Thursday, October 12, 2017

Gates of Horn and Ivory

In Homer’s
Odyssey, we first learn, with Penelope, about the two gates of dream: the Gate of Ivory and the Gate of Horn. Dreams that come through the Gate of Ivory are “dangerous” and may not be manifested; dreams that come through the Gate of Horn are clearer, and may be embodied in events. The difference seems to be a matter of clarity rather than deception. Carved ivory is totally opaque; polished horn is translucent.

Synesius of Cyrene wrote a marvelous treatise on dreams around 405 in which he asserted that it is the weakness of our understanding, not confusion or deception in dreams themselves, that makes some dreams seem false. "The Penelope of Homer assumes that there are two gates of dreams, and makes half of them deceptive dreams, only because she was not instructed in the matter. For if she had been versed in their science, she would have made them all pass out through the gate of horn." Penelope was "guilty of ignorance" about her own power of inner sight, distrusting her dreams without reason. Therefore "we should not confuse the weakness of the interpreter with the nature of the visions themselves". 

The Gates of Horn and Ivory reappear in the Aeneid but Virgil changes the characterization in his account of Aeneas’ descent to the underworld to visit his dead father Anchises. Now dreams that come through the Gate of Ivory are designated “false”, while those that come through the Gate of Horn are “true”. This becomes a standard distinction for centuries in the minds of Westerners raised on the classics.

However, there is a mind-trap in Virgil's story. Anchises sends his son back from the Underworld through the Gate of Ivory. Aeneas and the Sybil return to the regular world through the gate of empty dreams. Is the poet hinting that our ordinary experience of reality is the false dream?

Image: Aeneas and the Sybil return to the ordinary world through the Gate of Ivory. 
 Codex Vaticanus Folio 57r  

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"Call that a knife?" When the Gatekeeper is friendly

I arrived at my local airport at 5:30 am on a Sunday, checked my bag, and got in line for the security check. Before I produced my drivers license and boarding pass, the female TSA agent who was doing the documents scan greeted me by name, like an old friend, "Well, hello, Robert!"
     Her Southern accent was familiar and so was her warm smiling face. I recognized a woman who had been a member of one of my monthly evening circles more than a decade before. She had entertained us with wonderful stories of growing up in the rural South and of dream travels to ghost villages and other locations that are not on airline itineraries. "How come you're working here?" I asked her. "I was dreaming about airports so much I decided I might as well work at one."
      It felt like a very good start to the day, to meet a gatekeeper who is also a dreamer. The Gatekeeper is a very important figure in my imaginal life. In dreams, the Gatekeeper may appear as a generic figure familiar on the roads of regular life - the customs officer, the ticket collector, the security guard. Sometimes the Gatekeeper appears in more enigmatic or mythic guise. I have met the Gatekeeper, in my dreams, as a slick fellow beckoning me towards an open archway, leading to delightful vistas of life possibilities, while holding a door I was trying to force open shut. I have met the Gatekeeper in dreams - and on the dashboard of an Indian taxi driver, after riding on Air India - as elephant-headed Ganesha, and as a black dog who sometimes walks on two legs, as Anubis does.
     I am very much alive the play of the Gatekeeper (who can be a trickster, especially if we are too set in our ways) in the ordinary reality of airports, on the way to different planes. At Sea-Tac airport, some years ago, a cute dark-skinned TSA agent laughed in my face when she inspected my drivers license. "Why are you laughing?" I asked her. "It's because of your name. In my language, 'Moss' means 'Banana'." "What language would that be?" "Somali". The humorous side of the Gatekeeper was definitely in play that day. Just think about it. Being teased at an American airport because your name means something funny in Somali.
     At Boise airport, an older, balding TSA guy asked me if my rather abundant white hair was my own. "Absolutely." "Sonufabitch. I really want that hair." "Sorry, it's not available."
     After I sent my carry-ons through the X-ray machine at my home airport in upstate New York, I was stopped by the security guards. "You got a lampshade in here?" The guard indicated my drum-bag. "Actually, it's a drum." I willingly extracted the simple frame drum that has powered many, many group journeys in my workshops so they could see. "Will you play it for us?" the guard requested. "Excuse me?" "Go on, we'd like you to play." So there, just inside the security barrier, I was tapping out the heartbeat of the drum, surrounded by smiling faces. That felt like another good start to the day.
     I've saved the best story of brushes with the airport Gatekeeper for last. This was back before 9/11.I had been leading a shamanic gathering up on a very special mountain and had rushed to the airport without considering what tools and toys I had stuffed in my drum-bag. On the other side of the X-ray machine, a security guard asked me, "Is this yours?" To my horror, I saw he was holding up a ceremonial Lakota knife with an elk-bone handle that he had just removed from my drum-bag. He extracted the blade from the sheath and held it up. "Wait here. I have to get my supervisor."
     Wild thoughts are thrashing in my brain. They'll arrest me. They'll grill me. At least they'll give me a tongue-lashing for being such a fool as to leave that knife in a carry-on bag.
     The supervisor appears. His first words are, "What time is your flight?

