Friday, June 28, 2024

Through the Dream Gates to Initiation


True initiation involves both ordeal and ecstasy, death and rebirth.. “The majority of initiatory ordeals more or less clearly imply a ritual death followed by resurrection or a new birth,” commented the great religious historian Mircea Eliade. “The novice emerges from his ordeal endowed with a totally different being from that which he possessed before his initiation; he has become another.”[1] The initiate is a made man or woman.

The hunger for transcendence, through a primal, direct encounter with the sacred, leads people down strange and dangerous byways: into experiments with hallucinogenic drugs, into dubious cults and ersatz Nativism. Yet the authentic call to initiation continues to resonate in our dreams. And through the dream gates, it can be followed to a genuine consummation. Arguably, it can hardly be pursued in any other way since — whatever the externals of ceremony and culture — true spiritual initiation and apprenticeship always take place on the inner planes, in a deeper order of reality.

Even in societies where Mystery initiation was regarded as central to human fulfillment, and its gates and secrets closely guarded, the validity of an individual dream calling and initiation was honored. There is a fascinating story about this from the Hellenistic world, preserved by Sopatros, a teacher of rhetoric. A man dreamed he had attended the epopteia, the crowning revelation of the Eleusinian Mysteries. He recounted the secret rituals of the Telesterion in vivid and accurate detail to an initiate of the Greater Mysteries. But in ordinary reality, the dreamer was not a “made man.” 

The initiate to whom he told his dream was shocked that he was speaking openly about things he had no right to know and denounced him for sacrilege. He was dragged into court, where his accusers demanded the death penalty. However, the defense argued successfully that the gods themselves had played a part of the hierophant in his dream. His dream of initiation was recognized as true initiation; the dreamer would now be respected as an epoptes — one who had “seen” and gone through the sacred fire.[2]

Contemporary dreamers who have never heard of Eleusis have dreams of the same quality.

At the winter solstice, just after her twelfth birthday, Rebecca had a powerful dream that carried her deep into the Otherworld. In her dream, she was invited to enter an immense hall. It was filled with robed figures she described as “wizards.” They came from many races and traditions; she recognized a “Merlin” character among a Celtic contingent. 

A woman robed in white sat enthroned above the throng. She beckoned to Rebecca to approach her. The male wizards ignored Rebecca except for the forbidding figure who moved to block her path. He challenged her to pass a test. Only when she had passed the test was she allowed to ascend the steps to the throne. “The High Priestess was slim and dark-haired. She seemed to be in her late twenties. She spoke to me by thought rather than words. She appeared outwardly solemn as she held court over all the male wizards, but kept cracking mental jokes that only the adepts caught.”

The High Priestess wore a striking pendant, which I asked Rebecca to draw for me. Her drawing showed an equal-armed cross, set within a circle. Crossed staves behind it make the pattern of a diagonal cross within a much larger circle, bordered by a two-headed serpent. The body of the serpent is engraved with writing in Greek characters. There are more inscriptions on scrolls that flank the central cross, which has four crystals in its setting. The wizard who challenged Rebecca wore a simpler version of the same pendant.

For a girl approaching puberty, this dream might carry many levels of meaning. But we spent no time in dream analysis. We celebrated the sense of strength and magic and possibility that Rebecca had drawn from it. She reveled in her special dream relationship with the High Priestess seated above all those powerful men. When I asked Rebecca to sum up the feeling of the dream, she said with little hesitation, “I am coming into my power.”

Nearly three years later, in another spontaneous sleep dream, Rebecca reentered the great hall where she had encountered the High Priestess: 

"This time everything is different. Instead of everyone ignoring me, all the high priests from all the worlds bow down to me and hold out their arms to me.

"The High Priestess stands and holds out her arms. She says, Come, let me show you my mind. Only she does not exactly say it; she suggests it.

"She takes my hand. From her forehead a bright light emerges, and in the bright light I see a gate. I walk toward this gate. When I pass through it, I encounter three beings. The first is a bird-headed man who has given me guidance before. He shows me what happens to people who sell out their values in life. The second is a woman I know to be an immortal. She wears a crowned helmet and carries a shield and spear. She tells me, We are one and the same. The third is a man I do not know. I have the feeling this man will be important in my future life.

"When I finish observing this man, I see another gate to walk through. I travel in this way until the bright light dims and all I can see are the eyes of the High Priestess, shining against a dark rectangle that may be a mask."

These dream experiences accompanied Rebecca’s passage from girlhood into womanhood. In her outer life, no sacred ritual was conducted to mark this passage. But she was called through the dream gates, into a larger life.



1. Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation (New York: Harper & Row, 1975) pp. xii. x.

