Reclaiming Shamanic Dreaming from the Roots of Western Culture Ryan Hurd

is an independent scholar, editor of DreamStudies.org, and board member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. He is the author of Lucid Immersion Guidebook: A holistic blueprint for lucid dreaming and Sleep aralysis: A guide to hypnagogic !isions and !isitors of the night.

"ly through the hea!ens, make lo!e #ith beautiful honey$skinned goddesses, and impress friends by folding a city on top of itself a la Inception. %hese are the familiar ad!ertisements for lucid dreaming& #e kno# them #ell. Sure, these things can be achie!ed in dreams in #hich #e are self$a#are, but they are #eak analogues to the shamanic conte't that our ancestors and cultural forebearers pro!ided for dreams and !isions. Dreaming can be more than a reflection of our fears and desires. Actually, dreaming is a shamanic technology. %he skills to dream for healing, guidance, and po#er $$ the classic domains of shamanism $$ lay hidden in our o#n (estern culture. (here #e are headed today: eerie springs and ca!es concealed under )hristian temples that once ser!ed other gods. It is here, amongst the numerous ruins of the most popular mystery cult in the Hellenic Age *the first three centuries of the )ommon +ra,, that the full potential of dreams and night !isions is re!ealed. In thousands of temples built specifically for dream incubation $$ the ritual calling of a dream $$ ordinary people claimed e'traordinary cures, !isitations by healing gods and goddesses, and rene#al from the kinds of psychosomatic illnesses that modern medicine still does not ade-uately address e'cept by numbing us further: chronic pain, se'ual dysfunction, and spiritual malaise. Dream Incubation In The Ancient World Dreams can be called. .no#n as Dream incubation, this skill is about mindfully and ritualistically in!iting a dream into your life for problem sol!ing, healing or a rene#al of life force. %he term comes from the Latin incubare, #hich means to lie do#n upon, or as #e say today: /ust sleep on it. (hile dream incubation is largely a lost art, many people ha!e participated in dream rituals by attempting to ha!e a lucid dream. Lucid dreaming can be thought of a specific form of dream incubation in #hich #e are not looking for a dream message, but a specific form of dream 1

cognition. As it turns out, lucid dreaming cognition is characteri0ed by the synchroni0ation of the frontal lobe *#aking consciousness, and older brain structures *dreaming consciousness,. %his integrati!e mode of consciousness, as anthropologist 1ichael (inkelman terms it, in!ites the classical markers of !isionary a#areness, such as abstract geometric imagery, encounters #ith animal$human hybrids, emotional catharsis and ecstasy, and finally, e'periences of #hite light and nonduality.2i3 A reliable gate#ay to his realm has al#ays been right in front of us, hidden by camouflaging beliefs like 4dreams are meaningless4 or, at the least, 4dreams are irrational.4 %he practice of dream incubation is #ell documented throughout the ancient #orld. 5!er the centuries, as the )hurch rose to po#er and supplanted pagan social structures, spiritual leaders began pulling a#ay from the idea that dreams can contain #isdom, leading to a loss of this important ability that is still practiced today in small pockets around the #orld, especially in indigenous societies. 6ut the #riting is literally on the #all. %he #ork of archaeologists and classicists has reconstructed the (estern practice of dream incubation based on ruins, documents and statues. During the Hellenistic era all across the 1editerranean, the practice took place in temples that #ere staffed by priest$physicians. In fact, dream temples made up the single most popular spiritual healing institution in the 1editerranean #orld, more popular than the 7esus cult. As it has done #ith hundreds of nati!e cultures, the early )hurch ended up incorporating the healing imagery of dream temples into the 7esus myth.2ii3 %hese restful sanctuaries #ere designed to produce dreams that pro!ided healing #isdom $$ and also instant cures $$ if #e are to belie!e the boasts of ancient graffiti. Successful cures #ere honored #ith inscriptions on the #alls of the sanctuaries, acting as ad!ertisements as #ell. %he dream healers of ancient Greece #ere also surgeons and herbalists, teaching their young doctors the art of empirical obser!ation coupled #ith an en!ironment of safety and spiritual cleansing. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, learned from his dream healing mentors to make empirical obser!ations rather than simply follo#ing untested beliefs. Hippocrates is also cited as #riting a medical dream dictionary that focused on a number of common dream symbols that indicate bodily ailments, although many scholars attribute the #ork to his disciples. Aesclepius: Greek God Of ealing %he figure most often associated #ith these dream temples is Aesclepius, the Greek god of 2

