Egyptian (ancient) Dream Beliefs
Dream interpretation links back to the ancient Egyptians with the first written record of dream interpretation around 1350 B.C. – although modern findings see it as much earlier. This record was the Chester Beatty Papyrus. Chester Beatty papyrus is the oldest dream book in existence. The book portrayed images of what the dreams meant. Egyptians believed a god named Bes was responsible for their dreams.
Dreams were a very important, and indeed, sacred part of the Egyptian culture. The ancient Egyptians saw dreams as of utmost importance and had dream interpreters who were called “Masters of the Secret Things” who were temple priests. The priests were educated and most of their knowledge was taken from the “The Book of the Dead” – a book of Egyptian wisdom. In this system of belief Egyptians said that gods revealed themselves in dreams. They also saw that dreams gave warnings, advice, and prophecies.
The ancient Egyptians understood that in dreams, our eyes are opened. Their word for dream, rswt, is etymologically connected to the root meaning “to be awake”. It was written with a symbol representing an open eye.
The Egyptians also developed an advanced practice of conscious dream travel. Trained dreamers operated as seers, remote viewers and telepaths, advising on affairs of state and military strategy and providing a mental communications network between far-flung temples and administrative centers. They practiced shapeshifting, crossing time and space in the dreambodies of birds and animals.
Through conscious dream travel, ancient Egypt’s “frequent flyers” explored the roads of the afterlife and the multidimensional universe. It was understood that true initiation and transformation takes place in a deeper reality accessible through the dream journey beyond the body. A rightful king must be able to travel between the worlds.
In early times, in the heb sed festival, conducted in pharaoh’s thirtieth year, the king was required to journey beyond the body, and beyond death, to prove his worthiness to continue on the throne. Led by Anubis, pharaoh descended to the Underworld. He was directed to enter death, “touch the four sides of the land”, become Osiris, and return in new garments – the robe and the spiritual body of transformation. Carol Zaleski, a prominent Harvard theologian, finds near-death experiences in Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Near Eastern myths and legends. It is fascinated to read in her book, Otherworld Journeys, that some cultures see death as a journey whose final goal is the recovery of one’s true nature.
Jeremy Naydler’s Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts makes a convincing case that the palace tombs and pyramid texts of Egypt are about much, much more than funerary arrangements; that the Egyptians traveled beyond the gates of death while very much alive, not only to bring back first-hand knowledge of the afterlife, but to enter into sacred union with the gods and enthrone their power in the body, and so acquire the spiritual and sexual potency to marry the worlds.
Melvin Morse, M.D., and Paul Perry in their book Closer to the Light, say that deep in an secret chamber a solemn group of men sought guidance from death. They dressed in white robes and chanted softly around a casket that is sealed with wax. One person is carefully counting to mark the time. After about eight minutes, the casket is opened, and the man who nearly suffocated inside is revived by the rush of fresh air. He tells the men around him what he saw. As he passed out from lack of oxygen, he saw a light that became brighter and larger as he sped toward it through a tunnel. From that light came a radiant person in white who delivered a message of eternal life.
This was the cult of Osiris, a small society of men who were the priests and pharaohs of ancient Egypt, one of the greatest civilizations in human history. This account of how they inspired near death is an actual description of their rites from Egyptologists who have translated their hieroglyphics.
One of the most important Egyptian rituals involved the reenactment by their god-king of the myth of Osiris, the god who brought agriculture and civilization to the ancient Egyptians. He was the first king of Egypt who civilized his subjects and then traveled abroad to instruct others in the fine art of civilization. His enemies plotted against him. Upon his return to Egypt, he was captured and sealed in a chest. His eventual resurrection was seen as proof of life eternal.
Each new king was supposed to be a direct reincarnation of Osiris. An important part of the ceremony was to re-enact his entombment. These rituals took place in the depths of the Great Pyramid and were a prerequisite for becoming a god-king. It is my guess that many slaves perished while the Egyptians experimented to find exactly how long a person could be sealed in an airtight container and survive.
Because the thought processes of the ancients were very different than occurs today, the ancient Egyptians were convinced that even their thoughts came from the core/central self, and the waking self was only a part of them, and not so important.
A tiny coffin was found, in it was a fetus no older than 18 weeks of gestation. By looking at how the child was buried, it shows archaeologists that even though the child was not born and did not live the life it was meant to live, the Egyptians still gave the little child an ancient ritual burial. Historians said that this particular burial shows them just how precious Egyptians believed life was, even if the child was never actually born. The historians added that this gives them new insight into just how the Egyptians dealt with a miscarriage.
The dream guides of ancient Egypt knew that the dream journey may take the traveller to the stars – specifically to Sothis or Sirius, the “moist land” believed by Egyptian initiates to be the source of higher consciousness, the destination of advanced souls after death, and the home of higher beings who take a close interest in Earth matters.
When we look for ancient sources for all of this, we are challenged to decode fragmentary texts, some collated over many centuries by pious scribes who jumbled together material from different traditions and rival pantheons. Wallis Budge complained (in Osiris) that “the Egyptian appears never to have relinquished any belief which he once had”. We won’t find what we need on the practice of ancient Egyptian dreaming in the fragmentary “dream books” that survive, any more than we’ll grasp what dreaming can be from the kind of dream dictionary you can buy in drugstores today.
We gaze in wonder at the Egyptian picture-books displaying the soul’s journeys and ordeals after death – and the many different aspects of soul energy that survive death – and quickly realize that to understand the source of such visions, and the accuracy of such maps, we must go into a deeper space. We must go to the Magic Library.
In Hellenistic times – the age of Cleopatra – dream schools flourished in the temples of Serapis, a god who melds the qualities of Osiris and Apis, the divine bull. From the 2nd century BCE we have papyri recording the dream diaries of Ptolemaios, who lived for many years in katoche, or sacred retreat, in the temple of Serapis at Memphis. A short biography of the dreamer has been published by the French scholar Michel Chauveau in his book Egypt in the Age of Cleopatra. Ptolemaios was the son of Macedonian colonists, but like ancient Egyptians he was called to the temple by a dream in which the god appeared to him. He seems to have lived for years as a full-time dreamer, whose dreams guided him not only in his spiritual practice but in handling family and business matters beyond the temple walls.
In this later period, the Egyptian priests who specialized in dreaming were called the Learned Ones of the Magic Library. What marvelous promise is in that phrase! What profound recognition of the magic and wisdom that is available to us through dreaming!
Example: Now I am experiencing going through the burial process of ancient Egypt. It is quite strange because I am both an observer and also the person going through the rite of death. I am seeing and experiencing the mummification process. I am not sure why but the word transubstantiation comes to mind. It is something I feel as the process is going on. As the substances are poured into my body I feel my being is transformed.
As I attempt to describe this I am reminded of what happened earlier with the incredibly fast vibrations that I felt were in some way changing my being. So this is again an experience of transformation. I sense it has a gradual refinement of the substance of my being. It is both a rite of death and a transformation of my being into a spirit, into a spirit being. As I write this I wonder if any of this translates into actual physical life. It is now two days after that journey and I do feel different in some way, but I feel that the process of transformation is still underway and I have to come back to it as a sort of meditation.
During my experience of this rite of death I understood that these rituals, but especially the meaning behind the rituals, have become a part of our unconscious. They are like a stratum, a level deep within us through which certain psychological, even physiological and spiritual growth processes still work. They are patterns that are still very powerful in us and our being used in some way to effect personal or spiritual growth. What I mean is that it might be very difficult for the deeper levels of our being too express or communicate to consciousness what is happening, what changes are occurring in us. Now these ancient rituals and ways of life are ready-made images and have great meaning for us, so are still relevant and powerful to us today.