Dreams and Dreamstuffs

“I have a quick paranormal(ish) question to ask you. The other morning, I woke up to find a man standing at my bed. He appeared to be yelling at me, but there was no sound (kinda like he was on mute). He was standing there for about 30 seconds and disappeared when I blinked. It took me a little bit to process what I had seen. His image was so vivid that I could tell you exactly what he was wearing, but there was a shadow over his face. 

My question is do you think that I was just dreaming? I’ve asked lots of people about this and I’m getting lots of conflicting answers. I thought I would ask you to see if you had any thoughts. I know it’s hard to give an answer when you weren’t the one who experienced it, but I was thinking about the blog you had about the pig man at The Stanley and how this is kinda similar.”

-K. G. 

Thought I’d toss up another reader question for your Saturday.

What got me about your question and made me want to address it in the blog was this question of “just dreaming”. It’s no surprise to me that you’re getting conflicting answers, because it’s a pretty conflicting area of thought.

The way I approached dreams for most of my life was the way I think most people do: It just makes more sense that your subconscious mind is firing off random crap because it’s kind of on drugs and bored than it is that one out of a couple hundred conflicting dream interpretation books might have tapped into something profound and deep.

That said, I still think a lot of that is true. Dreams are random, often based in reality, and can be pervasive. Pervasive in the sense that they can cross over into your reality as hallucinations if you’re in the right condition, which can be drowsy, half-asleep, or driving (if you were me this summer making what could have been the last and worst decision of my life). When I hear about many people experiencing supernatural activity around them at night, it’s easy to wonder if most of it stems from dreams.

Old Hag Syndrome is the folklore-ish title for the experience of waking in the middle of the night and being unable to move. Often this is accompanied by a myriad of different phenomena, but the term refers to the belief that an old hag, or witch, is straddling you and so keeping you from moving. We see this reported in relation to stories of the old hag, incubi and succubi, presences atop a person, strange apparitions, black masses, and alien abduction stories.

Science likes to brand all of this under the condition of sleep paralysis. The brain releases chemicals while you’re sleeping that paralyze you so that you don’t act out your dreams. When brought awake suddenly from REM sleep, the body may well still be paralyzed. Hallucinations often accompany the waking because the dreamer is still so close to the dream state.

But dreams don’t like to stay so simple. Many people have profound mystical or psychical experiences within the dream state. Many people’s experiences of nightly phenomena are validated by others at the same time, by people who later stay in the room, or by later investigation.

Indeed, there is a certain phase of the sleeping process called the hypnogogic state, which is the state that the sleeper reaches when they are essentially asleep, but one part of their brain or awareness is still paying attention. This is a state that is frequently tied to Astral projection, trance mediumship, hypnosis, meditation, and more.

This is where the doors start to fly open. Many say that when one accesses this state, they have an easier access to astral or spiritual planes of consciousness. Because the critical, physical mind is relaxed, the subject can easier experience a different and wider range of the world around us. Science would want to suggest that any experiences had in such a state would easily be dreams, and that with enough practice, the dreamer can begin to control their dreams. This would suggest then that most of the astral work, out of body experience work, or mediumship, is just a controlled dream state.

The doors fly open in that arguing to validate any one piece of these experiences is the stuff of hundreds of years study and debate in a number of separate fields. You can read justification for near death experiences, astral projection, out of body experiences, and trance mediumship and they’ll all vary in critique and support.

I, for one, think that there is something to this state and these experiences. Not only do I find the abundance of material on the subject persuasive (though there’s much still I need to read more. My focus has been on other areas of the paranormal for the past few years), but I did have an experience in the hypnagogic state myself, about two years ago.

What then is happening in these states? We don’t know. Are there spirits around us normally that we are too stubborn to see? Are these spirits on a different plane of consciousness that the subject must ease themselves into, that’s easier to access when our brains are muted? Are they only dreams?

Laszlo Mednyanszky Death and old manJung theorizes about the collective unconscious and the unconscious minds. He believes that the unconscious is a place where we push our unwanted thoughts and emotions. These elements can manifest suddenly, and the experience is not generally pleasant. These repressed thoughts and experiences can rise when we have our guards down, namely, during sleep. The same can be said for more spiritual elements existing in the collective unconscious, which manifest as consistent symbols, called archetypes. These repressed elements of the subconscious mind, he believed for much of his life, accounted for spirit appearances; solely dependent on the observer. It wasn’t until the end of his life that he confessed his experiences pointed to spirits being something more objective and unrelated to an individual.

Either which way, it seems something is occurring that has an easier time accessing us in the night while we sleep. Whether that’s the case with you, where what you saw was in fact a spirit, I think that depends on whether you can discount it as a dream or hallucination, given your lack of surety about it’s presence and your closeness to sleep. Are you experiencing other occurrences that would justify the appearances of a spirit? Have you ever had trouble sleeping? Have you had trouble sleeping recently? Do you dream very vividly? Have you seen apparitions before?

Weighing many of those questions against each other is important. If it seems to be an isolated incident, accompanied by sleep issues, and is otherwise unjustified as an objective spirit, you might decide to write it off. If there’s validation, coming in the form of other supernatural experiences, as well as little justification toward sleep being the cause, then perhaps it was something supernatural.

Sleep is funky and fickle. And I think the mind is a powerful thing. But I would say experience suggests something is indeed occurring around our sleeping selves, in which “just dreaming” is not so simple as we’d like to think.

Karl Pfeiffer is a writer, ghost hunter, and blogger/vlogger. He won the first season of the pilot reality series Ghost Hunters Academy, and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team on the same network. Since then he’s lead the weekend ghost hunts at the Stanley Hotel, studied religion and writing at Colorado State University, and published his first novel, Hallowtidein October of 2012. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com

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