Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Jung wrestles with the prince of the Casbah

I accustomed myself to living always on two planes simultaneously, one conscious, which attempted to understand and could not, and one unconscious, which wanted to express something and could not formulate it any better than by a dream.

The voice is that of Jung, reflecting late in life on his early travels (in 1920) in North Africa, where he was fascinated to find himself among people whose language he did not know, whose culture was initially utterly foreign to him, and who had a very different relationship to their bodies and their emotions (he thought) than Northern Europeans.
     He felt that beyond surface differences he was dealing with a different collective spirit, a spirit of the land itself. He told himself that his feelings were more than a tourist's projections, that there was something out there, a spiritus loci that he needed to explain to himself and eventually to others. He had deeply emotional reactions to everyday scenes: to the buzz of Arab conversation in the casbah in Algiers, to a haughty, magnificent rider on a black mule hung with silver, to Arab men walking hand-in-hand at an oasis in the Sahara, to the sudden riot of color and noise of a market setting up in the early morning.
    He feared that he was falling "under the spell of the primitive", that he had been "psychically infected", a condition he saw reflected in his body when he succumbed to a form of infectious enteritis.
    He began to fear that his rational mind and identity might be overwhelmed by what "primitive" peoples called ghosts and spirits. He had read Inside Australia, a 1912 book about Aboriginal beliefs and customs by anthropologists Baldwin Spencer and Francis Gillen. His imagination was seized by the reported Aboriginal belief that the ancestral spirits of the land lie in wait for newcomers, and can reincarnate themselves through their progeny. Jung returned this idea again and again. In his essay "Mind and Earth", he wrote that "Certain Australian Aboriginals assert that one cannot conquer foreign soil, because in it there dwell strange ancestor spirits who reincarnate themselves in the new-born. There is a great psychological truth in this."
    In North Africa, Jung wrestled with the sense that there was something wild and primal and "barbaric" that could take possession of him now, not in a future generation. He was moving towards a theory of the "objective reality of the psyche", about how just as each of us has a world within, the world outside us is full of spirit, for good or otherwise. But more immediately, he was groping for a way to stay in balance, to master and integrate archetypal forces that threatened to overwhelm him.
    In Tunis in 1920, it was a dream that was his mentor and his proving-ground, as was so often the case in his life. Jung dreamed he was in an Arab city with a casbah whose walls formed a perfect square, with a gate on each side, and a moat around (an unlikely element in a North African city). He stood before a wooden bridge leading to a dark, arched portal.             Eager to explore, he stepped onto the bridge. At the mid-point, he was challenged by "a handsome, dark Arab of aristocratic, almost royal bearing". This prince of the casbah attacked him. They fought and fell through the railing of the bridge together. The dark prince tried to force Jung's head under water to drown him, but Jung resisted. "No, I thought, this is going too far." He succeeded in pushing his assailant's head under water. "I did so although I felt great admiration for him. I had no intention of killing him. I wanted only to make him unconscious and incapable of fighting."
     After this struggle, the scene changed and the adversary reappeared as as a companion. They stood together in a vaulted octagonal room in the center of the citadel. Everything was white, simple and beautiful. On the floor below him, Jung discovered an open book with black letters written in splendid calligraphy on milky-white parchment. He was reminded of the Uigurian script of western Turkestan, familiar to him from the Manichean fragments of Turfan  "I did not know the contents, but nevertheless I had the feeling that this was 'my book', that I had written it."
     He told the young prince that now he had overcome him, he must read the book. The prince resisted, but Jung overcame him again, this time with kindness and patience.
     Recalling this turning-point dream in his later years, as he dictated the materials for Memories, Dreams, Reflection, Jung analyzed it in terms that today sound almost stereotypically "Jungian" and yet go beyond. The shape of the casbah or citadel is a perfect mandala, within which the dreamer is journeying to the center of the self. The adversary on the bridge is a "shadow", but in a larger sense that is often understood when that term is used. The Arab prince is "not the personal shadow, rather an ethnic one associated not with my persona but with the totality of my personality, that is, with the self. As master of the casbah, he must be regarded as a kind of shadow of the self."
    In his own view, Jung's struggle with the dark prince - like Jacob's struggle with the dark angel - was more than a battle with a denied or suppressed aspect of his ordinary personality. It was a contest in which consciousness, awakened to the power and allure of a previously unrecognized archetype, is challenged to fight in order to befriend.

Art: Henry Ossawa Tanner, "Gate of the Casbah" (1914)

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Called by Sea Eagle


In traditions where the importance of dreaming is understood, the right dream may be your price of admission to the good stuff.
   It is common in Tibetan tradition for spiritual teachers to ask students to bring them a dream to determine if they are ready to receive important teachings. A student without a dream is regarded as blocked and possibly unclean. He is required to undergo purification and perform practices to reopen his connection with spiritual allies. He is not allowed to continue his studies until he can produce the right dream.

    Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche gives a personal example, from the time of his training with Lopon Rinpoche, in his book Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep. The story is doubly interesting because it involves long-range dream precognition. At 13, as a student, Tenzin dreamed he was handing out slips of paper with the Tibetan syllable A written on them to people boarding a bus.    
    He brought this dream to his teacher, who did not comment, but allowed him to proceed to a further level of instruction. Fifteen years later, waking events caught up with the dream. Invited to travel to the West for the first time, Tenzin found himself assigned to hand out slips of paper with the Tibetan syllable A on them to people boarding a bus. These were to be used in a meditation exercise.
    In 1994, a dream proved to be my admission ticket to the Dreaming of an Aboriginal people in my native Australia. In a lucid dream, starting in the drifty liminal state in the middle of the night, I was joined by a giant sea eagle, an aquatic raptor native to the north-east coast of my native Australia. The sea eagle carried me across the North American continent, then over the Pacific to a reunion with my mother at her home in Queensland. We had been having some difficulties and I wanted to leave the dream excursion at this point to call her.
    However, sea eagle had other ideas. It flew me on , into the hinterland, to meet another animal power: a huge water buffalo. I remembered the water buffalo, too, from boyhood. It had been central to a terrifying shamanic initiation, in another spontaneous lucid dream.
     The bull escorted me to a muddy creek. Something immense was thrashing and rising from the waters. Nearby were Aborigines painted for ceremony. An elder told me, "This is the first of all creatures. This is the beginning of our world."
    When my mother died suddenly, three months later, I was grateful that the dream had prepared me for this event, through our loving exchange in the dream itself, and by how it inspired me to reach out to her and heal some misunderstandings.
     I flew back to my native country. After the funeral, I went "walkabout" for a few days, and found myself at an Aboriginal housing co-op in a dusty town in the hinterland called Beaudesert. When I started talking about dreams, I was told I needed to talk to Frank. Who was Frank? "Oh, he's our spirit man." Frank's place proved to be three days bush walk away, so this lead seemed like a non-starter.
    But Frank walked in as I was getting ready to go; shamans are tricky. He invited me down to the pub to talk. He sipped orange juice and sniffed me, literally, checking if I was another white fella trying to rip off his people yet again. Then I told him the dream. His manner changed radically. He sat very still, his eyes blazing like fire opals.
   "Oh, I guess you've come to me for a reason, mate. You've just told me the start of the creation story of my people, the Mununjalli, as it is told to made men. That thing you saw in the water was the bull eel. We say it is the first of all creatures."
    Yet a dream had taken me deep inside the Dreaming of an ancient and indigenous people. Because of my dream, Frank volunteered to show me the place of the Bull Eel Dreaming. Skirting quicksand and snakes, after many hours I found myself on the bank of the muddy creek from my dream. No bull eel in evidence that day, which was fine with me.

Many years later, I heard from a Kukatja grandmother that "a dream is when the spirit goes on walkabout." I know this is exactly right. 


A fuller version of this story is in the Introduction to my book Conscious Dreaming.

Drawing: "Flight with Sea Eagle" (c) Robert Moss

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

A Mirror for the Sun Goddess

At the solstice, a story from Japan about the sun goddess. In Japan, as in many world cultures, the sun is feminine. The tale is a profound teaching story about soul loss and soul recovery comes from Japan. It is a mythic tale of Amaterasu Omikami, the Japanese sun goddess, and it offers a wonderful script for soul healing. Perhaps you can find yourself - and more of your soul - inside it.
     The beloved sun goddess Amaterasu is shamed and abused by a raging male, her stormy brother/consort Susanowo, who is a hero when is comes to fighting monsters but is no hero in the family home. They have had children together, born magically from gifts they have given each other – three girls from Susanowo’s sword and five boys from the jewels of Amaterasu.
     But Susanowo plays spoiler, smearing excrement where Amaterasu made fertile fields and crops, throwing a horse that is sacred to the goddess into the midst of her intimate weaving circle, and so on. The storm god’s violence reaches the point where Amaterasu takes refuge in a rock cave. And the light goes from the world.
      In her dark cavern the once radiant goddess sits brooding on the past, sinking deeper and deeper into feelings of guilt and shame. Maybe she starts telling herself that what has happened is somehow her fault, that she failed her consort in some important way, that she failed to give what was needed. In the depths, she has lost her inner light, while the world has lost her radiance. The myriad gods and goddesses are desperate to call the sun back.
     They try many ruses to lure Amaterasu out of the dark cave. They call on a wise god, whose name means Keeper of Thoughts, to advise them. He usually keeps his best ideas to himself, but the cold and darkness in the world have got him worried too. So he counsels the gods to gather all the roosters than can be relied to crow at dawn. He tells the gods to hang a mirror with strands of jewels on the branches of a Sakaki tree at the entrance of Amaterasu’s cave. The gods do this, decorating the tree with bright cloth banners, without fully understanding the plan. The cocks crow, the gods whoop and howl. And Amaterasu stays in her cave.
      Now one of her sister goddesses, Uzume, comes up with a plan of her own. Uzume is the goddess of mirth and revelry. She is also called the Great Persuader and the Heavenly Alarming Woman. Now we see why. Uzume overturns a tub near the mouth of the rock cave, strips off her clothes like a professional, and moves into a wild, sexy dance that has the gods laughing and bellowing with delight. Amaterasu is curious. Why is everyone having so much fun? She approaches the mouth of her cave and demands to know what is going on. Uzume calls back to her, “We’ve found you the perfect lover. Come and see.”
     Suspicious, Amaterasu peeks around the edge of the boulder she placed at the cave mouth to shut out the world. And she is awed and fascinated to see a figure of radiant beauty looking back at her. She is drawn, irresistibly, to this beauty, and comes up out of the darkness – to discover that the radiant being is her own beautiful self, reflected in the mirror the gods have hung in a tree near the cave. Now the god of Strength rushes out and holds Amaterasu, gently but firmly, to restrain her from going back into the dark. Another god places a magic rope across the entrance to the cave.
    Gods of passion and delight lead Amaterasu back into the assembly of the gods, and her light returns to the world. This is a marvelous collective dream of how soul recovery and soul healing become possible when we help each other to look in the mirror of the greater Self.
     Mirrors hang in the temples of Amaterasu today, to remind us to look for the goddess or god in ourselves. When we locate the drama of Amaterasu in our own lives, we begin to make a mirror for the radiance of the larger Self that can help to bring us, and those we love, up from the dark places.
     In some of my workshops, we have taken the story of Amaterasu's descent to the Underworld and turned it into a shamanic theater of soul recovery, with amazing results. However, the unfortunate cast as Susanowo must be depossessed of his role, and then welcomed back into the circle as a "new man", healed and enlightened. This can be profoundly healing too.

Illustration (c) Robert Moss

Monday, June 19, 2023

Birth of a Songline


A song is bursting from me. I sit on a rise overlooking the coast, and sing the first couplet:

We are singing till we're flying
We are flying till we're swimming

The last part comes in an easy flow

We are swimming till we're traveling
into the Land

A woman singer-songwriter is beside me now, carrying the melody in her lovely voice, laughing with me as I experiment with additional lines.

We are laughing till we're bouncing
We are bouncing till we're flying

Then comes the most important verse

We are sleeping till we’re dreaming
We are dreaming till awakening
We’re awakening for our homecoming
into the Land

I know what this is. It's a wing song, a journey song. I am excited to think that I can share it with the people who join me for adventures in the dreamtime and in the dream of everyday life.

I know what the Land of the song is. It is a happy Otherworld, a land of heart's desire. And the song can help to take us there. We are making songlines. 

- This account of how a song was born in one of my dreams is excerpt from my 2013 journal. We have sung the last verse of that song in many of my workshops and retreats, and it has helped us unfold our wings.

Photo (c) Romy Needham

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Take Your Liminal Complaints to Kali Ma


I'm fourteen years old and I've never been kissed. In the middle of the night, I feel a presence in my room. It's a woman, and she's coming towards me. She's little more than a dark cloud to begin with, but when she reaches my bed she is fully defined. She is a hideous, black-skinned hag, with multiple arms. Jouncing against her withered dugs is a necklace composed of rotting human heads.
     I want to flee from this apparition, but I can't move. My body is completely paralyzed, except for my eyes, which are taking in everything. 

The memory of this episode came flooding back while I was reading a lucid and helpful book on Sleep Paralysis by Ryan Hurd, Ryan writes from first-hand experience, and he makes a careful study of the varying explanations for this phenomenon, in which the sufferer lies dormant, unable to move, while ghosts and demons may appear to menace him, pressing down on his chest.  This condition is by no means unusual. At least half the population are estimated to have suffered from sleep paralysis at some point in their lives.

Ryan identifies high-risk communities (workers on night shift, insomniacs, the jet-lagged, college kids) . He offers clear, commonsensical guidance on how to minimize your risk of finding yourself in this state, basically: keep regular hours, get enough sleep, stay grounded, don’t forget to breathe. I confess that some of this was lost on me since I have never kept regular hours, fly constantly, sleep in two or three short bursts in a 24-hour cycle, and have been accused of having “no body clock whatsoever”.

We are coming to the most exciting part of Ryan’s book, in which he distinguishes himself from much of the literature by asking: What if sleep paralysis is not a curse, but an opportunity? What if this state is “a gateway for lucid dreaming”, even a spiritual initiation? What if the demon or the night hag is actually a guide who can take us on an amazing astral journey if we can go beyond our fear – and stop worrying about the body? Ryan knows that all these things are possible, and more, because he’s been there. So have I, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

A word about words. “Sleep paralysis” is actually a major misnomer. Why? Because everyone who has experienced this condition knows that they were awake at the time.

It resembles sleep in two respects. First, in the muscular atopia – paralysis – which is a benign and indeed necessary state during sleep because it prevents us from acting out our dreams at the expense of the furniture and the family. Second, shapes from dream or nightmare may fill the space. We might add that “sleep paralysis” is most commonly experienced near sleep, coming or going. Still, it is not a state of sleep. 

I would like to see us develop the verbal imagination to call it something more exact. If we are going to focus on the physiology, we could speak of muscular dyschrony, which would be to say that the muscles are out of kilter with time. A better term for the larger phenomenon would be liminal paralysis, which would feature its identity at a threshold state, on the border (for example) of being in and out of the body.

Let’s return to Ryan Hurd’s proposition – which will be shocking to many – that we can learn to love what I will now call liminal paralysis.
    My terrified fourteen-year-old self can attest to this.
    His experience with the night hag did not end with the scene above. When she approached his bed and mounted him, he discovered that not every part of his body below the eyes was paralyzed. His story continues:

The black hag is on my bed, stamping on my chest. She lowers herself on her haunches. Despite my disgust, I am erect and now she is riding me. Her teeth are like daggers. My chest is spattered by blood and foulness from the rotting heads.
     There is nothing for me to do but stay with this. I tell myself I will survive.
      At last, the act is done.
     Satisfied, the nightmare hag transforms into a beautiful young woman. She smells like jasmine, like sandalwood. She takes me by the hand to a forest shrine. I forget about the body I have left frozen in the wood. 
      She tells me, I am Time, and I give you power to step in and out of time. You can call me Kali Ma.
      When I return, I am different. 

In the days that followed, in then back of my classroom and in my bedroom late at night, I wrote a cycle of poems that I titled Creatures of Kali. More than half a century later, I remember the first stanza of my adolescent verse:

In the darkness, a dark woman comes to me
softly, as the ticking of a clock.
I, in panic, cry out, "Go! I have no head for horror!"

But she smiles and wraps her four black arms around me
beating her bleeding necklace of skulls around my neck
and holds me captive through the night.


If we are willing to face our night terrors, we may find that the alien in the room is what is truly most alien to us, our own greater power. If we can endure the night hag, we may earn an encounter with the Goddess.

The book discussed is Ryan Hurd, Sleep Paralysis: A Guide to Hypnagogic Visions and Visitors of the Night (Hyena Press)

Art: "Kali Black and Blue" (c) Robert Moss

The Paths All Taken

Instead of thinking about paths not taken in this life, we might reflect on the possibility that, in our greater self, we have experienced all possible paths, and can tap into that, embracing the gifts and lessons of many possible lives.

