In a world filled with diversity and struggles to understand, defend, and accept those differences, it's good to remind ourselves of the things we share in common:
One of those being dreams.
And we're not talking about dreams in the sense of goals (although we share those as well), but instead dreaming itself.
Whether we remember them or not, virtually all of us dream at night as part of our natural sleep cycle.
We may dream about the people in our lives, unconscious acknowledgments of fears and worries, or even random scenarios. There's been quite a lot of academic research into the symbology of dreams: From the smaller aspects and what they represent to the themes present in each of our dreams.
Aside from studies and research, cultures around the world have a unique view of dreams. They regard their meanings, interpretations, and occurrence in different and unique ways.
We'll examine a few of these different cultural perspectives on dreams and dreaming below.
But before we look at the different cultures, it's essential to cover some prevalent theories and views on dreaming.
We can't delve into dreams without first mentioning one person in particular:
A Brief Look at Jungian Dream Theory
The essence of Carl Jung's studies and theories on dreams is that they're much more revealing than they are concealing.
While the cultures this article will reflect on certainly emphasize dream interpretation, Jung believed interpretation was unnecessary for dreams to have meaning or an impact on us.
He coined the process of individuation to theorize that, rather than dreams being about unconscious wish fulfillment as Freud believed, they instead integrated our conscious and unconscious lives.
In a sense, individuation expresses the mind's quest for wholeness, hence the integration aspect.
Dreams accomplish this by utilizing mythic narratives, which in Jung's work, were a collection of archetypes. These archetypes were established to explain the images within our dreams as a representation of an individual's unconscious.
So, rather than something in our dreams merely representing a core idea, the images were more fluid in meaning, tailored to our experiences.
Despite these images originating in an individual's unconscious mind and unique experiences, most images were thought to be manifestations of universal archetypes--unconscious attitudes hidden from our conscious minds.
Along with his archetypes, many of the archetypal imagery he discussed in his work is common in most cultures around the world. Archetypal imagery hinted at another of Jung's theories: the collective unconscious. Though often misinterpreted, the collective unconscious cited societal constants like death, rites-of-passage, etc.
It's these constants that play a role in how the following cultures view dreams, dreaming, and the dreamer.
Native American Culture
Perhaps one of the most common cultures associated with dreaming, at least in Western society, is Native American culture.
We've all heard of or seen a dreamcatcher in our lives…
There's a remarkable depth to the Native American view on dreams that extends far beyond pop culture references and handmade dream catchers.
There are myriad native tribes in the Americas, so we'll focus on a sampling of different Native American beliefs.
The Creation Story and the Importance of Dreaming
The Abenaki have a legend, the Creation Story and Importance of Dreaming.
In this legend, the Great Spirit dreamed of unusual animals. Some of the sky, some of the land, and some of the sea; flora, humans, and more all alive with life.
You see, the Great Spirit had only just created the world and had not yet filled it. He had fallen asleep while contemplating the nature of these creatures to-be.
When he awoke, he saw in the real world those creatures and plants he had dreamed. As he watched a beaver create a dam and provide for his family, the Great Spirit suddenly realized that everything had its place, and its purpose would come in time.
This story has served to encourage the Abenaki and other tribes to never question dreams and to treat them as an individual's creation.
Dream Spirits and Vision Quests
Vision quests are a significant aspect of interpreting and using dreams as a form of guidance. Many tribes practice fasting or use hallucinogens to induce a state that encourages dreams and 'visions.'
These quests are made as a rite of passage, seek guidance, or connect with the spirits, ancestors, and even the inner self.
Most tribes also have spirits associated with sleep and dreams. They differ between tribes, but they play parts in the myths and spiritual pantheon of the Native Americans, and how they view dreams in general.
These induced dream states are designed to open the mind to the wisdom of the unconscious or even to nature or the spirits.
Aboriginal Australian Cultures
According to the Australian aboriginal mythology, the ancestral spirits dreamt the world. The mythology also suggested that they dreamed their own form into existence.
This period of recreation was known as Dreamtime or The Dreaming.
Most western cultures believe that the birth of the world happened in the past, but indigenous Australian cultures believe that Dreaming exists as a continuing reality. They believe that reality is another plane of existence that people could visit in their night dreams.
They also believe that people could meet and talk with ancestral spirits in these special dreams. They believe that dreaming was a path to connect with ancestral spirits and an opportunity to learn about the world and keeping Dreamtime alive.
Each culture varied in how they viewed dreams and dreaming; but all believed it was an important aspect of life. Dreams offered a path for understanding more about the self and the self's connection to the world.
The logic that they have used to explain their beliefs is by comparing it to science. Since trauma memories pass from one generation through genes, some people believe that they can share a cultural connection through the dream space.
