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History Of Dreaming

Based on the beliefs of early cultures such as the Australian Aborigines and the Kalahari Bushmen, we can be certain dreams were an important part of the life of early human beings. The earliest know record of dreams is recorded in the epic poem Gilgamesh, which is 4000 years old. The text includes an account of a series of dreams.

From the earliest ages in mankind’s shrouded history, dreams have been a source of wonder and speculation, inspiration and fear. This chapter deals with some of the explanations men have given for why and how one dreams. It must be understood, however, that these various accounts are put here, not because they are necessarily correct accounts of dreaming, but simply to give a ‘background’ of information on the dream.

The most ancient peoples, whether separated by seas, geographical barriers, or culture, usually had in common an enormous respect for dreams. Many early societies had a very dualistic philosophy regarding life. That is, they believed that their life was divided into two distinct aspects. One aspect was their everyday physical world, the world of the body. The other was the world of sleep, dreams, visions and death. In sleep, early man believed that one’s soul, or consciousness left one’s body, and travelled the sleep world, the world of dreams. This dream world was very real to them, so real in fact that many felt that the dream world was more real than the physical world. For instance, if a man dreamt that his wife had slept with another man, it was not simply shrugged off as ‘only a dream’ but was taken very seriously. See Inner World

J. A. Hadfield, in his book Dreams and Nightmares humorously says the ‘modern instance is that of a young wife who dreamt that her husband was making love to a blonde and was furious. Being reminded that it was only a dream, she replied, “Yes! But if he does that sort of thing in my dream, what will he do in his own?”‘

In the dream world of early man, it was stated that one’s soul could travel to distant places in the real world, could experience or know one’s innermost feelings, could contact and converse with the dead, or meet the gods and spirits, or see God. We cannot simply dismiss these beliefs as valueless, because modern research and investigation is now concerning itself with a serious inquiry into all these possibilities.

In these early societies, where such beliefs were a part of life itself, youths of both sexes were helped to establish their maturity by initiations which often used or sought dreams. At such times, the young girl or boy would go to some lonely spot where they would fast and await a sign, by dream or vision (i.e. waking dream) that gave them a clue to their direction in life. To give an actual case, written down by Father Lalemant, a Jesuit:

At the age of about sixteen, a youth went alone to a place where he fasted for sixteen days. At the end of this time he suddenly heard a voice in the sky saying, ‘Take care of this man, and let him end his fast.’ Then he saw an old man of great beauty come down from the sky. The old man came to him, looking at him kindly, and said, ‘Have courage, I will take care of thy life. It is a fortunate thing for thee to have taken me for thy master. None of the demons who haunt these countries will have any power to harm thee. One day thou wilt see thine hair as white as mine. Thou wilt have four children, the first two and last will be males, and the third will be a girl, after that thy wife will hold the relation of a sister to thee.’ As he finished speaking the old man offered him a raw piece of human flesh to eat. When the boy turned his head away in horror, the old man then offered him a piece of bear’s fat, saying, ‘Eat this then.’ After eating it, the old man disappeared, but came again at crucial periods in the person’s life. At manhood he did have four children, as described. After the fourth, ‘a certain infirmity compelled him to continence. He also lived to an old age, thus having white hair, and as the eating of bear fat symbolised, became a gifted hunter with a second sight for finding game.

The man himself felt that had he eaten the human flesh in the vision, he would have been a warrior instead.

So we see that such initiatory dreams fulfilled many functions. Not only did they affirm the dreamer of a ‘spirit’ protector, giving him confidence to leave the physical protection of his mother and father, but also gave his most fitting employment as hunter, and the main events of his life. With such knowledge, he could approach life more confidently.

An even more complete idea of how early societies related to their dreams is given by M. L. von Franz in her article The Process of Individuation in the book Man and His Symbols, by Carl G. Jung. Writing about the ‘self’ as the inner centre to all our experience, she says:

‘This inner centre is realised in exceptionally pure unspoiled form by the Naskapi Indians, who still exist in the forests of the Labrador peninsula. These simple people are hunters who live in isolated family groups, so far from one another that they have not been able to evolve tribal customs or collective religious beliefs and ceremonies. In his lifelong solitude the Naskapi hunter has to rely on his own inner voices and unconscious revelations; he has no religious teachers who tell him what he should believe, no rituals, festivals or customs to help him along. In his basic view of life, the soul of man is simply an ‘Inner companion’, whom he calls ‘My friend’ or ‘Mista peo’, meaning ‘Great Man’. Mista peo dwells in the heart and is immortal; in the moment of death, or just before, he leaves the individual, and later reincarnates himself in another being.

