Men have always been interested in their dreams. In superstitious ages and countries, dreams were regarded very seriously. Every dream was supposed to have a meaning, and it was the business of priests and astrologers to interpret people’s dreams for them.
They were generally looked upon as predictions of the future — warnings of coming dangers or sorrows, or prophecies of coming good fortune. Dreams were believed to be supernatural communications from the gods, or the spirits of the dead, and so were divine revelations.
Educated people no longer look at dreams in this way. Some laugh at them as mere illusions, and not worthy of any serious consideration, but others find them interesting for psychological study. For one thing, dreams prove that in sleep we are not completely unconscious.
Part of our brain is awake and working. We are unconscious of our immediate surroundings in sleep. We see nothing, we hear nothing, and know nothing of what is going on around us. Yet the fact that we dream proves we are not completely unconscious.
It is often interesting to try to discover the cause of dreams. The causes of some dreams are purely physical. A heavy supper which causes indigestion will give us nightmare, particularly horrible and terrifying kind of dream. Someone knocking at our door may make us dream we are on the battlefield and deafened with the thunder of guns.
One man dreamt he was walking near the crater of a volcano and his feet were burnt with the hot rocks; but when he woke up, he found his feet were pressed upon his hot-water bottle!
Most dreams are really confused and disjointed memories of past events in our lives. We can often trace a dream back, and find it was suggested by something we saw or heard or read about only a day or two before.
For example, a lawyer, who had been thinking over a case late at night, dreamt when he went to bed of nothing but lizards. When he came to his study in the morning, he found that, while he was thinking out his case, he had been staring unconsciously at his clock, the case of which was decorated with the bronze image of a lizard.
Dreams refer to the past, not the future. And they are not supernatural, but only the confused workings of our own imaginations.