With Halloween on its way, it’s high time to take a look at visitation dreams, or dreams we have of the departed.
For hundreds of years, early November (conveniently poised between the Fall Equinox and the Winter Solstice) has been celebrated as a time of harvest and plenty, and also a time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thin. Is it the death of summer, the lengthening nights, or the dark knowledge that some won’t make it through the hard winter to follow?
Who can say, but the metaphor connecting the harvest and the dead is part of the myth of agricultural societies around the world, as disparate as the ancient Celtic cultures with their celebration of Samhain and the Mexican celebrations of the Day of the Dead.
Spirits and Dreams Go Way Back
It’s no secret that a preferred method of contact with the departed in these bridging times is through dreams and hypnagogic visions. As writer Robert Moss has noted, the dead come calling for different reasons, and not all of them seem to be about satisfying the grief process, as some psychologists have wanly suggested.
In fact, dreams of the dead can differ wildly in content, emotional embrace, and timing. Perhaps something else — something a little more ancient – is at work.
Historically-speaking, dreams of the dead are some of the earliest transcribed accounts of dream life. Aristotle mentioned them, as did Lucretius, in part to comment on the widespread folk psychology that the characters in people’s dreams actually seem to be the spirits of the departed.
Don’t forget that in the ancient world Thanatos (God of the Dead) and Hypnos (God of Dreams) are brothers. I could go on to cite ancient China and Egypt, as well as hundreds of contemporary indigenous cultures, who also have made the link between dreams and ancestors, but suffice to say that dreams have always been noted as a natural place for the deceased to mingle with us.
Mythologically speaking, dreams take place in the underworld of our minds. Cognitively speaking, themes of mortality, depression, and sickness outnumber themes of happiness, bliss, and rapture in dreams 4 to 1. It would seem we are predisposed to go down the dark road when we dream –- in fact, one recent dream research study found that the longer a dream narrative is, the more negative in theme and emotional content it becomes. The road to the land of the dead is paved with strong emotions, both positive and negative.
But Aren’t Dreams Made of Cinnamon, Spice and Everything Nice?
I love to bring this point up, because our culture defends itself against the dark truths of dreaming cognition with the cheap belief that dreams are light & fluffy, random, and mostly about our mother’s sex appeal. And what to make of the Euro-American re-scripting of the very word “dream” to mean idle fantasy, wishes of kisses, and hopes of happiness?
But behind the strained smile of the newscaster’s sound bite, there is an uncomfortable silence. It is in this silence, before being laughed off as “what a crazy dream!” that the power of the dreaming mind takes hold.
Common Traits of Visitation Dreams
Meanwhile, ordinary people around the world continue to have visitation dreams that greatly affect them. Some say the dreams actually change their lives forever. According to Kevin Kovelant, a consciousness studies professor at JFK University, visitation dreams often have these features:
- The dream feels more real than the usual dream: more clarity, focus, and steadiness of mind.
- A “felt sense” that the person is really them, not just a memory. “That was grandma – I know it was her.”
- Very little plot: usually the dream narrative consists of the interaction between the dream ego and the figure of the deceased person.
- Strong emotions are commonly reported: love, forgiveness, anger, fear.
- A “physical” touch between the spirit and the dreamer, usually a hug or a reaching out.
- The deceased dream figure often looks younger and healthier than when they passed on.
- Sometimes accompanied by the feeling of “weight” or “presence” on the dreamer’s bed.
Dreamworker Robert Moss breaks down visitation dreams into 13 themes. Here’s my favorites from Moss’s interesting book The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead.
5 Reasons Why We Dream of the Dead
The spirit brings a warning related to the dreamer’s health.
The spirit bring helpful information for the dreamer.
The dead has a message for the dreamer to pass on.
The spirit needs guidance from the dreamer.
But Is it Really Them?
Of course, the question begged is whether or not the dream means something about life after death, especially after the dream visitation passes on information that the dreamer did not previously know and is later verified. These uncanny stories will never convince a skeptic… until the skeptic gets a knock on the dream door himself.
Kovelant, who is lecturing about visitation dreams on Halloween in Fremont, CA, recently related the following documented story:
In 1925, a North Carolina man awoke from a dream in which his late father — looking very much alive — instructed him to “find my will in my overcoat pocket.” Checking the pocket, the dreamer discovered a note leading him to a certain chapter in the family Bible. Between two pages in that chapter, the will was cached, according to 1927’s Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research.
Kovelant also has noted that there has been little serious research into the actual phenomenon of visitation dreams. Rather, most publications use the subject to advance (or denigrate) a pet theory on the nature of the universe, such as the existence of an after-life, or of the possibility of soul travel.
More often than not, of course, is the cultural narrative that dreams of the dead are “part of the grieving process.” This perspective does have validity, of course: dreams of the recently passed can be very comforting to mourners. These bereavement dreams are surely a sub-set of what we largely clump together as “visitation dreams” today. However, sometimes the visitation dreams comes 20 to 30 years later….long past the traditional “stages of grief” have passed.
Early in the 21st century, visitation dreams invite more questions than answers. And as the veil between worlds grows thin tonight, maybe you should prepare yourself for a visitation.
You won’t be alone.