Dreams have been a source of inspiration and information since the dawn of humanity – and probably before. Modern psychologists attempt to explain dreams in purely naturalistic terms, and most times that’s entirely proper. Most times.
The vast majority of my dreams can best be described as routine sorting and filing. I wake up and if I remember my dreams, I can easily point to a recent book, movie, or something someone said to me that triggered them. These dreams are sometimes interesting and sometimes strange, but they are entirely ordinary.
On rare occasion they are not. Perhaps once a year (on average – there is no regularity) I have a dream that can only be described as prophetic. They contain critical ideas, important information, or messages to pass along to others. They have a unique feel to them that clearly marks them as non-ordinary, but I cannot describe that feeling to myself, much less to someone else. But when I have one, there is no question that I need to take it very seriously.
My prophetic dreams are still dreams – the truth in them is presented in images and symbols, not in literal narratives. Interpretation is still required. But in a prophetic dream, the proper interpretation is never in doubt, and separating the message from the set decoration is simple and straightforward.
A few nights ago I visited the Otherworld in a dream. At first I thought I was dead – I met several people I know who are dead, and the environment made it clear they were not visiting our world. I had no memory of dying – in the dream I assumed I got hit by that runaway beer truck I often joke about, or perhaps simply died in my sleep. But immediately on waking I realized I wasn’t dead, and I hadn’t been dead. Neither had I intentionally journeyed into the Otherworld, as I sometimes do. I was pulled into the Otherworld, though I still do not know who pulled me there.
I also immediately knew that I had to write about this dream, which I almost never do. Someone needs to hear this message, though I have no idea who that is.
Dreams are the most unverified of unverified personal gnosis (UPG). If this doesn’t make sense to you or if it simply doesn’t resonate with you, feel free to ignore it. It’s probably not intended for you.
But if something in it rings true, you might want to pay attention. I learned four important things when I visited the Otherworld in a dream, and three of them are messages for someone else.
The Otherworld is just like this world, only different
This is not news.
Particularly in the Celtic traditions, the Otherworld is often described as being very similar to our world. Many times visitors didn’t even realize they were in the Otherworld until they saw something or someone that doesn’t belong in our world.
I began my visit in a house. Not the stone houses of Skara Brae or an Irish cottage with a thatched roof, but a very ordinary 20th century American house. When I went outside I saw lawns and trees and driveways and all the other things you’d see in a residential neighborhood. Then I went into a generic office building or perhaps a hotel where everyone was gathering in a large meeting room.
Does this mean the Otherworld is just like American suburbia? That sounds more like Hell than the Land of the Gods and Ancestors! No – the specifics are merely set decorations. The important point is that it wasn’t Iron Age Britain or Viking Age Norway.
Pagans – and I include myself here – often visualize the Otherworld as rural and pre-industrial. That’s understandable – that’s what things looked like the last time our ancestral religions were widely practiced. And it reflects our desire for a simpler time… a desire that overlooks the benefits of modern sanitation and other technological advances.
There is no harm in engaging in a little pleasant anachronistic dreaming. The harm comes when we assume the past was a Golden Age so great that the afterlife must surely look and feel exactly like it. That causes us to devalue the present and undervalue the future.
The Otherworld looks a lot like this world. Our world, here and now, for better and for worse.
[For another take on this, see Modern Fairyland, or Experiencing the Otherworld as a 21st Century City. Morgan Daimler wrote it today, partially in response to this post.]
Everything’s going to be OK, for everyone
Many of us grew up being threatened with an afterlife of eternal torment if we did the “wrong” things, or even if we believed the “wrong” ideas. As much as I’d like to blame that on Christian fundamentalists, they didn’t invent the idea of an afterlife full of punishment. The Egyptians promised a place in the Duat for those whose hearts are as light as a feather, but oblivion for everyone else. The Greeks (or at least, some of them) offered the Elysian Fields for heroes, but a rather dull afterlife for the masses and torments in Tartarus for those who particularly offended the Gods.I cannot speak for every religion and every culture. It may be that there are many Otherworlds, or that there is one Otherworld with many realms – just as our world has different regions and nations.
But mixed in with the honored dead (and a couple of other not-dead folks like me) were a few people I did not expect to find. A couple of them I would gladly chain to a rock and have an eagle eat their liver for ever and ever. But there they were.
I didn’t feel threatened by them. They may have hurt me or others in this life, but they couldn’t hurt anyone now – and we all knew it. They were clearly disoriented, as though the reality and impact of their actions finally sunk in. No more “it was necessary” or “I was just following orders” or “I have power and you don’t.”
Was their punishment a heavy dose of empathy? Was this the beginning of divine rehabilitation? Or would they be reincarnated with only slight improvements to their ethics and characters? I do not know. I just know that this was a beginning for them, not the end. They were not OK and they weren’t going to be OK any time soon, but they would be OK eventually.
The work goes on
I moved into another large room with many doors in the walls. Did the doors lead to different parts of the Otherworld? Or to new incarnations in this world? Both, I think.
The doors were all closed and none were marked, but I knew I could open some of them. Others I knew I could not open – yet. And I very much wanted to open them. Learning how to open them would – will – take time and work. Sometimes “time and work” means study and learning. Sometimes it means spiritual work: meditation, prayer, and devotion. Other times it means work: planting, tending, and harvesting; building and maintaining.
If you want to open a door, sometimes you have to find a key, sometimes you have to make a key, and sometimes you have to break the door down.
Will this work be done in the Otherworld or in this world? Again, I think the answer is both. There is some work that can only be done in this world. But the Otherworld is more than a place of rest and reunion.
Here and there, the work goes on.
I’ve always been a Pagan
The first three items are for everyone, or at least, for everyone who’s interested. The fourth is specifically for me.
Ever since I started practicing Paganism, I’ve wondered how I’ll react when death becomes imminent. In times of great stress, we tend to fall back on what’s familiar, and especially on what we learned as small children. When death is near, will I feel pulled to abandon the religion that has meant so much to me for most of my adult life? Will fear drive me back to the religion of my childhood?
In this dream, I thought I was dead. But I never questioned my Pagan beliefs, practices, and thinking. I spoke with a dead relative who was a dedicated and orthodox Christian – we briefly discussed our religious differences, in the same polite tone we used to discuss our differing thoughts on politics. I never even thought about reverting to Christianity in any of its forms, much less the fundamentalist form of my childhood.
Back in March I examined the question of how someone from a Christian family in a Christian environment became a Pagan. I speculated that for some of us, Paganism isn’t a choice, it’s an orientation. As I wrote at the time
There has always been something inside me that said “Nature is sacred.” There has always been something that said “there’s more to life than what can be measured and quantified.” I’ve always known the Divine has a feminine side, that the world is full of spirits, and that magic is real.
For me, this dream confirmed that theory.
I never get the whole story
One of the frustrating parts of oracular work is that I never get the whole story. I get messages to deliver, but not what the recipients need to do with them. I get orders to engage in tactical operations, but not the strategic objectives behind them. I’m told to build a gateway, but not where the path will ultimately lead.
The Gods have many virtues – transparency is not one of them.
I don’t know why these pieces of information are important. I don’t know who needs to get them. I don’t know what they (you?) need to do with them.
If this resonates with you, I encourage you to explore it further. If you have your own dreams or visions or thoughts about the Otherworld I encourage you to share them, even if they’re different. Especially if they’re different – many of us may have different pieces of the same puzzle.
If this doesn’t speak to you, don’t give it another thought.
I just know I had this dream, and it was prophetic, and I needed to write about it.
And so I have.