How Ayahuasca Helps us Navigate the Dreamworld

Drinking ayahuasca is believed to help make dreams more vivid, aiding with dream recall due to the compounds in ayahuasca binding with various neurological receptors that effect and modulate brainwave activity in humans. The chemical changes that occur as a result of drinking ayahuasca have been shown to stimulate various regions of the brain that are associated with visions, particularly the visual association cortex(1) Perhaps this is why anecdotal evidence suggests that people interested in working with dreams greatly benefit from drinking ayahuasca, since imbibing the brew of this sacred plant lights up the areas of the brain that allow a person to tap into an inner world of visions and dream-images.

Medicine Dreaming and Ayahuasca

Although the connection between Amazonian shamanism and ayahuasca is well-known, dreams are often overlooked by the average ayahuasca tourist despite being the oldest and most revered form of spirituality in the region. Dreams are the cornerstone of tribal identity, giving rise to a widespread belief that posits that it was the plants that taught humanity how to dream(2) Connecting to our dreams, is therefore, the oldest form of Amazonian curanderismo and is an important, yet often neglected part of working with the spirit of ayahuasca who is believed to linger on in our dreams so that she can continue to teach us about the Rao Nete (“medicine world”).

Reviving Different Occult Practices to Facilitate Spiritual Growth and Healing

As we have just seen, dreaming has strong links to Amazonian wizardry and mysticism which explains why “medicine world” and “dream world” are inseparable in the native mind. This is also why so much importance is placed on “active” dream recall since it is believed to help with integrating and understanding ayahuasca visions at a deeper level as well as helping us to bridge the gap between the conscious and unconscious levels of the psyche in our day-to-day lives.

Besides an increasing interest in ancient practices such as shamanism, there has also been a surge in popularity in complementary occult subjects such as tarot, astrology and dream interpretation over the past few decades(3) This means that the overlap between ayahuasca consumption and dream interpretation is organic and natural (ayahuasca makes dreams more vivid, thus improving dream recall), as well as being the symptom of a broader “consciousness revolution” taking place in society.

As we have already seen, in native Amazonian culture, ayahuasca visions and dreams are considered to be one and the same thing and take us into the heart of Rao Nete, which, in the Shipibo language means “medicine world” or “universe of medicinal jungle plants.”(4)ón-Gonzales/8117de9e2c466da9c91ee589bf241a4fcc55bfcf This suggests that to drink ayahuasca is to be initiated into the dreamworld, into the primordial realm of spirits which is believed to exist inside of us and outside of us simultaneously. There is no separation between dreaming and Rao Nete and so to experience an increased ability to remember our dreams is not merely a by-product of drinking ayahuasca, but, rather, a spiritual and biological inevitability. This, in turn, initiates us into an unseen world that has always been there even if we never believed in or participated in it prior to drinking ayahuasca. Drinking the sacred vine imbues us with the ability to perceive an invisible reality which underpins all manifest life (called kené in the Shipibo language) and nowhere does this reality become more apparent than through our dreams and visions, when our inner sceptic is asleep and the conscious mind is “switched off.”

All change must start in our own individual minds because it is our minds which shape our thoughts and perception of reality. Through an increased ability to recall our dreams, ayahuasca can continue to unfold its magic every time we go to sleep, meaning more healing, more insight and more awareness of – and experience with – the medicine world. Increased dreaming also allows a person to cultivate a hidden, mystical space within themselves – a space that simultaneously connects them to the most intimately personal and distantly transpersonal levels of reality – as well as helping them to see that the most powerful guru or shaman doesn’t reside in the world “out there” but is a property of their own soul.

This is why when a neophyte undergoes his shamanic training, he is taught, not so much by his maestro but by his own dreams. This is when the spirits of the plants communicate with him, distilling their knowledge through a secret dream-language of symbols and codes. This is also when a shaman-in-training receives his precious icaros, which makes dreaming the most valuable part of his lengthy and arduous apprenticeship.

While we are not all destined to become shamans, it is often said that shamanism isn’t a vocation but a way of life accessible to all, and nowhere does this become more apparent than through a person’s dreams, which the Kichwa people of Ecuador believe is where the true oracles and miracles of nature dwell.(5)

Ancient Medicine for the Modern Mind: Ayahuasca and the Pagan Origins of Western Dream Interpretation

Although modern western dream analysis was popularized by the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud and later by his student, Carl Jung, dreaming was in fact a key component in the spiritual traditions of pre-Christian Europeans. In ancient Greece, for example, the divine status of sleep and dreams was immortalized by the oracular temple of Asclepieion in Delphi, which was built as a shrine to the demigod Asclepius. In Greece, as in other parts of the ancient world, dreams were believed to be messages from the gods and it is for this reason that dreams were considered divine.(6)

