The Wisconsin farm where I spent my youth was located near an Indian path known as the Black Hawk Trail. In 1832, General Henry Atkinson’s forces attacked Indian envoys that were sent by Chief Black Hawk to discuss a peaceful settlement of their differences. The resulting conflict raged for five months and was known as the Black Hawk War. The noble Sauk leader was defeated at the Battle of Bad Ax River. General Atkinson proceeded to punish the tribes that had supported Black Hawk’s cause.
I spent many hours looking for Indian arrowheads after my father had plowed the land. I found a few, and developed an interest in Native Americans, especially the Pottawatomie tribe that had lived on the land many centuries earlier. In 1950, I graduated from FortAtkinsonHigh School and later attended the University of Wisconsin and NorthwesternUniversity. Whenever I had the opportunity, I continued to read about Native Americans, their history and their mythology.
I have kept dream diaries since my days in high school, and on the night of September 18th1958, while engaged in my graduate studies, I dreamed that I was back in Wisconsin, camping near LakeRipley---a popular vacation spot near our farm. However, the dream took place before Europeans had arrived in the area; there were lush woods and wild animals in my dream, as well as a Native American who was painting a remarkable design on a piece of leather. The design portrayed deer, cougars, and snakes, all co-habiting in the forest. He beckoned me to take a closer look at the painting, and then I woke up.
In my extra-curricular readings, I had run across the term “shamans,” those socially designated practitioners who obtain information from their dreams and visions, sharing this knowledge with members of their community. I was convinced that this dream character was a shaman and hoped that I would meet one someday. I had to wait until 1967, when I met Grandmother Twyla Hurd Nitsch at a conference during my tenure as the director of a dream laboratory at MaimonidesMedicalCenter in Brooklyn, New York. Grandmother Nitsch’s grandfather, Moses Shongo, was the last of the great Seneca medicine men, and was the custodian of spiritual traditions dating back to the days of the Iroquois Confederacy that also consisted of the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Tuscaroras. Because Grandmother Nitsch and I were both speakers at the conference, I was able to converse with her, learning about the “power objects” and “power animals” that served as allies when Seneca medicine men and women conducted healing ceremonies. I suspected that the Native American in my dream was painting a canvas that included my own “power animals.”
At the same time, I was aware that dreamers tend to interpret their dreams in accord with their own pre-existing beliefs (Morewedge & Norton, 2009) or what David Feinstein (2008) and I have referred to as “personal mythology.”When meaning is attributed to dreams, an interpretation is made through the lens of one’s religious beliefs, secular desires, and world views. A dream about falling from the sky can be interpreted as succumbing to sexual desire, failing in a business venture, or as a warning not to book an airplane ticket. There is evidence that dreams may make a greater impact on behavior than waking thoughts because of their dramatic nature and their openness to a motivated interpretation (Morewedge & Norton, 2009). Over the years, I have seen how my own dreams often reflect “doctrinal compliance,” my eagerness to dream in imagery that conforms to my personal myths.
Encounters with Three Brazilian Shamans
Since then, I have met with several dozen shamans from the world’s six inhabited continents, many of them at conferences that focused on cross-cultural healing practices or on environmental activism. In May, 1992, I was invited to speak on shamanism at an ecology conference in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. Paulo Xavante, a shaman from the Xavante tribe, began the day with an outdoor ritual.Much to my surprise, he showed up for my lecture that afternoon. After I had described the link between shamanic practices and environmental protection, I paused for questions and comments. Paulo was the first to raise his hand. Somewhat in apprehension, I called upon him, and (in excellent Portuguese) he said, “I hope that all of you have been listening to the doctor. What he just told you about shamans is absolutely accurate.” It was one of the finest compliments I have ever received.
The Xavante Indians of the Mato Grosso plateau of central Brazil live in a mosaic of ecosystems, sharing the land with jaguar, puma, anteaters, termites, parrots, and a variety of other wildlife. Their land has been threatened by an encroaching agricultural frontier as well as the construction of dams on their life-sustaining rivers. Nevertheless, the Xavante have tried to maintain their traditional way of life in the face of military incursions, agrobusiness corporations, missionaries, and homesteaders. Known as fierce warriors and excellent hunters, the Xavante also are skilled in fishing and land management. The dream world is an essential element of Xavante life because dreams allow them to maintain contact with their ancestors. When Xavante elders dream about the “immortals,” they share the dream with the entire village, which begins preparing a reenactment of the dream with the elders playing the roles of the ancestors. These dream ceremonies help to align the present with the past, providing cultural continuity. On other occasions, tribal members will sing and dance each other’s dreams thus developing a sense of trust among tribal members (Graham, 1995).
