Thursday, November 29, 2018

Psychorrhagy, or the Origin of Ghosts and Doppelgangers

I am walking near a neighborhood store. From a block away, I see a friend who works in the store walking a dog, a German shepherd. It would be more accurate to say that she is walking him; he is struggling to keep up as she pulls on the leash. I don’t call out because they are quite some distance away, and cars are moving between us on a busy street. But as I return home from my walk, I stop by the wine shop. My friend is behind the counter, and I notice he has changed his clothes.
    “Where’s your dog?” I ask him.
    “She’s at home. I never bring her into the store.”
    “She’s a German shepherd, right?”
    “Right.” He stares at me. “How did you know?”
    “I thought I saw the two of you outside just now.” I describe the scene – including the checked shirt and brown pants I saw the man in the street wearing, which my friend recognizes – and especially my vision of the dog pulling him as if she wanted to take him somewhere,
    My friend turns pale. “I know where that might be,” he allows.
    He tells me, haltingly, that the woman with whom he lived for many years recently took her own life. He has not seen her since they broke up, did not go to her funeral and has not – yet – visited her gravesite.
    I get the impression that such a visit is now very much on his agenda.
    I find it fascinating that my friend’s doppelganger appeared with the double of his dog, which seemed to be leading him on an important mission – perhaps into the realm of the dead. Cross-culturally, dogs play an important role as conductors of souls in mythology, folklore and shamanic practice: as fierce boundary guardians (like Virgil’s Cerberus), as hellhounds that seize the wicked (like the red-eyed hounds of Annwn, a Celtic underworld), but above all as psychopomps (like Anubis or the dogs of Nehallenia, a Celtic patron of Otherworld voyagers) who can safely escort travelers between realms.
    This incident is quite instructive about the origin and nature of ghosts – ghosts of both the living and the dead, subtle ghosts that are perceptible only to the inner senses and heavy ghosts that are audible and visible to the physical senses.
    In its heyday around 1900, the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) took a keen interest in “phantasms of the living”, ghosts, and dreams of the dead, correctly fining common elements in these phenomena. One of the founders of the SPR, the great Victorian psychic researcher Frederic Myers, coined a word to describe the origin of the kind of doppelganger I saw on the street. He called an episode of this kind a psychorrhagy. The word literally means a bursting or breaking loose of the psyche, as a hemorrhage is a bursting of blood. In Myers’full definition, psychorrhagy is “a special idiosyncrasy which tends to make the phantasm of a person easily perceptible; the breaking loose of a psychical element, definable mainly by its power of producing a phantasm, perceptible by one or more persons, in some portion of space.” [1] This might be caused by strong emotion, such as grief or fear.
    Myers was a classicist and a poet as well as a parapsychologist. He was relentless not only in his quest for evidence of psychic events – and especially of the soul’s survival of physical death – but in his efforts to provide an exact vocabulary to describe such events. Drawing on his command of Greek and Latin, he coined the now familiar term telepathy as well as many other terms that are still in use by researchers in these fields – supernormal and retrocognition among others. Some of Myers’ coinages have caught on; psychorrhagy has not. It is rather hard on the eye of the average nonclassicist reader, especially when couples with diathesis, a medical term used to define a constitutional tendency towards certain ailments or symptoms. Psychorrhagic diathesis, in Myers’ lexicon, is “a habit or capacity of detaching some psychical element, involuntarily and without purpose, in such a way as to produce a phantasm.” [2]
      Translation? Think of my sighting of the double and his dog in front of the wine shop. Some of the psychic energy of my friend seems to have “broken loose” and produced a double – dense enough to be mistaken for his physical self even under the midday sun. For a living person to go on missing so much dense etheric energy for any length of time would be likely to produce fatigue, debility, and illness – and later, possibly physical death. Hence the old popular belief that seeing someone’s fetch (an English and Irish term for this kind of doppelganger could portend death. The uncanny nature of the double is reflected in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting "How They Met Themselves" in which a couple in a dark wood are astounded to meet their second selves are react accordingly - the woman by fainting, the man by drawing his sword. [3]
     Ghosts, in our usual parlance, are already dead, in the sense that the physical bodies from which they were projected have died. But a ghost may have originated before the physical death of its unconscious maker, through the unwitting projection or psychorrhagy of dense energy.
      Ghost that remain stuck in one place for years after death are rarely very interesting. Either they have lost their minds or their awareness is smothered by a heavy energy sheath, like something wrapped in used chewing gum. Of ghosts in this sense, Andrew Lang observed correctly, “Since the days of ancient Egypt, ghosts have learned, and have forgotten, nothing”. [4]