2. Carl Kerenyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter (Princeton: Bollingen, 1991) pp.82-83


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

Art: "The Eleusunian Mysteries" by  Paul Sérusier, 1888


Thursday, June 27, 2024

Writing and dreaming

Writing and dreaming are intimately connected, as far back as we can travel through the history of humans making marks intended to be read by others. It seems that in many cultures, humans developed systems of writing because they needed better and more specific ways to record and honor dreams, when dreaming was understood to be a field of interaction between humans and greater powers.

The techniques of writing may themselves have been the gift of dreams. It is surely no accident that in ancient pantheons a god of writing is also a giver and interpreter of dreams. Ibis-headed Thoth, with his stylus, venerated in night rituals of dream incubation, is a famous exemplar. His consort the star goddess Seshat, patron of scribes and keeper of the akashic records, is also depicted writing.

The cuneiform scripts of Mesopotamia and the hieroglyphs of Egypt were not devised merely to figure out how many bales of cotton or bundles of reeds Achmet had delivered, but to record dream encounters with the gods, and oneiric geographies of the Otherworld. From these recorded visions, mythologies grew and spread their waving fronds over whole peoples.
Among indigenous peoples, we can see the process at work up to the present day. Look at the intricate pictographs of the Anishnaabe, or Ojibwa, of the Great Lakes. They are drawn on long scrolls of birch bark, the papyrus of the Northeast woodlands of North America. They record the trials of the soul between birth, through trial and initiation, to the womb of rebirth. They depict life as a spiritual adventure, where success will be followed by a zigzag path of new challenge and temptation. They are vision maps. They spring from the soul journeys of shamans, and the shared dreaming of initiates gathered in the medicine circle of the Midewiwin.

Friday, June 21, 2024

If it were my dream


Don’t let anyone tell you what your dreams mean. And never do that to anyone else. This is the golden rule of dream-sharing.

None of us have the right to tell another person what his or her dream means, based on any certification or presumed authority.  We don’t need to be doctors or shrinks, gurus or experts to offer helpful comments on someone else’s dreams. In commenting on each other’s dreams, we should begin by saying, “If it were my dream,” making it clear that we are offering our personal associations and projections, not presuming to tell the dreamer the definitive meaning of his or her dream.

If you are commenting on someone else’s dream, you can do little wrong as long as you follow the simple rule that you will preface your opinions and associations by saying “if it were my dream.” You will not presume to interpret another person’s dream. You are absolutely free to give your own ideas on the meaning of the dream, but you will do that by pretending that the dream is your own. You will own your own projections instead of foisting them on the other person. You will not only help to guide the dreamer towards grasping the meaning of a dream; you will help her to claim her power to determine the meaning of her dreams, and her life, for herself.

You listen to a dream, you ask for the dreamer’s feelings on waking (which are always the first and best clues to what is going on in the dream) and you run a quick reality check, asking the dreamer what she recognizes from the dream in the rest of her life and whether any of it could manifest in the future, literally or symbolically.

Then you offer your comments, starting with the phrase, “if it were my dream”. As long as you follow this protocol, you are free to bring in any associations, feelings or memories the dream arouses in you, including dreams of your own that may come to mind. Often we understand other people’s dreams best when we can relate them to our own dream experiences.

For example: If the dreamer has told you a dream in which he/she is running away from a bear, you may recall a dream of your own in which you hid from a bear – before you discovered that the bear was an ally. Your own experience may lead you to say, “If it were my dream, I would like to go back into the dream and meet the bear again and see whether it might be an ally”. You are now doing something more useful than merely interpreting the dream; you are gently guiding the dreamer to take action on the dream.

It is very rewarding to receive a totally different perspective on a dream, so sharing in this way with strangers can be amazingly rewarding – as long as the rules of the game are respected.

The fact that we may be highly intuitive, and highly skilled as dream interpreters, does not give us the right to take people’s power away by telling them what their dreams mean – even (and perhaps especially) when we are convinced we are “right” in our reading of what is going on in the dream.

As dreamers, we also want to be open to what other people can contribute to our understanding of our own dreams. We don’t want to adopt a “know-it-all” attitude, because even if we think we have a pretty fair idea of what is going on in a dream, more than likely someone else’s take will offer fresh perspectives. Even if feedback we receive seems remote from our own feelings about a dream,  that can help us to home in on what matters for us. 

Because dreams are multi-layered, it is also possible that a different perspective can help us open up aspects of the dream we may have missed. I find it very helpful to hear from people who have a very different perspective than my own. For example, because I tend to see dreams as transpersonal experiences in which we encounter other beings, in one order of reality or another, it can be very useful for me to be prompted to ask “what part of me” are the different characters and elements in a dream.

