Thursday, August 31, 2023

A Dreamer's Notes: Sleep Fell Upon Me


Sleep Fell Upon Me

When my schedule is entirely my own, as it mostly is when I am at home, I do whatever I feel like at any time. I don't think about sleep until it falls upon me. When that happens, I let my body fall into bed. Very frequently, I then find myself engaged in a marvelous adventure in another reality, where other players are waiting for me.
In the Hittite language, you don't say "I fell asleep". You say, "sleep fell upon me" or even "sleep seized me." My relationship with sleep is sometimes like that. And I notice that when sleep falls upon me like a lion on a goat, what follows is often a powerful and numinous experience, sometimes an encounter with a greater being.
What was that instrument I was playing after sleep fell on me and obliged me to take an early evening nap? It looked a bit like a set of pan pipes, but I strummed it with my fingers. It seemed to be organic, vegetal, like a dried gourd with multiple tubes, orange and yellow in color. The music it made was enchanting. I was playing it in a jungle setting, near where a river joined the sea, maybe somewhere along the coast of Brazil.

Illustration: "Strumming with Lion". Digital play by RM.

Where Gods Speak and Listen

“The gods know what comes out of your mouth so don't bad-mouth anyone intentionally."
- My free version of lines from a dream report from a Hittite queen (probably Puduhepa) more than 3,000 years ago, cataloged as KUB 31.71 iii. The speaker appears to be a deity, perhaps the Sun Goddess of Arinna. I am playing with the French translations of 133 Hittite dream texts in Alice Mouton's Rêves hittites. Mouton writes that "t
he dream represented one of only two ways in which the gods could address all humans, without exception. The only other divine medium that did not require any 'professional' go-between was visual or oral prophecy."

Telling the Sheep from the Goats

I don't know whether counting sheep has ever worked as a way to bring on sleep, but checking on your goats is an important theme in dreaming and divination in ancient Mesopotomia. As explained by A. Leo Oppenheim in his classic monograph The Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East, the Sumerian word for "dream" was MÁŠ.GE.

It combines two words. GE means "night", pretty straightforward. MÁŠ means "goat" with a special spin - the goat as an animal used for extispicy, divination by reading the entrails. Built into the language was the idea that a dream is a source of divination in the night, invoked as an oracle or uninvoked, as an omen.

Illustration: "Dream Goat". Digital play by RM

"We create ourselves continuously"

Nous nous créons continuellement nous-mêmes...Pour un être conscient, exister consiste à changer, changer à se mûrir, se mûrir à se créer indéfiniment soi-même.
"We create ourselves continuously. For a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly."
- Henri-Louis Bergson, L'Evolution créatrice

Illustration: "Henri Bergson" drawing by RM

Following a Word Magician

Re-reading Ian McDonald's novel The Dervish House. This amazingly gifted novelist who far transcends the scifi genre in which he has won awards. If you had told me that it is possible to include the fine-fine details of nanotechnology, cultural geography, hedge fund trading, the social behavior of crows, Bosporus navigation and the history and practice of Sufi lodges in a single novel without losing the reader's rapt attention on a single page, I would have been incredulous -before McDonald.

How does he manage to sprinkle Turkish words and names everywhere, with the correct diacritical marks, but no translation - so you are on your own when it comes to figuring out what is a çayhane or a tekke - and get that through the copy editors and make you stay with him all the way? This is a word magician of the highest order.

Forgetting and Remembering

It's a rare day when I fail to notice I have forgotten far more than I know. I see the wisdom of the invisible companion of my boyhood who taught me that all really important knowledge comes to us through anamnesis, "remembering".

I just rediscovered this (in my own Secret History of Dreaming): A Mesopotamian term for an obscure or mysterious dream is “a closed archive basket of the gods”  A great image.

Bridegroom of Dreams


"The seventh type of dreams, which I call lucid dreams, seems to me the most interesting and worthy of the most careful observation and study. Of this type I experienced and wrote down 352 cases in the period between January 20, 1898, and December 26, 1912.

"In these lucid dreams the reintegration of the psychic functions is so complete that the sleeper remembers day-life and his own condition, reaches a state of perfect awareness, and is able to direct his attention, and to attempt different acts of free volition. Yet the sleep, as I am able confidently to state, is undisturbed, deep and refreshing."

- Frederik van Eeden “A Study of Dreams” in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 26, 1913

The dream explorer who coined the term lucid dreaming was a dedicated soul journeyer. Dr. Frederik van Eeden (1860–1932) was a Dutch writer, physician, and member of the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR). In 1913, he gave a lecture to the SPR in which he reported “lucid dreams” in which the dreamer retains the memory of his waking life, remained conscious, and could carry out “different acts of free volition.” He observed that the phenomenon of multiple consciousness and “double memory” - of both waking and dream events - “leads almost unavoidably to the conception of a dream-body.”

His first attempt to give full expression to what he had experienced took the form of a novel which he titled The Bride of Dreams. He told the SPR that "the fictitious form enabled me to deal freely with delicate matters, and had also the advantage that it expressed rather unusual ideas in a less aggressive way - esoterically, so to speak."

