Dogs on fire

Written by Alexis Farr -

Last month I visited my parents at their organic farm in the southern tablelands of New South Wales. In the schlump of winter, I sat in front of their real wood fire with my border collie Zac who was fast asleep, just as a tuckered out farm dog should be. When we had really settled in, Zac began to huff and grunt and twitch his tail.

‘He’s overheating’ my dad told me, ‘he’s dreaming that he’s on fire’.

Not to take the puppy-clairvoyancy of my father for gospel, but I think that he might right. If a dream, as Carl Jung suggests, is indeed ‘a spontaneous self portrayal in symbolic form, of the actual situation in the unconscious’, then Zac was over heating in his sleep. When he’s not on fire, he’ll be digging up echidnas or stalking mum’s chooks. I wondered, if Zac is getting hot around the whiskers and dreaming down fox holes, what might the dreams of a city dog look like? How about a jungle dog?

In the Upper Amazon of Ecuador, the Runa people interpret the sleep activities, and by extension the souls of their dogs. The Runa understand dreaming as an event in (not representation of) the world. ‘During sleep the soul separates from the body of its “owner” and interacts with the souls of other beings’. Ethnologist Eduardo Kohn describes how the Runa can then interpret the sleep-talk of a dog. When a dog barks ‘hua hua’ it is chasing an animal, if it cries ‘cuai’ however, it will be attacked by a jaguar the next day. ‘Dog dreams do not belong only to dogs. Such dreams are also part of the goals, fears, and aspirations of the Runa’.


As it turns out Everybody dreams - whether you remember it or not. When you enter a REM cycle, your mind will create all kinds of twisted plots and shadowy figures to communicate your subconscious thoughts to you. Our dreams reflect our immediate environment, and they can tell us a great deal about our ’psychic imbalances’. Jung’s theory of individuation suggests that the human psyche self-regulates through dreams. The stories that we dream help us strike a psychological balance between the intellectual and emotional workings of the brain, stirring up those thoughts and feelings that your conscious might be repressing. Dreams are the salt and pepper to the minestrone of our minds. When we sleep it stirs the pot, bringing up ideas and images of future possibilities. 

Ancient cultures from all over the world were highly attuned to the sleeping mind, from the dream priests of Mesopotamia to the Ancient Roman law that required every empire-related dream to be told at the market place - dreams were valued as a source of incredible wisdom. Are the fascinations of modern life drawing us away from dreamland? The mystic genius of our dreams could be an untapped well of collective, creative juice.

So whip out your dream catchers and, who knows, you might just have a dream like Martin Luther King.

To read more about the canines of the Amazon and the hallucinogens they ingest click here.