Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Birth of Apollo

I cannot be born
on solid ground,
only where everything flows.
To enter my dawn
you must be unbound
from how the fixed world goes.

Leave behind
your maps and losses,
let  dreams be all your law.
Trust the wind
when the ocean tosses,
burn your boats on the farther shore.

Make new songs
and your floating island
will be rooted beneath the waves.
Drink my sun
and you dance on the high land
your heart, remembering, craves.

This poem is included in Here, Everything Is Dreaming: Poems and Stories by Robert Moss. Published by Excelsior Editions. 

Island of Delos by Carl Anton Joseph Rottmann (1847). According to legend, Delos was a floating island until Apollo and his twin sister Artemis were born there.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Wakeful Ecstasies of Swedenborg


Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) was the son of a Lutheran bishop attached to the Swedish court. Living at the dawn of modern science, he mastered all the sciences of his day. He was driven by a passion for knowledge. He became fluent in nine languages. He made his own telescope and produces designs for a submarine and an airplane. He published a whole library of scientific treatises on subjects ranging from algebra to fossils, from hematology to the brain. In the words of one of his biographers, “he exhausted all the known sciences after founding several of them.”

Then he brought his towering intellect and his experiential approach to the study of the unseen. He was called to the new work by his dreams. In his fifties, he began keeping a dream journal in which he was wholly frank about erotic dreams as well as spiritual adventures. In twilight states, between sleep and waking, he found himself being drawn into experience of a deeper reality. Surfacing from sleep, he found himself entering “wakeful ecstasies.” 

I lay awake, but as if in a vision; I could open my eyes and be awake if I wanted to, but yet I was in the spirit — there was an inward and sensible joy through my whole body. 

In the city of Delft, on the night of April 6, 1744, Swedenborg experienced the vision that transformed his life and work. Retiring early, he wrestled with an entity he described as the Tempter. After his struggles, he heard a noise under his bed, which he interpreted as the departure of this dark being.

He started shivering uncontrollably.  He was at last able to snatch a few hours’ sleep. Then: 

I trembled violently from head to foot and there was a great sound as of many storms colliding, which shook me and threw me on my face. In the moment I was thrown down I was fully awake and saw how I was thrown down. 

Terrified by this wholly vivid experience of being propelled outside his physical body, Swedenborg prayed for help. As he held up his folded hands — the hands of his subtle body — “a hand came which clasped mine hard.” He found himself in the presence of a radiant being he took to be Christ. 

I saw him face-to-face….He spoke to me and asked if I had a certificate of health. I answered, “Lord thou knowest that better than I.” He said, “Well, then act.” 

Afterward, Swedenborg found himself traveling far and deep into nonordinary reality in a state that was “neither sleep nor wakefulness.” He conversed and interacted with beings in the spirit would “the same as with my familiars here on earth, and this almost continuously.” He conversed with dead people “of all classes,” including many people he had known during their physical lives. They gave him information he was able to verify and put to use. 

These encounters gave him a firsthand understanding of the conditions of the afterlife. Previously, his religious faith had convinced him that the spirit survives physical death. Now he could begin to study how it survives.

He gained important insights from encounters with departed people he had known before their deaths. He discovered that dead people are frequently confused about their situation because they cannot distinguish between the physical body and the subtle body. During the funeral of Christopher Polhem, one of his former teachers, Polhem “came through” to Swedenborg, “asking why he was buried when he was still alive.” The dead man was puzzled by the fact that, while the priest sermonized about the resurrection of the dead at the Last Judgment, “he was still alive” and “sensible of being in a body.”

 Swedenborg’s observation of the condition of other spirits in the afterlife led him to formulate the important observation that “when a man dies, his soul does not divest itself of its peculiarities.” He observed the condition of the executed nobleman Eric Brahe and reported that two days after his death “he began to return to his former state of life, which was to love worldly things, and after three days he became just as he was previously in the world.”

The departed follow the path of their desire and understanding. In his soul journeys, Swedenborg tracked them into many regions in the Otherworld. He encountered an angelic guide who told him that the “other members of his society” were appalled by the “crass ignorance” of the real conditions of the afterlife that prevailed among Westerners even after they took up residence in the spirit world.       
Swedenborg’s mentor told him that “angels” of his rank are instructed to gather newly arrived spirits, find out their ideas about heavenly joy — and give them what they desire. “You know that everyone that has desired heaven…is introduced after death into those particular joys which he had imagined.”

For example, there is a heaven for big talkers and another for big eaters. There is a paradise for those who believe the promise that they will rule with Christ forever; they see themselves enthroned as kings and princes. If you think of heaven as a beautiful garden, you get to smell the roses. But in all cases, according to Swedenborg’s mentor, you will be bored to distraction within two days. 

