The Language of Dreams

People around the world have been inquiring about the meaning of their dreams ever since ancient times. Various cultures have gone as far as to invest entire realms of study dedicated to the interpretation of dreams, also known as oneiromancy, or dream divination. From ancient Kemetian dream temples, to papyrus interpretation manuals, to passages in the Bible and Quran, unlocking the secrets and language of our dreams was not something taken lightly, especially thousands of years ago. Historically, dreams were believed to be the mechanism through which ancestors and deities communicate with us. They were also believed to contain information that can assist in predicting the future, and in making the best decisions when it comes to self-development, curing illnesses, making political decisions, averting disasters, or during times of extreme conflict, deciding when to wage war. 

Ancient Kemet

Dreams were known to be a viewing into the realms and activities of the deceased, as well as the gods. Language, cultural puns, and homonyms also played a significant role in the interpretation and understanding of dreams, not only visual messages and emotions. (For example, if a person were to see a donkey in their dream, it meant good luck as the words for “donkey” and “great” were pronounced the same). One of the ancient words for “dream” was “reswt,” a noun represented by the image of an open eye. A verb for dreaming was never developed and strongly suggests they knew dreams did not originate from dreamers themselves, but were given by ancestors or deities who would cause a dream to occur in the first place. Another word, “qed,” also meant dream and came from the word “sleep,” represented by the image of a bed, indicating a combined meaning of “to awaken within sleep.”

“The earliest known evidence of dreams in Ancient Egypt is found in the texts known as “Letters to the Dead”. These letters, which mostly date back to the First Intermediate Period, were dreams addressed to the deceased relatives commonly asking for favors on behalf of the living person, and they were left in the tomb of the receiver…sleep in Ancient Egypt was viewed to be similar to death, as when the person is in a different world. Ancient Egyptians believed in the ability of the ba (soul) to travel beyond the physical body during sleep. [They] perceived dreams as aspects that exist but could not be seen or heard in the actual life. A dream was considered the space between the world of the living and the other world that gives the dreamer access to communicate with gods and the dead who are the dwellers of the afterlife.”

Dream Incubation Tourism: The Resurrection of Ancient Egyptian Heritage of Sleep Temples, Engy El-Kilany and Islam Elgammal
Dream Stele of Thutmose IV, circa 1400 B.C.E (18 th Dynasty); Creative Commons

One of the other earliest known evidence of dreams in Kemet includes the famous Dream Stele, believed to have been commissioned by Pharaoh Tuthmosis IV, and found in between the paws of the Great Sphinx. It retells the story of the young prince Menkheperure, who one day fell asleep below the Sphinx after a long afternoon of hunting. The Sphinx appeared to him in a dream as Horemakhet-Khepri-Atum, and promised young Menkheperure the throne if he would remove all of the sand that covered its body (Menkheperure’s father, Amenhotep II had already named his elder brothers as successor). This dream proceeded to alter the course of the region’s history, as the Sphinx not only promised Menkheperure the kingship he was not in line for, but that he would unite upper and lower Kemet to become the Pharaoh of all Kemet. 

The young prince agreed to this request and upon waking, immediately began a project to remove the sands from the mighty Sphinx. Not long after, he was crowned Pharaoh Thutmosis IV. He is believed to have reigned from 1400-1390 BCE, and commissioned the construction of the Dream Stele to commemorate the dream given to him by the Sphinx that changed his entire life. While some believe he murdered his elder brother to usurp power and ordered the construction of the tablet as propaganda to legitimize his own rise to power, the Dream Stele nonetheless demonstrates the authority that dreams held during this time to justify the actions of both royalty and the common people. 

“Look at me, see me, my son Thutmosis. I am your father, Horemakhet–Khepri–Atum, and I shall give you the kingship on earth, in front of all the living ones. You shall wear the White and the Red Crowns upon the throne of Geb, the hereditary prince.”

The Dream Stele
An image of the Siwa Oasis at sunset, mud-brick buildings fill the landscape below large naturally formed rock/mountain overlooking the skyline.

