Dream Chamber. Notes from the Dream Fields.

It’s Saturday night. A full moon is shining through the window, the floor is covered in duvets and dreamers. There’s an altar full of objects including a unicorn, a rusty key, a jar full of lavender and nine nobbled cakes. The Dreamfishing Society are getting ready for sleep at their inaugural Dream Chamber gathering, exactly one year on from a dream chamber portal spontaneously opening up in Arts Lab N’s Alistair Fruish’s spare bedroom.

One year ago in the Fruish Chamber, the high density of good friends + quality theatre (thanks ArtsLab N) + plant life present, created a fertile ground for the links to dream space to open up and beam in. Dream23er, received a full-beam, community future-vision which we dream-fishers fished out and followed up. In Feb last year, 23 of us ended up at Cae Mabon in North Wales; the site that appeared in the dream, for a Wonderist weekend, living the dream.

Dream chambers were once deeply woven into society. For a thousand years, people traveled to the Asclepion temples of ancient Greece for healing. Art, medicine and dreaming were firmly fused to treat illness of all kinds. Patients were prescribed a holistic mix of hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, theatre, diet, music, and ritual. When the theraputes felt the call, patients were taken to the most sacred part of the temple, the Abaton, to incubate a healing dream. Upon waking, any dream signs or symbols were fished out and reported to the dream doctor who prescribed treatments accordingly.

In ancient Egypt, the highest adepts of the dream schools were named The Learned Ones of TheMagic Library; their fine-tuned abilities were said to help them travel through dream space to gain access to the ancestral records, and to fly off-world to make contact with Sirius. The ancient Egyptian word for sleep is ‘qed’ (symbolized by a bed), and the word for dream ‘rswt’ (pictured as an open eye). The literal translation of rswt means ‘to come awake’, so the word dream can be read as to ‘awaken within sleep’.

Gradually came the inevitable separation between waking and dreaming and between medicine and art. Why did we get kicked out of the ancient temples of sleep and dreams, and how do we get back?

This year’s Dream Chamber was my offering towards the temple reconstruction mission. To create what Andrew Holececk calls

“an atmosphere of open awaking, all centred around a treasured relationship with the dream states”

Five Oneironauts (one who explores dreaming) came to learn lucidity, investigate oneirogens, build a dream chamber and incubate dreams.

Practicing lucidity in waking life makes it more likely to occur while we’re asleep, so we kicked off with an exercise from Stephen Laberge which I adapted and renamed the ‘Wizards of Awareness’- meditating through the senses to heighten awareness of touch, sight, breath, taste, emotion, smell,thought, sound and general I’ness.

Am I dreaming? Three words that can pang you into the mind-blowing state of being conscious in a dream, if only you can remember to use them. We practiced M.I.L.D techniques (mnemonic induction of lucid dreams), essentially testing reality to see if it’s behaving itself: if you jump can you fly? if you hold your nose can it still breathe? All the while asking in the spirit of genuine curiosity and heartfelt inquiry “am I dreaming?” By treating the day as if it’s a waking dream and using regular reality checks, the habit should eventually cross over into dream space and the answer will be Yes!

An Oneirogen is “that which produces or enhances dream-like states of consciousness.” Our sense of sound and smell don’t switch off during sleep, so both are great at drifting into dreams.

With a dream soundscape humming away in the background, we blended dream-inducing herbs (mugwort, rose, rosemary, lavender, salvia) and wove them into dream pillows along with stories of the dream allies. The ancient Greeks had a host of go-to gods to aid them on their quests: Asclepius the god of healing and medicine, Mnemosyne the goddess of memory, Hypnos and Oneri. We invited them all, along with our own personal dream allies: the dreamed and the departed, the mythic and the plants.

