Since the Biblical story of Joseph and the dreams of the Pharaoh, the connection between dreams and a higher deity has been prevalent. Dreams have been seen as an interstice where gods may communicate with mortals, and their soul may go on a journey to different worlds. It is a belief that gods may share insight and solutions to a man’s soul as he sleeps. In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, dreams act as doors to the land of the gods.
Shortly after meeting Wednesday, Shadow has his first of many spiritual dreams; he dreams of the lost and forgotten gods. This encounter was the first step in Shadow’s guidance to help the gods. According to early church fathers, Clement and Augustine, “Dreams played a central role in revealing the relationship between man and God,” or in this case, many gods (Nell). The Buffalo Man often comes to Shadow as a source of insight and leaves him with questions to ponder for future reference. However, the Buffalo Man is not a god, but he is the land; the Buffalo Man is the original creation and is a spiritual being. He utilizes Shadow’s sleeping body to channel spiritual experiences with his soul. This divine communication provides Shadow with warnings, messages, and answers. Nell testifies that “dreams take the soul to a superior region.” In Shadow’s dreams he is typically in a foreign land, unknown to mortals. This land is one of the other worlds that souls travel to. The open room of statues with the names of forgotten gods burning into the floor floods Shadow with a chilling fear that will stay with him until a war he knows nothing about, is over.
As the Buffalo Man continues to call upon Shadow’s soul, he asks seemingly simple questions but they have deeper meanings than Shadow’s human form can comprehend at first. Shadow is self aware in these dreams and notices “with the power of dream-logic behind it, the obligations seemed unarguable” (Gaiman 206). This is typical behavior that Wineman explains; no matter what strange event occurs, it seems to make sense in the dream. The actions or events only do not make sense once the soul must translate the occurrence to the human body. However, these dreams have been created to “portray or predict real events” (Wineman). Dreams may seem confusing but they are simply allusions that must be analyzed to understand the deeper meaning.
Dreams can be messages from God, temptations of evil inclination, or even both. Sigmund Freud’s interpretation of dreams became a dominant explanation for Western Culture, but was never scientifically respected. Freud’s claim that “dreams are reflections of forbidden desires” is present in Shadow and Bast’s intimate encounter. Although Shadow warns “My wife, Laura. She will kill you”(Gaiman 270) he does nothing more to stop the interaction and falls victim to Bast’s temptation and his own desires.
Shadow’s next encounter with the Buffalo Man is a strange and painful one. Not yet understanding the importance of the message, Shadow focuses on how to free Laura. The Buffalo Man provides Shadow with future insight as he states:
“Believe… This is not a land for gods… this is a land of dreams and fires… they will fall and the star people will meet the earth people… men will slay monsters and bring knowledge, but none of them will be gods. This is a poor place for gods” (Gaiman 314).
Nell stresses the “spiritual guidance as well as the influence on decisions and ways of living.” After Shadow offers himself so Laura can live again, all his future actions and thoughts refer back to her and his new hope for her life. The Buffalo Man’s vague answers and riddled questions stay in the back of Shadow’s mind through every encounter he faces.
The dark dream could be Shadow’s soul connecting with the past, perhaps a past life. Since “dreams create scenes that apply to real life and overlap primarily in terms of emotions and themes” (Stickgold) it could very well be an allusion to how Shadow feels caught in this situation. The young boy raised in darkness, who came out to the fire for the first time, laughed with the crowd as the blade went up, but was silenced as the blade came down. A boy raised in darkness. Shadow’s ignorance to the gods and the war. A rope around his neck. Wednesday’s every wish and demand. The bonfire with everything new. The emergence into the land of gods. The laughs as the blade goes up. Shadow’s blind loyalty to Wednesday. The silence as the blade falls. The reality of the sacrificed gods. The dream is a comparison for Shadow’s life, a past life and a future life brought to him by the gods.
Just as the Buffalo man predicted, Shadow meets the star people in his next encounter in another world. His desire for answers is overwhelming and he begins to climb the tower of skulls. In this land, Shadow knew what to do as “in dreams, sometimes, you have no choices… they were made for you long before the dream began”(Gaiman 383). Shadow’s soul is rushed back to his body when Wednesday awakes him with an angry call exclaiming “I know what you were dreaming. Everybody damn well knows what you were dreaming!”(Gaiman 385). Just as faith has predicted, “dreams are a channel for spiritual experiences and divine communication” (Wineman). Every god knows of Shadow’s dream since his soul was in their land. The gods lead mortals to their world and they know all who enter.
