Thursday, February 25, 2021

In the Beginning was the Scream of the Hawk


In the Norse creation stories, there are elements we recognize from other mythologies. The world is born from primal chaos. We are inside the body of a cosmic being, macrocosm to our microcosms. The being may have been torn apart in a primordial sacrifice, the origin of human sacrifice to the gods. The Norse version, unsurprisingly given the bloody reputation of the Vikings, at first seems more brutal than the rest. 

We read in the Gylfaginning in Snorri’s Edda that the giant Ymir is born out of a yawning void through the contention of fire and ice. Suckled by a primordial cow, Auðhumla, he is eventually slain and dismembered by the gods that are the progeny of a male being the great cow raised with her tongue from a salt-lick. Ymir's blood and sweat become the ocean, his skull the vault of the sky, his hair the trees and so on. Our sources on this are limited, contradictory and mysterious  The least colored by Christianity is in the Vǫluspá in the Poetic Edda, where an undead sorceress tells Odin – the god forever in quest of knowledge – how the world began and how it will end.

Word sleuthing may take us into deeper levels of the myth in the Nordic mind-sea. Norse scholar Henning Kure states that “ masculine name formation Ymir is mentioned in one of the þulur, the name lists, of Snorri’s Edda as a heiti, a synonymous name, for ‘hawk’. As such we are in no doubt that the name is derived from ymja ‘to scream’ and may refer to the bird’s shriek. The very closeness to the similarly derived noun ymr ‘scream, noise’ makes it hard to miss the association and must have been evident to any Old Norse audience.” * In contexts ymr could be the scream of a birthing mother, the groan of a tree or the clang of weapons. When the first being stitrs from primal chaos it is as the Scream of the Hawk.

 Ymir emerges from Ginnungagap, variously described as a yawning gap or as chaos or the void. The prefix ginn- denotes something more than we can grasp, indescribably deep, potent yet formless, prima materia that the Creator – or creators – will shape and fix into definite forms. How do they accomplish this? According to the Vǫluspá, they yppa the world. Come again? The verb yppa can mean to lift, raise, bring up, come into being, announce, reveal. Henning Kure uses etymology as his miner’s lamp to plumb the secrets of creation in the Eddas:

When the sons of Burr [Odin and his brothers] did yppa the world, they made it come into being from the parts of Ymir. Yppa may mean 'announce' and this, I am convinced, is what the gods did. They announced Ymir's flesh to be earth, his bones to be mountains, his sweat to be sea, etc. They created the world by naming it, by putting it into words, and thus defining it in a comprehensible way. The gods announced the world by transforming Ymir – the scream – into words. The scream is the raw material of words. Words are shaping the world.

In the beginning was the scream – the inarticulate and 'much too awesome'. The world was yet to be formulated and contained on a human scale. The process of creation is dependent on the nature of the raw material. In the case of the scream, it must be turned into words and language. Everything exists by being named, designated by a word. *

The gods turn primal Scream into words of power.

Australian Aborigines say that the Ancestors walked this world naming things, and that as they were named, life forms appeared– the crocodile and the river, the gum tree and the goanna. When Odin and his brothers declared that some part of Ymir’s anatomy would become mountains or ocean, that his eyebrows would become a shield wall between giants and humans, metaphor became manifestation. In the beginning was the word, in the Eddas as in Genesis.


*Henning Kure, “In the beginning was the Scream Conceptual thought in the Old Norse myth of creation” in Rudolf Simek & Judith Meurer (eds.): Scandinavia and Christian Europe in the Middle Ages. Papers of The 12th International Saga Conference, Bonn: University of Bonn, 2003) pp. 311-319

 Image; Ginnungagap. Creator not yet identified!

