Possession And Dreams
In our everyday life, things such as love, anger, fear, dependence or similar interests, frequently link us powerfully with another person. Again and again I have observed that when a couple are in love, they often start saying exactly what is in the mind of their partner. This suggests they may be sharing a unity or togetherness at some level of their consciousness.
Also, a few people experience exactly the same dream on the same night, as in the example.
‘I dreamt my sister was attacking me with a pair of scissors. She backed me against a wall and stabbed me. During the day after the dream my sister phoned me at work and said she had an awful dream in which she stabbed me with scissors.’ D.
But sharing feeling links is different to feeling possessed. Love links us with another person, and maybe even allows a blending of minds, because we want to experience that. Possession refers to an apparently outside being or influence controlling us, perhaps against our will, or even without our awareness.
As an example of this, Mrs M. F. dreamt:
I was going mad. I was crawling around on my hands and knees and wailing and behaving in a most peculiar manner. I actually felt mad. But inside my head a tiny voice kept saying, “You aren’t completely insane yet — there’s still a chance.” People around me kept saying to each other, “We think she’s possessed by devils.” My sane voice then said, “Make the sign of the cross. Cast out the evil spirit.” I kept trying to do that but my hands wouldn’t or couldn’t complete the sign. I woke still feeling disturbed.
This dream clearly illustrates the frightful conflict going on between M. F. and what she experiences as a controlling influence.
Such dreams are frightening and need to be understood. The power we struggle against must be dealt with in some way. In doing so the subject needs to be clarified, and this alone can help.
Some years ago I listened to one of my stepdaughters talking with my wife. My wife started to comment on her daughter’s current boyfriend. Suddenly my stepdaughter butted in with strong feelings and said, “Don’t even say anything mum. Whatever you say influences me so much I can’t even think for myself.”
The Devil of Public Opinion
Being influenced in judgment or action by somebody else is extremely common. Perhaps all of us are deeply influenced by public opinion, or what someone else will think, feel or do. A married man or woman taking a lover will usually meet their new love carefully or secretly. Their actions arise out of knowing how other people would respond. And how many of us can undress in public, or even walk along a crowded street without socks and shoes?
The degrees of such influence range from mild to the point of us not being able to do something even if we wanted to. Losing our will to that degree could be seen as possession.
Because dreams portray the different influences within and around us as external beings and things, such a controlling influence could easily be portrayed in a dream as a possessing entity.
There are many other things that “possess” us in this way, many of them unknown to us unless we confront them. If we do, a struggle of will or decision usually occurs.
I once met a reformed alcoholic, John, who told me that his doctor had given him an ultimatum. The doctor had said that John must either give up alcohol or die from liver failure. John then stopped drinking and found that the doctor had got the ultimatum wrong. This was because, when John stopped using alcohol, he started meeting feelings and anxieties he had suppressed most of his life through alcohol use. He started experiencing the everyday anxieties about paying his bills, the feelings about his past and failed relationships, about his own behaviour and who he was in the world. These were difficult for John to face, so he was tempted again and again to use alcohol to suppress or deaden such feelings. Therefore John changed the wording of the ultimatum to, “Feel my feelings or die!” As can be seen, John did not confront his difficulty until he stopped using alcohol. Sometimes it is an event or change in life circumstances that confronts us with what possesses our will.
How many of us use alcohol, cigarettes, painkillers, prescribed drugs, or street drugs, for similar reasons? Perhaps we failed to face the depression arising from a failed marriage, difficulties in parenting, anxieties about financial security, or in meeting our own past. If so, what is it that possesses us? After all, we are not fully in possession of our own mind or soul if we need foreign substances to deal with our own feelings and fears.
Take a while to think about this. How many people use alcohol, tobacco, or antidepressants? What is it, as with Mrs M. F., that is driving them mad/depressed/unhappy?
Well, I know from personal experience that it can be a feeling that we do not have the strength, the resources, to deal with our own pain or depression, our own inadequacies.
