To sleep,
perchance to dream…

by Misha Norland

Misha Norland is a Fellow and a founding member of The Society of Homeopaths and was the first editor of its journal. A practitioner now for almost 40 years, he was Head of Homeopathic Research at the College of Homoeopathy in 1977. In 1981 he founded the School of Homeopathy in Devon. Over the years he has taught many of the world's leading homeopaths. He is also an international clinical facilitator and lecturer, author, and is well known for his contributions to journals, conferences and new materia medica. He is a family man who enjoys living in the county, and weeding the garden as well as his words.

In this article Misha navigates physiological and psychological explanations of dreaming and suggests that engendering a dream-like state in the consulting room is useful to a homeopath. While placing  primary focus upon the positive therapeutic aspects of bringing this awareness into the case-taking process, he appreciates that the material of the dream is a valuable resource in itself.

Sleep is a state stimulated by circadian rhythms that vertebrates experience in which conscious muscular control is lost and during which dreaming may occur. Daytime catabolic processes are superceded by anabolic, regenerative processes. In laboratory experiments on sleep deprived rats it has been demonstrated that burns inflicted on them, do not heal. Gumustekin et al, "Effects of sleep deprivation… on wound healing in rats".[1] (That humans can inflict such suffering in the name of scientific research is the stuff of nightmares, it seems to me, because it places humans in a superior position to other beings, allowing us to act as if our fate was not inseparably intertwined with that of other life forms. It is this attitude which provides justification for actions from logging of rain forest to the use of insecticides and creates long range disturbances in the environment. There is more to write about this, and the effects of such carelessness, not only ecological but upon the psyche, however this belongs to another article.)

Sleep in human adults proceeds in distinct stages made visible by ECG measurements. Night terrors, enuresis and somnambulism occur during deepest sleep, while most dreaming is associated with lighter, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Animals with a brain all sleep, while insects experience periods of torpor. It would seem that sleeping and periods of circadian torpor are written into the script of animal life, while plants respond to light in a manner that is similar, closing down at night.


Google images

During sleep when the eyes are closed, the brain to some degree becomes isolated from the outside world. Moreover all signals from the senses (except smell) must pass through the thalamus before they reach the cortex of the brain. During sleep the activity of the thalamus is suppressed. This means that, to a certain extent, the forebrain feeds off its own material. John Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley's activation synthesis theory[2] proposes that dreams are caused by the random firing of neurons in the brain stem during the REM period. According to this theory, the forebrain then creates a story in an attempt to make sense of the nonsensical sensory information presented to it; hence, the quirky and apparently random nature of many dreams.

The paradox of dreaming

Herein lies the rub, do we acquire dream material out of nonsensical sensory information, or is there an underlying rhyme or reason to it? How our forebrains choose to make sense of the random and discontinuous images may tell us something about ourselves, just as what we see in an inkblot can be revelatory. There are at least two fundamental aspects to the process of dreaming that are worthy of close attention – one looks at the raw material from which the dream arises, as though it were autonomous, the other examines the dreamer. I like to consider both, while accentuating the latter, because it is the witnessing awareness, the dreamer, who is the one that has come for therapy, with or without their explicit dream! By way of a slightly lateral example, let us consider a person who is creatively engaged in his or her work as a clairvoyant, or channel, where, by definition, the dream and waking realities are more confluent than is customary. They are able to process sensory and other information coming into consciousness, and to communicate it, without the active intervention of the reasoning faculty. Such a person’s channeled material (in this analogy this is similar to dream material) is not a part of their personal disease, deriving from a source outside of their personal psyche, however, their interpretation must be coloured by them and their disease. In other words, the shaping and partly disease created aspect of the individual is what we are looking at to reveal and to ‘translate’ into a homeopathic similimum.

Circadian rhythms dictate our sleeping cycle. The dark world of the night is the province of sleep and dreaming. It is also the period in which anabolic processes supervene, during which the body heals itself. Even plants no longer actively photosynthesise, they respire. In life-forms with developed consciousness such as humans, the material which arises from the dream world is offered to the day world represented by the lightened field of consciousness for comparison and analysis. The dark world of the dream and lightened field of consciousness  are part of a greater whole, separated by discriminative higher mental processes. It is seen that the anabolic healing cycle belongs to the unconscious realm, the night-time realm of dreams, and that, by analogy, the dream offerings to the conscious mind are a means of healing. Therefore, it is useful not only to take note of the dream, but also to create an ambience during the consultation in which a dream-like state may arise. This activation is born of a participative and dynamic awareness that allows the barriers between sleep and waking worlds to loose their customary solidity. It is like moving in and out of a hypnotic trance where constraints of time and space give way to the ever elusive, while ever present reality, and both patient and practitioner, like clairvoyant and her audience in the earlier example, channel information arriving from the psyche.

I don’t know how great the percentage is of women who report that dreams can regularly be more intense in certain phases of the menstrual cycle, yet the phenomenon is regularly reported. Endometrial changes preparing the womb for implantation, are linked to endocrine activity and the lunar cycle. These cycles effect how intensely we dream and therefore how much we bring into waking recall. From Franz Vermeulen Luna ‘Natural History’ section in ‘Synoptic 2’ we find the following.  

“The full moon gives expansion and growth, the waning moon contraction and concentration… When the moon is full, there are more accidents, the chance of haemorrhage increases [particularly stomach haemorrhages] and "the most cruel and bizarre crimes" are committed. The negative aspects come more to the fore at that time…

The word menses [from Latin mensis, month] clearly expresses the relationship between moon - struation and moon. A good example of this is the premenstrual syndrome... Everything comes to the surface, with sudden changes of mood, increased hydration [tendency to weep] and irrational emotional behaviour.” The tendency to dream would appear to increase along with the readiness of the womb to receive the fertilised blastula. This relationship with lunar activity would be of interest to the dream analyst because it links to the symbolic significance of the moon, representing as it does, the soul and feminine aspects of the psyche. If these should be out of step with the forward marching masculine and egoic force, then the resultant chaos certainly would be pathological, and perhaps "the most cruel and bizarre crimes" might be committed!

Here is a paragraph gleaned from Wikipedia : “Dreams were historically used for healing (as in the asclepieions found in the ancient Greek temples of Asclepius) as well as for guidance or divine inspiration. Some Native American tribes use vision quests as a rite of passage, fasting and praying until an anticipated guiding dream is received, to be shared with the rest of the tribe upon their return.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung identified dreams as an interaction between the unconscious and the conscious. They also assert together that the unconscious is the dominant force of the dream, and in dreams it conveys its own mental activity to the conscious mind. While Freud felt that there was an active censorship against the unconscious even during sleep, Jung argued that the dream's bizarre quality is an efficient language, comparable to poetry and uniquely capable of revealing the underlying meaning.”

In many Hindu and Buddhist traditions, perceived reality is considered to be unreal. All appearances perceived during the whole life of an individual through all senses, including sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations are thought to be like an all-encompassing dream. In ancient China this concept was expressed by Chuang Chou, who is regarded as a great Taoist alongside Lao Tzu. He tells this story: “I dreamed I was a butterfly, flying here and there enjoying myself. Suddenly I awoke, and veritably was Chuang Chou again. I did not know whether it was me, Chuang Chou dreaming that I was a butterfly, or whether it was the butterfly dreaming that it was Chuang Chou”.[3] A butterfly dreams the dreamer, or the dreamer a butterfly?

Dream of the Butterfly

Zhuangzi – Dream of the butterfly

Carl Gustav Jung coined the term the collective unconscious, a concept that though it predates his discovery, was placed in the field of analytical psychology by him. For Jung the psyche is both outside time and space as well as anchored within the personal soul. The collective substratum of the unconscious is that which is shared by a whole society, indeed all humankind. It is the product of ancestral experience and contains its archytypes. Archetypes may be thought of as elemental forces that play a creative and formative role in shaping the world. The ancients called them elemental spirits while Plato, abstracting, conceived them as solids. Mind is rooted in the unconscious just as a tree is rooted in the ground.

