This chapter examines the cross-cultural religious phenomenon of ritual healing in and through dreaming. The widespread practice of healing-oriented rituals involving dreams has always involved a religious framework in which the process unfolds. This chapter looks at ritual healing in the context of scientific research on big dreams. The discussion includes a detailed case study (Aelius Aristides, a well-educated man in the second-century C.E. Roman Empire who kept a diary of his dreams at the temple of the healing god Asclepius), references to other religious traditions around the world, and theories from cognitive science and the psychology of religion. Special attention is given to the “placebo effect” and the power of special kinds of interpersonal relationships to generate a healing response. The chapter argues that religions can stimulate, via rituals of dream incubation, a natural placebo effect that aids the body’s innate capacities for healing, recovery, and self-repair.
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