Monday, October 31, 2022

The Night When the Veil Thins

 Back in the day, I used to give a talk on the meaning of Halloween, on the night, at the New York Open Center, when it was still downtown in SoHo. We always had standing room only in the lecture room, which was partly filled by witches, ghouls and vampires dressed for the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade that would unfold just down the street right after. 

I notice, looking through old journals, that on the night of October 30, 1998, prior to taking the train to Manhattan the next day, I asked for some Halloween dreams. This is what came as soon as I closed my eyes:

I watch a beautiful woman in a flowing, gauzy white dress like a wedding dress rise from a coffin and begin to float around a dark, undefined space (like an artists' background, defined by brushstrokes rather than finished shapes). The eyes are dead. All that is there is blind appetite. She is the living dead, a hungry ghost. I avoid her.

As we approach All Hallows' Eve, a shiverish, magical, crazy night in a more than usually crazy year, I am thinking of its many meanings. It is the topsy-turvy, inside-out, upside-down time, when the past lies ahead of you and the future walks behind you, breathing on your neck. It is a night when the doors between the worlds swing open, when the dead walk among the living and the living move among the dead. As my dream of the beauty from the coffin dramatized, it is a night when you want to be able to discern who is who and what is what. 

The last night of October is the start of Samhain (which is pronounced "sow-in"), the great Celtic festival when the dead walk among the living, the fires are extinguished and rekindled, the god and the goddess come together in sacred union, and as the year turns from light to dark, the seeded earth prepares to give birth again. It's a time, when the Celts knew what they were doing, to watch yourself and watch comings and goings from the barrows and mounds that are peopled by ghosts and faeries. It's a time to honor the friendly dead, and the lordly ones of the Sidhe, and to propitiate the restless dead and remember to send them off and to set or re-set very clear boundaries between the living and the hungry ghosts. It's a time to look into the future, if you dare, because linear time is stopped when the hollow hills are opened. 

As Celtic scholar Marie-Louise Sjoestedt wrote, "This night belongs neither to one year or the other and is, as it were, free from temporal restraint. It seems that the whole supernatural force is attracted by the seam thus left at the point where the two years join, and gathers to invade the world of men." 

If you have never learned to dream or see visions or to feel the presence of the spirits who are always about - if you have never traveled beyond the gates of death or looked into the many realms of the Otherworld - this is the time when you'll see beyond the veil all the same, because the Otherworld is going to break down the walls of the little box you call a world, and its residents are coming to call on you. 

It's a time for dressing up, especially if you are going out at night, although there is likely to be much less of that in this time of pandemic. The Celts put on fright masks not to extort candy but to scare away restless spirits before they scared them. Out and about ,they carried torches to light the way, and especially to guide the dead back to where they came from when the party is over. Before Europeans discovered pumpkins in America, they carried lit candles in hollowed-out niches in turnips. 

All of this was so important, and such wild, sexy, shiverish fun that the church had to do something about it. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III decided to steal the old magic by making November 1 All Saints' Day, or All Hallows Day; so the night of Samhain became All Hallows' Eve, or Halloween for short. A century before, an earlier pope had borrowed the date of the old Roman festival to propitiate the dead - the Festival of the Lemures, or Lemuralia - and renamed that All Saints' Day. But since Roman paganism had been largely suppressed, the church fathers decided to grab the glamour of the Celts, among whom the old ways are forever smoldering, like fire under peat. 

Few people who celebrate or suffer Halloween today seem to know much about its history. For storekeepers and the greetings card business, it's a commercial opportunity. For TV programmers, it's a cue to schedule horror movie marathons. For kids, it's time to dress up as vampires or witches and extort candy from neighbors. My preferred way to spend Halloween is to rest quietly at home, sometimes with candles lit for my dead loved ones, and a basket of apples and hazelnuts beside them, tokens of the old festival that renews the world and cleanses the relations between the living and the dead. 

Text partially adapted from The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss (Destiny Books)

Saturday, October 29, 2022

How Dreamers Earn Upgrades on the Flight to the Afterlife


In a lighter moment in an otherwise very sober guide to the bardos of life, death and after, Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche suggests that through the right practices, we can earn an upgrade on our ride to the afterlife. He writes in Mind Beyond Death that “the way we make any journey depends on the type of ticket we have…We may even have collected mileage points. We may be eligible for an upgrade to first class." He seems to be telling us that advanced dreamers may have earned sky priority, and direct access to the "pure lands", including the realm created by the buddha Amitabha. If you have traveled this way before, and your heart wants to go there again, you may be able to project your consciousness there at the moment of death by "pure realm phowa." Another reason to deepen the practice of dreaming. Here's the key passage from Mind Beyond Death:

Pure realm phowa is connected to the practice of dream yoga. It involves directly transferring out consciousness at the time of death to one of the Buddha realms, such as the pure land of Amitabha or Akshobya, or to any of the sacred realms of the dakas, dakinis or bodhisattvas. The capacity to effect such a transference is developed through training in dream yoga. In that practice, not only do we learn to recognize the dream state, but also we develop the skill to transform our dream appearances. When we have developed that degree of control over our minds, then we can travel in our dreams to any Buddha field we wish...

If we can exercise that kind of power in our dreams, then we will be able to exercise the same power in this bardo [the Bardo of Dying]. We can use our understanding and experience of dream yoga to spontaneously transport ourselves to any sacred realm with which we have a heart connection. For example, you do not have to be a realized being in order to take birth in Amitabha’s pure land. Ordinary beings with a strong aspiration and good accumulation of merit can also take birth there. 

A few comments:

1. Phowa (literally "transference" or "ejection") is the art of projection of consciousness from the body to another state at the moment of death. Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche offers a brief introduction to five modalities, including deity phowa in which the practitioner seeks to merge with a yidam or god-form.

2. "Pure lands" or "buddha-fields" (Sanskrit buddhakṣetra) are especially important in East Asian Mahayana Buddhism. When we study the accounts of how such realms are created through the will, merit and imagination of superior beings, we may have an Eastern model for reality creation in the imaginal realm.

3. In our Active Dreaming approach, we do not use the symbols, postures, mantras or guru devotion of dream yoga as practiced in Tibetan Buddhist lineages and others, though we respect these. However, Active Dreaming, like dream yoga is a discipline that requires practice, practice, practice. Like yoga, Active Dreaming is a science of consciousness. It trains you to raise your awareness, play witness to yourself, go beyond consensual hallucinations, and enter the limitless field of nonlocal mind. It will certainly earn you frequent flyer miles, and maybe even premier status for the Big journey.

Image: The Western Pure Land of Amitabha, distemper and gold on cloth, Central Tibet c.1700.  In the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public Domain. There's a lot going on here! At the bottom are courtyards, giant lotus flowers, and pools from which the purified are being reborn.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Doctors in Dreamland


One of a set of documents received through oneiric channels that describe a future commonwealth known colloquially as Dreamland.  Internal evidence suggests that the Dream Commonwealth was established as a "Switzerland of the mind" - and its independence and neutrality guaranteed by the world powers - after after an earth catastrophe known as the Singularity. 

Our doctors are dreamers. No one in Dreamland would consider diagnosing or prescribing without consulting dreams. In our medical schools, we learn, as Galen already knew, that the dreaming mind can travel throughout the body and report on its condition in exact detail. A change in a single cell can be detected in a dream many years before the condition has spread far enough to produce detectable physical symptoms.

Many of our physicians have a sign on their wall that reads MY PATIENT IS MY COLLEAGUE”. Some have expanded this into a personal charter. One of the ways doctors and patients learn from each other is by swapping dreams.

But dream diagnosis begins long before a visit to a doctor’s office, in regular dream-sharing and – where the dreamer feels that specialist knowledge may be required – in wellness or pre-need clinics where the dream helpers are often nurses.

Imagery harvesting is central in the treatment of illness. Our approach is that any dream image can offer a path to healing, if it is worked correctly. This often requires continuing the dream, often with the aid of a helper who will accompany the dreamer on a conscious journey back into the dreamscape. Dream reentry is one of our core techniques for healing. A personal image provides the doorway for a conscious journey, in which the dreamer may be accompanied by a friend or guide, even a whole family of dream travelers. Relaxation and focused intention are the keys to this mode of conscious dream travel. In many cases, sonic driving (especially when generated by live shamanic drumming) is used to deepen and accelerate the journey.

Some dreams provide portals for soul recovery, an essential mode of healing that the ancestor shamans helped us to reclaim, to save at least some of our kind from joining the march of the husk people, the living dead. Shamans know that soul loss – the loss of vital energy and identity – it at the root of illness and despair. We loss vital soul through grief and trauma and heartbreak, through wrenching life choices that leave us divided against ourselves, through habits of deceit and addiction that drive our bright spirits to abandon us in disgust. Soul loss can reduce us to the condition of the walking dead, passionless and dreary, forever trying to fit in with other people's needs and expectations, lost to any sense of purpose.

Dreams show us where our missing parts may have gone, and invite us to reach in and bring them back. When we dream again and again of the “old place” (maybe a childhood home, maybe a space we shared with a former partner), we may be learning that a part of ourselves is stuck in that place, or went missing at the time we lived there. By going back inside the dream of the old place, we may be able to locate that lost aspect of our own identity and energy, and find the way to bring it back into our hearts and our lives.

In the hearthfire circles where we gather with our intentional families at least one evening a week, we tend the dreams that show us where the soul has gone and help each other with fierce compassion to bring it home.

Our flying doctors work with the souls of the dead as well as the souls of the living. Our best clues to where we are needed come from spontaneous night dreams in which sleepers receive visitations from the departed and travel, often unconsciously, into realms where the departed are at home. Such encounters can be the source of much-needed healing, forgiveness and closure, as well as mutual guidance. When they are released from the second body, the departed may become wise counselors and “family angels”. Prior to that liberation, they may need help from our healers because they are enmeshed in the sticky stuff of old cravings, rancor and desire. “The living have the ability to assist the imaginations of the dead,” as the poet said. Our flying doctors operate in this understanding, on both sides of the swing-door of physical death.