This was the working conclusion of a group of frequent fliers I led in an experiment in tracking an alternate self. I asked each member of the group to start by traveling back along the road of their earlier life and finding a crossroads where they had made a significant decision but might have chosen differently. This crossroads would become the point of departure for a longer journey, powered by shamanic drumming. I gave the following instructions for the larger journey:
When the journey begins, you will find yourself approaching that crossroads you remember from your earlier life. This time, you will take a different road. You will follow your alternate self along that alternate life path, all the way to the present moment in time.
We used live shamanic drumming to fuel and focus the journey.

One traveler pursued an alternate event track on which, instead of marrying and having kids early, she pursued career and higher education, becoming a U.N. interpreter and eventually founding her own successful business. She saw herself giving speeches in no fewer than five languages. She had some romance and excitement on this trail, but found herself - at her present age - living alone and feeling lonely, amid the trappings of success and affluence that surrounded her. She told us this experience left her glad she made the choice that she made, and also glad she could now feel she had not missed out on that alternate life as the international career woman. "Now I really feel I've lived both lives."

Asked whether she could bring gifts of her alternate self into her present life, she said she'd get on with working with some French language tapes, with the aim of making herself fully bilingual, as her parallel self had succeeded in doing decades earlier. She felt that her language skills might grow faster now that there was some conscious convergence with that other self, the globe-trotting linguist.
Another traveler who had never married or become a mother found herself going back to a crossroads she reached in her teens, when - in the life she remembered - she decided not to go back to the boyfriend who was waiting for her in California after spending the holidays with her family on the East Coast.

Following her alternate self who did go back to the boyfriend, she found herself participating, very vividly, in a life that included going to grad school with him, getting married and having kids, running a psychology practice, and then finally breaking up after her husband developed a "roving eye." She reported, with calm certainty, "I've done that now, and I don't need to carry on having any regrets." She thought she would try to bring some of her parallel self's gifts in research and writing into a new phase of her present creative life.
A woman who made a commitment to service in ministry and chose not to marry, returned to a time when she might have responded to the invitation of a colleague to pursue a romantic relationship. On the alternate life path she chose to track, she made a different choice, pursued the relationship and entered into a loving marriage. She gave birth to a girl and later to a boy. She developed a professional career in counseling on a university campus. She experienced wrenching grief when her husband died leaving her widowed in her mid-forties. She had a sense of the loving care of this man that reached from the other side to her on both life paths. 

This traveler returned with a deep sense of peace and satisfaction. The alternate life and the one she now inhabited both required courage to navigate challenges. She spoke about a sense of both lives being lived well, and of both offering service and love to others. "Both paths are of great value," she said. "Knowing that, I feel deep peace and satisfaction."
Not all the experiences that were reported brought calm and closure. Bravely, one of our travelers returned to the night when she had gone out on a motorbike and suffered a terrible accident that put her in hospital for a long time and left her scarred. What if she had not gone out that night? She found that, on the alternate track that avoided the accident, her marriage still collapsed, and this released her from some of her second-guessing. 

She also met another self, a double who had made the same choice to go out on the bike but had never gotten herself together after the accident. "I call her the Sad One. She's the one who carries her disability through life as her permanent excuse for not trying and not really living. I thought I'd parted company with her but she's still around and I want to send her away."
Part of the secret logic of our lives may be that our paths constantly interweave with those of numberless parallel selves, sometimes converging or even merging, sometimes diverging ever farther. The gifts and failings of these alternate selves - with all the baggage train of their separate lives - may influence us, when our paths converge, in ways that we generally fail to recognize. Yet a sudden afflux of insight or forward-moving energy may be connected with joining up with an alternate and lively self, just as a sour mood of defeat or a series of otherwise inexplicable setbacks may relate to the shadow of a different parallel self, a Sad One or a Dark One.
Alternate reality tracking of the kind I have reported here may become alternate reality therapy - worthy of the acronym ART - if we can rise to greater consciousness of who is stepping where in our life gardens of forking paths.

Illustration: "Forking Paths" (c) Robert Moss

Dog as God and Psychopomp in Dream Archaeology


A small example from my journals of one mode of dream archaeology: following clues from a dream to an ancient culture and turning up evidence or documentation for something that was previously unknown or  incompletely known. It may also be an example of dream precognition:  

May 8, 2022


Power of the Dog in Dream Archaeology 

I'm excited by essays and materials I find in what at first seems to be a big white-bound bound volume. They include maps and charts and line drawings on an archaeology theme: The Dog. I reflect on related sources I have available to go further on this theme in my own research and writing, including Barry Lopez's fine work Of Wolves and Men.

Later I am out in the woods with a man who lives close to wolves. He leads the way off the main path to the right. He says the wolves are out, moving clockwise. It seems to be his plan to meet them face to face. I notice he hasn't brought his rifle. I'm willing to trust that he knows what he's doing and that if we meet the wolves face to face it will be a sociable encounter.


Where Dog=God and Psychopomp

After recording my, I opened my email and found my daily pdf from an academic website, a paper on canine burials at Saqqara during the Graeco-Roman period.. [*] It describes the mass burial and mummification of dogs in ancient Egypt, 1,350 at this site alone, tens of thousands at Abydos.

The authors suggest that the primary reason for canine burial here was to provide an organic embodiment of Anubis in his role as psychopomp, guiding souls between this world and the afterlife. The dog buried beside or near humans becomes "an amuletic animal mummy... considered to be either an adequate replacement for, or a valuable complement to the Anubis amulet to ensure the continuing and unbroken assistance of Anubis for the deceased."

