“The theories of philosophers, theologians, and psychologists will never do justice to the fullness of our existence if they only focus on the qualities of waking life.” – Kelly Bulkeley
It’s happened before, you’re in a dark and strange place, a house you vaguely recognize, but are certain you’ve been in before, yet you can’t quite remember how you got there. You look around and suddenly you recognize some familiar objects: a childhood toy and a picture of a deceased loved one. Then you stop to look into a mirror and notice that you’re losing your teeth. This collection of objects and images seems so unusual, surreal and terrifying. Then it happens, you wake up and take a few minutes to think about the significance and meaning of your dream.
Dreams are beautiful and ugly, full of love or full of isolation, have moments of laughter and moments of gloom. So much can be said about dreams that philosophers, psychiatrists, psychologists and many others have all attempted to tackle the question of why exactly we dream and what our dreams mean. To this day scientists still do not have a definitive answer as to why exactly we dream. This is part of the reason why dream interpretation is so fascinating and captivating, because there simply are no definitive right or wrong answers. As Ernest Hartmann states in The Nature and Functions of Dreaming, “As a scientist, I have to admit that at present the functions of dreaming, if any, are unknown.” And still there are other psychologists who believe that our dreams have no meaning at all.
Throughout time, dream interpretation has taken on different meanings for different cultures and religions. In many cultures, dreams have even been viewed as divine revelations from God. Dr. Fiona Zucker and Jonny Zucker comment that dreaming played a role in many religions, including Islam, as they state, “The prophet Mohammed the founder of Islam, is said to have become aware of much of the Koran’s contents from a dream.”
Yet others believe dreams can be premonitions of future events. To some, dreams are considered to be so powerful that even leaders of great empires have felt compelled to change the course of history based on a single dream. Before the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE, Constantine the Great had a dream in which the Christian God appeared to him with the sign of the Cross. He ordered his troops to inscribe the image on their shields and after emerging victorious from battle he credited his dream. He went on to convert to Christianity, which lead to its acceptance in the Roman Empire.
Sometimes our dreams are so real and vivid that we feel the need to analyze our dreams and bring meaning to these powerful images that play out in our minds. There are many books that attempt to catalog the numerous amounts of symbols, objects and themes that occur during our dreams. One of the more interesting symbols that occurs within dreams is that of losing one’s teeth, which can represent a dreamer’s fear of growing old or an anxiety about his or her self-image. Still another object, which has frequented my own dreams, is a childhood toy, which according to different dream encyclopedias can mean a representation of family joy.
Many modern scientists consider the beginning of modern dream study as originating with Sigmund Freud, but the study of dreams goes as far back as the first human dream. So the next time you wake up from a dream and think it’s the end, remember that it’s just the beginning. If you’re interested in learning more about dreams, visit the Social Sciences, Philosophy and Religion Department at the Los Angeles Central Library to check out some of the titles we have available.
For further reading:
135 B934-5 Dreaming in the world's religions: a comparative history by Kelly Bulkeley
135 D337-4 All about dreams: everything you need to know about why we have them, what they mean, and how to put them to work for you by Gayle M. V. Delaney
135 H333-2 The nature and functions of dreaming by Ernest Hartmann
135 I615 Interpreting dreams for self discovery: collected essays edited by Laurel Clark and Paul Blosser
135 K15 The history of last night's dream: discovering the hidden path to the soul by Rodger Kamenetz
135 L568 Dream sight: a dictionary and guide for interpreting any dream by Michael Lennox
135 L827 Dream on it: unlock your dreams, change your life by Lauri Quinn Loewenberg
135 L833 Dream coaching: achieve the life you were meant to lead by understand your dreams by David C. Lohff
135 M141 Lucid dreaming for beginners: simple techniques for creating interactive dreams by Mark McElroy
135 P2395 Dreams & nightmares: discover what your dreams are telling you, discover what your nightmares are telling you by Jennifer Parker
135 Z94 2014 Dream decoder: interpret your unconscious and understand your deepest desires, fears, and hidden emotions by Fiona Zucker
150.61 F889-21a The interpretation of dreams by Sigmund Freud
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