This is the sixth post on ways to work with dreams, continuing the discussion about the role of the body in dream formation. One of the most important reasons to invite dreams back into your life is their role in warning of illness and sickness. The accounts of this phenomenon have been documented for thousands of years. Aristotle wrote that the “beginnings of diseases and other distempers which are about to visit the body… must be more evident in the sleeping than the waking state.”
Known as prodromal dreams, these warnings come insistently and with increasing nightmarish levels of intensity when not paid attention to. It’s as if the body is saying “Listen up!”
Some Prodromal Dream Case Studies
A famous account retold in van DeCastle’s Our Dreaming Mind is a woman who had:
“Recurrent nightmares of dogs tearing at her stomach a few months before she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She died three months after the diagnosis was made.” (p. 366)
Dreamworker Wanda Burch has a more hopeful story. She listened to the insistent nightmares that plagued her nights and went to the doctor office, only to be turned away several times. The nightmares continued and one pointed out to her a specific spot on her breast. She went back to the lab and asked again for a test. A lump was found that the earlier scanning had missed — breast cancer.
Wanda continued to practice dreamwork throughout her healing and is now cancer-free for over 17 years after that initial diagnosis. Watch the video below as she describes how her dreams literally saved her life.
Neurologist Daniel Schneider has also published some warning dreams in his book Forewarning Cancer Dreams and the Bioplasma Concept. In one account, a man has repetitive dreams about being shot at by a machine gun, the bullets hitting the left side of his lower chest. As Van de Castle reports, “A check up revealed a small tumor on the left lover lobe of his lung, but it had not yet metastasized.” (p. 366).
Vampire Dreams – Not Just About Watching Twilight Before Bed
A month ago in Chicago, I saw famed author Patricia Garfield give a presentation about health-warning dreams. As a psychologist and a dreamer, Garfield has decades of experience about the connections between dreams and illness.
She pointed out to the psychologists in the audience that vampire dreams — dreams of getting bit on the neck — can turn out to be warnings about thyroid conditions or other throat ailments.
Garfield took some time to give examples because dream workers and psychologists tend to interpret mythological creatures without taking into account the possible body signal.
5 tips for Recognizing Health Warning Dreams
Listening to warning dreams can save your life, so it’s important to know what to look for. Unfortunately, we often notice these warnings long after the dream sounds its alarm. And the last thing I want to promote is a sense of paranoia about our dreams. So here are my tips for recognizing possible prodromal dreams.
1. Keep a dream journal. This is the practice that is essential to remembering more dreams, as well as tracking similar dreams over time.
2. Watch out for repetitive dreams, especially unpleasant ones. Nightmares are dreams that are screaming for attention. Often, the imagery of repetitive nightmare will become more clear as the emotional intensity increases, practically demanding that you, the dream ego, acknowledge something that you really don’t want to look at.
3. Prodromal dreams can speak in metaphors and symbols. The most common symbol for the body is a house or structure. Where does the action of the dream take place — on the top floor (the head), or in the bathroom (the bowels or kidneys). In modern society, the car also can be a common sign for the body. Engine trouble? Difficulty accelerating? Blown tires? The metaphors for prodromal dreams are usually very simple, but may be peculiar to you alone; after all the dream is speaking your imaginal language! Again, repetition and journaling are key.
4. Vampires bite your throat, and dogs tear at your intestines. Any time a series of dreams repeatedly exposes, claws at, hurts, or bites a part of your body, that is a sign for attention. Also, be aware of when animals bite at your hands; I have found that this is often a sign to be aware about what comes next.
5. If you have a repetitive nightmare like these, and someone close to you reveals that they just had a similar dream, pay attention. Friends, co-workers and our intimate partners may have unconsciously picked up on an early illness and their dreams can communicate this. Is it micro-behaviors that they notice or telepathy? I don’t know, and I don’t really care, to be honest. Getting the message is what matters most.
As dreams come through our bodies, so do our illnesses come into our dreams. Noticing this level of interpretation is crucial to a holistic view of dreams, because the body is often disregarded by both the dream nihilists (“random defragging information of the brain”) and by dream enthusiasts (“a message from my Higher Self about my purpose in the universe”). Sometimes, a dream is just trying to lower our cholesterol so we can get on with the business of life on this planet.
Do you have a story about a dream that warned you of an illness? I’d love to hear your story — make a comment below.
The next post in the series digs into dreams and nature.
Burch, Wanda (2003). She who dreams: a journey into healing through dreamwork. New World Library.
Van de Castle, Robert (1994). Our dreaming mind. New York: Ballantine Books.