Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Honor the Gatekeeper, Dance with the Trickster


The Gatekeeper is one of the most important archetypes that is active in our lives. He or she is that power that opens and closes our doors and roads. The Gatekeeper is personified in many traditions: as the elephant-headed Ganesha in India; as Eshu/Eleggua in West Africa; as Anubis in ancient Egypt; as Hermes or Hecate in ancient Greece. I open my classes and gatherings by invoking the Gatekeeper in a universal way, with the request:

May our doors and gates and paths be open 

They say in Spanish, “Tiene que pagar el derecho” (You have to pay for the right to enter). In many traditions, it is customary to make an offering to the Gatekeeper when embarking on a project or a journey. The offering required of us may simply be to check in and show a little respect.

There is a close affinity between the Gatekeeper and the Trickster. A being like Hermes or Eshu may play either role. One of Hermes’ appellatives, stropheos literally means “socket,” as in the socket of a hinge that enables the pin to turn, and the door to open and close. So we can think of him as a Hinge guy — as in “hinge of fate” — or a Pivot. As he swings, so do our fortunes. Hermes steps through the doors between worlds with a hard-on, as men often transit from the dream world to the waking world and as hanged men enter the afterlife. Hermes is penetrating, and this is the effect of synchronicity. It pushes through, it opens up, and it inseminates.

Trickster is the mode the Gatekeeper — that power that opens doors in your life — adopts when you need to change and adapt and recover your sense of humorIf you are set in your ways and wedded to a linear agenda, the Trickster can be your devil. If you are open to the unexpected, and willing to turn on a dime (or something smaller), the Trickster can be a very good friend.

The Trickster will find ways to correct unbalanced and overcontrolling or ego-driven agendas, just as spontaneous night dreams can explode waking fantasies and delusions. Our thoughts shape our realities, but sometimes they produce a boomerang effect. The Trickster wears animal guise in folklore and mythology, appearing as the fox or the squirrel, as spider or coyote or raven.

Anansi, a Trickster god of the Ashanti of Ghana, brilliantly and hilariously evoked in Neil Gaiman’s novel Anansi Boys, is a spider and also a man. “It is not hard to keep two things in your head at the same time. Even a child could do it.” He makes out that he is the owner of stories. Indeed, to make friends with the Trickster, we want to be ready to make a story out of whatever happens in life and to recognize the bigger, never-ending story that may be playing through our everyday dramas. If nothing goes wrong, it has been said, you do not have much of a story. The Trickster knows all about that.

We are most likely to meet the Trickster at liminal times and in liminal places, because his preferred realm is the borderlands between the tame and the wild. He invites us to live a little more on the wild side. He approves when we make a game or a story out of it when our plans get upset, our certainties scrambled.

He insists on a sense of humor.

The well-known psychic and paranormal investigator Alan Vaughan tells a great story against himself about the peril of taking signs too seriously. He read that Jung had noted a perfect correspondence between the number of his tram ticket, the number of a theater ticket he bought the same day, and a telephone number that someone gave him that evening.

Vaughan decided to make his own experiment with numbers that day in Freiburg, where he was taking a course. He boarded a tram and carefully noted the ticket number, 096960. The number of the tram car itself was 111. He noticed that if you turned the numbers upside down, they still read the same. He was now alert for the appearance of more reversible numbers. Still focused on his theme of upside-down numbers, he banged into a trash can during his walk home. He observed ruefully, “I nearly ended by being upside down myself.” When he inspected the trash can, he saw that it bore a painted name: JUNG.

It was impossible not to feel the Trickster in play. Alan felt he had been reminded — in an entirely personal way — that the further we go with this stuff, the more important it is to keep our sense of humor.

A title of Eshu, who is both Trickster and Gatekeeper in the Yoruba tradition of West Africa, is Enforcer of Sacrifice. He is the one who makes sure that the gods receive their offerings. The price of entry may be a story, told with humor.

Text adapted from 
Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Photo: This is my favorite image of Ganesha, and the one most likely to appeal to any writer. In one of his hands he is holding the tusk he broke off when all other writing tools were exhausted, so he could fulfill his bargain to record the whole of the immense Mahabharata on condition that the sage Vyasa never paused in his dictation.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Shimmers of synchronicity

Powers of the deeper world move among us. Call them gods or daimons, ancestors or archetypes. Most of the time we are unaware of their presence. When they are in the field - noticed or invisible, invoked or uninvoked - their presence has a shimmer effect on the ordinary world.  The fabric of physical reality in their vicinity becomes fluid and unstable. We experience the shift as synchronicity or anomaly. If we become alert to the shimmer effect, and make the right moves in that moment, we can help manifest extraordinary things.
    Synchronicity is when the universe gets personal. Though the word “synchronicity” is a modern invention — Jung made it up because he noticed that people have a hard time talking about coincidence — the phenomenon has been recognized, and highly valued, from the most ancient times. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus maintained that the deepest order in our experienced universe is the effect of “a child playing with game pieces” in another reality. As the game pieces fall, we notice the reverberations, in the play of coincidence.
    When we pay attention, we find that we are given signs by the world around us every day. Like a street sign, a synchronistic event may seem to say Stop or Go, Dead End or Fast Lane.  Beyond these signs, we find ourselves moving in a field of symbolic resonance which not only reflects back our inner themes and preoccupations, but provides confirmation or course correction. A symbol is more than a sign: it brings together what we know with what we do not yet know.
    Through the weaving of synchronicity, we are brought awake and alive to a hidden order of events, to the understory of our world and our lives. You do not need to travel far to encounter powers of the deeper world or hear oracles speak. You are at the center of the multidimensional universe right now. The extraordinary lies in plain sight, in the midst of the ordinary, if only you pay attention. The doors to the Otherworld open from wherever you are, and the traffic moves both ways. 
    Grow your poetic health - learn to read what rhymes in a day, or a life - dream with your eyes wide open and all your senses aquiver, and you may become a kairomancer. I invented this word to describe someone who is forever poised to notice and act in those special moments of synchronicity when the universe gets personal and opportunity strikes. It incorporates the name of Kairos, a Greek god who personifies a kind of time that is altogether different from tedious tick-tock time: that special moment of jump time when more is possible than you imagined before. Kairos is the time you must seize by the forelock before it is gone.
     In my book Sidewalk Oracles, I offer the
OATH of the Kairomancer. It is not a vow but a mnemonic. To be a kairomancer you must be

Open to the play of signs and symbols around you
Available to the special moment and willing to say
Thank you to the powers in play and take action to
Honor the magic moment 

Photos: "The Houses Have Eyes in Sibiu" by Robert Moss

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Dreams, death and second burial among the Wayuu

The screen is black for a long time. Then a spectral gray landscape emerges, followed by the leathery face and sticklike arm of an old woman sleeping in a hammock. Now we see the face of a pretty young native woman in a hammock nearby. As they lie in their hammocks, the young woman starts telling her dream. Her voice is full of strange squeaks and sawing noises. We follow the subtitles. She says that in her dream she became lost. Then she found herself among the dead. Her grandfather was there and said he would protect her. On her way back she saw her cousin but her cousin could not see or hear her. This caused great pain. We begin to understand that the cousin is dead.
     The grandmother asks whether the grandfather gave the dreamer a hammock. No? That means she is not going to die soon. Getting lost in a dream is very bad, however. It means that when you die no one will visit you. The young woman - we learn her name is Doris - says she was happy to see her grandfather, and her cousin. She also knows what the dream requires. She must travel across the dry peninsula to her cousin's gravesite, and dig up her body, and rebury the bones.
    The two women discuss this in matter-of-fact tones. There are food taboos that must be respected, the grandmother says. Eat only dried meat the day of the disinternment. Absolutely no cheese, After the second burial, drink some firewater - not enough to get drunk, though - and rest in a hammock but stay awake all day and night until you get home, because this is a dangerous time when you must keep vigil.
    We see Doris' head bobbing in the back of a truck as she makes the journey. We see a laborer chipping away at cement, under a stone cross, at the cousin's gravesite. We may have gleaned by now that the cousin killed herself and has been among the restless dead. The ritual about to be performed seems to be designed to stop her ghost from wandering. But nothing is explained to the viewer.
    We see Doris seated over the open coffin, twisting her cousin's skull loose until she can pull it off the bones, gathering and cleaning all the remains, putting them in cloth bags. We hear voices raised shrill in grief as mourners stage a wake around the hammock where the bags of bones are laid, pending second burial 
    Finally, we follow Doris home and see a old, old shaman woman shaking a rattle and spitting tobacco juice and blowing firewater over her in a cleansing ritual. We hear Doris speaking to the unseen spirit of her cousin. She recalls how, when they were children, they loved to visit the cemetery and pretend they were going to bed there.
    This is a summary of a remarkable 2019 Colombian documentary film called "Lapü", which means "dream" in Wayuunaiki, the language of the Wayuu people, and the only language recorded in the screen version. Often dark and disturbing, the film really requires some background in the traditional beliefs and practices of the Wayuu. They are an indigenous people of northern Colombia and Venezuela, cattle herders who live in a harsh landscape of candelabra cactus subject to drought for nine months of the year and flood for the remaining three.

