Dream Gates

Dream Gates


Soul sleep and wild goatfish dreams

posted by Robert Moss

Hawaiian.jpg How much a culture understands of the practice of dreaming is reflected in the variety and specificity of the terms it uses for different types of dream experience. The Hawaiian language contains a rich vocabulary for dreaming that makes a delightful study.

A general word for dreams in Hawaiian is moe’uhane, generally translated as “soul sleep” but better understood as “night experiences of the soul”, since for traditional Hawaiians, dreaming is very much about traveling. The soul makes excursions during sleep. It slips out of the regular body, often through the tear duct, described as the “soul pit” and travels in a “body of wind”.

During sleep the dreamer also receives visitations from gods (akua) and ancestral guardian spirits (aumakua) who may take the form of a bird or a fish or a plant.

Like all practical dreamers, the Hawaiians recognize that there are big dreams and little dreams. You don’t want to pay too much attention to a “wild goatfish dream” (moe weke pahulu), which is caused by something you ate or how fast you ate it. The colorful term is derived from popular belief that eating the heads of goatfish – at other times a delicacy – in the wrong season, when bad winds are blowing, causes sickness and troubling but meaningless dreams.

On the other hand, you want to recognize that a dream may contain the memory of a trip into the future that can give you information of the highest practical importance. Especially helpful is the “straight-up” dream (moe pi’i pololei) that is clear and requires no interpretation. There are “wishing” dreams (moemoea) that show you something you are pining for, which may or may not be attainable in ordinary reality. There are “revelations of the night” (ho’ike na ka po) that carry the power of prophecy.

A most interesting category of Hawaiian dreams are those – believed to be gifts of the guardian ancestral spirits – that are given to promote the healing of relations within a family or community. Dreams are also given by the aumakua to promote personal healing. The ancestral spirits deliver “night names” (inoa po) for babies that are on the way, and cautionary tales are told of misfortune that comes when the parents ignore a baby name delivered in a dream.

The Hawaiians pay special attention to visions that come on the cusp between sleep and waking (hihi’o) believing that these are especially likely to contain clear communication from the spirits and “straight up” glimpses of things that will unfold.
In our dream travels, we may be united with a “dream husband” (kane o ka po) or a “dream wife” (wahine o ka po). This can be pleasurable and even compelling, but Hawaiian lore teaches caution. Spend too much time outside your regular body in your “body of wind” and the physical organism may start to weaken and languish. You also want to be alert to deceivers who may take on the form of alluring sexual partners but are actually something else, like tricky mo’o, a kind of water imp. We want to bring energy from our juiciest dreams into embodied life and not leave it out there.

A favorite Hawaiian legend tells how a goddess accomplished this. Pele, on her volcanic island, was stirred by rhythmic drumming from far off. She left her body in her lava bed, charging her attendants not to rouse her for three days on any account. She traveled far in her “body of wind” and finally found the source of the magical drumming is a luau being held by a handsome prince. The goddess and the prince fell for each other and spent three days making love before Pele returned to the body she had left in her lava bed. Being a goddess, she was then able to arrange for her prince to be transported to the Big Island to live with her as her consort. Humans may find this kind of transfer harder to effect, but it’s always worth a try!

Until recently, the only published sources I could recommend on Hawaiian dreaming were older works by anthropologists and mythologists, notably Martha Beckwith’s indispensable Hawaiian Mythology. Now we have a wonderfully accessible book by Caren Loebel-Fried, Hawaiian Legends of Dreams (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press). Illustrated with the author’s own lively woodcuts and drawing on excellent research among the Beckwith and E.S. Craighill Handy papers in the Bishop Museum, this book takes us deeply and effortlessly into the language and lore of Hawaiian dreaming and is suitable for readers from middle school to sagehood..

