One morning in the early 1400s in the town of Swaffham, in Norfolk County, England, a poor tinker named John Chapman woke up from a dream, and told his wife that instead of mending pots, which is what he usually did for money, he was going to walk to the city of London that day and stand on a bridge that he saw in his dream.
"Why in the world would you do that?" his wife said.
"Well," replied John, "in my dream, I saw that if I stood on a certain spot on London Bridge I would meet a man who would tell me something of great importance."
"What?" his wife asked.
"I don't know," said John, "but it would be good to go and find out."
"Are you a fool?" she replied, "Go to work!"
John did start feeling foolish, so, he picked up his hammer and went to work at his bench, while his wife prepared breakfast. The next night, however, and the night after that he had the same dream. After the third time John and his wife were convinced that there was something to these dreams. John got ready that morning and walked to London and stood on his dream spot, but nothing happened for the rest of the day.
John thought to himself, Well this isn't good; if I go back now I will really look foolish. So, he found a place to stay for the night, went back to the bridge the next morning, and stood. Nothing happened the second day either but John came back a third day. Toward evening as John was beginning to get discouraged, a London shopkeeper came up and asked why John had been standing there all this time. John told him about the dreams.
The shopkeeper laughed and said, "I never pay attention to dreams. They are all nonsense. Just the other night I had a silly dream about a box of money buried under an oak tree next to a tinker's shop in a place called Swaffham. What a joke," he said, while walking away.
John walked away also, right back to Swaffham, and to the garden next to his shop with its big oak tree. After digging for a while, the next day, he found a metal box filled with coins. "Besides the coins the box had an inscription written in Latin. John had to find a scribe to read it for him but what it said made him even more excited. The inscription said that there was more and richer treasure yet to be found if he dug a little deeper. Early the following morning John discovered another box under the oak tree. This one was filled with gold and silver. Now, John and his wife were rich.
Although John's story has been preserved as a folk story with several variations in the details, John Chapman's tombstone can be found in the Swaffham cemetery and the town records show that, although he was a tinker, in 1454 he had enough money to fund the building of a church.3 This fact suggests that there is some truth behind this legend. So, don't be afraid to follow your dream.
People spend about one-third of their lives sleeping. In the last 10 years, therefore, you were probably asleep three years and four months. When you are asleep you are naturally communicating with the unconscious part of your mind, where the archetypes live. Your dreams are this type of communication. The ability to dream is believed to have evolved in mammals about 130 million years ago.
Like all mammals, such as dogs, cats, and cows, humans dream and have always dreamed as long as they have been around. It is not surprising, therefore, that dreams are the oldest and most natural form of divination. All you have to do to participate is fall asleep. This form of divination is called oneiromancy, which is derived from the Greek word for dream, oneiros, combined with the Greek word for prophecy, manteia.
Tribal people around the world find a rich source of artistic, cultural, and spiritual inspiration in their dreams and look to their dreams as a way of obtaining direction and advice. Judging from their
practices, it seems likely that our prehistoric ancestors were probably heavily involved in dreams in the same ways. Some of the oldest written accounts of dreams are found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, a story that is one the first things ever written and is written in one of the oldest known forms of writing, cuneiform, which looks like little triangles pressed into a clay tablet. Gilgamesh is an ancient Sumerian hero who is thought to have lived in the third millennium bce. The ancient Sumerians, Assyrians, and Babylonians all wrote about his mythic adventures fighting monsters and avoiding floods. These are people who lived in "the cradle of civilization" between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, a region that scholars refer to by its ancient Greek name, Mesopotamia, and which includes modern Iraq, and parts of Syria, Iran, and Turkey. Gilgamesh was to them like Hercules was to the Greeks. Through all of his adventures Gilgamesh looked for
direction in his dreams. It seems that he couldn't do anything without sleeping on it first. Gilgamesh would try to interpret his dreams by looking for omens in them to get an idea about what he was headed for in the future. So, if he dreamed about the heavens roaring with lightning and the earth trembling he figured that something bad was going to happen to someone. Generally, Gilgamesh's good luck depended on the correct interpretation of his dreams and the misinterpretation of dreams brought bad luck. Occasionally, however, a god would show up in his dreams and make things simple by just giving him advice.