     I discovered the film in the midst of rereading Michel Perrin, a French ethnographer who lived with the Wayuu and gave us valuable reports on their shamanic dreaming practices and their beliefs about the soul and its itinerary after death. He uses the older word for the Wayuu, Guajiro, in most of his books. His most accessible work, Les praticiens du rêve - a condensation of a 1,000 page PhD thesis - is distinguished by its clear recognition that the true shaman is , first and last, a "dream practitioner". He explains with great clarity how and why dreaming is central to the practice of real shamans, and to how they model and navigate reality.
      Perrin informs us that lapü is not only the Wayuu word for "dream" but the name of a "divinized personality", a "god " of dreaming whose functions extend to the reception of souls after death and to bringing a "little soul" to newborn babies. "Lapü gathers the souls of the dying and brings little bits of soul (petits bouts de l'âme) to little children. He gives dreams to the living, prescriptive dreams, premonitory dreams...from him emanate the auxiliary souls of shamans and, according to a great origin myth, he delivers the keys to dream to humans.” [1]
     As in so many ancient and indigenous traditions, dreams are understood to be excursions of the soul. “The dream is often conceived as nocturnal wandering [by the soul], illness as a long walkabout, death as a definitive departure.” [2]
     Another Wayuu word for dream, ei’pahaa, could be rendered as “an experience of the double”. Perrin calls it an “encounter with the double” after noting that the root of the word,  e’piha, means part of something or its complement. “Every being has its double and every event is anticipated in the form of reflections or shadows out of reach of ordinary conditions.” [3]
    “Many say it: the dream is inspired by the Otherworld (monde-autre)...The truth of this world is found in the Otherworld, to which it is subject. Everything happens as if there is a temporal shift between the two worlds. The Otherworld anticipates this world, of which it is the double – 'the soul', I was told one day.” [4] 

Perrin's informants explain second burial to him like this:

We die twice
and twice we bury our dead
one time their flesh and body
one time their bones, several years later
this puts things in order  [5]

Second burial may lay to rest the yoluha, the spectral form in which the dead continue after death. It has its own land, Hepira, where the dead indulge their appetites – especially for sex – voraciously.

In another of his books,  The Way of the Dead Indians Perrin brings together the insights of five Wayuu elders on the nature of soul, dreaming and death  

To each of us is attached a soul.
it is like a bit of white cotton fluff,
like smoke.
But no one can see it.

Everywhere our soul follows us
like our shadow…

Everything that happens in our dreams
is what happens to our soul.
If a Guajiro starts dreaming that he is elsewhere,
near a well or in a house,
or if he sees birds,
this means that his soul has left his heart…
by way of his mouth
to fly over yonder.
But his heart continues to work…

When a Guajiro is sick,
it’s as though his soul were a prisoner in Dream’s abode.
It’s there that the spirit of a shaman
can find it and bring it back to the sick man… 

It is the souls of the dead who come back to earth
by way of our dreams.
They are the ones that are met by our souls
when we dream of the dead. [6]

A cautionary theme running through the narratives collected by Perrin echoes what I have heard in other indigenous traditions: when you lose your dreams, it is because you have lost a vital part of your soul. This can bring illness, even death.
     The Wayuu say that “when you no longer dream, malapuinwaa, that is a sign or consequence of grave illness. You are almost dead because when your dreams vanish so do all traces of the soul.”
    An elderly, sad Wayuu man, said this:

I just sleep because of my illness
I have been without dreams for a long time
I can’t dream any more, I don’t know how to dream,
because now I am close to death. [7]


1. Michel Perrin,  Les praticiens du rêve: Un example du chamanisme (Paris: Quadrage/PUF, 2011) p.11

2. ibid, p.43

3. ibid, pp 44-5

4. ibid, pp. 53, 78

5. ibid, p.47

-    6. “Guajiro Death”, recounted by five elders  in Michel Perrin, The Way of the Dead Indians: Guajiro Myths and Symbols trans. Michael Fineberg (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987) pp. 7-9  

7.  7. Les praticiens du rêve p.46


Thursday, March 11, 2021

Meetng epic heroes and ancestors in Kyrgyz dreams

Sayakbay Karaleev

Australian Aborigines say that the Big stories are hunting the right people to tell them. The way that Kyrgyz singers are called in vivid and sensory dreams to memorize and recite an epic of more than Homeric length is a fascinating and rather extreme example of how this can work.
     Kyrgyzstan iis a poor, landlocked, Turkic-speaking country that was once part of the Soviet Union. Islam is the dominant religion today, but the contending influences of Soviet secularism and the old shamanic ways of a people of horsemen and sheep herders still run strong.   
    An epic known as the Manas is still central to the national identity of the Kyrgyz people. It runs to 500,000 lines. It recounts the story of a hero khan who fought off his people’s enemies and unified tribes to make a nation, and of his son and grandson. The epic is studded with dreams, which are often “omens” containing prophecies.
   The Manas is transmitted through oral narration, by a special type of master singer, known as the manaschi, who recites the verses and is sustained and reinforced by the lively responses of his audience. He is not simply performing an extraordinary feat of memory, though years of memorization are involved; each performance of the Manas will introduce fresh words, because this is a living entity, not something frozen in a canonical text.   
    Taking on the obligations of a manaschi, a singer or teller of this longer-than-Homeric epic, is clearly only for a few. Typically, the singers-to-be are called to their vocation by dreams in which a great manaschi of the past, or a character from the epic, appears to them. Some of those who receive dream visitations of this kind are reluctant to take on the arduous apprenticeship and demanding duties of the role; they may receive successive visitations, developing into an offer they can’t refuse. For example, they may be told they will fall ill or lose the use of their limbs or their voice if they do not carry the immense and ancient song.   
    A famous manaschi, Sayakbay Karalaev (1894-1971) received his calling in a big dream involving an encounter with the hero of the epic, Manas, and his wife and companions.  In his early twenties, traveling on the road to Orto-Tokay, he was stunned to see an old black boulder transformed into a great white yurt. He heard a loud noise coming from the sky and fainted with terror.
    When he woke – inside his dream vision – he entered the yurt, and was offered food by the wife of Manas. When he left the yurt he was greeted by a man who told him, “We are happy to meet you.” The man introduced himself as another of the heroes of the epic: “”I am Bakai,who finds the way in the dark and words of wisdom when necessary.” He offered the singer-to-be the special food of Manas. As he swallowed the food, Sayakbay took into himself the gift of singing and of memory required to take up his new work.,

