Tag Archives: dreams

Songs of Dreaming

Dreams, both the sort we have at night and the sort we nurture by day, have always been important in my life. As an author, I’m a semi-professional daydreamer. I look to dreams for inspiration and insight, for healing and transformation. I try to nurture my deliberate, waking dreams, but I don’t always do so well with that. I’m not aware of many songs that evoke anything of the power and magic of dreams. These three do, and they’re all written by Bill Caddick. I love these songs, I sing 2 of them.

Cloud Factory. (A cover)


Unicorns (performed by Bill Caddick) with a few words about the inspiration behind the song.

John O’Dreams, performed by Rachel Ries & Anaïs Mitchell


I have memories of nightmares from earliest childhood, and they’ve been a frequent, dramatic feature of my life ever since then. I’ve had times in my life where I feared going to sleep because I’d had runs of ferociously bad dreams. In my twenties, my entire dreaming experience gradually narrowed down to a handful of fairly banal bad dreams, and for years, that was all I had.

I’m prompted to write this today, having woken from an intense set of nightmares. It’s been a week of unusually vivid, complex and difficult dreams, but last night’s were the first to take a nightmarish aspect. Death, violence, grief and loss, pursuit and threat – all the things, with no kind of narrative coherence and fantastical landscapes the like of which I have never seen for myself.

Dreams always tempt us to ask why they happened and what they mean. I think nightmares especially incline us to seek the comfort of an easy explanation. From the consumption of cheese through to something downright Freudian, the impulse is to rationalise. One of the most frightening things about dreams is how much of our time we spend in these mad states doing irrational things for no obvious reason and often suffering terrible consequences. Surely it has to mean something?

We have similar attitudes to life, and in our waking existence, the experience of horrors sends us off in search of meaning. Why did it happen? What brought us to this point? What does it mean? Can there be a reason for this? Religion and novels both owe a great deal to the human desire to have incomprehensible things tidied up into viable narratives. If it makes some kind of sense, we might have control over it, and we might be able to save ourselves. In dreams, as in life, the reality we experience isn’t tidy or coherent, yet we, as humans have this peculiar desire to try and make it all make sense.

There’s no particular reason why I had nightmares last night. Some of the threads I can trace back to people I’m worried about, historical experiences and recent reading matter, but that only explains what I’m drawing on, not the nightmare itself. Put in its context though, in this run of dreams that have been intense and more incomprehensible than is usual for me and something else suggests itself. Something big, and as yet unnameable is shifting in my head. Something I have no words for, and maybe as yet no proper concepts. A big upheaval in how I see things and understand things. It may be some time before that transition shows up consciously and starts to make sense.

Dreams are at least in part, functions of the mind. In much the same way that physical sensations are functions of the body. Not all body sensations show up at time or point of cause – the low blood pressure headache, and the muscle ache from exertion are not things you can make sense of by looking at what was happening when the pain started. There are plenty of symptoms which, on their own don’t mean much, but when aligned with other symptoms, have very specific meanings. Dreams are often like this, in that taking one dream on its own, out of the context of your wider dreaming, is not a good basis for analysis.

So while the contents of last night’s nightmare were really disturbing, I am not feeling that disturbed this morning, and I’m not picking over the precise details. I’m seeing that nightmare in the context of the last week or so, seeing how the visual vividness and emotional intensity connect it to other dreams, and that some kind of unconscious process is happening. When that process is feasible for me to handle in a more conscious way, it will start making itself known. It could be that it already has, that elements of the nightmare will prove relevant in time, but I’m not going to try and force a meaning today because I know that would be counter-productive.

If this approach to dreaming appeals to you, do check out my book, Pagan Dreaming – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-dreaming

Dreams, meaning and the things we don’t want to mention

There’s something about the human mind that inclines us to look for patterns. We infer faces where none exist. We’re really good at seeing patterns of causality, when faced with coincidences. This is, in essence, where all superstitions come from, and why we end up with lucky socks and obsessive compulsive disorders, sometimes. The ability to find meaning is of course also the basis for all science. Let’s pause a moment and enjoy the beautiful irony that superstition and science may both depend on the same human qualities!

Post a dream on a social media site and in minutes, someone will try and interpret it. We can’t resist. Surely, amidst all the weirdness, there must be sense and significance? Surely those bizarre happenings must have symbols in them, and once we get to the symbols the madness will turn back into coherence. You can easily see the benefits this could confer as a life skill, but dreams are not regular life. I remain suspicious about the degree to which intelligible meaning can be squeezed out of the strangeness that is dreams. I think we risk reducing the dream to something less than its splendid whole when we try and make it mean something.

