Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A bibliomancy game for the New Year


I bet you have done this some time: opened a book at random to get a thought for the day. Maybe you have done it with a question or theme in your mind, to see what response the book will give you. You can do this to get a second opinion on a dream, or on why your partner hasn't called you to day, or on what the quality of the day will be. Doing divination by the book has been going on as long as humans have had anything resembling pages that could be turned or shuffled. The Sybilline books of ancient Rome were actually a stack of loose leaves. Many, across the centuries have turned to a sacred book, as Lincoln turned to his family Bible. Many have consulted books that are reverenced in a certain culture, like the works of Homer or Virgil, Dante or Rumi. The formal name for divination by the book is bibliomancy. When you are content to work with just a line or two on the page in front of you, the exact learned name is stichomancy, meaning divination by the line or verse. You can play the game with any book at all, one you notice in the New Arrivals at a library or bookstore, one that a shelf elf pushes off a bookcase at home, one a friend is reading on the bus or the airplane. Sometimes it's fun to give yourself coordinates. You'll pick a book - any book at all - and go to a certain page and find a certain line and see what is there for you. Typically, you'll need to read around the line you selected, up and down a line or two, to get a finished sentence or thought from the book. At the turning of the year, I like to play games that offer a chance to sneak a peek at coming attractions over the next twelve months. Dreams remembered on or around New Year's Day are especially interesting. You can set the intention to dream into the coming year. I like to do this by setting an intention along these lines:

Show me the best things I can manifest in my life over the coming year,

Often, I will cast I Ching or tarot, or both, on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, for a first flavor of the coming year. This year, I am recommending to dreamers who play with me that we all do bibliomancy by the number, on or around the first day of 2016, The number, of course, is the number of the coming year: 2016. Applied to book divination, it gives us a few options. You could go to page 20, line 16. Or to page 201, line 6. Or to chapter 20, line 16. You get the idea.
Give it a try. And yes, you're allowed to do it more than once.

I gave it a test-run just now. I set the general intention: "Show me something I need to know about 2016". I took a book from my shelves that I had intended to reread in my current study of Mircea Eliade. It is his Portugal Journal, detailing his personal life from 1941 to 1945. I turned to page 201, line 6. The first three words are

write a novel

 I go back to line 5 for the beginning of the statement and on to line 7 for its conclusion. I now have

I must write a novel someday with "Foreign Affairs" in it and bring to light the strange freemasonry of these individuals. And write it I will.

Yes, Mircea, I think I must. Multumesc.

-----

For more games of bibliomancy, please see my book Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Yeats' secret working mind and the importance of Edmund Dulac



I dreamed again into the secret working mind of W.B.Yeats, my favorite dead poet. Of a story he wrote, unpublished in his lifetime, from encounters with the ghost of an eight-year-old boy. Of a fierce poetic vision of a man who kept a severed head that rose up in the night with blazing eyes.
     When I sought to reenter the dream, it seemed the boy’s name began with H and may have been “Henry”.
     An inner voice spoke of the importance of Edmund Dulac.

I was thrilled. I knew there was a treasure map in this dream, and I wanted to use it immediately. I ran to my books. Dreams give us research assignments and sometimes these feel urgent. 
     I remembered that Edmund Dulac was a famous book illustrator and painter to the Faerie courts, and a friend of Yeats. I confirmed that Dulac painted the portrait of the poet's wife
Georgie that is on the cover of Becoming George, the vast (and vastly excellent) biography by Ann Saddlemyer that is in my Yeats collection.
     Dulac created images for the 1925 version of Yeats' extraordinary mystical book A Vision.These include the portrait of the fictional Giraldus – with something of Yeats’s hawk-like features – used as the frontispiece. My inner communication in the hypnompic state left me with the impression that Dulac may have been more involved in Yeats’s magic and encounters with the spirits than I had known.


Life called, and I left my research at this point, nearly four years ago, on the morning of January 9, 2012. Now that I have a little leisure to open old journals and follow their leads, I returned to the possible importance of Edmund Dulac.
    I discovered that the artist and the poet saw a great deal of each other in the dark time of the Great War. They attended a seance together in 1917 in which they tried to summon the Wise Men of the East, with the Orientalist Edward Dennison Ross on hand in case translation from Persian, Arabic or Turkish was required. [1]
    In a lecture on Art and Magic, Dulac declared in 1924 that “the greatest desire of man in all ages has been the establishment of a means of communication with the rest of the universe.” He joined Yeats in experiments in spirit communication, magical evocation and mutual visioning.
    They were both lovers of fairies and fairy story. Yeats painted the realms of Faerie with his words, Dulac with his brush.
    They worked together to bring Japanese-inspired Noh plays and mythic dramas, including "At the Hawk's Well" (which In saw in Toronto a few years ago) to stage and salon.
     Both sought a new mythology for their century that would make room for the return of Immortals from other times and dimensions. Both turned, again and again, to the legend of the Magi as a key to the confluence of spiritual traditions and the transformation of the Christian story. Yeats wrote an eerie, haunting, dream-infused story, "The Adoration of the Magi"(1897) and later a poem, "The Magi" (1914) 

Now as at all times I can see in the mind's eye,   
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones   
Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky   
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,   
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,   
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,   
Being by Calvary's turbulence unsatisfied,   
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

Three years later, Dulac painted an extraordinary picture of "The Three Wise Men" in the style of a Persian or Mughal miniature. The costumes and the stance of the Magi evoke different traditions, Persian, African, Chinese. The placement of the Virgin's hands around the infant Jesus gives him the look of a miniature Shiva Nataraj.
    I discovered this painting only today. In storage at the Williams College Museum of Art, it appears to have been overlooked by scholars and art historians until a remarkable researcher, Jaimee K. Comstock-Skipp, brought it to light in a wonderful article for Relegere. [2] I am grateful that round two of my dream-inspired research brought me to this.
    I still need to track the ghost story of H and the tale of the severed head. I may of course be required to write them, if my Yeats is willing.
[3] Dreams set many kinds of assignments.






References

1. Christopher Blake (ed) “Ghosts in the Machine: Yeats and the Metallic Homunculus,
with Transcripts of Reports by W.B. Yeats and Edmund Dulac,” Yeats Annual 15 (2002).

2. Jaimee K. Comstock-Skipp “’ To be an Infidel or an Unbeliever…’ Five Wise Men: Edmund Dulac, W.B.Yeats, and The Magi” in Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception 3, no.2 (2013)

3. For my dreams and visions of Yeats over many years, please see my books The Dreamer's Book of the Dead (Rochester VT: Destiny Books, 2004) chapter 8, and The Boy Who Died and Came Back (Novato CA: New World Library) chapter 37.

Pictures: (1) Edmund Dulac, "The Garden of Paradise: Fairy of the Garden"; (2) Edmund Dulac, "Mrs W.B. Yeats"; (3) Michio Ito as guardian in "At the Hawk's Well" (1916)


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Keep Books of Night and Day and be your own dream interpreter



We have direct access to sacred knowledge, in our dreams. Our dreams are a personal oracle that reveals the future and helps us prepare for it. We must not let anyone tell us what our dreams mean or stand between us and the direct experience of the sacred that is available in dreaming. We want to pay attention to signs from the world around us in the knowledge that everything in the universe is interconnected and constantly interweaving. We need to journal both our dreams and our waking experiences in our Books of Night and Day.
     These insights come from a fifth-century bishop of Ptolemais (in what is now Libya), Synesius of Cyrene. His treatise On Dreams is one of the wisest books ever written on how to work with dreams and synchronicity. He wrote that "Dream divination is available to all, the good genius to everyone" and that is no wonder that dreams show us the future, because dreams are experiences of soul and "the soul holds the forms of things that come into being".
      Synesius used dreams for practical navigation; he describes how dreams alerted him to plots by his enemies, counseled him on his literary style and (as a young man) on the hunt, and helped him win the ear of a Roman emperor with the right oration. He also observed, correctly, that the energy derived from dreams can be more valuable than their content; through dreams God "makes us fruitful with his own courage."

It is written, 'Others even in their dreams He made fruitful with his courage.' Do you see? One man learns while awake, another while asleep. But in the waking state man is the teacher, while it is God who makes the dreamer fruitful with His own courage, so that learning and attaining are one and the same. Now to make fruitful is even more than to teach.

He despised dream dictionaries, as popular in his time as in ours: "I laugh at all those books and think them of little use." He strongly counseled that we must not assign the interpretation of dreams to "experts" other than the dreamer: "It would be shameful for those who have lived ten years beyond adolescence to stand in need of any other diviner."
      He wrote that dreams carry us into higher worlds, and put us in direct contact with the God we can talk to. He hinted that the road of dreams is the road of the soul, on both sides of death, noting that "the soul's way of life in another world is similar to the imaginings of the dream condition."
       He was a great proponent of navigating by synchronicity, though the word he used was "sympathy". The wisest of humans are those who navigate life by reading the sign language of the world. We should keep a "day book" for our observations of signs and synchronicities as well as a "night book" for dreams.

"All things are signs appearing through all things...they are brothers in a single living creature, the cosmos...they are written in characters of every kind". 