RM journal drawing: "Lady of Colors"

With the air of a magician, the young woman artist shows me the pigment powders she has laid out in metal dishes. We agree they could be used as a benign arsenal to paint visions of healing and possibility in place of hatred and despair. I have my own set of paints but I need to learn her techniques.

Dreams Are Real Events: An Anthropologist Breaks the Glass in New Guinea


For the Barok people of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, dream events are no less real than waking events, and may be more real, in the sense that "big people" - people with powerful magic - may act in the dreamspace to generate what follows on the physical plane.                

I draw these insights from a fascinating report by an anthropologist whose assignment among the Barok was to study their spiritual hierarchy and rituals up close. Marianne George developed a relationship with Kalerian, the “big woman” of the community, that spilled over into the dreamspace, or vice versa. Kalerian was very old, almost blind, and big in stature as well as status, finding it hard to walk because of her swollen legs. She could not get up the ladder into Marianne’s dwelling but would sit outside and chew betel nut with her.
     One morning two of Kalerian’s sons, Alek and Bustaman, visited Marianne early, while she was making tea. Alek looked her straight in the eyes, and asked, “Did you understand her?”
    Alek said that his mother spoke to Marianne the night before, and had sent him over to make sure Marianne understood the message. Marianne protested that she had not spoken to Kalerian the previous evening.
   Alek corrected her, saying that Kalerian “came to her in the night”. He used the word
griman, which means “dreaming”.
   The anthropologist felt slightly queasy. She now recalled vaguely that she had seen Kalerian in a dream and that the big woman had wanted her to change her mind about a financial decision. Marianne had not mentioned this decision to anyone. 
    The sons recounted the full conversation Marianne had supposedly had with the big woman as if reading a transcript – or as if they were present. As she listened, Marianne became convinced that everything had happened exactly as described. She asked the sons if they were always able to communicate in dreams like this. Of course. They seemed surprised that she was surprised. “If our mother wants to talk to us, she does” – no matter where we are.”
    It shook the anthropologist to realize that for this family, stepping in and out of someone’s dream space was as easy as stepping in and out of a room – easier, since the big woman did not have to get her awkward body up a ladder. Four people had met in  the same dream, sharing the same conversation..
    “I wrote about what happened in my journal — in code, just in case anything happened to me. I did not want anyone to end up reading about it and thinking that I had gone nuts in the field. I knew that there was nothing wrong with me. I had simply come across something unexpected, and I had no explanation for it except for the one they gave me… there was no getting around the fact that four people had shared the same dream with me.”

It took years, and more dreams – which Marianne usually had trouble remembering – for the anthropologist to recognize she was being educated in the dreamspace. This became hard to ignore when Kalerrian appeared to Marianne in a dream after her death to reveal the exact location of an ancient clan hearth that she and a colleague were trying to excavate – and to warn of danger of a landslide if anyone stood too close to the cliff beside the site.
     It took even more years before Marianne was ready to go public with what she learned at the dream school of the Barok. She feared that colleagues would think she had gone nuts, or at any rate, gone native. In a courageous personal account of her experiences, she wrote that she learned from Barok big people that “in order actually to do something important, one dreams about it first.”
     It had been demonstrated to her that dreams may be transpersonal as well as personal. "I learned that spiritually skilled people are able intentionally to communicate with and empower others in dreaming. This kind of dreaming had transcendent meaning and objective effects on my waking reality… In my dreams I was directed, provided, warned, and shown things that were important to me and to others in reality.”
     Marianne was able to break with models of reality that deny that people can dream together and reject the idea  that dreams may create, as well as rehearse, the future. Her ideas about causation had changed profoundly. She could now state that "t
he intent of spiritually powerful persons [acting in dreams] was what determined non-dreaming reality, rather than ordinary reality determining dreams."
     In her own life, she added, dreams became "a sort of spiritual experience that has provided more real creative opportunities than any other activity."

Monday, June 17, 2024

Tiki time

At thirty, the French sociologist and anthropologist Marcel Mauss (1872-1950) was appointed chair of History of Religions of Uncivilized Peoples at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. In his inaugural lecture he declared that "uncivilized peoples do not exist." As Roberto Calasso observed, "Mauss had been appointed to teach a subject that he declared did not exist." [1]

Mauss deplored the use of the term "primitive" to describe nonliterate cultures. He had met Sir Edward Tylor, the first professor of anthropology at Oxford and author of the immensely influential work Primitive Culture (1871) . At sixty, Mauss told his audience at the Collège de France that "all the rest of humanity, who are called primitive and are still living, deserve instead the name archaic." [2]

Let us note that both Mauss and Tylor were armchair anthropologists, relying on the books and reports of field observers. Despite Tylor's Victorian language - "primitive", "savage", "lower races" - he made a great contribution with his theory of animism and his well- documented thesis that dream experiences had generated and sustained the near-universal belief in a soul that is sepaarble from the body and survives physical death. [3]

Mauss' imagination was fired up when he saw the hei-tiki of a Maori noblewoman - not even the jade talisman itself, but an illustration in John White's Ancient History of the Maori - with a list of correspondences between deities and parts of the body. Microcosm and macrocosm, sculpted in portable green stone.

