Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Shamans and dreamers

posted by Robert Moss


What is a shaman?

The word was
borrowed by anthropologists from the Tungus Siberian people. Correctly
pronounced, the long As (“ah”) are given equal weight (“shah-mahn”); the magic
of the word is in its resonance. The word came into widespread use after the
publication of Mircea Eliade’s classic work Shamanism,
An Archaic Technique of Ecstasy.
In Eliade’s depiction, the shaman is a
spiritual practitioner who has mastered the art of journeying beyond the body
to communicate with the spirits, to guide souls of both the living and the
departed, and to bring through healing.


n Central Asia, the shaman’s primary tool for journeying is
the single-headed frame drum, the type we use in Active Dreaming circles. There
is a Buriat story about how the shaman’s drum came to be this way. Long ago,
Death complained to the High God that a powerful shaman was disturbing the
balance of things. This shaman was so successful at bringing the souls of the dying
back into the body that Death was being cheated of his share. The High God
reached down from the heavens, plucked the vital soul of a perfectly healthy
man out of his body, confined it inside a bottle and sat on his high throne,
waiting to see what the shaman would do. 

Approached by the family of the unfortunate man who now lay lifeless, the shaman mounted his
drum – which he called his “horse” – and rode it through the Lower World and the
Middle World, looking for the missing soul. To fulfill his quest, he had to journey higher
than he had ever gone before, into the Upper World, until at last he saw the
High God on his high throne holding the soul in the bottle. Even the boldest of
shamans might have given up at this point. But this shaman refused to abandon
his mission. He shapeshifted into a wasp and stung the High God on the
forehead. Shocked and in pain, the High God relaxed his grip on the bottle. The
shaman grabbed the captive soul and began to gallop back towards his village
with it. The High God, in fury, hurled a lightning bolt after him. It split the
shaman’s drum – hitherto double-headed – in two, giving us the classic form of
the drum as we know it today.


From this wild,
archaic story, several vital aspects of the shaman’s practice emerge. The
shaman works with souls. The shaman has the ability to travel at will through a
three-tiered universe – Lower World, Middle World, Upper World – that opens
into a multidimensional cosmos. The shaman has developed the art of
shapeshifting. The shaman is on intimate terms with death. The shaman is
willing to test the limits of the possible. The shaman serves the community.

we find that these statements hold true of authentic shamans in many different
societies. “The only thing of importance in a man is the soul,” an Inuit
shaman, or angakok, told the explorer
Knud Rasmussen. Ancient Taoists in China described the heart of their
shamanic practice as “the art of ascending to heaven in full daylight”, and
sought to master the techniques of “crane-riding” – traveling to the skies on
the wings of the crane, or the wild duck, or the dragon, or the flying tiger.
When asked how he heals, an Aboriginal spirit man told Jungian analyst Robert
Bosnak, “I become an eagle.” Everywhere, as Holger Kalweit observes in Dreamtime and Inner Space, the shaman
walks close to death. He knows the roads of the afterlife because he has
traveled them personally; “he actually dies and is actually reborn.”


In indigenous
cultures, shamans may be born into a lineage and may undergo ritual training,
ordeal and initiation. But the shaman’s calling is typically announced through
a highly individual crisis. This may involve a serious illness or a near-death experience.
Most frequently, the shaman’s calling is announced in dreams and visions. Among
the Anishnabe or Ojibwa, the revelation of a shaman’s calling – or whatever form our soul’s
purpose may take – is frequently the gift of a dream guide, or pawauganuk.

Shamans are not
only called by dreams; dreaming is at the core of their practice. An Amazonian
people, the Kagwahiv, say that “everyone who dreams is a little bit shaman.”


Indeed, the most common name for the shaman in the Western Hemisphere means simply, “one who dreams”. In
Mohawk, the word is atetshents (masculine
form: ratetshents), pronounced
“adze-edze-ots”. It means “dreamer” in the sense of one who dreams strong, one
who dreams true, one who can travel in dreaming and heal others inside the dreamspace. It also means “doctor” and “healer”.
There we have the ancient understanding that to be a shaman, or doctor, or healer, you
must be at home in the dreamworlds.

When I found
myself, in dreams, inside the world of ancient Iroquoian shamans and healers, an Onondaga elder told me, “You made some visits
and you received some visitations.” That is the basic shamanic understanding of
what goes on in interesting dreams – we travel somewhere, or receive a visit.


