Linda Lane Magallón tackles the subject of dream characters in this first of
a four part series. Are dream characters real people? Do they have a will,
or a consciousness of their own? Are they all the same, or could some be
lifeless projections? Join Linda as she takes us on a journey through her
own thoughts and intriguing dreams. You may not look at your dream
characters in quite the same way again!
Dream Characters and Reality Checks
Part One: A Quest for Verification
(c) 2005 Linda Lane Magallón
What are dream characters? We can speculate from now until the cows migrate
to the moon and never come to a definitive conclusion. That's the nature of
conjecture. When I first considered this question, some 20 years ago, I was
convinced by neither wild guesses nor domestic explanations. I wanted to
touch down on solid rock. Even in this moonlit field of study, dreams, I
searched for information that had been grounded by reality checks.
Why Do Reality Checks?
Recently, I read an article by a non-lucid dreamer that was written when
lucid dreaming was just a flicker in public awareness. He had heard that you
could do "anything" in a lucid dream. This is a very common reaction upon
attaining lucidity. Wow! This is magic! I can walk through walls! I can fly!
The euphoria is addicting; why question it? That would just deflate the
sensation, not to mention, put a crimp in the fantastic ideal. It's very
true, testing does puncture the happy face balloon. That's one reason why so
few people do it.
However, as I will soon relate, there are some good reasons why reality
checks are advantageous, even necessary. Let's say you decide to check out
the assumption that you can do "anything" in a lucid dream. I suggest that
when next you become lucid, you try to remember waking life. Try to recall
what you were doing yesterday or last week or 5 years ago. Try to remember
the date! As wondrous as dreamspace can be, it does have some limitations
and a detailed memory of physical existence is one of them.
When memory is not at optimum, judgment is impaired - this fact is very
obvious among certain elderly. It's also a fact as you dream. Along with
memory, good judgment is one of the first things to wane. Think of how many
times we dream and don't judge our experience to be a dream. It takes extra
effort to become lucid; even more to maintain enough lucidity to experiment
with the dream world and talk to dream characters. It's easy to assume that
what you see is what you get. But there is no guarantee that your initial
assessment will be the most accurate one. Unlike the years you've spent
awake, you just haven't had the time nor training to develop the same degree
of discrimination as you sleep.
Compared to the physical plane, the dream world is not as fixed an
environment, and that includes its residents.
Combine impaired judgment with flexible subject matter and the challenge to
identify the nature of dream characters becomes exponentially more complex.
Given that the topic is so complicated, why go through all the hassle to try
to figure out an answer? Why not just accept dream characters as they seem
to be and not bother your head with other possibilities?
Well, some people can do that, no problem. Their dream encounters, their
attitudes towards the encounters and the results of those attitudes, belief
and behavior are either neutral or positive. Under such circumstances, if
the in-dream event is troublesome, they assume that they are basically
unaffected because they can overcome the troubled scenario while they dream.
Or they can wake up to a state of consciousness that they believe to be
entirely unrelated to the dream. And they think that anything they do to a
dream character has no waking world consequence, either. Now, maybe they're
right. And, maybe they're not. It's impossible to tell, when their theories
aren't being tested. If everything seems okay on the home front, there is
little motivation to question and experiment with such presumptions.
However, there are other folks, like me, who can truly benefit from reality
checks. We can be having dream troubles that aren't resolved in-dream either
because we aren't lucid or because lucidity, in itself, is not enough. We
might wonder, is the dream character standing before me sure evidence of a
physical sickness, a spiritual crisis, a mental breakdown or some perverse
fragment of my sexual personality? Is this dream character a real demon, a
real alien, a real succubus or a ghost with a bad attitude? Is this a real
live human being, with an evil intent and the power to endanger? When health
is potentially at risk, the subject of dream character identification gets
real serious, real fast.
Or perhaps the dream encounter is benign, but a dreamer's leap of faith sans
judgment starts a chain of events that lead him down a path of dubious
merit. I know people who changed jobs, got married or moved to another city
as the result of a dream. These stories are quite popular because they play
up the positive aspects of the dream (and, in this culture, the dream needs
all the support it can get!) But they cover only the first chapter of the
story, the immediate event rather than the long-term consequence. When
chapter two describes debt, drunkenness or divorce, dreamers tend not to
admit it, unless you know them well.
Then there's the fantastically wonderful dreams that convert strongly held
beliefs and start a cascade of new ones. The genesis of most major religions
includes powerful dreams. Religion making is at work even today. I know
several people who started new spiritual practices and began to teach and
spread the word as a result of dreams. Perhaps the neonatal belief benefits
the founder and his disciples. But what about the rest of the community?
