Humans have been fascinated by dreams as long as they have walked this Earth. Up until the Reformation and the Enlightenment, dreams had been honored in Western culture as prophecies, messages from the gods, omens and even means of healing. Although sidelined as irrational acrobatics of the sleeping brain by many Western doctors and scientists prior to the advent of psychology in the mid-19th Century, the new science of the mind recognized the possibility that dreams could provide useful tools to gain understanding of mental health issues including many forms of neurosis. Sigmund Freud believed that dreams were the expressions of repressed memories and feelings, while his colleague Carl Jung perceived dreams as being messages from the personal and collective unconscious (Jung, 1974). Since then dream studies and dream work have been recognized in consciousness studies as well as in some forms of psychotherapy (Moustakas, 1994), and there have been countless formal studies into all aspects of dreaming including the original and neuroscience of dreams (McNamara, 2004), dream symbols and their meanings (Hartmann, 1998; Hillman, 1979; Krippner, 1990).
Too frequently we tend to want to find the meaning of our dreams from an external source, be it a book, or another person deemed to be an expert on dreams. Claiming our own authority to determine the meaning of our dreams is one of the most challenging hurdles to overcome as we seek self-discovery. And while knowledge of world mythologies and the meaning of archetypes and the symbols embedded in them can provide a useful cross-cultural perspective to our own interpretations, they are merely suggestive adjuncts for a more transpersonal meaning. The secret to understanding our dreams is this: Our own personal interpretations – the phenomena and narratives of the dream filtered through our own unique meaning-making apparatus – are the only viable keys to the meaning of our dreams.
The subject of sleep and dreams is an extensive one because humans have consistently believed that dreams provide glimpses into the numinous and the sacred. Our fascination with dreams stems from our ongoing efforts to make meaning of existence and discover a link between ourselves and that which is ineffable and frequently beyond our imagining.