Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Muse and the Flame


Before I went up on a magic mountain in the Adirondacks  last Friday to lead a gathering of frequent flyers over the weekend, I dreamed that I was handling the completed typescript of a book, and very happy with it. Associated with the book was a single sheet of paper on which I had written words as an offering. I knew, waking, that my ability to bring through the very best in this book would require me to make an offering.
      I thought of the opening of the Odyssey, where the poet begins by invoking the Muse in lovely speech: "Sing in me, O Muse". Not "sing through me" but "sing in me". I borrowed this locution as the opening for a poem I wrote on Saturday. I decorated the text with my drawings, and offered it to the fire when we did "wishcraft" on Saturday night in front of the great hearth in our lodge on the mountain. 
    The original poem has gone upward on the smoke of the fire. But I have written a version that resembles it.

Offering

Sing in me, creative spirit
of the boy who died and came back
and the man who flew through the black sun
and returned to walk the roads of this world
as the envoy of a deeper world;
and of how (being human)
he falls down and gets up, over and over,
forgets and remembers,
remembers and forgets.

Let me explain through his story
how the world is a playground, not a prison
when we awaken to the game behind the games.
Let this story help those who read it
to find their bigger and braver stories
and live them, and tell them well enough
to entertain the spirits,
win the indulgence of the gods
and bring through effortless healing.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Reincidence and the Rule of Three



I dreamed a new word for a run of coincidence: re-incidence, or reincidence. Waking, this seems to me to be a very useful term to describe a run of coincidence.
     While the words "coincidence" and "synchronicity" define a meaningful conjunction of an outer event and an inner sense of significance in a given moment of time, "reincidence" describes a sequence of conjunctions of the same kind, playing out over time. For example, you might dream of a flamingo, or see one on the side of a van, and then it's flamingos all over - on a suburban lawn, on a beer coaster, in the description of staff officers (with red stripes on their pants) in a thriller set in World War II, on a baby blanket.
      Back in April, 2010, I shared my oneiric word invention with a gathering of my frequent flyers on a mountain in the New York Adirondacks where we have been engaging in group adventures in shamanic journeying, mythic theater and dream exploration for many years. I had quite forgotten this discovery, and failed to make use of this handy neologism in my writing on synchronicity, until a friend reminded me about "reincidence" up on that same mountain over the past weekend. As we walked by a mountain lake, she also reminded me that I had cited my experience of a run of threes - as in three redheads, and the Triple Goddess - in Asheville shortly before my dream of "reincidence" as an example of how this phenomenon runs.
    I pulled out my 2010 journal and noted the following sequence:


April 15, 2010 - Big crowd at Malaprops for my talk and signing. A woman asks me about the significance of the number 3 in the title of my book The Three "Only" Things. I give her a bit of a lecture about three as the Celtic number, the number of the Trinity and of the Triple Goddess and the Three Fates, ending with the statement, "Three times makes the charm".

April 16, 2010 - I wake from dream feeling super-charged, with a shimmer of possibility all about me. I have learned to associate this shimmer with the play of numinous forces. In my dream, taking giant steps across a beautiful landscape, I feel that each step I take is being taken in more than one world, and is bringing worlds together. I notice three red haired women walking together up the slope towards me. They move so close together that their bodies appear to be joined, and I notice their heads are all enclosed by a single hood. Am I looking at the Triple Goddess? I have seen them before, going a different way. They look at me with intent interest and I feel a stir of excitement that they are in the field.

April 16, 2010, afternoon -  I sip a glass of wine at a civilized establishment, the Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, in the former Battery Hotel, and admire the griffins that guard the entrance of The Grove Arcade across the street. Three women, two of them redheads, the third a blonde, take the next table. In jolly mood, sipping margaritas, they strike up conversation with me and prove to be very interested in dreams. I say to the blonde, "If you were a redhead, I would think that the three of you are manifesting my dream from last night." She replies, "Oh, I'm a natural redhead. I colored my hair just last week for fun. I think I'll go back to red."

April 16, 2010 - evening. A cheerful crowd gather for my Synchronicity playshop at Jubilee, a lively community church downtown. I drum for the group, asking them to relax into the rhythm and pull up a dream or memory we can use in a game. My mind turns again to the three redheads of my dream, the many forms of the Triple Goddess and the Three Fates, and the distinctly Celtic quality of all this. Through my stir of images comes the keening of bagpipes. A piper is playing at John of the Wood, the Celtic pub behind Jubilee. The sound of the pipes, skirling over the drumming, is irresistible. When the time comes for us to write on index cards a summary of a dream or memory that came during the drumming, I write: "My ancestors are calling me, reaching through my stir of memories. They want me to honor and celebrate and embody their knowing."

April 17, 2010 - I wake from a dream in which Lady Charlotte Guest, one of the first to translate and make accessible Celtic literature including he Mabinogion, invites me to stay with her at a country house . We discuss how events and opportunities recur in a life or in a day, and how when something recurs three times, we are prompted to pay attention.

Later that spring, in a powerful dream of love and longing, I was presented with a choice of three paths in the greenwoods.


The mountain lake where my friend reminded me that I invented the word "reincidence"

Friday, April 26, 2013

Zeus sends a deceptive dream


I was just asked the following question,  "Can a dream ever be misleading or false? Or are dreams always based in truth, vision and foreshadowing?"
    My immediate response: With dreams, as with anything else, we want to check on the reliability of our sources, trust our feelings, test and verify and apply that rare commodity, common sense!
    The dream archaeologist in me then recalled a most instructive story about deceptive dreams from the Iliad..
     For the early Greeks, Homer was the closest thing to the Bible. One of the things they learned from him was that the powers beyond ordinary humans speak through dreams, but can also use dreams to transmit deceptive messages. And that we want to check what is behind the mask of a dream messenger. A familiar face may be a disguise, and we want to grasp the motives and agenda of the guiser.
    In a scene in Book II of the Iliad, Zeus decides to avenge the honor of his protege Achilles, who is sulking in his tent, by making it clear to the Greeks that he is the indispensable hero. Zeus lays a trap for Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek host, who has dishonored Achilles. 
    Zeus summons Oneiros and orders him to deliver a misleading message to Agamemnon. The name Oneiros means "Dream". Here a dream is actually a dream messenger, an independent entity. 
   To carry out Zeus' command, Oneiros puts on the semblance of Nestor, a trusted comrade of Agamemnon, and visits the sleeping king in this form. Standing over Agamemnon's head, the dream visitor tells him - quoting Zeus himself -that the gods are no longer taking sides in the war. Therefore the  Greeks should make haste to attack Troy, which will fall easily.
    Trusting the dream, Agamemnon recounts it to his battle captains, and they launch their attack - only to find that the walls of Troy are not easily breached, and they cannot succeed without making amends to Achilles and bringing him back into the fray.
    We understand from this tale the sources of the Greek suspicion of oneiropompoi, or "dream senders". These might be sorcerers who were adept at projecting thoughts at a distance. There are many stories in later Greek literature about human "dream senders" who abused their psychic skills in this way.
    We see that in dreams, as in other situation, we want to check the reliability of our sources.
    In his treatise on divination, Cicero observed of Homer's depiction of dreams, , “although these stories were made up by a poet, they are not far from the usual matter of dreams.” 

Zeus sends a deceptive dream, by John Flaxman (1793)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Blood Red Fairy Book


A lovely girl is left to tend the ashes at home while the mother takes her ugly sister to the ball at the king's palace. However, by magic the cinder-girl is dressed like a princess and transported to the ball where the handsome prince falls in love with her. When she disappears, all he has of her is a slipper and some other personal items. He vows to marry the one whose foot fits the slipper. Eventually the prince finds the cinder-girl, and they are wed.
    Sounds familiar enough, doesn't it? But in the version told (as “The Wonderful Birch”) in the first of Andrew Lang's famous color fairy books (The Red Fairy Book, first published in 1890) and identified as “Russo-Karelian” in origin there are certain further elements.
     Cinder-girl's mother is neither her birth mother nor her stepmother; she is a witch who turned the real mother into a black sheep and took possession of her body. The father didn't notice the swap; he “thought the witch was really his wife, and he did not know that the wife was the sheep.” At the witch's suggestion, he killed the sheep for dinner, but before it died it counseled cinder-girl, in her true mother's voice, not to eat of the meat or broth but to keep the bones and bury them at the edge of this field.
    This she did, and a birch tree grew at the spot in which the girl could commune with her mother’s spirit, which told her to lay birch branches over the hearth to work magic on the three nights of the royal entertainments. So cinder-girl appeared in glorious garments, winning the prince's heart, while the ugly sister gnawed bones like a dog under the banquet table. On successive nights the king, kicking without noticing what was under foot, broke her arm, her leg, and gouged out an eye.
     Despite these aesthetic challenges, when the prince comes looking for the girl who will fit the slipper (and a ring and a gold circlet) the witch files and cuts the ugly sister’s various appendages so she’s a match. The prince is obliged to keep his promise. But when cinder girl later appears and identifies herself in a whisper, he throws the witch's daughter over a ravine where she becomes a bridge from which a hemlock grows.
    Now prince and cinder-girl marry and have a baby boy. Do they live happily ever after? Not yet. The witch changes cinder-princess into a reindeer and inserts her daughter - released from the hemlock - into the prince's bed.
    Baby isn’t happy. A wise widow woman is consulted who advises that the baby should be carried into the forest, among the reindeer. He is nuzzled and nursed by his mother in reindeer form. Is she still lost to the prince? Not if the wise woman can trick her into taking off her reindeer skin - which the wise woman burns. Reindeer-woman shifts into other forms, all of which are burned, until she is obliged to stay human.
   Now witch and ugly sister flee and we may presume happy-ever-aftering...but, boy, how much violence and dark-side sorcery we had to go through.