      1.F.W.H. Myers, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (London: Longmans, Green, 1903) vol.1, xx.
      2. ibid. 
      3. Rossetti was fascinated by the double, and painted and drew several versions of this picture. He drew the first version when he was 23 and called it his Bogie Drawing. He painted his first watercolor version during his honeymoon with his model,Elizabeth Siddal, who died two years later from a laudanum overdose. When I was nineteen, I played Dante Gabriel Rossetti in a repertory performance titled "An Evening with the Pre-Raphaelites".
      4.Andrew Lang, Dreams and Ghosts (Hollywood CA: Newcastle Publishing,1972) 13-15

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

Art: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "How They Met Themseves" (1864 watercolor version)

Monday, November 26, 2018

The gift of "boring" dreams

I often hear from dreamers who complain that their night dreams are boring or mundane. They feel they are missing the movies. "I'm forever dreaming of arguing with my mother," writes one dreamer. "I'm fed up with having long-winded conversations with my boss," writes another. "I get enough of him from nine to five. Why can't I enjoy a dream romance in a tropical paradise, or go on an epic adventure?"
Of course we want the romance and adventure. But we also want to keep body and soul together on the roads of everyday life. Here's one of my personal mantras about dreamwork:
Ho-hum dreams are the most likely to offer help in navigating the future.
Why? Because much of waking life can be ho-hum too - until we start using the skills of dreaming and imagination to bring it more alive. So instead of complaining because you keep dreaming of arguments with your mother, you want to ask: how can I avoid getting into this situation again in the future? And perhaps also: how can I make peace with the part of myself that is like my mother?
Here's one of my favorite examples of the need to examine a ho-hum dream as a preview of a possible future, and harvest information from the dream in order to navigate better in a developing situation and avoid an unwanted event in waking life.
A woman friend complained to me that she had a boring and irritating dream in which she was in her cubie at the office when her boss threw a temper tantrum. "He banged his fist down on my desk, spilling my coffee over my work papers." "What happened then?" "I called him a bad name and walked out." She thought this over. "S--t. I think this may have cost me my job, in the dream."
Suddenly the ho-hum dream sounded less boring than urgent. I asked the dreamer to run a reality check. Could her boss throw a two-year old temper tantrum? "He does that all the time." Was there anything in the dream to indicate what he was mad about this time? "All I know is he wasn't mad at me. He was just taking his rage out on me."
If it were my dream, I now suggested, I would remember that next time my boss threw a hissy fit, his anger will probably not be directed at me, and I should keep my cool. The dreamer readily made this her action plan. "I'll play Miss Zen," was her one-liner.
Not long after this conversation, the dream scene started to play out in exact detail. The boss came into the dreamer's cubie and banged his fist down on her work surface, spilling her coffee. Instead of swearing at him, she played Miss Zen.He exited later in some confusion. The boss returned later to apologize. "Sorry about how I behaved. It wasn't about you." Instead of saying, "I know," the dreamer remained Miss Zen, sitiing silent with a distant tight-lipped smile.
The boss came back with flowers. "I'm really sorry." Miss Zen accepted the offering without comment, holding out a vase for the boss to fill.
At the end of the workday, the boss returned for the third time. "hey, I feel real bad. I want to invite you to come down to Cancun with the group I'm leading for the sales conference. You won't have to do any work. You can just work on your tan and drink stuff that comes with little umbrellas."
Because the dreamer did not discard a "boring" dream and worked with its information, she not only avoided an unpleasant scene and possible job loss but also collected an apology, flowers, and a free vacation.

