Sunday, May 14, 2017

"I come from inside you," says the Goddess

Our true spiritual teachers come looking for us in dreams, and they assume many guises. I thought this account of how a goddess with a famous name introduced herself to one woman dreamer would be a good story for Mother's Day.
    I'll call the dreamer Lin. She set an intention for the night: "I want to meet my spiritual teacher." Here is the dream that followed, as she reported it to me:

I go to the cemetery where my brother is buried. We meet and hug each other. It's very loving. He wants to come with me but I tell him I can't take him where I am going. 
     A great bear appears. Bear has been my friend, and I feel safe and protected., even when something weird happens.
      Something like smoke is coming out of my solar plexus. I look at it, trying to figure out what's going on. It takes the form of a woman, a kind of misty ghost. "Who are you?" I want to know. "Tell me your name."
      She says, "My name is Athena."
     "Get out of here. You can't be Athena. You can't be my guide, anyway. My guide can't come from inside me. You have to be separate."
     She corrects me. She says firmly, "I can come from inside you." I'm still disbelieving until she tells me to look down. I see my brother's tombstone. The inscription reads: To thine own self be true.

Asked how she felt afterwards, Lin said, "I was shocked awake." True spiritual teachers like to do that: to shock us awake. Asked to describe Athena, Lin said, "She is a goddess of wisdom."  She decided that the dream message was: "I can birth wisdom from inside myself, and I don't need to look outside myself for my guide."
     Lin's dream encounter was fresh and personal. She also felt grounded in family and ancestral traditions, blessed to have met both her deceased brother, and an animal guardian, and a goddess with a great name who was yet no stranger, given form by her own energy and imagination. Athena isn't known as a mother goddess but here she plays mother to a dreamer's understanding of where the truest spiritual teacher is to be found.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Whatever you think or feel, the universe says Yes

Whatever you think or feel, the universe says Yes. Perhaps you have noticed this. Yes, we are talking about the law of attraction. It is indeed an ancient law, never a secret to those who live consciously. “All things which are similar and therefore connected, are drawn to each other’s power,” according to the medieval magus Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim. It is a rule of reality that we attract or repel different things according to the emotions, the attitudes, the feelings, the agendas that we carry.
     Before you walk into a room or turn a corner, your attitude is there already. It is engaged in creating the situation you are about to encounter. Whether you are remotely conscious of this or not, you are constantly setting yourself up for what the world is going to give you. If you go about your day filled with doom and gloom, the world will give you plenty of reasons to support that attitude. You’ll start looking like that cartoon character who goes about with a personal black cloud over his head that rains only on his parade. Conversely, if your attitude is bright and open to happy surprises, you may be rewarded by a bright day, even when the sky is leaden overhead, and by surprisingly happy encounters.
     Through energetic magnetism, we attract or repel people, events, and even physical circumstances according to the attitudes we embody. This process begins before we speak or act because thoughts and feelings are already actions and our attitudes are out there ahead of us. This requires us to do a regular attitude check, asking, What attitude am I carrying? What am I projecting?
     It is not sufficient to do this on a head level. We want to check what we are carrying in our body and our energy field. If you go around carrying a repertoire of doom and gloom, you may not say what’s on your mind, but the universe will hear you and support you. Attitude adjustment requires more than reciting the kind of New Age affirmation you see in cute boxes with flowers and sunsets on Facebook. It requires deeper self-examination and self-mobilization.
     What are you doing? A woman in one of my workshops 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 is grateful for the inner questioner that provokes her to look at herself. It’s a question worth putting to yourself any day. As you do that, remember that thinking and feeling are also doing.
     “The passions of the soul work magic.” I borrowed that from a medieval alchemist also beloved by Jung. It conveys something fundamental about our experience of how things manifest in the world around us. High emotions, high passions generate results. When raw energy is loose, it has effects in the world. It can blow things up or bring them together. There is an art in learning to operate when your passions are riding high and to recognize that is a moment when you can make magic. Even when you are in the throes of what people would call negative emotions — rage, anger, pain, grief, even fear — if you can take the force of such emotions and choose to harness and direct them in a certain creative or healing way, you can work wonders, and you can change the world around you.
      How? Because there is no impermeable barrier between mind and matter. Jung and Pauli in concert, the great psychologist and the great physicist, came around to the idea that the old medieval phrase applies: unus mundus, “one world.” Psyche and physis, mind and matter, are one reality. They interweave at every level of the universe. They are not separate. As Pauli wrote, “Mind and body could be interpreted as complementary aspects of the same reality.” I think this is fundamental truth, and it becomes part of fundamental life operation when you wake up to it.
     The stronger our emotions, the stronger their effects on our psychic and physical environment. And the effects of our emotions may reach much further than we can initially understand. They can generate a convergence of incidents and energies, for good or bad, in ways that change everything in our lives and can affect the lives of many others.
    When we think or feel strongly about another person, we will touch that person and affect his or her mind and body — even across great distances — unless that person has found a way to block that transmission. The great French novelist Honoré de Balzac wrote that “ideas are projected as a direct result of the force by which they are conceived and they strike wherever the brain sends them by a mathematical law comparable to that which directs the firing of shells from their mortars.”
      Scientific experiments have shown the ability of the human mind and emotions to change physical matter. Studies by Masaru Emoto have shown that human emotions can change the nature and composition of water, and the Findhorn experiments have taught us that good thoughts positively affect the growth of plants. Conversely, rage or grief can produce disturbing and sometimes terrifying effects in the physical environment.
     “We are magnets in an iron globe,” declared Emerson. If we are upbeat and positive, “we have keys to all doors....The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.” Conversely, “A low, hopeless spirit puts out the eyes; skepticism is slow suicide. A philosophy which sees only the worst ...dispirits us; the sky shuts down before us.”
     Yes, the law of attraction is for real. It has never been a secret except from those who live unconsciously. When we become fully aware of how it operates, we discover that whatever our circumstances, we always have the power to choose our attitude, and this can change everything.

