Land of dreams, dream realm, dream world, dreamscape, etc. These are all imaginative ways of referring to the images we see when asleep. From ancient times, dreams have been a source of mystery and magic. They have been considered as prophetic. Their occurrence has been ascribed to gods or spirits. Cultures world-wide have myths and legends about the land of dreams. Dreams are a popular topic in fiction.

Greek mythology contains a whole pantheon of dream gods, called the Oneiroi. Most well-known of these would be Morpheus, god of sleep, who shapes and forms dreams, and could appear in the in any form. His brother, Phobetor, is the god of nightmares, and he in turn fathers nightmares that spread throughout the world.

If you have ever experienced the sleep disorder known as sleep paralysis, you will know how unpleasant it can be. Germanic folklore attributes this, as well as nightmares in general, to an evil spirit called a mara, who sits on the chests of sleepers, constricting breathing and creating bad dreams. This is the origin of the word nightmare. Sleep paralysis has been described in folklore as being ‘hag-ridden’, also referencing an entity causing the sleeper’s difficulties. Many cultures have their own version. In Turkey, for example, a djinn is the culprit, sitting on the chest and trying to suffocate the sleeper.

Hindu faith states that Vishnu dreams the universe into being. The idea is that, if he wakes, the cycle of creation ends.

Many cultures believe that dreams can tell the future. The Bible has many instances of prophetic dreaming, often requiring a divinely inspired interpreter of dreams to explain the meaning. Norse mythology, while accepting that many dreams are nonsense, believed that all events are directed by fate, so dreams could be able to foretell the future.

Writers have been using dreams in their work in a variety of ways over the centuries. It has been a popular way to take the protagonist into a fantasy world. Medieval literature often used this idea.

Lewis Carroll’s tales of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ are framed as a dream of the girl. Hans Christian Anderson first wrote of the benevolent sandman, sprinkling dust into the eyes of children to make them sleep. Apparently, there is an older version of the sandman who was not so nice. This one visited naughty children who wouldn’t sleep and stole their eyes away. (The things parents tell their kids …)

A more modern series of books, ‘The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant’ by Stephen Donaldson, takes the hero to a fantasy world after he is in an accident. He is known by the people in the fantasy world as ‘Unbeliever’, as he stubbornly insists that they don’t exist, and he is dreaming them. He does wake up at the end to find he has been in a coma, lending credence to his supposition. There is an element of uncertainty present, however. Did Covenant dream, or was he transported to an actual place in his dreams? “Lathe of Heaven”, by Ursula LeGuin, tells of a character whose dreams can remake reality. A series of graphic novels written by Neil Gaiman, under the title ‘Sandman’, deal with this idea extensively. The Morpheus of legend becomes a character in these stories, one of a group of immortal beings called the Endless. Dreams and reality are very much interlinked in these stories.

Films and television have certainly made extensive use of dreams. The film “Inception” postulates technology that can allow the infiltration of dreams to uncover information from the dreamer. There are dreams within dreams, leading to a blurring between dream and reality. “Life on Mars” is a tv series where the protagonist, after being in a car accident, appears to have travelled in time. Is this true or is he dreaming while in a coma?

Human beings have been attempting to make sense of dreams since the dawn of time. So where do we go when we sleep? Are our dreams just random nonsense, or can they have meaning? (They are certainly valuable tools to tell a story.) Personally, while I don’t believe in prophetic dreams, I do think they can sometimes be a valuable way of finding out what your subconscious might be trying to tell you.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your views.

(This information has been taken from various internet sites and I am no expert. If I’ve got anything wrong, let me know.)

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