Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Iceland is dreamland

Iceland is a country where dream fires burn among the ice, along with the geysers and volcanoes. Most Icelanders believe in dreams and follow their guidance to a degree that is remarkable among modern Western societies.  A Gallup survey of 1,200 Icelanders in 2003 revealed that 72 percent found meaning in their dreams; many reported dreaming the future and sharing dreams regularly within their families. More than half the respondents said they had experienced lucid dreaming. Over 70 percent believed that dream precognition is real, and over 40 per cent reported personal experiences of precognitive dreams.
    The Icelandic language distinguishes vital categories of significant dreams, such as dreams of the future (berdreymi) and dream visions (draumspa). We can track Iceland’s dreaming traditions back through the Eddas and the sagas. In a classic study, Dreams in Old Norse Literature, G.D.Kelchner found 530 dream references in old Icelandic literature. In the V öluspa, even the gods go to wise women for help with their dreams.     In a scholarly article in the journal History and Anthropology Adrienne Heijnen provides fascinating insights into the respect that Icelander accord to dream visitations from the deceased, especially when it comes to naming babies that are on the way. It is widely believed among Icelanders that the deceased visit the living in dreams aðvitja nafns, “to seek a namesake”.   
     Ten percent of Icelanders surveyed by the Social Science Research Institute of the University of Iceland reported that they had received dream visitations from deceased persons who expressed the desire to pass on their names to children who had not yet been born. No less than 75 percent of the group believed that this is possible.  Heijnen explains that it is believed that “through the naming of newborn children with the help of dreams, substance can flow from the dead to the living, who are often, but not necessarily, genetically related.”
     Heijnen reports the case of a woman named Sigrun, who was killed by an avalanche while hiking with her boyfriend. After her death, Sigrun visited her friend Helga in dreams. The dreams became more frequent and more pressing when Helga was pregnant with her oldest daughter. “Sigrun came to me,” Helga began, whenever she recounted one of these dreams; she had no doubt that her deceased friend had visited her.  She told her dreams to her mother, who became convinced that Sigrun wanted to give her name to the coming child. Helga agreed the baby would be named Sigrun.  After the christening, Helga dreamed of her deceased friend as a joyously singing head and took this as confirmation she had done right.
    The typical dream visitor who comes seeking a namesake is a deceased member of the immediate family. But Icelanders also report similar visitation from drowned sailors, deceased friends, neighbors who died in accidents and "hidden beings" called 
Huldufólk or alfar, said to live in rocks and hills, who may want to give their names to the newborn. And a boy was named Gabriel because the archangel Gabriel appeared to his mother.   
    It is widely believed that when parents refuse a request from the spirits to give their name to a child, they expose the child to danger. a A woman who died young from asthma, supposedly because she was not given the name an
 alf woman had told her pregnant mother in a dream, because the priest refused to accept it.    Clearly, there is more here than we generally understand when we talk about picking a name for a baby. Heijnen notes that in Iceland "a name is supposed to carry certain characteristics, or qualities or affects. Namesakes are sometimes though to share aspects of their personality.”   
    First names are singularly important in Iceland. You see that when you open a phone book; the entries are arranged by first names. (Last names identify Icelanders as the child of a parent, usually the father, by adding "son" or "daughter" to his or her first name.) The general preference is to give a newborn child the first name of one of the grandparents, but a dream visitation will override this, as in the case of Sigrun. They say, “One may not let a deceased person down.”  As  one Icelandic woman dreamer puts it, "You may not have listened to a person when they were alive, but when they have died, you had better listen up."
     Icelanders understand, as a matter of common experience, that dreams can be transpersonal, social and objective phenomena, not simply productions of the personal subconscious. This understanding is built into the Icelandic language. When you tell a dream in Icelandic, you might begin by saying, “It dreamed me a dream” [
Mig dreymdi draum] As Heijnen puts it, “Dreaming in Iceland is not considered to be a withdrawal within the self, but a way of disclosing and relating with ‘the world.’”

