Sunday, October 17, 2010
Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the Secret Wishes of the Soul
Book Review: Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the Secret Wishes of the Soulby Robert Moss (Destiny Books/Inner Traditions 2005)
Awesome book. Loved it. Robert Moss is quite an accomplished dream shaman with great insights in the healing possibilities of dreaming. He starts off describing some of his childhood near-death experiences with several bouts of pneumonia where he became consciously separated from his body multiple times and for long periods. He also had long dreams where he spent what seemed a lifetime among certain spirit beings he later discovered were spirits of the Aborigines of his native Australia. Interesting that he mentions that as I read in Jean Houston’s book, “Jump Time” about an old Aboriginal woman who claimed that old Aborigine souls were being reborn in the white folk of the region. I infer from Robert’s notes that the two main human mythic energies available to us are those of place (past peoples of the areas we live and work) and those of ancestors. Through this narrative the author connects with both in rather symbiotic ways.
He describes buying a farm in upstate New York in an area formerly occupied by the Iroquois tribal federation. Here he sits under an old tree and watches a hawk. On the wings of the hawk he begins dreaming of old times and connecting with animal powers.
He dreams of places and people that he discovers to be historical people from the past of the area such as Sir William Johnson, an Irishman who became British governor and befriended the Six Nations of the Iroquois and helped mediate their concerns during and after the French and Indian War of the mid-1700’s. During a trip to Ireland the author went to Johnson’s place of origin there and while visiting the nearby megalith at Newgrange he discovered a mental portal for himself in the glyph of the double spiral which he calls the eyes of the goddess. Robert then proceeded to study the local history in depth and write two historical novels about it. Having a past as a best-selling horror writer – it was dreaming and its possibilities – that offered him a change, a new vocation as it were, a destiny of sorts. (Incidentally, during the reading of this book my son bid mecome and watch a movie - called Broken Chain - with Piers Brosnan playing William Johnson and giving a dramatic historical picture of the people and time).
Having dreams of an old Iroquoian woman dictating teachings to him in an archaic form of the Mohawk language and the Huron language (she was a Huron taken prisoner and subsequently adopted by the Mohawk) – he had to figure out what language it was and how old. This woman who he calls “Island Woman” apparently turns out to be a Clan Mother of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawks and the grandmother of Molly Brant, the Mohawk wife of this Sir William Johnson. She is also a dream shaman. She is an atetshents, or “one who dreams.” He also received the word, ondinnonk, “the secret desire of the soul expressed by a dream.” The wishes of certain dreams must be headed in order to prevent soul loss of individuals and detriment to the tribe. Often these dreams indicated an impending attack or a place and time to hunt or find food. Dreams were acted out in ritual dramas following the slogan that “dreams require action.” The first part of the day in old Iroquoian societies was to tell one’s dreams. During the mid-winter rites of Ononhouroia, the Swirling of the Mind, there were dream-guessing games, or perhaps guessing one’s secret desires which would apparently end up as gift- exchanging activities. Even though the societies tended toward marital fidelity and modesty in public – there were occasional therapeutic orgies as a way to act out certain erotic dreams.
Through researching and keeping records of dreams for many years Moss offers that there are three basic types of dream related to the future: 1) Rehearsal dreams – which help us prepare by seeing the future consequence of a certain course of action, 2) Precognitive dreams – literal or symbolic, that are played out in later waking life, and 3) Early-warning dreams – showing events that may or may not happen in the future – showing only possible futures.
The old Iroquois believed that beings from the spirit world constantly try to contact us in dreams. Moss offers the possibility that this Island Woman is reaching across time through dream deliberately – perhaps due to struggles during her time with epidemic and war. The Iroquois say that dreaming is an important way to accumulate authentic power, or orenda. Orenda is also equivalent to life force. The neighboring Delaware, or Lenape tribe say that dreaming increases one’s access to maskan, the ability to do exceptional things.
Moss then describes several dream visitations of shamans, secret native words and practices and initiations received in dreams. He also describes encounters with various animal powers. He thinks that through his early experiences and dream encounters that he is able to more easily open gates between worlds. He has studied quite a bit under various Native American shamans and elders. Many Native Americans participate in his Conscious Dreaming Workshops and some consider him an elder in their traditions. Due to his abilities to function in the shaman’s realm he thinks that his destiny is to be a teacher of dreams – to help people reclaim dreams as a method of healing. He gives many examples throughout the book of dreams and visions with beneficial results. In his many encounters with spirits, ancestors, and shamans, in dreams he is often taught and shown things because “he sees the way the shamans see.” He has some dreams apparently that are straight out of Native American mythology. One thing that does kind of come across in these various dream descriptions is that most dreams are relevant mainly to the dreamer, not so much to others, although they may also be relevant to family or tribe. He speaks too of poetry and dreaming as ways to call forth the inner song of healing.