Creative Rx: The right kind of Brownies

posted by Robert Moss

RLS cottage on Saranac Lake.JPGRobert Louis Stevenson received some of his best-beloved stories in dreams and a twilight state of “reverie” in which benign visitors he called “Brownies” helped him to compose, and we have lots to learn from his practice. 

RLS described the central role of dreaming and dreamy states in his creative process in “A Chapter on Dreams”, which he wrote for Scribner’s magazine while winterinng in a “cure cottage” on Saranac Lake in 1877-88.
He recounted how during his sickly childhood, he was often oppressed by night terrors and the “night hag”. But as he grew older, he found that his dreams often became welcome adventures, in which he would travel to far-off places or engage in costume dramas among the Jacobites. He often read stories in his dreams, and as he developed the ambition to become a writer, it dawned on him that a clever way to get his material would be to transcribe what he was reading in his sleep. “When he lay down to prepare himself for sleep, he no longer sought amusement, but printable and profitable tales.” And his dream producers accommodated him. He noticed they became especially industrious when he was under a tight deadline. When “the bank begins to send letters” his “sleepless Brownies” work overtime, turning out marketable stories. 
Who are the Little People? They are near connections of the dreamer’s, beyond doubt; they share in his financial worries and have an eye to the bank-book; they share plainly in his training; they have plainly learned like him to build the scheme of a considerate story and to arrange emotion in progressive order; only I think they have more talent; and one thing is beyond doubt, they can tell him a story piece by piece, like a serial, and keep him all the while in ignorance of where they aim… 

And for the Little People, what shall I say they are but just my Brownies, God bless them! who do one-half my work for me while I am fast asleep, and in all human likelihood, do the rest for me as well, when I am wide awake and fondly suppose I do it for myself. That part which is done while I am sleeping is the Brownies’ part beyond contention; but that which is done when I am up and about is by no means necessarily mine, since all goes to show the Brownies have a hand in it even then.
One of Stevenson’s most famous tales, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came directly from his dreams.. He was fascinated by the theme of our “double being” and had attempted a story about it that had been rejected. He was in financial trouble, and urgently needed to write something that would sell. He recollected: “For two days I went about racking my brains for a plot of any sort; and on the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene afterward split in two, in which Hyde, pursued for some crime, took the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his pursuers.” 
The rest he made up, at his writing table, conscious that his Brownies were there with him. 
My Brownies are somewhat fantastic, like their stories hot and hot, full of passion and the picturesque, alive with animating incident; and they have no prejudice against the supernatural – and have no morals at all.
By an odd rhyming coincidence, during a later visit to Hawaii, RLS became involved in an acrimonious controversy with a Presbyterian minister of the type my Australian countrymen call a “wowser”. His adversary’s name? Mr Hyde.
RLS cottage on Saranac Lake, where he wrote “A Chapter on Dreams” and The Master of Ballantrae


Song of soul recovery

posted by Robert Moss

Thumbnail image for SanJuanIslandAtNight.JPGWhen I am asked why I do what I do, I sometimes respond, “Because I love to see the light of spirit coming on in the eyes of someone who has recovered part of her soul.” Whatever the titles and descriptions, all of my workshops are about soul – about remembering the soul’s purpose, and reclaiming vital energy of soul that may have gone missing from a life through pain or grief, or wrenching life choices, through a broken heart or through giving up on a big dream. 

I wrote the poem below after a profound experience of facilitating soul recovery.Through devastating events in her early life, a woman had lost child parts of herself that refused to remain in the body in a world that seemed terribly cruel. I found, not for the first time, that these missing child souls had gone to a safe haven, reminiscent of the place of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan, which I was inspired to call the Island of No-Pain.
To persuade these beautiful children to come home to the woman’s adult self, bringing their gifts of energy and imagination, it was necessary to convince them that life in the body would be safe and could be fun. I don’t know whether full soul recovery would have been possible without the fierce and tender intervention of Great Mother Bear. She held the child self and the adult together in her lap, in her tremendous embrace, until the reunion was complete and they fused and became one being.
Bearing the Child from the Island of No-Pain
                                                                                                                                                                            There is an island beyond pain,

Friendly to magic, where children sing

And delight in learning the necessary things:

The language of birds, how wishing is doing,
How to walk on moonlight and swim in the rain.
To get there, you must go off the maps,

Track what rhymes in a day, do magical passes

And go to Raven, Madrona and Orca for remedial classes

In wearing darkness lightly, shedding old skin

And plunging deep. You must travel through the gaps
In the obvious world. The island reaches to you –

How else could you know it? – in your dreams.