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Other, Again

t has happened again. When this first occurred, I resolved not to write about it or think about it, for fear of losing my mind. Now it has happened again, on January 20, 2010, I know I must write myself through it. I shall write it as a story others may read in the hope that with time I, too, will be able to read and remember it only as a story.
     There was still a rheum of dirty snow about the leafless trees in the park, and ice on the paths, but I found it mild enough to sit on a bench near the lake house and contemplate the frozen pond. My little dog lay at my feet. For a few moments, the city around me was still, with an air of anticipation, like someone holding his breath. I had seen no one in the park, and was mildly irritated when a man sat down on the other end of the bench. My dog wagged his stub, but he is loose with strangers. I glanced at the newcomer out of the corner of my eye. He was very young, with long dark hair falling over his shoulders from under an absurdly romantic beret. No doubt one of the transient college kids who come and go in my neighborhood, or one of the hungry artists who hang their pictures for a week at a time in the transient basement galleries.
    He made an awkward ritual out of stuffing and lighting a cherrywood pipe. The heavy fruited scent of his tobacco carried me back across time, to an awkward young man I had once known well.
     I turned to him and asked if he was smoking Amphora tobacco.
    Without meeting my eyes, he agreed that he was.
     I inspected him more closely, the wide shoulders and narrow body, the silk scarf at his throat, the maroon-colored journal book, big as a child's tombstone, in his hand.
    "Then I know who you are." I told him. "You are Robert Moss, though you sign your articles and poems R.J. Moss in The Canberra Times and the student paper."
     He returned my inspection. "I know you from somewhere. Are you one of Dad's brothers?"
     "I am Robert Moss. I am you. I've just lived a lot longer."
     "You're crazy."
     "What year do you think it is?"
     "It's 1965, of course."
     "You are mistaken. Today is Wednesday, January 20, 2010."
     "Don't come the raw prawn with me! It's bloody 1965."
     I was tickled by the way that, when rattled, he became a bit more of an Aussie than was his natural style. "Then you are living in Bruce Hall on the campus of the Australian National University. In your bookcase you have Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal and Dante's Inferno in Italian - but not the rest of the Commedia, because you have not yet found the comedy in life - and the Penguin editions of Dostoyevsky, Faulkner and Homer. You also have a blue-bound copy of Kautilya's Arthashastra, which fascinates and repels you because it teaches that the law of life is 'big fish eat little fish.'"
     R.J.Moss was not impressed. "Of course you know what books I have in my room. I'm dreaming, and you're a part of me that for some reason is appearing as an old man with white hair who's been eating rather well. So you know what I know."
    "Did you know that the man who loaned you the Arthashastra will become your father-in-law?"
     As he stared at me, I added, "You haven't met his daughter yet, but you will, when she comes out from England. She'll get a job in a bookshop, your natural hunting ground. On the day you first speak to her she'll be helping a customer who wants to purchase a map of the world that does not include the United States."
     "You are one of my thought forms, and you will disappear if I tell you to."
     "You got that from one of your books on magic, probably Dion Fortune. Try it if you like. It won't do you any good."
     "You claim I am going to marry my professor's daughter."
    "Yes, but it won't last. You will marry much too young, with too much of life ahead of you to stay in a nest. Anyway, for a while you'll be seized with a reckless desire to fight battles. You'll get over it, but not until you've been blooded. Then you'll marry again. You'll notice the woman who will become your second wife when she tells you she can dream the result of a horse race."
     "This is definitely a dream."
     "Where do you think you are now?"
     "I'm sitting at the edge of the lake in Canberra, and it's bloody hot. That silly water jet doesn't make things any better."
     He made the motion of fanning his face. I recalled that in that absurdly oversized book he lugged everywhere with him, he had drawn a picture of Nietzsche at the edge of madness, and written an interminable series of poems for a girl, now lost, he called Lady of Khorasan, even though she had bad teeth and had never been outside New South Wales, except to study in the dreary capital, set down in the bush at an airless remove from the ocean beaches that are the country's lungs.
     At this age, he lived for poetry, I remembered. Perhaps I could move him with a line he had not yet encountered, more than with a preview of his future that, while factual, seemed to him full of impossibilities.
     "I will say something you do not know but whose reality you will accept because it is poetic truth. Are you willing to hear?"
     He nodded.
     "Il faut vivre comme un ours."
     He frowned a little. "'One has to live like a bear?' Is that right?"
     My turn to nod.
     "Who said that?"
     "Not possible."
     "You haven't read enough Flaubert to know. And you have yet to write a novel. You will write novels, and will publish many. More important, you will meet the Bear and this will change everything." My tone indicated that we were no longer talking about any bear, but the Bear. "You won't understand until he comes for you, and that will be in North America, when you are twice your present age."
     "This is the strangest dream. I don't believe I'll remember any of it. But just in case, if you have lived my life ahead of me, what can you tell me that can help me?"
     I considered telling him: you'll break hearts and your heart will be broken in turn, but you must never stop living from the heart. There is one who watches over us and never leaves us. Swim whenever you can. Listen to your dreams and move always in the direction of your dreams. Beware of a woman with razors in her eyes, and a sheriff in the Blue Ridge Mountains who makes moonshine in his bathtub. Never lose your sense of humor, once you find it again. Don't reverse your steps once you have crossed the Pont Neuf. Define yourself, as many times as necessary, to escape being defined by others.
     What I said was, "Twenty-three years from now, you will be booked on an early plane to Philadelphia, with the intention of driving to a certain house in coal miners' country, in Lancaster County. You must not take that plane."
     "What's in Lancaster County?"
     "Trust me on this. Will you remember?"
     He shrugged. I knew he would forget, but an hour before he was due to leave for the airport, twenty years into his future, more than twenty years into my past, a dream would remind him. I knew this because - but for that dream - I would not be alive today and we could not be sitting on this bench together.
     He surprised me by saying, "I have something for you: Ich bin ein Funke nur vom heilengen Feuer."
     I remembered now that I - that is, he - had taken some German in order to read Rilke in the original. My German did not stick; I can barely manage to order sausages in a beer cellar.
     His mouth curved into a faintly superior smile. "It seems I know things that you do not." His mood flickered like a shadow on the ice. "This is the strangest dream. I know I'll forget it. If not, you would have known we would meet this morning."
     I thought of a fantasy by Coleridge. A man dreams he is in paradise, and he is given a flower as proof. When he wakes, he has the flower in his hand.
     "Let's give each other something," I proposed. I dug in my pockets, and came up with a wad of crumpled bills. I separated the least disreputable and handed it to him. He examined the face of the wigged man inside the oval, and lingered over the occultists' pyramid on the back with the eye in its floating apex. I drew his attention to the small text next to the signature of the Secretary of the Treasury: "SERIES 2006".
     He groped in his own pockets in turn, and produced a gum-nut.
     "Look at the time," he jumped up. "I must be going."
     As he rose, my little dog jumped up too, wagging his stub.
     "There's one thing more," I said. "Dogs love you no matter what."
     "I know."
     We did not shake hands or have body contact in any way. We walked away from each other in opposite directions. I did not look back; I cannot say whether he did.

