Tag Archives: dreams

Not being in control

There are all sorts of Pagan and otherwise spiritual activities that focus on being in control of something. There are strong associations in many traditions between being spiritual and being disciplined. Often what religious practices are for, is taking us away from our basic animal urges towards something more elevated.

How does this work with Paganism? Does it make any kind of sense to try and discipline ourselves away from our animal selves? We are animals, mammals – is it even possible for a human to do something that isn’t a reflection of our animal nature?

Perhaps part of this stems from the mistaken ideas we’ve had about what animals are and how they exist. We have a considerable history of reducing animals to meat machines that do everything unthinkingly, by instinct or by conditioning. This clearly isn’t true. There is so much evidence out there to demonstrate that mammals are thinking, feeling creatures and that we all have a lot in common on that score. 

Most mammals spend a lot of time resting. Humans often describe that in ways that assume laziness, or sensual indulgence. What we project onto animals has so much to do with wanting to feel superior to them. What we imagine when we see them not actively doing something, is that they are doing nothing. We don’t assume that a cat gazing into space is contemplating philosophy, or deeply involved in some spiritual practice. Just because we have to write books and read books and talk to each other a lot and try very hard to develop prayer and meditation practices doesn’t make it special. Maybe we aren’t superior for having figured this out, maybe we’re inferior because cats just crack on and do it anyway without needing the paperwork.

Being in control is itself often an illusion. We only think we are in control because we don’t understand the influences affecting us. We don’t realise what we’ve unconsciously absorbed, and which stories we are playing out, all too often. We like to feel busy and as though we are being productive and making progress. The more in control we appear to be, the more progress we feel like we’ve made.

I see this come up a lot with how people approach dreaming in a spiritual context. The value placed on controlling dreams bothers me a lot. It feels to me like a process of cutting down a vibrant ecosystem and replacing it with things we’ve planted in straight lines. That’s not progress. It is control and it takes away far more than it gives.

I think of dreaming as being a wild landscape. There is more to gain from entering that wild landscape without wanting to control it, I think. There’s a lot to be said for looking at anything humans have come up with and asking whether it is designed to try and take us away from our human, animal selves. Existence is not something to overcome, it’s something to embrace.

I have a dreaming book that isn’t about controlling things, more over here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-dreaming 


Messages from Dreams

The house I grew up in has always featured heavily in my dreams. In my teens, those dreams tended to involve me trying to escape from the house. Often the dream would end with me jumping out of a window.

In my twenties, having moved out I would dream that I was back in the house. I wouldn’t be able to remember where I now lived, or how to get there. I might escape the house, but then I would just be running, sometimes chased. At that point in my life my dreaming had reduced to a handful of anxiety nightmares. I wasn’t living in a good situation and it took me a long time to admit that, and to get out.

There weren’t so many house dreams in my thirties, and my dreaming became much more diverse and involved. I became as likely to dream about my grandmother’s house as I was about the parental home. The level of menace reduced.

I’m now seeing a new pattern. I am back in my childhood home. I leave of my own free will – not through windows or to run away. I go out through the back garden and into the field beyond. What exactly is beyond the field, varies. In real life there is woodland. Mostly in my dreams there are people, and otherworlds and adventures that have no connection to my childhood or my lived experiences. 

Those house dreams have always had a lot to tell me about myself. I didn’t always want to listen to what they had to say. The dream dictionary I had as a child said that when you dream about houses you are dreaming about yourself. I detest dream dictionaries. That house isn’t me. That house is about my past, my childhood, my sense of belonging. I haven’t found a house that could be me, although sometimes in dreams I go house hunting, and that feels like a really hopeful thing to be doing.


Some years ago I wrote a whole book about dreams and dream interpretation – you can find that over here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-dreaming


Dream Being – a story

You dream that you are walking through the city. The buildings are overrun with plants. Old bits of architecture peer through the vibrant new growth and you know this is not what you remember seeing. 

In the dream you remember those other, haunting images of cities that were barren grey wastelands. Inside the buildings was where the plants had gone ferociously wild. Leaves and flowers pressed to windows. And amongst them, sometimes, the decaying forms of the dead. You remember that the plants flourishing inside the skyscrapers were the reason people did not survive inside. The story went that the plants themselves breathed out carbon monoxide at night. You are not sure if that is possible. Maybe something else happened.

