Joseph Interprets Pharaoh's Dreams
by Father Augustine Mary
Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word
First, I offer a General Discussion on Dreams, then move on to their Interpretation and
finally consider the use of Dreams in the Bible. The information presented here is mostly gleaned from an Article on
Dreams in the New Catholic Encyclopedia.
In general, I would advise not seeking Dream Analysis! To Guide one's
Conscious Life according to what is manifested in Dreams is Inherently Problematic because Dreams are not Guided by
Rationality, but rather reflect a Multitude of Influences
Difficult to categorize with certitude. The Analysis of Dreams is in no way limited to the
Clergy, but when Interpreting a Dream which may be from God, the advice of one
Theologically Trained in accordance with the Teachings of the
Magisterium is essential.
The Nature of Dreams
Brain ≠ Mind
Brain α Body
Mind α Soul
Five External Senses -
Four Internal Senses -
Sentient Consciousness/ Imagination/ Sentient
A Dream is an Illusory Psychic Activity, particularly of a Visual Nature that occurs during
Sleep. It is essentially a Psychological Phenomenon with many Philosophical, Religious and Moral implications.
Scientific findings on Dreams have shown them to involve Perception, Creative and
Reproductive Imagination, Association of Ideas and
Images, Memory and Emotion.
Thinking and Reasoning may also occur in
Dreams, but on a 'Superficial' and 'Uncritical' Level (this is important in relation to the Moral Relevance of what one does in the
midst of a Dream). At times one is aware of a type of "Choosing" within Dreams -- such
as resistance to Temptation. However such "Willed
Acts" do not stem-from a Free Decision-Making Ability but
rather from Behavioral Habits and Automatic
Responses. The Critical Powers of the
Mind such as Reality Testing and Decision
Making are greatly impaired in Dreaming, which accounts for the Incoherent and Chaotic Nature of many Dreams. In a
Dream the distinction between Reality and
Imagination is Totally Lost, or at least Impaired.
Dreams can be Natural or Supernatural. If they are
Supernatural, then their Origin lies in God,
Angels or Demons. Dreams can also be induced by Hypnosis. What causes
Dreams can seldom be traced to One (1) well-defined External or Internal Stimulus. Rather,
they are brought-about by Many Interacting Factors of a
Motivational and Physiological Nature.
Dreaming occurs in Cycles following the Fluctuation of Sleep Stages. It appears when the dreamer emerges from the Stage of Deep
Sleep. In an average night's sleep a person dreams from One (1) to Two (2)
Hours with Dreams distributed in Three (3) to Five (5)
Periods, lasting from Twenty (20) to
Thirty (30) Minutes, and each Sleep Period followed at intervals of about
Ninety (90) Minutes.
Dreams are primarily made up of Visual Imagery. Most of the Images are black and
white. The content of Dreams is usually very Personal and Intimate, and has to do with one's Attitudes toward oneself and toward
important people in one's environment. In terms of Emotional Content, Dreams range from
Ecstatic Fantasies to Nightmares. There is a Preponderance of Unpleasant Dreams caused by
Fear, Anger or
Sadness. Dreams of Sex and
Aggression are quite frequent.
Interpretation of Dreams
Passing from an overview on the Nature of Dreams, we now consider their Interpretation. There is record of Dream Interpretation
going back to the 4th Century B.C.. Plato, Aristotle and
Cicero all commented on Dream Interpretation.
St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas
St Augustine taught on Dreams in his letters to Nebridius and in De Genesi
ad litteram. He admits both the possibility of God speaking to a
person through their Dreams and also that some Dreams may have a Psychological Significance insofar as they reflect Physiological or
Mental Conditions of the Dreamer. "Men . . . dream what they need", he says.
St Thomas Aquinas deals with Dreams in connection with his treatment of
Superstition. He identifies Four (4) Causes of Dreams:
The Physical Disposition of the Body,
Environmental Conditions and
Spiritual Causes -- God,
Angels and Demons.
Freud, Jung and Adler all have Psychological Perspectives on Dream Interpretation.
Freud wrote an entire Work entitled, Interpretation of Dreams
(1900); for the most part, this Work severely limits Dream Interpretation to the
identification of Unfulfilled Libidinal Wishes. It also uses the Principles of Free Association and typical Symbolism.
Jung was the First to analyze the Dreams of a person in a Sequential Series,
treating them as a meaningful whole and interpreting them on the basis of an Internal Consistency. Jung interpreted
Dreams as the manifestation of the whole personality (distinct from Freud), and he varied his interpretations according
to Personality Type. Jung saw Dreams influenced not only by Past Experiences
(as with Freud), but also by Present
Problems and Future Plans. Adler also saw this
Past, Present, and Future
Influence on Dreams; his main emphasis was on how a person's Lifestyle was reflected in his Dreams.
Present Psychological Theory considers the Freudian approach too-limited in focus to be of any use.
C. S. Hall finds the analysis of the manifest content of Dreams much more rewarding than delving into their Latent Content.