Son of the chief solar deity, Apollo, Asclepius was a doctor who was famed for his healing powers which were so great he even had the magical ability to raise people from the dead. Men and women from all over the ancient world flocked to his temple in order to receive prophecies while they slept in the sacred enclosure of his shrine and priestesses, trained to decode the symbolic language of dreams, would help dispense the mystery cures for terminal illnesses that were revealed to patients while in the dream state.(7)

Many devotees believed that simply sleeping in Asclepius’ temple was enough to cure even the most stubborn and virulent of illnesses while others went specifically to gain esoteric knowledge from the god since he was believed to commune with – and heal – worshippers while they dreamed.(8) This suggests that the pagan origins of western identity, though collectively buried and forgotten, can slowly be revived through the art of dream interpretation, which, in turn, is facilitated through ritual use of ayahuasca.

Though the great gods of the past have been relegated to the pages of our history books, “medicine dreaming” can help us make contact with the god within, that is, with our own inner guidance system which already knows the answers to all our problems. This infers that by making a conscious effort to engage with the images of the unconscious through “ayahuasca dreaming,” we are able to blur the line between “plant medicine” and “internal medicine” since they are secretly one and the same thing anyway.

Working with the spirit of ayahuasca through our dreams can also help us realize that dream-symbols and messages allow us to unlock our inner wholeness since dreams guard the threshold to the unconscious which is believed to be the storehouse of all our problems as well as our untapped potential.(9)

Inner Alchemy: Merging Conscious Mind with Unconscious Depths

Although the link between the inner world of dreams and the transpersonal world of medicine is still actively acknowledged – and celebrated – in Amazonian society, particularly through its shamanic traditions, this is no longer the case in western culture although, as we have just seen, the relationship between dreams and healing was once a vibrant component of western spiritual practices.

Though little importance is generally given to the unconscious in mainstream western society, spiritual seekers and psychotherapists alike believe that illuminating – and listening to – the unconscious is a vital element in achieving balance and fulfilment in life as well as being the key to attaining spiritual enlightenment.(10) Since ayahuasca is used to help people unlock the hidden recesses of their inner minds, dreaming can be used as a complementary tool, allowing us to part the veil between what lies within and what lies “without.”

For many westerners, cut off from the spiritual practices of their pagan past, dreaming can help provide a living link to forgotten ancestral wisdom, bridging the gap between personal and transpersonal medicine. It is for this reason that a number of progressive western depth psychologists, particularly those schooled in the ideas of Carl Jung, are keen to use ayahuasca when working with their analysands.(11)

Ayahuasca and the Legacy of Carl Jung and Psychoanalysis

Jung famously purported the importance of dreams in helping to gain a “complete” and more accurate picture of a person’s psychological make-up which is why dream analysis forms an integral part of all Jungian therapy sessions to this day.(12)

Various “fringe” Jungian analysts and therapists have recently been augmenting their sessions with ayahuasca, claiming that it provides added healing and therapeutic potential to psychoanalysis and also accelerates the speed at which transformation can occur. The added benefits of taking ayahuasca – either in a succession of ceremonies or through microdosing – while attending conventional psychoanalysis sessions, means that there is an increase in dreams which ensures that a therapist is never short of analytical material to work with which is important since dreams are the cornerstone of all psychoanalytical practices.(13)

Working with psychedelics in the context of depth psychology is not a modern “woo-woo” attempt to hijack indigenous spirituality and was famously touted in the 1960s when many “fringe” psychotherapists gave LSD and acid to their patients in order to illicit catharsis and healing insights.(14)

One well-known example of this took place in the summer of 1964 when the legendary filmmaker, Federico Fellini was given a single dose of LSD by the prominent Italian psychoanalyst Dr. Servadio.(15) Fellini famously documented the process of his ongoing depth therapy sessions by keeping an illustrated dream journal and he went on to use the images from his dreams in his movies, many of which are now considered to be the greatest masterpieces of contemporary European cinema.(16)

This demonstrates how important accessing the unconscious is when it comes to tapping personal creativity and provides us with a life-affirming example of how psychedelics can help us to harness our true creative potential. Ayahuasca connects us to our own personal medicine, allowing us to release the dormant genie (genius) of our unconscious, creative depths.

Ayahuasca, Dreams and the Potential for Holistic Healing

Since a person’s conscious mind is seen as the complementary opposite of their unconscious depths, analyzing one facet of a person’s psyche without taking the other into account only allows us to understand a person at a very superficial level – at only half their total capacity. This is why Jungian analysts and psychosynthesis practitioners alike choose to work with “unconscious material” such as dreams since they believe that they provide us with the most accurate portrayal of a person’s hidden motivations, submerged desires and secret drives.