The deepest scholarship lies in reading the sign language of the world; the true sage is a person "who understands the relationship of the parts of the universe".
     We can learn from Synesius how to practice dreamwork as real church, and track coincidence as "God's way of remaining anonymous". He deserves to be much better remembered, as a great dream teacher from the world of the early Church, one who spoke eloquently against those who seek to stand between people and the direct experience of the sacred. He wrote about dreams not on the authority of his excellent education (he studied under Hypatia in Alexandria), nor his contacts with the great, nor any high office that he held, but on the authority of his prolific first-hand experience.
     Synesius speaks to us across the centuries with the authority of experience, understanding - as do all true dreamers - that the best guides to dreaming are frequent flyers who do a lot of it.

-

Partly because I keep unusual hours, and am often embarked on my best creative work long before dawn, I don't separate my night journal from my day journal. All the material goes into one book — a leather-bound travel journal, when I am on the road. I try to type up my entries before my handwriting becomes illegible and put the printouts in big ring-back binders. I save each entry with a date and a title in my data files, so I automatically have a running index.


Art: Fresco from Pompeii showing a young woman with a wax tablet and stylus, cerca 50 c.e. We don't know here name. Her hair net of gold threads, as well as her literacy, suggest an upper-crust family. Today the fresco is maintained by the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (Inventory number 9084).


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The first Santa


In this holiday season, I received a cri de coeur from the mother of a young boy named James:

James just found out that his parents stuff his stockings each year instead of Santa Claus. He is crestfallen. I asked him if he remembered a story you told him about a real live, animal-loving "Santa" that lived long ago, and he did, but neither of us could conjure enough details to make a suitable retelling. Could you please give me a reference to find the story of this previous, real-life "Santa"? It just might save Christmas for a certain 5-year old boy who yearns to believe.

I remembered a conversation in which I suggested that the original Santa was a shaman of the Sami, a reindeer-herding people of Lapland, reputed to have the power to call up the winds and fly through the air, and that the reason his coat is red is that it was the flayed skin of a reindeer. I have seen Sami drums with images of a shaman flying through the three tiers of the shamanic cosmos on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. But while there is a rich ethnography on Sami shamanism, I could think of no source that would be suitable for a young boy. So I took on the assignment of writing my own version of the first Santa, addressed to a boy in danger of losing his belief in Christmas magic.


Dear James

I heard you found out that it wasn’t Santa who put the presents in your stocking, but people who live with you every day.
     I know this is a shocking discovery, and it would not be surprising if you felt cheated and confused.This is also a very big moment on your journey of growing up. Actually, it’s not big, it’s ENORMOUS.
     You have come to a fork in your road. If you let your feelings of disappointment and betrayal take you down the wrong path, you could very easily end up in the world of the Meanies who don’t believe in any kind of magic at all, and therefore never have any. Go the other way and you’ll come to know that, even if Mommy and Daddy filled the stocking, Santa is REAL. Not only is he real; he is MORE real than you could understand before you found out about the presents.   
     Let me explain.
   
     When a story is as important as Santa’s, lots of people will try to tell it their own way. So you’ll hear that Santa was a saint who traveled the world producing marvels and good works many centuries ago. Or that he was a winter king in a great northern forest. Meanies might tell you he was dreamed up by slick advertising men so they can sell more stuff. It’s often said that Santa lives at the North Pole with his elves. Most children I know, and some grown-ups, picture him flying through the sky with a team of reindeer. They are more right than all the rest.

      I am going to tell you the true and original story of Santa. Accept no substitutes.


Long ago and far away, where the sun shines all night on Midsummer’s Eve and never shows its face at Midwinter, a boy they called Dreamer lived with his family among the Reindeer People. They were a simple folk who lived on fish and the fruits of the earth, on reindeer milk and sometimes, in the hungry depths of winter, on reindeer meat. They followed the reindeer through the cycle of the seasons, forever in search of something to eat. They made tools and toys and holy statues out of reindeer bone, and when they danced around their fires, men and women both wore crowns of reindeer antlers.
     Dreamer was an awkward boy. He couldn’t run or move as fast on snow shoes as the others. He wasn’t very lucky at fishing, and he couldn’t lift the great tree-trunks they used for their winter games of log-tossing. They called him Dreamer because his mind always seemed to be wandering somewhere else. He loved the reindeer, and sometimes his mother would find him dreaming among them, arms wrapped in sleep around the belly of a reindeer cow.
     Even the wild reindeer approached him without fear. That was why, one hungry winter, his father made him go out with the hunters, to call the wild reindeer from the shadows of the evergreens. As a magnificent bull reindeer trotted towards him, the boy's father muttered, “Take him. He’s yours.” The boy trembled, with his father’s long bow in his hands, looking into the deep steady eyes of the reindeer.
     Impatient, his father threw his spear. Blood spurted from the great heart of the stag over the boy's chest. He dropped to his knees by the body of the reindeer, asking forgiveness. “We do this so our people may live.”
     His father punished him for his failure to take the kill by forcing him to skin the reindeer with his own knife, and carry the hide back to the village on his shoulders. Staggering under the weight, he wore the reindeer hide bloody side out, so he seemed to be wrapped in a bright red coat.
     That night, while the boy’s father and mother were snoring under their sleeping skins, he woke and looked up through the smoke hole into a field of stars. Through the field, a reindeer was racing on flying hooves. It swooped down through the smoke hole and stood over the boy, so close the steam from its nostrils entered him. He understood, without human words, what he was to do. He was to make a drum, using the hide he had carried back from the woods, binding it to the frame he would carve from an evergreen. He would use a piece of antler as a beater. An old one who lived alone in the woods would show him things he needed to know to make the drum right.
     I don’t know how much you know about drums. This was not the kind of drum you see at a concert, or in a marching band, or in a toy shop. It was the kind of drum you can ride. The boy did not know that until he made it, and learned to tap-tap-tap with his bone hammer until the winds changed and the air was filled with the sound of drumming hooves.
     Another night came, at the darkest time of the year, when the reindeer looked down through the smoke hole and the wind whispered, Tomorrow. The boy walked alone in the gray absence of dawn to the tree that had provided the frame of his drum. He made himself a nest among soft needles the reindeer had not touched.



