Dreams and Magic

The fascination of magic and dreams has been with humanity since before history even began. As we watch our animals lying on the carpet, we see their whiskers twitch and their paws race after some prey that exists only in their minds. That’s how we know that dreaming isn’t the sole province of humans, that most creatures are experiencing the magic of a dreaming world.

These night visions do seem like magic. For that reason, and the way that dreams affect us after we awaken, several cultures associate one with the other. The Senegal and the Mojave people are very connected to their dreams and the magic they possess. The Araucanians, on the other hand, have magic that is completely separate from their dream states. But, simply because these aspects are separate doesn’t mean they don’t exist in that culture.

The belief in magic and dreams is something shared by humankind. Even those who rarely have dreams have still experienced a few, and even those who don’t believe in magic will still toss salt over their left shoulder if they spill some, or avoid walking under ladders and smashing mirrors. Superstitions are a magic all their own. And people always dream when they sleep. Simply because they don’t remember the dream when they wake up doesn’t mean the dreams haven’t occurred.

In order to give a common ground between the present-day American citizen and the Senegal, Mojave and Araucanians, dreaming and magic must be explained a little. Dreams haven’t really been pegged down scientifically yet. The symbols, the chemicals, the reasons why we dream, all of these things are still up in the air. Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and other psychologists have their own interpretations of what dreams stand for, and why. Hundreds of years ago, prophets and religious leaders were visited by their gods in the form of dreams. Among tribal people, an initiation rite called a “vision quest” places a great deal of societal significance on dreams and visions, which are often the same thing. But dreams have been proven to exist, and are an accepted part of our culture.

On the other hand, scientific proof has not been conclusive on the nature of magic, so there is much doubt that magic can exist at all. Some people believe that magic is merely bodily allergies to plants or animals, primitive pharmaceutical knowledge, and the mind playing tricks on oneself. If you were to ask a person of the scientific community if they believe in magic, there is little chance that they would say yes. However, if you looked at their key ring, you might just find a rabbit’s foot dangling from it. Superstition is a part of magic, as much as the smoke and mirrors of a Vegas stage are. That which is unknown and unexpected may be said to be magic. Examples of magic have existed for thousands of years, and some of them are still with us today, crossing culture and time to become an archetype of the human existence.

For example, take the “evil eye.” A few expressions we still use today that refer to it are “dirty look,” “if looks could kill,” a “withering glance,” and “to stare with daggers.” Almost all cultures have an example of this phenomenon. The evil eye could bewitch an enemy, place a curse on a person, cause them ill-fortune, or drive them insane. If a person was suspected of using the evil eye, they often were stoned to death or burned at the stake. Precautions against the evil eye have included hand gestures and totems, but the one that remains with us today eyeliner. Egyptians used eyeliner called kohl to ward off an evil stare.

It is easy to see how deeply ingrained magic and dreaming are in our own culture. Among the Senegal, their religion combines both magic and dreams into an interesting mix. The Senegal are Moslem. Moslems follow the teachings of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. Muhammad was born 570 A.D. into turbulent times of warfare. When he was forty years old, he was sleeping in a mountaintop cave during the holy month of Ramadan and he received the first revelation of the Koran. His religious purpose was outlined to him in dreams by the angel Gabriel and Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Thus, he placed a great deal of significance in dreams, and would often ask his followers what they had dreamed, interpreting them after morning prayers. Muhammad believed that a dream was a conversation between God and humanity.

The Senegal incorporated magic and dreams with their worship of Muhammad’s teaching. After a pilgrimage to Muhammad’s grain, they will often take a handful of sand from around the tomb. This sand “…is regarded as a powerful talisman, capable of extricating the one who possesses it from every difficult situation.” (Bourlon, 153) There are tremendous amounts of talismans like this in the Senegal culture. One of the talismans is a khatim,”magical designs made up of names, characters, and figures which possess a kind of supernatural power.” (Holas, 221) The khatim is created to give the creator good dreams. Each one is different according to the dreams the creator wishes to have.

Something similar to this is found in many other cultures. Designs that help actualize dreams are called mandalas. They are an aid to meditation in Buddhism and Hinduism, and are supposed to bring on a higher state of mind. The psychologist Carl Jung said that “mandala symbols emerge in dreams when the individual is seeking harmony and wholeness.” (Lewis, 156) These patterns can also be found in the native cultures of Australia, and the designs of gothic architecture in Europe.

