Friday, September 12, 2014

Here myths spill into the day

Mosswood dreaming

Here, if you tread very softly among the cedars
you may hear the low midday snores
of the soft secret race of big-footed beings
who grow pink hibiscus in their dreams.

You can’t miss the tree that is the portal
to the three worlds because it is more real
than the others. This is your One Tree,
that knows you before you know it.

When hungry spiders dressed as magic mushrooms
come skittering over your bed
you forget to be scared because you are hungrier
that they are. You gobble them up fast
and burp out webs of shining possibility

You stand before the bathroom mirror
squeezing toothpaste from the tube
and a giant boa rises to rhyme with you
wrapping itself round the tube of your body
squeezing your old dead stuff out.

You see that people have fire slumbering
in their bellies even when they are cold
and muddled and living on ashes
and you make it your pleasure
to turn on the pilot light of their souls.

Here you can walk through wild orchards
to a wild shore where the hard spray
off the whitecaps rouses every nerve ending.
You pick your way, barefoot, over the rocks
to the tide pool where the great sea turtle,
teacher of the deep, resumes your lessons
in going deep, and wearing armor
on your back that leaves your soft bits exposed
so you can’t hide from life in a hard shell
but must always be ready to fight or move fast.

Here you remember the power of naming.
You find the words that heal bodies,
pleasure spirits, and make worlds.
When you ask, “Where’s the rest of me?”
you create a conga line where you are joined
by the belly dancer and the golden child,
the red horse and the crocodile,
by Bigfoot,  the Empress and the Fool.

Here when you let love spill through your eyes
every blade of grass is in love with you.
You lie in the creek bed like a pebble
and the water rounds your hard edges.
In pilgrim hands you are carried to a stony place
to make an offering to mountain spirits.
You rest in a cairn for a thousand years
until you spread wings and fly to your truest lover.
You let the earth have you, under the warm sun.

The fire has been built for you.
You become cinnamon.
Rising again, you spread yourself.
As aurora, you color the world.

Here myths spill into the day
like ripe fruit falling into your hand.
The salmon that made Finn the first shaman
leaps from the deep pool of dreams
stuffed with the hazelnuts of wisdom
and explodes on your palate
and feeds the whole company
in a miracle of filberts and fishes.

- Mosswood Hollow, September 12, 2014

Photo by Nance Thacker

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A shamanic dinner designed by a dream

A dream followed by a shamanic journey generated a new dish worthy of the first Irish shaman.The most magical food story from Mosswood Hollow so far (and there have been many).

1. A French dreamer named Paulette in my current Imaginal Healing training shares a dream in which a red-tailed hawk takes her to meet an indigenous elder who is fishing for salmon.

2. She and I agree we will travel through the portal of this dream together, meet the elder and (if permitted) taste the salmon, in a shamanic journey.

3. The journey is a fabulous success. We meet the elder, discover the healing gifts of the pool, are permitted to partake of the salmon - and then find the way open to even deeper discoveries involving connections to several ancient traditions.

4. We both have a very tactile, gustatory experience when we eat the salmon, inside our shared vision. Very specifically, we both taste hazelnuts as well as the fish. For me, it seems that mashed hazelnuts are inside the salmon. The combined flavors are delicious.

5. When we share journey reports at the end of my drumming for the group, I recall that in Celtic folklore the first Irish shaman, Finn, gains his powers by tasting salmon that has swallowed hazelnuts from the Tree of Wisdom overhanging the River Boyne.

6, During the break, I talk to Sandie (Sandra Grumman) the Kitchen Goddess and co-owner of Mosswood Hollow.

     "Do you have some hazelnuts?"
      "Are you planning to cook salmon anytime soon?"
       I tell her the shared dream. She immediately says, "I'll put hazelnuts in the salad to accompany the salmon." 
      This sounds great, but I speak about my vivid sense - the taste is still in my mouth - that the hazelnuts are inside the salmon. Sandie does not skip a beat. "I'll put hazelnuts in the stuffing for the salmon."

