Dreams offer themselves to all.
They are oracles, always ready to serve
as our quiet and unerring counselors.
-- SYNESIUS OF CYRENE, AROUND 400 C.E.
What would it be like to have a "quiet and unerring counselor" at our side each night? How might our relationship with dreams change if we trusted their ability to guide, warn, inspire, and heal? Questions such as these naturally arise when we listen to ancient authors such as Synesius or explore the wisdom of native cultures.
Ancient peoples regarded dreaming as an important experience worthy of our attention and reverence. In their view, sleep opens a portal between the human soul and sacred realities. Perhaps this is why Egyptians chose the hieroglyph of an open eye to represent dreaming! What is invisible to daylight eyes may become clear in the illuminated darkness of sleep.
Premodern cultures assigned the dream an important place in daily life. Individuals expected to receive dream advice on how to treat a health problem or prepare for a journey. Kings and rulers anxiously sought the counsel of wise interpreters whenever they awoke with a stirring dream. Throughout Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and other regions of the ancient world, pilgrims journeyed to sacred dreaming sites in hopes of receiving a numinous visitation during sleep.
Oracles speak through our dreams today with as much meaning as they did in legendary times. But we often remain asleep to their communications due to the habit of long inattention. Let us become better acquainted with the oracular side of dreams by seeing how guidance may be found in "visions of the night."
Dreams May Guide, Warn, and Reveal
Accounts are found in all times and cultures of how dreams have saved lives. The psi researcher Louisa Rhine related an unforgettable experience told to her by a Los Angeles streetcar conductor. [Power of Dreams, Inglis]
One night the man dreamed of a terrible accident. He was driving the streetcar on its accustomed route, when another streetcar came by and blocked his view of the intersection ahead. At the next moment he plowed broadside into a large red truck that had turned illegally into his path. The impact killed two men instantly and hurled their bodies onto the street. The dreamer then ran over to the place where a woman was screaming in pain. She turned to him and shouted, "You could have avoided this!" The conductor noticed that she had the most intensely blue eyes he had ever seen. He awoke drenched in perspiration.
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Putting the nightmare out of his mind, the conductor went to work and drove his familiar route the next morning. But when he came to the intersection pictured in his dream, he suddenly felt sick. Instead of proceeding through the crossing, he hit the brakes and turned off the motor. At that instant a big truck shot directly into his path. It was not red, but its side panel had a large advertising space painted in red. The three occupants of the truck -- two men and a woman -- gaped in fear at the streetcar when they saw how close they were to being hit. As they passed, the driver clearly saw what large and strikingly blue eyes the woman had.
Experiences such as these excite many questions about destiny, free will, and the nature of predictive dreams. This dream portrayed a tragedy with gruesome specificity. On the next day, actual events paralleled these details so closely that we would call the dream "precognitive." But the driver himself changed the ending of the story by his actions. We therefore wonder what kind of reality the driver was picking up during sleep. If he saw something that was destined to happen in the future, why did the future not match the dream? And if the events were not slated to occur the next day, how do we account for the reckless truck, the three occupants, and those blue, blue eyes?
The Stoics of ancient Rome devoted considerable thought to questions of this nature. Dreams can divine the future, they believed, because sleep connects the human soul with the pervasive governing principles of existence. These governing principles might be called "Fate." But, as the historian Patricia Miller has pointed out, the Stoics did not believe that fate was a relentless, deterministic force imprisoning human lives. They used the words praesensio and praesentio when speaking about foreseeing the future. Neither of these terms means "predicting" in a fixed sense. A praesensio is a foreboding or a presentiment. Praesentio is "to feel or perceive beforehand."
Since the future is not yet uncoiled in time, there is no way to unravel it fully in the present. We can only get a feeling for its shape through dreams, revelation, divination, and other oracular means. From the Stoic viewpoint, the streetcar driver sensed the configuration of terrible events through his dream. But as it turned out, Fate used the driver and his dream to give those events their final configuration -- a much happier one.
Dramatic dream warnings provide fascinating subjects for study. But most oracles guide us through life's smaller turning points. One woman, Juanita, told me how she learned to protect her own interests more assertively through a small but important dream.
A month earlier, Juanita's husband of many years had moved out of the house, announcing that he was in love with another woman and wanted a divorce. Juanita felt devastated by this cruel news. To make matters worse, her husband withdrew nearly all of the funds from their joint bank account. He said something vague about giving her more money later. Juanita dared not protest the withdrawal too strongly, fearing that her spouse would get angry and cut her off completely. From the day of their marriage, she had felt intimidated by his aggressive personality. And deep down, she believed it was pointless to insist on an equal share of anything in their marriage, for he regarded all of their assets as belonging to him alone.
Funds were running very low, and Juanita's job as a store clerk was insufficient to pay the bills. One day an envelope came in the mail. Inside was an insurance check compensating them for damages incurred many months ago when their house had flooded during severe rainstorms. It was made out to both of them jointly. For a moment she was tempted to forge her spouse's signature and take half the money. But she did not want to be underhanded. So Juanita called her husband, who immediately came over and snatched up the check before she had even signed it, and said, "Good, I need this right now." When she asked about getting her share of the settlement, he snapped, "Later, later." That night Juanita had a dream. She was walking through dark corridors and had no idea where they were leading. Then suddenly, a tiny light appeared ahead, blinking weakly. It was just a pinpoint at first, but as Juanita drew nearer, she saw the light was really a little sign made of neon letters. The letters flashed "equal funds, equal funds, equal funds" over and over again. She awoke, feeling at peace without knowing why.
The next morning, another letter arrived from the insurance company. It explained that the enclosed check provided "balance of payment" for the damage claim. The amount matched the other check to the penny. Remembering the flashing message, Juanita knew with certainty that this money was meant for her. She cashed it without hesitation, and the money got her through a very rough time. Strangely, her husband never inquired about the existence of a second payment.
Juanita told me that this dream marked a change in her attitude. She believed that the little flashing sign must have come from a holy source, for it accurately predicted the arrival of matching funds. But more importantly, Juanita now began to feel that she deserved "equal funds" in the divorce settlement, even if it infuriated her husband. At the advice of friends, she hired a lawyer to represent her interests -- a move that would have been unthinkable to her previously.
Hundreds of dream images present themselves during any given night. But some dreams carry special power to influence our attitudes and direction. We can identify oracular visions during sleep by noticing our response to them. Very often, we cannot get the image out of our mind. It glows in a certain way, or the shock of its strangeness disturbs our peace. We may feel a resolution or clarity that was missing before. Or, as in the case of the streetcar driver, a mood of nervous watchfulness may prevail. It is not quite accurate to say that we merely "react" to an oracular dream. Rather, the dream infuses us with its own qualities. It injects a certain mood or thought or desire into our psyche so that the action may be carried forward.
Another sign by which we know oracular dreams is their power to evoke wonder and awe. Whenever we think about them or recount them to another person, a little tremor may pass through us. We find it easy to reenter the dream and experience its spell all over again. Because oracles are living transmissions from Elsewhere, they continue to work their magic across past, present, and future dimensions. In fact, a dream may offer new illuminations when reviewed years later. We serve oracular consciousness well by keeping good records of our dreams, for they need only a small rooting in this world to spring into life anew.
This article is excerpted from the book:
When Oracles Speak
by Dianne Skafte.
About the Author
Dianne Skafte, Ph.D., a past academic dean of Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, lectures widely on oracular traditions and depth psychology. A professional Jungian psychotherapist, she has published numerous journal articles on oracular practices in antiquity.
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