Loebel-Fried’s retelling of Pele’s dream journey to Lohi’au and of the dream that led to the discovery of the hidden spring of Punahou, under a hala (pandanus) tree are especially engaging and instructive. The famous Punahou school in Honolulu stands at the site of that secret spring, and the school seal includes the image of a hala tree with a spring of fresh water flowing beneath it.

woodblock by Caren Loebel-Fried



  • Savannah

    What a gorgeous print! You’re inspiring me to pay more attention to dreaming terms in different cultures and languages, thank you. This seems like a very rich but also practical way to talk about the dream experience… since keeping a journal I’ve definitely had to learn not all dreams are necessarily created equal and it’s good to spot the wild goatfish and the tricksters – like the kind that sometimes seem to come out and play during a lunar eclipse. I love the image of the soul traveling through the tear duct…

  • Janice

    I love the image of the soul traveling out of the tear duct, as well, A thought came to mind: I wonder if the soul chose the tear duct because on some level it yearns emotionally for its freedom. That is a great image.
    On another note: A bit of synchronicity. I woke up this morning with a poem in mind about dreams being the single most common thread that people of diverse backgrounds and cultures have in common. I lost the poem as I came to full consciousness, but hope to retrieve it later on today.

  • Bonnie

    I recently had a dream in which I “saw” the word HEKIMA – I wrote it in my journal, then the next morning looked it up on an internet translator – it means “wisdom” in Swahili.
    I have absolutely no knowledge of the Swahili language, nor have I any interest in learning it – but where and why did the word appear? I imagine this is a bit of cross-culture dreaming, though at present I make little sense of it (though perhaps it’s telling me that I can gain wisdom via working with my dreams? but if so, why in Swahili???).

  • Suzanne

    I had an odd/interesting dream last night–I’m not sure what category to put it in but I was excited by it.
    Suddenly I have an idea (in my dream). I lie on my bed and look for a notebook to write it down The idea is this–maybe there are some objects common to all worlds that each world shares in addition to an “overlay” that is brought to the world by the persons whose world it is. Each person may construct a world around these objects (tree, post, fire hydrant etc) that is different, depending upon their world view. Groups of people share similar overlays. I think that maybe there is a Steig Larsson world, a Harry Potter world, etc. each populated by the kinds of people who are fascinated by that world. While I am formulating this, a girl comes up the stairs to my room and starts talking about the tv series Bones. I realize we are both fascinated by that world (FBI investigation/forensic science).
    I woke up feeling like I must have lost a lot of the idea in translation. There was also a fragment of thought about how small choices create alternate worlds. Like court cases, rulings–if they had gone a different way we would live in a different world.
    How would you work with a dream like this if it were your dream?

  • Don Dimock

    I have never made a study of mythology. But I was born in a remote part of Hawaii. My family left in the early 1930’s when I was very young. We returned when I was 15.
    I will ask some questions. Here are some of the basis for my questions.
    Years ago the Kingdom of Hawaii signed a treaty with the USA. The USA was to protect the sovereignty of Hawaii in return for certain things. The treaty was patterned after the treaty between Tonga and New Zealand, which both countries still honor. One of the things the USA was to receive was the use of Pearl Harbor for a naval base.
    When the USA tried to construct the naval base there were earthquakes, shipping disasters, and more. The Hawaiians pointed out that Pearl Harbor was the home of one of the Shark Gods. They must negotiate and make offerings to that Shark God. The USA did that, and the problems ceased.
    Sometime later many people were losing respect for the Hawaiian Gods. If people were to eat ohelo berries picked on the area surrounding the Kilauea volcano, they must throw some ohelo berries into the crater in honor of Pele before eating any. Queen Liliuokalani stood on the edge of the crater and ate ohelo berries without throwing any into the crater, deliberately showing disrespect for Pele. Shortly after that, the US Marines took over the Kingdom of Hawaii.
    Queen Liliuokalani went to Washington and asked the US Government to honor their treaty. Instead of honoring the treaty they arrested Liliuokalani and condemned her of treason. She was incarcerated. Some people say that the disrespect that she and others showed for the Goddess, Pele, was the cause of that.
    A more recent event occurred when a lava flow threatened a US military base in the 1940’s. If they could blow out a low ridge, they could turn the lava flow. They sent a bomber to bomb out the ridge. Not only did the mission fail, the bomber crashed killing the entire crew. The Hawaiians said that the lava flow was Pele’s business. You do not interfere with such things without Pele’s consent.
    In my personal experience, during the 1940’s, I planned to take some photos of a sacred burial cave. A Buddhist friend said: “I don’t believe in that huna stuff, but why take a chance? That was a common attitude. I did take the chance. I did not try to enter the cave. I tried to take flash photos from the entrance. My flashbulbs would not fire. They worked all right when I pointed the camera other ways. But I could not take photos of the inside of the cave. I felt spiritual presence. And I had not brought any offerings. And so I left while I still could.
    My wife, who had never been to Hawaii, once said that she had never met anyone from Hawaii who wasn’t superstitious. It is not ‘just’ superstition. I have visually seen ghosts and some of the lessor Gods. My own aumakua is the Shark God from the region where I was born. I have known that since I was a child and I have had experiences to support it.
    My questions are about things like these: 1. Where are the Gods now? 2. Why has Hawaii been allowed to fall, destroying the native culture and the respect for the Gods?
    Thank you, Robert, for posting that. Obviously, I relate to it very much.

