Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Synchronocity Beast

Shhhh. If you're quiet for a moment, you'll hear him snuffling and padding around the room. Most grown-ups can't hear him or see him because they are too busy. Whatever age you are, you don't want to miss him. When he's around, things happen differently. You can finish something before you started it, which is really cool when it comes to doing chores.
-   He is, of course, the Synchronocity Beast. I shall tell you exactly how he got his name and his shape. There was once a very clever professor in Switzerland who woke up noticing what you and I know but most grown-ups forget: coincidence matters, terribly. But it was very hard for him to explain this to respectable adults in a country of bankers and cuckoo-clocks, so he made up a word that sounded scientific.
    The word was "synchronicity", which he defined as "an acausal connecting principle." He was talking about meaningful coincidence. You and I know that coincidence always means something. It's through coincidence that we discover that the world inside us and the world outside us aren't really separate. It's through coincidence that we discover the secret doors to the world-behind-the-world that open in our dreams but often seem to be bricked over in the daytime, as if they were never there. Through coincidence, we discover that there are players involved in our games of life who live on the other side of the curtain between the worlds, but can reach through that curtain to move a piece on the board, or tickle us, or muss our hair.
-   The Swiss professor got serious people - the sort who would never listen to talk of "coincidence" - to sit through his lectures when he substituted the word "synchronicity." He also go them to listen because he told good stories about how synchronicity worked in his own life, about how a solid cabinet cracked with a loud BANG when he was getting into an argument with his own teacher, or how a fox appeared on a path when he was talking to a lady about a dream of a fox.
-   I have never liked the word "synchronicity" as much as that good old word "coincidence". But alas, "coincidence" has been horribly ad-justed and only-fied by all the people who have long been in the habit of saying, "just coincidence" or "only coincidence". It has even been not-ified by people who insist "it's not coincidence" when they really mean that it is, but it's something real and important and meaningful, and they don't understand (because of the bad talk they've learned) that coincidence is all of those things.
-   So I've been using the word "synchronicity" in my own classes. But in one of those classes, there was a sweet lady artist who could never say it quite right. It always came out "synchron-O-city" with a great big O where an I should be. I thought this was rather cute, and couldn't bear to correct her. So, month after month, following her homeplay assignments, she would bring us tales of synchron-O-city, to our smiling delight.
-   One evening there was a newcomer in the class, a serious person and a stickler for accuracy in everything that can be looked up.
-   "I have another synchron-O-city to tell," said the lady artist, eager to share.
-   "You mean synchon-I-city," said the newcomer. "If you are going to use a big word like that, you should get it right."
-   Crestfallen, the artist tried to correct herself, but faltered.
-   I quickly intervened. "Please don't ever change the way you say that word," I implored the artist. "Every time you say it, I sense a soft snuffly animal - the Synchronocity Beast - coming into the room."
-   I paused. In that moment, I believe we all heard and sensed something like a plush baby rhino, snuffling and snorting. The first peoples of the country where I grew up, Down Under, say that to name something is to bring it into the world. The Synchronocity Beast is now alive and ever so busy in this world.
-   I can prove this because a writer called Maureen reported a most delightful dream in which she is one of a team of counselors helping me to run a camp for children where we supervise sleepover parties and dream together. Padding and snuffling all over the magical house in the woods where we are gathered is a creature she describes as a "baby rhino", soft and cuddly. I don't think Maureen ever heard of the Synchron-O-city Beast from me, at least not in an ordinary way. The Synchron-O-city Beast just went ahead and introduced himself. I hope they are feeding him well in Maureen's dream camp. He thrives on giggles and slips of the tongue. He likes to exercise by shredding the curtain of solemn people's expectations, and butting holes into Outland and Fairyland and other lands big enough to be doorways for anyone with a child's sense of wonder.

Friday, December 21, 2018

A Poem for the Winter Solstice

Eyes of the Goddess

From a journey to Newgrange

The poet waits for me in his countryman’s cape
And shows me the map in the gateway stone:
Twin spirals to get you in, and out, of the place of bone;
Wave paths to swim you from shadow to dreamscape;
A stairway of stars for when you are done with earthing.
I am here to practice the art of rebirthing.

She calls me, into the belly of the land that is She.
But I play, like the poet, with the shapes of time:
I am a swimming swan on the River Boyne;
I am a salmon, full with the knowing of the hazel tree;
I wander with Angus, and know the girl I have visioned
in gold at the throat of a white swan, beating pinions.

Drawn by the old perfume of burned bones, I go down
and doze until solstice fire, bright and bountiful
quickens me for the return of the Lady, lithe and beautiful
In the form she has taken, flowing as liquid bronze.
Her face is veiled, so the man-boy called to her side
like the red deer in season will not die in her eyes.

I see beyond the veil, for I come from the Other.
Oh, I yearn for the smell of earth and the kiss of rain!
I leap with her on the hallowed bed, coming again.
She knows the deer-king, as I am child and lover
Her eyes are spiral paths; the gyre of creation whirls
And sends me in green beauty to marry the worlds.

This poem is included in my collection Here, Everything Is Dreaming: Poems and Stories. Published by Excelsior Editions/SUNY Press.

Photos: (above) Newgrange at the winter solstice; (below) kerbstone at Newgrange

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Consecutive dreams and Mr H.G.Wells

I re-read H.G. Wells’ tremendous and terrifying short story, “A Dream of Armageddon”. A white faced stranger on a train – a solicitor from Liverpool – strikes up a conversation with the narrator when he notices that he has a book about dreams. Does he know about “consecutive dreams”? The narrator allows he may have read something about this phenomenon involving mental cases. The stranger says that the dream experts don’t know what they are talking about. He has lived and died many years into the future, and he knows this because of consecutive dreams more real than his current life.
    He begins his story with a scene of looking at the shoulder of a beautiful woman, and over her shoulder, at a beautiful view of Capri from a loggia. The white-faced man has never been to Capri in his current life, but his interlocutor has, and is amazed by the accuracy and vividness of its landscapes, of Mount Solano, of Faraglioni….
    Scene by scene, we follow the life drama of a powerful man who left government in the “north” to live with his lover on Capri. He is now being urged to go back, because a dangerous demagogue has replaced him and could start a world war. To return, he would have to give up his mistress and he refuses to do this even when she begs him to follow duty and save the wold from war. We see the first warplanes (not yet flying in Wells’ time) over the pleasure island. Eventually we see the couple flee Capri and seek safety on the peninsula. They die at the ruined temples at Paestum (and again the narrator confirms the description of a man who hasn’t been there in his present life).
    The story, written before Kitty Hawk and World War I, has been admired for its vision of coming technology and man-made catastrophe. It’s also an extraordinary depiction of how in dreams we may inhabit a second life – in this case an unwanted one, in a different body in a different time, in the future rather than the past.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The path of blue lotus petals

We don’t need to wait for death to remember what the soul knows: how and why we came into our present bodies, and where we will go when we leave them. Dreaming, we remember. We dream, perhaps, of death as a wedding, a cause for celebration as we move towards union with the beloved of the soul. Dreaming, I remember a funeral that preceded birth.

