Dreaming About The Dead – Is It Them Or Someone/Something Else?

You’re NOT Dreaming About Your Lost Loved One – Nightmare of someone Grieving

It’s not uncommon for us to hope or wish that our dreams can put us in contact with someone unreachable, especially loved ones who have died. Sometimes dreams of our loved ones fill us with hope, reassuring us that their soul is at peace or that we are able to continue some kind of relationship with them after. Other times these dreams are traumatic and seeing them can leave us shattered after waking up.

I think it important we realize when we dream about someone we should be curious as to what the person represents rather than immediately assume it’s the person we want to be in touch with.

A friend of mine suffering from recent grief shared with me a nightmare she recently had.

My hope is that sharing this nightmare and its interpretation that it provides solace to those also suffering from not merely grief but of struggles with self-worth.

Reliving a Traumatic Death

My friend relived her final moments in saying good-bye to her spouse. The setting was the exact same hospital, even with the exact same staff. It all seemed precise in its details to how she remembered that day.

She was approached by the doctor about withdrawing life support, of saying goodbye to her spouse. It was a hard decision that day, and that feeling of reluctance resurfaced in the dream.

But then a detail changed. She looked into the room, and her spouse was not in the bed. 

She turned and saw him walking down the hall, seemingly in perfect health. Her instinct was to run to him, and embrace him. He, in turn, stepped aside, avoided the embrace, and wore a face that reflected more disappointment and disapproval than joy or excitement.

It was a nightmare to return to the vivid details of that day, and the horrific turn of events in the dream (the rejection) only intensified the nightmare.

My friend woke with a sense of despair, a worry that her husband’s spirit was expressing disappointment or ill-will for her moving on, for removing life support.


In our discussion about this nightmare, we both focused on how odd and yet how significant the sudden change in the dream felt. Everything had been a reliving up until the spouse came alive and my friend ran to him.

But something told me very clearly that this was not the spirit or regard of the deceased, but rather that this scowling figure was the embodiment of my friend, a reflection of herself.

My friend confessed to struggling with guilt and forgiveness of herself for making the hard decision of pulling life support. Though she followed his wishes, she couldn’t shake the feeling of being responsible for “killing him”. Such a sensation is not uncommon, I have found, among those who are met with the tough decision of withdrawing medical interventions for their loved ones. No matter how clear the loved one had communicated their wishes, no matter what solace their faith gives them, the pang of guilt still burns in the griever.

My friend also shared her struggle of feeling self-worth and compassion towards herself. Prior to this nightmare I had been told about self-depricating thoughts and words she uses against herself and a struggle with accepting self-care for herself. Doing for others (be it family, co-workers, etc) comes easy to her, but doing for herself requires quite a bit of energy.

“This was not your husband,” I firmly said. “That was you not accepting a hug from you. You’re pushing yourself away. You’re denying yourself of that embrace, of reconciliation.”

The sentiment seemed to resonate with her, and in my time of evaluating dreams I’ve never felt more confident that the image of the person has so little to do with the actual person in our life, but rather what that person represents.

There’s different takes on what the spouse represents in dream interpretation. But considering that we often consider our spouse our “other-half” it’s not a stretch for us to view our spouses in our dreams as the other side of ourselves. The work for us to determine what part of ourself it is we are seeing when our spouse appears to us in our dream, whether they are living or not.

Visitation of the Dead in Dreams

I’ve had my own history of having dreams of those I love who have passed, and I’ve heard of a dozen different similar accounts. Most of my experiences of these dreams are a brief visitation of my departed loved one, a very short conversation with them, always ending with me waking up in tears. I’ve spoken with others who have shared in similar dreams that have a kind of bitter-sweetness to them.

Perhaps the strangest dream of this I had was losing my grandmother while I was half-way around the world. I had a dream about her wherein she was asking where I was and how I was doing, as if she knew I was traveling. I woke up that evening to a text from my family sharing that she passed peacefully in her sleep. I knew her health had been waning, though I had been given no real indication ahead of time she would pass during my trip. The timing was uncanny, dreaming of her the night before and then receiving the news.

As with all seemingly metaphysical experiences, we have to be discerning. Some of these things are merely our subconscious speaking to us, trying to hash out a deep need. That being said, some instances have led me to consider if some of these interactions with the departed are real, and even holy. My mind goes to “Way of the Pilgrim” wherein a wandering Orthodox Christian hermit has a dream of their spiritual father instructing them what to read and then waking to find pages in his bookmarked. 

We are susceptible in our dreams, which leads me to caution us all to be very discerning with the content of them. Because our own minds and the bodiless intelligences can misguide us, we should arm ourselves before sleep, asking for holy protection from our Lord and from the saints and our holy appointed angels. The rule of thumb that seems most advised on this issue is: if seeing your loved one leads you to pray for them, for yourself, and to repent further, then bless God.

So my prayer is that we remain curious about these dreams and what underlining messages our own heart (or even God) might be trying to tell us and to be discerning with dreams of the departed.

Reoccurring Dreams of School

Recently, I reviewed a childhood nightmare of mine and a childhood nightmare of a friend. The utility I see in dissecting childhood nightmares is paying attention to our own weaknesses and quirks manifested by early trauma and dynamics. As children, we have an affinity for symbolism as this is the stage of development we find ourselves in, and the images our young subconscious mind paints for us is trying to tell us something about our raw and vulnerable selves. We cannot ignore this inner child and what it’s trying to tell us about ourselves.

We don’t necessarily grow out of nightmares as adults, but perhaps unnerving and weird dreams continue to follow us, and instead of shocking us awake or putting us in a sweat they fill our nights with anxiety. While I don’t necessarily dream of the grim reaper anymore, I find there are other dreams that haunt me–not quite as traumatic as nightmares–that say something important about myself and my needs.

I’d wager the dreams I’m about to share are not uncommon ones, and I hope by sharing them we can find more awareness on these popular themes that we all need to address in our personal lives.

Returning To School

Student First Day Primary School First Steps School

These dreams I noticed began plaguing me after graduating from college. The setting was always either elementary or high school. The people around me were unrecognizable, though I always had a sense that I was in my current adult state whereas my “classmates” were the age that they were supposed to be in.

In this dream, I’d been forced to return to school, to either retake classes or sign up for new ones. While I have a hard time remembering what exactly those classes were, I always got the sense that they were the broad range of subjects we are exposed to in public school rather than a specific set of courses we have agency to take in college. I always got a math feel from these, a subject I’m not fond of.

For whatever reason, the setting of the dream was usually always set either in the hallways of the building, the cafeteria, or driving myself on the way to school. I’d never seen a classroom in these dreams, though I do remember having to go through a rather small backpack to see if I had my supplies and having to see teachers outside the classroom to coordinate a schedule. 

I’d feel lost and a little embarrassed in these dreams, embarrassed that I’d been forced to “go back”. I’d also feel anguish for having to repeat these classes, to toil again on subjects I thought I’d put behind me. Perhaps the best way of putting this feeling is actually a despondency that comes from entropy; a feeling that even though you’ve put forth work, your surroundings and reality will just decay and fall back on you.

The dream I believe captures vividly a symbol of humility, a recognition that one must go back and relearn. Some of this might be our minds addressing our resistance to change/grow/learn and our need to pay attention to that mental stasis. It also could be a subconscious alarm ushering someone to humble themselves and return to study, or even to get in touch with one’s inner child.

I also get a sense of “incompletion” and “incompetence” that comes from this dream and the feeling of embarrassment of having to return to school with youths. Sometimes we feel inadequate with our upbringing or education, and in these cases it’s easy to blame ourselves or others instead of do something about it. But this dream humbly addresses an alternative: take the mental posture of an absorbant child, humble yourself, and relearn to feel competent. 

Missing Class

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I’m absolutely positive I’m not the only one who has suffered this dream.

The setting of the dream typically looks like my high school, though the feel of the dream is more like college. There is this feeling in the dream that I’m going between classes in a full day of school. There is also this sense that it is somewhere mid-semester. I usually always find myself not in class, but rather walking the hallways to get to my next class.

The next part of this dream is always sudden and seemingly unprovoked. Somewhere in my walk between classes, it dawns on me that there is a class I haven’t attended at all that semester. I can’t say for certain if it’s a classmate who informs me, or if it’s something I realize by looking down at my schedule. Regardless of what instigates this sudden realization, I’m filled with dread, realizing there is a class I have totally neglected. I’ve not shown up, and yet I know my name is on the roster and I know that half a semester of absentees will come with inescapable consequences.

In college, a classmate confided in me that not only had he suffered from this type of dream, but that it had actually occurred to him in college for at least a month: he’d signed up for a class, and hadn’t attended it at all. He shared the feeling of dread and embarrassment, though the school and professor were pretty merciful to him…I would wager more merciful than what our minds were doing to us.

It’s clear to me that this dream isn’t uncommon, and I think the dread and outcome of this dream point to a rather obvious theme: forgetfulness. In the duties of my work, it’s easy to forget to follow up with someone, to miss a detail in a project, to lose sight of a responsibility. We are either stretched too thin or allow our minds to wander far too long.

I believe these dreams are our minds giving us a call to action to pay attention, to take inventory of not just one’s responsibilities in work, but to take inventory of all facets of one’s life. Do we make lists? Do we pay attention to our surroundings and how we can improve things? And most importantly, what are the distractions in our life that are getting in the way of our attention to the things that matter most?

Unrehearsed Play

I’d performed for years in school plays, starting in elementary school and all the way up until  high school. I had a love for acting back then, and although I had a lot to learn one thing I always felt particularly strong in was memorizing lines. I’d spend hours at home rehearsing lines with my parents, even making playlists of my lines recorded to hear over and over.

Though I’ve left theater behind, theater keeps chasing after me in my dreams. The setting is always on the familiar stage of our school. Sometimes the cast is familiar, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes the plays are familiar, sometimes they aren’t…but what’s most odd about this is there’s always two assumptions I have in those dreams: we have performed that play before, and our lines have already been memorized.

The terror that comes from these dreams is that I know I don’t know my lines. Sometimes I’m able to realize this by rationalizing in my dream “we performed this YEARS ago”. Other times the play seems so foreign, and yet somehow I expect myself to know my lines. So I stand on stage in terror without knowing what to say to my fellow actors, embarrassed to be in the spotlight in front of an audience, wordless.