‘Those Naskapi who pay attention to their dreams and who try to find their meaning and test their truth can enter into a greater connection with the Great Man. He favours such people and sends them more and better dreams. Thus the major obligation of an individual Naskapi is to follow the instructions given by his dreams, and then to give permanent form to their contents in art. Lies and dishonesty drive the Great Man away from one’s inner realm, whereas generosity and love of one’s neighbours and of animals attract him and give him life. Dreams give the Naskapi complete ability to find his way in life, not only in the inner world but also in the outer world of nature. They help him to foretell the weather and give him invaluable guidance in his hunting, upon which his life depends…. Just as the Naskapi have noticed that a person who is receptive to the Great Man gets better and more helpful dreams, we could add that the inborn Great Man becomes more real within the receptive person than in those who neglect him. Such a person also becomes a more complete human being.”

Although possibly not as unspoilt as the Naskapi beliefs, those of the Seneca Indians are worthy of note. The Jesuits began preaching to these Indians in 1668. Father Fremin wrote much about their ideas, although in a slightly critical vein, saying, ‘The Iroquois have, properly speaking, only a single Divinity – the dream. … The Tsonnontonens (Seneca) are more attached to this superstition than to any other.’

Father Ragueneau, in 1649, described the beliefs behind their so called superstition as follows. ‘In addition to the desires which we generally have that are free, or at least voluntary in us, and which arise from a previous knowledge of some goodness that we imagine to exist in the thing desired, the Hurons believe that our souls have other desires, which are, as it were, inborn and concealed. These, they say, come from the depths of the soul, not through any knowledge.

‘Now they believe that our soul makes these desires known by means of dreams, which are its language. Accordingly, when these desires are accomplished, it is satisfied; but, on the contrary, if it be not granted what it desires, it becomes angry … often it revolts against the body, causing various diseases, and even death….’

The Indian tribes mentioned often had a sort of social psychiatry in which dreamers were allowed to live out their hidden (unconscious) desires that were threatening health and well being. Thus a dreamer would be allowed sexual freedoms with others; unlawful actions; objects desired; or feasts, etc.; although these peoples as a society were usually modest and shy, and chastity and marital fidelity were public ideals.

Thus we see in the beliefs of the ‘backward’ Indians, ideas that took our civilised societies three hundred years longer to arrive at. Admittedly, our psychiatrist’s couch and enormous mental institutions take the place of the more public ‘acting out’ of hidden desires. Nevertheless, mentally or emotionally induced illnesses were recognised and treated. So we see that early man recognised conscious and unconscious parts of self. They realised that dreams expressed these ‘hidden’ desires, often in a symbolic form, enabling us to deal with them before they produced sickness.

Turning to more recent sources of dream beliefs, it is distressing to see how less, instead of more, understanding is expressed. Most of the ancient world, including the Far East, believed that dreams were sent by gods or spirits, shrines for incubating dreams also existed (and still do) in the Far East. Japanese emperors, searching for solutions to political problems, incubated their dreams at a Shinto temple at Usa on the southern island of Kyushu. The emperor’s palace also contained a ‘dream-hall’, with an incubation bed made of polished Stone.

But they do not seem to have worked out such a clear conception as the North American Indians.   Aristotle, for instance, writes on the idea that dreams arise from movements in the body, saying, ‘The conclusion to be drawn from all these facts is that the dream is a sort of image and that it is produced during sleep, for the appearances manifest themselves when our senses are free. But not every image that manifests itself in sleep is a dream. For, sometimes, certain persons perceive in a certain manner in their sleep both sounds and light, both savours and contacts, but faintly and as if from afar. In fact, people who have seen in their sleep what was, according to them, the light of a lamp, realised immediately after waking that it was the light of a lamp; and people who have heard cocks crowing, or dogs barking, have recognised them clearly on waking. … But the images that come from the movement of sensible impressions, when one is sound asleep, that is a dream.’

