In General Knowledge

Dream Interpretation: From Magic to Psychology

dream interpretation

Dream interpretation has been always regarded as both the holy secret guarded by witches and warlocks and the intricate science in which we can understand what’s stored deep inside our heads. People who interpret dreams vary between witches, religious clerics, psychologists, priests and scholars. Interpreting dreams was viewed as an omen. Dream interpretation was a tool to predict the future by oracles and as a way to analyze a person’s subconscious by psychoanalysts.

Before understanding dream interpretation, one must understand the significance of dreams themselves as an entity.

What do dreams mean?

Many people ask themselves what their dreams mean. You might wake up in the middle of the night wondering how to interpret dreams or nightmares. A certain reflection or a childhood friend might be combined with an incident that happened hours ago. Dreams could be a mixture of sounds, scents and colors. Most people dream in black and white.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to what dreams mean. Some dreams are easily interpreted. They are similar throughout all cultures and have the same significance from one person to another. Being naked in public, the falling, being chased, flying or taking an exam are just a few examples of common dreams that people experience worldwide no matter what their culture is. They often symbolize similar meanings but some variations on even the most common dream-themes reflect a truly personal meaning for the sleeping person.

People often seek various dream interpretations to understand themselves better. Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, once said that “a dream unexamined is like a letter unopened”. People not only try to interpret their dreams, they also search for ways to control dreams (lucid dreaming), plant a certain idea in their dreams (dream incubation) and recall dreams. No matter what dreams represent, they are always triggered by an event in the present.

There are two ways to understand the purpose of dreams: the physiological theory and the psychological theory. Physiologically, many scientists believe that dreams are just biological by-products of random electrical brain impulses. They help creating neural connections during our sleep. Psychological theories believe that dream interpretation is necessary due to the prophetic nature of dreams and how they manifest our deepest fears and greatest desires.

Sigmund Freud and His Interpretation of Dreams:

In his great book The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, wrote that dreams are your translation of repressed desires or wishes. Since they are products of the subconscious, in which a person’s fears, desires, worst imaginations and cravings are present in the uncensored, graphic form, dreams become modified into milder versions via the proconscious.

According to Freud’s theories, there are three types of dreams:

  1. Prophecies.
  2. Foretelling of a future event.
  3. Symbolic dreams.

The last type is the one that calls for interpretation.

Dream interpretation starts with analyzing elements in the dream itself. A patient would describe a dream to the psychoanalyst, who would then try to draw certain elements from the dream and discover their significance, relative to the patient. In dreams, objects have many symbols and multiple meanings. Dreams express our darkest desires and sexual repressions. The Freudian school of analysis relied on dreams as compromises ensuring wish-fulfillment without the sleeper waking up.

Carl Jung Dream Interpretation Techniques:

Despite being Freud’s student, Jung had further developed dream interpretation based on both the personal and collective unconsciousness. In Jung’s interpretation of dreams, he used two basic approaches: objective (collective unconsciousness) and subjective (personal unconsciousness). The objective approach suggests that every character appears in the dream representing itself: a mother is a mother and a tree is a tree. It studies the individual in relation to humanity and the earth. The subjective approach (which is more common in dream interpretation) states that every item or person in the dream is related to the dreamer and represents him/her in a certain way.

Jung devised two methods to decipher dream symbols: the casual approach and the final approach. In the casual approach, the symbol is explained in its fundamental meaning to represent the deeper meaning of the dream. The final approach uses this fundamental explanation and provides the reason for its particular representation in the dream.

So you can say that the casual approach asks “What does this symbol represent?” and the final approach answers the question, “Why was this particular symbol chosen to represent this meaning?”
dream interpretation dream interpretation Dream Interpretation: From Magic to Psychology dream interpretation1

How to Interpret Dreams:

Dream interpretation relies heavily on symbolism. Many psychiatrists and psychoanalysts believe that each person is the expert on interpreting his/her own dreams. Some people go as far as trying to interpret their dreams using textbooks and dream dictionaries. Many people keep a “dream journal”. They discover that by writing down their dreams everyday, giving them titles and remembering certain keywords, dream interpretation gets better and more significant. Not all dreams could be easily analyzed. However, there are 12 basic dream themes that are known as “Universal Dreams”. They all belong to the “objective unconsciousness” category:

1) The Falling:

This is the most common universal dream. Dreams of falling have different interpretations including insecurity, falling down the social ladder, and loss of high status, temptation or fear of facing inner feelings. Despite being the most common dream, “the falling” doesn’t have a universal interpretation.

2) When you are naked in public:

This dream represents feelings of vulnerability and exposure or general insecurity.

3) When you are being chased:

This dream signifies closed mindedness, fear and anxiety or being haunted by a certain event. It could also mean that you are unable to face yourself (especially when the attacker’s face is not clear in the dream) and thus you are running away from it.