At that same 1992 conference, I met Peter Yanomami, another Brazilian shaman. With Paulo Xavante, he led one of the closing ceremonies after giving an impassioned speech about endangered species—which included Brazil’s native people. The Yanomami live in AmazonasState and surrounding areas extending into Venezuela. The invasion of their land by some 40,000 settlers and gold miners in the 1980s cost the lives of thousands of Yanomami, mainly to Western diseases against which they had no protective antibodies.
The Yanomami are very protective of their environment; Peter Yanomami told me that his ancestors buried their trash instead of burning it. They feared that the latter practice would sear a hole through the heavens, and that the direct rays of the sun would injure humans and other life forms. The Yanomami believe that they can travel to the heavens in their dreams, as well as to the “underground world.” The Yanomami cosmos is multi-layered and is enclosed within the abdomen of a giant boa constrictor (Jokić, 2006). Yanomami shamans also encounter the spirit world by ingesting epena or “the semen of the sun,” a snuff made from Virola, a member of the nutmeg family (Shepard, 2004, p. 389).
The Guaraní Indians in the southeast part of Brazil also have a venerable dream tradition. The tribal legends hold that in primordial times native people divided themselves into three groups, the People of the Sun, the People of the Moon, and the People of Dreams. The Xavante and the Guaraní are members of this latter group; some communities hold Dream Circles, or morning dream-sharing sessions. Often, a dream is shared that begins to give direction to the daily life of the village and it is not necessarily the dream of a pajé or shaman. Indeed, a child can have a dream that indicates a new direction for a community (Jecupé, 1998).
In April, 2004, I met João Guaraní, a pajé for the Aty Guaraní tribe, when I was attending a conference in Curitiba. He invited a few of us to a temple for a lengthy ceremony. His stately female assistants sang traditional songs, taking a break while a variety of mind-altering substances were passed around the circle--three smoking mixtures and three beverages. I expected to hallucinate or to experience intense visual imagery; instead, the effect of the substances was to induce clarity of thought that lasted for several days. I only wish I had been given the recipe for those concoctions!
The time came for each of us to make a closing statement. In the best Portuguese I could muster, I wished the Aty Guaraní well in their fight against encroachment on their lands, a battle that has driven some young people in a neighboring tribe, the Guaraní-Cayowá in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, to hang themselves in protest. I urged them to consult their dreams instead, reminding the group that the Guaraní are “People of the Dream.” João Guaraní was profoundly moved; he had no idea that I knew about the rash of suicides that has taken the lives of many young men and women, nor that I knew about the importance that the Guaraní attach to dreams.
On my return to California, I was told about the work of Kaká Werá Jecupé, a member of the Tupy-Guaraní tribe, and author of The Land of a Thousand People (1998). He tells about how the pajé is known to speak “beautiful words” (neeng-porã) that come from the heart. Dreams are important because they are moments when humans are stripped of nanderekó or rational thought. Dreamers are in a spiritual state where the awá or “integral being” can emerge, connecting them with a deeper reality. For example, some people can direct their dreams to someone who is several hundred miles distant; others can foretell both positive and negative events that will affect the community (Assunção & Jecupé, 2006).
Caveats in Cross-Cultural Research
Cross-cultural psychologists suggest that psychological generalizations cannot be made on the basis of research conducted in one cultural context, but rather must be demonstrated through cross-cultural research. This position is especially pertinent when applied to educational, counseling, and psychotherapeutic interventions; a particular approach might be successful in one society, e.g., a Western culture, but inappropriate in another, e.g., a non-Western culture. On the other hand, a comparison of interventions from non-Western cultural settings may yield information that can enhance Western practices. A "culture" is a particular group's shared way of life; such practices as healing, teaching, and dreaming are an important component of many cultures, both past and present.
