The Dark Side of Lucid Dreams

Despair, 1994, Alex Grey

Welcome to part III of my series Lucid Nightmares.

Many of us were introduced to lucid dreaming spontaneously ” when we found ourselves in the middle of a disturbing dream. What a wake up call!

Surprisingly, even though lucid nightmares are quite natural, we still do not know much about them. That’s because we usually wield lucidity as a tool, not an exploratory attitude. So we change the nature of the dream through conscious choice, making after-the-fact analysis difficult. But this much is for sure: lucid dreaming can be an effective strategy for banishing repetitive nightmares.

The Sacred No
Banishing nightmares is an important skill because the practice develops our strength and courage in the dream. This is what Nietzsche called the “Sacred No.” The dream ego can stand up to a menacing force and refuse to go along with the narrative. We can choose to transform the monster into something less threatening. Or we can simply walk away, or wake up from the dream. This is how I first dealt with my lucid nightmares. I was emboldened, and those particular nightmares went away.

Clinical studies in the 1990s that explored lucidity as a nightmare treatment report positive results. According to psychiatrists Ernest Hartmann and Frank Galvin, the lucid dreamers “felt their encounters to be enriching and empowering experiences both during and after their dreams.” One of the assumptions that empowered the dreamers is the idea that “this is only a dream; I am safe here; nothing can hurt me.”

In my later development of lucid dreaming, I began to question this assumption, especially after a new round of lucid nightmares came back. And this time, they would not take “no” for an answer.

Taboos against the Dark Side
This is the dark side of lucidity, and it is not discussed much in public. Yet many dreamers I talk to in private admit that sometimes trying to “conquer” their dreams only leads to more trouble. They don’t share these experiences in lucid dreaming forums because of the fear of social ostracism, that they are not “good” lucid dreamers.

Take my word for it, these experiences are a normal part of the learning curve. This class of nightmares seems not to be merely reflections of fear, but to have an autonomous energy all its own. There is intelligence in the eyes of the dream figures, and they don’t like to be told that they are a symbol of some waking-life fear, or that they are not “real.” They have their own story to tell, but we often don’t know how to listen….yet.

Dark experiences in lucid dreams can be found in some of the classic literature. For instance, Frederick van Eeden, the 19th century philosopher who coined the term “lucid dream,” writes that his lucid-control dreams are often followed inexplicably by “demon dreams.” He does not elaborate anywhere in his writings, leaving us only with that haunting phrase.

More recently, psychologist Scott Sparrow writes that at the height of his experimentation with lucid dreams, “all kinds of angry people began showing up in my dreams, and turning rather demonic to boot.” So here we have two experts, separated by a century and a half, noticing a correlation between controlling their lucid dreams and the appearance of “demons” and angry dream figures. This may be why lucid dreams have been labeled as “Satanic” from various Christian sources, and why the label has stuck despite all the evidence that lucid dreams can delve into transpersonal “Godly” experiences too.

This taboo against frightening lucid dreams and the private initiations that follow is why these dreams are under-reported in the literature. In Western psycho-spirituality, having a negative experience is considered a moral failure. In other cultures, this is not the case. For instance, in Tibetan Buddhism, deities have both peaceful and wrathful natures. And in many shamanic cultures, facing painful and terrifying ordeals in dreams is part of the journey towards the other realm, where ancestors and knowledge await.

Christianity and the Dark Night of the Soul
Actually, some Christian mystics have some pretty terrifying visions that sound a lot like lucid nightmares too, especially Teresa of Avila and Hildegaard of Bingen. And of course Dark Night of the Soul is a classic 16th century work by St John of the Cross that illustrates how delving into the unknown is an important part of psychological development and spiritual growth. So the tradition can be found in Western culture, although it is not mainstream.

This is just to say that the usual Western way of dealing with frightening imagery is not to rever it, but to push it away, back into the shadows. However, the shadows thrive in the dreamworld, and beginner lucid dreamers often unwittingly enter this cognitive landscape ill-prepared because our culture has only laid down half of the rules.

Some of you may be turned off by my focus on the spiritual elements of lucid dreaming. I certainly don’t think you need to be religious to develop your lucid dreaming skills. I was raised as a humanist. However, part of the process of dealing with lucid nightmares involves taking a look at your belief system – whether you are a Christian, a Buddhist, a follower of Odin, or an existentialist. The more you understand what you truly believe about this world – and the dreamworld – the better you will be able to navigate these fascinating and disturbing opportunities.