Dreams reveal the psyche’s portrayal of its own processes which is why more and more depth psychologists are seeing the benefit of using ayahuasca to help accelerate their patients’ healing journeys. What’s more is that drinking ayahuasca is believed to activate the pineal gland which the ancients believed contains an inner reservoir of karmic imprints, memories, impressions and visions which are all released during ceremony and also while we dream.(17) For those who are open to the idea of reincarnation, this suggests that the opportunity for spiritual healing while working with “ayahuasca dreams” can sometimes even encompass unresolved trauma from previous lifetimes.

The Role of Ayahuasca and Dream Interpretation in Western Therapy

In western depth psychology, dreams, like ayahuasca visions, are believed to reveal to a person their secret inner-life as well as repressed memories and traumas and so working with dream symbols is seen as the key to unlocking the numinous, impenetrable world of the unconscious. Ayahuasca’s ability to reveal hidden truths and expose unplumbed depths is one of the main reasons plant-spirit ceremonies have gained so much popularity in recent years, particularly amongst young, disenfranchized westerners who crave visceral, hands-on participation in their own spiritual development.

Since ayahuasca consumption stimulates the regions of the brain associated with dreaming and clarity of vision, it is helpful in providing people with ample psychic material with which to navigate the inner-self. This is often done through the art of interpreting “dream symbols” and analyzing dream narratives which can help to demystify our inner landscape using familiar everyday language.

To Amazonian peoples, ayahuasca is regarded as a teacher plant with a special affinity for dreaming but if we do not consciously participate with our dreams by paying attention to them, they are meaningless and cannot help us change our lot or improve our lives. By bringing the “medicine” of ayahuasca into quotidian life through dream interpretation, we engage our conscious mind, using its incisive insight to shine a light on the secret, unknown realms of the unconscious.

Using Dreams to “Extend” our Ayahuasca Ceremonies

Although ayahuasca is generally reserved for special rituals and healing ceremonies, it is believed to have a special affinity with dreaming since both modalities can be used to navigate the astral realms.(18) … Continue reading While ayahuasca helps with opening us up to the astral planes while we sit in ceremony, dreaming allows us to extend the length of these ceremonies since the spirit of ayahuasca is believed to continue teaching us and talking to us while we sleep, thus, both modalities can help infuse everyday reality with the magic of the dreamworld, which, according to universal ancestral traditions, provides us with a direct portal to Source.

What’s more is that there are countless ways to “engage” with the images of our dreams and ceremonies, meaning that we can use classical western dream interpretation techniques to make sense of our inner worlds, or, alternatively, we might be drawn to indigenous models of understanding our visions. While western dream interpretation methods such as those espoused by Carl Jung might appeal to those with a more analytical nature, indigenous dream analysis focuses on the objective existence of spirits and spirit allies and it is believed that any figure we encounter in a dream is an emanation of these spirits.(19)

For example, dreaming of a dolphin might be deciphered as a symbol for joy or higher intelligence by a westerner, and the meaning of the symbol can then be further modified by other variables present in the dream or vision. By contrast, an indigenous approach would suggest that the dolphin you encountered in your dream-vision is very much “real,” representing a visitation from the great spirit of the dolphins. This is because, according to indigenous beliefs, all animals have a “king” or “master shaman” who rules over them in an invisible parallel reality. This means that if you encounter any of these spirits while undergoing a medicine journey, it suggests that you have made contact with the spirit world.(20)

Final Thoughts

Essentially, ayahuasca usage allows us to transplant “ceremonial space,” taking it from the maloca to our beds, and by imbibing the brew made from this sacred plant, we are able to awaken our ability to dream (and dream vividly at that). It is for this reason that shamans and western therapists alike are using ayahuasca to help illicit vivid dreams in their patients as doing this helps to bring forward repressed psychic material that makes itself known to consciousness so that it can be processed and ultimately healed.

According to indigenous wisdom-keepers, dreams came to man before the knowledge of the plants and so the relationship between humans and plants originated in the dreamworld, making dreaming inseparable from the ceremonial and therapeutic use of ayahuasca. This might be why drinking ayahuasca helps us to recall our dreams, giving us the opportunity to align with our inner selves and facilitating our connection to the spirit world.

Ayahuasca usage can help keep the preverbal world of visions alive within us and through our dreams, we can continue to commune with the “Mother of the Plants” who can furnish us with insight and spiritual sustenance long after we have completed our final ceremony.


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