In between the collective, archtypal and personal unconscious is a region populated by forces, images and experiences of the patient’s personal ancestral heritage. All of these can provide sources of dream material. Such dreams are not mere compensations of day-world experiences, on the contrary, they belong to the deepest parts of the dreamer’s psyche. They are to the psyche what DNA is to the body. Such dreams even if they are beyond interpretation, when given space and attention, may drive the session forward in an inexplicable way, leading towards the energy field of the deepest issues that require healing. Personal and impersonal soul/psychic forces are at work together, providing a symbolic language for healing ambivalences and for integration. When both the disease, its many derivatives (that are met by its similar remedy) and soul inhabit the same body/mind simultaneously, then ambivalences arise unless disease and soul remain perfectly aligned to meet demands in the outer-world coherently. As this only occurs occasionally, the individual is driven to respond in an inappropriate and un-integrated manner most of the time. Attempts at integration may be precarious, and coping mechanisms fail. When sustained this manifests as organic disease.

The etymology of the word psyche, which in ancient Greek means butterfly, provides an analogy that will appeal to the imagination of the homeopath, who naturally seeks correspondences. This is because the butterfly is a prime example of a being that metamorphoses its shape and function, as does dream and reality. Jung found it necessary to define soul and psyche as separate concepts. This arises out of the German language since there is but one word “die Seele” for both. “By psyche, I understand the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious… By soul, on the other hand, I understand a clearly demarcated functional complex that can best be described as a personality.”[4] The psyche therefore, is capable of extending consciousness beyond the soul/personality. The psyche speaks directly into the ear of the dreaming soul.

Exploring dreams

In my private practice, initial contact with a patient is almost invariably by phone. This gives us both a chance to sense the others presence as well as establishing the ground upon which subsequent healings encounters will depend. Alongside the usual request for a written anamnesis and family history in the form of an annotated family tree that includes the story of identified key members of the family, I usually request a dream. Making reference to the Talmud, that states “a dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read”, I suggest that the patient’s subconscious may oblige by posting a message through the letter-box of dreaming into the day world of consciousness. In so doing I am also inviting that such dream-like awarenesses be part of the session that we are scheduling.

“A dream is a microscope through which we look at the hidden occurrences in our soul.”  Erich Fromm[5]. (Soul here referring I presume, to soul plus psyche as in ‘die Seele’.)

In unraveling a dream we employ this microscope to highlight every part of what we have been given. Led by C G Jung and Fritz Perls, we do this by working with everything that appears in the dream as being representative of the dreamer’s psyche, whether animate or inanimate. We give it our full attention thus endowing it with vital energy, so that it is able to express itself and its intention. We understand that we should never know better or first, for the dreamer and the dream are things about which we have no prior experience. We put all assumptions and associations into abeyance, taking heed only of what the dreamer has to say about their dream. However, we do actively lead them to examine, to explore and to reenact the events of the dream. We travel with them as they explore. We are in the position of a companion who may know some of the language, but never the territory, for that belongs to the unique inner world of the dreamer. It is unlikely to be found in books that write about dream symbols, because these presume set interpretations. On the contrary, the dream material that is useful in homeopathic analysis needs to be taken at face value: it is what it is, where the symbol is the symbol.

In encouraging our patient in the exploration of their dream experience, we enter into the reality of their soul/psyche with them. This will have a numinous ambience that we, the therapist, breath our life into. We believe in it, and as I have written, we provide it with vital energy accelerating its capacity to reveal itself. This belief and active participation helps our patient give credence to what is occurring in the dream and in the dream-like occurrences in the consulting room; then it is not a matter of the intellect taking possession of it, but rather of allowing the dream to weave its insubstantial veils into substance in the here and now. Believing and participating in this reality is of the essence.

