into everyday life. He taught that the realm of imagination is “the hollow gulf of the universe” where the soul is at home. Imagination is “the halfway house between spirit and matter, which makes communication between the two possible”. [Bregman 148] The soul travels in this realm in dreams.

For Bishop Synesius, dreaming is everyday church. It is also a way of entry into the real world. According to Synesius, dreamer do not return to reality when they awaken; dreaming, they are already there. 



1. Jay Bregman, Synesius of Cyrene, Philosopher-Bishop. (BerkeleyUniversity of California Press, 1982) 148.

2.ibid 76

3. ibid 26, 32-3,citing Letter 137.

4. All quotes from De insomniis (On Dreams) unless otherwise noted are from  Augustine FitzGerald (ed) The Essays and Hymns of Synesius of Cyrene. 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1930)

 5. See A.A. Nock, Conversion. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933).

6. Synesius, De providentia quoted in Bregman,op.cit., 66-72

7. Socrates Scholasticus, “The Murder of Hypatia” in Anne Fremantle (ed) A Treasury of Early Christianity. (New York: Viking, 1953) 380



Lion at the Templeof Apollo in Cyrene

"Eye in the Sky" Journal Drawing by Robert Moss



Saturday, January 28, 2023

Unfinished Portrait of the Higher Self & Other Dream Drawings


My favorite activity first thing in the morning is to make a drawing from a dream. This delights the small boy and the artist in me, who are pretty much the same. I don't worry about technical execution, and use whatever I pull from my boxes of colored pencils and markers and oil or gel crayons and Neocolors.

Here are three recent productions:

January 17, 2023

Hermetic Fridge
My mind is still working on Neoplatonist texts I was studying late. I open the fridge and see a screen filling the upper half. It displays texts that appear in Greek and English translation and various symbols. I am able to read quite a lot. Then the screen flickers and living scenes appear. A woman in a flowing garment dances with a radiant being that descends in a shaft of light. I picture myself entering a similar column of light and ascending within it.
On a shelf in the fridge door is a slim rectangular case, like a laptop. This belongs to observers who are monitoring the transmissions.
I walk outside on our street, rehearsing exercises and meditations I have derived from my studies. When I take up the texts again, there is a satisfactory click: I have found a portal that was used by an ancient lineage of theurgists to enter another universe. A Speaker confirms my discovery and shows me how that universe looks from the outside.
Feelings: excited, intrigued
Reality check: I have been reading books by and about the Neoplatonists late into the nights. The fridge and the street in the dream are our new fridge and the scene right outside our building. I'm happy to think that ancient knowledge is right here where I live.

January 18, 2023
The Ambassadors Get Me to Ride a Kangaroo
I'm at a reception hosted by a Spanish grandee, Muy caballero. Many ambassadors are present. Drinks and canapes are flowing freely. My host tells me his guests would like to see me ride a kangaroo. Is this a joke? No, they actually have one. With great misgivings, I get on the animal's back (riding bareback) and we are flying. If this started as a joke, it is becoming something else.
Feelings: amused
Reality: I am an expat Australian. Aussies really don't ride kangaroos but long ago I knew an Aboriginal spirit man whose animal ally was a kangaroo - Big Red - that gave him the power of fast walking. In movement, kangaroos are in the air 80 percent of the time.

January 20, 2023
She Finger-Knits Herself Under a Red Blanket
People have gathered because the blonde is putting on quite a show. She is finger knitting a chunky red blanket while sitting inside it. She goes on - and up - until the blanket all but covers her head. Excitement rises because she is being timed. In a minute or so she'll be stopped. Will she finish in time? She adds to the tension by slowing her hands. Now I can barely see her skin and hair below the red strands. A few last loops and pulls and she's Done!
Feelings. Entertained
Reality: I know nothing about knitting. I don't think I know the blonde. Her style is of an earlier generation. I think of the Mad Men era. What's going on feels like a contest or publicity stunt. The last thing I read before bed was a line about an intuitive seeing a woman entirely covered in red

Sometimes I combine this exercise with bibiomancy by opening an old journal at random and seeing what pops us. Here are three drawings I made recently from "old" dreams I recorded more than twenty years ago that still convey terrific energy.

