The subject of dreams has a long history of speculation in many cultures. They have been both a topic of philosophical and scientific conjecture as well as a source for inspiration. Dreams have been thought to be the body’s response to outside stimuli such as stress; or alternately as reflections of our innermost thoughts and desires; and finally as messages from God or glimpses into the future. Mankind has always sought the hidden meaning in his dreams, and many ideas have been suggested as to how to unlock the secret language of dreams Many cultures have beliefs and practices concerning dreams, what they are, how they are interpreted, and what they mean.
Among the Hebrews, dreams are believed to be a connection to God; and dreams were incubated in order to receive guidance from God. In the Talmud, as well as the Holy Bible, God is described as visiting many historical figures in their dreams such as King Solomon, Jacob, Nebuchadnezzar to name a few.
They have a basic belief concerning dreams interpretation, that is, dreams are only subject to fulfillment according to the interpretation that is given to them. What this means is that should you have a bad dream, you can interpret it in a positive manner and in doing no ill effects of that dream will occur. The traditional ceremony for ‘making a bad dream good,” is called Hatovat Chalom. Through this rite disturbing dreams can be transformed to give a positive interpretation by a rabbi or a rabbinic court.
The Babylonians, a civilization which lasted from circa 1800 to 600 BC, believed that their world was made up of invisible powers, called spirits, which represented forces of both good and evil. Their beliefs and observations regarding dreams were therefore deeply colored by their world view. The desire for living a balanced, peaceful life, in harmony with God, nature and the spirits led the Babylonians to develop many techniques concerning the foretelling of the future, magick, and understanding the will of god.
The study and interpretation of dreams represented one path to that understanding. The Babylonians kept note of strange occurrences and odd dreams, and carefully examined events that occurred shortly after these episodes. For example, if a man dreamed of meeting a stranger on the road and shortly after a loved one died; then the next time someone dreamed of meeting a stranger on the road, then surely one of his loved ones would die as well.
Dream books which were written before the emergence of modern psychology, bear a remarkable resemblance to the notes and books regarding dreams written thousands of years ago by the ancient Babylonians. Most definitions are still written in the same style - that the dream will bring good or bad luck regarding money, romance or health.
It has been put forth that these dream books were derived from the ancient Babylonian dream books, which were themselves a collection of observations, conjecture, and beliefs concerning dreams. These dream dictionaries were studied by King Assurbanipal who had them copied and took them to Nineveh. Later, the scholar Artemidorus consulted these copies for his own education. In fact, the part of the Jewish Talmud that was written during the Babylonian captivity contains dream interpretation and ways of dealing with dreams are believed to have been inspired by Babylonian beliefs and practices.
The Egyptians divided dreams into three categories.
1. Those that happened as a result of ritual.
2. Dreams that contained warnings.
3 Dreams where the Gods were demanding some type of action.
They believed that the Gods revealed themselves in one’s dreams. People often slept in temples to receive guidance from their gods, and Priest would be available the following morning to assist the individual in interpreting their dreams.
More than any other group on Earth, the aborigines have the longest cultural history dating back an estimated 65,000 years. The Dreamtime, associated with the Aborigines, is that part of aboriginal culture which explains the origins and culture of the land and its people. It represents both their religion and their culture.
The Dreamtime consists of several parts. It tells of things which have occurred in the past, the origin and formation of the universe, the creation and function of humans in the cosmos. In addition, the Dreamtime represents the Aboriginal cosmology which is made up of God and Goddess who, like humans, are both kind and cruel.
The Aborigines believe that everything in the natural world is a symbolic footprint of the metaphysical beings whose actions created our world. As with a seed, the potency of an earthly location is wedded to the memory of its origin. The Aborigines called this potency the "Dreaming" of a place, and this Dreaming constitutes the sacredness of the earth. Only in extraordinary states of consciousness can one be aware of, or attuned to, the inner dreaming of the Earth.
The Chinese believed that the soul of the dreamer is the guiding force in the production of dreams. During sleep, the spiritual soul would leave the physical body and communicate with the dead. Dream incubation influenced politics and government policy, as high officials were required to report to dream temples in order to receive dreams that would guide them in their missions. In addition, high officials such as judges and lawmaker were also required to seem insight from their dreams.
The ancient Greeks believed that their gods physically entered their dreams to impart knowledge, and then leave the same way they entered. Through contact with other cultures, the Greeks came to believe that the soul left the body during sleep.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine, theorized that during the day the body receives images, and during the night it produces them, thus we dream. Conversely, Aristotle did not believe that dreams were divinely inspired. He felt that during the sleep the body was devoid of external stimuli and therefore dreams were a representation of what was occurring within the body itself. Some physicians believed that one’s dreams held the key to diagnosing illness.
Much like the Egyptians, many Greeks would travel to temples or shrines dedicated to Gods associated with health, medicine and healing where they would perform sacred rites and then sleep in the temple hoping to have a dream which would hold the cure for their ailment, or which would predict a healthy recovery.
With the advent of modern psychology many “educated” people came to look upon dreams with a more rational, scientific view, rather than accept the cultural beliefs of their people. Sigmund Freud, considered the father of modern psychology, once believed that all dreams contained some form of sexual content. A theory he later withdrew. However, he continued to believe that every dream contained a seed of wish fulfillment. Building on Freud’s theories, Carl Jung espoused the idea that dreams are a natural phenomenon which we can study, thereby gaining knowledge of the hidden part of our mind. The images are symbolic of conscious and unconscious mental processes. Some modern scientists claim that dreams are nothing more than images resulting from random electrical activity in the brain as it “housecleans” itself during the night.
It seems that modern scientists are no longer closer to unlocking the secrets hidden in our dreams than the ancient priests, kings, and magicians were. The truth probably lies somewhere in that gray area between science and magick.