     As soon as he touched the drum, the stag appeared, different from before. Now his back was covered by a scarlet saddlecloth. The boy understood what he was meant to do. He swung himself up, as someone else might get up on a horse. There was no bit or bridle; he just held on to the reindeer’s neck as he took off at a terrific pace, heading ever north across frozen marshes and ice floes, into a world of white. Ahead, he saw a huge glowing disk very low on the horizon. It seemed he was flying into the face of the moon.
    The boy found himself in the presence of an immense being that blazed with light. It was like looking at the moon, caught in the bare branches of a giant oak. The boy’s vision changed and he saw a woman more beautiful than anything he had ever imagined, a White Lady crowned with great glowing antlers. He knelt before the Reindeer Queen. She smiled a moon-bright smile and raised him up and held him to her breast like a mother.
     She told him, “Darker times are coming. You will need to become a man quickly, and more than a man, to help bring back the light. When the time comes, I will call you and show you what to do.”
     When the ice broke up, monsters appeared in the inlets where the Reindeer People went to fish. The monsters reared from the waters with the heads of leering dragons, then disgorged terrible iron-clad men bent on killing and plunder.
     The Iron Men stormed over the land. The boy's father, now headman of his village, gathered the herders and the older boys to defend their women and their tame reindeer. Fearing for his son’s life and contemptuous of his fighting skills, he ordered Dreamer to stay with the herd.
     When the din of battle sounded across the hill, and the boy's mother armed herself with a bone knife, the boy took his drum and sat among the reindeer, in the long grass. He tapped with the bone hammer until he felt himself stretch and stretch. Then he was flying with the reindeer, through the arctic rainbow to the palace of the Reindeer Queen.

Bright as the full moon, she told him, it was time to meet Brother Bear. The great bear rose up before him like a shaggy mountain. Dreamer wasn’t afraid, well, not as much as he might have been if the Reindeer Queen had not made the introductions.
     When Brother Bear opened his arms, the boy stepped forward and hugged him hard, though his arms could cover only a tiny part of the bear’s tremendous girth. When Brother Bear hugged him back, closing his mighty arms, Dreamer fell through the heart of the mountain, into the world of battle.
     The Iron Men were baying victory. What landed before them, making thunder in the earth, silenced their cries. Sword-arms and spear-arms ceased hacking and cutting, frozen in mid-thrust. Brother Bear towered between the Iron Men and the herders. He reached down and plucked the invaders from the field like toy soldiers. He tossed them back towards their dragon boats. The remnants of the Iron Men broke and fled, throwing down weapons and plates of armor to speed their escape. Rejoicing, Dreamer's father ran to bring his wife and son the good news. He found the boy sleeping under his drum, among the reindeer. He poked the boy with the toe of his boot. “Dreaming again, eh? Rouse yourself, boy! Come and see how we won the good fight.”
     As the boy struggled to his feet, very wobbly, the form of the great bear began to wobble too, fading to a thin mist, then gone.
     When she called him again, the Reindeer Queen told the boy, “When you are grown, you will be wide and strong and big-bellied, like Brother Bear. And all who see you will smile and be jolly, except men of evil hearts, who will flee before you.”
      So the boy grew to be a man, wide-bellied and jolly, fond of stuffing himself with summer berries and tracking the bees to the best honeypots in the trees. When he tapped on his drum and the reindeer came to take him flying now, they came as a whole team and he road in a sleigh that they pulled through the sky, since he was now too broad to ride on the back of a single animal. Whistling for favorable winds, he traveled far beyond the lands of the Reindeer People.
     His biggest journey began when he was old, in the eyes of men, and the Reindeer Queen called him to tell him that there was new star in the sky, and its light was coming to the Northlands.
     He flew to a place where the wisest of the wise were waiting for this star. He stood with them on top of a mountain, He saw the night sky open like a smoke hole to reveal the new star. Light came down from it like a pillar, and inside the pillar he saw the face of a radiant child that melted his heart.
     He wanted to lay gifts before the child, but he had nothing except his beating heart.
     “Drum for me from your heart,” the star-child told him. “Drum for the hearts of men, to help them open to give and share in peace on this night of the turning year.”


