Thursday, April 30, 2020

Dreaming with the departed

Many people in our society are hungry for confirmation that communication with the departed is not “weird” or “unnatural”, let alone impossible, and that it is possible to extend love and forgiveness and healing across the apparent barrier of death. We encounter our departed, especially in dreams, because they are still around (sometimes because they have unfinished business or are not actually aware they are dead); or because they come visiting; or because we travel, in dreams or visions, into astral realms where the departed are entirely at home.
    It’s not just that we dream of the dead; our departed are dreaming of us, and trying to reach us through dreams. Sometimes our departed return as counselors or “family angels”, as my father returned to me, many times, in the year after his death in Australia in 1987, with loving messages and practical guidance for the family. Sometimes our departed need us to play guides, because they are confused or stuck between the worlds, clinging to old appetites and attachments – which can be extremely unhealthy for the living, who may pick up the feelings and addictions and even the past physical symptoms of the dead.
    One of the cruelest things that mainstream Western culture has done is to suggest that communication with the departed is either impossible or unnatural.  There is nothing spooky or “supernatural” involved, though these experiences take us into realms beyond physical reality. It is especially easy to meet our departed in dreams for three reasons:                                                                                                                                 
Our Departed are Still With Us

Quite frequently dreams reveal that the departed are present because, quite simply, they never left. The departed may linger because they have unfinished business, or wish to act as guide and protector to the family, or are attached to people and places they loved in waking life, and this may be a perfectly happy situation for a year or two.
    But there comes a time when our departed need to move on, for their own growth, and so they do not become a psychic burden to the living. After death, we continue to be driven by our ruling interests, appetites and addictions. Some of those who have died but not truly “passed on” continue to try to feed their cravings via the living.  When the departed remain earthbound, the effects are unhealthy both for those who have died and those among the living to whom they are connected. 
    When the dead are enmeshed with the living, the result is mutual confusion, loss of energy, and the transfer of addictions, obsessions and even physical ailments from the departed to the person whose energy field he or she is sharing.
    Helping the departed may involve a loving dialogue, a simple ritual of honoring and farewell, and invoking spiritual helpers. As we become active dreamers, familiar with the geography of the afterlife, we may find we are called on to provide personal escort services and help to instruct some of our departed on their options on the other side. William Butler Yeats noted, with a poet’s insight, that “the living can assist the imaginations of the dead”.

Our Departed Come Calling

Most people who remember dreams can recall one in which someone on the other side made a phone call, sent a letter, or simply turned up at the door or the bedside. Our departed return to us in dreams for all the reasons they might have called on us in physical life – including the simple desire to tell us how they are doing and see how we are coping - and for larger reasons: to bring emotional healing, to bring us helpful information, to instruct us on life beyond death and the reality of worlds beyond the physical.
    Our departed may come visiting to offer or receive forgiveness. They may come to show us how they are doing on the other side.
    Our deceased friends and loved ones may appear in our dreams because they are trying to understand the fuller story of the life they have left. Yeats, with poetic clarity, called this stage in the afterlife transitions the "Dreaming Back."
    Our departed can be excellent psychic advisers when they achieve clarity on the other side and are aware that they are not confined to the rules of space and time.    Our departed may come as health advisers and family counselors.   They may visit us in dreams to help us prepare for our own deaths and reassure us that we have friends on the other side. 

In dreams, we travel to realms of the departed 

In our dreams, we are released from the laws of physical reality, and travel into other dimensions, including environments where the departed may be living. Through dreams of this kind, we can begin to develop a personal geography of the afterlife, which will be vastly enriched when we learn the art of conscious dream travel.
    In my workshops,  I often invite participants to focus on a dream or memory of a departed person and make it their intention to journey – with the help of shamanic drumming – to seek timely and helpful communication with that person and to learn about the environment where that person is now living.

Such visits and visitations have been a primary source, across the ages, for the widespread belief that consciousness survives the death of the physical body. This is too important a subject for us to rely on hand-me-down knowledge or blind faith. We want first-hand experience, and this is most readily available through dreaming. We will find that the realms of the departed may be no more distant from us than the thickness of our eyelids.

For much more on this subject please see The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books.

photo (c) Robert Moss

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Egyptian Gates to the Afterlife: Flying to the Sky Goddess

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 the 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 on a happy afterlife. The ba soul is already 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 Pyramid Text of Unas, the star traveler calls to the sky goddess that he is ascending to her on falcon wings, leaving the realm of Osiris below and behind. Nut, the great goddess , mother of Isis and Osiris, Set and Nephthys, is depicted as a naked woman or a heavenly cow whose body is filled with the starry sky. When the soul voyager calls to her, she gives him the following welcome:

May you split open a place for yourself
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 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."