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The call of Inanna and the first named author in history

daughter of the Moon
silken bud unfolding

riding out on your wild blue bull
through the Gate of Wonder.

I am riffing on a version of "Inanna and Ebih",  written by the high priestess of the Moon God at Ur around 2300 bce. The literal translation is in Betty De Shong Meador's brilliant Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart.
    I was excited to learn that Meador was called to the great Sumerian goddess Inanna by a dream . She dreamed she saw two fellow Jungian analysts – conservative, by-the-book types - being buried. Strange sticks with loops at the top were planted in the earth around their graves.
      At the time, Inanna was unknown to her and she made no association between the dream and the goddess.  Long after, in one of Erich Neumann’s books, she found a picture of the looped poles like the ones in her dream. She read that they are symbols of Inanna and the earliest way of writing her name in pictographs. They are reed posts. They may represent door posts, or the props for a curtain. In pictographs (see photo), reed pieces hanging down from the rings, sometimes look like women's hair, or ribbons.
     Why would doorposts made from reeds be a symbol for the Queen of Earth and Heaven? Doorposts of this kind could denote the passage to the storehouse,the place of fertility and abundance that are the gifts of the goddess in her beneficent mode. Doorposts could also denote the passage between the worlds. Inanna herself passed through a series of doorways in her famous Descent to the Underworld. So the reed doorposts - in a country with little timber or stone - could be the Mesopotamian version of the pylon gate in Egypt or the dolmen arch in Celtic lands.
     There is further significance in the reeds. In ancient Mesopotamia, dream incubation took place in reed huts.You would step between reed doorposts to dream with intention, maybe to dream yourself into a close encounter with the goddess herself. The marshes of southern Mesopotamia, full of reeds, offered a liminal dreamy landscape. Legend has it that Sargon of Akkad, the father of the priestess who wrote poems and hymns of Inanna was abandoned in a reed basket, sealed with pitch, on a river,  to be found by the gardener who raised him.  A baby from the reeds, long before Moses.
      Meador waxes poetic about the reed posts of Inanna as “insurgent flags”. In her words, “Inanna’s symbol standing tall on the graves was an image of strength and courage from a culture outside of and alien to patriarchal thinking... Inanna’s tall reed standards stand like insurgent flags amid the bastion of traditional beliefs that restrict women.” The meet-up between the old dream and new research into the mythic cycle of Inanna led the Jungian analyst to make a huge new leap in her work and understanding, into Goddess realms. "This new perspective propelled me onto my future path.” 
       As Meador studied the texts, she found Inanna's wild call for her chosen lover to plow her field. The goddess calls for Dumuzi, who is both the "wild bull" and the plowman:

My field needs hoeing
Dumuzi, I call you
It is you I want for prince. 

     Inanna is many, a great goddess who refuses all boundaries and limitations. For Meador, she is the Sumerian “personification of the whole of reality”. 

You wear the robes
of the old, old gods. 

     Meador discovered a soul friend in ancient Mesopotamia. She happens to be the first named author in all of human history. Her name is Enheduanna. The "en" in her name means "high priestess". She was the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad and high priestess of the moon god Nanna. She was also a poet of the first rank, and the most passionate of her poems were devoted to presenting Inanna in all her faces. She composed 42 temple hymns that have survived  and the "Exaltation of Inanna"(Nin-Me-Sar-Ra) infused with her passion for the goddess.
     It is really absurd that Enheduanna is relatively unknown. She is the first named author in world literature. She is a great poet. She is advancing a whole theology and philosophy that promotes the great Goddess as the one beyond the many. She writes with searing passion and eloquence about the many aspects of the self. The goddess she praises – in all her dark and light – is within her, and within the whole of nature and the whole cosmic order. Both contain multitudes.
     Meador writes that “in Enheduanna’s writing, we witness that moment when an individual is selected out of the mass of humanity into a new consciousness of self-definition and self-worth...Enheduanna begins to understand emotion as the graze of the goddess’ hand across a person’s soul. Image and emotion become the language of the goddess to the particular individual.”
    Called to the goddess and the ancient poet through the doorway of a dream. Goddesses and dead poets can make that happen. I know about this.

Quotes here are from Betty De Shong Meador, Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna. Published by University of Texas Press.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Good story this one" : Listening to Aboriginal dreamers

