What Does It Mean to Dream of the End of the World?

6 Min Read | By Liam Porter

Last Modified 20 December 2022   First Added 6 October 2021

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

The dream:

You stretch and look up from your computer screen and out of the window, blinking as your eyes adjust to the light. You hear a faint rumble which gets louder, becoming uncomfortably loud. A fighter jet, zipping past the window and into the distance.

You hear gasps throughout the office but pay no attention because you see another, slower plane passing far away over the city centre – you can’t be sure, but there seems to be something falling from it.

You look back at your colleagues, saving your eyesight as the flash bathes the room in bright light, you spin around in time to see the beginnings of a familiar shaped cloud rising from where a city used to be.

Still, it’s only a dream – right?

Variations of the dream:

Oh, for the days of pre-history when the only way a world could end was as the result of a wrathful god. The modern world has such a proliferation of world-ending scenarios both real and fantastical that it will surprise no-one that apocalypse dreams come in many shapes and sizes. There are zombie apocalypses and there is nuclear fire. There are rising seas and rogue self-replicating nano-bots. There are meteors and vampires and atmospheric collapse and dragons and solar-flares and psychotic alien species.

Whichever way the world ends in a dream, the dreams themselves share much in common for dream analysts – they place us at the whim of an uncontrollable event with widespread impact.

Meaning(s) of the dream:

The etymology of ‘apocalypse’ sees the word passed down to us, via Old French and Latin, from the Ancient Greek ‘Apokaluptein’ which means to ‘uncover’ or ‘reveal’ something hidden or unknown. The catastrophic connotations of the word are inherited from a genre of prophetic literature in the bible which culminated in the Revelations of John (the final book of the New Testament, though actually one of the first written).

Interpretations of apocalyptic dreams also seem to vacillate between the two meanings throughout literature on dream analysis. An apocalypse is the ultimate change – both in the sense of greatest and final – so it will come as no surprise that many interpretations of the apocalypse dream do so with that in mind. The nature of the change – the specific cultural meme that your unconscious mind chooses is therefore chosen as the differentiation for purposes of analysis, or as Jung phrased it:

“We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos, the right moment for a metamorphosis of the gods, of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing is the expression of the unconscious man [sic] within us who is changing.”

Dreams of nuclear apocalypse are dreams of confrontation between sources of power or influence in your life, for example – whether they are parents, or work and relationships, dreams of this nature (and of other war-themed apocalypses) reflect a feeling of powerlessness in a confrontation that impacts you but in which you are not an active participant. The world ending in fire, however, is indicative of an unacknowledged rage with your circumstances – the fire here is cleansing, but allows for rebuilding.

Whether the dreamer interprets their own apocalypse as revealing anxiety about a high impact change in circumstances or as a loss of control or powerlessness will obviously depend on individual circumstances. But the idea is to analyse the specific elements of the dream itself – the location, the type, the timing – which are more important than the variety of dream archetypes.

The different meanings behind end-of-the-world dreams:

Zombies, floods, wastelands and climate change – think storms, forest fires, floods – the idea of apocalypse has become a huge part of our film culture and even news and media cycles. It’s no surprise people are dreaming more about these kinds of themes. However, plenty of dream experts see differences in the meaning behind each end of the world dream. Here, we explore some of those meanings:

1. The zombie apocalypse:

The zombie apocalypse is often understood to represent the danger of groupthink, and dreams of the zombie apocalypse can indicate that the dreamer feels at risk physically or emotionally from an ‘in-group’.

2. The flood apocalypse:

Water is often linked to emotions in dream analysis and a flood can be indicative of unresolved grief, or fear of an event that is expected to provoke an intense emotional response.

3. Cataclysm (literal global destruction):

The Earth is the source of all life and all of the things necessary for life. Dreams of global destruction can represent a feeling that you are worried about the things you rely on, whether financial or emotional, ceasing to exist.

3. The wasteland apocalypse:

This dream and dreams of surviving the apocalypse can indicate dissatisfaction with an aspect of your life that no longer meets your needs.

Answering the dream:

As with any dream analysis, the meaning for one person may have little in common with the meaning for another. However, dreams of the apocalypse are obviously traumatic and lead many to seek meaning. The important thing with the analysis of any data – dreams or otherwise – is that it should always be contextualised. Use dreams as prompts to indulge in self-reflection and self-care.

By seeing dreams – even unsettling dreams – as growth opportunities and invitations to self-examination, dreamers can use the analysis of psychologists and philosophers as platforms to improve how well they understand themselves and as a driver of positive change.

Notable appearances in popular culture:

While not a chronical of a dream exactly, Michael Stipe has stated in interviews that the lyrics of It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine) were partly inspired by a dream and that the lyrics of the song were a combination of streams of consciousness.

This is how many of what Jung referred to as ‘archetypal’ dreams – dreams which transcend cultural and geographic boundaries – enter into popular culture.

Dreams as potent as these become the work of art rather than featuring in them – this includes an uptick in the monster-du-jour depending on the political party in charge in the US, as identified by Cracked.com. Here’s a snippet of what they had to say about the matter and a chart to show the trend:

Here’s the weirdest graph you’ll see all week. It’s graphing the popularity of zombie movies versus vampire movies, split out by whether the president at the time was a Republican or a Democrat. There are exceptions, but in general when a Republican is in office, it’s all about zombies. When it’s a Democrat, it’s all about vampires.

graph to show how popular culture changes in response to the US party in power

Dreaming about the end of the world is scary, but it is usually a thing of fantasies, like pipe dreams Take a look at other scary dreams and their meanings, such as dreaming of teeth are falling out, or maybe you’re being chased

About the author

More from the Sleep Matters Club