The Senegal have also combined their Moslem belief with their old superstitions. There are a people among them called the mov’abbirs, who are the interpreters of dreams. The interpreters often get their reference from two books written on the subject, one by the founder of the practice, Mohamed Ibn-Sirina. His book “brings together the most common types of interpretations and establishes universal rules that are still valid today.” (Holas, 223) His work was them categorized and classified by the scholar Cheika Abdoul Khaniyou of Nabili Chiyou. (What a name!) The book was split up into parts like animals, things, people, and supernatural beings. The combination of the Koran and the original beliefs is clearly present in its pages. The Senegal show another example of this combination by making sure that the place where they sleep is one where they are able to pray. They don’t believe that they can have a dream on ground that isn’t sacred.

The Mojave, a tribe located in Southwest North America, place even more emphasis on what magic dreams have because, sometimes, their dreams can be deadly. What happens in their dreams shapes what their culture will be like, instead of the other way around. Their dreams can be pathogenic, meaning that they can cause illness, although there are two different kinds. In one, the dreamer experiences danger inside the dream and becomes sick, in the other; the dream is so disturbing that after awakening, the dreamer falls ill. Dreams about the spirits of friends and relatives who have died are particularly dangerous, especially if they involve having sex with the ghost or eating food prepared by the ghost. Such a ghostly vision can even drive the dreamer insane. The Mojave believe that, after death, the spirit goes through several transformations, and eventually, dissipates. Realizing that there isn’t a lot of time before that occurs, some people choose to follow their loved ones by committing suicide, to be with them a little while longer. “The dead souls cease to exist after a while, so the dreamer who dreams of a dead relative may die shortly afterwards.” (Devereaux, 242) This doesn’t precisely say how they die, but there are examples of people becoming violently ill after dreaming of the dead.

The shamans of the Mojave derive much of their magical power from dreams. The shaman has many different roles in a culture. They may be healers, people who help the souls of the dead into the afterlife, and be an intermediary amid the community and for the world of the spirits. Among the Mojave, the shaman can also be a witch, capable of killing or destroying their enemies or people in the community with magic. Their power comes from the mythical beings who gave it to them when the world was new. This magic comes to them in their dreams as an initiation. The shamans of the Mojave seem to be darker than the shamans of other cultures. For instance,” A shaman may attempt to work magic at war against the enemy while in battle…trying to hypnotize them from a distance so they will fall unconscious or sleep.” (Stewart, 268) Also, there is a kind of spiritual person called a ghost doctor, who will take scalps from the heads of his enemies, tame the spirits inside them, and then turn them over to the “custodian of the scalps.” There appears to be a kind of war magic in this.

A shaman who is also a witch will come to a victim in their dreams, show them his original form, and then prevent a cure from occurring by “sealing the lips of the victim.” (Devereaux, 201) In one particular case, the victim was said to have died from seizure of the mouth where blood poured forth. Turning to witchcraft may be caused by the weakness of spirit a shaman has when they take a substance to induce their powers, like alcohol, or roots. Something may go wrong inside them, and they turn to the darker uses of magic. Practices which aren’t quite as harmful to the shaman include sand-eating, which is done to induce clairvoyance.

Among the Araucanians, it is not known if dreams have as much significance. However this race is extremely superstitious, and delves heavily into magic. It appears that they like more visual symbols of what magic is being performed. If something occurs that can’t be immediately explained, chances are that the Araucanians will chalk that up to magic or witchcraft.

Within the magic-users in the Araucanians, there are three different sects, the huecuvuge (sorcerers), dunguve (diviners), and machi (witch doctor/exorcists). The sorcerers are the highest rung on the ladder. They will wear women’s clothing and keep their hair long and uncombed. The religious observations that are performed by them include the larger practices for the entire tribe. They are also arbitrators of tribal warfare and between the tribes, almost fulfilling a priestly role. The magic that the sorcerers perform is almost on par with the magic performed by the Gypsies. When looking into a bowl of water, a sorcerer can see visions. The familiar spirit exists inside the body of a sorcerer, and will often be expelled when casting a spell as a plume of smoke. Whichever way the smoke drifts is the way that the spirit is heading to carry out the tasks the sorcerer asks of it.

The sorcerers have a very long apprenticeship as diviners. Diviners take care of the more immediate concerns, the day-to-day lives of the tribe. They are consulted whenever there is some kind of justice to be kept, like when somebody doesn’t know who stole a thing of theirs. They are the finders of missing objects and animals, like the psychics who help the police in our own society. Also amateur detectives, through magic they are able to discern who the perpetrator of evil is against something like a herd of animals. In time, they may move up to become sorcerers.

The machi are in a vast majority female. They are the healers of the tribe, and are often called upon to perform magic in order to heal. They become possessed by a spirit, and must have an interpreter nearby who notes what is said, because whenever they come out of the trance, they can’t remember anything that was said. This suggests a self-induced hypnotic state. Occasionally, they will speak in a secret language, or in formulas. When healing a person or performing an exorcism, they will spray water over the body of the victim from their mouths. However, when they themselves are possessed, like the Mojave, they are in grave danger of being taken over by a spirit that will turn them into a witch. Machi will also perform acts that many would cringe to see, such as putting hot coals in their mouth, or walking on the coals barefoot. Smoke is very important to them, as are the four directions. When casting a spell, the will blow tobacco smoke in four different directions over the person they are helping. All three of the sects use ventriloquism to speak as the voices of spirits do.

Although in all three of these cultures there are people who specifically perform the rites of magic or the interpretation of dreams, the common person also experiences magic on an everyday basis. Sand from the tomb of Muhammad, a piece of talavey tcukac root hung around the neck to increase virility, or asking a diviner where, exactly, did I leave my llama? All of these things are just a few ways everyday folks try to incorporate magic in their lives. That is something that we don’t pay much attention to, anymore, but maybe we should. After all, it’s a rare occurrence when we aren’t doing something that was once rooted in the ways of magic. When someone yawns, they cover their mouth, which was an action originally intended to keep the spirit from being flung out. Knocking on wood is something I know that I always do. But then again, I do like to say things that tempt Fate.

And when I wake up in the morning, and I’ve had a dream, I can’t wait to talk about it, and derive some meaning from it, even if it’s a completely ridiculous fling with no rhyme or reason to it at all, like trying to catch human-faced frogs by the side of a river. So, I understand why the Senegal, Mohave, and Araucanians have these things in their culture. Each one is different and unique, but has ties to the world around it… a world that, broken up by the untraversed oceans in the past, is surprisingly more in tune with itself than is obvious. From the dreams of an ancient prophet and tracing patterns to trap a dream, to getting power directly from the gods in the form of a dream and using it to either heal or harm people, to experiencing magic directly with the aid of a little tobacco smoke and ventriloquism, the human experience is the tie that binds. And whether or not we share the same dreams, or see the same magic, we have them both with us, as a part of who we are, no matter where in the world we reside. That is an encouraging thought.

Bibliography (HRAF references)

Bourbon 2: –9 U-5 1946 pg. 153, MS37 sect.791/789
Devereaux 10: EP-5 (1932-1950) 1961 pg. 175,201 NT28 sect 791/789
Devereaux 13: EP-5 (1932-1947) 1948 pg. 242 NT28 sect. 791/789
Faran 12: E-4,5 (1952-1954) 1964 pg. 139 SG4 sect. 791/789
Fathauer 28: E-4,5 1951 pg. 606 NT28 sect. 791/789
Holas 12: –3/1 U-5 1946 pg. 221, 223 MS37 sect. 791/789
Kroeber 34: E-5 (1900-1953) 1957 pg. 227 NT28 sect. 791/789
Latcham RE Ethnology of the Aracanos pg. 351 SG4 sect. 791/789
Stewart 24: E-5 1947 pg. 268 NT28 sect. 791/789
Stewart 29: E-5 (1946-1971) 1973 pg 139 NT28 sect 791/789

Bibliography (Non-HRAF references)

Lewis, James R. The Dream Encyclopedia pgs.155-164, 220, 253 Visible Ink Press, Canton Missouri, cp 2002

Panati, Charles Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things pgs.1-20 Harper and Row, New York, New York, cp. 1987