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How Ancient Egyptians Interpreted Dreams

By Sam Hirschhorn

Have you ever woken up from a crazy dream and wondered what it meant? People have been asking this question since the ancient times. To this day, there exist many different theories about the meaning of dreams, ranging from dreams symbolizing your innermost, subconscious thoughts to dreams not meaning anything at all. One civilization that placed a large emphasis on dreams was Ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptians believed that their dreams were messages from the gods. What do you think about this theory?


The history of dreams in Ancient Egyptian society can be traced back to their creation of the first written account of dreams. In 1350 BC, Ancient Egyptian writers crafted the Chester Beatty Papyrus, the oldest dream book in the world. The Ancient Egyptians filled dream books like Chester Beatty with images describing what dreams meant. By reading these books, we have learned that some of the most common dreams in Ancient Egypt contained images of smashing stones, losing teeth and drowning in the Nile. All of these dreams seem pretty scary, but they did not necessarily have negative implications.

The Ancient Egyptians loved puns, so dream interpretations were frequently based on word meanings. If someone had a dream about eating donkey, for example, this symbolized good luck. This meaning was derived from the fact that the words for “donkey” and “great” had the same spelling and pronunciation despite their very different meanings.

While this particular interpretation might sound silly, dreams were an extremely important aspect of Ancient Egyptian society. The messages were so important to Ancient Egyptians that various gods had dream temples devoted to their individual dream interpretation. In fact, people in Ancient Egypt would often sleep in temples to be closer to the gods! Eventually, however, this trend became so popular that the temples became overcrowded and the priests were forced to put a halt to it. In place of sleeping in the temples, Ancient Egyptians began to report their dreams to oracles. Oracles were priests who specialized in reading dreams and communicating information from the gods to the dreamer.

The Ancient Egyptians were polytheistic, which means that they believed in many gods. Each Egyptian god and goddess had his or her own duty. The Egyptian god in charge of dreams was Bes. Tutu, another god important to dreaming, was responsible for protecting the Egyptians from bad dreams.

In addition to messages from the gods, Ancient Egyptians also believed that dreams could predict the future. A nightmare, for example, was believed to foreshadow that something bad was to happen soon. Don’t worry, though, because modern research suggests that nightmares do not predict bad events. Actually, some bad dreams might even represent positive changes in life, so don’t be too scared by the next nightmare you have!

The Ancient Egyptian focus on dream interpretation represents a unique aspect of their culture. Although their interpretation was closely tied to their religion, the concept of symbols within dreams have been studied and interpreted in fields such as psychology and neuroscience. Next time you have a dream and are wondering what it might mean, keep what you have learned about Ancient Egyptian dream interpretation in mind!




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