The Apeman Cometh: Dreaming of the Apocalypse
By Linda H. Mastrangelo, LMFT
We dream for the survival of our species.
— Montague Ullman, Pioneer in Dream Research
For many years, I have had what would be identified as apocalyptic dreams: Terrifying visions of flood, fire, war and destruction on a global scale. In the past, I often held these dreams with deep reverence but shaky uncertainty as to “what to do with them.”
These dreams are often Big Dreams in that they carry heightened visual, emotional and numinous qualities but also energy of direct collective warning, setting them apart from other dreams. Here’s one particular haunting dream that I titled it “One for One.”
It was the end of days. We were asking: What is there to be done? The answer came from an Ape Man and his actions-so simple. You take something from the earth and then you give it back. I see him demonstrating this by planting seeds wherever he went, pouring water into the soil. This is how we will save the earth.
But it is too late and war has begun. I find myself near the Poles: the only last place to survive. Nuclear war has hit home and there is desperation by those who have been poisoned. Green skinned, wraithlike beings wandering for scraps and shelter from the poisonous skies. I am among them but I am not visibly poisoned though I wonder how much toxic air I have breathed in. People are angry that I have gone outside the shelter. I come back inside and wonder about the Ape Man, One for One, and how simple it could all be.
I know I’m not alone. Especially now in these uncertain times where many of us feel fragile and afraid of the future, we are having more and more of these apocalyptic nightmares. Many of my clients, students and colleagues have shared they can be quite disturbing often leaving the dreamer with a thick residue of confusion, fear and hopelessness. This sense of doom and despair can be isolating and foster questions like, is this a precognitive dream? If so, should I warn people? Will they think I’m crazy? And finally, why would I have such a dream?
The first thing to do is take care of yourself. Scientific studies have shown that when we dream the brain utilizes the exact same processes and systems as in the waking state. In other words, what we experience in a dream is very real. You can imagine dreaming of the ‘end of days’ can be quite stressful so be sure to self sooth like taking a bath or hike. That way you can be in a better state to sit with the dream and receive whatever messages or insights it may hold for you.
And then act on those insights.
Upon waking from my dream, I immediately thought of the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn and felt an immediate urge to read it again. Luckily, I found it wedged between two books and spent a quiet afternoon absorbed in this gripping novel about the Philosopher King in a gorilla body named Ishmael.
Using the Socratic Method, the hominid telepathically teaches his pupil about our human story of the Takers (so-called ‘civilized’ world or those of the Agricultural or Neolithic Revolution) and the Leavers (everyone else or indigenous peoples). The narrative Ishmael believes will be our undoing.
Ishmael explains: The Leavers' story is 'the gods made man for the world, the same way they made salmon and sparrows for the world. The premise of the Takers' story is 'The world belongs to man... In the last 10,000 years, we humans have been breaking the laws of nature, deeming ourselves as gods or gods “chosen ones” by deciding who lives or dies. By taking the land and killing anything or anyone that got in the way with not only impunity but as our right to do.
Afterwards, I had a series of synchronistic events including random people asking me if I read Ishmael! These themes were also popping up everywhere in the news and I became engaged in spirited conversations with people about it, sparking new alliances and revolutionary ideas.
What struck me the most about this apocalyptic dream was that it was not necessarily a prediction of how the world would end but more about this takers’ concept needing to die.
By receiving this insight and then taking action from my own dream, I was also able to understand this dream in a whole new way. That our story matters and that dreams weaved into our personal and cultural narratives not only can be used as a moral compass in which to live but also for survival.
One striking example of this is written in anthropologist and explorer, Knud Rasmussen’s book, Across Arctic America. He speaks of an Inuit medicine man who saved his tribe from starvation by dreaming of a land of abundance to the far north. Those who believed were saved, those who didn’t, perished.
Another example is the famous precognitive dreams of World War I by Carl G. Jung that were so terrifying, he thought he was having a psychotic breakdown. “I realized that a frightful catastrophe was in progress. I saw mighty yellow waves, the floating rubble of civilization, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands. Then the whole sea turned to blood.”
Although these visions alarmed him, what was born from this period of his life was the most creative, prolific and ground-breaking concepts that have literally changed the world: Jungian Psychology.
Here are some ways we can use the dream as a catalyst for change and evolution:
- Share the Dream Forming a dream group of your peers to share dreams. This could be any group that has a pressing social/spiritual/environmental issue that needs to be addressed (i.e. women's issues, racism, education) and in any organization or facility like schools, hospitals, companies, etc... NOTE: Dreams are sacred and sharing dreams takes an innate sensitivity. Protocols for dream sharing can be found at the International Association for the Study of Dreams website.
- Dream Activism It isn’t surprising that many inventions, scientific discoveries, composition both musically and literally have been discovered creatively in dreams. So why not move the dream into solving current issues in a holistic way? By grounding the dream we are creating community by bridging social and environmental activism with spirituality. Like author and dream activist, Jean Campbell’s The World Dreams Peace Bridge projects.
Ishmael says: There's nothing fundamentally wrong with people. Given a story to enact in which they are the lords of the world, they will act as the lords of the world. And, given a story to enact in which the world is a foe to be conquered, they will conquer it like a foe, and one day, inevitably, their foe will lie bleeding to death at their feet, as the world is now.
And more importantly: Given a story to enact that puts them in accord with the world, they will live in accord with the world…
Hanson Ashley, a Navajo Traditional Practitioner wrote. “When you're out of balance, you need to go back to the Creation Story of your people. At that place of Creation Emergence, tell your story in a new, balanced way.”
Perhaps it’s not about getting over these apocalyptic dreams but becoming bigger than they are: That these dreams may be pointing the direction to our most creative selves if we only have the courage to take that leap not only for raising consciousness as individuals but for the sake of humankind.
Linda Mastrangelo, MA, LMFT is an author, educator, artist and psychotherapist with a private practice in the San Francisco Bay area specializing in bereavement and dreamwork. Linda has presented her work internationally and has written for numerous publications including GoodTherapy, SUFI, Lucid Dreaming Exchange, Immanence, DreamTime, and as a contributor for Sleep Monsters and Superheroes and Dreams that Change Our Lives.
Linda also serves on the Board of Directors and is the editor of Dream News for the International Association for the Study of Dreams. She is a graduate professor of Consciousness & Transformative Studies at John F. Kennedy University. You can visit her website at lightningtreetherapy.com.