My next post in this series compares lucid nightmares and frightening near death experiences. This comparison allows us to see how there may just be more to fear than fear itself. And finally, I will discuss how to deal with lucid nightmares including some tactics and resources for safely delving deeper into the dreamworld.

Comments

  1. Maura says

    This website is very interesting…for the past three years or so I have had lucid dreams on and off. Usually I can fly wherever I want, or start a fantastic dream, pause it, then start again the next night, if it’s that intense. I have had a witch dream when I first started lucid dreaming, that scared me so bad, but recently, maybe the past 4 mnths or so, I have been having horrible dreams. The first one was a murder mystery where people were being tortured and most of the time I was in the person’s body while it was happening. At the end of the dream, before I woke myself up, I was holding the knife and it scared me out of my dream. The dream I had last night, and the reason for me writing now, was more powerful then any of my lucid dreams or nightmares. Someone was in my house, I felt him. I tried to wake up and then I felt someone taking control of me. I could see my room and felt my bed, but it felt like he kept trying to pull me away. I even felt my body lift off the bed and I tried to hard to fight. I’m still scared right now, just writing about it. I heard his voice in my head and he was threatening me both physically and sexually. I know to most it might sound crazy, but I even saw his face. I don’t know what to do. But at this point I defiantly need to get back in church. Between my gift for lucid dreaming and now this denomic feeling. The last thing I want to happen is me acting out, if I cannot control it. I am a very sweet person and have no will or reason to hurt anyone else, I could never do that!! I have two little children, and my dreams are scarring me more and more…last night was the first time I felt like I wasn’t going to survive….

    • Ryan Hurd says

      Maura, your experience sounds like it may have had elements of sleep paralysis and hypnagogia, which involves realistic feelings your body being controlled or contorted (and often, held down), as well as the threat of sexual violence by another figure (often demonic in characterization). I want to reassure you that you are in no danger…. but there are ways of preventing and working with these experiences. read here: http://dreamstudies.org/2010/04/29/9-ways-to-wake-up-from-sleep-paralysis/

      • Shawn says

        Maura and Ryan, I have been able to lucid dream, on and off, most of my life and mostly i truly love it and have flown everywhere and encountered beautiful things, beings and guides. I was just talking to my mom today that its been a long time since I have had a lucid dream experience. Just this afternoon I lay down for a nap and I had the disturbing experience that sounds just like yours. I was being held down and restricted and “he” was really scaring me and it felt like a very dark energy. I normally can come out of a lucid dream easily back into my body but in this experience i was “in” my body feeling trapped & terrorized as I tried to get out. I started talking to “him” about love and God and eventually that seemed to weaken the bad energy but i could literally feel his cold rubbery flesh holding me down! I just wanted to share that & now Im going to click on Ryans link above about sleep paralysis & hypnagogia which sounds like what happened.

  2. Rob says

    I consciously ceased lucid dreaming about 6 or 7 years ago after my journeys led me to a very disturbing curve. It is interesting to note that I experienced an almost identical phenomena as Scott Sparrow — the height of my lucid dreaming led to the utter abandonment of the venture. Although I think about a revival, I am still to this day petrified of the dark side of lucid dreaming.

    My lucid dreaming mentor (as I called him, he was a good friend from the gym) had always warned me about the “dangers” of lucid dreaming, and I brushed it off as his individual struggle. Until it happened to me. And my brother.

    I remember the defining moment where I woke up and concluded that the spiritual realm I had breached in my dreams was far too dangerous, and that I was meddling with powers and entities I could not possibly fathom.

    The event — I had a false awakening one morning, several in fact, in my fraternity house, and the last of the series I awoke in pitch black. It felt like I was in a tunnel of sorts. I felt my body getting pushed down, deeper and deeper, and a strangling sensation overcame me. I kept my eyes closed because I was absolutely terrified. I then heard a demonic voice, saying some type of prayer or chant in a language I could not understand. It sounded Latin or something of similar decent. My mind swirled and I felt like I was losing consciousness. I prayed to the Lord, and shouted to the entity, “I am protected by the blood of Christ and you cannot hurt me”. My eyes were shut, and I didn’t dare open them. I said this several times, and several more times, until the entity became a bit frustrated, or even upset, and in a instant I was released, and awoke out of this terrible event. At that point I sat up in my bed and said “That’s it. NO MORE.” I have not dreamed lucidly since, nor tried.