Reference: Adrienne Heijnen, “Relating through Dreams: Names, Genes and Shared Substance”  History and Anthropology, Vol 21, No.3, September 2010, pp. 307-319
For more on Icelandic dreaming, please see "Dreaming a Wife - and the Fish" in The Secret History of Dreaming, pp. 128-131.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Writing in pencil

I like to write in pencil. For preference, I use an inexpensive mechanical pencil with an eraser at the end. I write most of my poems with a pencil like this, typically over a cup of coffee in the early morning. As I write and erase, the page takes on the quality of a palimpsest, with one layer laid over another, and another.
    Writing in pencil, there is little fear of consequences. If your first efforts fall flat, you rub them out, cross them out, or just let them go.
    There is a sensuous engagement with the writing process.
    Sometimes there is a sense of magic, as if the pencil is a wand.
    But there is a huge problem. It's not that my handwriting is illegible to others. That is great, because it means what I write by hand is in a secret code that requires no effort on my part. The problem is that my handwriting becomes illegible to me, too, within an hour or two of setting my hand to a page.
    So I need to transfer my jottings to a more permanent vehicle as soon as possible. On days when I am leading workshops, I can do this by sharing at least part of my fresh writing with the group. Reading aloud is already a form of publication, and has its pleasures and rewards when you are sharing with the right people.
    I will still try to get to a keyboard before the new material goes cold and the memory traces blur, to enter it in a folder in my electronic documents.
    As I ramble in sidelong, circuitous ways into the territory of the next books that are beckoning me, I am minded to go back to writing more in pencil than I have been doing of late. I opened an old journal at random just now and found a dream from early last year that seems like a huzzah for this idea:

Graphite Wand

I am writing with a stylus in a field of powdery graphite that is also the night sky. I am writing with great loops and flourishes, rather as I wrote cursive in my early days at school. My words make patterns of silver stars, moving together in spiral rhythms, like a turning galaxy.

(dream report from January 22, 2013)

When I write in pencil, I am easily drawn to add sketches to my texts. This pleases the boy creators in me, who love to draw and paint at least as much as writing.
    Now I am curious about the origin of the word "pencil". I see that the use of the word for a graphite writing implement is relatively recent. It originally meant a fine artist's brush. The English "pencil" derives from the Old French pincel (cf modern pinceau), in turn derived from the Latin penicillus, meaning a painter's brush or "hair pencil". The Latin term literally means "little tail", a diminutive of penis ("tail"). Yes indeed, there is something quite sexy about writing in pencil. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Make dreaming together part of the fabric of family life

Dream teacher Valerie McCarney has shared a dream that inspires us to make dreaming together part of the fabric of family life - within both our biological families, our communities of friends, and our intentional families. In the dream, she met a remarkable guide after she decided to dream on the mysterious tragedy of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370 that has moved so many of us over all the weeks the families of the passengers have been hoping and praying for some definitive word.
    Here is Valerie's narrative:

I was watching tv and the Smithsonian station had a documentary on the missing Malaysian Airline flight. I thought I am not taking all that sadness to sleep with me and turned it off. Then I thought, I will set an intention to see if I can find out where the airline has gone. I dreamed:

Surrounded by the fabric of life,  she speaks

I am in a bazaar some place. I am in an area filled with colorful fabrics hanging all over . They are beautiful and I am walking through looking and touching some. I come to one area and there is a woman standing there. I smile at her and she watches me touch the fabrics on her table. She is Asian, maybe Malaysian. She speaks to me.
   She says, "I want to tell you that you need to teach dreaming to families. Teach them to share their dreams with each other, the simple dreams , the silly dreams , the big dreams. They need to get comfortable doing this. So when there is trouble they can help each other through the dreaming process. If the people on the Malaysian airlines flight did this, by now some of their relatives would have shown up in their dreams . They would have told them where they are and what happened. It would give the families much comfort . In turn they could share the information with the other families who have lost a loved one."
    She said this quickly in a matter of fact way without changing the expression on her face. I just listened. When she was done speaking she turned and started to fold fabric.
    I started to leave and she said, "Oh wait a minute, tell Hillary Clinton to be careful when speaking to large crowds."
I awoke surprised that I got so much good information.The last bit about Hillary Clinton mystified me. What was that about?
    My first action was to honor the dream by painting the woman among all those fabrics.
    The following week, I heard that Mrs. Clinton was speaking to a crowd and got a shoe thrown at her. I paid attention. This seemed like confirmation that the woman in my dream knows what she is talking about. I took the incident as a strong signal to so what I was being advised to do, where I am able to make a difference.
    My next action will be to get my own family dreaming together on May 10th, the World Day of Active Dreaming. I will be with my extended family on vacation that day.Many members of my family, especially but not only the women, are vivid dreamers who are no shy about sharing what they dream.
I will set up a group intention for us to meet some place we all know and visit with family members that have passed on . I am very familiar with doing this but most of my family is not . We will set the intention at the beginning of the week and watch our dreams.  Then on May 10th we will see what we have.  Since some of the other dreamers will not be there with us I will email them and ask them to see what dreams come up during that time as well.
    By doing this I believe I will be honoring the wisdom of the dream guide, weaving an even stronger family fabric, and maybe seeing what is going on behind the veils of ordinary understanding.