Postscript: One day after this encounter, I cannot find the gum-nut I put in the breast pocket of my shirt, which I threw in the laundry hamper at the end of the day and only searched this morning. When I walked my dog today, I made a point of not returning to the bench by the lake.
     But something is still in play because I noticed that the big maroon journal - his journal, from 1965 - has surfaced in the room I use as my archive. It was clearly visible near the top of a stack of notebooks in an open documents box. Of course I had to pull it out. I treated it as I do any book, opening it at random to see what comes up.
     The book of R.J.Moss fell open at pages numbered 114 and 115 in his hand. The bottom half of page 115 was filled by his drawing of Nietzsche staring into the pit of madness. The upper half of page 114 contains his copy of a word-picture of Stefan George by Andre Gide, in French. Below this, in script running diagonally across the page, giving the general impression of a wing, R.J.Moss inscribed several verses of Stefan George including the line

Ich bin ein Funke nur vom heiligen Feuer

with the translation

I am a spark of the holy fire.


Jorge Luis Borges' story"The Other" came to me twice, in mysterious ways, over the holiday season. Just before Christmas, I woke with the certain knowledge that there was something by Borges that I had not read that I needed to find that day. I have many editions of Borges on my shelves (I've been reading him since 1970) but I went to my nearby magic bookshop at opening time to see if anything popped up. There, atop a pile of new arrivals, was a translation of Borges' late collection The Book of Sand.      
    The opening story is "The Other", in which Borges, seated on a bench beside the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1969, encounters a young man who proves to be his own younger self, who thinks he is sitting by the lake in Geneva in 1919 and is reluctant to believe this this encounter can be other than a dream. Borges gets the attention - and wins the partial belief - of his younger self by reciting an amazing line of Victor Hugo that the young man has not yet discovered, about the "hydra-universe" twisting its "scales of stars."
    The following weekend, ranging around in the early hours in the midst of leading a workshop, I opened a 500-page edition of Borges' Collected Fictions, in Andrew Hurley's excellent translation, as a random act of bibliomancy, and found myself at the first page of "The Other", again.
     Like Borges, I am intrigued by the possibility - for me, a certainty - that we can meet our past and future selves. In homage to the great Argentine writer, I have borrowed the outline of his story, just as he borrowed the ideas and the form of a story by Kurd Lasswitz (which he reviewed in an essay titled "The Total Library") to craft his celebrated "Library of Babel".

Text adapted from "The Other, Again" in Here, Everything Is Dreaming: Poems and Stories by Robert Moss. Published by Excelsior Editions.

RM Journal drawing at top: "Writing on the Wall (or Hanging Stanzas)" from a dream of February 22,2021 I associate with Borges

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Borges and Lucy the Literary Cat

My cat Lucy showed her pleasure when I started reading a newly acquired book, Jay Parini's Borges and Me. This is a delightful memoir in which, as a young would-be writer from Scranton, Pennsylvania who had never previously heard of Borges, Parini finds himself driving the great Argentine author around Scotland in a tiny rust bucket in 1970.
    Lucy sniffed and licked the spine of the book. She then posed for photos with it, unprecedented for a kitty who is usually camera-shy.
    I had just been reading the chapter in which Borges stands up in a rowboat on Loch Ness to recite the song of creation that enrages the monster Grendel in Beowulf. In his excitement, he falls into Nessie's waters, blind and unable to swim, but is still undaunted when fished out, insisting that he has roused the Scottish Grendel.


Lucy had just begun to assert herself as a literary cat. The following evening, she made a strong effort to pull a book off the piano stool that (along with the top of the upright piano) serves as my book table in my reading corner. There are some sixty books in my piles of current reading. The book Lucy wanted was The Arabian Nights.
    Having rescued The Arabian Nights, I reopened Borges and Me, again at random. I read about a remarkable synchronistic encounter involving a discovery in a copy of The Arabian Nights.
    Borges has suffered a fall. The doctor who is summoned is a woman named Brodie.
    The name excites Borges.
    The doctor tells him her grandfather was from Aberdeen.
   "Was he a missionary in Africa, then in Brazil?" Borges pursues.
    Dr Brodie is stunned. How could the Argentine writer know? Her grandfather wasn't well known and come to think of it he may have been her great-grandfather.
    "He left behind an abbreviated account of his travels," says Borges.
    "This is true?"
    "I would never make anything up. Unless, of course, the world failed to provide sufficient material." 
    Borges proceeds to explain that "one day in a library in Buenos Aires" he found a narrative written by Dr Brodie's ancestor stuffed between the pages of the Arabian Nights.
     Slack-jawed the doctor admits she has never read the Arabian Nights.
     Borges shakes his head. "One who has failed to read The Arabian Nights is, well, an innocent, and this is dangerous."

      What he does not tell the lady doctor (and is not in Parini's book) is that he composed the "abbreviated account" he claimed to have found in The Arabian Nights as "Doctor Brodie's Report". It is the title story in a collection he had just finished translating with Norman di Giovanni. These were the first stories he had published in 17 years. I got my copies of the translation and the original Spanish edition down from the Borges shelf in my personal library. 
     Borges declared in his preface to the first edition of El informe Brodie that he now aimed to deliver "straightforward stories" that "try like those of the Thousand and One Nights to be entertaining or moving but not persuasive". Quieren distraer o conmover y no persuadir. "Doctor Brodie's Report"is a mock-realistic tale of a sojourn among primitive people - the Yahoos - who attract each other's attention by throwing handfuls of mud.
     I could hear the Scottish doctor saying again in her brogue, "This is true?"

 The following day I picked up Borges and Me again and read about Borges' visit to the Carnegie literary in Dunfermline. He not only sniffed the books, he licked one of them.
     Parini recalls:
 "He picked a volume and began to greedily lick the spine, his tongue like that of a cat. There was, I thought, lust in his eyes."
    When the librarian protested, Borges said "Some books should be tasted" and ran his tongue along the whole length of the spine.
     Lucy knows.

Arthur Koestler suggested there is a Library Angel whose invisible hand makes books appear in magical ways. I am living with a Literary Cat whose paw has a similar but visible effect.

Call me Scheherezade

Lucy is eyeing the Arabian Nights again. I open my edition - a recent translation by Hussain Haddawy - at random, always my preferred way to approach a book. I read the opening lines of the Tale of the Enchanted King, from the Twenty-Second Night:

My story, and the story of the fish, is a strange and amazing one, which, if it could be engraved with needles at the corners of the eye, would be a lesson to those who would consider. 

Right before this we are given a frame for the tale, or rather a frame within a frame. Scheherezade must tell a story every night that will entertain the misogynist king; he will kill her as soon as he becomes bored. Within this frame we hear the story of another king who wants to know why a young man on the terrace of an impossible black palace has been turned to stone up to his waist.  
    The young man agrees to tell his story on one condition. He wants the undivided attention of his audience.
     At the black palace, the half-petrified man tells the king, "Lend me your ears, your eyes and your mind.".
      In the palace of the her tyrant king, Scheherezade knows her life depends in coming up with a tale that will hold his attention. I feel I know this situation intimately.

"Call me Scheherezade," Borges says to Jay Parini in 1970. I am back in the book whose spine Lucy licked.
I am both shocked and elated by this find. I made the same statement five years ago, when I recognized that the myth I am living is that of the storyteller who must produce a new story fit for a king every night in order to stay alive. This is the theme of the first and last of the tales in my book Mysterious Realities. Now I discover that Borges beat me to this statement, by half a century. He added, according to Parini in Borges and Me, that "The Arabian Nights is the source of everything I do."

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Tales of the Double: Through the Net

Quite often, in the liminal state of hypnagogia I find myself looking at the patterns and textures of what appears to be woven cloth or webbing. Sometimes I find myself suspended in the mesh. The following experience was quite tactile:

I floated weightless, looking into a dark, grainy field, textured like hessian, a very palpable depth. I felt I was hanging in this, as in a hammock or net. I was uneasy, to begin with, hanging between worlds. I did not feel stuck in the net. I realized I could push through the net and travel in any direction. I eventually resolved simply to open myself to my creative source.
     The “hessian sacking” opened into a textile bazaar. I examined bolt after bold of richly textured patterns and designs.
     I heard noise in my house and realized I was operating with multiple consciousness, fully engaged in dream travel while safely tethered to my body in the bed.
     I spent the whole night slipping back and forth between dream locales, mediation, and long study sessions in which I devoured books and memorized material.
     One of the dream episodes involved the Egyptian Mysteries, especially the mysterious god Ptah, whose power is associated with the breath and who is said to be the Giver of the Ka.
      Another dream episode carried me into the realm of the Kabbalists. I tried out a thronelike chair with a hard wooden strut that stuck out low down at the back of the seat. This guaranteed that you would not get too comfortable or doze off. It was intended to assist Kabbalistic meditation.

These adventures sent me off into a spate of happy research. The palpable resistance of the web or net in which I had hung, and the fact that, once through it, I had access to Mystery teachings in corresponding locales, sparked many thoughts and speculations.
     The name of the temple of Thoth at Khemennu (the City of Eight) in ancient Egypt was Het Abdit, literally the House of the Net. This net confined unevolved humans to their lower natures. But to initiates, it became a kind of cosmic trampoline, a springboard to higher realms. In Thrice-Greatest Hermes, G.R.S. Mead suggests that “this Net was the symbol of a certain condition of the inner nature which shut in the man into the limitations of the conventional life of the world, and shut him off from the memory of his true self”.
      Mythologically, the net may also be the web of life or the Veil of the Goddess. The Egyptian goddess Neith wears a weaver’s shuttle on her head. The inscription at her temple at Saïs reads, “I am all that has been and shall be and no mortal has ever revealed my robe.” To go beyond the veil is to go beyond the ordinary human condition. It is possible that Neith, with her veil and her weaver’s shuttle, personifies the human energy web, spun from fine threads or lines of force or light;
     The net I encountered may evoke the web of the human energy field, woven from Faraday’s “lines of force.” Those familiar with neuroscience may think about the reticular (literally "net-like") formation that regulates states of awareness and attention.
    The net I pass through in lucid dreaming gives me the sense of being inside the cell walls of the larger reality, of testing the energy membranes that separate levels or dimensions of the multiverse. This may involve traveling from higher to lower astral planes, or - in deeper journeys - beyond the astral altogether.

