Ancient Greek Blog Dreams

Listening to Music for Clearer Dreams – an Ancient Greek Practice

Music for Nourishing the Essence, Temperance, and Healing — An Ancient Greek Practice

A medieval woodcut depicting Pythagorean musical instruments. Public domain image found here

Pythagoras, the renowned sage and philosopher from ancient Greece, placed a large importance on the benefits of using music for healing, temperance, and for tuning into better inner states. More about his approach to using music to lift one’s inner state can be read in the post, Music for Nourishing the Essence, Temperance, and Healing.

Using music to improve the quality of sleep and dreams was one of the many spiritual benefits he attributed to melody. The passages below describe how his disciples listened to gentle, spiritual music before going to sleep, to improve the quality of sleep and the nature of dreams experienced that night. This was described as increasing the likelihood of having prophetic dreams:

“When they retired, they purified their reasoning powers from the noises and perturbations to which they had been exposed during the day, by certain odes and hymns which produced tranquil sleep, and few, but good dreams.”

And:

“In the evening, likewise, when his disciples were retiring to sleep, he would thus liberate them from the day’s perturbations and tumults, purifying their intellective powers from the influxive and effluxive waves of corporeal nature, quieting their sleep, and rendering their dreams pleasing and prophetic.”

~ Iamblichus: The Life of Pythagoras or On The Pythagorean Life, Music and Poetry, translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie  1     


Please note, more practice excerpts will be added as and when we find them. While we recommend the practice in this excerpt, featuring a passage from a text does not mean we can vouch for the entire contents of a text. Jenny Resnick, Jordan Resnick, Justin Norris, and Vida Norris contributed writing or research to this article.


  1. lamblichus: The Life of Pythagoras or On The Pythagorean Life, The Daily Program. From The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, compiled and translated by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie (Phanes Press 1987) p. 84-85, 72. 

About the author

Matthew Butler

Matthew Butler is Chief Editor of SpiritualSun.com, a website exploring the history and practice of the ancient Religion of the Sun. A keen writer since his youth, he holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and has a natural interest in probing hidden truths and higher knowledge. He felt called to study spirituality in 2004 and has pursued it ever since. On The Spiritual Sun, he directs his skills and inquisitive nature towards shedding light on the ancient Religion of the Sun, which he investigates both as a writer/researcher and practitioner.

37 Comments

  • I tried to listen to some music from your selections here before I fall asleep, and indeed my dreams were more clear then. I don’t know how Pythagoreans did it without having media player… but doing the same listening to live music, must be something very special.

  • Thank you very much for the great article an practice,Matthew!! Only to say that Pythagoras was not simply a sage but a Spiritual Master .

  • Thank you Mathew for this beautiful article. I’ve been reading it these last days and it has helped me a lot,, worked as a good reminder. Music really has the power to heal and support us, it’s the language of our soul.
    Thank you again.

  • Belsebuub, from memory, also talked about the benefits of music and particularly listening to music with harmony, such as Hallelujah.

    I guess, even on a very basic level, we all know how we feel after having to sit next to a car in traffic where the occupant is playing heavy metal or rap, as opposed to listening to something more spiritual and harmonious.

    I find with mantras too, sometimes I just can’t get that harmonious sound, but when I do I can feel the benefits through my entire body – wonderful.

    • Yes, I know what you mean Sue – the right type of music can have such a positive effect upon us, whereas the wrong type can often feel like an endurance test! I actually had to put the phone down yesterday, while attempting to connect to a call centre, due to their choice of hold music.

  • Nice and inspiring practice! Besides, I have seen that generally, the gentle music helps me to balance my emotional and intellectual center!

    Thank you, Matthew

  • I have always been very much affected by music and have used dancing as a way to heal my mind and body. I used to listen to the music while going to sleep but have not watched my dreams following it but this post has inspired me to try this again with a fresh outlook and see what happens.

    Thanks!

  • Thanks for the post Matthew!

