Why do we dream? What do dreams mean? Do they even mean anything at all? Perhaps for as long as man has been having dreams, he has been fascinated by them and what they could signify. All throughout history, he has wondered if dreams are real, if they are portents of the future, or if they are a random, meaningless jumble of images conjured by the mind.
Relics dating from as far back as 4000 B.C. show this timeless fascination with dreams. There are clay tablets from this era showing records of people's dreams. Other historical data show that many primitive societies thought of dreams as an extension of the waking reality, and as somehow more powerful yet more subtle than anything that could be touched and seen.
Later on, the Greeks and Romans believed in dreams as prophetic or religious messages. Dreams were considered to be so powerful that kings consulted dream interpreters to guide their decisions and to get a glimpse of the future. Interestingly, Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher, believed that dreams could predict a future illness. In other words, he thought that dreams could diagnose disease. Healers of that time routinely turned to dreams to find clues to cure sickness.
Practically all ancient cultures placed great value on dreams. Dreams were believed to contain important prophetic, healing, or spiritual messages. Dream interpreters were thus considered to be extraordinary individuals—not just gifted, but also divinely inspired. This brings to mind the biblical story of Joseph the dreamer, whose prophetic dreams helped to make him king and save Egypt from various calamities.
It is worth noting that the bible mentions dreams more than seven hundred times, indicating that dreams are believed to be very closely related to divine and spiritual inspiration.
Dreams, however, were not always regarded as useful or even reliable. In the Middle Ages, many people thought that dreams were the work of the devil. They believed that dreams tempted and misled a person into doing evil things.
For so long now, a lot of things have been said about dreams, and many of these assertions contradict one another. Up to now, dreams are as mysterious as ever. No one really knows what they mean. We don't know if they give valuable information, or if they prophesy the future and can therefore forewarn and prepare us for what is to come.
What is certain is that dreams continue to deeply fascinate us. In the next chapters, we will indulge this fascination by looking at the findings of scientific dream research, the leading theories on dreams, and the interpretations given to common dreams.