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How Did Ancient Peoples Perceive Dreams?

Dream Moon

Man spends 1/3 of his life sleeping, dreaming of various things throughout it. Some dreams remain in our memory, others do not. Through dreams the human brain processes and orders all of the information received throughout the day.

There are many ancient myths and legends surrounding dreams, which is fully understandable. This phenomenon has absorbed man throughout his entire history. The ancient Greeks and Romans tried to interpret dreams. But even today this inexplicable part of our lives remains a mystery. Let's familiarize ourselves with how the ancient peoples saw the process of dreaming and sleep.

Accounts regarding the dreams of ancient peoples

Since the most ancient times, dreaming has engrossed man. Moments from the dreaming and sleeping process that man has witnessed have been imprinted in cave art where the ancient ancestors dwelt.

The Torah mentions dreams. The Biblical story of Jacob tells how he saw God himself in a dream. Then there's the pharaoh's dream and its interpretation by Joseph, which turned out to be an event of great significance not only for Joseph's fate but for the entire ancient Egyptian people.


It becomes clear that in ancient Biblical times the dream was perceived with awe and people completely trusted the whispers in their dreams. The Bible is one of the richest sources of dreams. In the Old and New Testament there are about 20 descriptions of dreams that are also divine intervention in earthly matters.

The ancient Assyrians, Babylonians and Sumerians believed in a god of dreams, who was a master of the underground depths. There he maintained a legion of helpers whose role it was to pass on divine messages to sleeping people.

In ancient Greece it was believed that Zeus - the supreme god - aided by the god of dreams, Morpheus, sent out warnings, messages and prophecies to people. When Hypnos gently lured the ancients to sleep, they expected to be carried on the wings of dreams, led by Hermes. In Homer's Iliad there are descriptions of dreams, which turned out to be decisive for many events. The gods were actively present in those dreams. Both ancient Greek and Latin literature abound with stories of humans communicating with the gods through dreams.

Dreams in tribal societies


The Indians of North America are well familiar with the power of dreams. The Hurons and Iroquois regularly organized ceremonies for group dreaming that would last days and weeks. That way they drafted strategies for controlling tribal affairs.

The Eskimos of Hudson Bay and Paetenians of Malaysia believe that during sleep the soul separates from the body and lives in the world of dreams. They believed it dangerous to wake a sleeping person because their soul may not manage to return to the body and may be forever forgotten in nothingness.

Dreams in ancient Japan

For the ancient Japanese it was characteristic to have many temples devoted to dreams. This applied to the Shintoists, as well as the Buddhists. In Usa there existed a famous temple with dream interpreters. Indeed, some Buddhist temples enjoyed great renown thanks to the dream interpreters who served there.