Dreams in Ancient Culture:
In Mesopotamia, Babylonians divided ordinary dreams into "good" ones sent by the gods, and "bad" ones sent by demons. Priests to the goddess of dreams, Mamu, tried to please their goddess so as to prevent bad dreams from occurring.
The Babylonians conquerors, the Assyrians, believed in dreams as omens. One of the earliest recorded dreams was found written on a clay tablet in Nineveh. This dream dated back to the reign of King Ashurbanipal (669-626 BC). The tablet states that if a man flies repeatedly in his dreams, then all that he owns will be lost.
The Assyrians' believed that bad dreams required action to correct the problem (whatever that may be). It was also advised that the dreamer follow any advise which he understood from a dream.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the gods showed themselves in dreams. They believed that dreams where caused by real things unable to be interpreted or controlled by the conscious mind. As far back as 2000 BC the Egyptians wrote down their dreams on papyrus.
The Egyptians differentiated between three main types of dreams: those in which the gods would demand some pious act, those that contain warnings or revelations, and those that came about through ritual.
Whatever category the dream may fall under, however, the Egyptians believed that dreams served as oracles, bringing messages from the gods. The best way to receive divine revelation was via dreaming and thus the Egyptians would induce or "incubate" dreams. Egyptians would travel to a sanctuary or shrine, such as the famous temple at Memphis, to lie down on special "dream beds" in hope of receiving advice, comfort, or healing from the gods.
Dreams were a very important, and indeed, sacred part of the Egyptian culture. And this cultural belief spread. . .
The Greeks took up the Egyptians belief of good and bad dreams as well as the idea of incubating dreams. The Greeks, however, had very specific presleep rituals to perform in order to purify themselves. Two days before entering the shrine (Shrine of Apollo at Delphi) they abstained from sex, ate no meat, fish or fowl, and drank only water. In addition an animal sacrifice was made to the god whom they wished to invoke through a dream. Then, and only then, the dreamer would enter the shrine and lay down to sleep on the skin of a sacrificed animal, oftentimes near a statue of the deity.
Greek legend insists that the god Hypnos brought sleep to mortals by touching them with his magic wand or by fanning them with his wings. Morpheus, Hypnos' son sent dreams to the sleepers below. Morpheus also sent warnings and prophecies to those who slept at shrines and temples.
However, ancient Greek thinker, Aristotle had a different understanding of dreams. He believed that dreams of sickness, for example, could be cause simply by the dreamer's unconscious recognition of the symptoms within the body. He also held that the dream could act unconsciously to bring about the dreamed event.
Emperor Augusts Caesar ruled that anyone who had a dream about the state was, by law, to proclaim it in the marketplace. Needless to say, the Romans took dreams very seriously. Like the Greeks, the Romans believed that dreams were derived directly from the gods and could reveal the wishes of the gods.
The ancient Hebrews incorporated dreams heavily with their religion also. However, the Hebrews were monotheistic and believed that dreams were the voice of one god alone. Hebrews also differentiated between good dreams (from God) and bad dreams (from evil spirits).
The Hebrews, like many other ancient cultures, incubated dreams in order to receive divine revelation. For example, the Hebrew prophet Samuel, would "lay down and sleep in the temple at Shiloh before the Ark and receive the word of the Lord."
The Bible documents many prophetic dreams. Jacob, a Hebrew patriarch, dreamt of a ladder "set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it." At the top of the latter stood God. God promised Jacob that the land of Israel would belong forever to the Jewish people.
These are just a few examples of how greatly dreams impacted the Hebrews and their religious practices.