Friday, September 4, 2015

The dream key to Awen

Awen - inspiration - was, as Caitlin Matthews reminds us, "the supreme preoccupation of Celtic poets, especially among those who had inherited the ancient prophetic and visionary arts of the ovate or faith - probably the earliest form of Celtic shaman." [1]
     The word 
awen derives from the Indo-European root -uel, meaning 'to blow', and is kissing cousin with the Welsh, awel meaning "breeze". In contemporary druidism, awen is depicted as three rays emanating from three points of light.

     We have a precious twelfth-century account of the importance of dreaming in the access to awen for the ancient Celtic poets and prophets. The source is Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) in hisItinerary of Wales. Gerald describes the practice of the awenyddion, or "inspired ones". In a key passage, he writes:

Their gifts are usually conferred upon them in dreams, Some seem to have sweet milk or honey poured on their lips; to others [it seems] that a written document is applied to their mouths, and immediately on rising up from sleep, after completing their chant, they publicly declare that they have received this gift. [2]


1. Caitlin Matthews, "The Three Cauldrons of Inspiration" in Caitlin and John Matthews, The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom. Shaftesbury, Dorset and Rockport MA: Element, 1994, p. 219.
2. Translation from Gerald of Wales in Nikolai Tolstoy, The Quest for Merlin. : Little, Brown, 1985, p. 140.

Art: "The Bard" by John Martin (1817)

Hoofprints of the Goddess

Horses run through our dreams. We wake, hearts pounding, still feeling the thunder of the hoofbeats.
     Our dream horses are not the same, of course. Some are oppressed by dreams of a black horse that seems like a figure of death, or a red horse foreboding war and bloodshed, or a ghostly pale horse that brings the sense of sorrow and bereavement. Such dreams - and Fuseli's famous painting of nightmare - have encouraged the belief that the "nightmare" has to do with a mare, whereas in fact (the etymologists tell me) the "mare" part here is most likely derived from the Old Germanic mer, meaning something that crushes and oppresses.
    In dreams, the state of a horse is often a rather exact analog for the state of our bodies and our vital energy. When you dream of a starving horse, you want to ask: what part of myself needs to be nourished and fed? You dream of horses flayed and hung up under the roof beams (as did a dreamer in one of my workshops) and you need to ask: which parts of me have been flayed and violated in the course of my life, and how do I heal and bring those parts back to life? 
    Such a dream also evokes the ancient rituals of horse sacrifice - common to many cultures - and might also require a search back across time into primal material from the realm of the ancestors, lost to ordinary consciousness, but alive in the deeps of the collective memory. In the opening of the Brihadaranya Upanishad, the whole universe is likened to a sacrificial horse.
      In Greek mythology, horses are the gift of Poseidon, and come surging from the sea, their streaming manes visible in the whitecaps. Or they irrupt from the dark Underworld, from whence Hades charges on his black stallions to ravish Persephone with his unstoppable sexual energy and hurl her into a realm of savage initiation beneath the one she knows. Yet in Arcadia, Persephone's mother Demeter, the great goddess of Earth and grain and beer, was depicted with a horse's head.
      Go to the British Isles, and you find the white mare revered as the mount and form of
the Goddess. Her prints still mark the land whichever way you ride, even if only by train or car or Shanks' pony. In ancient Ireland, a true king was required to mate with the white mare, as the living symbol of the sacred Earth. (It would take a manful king indeed to couple with a mare; I suspect a priestess was substituted.) In Wales, she is Rhiannon, and she comes mounted on a white horse out of Annwn, the Underworld, to marry a prince.
       In Gaul and throughout the Roman Empire, she is Epona, a  name related to the Gaulish epos, “horse”. She is usually depicted riding side-saddle on a mare or between twin horses. She was hugely popular in Gaul and the Rhineland, but was also known in Britain. She was regarded as a patron by cavalrymen. The Aedui, used as auxiliaries by Julius Caesar, prayed to her to protect their horses (and themselves) in battle. To the wider community, she was a Mother Goddess, and her imagery often suggests fertility. On a stone relief of Epona at Brazey in Burgundy, a foal is beneath the mare she is riding, possibly suckling. She often appears carrying baskets of fruit or loaves of bread. She was awarded her own official festival in the Roman calendar, on December 18.
     Miranda Green comments, in her excellent book Animals in Celtic Life and Myth, “The horse is absolutely crucial to Epona’s definition: the equine symbolism gave rose to many different levels of meaning, with the result that Epona was worshipped not only as patroness of horses but also as a giver of life, health, fertility and plenty, and as a protectress of humans even beyond the grave.”
    Epona was associated with death and rebirth beyond the grave. She is often depicted in Gaulish cemeteries. At a burial ground of the Medioatrici near Metz, images of Epona were offered by relatives of the deceased; one depicts the goddess on her mare, leading a mortal to the Otherworld.
     We know the horse in living myths as healer and teacher, as vehicle for travel to higher realms, and as the source of creative inspiration. It is the hooves of Pegasus, rending the rock, that open the Hippocrene spring, beside the grove of the Muses, from which poets have drunk ever since. It is Chiron the centaur, the man-horse, who is the mentor of Asklepios, the man-god synonymous with healing, especially through dreams. In fairy tales (the Grimms' and others) it is often the horse that can find the way when humans are lost.
    I dreamed the other night of rounding up a great herd of wild horses, and understood, waking in excitement and delight, that this was about bringing vital energy back where it belongs and helping to shape a model of understanding and practice of soul recovery for communities as well as individuals, The wild horse racing through our dreams may be the windhorse of spirit, or vital essence, that needs both to run free and to be harnessed to a life path and a human purpose. 
    Of all the shaman terms I have heard, "windhorse" is my favorite. It is native to at least three traditions of Central Asia, where the word "shaman" and the shaman's frame drum (often made with horse hide and commonly called the shaman's "horse") originate. In Buryat (Mongolian) the word for "windhorse" is khiitori; in Old Turkic it is Rüzgar Tayi; in Tibetan it is rlung ta (pronounced lung ta).
     When you think about it, the horse is unlike any other animal. Stronger than man, it yet allows itself to be gentled and bridled and provided the main form of locomotion for all those centuries before the invention of the internal combustion engine. As in Plato's image of the charioteer of the soul, challenged to manage the rival energies of a horse that wants to go down on a rampage, wild and sexy and possibly violent, and the steady horse whose instinct is always to go up, to rise higher, we are challenged by our dream horses to recognize, release and temper the horse power within us.
     In some of my workshops, I lead people on a journey to find their spirit horses and ride them to a very special place where they can reclaim vital soul energy and identity, from a child self who went missing when the world seemed too cruel, or a younger self who separated because of a wrenching life choice. Sometimes these journeys of soul healing result in the beautiful transformation I call spiritual enthronement, when we are able to receive and embody a part of the greater self – sometimes the Goddess self – because we are now ready to live a greater life.
    Follow the hoofprints of your dream horse and you may find you are on the trail of the Goddess.

Images: (1) Dun horse of Lascaux, cave art from at least 17,000 years ago. (2) Statue of Epona with grain basket and twin horses from Köngen, Germany c. 200 CE..

Thursday, September 3, 2015

It ain't over till you cut the cords

We are linked to those with whom we have shared significant life experiences by cords of psychic and emotional attachment. The Hawaiian kahunas maintain that an aka cord of "sticky" etheric substance runs between us and everyone who has ever touched our lives unless it is detached. 
     When our relations with the people close to us are strong and healthy, there is no problem in being joined to them in this way. On the contrary, we want to be connected to those we love, those with whom we are engaged in a common purpose, and our family of chosen life companions. We still need to notice that, linked in this way, we can very easily pick up other people's stuff. Dreams teach us about how this works. We can find ourselves, in dreams, in another person's situation, or receiving their imagery or their visitations across the psychic bridges that are open between us.
     The problem with the psychic cords arises when a relationship has gone sour, or become unbalanced, so that energy is moving only one way, draining one of those involved. A very common issue is that when we break up with a spouse or partner or close friend, the psychic cords between us remain intact. What flows along them now is no longer healthy emotional energy but bad feelings and rancor that can bring both members of the old relationship down. More seriously, the surviving psychic bridge can become a means by which a jealous or bitter ex comes calling, confusing night dreams and wakeful perception and energy.
      To maintain psychic good health, we want to learn to scan our energy fields and locate the psychic cords of attachment between ourselves and others.I recently had members of a training do this by the method explained in my book Active Dreaming in the chapter on "a low maintenance plan for psychic well-being". Our special interest was to determine the appropriate ways to "unplug" unwanted or unhealthy cords of attechment. Simply picturing yourself hacking away at a cord might not be the best way!
      For many in the group, color was a guide to the condition of psychic cords. Toxic attachements appeared black; old, energy-draining attachments appeared grey, sometimes the grey of used chewing gum. Some fresh and improvisational approaches to releasing or cleansing pyschic links emerged.
      One woman pictured herself swimming in healing waters while little fish nibbled away gently at the psychic cords that needed to be released. A man found that an ally (a "Chinese doctor") entered the scene; he tiled "little bows" in the problematic cords, leaving them to wither and drop away gradually. For another member of the group, the ally appeared as a crow that pecked away at the root of a black cord of connection to a deceased friend, until all the stagnant dead energy drained away.
     Some found it possible to cleanse and restore proper flow in the cords of attachment involved in current relationships. A woman found that the psychic cord between her and her boyfriend was a very lixed picture; it was mottled grey, black and red. She did not like the deadness of the black and the drabness of the greay. She pictured herself drawing the energy of a waterfall to which she had recently hiked to cleanse and refresh the connection. She continued with this powerful and spontaneous mediation until the cord glowed red and gold, the black and grey gone.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