How wild and primal is the world of the pre-Disney fairy story! The raw accounts of shapeshifting and dismemberment and the imaginal geography of ladders of bones, and talking trees, where a palace can fit inside an egg and an egg can open into a world, are in no way strange to the shaman, and appeal to the natural shamanism of children. While grown-ups marvel at the current vogue for vampires, witches and demons in children's literature, we see that this is not a novel phenomenon. Kids have always loved scary stories, and they used to be a lot scarier than in most popular fantasy today.
    My youngest daughter loved the color fairy books as she approached her teens, and we managed to acquire the whole set over the years, at a favorite used bookstore. She told me last night, “they got me through my difficult patch in middle school. They were my reading therapy, and they tuned up my imagination.” She has permitted me borrow the color fairy books, on condition that I “don't mess them up”.    
    Forests have been felled to publish books about what is going on in fairytales. You can read a sympathetic Freudian (Bruno Bettelheim) or reductionist ones, a legion of Jungians (commanded by Marie-Louise von Franz), or the Guild of the Goddess (who contend that fairytales are essentially women's work and come from a matriarchal past), feminists and anti-feminists, on and on. What counts is the stories themselves, best consumed neat and unbowdlerized. Transactional analyst Eric Berne rightly observes that the stories we remember are the ones that matter most to us.
    Our favorite fairytales are clues to our character and life history. Do you recognize anything of your own trajectory in the tale of a mother who was turned into a sheep and replaced by a witch? No? Then keep looking. When you have found the story that resonates with your life, you can claim it - or change it.

I first posted this article here in 2008. Re-posting because of related discussion of another Red Book, Jung's.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Making Songlines

A song is bursting from me. I sit on a rise overlooking the coast, and sing the first couplet:

We are singing till we're flying
We are flying till we're swimming


The last part comes in an easy flow

We are swimming till we're traveling
into the Land


A woman singer-songwriter is beside me now, carrying the melody in her lovely voice, laughing with me as I experiment with additional lines.

We are laughing till we're bouncing
We are bouncing till we're flying


I know what this is. It's a wing song, a journey song. I am excited to think that I can share it right away with the people who are joining me for a week-long adventure here, on this dreaming part of the coast where I have led many adventures before.
    I know what the Land of the song is. It is a happy Otherworld, a land of heart's desire. And the song can help to take us there. We are making songlines.


I woke from this dream, after less than three hours sleep (because I was happily working on a new book, and new art, all night) juiced and happy. When I lay down after 5:00 a.m., I set no intention for dreaming except to rise with even greater creative energy. I was given that energy, and a song to carry it. I decided to start the day by making a picture of "Making Songlines", a quick drawing in oil crayons distantly inspired by the Aboriginal art of my native country.
    Oh yes, I recognize the dream location. It's the Esalen Institute, where I am leading my five-day "Dreamgates" adventure - a prime desination for frequent flyers in the multiverse - in November. Yes (encore) I will carry the song with me.


"Making Songlines". Drawing in oil crayons April 22, 2013 (c) Robert Moss

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Shelf elves, dream detectives and Dante


I am determined to hold on to my copy of Dante. This is a paperback edition with a black cover. I want to finish my notes on his description of different orders of reality, and of angels. Numbers are very important here, including the number 12.

I jotted this dream in my journal on Saturday morning, and went back to work on the first chapter of my new book, especially scenes from my life when I was nine and when I was 18 going on 19. Aged nine, I died during surgery in a Melbourne hospital and seemed to live whole life somewhere else before i came back. At 18, I wanted to die because I had lost the first woman I loved; instead of dying that night, I wrote a poem.
    I paused in my writing and reflection and posted a quick note on my Dante dream on my Facebook page, which I use for punctuation and refreshment in a day or night at my desk. My brief report immediately had a score of dream detectives working on my Dante clues. One of them found a reference to the number twelve early in Dante's poetic memoir La Vita Nuova (The New Life).
    I jumped on this lead. I could not locate a copy of Dante's Vita Nuova in my own library (where the resident shelf elves are known to hide as well as reveal) but the excellent used book shop down the street was open. No, they did not have a copy of La Vita Nuova but it might be in a copy of The Portable Dante that had come in just that morning; it was there on the stand with the New Books, a paperback with a black cover. Yes, it contained the full text of La Vita Nuova.
    Three minutes later (I live dangerously close to this book store) I am at home leafing through the text. The translation is somewhat florid. Ah, this is because it is by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I am seized by a personal connection. When I was 18, I played Dante Gabriel Rossetti and read some of his poems in a repertory performance of "An Evening with the Pre-Raphaelites" in Canberra, Australia. I read on. Nine is Dante's number in this unusual memoir, a medley of poetry and prose. He sees Beatrice for the first time when they are both nine years old. He encounters her again when they are both 18 (2x9, as he insists, at length). That is the year when he dreams her death, and then sees her carried to the heavens by angels when she actually dies.

    In La Vita Nuova, we see the first hints of the Divine Comedy that is to come, and begin
to understand how Dante could borrow the form of a lovely woman he could not have (because she was married young and died so young) for the spiritual guide who meets the pilgrim inside the gate of Purgatory when he has come up through all the terrors of the Inferno and opened his heart.
     Dante's "New Life" contains a very interesting account of a dream conversation with an inner guide. The guide appears as a beautiful young men dressed in white but addresses Dante as "my son." Dante makes it clear this experience is unfolding in a sleep dream, in which he recognizes the voice of The Young Man in White from previous dreams. As the poet tries to feel out the nature of their relationship, perhaps asking himself whether the Young Man in White is a projection (though that is not the language of the late 13th century), the inner guide tells him: "I am as the center of a circle, to which all points on the circumference bear an equal relation. With you, it is not so." (ch.XII; my translation).
    I was thrilled with the sense of recognition when I read these words. For me, they are a very exact description of the relationship between our ordinary personalities and a self that is at the center of a family of aspect personalities.
    The Dante of La Vita Nuova is ahead of himself. He not only takes the conventions of courtly love to a higher and more creative level, and helps to birth Italian as a language of literature (in the Tuscan dialect); he demonstrates the central importance of dreaming in the life of the soul and the sources of creativity.
    What is most important for me personally in this adventure in literary synchronicity and memory is that Dante created a new kind of autobiography. His "book of memory", as he called it, is woven from his dreams, visions and poems with just a little connective narrative. He omits personal names and details, making it clear that this is a memoir of his spirit, not his ordinary life. In my current book project, am attempting to do something analogous, untrammeled by traditions of courtly love and medieval religion. 


Dante as I met him at the Marché aux Puces,  St-Ouen de Clignancourt (c) Robert Moss

Dream rehearsals

I'm teaching another workshop. Our space is large and pleasant, two connecting rooms, one of which has large picture windows through which I can see public gardens. I have the group move back and forth between the two rooms, depending on whether we are doing performance, or shamanic journeying, or work in smaller groups.
    The group is eager for me to speak about Iroquois dreaming traditions, and I embark on this in a leisurely way, by noting that the word "Iroquois" does not exist in the language of the Six Nations of the Longhouse, who call themselves Onkwehonwe (Real People, in Mohawk) or Haudenosonee (Longhouse People, in Seneca). "Iroquois" is a word borrowed by whites from tribes that were traditionally hostile to those who are now called Iroquois. Some say it means "rattlesnake". More likely, it is a term we owe to Basque fishermen who came into contact with Algonquians around the mouth of the St. Lawrence river in the 17th century. They developed a pidgin language for trade, and in this frontier argot the Mohawk and their kin - feared enemies of the Algonquians - were called Hilokoa, the Killer People. The French who became masters of eastern Canada heard this as "Iroquois" and this version stuck. Many members of the Six Nations are content for it to be used in English or French, and I used it in the title of one of my books, Dreamways of the Iroquois.
    There is great excitement as I go on talking in informal professorial style, but I am watching the time because I want to give the circle the experience of group shamanic dream journeying. We have been seated in the inner room, which has few if any windows. I go to check the state of things in the other room, with the picture windows, and find that there is a problem. People walking in the park are curious. Some have their noses pressed to the glass. A few have even wandered into our space and are looking at items on the altar, having found a sliding door unlocked. I shoo them away and call for our coordinator to put up signs and make sure the doors are locked and our space is secure.
    Now I notice a man in the group who has been sleeping on the floor in here while the rest of us were in the other room. I quite like him, and was truck by the depth of his connection with the Western Mystery traditions. He stirs from his sleep and apologizes that he's exhausted from all his overnight studies and experiments. I gently suggest that he might need to get his head out of the old books and into the space of fresh possibilities.


I woke from the dream this morning feeling cheerful, recognizing that I have probably been coached for quite specific issues involving a future workshop. I do occasionally give workshops in spaces within parks and public gardens, and I'll watch our need to ensure that our space is private and protected under those circumstances. I'll be prepared for the sleepy esotericist, and I'll be encouraged not to hold back in sharing my research as an independent scholar, especially into Iroquoian traditions.
    It is also possible that I led a workshop, in a parallel reality, overnight. Many people report attending workshops with me in their dreams, and I'll be curious to see whether any report a situation like this.
    "Workaday" dreams of this kind (dreaming with people in interesting spaces is my everyday work, and play) are often the ones from which we can extract immediate and practical guidance on how to prepare for coming events. Before I led my first public dream workshop, I dreamed the exact number of participants and also that there would be a problem with a man who would try to record the session without asking permission. In the dream, I saw him fiddling with a micro-recorder under a dark jacked while seated next to a grand piano. In the workshop the following evening, a man in a dark jacket sat next to the piano. As soon as he reached for his recorder, I was able to stop him pressing the Play button, because my dream had rehearsed me for this.
    On another occasion, when I was scheduled to speak at a college in high summer, I dreamed that the air conditioning system in the lecture room was so loud that people could not hear me; we were posed with the choice of broiling in the summer heat or having an inaudible speaker. My action was to drive to the college and check the A/C. As in my dream, the fans were incredibly noisy. I was able to save my lecture by having it moved to another auditorium. I include many personal episodes of this type of dream rehearsal in my book Conscious Dreaming,
    Still on the theme of "workaday" dream rehearsals: the dream may come long before the event it previews. Thirteen months before leading a three-day residential retreat at a new venue, I dreamed that 67 people had signed up for one of my programs. Much of my long dream report was then devoted to bizarre and surreal scenes. At the time of the dream, I had never heard of the venue where I found - more than a year later - that 67 people were enrolled for my program. That match-up made me scout the full dream report to see what else in it might have been a helpful rehearsal. As the workshop unfolded, I recognized that the dreams participants were sharing closely resembled those "bizarre and surreal scenes" in my dream report, which now served me as a personal counselor, guiding me on how to handle specific individuals carrying specific challenges and imaginal histories.
    How could I be poised to relate a dream rehearsal to an event thirteen months later? Because I follow the discipline of keeping a detailed journal, giving a title to each entry. How could I find a report from more than a year before? Because I also live by synchronicity, in this case using a specific and fun version of bibliomancy (divination by opening a book at random) that for now I'll call journal-mancy (since imerologiomancy seems a bit too much). I opened an old journal at random on the morning of that three-day retreat, and out fluttered a closely-typed three-page report that began "There are 67 people enrolled for my workshop."
    When people who remember dreams tell me they can't recall dreaming a future event, I say: Look again. Ask of any and every dream, and especially the workaday ones, Is it remotely possible that this will play out in the future? If the answer is, Yes, then consider whether the dream is more than precognitive; it could be a rehearsal that will help you to prepare for coming events and shape then for the better.