    • Ryan Hurd says

      Hi Rob, like my reply above, your experience sounds like an example of a sleep paralysis vision — a strange type of lucid dreaming in which physical sensations from REM sleep cause the sensation of being held down, pushed down, and other crazy things like that, usually with a demonic air of evil in the meantime. this is classic sleep paralysis — it can be worked with, prevented, and even explored in its own right once you learn how to navigate the fear elements. they are unfortunately or fortunately a part of lucid dreaming — but few know of it. it’s not dangerous in its own right except it can scare you off from dreaming! check out this article for more of my perspective : http://dreamstudies.org/2010/01/22/sleep-paralysis-treatment-wake-up-cant-move/

    • Abyssa8@yahool.com says

      Oh my goodness! I have had lucid dreams before, and they have all had a dark side to them, but last night took the cake. It just felt so real! I was lifting from my bed and came face to face with the devil who looked like a blonde headed man and called himself Vince Prince, he was in my room with a card of sorts wanting my soul and trying to bargain for it, chills kept coming over me as I kept saying in the power of Jesus Christ leave me and this house! In the power of God leave this house now! He started changing from a nice looking man to a demonic spirit and escaped through the wall with only his evil red eyes staring back at me poofing into a strange triangle and that is when I woke up. he was pissed! but i felt that i did what i had to do, i am wondering if that is part of the spiritual warfare that will happen in these last days. I came to breathless and wide awake and shocked trying to figure if what happened to me was real or not and figured my hair was longer in the dream and therefore not real, but then again i believe it was in a way–I will never be scared off from dreaming, I pray to God to be a warrior for HIM against satan and his dominions and have for a long time now even though it scares me–maybe it was an answer to a prayer–thanks for sharing!

    • UB says

      Rob, I’ve hd the same issue. I was laying in bed with my dog with my eyes closed. It was a state between sleep and wake when it happened. I heard that same thing and had the same reaction. Animals are very intuitive, because I could hear my dog jerking and whining in his sleep. I’m glad i’m not alone. Thank you.

  3. Mario Wilhite says

    When I’m in the knowing of going to sleep when going to sleep, I always end up in a pitch black dark area where it’s just nothing, then vibration and familiar noises will start happening. I remember one time I saw a scary figure that scared that crap out of me!! I like instantly woke up, having sleeping paralysis then everything would be normal. What does this mean and how to overcome it so I can have a nice lucid dream ?

  4. luciduphoria@yahoo.com says

    Ah, the dark side. Sit down, read along as I tell you my story. Three years ago I began seriously adapting too my dreams. Writing in a journal, graphing my lucid recall progress. Today I have perfect recall and don’t really require a journal to remember most dreams. I remember it was near the time my life had it’s own dark shift, I began having ‘odd’ dreams. It was a similar shift as the one documented in “The Art of Lucid Dreaming” and recorded by the very man to coin the word itself. I eventually found myself compelled by the control characters had in my dream. I’ve never completely controlled a character, and I’m here to say neither have you. Your subconscious is active in the state of lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming itself isn’t conscious dreaming. We’ve all heard people using the term dream guide, or sighting we all have some kind of moral subconscious background playing. Even if it is our own mind creating these events we’re all inside of a part of our brain not accessible to many. The subconscious. Email me if your subconscious has a large roll in your dream state, or if you’ve ever had what you would consider uncontrollable near-lucid dreams. My goal is to debunk this as my own mental pursuit, or Van Eeden might be onto something. Also anybody who has quit lucid dreaming from the fear of these nightmares please email me if they’ve gotten worse.

  5. Ceil says

    When I was younger [early 20’s] I had 3 premonition dreams and several lucid dreams. When falling asleep, I would ‘tunnel’ spiriling down into what looked and felt like a tornado in reverse. Then the dreams would begin. One night as I was ‘tunneling’ into sleep, I forced my eyes open and the whole room spun around me. I never had any premonition dreams after that nor have I ‘tunneled’ since. I still have some lucid dreams but not as many. Question: Do you think that ‘tunneling’ into a deep sleep takes a person into that type of dream state?

