Dream Quest; or How I Dueled My Shadow by the Light of the
By Scott Johnson (aka metachor) © 2005
In my dreams, "I" am a superhero.
That is not quite the right meme. I do not mean a comic book superhero or tights-wearing mutant, as that word often connotes. I mean something along the lines of a fantasy role-playing-game hero with magic spells. And by dreams, I do not mean my day-dreams.
Sixteen years ago, my "dream quest" started. Since that time I have tried to hunt down anything that would help me understand what I am experiencing. I practiced lucid dreaming awareness and visualization exercises and Dzogchen dream yoga, which I picked up from books. Yet I am untrained and unfocused, and this process has been rough going. The closest representation in literature is The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath by H. P. Lovecraft. Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic has a storyline that is also similar, called A Game of You.
My dream quest is a continuous dream. This is not a recurring dream, where the exact same dream plays over again each night. Instead here the dream picks up where it left off the night before, like a TV or radio serial. Each night's dreams occur in the same world, with the same characters and follow a single arcing plotline that has consumed approximately 1/10th of my entire life (asleep and waking). The world and characters are not static, but grew and changed as I interacted with them over the last sixteen years; I know a few of the characters better than I know some real people. My active decisions shape the future outcomes of the plot. In tone the dream is like a fantasy adventure, centered on an epic battle between the forces of light and dark.
It started off small: a single town on the edge of a wilderness, a few timid villagers reluctant to tell me what was going on until I hunted down a monster that had taken up residence in a nearby cave. It took me a week to find and slay the tentacled fiend, a week in "real/waking"-time. I died a number of times, which would end the dream for the night and cause me to "reset" back to that point the next night I dreamed until I finally completed a certain task. Later on, sometimes a single adventure, a single night's dream, might recur for a month or longer while I figured out how to get by the trials I encountered.
My adventures were not often killing monsters; usually I had to gather information about the world, or interact with its inhabitants. Over the next few years I traveled to many towns, huge spiraling cities on the coast of an endless sea, gurus who lived in hidden towers. A story began to emerge; this world was trapped in a battle against a dark lord who was marshalling forces to take over every last bit of civilization. As I helped the denizens of the land, I began to accrue allies and to convince them to band together for their own defense. I learned that the world had a deep mythology, prophecies that shaped the ebb and flow of every event in the world.
As I was told these stories, I would experience them in real-time as a third-party observer. The major myth followed a band of travelers, who came to challenge the dark lord the first time it had risen to power centuries before. I re-lived this single story many times, always discovering more facets of the strange rules that governed this world of dreams. The myth always ended the same way, with the adventurers approaching the great and decaying tower in which the dark lord resided, only to be repelled by an unseen force-field. It was prophesied that a hero would come who could break through that field of energy, a hero who had a certain name and a mythic identity; that hero was not me.
The most important aspect of this dream world was the secret gurus who possessed the knowledge of controlling the dreaming, of shaping its flow to one's will. They lived in great towers, shaped like giant fractal-cubes mounted by one corner on a thin stalk of black stone. Inside, these cubes were puzzles; as if M.C. Escher had designed labyrinths of moving walls and hidden switches. If I managed to get to the center of a puzzle tower in a single night's dream I could meet with the guru of that tower, who would teach me how to control my dreams.
Before I had ever heard of lucid dreaming, my own dream characters were teaching me how to wake up inside a dream and exert my will and imagination over the dream world itself. I could dissipate walls, mind control other characters, and if I became lucid enough even fly. Little did I know these powers were not just a facet of this dream world alone; quickly my "normal" dreams succumbed before this lucidity. I noticed even in waking life that I was breaking into aspects of my psyche that were deeply buried, that I was using my new dream awareness to open up and reprogram parts of my identity and personality that I had not known existed. Unfortunately these mysterious towers were one-shot affairs, and I failed as many of these exams as I successfully completed; what knowledge still lies locked away taunts me.
Five years ago the plot of the Quest Dream came to a fevered pitch. The entire world was polarized, I had gathered together half of the free peoples and mediated between the leaders of these competing factions to general a united fighting force; the dark lord had corrupted the other half and transformed them into a demon army that threatened to overturn a tenuous balance that held for months. In my waking life, around this time I was first getting serious about magick and understanding states of consciousness, as well as reading about lucid dreaming and Dzogchen dream yoga.
It became clear that I was shaping a part of myself in these dreams, that I had no choice but to go ahead with where I had carried the plot. At last I traveled to the City in the Sky, the last unclaimed territory and possessor of an air force of mechanical dragons. I fought off an assassination attempt on their leader and convinced him to join our side, even as the dark forces set fire to the floating city. We escaped at the last moment as it hurtled to the ground, saving as many of the citizens as possible. The time for the final battle had come.
The very next night we were to engage the dark forces, as our final hope for the future of the dream world.
Then there was darkness. For the following week, nothing. No memory of my dreams, which were usually so lucid and etched in my mind like flaming images. What had happened? Who had won the battle? I was beside myself with terror, what if the dark lord had triumphed? I could not dare to sleep for fear I would slip into a twisted nightmare world that would consume even my waking life soon enough. Had I broken my mind by dabbling with techniques I do not understand? I did not sleep for a week, but meditated each night on the story that had thus far transpired and on the myths of my dream world for some answer to my questions. At the end of the week, weary and beginning to hallucinate aspects of the dream world in my sleepless waking, I at last fell into a deep slumber.
It was the prophecy dream again, the myth of the adventurers of old who challenged the dark lord in the distant path and were rebuffed from his tower by an invisible force field. But this time I was among them as a new and active member of the party, and not, as usual, a ghost-like observer unable to effect events. Together with these people I experienced their story again, but differently. It was my story now and my little actions caused changes to unfold, major changes that diverged from the ancient myth. The dream-manipulation techniques, the lucid awareness I had learned from the mysterious gurus, these were the missing key. At last we approached that dark tower, around which the repelling energy field now glowed a dark blue like the night sky. The tower itself was in ruin, a broken stone husk with missing parapets and black vines running across its surface. I focused my will into a blade and rent a gap in the barrier. Crossing through, I collapsed into darkness.
I woke up drenched in sweat from exertion. I was not in my bed. A false-waking dream then. I lay on an altar in a narrow stone room with no doors and only a small aperture in the ceiling hundreds of yards overhead. On each side of the altar was a tall statue; one of myself on the left, on the right the visage of the dark lord stared down at me like a demonic inversion of my own image. In between the statues was a third smaller statue, crouched in a certain pose with a finger to its lips. This figure had elements from both the dark lord's statue and from my own, mixed together. There was a placard beneath the statue inscribed with a name, and an epithet saying it was the prophesied hero. I spoke the name silently, trying it on like a familiar cloak.
At that moment I became entirely lucid and rocketed through the hole in the roof, soaring into the air above the dark lord's tower. Where it had previously been in decay, the tower gleamed of gold and in-laid opal, yet with a fine spider-network of onyx running throughout. Leaping arches and buttresses connected previously absent spires that scintillated in the dawn light, each flying a flag with a familiar emblem. I had seen it many times before, concealed in the towers of the gurus who helped me on my way. The clearest memory was from a mosaic on the floor of one hidden hall of learning: a ruby field overlaid with a convergence of the sun and the moon. I flew circles around the tower, crying out with the joy of a hawk, until the sun's light streaming in my bedroom window caused me to wake.
A year later I first heard of Carl Jung and his conception of the shadow-self. What I experienced could be interpreted as a metaphor for uniting my self with my shadow; the dark lord had taken on all the aspects of my psyche that I unconsciously fear and push away, while "I" in the dream world embodied the traits I admire and foster. There is another interpretation for the emblem of the conjoining sun and moon: that our waking and dreaming lives are not so separate at all and feed back into one another. And perhaps our waking life is itself another sort of dream; though this is hardly a novel insight, it is well worth experiencing first hand.
My dream quest is far from over. The last five years have opened new realms and adventures. I slowly grew aware that uniting with that shadow had not solved everything in my life, as evidenced by an abyss in both my waking and dream worlds through which I am now crawling. I have only just begun to realize that it was not the only shadow, just as "I" am not my only self. Selves and shadows are legion within each of us, a fractal pandemonium of many shades of light and dark flowing together and apart. That shadow was the first of many, and from it I won some self-awareness to power me along the next leg of the journey, in the form of two names.
The exoteric name is that which I use for my online identity: metachor. This is a shortening of the phrase metachoric experience. A metachoric experience is one "in which the normal perceptual environment is entirely replaced by a hallucinatory one, which may on occasion be a convincing replica of the world of normal perception." [ref] This is used to describe dreams and REM sleep (in particular lucid dreams), waking and false-waking dreams, out-of-body experiences, alien kidnappings, and mystic and numinous experiences (drug-induced or otherwise). Once I had the term "metachoric experience," I felt this was a useful hook for me to explain my own process of making and shaping different realities. My thought process was something along the lines of: if an acid is acidic (for sake of a linguistic example), then what is it that is metachoric? A metachor!
I am not working within any magical system, nor do I know how others feel about rituals in dreamspace. Perhaps it accomplishes the same thing as what is done using traditional systems (GD, OTO, &c), perhaps not. I am not sure that even matters. I have set off on a journey by blazing my own trail through the wilderness of my self, sometimes making use of the signs and paths left by others as I come across them, but not to the abandonment of my own way. I know I have a long way to go, and not an easy one, and in fact I have been resting by the side of the road for some time now hoping to catch a ride on the back of a passing chariot. That is not working.
It is time to go back to sleep so I can wake up.