From modern western perspectives, the arising dream is considered to be unreal, while the manifestation that we call reality holds the only tangible key to power, success and achievement, and is therefore the only key that we should honour or care about. Indeed this materialistic perspective has spawned the practice of a form of active dreaming in which the individual practices a mixture of materialisation techniques to achieve an aim, for instance finding a mate or recognition and remuneration for one’s efforts. I am not making the point to dismiss this practice, because it works, but rather to make a distinction between honouring the unknown and perhaps shadowy aspects of the unconscious, and the simple employment of a technique.

“I have always been amazed at the way an ordinary observer lends so much more credence and attaches so much more importance to waking events than to those occurring in dreams...” Andre Breton [6] 

The House Angel

Max Ernst
Der Hausengel (literally, the house angel) 1937
Google images

Using dreams, imagination and dream-like states in practice

Dreaming is one of the keys to harnessing creativity. We know that all creative works are the product of the imagination, and like all personal expressions have their source in the psyche. Because the psyche is unchangingly present and was there in the child who we were, it may be accessed through goal-less and child-like play as well as through dreams. Then its creativity will not be overlaid by the censorship of the adult’s critical mind. Later these sources arising out of playing, fantasy and dreaming are interpreted through whichever techniques are appropriate.

Bringing creativity into the case-receiving process is fun! Creativity can be encouraged by allowing the active imagination into the consulting room. Then it can be invited to take part in describing and enlarging upon all experiences: metaphors can be found, stories of events that effect profoundly can be sought, likes and dislikes can be exaggerated until they become so huge… And of course, drawings and doodles can be asked for. Psychoanalytic tradition has its couch, and we can adopt the practice, without necessarily adopting the couch, by suggesting that our patient shut their eyes. This is to help them enter more fully into their situation and state. In inviting shut eyes we insinuate the dream world. In this state abruptness of speech and an interrogative manner would be completely out of place and would jolt the dreamer out of their reverie. Our tone must be soft, and interrogative questions should be replaced by mere suggestions in the form of,  “what would it be like if…?”, “tell me more about this?”, “what are you experiencing?”  Later, sensations, images and feelings are offered back to the patient for further exploration, and finally, once the dream-like realm has been left, the patient can be asked to interpret or comment.

In my opinion, the honouring of ‘the other reality’ is the most important aspect of being a therapist because it brings core issues to the fore upon which we may then prescribe. (All sorts of accretions add themselves to the core state, for the psyche is endlessly adaptive and creative in its attempts at correcting and adapting to the core state. If we follow the lead of these secondary expressions, then we will surely be led away from the center.) Second to this are the technical aspects that allow us to come up with a fix-it similimum. From an educational point of view, I believe that both are of equal importance and that a solid foundation is given to the student only when the dreaming soul is welcomed into all of the practical work with patients.

The dreaming soul/psyche is itself a holarchy, or an open hierarchical system of the entire organism. Arthur Koestler in his book, “The Ghost in the Machine” (1967)[7] proposed the word holon to describe the inter-dependant nature of apparently unrelated parts within living systems. Koestler defines holons as autonomous, self-reliant units that posses a degree of independence and handle contingencies without asking higher authorities for instructions. Holons are also simultaneously subject to control from one or more higher authorities. Koestler defines a holarchy as a hierarchy of self-regulating holons that also function in coordination with their local environment.

“Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you.” Marsha Norman 8.

Sally’s dream:

…Tell me more about why you have come?

S: I am feeling removed and separate and unable to be … to just (more tears, struggling to find words, biting bottom lip) to be me I suppose. To just (sigh) express myself (running her hand through her hair and dabbing tears away) or be understood.

Tell me more about this.

S: It’s total isolation … don’t know … (more tears and wiping of eyes, deep sigh and sniffing) Having everybody turning their back on me (fighting back tears). I had a reocurrent dream when I was about 12 or 13. In this dream I was sleep walking. I was at my parent’s home and I walked to the edge of the stairs and I saw a crowd of people and they were all rushing past me – they had no faces.