7. Eh voil√†! Saumon farci aux noisettes. Salmon stuffed with hazelnuts. True shaman food. A dinner designed by a dream, with the help of the most creative chef I know. Salmon √† la Paulette, for short. Merci!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Island Woman on Dreaming with the Animal Spirits

When we discover any possible power animal connection, we want to (1) study the natural habits and qualities or the animal (2) track it through folklore, mythology and spiritual traditions (3) learn from the animal itself, by journeying to it, and then with it (4) feed and honor the animal in our bodies and our lives.
    I want to let one of my great teachers on this subject speak to you on this subject. She is a true "wolf woman". Born Huron, she was adopted by the Mohawk as a child and became the mother of the Wolf Clan of the Kanienkehaka (People of the Stone, as the Mohawk call themselves in their own language) and a powerful  atetshents (dream shaman). She called me from across time. Because of her, I was required to study the Mohawk language, and she helped to put me on my path as a dream teacher.
    I call her Island Woman in my books and the drawing shows how I first saw her, in a night vision in which I was carried to her on the wings of a red-tailed hawk. Here she is, speaking on the animal spirits in my book Dreamways of the Iroquois :

"If we are not in touch with our animal spirits, we don't know how to be in our bodies or how to feed them.
    "Everybody is born with a soul in the wild, an animal double. That animal soul can move from one animal body to another, which is a good thing because animals usually have shorter lives than humans, or their lives are cut short. The needs of that animal are your needs. If your animal is a meat eater and you don't eat meat, you are going to get sick. If that animal is a runner and you don't get off your butt, you are going to get sick.
    "As you grow in power, you will meet other animal guardians. A true person of power, an arendiwanen, has many animal guardians, and when they are not traveling around, they live in power objects and in power centers inside her body. I keep some pretty big packs and herds of animals in my solar plexus, because I need extra to give to people who have lost their own animal spirits, maybe because they forgot to feed them, maybe because they chose a tame life and the animal spirits became disgusted with them....
    "Some of the kids go vision questing to get an oyaron [power animal]. To go out in the wilderness by yourself, to fast and stay up all night and know fear are good things. A powerful oyaron won't bother with anyone who isn't brave enough to face him and claim his power, and we come into knowing by being alone with the spirits. But there are powerful callings that are announced when we are sleeping in our regular space. We may think we are hunting the spirits, but it's usually the other way round. They are hunting us, which is why they can always be found. Especially in dreams."

- from "The Teachings of Island Woman" in DREAMWAYS OF THE IROQUOIS by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books.

Drawing of Island Woman (c) Robert Moss 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Black Elk, the poet and a dream passport

One of the great creative and spiritual encounters in American history took place under a shelter of pine boughs on a barren hill on the Pine Ridge reservation in the summer of 1930. The men who met that day were John G. Neihardt, a renowned poet and critic from Nebraska, and the Lakota holy man Black Elk.
     Neihardt was engaged in writing “The Song of the Messiah”, the last narrative poem in his epic  Cycle of the West. He was eager to talk to an elder who had been warrior and healer, hunter and seer, who had worn the Ghost Dance shirt and lived the brave and tragic history of his people from the slaughter of the buffalo through victory at Little Bighorn and the massacre at Wounded Knee. The government agent at Pine Ridge, an admirer of Neihardt’s work, had arranged an interview, describing the “old Sioux” as a “kind of preacher”, a wichasa wakon (holy man). Neihardt’s Lakota interpreter, Flying Hawk, counseled him not to get his hopes up about the interview. Black Elk, now almost blind, was reclusive and reluctant to talk about sacred things; he had turned away another writer the week before and might simply refuse to see Neihardt..
    As it turned out, Black Elk was eager to talk to Neihardt, and talked for nearly five hours during their first encounter. He spoke not only from memory but from vision, “of things that he deemed holy”. As Neihardt passed out cigarettes, Black Elk said, through the interpreter,“I feel in this man beside me a strong desire to know the things of the Other World. He has been sent to learn what I know, and I will teach him.”
     Black Elk was not mistaken. Both men had received their calling in dreams and visions, and they immediately recognized that in each other. Black Elk placed a power object, representing the Morning Star, round Neihardt’s neck, and started talking about a “power-vision” from his boyhood. When he was just nine years old, the Lakota fell into a trance on Harney Peak and saw the sacred hoop of the world, and the tree of life, and the powers of the six directions.

I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.

