A Western Book of the Dead — A Soul Traveler's Guide to Death, Dying, and the Other Side
I have known since I was a very small boy in Australia that there are worlds beyond physical reality...
When I was nine years old, I was woken up to these possibilities during a crisis of illness.
I was rushed to hospital in Melbourne after complaining of a pain in my lower right abdomen. The medical staff found that my appendix was about to burst and I was wheeled into an operating room in short order for an emergency appendectomy.
Under anesthesia on the operating table, I found myself hovering above my body, somewhere up near the ceiling. I decided I didn’t want to watch the bloody work with the scalpel and flowed through the door and along the corridor to where my mother sat hunched and weeping.
I couldn’t stand her pain, so I drifted off to a window, to the brightness outside, to the colors of spring and the laughter of young lovers seated at a sidewalk table, drinking each other’s smiles. I felt the pull of the ocean.
I could not see the beach from the hospital window, so I floated through the glass and out onto a ledge where a blackbird squalled at me and shot straight up into the air. I followed the bird and sailed over the rooftops.
I saw a huge moon-round face, its mouth opened wide to form the gateway to Luna Park. I swooped down through the moon-gate – and plunged into darkness. I tried to reverse direction, but something sucked me downwards. It was like tumbling down a mineshaft, mile after mile beneath the surface of the earth.
I fell into a different world. It was hard to make out anything clearly in the smoke of a huge fire pit. A giant with skin the colour of fine white ash lifted me high above the ground, singing. The people of this world welcomed me.
They were tall and elongated and very pale, and did not look like anyone I had seen in my nine years in the surface world. They told me they had dreamed my coming, and raised me as their own.
For the greater part of my schooling, I was required to dream – to dream alone, in an incubation cave, or to dream with others, lying in a cartwheel around the banked ashes of the fire in the council house.
Years passed. As I grew older, my recollection of my life in the surface world faded and flickered out. I became a father and grandfather, a teacher and elder.
When my body was played out, the people placed it on a funeral pyre. As the smoke rose from the pyre, I traveled with it, looking for the path among the stars where the fires of the galaxies flow together like milk.
As I spiraled upward, I seemed to burst through the Earth’s crust into a world of hot asphalt and cars and trams – and found myself shooting back into the body of a nine-year-old boy in a Melbourne hospital bed.
It was a little hard to discuss these experiences with the adults around me at that time, and we did not yet have Raymond Moody’s useful phrase “near-death experience” to describe an episode of this kind.
One of the doctors said simply, “Robert died and came back” – with memories that made me quite certain of the existence of worlds beyond the obvious one, and of the fact that consciousness survives physical death.
There is great contemporary interest in the NDE in Western society, and this is a very healthy thing, because to know about the afterlife, we require first-hand experience, and need to be ready to update our geographies and itineraries frequently in the light of the latest reliable travel reports.
In ancient and traditional cultures where there is a real practice of dying, near-death experiencers – who may be called shamans or initiates – have always been heard with the deepest attention and respect.
There is a Tibetan name for such a person, delog, pronounced “day-loak”. It means someone who has gone beyond death and returned. The famous Tibetan Book of the Dead, with its detailed account of the possible transits of spirit after death, emerged from the experiences of such travelers.
[Read also The Egyptian Book od the Dead].
But to have first-hand knowledge of what lies beyond death, we do not have to go through the physical extremity of an NDE.
We can learn through our dreams, the dreams in which we receive visitations from departed loved ones and others who are at home on the Other Side, and the dreams in which we travel beyond the body and into their realms.
Our dreams open portals into the multidimensional universe, including the places we may travel after physical death. As we become active dreamers, we come to realize that dreaming is not so much about sleeping as about waking up – to a deeper reality and a deeper meaning in life, and death.
The Departed are Dreaming with Us
One of my driving purposes in writing The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead was to help some of the many people in our society who are hungry for confirmation that communication with the departed is not “weird” or “unnatural”, let alone impossible, and that it is possible to extend love and forgiveness and healing across the apparent barrier of death.
We encounter our departed, especially in dreams, because they are still around (sometimes because they have unfinished business or are not actually aware they are dead); or because they come visiting; or because we travel, in dreams or visions, into astral realms where the departed are entirely at home.
It’s not just that we dream of the dead; our departed are dreaming of us, and trying to reach us through dreams.
Sometimes our departed return as counselors or “family angels”, as my father returned to me, many times, in the year after his death in Australia in 1987, with loving messages and practical guidance for the family.
Sometimes our departed need us to play guides, because they are confused or stuck between the worlds, clinging to old appetites and attachments – which can be extremely unhealthy for the living, who may pick up the feelings and addictions and even the past physical symptoms of the dead.
One of the cruelest things that mainstream Western culture has done is to suggest that communication with the departed is either impossible or unnatural.
There is nothing spooky or “supernatural” involved, though these experiences take us into realms beyond physical reality. It is especially easy to meet our departed in dreams (if we are willing to listen to our dreams) for three reasons:
Our Departed are Still With Us
Quite frequently dreams reveal that the departed are present because, quite simply, they never left. The departed may linger because they have unfinished business, or wish to act as guide and protector to the family, or are attached to people and places they loved in waking life, and this may be a perfectly happy situation for a year or two.
But there comes a time when our departed need to move on, for their own growth, and so they do not become a psychic burden to the living.
Because our society does a poor job in preparing people for the afterlife, many people who have passed on do not know they are dead, and hover in a limbo close to familiar people and places on this Earth.
After death, we continue to be driven by our ruling interests, appetites and addictions. Some of those who have died but not truly “passed on” continue to try to feed their cravings via the living.
When the departed remain earthbound, the effects are unhealthy both for those who have died and those among the living to whom they are connected.
When the dead are enmeshed with the living, the result is mutual confusion, loss of energy, and the transfer of addictions, obsessions and even physical ailments from the departed to the person whose energy field he or she is sharing.
Helping the departed may involve a loving dialogue, a simple ritual of honouring and farewell, and invoking spiritual helpers.
As we become active dreamers, familiar with the geography of the afterlife, we may find we are called on to provide personal escort services and help to instruct some of our departed on their options on the other side. William Butler Yeats noted, with a poet’s insight, that “the living can assist the imaginations of the dead.”
Our Departed Come Calling
Most people who remember dreams can recall one in which someone on the other side made a phone call, sent a letter, or simply turned up at the door or the bedside.
Our departed return to us in dreams for all the reasons they might have called on us in physical life – including the simple desire to tell us how they are doing and see how we are coping – and for larger reasons: to bring emotional healing, to bring us helpful information, to instruct us on life beyond death and the reality of worlds beyond the physical.
Our departed may come visiting to offer or receive forgiveness. They may come to show us how they are doing on the other side.
Our departed can be excellent psychic advisers when they achieve clarity on the other side and are aware that they are not confined to the rules of space and time.
Our departed may come as health advisers and family counselors.
My friend Wanda Burch had received many dreams containing possible health advisories, but was finally driven to seek medical attention when her deceased father turned up in her dreams in a doctor’s white coat and yelled at her, “You have breast cancer!” Her father’s dream intervention helped put her on the path of healing and recovery.
Our departed may visit us in dreams to help us prepare for our own deaths and reassure us that we have friends on the other side.
In Dreams, We Travel to Realms of the Departed
In our dreams, we are released from the laws of physical reality, and travel into other dimensions, including environments where the departed may be living.
Through dreams of this kind, we can begin to develop a personal geography of the afterlife, which will be vastly enriched when we learn the art of conscious dream travel, which is at the heart of my own teaching and practice.
In my workshops, I often invite participants to focus on a dream or memory of a departed person and make it their intention to journey – with the help of shamanic drumming – to seek timely and helpful communication with that person and to learn about the environment where that person is now living.
