DREAMS, ORACLES, AND VISIONS
Dreams

No matter how bizarre, every dream seems real
to the dreamer, each dream seems to contain a
recognizable core logic.  The reality of the
experience is not only accepted as how things
are but perceived as the sole existent reality.  
Like pictures of Dali’s melting watches, the
boundaries of space and time soften, bend, and
fold.  The perceived reality can be as ordinary
as waking life or transmute into a hallucinogenic
representativeness.  

Dreaming is a madness we accept, incorporate,
and often forget.  The ultimate question is
whether dreams possess their own reality and
perform a necessary function for our daily and
nightly lives?  Can a dream world’s reality have
an impact in everyday life?  In other words, is
the dream world an extension of the physical
world sharing a different but influential reality?  
Assuming eight hours of sleep, during the
normal night we dream about one and a half
hours per night, or nearly five hundred and fifty
hours per year.  If I spend five hundred and fifty
hours in a year learning a musical instrument, I
will achieve a certain degree of proficiency.  It is
a relatively large amount of time to engage in an
activity.  If dreaming is an hallucinatory activity
how does that condition our overall acceptance
of what is real in our waking life?  

In 1953, Calvin Hall defined a dream as a
succession of images, predominantly visual in
quality, which are experienced during sleep.   
Succession implies temporality, one thing
following another, like a movie played with the
sound turned off that I notice with various
degrees of attention.  Dreaming brings forth
other considerations.  Are we the center of
awareness in our dreams, or are we often like a
character in a story that is played before us?  
Hall considers our dreaming state to be one of
“pure projection.”  If this is the case, it is
uncensored as well, images of concerns,
events, expectations, desires, wants, fears all
thrust and played out nightly.  Perhaps more
unsettling are dreams that are slices of ordinary
life lived in a new context.  Relationships formed
and deepened, experiences transformed and
lived out in different ways.  Even though dreams
may dissolve into forgetfulness in the awake
state, do they still lurk in a form of deep
awareness?  Can they impact our thoughts,
perceptions, and behaviors within waking life?  
Would these not have equal behavioral impact
on us as relationships and experiences in our
waking life?

Dreams tend to evaporate from consciousness.  
We awake and we forget.  Some dreams have a
sense of perceived and experienced time longer
than the time spent dreaming.  Within a course
of a night, a perceived reality of days, weeks, or
years can play out.  Other reported dreams are
sequential.  They appear to unfold night after
night mirroring sequential life day after day.
When one ponders the evidence, what becomes
apparent is that even “normal consciousness”
isn’t.  Take the experience of driving.  I can get
into my car, start the engine, turn on the music,
drive down a common route, and sometimes
become aware I have arrived at my destination –
all apparently on autopilot.   This is an example
of a spontaneous trance.  Or I can be hard at
work and enter into a detailed daydream.  
Someone may ask me a question and draw me
out of it, or my consciousness can slowly
transform back into the task at hand.  In most
cases, we remain unaware of this shifting of
awareness.  Yet how odd it is when we ponder
it.    

A primary difference of understanding between
archaic and contemporary consciousness is
many cultures in the past assigned a reality to
the dream state similar, if not equal to, the
awakened state.  The Egyptian hieroglyph for
dream is depicted by an open eye designating
the verb “to awaken.”  In dreams, we awake to a
different reality of consciousness.  The ancients
believed in the efficacy and reality of dreams.  
They devised methods to induce certain types of
dreams to create certain results, to pass through
the doors of consciousness into another state of
awareness and utilize information received to
transform their daily lives.  This was the belief of
the Neoplatonist Iamblichus who considered the
hypnogogic state, that midpoint between sleep
and awareness as the point of contact to divine
visions.

The dream state bordered the realm of the
sacred.  It was that truly liminal area where
ordinary consciousness is touched, transformed,
and mediated by the cosmos inhabited by the
gods.  Over time, methods were developed to
enhance this crossing over, the interconnection
of spheres.  This is most clearly seen in the
development of dream incubation theory and
sites and oracular sites.  