In the Aesculapius dream temples, the dreams were said to be invoked by the god, whose symbol was also a serpent. Thus a childless woman, going to the temple to secure fertility, dreamt that the god approached her followed by a snake. The snake then entered her sexually. After the dream, and within the year, she had two sons. Sometimes the person would dream that they had been made well and would awake to find the dream accomplished. The rooms in which patients slept were occupied by snakes of a harmless variety also. This, along with the necessary rites and purifications, set the patient in the right frame of mind and emotion, to receive a healing dream.

Such dream induction by a particular setting and rites is very similar to the more ancient practices of fasting and waiting for the initiating dream, Similar, that is, in the sense of seeking a particular type of dream at a particular time and place. See Incubating Dreams

Islamic traditions also have a rite called Istiqara, where the participant repeats a particular prayer, said to have been given by Mohammed, enabling one to dream the answer to a problem. This was used in recent years by Dr. Mossadegh. The resulting dream was of a being who told Dr Mossadegh to make all haste in efforts to nationalise Iranian Oil. As Dr Mossadegh was convalescing from illness, this was difficult. Also the political climate at that time regarding the nationalisation of oil seemed hopeless. Some months later, however, due to Dr Mossadegh’s continued efforts, Iranian Oil was in fact nationalised.

In the Bible, there are many references to dreams. The history changing dreams of Pharaoh about the fat and thin kine, along with New Testament dreams, are taken to be given by God, or angels. In the dream of Peter, where the unclean animals are let down in a sheet, and Pharaoh’s dream, we see clearly symbolic dreams, the meaning of which is arrived at through insight.

At other places, we find mention of God’s intervention in our dream life. Thus in Genesis 20:3, we read, ‘But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife.’ Later, in Job 33: IS, it says, ‘In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed, then he (God) openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, that he may withdraw a man from his purpose, and hide pride from man.

In the Indian Yoga teachings, they mention four states of consciousness, that is, waking – dreaming – dreamless sleep – superconsciousness. Although, as in Patanjali’s Aphorism’s mention is made of dreams as a subject for meditation, Yoga practitioners seek to become aware at the dreamless and superconscious levels. That is, they seek to get behind the images of dreams to that which is conscious of them, i.e. the Self, the basic part of our being. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead one sees a detailed commentary on how to become liberated from inner images analogous to dreams. This too, we must consider as one of the aims of a modern dream investigator.

Turning to more modern concepts of dreams and dreaming, one finds, largely, a slide into a materialistic attitude. For instance there was for long the opinion that dreams were caused by a late, heavy meal, or eating highly stimulating foods. One could call this the ‘indigestion’ theory.

Some experimentation was also undertaken in the realm of dreams produced by outside influences. Thus, a number of people have slept and been exposed to drops of water, ticking, sounds, scents, bells, electrical brain stimuli and even hypnotic suggestion. All of these produced dreams in some way explaining the stimulus. For instance, Alexandre Arnoux writes how, when in a rest camp, he dreamt that the Germans had sent over a poisonous gas smelling of quinces. He awoke gasping for breath, only to see that his friend had just entered the room eating a quince. Another writer, Massey, on having water dropped on his face, dreamt he was in Italy, drinking wine and perspiring heavily. In the case of the electrical probe to the brain, particular memories were evoked, clear and distinct.

Another popular theory is that dreams are the uncontrolled wanderings of the sleeping mind. This theory sees the images of dreams as occurring due to the natural psychological law of association of ideas. Thus, as we drift into sleep, we may be entertaining the idea of a bicycle. The idea bicycle associates with journey, journey with someone we wish to see, this with fear of their not being there to welcome us, which links with our walking alone, etc.

J. A. Hadfield, in his excellent book Dreams and Nightmares, lists all these ideas and more. He points out that each of these ideas is true as far as it goes, but none of them explain all factors about dreams. Recent experiments have shown that even outside stimulus does not produce the dream, it merely enters into its images. Nor is a dream merely past memories, as a dream often uses images in unique formation, and we have to ask ourselves what has reshaped the images of our memory. In the dream of Arnoux, for instance, the smell of quince definitely enters into the dream, but if we are honest, we have to admit that an interior fear and terror is also expressive in the dream, and can thus be used as a means of self analysis.

