Dreaming of Nature and the Nature of Dreams

The First Australian Regional Conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams starts on April 19, and I have prepared a video talk for the conference titled “Dreaming of Nature and the Nature of Dreams.”  The talk can be found on Youtube, and the statistical data I reference can be found in Google docs.  More info about the IASD and the Australia conference is here.

I start the talk by briefly mentioning some of my early writings about the interplay of dreaming and nature: a 1991 article “Quest for Transformational Experience: Dreams and Environmental Ethics,” my doctoral dissertation/1994 book The Wilderness of Dreams and its notion of “root metaphors,” Herbert Schroeder’s chapter on dreams and natural resource management in my edited 1996 book Among All These Dreamers, the study of politically conservative and liberal people’s dreams and views of the environment in 2008’s American Dreamers, and Dreaming in the World’s Religions, also in 2008, with several stories of the inspirational roles that dreaming play in the nature awareness of indigenous cultures in the Americas, Africa, and Oceania.

The main focus of the talk is the findings I’ve made about the statistical frequency of nature references in dream content, using the word search methods of the Sleep and Dream Database (SDDb).  For this presentation I created a baseline sample of 2087 dream reports of more than 50 words but less than 300 words in length, from a total of 1232 females and 855 males.  The sample includes children, college students, and adults.  All are American and all are educated and/or computer literate.

Using tools on the SDDb that anyone can access, I studied these 2087 dream reports for references to the following categories of nature content: Weather, fire, air, water, earth, flying, falling, and animals.  (Can you guess which of the four classic elements (fire, air, water, earth) appears most often in dreams?  Can you guess which animals appear most frequently?) After laying out my findings I discuss the technological and political issues involved in bringing the insights of dreaming to bear on waking world environmental problems.

About halfway through the talk, our cat Strauss makes an appearance over my right shoulder.  It was a sunny day by Portland, Oregon standards, and the local birds were very active outside my window.  It was hard not to look at what he was looking at!


The Dreams and Nightmares of Harry Potter

More than four hundred million people, most of them children and teenagers, have read the Harry Potter novels of J.K. Rowling, immersing themselves in a fantastical world in which broomsticks fly, portraits talk, wizards cast spells–and dreams reveal honest emotional truths.  Rowling’s hugely popular stories about the magical education of young Harry Potter abound with dream experiences that weave prophetic visions with psychologically astute insights into adolescent feelings of loss, fear, desire, and hope.  Looking closely at the roles played by dreaming across all seven novels, it becomes clear that readers of these books are well primed to regard dreams as a piece of magic, as a mysterious, potentially dangerous, but extremely valuable source of power, meaning, and guidance in life.  Rowling’s fantasy tale carries a message of real-world significance: We Muggles (non-wizards) may not be able to fly on brooms or cast spells, but we do possess the magical power of dreaming.

The first time we meet Harry, in the opening pages of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, he is waking up in the tiny coat closet where his dim-witted Muggle relatives the Dursleys have kept him hidden for the past ten years.  Harry “rolled onto his back and tried to remember the dream he had been having.  It had been a good one.  There had been a flying motorcycle in it.  He had a funny feeling he’d had the same dream before.” (1.19)  When Harry mentions the dream to the Dursleys on a family drive to the Zoo, Mr. Dursley, introduced to readers as someone who “didn’t approve of imagination” (1.5), angrily shouts that motorcycles don’t fly.  Taken aback, Harry replies, “I know they don’t, it was only a dream.” (1.25)  What he does not yet know is that motorcycles do fly when properly enchanted, and a flying motorcycle in fact brought him to the Dursley’s house ten years ago.  His recurrent dream is not “only” a dream, but rather a meaningful and reassuring reminder of his true origins, despite the best efforts of the stubbornly pedestrian Dursleys to erase those memories from his mind.  This early debate about the significance of dreams establishes a basic tension running through all the novels between the infinite potentials of the wizarding world and the anxious Muggle determination to pretend that such potentials do not exist.

