The Zulu traditionally live in huts, in the back of which is generally situated a small area reserved for the ancestors, who are believed to dwell in the village. The ancestors are often consulted, and at times are believed to visit the living through dreams, which are interpreted by the diviners, or in the form of snakes. More rarely they return in the form of their ghost, when the appropriate rituals have not been observed after a death.
Zulu dreams, which can greatly influence the life of the individual, are the principal channel of communication with the ancestors, who play a fundamental role in Zulu society. In particular, they are believed to offer protection to members of their lineage, by whom they must be appeased and respected. Through dreams, the ancestral spirits can express both approval and disapproval of the actions-past, present, and future-of their descendants. Also, dreams are of diagnostic and prognostic significance in the tribal medical system, especially when psychogenic disorders occur.
Many dreams are believed to be prophetic and to indicate a course of action to be followed by the dreamer. For example, as Levy-Bruhl suggests, a Zulu will treat a friend as an enemy because of a dream in which the latter intended to hurt him. The omen of the dream may be either similar or opposite to its apparent content, presenting a pattern typical of the interpretation of dreams in Western countries, where dream reversal is often suspected.
Dreams possess the status of superior realities and are generally seen to have an active power. Their reality is not limited to what is seen and heard. For example, in Zulu thinking a pain in the shoulders after dreaming represents a sign of spirit activity.