Dreamwork 101

Usually when I write a blog post I have consumed a lot of media on the topic and can cite sources. This time, I am just sharing my own experience. Do with this what you will.

What is a Dream?

When you sleep, you have different sleep phases. Rapid Eye Movement sleep, or REM, is the phase of sleep we call dreaming. If you are the kind of person to sleep for 8+ hours, you will cycle through this phase 2-3 time per night. During REM, your brain is firing off a lot of signals but the singals that move your body have been shut off. That way you don’t flail around in your bed while dreaming of running away from a giant bee.

My goals as a dreamer are

  1. to remember some of my dreams
  2. to interpret the dream
  3. to minimize the number of nightmares and sleep disturbances

I am not interested in total control over my dream space. I actually had a dream in high school where I negotiated with my dreamspace. I get to control my dream body, I surrender control of my environment. It has worked well so far, allowing me to shapeshift and fight back against threats in my dreams on several occasions.

Remembering Dreams

Hands down the best way to remember your dreams is to keep a dream journal. Leave a pen and notebook on your nightstand, and try to write down what you can remember right when you wake up. Be prepared for your first couple journals to be illegible and inscrutable. My first dream journal was pages and pages of scribbles with a few scattered words and some nonsensical phrases. It will take some time to really remember.

One way you can kickstart yourself into remembering is to purposefully interrupt your last REM cycle for the night. Pick a day where you have no responsibilities. Set alarms for 2 hours before you wake up naturally and then for every 15 minutes after that until your normal wake up time. I don’t reccomend doing this too often as it might throw off your sleep cycle.

The other thing you can do is talk to a trained herbalist about Mugwort. Used properly, mugwort can cause very vivid dreams that are easier to remember. It’s a pretty safe herb to use, but like a kitchen knife you can hurt yourself if you don’t know what the pointy end does. I will say, as someone who has an herbalist for a partner, that mugwort dreams are not exactly the same as dreams you remember without it, so bear that in mind.

Interpreting Dreams

I believe that 90% of our dreams are us emotionally processing the previous day or other past events. For myself, the last 10% are made up of a few different kinds of dreams: wish fulfillment, stress, messages, and spirit contact. It seems that what happens is that the brain photoshops (for lack of a better term) a bunch of sensory information you have stored in your brain together to make experiences which represent your emotional reality. For this reason, I don’t believe in dream interpretation books where they give lists of meanings and symbols. No two people have the same symbol set, and a symbol may have different meanings in different dreams. 

The trick I use is to focus less on the symbol and more on the emotion. If you feel scared when you wake up, it was probably a stress dream. If you feel longing, it was probably wish fulfillment. The better you get at identifying where different feelings sit in your body, the easier it will be for you to interpret the dream. Earlier in my dreamwork, I would write down my dream, focusing on the major symbols. “LEGOS SKATE PARK PITTSBURGH,” is an example. Then a few hours later, I would see what I felt in my body. For this dream it was longing and a hint of certainty. Then I looked at what had happened the day before. In this case, I had told my father I wanted to go to Michigan for college. 

What the dream was telling me is that I really wanted to go to Pittsburgh. That the time I had spent there the summer before had felt good, and I should go back. I told my dad I changed my mind. He was fine with it. I have no regrets. If I had focused on the legos and the feeling of rollerskating over a rough surface, I wouldn’t have gotten the message. The feeling I was supposed to get from them was the freedom of leaving gravity behind for a few moments at a time.

Another example. I dreamt of being chased by a bee. I am allergic, so this is a nightmare. I wake up and the second I sit up my arm falls down. I am almost unable to move it and it is numb. Was I attacked by bee demons in my sleep? No. My body is trying to wake me up so I don’t lose my arm to a lack of bloodflow. I spent a few minutes slowly moving my hand in and out of a fist to make sure blood was getting places and then fell back asleep.

This brings me to the tricky part. In order to interpret dreams like this, you have to know what it feels like in your body to be in sacred space. That feeling is key to interpreting dreams with spirit contact. To me, spirit contact and message dreams have the same sense of awe as walking into an old growth forest or an empty church. A lot of people think waking up in a panic means you had contact with an antagonizing spirit. My experience has been that antagonizing spirits feel like annoyances or problems to be solved and less like your Absolute Worst Fear.

Sleep Hygeine

The first trick to minimizing nightmares is good old fashioned sleep hygeine. Learn your sleep cycle. If you are lucky enough to go to college or to get a month off where you don’t have to work, that is a perfect time to sleep when you are sleepy and wake up when you are done sleeping. Be kind to your sleep cycle, because the chance you will have a sleep cycle that lines up with a schedule where you make money for bills is low.

Wash your sheets on a regular basis. Cleanse your room when you do. Don’t use your bed for activites that aren’t sleeping or sex. Try meditations that relax you into sleeping. There are lots of podcasts out there for trouble sleeping like Sleep With Me. Get blackout curtains if you need them. Don’t give yourself a hard time if you have to check all the locks in the house before going to bed.

It’s boring, but it helps.

Nightmares

If I wake up from a nightmare, the first thing I do is check my body. Did I sleep on something funny? Do I need water? Restroom? Am I nauseated? Did I sleep past an alarm? The next thing I do is a common sense check: is there something that happened recently or is going to happen soon that causes me fear? Then, I flip my pillow, adjust my blankets, and try to go back to sleep. Frequent nightmares can be a symtpom of PTSD, so contact a therapist if you have the ability to do so.

Magic to ward off nightmares is really easy. Keep your space cleansed and warded. I take my wards down once a year around the Feast of St John the Baptist to refresh the energy. Your mileage will vary. If you believe you are having nightmares due to bad energy, it may be time to cleanse and refresh your wards. 

The other trick you can use is a pain in the butt, but its supposed to work really well. Keep a fresh glass of water on your nightstand but do not drink it. You can add salt if you want a reminder not to drinkt he water. Every day when you wake up, use your non-dominant hand to pour the water down the drain.

You can decorate pillowcases with protective symbols. I slept on one that was painted as a kid and it worked for me. You can also make sleep sachets to place in the pillowcase. Quartzes work well, especially amethyst. Lavender and rose are supposed to bring deeper sleep. Mugwort and bay leaf are supposed to increase your ability to remember. If you have an old skeleton key, those are also supposed to help open doors.

Okay the Fun Stuff

If learning how to receive messages in your dreams after years of practice wasn’t cool enough, let’s talk about a few other party tricks. The techniques and actions I take in dreams are largely my knee-jerk reactions. So things you don’t practice, you might not be able to do in dreams.

Gaining abilities in your dreams can happen but it takes work. Once you get the hang of dreaming and visionary states, you can kind of create a tunnel between them. You notice the similarities between the symbolic sensory language of the two experiences. You look for shared images. (Ex Bees are fear, water is holy). Then, as you learn to engage with your waking visions, some of that will translate to dreams. Doing this, I have been able to shapeshift, cast circle, throw lightning/fire, and jump anime character distances. Video games translate really well for me into dreams, and I curate my video game playing experiences accordingly.

I have had success matching my breathing to my partners’ while falling asleep in order to help pull them into deeper sleep states. I gave that up a few partners ago because it got tiring to do all the time. 

There is a breathing technique I picked up which I use to wake myself up from inside bad dreams every so often. I can’t explain it in text, unfortunately.

Summary

Dream work takes work. It takes practice. A lot of it isn’t flashy, and when you do something cool it doesn’t matter to anyone but you. That being said, it is a practice that will put a stronger spine on a lot of other practices, especially scrying + augury. 

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