Because the people of Mesopotamia valued their dreams as a source of omens, they began to write lists of the stuff you could expect to find in dreams and what each thing meant. These were the first dream books. It would seem that these books might be useful to us now in translation but they do not seem to work for modern people. Interpretations of things in dreams depend on familiar characters from stories, similar cultural references, and words that sound alike but mean different things, called puns. Because we do not hear the same stories and speak the same language as the ancient Mesopotamians, most of their suggested meanings make little sense to us.
Dream books, however, do seem to work some of the time when used within the culture that they are meant for and most ancient cultures had them. The Egyptians had collections of dream books, starting from 2050 to 1790 bce, that were written on papyrus, a type of paper that they made out of grassy stalks. The Chinese had Chou Kung's Book of Auspicious and Inauspicious Dreams, written about 1020 bce. Chou Kung also worked on the I Ching. In India part of the Vedas, which is like the Bible to Hindus, written between 1500 and 1000 bce, is actually a dream book listing lucky and unlucky dreams. The Greeks and Romans also had dream books dating from the fifth century bce.
Being that the Vedas are similar to a bible, it's fair to wonder if the Old Testament in the Bible, written from about 1500 to 400 bce, also contains a dream book. It does not, but it certainly attests to the ancient Hebrews belief in the importance of dream divination. The diviners in the Bible are called prophets and the entire text is an account of their announcements and predictions that come to them from God. How does God speak to the prophets? Well, God clearly states in the Bible "If anyone among you is a prophet I will make myself known to him in a vision, I will speak to him in a dream." (Numbers 12:6)
Besides inspiring the prophets through dreams, God also gave the ancient Hebrews the ability to interpret the dreams of other people. The Bible tells us that while the Hebrew people were held captive in Babylon the prophet Daniel had a chance to interpret the dream of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 bce). He is the king who built the famous Hanging Gardens, which were one of the wonders of the ancient world. The king dreamed that he saw a huge statue with a golden head, a silver chest, a belly of brass, legs of iron, and one foot of clay. The king threatened to kill the prophet if he failed to interpret the dream, but Daniel was not worried because God told him what to say. He said that the golden head represented Nebuchadnezzar's rule, but he predicted that the lesser metals represented a gradual decline in the status of the kingdom during the reigns for the rulers to come. The king seemed to like the interpretation because he didn't kill Daniel, and later he allowed him to interpret another dream about a giant tree.
In a similar incident the prophet Joseph, who while in prison in Egypt interpreted the dreams of other inmates, was called on to interpret the pharaoh's dream. The pharaoh, which was the title of the king in Egypt, dreamed of seven fat cows and seven lean cows. Joseph told him that the dream was a prediction that there would be seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of failing crops and lack of food. Not being one to give into fate, Joseph suggested that they save enough from the years of plenty to cover their needs in the lean years. The grateful pharaoh put Joseph in charge of this project.
The early Christians thought about dreams in two ways. They saw dreams as an important way to communicate with God, which was good, but they also believed that some dreams were derived from sinful desires, which was bad. This, however, did not stop them from writing dream books. The most popular book, and one of the best, was written by Synesius of Cyrene (373-414 ce), a Greek Christian and the bishop of Ptolemais in Libya. Besides the benefits of divination, Synesius believed that communicating with your spirit through dreams just felt really good.
From the Middle Ages to the modern world there have been many different opinions about the value of dreams, as we saw in John Chapman's story at the beginning of the chapter. In the Islamic world, because Mohammad was inspired by his dreams, dreams have always been valued. In the Christian world, some mystics were great believers in the power of dreams while other church leaders worried that dreams could just as easily come from the devil as from God. One of the first Christians to suggest this was Tertullian (155-230 ce), who was a priest in Rome and wrote on dreams in his Treatise on the Soul. Although Tertullian believed that some dreams could come from the devil he did not think that they were necessarily harmful. Some later Christians were not so understanding. Martin Luther (1483-1546), the founder of Lutheranism, for example, was so upset about trying to figure out which dreams were from God and which from the devil that he decided it was better to just not pay attention to his dreams at all.4 Yet most Christian mystics, artists, writers, and philosophers continued to value dreams as a source of wisdom.
