‘Divine Calling!’ Does such a concept really exist? Mohammed was an illiterate before he heard God talking to him, giving him a task on this earth, a mission to follow through. I will be exploring some more on this topic and finding other referances to similiar stories of humans claiming direct dialogue with God, or a higher being..
The Golden Rule of Dream Work
Before embarking on the adventure of engaging your Dream Oracle, there is one rule that must be heeded: even when attempting to incubate a question for others, ninety-nine percent of the time, the dream is for the dreamer. As simple and obvious as that sounds, too many dreamers assume their dreams of friends or family are urgent messages for those people, rather than messages coded in symbol and intended for self. While eventually you will learn to distinguish a true precognitive dream involving another person, in the beginning the tendency is to mistake typical dream content as information you need to pass on in real life, to those in the dream.
Vaticinium Ex Eventu:
The Fallacy of Prophecy
Vaticinium ex eventu is a famous Latin dictum that when translated into English means prophecy from the event. That is to say a the results of an event (i.e. a battle) are attributed and alluded to a prophecy made previously that at the time of documentation did not have a meaning attributed to it. Throughout history, there have been many prophecies which when looked back upon, seem to accurately describe and predict future events. Often times these prophecies come via dreams and in that case the maxim in somnis veritas, in dreams there is truth, comes into play. For centuries, before the technology and the scientific approach of today was used, prophetic dreams were taken to be truth; vaticinium ex eventu would only further prove the theory. Are these prophetic dreams fate, or simply just mere coincidence. In examining three famous premonitions: Calpurnia’s dream of Julius Caesar’s assassination, Joan of Arc’s vision of being captured and killed by the English, and Abraham Lincoln’s prophetic dream of his own death, two critics, Lucretius and Ethan Allen provide an alternate explanation to the nature of prophecy and dreams. Dreams that seem to be of prophetic nature are in fact interpreted in such a way that vaticunium ex eventu is the cause or influences from waking life are found in the dreams, and therefore in sonis veritas plays a role.
In the article “Lucretius on the Gates of Horn and Ivory: A Philosophical Challenge to Prophecy on Dreams”, the author Mark Holowchak examines Lucretius’s stance on prophetic dreams and elaborates on them. Holowchak states that Lucretius’s main theory is that “…dreams, like mirrors, reflect our waking personality” (Holowchak). He goes further to state that “…dreams have no divine character and are not at all prophetic…they originate from the influx of certain images” (Holowchak). Lucretius establishes first off that dreams are the result of images and experiences from out waking lives. The content of our dreams is neither unique nor divine. Continuing with this thought, Holowchak writes, “…he [Lucretius] notes that we tend to dream about our daily deeds and thoughts. Barristers dream of law. Generals dream of fighting battles. Sailors dream of waging war with the wind” (Holowchak). Advancing Lucretius’s point he states that, “The reservoir of images from which dreams would certainly contain a predominance of images related to a dreamer’s daily thoughts and experiences” (Holowchak). Dreams are a random images and thoughts influenced by one’s daily waking life. Because “Generals dream if fighting battles”, it is therefore no surprise that they might dream of a victory against a foe. It is not prophecy but mere coincidence combined with previously conceived thoughts and influences from daily life that in the dream the general foresaw prophecy and it happened to come true. Therefore, prophecies are simply just coincidences based off of experiences, pre-conceived thoughts and ideas, and images from waking life, and are not visions of the future.
Likewise in chapter seven of Ethan Allen’s book Oracles of Reason, Allen states his opening argument on the nature of prophecy by saying
Prophecy is by some thought to be miraculous, and by others to be supernatural and there are others who indulge themselves in an opinion, that they amount to no more than mere political conjectures. Some nations have feigned an intercourse with good spirits by the act of magic; and most nations have pretended to an intercourse with the world of spirits both ways (Allen, 51)
Here, Allen suggests the idea of prophecy is of a supernatural nature or if that not be the case, that the idea of prophecy and prophecies in general are a political tool used to advance a particular agenda. He furthers his opening argument by saying that “…prophecy, as well as all other sort of precognition must be supernaturally inspired, or it could be no more than judging of future events from mere probability or guess-work” (Allen, 52). Allen argues that one could “have a prophetic dream” about tomorrow’s weather conditions and be able to predict them. However, if one is already proficient in field of meteorology, than it was not so much as prophetic as it was good guesswork. Additionally, Allen states
…provided some of the prophecies should point out some particular events, which have since taken place, there might have been previous grounds of probability, that such or such events would in the ordinary cause of things come to pass…” (Allen, 55)
Similarly to the previous argument, Allen argues that prophetic dreams are not premonitions if there are “…previous grounds of probability…” that events predicted would be likely to happen. He sights an example from the bible to help support his argument. Allen provides the example by saying, “…it is in no ways extraordinary that the prophet Jeremiah should be able to predict that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, should take Jerusalem when we consider the power of the Babylonish [sic] Empire” (Allen, 55). Parallel to how it was considerably easy to come to the conclusion that Babylon was going to take over Jerusalem ante facto, many prophecies “are dreamt” according to the same fashion.
