The Origins Of Popular Superstitions And Customs  ~ Magick7

 

 

 

DIVINATION AND OMENS

DREAMS

George du Maurier, in his Peter Ibbetson, has given one of the best descriptions extant of the life of dreams. He says the whole cosmos is in a man's brains, so much at least as a man's brains will hold. And when sleep relaxes the will, and there are no earthly surroundings to distract attention--no duty, pain, or pleasure to compel it--riderless fancy takes the bit in his teeth, and the whole cosmos goes mad, and has its wild will of us. There are the "ineffable false joys"--how well we know them; "the unspeakable false terror and distress"--we know them, too; and they chase each other without rhyme or reason, and play hide and seek across the twilit field, and through the dark recesses of our clouded and imperfect consciousness. No wonder that early man, with sufficient intelligence to remember his dreams, and ponder over them fearfully, was, in his ignorance, persuaded they conveyed serious messages to him, messages in which the more clever men of the group saw an opening for personal ascendancy by devising a system of interpretation, and thus assuming a position of importance and leadership in the tribe. That dreams should occupy so prominent a position in divination is not at all surprising. Dream life--indeed sleep life altogether--is still an unsolved problem, and when the coincidences of events as between dreaming and waking are taken into account, it is most natural that primitive man and civilised man should try to turn dreams into a science, and formulate a skilful list of interpretations. Besides, in all Christian countries there is a solid reason for accepting information conveyed in dreams, inasmuch as the sacred narratives in the Bible allege Divine guidance by this means. We may, of course, have our own interpretation of such phenomena, but the wide stretch of centuries covered by these facts is not without significance, showing as it does the strong and tenacious grip which dream interpretation had upon the race. From Jacob's dream to that of Pilate's wife is a far cry, and yet both Jew and Pagan agreed in the real importance of the dream as a guide to life and conduct.

But a distinction was made between the various kinds of dreams, or rather the better type of mind attempted to make such a distinction, though seldom with success. In the Christian and Pagan worlds no notice was taken of the wild, incoherent, purposeless dream, except by a class of low magicians who sought money by exploiting the fears of the fearful. Nevertheless, if one kind of dream came from God, or the gods, where did the others come from? Here was an opportunity for the sharks of occultism, and for the charlatan generally. The dream-book and the diviner came into being, and they have never yielded to pressure from civil or military authorities. You cannot stamp out a superstition which has its basis in the operations of sleep, over which men and women have practically no control. Only a right understanding of the subject can rob the superstitious of their fears and the credulous of their credulity. To forbid dreaming by Act of Parliament would be a nonsensical procedure; and yet it is just as absurd to attempt to keep people from wondering what is the meaning of their dreams.

If we look carefully for the origin of dream superstition, we shall find one source in the Pagan tradition of the importance of dreams in conjunction with the high place given to them in the Bible; another source is the long and historical list of remarkable coincidences; and a third source is the somewhat humiliating fact that we do not yet know the nature of dreams and sleep.

Take the last point first. Here is a brief account of some experiments regarding the brain and the mysteries of sleep recently made by Professor Wenley of Michigan University, who declares authoritatively that the investigations have destroyed many accepted theories. The accepted theory of sleep has been the lessening of the blood-pressure in the brain.

The experiments showed directly opposite conditions. By delicate and most careful measurements, the following results were tabulated:--

'The size or volume of the brain increases when the individual goes to sleep, and decreases when he awakens. On this point it was noted that in some cases the brain became smaller at first, and then increased as the sleep became deeper. Very striking was the evidence that the size of the arterial pulse in the brain increases steadily with the increase in the volume--i.e., that the dilating of the arteries after each beat of the heart is more pronounced. This is particularly true when the subject is propped up. As the sleep passes off, the brain volume decreases, but then the blood-pressure increases. These results show that whatever sleep may be caused by, it is not a lessening of the blood-supply to the brain, for there is no such lessening.'

What kind of consciousness, therefore, is dream consciousness? The question remains unanswered.

What impresses most of us in regard to dreams is that, although the fearful experience of the after effects of a lobster salad supper is classified as a dream, there are sober, more sensible, realistic dreams which appear to convey information in reference to the future. Are these messages from extraneous intelligences, or just the chance successes of dreaming moments? It is not easy to say. Unless the reader has had such a dream, he is inclined to be sceptical as to its existence. This scepticism is hardly justified when one considers the mass of evidence submitted by people who have no object in stating untruths.