In a few chapters he goes through Iroquois myth such as Sky Woman making the earth world on turtle’s back and the story of the Twins, one light and creative, the other dark and destructive – and their interdependency. Next he goes through the stories of the Peacemaker and Hiawatha, thought to have occurred several hundred years before the coming of Europeans.
Next we come to the actual teachings of Island Woman, the Huron/Mohawk dream shaman of the Wolf Clan. The first teaching is an encouragement to get in touch with one’s Animal Spirits – said to be born when one is born. One’s animal double can move from one animal body to another. The guardian spirit animals are called oyaron. One may contact one’s oyarons(s) through dreams, other shamans, fasting and vision questing – or some other experience. She says the spirits hunt us, especially in dreams. Next she speaks about the soul components. She says that many folk have lost one or more of their souls and that there is a vast mass of walking dead soul parts wandering. The gaps left are in danger of being filled by malevolent spirits and maddening energies like addiction and depression. Dead souls are heavy and restricting and generally obscuring. It is said that some ancestors decided to stay close after they died. These can be available for guidance but they must be distinguished from the “hungry ghosts.” Part of the work is re-uniting souls with bodies. Dreaming can help us uncover our sacred purpose. She speaks of soul families traversing space and time and reconnecting with them. She says, “Unless you dream, you’ll never be fully awake.” She says that “Big Dreams” reveal secret wishes and needs. Here is a related quote: “Life is full of crossroads. Often you don’t even notice them until they are behind you, unless you know how to dream. Through dreaming you can scout out the different trails you might follow and see where they lead. Through dreaming, you are already choosing the events that will take place in your waking life.” Orenda, the life force that binds the universe is said to accumulate in old oaks, mountains, and stone. She suggests that when you recall even just one dream with detail that can be a point of departure for dream travel. She says that dreams can tell us when sorcery is being worked against us. This was maybe useful in her time when war magic was a common practice. She also notes jealous rage as a motivation for sorcery. She notes correctly I think that sorcery happens all the time – even when we don’t know we are doing it – when we think of someone consciously or unconsciously we are affecting them in some way. I thi nk in most cases we don’t need to fight against this but general protection against a malevolent attack might be revealed in dreams. The Seneca visionary called Handsome Lake had dreams that led him to give up alcohol (firewater) and revitalize his spirit connections. He also had visions that directed him to engage in a witch-hunt of sorts against sorcerous shamans. He may have been influenced by Christianity in this regard so this could be an improper use – but I don’t know the details.
Next Island Woman talks about the “Burden Straps” – a long strap made of woven elm bark or moose hair and wrapped around the forehead to pull a load connected to the other end. She refers to the metaphorical burden straps as Sky Woman (Ataensic) brought food
to feed her people in such a way. So the burden strap refers to taking care of the tribe by taking on its burdens. The requirements to taking on such a responsibility include being cleansed by water and fire and having your energy field combed with song. Being dropped blindfolded into a hole in the earth and overcoming fear – it is said – will make your spirit helpers reveal themselves. Island Woman says her spirit guardian (oyaron) is a Fire Dragon – rare and very powerful. She says men fear it and very few men can hold such power. She also talks of the Sisters of the Stones, a secret society of feminine energy that reaches across space and time.
Moss gives some interesting suggestions for ways to share dreams. He thinks that the way we share our dreams is very important. His method he calls Lightning Dreamwork Method: Step One: Tell the Dream as a Story with a Title – tell the dream as a clear and simple story. Step Two: The Partner Asks Three Key Questions – the first is how did you feel upon waking – the initial feeling-tone may be key to the quality and urgency of the dream. The second question is a reality check to determine whether a dream is literal, symbolic, or experience in a separate reality. Auxiliary questions can relate to whether anyone in the dream can be recognized in waking life and whether any events in the dream could happen in waking life. One thing to determine in his questioning is whether the dream gives advice. The third question to the dreamer is: “What would you like to know about this dream?" Step Three: Playing the Game “If It Were My Dream” – this is to get the perspective of the dream analysis partner – who may have had similar or related dreams or dream types. He says it is important not to interpret the dream or pry, just to give feelings and associations that come up. Step Four: Taking Action to Honor the Dream – here Moss gives an interesting quote: “Real magic consists of bringing something through from a deeper reality into our physical lives, which is why Active Dreaming is a way of natural magic.” Ways to honor dreams can include: making a short motto from a dream (like a bumper sticker), keeping a dream journal, create from the dream – music, poetry, drawing, theatre -, take a physical action such as traveling to the place in the dream, create a dream talisman to hold the energy of the dream (as a means to return to the dream) – he suggests stones, use the dream as a travel advisory, journey back to the dream (he gives a method later), and tell the dream to someone else it may relate to.