Santa has been doing that ever since. When he drums, hearts open like the roofs of houses, and shining gifts come pouring down.
     Whoever gives in a spirit of love and joy on this special night has Santa inside him, or her.
When Mommy and Daddy were stuffing your stocking, Santa was there with them.
     Now, I know that when you have seen something with your eyes it can be hard to believe a different thing unless you can see that with your eyes too.
      So I want you to know this.
      In a great museum in Europe there is a drum made of reindeer skin. On it is an old, old painting of a man flying through the sky on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. I’m not saying this is Santa’s drum. I think his drum is too lively to ever get caught and stuck in a museum. I am saying that whoever painted and used that drum knew how you make flying reindeer, and how you get down chimneys.

Bear lights photo (c) Robert Moss
Etching of Sami shaman with magic drum by O.H. von Rode (1767). 



(c) Robert Moss. All rights reserved. 

I first published this in 2008. Reposting by popular request.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

At home in winter with the Muse


When my schedule is entirely my own, as it mostly is when I am at home on cold winter days, I do whatever I feel like at any time. I don't think about sleep until it falls upon me. When that happens, I let my body fall into bed. Very frequently, I then find myself engaged in a marvelous adventure in another reality, where other players are waiting for me.
      In the Hittite language, you don't say "I fell asleep". You say, "sleep fell upon me" or even "sleep seized me." I learned this from Alice Mouton's excellent work Rêves hittites. My relationship with sleep is sometimes like that of one who is willing to be seized. I notice that when sleep falls upon me like a lion on a goat, what follows is often a powerful and numinous experience, sometimes an encounter with a greater being.    
     Who are those beings who are lions as well as humans who I so often find waiting for me, as if I am late for lunch or the theater, when I am seized by the need to lie down?
     
What was that instrument I was playing after sleep fell on me and obliged me to take an early evening nap? It looked a bit like a set of pan pipes, but I strummed it with my fingers. It seemed to be organic, vegetal, like a dried gourd with multiple tubes, orange and yellow in color. The music it made was enchanting. I was playing it in a jungle setting, near where a river joined the sea, maybe somewhere along the coast of Brazil.     
     I write scenes and questions like these in my journal at any hour. Its what writers do. It's what active dreamers must do if they are going to get really good at dreaming. 
     At 1:00 a.m. on one of these winter nights I sit down to a plate of linguine with home-made bolognaise sauce, heavy on garlic, fresh-grated romano and a glass of fine St. Emilion. Since I skipped dinner and this followed an early evening nap, does it count as breakfast or a late supper? My body is thankful either way.
    If the Muse is looking for me she will almost always find me prowling around indoors between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m. On winter days at home I often take an early evening nap and then stay up until after lunch. I grab a couple of sleep periods - rarely more than a couple of hours each - in a 24 hour cycle. Sleep researchers call me a "biphasic sleeper". Few of them seem to grasp that it is not necessary to sleep in order to dream. I am a biphasic sleeper and an omniphasic dreamer.
    One of my favorite ways to dream is to laze in bed in a state of horizontal meditation after waking. It is in this liminal place between sleep and awake that marvelous things become available. I find myself looking at a parade of faces, or a kind of travel video, offering multiple itineraries and destinations for lucid dream expeditions.
    I check in with my dreaming family at any hour. There are hundreds of them gathered for my new virtual course in Active Dreaming for The Shift Network, sharing fabulous narratives of mystery and adventure,or terror and beauty, inviting each other to play dream detective and shaman of the breakfast table or the supper club. Who was that African princess with gold dust on her face? Who was that tall young Irish lady, regal as one of the lordly ones of the Sidhe, who showed me an illustrated book filled with magic and ancestral tears?
    I flit like a hummingbird from book to book in my personal library, drinking from different styles and visions. I am reminded by Marguerite Yourcenar, in Dreams and Destinies, that a dream report can be written as a prose poem, without need of developing the story or adding commentary or analysis. I am dazzled, again, by the crazy-brilliant mind of Philip K. Dick, as he follows his own manic encounters with God (or the Archon), pre-Socratic philosophy, a Roman Empire that never ended, and mind-incinerating quantities of dope in his autobiographical Valis. I consider Seth's insistence in The Nature of the Psyche that each of us is both male and female and picture him in conversation about this with Jung. 
     I leaf through old journals, choosing passages to develop as stories or use as teaching examples, noting recurring and evolving themes. I find evidence on every other page that I am leading continuous lives beyond my present body. I am amazed by all that would be lost to memory, had I not made it my practice, over all these years, to keep a detailed journal. Did I really have so many dreams of sheep; of a gray sheep as big as an elephant who led me to a spiritual guide, of blue sheep who alerted me to the fact that I possessed unclaimed riches in a place I thought I had left behind? 
     An unavoidable and perennially fascinating theme is the importance of the house in dreams. Often the dream house seems to provide a structure within which we can meet and grow our relationship with many aspects of the self, I take a sip of Bachelard's Poetics of Space (I can't swallow too much of this at one sitting in English translation) on the houses of imagination:

