Because these dreams are presented to us more than once, we
might assume that they are expressing an important message. We can
look specifically for recurrences in our dream journal.
Themes often recur during the same sleep-period. When we are
interpreting dreams from the same sleep-period, we can look for
recurring themes; after interpreting one of the dreams, we can
consider whether the same subject was examined in the others. This
might aid us in the interpretation of those other dreams.
Recurring dreams are not necessarily identical. We might have
dreams which contain a similar plot, characters, action, or
feelings -- but the series might also differ in any of
those elements (and we could even experience the same dream from
the viewpoint of a different character). An important issue might
be repeated verbatim, but it is more likely to be viewed with
different symbolism, characters, plots, topics, and so on. This
creates alternative perspectives from which the unconscious mind
can study the topic.
Recurring dreams indicate an inability to find resolution.
When the same dream occurs more than once, the unconscious mind is
probably trying again to achieve a settlement following a previous
unsuccessful attempt -- or it is presenting the same material to
the conscious mind because we failed to follow through on that
information during our wakeful life (perhaps because of inadequate
recall or interpretation). If the psychological dilemma is
alleviating but is not yet satisfied, we might see a change in the
symbolism (i.e., "symbol evolution"); for example, the
three-headed monster might now have only two heads!
We can create recurring dreams. If we are unable to interpret
a dream, we can incubate a repetition of it; the dream might
appear again, perhaps with symbolism which is easier to
understand. And if we are in a lucid dream, we can create a
scenario which is similar to the original dream; the plot is
likely to go in a different direction, but we are still likely to
gain insight into the original.
We can do "active imagination" with a recurring character. If
a character continues to reappear, active imagination (as
described in this book) might answer our questions about its
presence. In a sense, this is a further recurrence of the dream,
because we are creating that state during wakefulness. Several of
my apparently unrelated dreams featured a teenaged boy, whom I
"interviewed" with active imagination. He said, "I keep recurring
[in your dreams] because I want you to know I'm here."
What is a nightmare? They are dreams which are characterized
by their upsetting emotional quality; the emotion might be fear,
anger, anxiety, grief, guilt, or another. Nightmares commonly
occur to pre-adolescent children; these dreams become less common
as the individuals gain a feeling of competence in dealing with
the wakeful world.
What is a night terror? A night terror is a frightening event
in which a sleeping child is likely to scream, thrash about, and
perhaps stare with open but unfocused eyes. Night terrors are not
nightmares nor even dreams; they occur during non-REM sleep in the
first REM cycle. The non-REM portion of that cycle is deeper than
usual, usually because of fever, medication, or exhaustion (due to
daytime exertion or previous sleeplessness). Night terrors are a
normal phenomenon for young children.
Nightmares have value. They are as useful as non-nightmare
dreams. If we examine them calmly (without being repelled by their
intensity), we can learn from any related interpretation or
dreamwork. Even if we do not work with them, they can accomplish
resolutions within the dreamworld; for example, women who have
nightmares about their pregnancy have an easier delivery, and
people who have nightmares about a trauma recover from it more
quickly. (For some authors, nightmares have provided another
benefit -- by supplying inspiration for such works as
Frankenstein and Dracula.)
Nightmares have a reason to be outrageous. They shock us and
distress us so that we will remember them, and we will think about
them during wakefulness. Placid dreams can be ignored; nightmares
demand that we notice them.
Nightmares represent a part of us. Similar to non-nightmare
dreams, these experiences are symbolic of our psychological world.
The "villainous" characters might represent an emotional conflict,
or something which we fear, or a "shadow" aspect which we have
restrained and despised in ourselves, or an element from the
processing of a trauma (as in Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome
following a car accident or a violent attack).
We can use dreamwork for nightmares. Refer to the chapter on
dreamwork; the same techniques which are used for non-nightmares
can be applied to nightmares. "Active imagination" is particularly
useful, because it lets us converse with the character who has
We can incubate our responses to nightmare characters. The
incubation can be a request to meet a monster from a previous
dream, and to remember to ask, "Who are you, and why are you
here?" Or we can incubate a particular response to a nightmare;
the response might be to confront the monster rather than to run
away. We might also incubate a happier ending to the nightmare;
this ending would include a resolution to the conflict rather than
the destruction of the creature (since it is a part of us). If we
incubate a lucidity "trigger" (e.g.,"When I feel fear, I will
become aware that I am dreaming"), we can manage the rest of the
Seek professional help for profoundly disturbing nightmares.