And even when 25 per cent. is deducted for exaggeration, or faulty memory, there is a residue which chance can hardly account for, without straining the facts of psychology. I propose to reproduce a few cases, making a commencement by recording the dream of a British Consul, as contained in Hutchinson's Dreams and Their Meanings:--

"Mr Haggard of the British Consulate, Trieste, Austria, gives the following account of a premonitory dream and its fulfilment:--

'21st September, 1893.

'A few months ago I had an extraordinary vivid dream, and waking up repeated it to my wife at once. All I dreamt actually occurred about six weeks afterwards. There seems to have been no purpose in the dream, and one cannot help thinking what was the good of it. I dreamt that I was asked to dinner by the German Consul General, and, accepting, was ushered into a large room with trophies of East African arms on shields against the walls. (I have myself been a good deal in East Africa.) After dinner I went to inspect the arms, and amongst them saw a beautifully gold-mounted sword which I pointed out to the French Vice-Consul, who at that moment joined me, as having probably been a present from the Sultan of Zanzibar to my host, the German Consul General. At that moment the Russian Consul came up, too. He pointed out how small was the hilt of the sword, and how impossible in consequence it would be for a European to use the weapon; and whilst talking, he waved his arm in an excited manner over his head, as if he were wielding the sword, and to illustrate what he was saying. At that moment I woke up, and marvelled so at the vividness of my dream that I woke my wife up, too, and told it to her. About six weeks afterwards my wife and myself were asked to dine with the German Consul General; and the dream had long been forgotten by us both. We were shown into a large withdrawing-room, which I had never been in before, but which somehow seemed familiar to me. Against the walls were some beautiful trophies of East African arms, among which was a gold-hilted sword, a gift from the Sultan of Zanzibar. To make a long story short, everything happened exactly as I had dreamt.' In a long letter Mrs Haggard confirms her husband's narrative."

Before attempting an interpretation of this occurrence, I should like to bring to the reader's notice Mr Greenwood's theory of mental duality. He says:--

"It is easy to imagine the mind of man dual--its faculties supplied in a double set. Duality seems to be a common law in nature. The brain, which is the mind machine, is itself a dual organ; and nearly all the difficulty of understanding dreams would disappear if we could believe that our mental faculties are duplex, and that, though the two sets work together, inseparably and indistinguishably, while we live our natural lives in the waking world, they are capable of working apart, the one under the observation of the other, more or less, when all are out of harness by the suspension of the senses in sleep." In remarking on this passage Mr H. G. Hutchinson says:--"We give an instance of this kind of dream, which appears to us to be only thoroughly accounted for by the theory of dual personality. The lady who was the dreamer lives in Kensington, and had an office in which she carried on a business in Knightsbridge, the office being about two miles from her house:--'On the night of--I dreamt very distinctly that I saw a crowd, and I heard a voice saying, 'She is quite dead, I've cut her throat. I've cut her throat.' I was very frightened, as it impressed me as being so real. I awoke and noted the time, 4 A.M. The next morning at breakfast I told my family, including my cousin, Miss M. D. When I arrived at my place of business, I saw a crowd outside the next door house, and found on enquiry that a man had murdered his wife by cutting her throat about 4 A.M. in this house. (Signed) A. W. W.'

'My cousin told me her dream at breakfast on and I remember hearing in the evening that a murder had taken place in the house next door to my cousin's office in the early morning.
(Signed.) M. D.'

"Miss A. W. W. was worried about her business at the time; does it not seem a simple explanation that her dual personality was haunting her office at the time, and saw the commotion when the police discovered the crime, and thus conveyed the impression to her sleeping brain?"

I am afraid this dual theory is pressed too far and asked to account for too much. In our dreams we are the same Egos as in our waking moments; and we see the same people we know in daily life, and recognise them; proving that there is an exercise of the same memory centres as in conscious life. The direction in which we are likely to find the truth is telepathy, although how even that, as yet, undemonstrated science can see into the future (as in the consul's dream), passes our comprehension. Nevertheless, if sleep itself is still a problem minus a solution, it need not disturb our equanimity to have a few unsolved items in the world of dreams. The subject is only referred to here as an explanation of the tenacity of dream superstitions; for if we knew why we dream of wheat one night, and falling down a precipice the next, we might reasonably expect an enlightened world to treat their dreams humorously--not seriously as too often is their wont.