I have compared models of several native healing traditions with those of allopathic medicine, finding both similarities and differences (Krippner, 1995a). Intending to do the same for dreamworking systems, I located an 8-facet model proposed by Ullman and Zimmerman (1979) that compared three Western systems, those of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Montague Ullman. I added two facets to the model, and revised several others to provide a better basis for cross- cultural comparison (Krippner, 1994; Krippner & Thompson, 1996).
In 1993, I met Lonko Kilapan during a speaking engagement in Santiago, Chile. He was introduced to me as a shaman, although he made no such claim. At the time, Kilapan was president of the Araucanian Confederation and ran a small museum that displayed Araucanian artifacts. In addition, he had written several books about Araucanian lore (Kilapan, 1974, 1987). In an interview and subsequent letter, Kilapan told me that the Araucanos (also known as the Mapuche, who Kilapan considers the ancestors of the Araucanos) divide dreams into four categories: dreams from the unconscious (e.g., wishes, memories, symbols), dreams evoked by outside stimuli (e.g., food, alcohol), telepathic and clairvoyant dreams, and precognitive dreams.
According to Kilapan, dreams from the unconscious reflect memories of life experiences, especially those making the most profound impressions. Instead of dreaming about a tree we saw, we might dream about its branches or flowers; instead of dreaming about an entire journey, one might dream about an animal that crossed one’s path during the trip. Elements from past experiences can become symbols; the initials engraved on a tree trunk may symbolize love, while a shining knife may symbolize terror. Sometimes only the emotions associated with the event are recalled: happiness, embarrassment, wishes, aspiration, deception, pain. During this type of dream, pieces of memories may occur in random order, without logic. The dream entwines them all, turning them into some type of story.
Sometimes dreams are evoked by outside stimuli and foreign agents. If the sleeping person hears a loud noise, the unconscious incorporates it into the dream. Other examples would be screams, strange sounds, and earthquake tremors. At times indigestible food or an excess of alcohol can evoke this type of dream. It can also occur if the dreamer falls out of bed. The resulting dream can reveal the way in which that person would behave if confronted with such an event while awake. Within an instant, the dreamer's life history releases a dream scenario.
According to Kilapan, in telepathic and clairvoyant dreams, this extraordinary capacity is able to operate more easily when one is asleep than during the day when there are so many other distractions. He told me that couples who have lived together for several years report this type of dream, as do people who live at a distance and have some need to communicate with each other. In Kilapan’s opinion, spirits of the dead can communicate with the living in this way as well.
Precognitive dreams have been reported for millennia. Just as telepathy and clairvoyance supposedly demonstrate the permeable nature of space, precognition is said to demonstrate the arbitrary nature of time. In some dreams, the dreamer claims to step through a door into the future. It is not uncommon for people to report precognitive dreams that issue warnings, describing a place they should not travel or a person they should avoid. Other dreams are said to predict positive events. Kilapan observed that these abilities were used more frequently in former days by the Araucanos and their ancestors, the Mapuche.
The Mapuche Dream Model
Kilipan's mention of the Mapuche piqued my interest and I was able to locate a doctoral dissertation by Degarrod (1989), "Dream Interpretation among the Mapuche Indians of Chile." The author of this study collected 380 dreams and their interpretations over a period of 17 months in the field. As an example of how the modified Ullman-Zimmerman model can be used cross-culturally, I applied it to Degarrod's data (Krippner, 1995b).
Degarrod identified four levels of analysis in the dream: (1) the intratextual level that focuses on specific dream imagery; (2) the contextual level that deals with the social and personal life of the dreamer, as well as the dreamer’s reactions to his or her dreams; (3) the intertextual level that relates a particular dream to other dream texts of the same individual or that of others; (4) the retrospective level where the dreamer examines the events following the dream for the purpose of understanding its meaning. Within this framework, I applied my modification of the Ullman-Zimmerman model and its 10 questions.
1. What is the function of dreaming? A dream (i.e., peuma) provides the Mapuche with information about present or future actions of others on the dreamer, guides decision-making and provides a rationale for one's actions, and/or serves as a channel of communication between the dreamer and other people, and between the dreamer and the spirit world. Hence, dreams can be divided into present-oriented and future-oriented dreams.
