It is clear that the world has been fascinated with dreams and dreaming since ancient times. Between the paws of the Sphinx in Egypt lies a dream interpretation carved in stone. The ancient Egyptians built temples to honour dreams and the important information they could relay from the Gods. Temples like this also existed in the Middle East and Greece. The Romans took on many of the Greek’s beliefs and also built sleep temples. One lies in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, UK. In Malta resides the ancient temple called the Hypogeum. Build over 5000 years ago, these vast chambers lying underground housed two small sculptures of sleeping women which may have been used as part of dream incubation rituals. Often these temples were used for petitioning the Gods for healing. Before entry into the dream temple one might have to fast and be purified. In other temples, only certain priests and priestesses were allowed and these people would practice dream incubation on behalf of a petitioner. Petitioners were often called ‘Seekers’.
The oldest book which contains information of the interpretation of dreams was written around 2070 and 2100 BCE. Three thousand years ago the Upanishads were written and these holy texts of Hinduism described dreams as being a higher state of consciousness. In 350 BC the Greek Philosopher Aristotle aired his views that dreams did not descend onto the dreamer from the outside but rather they came from inside man. His student Plato agreed. Hippocrates used dream interpretation when trying to solve the ailments of his patients.
In 140 BCE Artemidorus wrote his five volume ‘Oneirocritica’ which was the first book to suggest that it may be useful to take into account some of the dreamers situation such as age, occupation, marital status and so on. Before Artemidorus, interpretations were based on generalizations that were considered to have the same meaning regardless of the dreamer’s situation.
The Bible has many references to dreams and dreaming with the book of Daniel perhaps having the greatest concentration. For the Israelites, the word for ‘to dream’ and ‘to see’ where the same showing there was a belief in a sense of truth coming from dreams. Like many other aspects of spirituality, the progress of Christianity saw dreams fall into the realms of evil and suspect.
Dreams were often considered to come from the Devil. To interpret them was to go against the law of God unless you were a priest because only the Church was meant to understand the Word of God. It was a case of religion being used for control rather than spiritual development.
Ancient history shows us that we once believed that dreams came from beyond ourselves. Dreams were messages from the gods which often could only be interpreted by someone trained in and initiated into divine knowledge. As time moved on, we came to believe dreams to come from within ourselves – the result of psychic dysfunction or illness as Freud believed or complexes and potential healing information as Jung believed. The realm of dreams which had once belonged to the priests became the discipline of science.
I find it interesting that in these modern times we now seem to embrace both science and spirituality. Whilst science would certainly deny any dream coming from anywhere other than within us, if we look at dream discussions, articles and experiences there are many people who have concluded, like myself that maybe dreams come from both within and without. The spirituality of dreams has been kept alive by prophets and philosophers and the ordinary person. We are dreamers dreaming ourselves alive. Science certainly has given us incredible insight and understanding into the physical process of dreaming and popular psychology has offered us ways to benefit from dreams regardless of whether the dreamer has any spiritual beliefs.
Currently interest in dreams has become very high; lucid dreaming especially so. With spirituality in its many forms becoming more accessible such as healing classes and training, plus the huge interest in personal development, dreams once more have shown themselves to be vitally important.
Life is a journey – we journey along the path of life and into the world and as we do so, we journey inward into our own hearts. Our dreams may be our greatest gift and our best friend. They will tell us the truth, show us our fears, aid us with decisions and sometimes connect us to other dimensions which further our spiritual development. The ancients revered our nightly wanderings and honoured their deities for the gift of dreams. Whether we choose to honour a deity or honour our own higher self, the study of dreams has far to go and we can learn much from them to the benefit of ourselves as individuals and the wider world.
Dream Stela Photo courtesy of Wikipedia