While not every dream was considered divine, many believed in the authority of dreams to be able to offer relevant advice and warnings to the dreamer, including cures to illnesses. When someone wished to seek advice from an ancestor or loved one who had crossed over, or they wished to communicate with a deity, there was a common practice or ritual known as dream incubation. This concept was widespread across many ancient civilizations, and was considered to be one of the most important healing methods. The process involved the seeker visiting a designated sleep temple or holy place, offering payment, tribute and/or sacrifice to the keepers or priests of that location, undergoing fasting or the eating of specific foods and drinks, as well as abstaining from sex for days prior to entering the sacred location. Then, the seeker would sleep at the location in the presence of the gods, with certain rooms set aside specifically for this purpose. In some cases, a local oracle would also be consulted, interpreting both their dreams and that of the seeker to divine the overall message. Dream interpreters outside of oracles included physicians, scribes, and entry-level priests who worked in the House of Life. A dream interpreter was a mixture between priest, physician, and magician, and their work was considered essential. 

“What was the relationship between the medical practices of healing sanctuaries and those of secular medicine? The relative absence of superstition of supernaturalism in secular practice is by itself no evidence that there was antagonism between it and what was done at the sanctuaries. Moreover, there is evidence that the two approaches were complementary, not frictional. First, incubation could have given secular physicians an “out” on the more troublesome cases that could threaten their reputation. Second, as healing sanctuaries came increasingly to employ physicians as helpers of the gods, the procedures used by these physicians and the remedies suggested by figures seen in dreams became more and more consonant with secular medical practice, as the discipline as a whole favored more naturalistic approaches. One way in which this occurred was in the use of dreams as diagnostic tools.”

Interpreting Dreams for Corrective Regimen: Diagnostic Dreams in Greco-Roman Medicine, M. Andrew Holowchak

Dream interpreters working in the House of Life were required to have certain knowledge of each seeker before they could interpret their dreams, such as their place of birth, work and medical history, as well as marital status and social class. The “Book of Dreams” was also frequently referred to to assist in their interpretations. Dream books are certainly not a new phenomenon, as they have their origins in Kemet as one of the oldest manuscripts in the world, the Book of Dreams. Dating back to the early reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213 BCE), this hieratic papyrus was considered ancient even during the King’s time. The copy we know today was found in the scribe’s Qenherkhepshef’s library in Deir el-Medina (Thebes), near the Valley of the Kings. The manuscript was later owned by his wife’s second husband Khaemnun, and then his son Amennakht, essentially being passed down as an heirloom. 

The Dream Book, British Museum Creative Commons

Each dream in the manuscript was organized by the diagnosis of being a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ dream, and followed with its meaning, with the bad dreams being recorded in red ink. There were approximately 227 dreams recorded (some sources say 108), describing 78 activities and emotions commonly associated with the average person. The following are just a few examples of its interpretations: 

  • If a man sees himself in a dream looking out of a window, good; it means the hearing of his cry. 
  • If a man sees himself in a dream with his bed catching fire, bad; it means driving away his wife. 
  • If a man sees himself with his face in a mirror this is bad; it means a new life. 
  • If a man sees himself eating crocodile flesh this is good; it means acting as an official amongst his people.

A Personal Dream Interpretation

I began intentionally logging my dreams in 2020. Ever since I started this practice, my dreams have become all the more frequent, vivid, and filled with messages and visitations from the other realm, including the plant and animal kingdoms. This has helped me greatly with being able to recognize and better understand important symbols in my life, to sort through complex emotions, to anticipate conflict, as well as to know who I may be seeing or hearing from in the near future. In more recent cases, I have been able to connect with my late mother, Noemi, who passed away from her battle with cancer on June 11, 2022. I miss her greatly, and ever since her passing she has visited me several times in the dream realm, letting me know that she is safe and well on the other side, and providing me with the comfort I need to process her transition. 

Below, I will share one of my recent dreams, along with my own personal interpretation of it. With the assistance of tarot, I will be keeping in mind symbols, the visuals I witnessed, the emotions and sensations I experienced, as well as the language used within the dream to uncover the overall message(s) and/or warnings contained within the dream. Lastly, I hope that this provides you as the seeker with a better understanding of how you can approach analyzing your own dreams. If you would like me to assist in interpreting one of your dreams, please click here. Sharing the specific details of your dream is optional, though it will assist with my overall interpretation. 

The Dream

“I was visiting the temples and pyramids of Kemet. It felt like an in-between timeline and I could not always distinguish it, as I was there as my current self and there were other modern looking people around, yet there was a large temple being painted by ancient looking priests or scribes as if it were a brand new construction. The temple was completely white and had been prepped with the outlines of hieroglyphics and other scenes. The priests or scribes told me that some of their paint, particularly the red-brown color, had been imported from South America. I found this peculiar because I knew red ochre was one of Kemet’s primary palette colors, and I didn’t understand why it needed to be imported.

Even more strange, I noticed the style of the art along the entry walls seemed like a cross between Kemetic and Mesoamerican work. At one point I remember seeing a painting, or a doll, that looked more like a feminine Mesoamerican deity, and I pointed this out to my partner who was with me in the dream. All I can remember about her was that she wore blue and had a beautiful headdress or crown of some sort. It was daytime at this point and there were also volunteers helping to paint this temple. It transitioned into evening slowly and I remember seeing large groups of people gathering inside, some helping to paint and others who were sitting and talking in different circles. I sat in one of these circles and had a conversation with some of the people there. One person gave me a book, but I can’t remember anything about the conversation or what this book was. It looked modern. 

Siwa Oasis, showing a mud-brick home or temple along the backdrop of a large lake at the oasis. Ferns and palm trees sprout from above the white and tan sands, glowing in the rays of the sunset. Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Once evening fell and it became very dark, my partner and I decided to leave the temple to go walk around. I remember it was a full moon, and I could see a riverbank on the horizon, perhaps it was the Nile or even a lake, I’m not sure, but the waters were very calm. We ventured down the marble staircase into the white sands to the left of the temple and began running along the bank laughing. I felt the sand kicking beneath my feet and I was filled with so much joy just to play and run. I have always wanted to visit Egypt but never have in my waking life, and I felt like I was really there. I savored the moment. I was simultaneously receiving images of ancient homes in the same area, and then we suddenly split back into today’s time when we passed a corner. We were now walking on the porch of an apartment that reminded me of one that we lived in recently, and the sky was hot pink with a huge full blown, pink super-moon on the horizon. I also remember seeing the statue of angel to my left on the porch as I looked at the sky. This was the end of the dream.”

Main SymbolsTemple, Paint, Goddess, Marble Staircase, Sand, River, Riverbank, Full Moon, Pink Moon, Sunset/Sunrise, Angel
Other VisualsGroups of people within temple, priests or scribes painting, brown, red, and blue paint, images of goddesses that resembled more than one culture, riverbank landscape, running and laughing with my partner, apartment porch
FeelingsGratitude, emotionally at home, peaceful, excited, happy, feeling the sand beneath my feet as I ran and played along the riverbank with my partner 
Language Being told the paint had been imported from South America, other conversations I do not remember but were had with those visiting or volunteering at the temple
My personal dream interpretation using tarot. Cards shown: Vibration, Confusion, Submission, Aggression, Page of Cups, 4 of Cups, 6 of Cups, 2 of Cups, 7 of Pentacles, Queen of Cups. Decks used: The Sybil’s Oraculum, Akamara Tarot, Tarot Nefertari

My Interpretation

This dream felt like a cross between past-life/ancestral memories as well as my present-day hopes and dreams. Art and painting felt very significant, and this is an activity I have been wanting to return to recently but have felt creatively blocked. The vivid colors continue to stick out in my memory, and this may have been trying to show me that my interests and talents are vibrations from the past that still want and need to be expressed. As the brown/red-ochre and blue colors were the most prominent to me, it may represent a need for grounding and emotional release through a creative means. Depression can be released through the practice of gratitude and connecting with my inner child. In the dream I felt a deep gratitude, and an appreciation for the artisans, scribes, and priest-magicians of the ancient world; I was inspired and my ancestors want me to find inspiration every day in my waking life. I also felt an appreciation for being on their land and feeling the sand beneath my feet.

The sand may have represented the literal sands of time, which would also explain the feeling of being in multiple timelines at once. Time is an illusion, and everything that has ever been does still exist in the other realms simultaneously. There was a sense of confusion I felt about the art depicted, as it was a cross between cultures that I had never seen before. Perhaps I am being guided to seek more information, and to not be afraid to express myself from the lens of all of the cultures I descend from, especially as it relates to art and my personal practices. Yielding to their collective knowledge will bring further understanding and blessings to my waking life. I am being urged to trust my inner knowledge and authority, as well as to allow myself to receive help when I need it, especially from my partner. Continue to grow and cultivate my learnings and relationships. Trust in my abilities and do not fear. There is also a need to laugh more, and to reunite with all aspects of myself.

Sources & Further Reading 

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