[Date of drawing: January 26, 2023]

Banyan Family
I found this in a much longer inner communication I recorded on May 22, 1999:
"You recall your almost erotic interest in the banyan of Lahaina, that replants itself. The banyan is an excellent model for the relationship between different life experiences – for your personal soul family. "

[Date of drawing: January 28, 2023]

Unfinished Portrait of the Higher Self

Journal report dated May 2, 1999

I am leading a group up a mountain along a spiral path. We pass a statue of a recumbent lion. What might be a saddle on his back is a giant carnelian glowing with deep red fire.
There is a tower at the top of a mountain. Through open doors we see an artist working on a painting, apparently a self portrait. Above and around it is a second, much larger portrait. It is nested inside a still larger picture, suggested rather than executed. And so on, and so up. Looking up I see that the tower has no roof and the walls seem to go up into the sky. Picture within picture, self within higher self. I doubt that the artist's work can ever be done but his passionate engagement is fueling a life of creative exploration charged with that carnelian fire.

One more, from a night vision I recorded more than thirty years ago:

[Date of drawing: January 24, 2023]

Bees Fly Me to the Epopteia

Journal report dated January 25, 1992

“Had” to lie down at 9:30 p.m. Immediately, I had the sense of being drawn up out of my body, of my whole second body lifting up. I saw a glow around my second body. I felt strong vibrations and heard a humming sound. I realized that a swarm of bees had massed around me, especially around my arms and shoulders, lifting me, helping me to fly.

I flew inside the swarm of bees, over an ocean, towards a temple on a rocky height. Greek words were streaming through my mind. Kyriacos. Epopteia.

Later, I grabbed relevant books from my shelves. Kyriacos means Lord or Ruler. The epopteia is the “full vision” or “full revelation" of the highest stage of the Mysteries, when the initiate is brought face-to-face with the deity. Of course I found many pages about bees as the companions of the Goddess and recalled that "honey bee" (melissa) is an ancient title of the priestess.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Tales of the Double: Bilocation, Second Bodies, Parallel Selves


I was attending a conference in the Boston area when I was approached by a pleasant-looking couple who might have been in their early forties. The husband, David, introduced himself as a medical equipment salesman from Connecticut; his wife as a registered nurse. They seemed intelligent, articulate, and well-grounded; they had brought a cooler full of provisions they offered to share over lunch. The only oddity was that they seemed unusually deferential to someone who was simply another conference attendee.

“We want to thank you for that workshop we attended last fall,” David said. “You changed our lives.”

“Which workshop do you mean?”

“The weekend workshop in upstate New York.”

“What was I teaching?”

David looked puzzled as he told me how my workshop had brought shamanism and dreamwork together. “You showed us how to journey through the images from our sleep dreams.”

I was flabbergasted. I had been thinking about going public with the approach I now call Active Dreaming. I had dreamed on several nights of leading workshops in shamanic dreaming. But I had not yet held one in physical reality — at least, not in my physical reality.

I told David, “You must have confused me with someone else.”

David looked at his wife, who knitted her eyebrows.

“That’s impossible,” she protested. “Your voice, your white hair, your whole way of being — ”

“You’re a pretty hard guy to mistake for someone else.”

“And we spent the whole weekend with you,” his wife came back.

“I’ll never forget it.”

“That’s very interesting,” I told them. “I’ve dreamed of holding a workshop like the one you describe. But I haven’t done it yet, not in this reality.”

“You’re kidding.”

I shook my head. David looked at his wife, who made a face and tugged at his arm. As they walked away, she scowled back at me, obviously convinced that I was toying with them. Later in the day, when David passed me on the way to the cooler, he gave me a conspiratorial wink and said in a stage whisper, “Shamans are tricky characters.”

What was going on here? Did my dream reality somehow become waking reality for that earnest couple from Connecticut? Dreaming, could I have projected a double who seemed solid enough — un hombre de carne y hueso — to students at a holistic center? Were we caught up in some kind of time loop, so that in their reality the Connecticut couple went to a workshop that I gave two years later in my physical reality (in which they were not present — at least, not yet). Did they meet my parallel self on a different timeline that had now converged with my current trajectory? Or were the three of us somehow caught up in a collective, confusing hallucination?

