Posted By: Maria Cernuto
Theophany is a term derived from Greek meaning, “a visible manifestation of a deity;” many cultures and religions have documented dreams in which they believed they had actual visitations from divine beings: angels, gods/goddesses, spiritual guides, animal spirits, etc. Many modern scholars propose that divine visitation dreams are an aspect of the dreamer’s higher self. In light of my own theophanic-dream experiences, I am convinced these may be more than mere encounters with my higher self, although I also hold the opinion that my higher self is an aspect of the Divine.
In Hinduism, it is believed that certain individuals have spiritually developed to the point where they can lead others to liberation (moksha), or give them access to spiritual states either in life or after death. These teachers are believed to have special abilities, such as the power to give darshan (a transfer of blessings or spiritual power). In addition, some gurus (spiritual teachers) are said to be able to enter a disciple’s dreams to impart teachings or confer initiation; and the many Hindu gods and goddesses are said to make frequent dream visitations to their devotees as well, and these are believed to be actual encounters with their deity or guru not a meeting with their own higher self.
Tibetan Guru Rinpoche, also known as Guru Padmasambhava (Sanskrit meaning, ‘Lotus-born Teacher and Master’), whose birth is based on the recorded words of Lord Buddha who prophesied that Guru Rinpoche would be the Second Buddha of our times, and he would be miraculously born on the bud of a lotus flower and not from the womb of a human mother. It is said that his arrival was heralded in a dream:
[King Indrabodhi]… had dreamed that he was asleep on a bed that was set in a huge pavilion that was open on all sides and that was filled with streaming light. He dreamed that the Enlightened Beings of all times appeared in the sky and held council on sending a mutual emanation into the world. They manifested in the form of a 5-spoked vajra [mystical weapon]. He felt extremely happy while envisioning light radiating from the vajra’s center and entering his heart. When he woke up the next morning and remembered his dream, he was certain that all his worries would end soon. He didn’t tell anybody about his dream, though. He knew that it was auspicious, but didn’t know what to really make of it. All doubts he had about the meaning of his dream vanished and he knew what he would do the moment he saw what appeared to be an eight-year-old boy seated on the lotus flower. (Guru Rinpoche – A Short Introduction to His Life & Activities; a presentation by Chöje Lama Namse Rinpoche 2007)
The early Mesopotamians regarded dreams as both premonitions of the future, and personal communication from the gods and goddesses. In the Gilgamesh epic divine visitation dreams foreshadow the actual fate of Enkidu:
Enkidu awakens from a chilling nightmare. In the dream, the gods were angry with him and Gilgamesh and met to decide their fate. Great Anu, Ishtar’s father and the god of the firmament, decreed that they must punish someone for killing Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven and for felling the tallest cedar tree. Only one of the companions, however, must die. Enlil, Humbaba’s master and the god of earth, wind, and air, said that Enkidu should be the one to die. Shamash, the sun god, defended Enkidu. He said that Enkidu and Gilgamesh were only doing what he told them to do when they went to the Cedar Forest. Enlil became angry that Shamash took their side and accused Shamash of being their comrade, not a god.
The early Hebrews believed that Adam was visited in the Garden of Eden at night while he was asleep and dreaming by his first wife, Lilith, who was once consider a goddess by the Babylonians whose myths predated Judaism. The Hebrews believed Lilith visited the sleeping Adam in the form of a succubus (female demon) who coupled with him and beget a legion of demon offspring from his nocturnal emissions. The Old Testament contains many theophanic-dreams; below are a couple of excerpts from Genesis alone:
Jacob … came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the night had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and laid down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reached to Heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac …” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said surely the Lord is in this place — and I did not know it! And he was afraid and said “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the House of God, and this is the gate of Heaven.” … He called that place “Bethel.” (Gen 28:11-19)
And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, ‘Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad’. (Genesis 31:24)
The Islamic prophet, Muhammad, said: “Whoever sees me [in a dream] then he indeed has seen the truth.” It is written that Muhammad had dreams he felt must be from God. In the Western world we find divine dreams too. In Europe, Thomas Aquinas, an Italian priest who was later sainted by the Catholic Church, said two angels visited him in a dream while he was sleeping, to give him the extra strength he needed to remain celibate.
In North America the main path of initiation for Native American shamans is through dreams where they are often visited by animal spirits and other divine beings, which act as harbingers for their medicine powers; however they do not make rigid distinctions between sleeping dreams and waking visions. The Lakota people believed Great Spirit sent messages through dreams and would even commune with the dreamer in the dream itself. Famous Lakota holy man and tribal chief, Sitting Bull, attributed several prophetic dreams he had regarding the coming of the “white man,” which preceded the U.S. Army’s arrival, to being sent by the Great Spirit.