Looking at late Egyptian mummies in the small but excellent Egyptian Museum in Barcelona in the spring of 2029, I was fascinated by the net draped over one of the bodies. Though damaged by time and weather, the blue mesh was still shiny. I had the immediate impression that this net was a garment for soul travel, spread to encourage the deceased to ascend beyond the lower bodies to higher realms, perhaps the realm of the Akhet or Shining Ones. 
    The dry and conservative museum caption of course gave no hint of such possibilities. So I made a shamanic journey across time and dimensions to see whether my hunch was correct. I saw the spirit of the deceased rising to fill the blue net as you might put on a robe.I made a sketch of my vision in my journal. When I shared it with a friendly and imaginative Egyptologist she said,"You nailed it", adding that when originally placed,  the blue net was probably covered with stars, indicating the desired destination of the spirit who put it on.

Photo and journal drawing by Robert Moss

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Yggdrasil, a Place to Stand

The red fox stands beside the tree gate.
I’m never at ease when he shows himself,
but he is flanked by the black dog,
ever watchful and reliable, a true guardian,
and there seems to be no conflict between them.
This is new. I could take the open door
down through the roots of the world tree
but I am distracted by the frisky moves
of a squirrel that is running down the trunk.

He is as big as an elephant, perfectly in scale
with the tree that rises into the clouds
and could contain cities. His presence confirms
I am at the place where a shaman-god
hung for nine days and nine nights,
sacrificing himself to himself.

Rattling his nuts, the squirrel of mischief
plunges into the Lower World ahead of me.
He is playing his old game, Wake the Dragon.
Fire and stink rise from the roots of the tree.
Earth shudders. The squirrel snickers in glee.
Ratatosk, Ratatosk, Ratatosk.
Here he comes back again.
He scurries up the tree, all the way to the top,
telling tall tales to anger the heaven bird
that keeps watch over all the worlds.

Dragon rises. Branches of the world tree
creak and groan as the eagle shakes out its wings
and comes down, talons eager for battle.
Between them, on a ledge in the tree world,
I see a man in a grey robe, with a broad-brimmed
grey wizard’s hat. There are birds on his shoulders
and a great company of birds all around him.
Lightning is with him. His eyes flash, his hands
spark white fire from the air. His form is never still.
He is the ancient of days, he is the magic man,
he is the young deer prince, antlered and horny.

As the dragon rises to join battle with the heaven bird,
he catches it by the throat with his left hand. His body
twists and buckles as he struggles to hold this power
and raise it. It is pulling him down, tearing him apart,
till he lifts his right hand, palm downward, and the eagle
lands on his wrist as the falcon returns to the falconer.

The balance is  made. The powers of above and below
are joined and turning together, evenly matched.
This is how the game of the world goes on.
The man with lightning eyes is calling me.
Come. Stand where I stand. See what I see.

I am drawn to him as the sparks fly upwards.
On his edge between the worlds,
my body stretches beyond itself,
my mind cracks open like the squirrel’s nuts.
Ratatosk, Ratatosk. There is a role for mischief.
And I have found the right place to stand.

-          October 17, 2014

From a vision while leading a group shamanic journey through the Tree Gate at the Hameau de l’Etoile, near Montpellier. We danced on the mythic edge all week, and my dreams and visions - like those of many in our gifted circle - often turned on Greek themes. But on a certain day, I was hurled deep into an indelible scene that seemed to come from the Nordic imagination.

Art "L'arbre et la brume" (c) Annick Bougerolle

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Tales of the Double: My Second Self Leads a Workshop Years Ahead of Me


I was attending a conference in the Boston area when I was approached by a pleasant-looking couple who might have been in their early forties. The husband, David, introduced himself as a medical equipment salesman from Connecticut; his wife as a registered nurse. They seemed intelligent, articulate, and well-grounded; they had brought a cooler full of provisions they offered to share over lunch. The only oddity was that they seemed unusually deferential to someone who was simply another conference attendee.

