Power Dreams, or What Do You Say to a Beaver Spirit?
A while ago, I spent some time on the Peigan Reserve south of Calgary, Alberta as the guest of an old Peigan woman and her son whose house was situated next to the Oldman River. The Peigans, a member tribe of the Blackfoot Confederacy, have since reverted to their original name as the Piikani Nation.
While I was visiting the subject of dreaming came up and I recounted to them my “dream of the fish” — an edited version in which I omitted all reference to “the Architect”, and mentioned only my identity in the dream as being both fish and fisherman, and of how I wasn’t able to go fishing afterwards, which I used to love. The old Indian woman called it a “power dream” and then proceeded to tell me the story of her late husband.
Her late husband had been a trapper, trapping beaver up and down the Oldman River in southern Alberta. One night he had a dream in which the Beaver Mother came to him and asked him “why are you killing my Beaver children?” What do you say to the Beaver Spirit when it comes calling? The dream changed his life, and afterwards the old man was not able to trap any longer.
Those kinds of life-changing dreams are called “power dreams” — dreams that seem so real that they affect you at a very deep level.
I came across another instance of a “power dream” while doing some research on the Spanish Indian Residential School in Ontario for the Aboriginal Healing Project, and of a former student, Basil Johnson, who wrote a book about his experience. Johnson escaped the school to make his own way as a self-employed lumberman, until, that is, one night he had a dream that as he was making his way to chop down some birch trees, the other trees became restless, and starting whispering amongst themselves, “he’s going to kill the birch”. When he finally set to his task of chopping down the birch, the whispering rose to a shriek, “He’s killing the birch! He’s killing the birch!“. Johnson was so shaken by the dream that, afterwards, he was completely unable to continue his occupation as a lumberman.
What we experience in dreams — assuming that we experience it often — belongs in the end just as much to the over-all economy of our soul as anything experienced “actually”: we are richer or poorer on account of it. — Nietzsche
I wanted to tell these stories of “power dreams” as a way of introducing a discussion of the magical consciousness structure, for that’s the structure to which these kinds of dreams are linked, and which harken back to a time when, for the young human ego-consciousness, they were determinant reality and not “dream” as we know it in terms of the mental-rational consciousness. There was no “subject-object” distinction for the magical consciousness. There was no boundary between what we call “dream” and what we call “physical reality” then. It was one, seamless milieu of magical power both wondrous and terrifying.
And in some places, this is still the norm. I was reading, not that long ago, of a case in Africa where a man successfully sued his neighbour because his neighbour had harmed him in a dream and he wanted compensation. He got it. For the magical consciousness, what we know as “dream” isn’t dream, but is identical with the overall milieu.
It’s the “progressive” development of ego-consciousness, or body-mind, that began to draw a sharp distinction between the “in-here” and the “out-there” or between dream and reality, “unconscious” and “conscious”, and started to erect shields to protect it from the terrors of existence, but therewith also against the wonder of existence.
The magical structure of consciousness is, in contemporary terms, what is described in Castaneda’s writings, the full story of which hasn’t really been told, least of all by Castaneda himself who even until the end seemed still completely bewildered by his experiences as a “sorcerer’s apprentice”. Magic Time is Dream Time, and pretty much everything Castaneda experienced didn’t happen in “ordinary reality” (that is, for the mental-rational consciousness perspective) but in dreaming, a particularly potent form of what we call “lucid dreaming”. Magic Time is not Mental-Rational Time. In Magic Time, men and women can become crows… or fish, for that matter.
Look at the steps Castaneda’s teacher led him through — the “Rules”. The first was to loosen the hold his body-mind (the mental-rational cognitive structure) held on his awareness, or what don Juan called his “precious self”. Initially, don Juan had him meditate constantly on his personal mortality, with limited results because Castaneda was a “plugged up fool”. So, don Juan resorted to the “power plants” in order to “blast” Castaneda, as he put it. (Castaneda later attributed his liver cancer to the ingestion of those power plants).
But parallel to all that, Castaneda’s main task, the task he had to accomplish before taking any further steps in the way, was to consciously and deliberately locate his hands in his dreams. A tough task, but a necessary first step. Mastery of the dreaming consciousness was not a side issue. It was THE issue. Everything that happened to Castaneda in a state of “heightened awareness” or “non-ordinary reality” was simply what lay “outside” the cognitive and time structure of the mental-rational consciousness. Dreamtime, you may have noticed yourself, has its own tempo and temporicity, and it doesn’t obey the clock which, for it, is an inhibition and a confinement.
Castaneda probably came close to realising that in one of his last books, The Art of Dreaming, that his being drawn progressively into the magical structure of consciousness and its reality had to do with the mastery of dreaming, and the realisation that the mental-rational consciousness, or ego-nature, is just as much a dreaming as is the magical structure, or as the title of one of my books puts it, The Dream of Reason.
The archaic consciousness, the magical consciousness, the mythical consciousness, the mental-rational consciousness, the integral consciousness, are just so many different dreamings. And you might even say that the eventual mastery of these different dreamings is the issue of integral consciousness.
“Do you know the terror of he who falls asleep? To the very toes he is terrified, because the ground gives way under him, and the dream begins.” — Nietzsche