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Unicorn Tag is a series of nine dream-tales of animal teachers, mostly equine, who dragged me (kicking and screaming in denial, I must say) beyond simple dreamwork into shamanism. I call the nine tales chapters, but each one can pretty much stand alone.
Chapter 1: The Deer Party Chapter 4: Who'll Be My Love? Chapter 7: 8 To A Horn
Chapter 2: Ariane's Honeymoon Chapter 5: Dreamrider Chapter 8: Black Magic
Chapter 3: Everest Marathon Chapter 6: Half Shaman, Half Statesman Chapter 9: Misfits On Mars


From Chris Wayan's journal, 1986/4/15. Not a dream. Repeat: this is not a dream.

This is an odd detour, I admit. Book reviews usually don't go in the middle of novels, or linked stories, or dream accounts, or whatever you call this. But this one needs to be here. You'll see why.

I'm reading Sandra Miesel's book, DREAMRIDER, (a revised, retitled edition is out now, called SHAMAN).

By day, mousy Ria works as a historical researcher in a sleepy Midwestern college. But her night work gets wilder and wilder, as Ria dreams further and further off her particular branch of the Tree of Time. Is she mad? Or increasingly... sane? Her experiences form a classic shamanic initiation, and soon even madness seems irrelevant.

Ria lives in a slightly parallel America, It's a safety-obsessed world, an oppressive psychiatocracy where everyone conforms out of fear they'll be judged crazy or a potential terrorist. Yet her world grew from legitimate environmental and health concerns that most of us support. Dark humor, and the joke's on us.

The parallels between Ria's inner voyage and my own life get uncomfortably personal. A recurrent dream haunted Ria as a child: riding a dreamhorse up cloudpeaks toward the Other World. I WAS such a horse in MY recurring dreams--like I Am Three! Ria's childhood nightmares made her fear she was mad, till she learns the hard way that she was picking up broadcasts from a violent crazy person--exactly I learned, to my shock, at 17, in The Murders. Shamans on other spacetime branches teach her in dreams: one human, one a huge gengineered otter. So I've been taught by humans and animal people, in Learning Scales, and The Black Current, and a thousand others. Psychiatric cops grill her--as a child I was sent to endless shrinks and feared I'd get locked up, still echoed in dreams like Our Best Song andTitania). Ria was abducted by a crazy psychic who could see society's cruelty, but ignored her own toward Ria... I was abused two years by a girlfriend who was brilliant, sensitive, psychic, but violent. Ria mistrusts femme types and thinks a ballerina she knows reported her to the psych-cops... I mistrust my ballerina housemate Jamie, in Mahakala, Mozart, and the Black Bird, and treat my own femme side warily, gingerly... like Ariane's Honeymoon just last night! Ria's a celibate single as I am, though sex is less problematic for her than power issues, and taking her power frees sex for her. Hmmm. Is there a lesson here, are my priorities reversed? Freedom first, love later?

Am I taking a novel seriously as a life-guide? I think so. Miesel's research into shamanic initiation is quite sound. It echoes and illuminates what I'm doing, clumsily, slowly and alone... in reality. Not science fiction. Real clairvoyance, real predictions, real telepathy. Real initiation as a functioning shaman. Hungry for models, I keep forgetting that. I feel inferior, jealous of this fictional character's more spectacular accomplishments!

I've gone through this once before, about another issue. I was a child prodigy in a sleepy suburban town, and the only models I had for how geniuses should develop, were science fictional: Heinlein's tales of psychic adepts (LOST HERITAGE and MAGIC, INC.), geniuses (GULF and WALDO) and child prodigies (PODKAYNE OF MARS, and HAVE SPACESUIT--WILL TRAVEL); the Mule in Asimov's FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE; and the kids in Marc Clifton's story STAR BRIGHT, or Walter Shiras' IN HIDING, or Howard Fast's THE FIRST MEN. Then there were Stapledon's ODD JOHN, and Sturgeon's MATURITY, and MORE THAN HUMAN... Like all such models, they were two-edged; while helping to build a sense of my difference, of my identity, they also carried a risk they'd distort it.

And then, too, I felt inferior. No, more than that, fake. I felt like a fat black girl with a skinny blonde Barbie doll--I was the unreal one, while their distorted models felt real. I couldn't fully live up to science fiction's fantasies and stereotypes of my... race.


2001 NOTE

I wrote this in 1986 of course, so all my examples of parallels with my life were from earlier years. Since then, fifteen more years of shamanic teaching-dreams have just confirmed for me that spiritual initiation can indeed occur without any material teacher, that parallel worlds, shamanic powers, and spiritual callings are as real as cars.

And I still think Miesel's book, marketed as science fiction, is a fairly realistic description of the sort of challenges and complications and rewards that a modern initiate faces. That's not surprising, since, like Ria, Miesel really is a historical researcher, and did her homework thoroughly. DREAMRIDER, retitled SHAMAN in later editions, is a clearer guide to shamanism and dreamwork than many nonfiction texts, and I recommend it as such.

For if your society has declared people like you invisible and nonexistent, fiction may be the only truth available.

I get a scholarship to Shaman U! But I stink at magic. Yet... they want me there! Why?

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