As many of us know, everything dreams-humans and animals, plants and trees, rocks and mountains, rivers and oceans... even planets and stars and universes dream.
We humans are part of that dreaming, and the dreams that are most familiar to us are those that we have when we are asleep. Most of these are unique to us as individuals-they are idiosyncratic and they usually evaporate quickly upon awakening, leaving us with little or no memory of them.
Then there are those ‘big dreams' in which we ‘wake up' in the dream and become aware that we are dreaming... dreams in which we may choose to remain in the dream-body asleep yet mind awake-dreams in which we can act in and direct the content of the dream. Some investigators call these ‘lucid dreams.'
Such dreams may convey something special or extraordinary to us or about us, and the experience itself can be intensely real, one that may change our life dramatically. If so, we never forget such dreams and over the years that follow, we may wonder about them and about the nature of the realms into which they seem to have drawn us.
From the shaman's perspective the dream world and the spirit world are one and the same. The shaman is the master dreamer within these imaginal realms and learns through practice how to enter into the dreaming while very much awake.
As part of this essay, I would like to share with you, the reader, one of my own ‘shamanic dreams,' one that was spontaneous in the sense that I did not ‘intend it,' yet one in which I became aware that I was dreaming and was able to help someone who was in need.
This particular dream involved psychopomp work, the conveying of the soul of a dead person across to where it is supposed to go in the afterlife. I did not know this person yet this experience reveals something of what it means to walk the shamanic path and to be of service... and at a moment's notice.
May 9, 2009--Sacramento, California, while my wife Jill and I were visiting a friend whose house is next to the river...
I awake at first light with Jill asleep next to me in bed. As I allow myself to slip back into my dreaming, I find myself lying on the slope of a hillside under many big trees in full leaf. I sense the presence of others. Looking up I see several children hanging in the air above me on what appears to be a swing with no ropes. It simply floats. The children observe me curiously. They seem to be sitting among garlands of flowers and greenery that is part of the swing seat...
Suddenly I become aware that someone else has embraced me in a full-body hug. Whoever it is, they are literally wrapped around me like a python, immobilizing me completely. I can barely breathe and cannot disengage. As I try to extricate myself, the person tightens themself around me like a wrestler who has you in his grip.
I feel no alarm and send a mental probe to this person, whoever it is. In response I feel his fear... and his deep remorse. Yes, I know in those moments that it is a ‘him,' and I also feel his deep need for reassurance and help.
‘Who are you,' I ask. All I sense in response is confusion and turmoil... but I do get a response. I am in contact.
‘Do you need help?' I ask. The coils of his arms and legs wrapped around me loosen slightly. I take this as a ‘yes.'
Slowly, slowly... I feel the grip of this terrified, confused soul begin to relinquish its hold on me. My vision comes to me in small snippets. I cannot see his face, but looking sideways, I see his right wrist, or rather what remains of it. It appears to me as if his right hand has been severed or torn off, and I see the gleaming articular facets of the bones of his forearm projecting from the stump...
(I include such a detail to reveal how immediate, dramatic and sometimes shocking shamanic dreams may be.)
As I sense him beginning to release me, the deep shamanic trance state surrounds me in its well-known vise-like grip, and I feel myself suffused with the familiar ecstatic sensations of overwhelming power or force. In response, my body (in bed) begins to shake. I cannot control it. I am now completely possessed by this force, and I can only hold on to the emerging whirlwind within and around me and try my best to direct it with my conscious awareness.
The familiar paralysis holds me immobilized as the soaring ecstasy continues to amp up. I now cannot move any part of my body... and I know that this means that the spirits are arriving.
They come in a procession like a parade... and I can both see them as well as feel them observing me curiously as I lie sprawled, paralyzed, on that hillside under the trees. There, to one side, is the one who needs help-he looks like a stiffened cadaver curled up on his back. I still have no idea who he is... or was.
The procession of spirits slowly passes by. They all seem to be wearing masks-human masks like those worn in the carnival in Venice...
I toss and turn on the ground under the trees, completely suffused with the shamanic ecstasy, then the procession changes subtly and the spirits all seem to be female. As they pass I can feel their spirit bodies, their ‘robes' that are their energetic fields sweep me gently, pressing curiously against me as if they are offering their support.