If I had been quicker off the mark, I suppose I might have asked the Connecticut couple if they had a receipt for the workshop they attended. Maybe the center where it was held owes me money!


There are doubles and doubles. St. Augustine left us the intriguing story of a philosopher who urgently wanted to consult a colleague living several hundred miles away. To his great delight, his friend called on him that night, and they had a long conversation in which the philosopher was able to clarify his thinking in areas critical to his work. He wrote to his colleague afterward to thank him for his providential visit — and was astonished to receive a letter back in which his friend told him that he had never left his hometown, but remembered conversing with the philosopher in a dream.

The Capuchin monk Padre Pio rarely left his cloister but reportedly turned up on scores of occasions at other locations in a second body to preach sermons or counsel those in need. He attributed these feats to what he called “prolongation of the personality.”

St. Anthony of Padua was credited with similar gifts. As he lay on his deathbed, he appeared to a friend hundreds of miles away, in seemingly corporeal form, and informed him that he had left his “donkey” — his physical body — in Padua.

In her remarkable book, Dancing in the Shadows of the Moon, Machaelle Small Wright describes her experience of a “split molecular process” resulting in bilocation in two separate orders of reality. “My soul operates out of two separate, but related physical bodies.” One is her own; the other belongs to a servicewoman who was killed in World War II and now lives with a group headed by “Eisenhower” in an (astral?) locale called the Cottage. Machaelle says the Cottage is situated in the “England equivalent” of “a planet that exists in a sister dimension of reality…within a band of form identical to our own.” She travels there by picturing the locale and willing herself to go. She insists that this is something distinct from a dream or an “out-of-body” experience, because “real” time elapses, she eats “real” food, and she is subject to “real” pleasure and pain.

While the sight of one’s energy double, or doppelgänger, arouses fear in many cultures — especially the fear of impending death — the double may be something more. In Charles Williams' novel, Descent into Hell, Pauline goes in fear of her “double” all her life — so terrified she avoids walking alone — only to discover it is no horror, but her spiritual self, her “unfallen self” as originally conceived in heaven. When the two come together, she can begin to live her true destiny, which includes helping to release earthbound souls.

Text adapted from 
DREAMGATES: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination, and Life Beyond Death by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library


Illustration: "City Double" by RM with AI assistance


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Stronger the Imagination, the Less Imaginary the Results


The greatest crisis of our lives is a crisis of imagination. We come to a dead stop because there is a barrier in front of us and we can’t imagine a way to get around or over it. Our work space feels like it is walled with cement blocks that are closing in tighter every day, but we can’t imagine where we would go if we quit. We can’t breathe in an airless relationship but can’t imagine how to take off.  We look in the mirror, when we dare, and see the age lines, the skin blemishes, maybe the thinning hair, not the beauty that we may carry inside.   

We go on repeating to ourselves the tired old stories, strapped on to us by family or past histories of defeat and disappointment. Or we cling to past memories of brighter days, or that win on the high school sports field, or that sweet summer romance, or that medal for valor or that early success that was never repeated. Either way, by nursing grief or guilt or nostalgia, we manage to go through life looking in the rear vision mirror, stuck in the past, never fully available to the present moment.

Or we miss the moment by carrying anxiety about the future, playing scenarios for what could go wrong. We give ourselves a hundred reasons not to take the risk of doing something new, something that would take us beyond the gated communities of the mind into the wilds of creative adventure.

Conscious of it or not, we go around playing our negative mantras. I’m too old. I’m not pretty enough. I don’t have the money. People always let you down. People don’t change. I’m so tired. You don’t think you do this? Pause for a moment. Take off the headphones. Listen to what’s playing on your inner soundtrack. It may be a song. Am I blue?

I confess there are days, especially between snowstorms in a Northeastern winter, when my mood can slump and go the color of the dirty grey ramparts of ice on the curb in my small gritty city. And more days like these in the shut-up times of pandemic I don’t want to get out of bed even to walk the dog, who is waiting for me patiently. I may be stirred back to life by a dream or a cheering message from a loved one or a plan for an ocean beach vacation or a foreign adventure. But when I find it is still hard to rise above a low, lethargic mood and dump those negative mantras – My legs hurt, I’m played out, I can’t walk on the ice – I call in one of the greatest life coaches I know.

