Monday, 25 July 2016

Dream Characters

A couple of years ago, I wrote an introductory article on the topic of dream characters - if you would like to read this post, please click on this title (article will open in a new window): 'An introduction to dream characters'. The order in which you read the articles is not important.

For me, meeting dream characters - either in a normal non-lucid or a lucid dream - is one of the most fascinating aspects of dreaming. Robert Waggoner refers to dream characters as 'dream figures' - suggesting that instead of being fictional beings who merely exist within our dream narratives. they are important aspects of our psyche who can provide us with deep and meaningful insight into the meaning of our dreams and our subconscious, even if they seem to be symbolic.

Often, dream characters will be people we know or are familiar with in our waking life - family, friends or celebrities/public figures. How often certain recurrent dream characters appear in our dreams may be determined by the level of contact we have with such persons in our waking hours - so someone we see/speak to/think about everyday is more likely to frequently appear in our dreams. 

Sometimes day residue (the aspects of our recent waking life which are reflected in the content of our dreams, perhaps in a symbolic or altered form) causes us to dream of someone we may have had a fleeting waking interaction with - such as noticing them post on social media, or seeing a public figure mentioned in a news article, or watching a movie/listening to music, triggering the appearance of that celebrity in our dream. On occasions, we may not even be aware that we have seen/heard of that person, because the waking experience didn't seem significant enough for us to think deeply about it until after the dream.

While dream characters are often assumed to reflect an aspect/characteristic of our self, or may simply be the result of day residue, sometimes we dream of random public figures/celebrities without any clear trigger or influence. To interpret what the appearance of this dream character means, consider what associations you make in relation to this figure - what traits/characteristics/qualities/values/behaviours do you associate with them? The same exercise can be used when we dream of fictional characters.

Some dream characters may be 'stock' stereotypes - such as 'boss', 'leader', 'teacher', 'enemy', 'lover' etc - so they are not necessarily identifiable people we recognise from real life, but we can ascertain their 'role' or 'purpose'. Again, consider what traits/characteristics/qualities/values/behaviours you associate with persons linked to these roles and then ask yourself how these relate to your waking life - if you dream of a 'boss' dream character, does this reflect a waking situation linked with your career or employment? Or is there some other aspect of self/waking life you can link to the appearance of this standard dream character?

What/Who are Dream Characters?
This seems like a strange question - dream characters are just the people who appear in our dreams! But there are many theories about the reason why certain dream characters populate our dreams and what they may represent. 

The most common theory is that dream characters are manifestations/projections of some aspect of ourselves - our subconscious or our personality. Dream character are not necessarily human, although often dream characters take on the form of people known to the dreamer in waking reality. 

When dream characters are based on real people known to the dreamer, often their behaviour reflects what we expect in real life, because much of our dream content is drawn from our waking experiences. However, sometimes, dream characters may act oddly or completely differently to what we expect, which can be a powerful dreamsign used to trigger lucidity or at least make us question the nature of the dream. 

Sometimes dream characters might be composites of people we know or are familiar with. This may be confusing (we may ask ourselves 'who is this?') or we may recognise that the dream character is a composite, but identify who they are supposed to be in the dream. 

Shadows & Anima/Animus

Some dream literature refers to 'Dream Guides'. These can be separated into sub-categories of dream characters. 


Shadows are the 'inner nemesis' of the dreamer - this of the metaphorical 'devil' on the shoulder, who is able to whisper into the ear of it's host, and sabotage plans and cause personal chaos, even when the individual knows better or has other intentions. This is how Shadows are depicted. Some oneironauts believe that the personal Shadow connects to the collective Shadow of all people, and therefore should be handled carefully when they appear in a dream as they represent 'evil' or the 'dark side'. 

Shadows are therefore seen as the dark elements of the psyche which we are unaware of - they should be conscious and controlled by the ego, but are not. These elements of self might be projected as a distinct dream character, but some say that the Shadow has many personalities and guises which it can hide behind. These are often thought to reflect the stereotypes, perceptions and fears of the dreamer. Oneironauts who believe in this interpretation, suggest that when the ego becomes overinflated (hubris), the nemesis has more capacity, because the conscious awareness of the dreamer is overshadowed. This can lead the Shadow to influence the dreamer in negative ways and this represents the self-sabotaging aspect of the psyche, that acts against the best interests of the dreamer.

Apparently, the Shadow is made up of the positive and negative aspects of the self which are undeveloped and have become split off from the ego and may affect the relationship between the ego and the subconscious.


The Anima/Animus are derived from various traditional cultural norms, which emerged in an era where there were much more strictly defined gender identities and roles - women being linked to the feminine, nurturing, maternal, intuitive. cooperative, sensitive and domestic; and men to the masculine, aggressive, decisive, independent and commercial. In order to comply with these gender ideals, we supposedly subsume conflicting aspects of the self, and these can be reflected in our dreams. Therefore, while our physical gender may be well-developed (because we are taught how to identify and fit into the gender roles expected of us by society),  we may be out of touch with the other aspects of our self. This theory of dream characters seems grossly out of synch with our modern understanding of gender and sexuality. It does not take into account non-heterosexual cis-gendered identities or gender fluidity and therefore appears to be outdated, normative and limited.

Anima/Animus are depicted as the middleman/woman between our egos and our subconscious and are sometimes referred to as a 'face of the soul' (I would prefer 'face of the psyche' given my particular worldview). They are the face of the subconscious mind. 

Anima represent the 'ideal' female face of the male dreamer, and Animus represents the 'ideal' male face of the female dreamer, allowing the dreamer to connect to their latent femininity/masculinity. Their purpose is to spark personal development and unify the conscious and subconscious aspects of self. 

Dreamers may find the dream characters representing the Anima/Animus attractive, because they represent the opposite sex which is unconscious within the dreamer's self, but have the potential to become conscious. The Anima is the female sub-personality in men and the Animus is the male sub-personality in women.  

The Anima/Animus dream characters have something the dreamer wants and needs in order to feel fully complete and balanced. Often, the Anima/Animus presents as our ideal (heterosexual) partner - the personification of feminine or masculine ideals which when recognised as part of our psyche, create a union and leads us to our higher, deeper selves. 

Typically, in a dream the Anima/Animus will not normally engage in sex with the dreamer - they are distinct from the types of dream characters a dreamer may find themselves having sexual activity with in a dream, although there may be a strong sexual attraction to the Anima/Animus. 

Summonsing a Dream Character
Many lucid dreamers seek to summons a dream character into their dreams - the dream character may be someone known or identifiable to the dreamer in real life, or it may be a creation of their imagination. However, sometimes dream characters fail to be summons into a dream, or may appear transformed or somehow different to expectations. At times, a benign dream character may appear nightmarish or ugly. This may be a conflict between what the conscious wants and what the subconscious is projecting. The advice of some oneironauts - such a Waggoner - is to allow your dream characters to be what they wish and letting them choose how they interact with you on their own terms, without trying  to interfere or exert concious control. 

My preferred method of summonsing a dream character - either known to me, or created for the purposes of the dream, is to expect that they will be just out of sight - round a corner or behind a door. I use my mind's eye to picture them just out of my sight. The key is to manifest a strong expectation. I sometimes call out their name to check if they are behind the wall/door yet - and sometimes they reply, letting me know they are ready to meet me.

If you are imagining the dream character just round a corner, out of sight and have manifested a strong expectation that they will appear, you can walk around the corner and often, they will be waiting for you. If you are imagining them behind a door, treat the door as a 'portal' to the dream character. Manifest the expectation, as above, and then open the door. You might try to reach into the doorway to 'pull' your dream character through to your side. Additionally, using a mirror as a portal can have the same effect. 

Waggoner recommends asking questions of the 'awareness behind the dream' when it comes to summonsing dream characters. This simply means calling out to the dream with your wish or desire - for example you might call out: 'Show me my dream guide' or 'Show me myself' or 'Show me my secret fantasy'. This allows your subconscious to produce dream characters with a purpose.

You might to paint a picture - this can be done using your mind's eye (or imagination!) - or you may actually use your hand to 'paint' a picture of the dream character you wish to summons. Using this method to form a vivid 'image' of the dream character may help them actually appear in the dream.