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

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Double on the Balcony

Higher Self, Greater Self., Oversoul. Divine Double, religious scholar Charles Stang calls the Self above the regular self, the one that is not even partially confined to a physical body. These are very big words. I want something smaller and more colloquial for a personality I have come to know rather well. There may be many levels to the Higher Self, ten that I know, others beyond counting. He lives on a level just above the level I am on.
    When I set out to meet him, I follow the road of dreams to a terrace above the world. Sometimes it is the rooftop of a tall building, twenty stories up, or more. Often the terrace has the air of a civilized cafĂ©, operating just for us. I find him seated at a table, perhaps with a glass of wine the color of moonlight. He is usually impeccably dressed, in a perfectly tailored white suit or a dinner jacket. Occasionally I have the impression that he has a female companion; once she seemed to be an opera singer. But she is never part of our conversation.
    He is impossibly beautiful. He looks like a man in the prime of life, maybe thirty years old, yet carrying the knowledge of millennia. He does not judge me. He is my witness. He knows all of my life. It is as open to him as the contents of a doll house when you remove the back and the roof. More than this, he remembers my other lives.
    I should say, rather, our other lives. Something I have remembered, through our conversations, is that we have a twining relationship across time. When I am in the body, in a life on Earth, he is up here, on his balcony above the world. He still enjoys pleasures and creature comforts, but he is not enmeshed in the confusion and clutter of the physical world. He can sample delights that we associate with a physical body without being confined to one. The babalawo in me, the African diviner he calls my witchdoctor, says it has always been like this. While one of us is down in the marketplace of the world, the other observes as a “double in heaven”.
     I like that phrase, but his is a near heaven, rather than a remote one. So how shall I describe him? I could call him my Free Self. He is not bound by the conditions of physical life.  I also think of him as my Double on the Balcony. From his terrace, he can see the big picture. When I join him up there, I can see the crossroads and forking paths of my life from an aerial perspective.
    He shows me some navigational challenges that lie ahead. There’s a spaghetti junction with whirling stands of traffic going off in all direction like an exploding bowl of pasta. It’s dizzying to look at. Inspecting this with his mildly humorous detachment, I see the scene lift to reveal a manageable locale, the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Now I can survey, one by one, the possible roads I can take from that place of decision. He reminds me that when life on the ground poses difficult choices – when I run into blockages or risk making a turn without reflecting on where that direction will take me – I should come up here, look at things from the higher perspective, and freeze the action while I observe myself traveling more than one of the possible roads in order to clarify and compare the probable outcomes.
    From such encounters comes daily practice, one I can share with others. I picture myself in the thick of a situation where I am facing a choice or conflict or dilemma. I see myself pausing from acting or worrying, placing myself in a quiet mental space whatever is going on around me. I feel light coming down around me, until I am within a column or pillar of light. This brings the sense of blessing and protection. I sense benign energies and intelligence reaching down to me within the pillar of light. Then there is the sense of traction, of being carried up within the pillar. I could be carried up many levels, as if on an elevator. But it is sufficient, for everyday navigation, to go up just one level, to that terrace above the world.
     Here I find again the Free Self. From his table, I can see a relief map of my life, and of other lives and situations that will concern me. When the traffic patterns are hard to read, I can have everything slow down or stop so I can study it at my leisure.
I wrote a poem in honor of my long relationship with my Free Self:

The Double on the Balcony

You are not my shadow.
You stand closer to the sun.
Of all my doubles, you are the most interesting.
You are watching when I forget you.
You are with me when I don’t notice.
You are not my judge, or my guardian angel.
You are the one who remembers.
You are my witness on the balcony above the world.

My friend the witchdoctor calls you
My “double in heaven”. You smile at this,
Reminding me the African lives are mine, not yours.
You saw all of it, from your balcony,
But did not drink the blood or savage joy.
It’s the other way round in other lives, you say:
From life to life, we change places.
When you come down to Earth
I take your seat on the terrace above.

We are together now, for a moment.
I’ve slipped out of the body
That neither confines nor delights you
To join you on your balcony above the world.
The wine in the cup is the color of moonlight.
Below us are all the roads of the world,
The casts and dramas of the many lives
Laid out in dioramas, as manageable from here
As toy soldier sets, or tea-party dolls.

You chide me gently (since humans are forgetful animals)
For forgetting you. I have been a serial amnesiac,
Losing bright nights when we roamed together,
And an ingrate – not seeing your hand in everyday miracles,
Not hearing your voice in the still sure moments of knowing,
Not feeling the breeze of your wing when you come,
In reluctant extremity, to restrain or release me.

When my road was blocked, you were the one
Who reminded me we can fly.
You love to travel in disguise
And I often missed you behind your masks.
When I mislaid my sense of humor
You burst in as a stand-up comic
And shocked me alive with belly-bawdy farce.
It’s easy for you to bring light, and lighten things up:
You stand closer to the sun.

