Perhaps medication is responsible. Malaria tablets bring nightmares of monstrous beasts and dragons; the chemicals eliciting images stored in the subconscious since childhood years. Perhaps the current tablets are having a similar effect, stirring strange combinations of images and arousing deep fears. Waking , mental pictures still linger. Attempting analysis seems no more than an endeavour tor rationalize the deeply irrational.
It is not as if dreams have always been about pleasant things, about ideal worlds, about places of wealth and happiness. Thoughts of meeting and marrying someone rich, or of being left a fortune by an unknown relative, or of becoming a success in one’s own right, were always more the stuff of story books than of the actual human subconscious.
In the past, dreams were often troublesome.There is the famous story of Joseph in the Biblical book of Exodus, Joseph whose dreams alienated him from his family before his ability to interpret dreams gave him access to influence and power. In the Bible, dreams are often a foretelling or a warning. Telling a familiar part of the Christmas story, Saint Matthew writes of the wise men: “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route”. Telling of the events Good Friday, he writes, “While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: ‘Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.'”
In that other book allowed to those on Desert Island Discs, The Works of William Shakespeare, Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, declares he could be bounded in a nutshell and count himself the king of infinite space, if he did not have bad dreams. The psychologist Sigmund Freud assigned disturbing meanings to dreams; they signified repressed and displaced emotions; this certainly seems so in the case of the prince Hamlet, whose wrestlings with himself are pieces of psychological introspection.
There is a line in the Christmas carol O little town of Bethlehem that seems an acknowledgement of the the power of dreams to disturb, “Above thy deep and dreamless sleep.” It conjures an image of an infant enjoying perfect restfulness, sleeping the sleep of the innocent. Psychologists would tell us that such dreamless sleep is impossible, perhaps even infants have thoughts that worry them, thoughts that cause them anxiety. All the same, the thought of dreamless sleep remains very attractive.