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Oneiromancy (from the Greek oneiros, “dream,” and mantis, “diviner”) is the technical term for divination by means of dreams. It is related to more familiar words such as chiromancy (literally, “hand divination”; i.e., palmistry) and necromancy (literally, “dead divination”; i.e., mediumship). As noted, the term is Greek, which is fitting in that, perhaps more than any ancient people, the Greeks were fascinated by dreams.

In contrast to modern dream interpretation, which is psychologically oriented, ancient dream interpretation was concerned with discovering clues to the future. Approaching dreams as omens characterized the interpretation of dreams in both ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. While guides to dream divination have been found in the remains of both of these civilizations, a complete dream dictionary, the Oneirocritica by Artemidorus of Daldis, has survived from second century Greece. As a concrete example of a dream omen, Artemidorus asserts that dreams about

Discharging tapeworms through the rectum or the mouth signifies that the dreamer will discover that he is being wronged by members of his household, by those who live with him, and, for the most part, by those who share the same table. He will subsequently drive the wrongdoers away or get rid of them in some other way. (Artemidorus, p. 161—see Sources)

How expelling tapeworms could be taken to symbolize expelling someone from one’s house is clear enough. This kind of interpretation by symbolic association is characteristic of most forms of divination. Contemporary dream interpretation relies on the same sort of symbolic associations, but the goal is to discover clues to the dreamer’s mental or emotional state rather than to predict the future.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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