I know him from his most famous book. Maybe you do too. His book is titled Man’s Search for Meaning. His name is Viktor Frankl. He was an Existentialist – which is to say, someone who believes that we must be authors of meaning for our own lives – and a successful psychiatrist in Vienna before Nazi Germany swallowed Austria in 1938. He was a Jew and a free-thinking intellectual, two reasons for the Nazis to send him to a concentration camp. For several years he was in Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazi death camps.
      In the camp, every vestige of humanity was taken from him, except what he could sustain in his mind and his heart. He was in constant pain, reduced to a near-skeleton with a tattooed number on his arm, liable to be beaten or killed at any moment on the whim of a guard. He was there to be worked to death. He watched those around him shot or beaten or carted off to the gas chambers every day.
     He made an astonishing choice. He decided that, utterly deprived of freedom in the nightmare world around him, he would tend one precious candle of light within. He would exercise the freedom to choose his attitude. It sounds preposterous, if you don’t know the story of what unfolded. When people tell us we have a bad attitude in ordinary circumstances, we are usually not grateful. The suggestion that we can choose our attitude when the world around us seems cold and bleak, or we have suffered a major setback, even heartbreak, sounds cruel, and maybe preposterous. But let’s stay with Viktor Frankl.
     When the light went out in his world, he managed to light that inner candle of vision. Despite the pain in his body and the screams and groans around him, he made an inner movie, a film of a possible life in a world where the Nazis had been defeated and Hitler was a memory. It was an impossible vision of course, an escapist fantasy. There was no way he was going to survive Auschwitz.
     But he kept working on his inner movie, night after night, as director, scriptwriter, and star. He produced a scene in which he was giving a lecture in a well-filled auditorium.. His body had filled out, and he was wearing a good suit. The people in the audience were intelligent and enthusiastic. The theme of his lecture was “The Psychology of the Concentration Camps.” In his movie, not only were the death camps a thing of the past; he had retained the sanity and academic objectivity to speak about what went on during the Holocaust from a professional psychiatric perspective.
    This exercise in inner vision, conducted under almost unimaginably difficult circumstances, got Viktor Frankl through. One year after the war, in a good suit, he gave that lecture as he had seen himself doing in his inner movies.
     What do we take away from this?
     First, that however tough our situation may seem to be, we always have the freedom to choose our attitude, and this can change everything.  Let’s allow William James to chime in: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
     Second, that our problems, however bad, are unlikely to be quite as bad as the situation of someone who has been sent to a Nazi death camp. That thought may help us to gain perspective, and to stand back from a welter of grief and self-pity and rise to a place where we can start to dream up something better.
     Third, we can make inner movies, and if they are good enough it is possible that they will play in the theater of the world.
     Would you like to make your own life movies, in which you enjoy the satisfaction of your deepest desires? Are you willing to grow a vision of bright possibility so rich and alive that it wants to take root in the world?
      Here are some secrets of the imagination that will get you on your way.


Dreams Show You the Secret Wishes of Your Soul

Every night, if you make the effort to catch some of what is going on, you will find that your dreams take you beyond what you already know. You already have a personal film production company, behind the curtain of the world, that is making dreams exclusively for you. That comedy or horror flick, that romance or action adventure, may be screened in the night to help you see where you are and how you are, or to give you a glimpse of other life possibilities. In other dreams, you get out and about, you socialize, you make visits and receive visitations.
      Dreaming, you travel without leaving home and can be as social as you like. You are also a time traveler. You travel to past times, parallel times and into the possible future. You scout out challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Beyond seeing the future, it is possible that, dreaming, the observer effect noted in physics comes into play and you take part in the selection of events that will manifest from a quantum soup of possibilities.
     There is even more going on in your nights. Indigenous wisdom teaches that through dreams we learn the secret wishes of the soul.. There is even a word for this in the Huron/Iroquois language: ondinnonk. We are called to follow our heart’s desires, as opposed to the calculations of the ego and other people’s agendas and expectations. We are recalled to our deeper life purpose, and given sources and resources in a deeper reality that will help us to follow our path with heart.


