This old Chinese story was chosen as one of his favourites by the great Argentinian writer, Borges. It has a mystic power:
It was the Hour of the Rat and the Emperor was dreaming. He dreamt that it was a beautiful night—as indeed it was—and that he had decided to go for a walk. He had slipped out of the palace and was walking in the gardens beneath pleasantly scented trees.
All of a sudden he felt a weight on his feet. He looked down—and was not as alarmed as he would have been if he had been awake—to see a great green dragon prostrating itself at his feet, its head resting on his slippers. Was that tears on his slippers? he thought. Or was the dragon slavering all over them?
‘Please help me, your Highness,’ said the dragon. ‘I have come to ask a boon. The stars have told me that your Prime Minister will behead me before midnight tomorrow.’
The Emperor was flattered that this great dragon should ask for his help and he promised to give all the help he could. He awoke at dawn and summoned the Prime Minister. He did not want to command the Prime Minister not to behead a dragon—by any standards that would be an odd request and awkward to explain. Besides, the Emperor had come to depend on his Prime Minister and was perhaps a little afraid of him. So, instead he gave the Prime Minister a long list of administrative tasks, including some very tedious stocktaking that he knew would keep him busy indoors and take up the whole day, and he also invited the Prime Minister to join him for a game of chess in the evening.
Playing Chess with the Emperor
The Prime Minister was already very tired out by his busy and very boring day when he arrived to play chess and the Emperor played an unusually cautious game to spin it out. He smiled to himself when, at about eleven o’clock, the Prime Minister nodded off. The minutes ticked away and midnight approached. Nearly there. What could possibly go wrong now?
Moments before midnight two soldiers burst into the Emperor’s room. They were carrying the bloodied head of a giant green dragon which they said had just fallen out of the sky and landed in the palace gardens.
The commotion awoke the Prime Minister. ‘That’s funny,’ he said. ‘I’ve just been dreaming that I was beheading a dragon like that.’
This story pleases us because of ‘the shock of recognition’. We know of no good reason to believe that it describes a real historical event—in fact that seems on the face of it fairly unlikely—but this story reminds us that we, too, have experienced dreams that seem to give us access to a higher reality, a reality that perhaps even influences the material reality we experience when awake.
‘Verdical Dreams’ Have Changed History
As I show in The Sacred History, people have always recorded dreams like these. And what we sometimes call ‘veridical dreams’ have sometimes changed the course of history in dramatic and surprising ways…
In the Old Testament Joseph was both a dreamer and an interpreter of dreams and the fortunes of his people depended on this. Healing dreams were often recorded at the shrine of the Greek god of healing, Asclepius, sited at Epidaurus, where the sick would go and stay overnight for the ‘healing sleep’. In one case onlookers saw a snake lick the toe of a sleeping man. In the morning when he awoke he found he was cured and it also turned out that he had had a dream of his toe being dressed in bandages by a god-like young man.
In esoteric circles the passage in Chapter Three of the Gospel of John, relating that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, is said to mean that they were both initiates who met when asleep and out of their fleshly bodies. Then, following a dream in which Jesus Christ appeared to him, the Emperor Constantine famously decided to lead his army into a decisive battle that would unite the Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, founder of Europe, received instructions for his world-changing deeds in dreams, too, in his case from an Archangel.
Genevieve would become the patron saint of Paris after a dream showed her that Attila the Hun would not press home his advantage and take the city by force. It was because she was able to convince the people of Paris of her dream’s reality that the city was saved.
In the esoteric and mystical view of the cosmos human spirits have been dipped into matter and enclosed in material bodies that cut them off from other spirits. But while we are asleep our spirit may emerge temporarily and partially from our body and it is then that we dream. In dreams we may, to some extent, communicate with other spiritual beings, be they angels, the spirits of the dead or the spirits of living humans, as happened in the cases of Nicodemus or Genevieve.
From The Sacred History © 2014 by Jonathan Black published by Quercus