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Imagination and Dreaming

“From the beginning, we must infer, man was a dreaming animal; and possibly the richness of his dreams was what enabled him to depart from the restrictions of a purely animal career.

“Did this breach between the inner and outer world not merely cause wonderment but invite further comparison and demand interpretation? If so, it would lead to a greater paradox: that it was the dream that opened man’s eyes to new possibilities in his waking life”. From Our Dreaming Mind.

‘What imagery was likely to appear in these dreams of long ago? Since much of our early ancestors’ waking lives was spent chasing or being chased by various animals, it is probable that interactions with animals were a prominent theme in their dream-life. Perhaps some of the crude drawings of animals etched and painted on cave walls ten to twenty thousand years ago were intended to preserve the nocturnal images that appeared in the dreams of the cave dwellers who resided there. Sometimes these paintings portrayed animal-human combinations.”

Because man’s pre-agricultural destiny was so dependent on animals, their influence was pervasive and they sometimes achieved the status of deities. An example of this is found in ancient Egypt, where dozens of deities were represented as having animal heads. Some of these were Bast (cat), Sebek (crocodile), Horus (falcon), Heket (frog), and Amon (ram). These animal-headed deities may have first emerged in dreams. Since dreams often are associated with fear or awe for the dreamer, there would have been a strong urge to communicate their intriguing imagery to others. The cave paintings may have been one vehicle for this, and dance and dramatic re-enactment may have been another.

As human cultures developed, there was a corresponding increase in the ability to tell stories. In his book The Roots of Civilisation, Alexander Marshack contends that the ability of humans to process ‘storied thinking’ is responsible for all cultural evolution:

What then is ‘story?’ The simplest definition is that it is the communication of an event or process that is happening, has happened, or will happen. … It is in the nature of the ‘story equation’ that it must always be told in terms of someone or something. … This holds whether one uses words, mime, dance, ritual, or refers to the symbolism of dream and trance. Every story is an event which includes characters (whether spirit, god, hero, person …) who change or do things in time.

Marshak contends that our knowledge base expanded as people became more frequently involved in stories in which characters changed and the role of time became more complex. Dreams, of course, represent ‘storied thinking’ par excellence, and as dreams are shared new outcomes can be imagined. A considerable contribution to the ‘storied thinking’ of ancient peoples came from characters who were spirits, gods, or heroes and their presence was frequently described in dreams. The attributes and activities of these characters varied from culture to culture, but spiritual or mythological figures have been omnipresent in the dreams of all ages.’ From The Dreaming Mind.

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved