Tonight, many Japanese are going to bed setting an intention for what they want to dream. For in Japan, your first dream of the new year is known as Hatsuyume (初夢), and it can set the tone for the months ahead; and even foretell the future. Traditionally, it's good luck to dream of a hawk, Mt Fuji, or eggplants; ganbatte to anyone aiming for all three in the same dream! But as dreams are personal, archetypes universal, and our imaginations endless, there'll be some interesting discussions at breakfast tables tomorrow. Hatsuyume is also very auspicious for futon sales.
The Japanese word for dream is yume, derived from the kanji for 'a sitting priestess' and 'night'. Shinto priestesses, known as Miko, were often consulted for dream interpretation. Dreams are the realm of kami, when we sleep we enter their world; Miko are the ultimate oneironauts. Like the pythia and sybil of ancient Greece, Miko would also enter trance states to convey messages from the spirit world, and coax kami from the landscape.
It's this ancient link between hatsuyume and ancient Japanese shamanism that fascinates me. The archaic kanji for Miko, 神子 and 巫子, translates as kami/god child and shaman child respectively. Sweeping the temple steps, assisting the priests, and selling souvenirs, today's Miko is "a far distant relative of her premodern shamanic sister" as Lisa Kuly puts it. However, a spark of this ancient shamanic sisterhood endures through the kagura dance. First performed by the goddess Ame-no-Uzume, the kagura dance still welcomes gods and spirits into our world at Shinto shrines all over Japan today.
Shinto and Japanese society are made of dream stuff. Akira Kurosawa, Haruki Murakami, Studio Ghibli, even the many manga artists selling their hand-made works on the street -- all come from that inbetween worlds dream stuff. In his wonderful book Shinto: A Celebration of Life, Aidan Rankin writes:
Shinto... has preserved its intimacy with the world of dreams, or the spirit world, and at the same time embraced all the characteristics of reason and modernity. It has never divided ancient and modern, faith and reason, conscious and unconscious, dream and reality into opposing camps... so that 'modernized' men and women lose contact with the archetypal images and insights that bind us together as humans, connecting us with Great Nature and the cosmos. Such loss is ultimately a loss of self, or in shamanic terms soul-loss. In Shinto, by contrast, the most ancient archetypes and primal dream images are joyfully celebrated and made relevant to an urban, technological society based on the exercise of reason.
There's no real separation of the spirit world, the realm of the gods, and our world. We co-exist, overlapping each other like a wave on a beach. Japan, to me, exists in a state of dorveille, an old French word describing a semi-conscious state, particularly that moment between sleeping and waking. It's why I'm so fascinated with Japan. As Rankin goes on to write, "to the Shinto practitioner, imagination and intuition come from the Kami power within us, which to our great detriment we have buried."
I often dream of Japan. These are "wow!" dreams, so vivid and realistic I wake up feeling as if I had actually been there. I've never been to Japan, despite desperately wanting to for years; I feel a strong pull towards Japan, in my dreams and in waking life. I've had recurring dreams of almost drowning in a car that plunged off a pier into Tokyo Bay. I've made a phone call answered by a woman named Hiyumi, so realistic I can still hear the international dial tone and her "moshi moshi" answer. Most of the time I'm visiting friends; unfortunately I become lucid, and wonder how the heck I'm going to get to work in the morning.
But tonight, don't worry about how you'll get to work in the morning. Wear some comfy pyjamas and let loose your inner kami. Dream big. I'll post what I dream (even NSFW!) -- it'll be interesting to read your hatsuyume as well. Dreams are personal myths, as Joseph Campbell so eloquently put it -- so make 2014 mythic. You never know, dreams do come true.
Further reading from the Grail archives:
- Dream Like A Boss! with oneironaut Ryan Hurd.
- SHADOW: an app to remember your dreams.
- An introduction to lucid dreaming with Paul Devereux.
- Awake Within A Dream: accessing your inner virtual realities.
- Communing With The Gods by Charles D. Laughlin, Ph.D.
- SciAm on Lucid Dreaming.
- Stephen LaBerge on lucid dreaming.
The terrific photo of the Buddha & a hawk is by Niels Henriksen.