Keep Books of Night and Day and be your own dream interpreter

We have direct access to sacred knowledge, in our dreams. Our dreams are a personal oracle that reveals the future and helps us prepare for it. We must not let anyone tell us what our dreams mean or stand between us and the direct experience of the sacred that is available in dreaming. We want to pay attention to signs from the world around us in the knowledge that everything in the universe is interconnected and constantly interweaving. We need to journal both our dreams and our waking experiences in our Books of Night and Day.
     These insights come from a fifth-century bishop of Ptolemais (in what is now Libya), Synesius of Cyrene. His treatise On Dreams is one of the wisest books ever written on how to work with dreams and synchronicity. He wrote that "Dream divination is available to all, the good genius to everyone" and that is no wonder that dreams show us the future, because dreams are experiences of soul and "the soul holds the forms of things that come into being".
      Synesius used dreams for practical navigation; he describes how dreams alerted him to plots by his enemies, counseled him on his literary style and (as a young man) on the hunt, and helped him win the ear of a Roman emperor with the right oration. He also observed, correctly, that the energy derived from dreams can be more valuable than their content; through dreams God "makes us fruitful with his own courage."

It is written, 'Others even in their dreams He made fruitful with his courage.' Do you see? One man learns while awake, another while asleep. But in the waking state man is the teacher, while it is God who makes the dreamer fruitful with His own courage, so that learning and attaining are one and the same. Now to make fruitful is even more than to teach.

He despised dream dictionaries, as popular in his time as in ours: "I laugh at all those books and think them of little use." He strongly counseled that we must not assign the interpretation of dreams to "experts" other than the dreamer: "It would be shameful for those who have lived ten years beyond adolescence to stand in need of any other diviner."
      He wrote that dreams carry us into higher worlds, and put us in direct contact with the God we can talk to. He hinted that the road of dreams is the road of the soul, on both sides of death, noting that "the soul's way of life in another world is similar to the imaginings of the dream condition."
       He was a great proponent of navigating by synchronicity, though the word he used was "sympathy". The wisest of humans are those who navigate life by reading the sign language of the world. We should keep a "day book" for our observations of signs and synchronicities as well as a "night book" for dreams.

"All things are signs appearing through all things...they are brothers in a single living creature, the cosmos...they are written in characters of every kind". 

The deepest scholarship lies in reading the sign language of the world; the true sage is a person "who understands the relationship of the parts of the universe".
     We can learn from Synesius how to practice dreamwork as real church, and track coincidence as "God's way of remaining anonymous". He deserves to be much better remembered, as a great dream teacher from the world of the early Church, one who spoke eloquently against those who seek to stand between people and the direct experience of the sacred. He wrote about dreams not on the authority of his excellent education (he studied under Hypatia in Alexandria), nor his contacts with the great, nor any high office that he held, but on the authority of his prolific first-hand experience.
     Synesius speaks to us across the centuries with the authority of experience, understanding - as do all true dreamers - that the best guides to dreaming are frequent flyers who do a lot of it.


Partly because I keep unusual hours, and am often embarked on my best creative work long before dawn, I don't separate my night journal from my day journal. All the material goes into one book — a leather-bound travel journal, when I am on the road. I try to type up my entries before my handwriting becomes illegible and put the printouts in big ring-back binders. I save each entry with a date and a title in my data files, so I automatically have a running index.

For more on Synesius of Cyrene, see my book The Secret History of Dreaming.

Art: Fresco from Pompeii showing a young woman with a wax tablet and stylus, cerca 50 c.e. We don't know her name. Her hair net of gold threads, as well as her literacy, suggest an upper-crust family. Today the fresco is maintained by the National Archaeological Museum of Naples (Inventory number 9084).