In the 1700s, the Age of Enlightenment, when the Western world wholeheartedly adopted a scientific attitude, dreams were demoted to a scientific curiosity and tended to be dismissed. In the twentieth century, Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the father of psychoanalysis, looked to dreams as a door to the unconscious and
Pream divination sounds like a good idea but suppose you need to know about something specific. Do you have to just wait and see if you get a dream about it? Ancient people asked themselves the same question and developed a way of giving themselves a dream that answers a specific question. This is called dream incubation.
In the ancient world incubation was mostly practiced in temples. A ritual prepared the dreamer to ask the god of the temple for a dream in answer to his or her question, and then the person would sleep in the temple that night. Dream incubation was practiced by most of the ancient cultures discussed in this chapter.
Perhaps the most highly developed form of dream incubation was that of the ancient Greeks, who practiced in temples dedicated to Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing. The dreamer was usually someone who was sick and wanted to know how to recover. The dreamer would be instructed to fast and bathe daily to prepare for the event. On the day of the incubation a ram would be sacrificed and the dreamer would lie on its skin on an altar in the temple below the statue of the god. The floor of the temple was crawling with snakes, because Asclepius liked them and they were a symbol of healing. Then hymns were sung, lamps were lit, and the dreamer would ask Asclepius to send him or her a dream with a cure. In the morning the priests would help the dreamer interpret the dream and start working on the cure.5
You can work on dream incubation yourself, without the temple and snakes, right in your bedroom. Before you go to bed just ask your Higher Self to send you a dream with the answer to your question. Or, you can write your question on a piece of paper before you go to bed, place it under your pillow, and sleep on it. Be sure to keep a pad and pencil next to your bed so that you can write your dream down in the morning. That is the best way to remember it. morning. That is the best way to remember it.
revived interest in them. Freud tended to look at dreams as coming from nasty impulses in the unconscious. One of Freud's students, Carl G. Jung, later broke away from his teacher to explore dreams on his own as a source of wisdom. He discovered that they could be a source of predictions, telepathic information, and other insights. Thanks to Jung and other researchers like him, people are interested in dream divination today.
Confronting the Divine his was Hippalus' first visit to the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. By sunset he had ascended Mount Parnassos. There, nestled at the top beneath the twin cliffs, glowing red with the sun's last rays, was a magnificent complex of statues and Doric-style buildings, including the main temple or sanctuary. Hippalus' father was a merchant and he wanted to know if a voyage would be prosperous at this time. He would not think of launching this voyage without the approval of Apollo and he provided his son with plenty of gold coins to pay for his stay in the inn and to pay the consultation tax, called the palanos.
On the morning of the seventh day after the new moon, a number sacred to Apollo, Hippalus purified himself in a ritual bath in the Castalian Spring. Then, dressed again in his best tunic and a crown of laurel leaves, he joined a group of men and ascended the flagstone steps known as the Sacred Way. At the top they formed a circle outside the temple where a fire blazed on a great stone altar designed to accept sacrifices to the god. Because it was a regular consultation day, the temple priests provided the goat for the sacrifice. The priests sprinkled the animal with holy water, causing it to give an affirmative nod, which was interpreted as a sign of approval so the ritual could continue. After the prayers and offerings the questioners were led by a group of priests and other officials into the first chamber of the temple. Some of the priests were called the prophetai, the origin of the word prophet, but they were not actually the ones who would receive the visions from the god. Their job was to interpret the visions and utterances of the prophetess called the pythia. It was she who would actually listen to the god.