Dreams are still believed in by a vast number of people as conveying warnings, or news about the events of the future. They do not accept the superstition openly, but secretly: they divine their dreams in the privacy of their rooms with the dream book open before them. One of these books I propose to examine at some length, because it is popular in style, detailed in its rules of interpretation, and evidently a good seller. My copy is marked the third edition: 10,000 copies. I refer of course, to Raphael's Dream Book. The author starts out with what he evidently believes is safe ground, namely that dreams are prophetic because they have a divine significance, as is proved from the narratives of the Bible. Now it must be admitted that to believers in the Bible, i.e. the literal truth, of O.T. biographies especially, this is a fact with considerable weight. If the Deity has guided his people by dreams in one age, why not in another? The question is not altogether illogical, and it explains in great measure a man who has had a remarkable and vivid dream about an event in his own career. But this point has been dealt with already, and I hasten on to scrutinise Raphael's method of divination. Here it is:--

EXAMPLE

Suppose I am desirous of knowing the interpretation of my dream, I proceed to make at random ten rows of ciphers or noughts. Thus--

 

Sign 1.

oooooooooooo,

12

ciphers, or

even,

oo

ooooooooo,

9

"

odd,

o

ooooooooooooooo,

15

"

odd,

o

oooooo,

6

"

even,

oo

oooooooooo,

10

"

even,

oo

Sign 2.

oooooooooooooo,

14

ciphers, or

even,

oo

ooooooooooo,

11

"

odd,

o

ooooooooooooo,

13

"

odd,

o

oooooooooooooo,

14

"

even,

oo

oooooooooooo,

12

"

even,

oo

 

Now I put Signs Nos. 1 and 2 together. Thus--

Index.

oo

oo

=

4

ciphers,

or even,

oo

o

o

=

2

"

"

oo

o

o

=

2

"

"

oo

oo

oo

=

4

"

"

oo

oo

oo

=

4

"

"

oo

 

Having added the ciphers together, they produce what is called the Index. With this Index I refer to the Table of Indexes, and find this Sign

o  o

o  o

o  o

o  o

o  o

 

refers to the Hieroglyphical Emblem of Aries. Then I turn to the Interpretations and find Aries, which is on page 9, and amongst the Signs I look for those above, viz.,

o o    o o

 o      o

 o      o

o o    o o

o o    o o

 

and the Interpretation of the Dream is--An uncommon omen; cares and toils are denoted. A harassing time after this dream. Be very careful.

Possibly Raphael thought this method of divining was rather irksome at times, so he provided a long list of what might be called snap-shot interpretations, equipped with an alphabetical arrangement to facilitate reference. A sample page will give the reader an idea of the scheme:--

HARVEST.--To dream of harvest, and that you see the reapers at work, and hear the shouts of "Harvest home!" is a most favourable dream. You could not have had a better. It denotes prosperity to the farmer especially, many customers to the tradesmen, a safe and prosperous voyage to the mariner, and lucrative bargains to the merchant.

HAT.--To dream you have a new hat, portends success. To dream you lose your hat, or that it is taken off your head, you have an enemy not far off who will both openly and secretly seek your injury.

HATE.--To dream you hate a person, denotes you will always have a good friend in the time of need.

HAWK.--If you dream you see a hawk, it signifies you are going to begin some new enterprise; if the hawk darts down and takes a chicken, or a bird, you will succeed; but if the little bird attack the hawk, you will meet many difficulties and, perhaps, failure.

HAY.--To dream you cut hay, indicates you will have great influence in society. To dream of raking it, denotes you will be respected by gentry and nobility.

HEART.--To dream your heart is diseased, denotes you have too much blood in your system; should you dream you are affected with palpitation or violent beating of the heart, it denotes great trouble.

HEAT.--To dream of being in a place extremely hot, or if the weather is so hot that the heat affects you, denotes anger, and that some person is preparing to attack you, or give you a good scolding.

HEAVEN.--To dream of heaven, denotes a change of worlds, and that the remnant of your life will be spiritually happy, and your death peaceful.

HEDGES.--To dream of green hedges, is a sign of agreeable circumstances. If you cannot pass on your way for thorny hedges, it denotes that in business you will suffer by competitions, and in love by rivals.

HEDGEHOG.--To dream you see one, denotes you will meet an old friend whom you have not seen for years.

HEIR.--To dream you are an heir to property, signifies you will be left almost penniless by those of your relations who are wealthy. It is not a good dream.

HELL.--This dream forebodes bodily and mental agony, arising from enemies, loss in trade, bereavements, etc.

HEN.--To hear hens cackle in your dream, signifies joy, love.