When he was able to study all seven volumes of White's Maori cycle, he averred that this is "one of the most coherent bodies of cosmogonic myths that we know". The Greeks had nothing to match it. "Comparisons have been made with Hesiod's Theogony. The Maori version (and the Polynesian version in general) appears more coherent, better developed, closer to living institutions than that sort of Greek compilation." [4]

Coherent, cohérent. Mauss uses the word over and over in his commentaries on Maori cosmology. It becomes a drumbeat. The word comes from the Latin cohaerentem, present participle of cohaerere: com "together" plus haerere "to adhere or stick" If things are coherent, they "stick together". They are connected, consistent, in harmony. 

Around the little green man with the tilted head and the huge staring eyes, the powers of the greater universe muster and adhere, the war god and the god of peace to right and left, the gods of sky and intelligence and dreams at the head, the god or magic at feet. [5] And you can wear it all on a necklace. In the 1960s and 1970s, Air New Zealand used to routinely hand out plastic tikis to passengers on its plane. 

Instead of comparing Polynesian cosmology with Old World models, Mauss thought we should study how the conceptions of advanced civilizations might fit within the Polynesian cosmic plan. "All of the themes of the great ancient cosmogonies find their place there." [6]


1. Roberto Calasso, Ardor trans. Richard Dixon (London: Penguin Books, 2015)m p. 272
2. Marcel Mauss, "Leçon sur l'emploi de la notion de 'primitif' en sociologie" Oeuvres (Paris: Minuit, 1969) p. 237
3. "Animism is, in fact, the groundwork of the Philosophy of Religion, from that of savages up to that of civilized men…Animism divides into two great dogmas, forming parts of one consistent doctrine; first, concerning souls of individual creatures, capable of continued existence after the death or destruction of the body ; second, concerning other spirits, upward to the rank of powerful deities." Edward Tylor, Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art and Custom 2nd edition(London: John Murray, 1873) Vol 1 p.426' 4, Mauss, "introduction aux myths" Oeuvres vol. 2. p. 269
5. Mauss, "Debat sur les visions du monde primitif et moderne" Oeuvres vol. 2 p.156
6. Mauss, "Leçons sur la cosmologie polynésienne"  Oeuvres vol 2 p. 189

Photo credits. Maori women (19th century): Wellcome collection. Hei-tiki: Pitt-Rivers collection. 

Sunday, June 16, 2024

When your dream soul goes flying


From the Teachings of Island Woman:

The memory of a dream is the memory of a journey. It may have been a short visit to a neighbor's place or a date with the lover you will meet three years from now. It may have been a journey to the spirits on the moon, or into a universe inside a stone that is as big as the universe out there.

When your dreamsoul goes flying, it visits the future and brings back memories of things that haven’t happened yet in the Shadow World. Sometimes you can stop those things from coming to pass. Sometimes you just have to live them out. Sometimes you can tame a future you don’t want by acting out a little piece of it, enough to contain the event that is trying to come through.
   Life is full of crossroads. Often you don’t even notice them until they are behind you, unless you know how to dream. Through dreaming, you can scout out the different trails you might follow and see where they lead. Through dreaming, you are already choosing the events that will take place in your waking life.

There is limitless power and beauty and healing available to us in the dreamworlds. To keep body and soul together in the surface world – and to live from the purposes of the soul – we need to bring that dream energy through. This requires action in the Shadow World.
    The first part of that action may be speech, but not the chatter of idle birds or village gossips. The speech required is an act that brings something new into a world. Dreaming gives us the songs and the magic words that can bring something up from a soupy ocean of possibilities to take root in the earth. That is why real men and women of power are poets, singers, storytellers, performers. With skeins of song and dancing needles of magic words, they reweave the fabric of reality.
   When we do this, we know that we are entertaining the spirits: our own vital spirits, the spirits of the ancestors, the great ones who reach to us from beyond space and time, the ancient and shining ones.

Nothing happens until it is dreamed. When we bring something good from the dreamworld into the surface world, we do the work of the Creator. We join in dancing a world into being, as Sky Woman danced on Turtle’s back.


