Dreams in decline
As Christianity spread throughout Europe and the classical world, dreams went further into decline. The great pagan dream temples were converted to Christian churches or were shut.
In the thirteenth century St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest scholars of the Christian church, added to the decline of the dream by supporting the Aristotle’s view that knowledge of the world must come only through the senses and rational thought. Aquinas wanted to modernize the church, and he felt Aristotle’s philosophy would do so. Aquinas said that dreams have no significance because people have no direct contact with spiritual reality.
Because of biblical tradition Aquinas had to acknowledge that some dreams could come from God. But for the most part, he said, dreams come from demons, false opinions, and natural causes such as conditions of the body. It was not unlawful to divine from dreams as long as one was certain that the dreams were from a divine source and not from demons.
Dreams fell by the wayside as a direct communication with God. The Reformation of the sixteenth century brought the end of wide-spread belief in miracles and supernatural events, including dream visions. By the eighteenth century the dream was nearly finished as a spiritual experience. At the popular level dream interpretation was sought from wizards and astrologers.
Influential philosophers also contributed to the spiritual demise of the dream. For example, René Descartes (who made the famous statement, “I think, therefore I am”) supported the Aristotle’s view. He was convinced that dreams resulted from food eaten prior to sleep. Oddly, one of his most important philosophical works, Discourse on the Method (1637), was inspired by a dream.
THE RETURN OF DREAMS
In the late nineteenth century psychical research developed as a scientific approach to studying the paranormal. Important to that research were dreams, for many prerogative, telepathic, and extraordinary experiences were reported to take place in dreams. The founders of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in London collected cases of telepathy and precondition in dreams.
Later studies of extrasensory perception (ESP) experiences in general, such as those done in the 1960s by American parapsychologist Louisa Rhine, showed that dreams are involved in 33 to 68 percent of all cases. Dreams account for 25 percent of all cases of telepathy and approximately 60 to 70 percent of all cases of precondition. About 10 percent of ESP experiences occur when an individual is at the border of sleep.
Dreams also regained importance at the turn of the twentieth century in the new field of psychology, pioneered by Sigmund Freud. In his book The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Freud called dreams the “royal road” to the unconscious. He said they are wish fulfillment of repressed infantile desires. Events during the day, or “day residues,” commonly appear in dreams. If a dream doesn’t disguise anything, then it is a mere fantasy, Freud said. Although Freud acknowledged that sleep was conducive to telepathy, he said dreams have little practical importance.
Freud’s pupil Carl G. Jung disagreed. He centered his branch of psychology on dreams. Jung had a rich dream life, full of symbols that he called archetypes, that is, symbols having a meaning beyond their significance to the individual. Archetypal symbols come from a pool of human experience shared by all people throughout history. They appear in myth, legend, and folk tales. Jung believed archetypes are endless, created by the repetition of situations and experiences engraved upon collective human experience. God, birth, death, rebirth, power, magic, the sun, the moon, the wind, animals, and the elements are examples of archetypes. Archetypes, according to Jung, are psychic forces that demand to be taken seriously, and dreams contain both personal symbols and archetypal symbols.
Jung also said that the purpose of dreams is compensatory. That is, they provide information about the self that helps a person to maintain inner balance and harmony.
Jung disagreed so strongly with Freud over dreams that it was a major factor in the split of their professional relationship. Both men went on to develop branches of psychology that are used in counsel-ing today.
Other theories adding to Freud’s and Jung’s work have been put forward on the nature, function, and meaning of dreams. However, psychotherapists upheld the ancient beliefs that dreamwork could only be done by qualified professionals; therapists had replaced the old dream priests of long ago.
Since about the 1970s dreamwork has become more democratic and less dependent upon professionals. Anyone can do it, and there are many books and other sources of help. Many people still prefer to work with professional therapists, or at least consult with them from time to time. Other people pursue their own dreamwork or join informal groups devoted to dreamwork.
Dreams are of interest to the scientific community. Scientists study the mechanics of dreaming in the brain, the diagnostic and healing content of dreams, the psychic content of dreams, and the nature of lucid dreams and shared dreams.