I’ve heard dreams of being naked in class are quite common, though I can’t remember suffering from those sorts of dreams. It is possible, perhaps, this is my manifestation of those types of dreams as there seems to be a similar theme in both dreams: receiving attention and embarrassment. Whereas in the dream when we are naked in class has to do with an embarrassment of vulnerability (having no garment, no mask, nothing covering us, much like the sudden vulnerability of Adam and Eve) the dream I suffer from has to do with an embarrassment of incompetence and speechlessness. I am afraid to be in front of so many not because of what I’m not wearing, but because there is an expectation of me to know what to say, to know where my part fits, and instead I am lost, unsure, and waffling around on stage like poor improv.

The theme of this dream I find very alive in my own life. A great deal of anxiety can come from not knowing what to say or do in a situation, especially when providing emotional care/counsel. It’s also a frustration of mine to be put into a setting expected to work and also expected to know exactly what protocol is and what needs to be done without any orientation.

The growing edge here is to use improv, and the theater imagery in this dream speaks to that. As a writer, I can remind myself of my creative potential and seek ways to be bold and step in, even when I find myself speechless and ill-prepared. That can be a growing edge for us all.

The Return to the Museum

The last dream has not so much to do with school, though the setting always reminds me of school. In elementary and high school, I recall multiple field trips to our near-by museum. We were blessed to have so many different kinds of exhibits.

The dream I always find myself in is that of biology, fossils, and taxidermy. I always begin my walk into the museum surrounded by a large skeleton and walls lined with glass cases of fossil exhibits. Oddly, the dream never really takes me anywhere else in the museum, and the setting always seems to hang around prehistory and undersea biology. The dream has especially been recurrent for me in my adult life to the point that sometimes I will know I am dreaming because of the frequency and familiar details of the dream.

I confess, I’m not totally certain of this dream’s purpose, though I have a guess.

In my work of counseling and in my personal writing, I’ve found a deep appreciation for introspective work. The skeletons and fossils of the exhibit are of great interest to me in the dream, which could reflect how I view the deepest history in each human person; to know ourselves, we need to understand our early childhood memories and family system. The “deep” element of the exhibit could either speak to a fear and fascination I have with the sea, OR it could be symbolic representation of the depth to the human person, and my personal affinity for anything that goes beyond the surface of the human being. Lastly, the bestial nature of the exhibit–because the exhibits never show human skeletons or remains–could speak to a fascination or attention I have to bestial impulses, the “passions” of a person that lie deep and spawn out of our earliest traumas and experiences.

Why I find myself skeptical of this interpretation is because the interpretation doesn’t necessarily tell me anything about myself I don’t already know. I have come to terms with my fascination for people’s stories, for the impulses that we bury and come from our bumpy pasts. Perhaps the dream invites me to continue to mine my own story and take inventory of my own fossilized beasts that can come to life once in a while. Perhaps it’s my subconscious just giving me a break and showing a pleasant mirror of my own inner interests. It’s hard to say for sure on this one.

In Conclusion…

Especially today where our upbringing is so saturated in a setting of education–essentially our schools have become our foster parents with how much time we are exposed to the classroom setting–I think it’s important we give credence to dreams that are within a school setting. These dreams not only speak directly to our inner child–because our first great memories are largely to be had in school–but because the very symbol of school is that of growth and learning. When we pay attention to our dreams of school, we might glean areas of our life that we are supposed to grow from, as if it is our inner child grabbing us by the hand and telling us, “we need to go back for another lesson we missed”.

What kinds of dreams do you have of school? What do you think they are trying to teach you?

Kid Holding Hands Young Toddler Father Child Baby

Childhood Nightmares – Scorpions & Mazes

In my previous blog, I put one of my own childhood nightmares under scrutiny of its themes and implications. I’d like to follow that note up on a childhood nightmare that a friend confided in me as I feel it may have some similar parallels to my own nightmare.

The Scorpion and the Maze

The description of this childhood nightmare is pretty straightforward.

My friend shared with me a recurring nightmare he had of being trapped in a labyrinth, a Greco-style maze. Though he didn’t necessarily possess the height or birds eye view to see that he was in a maze, he found himself met with many boundaries, many walls, and coincidently many choices. And because this maze felt like a classical labyrinth, it meant that danger could lurk around any corner (like the all famed Minotaur).

Frustrating and frightening as this scenario might already seem, there was another component that made it more perilous.

My friend knew that there was a giant scorpion chasing him as he traversed the maze. So not only did my friend feel the pressure of danger awaiting each turn in this labyrinth, but he felt pressure breathing down his back as this hideous creature followed him, forcing him to choose his paths rather than granting him any respite to relax or think through his decisions.

The scorpion for some time didn’t mean anything in particular to him that would be different to you and me: scorpions are regarded as venomous creatures and unseemly to look at. What I was struck by was how he shared with me a real incident he experienced many years later when he was traveling abroad and had been stung by a scorpion while putting on his shoe. In that country, the physicians said the venom was too weak to use any antidote for remedy, that the sting would not be fatal. They sent him off with a bag of ice to help the swelling. My friend said the pain of the sting was indescribable and lasted the entire day, and then some.

My friend has always had a rather benign regard for all animals, including insects (choosing to trap and let outside even spiders and cockroaches). But scorpions he’s always had a deep disdain for, likely due to the dream and his painful incident of being stung by one.

“Prophetic” & Therapeutic Power

I am almost tempted to say that there was something prophetic about the dream. 

My first question to my friend was if he had this dream AFTER having been stung by a scorpion, but he told me this dream plagued him in his early years, well before the incident with the real scorpion that stung him. Had this dream occurred after his sting, the obvious implication is that the trauma of the event has allowed his subconscious to assign scorpions as the symbolic representation of adversity, fear, pain, etc.

I don’t believe his childhood nightmare was a warning to him that he’d encounter a traumatic experience with a scorpion later on and end up hating them. That being said, the fear of the dream mingled with the trauma of the experience solidifies this symbol in his waking and subconscious mind. 

I believe God sometimes uses symbols that carry these tangible meanings to communicate something or challenge us to do something. What I often see occur in phobias is that God uses the symbol of that which we are afraid of to challenge us to grow bold in other areas of our life. 

An example of this is to take the fear of spiders, which is largely irrational (unless you’re encountering a spider that with one bite can kill you). Someone who has a fear of spiders can encounter a spider and conquer their fear of spiders through different means of exposure. When someone learns the techniques used to develop courage against this harmless fear, fear itself can be inoculated against. It’s like the spider is the harmless version of a virus put into our bodies, so that our mental antibodies (courage) can learn to take on a REAL threat.

Again, while I have suspicion of placing too much emphasis on prophetic power of dreams, I do wonder if God allowed this childhood nightmare and allowed the later scorpion sting to serve as a phobia for my friend to triumph over in the pursuit of courage.

Symbolism At Play

L0027293 The gyri of the thinker’s brain as a maze of choices in biom Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The gyri of the thinker’s brain as a maze of choices in biomedical ethics. Scraperboard drawing by Bill Sanderson, 1997. Drawing 1997 By: Bill SandersonPublished: [1997] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

A maze carries a rather obvious connotation of decision making and uncertainty. We cannot see beyond the walls of the maze and without having a bird’s eye view cannot discern which path leads to our exit or goal. While carving a path in a maze by foot, we can get overwhelmed not knowing if we’ve taken a previous path before, unsure if we are getting any closer to our destination. Things blur together, a sense of progress becomes amiss to us. 

The symbol of a maze is the dread we experience in life. Each of our futures are indiscernible as a maze. Just as we would traverse a maze with a sense of hopelessness, we too can go through life feeling like we have missed the correct turn, feeling a sense of impossibility of finding happiness or accomplishment typified by the end of the maze. The maze therefore communicates both an anxiety to make decisions and a lack of trust for the future.

We also see the symbol of the scorpion in this dream. In mediteranean/near eastern mythologies, scorpions seem to convey symbols of life and death simultaneously. This unusual connection to life that scorpions bear is predominantly due to the antidote that ancient civilizations were able to discern from scorpion venom. 

The symbol of death tied to scorpions can be elaborated on when we consider an indomitable nature of scorpions. Scorpions possess a great deal of features that make them apt fighters of things their size and greater: The armor of the scorpion, the features of its claws added with a stinging tail (an advantage over most animals that might only use jaws and claws for fighting), and their covert nature (not really making any noises as they move and hide). They are symbols of nature’s finest warriors in these terms, having many weapons, a strong defense, subtle movement, while also possessing a lone-wolf image as not being a hive-minded being (perhaps like wasps which might seem to be a strong counterpart). They are nature’s soldiers of death.

The idea of scorpions as antagonistic also fits in mythology as we consider that this was the creature sent to destroy the great hunter Orion. Though the stories of Orion’s fate differ, a common theme of hubris seems to play out in Orion’s life–believing he could hunt all creatures down or he was a better hunter than Artemis–always resulting in his death by the means of an enemy that could best him.

Scriptural Symbolism of Scorpions

The Bible happens to afford us a great depth of symbolic painting on many elements, and it’s interesting to see the different ways scorpions have been represented in Scripture. 

In various books of Scripture, scorpions seem to carry a theme of cruelty that can come from tyranny or admonishment. We see this when King Rehoboam (son and successor of wise Solomon) threatens a fractious group of Israelites to subdue the people not with whips but with scorpions, indicating a “piling on” of punishment (1 Kings 12). This story of tyrannical punishment is echoed in Luke 11:12 when Jesus compares the merciful Father to humanity’s penchant for cruelty or imagining cruelty on others, indicating that going to God in prayer should be like expecting an egg (to nourish us, a symbol of life) instead of expect a punishment, a scorpion. 

The theme of tribulation (especially a long period of testing) could also be related to scorpions when we consider how the Israelites are stung by scorpions in their journey to the promised land, or the scorpions in Revelation that we are told have a sting that lasts 5 months. Scorpions are threats of pain to be endured that precede paradise, for in Exodus/Deuteronomy we expect the Kingdom of God through Israelite rule, while in Revelation we expect God’s Heavenly Kingdom following the tribulations of the end times.

The last theme from Scripture I’d like to point out is not an overt reference to scorpions, though the language certainly paints the tail of a scorpion. In 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, St. Paul mocks death by saying “O death, where is your sting, o grave where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” These verses pair powerfully when we look into the Gospel of Luke where Jesus speaks about giving over authority to the apostles to tread on scorpions (Luke 10:19). Here, again, we see scorpions as a representation of death (something ancient cultures already agreed upon in this image) and more than that it is a manifestation of the lethality of sin. While there’s evidence to support Jesus speaking literally in regards to treading on snakes and scorpions, we cannot overlook His symbolic speech of the apostles having an even greater victory: treading on & overpowering death & sin through Christ’s authority.

How To Traverse Our Own Mazes

The symbols of this dream convey a deep anguish we all feel when presented with big choices to be made in life. The childhood nightmare carries an insight that the future will be rife with big decisions, and not only that, but that there will be peril in this process of decision making. We all feel the same pain of not knowing our future, and thus choosing an option becomes a burden because our traversing of the maze of life will leave us with wondering if we choose the right path and if we are ever any closer to our goal (happiness, salvation, whatever manifestation the end of the labyrinth takes on).

What actually is liberating in the manifestation of the scorpion in this dream is that the dream wisely puts: you won’t have time to rationalize what’s the best option. The scorpion at our backs is death, and we cannot wait for death to catch up to us while we stand idle at the start of this maze. If scorpions truly are a manifestation of death, then the rich symbolism of this dream tells us that action is needed, that idleness is unbecoming for this seemingly indomitable foe at our backs.

Taken from a pagan or non-religious perspective–looking at Orion and Scorpio–we would view this threat to our backs as the punishment of hubris. There’s value in seeing the scorpion even as a manifestation of hubris’ punishment, as traversing a maze/labyrinth is often caught up in hubris, performed by a proud soul who believes they can discern the path with their own reasoning, without a bird’s eye view or any added perspective. The scorpion at our backs reminds us that hubris pushes us through the maze, and that it will be through hubris/pride that we fall and fail to meet our goal.

How can any of us discern our own paths and feel a sense of hope that we will reach the blessed end of the maze? How can we alleviate ourselves from regrets of a mistaken path? If we face a dead end, will we not turn to see the sting of the scorpion cornering us? What can guide us through the labyrinth of life that possess so many tough decisions? What can arm us to face this giant scorpion that pushes us through the maze?

Christ is the only one who promises an antidote to this venom. His antidote is life-giving, is resurrectional. His antidote is also humility, inoculating us from the sting of pride. Looking at a Scriptural interpretation of this dream, we can see the futility of human reason, and the need to place our every deed, action, and decision at the feet of the Lord, the Most High God, who possesses this bird’s eye view of our labrinth, of our life.

I can personally attest to how crippling, paralyzing (like the sting of the scorpion) making decisions in life can be. I faced this when discerning my vocation/occupation, when dating/courting before I was married. The only remedy to this anguish and sting of uncertainty was through casting my eyes above the walls of my labyrinth and asking God for His perspective, to lead me, and to crush my own understanding and hubris along the way. 

Safe journeys as you traverse through your own maze!

Childhood Nightmare-The Reaper

As a preface, I’ve been especially curious about childhood nightmares as I’ve discussed my own nightmares with others and listened to friends discuss theirs to me. There’ a strong case to be made why examination of childhood nightmares possesses a great utility for each of us. Namely, children begin to think in terms of symbols quite early, just after developing motor functions. Piaget’s stages of development underlines how ages 2-7 are marked by symbolic thinking, or using objects to represent themes, emotions, etc. This speaks to how children grow quickly in language at this age and how alive imagination is within these years. Whatever dreams we remember from these ages (and even a few years thereafter as we learn new ways of thinking) are sure to possess some deep and rich messages.

Throughout my writing on dream interpretation, I’ll be borrowing not only from my dreams but dreams that have been confided in me, disguising each name to protect the anonymity of the dreamer, calling all said instances “friends” even if they happen to be strangers, family members, coworkers, etc.

My hope in this endeavor is not merely to unpack the symbols of said dreams/nightmares to provide individual catharsis and direction, but to open the conversation of childhood nightmares to this audience that we may be curious as to the themes that our psyche is screaming at us to pay attention to.

The Grim Reaper

Somewhere around kindergarten and 1st grade, I’d experience a recurring nightmare that followed me even in late elementary school years. The dream itself occurred with less frequency as I grew older but eventually manifested in other ways in college.

The first time I experienced this dream, it was set somewhere in my home, in the late hours of the night. I was walking out from my bedroom towards our living room. The TV light was the only thing illuminating the room and I knew my parents were in the room. They gave the most minimal acknowledgement of seeing me.

And then, an inexplicable feeling of dread happened upon me, and unconsciously I felt a need to do two things: scream and fall to the floor. Both were automatic, almost compulsory.

The more I reflect on my scream, I think of it as an intention to either warn everyone of something I detected or meant to conjure whatever it was that I detected or anticipated, as though to “get it over with”. The scream was always marred with fear. 

After falling automatically flat, in a matter of seconds I’d feel something approach me from behind, scoop me up, and carry me off. I remember feeling or perhaps in my peripheral seeing this figure that scooped me away. It was reminiscent of the dementors of Harry Potter, of the Grim Reaper in its dark, hooded, faceless demeanor (mind you, Harry Potter hadn’t come out then, but when the dementors were described I felt they bore a chilling resemblance to the thing of my nightmare). 

What was always strange about this was knowing this grim figure would carry me off somewhere into the darkness while someone else would look on without any reaction, word, or protest. In the case of my first dream, the grim figure carried me in its arms in front of my parents in order to get to the basement door where we both vanished into the blackness.

Recurrence of the Dream

The dream would repeat itself sometimes in my home but in a different lighting, and sometimes the dream would manifest in other houses or locations. All seemed to be indoor settings. What was common of all these was how sudden and surprising the presence of the grim figure would be, and how an instinct of mine would always compel me to scream and then to drop dead. This nightmare continually caught me off guard though the pattern of screaming, falling, and being carried off all continued.

Later on, particularly in seminary, I found the dream resurface in different homes (the dream setting would be less familiar). The surprise of this grim figure altered from a hooded figure of death into a known presence of evil dwelling within the house or within a particular room. What also changed in the dream was my reaction. I didn’t feel more autonomy in the dream, but something seemed to flip as instead of acknowledging this evil force in a fearful scream, I raised my voice into an indignant shout. My shrill cry became angry barking of prayers almost as though I were exorcising the evil force I knew to be there. I’d finish the dream feeling a sense of victory, feeling the presence leave, feeling the house safe and quiet.

This dream repeated itself for years in my schooling. It was still a fearful dream that I felt could easily become a nightmare, and sometimes they did turn into just that. Overwhelmingly I felt the dream itself evolve, and I do see a kind of continuity between the grim reaper I would collapse before and the evil presence that I would stand to challenge.

Symbols & Interpretation

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The most obvious figure in this dream is this dreaded force, this grim reaper like character. I’d always given the figure the title of the grim reaper as this is what I saw as the personification of death growing up. There is a temptation here to lean heavily on the theme of death–especially considering that the prospect of death was a conversation I had with my mom in early elementary school and it was not one that filled me with much hope. But the theme of a hooded figure could also be a representation of the literal unknown, a fear of hiddenness, a despising of that which is covert. The figure was dark, hidden, and felt predatory as it came after me, and simply put, we could say my young mind decided to personify evil in this way–evil is shadowy, faceless, and filled with want. All very real possibilities and I’m sure there’s other symbols here one could extrapolate.

What’s also worth noting is that my primary fear was not of death–I actually suffered more nightmares about tornados when I was young, and growing up I had developed a great fear for tornados–and so I am inclined to place the focus of this dream interpretation not on the figure itself, but on the circumstances.

A common element of these dreams is that they all happened indoors, in a home setting. I’m tempted to ignore this detail–home is an easy base for any dream to begin within a atmosphere that is known and comfortable. That being said the home itself can represent safety and as we said “the known”. The implications of finding evil or death in a place I deem safe and knowable has some powerful connotations.

The other common element is the tendency towards screaming. I wouldn’t deem this detail as a natural reaction for a child, especially because the scream itself always seemed to trigger the force to come after me. Rather, I’ve thought of this reaction in tandem with the component of the dream that has to do with onlookers doing nothing as I’m carried off. Do I feel I am suffering alone and that my cries for help go unnoticed? Do I feel alone in my fear, pain, or peril? Or even more simply, do I feel a need to be acknowledged–the scream is meant to perhaps get attention, and the nightmare is made more eerie when nobody seems to react or budge seeing me in the arms of death.

The last notable element is the collapse, the complacency to pretend to be dead. I wouldn’t say this reaction comes from the grim reaper taking away my life force. Instead, I can discern a part of me felt like it was easier to lay down and die rather than to fight, to flee, or to stand my ground. It reminds me of a cat that goes limp in a leash harness–allegedly cats do this as a natural reaction to play dead when they feel they are in the jaws of a predator. This begs the question of whether this reaction of mine is innate and natural or if it speaks to how I deal with opposition or conflict: lay down, let the peril blow over, let it pass.

What To Do With The Dream

There’s a lot of symbols and material to dissect in this dream, though the most powerful reflections I have found helpful in my interpretation of this dream is the scream and the laying down, or rather what those represent: a fear of loneliness and neglect and fatalistic submission

Vainglory has been a passion I’ve struggled against for a long time, though gaining attention as an introvert isn’t so easy. I sometimes think of my days in theater as a manifestation of a safe means of gaining attention, of gaining the spotlight of an anonymous crowd as I myself don the mask of the part I am playing. If I say or do something on stage, it is the part I play that is judged or embraced, while I as a person can still gain the attention I secretly crave. This is just one such example which I think other actors might sympathize with.

The scream speaks to a need to learn how to reach out in a healthy/safe way that can be heard. As my dream demonstrates, there is an underlying fear that as I reach out or seek attention, others will merely stare on while I suffer in front of them. The scream speaks to a need to find healthy ways of being noticed, in ways that are appropriate and normal in relationships. Finally it communicates perhaps a need of feeling heard. However, in order to properly address this need of being heard one ought to also master how to hear/listen to others.

The “falling” in the dream couples well with the later manifestation of the dream. Succumbing to defeat and throwing my hands up when trouble comes my way is a personal struggle I’ve been able to identify in my life. In the past, I’ve given up on stories that become too difficult to write and my mind has a tendency to assume “the end” when a project or environment becomes too overwhelming. Fighting this force would assume a “disagreeable” disposition, would assume confidence to fight against a threat despite the stacked odds. Even fleeing (an alternative to falling in the dream) communicates a hope that one might escape the problem and find refuge elsewhere. In laying down, my psyche is communicating to me a tendency to be a walking mat for my problems and accept a disposition of submission.

Coupled with the other dream, the lying down and standing to exorcise against the evil threat is my psche telling me I have the capacity to grow bold, to assume a different posture. The latter dream communicates that confidence can be held, and that perhaps there is power in my voice. For example, in my nightmare I scream and it triggers something, in my other dream I shout and it subdues the threat. Perhaps my psche is telling me my physical posture and my mental posture is looking take an upright stance and challenge the threats of my life, telling me that my weapon in my fights is not force or cunning, but my own voice and words.

To conclude, this dream encourages me (and perhaps you’ll feel encouraged as well) to do the following:

  • Monitor my need for getting attention; seek out healthy relationships where being heard is valued and reciprocated
  • Assume an upright posture in the face of danger; keep practicing courage even when laying down (my posture, my eyes, my voice) comes easy
  • Use my voice and words to address fear and evil

What about you?

Did you suffer from childhood nightmares?

Is Dream Interpretation Ok?

My Connection To Dreams

Over the years I’ve held mixed feelings about dreaming, at times relishing it and at times detesting it.

When I think of dreams that I can still actively remember throughout my life, they tend to be negative or traumatic. Some are legitimate nightmares, others are rather despondent and disheartening.

Nonetheless, in much of my young life, I longed to dream. I wanted to dream every night, though the science would really say I wanted to remember them instead of having them (we often dream without recollection). This may seem odd as the dreams that stand out were never particularly inspiring or pleasant. Nonetheless, I was wishful for a pleasant escape from reality, a taste of surreal entertainment. I think in part I was also looking for something revelatory, something that might speak an important message of my world, myself, etc.

In my teenage and college years I began to develop some resentment towards dreams as they spurred me with false pleasantries and disturbing images. I’d grow frustrated either from what I’d wake up without or perturbed to have been subject to horrific nightmares that would haunt me throughout the day. My interest in remembering my dreams died out for a time.

Upon my approach to seminary, my interest peaked once more in dreams. I’ve tried taking their meaning with a grain of salt, though I couldn’t–and still can’t–help but wonder if there’s some utility in them. I’ve found it’s safer to consult others when it comes to our dreams as the messages can sometimes deceive us. We should be careful when attributing a source to our dreams lest we be mislead that God is telling us something that may not come from Him. Though I think there’s precedent to believe God can use and speak through our dreams, I would caution anyone who reads this to not self-assume the role of a prophet when examining their own dreams, but rather become curious as to what implications the dream has for the individual’s own soul and personal development.

Scriptural Precedent for Dream Interpretation

Scripture certainly affirms a utility in dream interpretation. That being said, the dream interpretation we see in the Old Testament have a lot more to do with prophecy than that of personal revelation.

Joseph and Daniel are the big figures of dream interpretation we see the in the Bible, and the circumstances of their dream interpretation follow closely together. Joseph and Daniel’s dream interpretation came with a risk should their interpretation prove wrong. Their interpretation was used on behalf of pagan tyrants, typically to warn of some gruesome fate that was to befall their empire. The dream interpretation seems to have led such leaders in a state of humility (temporarily at least). And most importantly, the dream interpretation of both these figures was done by consulting God in prayer.

We also read in the Book of Joel, echoed in the Acts of the Apostles, of prophecy being something to be expected of the elderly, that they will dream dreams (in addition to the youth prophecying). This detail seems to affirm a utility in dreams, that the old men will discern important themes and wisdom much like the youth on behalf of God’s glory.

Keeping in mind this Scriptural precedent, I find it important we use the aforementioned criteria in dream interpretation so that we become not misguided or deceived. Dream interpretation should always lead to the glory of God and its pursuit and end goal ought to be done with humility. 

How I see dream interpretation acting towards the glory of God is when we look into the themes of our dreams and how they might communicate growing edges of ourselves, or insight us to work on something, specifically to work towards something we are neglecting.

Secular Precedent and Application of Dream Interpretation

Dr. Jordan Peterson in his lectures talks at great length about dream analysis, and shared in one instance how dream analysis helped his client in a psychotherapy session confront a fear of death she had. Dreams may not always seem straightforward in what they are communicating to us to address, but in that instance it seems the dream was quite explicit about the need of the individual in conquering a fear. When we are awake, our body and mind are quite adverse to approaching things that we hold staunch phobias or trauma over. I believe that a wandering mind without inhibitions or distractions (ie, our minds in this dream state) boldly ventures to our fears, our shame, our concerns either through the explicit image of what we need to confront or by veiling it in a symbol of something we can more properly digest or encounter.

Peterson has also likened daydreaming and the act of thinking as the projection of an avatar, the imaginary insertion of ourselves into a circumstance that has not occurred that we nonetheless expect may happen or fear may happen. A concrete and positive example of this is thinking of hypothetical situations for emergencies, such as checklists and step-by-steps of fires, natural disaster, etc; though we don’t typically dream about such complicated issues, we nonetheless “daydream” or think out loud, and these become strategic dreams. Less useful instances of this is when we walk away from an argument and think up what we could have said or done differently. 

I mention these forms of “daydreaming” to show how our minds see a utility in reflecting on the past and thinking on the future. Our wakeful mind sees utility in these thoughts. Nevertheless we ought to be discerning of our thoughts, examine their source and intention, weighing whether or not they are for our betterment and God’s glory or if they will only lead to distress and sin. In the same way we see utility and potential for distress or distraction in daydreaming, we can see our dreams at night as both a utility but also as a hazard that should be handled with great care. But even the hazardous nightmares that unnerve our peace and cause us to fret can still tell us something important about our attention and concerns when we are awake.

Dream interpretation leans heavily on symbols, of interpreting what an image is standing in for. A father may not necessarily be your mind telling you about your actual dad, but using the facade of your dad to articulate something more complex. Abstract thought is not a feat we humans gain early according to Piaget’s theory of stages of development, and so it is not so obvious that our thoughts have to do with lists and math but rather deal in images that stand in the place for more complicated themes and ideas. But it is truly wondrous how quickly children pick up on symbols, doing so not merely in language but through their imagination and using toys, shapes, etc to manifest invisible themes and realities. 

Dream Interpretation For Self-Improvement

While we have mentioned that God has used dreams for His divine purposes, again, I believe we should take caution in assuming the dreams we have possess a prophetic purpose. It’s safer for us to be discerning and mistrustful of visions lest we be deceived by something spiritual that is counter to the divine (demonic). Included in this, I believe we also should be cautious of actively seeking out dreams and especially careful to avoid dream manipulation. Actively seeking out such experiences seems reminiscent to me of Adam & Eve’s desire to have secret knowledge they weren’t ready for, something ultimately distracting them from God’s revelation to us. It is better for us to seek out God’s revelation and ask for His protection at night, and what dreams may come let them be.

That being said, the themes of the dreams we have will undoubtedly tell us things about ourselves. Even in the Ladder of Divine Ascent a monk describes the dream of flight having to relate to the sin of pride we can suffer from. It is more likely that our dreams–both good dreams and bad dreams–will tell us something we need to work on rather than provide us some sense of intuition or privileged wisdom. We can think of it as a subtle friend who is talking about something indirectly as that we can digest the hard message they are trying to get across to us, that we need to be mindful of our attachments, of our neuroticisms, to pay attention to the passions and fears that we are absorbed by.

In all things, we ought to bless and hand over that which we engage in. If our intent is to look at our dreams as opportunities to lead us to sainthood, to perfecting our souls that we may have a more open relationship with God, then we have baptized the utility of the dream. The danger of dreams can be neutralized when we take a pulse of our ego that it may not inflate and when we ask God to bless our discernment. More importantly, should we pray before drifting off to sleep for protection we can hope for a night free of misleading dreams and to hand all our pursuit of wisdom into God’s hands.

Are Dream Symbols Universal?

There seems to be some suspicion of “dream interpretations” due to seemingly arbitrary “handbooks” on what specific images relate to specific concepts/themes. From what I’ve seen, a lot of online dream “handbooks” seem to borrow from Frued and Jung’s school of dream interpretation which also deals with objective themes and archetypes common to all humanity and culture. To those who have put forth the effort and study into the field, I think at least credence should be given to their input.

That being said, I’ve heard compelling arguments that some of these themes may be mere extrapolation, or that some images may represent different themes based on individual and 

cultural contexts; ie, dreaming of a cow in a Western farming context might have more to do with livelihood whereas dreaming of a cow in India may have something to do with the sacred, or dreaming of a father for most might be a symbol of tradition and order whereas someone with an abusive father may see said image as a symbol of tyranny or a looming threat.

Again, this is why dream interpretation is best paired with discernment and prayer that any possibility of subjectivity can be sorted out with true humility and wisdom.

That being said, I think a strong case can be made for universal symbols considering how certain images seem to mean the same thing to all of us regardless of culture and context. An egg, for example, always infers new life and snakes–even in cultures that have divine snakes–represent danger given the deep human fear built into us of snakes. Pyramids and Zigarauts across cultures are representations of humanity’s attempt to ascend and the divine nature we ascribe to mountains, and even within cultures that find their livelihood through the ocean still face the common threats of the ocean that we all see: storms, sea beasts, drawing.

I would argue symbols diverging in their meaning is more of an exception than a rule, that our minds and psyche are all inclined towards finding the same meaning in the symbols we see and dream of despite our culture and upbringing. 

My Intention of Dream Interpretation

My goal in this series is to place my own dreams under a public microscope. I’ll be writing out with as much detail as I am able some dreams that have stuck with me that I believe are significant to my own life. I plan to also include dreams others have shared with me, though safeguarding those individuals’ identities as I speak about them.

My hope is that some of these dreams resonate with you, that the symbols manifest within them have an application for my readers for everyone’s edification.

I also hope to example healthy dream interpretation, explore images and themes that might be common to others.

I am open to others commenting and sharing their dreams in this series. This is a public laboratory that I hope we all learn from one another on.

Again, all this I hope is done with utmost discernment and humility, and I hope through this series we can begin to see–especially for those of us who have developed a resentment for dreams–a utility that these dreams have, and what our souls may be begging us to address in our wakeful lives.

So let us humbly and carefully listen to our souls, all for God’s glory.