The hair salon on the corner advertises, “Halloween Makeup Done Here.” There are spooks and scarecrows at the doors of the houses on my block. As we approach Halloween, I am thinking of the many meanings of the festival, from trick-or-treat to the turning of the year.
This is the most magical, crazy, shivery night of the year. It is the topsy-turvy, inside-out, upside-down time, when the past lies ahead of you and the future walks behind you, breathing on your neck. It is a night when the doors between the worlds swing open, when the dead walk among the living and the living move among the dead.
The last night of October is the start of Samhain (which is pronounced “sow-in”), the great Celtic festival when the dead walk among the living, the fires are extinguished and rekindled, the god and the goddess come together in sacred union, and as the year turns from light to dark, the seeded earth prepares to give birth again. It’s a time, when the Celts knew what they were doing, to watch yourself and watch comings and goings from the barrows and mounds that are peopled by ghosts and faeries. It’s a time to honor the friendly dead, and the lordly ones of the Sidhe, and to propitiate the restless dead and remember to send them off and to set or re-set very clear boundaries between the living and the hungry ghosts. It’s a time to look into the future, if you dare, because linear time is stopped when the hollow hills are opened.
As Celtic scholar Marie-Louise Sjoestedt wrote, “This night belongs neither to one year or the other and is, as it were, free from temporal restraint. It seems that the whole supernatural force is attracted by the seam thus left at the point where the two years join, and gathers to invade the world of men.”
If you have never learned to dream or see visions or to feel the presence of the spirits who are always about – if you have never traveled beyond the gates of death or looked into the many realms of the Otherworld – this is the time when you’ll see beyond the veil all the same, because the Otherworld is going to break down the walls of the little box you call a world, and its residents are coming to call on you.
It’s a time for dressing up, especially if you are going out at night. You might want to put on a fright mask to scare away restless spirits before they scare you. You might want to carry a torch to light your way, and especially to guide the dead back to where they came from when the party is over. Before Europeans discovered pumpkins in America, they carried lit candles in hollowed-out niches in turnips.
All of this was so important, and such wild, sexy, shiverish fun that the church had to do something about it. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III decided to steal the old magic by making November 1 All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows Day; so the night of Samhain became All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween for short. A century before, an earlier pope had borrowed the date of the old Roman festival to propitiate the dead – the Festival of the Lemures, or Lemuralia – and renamed that All Saints’ Day. But since Roman paganism had been largely suppressed, the church fathers decided to grab the glamour of the Celts, among whom the old ways are forever smoldering, like fire under peat.
Few people who celebrate or suffer Halloween today seem to know much about its history. For storekeepers and the greetings card business, it’s a commercial opportunity. For TV programmers, it’s a cue to schedule horror movie marathons. For kids, it’s time to dress up as vampires or witches and extort candy from neighbors. My preferred way to spend Halloween is to rest quietly at home, with candles lit for my dead loved ones, and a basket of apples and hazelnuts beside them, tokens of the old festival that renews the world and cleanses the relations between the living and the dead.
Text adapted from The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead by Robert Moss (Destiny Books)
Divination at Halloween: By tradition, Samhain is also a time for divination, since the departed can see across time and at this turning of the year we may share in their powers – and anyway, at New Year who doesn’t think about what the year ahead may hold? The 1904 postcard in the illustration above shows a young woman looking in a mirror in hopes of spotting her husband-to be, a survival of an ancient rite.
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.”
Bring in the creative imagination, and it is wonderful how the world can rearrange itself. I heard a beautiful little story about this from a friend in California. She had been consciously building a kind of inner sanctuary, a place of peace and joy where she could take herself anytime in her imagination. She envisioned a lovely place with healing waters, around an oak tree she knows in the natural world. In imagination, she added a swing to the tree, visualizing the ropes fastened to one of its great limbs. She pictured herself rocking happily under the spreading canopy of the oak. She used this image to help her get through a long and sleepless night when she was severely ill.
A week later, feeling much restored, she took a hike to the place of the oak. And found that someone had added a swing, exactly where she had placed it in her imagination.
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.”
Whatever our circumstances, we always have the power to choose our attitude, and that this can change everything.
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Excerpted from Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life ©2015 by Robert Moss.
There are “big” dreams and “little” dreams, of course. In big dreams, we go traveling and we may receive visitations. We travel across time – into the future and the past – and we travel to other dimensions of reality. This is reflected in the words for “dream” that are used by indigenous people who have retained strong dreaming traditions and respect for dreamers. Among the Makiritare, a shamanic dreaming people of Venezuela, for example, the word for dream is “adekato,” which means “a journey of the soul”.
Most societies, across most of human history, have valued dreams and dreamers for three main reasons. First, they have looked to dreams for contact with a wiser source than the everyday mind – call that God, or Nature, or the Self with a great big Jungian S. Second, they have looked to dreams as part of our survival kit, giving us clues to possible future events we may want to avoid or enact. Third, they have known that dreaming is medicine, in several important senses. Dreams show us what is going on inside the body, often before physical symptoms present. When we do get sick, dreams are a factory of images we can use for self-healing.
In indigenous cultures, dreaming is central to diagnosis and healing. From the Otomi Indians of the state of Puebla in Mexico, we have this marvelous account of a shaman named Don Antonio who used dreams as a medical text
“When I became a shaman, I began to see how to cast out illness my dreams. It was like looking at a printed page. The shaman receives knowledge, what sorts of illness one person has, what sort another has, in his dreams…Learning how to cure from dreams is like being taught to read as a child, You ask your teacher, ‘What is this or that called?’ and your teacher tells you…In this way you receive knowledge about illnesses. These things are revealed to you in your dreams…As you’re curing the patient your dreams tell you what the problem is and who are the enemies who caused the illness. Your dreams tell you what is needed for the cure.”
Source for Don Antonio quote: James Dow, The Shaman’s Touch: Otomi Indian Symbolic Healing. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1986. 51-52.
Photo: Otomi protective figure made with amate paper (bark cloth) in Sam Noble Museum, University of Oklahoma
excuse myself to use the ladies room. When I finish I look in the bowl
and see not only the biggest poop I have ever seen — but also a poop of
such nature I have never seen before. I call my mother in to show
her and there it is: Within the poop is another poop that seems to
be alive — sort of growling or grunting and moving. I am not afraid, but
absolutely I don’t know what to say or think — I am more or less
standing there wideeyed trying to figure out what exactly it is.
didn’t like this growling poop within poop, but thankfully it is out of me and
in the bowl. I wake feeling shocked – but also released.
A common variant of the poop dream is one in which we need to go but find ourselves doing it in public. Sometimes this reflects a need for privacy in the dreamer’s life. Sometimes it’s more about whether and when it’s okay to “let it go” in front of others. Guidance on that may come from the reactions of others inside the dream. If other people in the dream don’t seem to notice or mind, that may be telling you it’s okay to let it all out. Let’s remember that in some cultures, going in public was normal bathroom procedure, as witness the picture of a Roman communal toilet from Ostia.
Colloquial phrases involving shit or its synonyms may also give us a clue to the meaning of a dream of this ilk. Relevant phrases that plop to mind include:
The shit hit the fan
I’m in deep doodoo
Shit for brains
He/she is a real shit
On the shitlist
Time to shit or get off the pot
(the list is endless – add your own phrases)
This dream theme has been actively discussed for as long as people have been dreaming and needing to go. Some of the best pages in the most famous dream book of the ancient world, the Oneirocritica (“Interpretation of Dreams”) by Artemidorus, are devoted to ????? (the Greek word for shit, from which we derive the term “scatological”). Though I am no fan of dream dictionaries, I have a soft spot for Artemidorus, because he was always careful to note that similar dreams mean very different things according to the varied circumstances of the dreamer, and he checked on incidents that followed a particular dream.
If you see a lot of human shit in a public place, according to Artemidorus, you won’t be able to accomplish anything there. In general, it doesn’t bode well if someone is shitting on your head. But that depends. “I know of a man who dreamed that a rich friend was defecating over his head. That man received a fortune and was named the heir of his friend.” On the other hand, a man who dreamed he was “befouled with dung by a poor acquaintance” later suffered great damage from the person who shat on him in the dream.
Defecating while in bed is not a good thing in a dream, says Artemidorus; it could mean you’ll be bedridden. It could also mean that your relations with a spouse or partner are in trouble, since the bad has been defiled. On the other hand to defecate copiously while seated on a toilet means “good luck for all men”, including “the alleviation of many cares and all distress. For the body is lightest after it has relieved itself.” It’s also a happy event when you dream you relieve yourself this way at a place in nature, on a road or in a river. Watch out, however, if you dream you are pooping in a temple, a place of commerce, or a public street.
Good stuff, though I’m not sure I’d be happy if I dreamed that anyone was pooping on my head.
Don’t be shy about posting on your own dream products!