Moral considerations with regard to Dream Interpretation conform to the following Principles:
(1) On rare occasion Dreams may be a legitimate vehicle of
Divine Revelation, in which case God
Himself provides proofs attesting the Divine Origin
of Dreams. He also provides Interpretation of the Dream.
(2) The Majority of Dreams are Natural Phenomena lacking in any
special Religious meaning.
(3) Superstitious Divination
through Dreams is severely forbidden by God as an
In general the techniques of Dream Analysis are not in themselves Immoral. The
Moral Dimension comes to the fore when considering Divination, Moral Culpability, and the use of Dreams in one's
Father of Lies
Divination is the Foretelling of the Future by means of a Dream, and it is Legitimate only
if one is sure that the Dream comes from God. One's Attitude toward such Dreams
should be the same as in the case of Private Visions and Revelations. When Divine Intervention
in a Dream is Excluded, then Divination is an Act of Superstition because it
involves, either explicitly or implicitly, an attempt to Predict the Future by means of
Demonic Powers. The Gravity of Sin depends
upon the amount of Awareness, the degree of Certainty about the Prediction, and the more or less Explicit Intention of regulating
one's life according to Dreams. Ignorance and an Implicit Belief in some infallible natural means of knowing Secrets and Predicting
the Future, such as Telepathy and Precognition, can diminish one's Culpability of
Collusion with the Devil.
In regard to one's Moral Responsibility, neither Merit nor
Punishment can be acquired through Dream Behavior. Man's ability to Think and Choose is so-reduced during sleep, that he
is not Morally Responsible for whatever may happen. A good practice to adopt before going to sleep is to sprinkle one's bed with
Holy Water and to read a couple lines out of Sacred
Scripture, thus asking God's Protection and disposing oneself to
Present day Dream Analysis is beset by many Limitations, one of which is a Lack of Knowledge as to how the Unconscious and Conscious
Life of an individual are related. Because of this, Great Caution should regulate attempts to use Dreams as a technique of
Dreams in the Bible
Dreams and Ecstasy are regarded in Sacred Scripture as means of
Divine Communication produced in the Imagination
of an individual. In Jewish Thought, Dreams were often regarded as ordinary occurrences in human life and even as foolish fancies, but more
frequently they were accepted as Supernatural Manifestations. As such they were regarded as
foretelling the Future, as instructing man and as a means of Revealing Hidden Truths, and for
communicating warnings from God. God is
often presented as revealing Himself to the Prophets in Dreams, especially in the case of
the later Prophets, Daniel, Ezekiel and Zachariah. Since the meaning of Dreams is
generally obscure, only Wise Men were considered capable of explaining their significance, their interpretation being regarded as a
Divine Prerogative. Joseph and Daniel, in particular,
were endowed with Power to interpret Dreams and Visions. The Death Penalty was decreed for
"Prophets and Dreamers," that is, False Prophets,
who led people away from God by claiming to have Revelations in Dreams.
In the New Testament there are several examples of Supernatural
Dream-Visions. An Angel appears to Joseph in
a Dream and urges him to take Mary as
his wife; the Magi are
warned in a Dream not to return to Herod in Jerusalem; in a Dream
Joseph is warned to go to Egypt and later to return to Israel;
because of a Dream he retires to Nazareth. The wife of Pilate
is warned in a Dream to have nothing to do with Jesus.
Supernatural Dream-Visions had been promised by the Prophet Joel as
Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Messianic Age, and Peter
and his First Sermon on Pentecost pointed
out the fulfillment of the Promise.
- End of "Dreams" by Father Augustine Mary -
Excerpts from the "Ladder of Divine Ascent"
by Saint John Climacus
3:26 A Dream is a movement of the Mind while the
Body is at rest. A Fantasy is an Illusion of
the Eyes when the Intellect is asleep. A
Fantasy is an Ecstasy of the Mind when the
Body is awake. A Fantasy is a Vision of
something which does not exist in Reality.
3:28 The Demons of
Vainglory prophesy in Dreams. Being Unscrupulous, they Guess the
Future and tell it to us. When these Visions come true, we are amazed; and we are Elated with the
thought that we are already near to the Gift of Foreknowledge.
A Demon is often a Prophet to those who believe him, but he is always a
Liar to those who despise him. Being a Spirit,
he sees what is happening in this Lower Air, and noticing that someone is dying, he
foretells it through Dreams to the more Light-Minded.
3:29 Demons often transform themselves into
Angels-of-Light and take the form of Martyrs,
and make it appear to us during Sleep that we are in communication with them. Then, when we wake up, they plunge us into
Unholy Joy and Conceit.
He who believes in Dreams is completely inexperienced. But he who distrusts all Dreams is a Wise Man.
15:56 Let no one get into the Habit of thinking over during the day-time the
Fantasies that have occurred to him during sleep. . .
22:19 When the Demon of Pride gets a foothold in
his servants, he appears to them either in Sleep or in a Waking Vision, as though in the form of a
Holy Angel or some Martyr, and gives them a Revelation of Mysteries,
or a free bestowal of Spiritual Gifts . . .