Animist Blog Carnival — Dreams

The March Animist Blog Carnival, on the theme of dreams, is hosted at Pray to the Moon.

We have a more modest collection of writings for this month. But, being an avid dreamer, I am not at all surprised. I find more often than not, when I begin to prattle about dreams, the response is invariably, “I don’t dream,” or “I never/rarely remember my dreams.” However, I also find that those people who are in tune with the dreamworld never disappoint in their storytelling.

A Dream, a Dog, and a Forest Fire

A forest fire burning above Hardscrabble Creek.

Last Monday, the 22nd, I came home from a week-long trip. On Tuesday, I was temporarily homeless, a condition that persisted until Friday.

Tuesday’s weather was warm and windy, with the highest gust in the area clocked at 79 mph. Somehow — I still have not heard the definitive story — a tree hit a power line or a power line hit a tree . . . or something — and a raging forest fire began.

Within an hour, fourteen houses plus barns, sheds, etc., near mine had been erased. Eventually that night the fire burned 2,100 acres (850 ha).

M. and I were 45 minutes’ drive away when we saw the smoke. I brandished my county-issued volunteer firefighter ID card, and we passed through four road blocks.

When we arrived home, she quickly left again with the dogs, her favorite faux leather jacket, her laptop computer, a sack of dog food, a bag of apples, a bottle of wine, and the clothes on her back.

She was not sure where she was going, since the road to town was closed to “civilian” traffic.

I left home dressed in my wildland-fire gear, with my laptop too, and also my bunker gear in case I had to face a structure fire. As it happened, it was too late to save any houses — I ended up working until about 9 p.m. chasing spot fires that kept multiplying in the trees along the dry stream bed of Hardscrabble Creek.

I talk about the experience at Southern Rockies Nature Blog here, here, and here.

But there is a part that I left out in that blog.

On the night of the 19th, I believe it was, sleeping my friend’s slightly haunted house* in a small North Dakota prairie town, I had a dream.  In the dream, M. and I were at a house in the woods, although it was not our house and not our woods.

The house had a long gravel driveway (as does ours), and M. was setting up a card table beside it in order to eat a meal out in the sunshine (as we sometimes do). Standing on the steps, I looked down the driveway past her and saw a large tawny animal.

“Wow, that’s a big coyote,” I thought. Then I realized that it was a sort of bleached-out-looking tiger. I wanted her to come to the house right away.

In the morning, I tried to think about associations with tigers. True, we had recently watched the “Siberian Tiger Quest” episode of Nature. (It is excellent.) Otherwise, the only thing that came to mind was William Blake’s poem that starts,

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,

Burning. Forests.

I told M. about my dream during the time when we were staying at a motel 15 miles away, me commuting to the fire house, and she spoke of something that struck her oddly.

At a house about 250 yards away lives a chocolate Lab named Boone. We hear him bark now and then. But on Monday night he bayed all night long, so persistently that M. shut the bedroom window, turned on a fan, and muttered about his stupid owners who would not bring him indoors.  If I ever hear him bay through the night again, I am going to be very nervous.

I do think that events cast their shadows before them, but it is so hard sometimes to know what the shadows signify.

* I will discuss the “haunted” part soon. It was a post that I had meant to write this week.

The Dream Philosophical Academy

Three night ago, I was dreaming that someone was lecturing on some sort of gnostic philosophy. “Gnostic” was the term used in the dream, although it might not have been appropriate.

The lecturer drew a distinction between the Pagan view of “remembering” the soul’s perfection, versus a Christian approach of attempting to become more and more perfect.

The former, at least, seems like fairly mainstream Platonic teaching.

All this was followed by a very cinematic dream about a young man returning by train to his home town in Wyoming. Since Amtrak does not serve Wyoming, and since it seemed that through CGI that the Wind River Range had been moved closer to the town, it was clear that I was dreaming.

The way I figure it, I had just joined the Association for the Study of Esotericism because of some new projects that I am pursuing, and they were just getting my coordinates into their dream-projector.

