Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Hawaiian dreaming: wild goatfish or straight up

posted by Robert Moss

Caren Lobel-Fried, "Tree of Life" woodcut

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 also 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 BigIsland to live with her as her consort. Humans may find this kind of transfer harder to effect, but it’s always worth a try!

Good sources on Hawaiian dreaming are Martha Beckwith’s classic and indispensable Hawaiian Mythology and a wonderfully accessible book by Caren Loebel-Fried, Hawaiian Legends of Dreams. 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..

I am leading a 5-day adventure in Hawaii, with plenty of magical drumming, from March 3-8, the Big Island Way of the Dreamer. There are still a few spaces available.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Don

    Hi Robert,

    You knew I would love this post, didn’t you. I was born on a what was then a very remote part of the Big Island. I spent the early 1930’s there. There were still people living there who grew up when Hawaii was a sovereign nation. But we moved to California and were unable to return immediately. I was back during my teen years. I left Hawaii for the last time in 1952, when I was in my twenty’s, very upset by the military occupation and the increases of consumer culture that were taking place. The Hawaii that I knew no longer exists.

    The place where I was born was known as a habitat of Pele. When I was born the sky darkened and the earth shook. I use to be teased about that. What really happened was that I was born during a volcanic eruption.

    My father was a missionary and had very little tolerance of dreams. Later he quit and became an atheist, still with little use for dreams. I differ. I have a very strong belief in the value of dreams. I had one brief “near death” experience due to an accident when I was a teenager. I have seen “the other side.” However your post tells me things about the dreamers in Hawaii that I did not know. I am very grateful for that. And I appreciate the reference material. I am going to look into purchasing it.

    I met a Kahuna Pule in Hawaii when I was a teenager. We spoke of dreams sometimes.

    It appears that all primal cultures honored dreams. All of the Native American cultures that I know anything about honored dreams, visions, intuitions, and the like. Our cultural increase in technology seems to destroy faith in dreams.

    In a recent comment in response to your post I stated that I needed to honor a dream by washing my head in a “sacred” spring, and drinking some of the spring water. If you are wondering, I have not yet done that. It has been and still is hunting season in that area. And I am not sure that I am physically able to make my way down from the butte safely.

    I would love to attend your workshop in Hawaii but at the moment I don’t see how I will be able to. I wish I could.

    Thank you VERY much for your post about Hawaiian dreamers.


    • http://www.mossdreams.com Robert Moss

      Thanks for sharing your rich life experiences, Don. You are right: all our ancestors valued dreaming, and dreamers, highly. Some of us are now working to bring the ancient arts of dreaming back, to give people in our time tools of vision, connection and healing that are urgently needed.

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