Dream Gates

Dream Gates


Bad dreams: when you just want to spit them out

posted by Robert Moss

spit.jpgI’ve often said that dreams – including scary dreams and nightmares – are not on our case but on our side, in the sense that they show us things we need to see and to deal with.

However, I am not of the opinion that all night experiences come in the service of health and wholeness, except in the sense that we can regard anything that comes up in life as a possible learning experience.

Every indigenous culture that I know teaches that there are bad things that can try to enter our space in the night, and bad neighborhoods in the dreamworld in which we can get mugged. Hence the dreamcatcher, intended to catch and keep out bad dream visitors, and other apotropaic rituals and procedures, including prayer to divine guardians. Hence traditional rituals for dispersing the energy fo a bad dream right away.

The ancient Assyrians sought to remove the contamination of bad dreams by rubbing the body with a lump of earth that was believed to absorb the unwanted energy. The lump would then be destroyed, preferably by breaking it up and scattering it over running water, so the river would dissolve it and carry it away. In the Assyrian Dream Book, we read that someone who experienced a “dark” dream should pray and then

He shall take a lump of earth, he shall recite three times the conjuration over it, he shall throw it into water. His misfortune will depart. [A. Leo Oppenheim, The Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1956) p.301] 

The Egyptians employed similar rituals for cleansing the dreamer of from the pollution of an evil dream. In the Chester Beatty papyrus, this involved (1) telling the dream to the Great Mother – here the goddess Isis – and invoking her help and protection and (2) rubbing the face and body with bread soaked in beer and infused with myrrh and herbs. This bread-sponge was believed to be highly effective for psychic cleansing. The ingredients may seem odd, until we remember that in the ancient mind, bread and beer are both the gift of the Goddess.

Some traditional dreaming cultures teach that it is NOT a good idea to share a certain type of bad dream with others, because you don’t want to dwell on it and feed it with the energy of your attention, or risk spreading psychic infection. In West Africa, a traditional practice to avert the evil of a dark dream is to go the the toilet and spit it out right away, within telling anyone about it.

As everyday practice, I would counsel anyone who feels oppressed by a bad dream to spit it out. I do mean literally. Spit it out on the ground or down the toilet. If you feel that’s not enough, draw the dream image and burn it. Then think carefully about whether you really need to spend more time with that troubling night experience, and whether it is really necessary to inflict it on others.

Spitting image via PlanetSave



  • colleen

    This entry is remarkable succinct and timely for me since I was told recently by an acquaintance that a nightmare they recently had about me and another of my friends was my responsibility!!!??? I found this thought totally abhorrent. My question to you is – Who owns dreams? Do think or believe any dream we may have can be anything other than the workings of our own mind and or subconscious processes? I was shocked that someone could think another person was or could be thought responsible for what we dream, sounded more like an issue of control to my ears. Have you come across such an accusation before and what are your thoughts on this premise? Please, Robert.

  • Zmievna

    If this were my acquaintance, I would want to know why he or she is so eager to accuse me of such a strange offense. But yes, it is possible to cause nightmares in other people, wittingly or not. I have found myself on both the server and the client side several times in my life. Every time the experience was very unpleasant, yet in hindsight also quite educational.
    Not long ago a friend stayed in my apartment overnight and had a vivid nightmare about my being dismembered in a car accident. The texture of the dream suggested that it could be a literal warning. So we did a detailed postmortem and took care to note the circumstances and the location of the accident in order to watch out for them in waking life. But as a host I could not help but feel responsible, because my friend had come for some badly needed rest and was instead watching horror stories on my account.
    As to who owns dreams, I hope that nobody does and nobody can ever own mine or anyone else’s, for dreams are elusive real estate that defies sorcerers of both magical and scientific persuasion.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Amy

    Mr. Moss-I’m wondering how one tells a truly bad dream like the ones described here, from a scary dream that requires reentry to fully understand it. I’m often plagued by bad dreams.

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