On Keeping a Dream Journal

On Keeping a Dream Journal

Dreams: there’s a divisive and complicated topic for you that will polarise most groups. Many people are indifferent to the concept of dreams, dismissing it and being scathing of those (like me!) who talk or write about dreams. My mother was one such, often telling me that dreams didn’t mean anything, couldn’t hurt me and weren’t important. I think that has caused me more damage in relation to my journey into deep matters of the psyche than anything else: that nagging voice in the back of my mind that poured scorn on my hope, my belief, that dreams, my dreams, are indeed valid and important. Identifying that voice may have helped to disarm it.

In the last couple of years, my sleep has been so disrupted that there has been less than usual energy for my brain and my psyche to dream, and I’ve had no energy to do more than occasionally jot down a very striking dream when sleep of reasonable quality has taken place. I’ve kept dream journals for years, sometimes with more discipline, sometimes not.

From this particular place of experience I’m going to share a few thoughts on keeping a dream journal. I’m not fond of the whole “How to…” culture, where blogs list 13 ways to do X Y or Z, often breaking it down into frankly silly steps. I work on the premise that anyone reading my blog is an intelligent, thoughtful person, so I’ll break it down into two sections. WHY keep a dream journal and HOW to keep one.

WHY keep a dream journal?

Well, if you subscribe to the notion that, as Freud said, dreams are the royal road to the unconscious, keeping a journal means you record the messages your unconscious sends you. During a lifetime where we spend roughly a third of it asleep, dreaming is an activity that fills that third of life. It’s important. Scientists still haven’t agreed what sleep is for, let along dreams, but the fact is, both are vital to health and sanity. As a writer, vast swathes of my inspiration has come via the dream world. As a troubled human being, the potential for finding respite from those troubles in the messages of my dreams is immense. Writing down those dreams means you record and fix, both on paper and IN YOUR OWN MIND, the content of the dreams. There’s a process that does double duty. I’ve heard people say they don’t dream or they don’t ever remember their dreams; resolving to record them tends to aid recall, for the same reason resolving to wake at a certain time (with practise) also tends to work. Having a record of dreams helps you return to them, to analyse them more closely and also to keep track of progress. Dreams often send coded information, rich in symbols and often in puns, often via terrible, groan-worthy Dad jokes, which can take time (even years) to decode. Unlocking one such dream may provide the key to unlock a lot of other ones; having a record of them is invaluable for this.

HOW to keep a dream journal.

The accepted advice is to keep a notebook and pencil by the bed, ready to record any and all dreams. Some might counter that they’d rather do it digitally, on their phone, tablet or computer but honestly, don’t. The act of turning on a device, the blue light, and the potential for checking messages, all may cause a dream to vanish like smoke. My advice is this: keep not one but TWO journals. One simple journal, a cheap exercise book that sits at your bedside with a pencil or pen, along with a torch (I have one that has a casing that glows in the dark so I can find it easily) so you don’t put on the light (even if you sleep alone, putting on a bright light drives away dreams). In this you record the dream when you wake from it. Your writing will be hard to read, but almost certainly legible enough to fathom most of what you wrote and then recall the rest. The act of writing pins down the dream material in your consciousness. If you wake with a dream, write it before going to the bathroom because the act of walking to another room, plus turning on a bright light, will drive away or diminish much of the dream. Then, the following day when you are up and about, take a moment or two to transcribe and expand the dream into the second journal. This journal is more orderly. I use a Leuchturm Jottbook. This range of journals is very organised. Each page is numbered, has a space for the date, and there is an index at the front. They come with several stickers so you can make a title for the entire book (for example: Dream journal, from Jan 2019 – December 2020) and the bigger ones come also with a sticker for the spine. Date each entry, including the year. I specify when the dream took place too, either by time or by a more rough estimate. Then when you write up the dream, give it a title as if it were a story. Believe me, it helps. Use elements of the dream as the title (example, “At the high waterfall with old school friends”), and then add that, the page number and the date, to the index. This means it’s much easier to check when a dream took place and also identify themes and so on. You often start to see patterns emerging, and for me it hasn’t been unusual for a dream to reference other dreams (very meta). Don’t censor or edit your dreams when you write them down; yes, some of the content may be irrelevant but you don’t know that yet. It’s not unusual for apparently silly or unpleasant content to be very valuable.

And that’s it. Sweet dreams to you all.

Dreaming of an archetype?

I find that as the days get longer, my dreams become more vivid and baffling and filled with symbolism.

This morning, I dreamed a strange dream. At first I was in a city I ought to know as I’d lived there for three years but not one of the landmarks was familiar to me; within the dream I told myself that the passage of 23 years had wiped my memories. I was trying to keep up with a large group of people who were walking fast. I couldn’t see who was leading the group or where we were going and after a while I found myself lost. I went into a cafe and tried to sort out my belongings, which were in a small case, but I couldn’t find what I needed.

The dream shifted then and I found myself visiting a house I lived in seven years ago. I didn’t recognise features but I knew it was the house we lived at in Darkest Norfolk . It was empty of furniture and of people and as I walked through it, I became aware I was dreaming. This moment of being lucid within a dream is something quite common for me and no longer catapults me out of the dream. I walked through into the next room and found a structure that resembled an igloo in shape. I was surprised to find it there, not just because the snow is now gone from England but also, who would build such a thing in a house. The structure was dome shaped and seemed to be built out of grey ice or snow, but I had no sense of coldness. I walked round it to find the entrance but when I did, I saw that someone had filled it in.

  The doorway was blocked with fresh new snow, which was far more like the snow I experienced in February in Austria than English snow. It was soft and light and when I touched it, the whole barrier fell away like the ghosts of cold feathers and vanished. I walked in. The room inside was not like an igloo though the floor seemed to be covered with melting snow and towards the centre there seemed to be a sort of grating in the floor. Sitting over the grating was a figure I at first thought was my mother but soon realised it was not. I thought she was trying to light a fire and again I saw she was not. This ancient figure was sat crosslegged on the floor(she didn’t seem to be getting wet) and I saw that what she sat by was not a grate at all, though the meltwater was seeming to drain into it and vanish but instead it seemed to be a brass or gold plaque or inset.

I came closer and spoke to the old woman and she told me that the plaque was all that was left to commemorate the tribes of the earth and as I looked I saw that the plaque was actually made up on smaller shapes, that fitted together and each contained a symbol. I could see now they were made of worn and ancient gold and not brass as I first thought. I asked how many tribes were there, and I looked and perceived there were twelve symbols. I tried to see and remember the symbols(I was still lucid at this point) but I couldn’t. The images seemed to swirl and change as I looked at them; she told me then that I belonged to the last of those tribes and that she guarded the symbols.

Her hands were gnarled and curled round like the claws of an eagle as she sat and I woke feeling I had seen and experienced something of great moment and yet, now I do not even begin to understand what I saw.

Secrets of The Universe (1)

I’ve sometimes got ideas, (often my best ideas) for stories from dreams. The dream world is the door to the unconscious and also to other levels of consciousness too. So since many people including myself  believe that they receive guidance and help from beyond human consciousness through dreams, it’s not surprising that so many breakthroughs and insights come through dreams. Inventions(the sewing machine, the light bulb), discoveries(the double helix nature of the DNA strand) inspirations (poetry, prose, even entire novels, such as Dr Jeykll and Mr Hyde) religious enlightenment and even the location of treasure(the Swaffham peddlar) came through dreams.

Some years ago, the father of an acquaintance of mine started to have very powerful dreams where he felt he was being given important information for humanity. The problem was that as soon as he woke up, he simply couldn’t remember what he had been told in the dreams. Night after night, he dreamed such dreams and in the morning they were gone. He retained nothing beyond the impression that he had been told something of vital importance.