We lit a fire and talked Big Dreams: those ones that have a different texture, seem to come from somewhere else and leave a big imprint. Whether they come from deep in our subconscious or beyond-beyond, they have the capacity to have a profound effect if we can pull them through and breathe life into them. Ancient dreamers placed carved inscriptions of their dreams and cures outside the temples of Asclepius and so, as Stephen P. Ahearne-Kroll says, “The afterlife of dreams…could last for many hundreds of years and had the potential to be widely influential in the ongoing perception of the ways that the gods interacted with humanity.”

We had a visitation from artist Lucianna Hail who brought her extraordinary Pandora Star dream machine for us to try out- it’s like a futuristic version of the Gysin Flicker Machine and produces dreamlike brainwave activity to help feed the dream state.

In the final stages before sleep we had a sound bowl bath, set intentions for things we’d like to incubate a dream on and retuned each Wizard of Awareness. There’s a host of rituals and rites that were used in ancient dream incubation including the reciting of Orphic hymns, incense and covering the floor of the dreaming chamber with live snakes. We followed them loosely… We drank mugwort tea, offerings of 9 nobbled cakes were made to Oneiroi, Mnemosyne, the unicorn and the others and then we slept, packed in like sardines; intoxicating dream pillows by our heads, paper and pens at the ready to capture the dreams.

“Great source of oracles to human kind, when stealing soft, and whisp’ring to the mind,

Thro’ sleep’s sweet silence and the gloom of night, thy pow’r awakes th’ intellectual fight”

Hymn to Oneri

And dream we did! Beautiful, emotional, insightful wondrous webs of dreams. We dreamed on and on, setting alarms throughout the night to help us drift in and out of that treasured REM sweet spot where dreams come. Scribbling away in the darkness.

There’s an old saying that if you move too fast on waking you’ll spill your dreams, so our morning was spent emerging slowly from sleep to capture the last dream drops before we closed our dream chamber and went our separate ways, each with a clutch of signs and symbols fished out from our dreams- ready to work with in waking life if we wished.

Much like John Lily’s suggestion that “those peculiar entities in charge of Cosmic Coincidence Centre pay special attention to those who pay attention to them”, so, it seems, do dreams. Turning and tuning our attention towards a treasured relationship with the dream states reaped great rewards. Whether it’s our beautiful brains spinning the insights, or our dreaming gods at play; the dreams are weaving and the temples of sleep are rising up once again.

Originally published in the Northampton Arts Lab Dream Issue

Dream Chamber 2017 playlist:


Image: Emma Watkinson

Oneiros: the personification of dreams and dreaming in Ancient Greece

Oneironaut: one who explores dreams and dreaming

The Oneirosphere: dream worlds, the space occupied by dreams

If we cultivate what Tibetan dream yoga practitioner Andrew Holececk calls “an atmosphere of open awakening, all centred around a treasured relationship with the dream state” we can soften the edges between waking and dreaming and become “interdimensional smugglers” (Jennifer Dupert, Liminal Dreaming), gaining access to the deep wellspring of the personal, collective and cosmic unconscious, carrying treasure back and forth across the borders to weave and work with in both states, and possibly becoming time-travellers in the process.

During the early inklings of the pilgrimage to CERN, The Bricklayer got in touch to commission me to dream a vision that John Higgs had had. At this point I had no idea what I was meant to be dreaming about…

Dreaming has been a strong current running through me for a long time. I’ve had precognitive dreams, lucid-void dreams, inter-dimensional dreams, held dream chambers, created tarot and music from dreams, built Gyson dream machines and had some Big Dreams leading to some wild adventures. But a commission? This was a new one…

It goes like this:

Bricklayer: I’m commissioning you to dream something, so we can confirm it and know for sure

Dream Fisher: OK. Know what for sure? Any details?

Bricklayer: Nope

Dream Fisher: Righto

Dream Incubation

For thousands of years pilgrims travelled to the Temples of Asclepius dedicated to the Ancient Greek god of healing, medicine & dreaming. At these sanctuaries, disease was thought to be a result of multiple social, environmental, psychological, spiritual, emotional and physical factors. For health to exist they needed to be brought back to balance with an integrative approach. Once they’d made the pilgrimage, the patients would feast on theatre and music, have diet changes, hydrotherapy and psychotherapy and perform a series of rites and rituals. Only once the theraputes felt the patient was ready would the pilgrims be taken to the most sacred part of the Asclepiun temples: The Abaton, The Dream Chamber. It was here that they would sleep with the intention of incubating a dream, hoping that Asclepius himself would appear and give them a direct healing, or that they’d receive strong enough dream symbols and signs to recount to the dream doctors the next morning, who would prescribe a cure.

Dream attempt 1/ incubation technique:

I fill my room, dream pillow and tea cup with oneirogens (dreaming herbs)- mugwort, lavender, rosemary, vervain. I place lapis lazuli dream stones under my pillow and recite the Orphic hymns of Oneroi, Morpheus and Mnemosyne used in the rites and rituals of the Asclepiun Temples, holding a very clear intention before I drift into sleep to dream The Higgs Vision

DREAM I meet a man with a ridiculously hard cock. I show him a collection of crystals, buttons and an ancient coin made of the heaviest metal known to man with a Britannia on it. I tell him I’m made of dream scraps from the sky.

The coin travels through all subsequent dreams until I find The Bricklayer & Higgs in a café. Still dreaming, I tell them about the earlier dream. On hearing about the coin John blushes like a tomato & guffaws at how much it matches his vision. I’m none the wiser.

Back in the waking world…

Higgs: Ancient Britannia, made me blush and guffaw-is that confirmation enough for you Bricklayer?

Bricklayer: It’s pretty good isn’t it? But not quite. Let’s give her a little clue. Go in again Dream Fisher, the vision is about the pilgrimage…

The Land That’s Dreaming Us

Sometimes we might dream about the land, at other times it feels like it’s dreaming us. From an Aboriginal perspective, The Dreaming is always present as the life force behind every living thing, the basic substance of the material world whether it’s daytime or night-time, clouded over temporarily by every-day reality. As hearts, minds and science open up to the precarious state of the ecosystems on planet earth, our capacity to extend the receptivity of our dreaming selves beyond the Personal and Collective and into what depth psychologists call the World Unconscious, can help re-awaken us to the interconnectedness of all living things. When the wild dreaming can speak to us and through us, we can open deeper to what the earth can offer, and to what it may need.

Dream attempt 2/ incubation technique:

I write a simple note to my dreaming self before bed. “Hello, Dreamer 23. Tonight, you will dream about Higgs’ vision of/for CERN- it will definitely be wowing. Look for clues”

DREAM At Damanhur with a large group. We’re sitting outside on the dusty clay earth on the banks of an amphitheatre-there’s a dreadlocked white man present, very smiley. The Plant Beings begin to make sounds like singing/ trance music: this is our cue to stand & we begin to say out loud “Show us so we can understand” over and over. Our task is to dance-in the new era, so we dance like slow rave/trance. The community are welcoming and show us the specific moves. We dance with very little to go on but with each move the sound of the Plant Beings and the vibrational energy increases between the two species. We’re learning to communicate.

I look up and see an extraordinary blue mythic bird. It’s gigantic, beautiful and otherworldly. It swoops through the central outdoor temple space and rests its head close to me. I stroke it gently and wonder if it will bite.

Back in the waking world…

Bricklayer: Incredible! Did you know that Damanhur have a sacred dance language that they teach?

Dream Fisher: What? No?!

Bricklayer: Yes! But hang on, it’s not The Higgs Vision. You can have another clue now. Find the starting place…

“Time is a child — playing like a child — playing a board game — the kingdom of the child. This is Telesphoros, who roams through the dark regions of this cosmos and glows like a star out of the depths. He points the way to the gates of the sun and to the land of dreams”

Inscription on Jung’s cube at Bollingen Tower.

