Electric Dreams

 Dreams and Health: 
A Brief Historical Review

Richard Catlett Wilkerson

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Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1999 June). Dreams and Health: A Brief Historical Review. Retrieved July 11, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams

o The Ancient Greek Dream Network 

o The Psycho-Spiritual Dream Revival 

o Predicting Illness: Prodromal Dreams 

o Dreams and Health Practices 

o Conclusion 

o Recommended Readings 

o Bibliography & Citations 

o The myth of the dream god Asklepios 

o The Association for the Study of Dreams info

o Introduction

Dreams occur naturally about six times a night and have provided insights into health and wholeness since the beginning of recorded history. Early civilizations found that they had abandoned something essential in the daily routines of city life and dream sanctuaries afforded an opportunity to get back in touch with a source of wholeness that provided comfort and healing. Abandoned out of fear during the Middle Ages in the West, dream sharing and dream interpretation were revived as healing channels in early 20th Century psychotherapy. Eventually these practices made their way out into the mainstream of culture and flourished as popular techniques in self awareness and spiritual growth. Though dreams don't predict the lottery numbers you might want, they do seem to indicate psycho-spiritual trends that give us clues to upcoming problems. Now there is evidence that attention to dreams may reveal upcoming troubles with the body as well as the mind and soul.

o The Ancient Greek Dream Network

The Dream Temples

The Asklepion dream healing centers are all over Greece and were in full operation all over the Aegean sea and coast of Asia Minor by around 400 B.C.E. (Before Current Era) , though Asklepios was believed to have been an 11th Century BCE figure. Even the Romans would later make trips for the healing cures. Apparently anyone (except pregnant mothers) could go be treated. The general procedure was to hang out and relax for awhile and hopefully to have a dream where Asklepios, one of his family or one of his animal familiars would touch you. The most famous animal familiar was the snake, and it is still known today as the healing symbol of doctors, the caduceus. (It is interesting to note that the Caduceus is *one* snake entwined around a staff. Two snakes is Hermes, the messenger of the god's staff. Even many doctors make the mistake of confusing the two.)

The most famous of these Asklepion sanctuaries is Epidavros (eh -Pee- Dahv' res) and anyone who visits the site will notice it is strategically located for harmony and relaxation in a comforting little bowl of a valley, as if it were specifically designed as a spa or retreat. Even in the busy city of Athens, the Asklepion sanctuary is significantly tucked away in a little grove on the side of the Acropolis hill.

Other methods of cure were used, but it was the dream which really indicated the core of healing. Most modern scholars feel that its probably that the Greeks were becoming so civilized that many were beginning to loose contact with the primitive animal side and having neurotic illnesses. The appearance of the snake or other animal indicated a re-connecting with that part of oneself. Some Jungian scholars have made the case that the snake is the symbol par excellence of the unconscious itself, being so non-human, dangerous, unpredictable, yet necessary.

Asklepion centers weren't the only place in Ancient Greece that dreams were institutionalized. To even get in to ask a question to the famous Oracle at Delphi, one had to sleep on the temple steps until having the proper dream. From this evolved the contemporary technique of Dream Incubation, or problem solving with dreams.

EXERCISE: a. Either go back through your dreams or begin to note in your dreams when animals show up. If you were to become more like that animal in everyday life, what would you do differently? If you asked that animal what it wanted, what would it say? If you had to make up an ancient dance that would characterize your dream animal, what would the dance be? If you get a chance, actually do this dance for a few minutes.

b. If you were to see contact with animals as healing, what wounds do you feel would be addressed by what animals? Would water animals have more to do with emotional wounds and birds with mental wounds? What dangerous animals have appeared in your dreams? What characteristics do they have that could be useful to you?

o The Psycho-Spiritual Dream Revival

The dream sanctuaries of Askepios that once surrounded the Mediterranean disappeared during the Dark Ages and dream sharing practices suffered and were repressed by the Christian Church. This may seem odd to some as dream sharing was a vital part of the early visions and prophets. The Church Fathers felt that dream interpretation was a pagan practice. One had to be a saint to tell the difference between dreams from the devil and dreams from God. And so, that didn't leave very many people to share dreams. Dream interpretation disappeared from the mainstream culture.

