Dreams - What They Are and How They Are Caused

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Dreams - What They Are and How They Are Caused

By C. W. Leadbeater



This, which cannot properly be classified as a dream at all, is a case where the ego either sees for himself some fact upon a higher plane of nature, or else has it impressed upon him by a more advanced entity; at any rate he is made aware of some fact which it is important for him to know, or perhaps sees some glorious and ennobling vision which encourages and strengthens him. Happy is the man to whom such vision comes with sufficient clearness to make its way through all obstacles and fix itself firmly in his waking memory.

This also we must attribute exclusively to the action of the ego, who either foresees for himself or is told of some future event for which he wishes to prepare his lower consciousness. This may be of any degree of clearness and accuracy, according to the power of the ego to assimilate it himself and, having done so, to impress it upon his waking brain.

Sometimes the event is one of serious moment, such as death or disaster, so that the motive of the ego in endeavouring to impress it is obvious. On other occasions, however, the fact foretold is apparently unimportant, and it is difficult for us to comprehend why the ego should take any trouble about it. Of course it is always possible that in such a case the fact remembered may be only a trifling detail of some far larger vision, the rest of which has not come through to the physical brain.

Often the prophecy is evidently intended as a warning, and instances are not wanting in which that warning has been taken, and so the dreamer has been saved from injury or death. In most cases the hint is neglected, or its true signification not understood until the fulfillment comes. In others an attempt is made to act upon the suggestion, but nevertheless circumstances over which the dreamer has no control bring him in spite of himself into the position foretold.

Stories of such prophetic dreams are so common that the reader may easily find some in almost any of the books on such subjects. I quote a recent example from Mr W.T. Stead's "Real Ghost Stories" (p. 77).

The hero of the tale was a blacksmith at a manufacturing mill, which was driven by a water-wheel. He knew the wheel to be out of repair, and one night he dreamed that at the close of the next day's work the manager detained him to repair it, that his foot slipped and became entangled between the two wheels, and was injured and afterwards amputated. He told his wife the dream in the morning, and made up his mind to be out of the way that evening if he was wanted to repair the wheel.

During the day the manager announced that the wheel must be repaired when the workpeople left that evening, but the blacksmith determined to make himself scarce before the hour arrived. He fled to a wood in the vicinity, and thought to hide himself there in its recesses. He came to a spot where lay some timber which belonged to the mill, and detected a lad stealing some pieces of wood from the heap. On this he pursued him in order to rescue the stolen property, and became so excited that he forgot all about his resolution, and ere he was aware of it, found himself back at the mill just as the workmen were being dismissed.

He could not escape notice, and as he was principal smith he had to go upon the wheel, but he resolved to be unusually careful. In spite of all his care, however, his foot slipped and got entangled between the two wheels, just as he had dreamed. It was crushed so badly that he had to be carried to the Bradford Infirmary, where the leg was amputated above the knee; so the prophetic dream was fulfilled throughout.


This, too, is the work of the ego, and, indeed, it might almost be defined as a less successful variant of the preceding class, for it is, after all, an imperfectly translated effort on his part to convey information as to the future.

A good example of this kind of dream was described by Sir Noel Paton in a letter to Mrs Crowe, published by the latter in "The Night Side of Nature" (p. 54). The great artist writes:

"That dream of my mother's was as follows. She stood in a long, dark, empty gallery; on one side was my father, on the other my eldest sister, then myself and. the rest of the family according to their ages. ... We all stood silent and motionless. At last it entered — the unimagined something that, casting its grim shadow before, h^d enveloped all the trivialities of the preceding dream in the stifling atmosphere of terror. It entered, stealthily descending the three steps that led from the entrance down into the chamber of horror; and my mother felt that it was Death.

He carried on his shoulder a heavy axe, and had come, she thought, to destroy all her little ones at one fell swoop. On the entrance of the shape my sister Alexes leapt out of the rank, interposing herself between him and my mother. He raised his axe and aimed a blow at my sister Catherine — a blow which, to her horror, my mother could not intercept, though she had snatched up a three-legged stool for that purpose. She could not, she felt, fling the stool at the figure without destroying Alexes, who kept shooting out and in between her and the ghastly thing ....

