A PRECOGNITIVE DREAM OF A FLOOD DISASTER: A “QUASI HIT” REGARDING THE 2004 BOXING DAY “TSUNAMI DISASTER
By Alan Murdie
(First published in the Paranormal Review Issue 9, July 2006, Society for Psychical Research)
During the period 2003-2004 it was comparatively rare for the Society to receive letters or reports concerning premonitions. However, an interesting example occurred in October 2004 when a letter, dated 26.10.04, was received by the Society from a Mr Matthews (pseudonym), a 45-year-old man. In his letter he described two dreams he had experienced several years before regarding future threats to the world. One dream involved an enormous amount of dust seen in the sky above an English garden and the second an image of a missile on a launch pad.
To the brief summary of the dreams the informant added two post-scripts, the first relating to an unsuccessful attempt to supply information via computer and a second postscript relating to a dream he had experienced the previous night (the night of October 25th/26th 2004). This postscript read as follows:
“P. P. S. I had this dream last night, so decided to include it in this letter.
In the dream two young boys were crossing a river that was rising slowly. I decided to walk with them for their safety. However, suddenly, a huge surge occurred which knocked us all off our feet and carried us away. We were heading for a precipice which was now a huge waterfall beyond which was a valley containing volcanic activity and boiling red magma.
The boys were swept into it, but I managed to hold onto an old bridge pier. Then the waters began to turn to snow and ice giving me just enough support so as not to fall, until, as suddenly as the surge arrived, the water fell back to normal.
I descended into the valley. It was quite a mess, but there were survivors. I met Tony Blair who was still working closely with the American Government. They were trying to open a garage door, but the key wouldn’t fit or wasn’t the right one despite all their technology. I sat down to talk with the Prime Minister, but he was nonchalant, even indifferent. “
The letter was duly passed on to the Spontaneous Cases Committee of the SPR for consideration and duly recorded at the meeting on December 2004 as a dream referring to a flooding in the minutes.
On Boxing Day, December 26th 2004, an earthquake off the coast of Indonesia triggered a major tsunami, which resulted in widespread devastation across a number of countries with casualties in the hundreds of thousands, the highest death toll from a tsunami in living memory. The disaster prompted a major humanitarian response from other countries and large sums were donated to aid agencies by the British public.
Given the similarities between aspects of the dream of Mr Matthews and the disaster (description of an enormous flood of water, widespread devastation and public criticisms of the official response to events of the British and American Governments to the tsunami disaster) the decision was taken to obtain further details from Mr Matthews.
Mr Matthews kindly agreed to participate in an interview lasting nearly two hours on March 16th 2005, which he was happy to allow to be recorded on tape. The following is taken from the tape and notes regarding his dream.
Recalling from memory his dream of October 25/26th he stated:
“I can’t remember the exact beginning, but I remember the main part of the dream. There were two young boys walking across a weir across a river, and the water was very shallow. It wasn’t very rapid so I didn’t feel they were in any great danger but I thought just to be on the safe side I would walk there just to be there with them … Suddenly, from upstream a huge wave came down stream. I would say very rapidly as there was no time even for me to move. The boys were washed away -1 was washed down the river – and taken over a precipice into a deep valley. I managed to cling onto a railway buttress … In the valley where the water [flowed] down there were volcanoes, volcanic magma.
At that point the dream changed. What happened was it became very cold, very quickly it started snowing and everything turned to ice. This actually helped me because the river was still flowing and as the river turned half-ice, half-water, I managed to get some support on it and hold on to the buttress long enough until the water subsided. It subsided as quickly as it had risen. When it subsided there was a lot of destruction, though there were still people living there. I actually went into the valley [where] there were a lot of people. I believe I saw Tony Blair and he was in consultation with the American Government and I presumed they were trying to put things right, trying to remedy things … He was actually working with the Vice President from the West Wing when I saw them. There was no movement as far as I was concerned. “
This was consistent with the account supplied in October 2004. He could not recall the exact time he had his dream but recalled that at that time he normally went to bed between 12.30 a.m. and 1.00 a.m. He does not normally fall asleep straight away unless very tired. He normally has several dreams every night which he can quite easily recall in the morning.
Mr Matthews could not recall having had a specific flood dream or a dream about water before. I asked him what the wave in his dream resembled. It was not crested with surf. It suggested a tidal bore in a river “a huge version of the Severn bore”.
He made the link between his dream and the Boxing Day tsunami himself three or four days after the events were reported. He describes that his feeling was quite objective about it; certainly, he did have a dream about a huge wave, but admits equally that it could have been coincidence or a dream about some as yet unrealised event.
Regarding his own feelings on the dream, he states: “It could be symbolic. I felt it meant global warming”. (Global warming will trigger a hotter climate in some regions, a colder climate in others, and rising sea levels). He did not recognise the landscape, it seemed “made up”. He has dreamed of political figures on previous occasions. He has not had any dream about an earthquake as far as he can recall.
He has had two dreams like this before which he reported to the SPR – linking them with volcanoes or super-volcanoes. The same week that I met with him, there had been a number of programmes about super volcanoes on BBC1 and BBC 2 broadcasts over that weekend in March and we discussed the similarity with this dream.
Previous dream experiences
Mr Matthews explained that dreams have played a major part in his life. He takes his dreams seriously and considers them to be one source of information that has helped guide the directions he has taken in life. He believes that they demonstrate precognition on occasion or at least a sign of the course that he should choose. Generally, he has a good recall of dreams and he usually knows when a dream will probably come true. However, he acknowledges that a lot of dreams are nonsensical and sometimes they are “backwards” – exactly the opposite happens. Mr Matthews feels that with his dreams: “Often it is learning about myself. All are thought-provoking and often prepare him for situations which are likely to happen or will happen in the future.
He reports having approximately 25 dreams, before going to work in the United States, that came true during the 7 years he spent in America. Other early dreams were as a teenager when he repeatedly dreamed of being in a school. Ultimately, he feels that these dreams were realised when he became a teacher of English some 20 years later. He also had dreams of wine bottles in cases and racks on several occasions; several years afterwards he worked in a wine shop.
Whilst in the USA his dreams changed and involved royalty and politicians. Mr Matthews feels that these were an anticipation of when he returned to England and got a job at a restaurant in London that was visited by famous people every night. He obtained this job through following such instincts, worked at the restaurant for 3 years that he considers helped “[my]… own personal inner development and in gaining of self confidence and purpose in life”.
He has dreamed about politicians and sometimes these can be quite humorous. A dream about Gerry Adams got him interested in conflict resolution and diplomacy. After visiting Hiroshima, an experience he found very moving, he dreamed of Tony Blair who pushed him and said “You are the next Prime Minister.”
However, he recalls that it put something in his mind, connected very strongly to peace. He accepts that it could “totally be an illusion based on the fact I didn’t feel very secure [at that time] and the day had not been a great success [in other ways]”. However, it has helped spur an interest in peace issues, which he is now pursuing. Dreams about nuclear missiles on a launch pad (3 years ago) have stimulated his interest in peace and conflict resolution and he is a member of several local peace groups.
Mr Matthews believes that major events in his own life have been anticipated in dreams over differing time scales. Of his dreams in England as a teenager relating to teaching and schools, these took 20 years to fulfil; dreams which he experienced in America took 5-10 years to fulfil. In other cases, more recently, there has been about 5 years between the dream and its apparent fulfilment.
However, with other matters and incidents, the gap between a dream and its apparent realisation is much shorter, a matter of days. Sometimes dreams will come true in a very short time. “If I have a dream of a stranger I will often bump into someone similar to that person the very next day”. His definition of a short time alerted to the possibility of coincidence but feels that this event gave him greater belief in precognition in dreams. When he has a dream he now wonders if it will come true.
These dreams used to be more frequent; they seem to be declining as he gets older. Dream frequency also declines with an increase in his workload and tiredness and Mr Matthews also considers that he is now living out his dreams rather than just having dreams which foreshadow them. Significant dreams perhaps happen monthly. It seems the dream work has pointed him in the right direction in life and has helped him understand people better and love others more. Nightmares come “only if I go off course [in life]”. He also notes that his bad dreams seem linked with his physical sleeping position: they come when he is on his back and wakes up looking skywards. “If I fall asleep looking upwards I get bad dreams”. More than 90% of bad dreams have occurred whilst lying on his back.