In conclusion, both Lucretius and Ethan Allen both argue the invalidity of prophecies. Lucretius argues that dreams are reflective of waking life, and therefore if you’re waking life gives you reason to believe an event will come to pass, it could arrive in your dream. In that case, the dream would be recognized as “prophecy”. Likewise, Ethan Allen argues that prophecies could and tend to be more of an “educated hypothesis” nature, rather than divine intervention, as is the case with Jeremiah and the Babylonian invasion.
In applying these two theories to historical accounts, the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE is one of the most famous. According to historical sources, including the famous historian Plutarch as well as many others, the day before Caesar’s assassination, Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife, had a prophetic dream that predicted Caesar’s death. The account goes as follows
…the night of 14 March [44 BCE] Calpurnia suffered a nightmare in which she is variously claimed to have seen either the pediment of the house collapsing or that she was holding his [Julius Caesar] murdered body in her arms. Then the morning sacrifices on the 15th were repeated several times, but the omens were always unfavorable. Caesar is suppose to have been surprised because his wife was nor normally given to superstition… (Goldsworthy, 507)
According to the source by Plutarch, Calpurnia had terrible nightmares and when she recounted them to her husband they all mentioned his murder. As one can see, multiple sources confirm Calpurnia’s premonition regarding Caesar’s assassination. To the untrained eye, it would seem that Calpurnia’s dream was in fact prophetic, for the next day, Caesar was found on the senate floor with “…twenty-three [stab] wounds to his body” (Goldsworthy, 508). However, upon closer examination of the context of Rome in March of 44 BCE, the word “prophecy” and “premonition” might be unfound.
At this time in Rome, it was not unknown that Caesar was not popular among all citizens. In fact, “there is little reason to doubt that in the weeks before his death the atmosphere of Rome was somber in the extreme” (Bradford, 286) and furthermore, “…small groups of men were known to be meeting behind closed doors in private houses, and the air was full of rumors” (Bradford, 286). With these ideas in mind, it is not so unusual that Calpurnia dreamed of her husband’s death. According to Lucretius, experiences in Calpurnia’s waking life i.e. rumors of an assassination plot would have lead her to her premonition in her dream. Similarly, according to Ethan Allen, Calpurnia’s dream of a collapsing house, if we take it in the more symbolic approach, could be hypothesized to have meant Caesar’s death, especially if educated guesswork was involved due to the political environment at the time. In that case vaticinium ex eventu would be an appropriate conclusion. As one can see, Calpurnia’s dream, although accurately predicted Caesar’s death, is most likely the result of influences from waking life and other factors that would lead her to draw the conclusion and have a “prediction” when in fact it is merely coincidence.
Another example of a prophetic dream is that of Joan of Arc. During the latter part of the Hundred Years War between England and France, France was in desperate need of a hero, or in this case a heroine. Driven by her visions and prophetic dreams of saints and other Christian figures, Joan of Arc went from an unknown farmer’s daughter to the general of the French armies. Joan of Arc died on the 30th of May 1431 sentenced to burning at the stake. Before her trail and execution by the English, Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians and later sold to the English.