    In recent years I’ve become aware of how little I understand about music and how I’ve never really been able to relate to it, so here is a wonderful practice and I’d love to give it a go to see what influence spiritual music could have on my dreams. I appreciate some suggestions people have given in the comments and will go through the music archive here on the site again too.

    While listening to music has never seemed to do much for me in positive terms, recently I’ve started noticing how big an impact singing has on my psyche. Singing a mantra in a group or just with a friend, and varying the tones in simple ways is actually very powerful and uplifting. Just being able to produce a melody by singing or that harmony between different tones in a group. And how different harmonies have different effects on the psyche – major vs minor tones, low vs higher tones etc. It’s almost like a wordless expression from the essence.

    • That’s interesting Laura, I had a similar realisation yesterday. Of where I used to sing mantras like prayers. I would often start with a set tone and melody, but once I really started to feel the energy within and yearning then I would use my voice as the external expression of the movement I felt within and from above. Like a conduit or something of expressions of the heart.

  • Thank you Matthew.

    Really enjoyed reading this; It is has been a while since I listened to music just before going to bed.
    Will definitely give it a go.

    Lark ascending by Vaughn Williams is also a favourite 🙂

  • Thanks for bringing up this topic Matthew.

    Been involved with music either playing, singing or listening can have a healing effect on me depending on the type of it. When some music is more nursing other brings joy, some classical music and instrumental can travel me and so on.
    It amazes me for example, when every time I listen carefully the hymn of the cherubim of Tchaikovsky when at some point having a high pitch (around at 2min38s) how this triggers something certain in me. Don’t know how to describe it though…

    I don’t want to go off topic but I’m currently reading this book of Iamblichus and really have many points that were stood out to me. For example, says in on point:

    he urged to honor more that it is ahead, instead of what follows in time. The east from the west, the beginning from the end, the birth from the decay.

    (my translation from one greek edition)

  • That’s a coincidence – just after I posted my comment on the cymatics study, I received an email update about other research into the health benefits of music and dancing:
    http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/how-music-can-support-brain-regeneration-healing
    http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/amazing-health-benefits-dancing

    Although the article on dancing is less relevant to Pythagoras’ use of music, the studies in both articles show the positive effect of music and dance in reducing stress, anxiety and depression, promoting neurogenesis (or the regrowth of neurons in the brain), in order to help people who are experiencing neurological impairment as a result of a stroke or dementia, and even in cancer care.

    Of course, movement has been used as a meditation in itself in various cultures, such as the whirling Dervishes, or in martial art-based traditions, such as tai chi or qi gong. So it may also be interesting to combine appropriate music and dance of a spiritual nature, in order to quieten the mind and improve sleep and dream recall, as well as enjoying the health benefits associated with both activities.

    • Yes Michael, there is a growing body of research and evidence into the benefits of dance and movement for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder too.

      • That’s interesting Sue. I’ve heard of dance and movement therapies being used to help people express or release emotions, but hadn’t specifically connected it to treating PTSD.

        It’s a pity that a lot of simple and cost effective therapies are generally unknown about, due to the medical monopoly that is now is place around the developed world. A search on PubMed will reveal multiple studies on the health benefits of meditation, prayer, tai chi and other practices from spiritual traditions, which can benefit a variety of conditions, ranging from long-term illnesses, such as various pain disorders, to potentially fatal conditions such heart-related diseases or as cancer.

        There is also a vast amount of research on the health benefits of various plant-based medicines, but unfortunately, these treatments will usually never be prescribed by a conventional doctor either, due to the constraints of the current medical system, where doctors are fearful of losing their licence if they question the status quo.

        I think the field of cancer care is one of the biggest travesties in medical history, where innovative research is ruthlessly supressed, and simple, yet clinically proven natural treatments are swept aside. The cost of FDA approval for new treatments in the USA runs into hundreds of millions of dollars per new medication, which effectively excludes many natural or alternative health researchers from bringing their findings into the mainstream.

        I think that’s why sites such as Green Med Info, Dr Mercola, Natural Health 365, and various other natural health sites are important, as they provide some kind of alternative to the conventional medical model and allow information to get to the millions of people around the world, who are currently being failed by the current “disease care” system, which so often deals with masking symptoms through pharmaceutical drugs, at the expense of addressing the root causes of illness.

  • Thanks for sharing this article Matthew. I’ve personally found concentrating on music to be a very nice practice, which can bring about a renewed sense of awareness, similar to spending time in nature. I also concentrated on relaxing music when going to sleep, as an astral practice, generally using either ambient or soft classical music.

    One of the pieces I used was Music for Airports by Brian Eno – the first in a series of albums by one of the early ambient pioneers, which uses loops of gentle piano or keyboard melodies. I like the idea behind the album, which was to use music to create a more peaceful environment in busy environments, such as airports, in order to help people to find a greater sense of calmness.

    I’ve recently been enjoying some pieces by other early ambient composers, such as Harold Budd and Laraaji, who uses zithers. Both have created some very relaxing pieces, but I think it’s also good to listen to a chosen piece prior to using it for a relaxation practice, as I’ve also had to turn off pieces by each of these musicians, due to finding them either too fast, or too electronic.

    There are some nice pieces in the folk traditions throughout the world too. Eastern-style folk music often has a mystical feel to it, particularly when it incorporates instruments such as the oud. I also find the sound of the bamboo flute to be particularly relaxing.

    I haven’t found all classical music to be suitable for use as an astral or concentration practice, due to there often being a wider range of dynamics, from soft to loud. But I’ve found that piano, string, vocal, or classical guitar pieces by certain composers are often a good bet, such as Chopin’s nocturnes and some of Debussy or Satie’s piano works.

    Other pieces I have enjoyed using for this practice include The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams, Faure’s Dolly Suite, Meditation from Thais by Massenet and Allegri’s Miserere. I can listen to those pieces many times over without finding them repetitive, similar to many of Robert Gass’ pieces. Miserere also seems to have a spiritual power to it, similar to Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis. John Tavener’s pieces, which have carried on the tradition of the previous two composers, are also very suitable for this type of practice.

    I came across an article on Green Med Info recently, which is seeking to crowd-source research to confirm the health benefits of music, as suggested by Pythagoras. The study is looking specifically into the ability of sound to promote cellular health, in the context to the modern study of cymatics, or the visual representation of sound waves. Here is the link, in case others would like to read more about it: http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/music-medicine-2500-year-old-pythagorean-hypothesis-undergoes-scientific-testing-

    Green Med Info is a very good evidence-based alternative health site, whose founder, Sayer Ji, is a very informative speaker on a wide range of topics. So their current research project should be an interesting one to follow.

    • Thank you Matthew and Michael for your comments!

      Speaking of synchronicity: I picked up a book on Pythagoras just a few weeks ago from a bookstore. It’s something I haven’t done in years! I found it to be very informative (but am not finished yet!).

  • I went to sleep last night listening to some peaceful music, inspired by this post.

    I had some very vivid dreams, as though something was reaching out to me. I find it generally very soothing and uplifting to listen to music and be transcended to a higher frequency of being.

    • That’s very inspiring to hear Olga. I’d also like to listen to music before bed.

      Love how you felt something reaching out to you 🙂

    • Thanks Anne Linn & Laura 🙂

      I just thought I would mention that I have been continuing these last few days, and found the practice of listening to music while falling asleep very helpful and motivating. Especially if the music is divinely inspired (food for the soul). I have noticed how the wandering mind comes back to the consciously created melodies and its easy to feel the contrast of the heaviness of the subconscious seeping in, so I feel the focus on the uplifting music acts sometimes like a guide, particularly when its easy to doze off.

      As a result of these musical nights, I have experienced some waking up in dreams, and much more meaningful and guiding dreams. This in turn has inspired my daily activities, so I am grateful for the topic and am enjoying the dream theme on TSS.