In the dream, you walk away from the city, and even as you leave you can hear that it is alive with birds now. You walk out into the desert. Once, there were fields and farms here, but those were dying when you were a child. Everything is dying. The ground beneath you is hard and what little rain falls runs off it in brief, devastating floods. 

Now you are dreaming about trees, and where your feet touch the exhausted soil, new growth springs up. You look back and see that your footprints are alive. It is your job now to make footprints, to dance life back into the desert. You spin, and spread your steps, knowing that what you plant on the ground with the soles of your feet will change everything when the rains come.

You remember that you are not who you thought you were. You forget who you used to be, because it no longer matters. Old grief falls away from you, because it must, because it is down to you to make life out of desolation and you are not prepared to fail in this.

(art by Dr Abbey, concepts from our joint project.)


Going to Granny’s House

It’s a theme that crops up in my writing, in poetry and fiction and here on the blog. Granny’s house in the woods, place of magic and transformation. It is both the house of Red Riding Hood’s grandmother and also Baba Yaga’s house, because I’ve seen them as the same for many years now.

I also go to my grandmother’s house when I dream. My maternal grandmother died more than a decade ago, and I haven’t been into that house since then. Five generations of my family have slept under that roof, so it feels a bit odd that now the house is home to people I don’t know.  As a teenager, I slept there. It was complicated for me – there was a lot I loved about both the house and my grandmother. But I was mostly considered a nuisance and living between two houses where I wasn’t much wanted.

When I dream about the house I lived in as a child, I only ever dream about trying to leave. For many years, this was one of a handful of anxiety dreams I had, and I dreamed of little outside those few recurring nightmares.

Dreams of my grandmother’s house are a bit more complicated. Often she is there, and I think this is part of my still working through the grief of not being wanted. We had quite a few rows in my last year or so there, because she didn’t really want me there – or at least gave that impression. With hindsight, I was an easy person to vent pain and frustration on, and maybe she didn’t believe I was serious about going. I don’t know. There are questions I never asked, and I remain a bit haunted by not knowing if she maybe cared for me more than I thought at the time. In recent years, a number of her friends have made a point of telling me how well my grandmother thought of me and how pleased she’d be with what I’m doing. I hope so.

I note that I only take the people I am closest to into dreams of my grandmother’s house. Without exception, these are people who have no knowledge of or, in my son’s case no real memory of the place. These are people I can only ever tell about that part of my life. I think there’s something in me that would dearly like to take them back and show them. I don’t know what any of that would look like to someone else.

Last night I took someone I love to my grandmother’s house, and I kissed them. In the dream, my grandmother was not there, and I knew she wasn’t there in a way that is different from other dreams. I don’t know if that means she won’t be coming back, or that I won’t be going back to the house. Something has changed. Perhaps it is simply that at this point in my life, the people who love me are larger and more significant presences than the people who did not love me in the way I needed when I was growing up.


Setting Intentions

Very early on in lockdown I was struck by an intuition. This is unusual for me – or at least has been for a good 15 years. There were a powerful set of things that all turned up together and were very clear. That the most important thing to do would be to figure out my priorities, and that there were some serious curve balls coming. At first, it looked like the curve balls would be the virus impact – and we’ve certainly had our share of those. But no, there was far more to it.

I started setting intentions. I’ve talked a little bit already here about an enormous personal project to change my relationship with my face and body – that’s going well for me, although I have a way to go.

As a household, we were already planning for disruption – the lad should have been doing A Levels this summer and should be off to university in the autumn. For now we can only wait to see what happens, and roll with whatever we get. Alongside this, Tom and I were planning a move to Wales where we could afford a larger property and a garden. Lockdown has left us in no doubt that we need a garden. Having no outside space of our own has been really hard. Wales is clearly on hold for now as an idea. And then the curve ball arced across our lives and Wales is on hold as an idea for the longer term as well.