2. What motivates people to recall their dreams? Dreams are extremely important to the Mapuche. They can validate knowledge and the assumption of traditional roles and careers. For ordinary dreamers, prestige is obtained if the meaning of a dream is presented in a way that seems effortless. They can be used to diagnose illness, especially alleged “sexual possession.” Dreams are often sought by the Mapuche, especially in times of stress. Especially valuable are the dreams of shamans (machi, who traditionally are women), diviners (pelon), chiefs (lonco), ritual leaders (i.e., niempin), and the "official" tribal dreamers (i.e., peumafe). These dreams often express the traditional codes of Mapuche society, as dictated by the spirits (i.e., the "supernaturals"). In addition, the diviners would often locate lost objects in dreams by sleeping with an object that once was in physical contact with what had been lost.
3. What is the source of dreams? Among the Mapuche, dreaming is an activity of the soul (i.e., the poulli) that leaves the body at night, wandering about encountering other souls. The soul’s nighttime experiences are recalled at dawn when the soul reunites with the body. In the case of ordinary persons, the soul wanders without volition and is a mere receiver of its experiences. Through dreams, the soul encounters benign spirits who may give good advice, or malevolent spirits who may do it harm. Through these encounters, the dreamer learns about the present or the future, and--upon recalling and interpreting the dreams--takes the appropriate action.
4. How do dreams convey their meanings? Dreams can convey their meanings either literally or symbolically. A dead relative coming to take the dreamer on a journey can symbolize death. Sometime the decision is made by default; dreams narrated to public audiences are accompanied by literal interpretations while those narrated in the privacy of the home often undergo symbolic interpretation.
5. Are the meanings of dreams universal? The Mapuche are very flexible in their interpretation process. They examine dreams in relationship to the circumstances of the people around them. The intervention of others in the interpretation process permits the dream's meaning to be modified and manipulated. The contextual waking reality is taken into account during interpretation. Mapuche dream interpretation is an open system; dreamers can modify and maneuver the meanings of the dreams according to their specific social context.
6. What is the role of one's current life situation in dreams? Dreams guide Mapuche actions and decisions because dreaming, imagining, and thinking are on the same continuum. In imagining and thinking, the soul also leaves the body but with volition, embarking on a much shorter journey. (Death is the longest journey of them all; night terrors and visions are visits to the dreamer by spirits). Waking reality is balanced with dreaming reality during the interpretation process.
7. What techniques are used to work with dreams? Dream interpretation among the Mapuche uses several perspectives. Through various modes of interpretation dreamers can relate to different levels of time, to different aspects of their culture, to other members of their tribe as well as to outsiders, and to the world of the spirits.
a. For example, through intratextual analysis, the dreamer connects his or her dream imagery with common cultural and personal symbols. Contextual analysis integrates the dream with his or her social and individual life situation. Intertextual analysis integrates the dream with the dreamer’s previous dreams and sometimes with the dreams of other family members. Retrospective analysis permits the full meaning of dreams to be found and new symbols to be created. Any of these types of analysis may permit conversions from a metaphoric reversal to a literal system of analysis.
b. Dreams considered to be negative (i.e., wesa peuma) are shared as soon as possible, and the interpretation is usually communal, within the family. This allows dreamers to intervene in each other's problems, and may facilitate healing. The interpretation of positive (i.e., kume peuma) dreams is more likely to be a private matter. The classifications are made on the basis of the prophecies in the dream. If the dream is ambiguous, the dreamer may wait for future events to assist in the interpretation.
c. There are informal gatherings at which these dream reports are narrated as part of four different types of oratory: ritualized speech, improvised emotionally-toned songs, accounts of heroic deeds, and narratives of folk tales.
8. What is the role of the dreamworker? Most Mapuche dream interpretation is conducted within the family each morning and before important events. Difficult and troublesome dreams are taken to the shaman or other knowledgeable persons. Each family and individual participating in the process brings to it their own idiosyncrasies and belief system. A Mapuche shaman can determine the direction of his or her dreams, bringing volition to the process in order to visit the spirit realm and communicate with his or her spirit advisors. Shamans sometimes use mind-altering substances to heal through dreams, to obtain specific information about the future, or to contact the spirits. Contextual analysis can determine who has the prerequisite characteristics for becoming a shaman, and legitimize shamanic initiation through dreams. However, in Mapuche society, everyone is considered to be a potentially important dreamer.