He had many interests: as a writer, he belonged to a prominent Dutch literary group and found an international audience with his novel Hedwig’s Journey in 1900; as a physician, he worked on a cure for TB; as a pacifist he founded a society called Walden; as a reformer he worked for compensation for dismissed strikers; as a spiritual seeker, he looked East, and back to Western mystics like Boehme before immuring himself in the Catholic church in 1922 (which may have been foreshadowed by all the tortured theological musings in Bride of Dreams and his belief in demons, shared with the SPR), He took on Freud, rejecting his  theory of dreams as wish fulfilment. He had two wives, Martha (divorced in 1907) and Geertruida, with him till his death. Two children from each marriage.

Van Eeden’s autobiographical novel The Bride of Dreams, features a protagonist and narrator dressed up rather unconvincingly as an Italian aristocrat, Count Muralto.  The book is tedious and talky – and occasionally seemingly antisemitic - until we get to chapter 12 when the Count begins to discuss his dream life. The chapter starts with an account of detailed dream observation of a tree he is sure he could not invent, the incident van Eeden mentioned in his paper for the SPR. There are dream encounters with the dead, including a reunion with the protagonist’s father, who shows the love and compassion lacking in life, when the father tried to kill them both on a boat and died cursing his son.

We learn about the Count’s experiments in becoming conscious inside his dreams, and sustaining consciousness as he passes between waking and dream states. There is convincing material on how the dream body, which has its own sensorium, experiences pleasure and pain. In a lurch back to medievalism, the narrator blames “demons” for terrors and confusion, including the phenomenon of false awakening. The book trumpets the idea that out truest life, and clearest knowing, may be attained in dreams. "The solution of the secret of our lives lies in our dreams."

Here is his account of the blossoming tree:

one night while dreaming of a blossoming orchard in Italy, I succeeded in observing with thorough consciousness. I saw the branches as they crossed one another, and the festoons of vines stretching from tree to tree, whilst I soared through, a few yards from the ground, with a pale blue sky above me. And while observing yet more closely I pondered how it was possible to reproduce so exactly and minutely in a vision obviously emanating from myself and which I had myself created, the apparent motions of these myriad crossing twigs and the confusion of the young foliage. And in my dream, and realizing that I was dreaming, I came to the conclusion that this vision must be a reality, an objective reality as the philosophers of reason would say, because to me - the observer - it manifested a distinctly personal existence. As I soared by, the twigs described their apparent motions exactly as I had observed by day, and how should I, who could not even draw a tree, be able to create these extraordinarily compiled moving images? 

He found himself “thoroughly wide awake in the midst of… deep sound sleep

As the Count, he expresses his desire to master continuity of consciousness and double his life

In my first elation I hoped that I might sometime reach the point where I could pass from waking to sleeping without loss of conscious- ness, and night after night contemplate the dream-sphere with all the calmness of day - thus doubling my entire life.

As we follow the Count’s experiments in lucid dreaming, we see him planning destination travel:

In order actively to carry out a thing in the dream world, I must resolve upon it betimes and definitely determine upon the plan. During the actual dream the time is usually too short, the incidents pass too fleetingly. Sometimes I soar on in swift flight so that everything rushes by me without my being able to delay the pace. It is usually after one of these happy dreams with full consciousness, that I plan out, that very morning before getting up, what I shall do the next time in my dream. And then, every evening before falling asleep, it is once more distinctly formulated and stamped upon the memory

He finds himself leading a double life, with the certainty that his dream life is no less real than his waking one. "I led for many years a double life, in which the incidents of the day did not seem more important to me than the observations of the night." 

He is fully aware that he has a subtle body, or dream body: "I knew now that I had another body, beside the ordinary one, an animæ corpus, with a proper world of perception; and this knowledge rested upon equally good foundations as every one's knowledge concerning the existence of his ordinary body."

He can travel to many worlds without moving his body:

That I, without stirring from my place, could arrive in a totally different world, in many worlds, all with a proper space, all with the same evidence of real existence, all full of life, full of sensations, fall of beauties and transports - this became for me a matter of simple experience. And no one only knowing it from hearsay can realize how different and how much more profound is the effect of actual experience.

He asks, how much of all this is his own creation? and gives an interesting response:

the insensible world is in part our own creation, subject to our will, built up from the conclusions gathered in our day-life, with the faculties and powers which by practice and use we have in this same life made our own. 

Everything is the product of imagination; the sun and the stars are also works of God’s imagination.

Drawing: "Bridegroom of Dreams" [Frederik van Eeden] by Robert Moss

Monday, August 28, 2023

Waking the Sleeping King


In one of Madame d'Aulnoy's classic fairy stories, “The Blue Bird” an abused princess survives incredible   trials and transformations. Disguised as a beggar girl, she at last manages to gain access to the Echo Chamber in the castle of King Charming, who loves her as she loves him but believes her lost. What is said in the Echo Chamber can be heard distinctly in the royal bedchamber above. The princess wails her story of love and loss, assuming it will awaken the king to the fact that she is alive and available and recall him to the pledges they exchanged.