One of the intentions we’ve collectively set is that we want to create a small film studio, doing silent, black and white movies with soundtracks and practical effects. That intention holds up. The camera that is the heart of the project has been sourced. People who want to be part of it for the longer term are making themselves known. Progress is being made on the Hopeless Maine film despite everything else going on – more information on that over here if you’re curious – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/category/hopeless-film/

It’s difficult to plan anything at the moment, life is so uncertain. But it is, I am finding, a really good time for asking big questions and setting intentions. Who am I and what do I want? How do I want to live? What do I want to do in the future, who do I want to do that with and who is willing to commit to me? Who do I really need? What do I really need? Which dreams should I nurture? What wild and unlikely things should I throw myself at, wholeheartedly?

One of the gifts of this strange time, is that it does not suggest doing sensible things. There’s little point planning the ordinary, and no reason to think things will ever go back to being quite how they were. It creates a space for thinking the unthinkable, for the wildest ideas and the most inspired dreams, the craziest desire and the biggest ambitions.

By the looks of it, I was right with that feeling that I really needed to figure out my priorities. I’m going to stay vague for now, but there have been reasons to rethink everything, and those reasons are inherently good and exciting. What can be imagined from here is not what I might have imagined a couple of months ago. And if my gut feeling is to be believed, that’s all the curve balls I need to field, and from here it’s a case of working out how to turn dreams into reality.


Building a thought form

Everything we do is rooted in an idea, one way or another. When what we do is habit, or has been absorbed from our culture as ‘normal behaviour’ we might not notice it as an idea. We might think that’s just the way it is and that nothing can be changed. Our brains work in ways that make running down the same lines of thought all the time inherently easy, while coming up with totally new ways of thinking takes more effort.

If you want to change something you have to build the idea. It is well worth doing this deliberately and making time for it every day if you can. Imagine yourself doing (or not doing) the thing you wish to change to. Building a thought form this way allows you to test it and find out more about how it might work for you. It creates the scope to fettle the plan before you try doing anything for real. This can head off a lot of problems!

Here are some examples:

If you drive all the time and think about distance and your arrangements in terms of cars, think about walking or catching the bus. What would you have to figure out to do that? Ask the questions, do the research, then imagine getting about by other means, and make a point of imagining it. At some point you’ll have a go – keep reinforcing that by imagining yourself walking places or taking the bus. What you do will change.

If you want to be more confident in ritual, imagine yourself in a ritual space. Imagine the kinds of things you might be called upon to do, and picture yourself not just doing them, but doing them really well and feeling respected for your contribution. You can also try imagining making mistakes and that everyone is kind and supportive when that happens. By building these ideas, you build the confidence to have a go, and you also have a better idea of what to do, so you’ll do a better job.

I’ve also used this strategy to tackle anxiety and to try and reduce the experience of being triggered. I’ve got some good mileage on this score. I would only recommend trying this if you feel reasonably on top of things already – if you are deep in crisis, thinking about things that trigger you will probably just trigger you and make everything worse. If you are recovering and feel safe these can be things to explore.

Everything we do, we dream up first. Even the things that seem spontaneous will come from somewhere. You don’t spontaneously murder someone with an ice pick if you’ve never thought about it before. However, if every day, you imagine taking the ice pick from the garage to murder your neighbour, the odds of doing this are much increased. When we’re not in control of this, and our daydreams are fed by sources we aren’t paying attention to, and when we don’t notice what our recurring wishes and fantasies are, something other than us has the steering wheel in our lives. Being more conscious about how you dream and what you want and what you envisage yourself doing gives you back control, and allows you to make deliberate changes.


Where do dreams come from?

Whether we’re talking about what happens when we sleep, or what happens when we daydream, dreams are significantly informed by our every day experiences. What we’re exposed to gets in. This means what is around us in our immediate environment. People we spend time with. Stuff we do. Things we watch. Books we read. It all goes in. From it we weave the often irrational seeming dreams we have at night, and we also create our ideals, hopes, aspirations and desires.

It’s worth pausing now and then to see what is coming in and where it comes from. What are you feeding your mind with? How much of that is advertising designed to sell products? How much of it normalises western consumer culture? How many of your daydreams come from what your society encourages you to want – fame, fortune, the fast car, the white carpet in the immaculate living room, the exotic holiday…?

Are you dreaming, and daydreaming as a Pagan? If you look at the imagery of your dreams, you’ll find the answer soon enough. If you can see your Paganism in your night time dreaming, it’s a good indicator that you are living it while awake. That doesn’t have to mean deities and mythic content – in my case it means that my dreams are full of landscape. Often when we analyse dreams, the temptation is to try and find meanings in specific symbols. However, it can be well worth looking at dreams over time, to pick up trends. The overall shape of your dreaming over a period of weeks or months can tell you a lot about what’s influencing you. A dream diary can be a good way of exploring this.

We’re being sold commercial dreams designed to lock us into patterns of work, consumerism and frantic, carbon guzzling leisure pursuits. These advertising-induced dreams keep us working, struggling, getting into debt, running after things we can’t have, and destroying our home and habitat as we go along. Reclaiming our dreams is part of how we change this. Taking back control of our longing and desire, and taking back control of what feeds our unconscious dreaming gives us a lot more options.

Perhaps one of the key things here, is how we handle instant gratification. Often, instant gratification – in the buy now pay later mode – is offered as a bad thing. But, life is now. It’s not next year, or when you retire. The dreams we are encouraged to aspire to are so often set just out of reach. When we get the promotion, the pay rise, or some other distant thing happens, then we can have the stuff we really want. The simpler our desires are, the easier it is to gratify them. An afternoon pottering in the garden, a night out dancing, a meal with friends – these are things you can have quickly. These are the kinds of things a good life is made of. If we’re always working towards some big dream, we may never get round to being happy in the moment, satisfied with what we have, or able to enjoy life.

Your dreams – especially your night dreaming, are in some ways very natural. That doesn’t mean dreams are immune from human influence. Dreams are made of what we absorb. Dreams can tell us a lot about what we expose ourselves to and what effect that has on us. Question your dreams and make sure they really are yours, and not someone else’s marketing strategy.

More about dreaming in my book, Pagan Dreaming, available from most places that sell books…  https://www.bookdepository.com/Pagan-Dreaming/9781785350900


Dreaming reality

Everything human-made has been dreamed up by someone. Our cultures, societies, communities, urban spaces, our farming and our treatment of the landscape is all a consequence of someone’s dreaming. Sometimes we dream together and deliberately. Sometimes we dream many different things and what we get is a messy hotchpotch that isn’t quite what anyone wanted.

Our dreaming is not a neutral process. What we dream of, we may invest in, purchase, or vote for. The person or company that can offer us the things we dream of will be especially attractive to us. Giving people their dreams is tricky for anyone who is not a fairy godmother. It is simpler to persuade people to dream of certain things so that you already have the solutions in a warehouse ready to sell to them.

However, we can also dream of changing things. We can dream of planting trees and living in a low carbon economy. We can dream of social justice – as many people have for many hundreds of years. When the dream of social justice becomes more appealing than the dream of having power over others, there will be social justice. When dreams of compassion become more widespread than dreams of greed and ownership, compassion will become normal and greed will become rare. Everything we do starts with ideas, and those ideas can seed in us, barely noticed even as they are part of what shapes humanity’s relationship with the living Earth.

We make the human aspects of our world out of our dreams. We start with ideas, and we build and change in line with them. We get caught up in the dreams of others. Nothing that humans do or make is inevitable. There were always multitudinous other options we could have taken. Unfortunately we have habits of telling our history stories in ways that help us believe there was no other way. There was always another way. There were always people dreaming differently and imagining something else – good dreams and nightmares alike.

Climate change exists because of our dreams of having lots of energy to use. We dream of travelling quickly from one place to another, quickly replacing throwaway fashion to be up to date. We dream of easy food in simple containers, we dream of brands and buy their plastic bottles. We do not dream of the sea when we throw our rubbish into watercourses. We dream of holidays in the sun, and so we embrace air travel. To change our collective behaviour we have to change our individual dreams and our ideas about what to value and aspire to.

When you get down to it, dreams are powerful, but they’re also incredibly ephemeral. Of all the things we might try to change, they may be the easiest to tackle, and some of the most effective. What we imagine has the power to change our lives. It costs nothing to imagine differently. It requires little effort. It may not even require much persuasion.

There will be more thoughts around how we do this in the next week or so.