"Island Woman" is the name I gave to an indigenous arendiwanen ("woman of power") who was born Huron and raised Mohawk some 300 years ago. She became Mother of the Wolf Clan of the Kanienkehaka, or Mohawk people, and a revered healer and dream shaman. She called me in lucid dreams in the late 1980s, after I moved to a farm on the edge of traditional Mohawk country and I had to study the Huron and Mohawk languages to understand and record her teachings. For her fuller teachings and my discoveries about her in historical records, see my book
Dreamways of the Iroquois

Drawing: "Island Woman" by Robert Moss

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Tolkien, Ents and Imagination


Tolkien's Tree of Amelion

“I had very little particular, conscious, intellectual intention in mind at any point,” J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to W.H. Auden about his inspiration for The Lord of the Rings. [1]

Take the Ents, for example, I did not consciously invent them at all. The chapter called ‘Treebeard’ from Treebeard’s first remark [chapter 4 in The Two Towers] was written off more or less as it stands, with an effect on myself (apart from labor pains) almost like reading someone else’s work. And I like Ents now because they do not seem to have anything to do with me. I dare say something had been going on in the ‘unconscious’ for some time and that accounts for my feeling throughout, especially when stuck, that I was not inventing but reporting (imperfectly) and had at time to wait till ‘what really happened’ came through. [2]

He goes on to say that his passion for philology no doubt played a role. the Ents "owe their name to the eald enta geweorc of Anglo-Saxon, and their connection with stone", in reference to a line meaning "the old creations of giants" from the Anglo-Saxon poem “The Wanderer”. And that his dislike of the depiction of Great Birnham wood in Macbeth may have fueled a subliminal desire to produce a more robust picture of trees going to war in a just cause.

As time passed, Tolkien reviewed how things arose from his “unconscious”. He allowed that his Ents may have had subliminal progenitors in the animate trees in the Fairy Land George MacDonald created in Phantastes, the book that Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis said had ignited his imagination. Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger, following Tolkien’s son Christopher, has traced how Treebeard evolved in Tolkien’s sketches and drafts from a stumbling giant who sided with the evil Sauron through a kind of Green Man to an Ent. [3]

Some sources were very much above ground. Those who knew them both were well aware that Treebeard’s booming voice was inspired by the way C.S. Lewis spoke. [4]

Tolkien presents trees and tree-beings as complex living subjects. There are many woods.

Lothlórien is beautiful because there the trees are loved; elsewhere forests are represented as awakening to consciousness of themselves. The Old Forest was hostile to two-legged creatures because of the memory of many injuries. Fangorn Forest was old and beautiful, but at the time of the story tense with hostility because it was threatened by a machine loving enemy. Mirkwood had fallen under the dominion of a Power that hated all living things but was restored to beauty and became Greenwood the Great before the end of the story. [5] 

Tolkien drew and painted many scenes that he wrote up as stories. He does not seem to have drawn an Ent, though he created vivid word pictures. As he appears in The Lord of the Rings, Treebeard, the oldest of thes shepjherds of trees, is “man-like, almost Troll-like…at least fourteen feet high…with a tall head and hardly any neck. He wears “stuff like green and grey bark. " His is lower face "covered with a sweeping grey beard, bushy, almost twiggy at the roots, thin and mossy at the ends," and having "large, knob-knuckled" hands.  He is "bound by use and love to trees." And his role is that of “shepherd of trees" [6]

Tolkien's Willow Man

He did draw other trees, including Old Willow Man. This tree being is emphatically not an Ent. The predatory, rotten Willow Man is the first hostile character the Hobbits encounter after they leave the Shire and enter the sinister Old Forest where forces draw them in a dircetion they do not wish to take.  Willow Man drugs and cages Merry and Pippin inside its trunk and tries to drown Frodo. Their situation is relieved by Sam, who stays awake, and then they are all saved by the mysterious Tom Bombadil.

Why Tolkien had it in for the willow is a mystery. In his early manuscripts, a huge willow becomes host to an evil spirit that is bound to it: “that grey thirsty earth-bound spirit had become imprisoned in the greatest Willow of the Forest.” [7]How and why Tolkien seemed unable to explain. In later drafts, tree and spirit are fused, and the creeping malevolence is of the willow itself. As he talks about it to the hobbits, Tom Bombadil sows the thought that trees might have reason to hate humans and humanoids:

Tom's words laid bare the hearts of trees and their thoughts, which were often dark and strange, and filled with a hatred of things that go free upon the earth... None were more dangerous than the Great Willow: his heart was rotten, but his strength was green, and … his song and thought ran through the woods on both sides of the river. His grey thirsty spirit drew power out of the earth and spread like fine root-threads in the ground, and invisible twig fingers in the air, till it had under its dominion nearly all the trees of the Forest. [8] 

Readers might recall at this point that Hobbits cut down hundreds of trees and made a big bonfire in the woods when they were planting their Hedge.