Next is an interesting section on “Navigating by Synchronicity” – paying close attention to symbolism, coincidences, and chance encounters and acting on their basis. He suggests that this is the way of dream in waking life and it is most certainly a long tested shamanic technique.
Net he gives the Dream Re-entry Technique: First pick a relevant dream with good recall and much energy. Relax. Focus on a specific scene in the dream in vivid detail. Clarify your intention – what you want to know and what you will do once you get back into the dream. Invoke animal powers. Perhaps enter through shamanic heartbeat drumming as he suggests. I have not tried this one yet but I plan to do so soon.
Next is Tracking Dreams with a partner. This may be a simple as lying together to take a shamanic visionary journey. Sharing and knowing the details of the dream before embarking is vital and having clear intentions is good. He has apparently used this method successfully in helping people with past trauma.
Moss says that many people are in need of a meaningful dream and suggests ways of bringing someone a dream in need of a dream. He has apparently encountered peopel who have never recalled a dream in their life and helped them to do so. He gives several
examples of finding dreams not only for the individual but often for their friends and family – or how to interact with them in difficult situations. In a chapter called Medicine Dreaming he talks about dream warnings of how to deal with possible and impending illness and the healing gifts of the animal powers. Bear is strongly associated with Medicine and Healing in the Native traditions. Horse may refer to vital energy as the windhorse of the Mongolian, Siberian, and Tibetan traditions.
In talking about soul loss he gives the following Symptoms of Soul Loss: (quoted)
1) inability to ground yourself: spaciness, tendency to drift off, “check out,” or constantly trying to escape from situations around you
2) chronic depression
3) chronic fatigue
4) dissociation and multiple personality disorder
5) addictive behaviors
6) low self-esteem
7) emotional numbness
8) inability to let go of past situations or people no longer in your life, for example, inability to move beyond a divorce or grief over the death of a loved one.
9) obesity or unexplained serious weight gain (typical in women who are survivors of abuse)
10) abusive behaviors
11) absence of dream recall
12) recurring dreams of locations from earlier life, or of a younger self separate from yourself
The last one is interesting and he gives some examples where dreaming of your younger self suggests certain unresolved trauma issues related to that time period.
Of dead souls and soul parts he reiterates Island Woman’s warnings about the earth-bound dead seeking revenge through inciting cravings, confusion, and bodily symptoms. So as in many shamanic systems it is thought that more than one aspect of energy and consciousness survives beyond physical death. Apparently the Hurons had an elaborate second burial to properly locate a soul part that stays close to the Earth. He suggests re-implementing such a practice to mitigate the homeless soul problem that some shamans say is becoming toxic. Apparently, the Iroquois associate this aspect of soul energy with the bones, or more accurately the bone marrow. It is called
ohskenrari, the burned bones – as he says – like the “living dead” of horror flicks. Moss describes a vivid dream/vision of being shown various soul components by being conscious within them.
Next he goes through dream talismans, dream poems, songs, paintings, theatre, etc as therapeutic activities and as a way to both entertain and honor the spirits.
He relates an interesting experience where he encounters a native fellow who gives him a message from the Kogi shamans on the mountainous coast of Columbia. They are a culture with a long and powerful dreaming culture where specially selected shamans are kept in darkness for the first fourteen years of their life to develop their dreaming abilities. The Kogi call the dream world Aluna and say that the Aluna is now coated with polluted energy of both human malice and ET energy that has taken notice. This they say is blocking the reception of messages from higher consciousness. They are seeking the help of powerful dreamers to basically fix the tears in the web of dreams so that better telepathic connections can stay open. Moss describes some interesting details of his and his workshop participants in this vein with surprising detail.
There is some great info and practice ideas in this book. I have tried one of the shamanic techniques with contacting animal/spirit allies with some success. One thing I have noticed about dreaming is that focus, intention, and repetition of that focus and intention does yield results (for me especially if I can get to bed soon enough).
There is an appendix that gives ideas for creating a dreaming circle in one’s “community”. We have done something of this sort in the Horus-Maat Lodge with our Group Dream Blog. This is relevant to Horus-Maat in that one focus is the development of a futuristic operational double-conciousness where one aspect is a group consciousness.