We are not only more than body and brain; we are more than body and soul. This has been the insight of most spiritual traditions, that have understood that at a minimum, the human is a threefold being, a trinity of body, soul and spirit. In some traditions, the anatomy of soul depicts four, seven or nine aspects of energy and consciousness, with differing functions and degrees of mobility during life, and different trajectories after death. The words "soul" and "spirit" are very slippery in English but I use them for the sake of simplicity. My deepest understanding of the nature and trajectories of body-soul-spirit comes from an indelible experience in Ohio country in and out of dreamland two decades ago. Here the word "body" stretches to includes a dense energy vehicle that survives the death of the physical for a time.
After an early flight, a long day of teaching and a jolly dinner, I am glad to settle in to the guest bedroom in the rambling frame house my friend has turned into a cozy retreat center. It's quiet here, on wooded land, near a town with one of those wonderful Midwestern names: Strongsville, Ohio. I hear only the low murmur of the Rapid River, beyond the rise where there is said to be a ring of ancient stones used by the Iroquois for sacred ceremonies.
Soon I am wandering through the courtyards of dreaming. I am startled awake by a loud burst of laughter. Blurry, I look at the bedside clock. 3:00 AM. I strain to identify the source of the noise. There are many voices, coming from the sitting room downstairs. Are there intruders? I'm quite sure my host would not be holding a loud party in the middle of the night.I pull on shirt and jeans and pad downstairs. There is indeed a party in full swing. The party-goers are quite elegantly dressed. A tall, lean man detaches himself from a group around the baby grand piano to welcome me.
"Who are you people?" I demand.
He says clearly and distinctly, "Autochthons. We are autochthons."
I recognize the Greek term and try to recall the exact meaning. His shining eyes wait for my recognition. There is something anomalous here, stranger than the party itself. What is it? His hair is silver. It does not stop at the hairline, it covers the whole face, darkening around the muzzle. I am looking into the face of a wolf, atop the body of a man. The wolf head is not a mask.
Shocked, I tumble out of an inner court of the dreaming, rushing through outer courts that leave no mark on memory, back into the body that did not leave the bed.
Over morning coffee, I tell my host what happened during the night. She says, "I'm sorry I missed the party. Who did the Alpha Male say they were, again?"
"Autochthon. It comes from the Greek." My Greek is a shambles, but the meaning is with me now. "It literally means Sprung from the Earth. Aboriginal, indigenous."
The Wolf Man has told me, in the language of a Western scholar, that he and his kin are of the First Peoples of this land.
I need no persuading that this is the morning to go up on the rise behind the house and investigate the ancient circle of stones among the pines and birches. The sun is shining brightly as I walk with my friend up the winding trail. When we reach the stones, she lets me go alone between two boulders. I touch them lightly, and feel at once that one of them is an archive stone, holding the memories of the land across eons.
When I pass beyond the gateway stones, I freeze, because I am not alone within the circle. The Wolf People are all around me. Their faces are now human, but they wear wolf pelts over buckskins and broadcloth. The alpha has the head of a silver wolf lolling over his own.
In bright sunlight, these people are quite substantial. Their bodies are just slightly translucent. I can see the flash of reflected light on the river through the alpha's massive form, but he is more real to me than my friend, who waits respectfully outside the stone circle. Silver Wolf, I now call him, as he communicates with me, mind to mind.
I am of the Wolf People. I am their dreamer and I guide them on the roads of this world and the Real World. We have come to you because you dream as we do, and you walk on our paths.
You wish to know the soul, and what happens to soul after the body is left behind. I now invite you to enter my death, and know the truth about these things by living and dying as I have done.
I am excited, and terrified. In the Ohio sunlight, I am about to fall into a different world. It does not occur to me to dismiss Silver Wolf and his people as figures of fantasy or hallucination. They are real, and the offer is a real.
As soon as he receives my acceptance, Silver Wolf transports me into his experience of death, and life after death. I am inside his consciousness as his body is laid under the blanket of Mother Earth. And soon I am groaning and dry-heaving, because I have been buried alive. A heavy stone has been laid on my chest to prevent me from rising up. I know that what I am sharing is not the death of the physical body, but the deliberate confinement of an energy body that survives death. This is a husk that must be given to the Earth and kept away from the living. I will myself to leave this energy husk in the ground, to let it suffocate and start to decompose.
Now I am above the ground, levitating and then flying. The sense of freedom is exhilarating. I can travel anywhere I want, according to my desire and imagination. I can indulge my passions and appetites. I can revisit old friends and old places, and travel to new ones. I enjoy myself like this for a time, then my astral ramblings begin to pall. I choose to rest now inside a tree, in the sleep of the heartwood.
In a few Ohio minutes, I seem to rest here for years or centuries. Then I rouse, ready for new life. I am drawn to a scene of passion, of a couple engaged in the sexual act. I stream between them, into the womb of the mother. I see myself now, from a witness perspective, as a newborn, pink and small enough to fit inside a parent's palm. This part of me has been reborn as a bear cub.
Who is the I that is watching? I am spirit, I am mind. I can return to a home among the stars. But I - as Silver Wolf - am one of those chosen to stay close to the land and watch over the Earth and those who share life upon it. I will visit them in their dreams, and I will call their dream souls to me, to remind them of essential things that humans must know but are forever forgetting.
It is enough. My heart thumps as I return to the self that is standing in the circle of stones.
My friend is still waiting beyond the portal stones. "Did you feel anything?" she asks. "Was this really a place of power for Native Americans?"
"Yes," I tell her. "You could say that."
I have recounted this episode exactly as it took place, in the woods in northern Ohio in 2003. Silver Wolf, a great shaman of an earlier time, made me know the nature and fate of three aspects of soul and spirit by inviting me to share his experience of what happens after death. The knowledge I gained is indelible, and guides me in my shamanic work and teaching, and in continuing efforts to develop models of the multidimensional self and geographies of the afterworld. A lightly edited version of this narrative is in Here, Everything Is Dreaming: Poems and Stories by Robert Moss. Published by Excelsior Editions.
Drawing: "We are autochthons" by Robert Moss.