1) A house is imagined as a vertical being. It rises upward. It differentiates itself in terms of its verticality. 2) A house is imagined as a concentrated being. It appeals to our consciousness of centrality.

In all of this, of course, I am putting out lures for the Muse. One of these winter nights I may again write a love poem for her. I did this in seeking fair winds and caresses for The Boy Who Died and Came Back.

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...

     I come upon my notes from Mircea Eliade on theophany, the moment of revelation when a divine agency shines its light through the ordinary world and you cannot fail to notice because everything is different. I remember how when I last landed at Bucharest, Eliade's city, a woman previously unknown to me, a literary translator, greeted me at the baggage carousel by crying out. "You are a writer!" I allowed that I was, and we had a heady conversation while waiting for our bags. When we parted company, she gave me this blessing: "May the Muses kiss you." 
     I hope this will happen again soon. I like my body when my creative writer is at home and the Muse is with him. Muscles better and nerves more. She is a glorious, ardent and insatiable lover. She keeps this body up for whole nights before she lets it drop for a couple of hours of regenerative sleep. I don't complain, any more than you would complain after a perfect night of love, as you watch the stars go to bed over Copacabana, or the dreaming spires of an Old World City, or the Mountains of the Moon. 
    I have seen writers complain that their work involves sweating blood. Maybe, but when the creator is home, in the arms of the Muse, what you sweat isn't ordinary blood. It is ichor.

Graphic: Muse reading from a scroll. Boeotia, 5th century bce. In the Louvre.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The dream report as prose poem


I am rereading a marvelous small collection of dream reports by the distinguished Belgian-French novelist Marguerite Yourcenar, perhaps best-known in the anglophone world for her Memoirs of Hadrian. The reports in Dreams and Destinies (in French Les Songes et les sorts), first published in 1938, are drawn from five years of her early life, when, as she later confessed, she was in the grip of "a violent and passionate love affair." She declares in her preface that "we have all of us never dreamed so abundantly as during our periods of longing, or of pain, which is but a wounded longing."
     What is extraordinary about these selections from a journal of dreams is that each entry is a prose poem, of such wonderful texture that it will draw in almost any intelligent reader. I believe Yourcenar when she tells us that she has not added to the story given her in any of these dreams. What she has done - what she could hardly fail to do, given her quality as a writer - is to deliver these little stories with such superlative, sensory detail, that she brings us inside the scenes, into beauty and mystery and sometimes terror. Nowhere does she pause to offer context, and she spurns analysis altogether, quite properly realizing that, as a creative writer, her task is to describe the world her dreams are making for her, not shred it with the cold instruments of interpretation or smother it with theory.
     The accumulation of telling details, related in exact language, makes her dreamscapes as solid, as dense and palpable, to us as they clearly were for her when she was inside them. There are transitions of the kind we manage only in altered states of consciousness. She can drop from a window into a boat that appears on a Venetian canal far below, without bruises or broken bones, and glide off without oars or sails or a motor across a thrilling black sea to an island castle.
     "The Island of the Dragons", the piece from which I plucked those elements, is a fine example of her technique. We are brought immediately into a scene in which she is living with a young man and a young woman in "the most confined of Venetian lodgings".


Our room is located under the roofs, on the top floor of a complicated house that dominates from on high a rose and russet confusion of terraces, masts, campaniles, lean homeless cats and swallows' nests. Our single room is furnished with only a scattering of woolen carpets woven in Central Asia and dyed in beautiful hieratic colors, carpets of typically rough, tight nap, irritating to the touch and still permeated with the sweat of pack mules...The young man and young girl spend the day arguing or making love on the carpets...