But night after night, the king fails to hear. The princess has used up nearly all of the magic a good witch gave her — which has enabled her to buy entry to the Echo Chamber — before she learns that the king does not hear her because he takes a sleeping-draught every night. She manages to bribe a page to withhold the sleeping potion. Awake in the night, the king hears her love pleas, goes in search of her, and they are united.

This is a much more relevant story for our times than the theme of the sleeping princess. Here the woman has to wake up the man, as is so more often the case. How many “sleeping kings” do we know? How many forms do their “sleeping draughts” take? Whenever you run into a guy who has lost touch with his dreams, who may even say, “I don't dream”, remember you may be dealing with a sleeping king, and you may be called on to play the role of the awakener.

The very adult message in this story made me want to know more about the author. Where did her clarity of perception, amongst all the fantasy and finery (and raw horror, too) come from? The story of the author of “The Blue Bird” is fascinating, and takes us into the raw depth of lived experience from which the pre-Disney and pre-Victorian fairytales come — in this case, not from peasant folklore but from the no less brutal life dramas of France's real-life princesses.

 At age fifteen, Marie-Catherine le Jumel de Barneville was kidnapped from a convent school and raped under the pretext of an arranged marriage — the polite name for an arrangement by which her father sold her to a rich and depraved aristocrat three times her age. The Baron d'Aulnoy was odious, a heavy drinker and gambler with very unpleasant sexual penchants. Three years into the marriage, it looked like Marie-Catherine had found a way out of her cage when her husband was arrested on charges of high treason against the king. However, under torture two of the accusers confessed that they had invented the treason charges because they were Marie-Catherine's secret lovers. The baroness had to flee to Spain, where she restored herself to royal favor — over many years — by functioning as a secret agent for the French.

We derive the term “fairytale” from this extraordinary survivor, Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy.. She titled her first collection, published in 1697, Les Contes des Fées. She spun her tales for adults, rather than children, in her seventeenth-century salon, in fashionable colloquial style, as reflected in the subtitle of her second collection, Les Fées à la Mode. Hers is a true-life story of spinning soiled hay into gold.

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

      An English translation of "The Blue Bird" appeared in The Green Fairy Book, the third of Andrew Lang's Fairy Books of Many Colors, first published in 1892. 

Dreaming beyond the brain


The new science of dreaming tells us the following: 

-          Almost everyone dreams, every night.

-          Humans average six dreams (or dream sequences) every night, whether or not they remember

-          Dreaming, or at least some form of mentation, is going on in all stages of sleep, not just the rapid-eye movement state discovered in a Chicago laboratory in 1953. [1] 

-          A part of the brain that becomes highly active in dreaming (the inferior right parietal cortex) is also involved in creating structures for our perceptions, in both physical and imaginal space.

-          The behavior of the waking brain is quite similar to that of the dreaming brain during creative states, as when jazz performers enter a riff of improvisation. [2]

-          “A type of spatial and temporal binding underlies dreaming that is analogous to the perceptual binding thought to underlie waking consciousness.” [3]

While cognitive neuroscientists have tended to dismiss dreams as nonsense, new studies even within that field support the idea that dreaming plays a critical role in growing learning skills and consolidating memory. “Dreaming about newly learned material enhances subsequent recall of that material.”[4]

There are excellent books available for those who want to know more about the neurobiology of dreaming, ranging from Andrea Rock’s very readable and accessible The Mind at Night to the hardcore technical papers collected in the three volumes of The New Science of Dreaming.

However, while brain science tells us important things about the quality of our reception, it no more tells us how our dreams are made than pulling apart a television monitor can show you how and where a movie produced and how it travels from a network to your screen.


1.This is not a consensus, however; some researchers, such as Harvard’s J. Allan Hobson, continue to insist on a tight association between dreaming and REM sleep.

2. Charles J. Limb and Allen R. Braun, “Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: an fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation” in The Public Library of Science Journal, vol. 3 no. 2 (February 2008) pp. 1-9.

3. Tore A. Nielsen, and Stenstrom, Philippe, “What are the memory sources of dreaming?” in Nature 437:27 (October 2005) p. 1287.

4. ibid p. 1289.