Ancient Dream Incubation

The earliest account of dream incubation (and
dream interpretation) is in the Sumerian story of
Gilgamesh first written nearly five thousand
years ago and presumably heir to a more
ancient verbal tradition (Gilgamesh:  The New
Translation by Gerald J. Davis.)  
Whereupon did they draw yet nearer unto Mount
Lebanon. Facing Shamash the Sun God as He
set, they dug a well, from which they filled their
water-skins with fresh water. And then did
Gilgamesh ascend to the mountain peak, where
he poured out upon the ground an enchanted
circle of milled flour as an offering, and uttered
these words in supplication, “O Mountain, bring
unto me a dream, that I may receive a favorable
sign from Shamash.” And it befell that Enkidu
built for Gilgamesh a dwelling for the God of
Dreams. Unto this dwelling did Enkidu affix a
door, that the wind might not enter therein. Then
did Enkidu bid Gilgamesh to lie upon the
ground, so he could pour about him an
enchanted circle of milled flour to cause
Gilgamesh to dream. And then did Enkidu
betake himself to lie upon the threshold of the
dwelling.

In the middle of the night, Gilgamesh wakes up.  
He describes his feeling that a god had passed
by him.  His body trembles in response.  He
cries out to Enkidu and relates his dream.  
Because Enkidu was originally more animal than
human, he had the ability to interpret dreams.  
As Gilgamesh relates his dream, Enkidu gave its
meaning.

From this earliest account, the primary structure
of dream incubation is described that develops
over hundreds and thousands of years into the
dream and healing sanctuaries of the ancient
world.  These dream and oracular centers (since
the dream appears to be the first oracle) are in
secluded or sacred spots home to mountains,
rivers, or lakes.  These places are often
designated by a god.  Next, there is a protective
element.  In Gilgamesh’s account this consisted
of a door placed on the hut.  Rituals develop, in
the case of Gilgamesh, a magic circle drawn
around the place of dreaming.  
These primary methods of incubation spread
over the ancient Near East primarily because
they worked, not in the sense that an actual god
would appear, but because engaging in ritual
prepares the mind for the expected result.  
Incubation practices include isolation, flickering
lights, the dripping of water, and magical spells
to place patients in a state of receptivity, of trust,
of belief that their ills may be healed.
Within Greece, the earliest mention of dream
incubation is in Book 16, line 235, of the Iliad.
Zeus, king, Pelasgian, Dōdōnean, distant-
dweller, ruler in wintry Dōdōna— where round
you live the Selloi, with unwashed feet, your
interpreters, who sleep on the ground.
The fact that Homer mentions the Selloi
sleeping on the ground probably isn’t because it
was unusual, but because in this particular
case, contact with the earth, from whence
dreams issued, was an important part of the
prophetic/incubation ritual.  From this simple
beginning in Greece, an astounding intellectual
edifice of dreams and healing came into being.
One of the predecessors to the Hellenic centers
of dream incubation may have been the
Egyptian per ankh, or "house of life" often
attached to major temples including those of
Memphis, Abydos, and Edfu.  Diodorus Siculus
(I, 48:3) describes the House of Life as
containing a the sacred library which bears the
name "healing place of the soul."  They were
centers where magical texts were written and
copied and teaching of the sacred rituals and
mysteries occurred.  Some Egyptian priests had
titles such as “Keeper of Secrets” and part of
pharaohs’ early training may have taken place
within the houses of life.

The Chester Beatty papyrus was written about
1350 BCE.  It probably incorporates earlier
knowledge and provides information about the
magical means of dream incubation.  Incubants
were instructed to make a drawing of the god
Bes on their hand and wrap it in a strip of linen
consecrated to Isis, then lie down to sleep
without speaking a word.  The goddess was
expected to come in the night to assist the
person seeking help.

A thousand years later, in Ptolemaic times after
Alexander’s conquest of Egypt, methods for
dream incubation were full blown in Egypt.  A
very strange document, the London-Leyden
Magical Papyrus offers a series of spells and
rituals to divine the will of the gods both awake
and asleep, as well as love charms and other
spells.

Several of the methods used a child as diviner.  
This was presumably because the child’s youth
and innocence allowed him to be closer to the
gods.  Spells were spoken in the names of the
gods asking for the gates of the Underworld to
open, or for a god to appear to a boy who would
be bent over a vessel with his eyes closed.  In
some instances, the vessel would contain water
with oil floating on the tope.  Then as one spell
says:
You say to the boy 'Open your eyes'; when he
opens his eyes and sees the light, you make him
cry out, saying 'Grow, O light, come forth, O
light, rise, O light, ascend, O light, thou who art
without, come in.' If he opens his eyes and does
not see the light, you make him close his eyes,
you call to him again; 'O darkness, remove
thyself from before him, O light, bring the light, in
to me!