We are there. We feel the itch of those coarse but possibly magic carpets, we smell the animal sweat, lacing the smell of lovemaking on those Venetian afternoons where the dreamer's principal task is "to continually readjust the Venetian blind that rattles and allows dust and irritating rays of sunlight to enter the room."
    This is oneiric realism of the highest order and it primes us to accept all that follows. Lovers, suitcases, "a uniformly red Dalmatian trunk", and the dreamer all decamp through a window.


The air sustains us softly and yields underfoot like the tightrope that acrobats tread.

They descend safely to a barge that brings them through fog and ocean to an island with a sinsiter castle. The couple are drawn to a sealed door that opens only for them, while the dreamer fears that they are entering a place of monsters. She is left alone on the wave-tossed shore, contemplating the sunken barge that can never take her home, with just "a uniformly red Dalmatian trunk" that transforms into a straw basket containing a baby.
    Paraphrase cannot do justice the the hypnotic spell of the writing, which grows with the precision of detail. We know the word "crenellated", as used in describing the niches in battlements, but how many know the noun "crenel" or how to use it? Yourcenar's details are never boring. Sometimes you feel she has brought you into the most fascinating of curiosity shops:


a uniformly red Dalmatian trunk holds a series of boxes made from old books emptied of their contents, like those sold in Paris by deluxe confectioners and dealers in knicknacks, inside which all the species of seeds - sunflower, cumin and anise - and all of the different sorts of bird feathers have been carefully classified.

In a note published poshumously,Yourcenar noted that "the experience of the dreamer is not without analogy to that of the poet...The sleeper assembles images the way the poet assembles words: he makes use of them more or less felicitously to speak about himself to himself." This is wonderfully exemplified in her selections from her intimate journal.
     Whatever else we may do with our dreams, I recommend following her lead as a writing exercise when a certain dream has potency and sensory, senuous richness. Let the dream tell its own story, without additions or any kind of analysis. Practice oneiric realism. Apply your powers of expression to describing, as freshly and precisely as you can, what is going on in the scenes. Bring out the colors. Find the exact word for an architrave, the smell of an old carpet, a type of suitcase.
    Recognize that, as a dreamer, you are already a poet. All you need do is find fresh words worthy of the images that have already been assembled for you. I will add something that Yourcenar did not say (but no doubt knew): on many occasions, dreams give us the words as well as the images. I have brought through many pages from my dreams that have flown into my books, the ones I have published and others that have yet to be brought into the world.
 

Quotations are from Dreams and Destinies by Marguerite Yourcenar, trans. Don Flanell Friedman (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming. You may want to check out this most extraordinary five-day creative writing retreat that I lead in May at magical Mosswood Hollow, in the greenwoods 45 minutes from Seattle.

Art: The Poet Reclining by Marc Chagall (1915)

Grow 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.


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

Portrait of Baudelaire by Gustave Courbet (1848)


Friday, December 18, 2015

Hummingbird medicine


I was leading a weekend workshop in the original California Gold Rush country, at a center just outside Coloma. The workshop was titled "Dreaming a Life with Heart." In the first morning session, as always, I had people introduce themselves by explaining their intention for the weekend. A man in the circle could hardly wait to speak up.

"I got this flyer in the mailbox." He held up the workshop flyer, which I had not previously seen. My coordinator had chosen to embellish it with a picture of a jewel-bright hummingbird, because the text referred to "hummingbird medicine" for the heart. 

The man continued, "When I got out of the car, I noticed there was a hummingbird inside. I ran to call my wife, because of the amazing coincidence - the bird on the flyer, and then the bird in the car. When she came and I opened the door of the car, we found that two hummingbirds had somehow gotten inside. As I released them and we watched the two hummingbirds fly away, we knew the two of us needed to be in this circle this weekend."

He explained that he had an additional reason for coming. He had recently undergone quadruple bypass surgery. He hoped that the workshop would be medicine for the heart in several senses. I supported his hope, reminding the group that the hummingbird is said to have the strongest heart of any warm-blooded life on the planet. Its strong heart is what allow it to remain still in the midst of constant beating motion. In one of our meditations, I invited everyone to visualize a hummingbird in their favorite colors hovering before them, and then open their hearts and take its strength inside.

~

We now have academically-approved evidence that spiritual retreats in which people shift consciousness and explore the deeper life are medicine for the heart, on the physical level as well as emotional and spiritual levels.

A University of Michigan Health System study found that taking part in a non-denominational spiritual retreat can help patients with severe heart trouble feel less depressed and more hopeful about the future. Heart patients who participated in a four-day retreat that included meditation, guided imagery, drumming and  journal writing saw immediate improvement in tests measuring depression and hopefulness; the improvements persisted six months later.

“The study shows that a spiritual retreat like the Medicine for the Earth program can jump-start and help to maintain a return to psycho-spiritual well-being,” reported study lead author Sara Warber, M.D., associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan  Medical School and director of U-M’s Integrative Medicine program. “These types of interventions may be of particular interest to patients who do not want to take antidepressants for the depression symptoms that often accompany coronary heart disease and heart attack.” 

