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The Types of Dreams

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  1. Recurring dreams.  
  2. Nightmares.  
  3. Dreams regarding physical health. 
  4. Precognitive dreams.  
  5. Mutual dreams. 

Recurring dreams.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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."


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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 disturbed us.
  7. 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 nightmare consciously.
  8. 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.

Dreams regarding physical health. (This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical care.)  

  1. 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 dream.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 period.
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

  1. 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 weather forecast."
  2. 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.
  3. 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 wakeful life.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 project.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 anticipate.
  8. 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 campaigns.
    • 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 murder Caesar!"
    • 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 empire.
    • 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 landscape today.
    • 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 world.

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 independently.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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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