Dreams have been a point of discussion throughout history. The first recorded dream can be found in the ancient Sumerian writings from 3100 BC, the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans all recorded dream and interpreted them in their own ways too. But what are dreams? Are they simply our unconsciousness mind out of control during sleep, or are they visitations from the spirit world?

We’ve all had that flying dreams, where we take off and cruise through the sky – we feel the wind on our faces, and the stomach-looping sensation of looking down. How do we know what that feels like if we’ve never done it? Dream interpretation throws up more questions than answers, but here are the main points in the debate?

What does science say?

Science understands our dreams as a processing of our worries and day-to-day activities. This scientific study is called oneirolgy, and has been subject to examination for decades. Freud believed that dreaming was a manifestation of our anxieties and desires, and developed a guide on their interpretation. Hartmann suggests that dreams function as natural psychotherapy – allowing us to work through our neurosis. Other put forward the theory that dreams are our long-term memories – feeling and sights from childhood that are confused and nonsensical as an adult. Interestingly, science has proven that blind people do not dream in visual, instead they dream in sound, touch and emotion.

Scientists believe that all mammals dream, and we’ve probably all seen that in the twitching and squeaking of out family pets. Oneirolgy is still practised today, with scientists intent on proving a rational explanation for us.

How about religions?

Religions hold views on dreams, and although the interpretations vary, the basic view is that they contain messages from the divine. For example, in Judaism, Samuel the Prophet sleeps at the temple of Shiloh and receives instructions from God in his sleep. In Christianity the majority of dreams are found in the Old Testament. They include dreams from God, and those from evil spirits, for example an evil spirit visited a dreamer in the book of Samuel disguised as a prophet, and in Genesis God directly leaves a message with a sleeping man who had taken a married woman as his wife. Islamic tradition holds that the only way dead prophets can communicate with the living is to visit in dreams, making the dreamer a new prophet. Alongside established religions, spiritualists believe in the ‘open, sleeping mind’ which allows spirits, angels and souls to speak with us because our social understandings are down.

What about Prophetic dreams?

Prophetic dreams are those in which the future is revealed to the dreamer. Abraham Lincoln famously dreamed that he would be assassinated, and this came true the following day. The Roman emperor Caligula suffered the same fate. It’s also reported that Adolf Hitler awoke from a dream in which he was killed, and took a walk. During that walk, the trench he was sleeping in was shelled and all occupants killed. If science has us believe that dreams are our minds making sense of our lives – how does someone manage to have a prophetic dream?

Healing dreams

Healing dreams are interesting aspects of the dream life. People have reported that they have dreamed of an illness, usually in the long term, and after several dreams have started to pay attention to them. Subsequent visits to the doctor have proved there was a medical problem associated with areas of the body that the dreamer had focused on. Some lucid dreamers, they are individuals who realise they are dreaming and take control, focus on their illness and visualise healing. They insist that in the morning they feel better, or that healing is taking place. Healing dreams are widely disputed, but those who have them insist upon their effectiveness.

Spiritual Dream Interpretation

People often report a visitation from a deceased relative or friend, describing how real it felt, and that they had a message, even if that message was simply reassurance that they were happy in the afterlife. Whether or not these visitations are actually real is much discussed. Those with an opposite view argue that emotions are high in dreams because our usual coping mechanisms are down, and therefore we think about our loved ones without restraint. Therefore it’s not surprising that we dream of them – but these are just dreams, not an actual visit from the dead. As we have already discussed, the world’s major religion all hold faith with the divine visiting us in our dreams.

Can dreams improve our lives?

In our dreams subjects float to the top of our mind that we might be repressing or ignoring. Whether or not a dead relative prompts this, or a god, or our own unrestrained subconscious is still up for debate – but whatever the catalyst, take note of your dream life and act upon those things that recur. If you are dreaming about a difficulty in your family, take steps to sort the problem out. It will relieve stress and improve your life, if it doesn’t work, you can make peace with yourself because you tried. If you dream about the future or your health, then pay attention. Experiences have shown that a dream can save your life, even if you don’t believe it.

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