UNITING HEAVEN AND EARTH: SUN DANCE SYMBOLISM AND PHOTOSYNTHESIS - A Little Bit of Symbols: An Introduction to Symbolism - Henry Reed

A Little Bit of Symbols: An Introduction to Symbolism - Henry Reed (2016)


Following symbols to see where they might lead can bring about surprising and meaningful results. I’ll share here one of my special stories that involves the dynamic relationship among various symbols, both in the realm of the mind and in the physical world. There’s often more meaning to a symbol than we might imagine. It’s a story that proves the mantra of symbolism: “As above, so below.”

It began with a dream. It was the first night I spent in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I was staying as a guest at the home of Charles Thomas Cayce. The grandson of Edgar Cayce, the “Sleeping Prophet” who founded the Association for Research and Enlightenment, had invited me to the oceanfront town of its headquarters. Here’s the dream.

We are gathered together in front of the headquarters of the Association for Research and Enlightenment. But it is dark outside, and we do not know how to proceed. Instead, we are stumbling around, bumping into one another. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, we begin dancing together. We are dancing together in a circle, where we circulate, face-to-face, around the circle in two directions. As we meet and greet one another in our dance, we are each displaying some kind of individual symbolic emblem. It is through seeing one another’s signs that we recognize or realize one another. As we do this dance, a fountain of sparks erupts from the center, filling our space with light. We realize that the method of research into enlightenment that we seek is fulfilled in our dancing together.

The dream seems to be a response to the purpose of my visit, to provide consultation, as a psychology professor on the faculty at Princeton University, on creating a new program of research involving the association’s membership.

In the first phase of my research with the organization, I worked with young adults attending the A.R.E. Summer Camp in the Appalachians. I attempted to see if the campers might have significant dreams if given the inspiration to seek them. I erected a special “dream tent” on the banks of White Rock Creek that ran through the camp. I invited the kids to look out for dreams that might invite them to go on a special “dream quest” in that tent. The symbolism of a womb-like tent in which a new dream might be inspired seemed to be potent medicine. A simple story combining two universal symbols out in nature—going to a sacred place and seeking spiritual inspiration—proved to have more power to evoke special dreams than any stimulation available at a typical dream laboratory.

Synchronicities were rampant. Having someone sleeping in the dream tent seemed to inspire other campers to dream about that person. We had a larger phenomenon on our hands. It was taking us from the personal to the social or cultural impact of dreams.

During this time, I had a dream. In this dream, I go to my faculty mailbox at the Princeton Psychology Department and find a letter addressed to me c/o Sundance College. In the dream I wonder, “How can a letter so mistakenly addressed find its way to me here at Princeton?” I had a vague recollection of the term sun dance referring to something Native American.

I was fortunate then to have the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Robert Van de Castle, a psychiatry professor at the University of Virginia, who was consulting with the Cayce organization because of his background in the laboratory research of psychic dreams. He was an expert in Native American spirituality. He was familiar with the Native American sun dance, which the Lakota have as part of their spiritual life. In this ceremony, a circle of men dance around a central pole to which they are attached by leather tongs. They are dancing to have visions to benefit the tribe as a whole. Dancers have personal emblems or symbols on shields or shirts as part of the ceremony. The central pole becomes energized and is a source of healing. My dream of the research dance echoed this ceremony.

From these synchronicities, Robert and I created a novel experiment in group dreaming. He titled it “The Dream Helper Ceremony” as a play on the food product Hamburger Helper. It helps people get help from their dreams. It is a method, in documented fact, by which a group of people with no particular dream-work experience or knowledge can nevertheless harness their dreams reliably to achieve a practical, constructive, and creative purpose.

A group of volunteers promises to remember their dreams for the sake of a stranger in distress. The focus person’s dilemma remains a secret until after the volunteers have returned with their dreams and shared them while the focus person listens. The commonalities in the dreams invariably point to the issue and demonstrate profound empathy for the stranger’s distress. The dreams also mirror back light on each dreamer’s own version of the human dilemma exposed, creating a healing bond for all concerned. It is certainly a research dance that sheds a lot of light.

Research into the symbolism of the Lakota sun dance revealed other cross-cultural similarities. For example, the Anglo-Saxon maypole dance is a spring celebration. Folks dance around a pole and wrap ribbons around it. A common theme here is renewal, of spring and rejuvenation. But how does dancing around a pole encourage the trees to spring forth green? It seems the symbolism springs from the same source that designed earthlings to eat the sun.

The process is via photosynthesis. Chlorophyll makes the planet green. It depends upon the carbon atom, which has twelve electrons spinning about its nucleus. In the presence of sunlight, these electrons get quite excited and jump out of orbit. It is a quantum leap that turns carbon dioxide into sugar. It is a form of sun dance that creates food out of sunlight, bringing heaven’s manna to Earth. Research the symbolic theme of “twelve around one” to learn more about how heaven is mirrored on Earth.

What was it in the Mind-of-God that both engineered the photosynthesis process and prompted humans to invent the maypole dance and sun dance? Mind and matter find themselves structured by the same source. What is that source? It seems to be both within and outside, above and below.


Indigenous wisdom has inner wisdom.

A dance to celebrate the life force

A ring around a tree …

Energy from the sun gets things moving.


Dancing together has meaning.

A dream not interpreted

How does a campfire draw us together?

Clothes of our being