In The Little Seer, the main character discovers her dreams are encoded with warnings about danger coming to her community, but they’re not all bad. After the storm hits full-force and angels and demons are warring over her life, God calls a time out and throws a banquet for her, dropping her favorite foods into every container she opens on a table in the middle of a gentle valley in her dreams–by way of a tornado.
Dream symbolism. I’ve been meaning to blog on this topic that’s close to my heart for a long time. As I prepare to publish my second novel Music of Sacred Lakes, I would like to take a moment to touch on this subject that is at the heart of my first novel The Little Seer and that touches all our lives, as well as being the basis of so much of my creative work. Like many people, I have had a wide variety of dreams in my life, some mundane, but some powerful and seemingly symbolic pictures of the future that actually came true, as far as I could see, in my own life. In fact, it was one of these dreams that became the nucleus for The Little Seer.
Here’s what happened, and how I discovered the way dreams were woven into my life in a very real way. I was nineteen, engaged to be married to my now husband, whom I had dated through my teen years. We had met in church, and our parents were friends and leaders in this faith community where we had grown up. There was a lot going on, migraines that were becoming chronic, college, moving away from home for the first time, planning my wedding, a dear friend dying in a car accident the day before I got engaged, and then things seemed to go all sideways. Even as my husband and I prepared for our wedding, a scandal erupted in our church. Now, it had nothing to do with the storyline of The Little Seer, and was based in very different circumstances and very different fractures in the foundations of relationships, but this scandal turned into the slow death of our church, with my parents going one way and his parents and other church leaders another, right on top of our wedding. It was a bad time, one that we both remember with sadness and grief even now 11 years later, when nearly everyone we relied on disappointed us all at the same time. This is important to note, and I’ll tell you why in a moment.
Six months before our wedding and the church split, I had a very scary dream. I was in our church with my parents, my fiance, my little sister, and maybe one or two other people, when a huge tornado tore through the church, ripping the entire building to shreds and leaving only the half-wall between the sanctuary and the back room of the church intact, with us huddling behind it. (In reality, this is a full wall, but the only real protective barrier in the building behind the sanctuary.) When I woke up, I was scared. The emotion of the dream really stayed with me. And over the next few months, the dream came true, not literally but symbolically. I began to delve into dream symbolism as a subject of study as I had followup dreams with other tornadoes in which I ran around a barren landscape with other church leaders and members and was warned by a voice from the sky to anchor myself in order to keep from being blown away.
What I discovered when I began to study dream symbolism, and Christian dream symbolism in particular, which draws symbols from the Bible as archetypes for messages God has sent people throughout history in visions and dreams, was that tornadoes were a common dream symbol for upheaval and “the winds of change,” often in seemingly destructive ways. Yeah, that about summed it up. I had always had strange dreams, some of them even literally predicting clips of the future before, but this was new territory for me, and the intensity with which I dove into trying to understand symbolic dreams reflected my desperation. My community fell apart, my parents and my in-laws didn’t speak to each other for the first two years of my marriage, I became more and more sick, and my husband and I set off to start our adult lives feeling pretty much alone.
Dream symbolism is a big topic, so I can only touch on some highlights here. If you have been having dreams that you think might be symbolic in some way, whether predictive or just your subconscious trying to help you work out something about your life, here’s one way you can go about decoding them.
- What images really jump out at you from the dream? It’s often not necessary to record every detail, but if you wake up from a dream that seems important to you, write it down in basic form, and sometimes that will be enough to help the main symbols jump out at you. Were there any animals, numbers, particular landscapes or buildings? There are many guides to understanding these, but the core of this subject is that the natural world is already encoded with certain symbols, like fire for transmuting or destroying things, storms as destructive or cleansing forces, bears as representing fear or the wisdom of hibernating through hard times, and the number three as a number of the triad, perfection in strength and stability, or emphasis. There is a lot of variety in your individual experience of the world, too, so often dream symbols are a combination of universal understandings of meaning and your own private experience. What, or whom, does the dream remind you of? Often the people in our dreams represent the qualities we associate with those people, not the people themselves. Everything can be a symbol, but don’t get overwhelmed with every detail. See the dream as a whole, a big picture of some simple message or feeling about something in your life.
- What was the tone of the dream? In the case of my tornado dream, I was terrified, and when a feeling like that stays with me when I wake up, it often means the dream is important. I have had dreams where I felt I was being commissioned, or visited by angels, though, and those dreams often leave me with overwhelming feelings of peace. The tone will tell you a lot about any messages in the dream. However, just because I was scared didn’t mean the dream was telling me to be frightened. It gave me enough symbols to figure out how to handle what was coming. The emotion only reflected the fact that what was coming would be very distressing to me.
- What was the color of the dream? This is not always a factor, but often when I feel I’m receiving dreams as guiding influences to help me through something, the tone of a dream will be normal color, where if a dream is truly a nightmare, the colors are drained out of it. Also, this can change mid-dream occasionally, which can tell you something about what is going on.
A note of caution: When I said that it was important to note that everyone disappointed us at the same time, here’s what I was thinking of. When I first had this dream, I could see how these forces were conspiring to rip my community apart, but I thought that the fact that my parents were with us behind that wall was a sort of endorsement of their position on the scandal. I no longer believe this. Over the past few years, I have learned more about what happened during the split, which gave me a new perspective on how complicated it all was, and now I understand that their presence behind that wall simply meant that we would face the situation and leave together, which is just a simple fact, not an endorsement of anyone’s behavior or opinions. When you have a dream in which you are with someone, resist the temptation to over-interpret it in order to understand. Your understanding of your dream is likely to develop over time.
As I said, this is a huge topic, and one I love to talk with people about, especially when I hear what strange and wonderful dreams they have had. It’s not really single blog post material, but I hope the above points give you some sense of where to start if you’re interested in understanding your dreams, and where my focus on dreams and the subconscious comes from. I would love to hear about your dreams in comments, if you’d like to share. Thanks for sticking with me for this longer post!
Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice, and happy dreaming through the darkest day of the year in this Northern Hemisphere. <3