When the dream monkey has got your back

Dreams are individual and sometimes social experiences that often seem to reflect universal themes. This is part of the fascination of sharing dreams. We recognize something of our shared humanity as we listen to someone else's dream, and yet the final decision on the nature and meaning of a dream experience will rest on working with what is quite specific and possibly unique to the dreamer.
     We need also to be alert to the role of culture patterns in dreaming. Active dreamers come to recognize their personal styles of dreaming and construct personal dictionaries of symbols by keeping and studying their dream journals over time. The monkey in your dream is not the same as the monkey in my dream.
     However, if both of us were raised in a traditional Arab family, or a medieval European one, we might have been schooled to think that monkeys in dreams represent criminal or sinful behavior - in ourselves or others - and dream accordingly. If we have been raised in Hindu families in India, on the other hand, we might be primed to dream of monkeys very differently. Indian children are exposed from childhood to popular tellings of the Ramayana in Bollywood films and television series, in comic books, in school plays and from sidewalk storytellers. This might well leave a shared impression that monkey dreams are auspicious. Why? Because in the perennially popular epic the Ramayana the monkey god Hanuman helps Rama to destroy the demon king of Lanka. He later records the whole epic,  writing with his nails.
     In western India pilgrims are sometimes inspired by monkey dreams to journey to the temple of Balaji (a form of Hanuman) near Bharatpur in Rajasthan. Sudhir Kakar reported that "the dreams typically involved a personal summons from the divine healer, either through the god speaking directly in the dream or through the dream image of one or more monkeys - the symbol of Hanuman. Thus even before they embarked on the healing journey, some patients had begun to send themselves images of reassurance from the unconscious depths, increasing their hope and confidence in the success of the healing mission." *
     Kakar's statement that the dreamers" send themselves' messages is obviously couched in the language of Western psychoanalysis. Dreamers who take the road to Balaji see their dreams as a field of interaction with transpersonal powers, and come to the temple, above all, for release from malignant spirits they believe to be the source of physical and mental illness.    
    These spirits are collectively known as bhuta-preta and are thought to reside in a halfway house between the realms of the living and that of the ancestral spirits (pitri-lok) when not attached to living people. The most troublesome among them are the "ghosts of unsatisfied desires."
    From an Indian perspective, it would be good to know that the monkey god has got your back. But "ghosts of unsatisfied desires"  could surely give you the sense of monkeys on your back!

There is a marvelous twist on the monkey theme in Vikram Chandra’s novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain. The Indian novelist's protagonist is a writer named Sanjay. His time on earth is up, but because he is a marvelous storyteller he is able to strike a bargain with Death, who loves stories. So long as Sanjay is able to hold the attention of his audience — who soon fill the courtyard outside his room — he is allowed to live.
he weaves his tales, Death ceases to be an adversary. Sanjay makes stories for the joy of making stories, and when he is done, he rests his head in Yama’s lap, peacefully accepting his transition to another life. Sanjay the storyteller is a white-faced monkey who is typing his memories of his human incarnations, to be read aloud by children. No writer with a sense of humor will find it hard to identify with Sanjay’s plight and no one can miss the positive valuation of monkeys in the collective dreaming of India.

* Sudhir Kakar, Shamans, Mystics and Doctors: A Psychological Inquiry into India and its Healing Traditions (Boston: Beacon Press, 1982) 82-83. 

Image:Lord Hanuman recites the Ramayana. Watercolor on cloth.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Play first, work later (and delight your inner child)

Like puppies or lion cubs or dolphins spinning silver lariats of bubbles, children play for the joy of playing. Young children are masters of imagination, since they know the magic of making things up. Our first and best teacher of conscious living is our inner child.
     But that inner child may have gone into hiding, under a glass dome or in a room in Grandma’s house, because of shame or abuse, ridicule or loneliness, because the world wasn’t safe or it wasn’t fun. If we have lost our dreams, if our imagination is stuck in a groove, it’s because we have lost our inner child. To live as active dreamers in everyday life, we have to bring that child home. This requires a quest, a negotiation, and fulfillment of a promise.
     The quest will lead us down halls of memory to a place and time where our wonder child went missing. We can embark on the quest as a guided journey to a real place in the imaginal realm, or through the portal of a dream or memory from childhood.
     The negotiation requires us to convince our child selves that we are safe and we are fun to be around. Fulfilling the promises we make will require us to remember to play without scheduling it.
     Play first, work later, our child selves will insist. The cautious dutiful adult self will protest. But if we are to keep our inner children at home in our bodies and our lives, we’ll need to fulfill our promises to be fun as well as safe. If we play well enough, then before we quite know it, we’ll fall in love with our work because it will be our play.

Adapted from ActiveDreaming: Journeying beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library

Art: "Bathers" by George William Russell (AE).

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Egyptian Rx for bad dreams: use bread and beer of the Goddess

An Egyptian dream book inscribed in the reign of Ramses II, in the 13th century  BCE,  contains a ritual for turning away the negative energy of "bad" dreams and the psychic forces at play in them.
     The hieratic papyrus classifies different types of dream as “good” or “bad”; the word “bad” is written in red, the color of ill omen in the Egyptian imagination.
     What to do about a "bad" dream?
     First,  the dreamer is counseled to rub his face with bread soaked with beer, herbs and myrrh. Presumably this was intended to draw "bad" energies (maybe hungry ghosts) into a container that could be safely disposed of later. Bread and beer are gifts of the Goddess, so we are already in her realm.
     Next, the dreamer is advised to tell his dream to Isis, addressed as Mother. The act of telling the dream to the Great Mother is held to disperse its evil. In the Gardiner translation, Isis says:

Come out with what you have seen, in order that the afflictions you saw in your dreams may vanish.

The ritual ends with a triumphal cry from the dreamer that he has dispelled an evil dream sent against him and is now ready to receive pleasant dreams. “Hail to thee, good dream that is seen by night or day!”
The dream book was found with a collection of magical and literary papyri in the cemetery at Deir el-Medina. The original author and owner are uncertain; at one time the papyrus belonged to a scribe named Qeniherkhepshef; who copied a poem about the Battle of Kadesh, which took place in the reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213 BC) on the verso.
Quotes above from A.H. Gardiner, Hieratic Papyri in the British Museum. Third Series. (London: British Museum, 1935).

Image: shabti of Qeniherkhepshef, the scribe who once possessed the Dream Book. The figure is depicted as a mummy standing like Osiris, gripping the crook and flail of kingship, but also two hoes, suggesting he is available for agricultural work. A shabti (literally, "answerer") was a magical doll intended to work on behalf of the deceased in the afterlife, once activated by a spell. The spell to make the shabti "answer" is painted in horizontal lines around the figure, starting with hieroglyphs that identify the owner by the title, "Scribe in the Place of Truth".

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A seer in the world of Bertie Wooster