They say in the South Pacific that when the anthropologists arrive, the spirits leave.
    A notable recent exception is Sylvie Poirier, a social anthropology professor from the Universite Laval in Quebec, who has been tracking the dreaming of the Kukatja, a people of the Gibson desert in Western Australia, for many years. She won the confidence of a Kukatja grandmother, Nungurrayi, and was helped by her to understand not only what traditional Aborigines believe is going on in dreams, but how they share and honor dreams in their communities.   
    Sylvie Poirier writes that "in Aboriginal Australia, dreams are the privileged space-time of communication between humans and ancestral beings, as between humans and spirits of the dead.” 
     Dreaming is a way of tending the land. A fertile country is a country of good dreamers.
 Dreaming is active, not merely passive. It is a form of engagement. You can decide where you are going to go, and you can go consciously.
     Dreaming is soul travel. A dream is what happens when an aspect of soul leaves the body and has encounters and adventures. “The spirit goes on walkabout," the Kukatja grandmother explains. In the understanding of her people, “a dream occurs when, while a person is asleep, his or her kurunnpa [an aspect of soul or spirit]related to the abdominal (or umbilical) area (tjurni) leaves the body to pursue various encounters and experiences.” A good dreamer is one who knows how to “open” their tjurni.
     Dreams can be shared experiences. People can enter each other’s dreams.
     When dreams are shared in community, it is often in the morning, over a mug of tea. Yet Sylvie Poirier found that the Kukatja are far from promiscuous in their dream sharing. They know that dreams are powerful, and that it is necessary to handle this power carefully. They also recognize that dreams can provide clues to situations that require discreet investigation. Like detectives on a case, they may be unwilling to share such clues until the case is solved.
     Nonetheless, Poirier heard Kukatja people open up and tell their dream narratives fluently and spontaneously in relaxed social circumstances. This is appreciated as a chance to share and enjoy some good stories. You might here someone tell a terrifying dream and get the response, "G
ood story (palya wangka) this one”. Dreams of any kind, told well, are appreciated for their story value, as entertainment, as well as for information.
     When Kukatja discuss the meaning of dreams, they ask questions like "where, who, what, when?" Tracking routes and locations in a dream is of high importance. Where were you, exactly? What landmarks do you recognize? Who else was there? Everyone is conscious that they are tracking where the dream soul, the kurunnpa, went in its nocturnal excursions.
     While dreamers make visits, they also receive visitations. So the questions may center on who came calling last night, invited or not.
     Dreams reveal malfeasance, especially sorcery, and a dream of sorcery may put an end to psychic attack. In such cases it may be judged highly desirable to tell everyone about a dream. A young Kukatja woman dreamed of sorcerers who are pointing the bone at her. The elder told her to tell the dream to everyone at the camp. "Outing” the sorcerer in this way was intended to scare him off.
     Dreams are valued as sources of creative inspiration. A Kukatja man is chased by a snake in his dream. As he tells it, he dwells on the snake’s vivid colors – and decides to use them in an acrylic painting.
     Kukatja dream sharing is directed at getting all the facts from the dream and taking appropriate action, for example, to deflect a coming danger revealed in the dream or to harness its creative energy. In contributing to discussion, others may tell dreams, stories and life experiences evoked by the first dream report. Through emerging patterns of resemblance and connection, the fuller meaning of a dream - and the appropriate action - may be revealed. 
    Poirier reports that this desert people, who appear so "poor" in terms of material culture, are far more advanced in their approach to dreams than cultures that rely on dream dictionary or dogmatic modes of analysis:  “I have not found any dream that has a fixed meaning; depending on context, any dream can be read as a good or bad omen.” 
   Aboriginal dreamwork is an antidote to Freud, who wrote that the dream “has nothing to communicate to anyone else”, meaning that dreams are entirely products of the personal subconscious and even so, unintelligible until interpreted. Aborigines know that dreams are social and transpersonal, connecting us to other people, both dead and alive, and to the animate universe of spirits and Ancestors. 

Source: Quotes are from Sylvie Poirier, “This Is Good Country. We Are Good Dreamers: Dreams and Dreaming in the Australian Western Desert,” in Dream Travelers: Sleep Experiences and Culture in the Western Pacific, ed. Roger Ivar Lohmann (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), pp. 107–126. Sylvie has also published an excellent book based on her years with the Kukatja: A World of Relationships: Itineraries, Dreams and Events in the Australian Western Desert (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005).

Art: "Canning Stock Route" by Kukatja artist Rover Thomas. National Museum Australia.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Confessions of a biphasic sleeper

