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  • Writer's pictureFreya Ingva

Symbols & Dreams: A Brief History (2)

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

Continuing where we left in my previous article (you can read it here), where we covered the origins of interpreting symbols and dreams up to how they were regarded throughout the classical world. The level of trust, worship, guidance, healing, and wisdom assigned to symbols in the past was extraordinary compared to how we view them now. Yet, they are still of great universal importance as a valuable source of information.

Symbols are at the heart of my oracle and tea leaf reading work. I studied them for many years and it is a subject that truly fascinates me.

An article on one of the Gilgamesh Dream Tablets prompted me to write this and share it with you.  Let’s continue from where we left off.

In the ancient Arab worldMuhammad Ibn Sirin,

from Basra, wrote a compendium on the meaning of symbols in dreams titled ‘Apomasares' in the eighth century. Followed by another text of note by Gadborrahman.

Interestingly, both texts are said to form an important basis, together with the Jewish Kabbalah, for the popular Italian dream Kabbalah, called La Smorfia.

This detailed book analyses the symbols in dreams and translates them into numbers from 1 to 90, which are then used to play on the Italian national Lotto (devised in a form very similar to how it is played now in 1539 Genoa). The most famous Smorfia comes from Naples, but other versions exist and are in use in other areas of Italy. It is an ever-growing and evolving collection of symbols and their meanings, adding modern objects, experiences, and personalities as time goes by.

If you feel like winning with La Smorfia, losing a tooth is 45, teeth is 50. This becomes 70 if the tooth has a cavity; 75 if it’s a fake tooth falling off; or 26 if made of gold. If it's only loose 73; if painful 84; and 68 if you happen to see a detached human tooth somewhere. There is more, naturally, but it is beyond the scope of this article to present it here.

A fascinating glimpse into symbols and diplomacy is offered by a famous story on Caliph al-Mansur, founder of the Abbasid Caliphate and of Baghdad, who dreamt of losing all his teeth.

He asked for the meaning of such a dream. According to the established tradition, the first court diviner interpreted the symbols and said ‘All your relatives will perish’.

The Caliph was little pleased and had him flogged for his audacity. Step forward the second court diviner, who, more carefully stated ‘You will survive all your relatives’ and was rewarded.

The final message provided by the symbols is the same, but what a difference!

Celtic wisdom relied on many types of prophecy and divination, all based on the natural environment the Celts inhabited. The Celts gave symbolic meanings to trees; animals and plants; the shape of clouds; and naturally to dreams. There was a ritual to ask for assistance or healing through incubating dreams in sacred groves. Depending on the type of trees growing in the grove, specific help would be provided. So, the Celts would select a particular grove depending on the issue at hand, and following the ritual, would sleep there. The dream would then be interpreted by the Druid or the one who sees with the aid of the oak tree. The oak tree was considered the chief God actualised in a tree, so it was highly revered and considered to hold divine powers. As a symbol, the oak tree was extremely powerful and sleeping next to it was said to ensure prophetic dreams. The druids were a group of trained and high-ranking individuals who served in a variety of roles, from religious to political leaders, from poets to doctors. Even if the majority of druids were males, there were also females in the fold.

The custom of incubating dreams in special places to receive symbolic messages, healing, visions and so on, was a common feature throughout Europe.

The practice was halted by the Christian Church through the religious fervour that accompanied the Middle Ages. They believed that dreams, and the symbols in it, were associated with temptations of all sorts, sinning, sexual desires, communing with the devil. Basically, a fanciful way to tempt the weakness of the flesh.

Vivid dreams, visions and all that was cultivated before to help people in the form of what we now call divination, had to disappear, go underground, or face the inquisition. Even St Augustine struggled to control his dreams and he recorded his concern, fearing God would hold him responsible for them. We must assume others chose to keep quiet.

Disturbingly, the Christian Church selectively overlooked and forgot the many prophetic dreams and visions recounted in the Old and New Testament.

Sadly, a similar path has been taken by other religions, or more precisely interpretations, that seem to have rejected what is at the core of their establishment.

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.

All photographs by Jr Korpa

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