Many 19th Century Gentleman researchers explored dreams, but it was Viennese Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud who revived them in his 1900 book The Interpretation of Dreams. His direct followers were not as interested in dreams, but others were. Carl G. Jung and his analytic psychologists developed the most elaborate dream theories and practices. Jung's work deeply influenced the dream movement that flowered in the 1960's and laid the groundwork for bridging the gap between Eastern and Western medicine and

From Jung's point of view, (and many others) the Eastern healing path was one of reducing all matter to spirit and then dealing directly with spirit to obtain healing. While Jung saw that Western medicine needed more of this viewpoint, he also felt that there had to be a dance between the everyday mundane material world and ideals and transcendence of the spirit to obtain a state of wholeness. Dreams, he felt, attempted to move in a direction that was opposite to the direction we move in the daytime. By moving in this opposite or compensatory direction, the dream was a natural balancing process, and thus a restorative healing experience. We could assist in this process by cooperating with dream and establishing a dialogue with the unconscious.

These ideas and practices mixed with group processes that were being experimented with during the 1960's under the general title of a human potential movement. An prime example of these early dreamwork groups can be seen in the work of Frederick (Frtiz) Perls. In these groups, each part of the dream was seen as a part of the dreamer's psyche and given a voice. For example, the cane that I'm using in my dream is allowed to speak. "Oh how I like being seen as so supportive," I say as the cane. "But I just hate the thought of being used and worn down. Oh, how I wish I could get polished more often." Perls, like Jung, felt the dialogue between the dream and the dreamer unleashed repressed emotional, psychological & somatic patterns that could make us sick, and allow us greater range of creative expression and experience and relatedness to ourselves, others and the world.

By the 1980's it was clear that an enormous variety of dreamwork had developed, both inside clinical therapy, outside in grassroots support groups and in spiritual traditions. The Association for the Study of Dreams was formed to begin an exchange of research and ideas between these and many other groups interested in dreams, including cognitive psychologists, anthropologists, sleep researchers and a whole host of groups influenced by dreams such artists, writers, and those interested in personal growth and spiritual development. ASD still hosts international conferences every year and they continue to bring together researchers from a variety of fields.

o Predicting Illness: Prodromal Dreams.

Dreams were used in the ancient dream sanctuaries to heal a variety of illnesses, but sank into disuse in the Dark Ages. Psychoanalysis revived the dream to address psychological and emotional illnesses. Contemporary dreamwork furthers the work of psychology, including the realm of the spiritual and human potential. Can dreams be fully revived to the status of healing the body of illness and wounds as in ancient Greece?

Research has confirmed that illnesses can sometimes be found in dreams before the symptoms actually appear. However, the hard science of dream prognosis is new. With the advent of MRI brain scans, this research is beginning to show reproducible results.

Vasily Kasatkin, a psychiatrist at the Leningrad Neurosurgical Institute, studied the content of dreams over a forty year period. His finding corroborate the American content analysis studies of Calvin Hall and go further. Calvin Hall found that the recalled surface of dreams tend to reflect the general life condition of the dreamer. When one is ill, there tend to be ill dreams, nightmares, struggle and often violence. Kasatkin's findings further found that these violent dreams often precede an illness.

How to avoid running to the family physician every time we have an uncomfortable dream becomes a problem for the dream watcher who scans for illness. Kasatkin has some observations that may help. The first is that these dreams are often longer than regular distress dreams.

Patricia Garfield has been a pioneer in this field of prognostic dreaming as well and collected the accounts of thousands of dreamers in her research. Dr. Garfield suggests a simple measure as a way to distinguish regular distress dreams from those we might wish to further explore. If it really hurts, it may indicate a problem. If it is just scary, it may be better taken as symbolic or metaphorical.

Garfield suggest using the metaphor to locate the troubled area. If you have objects or other people in a dream that are broken or damaged, an analogy can be made. Thus a broken refrigerator my have something to do with the stomach, or an acquaintance who you think of as a headache may indicate trouble with your head. Note that these metaphors are used in conjunction with real pain being experienced in the dream, not simple the occurrence of a friend or refrigerator in a dream.

