Thursday, June 30, 2016

"What better guide to the Other Side than a poet?"


“What better guide to the Other Side than a poet?”
     The question was put to me by a dead poet, as I embarked on writing The Dreamer's Book of the Dead. I did not know, up to that moment, that a modern poet and his efforts to envision and create a Western Book of the Dead were going to figure as the central panel in the triptych my book was to become. 
      It seems to me that the true poet has two gifts that are vital for a reliable and effective psychopomp, or guide of souls. The first is the magic of words: passwords that open gates, and the power of naming that can bind or appease gatekeepers or even bring things into being. Shamans and initiates of all traditions know that poetic speech is important.
    The second gift of the poet as Otherworld guide is that poets live by metaphor and are therefore friends of metamorphosis – inclined by their calling to shapeshift realities, averse to being penned in any routine concept of what is solid or ‘real’.
      What better guide to the Other Side than a poet? The more I think about it, the more the answer seems clear: none better.

The question was put to me by a poet – not one of my contemporaries, but a poet who died seven years before I was born. You know his name: William Butler Yeats.
     Our conversations took place in a space that was outside the physical world, but quite real to me and to others who have learned – and been invited – to go there. It is a place like a library, inside a complex building I have come to call the House of Time. There are fierce guardians at the gates of the building.   
     This is, of course, a magic library. You can find a book on any subject that pleases you, and – as in the children’s movie ‘The Pagemaster’ – when you open any book you may be transported into the scenes or dramas that it concerns. 
     Yes, the magic library is a ‘made-up’ place. But so is the Sears Building or the Eiffel Tower in the sense that they are products of thought and imagination. The magic library may outlast either of those physical structures. It has its own stability, now that generations of visitors have been here and contributed the energy of their own imagination and passion for study. It is a real place in the imaginal realm, which for initiates of many traditions is more real, not less real, than the physical plane. 
     Yeats was no stranger. I had always loved his poetry and have been able – since elementary school – to recite long passages from memory. I have had dreams and visions of Yeats and his circle for as long as I can remember. He was not only a marvelous poet; he was a Western magus, one of the leading figures in the Order of the Golden Dawn.I had met him many times before, in dreams and reverie.
     On one of my visits to the library of the House of Time, while I was drumming for a group and helping to hold the space for what Yeats called ‘mutual visioning’, I found myself drawn from the ground level of the library up a corkscrew staircase.
  Yeats was waiting for me,lounging at a table on a mezzanine. He appeared as he might have in his prime, broad-shouldered, his hair flowing, gold-rimmed spectacles on the bridge of his patrician nose, wearing a loosely knotted silk bow tie and a three-piece light-colored suit. I sat with him at the table and we had a mental conversation – no need to speak aloud here, and anyway libraries are meant to be quiet - that ranged far and wide and gave me crucial counsel for my life as writer.



Since I grew up on Homer and Virgil and struggled to read Dante in medieval Italian when I was a student, I was aware that poets are extraordinary guides to the Other Side.  All the same, I was shocked when my Yeats made a spontaneous appearance, and proposed that I should let him be my guide to the Other Side. He suggested that my fieldwork should include interviewing quite a few dead people previously unknown to me – but not, perhaps, to him – on their post mortem experiences.
      I was on the Connecticut shore on a blustery day in mid-November when Yeats made his proposal. I was leading an advanced group of dream travelers, by common agreement, on a group journey to the Library of the House of Time. I was drumming for the circle and watching over the group both physically and psychically, allowing myself to enter the astral locale quite deeply, but with no fixed personal agenda. I checked on our dream travelers. Some were meeting a favorite author, or consulting the librarian, or opening books and travelling into the worlds of knowledge and memory and adventure that each one contained. A couple of brave souls were inspecting the books of their own lives, looking in to the future or to things beyond time – for knowledge of the soul’s purpose, and the connectedness of one life in time to other lives in other times, and to personalities beyond time. Everything seemed to be going well. No need for me to intervene to help someone overcome their fears or open the vision gates wider.
      So: my body is circling the room, my arm working the beater against the drum. My mind is tracking inside the dreamspace. And in that space, I feel the tug of a transpersonal intention. It is not coming from another member of our circle of thirty dream travelers. It is coming, quite specifically, from the figure who appears at the top of the spiral staircase that leads to an upper level of the library. It is Yeats, inviting me to join him up there, where he had called me in previous encounters. It is here that he makes his astonishing proposal: “Virgil was Dante’s guide to the Underworld, and I am willing to be yours.”
      The poet’s manner is quite brisk. He sounds rather like a tour guide announcing the schedule we’ll follow before a pub lunch. Next time we meet, Yeats advises me, we’ll visit the place of an ancient king. Later, we may delve ‘into the realm of Maeve’. Most certainly, I will need to interview quite a variety of people on their experiences of the afterlife, because these vary so greatly.
     Yeats insists on the need for me to understand the importance of Ben Bulben, the ‘bare’ mountain under which he had wanted to be buried – in Drumcliff churchyard – with the following inscription carved on his tombstone:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death
Horseman, pass by

     Those lines had been with me since childhood, so I was a little wary of what I was receiving. I have a vivid imagination, and it seemed rather likely that it was weaving from half-buried memories. The idea that Yeats could play the role for me that Virgil played for Dante was absolutely thrilling, but was this anything more than a pleasant fantasy?
      The creator’s answer moved through me: Just let it play. Enter the game, and let the results be judged on their own merits. Whether you are talking to the actual Yeats, or the part of yourself that so loves him, or some daimon or essence of personality that is using the mask of the poet is of secondary interest. What is primary is what you bring through.
      Need I say that this offer was quite impossible to refuse?
      No sooner had I accepted the offer than synchronicity came into play, as may be counted upon when emotions are running high and bold ventures are unfurling their sails.
       I drove home from Connecticut and found a message waiting for me from a friend who had traveled in Yeats country in the west of Ireland the previous year. She had decided, for no obvious reason, to share with me her feeling that the barrows and faery mounds of Ireland had been used across the centuries as sites of shamanic initiation and interdimensional communication – even as launchpads for star travelers, coming or going.
     I shivered with excitement as I recognized the link with Yeats’s inaugural itinerary, involving two ancient tumuli in his own landscape. I hurried to research the names that Yeats had given me. My excitement deepened when I found that ‘Queen Maeve’s Tomb’ – a huge cairn that has never been opened – is right opposite Ben Bulben, at whose foot is Drumcliff churchyard where Yeats wished to be buried.
     In Yeats’s early book The Celtic Twilight, I found a passage in which he says that there is a gate to the Otherworld in the side of Ben Bulben, “famous for hawks” – “the mountain in whose side the square white door swings open at nightfall to loose the faery riders on the world.”
      I called the friend who had sent me the message, out of the blue, about the cairns of Ireland. She described how, as she drove by Ben Bulben, her Irish guide had pointed out a strange shadow moving across the side of the mountain and declared that Yeats believed that this marked a door to the Otherworld of the Sidhe and the ancestors.
      My encounters with Yeats have guided me to travel to ancient sites in the west of Ireland that were places of vision for him and portals to the realms of the ancestors and the Sidhe. 



Text adapted from The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books.



Photo: Ben Bulben from Yeats' gravesite by Wanda Burch
Drawing: "Yeats in the Magic Cottage" by Robert Moss

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Jung heals with a lullaby: the healing power of song


Jung agreed to see a woman who had “incurable” insomnia that had resisted all previous treatment. In her presence, he found himself remembering a lullaby his mother had crooned to him in childhood. He started humming it aloud.
     The song was about a girl on a little boat on a  river, full of gleaming fish. It evokes the rhythms of wind and water. Jung’s patient was enchanted. From that night on, her insomnia was gone. Her regular doctor wanted to know Jung’s secret.
     “How was I to explain to him that I had simply listened to something within myself?,” Jung reminisced, late in life, in the presence of his assistant Aniela Jaffe. “I had been quite at sea. How was I to tell him that I had sung her a lullaby with my mother’s voice? Enchantment like that is the oldest form of medicine.”
     Ancient and indigenous peoples know that the right song is a way of transferring power and of raising and entertaining the spirits. In the Mohawk Indian language, the word for song, ka'renna, literally means, "I am putting forth my power. In the language of the Temiar-Senoi of the Malaysian rainforest, a song of power, typically delivered by a dream, is a norng, which means a "roadway"; this may a path for the soul between the worlds, or a path for the traveler through the jungles of everyday life.
    When I open circles, we often sing a song for Mother Bear I have borrowed from the Mohawk people. It is both a shaman song that calls the great medicine animal of North America into the gathering, and a traditional lullaby used to comfort children in the night.
Don't cry little one
Don't cry little one
The Bear is coming to dance for you
The Bear is coming to dance for you
    When Jung acted, spontaneously and intuitively, to bring healing with an old lullaby, he acted in the tradition of the spirit singers and word doctors all our ancestors new and valued. We need to reclaim their ways.

