Dream Gates

sevengenerationslrg.jpgAt the Omega Institute near Rhinebeck, New York, where I’m leading a five-day adventure in Active Dreaming this week, a striking assemblage of metal figures stands on the grass beside the library. You look through the hollow in each to the last, and smallest, figure, which contains an unborn child. This sculpture set was created by the artist Frederick Franck to honor the traditional teaching of the elders of the Six Nations of the Haudenosonee, or Iroquois, that we must be mindful of the consequences of our actions, down to the seventh generation beyond ourselves.

One of my wishes is that, in any situation where we are called upon to choose a leader, from a President down to the coordinator of a community action group, we should pose the question: Will you be mindful of the consequences of every decision, down to the seventh generation beyond us. The traditional Iroquois call their chiefs rotiyaner, which means “men of good minds”. By tradition, they are chosen by the clan mothers. When a royaner is raised up to wear the deerhorn antlers of office, set in a feathered crown, the understanding is that he will live in connection with a deeper order of purpose and responsibility. The deer antlers, rising above the physical head, symbolize the connection with a higher world, the world of spirit where the origin and deeper logic of human events are to be found. By tradition, the “man of good mind” is accountable; if he fails to honor his trust, the women of power can and will de-horn him.
A lot of history has happened since the time of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker and the creation of the Confederacy of the Longhouse, and traditions may no longer be honored as they were meant to be served, in a world turned upside down for Native Americans and others. But the tradition speaks to all peoples, I believe, and offers us a path beyond our present confusion.
In my own life, I remember my obligations to a woman seven generations beyond my own, who has reached to me in visions and offered me glimpses of her world. It is a harsh world, in terms of the physical environment for human life. It is a world in which she is a member of an order of priestess-scientists who are trying to restore the Earth and the human spirit after a series of disasters brought about by men driven by greed and hateful ideas, men who acted with no thought for the long-term consequences of their actions. My priestess-scientist in the seventh generation beyond mine is a dreamer, in a Commonwealth of Dreamers for whom the true arts of dreaming are central to every aspect of everyday activity, in education and medicine, in seership to scout the best possible future for all. I am humbled by the thought that my work, in creating a new mode of Active Dreaming, may contribute to what she and her sisters are able to do. I am challenged and mobilized by the knowledge that I must give my best, in the time I have available, with the help of the community of active dreamers that is growing fast in my world, to help make her possible.
I came to study the ways of the Iroquois because an ancestor of the land where I now live – the Huron/Mohawk shaman I have called Island Woman in Dreamways of the Iroquois and in my historical novel The Firekeeper – reached into my mind, seven generations in front of her own time, when I moved to a farm on the edge of Mohawk country in the mid-1980s. I learned from her that the vital importance of dreaming is that it helps us to identify what the soul (as opposed to the ego) wishes in our lives, and that dreaming is for and about communities, not only individuals. In the Mohawk language, which my dreams of her required me to study, the phrase that means “Do not forget” is transcribed as tosa sasa nikon’hren, It literally means “Do not let you mind fall” – that is to say, do not let your mind fall from the knowledge of the first and essential things that were known to you in the Earth-in-the-Sky before you fell into this world. 
I was reminded by Frederick Franck’s sculptures of one of the essential things we must remember to use as a gauge of action and a requirement for anyone who seeks leadership: to be mindful of the consequences of any decision, down to the seventh generation, in the precious and vulnerable ecosphere we share with so many forms of life that so often we fail to see or respect.

hormhb.jpgWhen I meet someone new, I like to ask them if they know what their name means. This is a way of registering the new person’s name in my mind, so it doesn’t slip. It’s also a great conversation starter.