The First Peoples say that the Big stories – the stories that want to be told and to be lived – are hunting their tellers, like predators in the bush or sharks in the water. In healing, as in education and in family life, we are constantly engaged in helping each other to let the Big story come through.

All of us are living a story. If we don’t know what it is, it is likely to be a little story, a limiting one, woven from past disappointments and stitched tight by the people who are forever telling us who we are and what we can and cannot accomplish. If we fail to define ourselves, we let ourselves be defined by others. When we are seized by the Big story, we step beyond limiting definitions and beliefs. Great healing and great creativity become available because we can now draw on the immense energy that becomes available when we know we are serving a larger purpose.

Text adapted from Active Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Journal drawing: "Wolf Doctor" by Robert Moss



Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Poets of consciousness

Poets, it’s said, are shamans of words. True shamans are poets of consciousness. Journeying into a deeper reality with the aid of sung and spoken poetry, they bring back energy and healing through poetic acts, shapeshifting physical systems. When we dream, we tap directly into the same creative source from which poets and shamans derive their gifts. When we create from our dreams, and enter dreamlike flow, we become poets and artists. When we act to bring the energy and imagery of dreams into physical reality, we become poets of consciousness and infuse our world with magic.

In Birth of a Poet, William Everson raised a clamorous appeal for poets to reawaken to their shamanic calling: "O Poets! Shamans of the word! When will you recover the trance-like rhythms, the subliminal imagery, the haunting sense of possession, the powerful inflection and enunciation to effect the vision? Shamanize! Shamanize!" Across the centuries, many of our greatest poets have recognized their kinship with the shaman’s way of shifting awareness and shapeshifting reality. As his name in a spiritual order, Goethe chose the name of a legendary shaman of antiquity, Abaris, who came flying out of the Northern mists on an arrow from Apollo’s bow.

Our earliest poets were shamans. Today as in the earliest times, true shamans are poets of consciousness who know the power of song and story to teach and to heal. They understand that through the play of words, sung or spoken, the magic of the Real World comes dancing into the surface world. The right words open pathways between the worlds. The poetry of consciousness delights the spirits. It draws the gods and goddesses who wish to live through us closer. Shamans use poetry, sung or spoken, to achieve ends that go deeper than our consensual world. They create poetic songs of power to invoke spiritual help; to journey into nonordinary reality; to open and maintain a space between the worlds where interaction between humans and multidimensional beings can take place and to bring energy and healing through to the body and the physical world.

The South American paye takes flight with the help of "wing songs". These flight songs help him to borrow the wings of the kumalak bird [a kind of kite] that is a main ally of shamans. Among the Temiar-Senoi of the Malaysian rainforest, the great gift of a dream is the norng, or dream song, literally a "pathway" that can get you through the jungle or carry the soul to where it needs to go on either side of death.

Among the Inuit, the strongest shamans are also the most gifted poets. One of the reasons their spirit helpers flock around them is that they are charmed and exhilarated by the angakok’s poetic improvisations. Inuit shamans have a language of their own, which is often impenetrable to other Eskimos. It is a language that is never still. It bubbles and eddies, opening a whirlpool way to the deep bosom of the Sea-goddess, or a cavernous passage into the hidden fires of Earth.

My favorite Inuit shaman-word is the one for "dream". It looks like this: kubsaitigisak. It is pronounced "koov-sigh-teegee-shakk", with a little click at the back of the throat when you come to the final consonant. It means "what makes me dive in headfirst." Savor that for a moment, and all that flows with it. A dream, in Eskimo shaman-speech, is something that makes you dive in headfirst. Doesn’t this wondrously evoke the kinesthetic energy of dreaming, the sense of plunging into a deeper world? Doesn’t it also invite us to take the plunge, in the dream of life, and burst through the glass ceilings and paper barriers constructed by the daily trivial self?

Shamans know further uses for dream songs. They call the soul back home, into the bodies of those who have lost vital energy through pain or trauma or heartbreak. And from their journeys, they bring back poetic imagery that can help to shapeshift the body’s energy template in the direction of health.

Mainstream Western physicians agree that the body believes in images and responds to them as if they are physical events. By bringing the right images through from the dreaming, the poets of consciousness explain dis-ease in ways that help the patient get well, and interact with the body and its immune system on multiple levels without invasive surgery.

As dreamers, we tap into the same deep wells as poets and shamans and we climb ladders between the worlds. Poetry sometimes comes dancing out of dreams, in full-formed verses. When we turn our dreams into poems, we free our creative spirit, and our spirits come dancing.

Text adapted from Dreamways of the Iroquois by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books. 

Photo by RM

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Look for the Hidden Hand


I was walking with a friend in the New Forest in Hampshire. We were both undergoing major life changes, which is not always smooth sailing. We had had a major row the night before, drinking too much and bumping up against darker sides of each other’s personalities. Now we were walking, detoxifying, working it through. We walked all day, traveling fifteen or twenty miles on those forest trails, losing track of distance and — we finally noticed — direction. England may be a rather small country, but the New Forest is not a small wood. We looked at each other and laughed, realizing that in our effort to find ourselves, we had become utterly lost.

I said out loud, “I wish a guide would just appear out of nowhere and show us the way. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?”

My friend laughed like a crow. We had seen no one in the forest that day.

But within a minute or two, a runner appeared on our trail. He waved to us cheerily. “You two look lost. Need some help?”

“Yes, please.”

“Mustn’t break my stride. I’ll leave you markers.”

A minute later, he had vanished in the dappled wood. We followed his lead. At the next fork in the trail, we found he had indeed left a marker — an arrow formed with three sticks — showing us the right way to go. We found a succession of these arrows at every crossing or forking of the trail, along the whole two-mile distance back to the main road.

The Greeks say the gods love to travel in disguise. In Greek folk tradition, it’s good policy to be nice to strangers, and to pay attention to what they say, because you never know who is traveling behind their masks.

On another visit to England, I landed at Heathrow on a red-eye flight, exhausted and burdened with financial worries. I was carrying too much baggage and had to wrestle an oversize suitcase down the steps to the Underground.

As I collapsed onto a seat on the train, a roly-poly man, bearded like Santa Claus, winked at me from the seat opposite. He said with a broad grin, “The Buddha says walk on the bridge, don’t build on it.”

The words slapped me in the face. They stung me awake. They were exactly what I needed to hear. Caught up in my immediate worries, stressed out and overtired, I had been forgetting one of the secrets of living the Incredible Journey: it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts.

The stranger on the London Tube was an example of how we play everyday angels even gods in disguise for each other. There is a provocative Buddhist text on this theme entitled Entry into the Realm of Reality (in the Thomas Cleary translation). It describes how authentic spiritual teachers even the greatest who walk this earth can appear in any guise, as an exotic dancer or as a monk, as a panhandler or a king, as a scholar or a warrior.

We are most likely to run into them when we are in motion, especially when we are crossing a border into unfamiliar territory, when strong emotions are in play, and when we are facing the greatest challenges. They take many forms.

For me, a friendly black dog especially when it appears in an unlikely place is a good omen, and sometimes I detect a hint of a superior being traveling in disguise.

As I arrived once at the Fort Mason conference center in San Francisco, on the first morning of a weekend workshop, I wondered if the world would give me a sign of how the program was likely to go.

Our meeting space was a converted firehouse right on the water. As I walked from the parking lot toward the building, a large man in a bright red watchcap appeared right in front of the doors. He was walking a standard black poodle unclipped, of course.

When we greeted each other, I told him why I was glad to see him with his big black dog, at the gate of our adventure.

He told me the name of his black dog was “Pollo. Short for Apollo.”

Jung famously called synchronicity an "acausal" connecting principle. We may see no mechanical or reasonable process of push-pull when coincidence strikes. Yet when we feel its significance in our shivers, we may sense a hidden hand and feel that the universe just got personal. 

People used to describe found money in the street as "pennies from heaven", suggesting that departed loved ones are giving a sign of their presence. The old ones called coincidence "God's way of remaining anonymous." I think there is great good sense in these old saws. 

When we go dreaming, we get out there: we travel beyond the fields we know into other realms and meet beings who live there. Through the play of synchronicity, powers of the deeper world come poking or probing through the veils of our ordinary perception to give us a wake up call.

Text partly adapted from The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence and Imagination by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.


Thursday, October 20, 2022

The Double on the Balcony: Conversations with a Witness Self


It may be that our most important life guide is no stranger, but a self on a higher level. The Sufis talk beautifully of the “soul of the soul”. Plotinus, the great Neoplatonist philosopher whose teachings were introduced to me by one of my inner companions during my adolescence, instructed that the life teacher, or “tutelary daimon”, is a self on a level above the one where we are currently operating. Plotinus maintained that each of us is a “cosmos”, with access to a vast spectrum of possible levels of consciousness, with the power to choose the levels we inhabit.  Whatever level we choose, a personality on the next level up becomes the life guardian or  personal daimon. “Our guardian is the power immediately superior to the one we exercise, for it presides over our life without itself being active. By the kind of life that we prefer, we choose the guardian that presides over our life.” [Enneads iii.4, 1:236 in Guthrie trans] Plotinus also said that the guardian helps us to fulfill the destiny we have chosen before birth and “does not permit us to descend very far below the condition we have chosen.” [ iii.4=1:239] I find this both accurate and reassuring.

As we go through a process of spiritual evolution, we may grow to the point where we can fuse our current personality with that (slightly) higher self, and now progress to a relationship with a self on a yet higher level, and so on up the scale. Through successive transformations, we may reach a level where we are able to survey – on a continuing or even constant basis – our relations with many aspects of our multidimensional self, including personalities living in other places and times, without losing our ability to navigate in our present bodies.

Take heart. I am with you always. I know you better than you know yourself. This was the opening of communication with an inner teacher that I recorded on the night before Halloween in 1993.

    Now we are one but may still talk as two.

This was the essence of communication from the same inner voice, as I received it on March 13, 1995. Over many months, I had come to know and trust that inner speaker. He had given me a wealth of information I was able to test and verify and apply in ordinary reality. That night, I had stretched out on my bed after applying myself to several hours of reading and reflection on our relations with inner teachers. What was coming through now was direct knowledge.

    Your mind on my purpose.

That was familiar language, the way this inner voice encouraged me to give my full attention to what was coming through. The best communication of this kind, I had learned, comes in a state of relaxed attention, or attentive relaxation. I don’t think of this as channeling, because I am fully conscious throughout, able to ask questions and to engage in a full dialogue when that seems appropriate. On that night, a self that was no stranger gave me some very clear information on the main theme of this chapter.

“When fusion takes place between a focus personality and the Higher Self (that is to say the control personality on the plane directly above the focus personality) the result is a step forward in personal evolution that will revise the scales of the contacts. The Higher Self now becomes an entity on a higher level than before.

“This progression has taken humans from the conditions of the group soul — comparable to animals or even insects — to higher individuation. It can take the species as a whole to a new plane. Indeed, from this point of view you are attending the emergence of a new species.    

“Your physical equipment imposes limitations on both consciousness and memory. The three-tiered brain joins you to the crocodile and the horse as well as the emerging human. New structures in the brain are being evolved. Rising on the planes brings a process of physiological change – in the metabolism, in the composition and replacement of cells and naturally in the chemistry and electrical engineering of the brain.

Now we are one but may still talk as two. Beyond us, a higher, clearer, purer intelligence is seeking to manifest and contact you as you rise on the planes.”

This came from an inner voice of the kind we come to know and trust. As I recorded hundreds of pages of communications from this source over the years, I reassured myself that if I was going crazy, I was in good company. Socrates knew such a voice, and Plutarch wrote an essay about it. The truest guide is no stranger. As Rumi put it: “The one who knows everything is with you now, closer than your jugular vein.”

Higher Self, Greater Self. These are very big words. I want something smaller for the guide on a level above my present existence. There may be many levels to the Higher Self, ten that I know from, my own journeys, others beyond counting. The guide I check in with most frequently lives on a level just above me. I have come to think of him as my Double on the Balcony.

When I set out to meet him, I go to a terrace above the world. Sometimes it is the rooftop of a tall building, twenty stories up, or more. Often the terrace has the air of a civilized café, operating just for us. I find him seated at a table, perhaps with a glass of wine the color of moonlight. He is usually impeccably dressed, in a perfectly tailored white suit or a white dinner jacket. Occasionally I have the impression that he has a female companion; once she seemed to be an opera singer. But she is never part of our conversation.

He is impossibly beautiful. He looks like a man in the prime of life, maybe thirty years old, yet carrying the knowledge of millennia. He does not judge me. He is my witness. He knows all of my life. It is as open to him as the contents of a doll house when you remove the back and the roof. More than this, he remembers my other lives.

I should say, rather, our other lives. Something I have remembered, through our conversations, is that we have a twining relationship across time. When I am in the body, in a life on Earth, he is up here, on his balcony above the world. He still enjoys pleasures and creature comforts, but he is not enmeshed in the confusion and clutter of the physical world. He can sample delights that we associate with a physical body without being confined to one. The babalawo in me, the African diviner he calls my witchdoctor, says it has always been like this. While one of us is down in the marketplace of the world, the other observes as a “double in heaven”.

I like that phrase, but his is a near heaven, rather than a remote one. So how shall I describe him? I might call him my Witness Self, or my Free Self. He is not bound by the conditions of physical life. From his terrace, he can see the big picture. When I join him up there, I can see the crossroads and forking paths of my life from an aerial perspective.

He shows me some navigational challenges that lie ahead. There’s a spaghetti junction with whirling stands of traffic going off in all direction like an exploding bowl of pasta. It’s dizzying to look at. Inspecting this with his mildly humorous detachment, I see the scene lift to reveal a manageable locale, the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Now I can survey, one by one, the possible roads I can take from that place of decision. He reminds me that when life on the ground poses difficult choices — when I run into blockages or risk making a turn without reflecting on where that direction will take me — I should come up here, look at things from the higher perspective, and freeze the action while I observe myself traveling more than one of the possible roads in order to clarify and compare the probable outcomes.

From such encounters comes daily practice, one I can share with others. I picture myself in the thick of a situation where I am facing a choice or conflict or dilemma. I see myself pausing from acting or worrying, placing myself in a quiet mental space whatever is going on around me. I feel light coming down around me, until I am within a column or pillar of light. This brings the sense of blessing and protection. I sense benign energies and intelligence reaching down to me within the pillar of light. Then there is the sense of traction, of being carried up within the pillar. I could be carried up many levels, as if on an elevator. But it is sufficient, for everyday navigation, to go up just one level, to that terrace above the world.

Here I find again a Witness Self, a Free Self. From his table, I can see a relief map of my life, and of other lives and situations that will concern me. When the traffic patterns are hard to read, I can have everything slow down or stop so I can study it at my leisure.

Text adapted from The Boy Who Died and Came Back by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Illustration: "Double on the Balcony" by Robert Moss




Wednesday, October 19, 2022

In Praise of Great Mama Bear


Great Mother Bear


You feel her under your feet.

You enter her realm through the roots

of the tree that knows you.

She is endlessly nurturing, fertile and abundant.

She will nurse you and heal you as she cares for her cubs.

You can call on her blessing at any time,

once you have found the courage to enter her embrace.


She calms the mad warrior in men.

She strips the berserkers of old skins.

Serve her, and you join the army of the Great Mother

whose purpose is to protect, not destroy.

She will defend you, even from yourself.


When you call back your lost children,

she will hold you together in her vast embrace

until you are one, and whole.

When you reach across the jagged rifts in your family

to forgive and make well, you feel her rolling pleasure.

- Robert Moss

Painting by James Uxcell

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Dreams May Be Memories of the Future

I dreamed of a silly little dog decked out with fake antlers for some kind of Christmas pageant. The dog ran out on the road and was killed, but was magically revived by a dubious, utterly amoral character who seemed remote from the normal range of human emotions.

The dream had a movielike quality. I had no idea what was going on here, but because I had no particular feelings about it, I was content to record it in my journal before rushing off to the airport to catch a plane to Denver.

I missed my connection and later found myself on a different flight form the one schedules. Whenever my travel planes come unstuck, I am alert for the play of the Trickster. On the “wrong” plane, I found myself seated next to a woman who turned out to be best friends with a person in publishing to whom I had been introduced only the day before, and I was able to glean some useful insights. Our conversation was interrupted by the screening of the in-flight movie. I looked up to see a silly little dog decked out in fake antlers for a Christmas pageant. Later in the movie, the dog is killed on the road and magically revived — by a low-flying angel portrayed by John Travolta. The title of the movie is Michael, and I highly recommend it. What interested me most was that I seemed to have attended an advance screening in my dream the night before.

We dream things before they happen in waking life. If you work with your dreams and scan them for precognitive content, you can develop a superb personal radar system that will help you to navigate in waking life. For even the most active dreamers, however, the meaning of many dreams of the future may be veiled until waking events catch up with the dream.

I dreamed of a garden in Manhattan, modest in size, but beautifully designed. A place for quiet meditation, a refuge from big-city noise and hustle. A place where I felt I could do good work with good people. I was intrigues by this dream, which came to me at a time when I was quite resistant to leading programs in New York City because of the energy required to clear out all the static and psychic clutter and create a safe space for soul work. The dream left me feeling bright and happy. I was curious about the location of my dream garden. Did it exist in ordinary reality? When I reentered the dream, I found myself on a block in the East Fifties, between Third and Second. This satisfied me that I had visited a locale that existed in physical reality. 

Lacking an exact address, I forgot about the dream after logging it in my journal. Yet the dream continued to exercise an influence: to my mild surprise, I said yes when several groups subsequently invited me to conduct workshops in New York. 

Nine months after the dream — the period of an average pregnancy — I entered the meeting room of the New York Theosophical Society, on East Fifty-third Street, for the first time. I stopped short. Through the picture window at the end of the room, I looked out into the garden from my dream. As I stepped out into the garden, an austerely elegant man in a black tunic followed me out. He introduced himself as the society’s program director, who had invited me. He explained that he had also designed and now tended my dream garden.

If dreams are memories of the future, is much of waking life the experiencing in the physical body what we have already lived in the dreambody? What would we become if we participated more consciously in this process? 

There is an Iroquois story of a great hunter who always scouted ahead, in conscious dream journeys, to locate the game and rehearse the kill. In one of his dream scouts, he located an elk and sought its permission to take its life to feed his extended family. He killed the elk in his dream and noted the red mark on its chest where the arrow had gone in. The following day, he walked to the place he had visited in dreaming and identified his elk by the red mark on its chest. He then replayed an event that had already taken place, by killing the elk again with a physical arrow.

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

A Brief History of Soul Flight


The science of dream travel is ancient: in the evolution of our species, it probably predates speech and may have helped to generate language. Dream travel has a fascinating pedigree.

In many human cultures the most profound insights into the nature of the divine and the fate of the soul after physical death have been attributed to ecstatic journeys beyond the body in waking dream or vision. In most human cultures, the existence of parallel worlds inhabited by gods, daimons, and spirits of the departed has been accepted as simple fact, a fact of extraordinary importance. Visiting these other worlds was a top priority for our ancestors, as it still is wherever there is living spirituality. From the travel reports of the boldest and most successful journeyers between the worlds, mythologies and religions are born. Soul journeying was understood to be the key to orders of reality, hidden from the five physical senses, that are no less “real” than ordinary reality and may be more so.

Among dreaming peoples, the reality of the soul journey and the objective, factual nature of the travelogues brought back are not in doubt. The travel reports will be compared with those of previous explorers.

