Saturday, March 15, 2014

News from Ephesus: dream divination is applied science

Artemidorus, the most famous dream interpreter of the Hellenistic world, lived and practiced in the great temple city of Ephesus in Anatolia. Only one of his many books survives, The Interpretation of Dreams, or Oneirocritica. The title was borrowed by Freud many centuries later, but their approach could hardly be more different. While Freud is plumbing the basements of the personal subconscious, Artemidorus is searching in dreams for knowledge of the future that can be used for the good of an individual, a family or a whole community.
    The dreamer of Ephesus states his general objective at the start of his book. He wants to make a rational and effective case for divination, based on his personal experience and the case studies he has collected.  He also wants to offer a practical guidebook that any intelligent reader can use. He gives his credentials in his opening pages: “I have not only taken special pains to procure every book on the interpretation of dreams, but have consorted for many years with the much-despised diviners of the marketplace…In the different cities of Greece and at the great religious gatherings of that country, in Asia, in Italy and in the largest and most populous of the islands, I have patiently listened to old dreams and their consequences.” His authority is based on experience: “Everything has been the result of personal experience, since I have always devoted myself, day and night, to the study of dream interpretation.” [1]
     Artemidorus proceeds to distinguish different types of dreams. A fundamental difference is between oneiros, which he defines as a dream that “indicates a future state of affairs” and enhypnion – stuff “in sleep” – that “indicates a present state of affairs”, ranging from the state of your digestion to your desire to be with your lover or the haunting images of things that you fear. People who lead “an upright life” try to discipline themselves to avoid being “muddled” by the fears and desires reflected in such sleep experiences, which are the stuff of much modern dream analysis
     In the Oneirocritica, Aretmidorus is interested only in dreams that reveal the future, and especially in those that do this through allegory rather than by literal depiction of possible scenes and events. Allegorical dreams are “those which signify one thing by means of another.” 
      Artemidorus states bluntly, “The mind predicts everything that will happen in the future.” He gives examples of precognitive dreams that presented future events in an entirely literal way. A man dreams of a shipwreck and then his boat is wrecked and he narrowly avoids drowning, as in the dream. Another dreams he is wounded in the shoulder by a friend in a hunting accident, and again the dream is played out exactly.
      If it is possible to dream the future with this kind of clarity, why do we need allegories? Artemidorus offers two reasons. The first is that we may lack the experience to understand a future event perceived in a dream – for example, because we have not yet encountered a person or situation that features in the dream. By setting us a puzzle to figure out, the “allegorical” dream gives us a rational way to access what the larger mind knows about things to come. Second, the kind of dream dramas Artemidorus describes can bring an emotional charge that leads to action; “it is the nature of the oneiros to awaken and excite the soul by inducing active undertakings.”
       Artemidorus notes that while the gods do not lie, they like to speak in riddles. This is because “they are wiser than we and do not wish us to accept anything without a thorough examination”. He gives the example of a man who dreamed the god Pan told him that his wife would poison him via his best friend. It was the relationship that was poisoned, when the wife proceeded to have an affair with the friend. 
     Artemidorus is very clear about what the Oneirocritica is, and what it is not. He is going to show us how to decode allegorical dreams in order to discern the future. He is well aware that other kinds of dreams require other kinds of dream work, and he wrote about other types of dreams in books that have not survived, as well as a book of augury – divination by bird-watching. 
      Artemidorus recognized that every dream may be unique. The snake in your dream is not the same as the snake in mine. To read the meaning of a dream symbol correctly, you must know the dreamer’s identity, position in life, habits and medical condition. You must also question the dreamer’s feelings about a dream.
     Artemidorus observes that we dream the future for others as well as ourselves. Sometimes we receive a dream message for someone else. “Many dreams come true for those whose characters are similar to the dreamer’s and for his relatives and namesakes.” Artemidorus gives the example of a woman who dreamed she was married to a man who was not her husband. He observed that work with this dream could proceed in several directions, including exploring the possibility that it warned of death; “marriage and death signify each other because the circumstances surrounding a marriage and a funeral are similar.” This association, it turned out, was on the right track, but it was the dreamer’s sister, not the dreamer herself, who “married death” after the dream.   
     Artemidorus kept in touch with his clients after consultations, and apparently believed that divination through dreams is for the benefit of the whole community. This carries a burden. “If a man dreams that he has become a prophet and has been celebrated for his predictions, he…will take upon himself, in addition to his own anxieties, those of others.” 
      He wanted to raise dream divination to the level of an applied science. In the view of one modern scholar, Christine Walde, he succeeded. “The more complex aspects of divination – which is the attempt to investigate the connections underlying fate and the cosmos through natural and artificial means – constituted both an ancient mode for mastering life and a way of gaining knowledge or insight that, in the context of its time, can in no way be dismissed as irrational; at most, it might be considered extrarational.” Artemidorus devised a “demystified” approach to divination that “provides the standardized conditions that scientific distance requires” and “an imposing reservoir of knowledge about things in the world and their interdependence.” [2] 