RM journal drawing: "My Radiant Double as a Guide through Death". From a dream.

My poem "The Double on the Balcony"is in my collection Here, Everything Is Dreaming: Poems and Stories. Published by Excelsior Editions/State University of New York Press.

Photo: "Big Sur balcony" by RM

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Want dreams? Go bananas!

When I am asked, “What can I take to improve my dream recall?”, I sometimes respond, “Eat more bananas!”
I am no expert on dietary supplements, and when I first came up with this suggestion, I was making a joke. My humor was inspired by an appearance on Connecticut Public Radio in which I shared the hour with a report on bananas (no kidding).
I was intrigued when a somewhat earnest man who took my banana Rx very seriously reported back that it had worked perfectly. He ate a banana around bedtime and remembered his dreams for the first time in months; the dreams were vivid and rather steamy. I took this as evidence of the power of suggestion, but was encouraged to offer the banana Rx to others demanding a quick fix for a dream drought. Not all of them reported an immediate flood of dreams, but some did.
I reviewed some recent articles on the possible benefits of vitamin B-6 in enhancing dream recall and/or the vividness of dreams. They have me wondering whether my humorous improv may actually have been pointing in the right direction. Bananas are a good source of B-6, a member of the B vitamin family also known as pyrodoxine. There has been a theory in circulation for more than a decade that vitamin B-6 converts the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, which helps the brain to “wake up” during REM sleep, contributing to more colorful and lively dream imagery.
The study often cited to support this theory is old and unsatisfactory because of the small size of the survey group. It was conducted in 2002 and involved just 12 college students. Four of them were dosed with 100 mg of B-6, four with a higher dose of 25o mg and four were given a placebo, prior to bedtime for a period of five consecutive days. The test was then repeated twice, with two-day breaks for “wash out”. Those who were given the higher dosage reported the most vivid and detailed dreams, some rated high for “emotionality” and “bizarreness” over the first three days of each treatment. The tentative conclusion of the study was that  vitamin B-6 may affect dreaming  “by increasing cortical arousal during periods of rapid eve movement (REM) sleep”.
The Mayo Clinic lists “dream recall” and “sleep enhancement'” as possible uses for vitamin B-6, but cautions that these are “uses based on tradition or theory” rather than hard scientific evidence.
So here is my modest proposal for fresh oneiric research. If your dream life has been dull and listless, or you’ve been waking without dream recall for some time, try eating one more banana a day, preferably in the evening, over a five-day period, and see what happens.

I was inspired to repost this blog by a friend who reported that, using instacart for the first time during our current lockdown, she ordered eight bananas - and got eight bunches.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Dream symbols: Facing a monster wave

You are facing a killer wave, rushing at you like a moving mountain of water. You are fleeing from it, but you can't escape and it crashes over you, pushing the air from your lungs and you surface from sleep terrified and gasping for breath.

This is a rather widespread experience in sleep dreams. I've heard versions of it from hundreds of dreamers. What's going on here?

You could be dreaming of something that will blow up in your life with the emotional force of a rogue wave, even a tsunami. The dream may be a prompt to look at the kind of situations in your regular like that threaten to overwhelm you, and how you can better cope when those situations arise. This may lead you to shape a survival strategy that is simple as this: 

- Remember to breathe
Let the storm wash over you
- Put yourself in a protective bubble

Then again, your dream of a killer wave could also be a psychic preview of a natural disaster. Many people shared dreams with me in advance of Hurricane Katrina and the terrible Asian Tsunami of December 2004 that appear to have been rather exact precognition of coming calamities. There is nothing strange about such premonitions. We are connected to all life on the planet, and mass events cast a shadow before them in the collective mind. Let's notice that a dream of a tsunami - or any other natural disaster - may be both personal and transpersonal. It may symbolize overwhelming stress or emotional drama in your life and also contain a vision or preview of an external event.

My research into the evolution of J.R.R. Tolkien's mythic imagination has led me to think about another possible context of understanding for dreams of a giant wave. The author of The Lord of the Rings was haunted by a recurring dream that first came upon him in early childhood, of a great wave that overwhelms a whole country and hurls its people and cities into a rift in the earth. In a letter written near the end of his life, Tolkien say this about the "ineluctable Wave" that came upon his again and again:

I had the dreadful dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quiet sea, or coming towering in over the green inlands. It still occurs occasionally, though now exorcised by writing about it. It always ends by surrender, and I awake gasping out of deep water

Tolkien became convinced that his dream of the Wave (note his upper case) came out of "ancestral memory" of the fall of Atlantis. By his own account, he only escaped the recurring terror of the Wave when he attributed his dream too Faramir (the character in The Lord of the Rings he said was most like him, "except for the courage") in The Return of the King. Tolkien did not see the dream of the Wave as symbolic. He thought it was a vision across time of the actual cataclysmic event, one he was called to remember and chronicle.

We are not condemned to go on being drowned or overwhelmed, in our dreams or in our lives. A dreamer with whom I have worked reported a very happy evolution in her initially terrifying dreams of a monster wave after she began to practice our Active Dreaming techniques, which include going back inside a scary dream - wide awake and conscious - and seeking to confront and resolve the fear on its own ground, which in this case is the flooded beach or the seabed. 

When she agreed to go back into a dream of being drowned by a killer wave, she found that she was able to imagine herself inside the protection of a glass bubble. As the wave crashed over her, her heart pounded but she was able to breathe. She stayed in this scene until the wave receded. Later, in a spontaneous night dream, she discovered - to her amazement and joy - that her dream self could actually catch the wave, and ride it. She carried the happy energy and poise from this dream into waking life situations that had previously overwhelmed her with a sea of emotion.

Even if we feel we can't change the dream of the monster wave, we can learn from Tolkien to borrow its raw energy and apply it to creative work. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that with out his terrifying dreams of the "ineluctable Wave", Tolkien might not have been driven to give the world his greatest work. 

Graphic: "The Fall of Numenor" by Darrell Sweet

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Dream School of Anubis

Those who write from true imagination can take us where historical data cannot, into the Magic Library. Among the most intriguing – and to my mind, the most reliable - published sources on the Egyptian way of dreaming are three books that have all been classified as fiction. Two are ancient works; the third is a novel that was very popular in the 1930s but is waiting to be rediscovered by a new generation.
    Apuleius (who was almost certainly a Mystery initiate) chose the mask of a comic novel for The Golden Ass, or the Transformations of Lucius, in which Isis speaks directly to humans in dreams, travelers encounter each other in the dreamspace and dreamers are coached for future events before they manifest.
     In another ancient tale, The Romance of Alexander the Great, pseudo-Callisthenes describes the practice of a sorcerer-king of late Egypt, Nectanebo, who fights battles long-distance and visits others in dreams (not always, alas, for the most evolved purposes).
     Joan Grant’s book Winged Pharaoh (first published in 1938) takes us into the possible reality of the First Dynasty and the dream training of a king’s daughter who becomes co-ruler of Egypt. As she explains in a memoir (Far Memory), the book came to Joan through “far memory” of a possible past life. After a short visit to Egypt, she was shown a collection of Egyptian scarabs in London. When she took the oldest in her hand, she saw vivid scenes of the time and place from which it had come, and then began talking as Sekeeta, the dreaming princess of her story.
    We are dealing here with a visionary narrative that transcends the categories of fiction and nonfiction. The best word to describe it is the Greek term mythistorema, which could be translated as “mythic history” but which I would prefer to render as mythistory – in other words, a true history of something that may or may not have happened but always is.
     The most fascinating element in Joan Grant’s mythistory is the description of a dream school that operates within the temple of Anubis. When she is a small child, Sekeeta’s mother gives her a tiny statue of Anubis – represented as a black hunting dog – and a little painted house for it to live in, and tells her that Anubis is the bringer of dreams to small children.
     When she is a few years older, Sekeeta meets her dream teacher Ney-sey-ra, the priest of Anubis. Her training begins in the dreamspace, when he shows her an open lotus flower and tells her that just as the lotus opens its petals to the sun, she must learn to open the gateway of soul memory to reflect the light. When the scene is played out in waking life the next day, she recalls her dream, which is confirmation to both that she is ready to begin her training.
     She learns to go scouting in dreams to find lost objects, look into the future, observe things happening at a distance, and discover what is going on behind the scenes. Suspicious of a foreign ruler who is visiting the court, she embarks on a dream journey to his country – flying to her target like a bird – and brings back a very detailed and disturbing report that she shares with Pharaoh, her father.
    At the age of twelve, she becomes a full-time student at the dream school, taking up residence in the temple of Anubis. She sleeps on a bed with Anubis heads carved at head and foot. Beside the bed she keeps a wax tablet, and her first task each morning is to record her dreams. Every morning she goes to the priest of Anubis and tells him what she has recorded. Some days she must also carry out assignments he gave her inside a dream – for example to bring him a certain flower, or bird feather, or colored bead. Through practice her memory is trained and sharpened.
    After three years, she undergoes advanced training. On the night of each full moon, she sleeps in total darkness in a room that has been psychically shielded. She undertakes many assignments, visiting distant places and bringing guidance and healing to people on both sides of death. She recounts her dream travelogues to her teacher and he confirms her experiences, adding further details and sometimes suggesting follow-up missions. When she finds herself blocked by a monstrous crocodile, for example, her teacher tells her that this thing was “a creation of the evil one” designed to scare her back into her body and sabotage her work. Next time she must go on, and if the adversary is too strong, she must call to the priest for help.
     Frequently, in her dream travels, she encounters people who have died and are confused about there condition. She meets a man who had been murdered in a wine-shop in Crete, and refused to believe he was dead. Her teacher encourages her to go to the dead man again, gently help to awaken him to his condition, and guide him in the right direction on the paths of the afterlife.
Anubis as psychopomp, on a shroud in the Louvre
     At this point we come fully alive to the intimate connection between dreaming and dying well, and the reason why Anubis is such an appropriate patron of dream travel. As every school child knows, Anubis – most often portrayed as a human figure with the head of a jackal or black dog – is a guardian of the Otherworld, who watches over tombs and mummies and guides souls of the departed to the Hall of Osiris. But Anubis’ significance goes much deeper. As psychopomp, or guide of souls, he is the patron of journeys beyond the body (which is why he is invoked to guard those who have left their bodies under trauma or anesthesia) and everyone journeys beyond the body in death and dreaming, with or without instruction.
     As Sekeeta’s training in the dream school deepens, she takes on more and more work as a psychopomp. One of the most movingly realized scenes in the book is one in which Sekeeta helps a grieving widow who has been crushed by the drowning deaths of her husband and son. Sekeeta advises the woman that she can meet her loved ones in dreams. The woman insists that she does not dream. (How often have we heard this from people we know?) Sekeeta gently insists that, nonetheless, she would like the woman to be open to a dream experience with her loved ones.
     That night, Sekeeta goes out – as a conscious dream traveler – to reintroduce the grieving woman to her husband and son. She enters the woman’s dream space, and finds herself sobbing over the dead bodies of her loved ones, frozen in a past scene of trauma. With the power of her focused intention, Sekeeta bathes the widow in light and lifts the “cloak of grayness” that is preventing her from seeing her husband and son as they now are. There is a loving reunion, and Sekeeta skillfully guides them to a beautiful park-like setting where they can share happy times together.
     This episode is a wonderful glimpse of what compassionate psychopomp work is all about. It seems entirely plausible to me that advanced spirits in ancient Egypt did it this way. I know that gifted dreamers are doing the work in very similar ways today, because many have shared comparable experiences with me during training in our contemporary dream school.     As entertainment, Winged Pharaoh is wonderful fun. But when you read it as an active dreamer, you’ll find that it suggests a whole curriculum of study. The exercises Sekeeta’s dream teacher gives her are ones you can practice with a partner. 