Tolkien’s son John thought he had modeled his sketch of Willow Man on one of the few pollarded willows that survived by the Cherwell river in Oxford.  Did Tolkien sense something off during one of his walks there?

In general Tolkien loved trees and wished to be a speaker for them against the constant assault of machines and human greed. He was often photographed sitting or standing with a tree. The last photo taken of Tolkien shows him standing companionably next to one of his favorite trees, a black pine, with a hand pressed flat against its gnarly skin.

Over many years Tolkien drew multiple versions of a tree which bore a variety of flowers and leaves. He called it the Tree of Amalion. It was his Tree of Tales. Each leaf and flower represented a story or poem that was growing in his mind, more than he could ever bring to fruition and deliver to the world. .

 Shifting the arboreal metaphor just a little, Tolkien described how a story or a whole legendarium  “grows like a seed in the dark  out of the leaf mold of the mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps”. [9]


1. Tolkien, J.R.R.,(2006)  Letters  ed. Humphrey Carpenter  with Christopher Tolkien. (London: HarperCollins, 2006) 211

2. ibid 211-2 n.]

3. Verlyn  Flieger, "How Trees Behave-Or Do They?," Mythlore: A Journal of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and Mythopoeic Literature Vol. 32: No. 1 (2013)  25-6

4. Humphrey Carpenter, J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (New York: William Morrow, 2000) 258

5. Tolkien, Letters: 419–20

6. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings 2nd edition. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004) vol. III The Return of the King, 463.

7. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the Shadow: The History of the Lord of the Ring s, Pa rt One. The History of MiReferencesddle-earth, vol.6. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988) 120-1 

8. Lord of the Rings vol. 1 The Two Towers. 130

9. Carpenter, Tolkien. 126.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Australian names of the shaman, and astral apprenticeship


Anthropologist R.M. Berndt visited the Menindee Aboriginal Station on the Darling River in New South Wales in 1943 and sat with two Wuradjeri elders who were willing to talk to him in detail about the qualities and practices of "native-doctors". Jack King belonged to the mallee hen totem, Joe Biggs to the bandicoot. Berndt's informants told him that you can always tell a medicine-man by the intelligent look in his eyes, and that great ones are enveloped in a peculiar atmosphere which causes people to feel different. In his lengthy field report Berndt noted that

"A Wuradjeri native-doctor was called wiri:nan ('powerful man') bugi:nja ('spirit' or 'spirit of the whirlwind') since it was the custom of his spirit-self to travel in a whirlwind; ki:ka:wi:lan, or more generally walemira, translated as 'the clever one.' The word walemira meant not only clever in the ordinary manner of speaking, but also intellectually clever, and having the ability, with the help of spirit and psychic agencies, to perform wondrous feats, the way in which these were carried out being incomprehensible to the lay observer.
He was also called walemira'talmai (i.e. "one to whom cleverness has been handed on" or "the passing on of cleverness") which refers to the 'power' which his forebears, through their own extraordinary capabilities and guidance, had passed on or handed down to him." Berndt observed that this language laid stress on the fact that "the initiation of the native-doctor was insufficient without the possession of that 'power' which had been derived from one's predecessors and which had its orogin in the far-distant past." [1]

The psychic power of the clever man "enabled him to thrust his mind forward into the future, into the spirit-world, or over great distances, purely for its own exercise.  With his power  he could know of some incident taking place a great distance away, at the very moment of its occurrence." [2]

The apprenticeship of a clever man began in early childhood, when the elders noticed signs of vocation - something in the eyes, dreams of the departed, how birds and bush animals behaved around the kid, lizard-quick intelligence and ability to disappear. By the age of ten, the apprentice's most important lessons were conducted in dreaming, through astral encounters with a clever man who agreed to play mentor and guardian. The guardian met the spirit (waranun) of the candidate and guided it on excursions beyond the body. One of Berndt's informants told him, "when the little fellow is asleep, the father [guardian, not necessarily a close relative] takes him every night; he has got to fix him up when the child is young. His spirit takes the spirit of the child and they go away together. Their bodies are still lying alseep in the camp." [3]

Preparation for the day when the guardian would sing one of his own spirit animals into the novice's body, joining the totem animal he had from birth. The spirit animal was visible to the receiver, who might see it being pressed betwen his ribs or into his abdomen. Master and novice could now go dreamwalking together in the form of their companion animals. 

The candidate was not yet a made man, a clever man. He would normally be between twenty and thirty years old when his guardian received a dream of calling on his behalf - a dream in which Baiami, a creation being who came from the sky and was regarded as the master of all master shamans, announced his will. Other clever men received similar dreams on behalf of postulants under their care. They met together in a special place and sang for Baiami to come out of the sky. The sky Ancestor showed himself, looking no different from other clever man except for the light that blazed from his eyes, and the sacred fluid (kali) that streamed from his mouth like liquid crystals to bathe all the candidates. As it dried, feathers sprouted from their arms, turning them into wings. 

