A Theory of Warning Dreams in the Last Year of Life


In this post I will advance a speculative theory that I cannot advance with a very high confidence, because parts of the theory are not supported by an abundance of observations from many different observers. But the theory is based on some things I have read and some things I have personally experienced.  I have reason to suspect that the theory may well be true in whole or in part. I will not be able to provide good evidence to support each part of the theory. But I will at least be able to cite a few things that may be reasons for suspecting particular parts of the theory are true.  


The theory I will present is largely based on my own dream experiences of having extremely thematic and non-random dreams throughout a roughly nine-month period, as discussed in the very long post here (a post that originally appeared in February 2021, but which I updated on very many days between that month and August 2021).  The relevance of such death-related dreams to a theory of dreams in the last year of life is unclear, because I don't know at what time I will die. If my death occurs in the year 2021 (something I have no reason to suspect based on purely medical reasons), then you should more strongly suspect that the theory below is partially or largely accurate. But if you eventually read posts of mine written long after January 1, 2022 (such as posts written in the years 2023 or 2024), you should be a little less likely to believe in the theory discussed below. 


Hypothesis #1:  rather than being purely random content, dreams may partially reflect telepathic messages sent to the dreamer, or clairvoyant activity of a dreamer.


There is a very strong evidence basis for believing that psi phenomena such as ESP and clairvoyance may occur more commonly under altered states of consciousness.  Throughout most of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century, there were published innumerable lengthy reports of clairvoyance occurring in states of hypnosis (which may have been referred to by various names such as Mesmerism, animal magnetism or somnambulism).  You can read some of these reports here and  here and here and here and here. 


In the twentieth century there were very many reports of ESP or clairvoyance or "remote viewing" (pretty much the same as clairvoyance) occurring during slightly altered consciousness states such as what is called the Ganzfeld protocol (a sensory deprivation protocol) or a remote viewing protocol involving a slightly altered state of consciousness.  There has been considerable evidence (experimental or anecdotal) for telepathic effects or clairvoyant effects occurring during dreaming.  You can read here about some of the laboratory evidence for ESP during dreaming, which was mainly collected at the Maimonides laboratory in the 20th century.  The meta-analysis here finds highly significant evidence for ESP during dreaming. 


Hypothesis #2:  there may exist unseen entities capable of knowing things about a person's future or the state of a person's body or health that are unknown to the person, including a time when a person is most likely to die, or possibly even the exact date when a person will die. 


This part of my theory may be the most speculative. The idea is that there exist one or more entities unseen by you who may know something about your health or your future that you do not know. Such an entity or entities may be divine, angelic, spiritual or extra-dimensional.  They may or may not be the spirits of people who once lived on Earth. 


I can imagine several different ways in which such knowledge might be acquired. On one hand there is the idea of some kind Book of Fate or Book of Destiny in which might be written (clearly or not-so-clearly) the earthly fates of individual people. Or, to imagine a very different idea, it might be possible through some paranormal means for some unseen entities to acquire knowledge giving an idea about a person's expected time of death. 


An idea very widely stated in the literature of the paranormal is that humans have some kind of aura or energy field (or possible multiple auras or energy fields) that can be perceived in some way different from ordinary vision, and that by kind of "reading" or perceiving such indications, an idea can be reached about a person's state of health or future lifespan. It could be that unseen entities or powers are capable of leveraging such an indication or indications, to be able to get some idea about when a person is likely to die.  Such indications might be very unreliable when someone is in his youth, but far more reliable when a person is in the last year of his life. 


I am familiar with a well-documented and weighty case in the literature of the paranormal that may provide evidence in favor of Hypothesis #2. The case is described on page 432 of Volume 11 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, which quotes the November 1, 1890 edition of the Religio-Philosphical Journal. You can find the original source account by opening this link, and scrolling down about nine pages until you see page 361 in the right corner (or, alternately, searching for the name Suddick).  We read a Dr. Suddick giving this account:


"Mr. Cottnam had a friend, Mr. Chris. Varis....His attendant physician, Dr. Headlee, of St. James, told Mr. Cottnam that he thought Mr. Varis could live but a few days at most, and from his appearance Mr. Cottnam was of the same opinion."


