When I was nine years old, before I left my body in an operating theater and went to another world, I nearly drowned. I had been out fishing with my father and his friends on a boat on a river near Melbourne, Australia. When we docked, I slipped on the gangplank and fell into the water. Nobody could understand that I was in any danger. The water was shallow and I was a good swimmer. Yet all my short life was swirling through my mind, with glimpses of places and people I had not met in ordinary reality. Finally someone reached down and hauled me out. Then I was on my belly, coughing up the brackish water I had swallowed.
Half a world away, in Memphis, Tennessee, a girl my age dreamed that a boy with a round, freckled face, was drowning, though no one understood he was in danger. In her dream, she reached down into the water and helped to pull him out.
In many nights during my lonely boyhood, this girl was the sister I longed for. We went riding through the sky together, leaping from cloudbank to cloudbank to get to fresh worlds of adventure. Usually my horse was gleaming black, with a star on his forehead, while hers was white. Sometimes, we would meet in a garden of fruit trees and rambling roses, where a bear guarded the gate to color worlds, as vivid and fascinating and scary as the Color Books of Fairies. We could count on Bear to keep us safe. He tied a red cord round our middles so we could not get lost, and would tug when it was time to come back.
It took more than three decades after my near-death in the river before I met the girl from Memphis. Because of my dreams of ancestors of the land, I was now on my quest for Sir William Johnson and the world he made in the Mohawk Valley. I drove from the farm where I was living to Johnson Hall, his last home in the Valley, and met Wanda Burch, who had been curator of this historic site for many years. I did not know her right away as my dream sister, but I felt completely at home with her. She was generous in opening her vast trove of personal knowledge of the records of Johnson, and in escorting me to other places connected with him and the Mohawk Indians he came to know so well.
We soon discovered we were both dreamers. We traveled into the same dreamscapes, as we came to believe we had done as children. Wanda revealed an ability to dream into other aspects of my life that would have been disturbing had we not almost immediately developed a relationship of deep trust and agreed to adopt each other as brother and sister.
One morning, Wanda shared a dream report in which she saw me exploring a strange triangular castle on the borders of England and Scotland. While she was dreaming, I was studying photos and descriptions of Caerlaverock castle, the ancestral home of the Maxwell clan (of which the Scots Mosses are a sub-clan). This stronghold on the Western Borders, near Dumfriesshire, was built in the shape of a triangle for both ease of defense (it takes fewer soldiers to guard three walls than four) and for magical purposes (the triangle is a favorite ritual portal for evocation, or bringing things through from a hidden dimension).Sometimes Wanda seemed to be dreaming my material. She would call and say, “I have another of your dreams.” Sure enough, her report would look and feel exactly like one of my own dreams, stamped with personal markers like picking up a phrase from another language, discovering a secret room or a rare book, or cloak-and-dagger adventures in far-flung places.
The great and daily gift in this ever-deepening friendship was our ability to give each other mutual support and validation and to grow our practice of dreaming together. We realized early on that dreams require action..
“Your own will come to you,” asserted the Irish visionary writer George Russell, beset known by his pen name Æ. My soul friendship with Wanda, in its inception and its ever-renewing gifts, has taught me that this is simple truth. In his beautiful little book The Candle of Vision, Æ gave a personal example. When he first attempted to write verse, he immediately met a new friend, a dreaming boy “whose voice was soon to be the most beautiful voice in Irish literature” This was William Butler Yeats. “The concurrence of our personalities seemed mysterious and controlled by some law of spiritual gravitation.”