Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Portal Potties & other transits between dream realities

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream

– Edgar Allen Poe

I’ve been thinking about how we travel between different levels of dreaming, consciously or unconsciously. I recently quoted the statement of Ruby Modesto, a Desert Cahuilla shaman, that she traveled through no less than 13 levels of dreaming (though she had a hard time coming back on the first occasion).


In Ruby’s tradition, as for many of us today, movement from one level of dreaming to another is marked or facilitated by the experience of falling asleep in one space and waking in another. As we return from deeper levels of dreaming, we may have the experience of successive “false awakenings.” Some report going through as many as five or six of these “false awakenings” on their way back to physical focus.

There are other markers for a transit between different levels of reality, in dreaming. Getting on a plane, in dreams, might not only be about finding a way to get off the ground, but about rising to a higher “plane” of reality. Going up or down floors in a building – whether you take the stairs or the elevator – might also indicate shifts between different levels.


In night dreams as well as in shamanic journeys, and very frequently in the hypnagogic zone, I find myself going through a curtain or veil. Sometimes I see the weave of the texture close up before I go through, and let it stretch to allow me to slip between the fibers. Sometimes I just breeze through the curtain; the other night I drove a plane through a curtain that seemed to go up to the sky, and later turned round and drove back through it.

For many dreamers, changes in dream lighting indicate a shift from one level to another. When my inner picture changes from colors to black and white or sepia tones or super-bright (four basic variants) I know a transition is taking place.

One of my dream friends who has been scrutinizing her dreams for evidence of the reality breaks made an interesting find. Quite often, when her dream self has an urgent desire to go to the bathroom, she finds herself rushing through a door that leads to a parallel universe, where things work differently. The dream toilet seems to be her version of Clark Kent’s phone booth, or the wardrobe used by the children who go to Narnia. We have agreed to call this the Portal Potty, or the Potty Portal.


Fans of Harry Potter may recall that there is a less attractive potty portal in use by the Ministry of Magic. After He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named took over the Ministry, officials were compelled to enter by flushing themselves through underground toilets. A gold Ministry coin was required to open the doors of the stalls. When you flush yourself down the toilet, you come out in a fireplace in the atrium. To leave the ministry, you go through a fireplace and come out of another toilet in the underground bathroom.

I recall traveling through multiple levels of dreaming in spontaneous sleep dreams on nights when the innermost dream, on the deepest or highest level, was by far the most vivid, numinous and important. I have wakened from that inner dream of power juiced and eager to take action – to find that I still have many doors to open (often by falling asleep and waking again) before I get back to the body on the bed.


In the shamanic lucid dreaming adventures I lead, we often have conscious experiences of traveling through successive levels. In the big journeys, we can travel very far indeed, and I always make sure that everyone has clear directions for the return and then receives immediate help to get grounded.

I photographed the splendid old public pay toilet in a park next to Toompea Castle – the pink palace that houses the Estonian parliament – during a recent visit to Tallinn. It looked like it might have portal potential.



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Nina

    I am really grateful for this post because I have been trying to become a bit more conscious dreamer for the several past months and here I found some helpful similarities. I haven´t got anywhere further yet, just on the very threshold but I appreciate these a bit more coscious instants as little as they are. The other day when I summarized my minimal experience, I realized that most of my lucid moments shortly before falling fast asleep or in the dreams occur in the corridors, on the stairs or as if looking through the window. It can be just looking into the cosmic deep night and feeling “snowflakes” blowing into my face, or going through the narrow tunnel-like passage which is covered with beautifully shining golden tiles. Light curtains, sometimes billowing and sometimes just being nicely piled in a room definitely belong to this portal experience. The kind of flying curtains also appeared in the dream in which I became aware of dreaming and wanted to change the colour of the nearest plant in the hallway. Instead I found myself walking in the white dress covered with large blue flowers. The dress was floating behind me as if I were sailing at sea on a mildly windy day. These examples clearly show the level of my improficience in this beautiful dream art but at the moment I compensate the lack of knowledge with unshakeable enthusiasm.
    Lots and lots of favourable winds in the sails to all dreamers.

    • Robert Moss

      Nina – that’s a lovely image of the fluttering curtains. If they become, in some sense, the floating dress my dream self is wearig I might cheer myself with the thought that: “I am the portal.”

  • Nancy

    Thanks for this post. Last night’s dream was another classroom one, with many distractions (every ex I remember!) and I left a few times to deal with them privately and kept coming back to the lesson, where I wanted to be. I’m also thinking of my many dreams about squeezing through a small opening just in time, a window or closing garage door, or of flying out of a tight crowd to open space. I’d always seen these as birth dreams to a broader life for myself, but you’re adding another dimension to my understanding.