The article contains maps and charts and line drawings including one of a 2nd century funerary stele from Terenouthis (Kom Abu Bellou), where the deceased is seen in the company of a dog and a falcon, aspects of Anubis and Horus.

So my dream of the archaeology of the dog seems to be a minor example of precognition or clairvoyance. The incoming email enabled me to fulfill part of my dream research assignment right away. I would probably not have made time to read that scholarly article without the dream; I had a few other reading assignments. 

It is interesting to reflect on where the wolves are circling. Their presence off-stage in that part of my the dream leads me to reflect on the evolution of the human-canine connection, In the Egyptian context, it may be relevant that Anubis and his two jackal-headed brothers, Wepwawet and Duamutef, are especially associated with wild canids. 

In one of my big dreams of Egypt twenty years earlier, my two beloved black dogs (both deceased) came out of a hollow tree, dripping with what looked like amniotic fluid and might have been resin or honey. They guided me through the pylon gate of an Egyptian temple that was both ancient and newly constructed. A beautiful cupbearer gave me wine infused with blue lotus. In an inner chamber I received profound revelations about soul and self that are indelible. Recalling my guides, the two black dogs, I think of how in some funerary stelae from Egypt, like one in the picture above, twin canids share the role of psychopomp. 

[*] Mary Hartley, Alanah Buck, Susanne Binder, "Canine Interments in the Teti Cemetery North at Saqqara during the Graeco-Roman period" in Miroslav Bárta, Filip Coppens and Jaromír Krejãí (eds) Abusir and Saqqara in the year 2010/1 (Prague: Czech Institute of Egyptology, Charles University, 2011) 17-29.

Photo: Funerary stela of Kopres. Roman Period, late 2nd century from Terenouthis. University of Michigan Excavations, 1935




Friday, June 16, 2023

Lines for the Marriage of Persephone and Hades


I sing because what I must say cannot be spoken in prose. It comes from the mound, from beyond the white gate, from the far side of the Western sea, from beneath the roots of the wild fig and the holm oak. It comes through the heady musk of bee-loud blossoms that conceal killing thorns. It calls you to the well of memory and desire, to the vulva of the goddess who will swallow you until she gives birth to what she wishes you to be.
     You would flee from this if you were not drunk on the fumes of wildflowers, or doubled up with laughter, if the honey wine on your lips and the play of young limbs around the rising thyrsus were less sweet.
     Don’t slow it down. Dance faster, higher, lighter.  Let your words be winged feet. Tilt and angle, loop and knot. Be the lyre, be the drum, be the ecstasy of wild flutes. You will not get from here to there in any straight way. Let your song make the twisting twisting way.
    You must plunge between the stone thighs, into the womb where water becomes fire. You must give up, piece by piece, all your vanities and certainties. You must let your skin be flensed from your body, and then let your flesh be rendered. You must watch your organs laid out on a butcher’s table while pale snakes spill and slither from your belly.
     Beyond your body of pain, you are ready to sit on a love seat with the one who called you. You can’t look your intended in the face until your new eyes settle in your skull. Now you can drink in the beauty that rises from terror, as wine is born from the trampled grapes.
    You are learning the nature of true power. The cauldron is lifted from the marriage table. You are anointed with liquid fire. It streams over your head and glows on your skin. The womb of death has given birth to a new sun. A fountain of bright fire is inside you now.
    Of course you eat the red food of the dead when it is placed before you. You haven’t come here as a tourist. You are here for the sacred marriage. You have no thought of escape, because you are not a captive. The love seat is a shared throne. You will go up, when it pleases you.to renew the cycles of earth, bringing the promise of harvest. You will make this descent again, as it pleases you, to enjoy the embrace of your dark lover and to follow your shared calling. You are royal. In your royalty, you will serve the souls that tremble at the gates of life and death and do not know that they are at a swing door. As an initiate, you will be an initiator.
      Go up now, go out now, and see how everything sprouts and quivers under your feet. Be with the huge lady cow, so white and beautiful, and with the bull of heaven as they meet in fields of green delight. Graze in the apple orchard that will go with you everywhere. Let others rekindle their flames from the fire in your eyes. Allow antlers of light to rise as living candelabra from the fire inside your head. Wear the clothes of whatever country you are in. Gods and goddesses love to travel in disguise. Never forget to sing. Shine bright, shining one

- by Robert Moss, April 2020

Photo: pinax (votive plate) showing Persephone enthroned with Hades, from Locri in Calabria, in the Museo Nazionale Archeologico, Reggio Di Calabria

Sunday, June 11, 2023

The Afterlife in Fiction


I made this list with my short reviews a few years ago. Happy to hear more recommendations. 

YA Fiction

The Brothers Lionheart by beloved Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren, creator of  Pippi Longstocking. An unflinching look at death and the afterlife in which two young boys must take part in a war in a very unpeaceable kingdom on the Other Side before the way to a happier land of light is opened. There is a Swedish film version.

The Lovely Bones by Anne Sebold is the moving story of a teenage girl who watches her family trying to cope with her death after she has been raped and murdered. There is a good film version.

The Afterlife by Gary Soto describes a teen boy’s life and love as a ghost after he is murdered in a rest room while prepping for a date. We don’t get beyond the lower astral, but it’s worth reflecting on the scene where the protagonist and his new girlfriend literally give up the ghost.

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin presents an afterlife that is much like the regular world except that everyone ages backward until they are born into another life.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman contains an extraordinary sequence where Lyra and her companions travel to a world of the dead because of a promise she made to a dead friend in a dream. The conditions for their entry and the deal they make with fierce guardians of this death realm make fascinating reading.


Adult Fiction

The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant, while not explicitly about death or dreaming, opens our minds to the possibility of living and learning in a realm beyond the physical body and being reborn to this life carrying soul gifts from that realm.

