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Psychopompic Dreaming:

Visits With Those Who Have Passed On?

by Ed Kellogg, Ph.D. ©2004


What Dreams May Come (Polygram Films, ©1998)

What does it mean to have a psychopompic dream, a dream in which we encounter someone who has died? Two possibilities immediately spring to mind: one can dream OF someone who has died, and one can dream WITH someone who has died.

How can dreamers tell the difference?

In the first case, when we dream of someone, one would expect that they would look the way we remember them.  For example, after your grandfather had died, in a dream of him he may look as you usually remember him.  If he died in his eighties, in poor health, and that image comes to mind when you think of him, in dreams of him he would also look old and sickly.  Dream characters of this kind -  mental projections perhaps - usually act somewhat like mannequins - they lack spontaneity, that "spark" of vital energy, and have little if any "presence."  Although they may react to what you do, they will not initiate action independently.

Hieronymus Bosch. Paradise. left wing of the Last Judgement triptych. 1500s


Hieronymus Bosch. Hell. Right wing of the Last Judgement triptych. 1500s


In contrast, in my experience, when you dream with someone who has died, especially someone who died late in life, they will usually look younger and healthier. The greater the time that has passed between their physical death and the dream, the better they will look. In my experience they seem to settle on whatever they consider an optimal body within six months or so. A woman or man who died at ninety may look a fit and hale 35, or even like a teenager - in any case they end up looking like their personal best. Although they can change in appearance from dream to dream (and may even take on the appearance of their older selves for a dream visit to someone who expects them to look that way), they will look amazingly healthy and alive. They can, and do, act spontaneously and independently in the dream.

Some psychopompic dreams can prove evidential - when the person you meet while dreaming gives you information that you did not know, but can confirm afterwards. For example, in a lucid dream I once intentionally visited the father of a friend of mine, an Italian man, who had died at the age of 79. (see Appendix B) The man I knew looked small, flabby and old, pale and almost completely bald, wearing wire-rimmed glasses. The man I found in the dream looked in his thirties or forties, very lean and self-possessed. He had on an elegant dark gray silk suit, a white shirt and a dark tie. He had a deep tan - very dark, and looked almost like an American Indian. He looked formidable. He also had on a pair of thick-black framed glasses - and he had an afro! His son confirmed even this most bizarre and unexpected detail - the afro - when I related the dream to him later. He even signed an affidavit to this effect. I have had other psychopompic dreams, that also proved quite evidential, at least to the effect that validated information came through about the person who had died not known to me before.

But although evidence of this kind can help validate a psychopompic dream, even without such evidence the emotional impact of such dreams - where we somehow know that we have dreamed with people who have died - usually seems more than sufficient to convince the dreamer, even after they wake up. The impact of such dreams usually seems greatest if the dreamer seems fully lucid during the experience - where they not only believe that they meet with someone who has died, but that they do so while realizing that they do so in a dream.  If you meet with someone who "has passed over" in a dream, one good hug can end the cycle of grief, because afterwards you somehow know, beyond rational argument, that although that person may no longer physically exist, that they have not actually died.

When people pass over, do they go to "heaven" and "hell"?  Yes and no.  My own experiences tend to confirm the views of Emanuel Swedenborg, the renowned Swedish scientist, mystic, and theologian.  In essence, he reported that after death people go wherever they feel most comfortable. After dying, self-centered hedonists gravitate to one environment, kindly altruists to another.  In each case they end up in an environment where they feel at home, with others of their kind - reward or punishment as such does not enter into it.  A corrupt politician would not feel any more comfortable in the "heaven" of a benevolent philanthropist, than the philanthropist would feel in the "hell" of the corrupt politician. The appearance of the environment in which they find themselves often simulates one in which they felt comfortable or happy while living on Earth, but the appearance of an environment, and its "feel" can differ markedly.

