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Dreams, Lucid Dreaming and Out of Body Experiences

Author: Rhys Chisnall
Posted: October 28th. 2012
Times Viewed: 3,754

We all dream, every night, although we may not always remember them. Dreams occur in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) state of consciousness that occurs in sleep. This is when the brain activity is high and resembles being awake. Apparently dreams can also occur in other stages of sleep but these dreams tend to be less vivid and so less likely to be remembered. Dreams, when they occur, can last between a few seconds and 20 minutes or so and the average person has between 3 to 5 dreams a night, although some people have up to 7. This works out that in 8 hours of sleep, 2 hours are spent dreaming. Most dreams are the sorting out of information from the day’s events. According to a recent article in the New Scientists, sleeping is essential for laying down long-term episodic memories in the hippocampus. Crick and Mitchison argue that dreams work as a defragging system of the brain, as a way of ‘unlearning’ useless information while a study in 2001 argued that dreams strengthen semantic memory, i.e. memories about facts.

So why are Witches concerned with dreams? At another level of analysis, the famous Austrian Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud argued that dreams were the ‘royal road to the unconscious’. Dreams, in his view, give us an insight into our psyche, our inner world through which we make meaning and experience the outer one. Therefore dreams help us to understand ourselves and how we interact with the rest of the world. For Freud, dreams represent unconscious desires and anxieties (usually sexually based) . For example, he tells the story of a patient who dreamt that she throttled a little white-haired dog. Obviously this was a traumatic dream for the dreamer, but Freud interpreted it that he patient wanted to throttle a white-haired relative who was a constant source of annoyance.

Carl Jung, on the other hand, argued that some dreams are attempts by the unconscious to compensate or alert the dreamer to a deficiency or one sidedness in their conscious ego life. Jung argued that the dynamic force within the psyche was wholeness and integration. For Jung, some dreams contained symbolic messages for the dreamer, which if heeded to lead to improvements to the dreamers conscious life. A famous example of this comes from Jung’s book, “Modern Man in Search of a Soul”, where he described a mountain climber who dreamed that he had stood off a cliff into the void. Jung interpreted this that the man’s unconscious warning him of an imbalance in his conscious life and Jung warned the man to lay off mountain climbing for a while. Needless to say, as in all good stories, the man did not heed the warning and a couple of months later fell to his death.

For Jung, not all dreams were significant. Jung was particularly interested in reoccurring dreams and very vivid dreams, which he described as big dreams. He argued that these dreams had particular significance for the dreamer. For example, Jung described a dream he had of a house, where he explored the upstairs, which was bright and airy. He went down stairs, which contained older furniture and fixtures. He then went down into the cellar, which he described as 16th century in style, where he discovered a couple of old decaying skulls. In Jung’s dream, the house represented the psyche, which the upstairs being the ego, and subsequent levels being the levels of the unconscious, the first being filled with personal history, and the second being the collective unconscious that all in our species share. It is from this collective unconscious that the instincts and images common to all mankind, no matter time and location, formed by our evolutionary history emerge. It is from here that archetypal images and ideas enter our dreams, making them these big dreams.

As we are aware by now, there is no limit to the archetypes within the collective unconscious; perhaps this is because what counts are an archetype is subjective. However well known archetypes include the personas, the shadow, the self and the anima/animus. Jung argued that these aspects of our own psyche are represented in dreams as human figures or possibly animals. As such the shadow complex, which is an archetypal figure and forms our personal unconscious, is often represented by a sinister figure of the same gender of the dreamer.

When I first started doing shadow work and did my training with Dave and Tricia, I had a reoccurring dream in which I was pursued by a shark. I interpreted the shark in my dream as my shadow and then, by practising lucid dreaming, I was able to accept the shark as part of myself, rather than fleeing from it in the non conscious dream state. The anima and animus are often portrayed as member of the opposite gender to the dreamer.

For Jung, dreams portrayed the same kind of images as are portrayed in mythology. The reason is that dreams and mythology all arise from the same place, the collective unconscious. Both dreams and myth work through a symbolic language, which can have multiple, rather than one interpretation. It could be argued then that mythology is a culture’s dream images.

Jung tended to be suspicious of the dream dictionary approach as employed by Freudian dream interpretation and argued that the dream needed to be interpreted in respect to its context and content all of which is going to be different for each person. So what happened in the dream? What is the story and how do the other characters in the dream act towards the dreamer? For example in a Freudian dream analysis of someone’s dream of a snake will always be interpreted as a penis. For Freud phallic like objects signified a phallus, which perhaps from Kelly’s personal constructs perspective says more about Freud than the dreamer.

From a Jungian perspective it depends on the context of the dreamer’s life. For example, if the dreamer has a fear of snakes it might represent an aspect of that person’s shadow life. If they are fond of snakes and keep them as pets, it might refer to an aspect of the ego or even the individuated self. It all depends. The story of the dream also makes a difference to what the dreams mean. This means there are no hard or fast rules, and different people would interpret the same dream differently. For Jung it was the purpose of the dream, its teleology that was more informative than what caused it. In other words it was what is the message of the dream, what it is trying to tell you, rather than an explanation for what caused it.

Before you can start to interpret our dreams, you first have to remember them. There are one or two techniques that you can use to help you to do so. The first is to try to remember only a small part of the dream. This is called a dream hook. If you can remember your dream hook, it allows you to build up the rest of the dream for memory. The second technique is to keep a dream journal by your bed. Upon waking up from the dream, write it down straight away, before you forget.

Once you have kept you dream diary, it is best not to interpret them straight away. It is better to leave some time and have a go at interpreting the message later on. That way you can look more objectively at the context of your life at that particular time. When asked to interpret other people’s dreams, it is well worth asking the person what they feel the dream means first. This means that the person continues to take ownership of it and it also give you some insight into the context of their lives, which may be of relevance to the dream.

There are some people who believe that dreams are occasionally prophetic, meaning that they predict the future. I think that it is important to split these into two categories. The first category is those dreams that predict a future event, such as a natural disaster or car crash which the person is not directly or indirectly involved with. The second category predicts an illness, danger and death either within the dreamer, or within someone they know well.

Richard Wiseman (2011) , a psychologist who is especially interested in so called paranormal experiences, makes a convincing argument for why people believe they have dreamt the future. The chances of a single person dreaming of a disaster, say a pile up on the M1 within a week of it happening are incredibly low. You would simply not expect it to happen. However the chances of say 100 people out of the 70 million inhabitants of the UK dreaming of such an event within a week of an event happening is much higher. However the fact that a person dreamt of an event before it happened is still going to be of meaning and value to the dreamer as it represents a subjective meaning as opposed to the objective meaning of the statistics. It is also important to figure in the fluid and dynamic processes of memory as well, for example a dreamer may dream about a helicopter crash, or a car crash, but after hearing about a plane crash on the news, remembers the dream as a plane crash. What this means is that is statistically highly likely that at least a few people will have dreamt of something resembling an actual disaster before it happened.

The second category of prophetic dreaming is to my mind far more significant to Witches. It seems to me from a cognitive perspective that it is highly likely that information received through the senses can be processed unconsciously and the pattern recognition and inference be presented to consciousness as a dream. So someone dreaming that a parent (or self) will become seriously ill has picked up subtle clues from interacting with the parent (or self) , which manifest as dreams. It is also entirely possible that unconscious inferred knowledge of dangerous behaviour of a person, who is not present, may manifest itself as warning dreams. These kinds of dreams will seem strange and surprising to the dreamer when they turn out to be true, but to my mind there is no need to infer a supernatural agency at work. It seems to me that the naturalistic explanations are amazing and wonderful enough. It also suggests that some people are much better at this kind of instinctive pattern recognition than others. But we also have to remember that sometimes our hunches (and dreams) are not always right.

Lucid dreaming is where the dreamer knows that they are dreaming and can change the dream according to will. There has been quite a bit about lucid dreaming in the media and it is a well-attested phenomenon, which has and is being investigated scientifically. While lucid dreaming can be used for entertainment purposes, for example visiting what you imagine a Caribbean beach or sleeping with your favourite celebrity, it can also be used for exploring your inner world.

Lucid dreaming occurs when there is greater activity in the parietal lobes of the brain indicating that it is a conscious process while still being asleep. There are several ways of inducing lucid dreaming based firstly around the dreamer becoming aware that they are dreaming during the dream. This is the method that I tend to use. Once the dreamer is aware they are dreaming they can then change the dream to suit themselves. The second way of inducing lucid dreaming is to go straight from consciousness into a dream. There is a considerable amount of information on the Internet on lucid dreaming and how to do it.

Techniques include, asking yourself through the day whether you are dreaming. This should transfer into your dream state, where the answer will be yes and will hopefully induce consciousness. You could also try keeping a dream diary, looking for any reoccurring themes, which you may recognise while dreaming. You could change your sleep patterns to match the most likely time to have lucid dreaming. Lucid dreams are most strongly associated with sleep just before you wake up. Set the alarm so it will wake you up 4 ½, 6 or 7 ½ hours after you fall asleep. When you wake up try to remember as much of the dream as possible and then imagine that you are returning to the previous dream while saying’ I am aware that I am dreaming’. Do this until it has sunk in and then go back to sleep. If random thought pop into your mind while trying to sleep, restart again. Often the longer it takes the more time it will have to sink in.

Perhaps the most successful technique is the wake and back to bed technique. Set your alarm for five hours after falling asleep. Fall asleep and wake up when the alarm goes off. Stay up for an hour and focus on lucidity alone, then go back to sleep using the MILD technique.

Related to lucid dreaming are Out of Body experiences. OBE’s and astral projection are also commonly attested phenomenon currently researched by science. Out of body experiences are where people have the feeling that they are leaving their body and perceive themselves from the outside. Many people have had this kind of experience and some people are more prone to them than others. For some people it works as a defence mechanism if their body is undergoing a severe trauma, while other people seem to be able to do it for fun. They were once seen as proof of a dualistic split between body and mind, but research now shows that these experiences are induced in the brain.

The world famous neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran in his book ‘Phantoms in the Brain’ demonstrated how the brain can be tricked into believing that a rubber hand was part of the body. In Sweden, the neuroscientist Bigna Lenggenhauer has been able to induce a sense of embodiment within the body of another person. Henrik Ehrsson of Karolinska University in Sweden has demonstrated that it is possible to induce out of body experiences in the lab by the using head mounted cameras. Research by Olaf Blanke in Switzerland found that it is possible to reliably induce OBEs by stimulating regions of the brain called the right temporal-parietal junction (where the temporal lobe and parietal lobe of the brain come together) .

It seems that out of body experiences can be induced by three methods. The First method is via mental techniques such as deep meditation and trance. A similar technique was used by Thomas Edison to tackle problems while working on his inventions. He would rest a silver dollar on his head while sitting with a metal bucket in a chair. As he drifted off, the coin would noisily fall into the bucket, restoring some of his alertness. The Spanish artist Salvador Dalí was said to have used a similar "paranoiac-critical" method to gain odd visions, which inspired his paintings. Deliberately teetering between awake and asleep states is known to cause spontaneous trance episodes at the onset of sleep, which are ultimately helpful when attempting to induce an OBE.

The psychologist Susan Blackmore (1982) , who had her own out of body experience, argues that they are most likely to occur when the brain becomes habituated to sensory information. For example, when we chew gum, the flavour does not go; rather our brains become habituated to the flavour and no longer recognise it. When we are in a deep state of relaxation, the brain becomes habituated to the low level of signals from the body, which can lead to an out of body experience.

The second method is through mechanical means, such as the use of Persinger’s electromagnetic helmet and Blanke’s brain stimulation techniques. Finally there is the chemical method using certain drugs. There is something of a tradition in magic of the use of flying ointments to induce out of body experiences. These flying ointments contain psychoactive herbs such as deadly nightshade, cinquefoil, cannabis and liberty cap. Care is required when using flying ointments. Firstly some of the ingredients such as cannabis are illegal which means that in purchasing it you are supporting criminals, some of which are very unpleasant people (this matters if you think of yourself as an ethical consumer) . Secondly, some the plants used, like deadly nightshade, hemlock, datura and henbane can be very poisonous and a misdose can result in death. The amount of the psycho-tropic biochemistry within the plants can vary, making judging the right dosage difficult. Thirdly, it takes little discipline to use them. These flying ointments are a short cut, but their use means that you do not learn the techniques and disciplines of occultism. Finally they may not leave you with the ability to exercise control over your out of body experience. If you do wish to try flying ointments always do so in the company of someone who knows what they are doing.

Related to out of body experiences is astral projection, this is where out of body experiences are used to do deep level pathworking or shamanic journeying. Essentially it is used to explore the semantic landscape of the inner planes. Astral projection is also a technique used by ceremonial magicians when they pathwork the tree of life. In the Craft it can be induced in trance either by the use of a Witches cradle, which is a form of sensory deprivation and disorientation device, or possible through use of the scourge. However, most often Crafters, if they are so minded, will use mental techniques such as meditation to induce it.

Blackmore, S, (1982) , Beyond the Body: An Investigation into Out of Body Experiences, Paladin Grafton Books,
Jung, C, (1968) , Man and His Symbols, Turtleback Books
Jung, C, (2001) , Modern Man in Search of his Soul, Routledge Classics
Ramachandaran, V and Blakeslee, S, (1999) , Phantoms of the Mind, Fourth Estate
Wiseman, R, (2011) , Paranormality: Why We See What Isn’t There, Macmillian


Rhys Chisnall

Location: Stowmarket, England


Author's Profile: To learn more about Rhys Chisnall - Click HERE

Bio: Rhys lives with his wife in Suffolk in the UK. He runs a training group for those interested in Initiatory Witchcraft and is a member of a long established coven. He has a Ba (hons) in philosophy and psychology and works as a lecturer in a rural college where he teaches students with special educational needs.

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