I confess that I am a biphasic and sometimes a polyphasic sleeper. I have never really tried to sleep for six or more hours at a stretch, the widely recommended mode in our predominantly monophasic sleeping culture. Typically, I sleep (or at least lie dormant) for two distinct periods of four hours and two hours in a 24-hour cycle. Depending on my travels and other factors, the shorter sleep phase may be an afternoon nap before a longer night sleep or a morning lie-in following it. I do not suffer insomnia because I don't try to sleep unless I feel like it. I almost never need an alarm clock or a wake-up call. Traveling between time zones does not bother me. In any time zone, I am nearly always awake between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m., one of my favorite hours. I am told this is the time, actuarially, when more people die and more are born than in any other hour in the cycle of 24.
When resting in bed, I spend as much time as possible in a half-sleep or half-wake state, in the hypnagogic zone (approaching sleep) or the hypnopompic zone (after sleep). This liminal state of consciousness is immensely fertile. It presents spontaneous images that can be the portals for lucid dream adventures. It opens psychic perception and is a place of encounter with inner guides. It is a state in which we hatch new ideas and creative connections. My approach to sleep and dreaming may seem exotic to many in a society that is suffering serious dream deprivation and in general does not reward its members for recalling and sharing dreams. However my habits would be recognized and approved by most of our ancestors, cross-culturally.
For hundreds of thousands of years, humans thought that what the pushers of sleep meds promise – an uninterrupted night of seven or eight hours’ sleep – was an unnatural and undesirable thing. Experiments by a team led by Dr Thomas Wehr at the National Institutes of Mental Health in Bethesda have supplied compelling evidence of how our technology has ripped us from our natural cycle. Deprived of artificial lighting for several weeks, the typical subject evolved the following pattern: lying awake in bed for an hour or two, then four hours sleep, then 2-3 hours of “non-anxious wakefulness” followed by a second sleep before waking for the day's activities. One of the most exciting findings in Wehr’s study involved the endocrinology of the night watch. The interval between first sleep and second sleep is characterized by elevated levels of prolactin, a pituitary hormone best-known for helping hens to brood contentedly above their eggs for long periods. Wehr concluded that the night watch can produce benign states of altered consciousness not unlike meditation. [1} Wehr and his team put their subjects on the Paleolithic plan, without alternatives to electrical light such as candles or fire or oil lamps. The Paleolithic two-sleeps cycle wasn’t only a stone age phenomenon; it was characteristic of how people spent their nights until gas lighting and then electricity became widespread. A seventeenth century Scottish legal deposition describes a weaver as “haveing gotten his first sleip and awaiking furth thairof.” Sleep historian Roger Ekirch says that “until the modern era, up to an hour or more of quiet wakefulness midway through the night interrupted the rest of most Western Europeans” - and presumably most other people - so that “consolidated sleep, such as we today experience, is unnatural.” [2] This may help to explain the extent to which so many  in our urbanized society are out of nature and out of touch with dreaming. “Segmented sleep” was the norm for our ancestors until quite recently, as it remains for some indigenous peoples today. Like Virgil and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Tiv of central Nigeria speak of “first sleep” and “second sleep”. They wake at any time during the night and will talk to anyone in the hut who is also awake - often about their dreams.[3] Most interesting, the state “twixt sleepe and wake” that the French called dorveille was widely regarded as an excellent time to birth new ideas. In 1769, the artful London tradesman Christopher Pinchbeck advertised a device called a “Nocturnal Remembrancer”, a parchment tablet inside a box with a slit to guide the writing hand in the dark to enable “philosophers, statesmen, poets, divines and every person of genius, business or reflection” to secure the “flights and thoughts which so frequently occur in the course of a meditating, wakeful night.” Biphasic or polyphasic sleep might help us to recover the "perceptual diversity" that anthropologist and economic development specialist Tara Lumpkin observes is woefully lacking in contemporary mainstream Western cultures. "When a culture restrains perceptual diversity, that same culture reduces human adapatibility, which, in turn, leads to human beings living unsustainably...Coming from developed Western cultures, which highly value monophasic consciousness and the scientific method, we may not even be aware of what we are losing. It is altered states of consciousness, which speak through symbols and intuition such as dreaming, imagining and meditating, that often allow us to grasp the whole in a way that the scientific method can never provide."[4]
    Modern culture, through the suppression of natural circadian cycles and a disregard of dreaming, may have fulfilled for many Thomas Middleton's complaint that we have rendered ourselves “disanulled of our first sleep, and cheated of our dreams and fantasies.” [5]

Perhaps you, too, will find it helpful to wake up to the fact that it's okay to be awake in the middle of the night. While sleep deprivation can be a serious problem, we do better when we stop confusing being awake in the middle of the night with "insomnia" and learn to have fun when the rest of the world is sleeping (and thinks we should be asleep). And then, whenever possible, plunge back into dreaming.

1. Nathalie Angier, "Modern Life Suppresses Ancient Body Rhythms", New York Times, March 14, 1995.
2. A. Roger Ekirch, "Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-Industrial Slumber in the British Isles", American Historical Review 106, no. 2 (April 2001) 343-386.
3. Paul Bohannon, "Concepts of Time among the Tiv of Nigeria", Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, no. 9 (Autumn, 1953) 253.
Tara W. Lumpkin, "Perceptual Diversity: Is Polyphasic Consciousness Necessary for Global Survival?" in Anthropology of Consciousness 12 (1-2) 37-70. 

5. Thomas Middleton, "The Black Book", in The Works of Thomas Middleton ed. A.H. Bullen (New York: AMS Press, 1964) 8:14

Art: Henri Rousseau, "The Dream" (1910)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Death of an Oracle and the Oracle that Never Dies

The Sibylline Books were the oldest and most respected oracle of the Romans. According to legend, the original set – in Greek hexameter – were sold to an ancient king of Rome by a wise woman, or sibyl, from the region of Troy. They were replaced several times. Under the Empire, they were moved from the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill in Rome to a vault under the temple of Apollo on the Palatine Hill. An august college of secular priests, whose members had typically held high state office, were entrusted with pulling verses from the collection –as you might pull Tarot cards from a deck – to perform a reading. 
     The Sibylline Books were most often consulted to get a second opinion on an anomalous event, like the flooding of the Tiber or the birth of a two-headed ram, but also to elicit the will of the gods on important undertakings and to receive guidance on what measures the state might need to take to propitiate the powers above.
      In 405, the master of Rome was a half-barbarian general named Stilicho who had been fighting a series of savage battles against Alaric and the Goths; Stilicho usually won, but at ruinous price, and without clear resolution. He did not like his ratings from the Sibylline Books, which hinted that he was out of favor with the gods. He did what other men of power have done when they disliked the opinions of diviners and dreamers; he tried to shut them down, in this case by ordering the destruction of the Sybilline Books. Though the Empire was now officially Christian, the culture of Rome was still deeply pagan, and this was widely viewed as an outrageous act of blasphemy that would bring punishment from the old gods. 
     Soon news reached Rome that barbarian hordes had crossed the Rhine, heading for Italy. A cabal of disgruntled officers overthrew Stilicho; in 408, he was beheaded.. Two years later the Goths sacked Rome. There were many pagans who muttered, I told you so.
    Around the same time that Stilicho was destroying the great oracle at Rome, across the Mediterranean, in Cyrene in what is now Libya, a philosopher of noble blood named Synesius – soon to be made a bishop of the Church – completed a treatise On Dreams that argues, from a wealth of personal experience, that dreams are our private oracle and we should never allow anyone to interfere with it.
    This oracle is the birthright of every human, regardless of class or condition, and it travels with every dreamer. All that is required to consult it is to lay your head on a pillow – though the results you get will have a lot to do with how you live your life and how you cleanse (or fail to cleanse) your perception.