9. What role does dreaming play in the dreamer's culture? Dreams are fully intertwined with all aspects of Mapuche culture. Dream interpretation is not an isolated event; it is integrated into all aspects of the dreamer's life through the multilevel analysis. Through intertextual and contextual analysis, the dreamer establishes communication with other people. This sharing and interpretation of dreams effects different types of communication between the narrators and the participants of the event. The dreamer's social position and the nature of the dream influence the rendition of the dream report, where the dream report is discussed, and the type of interpretation used. Dreams also are used to validate various aspects of the culture such as myths, songs, and social rankings.
10. How are anomalous and visionary dreams viewed? Through the dream experience itself and various means of analysis, the Mapuche can link and integrate different people and time periods. Retrospective analysis, by providing information about the future, links the dreamer's present activity to future events. Intertextual analysis links past dreams to those of the present. Because of these intertemporal links, the interpretation system helps to shape and influence the Mapuche views of the past, the present, and the future. It is customary for dreams about the "supernaturals" to be interpreted literally. It is typical for positive dream reports to be communicated only after their prophecy has been fulfilled. This retrospective analysis permits the verification of premonitions received in dreams and perpetuates, thereby, the use of dreams as forecasting devices. It also establishes the dreamer as a competent channel of communication with the spirit world.
As an example of Mapuche dreamwork, Degarrod (1989) cites a puzzling dream that was reported by "Julio," a tribal leader, during her fieldwork:
They dressed me with white clothing like a
Catholic priest. The clothing fit me very nicely.
It wasn't loose like priests usually wear, but a
little tighter. It felt very good on my body as
if it belonged to me. (p. 94)
Julio was confused because to dream of clothes is a negative sign, but white is positive. However, he felt good in the dream and enjoyed its imagery, so he decided to postpone labeling the dream. Two weeks later, a ceremony was held among people from two Mapuche reservations. The Roman Catholic Church was organizing the event, and planned to have both chiefs and tribal leaders involved in the ceremony. To Julio's delight, he was one of the persons chosen to lead prayers. He felt proud because of his position in the ritual, being surrounded by important people. Retrospective analysis had enabled him to interpret the dream. It had announced that he would act like someone of importance in front of the community. In addition, he had found a new symbol; henceforth, for him to dream of white clothing would be a positive sign.
The Mapuche often change their dream reports over time, following the contributions of family and community members. This phenomenon is reminiscent of research between dream content and personality. One study compared dream content analysis data with personality test scores for a sample of university students in Canada, no significant relationships were found. However, when the students filled out questionnaires which asked them about dream content, significant relationships were found in such areas as extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. The authors of this study concluded that "one's personality may tell us little about what a person actually dreams, but it can tell us a great deal about what a person thinks she/he dreams" (Bernstein, Belicki, & Gonzalez, 1995, p.139). These research results and the Mapuche proclivity to relate dreams in ways that reinforce their status correspond with postmodern distinctions between "fixed texts" and "fluid texts”, the latter term being more descriptive of dream reports.
It is apparent that the Mapuche dream legacy is a complete model of dreaming and dreamworking, even when described in Western terms. However, unlike Westerners, the Mapuche integrate their dreams into every major facet of their waking life (Faron, 1968). For them, there is no rigid division between dream life and waking life. The same can be said for many Native American dream models, especially those practiced before the arrival of the Europeans (Krippner & Thompson, 1996). Among most North and South American Indian tribes, the shaman was the focal dreamworker, but it was acknowledged that "everyone who dreams has a bit of shaman" within them (Kracke, 1987).
This presentation of the Mapuche dream model is in keeping with Tedlock's (1991) well-grounded perception that social scientists can learn more from native people's dreams by “studying dream theories and interpretation systems as complex psychodynamic communicative events" than by making typological or statistical comparisons between so-called "Western" and "non-Western" dreams (p.174). If contemporary dreamworkers are motivated to learn from native people, the Mapuche culture is still accessible, and the cooperation that Degarrod attained in her dissertation research serves as testimony to what can be ascertained by contemporary scholars. Or could it be that prejudice against the indigenous people of the Americas propels the general public, the popular media, and perhaps the academic community itself toward the "mysterious East"? If so, the field of dream studies in general and Western dreamworkers in particular will lose a splendid opportunity to explore the deeper dimensions of the human psyche from a unique perspective.
