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Dreams, Vision and Sleep

Part I; Introduction.

by Rev. Frederick L. Schnarr

Dreams and visions have formed a part of the life of man since the time when he first began to inhabit this planet that we call 'Earth.' And indeed, we need not limit ourselves to earth, for the peoples of other planets are essentially the same as the humans of our earth. They have the same basic faculties and capacities from the Lord, and they are influenced and formed by the same general environment as we have. Truly, they are in a variety of different states, ranging from what is relatively pure and heavenly, to what is impure and hellish. In the history of the church on our earth we see reflected something of the many different states that man can enter; think of the multitude of states there are then, when we think of the history of the natural universe. And yet, no matter what the state of man, there are certain things which are common to all men in all states. All men in the natural universe are inhabitants of two worlds at the same time, the natural and the spiritual. As to their bodies all men live in the world of nature, are sustained by the world of nature. Through the sensory organs of the body all men are influenced from without, from their external environment, from the world of fixed form, matter, space, and time.

As to their spirits, however, all men live in the spiritual world. Through their souls and minds they receive from within the life, the love, the affection, the delight, and the sensation of the spiritual world. This is the world which, although removed from the sight of man's natural vision, flows into him, and gives life and purpose to the movement and use of the natural body. The influx of the spiritual world into man begins with the Lord, since He alone is the source of life, and flows through the heavens, through the world of spirits, and through the hells, so that when it enters man it is literally filled with all the life and activity,, and with all the various qualities of the loves and affections of the inhabitants of the spiritual world.

The truth, that the qualities and affections of angels, spirits, and devils flow into each man and affect him, has been long lost. Back in the most ancient days of man's life on this earth such knowledge of the influence of spiritual companions was precious to them. {290} In the dreams and visions of sweet sleep they saw the life of heaven unfolded, they knew their spiritual companions as dear friends, and delighted in the joys and happinesses of heaven that they received through them. In dreams and visions they received the instruction that guided their natural life in Divine order and according to Divine purpose. All forms of nature lived, for each was seen as the representative of some heavenly love and affection. To such people there was none of the loneliness and emptiness that so often accompanies the states of our life on earth today, for if all else failed, the presence of spiritual companions in dreams and visions filled all states with the joy of spiritual friendship.

What a sad day it was for man, when through his fall into evils, he could no longer remain in such open communication with the spiritual world. At first, the knowledge that such communication had actually existed, served to keep man in something of the acknowledgment of a spiritual world, and of the communication of spirits with men. Dreams and visions still existed with them to confirm this knowledge, but more and more such dreams and visions bore the stamp also of hell. The awesome and horrifying perversions of hell were presented to man in dreams and visions, and the sweet sleep of the most ancients was torn apart with nightmares induced from hell. Knowing that dreams and visions were significant and representative, man began to examine his dreams and visions of night to read their meaning and their signs of blessing or fore-boding. And as he fell away from the true knowledge of heaven, naturally the means he employed to examine his dreams and visions became more and more confused with falsities, superstitions, mystic and magical thoughts and practices. In the mythology of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Norse peoples, to name but a few, we find ample evidence of this strange state wherein the passing knowledge of correspondence was mingled with falsities and perversions. The soothsayer, the oracle, the witch, and the wizard all found a suitable climate in which to develop their nefarious practices. Think what an important place is given in mythology to .the interpretation of dreams and visions; they are in the forefront of almost every story.

With the advent of Christianity, and then on through the stagnant period of the Dark Ages, less and less attention was given to the actual interpretation of dreams and visions. Dreams and visions became the arena in which the awesome forms of the mysterious world of the dead arose to plague and haunt, to warn and punish, to cast magical spells and instill fear. Elves, goblins, fairies, phantoms without substantial form, ghosts, macabre scenes and spirits in horrible form-all filled the night watches of man's sleep. {291} The appearance of angels and good fairies had their part, but it was a minor role and largely suffocated in the pervading presence of evil, falsity, superstition, and ignorance. Nor did the state of man's dreams and visions suddenly change with the close of the Dark Ages. The opening door of scientific study and the gradual development of a natural rationalism did much to sweep away the stark superstition and mysticism of past ages. And yet that much of it remained is evident from the literature up through the middle of the 19th century. Goethe, Milton, Shakespeare, Dickens, and countless other literary lights all leaned heavily on the use of dreams and visions tinged with attitudes from the Dark Ages.

