Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Door in the Wall

What pleasure it can be to return to books we read and loved long ago, and find new meaning, inspiration and enjoyment! Last night, it was a collection of the short stories of H.G.Wells that includes “The Door in the Wall”, a fantasy tale that is a masterpiece of its kind. It speaks to us of essential things, including what shamans call soul loss.
    A young boy, wandering the streets of Kensington, comes to a green door in a white wall with a red Virginia creeper. He plucks up the courage to try the door, and finds himself in a magical garden. There are panthers who nuzzle him like friendly cats, and new friends who play the best games. “Playmates I found there. That was very much to me, because I was a lonely little boy. They played delightful games in a grass-covered court where there was a sun-dial set about with flowers. And as one played one loved.”
    A wise woman shows him a book that contains his life. “It was a story about myself, and in it were all the things that had happened to me ever since I was born. It was wonderful to me, because the pages of that book were not pictures, you see, but realities….People moved and things came and went in them.” And then “at last I came to myself hovering and hesitating outside the green door in the long white wall, and felt again the conflict and the fear.” Back in the world outside the green door, he is a little boy weeping on a long gray street in West Kensington at the hour the lamps are lit.
     He always longs to return. Strangely, he cannot remember the games he played, only the joy of them. He makes the mistake of confiding in a schoolmate and is mocked and bullied by those with no imagination. We know feedback felons of his type in our own lives, people who have lost their own dreams and encourage us to give up on ours.
     As the boy grows into manhood and then an important place in the world, he feels that “some thin tarnish had spread itself over my world” . Nearing forty, he finds “the keen brightness that makes effort easy has gone out of things”. He sees the green door in the white wall again, and again – three times in one year, in different locations in the city – but he is now too busy and too set in adult agendas to pause and try to go through again.
     So he remains with an aching hole in himself, the place where his “child of wonder” once lived, until his death. He dies when he falls down a shaft opened by railway construction – did he mistake it for the green door in the white wall, walking home? The story speaks of soul loss, of how we lose the beautiful bright dreamer in us when we turn our back on his or her dreams.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

On the dream train

I've always liked trains. When I was a boy I would spend Saturdays riding out to the end of the train lines in Melbourne, Australia, and collecting the little timetable booklets they used to give out at each terminus. The floor of my room was wholly occupied by model Lionel trains, with little villages and battalions of toy soldiers, with which I would make Little Worlds. In later life, I've enjoyed riding trains across the English countryside, and the TGV from Montpellier to Barcelona and (when they are remotely on time) Amtrak trains from upstate New York along the Hudson River to Penn Station, a ride that can make you imagine you are sailing down the Rhine, when the state workers aren't squawking too loud on their cell phones.
    But I take far more trains in my dreams than in regular life. Sometimes these journeys closely resemble ordinary trips, or anticipate future ones. Sometimes they take me into a different era - to a bittersweet kiss at the Gare du Nord in Paris, on the eve of the German Occupation, before I was born - or into an alternate reality like those suggested by de Chirico's steam engines, forever puffing away beyond a wall, or the trains that can plow the sea in Japanese anime movies.
     As I listen to train dreams, and review my own, I'm struck by the wordplay that often puffing away with the dream engines.What line are we on? Are we on track or off track? Are we in need of new training? What's on the other side of the tracks? Are we tied to the tracks (or have we tied someone else to the tracks)? Are we in danger of missing the train?
    At a point in my life when I was changing lines, I dreamed I came to a station where I was in danger of missing the train. I had to push open door after door in order to get to the platform. The doors were heavy and there seemed to be no end to them. I was becoming hot and frustrated when I became lucid and realized that there is more than one way of getting over a dream obstacle. My dream self levitated, rising above the barriers, then hovered like a bird above the railyard. From this perspective, I could see that there were many lines available, not just one or two options. And I could see into the distance, getting a glimpse of what lay ahead on each of the tracks.
    When I remember this dream, it reminds me to try to get the big picture when approaching any decision, and that it's not enough to stay on track; we need to be sure that we are on the right track.
     By contrast, in an another dream my dream self was being hustled along by an incompetent tourist guide to get on board a train that was about to leave a station. The guide gave me no forewarning of the departure time and I had to scramble to get my essential stuff - my journals, camera and art supplies - together for what was supposed to be a fun day of exploration. I found myself in an overcrowded compartment with no space to read and write. I carried this "little" dream with me as a caution not to let myself be hurried by other people's agendas into following a line that isn't right for me.
     Though I like trains, in dreams like this they can represent collective approaches and group thinking that don't serve our creativity and our personal preferences. Yet staying on track with other people's values and approaches may be the right way to go. A woman shared a dream in which she was shown two trains that would each get her to her chosen destination at the same time. One of these trains ran on rails; the other did not. In the dream, she chose the train that stayed on track because this felt more comfortable and secure.
    We don't want to miss the possibility that a train dream may be a preview of a quite literal trip, as in Grace's dream:

Train of the Future 

I woke from a dream remembering only that I was sitting on a train, looking out the window and staring at a white building with an unusual shape..
     Two weeks later, I was on the train to New York and as so often happens, it slowed down and came to a stop for no apparent reason.  I looked out the window and was shocked to see the exact same building from my dream; it was some kind of water treatment plant.  We sat for several minutes then the train carried on and I got to the city in time.
     What was this about? This taught me that dreams can be CLEARLY precognitive.  Perhaps that was enough. There may have been a bit of symbolism in the train ride itself - that as I travel on the path of life, I am moving along with occasional stops but getting to my destinations.

There is urgency, or sadness, in some dreams of trains. We are worried we are going to miss a train, which seems to represent a life opportunity. We are parting from someone we love, as did another women dreamer who waved a tearful goodbye to her husband as his train pulled out of a station the week before he died from a heart attack. A mother who lost her son tragically young dreamed that she and her surviving boy accompanied him to the far side of the railroad tracks, and had to leave him there.
     Then there are the trains that take us into another realm, like the Hogwarts train that leaves from platform 9 3/4 in the Harry Potter stories. Michele dreamed she was in the desert, looking at an immense lion sculpture that reminded her of the Egyptian Sphinx. As she watched, the great lion rose from the sand and became the engine of a train that carried a happy band of children off on magical adventures. This dream inspired her to create an illustrated children's book and to help children with their dreams.
    As in Michele's dream, the engine of the dream train may represent what drives us and fires us up in our life journeys. I love the idea of riding a train that is pulled by a lion!

Art: Gare Montparnasse by Giorgio de Chirico

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Getting Out of the Way of the Big Wave: How dreamers have averted collective disasters

Any future we can see (in dreams or in other ways) is a possible future. The odds on any specific event being enacted are constantly shifting, and we want to take a probabilistic, rather than a deterministic, attitude towards our previews. We want to experiment actively with the possibility that we can help to manifest, or avert, an event foreshadowed by a dream by how we use or fail to use the dream information. To foster our understanding that none of this is exactly new practice, but rather part of a basic human survival kit, let me describe four cases from the history of dreaming, the kind of history that is not (yet) taught in schools but is essential to our understanding of the human odyssey. In each case, a dreamer’s ability to scout ahead was used to benefit a community in ways that saved many lives.

The Iroquois Dream Scout

Living on the edge of survival, threatened by constant warfare, hungry winters and white men’s diseases and land-stealing, the Six Nations of the Longhouse Indians of the American Northeast – known to anthropologists as the Iroquois – made it the first business of the day to scan the dreams of the community for clues to the future. The term “dreamer” (atetshents) was a title of honor that also meant “doctor” and “healer”. While everyone dreams, some people dream stronger and truer than others, and those are the ones – when their insights have been tested and proven repeatedly – when you need to make a decision on which the safety and well-being of the people depends.
    I spent several years studying the shamanic dreaming practices of the Iroquois after I started dreaming of an ancient Huron/Mohawk “woman of power” (arendiwanen) who insisted on communicating with me in her own language, which I was then obliged to study. My favorite documentary source on early Iroquois dreaming was the Jesuit Relations, a vast compilation of reports from the blackrobe missionaries who lived among these peoples in colonial times.
Father Bruyas, a Jesuit living with the Oneidas in the 17th century, left a striking account of the practice of an Iroquois dream seer and how the community used her information. The Oneida dreamer reported that she had dreamed that an enemy tribe from the South would try to wipe out her village in a surprise attack. She described the place where her own warriors could ambush the enemy, and predicted that the enemy war chief would be captured and burned to death. Following her directions, the Oneida war captains set an ambush at the place she described, so confident of their victory that they fired up their kettles in advance for the celebration feast.

The English Minister Who Saved His Congregation

In 1558, under the reign of Catholic Queen Mary I, the Protestant minister John Rough was "sore troubled" when he dreamed that he saw two of the Guard leading the deacon of his congregation, Cutbert Simson, off to interrogation. Rough was especially troubled because, in the dream, the deacon was carrying a book listing all the members of the underground Protestant community; if this fell into the hands of the authorities in this age of religious persecution, all of them would be at risk. In the middle of the night, Rough told his dream to his wife and then tried to calm himself by reading. When he fell asleep, however, he "dreamed the like dream again."
Now profoundly agitated, Rough prepared to pay a visit to the deacon and to tell him the dream, certain that it was a warning. In the way of synchronicity, the deacon turned up at the minister's door first. When Rough told his dream, the deacon dismissed his fears, insisting that dreams are "but fantasies, and not to be credited." Rough had to call on his full ministerial authority, ordering the deacon in the name of Almighty God to place the book in safekeeping. The deacon, protesting, gave the book to Rough's wife. Soon after, Cutbert Simson was arrested and interrogated. The Reverend Rough's dream - and his insistence that its warning must be heeded - saved the whole congregation from exposure to the authorities. 

The Armenian School Teacher Who Saved Her Class

In 1988 Sofia, a school teacher in the Armenian mountain village of Shirokamud, dreamed she felt the earth trembling while class was in session.  In her dream, she instructed the children in the classroom to join hands and follow her. She led them to safety, without hesitation, through a maze of mountain trails and woke with clear recollection of the path she had followed.
   The dream felt so “real” and so menacing that Sofia recounted it to fellow-teachers, who scoffed at her. She decided on her own course of action. Without mentioning the dream, she instructed the children in her class that if anything “bad” ever happened they were to join hands and follow her without question. Three days later, two earthquakes measuring 6.9 and 5.8 on the Richter scale destroyed the school. 112 children died immediately; others were burned to death in the aftermath. The only children who survived were the members of Sofia’s class. When she felt the first tremors, she immediately acted on her dream guidance, leading her pupils to safety, joined hand to hand, along the complex mountain trail she had dreamed.

