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The Raramuri Indians of northern Mexico, known also as the Tarahumara, regard dreams as the activities of a person’s principal soul during sleep. Dreams are considered very important because it is through them that people communicate with their deities and receive information about their future.
Dreams are a frequent topic of conversation in the morning within a household as well as among the members of different households. Since the Raramuri usually sleep for a few hours, wake up, and then sleep again, they frequently analyze dreams during the course of the night. These discussions constitute an important means of transmission of culture and ideology in the absence of formal institutions, such as schools. Each individual develops an interpretive framework by comparing what one is taught with what one dreams.
According to the Raramuri, each individual is composed of one body and many souls, which range in size from large to small and are distributed throughout the body. The largest souls are found in the chest and head. People sleep when their souls sleep and wake up when the souls awaken, and if, while they sleep, their largest souls awaken, they dream.
Dreams are considered activities of a person’s principal soul while the person sleeps. This does not mean that the Raramuri do not distinguish between their waking and dreaming lives; rather, they attribute comparable reality to both. The main difference between dreaming and waking events is that during the dream state people’s souls act independently of their bodies, but in waking life they are linked to them.
The Raramuri claim that waking life is limited and that the abilities of the souls are far superior when they are independent from the bodies in which they live. Since souls are intrinsically alive and capable of visiting places, many of the beings who appear in dreams live in regions of the world too remote to be reached except by souls. Also, most of these beings are active only at night, when most dreams take place.
Dreaming is considered the main method of communication with beings like God and the Devil, and dreams are crucial to the preservation of the individual’s and the community’s well-being, as they provide insights into the activities and inclinations of other beings in the universe. The Raramuri tend not to initiate actions on the basis of dreams alone, however, since they distinguish between the whole person and his or her soul.