Basics of Common Dream Interpretation
From our Dream Dictionary you have looked up the symbols and now understand the overall meaning of your dream. The next step is to deepen your understanding and begin your personal interpretation. First ask yourself these questions to understand what the symbols of the dream are saying about your situation:
- Who are the people in my dream? In most cases, the people you meet in a common dream represent aspects of yourself. Consider what aspect of your own personality they represent. Some dreams are also of course about your relationships with the actual people from real life. People, particularly strangers, may also represent aspects of yourself that you are unaware of. Similarly, animals may represent aspects of your instinctive nature.
- What is the mood of the dream? The overall mood of the dream is important because this represents how you feel about the problem that the dream is drawing to your attention. In addition, the state of the weather, the season and the temperature can all represent your emotional state of mind.
- What symbols does my dream contain? You can of course look up the symbols on this website but remember to consider what personal associations you have with the items you encounter in your dreams. Gestalt psychology insists that your dreams are about you and you alone. See every part of your dream as a part of yourself or some aspect of your personality. Remember that many symbols are unique to you.
- What does the setting say about me? The dream environment you find yourself in may represent the way you feel about yourself or your situation.
- Does this dream remind me of another one? Dreams often run in sequences so you may already have worked out the meaning of some symbols before. If you keep a dream diary over many years you will be intrigued to note that some dreams take up a theme from dreams you had years ago.
Before moving on the stage 3 of the dream interpretation process you may enjoy my video (below) about common symbols.
Short Dream Interpretation Video
In-depth Article about Common Dream Interpretations
Every dream can be interpreted in many different ways. No matter what psychologists or mystics say the final analysis is up to you. I suggest that after reading this introduction you thumb through this book until you come to a dream marked Common Dream.
There are no limits to the human mind’s ability to generate an infinite abundance of dreams but amongst this mass of imagery are a few common dreams that happen to almost everybody. Have you ever dreamed of falling, being chased or dreamed of losing your teeth? Most people have. Dreams like this are part of shared human experience that cross the cultural divides. They remind up perhaps that we are there is only one race- the race of humanity.
Dreams we all have in common are, say some psychologists, humankind’s spiritual heritage and connect us through myth and symbolism to the thoughts and feelings of our primitive ancestors. They reoccur throughout history and in all societies. For example, someone from a tribal society in Brazil or Africa may dream of being stalked by a wild animal whereas the dream of a person from London, LA. or Tokyo will express the same sentiments by being shadowed by a mugger. The core issue of the dream- the fear of being attacked- is the same but is expressed in the cultural imagery of each dreamer.
You may recognise one of your own dreams from the past in the Common Dream sections. If you’ve had one of these dreams think about it for a while before you look up the meaning. Try also to recall the problems you were facing at that time. What sort of worries did you have? Were you concerned about money, love, self-esteem or whatever?
Now look up the meaning and see just how much of the interpretation applied to you at that time. At the end of each Common Dream entry are a series of simple questions that you may want to ask yourself about the dream. Learning to ask the right questions about your dream is half the battle. You may want to apply some of the same questions to other dreams that you have. In many cases, my interpretations may be way off the mark when applied to your own dream. But it’s your interpretation that counts for most. Treat this book as a useful guide but also trust your own gut feeling. One of the most important lessons that dreams teach us is to listen to the intuition.
Here are a few additional questions you can ask about your dream:
PSYCHOLOGICAL DREAM MEANINGS
There are many psychological theories about dreams and dream meanings but by far the most important pioneers of modern dream interpretation are the Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and his Swiss colleague, Carl Gustav Jung (1857-1961). You will find many references throughout the text to these two important figures
Sigmund Freud believed that the mind consists of three aspects which he called the ego, the super-ego and the id. The id is the unconscious side of ourselves which Freud believed consisted of instinctive drives. As the instincts always aim at pleasure Freud called the id the ‘pleasure principle. Most of the desires expressed in our dreams, he believed, were sexual.
The super-ego was the name that Freud gave to what he called ‘the moral principle’. This roughly corresponds to the ‘conscience’ that Freud believed had a social origin. Freud lived in a sexually restricted age so it was natural for him to conclude that the super-ego (conscience) would be in continual conflict with the id (instinctive sexual desires). The super-ego lived in a state of constant tension trying to control the irrational sexual demands of the id. Between these two opposites sat the conscious self acting as a referee between the rival claims of these two unconscious forces. Freud called this the ‘reality principle’ and named it the ego. According to Freud, everyone is to some degree neurotic because the ego will never be able to satisfy the demands of both the id and the super-ego.
Freud believed that when a person sleeps the ego relaxes and can no longer adjudicate between the conflicting forces of the id and super-ego. At this time the super-ego stands guard over the ego and protects it from the overwhelming instinctive urges of the id. Dreams are a symbolic language by which the id tries to communicate with the ego but its messages are censored by the super-ego. The result is that the messages from the unconscious come to the ego only in a disguised or misrepresented way.
Carl Jung was originally a follower of Freud but fell out with the grand old man because Freud was so blinkered in his belief that sexuality was the all and everything of the psyche. He refused to refine or change his views in the light of compelling evidence. In short, he became arrogant and inflexible.
At first, Jung accepted much of what Freud taught but in time realised that the unconscious was not a repository for rejected emotions and desires. It could offer us ways to inner wholeness and healing. The unconscious contains whatever we need to solve our psychological troubles and dreams give us access to these positive energies. The human condition is not a continual conflict of super-ego Vs id but a striving towards wholeness of the self. Instead of masking hidden desires, Jung believed that dream symbols express what is going on in the unconscious and they make an impression on the dreamer
Jung also proposed that there is a ‘collective unconscious’. This is a part of the mind that contains information that is common to all humans. Its existence accounts for the fact that widely different cultures can have dreams in which specific symbols occur and have the same meaning. For example, many myths, fairy stories and rituals from around the world are almost identical yet have originated independently. Jung believed these were expressions of archaic symbols that emerged spontaneously from the collective unconscious. Jung named these symbols archetypes.
Many of Jung’s other ideas about dream meanings are presented in the rest of this website and my dream meanings book.
THE MYSTICAL DREAM MEANINGS
Early peoples believed that dreams were glimpses of the divine world and were sometimes messages from the gods or supernatural beings. We will never know for certain what prehistoric peoples thought of their dreams but some of the paintings painted in their caves are reminiscent of the strange world of dreams.
It is certain that the earliest cultures considered dreams to be of great importance and treated them with the utmost reverence. For example, the ancient Egyptians believed that the gods communicated through dreams and the ancient priests devised spells to bring them forth. Egyptian dream books have been discovered as well as spells to call upon the god Besa who would answer questions through dreams.
One of the earliest written records of dreams and their meanings is a papyrus of c.1250 BC. It records some 200 dreams and their interpretation according to the falcon-headed god Horus. A more well-known example if found in the book of Genesis, in which the Pharaoh’s precognitive dream of seven fat kine was correctly interpreted by Joseph as prophesying seven years of plenty and seven years of famine for ancient Egypt.
Similarly the ancient Greeks also believed that dreams were messages from the gods although this was disputed by Aristotle in Parva naturalia in which he argues that dreams were in fact fragments of recollections of events of the day. However, the general belief throughout the ancient world was that dreams were the god’s predictions of the future.
The oldest surviving comprehensive book of dreams and dream meanings was compiled by Artemidorus of Ephesus in the second century. It was translated into English in the seventeenth century and reprinted 32 times before 1800. Freud used it in his researches and it has influenced many of the first dream dictionaries. This and the other dream dictionaries that followed were primarily concerned with predicting the future through dreams- an art known as Oneiromancy.
In the Mystic Meaning sections, I have included some of the traditional interpretations of dreams, many of which originate from these ancient sources. In addition, I have plundered the folklore archives of cultures from around the world and include many superstitions associated with dreams.
Whether these old superstitions really can help us see the future is questionable but there is a great deal of empirical evidence to suggest that dreams can be prophetic. Your dream diary will help you identify prophetic dreams but the most interesting glimpses of the future can come through a phenomena called Lucid Dreams.
LUCID DREAM MEANINGS
Most of the time we do not realise that we have been dreaming until we have woken up. However, there are certain dreams that are so vivid that they fall into a category of their own. Mr George P from Kansas, USA, wrote to my Internet column to say “I was dreaming that I was directing a new film of the classic movie Rebecca. Suddenly the characters, the set, the landscape all seemed to burst into life. Everything became amazingly vivid. It was then that I realised ‘I’m dreaming’. The film Rebecca, as you may know, has a tragic ending but now I recognised that I was the director and could make the movie end anyway I pleased.
“As the ‘film’ progressed I understood that the dream was my way of sorting out my uncertainties over a new relationship in my life with a girl called Becky.” continues George “I realised that I was behaving badly and woke up with a resolve to completely change my attitude.”
George became conscious that he was dreaming while the dream was in progress. In other words, he ‘woke up’ in the dream. His ordinary dream became an incredibly vivid and George discovered that he could not only change the content of the dream but was also consciously resolving his feelings at a very deep level.
The Dutchman van Eeden called these dreams ‘lucid dreams’ and recognised that they were not only extraordinarily vivid but could be controlled. It has been reported that 73 per cent of the population have had at least one lucid dream and lucid dreaming comes naturally to between 5 and 10 per cent.
Lucid Dreams have been described for centuries but are only recently being taken seriously by modern day dream researchers. Freud and Jung, although aware of them, virtually ignored them in their theories. Yet references to them are found in the writings of the fourth century philosopher Aristotle, Saint Augustine records a lucid dream of his friend Gennadius, and Saint Thomas Aquinas also reports them.
One of the first systematic studies of Lucid Dreams was made by the ancient yogis of Tibet who are well known for their extraordinary psychic, physical and mental abilities. According to the esteemed Oxford scholar Evans-Wentz, who edited ‘Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines’ the Tibetan adepts mastered the lucid dream state. “The yogin learns by actual experience, resulting from psychic experimentation, that the character of any dream can be changed or transformed by willing that it shall be.”
The Tibetan adepts mastered the lucid dream state and used them as a means to realising that all things perceived through the senses are illusory and that the only reality is Nirvana. “The Universal Creation, with its many mansions of existence, from the lowest to the highest Buddha paradise, and every phenomenal thing therein… are but the content of the Supreme Dream.
A fascinating discovery of the Tibetans is how lucid dreams can be used to trigger extra sensory perception ESP and as a means to travel in other dimensions outside of the body. (On page XX is an experiment you can try to trigger a lucid dream.)
THE MYSTICAL GOAL DREAMS
Sleep and dreams are necessary for every living being. Without them we cannot live. Sleep is one of the most joyful experiences that the world provides; it restores us and brings us peace. The Hindus tell us that during sleep we breath in living energy called prana. During sleep, the prana life-force becomes like holy fire that awakens the spirit and energises us.
In the Vedas, it explains that, during sleep, the true spiritual seeker may be able to “reach the Brahma-loka which the person has earned by his Karma to attain.” This means that during sleep it is possible to taste the mergence with the Supreme Consciousness that many yogis seek through years of meditation.
During the sleep state the Jivi (the ego) is capable of experiencing the whole of reality and can perceive the outer world, the inner world and other dimensions. In addition, it can see into previous lives and into the fabric of time.
In dreamless sleep, the Jivi can enter the region known as the Brahma-loka which is the divine plane of existence that transcends all gross worlds. It is the supreme bliss of exalted consciousness. Realisation of this state can happen effortlessly during sleep. But the Hindu sutras and teachings also advise us that this experience is temporary and does not last. To the realised person dreams can bring great bliss and free a person from attachment, deep sleep can bring rejuvenation of the life energy and dreamless sleep can give a taste of the ultimate reality.
Dreams reveal reality. What was once hidden can now become manifest.
The Hidden Meaning of Dreams (ISBN 0-8069-7773-6) You can buy copies of my books about dreams here.