Book Review

Spiritual Dreaming
by Kelly Bulkeley
Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1995,
(pp. 271, $16.95)

It seems almost paradoxical in our high-tech era today, but dreaming is gaining increasing respect for its spiritual importance in human life. For most of the modern epoch, such was certainly not the case. Outside of iconoclastic thinkers like Carl Jung, few in either psychology or religion regarded dreams as a genuine source of higher guidance. Yet, as ASD Board Chair, Kelly Bulkeley, makes clear in this thorough book, cultures in virtually every time and place have honored dreams for their inspirational qualities. In a very real sense, it is has been recent Western civilization that has been the aberration in this regard. He cogently observes:

"Throughout our history as a species, humans have sought answers to some basic questions about our existence, questions that are best described as spiritual in nature...why we must suffer pain, illness, misfortune, and death to searching for moral principles to help us overcome evil and strive toward good...Psychological researchers have found that dreams function to address exactly these kinds of concerns, to seek creative new solutions to our most pressing and difficult problems."
Written for the intelligent lay reader, Spiritual Dreaming offers thirteen lucid chapters arranged thematically. Topics include dreams involving: the dead, healing, prophecy, sexuality, lucidity, and creativity.

In addition, Dr. Bulkeley provides three Appendix essays on dream hermeneutics, conceptions of reality, and methodological considerations. Both the Endnotes and Bibliography sections provide detailed information for those wishing to delve further into the material cited.

A particular virtue of Spiritual Dreaming is its multi-cultural outlook. Its author deftly highlights religious traditions outside the mainstream Christian--such as Native American shamanism, Hinduism, Sufism, and the Kabbalah of esoteric Judaism. It is partly by studying such traditions that Dr. Bulkeley feels confident in asserting that, "Dreams seem to have the potential (especially in times of crisis) to give us special powers of perception and to connect us with forces and realities that transcend ordinary waking consciousness. The testimony of dreamers throughout history and the findings of modern psychological researchers both provide evidence in support of this position."

For this reviewer, Spiritual Dreaming's most intriguing chapter deals with dreams of initiation. After surveying the importance of initiatory dreams in a variety of non-western cultures historically, its author rhetorically asks: "Does modern western culture provide any resources for incorporating people who have transformative dream experience?" His terse answer: "It does, but only sporadically." And yet, the appearance of books like this--and the growing audiences for those interested in authentic transcendental experience--attests that the situation may be rapidly changing for the better.

As Dr. Bulkeley aptly comments, "Every night when we go to sleep, we separate ourselves from ordinary waking society and enter into the liminal world of our dreams, where the sacred is a powerful, living presence...the capacity to dream, and to become closer to the sacred in our dreams, may be a gift that we all are born with."