Journal drawing by Robert Moss

Sunday, August 20, 2023

The Other Bollingen


Carl Gustav Jung, the great dream shaman of Switzerland, built a personal sanctuary near the village of Bollingen on the northern shore of Lake Zürich and called it his Tower. He was partly inspired by childhood fantasies of a castle on an island on a lake.  As his project expanded, he envisioned it as an architectural model for the structure of the psyche, and an inner stronghold. He started construction of the first tower in 1923 after the death of his mother. He added an upper story to the main house in 1955 after the death of his wife Emma.  He wrote that “these two dates are meaningful because the Tower is connected with the dead.”
     Shortly before his death, Jung dreamed of the “other Bollingen”, its counterpart in another world. The place was suffused with sourceless light. The deep voice he had come to trust told him his new home had been completed and was now ready for him to move in. Then he saw a mother wolverine teaching her child to dive and swim in a stretch of water.
     In her beautiful biographical memoir of Jung, infused with her intimate knowledge of him, Barbara Hannah recalls that he had often dreamed of this Other Bollingen, in various stages of construction, and had always understood that he was seeing a location on the Other Side of death. The new dream made it clear to her that he would soon be leaving to go to the Other Bollingen. “In fact, it may have been this dream that loosened his strong tie to his earthly Bollingen.”* 
      What has he learned and accomplished in his new home in the Imaginal Realm? What does he now know about soul and its transformations? Has he composed a new book? Has he raised the Tower higher? I provide possible answers to these questions in my story "The Other Bollingen" in Mysterious Realities.

Barbara Hannah, Jung, His Life and Work: A Biographical Memoir (Boston: Shambhala, 1991) 344

Friday, August 18, 2023

Dream visits with the dead


I am often among the dead in my dreams. They are always alive. Sometimes I remember that they died on an event track we shared, other times I don't. Sometimes they come calling. My father has come many times since his death with helpful advisories for me and the family. 

Sometimes my dream travels take me to new environments on the Other Side were the dead are enjoying new lives. They show me around and I learn first-hand in this way about lifestyle and real estate options available after death. Then there are the dream encounters in which I am with someone who died on the event track we shared in in this world but seems to be alive in a physical body on an alternate event track, in a parallel world.

Contact with the deceased, especially in dreams, isn’t weird or unusual or even truly supernatural. It comes about for three reasons: the dead are still with us, or they come visiting, or we travel to the realms where they are now living. The number one reason why people who are not accustomed to sharing dreams decide to tell one is that they have dreamed of a close friend or family member who died but is very much alive in the dream.

One of the most interesting things I have learned is that the living may be called upon to play guides and counselors for the dead.  My narrative “The Silent Lovers” in Mysterious Realities is a just-so story – shocking to me as it unfolded – about how I was called to play advocate for a dead man, otherwise a stranger, going through his life review on the Other Side. I can confirm that Yeats  was absolutely right when he said, with poetic clarity, that the living have the ability to assist the imaginations of the dead.

Illustration: "Alive Among the Dead". Journal drawing by Robert Moss with digital colorization

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Which is the dream?

A dream world is real. It has its own physics. For someone living in a dream world, or even just passing through, it is the regular world that seems hazy, fleeting or hallucinated.

When I leave a dream, I often feel that I step from one room into another. It's a "just so" feeling. I was there, and now I am here.

When I exit a dream, I avoid saying "I woke up." That is such a boring way to end a dream narrative. And it's entirely possible that when I open my eyes in one reality, I have fallen asleep in another world that is no less real. When I finish recounting a dream adventure, I may say. "then I left that scene" or, “then I came back to my bedroom”.

Sometimes the dream stays with me, and I am in both locations - the bedroom and that other room - in a state of dual consciousness after I come back to my body.

"In and Out" drawing by Robert Moss

Friday, August 11, 2023

The Death's Head Dominatrix Joins Me on the Plane


I had been leading a creative writing retreat at magical Mosswood Hollow, a private retreat center in a red cedar forest eats of Seattle where I have led adventures for many years. Too goose myself to do deliver some fresh pages myself, I started writing a bunch of stories within a frame story. The frame story was that a writer has made a deal with Death according to which he will be allowed to live only as long as he goes on producing stories that entertain Death. Familiar? Certainly. It's the story of Scheherazade and I felt I had been living it for many years. 

Within the frame story I started banging out tales that now came to me. One of them featured a Roman centurion in the time just after the crucifixion. His girlfriend was a Phoenician witch who was good with dreams. 

After closing the retreat, I boarded a plane at Seattle airport to fly home. As always, I was curious to see what unfolded in the Bardo of air travel.  A plane is not a bad place to talk to strangers and to chance an encounter. You have a somewhat protected situation. It’s limited in terms of time and space. You can talk to someone and never see them again. You can cut off a conversation if you don’t like it. It's a contained environment. On this particular plane ride, however, the chance encounter did not feel like chance and was not safe at all. , 

When I took my aisle set the two seats between me and the window were vacant. Then a very tell woman came strutting down the aisle. She was made taller by her high-heeled black boots and her top hat. She wore black leather over a bustier. When she sat down next to me, after parking a pudgy little man by the window, I saw her gloves. They had the fingers cut out and huge death's heads on their backs. 

She ordered crème de menthe. Told by the flight attendant that the airline did not carry that, she ordered  a double vodka. She craned her head, inspected the cabin, and introduced herself to me by saying. "I like this flight. All the seats are full. Actuarially, if the plane is going to crash, twenty percent of the seats will be empty."

She sucked her vodka. I said, "You look like a magician." 

"I can make magic." she told me. "You could say that spankings are my friends."

