Robert Moss is a teacher and human being I much admire. He is versed in mythology and folklore, symbolism and psychology, and Native American rituals and rites. His travels and teachings have led him around the world, and he is the author of nine books on dreaming, as well as three historical novels.
There are few people I can think of who have led such a rich and connected life, and who dedicates time to sharing knowledge and life experience with others, particularly as related to dreams and dream material.
Born in Australia, Robert survived not one, but three near-death experiences in childhood. A former lecturer in ancient history at the Australian National University, Robert also is a best-selling novelist, poet, journalist and independent scholar. He is the creator of Active Dreaming, an original synthesis of modern dreamwork and shamanism.
From his audio series Dream Gates, he says:
“I have become convinced that dreaming is one of the defining characteristics of human beings. In prehistoric times we could afford to sleep and manage to stay alive because through our natural dream radar, we were able to scan our external environment for dangers and see the saber toothed tiger before it ate us for breakfast. Dreaming holds the key to our evolution into a more generous and more spirited version of ourselves. Dreaming is one of the keys to the emergence of the multidimensional human, capable of operating on multiple levels of consciousness, recognizing her or his relationship with other species, and responsibilities to the planet.”
He identifies the great watershed in his adult life as a sequence of visionary events that unfolded in 1987-1988, after he decided to leave big cities and put down roots on a farm in the upper Hudson Valley of New York. Moss started dreaming in a language he did not know that proved to be an archaic form of the Mohawk language. Helped by native speakers to interpret his dreams, Moss came to believe that they had put him in touch with an ancient healer – a woman of power – and that they were calling him to a different life.
Mr. Moss is one of the most fascinating people! I am so honored to have the opportunity to learn more about Robert through this interview and also to bring this interview to you!
You have survived not one, but three near-death experiences. Did those experiences put you in touch with the dream world, or was your connection present prior to these experiences?
“The dream world is my home world, and has been from very early childhood.
I first died in this lifetime when I was three years old. My great aunt the opera singer saw this in the tea leaves but didn’t talk about it until long after. What she did not see was that—as a doctor at the hospital in Hobart, Tasmania told my parents—I ‘died and came back.’ That is still the term I prefer to use of these experiences. I don’t remember much of what happened when I left my body at age three, only that it was very hard to live in a body in this world after I came back, and that I felt that my home reality was somewhere else.
At nine, I died again during emergency appendectomy in a Melbourne hospital. This time I seemed to live a whole life somewhere else, among a beautiful people who raised me as their own. I came back remembering that other life and that other world. It still wasn’t easy for me to live in the ordinary world, and I was nostalgic for that other world. The gift of these experiences, and my persisting illness (I had double pneumonia twelve times between the ages of three and eleven) was an inner life that was rich and prolific, and an ability to move between states of consciousness and reality at will.
At age eleven, I had the vision of a great staff of burning bronze with a serpent wrapped around it that seemed to fill half the sky. Right after that, I came very near death for a third time, back in hospital with pneumonia. But this time, I came back healed, and was able to live a relatively normal life—except that in my mind, the dream world was my ‘normal.’ I later realized that my vision in the sky resembled a giant version of the serpent staff of Asklepios, the Greek god who heals through dreams.”
When did you first become aware of the metaphysical profundity of dreams? Can you share with us the experience that you had and describe how it changed your perception?
“I can’t remember a time when I did not understand that our personal dreams can take us into the Dreamtime, which is about more than the bargain basement of the personal subsconscious; it is the place where we find our spiritual kin on a higher level and remember the origins and purpose of life. That’s the way the First Peoples of my native Australian, the Aborigines, see it, and one of the few people I met in childhood who could confirm and validate my experiences of dreaming was an Aboriginal boy. He said of my near-death experiences, ‘Oh yeah, we do that. When we get very sick, we go and live with the spirits. When we get well, we come back.’ He did not think it was extraordinary to dream future events, or to meet the dead in dreams, as I did all the time.
I had to be fairly quiet about these things, growing up in a conservative time in Australia, in a military family. But as I grew older, I was able to do more and more with the gifts of dreaming. My dreams of ancient cultures led me to my first job, as lecturer in ancient history at the Australian National University. My dreams of possible future events enabled me to avoid death on the road, quite literally, on three occasions. Then, in mid-life, on a farm in the Upper Hudson Valley of New York, I was called in a lucid dream—also an out-of-body experience—into a meeting with an ancient Native American shaman, a Mother of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk people, who insisted on speaking her own language. That changed everything and put me on the path of a dream teacher, for which there is no career track in Western society.”
Across cultures, what do you find is the most interesting commonality about dreams that is present in peoples from all around the world?