For more on dreaming like an Egyptian, please see The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Anubis mask, late period. Roemer-Pelizaeus Museum, Hildesheim

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Risen God, Goddess Rising

Today I give thanks for the risen god
The one whose blood became poppies
The one torn apart by the boar
The one who hung himself in the world tree
   sacrificing himself to himself
The one dismembered by his women
    in the ecstasy of their love
The wild bull called to the goddess
    who faces his killer in the arena
The ones who die when the seed corn
     goes into Earth, to sprout again
The deer king who is willing sacrifice
The one whose dark twin boxed him in
     and scattered his parts
     and rose under beating wings
The beautiful shepherd sent down
     to the Underworld by his consort
     to learn all that women endure    
The one who rose from the dark cave
     in a shining body but still wears
     a crown of thorns because of all
    the wrongs that are done in his name

Today I give thanks for the goddess rising
The one who chose to go down
    to the Great Below to meet her dark sister
The one who was ripped from the daylight world
    to bring treasures out of darkness as
    Queen of the Underworld and of herself
The one who fell through a hole
    in the Earth in the Sky and danced
    a new world into being on turtle’s back
The one who is always three
    maiden, mother, crone
    endlessly recreating herself
The ones who raise their lovers as sons
   and heal the wounded warrior in man
The one who raises the dead to give birth
    to the golden child
The Great Mother of a thousand faces
   whose bounty streams like milk
The Lady of Beasts
The deep mind of Earth
The bright intelligence of stars
The Divine Feminine we need
    to repair our world
    and redeem our kind

I give thanks for the power to die
    and come back on any day,
    Especially on this day.

- Easter Sunday 2020

Drawings by Robert Moss

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Why you want to keep a journal

When a lusty, ambitious young Scot named James Boswell first met Dr. Samuel Johnson, Johnson advised him to keep a journal of his life. Boswell responded that he was already journaling, recording "all sorts of little incidents." Dr Johnson said, "Sir, there is nothing too little for so little a creature as man."

Indeed, there is nothing too little, or too great, for inclusion in a journal. If you are not already keeping one, I entreat you to start today. Write whatever is passing through your mind, or whatever catches your eye in the passing scene around you. If you remember your dreams, start with them. If you don't recall your dreams, start with whatever thoughts and feelings are first with you as you enter the day, or that interval between two sleeps the French used to call dorveille ("sleep-wake"), a liminal space when creative ideas often stream through.

