If you want to know more about what dreams can be, consider what the words for “dream” mean in different languages. You’ll find clues here to what dreaming meant to our ancestors, before we lost respect for dreamers and contact with the Dreaming..
How about these:
- a dream is “a journey of the soul” (adekato) for a dreaming people of Venezuela, the Makiritare.
- a dream is a “zephyr”, a gentle breeze slipping through the keyhole, or the crack between the door and the lintel, to breathe in your ear, in ancient Assyria
- a dream is an “awakening” (rswt) in ancient Egypt
- a dream is also a spirit messenger (oneiros) that travels from the Republic of Dreams (Demos Oneiron) in archaic Greece.
In good Old English, a dream is “merriment” and “revelry” of the kind you might encounter from downing too many goblets in a mead-hall. But by Chaucer’s time, the same word, with a different, Northern derivation, can also imply an encounter with the dead. As in Northern Europe (German Traum, Dutch droom etc) the word “dream” we have inherited is linked to the Old Germanic Draugr, which means a visitation from the dead.
As explained by the great Tuscarora ethnographer J.N.B.Hewitt, the old Iroquoian word katera’swas means “I dream” but implies much more that we commonly mean when when say that phrase in English. Katera’swas means I dream as a habit, as a daily part of my way of being in the world. The expression also carries the connotation that I am lucky in a proactive way – that I bring myself luck because I am able to manifest good fortune and prosperity through my dream. The related term watera’swo not only means “dream”; it can also be translated as “I bring myself good luck.”
Early Jesuit missionaries reported that the Iroquois believed that neglect of dreams brings bad luck. Father Jean de Quens noted on a visit to the Onondaga, that “people are told they will have bad luck if they disregard their dreams.” So if you want to get lucky, you want to dream a lot.
~The last part of this article is adapted from my book Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the Secret Wishes of the Soul published by Destiny Books, 2005
Wishbone photo by Robin O’Neal Kissel,