    “We want to thank you for that workshop we attended last fall,” David said. “You changed our lives.”
    “Which workshop do you mean?”
    “The weekend workshop in upstate New York.”
    “What was I teaching?”
     David looked puzzled as he told me how my workshop had brought shamanism and dreamwork together. “You showed us how to journey through the images from our sleep dreams.”
     I was flabbergasted. I had been thinking about going public with the approach I now call Active Dreaming. I had dreamed on several nights of leading workshops in shamanic dreaming. But I had not yet held one in physical reality — at least, not in my physical reality.
     I told David, “You must have confused me with someone else.”
     David looked at his wife, who knitted her eyebrows.
    “That’s impossible,” she protested. “Your voice, your white hair, your whole way of being — ”
    “You’re a pretty hard guy to mistake for someone else.”
    “And we spent the whole weekend with you,” his wife came back.
    “I’ll never forget it.”
    “That’s very interesting,” I told them. “I’ve dreamed of holding a workshop like the one you describe. But I haven’t done it yet, not in this reality.”
     “You’re kidding.”
     I shook my head. David looked at his wife, who made a face and tugged at his arm. As they walked away, she scowled back at me, obviously convinced that I was toying with them.
     Later in the day, when David passed me on the way to the cooler, he gave me a conspiratorial wink and said in a stage whisper, “Shamans are tricky characters.”
     What was going on here? Did my dream reality somehow become waking reality for that earnest couple from Connecticut? Dreaming, could I have projected a double who seemed solid enough — un hombre de carne y hueso — to students at a holistic center? Were we caught up in some kind of time loop, so that in their reality the Connecticut couple went to a workshop that I gave two years later in my physical reality (in which they were not present — at least, not yet). Or were the three of us somehow caught up in a collective, confusing hallucination?
     If I had been quicker off the mark, I suppose I might have asked the Connecticut couple if they had a receipt for the workshop they attended. Maybe the center where it was held owes me money!

There are doubles and doubles. St. Augustine left us the intriguing story of a philosopher who urgently wanted to consult a colleague living several hundred miles away. To his great delight, his friend called on him that night, and they had a long conversation in which the philosopher was able to clarify his thinking in areas critical to his work. He wrote to his colleague afterward to thank him for his providential visit — and was astonished to receive a letter back in which his friend told him that he had never left his hometown, but remembered conversing with the philosopher in a dream.
     The Capuchin monk Padre Pio rarely left his cloister but reportedly turned up on scores of occasions at other locations in a second body to preach sermons or counsel those in need. He attributed these feats to what he called “prolongation of the personality.”
     St. Anthony of Padua was credited with similar gifts. As he lay on his deathbed, he appeared to a friend hundreds of miles away, in seemingly corporeal form, and informed him that he had left his “donkey” — his physical body — in Padua.
      In her remarkable book, Dancing in the Shadows of the Moon, Machaelle Small Wright describes her experience of a “split molecular process” resulting in bilocation in two separate orders of reality. “My soul operates out of two separate, but related physical bodies.” One is her own; the other belongs to a servicewoman who was killed in World War II and now lives with a group headed by “Eisenhower” in an (astral?) locale called the Cottage. Machaelle says the Cottage is situated in the “England equivalent” of “a planet that exists in a sister dimension of reality…within a band of form identical to our own.” She travels there by picturing the locale and willing herself to go. She insists that this is something distinct from a dream or an “out-of-body” experience, because “real” time elapses, she eats “real” food, and she is subject to “real” pleasure and pain.
      While the sight of one’s energy double, or doppelgänger, arouses fear in many cultures — especially the fear of impending death — the double may be something more. In Charles William’s novel, Descent into Hell, Pauline goes in fear of her “double” all her life — so terrified she avoids walking alone — only to discover it is no horror, but her spiritual self, her “unfallen self” as originally conceived in heaven. When the two come together, she can begin to live her true destiny, which includes helping to release earthbound souls.

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

Photo: "The Bridge is Covered,the Destination Is Not" by Robert Moss

Tales of the Double: his doppelganger is being walked by his dog


I want to report another of my encounters with someone else's doppelganger. It has a feature I have not seen mentioned in the literature that makes it deeply mysterious and potentially revelatory about travel in a subte body and what may guide and protect us in such outings.
    My story unfolds in a small city in the Northeast. I was in the habit of walking from my home to the local branch of my bank in the era when that branch was still open. Along the way I passed a wine shop with a friendly owner. I would often stop in to say hello even when I was not in need of supplies. That morning, I came to the wine shop half an hour before opening time. 
    I was pleased and surprised to see the owner coming up the next street with his dog. I had never met his dog and was not even aware that he had one. I saw a fine German shepherd that was clearly in the lead. He was holding the leash but it seemed his dog was walking him. He was wearing a mauve plaid shirt, louder than his usual style. He looked vaguely in my direction but did not appear to recognize me so I continued my walk to the bank.
    On my walk back, the wine shop was just opening. The owner greeted me at the door.
    “Where’s your dog?” I asked.
    He was puzzled. “Sally? She’s at home. I never bring her to the shop.”
    “I saw you walking her a few minutes ago, just round the corner. Actually it looked like she was walking you.”
    His expression suggested he was finding me even stranger than usual. “Describe my dog.”
    “German shepherd. Beautiful. Great energy, really leading the way.”
    “That’s Sally. But you’ve never met her. I mean, you didn’t even know I had a dog.”
    “Not until half an hour ago. By the way, I see you changed your shirt.”       
    He was now wearing a quiet monochrome polo. When I described the loud mauve shirt he said, “I’ve got that shirt. It’s at home too.”
    By this stage, I was starting to feel some concern for my friend. There’s an old superstition that if you see someone’s double as large as life, that could indicate coming death. Had I seen my friend’s fetch? I had the feeling it might be risky to have that much energy traveling outside the body while the owner was oblivious to his condition. I wondered if he had been thinking or feeling something so strongly that it might have set part of him off on a journey in a certain direction.
    I was cautious in opening this area of discussion. However he was soon in tears, talking about the recent death of someone close to him. He had not gone to the funeral but now felt the need to make amends for old troubles. “I’ve been thinking about going to the cemetery.”
     “I might think that my dog was leading me that way,” I suggested. Dogs are psychopomps – soul guides – in many traditions. Maybe that German shepherd was what the Norwegians call the  vardøgr, the advance guard of the soul that goes to places ahead of you, on this occasion.