In my own theophanic-dream I am erecting an altar to a Hindu goddess named Durga; at that time I did not know much about this goddess other than she was depicted riding either a lion or tiger, and that she had to do with protection. In the dream I place a statue of her on the altar, it grows over 7 feet tall and becomes animated, Durga then instructs me in the proper way to worship her. One of the things she tells me is that I must place “honey” or “sugar water” on her altar, and then she corrects my pronunciation of her name. Upon waking I began to research this goddess and discovered Hindu people do, in fact, place honey or sugar upon altars that are sacred to Her. I listened to an mp3 file recorded by a Sanskrit speaker where her name was pronounced exactly as she had articulated in my dream, which was different from the way I had been pronouncing it. This waking life synchronicity doesn’t seem to support the idea that this goddess represents a mere aspect of my higher self. In my dream Durga tells me she will help me, and she has! Her assistance came through an external source, not from my own actions, which further supports the viewpoint of dream theophany.
Another visitation dream I had involved me being pursued as a healer and a medium by a male figure who kept repeating messages about me helping: “Why do you keep running from your gifts,” “We could use your help here, a lot of people need healing,” and “you are not using your gifts, they will go dormant if you don’t start helping.” In the dream I see this male turn up in different locations making those “helping” statements, and in one appearance he is submerging a person in an aboveground pool of water, akin to the Christian baptism, only he does this in order to heal people; I am drawn to the scene, rubbing my head as a horrible migraine intensifies. It felt as if my head would explode! I see someone with a gunshot wound to the eye/head waiting on this long line leading to the pool to be healed. The man healing/submerging the person in the pool is looking intensely into my eyes and telepathically reminds me again, “people need healing.” At our final meeting place I find him in a penthouse dressed in a fine suit with horns, which have suddenly sprouted from his forehead:
I exclaim, “Satan?! He says, “Yes.” I say both shocked and confused, “But you were healing people.” He shook his head disappointingly and said, “I’m so misunderstood.” He then goes on to say, “You’re not using your gifts! People need you and you’re not helping – your gifts will go dormant if you don’t start helping.”
This may sound like blasphemy to some, but I saw this legendary character in a new light; I had compassion for him in his role in the divine plan as fallen angel. Four days after this dream my longtime friend’s wife had an aneurysm, they drilled holes in her head to relieve the swelling (my dream seemed to reflect this, i.e. migraine and gunshot wound to the eye/head), and then she fell into a coma, and eventually died. I was summoned for my help as a healer, in the roles of both medium and spiritual counselor.
In another dream I see a lifelike painting of a goddess and a demon illustrated head to head – they are dreaming one another – the image had life and movement, it was not just a lifeless canvas with paint. The artist explains her work:
She tells me it’s a Tibetan Goddess named Ma-la [phonetic pronunciation] and a Tibetan demon. I question the Goddess’ name saying, “You mean like the Hindu prayer beads, mala?” She answers, “No, a Tibetan Goddess named Ma-la.” She went on explaining that they were dreaming one another. I asked what she meant by that, and she replied, “Well, just as you are a good person who sometimes has nightmares the demon is the Goddess’ nightmare; and just as she is capable of having horrible nightmares, the demon is able to dream of great beauty.” She elucidated how we are all part of a Higher Being’s dream and all the suffering in the world was its nightmare, and the beauty its sweet dream. She said, “One day the Great Being will wake up.” I wondered, what then would become of us. Then I woke up.
When I awoke I felt as if I were a lesser being dreaming my very own microcosmic world into existence, and at the same time I was being dreamed by a Higher Being who dreamed the macrocosmic world into existence; even the dream-artist was a creator of a Creator, which seemed to reiterate this concept. This dream had a profound effect upon my spiritual growth; and my perspective on good vs. bad, dark vs. light – on the very nature of duality itself. Mythologist, Joseph Campbell, sums up my view on theophanic-dreams in his lecture regarding the Sanskrit mantra, AUM:
Dreams are self-luminous; they shine of themselves as gods do. Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths. By finding your own dream and following it through it will lead you to the myth world in which you live, but just as in dream the subject and the object, though they seem to be separate, are really the same. So also, you and your god, you seem to be separate, but you’re really the same. […] The passages from dream to vision to the gods, and they are you; all the gods – this is an Indian word I’m speaking about – all the gods, all the hells, all the heavens are within you. (The Vitality of Myth, a lecture)