healing. 8p into the 9:;<s, ne# doctors pledged the Hippocratic oath and thanks to Aesclepius and his daughters. Aesclepius #as commonly depicted standing #ith a large staff #ith a snake curling up it, identifying his origins as an earth spirit related to healing and the animal po#ers. 2iii3 "rom the !ery beginning, Aesclepius #as also associated #ith ca!es and springs, cementing his identity as a chthonic $$ or under#orld $$ po#er. In Greek mythology, Aesclepius teaches that healing is holistic. =itality in life comes through e'ercise, proper diet, spiritual practice and mindful study. In some tales, he carried t#o !ials of 1edusa>s blood: one that healed, and another that killed. Dangerous kno#ledge re-uires a strong ethical code: no# the Hippocratic oath begins to come into focus. Healing po#ers can be used for or against our better natures. sychotherapist +d#ard %ick suggests that the ambi!alence of 1edusa>s blood highlights ho# important a secure container is for any e'ploration into our inner li!es.2i!3 %his is true of lucid dreaming as much as it for psychotherapy, spiritual authority, and any secret body of kno#ledge. !ntering The Inner Sanctum In ancient Greece, thousands took pilgrimages to local temple sites, #hich are usually situated in a beautiful natural setting, often #ith a spring or a ca!e site built into the grounds. %hey stayed in the temple often for #eeks, a time spent rela'ing, #alking in gardens, and attending to their bodies as they cleansed and reduced stress. "inally, the clients #ere in!ited into the abaton, the inner sanctum of the temple, #here they stayed until they had a healing dream, a process that could take three or four days. %he incubation #as short, but intense, and also saturated their e!ery thought. .ey to the Aesclepian model of medicine is the patient>s responsibility for his or her o#n healing. ?ather than limiting the endogenous healing response *often called the 4placebo effect4 today,, Aesclepian rituals #ere designed to heighten, refine and direct one>s intention. !lements Of Aesclepian Dream "ractice (hat made Aesclepian rituals so effecti!e for bringing on big dreams and !isions@ %he follo#ing elements can be le!eraged today, thousands of years remo!ed, because they are neurologically built into the human e'perience. Sleeping practices. )lients slept on special ritual dreaming beds kno#n as klines. 1ore like a couch, the kline often included a stone neck or head rest, facilitating clients to ele!ate their heads and sleep on their backs. %hese sleeping styles are kno#n today to encourage lighter sleep, more a#akenings, as #ell as 3

longer e'periences in ?+1 sleep. Gi!en the uni!ersality of sleep biology, it seems as if Aesclepian temples directly encouraged !i!id dreams as #ell as realistic hypnagogic hallucinations. Disruption of circadian rhythms. (hen those seeking healing crossed the threshold of the abaton, they entered an inner sanctum #here sleep and prayer intert#ined until a strong dream came. %his pattern can also be seen in Aati!e American !ision -uests, #here disrupted sleep *and attempts at night$long !igilance, leads to po#erful lucid dreams and #aking !isions often in!ol!ing !isitations #ith larger$than$life figures.2!3 ositi!e e'pectation. )lients hoped for and acti!ely sought an interaction #ith a healing figure. %his po#erful intention is easy to achie!e because #e are neurologically primed for encounters #ith self$like entities.2!i3 6ut the positi!e e'pectation turns the e'perience to#ards healing rather than terror, as is often the case in unanticipated hypnagogic !isions in the modern #orld. .no#n today medically as sleep paralysis, in these terrifying #aking nightmares #e are more likely to be anally raped by aliens than healed by gods.2!ii3 riests and priestesses also #hispered in the ears of the sleepers to encourage dreams of Aesclepius. %oday #e kno# that dreams can incorporate sounds and suggestions into the dream narrati!e, as #ell as smells. Lucid dream researcher Stephen La6erge>s #isdom here: +'pectation creates dreaming outcomes.2!iii3 ?ela'ation and cleansing. 6efore the intense dreaming incubations began, dreamers rela'ed in baths, #alked around the beautiful gardens around the temple, and took naps. %hey #ere remo!ed from their e!eryday life in order to focus on healing. %hey also adhered to a cleansing diet #hile staying at the temples, further setting the stage for ritual purification in the final part of the healing process. Good dreamsigns. Dreamsigns, a term coined by La6erge, are elements that can alert us that #e are not in ordinary reality. In classical times, snakes roamed the dream temples unmolested. As an ancient symbol of healing, snakes are at the center of the Aesclepian #orld!ie#. Dreams about snakes #ere taken to be dreams of Aesclepius himself. %his is the perfect e'ample of an effecti!e dreamsign: one that is focused, meaningful and has an element of the bi0arre.2i'3 o# to set up a lucid dreaming sanctuar$ toda$ (e don>t ha!e to tra!el to ancient Greece to re$establish the dream practices that bring lucidity, shamanic contact and po#erful !isions. 1ost of the #ork of establishing set and setting can be done in your o#n home. %he ritual setting is simple, combining strong intentions #ith good social boundaries. If you are looking for a -uick and safe #ay to del!e into the deep side of the dream realm, the follo#ing practical ad!ice #ill get the process started. o#erful dreams start #ith the right kind 4

of sleep, in #hich rela'ation and mindfulness come together. (here you sleep is the inner sanctum. %reat it that #ay by setting up your bedroom in a #ay that encourages rela'ation and clarity. %his is reflected not only in the physical set up of the room but also ho# you approach going to bed. %he physical boundaries here are essential. In the spirit of Aesclepius, create an inner sanctum that is truly a restful and protected space from the #orld. %urn off the %=. Limit e'posure to tele!ision, computer monitors and mobile media de!ices at least an hour before bed. %he content is emotionally stimulating, and rapid fire light in the blue spectrum may pre!ent the release of the sleep$promoting hormone melatonin in the e!ening. Dress for comfort. Sleep in clean, loose clothing, or nothing at all. utting on your sleep clothes an hour before bed is another #ay of reinforcing your do#n#ard shift. It sends a message to others in the household too. .eep it clean. "resh sheets, clean pillo#cases, and a neat room create a rela'ing space. ?educing clutter is crucial for creating mental space. 5n a related note, I recommend not keeping a computer or mobile phones in the room to clear the electro$magnetic field too. 1o!e the bed. 1ake sure the bed is not against a #all in #hich electrical outlets are near your head. 1etal #ater pipes in the #all can also cause noises and may create subtle effects on consciousness too. Sleeping belo# a #indo# also creates background an'iety. )lear the air. If you can>t get fresh air, ha!e some fresh flo#ers in a !ase, aromatherapy candles, or small dream pillo#s stuffed #ith la!ender or mug#ort. 6ad smells can actually increase the likelihood of negati!e emotions in dreams.2'3 Shield the sounds. +rratic sounds are the #orst. If you li!e in a busy house or neighborhood, turn on a small fan or in!est in a #hite noise machine. %raffic sounds are particularly disturbing. Darkness rules. I /ust read an article about ho# the musician 1oby used to ha!e a bedroom composed of #alls of glass #ith fantastic !ie#s of Los Angeles. He ended up sleeping in the closet.2'i3 %he bedroom should be dark, #ith good light$blocking curtains for your afternoon naps. A door that latches also helps create feelings of safety in the e!ening hours. (ind do#n for an hour. In general, create a ritual of #inding do#n that incorporates rela'ation, the dimming of household lighting, and the shutting out of information input *%=, computing, te'ting, etc,. ?ead if you #ish *storytelling is an old friend of nightfall, or listen to some rela'ing music #hile you settle do#n #ith your dream /ournal. Stay cool. %he lo#ering of the body temperature is a further cue for the brain to release sleep$ inducing hormones, so sleep comes more easily #hen the room temperature is slightly on the 5

cool side. %aking a cool bath in the summer months is another refreshing #ay to get ready for bed. ost guards. If you are dra# inspiration from any of the faith traditions, you may also #ant to mark the boundaries of your room #ith sacred ob/ects or images. %hresholds take ne# significance #hen #e are the grips of sleep paralysis, or during a hypnagogic !ision of an intruder. 1ug#ort under the pillo#, a dark stone in the corner of the room to absorb negati!e energy, or guardian figures can facilitate feelings of safety and security. I keep a horseshoe o!er the front door of my home as #ell, honoring my )eltic roots. 5ther dreamers I kno# make use of =irgin 1ary figures, dream catchers, crystals, and e!en small gargoyle statuettes. The Ritual Conte%t of In&iting Dreams Toda$ Setting up the dream chamber is only the first step to#ards in!iting !isionary dreams and !isions, but it>s the one that most modern dreamers forget. If you #ant to go deeper into the dreaming mind, you must protect yourself. %hat>s #hy beginner lucid dreamers so often crash and burn. Like entheogens and !ision -uests, set and setting is key. (ithout the foundation in rela'ation and positi!e e'pectation, you are un#ittingly setting yourself up for sleep paralysis nightmares and other forms of uncomfortable states of consciousness. Ao# the ritual conte't of lucid dreaming incubation is re!ealed. 5nce you ha!e made your physical boundaries, the ne't step is focusing on intentions and combining these #ith sleep practices that bring on !isionary ?+1, e'cite the frontal corte' of the brain, and induce rela'ation. 5ur neuro$shamanic heritage is re!ealed under these conditions, bringing !isions, big dreams, as #ell as a more lucid life in general. %his article is adapted from my ne# multimedia ebook pro/ect Lucid Immersion 6lueprint, a holistic guide to ad!anced lucid dreaming.

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modern medicine. (heaton. IL: Duest, p. 9EE 2iii3 "riedlander, (. *9::B,. %he golden #and of medicine: a history of the caduceus symbol in medicine. (estport, )%: Green#ood ress. 2i!3 %ick, p. BF. 2!3 Ir#in, L. *9::;,. %he dream seekers: Aati!e American !isionary traditions of the Great lains. Aorman, 5.: 8ni!ersity of 5klahoma ress. 2!i3 Laughlin, ). and Loubser, H.A. *B<9<,. Aeurognosis, the de!elopment of neural models, and the study of the ancient mind. %ime G 1ind E*B,: 9EF$9FH. 2!ii3 Hurd, ?. Sleep paralysis: a guide to hypnagogic !isions and !isitors of the night. San 1ateo: Hyena ress. 2!iii3 La6erge, S. and ?heingold, H. *9::9, +'ploring the #orld of lucid dreaming. Ae# Iork: 6allantine 6ooks. 2i'3 ost, %. *B<99,. Lucid day dreaming techni-ue. http:JJ###.luciddaydreaming.comJ 2'3 Schredl 1., Atanaso!a D., HKrmann .., 1aurer 7.%., Hummel %., and Stuck 6. *B<<:,. Information processing during sleep: %he effect of olfactory stimuli on dream content and dream emotions. 7ournal of Sleep ?esearch, 9H *E,, BHF$:<. 2'i3 (adler, 7. *B<99, April BL,. A castle for the king of techno. Ae# Iork %imes, ###.nytimes.comJB<99J<CJBHJgardenJBHmoby.html M ?yan Hurd B<9B for ?eality Sand#ich

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