Dress rehearsal for "The Mikado" at the Savoy theater, 1895

Monday, April 15, 2013

What are you doing?


Madison, Wisconsin


"What are you doing?"
     A woman in my Madison workshop told me she hears this question, put by an inner voice, many times a day. Sometimes it rattles her and saps her confidence. But she readily agreed that this may be a salutary question for us to put to ourselves, in the midst of any activity, or inactivity.
    It helps us to see our situation from the standpoint of an observer.
    What we look at what we are doing or not doing from this perspective, we are able to get a clearer view of what use we are making of our time and energy and our skills. Most important, we may now be able to recognize what we are attracting or driving away through our behavior and even our thoughts.
     This has to do with the law of attraction (though I can hardly use that phase since the travesty of The Secret), which I sometimes like to call spiritual magnetism. We draw different events and energies towards us, or send them away, according to our actions and our intentions. With our thoughts and fantasies, even before action, we grow dreams of life, and then walk into those dreams in the physical world. What we feed our minds and our bodies attracts or repels different parts of ourselves as well as different classes of spirits.
     I have noticed in my own life as a writer that when I am seeking to create something new, and taking the risks involved, I draw the interest of greater powers. More of my own creative spirit becomes engaged, lending me abilities beyond those I possess when I am doing something small and safe or quite absent from the larger venture. I notice this as a teacher and healer. When I am willing to give more to others, to do my very best to bring the light or spirit into their eyes or to wrap them in the healing embrace of Great Mother Bear, I draw powers far beyond my ordinary self – and now it can be very important to let the ordinary self stand aside while a Greater Self operates.
      I don’t want to sound too solemn about all of this. I find I do much better, and that those around me feel better too, when I approach life’s assignments in a spirit of play.
     What are you doing? says that persistent inner voice.
     I’m having a little fun, playing with an old and ever renewing idea. Glad you asked.

Image: "Dream Path II" by Dorothy Englander.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Retrieving the Soprano from Gounod's Faust

Waking hours before dawn, I thought I had let my dreams slip, but lingered in bed to see if they would come after me. Yes. I see a small pocket-sized book, with a light green paper cover, from an earlier time. There is a one word title, Faust.
    Slipping back inside the dream, I open the book, curious to see which version of the best-known devil story in Western literature this may be. Goethe? Christopher Marlowe?
    Neither. I am looking at the libretto of an opera. This is Gounod's Faust, a grand five-act opera. Some parts of the libretto have been tagged in pencil, very lightly. These are lines sung by Siebel, the young soldier who is Faust's rival for the beautiful Marguerite, a man of honor and devotion.
    I am seized with excitement. My mother's aunt, Violet Concanen, known in the family as "Aunty Dick" performed as Siebel - traditionally played by a female soprano - with the great Dame Nellie Melba as Marguerite, in Gounod's Faust at the Melbourne Opera House. I have an photo of Aunty Dick in that role.
   I come back from the dream space and look for the photo. It's in a little album my mother gave me, with many pictures of Aunty Dick, who my mother adored. Here she is as a dreamy teen, and all dressed up as a young Edwardian lady, and in a kimono for her part in the Mikado. And here she is in cloak and medieval garb, dressed to fight the devil.
   I don't think I have the little green book of the libretto, though in my personal forest of books one can never be quite sure. But it takes almost no time to find a bunch on online versions, and videos of Siebel's famous aria in the third act, "Faites-lui mes aveux," including a wonderful performance by Sophie Koch at Covent Garden here.
    Siebel gathers a bouquet of flowers for Marguerite. Mephistopheles makes the flowers wither.


I cannot touch a flower without it fading.