If you have any hopes of becoming a writer, you'll find that journaling is your daily workout that keeps your writing muscles limber. If you are already a writer, you may find that as you set things down just as they come, with no concern for editors, critics or consequences, you are releasing descriptive scenes, narrative solutions, characters - even entire first drafts - quite effortlessly. Some of the most productive writers have also been prodigious journal-keepers. 

Graham Greene started recording dreams when he was sixteen, after a breakdown in school. His journals from the last quarter-century of his life survive, in the all-but-unbreakable code of his difficult handwriting. First and last, he recorded his dreams, and - as I describe in detail in my Secret History of Dreaming, they gave him plot solutions, character development, insights into the nature of reality that he attributed to some of his characters, and sometimes bridge scenes that could be troweled directly into a narrative. Best of all, journaling kept him going, enabling him to crank out his daily pages for publication no matter how many gins or how much cloak-and-dagger or illicit amour he had indulged in the night before.

You don't have to be a writer to be a journaler, but journal-keeping will make you a writer anyway. In the pages of your journal, you will meet yourself, in all your aspects. As you keep a journal over the years, you'll notice the rhymes and loops or cycles in your life. Mircea Eliade, the great Romanian-born historian of religions, was a great journaler. In the last volume of his published journals, he reflects, during a visit to Amsterdam in 1974, on how a bitter setback to his hopes at the time he first visited that city nearly a quarter-century before had driven him to do his most enduring work.

He had been hoping that his early autobiographical novel, published in English as
 Bengal Nights, would be a big commercial success, enabling him to live as a full-time novelist. Sales were disappointing. Had it been otherwise, "I would have devoted almost all my time to literature and relegated the history of religions to second place, even though Shamanism was at the time almost entirely drafted." The world would have gained a promising, and perhaps eventually first-class, novelist; but we might have lost the scholar who first made the study of shamanism academically respectable and proceeded to breathe vibrant life, as well as immense erudition, into the cross-cultural study of the human interaction with the sacred.

Synesius of Cyrene, a heterodox bishop in North Africa around 400, counseled in a wonderful essay On Dreams that we should keep twin journals: a journal of the night and a journal of the day. In the night journal, we would record dreams as the products of a "personal oracle" and a direct line to the God we can talk to. In the day journal, we would track the signs and correspondences  through which the world around us is constantly speaking in a symbolic code. "All things are signs appearing through all things. They are brothers in a single living creature, the cosmos." The sage is one who "understands the relationship of the parts of the universe" - and we deepen and focus that understanding by recording signs in our day journal.

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 (as difficult as Greene's) becomes illegible and put the printouts in big ringback binders. I save each entry with a date and a title in my data files, so I automatically have a running index and (with Word) a search engine. I like to draw pictures from my dreams and some of these go in separate art journals.

One of the things you'll come to see clearly, as you journal dreams over a considerable period of time, is that your dream self travels ahead of your waking self, scouting the ways. You'll find you are creating a personal dictionary of symbols, far superior to any of that hand-me-down stuff you'll find in dream dictionaries in stores, because the snake in your dreams is not necessarily the snake in my dreams. You'll have starter dough for creative writing and art and a wish list for shamanic shopping.

Share what you wish to share with those who are primed to hear and give you feedback in a respectful, non-intrusive way, following the "If it were my dream" protocol but keep the journal strictly private. This is your secret book. What you write in it is between you and your soul, and you write without fear of judgment or consequences. Go back to old entries and see what is looking at you now, as dreams spill into everyday life.

Continue and deepen your practice for long enough, and you may come to feel -as Eliade did -that your journal is the most important book you will ever write, and one of the most important you will ever read.

For practical guidance on keeping a journal, and many games to play with it, please see  my book Active Dreaming.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The afterdeath journal of an American philosopher

