I Put A Spell On You: Dreaming Of Familiar Places

This space serves as a place of healing and wonder, redeeming the cast-out witches, queens and goddesses in you, the modern woman.

This month, NY-based “therapist for creatives” Melissa Daum, LMFT, has set up her couch for Free People. In her work, Melissa draws from ancient symbols, Greek mythology, fairy tales, and alchemy to shed light on modern-day conundrums. This realm of feminine magic and symbolism is easily overlooked, on a cultural level and in turn, within ourselves. In an effort to better identify and explain some of this magic, Melissa wants to field questions from YOU! Feel free to share with her your deepest secrets, strangest dreams, most absurd single behavior. This space serves as a place of healing and wonder, redeeming the cast-out witches, queens and goddesses in you, the modern woman.

SEND YOUR QUESTIONS/DREAMS/SECRETS to: cyotter@freepeople.com

We’ll be addressing YOUR thoughts, so please don’t be shy!

This week’s question comes from J:

While I don’t have one specific dream in mind, something that I have noticed repeatedly about my dreams over the past 15 years is that very often while I’m dreaming I find myself in a place I recognize and seem to recall memories from, yet when I wake up the place in my dream is neither anywhere I’ve been, or have even dreamed about before. The places are as varied as a rural road in the pines to a castle filled with golden canals to strange dark labyrinths of houses. Do you think I have in fact dreamed about these places before and then forgotten, or does my mind somehow generate memories for fictional places?


Dear J,

I’d be doing you a disservice if I actually replied with a yes or no to your question — that, yes, you did in fact dream of those places before but forgot, or, no, you’re not generating memories of fictional places. Be wary of anyone who claims to know the answer to these mystifying questions! You describe this beautiful weaving of a past resonance in a current dreamscape, as if you’re having a memory you never knew you forgot. This quality in and of itself sounds so rich and alive, let’s linger there.

As I reflect on your experience of dreamscapes never dreamt before yet still familiar, I associate to Romantic poet John Keats and his concept of negative capability, that is, “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” (1817). Keats wrote about this in a private letter to his brothers, and described how this quality is essential to supreme creative achievement. Carl Jung, also influenced by the Romantic poets, held a stance of negative capability in his approach to dream analysis. When presented with a dream, he was famous for saying, “I have no idea what it means.” Here he was, the famous dream expert, completely humbled and confused in the face of a dream. This is not unlike a Zen Buddhist master who has no answers, teaching the pupil a lesson about the questions themselves.

On the topic of memories, the telling of a dream is already twice removed from the original source. First we have the dream experience itself, then we wake up and remember it, then if we tell it to someone or write it down, we’re transcribing the memory of the experience. Dreams are always only ever known as memories, and further still, the dream itself is an unconscious working through of the past taking place in the present. We may dream that our boss scolded us for not turning in work on time, which perhaps has something to do both with your current boss, but perhaps also with an old shame or fear of punishment. Yet dreaming about this may also facilitate a kind of “downloading” to help bring release from this old feeling and leave us better prepared for future conflicts. Thus dreams are always taking place both right now and without time.

I say all of this just to pause and revel in the landscape of the dream itself, and how within a single dream the resonance of past, present and future are held in total. This feeling you get in your dreams of “I’ve been here before,” is probably because you have, just not literally in that concrete place. What does this “been here before” feeling bring up for you? How does it have to do with your past, and how does it leave you longing for something for your future? Can you make space for “I’ve been here before,” the sense and texture of that reverie, to be the “meaning” of this recurring dream theme? Try on having no idea why this happens, and, as another of my favorite poets famously wrote in yet another private letter:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer”

                                                              – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1903


Melissa is a therapist in private practice in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her work is grounded in psychoanalysis and Jungian theory. For several years Melissa was a therapist at an eating disorder day hospital program in Manhattan and she continues to work with men and women struggling with eating and body image issues. Illustrations are by Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist and designer, Erica Prince. Through drawing, sculpture, installation, relational projects, functional housewares and more, Erica’s work presents opportunities for speculation and exploration of potentialities. Her works have been featured in T: New York Times Style Magazine, Vice, Artsy, NPR, Wallpaper and Canadian Art. 
Erica and Melissa were college roommates at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and have continued to collaborate, inspire, and encourage one another. From Sex and the City Psychoanalysis Club to ladies terrarium nights, experimental performance art projects, and regular dates to discuss research projects, life, love, and book ideas, Erica and Melissa are excited to collaborate with Free People to bring you this magical advice column. 


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I love the view that Melissa has on what dreams are. Thank you for sharing always! :)

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

6 years ago

A very beautiful answer to interesting question. Thank you for sharing this.

6 years ago

Very interesting one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time.

6 years ago

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6 years ago

I love this idea being discussed. I find myself in familiar unexpected places when dreaming often and am aware somehow that it is interesting and find the whole thing amazing.