Lucid dreaming is the experience of knowing you are dreaming while still firmly located within the dream itself. The topic has become popular in the West in the last forty years, and was scientifically validated in 1981.
However, the history of lucid dreaming extends much further back in time, as it has been studied for millenia by numerous religious practioners. If you are interested in this chapter of lucid dreaming history, check out my article about the ancient history of lucid dreaming.
Nineteeth Century Lucid Dreamers
This hub will briefly cover the last two hundred years of lucid dreaming history, starting with the dawn of modern dream research. This title goes to Sigmund Freud, who only mentioned lucid dreaming once, in a brief and skeptical endnote in the second edition of his Interpretation of Dreams. The history of lucid dreaming would be very different if Freud himself was a lucid dreamer!
To Freud’s credit, he tried repeatedly to secure a copy of Hervey de Saint-Denys’ book Dreams and how to guide them, written in 1897. This work is one of the gems of the era. Alas, it was not meant to be.
Freud was skeptical
Saint Denys was a prolific conscious dreamer, and he used his dreams as a scientific instrument. He tested theories in his dreams and made observations about what happened. Saint Denys’ research was focused on memory and language, much like our modern neuropsychiatry.
Ethnographer Hervey Saint-Denys
Another notable nineteenth century dreamer was Frederic van Eeden, who was the first to use the term “lucid dream.” His long and detailed dream reports are fascinating to read, and clearly indicate an interest in the natural experience of lucid dreaming. van Eeden’s work focuses on sensations and emotions, not only his attempts to influence the content of the dream. Both of Saint-Denys and van Eeden’s works were marginalized during their lifetimes; in fact they were sometimes ridiculed at public scientific gatherings. Yet their work deeply influenced 20th century dream research.
The Psychedelic Sixties
Lucid dreaming was mentioned by a few more writers in the next few decades (notably Oliver Fox), but really it was the cultural zeitgeist of the postwar era that re-ignited public interest in lucid dreaming. One product of 20th century military colonialization was a renewed interest in indigenous peoples and traditional societies. With this flood of anthropological studies came bizarre stories of trance states, sorcery and the use of psychotropic plants.
The mercurial Castaneda
In particular, the work of Carlos Castaneda galvanized a generation about new possibilities in consciousness and spirituality. In the United States and Europe, this underground academic movement culminated in “the Psychedelic Sixties.” Humanist and Transpersonal Psychologies were also established in this era, focusing on positive psychology, human potential, and altered states of consciousness.
In this expansive cultural climate, Celia Greene’s phenomenological study of lucid dreams was published in 1968, popularizing van Eeden’s term from fifty years prior. Transpersonal psychologist Charles Tart compounded the popular interest in lucid dreaming by publishing his highly influential Altered States of Consciousness, which reprints van Eeden’s essay in full as well as anthropologist Kilton Stewart’s essay on lucid dreams as practiced by the Malaysian Senoi.
Like Castaneda, Stewart was a charismatic figure who influenced a generation of anthropologists and psychologists, even though both of their original works are now considered to be fictional , or at least highly imaginative accounts of their fieldwork experiences. Regardless, these two mercurial figures cast a long shadow in modern lucid dreaming studies.
Twentieth Century psychology
Lucid dreaming research was made a reputable course of scientific study when psycho-physiologist Stephen LaBerge and British parapsychologist Keith Hearne independently validated lucid dreaming by having subjects signal during lucid dreams while EEG monitors verified their mental states as REM sleep.
LaBerge’s ongoing work with the psycho-physiological domains of lucid dreaming has been particularly fruitful to cognitive psychology, leading to advances in mind/brain mapping and linguistic-cognitive studies.
Lucid Dreaming verified
The scientific legitimization of lucid dreaming added fuel to the fire, and the 1980s and early 1990s was characterized by a flurry of lucid dream research from every conceivable perspective. For example, influential lucid dream studies are represented in the areas of transpersonal psychology, sports psychology, cognition studies, and nightmare treatment.
However, while popular publications about lucid dreaming exploded on the mass market, formal academic research into the dream state cooled considerably once the interdisciplinary journal Lucidity Letter closed its doors in 1991. This journal published ten years of innovative lucid dreaming studies, ranging from physiology to clinical reports, further inspiring the contemporary dream movement.
If you want to learn more about LD, check out my hub titled lucid dreaming guide for beginners.