I hear the high, keening voices of the mourners achingly beautiful. I have never heard music so lovely on Earth; I have heard its melancholy matched only in a fado café on an old cobbled street in Lisbon. As I hear the voices, I see again the path of blue lotus petals. I suffer again the knife of regret as I share the last passionate embraces of those I must leave behind. I feel naked and cold when my garment is gently removed from me, leaving me skinless and fluid, glowing softly like a wandering light over the waveless sea. I look back and see a lion robe, lined with a sky full of stars.
    I pass before the High Ones, on their high thrones. They approve the choice I have made, and its price. They counsel me with sweet sternness not to drink too deep from the cup of forgetfulness on this side or the other. They bring forth the envoy who will track me, and will speak to me in my dreams, to help me not to lose my memory and purpose in the miasma of the Earth plane.
    She escorts me to the Pivot of the Worlds. I enter the portal and descend, quick as thought, to a place on Luna I have used many times before. The Moon priest greets me with his archaic smile, unreadable in that pale, moon-round face. There are armed guards everywhere, with the heads of jackals and the muscled bodies of armored baboons. It seems conditions have deteriorated since my last visit. Luna has always been a mixed environment, a place of illusion and swirling cross-currents. It has now become an active theater in the contest between rival forces contending for the soul of the Earth.
    The Moon priest helps me into my body suit. Part of me recoils from this limiting, this confinement to such a primitive form, with only one organ of generation. Yet this body suit is flexible and moves with my thoughts. If I want to be a lion, it will take lion form. If I want to sprout wings or extra limbs or suckers, it can do that. It pulls back into its default mode – that of a biped that cannot eat and talk safely at the same time – when my attention wavers. But this confinement is nothing to what it will be to take on a body of flesh and bones in the world below.
    I relax for a while in the pool on the high terrace. I look up at the blue-white star, high above in the sky. It is eons since the experiment on Earth began, and it is constantly imperiled. We keep coming, because we helped to begin the game and must play until the final round.
    I wonder how much of this I will be able to remember this time, in an Earth body. I swim down to the bottom of the pool. The water streams faster and faster, sucking me into a funnel. I am on my way.

This is a case of what Joan Grant called "far memory" of another life, and a space between earthly lives. Experiences of this kind  have made me understand that. I am in an afterlife situation - a bardo of becoming -right now. I died to another world in order to come here. At a certain point I will die to this world in order to be born into another. Such things are too important to take on trust, from some hand-me-down belief system or even the reports of previous soul travelers. We need first-hand experience and far memory of other lives, the kind that enables us, on clear days, to appreciate the divine comedy of it all. 

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

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Flying to Nut

The Egyptian Book of the Dead is full of spells for becoming a bird - a swallow, a falcon, a heron, or the benu bird the Greeks identified as a phoenix, the bird that is reborn from the ashes of its own funeral pyre. Sprouting wings was clearly one of the preferred Egyptian ways of entering the Otherworld and embarking upon a happy afterlife. The ba soul is usually winged; it is depicted in many inscriptions as a human-headed bird coming or going from the body of the soul traveler.

I come to you O Nut
I come to you O Nut
My wings have grown into those of a falcon
My two plumes are those of a sacred falcon

My ba-soul has brought me
and its magic words have equipped me

- PYRAMID TEXT OF UNAS, Utterance 245

In the same passage in the Pyramid Text of Unas, when the star traveler calls to the sky goddess Nut that he is ascending to her on falcon wings, leaving the realm of Osiris below and behind, the goddess gives him the following welcome:

May you split open a place for yourself in the sky
among the stars of the sky
for you are a star...
Look down upon Osiris

when he gives orders to the spirits.
You stand far above him

You are not among them
and you shall not be among them.

A true pharaoh ascended to the realm of the gods in such ways not only to rehearse for death, but to marry the worlds and return to the body with superabundant energy and insight. Initiates made the journey of ascent to enter the realm of the Akhet - the shining ones - and to be made "shining" (akh) in transformed energy bodies.
    The transformations recorded in the pyramid texts reflect a passage through several levels of reality, requiring movement beyond several successive energy bodies and the putting-on of a celestial body. Like the shamanic journeyers who find that they are required to give up human or animal form to transcend the astral plane, the royal traveler becomes lightning. In the Unas text, "a blinding light...a flame moving before the wind to the end of the sky and the end of the earth."

Image: Nut on the lid of the sarcophagus of an Egyptian noble lady, Tararo. Necropolis of Thebes, 740-700 B.C. In the Museo delle Antichità Egizie, Turin.

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

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."