Down came the axe, and poor Catherine fell. ... Again the axe was lifted by the inexorable shape over the head of my brother, who stood next in the line, but now Alexes had disappeared somewhere behind the ghastly visitant, and with a scream my mother flung the stool at his head. He vanished and she awoke. ...

Three months had elapsed when we children were all of us seized with scarlet fever. My sister Catherine, died almost immediately — sacrificed, as my mother in her misery thought, to her (my mother's) over-anxiety for Alexes, whose danger seemed more imminent. The dream prophecy was in part fulfilled.

I also was at death's door — given up by the doctors, but not by my mother; she was confident of my recovery. But for my brother, who was scarcely considered in danger at all, but over whose head she had seen the visionary axe impending, her fears were great; for she could not recollect whether the blow had or had not descended when the spectre vanished. My brother recovered, but relapsed and barely escaped with life; but Alexes did not. For a year and ten months the poor child lingered ... and I held her little hand as she died. ... Thus the dream was fulfilled."

It is very curious to notice here how accurately the details of the symbolism work themselves out, even to the supposed sacrifice of Catherine for the sake of Alexes, and the difference in the manner of their deaths.


This is sometimes a remembrance, more or less accurate of a real astral experience which has occurred to the ego while wandering away from his sleeping physical body; more frequently, perhaps, it is the dramatization by that ego either of the impression produced by some trifling physical sound or touch, or of some casual idea which happens to strike him.

Examples of this latter kind have already been given, and there are many to be found of the former also. We may take as an instance an anecdote quoted by Mr Andrew Lang, in "Dreams and Ghosts" (p. 35), from the distinguished French physician Dr Brierre de Boismont, who describes it as occurring within his own intimate knowledge.

"Miss C., a lady of excellent sense, lived before her marriage in the house of her uncle D., a celebrated physician and member of the Institute. Her mother at this time was seriously ill in the country. One night the girl dreamed that she saw her mother, pale and dying, and especially grieved at the absence of two of her children — one a cure in Spain, and the other (herself) in Paris.

Next she heard her own Christian name called, "Charlotte!" and in her dream saw the people about her mother bring in her own little niece and godchild Charlotte from the next room. The patient intimated by a sign that she did not want this Charlotte, but her daughter in Paris. She displayed the deepest regret; her countenance changed, she fell back and died.

Next day the melancholy of Miss C., attracted the attention of her uncle. She told him her dream, and he admitted that her mother was dead. Some months later, when her uncle was absent, she arranged his papers, which he did not like anyone to touch. Among these was a letter containing the story of her mother's death and giving all the details of her own dream, which D. had kept concealed lest they should impress her too painfully."

Sometimes the clairvoyant dream refers to a matter of much less importance than a death, as in the following case, which is given by Dr F.G. Lee in "Glimpses in the Twilight" (p. 108). A mother dreams that she sees her son on a boat of strange shape, standing at the foot of a ladder which leads to an upper deck. He looks extremely pale and worn, and says to her earnestly, 'Mother, I have nowhere to sleep.' In due course a letter arrives from the son, in which he encloses a sketch of the curious boat, showing the ladder leading to the upper deck; he also explained that on a certain day (that of his mother's dream) a storm nearly wrecked their boat and hopelessly soaked his bed, and the account ends with the words, `I had nowhere to sleep.'

It is quite clear that in both these cases the dreamers, drawn by thoughts of love or anxiety, had really travelled in the astral body during sleep to those in whose fate they were so keenly interested, and simply witnessed the various occurrences as they took place.


This, which is by far the commonest of all, may be caused, as has already been pointed out, in various ways. It may be simply a more or less perfect recollection of a series of the disconnected pictures and impossible transformations produced by the senseless automatic action of the lower physical brain; it may be a reproduction of the stream of casual thought which has been pouring through the etheric part of the brain; if sensual images of any kind enter into it, it is due to the ever-restless tide of earthly desire, probably stimulated by some unholy influence of the astral world; it may be due to an imperfect attempt at dramatization on the part of an undeveloped ego; or it may be (and most often is) due to an inextricable mingling of several or all of these influences. The way in which such mingling takes place will perhaps be made clearer by a short account of some of the experiments on the dream state recently made by the London Lodge of the Theosophical Society, with the aid of some clairvoyant investigators among its members.



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