  • Irène

    Suzanne, thank you for the thought “small choices create alternate worlds.”
    I’ve been “knowing” this for quite some time but the knowledge was “flu” or blurry, fleeting, coming to me and then leaving for moments, hours even days because I didn’t recognize the importance of this exceptional wisdom and so didn’t capture it long enough to honor it with words. (I see a butterfly in my cusped hands that I momentairly capture, whispering “I see you Beauty” through my fingers!)
    Now with the sentence in front of my eyes, I can ground this wisdom through my being. (And this wisdom fits so nicely, so perfectly into this exact moment of my hear-and-now!)

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/dreamgates/ Robert Moss

    Don – Thanks for your rich inventory of Hawaiian taboos and the penalties for ignoring them. On the positive intervention of an aumakua, see my essay “Time for the Shark God”, at my website archive here: http://www.mossdreams.com/Design%202009/Archives/essays/time%20for%20the%20shark%20god.htm

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/dreamgates/ Robert Moss

    Suzanne – What a most interesting dream. I might experiment with going out on successive days with my mind charged and fired up by a series of different authors or viewing selections. So I set myself up for a “Bones” kind of day, or a “Mad Men” kind of day, or a “Harry Potter” day and see whether the way everyday incidents unfold around me corresponds in any way to my charged imagination.
    As more basic practice, I would look over my dream journal from time to time and consider which of my dream reports may contain memories of incidents in parallel worlds, in which my dream self slips into the situation and perspective of the self that made a different choice at some junction in life.

  • Suzanne

    Thanks Irene for that beautiful image and thanks for the ideas Robert. I love the idea of exploring parallel worlds in dreams. And I have noticed how the more I involve myself in reading a particular author/or show, the more it colors my entire experience of life. That seems like an interesting experiment. The thought occurs to me that perhaps I should more often color my experience with world views that are less bleak/stark than the crime fiction I so love. Although magical as Harry Potter’s world is, it is still a world of good against evil…

  • http://www.wellnesswithaloha.com/Menu.aspx jireh

    Dreams or dreaming, are really has a deep meaning, but it more simple if you experienced how to dream. Dreams are something that you want to achieve in the future, and it will not happen if you just make day dreaming, you need to make an effort to make your dream come true. There is another dream that when you are in a deep sleep, this dream are the one thing that remain in your subconscious before you go to sleep.Sacred Journeys Hawaii
    But there is a dream that someone who fulfill it to be happen to you, they called it life fortune.It is something that the creator give you from above. the creator used somebody to fulfill your dream, but it is only a favor from our creator.

  • Bryan

    Thanks kindly for your thoughtful explication of dreams in Hawaiian culture. It is fortuitous that I came to this particular post as I had a curous dream in which Queen Lili’uokalani and I had a conversation. That dream took place around the dates of your post and these comments. As an aside, I would mention that Don Dimock’s story about Lili’uokalani is not about her: it is about Queen Kapiolani who defied the ritual to Pele at the edge of the volcano Kilauea. Her defiance occurred in 1824 before Lili’uokalani was born. Of course, the last queen may have done so, though I have not heard it so (it is doubtful that she would have been so atavistic as her Christian faith was quite strong).
    If I may address Mr. Dimock’s cry of Whither Our Gods, I do not feel that their mana has left the Islands. I myself have seen it. Kamehameha was right: they no longer required a blood sacrifice. Nor did the kapu between men and women be maintained. Perhaps Jehovah was an interim god through the missionaries. Yet the resurgence during the past 40 years of Hawaii Nei reminds us of the deep spirituality still present. After all, it is always human beings who interpret the gods- perhaps they merely wait for our return with different hearts and minds.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/dreamgates/ Robert Moss

    Bryan – Thanks so much for your spirited comments. I would love to know more about your dream of Lili’uokalani if there is more you wish to share, either here or via email. You can email me via my website http://www.mossdreams.com

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