The sharing of dreams is also a partial process, and that’s very human, too. I’ve shared two dreams publicly, of late, where I have changed the whole impression the dream is likely to give by deliberately missing out some details. It’s tempting to skip over the embarrassing, awkward bits to get to the funny anecdote. It’s advisable not to name the people involved, frequently. Or why it was that we didn’t have any trousers on in the first place. And what we were doing, exactly, that meant this obsessive fixation with doors that won’t lock properly really came into focus.

Usually (at risk of too much information) the unlockable doors in my dreams are on toilets. A recent occasion where they weren’t raises interesting thoughts for me around ideas of boundaries, privacy, personal space and secrets. And there it goes again, that all too human urge to make sense of a dream, coupled with the equally human urge to withhold from you all of the most private and secret parts. Without the unwritten content, no one else has a shot at making sense of it – and of course that’s deliberate too, because while I might be interested in what you think about the possible symbolism of unlockable doors, I don’t want you dwelling on the symbolism of what I was trying to lock in, or out, or why.

There are all kinds of things we can do in response to our dreams. Looking for meaning is just one option. There’s a lot we can learn just by looking at which aspects we want to draw other people’s attention to, and which bits we will never admit to. Secret urges of which we will not speak. Things that do not sit well with our waking personas. Images of shame, guilt, lust, and all the other vices that we wanted to tidy away and find, awkwardly, that really we haven’t.

Pagan Dreaming… in case you want more of this sort of thing.

Strange dreaming

There’s a lot going on in my head right now that isn’t consciously available to me. I can tell because last night I dreamed about competitive neo-nazi rabbits and marmalade, and on waking it is impossible to articulate what the connection between rabbits and orange jam was. This isn’t a one off. All of my dreaming lately has been vivid, colourful, complex, and rabidly incoherent. My normal dreaming tends towards more narrative, so I know from the change that something entirely different is happening in my head.

I’ve studied dreams and sleeping since my teens. Most of that has been an informal working with my dream experiences and attention to how dreaming relates to my life. I’ve poked around a bit in the psychology of dreams, and the science of sleep. Alongside that I’ve had exposure to dream interpretation books. I’m not a big fan of dream interpretation books – I think they’re reductive, and that personal symbolism is a far more complicated thing. I think there’s a lot more to dreaming than pulling ‘meanings’ out of it, as well, and that most dreams are not in the least bit prophetic.

So, why the neo-nazi rabbits and the marmalade? I suspect the rabbits are Nazis because of what I was reading last night. The rest of the features, if teased out and examined to see what they might represent, offer me nothing. No stories emerge, no powerful emotional associations, no coherence whatsoever. Nothing about this dream even suggests to me that it needs interpreting. I don’t think I’m trying to tell myself anything important right now, I’m chewing. I’m breaking down old concepts and investigating new ones, and the side effects are random because I clearly don’t have a symbolic language for this as yet, much less words I can use consciously.

How do we make radical changes to ourselves and our thoughts? If you’ve always felt or believed something, then changing it by a process of deciding to believe something else is very hard work. Beliefs send out roots and suckers into our minds, they connect to other things, and grow stories that keep them in place in our lives. You don’t just uproot and discard something like that in one go. Equally you don’t grow new concepts easily when you have no language for them, you don’t rework the stories you have without some upheaval. Possibly you do become able to change your thinking overnight. Or over many nights, more accurately.

One of the things that dreams can do is allow us to think what is otherwise, quite literally, unthinkable. By chewing on something in our dreams we can create new symbols and narratives that can gradually become available to the waking mind.

If this sounds like your sort of thing, I have a book out this summer, full of such approaches to dreaming.

Dreaming a future

Lives are made of choices, and the small, day to day ones often shape the larger issues and inform the options we have. Who we are is fashioned from one hour to the next in the small details of how we choose to live. Our dreams are a part of this. What do we aspire to? Where do we see ourselves being this time next year? What are we moving towards? What are we trying to leave behind?

We live in a culture where the selling of small dreams is an everyday issue. Adverts don’t just offer us specific products, but try to imply a whole lifestyle that we are to desire. And what are we desiring? A certain kind of body shape, sofa, kitchen arrangement, a holiday. A nice, well behaved and clean looking child, a partner who brings flowers… It pays to stop and think about the casual daydreams.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming small. Having just the right thing can make worlds of difference. The slow cooker, the wok, a ball of yarn, the right mattress… Knowing how those small dreams fit into the totality of your life is important. At the moment I’m dreaming a wormery to deal with kitchen waste and a bin to grow potatoes in. Small dreams that relate to a much bigger idea about living lightly. In our little dreams we are building the shape of our choices. When the opportunity to dream big comes along, the small dreams will help you birth the big ones.