The Island Dreamers Who Got Out of the Way of the Tsunami

The Andamans, a hunter-gatherer people who live on islands of the same name in the Bay of Bengal, have a traditional practice of community dreaming. They grow a nightly web of dreams to produce life-supporting information for the community. In their communal big houses, they enter dreaming together with a shared story or intention. They may want to scout out where the best supply of fruit or game or fish, can be found to feed the people the next day. They spin a shared web of dreaming and travel out along its skeins, like human spiders
The terrible Asian tsunami of December 26, 2004, brought home that the web of dreaming can be essential to survival. In late December, the Andamans are usually to be found in their seasonal fishing settlements along the coast. After the tsunami roared through that year, their shelters were gone. The Indian government, which claims possession of the islands, assumed that the Andamans along the coast had been drowned. Then the islanders reappeared on their forested hills. They knew the tsunami was coming, and got out of its way by quietly abandoning their fishing huts and taking to the hills. They knew because they observed the movements of animals, and listened to the voices of wind and water, and because they know how to dream as and for a community.

1.Robert Moss, Dreamways of the Iroquois (Rochester VT: Destiny Books, 2004) p.35.
2. John Foxe, Acts and Monuments of the Church Containing the History and Sufferings of the Martyrs (1563) cited in Carole Levin, Dreaming the English Renaissance (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) p.2.
3. Robert Moss, The Secret History of Dreaming (Novato CA: New World Library, 2009) p. 270. For an account of Andaman dream webbing (written before the tsunami, see Vishvajit Pandya, “Forest Smells and Spider Webs: Ritualized Dream Interpretation Among Andaman Islanders” Dreaming 14:2-3 (June-September 2004) 136-150. 

Image: Satellite photo of Little Andaman island on January 2, 2004 (Reuters)

Your departure lounge for adventures in lucid dreaming

Your departure lounge for adventures in lucid dreaming is open to you anytime you are ready. It is is the twilight zone, the half-dream state on the cusp between waking and sleep, and between sleep and waking the French used to call dorveille. Frazzled by the pressures of everyday life, many of us tear through this zone without pausing to notice the magic that is there.
   Active dreamers tend to spend a lot of time in the twilight zone, even whole nights. In everyday life, the easiest way to embark on conscious dream journeys is to practice maintaining full awareness as dream images rise and fall during twilight states. The twilight zone offers optimum conditions to develop your ability to make intentional journeys beyond the physical body to learn the nature and conditions of other orders of reality.
    As you spend more time in the twilight zone, you will discover a notable increase in both your creativity and your psychic awareness. Going with the flow of spontaneous imagery in the twilight zone puts you into the stream of the creative process. It puts you in league with your creative source, mediated by mentors who appear to you in the half-dream state, or coming through cool and clear as a mountain spring. It is no accident that highly creative people — from Einstein to the romance writer and the powerboat designer I met on plane trips — are very much at home in the twilight zone.
     In the language of the sleep scientists, the twilight zone is the realm of hypnagogic and hypnopompic experiences. Hypnagogic literally means “leading toward sleep”; hypnopompic means “leading away from sleep.” But these terms do not take us to the heart of the matter. You may enter the twilight zone before and after sleep, but you may also enter it wide awake, with no intention of sleeping. It is not the relationship to sleep that defines the twilight zone; it is its character as a border county. It is the junction between sleep and waking, certainly. But more than this, as Mary Watkins writes beautifully in Waking Dreams, it is “the plane of coexistence of the two worlds.” 
     In this borderland, you will find the gates to other worlds opening smoothly and fluidly — if you let them and are prepared for what may follow. When I allow myself to drift through this frontier region with no fixed agenda, I have the sense of leaning through a window or a doorway in space. Sometimes this feels like hanging out of the open hatch of an airplane. I have come to recognize this as the opening of a dreamgate. Depending on circumstances and intention, I can step forward into the next dimension or haul myself back into physical focus.
     From this departure lobby, the great explorers of the imaginal realm have used many gates and flight paths. This is why the twilight state has such vital significance in dream yoga, in shamanic training, in the Western Mystery traditions, in the “science of mirrors” of the medieval Persian philosophers, and in other schools of active spirituality.
     According to Tantric teachings, it is by learning to prolong this “intermediate state” and to operate with full awareness within it that you achieve dream mastery and, beyond this, the highest level of consciousness attainable for an embodied human. The Spandakarika of Vasagupta, which dates from the tenth century, recommends the use of breathing exercises to focus and maintain awareness as you move from waking into the twilight state. The dreamer is urged to place himself “at the junction between inhaled and exhaled breaths, at the very point where he enters into contact with energy in the pure state.” This is the entry into conscious dreaming, whose gifts (according to Tantric text) could be immense: “The Lord of necessity grants him during dreams the ends he pursues, providing that he is profoundly contemplative and places himself at the junction between waking and sleeping.”
    The aim of the practice is to achieve continuity of consciousness through sleeping, waking, and the intermediate state. When this is attained, the practitioner has ascended to the mystical Fourth State — the turiya of the Upanishads. This is the highly evolved consciousness of a person who has awakened to the reality of the Self; it now infuses his awareness at all times.
     As you become more practiced in maintaining full consciousness at the junction between sleeping and waking, you may find yourself moving beyond the flow of images to a perception of the source of those images — the dream matrix — and the stuff of which they are formed. Here is an excerpt from my journals, describing an experience of entering the dream matrix:

Into the Astral Sea

I am floating in a twilight state, shortly before dawn.
    I watch a parade of faces.
    I step forward, leaving my physical body on the bed. I have the impression of immensely tall doors. Beyond them, shining through the gape, is deep blue-green light. I move towards it.
    I find myself in the astral sea. It has substance, but this substance is lighter than foam rubber and endlessly malleable. I see temples and palaces rise and dissolve back into the matrix.
    I seek clearer understanding. I am told by a higher intelligence that I am in the “high subplanes of the astral.” The inhabitants of these realms can create their environments by thought and are aware of this ability. But they still work with the inheritance of earthly lives and memories of form.
    I slip into a more vivid scene of construction. I am amazed by the detail of this work. Is it due to the limited understanding of the astral builders — or will it give greater substance and beauty to the finished structure — or is it simply part of their pleasure?