At the entrance to the inner sanctuary, or adytum, the men chose lots (numbered stones) to determine their order of entry and, therefore, the order in which their questions would be answered. The men could not see what stone they were choosing and while it may seem
that the order was created by luck, to Hippalus and the other participants it was yet another way of determining the will of Apollo. As Hippalus stepped down into the adytum, he detected a faint sweetness in the air. This was gas coming from deep within the earth under Mount Parnassos. The participants saw it as a sign that the god was present and that the prophesizing could begin. Hippalus sat on a stone bench along the wall with the other participants. From this location they would be able to hear the prophecy but a screen separated them from a view of the three-legged stool, which was the seat of the pythia.
The name of the prophetess, the pythia, was derived from python, the name of a huge dragon or serpent, which in ancient times was believed to have guarded the sanctuary. At that time the sanctuary belonged to the earth goddess Gaia and the dragon was hers. It was said that when Apollo took control of the oracle he slew the python, which blocked his way, and cast its lifeless body into a fissure in the earth found within the temple. The fumes from the decaying body of the python were said to give the inner temple its sweet smell and were responsible for inducing the pythia's prophetic trance. In honor of his victory, Apollo was given the title pythios, all things Delphic were referred to as pythian, and the prophetess was called the pythia.
The pythia was a tall woman in her 50s. Holding a laurel branch and a bowl of holy water, she stepped down into the chamber and climbed onto the high, three-legged stool that stood over the fissure in the floor. As the sweet smelling gas poured over her body she fell into a deep trance. She could see Apollo beckoning her through a mist and sending her meaningful pictures in answer to the questions that the participants asked.
what history has to say
Today some people think of divination as something only gullible people are interested in but in the ancient world there were numer-
ous oracles that were highly respected by many people, including Socrates, who was considered one of the wisest philosophers of ancient Greece. For a thousand years the oracle at Delphi was the t may seem that because the oracle of Delphi was considered to be speaking the word of the god Apollo that questioners would accept their fate and depart once the oracle had spoken. Yet, such blind acceptance of fate is only found in the ancient myths. Ancient historic accounts show that visitors were actually encouraged to question the oracle further and work on a solution to a problem. The oracle was not there to scold them and tell them what bad things were going to happen to them but to help them find solutions to their problems. Here is an example.
In the fifth century bce the Persians wished to conquer Greece but the Athenian army continued to be the one thing stopping them. In 480 bce the emperor of Persia, Xerxes (r. 485-465 bce), sent a massive army to Greece with the intent of destroying Athens. The frightened Athenians sent a runner to the oracle of Delphi to ask the god what to do. The oracle said, "Why sit you doomed one? Fly to the ends of the earth. All is ruin for fire and headlong the god of war shall bring you low." This seemed like the worst pronouncement the oracle could make and, if the Athenians were the kind of people who surrendered to fate, they would have abandoned their city at that time and probably disappeared from history. Themistocles (524-459 bce), one of Athens's greatest generals, was not satisfied with this answer. He demanded that they send another messenger to Delphi and ask how they could stop the Persians. In response to the second question, the oracle said, "Though all else shall be taken, Zeus, the all seeing, grants that the wooden wall shall not fail."
Themistocles believed that the wooden wall that Zeus referred to was the fleet of ships that he had encouraged the Athenians to build. These
It Pays to Ask Twice
most respected in ancient Greece. Anyone could consult the oracle, from common farmers to kings to ambassadors representing the city-states. Some of the famous men who consulted the oracle were
sleek fast warships, called triremes, each had 170 oarsmen on three tiers and a large bronze point on the bow designed to ram and sink an enemy ship. As the Persians approached, the people of Athens abandoned the city and the Persians entered without a fight. The entire Athenian army then manned the fleet of triremes, which they sailed into the narrow strait at Salamis, the body of water between the island of Salamis and the Athenian cost. In the narrow strait they outmaneuvered the bulky Persian ships and sank every one. Without ships to bring supplies, the Persian army had to retreat and the Athenians achieved one of the greatest victories of ancient times. The city of Athens became home to some of the greatest artists and philosophers ever known.9
Socrates (470-399 bce), Sophocles (495-406 bce), Alexander the Great (356-323 bce), and Croesus of Lydia (595-546 bce). Sophocles, a fifth century bce playwright, wrote that a challenge to the oracle's authority was a challenge to religion itself. To the Greeks, the fact that Apollo was willing to talk to the people through the oracle was the proof of his existence.