Your Great Imagineer Is Your Magical Child

Don’t doubt for a moment that you have the imagination required to grow a vision of manifesting your heart’s desires that can carry you beyond the stuck places and the dark dreary times. Your inner child is a master of dreams and imagination. She knows the magic of making things up. She engages effortlessly in the deep play that generates creative ideas without regard for consequences. Maybe you lost contact with her as you started to grow up and the adult world trod on her dreams. Maybe there was a time when her world seemed so cold and cruel that she wanted to run away, and may actually have succeeded in running away, so a safe space in Granma’s house or a garden behind the Moon. Maybe this is why you have been in a dream drought for so long; when she went away, you lost the beautiful bright dreamer in you. In chapter 2, you are going to learn how to reclaim that Magical Child, how to convince her that you are safe and you are fun so that you can bring her energy and joy and imagination into your current life.

What Is in Your Way May Be Your Way


The philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius came to accept, as a rule for his own life, that the obstacle may be the way. When you find yourself blocked or challenged on your life road, that may be a prompt for you to look for a better way, or develop needed skill or the pluck and perseverance to see something through. you’ll want to look again at what you feel is blocking or opposing you on your life road. Sometimes a block is a pause button, indicating, Not right now. Try later. You may discover that a block has been placed in your way to induce you to find a better way. For every door that won’t open or slams shut in your face, look for one that maybe opening. For every setback, search for opportunity. Look for a gift in every wound or challenge though this can be hard and may require hindsight from some distance away. 


Your Big story is hunting you

Australian Aborigines say that the Big stories are hunting the right people to tell them, like predators stalking in the bush. The trick is to put ourselves in a place where the Big stories can find us. We do that when we attend to our dreams and the dreamlike play of symbols and synchronicity in the world around us. We want to learn to step out of the tired old stories we have inherited from family, from other people telling us who we are, from personal histories of failure and defeat. When we are seized by the Big story, we step beyond limiting definitions and beliefs. Great healing becomes available because we can now draw on the immense energy that is generated by the sense of serving a larger purpose and living a mythic life. The muse, or creative genius, and the intelligences of the world-behind-the-world come to support our life projects, because we are following a deeper call.

Your world is as rich or poor, as alluring or dull, as you can imagine. Listen to your dreams, let your inner child out to play, put yourself in a place where you bigger story can grab you. When you move in the energy field of a big dream of life, the world responds to you, because you are magnetic. You generate events and encounters that open new doors, and your days sparkle with a champagne fizz of magic. Your dreams speak louder and brighter and the extraordinary comes to meet you on any street corner.

On days when you feel down and defeated, remember Viktor Frankl, dreaming his way out of the nightmare of the death camps. On any day, you have the freedom to choose your attitude, and this is an exercise in creative imagination that can change everything.


Adapted from Growing Big Dreams: Manifesting Your Heart’s Desires through Twelve Secrets of the Imagination by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Photo (c) Robert Moss



Sunday, January 22, 2023

A Dreamer's Notes: Dreaming Cree

She Sticks to Her Dreams

An amazing exchange between Cree novelist Jessica Johns, author of Bad Cree, and an interviewer on NPR.
Ayesha Rascoe: So I understand you started writing this story after an instructor told you that writers should not write about their dreams. Like, that wasn't a good thing to do. So why did that comment send you in the absolute opposite direction?
Jessica Johns: For Cree people, and the way I was raised, the knowledge that I have about dreams, is that they're incredibly important. They're a way of communicating with our ancestors. They're a way of knowledge production. My whole life I've been taught to listen to my dreams and interrogate them and to, you know, know that they're very valid forms of knowledge and forms of storytelling as well. So to have a prominent professor who has been, quote-unquote, "successful" in so many ways in the writing and publishing worlds, give this advice to a roomful of aspiring writers - and, you know, he was a white man - it really - it made me mad. I mean, I don't think in writing there should be any hard and fast rule anyways. But I was just like, you have no idea what you're talking about. Dreams are valid. In fact, I'm going to write a story about dreams that validate them in all their beauty and wonder and knowledge.

