The Symbolism Of Dreams & How To Make Sense Of Them

5 min read

Last Modified 24 June 2022 First Added 26 November 2015

By Ian Wallace

We all experience bizarre dreams. Your dreams may seem like a stream of random imagery that make absolutely no sense. However, you are actually expressing yourself in a different and far more creative way. When you create your dreams, you are not just constructing exploratory stories by using images, you are also channelling powerful flows of emotion. To understand the symbolism of dreams and why you are dreaming a particular dream, all you have to do is work with the imagery and emotion that you have experienced in the dream.

The images that you create in your dreams are your natural way of connecting what is happening in your inner world of imagination to your outer world of realities. These connections from your inner world to your outer world are also known as symbols. They can identify where you can take meaningful action in waking life.

Related: The 10 Most Common Dreams & What They Mean

Understanding Symbols

The most powerful way to understand what your dreams mean is to work with the symbolic language and imagery that you create every night. Although a symbol is often considered just to be a simple representation of something else, it is actually a connection that enables you to explain your outer world. Rather than just adopting a simple ‘this means that’ approach to working with symbols, it is valuable to understand what symbols actually are and how to use them.

Woman dreaming

The word ‘symbol’ comes from the Greek word symbolon. This was a physical token, such as a coin, broken into two pieces that could only form a whole when fitted back together again. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, parts of one symbolon would not fit with parts of a different symbolon.

The fundamental power of a symbolon was not its ability to substitute for something else. But to connect an individual to something that was unfamiliar and held potential value for them. This remains true today. The power of a symbol is not in its ability to be a substitute. It is the ability it has to make a connection. In realising that a symbol is a dynamic connection rather than a static substitute, we become aware that the function of a symbol is to make a connection.

Abstract dream meaningsWhen we create a symbol, we are usually connecting our individual potential to opportunities that may currently seem beyond us. The meaning of a dream symbol is the connection that it makes.

The Symbolism of Dreams

When it comes to the symbolism of dreams, the imagery and symbols we create in our dreams convey us beyond ourselves. They also help us to convey our dream experiences as we express them to other people. The Ancient Greeks provided us with the word ‘metaphor’, which means to convey some quality from one thing to another.

The Greek philosopher and playwright Aristotle observed that, ‘The most skillful interpreters of dreams are they who have the faculty of observing resemblances.’ He noted this metaphoric ability of our dreams to connect and transfer meaning. Another Greek scholar, Artemidorus was the author of Oneirocritica, the first modern dream dictionary. He said ‘Dream interpretation is nothing other than the juxtaposition of similarities’.

Decoding metaphors and imagery

Decoding metaphors sounds complex. Metaphors can sometimes seem like a foreign language learned in school but somehow forgotten. We often find ourselves, however, unconsciously speaking the metaphors of our dream language in everyday speech.

It seems instinctively natural to say ‘under the weather’, ‘a piece of cake’, ‘all in the same boat’ or ‘water under the bridge’’. But these figures of speech only appear strange when you think what you have actually just said.

The idiomatic imagery we use in our dream language isn’t just random but describes our metaphorical dreamscapes. We use the solidity of land to represent practicalities and realities, using language like ‘down to earth’, ‘solid effort’ and ‘well grounded’.

Abstract dream image demonstrating the symbolism of dreams

Often the sky symbolises thought and ideas. For example, phrases such as ‘blue-sky thinking’, ‘airing your views’ and ‘shooting the breeze’. Water symbolises emotions with words like ‘feel it in my water’, ‘floods of tears’, and ‘at a low ebb’. Fire and light represent creativity and passion. For example, terms such as ‘burning desire’, ‘all fired up’ and ‘a light-bulb moment’.

The simplest and most powerful way to explain what your dreams actually mean is by understanding the symbolic significance of the dream language and imagery. We all tend to create similar themes in our dreams. For example being chased, falling or flying, because they reflect natural aspects of human behaviour.

Although we are all individual human beings, we also have generally similar behavioural patterns. So we create similar types of dreams as a way of exploring our waking life behaviours and how we can use them to identify opportunities and make the most of them. Understanding the symbolism of dreams and the meaning of a particular dream theme enables you to apply that awareness to a specific situation in your waking life.

Have you had any bizarre dreams recently? Let us know what they were in the comments below!

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