Does the new "truth" or "prophecy" pronounced by the guiding dream character
make non-believers objects of scorn or worse? Holy cow.
And what about people or dream characters who take advantage of your na1vet1
in terms of psychic phenomena? Well, I hope you get my point. Dreams and
related endeavors are barely emerging from the dark side of the moon.
Ignorance, immaturity and misinformation intermingle freely with valuable
and verifiable notions. It's easy to get discombobulated.
Much of our perplexing phenomena are shared experiences. At the very least,
we can have similar scenarios in each of our private hermit caves. But it
goes beyond that. Speak of wholeness or a peaceful Earth, for instance, and
you are no longer ensconced in your cave. You are looking at the whole
planet of dreams and dreamers from an outer space perspective. See any
floating cows out there?
Some Standards for Assessing Dream Characters
The Search For Willie
||Here you are, with your dream report in hand, intrigued, perplexed or
greatly bothered by a dream character who played a leading role. What to do?
Well, if you are new to this puzzler, you can, of course, leap to
conclusions or play guessing games, but I've already described the problems
with that course of action. At first, you might not have the "right stuff"
to solve the mystery on your own. So, if you aren't savvy enough to bring
your inquiry down to earth, why not consult someone else? How about a book,
a dream dictionary, a workshop instructor, a dreamworker, a scientist, a
guru or your next-door neighbor?
After I began seeking information, it soon became obvious that there was no
single answer. Instead, there were lots and lots of theories and
suggestions. Last time I counted, I had upwards of 30 major categories. In
my quest, I mainly concentrated on a single character, the black woman who
had appeared in my first lucid dream. In many cases, but not all, I recited
the dream so that folks might get a better idea of my dream dynamics. I
thought that approach would limit speculation to the most likely choices. It
didn't. People still felt free to ignore the content of the dream and insert
their preferred explanations.
In this society, the reactions to encounter phenomena are quite polarized,
because that's how we think physical reality works. Either we meet a real
entity or we have a hallucination, a fantasy, an illusion. These are the
sorts of responses I received when I asked people about the black woman who
had appeared in my dream.
For the materialists, she was simply the firing of a brain synapse, a
reaction to a bit of undigested food or a random image drawn from my memory
banks. The literalists labeled her as a soul mate or relative from one of my
past lives. The spiritually minded saw her as a shaman, a priestess, an
angel or an astral guide.
Then there were the symbolists. For the Freudians, she was a wisp of wish
fulfillment. The Jungians couldn't decide which archetype to fish out of
their sea of unconsciousness. Was she shadow or anima? The most popular
response came from the Gestalt camp. The black woman was definitely a part
Uh, huh. Everybody was convinced; nobody offered explanations that were much
more than proclamations without supporting evidence. It soon became obvious
that I wasn't dealing with solid information, even if the explanation came
from the scientific establishment. It didn't matter which philosophical
treatise, academic thesis, psychological technique, spiritual tenet, psychic
reading or off-hand remark I considered. It was imagination run amuck. Or
born-again religion: this is the "truth" and thou shalt not challenge the
authority who speaks it. Or quoting the word of somebody else who quoted the
word of somebody else who...Holy cow.
Instead of one ungrounded bovine, there was a whole field of them. I
dutifully collected all the possibilities and tried to milk them for what
they were worth, with little sense of surety or satisfaction. How expert can
experts be if they've never had a lucid dream?
||Your Own Dream Life
||Some of the people who suggested explanations for my dream character didn't
even bother to hear my dream. I found this most bizarre. It's the sign of an
interpretation system that takes a dream element totally out of context,
adheres to fixed concepts and produces a pronouncement strictly by the rules
of the system. The symbol-game. You'll find it in any dream dictionary and
in many dream theories. Its highly favored because it's so easy to remember
or use, especially when you're talking off the top of your head instead of
offering thoughtfully considered commentary.
To me, no dream element exists without a context in which it lives. No dream
is a tree without roots and supporting environment. The dream element's
primary context is the dream itself. One question that I was never asked by
proponents of a fixed system was, "Does your dream character have a name?"
If they'd bothered to listen to the dream, the answer would have been
obvious. In the dream, I called her "Will-it." Willie, for short. Just that
small piece of information can open up a whole new string of associations.
No guarantee that any of them will be the ultimate answer, though.
The popular dream methods have another limiting factor. They interpret only
a single dream. They don't pay attention to any others. Here's a second
context all too often ignored: the entire dream life of the dreamer. Few
people inquired if I had had any other dreams like that first lucid dream.
Nobody asked if I'd ever had another dream of Willie. Within three weeks of
the first one, my answer would have been "Yes," although it was not a lucid
one. Willie became a recurring dream character. And I became a journal
Willie's dreams, recorded on bits and pieces of paper scattered here and
there, would not have been very informative. Especially when it comes to
reality checks, a dream journal isn't a luxury; it's a necessity. Everything
gathered in one place. And titled. And indexed. Eventually I word processed
and printed out Willie dreams to fill a binder dedicated just to her.
The first context for a dream character is the dream in which the character
appears. For me, the second context included further dreams in which she
appeared. Now, I can tell you that I have recorded over 140 dreams which
featured Willie, although most of them have been non-lucid. Thus, I have had
limited in-dream opportunity to interview her directly. For the most part,
when I became lucid, I didn't have enough presence of mind to ask
penetrating questions. I was too caught up in the moment. Or too afraid I'd
lose my fragile hold on lucidity. I had few opportunities to ask the obvious
questions, "Who are you?" or "Who do you think you are?" But I did inquire
that of other dream characters. Plus I asked some of them who they thought
Willie was. Not to mention, who they thought I was. If you are a lucid
dreamer, doesn't it make sense to do some in-dream detective work?
I also have a slew of lucid dreams in which I went looking for Willie,
called for her or tried to get information about her in some other way. The
effort was not always fruitful (as was true in the waking state). The
answers I did get were varied (as was also true in the waking state). Some
responses were straightforward; some were quite bizarre. But in neither
state of consciousness was there consensus. I did not find the dream to be
the pristine and single-minded source of wisdom that some views would have
us believe it is.
||If you can't find the answers outside yourself, go within. So claims the new
age credo. The irony about "new age" belief is that much of it is actually
old age tradition and practice. It's only new to our culture. The
willingness to distinguish lucid dreaming from non-lucid dreaming is a
fairly recent phenomenon, so lucid dreams, per se, usually aren't considered
as a source of information. When "dreaming" is mentioned, rarely is the
subject sleep-in-bed dreams, anyway. Rather, the topic is more likely to be
altered states or waking imagination. And you don't have to stretch your
imagination much, if you follow a prescribed system.
I Ching, Tarot, Star*Gate, runes, astrology: these and other divination
systems can be used to ask questions. I used them to inquire about my dream
character. Some systems presuppose that the information will reveal
yourself, so you are predisposed to believe that a dream character is a
sub-set of you. Other systems will allow for the existence of someone other
than you, but mostly in terms of how he affects you. Not in terms of being
an independent entity. It's important to keep in mind that the answer to a
question is preprogrammed to stay within certain limits, by the structure of
the belief in which it lives, whether that be systematized or not.
Within the field of dreamwork, there are a host of interpretive and
non-interpretive methods to illuminate dreams. When Fred Olsen and I founded
the Bay Area Dreamworkers Group, in effect, we extended an open invitation
for all sorts of dreamwork and new age techniques to step out of the shadowy
past and into the spotlight of the present. Freud's free association, Jung's
amplification and Gestalt dialogue were already well known in the field of
dreams. But there's many more like bodywork, hypnotherapy, "re-entering" the
dream via waking imagination, sand tray, visualization journeys, vision
quests, dancing, singing, and creating art from dreams. If anything,
dreamwork is even more heavily disposed to the idea that a dream character
is part of you, since it's genesis is individual psychology rather than
Just the opposite used to be true when it came to channeling, automatic
writing and mediumship. The idea of being possessed by someone (or
something) beyond you was a hot topic of discussion. In recent years, the
pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. As regards these specific
activities, my experience does lead me to favor the entity-as-part-of-me
notion. However, I've found that the session can be influenced by outsiders,
just not the ones traditionally credited or blamed.
My friend and colleague Bob Trowbridge ran a channeling group for 10 years.
While there were many possibilities for the source of channeled material,
the most popular choice was a deceased human being. As Bob says, with tongue
in cheek, "Just because you're dead don't mean you're smart!" No matter what
the actual source of the material, there's always the question of how valid
the content is. And how valid it is to seek answers from that source,
compared to others. So how worthwhile was this quest to discover the essence
of dream characters? And what source, if any, gave the most fruitful answers
or inspired useful ideas?