Now that you are ready to move beyond your expectations, the guide assigned to you can begin to instruct you on further possibilities. By one means or another, you will learn that happiness requires “doing something that us useful to ourselves and others.” Swedenborg’s angel explains that heaven is not a fixed environment or program of events, but a state that corresponds to — or is actually created by — the spiritual condition of its inhabitants.

The local clergy were not enthusiastic about Swedenborg’s road maps, or the fact that his example might encourage others to go exploring for themselves. Inflamed by Swedenborg’s observation that few priests (“that order of which very few are saved”) seemed to prosper on the other side, a Swedish minister plotted to have him judged insane and committed to a lunatic asylum.

Swedenborg’s geography of the afterlife was the gift of experience, which invites us to go beyond his maps, just as he went beyond the maps of previous explorers. His basic travel techniques will be recognized by active dreamers. They include: 

Deep relaxation: He would close his eyes, focus his attention on a single theme or target, and slow his breath. He first practiced this approach, especially breath control, in childhood during morning and evening prayers. He spoke of the “passive potency” of his meditation practice. The heart of it was to “withdraw the mind from terms and ideas that are broken, limited, and material.”

Experiment in the twilight zone: The half-dream state on the cusp between sleep and waking was Swedenborg’s favorite launchpad. He described this state as “the sweetest of all, for heaven then operates into [the] rational mind in the utmost tranquility.” He worked with both spontaneous and familiar photisms. For example, he writes of an “affirming flame” that would appear on his inner screen at the start of a journey or in the midst of a writing binge, reassuring him that conditions were favorable and that he was on the right track. 

Soul journeying: Swedenborg developed a fluid ability to shift consciousness and travel beyond the physical plane. “When I am alone my soul as it were out of the body and in the other world; in all respects I am in a visible manner there as I am here.” 

Night and day, he lived and worked as an active dreamer. His banker friend Robsahm observed that Swedenborg “worked without much regard to the distinction of day and night. Swedenborg himself noted, “When I am sleepy, I got to bed.” He kept a fire going at all times, drank large quantities of coffee with a huge amount of sugar. His dress at home was a robe in summer, a reindeer coat in winter.

Across the centuries, his words echo as a clarion call to new generations of explorers who refuse to settle their accounts with possibility and just do it: 

I am well aware that many will say that no one can possibly speak with spirits and angels so long as he lives in the body; and many will say that it is all fancy, others that I relate such things in order to gain credence, and others will make other objections. But by all this I am not deterred, for I have seen, I have heard, I have felt.



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

Illustration from Swedenborg Foundation

Ten Things to Say Before You Die


I love you

The only time is Now

May my doors and gates and paths be open

If you can dream it you can do it

Don’t leave home without your sense of humor

I brought something new into the world

I have not obstructed water when it should flow

Walk on the bridge, don't build on it

Je ne regrette rien

Dogs love you no matter what

Picture: "Dogs in Heaven" by Robert Moss

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Soul loss and soul recovery: Essential Q&A

Ø  What is soul loss?

When we suffer trauma or bitter disappointment or violent shock, soul may leave the body, to escape. This produces the phenomenon that psychologists call dissociation and shamans call soul loss. It can be seen as a survival mechanism. When you can’t take any more pain, you go away in order to make it through.
          A child who has been abused, a survivor grieving for a beloved partner who has died, a lover who has been betrayed and abandoned, a soldier who  is shell-shocked, and the victim of a terrible accident are all likely to have suffered major soul loss.
          Let’s notice that soul loss need not be major, or the result of violent events. We suffer a lesser degree of soul loss when we choose one direction in life over another, or when we put our energy and focus into one thing rather than another – like holding down the job instead of pursuing a creative project, or being a mom instead of a lover (or vice versa).  Soul loss may be merely temporary and transitional “soul drift”, as when we are jet-lagged and it takes a while for us to catch up with ourselves. 

Ø  What are the symptoms of soul loss?

Common symptoms of soul loss include:  chronic fatigue;  emotional numbness; chronic depression;  spaciness;  addictive behaviors; low self-esteem; inability to let go of past situations or people no longer in your life; dissociation and multiple personality disorder; obesity or unexplained weight gain;  abusive behaviors;  absence of dream recall;  recurring dreams of locations from earlier life, or of a self separate from your present self

Ø  What is the difference, in a practical sense, between someone with a lot of soul in their bodies and someone who does not?

For people with a lot of soul, or vital energy, in their bodies, most of the symptoms of soul-loss listed above would be rare, transient, or absent. For someone who has suffered significant soul loss, three or more of these symptoms are likely to be chronic.