Danish anthropologist Maria Elisabeth Louw interviewed contemporary Kyrgyz about their dreams and reports a continuing widespread belief that the ancestors appear to us in dreams and that dreams can provide foreknowledge of the future. She reports that dreams are widely regarded – even in relatively secular Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan – as the main way God keeps in touch with people. “Certain dreams are seen as ayan, omens or direct signs sent by the ancestors, and ultimately by God, which can help people to make the right decisions and choices in life – if they know how to interpret the omens.” [1]
     One of the markers of the dream that is ayan, an omen, is that sensory impressions are unusually strong, including the sense of smell or taste, and that these impressions linger after waking.   
    Dream visitations by an arbak –  the ghost” or “spirit” of  a deceased relative or ancestor – are commonplace, and may influence family decisions.  Thursdays and Fridays are regarded as favorite visiting days for the ancestors, who like to check on how the family is doing; in Muslim households, verses of the Koran are often recited on these evenings.

Sayakbay's dream of meeting a family of spirits inside a stone echoes through other cultures. In an Icelandic story from the 13th century, a powerful spámaðr (prophet, wizard) has a stronghold inside a stone. [2]


1. Maria Elisabeth Louw, "Dreaming up Futures. Dream Omens and Magic in Bishkek" in History and Anthropology vol. 20, np.3 (2010)

2.Þorvalds þáttr víðförla. Excerpted and translated in Georgia Dunham Kelchner, Dreams in Old Norse Literature and Their Affinities in Folklore (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1935) pp. 34, 125.


Sunday, March 7, 2021


You begin Sidewalk Oracles by saying, “We are embarking on a path of real magic.”  Please explain.

Real magic is the art of bringing gifts from another world into this world. We do this when we go dreaming and when we remember to bring something back.  We can also walk the roads of everyday life as conscious or lucid dreamers, learning to recognize how the world is speaking to us in signs and symbols. In night dreams and conscious excursions, we get out there; we go near or far into other orders of reality where the rules of linear time and Newtonian physics do not apply. Through synchronicity, powers of the deeper reality come poking and probing through the walls of our consensual hallucinations to bring us awake. Sometimes they work to confirm or encourage us in a certain line of action; sometimes they intercede to knock us back and discourage us from persisting in the worst of our errors.

Sidewalk Oracles is full of fun everyday games. You call one of them Sidewalk Tarot. What is Sidewalk Tarot and how do you play it?

I invented the phrase Sidewalk Tarot after I noticed that things keep literally popping up, like tarot cards, on the streets and sidewalks of the small city where I live. Anything that enters your field of perception, through any of your senses, within your chosen time frame may count as a card in play, even as one of the greater trumps.
     There are two basic ways to play the game of Sidewalk Tarot. The first is to put your question to the world. Do you have a question or theme in your life on which you would like help or guidance right now? Then try to state that theme as clearly as possible. A simple way to that is to fill in the blank in the following statement: “I would like guidance on……”      The game now is to be ready to receive the first unusual, striking thing that enters your field of perception as the tarot card the world is dealing you in response to your question.
      The second basic way to play Sidewalk Tarot is to schedule ten or twenty minutes of unscheduled time to let the world put its question to you. Using all your senses, you gather impressions during that short period of time and then study them as you would look at a tarot spread.
I make it my intention, the first time I leave the house (or wherever I am staying) in the course of a day, to gather three observations from my external environment. These do not need to be extraordinary in any way, just things that pop up on the street. As in drawing from a tarot deck, you can choose to play with as few or as many cards as you like. The big difference is that a tarot deck offers you only 78 cards; the number of cards in the world deck cannot be counted.

You invented a new word – kairomancy – for the practice of navigating by synchronicity. Please explain.

I invented the word “kairomancy” to describe the practice of navigating by synchronicity. It builds on the idea that a key feature of the experience of meaningful coincidence is that we know this is a special moment when things operate differently. The Greeks have` a word for a special moment of this kind. They call it a Kairos moment. Kairos is also a god, the antithesis of Chronos, the old god of tick-tock linear time. Kairos is jump time, opportunity time, the special moment you have to seize before it is lost.
    So: Kairomancy. The word literally means divination by special moments. But it means more. It means being poised to seize time by the forelock – to recognize a special moment of opportunity (or warning) and act on it tight away.

You invite us to become kairomancers, which sounds romantic and mysterious. What is a kairomancer and how does someone become one?

