Here follows Part 2 of a research paper of mine that explores the connections between ecology, culture, science and the collective consciousness. Part 1 can be found here.
The Cosmogenic Dream – To Divine Visions – To The Awakened Dreamer
Contrary to westernized cultures’ ambiguous approach to dreams, early cultures placed dreams squarely as a source for creation and as a source for mythologies illuminating the nature of human existence. For some cultures, dreams are understood to be the source of creation. The Uitoto Indians of Colombia, for instance, view the cosmogenic creation of the world as occuring through the action of an awakened dreamer – the Father or the original Cosmic Body – dreams the cosmos into an awakened reality (Coxhead & Hiller 3). The Maricopa and the Iroquois natives viewed dreams as speaking the expressive and divinatory language of the soul, while the Chippewa (Ojibway) saw dreams as the divine fountainhead for all wisdom, creativity and knowledge.
In this sense, dreaming was an activity to be consciously cultivated in order to receive the visionary wisdom of the cosmos (Coxhead & Hiller 84). The cultural centrality of dreaming culminated in the prominence of shamans in many indigenous cultures as dreamworkers and healers mediating between the worlds of waking/living and dreaming/death (Krippner 185).
For many shamanistic traditions, the mediation of dreams had the potential to establish a mnemonic map where “a total reconstruction of the Self is made possible through the acceptance of psychic terror and symbolic death in the dream state” (Coxhead & Hiller 43). The transcendent aspects of dreams and their resulting mythological edifice were reinforced in ritual, ceremony and the use of dream artifacts that comprised of talismans, dream flags and other physical mnemonic devices. Thus, dreams were not only seen as the source of creation, they were also viewed as a vehicle through which complete transformation, rebirth and re-creation of self could occur.
Though modern Western thought on dreaming lacks this rich metaphysical dimension, the split originates from Aristolean empiricism dismissively forging ahead when it could not derive a rational explanation for dreams. In the cosmic geography of the ancient Greeks, inherited from Egypt and the Near East, dreams existed at the outer, primeval limits of this world.
The Greeks understood sleep and death, represented by the gods Hypnos and Thanatos respectively, as being twin phenomena of self, just as consciousness and unconsciousness could be understood to be two faces of the same coin (Coxhead & Hiller 52). Later Greek philosophies on dreaming became divided between seeing dreams as divinely-inspired and seeking rational explanations to the order of things, as exemplified by Aristotle’s empirical views on the sensory causes of dreams. Dreaming and dream interpretation nevertheless enjoyed popular interest, as evidenced in Artemidorus’ five landmark volumes of Oneirocritica, which analyzed over 3,000 dreams (Coxhead & Hiller 6).
Similar to early Greek thought, dreams in Judaism and Christianity were seen as vehicles of prophesy through which God communicated his will. Dreams had a visionary purpose, as illustrated by the dreams of Jacob’s ladder to Joseph’s dream of Jesus’ conception, and was the state through which God made his intent known to the dreamer. It is a belief clearly reflected in the Book of Job that “in a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men… [it is]then He opens the ears of men” (Coxhead & Hiller 7). Those who were unable to receive waking visions therefore received dream visions since the barriers of personal will were lowered in the unconscious state.
In an analogous vein, Islam is fundamentally a religion originating from the prophetic dream initiation or Lailatal-Miraj (“night journey”) of Mohammed through the cosmic mysteries to come before God. Taking this idea of the awakened dreamer further, the mystic traditions of Islam hold that the human personality awakes through seven stages of consciousness development called men, and is therefore considered asleep until it is awakened to realization (Coxhead & Hiller 49).
The mystical journey of the awakening dreamer through progressive stages of human development was refined in the transcendent Hindu and Buddhist notions of dreams. Dreaming was seen as an illusory state just as waking reality was, and both had to be transcended in order to attain enlightenment. In India, the two approaches to dreaming found in the religious sphere of the Upanishadic scriptures and the experiential sphere of the various yogas are merged into a multi-layered model of consciousness, whereby the illusory nature of ‘reality’ in both dreams and waking life (maya) were states to be transcended in order to attain liberation (moksha). The Mandukya Upanishad uses the primal seed of sound, a-u-m, to metaphorically describe the fourfold stratification of consciousness. Beginning with the waking state, then the dream state, to deep sleep’s state, to finally arrive at a non-dualistic unity of being, which is neither of ordinary consciousness nor unconsciousness:
VII Turiya is not that which is conscious of the inner (subjective) world, nor that which is conscious of the outer (objective) world, nor that which is conscious of both, nor that which is a mass of consciousness. It is not simple consciousness nor is It unconsciousness. It is unperceived, unrelated, incomprehensible, uninferable, unthinkable and indescribable. The essence of the Consciousness manifesting as the self in the three states, It is the cessation of all phenomena; It is all peace, all bliss and non-dual. This is what is known as the Fourth (Turiya). This is Atman and this has to be realized.
The Atman, or Self, is understood to be the one with Brahman, or the Ultimate Reality, Universal Consciousness, which is beyond waking, sleep, dreams and even mass consciousness and unconsciousness (Nikhilananda par. 15). As being and universal consciousness are not things that can be intellectually apprehended nor rationalized, it is clear that modern scientific society has some ways to go before it can fully grasp the experiential unity of dreams and consciousness.
Though most early cultures do not explicitly speak of a collective unconscious, such a notion is implicit in their mythologies and in their esoteric approach to dreams. As psychologist David Feinstein notes:
Myths… are not falsehoods; they are the lens through which the human psyche perceives and organizes reality. Mythic thought, with its compelling symbolism and narrative, is the natural language of the psyche (Krippner 21).
In this sense, dreams and myths are intimately related in scale: myths are the psychic narrative of a people, while dreams are individual myths, embedded in the larger mutual framework of the unconscious. It is evident that no matter the locale, the epoch or the zeitgeist, dreams play an essential role in forming the depth and meaning of what it means to be human. Popular culture and the cult of consumerism are pale substitutes for meaningful mythologies and it is no wonder we live in spiritually challenging times. Thus, it is left to modern society to construct its own mythology to make sense of its milieu – but not without understanding what the human capacity to dream entails – bringing forth the good with the bad, the sublime with the ugly.
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