Ø  Why does the soul have a hard time staying in the body?

We suffer pain or abuse, grief or shame, and part of us finds the world so cruel that we want to go away. Soul loss is also caused by wrenching life choices: we decide to leave a relationship, a home, a job, a country, a lifestyle — but part of us resists that choice, sometimes to the point of splitting away and withdrawing its energy from our lives. We also lose soul energy when we give up on our dreams and settle for a life of dull compromise, refusing to trust ourselves to love or to take that creative leap.

Ø  Where does soul go when it leaves?

Sometimes we find that a part of ourselves  is stuck in the old place, in Granma’s house, or in the apartment we shared with our first love. Sometimes a soul part we lost seems to be living in a separate reality, like the land of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan. When we wish ourselves dead, a part of our soul may go far way, as far as a Land of the Dead.

Ø  Are all aspects of soul recoverable?

There are parts that are so damaged we don’t want them back. Sometime they appear burned or charred, dark or addicted. Sometimes our life choices are so radical that a part of ourselves simply cannot be persuaded to share our present situation. My inner businessman is quite disgusted with the choices I have made, and won’t stay close to me unless I make money more of a priority than I am likely to do!

Ø  What is the first step that someone who would like to experience more soul in their life to take?

You do some cleanup, and you ask for help. In my book Dreaming the Soul Back Home, as in my retreats, I offer practical guidance for psychic cleansing and release. One of my favorites is a very simple fire releasing in which we cast out any heavy energies that are holding us back and clear a space for vital soul to come back in. It’s very important to remember that we have help available, including from our spiritual allies and our own Greater Self, and that it’s always a good idea to ask for help nicely.

Ø  What role does addiction play in soul loss?

Addiction can be both a cause and an effect of soul loss. Part of our brighter energy may leave us if we fall into habits and company it doesn’t like. When we are missing a part of ourselves, things come in to fill the gap, and we reach for things to fill that gap. From a shamanic viewpoint, addictions are often worsened by spirits of the dead who are seeking to feed their own cravings through a living person. I have never met a true alcoholic, for example, who has not (from my viewpoint) been accompanied by dead drunks. In the book, as in my programs, I offer practical guidance to create healthy psychic boundaries between the living and the deceased.

Ø  What is the difference between spirit and soul? 

We can’t lose spirit, when the term means mind, higher consciousness or our spark of the Godhead.  But we can lose contact with it, and block our own access to the Greater Self.  Soul is a different matter. Soul is quite mobile and soul energy is divisible; we can lose parts of it and take on parts from others that we really don’t want around.

Ø  You have developed an original approach to healing through what you call “soul recovery”. What are the key elements in this approach?

We use the core techniques of Active Dreaming to bring more of soul into the body and help others to become whole. By learning to share dreams with others in the right way, we create a safe space where our younger and brighter selves can draw closer, and we start to build communities of soul friends. By learning to use a dream as a doorway through which we can travel — in shamanic lucid dreaming — into a deeper space, we can go to the places where lost souls can be found and reclaimed, and we help each other to do this.

Ø  Are there other ways, in addition to working with our dreams, to experience soul recovery?  If so, what are they?

Soul retrieval, as opposed to soul recovery is a shamanic operation in which the practitioner makes a journey on behalf of a client to locate lost aspects of soul, brings them back, and transfers them to the client’s body, often by blowing them into energy centers such as the heart and the crown of the head. It can be a profoundly healing event. It reaches parts that Western psychology often does not reach, and may be essential in cases where people are missing so much of themselves that they are not equipped to become self-healers until an intervention has taken place. The limitation of this is approach is that nearly everything depends on the character and skill of the practitioner, on the reality of his or her connection with spirit helpers, and on the quality and motivation of those helpers.

Ø  You say that dreams not only show us what the soul wants, they also show us where it has gone.  Please elaborate and provide an example of this.

Our dreams can tell us which parts of ourselves may be missing, and when it is timely to bring them home. Recurring dreams in which we go back to a scene from our earlier lives may indicate that a part of us has remained there. Dreams in which we perceive a younger self as a separate individual may be nudging us to recognize and recover a part of ourselves we lost at that age. Sometimes we do not know who that beautiful child is – until we take a closer look
     A middle-aged woman recently approached me for help. She told me, "I feel I have lost the part of me that can give trust and know joy." As preparation for our meeting, I asked her to start a dream journal, although she had told me she had not remembered her dreams for many years. When she came to see me, she had succeeded in capturing just one tiny fragment from a dream. She remembered that she was standing over a table, looking at three large-size "post-it" notes. Each had a typed message. But the ink had faded and she could not read the messages.
    Slowly and carefully, I helped her to relax and encouraged her to try to go back inside her dream. Quite quickly, she found herself inside a room in the house where she had lived with her ex-husband prior to their divorce, almost twenty years before. Now she could read the typed messages. The first read in bold capitals, "YOU CAN DO IT." They were all about living with heart, and trusting life.
    She realized that she had left her ability to love and to trust in that room for nearly twenty years. I asked her what she needed to do. She told me, "I need to bring my heart out of that room and put it back in my body." She gathered up the messages and made the motion of bringing them into her heart. As her hands crossed over the place of her heart, we both saw a sweet and gentle light shine out from her heart center. She trembled, eyes shining, and told me, "Something just came back. Something that was missing for twenty years."

