Symbols & Dreams: A Brief History (1)
Updated: Jul 2
Symbols are at the heart of my oracle and tea leaf reading work.
An article sparked my idea of sharing an unusual but well-known angle, to make us more present to our inner source of wisdom: our dreams.
Whether prophetic, unrestrained, or simply a reflection of the day’s experiences, dreams are the important language between our conscious, unconscious, superconscious, reality, and external stimuli. This language speaks to us using symbols and its history is as old as we are.
Humanity has always dreamt and treasured this special experience.
Prehistorical cave paintings show us what can be interpreted as the drawing of dreams above the head of people hunting. The symbolic meaning is there, right from the very beginning. I can’t help, but take note and ask: Do we symbolically create and attract outcomes?
The very first dream written records are clay tablets, in cuneiform characters, telling the story of Gilgamesh, the legendary warrior king of Sumer. Gilgamesh had bad dreams plaguing him, so he decided to ask the goddess Ninsun, his mother, to decipher them. All her interpretations proved true.
In Babylon, dream work was integral to standard religious beliefs. Large temples dedicated to Mamu, the goddess of dreams, and to An Za Qa, the god of dreams, were built.
Do we value our dreams in the same way?
In ancient Egypt, temples called Serapeums were dedicated to Serapis, the god of dreams and dreaming. Dreams were experienced as going to another world, accessible every night with the astral body, simply passing through a threshold.
It is in Egypt, we find the first record regarding dream incubation, a practice widely practised in ancient times by many civilisations to receive answers and guidance.
Incidentally, there was also a way to put an end to any bad, recurring dreams. On waking, the dreamer would blow out the dream into a wooden container, which was then burned. The fire consumed the receptacle and the dream, clearing the way ahead.
How do we remove unsuitable creations from our reality?
Let’s pick a symbol we all know and look at how it got interpreted. For the ancient Egyptians, the symbology of losing a tooth in a dream meant the death of a relative.
Dreams had a share in the religious life of a community and symbols were understood as messages from the Divine.
In Ancient Greece, Zeus was said to use Hypnos, the god of sleep, and Morpheus, the god of dreams, to communicate directly with people.
Homer is the first classic writer to mention dreams, differentiating between significant, true dreams and empty, false dreams. Taking this concept further, Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used the symbols of dreams as a diagnostic tool. He trained in healing temples, called Asclepion, dedicated to the god of medicine Asclepius, where people would come to incubate dreams or have a dream analysed.
The philosopher Aristotle took a stance on dreams which many still use today: anybody dreams; personal sensations may be highlighted and translated in a dream; a dream can reveal something we had not realised before and makes us consciously aware.
The philosopher Plato instead realised that dreams can be wild, unruly, and truly irrational. In being so, they are freeing a part of the psyche we strictly control when awake.
Continuing our brief excursion in the classical world, the Romans were fascinated by the symbolic and prophetic power of dreams. They classified all theories and interpretations known to create a solid body of knowledge.
One of the major contributors to this research was Artemidorus, who travelled extensively around the Roman Empire to collect data from past and present. From his research, he compiled the first dream dictionary as we know it, the 'Oneirokritika', where symbols are clearly identified and their meaning defined.
Going back to the example of the loss of a tooth, with Artemidorus we get into specifics: the position of each tooth symbolised different people. The arch of the upper teeth refers to important people; the lower, more common people. The right part, of either dental arches, symbolises a male and the left a female. Incisor teeth represent someone young; canine teeth, middle-aged; molars, an elder.
Carrying on with our tooth interpretation through the ages: Vespasian dreamt he would become Emperor only after Nero had lost a tooth and this is exactly what happened, on top of the rest.
Plutarch, the Roman historian, recorded quite a few prophetic dreams. The most famous are: Calpurnia dreaming of her husband Julius Caesar's assassination the night before it happened; Emperor Caligula dreaming of his own demise. It seems that these dreams were very straightforward and clear in conveying their message, without obscure tokens.
What do you dream of mostly? Do you understand the messages you receive? Get in touch if you need help interpreting symbols for greater clarity and understanding. For your information, the article was about an ancient Mesopotamian tablet, known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, and its recent whereabouts. You can find it here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-52692846 Resource about the tablet: http://trobisch.com/david/wb/media/material/Gilgamesh%20tablet_AW.pdf All photographs by Jr Korpa