Dreams and Dreaming in the World’s Religions2018-08-07T07:49:03-07:00

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Dreams and Dreaming in the World’s Religions

by Rev. Jeremy Taylor, D.Min.

March 2008

Jeremy Taylor

The scientific evidence is overwhelming and unambiguous: all human beings dream, whether they recall these nightly adventures upon awakening or not. The phenomenon of involuntary “rapid eye motion” (also called “REM”), in sleep and its association with dreaming, is readily observable and demonstrable in all people—and in all complex, warm-blooded animals as well.

The scriptures and sacred narratives of all the world’s many religious traditions also speak with a single voice on this question: human beings are in closer and more direct communion and communication with the Divine during our dreams than any other state of consciousness.

Curiously, at the same time, the actual practice of paying close attention to and analyzing dreams with an eye to discovering their deeper spiritual significance is generally disparaged and/or forbidden in the practices of all the more prominent religions (although it still remains a regular element in the customs and procedures of many less widely accepted, occult, nativist, and “fringe” churches and religious communities.)

Perhaps the most important reason for this curious state of affairs is that all dreams, (even the nasty ones we call to call “nightmares”), come ultimately in the service of physical, emotional, and spiritual health and wholeness. Dreams shape and deliver their healing messages in a universal language of symbol and metaphor. The Swiss psychiatrist and historian of world religion, Carl Jung, (q.v.), called these repeating symbols and metaphors “archetypes of the collective unconscious” (q.v.). It is this ubiquitous healing and wholeness-promoting quality of dreaming is primarily responsible for the unambiguously privileged position that dream wisdom holds in the sacred narratives of the world.

The subsequent disparagement of dreams as a source of spiritual insight and guidance also stems directly from the privileged position dreams hold in world religious traditions: If actual work with dreams were not disparaged and forbidden, it would always be possible (and over time, ultimately would be inevitable) that anyone could lay claim to the special authority of dream revelation—since the experience of dreaming is universal and comes alike to all, regardless of class, caste, privilege, education, or special religious training. Indeed, if these dreamers also happened to be more or less scruffy and malcontent, then ironically their dream-inspired messages would be even more likely to carry weight and authority, because of the repeated association of scruffiness and malcontentness with the “authentic voice of prophecy” in virtually all religious traditions. In such a situation, it would be nearly impossible for any merely human authority, in any specific local gathering, to stand effectively against whatever heretical notions any community members might derive from their private and personal dreams, precisely because the transpersonal “scriptural authority” of dreaming as a means of direct communion with Divine is so clear and unambiguous.

Many “reform movements” within the major world religions have tried repeatedly to return to their respective scriptural practices of remembering and sharing dreams (at least at the beginnings of their reform efforts), in an effort to “restore” the “ancient covenant”, and return to a “purer” and “more direct” relationship the Divine—which they often feel has been betrayed, or at least made more distant and less effective, by the practices of the professional priest class. Again and again, at the idealistic beginnings of such reform movements in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, (and many others besides), the reformers begin by reestablishing the communal dream sharing and interpretation practices recounted and celebrated in their own sacred narratives, only to discover that the subsequent divisions and differences of opinion fracture and fragment the “solidarity” of the reform movement to such an extent that these practices are once again abandoned and “outlawed”.

The price that is paid for this disparagement of dreams and dreaming is inevitably an increased sense of distance from direct revelation and personal experience of “God’s Will”, as well as an increased rigidity in protecting the newly revised dogma from any further “heretical” revision. This repeating pattern is in itself an example of a repeating “archetypal drama”.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, particularly in the Western hemisphere, there has been a revived interest in remembering dreams and searching for their deeper psychological meanings and creative inspirations,  inspired largely by the clinical insights of Jung, Freud, and others. This “lay” dream work movement has also created renewed interest in the more spiritual levels of dream experience, and has led many individuals to add dream sharing and dream exploration to their personal spiritual practice, regardless of the specific religious traditions from which they come.

© Jeremy Taylor

This article, from www.jeremytaylor.com/pages/religion.html, is republished with the permission of the author.

Amorphia was her name.

Everyone agreed on that, but not much else.

Some told of her white skin that seemed to shift like fingers of water viewed from
airplanes. You could see where it was headed before it arrived.

Others seemed to connect with the amor part. Love. It’s everywhere. It’s nowhere.

Yes, there wasn’t much that could be pinned down. But that seemed to be the point,
I thought.

I first saw Amorphia myself when I left Pennyslvania at 18 for school in North
Carolina. Born in Virginia, I expected that the south would welcome me home. Yet
meeting my first dorm mate, I hadn’t gotten past, ‘Hi, I’m Donna…” before she
declared me a Yankee. That night I sat before a fire pit listening to another
freshman strum his guitar to James Taylor’s “Carolina on My Mind”, and I cried for
the home I realized I’d never had.

Through my tears I spotted her. For me, it helped to look through the flames. She
leapt and danced in the shimmering air just where crimson and yellow met the dark.
I saw her as streaming, transparent white. I know some talked about her long red
hair, but I think that was just confusion with the flames. Or maybe confusion with
the idea of love; that to have it you should look the part.

I didn’t think much of people making Amorphia into a Clairol commercial. I
preferred to think of her as pure white that had lost interest in finding a
boundary, let alone love outside herself.

She was a wild woman. Wild as in untamed, at home with weather, answering only to
herself. She came and left, sometimes spotted in flame, as I’ve said, but at other
times Kansas housewives reported seeing her jumping waves of springtime wheat,
particularly at sunrise when the light was more horizontal than vertical. It was
her leaping shadow that caught their eyes, though none could reliably describe its

Amorphia would woo these women, calling to the part of them who could still
remember young girl pleasures before they learned to like petticoats and bows.
More important, she would sing to their souls like a whale sounding her sonar
language through the depths of unlearning that had intruded on their perfection.

I hear her calling in the silence of my studio when the scratch of my pen makes
the noise of a mouse skittering home. Or when women gather and we wordlessly
color, watching what takes form on our journal pages.

I sense the ground under my hand like an animal finding its way through a bog.
Soon I have no further need for solidity.

I am knowing. I am Amorphia. I am home.