Bear creation by Tracy Cunningham. Bear is a great ally in soul recovery.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

What’s Going On in Your Dream House?

When you record your dreams, pay special attention to the dream locations. The settings may be familiar or completely foreign, vivid and sensory or cloudy and indistinct. You may be in a place whose physics appears quite different from ordinary reality. You may be at home with people you don't know in regular life. You might be living in a medieval castle that seems to have been constructed yesterday.
    Again and again, you dream you are in the old place – back in the home you shared with your ex, or the office where you worked at the old job, or at grandma’s house, or in the school yard. Maybe you’ll want to ask yourself: did I leave part of myself behind when I left that old situation? Maybe your dream house is a hybrid, melding elements from places you recognize from the past with novel architecture. The house may seem familiar at the outset, but then proves to have more rooms and more stories than you remember. These may be stories of your life and levels of your psyche or Self.
     It can be fascinating to revisit a dream structure of this kind through conscious dream reentry, and learn more about what is going on. Jung found in his dream of a many-layered house - a dream Freud insisted on misinterpreting - a model for understanding connections between the conscious mind, the personal subconscious and the collective unconscious. In his dream, he started out on a floor that looked like a normal bourgeois home. As he descended through successive floors, he found himself in primal territory, in a dirt-floor basement containing skulls and bones of distant ancestors.
     I find it especially intriguing to go up on the roof of a dream house. Sometimes I find there are levels beyond what I expected. Sometimes, on a roof terrace or garden, I meet a benign figure I recognize as a slightly higher self, a witness self who can give me perspective on my life situation, since he is up above the scrum. I have called this figure the Double on the Balcony.
     I dreamed I was in a house that I used to own, in another reality. It was quite familiar in the dream, but does not correspond closely to any house I have occupied in this world. My dream house was a palace, with sections open to tour groups. It has sweeping marble staircases leading up to what used to be private family apartments and my library. I tried to go up the steps, but they petered out and I realized the library and the private rooms had been long since abandoned and sealed off. I did not give up on my detective work. I took another staircase to a balcony with wonderful views over green forests and meadows. I told ladies I met there, matter-of-factly, "I used to own this house." I know I will come here again. I need to get up that staircase. And I need to understand what life story I am inhabiting in this palace that has seen better days.
    By focusing on a dream location, we have an excellent portal for conscious dreaming, shamanic journeying and astral travel. If you have been to a place in a dream, you can go there again, just as you might return to a place you have visited in ordinary reality. Your dream house may be a place you will visit in the future. I have been guided, in while series of dreams, to houses I did not recognize at the outset but proved to be future homes that I purchased and occupied. We take real estate tours in our dreams.
    The dream house may be a structure that the astral architect in you has constructed for various purposes: as a place for rest and relaxation, as a sanctuary or a study, as a place of rendezvous, as a pleasure palace. Such creations may have their own stability. They may be homes that await you in the afterlife or interlife.    Your dream house may be a place where you are leading a parallel life with people you may or may not know in your physical world. It may be a construction or renovation site, a place waiting for our imagination to raise the walls or put on the finishing touches.
     How about drawing or mapping your dream locales, making floorplans of that dream house? You will be growing your astral geography in ways you will find increasingly rewarding and exciting. You may even find you are claiming some real estate options in this world or the next.

What's that? Your memories of such things are blurry? You can take comfort from Seth, as channeled by Jane Roberts in Dreams and the Projection of Consciousness : "If you have little memory of your dream locations when you are awake, then remember that you have little memory of your waking locations when you are in the dream situation. Both are legitimate and both are realities. When the body lies in bed, it is separated by a vast distance from the dream location in which the dreaming self may dwell.” 

Drawing: "Double on the Balcony" by Robert Moss

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Soul Loss: The Shaman’s Diagnosis of Our Existential Complaints


The greatest contribution of the ancient shamans to our medicine and healing today is the understanding that in the course of any life we are liable to suffer soul loss - the loss of parts of our vital energy and identity - and that in order to be whole and well, we must find the means of soul recovery.

