Natural Dreamwork for the New Year

This is the time of year in the northern hemisphere where we are experiencing our longest nights as we move from the old year into a new year. During the darkest days of the year, everything is held in a shimmering darkness and awaits the shattering return of the light. It is a time of endings and beginnings…the cycle of unfoldment…birth, death, re-birth.

And so it is with our dreams. The dream lives not in the arrow of time but in the great cycle. You can step in anywhere in this cycle and be in the flow, for there is really no beginning or ending. The dream offers ever-unfolding moments, a steady turning and returning, opening and closing, erupting and sinking. It offers you a wisdom against the back drop of a reality that feels increasingly untenable.

In the world today, we have only to look at global climate change, limited resources and the resulting war, the constant grasping for the next thing that will make our lives “better”, conflicts both domestic and foreign, conflicts between two or between many. We all want a first world economy, with all the attendant stuff that goes along with it. We know in our hearts this is not sustainable. What if what is happening to the world is only a reflection of what is happening to our souls?

The natural dream cares nothing for our worldly schemes and machinations. It cares only to bring us back into connection with the sacred in us. Dreams convey upon us both endings and beginnings, making dreamwork the perfect way to step into the cycle of your life. No matter where you are in your life, you can step in now and your dreams will immediately begin to offer you real wisdom that you can use in your life today.

What if your New Years resolution was to give your dreams a chance? As you traverse the time-space-feeling experience of the dream, you will find a unique and evocative combination of contemplative images, gestures and revelatory feelings. Give yourself a gift for the New Year 2017.

Creating a Sacred Dream Altar

As we enter into the Winter Solstice, I have felt called to create sacred space in my home. My recent personal work with dreams has been very intense. I realized since I have moved, I haven't fully committed any sacred space in my home beyond what I have done to set up my paint studio, which I do consider sacred space. During these darkest days of the earth's cycle around the sun, I feel drawn to create a place in my home where I can set daily intention and draw energy through ritual and engagement with sacred objects to support the work I am doing with dreams.

The dream, as a sacred encounter, offers us many gestures, objects, symbols and energies. We can create ways to bring to bring the energy within our dream into our waking life in an intentional way. The winter solstice offers the perfect time for gathering. Creating an altar or renewing an altar is a time of gathering, gathering to oneself and within oneself all that is sacred and special. The act of creating an altar is a ritual gathering from without to turn within.

My Dream Altar, Winter Solstice 2016

The use of altars is an ancient tradition present in most cultures of the world as a place of worship and a place to concentrate ones intent around connection to spirit. It offers an intentional way to engage in prayer, to think, to meditate and to a space that we have devoted for such purpose. Altars can also be a place to draw family, teach children and loved ones about what it means to enter into contemplative space to reflect and connect with spirit.

My altar consists of sacred objects collected through engagement with the natural world and shamanic work, along with a number of items related to my dreams.

Here are some thoughts on creating altar:

  1. Select a space that is one that you feel safe and comfortable in. Some place where you can retreat and find solitude.
  2. Clear the space. I used a Palo Santo wood stick I obtained recently at our Dream Caravan event in New Orleans. Sage works fine too.
  3. Choose sacred objects that carry meaning for you. Objects which either hold energy or invoke feelings that are important to you in your journey.
  4. Renew your alter. It is important to periodically renew this space. Clear the space to reset energies. Add or change out sacred objects as they guide your journey.
  5. Let the dreams guide your on-going engagement with the altar. You may take a word or a small drawing or a special object and place it on the altar for contemplation of a dream moment. As your dreamwork changes and moves, your altar may change and move with you.

More about what is contained in my current altar and how I engage with it to help you think about what might be important to you in creating your own altar:

The cloth is actually an Icelandic sheepskin, from one of my own animals and carries my connection to my farm and the creatures I am in relationship with. I remember this animal as one I found tangled in barbed wire. I disentangled and saved her. The pelt actually shows the wound from where she was caught. This item is imbued with the instinctual in me and my deep connection to earth. It also reminds me to tend to my own wounds.