The Oversoul Seven Trilogy by Jane Roberts takes us with verve and deep insight into the interplay between personalities living in different times who are members of a multidimensional soul family and whose dramas – from the perspective of a guide on a higher level – are all being played out simultaneously, in a spacious Now

All Hallows Eve by Charles Williams is a supernatural thriller by a member of the Inklings (along with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis) that contains an indelible description of a dead person waking up to the fact that they are now in an astral, rather than physical, body.

What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson is well worth reading for its detailed accounts of transitions in the afterlife, the central role of imagination in shaping the realities the deceased inhabit, and the brave and ultimately successful attempt of the protagonist to rescue his wife from the mind-generated hell of a suicide. It was turned into a popular film starring Robin Williams.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. A young woman whose body is near extinction after an overdose is allowed to experience some of the parallel lives she is living in worlds where she made different choices, and determine whether she can make a firm commitment to any of them.

Drawing "Swan on a Black Sea" (c) Robert Moss. Ink and watercolor



Saturday, June 10, 2023

Seven Gates to Lucid Dreaming


I suggested in a recent article that it is less important to be aware that you are dreaming than to be capable of exercising choice, pursuing goals and considering consequences, whatever state of reality and consciousness you may be in. However, the awareness that you are dreaming
can give you the power to use the dreamscape as an adventure theme park, a place of training or higher education, or a field in which you can vanquish nightmare terrors and recognize and integrate different aspects of yourself.

I am going to offer seven ways to enter a state of lucid dreaming. I will use that term here for convenience, since it has become so widely recognized since Dutch psychologist and novelist Frederik van Eeden introduced it to a learned audience at the Society for Psychical Research in London in 1913. 

How do you become a lucid dreamer? Through one or more of these seven gates.


1. Wake up spontaneously to the fact that you are dreaming


This may happen because you notice an anomaly inside the dream. In ordinary reality, you don’t stand up naked in front of a crowd, you are not still in elementary school and you do not keep dragons in your basement. You look in a mirror and see a different face. 
     When dream elements of this kind make you aware that you are dreaming, the trick is to stay with the dream instead of letting yourself be startled out of it. This requires practice and a fine melding of excitement and familiarity. Your excitement over what is going on will make you want to stay with the dream. Increasing familiarity with the phenomenon will help you maintain the poise and balance to go on with it.
     It is interesting that it is often scary experiences in early life, especially adolescence, that first bring spontaneous dream lucidity. For example, the phenomenon of sleep paralysis, in which you begin to stir from sleep and find that you cannot operate major muscle groups, can be the prelude to lucid dreaming – when you are able to relax into the situation and let something else develop.


2. Recognize your dream signs


You want to follow the practice of journaling all your dream experiences. This is going to be your personal encyclopedia of symbols and will give you first-hand data on the reality of precognition, parallel universes and so much more. In relation to developing your abilities as a lucid dreamer, your journal is the place where you can study your dream signs – the elements in your dreams that could make you aware that you are dreaming.
     For example, the dead are alive in your dreams. Or a dream element is repeated, exactly, in the way the black cat runs across the room the same way twice in the movie The Matrix. There is a sudden transit from one scene to another and you don’t know how you got to the new place. You are making love with a movie star. You find that when you try to read a text, it blurs (not for me, but for many).
     You can then select one or more dream signs and tell yourself that when you observe the same element, you will become aware that you are dreaming. You can borrow suggestions from frequent flyers. A very popular one is Carlos Castaneda’s suggestion (in Journey to Ixtlan) that whenever you see your hands, you should ask, “Am I dreaming”? I do that when I look at my phone. Inside a dream, my phone sometimes operates very differently from its regular functioning.


3. Set an intention for lucid dreaming


Before going to bed, you set an intention to be aware you are dreaming and repeat that intention until it is firmly implanted in your mind. Give the intention some juice. “I am going to have fun in my dreams and I will be aware that I am dreaming” is perfectly acceptable. So is “Tonight I will go on a road of healing and I will know I am dreaming.”


4. Start in the Twilight Zone


The twilight zone between sleep and waking is a great launch pad for adventures in lucid dreaming. Sleep researchers distinguish the hypnagogic state, when you are on your way to sleep, from the hypnopompic state, when you are leaving sleep. In both states, if you are able to relax and entertain the images that form on your mental screen, you may find you are being offered a rich menu of portals and scenarios for dreaming. Choose to go with one of those images or developing stories, and you may start out lucid and stay that way. 
    However, when the adventure begins in the first period of the night, you may fall asleep and lose dream awareness (and often memory of the dream) because your body craves rest. In most people’s daily cycle, the first hours in bed are a time for “industrial sleep” to restore and replenish the body. Dream recall and lucid awareness may be less important in this period, in relation to daily maintenance, than the need for nourishing sleep and downtime.
    The best times to experiment in the twilight zone are when you wake in the middle of the night, and when you wake from your final sleep cycle to start the day. I love what becomes available in the middle of the night (especially between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m.) when I can simply lie back in a drifty state and let images come. After your final sleep cycle, you may find you remember dreams that have juice and energy and vivid detail. If you can arrange your life so you don’t have to jump out of bed right away, you can stay with one of these dreams and let it unfold into a fully lucid dream excursion.