The child is asked “what have you seen?”  If the
child responds that he sees the gods about the
lamp, then further questions will elicit the boy’s
vision.  In other formulations, divination occurs
by a form of auto-hypnosis.  One looks upon the
flames of a flickering lamp, in a room clouded
with frankincense, until a god appears to you
within the lamp’s flame.  Then you lay down to
sleep and further detailed instructions will come
within a dream.

At Hathor’s Temple at Denderah, sleep
incubation was well developed.  People seeking
healing dreams would bathe in the waters of the
small sacred lake and sleep within special
dormitories.  Water was poured over a statue of
the goddess that contained magical
inscriptions.  The water was then drunk both for
its curative properties and to put the person in
the proper frame of mind to receive a healing
visitation from the goddess.  At a temple in
Memphis, stone pillows were used on which
were inscribed portrayals of gods.  You would
lay your head upon the stone pillow to dream of
the god.  Decades ago, during a mountain trek, I
saw similar stone pillows in opium dens in
Thailand.  I remember being curious about these
and wondered how comfortable they possibly
could be.  I would not be surprised if the person
told to sleep on one of the stone incubation
pillows were given one of the narcotics,
hypnotics, or sedatives listed in the medical
Ebers Papyrus.    

September 12, 2015 CE / 412 BCE Epidaurus,
Greece
I arrive at Epidaurus.  While its magnificent two
thousand year old theatre continues to be used
for modern performances, I am most interested
in Epidaurus’ healing center, the Askleipion,
lying nearby in ruins.  About twenty-four hundred
years ago, healing centers that used sleep
incubation burst forth throughout the Greek
speaking world.  For nearly fifteen hundred
years, 1000 BCE through 426 CE,  Epidaurus
was the primary center of healing for the
Mediterranean world.
   
The focus of healing was dream incubation.  
Those seeking healing would arrive at the
temple, ritually bathe, sacrifice a ram or other
animal, and sleep on its hide in a special
dormitory within the sacred precinct.  The
purpose was to receive a dream from the god
Asclepius who would reveal the necessary steps
for healing within the dream.  The dream state
bordered the realm of the sacred.  It was a truly
liminal area where ordinary consciousness and
sacred consciousness is mediated.

The patient would be awakened at various
points in the night by a priest and the dream
recorded.  In the morning, the dream was
discussed and a treatment plan created from it.  
Many patients who were healed from the
information contained in the dream (not to
mention, the priest-doctors’ increasing amount
of knowledge and skills), would leave a votive
offering.  The offerings often contained a
representation of the limb that was healed.

December 16, 2015 CE – Bergama, Turkey
The Askleipion in Bergama, another of the
premier healing centers of the ancient world
visited by emperors and others seeking healing,
also utilized dream incubation.  I wander around
the sacred springs and sacred baths until I find
the entrance to the healing therapy rooms.  The
stairs descend into a tunnel under a covered
stone archway.  About every fifteen feet there is
an opening in the roof that lets in the sun.  
Spring water cascades down a drain along the
stairwell.  Its soft gurgling follows you as you
walk.  I am sure in the evenings torches were lit
and placed along the walls, their flickering lights,
and the sound of the stream adding to that
sense of the sacred, the surreal entry into the
dreamworld where human dream spirits
wandered amidst the gods.  I enter the
underground therapeutic rooms, occasional
beams of light break through small separations
in the room.  The beautiful architecture of mud
brick and columns comprise a maze of rooms.  

I sit in the quiet and wonder.  I try to place
myself in the frame of mind of one who seeks
healing.  The running water in the distance, the
subdued light relaxes me.  I feel safe.  I feel
comfortable.  Should I have been here two
thousand years ago, I have no doubt a god
would reveal whatever would be necessary for
my healing.

On Oracles and Emotional States

Monday, September 14, 2015, CE – Delphi
The common point of revelation seems to be
receptivity, a certain calmness of mind that is
itself a certain altered state.  I ponder this, the
ability to quiet, to master a certain dissociative
process that seems the heart of mysticism.  If
this is the case, what is the proof that it works?  
Certain oracular sites, especially the Temple of
Apollo at Delphi, worked.  The proof of its
efficacy was the treasure sent by grateful states
and individuals that was housed in the
treasuries one would pass while ascending the
mountain to the site of the oracle.  The ancient
world’s use of oracles to predict the future has
always fascinated me.  This driving desire to
know the future manifests even today.  
The Temple of Apollo is perched on Mount
Parnassus.  As most places where gods are
thought to dwell, it is extraordinarily beautiful.  
The purpled peaks of Mount Parnassus soar
over the area, their jagged outline forms the
boundary of earth and sky melding with the
deep blue of the Corinthian Gulf below.  Except
during three winter months, when Dionysos
would assume residence at Delphi, on the
seventh of each month, less than a kilometer
below the temple, those seeking information
about the future would first purify themselves in
the Castalian Spring and drink its water.  They
would ascend the mountain toward the oracular
site passing several treasuries that held
offerings cities presented in gratitude to the god
Apollo.    

