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Mother Earth - A Living Organism

Myths-Dreams-Symbols
The Unconscious World of Dream
intuitive knowledge

A Brief History of Dreams


Ancient Egyptian Theories

Originally dreams were thought to be part of the supernatural world. Dreams were messages from the gods sent to the villagers during the night perhaps as an early warning device for disaster or good fortune. From what we can tell, the Egyptians certainly were the first dreamers to attempt interpretation of their dreams, because of the fact that they published a book on some of the conclusions they had come to about dream symbols. In fact, Egypt was where the process of "dream incubation" began. When a person was having troubles in their life and wanted help from their god, they would sleep in a temple, when they would wake the next morning a priest, which was then called a Master of the Secret Things, would be consulted for the interpretations of that night's dreams.


Greek Philosophy on Dreaming

The Greeks didn't begin seriously considering dreams until 8th century BC. Homer, in his Iliad, describes a scene wherein Agamemnon receives instructions from the messenger of Zeus in a dream. Greeks also believed that dreams carried divine messages, but they could only be interpreted with the aid of a priest similar to those of the Babylonians and Egyptians. It was from these two groups the Greeks also inherited many occult techniques. Dreams also aided in their practice of medicine, sending sick people to particular temples in those places where the "gods of the body" had their shrines. The ailing Greeks would visit these temples, perform various religious rites, sleep, and hope to have a dream that assured a return to good health. Night after night they would sleep and sometimes this would go on for weeks or even months until they had the "right" dream. The most famous for dream pilgrimage was the Aesculapius at Epidaurus.

It is uncertain whether or not the first dream interpreters were legend or reality. Pliny the Elder suggests that the earliest interpreter was a man named Amphictyon, son of Deucalion. It was Deucalion, who in Greek mythology, was the son of Prometheus. Yet, Herodotus, an early historian claimed that the people of Telmessus, which was located in southwest Asia Minor, specialized in dream interpretation. In fact, it was even heard that King Croesus, the last king of Lydia, consulted them for an interpretation of an important dream.

The first steps into modern dream interpretation were taken in the 5th century BC when the Greek philosopher Heraclitus suggested that a person's dream world was something created in their own mind. This went against the other philosophers who believed dreams were the result of outside forces, such as the gods. Most Greek philosophers, in that time period, pondered dreams and what they might mean. Plato was one of these philosophers, and realized how much dreaming could affect a personality or someone's life. In the Phaedo, he tells how Socrates studied music and the arts because he was instructed to do so in a dream.

Aristotle finally put an end to Heraditus' idea that dreams were messages from the gods. He began to study dreams and the dreaming process in a rational way. In his De divinatione per somnum, he states, "most so-called prophetic dreams are to be classed as mere coincidences, especially all such as are extravagant," and later includes that "the most skillful interpreter of dreams is he who has the faculty of absorbing resemblances. I mean that dream presentations are analogous to the forms reflected in water." Aristotle's Parva naturalia suggests that dreams are in fact believed to be a recollection of the days events.

Aristotle also helped advance the theory that dreams reflected a person's bodily health. It suggested that a doctor could diagnose a person illness by hearing a dream that they had. Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine supported this theory, and is still practiced by some doctors of today. Galen of Pergamum, a Greco-Roman physician, picked up where Aristotle had left off. A patient of his dreamed that his left thigh was turned into marble and later lost the use of that leg due to palsy. A wrestler, he had treated, dreamed that he was standing in a pool of blood that had risen over his head. From this dream Galen concluded that this man needed a bloodletting for the pleurisy which he labored. By this means of treatment the man was cured.


Roman Ideas

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. He believed that it was the person's occupation, social status and health would affect the symbols in a dream. Although he was a brilliant man, his interpretations were often 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" and "To hold or eat eggs symbolizes vexation." However, some of the axioms held true to today's interpretations, such as "Sitting naked signifies loss of property."


Biblical Visions

When Christianity came along they revived the idea that dreams were of the supernatural element. The Old Testament of the Bible holds an abundance of dreams. Probably the most famous of these dreams was Jacob's dream of a ladder from Earth to Heaven. Nebuchadnezzer, the King of Babylon who died in 562 BC, had an interesting dream reported in the Book of Daniel. It was in this dream that he dreamed of a beautiful tree with green foliage that the birds nested in and beasts took shelter underneath. But one day a messenger from Heaven ordered the tree to be cut down and the King to be chained to the stump. The King was left alone to feed on the grass as a beast would. Nebuchadnezzer summoned Daniel, an expert on dreams, who told him that the tree represented the King's power and glory. When it was cut down he became nothing but a beast, living off the grass. Daniel explained that this dream was to teach him to acknowledge the heavenly power above him in the same way as he was above the beasts in the field. The dream was, as it turned out, thought to be prophetic.