Frustrated and beginning to be distressed about this, he asked for advice and a close family friend told him that he ought to keep a notebook and pen by the bed and try to wake himself up out of these powerful dreams and immediately write down whatever he had understood.

Easier said than done. He sorted out notebook and pen, but waking himself up was so hard. Eventually he hit on the idea of having big glass of water before going to sleep so that the inevitable effects of that would cause his sleep to become lighter and then to wake.


The first night he woke but nothing had been dreamed.

Ditto the second night.

But on the third night, he woke after a marvellous dream, scribbled it down, staggered to the bathroom and back, plunging immediately into sleep again.

The next morning, it was time for the golden revelation. He’d shut the notebook up so he couldn’t glance at it and he brought it down to read out to his wife and son.

Long silence.

“What’s it say then, Dad?” asked the son.

Wordlessly, in fact speechless, the father handed his son the fateful notebook and hid his face in awe as the immortal words were read out:


So now you know.

Dreaming of Honey

I’ve yet to explain the events of yesterday afternoon but I shall get round to it when I have ordered my thoughts.

But I want to share this section of dreaming while it’s still fresh; it’s down in my dream journal but I would appreciate feedback.

I dreamed that I was out in my garden and discovered that bees(my bees? I don’t know) had built honeycomb not it their neat little national hive but in the branches of our forsythia tree. This is a shrub/tree that produces a wealth of yellow-gold flowers in spring; ours is a small tree. The bees had built masses of honeycomb all through the branches and as well as being busy with bees drawing out the wax and filling the cells with pollen and honey, the combs were dripping with glorious golden honey. The combs were easy to reach and I could have scooped them up without having to stretch.

Now yesterday’s ritual ended by being visited by a single bee who flew round and investigated all the ritual objects and me before flying away. Bees shun the area immediately around their hive/nest because that’s where they “do their business” as well as dispose of any rubbish and dead bees, so it’s actually rare to see a bee around my garden despite having a hive there.

I don’t know what it means but it certainly feels like a good sign.

Afternoon dreaming

I had a much needed nap this afternoon but soon drifted into weird dreams. I dreamed I’d been involved in some capacity in some creative scheme that had caught the eye of some bigwig. Most of the team were getting calls and letters asking them to come and work for some important organisation in a creative capacity. The artists who’d done the art work were being called , the people who’d done the music and the sound were being called. But me, who’d done the writing, nothing. I got asked if I could produce music like the music/sounds being played down a phone, I could go (go where I ask now)  . Someone then produced this marvellous crystal that worked as a kind of sat nav system when placed within a gyroscope, and could somehow access the sounds at the heart of this crystal (it was a phantom quartz, banded with layers of growth) without using the rest of the equipment by simply singing a note that activated the crystal, but when I held it, it did nothing.

I woke feeling very confused and a little disappointed. It was as though everyone else who’d done work had been rewarded but there wasn’t anything for me to go on to. No one was telling me how much they’d liked my writing, how that had made the whole project work. I don’t know what to make of it beyond it’s a huge part of my fears that my efforts and hard work go not just unrewarded but also unremarked.

I need tea now to help me wake up and figure it out; whether it means anything of signicance or it’s just a dream that spells out my fears.

One-eyed Dreaming

The night before last I had some strange dreams that seemed to me to be full of symbolism and meaning.

I’m not entirely sure of the order of all these dreams but I think it was about like this:

The first dream I dreamed I looked out of a window and down to the ground where a raptor of some sort looked back up at me. As I look closely I see it is a Merlin, the smallest of the British birds of prey. I call to it and it flies up to me, and tried to land on my hand, but its feet are somehow deformed as if the toes have been broken or dislocated. I steady it with my other hand and after a short while I see the feet are again normal and the bird is able to fly off healed. I’ve had similar dreams about injured birds on a fair few occasions but this is the first time it’s been about a raptor. I’ve handled a lot of birds in real life, including birds of prey, but while I’ve seen Merlins in the wild and in captivity I have never held one. For me, the significance of the name is quite something.

