REM Sleep Repercussions

REM Sleep Repercussions. Nightmare Tales, Madame Blavatsky

REM Sleep Repercussions. Nightmare Tales, Madame Blavatsky

There seems to be little doubt that the mind can impose its will upon the body. Some recent experiments have shown that just thinking about exercise or a sport can strengthen muscles and improve performance. Forteans are familiar with demographia and its pious cousin, the stigmata. They may also be familiar with what might be called “secular stigmata,” where a dreamer finds the physical results of a dream upon waking. What is much rarer is the mind of the dreamer imposing its will upon the body of another, as we see in these two cases of dream injury.  The narrator here is John William Brodie-Innes, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, who describes what he calls the “theory of repercussion.”

Cases of imagination in dreams producing a physical effect on the body are not uncommon, and there was a rather amusing instance recorded in the press some years ago of a person who claimed that after dreaming that he had spent a week at the seaside he woke up the next morning with a sunburnt complexion as the result of his imaginary vacation ! Many curious stories are narrated of the detection of witches through the shooting of the animals whose form they were supposed to have assumed, the witch being subsequently discovered in bed bleeding from the corresponding portion of her body to that of the animal which was shot. Such records lack adequate corroboration, but in view of the natural law which has been established by numerous recent hypnotic experiments in which the sensibility of the subject has been transferred to a glass of water, or to the body of another person in the room, they are not by any means intrinsically improbable, provided one can assume the possibility of the assumption by the astral body of the form of an animal.

The realization of the physical conditions of a diseased person by a medium or psychometrist produces similar symptoms in the medium to those experienced by the sufferer, and indeed the medium by constantly putting herself en rapport with such a patient is in danger of contracting the illness from which the said patient is suffering. Subjoined are Mr. Brodie-Innes’ two curious records, to which the above remarks may serve as an introduction.

In my experience [says Mr. Brodie-Innes] this phenomenon is rare, and even the seemingly well-established cases are so persistently ascribed to other causes that it is difficult to get evidence.

Two fairly good instances have come under my personal notice. The first occurred long ago when I was living in Germany. I had a close friend, an American, and a young Hungarian Count was a friend of us both. But these two quarrelled over a girl, and the American believed himself to be unforgivably insulted by the Count, whom he accordingly challenged to a duel. This was common enough among students, and little was thought of it. But the Count having the choice of weapons chose cavalry sabres, which was always understood to mean a duel to the death. The American asked me to be his second, but knowing little or nothing of German duelling customs, I declined. He was a good swordsman, and went to a school of arms and practised diligently at the sabre. About a week before the time appointed I was hurriedly called to my American friend’s rooms. I found him in bed with a livid red wheal across his face from the forehead to the point of the ear, as though a cut from a whip had been laid across his cheek. He told me he had dreamed he was fighting the duel, and had killed the Count, but had received a cut that laid his cheek open. As a fact the skin was not broken, and the mark disappeared in a few days. Curiously enough the Count the same night had also dreamed of the duel, and was found in the morning insensible. He said that he had been warned in the dream that he was entirely in the wrong, and that if he persisted he would inevitably be killed, and would suffer grievously in the next world. He had a severe illness but recovered, and tendered a handsome apology, which the American accepted. The doctor who attended my friend maintained that he must somehow have injured his face in sleep, possibly in a fit of somnambulism, and that the injury had caused the dream. But this seemed to be farfetched, and practically impossible, and moreover nothing but the long arm of coincidence would account for the Count’s simultaneous illness. My own view was, and is, that they actually met and fought astrally, and that the weal on my friend’s face was an instance of repercussion.

