Oneiromancy is a form of divination based upon dreams; it is a system of dream interpretation that uses dreams to predict the future.
It is dismissed by the scientific community and skeptics as being superstition; experiments do not support the idea that dreams predict the future beyond the expectations of the person dreaming.
Occasionally, the dreamer feels as if he or she is transported to another time or place, proving they are in fact providing divine information upon their return.
Oneirocritic literature is the traditional (ancient and medieval) literary format of dream interpretation.
The ancient sources of oneirocritic literature are Kemetian (Aegyptian), Akkadian (Babylonian), and Hellenic (Greek). The medieval sources of oneirocritic literature are Āstika (Hindu), Persian, Arabic, and European.
The ancient Sumerians in Mesopotamia have left evidence of Oneiromancy dating back to at least 3100 BC.
Throughout Mesopotamian history, dreams were always held to be extremely important for divination and Mesopotamian kings paid close attention to them.
Gudea, the king of the Sumerian city-state of Lagash (reigned c. 2144–2124 BC), rebuilt the temple of Ningirsu as the result of a dream in which he was told to do so. The standard Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh contains numerous accounts of the prophetic power of dreams.
First, Gilgamesh himself has two dreams foretelling the arrival of Enkidu. Later, Enkidu dreams about the heroes’ encounter with the giant Humbaba.
Dreams were also sometimes seen as a means of seeing into other worlds and it was thought that the soul, or some part of it, moved out of the body of the sleeping person and actually visited the places and persons the dreamer saw in his or her sleep.
In Tablet VII of the epic, Enkidu recounts to Gilgamesh a dream in which he saw the gods Anu, Enlil, and Shamash condemn him to death. He also has a dream in which he visits the Underworld.
The Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883–859 BC) built a temple to Mamu, possibly the god of dreams, at Imgur-Enlil, near Kalhu.
The later Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (reigned 668–c. 627 BC) had a dream during a desperate military situation in which his divine patron, the goddess Ishtar, appeared to him and promised that she would lead him to victory.
The Babylonians and Assyrians divided dreams into “good,” which were sent by the gods, and “bad,” sent by demons. A surviving collection of dream omens entitled Iškar Zaqīqu records various dream scenarios as well as prognostications of what will happen to the person who experiences each dream, apparently based on previous cases.
Some list different possible outcomes, based on occasions in which people experienced similar dreams with different results. Dream scenarios mentioned include a variety of daily work events, journeys to different locations, family matters, sex acts and encounters with human individuals, animals, and deities.
The oldest oneirocritic manuscript hitherto discovered is the “Ramesside dream-book” now in the British Museum.
A unique exemplar of a book of dream-interpretation from pre-Hellenistic Egypt, the surviving fragments were translated into English by Kasia Szpakowska.
The only surviving Greco-Roman dream book, the Oneirocritica, was written by Artemidorus. Artemidorus cites a large number of previous authors, all of whom are now lost. These include Artemidoros, Astrampsychos, Nikephoros, Germanos, and Manuel Palaiologos.
Here, dreams about specific numbers or about reading specific chapters of the Qurʼan are among the chief subjects of prognostication.
The most renowned of the Arabic texts of oneiromancy is the Great Book of Interpretation of Dreams, a 15th-century compilation of earlier scholarship.
Achmet is an adaptation of an Arabic book to the tastes of a European readership.
Derived from older literature, modern dream-books are still in common use in Europe and the United States, is commonly sold along with good-luck charms.
Sei Shonagon refers to having her dreams interpreted in The Pillow Book.
The Taiheiki, a 14th-century war chronicle, portrays Emperor Godaigo selecting Kusunoki Masashige as the leader of his forces based on a portentous dream.
Other oneiromantic traditions
The indigenous Chontal of the Mexican state of Oaxaca uses Calea zacatechichi, a flowering plant, for oneiromancy by placing it under the pillow of the dreamer. Similarly, Entada rheedii is used in various African cultures.
Dreams occur throughout the Bible as omens or messages from God;
- God speaks to Abram while he is in deep sleep (Genesis 15);
- God speaks to Abimelech the King of Gerar concerning his intentions regarding Sarah, Abraham’s wife (Genesis 20);
- Jacob dreams of a ladder to heaven (Genesis 28);
- his son Joseph dreamed of his future success (Genesis 37), interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh of Egypt’s cupbearer and baker while imprisoned (Genesis 40) and interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh of Egypt (Genesis 41);
- Solomon conversed with God in his dreams (1 Kings 3);
- Daniel interpreted dreams (in the Book of Daniel 2 and 4);
- the Magi are told in a dream to avoid Herod on their journey home (Matthew 2);
- Joseph, when betrothed to Mary, was told not to fear taking Mary as his wife (Matthew 1);
- Joseph, now husband of Mary, was directed to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2);
- Pilate’s wife suffered in a dream because of Jesus (Matthew 27);
- Paul was told to go to Macedonia (Acts 16)