I got the hint. The lady with the death's head gloves was dominatrix. Not my scene. The conversation that followed was staccato, sudden gusts followed by long pauses.

She leaned into me and asked, "Do you think the dead appear to us in our dreams?" 

I had told her nothing about myself. I said, "Absolutely."

"Oh, good. My dead husband showed up in my dreams last week. He was shot in the face in a diner in Seattle last year. He was in the papers. He was a musician. He turned up by my bedside and he said, ‘I’ve got a really cool job.’ He said, 'I’ve got a job doing music and special effects for dreams that are being produced for people living in this world.' What do you think of that?" 

"I think it's entirely possible." And a fascinating story.  

Conversation lagged for a bit. She ordered more vodka. Then she stared at me and said, "I would love to read a story from the point of view of Jezebel." 

This came with no context. I was trying to remember what the Bible says about Jezebel when she added, "Those Phoenician witches were very good with dreams."

I was astounded. She spoke as if she knew what I had been writing earlier that day, in the spirit of Scheherazade. Was her dead husband whispering in her ear?

Conversation continued like this, billowing and lulling, until she addressed me as follows: "I like crows and ravens." 

"Of course, you do," I said. 

"Yeah. Do you know what the collective noun for a group of crows or ravens is?" 

"Well, it’s a murder of crows and an unkindness of ravens." I was pleased with myself for knowing both terms.

She sniffed. "Everybody knows that. There’s another collective noun for both groups of birds. Do you know what it is?"

"You are going to tell me."

"Yes I am. It’s a storytelling of crows or a storytelling of ravens. Do you know why?"

 "You’re going to tell me that too."

 "I saw this once. I saw a gathering of crows, a storytelling of crows gathered around a storyteller crow. He was doing his best but he was an unsatisfactory storyteller because when he was finished they pecked him to death." 

Did I want a little edge for my writing efforts? I got it on that flight. I later expanded this episode into the lead story in my collection Mysterious Realities. This is the simple, unvarnished account of what happened on that night flight from Seattle to Chicago.

I left out of the longer version, "A Storytelling of Crows", the final incident on that flight. As we landed, the little man who had been parked in the window seat roused from his long nap. 

"This Homer," the dominatrix introduced her companion. 

I could not resist saying, "Enjoy your odyssey, Homer."

Homer rubbed his eyes and said, "All I want is a bowling alley."

"A bowling alley?"

"Yep, a one-lane bowling alley. Something to do when you get old."

As scary, in its way, as the storytelling of crows. 

You can read the expanded version of this episode, "A Storytelling of Crows" in Mysterious Realities: Tales of a Dream Traveler in the Imaginal Realm by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Photos by RM


Hungarian Swallow

Nandor, an elderly Hungarian man, wept uncontrollably when he attempted to describe the recent loss of his son, who had died a few weeks earlier of leukemia, aged only 25. Nandor had had no contact with his son – in dreams or otherwise – since his death. Despite his terrible grief, Nandor clung to the materialist perspective that had guided him as a scientist in his native country under communism, distrusting anything that could not be experienced and tested with the physical senses. He said he never remembered dreams.

He had come reluctantly to my workshop at his wife’s insistence, expecting nothing, or less than nothing. His sadness filled me with compassion.

I stood near him during a drumming session and found his son. I found something more: a pleasant room overlooking the Danube in Budapest, a space where Nandor might be able to have direct contact with his boy. After the drumming, I sat with Nandor. He told me he had seen nothing during the drumming. I told him, “I have a dream for you” and asked his permission to share it. “Yes, yes,” he said quickly. I gave him this dream: 

I see you meeting your son in a salon overlooking the river in Budapest. You are drinking something warm – is it tea? – in glasses with silver surrounds. Your son is bookish and deeply interested in the history of Hungary, its epics and literature. He is telling you he has made exciting discoveries now that he can have direct contact with authors and heroes from the past. He has discovered something from medieval times, maybe the eleventh century. The word “Magyar” and the history of the Magyars come up again and again. You can come to this room to talk to your son any time. There is a small bird in the landscape that is connected to you and can be your dream ally. It has black and white plumage, like a magpie, but the tail is a different shape. I got the word “Zoltan” in connection with this. 

Nandor became quite excited as he listened. He told me that he had taken his son on a journey to Budapest to visit places and people that had been important in his earlier life, and that they both had a keen interest in the early history of Hungary. He announced with a broad grin that they would have been drinking “wine” rather than tea in those glasses chased with silver.

He readily agreed to try to enter the room I had described in a subsequent drumming journey, and returned with tears streaming down his cheeks. He told me he had had a vivid encounter with his son who had quoted lines from a “lost” epic of the eleventh century. In the dreamspace, he found and identified the bird I had described. It was a kind of swallow that is found in the Hungarian countryside. Its name sounds like “Zoltan”, though the word is slightly different.

“I know now there is life after death,” Nandor told me at the end of the workshop. “This changes everything.” When he gave me his card on leaving, I saw that the name of his company includes the word “Magyar.”