But Siebel uses white magic against the dark. When he refreshes the flowers with the holy water that Marguerite uses in her daily devotions, they come back to life, and he sings, "I laugh at you, Satan."
    The devil has more tricks. Mephistopheles has captured the soul of the aged, decrepit philosopher Faust, who was so depressed by his failure to find wisdom that he decided to kill himself. In Gounod's version, based on a play by Michel Carré called Faust and Marguerite, Faust curses the joy of peasants he hears laughing and cries out to the powers of hell, who promptly respond. Mephistopheles appears in a puff of smoke and seduces Faust with promise of knowledge, youth, and sensual delights, at the price of his soul. Captivated by a vision of the beautiful Marguerite, Faust shows what all his studies have been worth by making the deal, and we have been talking about Faustian bargains ever since.
    Faust shows up at Marguerite's house, sings a magnificent aria, and presents himself in the guise of a dashing and mysterious young suitor. Though intrigued, Marguerite doesn't yield to his advances, and Siebel, with his bouquet, may still have a chance - until Mephistopheles trumps the flowers by magicking up a box of jewels and a remarkable  mirror. 
"How beautiful my reflection is," sings Marguerite, looking in that mirror. "I am the princess greeting her subjects as she passes by." 
    I turn back to the album. I read that Aunty Dick was so popular as Siebel that she got more curtain calls than Melba at the premiere at the Melbourne Opera House, which must have strained relations with the diva. Here she is again, lovely as Dorothy in the opera of the same name. Here is the program for a state dinner in Perth where she sang for the Prince of Wales. They served peach Melba - named for Nellie - and cheese straws for dessert. The Prince of Wales asked her to dance, and she found him "drunk as a lord".
    I met her only once, in the world, when I was very young, and my mother took me across the vast continent by train from Melbourne, where I was born, to meet her family in Western Australia. Aunty Dick, who was also a singing teacher, urged me to "breathe from the diaphragm."
    She left this world long ago, but I have seen her in dreams, and once found her very happily engaged in making music and giving singing lessons at a school in another world. I suspect she is quite capable of arranging a book delivery.


My Aunty Dick (Violet Concanen) as Siebel in Gounod's Faust

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Entertaining our spirits

We must entertain our spirits, including the spirit of pure entertainment.
     I received a lesson about this when I was working on my first book on dreaming and shamanism, which was published as Conscious Dreaming. One night I set a serious intention for my dreams, in the following language; "I would like guidance on how to bring the gifts of dreaming to many more people in our society."
    I was soon deep in dream land. Though not fully lucid, I remembered my intention, inside the dream, as I looked around a new landscape. I saw hundreds, maybe thousands of people sitting on bleachers, laughing and happy. Lots of families. This seemed very promising, in terms of my hope of finding a way to reach many more people.
    Perhaps I would find a guide here. As I tried to get my bearings, I noticed that the crowd was gathered for a three-ring circus, under the big tent. There were circus acts - a walking bear, someone walking a tightrope, clowns and a pretty girl on a trapeze. The figure who drew my attention was an unlikely gymnast, dressed in a loud plaid suit and puffing on a large and stinky cigar. He did impossible stunts, bouncing all the way up to the top of the tent, and down again.
    Then he jumped from the ring into the stands and started cuddling and smoothing with attractive women. I found that I knew his name. "Marty." Something told me that Marty was the guide I was looking for.
    I was incredulous. This cheap show-off from some oneiric Comedy Central was my guide on bringing dreaming to the people?
    Marty gave me a big wink as he squeezed the ladies. Leering around his stogie, he said to me, "It's about entertainment, kid. It's about entertainment."
    Marty was right, I realized when I came back from my dream excursion. If we want to reach people, we must entertain in the sense of holding their attention. In its original meaning, an "entertainment" is something that maintains people in a certain frame of mind. Later it is used to mean something you offer to look after your guests. Today, we think of entertainment primarily as amusement, but all the layers of meaning are relevant to the message from Marty.
     Our guides appeared dressed for their parts, in the ways that can reach us and hold our

attention. I know that Marty was the right guide for me that night, and I'll hope to keep him entertained in my current and future writing. I don't know whether he works for Thalia, the muse of comedy, but I'll hope to earn her patronage as well. It's a thought worth entertaining.

Thalia, muse of comedy, by Jean-Marc Nattier (1739)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Apple of Fate

I am at work and often at play in the deep mines of my old journals, excavating promising nuggets and buried treasures for a new book. I am fascinated to see how very much of the really good stuff came to me in states of hypnagogia, in the liminal zone that Tinker Bell called "the place between sleep and awake." Over several decades, this has very often been the launch pad for soul travel and lucid dreams, a place of rendezvous with inner guides and other interesting visitors, and a place of intensive training in what have become the core techniques of Active Dreaming.
     Mining all this material can be rather slow going. Frequently, instead of wanting to hurry back to the surface with a new find, I go ever deeper. Sometimes this is essential because there are mystery words and mysterious sigils and symbols I failed to understand at the time, and keys to other realms that I failed to turn or did not yet know how to use.
    One example:


On an October night in 1995, I lie down on my bed. As soon as I close my eyes, I see a form of the Great Earth Mother, vast and voluptuous. She rises before me, large as a mountain, and opens a fertile valley. I fly through this like a swallow, and come out in a world suffused by sourceless light.. There is a sense of being in a contained space, protected by translucent walls that are spirals of light. 

   There is a feminine presence. She lets me know she is willing to be a guide for me in this realm. She is very tall and slender, dressed in blue. Her name is of the North. Though the light is everywhere, she moves within a fine mist that makes her features hazy.
    She tells me this is a place of purification, of cleansing “down to the bone marrow.” She speaks to me of soul, and where it travels.“Where your desire goes, there you go in soul flight out of the body, and in the soul’s journey after death.”
    She shows me a ball fired high into the air, sailing up above the clouds. She tells me, “This is the Apple of Fate. When it returns to Earth, your present life will be over.” We agree I do not need to know the exact time or circumstances of its return.