If we stay at home, the dream oracle stays with us; if we go abroad she accompanies us; she is with us on the field of battle, she is at our side in the city; she labors with us in the fields and barters with us in the market place. The laws of a malicious government cannot stop her. A tyrant cannot prevent us from dreaming, unless he banishes sleep from his kingdom. [The dream oracle] repudiates neither race, nor age, nor condition, nor calling. This zealous prophetess, this wise counselor, is present to everyone, everywhere.

We can choose to ignore this oracle, at our cost, but it can never be destroyed.
    I consider Synesius' treatise on dreams to be the best book on the subject before very recent times. He describes how healing, creative inspiration, and exact information on developments remote from us in time or space are all available in dreaming. He insists that dreaming is the birthright of every human, regardless of circumstances, gender or ethnicity. He instructs that we must learn to interpret our own dreams and not give our power away by turning to others to do this. 

It would be shameful for those who have lived ten years beyond adolescence to stand in need of any other diviner, shameful that they should not have accumulated an abundant store of technical principles

He explains that we want to keep "books of night and day" recording not only dreams but signs and symbols in everyday life. We will confirm that “all things are signs appearing through all things”
    We may find in his situation a distant mirror for our own times. Wherever he looked, darkness was rising. Both halves of the divided Roman Empire were falling into chaos and civil war. Rome, the world city, was sacked for the first time in eight hundred years. He had to lead neighbors and retainers to fight off marauding bands that attacked his city and his country estate. During his three-year embassy to Constantinople, he found himself in a snake pit of intrigue, with lynch mobs and brutal mercenaries in the street (and wrote a roman à clef about it).
     Synesius recognized and taught, with clarity and eloquence, that in scary times dreaming can get us through, by preparing us for what lies ahead, by giving us a direct line to sacred powers and by connecting us to the soul's purpose. To practice dream divination, Synesius insisted, is also to "uplift the soul." He wrote that "We ought to seek this branch of knowledge before all else; for it comes from us, is within us, and is the special possession of the soul of each one of us."
    He invited us to lift our spirits and our imaginations in the worst of times, by remembering that the soul has wings.

There is nothing that forbids the sleeper from rising from earth and soaring above eagles, to reach a point above the loftiest spheres themselves. He may look down on the earth from far above, and explore lands that are not visible even from the moon. It is in the power of the dreamer to converse with the stars and to meet the hidden powers of the universe.

Quotations are from the Augustine Fitzgerald (trans) Essays and Hymns of Synesius of Cyrene  (1930). Read more about the "bishop of dreams" in The Secret History of Dreaming.

Art: Sack of Rome by the Visigoths by J.N.Silvestre (1890)

Friday, April 28, 2017

Dreaming in Greeneland

When I first traveled to Paris as a foreign correspondent, early in the 1970s, the office secretary made a reservation for me at the St James Albany, which turned out to be twin hotels - very handsome Right Bank townhouses - separated by a quiet courtyard with a fountain and flagstones and flowerbeds and shade trees. It struck me that the courtyard between the twin hotels was a liminal space, ideal for intrigue and trespass of various kinds – for games involving lovers, or spies, even players from different worlds. 
     I later discovered, to my great delight, that Graham Greene had similar feelings and had made this location a part of Greeneland, the fictive world of his novels. He used the courtyard of the St James Albany as the setting for a hilarious scene in Travels with My Aunt in which two women, meeting by chance, discuss the lovers with whom they tryst in secret in each of the twin hotels - and then discover that their lovers are the same man when M. Dambreuse arrives with his wife and children.
     Graham Greene led many lives, but first and last he was a writer, with a professional writer’s discipline. Through his many intrigues, both personal and political, he managed to sit down almost every day from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. – on a veranda in Tahiti or a cottage in Brighton – and knock out his quota of 500 words, and he did this for seventy years, producing a steady stream of popular novels and essays.
     A crucial part of Greene’s practice was to write down his dreams. He started keeping a dream journal when he was sixteen. He often reported his dreams in letters to lovers and friends. Over the last twenty-five years of his life, he recorded his dreams with great faithfulness – though in fiendishly difficult handwriting – in notebooks that are now in an archive in Texas. His last literary project was to edit a selection of his dreams for a posthumous collection he titled A World of My Own.
     The interweaving of Greene’s dream life with his other lives makes a fascinating study, for which the primary source materials are unusually extensive.  We see how a man who chose to live on the dangerous edges of the world was able to create – richly and repeatedly – from the borderlands of dreaming. We can track many different modes in which a writer can create from dreams, from receiving the initial idea for a story, to solving a problem during sleep, to bridging a narrative gap, to dreaming deep into a character’s life.
     As a young boy, he had psychic dreams, often involving death by water, a prospect that terrified him. On the night the Titanic sank, when he was just seven, he dreamed of a shipwreck, with a man in oilskins bent double beside a companionway under the blow of a great wave. 
     He was miserable at school – nothing unusual in the lives of creative and sensitive individuals – and ran away when he was sixteen. This was highly embarrassing for the family, since Graham’s father was headmaster. They decided to send him to London to be psychoanalyzed, which was still a novel idea in 1920, especially for a teenage boy. The analyst selected, Kenneth Richmond, had no formal training; he was a writer with spiritualist leanings who followed an eclectic approach.
     While Greene was boarding with him in Lancaster Gate, Richmond instructed him to write down his dreams. In mid-morning sessions, Greene was expected to tell a dream and then give his associations to the key images while the analyst merely listened. When Greene did not recall a dream, he made something up. The whole experience – which he later described as the happiest six months of his life  – laid the foundation for Greene’s literary career by training him to write from dreams and invent stories. 
      Kenneth Richmond’s beautiful wife Zoe – about whom Greene had mildly erotic dreams – thought Graham was clairvoyant, “a natural medium”. While in Lancaster Gate, Greene dreamed of a ship going down in the Irish Sea. That same night, just after midnight, the Rowan sank in the Irish Sea
      In some of his precognitive or clairvoyant dreams, he found himself in the situation of one of the victims. Aged twenty-one, he dreamed of another shipboard disaster in which he was being ordered to jump overboard from an upper deck. He later read the news of a terrible wreck in a storm off the Yorkshire coast in which the captain ordered his men to jump into the violent sea, and all but two were drowned. Greene speculated that “on an occasion like this there must be terrific mental waves of terror, and my mind seems to be particularly attuned to the terror of drowning wave.”
     His youthful psychic ability to dream his way into someone else’s situation resembled his mature ability as a novelist to dream his way into his characters’ lives. He later observed that “sometimes identification with a character goes so far that one may dream his dream and not one’s own.” 
     Greene’s dreams were central to his writing. He said that two of his novels, It’s a Battlefield and The Honorary Consul, both started with dreams. He dreamed the plots and characters of entire short stories. When he was writing A Burnt-Out Case – which drew heavily on his diary of a trip to the Congo – Greene came to a point in the plot where he was stuck. Then the author dreamed as his character, Querry, and found he could insert his dream “without change” in the novel, “where it bridged a gap in the narrative which for days I had been unable to cross.” 
     Greene made it a habit to solve writing problems in his sleep, noting that it is not necessary to remember the content of a dream in order to receive a dream-inspired solution. “When an obstacle seems insurmountable, I read the day’s work before sleep…When I wake the obstacle has nearly always been removed: the solution is there and obvious – perhaps it came in a dream which I have forgotten.” 
      He harvested personal dreams and assigned them to characters in his novels. In a  dream reflecting his lifelong preoccupation with religion, he gave a lecture on the theme that God evolves, as well as man, and that behind their apparent duality, God and Satan are one. He later transferred this theory to a passage in The Honorary Consul where his character explains that God has a “night-side” as well as a “day-side”; the night-side will wither away (“like your communist state, Eduardo”) as God and man both evolve. 

