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Henry Reed


Dream incubation is the ritual of going to sleep in a sacred place in anticipation of receiving a divinely inspired dream. Incubation rituals have existed in most older cultures, and, having been employed for both guidance and healing, may be one source of the therapeutic arts (6).

The classic example is that of the dream temples of the Greek god, Asklepios. A person with an illness—it may have been organic, psychosomatic, or strictly functional—would go to sleep in the temple, where Asklepios would appear in a visionary dream to perform a symbolic operation, and the person would awaken healed. Alternatively, Asklepios would in the dream diagnose and prescribe treatment, which the therapeutes, the designated temple attendant, would subsequently administer. Numerous testimonies exist concerning the healings and prescriptions which occurred in the dreams of those who incubated in the sanctuaries of Asklepios, and the origin of some therapeutic methods has been attributed to these incubations (7,12, 19).

Closer to home is the practice of incubation among the various tribes of native American Indians. Their use of incubation has not been restricted to healing, and they have attributed significant cultural treasures to dream incubations. Indian dream quests have often been discussed in connection with a rite of passage into adulthood. Among the Ojibwa of the Great Lakes, for example, the young person would go out into the wilderness and prepare a ritual nest, where he or she would remain, fasting, until the anticipated dream was received. In the dream, some representative of the spirit

This article appeared originally in Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 1976, 16 (4), 53-70. Copyright © 1976 Association for Humanistic Psychology. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
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