June 15, 2022

Shamanic Dreams: Fear & Dismemberment

Shamanic Dreams: Fear & Dismemberment
You Know Those Dreams that are More Real than Reality?

Those dreams can be powerful, disturbing and deliver quite a jolt but what exactly are they all about?

First, let’s clarify that these dreams, the ones that feel even more real than reality, are different than our usual, nightly descents into sleep. We’re talking about those Big dreams - the ones that are palpable, visceral and stick to your bones.

We’re going to call them shamanic dreams. Using this language, there are a couple of qualities that set this perspective apart from the more traditional dream-type analysis.

What is a Shamanic Dream & how is it different?

Two characteristics make the shamanic dream distinctly different from other approaches that examine big dreams. They are the “where” it is all taking place and the “who” that is doing the participating.

In our modern psychological approach, the geography of the dream is:

  • happening all inside of you
  • is a construct of your dreaming mind
  • and is emanating from your brain

In a shamanic dream, the dream is:

  • happening in a separate reality that lies outside of you
  • has participants that are other than you
  • and has situations in which you are an active participant in

Those are pretty clear distinctions.

So I propose to you, “Doesn’t if feel like the shamanic perspective applies more accurately to these dreams?”

Aren’t these dreams dangerous? Can I be killed in them?

You may have heard that statement, “If you die in your dreams, then you really die.” Well, quite honestly, I do not know if this happens. Obviously, it would be hard to speak to someone who’s died in reality because they’ve died in their dreams. Who knows?!

But what I can tell you is that when we consciously face death (as we voluntarily do while in other shamanic states of consciousness through drumming and/or dancing, which is similar to the dream state) we develop a different relationship to death. And as a result, we develop a different relationship to all of the Fear that surrounds death - whether it’s visiting us in our dreams or in our regular waking life.

The value in this cannot be overstated. This one relationship can change everything.

One of the classic themes in shamanism, as we see in all of the major myths and religions from around the world, is death and rebirth. When we willingly face our death, everything changes.

That said, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy and it doesn’t mean that facing the Fear we’ve been running from is fun either. It can, and usually is, quite unnerving. After all, it requires an effort we’ve never been able to previously muster up.

Death and rebirth is a common theme in a shamanic dream and one that often comes in the form of some kind of dismemberment. In these scenarios, we are literally taken apart, destroyed, obliterated. Quite often, this comes at the hands of a ferocious animal and/or mythical-being of some type: a dragon, cave bear, avenging angel, half-and-half creatures of all types - you get the idea.

In the shamanic perspective, the thing to remember is that this destroying dismembering agent, is actually a compassionate helping spirit. Yes, that’s right. It’s come to help. It has the power to obliterate whatever has been the obstacle holding us back and moving through our own self-limiting Fear. It appears to us at this time because this is the brand of ferocity, and love, that it takes to defeat Fear.

When we accept the way things are, everything changes.

When we go through this process and are dismembered, what is actually obliterated is our old perception of what was possible. The helping and compassionate spirit is forcing us, finally, to see things as they really are.

In the dream, we are faced with the notion that “I am going to die!” and while that is exactly what it feels like, what is actually happening is that “It is going to die.”

The shamanic dream offers us this opportunity to break through the limiting Fear-based belief that has held us back for so long.

The shamanic dream provides us:

  • The place for it to happen: non-ordinary reality of the dream
  • The help for it to happen: the compassionate helping spirit
  • The opportunity to participate: to actively turn and face the fear

When we do this, everything about the Fear changes. It has to because the only reason it has survived for this long is because we never questioned it. It’s like the saying, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”

Not any more.

Flipping the Fear

One simple way to explain what happens is that we’ve changed the polarity on the whole situation. We’ve flipped the Yin to Yang and the Yang to Yin. Let’s explain this.

Previously, when we’ve been running away from the Fear, we’ve actually been pulling that Fear towards us. Energetically, we spend so much effort trying to move away from it, when in reality, we’re only dragging the Fear behind us. It’s exhausting! We are both running away from…and also dragging…that darn Fear. We’re doing all the work. That’s a dirty little Fear trick.

When we say, “Hey, wait a minute. What the heck am I really running from again?” and turn to receive whatever answer is waiting in front of us…then that’s when the whole thing flips.

We stop running away, which means we stop pulling, which means we now turn to face the truth, which means we push back at whatever was Fear-ing us.

The whole energetic dynamic has been flipped. It’s like a pair of magnets. When you change the direction of just one, boom!, the relationship-the attraction between the two completely changes. (Lesson #9: The Yin Yang of Addiction)

Stop Feeding the Fear

Another way of explaining what kind of healing happens in this kind of shamanic dream is that we’ve stopped Feeding the Fear. Just like our compassionate and helping spirit lies outside of ourselves, there is this perspective that there is some kind of “Fear agent” who is also lying outside of ourselves.

However it fits into your belief system, this Fear Agent can be viewed as the Devil, or the Black Wolf from the Native American story of the White Wolf vs the Black Wolf (Lesson 16), or if you like the psychological view, it can be an archetype that is a repository of energy, which like a bank account, you have been making deposits into and withdrawals from.

Bank account, Black Wolf, the Devil or one of His agents, however you view it, we can now make the conscious choice to stop running away from, and stop pulling & dragging it behind us, and to completely stop participating with It in this dance of Fear. When we do this, we stop feeding it.

My Skunk Dream

I am writing about shamanic dreams because I’ve just had my own reminder of what this is all about. Here’s my recollection of my recent dream:

My Dream:

  • I am facing a field of waist-high grasses when I am overwhelmed by people who are running in panic.
  • They are coming from the direction of the field, moving towards me and then continue on past me.
  • As they run past me, they shout warnings, “Run for your life! The BEAST is coming!”
  • I feel this Fear and it’s consuming.
  • I can sense the approaching Beast.
  • I hesitate and question about following the crowd.
  • I then wonder about the nature of the Beast.
  • This hesitation has doomed me. When I turn to face the crowd behind me they say, “It’s too late for you! Good bye!”
  • And when I turn back around, I can see the Beast parting the grasses just in front of me.
  • Then, IT emerges to show an Alien-esque (from the movies) set of dripping jaws, as it produces a bone-penetrating roar.
  • I think, “Oh well, I guess this is how I go…?”
  • And then there is a thought….”Hey, wait a minute…”
  • “You’re a Skunk!”
  • Followed by another thought…”Am I really going to go like this? Devoured by a Skunk?
  • Followed by another thought…”Oh well, gotta go somehow…but really, this is ridiculous.”
  • The whole thing changes.
  • Skunk shrinks, I offer my hand for It to smell and then I pet its muzzle & whiskers.
  • It’s all good. Skunk is pretty cool. We’re hanging together.
  • I wake up.

What does it mean?

In Lesson #20 of the Alchemist Recovery Program, we look at The Power of Dreams. And since I just had this wonderful encounter with Skunk, I figured it was a perfect opportunity to take a dose of my own medicine.

In the Lesson, we take the shamanic approach and use exercises to gather more information. We’re not concerned with analysis or “What does the skunk mean?” type of answers, but rather we focus on reentering the dream and continuing our participation. We can choose to either just pick up from where we left off, or ask any questions of our helpers, or do anything that is necessary to finish up what was started.

Shamanic Practice:

For me, I entered into the shamanic state of consciousness through a steady monotonous drumbeat and reentered my Skunk dream exactly where it had ended (in the Alchemist Recovery Program, each Lesson has its own guided Medicine Journey that leads you step-by-step to do exactly this.)

I danced with Skunk for a bit to get reacquainted (a common theme with helping compassionate spirits) and then asked some questions.

Me: What is important for me to know about the lessons you bring me?
Skunk: I am here to show you how to face your Fear. Especially ones that are shared by many others.

Me: What exactly is my Fear?
Skunk: Don’t get hung up on what kind of Fear. Fear is Fear. And it shows up in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of forms. The point is that it is predictable and causes the same exact reactions.

Me: What else should I know about you?
Skunk: Don’t be afraid of me just because others are. I don’t have a lot of friends because it takes courage to get past the initial impression of Fear.

From there, from here, the whole world opens up.

Keep practicing.


My ability to stop, question, and then turn to face the Fear in my Skunk dream did not come to me overnight. It’s a practice. And as I’ve been reminded by Skunk once again, it’s one that doesn’t have a finish line.

Visiting non-ordinary reality & learning to operate there is a skill that pays rewards in dreams. It is by no means the only way of doing this, it’s just the one that fits the easiest into my belief system and works best for me.

The shamanic view of dreams affords us an interesting, different and user-friendly approach to improve our ability to turn and face our Fears. And when we do this with a Big-Fear like Death, it’s like pulling the curtain back and revealing “The Great and All Powerful Oz.” Poof! The whole game changes.

With Blessings,
Randal Lyons

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