In magical practice, will is everything. Will without a grand plan can get you into all kinds of trouble, though. Toddlers tend to have a lot of will coupled with entirely short term thinking. Left to their own devices, this combination can prove fatal! Will must be shaped by intent – clear, well considered intent that will hold up to challenges and scrutiny. You can’t work magic of any sort with a half-arsed plan in which you’ve not invested much attention. All of this also depends on self knowledge. If you do not know yourself, you will not know what you want or need, what methods of chasing it would suit you, and if you get there you may find it wasn’t it anyway.

Paying attention to the small dreams helps develop self knowledge. What do you crave? What are you missing? What are you working for? It’s also far too easy to get into the trap of running hard, working hard, and that becoming an end in itself. Get too tired and downtrodden and there may be no space for the idea of working *for* something, you just crawl from day to day. Survival replaces living, and none of us would aspire to that, if we recognised the choice.

The tougher things are, the easier it is to have no time to create even the smallest dreams. However, this is the time when a bit of dreaming is most important. It is the dreaming that will help us spot better opportunities and see a reason to go for them. It is dreaming that helps us hold a sense of self not wholly dependent on our most immediate circumstances. In terms of getting through a crisis, that can make all the difference.

Look after the small dreams. Give them time and space to grow. Let them show you something of who you are and where you want to be. If your dreams turn out to be full of other people’s product pitches, you can choose to lay them down and try some other vision.

The day after

So, yesterday was an experiment in fasting, with no caffeine and no solids. Not eating did not present a huge challenge, staying off the caffeine was much harder, although I didn’t get the withdrawal headache until well into the afternoon – I take that as a good sign in terms of addiction level.

In terms of the ‘rest day’ side of things, I did manage to take the day fairly gently – physically speaking, and also resisted the temptation to start painting a wall. But, I finished the current draft of the next Pagan book, finished making a rag rug, worked on a novel, had OBOD students to write to, and a bunch of blog related things to write and sort. A relatively quiet day compared to normal outputs, because I spent more time reading and had an earlier night than I normally do, but still busy.

I slept long and deeply, and I had some of the strangest, and most significant dreams I’ve had in a long while. I have reoccurring anxiety dreams about being back at school. Last night I dreamed about being back in the one space at school that was reliably happy for me, which made me realise that in twenty years of reoccurring school dreams, I had never dreamed about the good bit before. Why? I don’t know. It gives me much to ponder.

This morning I am a little slower and less sparky than I’d expect to be, despite having had the first coffee of the day. So be it. I came to realise yesterday that I need to learn how to be more accepting of tiredness in myself. I need to learn how to slow down, to rest, to stop. Yesterday was my best attempt at a quiet day in a while and I still managed to be really, rather busy. I don’t actually know how to do differently, without the context of a Druid contemplation day, or something else that gives me a framework and takes me away from things I could be working on.

I recognise it’s possible I’m just a bit of a workaholic – I am prone to addiction (see all previous remarks about caffeine). I am careful around any substance I might get hooked on having, for example, managed to become addicted to passive smoking on two separate occasions. Work is not something I’d been looking at that way, but it might be worth considering on those terms.

It’s there in how I frame things, even. I don’t know how to stop, and so I think to myself “I need to work on investing in gentler, frivolous things I enjoy.” I bring the language of work to pretty much everything I do, and I suspect that has consequences. So, clearly, I will be working on that…

The death of dreams

One of the hardest things to deal with in times of loss and grief, is the attendant loss of that which never was. It’s an issue when someone in our lives dies, in the breakdown of relationship, the loss of a home, a job, or any aspect of your way of life. All the things you imagined would be, all the dreams you wove around that thing have to now be dismantled, or rebuilt somewhere else. It’s a hard process, made more so by being invisible and difficult to explain. The more disproportionately you have invested in relation to what was actually there, the more it hurts, and the more silly you get to feel along the way.

I’m getting fond of blog posts with soundtracks, and for me this song encapsulates something about the secret grief that is a dead dream.

Life is not kind to dreams, and often we are not culturally kind to dreamers, either. To be a daydreamer is to be out of touch with reality, to be a fool, unrealistic and doomed to be disappointed. And yet, without dreams, without wild hopes and aspirations, without the triumph of optimism over experience, life would be thin and pale. It’s the willingness to dream that sets us on the path of new romances, takes us to new jobs, founds new organisations and groups, gets up and tries. You have to dream before you’ll make anything new. Some of those dreams are stillborn, or die young. It is part of the nature of dreams.

When pets and people die, it is obvious, and we have some idea how to grieve that. Dreams die slowly and quietly, slipping away without telling you. No one else sees their passing, there are no funerals for dreams, although plenty of poets will write them elegies. But poets are dreamers themselves, and wider culture doesn’t have much truck with that either.

There is deep, hidden personal tragedy in the death of a dream. It does not matter how large the dream was. Small dreams of days off, a little good, a small joy, are painful in their demise as well. It does not matter how crazy the dream was, all those abandoned ideas of fame, fortune, creativity and a life less ordinary. It does not matter whether you fed it with action, or cherished it as an idle thought, its death will still diminish you and take a little colour out of the world.

When enough dreams have died, it becomes easy to give up on them entirely. Dreams are foolish and ephemeral things, as the song says, ‘they just let you down’. So perhaps you stop dreaming them. Perhaps you stop hoping, daring and imagining. You don’t hold them anymore and you stop feeding the ones you were trying to make real. It is a bitter road to walk, wherever it takes you.

Afterwards, when you have buried the dream and grieved its death, the trick is to start over, to dream something new, to make hope out of whatever threads are left. So I’ll leave you with a second song, one that reliably makes me cry.

Don’t be misled by the first verse, this is not *just* a song about a ship. This is a song about not quitting, about love and determination, and refusing to give up on dreams and passions… though your heart it be broken and life about to end… no matter what you’ve lost, be it a home a love a friend, like the Mary Ellen Carter rise again.

What dreams may come

Dream interpretation has always fascinated me. As a very young person, I got my hands on a dream interpretation book, but I rapidly found that the ‘answers’ were a bit too tidy, and most of my dreams did not include things that could be readily picked out as symbols and interpreted that way. I’ve always tended more towards narrative threads, and my symbolism is pretty personal. My impression is this is generally the case. We all have symbolic languages in which our unconscious minds try and talk to our waking ones. Life experience, belief, preference and so forth contribute to make this personal symbolism work. Unravelling it is a journey into the self. The first question to ask is not ‘what does the book say?’ but, ‘what does that mean to me?’

I studied Freud a bit at uni, which confirmed my feeling that trying to impose meaning from the outside, is reductive and pointless.
That said, there are trends that stand some consideration. Firstly, if you are learning something, your brain will consolidate that during periods of rest and sleep. We aren’t conscious of much of the process inside our own minds. This is distinct from your Freudian unconscious, which has its own drives and agendas. It’s more like the way in which you can’t see what your computer is doing to make these words visible to you. That much self awareness would drive us crazy. So, we have a functional, not-conscious element to the mind that handles the sorting, storing, and comprehension without our conscious thought processes getting involved. One of the signs that you truly know a thing is being able to do it without consciously thinking about it. Dreaming can be part of the consolidation process, so what you dream may reflect what you’re learning.

Now, that Freudian style unconscious, that place of repressed emotions does seem to exist. If we are deep in denial about something, it bubbles up eventually. Dreams can express to us the things we are consciously trying not to be aware of – fear, desire, need, insecurity, all that kind of thing. There’s scope for self knowledge here, because if we can acknowledge the dreams that manifest what we’re refusing to deal with, we get closer to dealing with it.

The person who does not get enough sleep, also doesn’t get enough dream sleep, so having and remembering dreams is a good sign of sufficient good quality sleep. It’s worth considering your dreaming in this very pragmatic way, because it can give you some useful information about the state of your sleeping.

I also think that dreaming is a good indicator of your state of mind generally. Drab, dull, repetitive dreams – such as dreaming in extra days at work, do not speak of a happy and fulfilled mind. Anxiety dreams can be very telling. Having the same set of dreams can be suggestive that something in your waking life needs tackling, and that you are trying very hard to flag this up to yourself. The person who dreams strangely and widely, drawing on all kinds of experience, is probably in better shape than not, between the ears.

Rich dreaming can be emotionally rewarding, as well as going alongside good sleep. It is worth paying attention to dreams. You don’t have to believe in much, or see any magical component, to be able to notice that they are a function of the mind, and that something is going on there. Stay away from Freud though, unless you’re reading him for giggles. Don’t assume there is one right answer to your dreaming and that someone else can tell you what it is. The only right answers are the ones that make sense to you, and sometimes dreaming has no discernible meaning at all. Some of it is white noise. Some of it is prompted by external things. (The boat rocks and I dream of an earthquake, for example). We can get so bogged down in the question of what things mean that we forget that sometimes things just are, and that no extra layers need to be added.

Unquiet land

Perhaps naught in this life is real at all,
Deity sleeps and dreams that it is so
We may dare to imagine, cannot know
Are we wisps of fancy, destined to fall
If ever time the sleeper should awake?

Picture the dreaming god who is all things
Breathes deeply in the peace of utter rest,
Whose one exhale a flock of decades brings
Eternity yet marches on his chest,
But name him not lest naming make him stir.

When deity breathes in all must contract,
The many flowing back towards the source,
As tides of being turn to run their course
The disparate align and are compact.
Once more drawn tight in union of space.

And when the breathing out returns at last,
All things unmesh and fly upon their way,
The time for reconciliation past,
Unmaking comes in turn to have its day
While deity in slumber worries not.

So moves the current, thus washes the tide,
Or worlds and time, of all that yet might be,
For dreams of gods are vast and stretching wide
Unknowable in their enormity.
Who dares to picture this must rend their mind.

Come down into the slow dark earth to wait
Where centuries lie heavy in the soil
Time running thick and slow as midnight oil
Sticky the cloying touch of eager fate
Of all that is and was and yet could be.

For what has gone before must come again
The ebb and flow of tides eternally,
With time and landscape flowing like the sea
Nothing quite lost, nothing to quite remain
Waxes and wanes in neatest chaos dance.

Then set one human figure to this stage,
Bring the eternal to a moment’s eye
Small fragile one who does not yet know why
The world seems caught up in unnatural rage.
The breath is ended now, your tide has turned.

This is a thing from a project I’ve been playing with for a while. I needed to air a bit of it. It owes a debt to Dunsany, with the sleeping god.


I’ve long been fascinated with the science of dreaming, the psychology of it, and the more mystical takes as well. There are interesting overlaps between the three. Generally my own dreaming is the basis from which I explore this, although I had a long stretch when my dream life was so barren and limited that I had little to work with. If I’d been honest with myself, I would have been quicker to recognise the barren dream phase as indicative that much was wrong in my life.

I’ve never been keen to accept the idea of dream interpretation guides, where one thing can be safely interpreted as meaning another. We’re all unique, and we all use our own symbolic language. That said, the idea of self as house has been with me for some time.

When I was a child, the house I dreamed about was a beautiful cottage where a couple of warm and welcoming old people lived. By my teens, the house had become a threatening place, full of rooms I didn’t dare go into. In my twenties, the house was derelict, and usually had squatters in it, more often than not I would have the same nightmare of being chased through my house until I eventually jumped out of a window in desperation to escape. What I needed to do in my waking life, was jump and escape.

After that, the house dreams changed. I stopped having reoccurring nightmares about needing to run away from usually unspecified threats.

Some of my house dreams at the moment are explicitly about house hunting. In a more pragmatic way, that has to do with the knowledge that I’ll be moving again in less than a year, there is actual house hunting in my future, and a new life to build around that. It’s also about the ongoing process of redefining me, reimagining me. I’m very much a work in progress, and have been for several years now. I have a feeling the next geographical change will go alongside some dramatic lifestyle changes, and no doubt changes to my sense of self. And so at night, I am looking for a new house.

I had a classic old-style house nightmare last night though – big house, and not one that I owned. I never did have proper ownership of the nightmare houses, but I think that went with not feeling like I had proper ownership of myself, really. For the first time, the fear source, the thing hunting me wasn’t vague. I knew exactly what I was running away from. In the dream, they were animals that had been kept in captivity and escaped, and went mad for human flesh. Actually, I blame Jonathan Green’s fiction entirely for this, with his escaping dinosaurs and marauding monsters.

There’s a lot of practical difference between a nameless dread, and a troublesome thing you can point at. So much horror depends upon the uncanny and unknowable nature of the threat. That which we do not understand is always more scary. That’s why the first Alien film remains so powerful. What we don’t see, and have to imagine has far more power to scare us, than the known.

Sometimes the answer to a nameless dread, is to name it. Even if you don’t know what it is, naming confines it, makes it more manageable. Apparently somewhere deep in the murky layers of my unconscious mind, I have given a name to the nameless fears. Right now they look like familiar things gone predatory – I’m sure we could do some entertaining Freudian-style analysis there. A known fear can be fought, faced and conquered.

One day, I’m going to find that cottage again, or somewhere a lot like it. If I can’t dream it, I shall make it, in the waking world, out of my own actions and intent. A safe place that feels like me. A place where the nameless dreads do not get any kind of space.