April, 2007

 

 

Mythic Prelude

Incubating the Dream

Hail and welcome to the Month that means Opening in the Latin language, from which our word April comes. We have always known what this signifies, in the opening of the year at the onset of spring, and the opening of dynamic new energy in the charge of Aries the Ram. And the opening of the new zodiac year as the Sun, which passed the 0° point at the Spring Equinox on March 21, gathers momentum toward the surge and stamina of May. And -- as the one who opens has a way of receiving -- inspiration, seed, mission, duty -- and then bringing the new being into birth, April has always been a time for envisioning what we intend to create in the ripening of the year. Wise mothers, whether they are women who literally bear children or people of either sex who conceive a worthy aim and bring it into being, are clear about two things. The quality of the birth depends on the readiness of the mother, on how she has prepared her body, mind and soul for the moment of delivery. And the readiness depends on how she and her partner, whether husband, muse, mentor or spirit guide, have intended a child who will be born perfect. That is: as a child who will bring itself, and other souls who are linked to it, the perfect ways to fulfill the contracts they all made before they came here to experience life on earth in all its wonder and amazement, beauty and pain.

In short, what you bear is what you intend and imagine consciously. And how you birth it, and what it will do, depends on how you prepare and refine your dream. Does this relate directly to what we are going through in 2007, as individuals and societies, and as a collective human mind? Obviously. If you're reading this, you're likely to be one of those who do what we can to awaken of our own accord, and learn to use the laws of attraction, intention and manifestation to get what we want, even to create Paradise on Earth. It's a good bet that you've already come through, whether years ago or just now, the resistances to insight and change that keep billions of human beings tossing and turning now. They cough, curse and sputter out of uneasy sleep, each time coming closer to the fact that must come clear, sooner or later: We all assembled and packed in our travel kit, before we were born, the damned smoke alarm that keeps tweeting us out of comfort and oblivion. How early or late we finally wake up, and how long it takes, is no matter of pride for those of us who think we've got it, or of shame for those who are still snoring away. "Don't look at me. I just got here," as Kurt Vonnegut put it in A Man Without a Country.
One way or the other, whether one is still abed or refining the artistry of our intentions, the metaphors of birth will multiply in 2007. If you've been reading this page since the middle of last year, then you already know that this month is the end of a nine-month birth cycle. It's linked to two master planetary alignments of 2006 - 2007: Saturn in Leo opposite Neptune in Aquarius and Pluto crossing the Galactic Center in Sagittarius. Many things are coming to birth now, whether the blessed events are recognized or not -- and with them come miracles of the kind that often attend the arrival of great saints and teachers, and the spike of wisdom and love that flows from their inspiration.
Like the portent shown here, reported last month by peace troubadour James Twyman. As the picture shows, pieces of the Cloth of Many Colors had been placed to form a peace symbol on the lawn between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. When they were removed, they left the peace symbol shape imprinted in grass that was now greener and longer than the other grass around it. Something has just been born here, as it was also in the scarab-shaped crop circle shown on this page a year ago.
To gain a better idea of just what has been and is being born, and how we had best prepare for the births coming soon, it may be useful to look at ancient practices that are coming back into our awareness now, when we most need them and may at last be ready to apply them. Like the famous art of dream therapy developed by the master practitioners of Epidaurus. These Greek physicians may not have been the first great holistic health artists. That honor may well belong to the semi-legendary Imhotep, said to have been the builder of the great alabaster-floored crystal hospital of Saqqara near the Nile, where celebrated Greek medical scientists from Pythagoras on plumbed the depths of sound and symbol, and learned what the seeker of wellness and the one who treats him must do together. Their collaboration was active, so much so that the word "patient" does not really fit well, meaning as it does the one who suffers or receives treatment rather than one whose conscious effort really creates the healing result. The point of the teamwork between the physician and the seeker of wellness was not just to attract and interpret the information that may be encoded in dreams, on the Talmud's premise that "A dream not understood is like a letter not opened." Rather, the aim of the Epidaurus practice was to prepare for the dream, to incubate it. That's why people who came to seek their cures at Epidaurus and other hospitals like it were called incubants. Their process of purification took 2 - 4 months until the physician decided it was time to invite the dream that would hold the key to the patient's illness, and the best way to address it.
The system is attributed to Asklepios, who is said to have come from his native Thessaly in the north to practice in Attica and the Argolid in about 900 BC. The date is significant. It's midway between 1000 BC, when the political order and culture of the Greek heroic age were obliterated everywhere but in Athens by mysterious iron-wielding "Dorian" invaders; and 800 BC, when Homer is said to have lived just before the first truly firm date in Greek history: the first Olympic Games in 796 BC. Thus Asklepios was a pivotal figure whose noble deeds and medicinal art caused him to be worshipped as a deity for a thousand years and more. He was also, clearly, the healer of his whole country's will and spirit, the one whose example of selfless courage and kindness in expert action was so luminous to so many that Socrates' last wish, as the hemlock was chilling his stomach and nearing his heart, was to remind Phaedo that "I owe a cock to Asklepios. Will you remember to pay the debt?"
Asklepios was revered throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, and there were many variant legends about his birth, accomplishments and adventures, and death. The ones we'll accept as purest and truest here are from the main center of his worship and practice in Epidaurus. According to these stories, the beautiful Coronis ("crow"), wanted to hide from her father Phlegyas, the founder of the city, a secret that would make her a much less desirable, even a perilous choice, for a political marriage to one of the other kings of Hellas. She was with child by none other than Apollo. She gave birth in his shrine under cover of deep night, assisted by Artemis and the three Fates, then exposed the baby on Mount Titthion, which is famous as a place where the most potent medicinal herbs have always grown, and still do. The child was found by Aresthanas the goatherd, whose dog and one of his ewes had mysteriously strayed from his flock. He found the sheep nursing a human child while the dog guarded them both. As the shepherd approached, a brilliant white light shone all around the newborn boy, and Aresthanas knew that the baby was under the protection of the Lord of Light, Helios Apollo himself. The god entrusted his son to a teacher who'd had his own searing ordeal of being painfully rejected by his mother: Chiron the "wounded healer," who tutored spiritual heroes such as Orpheus, as well as many famous warriors, and trained young Asklepios in the science of herbs.
He is always depicted as shown here: a bearded man in his late prime or early middle age, his right shoulder and chest bared, usually with a dog at his feet to symbolize fidelity and protection. His left hand caresses a serpent's head, and not just because this emblem of prudent silence and regeneration has long been linked to the healer's art, as in the twined serpents of the caduceus. It was said that when Asklepios was working to bring the dead Glaucus back to life, a serpent slithered into the room, bearing in its mouth the precise herb that was needed.

And what an herb. Aesculapius, the Latin version of his name, means "that which hangs from the esculent oak": that is, mistletoe, the oak parasite whose berries were thought to resemble male genitalia by ancient peoples who called mistletoe "oak sperm." This is why mistletoe is a famous symbol of warriorship and virility. Aeneas took a wand of mistletoe for protection when he descended into the Underworld. The Druids symbolically harvested the oak's potency by cutting its mistletoe with

a golden sickle. And Asklepios used it more than once to bring men back from the dead, apparently on the premise that an herb that stokes one's manhood will revitalize the man himself. In ancient times, we all knew that mistletoe involved something much more -- ahhh -- immediate and graphic than Mommy kissing Santa Claus.
In the end, Asklepios did himself in by bringing one too many dead men back to life. The first few were no polemic for Hades, Lord of the Dead. But when Asklepios amazingly revived Hippolytus, and proved that he could even raise a man mangled in a chariot crackup and a fall off a cliff, Hades vented to Zeus that Asklepios was robbing his kingdom of subjects. Zeus thereupon blasted the good doctor with a thunderbolt, and later placed him in the sky as the constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer. This opens a very rich mythic vein that will have to wait for another page and another time. Enough to note for now that Ophiuchus stands on the ecliptic, route of Helios Apollo the Sun, at the exact symbolic point where regeneration occurs. It is between the sign of Scorpio, ruled by Pluto/Hades (under the figure's left
foot) and Sagittarius, which is ruled by Jupiter/Zeus, and is also linked with Chiron, teacher of Asklepios. His mother Coronis flies nearby in the form of Corvus the Crow. Here again, each mythic figure is connected with others around it in many overt and subtle ways that we once knew like the alleged backs of our hands, but which we have forgotten -- until now.
Did Zeus really whack Asklepios just because Hades pitched a fit about humans getting to come back from the dead? Not exactly. The political implications in all of this are easy to see. It was one thing in Egypt for Aset (Isis) to bring her murdered husband Ausar (Oriris) back to life, and even to do it twice, as long as he stayed down in the Duat, wrapped in his white mummy cloth and wearing his green skin, as he drove the Earth's plant life up toward the Sun from below the ground. And it would be perfectly fine for Jesus, Mohamed and others to promise that those who die in the Lord's favor will survive the corruption of the physical body and live forever in the bliss of the spirit world. But -- for human beings to be dead one minute and walking around on the topsoil a minute later in the same bodies they had before? Imagine the Pelion-sized headache a precedent like this would represent if you're Zeus, and you agree to let it happen. Apart from the grievances that the other gods are sure to raise if immortality is no longer reserved for Olympians, but now every Timotheos, Diocles and Harmion can have it, thanks to Doctor Life -- there could also be overpopulation on a scale that no one has ever imagined. Picture the parking lots the size of Lesotho that all the people would need sooner or later. And how they'd drive everything from horses to motor cars even more drunk and crazy than they do now, figuring that if Asklepios can bring Hippolytus back, then one of his staff can patch me up, even help me do what I've always dreamed of doing and get even with AIG by talking Greek to the insurance rep. It's getting as complicated as steel vermicelli, this case is. The thunder is quicker, and final.
At least the case has always looked simple. Until now we've known but only contemplated in theory what we know is true about the cells of our bodies. They can regenerate every atom of us every seven years. If we were to care for ourselves and one another through pure food, clean air and water, exercise, wholesome thoughts and feelings, and the ultimate medicines of laughter and love, we would not even need Asklepios. We are finally daring to consider that the main reason we all experience death -- all, that is, except the spiritual masters who move about the planet without aging, and live as long as they choose -- is that we've accepted death as something that must happen, like wrinkled skin, falling hair, eroding teeth and one's sex drive going somewhere south of sea level. But what if all of this, death and all the symptoms that advertise it, are really just . . . received opinions? What if they could just be discarded, like other useless braindust, and replaced with intentions to live and love as long as we want?
That, in a tortoise shell, from which Apollo's first lyre was made, is something very close to the practice, if not the paradigm, of the hundreds of Asklepia, or places of Asklepios that once dotted the ancient world from Thrace (now Bulgaria) and the Black Sea to Africa, and from Mesopotamia to Sicily. We'll look now at their most evolved practice, in the closest thing to General Hospital in the ancient world: the Hieron, or sacred healing site at Epidaurus.
