“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

–Edgar Allen Poe


Those lines from Poe’s The Raven really creeped me out when first I read them oh so many years ago. Since then I have stood on many an abyss peering into the darkness where my dreams were of those that “no mortal ever dared to dream before”.

In that epic poem the narrator expected to find someone on the other side of the door, but instead found nothing. Now he’s beginning to get really paranoid. The possibility of a supernatural presence creeps into his mind.

That sense of supernatural presence has often haunted me in my dreams, sometimes jumping out at me or crawling up my spine and engulfing my mouth so I couldn’t scream their name.

It took me years to learn who they were and what it was they wanted of me, but they’re there, hidden, squatting in the dark corners of the cellars of my mind waiting for me to pass their way again.

Poe wanted to handle his demons by not entertaining them, by not reinforcing their taunts:

“There are moments when, even to the sober eye of Reason, the world of our sad Humanity may assume the semblance of a Hell… Alas! The grim legion of sepulchral terrors cannot be regarded as altogether fanciful… they must sleep, or they will devour us–they must be suffered to slumber, or we perish.”

 –Poe in The Premature Burial

 But through countless confrontations I have learned that our own demons are nourished by the fears that cause us to “suffer their slumber” it is our very resistance to them that feeds them. With each year they grow ever bigger when we lock them away and will gain strength to break through the bonds and locked cages we’ve assigned them to. They pounce before us ready and wanting to be seen, or if not, to devour. Hiding from them is futile. Calling them by name and inviting them into the upper floors of our consciousness is the only way to deal with them effectively.

Alas Poe was not able to do this and ended his life haunted, hopelessly alcoholic, maddened, and in great distress having failed in business and losing everything that he had loved.

 “And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted – nevermore!”

 Poe gave into his demons by not negotiating with them. If he had only discerned the meaning of the raven sitting upon the bust of Pallas, the Greek goddess of wisdom, he might have opened to the deeper definition of his night shadows. Had he known that the nightmarish Raven was symbolic of his own self-betrayal, but also a symbol of death, of letting go of his self-haunting he might have been able to rid himself of its terror.

Like all dreams Nightmares come in the service of the health and well being of the dreamer. For me the Raven’s entreaty of “Nevermore” relates to never more ignoring the dark denizens of my repressed shadows.

Dueling Shadows




The Dream:

In a dream some time ago I experienced trying to serve a customer where I had to follow strict Muslim ritual. Because I was unfamiliar with the ways, I was quite slow and humbly apologized to the customer. Another customer who was Muslim was watching me closely and I daresay was judging my performance.

When I walked away to get some materials for the sale I walked by a long table set for a Queen with all sorts of fancy dinnerware placed just so. I realized that both experiences were ritualistic in their own way.


In this interpretation I am using meanings for symbols that are exclusive to me. The Muslim traditions, as they seem to be practiced, seem oppressive to me especially in how they appear to treat women. I am not however, suggesting that the religion itself is oppressive, quite the contrary. But I do have judgments about the manner in which it is practiced in some parts of the Muslim world or within the Christian world for that matter. Perhaps I should just use word “world” which should pretty much cover the bent toward misogyny I’ve seen all over the world regardless of religion.

There are oppressive aspects of myself that come out when I’m stressed or tired, or particularly self-critical and I’ve become more an more aware of them as of late, not really liking what I see and preferring to not think about them too deeply. I’d rather dwell on high fantasy and on what looks glittery and fun versus what looks dark and foreboding.

There are several oppositions in this dream e.g. lower status vs. higher status; ignoble vs. noble; and ignoring vs. facing the shadow (the tendency to ignore the shadow is characteristic of most of us). Actually, both events have their shadow side; the Muslim symbol I’ve explained, but the noble or queenly symbol also has its shadow in the way they treat and think about those whom they consider their inferiors.

The ritual aspect represented by both might suggest an addictive tendency on my part with respect to certain behaviors and I’m finding that I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with ignoring them. This is a good sign for me, and one that I have been looking for in my dreams for some time.

Give your Shadow a hug every once in awhile.


“Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”

  Steven Pressfield The War of Art



When I use the term “shadow” it’s not always referring to the dark side, or the negative aspects of an individual. Sometimes it’s referring to a person’s opposite aspects, that which are not the default ways of being.

Sometimes our shadows and nightmares are like candles bringing light to our darkness.

During the month of June 2010 I had a series of dreams that reflected some difficulty I was having processing some critical statements a close friend had made about me. Images of floods, drowning, and being attacked filled my dreams every night for five days.

The so-called critical statements alleged that I was pompous and arrogant and these evaluations didn’t reconcile with my self-image of being humble and self-effacing.

Then one night I dreamed of being overwhelmed by a flood and climbing the stairs to the second story in order to gain safety. And in that second floor experience I realized the answer to my emotional dilemma. In my dreams and my working with them I was being guided to realize that I was actually humble and arrogant, pompous and self-effacing! I was both my bright and shadow self.

I have known people who were basically kind, but who would “flash” anger onto others for what seemed the most insignificant of reasons. This continued for quite some time until they came to realize that this side of their personality had been rejected and shoved down into their subconscious for so long that it was beginning to leak out.

Basically, an unacknowledged shadow will dog you until you pay attention to it and acknowledge its presence as being a part of you. As humans we are sometimes happy, sometimes angry, sometimes humble and sometimes arrogant, sometimes brilliant and sometimes dull. This is the human condition, but if we spend too much energy trying to not be our opposite we can become out-of-balance and eventually this can cause mental, emotional, and/or physical sickness.

Every so often a sleeping nightmare will visit or a waking world nightmare will disturb your peace of mind. Don’t reject them out of hand because they both can be there in the service of your health and well-being. Every once and awhile you need to embrace your shadow self.

Some psychologists and therapists believe that to bring balance to our lives we need to strive to become whole, that is to accept what we are and to create ourselves endlessly.

We are more than our limited image of our self. We are greater than what we reject and than what we keep.


“We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are. More than our parents/children/teachers think we are. We fear that we actually possess the talent that our still, small voice tells us. That we actually have the guts, the perseverance, the capacity. We fear that we truly can steer our ship, plant our flag, reach our Promised Land. We fear this because, if it’s true, then we become estranged from all we know.”

–Steven Pressfield