THE position accorded to dreams as a factor in religion is, we might almost say, one of the curiosities of modern thought. Schools of belief and teaching that are wide as the poles asunder are united in regarding them as, in this respect, of the highest importance. The Agnostic and the Christian believer are here at one. On the one side we have the system of evolutionary philosophy represented by Mr. Herbert Spencer which looks to the phenomena of dreams, as experienced by primitive and savage races, for the explanation of man's belief in the soul, the future state, and the whole circle of ideas generally associated with religion. The savage, say these authorities, identified dreams with realities. When in a dream he saw a person he knew to be dead he concluded he was still alive in the unseen. When he awoke in the morning, after hunting during the night in dreams, and learned from his companions that his body had lain motionless all the time, it was his " soul " that must have been in action. And the souls outside man eventually developed into gods. If this theory be taken as simply a natural history of ideas it is well enough. When, as is sometimes the case, it is employed to explain away religion, or to belittle its authority, it is apt to recoil heavily upon the hands of those who thus use it. For when all is said this dream theory simply exhibits savage man as in conscious relation with a spiritual world. That he blunders pitifully in his apprehension of that world is what we should expect. But what destructive criticism has to face is the fact here elicited that, from his earliest beginnings, man has been haunted by these apprehensions, pursued by these intimations from an invisible around him, and that, despite science's latest developments, he is so still.
When we have disposed of the savage's dreams we have to deal with our own. It is only their familiarity as experiences which makes us blind to the profound mysteries they open up. As a recent German writer has well said, it is unnecessary for us to look, as we commonly do, to "the other side," " the beyond," for the unseen and the spiritual. We have it all here with us, woven into our flesh and blood. And when we come to examine, nowhere is it more markedly in evidence than in our dream-life. While science is, as we have seen, endeavouring to explain religion by dreams, religious men from another standpoint offer concurrent evidence. The Bible is a great dream-book and never apologises for the fact. The prophets dealt largely in dreams and, if we are to believe the Acts, it was to a dream dreamed at Troas that Europe owed its Christianity.
There is, of course, a psychology of dreams, but before looking at that, and as a preparation for it, let us put together one or two facts. It is a circumstance significant enough in itself, that, inquire where we will, and amongst the most cultivated of our acquaintance, we find almost invariably that in this department of their life there is some mystery to confess.
Which of those who say they disbelieve,
Goethe was not, exactly a superstitious personage, but he says that his grandfather had revealed to him in dreams beforehand some of the principal events of his life. Robert Louis Stevenson avers that it was to his dreams he owed his best ideas. In his work, " The Unconscious Mind," Dr. Schofield speaks of a clergyman he knew " whose whole life was changed by hearing a sermon preached to himself in a dream."
Stories of this kind, and they could be multi-plied indefinitely, are not to be disposed of by talk of stomachic derangements. But it does not require, in order to be in contact with the deepest dream mysteries, that we rake about in the pages of literature. It will be enough to turn to our common experience and to examine what we find there. The subject is a difficult one, not only from its elusiveness, but from our natural reticence. We touch here too closely " the deep reserves of man." About these entirely subjective passages of our life weak natures are apt to exaggerate, and stronger ones to conceal. " Dicenda, tacenda locuti; things that should be said, and things better left unspoken, get uttered." But most of us can admit experiences similar to the following. In our sleep we have had flung upon the canvas of our consciousness a series of vivid pictures, each perfect in its grouping, colour and perspective. The present writer had thus flashed before him, not long ago, a stage full of people, numbering apparently nigh a hundred figures, of the time of the French Revolution, where each face in the foreground was a vividly out-lined portrait, and where the costumes and surroundings were marvellous in their historical accuracy.