Time-travel and Dreaming

At this point, the question of whether we dream moments in time that have already happened, or moments in time happen because they’ve been dreamed, feels very much up for grabs. I suspect it’s either, neither, both and/or something else entirely. Investigations are on-going and while two hefty books will be waiting for me post-pilgrimage: Quantum Mind: The Edge Between Physics & Psychology, Arnold Mindell and Time Loops. Precognition, Retrocausation, and the Unconscious, Eric Wargo, I’d like to plant a seed in this very paragraph that you, yep you sitting there on the bus/chair/bit of ground, might have some insight into this. Tell me then. Go on…

Dream attempt 3/ incubation technique:

I craft a Heath Robinson style dream-attracting device by placing a blushing tomato (as a stand in for Higgs) on top of an old medicine bottle labelled ‘Universal Indicator’ and surround it with old coins. Intention set before bed: “Dream the exact location of The Higgs Vision”

DREAM We’re in a large group traveling somewhere because of a loose connection to a band I haven’t heard of for reasons I don’t understand. We’re at the foot of The Long Man of Wilmington (An ancient Chalk Giant, carved into the side of a hill in Sussex). I begin to see we’re going on a very long journey to the start, I’m having doubts but there’s an element of faith. There’s confusion about where we start, and I’ve reluctantly agreed to travel this point. I find out that the mode of transport is very slow and finally give in and say no. I explain that The Long Man is the perfect place to begin, we all live near, and I’ve known it as a working portal with the right energy. My reluctance is part magical, part mundane.  I’m left having a strange conversation with just the head of a very bearded man which I’m holding. He’s irritated with me for continually squashing his left eye but just about tolerating it because we have important things to talk about. 

Back in the waking world The Bricklayer finally reveals that The Higgs Vision was that we begin our pilgrimage at the foot of The Cerne Abbas Giant: an ancient chalk figure, with a ridiculously hard cock, carved into a hill in Dorset. The giant used to carry a severed head in his hand. So, wrong chalk figure but close enough! And so Cerne to CERN is confirmed: The Hard On to The Hadron.

“Dreams are born from the individual, become the fuel of the matrix and provide meaning for all”

Gordon Anderson, Social Dreaming Matrix

There’s an old saying that there’s nothing more boring than listening to someone else’s dreams. If we imagine our dream content and its relevance to be based purely on our own individualistic psychology and imagine ourselves as separate from the whole- this is probably true. But if we imagine our dreams and dreaming to be part of a network of dreams, an oneironautical mycelium, and that the dreams are not just ours but Ours- then in my experience there’s nothing more fascinating than listening to other people’s dreams.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”

John Lennon

The emergence of The Dreaming Fishing Society as part of our pilgrimage has been an almighty oneironautical joy. In the lead up to the journey we’ve been sharing dreams, discovering where they overlap in themes, symbology and synchronicity, using them as beacons to light the path as we approach the great gnothing. When the dreams link, they seem to create strong connector threads between our dreaming/waking selves and a structure into which collective wisdom, shadow and creativity can flow as we journey towards our pilgrimage.

Making space for the dreams to speak with one another, dreaming together, dreaming for each other and for our communities can be a way to access material that may have been marginalised in favour of consensus reality based thinking. We can widen the field of wisdom and integrate what’s at the outer edges, where our subtler instincts dwell and mingle with signs and signals from the natural world and beyond -helping us consider our collective questions from entirely new perspectives, not as an alternative to rational waking-world thought, but as a complement to it.

By the time you’re reading this 69 people may well have spent a morning dressed in sperm hats dancing on a giant chalk figure in Dorset, learnt interspecies communication with Damanhurian Plant Beings and performed a dream-fished phrase at CERN via the medium of a sacred dance language. From the lace-like dream wisps that flicker into view in the darkness of the hypnagogic corridor as we drift into sleep, to the wide-open lucid void beyond all form: the map of the dream territories is a vast one. The borders are open. The Dreaming is alive and well. And not a moment too soon.

First published in The Pilgrims Guide 2019