In response to each, my body surges again and again with ‘the power.' I can feel one of them pause and run her ‘fingers' through my hair, lifting it upwards... and words come into my mind-that the power is coming into me through my hair. I think briefly of the biblical hero Samson... and feel her amusement.
I glance over at the curled husk of the one in need and the information comes to me that he wanted to die... that he wanted to kill himself... and I realize that he already has. And with this awareness I know that he (his soul) is in a personal hell-realm... and that he is suffering and afraid.
I look up at the procession of masked spirit-women staring down at me as they pass, feeling the press of their spirit bodies as one at a time, they seem to embrace me as they pass on...
I understand then that the one suffering needs to cross over-and I try to engage him again and tell him this. In response, a curious impulse emerges in my ecstasy-drugged mind. And I know in those moments that before he can cross over, he needs to tell his story.
He has to do this so that he will not be forgotten... so that he will be understood for who he is and who he was.
I convey this to him. ‘You need to tell me your story... and then you will be free...' There is hesitation in him and then I can feel him begin to coil around me again like a snake as his fear grips him...
Then... after another long period of hesitation, I begin to receive the whole story of his life. I get it in spurts, each one representing a vignette... and then in an instant, I receive the transmission of the entirety of it, all of it in one long download, all of his loneliness and pain and sorrow... his few successes and his many failures-a very strange and sad tale. In response I feel him relax.
Then a very unusual message comes through in my mind. I offer it here without understanding what it means. He said to me in those moments:
"Bury me standing because I spent my whole life on my knees."
The impact of this statement shakes me. Understanding may come later, so I say to him ‘Now you are free, and you will not be forgotten.' Reassured, he relinquishes his grip on me.
In that space, another great surge of the shamanic ecstasy grips me as I perceive a spirit detach herself from the procession passing by. She stands over me and I can see her eyes looking down through her human mask.
I observe her completely, up and down, and I catch glimpses of her sensuous belly briefly revealed by her swirling ‘robes,' her eyes flashing as her gaze locks upon my own. Then... she moves forward, slowly enfolding and embracing me, her salty lips suddenly brushing mine... and then she is kissing my mouth...
It is HER... the queen of the sea... the mother... the orsiha that the Brazilians call Iemanja, the Cubans call Yemaya, the Vodou practitioners La Sirene, the Hawaiians Namakaokahai, the Nigerians Mamy Wata... the water woman, the feminine source and progenitor of life itself, the one who has been following me all these years since my first contact with her almost 50 years ago in West Africa... the one who comes to help with the healing of those in need.
The procession continues to pass by as she wraps me in her embrace, her mouth on mine, her lips kissing me more and more ardently. I manage to surface as my sensual side emerges in response to her. I am still gripped by my trance and I am aware that I am still in bed next to my wife...
I whisper against her mouth ‘ You are being very naughty...'
She then did a very female thing. She giggled with the delight of it, and I felt her ‘hands' stroking my ecstasy-gripped soul and my body as well.
‘Will you help with that one?' I ask, indicating the tortured soul who is still curled up nearby.
‘Of course,' she whispers against my mouth... ‘It is done...' and in an instant, he is gone, conveyed across to where he is supposed to go, his trials over.
Then slowly, slowly, her mouth disengages from mine and her arms release me. In response, the shamanic trance diminishes in surges, each pulse of power less than the last...
I sense rather than hear her words of farewell, and I feel the great love that she holds for me, and I for her.
The physical paralysis lessens as the shamanic dream fades, and I slowly transfer my awareness back to my body lying in bed next to Jill. She is holding me in her sleep, and I feel the great love that we share with each other... the love of the gods, expressed and experienced through us here.
For long moments, I slowly review the dream, again and again, and at the end, a sound appears in my mind's ear-a sound like wind chimes tinkling-the laughter of the goddess suffused with her delight.
Then I emerge fully, disengage gently from Jill's embrace without waking her, and taking a pad of paper and pen I write these words so that I can share them with you...
With warm thoughts-Dr. Hank