We don’t have to forget the last hundred epochs to appreciate the ancient aspects of lucid dreaming, but as Westerners we may need to let go of some destructive myths in order to participate at deeper levels of imagination like those still cultivated in dreaming cultures around the world.
Some of these myths include: we as individuals are alone, we as a culture are owners of the lands we inhabit, we as a species are separate from nature, and that the universe itself is a dead, mechanistic realm of cause and effect.
When we take these notions into the dream, the stage is set, the possibilities are limited, and the anomalies are stamped out before they have a chance to speak up.
However, simply donning the cultures of others is not the answer either. Cultural appropriation can sneak in when we are not looking, revealing hidden power dynamics that derive from those same colonial attitudes that reflect our own disenfranchisement from spirit in the first place.
There’s nothing wrong with studying and practicing other culture’s spiritual traditions, if it’s done with respect and as long as we remember that we have our ancestry too.
Yet, in his book Dreamseekers, world traveler Harvey Arden writes about the way indigenous cultures feel drained by Westerners’ appropriation of their healing ways. One young aboriginal man fumes, “Get your own Dreamtime. Don’t take ours.”
What is Deep Ancestry?
Euro-Americans, especially “white people,” have a hard time connecting to our roots because in order to become white, we had to shed our own ethnicities in the process. Even if we have trouble connecting with our family’s traditions, we all have deep ancestry.
Tom Crockett, author of Stone Age Wisdom, outlines how our deep ancestors viewed the world. These are important to keep in mind because dreaming cognition is the source for many of these views. By remembering principles from our own deep indigenous heritages—and we all have one or more—we can tap into the dream directly and rocket past roadblocks caused by the modern culture of separation, which sees the world as a pot of resources to exploit.
The five themes Crockett maps are that the universe is alive, conscious, dynamic, interconnected, and responsive.
The dream is alive!
Enacted within the lucid dream, and mirrored in waking life, these principles can help heal the wound of the dreamer who wants to move beyond control in order to communicate with other sources of identity, wisdom, and sentience. As I suggested in Chapter 4, researching into the cosmologies of our direct ancestors in the historical era can also provide a quick path into dream shamanism, as these ways are still half-remembered.
The ancestral path into lucid dreaming can often have an initiatory feel. Stick with it: behind the terror is a new level of awareness. Fear is often the bleating of an outdated paradigm about to give way to an expanded way of seeing the world.
I’d like to share one of my own lucid initiation dreams:
I enter a spiral stairwell and walk down the steps. I am aware I’m dreaming, nervous and excited. The banister is also a snake, winding its way down. I feel a sudden surge of humility as I walk down, knowing I am close to a source of power. The staircase becomes a round tunnel and I slide down quickly, enclosed but not restricted, emerging on a platform. I look down and am horrified to see that I am bleeding profusely from my chest and abdomen. Blood splatters the floor and I am simultaneously holding a box in front of me that is also bleeding. I feel I am close to something powerful. I hurriedly make one more downward turn, where the axis of the staircase winds tightly into a standing column of blood and light. It is alive, transparent, and pulsing with energy. I hold up my box and it fits into the column at about chest level. Suddenly, I feel relieved, and am no longer bleeding. Still lucid, but unsure how to proceed, I am struck with a pang of humility again. I fall to my hands and knees, prostrating myself in front of “the source.” I thank it for this opportunity and feel very emotional, both ecstatic and sorrowful. I feel a compassion for myself (in my own thoughts) and I know that I am safe. (2006)
This dream is the first of a series of “reverence” dreams I have experienced since I began to concentrate on ancestral ways of knowing. This dream vision had an intense quality of more-than-realness that anthropologist Lee Irwin calls apodictic. The powerful column of energy and blood was terrifying to behold. I felt that I was seeing something that I was not meant to see.
In this dream, the power of the autonomous force is the central focus of the experience, not my clever lucid witness. As soon as I framed this experience as a meeting, I was overcome with the need to ritualize my actions. And with this spontaneous action came an outflowing of thanksgiving and compassion.
I also want to draw attention to how the snake in this dream takes on the form of a banister, an architectural feature that literally provides guidance and support for moving deeper to lower levels. Could this image be more archetypal?
This snake-banister then spirals into a raw energetic source: alive and bristling with power, yet needing something from me—my own contribution. My action completed the circuit, relieving pressure and stopping the leak of life force (blood) from my dreambody. By healing the snake-energy column, my own dreambody is healed.
Our beliefs and expectations shape lucid dreams, including the dream architecture itself, the story arc, the myth behind the myth. With an attitude of awareness and humility, and a desire for interconnection with the autonomous energies of the dream, the dream expands, the conflicts abate, and we may be invited to enter into ritualized spaces that can transform us forever.
Have you had any lucid dreams that revealed something about your deep ancestry?
This article is excerpted from my ebook Big Dreams: Lucid Dreaming and Borderlands of Consciousness.
Interesting idea. As a white American, I never felt entitled to anything ancestral. Although my ancestory is heavily Irish and Scottish, I have about as much connection to Ireland and Scotland as I do to Mongolia. Some people in my family have tried desperately to embrace our Celtic roots, but it always seemed kind of sad to me, trying to claim a heritage that you actually have no part of. And then I think, well how far back do I want to go? Ireland and Scotland are just the latest, most obvious entries into my geneology. Where did my Scottish and Irish ancestors migrate from? France? Spain? What does having a “heritage” even mean in a world of nomadic ethnic groups?
All this to say that I like the idea of ancestral dreaming, but when I think deeply on it, it seems like another variety of cultural appropriation. For me, I should add. There are some people who are descended from white colonialists whose families never lost their strong connection to their homeland. And of course there are plenty of people whose families have been in the same land for generations on generations. Me, I can’t even keep the same address for more than 3 years.
Now having said all that, my namesake is the Irish god Aengus, whose realm is love and dreams 🙂
Ryan Hurd says
thanks KMG for the discussion fodder! I have often felt the same — that I didn’t deserve a heritage, or that embracing old ways is just cultural re-appropriation. But before getting into that — I want to make a quick note which is that this article is focusing more on deep ancestry — not where we were 6 generations ago, but more like 100 generations ago. not precultural, really, but pre-civilization. that is to say, before agriculture and state level society, all of us, no matter where we came from, lived in cultures that had different value systems. we spent so much time as humans in this way of being with each other and the world (99% essentially) that I believe (and its conjecture, I admit) that pre-agricultural lifeways are to some extend neurologically defaulted. but more to the point, when we act with this value system (animism — that the world is alive, and we are connected to one another in a reciprocal way), wonderful things happen in the dream world. so regardless if I’m “wrong” and I’m a romantic, and industrialization has made permanent zombies of modern humans, it’s still an effective cognitive strategy in the dream world to treat the world as if dream figures have sentience and to respect one another.
that said, learning about one’s past life ways in more recent generations is not cultural appropriation, it’s remembrance. even tho we (and here I mean euro-americans and europeans) may have lost our heritages (especially where in the US we were pressured to), there are a zillion micro-traditions in our families of origin s(patterns of thought, dietary preferences, language-based beliefs) that still play an unconscious role in our personal lives. researching the past is a way of making these shadowy currents conscious, owning them, noticing cultural identities that we aren’t usually allowed to take part of. and when you make this research, start the process, dreaming deepens it and offers new, half-forgotten pieces to the puzzle. it’s pretty amazing. for example, I think you might enjoy this piece by Amy Brucker as she talks about this process and the uncanny things that happened: http://thedreamtribe.com/dream-genealogy/
and also check out this piece by Erin Langley about how to move deeper into the concept of dream ancestry, including how to recognize how “whiteness” is a problem, for all of us. http://luciddreamconservationproject.blogspot.com/2014/02/remembering-our-ceremonies-with-respect.html
Tosca Zraikat says
I found your post interesting but also a little sad, though I do understand. How many generations back must we do to lay claim to our heritage? It is in our blood. We all carry ancestral memories, Jung would say as far back as our primal roots, so why feel somehow not entitled to claim connection with your latest heritage? I am of Russian heritage, never been in Russia, and I live in Australian, yet I have always had a deep longing for a different vegetation, different animals than are found here, and when I lived in the US for long period of my life, I felt a much stronger affinity for that northern hemisphere climate, vegetation and fauna than I ever have here. I realised that the affinity must be genetic, something in my blood responding to dogwood, birch trees and great lakes. We are all much more than our current lives. It has taken me a lifetime to accept this, and to recognise the influence of my heritage in other things as well. It is by no means all that I am but it is part of it, and having had no living relatives at all for over thirty years other than those issued from me, I now cherish these links with the past. It is not cultural appropriation to acknowledge one’s legacy, to know and appreciate where one’s ancestors lived and created, and to embrace that not as the all of you but as a part of you.
I am always a little dismayed to find that people would rather be someone else, to embrace another heritage instead of their own. We may be or will be in many cultures at some time during our many life cycles, and carry deep memories of them within us. Surely part of our humanity is in acknowledging those we know of. When we do, we can really begin to understand the attachment that others have to their cultural heritage, and respect it as part of them. Yet we can also share. Is it cultural appropriation to want to learn from other cultures, to reach across cultures in love and respect, and in recognition of the gifts they have for all of humanity? I don’t think so, not if we know who WE are. But if we reject our own heritage, do not recognise it and wish we were someone else, and try to be them, or take from them without permission, claiming and remaking it as if it were our own, without honouring its source and the living people of that heritage, and without giving back from our own culture what they might want, then we are appropriating a culture, and do not deserve their gifts. I had not meant to write to much, but I thought this was important. There is nothing inferior about being white or about being Indian, African, Aboriginal or Asian, nor is there anything superior about it. We need us all, and we need to love who we are, so that we can love who others are, and recognise our brother and sister-hood.
Ryan Hurd says
wonderful note Tosca, thank you. you nailed the question of cultural appropriation for me here, “Is it cultural appropriation to want to learn from other cultures, to reach across cultures in love and respect, and in recognition of the gifts they have for all of humanity? I don’t think so, not if we know who WE are.” We don’t want to be hungry ghosts, to use a Buddhist metaphor. 🙂
Yesterday, I had a weird dream. In my dream, I heard a snoring sound. I heard 2-3 snoring sounds. I woke up from my sleep and threw my pillow on the floor. For sure this morning one of the pillows was on the floor.
I remember as a kid, I never liked our cat sleeping on my bed. I think in my dream I threw my pillow thinking that the cat is sleeping with me. Yesterday I was upset about a comment made by husband in front of my 20 yr old daughter and I wanted to share that grief with my parents. I was very close to my parents and received tons of emotional support from them. For some reasons, my husband is not able to give me that kind of emotional support. As a kid, whenever I was upset,I used to lie down on my bed and cry on my own . At that time, my mom used to come and sit beside me to console me. I am not sure it was my mom who was snoring……….