Sage and Palo Santo incense for clearing the space and myself. The large sage bundle was a gift received during Kunsi Keya's annual Lakota Sundance Ceremony which I had the honor of being invited to attend the public portion in 2011.

A small candle to bring in the light and to honor the fire in me.

A piece of white quartz stone from my land here in Danville obtained during a short medicine walk I took with my dear friend Mary Kay which holds the energies of earth for me.

A small flask of water, an important element in my dreams and to remind my self to take more water into my body. Water is life. 
Chime..I ring this as a way to call in the spirits and to release them at the end of the meditation. Sound is important to me in terms of healing in my throat chakra, a place of intensity for me in my work with dreams.

Sacred moss agate yoni egg from a client of mine who is a healer in New Orleans (you can find her at This object is connected to my on-going dreamwork practice, opening to the vulnerability and strength of the feminine...the place of my deepest wounding.

A small shard of "Chaney" pottery found on the beaches of St. Croix USVI. This object holds connection to my birth mother and our time together discovering each other...a major part of my healing journey.

The abalone shell and the fossil are sacred objects connected to many dreams but most recently a dream of being a boy in a sand stone cave...there is the feel of the ancient primordial sea...and exploration.

There is a small drawing of a horse that I did many years ago...a dream invitation to ride.

My version of the hand of alchemy, a painting I did which contains astrological and other symbols of meaning, importance and positivity to me from my dream work and from my astrological birth chart.

A small figurine, an excavated frozen doll  laid in a gold painted oyster shell...another sacred object connected to the feminine, which holds deep meaning from a dream.

Bones from a deer which I found in the woods on a walk and which I spent time cleaning and bringing in. And a turkey feather also found on my land. Both bring connection to nature and my instinctual self.

Two baskets, one contains feathers gifted to me by owl one morning. The other basket holds sage.

There is also a sea shell which I made into a necklace. The shell comes from Ariel Sands Beach in Bermuda where I attended a powerful dream retreat in 2011.

A small clay stone inscribed with the words "progress not perfection" which pays homage to the program of recovery which began my spiritual journey.

And finally, a small snake pendant carved from a tusk and holding the energy of snake who bite me in a dream in 2007 and started my journey to discover the wisdom of the dream.

I encourage all my readers to work with their dreams and their dream practitioner, if you have one, to find the gestures and sacred objects which you can bring into your waking life to support the work you are doing with your dreams and a deeper connection with the sacred in yourself.

6 Canons of Dreamwork

Article first published on The Natural Dream.

6 Canons of Dreamwork
by Laura Smith

Dreams have long been lauded as sources of divination, and sadly, in more recent time, by some as detritus resulting from the human mind performing a ritual house cleaning. But for those who pay attention to our dreams, we intuitively know that there is a deeper meaning to dreams and dreaming and we understand the potential that our dreams have to offer. Deeply rooted cultural wisdom tells us that we must honor our dreams. I would go one step further and say that we must allow them to live and have an active role in our emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual well being as individuals, as a community and as a species.

Here are 6 canons of dreamwork that can help you better understand what dreams are and why paying attention to your dreams is important.

Canon 1: Dreams are both organic and inalienable. They are part of the over arching human morphology and are produced naturally, without artificial chemicals or stimulants. Human beings dreaming appears to be universal and true as far back as we can know. They are as natural as all other human functions, produced not as waste as some seem to believe, but as an organic alchemical agent which attempts to facilitate change and growth within the emotional, psychological, physical and/or spiritual body. As such, dreams are inalienable. They cannot be separated or taken from us. Once a dream is remembered and especially once you have worked with it, it forever holds a place in the psyche even if forgotten later. Some believe the plants and other animals dream too, indeed some would argue that the world itself, as a living organism, dreams. If true, could this not be where our eternal Archetypes and mythologies come from? The dream can be viewed as living and eternal and as such we can enter into a relationship with it, returning over and over again to a moment where we can re-experience what the dream has to offer as both a reminder and also to promote new growth and healing.

