We live in two worlds, the waking world with it's laws of science, logic, and social behavior, and the elusive world of dreaming, still shrouded in a mystery behind the veil of sleep. In the dream world, fantastic happenings, images, and transformations are normal currency. Often such dream experiences are suffused with a depth of emotion or visionary insight that can surpass waking experience.
Historically, most of the world's cultures have believed that dreams come from an outside sources, as visitations from the gods. The Egyptians believed that dreams carried messages from good and bad spirits and even the Greeks built special shrines to serve as dream oracles. In fact, as late as the last century, people have interpreted the horrifying apparitions in nightmares as demons intent on seducing the innocent (Fontana 22). The identification of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep in 1953 brought technology to bear on dream research, in order to explore the physiology of dreaming and the relationship between dreams and sleep.
All through history we have sought to fathom the meanings of our dreams and every culture has it's theories about dreams. The most ancient civilizations believed that dreams carried messages from the gods. The Epic of Gilgamesh, the great tale of a Mesopotamian hero-king written in the Akkadian language during the first millennium BC, is full of dream accounts, many replete with divine omens of danger or victory; in one a nightmare creature leads the hero Enkidu to the "Land of Dust" where the souls of the dead live in perpetual darkness (Fontana).
Ancient Jewish tradition anticipated modern dream theory by recognizing that the life-circumstances of the dreamer are as important in interpretation as the dream content itself. The Babylonians revered the Jews as dream interpreters, and in the sixth century BC they summoned the Israelite prophet Daniel to interpret one of King Nebuchadnezzar's dreams, whereupon he correctly predicted the king's imminent seven years of madness (Daniel 4: 535).