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Practicing Death

Dreaming is practice for immortality, perhaps the best we have available. Why? Because dreaming is traveling. We journey effortlessly beyond body and brain, into realms beyond the fields we know in ordinary life. We travel to territories in which the dead are at home. In this way we gain first-hand knowledge of the roads and conditions of the afterlife.
    In dreams, we also receive visitations from the dead. They come for all the reasons we may contact each other in ordinary life, and then some. They come for healing and forgiveness. They come for an update on family affairs. They come with warnings and information. Sometimes they need help and information from us, because they are lost of confused.
    Tremendous numbers of people who are living in the afterworld are seeking to communicate with the living. In one of my workshops, I led 40 active dreamers on a group shamanic journey, powered by drumming and focused by clear intention, to visit communications centers on the Other Side where the dead gather to try to contact the living. We found them using technologies both ancient and hyper-modern, according to earthly notions. Some were gathered in an old fashioned seance room, trying to call the living into their space, as Spiritists or mediums seek to call up the dead. In another space, the dead were trying to text and phone and make video calls to the living. I was especially intrigued by a special courier service. The dream messengers, called Zephyrs, are slim and elegant, almost diaphanous, in uniforms that recalled winged Mercury, but capable of putting on any costume that might help them to get into the minds and memories of the people to whom they are tasked with bringing dream messages.
    We may become open to contact with the dead in many ways: through the sense of a presence, through physical anomalies, through goosebumps, with the help of a go-between like a reputable psychic or shamanic practitioner. But the easiest way to communicate with the dead is in our dreams.
     We may be catapulted into afterlife situations by a near-death experience, or brave the gates of death in a shamanic journey or a ritual of deep initiation (which always requires death and rebirth). Yet, again, the easiest way to become familiar with the Other Side and develop a personal geography of the afterlife is through dreams and then by developing the practices of Active Dreaming.
    One of our core techniques is dream reentry.  This means using a personal dream or image as the portal for a shamanic journey or exercise in lucid dreaming. You dreamed that Granma came to visit but you are not sure why. You can go back into the space where you met her and initiate conversation. You found yourself with a deceased friend in a new home. You can go back to that place, take a full house tour and learn important things about conditions in the afterlife.
     Here is something vitally important you will learn as you consciously engage with the deceased through dreaming: healing and forgiveness are always available, across the apparent barrier of death.
    An old Lakota saying has it that "the path of the soul after death is the same as the path of the soul in dreams." This is exact. In quoting this, I have often added the thought "except that after death, you don't come back." But that is not entirely correct. Some who have died do return to the body. I did this as a child, as I describe in The Boy Who Died and Came Back, and so have millions of experiencers of what is now called the NDE. And the dead who have left their physical bodies behind for good return to us in subtle bodies.
    We need to know at least a little about what happens when we die, and before we are born, in order to live well. Death is an incredible teacher. Looking at our life choices in the clear knowledge that our story did not begin in this body and doesn't end with it can help us to develop a courage and clarity in approaching life choices that may otherwise be lacking. It can even enable us to look at the ups and downs of life as part of a divine comedy.
    These things are too important for us to leave to hand-me-down religious dogmas, or avoid through denial. Maps from recent travelers to the Other Side are good. If you are contemplating a trip abroad, it's good to hear the opinions of others who have stayed in that hotel, or taken that cruise. But the afterlife is infinitely malleable, ever-changing, even within the battlements of the collective belief systems, so we'll want to find out how things are for ourselves. The most reliable ways to do that are through contact with the dead, and through personal travel in the realms where the dead are at home. Both are most easily and safely accomplished through dreaming.
    You may say, why be in a hurry? We'll find out about the afterlife when we are dead, yes?
     Well, certainly. But I stand with Montaigne on these matters. Puisque nous ne savons pas ou la mort nous attend, attendons-la partout. "Since we do not know where Death is waiting for us, we must be ready to meet Death everywhere."

Photo by RM. Mist is the preferred Celtic portal to the Otherworld.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Three Words from Emerson in the House of Time

While leading an adventure in Active Dreaming, I guided a group of brave and ready souls on a journey to a real place in the Imaginal Realm that I call the House of Time. It is the kind of locale that creators, shamans and mystics have always wanted to visit, a place where we may encounter an inner teacher who is the master of any field that compels our best attention and study, and where any book of secrets - even that Book of Life containing our sacred contract - may be accessible. If you would like to go there, you’ll find detailed instructions in my book Dreamgates.
      While drumming for the group to provide fuel and focus for the journey to the Library in the House of Time, I found myself in contact with intelligences who have guided and inspired my work in the past. It seemed that Ralph Waldo Emerson, in high collar and frock coat, had joined the group. I do not say this was the individual spirit of the great sage; I do not claim the privilege of a personal interview, and I am sure that wherever Emerson may now be, he has many things to do. I say only that for a few moments I seemed to be in the presence of a figure who embodied some essence of Emerson's thought. I was eager to receive insights I could easily retain, while my consciousness was working on several levels, including that of drumming for the members of the group and watching over their own adventures.
My Emerson gave me three words: Rectitude. Plenitude. Attitude. The following morning, in the twilight before dawn, as the first pink suffused the gray sky, I tracked these clues through Emerson's essays and letters, and through the pedigrees of the terms themselves. 


In its origin, rectitude is the virtue of being straight, or upright, in your conduct and condition. It derives from the Latin rectus or straight. It has nothing to do with a narrow moralism. As Emerson wields this word, it is the property and armor of the brave soul who dares to live by his own lights. In his famous 1838 address to Harvard Divinity School - a speech the faculty tried to suppress but the senior class insisted upon - Emerson defined "the grand strokes of rectitude" as "a bold benevolence", and that independence of mind that enables us to ignore the counsel and caution of our friends when they seek to hold us back from pursuing our calling, and the readiness to follow that calling without concern for praise or profit. Those who can do this are "the Imperial Guard of Virtue" and "the heart and soul of nature." They "rise refreshed on hearing a threat"; they come to a crisis "graceful and beloved as a bride"; they can say like Napoleon at the Massena that they were not themselves until the battle began to go against them.


Plenitude is fullness or abundance, coming from the Latin plenus, or "full". For Emerson, plenitude - abundance - is our natural condition, and we miss it only by failing to live from the fullness and integrity of our own spirit. When we develop self-trust, we gain "the plenitude of its energy and power to repair harms," he instructs in his essay on Heroism. "There is no limit to the Resources of Man," he adds in a letter on that theme. "The one fact that shines through all this plenitude of powers is...that the world belongs to the energetic, belongs to the wise."


Attitude has an even more suggestive etymology. It first came into usage to describe the posture an actor playing a role strikes on the stage. Go further back, and we find it is kissing cousins with the word "aptitude" and both share a common root in the Latin aptus which means "fit" or "suited" - in short, ready something. Our attitudes indeed determine what experiences we are apt to encounter on our roads of life. "The healthy attitude of human nature," Emerson instructs us in his essay on Self-Reliance, is "the nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner" - in other words, the confidence that the universe will support us. In the face of hardship and challenge, we need to strike that posture of determination that "by [that] very attitude and...tone of voice, puts a stop to defeat," Emerson adds in his letter on Resources.
    We are now entering one of the great open secrets of life. "We are magnets in an iron globe," as Emerson wrote in an essay titled "Resources". "We have keys to all doors....The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck."  We choose which doors will open or remain closed. We decide what we will attract or repel in life according to whether we are straight, and full, and ready.

Adapted from Active Dreaming: Journeying Beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library. 

Painting: William James Stillman, "The Philosophers' Camp in the Adirondacks" (1858). Emerson is at the center of the scene.

Emerson portrait: Watercolor by Philadelphia artist Nile Livingston

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Scarab and the Fox: How Jung Navigated by Synchronicity

Jung’s life practice of paying attention to coincidence and symbolic popups in the world around us is a model of how to navigate by synchronicity.
    In his work with patients, he paid close attention to the interplay of dreams and signs from the world. He was encouraged to do this by his celebrated breakthrough work with a female patient who had been seriously blocked until she dreamed of a scarab, the dung beetle of the Nile Valley. Despite its lowly origins, the scarab was one of the most important Egyptian symbols of rebirth and transformation; it had been deified as Khepri and was placed over the heart of the soul traveler to guide journeys beyond the body and beyond death.
    As the woman discussed her dream with Jung, a flying beetle known as a rose chafer appeared at the window. It was the nearest match for the Egyptian scarab you could hope to find in Europe. Jung caught it and presented it to his patient, saying, "Here is your scarab." Her eyes widened in recognition. She experienced a sense of confirmation of her dream and the work she was doing with Jung that carried her to deep healing.
     When he saw patients in his house at Küsnacht, on Lake Zurich,, he liked to sit so that they both faced the garden, the poplars at the edge of the lake, and the water beyond, noticing what the world was saying.  He found significance in every shift in the environment — a sudden wind whipping up the lake water, the shape of a cloud, the cry of a bird.
     He was especially intrigued by how animals or birds sometimes seemed to participate in a human exchange.  On one occasion, he walked in his garden with a woman patient. As they wandered beyond the garden into light woods, she was talking about the first dream of her life that had major impact on her; she said it made an “everlasting” impression. “I am in my childhood home,” she recalled, “and a spectral fox is coming down the stairs.” She paused and put her hand on Jung’s arm, because at this moment a real fox trotted out of the trees, less than forty yards in front of them. The fox padded softly along the path in front of them for several minutes.  Jung noted that "the animal behaved as if it were a partner in the human situation.”
     Jung’s willingness to trust an unexpected incident — and accept it immediately as guidance for action — was evident in a meeting he had with Henry Fierz, who visited him in hopes of persuading him to support the publication of a manuscript by a recently deceased scientist. Jung had reservations about the book and opposed publication. The conversation became increasingly strained, and Jung looked at his watch, evidently getting ready to tell his guest he was out of time. Jung frowned when he saw the time.
     “What time did you come?” he demanded of his visitor.
     “At five o’clock, as agreed.”
     Jung’s frown deepened. He explained that his watch had just been repaired, and should be keeping impeccable time. But it showed 5:05, and surely Fierz had been with him for much longer. “What time do you have?”
    “Five thirty-five,” his visitor told him.
    “Since you have the right time and I have the wrong time,” Jung allowed, “I must think again.”
     He then changed his mind and supported publication of the book.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The wall that is a gate

