BLTC Press Titles

available for Kindle at

Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh


by Mary Hamilton


St. Andrews

September 1906


Incubation in Pagan Temples

I, Introduction

In the ancient science of divination, four working methods were commonly practised. Kevelations of the future were deduced from natural portents, from the flight of birds, from entrails of sacrificial victims, or from dreams. It was the fourth way that had, for obvious reasons, the greatest vogue. Belief in the significance of dreams has always been widespread, and the supernatural authority attached to them by the ancients needs no demonstration. From Pharaoh's dream downwards there are recorded many illustrations of the importance with which they were regarded not only by the ignorant and superstitious, but by philosophical thinkers. The philosophy of dreams, as they were regarded in the fourth century B.C., was held to be that in sleep the soul was freed from the body so that it could soar into spiritual regions, and commune with divine beings. Accordingly, memories of what had passed in sleep were to be cherished as divine revelations granted to the soul.

The science of oneiromancy was the subject of much study. Artemidoros of Ephesus has five books of Oneirocritica, where he attempts some explications and relates many instances of dreams. Dreams are divided by him into five classes, of which the fifth is the most important for divination. That is the class of chrematismoi or oracles. The division given by Artemidoros is found again in Macrobius, Somnium Scipionis (i. 3), where the following definition of an oracle is given :—" It is a case of an oracle when, during sleep, a relative, or other sacred or authoritative person, or a priest, or even a god, declares openly what is going to happen, or not to happen, or what must be done or avoided." Two other kinds of dreams worthy of interpretation are given—the vision, and the somnium or dream proper. In the vision, a person sees what is going to happen in exactly the way in which it will take place, and the somnium is a dream so complicated and obscured by figures that it cannot be understood without interpretation.

Incubation was the method by which men sought to entice such dreams. Visions, in which a revelation regarding the future was given by a god or a divine messenger, would be precious and greatly to be desired by those who believed in their infallibility. Naturally people would seek for divine guidance in distress and difficulty, and out of their efforts to obtain it arose the practice of incubation. Suppliants approached the god by sacrifices and performance of rites best calculated to win his favour, and then in the place most likely to be visited by the deity, either the temple, or the appointed sleeping-hall, lay down to sleep awaiting a divine visitation.

The gods in whose temples incubation was practised were chthonian deities, heroes who had gone down i into the earth and were invested with her powers. >) Two of the chief faculties of the earth were the power \

\ of sending dreams, and the gift of healing. As a giver of dreams she is apostrophised in the Hecuba of Euripides (1. 70) :—" O Lady Earth, sender of blackwinged dreams." The healing powers of the earth were expressed in the production of herbs that gave life or death, and were transmitted to the chthonian gods who had entered into her.

The combination of these two faculties brought it to pass that the temples of these deities were the centres of medical divination, obtained through incubation. Illness was the most frequent motive for consultation ; hence the primary aspect of incubation is medical. But the gods were not consulted solely on account of disease. In any case of difficulty or distress incubation might be tried. Pausanias (iii. 26. 1) relates how the Spartan Ephors during state crises were in the habit of consulting the incubation-oracle of Ino-Pasiphaai at Thalamai. Other instances of non-medical consultation are recorded in the Orations of Aristides and elsewhere. The object of the practice was to meet with the deity in sleep, ask questions, and receive answers. The suppliant was not always successful. It might be that no visitation came to him, the dream might be unintelligible, or he might fail to interpret it correctly. Artemidoros, in Oneirocritica (iv. 22), gives his views of the instructions sent by gods who have been invoked through incubation. The paragraph is entitled " Concerning Prescriptions."

... from the RetroRead library, using Google Book Search, and download any of the books already converted to Kindle format.

Browse the 100 most recent additions to the RetroRead library

Browse the library alphabetically by title

Make books:

Login or register to convert Google epubs to Kindle ebooks



Lost your password?

Not a member yet? Register here, and convert any Google epub you wish

Powerd by Calibre powered by calibre