  6. Ramon says

    I had a dream in which I was walking down a street full of old abondoned houses and the street had large cracks. I decided to walk into one of the houses and I saw my Grandmother who died 4 years ago. She was sweeping the floor and she had her back turned but i knew it was her. She turned around and looked at me but didn’t say anything. I just stood there silent. She dropped the broom and ran toward me at full speed. When she got in my face I realized it was some type of a demon. The face turned green and grotesque. I started swinging at the demon and I was actually trying to have a fight with this thing, then I woke up. It was the weirdest dream I ever had.

  7. JR says

    What does it mean if in my dreams I seem to be violated by demons? sometimes I fight demons sometimes I run away, But I always scream for God to help me. sometimes even after I wake up I can not shake the fear and anxiety for several hours. it is very fearful.

  8. Morgan says

    I have anxiety and I have mild insomnia. When I do sleep, however, I have horrible nightmares. The past two nights of sleep have been filled with a grey house and the same demon- in both dreams, she was trying to get me. The demon is white-grey with black hair, a gaping mouth and wide, black holes where her eyes should be. In the first dream, she was killing everyone else in the house, including my mother- she was saving me for last. In the second dream, I was stuck in the same house by myself. There were mirrors, and I was afraid to look in them because I feared she would be standing behind me. (Looking in mirrors is a phobia I have in real-life). I feel like this demon is following me around, as she is in my dreams and I often fear that she will appear in real-life. I can’t sleep upstairs because I’m afraid she will be there, and I can’t walk upstairs if I know there are doors open and the rooms are dark. It’s making life extremely hard.

  9. Keji says

    Recently I’ve had ‘demonic’ lucid dreams, and when I wake up, I can feel my bed shaking. It feels like I’m in a small earthquake. I’m sure I’m not the one shaking, I sleep alone, have no pets, etc. I’ve gone as far as to get up and I can visibly see the bed moving. The bed is stable – I can hiccup/cough/sneeze and the bed will not shake more than once or twice.

    Any ideas?

    • Mark says

      Interesting! As a child I used experience my bed shaking, undulating and even levitating whilst at the same time I had a feeling of an evil entity trying to gain control of my body. This I would experience before falling asleep so I knew it wasn’t a dream. I never checked if the bed was actually doing this like you did though.
      However, once, when I was reading in bed and leant down to pick something off the floor I had a feeling that something yanked on my arm and the next second I was pulled out of bed and lying in a heap on the floor!

  10. shilah says

    i have recently been having demonic lucid nightmares. for the past 12 days they have included my deceased little brother and have included him being possesed. he is usually with other demons and they all have glowing red eyes and are portraying the addictions i have had or other different demons from my past. i have had many dreams of my former habits but now wake up crying seeing my 16 yr old brother as a demon. i try to go back to sleep and make things better but can not gain full control over my consciousness and the nightmares just continue.
    just wondering if there is any insight as to why this is a reoccuring theme.

  11. david says

    I’ve practicing my own form of meditation for a long time, and from that I came to the idea that if I was to learn anything spiritual that I would have to feel it for myself. From that idea I never researched meditation, spirituality, or any else along those lines. Until I started trying to get to the place between asleep and awake, that’s what I called it until I heard of lucid dreaming. After I heard of that from watching tv, I started to do research on the topic.I found that ideas started to match up.
    I found that regular meditation was fine but if I lad down I got a stronger reaction like a dream but it wasn’t I could see my room, my dog and everything else. While it lasted it was a lot of fun, until it appeared. I don’t know what it is but the dam thing scared the hell out of me. It won’t let me leave my bed when I try to jump out, and I’ve been trying alot. I finally managed to ask it what it wanted it roughly said ” to be free”. It scares me to fight it but I’ll keep trying. My only idea is maybe its something like a test, kind of like a final exam to see if your ready for level 2. And if this is level 1 the next level must be a lot more fun.

