Whether dreams come from the unconscious mind or directly from God, they are valuable sources of revelation. Dreams can tell us important things about ourselves and our relationships that may remain veiled deep in the psyche if we are unskilled at interpreting the symbolic language from which they present. The great attainment of Joseph of Egypt and the message this scriptural character brings to readers of the Old Testament is the importance of developing an ability to decode symbolic dream messages and using them to integrate our conscious and subconscious knowledge.
Joseph had a huge, almost megalomaniac faith in his interpretations of dreams. Early in his life he risked the rebuke and envy of his father and brothers to describe to them the images of the sheaves and the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him. Later, when interpreting the dreams of the chief butler and baker, he attributed his interpretations to God, even though he had no evidence this was so. His own dreams seemed refuted — far from bowing to him, his brothers sold him into Egypt and he had been cast into prison. His confidence reminds me of Joseph Smith’s great intrepidity regarding his own visions:
“For I had seen a vision; I knew it and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it…”
Joseph Smith once said, after reading Foxe’s Book of the Martyrs, that he had “seen those martyrs, and they were honest, devoted followers of Christ, according to the light they possessed, and they will be saved” He also saw in vision marchers in Zion’s Camp who had perished from cholera in Clay County, Missouri. He encouraged the survivors of that endeavor, saying, “Brethren, I have seen those men who died of the cholera in our camp; and the Lord knows, if I get a mansion as bright as theirs, I ask no more” . He foresaw the struggles of the Saints in crossing the plains, their establishment in the Rocky Mountains, and the future condition of the Saints. Of these and many other spiritual manifestations he remarked, “It is my meditation all the day & more than my meat & drink to know how I shall make the saints of God to comprehend the visions that roll like an overflowing surge, before my mind.”
Joseph of Egypt had this same certainty regarding communications from God through the medium of dreams. When finally brought before Pharoah, he reiterated his assertion that certain dreams are communications from the Divine:
“And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharoah twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.”
This assurance seems incredible when taken into account that his own early dream had also been repeated twice but not yet brought to pass.
Today we have varying degrees of confidence in the interpretation of our own spiritual experiences. Some are unimpressed by the fleeting images that pass through their minds in a somnolent state. But others become adept at the language of symbolism. They confidently assign meanings to everything from dreams to emotional impressions, and use these to order their actions and their lives. Psychologists have noted that people tend to dream in images that are familiar to them in their culture. For example, Native Americans may dream about the spirits of animals and the world of nature, Catholics envision the Virgin Mary, Mormons have visitations involving the temple and their dead ancestors. This can facilitate dream interpretation, but it can also obscure it, because the images are so familiar that we don’t look deeply at the meaning behind the symbol. In our modern world, we have emphasized the logical mind so much that we have lost the sensitivity to understand primal and pictoral forms and symbols, even those with which we are well-versed.
Often our lesson manuals apply the scriptural stories to the modern audience, as was done in Lesson 11. Here Joseph’s rejection of Potiphar’s wife is presented as an example for the righteous member to follow in avoiding moral transgression. I am curious why, in Lesson 12, although Joseph’s dreams play a prominent part in the lesson material, the class member is not encouraged to become more adept in interpreting dreams and visions or even to pay closer attention to unconscious symbolic messages. Moving away from the esoteric, the manual broadly associates the scriptural passage in Genesis 40-41 with “talents,” and asks:
How can we give proper acknowledgment to the Lord for our talents and gifts? (We can use them to glorify God and bless others, not for our own glory.)
In the early days of the Church Joseph Smith reprimanded some of the members for using messages from their dreams and visions improperly. Do we fear this will happen if we freely encourage the widespread scrutiny of these types of unconscious messages? What does this tell us about our confidence in recognizing inspiration from the Divine?