Art (c) Valerie McCarney

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Living inside the dream of a creator

In the mythology of some ancient and indigenous cultures, while we think we are awake in this world, we are actually living inside the dream of a creator god.
     In the mind of India, Vishnu is dreaming this world, which will continue until he ends the dream and disperses his dream characters – including ourselves. The god with skin the color of rain-filled clouds sleeps on the great serpent Shesha Naga, who may be depicted with five heads, or seven or a hundred.. The serpent drifts on the great Milky Ocean. For those raised on the Bible, through the exotic garb the threefold, undulating movement of the dreaming god, the serpent and the ocean, may evoke the flow of the second verse of Genesis where “the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” While Vishnu sleeps, his mind generates dreams, and this is the stuff we and our world are made of.
     Another version of a god dreaming up a world comes from the Guajiro (Wayuu), a forest people of South America. For the Guajiro, the universe is born when the creator, Maleiwa, becomes aware that he is dreaming. He does not come to this awareness unassisted. His helper is an intriguing being called Apusanai, whose function is to set up the matrix within which dream experiences take place. Apusanai performs this operation not only for the creator, but for every human. [1] So whenever we go dreaming, it is possible that – on our own scale – we may enter into the manifesting power of the first conscious dreamer, the creator god.
    In the cosmogony of the Makiritare, a shamanic people of Venezuela, the high god Wanadi created his own mother, through dreaming. First he projected a double that entered the physical world. The double “just sat there in silence, thinking, dreaming, dreaming. He dreamed that a woman was born….He made his own mother.” Then he entered her body in the form he had dreamed. [2]
    That story may provoke us into thinking more deeply about what is really going on in divine conception dreams like the famous dream of Queen Maya that heralded the coming of her son Siddhartha, who became the Buddha. In approaching Maya, we don’t want to miss the fact that in Sanskrit her name means “illusion”, not merely in the negative sense but in that of the play of images that brings things – even worlds – into manifestation.
     Maya dreamed of a six-tusked elephant, “white as the snow-capped mountains”, that entered her body by the side. Priests were summoned to interpret the dream, and predicted that she would give birth to a spiritual being that would change the world. On the night of conception, according to some early texts, she slept apart from her husband. Though the queen was not a virgin, up to this point she had been childless, and the birth of Siddhartha was certainly an extraordinary event. He is sometimes described as exiting his mother’s body through the side, without surgery and without harming her. Some versions suggest that the six-tusked elephant not only represents the spiritual power of the Buddha but is also the spiritual begetter of the coming Buddha. [3]

1. Lawrence C. Watson, “Dreaming as World View and Action in Guajiro Culture,” Journal of Latin American Lore 7, no.2 (1981): 239-254,
2. Marc de Civrieux, Watunna: An Orinoco Creation Cycle, trans. David M. Guss (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1980) p.23
3. Serinity Young, Courtesans and Tantric Escorts: Sexualities in Buddhist Narrative, Iconography and Ritual (London: Routledge, 2004),pp. 67-72.

Graphic: Vishnu dreams on Sesha Naga, while Lakshmi rubs his feet (18th century)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I am here for flooding

I am here for flooding.
In the mountains of the moon
the secret source is swelling, rising.
I am here for the river to burst its banks
leap the familiar channels
and turn and pleasure the thirsty land
to climax in a shivering harvest of words.

I climb to a savage height
yearning for the song of the sacred spring
that is held mute in a prison of stone.
I call the raw, unstoppable flying horsepower
born of the blood of conquered nightmares.
“Come to us now! Pound the rock,
beat down resistance with drumming hooves,
free the fountain that makes muses
and lets the muses sing in us.”

Here, now, my gatekeeper is a flow god
with bull horns, robed in running streams
and waterfalls where fishes leap.
He swims in the underground river of my life.
He knows how to rescue goddesses
who went down to the darkest Underworld.
I tender the price of entry, the promise
I will not obstruct water when it should flow.

In another Now, I am the Hanged Man
suspended in a queasy mush of elements,
fighting with myself inside a sack,
clinging to old forms, to shades of what I was.
I am here to let the old self fall away
and to burst the stiff casing like a bag of waters
and fly on shining wings to bring fresh dreams
as butterfly kisses to a sleeping world.

