Monday, October 01, 2018

On the interpretation of dreams

I'd like to revisit this issue:

This post is really about the hermeneutics of Revelation, but I'll back into it. Dreams have always fascinated humans. And that includes the interpretation of dreams. Traditionally, that's because dreams were thought to be premonitions, which gave rise to oneiromancy. 

Although some dreams are premonitory, most dreams are imaginary. Yet even imaginary dreams may be very interesting to the dreamer. After all, dreams tap into our personal memories and imagination. They represent the subconscious projection of the dreamer. Sometimes they allegorize what happened during the day. Sometimes they allegorize our fears or yearnings. 

So even though most dreams aren't premonitory, they may still hold personal significance. And that raises the question of whether they are worth interpreting. Does the symbolism have any real meaning–albeit a private encoded meaning, unique to each dreamer? Do dreams have their own logic? Is it just a case of finding the key?

In addition, since humans share a common nature, do dreams have some collective significance? Do some dreams embed transcultural symbolism?

Conversely, perhaps there is no logic to a dream. It epitomizes  imagination untethered to reason. Consciousness imposes logic on the subconscious. On that view, there's no hidden meaning. Nothing to interpret. 

Some dreams, while they last, have a narrative structure, while other dreams have abrupt scene changes. Some directors experiment with nonlinear narrative to evoke or mimic dreaming. We find this episodic quality in visionary revelation like Zechariah. 

Do discontinuous dream sequences have an inner logic, or is this just the mind at play? This issue crops up in commentaries on Revelation. Is it primarily linear or nonlinear narration? Premil scholars think it's primarily linear while amil commentators think its primarily cyclical. Idealists think it's entirely cyclical–like Finnegans Wake. 

Is there a third approach? Suppose discontinuous dream sequences exhibit spacial logic rather than chronological logic. They unfold in space rather than time. Architectural structuring. 

What I mean by that is this: suppose dream scenes are like opening doors to rooms. Each room is different. Abruptly shifting from one scene to another is like opening the door to a new room and walking inside. 

In a sense, a house is one big room, one large space, subdivided into smaller rooms. There's an internal relationship between different rooms within the same house. Or different stories. Perhaps an attic and basement. So it's not entirely random. 

In addition, there can be rooms within rooms. A walk-in closet in a bathroom in a bedroom. 

There's another distinction between inside and outside. You can open doors inside the house–to rooms, closets, and hallways inside the house–or you can open a front door, side door, or backdoor to go outside. 

Furthermore, the yard might be walled in, so that you can subdivide "outside" into space between the house and the wall–as well as space beyond the wall. Likewise, in Roman, monastic, and Islamic architecture (e.g. domus, cloister, Getty Villa, Alhambra), there might be inner courtyards as well as outer courtyards. Paradoxically, there's an outside inside the building. A microcosm of the macrocosm. 

Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress uses linear space (a road story) while The Holy War uses nonlinear space (a fortified city). For his part, Dante combines both. 

Suppose the layout or floor plan of Revelation is architectural. Rev 1-18 is more like inside space. Alternating rooms. Heaven, earth, netherworld. Rev 19-20 are transitional while 21-22 are more expansive. Suppose, as we read the Apocalypse, we visualize moving in space–like moving from room to room, or going outside. 

Sometimes divine revelation is like opening a door to the past or future. Normally those doors are locked. But the seer is allowed to open those doors and go inside. Perhaps time itself is more like that.  


  1. Replies
    1. AGREED!

      I'm reminded of an alleged C.S. Lewis quote:
      "Reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning."- C. S. Lewis

  2. Jim Jordan's mammoth series of talks on Revelation are essential listening on topics like this.

    1. For what it's worth, Jordan has a book titled The Vindication of Jesus Christ that's about his take on Revelation. It looks like it's currently only $3.99 on Amazon Kindle.