The internally produced dream theory of Aristotle has proved itself, however, at least partially true. Observations of dreams has shown a number of times how a person may dream of a particular part of his body due to sickness in that area. Armaud de Villeneuve, for instance, dreamt that a dog bit his leg. A few days later a cancerous growth became visible on the same spot. A Swiss poet, Gessner, dreamt that a snake bit him in the left side, and shortly afterwards developed a malignant tumour there, The great many experiences of this nature are explained on the grounds that during sleep we are more sensitive to inner disturbances than in waking. As with dreams woven around outside stimuli, the inner irritations of developing sickness can announce themselves in the images of our dreams. However, due to the claims of mystics, and the present tentative findings of parapsychology concerning the possibility that human consciousness exists outside of the body, or for one person to know or receive the thoughts and feelings of another, it seems likely that it is not only subtle sensations in the body that may stimulate dream images. We can therefore say that some of the causes may be physical sensations from within or outside the body-moods, fears, desires or pressures, etc., existing in the personality of the sleeper, such as unconscious realisation of ideas, levels of being and new states of mind, and stimuli from other minds.

Before we progress to the great dream authorities of the twentieth century it will be illuminating to quickly look at the ideas expressed by an American of the nineteenth century. I use the word illuminating, as here is a man who expressed the idea of evolution to the world some years before Darwin published his works. This man was Dr Andrew Jackson Davis, born in 1826. In 1850 (nine years before Darwin’s work) he wrote and published The Great Harmonia, in which we read:

The progressive development of the animal kingdom up to man may be traced from its very beginnings, when – as the result of a marriage between the highest forms and essences in the vegetable kingdom – there arose the first form of animal life – the inferior order of radiata. At a later era the pisces was followed by that of the birds. The marsupial was next, and then the mammalian. The primary change from this last into inferior types of human organism is so easy that the anatomical and physiological transformation is scarcely perceptible. (Not that evolution is unique to our culture. Jalaludin Rumi, a thirteenth century mystic, clearly wrote of it.)

Excuse my enthusiasm in quoting something that seemingly has nothing to do with dreams. I feel, however, that ‘dream historians’ have overlooked a great mind in A. J. Davis, and the quote is a reference to his qualifications, this being felt necessary as his source of information is psychic rather than scientific. That is, through his unique ability, he was able to explore the interior of his own being consciously. So his remarks on evolution arose from information he obtained from what might be called a dream state. Davis called it ‘The Superior Condition’. However, here are his remarks and theory on sleep and dreams.

“Sleep is that mode by which the fatigued soul withdraws partially from the physical organism and gathers inwardly for purposes of recuperation. At the same time it remains sufficiently within them to inspire the involuntary systems with constant motion, that they may fulfil their respective functions. The place into which it (soul-consciousness) retires is the most interior portions of the viscera and the deepest recesses of the sensorium. The superior brain or cerebrum yields up its powers to the cerebellum and this resigns in turn to the medulla spinalis. During the period of natural rest the cerebellum never sleeps, and in the waking hours the cerebrum is in constant activity, guiding and controlling the organisation.

“The spirit (energising principle), when (we are) asleep, moves with the greatest precision through the whole organic domain, but especially the inner chambers the sensorium and the ganglionic and lymphatic batteries of the visceral system.

“The phenomena of dreams are controlled by established laws which may be applied to education and the development of mind. Properly speaking there is no such condition as absolute suspension of consciousness, only of external powers of memory. When the mind passes into a coma, the spirit takes up the thread of previous interior experiences. The mind has two memories, one of the body and the world without, the other a more inward scroll, on the deepest folds of which are registered those experiences which the soul has obtained from the world within. The significance of dreams depends upon their nature and derivation…. Even in prophetic warnings, the soul does its own work almost invariably, by extending its sensiferous faculties towards the future, and thus perceiving those events which laws of cause and effect are certain to develop.