We can grow a dream for someone who needs a dream. It may become a passage to another world and reunion with a departed loved one. 

Text adapted from The Dreamer's Book of the Dead by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books. 



Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Dream Holds True in [at Least] Half the Universe


In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James (1842-1910) observed that "The founders of every church owed their power originally to the fact of their direct personal communion with the divine."

That “direct personal communion" has been conducted through dreams, visions and interior dialogue and observation of signs and marvels in the natural world, all facets of dreaming in the broader sense understood by our ancestors and by active dreamers in all cultures. James reminds us that religion without dreaming is divorced from its very origins.

In a letter to Henry Rankin on June 16, 1901, he put it this way: "The mother sea and fountainhead of all religions lie in the mystical experiences of the individual, taking the word mystical in a very wide sense. All theologies and ecclesiasticisms are secondary growths superimposed."  Borrowing from his friend, the great British psychic researcher and scholar, Frederic Myers, James explained that "mystical consciousness" is related to the existence of an "extended subliminal self, with a thin partition through which messages make irruption."

For most of us, it is through dreams that the subliminal self most frequently irrupts through that "thin partition" into everyday awareness.

In The Principles of Psychology (1890), James offers these interesting reflections on the orders of reality we may enter in dreams, and why dreaming is our mode of experiencing half the "total universe":

 "The world of dreams is our real world whilst we are sleeping, because our attention then lapses from the sensible world. Conversely, when we wake the attention usually lapses from the dream-world and that becomes unreal. But if a dream haunts us and compels our attention during the day it is very apt to remain figuring in our consciousness as a sort of sub-universe alongside of the waking world. Most people have probably had dreams which it is hard to imagine not to have been glimpses into an actually existing region of being, perhaps a corner of the spiritual world. 

"And dreams have accordingly in all ages been regarded as revelations, and have played a large part in furnishing forth mythologies and creating themes for faith to lay hold upon. The 'larger universe,' here, which helps us to believe both in the dream and in the waking reality which is its immediate reductive, is the total universe, of Nature plus the Super-natural. The dream holds true, namely, in one half of that universe; the waking perceptions in the other half." 

Dwell with that last statement for a moment.  The dream "holds true" in half the "total" universe, and is our way to access and experience this reality. If James is correct, then if we have divorced ourselves from dreaming, we are only halflings, only half present in the universe.

So it is a mystery why he chose not to include a chapter on dreams in The Varieties of Religious Experience, a book that continues to exert enormous influence in the field of religious studies and beyond that. 

During his life on Earth, William James seems to have invested less effort in recording and exploring his own dreams than in sitting with psychic mediums and seeking verification of paranormal phenomena according to the protocols of the Society for Psychical Research. He did record some powerful dreams, including a series of nocturnal adventures he had while sleeping at Stanford University in February 1906. His San Francisco nights that shocked him into the realization that in dreams we may be in several places - or worlds - at the same time.

If William James is truly the speaker in Jane Roberts' channeled book The Afterlife Journal of an American Philosopher, his understanding of the importance of dreamwork grew measurably on the Other Side. If he had his life over, he declared, he would pay more attention to "how soul operates in life". For this the study of dreams is essential. 

He observes that dreams may be “test patterns” for waking events. "
Dream images and imaginative acts prepare the way for physical ones, impressing large areas in general, preshapes which are later ‘filled in’. It is as if the mind makes preliminary test patterns that are projections in space-time, but in a ghostly fashion. These dream images, however, are laid upon initial fields of probabilities which are characteristic of the physical medium itself.” If this is correct. as I believe it is, then dreams hold true in more than half the universe. 


Tuesday, August 8, 2023

The lost books of the ancient Balts

I have been thinking about how we recover vital history that may have been suppressed or simply lost. I lead adventures in dream archaeology in which we combine shamanic journeying, dream clues, and careful scholarship to find missing bones and make them live. The great Lithuanian artist and book illustrator Arvydas Každailis did this for ancient Baltic peoples, including the original Prussians, and their deities with his etchings.Here I recall my visit to his home in Vilnius, where we shared our dreams.