When to give up

Often, the only way to be absolutely defeated is to give up. Where there is life, there is always scope for trying again – however long it takes to do that. There is something heroic about refusing to give up in face of all setbacks – but only if you come out on top at the end. At what point is it wiser to admit defeat and turn your energies elsewhere?

At what point do you say ‘this is never going to work’? I’ve blogged before about the question of what our dreams cost other people. Chasing your dreams can really take it out of those around you, and if someone else has to pay against their will for something you want to do, pushing on is a lot less heroic and a lot more toxic.

Sometimes, admitting defeat can be a beautiful, liberating thing. We tend to treat failure as something awful and to be avoided, but I’ve come to think of it as a much more interesting thing. As an aside, I must thank Mark Townsend for The Gospel of Falling Down, which re-framed the notion of failure for me. Sometimes, giving up is wonderful, releasing energy into other areas of life.

This weekend, the Stroud Five Valleys walk will take people on a gruelling hike around the area, raising money for a good cause. I’ve managed it a couple of times. This year, I’m not trying. I’ve given up. I feel good about that. It feels like a wise choice, putting my bodily wellness first. I don’t need to do this. I don’t need to prove anything by trying to do it.

It’s when we admit failure that we make room for other people to get in and have a go – and quite possibly do better than us. It’s when we admit defeat that we stop pouring energy into things we can’t make work, and might start looking at what we can do more effectively, instead. When we give up, we’re giving ourselves permission to acknowledge that we are tired, worn out, under resourced or otherwise unequal to the task. Owning your limitations can bring great emotional relief. We all have limits, and we won’t know where those are until we’ve tested them. Once tested, we can make informed decisions.

The dreams we have when we don’t know what we can do, or how anything works, might not be our best dreams. Plugging away at a dream we can’t manifest may be stopping us from finding a better dream. Using experience to inform our intentions is a good idea. Going back to the planning stage and rethinking can give us a better plan with better prospects. There is nothing inherently magical or sacred about our ideas that mean we have to hang on to them no matter what.

There are so many forces that are so much bigger than us. Ultimately, life is a journey towards death. It does us good to learn when to yield and accept. Sometimes there is more grace, more wisdom and more benefit in knowing that you are beaten and letting it go.


Working dreams

One of the important things to bear in mind if you’re doing dream interpretation, is the relationship between your dreams and your actual life. Recently I had a dream in which I was trying to fold a complicated table and needed to work out what to say about it on social media. It was not an exciting dream. It was simply a bringing together of some of the things in my recent working life as my brain tried to figure out what goes where. How I do social media work or support for various outlets has become a question in recent weeks. The one thing that doesn’t need a social media plan is the furniture, but that’s dreaming brains for you!

Sometimes our sleeping minds are indeed doing the work. I’ve noticed repeatedly that when life gives me a lot to process, I crave more sleep. Some things are difficult to do consciously and need the free run of an unconscious mind to reconfigure in. Big life changes, radical rethinks about who I am, dramatic changes to important relationships and other major life events take some getting to grips with.

I spent the summer dreaming mournfully about one of the entitled men in my life. My feelings of guilt and responsibility kept surfacing, along with my desire for things to be entirely other than they have been. However, a few final revelations towards the end of the summer helped clarify things for me and my dreaming mind started telling me completely different emotional stories from that point. I’ll be surprised if I get any more mournful longing, because I appear to have worked that through.

What the dreaming work has allowed me to do is make a space for emotions I can’t usefully express anywhere else. I’m trying out ideas about how things are and could be, and pushing my waking mind to look at things it hasn’t been keen to square up to. That which we’re trying to avoid or protect ourselves from can show up in dreams, demanding attention. In my experience, this is where a lot of nightmares come from. But at the same time, a nightmare can be a useful part of the process, allowing me to process something I just can’t tackle when awake. Sometimes I have to go through a lot of these to get to a place where I can think consciously about the problem.

Dreams like these don’t benefit from interpretation. They aren’t some kind of finished product waiting to be made sense of. They’re a work in progress, and it’s often better to just let that run as a process – paying attention to it but not trying to tidy it into neat meanings. Sometimes when you let dreams happen in this way, they will take your waking mind somewhere totally unexpected, and that can prove very helpful indeed.

For more of this kind of approach to dreaming, check out my book Pagan Dreaming – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-dreaming