I have a dream: that we will bring back the arts of dream healing and build new dream temples.
Every dreamer has a personal physician available who will make house calls at any hour, prefers to heal without surgery or pharmaceuticals – and does not charge a penny..
Every night, if we pay attention, we find that our dreams are giving us an impeccable readout on our physical, emotional and spiritual health. Our dreams are constantly showing us what we need in order to stay well.
When treatment is required, our dreams advise us on where to go – and where not to go – for help.
Dreams also show us the hidden causes of illness, taking us into realms that are only grudgingly acknowledged by mainstream medicine and psychology. They show us how we may have lost vital energy – pieces of soul – through pain or abuse or negative behavior, and how we can get it back.
Just as we can make ourselves ill by dwelling on stress and fearful images, we can use healing imagery to make ourselves well. Dreams are the best source of this healing imagery, which emerges fresh, spontaneous and personal from our night journeys.
Beyond all this, in big dreams, we may benefit from spontaneous healing.
In the ancient world, pilgrims journeyed to dream temples like those of Asklepios in the hope that healing and guidance would come to them through a direct encounter with the sacred powers that speak and act through dreams.
You go to the dream temple to ask for a dream, a big dream that may in itself be the healing. There is a price for admission. You must leave behind your familiar habits and mindsets. You must be cleansed and purified. You must offer sacrifice. Above all, you must produce the dream of invitation. You get to spend the night in the abaton, the sacred dormitory of the god, only after you have satisfied his servants that you have been called by a specific dream. You will remember to ask for help – and to ask in the right way. This is not necessarily about fixing your physical symptoms. It is about putting body and soul together, and getting in touch with the sacred powers that support your life and the spiritual purpose that should inform it. You will be required to brave up to your fears. You will need to understand that the dream healer may come in many forms: in the Asklepion, the healing power is encountered as god or goddess, as radiant child, as a dog that slobbers on you or a serpent that wraps itself around you.
The core techniques of Asklepian dream healing are these:
Spiritual cleansing. This involves not only cleansing baths and attention to diet and behavior, but a willingness to change our mindset and leave behind old habits and attachments.
Making a sacred space. The inscription over the gatehouse of the Asklepion at Epidaurus read: “Pure must be he who enters the fragrant temple. Purity means to think nothing but holy thoughts.” This is about opening a space within ourselves that the healing power can fill – a space, perhaps, for returning soul.
Asking for help. When we go to our dreams for healing or guidance, we are approaching a source that is infinitely wiser than our everyday mind. If we ask for help from a higher power, it is important to learn to ask in the right way. Aelius Aristides, a famous orator who lived for several years at the dream temple at Pergamum, has left us a personal invocation of Asklepios that is a model of the right way to ask for help: “You in your kindness and love of humans…relieve me of my disease and grant me the measure of health the body requires to serve the purposes of the soul.”
Working with the animal powers. Asklepios travels with a dog and frequently manifests in the shape of a snake. In our spontaneous dreams, animals often bring us health advisories – and an opening to healing. If the bear is mad at me in my dreams, I give serious thought to my health. If an animal to which you feel connected is injured or undernourished, ask yourself what you might need to do to recover your animal spirits and follow the natural path of your energies. Be open to an animal appearing as guide to a place of deep healing. Shamanic peoples say that if you are not in touch with your power animals, you are not fully alive; something is soul-gone. In the dream temple, our animal spirits come back.
Dream journeys. A dream of invitation gets you inside the sanctuary. Now you learn to dream the dream onward and enter a deeper dreaming, alert and conscious at the borders of sleep and waking. Who knows how far you may learn to travel? With practice, you will learn to access deeper realities at will, and bring back gifts.
Theatre of healing. Some of the finest theatres of the ancient world were attached to the dream temples at Epidauris and Pergamum. As the Greeks well understood, the dramatic arts are deeply purging and healing. In modern dream temples, we perform spontaneous dream theatre to celebrate our journeys, build community dreams and locate ourselves within a deeper story.
Soul recovery. Asklepios is a patron of soul retrieval as well as dream healing. Shamans believe that soul loss is the most common source of illness, depression and chronic fatigue, as well as many mental and emotional disorders. When we suffer unbearable pain or grief, we lose a part of our vital energy. In the dream temple, when space has been cleared, this vital energy can often be brought back. Sometimes we can bring through some of the radiant energy of the Higher Self – our larger spiritual identity – into full embodiment in this lifetime.
Divination. We go to the dream temple not only for healing but for guidance on all the issues and passages of our lives. Our dreams rehearse us for our possible futures, and show us things that may lie far in the future. We can use this information to make wiser choices and often to change the (probable) future for the better. This is about more than seeing the future. It involves divination in the original meaning of the word: i.e., to ascertain the wishes of the divine. This means getting in touch with our spiritual purpose and the sacred powers that support our lives.