Sunday, May 30, 2021

A Limbo of Unfulfilled Creative Spirits

Notes from a Reading Life

"You are awakening the little man," the Gypsy queen announces to Simon Darcourt, the professor-priest. He fears she is referring to his neglected male organ but soon we learn that the little man is E.T.A. Hoffmann. The deceased composer and storyteller has been roused from his torpor in a Limbo of unfulfilled creative spirits by a plan to complete his unfinished opera "Arthur of Britain".

I am rereading Robertson Davies' novel The Lyre of Orpheus, the final book in The Cornish Trilogy. It makes me laugh and tremble and shiver with excitement, sometimes in the space of one paragraph.

In the previous novel in the trilogy, What's Bred in the Bone, Davies gave us a daimon reviewing the life dramas of a character he is supervising with the Angel of Biography, the Lesser Zadkiel. They are seated comfortably in the wings as the play goes on. Simon Darcourt, a continuining and simpatico charcater throughout the trilogy, can't eavesdrop on their conversation but intuits how they operate:

“Of course you know what Hesiod calls daimons: spirits of the Golden Age, who act as guardians to mortals. Not tedious manifestations of the moral conscience, like Guardian Angels, always pulling for Sunday-school rightness and goodness. No, manifestations of the artistic conscience, who supply you with extra energy when it is needed, and tip you off when things aren't going as they should. Not wedded to what Christians think of as what is right, but to what is your destiny. Your joker in the pack."

In The Lyre of Orpheus. Robertson scares us with a vision of what happenss to creative spirits that won't give their best work. Here's how the dead Hoffmann describes his current situation:
"I find myself now in Limbo, in that part of it reserved for those artists and musicians and writers who never fully realized themselves, who never quite came to the boil, so to speak. Limbo: not the worst of hereafter, for it is free of the chains of space and time, and permits its denizens a great deal of versatility and, shall I say it, some posthumous influence? Still, not to be too delicate about it, Limbo is a bore."
He confesses, "We never really did our best and that is a sin of a special kind".
Yet there is hope of release. When someone among the living - even the dullest academic plodder - takes an interest in the work of an unfulfilled creator, that stirs things up. The creative spirit in Limbo may now seek to join forces with the person who is reviving or enlarging his work. So Hoffmann now plans to "stand at the shoulder" of Schnack, the feral, dirty young musical prodigy who wants to complete his opera (and has the budget for it) "and push her in the right direction, so far as I can."

In a conversation about The Lyre of Orpheus for The Camelot Project,  Robertson Davies said, "I write novels that I hope will be interesting just as stories, but they also have implications and byways which I think would interest people who have more information. That may conceivably lead them to form conclusions about the persistence of myth in what we are pleased to call real life. I get awfully tired of people who talk about real life as though it had no relation to the life of the imagination and the life of legends and myth. They would do better to look again, though the trouble is they don't know enough in order to know where to look."
Hoffmann's Arthurian opera is fiction but the Arthurian triangle plays out in the novel. The idea that secret working minds can reach to each other across death is no fiction to me. Yeats spoke of it as the "mingling of minds". Imagine that.

Art:  Léon Spilliaert, The Silhouette of the Artist (1907),. Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent. 

Notes from a Reading Life: Salute to Pat Controy

I love to read about writers reading. I devoured The Road to Xanadu, an immense scholarly study of Coleridge's vast literary diet on his way to delivering "Kubla Khan". I delight in Jorge Luis Borges' accounts of his passionate lifelong love affair with books, and in the bookish essays that stud Mircea Eiade's journals and autobiographies. 

Pat Conroy's memoir My Reading Life has prompted me to publish more of my adventures in reading and how they spill into my experience or the world, and the roads I travel in dreams. Listen to Pat Conroy:

 "Writers of the world, if you've got a story, I want to hear it. I promise it will follow me to my last breath. You will hearten me and brace me up for the hard days as they enter my life on the prowl. I reach for a story to save my own life."

Conroy's word magic never falters as he gives us his memoir of his life as a reader. He made it his practice to read at least 200 pages a day. "Reading," he insists, "is the most rewarding form of exile and the necessary discipline for a novelist who wants to get better."

Shifting to his own fiction, he declares, "I do not record the world exactly as it comes to me but transform it by making it pass through a prism of fabulous stories I have collected on the way."

Reading was always his approach run to those wild day-nights when he wrote his heart out, completing The Great Santini by writing in a Georgia cabin for 24 hours straight. "The idea of a novel should stir your blood, and you should rise to it like a lion lifting up at the smell of an impala."



June 3, 2021

Thomas Wolfe's Magic Apple
I have been using A Reading Life for morning bibliomancy. I opened it at random today and found this:
"Why'd you want me to eat this apple, Mr Norris?" Mr Norris drove fast along the curves of the mountain road, pausing, selecting his words with care. "It's high time, boy, that you learned that there is a relationship between life and art."
Mr Norris was Conroy's English teacher. He had introduced Conroy to Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel when he was 16 and the boy had fallen in love with his first literary hero. They had just been to visit the boarding house in Asheville, owned by Wolfe's mother, where Thomas had grown up and watched his brother die. Mr Norris had plucked an apple for Conroy from Thomas' favorite tree.
Now that is a teacher!
Conroy writes: "Wolfe hovers over a blank page like God dreaming of paradise. With every word he writes he tries to give you a complete and autonomous world. Because he cannot do otherwise, Wolfe takes you high up into the mountains, past the tree line, to those crests and snowy peaks of the highest points of the earth. He stammers, he murmurs, he hunts for the right words, and words spill out of his pockets and cuffs and shirtsleeves as he tries to awaken us from the dream of our own barely lived-in lives."
That magic apple delivered some juice. Follow the sweetness and it could lead you back to Thomas Wolfe, writing in Look Homeward , Angel
“And who shall say--whatever disenchantment follows--that we ever forget magic; or that we can ever betray, on this leaden earth, the apple-tree, the singing, and the gold?”

Saturday, May 29, 2021

How the dead look younger after they die

In most dreams, the deceased appear to be living, and very often the dreamer is unaware that the person he or she encounters is “dead” until after waking. The reason is that the deceased are indeed alive, though no longer in the physical realm.
    The dead may appear as the dreamer remembers them from their last days of physical life, especially in the first dream encounters.
    Over time, it is quite common for the departed to alter their appearance, to shrug off signs of age and bodily ailments, and to present themselves as healthy and attractive. People who died in later years frequently reappear looking around 30 years old. In the west of Ireland and in Scotland, it is widely believed among country folk that the departed grow upwards or downwards in their apparent age until they look 30 years old. Lady Gregory wrote about this memorably in her Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland.    After my mother's death, she revised her appearance a number of times until she appeared to me as a lovely young woman on a beach, seemingly about 29 years old.
    A woman in one of my workshops wanted to know why her father continued to look aged, bent and ill in her dreams. I suggested that she should ask him directly. She made it her intention to reenter the most recent of her dreams of her dead father, and found herself with him right away. His appearance began to shimmer. She saw him transforming into a handsome young man dressed for a night out. She asked him why it had taken him so long to change. "You were the one who needed time," he told her, hugging her tight. "I didn't think you would recognize me if I changed faster than you could handle."
    The departed may change their appearance and personal style even more radically, as they evolve in understanding and come to realize that they are now living in energy bodies that are quite malleable.   

    Jung dreamed of the two central women in his life, his wife and his “junior wife” and life companion Toni Wolff, after their deaths. Toni appeared looking much taller and younger than she had been when she died, and exceedingly beautiful, wearing a lovely multi-colored dress in which the wonderful blue of the kingfisher was the dominant hue.
    After Emma’s death, Jung saw her in a vivid dream in which she appeared in her prime, “perhaps about thirty” but with a depth of wisdom beyond youth or age. Jung concluded that his wife’s dream persona was “a portrait she had made or commissioned” for him. “It contained the beginning of our relationship, the events of fifty-three years of marriage, and the end of her life also. Face to face with such wholeness one remains speechless.”

In one of my own dream excursions this week, I spent good times in a pleasant village of the dead where everyone looked 30ish apart from the elder of the group, who looked to be a healthy 40 years old, less than half his age when he left his physical body. He has been a dear friend, before and after his death, and I was intrigued to find him presiding over an agreeable consensual afterlife situation for educated, upper crust Brits who delight in games of many kinds, from croquet to riddling and verbal competition. It became clear that some people here are rehearsing for their next transition on the many roads of the interlife.
Photo: Jung with Emma (née Rauschenbach)

Friday, May 28, 2021

Tracking the Dream Traveler

Sometimes, lying in the drifty state near sleep, I sense that as I grow drowsy, a second self, back to back with me on the bed, is stirring awake, ready to prowl. I call him the Traveler.
I can only keep up with him by becoming him. When I come home from our travels, I am not quite myself and no longer him. When we part company, I am left to pore over scraps of memory like the things I find in my pockets and on my phone after a regular plane trip: a boarding pass, a bus ticket, a foreign banknote, a scribbled love note, random photos of far-away cities and beaches and train stations.
    I track the Traveler by recording his exploits – the ones I manage to catch – in my journal. In one report he seems to be very like my present self, just two days ahead of me, on my present probable event track. Sometimes he is much further ahead, or on a different – mildly or radically – event track, or he is in another body in another time or another world.
     When I am the Traveler the journey often begins at a certain threshold, a gap between the worlds, in a twilight of the mind. I may find myself floating upwards. I roll over and as I do so I feel something pulling loose from my physical body. Lights flash at the top of my head and I find myself being drawn up into a cone of light, like a pyramid with an opening at the top. There are days when, flat on my back under a tree, I fall upwards into the bowl of the sky, like Rumi. There are nights when I feel I am about to blast off like a rocket, or be blown from the mouth of a cannon, through circles of red within black. Or I find myself stripping off, shedding the body like a snake skin, dropping it like an old overcoat. When the travels begin, I often find myself looking at a geometric pattern. It may be a glowing energy grid. It may resemble the weave of a carpet, or the strands of a net.

     This has been going on for as long as I can remember. You might say I got a jump start by being thrown out of my body and into other worlds at an early age. At age 3 and again at age 9 I was pronounced clinically dead in hospitals during crises of illness. Today we talk about near-death experiences but I still think of this as dying and coming back, which is what Australian doctors told my parents I had done. During one of these experiences, during a few minutes under a surgeon’s knife, I seemed to live a whole lifetime with a different people in another world. So I have always understood that there are worlds beyond the physical world that are no less real – and possibly more real – and that we can travel there by shifting consciousness.

For many adventures in dream travel, see my book Mysterious Realities:Tales of a Dream Traveler in the Imaginal Realm. 

Art: "Flying into the Blue" by Peter Sis.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Night Gardens of Forking Paths


I try not to rush to organize my dream memories as a linear narrative. I love stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. However, I am also aware that in dreaming we may shift from one scene - or one world - to another. Dreams may be nested inside each other, or playing on many screens at the same time. Dreaming, we can act and observe simultaneously in multiple realities on multiple tracks.

My dreams from the last cycle of sleep overnight remind me of Borges' story “the Garden of Forking Paths”. Riffing on the detective genre, Borges anticipates the Many Worlds hypothesis in physics with his account of a legendary unfinished Chinese novel whose plotline is quite different from most narratives. In fiction, as in ordinary life, a character typically comes to a point of decision, makes a choice, and then the paths not taken fade away. In Borges’ fiction within a fiction, all possible outcomes of an event are manifested simultaneously, opening different event tracks. The proliferation of possibilities is enacted again and again along each track. The constantly-diverging paths may converge again, as the result of new circumstances.

In the Borges story, the stakes include life or death and vital wartime intelligence. My brief report from a dream excursion last night involves small decisions without scary consequences. I find it entertaining as a dream introduction to the forking paths of the Many Worlds.

Four Tracks to Prague

I deliver a wildly popular lecture to a big crowd in a castle near Prague. In the forecourt afterwards, I notice there are hundreds of Czech coins on the ground. I bend down, pick up a 20 korun piece, and present it to a young woman. She is embarrassed, pointing out that the coins were left as an offering. I tell her she can  use the 20 crowns (about $1) to make an offering in support of something she wants to manifest in her own life.  There is a wonderful sense of abundance, service and simplicity.

After many hugs with people from the group, I am alone and need to find my way from the castle to a hotel near the city center.

I explore at least four options. Though they are laid out here as a sequence, I think I travel on all four tracks simultaneously in the spacious reality of dreaming.

1. I follow the crowd from my lecture. I see lots of people walking to the city center along railroad tracks. I walk parallel to them, across the tracks. Then

2. I am on a train. A laughing girl puts a hat on my head that isn’t mine as we come to a station. I retrieve my hat from an overhead rack. It is soft tweed like an Irish walking hat. Someone has removed the leather band. When I try it on, the hat is too small for me and the crown has changed shape. It now looks like the "topper" on a cartoon leprechaun. I forget the hat because now

3. I am walking down the hill from the castle to a pleasant shopping district. I meet an elegant lady in furs from Vienna. She is sampling several fine wines and may be a dealer. She tells me, "I am here for the wine". We discuss sharing a taxi. Before this happens

4. I manage to hail a cab in a different neighborhood Solo again, I wait for the driver to make room for my packages. The taxi morphs into an armored military vehicle bristling with weapons. The soldiers are friendly and soon we are speeding along the highway towards Prague.

Feelings:  Entertained. Glad to have some new material relevant to one of my favorite themes: living consciously in the multidimensional universe.

Reality check: I was scheduled to lead a retreat in northern Bohemia this week, before the pandemic forced me to put a hold on in-person workshops and international air travel. I have taught and traveled in the Czech Republic many times over the past decade. Transit issues involving the Czech Republic are not an exotic element in my dreams.

I have taught and traveled in Ireland, have some Irish ancestry and am not a stranger to leprechauns.

I like good wines but not as much as the lady from Vienna, known only to me in the dream.

I love trains, though I rarely ride them these days. I am alive to the symbolic resonance of a train (as in training) and a track (as in line to a certain destination) in dreams.

The switch to a military vehicle in #4 may reflect security concerns in relation to literal travel.

My dream travel agent, also no doubt my dream scriptwriter, gave me at least four ways of getting to my destination As I noted, I don't think options 1-4 are a linear sequence. They appear to be glimpses of events unfolding on four parallel tracks in alternate realities, between which the focus of my dominant personality shifts back and forth. I am arriving at the station, amid the funny business with the hat, at the same moment I am speeding along a highway towards Prague, in the armored car.

Maybe this isn’t so different from life anywhere – except that in ordinary reality we are often quite oblivious to the fact that we walk in many worlds.

Top Photo: View from Nové Město nad Metují by Robert Moss


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

When Dreams Are Memories of the Future


You have dreamed the future. You say you don't remember? Think again. Surely you've had the experience of déjà vu. The cat crosses the street in front of you, the tall guy steps into the restaurant, the light shimmers on the water or on your new lover's hair just so, and you know you have been in this scene before. I have yet to meet anyone who hasn't felt a tingle at a moment like this, a shiver that brings with it the knowledge that the world is deeper than we have been taught.

      What has this got to do with dreaming the future? Everything. In French, déjà vu literally means "already seen". The phrase begs the question of how we can possibly have "already seen" something we have not set eyes on before. In most cases, what is going on when we experience déjà vu is this: an event we once dreamed is now manifesting in waking life. We may have forgotten the dream, but now that it is playing out in the physical world, we remember something. If we wanted to describe the phenomenon more accurately, still borrowing from French, we would call it  déjà rêvé, "already dreamed".

     What comes back to us, in déjà vu, is a memory of the future. We traveled ahead of ourselves, in a dream, and forgot the trip until we found ourselves back in the same place.

     The sporadic experience of déjà vu is just our entry point here, just a way to establish that we are talking about something that is common, if not universal, human experience. To get better at remembering the future, we need to become active dreamers. In dreams, we are time travelers. Released from the laws of Newtonian physics and the consensual hallucinations we harbor in our everyday brains, the dream self travels into past time, future time, and alternate realities.

     I have the impression that every night, my dream self is traveling ahead of me on my possible roads into the future, scouting the ways. He brings me memories of the future, the way you or I might bring back postcards and souvenirs from a trip abroad. Part of my daily practice is to scan every detail that I remember from my dreams with this in mind, asking: is it remotely possible that any of this could happen in the future, literally or symbolically?

     Memorias do futuro. Memories of the future. I once saw that sign on a bar in a dusty town in the northeast of Brazil. If we truly have memories of the future, does that mean that the future already exists?

     Yes and no. Any  future we can foresee is a possible - not inevitable - future. When we wake up to the fact that we have access to memories of the future, especially in dreams, we can start drawing on this data bank to change things for the better. We are not condemned to stay on a particular event track unless we have totally forgotten where it leads, and refuse to consider switching to a different line. We can use souvenirs of the future, delivered in dreams, to avert an unwanted future event, or to bring a happy future event into manifestation.

     To do these things, we need to grow our understanding and our practice. For simplicity, we can distinguish several modes of knowing the future: 


Through precognition, we see events and circumstances ahead of time, as they will be played out. A precognitive dream may be literal, or symbolic or both. For example, a dream of a twister might turn out to be both a preview of a literal disaster and advance notice of an emotional storm that will hit with the force of a tornado. Once you have confirmed your ability to see - or rather remember - the future in this way, you are ready to do much more interesting things.

Early Warnings

In dreams and intuitive flashes, and through the play of coincidence, we may receive an early warnings of a possible future development we may not want - a crisis at work, the bust-up of a relationship, a health problem, a car accident.

If we read the clues correctly, we can use such early warnings to avoid a possible future problem by taking preemptive action. 

Opportunity Calls

Our dream self returns from his night excursions with tips about coming opportunities. These tips require action if we are going to manifest a future we'll enjoy.You remember a dream in you are in your ideal home, or doing the work that nourishes your soul and your bank account, or you are with your soulmate, who is someone you have not yet met in the regular world. You need to take physical action to get yourself, in your physical body, to where your dream self has already been. 

Choosing Alternate Event Tracks

Dreaming, we discover and inhabit the true nature of time, as it has always been known to dream travelers and is now confirmed by modern science. Linear time, as measured by clocks, and experienced in plodding sequences of one thing following another, always heading in the same direction, is an illusion of limited human awareness, at best (as Einstein said) a convenience. In dreaming, as in heightened states of consciousness, we step into a more spacious time, and we can move forwards or backwards at varying speeds.We not only travel to past and future; we travel between alternate timelines. With growing awareness, we can develop greater and greater ability to choose the event track - maybe one of infinite alternative possible event tracks - that will be followed through a certain life passage, or even the larger history of our world.

This may be a case of the observer effect operating on a human scale. It is well understood that at quantum levels, deep within subatomic space, the act of observation plucks a specific phenomenon out of a mass of possibilities. It may be that, when our dream selves observe something of the future, we select a certain event track that will begin to be manifested in the physical world. By a fresh act of observation, through active dreaming, we can then proceed to alter that event track, or switch to an entirely different one.


For much more on this subject see chapter 6 of Conscious Dreaming and my book Dreaming True

Photo: Covered Bridge on Metuje River by RM


Saturday, May 22, 2021

Healing the Fragmented Self in the Arms of Great Mother Bear


If we are to be whole, we must gather and bring together the divided aspects of our selves. Some parts of our soul may have been missing for a very long time - from the time of trauma in early childhood, or in the birth canal, or even inside the womb. Dreams will put us on the track of these lost boys and girls, as will a childhood memory. Caring friends, gifted therapists and genuine shamans can help us to bring them home.

With or without help, bringing the vital energy of our younger selves home to our present bodies can be a bumpy process. Say you have succeeded in making contact with a child self who checked out of your life many years ago because the world seemed so cold and so cruel. To persuade that younger self to come into your body and your world now, you will need to persuade her that you are safe and you are fun. To do that, you'll need to promise that she will never be shamed or abused again, and that you'll do things and eat things that please her. She may not believe your promises unless you can invoke some powerful helpers. Here the animal guardians can play an essential role, because a young child who doesn't trust you may trust the bear or the tiger that is supporting you.

If you succeed in reclaiming a younger part of yourself, the blessings may include fresh energy, imagination, skills - and joy. But to keep that part of your vital soul with you, you are going to have to make good on your promises over the long haul. There will always be the risk that if that part of you senses a recurrence of an old trauma, or simply finds you drab and boring to be around, she'll try to take off again.

In my personal work in facilitating soul recovery over many years, I have found Great Mother Bear an impeccable ally. She is renowned as a fierce protector of her young, especially against possible harm from the males of the species. On several occasions when a child self was reluctant to come home to an adult self - or was threatening to leave again - I have found that invoking Great Mother Bear can serve wonderfully to confirm or re-make the union.

In a gathering of active dreamers on a mountain in the New York Adirondacks, I introduced a group journey to work with Great Mother Bear in this cause.

We had begun, as we usually do, by finding ourselves standing with a special tree, rooted in the earth rising between earth and sky, drinking the light.

I invited our dreamers to go down through the roots of the tree, into the Cave of the Dreaming Bear. 

"You will find yourself with a family of bears of all ages. Going deeper, you will find yourself with Great Mother Bear. Let her fold you in her deep embrace. You will receive blessing and healing and nourishment in her lap.

"When you feel ready, turn around in the lap of Mother Bear so you are facing out. Extend your arms and invite a younger part of yourself - one that has been missing or tends to go absent from your life - into your own embrace.

"When you feel that younger self in your arms, let Mother Bear fold you both in her great embrace and bring you closer together, so close that you become one." 

After giving these directions, I drummed for the group and each member pursued her own journey down through the tree roots, into the Place of the Bear.

At the end of the drumming, we shared our journey reports. Most of our dreamers reported experiences that were vividly real, comforting and energizing.

"I had the wonderful sense of being rocked in the arms of Mother Bear," one of our dream journeyesrs told us. "When I extended my arms, my four-year-old self came to me. We were then blessed by an amazing family reunion. My favorite grandmother, who died when I was four, came to join us, taking on the appearance of a child of the same age. Then my two daughters, also looking as they did when they were four, came to join the party. I feel like having a birthday party for all of them."

In the Cave of the Bear, another traveler told us, she had "a kind of Goldilocks experience." She met three young bears that shapeshifted into child aspects of herself. They joined her in the family hug, and then they all proceeded to set up a tea party.

One of our dreamers  had the experience of rebirth, of being born through the generous body of Mother Bear.

Another woman in our group had tried, in the past, to reach out to her own four-year-old self who had gone missing because of abuse. In one encounter, that very young self had told her. "I can't be with you all the time because you get too distracted." Then the child self added, fiercely, "All your good ideas are from me and you have to make them happen." At the start of the drumming, the four-year-old reappeared and told her, "I'll spend the weekend with you because this stuff is really cool." She did not consent to enter the dreamer's embrace, within the arms of Mother Bear. Instead, what came was a "golden child" who seemed to be more than a younger self, carrying great gifts of creativity, innocence, and light energy.

Yet another dreamer met a younger self who was urgent for her to go beyond the Cave of the Bear, back to the childhood home where bad things had happened. She complied, and found herself intervening, as her adult self, to close and lock the bathroom door, so her child self would have safety and privacy. She felt deep closure and resolution, and commented, "If you can strengthen the adult, you can save the child."

 Art: Top "Dancing with the Bear" by Robert Moss
Middle: "Drumming Bear" by Cristina Flueras
Bottom: "Dreaming Bear" by Tracy Cunningham

Friday, May 21, 2021

Night Travels with a Celtic Gatekeeper


From my pre-pandemic travel journals

After more than twenty hours of travel by plane and coach, followed by dinner with conference staff, I was ready for bed when I got to my room in Pratt's hotel on South Parade in Bath. The room was charming, as is the Georgian city, but the night was very far from still. Raucous, sometimes feral, bands of drunken youths ranged the streets, howling and squalling, even in front of the seeimingly dormant police station a block away on Manvers street. The packs were often fifteen or twenty strong.-

The noise did not abate until 4 a.m. Some of the drunks were no doubt students who had not learned to hold their grog (or to kick it) since Bath is essentially a city of universities and retirees; others looked very lumpen, unlikely material for any academy. I wondered if there were some holes in the otherwise elegant city's sewers and drains through which unpleasant creatures of the Netherworld spewed forth after dark. 

Despite the racket, I drifted off for a time, then surfaced in that liminal hypnopompoic state that is a promising place for visions. At last Bath seemed to be blessedly quiet. In my second body, I drifted to the window and looked out. 

My window looked down on Duke Street. I was fascinated to observe, in this depth of night, that a semi-circle of figures were gathered on the pavement, looking up at my window. They were dressed in the garments of many different periods. There was a woman with flaming red tresses I knew to be a priestess from the time when a fierce ancient Celtic goddess, Sulis, was worshipped in association with the famous thermal waters of Bath, long before anyone thought of bathing in them in the way that became fashionable for Romans and Georgians in their contrasting modes. There were Romans in togas, and in the armor of a centurion. There was a Regency dandy in tailcoat, high collar and exorbitant stock and top hat. There were figures from the time of the Great War, and of World War II, and from quite recent times. And I knew that I was in the presence of the dead. 

Drawn by curiosity, I had drifted through the window and down among them. I realized it might not be a good idea to have unfiltered contact with these local spirits., especailly since some of them might have contributed to the disorder of the human rat-packs that had bothered me earlier. 

I felt the need for a guardian. He was there before I reached for him, standing at my left shoulder, a tall, strapping figure with a great mane of hair. He held a long-handled hammer, something like a croquet mallet, balanced against his left shoulder. I knew his name, because many years ago, in a time when I needed to re-set and maintain psychic boundaries, I had dreamed repeatedly of carrying a similar weapon as I parolled the borders of my property. The recurring dream symbol has prompted me to do some research, and I came up with images and inscriptions relating a Celtic god named Sucellos in Gaul. In Gaulish, "Su-cellos" means the "Good Striker". He seemed like the very image of the right gatekeeper in this environment, especially since he als has an association with beer and is sometimes depicted carrying what may be a beer pot. 

I now felt confident that I could safely engage with some of the ghostly figures on Duke Steet. The red haired priestess took me into a time long before the Roman baths, when the waters bubbled and steamed, unconfined, in a swampy landscape. I did not enter those waters; this, it seemed was not how they were used. 

This was the proscenium to some more dramatic episodes, in the hours before dawn, when I journeyed deeper into what lies beneath the stone and asphalt of Bath Spa. On such explorations, it is always a good idea to take along a friend with a big stick.

Bath Spa, Somerset  February 19, 2011



Thursday, May 20, 2021

The song that is a road and the songs that come from the plant spirits.


You find the villages of the Temiar when a shady path through the rainforest opens out onto a field of hill rice or a clump of man-high tapioca plants. This people of the Malaysian rainforest live in the old way, by slash-and-burn agriculture, moving their thatched houses when their fields get tired. They live very close to their land. Their stilt houses are walled with bamboo poles, laid horizontally so there are gaps between them. There are also gaps between the bamboo slats of the floors. Earth and trees are always visible. No solid boundary is set between human settlement and the natural world.

It is not surprising that, in this setting, people have an intimacy with the Earth that colors and informs their dreams. They believe that everything is alive and conscious, and that in dreams human spirits, traveling outside the body, encounter spirits of plants and animals and mountains and rivers. There is great power in these encounters, especially when a tiger or a tree gifts the dreamer with a song that can later call in its energy for healing. A song of this kind, received in a dream and freighted with the power to summon an animal guardian, or wake a mountain, is called a norng, which literally means a “road”, or pathway. The kind of path that can get your body safely through the forest, or guide a soul to where it belongs.

I learned about the Temiar through the beautiful work of American musicologist and anthropologist Marina Roseman, who has not only recorded their dream songs but has sung in the women’s chorus when healers sing over a patient.  I have listened to her recording of a tiger dream song. It is thrilling. Above the tapping of bamboo sticks, you hear the gravelly voice of the tiger as he rises from a nap to become an ally in healing, by driving away a disease spirit, or lending his own fierce vitality to a sick person.

One of the songs Roseman translated reveals the process of acquiring a healing song from a plant spirit.  A man named Uda Pandak had been seeding and tending keralad plants, patting and shaping the earth around the roots. In the time when the keralad came into flower, he smelled its fragrance strongly inside a dream. After releasing its odor, the plant took human form and announced a spiritual connection with the dreamer.  “It is you that I want.” As a human, the plant now began to sing, giving the dreamer a new song for healing. Notice the stages in this process, which proceeds like the natural growth of fruit and flower. You make a connection in the natural world, by getting your hands in the earth, seeding and weeding. The plant releases its odor. Then its spirit morphs into human form, initiates conversation and finally produces the song.[1]

The ability to receive songs from spirit guides in dreams promotes a Temiar dreamer to the status of "a person with halaa", a powerful medium.  In the narrative of Uda Pandak, he did not ask for a song or a visitation by the plant spirit. However, he laid the ground by tending the earth around its roots. The keralad plant's "head soul" emerged of its own volition and met the "head soul"of the dreamer. Interestngly, Roseman found that Temiar, for the most part, do not request songs from the spirits. They believe that the spirits will come spontaneously when they are living close to the earth and respecting life upon it.

1. Marina Roseman, Healing Songs from the Malaysian Rainforest.: Temiar Music and Medicine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) 52-58.

Text adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

When NOT to share dreams

The Lightning Dreamwork process, which I introduced to a worldaudience in 2000, provides a safe and usually fun way to share dreams and personal stories with just about anyone, just about any time. A basic requirement is that we offer feedback in the “if it were my dream” format and never presume to tell each other what their dreams or their lives mean. The dreams (as Jung once said) are the facts from which we proceed. We don’t need more context than is required to locate the dream in the dreamer’s life and possible future, and we discourage sharing too much personal background,
     Nonetheless, the question inevitably arises: when should I not share a dream? A general answer is that you don’t want to share your dreams with someone who refuses to play by the rules and may use the sharing as a pretext to lay an interpretation on you or, worse, go on a fishing expedition into your private life.
     Assuming that you do have partners in dreamwork who respect the rules, there are still occasions when you will want to be cautious about what material you share. I want to review certain kinds of dreams that you may want to share only with an intimate confidant, or not at all,

Dreams that contain intimate personal information

You won’t want to share these except with someone you are willing to make privy to intimate details of your life.

Dreams about other people that contain troubling information

We are all psychic in our dreams, and we sometimes dream about other people’s situations in ways that are disturbing. We see someone we know involved in an accident, or a relationship or health issue. We don’t want to lay this kind of information on that other person without carefully evaluating its accuracy and then considering how best to use it in a way that actually helps.

We need to be wary of projection. The dream may actually reflect or own situation rather than that of another person. 

The best way to clarify what is going on is to go back inside the dream in a conscious journey carrying a detective’s questions: Who, what, when, where, how? If we are satisfied we have dreamed of an issue in another person’s life, it may be appropriate to share the details – if we have specific details that could be applied to avert or gentle an unhappy scenario. 

More often it may be better to use the information without sharing it overtly: for example, by suggesting gently that someone may want to pay a visit to a doctor, or think twice about a travel plan, or by assisting family and friends to prepare for a coming death,

Terrifying and disgusting dreams.

You may really need help with these, but you want to share with those who are prepared to help, through their own depth of practice, and not lay the scary or smelly stuff on someone who is not ready and able to guide you through. Thinking about “bad” dreams and nightmares in general, there are interesting and conflicting folk traditions. Some hold that you should spit out the bad stuff on your own, while appealing to higher powers to release you from it. Some say you should not tell the evil dream because in doing that you might increase the likelihood that it will manifest. Some say that it’s fine to tell it before breakfast but you had better get that done before breaking bread.

Dreams from inside gated communities

There are gated communities in the dreamworlds and they are far more interesting than privileged reat estate developments in ordinary reality. If you are connected to a certain spiritual community, esoteric order or shamnanic lineage, your dreams may be a field of interaction with other members from across time and place and your experiences may include initiation, ritual and advanced training, in ways that are held secret by such traditions in ordinary reality. It is no secret among adepts that true initiation takes place in a hidden order of reality, and the details are not to be shared with those who have not earned the price of admission.

Big dreams of power

In many ancient and indigenous traditions that understand that dreams are real experience and a field of interaction with gods, spirits and others, certain dreams of power are held tight, because the dreamers do not want to dilute what has been given to them. Personally, I enjoy sharing big dreams of power in such away that I can invite others to come inside a tent of vision – for example, through a group shamanic journey into the key scenes from such dreams – and receive some of that power.

The rules of the Lightning Dreamwork process are in several of my books, including Active Dreaming.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Welcome to the Imaginal Realm


There is a world between time and eternity with structures created by thought that outlast anything on Earth. This is the Imaginal Realm. You may enter it through the gate of dreams, or the gate of death, or on nights when you drop your body like a bathrobe. Here you will find schools and palaces, places of adventure, healing and initiation.

    The Imaginal Realm is a fundamental ground of knowledge and experience. It is a region of mind between the world of time and the world of eternity. In this realm human imagination meets intelligences from higher realities, and they co-construct places of healing, instruction and initiation. Here ideas and powers beyond the grasp of the ordinary human mind – call them archetypes, tutelary spirits, gods or daimons – take on guises humans can begin to perceive and understand.

   The great medieval Sufi philosopher Suhrawardi insisted both on the objective reality of the Imaginal Realm and that the way to grasp it is the way of experience: “pilgrims of the spirit succeed in contemplating this world and they find there every object of their desire.”  To know the realm of true imagination, you must go there yourself.  Happily for you – once you wake up to what is going on – the doors may open to you any night in dreams, or in the fertile place between sleep and awake, or in a special moment of synchronicity when the universe gets personal and you know, through your shivers, that greater powers are in play.

    In dreams, we awaken to other orders of reality. When we wake up in our regular bodies, we may have fallen asleep in another world. Sometimes, lying in the drifty state near sleep, I sense that as I grow drowsy, a second self, back to back with me on the bed, is stirring awake, ready to prowl. I call him the Traveler.   

    I track the Traveler by recording his exploits – the ones I manage to catch – in my journal. In one report he seems to be very like my present self, just two days ahead of me, on my present probable event track. Sometimes he is much further ahead, or on a different event track, or in another body in another time or another world..

    The traveler’s tales in my book Mysterious Realities are "just-so" stories in the sense that they spring from direct experience in the Imaginal Realm, my own and that of other dream travelers who have shared their adventures with me. This territory is more familiar to you than you may currently realize. You are a traveler in your dreams, whether or not you remember them.

    You visit realms where the dead are alive. You travel into the possible future, scouting the roads that lie ahead. You travel into the past, into scenes from your present life, and other lives that are part of your story. You go to studio sets, where dream movies are made by production crews behind the scenes, to arouse and entertain, or to shock dreamers awake. You slip into parallel lives, where your parallel selves are moving on different event tracks because they made different choices.

    What is going on in your dreams doesn't necessarily stop when you wake up or switch to a different screen. The action may play on, like episodes in a television series that continue to run after you turn off the set.
     It gets more interesting. When you exit a scene in a life you are leading somewhere else, you may or may not remember where you were and who you are in that other world. When you do remember, you tag what lingers in your mind as a dream.
    When you exit a dream that is also a visit to a parallel life, your parallel self continues on its way. While you go about your day, your other self may dream of you.

In Mysterious Realities, you’ll confirm that the doors to the Imaginal Realm open from wherever you are. You’ll see what it means to live on a mythic edge. At any moment, you may fall, like the author, into the lap of a goddess or the jaws of an archetype. Are you ready? A survival tip: don’t go to any world without your sense of humor.


Magic carpet collage by Michele Ferro