From these journeys, we have collected multifarious and fascinating details of reception centres, transition zones, places of recovery and further education and communications arrangements on the other side.
We have learned that more than one vehicle of soul survives physical death, and each has a different destiny. We have explored many afterlife locales shaped by human imaginations and collective belief systems.
Dreaming is the Best Preparation for Dying
A second reason I wrote The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead is that I believe that dreaming is the best preparation for dying, and that through dreams we can gain first-hand knowledge of the transitions of spirit after death.
Active dreamers have no doubt there is life after death. We become familiar with many alternative neighborhoods and transition zones on the Other Side.
We may develop the understanding – again through direct experience – that consciousness survives the body in more than one energy body, and that different vehicles of consciousness have different fates.
By helping someone who is approaching death to open to their dreams, we help them to find their way home, and approach the last stage of physical life with greater courage and clarity, as a time of growth and awakening.
All we need do, to begin with, is to suggest to the dying person that if he or she happens to remember a dream, we would love to hear it, and to cherish the moment of sharing.
Open a safe space for dreaming, and beautiful things can happen. Katy’s octogenarian father Ed moved into hospice care after a debilitating series of strokes. His doctors thought he would probably succumb to kidney failure within a month.
In fact, he survived for another six months, a time of deepening pain and frustration over the failures of the flesh that was nonetheless a period of immense learning and high adventure thanks to his discovery of dreaming. In each of her frequent visits, Katy gently encouraged him to share any dreams he remembered.
As dream sharing became daily practice for Katy’s father, many varied gifts came through. Some of his dreams rehearsed him for physical adjustments he needed to make as his body declined, easing these passages for a proud and once strong man.
Dreams of broken plumbing and laying pipes, for example, prepared Ed for the catheterization that was eventually required.
In an intriguing series of dreams, he was excited to find himself doing new work and feeling really good about it – an unlikely scenario, in ordinary reality, for a sick man in his 80s. In one of these dreams, he was working on an “angel machine.”
When Katy asked him what that was, he explained, “I’m supposed to comb out the feathers on the angel wings” and giggled like a happy child, full of wonder.
Towards the end, Katy’s father often slipped into waking dreams, moving between the worlds with increasing fluency, learning the art of re-entering a sleep dream to gather more insight and energy effortlessly, without any formal instruction.
One of his big dreams seemed to promise a happy landing on the other side and opened a fascinating personal locale in the possible afterlife. He dreamed that on a day of heavy snow, he attended a magnificent banquet in a beautiful mansion.
Everyone was dressed to the nines, and an elegant, distinguished man wearing an ambassador’s sash with his dinner jacket showed Ed around and poured him a delicious drink “like white champagne” but beyond anything available in ordinary reality.
Delighted by his welcome, Katy’s father had the feeling he would be going back to the mansion of the dream ambassador. On the day he passed, it was snowing heavily for the first time in months, as in the dream.
Through their days and nights of dream sharing, father and daughter deepened their loving connection. Katy confirmed and validated her father’s experiences as he opened to realities beyond the physical, an inspiring example of how we can help each other on the roads of dying (and living).
Katy believes that dreaming provided her father with a vehicle in which he could travel to the other side.
“He was fearful of leaving this life that he loved so much, but with the dreaming he grasped that perhaps there really is a life ‘over there’ that is just as much fun.”
His fear of death gave way to a willingness to let go.
The story of Ed’s dreaming does not end with his passing. Within days, he started turning up in the dreams of his loved ones. He appeared to the one family member who had not been able to visit him in the hospice, sat with her under a tree for what seemed like hours, and made her laugh.
He returned Katy’s visits in the dreamtime. In Katy’s dreams, he often appeared doing things (like skiing) that he had failed to do, or to master, in the life he had left.
This moving episode confirms the wisdom of the Lakota Indian saying that “the path of the soul after death is the same as the path of the soul in dreams.” This is why dreaming is the best preparation for dying.