Of course it is easy to say "bosh," and to declare this interpretation of dreams is a more amusement. It is more than that. Deep down in their hearts many people fear "there is something in it;" and although they never openly acknowledge the fact, they--women especially--shew their curiosity and their superstition by harbouring the dream book and pondering its interpretations. A lively sense of humour is the best antidote. The girl who dreams of a new hat--and many do--and believes it really means success, is a hopeless creature. And the authors and publishers of dream books should have the attention of the Censor.

Considering the 40 millions of people living in these islands, the really remarkable dreams are few in number, that is, remarkable in the prophetic sense; for, granting that a good percentage never become known to the public, the presumption is that only men and women with strong telepathic natures "dream the dream that comes true." Such people are exceedingly scarce, and most of our dreams have origins like that described by Macnish in his Philosophy of Sleep:--

"I believe that dreams are uniformly the resuscitation or re-embodiment of thoughts which have formerly, in some shape or other, occupied the mind. They are old ideas revived, either in an entire state, or heterogeneously mingled together. I doubt if it be possible for a person to have, in a dream, any idea whose elements did not, in some form, strike him at a previous period. If these break loose from their connecting chain, and become jumbled together incoherently, as is often the case, they give rise to absurd combinations; but the elements still subsist, and only manifest themselves in a new and unconnected shape. As this is an important point, and one which has never been properly insisted upon, I shall illustrate it by an example--

'I lately dreamed that I walked upon the banks of the Great Canal in the neighbourhood of Glasgow. On the side opposite to which I was, and within a few feet of the water, stood the splendid portico of the Royal Exchange. A gentleman, whom I knew, was standing upon one of the steps, and we spoke to each other. I then lifted a large stone, and poised it in my hand, when he said that he was certain I could not throw it to a certain spot which he pointed out. I made the attempt, and fell short of the mark. At this moment a well-known friend came up, whom I knew to excel at putting the stone; but, strange to say, he had lost both his legs, and walked upon wooden substitutes. This struck me as exceedingly curious; for my impression was that he had only lost one leg, and had but a single woodon one. At my desire he took up the stone, and, without difficulty, threw it beyond the point indicated by the gentleman upon the opposite side of the canal. The absurdity of this dream is extremely glaring; and yet, on strictly analysing it, I find it to be wholly composed of ideas, which passed through my mind on the previous day, assuming a new and ridiculous arrangement. I can compare it to nothing but to cross readings in the newspapers, or to that well-known amusement which consists in putting a number of sentences, each written on a separate piece of paper, into a hat, shaking the whole, then taking them out one by one as they come, and seeing what kind of medley the heterogeneous compound will make when thus fortuitously put together. For instance, I had, on the above day, taken a walk to the canal along with a friend. On returning from it, I pointed out to him a spot where a new road was forming, and where, a few days before, one of the workmen had been overwhelmed by a quantity of rubbish falling upon him, which fairly chopped off one of his legs, and so much damaged the other that it was feared amputation would be necessary. Near this very spot there is a park, in which, about a month previously, I practised throwing the stone. On passing the Exchange on my way home, I expressed regret at the lowness of its situation, and remarked what a fine effect the portico would have were it placed upon more elevated ground. Such were the previous circumstances, and let us see how they bear upon the dream. In the first place, the canal appeared before me. (2) Its situation is an elevated one. (3) The portico of the Exchange, occurring to my mind as being placed too low, became associated with the elevation of the canal, and I placed it close by on a similar altitude. (4) The gentleman I had been walking with was the same whom, in the dream, I saw standing upon the steps of the portico. (5) Having related to him the story of the man who lost one limb, and had a chance of losing another, this idea brings before me a friend with a brace of wooden legs, who, moreover, appears in connection with putting the stone, as I know him to excel at that exercise. There is only one other element in the dream which the preceding events will not account for, and that is, the surprise at the individual referred to having more than one wooden leg. But why should he have even one, seeing that in reality he is limbed like other people? This, also, I can account for. Some years ago, he slightly injured his knee while leaping a ditch, and I remember jocularly advising him to get it cut off. I am particular in illustrating this point with regard to dreams, for I hold that, if it were possible to analyse them all, they would invariably be found to stand in the same relation to the waking state as the above specimen. The more diversified and incongruous the character of the dream, and the more remote from the period of its occurrence the circumstances which suggest it, the more difficult does its analysis become; and, in point of fact, this process may be impossible, so totally are the elements of the dream often dissevered from their original source, and so ludicrously huddled together."

The serious side of dream superstitions is the same as the serious side of palmistry: an interpretation which points to disaster may induce the subject voluntarily to end his life. Most dreams, like the one just outlined, are capable of reconstruction from purely natural elements in our own experiences.