Kasatkin observed that the part of the body in distress is often portrayed literally, though not necessary happening to oneself. In one case translated by Van de Castle, a doctor saw a patient in a dream being mugged in the street. The patient's kidney was lying detached from the body. It turned out that the doctor himself had a seriously infected kidney.

The work of these two researchers has been reflected in many other sample cases reported by other researchers, but has not been fully studied in any kind of laboratory condition. New studies are finding parts of these theories true.

Mark Solms investigates the world of brain disorders. For several years he has investigated and compared dream reports with neurological information. Lately, this has included MRI brain scans. Though his conclusions offer little specific advice, they do indicate that general types of dreaming anomalies occur in tandem with specific problems with the brain and the area warrants further research.

Health related dreams may be different in men and women. Robert Smith studied about 100 patients at Michigan State Universty College of Human Medicine and looked for "Death Scores" and "Separation Scenes." Death scores had references to graveyards, funerals, wills and physical body failures. Separation had to do with social disruptions and relationships. For men who came in the hospital, it was the death score dreams that indicated a deterioration in health. But for women, it was separation dreams. Just a caution. These studies were done with patients who were all already identified as cardiac problem patients. Just having a death dream or separation dream is no indication in itself of problems. Jung noted, for example, that patients who did die suddenly rarely had dreams about it, as if the dream maker wasn't particularly concerned by such events.

Robert Haskell, a cognitive psychologist, offers a viewpoint on dreams & health that may be helpful. He feels that dreams offer us a "cognitive monitoring system". His research into dreams and health include hundreds of studies in psychotherapy as well as somatic medicine. He found that dreams do seem to reflect internal somatic conditions, often predicting them and even more, are a good way to explore how the patient is coping with these conditions.

o Dream and Health Practices

There are many case histories of people using dreams to find cures. One of the most historically famous being a dream of Alexander the Great, who dreamt of a dragon with a plant in his mouth. He send soldiers out to find the plant, which was located where the dream indicated and it cured Alexander's sick friend, Ptomemaus.

Locating healing cures in dreams is usually the providence of Shamans, specially trained individuals who travel in various states of ecstasy to find cures for their community. But modern dreamers often find cures as well. Van de Castle relates a story of a woman who had been on antibiotics after an operation and was suffering from a chronic vaginal yeast infections. Failing traditional treatment, she tried the advice of a friend and took folic acid. She had a dream with two parts, one of moving bowls of acid around her kitchen and another of her kitten gobbling up brown yeast and strawberries. She stopped taking the folic acid and tried the yeast tablets, which produced remarkable results for her.

Patricia Garfield has also documented many dreams that have healed people. In one case a woman had suffered for years with severe migraine headaches. In a dream she was taking care of an old woman. The dreamer wanted to leave to take care of her own family, but decided to stay and help the old woman. The old woman finally died. The old woman's husband and son came to visit the dreamer and indicated they would help the woman with her headaches as she had been so kind to the old woman. They laid their hands on the dreamer and when she awoke, she stopped having headaches. This was a condition that had lasted for nearly 40 years and was spontaneously relieved by a dream.

It is interesting to note that many of the spontaneous healing dreams involve a person or animal that touches or interacts with the dreamer's body in the dream, much like the ancient Asklepion dream sanctuary practices. However, there is little evidence outside of anecdotes that is available. What does seem clear is that dreams can pick up clues from the body and do so often long before the dreamer is consciously aware of them.

o Conclusion

While much research is still needed, it seems clear that persistent and painful dreams about the body are worth exploring, if not for their predictive value, then for the opportunity they offer in exploring our own experience of our life condition. Attention to dreams brings a wide variety of benefits, ranging from insight and understanding to healing and wholeness. They are a gift that naturally occurs every night and need only a little attention to be one of our best friends in our journey of heath.

o Recommended Readings

Achterberg, Jeanne (1985). Imagery in Healing. New York, NY: New Science Library.

Garfield, Patricia (1991). The Healing Power of Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Jung, C. G. (1964). _Man and His Symbols_. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Taylor, Jeremy (1992). _Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill: Using Dreams to tap the Wisdom of the Unconscious._ New York, NY: Warner Books, Inc.

Van De Castle, R. L. (1994). Our Dreaming Mind. New York: Ballantine Books

o Bibliography & Citations

Dodd, E. R. (1951). The Greeks and the Irrational .Berkeley, University of California Press.