  12. DarkStar says

    Interesting..i have never heard of the Dark side of lucid dreaming..but now that i read the accounts it makes complete sense and reminds me alot of my psychedelic Lsd trips..(and we have all heard about bad trips)…at one time i never believed i could have one and beleived that it was due to people not being able to accept who they were as a person..Was i wrong and after 100 or so times i finally had one..and from then on it was almost uncontrollable.i had to stop taking acid..and after years of taking a break i came back with a fresh head and learned to work with them and go with the flow..though i overcame my bad trips. ive been interested in lucid dreams and meditation as a safer alternative..im glad i came across this..its always good to be prepared for negative experiences..being caught off guard can definetly be traumatizing..

  13. Jeremiah Rubio says

    I’m planning for a lucid dreaming. And I am bothered about the outcomes that may be happened. Mr. Hurd pls. give me an advice for my decision.

  14. Zachary Grays says

    Hello, I come in search of answers for some things I need help with that I am unable to in my life and friends for I don’t know anyone in person who has knowledge or even experience with these things. I will start with my most latest dream, then I will tell each experience before that in hopes for you to understand better.

    I was in north dakota 3 months ago and was about to go to sleep on the floor next to my buddies bed in his room. I began meditating before going to sleep and ended up falling asleep in whatever state of mind I was in because of the meditating. Anyways, I was around a picknic table with a bunch of items on it (honestly I know this sounds dumb but I want to say it was a bunch of guns, I may not be able to visualize the memory anymore but I trust my mind wants to label the items as guns) there were also 3 people standing around the picknic table but it was such a chaotic situation that I didn’t have time to spend focusing on any one point, I instantly felt the 2 guys coming after me. the first guy comes up and throws a punch and I instantly felt like some sort of kung-fu master, I took the guy down with great ease and in a way you’d see in a kung-fu movie, I did this again with the 2nd guy and threw his body to the floor. BUT here is where it gets interesting, I turn to the 3rd person to look for him… or so I thought was a him.. next thing I know this PALE little schoolgirl with dark black hair is literally IN MY FACE, not even 2 inches away, and she’s just staring me into my eyes and as she is doing this, do you know how a lightbulb lights up? the glow? the flourescent lighting? how it could be in a box with holes cut out and light the box up like its almost see through? well thats what her head and face started to do…. her eyes started to just GLOW with a glow of the sun, and the light was even emitting from her ears and nostrils. While this is happening in a split second, she is putting her hands to both of my temples on my head on the sides of my eyes and I felt like I couldn’t move, I had no fear, so I had no reason to not be able to move, then all of the sudden I turn away and for some godly reason I put my index and middle fingers together to press on her forehead and it instantly broke her trance or whatever from my mind… I woke up instantly after that unable to move. unable to breathe. I was turning to the left NOT EVEN A FOOT AWAY and I was trying so very hard to say my buddies name “j….ja…..jask…jaske…..JAKE!” the entire time I actually could feel a force holding me down. I could barely talk, and as I would try to get up it literally felt like something was holding me down. And for those thinking its that stupid pragnogic or whatever B.S. please don’t come at me with your side of medicines reasoning and logic… This stuff has no reasoning. Or logic. So why would it be its answer?

    Anyways, My 2nd story is weird as well.

    this happened 3 years ago.

    I began the dream feeling like I was in a military uniform. I felt strong and I felt tall like no amount of fear could ever reach me… I start walking up to this house (as I “felt it” I was here to meet someone) I go up to the front door, and its this girl, I really love, she’s my bestfriend, she’s my soul mate.. she opens the door in this skimpy thong, this low cut belly shirt just looking so very unhealthy. I come inside, and in this house on each side of the floor are rows of people, like its some sort of homeless house, and she brings me to her area of the floor and looks at me with this bright smile and says “Look! look what I have!” and opens up this box and there’s nothing but heroin needles and used rigs in this box. and I look up at her with such sadness… I woke up from thedream at about 2-4 a.m. and then went back to sleep…. I called her when I woke up around 11 a.m. I asked her, Vienna, I know this is gonna sound crazy. I then began to explain the dream, and thats when I asked her.. Vienna, did you shoot up last night?

    She replies, Yeah zach, for the first time.

    I can’t explain to you the feeling of helplessness and anger or frustration I have towards myself…. I had a chance to put her on a different path and I did not.

    But anyways. What can you tell me about these 2 dreams? I have wwwwaaaayyyyy more, even ones with shadow people… and yes, i’ve experienced shadow people in person and in dreams. this world is full of so much. and evil or not, I will experience them and learn to beat them.

  15. tabi says

    Im unsure if this is lucid dreaming or not. But it scared me so bad i woke up freaked out and still am. My dream started of great. But then it turned into me being trapped in the mall of some sorts it looked as if ive seen the place before. I started noticing the people around me started changing to demons. Even friends. I made them mad and i went to cross this bridge to get to the other side of the stores and thats when 2 demons grabbed me and one was holding me by one arm the other one had my other harm. They were going to kill me. Drop me to my death. And the people saying you dont have to do this… your good people. Then poof they were gone. I had bruises in the dream where they were holding me. I even felt the pain from them. Then these kids became possessed following me around calling out cody(my brothers name is cody) i told myself not to get scared and as the kids approached me i pushed there hands an said lets go find cody. We made it near an escalater and i saw a good little girl with a doll and she said you know the jesus song. Sing it and we started singing jesus loves me this i know…etc and the demons were gone. Woke up looking for bruises. But the demons came back when i went to back to sleep. Now they were in my house.. i told myself that no matter how scared i was, i had to control them so they wouldnt hurt anyone. And one had a knife i snatched it up and the demons ear saying you will not hurt anyone while in my house. And it said yes ma’am. But theres more than one. Numerous im afraid to even go back to sleep. Ive had dreams like this before. Many times. But these two dreams i felt less in control. Any ideas on what i could do?

  16. Carol says

    I have had lucid dreams of battling evil for many years, I don’t wake afraid anymore, I kick their asses. sorry for the profanity. the most recent one , without going into too much detail , was a Shaman standing at the head of my son ( he passed July 1, 2010 ) at his feet was a priestess, I was watching as the priestess began pulling a demon out of my son, and she was losing the battle, I then grabbed hold and helped her and hurled the demon into a fiery furnace that was behind us, left still was a placenta with one small demon coming out and more still inside, I grabbed it and hurled it into the burning inferno. then I woke.

    Since my son’s passing, which I still grieve deeply, I brought his sofa home with me, which is where he took his last breath, I have clung to it, until this dream, the next day after the dream, I had my husband remove it from the house and take it to the dump. I do believe this was indeed a lucid dream, I was very aware of what was going on, and I do believe it was a message for me to let go, to finally put to rest the pain I was holding onto. I tried to believe I kept the sofa because it was from there my son went to heaven, but always the pain was there of knowing those who took his life , put him there . I feel lighter now. These dreams do have spiritual meaning, I do pray every night, and I do believe I am a spiritual warrior in my lucid dreams, for I am fearless. there was a time when the dreams would terrify me, but not anymore.

    I look forward to your input and thank you for bringing this topic to ‘light’

  17. Himitsu says

    I just woke up from the craziest lucid “nightmare”. I have been a lucid dreamer off and on for years, but tonight something went different.
    I was having a vivid dream of hanging out with some people making video games, and then the dream shifted and there was some women there. I was looking at the women, and I started to feel myself becoming lucid. As I became lucid, the women changed into horrible powerful demons and they were trying to hurt me and scare me. I could feel them using their power to try to destroy me and I started calling on Jesus, but I felt my faith wasn’t enough and they just kept on, although I could see them reacting to it like they didn’t want me to do it.. They were calling me their stupid brother. .
    One of the demons was holding me with it’s power and I began to feel just like I do during sleep paralysis, unable to move or scream. I started trying to force out the words over and over “u are forever and eternally damned and thrown into the torrent in the pit of the fire”, and they started to lose their control over me, and I finally woke up with a strange feeling in my head like the dream was trying to pull me back into it. I still feel it now as I write this.

    One thing that I noticed that is particularly interesting, is that so many of the people talking about these dreams (the majority it seems) also mention instinctively calling on Jesus or Christ or God in order to (successfully) stave the demons off. I’m not certain if the majority have a Christian upbringing, or are religious, but for years I have more closely identified with other existential beliefs; preferring to think of myself more as a general spiritualist, believing in force and energy, rather than a typical religious concept of God.

    If anybody feels compelled to talk about this more with somebody who is quite interested in the subject, drop me an email at ainaemaet@gmail.com

    Take care and God Bless.