Ask Me: What About Nightmares? Part 6: Fear with the Unknown

A Little Recap

Welcome back to our exploration of “Nightmares”. We are exploring scary dreams around the unknown in this article. But first, a little recap of some of the kinds of scary dreams we may experience and that we are going to explore more in depth.

Scary Dreams: The Unknown

We loosely defined stepping into the unknown as stepping into what feels entirely new to us. This can be in our outer world [new job, new relationship, new frame of reference] and/or our inner world [deeper spiritual understanding/awakening, newness around healing, etc.].

Scary Dreams: Change

Change can be related to stepping into the unknown, but it is also can be very different. When we make a change, it may not be a complete step into unknown territory but rather in known territory. Even so, a change can still be really daunting and scary for us. And, again, this is true in both our outer worlds and our inner worlds.

Scary Dreams: Being Out of Control

Dreams where we feel out of control are just that – moments where we do not control the situation in the dream and the fear that rises from the lack of control. Places of taking risks in relationship to factors we cannot control – or that are in the hands of others.

Scary Dreams: The Known – Past Experiences/Trauma

Then, of course, we have dreams that speak about experiences from our past, some of which are traumatic events or times. 

Scary Dreams: Terrifying Images – i.e., war/violence/etc.

And then there are dreams that do not seem connected to our lives at all. That present terrifying images that are completely outside of our experiences. 

Scary Dreams about The Great Unknown

So, onto dreams about being confronted [invited] into the unknown.

One of my favorite stories from the Christian mythology is the story they call “The Transfiguration of Christ”. In this story, the teacher takes three of his followers up a mountain – Peter, James and John, according to several gospels in “The New Testament” – to show them something.

On the mountain, in most of the tellings, the teacher, Christ, “shows himself” – meaning that he appears in all his glory as a divine being, radiating light and love. In some tellings, Moses and Elijah appear, too, and have a conversation with Christ. Peter steps forward, asking if he should put up three tents for the three of them. Immediately, God’s voice booms from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to him.” The three followers fall to the ground in utter terror.

I love this story because it is about fear but not in the face of trauma, but in the face of light and something unknown. 

Also, some of my favorite iconic paintings have come from this story. Here’s one:

Transfiguration by Feofan Grek from Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral in
Pereslavl-Zalessky [15th Century]

The best part of this beautiful image, for me, is not the glorified mythological beings at the “top” of the image, but the three [mirror] figures at the bottom in their terror. One figure covers his eyes and turns away, another is completely turned around and away and the third looks upon the three larger figures with awe. All three figures have been tossed to the ground. In another painting I once saw at a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the three men were so thrown back, their shoes were knocked off their feet.

And isn’t this what it is like when we are faced with something unknown and beautiful? We are knocked to the ground and, often, terrified?

Here is one of my dreams about feeling terror in the face of the unknown:

Dream: I am lying in my bed, half awake/half asleep. From the stand-up mirror in the corner of my room, light begins to shoot out becoming brighter and brighter. Almost blinding. Then, a girl made entirely of light steps out of the mirror into the room, the brightness almost unbearable. 

This dream is the scariest dream I have ever experienced. 

The fear in my body as the girl – all light and power and radiance, all calm and enormous and presence – stepped into my room, is a fear I had never experienced. I was not in the flight, fight or freeze trauma response, I was not in a terror where I felt danger. No.

This fear was about facing something completely and utterly unknown to me. Something completely out of the realm of my understanding and narrative. 

I felt like those men in the painting – tossed back by the force of the energy, tumbled and unsure how to be. 

Do I avert my eyes? Do I pray? Do I speak to her? Do I embrace her? What do I do?

These were only some of the frantic thoughts pinging through me as I looked at the girl of light who simply stood before me. I reached back to stories and ideas I had been told, had read, had grown up with around what to do in such a situation. But there were none. 

There was nothing in my knowing that helped me to know what to do with this moment. 

I still feel the fear I felt in the presence of that girl, even now. 

One layer of the dream, of course, is that she is some part of me resurfacing after being buried under strata of personal trauma and strata after strata of generational trauma. 

The girl that, in one narrative of my dreamwork, was buried when I was young. 

Yes, I feel the power of this. And.

This girl carries a power I did not and still do not fully know. Part of which is in me, yes, and part of which is completely of the unknown. Completely of the mystery.

The girl comes as an archetype, too. But an archetype that does not fit into any neat catagory I had then or even now. 

She is of me and not of me. She carries power that is in me and that is not in me. 

Over the years since I experienced that dream [visitation?], I have simply sat with her presence. With curiosity, with wonder and, yes, still with fear. Not the same kind of fear when she first appeared, but fear still.

The kind of fear that comes when we realize how small we are in the world and yet how big. How much we know and, oh, how so very little we know. 


Dreams of the unknown come in so many ways – perhaps by taking us into outer space, by making us meet aliens or realize we are alien ourselves. Perhaps by leaping off a cliff and discovering we are not falling but flying. 

In all dreams of the unknown, there is an offer to take a peek into the greater mysteries. A veil is lifted, we see in new ways. Just like the men in the myth of the painting. 

Like all dreams that scare us, these kinds of dreams are invitations. Not to go back into experiences for healing, not to reexamine something we are doing or not doing in our current lives.

Instead, to reach toward what is outside of what we know and what we are comfortable with, toward something entirely new. 

And sometimes, because what is new is scary to us [in a very appropriate way], it can feel like fear we experienced from trauma experiences. It can feel like trauma.

But it is not. 

These invitations are offered when we are ready to move beyond our own ideas of ourselves and even the world around us. 

The girl in my dream came to have me see myself in a new way [the fact she came from my mirror] and also to see the feminine in a new way. She also came with all her brilliance to remind me that there is more than even all of this.

To invite me to be with all of the mysteries – the unknown in me and the unknown that is not in me. 

The invitation to move into newness. And all the fear that comes with the invitation – and the acceptance of the invitation.