The meaning of the dream symbol: Heaven

However, every so often, a dreamer may be depicting harmony and fluid movement in his or her actual waking experience. Dreams often serve as reflections of our more passionate moods, as such, heaven may be perceived as absolute joy. In order to determine on which side of the emotional line we stand, we may need to honestly assess our waking life and compare its relative ‘bliss’ to our dream’s visual jubilation. If they seem to represent an utter contradiction, we may need to address our escapist behavior by seeking professional counciling.

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Heaven is a direct manifestation of transcendence, power, sacrality and everlastingness which no Earth-dweller can attain.

As the power which ruled the cosmic order, Heaven was regarded as the father of kings and earthly rulers. In China, the emperor was called the ‘Son of Heaven’. The passage from transcendence to sovereignty falls into a classic pattern, heaven-god the creator-sovereign, as does its counterpart, empire-Son of God-benefactor-king. The heavenly hierarchy provides a pattern for earthly hierarchies. The uppermost becomes the master; the giver of gifts takes upon himself the right to rule; service becomes slavery. The inscription which Genghis Khan engraved upon his seal is well-known: ‘One God in Heaven and the Khan on Earth. Seal of the Master of the World.’ In practice, however, the opposite may well become true, in accordance with the process of perversion which all symbols undergo. The master may still be called a benefactor, yet bring ruin to others; father, yet slaughter his subjects; heavenly, yet wallow in vice. This corruption does not, however, in any sense diminish the original strength of the symbol.

Heaven is often represented by figures of bells, inverted chalices, domes, parasols, sunshades, awnings, doves, an umbrella turning upon its own axis, or by the human heart.

The true Son of Heaven and Earth, he whom the I Ching describes as their equal and ‘consequently not in conflict with them, is the true man’, and, specifically, the emperor. The ideogram wang, which denotes him gives precise expression to this mediation, which is also mentioned in The Emerald Table of Hermes - ‘He ascends from Earth to Heaven, and descends once more from Heaven to Earth.’

Chinese alchemy, as we have noted in the article on it, transports Heaven to within the human microcosm. Muslim esotericism arrives at the same destination although by a different route, Abu Ya’qub writing that Heaven is within the soul, rather than the reverse. This is an aspect of spiritual astrology well worth investigation.

Unlike the Chinese, Ancient Egyptian tradition believed Heaven to be a female principle and source of all manifestation. In fact. Heaven was depicted as the goddess Nut, her body arched across the sky. She is carved on a Thirtieth Dynasty sarcophagus, arched like a Gothic doorway, her hands touching the ground to the east, her feet to the west. Within the doorway there is painted a world-map showing the different countries, the Underworld and its gods and the Sun irradiating all. This goddess bending in a half circle along which the Sun moves, encloses the complete cosmos and its three levels. As a personification of the celestial space encompassing the Universe, Nut was called the ‘Mother of Gods and Men’ and she was depicted upon countless sarcophagi. A papyrus now in the Louvre makes her speak like a loving mother to the dead person, promising to protect him in his coffin, and she is also depicted in a sycamore-tree pouring upon souls the heavenly water which will regenerate them. She was held to have married the Earth, the god Geb, and higher than the stars and planets, to have given birth to the Sun, the god Ra. Heaven married Earth and the Sun was bom.

In Old Testament tradition, Heaven was identified with the godhead, chroniclers and prophets studiously avoiding mention of the name of God. Thus ‘Heaven’ is used in place of ‘the God of Heaven’, which was the term current during the Persian period, and 2 Maccabees 2: 21 attributes to Heaven the special blessings of Jehovah.

In the New Testament the Jerusalem Bible commentators on Matthew 3: 2 remark that he uses the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ‘instead of “the kingdom of God”. The phrase is peculiar to Matthew and reflects the Jewish scruple which substituted the metaphor for the divine name.’ When he repeats it (4: 7) it shows that ‘the sovereignty of God over the chosen people, and through them over the world, is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching.’

In the Book of Revelation, Heaven is God’s dwelling, a symbolic method of denoting the distinction between the creator and his creation. Hence Heaven becomes part of the systematic relationship between God and mankind. When this relationship changes, as, for example, after the Incarnation of the Redeemer, then the whole system is altered and one can speak of a new Heaven.

In Celtic symbolism, Heaven plays no decisive role, since it is neither the abode nor the seat of the gods. Although a distinction is drawn between the religious sense of Heaven and that of the heavens (sky) there is no evidence that the pre-Christian Celts either drew such a distinction or, indeed, that it was necessary. Generally speaking they seem to have regarded the heavens as a vault, and hence their fear that the sky would fall upon their heads and the habit of the Irish to call the elements to witness their oaths.

During the historic age (c. 1000 ad) the Mexicans believed in nine heavens, symbolized in their temple-building by the nine steps in their pyramids. They also believed in nine Underworlds. ‘The Aztecs replaced this step-cosmology with one of strata, distinguishing thirteen heavens and nine Underworlds’.

Each of the twelve heavens of the Algonquin Indians was inhabited by a Manitou, the twelfth being the home of the all-powerful Creator, the Great Manitou.

According to the Historia de los Mexicanos por sus pinturas, the thirteen Aztec heavens may be characterized as follows:

1. Land of the Stars;

2. Land of the Tzitzimime (skeleton-like monsters who will be unleashed upon the world when the Sun dies);

3. Land of the 400 Guardians of the Heavens;

4. Land of the Birds which come down to Earth (undoubtedly the souls of the elect);

5. Land of the Fiery Serpents (meteors and comets);

6. Land of the Four Winds;

7. Land of Dust [?];

8. Land of the Gods.

The ninth to thirteenth Heavens are the homes of the Great Gods, the Sun dwelling in the twelfth Heaven and the powers of darkness in the tenth. The primordial divine couple live in the thirteenth and last Heaven. The thirteenth Heaven is also the land from which babies come and to which still-born babies return. In it grows a ‘milk-tree’.

The Bambara believe in seven heavens rising one above the other:

  • the first Heaven is unclean;
  • the second Heaven is clean, partly purified, and is the abode of human souls and of those of animals;
  • the third, or black, Heaven is the resting place of the spirits who act as intermediaries between mankind and the gods;
  • the fourth Heaven is the ‘mirror’ held to the first three. In it Faro, the Demiurge, lord of water and the word who regulates the present order of the universe, keeps his accounts. He keeps watch upon the doings of his creation in his mirror;
  • the fifth Heaven is red. This is the Heaven of divine justice in which Faro pronounces sentence upon those who have infringed his commandments. It is also the Heaven of war and battle. It is a land of blood, fire and pestilential hot winds. The Bambara offer propitiatory sacrifice to it before engaging in battle. This fifth Heaven is a land of drought and the abode of the spirits who try to stop the rain falling. They are assailed by the Kwore, spirits riding winged horses who five in the third Heaven. Their battles create thunder and lightning;
  • the sixth Heaven is the Heaven of sleep. The secrets of the universe are kept here;
  • the seventh Heaven is the kingdom of the god Faro, where he stores the water which he pours down on Earth in the shape of fructifying and purifying rain.

In the world-picture of the Uralo-Altaic peoples there are sometimes seven and sometimes nine Heavens. These different heavenly strata are embodied in the notches cut in the stake or sacred birch-tree through which the shaman gives material form to the successive stages of his ascension. ‘In many places they sometimes mention Heaven as having twelve, sixteen or even seventeen strata’. The Pole Star plays an especial part in this celestial system. According to Anokhin it constitutes the fifth obstacle in the shaman’s upward path and consequently corresponds to the fifth Heaven. According to Bogoraz, the Chukchi imagine that ‘the opening in the sky providing a passage from one world to another lies close to the Pole Star’. ‘All worlds’, Bogoraz adds, ‘are linked the one to the other by openings lying close to the Pole Star. Shamans and spirits use them when passing from one world to another. Different legends tell how heroes, mounted upon eagles or storm-birds, are also able to pass through them.’

The Tatars of the Altai region and the Telyut set the Moon in the sixth heaven and the Sun in the seventh.

They also locate the Paradise of the Blessed in the third Heaven, the abode of Jajyk-Khan, ‘Prince of the Flood’, the deity who guards mankind and mediates between them and the Supreme Godhead. The third Heaven also provides souls for children in the womb: Jajyk sends them down to Earth.

An Uighur book, the Kudatku Bilik, written c. 1069, sets the seven stars in the following order, starting at the highest Heaven: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury and Moon. This arrangement has always been that followed by European astrologers and occultists.

According to Uno Harva, this arrangement of Heaven in nine strata is undeniably a later notion than its arrangement in seven, ‘not only among Turkic races, but among the other Asiatic peoples where this configuration occurs’. Hara argues that the last generation of Mithras-worshippers, about the time of Julian the Apostate, began to speak of nine Heavens. Tenth-century sources reveal that the Sabaeans had organized their temple priesthood in accordance with the nine stellar circles. The nine planets, each corresponding to a metal, are mentioned in a Hindu legal compendium, the Yaajnavalkya, which Bousset explains as deriving from a late Persian source.

In Dante’s Paradise there are above the seven planetary circles, eighth, the Heaven of the fixed stars and, ninth, the primum mobile. The idea of nine Heavens circulated so widely in the Middle Ages that it reached the Norse lands and traces of it may be found in Finnish magic spells.

Heaven is also a symbol of awareness. The word is often used to mean ‘the absolute of human aspiration, like the achievement of a quest, like the place where the human spirit may come to perfection, as if Heaven were the spirit of the universe... It is understandable that the thunderbolt -splitting the heavens with its lightning - should be so fitting a symbol of that opening of the spirit which is the onset of awareness’.