The Interpretation of Dreams

Kathleen Downey, C.S.C.

From the prehistoric tribal medicine man/woman to the time of philosophers, psychologists and psychiatrists in the present we have been occupied with deciphering the meaning of the messages present in our dreams.

Freud presents, "the prescientific view of dreams adopted by peoples of antiquity as being in complete harmony with their view of the universe in general. The ancients regarded dreams not as a product of the dreaming mind but as something introduced by a divine agency."

That divine agency we know to be our Spirit or Soul, which speaks to us in metaphor.

Through this divine agency we are exposed to opposing forces: truthful and valuable dreams, sent to the sleeper to warn him/her or to foretell the future, and deceitful dreams, whose purpose it was to mislead or destroy. From a Shamanic perspective we may look at these forces as being representational of our true self or highest self and our ego self, that which has developed from a series of experiences where partial soul loss or soul theft has been experienced, where an exchange of energy occurs, and personality patterns and beliefs have been adopted for survival.

Looking at Shakespeare‚s "Macbeth" or Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment", we see that if we are living in conflict with our soul our dreams if not our waking reality will haunt us with this conflict.

Indigenous healers see our lives being played out from a script our dreams or sub-conscious minds create from our beliefs. Where is our truth found in this cryptic web? Most of the time our truth is not as evident as the character in Dostoyevsky's story we must dig for it and put our puzzle together in order to find who we are outside of the personality we may have taken on in order to survive.

Our dreams can offer us bits of this puzzle as it is our natural line of communication to the soul and the sub-conscious mind. However, we may only recall pieces of dreams, continuous images that remain in our conscious minds as a result of dreaming are often rare.

In our childhood we may develop a re-occurring dream. Our sub-conscious mind controls our long term memory which stores past experiences, attitudes, values and beliefs* it therefore follows that our re-occurring dreams from childhood are replaying a trauma symbolically, storing it on our hard-drive so that it becomes absorbed into our belief systems and behavior patterns. As we mature into young adulthood we notice the re-occurring dream subsiding, it has become so deeply embedded in our psyche that we call in the circumstances of the trauma through relationships with others. We will attract the situation that will enable the trauma to continue outside the dream state. Thus our dreams become our reality.

Aristotle studied some of the characteristics of dream-life. He suggests that dreams give a magnified construction to small stimuli arising during sleep. "Men think they are walking through fire and are tremendously hot, when there is only a slight heating about certain parts." From this he draws the conclusion that dreams may betray the first signs of some bodily change or condition that has not yet manifested noticeably in the physical body.** Shaman's understand that our soul will tell us, in precognitive dreams or in journey work, when our body may possibly reflect an imbalance of the spirit with physical change prior to that change. The well trained shaman incorporates a process which is sometimes referred to as extraction, the extraction of intrusive energy helps the patient avoid the physical imbalance or disease before it manifests.

We dream in metaphor. The word metaphor comes from the Greek word metapherein, "to carry over." To "carry over" from the sub-conscious to the conscious mind. Looking at some of the key differences between the sub-conscious and conscious mind will help us to understand the need to transmit or "carry over" from the dream state.

The sub-conscious mind has an expanded processing capacity, it processes an average of 4 billion bits of information per second and can handle thousands of tasks simultaneously, the conscious mind has a short term memory, about 20 seconds in the average human and has a limited processing capacity, it processes an average of 2,000 bits of information per second and is only capable of managing a few tasks at a time.* With this in mind we now can see how important it is to access the sub-conscious and it's enormous memory in a way that will offer us clarity in order to facilitate change. With the aid of a Shaman through the journey process and it's translation of the metaphor experienced not only in dream-time but in journey-time, we have an opportunity to experience the soul's body, access sub-conscious memory in it's entirety and gain the clarity we long for.

To "carry over" may also be looked at as a carrying over of long term or sub-conscious memory, from one lifetime to another. After experiencing near death twice I fully recognize that we do not die with the physical body our sub-conscious minds and memory are part of our spirit that lives on after our body passes on.

Freud, in his effort to interpret dreams, presents experimentation that he suggests relates primarily to external sensory stimulus as the source of dreams: A man sleeping with a hot poultice on his head dreamt that he was being scalped by a band of Indians. An attack of gout that came on suddenly during sleep caused another patient to believe he was in the hands of the Inquisition and being tortured on the rack. These memories were stimulated by physically placing something warm on the bodily area that was most effected in a Past-Life trauma. If, for example, the liver was pierced or wounded in the past the liver may be weak in the present.

Your sub-conscious memory (long term memory) of this familiar will replay the same circumstances and call in those who will facilitate that same circumstance again for many lifetimes until you choose to stop living in that familiar.

An Aymara Indian of Peru believes, sleeping is like dying, but smaller. this is why we call it Hisk'a hiwa, "little death." In sleep the soul leaves, just as in death.

The shaman's journey is an experience of a "little death" in that part of our spirit leaves the body to experience it, the experience is metaphorical in content it takes us to the heart of the meaning by allowing us to experience something other than what we are regarding.

The shaman's journey facilitates a conscious experience of our energy body allowing us to understand how it can take on the energy of another, especially a childhood perpetrator. This "foreign" energy not only influences what we accept as our truth and beliefs, it influences our personalities, our values, actions and reactions.

Our sub-conscious minds think literally, it knows the world through the senses, seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling* as well as intuition, and our sense of knowing. Utilizing these senses associated with the sub-conscious mind is how we experience the Shamanic journey, how we learn to trust our true selves.

A client once indicated to me that her re-occurring dream from childhood was a feeling of falling off a cliff. Each time she had this dream she would wake up startled and scared.

Through Shamanic journey-work we accessed an experience of sacrifice in a Past-Life, a falling (purposefully) over a cliff to her death. In this past the family was honored by the sacrifice of their beautiful young daughter. Many ancient cultures historically indicate that the sacrifice of a child was a great honor. After working to create personal trust and strength in her spiritual life she could then access a long repressed memory of abuse in her childhood. This is not to say that all falling dreams are associated with childhood abuse, there are many interpretations for falling dreams that your soul will make known to you through the clarity of the shamanic journey. Many forms of soul "sacrifice" have been experienced from repression of creativity to physical and emotional intrusion.

Abuse in its myriad forms can be looked at as a type of emotional sacrifice. The sacrifice holds long term effects for both the perpetrator and the victim as it creates a trauma and energetic imbalance of the soul in each. This young woman had for many years called in men, partners, who would carry on the trauma through abuse and/or abandonment until she was able to fully recognize and own that familiar and release it. From there she went on to build her life from her spiritual strengths found on the guided Shamanic journey process instead of the woundings long held in her sub-conscious.

Kathleen Downey is a Shamanic Counselor and Past-Life Therapist located in Del Mar, CA and Boulder, CO. For private sessions or workshop info. please call 858 646-9808, 303 449-1349 or visit her web site:

*Brain/Mind Bulletin, Los Angeles, CA personal communication with Bruce H.
** Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud‚s seminal work in
understanding the human mind, 1965

Copyright 2003, Kathleen Downey