We then read about some action of a "Mr. C." (who is this Mr. Cottnam) at a "table tipping seance."  In such a seance people may put their hands on a table and ask for answers from the spirit world, which may then be following by raps on the table or a lifting of the table.  We read this:


"Mr. C. asked, ' Do you know my friend Chris. Varis, of St. James, Mo. ?' 'Yes.' ...'Will he live over to-morrow?' 'Yes.'  'Do you know when he will pass out?' 'Yes.' Then the table rocked back and forth slowly, the feet striking the floor forty times, making forty distinct raps, much to the surprise of all present, as we were expecting him [Varis] to pass out much sooner. We counted, and found that the time indicated would be October 8th ; so to make sure we were right we asked, ' ' Will he pass out on October 8th?' 'Yes.' 'In the forenoon ?' 'Yes.'  'Will a telegram be sent to me on the morning of the 8th to that effect ?' 'Yes.' "


Dr. Suddick informs us of the aftermath, in which the prediction came true exactly:


"The prediction about Mr. Varis became an open secret, and was talked of freely through the town from the morning of August 30th until October 8th, when a telegram came over the wires informing Mr. C. that Mr. Varis died that morning at six o'clock. I append a letter from Dr. Headlee, the physician who attended Mr. Varis, which corroborates the account just given. I also send the signatures of twelve of our best citizens in further confirmation, and the signatures of the sitters."


We then read testimony from  witnesses, who all sign their names to the following assertion:


"Cuba, Mo., October 15th, 1890.


To AIL WHOM IT MAY CONCERN :— This is to certify that we, the undersigned citizens of Cuba, Mo., did, prior to the death of Mr. Chris. Varis, of St. James, Mo., wliich occurred on the morning of the 8th of October, 1890, hear a prophecy to the effect that he would die on the mornmg of that day.



We heard that his death was foretold at a seance, at tlie house of Dr. S. T. Suddick, in the town of Cuba, Mo. , on the night of August the 29th, or forty days prior to that event."


The statement is signed by the following people:


  • Jas. E. Hollow, jun., one of the circle of August 29th.
  • Longstreet Simpson, Clerk in Store. 
  • T. P. Brickey, Proprietor, Cuba Hotel.
  • E. A. Evans, Real Estate Agent.
  • F. R. Hardesty, Druggist.
  • W. T. Hunter, Blacksmith.
  • C. H. Cottnam, one of the circle of August 29th.
  • Dr. V. L. Shelp, Dentist. 
  • Dr. J. H. Martyn, Physician and Surgeon. 
  • Geo. Askins, Hotel Clerk.
  • Mrs. Louise Farley Suddick, one of the circle of August 29th.
  • J. A. Rost, Shoemaker.
  • J. A. Caims, Clerk in Store. 
  • B. F. Johnson, Notary Public




Below is the original text of the edition of the Religio-Philosphical Journal (November 1, 1890) in which this testimony first appeared. Because the report appeared within one month of the death of Chris Varis, and because the report was corroborated by so many witnesses,  this case seems to be rather substantial evidence in support of my Hypothesis 2. 


prophecy fulfilled

We have in this very well-documented case what seems to be substantial evidence to support the hypothesis that there may be unseen entities who may know something about when a living human will die, knowledge that may conflict with or be at odds with the opinions of earthly humans about such a topic. 



Hypothesis #3: in his last year of his life a person may be warned that his death is not very far in the future, by means of symbolic dreams rather than an explicit warning. 


If Hypothesis #1 and Hypothesis #2 are true, then Hypothesis #3 should not seem very unlikely. The idea is that there exists some unseen power or powers who may know that a person is probably in his last year of life, and that such a power or powers may give that person a telepathic or clairvoyant warning, which the person receives in the form of symbolic dreams hinting at his upcoming death.  Under my theory, such warnings do not come as explicit warnings, such as a dream person saying, "Dave, you have only four months left to live." Instead, such warnings typically appear in a veiled and indirect way, largely through symbolism that may hint that death is not far off. We can imagine why such a warning may appear in a veiled or symbolic way: because a direct, explicit warning might create undesirable fear in the person who is in his last year of life.  


Some examples of death-suggesting dreams are:


(1) a dream in which there is some loss of electrical power, or in which an electrical device is turned off;


(2) a dream in which some electrical device or mechanical device suddenly stops working;


(3) a dream in which there is some end (possibly a sudden end) to some journey or some trip or some theatrical perfomance or some game;


(4) a dream in which someone is in a check-out line at a store ("checking out" is a slang term referring to death); 


(5) a dream using words such as "termination" or "liquidation" or other words that are synonyms for death. 


(6) a dream in which you are on a train, and you hear an announcement that the train is approaching its last stop.


 Hypothesis #4:  in his last year of life, a person may start to get many explicit references to death (something that rarely occurred before),  along with dreams in which the dream action brings the dream protagonist  right to the brink of death. 


In your last year of life, you may start to get many explicit references to death. You may hear the specific words "death," "dying," "grave," or "termination."  Also, you may commonly have dreams in which the action seems to bring you right up to a death event, stopping just short of such a death event. For example, you may dream that you are in a battle, and an enemy tank drives right up to you, with that may be the end of the dream. Or you may dream of falling off of a tall building, with the dream ending as you are plunging toward the ground.  Or you may dream a car traveling at high speed crashes into your car, with the dream ending right at the moment of the crash.  Or you may in your dream observe such things happening to other people. Or you may have a dream in which you see a grave, a tombstone, a coffin, a corpse or a funeral. It will be rather as if some external party is trying to suggest the idea of physical death to you. 


Hypothesis #5:  in his last year of life, a person may start to get many dreams that symbolically hint at life after death, such as  dreams involving crossing a river, crossing a boundary, crossing a bridge, traveling to a new place, traveling home, relocating or rising up in an elevator. 


It is quite rare to have dream in which there occurs a sentence of more than a few words. Dreams are mainly imagery, and are not very verbal. Rather than getting a sentence message such as "you are about to travel to a new realm of existence beyond the mortal realm," which might easily get mangled inside a dream, you may get imagery that symbolizes  life after death. There are many possibilities:


  • You may dream of crossing a river or bridge, with the river or bridge  representing the boundary between life and death. 
  • You may dream you are waiting for an elevator or rising up in an elevator, with the elevator rise representing an ascent to a higher realm of existence. 
  • You may dream that you are an astronaut rising up in a rocket, with the rocket rise representing an ascent to a higher realm of existence. 
  • You may dream you have just relocated to a new home or a new apartment, with the relocation representing moving to an afterlife realm.
  • You may dream you are traveling to some earthly place that you most often thought of as home, such as a home that you were raised in. Accounts of near-death experiences often include a report that the place fleetingly visited felt like a person's "real home."
  • You may dream you are preparing for a journey, such as packing a suitcase or buying a train ticket.  
  • You may have a dream in which you are told that you have to leave by a particular time or a particular date, with such a departure symbolizing a departure from earthly life.  The time mentioned might symbolize a date. For example, if you dream that you have to meet a deceased person around 6:30, that could mean that your death may come about June 30 (June being the sixth month of the year). 



Hypothesis #6: in his last year of life a person may be symbolically warned about a common type of way he will or may die. 


A person may be warned of some way he may die. But such a warning will not be an explicit verbal warning such as "you may die of a heart attack." Instead, there may be veiled warnings that use symbolic imagery. To give some possible examples:


  • A person who will die of an artery blockage may have various dreams with a motif of blockage, such as a dream of a clogged sink, or a dream of a blocked road, or a dream of walking down a stairway which is blocked for some reason. 
  • A person who will die of sudden cardiac death (usually a kind of electrical failure) may have dreams of power failures in his home, or an electrical machine that suddenly stops working, or a dream of a power blackout on the street he is walking down. 
  • A person who will die of cancer may have some dream involved an unwanted spreading, such as dream of lots of mice in his house, or a dream of the grass on his lawn growing up into the floor of his house, or a dream of some thing that he wanted to be small (such as a key) grow too large. 



Hypothesis #7: rarely a person may have a dream that explictly warns him of the exact way he will die or the exact day he will die. 


In support of this hypothesis, I  quote this statement from an edition of The Spiritual Magazine. 


"In Dr. Binns's Anatomy of Sleep, which the curious in such matters will find rich in material upon these subjects, we find this case : — 'A young man named John Gray, residing at Cinderford, who told his mother, before he went to the Crump Meadow coal-pits, at which he worked, that he dreamed tne preceding night (Sunday, January 14th, 1844) that, while at work, a large stone fell upon and killed him. The mother made light of the dream. Not so the dreamer, who went reluctantly to work, and not until he had returned twice to wish her good-bye. The dream was fulfilled. An immense block of stone fell upon and crushed him to death.' "


In the posts here, here and here there are additional cases of people who seemed to get explicit dream warnings of how they or others would die or when they or others would die.  Not mentioned in those posts are the cases discussed on pages 197-201 of the book here, in which four people seemed to get dream warnings of the 1976 Teton Dam collapse in Idaho, USA. Also not mentioned in those posts in the very interesting case discussed on pages 31-40 of Gardner Murphy's Challenge of Psychical Research, in which Walter F. Prince had a dream of a beheading of a woman, with such a very rare event happening about six miles away within 24 hours, as a mentally ill woman placed her neck so that a train could decapitate her.  Although the Prince case and the Teton Dam cases do not support the idea of an individual dreaming of the exact details of his own death, they support the idea that someone can have a dream about the exact details of someone else's death that soon occurs. 


Hypothesis #8: in his last year a person may have an unusally high number of dreams about deceased people, often deceased family members, deceased pets, deceased friends and deceased famous people. 


In the last year of life a person may dream more commonly about deceased people than about living people. Such a person may have many dreams about deceased family members.  Having a dream in which there is a very small distance between the person and the deceased family member (or no distance at all, with direct physical contact) may be a sign that death is only a few months or weeks away.  


A study of the dreams or visions of 60 terminally ill patients in India reported that 78.9% "reported seeing 'deceased' people, be it relatives, friends or acquaintances," while only 31.5% "saw living friends and relatives."  Rather interestingly, the study mentioned a high level of visions of the deceased when a person was awake, although that is beyond the scope of this post.  A study of about 59 American terminally ill patients also found that dreams or visions of the deceased occurred more commonly than dreams of the living, particularly as the person approached death (see Figure 2 to see the ratios). 


Hypothesis #9: the phenomena listed above may not be commonly reported because people rarely write down their dreams or rarely look for patterns in their dreams, or possibly because dream warnings are not sent to average people who would tend to ignore them. 


How can I account for the relative rarity in which people report things like those I have listed above? That is easy to do. First, we have the fact that dreams are very quickly forgotten unless you write them down just after waking up. But very few people record their dreams upon waking up. So it might easily be that in the last year of life very many get warning dreams like those I have mentioned, but that almost all such dreams are forgotten and never recorded. It could also be that people with no interest in psychic phenomena are not sent warning dreams, because such warnings would tend to be ignored by such people. 


I have used the term "warning" in my title, although the type of dreams I discuss are mainly kind of notification or hint dreams that may  give people a "heads up" or clue or intimation about what is to come, rather than dreams meant to cause some change in behavior.  I can imagine a way to test aspects of the theory discussed in this post.  People could be paid for participation in an online survey that included many questions about dream content, and also questions about a person's age and any health conditions they have. All subjects who finished the survey could be told they will be paid three times as much for participating in a very short follow-up survey that could only be filled out one year after the first survey.  Based on the data regarding age, health conditions and participation in the second survey (and possibly based on follow-up attempts to contact those who failed to participate in the second survey), inferences could be made regarding which participants in the first  survey were in their last year of life.  A study could then look for large differences in the dream content of those who were in their last year of life.  


Don't conclude anything if you get only one or two of the things I have mentioned here.  But if you find your dreams often seem to have many of the features I have discussed here, consider the possibility that you may be in your last year of life, and do not be troubled by such a possibility.  Any universe in which you got paranormal telepathic dream warnings that your earthly time is almost finished would be almost certainly a universe in which you would expect to enjoy a life after death.