paradox ethereal magazine 12 -90Senoi: The tribe that turned dreams into a way of life 

Article by mary Vareli

In creative dreams, many different techniques are used. The Malaysian Senoi tribe teach children the rules of dreams. Things like never to avoid something terrible in dreams but to confront it, to fight it, as this is a part of themselves that they will never have the chance to see during the day. In addition, to try to prolong beautiful dreams as much as they can. Always to keep the reins of the dream, trying to steer it. Once you defeat something sinister dreams, they say, to ask for a favour, or if you have received a favour, be prepared to give something back. Carlos Castaneda also says: “He warned (don Juan) that as long as the dreamers touch real worlds that include everything and manage to get themselves in, they should be in a constant state of vigilance. “Consider dreams as something extremely dangerous!” He commanded me. “

Who are the Senoi

The Senoi, also known as Sengoi or Sng’oi, is a tribe of hunters and gatherers of Malaysia, belonging to the Orang Asli, the indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia. The Senoi speak a variety of Aslian language, belonging to Austroasiatic languages, though many of them speak the national language of Malaysia. The tribe of Senoi live in the central part of the Malaya peninsula, and consist of six different groups: Semai, Temiar, Mah Meri, Jah Hut, Semaq Beri and CheqWong, their estimated population amounts to 60,000.

We owe most information on Senoi to the visionary anthropologist Kilton Stewart, who traveled to Malaysia before the Second World War, in 1938, in order to elaborate on that race his doctoral thesis in 1948, as well as the popular book “Pygmies and Dream Giants” in 1954. His work, in fact, was published only when the researcher of parapsychological phenomena Charles Tart and the educator George Leonard dealt with this on an academic level, by presenting the project of Kilton Stewart at Esalen Institute. Around the same time the scientist Patricia Garfield describes the use of dreams between Senoi, based on a survey conducted in an Aboriginal hospital in Gombak, Malaysia in 1972. There were many objectors to all this, of course.

In 1985, G. William Domhoff, based on evidence collected by other anthropologists, argued that although the Senoi Temiar are familiar with lucid dreaming, they have never, however, considered it as important as Kilton Stewart believes it is. His view was criticised by the international scientific community, so he saved his hypothesis concluding that sometimes it is possible to control dreams, something that is beneficial only in case one needs to control nightmares, basing these findings on psychiatrists Bernard Krakow and Isaac Marks, who doubted the consequence of such a practice anyway.

Sue Jennings wrote a very informative book about the Senoi, called “The Healing Practices of the Senoi Temiar”. She sheds light on the use of ritual as a repeated act which aims to inform the subconscious of the changes to be made. In essence, it is a conscious intervention in the mechanical structure of the brain. How contradictory this seems to the common mind, indeed, as recurring procedures appear purely mechanistic.

For Senoi, happiness and prosperity are associated with this habit; every morning family members gather and recount their dreams, especially children who are taught the technique. The dream of a child, for example, that falls from above, is presented by the family as a gift in order to learn how to fly the next night. Dreams are taught to neighbouring tribes by means of songs and dance in order to create twinning links and common bonds, beyond the differences of customs between them.

Lucid Dreaming

 Kilton Stewart writes in his thesis: “As a member of a scientific expedition traveling through the unexplored equatorial rain forest of the Central Range of the Malay Peninsula in 1935, 1 was introduced to an isolated tribe of jungle folk, who employed methods of psychology and interpersonal relations so astonishing that they might have come from another planet. These people, the Senoi, lived in long community houses, skillfully constructed of bamboo, rattan, and thatch, and held away from the ground on poles.” Kilton Stewart, studying their political and social organisation, discovered that the power in their communities was initially in the hands of older members of the race, however, the basic principle in all the communities was held by psychologists, whom they call Halaks. The most honorary title in their society was that of Tohat, a title equivalent to a doctor who is also a therapist and a teacher.

Until 1935 that his account was completed, for two hundred or three hundred years there had never been a crime; a result of the insight and ingenuity of Tohat. This can only be explained taking into account the teachings of Halaks, which produce a high state of psychological integration, emotional maturity as well as social skills and attitudes that promoted creative, non-destructive, interpersonal relationships. It is, perhaps, the most democratic team that has ever been reported in the anthropological literature.

The psychology of Senoi falls into two categories. The first deals with the interpretation of dreams, while the second with the expression of dreams through ecstasy, or daydreaming. The fantasy and ecstasy techniques are not allowed to children or adolescents. But when a member of the tribe is mature enough and has spent a considerable amount of time in a trance, he, or she, is considered a therapist and an expert on the subject of extrasensory perception.

The education of children is based solely on dreams and their interpretation was a common knowledge of all the Senoi adults. An average family, every morning, is gathered at home with father and older brothers to listen and to analyse the dreams of all children. Immediately after this, the male population is concentrated in a central point before a board, where the dreams of older children and all the men in the community are mentioned, discussed and analysed.

The basis of the interpretation of dreams can be summarised as follows: Man has the power of image creation, ie, through the adaptive process one creates opportunities or images of the outside world in mind. Even the conflict of the individual with himself or someone else is part of this adjustment. In a dream, a man sees these processes through the soul, symbolically disguised in external forms. He sees his own emotions, but also those of others, as well as the internal images of other people, especially those directed against him. If the person does not receive treatment by means of education and therapy, all these images are combined together and create physical, social and mental abnormalities. The combination of such images wastes the mental, organic, and human muscle tension, therefore, like ghosts, meaning psychological copies of one’s socio – natural environment, disrupt a person or make one not be himself. Only through dream analysis can all these be directed; in this way the member of the tribe is reorganized and again becomes useful to the community.

The Senoi tribe believes that every human being, with the help of others, can, and should, be the supreme lord and master of his own dreams, or spiritual world, and can request and receive the assistance and cooperation of all forces there. Something that seems to be negative in a dream becomes a pleasure if one becomes familiar with it. Also, the Ego in a dream should always attack
something negative or aggressive, often aided by mental images of fellowmen. If evil appears with the person of a Senoi friend, they knew that this is a masquerade and that aggression is what wears the mask of a friend.
If someone kills the enemy character in the dream, spirit or essence, this character will always work as a servant or ally. Evil in a dream remains just as bad for some time if the person is scared or is surrendered to it. It will continue to look bad for as long as one refuses to confront it. Pleasant dreams now, like a nice flight or an erotic dream, must be repeated to reveal the gift they have to offer; music, poetry or knowledge that is therapeutic or useful to the community.

Every sexual dream has to be accompanied by orgasm and then in return to give something back, especially a poem. But if there is no exchange the erotic dream life is reduced in intensity. If the dream lover has the form of a relative, it is allowed to proceed, since the form was considered simply a mask of some dream energy. The dream creatures never have the power to make a couple to divorce. The rich love life in dreams indicates the favor of the beings of the spiritual or emotional universe. Finally, if someone dreams that one hurts a friend, this is an indication of the need to correct, in conscious life, the harm that is done in the dream, looking for its realistic causes.

The non-Senoi World

In Western societies, unfortunately, the thoughts we have during sleep usually remain confused, there is a childish level, because, despite the work of significant Psychologists like Carl Gustav Jung, dreams are not recognized as something important for society and the interaction citizens. Similarly, they are not included in the educational process. Neglecting this aspect of human thought, where the creative process is more free, may be one of the causes of the decline of Western societies and their resorting to metaphysical circles to interpret and analyse dreams. A waste of time, energy and free will.

Dolores Ashcroft Nowiki is one of the few researchers in the metaphysical field that go a step further by entering the path in dreams. She writes that preparation is almost the same: choose the theme of the dream that you want to have and then build the first part of the story, as in the pathway work. Then stop the story and sleep. With a little practice you will find yourself in the dream and there you can finish the work, reaping the desired solution. The hard part is to remember the dream in the morning.

American psychologists Henry A. Murray and Christiana D. Morgan of Harvard Psychological Clinic designed in 1930 and adopted in 1936 a method of calculating the human imagination called Thematic Apperception Test, urging the subjects who participated in the experiment, to create a story with the methodology mentioned above. Today, the TAT is used as part of the psychological examination, in order to explore different ways of mental function and is an important tool for the psychological assessment and diagnosis of psychopathology. This is one step forward, following the Senoi paradigm. Better late than never.

Indicative References

*Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki: Highways of the Mind: The Art and History of Pathworking
*Domhoff, G. W. : Senoi Dream Theory: Myth, Scientific Method and the Dreamwork Movement, 2003
*Kilton Stewart, doctoral thesis Magico-Religious Beliefs and Practices in Primitive Society – a Sociological Interpretation of their Therapeutic Aspect, LSE, 1948
*Articles, Books, Notes and Summary of the Senoi and Kilton Stewart and The Marvelous Senoi Dream Controversy, a summary by Richard Wilkerson. URL:

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