The second case was told me by an Edinburgh doctor. He had a patient who suffered badly from insomnia. He said he was constantly kept awake by a persistent drumming in his room; he ascribed this to an enemy who, he said, was continually trying to annoy him, and who had occult or hypnotic powers. The doctor thought it was merely a case of excessive blood pressure in the head, and the throbbing of an artery producing the illusion of drumming. However, all his remedies proved of no avail, and the patient consulted a medium, who advised him to provide himself with a strong dog-whip, and when the drumming began to lay about him vigorously in the direction of the sound. This he did, and the doctor ascertained that the enemy whom his patient had named had been taken seriously ill, and that his body was covered with long weals and scars, as though he had been severely beaten. The doctor was very unwilling to admit the theory of repercussion, but was unable to produce any other theory that accounted for the facts. In any case, he said, there was no doubt that from that time the drumming ceased, and the patient was no longer troubled with insomnia.

The Highlands are full of stories of keepers who have shot at a hare or fox, and have found an old woman in bed with a broken arm, or the like, but none of these will stand investigation, and are mostly variants of traditional stories handed down through generations. But there is no doubt that the idea of repercussion is firmly believed in the Celtic West, though not now very often talked about. The Celt has learned the wisdom of keeping his superstitions to himself.

Occult Review September 1919

Brodie-Innes defined these events as the result of contacts on the astral plain by the dreamers. Today we’d be more likely to find reports of people who find mysterious marks on their body and attribute their injuries to the Greys, demons, or malevolent ghosts.

The Theory of Repercussion was well-known in wide-awake Spiritualist circles. Hereward Carrington discusses how the “fluidic body”

may by hypnotic and magnetic processes be removed entirely from the physical body, in which case it may be acted upon by suggestion from others present at the time. For example: Colonel Albert De Rochas, of Paris, succeeded in entirely disengaging or separating the fluidic body of his subject from the physical body, and gradually removed it to greater and greater distances, until it stood several feet from the entranced subject’s physical organism! He then pricked the surface of the fluidic boy with needles and the sleeping subject experienced these sensations of pain in her own physical body at a spot or point exactly corresponding to the part pricked on the etheric body.

This seems to show that there is a direct vital or magnetic link between the etheric and the physical organisms, and that injury done to the one re-acts upon the other by means of what is known as “repercussion.” Your Psychic Powers and How to Develop Them, Hereward Carrington, 1920

Carrington goes  on to discuss a touchy subject in the medium community: how seizing a materialized spirit may cause injury to the entranced medium. The Theory of Repercussion came in quite handy for discouraging the inquisitive from getting too close a look at medium behind the curtain. For example, Spiritualist journals suggested that there was no point in staining a “spirit’s” hands with dye because when its substance was reabsorbed into the medium’s body, the dye would be found on the medium’s hands, giving an entirely false impression of fraud. If the séance room was suddenly illuminated by accident or design or a “spirit” was seized by an investigator, the medium simply went into simulated death throes to emphasize the dangers to her astral, and hence, physical body.

Even sitters in the circle could be subject to repercussion. M. Victorien Sardou records the following curious instance at a Eusapia Palladino seance:

You (Camille Flammarion) disengaged your left hand from the chain, and, turning toward me, twice made in the air the gesture of a director of an orchestra waving his baton to and fro. And each time, with perfect precision, I felt upon my side the repercussion of a blow exactly tallying your gesture, which reached me and which seemed to me to correspond exactly to the time necessary for the transference of a billiard ball or a tennis ball from you to me. Spiritism and Religion: A Moral Study, Johan Baron Liljencrants, 1918

The theory also lends itself to the lore of witchcraft. It is a cliché of witch stories that an injury done to the animal-witch reveals itself in the witch’s human body. Numerous folktales relate how a witch, transformed into a wolf, cat, or hare, has a paw cut off, and is afterwards found in bed with a hand gone, while the paw turns into a woman’s hand, complete with ring identifying her as the respected lady of the manor. The most gruesome story in this canon is that of a witch in horse guise transformed by a magic bridle back into a woman–with horseshoes nailed to her hands and feet. The caveat here is that those injuries are caused by someone shooting a silver coin into the image of the witch or hacking at a hare while wide awake, rather than in dreams.

I went in search of other examples of this unique method of REM sleep repercussion, but have little more than the two above. Other examples of dreams physically influencing someone besides the dreamer?  chriswoodyard8 AT


Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.