In a prophetic dream Joan had in March of 1429, she foresaw her own capture and death by the hands of the English. Recounting her dream as well as her interpretation to her king Charles VII, Joan of Arc tell him, “ ‘I shall last a year, and but little longer. We must think to do good work in that year.’ Later, she elaborated by saying that she would be captured by mid-summer day…” (Sullivan, 152). Only fourteen months later, as predicted, Joan was captured by Burgundian soldiers. During that year, she was sold to the English and put on trial, the affirmative argued that “
the accused [Joan of Arc] had performed, composed, participated in, and enacted numerous sorceries and superstitions not only this year but from childhood…she prophesized the future… (Hobbins, 125)
On one hand, it would seem that Joan’s dream was indeed prophecy especially considering that throughout her life Joan of Arc claimed to have visions and prophecies. Additonally, “During the late Middle –Ages, when Joan of Arc claimed to have voices speak to her, women visionaries were increasingly prominent…” (Sullivan, 21). However, in view of Lucretius and Ethan Allen’s critiques of prophetic dreams, perhaps it was mere coincidence. Like the context surrounding Julius Caesar and the political and social atmosphere engulfing the city of Rome in 44 BCE, France during the Hundred Years War was also in an unstable setting. Due to this atmosphere, it would not be unusual for people to dream of their own demise in some fashion, particularly those of high rank and of great importance, like Joan of Arc. Furthermore, it was not a hidden truth that the English and the Burgundians despised Joan of Arc, as she was the one who had turned the war around. Therefore, because of this knowledge and experiences in Joan of Arc’s waking life, it is not surprising that she had a dream of her capture and death and moreover that she could have easily hypothesized such events. In conclusion, when taking in account the events surrounding Joan of Arc’s waking life, it is clear that it was influential in her having a dream where she prophesized her death and therefore the fact that she was captured and killed post facto is a coincidence.
A final example of prophetic dreams as mere coincidence is the story of Abraham Lincoln prediction. According to a source, “Lincoln accurately forecasted his own death only a few days prior to his actual assassination on Good Friday, 14 April 1865” (Brennan, 51). In his dream, Lincoln recounts that
…he heard sobs…I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight…where were all the people who were grieving…I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered…[there] rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments… ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded… ‘The President…he was killed by an assassin!’… (Brennan, 52)
It is clear, similar from the other two dreams of Calpurnia and Joan of Arc , that the message behind the dream is the ultimate death of Lincoln .Three days after he prophesized his death in a dream, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilks Boothe on April 14th 1865.
In examining the context of Lincoln’s life and the atmosphere of 1865, it seems quite plausible that the environment and waking life influenced this dream. First off, Marcia Brennan in her article “Tragic Dreams and Spectral Doubles: The Metaphysical Lincoln”, Brennan states that
viewed aethetically, Lincoln’s apparitional visions can be seen as expressions of memento mori, or remainders of death as projected through the prism of an overarching fatalism (Brennan, 52)
From this, one can see that Lincoln had a taste for works of a dark nature. Taking that into account combined with the background knowledge of the era, the Civil War, where there undoubtedly countless threats from Southerns against Linocln, it is not surprising in the least that Lincoln dreamed of his assassination. As Lucretius would say, influences from waking life attributed to Lincoln dreaming his assassination. In conjunction with Ethan Allen’s view that hypothesized guesses and the situation that Lincoln found himself in (i.e. enemy of the South, subject of distaste by the South, etc.), it is clear that Lincoln’s premonition is chance and not fate.
In conclusion, although prophetic dreams seem to foretell future events, and as the past three examples have shown, accurately predict the future, there are other forces at work. Two philosophers, Lucretius and Ethan Allen, both have presented alternate views to prophetic dreams, other than the obvious prophetic dreams predict the future. Waking life experiences, combined with other factors such as educated guesses and understanding the context of the socio-political environment, directly influence dreams. Perhaps therefore, dreams are not fate but just mere influxes of images which in a strange occurrence of events are manifested in a vision that seems to be of the future.
Allen, Ethan. “Chapter VII.” Reason. the only oracle of man; or, a compendious System of natural religion, by Col. Ethan Allen; to which is added, Critical remarks on the truth and harmony of the four gospels, with observations on the instruction given by Jesus Christ, and the doctrines of Christianity, by a Free Thinker. 51-68. New York, NY US: G W & A J Matsell, 1836. PsycINFO. EBSCO. Web. 28 Apr. 2011.
Bradford, Ernle. Julius Caesar: the Pursuit of Power. New York: Morrow, 1984. Print.
Brennan, Marcia. “Tragic Dreams and Spectral Doubles: The Metaphysical Lincoln,” PN Review 188 (Manchester, UK: Carcanet Press, 2009), pp. 49-53.
Goldsworthy, Adrian Keith. Caesar: Life of a Colossus. New Haven: Yale UP, 2006. Print.
Hobbins, Daniel. The Trial of Joan of Arc. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2005. Print.
Holowchak, Mark. “Lucretius on the Gates of Horn and Ivory: A Psychophysical Challenge to Prophecy by Dreams.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 42.4 (2004): 355-68. Web. 14 Apr. 2011.
Sullivan, Karen. The Interrogation of Joan of Arc. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1999. Print.