Dream Incubation

Dream Incubation


Dream incubation refers to the practice of seeking dreams for specific purposes—healing, financial guidance, general advice, divination, and so on. Dream incubation was extremely popular in the ancient world, and was a major phenomenon in societies as diverse as ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The theoretical structure underlying this practice in all ancient civilizations has been outlined by Scott Cunningham (p. 19—see Sources) as follows:

  1. The divinities are concerned about Their worshippers.
  2. Dreams can be sent by goddesses and gods.
  3. The nearest that a worshipper can be to a deity, while in a corporeal state, is within the confines of Her or His temple.
  4. Thus, sleeping within the temple will be the most effective method of producing a divine dream.

The practice of dream incubation in the temples of the ancient world may have developed independently in Mesopotamia and Egypt, or the practice may have emerged in one of these societies and later been transmitted to the other. The seeming obsession of Mesopotamians with divination suggests Mesopotamia as the ultimate source of this practice, indicating that the first systematic use of dream incubation was for the purpose of gaining knowledge of the future. This contrasts with the Hellenistic period, in which the primary purpose of dream incubation was for healing, principally at temples dedicated to Aesculapius. The practice continued into the Christian era, with reports of worshipers seeking healing in dreams at Catholic pilgrimage sites (particularly at churches built over the remains of Aesculapius’s temples) as late as the early twentieth century.

The earliest temples to observe this practice were not dedicated solely to the task of guiding worshipers in their dreamwork, but the basic pattern was much the same. People went to temples to “camp out” and sleep with the intention of receiving a dream from the gods that would provide healing or an answer to a vexing question. The dreamer fasted and engaged in other rituals before lying down to sleep. In cases where the temple was too far away from the person seeking dream guidance, or when the person was too sick to undertake the required fasts, baths, or other rituals, another person could act as a surrogate for the seeker. During the period of Babylonian ascendancy in ancient Mesopotamia, the practice was to have a professional dreamer-priest seek the answer to one’s question. During other periods when the seeker personally sought dream guidance, priests were often available to help interpret the dreams.

References in periodicals archive ?
Despite this, practices like dream incubation show that not everyone subscribed to the same view of dreams.
Inside the dream incubation temples, there were many inscriptions that wrote of a "god performing surgery on the patient" (32).
Ambrosius Aurelius Theodsius Macrobius, writing two to three centuries after Apuleius and the height of the dream incubation temples, compiled a classification system for dreams, identifying five different kinds of dreams--the enigmatic, the prophetic, the oracular, the nightmare, and the apparition (Macrobius 88).
After scheduling her appointment, I suggested that she try doing a dream incubation a night or two before coming in.
Marie was instructed to write a dream incubation request on a blank sheet of paper, and to put this by her bed along with a pen.
Then on to Anatolia by boat, where, with a Turkish guide, we explored the ruins of Troy and Ephesus, stopped at Pergamon (present-day Bergama) to visit the Temple of Ascelpios and the dream incubation chamber there, and also visited the House of the Virgin Mary outside the town of Selcuk.
The woman who had been most upset by the change in plans, and whose emotional protest had set things off and brought the issues into the open, later took the lead role in organizing a ritual on the beach in Souyia, suggesting this be followed by individual dream incubations, as we were not doing dream healing as a group ritual.
This book supports his first book in the area of dream incubation and enters into the area Krakow and Neidhardt address in their aforementioned work.
Since then, several others, including myself, have recognized and used dream incubation in various ways.
Finally, he examines dream incubation rituals, dream initiation ceremonies, and the enriched spiritual world-views emerging from dreams.