Dreams and C.W. Leadbeater

Freud and Jung have long ago established their authority in dream interpretation, but little is known about Leadbeater's little book Dreams: What They Are And How They Are Caused (first edition in 1898; fourth edition in 1918 ) published two years before Freud's book The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). Perhaps it is interesting to take a look at what Charles Webster Leadbeater's views on dreams can still offer to our 21st century minds.

C.W. Leadbeater (1854 - 1934) was one of the leaders of Theosophical Society and a prolific writer. For an extended period of time he lived in Sydney where his presence considerably increased public interest in theosophy. In some circles he still remains an influential thinker and author.

His book on dreams is rather short and freely available in html format.

Leadbeater identifies four factors that may be involved in the production of dreams. His approach to dreams reflects theosophical beliefs relating to the ego, the seven planes of existence and the astral plane in particular. The four factors include: the ego which can be fully asleep, fully awake or anything in-between; the astral body, the seat of emotions, desires and thoughts; the etheric part of the brain with a ceaseless procession of disconnected pictures sweeping through it, and the lower physical brain with its undeveloped semi consciousness and its habit of expressing every stimulus through an image.

In his book, Leadbeater first addresses the physical body. He claims that when asleep, the ego has little control over our physical body, nevertheless, our physical body has some kind of "dim consciousness" of its own. For this reason, any irregularities in the blood flow to brain can disturb our sleep and dreams. In other words, if we have a big dinner or too much alcohol before sleep, our sleep and dreams will be disturbed. When there is no such disturbance, however, this "dim consciousness" is capable of expressing complex concepts and external or internal stimuli in "perceptual images", i.e., metaphors and symbols.

Unlike Buddhist teachings which guide the individual toward the dissolution of the ego, Leadbeater posits that the ego is "a developing entity, and in the case of most of us he is scarcely more than a germ of what he is to be one day". When our physical body is asleep, the ego functions on the astral plane and hovers above the physical body. In less developed persons the ego is asleep whereas in more developed persons the ego is awake.

According to theosophists, human beings exist not only in their physical bodies on the physical plane, but also in their energy bodies on higher planes, including their astral body which is some kind of oval energy mist that surrounds our physical bodies. The astral body is the plane that follows the physical and is the place of our passions, emotions and thoughts.

In our day and age, psychology and science are dismissive of astral bodies. However, what evades our five senses is not necessarily non-existent. There are many people who report near-death-experiences (NDE) and out-of-body-experiences (OBE) and their reports correspond to theosophical views on astral and other planes.

Leadbeater further claims that the astral body is particularly easy to be influenced while the physical body is asleep, that is, in our dreams. As an illustration, he gives an example of a man who gave up alcohol after years of abuse. During the day he is able to manage his cravings and has even developed repulsion for alcohol, whereas in his sleep he still feels "the old horrible pleasure in such degradation". In the way of explanation, Leadbeater believes that in his sleep, when his astral body is liberated from the domination of the ego, his " extreme natural susceptibility" reinstated itself and responded to such influences.

In the Victorian tradition, Leadbeater is not concerned with political correctness: he believes there is a great difference between the cultured and uncultured, the developed and undeveloped persons. A person in "the primitive condition" will not remember much of his dreams which are mostly not worthy of remembering anyway, whereas a person who is more awake may be able to visit beautiful places, meet and talk with others who are equally awake, or learn or receive warnings from those who know much more than him.

When the ego is awake on the astral plane, it exhibits interesting traits:
It is capable of transcending time and space - in the sense that in our dreams we can travel to remote places and the time it takes to do things in our dreams does not correspond to the period of time spent asleep;
It tends to dramatise issues - for example, a drop of water falls on our sleeping face and we have a dream of a storm and a huge torrent threatening to flood us;
It is capable of precognition. In our dreams, we have access to the past, present and future, it all lays open to us. However, how much we will bring back depends on the level of our spiritual development. In people whose ego is only semi awake, the forecast will become distorted by the "surgings of desire", "the casual thought-current" or by "some slight physical disturbance". Only on rare occasion a perfect forecast will be brought back.
It seems to think in symbols: in our waking life we use many words to express an idea, but in our dreams a single symbolical image is used to convey the same idea.
According to Leadbeater, dreams can be catagorised as:

The true vision - this is the kind of dream in which the ego obtains some kind of fact that is beneficial to him from a higher plane . Leadbeater does not provide any examples but believes that such dreams are very rare and considers the person who receives one very fortunate indeed.

The prophetic dream - also quite rare; in this type of dream the ego foresees some future event "for which he wishes to prepare his lower consciousness". The clearness and accuracy come in various degrees. Such prophecy is often meant as a warning. Leadbeater provides and example of a blacksmith who understands the warning in the dream correctly and does everything to avoid the predicted misfortune. However, despite his efforts the prophetic dream is through a series of events completely fulfilled.

The symbolic dream - this type of dream is a "less successful variant" of the previous two types. It is an "imperfectly translated effort" made by the ego to communicate some kind of information regarding his future. The example provided is not that much different from the example for the prophetic dream, but rather than getting a literal prophecy in which a foot is a foot, an axe is an axe and so on, the death in this type of dream presents itself symbolically, that is, as a terrifying shadow with an axe.

The vivid and connected dream - this is often a memory of a real astral experience which occurred to the ego while away from the sleeping physical body (in today's terms, an out-of-body experience or a lucid dream) or a dramatization by the ego of some impression that he found interesting.

The confused dream - this one is the most ordinary type of dream. It is a disconnected stream of casual thoughts or a mingling of different influences.

It is interesting that Leadbeater who underwent strenuous training to develop highly accurate psychic and clairvoyant abilities seems to be mainly concerned with precognitive dreams in their various degrees, whereas the most common type of dream content as reported by Domhoff, our daily preoccupations that continue from our waking state into our dreams, are completely overlooked or classified as "confused dreams".

In conclusion, Leadbeater refers to what is today known as dream incubation as a way gaining insight or a true vision. He points out the importance of the last thought we have before falling asleep:

"All earnest Theosophians should therefore make a special point of raising their thoughts to the loftiest level of which they are capable before allowing themselves to sink into slumber. For remember, through what seem at first but the portals of dream, entrance may perchance presently be gained into those realms where alone true vision is possible."
© Metka Cuk, dreamowls.com

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