Wednesday 29 July 2015

Review: Pagan Dreaming by Nimue Brown

I find dreams are inherently fascinating. They can be like free movies created by our own subconscious minds to delight, scare or otherwise entertain us; they can allow us to do things we would never be able to do in real life; they can give us personal insights; offer solutions to problems and help us heal from painful life experiences. Occasionally, just possibly, they might offer portents for the future or even allow us to communicate with those not in the physical world – loved ones who have passed on, other spirits and maybe even deities.

Of course, most of the time dreams are just a replay of stuff that’s happened in our day-to day-lives and sometimes can be downright stressful and unpleasant. But they continue to be not entirely explained by science, psychology, magic or mysticism. A new book called Pagan Dreaming: The Magic of Altered Consciousnessdelves into the secret world of dreams to explore what they do and how we can get the most from them.

Author Nimue Brown says in her introduction: “I will explore the dream as a pragmatic, bodily thing, as a psychological phenomenon and as a spiritual experience... I offer tools here for integrating your dreaming experience into your spiritual practice, and for using dreams to discover yourself as both a physical and a spiritual person.”

Pagan Dreamingis down to earth, sensible and practical. Nimue points out that the first and most important step in dreamwork is to get a good night’s sleep – regularly. She offers advice on how to do that: having a comfortable bed, excluding noise, eating healthily, avoiding alcohol and caffeine and being kind to ourselves when we are suffering from stress and anxiety.

Nimue warns against using dictionaries of dream symbolism, as what happens within dreams is personal to us and we are the best people to work out what they mean. She also underlines that most dreams are just dreams: “Do not let the anxiety dreams convince you that they are portents of the future, such that they feed your fear!”

Much of the book is about how to explore dreams to gain insights into ourselves. For those who are also looking for the numinous, there is advice on how to spot it: “If you are thinking about a divinatory aspect to dreams, it is worth pondering whether you see that as the universe speaking to you directly about important matters, or as portents drawn from the chaos, or as your own wisdom’s important to spend time getting to know your dreaming habits before you start reading too much into them.”

Studying one’s dreams, unsurprisingly, involves keeping a dream diary and spending time just after waking to mull over any dreams. Nimue says: “The more attention we pay to our dreams, the more likely we are to remember them. The more we think about our personal symbolism, the more likely we are to keep using the same symbols in dependable ways. It is a bit like inventing a private language for yourself, and the more you invest in this, the more you will tend to get out of it.”

While many books on dreamwork hype the skill of lucid dreaming, Nimue is actually against it. She says: “Western culture is relentless in telling us that the rational mind knows best. Reason and logic are championed while feeling and intuition are held suspect. What could be worse than to be irrational? And yet, we are not wholly rational creatures and will make many of our most important decisions for less than perfectly rational reasons. Dreams are one of the few spaces where the intuitive side of self still gets to exist. I think we shut that down at our peril. Lucid dreaming can be a colonization of the wild dreaming space by the conscious, rational mind and that’s something I am uneasy about.”

However, she does see dreamwork as being an aid to magical or spiritual practice, and offers suggestions for doing visualisations or prayer at the edge of sleep. She says: “Magical dreaming is something that will start to happen for us if we engage with our lives, and with our dreams.” She also discusses techniques to incubate dreams – some taken from descriptions of historic shamanic and bardic practice.

A good summary of Pagan Dreamingcomes at the end: “To work with dreams is not to practice the kind of magic that leads to definite outcomes. It is not spellwork or prayer. This is an act of opening to the unpredictable, seeing what you can get and then trying to make sense of it, or not, as you prefer.”

Publisher Moon Books says on its website: “Mixing the pragmatic and the spiritual, Pagan Dreaming goes far beyond the standard dream dictionary to offer instead a range of ways for making dreaming a meaningful part of your spiritual life. Exploring symbolism, the physical implications of dreaming, dreaming as learning and problem solving it then places the spiritual dimension of dreams in a context that will help readers go beyond x=y interpretations towards something that will enrich and re-wild their lives. The book includes an array of techniques for working consciously with dreams and developing a Pagan spiritual practice around dreaming.”

Pagan Dreaming is insightful, thought-provoking and well written. I would recommend it for anyone looking to explore their dreams. The book is due to reach shops in August 2015 and can be ordered via Amazon.

Links and previously related posts
Pagan Dreaming: The Magic of Altered Consciousness