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

Art: "Pegasus" by Odilon Redon (1900)

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Art of Memory

Dreaming, waking or in between
in any part of the multiverse
in any body, in any life
you are invited to play
a memory game.

Whatever world you are in

the trick is to remember
the other worlds you inhabit
where you are dead and more alive

and the self that is dreaming you.

Robert  Moss,  “The Art of Memory”

Photo of trees at the Palais-Royal (c) Robert Moss

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What's going on in your dream house?

When you record your dreams, pay special attention to the dream locations. The settings may be familiar or completely foreign, vivid and sensory or cloudy and indistinct. You may be in a place whose physics appears quite different from ordinary reality. You may be at home with people you don't know in regular life. You might be living in a medieval castle that seems to have been constructed yesterday. Again and again, you dream you are in the old place – back in the home you shared with your ex, or the office where you worked at the old job, or at grandma’s house, or in the school yard. Maybe you’ll want to ask yourself: did I leave part of myself behind when I left that old situation? Maybe your dream house is a hybrid, melding elements from places you recognize from the past with novel architecture. The house may seem familiar at the outset, but then proves to have more rooms and more stories than you remember. These may be stories of your life and levels of your psyche or Self. It can be fascinating to revisit a dream structure of this kind through conscious dream reentry, and learn more about what is going on. Jung found in his dream of a many-layered house - a dream Freud insisted on misinterpreting - a model for understanding connections between the conscious mind, the personal subconscious and the collective unconscious. In his dream, he started out on a floor that looked like a normal bourgeois home. As he descended through successive floors, he found himself in primal territory, in a dirt-floor basement containing skulls and bones of distant ancestors. I find it especially intriguing to go up on the roof of a dream house. Sometimes I find there are levels beyond what I expected. Sometimes, on a roof terrace or garden, I meet a benign figure I recognize as a slightly higher self, a witness self who can give me perspective on my life situation, since he is up above the scrum. I have called this figure the Double on the Balcony. Last night I dreamed I was in a house that I used to own, in another reality. It was quite familiar in the dream, but does not correspond closely to any house I have occupied in this world. My dream house was a palace, with sections open to tour groups. It has sweeping marble staircases leading up to what used to be private family apartments and my library. I tried to go up the steps, but they petered out and I realized the the library and the private rooms had been long since abandoned and sealed off. I did not give up on my detective work. I took another staircase to a balcony with wonderful views over green forests and meadows. I told ladies I met there, matter-of-factly, "I used to own this house." I know I will come here again. I need to get up that staircase. And I need to understand what life story I am inhabiting in this palace that has seen better days. By focusing on a dream location, we have an excellent portal for conscious dreaming, shamanic journeying and astral travel. If you have been to a place in a dream, you can go there again, just as you might return to a place you have visited in ordinary reality. Your dream house may be a place you will visit in the future. I have been guided, in while series of dreams, to houses I did not recognize at the outset but proved to be future homes that I purchased and occupied. We take real estate tours in our dreams. The dream house may be a structure that the astral architect in you has constructed for various purposes: as a place for rest and relaxation, as a sanctuary or a study, as a place of rendezvous, as a pleasure palace. Such creations may have their own stability. They may be homes that await you in the afterlife or interlife. Your dream house may be a place where you are leading a parallel life with people you may or may not know in your physical world. It may be a construction or renovation site, a place waiting for our imagination to raise the walls or put on the finishing touches.
What's that? Your memories of such things are blurry? You can take comfort from Seth, as channeled by Jane Roberts: "If you have little memory of your dream locations when you are awake, then remember that you have little memory of your waking locations when you are in the dream situation. Both are legitimate and both are realities. When the body lies in bed, it is separated by a vast distance from the dream location in which the dreaming self may dwell.” [Seth: Dreams and the Projection of Consciousness by Jane Roberts]
Art: "House of Light", drawing from Robert Moss journal.