One by one, they were called from the camp to meet Baiami up close. He gave them flying lessons. He performed shamanic implant surgery on them. He sang crystals into the third eye, so they could see inside things and across any distance. He sang fire into their chests. 

Back at the camp, they each had a magic cord, probably made from human hair (Berndt does not say) twisted around their necks, ends touching their feet. The cord was sung inside them. They learned to let it out, like a snake, and shoot it in any direction like a spider's webbing thread. On nights when there was no important clever work to be done, they could show off by seeming to walk on air, with the cord stretched invisibly between trees.  [4] Not for show was how they might use it as a psychic lasso.

Berndt observed that among the Wuradjeri there were "clever women" as well as "clever men". He stated that their roles appeared to be more restricted but then there were no doubt aspects of a female shaman's business a male white anthropologist was not permitted to see.

1. R.M. Berndt, "Wuradjeri magic and 'clever men'" Oceania vol. 17 no.4 (June, 1947) 331-2..
2. ibid, 331. 
3. ibid, 333.
4. ibid, 342 

Top: Satellite photo of Menindee Lakes. It looks so much like an Aboriginal painting that you might wonder whether some of those artists rendered landscapes they had seen in ecstatic flight. 
Botton: Eastern barred bandicoot by John Goold.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Tolkien: Faery is Necessary for Your Health


"Smith became acquainted with Faery, and some regions of it he knew as well as any mortal can." Through the adventures of Smith (a village smith, as his name suggests, but with a fairy star on his brow) we visit what Tolkien called the "perilous realm" of Faerie. The story Smith of Wooton Major (1967) is the last thing Tolkien published in his lifetime. The shadows hang less heavy than in Tolkien's major work, but we feel terror as well as beauty, as when a fierce angry wind tries to kill Smith but he is preserved by a young birch that stands firm at a terrible price. We feel the pain and longing of the loss of Faery, when the doors are closed to one who has often gone between the worlds. 

In an unpublished essay about Smith of Wooton Major, Tolkien wrote "Faery represents at its weakest a breaking out (at least in mind) from the iron ring of the familiar, still more from the adamantine ring of belief...a constant awareness of the world beyond these rings. More strongly it represents love that is a love and respect for all things, 'inanimate' and 'animate', an unpossessive love of them as 'other'....Things seen in its light will be respected and they will also appear delightful, beautiful, wonderful even glorious. 

"Faery might indeed be said to represent Imagination...This compound of awareness of a limitless world outside our domestic parish, a love (in truth and imagination) for the things in it and a desire for wonder, marvels both perceived and conceived - this Faery is as necessary for the health and complete functioning of the human as is sunlight for physical life."

Source: There is a long excerpt from Tolkien's essay on Smith of Wooton Major in Verlyn Flieger, A Question of Time: J.R.R.Tolkien's Road to Faerie. Kent OH: Kent State University Press, 2001.

Art: "The Shores of Faery" by J.R.TR. Tolkien

The Poet among the Ladies with Bronze Eyelashes


The korai on the Acropolis had bronze eyelashes and were painted in vivid colors.Buried under rubble for more than two millennia after the Persians sacked Athens in 480 bce, they retained traces of their original looks better than most classical sculpture. In the presence of five of these female statues in a darkened room in the Museum of the Acropolis in 1908, the Austrian poet, playwright and librettist Hugo von Hofmannstahl received an epiphany:

"They stood around me in a semi-circle; I drew the curtain across the door and was alone with them. At that moment something happened to me: an indescribable shock. It came not from outside but from some immeasurable distance of an inner abyss: it was like lightning; the room…became for an instant filled with light…the eyes of the statues were all at once turned towards me and an unspeakable smile occurred on their faces. At the same time I know I am not seeing this for the first time – in some other world I have had some communion with them."

When they settle back into the stone, the maidens remain "overpowering, animal-like, divine…so real, with a breathtaking sensual presence." He exclaims, "How beautiful they are! Their bodies are more convincing to me than my own.”

He had wandered despondent among the ruins around the Parthenon before, missing the gods and glories of the past. Now the poet exclaims, “What then still stands between me and the Deity?”

Source: Hugo von Hofmannstahl, "Moments in Greece" in Selected Prose trans Mary Hottinger and Tania & James Stern. New York: Pantheon Books, 1952, pp. 184-7.

Friday, June 7, 2024

When a door is closed, look for one that is opening


In a difficult passage in my life, I was hell-bent on pursuing a certain project that I calculated would pay my bills and give me some room for creative expression. But every time I tried to push forward, I found myself blocked. Something inside me resisted my ambitions, and the world seemed to rebuff me at every turning.

