Electric Dreams

An Excerpt From The Lucid Dream Exchange
Lucy Gillis, Editor

Dream Characters and Reality Checks
Part One: A Quest for Verification

Linda Lane Magallón

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Magallón, Linda Lane (2005 May). Dream Characters and Reality Checks. Part One: A Quest for Verification. (An Excerpt From The Lucid Dream Exchange, Lucy Gillis, Editor.)
Electric Dreams 12(5).

Linda Lane Magallón tackles the subject of dream characters in this first of a four part series. Are dream characters real people? Do they have a will, or a consciousness of their own? Are they all the same, or could some be lifeless projections? Join Linda as she takes us on a journey through her own thoughts and intriguing dreams. You may not look at your dream characters in quite the same way again!

Dream Characters and Reality Checks
Part One: A Quest for Verification

(c) 2005 Linda Lane Magallón

What are dream characters? We can speculate from now until the cows migrate to the moon and never come to a definitive conclusion. That's the nature of conjecture. When I first considered this question, some 20 years ago, I was convinced by neither wild guesses nor domestic explanations. I wanted to touch down on solid rock. Even in this moonlit field of study, dreams, I searched for information that had been grounded by reality checks.

Why Do Reality Checks?

Recently, I read an article by a non-lucid dreamer that was written when lucid dreaming was just a flicker in public awareness. He had heard that you could do "anything" in a lucid dream. This is a very common reaction upon attaining lucidity. Wow! This is magic! I can walk through walls! I can fly!

The euphoria is addicting; why question it? That would just deflate the sensation, not to mention, put a crimp in the fantastic ideal. It's very true, testing does puncture the happy face balloon. That's one reason why so few people do it.

However, as I will soon relate, there are some good reasons why reality checks are advantageous, even necessary. Let's say you decide to check out the assumption that you can do "anything" in a lucid dream. I suggest that when next you become lucid, you try to remember waking life. Try to recall what you were doing yesterday or last week or 5 years ago. Try to remember the date! As wondrous as dreamspace can be, it does have some limitations and a detailed memory of physical existence is one of them.

When memory is not at optimum, judgment is impaired - this fact is very obvious among certain elderly. It's also a fact as you dream. Along with memory, good judgment is one of the first things to wane. Think of how many times we dream and don't judge our experience to be a dream. It takes extra effort to become lucid; even more to maintain enough lucidity to experiment with the dream world and talk to dream characters. It's easy to assume that what you see is what you get. But there is no guarantee that your initial assessment will be the most accurate one. Unlike the years you've spent awake, you just haven't had the time nor training to develop the same degree of discrimination as you sleep.

Compared to the physical plane, the dream world is not as fixed an environment, and that includes its residents.

Combine impaired judgment with flexible subject matter and the challenge to identify the nature of dream characters becomes exponentially more complex.

Given that the topic is so complicated, why go through all the hassle to try to figure out an answer? Why not just accept dream characters as they seem to be and not bother your head with other possibilities?

Well, some people can do that, no problem. Their dream encounters, their attitudes towards the encounters and the results of those attitudes, belief and behavior are either neutral or positive. Under such circumstances, if the in-dream event is troublesome, they assume that they are basically unaffected because they can overcome the troubled scenario while they dream.

Or they can wake up to a state of consciousness that they believe to be entirely unrelated to the dream. And they think that anything they do to a dream character has no waking world consequence, either. Now, maybe they're right. And, maybe they're not. It's impossible to tell, when their theories aren't being tested. If everything seems okay on the home front, there is little motivation to question and experiment with such presumptions.

However, there are other folks, like me, who can truly benefit from reality checks. We can be having dream troubles that aren't resolved in-dream either because we aren't lucid or because lucidity, in itself, is not enough. We might wonder, is the dream character standing before me sure evidence of a physical sickness, a spiritual crisis, a mental breakdown or some perverse fragment of my sexual personality? Is this dream character a real demon, a real alien, a real succubus or a ghost with a bad attitude? Is this a real live human being, with an evil intent and the power to endanger? When health is potentially at risk, the subject of dream character identification gets real serious, real fast.

Or perhaps the dream encounter is benign, but a dreamer's leap of faith sans judgment starts a chain of events that lead him down a path of dubious merit. I know people who changed jobs, got married or moved to another city as the result of a dream. These stories are quite popular because they play up the positive aspects of the dream (and, in this culture, the dream needs all the support it can get!) But they cover only the first chapter of the story, the immediate event rather than the long-term consequence. When chapter two describes debt, drunkenness or divorce, dreamers tend not to admit it, unless you know them well.

Then there's the fantastically wonderful dreams that convert strongly held beliefs and start a cascade of new ones. The genesis of most major religions includes powerful dreams. Religion making is at work even today. I know several people who started new spiritual practices and began to teach and spread the word as a result of dreams. Perhaps the neonatal belief benefits the founder and his disciples. But what about the rest of the community?

Does the new "truth" or "prophecy" pronounced by the guiding dream character make non-believers objects of scorn or worse? Holy cow.

And what about people or dream characters who take advantage of your na1vet1 in terms of psychic phenomena? Well, I hope you get my point. Dreams and related endeavors are barely emerging from the dark side of the moon.

Ignorance, immaturity and misinformation intermingle freely with valuable and verifiable notions. It's easy to get discombobulated.

Much of our perplexing phenomena are shared experiences. At the very least, we can have similar scenarios in each of our private hermit caves. But it goes beyond that. Speak of wholeness or a peaceful Earth, for instance, and you are no longer ensconced in your cave. You are looking at the whole planet of dreams and dreamers from an outer space perspective. See any floating cows out there?

Some Standards for Assessing Dream Characters

1. Expert Opinions

Here you are, with your dream report in hand, intrigued, perplexed or greatly bothered by a dream character who played a leading role. What to do?

Well, if you are new to this puzzler, you can, of course, leap to conclusions or play guessing games, but I've already described the problems with that course of action. At first, you might not have the "right stuff"

to solve the mystery on your own. So, if you aren't savvy enough to bring your inquiry down to earth, why not consult someone else? How about a book, a dream dictionary, a workshop instructor, a dreamworker, a scientist, a guru or your next-door neighbor?

After I began seeking information, it soon became obvious that there was no single answer. Instead, there were lots and lots of theories and suggestions. Last time I counted, I had upwards of 30 major categories. In my quest, I mainly concentrated on a single character, the black woman who had appeared in my first lucid dream. In many cases, but not all, I recited the dream so that folks might get a better idea of my dream dynamics. I thought that approach would limit speculation to the most likely choices. It didn't. People still felt free to ignore the content of the dream and insert their preferred explanations.

In this society, the reactions to encounter phenomena are quite polarized, because that's how we think physical reality works. Either we meet a real entity or we have a hallucination, a fantasy, an illusion. These are the sorts of responses I received when I asked people about the black woman who had appeared in my dream.

For the materialists, she was simply the firing of a brain synapse, a reaction to a bit of undigested food or a random image drawn from my memory banks. The literalists labeled her as a soul mate or relative from one of my past lives. The spiritually minded saw her as a shaman, a priestess, an angel or an astral guide.

Then there were the symbolists. For the Freudians, she was a wisp of wish fulfillment. The Jungians couldn't decide which archetype to fish out of their sea of unconsciousness. Was she shadow or anima? The most popular response came from the Gestalt camp. The black woman was definitely a part of me.

Uh, huh. Everybody was convinced; nobody offered explanations that were much more than proclamations without supporting evidence. It soon became obvious that I wasn't dealing with solid information, even if the explanation came from the scientific establishment. It didn't matter which philosophical treatise, academic thesis, psychological technique, spiritual tenet, psychic reading or off-hand remark I considered. It was imagination run amuck. Or born-again religion: this is the "truth" and thou shalt not challenge the authority who speaks it. Or quoting the word of somebody else who quoted the word of somebody else who...Holy cow.

Instead of one ungrounded bovine, there was a whole field of them. I dutifully collected all the possibilities and tried to milk them for what they were worth, with little sense of surety or satisfaction. How expert can experts be if they've never had a lucid dream?

2. Your Own Dream Life

Some of the people who suggested explanations for my dream character didn't even bother to hear my dream. I found this most bizarre. It's the sign of an interpretation system that takes a dream element totally out of context, adheres to fixed concepts and produces a pronouncement strictly by the rules of the system. The symbol-game. You'll find it in any dream dictionary and in many dream theories. Its highly favored because it's so easy to remember or use, especially when you're talking off the top of your head instead of offering thoughtfully considered commentary.

To me, no dream element exists without a context in which it lives. No dream is a tree without roots and supporting environment. The dream element's primary context is the dream itself. One question that I was never asked by proponents of a fixed system was, "Does your dream character have a name?"

If they'd bothered to listen to the dream, the answer would have been obvious. In the dream, I called her "Will-it." Willie, for short. Just that small piece of information can open up a whole new string of associations.

No guarantee that any of them will be the ultimate answer, though.

The popular dream methods have another limiting factor. They interpret only a single dream. They don't pay attention to any others. Here's a second context all too often ignored: the entire dream life of the dreamer. Few people inquired if I had had any other dreams like that first lucid dream.

Nobody asked if I'd ever had another dream of Willie. Within three weeks of the first one, my answer would have been "Yes," although it was not a lucid one. Willie became a recurring dream character. And I became a journal keeper.

Willie's dreams, recorded on bits and pieces of paper scattered here and there, would not have been very informative. Especially when it comes to reality checks, a dream journal isn't a luxury; it's a necessity. Everything gathered in one place. And titled. And indexed. Eventually I word processed and printed out Willie dreams to fill a binder dedicated just to her.

The first context for a dream character is the dream in which the character appears. For me, the second context included further dreams in which she appeared. Now, I can tell you that I have recorded over 140 dreams which featured Willie, although most of them have been non-lucid. Thus, I have had limited in-dream opportunity to interview her directly. For the most part, when I became lucid, I didn't have enough presence of mind to ask penetrating questions. I was too caught up in the moment. Or too afraid I'd lose my fragile hold on lucidity. I had few opportunities to ask the obvious questions, "Who are you?" or "Who do you think you are?" But I did inquire that of other dream characters. Plus I asked some of them who they thought Willie was. Not to mention, who they thought I was. If you are a lucid dreamer, doesn't it make sense to do some in-dream detective work?

I also have a slew of lucid dreams in which I went looking for Willie, called for her or tried to get information about her in some other way. The effort was not always fruitful (as was true in the waking state). The answers I did get were varied (as was also true in the waking state). Some responses were straightforward; some were quite bizarre. But in neither state of consciousness was there consensus. I did not find the dream to be the pristine and single-minded source of wisdom that some views would have us believe it is.

3. Expert Systems

If you can't find the answers outside yourself, go within. So claims the new age credo. The irony about "new age" belief is that much of it is actually old age tradition and practice. It's only new to our culture. The willingness to distinguish lucid dreaming from non-lucid dreaming is a fairly recent phenomenon, so lucid dreams, per se, usually aren't considered as a source of information. When "dreaming" is mentioned, rarely is the subject sleep-in-bed dreams, anyway. Rather, the topic is more likely to be altered states or waking imagination. And you don't have to stretch your imagination much, if you follow a prescribed system.

I Ching, Tarot, Star*Gate, runes, astrology: these and other divination systems can be used to ask questions. I used them to inquire about my dream character. Some systems presuppose that the information will reveal yourself, so you are predisposed to believe that a dream character is a sub-set of you. Other systems will allow for the existence of someone other than you, but mostly in terms of how he affects you. Not in terms of being an independent entity. It's important to keep in mind that the answer to a question is preprogrammed to stay within certain limits, by the structure of the belief in which it lives, whether that be systematized or not.

Within the field of dreamwork, there are a host of interpretive and non-interpretive methods to illuminate dreams. When Fred Olsen and I founded the Bay Area Dreamworkers Group, in effect, we extended an open invitation for all sorts of dreamwork and new age techniques to step out of the shadowy past and into the spotlight of the present. Freud's free association, Jung's amplification and Gestalt dialogue were already well known in the field of dreams. But there's many more like bodywork, hypnotherapy, "re-entering" the dream via waking imagination, sand tray, visualization journeys, vision quests, dancing, singing, and creating art from dreams. If anything, dreamwork is even more heavily disposed to the idea that a dream character is part of you, since it's genesis is individual psychology rather than social philosophy.

Just the opposite used to be true when it came to channeling, automatic writing and mediumship. The idea of being possessed by someone (or something) beyond you was a hot topic of discussion. In recent years, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. As regards these specific activities, my experience does lead me to favor the entity-as-part-of-me notion. However, I've found that the session can be influenced by outsiders, just not the ones traditionally credited or blamed.

My friend and colleague Bob Trowbridge ran a channeling group for 10 years.

While there were many possibilities for the source of channeled material, the most popular choice was a deceased human being. As Bob says, with tongue in cheek, "Just because you're dead don't mean you're smart!" No matter what the actual source of the material, there's always the question of how valid the content is. And how valid it is to seek answers from that source, compared to others. So how worthwhile was this quest to discover the essence of dream characters? And what source, if any, gave the most fruitful answers or inspired useful ideas?

The Search For Willie

I did a lot of searching for Willie in those first few years following my breakthrough dream. It was my prime reason for trying to achieve lucidity.

Obregon, 5/8/83

When I come to lucidity, I find myself reading a book and see the word "Obregon." There are three pictures of a Chinese friar and three entries about the Malaysian Peninsula. It as if the friar liked the area so much that he experienced life there three times. I move back from the book and find myself in a room with floral patterned wall paper. As I look around, I begin to lose the dream. I try to retain it by continuing my sense of touch and thus am able to regain my sight. I look around again and discover this is a playroom with crayons in the shelves. In the front is a table with another book atop it. I ask the blonde woman standing there, "Is it my Akashic records, my past life record?" "No," she replies. Flipping through it, I see contains drawings of the human torso. "Are you Willie?" I ask the woman and bring my eyes close to her face. No, I can tell she isn't. I move back.

At this point I realize there had been another woman, black-haired, who just left the room. I follow her into the next room which turns out to be a galley kitchen filled with women. "Can anyone here get a message to Willie?"

I begin writing a note on a piece of white paper. "Dear Willie, Please contact me. I need to talk with you." I fold the paper and hand it to an Asian woman who walks out of the room. Turning back to the group I ask them, "How come there are no men?" In response I'm greeted with shrugs.

"Where is Willie?" went hand in hand with the question "Who is Willie?" And who were all those other dream characters, besides?

Woman With The Blue Face, 12/29/83

A woman with a blue face (mask?) is seated wearing a long, billowy gown. She says something I don't understand. I reply, "I can't hear you."

She bends toward me, but not too close. Is there a barrier or force field between us? Whispering in my ear, she repeats the unfamiliar language. It has several "sss" sounds - like the pressure escaping from a steam kettle.

"I'm sorry, I can't understand you," I say. "Do you know how to contact Willie? Should I call, write her, or send her a note?"

Amused, the woman shakes her head several times, "No, no, no."

Okay, so this dream character told me what not to do. But not what I should do. Big wow. Some dream characters were just no help at all. Others, well...

The Woman Who Knows Willie, 11/19/84

I'm at a conference, standing next to one of the long tables in a large room. I go over to another table with papers on it where a woman is seated.

She is facing the bookcase against the wall. I view the dark, kinky hair on the back of her head (is she Caucasian? Black?). She turns toward me and says, "Hello Casey." I ask hopefully, "Willie?" She replies, "I know her."

"Oh," I say, thinking this must be a friend of hers. "I really think I should sit here," I say but return to my original table in the back left-hand corner of the room. Then I turn around. "May I join you?" the woman asks. At this location there seems to be quite a few people in nearby tables, including an Asian man who is being helped by a teacher. Since there are so many people in such a small space, I feel hesitant about inviting her to join me, so I gesture with a shrugged shoulder and open hand as if to say, "You can if you want, but there's not much room." Seated, I see my dinner in front of me: a plate of crispy-coated rice, vegetables, and fish.

Someone says the tomato sauce is from The Mid-West. I wonder, "Is the fish in the Mid-West fresh?"

Behind me is a window opening with potted plants. I perch on the sill. I want to leave; it's boring. So I lean back and fall out of the window. As I drop down the side of what turns out to be a skyscraper, I wonder, have the people in the conference room seen me? Will they worry? So I fly back up and sit on the window sill to repeat the scene. This time, I fall out when I'm sure no one's looking.

The skyscrapers in the area are so high that I can't even see the ground. To my left I can see two other people who are practicing flying, too. One is a woman, in white; I'm also in a chic white outfit. I fly off toward the right down a "canyon" of buildings. At one point I realize that my movement seems to bring the dream into clearer focus. I think, is this all just my projection? It sure is fun.

This wasn't the first nor last time I got distracted while lucid. Food and flying will do it every time! I just wish I had had the presence of mind to question more thoroughly the woman who addressed me as Casey. That's the same name that Willie had called me in my first lucid dream.

Willie's Brother and Sister, 8/11/85

I become lucid while flying down a narrow valley. I stop at the end, on a street corner. There's a field beyond with a single small shack. On the corner are two black teenagers. I ask, "Do you know Willette...(I have to think hard)...Nicholson?" The young man says softly, shyly, "She isn't here now." I get the impression the two are Willie's younger siblings.

Yes, Willie has a first and last name.

Next in the series - Validation and Practicality

(This next part will be available in LDE 35, due out in June.)

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