     "Good. We've got time to get this in your checked luggage so it can meet you at the other end. I'll walk you back to the ticket desk." With this, he hands me the knife, still out of its sheath.
      I wonder if I am dreaming as I accompany him, knife in hand, back through security.
     "Go on, do it," he says.
     "Do what?"
     "You're Australian, aren't you? Do the Crocodile Dundee thing."
     So I put on my best strine accent and snarl, brandishing the knife, "Call that a knife? This is a bloody knife, mate!"
     Gales of laughter. The ticket agent was delighted to put his long line of passengers on hold while he dashed to get my knife into my checked suitcase, saying "I know you Aussies can't go anywhere without a bloody knife." I guess the Gatekeeper was truly in laughing mood that day. And that he sometimes makes special rules for people from Down Under.

For more reflections on meeting the Gatekeeper and dancing with the Trickster, please see my book Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life.

Choosing your future through Active Dreaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 29, 2017

When dreams are passports

In traditions where the importance of dreaming is understood, the right dream may be your price of admission to the good stuff.
   It is common in Tibetan tradition for spiritual teachers to ask students to bring them a dream to determine if they are ready to receive important teachings. A student without a dream is regarded as blocked and possibly unclean. He is required to undergo purification and perform practices to reopen his connection with spiritual allies. He is not allowed to continue his studies until he can produce the right dream.

    Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche gives a personal example, from the time of his training with Lopon Rinpoche, in his book Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. The story is doubly interesting because it involves long-range dream precognition. At 13, as a student,Tenzin dreamed he was handing out slips of paper with the Tibetan syllable A written on them to people boarding a bus.  He brought this dream to his teacher, who did not comment, but allowed him to proceed to a further level of instruction. Fifteen years later, waking events caught up with the dream. Invited to travel to the West for the first time, Tenzin found himself assigned to hand out slips of paper with the Tibetan syllable A on them to people boarding a bus. These were to be used in a meditation exercise.
    I remember an occasion when a dream proved to be my admission ticket to the Dreaming of an Aboriginal people in my native Australia. I dreamed I was carried back to Australia by a sea eagle, to a reunion with my mother, and then guided into the hinterland of south Queensland, to the banks of a muddy creek. Something immense was thrashing and rising from the waters. Nearby were Aborigines painted for ceremony. An elder told me, “This is the first of all creatures. This is the beginning of our world.”
    When my mother died suddenly, three months later, I was grateful that the dream had prepared me for this event, through our loving exchange in the dream itself, and by how it inspired me to reach out to her and heal some misunderstandings. I flew back to my native country. After the funeral, I went “walkabout” for a few days, and found myself at an Aboriginal housing co-op in a dusty town in the hinterland called Beaudesert. When I started talking about dreams, I was told I needed to talk to Frank. Who was Frank? “Oh, he’s our spirit man.” Frank’s place proved to be three days bush walk away, so this lead seemed like a non-starter.
    But Frank walked in as I was getting ready to go; shamans are tricky. He invited me down to the pub to talk. He sipped orange juice and sniffed me, literally, checking if I was another white fella trying to rip off his people yet again. Then I told him the dream. His manner changed radically. He sat very still, his eyes blazing like fire opals.
   ”Oh, I guess you’ve come to me for a reason, mate. You’ve just told me the start of the creation story of my people, the Mununjali, as it is told to made men. That thing you saw in the water was the bull eel. We say it is the first of all creatures.”
    Not for the first, or the last, time in my life, it seemed that a dream had taken me deep inside the Dreaming of a Native people. Because of my dream, Frank volunteered to show me the place of the Bull Eel Dreaming. Skirting quicksand and snakes, after many hours I found myself on the bank of the muddy creek from my dream. No bull eel in evidence that day, which was fine with me.