When at University, on two occasions he had very vivid dreams in which he saw his grandparents. In one case he saw his grandfather turn into a skeleton for a few seconds and then return to normal; in reality his grandfather had “died for a few minutes while in hospital with a stroke”. At the time of the dream Mr Matthews had been in Canada and had no knowledge of the event. In the other dream his grandmother appeared to be crying. She was diagnosed with cancer soon after this, but later recovered and is still alive at the age of 99.
Mr Matthews considers that he has had many psychic incidents in his life apart from dreams. As well as significant dreams, Mr Matthews had heard voices or had the impression of hearing voices on a number of occasions. These can occur when he is awake. His decision to seek work at the restaurant was influenced by hearing one of these voices. Whilst living in Japan he heard “a very strong voice” at about 4 o’clock in the evening – this may have been as he came out of a dream.
The voice called his first name and “Go back to England!” Following this impression, within three days he had bought a ticket and given notice on his apartment and left Japan to return to England. He felt the voice was reconnecting him with his role and mission in life and on his return to England he completed his Master’s degree.
Mr Matthews did not come from an overtly religious family but over the years he has grown into a greater awareness of spiritual issues. By his own admission, when he arrived in America he was very unhappy and lonely. He hitchhiked alone across America to California over seven months, and was offered somewhere to sleep on every single night. He felt drawn to San Francisco throughout this time and his last ride was in a limousine, which he took as a welcoming sign. Almost immediately he met a missionary from the Unification Church which he joined in 1985 and undertook activities and missionary work for them for approximately seven years, working in America, Korea, Hungary and Latvia. This work also helped overcome an acute problem of shyness.
During his time with the Unification Church he had several fleeting visions of religious figures including Jesus and the son of the Rev. Moon, who was killed in a car crash during his time in United States. Whilst these might be described as apparitions, they equally had the quality of fleeting waking dreams or transient impressions. Subsequently, he became involved with Scientology and since returning to England has become involved with spiritualism through the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain.
His experiences with all three religious movements have been positive and beneficial ones. Mr Matthews recalls significant coincidences during his period in the USA, which bolstered his faith in there being a greater spiritual reality. Many of these might be described as examples of Jung’s concept of synchronicity, such as meeting with people he knew in unexpected places; this happened both in the USA and later in Japan.
Throughout the interview, Mr Matthews gave the impression of being a thoughtful and intelligent individual who thinks deeply about international affairs, philosophical issues, and the direction and the meaning of his life. He is prepared to follow inner voices and intuition but also maintains an admirable objectivity and open-mindedness about the source of his experiences, admitting that they might originate from spiritual entities, from extra-sensory powers or his own subconscious on occasion. His experiences are clearly positive ones in terms of their effect on his life and outlook.
Mr Matthews was prompted to write to the SPR after finding references to precognition research from the 1960s and the discussions of a premonition bureau in a book called Dream Worlds by Stuart Holroyd (1976). He feels that it was significant that he should have experienced the wave dream the night before he was due to post his letter to the Society.
Assessing the dream of October 2004
What have been described as ‘desiderata’ for premonitions (i.e. the desired criteria for assessing a precognitive dream) are those set out in the Journal some 40 years ago by Guy Lambert (1965). Lambert listed the necessary elements for establishing precognition in a dream as follows:
- The dream should be reported to a credible witness;
- The time interval between the dream and the event should be short;
- The event should be one that, in the circumstances of the dreamer, seemed extremely improbable at the time of the dream;
- The description in the dream should be of an event destined to be literally fulfilled and not merely symbolically foreshadowed;
- The details of the dream should tally with the details of the event.
In this case, it would appear that (1) was definitely fulfilled (2) and (3) are arguably fulfilled but that the criteria in (4) and (5) are not fulfilled to the degree required.
With respect to (4), from his own admission Mr Matthews accepts that there were symbolic elements e.g. the U. S. Government represented by a character from the fictional TV show The West Wing and the “made up landscape”. With respect to (5) there is no precise correspondence. The images of a wave from a river, rather than the ocean, volcanoes and magma and a “global winter” did not form any part of the tsunami disaster, although the descriptions of the wave and its devastating impact are clearly appropriate images to describe what actually took place. On the question of the whether the official responses from the British and American Governments to the tsunami were adequate, much will depend upon the subjective political view of any person applying the criteria, although adverse comments were certainly voiced in the media in the days immediately after the disaster.