Scientific research into the field of dreams and visions did not begin until the approach of the 20th century. In 1861 an analysis of dreams and visions was published by A. Maury. But it was not until 1900, when Sigmund Freud published his book on The Interpretation of Dreams that any consistent effort was made to pursue this subject. Freud saw in dreams a possible means of approaching the realm of man's unconscious thought. Can we see in man's dreams, he asked, something of his unconscious longings, desires, wishes and passions? Are not his dreams images, symbols, and combinations of symbols, which can lead us into the inner motivations of the mind? Herein we see Freud bordering on an important truth concerning dreams and visions-a truth which we will discuss in following classes. Freud's work on the interpretation of dreams paved the way for a whole new field of study and research on the subject. There have been many changes and variations of Freud's theories and conclusions. Psychology, psychoanalysis, and psychiatry, all have fields of study bearing on the use and interpretation of dreams. And while such men as Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, William Stekel, Otto Rank, and others, have all wandered far afield from Freud's original interpretations, still it is true that almost all modern studies in this field are based on Freud's work.

We do not feel it is useful to our consideration of this subject, nor for that matter do we feel we are properly equipped, to enter into the various theories and practices currently extant on the psychoanalytical findings of modern psychology. But that we do not throw out the wheat with the chaff, we would note that much of the work being done is extremely useful and can serve as confirmatory and illustrative material.

We would list some of the questions being considered in modern research on this subject:

  1. What is the relationship of dreams to the memory?
  2. How do dreams differ from day-dreams and creative thinking? {292}
  3. How does the depth of sleep affect the incidence of dreaming?
  4. Do dreams reveal conscious and unconscious desires and personal conflicts, etc.?
  5. What effect do external stimuli have upon dreams? (Touches, clothing, electric shocks, etc.)
  6. What effect do internal stimuli have upon dreams? (Drugs, hypnotic suggestions)
  7. Are hypnotic dreams different from normal dreams?
  8. Do the dreams of the blind and deaf differ from those of normal people?
  9. Do dreams change with age?
  10. Can the duration of dreams be measured?
  11. Do we see color in dreams, do we taste, smell, hear, etc.?
  12. Can dreams be interpreted accurately enough to serve any real purpose? (This, naturally, is one of the key questions still being considered.)
  13. Does the process of dreaming serve any use? (Another key question)

We can see from such studies, that whatever may be missing from the work being done, and there is plenty, much that is useful and enlightening is being brought forth. We can be thankful that the Lord has given the man of the New Church the means of seeing the wheat and the chaff separately. A half truth need not be swallowed as a whole truth. The wheat can be seen and used; the chaff can be seen and rejected. Now what of the chaff?

A mere cursive examination of the studies done on the subject of dreams and visions from Freud to the present day, will show a dumb-founding thing-there is little or no mention of a spiritual world. With the exception of some recent spiritists and visionaries, like Edgar Casey, and a host of imaginative gothic horror authors, there is no consideration even of the possibility that man's dreams and visions might be induced or at least activated by spirits from another world. For many years studies have been done on spiritistic phenomena at Duke University, and elsewhere. Laboratories have been established to study mental telepathy, extrasensory perception, clairvoyancy, materializations, etc. (Materializations: moving flowers, and chairs, rapping, playing instruments, touching bodies, and even being photographed, etc.) All of this has been in the form of empirical experiment and research; religion has little or no consideration therein. To say the least, psychologists have regarded such efforts with scepticism, and mostly have ignored them. {293}