   Graham Greene was a man of mystery who had much to hide, in his private life and in his engagement with the worlds of power and espionage. For him the great mystery, at the end, concerned what follows death. He thought – and dreamed – about this all his life. He was greatly affected by a series of dream encounters with his father after his death. 
   Greene had a disturbing dream that he might be extinguished after death through lack of belief. “I had been aware of people I had loved who called me to join them. But I had chosen, by my lack of belief, extinction. A great black cone like a candle extinguisher was to be dropped over my head.” 
     But he did not go out like that. He left sure of continuing life, ready for new travels, regretting only separation from the last woman to share his life, Yvonne Cloetta.
    A week before his death, knowing it was at hand, he said to Yvonne in the hospital at Vevey: “It may be an interesting experience; at last I shall know what lies on the other side of the fence.” 
Towards the end, he made this note in Yvonne’s “red book” of their conversations: “Perhaps in Paradise we are given the power to help the living. I picture Paradise as a place of activity. Sometimes I pray not for the dead friends but to dead friends, asking their help.” 
Yvonne recalls that “He worked every morning, as he always did, right up to the end, on his book of dreams.” Evidently he came to believe that through dreams (as one of his characters said in a different connection) “there was something in the warring crooked uncertain world he could trust beside himself.”

Adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Everyday Angels and the Cosmic Costume Department

The well-known psychic Alice Bailey believed that both anonymous companions and other generic dream figures - the train conductor, the taxi driver, the telephone operator - may all be angels in disguise. Maybe you have noticed how such characters sometimes play the role of guardians or guides in your dreams. Here are a few cases from my own dream journals:

The telephone operator

In one dream, I found a message on my telephone answering machine from a troubled woman who had caused a good deal of confusion in my life. As I listened to the message, which was an appeal for a meeting, the voice of the operator came through. The operator explained that she did not want to let calls from this person come through because her intentions were harmful. In my dream, I was able to print out the message, which I then destroyed by putting it through a trash compactor. I often find that the telephone operator in my dreams helps me to screen communications on the inner planes. The telephone operator or switchboard also helps me to route calls to higher sources of guidance. This continues even though, in waking life, in the age of smart phones I rarely have any interaction with old-style telephone operators.

The immigration or customs official
Since I do a lot of traveling in this world, these figures frequently appear in waking life. In dreams, they often play a deeper role, although I never dismiss the possibility that I may be dreaming a future situation in regular life. In my dreams, customs officials may discuss whether I am dressed properly or carrying excess baggage and help me to get these things sorted out. Immigration officials play an even more interesting role. In one dream, for example, I noticed that the immigration official to whom I had to present myself at a foreign airport was reading a book on synchronicity. When I expressed interest, he led me into a back room, where several of his colleagues - dressed in blue, high-necked uniforms of a distinctively "French" design - discussed early research on the theme that had been conducted in French. This gave me useful and specific leads for research that found its way into books I proceeded to write.

The hotel manager

In another dream, I found myself in a hotel in a foreign country where a power problem was causing intermittent blackouts throughout a whole city. Then the hotel manager appeared. He was an immensely charming, confident, even radiant, man who assured me that everything could be put right. He proceeded to demonstrate. He increased the voltage on a generator, raising the energy flow to several times the maximum level shown on the gauge. Nothing blew up, and the lights in the city came back on. After this dream, I noticed a marked increase in my energy level and was able to complete a book project at record speed.
    The hotel manager often appears to me in dreams as the person responsible for the management and effective operation of the whole establishment - i.e., my whole psychospiritual condition. 

The maitre d' and the chef

The restaurant manager or maitre d' figures in my dreams as the person who oversees my social and eating habits. The dream chef plays a deeper role, on stage or backstage. He often represents my inner creator. In a turning point dream, both figures played shocking but very helpful roles. I was struggling at the time with a book project.
    I had contracted to write a thriller with a Russian theme, following the popular success of my earlier novel Moscow Rules but my heart wasn't in it. I did not want to repeat myself and was feeling a deep call to change the whole direction of my life and my writing. I turned to my dreams for help. I set the intention, on going to bed, to receive dream guidance on writing my new "Russian" thriller. I stepped into a dream that seemed promising. A huge banquet hall had been set up in my honor. I noted that the place settings included the finest china, and that the cutlery seemed to be made of silver and gold. But the maitre d' rushed up, wringing his hands. He tol me there was a problem in the kitchen. The master chef did not like my menu. He refused to cook any more stroganoff., If I insisted on a Russian entree, he would quit.
    I woke up chastened. I understood that - through the message from the unseen master chef - my creative spirit had given me clear guidance. I tore up a contract because of that dream, abandoning the Russian thriller for fresh literary adventures that led me to publish a series of historical novels involving Native American dream shamans, and eventually my nonfiction books on Active Dreaming.

The taxi driver

I learn a lot from taxi drivers in dreams, where they are quite as unpredictable as in New York City. When I turned to historical fiction, a cabdriver turned up in a splendid vintage car. I entered into a most rewarding conversation with him after the initial dream. Wide awake but still connected to the energy of the dream, I sat down with pen and pad and asked him a series of questions, carefully recording his responses. 

The elevator operator

This is someone who can help to transport you to higher levels. He may or may not hold the door open for you if you are running late, or expect a tip. In one of my dreams, an elevator operator waited for me patiently while I carried a dead relative who was in a bad way, groggy and disoriented, into an old-fashioned lift. When we had risen to a higher floor, the dead person vanished into a television set inside the lift

The doorman or security guard

At any important threshold, we may challenged to establish our right of entry, to show ID and perhaps to lay down things we are carrying that do not belong where we are going. In dreams, as in ordinary life, the doorman or security guard plays a vitally important role. We may come to recognize the many forms of the Gatekeeper, that archetypal entity that opens or closes our doors and paths in life and between the worlds.

I have come to think that there is a Cosmic Costume Department for spiritual guides. They appear to us in forms that we can perceive. I have given examples of guides appearing in everyday dress. They may put on much wilder outfits, including the forms of wild animals. Their purpose is to get our attention. Sometimes that requires reassuring camouflage; sometimes it requires shock tactics.

Parts of this article are adapted from "Dream Guides and Guardian Angels", chapter 8 of Conscious Dreaming: A Spiritual Path for Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by Three Rivers Press.

Image: Makeup Room at the National Theatre, London.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dreaming for soul and survival, from the Paleolithic to our times

Most human societies have valued dreams and the dreamers for three principal reasons. They have recognized that in dreams we see the future, and this can help whole communities as well as individuals to make better choices. They have understood that dreams give us a direct line to the sacred, to the God/Goddess we can talk to, to the ancestors, to the animate spirits of Nature. And they have grasped that dreaming can be very good medicine. Dreams diagnose problems before they present symptoms; they offer imagery for self-healing; and they show us the state of the soul and can help us retrieve parts of our vital energy that may have gone missing through what shamans call “soul-loss”.
     In Western society, dreams are undervalued by those the English call the “talking classes”, especially in academe and the media. Yet we all dream, so this is common property. Ever the hardhead who says “I don’t dream” is only saying “I don’t remember” or “I don’t care to remember”. And when life is tough or he is going through a big life transition, his head may be cracked open by a big dream that will expand his understanding and maybe give him sources and resources not otherwise available.  One of the most common types of “big dreams” that can accomplish that is a visitation by a dead family member or loved one.
     All ancient and indigenous peoples that I have encountered, in my studies as an independent scholar and in my travels in many realities, understand that the dream world is a real world, maybe more real than the regular world of our consensual everyday hallucinations. When I told an elder of the Longhouse People, or Iroquois, about my dreams of a Mohawk/Huron  arendiwanen,  or “woman of power”, who walked this earth three centuries ago, he told me “you made some visits and you received some visitations.” There you have a central understanding, forgotten or ignored in much of Western psychology: dreaming is traveling.
     In dreams, soul or consciousness gets around, far beyond the body. In dreams, we may also receive visitations. The very words for “dream” in many cultures reflects this insight. In the language of the Makiritare, a shamanic dreaming people of Venezuela, the word for “dream” is adekato, which literally means “a journey of the soul.”
     Look at what is painted on the walls of the Paleolithic caves and you have evidence of the central importance of dreaming from as far back in the human odyssey as we can trace. The images are portals into a deeper reality, not simply hunting or fertility magic, but ways of connecting with the spirits, of calling through power, and of traveling between dimensions.
     On the most practical level, dreaming has always been a key part of our human survival kit. When we were little better than naked apes, without good weapons, dreaming helped save us from becoming breakfast for leathery raptors or saber-toothed tigers, by enabling us to scan our environment, across space and time, and identify possible dangers.
     We want to learn to meld ways of dreaming and healing that  our ancestors knew with the best of science and scholarship today. The methods of Active Dreaming that I teach and practice are not a "New Age" approach, but the revival of ancient wisdom, adapted to our contemporary lives, and providing essential tools to get us through life's challenges and find and fulfill our bigger and braver stories.

Art: the "Panel of the Lions" in the Grotte Chauvet in southern France.

