The occult significance of dreams was a matter of speculation
among the wise at an early period in the history of civilization.
The entries on Babylonia and Egypt to some extent outline
the methods by which the wise men of those countries
divined the future from visions seen in sleep, and articles dealing
with other countries include data relating to dreams and
dreamlore. This entry addresses some of the more outstanding
theories of antiquity regarding the nature and causes of dreams
and the manner in which the ancient diviners generally interpreted
Historical Views of Dreaming
Dreams were regarded as of two kinds—false and true, in either
case emanating from a supernatural intelligence, evil or
good. Sleep was regarded as a second life by the ancients, a life
in which the soul was freed from the body and was therefore
much more active than during the waking state. The acts it observed
and the scenes through which it passed were thought to
have a bearing on the future life of the dreamer, but it is also
believed that the dream life was regarded as supernatural and
‘‘inverted,’’ and that the events that the bodiless spirit beheld
were the opposites of those that would later occur on the earthly
plane. The idea thus originated that ‘‘dreams go by contraries,’’
as both popular belief and many treatises upon the
subject of nightly visions assure us is the case.
A belief in the divinatory character of dreams arose, and
their causes and nature occupied some of the greatest minds of
antiquity. Aristotle, for example, believed them to arise solely
from natural causes. Posidonius the Stoic was of the opinion
that there were three kinds: the first was automatic and came
from the clear sight of the soul, the second from spirits, and the
third from God. Cratippus, Democritus, and Pythagoras held
doctrines almost identical to this or differing only in detail.
Later, Macrobius divided dreams into five kinds: the dream,
the vision, the ocular dream, the insomnium, and the phantasm.
The first was a figurative and mysterious representation
that required an interpretation; the second was an exact representation
of a future event in sleep; the third was a dream representing
some priest or divinity who declared to the sleeper
things to come; the fourth was an ordinary dream not deserving
of attention; and the fifth was a disturbing half-awake
dream, a species of nightmare.
Other writers divided dreams into accidental dreams and
those induced for the purposes of divination. Herodotus wrote
that in the temple of Bel in Babylon, a priestess lay on a bed
of ram skin ready to dream for divination. The ancient HeEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Dreams
brews obtained such dreams by sleeping among tombs. Dreams
are believed to be as successful as hypnosis and other methods
of reaching the supernatural world and hearing its pronouncements.
Sleep was, of course, often induced by drugs, whether the
soma of the Hindus, the peyotl of the ancient Mexicans, the
hashish of the Arabs, or the opium of the Malays or Chinese.
These narcotics, which have the property of inducing speedy
sleep and of heightening inward visions, were and are still
prized by professional dreamers all over the world, especially
as they render dreaming almost immediately possible.
Ancient Methods of Dream Interpretation
As stated, interpretation of dreams was generally undertaken
by a special class of diviners, who in ancient Greece
were known as oneiocritikoi, or ‘‘interpreters of dreams.’’ The
first treatise on the subject was that of Artemidorus (ca. 100
C.E.). He differentiated between the dreams of kings and those
of commoners, since he believed that the visions of royalty referred
to the commonwealth and not to the individual. Dreams
that represented something happening to the dreamer revealed
a personal significance, whereas a dream relating to another
concerned him alone. He detailed the numerous species
of dreams throughout five books, giving numerous examples.
The rules of Artemidorus are far from clear, and according to
them, any dream might signify any event, and any interpretation
might be considered justifiable.
The method of testing dreams according to Moses Amyraldus
in his Discours sur les songes divins (1625) was to determine
whether the instructions and advice they contained made
for good or ill—a test impossible to apply until after the result
is known. But Amyraldus addressed this difficulty by proposing
to test dreams by the evidence of divine knowledge they
showed—by asking whether the dream gave any evidence of
things such as God alone could know.
It seems from an examination of dreams submitted to the
ancient diviners that the exhibited symbolism could only be interpreted
through divine aid, as in the cases of Moses and Daniel
in the Bible. Many improbable interpretations were given to
most epochal dreams of antiquity. There are some students of
the occult who doubt the occult significance of dreams and do
not classify dreams generally with vision, second sight, or ecstasy.
