Did you dream last night? I don’t really need to ask, because I know the answer. Dream researchers say we dream every night—often five or more times. But dreaming is not new!
As evidenced by paintings on cave walls from the Neanderthal period and clay tablet journals dating back to 3000 B.C., dreams have been recognized as an important aspect of human experience since the beginning of time.
Since early times, dreams have contributed to the development of culture and history. Dream researcher Robert L. Van De Castle notes, “The cultural paths of these ancient civilizations were lit, not by electricity, but by the internal illumination provided by dreams.” (Our Dreaming Mind)
Let’s take a quick tour through the ancient world of dreams and then decide if dreams should be important to today’s seekers of truth.
Mesopotamia — Sumer, Assyria, and Babylonian empiresThe Mesopotamians believed that dreams could be a sign of divine favor and good health, or indicate the presence of demonic forces. Their dream books were discovered in a royal library at Nineveh. And excavators found broken clay tablets describing the dreams of the legendary Sumerian warrior, Gilgamesh. Interestingly, his mother assisted in interpreting his dreams—perhaps the first dream therapist on record.
The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a great tree which grew large and an angel shouting: “Chop down the tree …This is a command of the holy ones.” (Daniel 4:18)
Ancient Egyptian cultureEgyptians suggested dreams were simply a different form of seeing, even training dreamers to help plan battles and provide insight on state decisions. They practiced dream incubation in order to encourage a special dream from the gods.
They also recorded dreams. One papyri collection contains 143 good and 91 bad dreams. An early prophetic dream was recorded on a sheet of granite, held between the paws of the great sphinx of Giza.
Remember the imprisoned cupbearer and baker? (Gen 40:1-23)
The cupbearer dreamed of a grape vine with three branches that shot forth blossoms, buds, and fruit. Pressing the grapes, he presented the cup of wine to Pharaoh. The baker dreamed of three white baskets stacked on his head, filled with baked goods for Pharaoh. However, the birds got there first and ate the goodies.
Ancient Hebraic cultureThe ancient Hebrews valued dreams as a way for God to speak to them, offering both knowledge and gifts. The Old Testament is replete with stories of Hebrew patriarchs whose very approach to life came from the dreams God gave them.
Jacob’s dream—with angels traversing a ladder stretched between heaven and earth—has influenced both the culture and history of many nations for thousands of years. Appearing in numerous paintings, stories, dramas, and songs, Jacob’s renowned religious experience reveals the dream as a way to receive guidance and direction from God. (Gen. 28: 11-16)
Ancient Greek civilizationThe Greeks believed dreams offered revelations of the greatest consequence to mankind, including both a prediction of the future, and visits from loved ones lost.
A fellow by the name of Artemidorus wrote an extraordinary encyclopedia of dreams with 3,000 dream reports, considered to be the great-grandfather of all dream books. He claims he was instructed in a dream to write this book.
At age 17, Galen, a renowned Greek physician, shifted his studies from philosophy to medicine as a result of his dream.
Ancient Roman civilizationBoth Greeks and Romans valued dreams as way to gain insight into a dreamer’s mind. But the Romans were especially fascinated with prophetic dreams. Julius Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, dreamed of his death the night before Brutus actually did the deed. And before he was assassinated, Caligula had a dream with symbolic indications of impending death.
Remember Pilate’s wife? She received a dream that warned not to have anything to do with Jesus because he was a righteous man. (Mt. 27:19)
Why do we ignore dreams?Ancient civilizations all had something in common: they took their dreams seriously. They recorded and shared dreams, sought dreams from gods, interpreted dreams, often elevating interpretation to a religion. Most importantly, they recognized the close affinity between dreams and the realm of the divine.
Since earliest times, dreams have been a source of wisdom and guidance, “giving us a basis for believing that there is a nonmaterial component to our existence, as well as a continuity of existence which is not interrupted by physical death.” (Van De Castle)
If these civilizations thought so highly of dreams, then why do we ignore them?
Judith Doctor, RN, MSW, is an Arcadian author, speaker, educator and spiritual life mentor. President of Kairos Ministries, Inc., her live broadcasts can be heard monthly on Radio Horeb in Europe. Her books on dreams and forgiveness are available on Amazon and other online booksellers. firstname.lastname@example.org