Canon 2: Every Dream Carries the Possibility for Growth and Healing. Dreams actively seek to bring about our emotional, psychic, physical and spiritual growth and healing. Often the dream may bring difficult emotional content relating to childhood or adult trauma, wounding, loss or other habitual patterns which block us in our efforts towards wholeness, healing and joy. The dream may mirror behaviors which are unconscious and will show us the possibilities of who we are as our innocent soul selves. This mirroring quality allows us to begin to accept ourselves more fully and to make choices for ourselves from our deeper intuitions rather than from our unconscious or trauma-driven reactions.

Canon 3: Every Dream Holds the Possibility for a Sacred Encounter. When we dream, our dreams often carry elements of the profane, or that which is mundane and of our daily outer world lives and thus perceived and known by us in some specific way. However, each dream also contains that which is sacred, or that which is set apart from us, an unknown or previously unexplored part of ourselves which, when encountered, may be revelatory. The dream landscape is littered with sacred artifacts in the form of images, symbols and metaphors which associate to memories, feelings, aspirations, and desires. When we meet a dream character, whether it is someone we know or someone we don’t know, an animal or other non-human entity, this is a wholly sacred encounter. Characters, creatures and other entities may be reflecting something of our shadow, a behavior which is blocking us or may be a powerful Archetype whose sole function in the dream is to guide, teach, support and love us unconditionally as we move deeper into our inner life to discover the hidden treasure within.

Canon 4: Dreams Convey Meaning with a Poetic Sensibility. Dreams do not speak in a language that can be understood in a rational way. They speak more as a poem, with imagery, symbols, metaphors and seek to invoke deep feelings which open our intuitive body. The messages may be a metaphor which speaks to a personal mythos or idea we hold about who we are, how we are living or what our future might hold. The metaphor may also carry the energy of the collective unconscious which holds true in a more universally accepted way. A symbol in the dream, as a sacred artifact, may have a very specific set of qualities and meaning for the dreamer, which evoke memories and feelings. The artifact may also be imbued with the collective wisdom associated with the symbol socially, culturally or universally. But ultimately the dream must be understood through the feelings they evoke and the activation of authenticity and intuition within. This is an ancient language that has evolved unique to human beings and which taps into the depths of the human experience in a humanistic way.

Canon 5: Dreams come from a Power Greater than Ourselves. Dreams come from a creative and universal source and as such should remain beyond our power to control. They are revelatory and unfolding in real time/dream time. Choices we make in dreams come from two sources: our deepest fears or our deepest intuition. When we attempt to place our egoic/waking world ideas of what we think something should be onto a dream, we are not in our deepest intuition. We are attempting to play God, believing we know what the message of the dream should be rather than accepting what it is as a sacred encounter and an opportunity to learn and grow. When we turn to face the lion in our dream, we face into our deepest fears from the place of our deepest intuition. This is particularly true when, in the dream, we are conscious in the moment of what we are doing. A primary teaching of the dream has to do with trust, namely trust in something greater than our own machinations if we are to grow in our understanding of who we are and why we are here. Our trust often begins in relationship to a dream mentor that we are working with, but ultimately we begin to trust the Archetypes who come to teach, guide and support us. We begin to learn what true faith feels like as something outside of us that we can rely on in daily living.

Canon 6: Every Dream is For You and an Opportunity to Reclaim Wisdom and Intuition. Each dream has an intended message for the dreamer, however, this message may be layered. There are numerous associations a dreamer may have with the elements contained within that dream. These associations can take us down many paths toward understanding of the dream. Sometimes, we will only reach one layer of understanding, other times we may make a connection to multiple layers of meaning and understanding for ourselves. Firstly, each dream is for the dreamer and the dreamer’s benefit. That others might benefit, our community or even the world, is a by-product of the dreamer finding the intended message of the dream that is just for them. While dreams often seem nonsensical, they actually make sense. But this “sense” must be incorporated into the emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical bodies of the dreamer. This embodiment is the message of the dream truly and deeply received. Ultimately, a dream make sense to us once we receive its specific message for us. A dream message fully received become a portal into the reclamation of our wisdom and intuition and allows us to make better choices for ourselves and thus to carry a message of hope to others.

Artwork: Odilon Redon ~ The Yellow Sail, Final Journey, Guardians of the Soul