Dream Gates

raven.jpgIn myth and legend, the raven is many things: trickster and creator, messenger and seer, personification of ravening greed, harbinger of death, companion or form of the Goddess. Here I want to speak about raven as an oracle bird, one that can lend us his or her sight.

Odin sees far with the help of twin ravens, named Huninn and Muninn, Thought and Memory. They fly all over this Middle World, returning with information. In the Prose Edda, Odin is called “raven god” because of his close association with these birds.
The raven has an equal role in the legends of Celtic seership. The raven is also the seeing-bird of Apollo, the owner of the most famous oracle of the ancient world, at Delphi. In the Greek story the raven was white until it brought the god the news of the infidelity of his mate Coronis (the Crow-Woman); his fury blasted it until it was black.
In dreams and journeys over many years, I have found the raven an impeccable ally when there is a need to see into dark places or see into the future. It has served as an ally in shamanic healing, plucking out the cells of disease. When I look into the raven’s eye, I see a screen like a television monitor on which images of things I need to know appear; sometimes I can also travel through the screen, to explore a scene beyond it.
In seership trainings in my Active Dreaming workshops, I suggest to participants – after they have done some foundation work – that they can borrow the keen sight of twin ravens named Thought and Memory to go scouting the possible future for a partner. They don’t have to rely on their own intuition or intelligence; they are to let the birds do the work. The quality of the information gathered by raven trackers in these exercises is often remarkable, even when the scouts have had no prior experience of doing anything remotely like this.
Despite their literary reputation, ravens aren’t solitary birds, unless forced to be; they mate for life. 
Here’s a poem I wrote to honor some of Raven’s gifts:
Sun Stealer 
They say you stole the sun.

This is inexact. 
You hid the light in darkness

where the light-killers could not find it

so the sun could shine brighter than before. 
They say you are black
because you are evil and unkind.

They do not say you swallowed
your own shadow and mastered it
at the price of wearing its colors.
Shivering, they call you death-knell,
Death-eater, bad omen, flying banshee 
because you feed on death that feeds on men. 
You strip what rots from what remains. 
You give us the purity of the bones. 
Trickster, they call you. 
Oh yes, you’ll do your wickedest
to ensure our way is never routine 
and we are forced to improvise and transform. 
You won’t let us swap our souls for a plan. 
At least they don’t accuse you
of minor crimes. 
I praise and claim your gifts 
of putting on darkness to come and go safely 
in the darkest places, jesting with Death.
Raven image via flickr

ipousteguy2.jpgFor many years after my divorce from my first wife, I found myself still with her in dreams, in situations that might have unfolded had we stayed married. My dream self aged at exactly the same rate as my waking self, and the circumstances of these dreams were entirely realistic. 

Similarly, for years after leaving my second job, I would find myself, in dreams, working at the old place, dealing with new situations as they might have arisen had I stayed there. Slowly, my dream self began to understand that, “I don’t work here any more.” In a dream near the end of the long sequence, my dream self arrives at the old office building, briefcase in hand, to find that the company is no longer there. (In my waking reality, the company had moved its offices to another part of the city.) Foggily, my dream self gropes for the understanding that he doesn’t have to show up for work at either building. 

As I recently discussed on this blog, dreaming can give us experiential knowledge of the reality of parallel worlds in which we may be leading parallel lives. Such knowledge, I believe, is vital to our understanding of the nature of multidimensional reality and to self-healing and personal growth.
Soul-loss and/or soul-splitting may be at issue here. When we make a wrenching life choice, part of us – in disagreement with the choice we made – may split away and follow the path not taken. Becoming aware of that separated aspect of self and reaching to reclaim its energy and gifts can amount to vital soul healing. 

There’s also encouragement in dreams of this kind to get our heads out of old mindsets and look at the world with fresh eyes. Long after I parted from my big-league literary agent, for example, I dreamed I was still visiting him at his office. I grew to understand that I needed fully to renounce the approach and priorities he represented – which included ranking the commercial valuation of projects above their intrinsic value.

One of the gifts of dream glimpses of alternate life paths is that they sometimes confirm that we’ve done well to make the choices that put us where we are, rather than on a different track. A woman who had never married dreamed she was stuck in a boring marriage, punctuated by endless domestic spats, and woke glad that she had stayed single.

There is more than psychology and personal soul work involved here. While quantum physicists speculate about Many Worlds theory and other hypotheses about the nature of the multiverse, active dreamers have the ability to bring back first-hand data.
Jean Ipoustéguy sculpture at his tomb in the cemetery of Montparnasse

Thumbnail image for heron on Chito Beach.jpgA great blue heron flew parallel to me, for more than a mile, as I drove to the Connecticut shore to lead an adventure in exploring the multidimensional self over the past week. This felt like a promise that our work would be deep and rich – and on the right track – as indeed proved to be the case.

