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What is in a Dream?

When in your night sleep you see yourself getting kicked out from a promising job, that is a normal type of dream. But when your wife comes to know about it, that is a nightmare. And you wake up screaming only to find out that you have still to go to that darn office in the morning.

In our culture dreams are taken seriously. So much so that we have special people who interpret dreams for free, most of the time with great inaccuracy.


“What time was it when you had this dream?” asks the old lady next door. She was a certified dream interpreter in the tradition of Joseph of the Old Testament.

“After four in the morning,” comes a reply.

“Well, that’s not a dream, that’s hallucination,” she warns. “Real dreams go from midnight until two.”

The old lady classifies as a real dream only that which goes on in the mind a few hours after one falls asleep. Sometimes a badly cooked dinner could be the cause of a nightmare comparable to the vision of St. John in the island of Patmos. The menu consists of headless horsemen, flying snakes, locust-headed dragons, etc.

Once I told my old neighbor that my dream which transpired before four o’clock in the morning was about my brother getting married.

‘Spit it out! In the name of God, the Son and the Hold Ghost, that’s death in the family!’ she shouted.

She was wrong. My brother is still alive and very well, though not married. My subconscious and the old lady were wrong!

I have seen relatives taking the early bus to far off villages because they dreamt that a grandfather or an uncle was not in good shape.

“He said Good Bye to me in a dream….He smiled at me….I saw him wearing a white gown on his way to the pearly gates…”

Do poor men have nightmares? Isn’t their life much of a nightmare as it is? My view is that the wretched of the earth have dreams when they are sleeping and it is only when they wake up that they have night-mares. This also includes the manic depressive and addicts of all types and categories.

There is a belief which says that when a person dreams, his soul travels inside himself. Remember that a person is a universe in miniature. So everyone who dreams is having a space odyssey within himself. Now that is interesting.

But more interesting is the discovery that dreams are the real world enacted in symbols. If you know how to decode the symbols, you can interpret your dream very accurately. If only there was some sort of a machine to do that for us humans who are obsessed with finding answers for everything.

According to our tradition, what takes place in the dream world turns out to be the opposite in the real world. Marriages become death. Laughter is crying. Riches mean destitution, etc.

One night, I dreamt of digging a grave meant for a friend of mine. I woke up horrified. Then I remembered that according to laws from the dream world, quite the opposite would take place in real life. Well, nothing of importance happened to my friend or to me.

But some nightmares can reach a point where they need medical intervention. I remember when I was young a little boy waking up the neighborhood every night with his shrieks and screams. From what I heard later, a spider would crawl over his body and sometimes it would get into his open mouth. The family sent for a debtera (an Eritrean version of a witchdoctor), who, after due diagnosis that consisted of talking with the parents and sharing their dinner for a few days, prescribed Ma’re Kumet (a long scroll of parchment and some cryptic inscriptions). This was to hang on his bed all the time and was supposed to protect him from incubus or some inconsiderate and senseless spirits.

The debtera would from time to time sprinkle mai d’gamet (Holy water) on the child and repeat some chanting words by wagging his crucifix.

If all fails, then the patient is taken to mai tselot (Holy spa) where he is tied with a long rope and is dipped into cold stream as if he were a living Lipton tea bag. Five or six dips per day for seven days might do him good.

I o n c e got hold of such a scroll and tried to read the contents in vein. They were in Ge’ez. Luckily, I found an old man who read the script for me. The usual abracadabra was, of course, there, accompanied by strange drawings and occult numerology. The script was twisted in such a way that you would be tempted to call them satanic verses.

The idea seems to prove old and mystic motion. If you can talk to God by quoting from the Bible as it is, then you can also talk to the Devil by quoting from the same Bible but by writing the words backwards. That is the only way to stay on-line with Lucifer, Diablos or Ganen.

About fifty years ago, there was a boarding school in the northern section of Asmara known as Geza Kenisha. Twenty to Thirty souls slept in a dark and small room. The boarding school belonged to the Swedish Evangelical Church and naturally the boarders had prayed before going to bed. As might be expected, in such a confined space, emission of carbon dioxide would be high, reducing the percentage of oxygen for normal breathing. Concentrated carbon dioxide played on the poor students’ lungs and they all fell victims to Satan who pushed them back whenever they tried to wake up to ward off the evil spirit through prayer.

Finally, one succeeded to wake up and he ran and after reaching the church rang the bell. One by one, the remaining possessed souls got up from their respective beds and marched towards the church in silence, perchance to pray and entreat the Savior to help them vanquish the father of iniquity. That is how sometimes the spirit moves people to witness for the lord. In this case, the spirit was none else than the humble carbon dioxide.

Dream becomes a problem when the dreamer is a king or a tyrant. A small error in interpretation and hell begins to roll.

When old Pharaoh dreamt about the cows and ears of corn, it was Joseph who saved the day. This reminds me of a story a certain peasant who had the unfortunate fate of dreaming an ungodly dream. The poor man lived during a powerful Abyssinian king a long time ago. One day, the poor peasant dreamt of the king’s defeat in battle. Naturally, he talked and the news reached the ear of the furious king who ordered that the dreamer be arrested and appear before him:

“I don’t like your dream, and I would have killed you for that, but I let you go free on the condition that you never dream of such stupid things again,” the king warned the trembling peasant.

“Your Majesty,” promised the dreamer, “Let alone to dream, I will be damned if I ever go to sleep again!” And he left the court in haste.

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