My new online course "Dreaming into the Dreamtime" draws on the wisdom and practice of seven world traditions; classes start on May 3.


Amnesia and Anamnesis: The Journey of the Forgetful Envoy

Life is a process of remembering and forgetting, forgetting and remembering.
    The theme of the forgotten mission is beautifully conveyed by the “Hymn of the Soul” in the gnostic Acts of Thomas. The hero is sent from the East into Egypt in search of the Pearl beyond price, which may be his own Higher Self. Drugged by the food and drink of the country where he now finds himself, he forgets who he is. From the distant land from which he has come, the king and queen and “all the princes of Parthia” send a message to awaken him to the memory of who and what he is and recall him to his forgotten mission.
    The same theme resonates, in modern dress, in Doris Lessing’s allegorical novel Shikasta. An envoy is sent to Earth from a higher civilization in a distant galaxy. To reach his destination, he must pass through a vast waiting area, a plane of mists and illusions, where souls wander between incarnations. On Earth, the envoy succumbs to the miasmal conditions; he forgets who he is and why he has come. An new envoy must be sent to remind him.
    Does the story sound familiar? It could be yours. It has certainly been mine.
    One of my favorite literary versions is Herman Hesse's novella The Journey to the East.  In a time of social collapse, when "there was a readiness to believe in things beyond reality", the narrator joins a pilgrimage to the East under the guidance of a mysterious order described only as the League. He journeys far in search of his spiritual home and regains the knowledge of essential things, such as his purpose for living. However, when he returns to his former environment, he loses his journals and souvenirs and begins to doubt whether his experiences were real. People around him don't believe his accounts. Soon he succumbs to their skepticism. He wonders whether the League itself is only a figment of his imagination.
    But the League has not forgotten him. He is one of its own. He is invited to read his personal file in the League archives. He discovers that four centuries earlier, in another lifetime, he also belonged to the League. He is ashamed. How could he possibly have forgotten this? In a secret alcove, he is permitted to draw back a veil and makes his most extraordinary discovery. It is a small statue that proves to be two figures in one, joined back to back. One of the figures is the traveler himself. In the other, he recognizes the features of the guide who led him on his journey to the East.
    As he studies the twinned figures, amazed, the statue comes to life. His own image melts and flows into that of the guide. It seems that, when fusion is complete, his ordinary self will be absorbed into the larger identity of the guide, the form of a Higher Self.
    Like Hesse's League, our true spiritual teachers do not forget. When we open ourselves to the possibility of remembering who we are and what we might become, they communicate clearly. To receive their knowledge — and recover the knowledge that belonged to us before we came through the tunnel of the birth canal — we must be in a corresponding state of consciousness. As Anaïs Nin remarked, “We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
    Ordinary consciousness is a candle bobbing on a dark river, casting an inconstant circle of light across the water, in which an occasional creature from the deep can be glimpsed indistinctly. The river is vast, flowing into a boundless ocean. This is the sea of the greater Self. We cannot see it by the light of our daily trivial mind, which scarcely combs back the darkness.
    When I was a lonely adolescent in Australia, an inner guide who appeared to me in the form of a radiant young man from the eastern end of the Mediterranean reminded me that the knowledge that matters comes to us through anamnesis. The word literally means "remembering", the antithesis of amnesia. For Plato and the neo-Platonists, it means remembering the knowledge of mind and spirit that belongs to us on a higher plane, knowledge to which we had access before we came into our present bodies.
    Humans are forgetful animals. We forget and remember, remember and forget. Yet our true spiritual teachers stalk us in dreams and speak to us in liminal states of consciousness when we turn off our routine soundtrack and can hear a deeper voice. 

Part of this text is adapted from chapter 14, "Soul Remembering" in Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and Life beyond Death by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Art: "Song of Shambhala" by Nicholas Roerich

Spiritual gravitation

"Man attracts spirits according to his own temperament," as William Butler Yeats observed. To "the sanguine, the spirits of fire, and the lymphatic, those of watery nature, and those of a mixed nature, mixed spirits." While observing that like attracts like, Yeats was also fascinated by the way that opposites may be drawn together, to complement and complete each other, and to spark that creative friction that brings new things into being.  
    Yeats' friend, the Celtic visionary artist George William Russell (whose pen name was "AE") defined the key principle at work here as "spiritual gravitation", and described how it spills over into the play of synchronicity or objective chance. 
Your own will come to you. 
AE summarized the law of spiritual gravitation in this single thrilling phrase. In his beautiful little book The Candle of Vision he explains
I found that every intense imagination, every new adventure of the intellect endowed with magnetic power to attract to it its own kin. Will and desire were as the enchanter's wand of fable, and they drew to themselves their own affinities. ..One person after another emerged out of the mass, betraying their close affinity to my moods as they were engendered. 
     In our lives, this plays out through chance encounters, through the dreamlike symbolism of daily events, when we turn up the right message in a book opened at random or left open by someone else on a library table. If the passions of our souls are strong enough, they may draw "lifelong comrades".
     In The Candle of Vision, AE gave a personal example. When he first attempted to write verse, he immediately met a new friend, a dreaming boy "whose voice was soon to be the most beautiful voice in Irish literature" This was William Butler Yeats. "The concurrence of our personalities seemed mysterious and controlled by some law of spiritual gravitation." 
     In his later life, AE found a soul companion in the Australian writer P.L.Travers, the author of Mary Poppins and also a deep student of the Western Mysteries and a world-class mythographer. AE wrote to her about a further aspect of spiritual gravitation: "I feel I belong to a spiritual clan whose members are scattered all over the world and these are my kinsmen."
"Bathers" by George William Russell (1867-1935)