I did a lot of searching for Willie in those first few years following my
breakthrough dream. It was my prime reason for trying to achieve lucidity.
When I come to lucidity, I find myself reading a book and see the word
"Obregon." There are three pictures of a Chinese friar and three entries
about the Malaysian Peninsula. It as if the friar liked the area so much
that he experienced life there three times. I move back from the book and
find myself in a room with floral patterned wall paper. As I look around, I
begin to lose the dream. I try to retain it by continuing my sense of touch
and thus am able to regain my sight. I look around again and discover this
is a playroom with crayons in the shelves. In the front is a table with
another book atop it. I ask the blonde woman standing there, "Is it my
Akashic records, my past life record?" "No," she replies. Flipping through
it, I see contains drawings of the human torso. "Are you Willie?" I ask the
woman and bring my eyes close to her face. No, I can tell she isn't. I move
At this point I realize there had been another woman, black-haired, who just
left the room. I follow her into the next room which turns out to be a
galley kitchen filled with women. "Can anyone here get a message to Willie?"
I begin writing a note on a piece of white paper. "Dear Willie, Please
contact me. I need to talk with you." I fold the paper and hand it to an
Asian woman who walks out of the room. Turning back to the group I ask them,
"How come there are no men?" In response I'm greeted with shrugs.
"Where is Willie?" went hand in hand with the question "Who is Willie?" And
who were all those other dream characters, besides?
Woman With The Blue Face, 12/29/83
A woman with a blue face (mask?) is seated wearing a long, billowy gown. She
says something I don't understand. I reply, "I can't hear you."
She bends toward me, but not too close. Is there a barrier or force field
between us? Whispering in my ear, she repeats the unfamiliar language. It
has several "sss" sounds - like the pressure escaping from a steam kettle.
"I'm sorry, I can't understand you," I say. "Do you know how to contact
Willie? Should I call, write her, or send her a note?"
Amused, the woman shakes her head several times, "No, no, no."
Okay, so this dream character told me what not to do. But not what I should
do. Big wow. Some dream characters were just no help at all. Others, well...
The Woman Who Knows Willie, 11/19/84
I'm at a conference, standing next to one of the long tables in a large
room. I go over to another table with papers on it where a woman is seated.
She is facing the bookcase against the wall. I view the dark, kinky hair on
the back of her head (is she Caucasian? Black?). She turns toward me and
says, "Hello Casey." I ask hopefully, "Willie?" She replies, "I know her."
"Oh," I say, thinking this must be a friend of hers. "I really think I
should sit here," I say but return to my original table in the back
left-hand corner of the room. Then I turn around. "May I join you?" the
woman asks. At this location there seems to be quite a few people in nearby
tables, including an Asian man who is being helped by a teacher. Since there
are so many people in such a small space, I feel hesitant about inviting her
to join me, so I gesture with a shrugged shoulder and open hand as if to
say, "You can if you want, but there's not much room." Seated, I see my
dinner in front of me: a plate of crispy-coated rice, vegetables, and fish.
Someone says the tomato sauce is from The Mid-West. I wonder, "Is the fish
in the Mid-West fresh?"
Behind me is a window opening with potted plants. I perch on the sill. I
want to leave; it's boring. So I lean back and fall out of the window. As I
drop down the side of what turns out to be a skyscraper, I wonder, have the
people in the conference room seen me? Will they worry? So I fly back up and
sit on the window sill to repeat the scene. This time, I fall out when I'm
sure no one's looking.
The skyscrapers in the area are so high that I can't even see the ground. To
my left I can see two other people who are practicing flying, too. One is a
woman, in white; I'm also in a chic white outfit. I fly off toward the right
down a "canyon" of buildings. At one point I realize that my movement seems
to bring the dream into clearer focus. I think, is this all just my
projection? It sure is fun.
This wasn't the first nor last time I got distracted while lucid. Food and
flying will do it every time! I just wish I had had the presence of mind to
question more thoroughly the woman who addressed me as Casey. That's the
same name that Willie had called me in my first lucid dream.
Willie's Brother and Sister, 8/11/85
I become lucid while flying down a narrow valley. I stop at the end, on a
street corner. There's a field beyond with a single small shack. On the
corner are two black teenagers. I ask, "Do you know Willette...(I have to
think hard)...Nicholson?" The young man says softly, shyly, "She isn't here
now." I get the impression the two are Willie's younger siblings.
Yes, Willie has a first and last name.
Next in the series - Validation and Practicality
(This next part will be available in LDE 35, due out in June.)
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