How Dreams Become Prophecy

Roadside Musings

How Dreams Become Prophecy

Getty/Jorm Sangsorn

How do you pose questions to your dreams? Who should interpret your dreams?

As a Jew, I grew up in a tradition that honors dreams and dreaming.

According to the Talmud, the earliest anthology of rabbinic wisdom, dreams are the “buds of prophecy” (Talmud Tractate Berachot 57b); the Zohar, the central text of Jewish mysticism, says that “nothing takes place in the world without having previously been revealed in a dream” (Zohar, Genesis, Vayashiv 183b); and the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1138-1204) commenting on the Talmud’s bud metaphor writes, “This is indeed a magnificent metaphor, for just as a bud is the actual fruit in a state of early development, similarly, a dream is an incomplete and imperfect prophecy coming through the power of the imagination at the time of sleep, which is exactly the same quality of imagination that operates at the time of prophecy” (Guide for the Perplexed 2:36).

Because a dream is a bud of prophecy, we would be wise to listen to our dreams. Because dreams are incomplete and imperfect, we would be wise not to take them literally, but to allow their wisdom to ripen through ongoing interpretation. As the Talmud says, a dream may be dreamt only once, but its wisdom can unfold over decades (Talmud Tractate Berachot 55b).

The purpose of dream interpretation, then, isn’t to find the one true meaning of a dream, but to use the dream as a springboard to possible meanings. The more you work with a dream, the more layers of meaning you will find. Dreamwork (pitron chalomot in Hebrew) is about uncovering these layers and allowing them to highlight issues and forces at work in your life, and how best to engage them.

Here is how I suggest you work with your dreams:

  1. Write down as concisely as you can an issue with which you are struggling.

  2. Place what you have written under your pillow.

  3. When you go to sleep, ask your dreaming self to shed some light on the issue.

  4. Ask your waking self to remember any dreams you may have and write what you remember in a dream journal.

  5. When working with a dream, follow the same fourfold process one uses in serious Torah study: a) clarify the plot as best you can; b) look for inconsistencies and oddities in the story and make note of them; c) let your imagination play with these, as this is the imaginary play that reveals the prophetic quality of the dream; and d) ask your imagination to reveal what the dream may be saying about the issue with which you are struggling.

All of this was foremost in my mind as I delved into Machiel Klerk’s new book, Dream Guidance: Connection to the Soul Through Dream Incubation. I found that much of what he shares in this book resonates with what I learned about dreamwork from the sages of Judaism; but where the sages are often cryptic in their teachings, Machiel is clear, concise, and practical.

To cite but one example, Klerk suggests that the “questions that will give you the greatest reward are those that are deeply personal and close to your heart” (Dream Guidance, p.49). That sounds easy enough, but he spends an entire chapter on how to formulate your question. Dreaming is serious business.

And because it is serious, don’t share your dreams with just anyone. Rabbi Bena’a once said, “There were twenty-four dream interpreters in Jerusalem. Once I dreamt a dream and went to all of them. Each one gave me a different interpretation, yet all of them were fulfilled. From this I can confirm the notion that all dreams follow the mouth of the interpreter” (Talmud Tractate Berachot 55b).

This means that what you hear from a dream interpreter may influence how you act in light of the dream, so be careful that the people you consult are the kind of people you can honor and trust.

For more on dreaming and Machiel Klerk’s new book, listen to the podcast episode here.

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How Dreams Become Prophecy

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