When I say I sleep with my ancestors, I mean I dream of them. I dream of the ancestors I know, or rather knew, fairly frequently. Although I now suspect I dream of ancestors I never knew, too, but I don’t recognize them as such because…well, largely because I don’t recognize them. Jax and talked about dreams earlier this week.* I recalled a recurring dream from my youth and have since then been wondering how to interpret, or at least observe, my sleepy wanderings through a Heathen lens.
I am somewhat familiar with the historical progression of dream interpretation, from ancient tales of oneiromancy to modern tales of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. The idea that dreams are more than a mere collection of images created during REM sleep appears pervasive in human culture, across time and across peoples. So, I don’t feel awkward (or crazy) admitting this line of thinking resonates with me. More than that, I agree with it. And from what I can find, Heathenry agrees with it, too. Dreams hold great importance in Heathen lore, such as the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda. In these texts, dreams are often mantic (prophetic) and wrought with symbolism. In other texts, such as Flateyjarbók, dreams could be instructive or informative, even if romantic (as in fantastical). Whether mantic or instructive, Heathens believe ancestors can visit you in the world of dreams and share with you something you need…be it information, hope, affection or discipline.
…the dead can bring knowledge to the living by way of dreams. — Eric Wódening
I like that.
But it doesn’t really help me grapple with the recurring dream I mentioned earlier. It was a child’s dream — a nightmare, actually. Here is how I remember the dream.
I am a little girl in my house with my family
My father gets angry about something
The fear starts
Then he gets angrier
The fear grows
I’m running out of the house with my brother and sister**
Our father is chasing us
Our mother is trying to hold him back
We keep running
I’m afraid for my mother, but I can’t help her so I keep running
The flames start
I’m by myself now; I don’t know what happened to my siblings
I’m running through the back street of my neighborhood
The flames grow
I’m running up the railroad tracks
The flames follow
I’m running through down an empty road
I see my grandfather and he reaches out to me
The flames surround us
And then he is gone
The flames are high
I am alone
Yeesh! I haven’t had that dream in a long, long time. I wasn’t a child the last time I had it, but I was a child the first time. It remained pretty consistent across time, too. Everyone I recognized in the dream was someone alive at the time. Where were my ancestors in this dream?
Maybe my ancestors were the people trying to protect me, wearing the faces of family members. I don’t think my ancestors were my father because, as I understand it, that is not consistent with Heathen beliefs. That is, the idea ancestors would visit you to cause harm is not something I have come across.*** What if my ancestors were there but weren’t corporeal?
As I recall the dream now, I realize that as soon as the flames appeared, my father went away. I always thought this was because the flames were symbolic of that person — symbolic of his temper, of him pursuing me, isolating me and preying on my fear. But maybe the flames were my ancestors protecting me from him, creating a wall that he couldn’t penetrate. Or maybe the flames were my ancestors showing me that all that hurt, be it real, perceived, physical or emotional, could be burned away.
I realize this is an exercise in fantasy (for lack of a better word). But I find it a useful exercise, especially now that so much time has passed between that dream and this reality. As we have discussed on this blog before, faith is a resource. And right now, I am using my (relatively) new faith to process some some (relatively) old information. I am learning that deconstructing my nightly wanders using Heathenry helps me hang on to dream moments I want to (or need to) remember, and helps me let go of dream moments I want to (and need to) forget.
What about you, royal readers? Do you rely on your faith to process your dreams? If yes, how?
* I can’t remember how the conversation started, though I don’t think I was the one who started it. It must have been related to True Blood, as we were catching up on Season 4. Eric ❤ Sookie!
** I have two sisters, but my little sister wasn’t born when this dream started. So, she is sparred from the narrative.
*** I you are familiar with the idea of ancestors causing harm to descendants in Heathenry, please share!
+ Featured image is from Free-Extras.com.