People have paid attention to their dreams and sought to understand them for thousands of years. In ancient cultures around the world, dreams were seen as divinely inspired or gifts of the gods that brought important messages. Professional and priestly dream interpreters and oracles worked for emperors, kings, and other royalty, seeking to know the future or get guidance on important matters of state.
Gudea, a Sumerian king who ruled circa 2200 BC, is one of the earliest known historical figures who was guided by dreams. The king intended to build a temple to honor the god Nin-Girsu. He had a dream sent by Nin-Girsu in which a large human figure appeared, wearing the headgear of a god but possessing the wings of a bird. The figure was accompanied by two lions. Then Gudea saw a rising sun, a woman looking at a tablet that showed favorable stars and a warrior drawing the outline of the temple on a tablet of lapis lazuli. A basket for carrying earth and a brick mold with a brick in it were placed at Gudea’s feet, and a donkey pawed the ground in front of the winged figure.
The king could not understand the dream, so he underwent incubation rituals to ask a goddess, Gatumdung, to interpret it for him. She told him that the winged figure was Nin-Girsu and the donkey was the impatient Gudea. She also explained other elements in the dream. Gudea then appealed to Nin-Girsu for a clearer message. The god appeared in a dream and said he would give the king a sign when the time was right to start the construction of the temple.
The Egyptians considered dreams to be a revelation of truth and thus attached great divinatory significance to dreams, looking to dreams alone for omens. Dreams retained an importance throughout the history of ancient Egypt, even into its declining years. A surviving account tells about the pharaoh Tanuatamun (ruled 664-656 BC), an Ethiopian ruler during the decline of Egypt, who had a dream in which he was holding two snakes, one in each hand. When he awoke, he saw there were no snakes. He asked for an interpretation and was told: Upper Egypt belongs to thee, take to thyself, Lower Egypt. The Vulture and Ureaus goddesses have appeared on thy head, and the land is given to thee in its length and breadth, and none shall share with thee.
The dream seemed to address his ruling over both Upper and Lower Egypt, represented respectively by the Vulture and Ureaus (fire-spitting cobra) which he subsequently accomplished. On the stele upon which this story is recorded, Tanuatamun stated, Lo, the dream is true! It is profitable for him who sets it in his head, evil for him who understands it not. In other words, it is good if a dream is correctly understood, and bad if it is misunderstood or ignored.
Everywhere, dreams have played a prominent role in the health, well-being, and fortunes of people and in the affairs of state. Dreams have been used to discern the future, gain divine guidance, and restore health and wholeness. Numerous systems and procedures of interpretation have been developed.
The early Hebrews placed great importance on dreams; the Bible contains many references to significant and prophetic dreams of the patriarchs and great prophets. The Greeks especially valued dreams for their healing power as well as for their divination importance. The Greeks discovered that not only can dreams aid healing once a person is ill, but dreams also can forecast the onset of illness, sometimes early enough to prevent a serious illness. Such forecasting dreams are called prodromal dreams. The great depth psychiatrist Carl G. Jung observed prodromal dreams in his own patients. Illness warning dreams continue to be reported in the medical literature today.
The Greeks, and the Romans, who absorbed their traditions, built hundreds of temples throughout the classical world. Pilgrims traveled to the temples to seek dreams of healing from the gods or at least information that would enable them to be healed. Christianity integrated this tradition with churches and shrines dedicated to the healing ministrations of the archangel Michael.
Similarly, the ancient Chinese realized that dreams played an important role in the diagnosis and maintenance of physical health. The understanding of dreams is deeply embedded in Taoism, a system of mysticism and philosophy and the only indigenous religion of China. The ancient Chinese, like other ancient people’s, compiled and published dream dictionaries and articles, dream diaries, and paintings and woodcuts of dreams in progress. Magical spells against nightmares and bad dreams proliferated. Dream incubation – the solicitation or self-programming of dreams for a specific purpose – was widely practiced by artists in China, who would dream to receive inspiration for their paintings and music.
Like others in the ancient world, the Chinese had a dream god, who could be petitioned to grant certain types of dreams. The Compendium of Literary Allusions (Shih-lei tung-pien) refers to a dream god called Chih-li, a name that probably was adopted from foreign sources. Chih-li could be invoked for productive dreaming by reciting a mantra or charm seven times before sleep.
In many cultures, including the Chinese culture, dreams have maintained a fairly unbroken role in human well-being. In the West, we have been less fortunate. Dreams have suffered under the influence of the Christian church, and Aristotelian philosophy and science. The Christian church – even though it allowed the Michaelean healing churches and shrines – sought to reduce the influence of pagan gods by denigrating dreams. Aristotle’s philosophy, promoted by St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century as the underpinning of Christian theology, maintains a separation of mind and body a fundamental of Western science. From that perspective, dreams can have no real influence over the material world.
Western outlook began to shift in the nineteenth century, however. We are now much less rigid in our views on the existence and interplay of mind and body. We increasingly have recognized the validity and importance of dreams as part of that interplay. We are returning to a more holistic view of life and of creation – a perspective that has been at the core of Eastern philosophy and science for millennia.
Today, dream work is pursued around the world in professional therapy and medical treatment, and also in lay dream work for personal improvement and self-awareness. Dream work is productive and rewarding, beneficial, instructive and healing in nature. Dream work is also fascinating, taking us on an incredible journey into ourselves and our place in the scheme of the Universe.
- Using the Wisdom of Dreams for Inner Healing (whitecranes.wordpress.com)
- Have a Conversation with Your Dreams (moonlightenedshelves.wordpress.com)
- Fortunetelling and Your Dreams (whitecranes.wordpress.com)