“Most human societies have valued dreams and the dreamers for three principal reasons. They have recognized that in dreams we see the future, and this can help whole communities as well as individuals to make better choices. They have understood that dreams give us a direct line to the sacred, to the God/Goddess we can talk to, to the ancestors, to the animate spirits of Nature. And they have grasped that dreaming can be very good medicine. Dreams diagnose problems before they present symptoms; they offer imagery for self-healing; and they show us the state of the soul and can help us retrieve parts of our vital energy that may have gone missing through what shamans call soul-loss.
In Western society, dreams are undervalued by those the English call the talking classes, especially in academe and the media. Yet we all dream, so this is common property. Ever the hardhead who says ‘I don’t dream’ is only saying ‘I don’t remember’ or ‘I don’t care to remember.’ And when life is tough or he is going through a big life transition, his head may be cracked open by a big dream that will expand his understanding and maybe give him sources and resources not otherwise available. One of the most common types of big dreams that can accomplish that is a visitation by a dead family member or loved one.”
In your book Dreamways of the Iroquois, you mention that the Iroquois believe the dream world is the “real world” and the waking existence is the “shadow world.” This is conceptually very similar to what the ancient Hebrew mystics believed—that in a metaphysical sense dreaming and waking life are “reversed.” How do you work with this duality in your own dreaming work?
“The trick is to live consciously in both worlds, always aware that at every turning, we have the power to choose. Even when conditions seem most difficult and confining, we have the power to choose our attitude, as Viktor Frankl taught us in Man’s Search for Meaning. And that can change everything. We want to develop the art of memory, remembering who and what we are in one order of reality while traveling in another. Jung came to suspect that we lead continuous lives in other realities, and I think this is exactly correct. The dreams we recall may be memories of other lives in other times—past or future or in parallel universes—and the versions of ourselves that inhabit those other realities may be dreaming in and out of our present lives, just as we dream ourselves in and out of theirs.”
Have you encountered other tribes or cultures that also share a similar belief?
“All ancient and indigenous peoples that I have encountered, in my studies as an independent scholar and in my travels, understand that the dream world is a real world, maybe more real than the regular world of our consensual everyday hallucinations. When I told an elder of the Longhouse People, or Iroquois, about my dreams of the Mohawk ‘woman of power,’ he told me ‘you made some visits and you received some visitations.’ There you have a central understanding, forgotten or ignored in much of Western psychology: dreaming is traveling. In dreams, soul or consciousness gets around, far beyond the body. In dreams, we may also receive visitations. The very words for dream in many cultures reflects this insight. In the language of the Makiritare, a shamanic dreaming people of Venzuela, the word for ‘dream’ is adekato, which literally means ‘a journey of the soul.'”
Can you describe what you know about the beliefs that the Ancient Egyptians had about dreams?
“The ancient Egyptians understood that in dreams, our eyes are opened. Their word for dream, rswt, is etymologically connected to the root meaning “to be awake”. It was written with a symbol representing an open eye.
The Egyptians believed that the gods speak to us in dreams. As the Bible story of Joseph and Pharaoh reminds us, they paid close attention to dream messages about the possible future. They practiced dream incubation for guidance and healing at temples and sacred sites. They understood that by recalling and working with dreams, we develop the art of memory, tapping into knowledge that belonged to us before we entered this life journey, and awakening to our connection with other life experiences.
The Egyptians also developed an advanced practice of conscious dream travel. Trained dreamers operated as seers, remote viewers and telepaths, advising on affairs of state and military strategy and providing a mental communications network between far-flung temples and administrative centers. They practiced shapeshifting, crossing time and space in the dreambodies of birds and animals.”
Do you know of any cultures, tribes or peoples older than the Ancient Egyptians that regularly utilized dreams in some way?
“Look at what is painted on the walls of the Paleolithic caves and you have evidence of the central importance of dreaming from as far back in the human odyssey as we can trace. The images are portals into a deeper reality, not simply hunting or fertility magic, but ways of connecting with the spirits, of calling through power, and of traveling between dimensions. On the most practical level, dreaming has always been a key part of our human survival kit. When we were little better than naked apes, without good weapons, dreaming helped save us from becoming breakfast for leathery raptors or saber-toothed tigers, by enabling us to scan our environment, across space and time, and identify possible dangers.
As for civilizations older than Egypt, go dream on them! I teach people to do this through the discipline I call dream archaeology. This may involve going to ancient sites and using the skills of shamanic journeying, or conscious dream travel, to engage with the ancestors at those sites and retrieve exact knowledge of ancient practices that can then be checked through scholarly research.”
Copyright © 2013 Kelly Lydick