In April, 1998, I gave a seminar at the InternationalHolisticUniversity in Brasilia as part of a celebration of indigenous knowledge. During that same week, pajés from some 40 tribal nations met at the university to plan strategies for fighting “ecopiratism,” the theft by outsiders of their resources. This meeting was sponsored by the National Foundation of Indians, and I was able to interact with several of the shamans at mealtimes, and paid several visit to their encampment, which was located by a beautiful waterfall. At the end of the week, Citambe Pataxo, a pajé from the Pataxo nation, and I were invited to ring the “peace bell,” a gift from a Japanese foundation to the university in honor of its work on behalf of conflict resolution.
Citambe and other pajés told me that in 1996 a corporation based in the United States had sent representatives to the rainforest, where they had obtained permission from the National Foundation of Indians to study animals indigenous to the rainforest. Instead, they drew blood samples from members of the Karitania and Surui tribes. A member of the team had lured the tribal shamans into the rainforest, purportedly to locate wild animals, while other members of the team were drawing blood claiming it needed to be studied to protect them against tropical diseases.Later, the corporation offered the DNA from these blood samples for sale on its website; it was purchased by military and business groups who were stationing their representatives in tropical areas, hoping it would yield clues as to how the Brazilian Indians could resist diseases and fatigue despite the intense heat. Earlier, a group of “researchers” had queried Brazilian shamans about their herbal knowledge, later publishing articles on the topic with no compensation to the tribes (Veloso, 1998).
The shamans who met in Brasilia drafted a Charter of the Principles of Indigenous Knowledge; I promised Citambe Pataxo and the other pajés that I would publicize their resolution and, on my return to the United States, was successful in having it published in several periodicals (e.g., Krippner, 1999a, 1999b). The Charter states, in part:
We know that various plants, animals, insects and even our own blood samples are exported from Brazil to other countries….The invader’s greed has resulted in the transformation of our national resources into money. This greed has brought sickness, starvation, and death to our people….Our Great Mother Earth has been mortally wounded, and if she dies, we will die as well….We are from the Earth and we will stay here. We can help all humanity, and we want to help them. But we need help as well. At the same time, we cannot condone the theft and the destruction. It is time for this to stop. This is our word. (1999b, p. 11)
Many of the shamans I spoke to during the week underscored the importance of dreams in their traditions. One of them remarked, “Qualquer pessoa que sonha pratica um pouco de xamanismo.” Anyone who dreams partakes in a bit of shamanism. My experiences with shamans and their communities in South America, and from other countries of the world as well, reinforce this statement (e.g., Descola, 1996).
A similar sentiment was voiced by Thomas (2006) who observed that the shaman represents the attentiveness and the introspection needed to reconcile alienated men and women with what they have lost through family and social prohibitions. Reflecting on his own experience, Thomas remarked, “It seems remarkable to me that the initiatory guidance I had been lacking from family and culture was provided to me in the form of dream after dream that kept waking me up to my predicament and the prospect of transformation” (p. 4).
I have used the metaphor of working with the “inner shaman” in my seminars on personal mythology (Feinstein & Krippner, 2008). Thomas remarked that this “inner shaman” shows us that by relating receptively to our wounds, they will begin to heal. There is a sense of relief that accompanies the penetration of the wound to our psychological defenses. This is especially evident when we try to disown our shadow or our wounded self in an infantile relationship with someone else, our dreams will often prod us into embarking on a more rewarding relationship that we need to have with ourselves.
Perhaps my 1958 dream represented my own “inner shaman,” a resource that I have drawn upon over the years. And in 1967, Grandmother Nitsch told me that the Earth is one of humanity’s most important teachers; indeed, I think she would agree that this tattered world has never needed knowledge and direction from both the world of dreams and the world of Nature, from both intuition and reason, and from both imagination and common sense, as much as it needs it now.
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Preparation of this chapter was supported by the Chair for the Study of Consciousness, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, San Francisco, California. It was presented as a keynote address at the annual convention of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, Chicago, June, 2009.