A Movie That Takes Dreaming Seriously

The best part about watching movies in the little mountain town is that after driving the four-block length of Main Street, we enter the darkness, winding through hills and a long canyon, then a mile of gravel road, and then home.

It lets the movie’s spell slowly fade, which is helpful after watching Inception.

(The second-best thing is that the little theatre’s sound-system does not rattle your fillings, unlike a typical Tinseltown movie box.)

In the game of describing movies in terms of other movies, I thought of a hyperdimensional Flatliners with the Gnostic overtones of The Matrix and a faint, faint whiff of Lost Horizon.

Anne Hill, who has better access than I to first-run movies, blogged about Inception last month.

Today [unlike the ancients], we say that we “had” a dream, and believe that dreams come from within us, like a cough, a bad mood, or a stirring in our souls. We worry that dreams reveal something disturbed in our psychological makeup, or we try to explain them away by saying they are just random brain activity. “Inception’s” success as a thriller stems in part from turning the tables on our “scientific” understanding of dreams, and bringing back the more archaic fear of dream-meddling from without.

She links to Robert Waggoner, who writes on lucid dreaming—read his post, “Ten Things I Like about Inception.”

If you step outside of Plato’s physical cave and stumble into Plato’s lucid dream cave, who’s to know?

I still think that not enough teaching about the Craft talks about dreaming and its power. Even though Inception is mostly about corporate espionage, exploding cars, shoot-outs, and derring-do, I admire a movie that takes the dreaming world(s) seriously as realms that interact with this one.

Do you know if you are dreaming right now?

Video Gaming and Lucid Dreaming

Some researchers think that playing video games may help dreamers to have and control lucid dreams more ably.

The first study suggested that people who frequently played video games were more likely to report lucid dreams, observer dreams where they viewed themselves from outside their bodies, and dream control that allowed people to actively influence or change their dream worlds – qualities suggestive of watching or controlling the action of a video-game character.

. . . .

Virtual reality simulators have already been used to help PTSD patients gradually adjust to the threatening situations that plague their waking and sleeping thoughts. If [Jayne] Gackenbach’s hunch is correct, perhaps video games could also help relieve the need for nightmares.

As I recall, Jaron Lanier, the computer scientist credited with inventing the term “virtual reality,” once said that he had hoped that VR technology would be used to give people practice in navigating after-death states of consciousness, what the Tibetan Book of the Dead calls the bardo states.

But that was not what the market wanted, apparently.

Gallimaufry with Grosbeaks

Black-headed grosbeak, evening grosbeak, downy woodpecker. Photo by Chas S.  Clifton

First black-headed grosbeak of the season (left).

If it’s Beltane, why I am still splitting firewood? Usually I observe the rhythms of the “Celtic” year by turning off the furnace at Beltane and relighting it at Samhain, using just supplemental wood heat otherwise. Not this year.

But during a brief sunny interval yesterday morning, the first black-headed grosbeak of the season landed on a feeder, and I snapped a quick picture through the window. That’s a downy woodpecker on the shadowed side, and up above, facing the camera, a male evening grosbeak—they have been hanging around for a couple of months, an unusual “irruption,” as birders say.

Other stuff:

•  The Beltania music festival happens next weekend, just down the road. The weather still looks iffy. A friend on a Colorado Pagan email list said that spring weather is “manic depressive.”  My own mental image for Beltane is snow on lilac blossoms.

• I liked this quote from an interview with Lon Milo DuQuette at Patheos:

I have a new book coming out in November (from Llewellyn) titled Low Magick — It’s All in Your Head, You Just Have No Idea How Big Your Head Is. It’s autobiographic and contains stories of magickal operations I’ve done over the years. The title is a bit tongue-in-cheek, facetiously using the term “Low Magick” to refer to any magickal operation one actual performs rather than those one just talks or argues about.

• Jonathan Ott, who gave us the world “entheogen,” had his home destroyed by fire, needs help.

• An article on depression and dreams offers this:

In the 1970s, psychologists noted that people suffering from depression also report more dreams than average. In fact, people who are clinically depressed may dream three or four times as much. The quality of REM dreams (also called “paradoxical sleep”) is different too: more intense emotions, more negative themes, more nightmares, and more unpleasant dreams, in general.

And consequently depressed people often sleep worse. It’s a vicious circle.  Processed food is also linked to depression—another vicious circle. Feel low -> eat worse, etc.

• The Pagan Newswire Collective has two new group blog projects: The Juggler, on the arts, and Warriors & Kin, about issues facing past and current Pagan military personnel. They will be added to my blogroll.

Gallimaufry with Distinctions

• Ule-Alfarrin (a/k/a Robin Artisson, if I am not mistaken) lists differences between “New Ager” and “Heathen.” I like this one:

13. Almost no one who in the course of their religious practice, takes a first, middle, or last name which is the same as an animal, a plant, a weather-based phenomenon, an element, a mineral, or a combination of any of those things can speak for me, nor do they likely believe anything like me.

Being a Heathen is often about making such distinctions, ja?

• Anne Johnson discusses building fairy houses. She understands that the fairies are not always cute.

Talking to Unitarians about animism. I have to do something similar later this month.

• Anne Hill suggests two great books on dreams. She should know.

Are Epiphany Dreams Found only in the Past?

The Bryn Mawr Classical Review’s book-review feed recently served up a review of William V. Harris’s Dreams and Experience in Classical Antiquity
The reviewer writes,

Some combination of [cultural expectations, generic demands, and the imperatives of performance and publication.], Harris argues …  accounts for the relative frequency in antiquity of the epiphany dream, in which an authoritative figure visits the dreamer and makes a significant statement, and for its rarity in the post-Enlightenment West.

He goes on to argue that if readers say that they too have epiphany dreams, it don’t prove nuthin’:

No doubt some reader of this review is now saying, “But I had an epiphany dream just the other night!”  That is the problem with studying dreams:  one must work hard to free oneself from dependence on anecdote and from the powerful attraction that dreams have for those who dream them.  Appealing to concepts of “selfhood” or “personality” will only reinforce these tendencies by compelling the question, “What does this dream tell us about you?”  Harris chooses instead to concentrate on ancient descriptions of dreams and reports of actions based on them.  This is a book about dreaming, not about dreams; that is, about behavior and experience in antiquity, not about the ancient self.

If I tell it, it’s only an “anecdote,” but if someone back then wrote it, it’s a “description” and thus useful? But if you act upon the advice of the dream, does that count?

“Epiphany dreams” are not common, but when you have one, you know it.

My example (oops, an ancedote!) was a dream that — at a time when I was not consciously thinking about it — told me to quit my job and go to graduate school in religious studies.

When I awoke with the dream-voice echoing in my ears, I knew that “some god or daemon” had spoken. I immediately started researching university programs, thinking without irony that now I knew what was meant in those biblical accounts of “the Lord spake unto Abraham” or whomever.

Someone or something sure enough spake unto me, and I knew I had to follow the instructions. Or else.

Anyone else had a real epiphany dream? Show of hands? Yes, I thought so.

As to the academic study, there is, I have learned, an almost-complete disconnect between the academic study of ancient Paganism and the study of contemporary polytheism, Paganism, etc.

The former people are mostly in Classics and history, they have an academic heritage a couple of centuries old, and they publish in their own journals, attend their own conferences, and so on.

The latter field only began to take shape in the 1990s.

Some study of ancient Pagan religion does sneak into the Society of Biblical Literature, and when the SBL goes back to having its annual meeting together with the American Academy of Religion’s meeting in 2011, maybe, just maybe, there might some crossover.

Geomagnetic Dreams

Talk about your “earth energies” — based on his own dream records, a researcher believes that the solar wind might influence dreaming.

Looking for an explanation for recurring nightmares of leaving the house without your trousers on or losing your teeth? New research suggests you can blame the Earth’s magnetic field, rather than a repressed childhood.

Darren Lipnicki, a psychologist formerly at the Center for Space Medicine in Berlin, Germany, found a correlation between the bizarreness of his dreams, recorded over eight years, and extremes in local geomagnetic activity.

Commenters are skeptical about his methodology.

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