4) When you are taking an exam:

If you are still in school or college, this dream would reflect your confidence (or lack thereof) about being examined. However, if you finished education stages years ago, exam dreams might reflect a sense of completion in your life. You are ready to move on with your life and a certain stage is over.

5) Snakes:

Dreams containing snakes have strong sexual messages. In the Freudian symbolic interpretation of dreams, a snake is a strong phallic symbol. It stands for a penis. It represents raw sexual energy, forbidden sexuality or repressed sexual thoughts.

6) Your teeth falling out:

There are two levels for interpretation of this dream: a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning. The literal meaning reflects an ailment in other body parts or in the teeth themselves. On a symbolic level losing your teeth in a dream represent anxiety about certain life situations or dissatisfaction with your appearance.

7) You get injured and die/you get healed from an injury and revived:

Despite being really jarring and traumatizing, “death” is not a morbid dream theme. It usually reflects a new beginning, transformation or self-discovery. Death is seen as an end to your old life or your old ways. It could mean the end of a relationship or taking a new, different turn through it. Your death could also be an alarm from your unconsciousness to grab your attention towards something that requires quick action.

8) Flying:

This dream has two opposite effects on the sleeper: pleasantness and irritation. The pleasant ones reflect freedom and the yearning for it. Pleasant flying dreams usually occur when your life is going so well. It means you are taking off to a better stage in your life. Disagreeable flying dreams often symbolize being stuck in a nasty present situation from which you can’t get out.

9) Car accident:

This dream could be interpreted literally, that you fear being in a car accident. It could also reflect shame and harbor your deepest fears and anxieties.

10) The Ocean and (or) swimming:

The ocean is a very powerful dream symbol. Ocean dream interpretation falls into one of two main categories: ocean as the Unconscious and ocean as Mother. Ocean as the Unconscious dreams are either calm and serene or turbulent and violent. In the calm ones, a bridge has been built between consciousness and unconsciousness. There are no signs of troubles or resistance to transition. The violent ones reflect a repressed feeling or secret that has been pressing on the consciousness, willing to be revealed.

Ocean as Mother is interpreted through the collective unconsciousness theory. It reflects the individual’s connection to nature or his/her desire to connect to the true Mother, and become part of the flow of energy, the essence of life.

Ocean dreams are also the most common manifestations of premonition dreams.

11) You are haunted or guided by the dead:

Dreaming of a dead loved one or relative could suggest you are hanging around the wrong crowd or your distrust of your friends. It also symbolized material loss. The haunting aspect means that you still cannot get over those who passed away and you need a resolution with them. It might also reflect your fear of being alone and how much you miss that person.

If the dead are guiding you, this might be a way to direct your attention towards something in particular. It could also mean you are still maintaining your relationship with the spirit of the dead, which never dies but has been transported to another realm.

12) Missing your flight/train/etc:

Dream interpretation of missing the bus or a flight reflects how crammed your life is with unnecessary baggage. This excess baggage is keeping you from whatever you are destined to do so you should listen to your inner voice and focus on your deeper priorities.

The Dream Interpretation Dictionary:

A dream interpretation dictionary or simply a dream dictionary is an online database that interprets dreams by providing detailed explanations on various dream topics. Every keyword, symbol or topic is included in the dream interpretation dictionary in alphabetical order. You can browse your dream topics or symbols, by letter and read through different psychoanalytic interpretations of a singular topic. A certain symbol could be explained using more than one angle. For example: if you are hearing the piano, this suggests your life is going in harmony. However if you are playing the piano, you are on a quest for harmony which you still haven’t found.

Some dictionaries also interpret dreams using psychics. These experts use elements from nature for dream interpretation. Some seers use dreams to predict the future and their dream dictionaries base the interpretation on astrology.

Dream Interpretation in Abrahamic Religions:

Dream interpretation and spirituality went side by side in all Abrahamic religions. Tales of prophets and saints interpreting dreams to foresee the future or predict catastrophes are all through the Talmud, the Quran and the Bible.

Ancient Hebrews believed good dreams were the voice of God. The Hebrew prophet Samuel would lie down in the temple of Shiloh before the Ark to receive divine revelations.

In the Old Testament, Jacob’s dream about the staircase to Heaven and God’s speech to him are among many tales of the power of dreams in the biblical texts.

In Islam, dream interpretation is titled Ishtikara. Good Muslims receive revelations from God after praying a specific prayer that opens up the unknown world for them. God would later on send them messages related to a specific issue that the Ishtikara was about.

An Islamic dream interpretation dictionary by the Islamic philosopher and scholar Ibn Sirin titled Dreams and Interpretations contains various universal dream themes divided into 59 chapters. Ibn Sirin, however, doesn’t give definite religious dream interpretations and uses the word “maybe” to elaborate every symbol.

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