Friday, February 17, 2017

I'll see you in dorveille

There's a word from medieval French I want to revive and give a home in English. The word is dorveille, which literally means "sleep-wake". It refers to the liminal state between sleep and awake. When I lead residential retreats in France, we often ask at the breakfast table, not "Did you have a good sleep?" or "Did you dream?" but "As-tu dorveillé bien?" Dorveille was recognized in earlier times as a singularly fertile place for poetic creation and for true visions. It was familiar to the troubadour and the medieval knight "sleeping on his horse" as he rode long distances, sometimes wearied by battle. The great fourteenth-century poet and composer Guillaume de Machaut spoke of dorveille in his Dit de la fontaine amoureuse (Story of the Amorous Fountain) [1361], which he also called the Book of Morpheus:
Il n’a pas longtemps que j’estoie En un lit ou pas ne dormoie Einsois faisoit la dorveille Com cils qui dort et encore veille
Not long ago I was in a bed where I did not sleep I was making dorveille like those who sleep and are yet awake
The French medievalist Michel Stanesco describes dorveille as "a sort of second state where the protagonist, half sleeping, moves in an inherently ambiguous universe, between the near and the far, the strange and the ordinary, the mysterious and the familiar."[1] My friend the French dream teacher and scholar of medieval poetry and music, Sophie Bordier, gives the following account: "La dorveille is a word of ancient French that first appears in the 13th century, It defines a phase of semi-vigilance that is highly propitious to creativity, prayer and visions. It is an expanded state of consciousness that connects us with the source of oneiric and poetic imagination. "Dorveille, or dormeveille, can occur as we approach or leave sleep, but also in the interval between two sleep cycles that characterized the nights of our medieval ancestors. The slept in two distinct phases: an initial period of deep sleep ("sleep of the dead") and a second period of lighter sleep, rich in images, apparitions and premonitions. When the sense (virtutes animales) are dormant, the soul can more easily slip free from the body, according the the medical theories of that era." This liminal state opens for each of us every night, though we generally flit through it without noticing. It is great practice for growing consciousness to set yourself the intention of lingering in this twilight state. As images rise and fall, you can choose to follow one that has special attraction, and so find yourself embarked, effortlessly, on an adventure in lucid dreaming. In his poem Le joli buisson de jonece (1373), Froissart describes being transported into a marvelous space “round as an apple” from a state of dorveille. This began when he went to bed early on a dreary winter evening and felt himself touched by fire. As he drifted towards sleep, thoughts and memories rose and became visions. Then Venus – he says– carried him to that apple-round space. The colors were blue streaked with white but they changed with the winds. He can’t tell the size of the space he is in but he is always at the center. Inner guides are easily accessible in this state. Creative connections are made that escape the ordinary mind. So: let's agree to spend more time in dorveille. And why not borrow the word, absent an equally good one in English? We imported déjà vu, so we can manage this too.
[1] Michel Stanesco, Jeux d'errance du chevalier médiéval: Aspects ludiques de la fonction guerrière dans la littérature du Moyen Age flamboyant (Leyden: E.J.Brill, 1988) 149.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The romance of dreaming

On Valentine Day, romance your dreams. The romance of dreaming is played out beyond your present life and your present world. Through dreaming, as the Irish poet-painter AE (George Russell) promised, "Your own will find you". Someone you loved and lost five thousand years ago may call you to remember that romance, and look for its fulfillment in new bodies that have ancient eyes.
    Yes, I am a romantic about these things. But I am also a practical romantic. I know that we can dream the way to manifest the kind of love that transcends time, and also that dreaming will show us how to do what we love and let the world support us. However, this requires us to develop the practice of active dreaming, which involves not only growing our dream recall and keeping our journals, but learning to clarify the content of dreams and above all taking action to bring energy and guidance from the dream worlds into the physical world.
    One of my favorite teaching stories about this comes from India. It is sometimes called "The Sketcher of Pictures". It goes like this:

The princess (and all women may be princesses, or queens) is dreaming. She dreams of the perfect lover, who satisfies her in every way. The dream streams like silk. It smells like jasmine and honeysuckle.
   She opens her eyes and howls with pain and loss, because although her surroundings are opulent she knows no one like the man of her dreams.
   Her father sees that she is very sad and asks what is wrong. When she tells him it has something to do with a dream, the king summons his wise men to listen to the dream and tell her what it means. They gather in a council chamber, ready to give their interpretations.
    As the princess recounts her dream, a wild man rushes into the room, his hair a white storm about his shoulders. He is a rishi who lives in the woods and cares nothing for the rules of the court. He grabs a piece of paper, makes a quick sketch, and hands it to the girl.
    When she looks at the picture, the princess is stunned. The rishi has captured the very essence of her dream lover.
     Abandoning the conclave of dream interpreters, she runs after the wold man from the woods. When she catches up to him, she begs him to tell her the identity or her dream lover. "Who is he? Where can I find him?" Clearly the rishi knows the man of her dreams.
     Good teachers don't give you everything all at once. The rishi says only, "The map is in your dream." Then he takes off into the woods.
     The princess thinks about it. What does it mean, that a dream contains a map? When she thinks about it some more, she realizes that she was not with her lover among the clouds. She was in a bed in a room in a house in a city in a certain landscape. Though she recognizes none of these places, she has vivid memories of them and feels she would know them again.
     So she sets out on the quest. In an Indian village, they may take hours to tell this part. There will be tigers, of course, and bandits, and deserts and snakes and all manner of perils. There will probably be elephants.
     But let's catch up with the princess at the moment when her quest is almost over, because there on the horizon, after long travels and many ordeals, she sees the city from her dreams. And now she is rushing through those streets the house from her dream, and up the stairs to the bedroom from her dream, where she finds her lover rising from his dream of her.

It sounds like a fairy story, but there are no fairies in it, or any of the gods, demons and others from the rich forests of Hindu mythology. There are only humans, and what humans can do when they learn to make maps from their dreams and have the will and stamina to follow their maps.
    Through the perfume of romance, we receive a lesson in practical romanticism. Do the work in dreamwork. Recognize that dreams require action. Learn - why has it taken you so long? - that a dream is a place. Because you have been there, you can go there again. This can bring you, in this physical world, to place of your dream lover. More often, it will bring you to places in a more spacious universe where you can rejoin the beloved company of your soul, those who love you across time and space, even when you make each other crazy.
   Give a hug to someone you love on Valentine Day. Bring flowers or chocolates if you must. But don't let the day pass without sharing dreams.

Art: Mughal painting of a prince giving wine to his lover

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Dream Interpreter at the Sign of the Bull

νύπνια κρίνω, | τοῦ θεοῦ πρόσταγ|μα ἔχων·
τύχ᾿ ἀγα|θᾶι· Κρής ἐστιν ὁ | κρίνων τάδε.

