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Observations placeholder

Wiiliam Brighten - warned in a dream of disaster and drowning



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Death and its Mystery, At the Moment of Death; Manifestations and Apparitions of the Dying – Camille Flammarion

Letter from William E Brighten to Mr Podmore

In 1861, one of my friends, Mr James Clarckburn, having acquired a steamboat for river navigation, asked me to go on an excursion with him.  We left Norwich and after our first day’s trip on the river stopped for the night at Yarmouth, a short distance from the mouth of the river; we attached the bat to a nearby vessel, by means of cords fastened to the bow and stern.  After that, at about half past nine, we withdrew into our respective cabins.

We may have slept for some hours when my dream began.  I fancied that I opened my eyes and that I saw, through the ceiling of the cabin, two shadowy figures hovering in the air near the funnel!  They seemed absorbed in lively conversation and pointed now to the mouth of the river, now to the ropes which held the vessel.  At length they separated, gesticulating and winking as though they had agreed upon a plan of action.

Still suspended in the air, one of them went to the bow and the other to the stern, both holding their forefingers extended, with which they touched the ropes, simultaneously; these flamed as though they had been touched by hot irons.

The vessel, unattached, was borne along, drifting; it passed under the suspension bridge, then the other iron bridge, passed by Braidon, the Yarmouth bridge and the long line of boats which had cast anchor at this spot.  All this time the two figures, still hovering in the air above the boat, emitted strange musical sounds.

I wished to wake my companion because I well knew that if the current carried us to the mouth of the river, we should inevitably be wrecked as we passed through the rocks and in the dream I strove to shake off the incubus which oppressed me, but in vain.  We still went on; my eyes discerned every object in our course; we passed Southdown, then the village of Gorleston, and at length we reached the last curve of the river, where the water ruches precipitately over the rocks and mingles with the sea.  In a short time we were born on by these whirlpools and I saw that the boat was beginning to sink.  The musical sounds emitted by these phantoms then changed to terrifying howls of triumph.  The water reached my chin; there was a rattling in my throat; I was drowning.

This was my dream – or rather my nightmare – which awakened me violently.

I leapt from my bunk and went toward the door, which I broke down with one blow.  I found myself awake, in my night clothes, beneath a serene moonlit, night sky.

Instinctively I looked toward the rope at the stern and saw with terror that just at that moment it had broken.

I turned toward the hook on the nearby ship, close to our bow and saw beside me my companion, who had come running at the sound f the shattered door, and was telling me of the other rope which was gone.  E both clung desperately to the hooks with our hands, heedless of our skin, which was bleeding and we called for help.  Men from the nearby vessel came without delay, in time to get new ropes for us.

The danger past, my fried began to reproach me for having broken the door. I answered by telling him of the occurrence which had left me greatly agitated.

N the following morning, in thinking calmly of what had happened, I was able to convince myself that if, at the moment when the ropes had parted, we had continued to sleep, the drama of my dream would have been inexorably realised in all its details.

The source of the experience

Ordinary person

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Dreaming and lucid dreaming


Lucid dreaming