Near death experiences are known to change a man. Dreaming while the body is dying opens a portal to revisit memories and experience the future. Sleep is often referred to as “mini-death” and the two terms (sleep and death) are used interchangeably in the Bible; sleep “has traditionally been called ‘death’s sister’” (Benedict). While Shadow hangs on the World Tree he encounters many paths to choose from. Shadow is escorted to the world of the dead and he is aware of his dreams and believes he has already died on the tree. It is actually Shadow’s soul that is on this journey which will reveal his true character. The paths he chooses and the parts of himself he gives away, all lead to showing who Shadow truly is, what kind of soul he is. Dreams are a “way to process past memories and plan for the future” (Stickgold); dreams also “tell you things about yourself that would otherwise be filed away out of consciousness” (Grazioplene). Therefor, the paths chosen for Shadow are a reflection of his one true self. The gods in Shadow’s dying dreams are merely there to guide him to the land away from the mortals. God visits as we die so we are not alone on this path. The Bible indicates that “angles accompany man on his way to heaven” just as these gods have accompanied Shadow on his way to the land of the dead.
Every moment of Shadow’ life is displayed in front of him, and his character is weighed and compared to that of a feather. One might describe this as seeing their life “flash before their eyes.” Shadow awaits his fate but “not only are there no happy endings. There aren’t even any endings” (Gaiman 612) as the soul will continue in some world or another. Although Shadow chose to neither go to heaven nor any other world, his soul was brought back to his earthy body. The gods prepared Shadow for his future, which consists of saving theirs.
The last journey Shadow’s soul takes is to the Buffalo Man. With every journey and message Shadow was able to take the language of the gods and make their words his own (Gaiman 694). The previous encounters remain with Shadow’s wake mind, and the connection finally sparks; Shadow was told by the gods where the bodies of murdered children lay. The gods through time gave Shadow questions to consider, sayings to hold onto, and advice to take to heart. These words later swayed how Shadow handled his life and his decisions. Sam confirmed what the Buffalo Man once said to Shadow, the heroes, the star people, and the gods, all ended up on his land and their futures were changed by the insight from a spiritual being.
The world of the gods was prepped for war, the souls of the mortals visited this land, but only Shadow was able to translate the messages and complete the necessary tasks. Dreams have been studied for many years and will continue to be studied for many more. Science will study the obscurity of dreams, but religion has already found the answer. Dreams are a pathway for our mortal souls to journey to the land of the gods.
Afterlife, Near-Death Experiences and the. “Dreams, Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife .”Dreams, Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife, 2016, www.near- death.com/paranormal/dreams.html. Accessed 12 Apr. 2017.
D’Ardenne, Kimberlee. “What Do Your Dreams Say About Who You Are?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 25 Oct. 2011, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/quilted-science/ 201110/what-do-your-dreams-say-about-who-you-are. Accessed 12 Apr. 2017.
Gaiman, Neil. American Gods: Tenth Anniversary Edition. W. Morrow, 2011
Nell, Werner. “Religion and spirituality in contemporary dreams.” HTS Teologiese Studies, vol. 68, no. 1, 2012. Academic OneFile, ez1.maricopa.edu:2048/login?url=http:// go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=mcc_chandler&v=2.1&id=GALE %7CA339202762&it=r. Accessed 3 Apr. 2017.
Stickgold, Robert. “The function of dreaming.” Phi Kappa Phi Forum, vol. 93, no. 2, 2013, p. 11+. Academic OneFile, ez1.maricopa.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/ i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=mcc_chandler&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CA332906770&it=r. Accessed 3 Apr. 2017.
Wineman, Aryeh. “A Hasidic view of dreams, Torah-text, and the language of allusion.” Hebrew Studies, no. 52, 2011, p. 353+. Academic OneFile,ez1.maricopa.edu:2048/login? url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do? p=AONE&sw=w&u=mcc_chandler&v=2.1&id= GALE%7CA276518176&it=r. Accessed 3 Apr. 2017.