Lucid dreaming has actually been around for a very long time, but it’s only very recently that we in the western world are learning more about it as it reaches a wider audience through the internet. Let’s explore the history of lucid dreaming..
What is lucid dreaming?
To put it simply, lucid dreaming is the experience when a person becomes aware that they are dreaming during the REM stage of their sleep cycle. This means you can control your dreams and decide what to dream about.
How is it possible?
Usually, when you go to sleep, your brain slowly shuts off and you’re no longer aware of what’s going on around you. When you begin dreaming you’re also not really aware what is going on, you just feel like you’re watching yourself do some actions. However, with some training and practice, it’s possible to train the part of your mind that is responsible for being aware of yourself while you’re dreaming.
This means that you can explore any part that you want in your dream world, which includes controlling it and doing anything you can imagine. There is no limit, so you can easily fly, meet someone famous, practice doing something important, or something just completely ridiculous such as talking to a centaur about reproduction.
When was lucid dreaming scientifically proven?
The scientific community only recognized it in 1978, but the actual recorded history of lucid dreaming dates back thousands of years, even as far as the Old Stone Age. But the first verified documentation dates back several thousand years.
Lucid dreaming was first noted to be described by Aristotle himself in 350BC. He wrote about it in his treatise On Dreams, saying that “when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which tells us that which presents itself is but a dream.”
Several centuries later, there is another record of lucid dreaming by the famous theologian and philosopher form North Africa, Saint Augustine. He wrote a story about a dreamer, named Doctor Gratiae, in which he refers to lucid dreaming.
Meanwhile, in the East, the Tibetan Buddhists widely believed that a person could be aware that they are dreaming while practicing dream Yoga, along with the ancient Indian Hindu practice of Yoga nidra. These practices had been used for over 12 000 years. It is believed that lucid dreaming was a common practice among the early Buddhists.
The history of lucid dreaming
Back to The Dark Ages
Unfortunately, with the rise of Imperial Rome and Christianity, lucid dreaming became suppressed by the religious atmosphere. There was a strong suspicion about witchcraft and dreaming during this time, and various theologians believed that some dreams could access a bigger truth.
Later came Thomas Aquinas, an Italian theologian and philosopher. He was very strict in his beliefs and wanted to reduce Christianity into the worldview that Aristotle had. This was a worldview that had no room for any direct spiritual encounters, so he claimed that dreams and visions came from demons.
After his warnings, the entirety of the Christian world started doubting dreams and visions, and this is probably the reason why the Western world still ignores dreams. During this time, lucid dreaming went completely underground until the era of enlightenment.
During the renaissance, lucid dreaming resurfaced when many people decided to stop believing the old superstitions about it and started to look inward. It was Thomas Reid along with Pierre Gassendi who both talked about being aware that they had been dreaming.
Sir Thomas Browne, another philosopher was also fascinated with dreaming and even went as far as describing his own abilities in his Religio Medici writing “…yet in one dream I can compose a whole Comedy, behold the action, apprehend the jests and laugh my self awake at the conceits thereof”.
Next, it was also Rene Descartes, who wrote extensively about his dreams. He even kept a private journal where he recorded many instances of his dreams. However, Descartes kept all of his records of dreaming secret throughout his entire life, because of the social pressure of the Church along with the scientific circles.
Modern time lucid dreaming
Lucid dreaming was identified in the Western world much later. This was done by Marquis d’Hervey de Saint-Denys. He is the father of lucid dreaming and first coined the term in his book Dreams and the Ways to Direct Them: Practical Observations. He started recording most of his dreams from the age of 13 and in this book, he often talked about dreams where the “dreamer is perfectly aware he is dreaming”.
Next, in a later study from 1913, the Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden talked about lucid dreaming again. In his A Study of Dreams he wrote, “The seventh type of dreams, which I call lucid dreams, seems to me the most interesting and worthy of the most careful observation and study. Of this type I experienced and wrote down 352 cases in the period between January 20, 1898, and December 26, 1912.”
In the 1960s, lucid dreaming was scientifically classified by Celia Green. She also made the first connection between REM sleep and false awakenings.
Fifteen years later, in 1975 lucid dreaming was finally scientifically proven in a laboratory. Psychologist Keith Hearne managed to record an instance with Alan Worsley, a lucid dreamer, at the University of Hull in England. Unfortunately, this research didn’t reach the mainstream science journals.
So, it was Stephen LaBerge who first published data about lucid dreaming in 1978 and wrote about it in his book, Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming. To this day, he is still the leading force in the research of lucid dreaming.
What’s the future of lucid dreaming?
Who knows. There certainly seem to be a lot of new lucid dreaming devices and masks coming onto the market, along with various supplements and lucid dreaming aids. This is encouraging as it means there’s a market for it and people are INTERESTED in lucid dreaming, at least a little bit.
This can only grow into the future and get better. Lucid dreaming has the potential to change the world, but it will only happen if people like you read blog posts, share them, and spread the word as much as you can.