” … Owing to wrong living and intemperance (in amount and quality of food), no one enjoys perfect slumber except for exceedingly brief periods; but when experienced in its fullness, and when the soul is resigned to the will of God through recognition of Nature’s laws, the individual is then on the confines of the other life. True sleep is a temporary death of the body and a rest of the soul. It is distinguished from imperfect slumber by the absence of all ordinary dreaming.”

Davis also gives very practical hints, although general, in understanding dreams.

“It follows that dreaming deserves investigation as a precursor and accompaniment of disease. Lively dreams are in general a sign of attenuated excitement of the nervous system. Soft or vapourish dreams denote slight cerebral irritation, or alternatively, a favourable crisis in nervous fevers. Frightful dreams betoken a determination of arterial blood to the head. Dreams about blood and red objects, houses and ships on fire, imps, demons, etc., indicate an inflammatory condition of the semi-intellectual and perceptive faculties of the cerebrum. Dreams about water, rain, floods, deluges often characterise diseased mucous membranes and dropsy. Dreams in which a person sees any portion of his own body, especially in a suffering state, point to disturbances in that area. So also dreams of food, feasts and so forth are usually traceable to impaired digestive functions. This explanation of a certain class of dream does not pose as a solution of all such mental phenomena.”

He goes on to say that such interpretation is only dealing with physical relationships. His main theme, however, is how to obtain ‘great’ or ‘spiritual’ dreams.

“In those (dreams) which emanate from the world of spirits, it is a fact that spiritual dreams only occur in a state of perfect slumber. The will and faculties of thought must be in a state of complete quiescence. … Such influences cannot enter when the front brain (intellect, will) is at all positive. Perfect slumber is nigh unto death. The higher departments of mind are not occupied by thought, the holy elements of feeling are stilled; the front brain or cerebrum is a tranquil domain; there is no sentinel at the gate of the brain but the vigilant cerebellum. The mind is then ready for a high order of dream.”

Leaving the Poughkeepsie Seer, as Davis was called, we turn to another more recent seer, Edgar Cayce of Virginia Beach. As early as 1925 Edgar Cayce was already interpreting dreams from a viewpoint free of fixed sexual or intellectually psychological attitudes. He must rate, along with leaders of this more open attitude such as J. A. Hadfield, and Leslie Weatherhead, as one of those who brought the dream ‘home’ to the public. Some of his pupils would like to claim him as the beginner of such attitudes, but J. A. Hadfield, from the point of psychology, and Weatherhead from a Christian viewpoint, had already given long years of public service before 1925. Nevertheless, the work of Cayce has directed the attention of thousands to their dream life. The groups organised to work on their dreams, in their collective numbers, probably outweigh the work of the others.

Possibly Cayce’s attitude to dreams may be summed up by this statement he made from a deep sleep/trance state:

“These (dreams), as we see, may be used to the edification of the entity into that of how spiritual laws are manifested in the physical world.”

All such statements about dreams, and the countless other subjects he mentioned, were spoken from a trance or sleep state similar to that of Davis. This is rather like listening in to what the unconscious mind says about itself. In another such statement, he says that through a study of dreams, a person, may gain the more perfect understanding and knowledge of those forces that go to make up the real existence – the underlying meaning of life – and what it’s good for – if the entity would but comprehend the conditions being manifested.

Cayce taught, like others, that dreams reflect activities in the body, in the emotions, mind and general attitudes of a person. But his main point was that the dream helps the individual understand his relationship with the whole, with Life or God. He said, in 1923:

“Forget not that it has been said correctly that the Creator, the Gods and the God of the Universe, speak to man through his individual self. Man approaches the more intimate conditions of that field of the inner self when the conscious self is at rest in sleep or slumber, at which time more of the inner forces are taken into consideration and studied by the individual, not someone else. It is each individual’s job, if he will study to show himself approved by God, to understand his individual condition, his individual position in relation to others, his individual manifestation, through his individual receiving of messages from the higher forces themselves, through dreams.”

Shane Miller in his article ‘Working With Dreams as Recommended by the Cayce Readings’, says:

“The Cayce premise states in effect that anyone, whether psychically gifted or not, who will record his dreams in an attitude of prayerful persistence can, in time, bring about a complete restoration of the dream faculty. (The dream faculty at present seems to be the remains of a long disused and discredited function of the higher mind.) … any dream which has a certain story content or mood, particularly if it is in colour, should be studied; and that is the complete premise which, if faithfully followed can bring about a new dimension into the experience of anyone who will keep everlastingly at it!”

