“Dream interpretation” dates back to 3000-4000 B.C. where they were documented on clay tablets. We know Biblically, that dreams and visions had significant respect and were honored without question. For as long as we have been able to communicate our dreams, mankind has been fascinated with them and strive to understand them. There were never any recorded documents in history denying the validity of or the importance of, a dream. Dreamers honored their dreams and sought interpreters for understanding the messages contained within them.
People in primal societies were unable to distinguish between the dream world and reality. They not only saw the dream world as an extension of reality, but that the dream realm was a more powerful world. To this day, many Indian tribes perform rituals to obtain a vision from the God/s of the spirit world. Their rituals actually put them in a trance state which enables them to dream and to obtain visions.
Back in the Greek and Roman era, dreams were often seen in a religious context and were believed to be messages from the gods. Temples, called “Asclepieions” (good luck pronouncing that one), were built around the power of dreams. It was believed that sick people who slept in these temples would be sent cures through their dreams. (We will talk more about “dreams that Heal” in future posts).
Sleep temples were hospitals of sorts, healing a variety of ailments, perhaps many of them psychological in nature. The treatment involved placing the patient into a Altered state of consciousness/trance in order to determine treatment. To this day, some psychotherapist use hypnotism, relaxation techniques or meditation to help dreamers remember their dreams.
In Egypt, the priests acted as the official dream interpreters. The Egyptians recorded their dreams in hieroglyphics. People with particular vivid and significant dreams were believed to be blessed and were considered special. People who had the power to interpret dreams were looked up to and seen as “divinely gifted.” These beliefs were established long before the Bible confirmed them to be true.
Although the Egyptians created one of the earliest documents on dreams, known as the Chester Beatty papyrus, “the Oneirocriticon” or The Interpretation of Dreams by the Roman Artemidorus (c. AD 150) is the first comprehensive book on the interpretation of dreams. In this five-volume work, Artemidorus brought out the idea that dreams are unique to the dreamer. (I happen to agree).
However, he believed that it was the persons occupation, social status and health that would affect the symbols in a dream. Although some of that might be true, its not quite acurate. Artemidorus was a brilliant man in his time but his interpretations were often considered extremely shrewd. A man by the name of Astrampsychus wrote a second Oneirocriticon, which somewhat resembled the dream books produced by the Victorians. This book contained a few ideas that were somewhat outrageous such as “To wear a purple robe threatens a long disease” (NOT) and To hold or eat eggs symbolizes vexation, (NOT TRUE either).
Unfortunately, Symbology has been written by many writers who have no clue about dream interpretation or what symbols might mean. The meaning of the symbol is true only if the dreamer believes the same symbol applies to him/her. (We’ll talk more on this in other Blogs under the category of “Understanding the Dream language.”)
Dreams were also seen as prophetic and/or an omen which came from outside spirits. People often looked to their dreams for signs of warning and advice from a deity, from the dead or even the works of a demon. Sometimes they look to their dreams for what to do or what course of action to take.
In the Bible, Joseph and Mary never questioned their dream when they were warned to flee to/from Egypt. Had they hesitated, our Lord, Jesus may not have lived past the age of two.
During the Greek and Roman era, dreams were so important that they took dream interpreters into battle who often dictated the actions of political and military leaders according to the dreams they had, affecting everything from the prosecution of a battle to the outcome of a political decision. (Wish we had some during our political elections, don’t you?).
Some dream interpreters aided the medicine man in a diagnosis. Dreams offered a vital clue for healers in finding what was wrong with the dreamer. I use a similar technique, which I refer to as “Dream Therapy.” I often discover many truths hidden within the subconscious by interpreting a clients dream. I can tell by a dream what healing/therapy modality needs to be utilized in order to achieve the best possible results.
The Chinese believed that the soul leaves the body to go into a spiritual world whenever a person is dreaming. However, if they should be suddenly awakened, their soul may fail to return to the body. For this reason, some Chinese today, are wary of alarm clocks.
Some Native American tribes and Mexican civilizations share this same notion of a distinct dream dimension. They believed that their ancestors lived in their dreams and take on non-human forms like plants. They see that dreams are a way of visiting and having contact with their ancestors. Dreams also helped to point to their mission or destiny. (We can learn a lot from these wise ancestors, Every culture I have researched, has offered some truth about dreams and their purpose).
During the Middle Ages, dreams were seen as evil and its images were temptations from the devil. Religion dominated this period of medieval and violent society calling anything evil that crossed the path against the laws and dictatorship of the church leaders. In the vulnerable sleep state, the devil was believed to fill the mind of humans with poisonous thoughts. He did his dirty work though dreams attempting to mislead humans down a wrong path. Yet no thought was given to the fact that God could also speak to mankind in his sleep. Of course, this is the same culture who burned women as witches for having motherly intuition.
In the early 19th century, dreams were dismissed as stemming from anxiety, a household noise or even indigestion. Hence there was really no meaning to it. Later on in the 19th century, Sigmund Freud revived the importance of dreams and its significance and need for interpretation. He revolutionized the study of dreams and slowly we are coming back around to understanding the importance of dreams. Its too bad we had to start all over again, from the beginning, rather then taking off from what was already proven to be true.