 Drawing by Robert Moss


Thursday, February 4, 2021

The double who arrives at a place ahead of you


When Fred, an engineer deeply interested in dreamwork, told me he was planning to drive across the continent to my neighborhood in upstate New York, I invited him to come and stay. The night before he was scheduled to arrive, I stirred from sleep and was startled by a ghostly form the foot of my bed. Man-sized. Peering through the grainy dark, I recognized Fred. He looked dozy and out of things.

    “Fred,” I spoke softly so as not to wake my wife. “You are not due here until tomorrow. Get back to your body and get some rest.”
     You may glean from this that the appearance of what the old paranormal researchers used to call a  “phantasm of the living” was not exotic for me. I had long been aware that consciousness can travel outside the physical body -and does so every night in dreams – and that when it does so it may be using the vehicle of a subtle or astral body. This energy vehicle may resemble the physical body closely, or take other forms.
    I assumed that Fred had slipped out of his dormant body during sleep and found his way to my house, unaware of the time or the circumstances. Uninvited callers who seek to enter my psychic space get an unpleasant reception, But Fred had, after all, been invited – only not for 3 o’clock in the morning.
    When he showed up for breakfast after sunup, I asked him if he remembered any dreams from the middle of the night. “I’ve been on the road since midnight,” he told me, holding out his coffee mug for a refill.
     This was an interesting twist. I had assumed that while Fred was asleep, his dream double went walkabout in the direction of my home. It now seemed that, cruising along the highway, he relaxed enough to release his energy double to arrive at my house early.
     The Norwegians have a word for the kind of double who arrives before you at a place where you are heading. The word is vardøgr. It is probably derived from the Old Norse vardhygi, which fuses vǫrd, ("guard" or "watchman") with hugr ("mind" or "soul"). "Early arrival" and “spirit predecessor” are suggested translations of vardøgr. The etymology might lead us to "soul watcher" or "soul guard" in the sense of advance guard.
    In the Viking era the Scandinavians were quite familiar with several forms of the double, and their ability to travel outside the physical body and shapeshift into many forms. This is such a central feature that a French scholar, 
Régis Boyer, titled a book on Old Norse magic Le monde du double, "The World of the Double". 
     When I recently returned to research on this theme, I was interested to find that my encounter with Fred the engineer has a parallel in a report from another engineer. In an article for the Journal of
Scientific Exploration, L. David Leiter, a mechanical engineer in Pennsylvania, describes how his double appeared at his home ahead of him. He took the highway home on a pleasant sunny afternoon and felt completely relaxed at the wheel, almost on autopilot.
    When he got home, his wife was surprised. Why had he gone out again? She explained that he had come in ten minutes before. Unusually for him he had skipped his usual greeting and kiss on the cheek and gone straight upstairs. She called their child to confirm her story. Worried that there might be an intruder in the house, they checked upstairs and found no one.

Engineers may survive projecting an astral double while at the wheel of a moving car, but I would strongly recommend avoiding this kind of thing while handling mechanical equipment! I have no doubt the safest and easiest way to explore these roads is in dreaming. It is quite likely that you are projecting an astral double every night in your dreams. It is also probable hat among the places you visit in your subtle body are locations that lie in your physical future.  Precognitive dreams can be “memories of the future” in the sense that your double arrived somewhere ahead of you and left you some souvenirs when they came back.

"Dream Double" drawing by Robert Moss




Tuesday, February 2, 2021

How a Völva Got the News


Her name is in the Saga of Erik the Red. Her name is Þorbjörg Lítilvölva, Thorbj
örg Little Völva. She was one of a sisterhood of nine seeresses but now she is traveling alone. Gone are the days when a völva of her renown might travel with a chorus of thiry to sing for her shamanic flights. Thorkell, the big man in the settlement in Greenland, has begged for her presence.

When she arrives in her deep blue robe, studded with semiprecious stones, and her black lambskin hood and gloves lined with white cat's fur, holding her staff of power, with her bag of tricks hanging from her touchwood belt and her knife with the boar tusk handle, the lord of the manner treats her like royalty. He guides her to a seat set up on a high platform like a throne. She is fed foods of seiðr, porridge made with goat's milk and a bowl of animal hearts. Is she ready to give the frétta (the word means both news and prophecy)? Not before she has slept and dreamed.
The morning after, she asks for someone who knows Vardlokur, an ancient song for journeying. Guðríður, an Icelandic  woman of high degree, knows the song but is reluctant to sing it because she is now a Christian. Her resistance is overcome. A circle of women gather close around the völva. The song is achingly beautiful. It pleases the spirits of earth and sea and they join the seiðr. No longer alone, the völva takes wing and follows the skeins of her dream into the future.

When she returns she announces, ,"Now many things stand revealed to me that were hidden before". The news she brings back will carry the woman who sang for her all the way to Newfoundland; Guðríður will become the first white woman in history or legend to give birth in North America.

Dressed for the part

I was fascinated by the detailed description of Thorbjörg's costume in chapter 4 of the Saga of Erik the Red. She wears "a blue woven mantle adorned with stones down to the hem". She has a necklace of "glass beads"(that may be amber). She has "a black lambskin hood lined on the inside with with white cat's fur". (Hoods were generally separate from robes in this period of Scandinavian history.) There is more white cat fur inside her black lambskin gloves. She carries a staff with a brass knob decorated with stones. She wears "a belt made of touchwood", with a bag of her magical power tools attached. She has a knife with a tusk handle; it would be boar tusk in most of Freyja's domain, but up in Greenland it might be walrus. The end of the knife is broken off, a sign that it is for ritual use.

There are mysteries here, of course. The cat's fur is easily explained by the close affinity of Freyja, goddess and high priestess of the völvur, for cats, who pull her carriage through the sky. But: black sheep, white cat? And what of the touchwood belt? It has been suggested that "touchwood" is the English translation of an Old Norse word for a fungus that grows on birch, oak and beech trees. Cut off the outer rind, slice the inner part thin, soak and hammer and you can make a pliable felt-like material. Wearing this as a belt would confirm your connection with trees (from which Nordic peoples trace their descent in the myths). It also adds to your potential as a firestarter since a little piece, torn off, makes excellent kindling.

The saga doesn't tell us what Thorbjörg wears under her deep blue robe. I have given her a light blue woolen dress, a sign of the high status the saga accords her. She might, however, have been wearing a tunic of animal (probably reindeer) skin.

Dreaming and singing what is to come

I picture the völva deep in her vision of what is, what was and what will be. I turn back to Valgerður H. Bjarnadóttir's excellent study, The Saga of Vanadís, Völva and Valkyrja, and read:

"The völva (the one who turns, bends and evolves) is the one who sits at the hub(or völur) of the wheel, thus having a view into every direction. She could not only see into the wheel of time, she could turn it and bend, influence the future with her prophecies. She stored memory and from that memory she could predict a future, but in addition to that she was in touch with the collective memory of all times and places, Urðr, Verðandi  and Skuld. From that connection came her ability to predict the becoming future. "

Drawing by Robert Moss

Braids of the Goddess


Lying in bed I am open to the appearance of the first spontaneous image. It comes at once: a long braid of a woman's tawny gold hair. Then another, and a rippling golden mane, and the flash of a jeweled necklace. Her nimbus is tremendous. Can this be? I now see a Norwegian forest cat, splendid as one who shared my home, but grown to giant size. And now the second cat. I see I am again being drawn into Nordic realms.

I suspect this quick sketch will lead to more as more is unveiled. The Lady of the Vanir I have drawn is not only the goddess of beauty and sensual love and the fruiting earth. She has her hands on the head of a staff, not the hilt of a sword. The staff or wand (which could be of wildly differing sizes) was the principal power tool of the völva, the Nordic seeress, and Freyja is the patron of her arts. The Heimskringla describes her as the high priestess who was "the first to teach seiðr, common among the Vanir, to the Aesir".

I add a falcon, her bird and occasional ride, and a hint of her feathered falcon robe. And a wild boar, another of her animals. I put put ripening barley and wheat, and apple and cherry trees, and lingonberries around her.

Waking, I disinter The Saga of Vanadís, Völva andValkyrja a wonderful thesis gifted to me by its author, Valgerður H. Bjarnadottir, an Icelandic scholar who melds dreaming with exact research. She came to a weeklong workshop on Reclaiming the Ancient Dreamways that I led in Gloucestershire long ago. Valgerður has made it her cause to revision the Old Norse myths from a Goddess perspective and opens her thesis with her own wild and beautiful dream of Freyja gentling giants. Dreams and visions set us research assignments.

Many names of the Goddess

I get out one of my editions of the Prose Edda, compiled by the Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century. "Freyja has many names," we read in the first part, called Gylfaginning. "She is called Shining Sea (Mardöll), and Flax (Hörn), and The Giver (Gefnand Sow (Sýr).... She is also called Vanadis."

The second part ofthe Prose Edda is titled Skáldskaparmál , "The Language of Poetry". It is framed as a dialogue between Ægir, a deity of the sea, and  Bragi a god of poetry. A section is devoted to the correct ways to describe the deities of the Vanir. We come to this:

How should Freyja be referred to?

"By calling her:

the daughter of Njörðr, 
the sister of Freyr, 
the wife of Óðr, 
the mother of Hnoss,
the possessor of those fallen in battle, 
of the hall Sessrúmnir, 
of male cats 
and of the necklace of the Brísings, 
the god of the Vanir, 
the household deity of the Vanir
and the god whose weeping is beautiful."

This remarkable statement follows:

Any goddess can be referred in kenning by associating her characteristics possessions, activities, or family members with the name of another goddess.”

If all the goddesses can be called by each other's names, it would seem they are all aspects of the Great Goddess. Among the Vanir her name beyond names is Vanadis.  


Source for quotes from SkáldskaparmálSnorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda trans. Jesse L.Byock (London and New York: Penguin, 2005) 115-6

Drawing by Robert Moss