I judge dreams, having the mandate of the god.
To good fortune! The one judging these is a Cretan.

The text is on the shingle of an ancient dream interpreter at Saqqara in Egypt in the Ptolemaic age,  2nd century bce. Scholars debate the identity of the god he declared to be his patron, but a good guess would be Serapis, a composite deity who melded aspects of Hades, Osiris and the Apis bull. Serapis was a lord of death and of healing; the famous pool at Bethesda belonged to him before it became part of the Christian story. We know that the training of a kathodos, or candidate for initiation, in the ancient precincts of Serapis centered on incubating and working with dreams. We have records of a candidate in the time of Cleopatra being assigned to spend a whole year recalling and reporting dreams to his mentor.
    The image above is a wonderful gypsum copy of the stele mounted in front of the dream interpreter's kiosk. In the painted scene a bull approaches a horned altar. The bull was sacred in both Egypt and Crete and was the favorite animal form of gods around the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East. A very dramatic form of dream incubation was practiced in a mausoleum of bulls at Saqqara where the supplicant slept amongst mummified bulls encased in giant sarcophagi.
    The dream interpreter at the sign of the Bull plied his trade near the Anoubeion, the House of Anubis. Very appropriate, since the canine-headed Anubis was the patron of dreaming and soul travel as well as the guardian of the portals to the Otherworld. This was a busy commercial district, with constant traffic between two great temple complexes at either end of the street, the House of Anubis and the Serapeion, the Temple of Serapis. There were lost of vendors and small businesses. The dream interpreter sat in a booth behind his sign, waiting for trade. By identifying himself as "Cretan", he may have hoped to appeal to the Greeks and Macedonians who now ruled Egypt under the Ptolemies, in the wake of the conquest by Alexander the Great.

We don't know exactly what the dream reader at the sign of the Bull did for his clients, but his prime location suggests that he did not lack business. In his age, it was generally believed that dreams are a field of interaction between humans, gods and others, and that dreams often reveal the future. Everyone knew that dreams are important, so important that help may be required to determine the exact meaning, to decide on appropriate action to be taken, and to disperse or ward off bad energies that may be operating during the night.
   According to Aristotle (a skeptic in regard to dream precognition and transpersonal communication) we need help with the meaning of dreams because the images are distorted: “dream-pictures, like pictures on water, are pulled out of shape by movement”.
    An older and more popular view was that we need help in discerning the origin and nature of dreams because not all of them speak truth. Some may be deceiving messages dispatched by evil spirits or manipulative “dream senders” (oneiropompoi). The Greeks thought that Egyptian sorcerers were especially good at this.
   It was said that we may need help in reading dreams because “the gods love to speak in riddles” in order to test us and goad us to expand our understanding.

The prime requirement for a dream interpreter, according to Artemidorus, the most famous practitioner of this trade before Freud, is “a gift for resemblances.”
   Our dream interpreter at the sign of the Bull claimed something more, a special connection with a greater power. "The mandate of the god."

For a full discussion of ancient dream interpretation, please see chapter 2, "Interpreters and Diviners" in The Secret History of Dreaming.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Towards a history of dream sharing

Shall these texts live? This is a major challenge for the historian of dreams in other eras. A dream is not a text; it is an experience whose full nature and dimensions can only be glimpsed in even an extensive dream report. If we are working with contemporary dreamers, we may have the opportunity to enter that fuller experience with them, through careful questioning to elicit details that are initially flown, and even by traveling with them back inside the dreamspace, through the techniques I call dream reentry and tracking. [1] However, this option is not obviously available when we are trying to fathom the dreams in the personal diary of an eighteenth-century Quaker physician, or the dreams attributed to an anonymous Huron/Wendat by a seventeenth-century French Jesuit. 
     When we are examining reports of dreams collected by outsiders with very different agendas from native dreamers, the challenge of remoteness in time is magnified, because now we are seeing through a distorting lens. Close study of the context of dreams, and especially of the way they are shared and valued in a certain time and culture, brings us closer. A history of dreams must be, to no small degree a history of dream sharing, and this is what the authors of Dreams, Dreamers and Visions have given us, in a remarkable collection of essays that explore and compare patterns of dreaming on both sides of the Atlantic in the early modern era.
    The editors set the stage beautifully in their introduction, announcing that “dreams and the struggle to explain them offer a unique vantage point from which to examine the social construction of truth and meaning in an historical period often considered the crucible of the modern world.” In societies that value dreams and visions, the sharing of a dream may be the assertion of authority and a claim to divine favor.
    When dreams are regarded as prophetic or direct messages from divine powers, a dream can be a mandate for revolt or reformation. In history, dream sharing has been “a means through which to assert oneself in the social world” and “a power-laded form of communication.” In societies where dreams are valued and regarded as possible messages from the divine, some kind of dream police often arises. If dreams are known to be powerful, there will always be those who want to hijack that power. So we see church authorities ruling on whether a dream comes from angels or devils or is mere trash to be thrown out.

      In many languages, you don’t say that you “had” a dream; you say that you “saw” a dream. In a fascinating discussion of the valuation of inner sight, Mary Baine Campbell reminds us that rêve the French word for “dream” that supplanted songe in this period, arises from verbs that mean “roving” (or “raving”). Its first appearance in print may have been in Le Jeune’s account of Iroquoian dream practices in the Jesuit Relations, the huge compilation of blackrobe reports from New France in the seventeenth century.
    Janine Rivière’s elegant contribution on night terrors will win the sympathy of contemporary sufferers from the misnamed phenomenon of sleep paralysis (it is parasomniac, “around sleep”, not of sleep) though early modern explanations (from demonic invasions to the effects of lying on your back) are unlikely to be found helpful.
    In her careful account of Lucrecia de León, the dream seer of Madrid in the age of the Spanish Armada, Maria V. Jordán takes us into a culture in which dreams were scanned for political and military intelligence as well as applauded or condemned as vehicles for prophecy, depending on the implications for those in authority. I would have liked to have seen more on Lucrecia’s relations with her amanuenses and the mode of dissemination of transcriptions of her dreams – for example, by mounted courier to her powerful Mendoza patron in Toledo, or by painted images displayed at the house parties of an English-born duchess. [2]
     Luis Corteguera gives us the prodigious but dubious story of Pere Porter, a peasant who claimed he went to hell and back, and was then tried by the Inquisition but found innocent. This is an intriguing tale of what might now be described as an alleged near-death experience was used as a vehicle for social criticism. Luis Filipe Silverio Lima describes how prophetic dreams harvested from the Bible fueled the efforts of Father Antonio Vieira, a Jesuit missionary in Brazil, to promote a “Fifth Empire” with the Portuguese monarchy as the executor of “a divine plan…for human history.”
  The middle part of the book explores the encounter between Europeans and the dreaming practices of indigenous Americans, and it is a mine of fascinating materials.
     Carla Gerona takes us, with the Franciscans, into Texas border country where dreams from the Old World and the New World corresponded and collided. Both the missionaries and the Hasinai became obsessed with sightings of a flying blue woman. Such a being was central to native mythology, but the Franciscans made a determined attempt to persuade the Indians that they were seeing a flying nun – Sister Maria de 
Jesús de Agreda, who was credited by church authorities with accomplishing some 500 bilocations, appearing in the New World while her body was in convent in Spain. Indigenous connas (shamans) were widely credited with powers of flight, but the Franciscans were quick to condemn such reports as deceptions of the Devil. Meanwhile, either bereft of spontaneous dreams or fearful of them, members of the Texas mission cried for visions and sought magical powers by fantastic austerities.
    Andrew Redden explores how the Jesuits sought to reshape the indigenous imagination in Peru and Mexico towards conversion by the judicious dissemination of dream reports favoring their cause.
    Leslie Tuttle gives us a finely crafted study of the mentalité that shaped the attitudes of French Jesuits before they made the crossing to New France. She adds a very useful analysis of how the Jesuit Relations were composed and disseminated, giving the educated Catholic world a view of Canada and indigenous ways that was  in many ways “a Jesuit rhetorical creation”.
     The scholarly thriller in this book is Emma Anderson’s excellent study of the visions of Marie de Saint Augustin, a nursing sister who presented herself as guided and even possessed by the spirit of Father Jean de Brébeuf, who was fire-tortured to death by the Iroquois in 1649 and eventually canonized. Marie served the pulverized bones of Brébeuf to the sick, and claimed they produced miracles. After she saw the Jesuit martyr crowned, with a dove in his heart, in a big vision, she gained influence over men of power in Quebec, and was even able to make and break bishops. While talking to the apparition of Brébeuf – and conceding at times that he may be an aspect of her own greater self – she is also demon-haunted, puking at the idea of taking the eucharist. The elements are all here for both a depth psychological study and a superior horror film.
In her splendid contribution on dreaming in the British Enlightenment,  Phyllis Mack observes that dreaming was “the most credible means of experiencing a connection to the divine or inward change". Dreams were “a universal  source of fascination” though there was a  “combustion of opinions” about their sources and reliability. In popular street literature, dreams might come from the Devil or from a witch’s spell, or be caught like a contagious disease. Physicians spoke about glands and heavy meals too close to bedtime. But repentant former slave trader John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace” declared that dreams can deliver divine energy and offer proof  “the soul, without flesh, can act” – and will therefore survive death.
   Mack takes us through the rise of “a virtual dream culture” among Arminian Methodists and Quakers, who made a regular practice of sharing dreams and used nightmares as wake-up calls. She gives us a welcome reminder of one of the best 1,500 words on dreams that have ever been written, a 1712 article by Joseph Addison in The Spectator in which he explains that dreams are generated from within the dreamer but independently from the conscious self – and so offer proof of one of the preconditions for immortality, the capacity of the soul to operate outside the body.
    In a final essay, Matthew Dennis revisits the dreams of the Seneca prophet and recovering alcoholic Handsome Lake, which gave rise to a new religion, as explained in Anthony F.C.Wallace’s magnum opus The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca. Dennis’ contribution is distinguished by his attention to how the codification of the Gaiwio asserted patriarchal claims to authority that were absent from earlier Iroquois society, and by the way he situates the Seneca revival in the spiritual geography of the “Burned-Over” region of upstate New York that was a hothouse for new religious movements in the nineteenth century.
    There is a glaring hole in this book. It is disappointing that there is no treatment of Africa in a collection devoted to the “Atlantic world.” I made a small attempt to construct a picture of shamanic dream practices among the peoples of the Gold Coast who were Harriet Tubman’s ancestors [3]– and possibly a partial key to her prowess as a dream seer who helped liberate many fugitive slaves before the American Civil War – and I would love to read a scholarly treatment of this theme.


1.      Robert Moss, Active Dreaming (Novato CA: New World Library, 2010) 49-60.
2.      Robert Moss, The Secret History of Dreaming (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008) 163-176.
3.      Moss, Secret History, 177-192


This review of Anne Marie Plane and Leslie Tuttle (editors) Dreams, Dreamers and Visions: The Early Modern Atlantic World. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013) was published in The Journal of World History volume 26, number 4 (December 2015)

Image:  Sister María de Jesús de Agreda, the flying blue nun

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Sighthounds and mermaids: the magic of converging dreams


We all want to spend more time in that liminal space between sleep and awake. In the hours before dawn the gateway to a magical blue world opened to me in that space, and then the blue dream manifested in the physical world in the form of a painting gifted to me of which I had no prior knowledge. Before dawn, I set the intention, "Show me what I need to see." In that in-between state I immediately received a clear vision of the outline of an ancient Egyptian sighthound on stone. I was not sure whether I was looking at a carved relief or at a very faint shadow. Either way,although the lines were faint, I had impression that this ancient dog, bred for sight and speed, was in movement, was about to spring from the rock and race into another scene.
reams require action, and set us research assignments. I found a photo of ancient Egyptian relief that looks very like my hypnopompic sighting. I see that this breed, the ancestor of the greyhound, is often called Saluki; the etymology of that word - Sumerian or Arabic - is disputed.Egyptian themes came up strongly in the first session of my workshop in Prague the day before. On icy sidewalks, I have been relying heavily on my black dog stick; the fine features of the face have more of the sighthound than the lab.
I took a tram to the Staroměstská stop and walked to Old Town Square en route to the tall house on a winding cobbled alley behind the square that is the home of Maitrea, which hosts my workshops in Prague. As I walked, I felt the quivering vibration of that image of the sighthound, set none too securely on stone. I felt wind rushing past its long head and its lead body as it raced after a target, dissolving space. I was curious to see how this dog would run.


The follow-up was swift and fascinating. On the second day of my workshop in Prague, I asked people to come together in groups of three and four and share dreams by our Lightning Dreamwork process, in which we take turns to play storyteller and guide.

    In my dream-sharing group, the first report, from a young Czech woman, was a thriller.
    She felt a strong wind and started running with it, reveling in her speed. As she ran faster and faster, like the wind, she realized that her body had changed. She was now in the body of a very lean canine, something like a greyhound, except even taster, taller, thinner. She was seized by a happy sense of wild freedom. She wondered if she was becoming a wolf. Yet her bodily form, in the dream, still felt very light.
    She came to new landscapes, to cities and beaches, to places with many humans. Now her form became human again. But she kept the eyes, the eyes of the wind-runner. When I asked some questions, she clarified that her dog was indeed one that tracks through sight.
    I shared my own report from the place between sleep and awake. We were all delighted by the convergence. We agreed that the message, for both of us, might be to remember to use the speed and sight of an ancient and primal ally. The Czech dreamer felt that, as she rehearse for any shift in life, or simply wants to see things at a distance in space and time, she can use those eyes and fleet feet to where she needs to go, beyond the perception of the ordinary body.


In our little group of four, another dreamer shared a night adventure that flowed from the intention, "Show me what I need to know." In the high moment of the dream, she met a "calm mermaid". We were struck with the freshness of the phrase. We had never heard a mermaid described as "calm".
    The calm mermaid had counsel for the dreamer: Relax. Breathe. Give Up Your Will to Stop. When we talked over the last bit, the dreamer told us she had a tendency to give up before finishing things in life. She agreed that the calm mermaid might be a deeper self, rising to give her exactly the advice she needed in response to her intention for the night.
    In the way of synchronicity, the fourth member of our group, who played guide for the mermaid dreamer, had had a big experience of her own with a mermaid in a journey with the drum in our session the previous evening. She found a wild fish-woman in a place of pain and anger, and recognized a part of herself that had separated because of a life trauma, and had not yet moved out of rage and grief. She found a way, in her journey, not only to recognize but reclaim that energy.
     Though the wild fish-woman was very different from the "calm" mermaid, we recognized a common theme: the discovery, in a sleep dream and a hyper-awake shaman dream, of a previously unrecognized aspect  of the self, now rising from another element - from the depths - with the potential to bring wholeness or wisdom.


Grow a family, where people tend deeply to each other's dreams of the night and dreams of life, learn to share by a process that is mutually empowering, and you will notice the magic of converging dreams. In my workshops, we often find ourselves dreaming together, in interactive group shamanic journeys. These journeys are often opened by  the sharing of an individual dream that can become a portal for everyone, as we take off, powered by the energy of the drum.
    The convergence may come in entirely spontaneous ways, unexpected until we awaken to how people with shared interests and soul connections may be joined in adventures beyond the physical plane. Sometimes we feel blessed by an oneiric logic of manifestation, as with my experience of the blue dream the previous morning, which I saw take form on the physical plane.
     The last dream shared in our smaller group in Prague yesterday was a dream of cut flowers, of trying to get the arrangement right and clip the stalks to exactly the right length. It was shared by the woman who met the wilder fish-lady. As we discussed the dream, she said that she felt it had some connection with a grandmother who might be approaching death.
    The symbolism of cut flowers became very deep. It was reinforced, for me, by a phrase I had read on the first page of a fantasy novel * I had opened for the first time on a plane on my way to Prague: "the sound of cut flowers". You might not be surprised to read, "the silence of cut flowers". "The sound of cut flowers"brought for me, the sense of the great pressure of a force building up behind the scenes, something that was getting ready to manifest.
   The dreamer of the cut flowers said she would carry that phrase with her, to orient her as she now sought to play soul friend for her grandmother.

* The novel is The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss