Ancient symbols and signsScience is only now beginning to understand that dreams have a purpose. Dreams have been responsible for several noble prizes, scientific inventions and other great bodies of work. In more recent years, sleep scientists have began to study dream states closely, to examine how the mind and the body work during sleep. They measured the brain waves of people during sleep and found that the brain shifts between different cycles, some of which appear to be functioning exactly the same as when we are awake. One of the features of this state, is that the muscles in the body are absolutely calm and unresponsive, while the brain is in a highly active state. Why would Mother Nature create this state of being, where the mind is extremely activate, the body is paralyzed; yet we get to observe all of the images that are being created.
I don’t know anyone who isn’t fascinated by dreams. People intuitively know that their dreams have meaning. We all love to share the stories of the seemingly random and bizarre events that occur in our minds while we are asleep. But where do these visions come from and more importantly how do we determine the relevance that they have on our day to day lives. Lets examine several different theories, dating back to Ancient Egypt, in order to get a better understand on the various ways that dream work can be utilized.
Dream interpretation is the process of assigning meaning to dreams. In many ancient societies, dreaming was considered a supernatural communication or a means of divine intervention, whose message could be unraveled by people with certain powers. In modern times, various psychologist have offered their own theories about the meaning and purpose of dreams as an examination of the unconscious. My own personal take on dreams is a combination of all of the above. I believe dreams can be highly prophetic and full of insight and at the same time meaningless and trite. I believe dreams manifest for infinite reasons, similar to the way that we have thousands of thoughts passing through our minds throughout the day when we are awake.
One of the earliest recorded collection of dream symbols, used for interpreting dreams, was an Egyptian papyrus text. It displayed images which were a reflection of the belief that a god named Bes was responsible for dreams. The Ancient Egyptians saw dreams as omens, prophecies, and warnings. They had specific priests called, the Masters of the Secret Things, who were very knowledgeable in the teachings of The Book of the Dead. And they believed that often Gods would visit them in their dreams.
Ancient Egyptians held the belief that in dreams our eyes were open. This may have been a reflection of the fact that during the later hours of the night, when dreaming is frequent, this is the time when the pineal gland is most active. Their word for dream, rswt, is connected to the root meaning, to be awake and was represented with a symbol of an open eye. The Egyptians had many advanced practices used by seers for remote viewing, shape shifting, bending time/space, and exploring the afterlife and multiple dimensions. All rightful kings must be initiated into these practices for conscious dream travel between worlds.
For psychologists, dreams are considered a way of communicating with the unconscious. Like his teacher Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung believed that dream images reveal something about yourself, your relationships with others, and situations in your waking life. In working with his clients, Jung placed more confidence on the meaning and interpretation that was given by the dreamer themselves. He felt that we all possessed the necessary tools to interpret and unlock the cryptic messages in our dreams. He practiced this by encouraging the clients to speak openly about whatever was going on in their lives. The meaning then would be based on personal judgment and whatever interpretation felt right to the dreamer.
There is a significant difference between a symbol and a sign in Jung’s view. A sign merely points to something. For instance, a red stop-light points to the idea that we should stop our car; the green light points to the idea that we should go. “These lights are not symbols, because a symbol, “according to Jung, “is a term, a name, or even a picture that may be familiar in daily life, yet that possesses specific connotations in addition to its conventional and obvious meaning. It implies something vague, unknown, or hidden from us.”
Jung developed a theory which claimed that, when there is an imbalance between the conscious and unconscious minds, a neurosis occurs. This is considered to be a fragmentation of the personality, in the sense that the psyche is split into two opposing energies which refuse to be reconciled. As compensation for the imbalance, the psyche will attempt to balance itself by providing clues, or possible solutions to the problem through dreams. Jung’s work proved that if the dreamer can understand and apply what the dream is saying, the imbalance will be corrected. He offered many case studies where dreams would give him an idea of the problem of a particular individual, and how to proceed with treatment. He claimed to help many of his patients in this manner.
So far we have discussed individual dream yet sometimes, a collective dream, may appear, which contains symbolism that is relevant to a specific homogenous group or perhaps even the entire human population. Jung once visited a tribe called the Elgoni in East Africa. They told him they distinguished between big dreams and little dreams. Jung described the former as collective dreams, which arise from the collective unconscious; the latter to personal dreams, emanating from the personal unconscious. Collective dreams contain symbols which are common to all human beings. For example the idea of a common myth or archetypes might commonly manifest in these types of dreams. We can plainly see there are striking similarities between the religious mythologies of different races and cultures, even between those which are separated by thousands of miles of ocean, Jung believed that these shared narratives were accessible to individuals through the use of dream work.
When examining symbols and signs that come up within the dream its imperative to look for ideas that are recurring. Its also very important to record any feelings or emotions that come up within the dream. For example, I had a dream last night that half of my hair was falling out. Typically hair in a dream is associated with vitality, youth, or life force. Losing ones hair might symbolize a loss or a fear of loss of someones vital energy. However, by utilizing Jung’s dream interpretation methods, observing my feelings and emotions, and examining my own waking life, I came up with an different meaning. In the dream, as soon as I noticed that my hair was falling out, I grabbed a pair of scissors and gave myself an asymmetrical haircut. Then I stood in the mirror for a few minutes after admiring how great it looked. My own interpretation of the dream was that yes, challenges are coming up in my life, but that I am listening to my intuition and responding quickly by taking inspired action. And that is certainly how I feel about my life at the moment. I hope these ideas help you when examining the content and the meaning behind your own dreams. Enjoy.