The Afterlife Journal of an American Philosopher is  Jane Roberts’ version of the afterlife reflections of the great American philosopher and pioneer of psychology William James. Jane Roberts, an excellent writer and thinker in her own right, became famous for channeling the "interdimensional teacher" known as Seth. Seth was unknown to the public before Jane started publishing the Seth material but was quickly recognized as an extraordinary guide to the multidimensional self and to dreaming as the best way to explore the multiverse and practice reality creation.
    Here we find Jane in contact with a mind that influenced many in this world before it left the body. Like other luminaries of the Society for psychical Research, William James was keenly interested in assembling scientific evidence of the survival of consciousness after physical death. Like his British associates F.W.H. Myers and W.T. Stead, he let it be known that after he took up residence on the Other Side. he would seek to report back, via sensitives, on what he had discovered. What better scientific data on survival could there be than first-hand reports from the afterlife from towering and trustworthy intellects like his own?
    I have deep appreciation for what came through from Stead (The Blue Island) and Myers (The Road to Immortality).  The Afterlife Journal of an American Philosopher has less geography and fewer road maps. It was transcribed  69 years after the death of the supposed communicator in 1910. However, it is a wonderfully plausible account of a desirable afterlife environment, especially interesting on what persuades the dead to take a lively interest in the living.
     Can we believe that the voice is really that of William James? We are told, “I am the William James that I was but I am no longer William James in the same way that he adult is not the child.” He says he is more “lively” now than he was in life, when he was prone to deep depression.
     His role has changed. He is no longer an investigator of psychic phenomena but an ideal case study for later investigators. “I have turned from being an investigator of ‘strange sources’ into a perfect instance of the kind of phenomena that in life I would have tracked down.” 
     Looking back over the life he left behind, he says that had he known what he now knows: “I would have sought more ambitiously for proof of the soul’s existence in life rather than seeking for evidence of its afterdeath existence through communications from the dead. The soul’s abilities in life, clearly defined , would in life show themselves to be independent of the body’s physical confinements. Therefore I would have looked even more vigorously for accelerations and extensions of the creative abilities as they appear in telepathy, clairvoyance, healings and out of body travel, and I would have examined those characteristics of mind (or soul) that display mind’s control of matter” 
    He tries to describe how the mind generates the reality we inhabit often without recognizing what is going on. “The private cast of consciousness works upon the objective world landscape by giving it its final, private, definite form; as if before the individual perceives objects, here is instead a field of pliable, malleable, pseudoshapes. The perceptions themselves bring these into focus and form…The processes are so smooth and automatic, so beautifully executed, that man rarely catches himself in the act of this multiple creativity, as the mind forms the world pattern of objects and events.”
    Active dreamers will be encouraged by the suggestion that dreams may be test patterns, rehearsals for physical events that will follow. “Dream images and imaginative acts prepare the way for physical ones, impressing large areas in general preshapes which are later ‘filled in’. It is as if the mind makes preliminary test patterns that are projections in space-time, but in a ghostly fashion. These dream images, however, are laid upon initial fields of probabilities which are characteristic of the physical medium itself.”
    One thing the philosopher reporting from the afterlife can confirm for sure: "lifelines begin before birth and continue after it."

For more on the adventures of the great Victorian "ghost hunters" before and after death, please see The Dreamer's Book of the Dead.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

What makes me dive in headfirst, and other words for dream

If you want to know more about what dreams can be, consider what the words for “dream” mean in different languages. You’ll find clues here to what dreaming meant to our ancestors, before we lost respect for dreamers and contact with the Dreaming..
      How about these:

- a dream is “a journey of the soul” (adekato) for a dreaming people of Venezuela, the Makiritare.

- a dream is a “zephyr”, a gentle breeze slipping through the keyhole, or the crack between the door and the lintel, to breathe in your ear, in ancient Assyria

- a dream is an “awakening” (rswt) in ancient Egypt

- a dream is also a spirit messenger (oneiros) that travels from the Commonwealth of Dreams (Demos Oneiron) in archaic Greece.

     In good Old English, a dream is “merriment” and “revelry” of the kind you might encounter from downing too many goblets in a mead-hall. But by Chaucer’s time, the same word, with a different, Northern derivation, can also imply an encounter with the dead. As in Northern Europe (German Traum, Dutch droom etc) the word “dream” we have inherited is linked to the Old Germanic Draugr, which means a visitation from the dead.
     As explained by the great Tuscarora ethnographer J.N.B.Hewitt, the old Iroquoian word katera’swas means “I dream” but implies much more that we commonly mean when when say that phrase in English. Katera’swas means I dream as a habit, as a daily part of my way of being in the world. The expression also carries the connotation that I am lucky in a proactive way – that I bring myself luck because I am able to manifest good fortune and prosperity through my dream. The related term watera’swo not only means “dream”; it can also be translated as “I bring myself good luck.” 
       Early Jesuit missionaries reported that the Iroquois believed that neglect of dreams brings bad luck. Father Jean de Quens noted on a visit to the Onondaga, that “people are told they will have bad luck if they disregard their dreams.” So if you want to get lucky, you want to dream a lot.
      In the Mohawk language, the word we translate as "shaman" is ratetshents, which literally means "one who dreams". Typically, across the indigenous North American cultures, we find the same thing. By definition, the shaman is a dreamer, one who dreams strong.
       Among the Dene, the same linguistic terms are used to designate dreams, visions and spontaneous apparitions and trance states, suggesting that they can all transport the dreamer into the same space, the space where shamans operate.
      Among the Wind River Shoshone, the word navujieip means both “soul” and “dream”; the navujieip “comes alive when your body rests and comes in any form”
       In Scots Gaelic there is a prolix and specific vocabulary for many forms of dreaming and seership and paranormal phenomena. The best literary source on these things is the work of John Gregorson Campbell, a minister of Tiree in the late nineteenth century who gathered the oral traditions of Gaelic speakers and wove them into two books, Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1900) and Witchcraft and Second-Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1902).
     The term da-shealladh (pronounced "dah-haloo"), often translated as "second sight", literally means "two sights". It refers to the ability to see apparitions of both the living and the dead. The taibshear (pronounced "tysher") is the seer who specializes in observing the energy double (
taibhs). A dream or vison is a bruadar ("broo-e-tar"). The bruadaraiche ("broo-e-taracher") is more than a dreamer in the common sense; he or she is the kind of dreamer who can see into the past or the future. That's a nugget worth close evaluation. The depth of the practice of dreaming in any culture is reflected in its working terminology for such things. I'm not sure that current English offers a single word as rich as bruadaraiche but I doubt that we can import the Scots term since (at least as it comes off my tongue) it sounds like something boiled up in a sheep's stomach.
     The Hawaiian language contains a rich vocabulary for dreaming that makes a delightful study.    A general word for dreams in Hawaiian is moe’uhane, generally translated as “soul sleep” but better understood as “night experiences of the soul”, since for traditional Hawaiians, dreaming is very much about traveling. The soul makes excursions during sleep. It slips out of the regular body, often through the tear duct, described as the “soul pit” and travels in a “body of wind”. During sleep the dreamer also receives visitations from gods (akua) and ancestral guardian spirits (aumakua) who may take the form of a bird or a fish or a plant.
     Like all practical dreamers, the Hawaiians recognize that there are big dreams and little dreams. You don’t want to pay too much attention to a “wild goatfish dream”(moe weke pahulu), which is caused by something you ate or how fast you ate it. The colorful term is derived from popular belief that eating the heads of goatfish – at other times a delicacy – in the wrong season, when bad winds are blowing, causes sickness and troubling but meaningless dreams. On the other hand, you want to recognize that a dream may contain the memory of a trip into the future that can give you information of the highest practical importance. Especially helpful is the “straight-up” dream (moe pi’i pololei) that is clear and requires no interpretation.
    There are “wishing” dreams (moemoea) that show you something you are pining for, which may or may not be attainable in ordinary reality. There are “revelations of the night” (ho’ike na ka po) that carry the power of prophecy.
     A most interesting category of Hawaiian dreams are those – believed to be gifts of the guardian ancestral spirits – that are given to promote the healing of relations within a family or community. Dreams are also given by the aumakua to promote personal healing.
The ancestral spirits also deliver “night names” (inoa po) for babies that are on the way, and cautionary tales are told of misfortune that comes when the parents ignore a baby name delivered in a dream.
    The Hawaiians pay special attention to visions that come on the cusp between sleep and waking (hihi’o) believing that these are especially likely to contain clear communication from the spirits and “straight up” glimpses of things that will unfold.
    In our dream travels, we may be united with a “dream husband” (kane o ka po)or a “dream wife” (wahine o ka po). This can be pleasurable and even compelling, but Hawaiian lore teaches caution. Spend too much time outside your regular body in your “body of wind” and the physical organism may start to weaken and languish. You also want to be alert to deceivers who may take on the form of alluring sexual partners but are actually something else, like tricky mo’o, a kind of water imp.
     We want to bring energy from our juiciest dreams into embodied life and not leave it out there. A favorite Hawaiian legend tells how a goddess accomplished this. Pele, on her volcanic island, was stirred by rhythmic drumming from far off. She left her body in her lava bed, charging her attendants not to rouse her for three days on any account. She traveled far in her “body of wind” and finally found the source of the magical drumming is a luau being held by a handsome prince. The goddess and the prince fell for each other and spent three days making love before Pele returned to the body she had left in her lava bed. Being a goddess, she was then able to arrange for her prince to be transported to the Big Island to live with her as her consort. Humans may find this kind of transfer harder to effect, but it’s always worth a try!
     My favorite word for "dream"comes from the special vocabulary of the Inuit angakok ("one who sees with inner light") or shaman. The word is transcribed like this: kubsaitigisak. It is pronounced "koov-sigh-teegee-shakk" with a little click at the back or the throat when you come to the final consonant. It means "what makes me dive in headfirst". Savor that for a few moments. A dream is something that makes you take the plunge. It takes you deep. Doesn't this wonderfully evoke how, dreaming, we may escape our consensual daily hallucinations and dive into a deeper world?

Text adapted from Dreaming the Soul Back Home by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library. Audio version narrated by Robert now available from

Art: "Broad Bands of Dreaming" by Robert Moss