Another way of summonsing a dream character is to morph something which is already present in the dream - a different dream character or an object. Use your imagination to will this character/object into morphing into your chosen dream character. 

Telling Dream Characters they are not Real
Often, I have tried to tell my dream characters - ones based on people I know in my real waking life, or ones I have created for the purposes of the lucid dream - and the dream characters refuse to accept that they are in my dream. I have tried to 'prove' it to them - for example, by performing a reality check (which sometimes fails, even though I am lucid) or doing something which is only possible in a dream. Sometimes, my dream characters still refuse to admit that they are in a dream and try to convince me that we are in waking reality. 

If you do manage to convince your dream character that you are in a dream, it can often result in them changing somehow - in some circumstances, they may change in appearance, or they may become aggressive or undergo another drastic behaviour change. 

Are Dream Characters Rational Beings?
A phenomenological study by Paul Tholey, 'Consciousness and abilities of dream characters observed during lucid dreaming' (1989), Perception & Motor Skills,  68(2), 567- 578 aimed to test whether dream characters were rational and conscious beings and what types of cognitive accomplishments they were capable of. Tholey selected 9 male subjects, who were instructed to set various different tasks to a dream character in a lucid dream - such as finding rhymes, solving puzzles or arithmetic. The study found that the dream characters who willingly performed the tasks were least successful at arithmetic. Nothing in the study contradicted Tholey's hypothesis that dream characters possess a specific form of consciousness, and it was concluded that in lucid dream therapy, the dreamer should engage with dream characters as if they are rational beings. 

Dream Characters & Sex
The important thing to remember is that sex dreams are rarely about the actual act of sex itself. Dream very rarely have a superficial, simple meaning, but are multi-layered, condensed and symbolised in many different ways which need to be unlocked and decoded before their true (potential) meaning can be deciphered. 

Some dream analysts suggest that sex dreams are the union of two conflicting aspects of your own psyche. Dream characters are typically assumed to be subconscious projections of parts of your own identity or ego. I do agree to some extent with this notion, but I also think that sometimes a dream character who is based on someone you know in real-life, is just that - a representation of that person, or at least your subconscious perception or attitude towards them. This does not suggest that a sex dream involving someone you actually know in real-life means that you want to have sex with them. The sexual act may represent something completely different - a union, or a power-struggle or a assimilation of characteristics associated with that dream character, for example. There is no one definite interpretation, just a range of possibilities.

In lucid dreams is it very common for a dreamer to approach a desirable dream character only for them to transform into a hideous, repellent being. I interpret this to be a sign that what you are faced with on the surface (beauty. desirability) may actually be very different to the realisation of what is hidden beneath, once the layers are stripped away. Often we have a very different perception of a person who we admire from a distance from what we actually 'see' when we become intimate with that person. In lucid dreaming, experiences are streamlined, condensed and distilled into a more symbolic narrative - so subconscious awareness that a person may appear superficially 'perfect' only to be revealed as flawed or 'ugly on the inside' is projected onto the lucid dream sex act. 

Interacting with Dream Characters
Here is a list of suggestions for ways in which you could experiment with interacting with dream characters in a lucid dream:
  • Ask your dream character a fundamental question, such as 'Who am I?'/'Tell me something about myself'? or 'What do I want?'/'Why do I feel like this?' - the answer received will come from your subconscious and may potentially reveal some 'truth' about yourself or offer enlightenment or deeper understanding on a certain issue or aspect of self. Even if the answer from your dream characters appears to be meaningless, it is still a fun exercise
  • Interview your dream characters - again, this exercise sheds light on the inner workings of your mind can be seen as a 'conversation' with your subconscious
  • Attempt to summons or transform a dream character (see above for instructions)
  • Try to meet your dream guide/spirit guide in a dream
  • Attempt to establish intimacy or romantic interaction with an attractive dream character
  • Ask a dream character if they are real - or tell them that they are just a dream character in your dream and witness their response!
  • Ask a dream character to take you on an adventure - and allow them to take control. It will be exciting and fascinating to see where you are taken and what activities your dream character will involve you in!

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