Despondent, I sat down and tried to make sense of my situation.
    Suddenly, I had a clear vision of myself from a witness perspective.
    I saw myself beating on a heavy wooden door, studded with metal, banging my fists until my knuckles were raw and bloody. I saw myself pausing to take a few rasping breaths, seemingly exhausted, before pounding again on the door that would not open.
    Okay, that's how it is. Like many night dreams, my spontaneous vision was holding up a magic mirror to my actions and attitudes. Was that all?
    I felt a prickling sensation at the back of my neck. I found myself drawn from my observer position into the scene, which was more alive to me now than the family room where I was sitting. My second self was still beating his fists uselessly on the unyielding door. But the prickling sensation was guiding me to turn around and look at something invisible to him. I turned to my right, and saw an elegant, mysterious figure beckoning me with a crooked finger. There was a Trickster quality about him. He was standing in a beautiful archway. Behind him a winding path led up a slope among flowering trees into a landscape of beauty and abundance. I felt that everything I was seeking in life was through that arch.
    The Gatekeeper waited for me to grasp what he was showing me.
    My vision and understanding were still far from complete.
    If all this bright promise was waiting for me, through an open door, what was I doing beating myself bloody at the door that would not yield?

I turned to study again the situation of the Robert who was beating on the door. I discovered two things. While with one hand the Gatekeeper was beckoning me through the open gate of possibility, with his other hand he was holding that heavy, metal-studded door shut. The real shocker was that I could now see what was behind the door I had been desperate to open. The space behind it looked like a jail cell. I had been exhausting myself in an effort to put myself in a place of confinement.
    This powerful vision led me to make some radical life choices. I abandoned the project on which I had been working for months. Little by little, I found myself on the path between the flowering trees, in a world of ever-burgeoning creative possibility.
    The vision helped me to gain clarity on some rules for conscious living that work for me:

1. When one door closes, or won't open, look for the door that opens onto better things.

2. Before you push too hard, check whether you are at the right door.

3. Recognize that there is a Gatekeeper in life who opens and closes doors, and be ready to honor him (or her) and pay the price of entry, which may simply be a clear eye and an open heart.

Oh, there are a couple more. 

4. As long as you stand in your own way, you will find the world stands in your way.

5. The obstacle is the way.

#4 is borrowed from Henry David Thoreau: "As long as man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way."
#5 is borrowed from the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius

Drawing: "The Door That Won't Open" by Robert Moss

Monday, June 3, 2024

The Call to Create

I will bring something new into my world

This is the very definition of the creative act.It applies to any field of action, from art to auto repair, from philosophy to childcare. It involves a conscious encounter with our chosen field, which may be as large and loose as whatever is going on around us in everyday life, or as specific as a chosen calling, whether that is golf or metaphysics or cooking. As Rollo May reminds us, memorably, in The Courage to Create: "Creativity is the encounter of the intensely consciously human being with his or her world." 

It demands courage, because you are going to go beyond the limits you have accepted for yourself or taken on from others. It requires you to find your edge, and work from that edge. 

It is a call you do not want to refuse, at this point in your life, with a new year before you. Rollo May, with blazing clarity, tells us why:

If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also you will have betrayed our community in failing to make your contribution to the whole. 

The universe may or may not be interested in whether you lose twenty pounds. But the animate world is very interested in you - and will support you in unexpected ways - when you dare to make it your game to bring something new to it and join in the ways of creation. 

What's that? You don't think you have anything new to contribute? Reach beyond the little mind that talks that way. Listen to your dreams, and the many voices of the speaking land around you. Open to the possibility that if you will only risk a little more, you will draw forces that will inspire and sustain you. First among those forces is your own creative spirit, who tends to go away when you are repeating yourself, bound to the cycle of samo-samo. 

What have you got to lose by making this your action imperative?. Say the words out loud 

I will bring something new into my world. 

and see what answers, and gives you the power to develop the form for what you will create. Then go to it - do something physical, immediately, to show the universe, and your creative spirit, that you mean it. Pick up the paintbrush, climb the mountain, write the damned book proposal and send it off, sign up for that weird class, make that dish no one would ever expect to see on the table.


Note: I dreamed last night that I rediscovered an article I had written, inspired by one of Rollo May's books on the creative act. I saw the cover design of the book very clearly. It was one of several books by May I have on my shelves. I went searching old folders and found this piece, written on New Year's Eve in 2012 in lieu of conventional turn-of-year resolutions. 


Journal Drawing: "Baby Basket at My Door" by Robert Moss. From a dream that inspired me to write my book Growing Big Dreams.