Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Questioning dreams in ancient Mesopotamia

posted by Robert Moss

- Enheduanna disk2 (1)Our earliest records of the work of a dream interpreter come from ancient Mesopotamia. Here the person you asked for help with your dream was called the “questioner”. On clay tablets from Assur and Nineveh, the “questioner” is usually a woman. The title suggests that she will put questions to the dreamer, but also, more fundamentally, to the dream itself.

Who or what was speaking in the dream? Is the dreamer’s recollection reliable? Where did the dream experience take place? What part of the dreamer — a higher part of soul or a lower one — was active in the dream? Is the female entity “as high as the sky and as wide as the earth” who appeared to that young man in Kish truly the great goddess? What was the context of the dream? For example, was the dreamer sleeping in a special hut, built from reeds, that was used for dream incubation after ritual purification? Or was he sleeping off a bender?

A Mesopotamian term for an obscure or mysterious dream is “a closed archive basket of the gods”. Picture a woven basket used for carrying a set of clay tablets. The role of the questioner is to lift the lid and help read what is in there. One technique she might use in doing this, suggests cuneiform decoder Scott Noegel, is to record the dream and look for visual as well as auditory puns in the patterns that emerge as she scores the clay with a reed or wooden stylus.  That image, from five thousand years ago, seems strangely modern: the dream as text, the dream reader looking and listening for puns.

But we are in a different world from modern analysts. Literacy is still a rare skill, and the questioner will use the magic of writing. But she will bring other tools to bear. She may seek a second opinion through one of many systems of divination, which range from reading the stars to examining the entrails of a sacrificial animal to noticing what is coming into view in the landscape in a given moment — the cry of the boatman, the wind bending the reeds.

- basket of tablets In Mesopotamia, as in most human cultures, dreaming was understood to be close kin to divination. The famous Assyrian dream book in the library of King Ashurbanipal — brought to Nineveh in 647 BCE from the house of an exorcist of Nippur — was filed with the omen tablets, the largest category in the royal collection. Among ordinary folk as well as in royal palaces, across most of history, dreamwork has never been separated from other ways of reading the sign language of life.

In Ur or Uruk, the questioner may decide to go beyond the dreamer’s imperfect recollection of a dream into the fuller dream experience, by transporting herself to the place where the dream action unfolded and asking questions inside that space. What would that mean? There’s a clue in a tablet that describes the questioner as “one who lies at a person’s head.” This suggests that the method was to lie beside the dreamer, to join him in the dream, during or after sleep.

 

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

Rabbi Zalman joins the Dream Assembly

posted by Robert Moss

- Dream AssemblyRabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi related a wonderful teaching story about interactive dreaming in The Dream Assembly.  A bunch of Hasidic rabbis are discussing the goals of prayer. Instead of joining the debate, Zalman says, “I would like all of you to join me in a dream tonight.” Then he immerses himself in prayer.

The others are confused. How can you join another person in a dream? Then someone remembers tales of rabbis who met each other in a “dream assembly” in former times. They used standard formulas in the prayer upon retiring to synchronize takeoff.

  1. “Grant that we lie down in peace O Lord” = all lie down.
  2. “And assist me with thy good counsel” = heads on pillow, ready to listen.
  3. “Guard our going out and our coming in” = close eyes, ready to embark on a dream.

Someone remembers the old mystical teaching that “those joined in prayer together will be joined together in a dream.”

That night (as the story relates mysteriously) the Hasidim lay down and closed their eyes “just as the Shekhinah turned to face herself in the mirror, and that night they met each other in a dream.”

The dream locale is an Otherworldly orchard full of beautiful but unfamiliar fruit, filled with unusual light, as if from an unseen sun. Only one remembers that Rabbi Zalman told them to meet him in a dream, and he does not tell the others for fear they’ll wake up. Instead, he simply reminds them they agreed to meet Zalman.

They find him under a tree. He’s younger and brighter. He refers to the difficulty of bringing them together — harder than finding - Reb_Zalman_2005and ascending a ladder to heaven. He speaks of how each generation requires a set of wings to carry its prayers to Sandalphon, who will weave them into garlands for the Holy One on his throne; each generation must create its own mystical dove. In the dream, he assigns his companions the role each will play in creating this mystical bird. They wake with the beautiful echo of birdsong in their minds; it returns every time they pray.

Text adapted from Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and Life Beyond Death by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi,  considered the spiritual father of the Jewish Renewal movement —  who brought back ancient Judaic traditions of mysticism and meditation, gender equality and ecstatic prayer — passed on July 3, aged 89. May he fly with the great dove.

The Pauli Effect on the Pauli Effect

posted by Robert Moss

- Pauli“Pauli Effect” is a term used for the mysterious malfunctioning of equipment in the presence of a certain person. We all know someone who has this effect, stopping watches, crashing computers, blowing out light bulbs. Often the phenomenon looks like a kind of adult (or not-so-grown-up) poltergeist sydrome, in which someone’s roiling emotions effect electro-mechanical functions as well as human interactions.

Let’s take a look at the man for whom the Pauli Effect was names, the brilliant pioneer of quantum mechanics, Wolfgang Pauli, whose long-time dialogue with Jung contributed to the great psychologist’s theory of synchronicity. Over many years, Pauli’s colleagues credited him with the tendency to cause things (especially physics experiments and equipment) to blow up, with no damage to himself. At least one experimental physicist, Otto Stern, banned Pauli from coming anywhere near his laboratory.

Pauli’s friend and colleague Rudolf Peierls described the Paul Effect as follows: “This was a kind of spell he was supposed to cast on people or objects in his neighborhood, particularly in physics laboratories, causing accidents of all sorts. Machines would stop running when he arrived in a laboratory, a glass apparatus would suddenly break, a leak would appear in a vacuum system, but none of these accidents would ever hurt or inconvenience Pauli himself.”

When important experimental equipment in Professor James Frank’s laboratory at the Physics Institute at the University of Göttingen blew up for no apparent reason, someone remarked that this could be the Pauli effect. However, Pauli was nowhere in the area; he was on a train, traveling to Denmark. It was later discovered that at the time of the lab explosion, the train carrying Pauli from Zurich to Copenhagen was making a stop at Göttingen station.

When he arrived at Princeton in 1950, an expensive new cyclotron that had recently be installed burned for no obvious reason, and there was again speculation about the Pauli Effect.

Such phenomena happened outside the laboratory.

When the Jung Institute was inaugurated in Zurich in 1948, Pauli attended the opening ceremony, since Jung had asked him to become a “scientific patron” and so represent the convergence of physics and psychology. At the time, Pauli’s mind was turnng on the tension between two earlier approaches to knowledge represented by the alchemist Robert Fludd and the scientist Johannes Kepler. When Pauli entered the reception room for the Jung party, a large Chinese vase inexplicably slid off a table, creating a flood that drenched some of the distinguished guests. Pauli saw huge symbolic significance because of the echo of “Fludd” in the phenomenon of the spontaneous “flood”. This incident inspired him to write his paper “Background Physics”.

On another occasion, Pauli was sitting at a table in the window of the Café Odeon, thinking intently about the color red and its feeling tones. While thinking “red”, he was unable to take his eyes off a large, unoccupied car parked in front of the restaurant. As he watched, the car burst into flames and his field of vision was filled with fiery red.

In yet another, quite hilarious, incident in New York, Pauli was lunching with Erwin Panofsky, the famous art historian and two other scholars. When they rose from the table after dessert, three of the men found that they had been sitting – inexplicably – on whipped cream, now smeared over their trousered rumps. The only one unscathed, of course, was Pauli.

According to his close colleague Marcus Fierz, “Pauli believed thoroughly in his effect.”  He experienced an unpleasant inner tension before things blew up. After the event, he felt relief and release from tension, even moments of euphoria. No doubt he enjoyed his ever-growing reputation for producing wickedly strange phenomena. This was, after all, the man who dressed up as Mephistopheles for a skit in front of Niels Bohr’s circle in Copenhagen.

The best story on the Pauli Effect is from Rudolf Peierls, a German-born physicist who moved to England and later worked on the Manhattan Project. Some of Pauli’s fellow-scientists plotted to spoof the effect attributed to him at a reception. They carefully suspended a chandelier by a rope that they intended to release when Pauli entered the room, causing the chandelier to crash down. “But when Pauli came, the rope became wedged on a pulley and nothing happened – a typical example of the Pauli effect.”

It has been suggested that the reason Pauli was not invited to join the Manhattan Project – which recruited many physicists from his circle – was that the directors knew Pauli’s reputation and were worried that he would blow up something vital.

 

Adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library. Source notes for this article will be found in the book.

 

 

 

Reading “what is behind”; Divination in Imperial Japan

posted by Robert Moss

- Empire_of_Japan_50_sen_banknote_with_Yasukuni_ShrineIn imperial Japan, one-third of the officials in the Ministry of Religious Affairs — the Jingi-kan — were assigned to one department, the Department of Divination. Their job was to read patterns of coincidence and advise the emperor accordingly. They had many techniques for provoking a sign from the world, including heating a turtle shell and reading the cracks and monitoring nighttime activity in the Shinto and Buddhist shrines where priests and supplicants went to ask for an oracular dream, a reimu.

But the task of the divination office was also to advise on the meaning of spontaneous signs and coincidences: the fall of a comet, an incident at a bridge, the case of three doves who strangely pecked each other to death. T

he Japanese word for divination is ura or uranai, and it means getting in touch with “what is behind.” There is the understanding, in the term itself, that to understand “what heaven and earth want to happen” required us to look behind the curtain of the visible world.

The imperial diviners were drawn exclusively from one family, the Urabe clan. We can assume that in early days this family produced a strong line of seers who were successful at seeing into the world “behind,” and at provoking signs and oracles from the other side. They did not need a code to tell them what it meant when the crack in a turtle shell ran a certain way or when birds formed a certain pattern in the sky.

Later, as the diviners become less like wizards and more like civil servants, they followed tedious and elaborate rules. Carmen Blacker, a wonderful scholar of Japanese oracles and shamanism, wisely observes in The Catalpa Bow that “these rules, in the form in which they have come down to us, are no more than dead, hardened residues left behind by the passing of the gifted seer.” This is true of all cultures.

 

Text adapted from The Three “Only” Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Graphic: Imperial Japanese banknote showing Ysukuni shrine

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Questioning dreams in ancient Mesopotamia
Our earliest records of the work of a dream interpreter come from ancient Mesopotamia. Here the person you asked for help with your dream was called the “questioner”. On clay tablets from Assur and Nineveh, the “questioner” is usually a woman. The title suggests that she will put questions t

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