Religion and Dreams

And He said, “Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream” (Num. 12:6).

“I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).

“For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; Then He openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, That He may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword.” (Job 33:14- 18).

feathers2

In most ancient cultures, consideration and even veneration of dreams played a great part. Some groups felt that dream life was more real and important than waking life. Not only were dreams looked to for information about hunting, as in Eskimo and African groups; but also for ways of healing physical and psychological ills, such as the Greek Dream Temples of Asclepius; insights into the medicinal properties of herbs, barks and clays with African tribal witch-doctors. Common to most of these groups, and evident in the Old Testament, was also the sense that through dreams one had awareness of the transcendental or supersensible. St. Peter’s dream of the sheet and unclean animals was a turning point in the history of Western society – as was Constantine’s dream of his victory if he used the symbol of Christianity.

At its most fundamental, the human religious sense emerges out of several factors. One is the awareness of existing amidst external and internal forces of nature which cause us to feel vulnerable and perhaps powerless. Such natural processes as illness, death, growth and decay, earthquakes, the seasons, confront us with things which are often beyond our ability to control. Considering the information and resources of the times, one of religion’s main functions in the past, was the attempted control of the ‘uncertain’ factors in human life, and help toward psychological adjustment to vulnerability. Religions were the first social programs aiding the human need for help and support toward emotional, mental, physical and social health and maturity. Even if primitive, such programs helped groups of people gain a common identity and live in reasonable harmony together. Like a computer program which is specific to a particular business, such programs were specific to a particular group, and so may be outdated in today’s need for greater integration with other races.

Example: The flux is the heart of all religions. I couldn’t get them before until I had accepted myself and integrated the different aspects of myself and life. Not only am I accepting all the different parts of life but I have their potential also. I had the potential of the predator, of the parent, of the lover, of the soldier and tradesmen. I have actually absorbed them. Whoever loves me becomes part of or has access to that flux.

I felt that that was what it meant when Jesus doesn’t turn anybody away, and doesn’t judge anyone. These different aspects are part of ones nature, just as everybody in the objective world is a part of ones wider life. But they are all parts of ones nature, beautiful parts of ones whole.

Kinship with all life

Dreams also portray and define the aspect of human experience in which we have a sense of kinship with all life forms. This is an experience through which we find a connection with the roots of our being. While awake we might see the birth of a colt and feel the wonder of emergence and newness; the struggle to stand up and survive; the miracle of physical and sexual power which can be accepted or feared. In looking in the faces of fellow men and women we see something of what they have done in this strange and painful wonder we call life. We see whether they have been crushed by the forces confronting them; whether they have become rigid; or whether, through some common miracle, they have been able to carry into their mature years, the laughter, the crying, the joy, the ability to feel pain that are the very signs of life within the human soul. These things are sensed by us all, but seldom organised into a comprehensive view of life and an extraction of meaning. Often it is only in our dreams, through the ability the unconscious has to draw out the significance of such widely divergent experiences, that we glimpse the unity behind phenomena. This sense of unity is an essential of spiritual life – i.e. we all have a liver, we breath, we have come from a mother, so share a universal experience.

This experience of touching the essence of life is wonderfully portrayed in the following example. It is quoted from J. B. Priestley’s book Rain Upon Godshill:

Just before I went to America, during the exhausting weeks when I was busy with my Time Plays, I had such a dream, and I think it left a greater impression on my mind than any experience I had ever known before, awake or in dreams, and said more to me about this life than any book I have ever read. The setting of the dream was quite simple, and owed something to the fact that not long before my wife had visited the lighthouse here at St. Catherine’s to do some bird ringing. I dreamt I was standing at the top of a very high tower, alone, looking down upon myriads of birds all flying in one direction; every kind of bird was there, all the birds in the world. It was a noble sight, this vast aerial river of birds. But now in some mysterious fashion the gear was changed, and time speeded up, so that I saw generations of birds, watched them break their shells, flutter into life, mate, weaken, falter and die. Wings grew only to crumble; bodies were sleek, and then, in a flash bled and shrivelled; and death struck everywhere at every second. What was the use of all this blind struggle towards life, this eager trying of wings, this hurried mating, this flight and surge, all this gigantic meaningless effort?

As I stared down, seeming to see every creature’s ignoble little history almost at a glance, I felt sick at heart. It would be better if not one of them, if not one of us, had been born, if the struggle ceased for ever. I stood on my tower, still alone, desperately unhappy. But now the gear was changed again, and the time went faster still, and it was rushing by at such a rate, that the birds could not show any movement, but were like an enormous plain sown with feathers. But along this plain, flickering through the bodies themselves, there now passed a sort of white flame, trembling, dancing, then hurrying on; and as soon as I saw it I knew that this white flame was life itself, the very quintessence of being; and then it came to me, in a rocket burst of ecstasy, that nothing mattered, nothing could ever matter, because nothing else was real but this quivering and hurrying lambency of being. Birds, men and creatures not yet shaped and coloured, all were of no account except so far as this flame of life travelled though them. It left nothing to mourn over behind it; what I had thought was tragedy was mere emptiness or a shadow show; for now all real feeling was caught and purified and danced on ecstatically with the white flame of life. I had never before felt such deep happiness as I knew at the end of my dream of the tower and the birds.”

The totem as symbol

Some North American Indians developed the totem out of similar processes. In one generation a person might learn to plant a seed and eat the results. Later someone might see that through fertilisation more food was produced. Still later someone found that by irrigating, still more improvement was made. No one individual was responsible for such vital cultural information, and the collective information is bigger than any one person, yet individuals can partake of it and add to it. The totem represented such subtle realities, as it might in a modern dream, as Christ might in today’s unconscious. That older cultures venerated their collective information, and modern human’s seem largely apathetic to it, shows how our ‘religion’ has degenerated. Yet utilising the power of the unconscious to portray the subtle influences which impinge upon us, and building the information gained into our response to life, is deeply important.

With the growth of authoritarian structures in Western religion, and the dominance of the rational mind over feeling values, dreams have been pushed into the background. With this change has developed the sense that visionary dreams were something which ‘superstitious’ cultural groups had in the past. Yet thoroughly modern men and women still meet Christ powerfully in dreams and visions. Christ still appears to them as a living being. The transcendental, the collective or universal enters their life just as frequently as ever before. Sometimes it enters with insistence and power, because a too rational mind has led to an imbalance in the psyche – a balance in which the waking and rational individuality is one pole, and the feeling, connective awareness of the unconscious is the other.

Although it is tempting to think of the transcendent as ethereal or unreal, the religious in dreams is nearly always a symbol for the major processes of maturing in human life. We are the hero/ine who meets the dangers of life outside the womb, who faces growth, ageing and death. The awe and deep emotions we unconsciously feel about such heroic deeds are depicted by religious emotion.

Example: I see that I have honoured my ancestors by trying to understand their pathways.  I have tried to understand the things many felt were holy.  In finding them, in walking the pathways of their religion, in trying to understand them, I have not attempted to accept them as an eternal truth, but as a particular relationship with truth at that time.  The pathway fulfilled particular needs at that time.  The spirit of life is infinite, and as we relate to it we draw out of it ever-changing truths, ever-changing ways of life.  Without discarding those pathways I tried to see how the fundamentals of their way of life applies to life today.  There is a great deal that of course carries through.

The spiritual as a practical fact

Also, though this is seldom thought to be the case, religious feeling is at base a very practical thing. It is built upon a fundamental human experience – that of personal existence. What is meant by this is that in being aware of existing, you also become aware that your existence depends upon factors other than your own awareness of yourself. You need to breathe, you need to eat, you need other human beings to help you gather food, produce clothing, entertain you, share love, perhaps reproduce. In turn, food and air, people, depend upon plants, animals, bacterial action, and sunlight, for their own existence. A tree that produces an apple we eat needs the minerals in the soil as well as the bacteria at its roots. It needs sunlight for energy, as well as the rain and the bees or insects to help it pollinate. Life is a process of coexistence and interdependence. The interactions and dependencies upon which your existence, or that of the apple on the tree depend, are not limited. If we trace them we find they link not just with our earth, but with the whole cosmos.

Example: I also was walking along a lane and went down steps. I realised I was going into a slightly sunken garden. On the way down there were some Chinese hangings. Once in the garden I was wandering about alone and my mood changed into one of immense blissfulness, or perhaps intense peace. I started singing something like Gloria, Gloria, a Latin song of praise. As I sang I changed into a woman, the virgin Mary. This was because I was in a mystic state of consciousness, at one with the holy or god.

Taking the word spiritual to mean the sum total of all these linked interactions and dependencies within our body and the universe that enable our personal existence, then our spiritual life is a very basic and practical thing. It arises out of our recognition of our intimate connection and life in the web of existence. It comes from some measure of experience or sense of this connection and integration.

Do you wash your hands of yourself?

When looked at from this viewpoint, none of us can escape the spiritual life. We can, however, relate to it in many different ways. These ways are depicted in the New Testament as the manner in which people related to Christ. Taking Christ as a symbol of the cosmic web of sentient life, people can love it, wash their hands of it, crucify it, ignore it, be healed by it, lie about it, offer themselves to it, worship it – and so on and on. The stance we take in our relationship with this larger life we are an integral part of, is the basic stuff of how we live, and the quality of our life.

In the end though, the experience of that bigger life in which we are a part, is a transcendent one. It moves our awareness beyond the limitations of thinking. It eliminates the boundaries of personal awareness. It enables us to experience, not just think about, our life as an eternal part of a great mystery. As Priestly says in describing his wonderful dream of the birds, ‘ nothing mattered, nothing could ever matter, because nothing else was real but this quivering and hurrying lambency of being.’


Comments

-Courtney 2013-07-31 10:02:47

As a little girl, I had the same dream constantly, and it was always exactly the same. I was in the bottom of a well with tons of snakes. They weren’t hurting me. I was actually squeezing the snakes. I was slightly scared. There was no way out of the well except for awaking out of the dream. I remember it like it was yesterday. I’m 33 now, and don’t have the dream as an adult??

-josh 2012-02-07 3:40:03

very good

    -Tony Crisp 2012-02-07 9:55:45

    Josh – Thank you. It took a lot of living to knock off my many rough edges. 🙂

    Tony

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