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DREAMING ACROSS CULTURES

The ancient Greeks looked to their dreams to guide them to good health. When they were sick and wanted to be healed, they went to the temple of Asclepius, the God of healing. They paid for an animal- a chicken, goat, or sheep-to be sacrificed. Then they slept on the temple floor in the belief that the god would come to them in a dream and tell them what to do in order to be cured. Over a thousand years later, during the middle Ages, the tradition continued. European Christians used to sleep in churches in the hopes of having a dream to cure their sickness. The church, however, did not approve of this practice. The church saw itself as the intermediary between God and people. If people could listen to God directly, in their dreams, then the power of the church was lessened. Until very recently, the Senoi people of Malaysia were famous for their art of dream interpretation. Each day, adults used to meet with each other to discuss their dreams in order to solve personal and community problems. At breakfast every day, children told their dreams to older family members and learned dream interpretation in the discussion and analysis that followed. Children learned to use their dreams creatively and change feelings of ill will-fear, anger, or hatred-into feelings of good will. For example, if a child had a nightmare about falling, his elders told him that it was a wonderful dream; it was the quickest way to contact the spirit world, and there was nothing to be afraid of. In his next falling dream, he should relax and see where the dream might take him. If a child dreamed that she was attacking someone, she needed to apologize to that person and share something good with him. The goal was for dreamers to gain control of their dream world and then the waking world. In this way, the Senoi lived peacefully within themselves and their society, without psychological problems, crime, or violence.

Dreams have always been important in Native American culture, too, but in quite a different way from the Senoi. Indians in North America who follow their peoples traditions may seek a vision- a rare and special kind of dream- in two ways: through the use of peyote or through a vision quest. Peyote is a kind of drug from the cactus plant. When people eat it as part of a religious ceremony, sometimes they experience visions of God or Jesus or a spirit. Their visions are associated with images from their specific cultures. A Mexican Indian, for example, might see beautiful colored birds. An Indian from the flatlands of the United States might envision buffalo. In a vision quest, people suffer hunger, physical pain, and loneliness for several days in an attempt to have a vision that will guide them or their people.