Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dream Lore: What Ancient People Knew

Since the beginning of time people have regarded dreams as mysterious and powerful, believing that they were messages sent from the gods or spirits to warn, to heal, to threaten or to advise. Dreams were an important part of life and these people interpreted them to make their lives better. What did these ancient people know that we don't know?

Most ancient cultures had gods or goddesses who ruled over dreams.  In ancient Babylon, the goddess Mamu sent good dreams to her people and tried to protect them from bad dreams sent by demons. Later, the Assyrians who conquered Babylon wrote down dreams and their interpretations on clay tablets.  One such dream interpretation states that if a man flies repeatedly in his dreams, all that he owns will be lost.  While our modern interpretation of a flying dream might be different, just imagine: people back in 669 BC had flying dreams!

The ancient Egyptians believed that the gods appeared in dreams and they left records on papyrus of those dreams and their interpretations. Like many other cultures, they distinguished between good and bad dreams, and had incantations to ward off any unpleasant effects of those dreams. They recorded three types of dreams: those where the gods demanded a pious act, those that contained warnings about illnesses or revelations, and those that came from rituals.

The Greek god of dreams was Morpheus (just like the character in The Matrix). The Greeks believed that dreams entered the world between two different gates: true dreams, ones that came to pass in life, came through the Gates of Horn and false dreams, ones that deluded people, came through the Gates of Ivory.

The Greeks, like the Egyptians, also believed that dreams brought healing, and people would go to one of many temples, such as to Memphis in Egypt, or to the healing temples of Aesculapius to incubate dreams that would tell the temple priests what was wrong with them and how to cure it.

The Romans believed a goddess, Fauna, and her husband god, Faunus, ruled over dreams.  The emperor  Augustus even demanded that anyone dreaming of Rome must declare it publicly so as not to miss any prophetic dreams that might help the empire's well-being. 

The Hebrews also held a strong belief in the power of dreams. They believed that God spoke to them through dreams. There are many dreams sprinkled throughout the Bible that mark important occasions for the Hebrews. There was Jacob's dream about the Ladder to Heaven when he saw angels ascending and descending the ladder that rose to heaven and after wrestling with an angel all night, God promised him and his children the land of Israel. 

There was also the Pharaoh's dream about seven fat and seven lean kine (or cows) that Joseph interpreted as seven years of plenty and then seven years of famine. His interpretation won him the Pharaoh's pleasure and a position of power over the land of Egypt.  And if you know your Bible, you'll remember that it was a dream that got Joseph sold into slavery in the first place. 

Christianity valued dreams in its early days.  You can see dreams mentioned in some of the recently discovered gospels,  but later, especially for Protestants like Martin Luther, dreams were considered either evil or irrelevant.

Tribal cultures valued dreams highly, often placing great importance on them.  Many Native American tribes believed that Great Spirit worked through dreams and were a source of real power for the dreamer.  As with the Vision Quest of many traditions, medicine people were only picked for these roles as a result of their dreams. And tribal members would dream sacred songs, dances, visions and medicine that were used by the whole tribe. Both Black Elk and Wovoka, who dreamed the Ghost Dance, had visions of driving off the white man, which their tribes tried unsuccessfully to bring into reality.

Other tribal people, such as the Australian Aborigines and the Senoi of Malaysia, had special dreaming techniques that kept their tribes safe and happy.

It seems that we are missing out on an important facet of life, a natural way to connect to wisdom, when we ignore dreams and their meanings.  

This Blog will help clarify the importance of working with our dreams.  

1 comment:

  1. i enjoy this post and can't think of anything more interesting or universal than dreams. I am as grateful for my rich dream life as i am my daily blessings.