Text adapted from The Boy Who Died and Came Back by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Art: "Making Songlines" by Robert Moss

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Tend to your poetic health

“The bottom of the mind is paved with crossroads,” wrote the French poet Paul Valéry. This marvelous, mysterious line stirs up the imagination. It encourages us to think about how on the surface of the mind we may have been shortchanging ourselves. We may have been snagging ourselves in limited, linear thinking, even trapping ourselves in mental boxes.
Life is full of crossroads. We often rush through them without noticing the choices that were open in a Kairos moment. Or else we see our choices in false absolutes, duty versus pleasure, good versus bad, black or white. In the deeper mind, we are ready to take a more spacious view and roam with more freedom in the garden of forking paths, even to see that Yogi Berra may have spoken truth when he said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Kairomancers take care of their poetic health by developing a tolerance for ambiguity and a readiness to see more angles and options than the surface mind perceives. They grow poetic health by cultivating that “talent for resemblances” that two wise Greeks, Aristotle and Artemidorus, both held to be the primary qualification for a dream interpreter — and that is no less a vital prerequisite for recognizing signs and symbols in waking life.
Mark Twain is supposed to have said that history rhymes. I don’t know whether he really said that or not. The words have not been found in the canonical texts of this wonderfully noncanonical humorist. I do know that life rhymes. We notice recurring themes and symbols in dreams: running late for the plane, not prepared for the test, trying to keep the bear out of the living room. In the same way, we notice that themes and situations recur in everyday life.
  Pay attention when the same theme, or symbol, or image comes up again and again, just as you might pay attention to recurring dreams. When a theme or situation comes at you again and again in dreams, that is often a signal that there is a message coming through that you need to read correctly — and that, beyond merely getting the message, you need to do something about it, to take action. It is the same with rhyming sequences and repeating symbols in waking life.
   When you begin to notice a repetition of a certain situation in life, you may say, “Okay, we’re going around the track again. Maybe I want to make sure that I’m not just going around and around in my life in circles of repetition, but that I am on a spiral path.” Which would mean that each time life loops around to where you think you were before, you’ve risen to a slightly higher level, so you can see things with greater awareness and, hopefully, make better choices
      There is a whole education in the art of poetic living in Baudelaire’s poem “Correspondances”:

La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L’homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l’observent avec des regards familiers.

Nature is a temple whose living pillars
Sometimes let slip mysterious messages;
We walk here through a forest of symbols
That watch us with knowing eyes.
[My free translation]

     Baudelaire, the urban dandy, has it exactly right: we are walking in a forest of living symbols that are looking at us. When we are in a state of poetic health, we understand that “the imagination is the most scientific of the faculties, because it is the only one to understand the universal analogy, or that which a mystical religion calls correspondence.”

Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.   
Perfumes, colors, and sounds correspond.

Yes they can.

Text adapted from Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Art: "Totem Tree" by Annick Bougerolle

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Rescuing the magical child from the well of memory

