Pua a'e la ka uwahi o ka moe. "The smoke seen in a dream now rises." - Hawaiian proverb.
My conversation yesterday about the tears of a dying Hawaiian boy (see "A brain surgeon at home in nonlocal mind") prompted me to revisit traditional Hawaiian beliefs about what goes on in dreaming. In ancient Hawaiian understanding, while the body sleeps, the spirit slips out through the tear duct, called the lua'uhane, or "soul pit". Traveling in a "body of wind", the spirit or dream self may go great distances and have many adventures. These can be the source of vital guidance and healing.
In a classic ethnographic study, E.S. Craighill Handy presented an example of how this works. A Hawaiian mother was alarmed by the illness of her child. In a dream, she encountered a spirit being who instructed her to go to her cousin for help, telling her she would find this cousin in a house over which certain birds - plovers, or kolea - would be calling and circling. Waking, the mother could not identify this supposed cousin, and it was not the season for plovers. To her surprise, she found plovers flying in a circle over a house she had never previously noticed. The woman who met her at the door was expecting her, because she had dreamed of her visitor. She had a remedy for the sick child and she was healed. The women discovered they were indeed kin, most importantly in a spiritual sense, because the plover was the form taken by an aumakua they shared.
Hawaiian stories of dream travel often involve journeys into the possible future. One of the most famous is the dream prophecy of Moi, a powerful kahuna of Molokai whose chief was violently infatuated with a chiefess named Hina and had taken her from her home in Hilo by force. Moi's dream excursion showed him a great battle in which the chief and his army would be destroyed. He advised the chief that the disaster could be averted by sending Hina back to her home, which the chief angrily refused to do. Then Hina's sons raised a great force, caught the Molokai chief by surprise and slaughtered him and the best of his warriors. As a Hawaiian proverb goes, "the smoke seen in the dream now rose." In the case of dreams foreshadowing danger, the classic practice of the kahunas was to try to "sweeten the dream" (manalo ka moe), a charming way to describe taking action in an effort to avert an unwanted event. Moi could not manage this because the chief would not be swayed from his path.
There are problematic forms of dream travel, in Hawaiian tradition. Spend too much time in your dream body with a dream lover and you may start losing vitality in regular life. It may be that your dream lover is a being-other-than-human, like the shark god who pleasured a young Hawaiian woman every night, in one of the legends, until her side turned shark-belly white and she gave birth to a baby shark that was returned to the sea.
A general word for dreams in Hawaiian is moe'uhane, generally translated as “soul sleep” but better understood as “experiences of the soul while the body sleeps". In the recognition that dreaming is traveling, Hawaiian dream lore closely resembles that of most indigenous cultures. It would be interesting to explore how many dreamers and dreaming cultures have experienced soul travel through the tear duct. The preferred transit portal for many Australian Aborigines is the area of the tjurni in the lower abdomen or sacral center; Aboriginal "spirit men" speak of projecting and climbing a "rope" that rises from the penis. For the magoi of the ancient Hellenic world, the spirit departed and returned to the body through the mouth (like Aristeas in raven form) or the fontanel (like Apollonius). For Egypt - as for many other practitioners - a preferred travel gate and base of psychic operations is the "third eye" or vision center. Shamans often experience projecting an energy form from the solar plexus. For many experimenters in astral projection or conscious dream travel, there is the "full body lift" in which a second energy body seems to emerge - by rising or rolling out - along the whole length of the physical body.
Let's note that as practical dreamers, the Hawaiians recognize that there are big dreams and little dreams. While a big dream may be a spirit journey or a visitation by spirit powers. you don’t want to pay too much attention to a “wild goatfish dream”(moe weke pahulu), which is caused by something you ate or how fast you ate it. The “straight-up” dream (moe pi’i pololei) is clear and speaks for itself, requiring no interpretation, but there are also “wishing” dreams (moemoea) that show you something you are pining for, which may or may not be attainable in ordinary reality. There are “revelations of the night” (ho’ike na ka po) that carry the power of prophecy. And there are dreams that are plain "crazy"(pupule), products of the dreamer's inner chaos and confusion, and worth no attention at all.
Sources: The story of the Hawaiian mother who found the house of circling plovers is in E.S. Craighill Handy, The Polynesian Family System in Ka'u, Hawai'i (Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle, 1958). There is a trove of dream material in Martha Beckwith’s indispensable Hawaiian Mythology. I highly recommend a wonderfully accessible book by Caren Loebel-Fried, Hawaiian Legends of Dreams (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005).