Much like many other cultures, the Chinese believe that dreaming has a deep meaning. Their belief about dreams stems to the first information recorded, which was in the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Machine, a Chinese manuscript that depicts the relationship between dreams and illness.
The Chinese believe that your soul leaves the body and goes to the dream world when you start dreaming. One of their fears is that the soul will not return to the body if someone awakens you abruptly.
They believe that dreams help you to learn more about your secrets. By analyzing your dreams, they believe that it could lead you to make important decisions and to make positive changes in your life.
One of the beliefs that the Chinese developed about dreams is that they thought mental and psychic inner events depended on how their energy flowed or was blocked. They stated that dreams arose from p'o, which was the physical aspect of the soul, and the hun, which was the spiritual aspect of the soul.
Their beliefs led them to conclude that the hun could separate from the body during the night and make its way to the land of the dead. The other belief is that we can visit the souls of the dead and communicate with them, as well as return with what they imparted.
The Duke of Zhou is a prominent figure who linked directly with the Chinese dream culture.
The Chinese culture often refers to dreams as the dream of the Duke of Zhou or dreaming of the Duke of Zhou. The popular book The Interpretation of Dream by the Duke of Zhou might not be a scientific study, but neither is it based on superstition.
The Chinese have classified dreams into different categories:
You will encounter the people you dreamed about during the day.
Your dreams are contrary to your reality.
Something joyful is happening in your life.
Dreams materialized due to missing or recalling someone.
Doesn't directly depict the meaning, rather symbolizes it.
Caused by something you said or did while awake.
Different images that your character and temperament cause.
Symbolic meaning of a dream varies according to social status.
Climate factors that influence dreams.
Seasonal factors that influence dreams.
God or ancestors appear to show good or ill luck.
Caused by induction of people.
A dream predicts your illness.
Nightmare dreams caused by incorrect sleeping posture or diseases.
Ancient Egyptian Culture
Ancient Egyptians believed that dreams were answers that gods delivered to people to help them with their daily problems and questions. Careful in not leaving anything to chance, the ancient Egyptians went to a dream temple to summon dreams that they wanted - a process known as dream incubation.
People built temples for this specific reason.
Everybody who believed in the god that the temple was dedicated to was allowed to enter. To prove their belief in that god, each person went through a ritual of cleansing, which included abstinence and fasting for days before entering the temple.
The way that people who entered the temple contacted their god was by writing the name of the god on a piece of linen, then burnt it at the temple. To call upon their preferred god, the dreamer would recite a prayer to that god.
Ancient Egyptians had dream interpreters whom they called Masters of the Secret Things, who were temple priests. They believed that dreams provided them with warnings, prophecies, and advice.
They developed an advanced practice of conscious dream travel. That practice consisted of trained dreamers who advised on affairs of state, as well as those who provided a mental communication network between temples and administrative centers.
Since ancient Egyptians put so much emphasis on their dreams, it was important for them to document all their findings and interpretations of dreams into a book. Some Egyptians kept a Dream Book, which dated back to 1275 BC, during the reign of Ramesses II.
The belief is that the Egyptian Dream Book was kept in the British Museum in London and included 108 dreams, some of which included activities such as eating, stirring and drinking.
Tibetan Buddhism has stated that there are three types of dreams. The first is the dreams of Samsara, or karmic dreams; the second is the dreams of clarity; and the third is the dream of clear light.
Buddhism considers the dreams of Samsara to be the most common one. They stem from what you experienced during the day and your emotional states. The perk of this type of dream is that you can change it if you become lucid, and you can create something by asking a dream character for knowledge.
The clarity dreams that Buddhism believes in are messages from your higher consciousness and not your subconsciousness. The point of these dreams is to offer you guidance about a very important aspect of your life. They believe that these dreams can show you something important that will happen to you in life.
Tibetan Buddhism believes that the dream of clear light is rare and only happens after years of practicing dream yoga. They believe that these are not dreams, and they happen when the dreamer has awakened.
During the Tibetan Dream Yoga, Tibetans practice becoming lucid in their dreams regularly. They do this through meditative practice for improving mindfulness and concentration.
Keep On Dreaming
As with anything in life, different people, cultures and nations believe in different things; the same applies to dreams.
Although some cultures believe that dreams lack meaning, just as many others believe that they’re a gateway to higher consciousness and self-exploration. Some even think dreams can teach us how to cope with life's problems.
Countless books have been penned about dreams and dream interpretations. They might seem easy to dismiss, but here’s the thing: We live in different areas, with unique social, educational, and cultural differences; but regardless of origin, most of us share goals, rites of passage, and problems. Dreams require a lot of introspection and consideration, and should never be taken literally.
It’s all about interpretation.