Many men of Christianity began preaching that God revealed himself through dreams. Among these men was St. John Chrysostom who said that we are not responsible for our dreams, and should be ashamed of what we dream or any images that appear therein. Two other men of the church, St. Augustine and St. Jerome, claimed that the direction of their lives was dramatically affected by dreams that they had. Even other religions believed in the significance dreams had to offer our lives. Mohammed "received" much of the text of the Koran from a dream he had, as well as interpreting dreams of his disciples'.

It wasn't long until others came along and went against the ideas that were presented in the past. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, was a believer in the idea that dreams were the work of the Devil. Luther said that sin was, "the confederate and father of foul dreams." Since the church interpreted God's word, revelations made to individuals in dreams could only have been diabolic.


Middle Eastern Dreamers

The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Christians weren't the only ones interested in dream interpretation in the early stages. An anonymous Persian writer determined that to truly interpret a dream it must be done during the day of occurrence. The Zoroastrians were a religious group that followed this theory, which set rules for each day of the month, such as, "The second day is that of Bahman . . . Events dreamed of will occur in four days, but the hopes which may be cherished will be disappointed."

Gabdorrhachamn was the earliest and most well-known of the Arabic dream interpreters. He was a strong believer in that dreams were prophetic and could only be interpreted by a person with "a clean spirit, chaste morals, and the Word of Truth." But his dreaming aphorisms are thought to have been based on his own feelings rather than a true understanding of dream symbols. For example, "He who dreams that his tongue has been shortened immoderately will utter much folly and ribaldry."


Europeans and Dreaming

The Europeans were very curious about dreaming around the beginning of the 19th century. Robert Cross Smith was one of the first to start this "dream craze." Under the pen name of "Raphael" he published a book called The Royal Book of Dreams and was immensely successful. But it wasn't until Alfred Maury, a French doctor, came along and led us into modern dream interpretation. It was said that he had studied over 3,000 different dreams. External stimuli is what he believed to be the catalyst to all of our dreams. It was a particular dream that Maury had that suggested to him that dreams came about so quickly that they were almost simultaneous with the stimulus that produced them. He had dreamed that he had been condemned to the guillotine and as it fell, he woke up to find the top of the bed had fallen and hit him in the spine at the exact time the guillotine would have struck him.

However, this idea later was proved to be relatively unimportant, and it was thistheory of the unconscious that developed into the modern attitude toward dream interpretation. Maury wasn't too far off with his prediction however. Later, it was discovered that these external stimuli only triggered an earlier dream from the night. Since this would be the last thing remembered from that nights sleep, you believe that the dream you were having when you woke up.


Modern Philosophies

Probably the most well-known of the modern dream philosophers was Sigmund Freud. His theory was that although dreams may be prompted by external stimuli, wish-fulfillment was the root behind most of our dreams. Freud's idea was that our dreams were reflection of our deepest desires going back to our childhood. To Freud, no dream was of entertainment value, they all held important meanings.

Carl Jung, a student of Freud for some time, disagreed on the theory that erotic content was the basis behind most of our dreams. Jung believed that dreams reminded us of our wishes, which enables us to realize the things we unconsciously yearn for, and helps us to fulfill our own wishes. Contradictory to how Freud believed dreams were a product of our desires that were too outrageous for our own belief, and were in our unconscious to help conceal these desires. These dreams were messages, Jung believed, from ourselves to ourselves and that we should pay attention to them for our own benefit.

Today, most psychologists agree with Jung's theory, and it is this theory that makes dream interpretation something that we can use in our everyday lives. If Freud were alivetoday he would disagree with every theory that says you are able to interpret your own dreams. Jung believed that, although it was difficult, dreams were meant to be understood.


Other Ideas

Ever since the Freud/Jung rivalry, other theories about dreams and dreaming have flourished and are continuing to be developed today. There are some though that believe that any theory on dreams is basically pointless to have a theory on dreaming because it is just another fact of life. Dreams, to some, are meaningless to us and just another one of those things that comes along with life. Then there are others who say that dreams are either the clearing of fragments from our memory banks or that they are the storage of these fragments. Either way they are believed to be unimportant to us and should be disregarded. However, there are the people that argue against this and say that dreams are important to living full and complete lives. Until there is a definite way to study how dreams work and where they come from for sure, we will only have to decide which theory we believe for ourselves.


©1997 ThinkQuest Team 11189