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Oneiromancy (from the Greek όνειροϛ oneiros, dream, and μαντεία manteia, prophecy) is a form of divination based upon dreams; it is a system of dream interpretation that uses dreams to predict the future. Carl Jung later focused this idea and formed theories, experiments, and terminology around oneiromancy.

Ancient Egyptian[edit]

A unique exemplar of a book of dream-interpretation survives from pre-Hellenistic Egypt, the so-called "Ramesside Dream-Book", the surviving fragments of which are translated into English by Kasia Szpakowska.[1]

Assyrian, Babylonian, and Sumerian (Mesopotamian)[edit]

The Epic of Gilgamesh reflects heavily on the belief that our ancients looked to our dreams to predict, roughly, our future, by his persistence to sleep on things and gather information from his dreams before making decisions. The story has been retold countless times.


Dreams occur throughout the Bible as omens or messages from God;

  • God speaks to Abram while he is in a deep sleep (Genesis 15);
  • God speaks to Abimelech the King of Gerar concerning his intentions regarding Sarah, Abraham's wife (Genesis 20);
  • Jacob dreams of a ladder to heaven (Genesis 28);
  • his son Joseph dreamed of his future success (Genesis 37) and interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh of Egypt (Genesis 41);
  • Solomon conversed with God in his dreams (1 Kings 3);
  • Daniel interpreted dreams (in the Book of Daniel 2 and 4);
  • the Magi are told in a dream to avoid Herod on their journey home (Matthew 2);
  • Joseph, when betrothed to Mary, was told not to fear taking Mary as his wife (Matthew 1);
  • Joseph, now husband of Mary, was directed to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2);
  • Pilate's wife suffered in a dream because of Jesus (Matthew 27);
  • Paul was told to go to Macedonia (Acts 16)

Deuteronomy 13:1-5 offers instruction about those who claim to have inspired but false dreams. In Acts 2:17 the apostle Peter quotes Joel 2:28 saying that because of the Spirit now out poured "...your old men will dream dreams."


Dream divination was a common feature of Greek and Roman religion and literature of all genres. Aristotle and Plato discuss dreams in various works. The only surviving Greco-Roman dreambook, the Oneirocritica was written by Artemidorus (2c.). Artemidorus cites a large number of previous authors, all now lost.

A veridical dream is a dream that is afterwards fulfilled in reality.[citation needed]

  • In Book XIX of the Odyssey, Penelopē said that "dreams ... which issue forth from the gate of polished horn bring true issues to pass, when any mortal sees them." (Here, there may be a pun[2] of /KRainō/ 'I fulfill' with /KeRas/ 'horn'.)
  • Likewise, Herodotos distinguished[3] /oneiros/ (or /enar/) as "the prophetic, God-sent dream" from /en-upnion/ "the non-predictive dream".
  • In the scheme of Artemidoros, the "oneiros was subdivided into two great categories: ... allēgorikos, which corresponds to the Platonic theory of the predictive dream operating in the impure soul, and the ... theōrēmatikos, which is the dream represented in the pure state of the soul."[4]

Oneirocritic literature is the traditional (ancient and mediaeval) literary format of dream interpretation. The ancient sources of oneirocritic literature are Kemetian (Aegyptian), Akkadian (Babylonian), and Hellenic (Greek). The mediaeval sources of oneirocritic literature are Āstika (Hindu), Persian, Arabic, and European.

Ancient oneirocritic literature[edit]


The oldest oneirocritic MS hitherto discovered is a Ramesside dream-book now in the British Museum:


This was a section of the extensive omen-literature, the most notable exemplar of which was the “Dream Book,” Iškar Zaqīqu.[5]


These include Artemidoros, Astrampsychos, Nikephoros, Germanos, and Manuel Palaiologos.

Mediaeval oneirocritic literature[edit]


The pertinent material is included in the several Purāṇa-s, such as the Liṅga Purāṇa.[6]


Here, dreams about specific numbers[7] or about reading specific chapters[8] of the Qurʼan are among the chief subjects of prognostication. The most renowned of the Arabic texts of oneiromancy is the Great Book of Interpretation of Dreams.


Achmet is an adaptation of an Arabic book to the tastes of a European readership.

Derived from older literature, modern dream-books are still in common use in Europe and the United States, being commonly sold along with good-luck charms.


Sei Shonagon refers to having her dreams interpreted in The Pillow Book.[9]


The indigenous Chontal of the Mexican state of Oaxaca use Calea zacatechichi for oneiromancy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Szpakowska, Kasia : Behind Closed Eyes : Dreams and Nightmares in Ancient Egypt. The Classical Press of Wales, Swansea, 2003.
  2. ^ Oberhelman 1981, p. 3
  3. ^ Oberhelman 1981, p. 4
  4. ^ Oberhelman 1981, p. 8
  5. ^ Nils P. Heessel : Divinatorische Texte I : ... oneiromantische Omina. Harrassowitz Verlag, 2007.
  6. ^ Linga Purana. Diamond Pocket Books Ltd. ISBN 81-288-0679-3. pp. 60-62
  7. ^ Gouda 1991, pp. 296-301
  8. ^ Gouda 1991, pp. 402-409
  9. ^ "古典に親しむ". 


  • AMERICAN ORIENTAL SERIES, Vol. 89 = Noegel, Scott B. : Nocturnal Ciphers : the Allusive Language of Dreams in the Ancient Near East. New Haven, 2007.
  • Oberhelman, Steven Michael : The Oneirocritic Literature of the Late Roman and Byzantine Eras of Greece. PhD dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1981.
  • Yehia Gouda : Dreams and Their Meanings in the Old Arab Tradition. Vantage Pr, NY, 1991.