The second dreams is also related to one I have had a lot over the years. A massive bull has broken loose in a market, an old-fashioned cattle market like the one I grew up near as a child, with stalls and pens and conrete floor and a maze of runs made of moveable boards. I see the bull gore and toss someone who lies very still and I and my unknown companion seek safety within the confines of the market itself. The bull is seen again but from being a typical British bull, roan and white and with a curly coat and a ring through the nose, it has become a huge black Spanish bull. In previous dreams, the bull (though it has also been a wild black stallion, a rhino, an elk stag and even a massive bighorn ram) pursues me with supernatural determination and skill, outwitting my every move to escape and I usually wake up sweating and terrified. In this dream the bull simply doesn’t show up again and the dream fades away and into the next one, which may be related.

In the next dream, I realise that an abdominal wound is bursting open. In real life I have had abdominal surgery a number of time, though keyhole style so the wounds are quite small. In this case, the wound seems to cover most of my belly, but it’s not quite like a wound at all. It’s like the skin has been tucked up and folded up and then sewed together, like making a tuck in a garment. I look down and see there are two other wounds beneath this wound. One is obviously surgical, a straight bloody line with stitches visible, that is pulling at the edges as it is wants to burst too, but may well be healing cleanly. The other wound is older and does not look surgical as the edges are ragged and round, like the wound a weapon might make. It seems partially healed but as I look and touch, the edges start to gape and first a little blood and then pus start to emerge, making me feel very sick. It’s clear that this wound is festering and going bad. I touch it again but the pain is too much and I leave the dream behind.

The next dream woke me and left me crying.

Two kids approach me carrying a notebook each. I guess they are in the higher teens, but I don’t recognise them. They ask me if they can put my name in their book. I ask to see the books and when I look I can see they have already put my name in. Above my name are two other names, with various things written after them which seem to be the titles of books. One book is entitled something like The journey to God  and I begin to realise that this is each kid’s list of books that have helped them on their own individual spiritual journey. My name is third in their lists and when I try to see the title of my books the dream begins to fade and I wake up crying. I am not sure why I am crying just that I feel very emotional. I also feel very stupid because I didn’t understand what the kids wanted from me before it was too late and the dream slipped away.

I woke up to a cup of tea waiting for me and a little later, still one-eyed and tired and still a bit wrung out from the day before I went back to sleep and dreamed again.

This time I dreamed a bird had become trapped in my house. It was a little and very fast moving bird, so fast I thought at first it must be a humming bird. I’ve never seen a humming bird in real life so then I wondered if it were a humming bird moth, which have begun to appear in Britan. I chased this creature around the dream house as it battered against surfaces trying to get out, and eventually I saw it had feathers, confirming it was indeed a bird and not a moth. At last, I managed to catch it in both hands and saw that it was actually a gold crest, a relatively rare bird, a cousin of the wren and in fact the smallest bird native to Britain. It struggled a little and was still as I took it out of the house to release it.

Last night was much more disjointed and the only dream worth reporting was a lucid dream. I was in a bookshop and I realised as I took out one book and it became another book altogether, that I must be dreaming. I asked someone in the dream if this was a dream and they told me it was. I also told them they must be another dreamer who had strayed into my dream. I do rather enjoy lucid dreams so I floated down some steps and went off in search of anything interesting. I met a Spanish girl in a wedding dress and I asked her where her bridegroom was, and I was explaining I knew him from work when I lost lucidity due to my cat scratching and mewing at the door which then fully woke me.

I don’t know really what all these dreams mean but it seems an odd coincidence that such a full night of dreaming should occur immediately after an eye injury. Odin hung for nine days and nights on the world tree before he received inspiration. 

Maybe the next seven days will bring changes for me too.



Somewhere inside
A clock goes “tick”
And I stagger
Up the shores of sleep
Draped in weeds
And shreds of dreams
To face the day
Rubbing my eyes
And wondering:
Where have I been?