-        -  Gore Mountain, April 13, 2014

      Photo: Snow and Sun at 13th Lake (c) Robert Moss

Friday, April 11, 2014

Wings of the hawk

Members of my dreaming family are helping me to put on the wings of a red-tailed hawk. They are perfectly fitted to my size, and are part of a full outfit. The plumage covers my chest, my back, and my whole head except for the face. Now the dreamers are helping me to put on the face mask. I notice the curve of the beak, and the enormous holes for the eyes. I shake out my wings and tilt forward. I lift up and fly over the furniture, laughing.
    Other dreamers have put on garments and power objects associated with their own allies among the bird tribes and the animal powers. We are together on the sacred mountain where we have gathered for seventeen years to deepen our practice as dream healers and dream ambassadors, to commune with the spirit of the land, and to share adventures in the multiverse. This is so right. There is such joy and excitement among us.

The joy and excitement stayed with me as I rose from this dream last night. 
    I was filled with gratitude for all that Hawk has shown me - and shown to others, through me - since I got in a car and drove 120 miles north of Manhattan in 1986. I was ready to change my life, and was seeking the right ways. I though they were likely to involve putting down deeper roots in my adopted country, living close to the land and its seasons. I had dreamed of an endless struggle that was finally resolved when I followed the counsel of an old poem - Antaeus-like, grow strong. In Greek mythology, Antaeus is the son of Ge, or Gaia, our ancient Mother Earth. Whenever he is thrown in a fight, he rises with renewed and even greater strength, because of his renewed contact with Earth.

So on my very first weekend in what I learned to call "upstate" New York, I found a falling-down farmhouse on many acres. Half the land was virgin woodland that had never heard the sound of an ax. When I sat under an old white oak behind the house and watcheda red fox trotting to or from his earth at the edge of a cornfield, I knew this was the right place. But in rational terms, a snap decision to move to this area, where I knew no one, too far to commute to the City, seemed nuts. I needed a confirming sign. As I leaned my back against the oak, a red-tailed hawk came circling overhead, squalling at me in a language I felt I would be able to understand if only I spoke hawk. She dropped a feather between my legs. It was the clincher; I bought the property.

    In the farmhouse, in nights of adventure, I found myself rising from my sleeping body in a second body equipped with the wings of the hawk. It was on hawk's wings that I flew to the ancient arendiwanen ("woman of power") and atetshents ("dreamer") I have called Island Woman in my books. She began my instruction in ways of dreaming and healing that went far beyond anything I had heard about in Western society. She insisted that I learn her language, an archaic form of Mohawk laced with Huron. I discovered that she had an historical identity. She lived in the early 1700s, captured as a child from the Hurons and adopted by the Mohawk people, who eventually raised her up to be Mother of the Wolf Clan.
    In night visions and shamanic journeys over all the years since then, I have found myself flying on the wings of the hawk to perform rescue missions, to scout out the possible future, and to enter the sacred realm of the Peacemaker, from whom we learn that we must seek to heal the minds of our enemies rather than kill them.
    When I have been uncertain of my way, or have simply needed further confirmation, hawk has appeared on the roads of my life in quite literal ways. A hawk going my way is always a good sign for me. So is a hawk having a good breakfast on roadkill, or something livelier. Once, when I was leading a fire ceremony above a waterfall in the western Connecticut woods, a red-tailed hawk came circling overhead, dropping lower and lower, screaming at me like the one above the white oak at the farm. There was again the gift of hawk feathers, not from the bird itself but from a man who had come from Akwesasne, the Mohawk reservation on the Canadian border. He chose this moment to offer me hawk feathers as a gift from Island Woman's descendants.
    We'll gather again on the sacred mountain this weekend. I look forward to fulfilling the dream of putting on the wings - and keen vision - of the hawk again, where my second self met some of his dreaming family last night.

