Monday, November 2, 2009

Churchill, Einstein and the Making of Immortals

Over the weekend I journeyed through the doorway of a recent dream, intent on exploring a most interesting locale, an upscale pub-restaurant called The Huntsman's Arms. I confirmed my impression that the pub is a waystation on the Other Side, and had several memorable encounters with deceased family members and friends and with the enigmatic proprietor, the Huntsman himself. All good Halloween/Samhain fun. In my conscious dream journey, I noticed Winston Churchill looking in on a gathering in a saloon bar. The former statesman was floating in midair, like a human zeppelin, puffing on his eternal cigar. Over many years, Churchill has been a recurring figure in my imaginal life.

The latest sighting prompts me to ask: just who are the great figures of the past who turn up in this way, dead yet seemingly immortal? Who, in the collective psyche, is Princess Diana? Who, in the Catholic imagination, are the saints who are believed still to be working miracles and turning up in visions?

Answers are likely to be slippery, because we dream and perceive in so many different ways, on so many levels. Musing on this theme, I found myself reflecting again on my serial dreams of encounters and "thought experiments" with Einstein; my recent blog post "Einstein's Probability Bundles" is one example. In another of my Einstein dreams, the great scientist welcomed me at the wooden gate of a formal Chinese garden. He led me to a tea house and introduced me, inter alia, to Richard Wilhelm, who gave the West the first translation of the I Ching that works for practical purposes of divination. In the course of our conversation, Einstein made reference to a certain "Fechner", a name previously unknown to me.
I did some research and found that Gustav Fechner was a German psychologist and physicist of the 19th century, credited with pioneering the science of "psychophysics". Fechner, a firm believer in the soul's survival of physical death, attempted to define the different modes and subtle vehicles in which consciousness can both survive death and make itself known to others. In Richard Wilhelm's lectures on the I Ching I found a note on Fechner's psychophysics of the afterlife that goes to the quick of my inquiry about what is going on when Churchill or Einstein turns up in the imaginal lives of the living. Fechner suggested that after death the departed acquires a "body of immortality" that is "formed in the thoughts of other men...formed by their remembrance of the deceased". This body of immortality is "a body of a higher grade, in which the deceased can continue to live" and appear to the living. The great and famous, whose image in life is magnified by the attention and hopes and beliefs of millions, and whose memory is carried by just as many, could presumably take on a "body of immortality" that would enable them to appear and operate like the demigods of the ancient world or the saints of believers.

I wasn't sure that I was ready to post anything about this until I stopped in at my favorite used bookstore on Sunday afternoon. This is one of those happy places where shelf elves are often at play, and are sometimes embodied by the bookseller. The assistant on duty this weekend - a gentle and mature historian and scholar whose day job is at an area college - chose to recollect, out of the blue, "When I was a boy my father gave me a complete collection of Winston Churchill's speeches, on vinyl of course. I was thrilled by them. My wife put them on disk for me and I've been listening again, and they are no less thrilling. It feels like Churchill is one of those people who can reach across time, into many people's minds."


Diana said...

Hi Robert,

The way you discovered Fechner is fascinating. I'm interested in reading some of his works.

I've raised similar questions myself - when celebrated figures from the past appear to us, do they arise from the collective unconscious that has formed a kind of living archtype tinged with the color of our own unique filters?
When we are visited by loved ones in sleeping dreams or otherwise, to me they do usually present as if the "best that they can be" or a purified version of themselves. It has crossed my mind that, to paraphrase Fechner: they are formed in the thoughts of the living by their remembrances. And yet they contain a spark of something beyond that. Rather fits with the idea of being the creator of our own worlds yet intertwined with all others. Of the many possibilities, this is an intersting one...

Worldbridger said...

It's also interesting to consider the ancient burial practice of the kings and queens of Egypt and in Europe where monuments were erected to keep the attention of their descendants focused on their actual physical remains.

Not to mention Lenin's tomb and other monuments of the recent past.

It works both ways. The connection on the other side becomes very tenuous after a fairly short while, just as the memory of those who have passed also thins.

I think this all helps to keep the bridges open and enhances communication between the dimensions.

Dreaming Mama said...