I ascend above the temple and half way to the
stadium on top, I sit and gaze down at the
temple.  The actual place where the Pythia
descended is still unexcavated and not yet
known.  Substantive theories proposed that the
place of prediction lay upon the intersection of
two fault lines.  I look at the mountains, follow
the fault lines with my eyes and assume a
general area where the Pythia entered.  
Differing accounts suggested the Pythia would
chew laurel leaves or gaze into a dish of water
to contemplate the question posed to her.  
There is growing evidence she may have
inhaled faint fumes of natural gas.  Then the
spirit of the god was believed to enter into her.  
She would begin to prophesy and priests would
write down her words.

Even if one dismisses the entire concept of
prophecy, from the standpoint of data and
information processing the site and procedure is
interesting.  Civic and personal representatives
from throughout the Mediterranean region would
visit Delphi.  From the variety of people, the
concerns expressed in their questions, the
alternatives they would present to the god
Apollo, the priests at Delphi came to know much
information on current events and the beliefs,
hopes, and fears surrounding them throughout
the Greek world.  There’s about six hundred
oracular responses recorded.  About half of
them have proved historically accurate.  This
demonstrates, somewhat incredibly, in human
affairs being right fifty percent of the time is
pretty good.  This results in kings’ treasure
being bequeathed.  It makes me wonder, how
often are we wrong, how often do we ignore
these misperceptions?

Thursday, 19 November 2015, CE
This is a good entry to the concept of magical
thinking.  Let’s start with an entry of Diodorus
Siculus from his travels.  
There are also sphinxes in both the Trogodyte
country and Ethiopia, and in shape they are not
unlike those depicted in art save that they are
more shaggy of hair, and since they have
dispositions that are gentle and rather inclined
towards cunning they yield also to systematic
training.

There is something eminently likeable about
gentle, furry, trainable sphinxes.  I don’t expect
to be in Trogodyte country or Ethiopia during
this trip, but if I do show up there, I intend on
keeping my eyes open.  It’d be nice to bring one
home as a pet.  What is it like to be in a
cognitive state where gods roam the earth,
where sphinxes are clever and trainable, where
everyday life can be abreacted by the
supernatural?


Thursday, November 20, 2015, CE Lebediea

There are times the random synchronicity of the
universe awes me.  It happened this afternoon.  I
come to Lebediea to see the site of the
Trophonios Oracle, the springs of Lethe
(Oblivion) and Mnemosyne (Remembrance) and
the Hercyne Gorge.  
Most bus stations in Greece have printed
schedules of service, because of chaos and end
of season issues, Delphi does not.  I catch the
11 a.m. bus to Lebedeia assuming I will find
information there to help me find my way back.  
There are some towns you pass through on a
bus and think:  I’d like to hop off here and see
the place.  Lebediea is not one of those.
I get off where the bus stops with only the
instruction of “follow the signs to the Hot
Springs.”  I see no signs on the highway or in
the city.  I ask at the kiosk near the bus stop and
am told me to go straight ahead to the town
center until I see taxis and ask them.
I soon find myself on a small pedestrian mall
with hundreds of people sitting at outdoor cafes
drinking coffee and beers.  This makes me
hungry, but I don’t see anyone eating.  I keep  
walking until I arrive at a T intersection and
randomly take a left until I come upon a gyros
place.  Since I assume I will be hiking in a gorge
and perhaps exploring a cave, I decide to order
a gyros, cucumber salad, and coke.  When I
finish, I ask the proprietor where the hot springs
are.  He speaks English, but understands more,
and waves me in a direction.  I walk until I hit
another T intersection and this time take a right
which leads me to a bridge, a river, and an
orthodox basilica.  Most people looking for a hot
spring would think:  hot springs = water, river =
water, maybe I should follow the river.  I didn’t.  
The cathedral square is filled with people.  I see
a guy heading in my direction and ask:  
Kalimera.  Do you speak English?
A little, he says.
Can you tell me where the Hot Springs is?
Oh, so you are seeking the Oracle?
I was a bit surprised.  Yes, I respond.
I’m in a bit of a hurry now, he says, but follow
the river, next to a taverna you will see a pool to
your left, that’s the pool of, how do you say it,
forgetfulness.  On the right is the pool of
memory.  But you won’t find the cave of the
oracle.  No one knows where it is, Pausanias
gives hints, but we haven’t found it.  I’d like to
talk but I am really late, I need to go.
I don’t remember what I said to that, but then he
said:  Do you have five minutes?  If you wait
here, I can get you a small book, it’s in Greek,
but you can have someone translate it for you.
I say OK.  He takes off.  As I wait I think, this is
ridiculous.  I only have a limited amount of time,
he’s going to bring me a book I can’t read, and
then I will need to find a way to return it.   In a
few minutes he returns.  He hands me seven
photocopied pages in Greek.  He says, my
name is Panos.  I am writing a book about the
Cave.  I need to deliver some things to Delphi
and need to go.
We exchange emails.  What’s the chance of
randomly asking a person for directions to find
out he’s the person writing a book on one of the
most significant features of the underworld?  
Perhaps in Greece, it’s not that unusual.  
At the basilica square, the town turns medieval
and beautiful.  I follow the cobblestone path
along the river past small stone bridges and
waterfalls.  Sporadically steps lead down to the
river’s rushing water.  Then you reach the quiet
of the two ancient collecting pools, one on the
left and one on the right.  The water is leaf
covered, not anything you really would want to
chance drinking.

