The Dark Light of the Soul - Sleep Hypnosis and Dream Incubation

DARK RADIANCE WORKSHOP at Brompton Cemetery for London Dreaming

Inner visions of sleep and death


The Fumigation from a Poppy.

Sleep [Hypnos], king of Gods, and men of mortal birth, sov'reign of all sustain'd by mother Earth;

For thy dominion is supreme alone, o'er all extended, and by all things known.

'Tis thine all bodies with benignant mind in other bands than those of brass to bind:

Tamer of cares, to weary toil repose, from whom sweet solace in affliction flows.

Thy pleasing, gentle chains preserve the soul, and e'en the dreadful cares of death controul;

For Death [Thanatos] and Lethe with oblivious stream, mankind thy genuine brothers justly deem.

With fav'ring aspect to my pray'r incline, and save thy mystics in their works divine.

Dreams and Death in Ancient Greece

The Underworld of ancient Greece and the landscapes of the dream realms have an affinity in feeling and visual representation. Darkness begets light in the earliest cosmologies and an interesting description of light quality in these parallel realms is worth contemplating. Ancient texts speak of a ‘dark radiance’.

You may have experienced this quality of seeing in dreams or NDEs yourself. I have observed it as a dark light, a lunar, blue-violet emanation coming from within the material of the dream world. This in contrast to the wakeful visual experience of light reflecting off of surfaces. This reflects the idea of dream vision being an interpretation of internal signals rather than external information.

Dreaming is a full body experience

How are we able to see in our dreams when our eyes are closed? One theory [I. N. Pigarev, 2014] suggests our visual processing systems switch from retrieving information from external sources when awake (exteroception), to visually interpreting signals from the visceral systems of our sleeping body (interoception). Dreaming is a full body experience. So are we conjuring images that match the processes occurring within ourselves? During sleep, your body does not stop processing information, it may even become much more sensitive to the subtle fluctuations in somatic and automatic nervous system functions. 

It also brings me to the idea that with lucid dreams - there may exist the potential to influence these processes with conscious intention, using symbolic representation to effect a physical cure. In this unique state of consciousness, might it be the case that the mind and body connection is at its most potent?

I believe this was the foundation for the ancient Greek idea of dream incubation, a form of hypnosis which guided patients into sleep, seeding the hypnagogic state with powerful suggestions and intentions for contact the supplicant to come into contact with the healer god Asklepios. The Placebo effect is very well documented, but might we also think of it as a ‘Panacea’ effect (Panacea from Greek panakeia, from panakēs ‘all-healing’, and also the daughter of Asklepios). Was Panacea the dream cure?

Memory in the Underworld

One of the interesting attendant gods of the sleep temples was Mnemosyne (Titaness and personification of Memory), her invocation was a prerequisite in the final stages of dream incubation. The role and art of memory was recognised as being vitally important to the ancient Greek psyche. Remembrance was the path to immortality and this understanding relates to Mnemosyne’s function in the Orphic Mysteries and oracle traditions, notably Trophonius. In these traditions we also find her sister, Lethe represented (personification of forgetfulness, oblivion). The initiation is the experience of divine remembrance, indicated in the Orphic gold tablets (a sort of instruction manual of dying for initiates of the Orphic Mysteries).

You will find on the right in Hades' halls a spring, and by it stands a ghostly cypress-tree, where the dead souls descending wash away their lives. Do not even draw nigh this spring. Further on you will find chill water flowing from the pool of Memory: over this stand guardians. They will ask you with keen mind what is your quest in the gloom of deadly Hades. They will ask you for what reason you have come. Tell them the whole truth straight out. Say: 'I am the son of Earth and starry Heaven, but of Heaven is my birth: this you know yourselves. I am parched with thirst and perishing: give me quickly chill water flowing from the pool of Memory.' Assuredly the kings of the underworld take pity on you, and will themselves give you water from the spring divine; then you, when you have drunk, traverse the holy path which other initiates and bacchants tread in glory. After that you will rule amongst the other heroes.

Dream Evolution

The visceral dream theory does not, for me at least, diminish the spiritual, psychological or emotional dimensions of the dream experience. Modern scientific consciousness research is peculiarly brain-centric, but we are so much more than our brains. We are a colony of consciousness, borne of our culture, and our experience and conditioning Here there arises a sense of ‘Self’, perhaps illusory, probably some sort of cultural acciden

As a seemingly self-aware manifestation of cosmic energy on a small spinning planet, occupying a relatively tiny quadrant of space, our complex sense of self-importance is pretty spectacular.

Julian Jaynes’s Bicameral Mind theory [Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, J. Jaynes, 1977] goes someway at least to explore the idea of consciousness and perception evolving alongside human cultural developments and a potential neurophysiological basis for the Ego. 

Dreams go someway to perpetuate the Ego experience. I would propose dreams were the first narratives that humans recorded and in the recording of the first dreams, the future manifests itself, I believe dreaming and reality work as a sort of feedback system. The more one becomes familiar with their own dream language and psychic terrain, the easier it is to interpret your inner visions. You may even see the workings of your own body from within, as the body and mind synchronise.