Friday, October 9, 2009

Divine Dream Play

Dreams were once divine. In early Greek and Biblical times, mortals received inspiration, guidance and healing from the divine in their dreams. Before the philosophical and religious establishment became the exclusive voice of the divine, gods and their emissaries intervened nocturnally in the lives of mortals. Those Greeks seeking healing would go to sacred sites of the demigod Asclepius and incubate a dream and wait for a sign from the god that a healing dream was imminent, then retire to the dormitory to be visited by the god or his assistants in dream. At Epidaurus, those assembled would experience the catharsis of tragedy performed in the open amphitheater where the communal chorus would bemoan the fate of heroes. The combination of communal catharsis and divine dream intervention was healing. Then Plato declared that dreams were not divine, just as later Catholic leadership determined that the divine no longer communicated with mortals but was confined to official texts, interpreted by their priests.

Freud, like Plato before him, wanted to rescue dreams from the caprices of the divine and give them a mortal rationale, like the enlightened scientist that he was. Uncomfortable with the irrational divine, Freud gave dreams a human determinism and a personal unconscious source, later called the id, the mysterious “it” that took on the primitive and mythological aspects of the divine, even appropriating the Greek tragedy, seen often at Epidaurus, with its hero Oedipus Rex.
Jung, unlike his mentor Freud, was more comfortable with the mystical, but found the Eastern concept of the Self more acceptable than the Western divinity and gave it the status of Freud’s id or “it.” Just as dreams were the unconscious desires of the id to Freud, they were the Self’s unconscious compensations to the ego’s unbalanced conscious position to Jung. In both cases, dreams are interventions from sources once considered divine.

The Greek tragic hero had the communal chorus for human reflexion and Jung’s conscious ego had the collective unconscious of shared humanity for compensation. Freud’s was a single-person psychology like his science was Newtonian isolated particle physics, while Jung learned from Wolfgang Pauli and quantum theory that no particle is isolated but goes back and forth from the communal mist of potential. Some quantum physicists associate the infinite mist of potential with the divine.
Freud and Jung worked one on one with the dreamer, interpreting the dream, while dream-sharing groups return the isolated ego to the communal that the Greek chorus provided the tragic hero. In a group, the dream is not interpreted but resonated to by the listeners as the Greek chorus did long ago. Montague Ullman has compared dream-sharing groups with the quantum mist of potential interacting with the isolated dreamer.

Greek dream incubation was part of the shamanic tradition that included Tibetan dream yoga, a practice to prepare for the sleep of death, and indigenous dream practices around the world. The quantum mist of potential has been compared to the dreamtime of indigenous cultures, the spirit world from which waking reality is manifest like a particle from the quantum mist.

And what is dream incubation that brings divine intervention to shamanic practitioners like the ancient Greeks? It is a combination of two spiritual practices -- prayer and meditation. Prayer asks for divine intervention and meditation is the receiving state. Prayer requires intention and meditation requires attention, two additional disciplines that involve energy management. First, intention focuses the energy of the request and attention is an attunement to the divine in a receptive mode. Shamanic practices, like Greek tragedy, are communal activities. The divine is summoned ultimately for the good of the group, and the two energy applications, intention and attention, are enhanced by group participation to recreate the mist of infinite potential out of which the manifest emerges from the divine. That’s why the Greeks would gather at sacred sites and participate in performance and incubation communally. The energy at the sacred sites either from the god or from the timeless practices of intention and attention enhanced practices as did the ritual.


  1. I love that idea of communal dream sharing as a sort of Greek chorus.

  2. Perhaps we are a chorus of bloggers.

  3. Thanks for sharing your awesome experience Lou. The imagery given was "crystal" clear. I've only been to one national IASD conference (this past June) but will be attending next year, too. You have convinced me that I must partake of this type of experience should it be offered again.

    Bobbie Pimm

  4. Thanks, Bobbie, The IASD annual conferences are a dream-incubation ritual for me where I enact the dream that I have there at the Dream Ball.