One morning you fall awake with the gleam

Of memory of a wise child, whole and beautiful

Who owns herself but is gone from you. 
You long to go through the mist where she has gone

To dance with shamans who heal to entertain

And there is no fear, betrayal or shame.

The red fingers of the tree that binds the shore

Tap in madrona code: “Go, and bring her home.” 
You are off in a heartbeat, a sail unfurled.

Your dream soul is your leader

To the house of rain and red cedar

Where the lovely child flees from you.

She won’t live in your body, won’t breathe in your world. 
You will lose her again. Except for the great white Bear

Who comes to embrace and enfold you

Both, and will not let go, but holds you

Together, till you cannot pull apart.

In the arms of Bear Mother, the unhealed tear
In your being opens the door to your heart

And your child comes in, suspicious of your vows -
“We’ll have fun!” “What’s ours is ours.”
“I’ll never let them hurt you.”
“I’ll stand in my power.” We’ll never be apart.” 
Your double scream of birthing 
Scares the gentle black-tailed deer 
From the orchard, and sows fear

Of miscarriage. But the Bear is with you

And in you, bringing you to a place of birthing. 
You drink apple juice from the tree

And your soul swells and claps her hands.

The wise child looks out of your eyes and understands

You will live your promises, be shaman of your self,

Call souls back in others. You are home, and free.


The dog park oracle

posted by Robert Moss

Doggie_games.jpg“This isn’t a game.” I turn from my puppy, who is straining his leash to dark at squirrels and falling leaves, to see the speaker. He’s on a rise in the park, above the service road. His words are the first human speech I’ve heard since I left my house this morning, so they could qualify as a kledon, an oracle prized by the ancient Greeks that delivers its message through a chance phrase coming out of silence or white noise. Yesterday, I found the oracle at work at a breakfast buffet. Today, perhaps, at the dog park.

What does it mean, to say that something isn’t a game? Generally, when we say that, we mean that we regard an issue as very serious. Yet ironically, game players get very serious about the games they play, whether the game is Second Life or golf or serial dating or rehearsing in a bunker for World War III. Games typically involve an edge of competition. As Stephen Nachmanovitch argues elegantly in his book Free Play, approaching something as a rule-bound contest in which there are winners and losers can be antithetical to the spirit of playing for the sake of play that is both the magic of childhood and the condition for the creative act.
I drift closer to the dog park speaker to see if I can glean more about what he means. “You gotta do what you gotta do,” he is now insisting. “See, when I was very young I learned to see myself as a theme or an animal, instead of the slave of some ideology or concept. I need water and food. I guess I don’t need the vodka.”
I notice the burr in his voice and the stubble on his chin, and decide that this is hangover philosophy and I probably don’t need to linger for any more, though I recall that a bishop of Rome (Ambrose) told an Emperor (Theodosius) that God may speak even through drunkards, especially in dreams.
I walk on with my dogs, beside the lake. The puppy, who is not yet five months old, is bounding ahead. The old guy, who is nearly fourteen and arthritic, is dragging behind, taking four times longer to sniff everything than he used to need, because his sense of smell is failing. “A dawdler and a frisky one,” comments a smiling fellow out for his morning constitutional. Looking at the moving cameo we make through his eyes, I am reminded of Plato’s metaphor of the charioteer of the soul, who is forever trying to manage two horses, one of which seeks the heights, while the other wants to plunge down into lower places. I think, too, of how the dawdler and the frisky guy in me contend when it comes to getting just about anything done. 
I tug on the leashes to repoint my dogs towards the humped footbridge over the lake. There is a MISSING sign glued to a post. Dante is missing. There’s a picture of a cute husky puppy lying on his side, his tongue lolling. My mind goes to the original Dante, who went missing for a long time, after he found himself lost in a dark wood in mid-life, and then had to traverse all the cycles of hell before he earned the right to meet his radiant guide inside the mountain of Purgatory. In the Purgatorio, when Dante meets the beloved of his soul in the guise of the beautiful woman he loved and lost – but with the savage splendor of the griffin shining in her eyes – she rebukes him for having gone missing for so many years before he was definitively lost. “For so many years I sought you in dreams,” she tells him, “and you would not listen or remember.”
We cross the bridge. There are ducks on the water, and a lone man fishing. As we turn homeward, the sun is in my eyes. It is white-gold in a heron-blue sky. Below the sun, stratus clouds lie across the rim of the world like immense white quills. Time to write.
Doggie games photo by Elsie esq via flickr
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