Now in a dream perception of this kind not at all, we imagine, an uncommon one observe the problems which immediately offer themselves. There is first of all that of personality. It seems that two intelligences, at least, are here palpably revealing themselves. There is first the " I to whom the picture is presented, and who is vividly conscious of being, not the producer, but the passive spectator of it. If he knew himself as the producer he could not be, as is so frequently the case, filled with astonishment at what he sees. But if this " ego does not make the picture, who does ? Who is the artist who has conceived this scene, grouped it, drawn the portraits clothed the figures, and all in the twinkling of an eye P You say all the materials were stored in the memory-chests of the brain. Perhaps, but who determined on making this particular show of them, who arranged them into this perfect conception ? The subject of the dream is himself, as a rule, no artist. How comes he, then, into the presence of this magnificent artistry ?
Any attempt at explanation here seems to involve us in one of two hypotheses. The first is that worked out with so much ingenuity by the American writer, Mr. T. T. Hudson, of Boston, in his " Law of Psychic Phenomena," the theory, that is, of the possession by each of us of a dual mind. A modification of that view, and perhaps an improvement on it, would be the supposition of powers in the soul lying quite hidden during our waking hours, and requiring, in our present life, the psychic conditions of sleep or trance for their activity. And that this contains, at least, a part of the truth seems borne out by another, and perhaps a rarer, of the dream experiences. The writer speaks again with some hesitancy, not sure whether on this point he is reporting what is to any extent a common experience. But he can testify with certainty as an individual to occasions, coming at widely separated intervals in the career, when the soul, under the conditions of sleep, has become conscious of itself with a power, a freshness as of immortal youth, a felt relation to the illimitable and the eternal, accompanied by a thrilling rapture, as of heaven's central life, to which no waking state can offer a parallel. In remembering such times one recalls Philo's description of "the spiritual ecstasy," when "the soul having transcended earthly things, is seized with a sober intoxication, like the frenzy of the Corybantes, only with a nobler longing, and so is borne upward to the very verge of spiritual things, into the presence of the great King."
The other supposition, not, be it observed, contradictory to the former, is that the second personality involved apparently in some of our dreams is a reality, an intelligence, that is, out-side of our own, and making use of us temporarily as its instrument. That such a use of our bodily and mental organs by another will and intelligence is possible is abundantly clear from the experiments of the Charcot and other schools of hypnotism. But once we have granted this of the relations of visible human beings we have nothing, either in logic or in fact, which permits us to deny the possibility of a similar "possession " of us, under certain conditions, by intelligences beyond our ken. It is indeed only when we admit some such hypothesis that certain facts otherwise inexplicable in man's spiritual history become intelligible. It is along this line mainly that a doctrine of prophetic and apostolic inspiration credible to the present age seems likely to be built up. The idea of a lower personality entered into, dominated and used for its own purposes by a higher, the possibility and fact of which is rapidly being established as among the truths of science, will become the modern rendering of the New Testament doctrine of inspiration, that " holy men of old spake as they were moved."
However this may be, enough, perhaps, has been said to show that our common experiences as dream haunted, whatever the special explanations of them to which we incline, are mysteries which enter very closely indeed into the whole subject-matter of religion. We have no quarrel with the Evolutionist for tracing the beginning of the history here. His mistake commonly lies in not pushing the investigation far enough. When he has accepted all the facts on the subject which are to hand, and faced the deductions which seem fairly drawn from them, he will, if we mistake not, find him-self approaching conclusions for which his philosophy has not yet provided. In our poet's word, "we are such stuff as dreams are made of," lies more than appears on the surface. We shall appreciate it better when we more clearly understand what dreams are made of. A study, however slight, of the problems they present is enough at least to shatter the materialist theory of life, and to bring home to us with fresh power a sense of that
Sweet strange mystery
( Originally Published 1903 )
Ourselves And The Universe:
Our Moral Variability
The Escape From Commonplace
Of Spiritual Detachment
Life's Present Tense.
A Doctrine Of Echoes
Of Divine Leading
The Spiritual Sense
Our Thought World
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