  • In the past, I’d discovered that music was very helpful to remember my dreams but I’m not sure why I stopped doing it. Thanks Matt after reading your post, I’m really inspired to introduce music once again before going to sleep.

  • I’ve also found that music and generally harmonious sounds like mantras can influence dreams. They help me relax and open up to the dream world.
    They bring a very different feeling than going to sleep after a long discussion, a movie or a long day’s work.

    It also affects my morning wake up. Instead of jumping into busy thoughts about things that I need to do I wake up more relaxed and in tune with what I was doing in my sleep. I manage to remember dreams better this way.

    I find Pythagora’s approach to music very interesting.

  • I totally want to give this a try. Music is so powerful; if listening to beautiful music can have such a long lasting effect upon one’s psyche during the day, why couldn’t the same happen by listening just before bed, I wonder? Thanks for sharing this, Matthew!

  • Thanks for highlighting this one Matthew. I’ve often found playing or listening to music when I can in the evenings before going to sleep to be quite beneficial. On that note, no pun intended, I’ll give it a try again now 🙂

  • Thanks Matthew for posting this artice – I agree with Pythagoras about this technique because it has consistently worked for me in similar ways. I had practiced this technique the other night when I was struggling to quiet my mind and relax my body after a hectic day at work. I tried other concentration techniques that usually help but that night it just wasn’t going as planned so I decided to tune into a favourite album instead. As expected, it immediately brought me to a state of calm and concentration. I found it had improved the quality of my dreams too but now I’ve got to take a closer look at my entries just in case there was a prophetic message that may have been missed!

  • Thanks for the post Matthew, those are interesting passages.

    Last night a bit before I went to sleep I was listening to music as well as doing some signing and playing along to it 🙂 I did notice that my dreams were clearer last night than they had been all week. I’ll keep exploring this, and will try listening to music right before sleep.

  • Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for your insight. I am very inspired by the pythagorean practices and feel very connected to music.

    I once prayed for understanding about whether music is good for you or bad for you. I did the investigation for a week, trying to tune into the music and how it made me feel. During that week I became very sensitive to music that uplifted me like classical music playing at the gas station.

    I also had a very bad experience with a song that had particularly unwholesome lyrics and a heavy beat. I had entered a store in hopes of buying a pair of shoes and I remember thinking , hmm this music is not good. Then I noticed that the music physically “wasn’t agreeing with me” so i told myself to hurry up and get the shoes and get out. I continued toward the back of the store but before I could make it to the shoe section I started dry heaving and ended up running out of the store. It was such a blessing to have that short term sensitivity to music so I could really notice what a great affect music can be having on us. Needless to say I decided to buy my shoes somewhere else.

    • That’s extraordinary Michelle – how being exposed to a particularly unpleasant piece of music produced such a noticeable effect upon you physically. I’ve also inadvertently become much more sensitive to music, due to some sensory processing issues that have resulted in me becoming more sensitive to sound in general.

      It has been interesting to observe how dramatically my response to music has changed. I can remember an incident about 20 or so years ago, when I came back from a night out and put on an album by a loud garage band, before falling asleep. I think that’s the exact opposite of the therapeutic use of music, which Pythagoras suggests!

      Nowadays, I can only tolerate music that is harmonious and soothing, and usually made by natural instruments. I used to enjoy a much wider range of music, but I now find it jarring and distracting to listen to music with a noticeable beat, even if it’s just there as a background accompaniment. I still enjoy some ambient and electronic music, but feel slightly nauseous if I hear sounds that are too heavily processed or unnatural, which is a similar response to the one you described.

      It’s interesting becoming more sensitive to sound, as it also brings more awareness of the effect it has upon our psyche.

      • I agree Michael. I notice that my tolerance changes from time to time. I do find it concerning when I am so acclimated to music that is not healing that I lose my sensitivity to it. I am excited about investigating further into Pythagoras and the research and practices he did.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Michelle. I can relate to feeling disturbed by some types of music physically but haven’t experienced it so strongly as you. It’s great that your prayer was answered in such a noticeable way that gave you this teaching.