No faces?

S: No faces, and they are very white.

Describe this some more.

S: They are all the same. They are the same height the same age, they don’t have any age. They completely conform, behave in the same way. Just move as a mass. They are in a hurry. (She looks off to right, downwards, sighs.)

What does this dream provide us with? Can we unravel it? I feel that this is not a useful approach to bring into the session because it is too goal oriented. The object of the exercise, which to a homeopath is to find a similimum, is to walk the path rather than arrive anywhere specific, because we cannot know the destination (it is not given to us like a cake on a plate) until we have explored the many details of the path. Each of these individual details will be holons, after all, and part of the holarchy that we translate into a thing that represents it: the similimum. What the dream does provide, because it has been chosen by the psyche of the patient, is a representation of self, and of similimum. I would argue that the dream of this woman as a pubescent girl was as relevant then as it still is today. It informs us, not only through her associative process (moving from describing her current emotions, to her dream), but through the dream image itself: She was/is feeling isolated, as if people were/are turning their back on her. She is sleepwalking to the top of the stairs where she witnesses the white, faceless, conforming people all rushing past. Night terrors, enuresis and somnambulism occur during the deepest phase of sleep before REM dreaming occurs. In mentioning somnambulism I believe Sally is intimating the profound, preconscious nature of the dream. Naturally we may use a repertory to represent the feeling of isolation and the ‘faceless’ image in the dream. (If we are familiar with the Mappa Mundi, we will place Sally’s dream, her images, and indeed her entire case upon the fire – air axis.)


As the case unfolds more and more holons are uncovered. This is achieved through the agency of the dreaming reality that has been activated. This activation is born of a dynamic awareness that allows the barriers between sleep and waking worlds to loosen their customary hold.

Sally has come for help because she finds herself at a creative impasse. We know that all creative works are the product of the imagination, and have their source in the psyche that is unchangingly present, and therefore was also present in the child who we were. The dream represents this, as also do those states and symptoms that can be retrieved and amplified during the session in which the dreaming reality is bidden into being.

Later in the session Sally recounts: 

I was in a situation at the beginning of the week at the university. There was this interesting thing that got set up; about twenty people got together. Two people were facilitating. They suggested that people spoke about their background and what they had done, and as people started to do that the atmosphere got more relaxed; lots of humour, it was really nice, but the stories got longer and longer and the person before me was particularly long and going round in circles. One of the facilitators said we had run out of time and could I be really quick. It completely made sense, but I felt dismissed. (In the dream recounted earlier, Sally saw a crowd of people and they were all rushing passed her; she felt that people were/are turning their back on her. This theme is now reiterated.) It got me into this really heavy and serious way of communicating. It totally jolted me into a different reality. I spoke briefly but I didn’t say what I wanted to say or in the way I wanted to say it. I felt pressured and lost for words. Afterwards I was really upset – I was crying.

Tell me about the other reality.

S: (tearful with the memory) It’s that separation thing. I had been feeling with the group, as if we were creating something together. Suddenly there was this other reality…

Describe it.

S: Heavy, rigid, dark, full of a texture…

Go on.

S: Sharp and quite vicious I suppose, I don’t know… (close to tears)



Sharp and vicious like?

S: Stone or granite that’s been cut and carved, like a glass edge. (mouth crumpling with sadness, a few tears escaping) I have this image like an edge, like an abyss.

Say more about it.

S: Like an infinite black hole (laughter and tears) and its cold … (wiping eyes) when I was in Kashmir (referring to an earlier part of the case-story) I really suffered from all those things – I had asthma that turned into bronchitis. It was like being oppressed. (talking through tears) It’s like … I couldn’t believe anyone would do… (holding bridge of nose) I wanted to see the good in all those people that I met in Kashmir. I don’t know. (long silence – deep sigh and heavy frown.)

Tell me more about the edge, the abyss…

S: It is an emotional reaction.

What comes with it?

S: I don’t know (hand goes to solar plexus/heart area)

What is that, that your hand just gestured?

