Read an Excerpt
When Should We Pay Attention to Premonitions?
When premonitions are accompanied by physical symptoms, they should be listened to.
One of the most famous premonitions in modern history took place in a meeting between two titans of twentieth-century psychiatry, Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung.
In 1909 Jung visited Freud in Vienna. Although Jung had been Freud’s student and confidant, things were not going smoothly; their collaboration would end three years later. One point of disagreement involved psychic phenomena; Jung was open to them and Freud was not, perhaps because he did not want his fledgling psychosexual theories further burdened by association with yet another controversial area. In their meeting, Jung pressed Freud for his opinion on psychic happenings. Jung described what happened as their meeting drew to a close: “While Freud was going on this way, I had a curious sensation. It was as if my diaphragm was made of iron and was becoming red-hot — a glowing vault. And at that moment there was such a loud report in the bookcase, which stood right next to us, that we both started up in alarm, fearing the thing was going to topple over us. I said to Freud: ‘There, that is an example of a so-called catalytic exteriorisation phenomenon.’ ‘Oh come,’ he exclaimed. That is sheer bosh. ‘It is not, Herr Professor. And to prove my point I now predict that in a moment there will be another loud report!’ Sure enough, no sooner had I said the words than the same detonation went off in the bookcase. To this day I do not know what gave me this certainty. But I knew beyond all doubt that the report would come again. Freud only stared aghast at me.”
Whether we experience an extreme sensation like Jung’s red-hot diaphragm, or something as minor as a headache, physical symptoms can alert us that premonitions are lurking should be seriously considered.
Pay attention to premonitions if they are intrusive and insistent, as if clamoring for attention.
Again, an example from Jung’s rich experiences.
During World War II, as he was returning home by train, he opened a book but could not focus on it because he became overpowered by the image of someone drowning. He attributed to the memory of an accident that had occurred while he was in military service. Try as he might, he could not put the memory out of his mind. This seemed so weird that he began to wonder if there could have been an accident. On reaching home and walking into the garden, he saw some of his grandchildren looking upset. They told him that one of the boys had fallen into the deep water in the boathouse. He could not swim and almost drowned, having been saved by his older brother.
Pay attention to a premonition when it indicates death, no matter how fuzzy the details may be.
In a dream of Jung’s, he was attending a garden party and saw a woman he knew well, who lived in Basel. He knew instantly she was going to die. On waking, however, although he remembered the dream in detail, he could not manage to recall her name no matter how hard he tried. A few weeks later he received news that a friend of his who lived in Basel had been killed in an accident. He knew at once it was the woman in the dream who had been marked for death, but whose name he could not recall.
Jungian psychologist Jerome Bernstein, who has described many premonitions that preceded the tragedies of September 11, agrees. He suggests that when a dream premonition is extraordinarily vivid and deals with the body, physical health, and life or death, we would be wise to regard it as a literal message and take action, for we may not have a second chance.
Pay attention to premonitions when they seem intensely real.
This happens particularly during premonitory dreams, as opposed to waking premonitions. The dream premonition may “light up with glowing significance,” as one individual put it, as if it is “realer than real.” The dream can seem so important that one has the urge to record it, or to wake one’s spouse or partner and share it.
In addition to these criteria, many people simply develop an intuitive feel for when to pay attention to a premonition and when to ignore it. Their sensitivities become refined and calibrated with increasing experience.
I’ve found, too, that reading about others’ premonitions speeds the learning process, such as those described in The Gift, a compendium of cases from the files of the Rhine Research Center.
Moreover, there are Internet discussion groups where people can share and compare their premonitory dreams, such as the Web site of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD).