Dreams are a mystery. Scientists still cannot explain with any certainty why we dream. Dreams are magical, linking us to another world full of wisdom and symbolism. Our dreams reconnect us to our true wild self. They reveal to us the wisdom of our intuition, not easily accessible by the conscious mind. Dreams play with our fears, testing our limits. They link us back to our ancestors through the shared collective knowledge of all humankind.
Cultural Interpretations of Dreaming
Different cultures have widely varied interpretations of dreams and the importance of dreaming. The Dreamtime of Aboriginal Australians, for example, is “A kind of time out of time … That time before the world itself was entirely awake.” During that time, the Ancestors emerged and made their marks upon the land, forming mountains and valleys, rivers and forests. When a baby is born in their culture, she inherits a particular stretch of the Dreamtime song—a stretch of the Earth—as her own personal property, which belongs to no one else. The child is one with the Ancestor who shaped that tract of land. No matter how far away she ventures over the years, at the end of her life she will return to the place of her conception, “to sing [her]self back into the land.”
Another culture, the Sng’oi people of Malaysia, believe that the dream world is real and the waking world is an illusion. They believe that they travel to the real world each night in order to bring back experiences that will help them to know what to do in the shadow world, the waking world. They gather together at dusk in small huts, softly touching, leaning against each other, arms draped over one another as they fall asleep. In the morning light, those who slept near each other form a small circle and, while still drowsy, share their dreams with one another. Often it occurs that several of them have the same dream, or similar dreams. What they dreamed about will frequently come true in some way during the following day, or provide needed guidance to the community.
The Achuar people of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador are a “dream culture” like the Sng’oi. They wake every morning at 3 or 4 a.m., several hours before sunrise, to share a herbal infusion made from the wayusa plant and begin a ceremony to share their dreams and plan their day communally. Dream sharing is considered a social responsibility, as one person’s dream may have an impact on another person or even on the entire community. The Achuar believe that the two realities—waking and dreaming—are one continuous existence, and that dreaming and sharing the dreams with each other help to reveal underlying layers of meaning in their world. If a dream is negative, the dreamer has a chance to re-dream as many times as needed until they receive a dream that is acceptable to them or to the community. It is key to the Achuar belief system that we can all re-write our lives if we choose to do so.
In all of these cultural beliefs about dreaming, there is a softening of the edges of what many cultures in society consider “reality.” There is an opening to powerful magic, a trusting in the collective wisdom shared by people and the Earth. There is less resistance; more acceptance of what the heart knows. The dream interpretations are layered and woven into a story of hope for the days and years ahead, with guidance for the people coming from an ever-present source of wisdom.
There is such beauty in this way of living. How can we incorporate this trust, this opening, into our own lives?
Questions to Help You Find Meaning and Guidance in Your Dreams
What kind of dreamer are you? Are your dreams infused with symbols or metaphors, or do they contain more mundane images such as a replay of the prior day’s events? Do you visit your fears? Do your dreams feel loving, playful, or stressful? Some theories state that dreaming helps to refresh our memory and aids in storing new learning. There is also evidence of touching another world in dreams, or having wisdom revealed to us. This occurs in the case of the indigenous dream cultures, and as many people have experienced when they dream something and then a very similar event occurs in their waking life.
Do you remember your dreams? Or do you forget them in the rush of the morning as you wake up to your alarm clock and your mind races for the day ahead? If you want to remember your dreams, place a notebook and pen near your bed, easy to reach when you are half-asleep, and try to jot down just a few words about a dream if you awaken in the middle of the night. These words will trigger your memory to recall more details about the dream later that day.
Have you ever experienced a marked increase in the frequency of your dreams? During times such as pregnancy, many people report an increase in the number and intensity of dreams. Some of the dreams may be linked to changes in the body, such as dreaming of water or fish when the womb is filling with life-giving fluids. Some pregnant women have had dreams that revealed the name or predicted the sex of their baby.