Down a spiral tunnel, surprisingly light. Rock paintings on the walls quiver into light. A cave lion stretches and runs, springing for the kill. Aurochs thunder past. Ahead is a solid wall, no way past or through. But wait, it holds shapes that were made by intent. Long bull horns, pairs of globular breasts. I have seen these before, in a reconstruction of Çatal Höyük, from a mysterious Goddess civilization of ancient Anatolia whose language we know only in dreaming.
     I grip the horns, cup my hands over the breasts, then try this again, holding a horn and a breast. The wall opens like a door and I am out on a hot dry plateau. Huge dark birds wheel and hover overhead. The tilting of their wings identifies them as vultures. They have come for the meal spread for them on a high wooden scaffolding. The chosen man lies on precious furs and fabrics. They will strip him to the bones and release his spirit from the flesh.
   I want to get closer to the mourners or celebrants who are gathered nearby. But the earth is shaking. A great black bull is charging at me. I do not freeze or flee because I know him. We danced long ago. His tremendous bulk is over me and we are joined. His potency and hot ardor stream through me. I am ready to serve and pleasure the Goddess and ready to be the willing sacrifice in due season. 

- from my experiences in a group shamanic journey for power animals led by a gifted student teacher in my recent training for teachers of Active Dreaming in Prague. What happened at the cave wall - and through it - was quite unexpected and had the authenticity that comes with a shock of revelation. I have been given an assignment for dream archaeology.

Image: Reconstruction of a mural in a shrine at Çatal Höyük excavated by James Mellaart.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A dream guides Jung to make his approach more accessible

Near the end of his life, Jung finally managed to put his best and most original ideas in a form that was simple enough to reach a general audience, without diluting or dumbing anything down. He might not have done this except for a dream. After watching Jung's very human interviews with John Freeman for the BBC in 1959, the publisher of Aldus Books had a bright idea: why not ask Jung to write a book for a general audience? 

Jung's answer, when approached by Freeman, was a flat No. He was now in his 80s, and did not want to take the time that remained to him for this. Then Jung dreamed that he was standing in a public place and lecturing to a multitude of people who were not only listening with rapt attention but understood what he was saying. The dream changed his mind. 

Jung had said in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, "All day long I have exciting ideas and thoughts. But I take up in my work only those to which my dreams direct me." Now he proved this, again, by embarking on the book that was published (after his death) as Man and His Symbols. He conceived it a collaborative effort and invited trusted colleagues like Marie-Louise von Franz to contribute chapters. 

His personal contribution was a long essay titled "Approaching the Unconscious" . The essay is, first and last, about dreams. He completed it just ten days before the start of his final illness, so this work may be called his last testament. It testifies, above all, to the primary importance of dreams in Jung's psychology and in his vision of human nature and evolution. Jung makes this ringing statement: "It is an age-old fact that God speaks, chiefly, through dreams and visions." 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Dreams may be secret wishes of the soul

Dreams are experiences of the soul, and they can recall us to the soul’s purpose, as opposed to the petty agendas of the ego. This understanding is central to the practice of dream healing among many ancient and indigenous peoples.
   When I moved to upstate New York in the mid-1980s, I started dreaming in a language I did not know, which proved to be an archaic form of the Mohawk Indian language, laced with Huron. I studied Mohawk to decipher my dreams, but the meaning of one curious word eluded me. I recorded it as ondinnonk. I eventually found the meaning of this word in reports by a Jesuit who had lived among the Hurons in the early 1600s. 
    I will share some brief excerpts from Father Paul Ragueneau’s explanation, since it opens out an ancient approach to dreaming and healing and the responsibilities of the community to both that suggests rich possibilities for Active Dreaming in our own times.
   Reporting from the Jesuit mission to the Hurons in the winter of 1647-8, Father Ragueneau wrote:

In addition to conscious desires that arise from a previous knowledge of something we suppose to be good, the Hurons believe that our souls have other desires, which are, as it were, both natural and hidden... They believe that our soul makes these natural desires known to us through dreams, which are its language. When these desires are accomplished, it is satisfied. But if, on the contrary, it is not granted what it desires, it becomes angry; not only does it fail to bring the body the health and well-being it might [otherwise] have wished to bring, but often it even revolts against the body, causing various diseases and even death…Most of the Hurons are very careful to pay attention to their dreams, and to provide the soul with what it has represented to them during their sleep…They call this Ondinnonk, a secret desire of the soul expressed by a dream

Among this dreaming people, satisfying the secret wishes of the soul is the key to healing It is the task of the community to listen attentively to dreams, to help the dreamer identify the soul’s purpose as revealed in dreams, and to take creative and decisive action to honor and act on the dream. This may involve community theatre and performance, parties and gift-giving, making talismans or embarking on a journey or honoring the ancestors.
    Father Ragueneau continued: “They believe the soul is pleased when it sees us take action to celebrate a favorable dream, and will move faster to help us manifest it. If we fail to honor a favorable dream, they think this can prevent the dream from being fulfilled, as if the angry soul revokes its promise.” 
   In the practice of the First Peoples of Northeast America, as in our contemporary lives, dreams bring us healing by connecting us with the purposes and the energy of soul.

Quotations from Ragueneau's report are from The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents ed. Reuben Gold Thwaites (Cleveland: Burrow Brothers, 1896-1901) volume 33, pages 191-5.

For much more on ondinnonk and the practices inspired by the understanding that dreams may reveal secret wishes of the soul, see my book Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the Secret Wishes of the Soul (Rochester VT: Destiny Books, 2004).

Art: My drawing of the Huron-Mohawk arendiwanen ("woman of power") who called me in dreams and gave me the word ondinnonk and with it a powerful approach to dreaming and healing that helped shape my own teaching and practice.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Lady of Changes

Her face glows in the dark of my bedroom like a yellow moon. The lovely young Chinese woman is studying me intently. She is as near as the foot of my bed. Her eyes are both very dark and very bright, her hair is lustrous black, cut neatly at shoulder length to produce a helmet effect. She is wearing a yellow tunic dress, and I remember that in China yellow is the color of Earth.=
    She communicates her intention: to teach me the real I Ching. As I look in her eyes I see they are like 8-balls, in constant rhythmic motion, displaying the eight trigrams that compose the essence of the Book of Changes, marrying in pairs to make the 64 hexagrams.
     If this is a Lady of Earth, of the receptive power of K'un, where is her consort? I see him now, wearing a robe of deep blue silk, embroidered with what may be bronze dragons. He is a Lord of Sky, and I know he personifies Ch'ien, the Heaven of the Changes. His lower body moves, indistinctly, like that of a great serpent-dragon, its coils turning like a mobius strip. I sense that his lower body interweaves with that of the Lady.
     I recall that according to tradition, the trigrams were invented by the dragon emperor Fu Xi, drawing knowledge from Heaven, and that in certain Taoist temples Fuxi and his consort Nuwa are depicted together. Their upper bodies are human; their lower bodies are those of serpent-dragons, intertwined. Awed by the energy presence of these ancient beings in my space, I am also embarrassed by my faulty memory of the Changes. I try to rehearse the names and forms of the eight trigrams in my mind. The primal pair: Heaven and Earth, Ch'ien and K'un. Fire and Water, Li and Kan. Lake and Mountain, Tui and Ken. Wind and Thunder, Sun and Chen. Do I have that right?
    Not that way. The code of Thunder flares in the Lady's changing eyes. Her fierce intent interrupts my effort to recite the list of the trigrams. Like this. Her eyes change again. I see a green mountain rising in a soft mist. There is a gentle lake at its summit, and around the peak a perfect cloud ring. Lake on the Mountain. I struggle to remember the name and the attributions of the corresponding hexagram. Something to do with lovers, newlyweds, attraction.
     Not like that. She is opening a different way of seeing and reading the code of the Changes. I relax into the embrace of Earth, and soon find myself in a different scene.
     I am on top of a very tall and steep hill, with warriors dressed in skins and armed with bows and spears. There is an intense feeling of being alive up here. The wind is fresh and brisk, lifting my hair, fluttering a loose fringe. We may have a battle to fight, but our spirits are high, our defensive position is very strong, and we can see whatever is coming at us from far away. This hill fort has a commanding view. I can see across great vistas in all directions.
     Access to our hill fort is via a wooden ladder that goes up the hillside for hundreds of feet. It can be pulled up to deny access to strangers. My lieutenant is so agile I doubt that he needs a ladder. Laughing, he sways his body over the edge of the drop until his back is almost horizontal. This defies human physiology. Maybe he has feet that can grip like fists. Respecting my human limitations, I take a step back from the brink, then smile at myself because the body I am using here can do things the body I left in bed can't manage.
     Remembering that my regular body is in a bed in a snowy town in western New York, I recollect my encounter with the Lady who told me she would teach me the real I Ching. Am I inside one of the hexagrams? If so, which one? My guess would be the 20th hexagram, which is called Guan, or Watching. Wind over the Earth.
The wind blows over the earth.
This is the image of Watching.
In this way ancient kings
looked across the four directions
observed the people
and gave them instruction.
     I hang over the precipice, studying the ladder. Despite its great height, it has only six rungs. Now I recall that ascending the Watchtower whose shape is concealed and revealed in the lines of the 20th hexagram is a journey of six steps. Few can manage these six steps in the course of a lifetime. On the first step, we see as an un-wise child; we notice only what relates to our cravings and fears. On the second step. we see like a nervous homebody peering out through a slit in a wall; protected by structure, we see little beyond it. On the third step, we look in a mirror and begin to observe ourselves, and what we have done and not done on our life journeys. On the fourth step, like lookouts, we can see across the land and provide news and warnings for our communities. On the fifth step, we return to self-observation, looking harder and deeper at our true selves. If we make it to the sixth and final step, we can see the whole. We can look at ourselves from a witness perspective. We no longer look from the ego, but from the greater Self.
     Again, I see the changing eyes, with the turning codes, and sense the movement of the dragon coils in their mobius dance. I have read thirty books on I Ching, and made my own guide to the hexagrams, giving personal names to each one and noting incidents that followed a particular reading on a certain date. I once taught a course titled "I Ching for Dreamers" in which we drummed the patterns of broken and unbroken lines, inspired by the most ancient, fragmentary text of the Book of Changes, found in a lacquer hamper in the tomb of a lord at Mawangdui as recently as 1973, where it is written that "the sages drummed the movements of all under Heaven" into the oracle. 
    However, I consider myself a rank amateur in this area, and would not trust my ability to read the Changes until I have internalized the 64 hexagrams and the changing lines without the need to look anything up. In Chinese tradition such mastery requires either a lifetime of training, memorizing and practice, or the direct inspiration of past masters, or both.
    The shining eyes give me Heaven under Earth, the desirable placement since this means the primal pair are coming together. Maybe I can aspire to know a little more of the Changes in the years that remain to me. Maybe, with the Yellow Lady and the Blue Lord as gatekeepers, I will lead others on a journey through the cycles, to climb the ladder of six steps to the Watchtower.


Oracles have their own life, and can call you even when you are not calling on them. I took up the study of I Ching because Einstein met me at a Chinese gate and instructed me that the Chinese oracle is the best working model of the universe that is generally accessible. Months later, on a snowy night in a motel in western New York, the oracle came alive for me. Jung knew something of this. He wrote that “One could even define the I Ching oracle as an experiential dream, just as one can define a dream as an experiment of a four-dimensional nature.” (Letter to the Rev. W.P. Witcutt, August 24, 1960). The Mawangdui text quoted here follows the translation by  Edward L. Shaughnessy, I Ching, The Classic of Changes: The First English Translation of the Newly Discovered Second-Century B.C. Mawangdui Texts (New York: Ballantine, 1997) 203.

Adapted from Mysterious Realities: A Dream Traveler's Tales from the Imaginal Realm by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Image at the top: ancient painting of Nuwa and Fuxi