     On a visceral level, we all know how soul loss comes about. We suffer pain or trauma or abuse, we are overwhelmed by grief or guilt or shame, and part of us goes away because it doesn't want to stay in a world that seems so harsh and cruel. We are compelled to make a wrenching life choice, leaving a partner or a job or a home, and part of us resists that choice and parts company with our dominant personality, clinging to the old relationship or the old place. Soul loss deepens when we fall into depression or addiction or make compromises with the world as we understand it, giving up on our big dreams of life. Lacking the courage and confidence to make that creative leap, or to trust ourselves to love, we wimp out - and part of our bright spirit, disgusted with us, goes away.

    Good analysts and therapists can help us to recognize parts of ourselves we have repressed and denied, including the famous Shadow, the term especially favored by Jungians for what we have tried to relegate to the basement of the personal unconscious because we would rather not own it as a part of ourselves. The shamanic concept of soul loss reaches further. It recognizes that soul healing is not only about recognizing and integrating aspects of the self that we have buried or denied; it is retrieving pieces of soul that have literally gone missing and need to be located and persuaded to return and take up residence in the body where they belong.

    In my own practice, I have come to distinguish five forms of soul loss or disconnection that call for healing. I have yet to encounter a human being who is immune to any of these.


Loss of vital energy

You suffer from chronic fatigue. You find yourself torpid and listless, reluctant to get out of bed. Your days seem drab and gray and joyless. Your immune system in blown and you seem to pick up every passing bug. There is something missing in you and you try to stuff the whole with sugar or booze.


Loss of younger selves

You have lost younger versions of yourself - the young child with abounding energy and that beautiful imagination, that fine romantic who was hurt or betrayed as a teen, that inner poet or businessman who wanted to make different life choices from the ones you made. These younger selves have gifts and energy you can use in your life today if only you can find out where they are and discover how to bring them back.


Loss of animal spirits

Indigenous and ancestral shamans know that we are all connected to the world of the animal powers, and that by recognizing and nurturing our relation with animal spirits, we find and follow ther natural path four eneries. Yet many of us have lost this primal connection, or know it only as a superficial wannabe symbolic thing that we look up in books and medicine cards without feeding and living every day.


Loss of ancestral soul

This is a two-edged affair. When we live oblivious to the fact that we are always in the presence of the ancestors - those of our bloodlines, those of the land where we live, and those of our spiritual kin in a broader sense - we are likely to be the plaything and even the tenement for entities we don't necessarily want to have near us. When we awaken to ancestral soul, we become ready to claim the connection with wisdom-keepers and protectors who can help us to re-establish healthy psychic boundaries and clear out what does not belong with us.


Loss of connection with the Greater Self

Ultimately we can only make peace between the many aspects of our selves, and follow a path of true spiritual evolution by opening or re-opening a direct and conscious connection with the Self on a higher level - the Self that is no stranger. When we clear the right space within our embodied selves, we may be ready for the deep and beautiful act of soul growing that I call spiritual enthronement, bringing a part of the Higher Self to live in our bodies and infuse our lives and our life choices with its radiance.


I have learned that dreams often show us where soul had gone, and offer paths by which it can be reached and encouraged to come home. Through the techniques of Active Dreaming, we can learn to help each other to become the shamans of our own souls and the healers of our own lives.

For much more on soul loss and soul recovery, please see Dreaming the Soul Back Home by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Art: "Wrapped in Butterflies" by Robert Moss

In the presence of the numen


I dive again into a thick bilingual edition of Borges' poems. [1] Like a creature of the deep, a curious poem  titled “1891”, bobs up. It describes with exactitude a shady character with a knife in his waistcoat who is on his way to collect a debt and maybe to meet his own death. I nibble at words I do not know from the street argot. Esos changangos estan siempre amolando la paciencia.”These cheap guitars,” suggests the translator, “keep gnawing at the edges of his temper.” I open the book again to an astonishing eulogy of the German language. 

Then I find, early in the book, Borges long poem for the Moon, and how it will always escape the nets of the poets. I savor this verse in particular.

Siempre se pierde lo esencial. Es una
Ley de toda palabra sobre el numen.
No la sabrá eludir este resumen
De mi large comercia con la luna. 

In Alan S. Trueblood’s translation this becomes:

The essential thing is what we always miss.
From this law no one will be immune
nor will this account be an exception,
of my protracted dealings with the moon. 

