Lately I've been having a lot of unusual dreams. I used to be diligent about recording any significant dreams in my journal, because often you can look back on them and 'interpret' what they possibly meant. Sometimes dreams can be visitations from people who have passed beyond. Other times they are reflections of our lives, stressful periods or joyful times. I find dreams fascinating. Even the unpleasant, scary dreams (nightmares) we sometimes have are interesting if you try to analyze just why those frightening images came to disturb your sleep.
Once, when I was in my teens, I had one of those 'non-dreams' where you really can visualize something has happened. In this case, my sleep was disturbed and I woke to find two men standing by my bed. One was an oriental man, the other a tall man wearing an overcoat and fedora. They didn't speak, just stood by my bedside grinning at me. Of course I was frightened and I sat up and cried out. Then they vanished. Who were these two men? I can still see them as clearly as if it were yesterday.
The most mysterious part is, when some years later, I told this 'dream' to a friend, she related exactly the same incident happening to her at about the same age. She described two similar men. Where they guardian angels? And why did they appear?
I have often used dreams in my novel "Shadow of the Lion". In ancient times, dreams were important and were part of the psycho-therapy used in the healing shrines. The person who came to the shrine to seek advice was given wine or some other potent drink, wrapped themselves in an animal skin and slept. In the morning the priest of the sanctuary interpreted their dream and give them advice.
There have been a couple of times when I had a dream but realized that dream really belonged to one of my characters. It's important though, if you use dreams in your stories, that you use them carefully so that they meld in with the story. You must never write a story and in the end say "Then she woke up. It was all a dream!" That's a cop-out. So if you use dreams in your story, they must make sense as if they are a dream your character might really have, and for what reason?
There are 'waking dreams' too...those moments when our mind drifts off to other worlds or fantasies. "Imagining", while we are awake. These moments can also be used with your characters.
Dreams can be curious, playful, wishful-thinking, memories, visitations or powerful foreshadowing.
Here's a dream sequence belonging to Roxana, the Soghdian widow of Alexander and mother of his only heir, Iskander (Alexander IV) She and her son, heir to the throne, are held in a fortress at Amphipolis under the guardianship of Kassandros, one of Alexander's enemies, until Iskander comes of age and can legally take over the throne of Macedon.
Roxana and Alexander the Great
Roxana went to her dressing table and took the combs out of her hair letting it tumble loose. She sat awhile, holding her bronze mirror as she wiped the paint from her face. She was barely
past thirty and already felt like a beaten old crone. The mirror’s reflection showed her pale complexion, the tiny lines around her mouth and creasing her brow. There were dark pouches under her sad eyes. She saw herself as a dowager, not Alexander’s proud widow, mother of the future king of Macedon. All her hopes had been dashed. Alone in the silence she shed tears of remorse.
That night as she slept, a horrible vision came to her.
She sees a cavernous room with walls of alabaster and floors of black marble. In the centre is an open sarcophagus and inside it lays the corpse of a man. She sees him clearly, the serene features are familiar to her: the nose, cheeks, the coppery hair springing from his forehead, the hands folded over a shield that bears a lion’s figure. Alexander. Then she sees Iskander ascending the steps, slowly, reverently. He approaches the casket and reaches out his hand, then bends over to touch Alexander’s face, and slowly as if performing a ritual, he climbs into the sarcophagus. She sees him lying there, and now it is no longer Alexander, but her son who lays in that marble casket.
She woke drenched in sweat, her heart pounding. The dream was so real that it felt as if she had flown to Alexandria and beheld it herself.
Trembling, she crawled out of bed and bent over a basin by her bedside. A wave of nausea came over her and she retched.
Was the dream an omen?
It was a dream ….only a dream. She repeated this until the spinning in her head ceased and she felt her heart beats slow. She decided not to tell Iskander.
It was a dream, that is all, she told herself. I cannot alarm my son when he needs to keep his thoughts clear.
* * *
This week in my novel-writing coaching group I asked the writers to choose one of their characters and write a dream that this character might have, then relate it to an incident in their character's life, possibly a foreshadowing. This proved to be a very useful exercise. Try it yourself! Those dreams will tell you many things about your characters -- or even yourself!