You are amazing as always! I just had to tell you that as I'm reading your blog, a very historic figure is sitting across from me in the coffee shop. He looks like a General from the civil war. Even more so, his mannerisms are so dignified and colonial, its hard to believe he is from this time period. (I wish I had a camera, I would ask him permission and send you a pic. His hair, and his mustache are perfect!) The synchronicity reminds me that time is transcendental and travels like the curves of a woman's body.

Lou Hagood said...

Hi Robert, Fechner is cited by Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams, but the spiritual realm didn't fit into Freud's classical-scientist approach to gain credibility for his new psychoanalysis.

Robert Moss said...

Diana - Thanks for your thoughts. The way I found Fechner is actually typical of my researches. For decades now, I have been following the leads from my dreams in this way. I can probably say that in the past quarter-century, I have not embarked on any significant course of study (and few other significant activities) that has not been directly guided and often initiated by the experiences of my dream self.

We must avoid jumping to any premature conclusions about what is going on in any specific encounter with any of the departed. Our feelings are likely to guide us on whether a dream visitor who appears as someone we knew in life is actually the spirit of that person, in a subtgle body; very often, however, this proves to be the case. With great ones from the past who were not known to us personally, it is less likely that we are dealing with the individual spirit in the same terms. Yet such encounters can be exceptional experiences, and the source of information that goes far beyond our personal data banks, as in my "Einstein" sequence.

Robert Moss said...

SMT - I love your word-picture of your "Civil War general" in the coffee shop. You remind me that many years ago I led my workshop on death, dying and the afterlife ("Making Death Your Ally") at a site on the edge of the Gettysburg battlefield. A gentlemen who joined us (as a physical, paying participant) was the double of a Civil War general depicted in a portrait hanging in the lobby of his B&B. More interesting were the ghostly forms of about 500 men in blue and gray who gathered around our circle, hoping we could help them in some way. I asked to speak to their commanding officers. Understanding these were dead soldiers who had not yet moved on, I told them they most welcome to audit our course as long as they remained outside our circle. They were very orderly and respectful, and we felt well-protected throughout that three-day weekend. I hope they gained something from the workshop.

Robert Moss said...

Lou - Freud was a tremendously literate man (something about him I like and respect) who often failed to reap the best things from his reading. This he read Artemidorus' "The Interpretation of Dreams" (from which he lifted the title of his own opus) but in an abridged and bowdlerized German translation that omitted the many pages of incest dreams in the Greek original! (For details and some of the missing dreams, see my "Secret History of Dreaming") And so he read Fechner but couldn't "get" that the physicist may have been on the right track when he insisted that EVERYTHING is alive and conscious, and that mind/soul, not matter, is the primary force of nature.

Worldbridger said...

Consider the sheer amount of conscious attention placed on pop icons like Elvis and Michael Jackson ... "formed in the thoughts of the living by their remembrances."

You have to wonder what sort of effect this might be causing?

A bit like when John Lennon said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus (I may not have that reference exactly correct, but it was something to that effect and it caused quite an upset in the bible belt when it hit the radio.)

Patricia said...

Hello Robert,
Glad I have shifted into a Wu Wei Pooh mode mind or I would be preserverating on how is it that I can read your writings and they give me similar insights as if I were reading a physics book. I feel like I ask a question and you give me even more then one insight/answer, that are slightly ahead of my understanding. Fun, I think, says my Pooh mind.
Now I am laughing because my son just marched in the dinning room and informed me he doesn't want me to get on this site again this evening because he thinks it is messing up the internet connection in the house.

Robert Moss said...

Patty, I'm enjoying your typo - "dinning" instead of "dining". It speaks volumes about how the "din" of the family circus and the human noise band can make it hard for us to hear what we most need to hear.

Unknown said...

Mmmh, tasty Samhain thought food... This makes me wonder if something similar might be going on in some of our dreams where contemporary celebreties are showing up, like my series of dreams in which Beck, the musician, appears as a good friend, even though I'm not especially fond of his persona in waking live. And to turn this around, what can we learn about our larger selves from our own appearances in the dreams of others, which for you, Robert, should be a rather frequent occurence? - Maurice

Robert Moss said...

Hi Maurice - When people report dreams of me, I often encourage them to play the "what part of me?" game and ask what part of themselves resembles whatever they see in me. Yet I recognize that because dreaming is also social and transpersonal, our dream selves can and do meet and interact with others, and I am very conscious that I do a great deal of teaching in the schools of the night.