In this sense a dream can be a message from the Highest, expressed in the symbolic language of the unconscious. So in looking at a dream, we may be reading a letter from God. That is, a correspondence between the universal forces that have formed us, and the individual that in being formed calls itself ‘I’. A conversation then, between God and I.

Obviously, the word ‘God’ for many has repugnant religious undertones from which they shy away. They may therefore miss some of the important ideas Cayce has presented. Possibly this other theory, which is a synthesis of several liberal ideas on dreams will be more attractive.

“Consciousness is the result of various energies combining as our being. Yet consciousness, if studied carefully does not, in a peculiar way, rely upon the factors that give it expression. For instance, we are shown in modern brain operations, that only when the small area of the brain, the thalamus, is removed, does one lose consciousness. The other large areas can be cut off or damaged without the person ‘losing’ consciousness. This seems to suggest that consciousness is due to the thalamus, allied to the body. But from the information in other experiments, this seems to give a false idea. It would be better to say that the thalamus enables consciousness to express. In the same way, an electric fire allows electricity to express some of its potential. If one removes the thalamus, or the fire from the circuit, it has not removed consciousness or electricity, merely takes away their vehicle of expression.”

From this viewpoint we can think of consciousness as always existing, but not necessarily expressing all of its potential. This would give us an entirely new concept of sleep. For sleep would be the partial withdrawing of consciousness from the organs of its expression, and a sinking into its most basic levels of existence. Thus the individual, in sleep, would sink into the primordial level of being that existed even prior to his or her birth. For if consciousness is what I think it is, it, like the electricity, is a principle of nature, and pre-exists the apparatus through which it realises itself in the physical world. Thus, a dream may well be the reaction expressed in images, of the conscious aspect of self meeting its primordial and eternal aspect in nature. The dream would then remind us of the spark between two electrical charges of different potential as they touch and become balanced. A dream would express the ‘difference’ between the individual and his source. From it one may understand how he relates to the whole.

The words of Nietzsche add yet another dimension to this attitude. In Human, all too Human, he wrote:

“I hold that as man now still reasons in dreams, so men reasoned also when awake through thousands of years. … This ancient element in human nature still manifests itself in our dreams, for it is the foundation upon which the higher reason has developed and still develops in every individual; the dream carries us back into remote conditions of human culture, and provides a ready means of understanding them.”

As already mentioned, J. A. Hadfield has done much through his life work and books, to bring understanding of inner experience to the ordinary person. His own view on dreams is summed up as follows:

“According to what we shall call the Biological Theory of dreams, the function of dreams is that by means of reproducing the unsolved experiences of life, they work towards a solution of these problems.”

Firstly – Dreams stand in the place of experience. Thus by making us relive the experiences and difficulties of the day in imagination they relieve us of the necessity of going through the actual experience by trial and error and thus save us many a disaster. … It is obvious, therefore, that dreams serve the same purpose as ideational processes, much as we exercise in normal thought in waking life.

Also – Every individual has potentialities in his nature, all of which are not merely seeking their own individual ends, but each and all of which subserve the functions of the personality as a whole. But in the course of life many of these potentialities become repressed. In analytic treatment we attempt to release these repressed emotions, and direct them to the uses of life for which they were intended, and so make the personality whole. But dreams were attempting the same thing long before analytic treatment was thought of, and therefore dreams also, by releasing repressed experiences and emotions, are striving to solve these problems and to restore the personality to efficient functioning as a whole.

Turning at last to Freud and Jung, an attempt will be made to synthesise their particular standpoint regarding dreams. Starting with Freud, we cannot properly understand his statements without an understanding of Libido. To take an image from an earlier statement, we can think of libido as the energy behind our living process. If we think of the body as an efficient machine, then perhaps libido could be thought of as the electricity or power that works the machine. Not only does this energy emerge as motion and function, but it also lies behind our instincts, emotions, sexual drive, desire for social standing and recognition, our intellectual curiosity, and all the other aspects of life. Thinking of libido as a stream of energy, flowing out via our sexual, intellectual, emotional and other activities, we see, in the full expression of this energy, psychological health. However, if some of this energy, on entering our sexual activity is not released, it causes inner pressures we call neuroses, or a complex. (For the energy may be expressed morbidly or in an unacceptable manner as in homosexuality.)

