Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Bad" dreams and trash dreams


I've often said that dreams - including scary dreams and nightmares - are not on our case but on our side, in the sense that they show us things we need to see and to deal with.
    However, I am not of the opinion that all night experiences come in the service of health and wholeness, except in the sense that we can regard anything that comes up in life as a possible learning experience.
    Every indigenous culture that I know teaches that there are bad things that can try to enter our space in the night, and bad neighborhoods in the dreamworld in which we can get mugged. Hence the dreamcatcher, originally a spider web, intended to catch and keep out bad dreams and bugs, and other apotropaic rituals and procedures, including prayer to divine guardians. Hence traditional rituals for dispersing the energy of a bad dream right away.
   The ancient Assyrians sought to remove the contamination of bad dreams by rubbing the body with a lump of earth that was believed to absorb the unwanted energy. The lump would then be destroyed, preferably by breaking it up and scattering it over running water, so the river would dissolve it and carry it away. In the Assyrian Dream Book, we read that someone who experienced a "dark" dream should pray and then

He shall take a lump of earth, he shall recite three times the conjuration over it, he shall throw it into water. His misfortune will depart. [A. Leo Oppenheim, The Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1956) p.301] 

    The Egyptians employed similar rituals for cleansing the dreamer of from the pollution of an evil dream. In the Chester Beatty papyrus, this involved (1) telling the dream to the Great Mother - here the goddess Isis - and invoking her help and protection and (2) rubbing the face and body with bread soaked in beer and infused with myrrh and herbs. This bread-sponge was believed to be highly effective for psychic cleansing. The ingredients may seem odd, until we remember that in the ancient mind, bread and beer are both the gift of the Goddess.
    Some traditional dreaming cultures teach that it is NOT a good idea to share a certain type of bad dream with others, because you don't want to dwell on it and feed it with the energy of your attention, or risk spreading psychic infection. In West Africa, a traditional practice to avert the evil of a dark dream is to spit it out right away, within telling anyone about it. In Bali, in Anatolia, and in other places, there are traditional practices that involve telling - and sometimes expectorating - "bad" dreams into running water.
    Then there are dreams that are not necessarily "bad" but don't deserve attention because they are trash left over from the night before. Hawaiians have a marvelous term for trash dreams. They call them "wild goatfish dreams". Goatfish is something Hawaiians like to eat, in the right way, in the right season. But a "wild goatfish dream" - like a spicy pizza dream - is occasioned by eating the wrong way at the wrong time, and is not to be valued, but rather thrown away among the leavings of the previous night.
    As everyday practice, I would counsel anyone who feels oppressed by a bad dream to spit it out. I do mean literally. Spit it out on the ground or down the toilet. If you feel that's not enough, draw the dream image and burn it. Then think carefully about whether you really need to spend more time with that troubling night experience, and whether it is really necessary to inflict it on others. I am reminded that it was the wisdom of some Irish grandmothers, on both sides of the big pond, that you should not tell your dreams before breakfast unless you want them to come true.

1 comment:

nina said...

I guess in indigenous cultures connected with Mother Earth in a very direct way people literally felt as children of Earth.
They intuitively knew that She was a great transformer of all negative energies, including from dreams.
In fact, these cultures didn´t always call negative energy negative in our sense. I don´t know much about it but for example Q´ero Indians talk about two kinds of energy: sami and hucha. Sami is a pure, light energy and hucha is heavy, dense or untidy.By the Andean tradition hucha is created only by human beings who aren´t yet in a perfect mutual harmony with each other and with spiritual realms.
Anyway, the best way to get rid of messy energy is to give it to Pachamama. For Her it is a kind of food She adores and in return She supplies a practitioner who does purification with pure energy, sami.
So maybe sometimes it would be interesting, after spiting out a bad dream, wait a while for a response from Mother Earth.
Who knows, we might be very surprised by Her positive, lovely feedback :-).