Naturally, this spurred me to purchase and start reading Jessica Johns right away. While gripped by Bad Cree (I'll return to that) I also went looking for previous sources on dreaming in this tradition. Fairly thin pickings from the literature I have accessed so far, but I plucked out some interesting passages from early anthropologists.

 Dream Naming among the Plains Cree, or Nehiyanak 

Alanson Skinner, who traveled with the Plains Cree in 1913, reported: 

"When a child is still young it is customary for the parents to call upon four old men to ask them to give it a name. This is done when the child is about one year old the parents gather a quantity of clothing and other presents and a lot of food. Then four old men whom the parents have selected because of their fame for powerful dreams and for their war exploits are invited by a runner who bears them tobacco and a pipe. Each tries to dream from then on, and when the appointed day arrives, the four men appear at the spot designated where the parents have prepared a feast and where the other guests are assembled.

"When all is in readiness a pipe is filled and given to the spokesman of the elders who rises and addresses the people. He tells them of whom or what he has been dreaming and gives the infant a name that has some reference to his visions or to one of his adventures in war. He then turns to his three assistants and afterward to the people in general asking each to repeat the name aloud and to call upon the namer’s dream guardian to bless the child. After this there is a feast…

"Sometimes a child was sickly and the doctor on investigation would dream that it was wrongly named and prescribe a change if the diagnosis was correct the child would recover in from a day to four days."

- Alanson Skinner, “Notes on the Plains Cree” in American Anthropologist New Series, Vol. 16, No. 1 (1914), pp. 68-69.

1899 photo of Native American Girl with bone breastplate in the Library of Congress

Your Great Self Hunts You in Dreams

According to Frank G. Speck, pioneer ethnographer of the Naskapi and eastern Cree, it was through individual dreams, not collective rituals or medicine plants, that contact with a greater soul-spirit is established, bringing life guidance and the means to master the spirits of animals in the lifelong quest for food. In the dialects of his informants the term “atca’k” meant soul or spirit. The human soul in its animate, active state was referred to by the proper name “Mista’ peo” or Great Man. Speck found the same concept in many Algonkian communities throughout the Northeast.
He concluded that virtually all religious activities were undertaken to cultivate and satisfy each individual's own soul- spirit: “The hunter's success in avoiding sickness, in feeding his family, in prolonging his life, in building a good reputation among his friends, depends upon his bodily conduct in harmony with the positive requirements or the negations of his Great Man.” And these are revealed, primarily, through dreams.
- Frank G. Speck, Naskapi: The Savage Hunters of the Labrador Peninsula (Norman University of Oklahoma Press, 1935).

Photo: Frank G. Speck in a dog sled on Lake St. John, Canada in 1930.

Dreaming the Hunt

“The East Cree believed that a hunter's success in securing any form of game was all ultimately dependent on the consent of the animals, who, in friendship to man, allowed themselves to be taken, and of the spirits believed to influence their behavior, distribution, and availability. Dreams were the vehicle for communication with these spirits. The dream visitation occurred under normal conditions of sleep when a spirit ‘comes towards the hunter” in his dream and appears as a person and talks to him This was his powatakan.

" The significance of dreams as a means of communication with the spirits was underscored by the emphasis placed on remembering the content of one's dreams in exact detail. The Cree said that if a man could no longer remember his dreams upon awakening, he could no longer hunt.”

The animals of earth, water and sky were al said to have their Caretaker. The Chief or Caretaker of all the "clawe3d ones" on earth was said to be MemekweSiw's, literally "Little Dog", the great Bear spirit. An old Cree man said "I can't hunt any more because though I dream I don't remember them when I get up in the morning/" However, he told in fine detail how Bear came as his powatakan (dream visitor) and showed him where a young bear would be waiting for him to take its life on his first solo hunt. He put on his best clothes, making his best appearance, killed the bear with respect and, with the help of his father, hosted an eat-all meal in which the bear was thanked and prepared to be reborn. 

- Regina Flannery and Mary Elizabeth Chambers , “Each Man Has His Own Friends: The Role of Dream Visitors in Traditional East Cree Belief and Practice” in Arctic Anthropology Vol.22, No. 1 (1985), p.3

Illustration: Bear Visitor by RM with AI assistance