Temple Sleep and Dream Sanctuaries: Ancient Egypt 3150–332 BCE"
Thousands of years ago, people engaged in an activity known as temple sleep —the practice of sleeping in the sanctuaries, temples, and tombs of goddesses, gods, and the dead. In these unique places, the divine would appear to mortals in dreams or as apparitions in other altered states. In antiquity, those seeking healing, assistance, or oracles believed that sleeping in such places would facilitate a dream encounter with the god, goddess, or dead person associated with that particular sanctuary or tomb. In ancient Egyptian metaphysical thinking, aspects of a deceased person's spirit or immaterial essence—in particular, their ba and ka1—were believed to return to the safe sanctuary of their tomb and perfectly preserved body.
EGYPTIAN DREAM INCUBATION AND INTERPRETATION
Little evidence exists of dedicated dream incubation complexes in Egypt before the Greco-Roman period when the Hellenic god of medicine Asklepios syncretized with the earlier Egyptian deified healer Imhotep. It is more likely that a form of temple sleep with elements of necromancy was a folk tradition connected to honoring ancestors. There was a cultural understanding in predynastic times, and the practice required no formal institutionalization. The structured oracular culture of dreaming and dream interpretation developed when other religious systems in the Near East merged with the private rituals of native ancestor worship.
Temple sleep as a ritual practice is referenced in ancient Egyptian narrative texts and inscriptions. A divine dream might be solicited or prayed for—or it may come unsolicited. It occurs spontaneously when the sleeper dozes at a site of godly power or is at a festival of drunkenness. Egyptologist Kasia Szpakowska, who specializes in ancient Egyptian dreams, nightmares, and demonology, describes instances of such encounters with Hathor, goddess of the sky, women, and fertility. Szpakowska describes a dream encounter during an episode of holy drunkenness associated with Hathor's festival. Such festival activities involved sacred intoxication, seen as a spiritual communion with the goddess. In such a state, an attendee might hope to experience the divine presence of Hathor. Beer and wine were sacred to Hathor, softening the mortal and divine boundaries. Drinking Hathor's beer was thus a way of becoming one with the divine essence of the goddess.
From the stele of a New Kingdom man named Ipwy:
(It was) on the day that I saw goodness
my heart was spending the day in festival thereof
that I saw the Lady of the Two Lands in a dream
and she placed joy in my heart.
Then I was revitalized with her food
without that one would say, "Would that I had, would that we had!"
One is bathed and inebriated by the sight of her.3
Dreaming is a multilayered, transformational state. The feelings that arise within a dream can linger for a considerable time upon awakening. Everyone is familiar with the gloom that pervades the day following a nightmare and, conversely, the afterglow effect following a divine dream.
DREAMS THAT DELIVER THE FUTURE
Dream interpretation was a respected profession in ancient Egypt, considered an art and a science. Some dream diviners would dream on behalf of another person. They intended to extract from the dream gods' instructions for a cure, an omen, a course of action, or the perpetrator of a crime.
Ancient Egyptian dream interpretation was overwhelmingly focused on discovering the future. An excellent example of a dream interpretation text is the 19th Dynasty Papyrus Chester Beatty 3, the Dream Book. This papyrus was owned but not originally penned by the scribe Qenherkhepshef, who wrote a poem about the Battle of Kadesh on the other side of the papyrus. The papyrus was discovered in the artisan town of Deir el-Medina and is currently held (not on display) at the British Museum in London. In this text, many dream scenarios are simplistically listed and classified in a fashion similar to a modern dream dictionary. Good, auspicious dreams are recorded in black ink, while bad, ominous dreams are in red. Examples of auspicious dreams include eating donkey flesh, being given white bread, and burying an old man. Bad omens involve looking into a deep well, munching on a cucumber, or copulating with a wife during daylight. Most of these interpretations rely upon homophones and punning within the ancient Egyptian language.
The text's unknown dream interpreter/scribe further divides the (all-male) dreamers into extra categories. Some are determined to be followers of the falcon-headed, righteous god Horus. These characters exemplify the beneficent, humble, and ideal type of male qualities in ancient Egyptian culture. And there are those the text's author describes as followers of Set, the god of war, chaos, and storms. These men are immoderate, violent, and lusty redheads. Red was the color of Horus's enemy and murderous brother, Set. Set was also associated with reddish animals and the inhospitable and ferocious red desert. The dream interpretation would differ according to which category the dreamer was in.
Luigi Prada is another contemporary Egyptologist specializing in ancient Egyptian dream texts and inscriptions. He makes the intriguing observation that a large part of a dream interpreter's skill involved analysis of the dreamer, whose status, sex, and other characteristics may have determined how they would interpret the dream. Depending on one's status and temperament, the same dream events could have different meanings. For example, if an unmarried woman dreamed she had sex with a snake, this would be considered auspicious, indicating she would soon meet a husband. However, it would suggest infidelity if a married woman has the same dream.
The entries in Qenherkhepshef's Dream Book are generally no more than a couple of lines of hieratic, the priestly cursive form of hieroglyphs, often used for writing on papyri. The dreams described are examples of the perceived law of opposites in dream logic. A violent death is classified as good and somewhat cryptically means "living after his father." Whether this means reflecting his father's good qualities in life or succeeding him in death is unclear. To be seen in a dream copulating with one's sister or mother was also considered auspicious and generally indicated a gain of some kind. Sex with wives and other women was considered a bad omen, and bestiality usually incurred a loss of property. Snakes are curiously associated with words, and many interpretations in the dream book reflect the punning and word-playing nature of dreaming.
To fully understand the many converging elements of these interpretations, it's necessary to understand ancient Egypt's language, script, material culture, and social conventions. Similar texts to Qenherkhepshef's were produced all over Egypt and Mesopotamia. Wordplay is a significant and vital feature of all ancient dream interpretations. It continued to inform dream interpretation methodology and the stylistic presentation of interpretation into the later Greco-Roman period. The Assyrian Dream Book and the Egyptian dream interpretation texts of the Ramesside age influenced dream diviners such as the third-century Roman soothsayer Artemidorus of Ephesus, who famously produced a five-volume work of dream interpretation titled Oneirocritica ("Interpretation of Dreams"). Artemidorus himself claims to have collated the information presented in his voluminous treatise due to many years of traveling in different countries and gathering oneiric insights, wisdom, and texts from diverse diviners. The last section of Oneirocritica includes ninety-five dreams collected during his travels for his son, a wannabe dream interpreter, to practice.
About the Author: Sarah Janes is a writer, public speaker, and sleep hypnosis workshop facilitator. Sarah is working with Rupert Sheldrake and The British Pilgrimage Trust to reinvigorate the practice of dream incubation at sacred sites. She lives in the UK. https://themysteries.org
Initiation into Dream Mysteries by Sarah Janes © 2022 Destiny Books.
Edited from the original text. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International.https:// www.InnerTraditions.com
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