Shamans ride their drums to the Upper and Lower Worlds to gain access to sources of insight and healing, to commune with the spirits and rescue lost souls. Aboriginal spirit men journey to the Sky World, climbing a magic cord projected from their own energy bodies, at the solar plexus or the tip of the penis.

Before compass and sextant, before charts, the great open-sea navigators guided their shipmates across the oceans by fine attunement to the patterns of waves and wind and stars and by the ability to scout ahead and consult a spiritual pilot through dream travel. Traditional navigators in the Indian Ocean reputedly had the power to travel ahead of their vessels in the form of seabirds or flying fish to set a safe course. The shipmakers and sea captains of the Bugis of Sulawesi — who once had a fearsome reputation as pirates — still materials to use in the construction of their prahus as well as on their ocean crossings.

The ancient Taoist masters were known as the feathered sages because of their reputed power of flight, which sometimes involved shape-shifting into the form of cranes.

In ancient Greece, shaman-philosophers were renowned for their ability to travel outside the body, appear in two or more locations at the same time, and commune with their colleagues. The Pythagoreans taught and practiced soul travel and believed that spiritual masters born centuries apart could communicate by this means.

The ability to project consciousness beyond the physical body, to fold space-time, influence events at a distance, and project a double are all recognized siddhis — or special powers — of advanced spiritual practitioners in Eastern traditions. Vedic literature from India is full of vivid accounts of soul-flight by humans and beings-other-than-human. In the Mahabharata, the dream-soul, or suksma atman, is described as journeying outside the body while its owner sleeps. It knows pleasure and pain, just as in waking life. It travels on “fine roads” through zones that correspond to the senses, the wind, the ether, toward the higher realms of spirit.

Shankaracharya, the ascetic exponent of Advaita Vedanta, practiced soul-flight and the projection of consciousness to another body. Challenged to a debate on sex — a subject of which he was woefully ignorant at the time — he is said to have left his body in a cave under the guard of his followers while he borrowed the body of a dying king, whose courtesans schooled him in all the arts of the Kama Sutra.

Soul travel was well understood in the Sacred Earth traditions of Europe, from the earliest times until the murderous repression associated with the witch craze. One of the most fascinating accounts — less reliant than most on confession extracted under torture — is Carlo Ginzberg’s monograph on the Benandanti, or “good-farers” of the Friuli region, who journeyed to defend the health of the community and the crops.

Soul journeying is also central to Christian spirituality. In II Corinthians, Paul refers to his own soul journey when he speaks of “a man who was caught up into the third heaven, whether in the body or out of the body I know not.” St. Columba, the founder of the great monastery at Iona, regularly traveled outside his body to scout developments at a distance.

St Anthony of Padua was renowned for his ability to travel outside the body and appear in two places at once. There are reports of him preaching in two churches at the same time.

In Jewish tradition, the story of Elijah’s chariot of fire is the model for visionary ascent to higher realms. Among the Kabbalists, soul-flight to the higher planes was held to be the reward for long years of study and solitary meditation. A key element in Kabbalist meditation (hitboded) was the chanting and correct vibration of sacred texts. Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534–72) recited phrases from the Zohar over and over, as Eastern meditators use their mantras. He entered and altered state in which he received visitations from spiritual teachers — notably Elijah — and could travel freely outside the body, to visit “heavenly academies.”

Soul-flight is not an art reserved for yogis, mystics, and shamans. The projection of consciousness by “remote viewing” or “ traveling clairvoyance” has been central to the history of warfare. Go back through the old battle sagas and you will find tales of warrior shamans who shape-shifted to spy out enemy positions. The druid MacRoth, in the Irish epic the Tain, performs this service for his royal patron, flying over the enemy ranks in the shape of a black warbird. Native American sorcerers were employed by both the French and the English to carry out similar scouts during the French and Indian War.

One of the most famous soul journeyers in European history was the Swedish scientist Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), the son of a Lutheran bishop. He was in his fifties when powerful visitations by the spirits transformed his life; he then embarked on repeated journeys into their realms. He encountered angels who escorted him on guided tours of many kinds of heavens and hells..

It is not surprising that the dream explorer who coined the term lucid dreaming was another soul journeyer. Dr. Frederik can Eeden (1860–1932) was a Dutch writer, physician, and member of the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR). In 1913, he gave a lecture to the SPR in which he reported “lucid dreams” in which the dreamer retains the memory of his waking life, remained conscious, and could carry out “different acts of free volition.” He observed that the phenomenon of multiple consciousness and “double memory” — of both waking and dream events — “leads almost unavoidably to the conception of a dream-body.” He later wrote a novel, The Bride of Dreams, about dream travel outside the body.

Frequent flier Robert Monroe asserted with reason that “a controlled out-of-body experience is the most efficient means we know to gather Knowns to create a Different Overview” — a new definition of reality.

As in the Upanishads, the Dane-zaa or Beaver Indians of British Columbia say that a powerful dreamer travels like a swan from and back to the nest of the body.  Liker most First Peoples of North America, their word for shaman (naachin) means "dreamer".  Ethnographer Robin Riddington tells us that for this people, ”the Dreamers are like swans in their ability to fly from one season to another. Like the swans that fly south in the winter, Dreamers fly to a land beyond the sky and bring back songs for the people on Earth.”

Tekateweiarikht'ha (Mohawk) "I take off now beating my wings".

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

Swan photo by Romy Needham

Monday, October 10, 2022

Meet the Trickster


Trickster, in your life, is that power that makes sure your path will never go straight and you will never lose your soul in your plans. Trickster challenges the established order, and in so doing renews it. He tricks in order to transform.

There is a close connection between the Gatekeeper and the Trickster. In mythology, they are often one and the same. 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.

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. Trickster wears animal guise in folklore and mythology, appearing as the fox or the squirrel, as spider or coyote or raven.

To make friends with 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. Trickster knows all about that.

We are most likely to meet 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.

Trickster insists on a sense of humor. Trickster is

A boundary-crosser

He shakes things up

He is a humorist who doesn't respect piety or correctness.

He gets you out of tight places

I’d rather be a Trickster than a martyr, as Elizabeth Gilbert declares in a paean to Trickster: “The trickster (represented forever in world mythology as the fox, the crow, the coyote, the monkey) sees through our delusions of seriousness and exposes the play underneath all our drama… The trickster understands that all this world is temporary, all of it is shifting, all of it is nonsense, all of it is fair game for delight. The trickster just keeps on playing. The trickster is slippery and sly, wry and wise, always looking for the secret door, the hidden stairway, the funhouse mirror, the sideways way of looking at things — and the trickster always endures.    I choose the path of the trickster, not the path of the martyr." [1]

 Trickster figures are liminal lords, barons of in-between. Trickster is the spirit of the doorway and the crossroads and the edge of town. The name Hermes once meant “he of the stone heap” and evoked the little cairns of stones, placed as offerings more than markers, along roads between settlements. Trickster is most active where borders are porous and perilous and offers wit and cunning to navigate these edgy spaces. Hitchhikers in the galaxy must walk close to the Trickster if they are going to make it.

Hermes is one of the great mythic Tricksters and Gatekeepers and World Bridgers. Through him, every house opens into the Otherworld. One of his names, sotheos, means The 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.

Trickster is lord of the road, of spirit roads as well as earthly ones. He can guide traveling souls between the worlds, and open passages when none seem to exist. He can escort the dead to the Underworld or raise them from their graves to walk among the living.

He may be a thief, but he is the kind of thief who steals fire from heaven for the benefit of humans.

Trickster breaks down the wall between time and eternity, between mortals and immortals. When he steals Idunn and the apples of immortality, as Loki, he gives mortals (Giants) a taste of eternity and immortals (Aesir) a taste of the ravages of time.

He doesn’t allow a static order.

Trickster is Lord of Loopholes. An old Norse kenning of the name Loki is “a loop in a thread” - a loophole. 

Among the many animal forms of the Trickster - Raven, Coyote, Spider, Monkey - I have special affection for Fox.

Sympathy with Fox

You live on the edges of my life
           at the margin between the tame land and the wild
           and your appearances are always edgy for me.

You know when to hide and when to hunt.
           Men chase you on horseback, with dogs,
           yet turn chicken when you turn up unannounced.

You are tricky. I doubt I’ll ever be at ease with you.
           But you are a determined messenger
           and a necessary link to old and sacred things

You call women I care for to reclaim lost soul
           and become foxy girls, immune to glass ceilings,
           setting their own boundaries, living unbounded life. [2]

I refer to Trickster as “he” because he is depicted as male in most mythologies, and often ithyphallic and lustful to boot – with the significant exception of Fox spirit, who may be Monsieur Renard or Mr. Fox in the West, but is more often Fox Woman, Kitsune (a name that means Come and Sleep) in Japan.

Lewis Hyde reminds us that “in spite of all their disruptive behavior, trickster are regularly honored as the creators of culture.” [3] When Hermes steals cattle from the gods, he presents humans with a domesticated supply of meat on the hoof.

Trickster keeps things lively, in an individual life or the life of a people. The intriguing paradox in the myth is that “the origins, liveliness and durability of cultures require that there be space for figures whose function is to uncover and disrupt the very things that cultures are based on.” 

Trickster breaks down hard-and-fast distinctions between good and bad, black and white, order and chaos. When you are blocked because you have put yourself in a box, in the surface of you mind, he comes to remind you that (as Paul Valéry wrote) “the bottom of the mind is paved with crossroads” and you have plenty of other options. 


1. Elizabeth Gilbert blog July 7, 2014

2. "Brushes with the Red Fox" in Robert Moss, Here, Everything is Dreaming: Poems and Stories. (Albany NY: Excelsior, 2013)

3. Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes this World. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998) 8,9.

Please read my book Sidewalk Oracles for guidance on how to navigate life in the play of Trickster.

Journal drawings by Robert Moss