In her dream, a woman comes to the edge of a deep well. She is horrified to discover that a beautiful but very sad young girl is drowning in the depths of the well. She wants to help. To do this, she must lower herself into the well. She loses her grip and falls. Now she is underwater. Her lungs are filling with water, her senses are swirling, she knows that she, too, is drowning.
    She remembers her intent to rescue the girl. As the will to do this revives in her, she discovers something amazing. She can breathe underwater. She swims to the drowning girl, grabs her, and carries her to the top.
   "First feelings after waking?" I asked the first question I ask, of any dream.
   "Is there anything in the dream you recognize in the rest of your life?"
   "The sadness. I have often felt I am drowning in sadness."
   "What do you most want to know about this dream?"
   "I want to know about the well. Why is this happening inside a well?"
   "If it were my dream," I said, "I would think of the well of memory, and the well of emotions. This well takes me deep into life memories, and emotions that are powerful enough to drown me if I fail to set very clear intentions in taking the plunge. The well is also a portal, a doorway. In my dream of your dream, the young person who is drowning in the well is my own younger self. This dream has given me a way to reach to her, to connect with her and help both of us to move beyond that overwhelming grief and sadness. I feel that I can use this connection to support my younger self in her own time. I also feel that the connection between us will allow me to bring the vital energy, joy and imagination of my younger self into my present life."
    The dreamer was nodding vigorously. Her face had been creased with worry or anticipation earlier; now a lovely smile flowered in her features.
    "Such a dream requires action," I went on. "I would do two essential things to honor the dream and to use the doorway that has opened between me and my younger self. First, whenever I find myself thinking about sad things that may have happened early in life, I would consciously project thoughts of encouragement to my younger self in her own time. For example, I can tell her, You'll survive. You'll make it through. I promise you this. I believe that you really can reach your younger self, in this way, folding time. In doing it, though, you must remember not to succumb to the raw emotions of that earlier time. Your mission is to be the rescuer, as you were in your dream."
    More eager nods and smiles.
    "Next, if this were my dream, I would want to be sure to do things in my present life that my younger self would enjoy. Eat something she likes. Play a game she enjoys. Go to a place she loves. I would want to encourage the child part of me to see that I am fun and I am safe, so that we can enjoy a creative life together in the present time."
     The dreamer eagerly agreed to follow both these suggested plans. As her features continued to soften and brighten, I felt sure that she had drawn her beautiful girl self back into her energy field. This sense was confirmed by the brightness of spirit in her eyes.
      We found wellness in that well of memory.

Image: Ancient heliacal stepwell at Champaran, India

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Mark Twain on the wrong page

Notice what's showing through the slip. This is one of my rules of kairomancy, the art of navigating by synchronicity. Consider what happened when Mark Twain found himself on the wrong page.
    Mark Twain was a great student of meaningful coincidence, and even published an essay on "Mental Telegraphy", citing his own experiences of mind reaching to mind across distance without need of instruments.
    However, he missed what was showing through a recurring slip that he made, and his inattention bankrupted him. We may smile over the story because it happened in another time and the victim revived. However, it has practical lessons for us in our current lives.
    Mark Twain always hoped to make a bundle doing something other than writing or speaking. He thought he saw his chance with the development of a new typesetting machine. Remembering his sweaty days, as young Sam Clemens, toiling with heavy trays of type in hick print shops, he dreamed of being present at the creation of a new technology that would make printing speedy and accurate, He was captivated by a man with a plan for a new typesetting machine, an indefatigable self-promoter named James Paige.

    As Mark Twain ruefully recalled later, Paige “could persuade a fish to come and take a walk with him.” Twain was soon convinced that Paige’s machine was going to be the biggest thing since Gutenberg, and he drained his bank accounts to become the biggest investor in the project. However, the enterprise was bedeviled by delay after delay, By the time Paige had completed a working prototype, his machine was obsolete, overtaken by new and superior typesetters. Mark Twain lost most of his money in this fiasco.
    Now for the word clue that was missed. Mark Twain never seemed to get the name of the inventor or the machine named after him right. I’ve gone through his correspondence and his journal entries on this theme. Again and again, he wrote “Page” instead of “Paige.” Mark Twain had decided to invest all his money in a machine that promised to make printing more accurate. Yet he could never spell the name of the machine or its inventor correctly.
     Doesn’t it seem that there was a cautionary message here? I’ll bet that with hindsight, Mark Twain would have agreed to the snapper: 
Notice what’s showing through the slip.
     He was very near broke when a “chance” encounter introduced him to the man who put him back on his feet. “We were strangers when we met and friends when we parted, half an hour afterward,” he recalled in his Autobiography. “The meeting was accidental and unforeseen but it had memorable and unforeseen consequences for me. He dragged me out of that difficulty and out of the next one.”
     The meeting took place in the lobby of the Murray Hill Hotel, where Sam’s friend Dr Rice recognized Henry Rogers of Standard Oil. Mark Twain and the forceful capitalist – sometimes called “Hell Hound” Rogers - hit it off. Rogers restructured his business affairs and sheltered him from his creditors until he was finally out of debt.

Further reading

For more on Mark Twain’s  wrong Paige and  his “rhyming life”, see chapter 10 of The Secret History of Dreaming. For more on the rules of kairomancy, and synchronicity games to play, see Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life.