The Rhetoric of Dreams in Journeys to the Otherworld

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Travel is a master-metaphor in accounts of the Otherworld. Since the time of Gilgamesh, Otherworlds, including Lands of the Dead, are more frequently represented in terms of the trip to get there, rather than the destination itself. The idea that dreaming is a means of access to the Otherworld must be even older. In texts and images from the Bronze Age on, the basic imagery of travel is often elaborated through dream rhetoric, to do with impossibilities, reversals, condensation and displacement. This paper first examines the roles explicitly given to sleep and dreaming in framing such scenarios, then considers a selection of texts and images –from ancient, medieval and folkloric sources–which render stages of the journey to the Otherworld through recognisably oneiric transforms. The formula of journey –of passage through terrain rendered liminal by specific landmarks –is thus more foundational than might at first be apparent. Arguably, without it, there would be no way of generating Otherworlds as Other. And the “journey” scenario, with its landmarks, also may be regarded as addressing intrinsic difficulties with death-as-social-rupture; thus, many societies stretch the moment of death through collective representation, to create a “lag” or limbo period, during which the deceased is represented as “in transit.”
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2021
EventDeath and Migration in World Mythology: Fourteenth Annual International Conference on Comparative Mythology - Online, Boston, United States
Duration: 23 Aug 202127 Aug 2021


ConferenceDeath and Migration in World Mythology
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


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