In ancient cultures dreaming was viewed as medicine and as an ocular art. There were dream oracles, kind of like priests or priestesses who could either dream on your behalf or decipher your own prophetic dream. Dreaming provided access to the other realms where you could visit gods and goddesses and people you know who had passed on. in some places there even existed Sleep Temples where the dreamer would go through a process to incubate dreams and even encourage lucid dreams.
3 or 4 thousand years ago our ancestors understood, and valued dreams far more than we do. People visited these sleep temples specifically to go through rituals and sleep dreams. They believed that healing could occur in a dream through certain rites and rituals prior too. The sleep sanctuaries were almost like wellness centres where the person was treated holistically, and practices like purging, fasting and clean eating were done prior to the dream. In the dream certain gods and goddesses were called upon to aid in the healing of the body.
Then Christianity became the belief system and dreams were seen as messages from God or angels until around 1600s when they were viewed more as occult and dangerous. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s with people like Sigmund Freud and carl Jung among others who started to explore the world of dreams and look at them in a different way. Jung researched ancient beliefs and dreams and found that the pattern of the universe was on of duality, a quality found in nature as well. He started to explore the worlds of archetypes, something that is not new, the ancient people used archetypes in their myths, and he looked at universal symbols and from there the collective unconscious. The basic meaning of this is that we can access through the collective unconscious a universal database of symbols and archetypes that all means the same thing to us as individuals so dreams can be decoded using those. In ancient times dreams were considered a crucial part of life, seen as ways to understand other realms and also our own future. They were looked at mostly as messages from the other side or as prophesies. Nowadays they are regarded more as emotional expressions from our innermost selves.
I just used the word incubation so I will expand on that a little. Incubation is defined as sleeping in a sanctuary with the intention of receiving a dream-reply to a question asked of a god or goddess, having first performed certain rituals. These could involve smoke cleansing, fasting or abstinence of meat and alcohol and sometimes even included abstinence of sex. Studies have shown that not eating or only eating very light in the hours before bedtime does result in more dream sleep and can promote lucid dreams.
lucid dreams are dreams where the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming within the dream and so have some kind of control over what happens. I remember having one of these when I was younger, and I had never been able to fly in my dreams up to that point. I was walking down a tree lined road and I suddenly realised I was dreaming so the very first thing I did was try to fly. I managed to get above the treetops but it was more of like an extended jump and float rather than an actual flying.
Dreaming is also what is referred to as REM sleep because it when we dream, we experience rapid eye Movement (REM). We usually dream most in the early hours of the morning when we have had enough cycles of going between NREM and REM. If you are a very early riser, you might think you never have dreams!
Dreams are a part of our lives as much as sleeping is. In fact, we spend on average 25 years of our lives asleep and at least ten of those years are spent in the dream world.
What happens to our brains when we lucid dream is fascinating. It’s a kind of hybrid state of consciousness something that doesn’t happen in ordinary dreams. The neural signature of a lucid dream is made up of both REM sleep and wakefulness features, a type of metacognition. The neural basis of this seems to be the activation of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the pre cuneus. These are regions which are pretty much dormant during normal dreaming. What’s really fascinating is that these are also the areas which are typically associated with memory, self-assessment and perception and decision making! Frequent lucid dreams are shown to be excellent problem solvers. Also, children are often great lucid dreamers so is it possible that they are learning about themselves and working on their own self-identity through these lucid dreams as well. They do say that our core beliefs are programmed into us as children up to age 7. Babies in fact spend most of their time in REM sleep. Could it be true that they too are discovering themselves and their new world through dreams? Several recent scientific studies are now showing that these brain states are similar to the states we experience when we take psychedelics and have near death experiences.
The environment in which you sleep is very important. It’s noticed that when we are in REM sleep we are more sensitive to the environment we are in and this is how certain sounds, scents even the temperature can make its way into our dreams. In fact, its been shown that heat, being overly hot, can result in more nightmares.
What happens physically when you sleep – your body goes through a healing process…
While you’re sleeping, your immune system releases a type of small proteins called cytokines. If you’re sick or injured, these cytokines help your body fight inflammation, infection and trauma. Without enough sleep, your immune system might not be able to function at its best.
Some herbs for sleeping and dreaming –
Sleeping – lavender, passionflower, lemon balm
Dreams – Blue Lotus, Frankincense and Mugwort
In fact, a lot of people report plants coming to them in dreams to share messages. My favourite dream where this happened was with Frankincense or Olibanum as she likes to be called. You can listen to the longer account of this dream by going back to the Frankincense episode and something I didn’t know when I recorded that was, I mention Hatshepsut in that episode; the Egyptian queen who first brought Boswellia trees into Egypt, her temple actually has a sleep temple in it as well. I wonder if they smoked olibanum like incense in that temple. Its entirely possible since there is an ancient hymn which instructs the dreamer to honour the goddess with a fumigation of frankincense. Burning the resin of olibanum to create a fragrant smoke has been shown to have mildly psychoactive properties and can help you to recall dreams more vividly.
Olibanum is known to alleviate anxiety and depression as well, so it is a useful part of preparing for dreaming.
Recently I also had a dream that my butterfly pea plant was huge and abundant in growth and every time I picked a flower another would appear in its place immediately. I woke from that dream feeling so blessed and at peace.
Is it possible that when we dream, we go into another realm, a realm where plant spirits are able to communicate with us?
Go to our Podcast Old Ways for the New Age to listen to the whole episode on dreaming.
Try out our Dream Oil, infused with Blue Lotus and Frankincense.