-    He vanishes the critical word “numen”, thus fulfilling Borges’ law! And how essential this word “numen” is. It is indeed quite central to our understanding – within Western tradition – of the interplay of the sacred and the profane. Partly inspired by Rudolf Otto, Jung and Eliade both sought to trace the operations of synchronicity through the game of hide-and-seek played by the numinous.

The word numen, naturally, comes from the Romans. It is used to mean the presence or the will of a sacred power. Cicero uses the term to signify the "active power" of a god. [2] Ovid has  Numen inest  meaning “there is a god (or spirit) here.” [3] Its literal meaning is a “nod”, or “given the nod”.

Nil sine numine is the state motto of Colorado. “Not without the numen”. It derives from Virgil: non haec sine numine devum eveniunt (“these things do not come to pass without the will of Heaven”) [4] 

So, back to the Borges verse. I will try this:

We always lose the essential when we try
to find words to describe the numen.
I don’t know how to escape this law
in reporting my long engagement with the moon.

 And on to Rudolf Otto, who belied his Prussian appearance – Kaiser moustache, high-collared tunic, ramrod bearing – as a deep student of mystical experience. He insists that you cannot be taught the concept of the numinous; you must feel it. It “cannot, strictly speaking, be taught, it can only be evoked, awakened in the mind; as everything that comes ‘of the spirit’ must be awakened.” [5] . “It cannot be ‘taught’, it must be ‘awakened’ from the spirit….In religion there is very much that can be taught…What is incapable of being so handed down is this numinous basis and background of religion, which can only be induced, incited, and aroused.” We require “a penetrative imaginative sympathy.” [6]

His effort is to convey “the feeling which remains when the concept fails, and to introduce a terminology which is not any the more loose or indeterminate for have necessarily to make use of symbols.” ]7]

“The numinous is felt as objective and outside the self." The feeling is of mystery edged with shudders, a mysterium tremendum. Feelings may span the spectrum from a gentle tide, through sudden eruption with spasms and convulsions, to “the strangest excitements” to “wild and demonic forms” to “hushed, trembling and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of – whom or what? In the presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures.” [8]

Sophocles wrote of the experience of awe in the presence of the numen in Antigone, in a line which Otto renders as

Much there is that is weird; but nought is weirder than man. [9]

Otto also quotes Goethe’s Faust:

Das Schaudern ist der Menschheit bestes Teil,
Wie auch die Welt ihm das Gefühl verteuere,
Ergriffen fuhlt tief das Ungeheuere.

My free rendition:

Shuddering is the best part of being human
though the world can stifle our feelings
we are gripped by the weird sense of the tremendous

In the presence of the numen, we are gripped in our depths by something vast and uncanny.


1.  Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Poems ed. Alexander Coleman. (New York: Penguin Books, 2000).

2. Cicero, De divinatione 1.20 

3. Ovid, Fasti III, 296 

4. Virgil, Aeneid II, 777.

5. Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy  trans. John W. Harvey. (London: Oxford University Press, 1952) 7

6. ibid, 60

7. ibid, xxi

8. ibid, 11-13

9. ibid, 40

10. Goethe, Faust Part II, Act 1, scene v.

Magical Moon photo by Janne Loekkeberg

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Walking a dream


I am going to share my report of an ordinary day, without huge events or revelations, just a soft rhyming pattern. When at home, I start the day by lingering in bed for a little while after waking to harvest my dreams from the night. On the day I describe, I woke with a big dream in my mind. There are big dreams and little dreams. You know when a dream rates as big because you feel it, just as you know that coincidence is more than “mere” coincidence because you feel that.

In my dream, I was in London in the time of the Blitz. I returned from this excursion feeling excited and moved and deeply stirred. My dream had taken me, it seemed, into the life of a Royal Air Force pilot in a time of danger and love and romance. He loved women, and women loved him. One of the women he adored was a wartime nurse. They did not get to spend much time together.

It seemed I was in his body, in his situation, sharing his moments of passion and his fierce willingness to put his life on the line for what he believed in. As I slowly came back from this dream adventure, I felt his presence, as if for a moment both of us were in bed. I felt grateful for this deep and renewed connection with someone I believe to be a member of my spiritual family in another time, and outside time. .

When I was satisfied I was holding the essence of my dream of the pilot, I got out of bed, showered, threw on clothes. I had one swallow of coffee – literally, because my little dog was waiting for his walk. Dogs walk you no matter what. So very soon I was out on the street with my dog, heading for the park.

I was now taking the second step in my daily practice. The first step is to hold the essence of the dream, not necessarily all the details, but the essence. I had that. Out on the street, I was walking my dream as well as my dog. I was not puzzling over the dream, and certainly not trying to analyze it. The dream was simply in my mind, and perhaps in my energy field. I was open to the world showing me something that might reflect the dream, as the dream cast its reflection on the world.