I find it interesting that lots of people, even at the midpoint of life or beyond it, seem never to have paused to ask what their name means. One of my recent workshops was hosted by a thoughtful couple in Maryland. I put my question to them. The wife – Deborah – knew that her name means “honeybee” in Hebrew. She did not know that it is also the name of the priestess of the Great Goddess in very early times; Deborah has the same double meaning (“honeybee” and “priestess”) as Melissa in Greek. 
The husband was another Robert. He didn’t know what the name means. It wasn’t hard for me to help him out, since I’ve often had occasion to reflect on what my name means. It’s of Scandinavian origin, though it came down to me through my father’s Scottish line (those Vikings got around). The original meaning of Robert is “bright in fame.” There’s a double edge for me in that. My name says to me: Be ready for the spotlight, and try to stay bright (in all senses) when it’s on you.” I’ve gone through such radical changes in my life that I might have thought of changing my name several times over, to reflect the changes in me and my sense of what matters. But through all my life passages, Robert has felt like the right name for me, However, I won’t tolerate any messing around with it. Call me Bob, and I become dangerous.
On the other hand, I know plenty of Bobs who aren’t Roberts. It’s interesting to notice what’s being reflected or invoked, energetically, if we switch from the formal version of a name to a colloquial or abbreviated one, or do this the other way round. A Bob is not a Robert. A Betsy is not an Elizabeth. Betsy might be the fun and friendly lady next door, the perfect soccer mom and short-order cook for the neighborhood kids. Elizabeth travels with a name that evokes royalty and sacred intent; her name literally means the House of God.
The Egyptians regarded the name (ren) as an aspect of soul, and believed that any assault on a person’s name – for example, by defacing an inscription – was an act of soul mutilation. At the start of my workshops, I ask everyone in the circle to begin by claiming their name and announcing it to the circle in a clear, ringing voice. “If you don’t like the name you’ve been given or are called by others, change it now and we’ll say it back to you.”
What’s in a name, first and last, is you. You want to know what your name means, and what gift or challenge is in that meaning. You want to be sure that the name you are using suits your natural energy and is not like a suit that is two sizes too small and is buttoned up tight, or a pair of shoes that are just too big for you.
Cartouche with the ren nefer (“beautiful name”) and titles of Horemheb, warrior-pharaoh of the XVIII dynasty

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When analysts and “dream experts” take dreams seriously, they usually approach them from just one perspective, as sets of symbols to be decoded.
Certainly our dream life is rich in symbols. Etymologically, a symbol is something that “brings things together” (what is “diabolical”, by contrast, is what divides and separates). 

Symbols help bring together our workaday mind and the workings of a deeper multidimensional reality. We need symbols to take us beyond the little we know, or think we know, to a richer and deeper understanding of everything.
So we dream in symbols. 
But we also experience dreams that need to be taken literally rather than symbolically, because they give us a clear perception of events that are unfolding or will unfold in physical reality or in another order of reality that is no less “real”. They are experiences that take place within broad bands of dreaming that should not be confused with symbolic dreaming.
One of those broad bands involves the ESP that works naturally in dreaming, and is part of our human survival kit. In dreams, our intuitive radar sometimes functions better than it does amid the clutter of waking life; we scout across time and space and glimpse events at a distance. To borrow language from the East, these are “clear” dreams or “dreams of clarity” (although on waking, we may struggle to retain clear and complete information from them). 
Another broad band of dreaming involves the dreams and journeys that are experiences of a separate reality somewhere in the multiverse. For active dreamers, this is the richest treasury of dreaming. We travel, consciously or not, to the realm that a great Sufi philosopher (Ibn ‘Arabi) called “the isthmus of imagination”, which lies between the realm of the senses and the realm of the eternal. We have adventures in many other locales in the mutiverse, including parallel worlds, bardo zones, far-flung galaxies, and places where gods, demons and faeries are at home.
So as we reflect on a dream, let’s remember to ask: Which band was I dreaming on – symbolic, clear, or alternate reality? 
Photo by Suzette M. Rios-Scheurer

hippocampus.jpgHappy news: science continues the slow process of catching up to what active dreamers already know about the gifts of dreaming. At the recent convention of the American Psychological Association in San Diego, presenters suggested that dreaming may improve memory, enhance creativity, and help us prepare better for future events.

San Diego psychiatry professor Sara Mednick presented the findings of a study that, based on word tests, suggests that people who take naps in which they dream are notably better at creative problem-solving than those who don’t. Mednick’s careful conclusion: dreaming helps us combine ideas in new ways, and see connections between things that might otherwise seem to be unrelated.
At the same conference, Harvard psychiatrist Daniel Schachter reported that the same areas in the brain that handle memory, such as the hippocampus, show increased activity when subjects are asked to imagine future events. He allowed that dreaming may help us prepare for the future by putting together elements from our past. Schachter told National Geographic that “when you imagine future events, you’re recombining aspects of experiences that have actually occurred.” 
Active dreamers know that a great deal more is going on in dreams of the future than the Harvard psychiatrist is ready to discuss; see my recent post, “In dreams, we scout the roads ahead”. Still, I am always grateful when scientists take even a small step towards validating what active dreamers – and most human cultures prior to the modern era – know about dreaming. 
Hippocampus via psycheducation