Dreams and Psychical Phenomena
Dreams of a supernormal character fall within the purview
of psychical research. The dividing line between normal and
supernormal dreams is not easy to draw. It is believed that subconscious
elaboration often presents supernormal effects.
Reportedly Goethe solved scientific problems and composed
poetry in his dreams. Jean de La Fontaine composed The
Fable of Pleasures and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote ‘‘Kubla
Khan’’ (1816) as a result of dreams. Bernhard Palissy made a
piece on dream inspiration. Matthew Maury confessed, ‘‘I have
had in dream ideas and inspiration that could never have entered
my consciousness when awake.’’ Giuseppe Tartini heard
his ‘‘Sonate del Diavolo’’ played by Beelzebub in a dream,
Holden composed La Phantasie in his sleep; and Charles Nodier’s
Lydia was similarly born. Robert Louis Stevenson’s most
ingenious plots were evolved in the dream state. Reportedly
Kruger, Corda, and Maignan solved mathematical problems in
dreams and Condillac finished an interrupted lecture. For
many of the Romantic writers, such as Coleridge and Nodier,
these creative dreams were induced by the ingestion of opium.
A dream of Louis Agassiz is frequently quoted. He tried for
two weeks to decipher the obscure impression of a fish fossil on
the stone slab in which it was preserved. In a dream he saw the
fish with all the missing features restored. The image escaped
him on awakening. He went to the Jardin des Plantes in the
hope that an association with the fossil would recapture it. It
did not. The next night he again dreamed of the fish, but in
the morning the features of the fish were as elusive as ever. On
the third night he placed paper and pencil near his bed. Toward
morning the fish again appeared in a dream. Half dreaming,
half awake, he traced the outlines in the darkness. On
awakening he was surprised to see details in his nocturnal
sketch that he thought impossible. He returned to the Jardin
des Plantes and began to chisel on the surface of the stone
using the sketch as a guide. Reportedly Agassiz found the hidden
portions of the fish as indicated in the drawing.
The dream of a Professor Hilprecht, a Babylonian scholar
who tried to decipher writing on two small pieces of agate, is
more complicated and belongs to the clairvoyant order. As reported
in the Proceedings of the Societry for Psychical Research
(August 1900), he went to sleep and dreamt of a tall, thin priest
of the old pre-Christian Nippur who led him to the treasure
chamber of the temple and went with him into a small, lowceilinged
room without windows in which there was a large
wooden chest; scraps of agate and lapis lazuli lay scattered on
the floor. Here the priest addressed Hilprecht as follows:
‘‘The two fragments which you have published separately
belong together, and their history is as follows: King Kruigalzu
[c. 1300 B.C.E.] once sent to the temple of Bel, among other articles
of agate and lapis-lazuli, an inscribed votive cylinder of
agate. Then we priests suddenly received the command to
make for the statue of the god Nidib a pair of ear rings of agate.
We were in great dismay, since there was no agate as raw material
at hand. In order for us to execute the command there was
nothing for us to do but cut the votive cylinder into three parts,
thus making three rings, each of which contained a portion of
the original inscription. The first two served as ear rings for the
statue of the god; the two fragments which have given you so
much trouble are portions of them. If you will put the two together
you will have a confirmation of my words.’’ The continuation
of the story is given by Mrs. Hilprecht, who testified to
having seen her husband jump out of bed, rush into the study
and cry out, ‘‘It is so, it is so.’’
The scientist Nikola Tesla had waking visions in which a
complex electrical engineering apparatus was perceived in
total details of design and construction.
There are many cases of bits of information obtained in
dreams. William James was impressed by the Enfield case, in
which the discovery of the body of a drowned woman was effected
through a dream of a Mrs. Titus of Lebanon, a stranger to
the scene. Charles Richet recounts the following instance of
dream cognition:
‘‘I saw Stella on the 2nd of December during the day, and
on leaving I said ‘I am going to give a lecture on snake poison.’