As I walked the dream, I was ready to do another daily practice, which is to pay attention to three things that enter my field of perception, through any or all of my senses. These three things do not have to be extraordinary, weird or even surprising. They may be things you might never notice at all, let alone look at twice, unless you were playing this kind of game. A license plate might catch your eye, because it is a novelty plate or has a combination of letters and numbers that intrigues you. You attention might be drawn by the cry of a bird, or the words of a stranger talking on his cell phone or doing karaoke with his headphones. Maybe something dropped on the sidewalk or left on the curb for trash collection will catch your eye. Maybe you’ll smell cooking, or diesel fumes, or a perfume that takes you back to Paris in the spring of a certain year.

Paying attention to things like this, on any street on any day, is a way of consulting sidewalk oracles. When the takeaway is a set of mostly visual images I think of this as playing Sidewalk Tarot. Whatever pops up might be a card from a divination deck. It might be your card of the day, or part of a three-card spread, or a larger spread.     

That morning, while the dog sniffed a hydrant, I noticed a license plate I had never seen on my street before. The plate was distinguished by the red letters RN. It belonged to a registered nurse. Nothing unusual here, but it was very special to me, that morning, because I was walking with the bittersweet memories of a wartime romance with a nurse. I have the soft, cozy sense of confirmation. It feels a little as if an unseen hand has patted me on the shoulder.

I walked on with my dog into the big park. We took the longest path, around the lake. I paused to admire the beautiful weeping willow across water and thin ice. She was green last week. Now winter had yellowed and thinned her gorgeous hair. There was a story in this tree. I resolved to get to know her better.

When I return to my house, I grab a full mug of coffee and went to my study to do my next daily practice. I wrote my dream report, starting with the date and the title I had chosen for my dream. I might have been missing certain details by now, but I had the essence, and key incidents returned to me, vivid and strong, as I wrote. I noted my feelings, and wrote a few lines about the connection between this dream and other dreams and “far memories” of a British pilot in the Second World War. I added a further note on synchronicity, my sighting of the RN’s license plate.

I was now ready to play another game that is part of my everyday practice. I did a bit of bibliomancy. The word means divination by the book. By the book, that's what it literally means, divination by the book. People have done it with sacred and special books, like the Bible the Koran or the poetry of Rumi or Dante or Homer, for as long as humans have had books.

I generally do my book-dipping with whatever book falls to hand. On the day I walked with the dream of the pilot, I decided to go back to Heraclitus. The work of this often enigmatic Greek philosopher survives only in fragments. Because of their brevity, they are good to consult if you would rather play with a sentence than a longer passage.

I opened Charles Kahn’s edition of Heraclitus casually, with my non-dominant hand. My eye fell on a one-liner. The translation read: Gods and men honor those who have fallen in battle. In part of myself, I wanted to ignore that message and try again. The line spoke of war and violence and we have quite enough of those in my world.

But my dream was still with me, the dream that took me into the life of a brave man who was killed in a necessary war, a war for humanity against the unspeakable evil that had taken possession of Germany under Hitler. Once again, I felt a deep sense of confirmation, a firmer hand on my shoulder. Gods and men honor those who are fallen in battle.  I thought of another line in Heraclius, about the dead and the living are constantly engaged, how the fortunes o mortals and immortals interweave, how we may live in the dead and they may live in us.

I felt the deep, deep sense of recognition and gratitude and blessing.  I wrote a one-liner from this: "I am in communion with the dead. They are alive in me, and I am alive in them." I wrote those words in my journal, then wrote them again on an index card, in the neatest hand I could manage. I put the card in a box, with many others composed in the same way. This, too, is daily practice for me. I compose a one-liner of the kind Mark Twain called a “snapper”. It may rise to the level of an aphorism. When I have made a collection, written out on cards, I have a rather interesting deck I can use any time to get a message for the day.

Walking a dream. I recommend it as daily practice, whenever you recall a dream. You carry your dream with you as you go about the day. You notice how the world illuminates the dream and how maybe the dream illuminates the world. You may find that a dream image is playing in the world around you. Maybe the world gives you a second opinion. Maybe something that comes up is a commentary on the dream in a way that you can receive.  Maybe a sequence of incidents and observations extends the dream narrative. Sometimes you may feel that a dream is spilling into the world. When you simply wander with a dream, more of the dream may come back to you. You may be excited to discover, as your memory grows, that your first recollections were a tide pool, not the ocean that feeds it.

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

AI-assisted street photo

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Raven Eye


In myth and legend, the raven is many things: trickster and creator, messenger and seer, personification of ravening greed, harbinger of death, companion or form of the Goddess. Here I want to speak about raven as an oracle bird, one that can lend us his or her sight. 