Eliade, Micea (1982/1978 ). A History of Religious Ideas. Vol I-III. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.

Flannagin, Michael (1986). Private communication on Snakes from his Thesis held at the California Institute for Integral Studies.

Fontenrose, Joseph (1980/1959). Python, A study of Delphic Myth and Its Origins. Berkeley, CA: Univ of California Press.

Graves, Robert (1955). _The Greek Myths_ Vol.s I & II. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books.

Garfield, Patricia (1997). The Dream Messenger : How Dreams of the Departed Bring Healing Gifts. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Garfield, Partricia (1991). The Healing Power of Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Garfield, Patricia (1974).Creative Dreaming : Plan and Control Your Dreams to Develop Creativity, Overcome Fears, Solve Problems, and Create a Better Self New York: Simon & Schuster.

Hall, Calvin S. & Van De Castle, Robert L. (1966). The Content Analysis of Dreams. New York:

Hall, Calvin & Domhoff, Bill (1963). Aggression in dreams. International Journal of Social
Psychiatry, 9(4), 259-267

Haskell, Robert E. (1985a). Dreaming, cognition and physical illness. Part I, Journal of Medical Humanities and Bio-Ethics, 6, 46-56.

--------. (1985b). Dreaming, cognition and physical illness. Part II, Journal of Medical Humanities and Bio-Ethics, 6, 109-122.

Jung, C. G. (1964). _Man and His Symbols_. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Kasatkin, V. N. (1967). Teoriya Snovidenii (Theory of Dreams). Lenningrad: Meditsina. Translations reported by Robert Van de Castle in Our Dreaming Mind.

Kerenyi, Carl (1951). The Gods of the Greeks .Yugoslavia: Thames and Hudson. [see pg 142-145 for Asklepios]

Kerenyi, Carl (1959). Asklepios: Archetypal Image of the Physician's Existence. Ralph Manheim (Trans) New York . NY: Bollingen Foundation/Pantheon Books.

Van De Castle, R. L. (1994). Our Dreaming Mind. New York: Ballantine Books.

Smith, Robert (1986). Evaluating Dream Functions: Emphasizing the Study of Patients with Organic Disease. In Cognition and Dream research, ed. R. Haskell. Journal of Mind and Behavior 7(2-3), 397-410.

Solms, Mark (1997). The Neuropsychology of Dreams: A Clinico- Anatomical Study. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Sanford, John A. (1968). _Dreams: God's Forgotten Language_. New York: Harper and Row.

Taylor, Jeremy (1992). _Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill: Using Dreams to tap the Wisdom of the Unconscious._ New York, NY: Warner Books, Inc.

The Myth of Asklepios

Apollo, god of healing, light, form and music (but also plagues, distance and other terrors) was having an affair with the nymph Coronis. But the nymph went off gallivanting with another guy. A bird told Apollo this (it was a white bird that Apollo blasted to being the crow bird after hearing about this - Ancient Greeks weren't very kind to their messengers.). Apollo tied her to a stake and burnt her alive. But upon hearing she was pregnant with his child, he ripped the child from her womb and put the child in the care of the Master healer, the centaur Chiron. Chiron lived in a cave half way up a mountain and had an incurable wound from an arrow shot in his foot by Heracles. Learning to deal with this incurable wound, Chiron became a very skilled healer (and hence the term, "wounded healer" as individuals who in trying to heal themselves learn a bundle of healing skills). The child, named Asklepios (Aesculepius in Latin) became a famous healer also and even raised Hippolytus from the dead at the request of Artemis, his lover. This act didn't go over well with the other Olympian gods and Asklepios was blasted by Zeus' lightning bolts. Later he was admitted among the gods for all his good works. (Graves, 1955)

The Association for the Study of Dreams:

The Association for the Study of Dreams is a non-profit, international, multi disciplinary organization dedicated to the pure and applied investigation of dreams and dreaming. Its purposes are to promote an awareness and appreciation of dreams in both professional and public arenas; to encourage research into the nature, function, and significance of dreaming; to advance the application of the study of dreams; and to provide a forum for the eclectic and interdisciplinary exchange of ideas and information.