After the disastrous Zoo visit, when Harry discovers he can speak to snakes and sets one loose on his cousin Dudley, the flying motorcycle returns to spirit him away on a journey to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry’s home for the next several years.  On his first night at Hogwarts,

“Perhaps Harry had eaten a bit too much, because he had a very strange dream.  He was wearing Professor Quirrell’s turban, which kept talking to him, telling him he had to transfer to Slytherin at once, because it was his destiny.  Harry told the turban he did not want to be in Slytherin; it got heavier and heavier; he tried to pull it off but it tightened painfully–and there was Malfoy, laughing at him as he struggled with it–then Malfoy turned into the hook-nosed teacher, Snape, whose laugh became high and cold–there was a burst of green light and Harry awoke, sweating and shaking.  He rolled over and fell asleep again, and when he woke the next day, he didn’t remember the dream at all.” (1.130)

It’s too bad Harry forgets the dream, because it accurately reveals his ultimate challenge in this book and throughout the series: To defeat this malevolent lineage of characters from Slytherin, one of the four houses at Hogwarts, infamous for its attraction to dark magic.  Draco Malfoy, Harry’s bitter rival and classmate, is a member of Slytherin house and Professor Snape, Harry’s least favorite teacher, is Slytherin house master.  Though Harry does not know it yet, the high, cold laugh and the voice talking from Professor Quirrell’s turban come from his arch-enemy, the dark wizard known as Lord Voldemort (himself a former Slytherin student).  The burst of green light shows Harry what a killing curse looks like—something he has seen once before, ten years earlier, when Voldemort murdered his parents.

None of this registers consciously for Harry, but it’s all laid out for readers in his first-night-at-Hogwarts dream.  The talking turban directly foreshadows the climactic discovery at the end of this book that Voldemort (a tiny, shriveled being at this point) is controlling Quirrell by hiding inside the back of his turban.  More broadly, the fact that Harry himself is wearing the turban anticipates a series-long struggle with his “inner Voldemort,” a struggle in which his lightning-scarred head is the primary battleground.

As the story unfolds Harry learns more about his past, the death of his parents, and his strange connection to Voldemort.  Now he begins having recurrent nightmares: “Over and over again he dreamed about his parents disappearing in a flash of green light, while a high voice cackled with laughter.” (1.215)  By this point Harry recognizes that this horrible scene is not “only” a dream but an actual event that happened in his past.  The recurrent nightmares, like his other dreams, turn out to be legitimate memories of horrors in his past. The term “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” is never used in the books, but readers with clinical training may find it impossible to ignore that diagnosis.  The long-buried memories surfacing in his dreams reveal a primal experience of severe, shocking pain.

The second novel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, also opens with a highly significant dream that Harry ignores.  The story starts with an elf servant named Dobby suddenly appearing in his room at the Dursley’s house and begging him not to go back to Hogwarts.  Mr. Dursley, furious at this magical intrusion into his well-ordered home, locks Harry in his room, puts metal bars on his window, and leaves him without any food.  As night comes,

“Mind spinning over the same unanswerable questions, Harry fell into an uneasy sleep.  He dreamed that he was on show in a zoo, with a card reading UNDERAGE WIZARD attached to his cage.  People goggled through the bars at him as he lay, starving and weak, on a bed of straw.  He saw Dobby’s face in the crowd and shouted out, asking for help, but Dobby called, ‘Harry is safe there, sir!’ and vanished.  Then the Dursleys appeared and Dudley rattled the bars of the cage, laughing at him.  ‘Stop it,’ Harry muttered as the rattling pounded in his sore head. ‘leave me alone….cut it out….I’m trying to sleep…’”  (2.23)

Harry awakens to the sound of his friend Ron Weasley ripping the bars off his window and helping him escape back to Hogwarts.  This incorporation of an external stimulus into the dream is a plausible and familiar dream phenomenon, and so is the dream’s continuity with Harry’s recent interactions with Dobby and the Dursleys.

But the dream’s references also extend to broader themes in the story.  The first novel began with a visit to the zoo where Dudley taunted a snake, and here at the beginning of the second novel Harry dreams of being in the same position as that captive creature, once again highlighting the eerie affinity he has with serpents.  His rare magical ability as a “parsel-mouth,” i.e., someone who can speak to snakes, come to the fore in this book as he seeks to unlock the “Chamber of Secrets,” where he must battle a massive Basilisk along with a ghostly version of Voldemort.  The all-caps reminder of his status as an underage wizard reflects the developmental challenge facing Harry at this stage of the series.  His sense of his own magical power is growing rapidly, yet his teachers say he must wait until he’s older before using it, even though at this very moment the forces of evil are rising again—the tension of this moral dilemma puts Harry on edge throughout the series.  If he doesn’t use his power right now, Voldemort may win; but if Harry succumbs to the dark temptations aroused by his own potency, Voldemort may win, too.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Harry must contend with a new species of wickedness—the Dementors, guards of the wizard prison Azkaban, ghoulish creatures of death and decay who feed on souls and leave their victims empty shells of despair.  The Dementors are like PTSD demons, and they affect Harry especially badly.  Professor Lupin explains why: Dementors take away everything good inside you so “you’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.  And the worst that has happened to you, Harry, is enough to make anyone fall off their broom.” (3.187)  Dementor attacks intermingle with Harry’s continuing bad dreams, and now he can distinguish in his memory a specific sound—his mother’s scream as Voldemort kills her.  At night “Harry dozed fitfully, sinking into dreams full of clammy, rotted hands and petrified pleading, jerking awake to dwell again on his mother’s voice.” (3.184)   As Harry uncovers more about his past, his initial reaction of wonder and delight at the magical world yields to an acutely painful awareness of the family he never knew and will never have.

Not that everything in Harry’s life is going badly.  About midway through the third book he helps Gryffindor house win a big Quidditch match (a wizarding sport), and during the match he fights off a (false) Dementor attack by successfully casting a strong though indistinctly shaped Patronus, an advanced level charm in which the tip of one’s wand shoots a jet of silver-white light that takes the form of a specific animal.  That night Harry goes to bed feeling better than he has for long time:

“[He] had a very strange dream.  He was walking through a forest, his Firebolt [his Quidditch broomstick] over his shoulder, following something silvery-white.  It was winding its way through the trees ahead, and he could only catch glimpses of it between the leaves.  Anxious to catch up with it, he sped up, but as he moved faster, so did his quarry.  Harry broke into a run, and ahead he heard hooves gathering speed.  Now he was running flat out, and ahead he could hear galloping.  Then he turned a corner into a clearing and—“  Suddenly Harry is awakened by a scream.  It’s Ron, who says Sirius Black, the notorious outlaw, was just in their dorm room.  Everyone says Ron must have been dreaming, but Ron insists it really happened.

This premature ending of the dream, just before an eagerly-sought moment of final discovery, resonates with common dreaming experience (and with literary history, e.g., Coleridge’s incomplete Kublai Khan).  It also makes for a dramatic turn of events, one that Harry, Ron, and the others completely misinterpret.  They assume Sirius Black is a Voldemort ally trying to kill Harry, whereas in truth Sirius is Harry’s godfather trying to protect Harry from a different agent of the Dark Lord.  Harry’s father and Sirius were best friends at Hogwarts, and Sirius turns out to be the mysterious donor of the Firebolt broomstick, which Harry received from an unknown source early in the story.  Harry’s father also played Quidditch, adding another layer of masculine/paternal meaning to the dream.

One need not be a zealous Freudian to recognize the phallic symbolism of flying broomsticks and silvery-white substances coming out of wands. The abrupt awakening from his dream prevents Harry from reflecting on its possible meaning, but when the story reaches its climax we realize the dream has accurately foretold the final turn of the plot.  Harry’s Patronus charm, when fully formed, takes the shape of a majestic stag—the same animal his father was magically able to turn into.  Just when hordes of Dementors have descended upon him, Harry finally understands that even though his father is dead, his paternal memory remains a powerful force that Harry can use to fight his enemies.  In his dream Harry takes on the role of a mythic hunter being lured deeper and deeper into the forest in pursuit of an enchanted deer.  Here at the end of the story he completes his heroic dream quest by fusing his power with his father’s to create a magical force for saving people, not killing them.

Most of Harry’s dreams convey meanings related to the battle with Voldemort, but sometimes they reflect his everyday concerns, even if the deeper conflicts are never far away.  The night before the final Quidditch match of the season, against the team from Slytherin, Harry “slept badly” and suffered anxious dreams of bizarre misfortunes.  This type of dream is familiar to anyone who has tried to sleep while worrying about a big event the next day:

“First he dreamed that he had overslept, and that Wood was yelling, ‘Where were you? We had to use Neville instead!’ Then he dreamed Malfoy and the rest of the Slytherin team arrived for the match riding dragons.  He was flying at breakneck speed, trying to avoid a spurt of flames from Malfoy’s steed’s mouth, when he realized he had forgotten his Firebolt.  He fell through the air and woke with a start.  It was a few seconds before Harry remembered that the match hadn’t taken place yet, that he was safe in bed, and that the Slytherin team definitely wouldn’t be allowed to play on dragons.” (3.302)

Wood is the Gryffindor team captain, and Neville is a hapless Gryffindor housemate. The dream is like a prism of Harry’s current anxieties, reflecting his concerns about letting down his house, losing a competition to a hated rival, appearing weak in front of his whole school, losing his magical power, losing his ability to fly, and ultimately losing the battle against Slytherin.  Harry awakens abruptly with the sensation of falling, another typical dream experience, and he has a moment of waking/dreaming uncertainty.  Once fully awake he takes comfort from the fact that the dream is not literally true, although the danger posed by Slytherin’s connection to reptilian phallic aggression remains real and ever-present.

The fourth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, marks a big leap in the length (734 pages), psychological depth, and moral complexity of the story.  Harry’s surprising, unwanted entry into the Triwizard tournament leads to ridicule and social isolation at school.  For most of the book he is a solitary, psychologically tormented figure brooding on feelings of shame, fear, and rage.  This is a much darker novel that thrusts Harry out of the simple wonders of childhood into the bitter, complicated concerns of the adult world.

As in the first and second novels, he initially appears in book 4 in the act of awakening: “Harry lay flat on his back, breathing hard as though he had been running.  He had awoken from a vivid dream with his hands pressed over his face….Harry tried to recall what he had been dreaming about before he had awoken.  It had seemed so real….” (4.16-17)   Despite the pain in his scar, after a few moments of thought he pieces together the scene revealed by his dream—a Muggle being murdered by Voldemort’s snake Nagini.  What Harry does not know, but readers do know from the preceding chapter, is that this dream is an accurate, real-time portrayal of something that actually happened.  When Harry gets out of bed and writes a letter to Sirius, he decides “there was no point putting in the dream; he didn’t want it to look as though he was too worried.” (4.25)

We know this is exactly the wrong thing to do.  Ironically, Harry is replicating Mr. Dursley’s bias against a troublesome imagination.

From the start of this novel J.K. Rowling sets us up to root for Harry’s dreams and against the skepticism of his waking mind.  We know his dreams are indeed telepathic and clairvoyant, giving him a potentially powerful resource in fighting Voldemort.  But Harry hesitates in trusting his dreams or telling them to others, unwilling to give people another reason to ridicule him.

While Harry worries about his dream, he also faces the life-threatening challenges of the Triwizard tournament.  The night before the second task, which involves finding a way to breathe underwater, Harry anxiously looks for answers in the library, and eventually falls asleep atop his books:

“The mermaid in the painting in the prefects’ bathroom was laughing.  Harry was bobbing like a cork in bubbly water next to her rock, while she held his Firebolt over his head.

’Come and get it!’ she giggled maliciously.  ‘Come on, jump!’

‘I can’t,’ Harry panted, snatching at the Firebolt, and struggling not to sink.  ‘Give it to me!’