On the first conversation with Neihardt, Black Elk gave only “flashes” of  what the vision contained. But he invited the poet to come back in the spring to receive it all. He announced that his purpose was to “save his Great Vision for men”; he had chosen Neihardt to be his “word sender”, the one who would take his story from one language and mindset and root it in another, so the world could hear and awaken.
     Neihardt was ready to understand and interpret, not only because he had studied Native American traditions for thirty years, but because he was a dreamer whose life had been shaped by a big dream in his boyhood. Aged 11, on his own “hill of vision” in Nebraska, Neihardt lay in a fever. Three times during the same night, he felt himself hurled through a vast emptiness at terrifying speed, his arms stretched forward, while a great voice drove him on. He interpreted the dream as a mandate for his life calling: to follow a higher purpose that he would manifest through poetry.
    Two decades later, Neihardt wrote of his encounter with the voice of the fever dreams in a poem titled “The Ghostly Brother”. Here he presents the driving force of the dream as a greater self or daimon that tells him, “I am you and you are I.” The poem speaks of the tension between a power that calls him to travel “somewhere out of time and place” beyond “the outer walls of sense” and the everyday self that wants safety and comfort and rest.
     When Neihardt shared the dream with Black Elk, the Lakota elder called it a “power-vision”, using the same language with which he described his own boyhood vision on Harney Peak. Black Elk told Neihardt that he thought the voice in the dream was “an Indian brother from the happy hunting grounds who was your guide.” Black Elk felt that the guide that sent young Neihardt flying through space had brought them together. “It seems that your ghostly brother has sent you here.”
     Neihardt felt shivers of recognition when Black Elk got to the point in his narrative – the following spring – where he described himself flying through space, in a vision when he was in Paris with a Wild West show, in the same style as the 11-year-old poet.
     From the conversations between the two dreamers came an essential and perennial classic of Native American spirituality, Black Elk Speaks, first published in 1932 and now available from Excelsior Editions (an imprint of SUNY Press) in a handsome annotated edition with illustrations by Standing Bear. The subtitle of the book speaks of the depth of creative collaboration the Lakota holy man and the poet achieved: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux as told through John G. Neihardt (Flaming Rainbow).
     Notice the phrase “told through”, as opposed to “told to.” The book blends two voices flawlessly, and beautifully fulfills Neihardt’s intent (as he described it in 1972, a year before his death) “to re-create in English the mood and manner of the old man’s narrative.”
     In the Mohawk language, which I was required to study because of my own dreams and visions, the word for “interpreter” (sakowennakarahtats) carries the sense of transplanting something from one place to another. This Neihardt accomplished.  In explaining why he gave the poet the name Flaming Rainbow in a Lakota adoption ceremony, Black Elk said:

He is a word sender. This world is like a garden and over it go his words like rain, and where they go they leave everything greener. After his words have passed, the memory of them shall stand long in the West like a flaming rainbow. 

    In his work with Black Elk, as Neihardt  wrote near the close of his life, he was convinced that “there were times when we had more than the ordinary means of communication.” I am sure of it. Dreamers know each other, and where people value dreaming, the right dream is a passport to essential things, which are shared on more than one level of consciousness.

Time Note: I wrote a first version of this essay in 2011, when I was honored by an invitation to give the John G. Neihardt Memorial Lecture (in honor of the author of Black Elk Speaks) at the State University of New York.

Photo: Black Elk on Harney Peak by Enid Neihardt (1931)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Jung wrestles with the Prince of the Casbah

I accustomed myself to living always on two planes simultaneously, one conscious, which attempted to understand and could not, and one unconscious, which wanted to express something and could not formulate it any better than by a dream.

