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Workshop: "Economies of the Sacred: Dreams, Oracles and Sacred Sites in Asia and Europe"


The abstracts below are listed in alphabetical order of the surname.

Dr Anna Andreeva (Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”, Heidelberg)


Dreamscapes at Mt Asama: Buddhist monks, local deities, and constructing the future of sacred sites in premodern Japan

Since early times, Mt Asama near Ise in Mie prefecture was a site of practice for mountain ascetics. During the medieval period (1185-1573), it also became a site for esoteric Buddhist practitioners who wished to obtain the art of perfect memory by worshipping stars, and were also involved in pilgrimages to the Grand Shrines of Ise, an ancient cultic site dedicated to the worship of the deity, Amaterasu, the divine progenitor of Japan’s imperial family.
A series of ritual texts produced and recorded by the esoteric Buddhist monks and mountain ascetics describe the religious history of Mt Asama through a series of dreamlike encounters of the Buddhist monk Kûkai (774-835), the founder of the Shingon school of esoteric Buddhism, with the local divinities and Buddhist deities. Through lengthy oracles, these divinities urge him to protect Mt Asama and construct a Buddhist temple there.
Focusing on the contents of these oracles, this paper will analyze how Japan’s medieval sacred sites had developed their own strategies of survival by emplacing the specific Buddhist rituals, deities, and doctrines, and why dreams, oracles, and dreamlike states were crucial to recording and legitimizing the local religious traditions.

Prof. Hiroshi Araki 荒木浩 (Nichibunken, Kyoto)


Dream and Vision in Classical Japanese Literature: From the Comparative Viewpoint with The Tale of Gernji and Hamlet (In Japanese, with English translation)

In classical Japanese literature, dreams play an important role in various situations. But in Japanese culture, the vision – that is very different from the dream, although the two words are connected – is often included or slightly confused with the word “dream” (Jp. yume). This is an important topic in the discussion about the Japanese dream culture. In my speech, I will address this topic by analyzing the appearance of the Former Emperor Kiritsubo after his death in his son’s, Hikaru Genji’s, dreams in the “Tale of Genji” (Genji Monogatari, an early twelfth-century novel, the earliest novel in Japanese literature). I will compare it to the appearance of the father’s ghost in “Hamlet” and discuss this topic with a comparative cultural analysis.

日本古典文学においては、「夢(dream)」が、さまざまな場面で重要な役割を演じている。しかし、日本の文化では、「夢」と近接しつつも大きな異なりをもつはずの「幻視(vision)」については、「夢」に包括され、ルース(loose)に混同されて区別されないことが多い。このことは、日本の「夢」文化を考える場合に、重要なテーマである。本発表では、『源氏物語』の中に描かれる父王・桐壺院(Former Emperor Kiritsubo)

Dr Ljuba Bortolani (Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context”, Heidelberg)


The oracle of Bes at Abydos and the ‘Dream-oracle of Bes’ of the magical papyri: from a sacred site to a magical ritual

Three different magical papyri from Roman Egypt record the same spell used to obtain a dream oracle from the Egyptian god Bes. It has been argued that this dream oracle could describe the ritual procedures that had to be performed by people who consulted the oracle entitled to the god Bes which was active during the 1st/2nd-5th centuries AD in the sacred site of the 'Memnonium' of Abydos (originally temple of Sethi I, then seat of an oracle of Osiris-Serapis, and afterwards of the oracle of Bes until its Christian occupation). Numerous contemporary Greek graffiti of the 'Memnonium' testify to the popularity and veracity of the oracle but only a few of them allude to the practice of incubation. Similarly, Ammianus Marcellinus describes the oracle as operating through ‘oracle questions’ written on papyrus and does not mention any form of incubation. Nevertheless, the comparison between the contents of the dream oracle of the magical papyri and the religious history of the 'Memnonium' strongly suggests the spell originated from the ritual practices of this sacred site and makes us wonder about the many other divinatory spells attested by magical literature: their origin and circulation may be connected to the ‘economy’ of specific sacred sites much more often than previously thought.

Dr Caterina Moro (Dipartimento di studi storico-religiosi, Università di Roma, "La Sapienza")


The Father of the Hero and His Dream: Oracle Dreams in Ugaritic Poems (Aqhat and Keret) and the Prediction of Moses' Birth in Jewish Tradition

The use of dreams and oracles as a pivotal element in a story is a common characteristic of both classical historiography and biblical narrative. The unexpected fulfilment of an oracle or dream, despite the human efforts to avoid it, has the function of strengthening the faith in these means of communications with the gods. A good example of this use of a prophetic dream in biblical narrative can be found in the story of Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 37-50 ). In my paper I will discuss the Jewish traditions about dreams and oracles prophesying the birth of Moses as saviour of the oppressed Israelites, focusing on the dream of his father Amram, narrated by Josephus in Jewish Antiquities 2.212-217.  By comparison with the dreams of Ugaritic epic, where the kings Daniel and Keret received the promise of an offspring by the god El, I will try to explain how the tradition about Moses tries to establish a new model of sacral kingship.

