Symbolism in Dreams - Holly Slonaker


Symbols in dreams usually serve the purpose of telling the dreamer what he or she needs to achieve or needs to get over in order for his or her life to improve. People have had dreams since the beginning of recorded history, and the symbols in those dreams have changed very little, unlike the spoken and written language that has evolved over time. Although symbolic meanings are sometimes taught early on in life to almost all people, many are innate (meaning people are born knowing them).

Eric Fromm studied symbols in dreams and determined that there are three basic categories of symbols: conventional symbols, accidental symbols, and universal symbols. Conventional symbols are those we all use every day. The symbol and the meaning are really not related in any way except through learned association. For example, the word "dog" and the sound one makes when saying the word "dog" really has nothing to do with the four-legged creature known as "man's best friend." It is learned association that causes us to think of a dog when we see or hear the word "dog."

The second category of symbols is the accidental symbol. This type of symbol is based on personal experience only. What this symbol means to one person is completely different from what it means to someone else. For example, a certain restaurant may be a pleasant symbol of love and happiness for someone who celebrated a wedding anniversary there. On the other hand, that same restaurant could be a symbol of ill health or fear for someone who got food poisoning there.

Some symbols in dreams are universal, which means that the same symbols mean similar things to all people. However, just because a symbol is universal does not mean that it has only one meaning. Some examples of universal symbols are water and fire. Water can be a positive or negative symbol. Water can show energy and flow of life through a steady river, or it can symbolize destruction through a flood or crashing wave. Fire also has multiple meanings, positive and negative. It can imply high energy in life (as in a dancing flame) or destruction (as in a house fire). Some fires are initially seen as destructive (like a forest fire) but really represent rebirth or renewal. When interpreting dreams, one must be careful not to assume that the universal meaning of a universal symbol applies in his or her dream. Every symbol means something different to every person, based on personal experience or emotions.


Even though symbols can represent different things to different people, most dream interpreters believe that many symbols do have some sort of general meaning that applies to everyone. The following is a list of common symbols in dreams and their general meanings:

  1. male characters = men in general, that particular man, the male aspect of yourself, your father, intellect, idea, mode of thought, healing agent, guide, entity, a former life
  2. female characters = women in general, that particular woman, the female aspect of yourself, your mother, emotions, healing agent, guide, entity, a former life
  3. children = immaturity, the child within, trauma which occurred at the age of the child shown
  4. animals = the dreamer's animal instincts, sex, aggression, paternal or maternal instincts, social status

Obviously, these symbols do not have clear-cut meanings, even if these are the general meanings. One must look at the context of the dream and determine which meaning rings true to him or her. Looking within is really the only way to interpret a dream. Dream dictionaries can provide more specific symbols and their detailed meanings, but one must still examine what that symbol means to him or her personally before automatically accepting the dictionary's explanation.


Oftentimes numbers appear in dreams. Actually, instead of the actual number being in a dream, usually the number is represented by the number of people in the dream. Sometimes the actual number does appear though, such as in a street address or phone number one is supposed to remember in the dream. The following is a list of numbers and their general meanings in the dream world:

1 = indicates the need to develop one's individuality or creativity; indicates selfishness with dream subject
2. = indicates balance, sharing, give and take, two way communication; can indicate that the dreamer is a channel (medium)
3. = indicates commitment to improving oneself in mind, body, and spirit
4. = indicates limitation
5. = indicates sensuality, the five senses, Karma (literally learning your lessons through the five senses)
6. = indicates love, compassion, forgiveness
7. = indicates spiritual enlightenment
8. = indicates expansion through balance
9. = indicates spiritual advancement of the dreamer (not a very common number in dreams)
10 = indicates God, ideals
11 = indicates completion
12 = indicates a judgmental dreamer (comes from 12 people on a jury)


The purpose of color in a dream is to act as a healing agent or guide. The character in the dream who wears the color and the position of the color relative to the dreamer are important in interpreting the meaning of the color. For example, a color above the dreamer (like in the sky) indicates something the dreamer needs to strive for. The following is a list of colors and their general meanings in dreams:

  1. violet = spiritual understanding
  2. indigo = perception
  3. blue = philosophy, expression
  4. green = sharing, harmony, balance
  5. yellow = elimination
  6. orange = assimilation
  7. red = creative energy


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