The Poet as Guide to the Other Side
I had another reason for undertaking The Dreamer’s Book of the Death. I have noticed that most of us tend to live with more courage and clarity – and cope with the challenges of everyday life with better grace – when we have looked Death in the face.
As we do this, we may enlist the support of personal guides who are quite familiar with conditions on the Other Side.
I was well advanced on my work, a little after Samhain/Halloween in 2004, when I learned that I had drawn a most interesting helper. On a raw day on the Connecticut coast, I was leading a visionary journey for a circle of my advanced students.
We had made it our shared intention to travel to a location in nonordinary reality that I call the House of Time, a place from which onward journeys to other times and other life experiences are usually easy, and where encounters with master teachers sometimes take place.
I was drumming for the group and watching over them while – at the same time – I let part of my consciousness travel into the Library of the House of Time.
I found Yeats waiting for me, on an upper level. He asked me, “What better guide to the Other Side than a poet?” The answer that came to me was: none.
I remembered how Virgil appears as Dante’s guide through the Inferno, drawn by Dante’s “love and long study” of his poetry.
Whether the Yeats who was appearing to me now was a projection of a part of myself, or some essence of his life and work, or the individual spirit of the dead poet, I could hardly refuse his offer to guide me.
So my work took on a further dimension. This, of course, was not my first encounter with Yeats. He had appeared in my dreams many times.
In one series of dreams, he demonstrated experiments in “mutual visioning” that he had conducted with Florence Farr, and attempts to build his Celtic Castle of the Heroes on the astral plane with his great (but forever lost) love Maud Gonne.
But after that post-Halloween encounter in 2004, things picked up. While I immersed myself in fresh study of the books and papers in which Yeats had recorded his efforts to communication with the dead and to monitor the soul’s journey between death and rebirth, the play of dreams and visions and synchronicity in my own life became intense and wonderful.
That benign entity that Koestler called “the Library Angel” worked overtime, arranging bookish discoveries at the most unlikely times and places.
In a screened and protected psychic environment, I was introduced to many “dead” people who described their experiences of afterlife transitions in vivid and fascinating detail. Sometimes I felt that the dead were holding a séance for the living – specifically myself.
I gained a new depth of understanding of what Yeats had laboured to convey about death and dreaming in the two versions of his fascinating, difficult book A Vision.
He concluded that the main difference between the dream state during physical life and the dream state after death is that prior to death the soul remains in “exclusive association with one body.”
In the 1925 edition of A Vision, Yeats made his simplest and most important observation about the connection between death and dreaming:
“In sleep we enter upon the same life as that we enter between death and birth.”He explains that in dreaming, the spirit may travel through some of the levels of being that are accessible after death. In rare cases, moving beyond the astral plane, the spirit may discover “a new centre of coherence” in the celestial body.
So dreaming may be an exact rehearsal for the progression of the spirit after death as it gradually disentangles itself from lower energy bodies to move to higher planes.
In the 1937 edition of A Vision, Yeats develops the provocative thesis that our dreams of the departed are frequently the result of the departed reaching for us.
Yeats describes an early phase in the after-death transition that he calls “Dreaming Back,” through which the departed seek to review, understand and resolve the issues of the life experience that has ended.
With the help of “teaching spirits” a soul in this phase “may not merely dream through the consequences of its acts but amend them, bringing this or that to the attention of the living.” During this phase the dead often appear to the living in dreams.
Yeats wrote that “the souls of enlightened men return to be schoolmasters of the living, who influence them unseen.” I believe this has been my experience, and that it is an experience open to all of us, which will unfold according to our interests and affections, and our willingness to do the work.
In The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead I have sought to honour Yeats’s grand design of producing a Western Book of the Dead that shows a little of what happens in the soul’s journey between death and rebirth.
At its heart, the message of my Book of the Dead is as simple, and as urgent, as this: We don’t need to wait for death to remember what the soul knows: how and why we came into our present bodies, and where we will go when we leave them.
By Robert Moss, author of The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead
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