Reading this, I am stirred again by the vision of the Apple of Fate. And I am surprised that I do not seem to have tracked this through the mists of myth and ancestral knowledge back in 1995. Well, there were many other clues to pursue in that season, when I was often recording more than a dozen dreams and visions and inner communications every day.
    So now I am considering goddesses known to my Northern ancestors who were especially fond of apples. Ildunn is a Nordic goddess who carries apples in a box crafted from ash wood. In the Prose Edda, when the gods start to feel old, they ask her to feed them her apples, which carry the magic of rejuvenation. This is why Ildunn's name means Ever Young. In a story of the goddess Frigg in the Volsung Saga, an apple from the goddess can produce a new birth as well as fresh juice. When king Renr prays for a child, Frigg's messenger, a crow, drops an apple in his lap, and soon his wife is pregnant. Then there are the Apples of Hel, They are mentioned in an 11th century poem by the skald Thorbrion Brunarson, who saw the apple as food of the dead.
    I do not find the phrase Apple of Fate in the Icelandic texts, or the excellent works of H.R.Ellis Davidson, the great English scholar of Nordic paganism. But I see that the intriguing Nehelennia is also depicted as carrying a supply of apples. With the breath of her name I feel a wind from the mythic ocean gusting through my study. Nehelennia, whose best-known temples were on the coast of the Netherlands, was a Celtic-Germanic goddess who was a special patron of voyagers, those traveling by sea or across the astral tides, and those making the crossing to the Otherworld and the afterworld.
    Apple of Fate is a term that could fit the apple in the Garden of Eden, or the apple in the story of Paris' choice between the three goddesses, since in each of those stories a choice involving an apple determined a fate. But those stories don't resonate with me in relation to the blue lady and what she showed me. And anyway, the apple of Eve and the apple of Paris weren't apples as we know them. Apples were unknown west of Kazakhstan until some of the soldiers of Alexander the Great brought them back from his campaigns; even then, these "apples" were only small and tart, like crabapples.
    I wonder where my Apple of Fate is now, flying or falling or bumping along the ground. As the lady in blue suggested, I don't need an exact fix on that, at least, not yet...

Ildunn by Arthur Rackham (1910)      

Friday, April 5, 2013

Dream captures


They're at it again. There's a report from Japan that brain scans can predict dream images that are confirmed when subjects are wakened from "light sleep" inside an MRI. It seems this is accomplished by comparing brain signals characteristic of the waking brain with those of the dozing brain. So if a certain pattern of brain activity appears if you are looking at traffic or reading text while awake, it's a reasonable guess that's what you are doing when the same pattern comes up during sleep. The Japanese have recorded some blurry images suggestive of generic dream content.
    The Japanese researchers don't claim to be at the point of reading minds, or even of capturing "deep dreams", which they associate with REM states. But some neuroscientists aren’t slow to tell us all that is coming. Dreams are just “an extension of brain states”, says one of them, so full capture may come with advancing technology. I don’t think so. The full panoply of dream experience will always escape the laboratory, because in dreaming consciousness travels beyond the body and the brain.
     We could reach a point, however, where neuroscientists claim to be able to tell us exactly what people are dreaming (and thinking). That could breed terrible delusions of control. Add to the mix new technologies that will give people more and more options for sinking their imaginations in corporate-generated virtual realities, and you have the stuff of very scary science fiction.
    Happily, the mind is not in the brain. The brain is in the mind, and the mind is nonlocal.
    As for the MRI. I don't understand how anyone could sleep inside one. It would be like trying to sleep in a tumble dryer. When I requested an MRI years ago (because I wanted to learn first hand how this works) I had horrific wakeful images of a hostile tribe attacking me with spears, as depicted in my drawing. They didn't find anything unusual in my scan, though I really don’t go around seeing spear-waving savages on the street every day.
    They'll never capture the dreams that matter in a sleep lab. To get to the good stuff, you must go where the wild things are. That's truly a no-brainer.


Due diligence: A friend involved in MRI research clarifies the technology involved in the Japanese study: "There are short-bore head magnets, so in principle there is no need to stuff the whole person into the tube. Falling asleep is also possible, if the subject has very good ear protection to block out the noise. The subject, of course, needs to have nerves of steel to fall asleep in this situation, so there may be a selection bias from the outset."

Drawing "In the Sonic Washer" (c) Robert Moss

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Bear from Bearbrass

I was born in a country that has no native bears. Koalas are cute but they are not bears. As a very small boy, I remember howling in a Melbourne department store because I wanted a teddy bear as big as myself, and was not allowed to take it home.
    My European ancestors knew the bear well, and warriors among them made a practice of going berserk, which means literally to wear the "bear-shirt", in an effort to embody the strength and fury of the bear in battle. Especially after I moved to England, I dreamed of fighting in an army of ancient warriors who trooped into battle under the banner of the Bear Goddess.
    That cycle ended many years later, after I had moved to North America. Still in leather armor, weary of battles, I threw down my weapons and went out into the wilderness to die. A bear cub found me there, took my hand, and led me to a place of healing. By now the bear had appeared to me, again and again, as a healer and protector. Whenever I opened a healing circle - and any gathering of dreamers can bring through healing - I led the singing of a Bear song I had learned from the Mohawk people.