1. All quotations from Artemidorus are from, Oneirocritica: The Interpretation of Dreams. Trans. Robert J. White. Torrance CA: Original Books, 1990.
2. Christine Walde, “Dream Interpretation in a Prosperous Age? Artemidorus, the Greek Interpreter of Dreams” in David Shulman and Guy G. Stroumsa (eds) Dream Cultures: Explorations in the Comparative History of Dreaming. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 126, 128.

This article is adapted from The Secret History of Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library. All rights reserved.
Photo: Medusa at Ephesus (c) Robert Moss


Unknown said...

A few days after returning from a visit with family, I dreamed my mother cooked some steak. I wondered why I was dreaming about something that had already happened. She then sent me an email saying she had cooked steak that day. lol. Is my life that boring or is a steak more than a steak?

Robert Moss said...

I don't think it is boring to have such clear and simple confirmation of dream clairvoyance or telepathy. To get to the meat of the subject, I would say to myself: If I can have an accurate psychic dream of something as small as this, what else can I dream? I would also think about many reasons why I might want to be in active contact with my mother at this point in our lives.

Worldbridger said...

When the stakes are high, it's time to get cooking!

Unknown said...

Thanks Robert, yes, I am watching closely from 3000 miles away. What is at stake is her declining health.

James Wilson said...

It's a shame only one of his books survived. Who knows what kind of wisdom and experiences he could have shared in his other books.
A funny concidence. Last week someone told me she had a dream of a snake which was wrapped around her arm. And she wondered what it could mean.
I told her (quoting from your book: conscious dreaming) that I could not tell her what it could mean. Because a dream and the elements in the dream have a personal meaning. And the meaning of the dream is in the dream landscape itself.

Robert Moss said...

Quite right, James. Yet we can offer feedback by saying "if it were my dream" and then offering our own associations without imposing them on the dreamer. Had I been asked about this dream, I might have said, "If it were my dream, I would reflect that Asklepios, the Greek god of dream healing, is often depicted with a snake wrapped around his arm. So I would wonder whether the snake here signifies a power of healing for myself or - through me - for others."

Naomi said...

In one of your books you describe a healing ritual wherein you prepare for entering the temple in Ephesus and spend a night there dreaming.

I prepared for that ritual, preparing my mind, asking what I wanted to deal with, etc. While my request was very general, I did want to free myself of old memories that were negative and of no use.

I was amazed at the dream that came forth that night bringing forgiveness on both sides of the dream. For me, the dreamer and the persons that appeared in the dream. This dream brought up old wounds, grievences to forgiveness and a lightness of the heart.

Robert Moss said...

Naomi, it sounds like you discovered - as did the ancient pilgrims who journeyed to the temples of dream healing associated with Asklepios - the depth of healing and guidance that is available to us from a deeper source when we ask in the right way. I have written about the Asklepian experience of dream healing in several of my books, including DREAMGATES and THE SECRET HISTORY OF DREAMING. As you discovered, this works! Thanks for sharing.

James Wilson said...

Hi Robert, thanks for your response. My friend and I, along with a few others, are practicing to get lucid dreams. She told me in her dream the snake was around her arm en started to squeeze her arm. I was wondering if the snake wanted to help her in her dream to get lucid. By squeezing her arm, making the dream a little more uncomfortable, making her aware she was dreaming.

But yes the image of Asklepios with a snake wrapped around his arm has a strong resemblance. I'm going to ask her how she feels about that image.