The Mesopotamian documentations date back to 3100BC; some consider them to be the very first to document dreams. The epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient Mesopotamian script dating back to 7th century BCE which contains Gilgamesh’s recollection of numerous dreams and their corresponding interpretations (Hall, 1992). However, the interpretations are not what makes the epic important to dream analysis. There are three ways in which the dreams of Gilgamesh reflect the ideas of modern dream interpretation (Hall, 1992):
(1) Gilgamesh’s descriptions are not distinguished statements, but they do use symbolic and metaphorical language.
(2) Descriptions of dreams in a series imply differentiated metaphorical expressions of the same underlying meaning.
(3) The dreams refer to the personal individuation of the dreamer.
These commonalities to contemporary dream analysis mark the shift from religious precedence in dream interpretation to a more realistic view of the components affecting a dream. Instead of simply assuming that dreams were messages from the gods, some Mesopotamians (as seen in the characteristics of Gilgamesh’s dream descriptions) began to consider personal factors such as age, gender, health, and past experiences when interpreting the meaning of dreams (Hall, 1992; Hoffman, 2004).
Demuzi of Uruk, the Mesopotamian king preceding Gilgamesh, provided the first recorded dream text in history. As with many dreams recorded by a prominent figure within the ancient societies, Demuzi’s dream involves goddesses Inanna and Ereshkigal, Queen of Heaven and Queen of the Underworld respectively (Hoffman, 2004). The king’s account was interpreted and used to predict the future success, as well as shortcomings, in store for his people. But Demuzi was not the only ruler under pressure.
During the 3rd millennium B.C.E., the dreams of Mesopotamia’s rulers were taken very seriously and seen as something that needed to be acted upon (Hoffman, 2004). Therefore, it is no surprise that the dreams of these rulers involved deities; the presence of gods and goddesses within a dream imply an ethereal presence and a sense of security. If the people of an ancient civilization used the interpretations of their leader’s dreams as a guidebook for their lives, then such a presence was ideal.
Interestingly, some of the techniques used by ancient Mesopotamian dream interpreters are still in use today. Analogy, free association, and inversion were all methods employed by Mesopotamian dream readers as a means to “solve” the puzzle of a dream’s meaning (Hoffman, 2004). Individual qualities, such as a person’s health and recent events in their life, were also enlisted in order to help Mesopotamian dream interpreters to better understand the complete nature of a dream. Ultimately, the dream analysis mechanisms used by the ancient Mesopotamians vastly impacted the culture of their time. This is due largely in part to the importance of the Mesopotamian king’s dreams and their connection to the heavens. Mesopotamian dream interpretation methods can also be seen in the interpretation of ancient Egyptian dreams (Coolidge, 2006).