5. Reenter a dream


Dream reentry is the royal road to lucid dreaming. This is one of the core techniques of Active Dreaming. The central idea is this: a dream scene is a place you have been, wherever in the worlds that may be. Because you have been there, you can go there again.
     Why would you want to do this?
      Maybe you were having a great adventure or romance, but were interrupted by the alarm clock and would like to go on with it. Maybe you were fleeing from a nightmare bogey and you realize it is time to face up to that challenge and resolve it on its own ground – which, by the way, is the smartest way to end a series of scary dreams. Maybe you want to talk to someone who appeared in the dream. 
     Maybe you simply want to develop entry points for lucid dreaming, personal dream gates through which you can access realms of adventure, guidance and healing.
      How do you practice dream reentry? You need three things: a strong image, a clear intention, and the ability to fuel and focus the lucid dream journey that is going to unfold. You hold the dream that is calling you in your mind and let it become vivid and alive. It might be the dream from which you just awakened or a dream from years ago, maybe a dream that frightened you in childhood and was never resolved. Next, you set your intention. I am going to see what’s behind that door. I am going to confront my pursuer. I am going to dance with the bear. I am going to meet my dream lover again on that tropical island and I don’t have to pay for the plane ticket.
     If you have a tendency to drift off to sleep, you may add the intention: I will remain alert and aware that I am dreaming.
 If you find that you need extra fuel to accomplish liftoff, and/or that your focus is easily distracted, try using shamanic drumming as you embark on the journey. In my workshops, we use shamanic drumming very frequently to power conscious dream journeys. I have recorded a CD of shamanic drumming specifically for conscious dream travelers, 
Wings for the Journey.


6. Look at the world around you as a waking dream


As is well understood by teachers of dream yoga, lucid living is fundamental to growing the practice of lucid dreaming. Practice mindfulness in everyday circumstances. Ask yourself from time to time, What am I doing nowWhat is playing on my inner soundtrack? Take some quiet, unscheduled time, inside or out and about, and receive impressions – both the contents of your mind and the incidents of external reality – without judgment.
     Look for signs and symbols in the world around you. I suggest many games in this cause in my book 
Sidewalk Oracles. You’ll become aware that the world is speaking to you in many voices, and you’ll start to glimpse the patterns of a deeper order of reality, behind the veils of ordinary perception.
     You’ll find you can carry this heightened awareness into the dream state, and that your deeper dreams will expand your consciousness, in turn, on the roads of everyday life.

 7. Become So Wild

This is the big sister of #3. 

Often when we first fall into bed, our most immediate need is to rest and restore the body. We may be overburdening ourselves and failing to satisfy that need when we set dream intentions or try to embark on lucid dreaming right away in the first period of bed time. It is actually fine to let the first cycle be "industrial sleep", allowing ourselves simply to restore and regenerate the body.
    Of course, spontaneous dreams will come during this phase, and may trigger lucidity as well as lively dream recall. So we want to be open to dream gifts during the first cycle of sleep. But we do not want turn the pursuit of dreams, or the quest for lucidity, into a job of work during this part of the night. We never want to turn the dream adventure into another of our chores, or stress ourselves by setting objectives that are unrealistic given the body's need for rest and restoration.
    The prime time for pursuing dream intentions and embarking on lucid dream odysseys is right after the first cycle of sleep. People's sleep patterns vary, but chances are you will awaken - and know you are awake - three or four hours after going to sleep. Maybe you need to go to the bathroom or have a glass of water. Fine, do it. Maybe you have dreams, or at any rate elements of dreams, from the first sleep cycle. Jot them down. Titles or key words may be enough.
    Maybe you want to putter around for an hour or two before going back to bed. That's fine, too, as long as you leave yourself time for more nocturnal adventures before you need to go out on the business of the day.
    Now: settle back in bed. Lie on your back, or on your right or left side, whichever position is most comfortable but do not lie on your stomach (unless you want to be seriously grounded). This is the time to set, or reaffirm, an intention for your dreams.
    If you have a dream with some juice from your first sleep cycle, you can make it your intention to reenter that dream, explore the dream space, and carry on with the adventure you were having before.
    You may find you are in a space where communication with an inner guide is possible. The most important spiritual dialogues of my life have unfolded here, in contact with wiser intelligences I have learned to trust.
    You may find that an inner light comes on, as bright as the sun would be. Once you resist the tendency to open your eyes and check whether someone turned on the lights, you may find that this rising of the inner light can carry into a state of greatly expanded awareness and creativity, where you can find solutions to previously intractable problems, and much more.
    Or you can simply lay yourself open to the images that will rise and fall on your inner screen in this liminal state between sleep and awake. Chances are that one of these will catch your attention and grow into a living scene that you can enter. This will be your portal for a lucid dream excursion if you set the intention to remain conscious you are dreaming as the action develops. The chances that you will fall into sleep without memories are reduced because you have already received your essential rest.

    I dreamed up an acronym for this simple approach:

    O=open to experience

SO-WILD, and it works!


Friday, June 9, 2023

Adventures in Dream Travel: Lucid, Conscious, Volitional


In my experience, it is less important to be aware that we are dreaming than to be capable of exercising choice, pursuing goals and considering consequences, whatever state of reality and consciousness we may be in.

I used to avoid the term “lucid dreaming” because it was often associated with approaches that promised to teach people to “control” and “manipulate” their dreams. The discussion has matured greatly since then, though if you cruise the web you’ll find plenty of hucksters promising to teach you how to be a master of the universe or have guilt-free sex with anyone through lucid dreaming.

I chose the title Conscious Dreaming for my first book on all of this. In my mind, being conscious means more than being lucid. It means being aware that at every turning, in every state of reality and consciousness, you can exercise choice. At the very least, you can choose your attitude, and that can change everything. You want to be prepared, always, to test the limits of possibility.

The ability to embark on dream journeys at will, travel to certain locations, contact transpersonal beings and exercise wakeful powers of goal-setting and decision-making in the dream state  is what is prized by traditional dreaming peoples. In other words, they rank volitional dreaming above lucid dreaming, to employ a helpful distinction suggested by anthropologists Roger Ivar Lohmann and Shayne Dahl.[1]

As a lucid dreamer, you may experiment with creating environments in nonordinary reality where you can live out your wildest fantasies or engage in training or meditation. I am greatly in favor of practicing reality creation on the imaginal plane. However, you don’t want to fall into the delusion that everything you experience in dreaming is merely a figment of your own imagination, or that everyone you encounter is a projection or aspect of yourself.

