Front view of the sphinx

Egyptian dream practices

     Like their counterparts in Mesopotamia, the ancient Egyptians (like the later Greeks and Romans) also practiced dream divination among other methods for foretelling future events (cf. Meier, 1987, pp. 48 - 57), but that was not regarded as the sole purpose of dreams. There are dreams and even dream interpretation manuals which have come down to us from the ancient Egyptians (Wolff, 1952, pp. 9 - 12). According to Van de Castle, the earliest collection of Egyptian dream interpretations is found in the Chester Beatty Papyrus III, housed in the British Museum, which dates from the twelfth dynasty (2050 - 1790 B.C.). There are parts missing at both ends, but he said "The core of the work consists of a table listing 143 good and 91 bad dreams, along with their interpretations." While some dream images were understood symbolically, others were based on puns, which thus don't translate well into other languages. As an example, he says that if someone dreamt of revealing his backside, it meant he would become an orphan, an interpretation which isn't so farfetched when one learns that the Egyptian word for orphan and for buttocks is the same (Van de Castle, 1994, p. 56).

     Van de Castle says the Egyptians regarded dreams as being sent from a number of different gods, including Bes, Set and Thoth. One example of a dream which did not have to do with divination is a dream recorded on a stela found in front of the Sphinx: it says there that the pharaoh Thutmose IV (1400 B.C.) was told in a dream to remove the sand from around this depiction of the god Hormakhu and he had the work carried out as instructed.

     Worship of the Apis bulls at Memphis began very early and continued into the Roman period. They not only symbolized power and fertility, they came to be used as oracles. In the Hellenistic-Egyptian period Ptolemy II introduced Serapis worship (the name was derived from Osiris and Apis), the most prominent temples ("Serapeums") being at Memphis and Alexandria. Van de Castle went on to say that "Oracles or professional dream interpreters, known as 'the learned men of the magic library,' resided in these temples. A professional 'shingle' found at the office door of one of them read, 'I interpret dreams, having the god's mandate to do so; good luck; the interpreter present here is a Cretan'" (Van de Castle, 1994, p. 55).

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