      I had a job once that made me be in environments occasionally where music was being played from the radio or a music tv and I couldn’t get away from it. It was that type of very low music with negative lyrics and discordant sounds, with not much of a melody. I found my attention being drawn to it involuntarily, like it was hypnotizing me even when it was so disturbing, and it would strongly play out in my head afterwards. I think I remember observing that I was especially influenced in the solar plexus from it. At times, making a great effort to stay detached from it internally, I was able to not allow it to influence me.

      In the past, when I was at school, I used to enjoy listening to melancholy or sad music, I guess because I was a little depressed, so it resonated with me and I could relate to it. But recently I was going through a situation that brought up grief within me. I was at a shopping centre, and the radio started playing a sad melancholy song. It was surprising how much it aggravated my feelings of grief without me wanting to. I had never noticed this before and I certainly didn’t enjoy it in that situation (as I had at school). It made me see a bit more about how that resonance works.

      At another time it was evening and I was at home falling asleep. Upstairs some neighbours were having a loud party with this type of low music with a strong beat. I could hear the music, the beat and people’s voices in my apartment. I fell asleep and had a nightmarish dream, and when I awoke the party was still going on. I could still feel the emanations of that dream within me, and they were aggravated by those party sounds, like there was that resonance again. Another thing I hadn’t noticed before but it was interesting to see how that ‘party’ environment and a nightmare had a common vibration.

  • I’m going to give this a try tonight :-)!

    I’ve found in the past that there’s the potential there to go into the music and have that feeling carry over into the flavour of the night.

    However I’ve also just fallen asleep while listening to music with it not doing much for me, in fact I felt a bit more messy when waking up later.

    One of the key things I found, similar to what David mentions, is that at the start I actually need to make the effort to put my mind to listen in concentration. Otherwise it might just ramble on 🙂 whether or not there’s music also playing.

    When I do manage to concentrate for long enough where I’m actually hearing the music then it has the power to touch the psyche. This is particularly nice in combination with a completely relaxed physical body.

    Looking forward to trying it tonight. Although I don’t know what song to choose yet…

  • Thanks Mathew, I’ll also explore this again. I have found that music can help wash away the internal noise and images that the mind picks up from interacting with the world – and they are usually abrasive influences. Sometimes, if I don’t feel like I have the right state for a meditation, then just lying down and listening to music can help me lift my state, or calm it enough so that I then feel prepared to enter into a quiet meditation.

  • I really like the way the effect of music is explained in terms of helping the intellect to break free from all the thoughts and worries of the day, very poetic:

    they purified their reasoning powers from the noises and perturbations to which they had been exposed during the day

    and

    liberate them from the day’s perturbations and tumults, purifying their intellective powers from the influxive and effluxive waves of corporeal nature,

    Music can really help me to quiet my mind if I focus on it, and being focussed going to sleep seems to directly correlate to clearer, less tumultuous and more meaningful dreams, but I have never really put the two together. Thanks for sharing it Matthew, will give it a go this evening! 🙂

    • Hi Daniel, I think that is really for each person to explore, although there are a range of songs in the traditional and modern music sections, on the mantras and music resources page, where you could look for songs related to the spirituality of the Sun that resonate with you.

      I’ve personally found it uplifting to listen to a song that inspires me before sleep; it can have the effect of raising my inner level to a higher frequency, similar to a mantra. Although with some music there is the additional effect of feeling a perception of beauty through the melody, which I have found in some classical as well as more contemporary music. Also in songs with spiritual lyrics, I’ve found I can feel a connection to the divine through the words. For example, in a song about or addressing the Spiritual Mother, feeling a connection with the Mother.

      Rather than me recommending certain songs I like, I think it’s probably best you find songs that personally resonate with you, that you connect with, that way it will be approached naturally. That’s what I do. Although as a general pointer it should be something melodic and harmonious — not harsh, aggressive, disharmonious or without melody. If it has lyrics, then I’ve personally found having a spiritual theme to it is best.

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