She at once replied: ‘I dreamt last night of snakes, or rather of
eels.’ Then, without of course giving any reason, I asked her to
tell me her dream, and her exact words were: ‘It was about eels
more than snakes, two eels, for I could see their white shining
bellies and their sticky skin; and I said to myself I do not like
these creatures, but it pains me when they are hurt.’ This
dream was strangely conformable to what I had done the day
before, December 1. On that day I had, for the first time in
twenty years, experimented with eels. Desiring to draw from
them a little blood, I had put two eels on the table and their
white, shining, irridescent, viscous bellies had particularly
struck me.’’
A case of dream clairvoyance, possibly under spirit influence,
is that of a Miss Loganson, 19, of Chicago. She saw in a
dream the murder of her brother, Oscar, who was a farmer of
Marengo, about 50 miles northwest of Chicago. She accused a
farmer neighbor named Bedford for days, but no one paid attention
to her. At length she was permitted to send a telegram;
the reply was, ‘‘Oscar has disappeared.’’ Starting for Oscar’s
farm, accompanied by another brother and by the police, she
went directly to Bedford’s house. Traces of blood were found
in the kitchen. Proceeding to the hen house, the yard of which
was paved, the girl said, ‘‘My brother is buried here.’’ Because
of the girl’s insistence and her agitation, consent was given to
Dreams Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
dig. Under the pavement they first found the brother’s overcoat;
five feet down they came upon the body. Bedford was arrested
at Ellos, Nebraska, and hanged in due course. Miss Loganson,
in explanation, said that the spirit of her brother
haunted her for seven days in dreams.
Lost objects are frequently found in dreams. In most cases
subconscious memory sufficiently explains the mystery. There
are, however, more complicated cases. According to legend
Hercules appeared in a dream to Sophocles and indicated
where a golden crown would be found. Sophocles got the reward
promised to the finder.
Supposedly the paranormal character of dreams is clearest
in telepathic and prophetic dreams. They often produce an impression
lasting for days. Sweating and trembling are occasionally
experienced on waking from a dream of this character. The
dreams tend to be repeated. One case of prophetic dreams announced
the murder of a Chancellor Perceval. It is thus narrated
by one Abercrombie: ‘‘Many years ago there was mentioned
in several of the newspapers a dream which gave notice of the
murder of Mr. Perceval. Through the kindness of an eminent
medical friend in England I have received the authentic particulars
of this remarkable case, from the gentleman to whom the
dream occurred. He resides in Cornwall, and eight days before
the murder was committed, dreamt that he was in the lobby of
the House of Commons, and saw a small man enter, dressed in
a blue coat and white waistcoat. Immediately after, he saw a
man dressed in a brown coat with yellow basket metal buttons
draw a pistol from under his coat, and discharge it at the former,
who instantly fell; the blood issued from the wound a little
below the left breast. He saw the murderer seized by some gentlemen
who were present, and observed his countenance; and
on asking who the gentleman was that had been shot, he was
told that it was the Chancellor. He then awoke, and mentioned
the dream to his wife, who made light of it; but in the course
of the night the dream occurred three times without the least
variation in any of the circumstances. He was now so much impressed
by it, that he felt much inclined to give notice to Mr.
Perceval, but was dissuaded by some friends whom he consulted,
who assured him that he would only get himself treated as
a fanatic. On the evening of the eighth day after, he received
the account of the murder. Being in London a short time after,
he found in the print-shops a representation of the scene, and
recognised in it the countenance and dresses of the parties, the
blood on Mr. Perceval’s waistcoat, and the yellow basket buttons
on Bellingham’s coat, precisely as he had seen them in his
J. W. Dunne’s An Experiment with Time (1927) is a study of
how future events are foreshadowed in our dreams. By keeping
a record of his dreams, putting them down immediately on
awakening, he found that a considerable part of his dreams anticipated
future experiences, and this was corroborated by fellow
Many other dreams, difficult to classify, bear the stamp of
paranormal. Camille Flammarion in his Death and its Mystery
(1922–23) quoted the curious dream of a Mrs. Marechal, who
between sleeping and waking, saw a specter taking her arm and
saying, ‘‘Either your husband or your daughter must die.
