The importance of dreaming embeds itself strongly in the pursuit of higher consciousness. There are many perspectives on dreams, their meaning, purpose, place in our world and interpretations of these events that apparently occur in our minds… I would like to discuss the various perspectives and their differences surrounding the wonderful world of dreams…
An Ancient Perspective
The earliest recording of dreams found to date go back 3000 or so BC, stemming from Mesopotamia. Classical and epic stories of Gilgamesh refer to dreams as being prophetic and through the understanding of one’s dreams, one may realise their own destiny or future.
Ancient Hebrews believed dreams were connections with God. The biblical figures Solomon, Jacob, Nebuchadnezzar and Joseph were all visited in their dreams by God or prophets, who helped guide their decisions. It was recognized and accepted that the dreams of kings could influence whole nations and the futures of their peoples. The Talmud, which was written between 200 and 500 AD, includes over two hundred references to dreams. It states that: “dreams which are not understood are like letters which are not opened.”
The ancient Egyptians took dreaming seriously and had a token dream God Serapis. They also constructed ‘dream or sleep temples’ where individuals would preform ritualistic practices such as fasting and particular cleansing in order to incubate themselves and posses the feeling of mental and psychic clarity so that their dreams would guide their lives and be perceived and played out as accurately as possible. These sleep temples also existed in Ancient Greece, the Middle East and China.
Throughout China the beliefs around dreams centred around the individual. What dream you had was actually guided by that particular individual soul. In other words, there was some element of prophetic element associated with dream states but the evolution of one’s soul would provide the platform for one’s dream state.
The Sacred Books of Wisdom, or Vedas, were written in India between 1500 and 1000 BC. The Vedas believed that how a dream was played out in the dream world would actually be a reflection of how an individual would behave and act in the ‘real’ or physical world. If one was weak, or aggressive or allowed oneself to be taken advantage of in the dream state, this would reflect similarly in the physical world and would be an indication of the personality type or the way that individual socialises and interacts internationally.
The Upanishads, written between 900 and 500 BC, articulates two perspectives on dreams. The first maintains that dreams are merely expressions of inner desires. The second closely resembles the Chinese belief of the soul leaving the body and being guided until awakened. It was also thought that if the sleeper was awakened abruptly, the soul might not return to the body quickly enough and the sleeper could die.
The earliest Greek view of dreams is that dreams would either enter through a key hole or a small opening in order to enter the sleeper and leave in the same way, here this view is more disconnected from the individual and is separate to the individual rather than an expansion or extension to that individual. This view and belief progressed and the belief maintained that as the Greeks would have contact with other cultures, their souls would leave their bodies and explore the outside world of the unknown. This was emphasised by Antiphon, an Athenian statesman who wrote the first known Greek book on dreams around 5th century BC. Dreaming and the art of dreaming was just as important as it was to the Egyptians and ancient Mesopotamia.
Hippocrates (469-399 BC), wrote On Dreams. His theory was simple: during the day, the soul or mind receives images; during the night, it reproduces these images. Therefore, we dream. Why this reproduction or re-living of these images occurs is unsure according to Hippocrates.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) thought that dreams could be indicators of conditions within the body. He did not believe they were divinely inspired. He hypothesized that external stimuli are absent during sleep, so dreams are manifestations of a profound awareness of internal sensations which are expressed as dream imagery. This becomes interesting and one may be able to connect this to an inward reality that is observed, recognised and understood through a varied state of consciousness as opposed to experiencing a conscious state and absorbing one’s surroundings through that perspective. In other words the manifestation of dreams are actually an experience of a reality that exists outside the realm of conscious activity.
Galen, a Greek physician born in 129 AD, emphasized the need to observe dreams carefully for clues to healing oneself and others. He was so trusting of dream messages that he carried out operations on the basis of his dream interpretations. Again, this perception and association with the dream state was carefully linked to a prophetic understanding of the purpose and motivation of dreams.
Artemidorus, his contemporary, wrote on The Interpretation of Dreams (Oneirocritica). J. Hall describes this as the “best source we have for the dream interpretation practices of antiquity.” His theory is extensive, but within the five books he wrote, he describes two classes of dreams: somnium, which forecasts the future; and insomnium, which deal with contemporary matters and are affected by the state of the body and mind. He stated that the dream interpreter should have information about the dreamer including:
- Images that are natural, lawful and customary for the dreamer;
- Circumstances and exposure to physical experience at the time or around the time of the dream;
- Dreamers occupation and personality, relationships and behavioural patterns.
This interpretation of the meaning of dreams has the potential ‘to cover all bases’ (as a figure of speech). It draws in to account the happenings of everyday life and the way in which the mind absorbs and translates these happenings from different vantage points and perspectives. This theory also incorporates the possibility that through our varied states of consciousness we have the ability to create and connect with other very plausible realities or states of being and evolution. As so far as to connect to other beings telepathically or intuitively on a spiritual plane. Our sensory input/output is no longer measured through our physical bodies but rather through psychic intuitive measures.
The Western post classical view
During the European middle ages dermas were often studied in context to their relation to God or the divine. The church did not pay close attention to dream interpretation and as society progressed, dreaming and its importance fell away in importance. This was also caused due to the disrepute and lack of agreeance to the purpose of dreams. It was until the Modern times that from a Western vantage point the importance and/or meaning of dreams was revisited.
Modern times – Dreams in the 20th century
Sigmund Freud gave new life to the lost art of studying dreams in his major work, Die Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams), written in 1899. While Freud’s psychoanalytic dream theories were marred by logical flaws and biased assumptions, his achievement cannot be discounted. Freud theorized that there were two types of dream content – manifest and latent. Manifest (superficial) content, he believed, had no significance because it was a mask for underlying (unconscious) issues of the dream. He believed the latent content contained unconscious wishes or fantasies. He also postulated that dreams originated either from the id or the ego. If it originated from the ego – it satisfied an instinct, according to Freud. If it originated from the id, it solved a conflict.
From Freud’s time forward and from a Western / psychological perspective dreams had very little to do with the divine and other modes of being but rather encapsulated the collection of information at an unconscious level. As humans, we are exposed to so much ‘external’ stimuli that using only 3-7% of our brain power it is virtually impossible to process all of these sensory experiences wholly and connectedly. This is where (in part) dreams play a role, they are the manifestation of these accumulated experiences. The way in which they are processed appears random and erratic but that may simply be a the mind/brain attempting to process an overload of sensory input and depending on your personality type and behavioural patterns will determine how you express these experiences.
Ultimately though Freud believed that dreams were “delusions and illusions of a psychosis” and contained mostly hidden wish fulfillment. Meanwhile, Carl Jung came to believe that dream contents present us with revelations that uncover and help to resolve emotional issues, problems, religious issues and fears. In other words our dreams were intrinsically and intricately tied in to our life’s experiences. What we ignore in our conscious state will simply manifest itself in a dream state. Because as human beings the majority of us are unfamiliar with varied states of consciousness other than the conscious/sensory state our dreams (expressed through an unconscious realm) are distorted, not due to their nature, but rather to our lack of ability to decipher, interpret and grasp the play of the dream. Jung was focused on symbolism and the connection to dreams. If we could decipher the symbols within our dream state, we could solve the puzzle to our own personal lives. Jung concluded that dreams are not only relevant to one’s personal life but they are also collectively connected to the psychological web of all of humanity.
Gestalt therapy believed that to interpret dreams, the dreamer must go back in to the dream and become an integral part of the dream, becoming, the observer, the observed and the ‘object’ all in one. This process would assist in understanding one’s emotional connection to self and the emotionally symbolic meaning of that particular dream.
Many other 20th century dream theorists – including Adler, Erikson, Maslow, Boss, Buhler, Greene, Heidegger, Garfield, Horney, Hartmann and Piotrowski – have important messages regarding dreams and dream research. A common thread among most is that dreams provide opportunities for intrapersonal and interpersonal growth. That dreams are measurements and indications of our relational health to self and to others. And that dreams have the ability to improve upon these relationships by specifically looking at the symbolism and events contained within the dream.
The above mentioned perspectives are some of the major analysis and dream interpretation methodologies which currently exist and have existed over the years. Some of these interpretations of dreams and the function and meaning of dreams are culturally dependant and the theories arising from these eras are a product of that time, place and culture (hence the extreme variation in the belief of the function and purpose of dreaming). Whichever vantage point you maintain it is important to observe your dreams as important and valuable parts, expressions and extensions of what makes you, you. They occur for a reason and if that reason is unknown NOW, it does not make invaluable. Remember the day can be long and our conscious mind may find it difficult to process the information it was exposed to during the course of the day. As a primal function of survival and understanding the environment around us the brain/mind attempts to connect these sensory experiences to meaning and purpose to the internal world of self. So in effect what is occurring is when we awake we are attempting to analyse our unconscious activity through a conscious framework. This is not the easiest of tasks… As a humanity we are still learning to connect to ourselves and to others, to the world around us and the entire Universe. It is imperative we consider dreams a valuable part of psyche and an expression of who we are spiritually, emotionally, relationally, symbolically and psychologically. SS.