For Freud, the dream is a wish fulfillment of these hidden desires which he maintained were usually of a sexual nature. The dream in this sense, is a method of making conscious unacceptable desires. Thus, if one wished to be rid of one’s father, or to sleep with one’s mother, but could not express either of these even in speech, because of the forbidden nature of such, one could do so in a dream. However, due to the fact that such desires arouse deep guilt feelings, we may not wish to openly express them even in a dream. Thus the dream both expresses and disguises the desires all at once. For instance, Freud considered that to dream of having sexual intercourse with an old woman, was a disguised dream concerning one’s mother. Or putting a key in a lock symbolises sexual intercourse.

So far we see that the Seneca Indians held much the same views. Similarly they believed dreams had a latent and manifest content; that is, a hidden, or difficult to understand meaning behind the obvious events in the dream. Also, Freud maintained that all dreams are potentially understandable. They all arise from some cause, and if understood this cause becomes revealed. That is not to say, of course, that all dreams are understood.

Originally, Freud maintained that dreams were all wish fulfilments of hidden urges relating to our sexual nature. Later this was widened to include wish fulfilments of repressed aggressiveness.

Jung, following upon Freud and Adler’s work, maintained that the ‘dream shows in what direction the unconscious is leading’ the dreamer. Also, he says, ‘In dream interpretation we ask what conscious attitude does the dream compensate.’ Thus, dreams for Jung, point to the fact that the processes in man’s consciousness that he is unaware of, attempt to fulfil or realise themselves in a particular direction. A plant for instance, has hidden within it the possibility of stem, leaves, flower and seeds. These it attempts to produce. Similarly, a man has the possibility of further extensions of consciousness, of realisation, of abilities and desires which may be held back by conscious attitudes. For instance, a man may have latent artistic abilities which are held back from ‘flowering’ due to his conscious insistence on purely logical and money-making activities.

In this case, the dream may portray the man doing irrational things, because it compensates for his ‘Oh so logical’ conscious attitude. Also Jung began the direction of looking to dreams as a search for one’s wholeness – not only sexually, but in all functions. Our sexual drives, our urge for power and social position, our intellectual curiosity, our innate desire to understand ourselves, and relate harmoniously to others and life around us, are all dealt with in dreams.

In Man and His Symbols, Jung talks of God in a way not found in other branches of psychiatry.

“Christians often ask why God does not speak to them, as he is believed to have done in former days. When I hear such questions I always think of the rabbi who was asked how it could be that God often showed himself to people in the olden days while nowadays nobody ever sees him. The rabbi replied: ‘Nowadays there is no longer anybody who can bow low enough.’”

This answer hits the nail on the head. We are so captivated by and entangled in our subjective consciousness that we have forgotten the age-old fact that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions. The Buddhist discards the world of the unconscious fantasies as useless illusions; the Christian puts his Church and his Bible between himself and his unconscious; and the rational intellectual does not yet know that his consciousness is not yet his total psyche (self).

Perhaps in the end, we can see that none of these views need be discarded. As one writer has remarked, several men all looking at the same landscape may all describe, and even ‘sense’ it differently. A geologist would see it differently to an artist, who in turn would feel about it differently to a farmer, and so on. In sleep, we may approach some inner landscape that represents our wholeness – the latent qualities of our own being. The wonderful thing is that our dream is our own. It uses our own symbols, our own emotions, our own understanding, our own possibilities. With these it paints a truly personal wonder we call a dream. Surely this is worth understanding? For an explanation of the way dreams form and arise see Functions of dreams

See: analysis of dreamsEgyptian (ancient) dream beliefs; yoga and dreamsBuddhism and dreamsmyths legends and fairy tales in dreamsreligion and dreamsChristianity and dreamsIslamic dream traditions; Hebrew/Jewish Dream Beliefs.

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved