Wednesday 24 April 2013

What is communicating in dreams? Self, divine, demonic?


It is striking how pervasive is the idea of dreams as a potential source of enlightenment, of information, and especially of divine revelations.

This is found among 'shamans' in animistic religions; and other mystics in many religions. And also within the Bible, for example in the New Testament, Joseph (earthly father of Jesus) was one whose dreams repeatedly brought divine revelations:



1: 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

2: 13-14 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

19-20 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life.


It seems that altered states of consciousness are conducive to divine revelations - but why would this be?

And are these revelations most likely to benign, divine and true; or may dream revelations also be the be evil, demonic and false?


My current understanding is that most dreams, most of the time, for most people have no deep meaning - nor are they divine in origin.

What seems to happen during dreaming sleep is that the mind is cut-off from the environment - the senses are, more or less, ignored - and the  material generated during sleep - parts of which may be remembered as dreams - comes from our memory.

In sum - during dreaming sleep the content of consciousness comes from inside (memories) rather than outside (senses).


But, most cultures, and most Christians in particular, would acknowledge that the material of dreams could, in principle, also come from divine, from spiritual sources.

And I think there is a kind-of-consensus that spiritual influences in dreams are mostly benign, divine and true; and that it is exceptional, unusual and extreme for spiritual influences during sleep to be evil, demonic and false.  


This seems to have been the view held by JRR Tolkien, as expressed in the mouth of his alter ego Ramer in the The Notion Club Papers

'Aren't some of the [dream] visitors malicious?' said Jeremy. 'Don't evil minds attack you ever in sleep?'

'I expect so,' said Ramer. 'They're always on the watch, asleep or awake. But they work more by deceit than attack. I don't think they are specially active in sleep. Less so, probably. I fancy they find it easier to get at us awake, distracted and not so aware. The body's a wonderful lever for an indirect influence on the mind, and deep dreams can be very remote from its disturbance...

'But there does come sometimes a frightening... a sort of knocking at the door: it doesn't describe it, but that'll have to do. I think that is one of the ways in which that horrible sense of fear arises: a fear that doesn't seem to reside in the remembered dream-situation at all, or wildly exceeds it...

'That situation may have various explanations here. But out (or down) there sometimes the mind is suddenly aware that there is a night outside, and enemies walk in it: one is trying to get in. But there are no walls,' said Ramer sombrely. 'The soul is dreadfully naked when it notices it, when that is pointed out to it by something alien. It has no armour on it, it has only its being.

'But there is a guardian. He seems to command precipitate retreat. You could, if you were a fool, disobey, I suppose. You could push him away. You could have got into a state in which you were attracted by the fear. But I can't imagine it.'


The implication seems to be that 'secular dreams' are to do with the self, its experiences and memories; but in some people in some situations there may be revelatory dreams of divine origin.

While a revelation may be misinterpreted, perhaps only people of exceptional and deliberate depravity would be expected to experience revelatory dreams from malicious sources (demonic, evil-intending); and such people would usually bring the evil into the dream from their re-experienced memories.


But why during sleep? Why should divine communications not happen more when people are awake and alert?

The answer is, I think, merely that sleep is the time when our mind is most closed off from its environment, this where other sources of 'noise' are at a minimum.

Spiritual communications are therefore clearer and stand-out better against the background in altered states of consciousness such as sleep - and relevant and significant divine revelation is usually remembered even during during sleep, despite that normal dream contents may rapidly be forgotten.


Tuesday 23 April 2013

Words versus pictures - Tolkien versus Lewis


JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis were both dreamers, who used dream material in their stories - but the way in which they did this was very different, just as the atmosphere and feel of their books is very different.

Tolkien was a philologist through-and-through, whose writings came from his reflections on words and their history and derivations (see TA Shippey, The Road to Middle Earth).

In other words, Tolkien's stories were generated by the narratives of the words and the relationship between words in different languages - his stories often originated in inferences about how a word came to means what it did in a particular time and place.

Some of these words and languages apparently came to Tolkien during sleep- at least, if we believe that the experiences of Tolkien's alter-egos Ramer and Lowdham of The Notion Club Papers were based on Tolkien's own personal experiences. 

That is to say, Tolkien's writing was an elaboration of mini-narratives - and the basic unit of his stories was, if not words and their history, little sequences of events


By contrast, Lewis seems to have worked from single, snapshot-like pictures, which he often saw in nightmares and dreams, and remembered (even though he often wished he did not have to remember them)

Other examples I recall having been attributed to Lewis's dreams are the Faun and lamp post in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Floating Islands in Perelandra and (I think) the 'stinging man' in the unfinished Dark Tower.

Lewis then consciously 'manufactured' stories to link between the pictures.


I think his may explain why Tolkien was the better and purer storyteller of the two.

Tolkien's stories were dynamic narratives in their essence and origin, while the story element of Lewis serves to link the primary entities which were either static pictures, or else arguments and philosophical ideas.

So, Lewis's novels tend to break up into collages of set pieces and mini-essays (particularly apparent in That Hideous Strength)

...while Tolkien's are true and multi-stranded narratives - as would be expected frm a philologist.