A kairomancer is someone who is ready to recognize the special moments when synchronicity is at work – and to seize on the revelation or opportunity that is now available. To be a kairomancer, you must be:

Open to new experience
Available, willing to set aside plans and step out of boxes
Thankful, grateful for secret handshakes and surprises, and ready to
Honor your special moments by taking appropriate action.

If you want to become a kairomancer you need a poet in your soul. You need to grow your ability to recognize what rhymes in a day, or a week, or a life and to build that “talent for resemblances” that was held to be the primary requirement for a dream interpreter in ancient Greece. So, yes, this is quite romantic. Walk this path, and you’ll find there is a champagne fizz of excitement in the air any day.

Explain what you mean when you say “coincidence multiplies when we are in motion”.

When you are on the road, outside your regular commute, you are more likely to notice novel things around you. When your plans get screwed up, and you can avoid Type A personality disorder, you may find that  Trickster energy comes into play, making new connections.
     Synchronicity often becomes especially strong when we are going through major life passages, involving birth or death, falling or out of love, losing a job or taking a creative leap. Our emotions are stirred up, and the world seems to be stirred to move in different ways around us.

You give us a synchronicity game called “Listen for Your Daily Kledon”. What is a kledon and how does this work?

I borrowed the word kledon from the ancient Greeks. A kledon is sound or speech coming out of silence or undifferentiated noise. Sounds and voices heard in this way were one of the most important oracles in ancient Greece. A kledon is often something you overhear — a snatch from a stranger’s conversation, a song from a passing car radio, the croak or cry of a bird, the siren of an ambulance.

Another everyday game you suggest is bibliomancy. What is that and how does it work?

Bibliomancy is literally “divination by the book”. You have a theme on your mind, and you open a book at random and look for guidance in what you see on the page. People of faith have often used sacred books in this way, as Abe Lincoln turned to his family Bible (the one on which Preseident Obama swore his oath) for a second opinion on his prophetic dream of his assassination. You can use any book you like, and instead of setting an intention you can simply let the text in front of you offer a spontaneous message for the day.

One of your rules for navigating by synchronicity is “Notice What’s Showing through the Slip”. You say this even led you to your present publisher. Talk to us about that.

When I first spoke to Georgia Hughes, the wonderful editorial director of New World Library, on the phone, she spoke to me as if we had been close friends for ages. I was surprised, and asked if she knew who I was. “You are Robert Moss,” she told me. “You are the author we are publishing.” This was strange, because I had never discussed any book project with Georgia, though I now had one in mind. When I mentioned this, she realized she had confused me with Richard Moss, one of her stable of authors. I begged her not to apologize. “There are Freudian slips and then there are cosmic slips. This one is an opportunity.” I was now emboldened to lay out the idea for the book that was published as The Three “Only” Things. A day later, we had a contract. I have stayed with New World Library ever since. An editor’s slip turned me into a constant author. So: if you hear a name misspoken, or spot a typo, pay attention. Something may be showing through the slip.

Physicists speculate that we are living in Many Interactive Worlds. You say that through dreaming and monitoring synchronicity, we can acquire evidence of the existence of parallel worlds and use this to do some good. Please explain.

It is an emerging consensus in physics that we live in one of numberless parallel universes and that the “many worlds” are interactive in ways that escape our ordinary attention, Synchronistic encounters and moments of déjà vu can help to awaken us to these possibilities. When we keep dream reports over time we sometimes notice that we seem to be living continuous lives in other realities, near or far from our present one. Once you awaken to this possibility, you may start to observe how choices you are making now are bringing you nearer or farther from parallel selves who made different choices in the past. This discovery can equip you to make the conscious effort to draw gifts and lessons from those parallel selves

How do you explain what you do to people who are meeting you for the first time?

When I am asked by a stranger on a plane, "What do you do?" my favorite answer is this: "I am a storyteller, and one of my greatest pleasures is to help people discover their bigger stories, and live those stories and tell them so well that they want to take root in the world."

What is the most important thing you have learned about reality?

The only time is Now. All other times - past, present and parallel - can be accessed in this moment of Now, and may be changed for the better.


Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life by Robert Moss is published by New World Library.

"Were you happier in the life when you died, or the life you are living now?"

A story from the Bardo of Air Travel in the pre-pandemic era. Here is what unfolded when I was traveling with a copy of the French edition of Dreamgates in 2012:

I thought I would not have much of a story to share from my long overnight journey from upstate New York to Montpellier in southern France. No flight delays, no missed connections or lost bags, empty seats beside me on the first two flights, so no stories like that of the Death's Head Dominatrix (which you will find in my book Sidewalk Oracles).
    Then, on my last short flight from Paris-CDG to Montpellier, I took out my inflight reading, a book in French titled Les portes du rêve. A flight attendant immediately asked me if she could see the book. Leafing through it with mounting excitement, she saw that one of the driving themes is using dreams of the departed and conscious dream journeys to the Other Side to gain first hand knowledge of what happens after death.
    "This is my favorite theme," she told me. "I am passionate about it. I am going to get this book!"
    I now confessed that I was the author. I explained that I was reading myself in hopes of brushing up my French prior to opening a depth workshop near Montpellier titled "Faire de la mort une alliée" (Making Death Your Ally). Les portes du rêve is the French version of my book Dreamgates.
    Cabin service at my end of the cabin was now suspended while the flight attendant proceeded to fire a volley of questions. "To write about these things you must have had a near-death experience, yes?"
     Yes, indeed.
    People around us did not seem to mind that the coffee and juice was not being poured. An older couple next to me wanted in on the conversation. Violette, the wife, said, "We are all so hungry for first-hand information about what happens after death. I want to know what I 
can expect in the afterlife, and I don't want to hear it from priests or psychologists. I want to hear it from people who have been there! And I want to know how I can find out these things for myself."
    I quoted Montaigne. 
Puisque nous ne savons pas où la mort nous attend, attendons-la partout. I had forgotten that I don't speak good French as I quoted this wonderful counsel in the original version. "Since we do not know where Death will meet us, let us be ready to meet it everywhere."
    There was a stir of agreement from folks around us. I realized I now had an audience of at least a dozen people.
    "I can't think of any subject as important as what you are discussing," a man across the aisle contributed, writing down my name and the title of my book. A male flight attendant joined us, wanting the same information.

    I observed that we have two main ways of gaining direct knowledge of l'
au-delà, the Other Side. We can communicate with people who are at home there, and we can make the crossing before death, to see for ourselves.
    This led to an urgent series of fresh questions, again centering on my personal experiences.
    I noted that I have never been content with the term "near death experience" for what happened to me a s boy, when I died and came back. On one occasion, when I checked out of my body during emergency appendectomy, aged nine, I seemed to live a whole life in another world. "I don't think I had a near death experience. I think I died and came back."
     More questions, more and more urgent.
     "Do you have no fear of death?
     "Do you talk to many people who have died?"
     "Are there many different places where people go when they die?"
     The short answer to those three, of course, is Yes, Yes, Yes. I gave highest marks to this question: "Were you happier in the life when you died, or the life you are living now?" 

    That was a tough one. I confessed that I was so in love with the people of the other world who raised me as their own when I went away from this world at age nine that I had a hard time living in the body of a nine-year-old boy when I came back. "I suppose I was in love with Death. I have learned to make Death an ally rather than a lover. I want to be ready to meet him anywhere, everyday. I also want to use him as a counselor who can help me to make my life choices with the courage and clarity only Death can bring."
     The flight attendant had returned to her regular tasks, but kept coming back to rejoin the conversation. When we landed, she was waiting outside the baggage claim with some of her colleagues. They were all very interested and wanted my website and book information.
    "You see, we are making you some good publicity, so you will have to keep teaching us about l'
au-delà here in France."
    There was a synchronicity at play in all of this that make it a marvelous confirmation, one of those secret kisses, a bisou from the universe. An hour before I left for the airport, I had sent my favorite editor a few pages from a book-in-progress, from a chapter titled "The Boy Who Died and Came Back." That became the title of the book itself, and I recounted this episode in an introduction titled "Kiss of Death".

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Ten Books That Gave Roadside Assistance on My Soul Journey


Books have been faithful and essential friends all my life. I had a difficult and lonely boyhood, an only child who suffered double pneumonia twelve times between the ages of three and eleven. Books were my portals to realms of imagination and wonder as I lay in the half light of sick rooms. I thrived on good historical novels and on scifi and fantasy.

I like to own paper copies of all the books I read so I can sniff them and caress them and interact with a pencil. I live with an extended book family of around 14,000 volumes. My best finds are often mediated by dreams and by lively shelf elves of the kind that make books materialize and dematerialize in magical ways. My cat Lucy has recently asserted herself as a shelf elf or more - a supervising librarian- on four paws 

Like my favorite writer, Jorge Luis Borges, I sometimes picture paradise as an Infinite library. Like another of my favorite writers, Mircea Eliade, I also know that the most important book I will ever write - and one of the most important I will ever read - is my own journal. Recording dreams, observations and reading reports in my journal is essential daily practice for me.

I was recently invited to identify ten books that have provided guidance and inspiration in my spiritual odyssey and share what was happening in my life when they came to me. My journal was there to remind me what restored my inner compass and put gas in my tank in the critical passages.



The Odyssey 

Since I was boy, the Odyssey has been my favorite vision of life as a mythic journey. Beyond the thrill of sea monsters and angry gods and one-eyed monsters, the tale of Odysseus, the “man of many ways” is the story of a wounded warrior who is healed in the realm of the Divine Feminine. This is why Robert Graves thought it was created by a woman, and I believe he is right. In the Odyssey we see what it means to travel consciously in the presence of a guiding spirit, in this case the goddess Athena. We see that dreams are a field of interaction between gods and humans and transit lounge between the Otherworld and the physical world. Has it been made clearer anywhere else that the hardest part of the heroic quest is the homecoming? A large part of the epic is devoted to the struggles of the returning traveler to find their feet on home ground. I have used many translations over the years, not least for occasional bibliomancy; my favorite now is the most recent; the clean, spare poetic version by Emily Wilson.



W.B.Yeats, Collected Poems 

I knew many of Yeats’ poems by heart before I was presented with my first copy of his collected poems at my graduation from Canberra Grammar School as a prize for writing verse.  In his “Song of Wandering Aengus” I thrilled to the bardic voice of one who lived close to the Otherworld, who knew the secrets of shapeshifting and understood soul loss and soul recoveryI learned much more from Yeats’ other writings, especially Mythologies and A Vision and from walking in his footsteps in Ireland, where it is easy to understand his statement that “the visible is the skin of the invisible”. He appeared to me during a shamanic journey, saying “What better guide to the Other Side than a poet?” and I was enchanted to let him play that role in my inner life as I wrote The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead. I learned the truth of his conviction that kindred spirits reach to each other across time and may generate a “mingling of minds”. I shared his experience of a creative daimon that is forever driving us to attempt the things that are most difficult, short of the impossible.



Dion Fortune, Secrets of Dr Taverner 

She was a true priestess of the Wester Way. I came to her first through her important book Psychic Self-Defence, which is not for the faint-hearted. I proceeded to read, over the years, everything that I could find by her. I was excited to discover that she regarded her fiction as her most important writing on the practice of real magic A character in her novel The Goat-Foot God says that "writers will put things into a novel that they daren't put in sober prose." Dion Fortune herself said "the novels give the practice." While I love The Sea Priestess and her other novels, it is the stories collected in The Secrets of Dr Taverner that I return to again and again. The central character is a soul doctor in tweeds who deals with such complains as reincarnational dramas, astral repercussion, psychic attack, soul theft and energy vampirism. The Taverner stories are both entertaining and a valuable source of practical guidance on psychic protection and spiritual cleansing. In its fictional wrapping, The Secrets of Dr Taverner is a practitioner's casebook and perhaps the most accessible of all Dion Fortune's works for the contemporary reader.



Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents *

When I moved in the 1980s to a farm on the edge of traditional Mohawk country in upstate New York, because of a hawk and a white oak, I started dreaming in a language I did not know, which proved to be an archaic version of the Mohawk language. The speaker was an ancient arendiwanen, or “woman of power”. Our encounters recalled me to ancient ways of dreaming and healing and gave me immense research assignments. In the way of synchronicity, a used book dealer turned up at my door with all 73 volumes of the Jesuit Relations in the back of his truck. These are the reports of blackrobe missionaries from Indian country in the 17th century. Read carefully, drawing aside the veils of religious prejudice and fear, we have here an extraordinary source on the spiritual practices of Native Americans in Northeast America at the time of first contact. The Iroquois taught their children that dreams are the single most important source of both practical and spiritual guidance. They believed that dreams show us “the secret wishes of the soul.” In a time of war and imported disease, they recognized dreaming as a key survival tool and sent their dream shamans to scout the future. You’ll find the essential things I learned from the Jesuit reports -and the direct teachings of the Mother of the Wolf Clan who led me to use them – in my book Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the SecretWishes of the Soul.



C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections 

I discovered Jung in high school and devoured many volumes of his Collected Works when I was an undergraduate. In the midst of my own psychic storms in 1987–1988, I turned to Jung again, to see how he made sense of his own “confrontation with the unconscious.” My main source was Memories, Dreams, Reflections, his life story as recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffé. We did not yet have the Red Book, and the memoir is in any event a more accessible account of what was essentially the Underworld ordeal and initiation of a shaman-scholar of the West. Central to Jung’s ability to restore his inner compass was his daily recording of dreams. “Dreams are the facts from which we must proceed” is one of the most helpful statements that has ever been made about dreams and dreamwork, and confirmation for me of the method I was obliged to improvise in my own time of testing. He confirmed for me that engaging with images in your inner life – including the terrifying ones – is a path to healing and self-empowerment. I felt the deep truth of his ringing assertion that “anyone who takes the sure road is as good as dead.” I write about Jung as “The Dream Shaman of Switzerland” in my book Dreaming the Soul Back Home.



Jane Roberts, Seth Speaks 

When I was going through a crisis of spiritual emergence at midlife, a friend prevailed on me to read Seth Speaks, a book channeled by Jane Roberts from an intelligence who describes himself as “ an energy personality essence, no longer focused in physical matter”. Previously somewhat resistant to channeled material, I found myself gifted with the clearest model of multidimensional reality and the multidimensional self that I had encountered. The book was a life ring for me in my efforts to understand and navigate “past life” and parallel life connections. Seth confirmed for me that we may live many existences at one time. We are connected to personalities living in the past and the future and in parallel realities, ane it is all happening Now.  Reincarnation is for real, but only one of many after-death options, and we mustn't get trapped in linear conceptions of karma and in past-life "passion plays" because any past or future is a probable reality that can be accessed and changed Now.



Joan Grant, Winged Pharaoh 

Winged Pharaoh thrilled me with its vivid depiction of the practices of a dream school in ancient Egypt operating in the precinct of Anubis. Joan Grant published it as a novel, but revealed later that it is actually a book of “far memory” of a life in early dynastic Egypt. We follow Grant’s alter ego, Sekeeta, as 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. As a child, she sleeps with a wax tablet beside her bed, and her first task each morning is to record her dreams. She takes her reports to the priest of Anubis, her dream teacher. Some days she must carry out assignments he gave her inside a dream – for example to bring him a certain flower, or bird feather, or colored bead. She learns to travel in dreaming beyond time and space, to scout the possible future, and to communicate with the deceased. She encounters people who have died and are confused about their condition and moves into the role of psychopomp. In the language of ancient Egypt, a dream (rswt) is literally an “awakening”. Winged Pharaoh reawakened me to what it means to dream like an Egyptian and I have used it as a handbook in guiding others.  



Henry Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism 

A lifelong student of the medieval Sufi philosophers, French scholar Henry Corbin brought the term Imaginal Realm into currency in the West. In Arabic, the term is Alam al-Mithal and it refers to the realm of true imagination, an order of reality that is at least as real as the physical world, with cities and schools and palaces where human travelers can interact with master teachers. Corbin’s great work Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi is a marvelous essay in visionary spirituality that embodies his driving purpose of helping to free the religious imagination from all types of fundamentalism. Corbin regarded study as a quest. In The Voyage and the Messenger looking back on his scholarly journey, he wrote that “to be a philosopher is to take to the road, never settling down in some place of satisfaction with a theory of the world…The adventure is…a voyage which progresses towards the Light". His books were with me, to anchor and orient, through the incandescent nights when I found myself in dialogue with Persian philosopher mystics and riding with the heaven bird of Persian mythology, the Simurgh. The Man of Light is Corbin’s most accessible work and one to which I return again and again. The subtitle of my book Mysterious Realities is Tales of a Dream Traveler from the Imaginal Realm.


W.T. Stead, The Blue Island 

I love the Victorian ghost hunters, especially F.W.H. Myers, W.T. Stead and William James. They were passionately dedicated to producing evidence of the survival of consciousness after physical death that would meet the scientific standards of their day. They promised that after their deaths they would continue their work by trying to communicate in exact detail from the Other Side. Among all the channeled books that resulted, my favorite is The Blue Island,in which Stead (who went down with the Titanic) recounts his early after death experiences to male mediums sitting in the presence of his daughter. As a former journalist, Stead is especially interested in how news is transmitted in the transition zone where he finds himself. He describes a communications center, “an amazingly well organized and businesslike place” constantly filled with ex-physicals. “Those who had on earth believed and those who had not, came to try and wire a message home.” The ones who feel a “heart call” always get priority. They have a system of “travelers”, who can reach receptive minds on Earth. Stead describes how the living can reach to the departed in a similar way. You concentrate on an individual in the spirit world, and if you put enough energy into that thought, the individual you have in mind will feel you and you may be able to open a communications channel. This beautiful little book is one of the essential Western books of the dead.



Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning 

I reread this extraordinary book every few years. A successful Jewish psychiatrist in Vienna, Viktor Frankl was carried off to Auschwitz and reduced to a walking skeleton with a tattoo on his arm. In one of the darkest nightmares of history, he applied his imagination. He grew an impossible dream: of a scene in the future when the Nazis were a memory and he was standing in front of a well-fed audience in a good suit giving a lecture on “The psychology of the Concentration Camps”. In his vision the Nazi evil was so thoroughly destroyed – and he so thoroughly restored – that he could lecture about it from an objective perspective. Frankl not only survived the Holocaust. His dream played out a year after the war, in every detail. I have derived three life-orienting lessons from this. First, that however tough our situation may seem to be, we always have the freedom to choose our attitude, and this can change everything. Second, that our problems, however bad, are unlikely to be quite as bad as the situation of someone who has been sent to a Nazi death camp. That thought may help us to gain perspective, and to stand back from a welter of grief and self-pity and rise to a place where we can start to dream up something better.Third, we can make inner movies, and if they are good enough it is possible that they will play in the theater of the world.

 I look over this list and wonder why it does not include so many other books and authors that have affected me deeply: Albert Camus, Rilke, Herman Hesse, the Upanishads, Dostoyevsky, Christopher Brennan, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Hilda Ellis Davidson, Ursula Le Guin, Mary Oliver, AE (George Russell), the (for me) inescapable Borges and Eliade. Again, my journal shaped my selections, reminding me how certain books converged with critical passages of spiritual emergence in my life, when I needed confirmation even more than inspiration.

*I'm not expecting anyone to read the 73 volumes of the Jesuit Relations that are on my shelves although today you can no doubt find them onlne. I was looking over the books that gave me anchors and life rings in decisive passages in my journey.In this case, I needed confirmation of what I was learning from the Mother of the Wolf Clan I call "Island Woman"in my books. In another book that was very important to me, The Journal of Major John Norton, a half-Cherokee British officer in the war of 1812, I confirmed the historical identity of Island Woman as the grandmother of Molly and Joseph Brant, born Huron (Wendat) and adopted into the Mohawk natoion after she was captured by a Mohawk raiding party aged about five.