Although dreamwork (and the nightmares themselves) can reconcile
some of the problems, we might have nightmares which are so
disturbing that we need to talk about them with a psychiatrist.
physical health. (This information is not intended to be a substitute
for professional medical care.)
Through dreams, we can boost our physical health in many ways:
we can receive guidance toward a health-promoting lifestyle (and
warnings against destructive habits), diagnose illness and injury,
maintain our emotional vigor during physical crises, get
recommendations for treatments, and learn about our progress
toward recovery. We might even receive the healing itself during a
We can receive advice during a dream. Dream researcher William
C. Dement was a smoker until he experienced a disturbing dream in
which he underwent medical tests which indicated that he had lung
cancer. After that dream, he quit smoking. When he returned to the
habit two years later, another dream convinced him to stop again.
A different person was told (by dream doctors) to apply heat to an
aching back muscle; when this remedy was used during wakefulness,
it was effective.
We can receive a diagnosis through a dream. Hippocrates and
Aristotle said that dreams can reveal our illnesses, and ancient
Chinese doctors would refer to a chapter on the diagnostic
capabilities of these "prodromic" dreams in their text, The
Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine. Medical
information can come to us in dreams even before we exhibit
symptoms, because the body and mind are aware of disturbances
which might be too subtle to be detected by a medical exam or our
wakeful awareness; this data allows us to seek early treatment,
with clues about the nature of the ailment (e.g., the type of
disorder, its location on the body, its severity, and its cause).
Doctors and other medical professionals can assist in this
process, by asking about our dreams and becoming familiar with the
symbolism which might reveal a problem. Because dreams generally
have an emotional component, we also discover our
feelings about the affliction.
The symbols of infirmity. There are no standard symbols for
physical distress; any symbol could represent either a
physiological or emotional condition (or a problem in a
relationship or another aspect of life), so we need to study the
symbol more carefully -- its context and its emotional
associations. Although we develop our own symbols, some people
find that the human body is frequently represented by a car or
house or machine, or by the dream-person's body itself; thus, for
instance, if the car is malfunctioning, or involved in an
collision, this might be an indication that the body is
experiencing trouble. Illness might also be depicted by such
symbols as warfare, rotten meat, afflicted plants or animals,
unpleasant bodily sensations (hot, chilling, or painful), or an
unusual depiction or usage of a body part. The symbols could be as
blatant as a doctor, a hospital, or an ailing person (or a literal
replay of an accident which caused the ailment). Symbols can
indicate the severity of the problem: a harsher affliction might
be indicated by images which are more turbulent and emotional.
They might also indicate a reaction to therapy or medication.
However, the medication might create another problem: some drugs
disrupt REM sleep, so we will experience no dreams during this
Dreams of death. As stated previously, any dream can be
interpreted on a physiological or emotional (or other) level; a
dream of death might refer to the "death" of a component of our
life -- for example, the end of a relationship (or perhaps the
destruction of a tumor). Many people, during periods of physical
health, have experienced dreams with possible symbols of death
(corpses, graves, funerals, leaving on a trip, etc.) -- but the
people lived to tell about them. But researchers have discovered
that these "death dreams" tend to become more frequent when life
is endangered; people who have these dreams might be more likely
to worsen or even die -- but other people who have the dreams
recover. (Some of the most seriously ill patients report no dreams
at all; perhaps this is partially due to medication which is
inadvertently suppressing REM.) If you have a dream which contains
images of death, don't assume that your life will end soon (even
if you are ailing); the dream is a speculation on a possibility,
and it might not refer to physical health at all.
Dreams of healing. After the crisis has passed, we will notice
a change in our dream symbolism. The nightmares will diminish, and
a new series of dreams will give us hope, with images of healthy
people and animals and plants, buildings being constructed, a
well-tuned car -- or "to see the sun, moon, heavens and stars
clear and bright" (in the words of Hippocrates).
