The Essence of a Dream Library

The Essence of a Dream Library by Kelly BulkeleyA Dream Library is a playground for studying and dreaming: for studying while dreaming, and dreaming while studying. It’s a spatial technology for stimulating your oneiric imagination. It’s not a shrine to dreaming, but it’s not not a shrine to dreaming, either. It’s your personally crafted portal into the intuitive depths of your own mind.

What exactly makes a library a Dream Library? What are the essential elements that create a library of dreaming, in all senses of that term? This may seem abstract, but it has potential benefits for anyone who pays attention to their dreams. You can easily create a Dream Library for yourself, and if you do so you’ll find it opens doorways to new dimensions of insight and understanding. There are, in my experience, four essential elements to a Dream Library: books, numinous objects, a cup of tea, and a candle. I’ll describe each in more detail, in reverse order.

A candle: The soft golden light of a candle creates a human-scale sphere of illuminated space. The gently flickering flame brings a dynamic, unpredictable natural force into your presence. Multiple candles can be fun, but one is enough to serve the candle’s essential role in creating a Dream Library. Throughout history the candle has been a classic companion of scholars and sages, symbolizing the enlightenment that slowly emerges from a deep immersion in a collection of wisdom literature. Lighting a candle is a ritual act that opens the Library anew; blowing the candle out is a ritual closing. Of course, a candle with its open flame poses a danger, too (see: Library of Alexandria), so its role in the Dream Library is also to stimulate vigilance and respect for the elemental powers.

A cup of tea: Whether it’s black, green, or herbal, or even some variant of coffee or cocoa, the presence of a hot beverage also plays a vital role. Sure, you might say, but is tea necessary? Is it essential to a Dream Library? Yes, I believe so. Tea can be conceived as an ideal provision for the journey ahead. Entering the Library means a significant commitment of your time and presence. It’s not a quick, in-and-out kind of place. And if you stay there for a while, eventually you will get thirsty. Plain water is fine, but adds nothing atmospherically. A cup of hot tea, however, poured fresh and then brought straight to the Library so the first blooming swirls of redolent steam can fill the immediate surroundings, enhances your experience at many levels. It’s another small but meaningful ritual act that signals a new entry into the Library, and a new commitment to spend time there, to become enveloped for a while within that space. Again, this runs counter to typical library practice, as liquids of any kind can easily damage or destroy books. Water and Fire compete for the title of gravest threat to libraries of all kinds. So you have to be careful. Think about where you can and can’t safely place your cup, stick to that plan, and you’ll be fine.

Numinous objects: This is a broad, potentially infinite category of small material objects that carry special memories, meanings, and values for you. Examples can be a beautiful seashell, a ceramic bowl made by your grandfather, a favorite toy from childhood, or a framed photo of you and a friend on a faraway trip. They can be as simple as a small piece of weathered wood, a cool rock, or an old piece of metal. They can be as elaborate as crystals, antiques, mandala images, and mechanical curiosities. Unusual teacups and candleholders can also double as numinous objects. With this element of a Dream Library, multiplicity matters. The combined effect of these objects is to stimulate wonder and playful curiosity, inviting your mind to wander far beyond the here-and-now, towards distant horizons of exploration and discovery.

Books: There can be no library without books, of course. But for a Dream Library, having books simply means having more than one volume. Two books together already constitute a library. This is a key point: The dynamic vitality of a Dream Library arises from the quality of interaction between books and reader, not the total quantity of books. Naturally, at the center of this Library are various books about dreams. Classic and contemporary, famous and obscure, academic and popular, books you know well and books you hope to read soon. I always suggest including a few texts from Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, not because they were right about everything (they weren’t), but because they knew so much about ancient dream traditions and expressed those insights in ways that can still enlighten us today. I’d also suggest including your favorite books of all time, not just about dreams. What was your favorite fairy tale from childhood? What novel did you love as a teenager? What non-fiction book has given you a sense of wonder about the world? Those should also be at the Library’s core. You might add other anthologies of fairy tales, other novels by that same author, other non-fiction works on that same topic, thereby expanding and deepening your collection. But again, it’s quality that matters, not quantity. A rich, vibrant Dream Library can have just four or five volumes, if they are the books that speak most powerfully to you.

A Dream Library may be enhanced in other ways, too—e.g., with a comfortable chair, a window with a view, cats. The four elements named here have special appeal because they can be inexpensively acquired, easily transported, and endlessly refined, elaborated, and expanded. Every one of us is a dreamer, and thus everyone can benefit from spending time in a self-created, self-curated library of dreaming.

Note: this post first appeared in Psychology Today, November 30, 2021.