S: It’s as if something drops, as if my heart is drawn out. (staring off into distance again, hand over mouth)

Say some more.

S: (hand moves to left temple but still silent) I don’t know.

Lets go back one, the feeling of being oppressed…

S: Blocked, pressed down, confined, put in the dark.

What's happening to you?

S: It’s like being in a tunnel. (gestures of pushing hands together as if something resistant between them) Maybe it’s like balls (still gesturing and now crying again – trying to contain it) closing in. Not being able to breath. (deep breathing and wiping eyes) Being hated (arms both across her body) and I have to protect myself.

The impression that we receive is one of oppression, suffocation, closing in and pressing down, of being trapped in a tunnel, an abyss, a black hole, where it is heavy, vicious, like cut granite, where Sally is hated and has to protect herself. In conjunction with the dream this coheres into a repertorisation in which, after crosschecking in materia medica, Positronium is the most clearly indicated remedy.


On going to the proving (which you may find on the School of Homeopathy website) and checking out ‘faceless’ as in faceless white people in Sally’s dream, we find the following:

“On closing my eyes in bed I see faceless people, they are a solid grey colour and in a line marching towards me. There is one white, as if made from chalk in the centre of them. The impression I have is that the people (men, women, soldiers) are made of stone or hardened clay”. 07P 01 22.30 NS

How amazing that Sally’s dream is so closely matched by the prover’s vision! The atmosphere, imagery, sensation and feeling are also met in the proving of positronium, where crushing density and oppression are a crucial part of the picture. Physicists researching into the cosmo-creation tend to agree that positronium is the stuff at the center of a black hole were extreme gravity permits it to retain stability, they also believe positronium was the first formed at the moment of the big bang. As this is the primordial atom, it seems plausible that one image that may represent it is of a conforming mass of hurrying, faceless people.

I will pursue this no further as the purpose of this example is more to illustrate the value of encouraging the ambience of the dream-state than to demonstrate a similimum match. So, how do we go about this? First of all we must want to experience it, then we must believe that it can be sustained, and we must trust that the psyche which is greater that we are, is the agent, and that the dream is its creation and its mouthpiece. After these direct utterances that reverberate in the dream world of the patient throughout their lives there will follow symptoms and signs in the outer world. If these utterances are not headed, they will be repeated until, eventually, outer world occurrences will direct attention upon them. (And there’s more to it than that, to reiterate the point made earlier, it may be the dream that is dreaming the dreamer. Honouring this process of psychic genesis is of the essence in all healing work.)

“That which the dream shows is the shadow of such wisdom as exists in man, even if during his waking state he may know nothing about it.... We do not know it because we are fooling away our time with outward and perishing things, and are asleep in regard to that which is real within ourself.” Paracelsus. 9

On a practical note, and in conclusion I find that the capacity to bring up dreams after the stimulation of the vital force by a good enough prescription is a measure of healing. We have found that when a patient is deeply fatigued, they cease to dream. Thus commencement of dreaming is a sign that vitality is returning. In cases where there are one or more layers of suppression, and that is most cases, treatment can show its effectiveness by the spontaneous arising of dreams. Often these are the initial intimations of changes that will be followed by other healing trends following Hering’s Law of Cure.


[1] Gümüstekín K, Seven B, Karabulut N, Aktas O, Gürsan N, Aslan S, Keles M, Varoglu E, and Dane S
The International journal of neuroscience 114(11):1433-42, 2004 Nov  - PubMed ID: 15636354 

[2] Activation-synthesis hypothesis first published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in December of 1977

[3] Adapted from Chuang Tzu Mystic, Moralist, and Social Reformer, translated by Herbert A. Giles. Bernard Quaritch, London, 1926.



[6] Andre Breton, "Manifesto of Surrealism," 1924

[7] Koestler, A. (1967) The ghost in the machine. London: Arkana



Tags: Dreams | Sleep | Misha Norland

This entry was posted on 01 December 2010 at 12:21.