Possession by Conviction
Having worked for many years as a counsellor using dreams, one of the awful forms of “possession” I have met in several people is something we call conviction. It is a positive word, but conviction can be a terrible influence to be possessed by. For instance, some people I dealt with over the years were convinced they were mentally ill because of the personal problems they faced. That conviction was a major cause of their misery and conflict. Once that conviction was melted and they recognise themselves as human beings with difficulties to deal with, they could begin work on reconstruction.
In a similar way, we might be convinced, or possessed by, a set of beliefs, as for instance religious convictions. And I am talking here about convictions of any sort that make a person completely rigid, and unable to take in or listen to any new experience or idea.
Sometimes we use such convictions like castle walls, to defend ourselves against anxiety, against uncertainty, against actually meeting the vulnerable and perhaps young and lovely self we were before the castle walls went up.
One of the most deadly convictions, one pressed into us frequently in today’s world, is that we do not have a central core within us, out of which healing and growth can emerge, out of which we can gain a sense of unity with the beautiful mystery that is the universe and our life in it. Without a sense of that core, we have no feeling of strength to face our own depression, our own darkness or childhood pain. Instead we have the conviction we are victims of a harsh life. As the words of the song say, “Life’s a bitch. Then we die!”
Whatever we may believe about that core, or the human spirit, we have incredible potential, amazing resources. But very often, what holds us back from accessing them is, as with John, the fear of meeting our feelings in any depth, or the lack of tools to deal with them when or if we do. Working consistently with your dreams is a path that can lead you to real transformation. It is an approach that is totally related to your own situation and needs in life. But it must be done in a way that brings you into a practical meeting with your personal history here and now, and does not fly off into fantasy about what you might be spiritually, or in past lives.
The Struggle With Sex
However, there is another form of apparent possession arising out of ignorance or being misinformed. The following dream illustrates this.
I am 18 and recurrently dream my house is haunted or possessed by the devil. I am not religious, but in the dreams with the devil I try to remember prayers to scare him away. In every dream my family and I have to pack our bags and moved back to the old house I lived in as a baby until 7. The dreams really frighten me and I can’t sleep. Barbara.
Barbara is a young woman, and is faced with either meeting herself as she is now — a sexually maturing young woman — or returning to a way of dealing with life relevant to a seven-year old. What Barbara is in conflict with here, and fears as something alien, is her own sexual drives, her own urges toward womanhood, toward independent life.
I grew up in a society, a religious indoctrination, that portrayed sexual urges as dirty, as degrading, as something to be controlled. I, like Barbara, in fighting my own natural urges, felt possessed by the devil. Fortunately I was helped to see my own inner drives — sex, anger, the desire to exist and flourish — as natural and not devilish.
Although Barbara says she is not religious, she is obviously talking about her surface sense of herself, because in the dream she prays for help. As with Mrs M. F. the sign of the cross will not cast out our own internal urges and splendid life energy. After all, it has often been the church that put the conflict there in the first place as a means of social and individual control. So how can the cross help, unless we associate it with love and life?
In 40 years of dream work, I have not personally come across a case of possession in which there is an actual external entity fastening on the person involved. If I did come across such a case, I would still first explore the person’s own desires, their convictions and inner conflicts. I would try to uncover what desperate longings, dependencies or fears they are not admitting to themselves. These, I believe, are the underlying causes for the apparent possession we might be facing in our dreams and in life.
However, I would be very lacking in my understanding of possession if I did not take the description of it a little further. Also, I would be hiding the truth of it if I did not admit that I have experienced it myself.
In my own case, while dealing with personal problems, and delving into the unconscious to find their roots, I have passed through a whole territory of my inner life dominated by demons that were in various measures possessing me. It took me a long time to understand, or perhaps to put into some rational definition, what these demons and possessing influences were.
My understanding today is as follows — during our life we give tremendous amounts of time and energy to certain interests, ambitions, longings and desires. Everything we do influences our body, our brain, and produces changes. Anybody who gives a great deal of time and effort to the study of colour and form, actually alters their brain structure to some extent and becomes much more perceptive in those areas. What this means is that the brain, the mind, has set up a sort of focal point around which all the information, feelings, and flow of energy, circulate. Sometimes, these interests or ambitions become so powerful they have a life of their own to a certain extent. In a very real way they possess us, and divert energy toward the goals, hopes, longings, involved in them.
The Stranger Inside You
The unconscious, especially in its processing of dreams, depicts these focal points and their influence as actual things. They might be depicted as a dark shape, a demon, or a powerful figure trying to direct your activities. These dominating influences may actually be detrimental to your fundamental nature, to your happiness and health. As such they really are possessing influences sucking our energy. For instance a man might be so dominated or possessed by the desire to earn enormous sums of money, then he works himself to an early death.
In earlier cultures, they did not have our psychological language to explain these phenomena. Nevertheless, human beings like ourselves suffered the consequences of them, were haunted by them, and made ill or afraid. These cultures developed ways and means of dealing with them appropriate to their times. One of these is illustrated in the New Testament where Jesus casts out the demons. Those demons were almost certainly possessing psychological influences such as I have described. Such an influence might be a focal point for hate, for murderous rage, or even for a crazy irrational state of mind. In the case of Jesus, we see a clear unconditional love and attitude to life confronting the possessive and dominating influence of what we have called the demon. This state of unconditional living and clarity still works today. If you can arrive at such a state of mind, and maintain it in the face of the awful influence of the possessive forces at work in your nature, they will be “cast out”. This may be fast, or it may take time, but it will happen. Sometimes these influences in us exhibit extraordinary power in their hold over your mind and emotions, and in their being dealt with we face a great deal of uncertainty, and sometimes emotional upset.
But there is yet another level of possession that is much more frequent than I believe our medical profession admits. To illustrate this I quote a dream sent to me by a woman.
I was in what looked like huge white ribs. In the ribs was a big heart beating. Beyond that was my homeopath. I could hardly breath, struggling to live. I could hear the heart beating, but as I listened I could also hear another heart beating. It seemed to me it was my sister’s heart connected to my own invisibly. The homeopath came forward and stretching open the ribs, reached into them, took hold of the invisible heart – it was like a shadow behind the other heart – and pulled it out. Immediately I could breath again and felt I was whole. In everyday life my sister and I have been incredibly linked, even to the point of having cramps at night on the same nights, though living in different parts of the world. I had become ill recently out of this connection, but as soon as I had this dream I was well again, but my sister became ill. She has just been diagnosed as HIV positive and is dying.
What this woman experienced is not uncommon. Our links with certain people are much more profound than we usually admit. A friend recently telephoned me to talk about a feeling that he was deeply possessed by his mother. He is a man in his fifties, but nevertheless feels his mother is an incredibly powerful force in his life. He said he feels almost as if she is a demon living within him, penetrating his very cells, sapping away his resolve and positive feelings.
These links can be formed through close relationship, such as that between parent and child, but also through enmity, and certainly through sexual relationship.
The Child in the World of the Vampires
There is a very relevant point in ones development as a child, that explains another aspect of possession. In many cases it appears that as children there is a point where our personal will develops, and through sheer necessity to survive, conflicts with the will of mother and others. It is possible that prior to this the will and awareness was in union with the mother or its objects of love. At this point of separation the will or identity has to be defended lest it be swallowed or vampirised by mother or adults. Possessive, over caring, or dominating parents can especially be cast in the role of the vampire.
Put simply, as a child your will might not be strong enough to confront that of the adults around you. In imagery of dreaming, it would seem that your very strength is being sucked out by an attacking vampire.
As a child, the means of defence against this are many — anger — hate — revulsion — a temptation to become invisible. Therefore you might develop a strong repulsion or anger against your mother or father. This enables you to separate yourself from them, and what they want you to do.
What has struck me so forcibly as I explored this situation, is that when we come to the point of learning to love as an adult, we face again this original behaviour pattern of defence. We defended originally against the loss of identity, now, to love, we come again to the melting of our identity in another person, and the original defence and fear arise once more — in fact they had never gone — until we dissolve them by conscious understanding. At such a time, the images of possession, of demon or vampire arise again, along with the feelings connected with them.
Meeting with the Devil
Having watched a person meet the devil in their dream exploration, what they arrived at is very helpful in understanding any feelings about being possessed by the devil. She saw that her lack of self esteem, her self doubts and depression were like an open door that allowed destructive feelings and fears to enter. She also saw that this awareness of evil living in her, along with the attitudes or feelings described, were in part inherited from her recent and ancestral family.
Once this is understood it is easy to see that other things leaving such a door open are childhood trauma or abuse, and the attitudes and standards we often pick up – rather like infections – from others around us, and our culture. When this ‘devil’ enters us it can lead to self criticism, negative comparisons, the denial of ones own talents and ‘light’, and in bad cases, crime, murder and the infliction of child abuse and trauma. Such feelings, such entrance of foreign and destructive forces, is seen by our unconscious as the devil, demons or even a vampire. They suck away the life force and create illness in our body. Recognising them is very important for our health and person wholeness. This is called a dybbuk in Jewish folklore. Remember that devil is lived spelled backwards, and evil is live backwards. They both suggest the turning of your life force back on itself.
Many people either see, feel or dream about an awful dark shape that threatens to envelop them. This can terrify them as in the past it terrified me. But understanding where sich awful fears emerge from is helpful.
Here is a dream that has in it the dark threatening shape.
I woke from a strange dream this morning . It was set in a small semidetached house – at least that was the feel of the place. My young children lived in the house, and there was a terrible sense of poverty and fear. All the windows were blacked out with curtains, so the place was constantly in a state of semidarkness. There seemed to be one or two Indian men, but always in the background somewhere, in a slightly threatening way. In one part of the room, in the darkness, a tall black figure stood. That is, draped in black, in what looked like a gown flowing from the head right down to the floor, with the face hidden in a pool of darkness.
One of the Indian men had somehow procured a great deal of money, but this was hidden or kept upstairs in rooms that the children never ventured into. There was a feeling that the man would kill anybody who got near the money. Also at some point it seemed that my young son had either hung himself, or he had been violent with the other children and while he slept they put a noose around his neck and suddenly pulled him upwards.
This dream was explored at length and here are the comments on what was realised.
I am feeling in myself what the children are. I sensed them as the many flowing urges, curiosities, feelings that are in me from youth. Today this developed further. The overall and underlying background to the dream became conscious. It is all about fear, apprehension, not daring to reach out, extend myself. I recognised that feeling because at present in the relationship with my partner I went through that darkness again recently. It is made up of many different feeling states, but part of it is that contact is too painful to go anywhere with or do anything. At times the only thing I could do was to read or to watch a film to completely divert my attention from this dark room, this dark place in myself.
Another aspect of it is the fear that I will do something wrong and will become the victim of somebody else’s distress or anger. Of course that links with my mother. I never saw her in that light before. Of course I recognise that she in some ways smashed me emotionally, but she had never seemed to be somebody who threatened me or punished me much in an exterior way. But as the fear clarified I could see that the threat she used was that unless I were good, unless I did exactly as she wanted me to, she would put me away from her – the ultimate threat. This of course terrified me. So some part of me cowered in that dark room. My youthful intelligence, curiosity, desire to explore relationships, all these were turned back on themselves as illustrated in the dream by the aggression that my son showed, and the children hanging him. Such held back feelings often turn into murderous rage.
Looking back I can see that I gradually, and especially in teenage, possibly from the wonder of reading such things as science-fiction and books about yoga, shut the door to that room, to that house with its latent threatening death all the time. So I encapsulated that place, sealed off those feelings, and those fears. I kept it all so dark by my own efforts. The only way to escape was to be somebody else, to be another sort of person! But of course, in the background and behind the scenes, that dark room has always been there. I revisited this part of myself in and through my relationship with my partner, and the fear I faced was again that I wasn’t loved, that there was no future in the relationship, that I am trapped in the dark place of loneliness and fear, and that whatever I do will antagonise another woman friend and bring down some sort of punishment or judgement on me. So I have recently had to confront all these and pass through them. My sense in this is that it allowed the dream and what it portrays to surface and be dealt with. And this was why and how I managed to transform the place into the dwelling of light and change.
The dark shape was of course my feelings of doom, the unspoken threat, and death. The Indian man or men represent forces or things that I couldn’t deal with, or are foreign to me, a further sense of helplessness and being trapped. And all the money is really the potential that has been locked up, the value in my being that has never been recognised or used, and is there now to become a part of my life as it is has been in recent years.
As can be seen, when it is understood there is nothing to fear, but an awful lot to digest. The fear before it was understood was so bad it paralysed the dreamer in his ability to act.
But here is another type of dark shape that is the essence of what many people fear. At first the dream:
Then the scene changed and I was walking up the several flights of stairs to get to the attic room. I was holding a small dog in my arms – one of those rather flat nosed toy dogs. I arrived at the attic I put the dog down. But now the attic was empty and dark. I could feel my hair stand on end and my skin ‘crawling’. Actually I feel it all again as I write this. The feeling arose because there was an unformed dark shape creeping around at the far end of the room. The dog was really afraid and came into my arms.
Then the dark creature leapt at me, transforming into a massive mouth with huge fangs and awful demonic face. Immediately I leapt at it in the same way and smashed against its face with my own huge fangs. This utterly disarmed it because it had felt, in its primitive way, to terrify me. It surprised me too that I could so immediately transform into a monster when necessary.
Then I approached the dark form, back in its original condition, trying to find out what it was and why I had met it in that way. Gradually I experienced its situation. It had originally been a human being, but had gradually lost its humanness and become this slinking darkness. I was slowly able to help it realise that it could once more take the path to become human if it wanted to. Then it asked me how that could be done. I told it that first of all it had to come out of this dark and empty place to mix with people. The human environment created a different surrounding and influence that would penetrate it and help it to change. It also asked me how I knew about its condition and how I could transform into its own monstrous form. I told it I had once experienced that condition, and that’s how I knew it was possible to come out of it.
This extraordinary dream doesn’t need much interpretation. It shows that with courage and love you can meet almost anything. The loved shown was in his way of dealing with a threat and showing the person the way to a new life.
When you sleep and dream your voluntary muscles are switched off. This can mean that any dream activity that not only originates the spontaneous images of dreams, but also gives rise to all the muscular impulses that are part of the dream movements, so it would seem to you that an alien force or being has taken over. In other words because it is spontaneous, and because we do not believe that anything other than you can originate movement, it feels as if something other than you has taken over.
Also dreams arise from a very deep part of us, the Core, from which all the impulses of existing, growing and surviving originate. Even when you are awake such processes control you – for instance your breathing is only partly under your control, but all the vital things are purely unconscious and you are thereby controlled all the time. Try holding your breath and see how strongly you are possessed by Life itself.
But of course you are used to those everyday massive controls. However, sometimes our Core wishes to make us move, to control our movement, usually in sleep, but sometimes while awake. These movements are in fact as natural as the urge to breathe, but because in our culture we are so out of touch with how life works we are often terrified of spontaneous movements. Such movement are about growth of some part of us that we have not allowed before. If we can allow these and not react fearfully, then we will be shown the wonders of our life and how it originated – what is usually called the unconscious. For a fuller description see LifeStream.
The Connections that Can Be Heaven or Hell
From the point of view of the deepest teachings about the nature of human life, we are all, at our very core, connected. Such links are therefore part of our very nature. But many of them are positive and supportive. Usually, the negative link, such as those described above, only occur because we, perhaps in some unconscious way, invite or support it. But of course, during our infancy, such a depth of feeling connection is natural and part of our development. It is only in adulthood and in the attempt to become independent that such powerful merging can be a threat.
Having experienced such a linkage, I say again, that the discovery and expansion of the unconditional attitude in your life is the prime force for dealing with these life sapping links. And by unconditional I mean a way of living that does not cling, does not desire to possess, looks upon jealousy and rage as a sickness, and reaches out to love and life despite pain. Possessiveness, jealousy, the rage at being left or abandoned, of being overlooked, can all become focal points for the energy that becomes a possessive demon. This is sickness — and until we admit it as such, it can still dominate us and rob us of the richness and fullness our life could attain otherwise.
There is another explanation about possession in the feature Autonomous Complex
May love go with you on your journey.