For thousands of years, humans have contemplated the purpose and the meanings of dreams. In ancient times, dreams were often viewed as premonitions of the future. Mystery surrounded the sleeping state, and those who were able to interpret dreams were often held in high regard. Even the Bible is packed with dream stories in which God or angels speak to men and women throughout the Old and New Testaments via dreams bearing important messages and warnings.
Starting about 2000 BCE, the Ancient Egyptians began writing down their dreams. Around three thousand years ago, the Greeks, and later the Romans, took dream interpretation to a higher level, consulting dream interpreters on matters such as important military and political decisions. A familiar story is that of Claudia, wife of the Roman prefect of Judea, Pontius Pilate, who warned her husband of a dream she had that Pilate’s reputation would pay the price through history if he condemned Jesus the Nazarene to death.
Native Americans placed great importance on dreams and the messages they bring us. The Ojibwa and other tribes would create “dream catchers” in order to have greater control over their dreams. A dream catcher was a round willow hoop on which was woven a spider-like web or net and then decorated with sacred and personal items, including feathers and beads. The purpose of a dream catcher was to let in the good dreams while snagging the bad ones before they could reach the dreamer. Today, Native Americans still make and sell dream catchers.
The Chinese believed that dreams were a place your soul visited every night. Should a sleeping person be awakened suddenly before the soul had a chance to return from the dream state, his or her soul might fail to return to the body. For this reason, even today, many people in China do not use alarm clocks.
But it was around the birth of modern psychology, in the 1870s, when the purpose of dreams first took on a different, more modern meaning. Psychologists, including Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, began to view dreams as reflections of our secret wants, fears, and sexual desires. Often, limited or rigid interpretations were placed on dreams; sometimes the patient was left scratching his or her head because a particular interpretation did not seem to ring true. For example, Freud believed that most dreams contained sexual symbolisms and reflected secret sexual desires or fears, while Jung believed all dreams were outside the control of our will. Through the years, psychologists have differed greatly in their theories about the meanings of dreams or the reasons why we dream, often confusing their patients and the general public about the purpose or importance of dreaming and whether or not the average person could be trusted enough to interpret his or her own dreams.
People spend about a third of their lives asleep — about 25 years in an average lifespan of 75 years. And each night, the average person has four to seven dreams. Yet many people do not remember their dreams, and some claim they do not dream at all. However, all humans dream, as do many animals. In fact, over a course of a life, most people will have more than 100,000 dreams. It is the lack of understanding how to recall one’s dreams that causes some individuals to believe they do not dream.
What does it mean and do they have an effect on our reality? Do they predict our future? What if we become lucid? I explore as much as I can about dreams in this episode.
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