Similarly, it may be appropriate to play the "what part of me game?" with celebrities who turn up in our dreams. Whether the dream celebrity turns out to be an aspect of ourselves or a transpersonal being (and it could be both) it is also fun to play another game, which I call the Space Alien game. This involves coming up with a short description of the dream figure that we could give to a visitor from outer soace who is quite unfamliar with human customs and has never heard of the person in question or the type nof activity that they do. So of I were dreaming of Beck, I would have to explain who is Beck and what is a musician, and what is distinctive in his persona etc.

Let's not forget that when we dream of contemporary celebrities, we may be previewing a future encounter in ordinary reality with that person or someone who resembles them...

Robert Moss said...

Worldbridger, Thanks for reminding us that pop icons may actually become...icons. And that various world cultures have made a cult of the physical remains of dead rulers with varying agendas and different belief contexts. I don't think it occurred to the atheists who put Lenin's embalmed corpse on display that this might be facilitating continuing contact between the dead leader and the living, but this was the deliberate practice of some cultures. For example, it appears that the mummy of a dead Inca was actually believed to be a vehicle through which he could continue to reign. Personally, I'm not in favor of long-term preservation of body parts for any reason!

Worldbridger said...

Dion Fortune did exactly the opposite and tried to leave as few mementos of her personality behind as possible (very few pictures of her exist). She wanted to make sure that she would not be held back by spiritual co-dependents, as it were.

Of course, she did leave a legacy of work, books and so on, but I think that creates a different kind of link.

The vast majority of us (thank goodness) go out like a puff of smoke ... onward and forward to the next great adventure!

Nicola said...

Hi Robert
My feelings relating to encounters with the departed, as well as the living is that there are so many levels in which the process of recognition operates. The most basic of which might be similar to comedic TV impersonations of the famous, where cartoon like features such as a wig, glasses and signature fashion accessories or hand and language gestures are mimicked. This impressions can sometimes be quite convincing.
We immediatly recognise Churchill because of his cigar and because he looks nothing like Groucho Marx.
The rest of the story is filled in by our own inner story that we have created from the hero legend of this public figure and how they may relate to parts of our own percieved self.In many ways Winston becomes a form of "language" that we all understand.
The flip side, and one that seems to operate very much through the perceptions of the higher self and hence much harder to define, is the recognition of a loved one or the true presence of a real encounter with perhaps Winston or another, that comes with a sense of knowing, even in such situations that they may choose to presnt themselves to us disguised as something as remote to our senses as say a chair leg, a cloud, or even the invisible man, or woman.
This form of recognition in my understanding and experience comes from a way of seeing through our higher self where we are reminded of how adept humans are at reading the energy of others way beyond our physical and conscious acknowlegement of how things may apear on the surface.
I believe that we read each others energy bodies all the time and that physical recognition actually comes quite low down on the list.

Robert Moss said...

Hi Nicola - Thanks for you impressions, which touch on sveral points along the great spectrum of possibilities. I am tickled by the idea that Winston-with-Cigar, floating in midair, could be blown up like a helium balloon as a vehicle for the life projections of myself and others. However, I have reason to think something more was going on here, because of very important business that was being transacted by the others in that scene in my vision journey, and because of a long sequence of prior brushes with Churchill. By the way, in these encounters the sight of his cigar has always been less significant to me (though I am very visual) that the deep rich smell of his Havana tobacco.

Beyond what has been discussed on this lively thread so far, we need to grasp the idea of "contact pictures" by which greater beings adapt forms which enable humans to perceive and interact with them and carry away useful knowledge.

Karen Kay said...

Hi Robert
Your encounter with Churchill and the connection with a pub / saloon reminded me of my own encounter with
J.R.R. Tolkien. (although on that occasion the meeting was instigated by you I have long felt an affinity with him and of course C.S. Lewis who has not in my memory turned up in a 'body' in a dream but still turns up in other ways ) Although our meeting was in a very proper and imposing library complete with Lion statues at the entrance, he was very keen to relax and drink beer and chat about the naming of things. It has also long been my feeling that his and my own home city is a place of many doorways to most interesting places. A number of which I have been through.

Speaking also of dreaming of living celebrities, a very recurring visitor to my dreams is Tom Waits. A few nights ago ( in the dream world) he reminded me that he is my father. His presence both in my dream life and in waking reality gives me great strength and reassurance that the musical stories I hear in my imagination can indeed find their way to the waking world. ( and they have been doing that yes indeed !) He has been a very strong story in my own creative process and a big yes to my own stories. So in my dream of dreaming of living celebrities it feels they also remind us that we can dance our dance in waking world. Having said all that it also feels like the Mr Waits may actually turn up in my life in person one day.

Robert Moss said...

Hi Karen - Ah, thank you for reminding me of my own encounter with Tolkien and C.S.Lewis beyond the lions at the entrance to the NY Public Library. Tolkien was most insistent that I should study Nordic mythology, as he did. Pots of beer were produced in short order, contrary to library rules, but certainly not to those of the Inklings.

Some years later, when I was working on my "Dreamer's Book of the Dead", C.S.Lewis turned up alone. When I asked, "Where's Tolkien?" He responded that Tolkien wouldn't speak to me (at that point) because I had failed to do what he suggested.

Nicola said...

Sorry Robert, I wasn't suggesting that this wasn't Winston in some form or other.
I find in my dreams there is a distinct difference between a departed person revealing their apearance to me as a way to get my attention about something that they wish to show me and where the use of symbols and words are the most important factor; to a very different kind of visit where I am feeling the soul essence of the person beyond words or picture forms.
In the former, they to some extent present themselves within the characature by which they were known publically whilst they were alive, whilst the latter is on quite a different and far more personal level where there is a kind of psychic energy merging with their essential self.
Anyway, I loved your dream about Winston, though I suspect that if you were to play the alien game with this great man you might recognise a thing or two about yourself.

Robert Moss said...

Hey Nicola - I wssn't offended in ths slightest! I shared rather few details of the conscious dream journey to which I referred. What interested me was that the floating Winston seemed to be looking in on, and encouraging, a group of dead people of calibre (many known to me personally) who are not only having a good time on the other side but seeking to watch over the affairs of the living in a helpful way. Okay, I'm not ready to say more at this point, except that I am cheered by the notion that (as my Iroquois Indian friends say) sone of our "great ones" may choose to stay cloe to Earth after death to watch over the Earth and to shepherd humanity's progress.

Worldbridger said...

Is it not also possible that a strong positive archetype such as Winston Churchill might not be used as a persona for any number of harmonious inner plane communicators? Easily recognizable, ready to wear and possessing considerable projective power.

The inner plane version of an FM channel - less static, full stereo.

The man himself might put it on (like an old coat) so as to remind certain people to keep on keeping on, as it were. But he might also allow others to use it for a similar purpose.

The inner planes are nothing if not multi-dimensional.

Robert Moss said...

The Greeks say that the gods love to travel in disguise.

Wanda Burch said...

Hi Robert,
I seem to go through thematic periods of dreaming either of notable people who have passed on or into the lives of those still living; and I have wondered if, in those themes, I should pay more attention to some aspect of their lives that is responding to something I need at the time. In one particular case I wonder if I am being given a life assignment for further research and writing - another retirement project. I dream of having conversations with a woman who took the name Jeanne Robert Foster. She met Yeats and spent time with his father. At Yeats' suggestion she produced her best and most evocative writing when she wrote from what she knew, not such unusual advice. I have an invitation to walk into the landscapes where she lived, something I will do soon; and, with just a bit of sleuthing, I know there are manuscripts and letters about her, from her, and to her in several places that are still in boxes and not yet explored. So I think in this case I may find some interesting treasures - if I choose to take the assignment - and perhaps an interesting new book someday.

Robert Moss said...

Wanda, Thanks for sharing your sense of receiving a possible book assignment from that connection of the Yeats family. As you know, I feel I received my book assignment for what became "The Dreamer's Book of the Dead" from the Yeats I've encountered again and again in my imaginal life, especially in that interesting imaginal locale I describe as the House of Time, and in the magic cottage he described top me - with fine precision - as being located on "the fourth level of the astral plane" (which surprised me, because in familiar astral geographies that lay things out this way I would have expected the 5th).