The voice is that of Jung, reflecting late in life on his early travels (in 1920) in North Africa, where he was fascinated to find himself among people whose language he did not know, whose culture was initially utterly foreign to him, and who had a very different relationship to their bodies and their emotions (he thought) than Northern Europeans.
     He felt that beyond surface differences he was dealing with a different collective spirit, a spirit of the land itself. He told himself that his feelings were more than a tourist's projections, that there was something out there, a spiritus loci that he needed to explain to himself and eventually to others. He had deeply emotional reactions to everyday scenes: to the buzz of Arab conversation in the casbah in Algiers, to a haughty, magnificent rider on a black mule hung with silver, to Arab men walking hand-in-hand at an oasis in the Sahara, to the the sudden riot of color and noise of a market setting up in the early morning.
    He feared that he was falling "under the spell of the primitive", that he had been "psychically infected", a condition he saw reflected in his body when he succumbed to a form of infectious enteritis.
    He began to fear that his rational mind and identity might be overwhelmed by what "primitive" peoples called ghosts and spirits. He had read Inside Australia, a 1912 book about Aboriginal beliefs and customs by anthropologists Baldwin Spencer and Francis Gillen. His imagination was seized by the reported Aboriginal belief that the ancestral spirits of the land lie in wait for newcomers, and can reincarnate themselves through their progeny. Jung returned this idea again and again. In his essay "Mind and Earth", he wrote that "Certain Australian Aboriginals assert that one cannot conquer foreign soil, because in it there dwell strange ancestor spirits who reincarnate themselves in the new-born. There is a great psychological truth in this."
    In North Africa, Jung wrestled with the sense that there was something wild and primal and "barbaric" that could take possession of him now, not in a future generation. He was moving towards a theory of the "objective reality of the psyche", about how just as each of us has a world within, the world outside us is full of spirit, for good or otherwise. But more immediately, he was groping for a way to stay in balance, to master and integrate archetypal forces that threatened to overwhelm him.
    In Tunis in 1920, it was a dream that was his mentor and his proving-ground, as was so often the case in his life. Jung 
dreamed he was in an Arab city with a casbah whose walls formed a perfect square, with a gate on each side, and a moat around (an unlikely element in a North African city). He stood before a wooden bridge leading to a dark, arched portal.             Eager to explore, he stepped onto the bridge. At the mid-point, he was challenged by "a handsome, dark Arab of aristocratic, almost royal bearing". This prince of the casbah attacked him. They fought and fell through the railing of the bridge together. The dark prince tried to force Jung's head under water to drown him, but Jung resisted. "No, I thought, this is going too far." He succeeded in pushing his assailant's head under water. "I did so although I felt great admiration for him. I had no intention of killing him. I wanted only to make him unconscious and incapable of fighting."
     After this struggle, the scene changed and the adversary reappeared as as a companion. They stood together in a vaulted octagonal room in the center of the citadel. Everything was white, simple and beautiful. On the floor below him, Jung discovered an open book with black letters written in splendid calligraphy on milky-white parchment. He was reminded of the Uigurian script of western Turkestan, familiar to him from the Manichean fragments of Turfan  "I did not know the contents, but nevertheless I had the feeling that this was 'my book', that I had written it."
     He told the young prince that now he had overcome him, he must read the book. The prince resisted, but Jung overcame him again, this time with kindness and patience.
     Recalling this turning-point dream in his later years, as he dictated the materials for Memories, Dreams, Reflection
Jung analyzed it in terms that today sound almost stereotypically "Jungian" and yet go beyond. The shape of the casbah or citadel is a perfect mandala, within which the dreamer is journeying to the center of the self. The adversary on the bridge is a "shadow", but in a larger sense that is often understood when that term is used. The Arab prince is "not the personal shadow, rather an ethnic one associated not with my persona but with the totality of my personality, that is, with the self. As master of the casbah, he must be regarded as a kind of shadow of the self."
    In his own view, Jung's struggle with the dark prince - like Jacob's struggle with the dark angel - was more than a battle with a denied or suppressed aspect of his ordinary personality. It was a contest in which consciousness, awakened to the power and allure of a previously unrecognized archetype, is challenged to fight in order to befriend. 


Art: Henry Ossawa Tanner, "Gate of the Casbah" (1914)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sidewalk Tarot: Gotta Try for the Big One

The experience of meaningful coincidence can come like a slap in the face or a passionate embrace. It can leave you gasping, knowing that the universe has become very personal and is speaking directly to you. Such big encounters with the deeper order, in which there is really no separation between mind and matter, can leave you stunned, or aroused.
    However, I love the smaller encounters with synchronicity that may do no more than give a little fizz or tickle to the day. When I am home, I start my morning by walking my little dog up a street of brownstones in a small city to the park where we take a path around a lake. Coming and going, I'm mildly alert - in a relaxed, undemanding way - for signs and symbols from the world about us.
   I will note the first kledon of the day. "Kledon" is the Greek word for speech or sounds coming out of silence. I wrote here recently about how deeply I was aroused by a man whistling for his dog who made what sounded to me like the call of a rainbird.
    Today's little story starts with a kledon from the path around the lake.
 "Gotta to try for the big one!" the cheery mother of a large family greets me. They have set up a veritable fishing camp on the path round the lake: canvas fold-out chairs, hampers, rods and reels, jars of bait, drinks and snacks. I've never seen anything big that has gills and fins caught in this lake, but then there are many kinds of "big ones" in life.

    Walking my dog back from the park, I'm open to playing what I call Sidewalk Tarot. This means noticing things that pop up on the street - a kid's chalk drawing on the sidewalk, the logo on a van, a dropped coin or earring or an abandoned shoe - and seeing whether they are offering a message or image for the day, or at least the moment.
     I notice the huge fish banner flapping from a brownstone near my home. It's been here for a couple of weeks, but today, as it blows back and forth, it seems to reinforce the theme that we want to try for the Big One. At the least, there is something fishy going on.
    Just down the block, a young man is strumming a guitar on one side of a car, singing what sounds like an original - but imperfect - composition. His girlfriend watches and listens from the other side of the car, which is full of stuff. They are moving in, or moving out. Could be a big one.