    • Robert Moss

      Nancy – well coming through a birth canal is surely a big-time reality switch! The tunnel (in one form or another) is a crucial passage, in so many traditions and well as personal experiences of dreaming, for the passage from one reality to another. For example, the shaman’s frequent way of access to the Lower World is through a tunnel that opens into the earth. This may be a fox hole, a rabbit hole, a bear cave, the root system of the tree or – in contemporary dreams – an entrance to the subway.

      Of course, tunnels don’t only go down. One of my watershed dreams turned on learning I could fly UP through a tunnel, as if going up from the bottom of a storm drain, into a world where a people of earth and of dreams were waiting for me.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment clarOscura

    Lovely article on portals & transits. I have experienced so many types of portals throughout the years, these dreams are always the most fun and active. Portals I have been through include the potty portal, circular holes in trees, cracks in the walls, elevators, jumping through windows, jumping off cliffs….it’s endless :)

    • Robert Moss

      It’s very interesting to study how each of these portals works and make them part of a personal map of nonordinary reality.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Your Name

    It is funny you have mentioned black and white / color… it seems that some of the deepest spiritual dreams I have come in color…but to travel to these “big dreams” I tend to dream in black and white prior to getting to the big dream.. this article made me take thought that maybe the black and white dreams are the portals to the big dreams you wrote about!

    • Robert Moss

      J think it is very interesting for all of us to study what marks a transit between distinctly different zones or levels of the dreamworld. When things switch to black-and-white in my dreams it is either because (1) I am outside in the night world, in a counterpart reality rather close to the other world (2) I am on my way to a separate reality, which has sometimes been the Other Side of death or (3) because I am being drawn into a kind of living movie of an earlier historical period.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Savannah Caitlin

    So many portals to play with… waking up or waking up to a different environment is probably one of my most consistent level markers, along with portal potties and dreams of reviewing and interpreting other dreams sometimes with the support of other media, like video recordings, email, or online reports.

    I am beginning to notice copper features quite frequently in scene shifts and portals, maybe because it’s such an excellent conductor – a copper pail, a turtle shaped music box, a sculpted wall hanging…

    This fascinating discussion is also getting me to look more closely at a series of elevator dreams, which are most often portals into other dimensions. I recall looking for my room on the 12th floor of a multi-level hotel and being faced with a bank of some 20 elevators or more, probably each leading to a different geography each containing a number of levels. One of those elevators morphs into a dental office; from the dental chair I am transported into a dance studio in another dimension watching the same dentist rehearse a scene from Madame Butterfly. Oh, and considering possible auditory markers… while my dream self is puzzling over the elevators the overhead sound system is broadcasting Abba… “I have a dream.”

    • Robert Moss

      Savannah – How perfectly delightful, hearing the sound system play “I have a dream” while your dream self is trying to figure out which elevator to take! Talk about a cue to become lucid! It’s interesting that we often (me too) miss such cues to wake up to the fact that we are dreaming. Another big clue is interaction with the deceased (when they appear as living persons) in our dream. Since, from a certain point of time, we are dreaming in all states of consciousness, it may be less important for us to tell ourselves “This is a dream” than to become aware that we can exercise choice – as your dream self can choose the elevator – and question the level and nature of the dream reality we are in.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Irene

    I oftrn walk through a curtain of rain in dreamscape. I know, at least up until now, that when I walk through this curtain I will find a place (that I already know or perhaps a new one) of gentle cleansing. The rain curtain always takes me to a “green” space where everything looks like it’s just waking up after a Spring rain.

    I thank you for this post for it has inspired me to explore a relatively new and recurring dream prop – a huge, white, clawfoot bathtub (with a lion head spout). I’ve seen it several times, always in bright, luminiously white bathrooms or spas that vary in set-up but always feature 1) a porte-fênetre with a sheer curtain facing me as I walk in, 2) a brilliant window (where it’s either vividly green outside or snowing) and 3) the clawfoot tub. I keep finding my way back to these luminous white bathrooms or spas and have just begun to explore the windows and doors but it had never before occured to me to explore the proposition of the bathtub structure as a possible travel vehicle or gateway. Already as I write these words, I can feel and see myself flying in this tub! I’ve got a big, roundish, monospace car. I think when I drive to work this morning, I’ll turn it into a bathtub and see what it feels like to drive one. Thanks for the wonderful inspiration!

    • Robert Moss

      Irene – I love your curtain of rain. In BIG dream transits and shamanic journeys, I find that stepping through or behind a waterfall – or simply through the mist of the falling waters – is the portal to anothe realm, sometimes a deep realm of the ancestors or of the Sidhe. The mist, as you know, is the preferred Celtic way of acess to the Otherworld.

      You may excite tub envy with your clawfod tub with the lion spout in that whining white bathroom. Sounds like a most inviting portal to me!

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