She is conceived in the Blue Grotto on Capri, with Carabinieri standing guard over the site. This is because her parents, traveling in royal style, are mistaken for British Royals visiting Italy incognito. So Joan Grant begins the story of her life in her memoir Far Memory.
    I discovered her through her novel Winged Pharaoh which takes us vividly into a life lived in early dynastic Egypt by a girl who is trained as a dream seer in a temple of Anubis and grows to become a warrior-queen defending her country against invaders. This remains my favorite book on the practice of dreaming in ancient Egypt, though academic Egyptologists may cavil at some of its contents. It was a bestseller in its day, and the author initially kept mum about the fact that her novel, for her, was not fiction, but “far memory” of a past life in Egypt, triggered when she was allowed to handle a blue scarab. Much of the content came through in channeling sessions recorded by her then husband.
    I first picked up Far Memory to clarify how Joan Grant received her knowledge of ancient Egypt, and of other lives in other cultures. I recently re-read it, for the sheer pleasure of its bouncy narrative and to follow, in closer detail, how central the author’s own practice of dreaming became to her gifts as a writer, a psychic and a time traveler.
    As a young child, she remembered other lives. She dreamed of a French girl who died in Paris under the guillotine, and knew – through dreaming that experience – that “beheading does not hurt at all.” She received visitations from her deceased grandmother.   
    When her father took her to  a subway station on a family visit to New York, she glimpsed the remains of a man who had thrown himself in front of a train. She dreamed that she met this man, and took the form of the daughter he loved to comfort him, washing  him clean from blood and whiskey fog, and reattached his severed feet. She did this, not as the child Joan, but as a personality that was living as a girl born in 1906, with the knowledge of many other lives and a sense of identity that transcended any single body or life situation.
      During World War I, she traveled in dreams to a battlefield, where she took on the body of a Red Cross nurse, carrying out orders to deal with casualties in one of two ways: to explain to soldiers who had just been killed that they were “safely dead”, or to encourage the wounded to return to bodies that were not yet due to die.  “I had to get close, so close to the person I was trying to help that I became part of him: feeling, seeing, fearing as he did, until I could slowly instill my own faith in him.”
     And she wakes from these dreams in the body of a girl who is now eleven and can’t get the adults around her, apart from the occasional servant, to take her dreams seriously. The disconnect is so great that for a time she seeks to cut herself off from her dreams. But this plan can’t prosper because dreaming is a vital part of her calling. She starts getting confirmation of things she has dreamed but could not otherwise know about. Finding a young man in uniform alone at the breakfast table, she dares to tell him the dream from which she has just awakened in which she was with a soldier named McAndrew when he was killed. She describes his regimental badge and the slang name his unit gave to their trench. The officer at the table identifies the regiment as Canadian, and after checking is able to confirm all the details of the dream, the name of the soldier who was killed, even the slang name of the trench.
    She makes dream excursions, and she receives visitations. Jennie, her deceased grandmother, gives her music lessons and plays through her hands – an obscure piece that a Cambridge professor recognizes because Jennie played it for him. The sheet music no longer exists, and Joan could not know the piece in any ordinary way. “Quite extraordinary but completely evidential,” pronounces C.G.Lamb, the professor of engineering and amateur psychical researcher, giving her encouragement both to grow her clairvoyant gifts and to pursue academic studies.
    Another mentor was H.G. Wells, a house guest at Seacourt, her father’s immense estate on Hayling Island. Wells urged her to write – which she had not considered – while insisting that “you must live in order to write about living”.  
    She dreams of places before she goes there, and of events unfolding at a distance in space or time. The night before Esmond, the lover she plans to marry, is due to return to her, she dreams he is staring at something on the floor, puzzled and angry. In the morning the news comes that he killed himself, apparently accidentally, cleaning his revolver. Later, she dreams of a kind of honeymoon with him in a beautiful environment he says is another planet, and delights in the kind of body she can enjoy here. “It was a material body, obeying a less stringent law of gravity, able to run faster, to leap higher, to swim farther under water, but still in its own place equally solid as the one I re-entered on waking.” She is startled when Esmond tells her that dream visitors aren’t especially welcome here. The residents call them ghosts, ‘earth-ghosts”.
    She develops the discipline of a real dreamer. She wakes herself several times during the night in order to record her dreams. She learns to distinguish “true dreams” from “the fustian and tinsel so dear to psychoanalysis”. In “true dreams”, she travels across time and space. She is with people at a distance . She visits the future. She enters or reenters life experiences of other personalities.
    In her development of “far memory” of those other lives, psychometry – the art of receiving impressions while handling a physical object – becomes increasingly important, after she first establishes that she can do it. But first and last, in the education of Joan Grant, is the dreaming. Reading her, we are reminded of just how important and just how practical this is. We urgently need many more people who can do pyschopomp work of the kind Joan narrates, helping the dead to find their way, and the best training for this is in dreaming, as I explain in my own "manual for the psychopomp" (Part III of Dreamgates) and in my Dreamer's Book of the Dead.

Until I reread Far Memory, I had forgotten what a hoot this is. If I were publishing a reprint, I would give it the subtitle A Seer in the World of Bertie Wooster. She grows up in a world of tremendous wealth and power, of houses with scores of rooms and dozens of servants. She bangs up her wrist cranking up "a borrowed Bentley". There's a below-stairs scandal when it turns out a chic and snooty French governess is a man in drag who's had his private parts "tucked up". When she is allowed to live in a London flat (with maids of course) Daddy sets up an account for her at the Berkeley Hotel so she can entertain those who invite her to dinner in equal style, and the maitre d'hotel gives her private instruction on just how to do this.
     She is forever running into stately ghosts and haunts, and dreams them before she encounters them. Her parents entertain the foremost luminaries of the day, while her rich, tennis-mad father rushes through his immense fortune trying to make a definitive study and plan for the eradication of British mosquitoes after being bitten on the forehead at their island estate. Suitors buzzed around her like those south coast mosquitoes, especially after poor Esmond was removed from the scene. In 1922, one of them gave her the kind of car Bertie Wooster favored – a Minerva sport coupe – as an offering. What fun!