    A few paces further, and I come to the Reject Books of the day. In my neighborhood, where there are quite a few transient college kids, unwanted books are frequently left out on stoops or steps or on the sidewalk, So I have made Reject Books a subcategory of my Sidewalk Tarot.
    Today's spread is pretty interesting. It takes no imagination to see the books laid on on a neighbor's steps as a five-card spread. What do we have here? A princess card, surely (lower left). The suit of Jewels is dominant.  Is that Children's Bible the Hierophant, or High Priest? Is "I Do" the Lovers card?
    I love outrageous correspondence, when we know we are dancing or teetering on the mythic edge, and that the powers of the world-behind-the-world are poking or thrusting through the curtain walls of our limited everyday understanding. I love it when I walk into a bookstore in Boulder to read from some of mythic poems and am greeted by a young woman named Athena who introduces me to Odysseus. I am thrilled and chilled when a fox-cursed demon driver takes me half-way over a cliff in the Carpathian mountains. I can never forget what it meant to me when I had written down a theme for guidance that included the name "Indiana Jones" and a man dressed as Indiana Jones sat down next to me on a plane, a story I tell in full detail in my book The Three "Only" Things.
    Yet I also love the little patterns of resemblance and connection, the way life rhymes in smaller ways. Noticing these things is essential to poetic health, and we need poetic consciousness to come fully alive to the rhyming universe.
    It's enough for me, for now, that I have my bumper sticker for the day: Gotta Try for the Big One. Yes, ma'am.

Sequel: Landing the Big One

The next morning, I come upon another fisherman, casting his line from a gap in the bull rushes at the western end of the lake. "Have you ever caught anything in this lake?" I ask him.
   "Oh yeah. I just caught a bass as big as my tackle box. The biggest fish I ever caught in my life."
   The tackle box is large and chunky. A bass that size would certainly be a Big fish. My inner skeptic tells me I'm listening to a wannabe fisherman's wishful tale. I have never seen anyone catch anything big in these waters.
   I am rounding the end of the lake when I hear shouts, "Hey! Hey! I got one!"
   I can't see clearly through the rushes, but when I walk a little further on I see the fisherman hoisting his rod high in the air, for me to see what he's hooked. That fish really is as long as his tackle box. He unhooks the fish and lets it drop back in the water.
    Has he got a bass trained to appear on command? Is this the Law of Eternal Return (in two senses)?
    Whatever. I'll carry yesterday's catch phrase with me today. "Gotta Try for the Big One."
    A snatch of Ovid returns to me. 

   Chance is always powerful. Let your hook always be cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be fish.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Nine Keys to Living Consciously in the Multiverse

1. The only time is Now. All other times - past, present and parallel - can be accessed in this moment of Now, and may be changed for the better.

2. We dream to wake up. Dreaming is not fundamentally about what happens during sleep. It is about waking up to a deeper order of reality. Dreaming is a discipline; to get really good at it requires practice, practice, practice.

3. Treasures are waiting for us in the Place Between Sleep and Awake. The easiest way to become a lucid or conscious dreamer is to spend more time in the twilight zone between waking and sleep, or between sleep and waking.  This liminal state is a place of encounter with inner guides and of heightened psychic perception and creative breakthroughs.

4. We live in the Speaking Land, as the First Peoples of my native Australia say. Everything in the world around us is alive and conscious and will speak to us if we are paying attention. Navigating by synchronicity becomes very simple, even irresistible, when we stream into this mode of understanding.

5. To live well, we must practice death. We bring courage and clarity to life choices when we are aware that death is always with us, and that we should be ready to meet it any day.

6. We must feed and honor our animal spirits. A working connection with them gives us immense resources for self-healing.

7. We have a guide for our lives who is no stranger. He is always with us and does not judge us. This is the Self on a higher level. When we rise to the perspective of the Greater Self, we are able to make peace between different personality aspects, including our counterparts in other times and parallel realities.

8. We are at the center of all times. The dramas of lives being lived in other times and in parallel realities may be intensely relevant to understanding and navigating our current relationships and life issues. We can learn to reach into those other lives to share gifts and lessons. We can dialog with our own older and younger selves within our present lifetimes.

9. We must entertain the spirits, starting with our very own – the child self, the inner artist, the passionate teen, the animal spirits, the creative daimon.

Text adapted from The Boy Who Died and Came Back: Adventures of a Dream Archaeologist in the Multiverse by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Art: "World Tree" by Annick Bougerolle