Prof. Dr. Guido Sprenger (Institut für Ethnologie, Universität Heidelberg)


Socializing Dreams: an anthropological approach

The following paper addresses a central distinction in the interpretation of dreams across different cultures, the difference between what I call internalistic and externalistic interpretations. Internalistic interpretations understand dreams as emergent from the individual mind of the dreamer, while externalistic interpretations consider them as messages from outside forces or perceptions of a world exterior to the dreamer. Both interpretations might co-exist in a given cultural setting, although modern scientific dream interpretation is exclusively based on an internalistic paradigm. After setting up the problem, I critically review the anthropology of dreams and sketch out a new approach to dreams from an anthropological perspective. This approach expands upon the classic, although often misleading, comparison of myths and dreams, but considers them as means of communication which are culturally learned and formed.

Prof. Dr. Katja Triplett (Universität Göttingen)


Imagination and Visionary & Prophetic Dream Images in the Hōnen shōnin gyōjō ezu

Imagination is – from a study of religion's point of view – tied to the collective and the traditional repertoire and ideas of images in the specific culture under investigation. Within a religious tradition, however, imagination can become subject to contestation, resulting in a quest for who is master of prophecies and visions of the true nature of reality and who can defy illusion and idol worship. Such a quest is portrayed in the illustrated hand scroll about the charismatic religious figure Hōnen (1133–1212), who was exiled as a Buddhist heretic and was celebrated as a saint a century after his death in the 14th century masterpiece of medieval hagiographic storytelling created under the auspices of emperor Go Fushimi. The paper illuminates passages from the Hōnen shōnin gyōjō ezu illustrated scroll where Hōnen and his disciples impress the audience with their visions and prophetic dreams. The scenes intend to demonstrate that Hōnen truly was a ‘Buddhist superman’.

Dr Lorenzo Verderame (Cattedra di Assiriologia, Università di Roma, “La Sapienza”)


Incubation in IIIrd millennium Mesopotamia: the dream of Gudea, ruler of Lagash

In the religious tenets of the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations, gods and humans are understood as two separate entities. Gods does not manifest or speak directly to humans, but they communicate their wishes and orders through signs that are interpreted by both learned or elected people (divination). The Mesopotamian tradition has paid great attention to all kinds of signs, which has resulted in the production of a large amount of documents supporting the practice of divination. Along with the two main practices, namely the inspection of animal entrails and the observation of the sky, the interpretation of dreams, be they inspired (incubation) or not (oneiromancy), has a long, persistent, and rooted tradition that goes back to the beginning of the Mesopotamian civilization. Dreams, in fact, are the preferred arena for a direct contact with the extra-human both for kings and common people.
In this paper I will deal with one of the earliest, but most detailed, description of an incubation procedure which is found in a long inscription of the local ruler Gudea of Lagaš (ca. XXI a.C.) and that was performed in order to proceed to the construction of the sanctuary of the main town god, Ninĝirsu. This case study will allow me to treat in detail the different aspects of dream interpretation in ancient Mesopotamia.

Dr Nicholas Vogt (Institut für Sinologie, Universität Heidelberg)


Trees among Brambles: Fear, Legitimation, and Sacred Space in an Early Chinese Dream Manuscript

Over the past few years, the publication of a recently acquired collection of bamboo manuscripts known as the Tsinghua University slips has furnished a wealth of new sources on early Chinese constructions of ritual, history, and heritage.   Among these materials is a brief dream-interpretation text, the “Cheng wu” 程寤, that depicts the volatile environment in which the early Chinese kings of the house of Zhou wrested supremacy from their predecessors, the Shang.
This presentation will offer a detailed introduction to the “Cheng wu” text, paying special attention to its vision of the ritual infrastructure of the early Zhou royal house.  In particular, it will address the topic of the famous “Brilliant Hall,” in which the “Cheng wu” interpretation sequence is said to take place, and its role in later textual treatments of early Zhou ritual.  Based on its narrative structure, its take on ritual, and its approach to legitimation of the Zhou royal line, the presentation will situate the “Cheng wu” narrative in the context of the voluminous literature of dream interpretations from early China.

Prof. Dr. Jörg Quenzer (Asien-Afrika-Institut, Universität Hamburg)


Dreams and/as paratexts in Medieval Japan

(Buddhist) dreams in Medieval Japan can often be found as parts of paratexts, mainly in colophons of manuscripts. The presentation will discuss possible reasons for this observation, using the overall perspective of the workshop and related concepts.