Odin sees far with the help of twin ravens, named Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory. They fly all over this Middle World, returning with information. In the Prose Edda, Odin is called "raven god" because of his close association with these birds. 

The raven has an equal role in the legends of Celtic seership. The raven is also the seeing-bird of Apollo, the owner of the most famous oracle of the ancient world, at Delphi. In the Greek story the raven was white until it brought the god the news of the infidelity of his mate Coronis (the Crow-Woman); his fury blasted it until it was black. 

In dreams and journeys over many years, I have found the raven an impeccable ally when there is a need to see into dark places or see into the future. It has served as an ally in shamanic healing, plucking out the cells of disease. When I look into the raven's eye, I see a screen like a television monitor on which images of things I need to know appear; sometimes I can also travel through the screen, to explore a scene beyond it. 

In seership trainings in my Active Dreaming workshops, I suggest to participants - after they have done some foundation work - that they can borrow the keen sight of twin ravens named Thought and Memory to go scouting the possible future. They don't have to rely on their own intuition or intelligence; they are to let the birds do the work. The quality of the information gathered by raven trackers in these exercises is often remarkable, even when the scouts have had no prior experience of doing anything remotely like this. 

Despite their literary reputation, ravens aren't solitary birds, unless forced to be; they mate for life.  

Here's a poem I wrote to honor some of Raven's gifts:


Sun Stealer  

They say you stole the sun. 
This is inexact. 
You hid the light in darkness 
where the light-killers could not find it 
so the sun could shine brighter than before. 

They say you are black
because you are evil and unkind.
They do not say you swallowed
your own shadow and mastered it
at the price of wearing its colors.

Shivering, they call you death-knell,
Death-eater, bad omen, flying banshee
because you feed on death that feeds on men.
You strip what rots from what remains. 
You give us the purity of the bones. 

Trickster, they call you. 
Oh yes, you'll do your wickedest
to ensure our way is never routine 
and we are forced to improvise and transform. 
You won't let us swap our souls for a plan. 

At least they don't accuse you of minor crimes.
I praise and claim your gifts 
of putting on darkness to come and go safely 
in the darkest places, jesting with Death.

Illustration: "Two Ravens" by Robert Moss

Advice on writing

Go to the palace of the winds

where the curtains flutter like butterfly wings;
play the orchestra of your heartstrings.
Step out of your busy days
into a more spacious time.
Make friends again with your other self
who has been writing the novels you haven't read
and let him create through your fingers.

Go to the Gare du Nord in the shadow of war

and kiss her again: the lovely dark-haired woman
you have loved in more than one life.
As the sweetness of black and red berries
explodes on your tongue, filling your senses,
make sure you get her on the train
to safety in a country far from here
while you go underground to fight the crooked cross
and write the journal that will fill a novel
in the future you are living now.

Pick up the trail of the happy hooker

who parted company with you at the customs check -
vivid and succulent in her sables,
unburdened by all her Louis Vuitton luggage -
and was treated like royalty while you were grilled.
She blew you kisses and cried, "We'll meet again, darling!"
She is the part of you that is shameless but selective,
who'll put out only for the richest of prizes.
Make a date to play with her.
Let her wear the fox fur this time
before she disrobes in silken stages
and calls you to breathe her sweetness, to graze on her slopes
and transform her, through your attentions, into a lively Muse.
You lost her when you were full of rights and wrongs
and fell into spiritual correctness and forgot
that the spirits must always be entertained.

Follow your laughing, sexy Muse when she leads you down

to the boxes of good and bad and reminds you
that creators aren't moralists and must take from both.
Lean back, be loose, let her pleasure your palate
with wild strawberries and blackberries warm from the sun
and juice you to write the new story
of old gods and heroes: of the strong man of the green island
who was trained by a stronger woman
and ruined by the spite of an insatiable queen;
of the seer of the North whose eyes are two ravens
and was a shaman before he became a god
by hanging on the One Tree, offering himself to himself;
of the Sisters of the Stones, whose internet
is the humming of bees, and whose sanctuary is in amber.

Free the desk that is your door

of work and fossils, of old drafts;
plot with toy soldiers and colored pencils,
smoke cigars with Mark Twain and Winston,
play the music that stirs your blood.
Mornings, let the novelist who is now at home in you
leave the bed before you, to sit in your chair
and tap your characters awake with busy fingers
as the old priest of Ifa in his leopard skin
wakes the divination gods with his tapper
to cast the patterns that start the game of the world again.

Photo: Mirror for a Writer in Amsterdam (R.M.)