Jan 2, 2016

Posted by in Gods and Godesses, Occult Studies, Paganism | 0 Comments

The Oneiroi and the Mysteries of Dreaming

Nyx primordial goddess of the night, mother of...

Dreams are believed to be a succession of images, sensations, thoughts, and ideas that occur involuntarily in the mind during specific stages of sleep, but still very little is understood about the meaning and purpose of dreaming. Dreams have been a topic of speculation for scientists, philosophers, and theologians throughout recorded history and various explanations have surfaced in cultures around the world. In Ancient Greek mythology, dreaming was credited to a group of deities called the Oneiroi.

Greek mythology states that the personification of sleep takes the form of the god Hypnos. Hypnos was the twin brother of Thanatos, the personification of Death, and son of Nyx, Goddess of Night, and Erebus, God of Darkness. Hypnos resided in a mansion inside a cave in the Greek underworld of Hades with his wife Pasithea, the deity of hallucination and relaxation. Their mansion, which never saw the light of the sun, was said to have no doors or gates so that Hypnos’ slumber might never be disturbed. Additionally, the entrance of his cave was adorned with hypnotic plants, such as poppies, and the river Lethe, known for forgetfulness, was believed to flow straight through it.

The three primary sons of Hypnos were known as the Oneiroi, a Greek word meaning “dreams”. The Oneiroi were often pictured as deamons with huge black wings and were thought to leave their cave (located past the streams of Oceanus) each night through one of two gates. If the Oneiroi came through the gate made of horn, then the dreams they brought would be true messages from the gods. However, if they passed through the gate made of ivory then their dreams would be false and deceitful.

The first of the three deities and leader of the Oneiroi was Morpheus. Morpheus is often recognized as the main God of Dreams and is identified by his ability to transform into any human form when he appears in dreams. He was known for often manifesting himself in the dreams of rulers and kings, and for delivering to them messages from the gods. Morpheus was said to be the primary crafter of dreams and the dreams presented by him were thought to be ultra-realistic.

The second dream deity is Phantasus, whose name means “apparition”. Phantasus was the God of Surreal Dreams and he was known for appearing in dreams in the form of inanimate objects. He often appeared as earth, water, wood, or rock. Dreams derived by Phantasus were heavy in imagery and were also thought to be symbolic and deeply meaningful. Though they might hold important hints about your past, present, or future, they were also believed to be notoriously difficult to decipher and interpret. Phantasus and his tricky dreams were the inspiration for the creation of the word “fantasy”.

The final deity of the Oneiroi was known as Phobetor to mortal men, a name meaning “frightening”,  and to the gods he was known by his true name, Ikelos. Phobetor was the God of Nightmares and was also responsible for all night-time fears and phobias. Phobetor had the ability to shape-shift into the form of various animals and appear in the mortal realm. He could also change his physical form at any time in order to interact with humans while in the waking world. Phobetor often also appeared in dreams in the form of animals, but he was capable of presenting himself in the forms of monsters. Dreams created by Phobetor were known to be terrifying and filled with dread.

The three gods of the Oneiroi were the Ancient Greeks’ way of explaining the dream world. The scientific study of dreams is now called oneirology and it seeks to understand the process of dreaming rather than the interpretation of dreams. Modern researcher, Bill Domhoff defines a dream as “a report of a memory of a cognitive experience that happens under the kinds of conditions that are most frequently produced in a state called sleep.” There are currently two specific categorizations of dreaming, authentic and illusory. An authentic dream is defined by its tendency to occur “within the realm of (human) experience”, and it usually reflects actual memories and experiences that a dreamer can relate to. Conversely, an illusory dream is defined by its impossible or bizarre content. While both types of dreams are believed to stem from memories, illusory dreams are thought to come from older memories that have become distorted over time.

Though much advancement has been made in the field of sleep and dreaming, there are still many things that are not understood about dreams. Over the years, many different psychological theories have been presented for interpreting the meaning of dreams, including Sigmund Freud’s book The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud reasons in his text that dreams are motivated by wish-fulfillment and instigated by “day residue”, or the events of the day preceding the dream. However, other psychologists, such as Calvin S. Hall, believe that dreams are simply a sequence of thoughts that occur while sleeping and the imagery is just a visual representation of those conceptions.

While it may be difficult for theorists to come to any definite conclusion about the analysis of dreams, there is, at least, one relatively new theory that contends that no interpretation is necessary. Two sleep researchers by the names Revonsuo and Stevens have developed and extended an idea called the primitive instinct rehearsal theory. This theory postulates that dreams are developed as a part of human survival instinct and serve as an opportunity for instinctive behaviors to be safely exercised and developed while in a dream state. Dream content is simply used to prepare the dreamer for how to react should they be faced with a similar scenario in real life. Therefore, the concept is that the honing of automatic reactions and skills necessary for survival and species advancement is being done while we sleep. If this theory is true, it is just another testament to the astonishing nature of the human brain.

Ultimately, there are endless concepts about the purpose and meaning of dreaming. Whether you are considering the religious, psychological, or scientific theories on the subject, there is always going to be an aspect that is very personal, too. If you believe that your own dreams have meaning, then they do. Whatever meaning you attribute to your dreams is both reasonable and valid if it makes sense to you.

Everyone dreams. So, whether you are consulting a dream dictionary for clues about your recent nocturnal adventure or you believe that your nightmares are just sharpening your coping skills for your next real life challenge, it is important that you appreciate what a unique and exceptional gift the ability to dream actually is. The little taste of an alternate reality that we are afforded can be both enchanting and thrilling. So, while modern science has pretty much ruled out the possibility of the Oneiroi facilitating these nightly exploits, it can never completely deny that there is still something very mysterious and fascinating about the world of dreams that we are all fortunate enough to experience.

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