Obviously, the problem remains of the frequency of earthquakes and tsunamis as a global event. Like air crashes dreamt about, eventually one will take place at some location.
Whilst suggestive elements of possible precognition might be seen to exist within the dream – particularly if considered in summary form in the aftermath of the event – the strict criteria laid down by Lambert are arguably not fulfilled in this case. Undoubtedly, the parallels did initially seem stronger upon an initial rereading of the letter immediately following the news of the tsunami disaster. The relative rarity of dream cases submitted to the SPR at the present time also strengthened this impression. Having had the opportunity to obtain further information from Mr Matthews, the report submitted to the Spontaneous Cases Committee was that the dream he describes is not sufficiently close enough to the actual event to constitute a wholly fulfilled premonition, if details in the dream are taken literally and in isolation.
However, the fact remains that a dream suggestive of a major cataclysm was registered with the SPR a full two months before the event concerned. Given Mr Matthews’ feeling that the dream may have been a forewarning which led him to contact the Society, the case is not without potential significance. It has been suggested that the term ‘quasi-hit’ might be appropriate to describe the elements in this case (Guiley, 2005).
Furthermore, questions may be legitimately raised as to whether the Lambert criteria are themselves an adequate way of evaluating subjective experiences for evidence of premonitions in future cases.
One issue for consideration is whether an account by a person of a subjective experience, such as a dream, should be treated in the same way as the account of a witness to an external event. Should one include the subjective impressions of the dreamer who actually reports the dream when determining (i) its meaning and (ii) its possible objective fulfilment? Or should the question of fulfilment of a reported dream be left as far as possible to the judgment of an external assessor examining the words and details provided in the dream report supplied by the dreamer and disregarding what the dreamer may have personally thought the dream was about?
In practice, trying to obtain an objective meaning from a subjective dream may be impossible to achieve for the very good reason that a dreamer will describe the contents of his or her dream in terms which reflect what she or he actually thought the dream meant or represented.
It may also be considered whether item (4) of the Lambert criteria, i.e. that the description of the event must be one “destined to be literally fulfilled and not merely symbolically foreshadowed”, is to be applied in such a way that excludes all symbolic representations of persons or events which may feature in dreams. For example, in this case the dreamer Mr Matthews saw the U. S. Government being represented by the character of a President who exists only in the fictional format of a television drama series, rather than by an image of George Bush or any other contemporary U. S. politician. The Lambert criteria also overlook the long-held opinion that dreams are often symbolic in content and meaning (Hadfield, 1962).
The Spontaneous Cases Committee considers that a number of interesting features emerge in general from the information obtained from Mr Matthews, not least the degree to which he has integrated unusual experiences into his life to an extensive degree and in a positive way. The dreams and experiences described by Mr Matthews illustrate the truth of a statement of Hutton (2000) in a book on contemporary pagan religions – that a considerable number of people in Western society have complex experiences of a psychic or spiritual nature, which do not fit comfortably into any existing paradigm.
Dreams which relate to day-to-day work matters have been noted as rare or non-existent in precognition literature (MacKenzie, 1974). Mr Matthews’ dreams as described here may be said to relate to the overall direction of his career, rather than day-to-day details. The dreams he (and others) have had concerning day-to-day details may be the subject matter of future research. With respect to bad dreams and nightmares, it is notable that sleeping on one’s back has been considered more likely to stimulate experiences of “bedroom invaders”, “old hag syndrome” and “alien abduction” in entity encounter literature (Hufford, 1982).
Guiley, R. (21 st July, 2005). Personal communication. Hadfield, J. (1962). Dreams and nightmares. London: Pelican Books.
Hufford, D. (1982). The terror that comes in the night: An experience centred study of supernatural assault traditions. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Hutton, R. (2000) Triumph of the Moon. Oxford: OUP.
Lambert, G. (1965). A precognitive dream about a waterspout. JSPR, 43, 1-10.
MacKenzie, A. (1974). The riddle of the future. London: Arthur Baker