Don't cry little one
Don't cry little one
The bear is coming to dance for you
The bear is coming to dance for you


I titled a depth workshop that became one of my favorites "Dancing with the Bear: Reclaiming the Arts of Dream Healing." The first time I held this workshop, a woman physician from Alaska joined us because both her grandmothers - one Athapascan Indian, one Euro-America - visited her in the same dream and told her, "You must go to Robert Moss so you can meet the Bear. Until you meet the Bear, you will not be a true healer." She had never heard of Robert Moss, but she did a quick internet search and discovered I was leading "Dancing with the Bear" in Oregon a couple of weeks later. She bought a plane ticket, met the Bear, and now her patients are blessed to encounter both the best of Western medicine and the gifts of the Medicine Bear when they go to her office.
    I have enough stories of the Bear to fill a book, and maybe that book will be written. Yet I

have long been aware of the irony that an Australian who comes from a country with no native bears should have become so close to this ally in shamanic dreaming and healing. I am happy to report that there is a bear in my Australian antecedents, unknown to me until recently.
     From Robyn Annear’s excellent book Bearbrass: Imagining Early Melbourne I learn that Bearbrass was one of the names by which Melbourne, the city where I was born, was known in its early days. "Bearbrass" was an attempt by the early settlers to render the supposed Aboriginal name for the site. It appears to be a mis-rendering of "Birrarung", meaning "river of mists" in the language of the Wurundjeri people. O
ther variations include Bareport, Bareheap, Barehurp and my favorite, Bearberp. 
     I can picture the solemn and dignified expressions on those around me when I next announce that I come from Bear Burp.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Dream Transfer: Eating the Fruits of My Journals

We can grow a dream for someone in need of a dream - a healing image, a vision of life possibilities, even a map to another world.
    As a last exercise in my workshop in Ann Arbor last weekend, I asked members of our circle to form threesomes and take turns to act as Seeker and Dreambringer. The Seeker would set an assignment by identifying the theme. "I need guidance on retirement." "I need help in bringing my different skills and interests together in rewarding new work." "I need to help a member of my family approach death with courage and grace." The Dreambringers whould journey with the help of shamanic drumming to find the right dream or story to bring to Seeker. The right dream might be a composition, folding elements from the Dreambringer's own life, things perceived during the journey, and creative imagination. I explain how to conduct a dream transfer in practical detail in my book Dreamways of the Iroquois.
    I was blessed on Sunday to have very creative dreamers as my partners for this exercise. I set them the assignment of helping me to generate the creative energy required to bring through new books. I am especially grateful to Tami, who brought me this juicy vision:
   "You are seated in front of a stack of your old journals. As you leaf through them, ripe berries burst from the pages. You are eating the berries with gusto. As you devour the fruits of your journals, you fill with unstoppable creative energy and inspiration."
    I love this image, of taking the fruit without becoming snagged in the brambles. I'll keep it with me as I seek to devour my journals without being consumed by all they contain!

Monday, April 1, 2013

What you can take with you to the Other Side

Ann Arbor, Michigan

What happens on the other side of death, and desirable ways to approach this journey, are matters much too important to take on trust from others. We need first-hand experience, and we got plenty of it in my Death workshop in Ann Arbor over the weekend - including a delightful account of what carry-on bags you might be allowed to take with you on a flight to the other side. The title of this workshop is "Making Death Your Ally: Shamanic Approaches to Death, Dying and the Afterlife". Some of the itineraries we follow, and some of the depth experiences of those what have followed these trails in the past, are reported in my book Dreamgates
    In a series of shamanic journeys, powered by drumming, I asked the dreamers in our circle to check out various departure lounges for a journey to meet people who are living on the other side of physical death and to explore conditions in the afterlife. We experimented with a crossing by water, a transit through fire, with entering the embrace of the Great Mother, with traveling on a beam of light and longing from the opened heart, with taking off from a very special airport or another place of ascent to seek the beloved of the soul in a higher realm.
    I love fresh experiences that expand our understanding of multidimensional reality and how to move back and forth between adjacent worlds. In my own prior journeys, I had been to a location I call the Silver Airport, where travelers to the Other Side are offered a number of travel options but can't get through security until they have left all their luggage behind. In one of my visits to the Silver Airport, I saw bags being placed on a carousel that took them into the mouth of a fiery furnace, where they were consumed.
    A man named Bill in the Ann Arbor workshop had an experience on his arrival at this kind of airport that we all found fresh, entertaining and inspiring. He arrived at the airport in a black town car. When the trunk was opened, he found he had an incredible amount of luggage. Bag after bag came out, much more stuff than could possibly fit in any trunk. He was told he could take none of this with him. All this luggage must be left behind, and would be destroyed.
    He was allowed to take only two carry-ons. They were tagged “Love” and “Wisdom”. He opened these carry-on bags and found they were vastly bigger inside than out. There was room for anything and everything that mattered.


Drawing by RM: "Getting My Wings Out of the Luggage"