Friday, June 28, 2024

Through the Dream Gates to Initiation


True initiation involves both ordeal and ecstasy, death and rebirth.. “The majority of initiatory ordeals more or less clearly imply a ritual death followed by resurrection or a new birth,” commented the great religious historian Mircea Eliade. “The novice emerges from his ordeal endowed with a totally different being from that which he possessed before his initiation; he has become another.”[1] The initiate is a made man or woman.

The hunger for transcendence, through a primal, direct encounter with the sacred, leads people down strange and dangerous byways: into experiments with hallucinogenic drugs, into dubious cults and ersatz Nativism. Yet the authentic call to initiation continues to resonate in our dreams. And through the dream gates, it can be followed to a genuine consummation. Arguably, it can hardly be pursued in any other way since — whatever the externals of ceremony and culture — true spiritual initiation and apprenticeship always take place on the inner planes, in a deeper order of reality.

Even in societies where Mystery initiation was regarded as central to human fulfillment, and its gates and secrets closely guarded, the validity of an individual dream calling and initiation was honored. There is a fascinating story about this from the Hellenistic world, preserved by Sopatros, a teacher of rhetoric. A man dreamed he had attended the epopteia, the crowning revelation of the Eleusinian Mysteries. He recounted the secret rituals of the Telesterion in vivid and accurate detail to an initiate of the Greater Mysteries. But in ordinary reality, the dreamer was not a “made man.” 

The initiate to whom he told his dream was shocked that he was speaking openly about things he had no right to know and denounced him for sacrilege. He was dragged into court, where his accusers demanded the death penalty. However, the defense argued successfully that the gods themselves had played a part of the hierophant in his dream. His dream of initiation was recognized as true initiation; the dreamer would now be respected as an epoptes — one who had “seen” and gone through the sacred fire.[2]

Contemporary dreamers who have never heard of Eleusis have dreams of the same quality.

At the winter solstice, just after her twelfth birthday, Rebecca had a powerful dream that carried her deep into the Otherworld. In her dream, she was invited to enter an immense hall. It was filled with robed figures she described as “wizards.” They came from many races and traditions; she recognized a “Merlin” character among a Celtic contingent. 

A woman robed in white sat enthroned above the throng. She beckoned to Rebecca to approach her. The male wizards ignored Rebecca except for the forbidding figure who moved to block her path. He challenged her to pass a test. Only when she had passed the test was she allowed to ascend the steps to the throne. “The High Priestess was slim and dark-haired. She seemed to be in her late twenties. She spoke to me by thought rather than words. She appeared outwardly solemn as she held court over all the male wizards, but kept cracking mental jokes that only the adepts caught.”

The High Priestess wore a striking pendant, which I asked Rebecca to draw for me. Her drawing showed an equal-armed cross, set within a circle. Crossed staves behind it make the pattern of a diagonal cross within a much larger circle, bordered by a two-headed serpent. The body of the serpent is engraved with writing in Greek characters. There are more inscriptions on scrolls that flank the central cross, which has four crystals in its setting. The wizard who challenged Rebecca wore a simpler version of the same pendant.

For a girl approaching puberty, this dream might carry many levels of meaning. But we spent no time in dream analysis. We celebrated the sense of strength and magic and possibility that Rebecca had drawn from it. She reveled in her special dream relationship with the High Priestess seated above all those powerful men. When I asked Rebecca to sum up the feeling of the dream, she said with little hesitation, “I am coming into my power.”

Nearly three years later, in another spontaneous sleep dream, Rebecca reentered the great hall where she had encountered the High Priestess: 

"This time everything is different. Instead of everyone ignoring me, all the high priests from all the worlds bow down to me and hold out their arms to me.

"The High Priestess stands and holds out her arms. She says, Come, let me show you my mind. Only she does not exactly say it; she suggests it.

"She takes my hand. From her forehead a bright light emerges, and in the bright light I see a gate. I walk toward this gate. When I pass through it, I encounter three beings. The first is a bird-headed man who has given me guidance before. He shows me what happens to people who sell out their values in life. The second is a woman I know to be an immortal. She wears a crowned helmet and carries a shield and spear. She tells me, We are one and the same. The third is a man I do not know. I have the feeling this man will be important in my future life.

"When I finish observing this man, I see another gate to walk through. I travel in this way until the bright light dims and all I can see are the eyes of the High Priestess, shining against a dark rectangle that may be a mask."

These dream experiences accompanied Rebecca’s passage from girlhood into womanhood. In her outer life, no sacred ritual was conducted to mark this passage. But she was called through the dream gates, into a larger life.



1. Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation (New York: Harper & Row, 1975) pp. xii. x.

2. Carl Kerenyi, Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter (Princeton: Bollingen, 1991) pp.82-83


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

Art: "The Eleusunian Mysteries" by  Paul Sérusier, 1888


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