You will come to understand that dreaming – lucid or otherwise – is a portal to other realms of reality in the multidimensional universe. They may have their own physics, whether similar or wildly different from the physics of everyday experience on Earth.  These realms include the territories where the dead are alive.

This is common knowledge in ancestral and indigenous traditions, which understand that the dream world is a real world and may actually be more real than much of ordinary life, where we are sometimes in the condition of sleepwalkers. In dreaming cultures, it is recognized that the most important events in our lives may take place in dreams.  

Anthropologist Irving Hallowell wrote of the Ojibwa, “When we think autobiographically we only include events that happened to us when awake; the Ojubwa include remembered events that hat have occurred in dreams. And, far from being of subordinate importance, such experiences are for them often of more vital importance than the events of daily waking life. Why is this so? Because it is in dreams that the individual comes into direct communication with the atiso’kanak, the powerful ‘persons’ of the other-than-human class.”[2]

Shamans say that in dreams that matter (waking or sleeping) one of two things is happening. Either you are journeying beyond your body, released from the limits of space-time and the physical senses; or you receive a visitation from a being — god, spirit, or fellow dreamer — who does not suffer from these limitations. In the language of the Makiritare, a dreaming people of Venezuela, the word for dream, adekato, means literally a “flight of the soul.”[3] An elder of the Kwakiutl told Franz Boas that "dreams are the news the soul brings us when it comes back from its journeys.". [4]

Among the Semang-Negrito peoples of the Malay peninsula, "walking into a dream" means entering an altered state of consciousness and a separate reality.  What is experienced in dreams is at least as real as what goes on in the day. One of the souls of the dreamer travels in other worlds. [5]

If you have been primed to think that what goes on in dreams is all about your  own thoughts and projections, you may be shocked into awareness that the dream world is a real world when you find yourself in a lucid dream in which other players are clearly beyond your control. 

For Jung, the dawning came in his encounters with the mentor he called Philemon, who appeared to him as an old man with kingfisher blue wings and convinced the psychologist, as Jung put it, of the objective reality of figures who appear in inner experiences. "it was he who taught me psychic objectivity, the reality of the psyche." [6]

I once dreamed that I was rattling along at high speed in a yellow New York City cab. I became lucid when I noticed that the taxi driver was a dead man yoked to the steering wheel by a rope around his neck. I yelled for the cab to stop. When it did, I heard the kind of recorded voice you get in New York cabs. It said, "This is not a dream. You are in the afterlife."

I proceeded to have adventures in a number of strange Underworld locales and bardo states. Getting out of here was not straightforward. I had to ask for help. It came in the elegant shape of a being I had met many times before, who is recognized in certain traditions as a form of the sacred Gatekeeper. I was lucid throughout this odyssey, and volitional in the sense that I remained fully conscious of my power to choose my course. But the other players and the environment itself had their own reality and solidity.

A bigger experience in a state of dream lucidity brought me to my first encounter with the spiritual teacher I have called Island Woman in my books. This episode began in the hypnopompic zone, when I stirred from sleep in the middle of the night. Among the stream of images rising on my inner screen, I chose a double spiral of the kind I had seen on a guardian stone at the entrance to Newgrange, the megalithic temple-tomb in Ireland.

Instantly, I found myself floating above my body - a reminder that in dreaming (lucid or not) we often travel beyond the body and brain. I enjoyed the very sensory experience of flight. I lifted over trees and rooftops, soaring and swooping like a bird. I felt some pain when my wing feathers rubbed the dried needles of an old spruce tree.

Then I felt the tug of someone else's intention. I chose to follow the call. It brought me on a long flight over pristine woodlands - modern highways and developments were gone - to a cabin somewhere near Montreal where a wise and ancient woman spoke to me over a wampum belt. I did not understand her language until a series of later experiences - and some helpful synchronicity - led me to my first friends among the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois. They had me repeat words I had recorded phonetically. Eventually we determined that my interlocutor was speaking to me in an archaic form of the Mohawk language, "the way we may have spoken it three hundred years ago."

I was required to study Mohawk to understand the teachings of an arendiwanen, or "woman of power", who had called me in a lucid dream into a real world beyond linear space and time. This transformed my life. [7]


1. Roger Ivar Lohmann and Shayne A.P. Dahl, "Cultural Contingency and the Varieties of Lucid Dreaming" in Ryan Hurd and Kelly Bulkeley (eds) Lucid Dreaming: New Perspectives on Consciousness in Sleep (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2014) vol 2., 24-25.

2. A. Irving Hallowell, "Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior and World View" in Stanley Diamond (ed) Culture and History: Essays in Honor of Paul Radin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), 207-44.
3. Marc de Civrieux, "Medatia: A Makiritare Shaman's Tale" in David M. Guss (ed) The Language of the Birds (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985) 74.
4. Franz Boas,"Ethnology of the Kwakiutl" in F. W. Hodge (ed.) Thirty-fifth annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (Government Printing Office, 1921) pp. 724-725.
5. Diana Riboli, "Dreamed Violence and Shamanic Transformation in Indigenous Nepal and Malaysia" in Lucid Dreaming: New Perspectives, vol, 2, 75.
6. C.G.Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections trans. Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Vintage, 1973) 183.
7. For the full story, see Robert Moss, Dreamways of the Iroquois (Rochester VT: Destiny Books, 2004) and The Boy Who Died and Came Back (Novato CA: New World Library, 2014).

Journal drawing: "Make Me As Blue Sky" by Robert Moss