Healing during dreams. Dreams can be more than reflections of
our physical condition; they also present an opportunity to
improve it. The chapter on dream incubation describes the healing
temples of Aesculapius, in which participants would receive cures;
we can incubate our own requests for medical help and advice. In
modern times, dreamers have received health information (and
healings) from images of angels, doctors, Jesus, or other
individuals; certain Native American tribes honored dreams in
which remedies were suggested by an animal such as a snake. And in
lucid dreams, people have improved their health by invoking those
healers or by directing a visible healing energy toward the part
of their dream body which corresponds to the afflicted part of
their physical body.
Dreamwork for physical health. During this time, dreamwork can
help us to manage the emotions and stress generated by the crisis.
Refer to the chapter on dreamwork.
Precognitive dreams. A
precognitive dream is one which shows us the future with information
which is not ordinarily available.
Some supposedly "precognitive dreams" are not precognitive. A
dream is not "precognitive" if it causes a self-fulfilling
prophesy (in which we act in such a way as to make the dreamed
events occur later during wakefulness). Nor is it precognitive if
the data was obtainable by inference (i.e., a logical extension of
current trends or karmic antecedents). Carl Jung said (in
Dreams), "The occurrence of prospective dreams cannot be
denied. It would be wrong to call them prophetic, because at
bottom they are no more prophetic and a medical diagnosis or a
Some supposedly "precognitive dreams" are mere speculation.
During dreams, we enact scenarios which might happen -- as when an
ill person dreams about death but then recovers. Some of these
scenarios are part of the decision-making and problem-solving and
rehearsal processes; we are testing "what-if" hypotheses in a
safe, mocked-up situation. If one of the scenarios (among many)
comes to pass during wakefulness, it is a coincidence rather than
a precognitive dream.
Look for precognitive dreams in your journal. Review your
dreams (and their interpretations) for situations which later
happened. The precognition might take the form of a circumstance
(such as an encounter with a former acquaintance whom we recently
dreamed about) or an emotion (such as the fear which we felt when
we dreamed and when we were mugged a few days after a dream). To
discover a correlation between a precognitive dream and a wakeful
occurrence, we might need to review the dreams from the previous
months or years; that much time might elapse. These correlations
will be easier to find if our dream journal contains a brief
summary of each day's wakeful incidents and feelings. We might not
recognize precognitive dreams when they occur, but they can become
apparent afterward when we can discern their relationship to our
Incubate precognitive dreams. Rather than looking for random
precognitive dreams, we can incubate a request for knowledge of
the future -- generally or specifically (e.g., information about
our career). We can also incubate dreams about events which are
certain to occur. For example, incubate a dream about a party
which is planned for next weekend. A dream about "a party" would
not be precognitive in itself, but the dream might contain
precognitive elements: people's attire, conversations, and so on.
Be careful in your interpretation of precognitive dreams.
Their symbolism might be misinterpreted, as in the dream of Xerxes
(which is described later); a personal conflict was apparently
misunderstood to be a prophesy of a forthcoming battle. A few days
ago, I had a "death dream"; I drove my car around a long, circular
road at a cemetery, and when I came to the point at which I had
begun driving, I felt a sense of completion and no reason to
continue. If this book is completed, I can assume that the dream
was not prophetic of my immediate demise; the "death" might have
referred to the end of a phase of my life, or the conclusion of a
We might experience a dream about the past. This is called a
postcognitive dream, in which we receive data which was
not known at the time of the wakeful incident. Postcognition might
reveal information about this lifetime or a previous life.
We can seek precognition during lucid dreams. If we are lucid,
we can seek precognition; if we mock up the scenario of a future
event, we will see details which can be confirmed later when the
event occurs. (We can alter this dream while it is happening, to
create a more-favorable outcome; this might influence the outcome
which transpires during the wakeful event.) We can ask the
dreamscape (or a character) for information about the future in
general, or about a specific future occurrence which we
Precognitive dreams have happened to many famous people. Some
of those dreams have significantly changed the course of the
world. In certain cases, the dreamer was inspired by a dream to
take an action which changed civilizations; these might be viewed
as self-fulfilling prophesies rather than true prophetic dreams.
The dream of Pharaoh Thutmes IV. Around 1450 B.C., a young
man had a dream in which the god Hormakhu said, "The kingdom
shall be given to thee." Later, the man became Pharaoh Thutmes
IV (also spelled Thutmos). The tale of this dream was engraved
between the paws of the Sphinx.
