Our earliest records of the work of a dream interpreter come from ancient
Who or what was speaking in the dream? Is the dreamer’s recollection reliable? Where did the dream experience take place? What part of the dreamer — a higher part of soul or a lower one — was active in the dream? Is the female entity “as high as the sky and as wide as the earth” who appeared to that young man in
A Mesopotamian term for an obscure or mysterious dream is “a closed archive basket of the gods”. Picture a woven basket used for carrying a set of clay tablets. The role of the questioner is to lift the lid and help read what is in there. One technique she might use in doing this, suggests cuneiform decoder Scott Noegel, is to record the dream and look for visual as well as auditory puns in the patterns that emerge as she scores the clay with a reed or wooden stylus. That image, from five thousand years ago, seems strangely modern: the dream as text, the dream reader looking and listening for puns.
But we are in a different world from modern analysts. Literacy is still a rare skill, and the questioner will use the magic of writing. But she will bring other tools to bear. She may seek a second opinion through one of many systems of divination, which range from reading the stars to examining the entrails of a sacrificial animal to noticing what is coming into view in the landscape in a given moment — the cry of the boatman, the wind bending the reeds.
We have a hint here that ancient dream specialists may have used a core technique of Active Dreaming that we call tracking. With permission, a practiced dreamer can make a shamanic journey through the portal of another person's dream to bring back a clear account of what is going on in the dreamspace, to solve a mystery or resolve a problem.
Text adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.
Image: Gypsum statuette from Mesopotamia c 2400 bce.
In my next online course for The Shift Network, "Dreaming into the Dreamtime", we harvest wisdom and practice from seven world traditions of dreaming. Classes start on May 3.