Approaching dreams to find answers emerged in
written records in the earliest Babylonian cuneiform writing. We can only assume
that answers were sought from dreams long before these ancient records.
Anthropological samplings of non-technological cultures support this assumption.
Note the Ojibwa of Ottawa and the Mohave Shaman dreams for example (Radin, 1936
& Devereux,1957). In our own tradition, the ancient Greeks are the best know
for their use of dreams to find answers and it is from them we receive the
tradition of sleeping on a problem for an answer, or incubation (enkoimesis:
sleeping in the sanctuary). Carl Alfred Meier, a Jungian researcher, studied the
ancient methods for decades, and notes that the polyseminal nature of the dream
led to a different path of interpretation than fixed methods:
"...in ancient Greece dreams were thought of as real oracles. But when
the many existing techniques for receiving answers to problems (auguries,
haruspicy and the like) had fixed systems of reference and only a relatively
limited number of possible answers, the dream lacks these points of reference
altogether. It is so polymorphous that its proper interpretation either takes a
great deal more skill and knowledge or leads to quackery, as in fact it mostly
did" (Meier, 1966 p. 203)
The most wide spread and famous places to incubate dreams were the Asklepion
dream sanctuaries where little interpretation was needed. The appearance of the
healer Asklepios or one of his family or minions (including snakes & dogs)
in the dream was usually enough to effect the cure. The "right" dream
was the one that healed. However, these were sanctuaries were more focused on
sicknesses of body and spirit than problem solving.
Though dream interpretation and incubation was suppressed by the Orthodox
esoteric Christian Church (an interesting subject in itself), the practice
continued among the common people, shifting from the temple to the chapel. Meier
says that it is still practiced today. It may also be seen in use by poets,
writers, alchemists and esotericists throughout the centuries. But for the
mainstream, the practice was pretty much lost until psychotherapeutic techniques
merged with new secular dreamwork movements to produce the experimental climate
of the 1960's and 70's.
Two of the major researchers in this area are Gayle Delaney and Henry Reed.
(See the focus article in this issue on Henry Reed). Both have studied and
researched this area for many years and I have included some of their works in
the following bibliography, which I recommend reading. I noted at the end of an
excellent article by Henry Reed (1976) on incubation the following original
reprint message: "Enclose one dollar or dreamy barter" (p. 70).
Others, such as Morton Saltzman (1987), have attempted to incubate dreams to
solve puzzles and some like Mark Blagrove (1992), have questioned the
assumptions regarding problem solving in dreams. But, if Deirdre Barrett's study
(1993) is to be believed, dreamers are for the most part quite satisfied with
the answers from dreams when the issues are of a more personal nature.
Consequently, we are offering Jill Gregory's technique list that appears to me
as a useful synthesis of the techniques available and her own research and
For any of the following procedures, you should check first with your doctor
if you have any kind of sleep disorder or are using any kinds of prescription or
Tips for incubating a dream from Jill Gregory
Dreams can be incubated when you're awake or when you're dreaming. When you
move into your desired dream directly and immediately this type of incubation is
known as psi dreaming. It is possible to make more than one incubation request
and get responses in one or more dreams that night.
1. Remind yourself that incubation is something that you frequently do
already in your life, as, for example, when you tell yourself to remember
something at a future time. You are already incubating your dreams and your
waking life without your conscious awareness.
2. In a quiet, relaxed condition, let your mind wander about the possible
dream topics, images or types of dream that you wish to incubate.
3. Review your possible choices for incubation. Narrow it down to a couple of
options. Ask yourself, "Why do I want to incubate this?" If you don't
know why, its okay. If you do, it will strengthen you incubation.
4. Choose your incubation. Every once in a while, remind yourself that you
want to incubate that particular dream.
5. Amplify your request for that dream. For example, if you want to dream of
horses, use your imagination to "see" horses. Or you can write, draw
or say your incubation.
6. When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself that when you wake up
tomorrow morning, you *will remember* a dream on your incubation topic. Just
before falling asleep, remind yourself again. You may want to start your
dreaming mind on the incubation by
thinking, feeling, sensing or imagining it as you are moving into sleep.
7. Always write down your dream for that morning! For the next two days, if
you think that you haven't gotten your incubation dream, write those dreams
also. Through dreamwork you may discover that you did receive it after all.
Sometimes our dreaming mind has something more urgent than that and will not
give the desired dream the first or even second night.
8. If, after three nights, you do not feel that you were successful in you
incubation, do one or more of the following:
a) Ask yourself if there's any reason that you do *not* wish to dream about your
b) Ask your imagination, "Who can help me do this?" Add that helper
figure to your incubation topic.
c) Tell your dreaming mind that if it gave you your chosen dream, you didn't
realize it. Request that this time the dream be obvious, easier to connect to
9. Try again. If you do not receive the dream, put it to the back of your
mind and give it just enough energy that if it does come, you will remember that
you were incubation it. Add new incubations to your "dream shopping
Barrett, Deirdre (1993). The "Committee of Sleep": A study of dream
incubation for problem solving. _Dreaming, 3_(2), 115-122.
Blagrove, Mark (1992). Dreams as the reflection of our waking concerns and
abilities: A critique of the problem-solving paradigm in dream research.
_Dreaming 2_(4), pp. 205-220.
Delaney, Gayle M. V.(1988). _Living Your Dreams: Using Sleep to Solve
Problems and Enrich Your Life_. Revised Ed. San Francisco: Harper and Row.
--------. (1979). _Living Your Dreams._ San Francisco: Harper &Row.
--------. (1976). A proposed dream experiment: Phase-focusing
dream incubation. _Sundance: Community Dream Journal, 1_(1), 71-83.
Devereux, George (1957). Dream learning and individual ritual differences in
Mohave shamanism. _American Anthropologist, 59_, 1036-1045.
Gregory, Jill. (1988). _Dream Tips_. Novato, Ca: Novato Center for Dreams.
Meier, Carl Alfred (1966/1962). The dream in ancient Greece and its use in
temple cures (incubation). In Von Gruenebaum, G. E.& Caillois, R. (Eds).
(1966). _The Dream and Human Societies_ (Chapter 17, pp. 303-319). Berkeley:
University of California Press. Originally a paper read to the
"International Colloquium on 'Le reve et les societes humaines'" in
Royaumont, France, 1962.
--------. (1967/1949). _Ancient Incubation and Modern Psychotherapy_.
Evanston: Northwestern University Press. (Original German, 1949).
Radin, Paul (1936). Ojibwa and Ottawa puberty dreams. In R. H. Lowie (Ed.),_Essays
in Anthropology_ (pp. 233-264). Berkeley, CA: University of Cal Press.
Reed, Henry (1991). _Dream Solutions: Using your Dreams to Change your Life_.
San Rafael, CA: New World Library. PO Box 1541, Virginia Beach, VA 23451.
--------. (1985). _Getting Help From Your Dreams._ Virginia Beach, VA: Inner
--------. (1976a.). Dream incubation: A reconstruction of a ritual in
contemporary form. _Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 16_(4), 53-70.
Schatzman, Morton (1987). The meaning of dreaming. _New Scientist_, December
--------. (1983a). Solve your problems in your sleep. _New Scientist,
98_(1360) June, 692-693.
--------. (1983b). Sleeping on problems really can solve them. _New
Scientist,_ August 11, 416-417.