Do we really visit with those who have "passed on" in some of our dreams? For myself, from a factual perspective, just considering the unexpected correspondences that have showed up in my own psychopompic dreams, I'd answer this question with an "I think so, but other explanations - such as telepathy, etc., might account for the unexpected, and accurate, information obtained." On the other hand, from an emotional perspective, judging the experiences based on the astonishing degree of emotional resolution that I experienced following each of these dreams, I feel obligated to say, despite my personal attachment to the phenomenological attitude, "Yes, almost certainly."

Have you had dreams OF or WITH friends or loved ones who have passed on?  If so, please share your experiences on the 2004 PsiberDreaming Conference "Psychopompic Dreaming" discussion thread!


Appendix A: Resources


Heaven and Hell by Emanuel Swedenborg (1758) Swedenborg Foundation, Inc. 1979 (Revised Dole Translation). (See also The Presence of Other Worlds: The Findings of Emanuel Swedenborg by Wilson Van Dusen Harper and Row, 1974.) The mind-blowing account of a scientific genius, whose reports of what he experienced in dreams, visions and OBEs still sets a standard that few others have reached.

The Magus of Strovolos by Kyriakos Markides, Arkana Books, 1985. A fascinating description of the teachings and experiences of  "Daskalos" (Dr. Stylianos Atteshlis), a renowned mystic and healer who died in 1995.  His account of the afterlife has many similarities, and some differences, to that of Emanuel Swedenborg.   See also Homage to the Sun and Fire in the Heart by the same author. 

Through the Curtain by Viola Petitt Neal, Ph.D., and Shafica Karagulla, M.D. DeVorss and Company, 1983. The amazing account of an extraordinarily proficient lucid dreamer, who could not only could recall her experiences in extraordinary detail, but who could also dictate events out loud (to a tape recorder or monitor) while sleeping. She attended many "night classes" on different subjects in her dreams. This book consists in large part of a recounting of what she learned.

The Ozawkie Book of the Dead: Alzheimer's isnít what you think it is! by Elmer Green, Ph.D. Three Volumes. Philosophical Research Society, 2001. A world class scientist, the "father of biofeedback", comes "out of the closet" to reveal himself as a world class dreamer as well. In this autobiography Dr. Green shares many of the fascinating dreams, lucid dreams, paranormal dreams, and OBEs that guided and inspired him from his earliest childhood.

Just for Fun Movies:

Always (1989)

Ghost (1990)

Defending Your Life (1991)

What Dreams May Come (1998)

Waking Life (2001)

Appendix B: Examples of Evidential Psychopompic Lucid Dreams

General Note: I use italics on text to indicate lucidity, and brackets [ ] to indicate my awareness of the tentative nature of my identifications while dreaming. E.g. [Bruno] means that although for practical purposes I identify the dream entity as the non-physical self of the WPR (Waking Physical Reality) Bruno, that I realize while dreaming that I have made an assumption that requires verification. Also RWPR means Return to Waking Physical Reality.

1. Psychopompic Lucid Dream with [Bruno L.]

November 1, 1997, about 8:05 A.M. (Prelude: did a lucid dream incubation to visit Bruno L. (10/26/1918 - 8/29/1997) at about 6 AM) "I come to myself in a room setting, sitting at a table with three old men. I realize that I dream, and remember my task - to find Bruno. First I decide to look over the men. We sit at a circular table, the men look in their 70ís and 80ís, old white-haired, one balding another fat, all look feeble and flabby. None of them looks like Bruno even when he died, and I expect him to look much younger and healthier now, as several months have passed since then. The old men try to talk to me, but I excuse myself, getting up, saying "Sorry to break this (dream scene) up, but I really need to look for Bruno". I stand up and call "Bruno L." a few times, and look over in a corner to see [Bruno] sitting in a chair. He looks in his thirties or forties, very lean and self-possessed. He has on an elegant dark gray silk suit, a white shirt and a dark tie. He has a deep tan - very dark, and looks almost like an American Indian. He also has on a pair of glasses with black or very dark frames. Most odd of all he has a full head of white hair, although his eyebrows have dark hair. At first glance his hair looks straight, but when I look closely his hair looks frizzy, like that of a black man, it sticks up about two inches from his head and seems so unexpected it makes me question whether Iíve found Bruno. I say "Hi Bruno! How do you do?" He replies "Good to see you! I havenít seen you around?" I look at him and say "Well Bruno, you died!" [Bruno] immediately replies "No I didnít! I was reborn on three planes." He looks cool and self-possessed. I tell him "Bruno, when I said you died I meant physically. For me the word death implies rebirth". [Bruno] nods and apologizes for "not being more demonstrative". I find it hard to hear him, realize I begin to wake up. I try to move around to prevent RWPR, and ask Bruno to try to speak more loudly, as I canít hear him. Despite my efforts the whole scene fades into a sort of white light ... RWPR.