Dreams and visions concerning angels, phantoms, and ghosts, and the various frightening apparitions of satan and the devil, have all been relegated to the closet of phantasy and darkness. As man's religion has departed, his belief in another world has also departed. And the presence of angels, spirits, and devils, is no more, except as fodder for literary drama (fiction, myth, etc.). What then of the prophetic dreams and visions of the Word; must they too depart to the realm of mere myth? Yes. For 'dream content is' declared 'to be the product of the dreamer's past and not a foreshadowing of events to come, as the ancient oneirologists asserted.' (Enc. Brit. 1956) (Oneirologist-dream interpreter)

Man's dreams and visions today are made the product of self and the influences of natural environment upon self. Dreams have been analyzed and classified according to 'The Bipartite Theory.' This theory expounds that dreams may be envisaged as a product of two sets of factors: 1) the stream of sensory impulses that chance to spill over the heightened sensory thresholds of the sleeping person; and 2) motivational tensions which, figuratively speaking, are clamouring for expression. In the light of this bipartite theory then, dreams are products of tension-release and of trial perception (ibid).

Perhaps it is not immediately clear how very much chaff is involved in this concept of man's dreams and visions. We would trust that after we have examined the teachings in the Writings on the subject, you will see chaff in such proportion that finding the wheat may seem a herculean task. For here man is made a lonely wanderer in a world where his only companions are those of his natural environment. He receives nothing beautiful, clean, and decent from heaven. His delights arise from chance combinations of forms in himself, rather than from spiritual companions. The symbolism of his dreams and visions has no source in the Divine nor in heaven and hell, nor in good and evil. For what is symbolic in his dreams and visions is all taken from the world of nature, and man living in nature.

That we may gather from the Writings a true understanding of the nature of dreams and visions, it is necessary that we learn what the source and use of dreams has been with man throughout the ages of his life on earth. Then we can examine what our dreams and visions are at this day, and how we are to regard and use them. It may appear when first thinking about the subject of dreams and visions that this is a field of information, nice to know, yes-but not particularly enlightening as to doctrine, and of questionable use as to application to life. But my friends, let us be careful of the self-determined conclusion that there is any part of Divine revelation which is merely nice to know. {294} What is revealed is there for a purpose. That we may not be able to see its purpose depends on our individual states. And as to application, let us remember that very few truths that we learn do we consciously apply-the application is not so simple. With a law or a commandment, yes. With an effort to uphold specific ideals and virtues, yes. But have you recently applied the truth that God is infinite, that He glorified His Human, that there is a spiritual sun in heaven, that there are discrete degrees, that the people of Mars use the gum of a certain tree to make glue. Probably you have not consciously employed these truths. But if you know them, and understand something about them, and have delighted in seeing something more of the Lord's love, and wisdom, and operation through them, then the truths have been employed and applied. For from our conception of the Lord, and our delight in truth, we unconsciously act all the time. In this sense the Lord is the one that has applied the truth when we have granted Him the freedom to do so by approaching Him in His Word. We only mention this here, so that in the subject matter that comes before us we will not partially blind ourselves to its over-all use in looking for specifics that can be consciously applied. This treatment, in other words, is not devoted to the means of interpreting our individual dreams as the end product. It is devoted to seeing another aspect of the Lord in the order of His creation-in seeing the form of His presence with man, the purpose and use of that presence through visions and dreams; the function of the heavens that the Lord employs in moderating and adapting His Divine presence to the changing states of man on earth; the function of the hells which the Lord permits to influence the adapted proceeding of His presence and so affect the life of man on earth. When we have seen the Lord's purpose and intention, and the means that He is able to employ, then we will be prepared to examine how we can best co-operate with that purpose and means, that the order of heaven, and its life and affection, may once again descend through visions and dreams and contribute in building something of the Lord's heavenly kingdom on earth. {295}

-New Church Life 1980;100:289

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Dreams and Visions

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