The Dream of Spiritual

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deram of spiritual initiation
  The Dream of Spiritual Initiation and the Organization of Self Representations amongPakistani SufisAuthor(s): Katherine P. EwingSource: American Ethnologist, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Feb., 1990), pp. 56-74Published by: Blackwell Publishing  on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 15/07/2011 05:33 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at  . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at  . .  . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  Blackwell Publishing  and  American Anthropological Association  are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize,preserve and extend access to  American Ethnologist.  the dream of spiritual nitiation and the organization of self representations among Pakistani sufis KATHERINE P. EWING-University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill A Pakistani man, after dreaming that two sufis come to him and feed him, may find his life transformed as a result of his dream. The power of dreams to change a person's life has been observed by anthropologists and psychologists (for example, Hallowell 1966; Singer and Pope 1978; Wallace 1952, 1956), but the process of transformation s not well understood. This ar- ticle will show how a semiotic model of the self, which sees a person as an ever-changing array of self representations constituted through dialogue,1 can explain this transformative power of a dream in terms of the dream's content and its relationship to the dreamer's subsequent ex- periences. Too much dream research has focused on content at the wrong level, at least for present purposes. Freudian psychoanalysts have downplayed the significance of manifest dream con- tent in their search for the disguised wishes and conflicts that constitute the latent content of a dream (Freud 1965[1900]:345-347). But, while a dream clearly weaves together elements from the dreamer's past, expressing his disguised impulses and conflicts, as Freud demon- strated, it must also be a projection into a culturally articulated future (see Basso 1987:99) if it is to be transformative. This article will show that this projection can be identified in the man- ifest content of the dream, which simultaneously replicates a cultural template and expresses the dreamer's idiosyncratic concerns in a cultural idiom that may be socially communicated. These concerns can be understood as a desire to establish a self-image that is congruent with the dreamer's current circumstances and that facilitates his resolution of persistent personal conflicts. However, the significance of the content of a dream ultimately depends on subsequent events, on how the future actually unfolds. A sufi initiation dream, for example, may have a powerful impact on the dreamer's system of self representations, so that as a result of the dream the dreamer comes to regard himself as the disciple of some sufi teacher. But the social salience of a particular elf representation will depend upon subsequent events and may shift over time as external conditions change. If the dreamer does not succeed in resolving conflicts by adopt- ing the new self representation, the relevance of both the self representation and the dream may Pakistani dreams of initiation into a sufi order illustrate how a dream may have the power to transform the dreamer by becoming the basis for a new, semiotically constituted self representation. The semiotic power of the dream can be under- stood only by considering several aspects of the dreaming process: how the man- ifest dream content simultaneously replicates a cultural template and expresses the dreamer's idiosyncratic concerns and conflicts, how the interpretation of the dream facilitates the establishment of a new self representation and associated so- cial relationships which may resolve the dreamer's conflicts, and finally how the significance of the dream is ultimately determined by the dreamer's ability to re- alize the expectations of the new self representation in his subsequent life. [dreams, self-concepts, psychological anthropology, semiotics, sufism, Pakistan] 56 american ethnologist  diminish. The dream loses its transformative power. A dream's potentially transformative power, in other words, comes from its ability to give rise to an appropriate self representation and is limited by the dreamer's ability to realize the expectations of the new self representation in his subsequent life. dreams and self representations as semiotic signs It may be difficult for some readers to imagine how a phenomenon as insubstantial as a dream could transform omething as apparently fundamental and enduring as a personality, 2 or what Freud (1963[1908]) called character. 3 But if instead of focusing on a reified entity such as personality or character, we recognize that dreams and self representations are both semiotic signs,4 the transformation becomes more plausible. The ongoing experience of self is a process of which we are not consciously aware. We cannot even reflect upon it without converting it into self representations (see Mead 1962 [1934]:1 73-178). Through this reflective process, self representations become signs, like the units of language and other cultural representations such as myths and images.5 Dreams, which we experience through language and imagery, are also made up of signs. For Peirce, the theory of signs is embedded in a theory of action. In Singer's words (1978:224): Peirce's conception of sign processes (semiosis) as a process of growth and de- velopment of signs from other signs depends on the persuasive force of signs in the mind of the interpreter. t is precisely this persuasive aspect of signs that enables the signs which constitute a dream to give rise to new signs in the form of new self representations (this rhetorical process being in part an inner dialogue) and to shape the actions of the dreamer and his associates.6 Both dreams and self representations are an amalgam of cultural ideas of personhood and impressions of the individual's unique experiences of himself vis-a-vis others. In all dreams, a dreamer draws upon the cultural concepts and signs in terms of which he has learned to or- ganize his world, but he breaks them apart and combines them in idiosyncratic, even absurd, ways in order to assimilate daily experiences and resolve intrapsychic conflicts (Freud 1965[1900]:197-220). Out of this bricolage (Levi-Strauss 1966:16-26) may emerge a dream, which has as one of its interpretants n the mind of the dreamer a new self representa- tion. This new representation necessarily has roots in an individual's past experience but in- volves a realigning of signs and a relabeling of intrapsychic phenomena, such as libidinal im- pulses, aggression, and the experience of dependency. This process is most likely to occur when stress arises from conflicts between a person's ex- isting self representations and his current situation. A dream has the power to transform the dreamer's semiotically constituted self representations by providing new signs in terms of which the self can be articulated. These new signs may allow the individual to feel a greater congruence between his inner experience and his current social expectations.7 They may alter the dreamer's interactions and relationships with others. Taking off from the perspective that the dreaming process facilitates the integration of new experiences into one's existing organi- zation of self representations (see, for example, Palombo 1978), I go further and suggest that a potentially transformative dream may actually become a node around which a nascent self representation, a new cluster of signs, is formed. The Pakistani businessman who experiences a sufi initiation dream, for instance, may suddenly regard himself as the future disciple of a sufi teacher whom he has not yet met. This self representation may affect many of his subsequent actions and interactions with others. Given this perspective on the self, the potentially trans- formative power of the dream is more apparent. Dreams have the greatest transformative potential in cultures that allow people to experience their dreams as significant. Because we Westerners separate our dreams sharply from waking life, we typically do not regard our dreams as significant, at least in public discourse. When the the dream of spiritual initiation 57  dreamer remains silent about his dream, it usually slips away and takes on no social signifi- cance, so that even highly synthetic, reconstitutive dreams, while they may help the dreamer assimilate his experiences to existing self representations, may not provide any basis for ac- tually modifying the self representations. But other eras and other cultures have attributed sig- nificance to dreams in very different, far more public ways. Thus, the phenomenology of dreaming is shaped by cultural codes for interpreting dreams, indigenous discourse about dreaming (such as dream sharing), and the social contexts in which such discourse takes place (Bastide 1966; Herdt 1987; Kracke 1979, 1987; Tedlock 1987; Tuzin 1975). These are all as- pects of the culturally shaped manifest content of a dream. Among Pakistani Muslims, many people feel that they have significant dreams, and dreams are often the basis for decision-making and action. A dream that is interpreted o mean initiation into a sufi order is regarded as rare and valuable and is particularly ikely to become the node around which a nascent self representation is formed. From a Pakistani perspective, such a dream takes on its significance because of its particular, culturally recognized structure and content, which form the basis for interpretation of the dream. In this case, as in other societies where dreams are regarded as socially significant, a cultural template, that is, a particular structure of signs with a consensually agreed upon significance, is available for the dreamer to draw upon to shape and organize the manifest content of a dream.8 The manifest content of the dream is, in other words, based on a culturally available model. The dreamer has actually dreamed a variant of a myth (see Kracke 1987). When this happens, the apparently intrapsychic act of dreaming may, paradoxically, become a form of social action.9 The dream narrative (the dream as told) becomes as public and culturally or- ganized as a myth, yet it retains the particular characteristics that reflect the dreamer's unique situation. The act of dreaming a particular dream then becomes the basis for redefining social relationships and the foundation of a transformed self representation.10 These changes are linked because a self representation is inherently a mode of relating to others. But transformation occurs over time, and it is also important to consider the aftermath of a significant dream-what the long-term effects of the particular dream are on the dreamer's life. Though the relationship of the sufi initiation dream's manifest content to a cultural template and the cultural code of dream interpretation are necessary components of the dream's signif- icance, they are not sufficient for explaining the extent to which the dream shapes the dreamer's life. Such a dream takes on its significance in the social world not solely because of the structure and content of the dream, which are what Pakistanis themselves would focus on, but also be- cause of interactions between the dreamer and others in particular situations, as individuals establish, maintain, and alter their social relationships and manage conflict and inconsistency in their daily lives. The new self representation may be developed and consolidated in subse- quent interactions, or it may not be and so lose its salience. The dream itself may become a central episode in a dreamer's account of himself, appearing readily in dialogue with, for in- stance, the inquiring anthropologist, or it may disappear from view if the self representation which it helped to constitute has not been socially developed or reinforced. In Peirce's terms, the dream and self representation are linked signs, the latter being an interpretant of the former. The self representation is, in turn, a sign which gives rise to interpretants in the minds of the dreamer and others) that are shaped by the social environment. There is thus a dynamic rela- tionship between dreams and self representations in a social environment which is inevitably fluid. In order to substantiate this relationship between dreams and self representations, I will focus on a particular ype of dream which I call a dream of spiritual initiation. Such dreams have a recognizable common structure and are typically interpreted o mean that a pir (a sufi spiritual guide and healer) has spiritually called the dreamer to become his disciple. I will examine three specific versions of the initiation dream, a medieval Persian example and two modern Pakistani examples, to illustrate, first, the common organizing structure that forms the basis for seeing 58 american ethnologist
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