As Richard Caton's illustration from Temples and Rituals of Asklepios shows, the place was enormous, much larger than this central area. This cropped image does not include the one spectacular surviving feature that we'll visit below, but it does give a good idea of the range of facilities that the incubant was expected to use as he prepared body and mind for the dream that would crown his time here, and point his way home. There were plenty of places to get juices flowing: woods for walking, a gymnasium (B) and to its left, a stadium where one could watch athletic events, and run his own prescribed course. Below the frame to the right is a pure mineral spring that still flows, and a "hotel" where incubants would sleep until they were ready for Dream Night. Near the center of the picture is the Asklepion, or Temple of Asklepios (J-K), and below it an odeon, or small theatre and lecture hall. Extending up from the Enkoimitria, the Dream Diagnosis Hall at middle left (C-D) are the baths (L) where the detox process could be moved along with water therapy, sweats and massages. Those who were getting ready for dream therapy could even see the country's finest actors play uplifting spiritual stories, as they still do in the warm months today.
In this space. It is surely one of the world's great acoustic mysteries. It is huge, seating up to 15,000 people. Unlike churches and concert halls that bounce and baffle sound through closed spaces to direct it perfectly, this space is as open as a Holy Fool. Yet by some counterintuitive miracle, the sound does not just carom off the stone and down into the valley. It lives. The space doesn't even require an actor to project. Words spoken in intimate volume, as in a lovers' murmur, can be heard perfectly by people seated in the top row.
I know. I spent a day here, listening, speaking and singing in three 20-minute sets to other visitors who seized on the chance to "hear the place in action," as one put it, then took their own turns to open up their pipes, for the first time in many years, and feel what it was like to give as well as receive song in this astonishing sonic space. I sang every Mozart aria and Sufi illahi I know, and other sacred music, and did speeches from Shakespeare, to hear which would resonate most strongly here. A phos (light) chant to Apollo, not surprisingly, flows in effortless majesty here. As I did my last singing of the day, a group of 200 college students from Croatia babbled in, but fell silent fast when they heard "Some Enchanted Evening." Two things seemed plain enough by the time I was done. One was that this place was successfully designed to bring everyone in it, performers and listeners alike, into higher, healthier states of feeling better. Even tragic stories could bring about this emotional lift with the powerful catharsis that Aristotle termed the whole aim and engine of the play. My other conclusion about this place, as clear in my ear and sense memory now as it was as I heard the last echoes of my voice fade away in the theatre at Epidaurus, is that I have never felt my breath so full, my body so burstingly alive as they were after I'd been singing here. Did the incubants come here not just to hear plays and music, but to step onstage themselves when the seats were empty, and let their own music flow? I'd be amazed if none of them ever did.
When the physician finally decided that the incubant's purification was done and he was ready for a Dream, he or she would ascend the steps of the Enkoimitria and offer a sacrifice at one of the braziers in the colonnade. By now, after months of getting ready, no one had any unease about all the serpents who were free to move and twine about anyone and anything. They seem to have been like silent hospital staff who symbolically linked each one with Asklepios and with the regeneration that could come with his help that night. In the evening, the incubant took a light meal and herbal tea that was brewed to induce a deep "temple sleep" and bring a lucid dream. When the attempt was successful, and the dream came, the incubant wrote it the next morning on a wet stone tablet, then discussed it with the physician.
The success rate at Epidaurus, and other Asklepia, was remarkable. That's why so many people journeyed so far to reach them, and Hippokrates visited Epidaurus to absorb its many lessons for the mastery of his craft. Though almost all of the incubants were firm in their faith and intention, it could and did happen that even skeptics could come away healed. A woman named Ambrosia -- from Athens, naturally -- was a notorious example, a kind of doubting Thomasina. She went blind in one eye. When all other remedies failed, she went to Epidaurus and laughed at much of what she saw there, saying how absurd it was that anyone could be cured of an illness just by having a dream. But one did come to her. Asklepios appeared and told her she would have to give the temple treasury a silver pig as a token of her willful obtuseness. When she agreed, he made an incision into her eye, then poured a balm into it -- and the next morning Ambrosia had her sight in both eyes again.
The god's choice of a votive offering is noteworthy, even comical. The Greeks did not use pigs as sacrificial animals, though Odysseus and the other warrior kings who hosted him of course burned choice cuts of pigs and other meats as offerings to the gods. Imagine how different the concept and practice of medicine might be if the client had to pay for a cure by giving the doctor a drawing, sculpture, or some other animal image symbolizing whatever pigheaded, birdbrained or chickenhearted thoughtform or emotional habit has been anchoring the dis-ease all along. Human beings might get a lot quicker and more proactive about being healthy if we knew we'd no longer be able to blame a "germ," or rely passively on a physician who knows everything while we know next to nothing. If we knew that in order to get well, we'd have to face our own inner slug or sloth or dog in the manger sooner or later, even give our doctor a statue of him, we'd think twice about holding in our minds and hearts the toxic habits that must show up sooner or later, to our embarrassment as well as our pain, as ailments in our physical bodies.
If the incubant did not attract a dream, then the purification regimen would continue until it was time for another try. When a dream did come and the cure was successful, the incubant paid a fee on a sliding scale based on the ability to pay, and on the amazing principle that a client would pay only if he or she were totally satisfied with the quality of the treatment, and the final result. Clients like the grateful Archinos often donated votive tablets like this one, showing the physician preparing the incubant for a dream (right), and Asklepios (left) coming to perform his surgical art.
When the dream was a perfect success, as it was this time, Archinos had only to thank his physician. He needed no interpretation for his dream, when he could swing his arm happily, its infection and pain completely gone.
When the cure was not instantaneous, how did the physicians read the incubants' dreams, and find in them the source of the illness and the route back to health? No manual of dream diagnosis or other document has come down to us. The ancient stories suggest that just as the incubants journeyed into the unconscious realm to meet Asklepios himself or the other dream images that would guide them, the physicians too learned and refined their practice through rites that were meditative and mystical rather than intellectual and technical.
This may have been the use of the mysterious circular tholos (E in the Hieron map above), shown here in a picture taken just before restoration work began on it at the end of 2006. It has been called a sanctuary for the sacred serpents of Epidaurus, also a ritual chamber in which the physicians performed their own purification ceremonies, aligning their hearts and intentions with those of the incubants who were in their care. The Greek lexicon lists a tantalizing mix of meanings for
this word. Dome and vault are obvious. But tholos also means opaque, perhaps a reference to the physician's aim of penetrating what is veiled from his own eyes, but may come clear in his incubant's dream. Perhaps most intriguing of all, tholos means tester, perhaps because the energies of this room -- still palpable today -- test the physician's own purity and readiness for his sacred task. Or maybe: the dream is the test, and everything hinges on one incandescent awakening, as the intentions of the incubant, the physician, Asklepios and the other energies linked with them combine to produce the illuminating moment in which the diagnosis doesn't just identify the problem. The diagnosis is the cure. Once the incubant sees what is possible in the perfect health of Asklepios, he can align with it instantly. All that remains is the artwork.
How does this apply to us one and all? In its holistic emphasis on the conscious, proactive body work that the one who wants better health will have to commit to doing. On this level, one does not have to be Rob Kinslow, the master who worked on my body last summer in Honolulu, and delivered in so many words the prescription that "From now on, everything you want, and everything you intend, depends how you take care of your body." What is one clear sign that a spiritual shift really is underway? The simple fact that more and more of us are eating, breathing and stretching better as our intentions for the long haul get deep into the muscle, where we'll need them.
But more than anything, our coming transformation will hinge on the way we incubate the dream that unites us all in the intention of our liberation, and attracts the new tailwind that will take us home as soon as we spread our wings. After we've talked of it to one another and sung it and felt it -- in the moment when we can finally dream it in full faith and courage, the healing will come all at once.
We sing it into being now, circle by circle and day by day, dream by dream. Keep Holding That Frequency.

 

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