Bird-watching has been second only to dream reading as the most popular form of divination in human history. If we pay attention, the birds give us signs in our own lives. The great blue heron has strong mythic significance in two traditions that my dreams have called me to study deeply – those of ancient Egypt and of the Six Nations of the Longhouse, or Iroquois. The Egyptian phoenix (known in Egyptian as the benu bird) is depicted as a blue heron with the twin mating plumes. In Iroquoian cosmology, it is the great blue heron that carries Sky Woman down safely from the Earth-in-the-Sky to dance our world into being, on the turtle’s back. From the Egyptian angle, the appearance of the blue heron, especially in an unlikely way, may be an invitation to rebirth ourselves out of the ashes of the old life. From the Iroquois angle, the blue heron may remind us that when we find ourselves falling through a hole in our world (Sky Woman fell, or was pushed, through a hole in a world above) we may be offered the chance to make a new world.
I’ve been watching herons for a long time.The heron’s mode of fishing combines patience with the ability to strike in a flash when opportunity beckons from which we would do well to learn.  In mating season, they are a model of partnership, when the males bring twigs to the females waiting for building supplies to construct their great nests. Here’s a poem I wrote in tribute to the heron, and its many lessons:
I am studying the art of heronry.

You are a master of patience.
You can wait on one leg,
A spearman poised and immobile,
Longer than I can wait on two (or three).
Your standing stillness cons the fish
Into disregarding you, as a dead branch
Or a boring relic from an old shipwreck.

You don’t need anyone to tell you
When the time is GO.
In that instant, you strike without delay,
Your purpose straight and swift and clean
As a stabbing spear, taking your prey.

I am relieved that even you
Have to work to get airborne,
Flapping and beating your great gray-blue wings.
When you are up, and stretch out your body,
You exhibit the whole history of flight.
You show yourself as the Feathered Serpent,
The one that grew wise enough
To make a home in another dimension.

I love the way you practice love.
You put on a gaudy show for your intended
Sprouting twin mating plumes.
When your gallantry prospers,
You are willing to work in intimate partnership.
I have seen you, ferrying twigs in your beak
To your mate in the frame of your nest in the trees.

High-flying bird of the heart,
I like your business arrangement
With the busy engineer of canals and dams;
Where the beaver builds, you build too.

Humans, who fly only in dreams and machines,
Know you as an ancient ally and exemplar.
You brought First Woman from the Earth in the Sky
Breaking her fall on wings spread like magic carpets
To dance a new Earth into being.

Egypt knows you, and the mystery of your rise
From the sexy serpent of Earth
To the master of air and of water.
Egypt calls you the ever living, the phoenix bird
Born again and again from the ashes of the old life,
Endlessly birthing your winged and shining self. 

Heron on Chito Beach. Photo by Robyn Johnson

Tiger_in_South_India.jpgThe Guide can take many forms, in dreams and on the roads of waking life. Our true spiritual teachers often use shock or humor in their efforts to wake us up to the real nature of things, and they love to play dress-up.

An earnest woman in a church group once asked me, at the break, whether she could meet her guardian angel in her dreamsl. Absolutely, I told her. When I began to explain the process of dream incubation, she interrupted me. “I’ve done that three times, and each time I asked to meet my guardian angel, I got Garfield the Cat.” I asked her to explain to a visiting space alien, “Who is Garfield the Cat?” She explained that he’s greedy and always looking out for Number One. Angel means messenger, I pointed her. Could there be a message in Garfield’s approach to life? This earnest woman, who had clearly given a lot of her life to service to others, thought about this, then stole a quick look at the buffet and asked, with a mischievous glint in her eyes, “Would it be okay to jump the line and get some chocolate cake while it’s still left? I reassured her that Garfield, as guardian angel, would say “Absolutely.”

The angel can be terrifying as well as funny. Rumi evokes beautifully the terror Mary felt when the Archangel Gabriel apperared to her in the moment of annunciation. In the presence of a supremely greater power, she literally jumps out of her skin. Whereupon the angel who is patron of the astral realm and of dream travel says to her (in paraphrase): “You flee from me from the seen to the unseen, where I am lord and master? What are you thinking of?”

The truth of our dealings with higher sources of knowledge – and above all the Guide of our soul – is that we don’t need to go looking for them because they are forever looking for us. When Dante at last finds Beatrice (the Guide appearing in the form of a beautiful women he loved and lost) after the terrible journey through all the hells of the medieval imagination, she reproaches him that for many years she was seeking him in dreams, and he would not listen.

The Australian Aborigines say that the Big stories are hunting the right people to tell them. It’s like that with the powers of the deeper world. Here’s a poem I wrote about this:


You say you are hunting your power
But your power is hunting you.
I’ll go up to the mountain, you say.
I’ll fast and live on seaweed
I’ll hang myself on a meat-hook
Under the hot sun. I’ll give up sex
And wine and my sense of humor.
What are you thinking of?
For you to go hunting your power
Is as smart as the mouse hunting the cat.

Go out in the garden any night
Step one inch outside the tame land
And you are near what you seek.
Open the window of your soul
Any night and your guide may come in.
The issue is whether you’ll run away
When you see what it is. To make sure
You succeed, tether yourself like a goat
At the edge of the tiger wood that breathes
Right beside your bed. He’ll come.

 Tiger in South India. Image via flickr