Comments: I related the dream to Brunoís son, Steven, who made the following interesting points:

1. During the period I knew Bruno in waking physical reality (from about 1986) he had almost no hair, no tan, physically a bit flabby. He wore wire rimmed glasses - for presbyopia I assumed. I do not recall ever seeing him in a suit and tie - almost always he wore a casual shirt and a bolo tie.

2. His family buried Bruno in a dark gray silk suit with a dark red tie (unknown to me).

3. Bruno wore glasses for most of his life, not just in later life - and in his 30ís and 40ís he wore glasses with black frames.

4. For most of his adult life Bruno had a very dark tan - something I did not know and had not seen.

5. Although Bruno began losing his hair as a teenager, and certainly did not have a full head of hair in his 30ís - he did have extremely curly/frizzy/kinky hair which he used to wear in a sort of afro style. I had absolutely no clue about this, as Bruno had lost all but a fringe of his hair when I met him, and his son had straight dark hair - which I'd assumed that Bruno did also - until I learned otherwise when I checked with Steven after this dream.

Psychopompic Lucid Dream with [D. B.]

December 25, 2000 RWPR 6:58 AM. "Driving in the dark with my truck, I can hardly see - something that has happened to me in recent dreams. I believe that I probably dream this, so I stop the truck, and use the "With an eagleís sight I see" chant to see if my vision improves. Overhead lighting comes on after I've chanted, my vision improves markedly and I find myself in a parking lot. [Shazam] - my dog - rides with me in the truck. I get out to go exploring, and go into a nearby store that looks like it sells health foods. I check to see if I dream by testing to see if I can put my hand through a window without breaking it - and find that I can. Now fully lucid, I remember my task to contact D. B. and call out his name: "D--- B-------! D--- B-------!" a few times. I feel close to waking up, when the same man shows up from a previous attempt Iíd made to contact D. B. in a lucid dream on December 20th - middle sized, nondescript, balding. He looks sort of like an assistant coach or hospital aide. I call out "D--- B-------!" one more time. The man greets me in a friendly fashion, and says that he recognizes me, "From when we met in heaven a few nights ago" he says. To justify my visit to D. B., I tell this man about my friendship with D. B. and of our work together. He smiles, but then tells me he has some important things to tell me about D. B. before I visit him - I believe him, but in trying to passively listen to him, I feeling the pull of returning to physical reality again. I tell him I need to stay active so that I can remain in dream reality, so please, just take me to D. B.

He leads me through a series of corridors, into a sort of dingy gym-hospital like basement. Metal walls and doors. Finally I go through a metal door that has numbers on the upper left, but going down, rather than across. (7 8 11 3 ?). I push through into a dimly lit small room, - no windows, brown carpet, sparely furnishings, a desk and a chair. It feels underground and enclosed. (1) I hear [D. B.ís voice], but I can not see him. I tell the aide that I canít see [D. B.], and he says "Donít worry - you will." [D. B.] apparently dictates his memories and observations into something that looks like an old dictation machine - suitcase sized and brown, resting on the floor. (2) He has either not noticed my arrival, or has chosen to ignore me. I listen to him as he talks about "the wonder of calligraphy" (I have to listen very carefully to make out the word) and how "people do not fully appreciate (or understand) the mystery of it." (3) I get a little tired of this - [D. B.] seems deliberately hiding from me and ignoring me.