Drawing: "Dreaming in Hawk". (c) Robert Moss.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dreaming like a child

I often hear dreams from adults that sound like the products of a child's imagination. One dreamer is menaced by giants. She runs but can't get away - until Superman swoops down to rescue her. Another dreamer is entertained by a strange composite animal, a cross between a jolly pink pig and a hairless dog, with a strip of carpet instead of a tail.
     In such dreams, buildings and people around the dreamer often seem vastly larger than in regular life, as adults and cities might appear from the perspective of a young child. At the same time, the dreamer may find she has the ability to make herself greatly bigger or smaller, like Alice with the "Drink Me" bottles.
     I wonder whether such child-like dreams really are the dreams of the child within the dreamer. They may be returning memories of dreams in early life. They may also be a direct link to the inner child, providing a chance to bring more of her energy, joy and imagination into current life. They may even be a bridge to connect with the child in her Now time, which is past history for the adult except when released from the constraints of linear time, as in dreaming.
    I have given happy examples thus far, but the dreams of the child may of course be filled with challenge and drenched in fear. Those menacing giants may represent abusive adults and authority figures the child can't handle, and Superman is not always available. Yet when the bridge to the child in her own Now time is open, we can slip across it, to offer support and mentoring that may be desperately needed. We can help to provide the heroes our child selves want to be dreaming of.

I know that this helped a sick, lonely boy in Australia long, long ago, in the 1950s. I was reminded how that worked not long ago when I ordered a taxi to take me to the airport at 4:00 a.m. The driver was whiskery and bleary, but friendly, and struck up conversation by remarking, "You have an accent." I get this endlessly in the United States, where anyone who speaks another form of English is held to have an "accent". After allowing that my accent might be described as "Anglo-Australian", the driver proceeded to tell me that he is fascinated by "the British life style" and watches lots of period English movies and TV. He then asked if I could solve a mystery. "The characters are always having tea and crumpets. What is a crumpet?"
    I spent the rest of the ride explaining the difference between a crumpet and an English muffin, and singing the praises of the crumpet, a staple of my boyhood and still a favorite comfort food, though I must now order my supply by mail.
    As I got out of the cab, I realized this odd early morning conversation had given me a lead for the day. I was scheduled to give a lecture that evening at East West Bookshop in Seattle. I had already decided that I would read some fresh selections from The Boy Who Died and Came Back but had not yet made my selection. Now I had it. An early chapter in my memoir is entitled "Crumpet Time". It celebrates crumpets, but is also a narrative of time travel by an older self to support a younger self in his own Now time. Here is an excerpt:

The friends who helped me most in the time I was sick and lonely as a young boy were invisible to others. One of the best of these friends was the Big Man. He was like a favorite uncle I did not have. One of the lessons he taught me was how to eat crumpets.
    The Big Man came to me when I was in my bedroom, sick and lonely and feeling really sorry for myself. It was one of those days when I wanted to leave.  I felt a presence in the room, then the mattress tipped a little as someone eased down on to the edge of the bed. A hand closed on my shoulder, squeezing just a little.
    “That’s right,” my visitor said. “You really are all right.”
    The warm, confident voice was familiar but I could not put a name to it. I rolled over and looked up into a large pink face, smiling at me from under a mane of white hair.
     “I know it’s hard for you,” my visitor went on. “I know you’re lonely and feel rotten. But you are going to make it through. You’ll be knocked down some more, but you will always get up again. You are a survivor, Robert. Trust me. You will make it through.”
     The Big Man was hugging me then. I felt so small and fragile in his embrace, and I could not stop the tears flowing because I felt safe and because this stranger was holding me as my mother never did, not since I died.
     “Write,” he encouraged me. “Write your dreams. Write those adventures that stream through your head when you’re playing with your toy soldiers.”
    “Nobody wants to hear my dreams,” I complained.
    “You may have to lie low for now. But the day will come when lecture halls will be filled with people who are eager to hear your dreams and to tell their dreams to you. I promise you.  You are lonely,” he repeated. “But I promise you that the time will come when you will know the love of women and women will love you.”
    I must have fallen asleep, because I did not see him go. I did not ask him who he was. I often sensed him nearby, when I was alone. When he was close, I felt bigger and stronger.

When we were living in Melbourne, my mother took me to the café in the stately old Myers department store for afternoon tea, and I always had crumpets.
    I felt the Big Man close to me one afternoon in the café. “Crumpets taste much better with salt and pepper,” he nudged me. “Go on. No one will mind.”.  
    I reached around the pots of jam and marmalade for the shakers, and gave my crumpets a good dose of salt and pepper. The waitress looked at me. My mother just went on sipping her tea. .I had done stranger things. The Big Man was right. Crumpets are really nice with salt and pepper. 
     I know this: we can travel across time, and we can play mentor and counselor to a younger self, or receive help and guidance from a wiser older self. At the very least, when we reach to that younger self, we can offer the assurance that however much he is suffering, he or she will make it through. 

We dream dreams of the child, and the child dreams dreams of us.

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

Photo: The dreamer as a boy.