Conscious Dreaming: Ancient Senoi’s Way of Life


In the 30s, a group of researchers discovered the isolated, indigenous Senoi tribe in a mountain area in Malaysia. The Senoi have a unique understanding of dreams and dreaming, which is believed to be the key for maintaining a happy and peaceful life among the community.

It is still unknown to this day how exactly this dream system works and if the Senoi were peaceful through their whole history.

But researchers were sure that this peculiar tribe deals with a lot of real life problems in the dream realm, and Senoi people were not naturally prone to conflicts.

In 1934, Kilton Stewart (1902-1965) was the first person from the outside world to meet the Senoi. He immediately noticed their attitude towards dreams.

In the 70s, psychologist Patricia Garfield studied the Senoi’s understanding of lucid dreaming and concluded that there are no mental illnesses or violence among the tribe. Although this claim was met with criticism, it may very well be true.

According to Stewart and Garfield, every morning the Senoi talk to their children about the dream they had last night. The Senoi learn to make friends and team up against aggressive forces in their dreams. Their conscious dreams also include flying and singing.

But according to G. William Domhoff (The Scientific Study of Dreams, 2003) and other researchers in the field of dreaming, this is not exactly the case. The Senoi weren’t actually talking to their kids about conscious dreaming and didn’t make gifts in their sleep. But they did have very serious attitude towards friends and enemies seen in dreams. They try to befriend their enemies in the dream world and an enemy could become a friend if they “spell their name and sing a song”.

For example, if a person dreamt about a conflict with someone from the community, an apology was due in the real life.

Senoi believe that the body contains more than one soul. The main soul is located behind the forehead, and the second one is in the pupils of the eyes. The latter is able to leave the body and is responsible for the creation of the dream world.

According to later researches, the Senoi deny to have a specific methodology concerning dreams and dreaming. Some anthropologists believe that people from this isolated tribe are very cautious and do not like to share their secrets with the outside world. There is also the hypothesis that Stewart and Garfield described their system correctly, but continuous conflicts in the region have forced the Senoi to be more covert and solitary.

“The nature of dreams is shrouded in controversy even after 30 years of scientific researches. Psychologists and psychiatrists blame each other for excessive simplification of the methods and dualistic or mystic views on the subject“, concludes American psychiatrist and dream researcher, John Allan Hobson from the Harvard Medical School.