The ancient Egyptians recorded their nightmares, their dreams and looked for an explanation for them. And not in the way Freud did.
Some see that they are still giving panhellenics, others that they are rejoining the army or that they are appearing naked at work, and generally for everyone there is a nightmare that wakes them up in the middle of the night and makes them turn on the light in a sweat. However, the earliest nightmare ever recorded was something much simpler and involved nothing more than an intense stare.
Around 2100 BC, an Egyptian named Heni wrote a letter to his dead father, asking him for help regarding a nightmare he was having. Heni described how in his dreams Sheni, the servant of his now dead father, appears and stares at him. In an attempt to assuage his rather guilty conscience, Heaney referred to how he had abused Sheni, but claimed that he was not the first to abuse him.
Among other things, Henny begged his father: “Don’t let him hurt me.”
This Heni letter is one of the earliest references to dreams in ancient Egypt found in the 20 or so non-royal “Letters to the Dead.” Written on papyri or on vases, these letters were usually left on the graves of dead relatives, and often included requests for favors, such as ending a property dispute or giving birth to a child.
This writing of letters to deceased relatives was a common practice throughout ancient Egyptian history.
The Egyptians placed great value on dreams and considered them as a way of accessing another world somewhat invisible, hidden somewhere far from human understanding. For this they were also the first to write history’s first handbook on dream interpretation and the first to record people’s dreams and nightmares.
The most common word for “dream” in ancient Egypt was the noun “resut”, which means “awakening”. There was no verb for dream and it was not an active act but a passive one, which should be noted.
By traveling through the portal of sleep, Egyptian dreamers “awakened” to another world that existed between the afterlife and everyday life. In this space, they could communicate with their gods and the dead.
“Contrary to modern understandings of the nature of a dream, the Egyptians had no psychological explanation for it,” Kasia Spakowska, author of “Behind Closed Eyes: Dreams and Nightmares in Ancient Egypt,” told National Geographic.
Dreams were not intended to give an image of what is inside the soul of the sleeping person, that is, they were not interpreted as they are today. Instead, the Egyptians saw them as omens for their present and future.
PROPHECY AND PROPAGANDA
The pharaohs often used this awe of their subjects’ dreams to their advantage. One of the most famous texts on dreams is “The Instructions of Amenemhat I”, written in the 20th century BC. This poem describes a dream of Pharaoh Senusret, who sees the ghost of his murdered father. The dead king reveals the sordid details of his death and gives advice to his son on how to rule well. Whether the poem is true or not, Senusret wisely chose a dream to convey a message that glorified his father and legitimized his acquisition of the throne.
During the so-called New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC), a time of unparalleled wealth and power for Egypt, the pharaohs dreamed of gods, who brought them important messages about their reign. Now, of course, when one examines them from a distance, one understands that thesea dreams probably served propaganda purposes by enhancing their status. For example, Amenhotep II and Merneftah were supposedly visited by gods who gave them strength in battle.
The most famous royal dream is perhaps best known because it involved the Great Sphinx. In the late 15th century BC, the young prince Thutmose was hunting somewhere near the Great Sphinx, which was reportedly built about a thousand years before he was born. Thutmose supposedly sat in her shade to rest but eventually fell asleep. He then began to dream that the god Ra appeared to him and asked him to clean the sand from the Sphinx. If he did, then he would become pharaoh. After the god’s request was granted, the prophecy was fulfilled.
Thutmose celebrated his rise to power by inscribing his dream on a stele – the “Dream Stela” – and placing it between the feet of the Sphinx. Historians are not sure exactly how this pharaoh came to power, so the dream in which the god spoke to him directly may have been used to help legitimize his right to the throne.
THE INTERPRETATIONS OF DREAMS
Pharaohs may have used the power of dreams to consolidate their power, but everyday people in Egypt looked for ways to decipher what they saw in their sleep. One such guide was the “Book of Dreams”, written around 1220 BC. Although pieces of the work are missing, those that survive give us a good idea of what it contained. Within its pages, first 139 dreams are listed that are interpreted as good omens, followed by another 83 that are interpreted as harbingers of evil.
For example, the manual says that “if one sees himself dead, that is good. A long life awaits him.”
The “Dream Book” reveals, among other things, what issues concerned the everyday people of that time. “They enlighten us about the concerns of the average Egyptian, as it is clear that these books were not just for the elites,” Spakowska said.
And it’s no surprise that many of them – financial issues, problems in their marriage or health – are almost the same as those that concern people today.