In myth the oracle originally belonged to the earth goddess, Gaia, or, in some accounts, the goddess of justice, Themis, and the oracle and was taken over by Apollo at a later date. However, historians say that the oracle was dedicated to Apollo, the god of light, logic, art, and music, from its origin at the end of the ninth century bce until 393 ce, when it was closed by the Christian emperor Theodosius. As the god of the sun and light, Apollo brought forth clarity and understanding and always spoke the truth. The python, the dragon that was slain by Apollo, was a symbol of the darkness that blocked the light and therefore stopped the messages from getting to the people at Delphi. By killing the python, Apollo allowed his light to shine through and allowed the people to hear the oracle.6
Although ancient writers wrote more about the oracle than most subjects, many of the details of the worship and practice at Delphi are still disputed by modern scholars. For example, the first French arche-ologists who examined the remains of the temple in the 1800s found no evidence of the fissure and the escaping gas that the ancient writers mention. By the middle of the 1900s, most scholars believed that the gas was an invention of the writers and not based on fact. Modern archeologists examining the site, however, have found a fissure in the sanctuary that emits ethylene gas. Ethylene has the potential to cause visions if enough gas is breathed in.7 Therefore, the modern discovery shows that the ancient writings may be true. Some of the details in the account that opens this chapter may be disputed by some scholars but it is one plausible version of what is likely to have happened on a consultation day at the oracle at the height of its operation in the fifth century bce.
other ancient oracles
An oracle is basically a person who is gifted at communicating with a god and can help people to ask the god questions and get answers. This ability was probably developed by ancient shamans and similar practices existed among the tribal people of Africa and among the pre-Christian Germanic and Scandinavian tribes. The Greek oracles seem to have been influenced by earlier Egyptian oracles, who were women from important families and spoke for the goddesses Hathor or Neith. Babylonian priestesses were oracles who spoke for the goddess Ishtar. Among the Hebrew people, priests served the same function, only as the spokesmen for Jehovah. Because they were spokesmen for God, the Hebrew prophets can also be considered oracles. According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 bce), there were 11 oracles in Greece all dedicated to different gods. The ancient Greeks believed that the gods wanted to talk to the people and the oracles were one of the main ways that happened. Besides these 11 oracles, there were more than 400 temples dedicated to Asclepius that also served as oracles. Although one could ask any question of Asclepius, the most common question asked was: "How can I cure this illness?" It was usually answered through dream divination.
In Dodona at the oracle of Zeus, the king of the gods, modern ar-cheologists have dug up a stash of lead tablets on which ancient people wrote the questions that they wanted the god to answer. Among the questions asked were whether a proposed marriage, a trip, or a change of career were wise decisions; whether a wife would have a baby; and how to cure a health problem. But the most popular question was, "How can one keep the favor of the god?"8 Most modern historians claim that the oracles were used for making predictions but it is interesting that most of these questions asked for advice not predictions.
In the fourth century, as Christianity became the official religion of the Roman world, the pre-Christian oracles began to close down. As a result it is difficult to find an oracle in the modern world. There are, however, some ways people can act as their own oracle. Some people use a Ouija board, which is a board or table top with the words yes and no, the alphabet, and the numbers zero through nine printed on it. Two people sit with their hands lightly resting on a small pointer, called a planchette, which is supported on stilts so that it will glide over the table. As the spirit directs them, the pair will let the pointer move over the board to answer their questions by spelling out words, pointing to numbers, or indicating yes or no. Although this modern tool stems from European tradition, the oldest known oracle table or board like this is the fuji created in China in 1200 bce.
Another more direct way of creating a personal oracle is called automatic writing. Simply sit with a pen resting on a pad of paper, write whatever pops into your mind, and keep going. You may be surprised by what your unconscious has to say.
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