But she just poked him painfully in the side with the end of the broomstick, laughing at him.” (4.489)

Harry awakens in the library to the anxious poking of Dobby, who tells him what he needs to breathe underwater.  The prefects’ bathroom, with its murals of mermaids, was where Harry discovered the initial clue about the breathing-underwater task.  As the youngest and least popular Triwizard champion, with the suspicious eyes of everyone upon him, facing a seemingly impossible task, Harry feels utterly powerless and alone.  The dream accurately reflects these feelings in the image of his prized Firebolt being snatched away by a mermaid, a creature of the water who looks down on him and mocks his impotence.

Harry’s class on Divination, taught by Professor Trelawney, comes across as the least reliable branch of magical knowledge, appealing to gullible people willing to see omens of death and doom in every cup of tea leaves.  Harry doesn’t take Professor Trelawney seriously, but one afternoon toward the end of the story (in a chapter titled “The Dream”) he falls asleep in her class and finds himself “riding on the back of an eagle owl, soaring through the clear blue sky toward an old, ivy-covered house set high on a hillside.” (4.576)  Inside the house Harry comes upon Voldemort, his snake Nagini, and his bumbling servant Wormtail.  He watches as Voldemort tortures Wormtail and promises Nagini he will soon be feeding on Harry Potter.  His scar burning his forehead, Harry awakens to the whole class staring at him and Professor Trelawney breathlessly asking to hear what he just dreamed about.

Harry brushes her off and runs to tell Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts.   This time Harry has no doubt that his dream contains meaningful information for the anti-Voldemort forces.  To his relief, Dumbledore accepts his dream as real and significant, explaining that the failed killing curse of the Dark Lord seems to have created a psychic connection between them.  Harry asks, “So you think…that dream…did it really happen?”  “It is possible,” said Dumbledore. “I would say—probable.” (4.601)

The Interpretation of Snake Dreams: A Short Film

By far the most frequent question that leads people to this website is, how do I interpret my weird dream about a snake?  I’ve written some general answers to that question, and when possible I’ve offered people specific responses to their dreams.  Now, thanks to the video creativity of Ed Kelley, I have a new resource for people who are interested in snake dreams.  Ed directed, filmed, and edited a short film titled “The Interpretation of Snake Dreams” in which I discuss the multiple meanings of snake dreams through history and in different religious traditions.  I hope this work will give people new ways to understand and explore the presence of numinous serpents in dreams.   Do not expect a simple instructional video.  If you have had a powerful dream of a snake and found your way to this site, I trust you will recognize something of your experience in this film.

How to Interpret Snake Dreams

I’m amazed at how many people have powerful dreams about snakes.  Serpents are truly the most memorable creatures of the dream world.  Their presence in a dream is almost always vivid, mysterious, and attention-grabbing.   

 When asked how to interpret people’s snake dreams, I struggle to say something that’s helpful without imposing my outsider’s view on the dreamer.  I can make general statements about traditional symbolism, but that always runs the risk of leading the dreamer away from the specific details of his or her experience, where the deepest personal meanings may often be found.

 As an alternative way of answering people’s questions about snake dreams, here is a dream I had a few weeks ago, on the night of February 25, plus the journal entry I wrote following the dream.  As you can see, I don’t come to a final conclusion about the dream’s message.  Instead I free associate about the personal web of memories and feelings that seem related to it, letting the power of the dream serpent guide my reflections.

 Title: The Big Green Snake Could Actually Eat Me

 I’m out on a green grass field….In the bushes nearby I see a snake….it has a big green head, in the green foliage of the bushes….I’m scared and start to run, but the snake quickly comes after me….It wraps itself so its head is looking at me around my left shoulder….I realize it’s big enough to eat me, actually….I try to figure out what to do, how to keep it from squeezing and eating me….It hasn’t made a move to try doing that, but I’m scared it might….

 Journal: This dream came the first night back from week-long family vacation, after a long drive and getting back into household duties.  During the day I enjoyed some fun creative work, but also some stress about tasks to do this coming week.  The snake is very big, and in my mind while dreaming I’m thinking out the physical details of how it would successfully consume me.  At the same time, I’m aware the snake has not yet harmed me.  I sense it may simply want to get close to me and check me out.  I can’t outrun it, I can’t fight it—I’m in its power.  Yesterday I read the first chapter of Harry Potter 7, in which Voldemort’s snake Nagini is invited to eat a person V has just murdered.  Nagini is portrayed as being about the same size as the snake in my dream.  So I’m like V, with the snake my close companion?  Or am I about to be a victim of V and what he represents?  All the green: it’s late winter/early spring around here, so lots of green foliage in our garden at home, and at the beach house while we were on vacation  —  Feb. 25 is the birthday of an old girlfriend, I just realized that  —  first love  —  an anniversary dream?  —  an early emergence of serpent power in my life?  Yesterday was like other days at the end of a vacation, feeling like a pivot time; I’m anxiously getting ready to spring back into action  —  and I have a lot of action awaiting me  —  a time of massive transition  —  creative potential  —  will the snake eat me, or won’t it?  Does it matter?  I’m wrapped up in its power, now and perhaps forever.  I don’t have a sense of the snake actually touching me; it’s coiled around me, but not binding me, just close enough so it’s head can get close to mine.  Its eyes can look into mine. I definitely feel it’s trying to connect with me, size me up.

If you’re interested in learning more about snake dreams in history and psychological theories about them, scroll down the list to see this post.  (titled “What Do Dreams of Snakes Mean?”)  Also take a look at the comments, which include dozens of snake dreams people have shared that I’ve commented on.

If you’d like to know what Carl Jung said in The Red Book about the symbolism of snakes, see this post.

If you’d like more information about actual snakes, check out the website of the East Bay Vivarium.

What do Dreams of Snakes Mean?


Below is a chapter about the history of snake dreams, using psychology and religious studies to explore their meanings.  It comes from my book Spiritual Dreaming: A Cross-Cultural and Historical Journey.

If you are interested in how to interpret a dream of a snake, you might take a look at this post.

If you’d like to know what Carl Jung said about snake symbolism in The Red Book, read this post.

To learn more about actual snakes, check out the East Bay Vivarium.

Chapter 2: Snakes

Animals of various kinds appear in spiritually meaningful dreams. Birds, dogs, bears, wolves, fish, and even insects have come in people’s dreams to deliver important messages from the divine. But the animal that makes perhaps the most powerful spiritual impact in dreams is the snake. People from cultures all over the world report dreams in which they have intensely vivid encounters with snakes. Content analysis studies performed by Robert Van de Castle indicate that even in the dreams of modern Americans, who presumably have little direct contact with snakes, these animals appear with surprising frequency. [i] Many reports of snake dreams emphasize their strange, uncanny quality; the dreamer feels both attracted to and yet repelled by the serpent. As the following examples suggest, many people through history have regarded snake dreams as deeply spiritual experiences–for these dreams reveal the ambivalent nature of the sacred, its capacity to be a force of joyful creativity and violent destructiveness in human life.

1) A fifty year-old woman named Rosie Plummer, of the Paviotso people living on the Walker river reservation in Nevada, told anthropologist Willard Park of her shaman father. Rattlesnakes frequently came to him in his dreams and told him how to cure snake bites and other illnesses. Eighteen years after his death, Rosie started to dream about her father. “She dreamed that he came to her and told her to be a shaman. Then a rattlesnake came to her in dreams and told her to get eagle feathers, white paint, wild tobacco. The snake gave her the songs that she sings when she is curing. The snake appeared three or four times before she be lieved that she would be a shaman. Now she dreams about the rattlesnake quite frequently and she learns new songs and is told how to cure sick people in this way. [ii]

2) Lilias Trotter, a Christian missionary who worked in Algeria in the early part of the twentieth century, had these two dreams reported to her by Muslims who were converting to Christianity. A) Trotter says that an Algerian she knew named Boualem had been involved in an angry conflict with a neighbor. She wanted to help Boualem, but didn’t know how; then she says, “now God has dealt with the matter. Boualem told us that a dream had come. ‘I dreamed that a great snake was coiling round my foot and leg, and you [Trot ter] were there, and in horror I called to you. You said to the snake: “In the name of Jesus, let go.” It uncoiled and fell like a rope, and I woke almost dead with joy.’ And the shining of his face told that his soul had got free.” B) Trotter says, “Blind Houriya came this morning with ‘I want to tell you something that has frightened me very much. I dreamt it Saturday night, but I was too frightened to tell you yesterday. To-day my husband told me, “You must tell them.” I dreamed that a great snake was twisting round my throat and strangling me. I called to you [Trotter] but you said: “I cannot save you, for you are not following our road.” I went on calling for help, and one came up to me and loosened the snake from off my neck. I said: “And who is it that is saving me, and what is this snake?” A voice said: “I am Jesus and this snake is Ramadan [the Muslim ritual fasting period].”‘” [iii]

3) Henry Shipes was the son of an English father and a mother from the Maidu Indians of the Sierra Nevada mountains of Califor nia. He grew up at the end of the nineteenth century, during the gold rush era, when the indigenous Maidu culture was coming into conflict with white culture. Henry told anthropologist Arden King of various dreams in which he fought against native shamans who were jealous of his power. In one of these dreams, Henry “had a dream contest with a shaman who was also the headman at Quincy [a Sierra Nevada town]. In this dream Henry and the shaman were contesting with each other to see who had the most power. This was a fight to the death. The shaman acted first. He loosed a snake which pursued Henry Shipes, but was unable to catch him. Henry then tried his white power. This was stated by him to be specifically white. By ruse he caused the shaman to attempt the lifting of a bucket. The bucket exploded and the dream ended.” [iv]

4) The Egyptian Pharaoh Tanutamon is reported to have had the following dream experience in the first year of his reign, as presented by philologist A. Leo Oppenheim in his work on dreams in the ancient Near East: “His majesty saw a dream in the night: two serpents, one on his right, the other on his left. His majesty awoke, but he did not find them. His majesty said: ‘Why has this happened to me?'” His interpreters told him that the dream means that both Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt now belong to him. “Then his majesty said: “True indeed is the dream; it is beneficial to him who places his heart in it but evil for him who does not know it.” [v]

5) In Carthage in 203 A.D. Vibia Perpetua, a newly married woman of twenty-two years, and mother to an infant son, was imprisoned and sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. As she waited in prison for the day when she and other Christians would be cast into the arena and killed by wild beasts, her brother came and told her to ask God for a vision to reveal her fate. Perpetua agrees, and says she’ll tell him what she learns tomorrow. “And I asked for a vision, and this was shown to me: I saw a bronze ladder, marvellously long, reaching as far as heaven, and narrow too: people could climb it only one at a time. And on the sides of the ladder every kind of iron implement was fixed: there were swords, lances, hooks, cutlasses, javelins, so that if anyone went up carelessly or not looking upwards, he would be torn and his flesh caught on the sharp iron. And beneath the ladder lurked a serpent of wondrous size, who laid am bushes for those mounting, making them terrified of the ascent. But Saturs [a fellow martyr] climbed up first… And he reached the top of the ladder, and turned and said to me: ‘Perpetua, I’m waiting for you–but watch out that the serpent doesn’t bite you!’ And I said: ‘He won’t hurt me, in Christ’s name!’ And under that ladder, almost, it seemed, afraid of me, the serpent slowly thrust out its head–and, as if I were treading on the first rung, I trod on it, and I climbed. And I saw an immense space of garden, and in the middle of it a white-haired man sitting in shepherd’s garb, vast, milk ing sheep, with many thousands of people dressed in shining white standing all round. And he raised his head, looked at me, and said: ‘You are welcome, child.’ And he called me, and gave me, it seemed, a mouthful of the cheese he was milking; and I accepted it in both my hands together, and ate it, and all those standing around said: ‘Amen.’ At the sound of that word I awoke, still chewing some thing indefinable and sweet.” Perpetua tells her dream to her brother, and they both understand that she is to die for her faith. [vi]