I notice [Shazam] at my feet, who has apparently tagged along. As Shazam knew D. B., and as D. B. liked Shazam, I direct [Shazam] to "Find D---! Find D---!" [Shazam] runs under the desk, a dark gray blanket flies up in the air (4), and [D. B.] suddenly appears - he looks about fifty or so. I humorously chide him a bit, saying, "You know in this place you can choose your body - and you can do better than that!" He replies something to the effect that "here I donít get to keep my body", implying that his current body has no value, precisely because it does seem so impermanent, mental rather than physical, and that he misses his physical body very much and does not consider the one he has now as an acceptable substitute. However, he does change his appearance, and now looks about 35 or so. I would hardly have recognized him if I had not seen the picture of him in his early twenties with A. K. He has thick, black hair, and although clean shaven, the hair on his head looks quite bushy. He looks much more built up then in the picture Iíd seen of him in his twenties where he looked somewhat thin, but this [D. B.] body also looks pale, a bit out of shape, and has a sullen expression. (5) [D. B.] tells me he has the task of recording all of his memories. I think he feels glad to see me, but that he also seems determined not to show it. The aide looks pleased that at least Iíve stimulated [D. B.] enough to get him to stand up, and to respond, moving out of his depression/brown study, and perhaps to take a break from his obsessive focus on recording his memories. (6) I try to cheer [D. B.] up, and talk with him about the work we shared, and of an interview I (falsely) remember having recently done with a yoga/Eastern philosophy magazine on the subject. (7) [D. B.] actually looks interested. I ask him if I can do anything for him - perhaps something he wants me to relate to someone in physical reality? I tell him that his wife E. B. does well, and ask him if he has any specific message heíd like me to relay to her. He looks like he might, but before he can answer, against my will I rapidly return to waking physical reality."

Notes: (1 - 6 based on information given to me by his wife, E. B., and unknown to me (consciously at least) at the time of the dream):

1. D. B. died on Oct. 12, 2000. He spent time during his Navy days writing reports in cabins on ships, and even on a submarine - The Nautilus. Perhaps the dream environment that I saw seems a recreation of that environment - metal walls, metal doors, a dimly lit enclosed space with no windows. He very much enjoyed the time he served in the Navy, and had many fond memories of that period of his life.

2. D. B. did indeed enjoy having and using dictation machines - brown and suitcase sized. When he died, he had two machines like this in his bedroom. In fact, he not only liked using his dictation machines, he cherished them.

3. D. B. did indeed have a keen and ongoing interest in calligraphy that began in about 1995, would in fact buy books on calligraphy, every two years or so, as well as calligraphy equipment, although he never found the time to practice calligraphy himself..

4. In his later years D. B. routinely wrapped himself up in a favorite blue-gray blanket made of alpaca wool. Under dim lighting conditions, the blanket simply looked gray.

5. In his thirties, D. B. looked much as [D. B.] looked in the dream - pale, a bit out of shape, and unhappy, the result of a miserable marriage, smoking, and drinking too many martinis.

6. Apparently this seemed a habit of D. B.'s while still living - he would routinely make notes, or have his wife make notes of his thoughts and observations, filling many notebooks and pieces of scrap paper. Also, when D. B. focused on a task he would quite often do so to the exclusion of all else until he had finished it.

7. A false memory. In physical reality at least, I have not done any such interview.



Dr. Ed Kellogg has published numerous papers in fields as diverse as the biochemistry of aging, bioelectricity, general semantics, lucid dreaming, voluntary controls, and the phenomenology of consciousness. A proficient lucid dreamer himself, he has studied lucid dreaming and its applications for over 20 years from the "inside-out", and has a long-standing interest in the phenomenology of dreaming.  He directs The Phenomenological Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon.


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