Past the pools, the cobblestone path leads into
the gorge said to lead to one of the seven
entrances to hell in Greece.  There is a small
municipal stone stadium to the left where the
gorge turns right.  Everything is covered with the
angry graffiti of fantasy revolution.  I follow the
path into the gorge until it stops.  There is a dry,
polished riverbed.  It will be easy to walk along
it, I think.  Water has cascaded for millennia
polishing rock smooth and round.  Rain is
predicted for the next few days and I didn’t want
to chance a flash flood.  As I walk I see a
number of small caves.
Pausanias’ describes how a person consults the
Oracle of Trophonios.  For several days the
supplicant leaves in a building consecrated to
Good Fortune and purifies himself.  He bathes in
the river below.  Over several days, animals are
sacrificed and a soothsayer reads the entrails of
the victim to determine whether it is propitious to
consult the oracle.  Finally a ram is sacrificed,
and if a final go ahead for consultation is given
by the god, then he is taken to the river by two
young boys and then to the Spring of
Forgetfulness to clear his mind.  He then must
drink from the Spring of Memory so he will
remember what he sees while consulting the
oracle.

He is then clothed in white linen and heavy
boots and taken to the oracle situated on the
mountainside above the sacred forest.  
Pausanias describes the oracle:
It is surrounded by a circular platform of white
stone, of the same circumference as a very
small threshing-floor, and something less than
five feet in height. There are bronze posts
standing on the platform linked together with
bronze chains: there are doors to pass through.
Inside the circle is a chasm in the earth, not
natural but most carefully constructed with skill
and architectural sense. It is shaped like a kiln
with a diameter of about ten feet, I would say,
and hardly more than twenty feet deep. There is
no way down, but when a man is going to
Trophonios they bring him a light, narrow ladder.
When you get down you can see an opening
between wall and floor about two feet wide and
a foot high. The man going down lies on the
ground with honey-cakes in his hands and
pushes his feet into the opening and then tries
to get his knees in. The rest of his body
immediately gets dragged after his knees, as if
some extraordinarily deep, fast river was
catching a man in a current and sucking him
down. From here on, inside the second place,
people are not always taught the future in one
and the same way: one man hears, another
sees as well. Those who go down return feet
first through the same mouth…When a man
comes up from Trophonios the priests take him
over again, and sit him on the throne of Memory,
which is not far from the holy place, to ask him
what he saw and discovered. When they know
this they turn him over to his friends, who pick
him up and carry him to the building where he
lived before with the Good Spirit and Fortune.
He is still possessed with terror and hardly
knows himself or anything around him. Later he
comes to his senses no worse than before, and
can laugh again. I am not writing from hearsay,
as I have consulted Trophonios and seen others
do so. Everyone who goes down to Trophonios
is obliged to dedicate the story of whatever he
has seen or heard, written out on a wooden
tablet.

I meet with Panos that evening in the taverna.  
He believes that after lengthy preparation, a
person was lead to a point in the cave where he
may have slipped into a passageway that drops
into the rushing, swirling river below from which
he is soon “rescued” by attendants.  He is
questioned after those moments of panic, about
his experience, the thoughts, fears, emotions
that swept through his mind.  From these
responses, an oracle was formed.