We homo sapiens have been trying to understand our dreams since we developed complex language. Over the millennia our beliefs about what dreams are, and where they come from, have changed and evolved along with our physiology, culture and technology.
Though we consider ourselves highly intelligent, innovative and technically advanced, compared to our primitive ancestors, when it comes to understanding our dreams, we’ve barely advanced past the Victorian ear and the Freudian theory of dreams as repressed sexual desires.
We turn to dream dictionaries and psychoanalysis to uncover the “hidden” meaning or message in our dreams. However, there’s no standardized meaning for a specific element -symbol- or theme.
You can do your own research on this. Enter a symbol in Google (or your favorite search engine) and check out a few of the meanings. For example, let’s look at a very common symbol; water. I typed in ‘the meaning of water in dreams.’ Google returned more than 43,000,000 results. In the top ten results alone, I found forty different interpretations for water. A few of the varied meanings are listed below:
1. Your current emotional state
3. Attachment to the Earth
4. The passage you’re moving along
5. A transition
7. The unknown
10. An invitation to take a journey
11. The unconscious
12. Spiritual cleansing
14. Passive aggressiveness
15. Meditation and reflection
16. Purification and change
17. An omen
18. Negative situations that bring uncertainty
19. Love, desire, passion, lust
20. Suppressed feelings
In psychoanalysis, no two therapists will come to the same conclusion or meaning for a dream, never mind a symbol. The paradigm they work within, their own references and preferences, and current literature will all influence the analyst’s interpretation. And even their method of dream analysis varies among different schools.
So, where does that leave us?
… Scratching our heads and realizing that we need to create our own dream dictionaries!
Every element (action, object or event) in our dream is a personal one. Many dream workers like to classify symbols (though I don’t consider elements necessarily symbolic) as universal, cultural and personal. But, every symbol in our dream is personal and just ours. Elements are fluid, versatile and fickle. What water, for example, means in your dream today, may not mean the same thing tomorrow, or even in another dream. And what it means to me, can be completely opposite one day, and exactly the same another day.
There are far too many possibilities and kinds of water to determine one single meaning, which applies to many elements. Don’t be discouraged. There is a way to interpret an element. We have a stable schema (or framework) of what water is, which we’ve developed and built upon throughout our lives. As we uncover the layers that make up our concept of water, we can discover the reference and association at the root of the particular element in the context of the specific dream.
Once we establish the different meanings of an element, we can then add it to a personal dream dictionary. I would suggest using a spreadsheet for your dictionary. It can handle much more data more efficiently and easily than a word processor or a database program.
As you build your dictionary, you’ll notice patterns, see new or unique meanings or associations, and become fluent in your own dream language. The reward far outweighs the time and effort it takes to create a growing database of knowledge about your Self and your life.