Vilnius, Lithuania, March 2010

Winter still has the Baltic in its grip, and my head is lowered against wind and snow flurries as I navigate the icy sidewalks of the Old Town in search of the small street where Arvydas Každailis has his studio. Two unlit courtyards and five flights of mostly darkened stairs bring me to the cheerful room at the top, crowded with the artist's work, the tools of his etching craft, and ancient statues and artifacts. 
     The artist welcomes me with tea and local brandy, his eyes glinting merrily behind half-moon glasses. Nearing 70, the artist looks like a master craftsman of another era in his suspenders, cardigan and tie. "I know Russian well," he tells me as he accepts a copy of the new Russian edition of Conscious Dreaming. "Thanks to the Soviets who forced me to make guns." Prior to 1990, when Lithuania was the first of the captive republics of the USSR to claim independence, Lithuanian boys were drafted into the Red Army.-
     Leafing through Conscious Dreaming, Každailis recalls dreams that made him grab the pencil and paper he kept by his bed and start drawing immediately on waking. He shows me reproductions of a couple of works from 1967 that were directly dream-inspired. "Old House" shows a multi-layered interior dreamscape of improbable angles and strange corridors; you sense that a deliciously creepy encounter might take place along any one of them. "Beast" is an inchoate, nightmare animal.
     I have come to talk to Každailis to talk of collective dreams of the Baltic peoples, those that were crushed or interrupted by a brutal history that he has been helping, through the power of his artistic vision, to requicken. Walk in some of Lithuania's depleted forests and you will come upon whole groves of horrible carved figures with evil, twisted features that purport to be gods and nature spirits and raganas (witches). These may be products of the deformation of the imagination by those in the Church or the Communist Party who tried to demonize or dismiss the spiritual world of Old Europe. Certainly, they are unlikely to represent the imaginal truths of the old ways.-
    By contrast, Každailis gives us images of the old Baltic tribes and their gods and rituals that look like pages from the lost books of these peoples. He gives us Žemyna , the great Earth goddess of Lithuania, as an immense mothering figure who holds a whole communal banquet within her embrace. He gives us a stag whose great antlers, feathered by birds, form a nine-branched candelabra rising to draw down the light of Heaven. He gives us the goddess Medeina as a warrior armed with a bow and a giant bear at her back. He gives us ducks that fly as messengers between humans and the Upper World.
    In his illustrations for Peter of Dusburg's Chronicles of Prussia, Kazdailis offers a vision of the vanquished as a vital corrective to this medieval apologia for the destruction of the Prussians and neighboring tribes by the Teutonic Knights. The Prussians were a proud Baltic tribe before their name, as well as their land, was stolen by the Germans. Každailis shows simple village festivals, harvests and weddings, and ancient priest-kings and warrior chiefs in days of thunder. Here is Diwans, nicknamed "Lokys" (Big Bear), the fighting chief of the Barta (a Baltic people whose very name has all but disappeared) with helmet and mace; and here he is as a desperate standing bear with an arrow through his neck.
    Here is Kriveis Krivaitis, a priest whose power was as great among Balts (said John of Duisberg) as that of a pope, gripping dual symbols of temporal and spiritual power as he passes judgment on a criminal who has violated the laws of gods and men. No cute stuff here; the convicted prisoner, trussed in ropes along the whole length of his body, will be buried alive in a deep hole. Down inside the Earth, we see the image of a beast of evil confined in a cage of ropes whose patterns suggest interweaving Mobius rings.
    The artist and I talk of callings - how dreams and synchronicity can call a creative mind to a path of connections with traditions that were previously lost or unknown. Kazdailis recalls that when he was three and four, he spoke a coherent language that no one could recognize or interpret, though he was completely at home within it. Songs in the old Prussian language, revived by a friend of Každailis who has taken the name of the ancient priest, Kriveis Krivaitis, gust through the studio, evoking the blossoming gifts of Earth and the hammer of thunder around the oak of Perkunas, who speaks in storm and lightning.

Graphic:  Arvydas Každailis, "Perkūne, dievaiti" (Perkunas God of Thunder), etching to illustrate Prūsijos žemės kronika  (Lithuanian edition of the Chronicon terrae Prussiae) 2003.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Open Secrets of the Dreamtime


Here are the open secrets of the Dreamtime, insights shared by many dreaming traditions and indigenous peoples that challenge the ruling paradigms of a culture that confuses the real with the physical

1. Dreams are real experiences.

There are big dreams and little dreams. “Bottom-line it for me,” bulled a radio host over the phone from North Dakota. “Aren’t dreamed caused by spicy pizza?” Well, yes, some dreams are. But we will not expend much space here on the surface bubbles of the dozing brain and belly.

In big dreams — in what Sri Aurobindo called “the sleep of experiences” — we are dealing with events, encounters, and challenges that are entirely real on their own level of reality. Our dream memories may be garbled or muddy, but the dream is a real experience whose meaning lies within the dreamscape itself. The dream experience, fully remembered, is its own interpretation. But we must do more than interpret dreams; we must manifest their energy and insight in our waking lives.

Shamanic dreamers tend to be quite literal-minded about dreams. If you dreamed you fell off a rock-face, you’d better remember to check your safety harness if there is any chance you might go rock climbing. If you flew with the eagle, you discovered a powerful spiritual ally — and your own ability to transcend the limitations of your physical body. If you dreamed of your dead uncle, before you start asking yourself what part of you he might represent, you should consider the possibility that you had a visit with him. Is he bothering you — maybe trying to cadge a drink or a smoke — or offering you help? If you dreamed you received instruction at a mountain shrine, you should be open to twin possibilities: that you may go there someday, in physical reality; and that you may have been called in your dreams to one of the many “invisible schools” where training and initiation on the higher planes are conducted.


2. Dreams are flights of the soul.

During one of the final presentations at a hectic conference in Berkeley, I regretted that I had not taken that Saturday morning off to explore the Bay area. I closed my eyes, slipped free from my physical focus, and felt myself gliding over the Bay on the wings of an eagle. It was a wholly tactile sensation. I was drawn to a wild, lightly wooded area with intriguing stone formations that looked from the air like volcanic rock. As I dipped into a fold in the hills to examine the area more closely, I saw another interesting formation, shaped by human hands: a circular labyrinth, or spiral, at the edge of a pond.

At lunch, I casually described the scene I had explored. “It could be the Sibley Volcanic Preserve,” one of the local conferees piped up. “I can take you out there this afternoon if you have time.” She did not know about the spiral path, but we found it fairly easily, at the edge of a swampy pond.

From a shamanic perspective, there was nothing extraordinary about my experience. It was just a routine scout — a Middle World journey — in which I moved beyond the range of my physical senses to check out my environment. I was traveling beyond my body, but I kept a firm connection with it, maintaining awareness of the activity in the lecture room even as I flew across the Bay.

Shamans say that in real dreams (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.”

The open secret is that consciousness if never confined to the body and brain. We discover this in spontaneous night dreams and intuitive flashes, when our left-brain inhibitions are down. As we become active dreamers, we can hone the ability to make intentional journeys beyond the body at any time of day or night.

3. You have a dreambody as well as a physical body.

I am leading one of my Active Dreaming circles. We are squatting around a centerspread with a white candle. Someone asks whether there is any way to prove that we are not dreaming. I pick up the candle and pour hot wax onto my hand. I feel a sting of pain as the wax sears the web of skin between my thumb and forefinger, and I tell the group, “I guess that proves I’m not dreaming.” Then I wake up.

What is this dream telling me? That I am a nitwit because I can’t tell whether I’m dreaming? If so, I will take solace from the fact that in most sleep dreams, most people are completely unaware that they are dreaming. Actually, I think this dream has a more interesting and specific message, related to the theme that dreams are real experiences. In my dreambody, I can know pleasure and pain just as vividly as in my physical body. I have more than one body, or vehicle of consciousness, and when I go into the dreamworld and other worlds, I go embodied. And so do you.

As we will soon discover, the importance of this statement — in relation to our ability to operate in nonordinary reality and to access spiritual sources of insight and healing — can hardly be overstated.


4. Dreams may be memories of the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If dreams are memories of the future, is much of waking like the experiencing in the physical body what we have already lived in the dreambody? What would we become if we participated more consciously in this process? There is an Iroquois story of a great hunter who always scouted ahead, in conscious dream journeys, to locate the game and rehearse the kill. In one of his dream scouts, he located an elk and sought its permission to take its life to feed his extended family. He killed the elk in his dream and noted the red mark on its chest where the arrow had gone in. The following day, he walked to the place he had visited in dreaming and identified his elk by the red mark on its chest. He then replayed an event that had already taken place, by killing the elk again with a physical arrow.


5. Dreaming, we choose events that will manifest in our waking lives.

The fact that we dream things before they happen does not mean everything is predetermined. People who are not active dreamers can get quite confused about what is going on when they wake up to the fact that we are dreaming future events, both large and small, all the time. I think it’s like this. If you do not remember your dreams, you are condemned to live them. (If you don’t know where you’re going, you will likely end up where you are headed.) If you remember some of your dreams and screen them for messages about the future, you will find yourself able to make wiser choices. You will discover that by taking appropriate action you can often avoid the enactment of a “bad” dream or bring about the fulfillment of a happy one. As you become a conscious dreamer, you will find yourself increasingly able to choose inside the dreaming the events that will be manifested in your waking life.

It’s not about predestination. It’s about the spiritual secrets of manifestation — and your ability to become cocreator of your life.

Meister Eckhart tells us how it is the razor-sharp clarity of the practical mystic who has seen and experienced for himself: “When the soul wishes to experience something, she throws an image of the experience out before her and enters her own image.”

Indigenous peoples tell a recurring story of how the material world is spun from the dream of a deity. For the Guajiro of Ecuador, the physical universe is the product of conscious dreaming. The Guajiro say that the Creator-god made this world after the divine Dreamgiver, Apusanai, made him aware that he was dreaming and he began to experiment with molding and solidifying the fluid forms he perceived endlessly aborning and transforming on another plane of reality.<6>

It is not merely that we dream things (maybe everything) before they happen; dreams make them happen.


6. The path of the soul after death is the path of the soul in dreams.

Your dreambody does not die when your physical body loses it vital signs. You will live on in your dreambody for a shorter or greater time, according to your ruling passions and personal evolution. You will find yourself, as you do each night in dreams, in a realm where thoughts are things, and imagination, the great faculty of soul, can create whole worlds.

You come from the Dreaming, and you are released into the Dreaming when you drop your sack of meat and bones.

Conscious dreaming is excellent preparation, not only for the challenges that lie before you on the roads in this life, but for the challenges of the journey you will make after physical death. How do you know for sure? By doing it.

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

Illustration: "Green Flight" by Robert Moss