The Theoretics of Dreamwalking

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Narysse a’Jahar

The Aiel of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series are a very different culture from the other cultures that are presented within the same contexts. They are seemingly a conglomerate of cultures from around the world and appear to include cultural elements from the Middle East; the Dene Tha people of Northwestern Alberta, Canada; and even include elements of cultures that practice lucid dreaming. Within the Aiel culture resides an elite group of women known as Wise Ones. These women portray versatility and expertise in their control of the World of Dreams, or Tel’aran’rhiod, and indeed their own dreams: the Wise Ones claim the ability to communicate with one another via a mechanism known as dreamwalking, a version of lucid dreaming.

In its simplest sense, lucid dreaming, or dreamwalking, is the ability to control one’s own dreams. Many cultures in our own world, like the Dene Tha and Tibetan Buddhists, have claimed and exhibited familiarity with lucid dreaming. The ability has been discussed in the Patanjali yoga sutras as far back as the 4th century A.D., and even certain passages in the Bible exhibit elements of lucid dreaming (Walsh and Vaughan 1993:71). At least two anthropologists that have worked extensively with the Dene Tha, Jean-Guy Goulet and Marie Francoise Guédon, explicitly described their experiences as they learned to dreamwalk within the context of the Dene Tha. In the course of her fieldwork, Guédon made the following observation: “I learned to relate to dreams without transforming them into accounts to be analyzed. Dreams, the Nabesna taught me, may be human, but they are not part of culture. One can therefore move consciously, explicitly, into the non-human world without making it part of the human system. Furthermore, though shamans or ‘dreamers’ draw on a common pool of tradition, ultimately they cannot rely on anything but their own visions and their individual intimate experience … Each ‘dream doctor’ … composes his or her own shamanic universe” (Guédon 1994:58).

In The Wheel of Time, Egwene al’Vere lives with the Aiel, dressing as they do and learning their method(s) of dreamwalking. While this series is very much rooted in fantasy literature, the root of real life dreamwalking still exists. The Aiel appear to have a very rigid system of rules and regulations set in place for their apprentices, especially more so for those who are learning to dreamwalk. The reason, they explain, is that the World of Dreams is a dangerous place, and this is portrayed in several instances in the series, many of which conclude with very narrow, sometimes harrowing, escapes into the waking world. The Aiel dreamworld plays an important factor especially in the later part of the series, and the reader is presented with a number of taboos the Aiel have placed on the practice of dreamwalking, thereby restricting movements they perceive as dangerous (such as that entering the dreamworld fully, or “in the flesh,” as put by the Wise Ones, may result in a full conversion to the Shadow).

Both Guédon and Goulet indicate that dreams were an important aspect of the Dene ways, and this observation has held true for other cultures as well. Amongst the Aiel, the dreamworld appears very specific, and this specificity of worldview poses an important element in the anthropological study of dreams:

“The cultural value of dreams may have two different interpretations, which are interrelated, depending on which of two possible criteria is used to measure the dream-culture relationship. On the one hand, the culture/tradition has a deterministic influence on the dreams, or on the thematic contents of the individual dream. On the other hand, the individual dream has a deterministic influence on the preservation or the creation of that culture, i.e. in maintaining traditions and introducing innovations … if a dream can contribute to keeping alive or strengthening tradition with respect to individual behavior and decisions (in some cases the dream itself inspires such decisions), then the dream is a ‘product’ of the culture/tradition and, at the same time, one of its determining factors—i.e. it is both cause and effect (Lanternari 1975:221).”

One of the more fascinating aspects of the Dene dreamworld is that it can be used for instances of divination as well as for communication with others who are familiar with the concept. This is not a unique concept; Goulet had previously done fieldwork with a South American tribe, the Guajiro, before living with the Dene people. Upon his arrival in a Guajiro village, Goulet was immediately asked if he “knew how to dream. I answered in the affirmative, which, my instructor later told me, was a necessary condition for my acceptance into the family and locality.” (Goulet 1994:22). Amongst the Nabesna Dene, it is important for their dreamwalkers/shamans to maintain a clear division between the human and non-human world. “The closer I got to the non-human world, the more intimate my relationship with that world, the more care I was advised to take toward protecting the community, the children, my own future children, and myself, lest the wilderness spill over into the human quality I was asked to protect” (Guédon 1994:60). This same reason appears present amongst the Aiel dreamwalkers and Wise Ones, that entering the World of Dreams in the flesh is to literally become evil manifested, and thus great care is taken by both the Aiel teachers and their Dene counterparts to ensure that their apprentices do not err in Tel’aran’rhiod.

Another aspect of Aiel dreamwalking that is also rooted in real life practices is that dreamwalkers have the ability to remain fully conscious even while their bodies are asleep. This is a practice straight from a type of dream yoga practiced by Tibetan Buddhists for at least 1200 years. As Walsh and Vaughan put it:

“lucid dreaming can itself be used as a meditation … Experienced practitioners [of lucid dreaming] report that even the thrill of repetitive wish fulfillment in dreams eventually fades, leaving dreamers longing for something more meaningful and profound than playing out another sensual fantasy … At this point dreamers may begin to seek transpersonal experiences and to use lucid dreaming as a transpersonal technique. To do this they employ three strategies … In the third strategy they begin a meditative-yogic practice while still in the dream. By far the most sophisticated is the twelve-hundred-year-old Tibetan Buddhist ‘dream yoga.’ According to the Dalai Lama, Tibetan yogis are taught to develop lucidity, first in their dreams, and then in their nondream sleep, seeking to remain continuously aware twenty-four hours a day” (Walsh and Vaughan 1993:75). Judith Malamud verifies this, saying that personality change may be accessible through the use of lucid dreaming in precisely this manner (1993:77), and Jayne Gackenbach and Jane Bosveld indicate that lucid dreaming is actually “only one step along a continuum of human consciousness” (1993:81).

This all provides an interesting view of the world Robert Jordan created within his epic fantasy series. It indicates that a collective awakening occurred within the Aiel, and that they eventually utilized and wove the ability to dreamwalk into their culture and traditions; it shows just how far the human consciousness can transcend if it so chooses. And the ability to dreamwalk has shown that it has many advantages that Egwene al’Vere uses throughout the rest of the series, showing people of our own world that anything is possible if one can put one’s mind to it.


Gackenbach, Jayne, and Jane Bosveld, “Beyond Lucidity: Moving Toward Pure Consciousness,” in Paths Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision, ed. Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D., and Frances Vaughan, Ph.D. (New York: Penguin Putnam, 1993). Goulet, Jean-Guy, “Dreams and Visions in Other Lifeworlds,” in Being Changed by Cross-Cultural Encounters: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experience, ed. David E. Young and Jean-Guy Goulet (Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press Ltd., 1994).

Guédon, Marie Francoise, “Dene Ways and the Ethnographer’s Culture,” in Being Changed by Cross-Cultural Encounters: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experience, ed. David E. Young and Jean-Guy Goulet (Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press Ltd., 1994).

Lanterinari, Vittorio, “Dreams as Charismatic Significants; Their Bearing on the Rise of New Religious Movements,” in Psychological Anthropology, ed. Thomas R. Williams (Chicago: Mouton Publishers, 1975).

Malamud, Judith, “Benefits of Lucid Dreaming,” in Paths Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision, ed. Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D., and Frances Vaughan, Ph.D. (New York: Penguin Putnam, 1993).

Walsh, Roger, M.D., Ph.D., and Frances Vaughan, Ph.D., editors. Paths Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision, (New York: Penguin Putnam, 1993).[[Category:Articles to be formatted]