The dream of Xerxes. The Persian leader Xerxes dreamed that
he was being castigated for not pursuing his plans to invade
Greece. Xerxes, assuming that the dream prophesied a victory,
led the attack in 480 B.C. but then lost the war. Because a
similar dream was experienced by an uncle with whom Xerxes had
experienced conflicts, it might have referred to interpersonal
battles between those two people rather than military
The dream of Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great was
another soldier who was driven by a dream. In the dream, he saw
a satyr (a woodland god) which he chased and caught. When
Alexander divided the word satyr into "sa" and "Tyros," he
discerned a prophesy that "Tyre is yours." This dream
stimulated him to escalate the war, which he won.
The dream of Hannibal. Hannibal -- who is best known for
crossing the Alps with an entourage of soldiers and elephants
-- dreamed of a serpent which demolished all that it
encountered; a dream character told him to obey this guidance.
On the next day, Hannibal began his attack of Rome.
The dreams of Julius Caesar. When Julius Caesar was a mere
general (in rebellion against Rome), he was encouraged to
continue his fight by a dream in which his mother appeared; he
interpreted this to be Rome (the "Mother City"). After becoming
Emperor, his assassination was prophesied in his series of
identical dreams on the night before he was killed. His wife,
Calpurnia, apparently had similar dreams; Shakespeare wrote,
"Thrice hath Calpurnia in her sleep cried out, "Help, ho! they
The dreams of Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan was another leader
who was inspired by his dreams. In one of those dreams, he was
told that he would lead the Mongols; the second dream directed
him to start a military campaign which would enlarge his
The dream of Columbus. Columbus -- in a refreshing change
from these stories of warfare -- dreamed of the message, "God
will give thee the keys of the ocean." The dream roused him to
pursue his scheme for a voyage westward.
The dream of Napoleon. Napoleon ignored a prophetic dream
which occurred on the night before his defeat at Waterloo. The
dream depicted two cats which were scurrying between two
armies; his cat was killed. If he had heeded the dream and
prevented the battle, Europe would have a different political
The dream of Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln dreamed that
he was in the White House, where he discovered mourners and a
corpse wrapped in funeral garments. He asked a guard, "Who is
dead?" The response: "The President. He was killed by an
assassin." The dream occurred less than two weeks before
Lincoln was shot.
The dream of Adolph Hitler. Adolph Hitler was inspired by a
nightmare (perhaps appropriately). When he was a
corporal during World War I, he dreamed vividly that he and the
other soldiers in the trench were engulfed by dirt and molten
metal. He awoke, and left the trench to calm himself. While he
walked, the previously peaceful scene was disrupted by incoming
artillery fire. He returned to the bunker and discovered that
it had been hit, killing everyone. This dream helped to
convince Hitler that he had a "divine calling" to rule the
Mutual dreams. In most dreams, we
assume that the characters are creations of our mind; they have no
identity of their own. But in mutual dreams, a character does exist
What is a mutual dream? It is a phenomenon in which two people
experience a dream together. The dream might have comparable
elements (such as the same setting or activity) or they might be
identical in virtually every aspect. A mutual dream is also called
a "reciprocal dream" or "shared dream" -- or reve a deux
by the French.
Mutual dreams imply an objective dreamscape. We generally
believe that dreams occur within an individual's mind, in a
fabricated dreamscape, but mutual dreams apparently happen in an
actual "location" in a different world where the two dreamers can
meet. In a non-mutual dream, we might encounter other evidence of
this self-existing dreamscape -- thought-forms and other creations
which have been left behind by other dreamers.
Mutual dreaming is an extension of a natural tendency. That
tendency is to dream about someone who has stimulated or annoyed
us during wakefulness. During our dreams, we generate scenarios in
which to confront images of that person, in an attempt to resolve
the issue. In many of those cases, the other person is similarly
aroused, so he or she is likely to be dreaming about us. Mutual
dreams take this tendency one step farther; instead of dreaming
separately about one another, we dream together. However, when we
dream about someone, the dream is usually not a mutual dream; the
other character is merely a mind-creation rather than the
dream-body of the person.
We can incubate a mutual dream. During wakefulness, we can
talk to the person to agree on a dreamscape scenario which we
would like to experience together. Then we incubate that
dreamscape and an image of the other person. Some people have
reported success in this technique; the achievement was verified
when they met during wakefulness and discovered that their dreams
had indeed occurred in an identical location and that the
activities in both people's dreams were similar.
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