Dreams Throughout Religious History

Florence Cardinal Health Guide
  • Everyone dreams. Some may not recall their dreams or even having dreamt, but scientific evidence has proven the fact that, several times during the night, we all dream. Even animals dream. Watch your dog or cat. A twitching paw, a swinging tail or a low growl is proof that your pet is dreaming.


    Dreams have been with us since the beginning of time and they often have a predominant role in literary, religious and spiritual texts of various cultures.  Below is a sampling of the way dreams have figured into religous text and folklore throughout the centuries - it may make you curious to dive into exploring dreams in literature!

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    The Bible and the Talmud are full of references to dreams, dreaming and visions. There are almost a hundred such references in the Old and New Testaments, ranging from Jacob's dream of a ladder reaching to Heaven, to Joseph's dreams of the brothers who'd sold him into slavery, to Joseph dreaming that he'd be the father of Jesus Christ.

    Nebuchadnezzar, who suffered from insomnia, had troubling dreams when he did manage to fall asleep. Daniel gained political power because of his ability to interpret these dreams and that power led to the freeing of the Jewish people.

    Within the sixty-three volumes of the Talmud (Jewish text of canon and civil law) there are 217 references to dreams.

    Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon in a vision. The Eastern religions - Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, all rely heavily on dreams and dream symbolism. Muhammad received his divine messages in dreams.

    Dreams are a big part of New Age spirituality where seeing auras, being visited by animal spirits and studying the chakras rely, at least in part, on the person's ability to know And understand his or her dreams.

    The Pagan or Wiccan religion is very old. In fact, it predates Christianity. Much of the chanting and ritual used in these religions is to produce a trance like state and promote dreams.

    Even the West Indian religion of voodoo relies on dreams. Here, again, the shaman (called a houngan) employs chants, the throb of the drum and dancing to induce the dream-like state.

    No matter where you go among the ancient cultures and the aboriginal tribes, from "A" to Zulus and Zunis, you'll find a belief in dreams. China, for instance, had Dream Temples for the incubation of dreams. After special rituals of purification, you went to sleep after asking for guidance for any problems you had.

    In Ancient Egypt, the people depended on their dreams to forecast the future. A great deal of literature exists about the Dreams of the Pharaoh. The earliest dream book ever discovered was created by the Egyptians in about 2000 BC. This dream book, called the Chester Beatty papyrus, includes over 200 interpretations.

    In ancient Greece, people believed that dreams were divine, a gift from the gods. However, interpreting them could be confusing, because they also believed that dreams usually meant the exact opposite of what they seemed to mean.

  • To the aboriginal peoples all over the world, dreams are the focus of much of their thoughts and plans. And, in many of the tribes, the beliefs are similar. Dreams are messages from the spirit world, wither from the gods, or from ancestors who have gone before. Dreams give advice and warnings. To some, the dreams are more real than reality.

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    The Australian Aborigines have their dream-time. Everything begins and ends in dream-time. This time is very different than time in the normal outer world.

    The Senoi are a small tribe of people who live in the mountains of Malaysia. They not only believe in dream symbolism, but also in total dream control. They do this by using these three basic steps:

    1. Always confront and conquer the danger in your dreams. If a bear is attacking you in the woods, go toward the bear rather than running from it. If a person strikes you in the dream, fight back. In other words, combat and conquer your monsters rather than feeling them.

    2. Always move toward pleasurable experiences in your dreams. If you find yourself flying in a dream, relax and let yourself float on the wind. If you are attracted sexually to an individual in a dream who in the waking world would be a taboo for you (your wife's mother, etc.) let yourself enjoy the experience rather than dwelling on the negative aspects of the situation.

    3. Always make your dreams have a positive outcome and exact a creative product from them. Seek the poem, painting, song, or other material that can be extracted creatively from the dream. Look for the gift within the imagery.



    The Native Americans don't try to control their dreams, but they do actively seek them. This is done by going on a vision quest. Before the quest, the dream seeker (usually a young boy approaching manhood) fasts for several days. Then he treks into the brush or into the mountains without food. He finds a place of solitude and, hungry and exhausted from the walk, falls asleep. He hopes to have a dream that will reveal his future.

    From the humid reaches of the Amazon rain forest to darkest Africa, from the ice bound shores of the Arctic Ocean to the deserts and canyons of the American west, the people dream. In some cases, they try to control their dreams. In other cases, the dreams control the people. Even the Zulus and the Zunis.

Published On: May 28, 2007