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Why Do We Dream?

The ancients believed that dreams were messengers from the divine; that their symbols could foretell events before they occurred and could guide us in fateful decisions. For those of us who remember our dreams, a good quarter of our lives are spent in this “realm of dreams”. How significant are our dreams for the meaning of our lives? Modern understandings of dreams are reductionist and imply that dreams are a random misfiring of neurons in the brain. However, for those who have had dreams that foretold events, warned of dangers or gave us key guidance; we know that dreams have a much deeper significance. Carl Jung, the archetypal psychologist, believed that dreams were a balancing mechanism of the psyche, essentially the way our mind healed from the troubles & traumas of the day. It is interesting that he said that even if we didn’t remember our dreams, they still had that compensating effect on our psyches, but that if we learned the language of dreams, we would understand deep parts of ourselves and humanity. The language of dreams is metaphoric image, and the great metaphors of ancient myth are precisely where we learn the meaning of our dreams and therefore our life’s meaning. How Can We Become Better Dreamers? The key to becoming a better dreamer is to remember your dreams! This is a difficult task. Dream diaries are a great way to train yourself to better recall your dreams. They involve writing down all that can be remembered from the nights dreams in the morning, before even arising from bed. We all know how a vivid dream can go to a vague memory within minutes of awakening. There is also an entire tradition around dreaming called Tibetan Dream Yoga, where the practitioner does certain meditative techniques before sleep to bring on enlightening dreams. A simple example is a mindfulness practice such as being aware of the sensations of the breath as you lay in bed, ready to retire into the realms of dream. If we are more lucid in our waking life, more aware during our daily activities; the same will occur during the dream states. This greater awareness will allow us to better understand the meaning of our dreams. Dream Herbs There is a class of herbs called Oneirogens that can aid us in our dreaming ability. Oneirogens are plants that can cause or enhance dream consciousness through their effects on our nervous system. Interestingly, some of these plants have no effect while awake, but when we fall asleep, they can enhance the lucidity & vividness of our dreams. A variety of plants are considered to boost dreaming ability: from the central American Calea Zacatechichi, the South African Silene Undulata, Salvia Divinorum (Literally Diviner’s Sage) to even the common Tobacco have all been used to induce greater dreaming states.

Today we will discuss one of the most commonly used Oneirogenic plants, Dream Herb (Calea Zacatechichi)!

Dream Herb (Calea Zacatechichi) Calea Zacatechichi, also known colloquially as “dream herb”, is a plant long used by the Chontal Indians of Mexico to contact the divine through dreams. Research on humans has shown that extracts of Calea increase dream recall and hypnagogic imagery (images during light sleep states), as well as producing brain waves (EEG) similar to those seen in dreaming, while we are awake. Fascinatingly, this plant can also induce light sleep in your cat! This herb is primarily used through smoking or drinking of the tea. From personal experience, I’ll tell you that the tea is incredibly bitter, and only the truest champions can handle the taste, so  smoking or using an extract are much more effective means of dream boosting with Calea. This herb is relatively safe with only one study reporting potential negative effects for those with kidney disease. This study was not in a live human however, just in a petri dish, so the danger is theoretical. Low doses of this plant are best, and have the dream boosting qualities we seek. Dream herb is also used for stomachache, fever, and for its anti-inflammatory effects! Placing this herb underneath your pillow to induce divinatory dreams is another common practice, for those who prefer energetic communications with plants. For my workshop (**see below**) I’ll be sharing a recipe for a dream herb tincture (extract) and those interested will get a chance to taste the extract as part of their dream exploration. What is Dream Divination? Oneiromancy is the art of dream interpretation, especially as a method of foretelling the future (aka divination). It is an ancient practice stemming back as far as 3100 BC with the ancient Sumerians kings using dream divination as a way to see into other worlds, and counsel themselves for future actions. Mentions of dream interpretation are found also in ancient Egyptian and Greek myths and works of literature. In more modern times, the works of Freud and Jung have revolutionized the way we interpret the meanings of dreams and have been made into details step by step systems of interpretation.

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