The study used a number of standard benchmarks to assess the success of the program. The spiritual retreat group went from a baseline score of 12 on the Beck Depression Inventory, indicating mild to moderate depression, to an improved score of 6 immediately afterward, a 50-percent reduction. Their scores remained that low half a year later. The control group’s score started at 8 and went down to 6.

Hummingbird medicine is truly good for the heart.

Reference: “Healing the Heart: A Randomized Pilot Study of a Spiritual Retreat for Depression in Acute Coronary Syndrome Patients,” Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, July 2011

Hummingbird photo by Meredith Eastwood


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Your dream may be a glimpse of a continuous life you are leading elsewhere


What is going on in your dreams doesn't necessarily stop when you wake up or switch to a different screen. The action may play on, like episodes in a television series that continue to run after you turn off the set.

It gets more interesting. In dreams, you may check in to a parallel life you are leading somewhere else.


You may be swimming with seals, or looking for the selkie skin that was hidden from you. You might still be living with your ex, doing the things you would be doing if you had never broken up. You might be marching with those warriors in leather armor under the banner of a Bear Goddess. You might be running that bordello in the French Quarter in old New Orleans. You may be up on a high roof top, looking down on your present life in the perspective of the Double on the Balcony, your eternal witness.


When you exit a scene in a life you are leading somewhere else, you may or may not remember where you were and who you are in that other world. When you do remember, you tag what lingers in your mind as a dream.


When you exit a dream that is also a visit to a parallel life, your parallel self continues on its way. While you go about your day, your other self may dream of you.


Jung struggled for clarity on this, and found it late in life. He came to believe that we lead continuous lives in our dreams. Put another way, your dream may be a glimpse of a continuous life you are living somewhere else, a life that goes on whether or not you are tuned to its channel. This is something you can dream on.


You get up in the middle of the night and go the bathroom. When you return to bed, you find the same dream is playing as you were dreaming before, but the action has moved along. A bathroom break may be the start of your awakening.


Sometimes a dream of this kind reaches to you from another realm like a giant fist, pulling you in and back. It was like that for me one night at Big Sur. I was in a bed overlooking the Pacific Ocean, my window open to catch the sea breeze and the marvelous rhythm of the waves breaking on the rocky shore.


In my dreams, I was far away, in Mongolia in a cruel winter, on the eve of World War II. I was engaged in a secret mission, to spy on a team of SS commandos who were seeking to capture the most powerful shamanic artifact in the Central Asia: the spirit banner of Genghis Khan. I stirred from this dream, thrilled and mystified. I might have made it my plan to reenter the dream to try to understand why I was in Mongolia in the 1930s while my body was on the California coast. But no effort on my part was required - unless I had wanted to resist going back.


Again and again, through the whole night, the drama played on. All my senses were engaged. Now in a dual or multiple state of consciousness, I could hear the Pacific breakers and turn my body on the bed, while fully present in the Mongolian adventure in a body that felt no less real. I could taste the blood from a horse's neck I was required to drink in order to survive that terrible winter, in a wilderness of snow. I could smell the rank fear of horses and men. I have no doubt I was there.


Art: René Magritte, "Faraway Looks" (1927)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

When dreams begin to come back


People who don't believe in dreams are people who have lost their dreams. When they say they don't dream, they are really saying they don't remember, because they don't make room for dreams in their lives, or because they are hiding from their shadows. 

Those who have lost their dreams have sometimes lost the bright dreamer within themselves. Be gentle with a person who is in this condition.. Don't argue when he tries to tread on your dreams. He has no idea what is underfoot. 
The day may come when a dream comes looking for him, fluttering and shimmering like a butterfly. It may have come all the way from the lands of Lost Boys and Girls where beautiful bright child souls go when the ordinary world seems too cold and too cruel. 
When you sense the glow of a dream returning to someone who has been bereft of dreams, give it a secret welcome. 

Be patient and crafty and wise when the dream manages to find a soft spot in the hard head of the person who didn't believe in dreams. Your friend is going to need confirmation and validation that he is not going crazy. 

He's going to want help to honor the dream and make it at home in his life. He's going to need someone to help him feel safe as he takes the razor glass off the fence and turns on the porch light to encourage more dreams to come home.

When he tries to understand what his dream wants him to hear, he'll need someone who will not steal his dream by telling him what it means and draining its juice into the cold retort of analysis. He'll need someone who knows the roads of dreaming, and will speak as a sympathetic traveler, not a guru, saying "If it were my dream" not "That's how it is".
He is going to need you, dear dreamer.

Art: Tinker Bell by Roy Best (1931)