By Joan C. Harthan, PhD © 2014
I was so pleased when I received Lucy’s email, passing on Rebecca’s suggestion that we have the theme of Laughter and Lucidity for this edition. It immediately brought to mind a lucid dream I had in 2005 and I was compelled to get tapping away on my keyboard so I might share it with you. But before I tell you the dream, I need to give you a brief history of the circumstances that caused the dream to occur. Bear with me.
I was brought up in the Christian tradition. Not Church of England or Catholicism, but Congregational; a Protestant club in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs. Living in a rural back water of England, I didn’t know we were Protestants as I don’t ever remember hearing the word used until I was in my teens. Of course, after Bloody Sunday in Derry, Northern Ireland (1972), the whole world became aware of the terms and, in my family, religion bordered on becoming a dirty word.
As a child, going to Church had little to do with religion and more to do with community. My parents were only Congregational because the Church was directly behind our house and, I’m guessing, it was a convenient place to deposit five children on a Sunday afternoon. The Minister would read passages from the Bible and we sang hymns, and everyone wore their Sunday best. As children we all had one special set of clothes that were only to be worn to Church and Sunday School. Seems bizarre now to think of everyone turning up every week, dressed in the same clothes, but money was a scarce commodity and one had to look one’s best for God.
We performed in pantomimes every Christmas, Rose Queens every May Day and Church parades and Brass Band contests every Whit Friday; all of which are traditions that grew out of pagan practices and adopted by the church to keep the common people from rebelling. At age thirteen I started going with my best friend to her church; never suspecting that there would be any difference between Congregational and Church of England.
When the Vicar gave me a copy of the Catechism and told me to learn it in preparation for my Confirmation, I decided it was time to pull the plug on religion. I was prepared to risk eternal damnation in favour of hanging out in parks with my other friends.
When I was in my early thirties I had a series of, what some might consider, epiphanic spiritual and dreaming experiences and I began to seriously question my rebellion against the Church. I had never been a believer, always erring on the side of agnosticism, but I began to think that maybe I’d been mistaken. However, my conversion didn’t last long. When life gets tough and spiritual assistance is absent, it’s hard to keep faith; we can’t all be like Job.
So it was in the 1990s that I discovered Shamanism through the books of Carlos Castaneda. Nothing had ever made more sense to me and the experiences discussed in his books, hallucinogens apart, were the experiences I’d had throughout my whole life. So it was, in 2005, that I finally plucked up courage to apply for training in shamanism. The very first residential course I attended was in Dentdale, North Yorkshire. It was Michael Harner’s ‘The Way of the Shaman’ run by Simon Buxton of The Sacred Trust; a renowned and wellrespected practitioner. After booking the course, which was to take place in May 2005, I had the following dream. I titled it, CHRISTIANS DISAPPROVE OF PAGAN CEREMONY.
I was organising a spiritual service for three or four young people, to be held in a little private grove at the back of some houses – a small grassed area, enclosed by trees and fencing; very secluded. I was setting the scene, gathering everything together that I would need. I had some crisps that I was going to use for a part of the ceremony that would be similar to the Eucharist. I also had bunches of flowers, including red roses – at some point in the ceremony the participants would eat the rose petals – again the same sort of concept as the Eucharist.
I only had one vase and needed two so I wandered round to the front of the houses to look for one and found what I was looking for outside one of the houses, it was holding wilted flowers. The lady of the house was in her lounge looking through the window at me. I asked her if I could borrow the vase. She said that I could but wanted to know what I wanted it for. I told her.
She looked concerned and seemed to disapprove. I emptied out the dead flowers and took the vase. I was just about to start performing the ceremony when the lady of the house, and a couple of other women, walked into the grove waving placards in protest at what I was doing. They were Christians and didn‘t think I should be performing a Pagan ceremony.
It hadn’t been a lucid dream but the humour of the image stayed with me for the rest of the day. Given my Christian upbringing, this dream wasn’t surprising but it didn’t deter me from going ahead with my plans. The course in Dentdale was amazing, enlightening, purgative. I was sold on shamanism and committed to learning as much as I could. I booked myself onto another residential course, to be held over the New Year period, this time with Leo Rutherford of The Eagle’s Wing. It was here that I participated in my first sweat lodge, held on New Year’s Eve, on Dartmoor, and the night of an auspicious New Moon.
It was a beautiful experience, far more powerful to me than sitting in a church dressed in my Sunday best. On my first night there, I had three very powerful, lucid dreams which became the focus of a presentation I gave at the IASD conference in Boston, in 2006, which I called ‘A Journey Into The Divine.‘ I titled the first dream A GLORIOUS DEATH and the third one, LOST AND FOUND. It’s the dream that came in the middle of these two that I want to tell you about, and the dream that is relevant to the theme of this month’s LDE. It woke me at 2:00 a.m. in the morning and I titled it CAIAPH AND THE HILLS OF MANY COLOURS.
I’m walking up a hill in Dentdale. I look back across the valley and am astounded by the view. The sky is ominously black, but there are two hills illuminated with light from within. They are covered in a patchwork of bright, shining fields in all the primary colours. I become lucid and feel overcome with joy at this sight. It’s then that I see figures running up the hill towards me. I know they are ghosts. The front one, the leader, is very tall and dressed in a full-length red smock with a golden mitre on his head. He’s called Caiaph.
He’s a very powerful, angry man and is coming straight for me. I know he intends to forcefully drag me off somewhere. When he’s nearly upon me, I scream in his face. He’s startled and, instead of grabbing me, he carries on running, right past me. It’s clear that I’ve frightened him. I scream at all the others as well and they all run away in disarray. It’s hilarious and I start laughing, with tears rolling down my face. I’m laughing so loudly that I wake myself up.
It took me a while to stop laughing, even though I was by now wide awake. My poor roommate wondered what was happening!
Interpretation of these dreams is beyond the scope of this article, and was something I worked on for many months, but I relate this story here as an example of how laughter in lucid dreaming can bring us into our own power.
Suffice it to say, I connected the Caiaph in my dream to Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest who is said to have orchestrated the plot to have Jesus killed. In my dream he seemed to be an amalgamation of Caiaphas and a Spanish Inquisitor, responsible for burning witches in the 15th century.
Perhaps it would have been better for me to have tried to dialogue with the figure during the dream; ask him why he was so angry and where he intended taking me. These questions never occurred to me during the experience and, in a way, I’m glad they didn’t as the answers to these questions came later, when I journeyed back into the dream using the shamanic practices I had learned.
Sometimes it is better to just let the lucid dream unfold, allowing oneself to react with spontaneity to whatever happens. To laugh so heartily in a dream, as I did that night, is powerful medicine and I woke the next day feeling happier than I’d felt for years and more sure of the direction my spiritual journey should take. So, to grossly misquote the famous Elizabethan bard, “If lucidity be the food of laughter and enlightenment, play on, let me have more of it!”