Choose!’’ After great mental sufferings she decided for her
child. Five days later her husband, who was in good health, suddenly
The experience of déjà vu to which advocates of reincarnation
often refer, may be explained by traveling clairvoyance in
dreams. Another explanation, a theory of ancestral dreams, is
offered in the Bulletins et Mémoires de la Societé d’Anthropologie de
Paris by Letourneau, as follows:
‘‘Certain events, external or psychic, which have made a
deep impression on a person, may be so deeply engraved upon
his brain as to result in a molecular orientation, so lasting that
it may be transmitted to some of his descendants in the same
way as character, aptitudes, mental maladies, etc. It is then no
longer a question of infantile reminiscences, but of ancestral
recollections, capable of being revived. From that will proceed
not only the fortuitous recognition of places which a person has
never seen, but, moreover a whole category of peculiar dreams,
admirably co-ordinated, in which we witness as at a panorama,
adventures which cannot be remembrances, because they have
not the least connection with our individual life’’ (Paul Joire,
Psychical and Supernormal Phenomena, 1936).
Hereward Carrington called attention in The Story of Psychic
Science (1930) to the neglect shown for the dreams of mediums.
It is believed that if the communicators are subconscious personalities,
some connection may be established between them
and the dreams of the medium. In the Lenora Piper trances
the communicators themselves alleged that they were in a
dreamlike state. In one instant a statement came through that
was quite wrong, but upon investigation, it turned out to be a
remark that the communicator made in the delirium of death.
Modern Views on Dreaming
Modern scientists have studied the relationship of eye movements
to dreaming. Professors N. Kleitman and E. Aserinsky
of the Department of Physiology, University of Chicago, monitored
eye movements of sleepers using electroencephalographic
records. They distinguished four types of brain wave and
sleep periods, ranging from lightest sleep to deep coma. In
stage 1 there were rapid eye movements; in stages 2, 3, and 4,
eye movements were slow. They concluded that rapid eye
movements (REMs) were related to dreaming, when the eyes
move like a spectator watching a theater play or reading a
This relationship between eye movement and mental states
makes interesting comparison with Eastern religious techniques
of meditation. In both Indian and Chinese yoga meditation
exercises, eye rolling and focusing is linked to techniques
of concentration and visionary experience.
The dream state plays a prominent part in Hindu religious
philosophy, which recognizes four states of consciousness—
waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and a fourth condition of higher
consciousness that embraces the first three. Hindu mystics have
stressed that since the essential self (the unconditioned sense
of ‘‘I’’) is constant in all states of consciousness, identification
with the body, mind, emotions, memories, age, sex, and so on
in waking life is illusory—a false ego—since such characteristics
are transitory. The pure self is always present, and this essential
‘‘I-ness’’ is the same in all individuals. Awareness of this true
self in the fourth condition of higher consciousness (turiya) is
known as self-realization, in which there is unity with all creation.
The significance of dreaming, deep sleep, and waking
states is discussed in the Hindu scripture Mandukya Upanishad.
Many out-of-the-body travel experiences (astral projection)
appear to be stimulated by vivid dreams, particularly
when waking consciousness is aroused by some irregularity in
the logic of a dream. For example, a dreamer recognizes the
familiar environment of his own room, but notices that the wallpaper
is the wrong design and color, and immediately thinks
‘‘This must be a dream!’’ This gaining of waking consciousness
while still in a sleeping condition sometimes results in a subtle
or astral body moving independently of the physical body. (See
dreaming true; lucid dreams)
Some experimenters have claimed that release of the subtle
body may be stimulated by deliberately induced images of release
(e.g., taking off in an airplane, traveling upward in an elevator),
just before passing into the sleep state. Such out-of-thebody
experiences were also recognized in Hindu religious philosophy
and are described in ancient scriptures. The subtle
body was named the sukshma sharira.
Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis have moved in a different
direction in their interpretation of the significance of
dreams. Certain elements in dreams are said to be wish fulfilling,
or to contain clues to psychic problems of the individual.
In Jungian analysis, dream symbols are also understood as uniEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Dreams
versal archetypes of human experience. Carl G. Jung drew
heavily upon Eastern religious philosophies in his exposition
of the concept of a collective unconscious.
Scientific research indicates other fascinating areas of
dreaming. In 1927 J. W. Dunne, a British airplane designer,
published his remarkable book An Experiment with Time, in
which he analyzes a dream experiment suggestive of the occurrence
of future elements in dreams, side by side with images
from past experience.
In 1970 the Soviet psychiatrist Dr. Vasily Kasatkin reported
on a 28 year study of 8,000 dreams and concluded that dreams
could warn of the onset of a serious illness several months in
advance, through a special sensitivity of the brain to preliminary
physical symptoms.
At the Dream Laboratory, founded at Maimonides Medical
Center, New York, in 1962, volunteers submitted to controlled
experiments in dreaming, studying the rapid eye movements
noticeable in people as they dream. One of the most interesting
projects was a statistical study with pairs of subjects, which tended
to show that telepathic dreams could be produced experimentally.
It would seem that dreaming and the elements in dreams
have many different aspects of a physiological and psychological
nature, with certain paranormal characteristics. Many of
these aspects differ widely in various individuals. There have
been well-authenticated prophetic dreams, as well as fragmentary
elements of future events of the kind described by J. W.
Dunne. Many aspects of dream imagery appear to be a visual
presentation of individual psychic problems. Increasing evidence
from out-of-the-body travel experiences has convinced
some researchers of the reality of astral travel and of its stimulus
through dream images. It may well be, as noted in several
religious traditions, that there are also meta-physical dimensions
to dream experience.
More than a century has passed since Sigmund Freud’s The
Interpretation of Dreams (1899) was first published. Its main
premise, holding with Freud’s conception of the unconscious
mind, was that dreams are the symbolic fulfillment of repressed
childhood desires. Although the book’s sales were abysmally
slow for its first several years in print and, despite the holes in
Freud’s theory that are obvious today, Interpretation of Dreams
has greatly influenced Western thought and culture and is now
considered by some dream analysts to be the bible of dream
studies. Bookstores have long carried dream dictionaries that
offer interpretations of nearly any and every symbol or image
seen in a dream. Modern dream studies have demonstrated, if
anything, that the evaluation of dreams is far more complex
than these popular dream interpretation manuals even begin
to suggest. To address a more educated society, recent dream
manuals offer more in-depth in their analysis of dream interpretation
with many concentrating on awareness of hidden
messages and awakening the unconscious mind.
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Cartwright, Rosalind D. Night Life: Explorations in Dreaming.
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Christmas, Henry. The Cradle of the Twin Giants, Science and
History. 2 vols. London, 1849.
Colquohoun, John C. An History of Magic, Witchcraft & Animal
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De Becker, R. The Meaning of Dreams. London, 1968.
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Ellis, Havelock. The World of Dreams. Boston: Houghton
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Faraday, Ann. Dream Power. New York: Coward, McCann &
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Reprint, New York: Causeway Books, 1974.
Lawrence, Lauren. Dream Keys: Unlocking the Power of Your
Unconcious Mind. New York: Dell Publishing, 1999.
Lincoln, J. S. The Dream in Primitive Cultures. London, 1935.
Reprint, Academic Press, 1970.
Luce, Gay Gaer. Body Time. Pantheon, 1961.
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of the Astral Body. London, 1929. Reprint, New York: Samuel
Weiser, 1967.
Nikhilananda, Swami, trans. Mandukya Upanishad. Chicago:
Vedanta Press, 1972.
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Katharine C. ESP and Dream Analysis. Chicago: Henry Regnery,
Seafield, Frank. The Literature & Curiosities of Dreams. 2nd
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Staff, V. S. Remembered on Waking; Concerning Psychic & Spiritual
Dreams & Theories of Dreaming. Crowborough, UK: V. S.
Staff, 1975.
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N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969.
Tolson, Jay. ‘‘The Bible of Dreams Turns 100.’’ US News &
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Ullman, Montague, Stanley Krippner, and Alan Vaughan.
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