Art: Child with Boat by Edmund Tarbell (1899)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Paleopsych 101


At a benefit dinner, the wife of a bank president asked me, “What exactly is it that you do?”
      I told her, “I’m a paleolithic psychologist.”
     She nodded respectfully, possibly associating me with the clinical psychiatrist seated above the salt.
I had stolen the phrase from Frederic Myers, the great Victorian psychic researcher. Myers coined the term Paleolithic psychology as an erudite joke, to describe “the habits of thought of the savage who believes that can travel in dreams.”  He apologized to his respectable readers for “the apparent levity of a return to conceptions so enormously out of date” — while sowing the seed of doubt that “modern science” had actually surpassed the “primitive” understanding of the soul.
     Myers chose the path of true science, which is always ready to revise the reigning hypotheses in the light of fresh evidence.  In his master work Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, he wrote: “My own ignorance…I recognize to be such that my notions of the probable or improbable in the universe are not of weight enough to lead me to set aside any facts which seem to me well-attested.” He arrived at a “root-conception” of “the dissociability of the self, of the possibility that different fractions of the personality can act so far independently of each other that the one is not conscious of the other’s actions,” and that “segments of the personality can operate in apparent separation from the organism.” Myers observed such phenomena in “true apparitions” of the departed, but also in “traveling clairvoyance” by living persons, which sometimes produce “phantasms of the living” that are visible in other places.
     In his book Primitive Culture, Myers’s contemporary Edward Tylor, who held the first chair of anthropology at Oxford, beautifully summarized the challenge to modern science that is posed by shamans and frequent fliers who are at home with the spirits and often journey in their realms:

The issue raised by the comparison of savage, and civilized spiritualism is this: do the red Indian medicine man, the Tatar necromancer, the Highland ghost-seer and the Boston medium share the possession of a belief and knowledge of the highest truth and import, which, nevertheless, the great intellectual movement of the last two centuries has simply thrown aside as worthless? Is what we are habitually boating of and calling new enlightenment, then, in fact a decay of knowledge? If so, this is a truly remarkable case of degeneration and the savages on whom some ethnographers look as degenerate from a higher civilization may turn on their accusers and charge them with having fallen from the high level of savage knowledge.

The basic insights of paleopsychology are as follows:
  1. Spirits are real.
  2. We are not alone: we live in a multidimensional universe peopled with beings — spirits of nature, gods and daimons, angels and ancestors — who take a close interest in our affairs and influence our lives for good or ill.
  3. We are more than our bodies and brains, which are only vehicles for soul.
  4. The soul survives the death of the body.
  5. Soul journeying is the key to the spiritual worlds and the knowledge of ultimate reality. The soul makes excursions outside the body in dreams and visions. The heart of spiritual practice is to learn to shift consciousness at will and travel beyond time and space. Through soul-flight, we return to worlds beyond the physical plane in which our lives have their source and are able to explore many dimensions of the Otherworld.
  6. Souls are corporeal, though composed of much finer substance than the physical body.
  7. People have more than one soul. In addition to the vital soul that sustains physical life — closely associated with the breath — there is a “free soul,” associated with the dreambody, which can travel outside the body and separates from it at physical death, as well as an enduring spirit whose home is on the higher planes.
  8. Souls — or pieces of soul — can be lost or stolen. This is the principal  cause of disease and misfortune.
  9. Some people have more souls than others and have the ability to make excursions to different places at the same time.
  10. At death, different vehicles of soul go to different lots. Through conscious dreaming, it is possible to explore the conditions of the afterlife to prepare for one’s death and to assist souls of the dying and departed.
  11. We are born with counterparts in nature. For example, we are born with a totem animal and a relationship with natural forces (wind or water or lightning) that are part of our basic identity and help to pattern the natural flow of our energy.
  12. We are born with counterparts in other places and times, and in other dimensions of reality. When we encounter them through interdimensional travel, they become allies and sometimes teachers.



Text adapted from Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and LifeBeyond Death by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.


Art: Henri Breuil's sketch of "The Sorcerer", a painting found in the cavern known as "The Sanctuary" at Trois-FrèresAriègeFrance


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Harriet Tubman, dream liberator, and the Ashanti dreaming tradition


When I was writing my book Dreaming True, I asked for guidance from the night on how to bring the gifts of dreaming to a broader audience in our society. I dreamed I was teaching the history of the Underground Railroad to a single African-American mother caring for her children in the projects. What is the connection?
    Harriet Tubman is an exemplar of how dreaming can contribute to liberating people and communities from an unjust order. This famous conductor of the Underground Railroad helped many escaping slaves to get to freedom in the years before the American Civil War. She used dreams and visions of maps to get parties of fugitive slaves across otherwise unknown terrain, even across a flooded river. I tell the story of Harriet Tubman as a dream tracker in my Secret History of Dreaming.
     In a shamanic journey, I once saw Harriet Tubman accompanied by guides of three kinds: a winged angelic being in white, a leopard and a West African forest spirit. Here I want to explore how West African traditions of shamanic dreaming may have contributed to her remarkable abilities.




     Franklin Sanborn, writing in 1863, described Harriet Tubman as “the grand-daughter of a slave imported from Africa” with “not a drop of white blood in her veins.”  In 1907, a reporter for the New York Herald plucked this from her memories: “The old mammies to whom she told dreams were wont to nod knowingly and say, ‘I reckon youse one o’ dem Shantees, chile.’ For they knew the tradition of the unconquerable Ashantee blood, which in a slave made him a thorn in the side of the planter or cane grower whose property he became.” 
     The “Ashantee”, or Ashanti, are a matrilineal people of the forests and highlands of Ghana, known in Harriet’s time as the Gold Coast. Recollections of gossip heard in childhood are not evidence that Harriet had Ashanti blood, but they suggest that the Ashanti were known where she grew up, and she was associated with them in people’s minds.
   
    The shipping records of the Chesapeake slave trade suggest that Harriet’s ancestors were brought to America from this part of West Africa. Nearly all of the slaves carried to Maryland ports came direct from Africa, and the vast majority came on big London vessels that picked up their cargoes along the Gold Coast or from Upper Guinea.
     

     Harriet said she inherited special gifts — including the ability to travel outside the body and to visit the future — from her father, who “could always predict the future” and “foretold the Mexican war”. Stronger than other girls, she spent a lot of time with Ben Ross in the timber gangs. In their quiet times in the woods, they may have revived something of the atmosphere of the Sacred Forest of the Ashanti, and the practice of West African dream trackers accustomed to operating outside the body, sometimes in the forms of animals.   
     We have an interesting source on Ashanti dreaming in Captain Robert S. Rattray, a British “government anthropologist” stationed in the Gold Coast before and after World War I. Rattray became a passionate student of the Ashanti, who called this Scot “Red Pepper” because of his blazing red hair. Though sometimes baffled by the mobility of consciousness among the West Africans he interviewed, he did his best to record Ashanti dream practices.

    “To the Ashanti mind,” Rattray explains, “dreams are caused either by the visitations of denizens of the spirit world, or by spirits, i.e. volatile souls of persons still alive, or by the journeyings of one’s own soul during the hours of sleep.” In the Ashanti language, “to dream” is 
so dae, which literally means “to arrive at a place during sleep” — implying travel.
     For the Ashanti, dream incidents are real events. If you sleep with another man’s wife, for example, you are held to be guilty of adultery and may be punished for it.
    Flying is a common experience in Ashanti dreams. “If you dream that you have been carried up to the sky…and that you have returned to the ground…that means long life.” This certainly held true for Harriet Tubman, who lived to be at least ninety-one. 
    Rattray describes an Ashanti practice for disposing of a “bad” dream by confiding it in a whisper to the village rubbish dump, which may also be the communal latrine.
 
    One of Rattray’s informants described how his dead brother guided him on the hunt. “I often dream of my brother who was a hunter, and he shows me where to go. Any antelope I kill, I give him a piece with some water.” The same man’s dead uncle gave him dream prescriptions. When a child was ill in the house, his deceased uncle showed him some leaves to administer as part of the medicine; “I did so and the child recovered.”
   
    Ashanti hunters and trackers walked very close to their guardian animals. Shifting into the energy body of a leopard, or a nocturnal antelope, or a fish eagle, they traveled ahead of themselves to scout the land and find the game, or the place where an enemy force was advancing.



    The Ashanti believed, like other indigenous peoples, that if you are not in touch with your dreams, you are not in touch with your soul. “If one does not dream for eighty days, it means that one will become mad.”   
    On big questions, they sought a second opinion through divination. A typical method was for the diviner to shake a set of symbolic objects — stones and bones, a hairball, a root, a seed pod, a snail shell — from a skin bag. The diviner grasped the forked end of a stick, while the client held the other end, tipped with metal. In their hands, the wand quivered and pointed at one object after another, making a story that was then read by the diviner.
 
    How much of this traveled to Maryland with Tubman’s ancestors? Maybe far more than has been generally understood. West Africans brought forcibly to North America did not lose their identity and traditional practices overnight. Recent archaeology shows the survival of key elements of West African culture under slavery in North America: in the miniature boats and other items placed in graves, in collections of “anomalous artifacts” that may have come from diviner’s bags  And in the 1820s, when Minty Ross (as Harriet was then known) was growing up, the Christianization of African slaves had barely begun.
 `
Adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library. Source notes for quotes and facts here are in the book.

Drawing by RM from a shamanic journey in which Harriet Tubman appeared in the company of a leopard and an African forest spirit.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

To practice death is to practice freedom



We do not know where death awaits us, so let us wait for it everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.

This wisdom comes from the great French essayist, Montaigne, and I count it as one of the essential rules for living.
    To live today to the fullest, we want to be ready to die. When we approach life in the knowledge that Death is at our left shoulder, we find courage and clarity that may otherwise fail us.
.    I have known this since I was a child, when I died and came back, as Australian doctors put it, not yet possessing the term “near-death experience”. In my books and workshops, I encourage people to make Death their ally rather than their dread, and to be ready to meet him on any day, on any corner.
     What does it mean, to “practice death”?
     An art of dying adequate to our needs and yearnings today must address at least these five key areas:

1. Practice in dream travel and journeying beyond the body. By practicing the projection of consciousness beyond the physical plane, we settle any personal doubts about the soul’s survival of physical death. This is not really an exotic or esoteric assignment. Every night, in your dreams, you travel beyond the body quite naturally and spontaneously; it’s a matter of waking up to what is going on and learning to use your natural gifts as a dreamer.

      2. Developing a personal geography of the afterlife. Through conscious dream journeys, we can visit the deceased — and their teachers — in their own environments. We can explore a variety of transit areas and reception centers, adapted to the expectations and comfort levels of different types of people, where the recently departed are helped to adapt to their new circumstances. We can tour the “collective belief territories,” some established centuries or milennia ago, where ex-physicals participate ins hared activities and religious practices. We can examine processes of life review, reeducation, and judgment and follow the transition of spirits between different after-death states. We can also study the different fates of different vehicles of consciousness after physical death.

3. Helping the dying. We can use dreamwork and the techniques of Active Dreaming – including vision transfer, which means growing a dream or a journey map for someone who needs one – to help the dying through what some hospice nurses describe as the “nearing death experience.” In many of our hospitals (where most Westerners die) death is treated as a failure, or merely the loss of vital signs, followed by a pulled-out plug, a disconnected respirator, and the disposal of the remains. 
          As we recover the art of dying, many of us in all walks of life — not only ministers and health care professionals and hospice volunteers — will be able to play the role of companion on the deathwalk, helping the dying to approach the next life with grace and courage and to make the last seasons of this life a period of personal growth.
    The skills required in this area include the ability to communicate on a soul level with patients who are unable to speak or reason clearly. A vital aspect of this work is facilitating or mediating contact between the dying and helpers on the other side — especially departed loved ones — who can give assistance through the transition. Dream sharing and dream transfer are invaluable tools in helping the dying to prepare for the conditions of life beyond the body.


4. Helping the departed. We pray for our dead in our churches and temples, and no good intention is ever wasted. However, you may have a hard time finding a priest who is willing to take on the role of psychopomp, or guide of souls, and provide personal escort service to spirits of the departed who have lost their way and gotten stuck between the worlds, causing pain and confusion to themselves and sometimes to their survivors. 
           Yet the living have a crucial role to play in helping to release earthbound or troubled spirits. For one thing, some of these “ex-physicals” seem to trust people who have physical bodies more than entities that do not, because there is comfort in the familiar, because they did not believe in an afterlife before passing on — or quite simply because they do not know they are dead.
     Sometimes our deceased need help from us in dealing with unfinished business, passing on messages to survivors, and getting their story straight. I have become convinced that an essential stage in the afterlife transit is the effort by the departed to understand the full story of the life that has just passed, in order to be ready to choose the next life experience.

5. Making death your ally. Finally, we are challenged to reach into the place of our deepest fears and master them: to face our own death on its own ground and re-value our lives and our purpose from this perspective. When we “brave up” enough to confront our personal Death and receive its teaching, we forge an alliance that is a source of power and healing in every aspect of life.


     Drawing: "Great Bird" (c) Robert Moss

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Into Manannan's Realm


I sing of a voyage, and a voyager, sails furled in the dusk, yet ready to spread before a favoring wind.
   The black goose sails before, into the fire below the sunset rim of the world. The way leads to the sunken lands, and to the earth beneath the sea that land-bound men will never touch.
Watch how the waters turn and swirl, opening a tunnel between the elements. Let yourself flow through the passage.
You are entering the realm of Manannan mac Lir, most unknowable of the Old Ones, one who escapes definite and conventional forms. Your kinsman. You are at home here. You breathe where others drown. Sea-born, sea-girt, salt blood in your veins, coral sprouts from your marrow. You surge with the horses of the sea, into a rare kingdom

Away, away come away my love
To fields of coral and pearl
Away, away come to me my love
To she who one was your girl

                                               
I heard the siren song, though I had long since turned my back on the sea and lived in a tamed country, in a gentle valley.
   She found me there, as surely as a kelpie finds a lone fisherman in a curragh on a lonely night with the whisky in him, or the fire of the stars.
   Something out of memory. But whose?
   The memory of the cell? A current in the blood? Something held in the mirror of dreams without bodily substance, yet alive in the silvered deep of the glass, in suspension between the middle world and the worlds that escape form?
Do all such visitations come from the past, from those beneath the earth or sea? Or do they come from the same time, but a parallel realm of being? Why not from the future?
Questions, questions, while her lilting song echoes in my inner ear.

Away, away, come away my love.

                                                        ~
Put this down. Etch it on stone, mark it for memory:

There is one time, one art that encompasses all. Look through the hole in the stone. The Holy Man knows. See through his single eye the oneness of things. All created things, all that is past, or present, or to come, will and can be seen in this glass without a lens.


Note of Origins

These words came streaming through me on a night when I was writing some reflections on how more is available in dreaming than is understood by the daily trivial mind. I wrote these lines: 

Dreams are the doorway between the worlds. In modern Western society, we have a diminished understanding of the word “dream”, reflected in the common expression, “it’s only a dream”. Let us push deeper, beneath the surface clutter of day residue and “inferior thinking” and the smorgasbord of broken memories, to what Sri Aurobindo calls “the sleep of experiences".

I paused from writing these notes, because I felt a deep shift in the atmosphere, blowing like the wind off an unseen sea. I felt the power of a deeper source, moving with me and through me as wind and waves. I adjusted my inner senses and let braver words come, both fresh and ancient.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Songs from the place between sleep and awake


Tinker Bell advised Peter Pan to look for her in "the place between sleep and awake." It is amazing how little attention is given to this highly creative space in the work of most sleep and dream researchers, and how it is sorely neglected in many modern lives.
    Andreas Mavromatis published an excellent scholarly introduction to what is possible in Hypnagogia:The Unique State of Consciousness between Wakefulness in Sleep in 1991, but his example has not fired up the academic community. In my own book The Secret History of Dreaming, I recount how so many scientific and creative breakthroughs have been made in this liminal space that it can be called the "solution state". In my book Dreamgates I offer a vigorous invitation to would-be lucid dreamers and spiritual adventurers to spend much more time in this twilight state and to use it as the launch pad for conscious dream travel. In my memoir The Boy Who Died and Came Back I describe how, in this state, I have often had access to greater minds and been treated to ongoing tutorials with intelligences I feel to be beyond this world.
    I have been reviewing some fascinating fieldwork by Australian educators that illustrates how the liminal state is viewed in Aboriginal tradition as a privileged place of encounter with ancestral spirits and co-creation.
    The Yanyuwa, an Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory, prize "dream state songs". These are given to them during encounters with the spirits in a state of consciousness beyond both ordinary dreams and prophetic dreams (which they recognize as separate categories). Their word for this third and higher state of dreaming is 
mawurrangantharra. It is entered in the liminal space between wakefulness and sleep.
    A person who enters mawurrangantharra finds that boundaries between humans and spirit realms are fluid. The Yanyuwa say that a person in this state has “left the world” and is “deaf” to it. Through contact with ancestral spirits in this state, new songs are created. They are regarded as exceptionally powerful. A mermaid song may rise from the deep in this way, and become part of sacred ceremony. Through dream songs, the relationship between humans and the spirit world is maintained and refreshed.


Source: Elizabeth Mackinlay and J.J. Bradley, “Many songs, many voices, and many dialogues: A conversation about Yanyuwa performance practice in a remote Aboriginal community” (2003) in  Rural Society, vol. 13, pp. 228– 243.

Image: Yanyuwa Body Art by John Veeken.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Case of the Bishop's Pig and Other Dream Stories from Andrew Lang


One of my favorite books on dreams is Andrew Lang’s The Book of Dreams and Ghosts, first published in 1897. The prolific and popular author of the “color” series of fairytales affected a cool skepticism towards this subject material, which allowed him to slide us right into the deep end, recounting cases of timefolding and interdimensional travel in dreams.
    As a consummate storyteller, Lang was always alert for the story value of his material. His main question of dreams is which dreams make the best stories. He concludes that the dreams that make the best stories are those that reveal the “unknown past”, “the unknown present” and the “unknown future”.

Dreams only form subjects of good dream-stories when the vision coincides with and adequately represents an unknown event in the past, the present or the future…If we dreamed of being present at an unchronicled scene in Queen Mary’s life, and if, after the dream was recorded, a document proving its accuracy should be for the first time recovered, then there is matter for a good dream-story.

His references to his own dream life, though modest and brief, suggest he had experiential insight into his subject: “In dreams…we see the events of the past (I have been at Culloden fight and at the siege of Troy)”.
    He collects examples of shared dreams (and uses that term for them):

-          Five members of the Ogilvie family, in different locations dream that a family dog – a poodle called Fanti – goes mad. Subsequently, the poodle lives on, sane and harmless, for the rest of his natural life. However, Lang does not comment on the fact that an action was taken in one of the dreams, in which the family threw the dog into the fire.
-          Three members of the Swithinbanks family (father and two sons) dream the mother’s death on the same night and discover in the morning that indeed she died that night,

Lang also gives several examples of dream tracking (my turn) in which dreams reveal the location of lost objects, making allowance for the possibility that the dreaming mind may simply be making better sense of details half-observed in waking life:

-          a lawyer dreams that a check he has lost is curled around a street railing (he dropped it when he went out to post letters)
-          a girl in Lang’s family dreamed that the missing ducks’ eggs were at a place in a certain field, where they proved to be
-          an Irish lady dreamed a lost key was lying at the root of a certain tree

Lang’s story collection includes one of my all-time favorite accounts of dream precognition, which I discuss in Conscious Dreaming as The Case of the Bishop’s Pig. Here is Lang’s original version:

THE PIG IN THE DINING-ROOM.

Mrs. Atlay, wife of a late Bishop of Hereford, dreamed one night that there was a pig in the dining-room of the palace. She came downstairs, and in the hall told her governess and children of the dream, before family prayers. When these were over, nobody who was told the story having left the hall in the interval, she went into the dining-room and there was the pig. It was proved to have escaped from the sty after Mrs. Atlay got up.


“Millions of such things are dreamed”, Lang comments. At first sight, the dream is of “the common grotesque type” – except that it proved to be a quite literalistic preview of an incident that was played out in ordinary life. The Case of the Bishop’s Pig reminds us that we don’t want to skip asking whether elements of a dream could be played out in the future, even when the dream content seems “weird” or “grotesque”.

Art: Prize Pig, Cardiff by Richard Whitford (1872)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Visiting Yeats in the Magic Cottage


I have enjoyed a lifelong relationship with William Butler Yeats. I have always loved his poetry and have been able – since elementary school – to recite long passages from memory. I have had dreams and visions of Yeats and his circle for as long as I can remember. He was not only a marvelous poet; he was a Western magus, one of the leading figures in the Order of the Golden Dawn.
      Yeats began to appear in my dreams at night as well as my daydreams and willed journeys in consciousness. In these dreams, I sometimes seemed to be living in his era – sometimes I seemed to meet Yeats in another reality altogether.
      Many years later, I dreamed I received a message from him inviting me to visit him at home. I was not sure where ‘home’ for Yeats might now be, but it did not appear to be in Ireland. In a subsequent vision, in that promising state of fluid awareness that sometimes develops in the hypnagogic zone between waking and sleep (or vice versa), I found myself floating above my body, up through the ceiling, and then through some kind of mesh that looked like an intricately woven fabric or netting.
     I was drawn up as if a traction beam had been turned on. I was under no compulsion, but I let myself rise on the intention of the one who was calling me. I had no doubt who that was. His lines were running through my head:

I shall arise and go there, and go to Innisfree…

Oh, yes, the early poem that has been quoted so often that Yeats himself got bored and irritated by it, vastly preferring the maturity and complexities of his later work. But its rhythms helped me travel, helped me swim through the subtle air. You don’t reject a wing song that works (and indeed, Yeats wrote many).
      I passed through many landscapes, perhaps whole worlds. They were separated by dividing partitions that were sometimes like cloud-banks, sometimes like membranes that stretched to let me through, and sometimes like woven fabric or netting. I came at last to what appeared to be a pleasant country cottage on a winding path. The flower beds were bright with color. It seemed to me that, as I glanced around, the colors at the edge of my peripheral vision would change. Behind the cottage was a gentle river, and on the banks of the river, spires and towers that might have been those of Oxford. I began to drift along the path beside the river and saw another town beyond the first, this one quite certainly Italian; the architecture was that of the Quattrocento Florence or the Urbino that Yeats had loved and sometimes threatened to make his sanctuary from the critics and civil unrest in Ireland.
      I was thrilled that scenes the poet’s words had often conjured in my mind in lesser, drifting states of reverie were now so vividly and palpably available to explore. I hurried toward a palazzo worthy of a Medici that looked as if it has been constructed that day.
      But again there was that tug of another’s intention, and I allowed it to pull me back to the cottage. Did the cottage really have a thatched roof before, or was that detail changed while I was looking elsewhere?
     Through the door, long a hall, and there was Yeats, sitting at a broad table covered with books and papers. Through the leaded glass window at his left hand I saw the cities along the river; they changed from one to another at the blink of an eye. I was excited to see that Yeats was continuing to study and to write. I wondered whether it hampered or helped his craft that his new work would not be published on earth. He was patient with me, letting me gradually awaken to the understanding that, from his new perspective, the most important from of publication might be to inspire others, to operate as one of those ‘teachers of the thirteenth cone’ he wrote about in A Vision.
      He showed me a large blue crystal lying on his desk. He was most insistent that I should use this blue stone for creative inspiration and to open and focus the third eye of vision. This blue crystal was a place in which to see, and a connection between the two of us.           
      He gave me some personal guidance and an update on certain psychic crosscurrents involving individuals and group that had been caught up in psychic battles in the past, in the time of the great rift within the Order of the Golden Dawn and in the darker times of the struggle between British magicians and the Nazi occultists. I asked Yeats where exactly we were.
      He told me very precisely: “We are on the fourth level of the astral plane”. It seemed this was a neighborhood essentially reserved for people of creative genius, for writers and artists and musicians.
      I felt immensely privileged to have been given this tour of Yeats’s environment. It was not clear to me whether he lived in the cottage alone; I was not shown the private rooms. I did feel quite certain that this Yeats was embarked on a vast new project, though its exact nature was not yet made clear to me.




Text adapted from The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books.



Drawing: "Yeats in the Magic Cottage" (c) Robert Moss


How do you look in the dreams of your parallel self?


I slip in and out of the lives of parallel selves, and others, in dreams and in reverie. I am open to the idea that they are leading continuous lives, on parallel event tracks, and that from their points of view, I am a character that exists in their dreams, when they remember dreams.
    It requires little imagination for me to picture a worldly-wise Robert with a much fatter bank account and a different view of reality sitting down to Sunday brunch and talking about a dream in the following way: “I had the strangest dream last night. I was in Dracula country, in the mountains of Transylvania, or some such place. I was persuaded to hire some evil-looking road cowboy to drive me up a crazy one-lane road to see some natural feature the locals call their Sphinx. They said he boasted that he had killed a fox on that road and cut off the head as a trophy. The next moment, he had driven us halfway off a cliff.”
    What my parallel Robert might recall as an odd dream was a quite literal, physical event for me. On a dream archaeology expedition in Romania in October 2012, I set off with local friends to see the Sphinx of Bucegi, a celebrated natural rock formation regarded as a major energy spot, near a cave associated with an ancient shaman-god of the Dacians and the mystical White Wolf said to watch over this land.   
     We walked through the woods from the pleasant
pensiune we had booked for my workshop, facing the  Caraiman monastery, whose construction was inspired by a priest who dreamed of a church that needed to be built around a fir tree at this site. We intended to ride up the mountain to the Sphinx by cable car, but a road cowboy with a four-wheel drive persuaded us to hire him. This proved to be the wildest ride of my life, up a steep, narrow road with hairpin bends and no railings at the edge of dizzying cliffs. The road was often partly blocked by construction or landslides, and we frequently encountered cars and trucks rushing down in the middle of the road as if bent on a head-on collision.   
     The road cowboy drove as if possessed, but I assumed this was local custom and he knew what he was doing. I could not follow his conversation with my Romanian friends, but I was struck by his hand-waving animation as he recounted a story at a point where the road was only dirt and craters and lumps of rock. Soon after, the driver made a wild swerve to the right to get around a protruding boulder, taking us to the edge of the cliff — and then partway over. We were now stuck in the dirt, hanging over the cliff, as the driver gunned the car back and forth, succeeding only in getting us deeper into the dirt, while the Jeep leaned, little by little, further over the cliff.
    “Time to get out of the car,” I said quietly.   
     We left the driver with the vehicle, phoning for help, and walked for twenty minutes down the winding road to a
cabină— a rustic inn and restaurant — to recover with Ursus beer and spicy sausages. On the walk, my friends told me that just before he nearly took all of us over the cliff, the driver had been boasting about how he had killed a fox on that section of mountain road and then decapitated the fox to mount its head on a wall as a trophy.   
     It seemed we had traveled that day with a man under a fox’s curse. Through it all, I felt oddly detached, and never in real danger, as if we had been under the protection of an unseen hand. Perhaps it was the man who had taken the fox’s head who was under the real danger on that high and stony road.
   
    My parallel Robert, remembering this as a dream, might discuss it as a set of symbols, seeking a Freudian or a Jungian interpretation. He might shrug off the dream as simply "bizarre", or attribute it to something he ate. He might give some thought to foxes and fox hunters, and the possibility that he might travel to Romania and should consider his transportation options carefully. If he has read Jung, he may study the fox-cursed driver as the Shadow, and the Romanian girls as anima figures, and the Sphinx of the mountains as a form of the Self that is hard to attain.
    Wherever his mind turns, my parallel self is likely to miss the fact that what is a dream for him was a physical experience for me. But wait - who am I to judge? Some mornings, when I return from his life, I talk as if he is my creation. When I share dream reports in French, I say, "J'ai fait un 
rêve", "I made a dream", which implies that I made him.  I don't know whether his French is better than mine (I hope so!), but I can hear him talking as if he made me.

I suggest the following thought experiment: Imagine you are in the situation of a parallel self who is trying to make sense of events in your day as scenes from a dream.





Text adapted from The Boy Who Died and Came Back: Adventures of a Dream Archaeologist in the Multiverse by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.




Photo: In the Bucegi Mountains of Romania, 2012